Category Archives: 30Hz Cinema

The 30Hz movie-related ramblings

Chopping Mall (1986): 31 Days of Horror

#10. Chopping Mall (1986)

chopping mallNature of Shame:
I’m at a loss. We’ll just go with Barbara Campton Shame!

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Barbara Campton
Inanimate Object Comes to Life

I recognize that a robot isn’t letter-of-the-law inanimate, but gaining sentience is on the same wavelength. I wasn’t thrilled with my other options for the “inanimate object come to life” category and this satisfied the Babs Crampton requirement as well. Bonus Babs!

chopping mall

Chopping Mall Elevator Pitch

Mall security robots go haywire and terrorize the janitorial staff and a group of frisky teenagers who’ve locked themselves in the mall to, you know, fornicate after hours.

In the Mall of Bloody Desires

I don’t know if anyone’s following along with my 2018 31 Days of Horror odyssey, but if you are, you may or may not have noticed that I’m editing the sub-headings organically. Okay. I don’t even know what that means. Practically, it means that I’m using the subheadings from my prior bl-g post to reflect the new movie. My last writeup subheadings for In the Castle of Bloody Desires have shifted to accommodate the horny teenagers in Park Plaza Mall. For example “In the Castle of Bloody Simple Pleasures” became simply “In the Mall of Bloody Desires.” Just something to look forward to. It pays to subscribe.

Also, this is called word padding. Here’s my ID. Don’t revoke my license to bl-g.

Chopping Mall reflects a beautiful filmmaking simplicity. Introduce obviously bad robots. Lock teenagers in a mall. Unleash robots. You need something else out of your horror movie? While the film starts slow, like a cheap sex comedy, it quickly becomes a low-budget Dawn of the Dead with Johnny Fives instead of zombies once lightning strikes the mall and scrambles the robots’ digital brains.

So. Uh. You Mentioned Gog?

Well, no. I didn’t, but thank you for the segue-way. The kitschy robot design in Chopping Mall doesn’t reflect 1980’s technology. It seems that the filmmakers and legendary special effects man Robert Short wanted to pay homage to the robot design aesthetic of the 1950s. These particular Chopping Mall models, however, have the kind of firepower Reagan wanted to develop for his Star Wars space defense program.

(Reagan-era reference. CHECK.)

So that brings us to Gog (1954), a science fiction gem that I first saw in 3D at midnight at the 2016 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. Documentation below:

Our rowdy row before the Gog (1954) in 3D midnight presentation on Saturday night.

Gog concerns the haywire central control system of a state-of-the-art space station. The central brain sends the station’s robots out to do its murderous bidding. It seems entirely likely that Chopping Mall director Jim Wynorski had absorbed and appreciated the robotic malice of Gog. Unfortunately flame-throwing Herbert Marshall seems to have slipped through the cracks.

not chopping mall's herbert marshall with a flamethrower
Not Chopping Mall’s Herbert Marshall with a flamethrower.

So what does Chopping Mall have, if not Herbert Marshall?

chopping mall dick miller

I’m so glad you asked. Chopping Mall has electrocuted Dick Miller. It also has one of the best exploding heads this side of Scanners (poor Suzie Lynn aka Babs Crampton) and a terrifically banal robot voice punchline, “Have a nice day.”

The “Virgins” Don’t Die #SpoilerAlert

Chopping Mall doesn’t stray especially far from Slasher 101. The robots pick off oversexed teenagers one by one until the final virginal girl… or in this case, couple… manage to fend off their mechanical menace. This excess of robot-killing guile apparently stored up alongside their raging, unsatisfied libido.

Being untethered and unsexed also prevents the final girl and final guy from doing idiot things like driving a motorized cart into a robot pulsing with deadly electrical current in a Shakespearean suicide in the name of love. Hey, it happens.

Chopping Mall’s Simple Pleasures

As I’ve suggested, this is not a complicated film. It does, however, roll along at a breakneck clip and delivers a number of inventive kills along the way. The production quality of a film like this also seems undeserved. I say that, but the first time someone gets electrocuted you’ll question my sanity.

