Regular #Bond_age_ contributor and fanatical movie fiend Kerry Fristoe has volunteered to further contribute to 30Hz 31 Days of Horror. Follow her on Twitter at @echidnabot and chat her up about movies.
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1. The Dunwich Horror (1970)
Set in the mythical Miskatonic Valley like many of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, The Dunwich Horror revolves around Dean Stockwell in a role even creepier than the one he plays in Blue Velvet. Stockwell’s Wilbur Whately lives in Dunwich, Massachusetts with his raving grandfather Sam Jaffe, and where the natives, who often speak with southern accents, avoid them.
Anyway, Wilbur Whately wants Ed Begley’s Necronomicon so he can summon some of his buddies from a parallel universe to come and play with him and Sandra Dee. Sandra digs hanging with Wilbur because he adds copious amounts of hallucinogens to her tea which make her woozy and dream she’s watching a revival of Hair.
I won’t spoil it for you but the trippy lighting and creature effects and projections onto canvas gave the film a distinctive look and the breathy heartbeat sounds added to the spookiness factor.
Along with the cast I’ve mentioned, Lloyd Bochner, 70’s staple, and Talia (billed as Coppola) Shire also appear in small character roles.
I haven’t read the original Lovecraft story but I know many of them take place in a fictionalized version of Wilbraham, Massachusetts (the real home of Friendly Ice Cream) which sits about 160 miles inland so the ocean puzzled me a bit but no matter.
It was a fun 60s, 70s, witch hunt, hippie, parallel universe, Satanic ritual, acid flick.
2. The Mist (2007)
Whoa! Thomas Jane starred as a father heading into town for supplies with his son on the day after a terrible thunderstorm. While they shop, Jeffrey DeMunn runs into the market covered in blood, screaming, “There’s something in the mist!” An understatement if there ever were one. The Mist scared the wits out of me. Frank Darabont wrote the screenplay from a Stephen King story, directed, and produced The Mist and created an increasingly frightening atmosphere in a normally mundane one…a supermarket. A terrific cast including Andre Braugher, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones, William Sadler, and the always wonderful Frances Sternhagen made the film more realistic and truly scary. I won’t spoil the film but the effects were frightening and well done and the sound and music contributed wonderfully to the creepy atmosphere of the film. I just finished watching and haven’t quite caught my breath. Shattering. One more thing…friends recommended I watch this in black and white. They were right.
3. Bloodlust (1961)
Subtitle: The Most Dangerous Brady
“Hey kids, let’s go ashore and look for pirate treasure.”
Two young couples, including Robert Reed of Brady Bunch fame go deep sea fishing. When the drunken captain passes out they decide to row to a deserted (they think) island to explore. There they meet Dr. Balleau, lord of the manor, complete with smoking jacket, cigarette holder, and hunting rifle. Balleau tells them they must spend the night in his manse because the jungle is far too dangerous for them to traverse at night.
How bad could that be?
Well, kind of bad as it turns out. Balleau, along with his Igor-like henchman Jondor try to pull a most dangerous game thing on our heroes. I won’t divulge any pertinent plot points but I will say this film is ripe for a live tweet. I can’t say it was very scary either with lines like “Hidden Cove? Where’s that?” and “Hurry back to the tree of death!” The best scene involved Jondor in his rendering room, a water tank full of dead woman, and the whole Ed Gein starter set. Bloodlust even had leeches and quicksand AND clocked in at 68 minutes. Not too scary but I’m glad I saw it if only to see Robert Reed flexing.
4. Hellraiser (1987)
“We’ll tear your soul apart.”
Clive Barker’s creepy masterpiece about a Pandora’s Box-like puzzle which opens a portal to a pretty nasty dimension still brings shivers to my spine. Andy Robinson, in an unusual nice-guy role, is married to Julia (Clare Higgins) who’s not very nice. To give you some idea, she has sex with her husband’s brother atop her wedding gown. Sweet. Anyway, Frank, the sexy brother has gone and gotten himself captured by cenobites and lives in constant pain and torment in some nether world. He escapes and needs blood to bring him back to his former, hot and yet depraved self. Hijinks ensue. Oh wait, did I forget to describe the cenobites? They look like the Harkonnens at a Berlin S&M club. Cenobites inhabit this weird, hinted at torture dimension and only come out to recruit new meat. Hellraiser’s worth checking out just to see them. Anyway, for a gory and gross good time, call Pinhead and the rest of his gang. You’ll be glad you did.
