Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Category: 30Hz Cinema (Page 5 of 23)

night of the lepus

Night of the Lepus: 31 Days of Horror

night of the lepus 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Moldy, Unseen DVR’d TCM programming

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s

 


 

#7. Night of the Lepus

night of the lepus posterNight of the Lepus has a reputation, so when I viewed my DVR’d broadcast from TCM and witnessed a Ben Mankiewicz introduction that included the phrase “one of the most effective horror films of the period,” I paused.

Was I watching the movie I thought I was watching?

It only took a few minutes to realize that Ben was overselling his feature presentation.

Rest assured… Night of the Lepus contains every advertised ounce of unintentional humor. I tried to take it seriously. I tried to abide the Chewbacca “rabbit” arms reaching out to slice a victim’s jugular. I tried to accept that 3/4 of the film’s runtime seems to be occupied with slow-mo rabbit leaping.

I tried… but in the end, you know what? It’s better just to give in, make the wrong turn at Albuquerque and embrace the terrible movie on its own terms.

night of the lepus title

The Story

Bunny rabbits have taken over a small Arizona town after residents eliminated their natural predator — the coyote. Rancher Cole (Rory Calhoun) approaches a couple of college smartypants of rectifying the problem without the use of poison. College president Elgin (Deforest Kelley) enlists researchers named Roy (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry (Janet Leigh) to come up with a solution.

night of the lepus

They begin experimenting with hormones intended to disrupt the rabbits’ hyperactive breeding cycle. They inject a birth-defect serum into a test group, but oooops, the researchers’ daughter falls in love with one of the injected animals and switches him into the test group so she can keep him as a pet. This is why we can’t have nice things, kids.

The rabbit, of course, escapes and commands a scourge of bloody terror across the southwest. If these chupacabras are Night of the Lepus‘ Godzilla, then this 8-year-old girl is atomic radiation. Anyway, Rory Calhoun running all over Arizona pumping hot lead into these cow-sized rabbits placed him approximately one half step away from full-on Elmer Fuddness.

And how much better would Night of the Lepus have been with Elmer Fudd leading the charge? But I digress.

hunting wabbits

The humans in the film become window dressing. They’re wallpaper, the cogs necessary to spout exposition and move the narrative forward. The star of Night of the Lepus? Slow-motion rabbits galloping through scale models of towns and the countrysides. Rabbit paws taking swipes at screaming humans.

night of the lepus

And best of all, rabbits just chillin’ in a grocery store turned diner, waiting for a slice of pie and drinking coffee but god forbid they order anything with real substance so the waitstaff can actually earn a goddamn living.

night of the lepus

 

 

Audio/Visual notes:

The fuzzier the better. That’s my motto regarding 1972 monstrous rabbit movies.

Final Thoughts:

Best viewed in .gifs and stills, Night of the Lepus leaps off the screen as less than the sum of its individual clips. I paused scenes to see how the rapidly cut images fit together and what kind of absurdity could be revealed. (The below .gif does a great job of simulating that experience.)

Rabbit attack paws and countryside frolics make for good laughs, but the nature-gone-wild/evils-of-meddling-with-mother-nature storyline offers little reward. Night of the Lepus qualifies for the I’ll-watch-it-drunk video store banner, but just barely. And don’t get me started on the way the film resolves its stampeding rabbit issue.

…wait for it….

It’s hare-brained to say the least.

night of the lepus gif

30Hz Movie Rating:

 


Availability:  

Night of the Lepus has been released by Warner Archive, presumably to fuel the Interwebs’ requirement of bloodthirsty rabbit .gifs.

night of the lepus warner archive
amazon-buy-button

 

 

 

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

Poltergeist: 31 Days of Horror

poltergeist 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
25+ year overdue rewatch

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Tobe Hooper

 


 

#6. Poltergeist

 

poltergeist posterOne major component of Cinema Shame that often gets overlooked in the drive to right unwatched wrongs is the joy of rediscovering movies you thought you remembered or understood. I’m not necessarily talking about my Godfather III guffaw from earlier this year (which was an egregious oversight), but rather the movies you actually have seen but just forgotten.

Let’s do some simple math. I’m pretty sure this was covered in Pre-Calc.