The mall setting provides plenty of opportunity for Wynorski to play with space and framing. While Chopping Mall refrains from becoming a broad horror comedy, it’s certainly not without a sense of humor. The dire sincerity of the robots as they execute their victims should be good for at least a few laughs.

Final Chopping Mall Thoughts

If you don’t care to take a robot slasher 80’s slice of life mall comedy too seriously, I bet you’ll have a good time with Chopping Mall.  Wynorski sets the right tone and just let the good times roll. Get it? Because the robots are on rolling treads. It’s a joke. Whatever, you guys. Have a nice day.

chopping mall final duo
The unlikely final duo of Kelly Maroney and Tony O’Dell.

Chopping Mall Rating:

Availability:

chopping mall blu-rayThe resuscitated Vestron Video line of Blu-ray releases released Chopping Mall as its very first offering. 

Why not?

I say this a lot, but it bears repeating. This movie looks better than it ever should and the care taken to produce a Criterion level package for Chopping Mall cannot be overlooked. It might be unwarranted, perhaps, but it can’t be overlooked.

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

In the Castle of Bloody Desires: 31 Days of Horror

#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)

VHS artwork for In the Castle of Bloody Desires, aka Castle of the Creeping Flesh. This image has nothing to do with anything that happens in the film.

Nature of Shame:
Shame! and Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde are not exactly bedfellows. I purchased the Blu-ray because Germany’s Subkultur label released the Blu-ray and why would anyone do that? Therefore, I must view it.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s
Pre-1970’s
Anniversary Film (’68)

Imagine if Mario Bava produced a Jesus Franco joint on a Roger Corman budget and you’ve have something resembling Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde aka In the Castle of Bloody Desires aka The Castle of Creeping Flesh aka The Castle of Bloody Lust aka The Castle of Unholy Desires. Buy five names and get a guy in a bear suit for free!

(This will make sense momentarily. Or not. It’s out of my hands.)

in the castle of bloody desires

In the Castle of Bloody Desires Elevator Pitch

A mad scientist/grieving father conducts unholy experiments in order to bring his dead daughter back to life. [Insert ECU of inanimate statue here.] When he runs out of body parts, he runs out of hope… until a group of drunken assholes stumble across his castle! Part supply problem solved?

In the Castle of Bloody Desires Nobody Can Hear You Lust

Every so often a movie flummoxes me. I mention this now because I am, indeed, flummoxed, but not unable to carry on describing the things I’ve witnessed… Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde!! (It’s more dramatic to say it in German.)

In the Castle of Bloody Desires boasts about 45 minutes of actual narrative film. The rest is padded with extreme close ups of gothic statues and surgical footage. Yes. Surgical footage. Like this garish, latex torso:

in the castle of bloody desires

Around the art history and the grotesque subplot about rearranging a poor girl’s innards, In the Castle of Bloody Desires displays some of the most profoundly banal innuendo you’ve ever heard. James Bond’s crack about Christmas Jones doesn’t even hold a candle.

My personal favorite takes place while the group of drunken aristocrats joy ride through the forest on horseback. The six beautiful and extraordinarily wealthy humans talk idly and discuss their “romantic” ride. Two of them, the Baron Brack (Michel Lemoine) and Elena (Elvira Berndorff), race ahead, giggle pompously, and utter things like “You ride harder and much more vigorously!” The playful mood then turns rapey as the Baron forces himself upon Elena. (She resists his advances by calling him a “dirty swine” but does very little to actually discourage the event.)

Even though I wrote only that one line down in my notebook, this was the sequence that caused me to make my “whoa” face. In lieu of actual footage of my “whoa” face, I’ll recreate it below with the help of Keanu Reeves, who probably helped inspire the vague lip curl and open-mouthed disbelief.

hold the phone

So. Uh. You Mentioned a Bear?

I said, we’ll get back to the bear momentarily.

It’s no wonder this film was called In the Castle of Bloody Desires because that’s some amazing cinematic pleasure and pain all mixed together. On one hand, you can’t help but enjoy the terrible freeform innuendo, but on the other, even absurd rape-based narratives are hard to stomach when handled incompetently. This unfortunate aspect of the narrative becomes a motif.