5. The Wicker Man (1973)
This is one wacky island.
Sergeant Neil Howie flies to Summerisle, a remote Scottish island, to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Immediately he notices the queerness of the townsfolk. Their ways differ wildly from his devoutly Christian life on the mainland and as Howie’s investigation into the villagers progresses, his outrage grows. Robin Hardy directed The Wicker Man from an Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth, Frenzy) screenplay on location near Inverness, Scotland. Edward Woodward of Equalizer fame plays Sgt. Howie as an uptight, morally certain policeman thrust into a bizarre world of bawdy songs, pagan teachings, and orgies. His incredulity mounts as it becomes apparent that not only will the villagers not help him find young Rowan, but also that they don’t care if she is found. Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento, and Aubrey Morris, as a creepy gravedigger, play their parts well, but it’s Christopher Lee who steals the show. As Lord Summerisle, Lee has all the best lines and looks thoroughly amused by Howie’s righteous indignation.
Example: about some girls dancing in the altogether during a religious rite Howie says, “They’re naked!”
“Well naturally” says Summerisle, “It’s much too dangerous to jump through fire with their clothes on.”
The Wicker Man lives up to its cult classic status because the writing is solid, the performances strong, and the locations authentic. The statements it makes about religious hypocrisy aren’t subtle, but they don’t achieve Oliver Stone obviousness either. The director’s preferred version makes the rounds of selected theatres in the fall of 2013. I hope to see it then myself.
6. Atom Age Vampire (1960)
Beautiful and famous exotic dancer, Jeanette Moreneau (Susanne Loret), fights with her lover Pierre (Sergio Fantoni). He leaves, vowing to sail out of her life forever. He’s a sailor, by the way. Fearful of never seeing him again, Jeanette races after Pierre and has a terrible car wreck. She awakens in a hospital wrapped with bandages in a scene so familiar I expected Donna Douglas to appear as Rod Serling spoke. No such luck. Her once beautiful face burned horribly and her beau off fighting the Kraken or getting tattooed, Jeanette contemplates suicide. She changes her mind after a visit from Monique (Franca Parisi), a mysterious woman who claims to know a doctor who can heal her scars and restore her former beauty. We know Monique is mysterious because she wears a trench coat and dark sunglasses. Jeanette, goes to see Professor Levin (Alberto Lupo) whose experiments in skin regeneration make he and his assistant, the mysterious Monique, speak in whispers and overact. The sera don’t do much for the animals either who tend to go psychotic after prolonged use. Naturally after results like those, he uses some on Monique and later, Jeanette’s face. Derma 28 works but wears off pretty quickly so the good professor, who is all about the science and has no pervy designs on our stripper at all, has to keep dosing Jeanette with the stuff until he runs out. Since Derma 28 comes from the necks of women, Levin kills a few and steals their neck stuff. It goes on like this for a while with the professor, Monique, Jeanette, and Sasha, the mute Igor-like slave/gardener guy who mumbles a lot and may or may not have a hump, whispering and plotting and really emoting the hell out of the story. Eventually, Pierre returns from his voyage looking for Jeanette and using staunch detective work which involves asking people where she is, finds her. He and the police descend upon the professor and his merry bunch and do pretty much nothing for a while. More women, mostly streetwalkers, die which seems to bother no one and more things happen and by this time I was drooling a little and had trouble keeping my eyes open. Anton Giulio Majano, which may be Italian for Alan Smithee, directed Atom Age Vampire. The Italian title Seddok, l’erede di Satana translates to Seddok, the Heir of Satan. What Seddok had to do with this, I can’t even guess. A must see! Well…maybe not.