Time + tide = erosion. (Time + tide) x omnipresent imagery = erasure. My memories of Poltergeist had been boiled down to a few select images. The girl in front of the television (poster artwork). Also, the clown. Some latent memories of the Spielbergian nature of the production remained. Boisterous adventure scoring and pre-teen thrills.

That’s Poltergeist in a nutshell, right? Silly scares and a girl becoming too attached to her Saturday morning cartoons, which in 1982 was, what, Scooby-Doo, Richie Rich, The Smurfs, and Laverne and Shirley in the Army? Why I recall the latter show is anyone’s guess.

Poltergeist 31 days of horror

The horrors of a girl who can’t find a clicker to watch her Saturday morning cartoons.

The Story

I only remembered the first third of Poltergeist and conveniently overwrote the rest of the film with my own prime time TV edit. I’ll break it down in terms you can understand. After watching the film this past Saturday night, my eyes started darting to every creak and thump. I wasn’t consciously jumpy, but Poltergeist clearly affected my subconscious.

In short, I was pretty wrong about all things Poltergeist — except the Jerry Goldsmith score, which wants to let you know you’re watching a goddamn exciting film, okay? OKAY? (It didn’t help that the mixing on the Blu-ray foregrounds the score, but maybe I’ll get back to that later.)

A young girl (Heather O’Rourke) begins talking to the television, and her parents, Diane and Steve (JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson) think she’s being a cute, eccentric whippersnapper. So she’s taken up talking to the spirits of the dead across an ethereal plane. Everyone’s got to have a hobby. During the first spiritual breach, the girl disappears into the television and becomes trapped by the malignant spirits beyond. Steve and Diane call in a team of paranormal experts to find their little girl.

Tobe Hooper proves mastery over pacing and high concept. Poltergeist could have easily been series of flatulent jump scares and fallen back on cheap haunted house tricks to spook an audience. The story demands these things, after all. What he does instead is abide the jump scares and haunted house tropes in order to craft a film that forces the view to identify with parental anxiety.

The trees flying through the window, cantankerous clowns, spectral hands reaching forth from the television — these things are required to put the audience in the fear register. We’re all numb to these types of scares by now, but in order to place the viewer in the position of uncertainty, Hooper allows for anything to happen. The evil — while initially on broadcast through the television — can eventually come from anywhere.

It’s not these “horror beats” that create tension — it’s the breaths in between. It’s the moments when Diane and Steve sit in silence and worry about what might come next, worry if they’re going to see their daughter again. In many respects, this film isn’t about the haunted house at all. It’s about the daily horrors of parenting. The decisions they have to make, the regular fear that comes along with watching children grow up and becoming their own people and making their own choices.

Of course, it’s also about the soulless existence of suburban living and modern technology as anesthesia, but all this ties back into the choices made by adults to protect their family from the potentially scary world.

poltergiest 31 days of horror

An early scene depicts Steve and Diane smoking weed, escaping for a moment to their own retreat. A child, of course, invades this privacy and makes the moment about them. Parenting is a surrender of the self, which is of course what ultimately happens when Diane and Steve argue about which one of them will breach the plane in order to attempt a rescue of Carol Anne.

That’s Poltergeist — not a silly thing with ghost hands and crazy clowns.

Audio/Visual notes:

The Blu-ray looks great — I noticed a very nice, natural grain with clarity and contrast throughout — but the mixing is all over the board. I had a hard time hearing characters whispering, but a moment later I’d would get blown off my seat by a swell of Goldsmith score. When the tree branch came crashing through the window, my cat (who is well used to boisterous moviewatching by now) jumped off his furniture and sprinted upstairs. After that I kept a finger on my receiver’s volume controls at all times. It sounds great, though, so maybe we should just rattle the windows and scare the cat and be done with it.

Final Thoughts:

I found the difference between my memory and the reality of the film striking. Maybe I just wasn’t old enough to appreciate the true nature of the horror in the film. As a kid, the haunted house stuff (especially the clown) seemed silly — and those images stuck with me. Not JoBeth Williams (who is excellent in this film, by the way) plunging into the unknown to rescue her daughter or Craig T. Nelson sitting by himself at the kitchen table trying to put the pieces of his family back together. It’s the rare pleasure — a scary movie that pulls you into the human drama with fantastic performances.

Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina — the heroine of this here picture.