Once the rest of the party catches up, they arrive at Camp Exposition. They have s’mores (they don’t) and talk of the crazy Earl of Saxon and the legend of his raped and murdered daughter. Then the talk turns, obviously, to a circus bear that the Earl once released into the woods to hunt and kill the rapist. We’ll call the bear Chekhov and move on. Okay, maybe we won’t movie on because I can’t get over this plot twist. The crazy mad doctor / Earl of Saxon (played by Howard Vernon, regular stock player for Jesus Franco) released his pet bear. To catch his daughter’s killer. There’s no way that could go sideways!

In the castle of bloody desires
Howard Vernon as the Earl Who Releases Bears to Kill Those That Wrong Him.

After talking at length of the daughter’s rape and murder, Elena flies into a tizzy and rides off into the night in order to escape her own shame. Still no plan. Everyone follows along behind because Elena’s riding off into the woods, alone, at night. In case you’re not following the highly logical A-B-C’s of this particular story, they all wind up at the crazy Earl’s castle and need to shelter there for the night. (But what about the bears?!?)

But but but wait! There’s more! The Earl notes a strange resemblance between his unexpected guests and some of his own ancestors. This digs up the supernatural tentacles old the family curse, kickstarts some squirmy invasive internal surgery and presents us very detailed views of a great many different statues.

in the castle of bloody desires

The Bear of Bloody Desire is Actually a Guy in a Bear Costume! #SpoilerAlert

As is the most often the case in this low-budget gothic tales of horror and madness, the shooting locations make terrific eye candy — elevating many other shortcomings like acting and screenwriting. “Shortcomings” seems a little generous. Though I have no frame of reference for director Adrian Hoven (as Percy G. Parker), nothing he does here suggests he’s especially competent behind the camera. Whatever successes found in In the Castle of Bloody Desires come from clumsy shot juxtaposition, tone-deaf scripting and Nino Borghi’s set design and art direction.

There’s at least an attempt to marry the darker, rape-based elements with an elevated, if derivative, sense of humor. In one scene, reminiscent of the sexy-eating scene from Tom Jones (1963), two characters ogle each other while they chomp and slobber through dinner. In the next breath, the director tries to honestly portray the origins of the family curse through the horrors of gang rape through a hazy, distorted lens. At this point all you can do is say, “Here we go again,” and embrace this movie’s version of danse macabre.

In the Castle of Bloody Simple Pleasures

I’ve highlighted the more lascivious elements of the film, but other than a few fleeting moments, In the Castle of Bloody Desires displays an otherwise innocent fascination with topless nudity. The film reflects a simpler time when castles and toplessness represented a genre all of their own. Say what you will about their motivations, but films like In the Castle of Bloody Desires were first and foremost concerned with natural beauty. Beautiful women in exotic and gothic locales. Meticulous set design lit by candelabra. High ceilings and shadowy hallways. Also, a bounty of nipples.

If that’s all In the Castle of Bloody Desires had to offer it would have been a serviceable but forgettable footnote. German filmmakers emulating a popular genre for frugal horror filmmakers. This film, however, gains a heaping measure of infamy because it dares to intercut gonzo footage of actual open heart surgery to represent the mad Earl’s attempts to repair his dead daughter. When the film vacillates between benign gothic sexy-times and rape-revenge and legitimate OMFG IS THAT REAL? surgery it feels incredibly schizophrenic.

Equal part curious and off-putting. The surgical scenes last just long enough for you to question how a film with this kind of budget managed practical effects of that quality–oh, look more sexy times! This is proper grindhouse cinema; anything goes. It lacks competency and logic and proves intermittently very uncomfortable, but In the Castle of Bloody Desires is entirely unforgettable. And I haven’t even gotten to the bear. I won’t spoil the bear’s ultimate reveal, but suffice to say that it’s every bit as horribrilliant as you could imagine.