7. The Screaming Skull (1958)
Eric and Jenni Whitlock, fresh from their wedding, arrive at the home of Eric’s late wife to start a new life together. Doesn’t that sound nice? The home, completely empty save a gigantic portrait of the dead woman, sits on a large piece of land inhabited by creepy child-man caretaker Mickey (director, Alex Nichol) and some peacocks. Cozy. Moments later, the minister and his wife arrive. After all, what honeymoon is complete without a visit from the parson? During the visit, Eric tells the minister that Jenni, of a delicate nature, has been under great mental strain since she witnessed the deaths of her parents and he hopes that leaving her alone in his dead wife’s house with a nutty gardener and some screaming birds will help. OK, he doesn’t actually say that but come on! Soon Jenni starts seeing skulls all over the place and Eric tells the minister of his concern. Eric’s a heck of a guy after all and tells his friends he’ll stand by his wife (and her money) even if she relapses and has to go back to the asylum. Sweet. Oh wait. It gets better. Eric’s wife, Marion died after tripping, hitting her head on a stone pond on the estate, and drowning…by accident and Jenni believes Marion still haunts the grounds. After a few more skull sightings and nightmares, Jenni believes she’s losing her grip and goes along with her husband’s idea to rid herself of Marion’s spirit. Jenni’s nightmares will cease if she burns Marion’s giant portrait. Well sure. So they burn the portrait and Eric, like the boy scout he is, rakes the coals so as not to offend Smokey-the-Bear. What does Jenni see in the ashes? A skull, natch. Eric sees no skull and that revelation sends Jenni off the rails. There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil it.
Peggy Webber, of the Dragnet TV series stock company plays Jenni and Russ Conway, Reverend Snow. John Hudson and Tony Johnson round out the cast as Eric and Mrs. Snow. It looks like the entire film was shot at dusk and apparently in 3D as well. MST3K sent it up though I haven’t seen that version. Another film ripe for a live tweet. Watch it if you dare!! No, go ahead. It’s not that scary.
8. The Haunting (1963)
Based on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and written for the screen by Nelson Gidding (Andromeda Strain, Odds Against Tomorrow) The Haunting tells the story of a disparate group brought together in a long unoccupied New England mansion by Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) to discover whether or not spooks reside there. The actual house was Ettington Hall in Warwickshire, England and is now the Ettington Park Hotel for those who dare to stay there. Anyway, the house has seen its share of mysterious deaths and weird occupants over the years and the locals won’t go near it. Markway’s archaeologist/parapsychologist wants to prove places can retain the spirits of people and their actions and proposes an experiment. He and a hand-picked group of people with histories of psychic ability will inhabit the manse, study its original owners, the late and somewhat sadistic Hugh Crain and family, and report any ghostly happenings thus justifying Markway’s career choice to his conservative family and possibly securing him a government grant.
Markway’s serious and academic demeanor lends the expedition gravitas and makes the coming events seem that much more real. Julie Harris as the put upon Eleanor Lance gives a terrific performance. Her character narrates the film and her interior dialogue delves into her thoughts without being overly expository. Claire Bloom as Theo, the clairvoyant, gives a layered performance which could easily have descended to mere snarkiness, but shows some real vulnerability and empathy. Russ Tamblyn, as Luke, a playboy related to the wealthy owner of the house, goes along to protect the house from damage, both physical and moral. The owners hold little stock in Markway’s spiritual phenomena. Tamblyn surprised me with the humor, subtlety, and believability of his acting.
Together this motley crew of paranormal researchers begin what they think will be a painless week in a great house. Needless to say, Hill House holds many secrets and, as Eleanor points out, “This house. You have to watch it every minute.”
The Haunting’s main attraction, its cinematography by Davis Boulton (Brighton Rock, Night Train to Munich) gives the house a sinister quality. Gorgeous angles and ominous shadows abound and the direction by the always fantastic Robert Wise fills each scene with a sense of doom. After each frightening encounter, the director cuts to an odd angled shot of Hill House’s exterior, letting the viewer know the house is always watching.
I love The Haunting. It’s one of my favorite films of any kind and you can’t beat it for atmosphere. If you’re looking for a literate, atmosperic haunted house film done in beautiful black and white, pop some corn and watch The Haunting.
9. Fiend Without a Face (1958)
“They’re mental vampires!”