Final In the Castle of Bloody Desires Thoughts

Listen — I can’t recommend this anyone. Some of you just know. Watch it with friends. Watch it with a bit of extra libation, just don’t tell them about the real open heart surgery. Make them question/discover it for themselves. About the bear? Well, I’ll let you decide how best to tease a man an obvious bear suit mauling someone on a cliff as the climax of the film.

in the castle of bloody desires

In the Castle of Bloody Desires Rating:

Availability:

in the castle of bloody desiresUnavailable since its VHS release, In the Castle of Bloody Desires has received a proper Blu-ray release from Subkultur Films, a German distribution company. They’re doing magical things for movies that have no business being treated with such care, but that’s the beauty of it all.

The disc has sold out on the website of U.S. distributor Mondo Macabro and Diabolik DVD. If I locate a someone selling the disk, I’ll update my post if I happen to locate a way for you to watch this film. The effort for an indeterminate number of you would be worth it.

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Hound of the Baskervilles (1959): 31 Days of Horror

#8. Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

hound of the baskervillesNature of Shame:
Unwatched Hammer Films adaptation of Sherlock Holmes’ most horrific tale? Hound of the Baskervilles starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing? On an Arrow Films Blu-ray? FOR SHAME.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1950’s
Auteur: Romero, Cronenberg, Clive Barker, Terence Fisher, Sergio Martino, Bill Lustig
Pre-1970’s

I’ve never seen a Hammer Horror movie I’ve actively disliked. Some are better than others, but even the bad ones serve as comfort cinema. Garish warm and fuzzies foregrounded against shadowy Victorian set design and nightmarish things that go bump in the night. Consistent and sincere on-screen talent that inhabit even the most nonsensical premises. Horror Express, as one example, should be C-grade trash, but the stable of Hammer thespians buys into the absurd premise, legitimizing high concept drivel.

Hammer Horror takes amorphous secondhand nonsense, molds it, shapes it, and makes high-ish art. On this occasion, however, Hammer has accosted one of the most respected stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Though Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote pulp literature, the Holmes tales have achieved elevated literary status. What would Hammer do with respected literature? Elementary, my dear Watson.

hound of the baskervilles

Hound of the Baskervilles Elevator Pitch

A supernatural family curse threatens a stodgy nobleman on his newly inherited estate. The stodgy nobleman calls Sherlock Holmes in to investigate the mysterious howling from the moor.

Baskervilles, Baskervilles, Baskervilles!

Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles novel — Holmes’ first literary appearance in eight years after the character’s supposed death in “The Final Solution” — has been adapted more than 20 times for film and TV. Germany produced the first, a four-part silent serial called Der Hund von Baskerville with an actor named Alwin Neuß. The loose adaptation is now best known for Karl Freund’s cinematography and a Great dane that played the role of the menacing hound with amiable pluck and a generous tongue.

Shots from Rudolph Meinert’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1914), photographed by Karl Freund.

Sidenote: Karl Freund photographed some notable films by the name of Metropolis (1927), The Last Laugh (1924), and Dracula (1931) among many, many others. The perpetually innovative cinematographer  invented his own film stock for shooting in low-level lighting, the unchained camera, and later in life, the three-camera setup for scripted television. He’s a deal. He also directed The Mummy (1932).

It wasn’t until 1939 that Daryl Zanuck and 20th Century Fox produced the first respectable adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce — the pair’s first of 14 Holmes adaptations. Rathbone wasn’t even first-billed. That honor went to the film’s blank-slate lead Richard Greene.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

Peter Cushing picked up the deerstalker in this 1959 film adaptation directed by Hammer mainstay Terence Fisher. When the film went into production in 1958, Hammer Films hadn’t yet committed to the horror genre, having spent its first two decades developing comedies and thrillers. The surprise success of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) led the company down a path of gothic retreads of moldy Universal shockers.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is Actually a Dog! #SpoilerAlert

The film embraces its literary roots with prose reading of the legend of the Hound. True to Hammer’s horror legacy, however, we’re soon treated to Sir Hugo Baskerville stabbing a servant girl on a druidic alter before being mauled by the Hound of legend. The scene serves as a quick shock, a blast of attempted gang rape, murder and dreamscape executions.

It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in a Holmes adaptation; leave it up to Hammer to push the boundaries of decorum in the opening volley of a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. Nothing else in the film registers the same key of violence — but even in 2018 it’s a shocking hook, one that must have been positively jarring in 1959.

After the opening scene, The Hound of the Baskervilles settles into more deliberate but sumptuous jurisprudence as Holmes and Watson first meet Sir Henry Baskerville and weigh the merits of the beguiling case.

Christopher Lee, in one of his earliest speaking roles, plays Sir Henry Baskerville with confident, detached erudition. He’s above the rumors, above the supposed curse — but something is, no doubt, amiss. It’s Cushing and Andre Morell that most impress as Holmes and Watson. Cushing’s intensity portrays a man on the edge of dark philosophical precipice, unlike the clinical Rathbone. Cushing’s inner demons paired with Morell’s military precision make for arguably the best on screen duo to portray Conan Doyle’s protagonists.

That Holmes seems fit to snap at any moment makes the character feel entirely unpredictable. The liner notes of the Arrow Blu-ray mentions that critics have noted Cushing’s Holmes straddles his Van Helsing — due to the spiritual darkness imprinted on the character. An element absent in the text. In this Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes repeatedly references the powers of darkness, alluding to spiritual or purely evil powers outside the realm of man’s understanding.

The Baskervilles Problem

The eccentric element of Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles text that often plagues adaptations is the disappearance of Holmes from this Sherlock Holmes story. Once Holmes takes up the case, he sends Watson to live with Sir Henry at the Baskerville estate in order to protect and observe. This forces Watson to become the lead detective, forcing an uncommon amount of screen time on a supporting actor.

As much as I enjoy Nigel Bruce’s comic relief in the Rathbone adaptations, he’s ill equipped to carry a Sherlock Holmes film. The 1939 The Hound of the Baskervilles feels for a brief moment like a precursor to a Scooby Doo mystery with Watson bumbling around the moors. Morell meanwhile shepherds the film without guffaw until Holmes dramatically returns just past the midway point of the film.

I consider it a minor crime against humanity that Hammer never followed up The Hound of the Baskervilles with another Cushing/Morell Holmes adaptation. Anthony Hinds, son of Hammer founder Williams Hinds, claims that the studio had never intended to carry on the Holmes legacy. They had negotiated specifically with the Conan Doyle estate for the rights to The Hound of the Baskervilles precisely because it was the only Holmes story that fit their aesthetic.

Fans of The Hound of the Baskervilles would do well to seek out Hammer’s Plague of the Zombies, for which screenwriter Peter Bryan reworked his own Hound of the Baskervilles screenplay. Fisher also directs Christopher Lee as Sherlock Holmes in 1962’s Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, an Italian-German-French co-production — definitely not Hammer related, but interesting nonetheless.

Final The Hound of the Baskerville Thoughts

Beyond Cushing’s Holmes portrayal and the tempered fits of blood and violence, The Hound of the Baskervilles adds a few notable Hammer-style film elements to the source material. It’s fun to play “What did Hammer add?” as you watch along with the film to see how well you remember the novel or the earlier adaptations.

Certain detractors call this one a “bore,” but I vehemently disagree. Hammer Horror rarely relies on outright violence or titillation to thrill the viewer. They focus on character and the build to catharsis through dialogue and mood. Set design and cinematography plays as integral a role in The Hound of the Baskervilles as any overture to sex or violence. Does anyone use the color green better than Hammer?

Obviously latter Hammer Horror put it all out there  — and that’s a different brand of entertainment — but in 1959, outside that opening flourish, it’s about the art of the tease — and the thrill of the hunt.