Set at an Air Force Base in a rural part of Canada, Fiend Without a Face is your basic ‘science just got too big for its britches and we’d better stop it before all the people and cows and chickens in this berg kick off’ kind of film. The air base houses a nuclear plant whose power, combined with the experiments of local retired scientist Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) create weird creatures which suck the brain and spinal fluid from their victims leaving them somewhat the worse for wear. As Tourneur did in the far superior Cat People, director Arthur Crabtree waits until the second half of the film to show the truly bizarre creatures. Made in England at a time when that country’s effects seldom shined, the creatures in Fiend are stellar and probably the reason I was able to watch this on a Criterion DVD as opposed to one I might find in a bin for $4.99. The acting, while average to above-average for a film with lines like, “You ever try sleep instead of Benzedrine? You might like it.” And “What have I unleashed?” certainly didn’t warrant a Criterion release.
Marshall Thompson of Daktari fame, stars as Major Cummings, the man with the plan to foil the brain sucking freaks.
This film has some great Shatneresque deaths, fun ‘the creature is about to fly’ sound effects, terrific protective pleather jumpsuits on the nuclear power plant workers, gross blueberry jam brain goo with sounds to match, and some cool mental vampires.
The first half of this film had me wondering if the hefty Criterion price tag was worth it. The second half let me know it was.
10. Twice-Told Tales (1963)
Based on several Nathaniel Hawthorne stories, Twice-Told Tales stars Vincent Price in each of three stories in this anthology film. The first, Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, has best friends Price and Sebastian Cabot discovering a youth serum which rejuvenates them both. When they decide to try it on Cabot’s long dead fiancée, Mari Blanchard, what seemed like an ideal situation turns ugly.
In Rappaccini’s Daughter, Price stars as the highly over-protective father of the beautiful Beatrice (Joyce Taylor). Beatrice falls in love with Giovanni Guasconti (Brett Halsey) but cannot kiss or even touch him because her father, in an effort to keep her pure, has replaced her blood with acid. This chemical chastity belt frustrates the would be lovers and their story touches Price who comes up with a novel solution. Oddly enough, it doesn’t end well.
The third and most famous story of the three, The House of Seven Gables has Price bringing new bride Beverly Garland to his ancestral home after a seventeen year absence. Creepy sister Jacqueline deWit knows it’s a bad idea and when Beverly starts having visions…well it just goes downhill from there. Of the three stories, I liked this one the best. It’s by far the most sinister and the effects worked really well. You gotta love bleeding walls. While not the best horror anthology I’ve seen, Twice-Told Tales was entertaining, had some fun effects, and of course starred the great Vincent Price. Worth a watch.
11. Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) (1973)
Wow. What a bad film. A gang of way too pretty British bikers called The Living Dead terrorize motorists and generally annoy people. They have so much fun at it, they decide to kill themselves so they can come back from the dead and act like fools forever. Sounds logical. Toads play a part somewhere though the movie never says how. People catch toads, wear toad rings and pendants and feed toads in a weird modern art terrarium. The leader of The Living Dead, Tom Latham (Nicky Henson)lives with his mum in an über modern mansion that looks like something out of A Clockwork Orange. He must be rich because his butler is George Sanders who looks bored and perhaps a bit drunk. Anyway, the bikers keep offing themselves and coming back to life and after 45 minutes of this I lost the will to live. I guess I was supposed to care if they lived or died, but the characters were so poorly drawn and the story so dull, I just wished it would end. Two thumbs up. OK, not really.
12. Queen of Blood (1966)
An alien spacecraft sends a distress call to Earth moments before crash landing on Mars. Since it’s 1990 and the United States has a cadre of rockets at the ready for such an emergency, we send one up to see what all the fuss is about. A crew of five, including John Saxon and DENNIS HOPPER, flies up to Mars to save the day. They find one survivor, a female in a catsuit with a weird tulip hairdo and green skin. Dennis Hopper…let me repeat that, DENNIS HOPPER tries to feed the alien but she won’t eat the weird Soylent Green-like astronaut food offered her. Later we find out why. Her tastes run to liquid nourishment and no one in the crew is safe from her snacking. Instead of killing her or jettisoning her into space, they tie her loosely and try to stay awake. As you might have guessed, she gets out and let’s just say, her efforts leave a few empty bunks in the crew’s quarters. They still don’t kill her though because science (Basil Rathbone!) needs to study her and Oh Crap, she laid eggs.