The Hound of the Baskervilles Rating:

Availability:

Twilight Time released Hound of the Baskervilles on Blu-ray in Region A. You can purchase these directly from Twilight Time or from Screen Archives. (You’d do well to wait for a sale.) You can also pick up some used ones on the Amazon site. 

hound of the baskervilles twilight time

I viewed the Region B Arrow Films Blu-ray, which can be procured more cheaply from the Arrow site (especially during their sale throughout the month of October). 

hound of the baskervilles arrow films

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Nightbreed: 31 Days of Horror

#7. Nightbreed (1990)

nightbreed spanish posterNature of Shame:
I paid a gazillion dollars (okay, maybe $40) for that Limited Edition 3-disc set and I still hadn’t watched the damn thing.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1990’s
Auteur: Romero, Cronenberg, Clive Barker, Terence Fisher, Sergio Martino, Bill Lustig

People love this movie. Nah, man — I don’t think you understand — they straight worship Nightbreed. Yet, at the same time, there’s a lot of meh going around about this very same movie. I wanted to find out, once and for all, what all the fuss (or lack thereof) was about. I unwrapped my Limited Edition and cringed considering all the dollars this viewing would cost me on the secondary market if I wound up not exactly loving this movie.

Breathe. You’re not a flipper. You’re a watcher. You can do this. 

nightbreed

 

Nightbreed Elevator Pitch

A psychotherapist, Dr. Decker, convinces a “troubled” teen named Boone that he’s a serial killer. After an unfortunate turn of events, the teen winds up in Midian, a halfway house for undead beasties called the Nightbreed and yada yada yada Dr. Decker turns out to be the serial killer and Boone turns out to be some sort of Neo/Anakin Skywalker figure that will bring balance to the force and replace Midian with some sort of new sanctuary / pave paradise and put up a parking lot, but only if the Nightbreeders can hold off a gang of rednecks, police and Dr. Decker.

[Meanwhile all of the would-be Nightbreed producers have now left the elevator and I’m pitching my movie to a mustachioed pear of a man who claims to be Joe Eszterhas’ AD. He says he just went to get him a cup of coffee so he could put a polish on that Basic Instinct 3 script. I apologize to him for the terrible elevator pitch. He shrugs and says “Mr. Eszterhas is just going to throw this cup of coffee on me when I get back to the office anyway so all this was a pleasant distraction from the horrors of my daily life.” I apologize again. I note that he’d pushed 22. So I hit 20 and get off at the next stop, thankfully free from the claustrophobia two extra floors on that elevator.]

Nightbreeders, Mount Up

On the off chance that you’re unaware of the classic Warren G / Nate Dogg track “Regulate,” I felt obliged to insert it here for reference.

“It was a clear black night, a clear white moon
Warren G. is on the streets, trying to consume
Some skirts for the eve, so I can get some funk
Just rollin’ in my ride, chillin all alone”

I’m off the rails. This movie put me off the rails. Writing about this movie put me off the rails all over again, and I can’t get “Regulate” out of my head so I’m trying to recreate for you, precisely, my state of mind while typing this assemblage of thoughts.

Clive Barker’s imagination knows no bounds. His novels bear the trademark of a man with more ideas than he can conveniently wrangle into a single body of work. Nightbreed, likewise, is the product of wild invention without a sense of grounding. Unbridled ambition without a voice of reason. A movie adaptation of a novel that refused to kill any darlings.

nightbreed 1990

The Midian concept — a gathering of unique and eccentric “monsters” in hiding from the world — could have filled dozens of movies or comics or years of a television serial. Based on Barker’s novel Cabal, Nightbreed feels like the origin story for an entire comic book universe. (Epic Comics released 25 issues to expand upon the film’s mythology and Boom! Studios picked up the baton with 12 issues starting in 2014. ) Broad and unfocused, but with hundreds of idiosyncratic moments of genius scattered about to tease the many ways in which the Nightbreed universe could spiral outward.

The most confounding part of Nightbreed is that our main character (Aaron Boone) is the dullest of the dull, the drabbest of the drab. Craig Sheffer, the milquetoast Brando through which we are supposed to view the mystical realm of Midian, is the everyman with which we can’t possibly relate because holy hell if that lifeless and expressionless lug represents my point of view I’d rather just become an Insurance Adjuster. What else could I possibly do?

Shefferland = Slumberland

Everything outside Craig Shefferland, however, sparkles with Barker’s creative vision. Rachel and Babette. Shuna Sassi. Paloquin. Kinski. The monster with the external stomach. Barker alludes to rich and meaningful backstories to all of these characters, and I desperately want to know more about all of them. Instead we’re stuck with Craig Sheffer, the guy that once stole a Snickers from a Seven Eleven and calls himself a rebel even though, in reality, the owner gave him the candy bar because it was Halloween. UGH. It’s not that I think Sheffer’s a terrible actor — he was just terribly miscast.

nightbreed

The casting so flummoxed me that I took to Twitter in the middle of the movie to vent. Happily, I found that I wasn’t alone in my judgment of Sheffer as a charisma vaccum.

Nightbreed’s Horror-Filled Fantasy

Less a horror film than a nightmarish fantasy film, Nightbreed taps into so many interesting ideas I can see why it’s beloved. I just can’t share their enthusiasm — though I would like to dig more deeply into Barker’s inspiration.

The religious connotations of “Midian” would keep me busy for at least a week. Despite my limited frame of reference, biblically speaking, I was aware of Midian as the land in which Moses self-exiled. After a smattering of research I’ve uncovered more reference and iconography that went right over my head. This extra stuff interests me more than anything actually contained in the film.

nightbreed 1990

The exception being David Cronenberg’s villainous Dr. Decker — a villain worthy of a far greater narrative than Nightbreed. Brooding, crazy-eyed Cronenberg took me totally by surprise. I saw his name in the credits and assumed “bit role” or “stunt casting,” but this Cronenberg fellow passed up a career as any number of truly unsettling cinematic sociopaths.

Final Nightbreed Thoughts

I’m mercifully ending this bl-g post now. Nightbreed is perhaps the most ambitious comic book origin story about the most boring superhero in the entire universe. If Shefferman had more ambition or seemed more plausible as the Jesus-like savior of a beleaguered, mistreated population of undead personages I’d have had warmer feelings toward Clive Barker’s creation. I didn’t dislike Nightbreed; I just didn’t think the narrative lived up to the limitless potential. High concept, medium execution, bargain-bin leading man. Bonus points for extreme difficulty.

It should be noted that I watched the Theatrical Cut and sampled particular, notable segments of the Cabal Cut.

Nightbreed Rating:

Availability:

nightbreed blu-rayShout Factory released a single-disc Director’s Cut Blu-ray as well as the three-disc Limited Edition featuring the Director’s (Cabal) Cut and the Theatrical. I sampled a few of the bonus features. Die-hard fans of the film would no doubt enjoy the bevy of bonus features on the 3-disc if they can get their hands on a copy.

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Maniac Cop: 31 Day of Horror

#6. Maniac Cop (1988)

maniac copNature of Shame:
Unseen 80’s starring Bruce Campbell.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Auteur: Romero, Cronenberg, Clive Barker, Terence Fisher, Sergio Martino, Bill Lustig
Anniversary Film (’88)

I’ve never actually seen a Bill Lustig film. What? Yes. It’s all true. I’ve intended to watch Maniac Cop and Maniac in the same way that I tell the dentist, “Yeah, I’ll definitely floss every day.” Which is to say, good intentions and empty promises because distractions like watching Army of Darkness for the 37th time.

I had this one prepped in my Netflix DVD Queue as soon as I read The Cinemonster’s Hooptober 5 requirements. I would finally end my Lustig ignorance.

maniac cop

Maniac Cop Elevator Pitch

A massive fellow in a police officer’s uniform is crushing throats in New York City — this leads the jumpy public to start shooting the boys in blue at first sight. When Officer Bruce Campbell’s wife turns up dead, he’s suspect numero uno and must solve the case to save himself.

maniac cop

Maniac Cop on the Basketball Court, Crushing Throats Without Report

In a parallel universe I could have been a poet or an unlikely rapper. It’s also the most interesting thing I’ll have to say about Maniac Cop. This is good for 31 Days of Horror writing progress, but bad for readership. (I am many days behind schedule and the notion of churning out more than one of these per day makes me wonder where I’m going to find the minutes.) It’s not that I don’t have positive things to say, just that I’m not all that enthusiastic or emotional about any particular observation.

Maniac Cop is not a straightforward A-B-C slasher-type film. It reveals its killer without showing his face. I’m not suggesting that’s a negative — in fact — knowing (but without really knowing) the identity of the killer makes the film more interesting than had Lustig tried to hide his identity. Plus, more Robert Z’Dar is usually a good thing for your movie. Z’Dar, as a real life Golem, always adds a unique, monstrous element that can’t be duplicated with makeup or prosthetics. He’s a frightening mountain of a human. When you show the shadow of your human mountain — even if you don’t show his face — it can only be Robert Z’Dar.

maniac cop

In this slightly unorthodox narrative, Lustig shows himself to be in control of the narrative and unusual pacing of Larry Cohen’s unwieldy script. He sets up his low-budget horror movie with a series of rapid-fire kills to establish menace and then dials it back as he develops some protagonists in Tom Atkins’ detective and Bruce Campbell’s chin. It’s mostly effective, if not frightening or titillating or basically sensical. What he does well is suggest some effective social commentary not often found in your average cheapy horror outing.

Low Budget, with a side of Aspirations

As a result I appreciated Maniac Cop more than I loved it. I found some toss-away stuff to enjoy, if little to love. It’s half slasher, half police procedural and quarter melodrama. (You do the math.) A lack of tonal consistency doesn’t have to be a negative, but in a film as succinct as Maniac Cop the runtime deficiency necessitates greater focus. A sub-90 minute slasher / police procedural / social satire / comedy sounds like a kitchen-sink first draft rather than a feature film. Rather than an ebb and flow of genre convention, Lustig offers heart-attack EKG.

Maniac Cop was just missing a little extras sauce to make these disparate elements come together. And maybe therein lies the pitfall of knowing a film without actually knowing it. I expected more gore and more exploitation elements due to Lustig’s reputation but also because of word of mouth. I’m actually a little surprised it’s received this much attention as a cult film.

The gritty New York City streets and real life struggle of a population seemingly at the mercy their police force. The cloaked visage of Frankenstein (yes, the monster not the Dr. — you try making that possessive flow in the context of your paragraph). The killer with a logical motivation and grueling backstory. The final Hal Needham-esque stunt. All of these elements provide memorable moments and images, but Maniac Cop amounts to a lark, a slice of 1980’s horror that mostly entertains and then disappears into the shadows of the more frightening, gory, and riotous films of the era.

Final Maniac Cop Thoughts

Worth a watch, but reserve some of your expectations. I’m also told that the sequel will deliver more of what I expected out of Maniac Cop. This promise gives me hope. I’m always in the mood for the opportunity to champion a sequel over an original because I grow oh so tired of the “Godfather II is the only sequel to surpass the original” argument. Not only because I disagree, goddammit, but because the horror genre is rife with examples of exemplary sequels that a certain segment of misguided movie fans write off as irrelevant schlock.

It might be easy to make and sell a cheapy horror movie to horror fans (because they will literally pay to see garbage, no offense, everybody) — but that doesn’t make it any easier to make a competent, entertaining fright film. In the end, all these great ideas still have to come together.

Maniac Cop Rating:

Availability:

maniac copSynapse Films has had the decency to release Maniac Cop and Maniac Cop 2 on Blu-ray. It’s actually quite remarkable how good this movie looks considering the budget and era in which it was filmed. Credit goes to cinematographers James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabbe. Considering I didn’t give them any love in the above blurb, we’ll toss them a mention here in hopes that people are still reading. Good on ya, James and Vincent. It might be too dark overall, but too-dark cinematography hides many ills.

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: I earn rewards from DVD.Netflix.com, which has thousands of movies to choose from, many that you won’t find on streaming services. I do this because the availability of physical media is important. The popular streaming notion of “everything available all the time” is a myth. We are always our own best curators. #PhysicalMedia #DVDNation #ad