One final thought. Can I just say how much I love Zelda Rubinstein? Between Tangina in Poltergeist and Madam Serena in Teen Witch, she’s my favorite 80’s character actor of the moment.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 


Availability:  

Poltergeist is available everywhere because it’s Poltergeist. Your only danger is picking up the 2015 version instead.

poltergeist blu-ray
amazon-buy-button

 

 

 

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

the initiation arrow blu-ray

The Initiation: 31 Days of Horror

the initiation 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Unwatched Arrow Films Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s

 


 

#5. The Initiation

the initiation 31 days of horror

It’s about time! I was worried I’d just ceased to be discriminating.

The Initiation was a blind buy based on the Arrow Films pedigree, but mostly the Daphne Zuniga-ness and in that last respect I was not disappointed. Daphne’s big screen debut satisfies with enough Zuniga for two. But maybe I’ve said too much.

I’ve been down on 1980’s slashers lately so in some respects I back-pocketed that malaise in order to follow through on this Watchpile Shame-a-thon entry. It just seems that they’re all beginning to run together. Not that I don’t enjoy them on some basic level… but I tend to forget everything about them almost instantaneously.

The only recent new-watch 80’s slasher that impressed me was House on Sorority Row. So let that be the bar in that it also happens to share that pledge-themed DNA.

the initiation 1984 31 days of horror

The Story

Kelly (Daphne) suffers from nightmares in which a strange man is burning to death in her childhood home and the stress of her sorority initiation has exacerbated her condition. In an odd, parallel storyline that’s meant to inform our intuition about the identity of the slasher, a bunch of convicts escape from a mental institution. Kelly meanwhile pitches a a term paper idea to her psych TA (James Read aka Murph on Remington Steele) about her nightmares, childhood amnesia, etc.

As part of her initiation, Kelly is forced to steal the keys to her father’s big-ass department store so they can complete the bizarre sorority ritual. This involves somehow scaring the four pledges witless. If I’m being honest the head sorority babe didn’t really think this through. And, as they do, things go wrong and people die when college kids start fornicating and generally being dicks in a huge abandoned department store.

the initation vera miles

Clu Gulager and Vera Miles slumming it in slasherland.

Owing to the fact that producers canned the original director because he was taking too long to film a cheap slasher film, The Initiation bears the burden of feeling both like a TV movie and an arty giallo. Unfortunately its far more of the former and less of the latter. Within the same scene, you’ll get a nifty tracking shot, a few dutch angles and a heap of static two-shots.

On top of this schizophrenia, The Initiation serves up Vera Miles and Clu Gulagher as Kelly’s bourgeois parents. Kudos to Vera for sticking it out through shooting even though she only signed on because she’d been so impressed by Peter Crane (the original director). By the time she arrived for her two days of on-set shooting, Crane had already been fired. That said, if I didn’t know she was Vera Miles, I’d have just thought she stumbled in as a Murder, She Wrote extra.

Once the slashing starts it unfolds in a rather predictable pattern. The static and uninspired camerawork negates much of the tension. The Initiation just doesn’t have any trademark moments to separate it from the rest of the slasher pack. No inventive kills and while the blood flows freely, most of it takes place off camera. The Initiation subscribes to the low-budget theory of showering a problem with blood to make up for the lack of on-screen effects work… like someone’s standing just off-camera with a CostCo-sized ketchup bottle.

the initiation 1984

Audio/Visual notes:

For a cheapy slasher shot in 28 days, The Initiation looks quite good on the Arrow Blu with a healthy color palette and grain. Certain pieces such as misty flashbacks and on-location night scenes, however, appear very grainy. Otherwise everything looks and sounds good.

Final Thoughts:

Let’s not mistake this for a newly-discovered lost masterpiece. It’s a serviceable slasher film with an interesting twist — a twist so surprising that it feels like screenwriting hail mary. I’m not sure the film earns the twist, but it’s plausible enough that you’ll stop to consider it for a few minutes before dismissal.

Daphne Zuniga fan(s) and 80’s slasher aficionados will find this a perfectly passable way to spend 90 minutes, but this cheapie won’t leave much of an impression after its over.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 


Availability:  

The Arrow Films Blu-ray for The Initiation (1984) can be purchased from any respectable media retailer near you! And by that I mean that Amazon has it. So you’re good.

the initiation arrow blu-ray
amazon-buy-button

 

 

 

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

Mill of the Stone Women: 31 Days of Horror

mill of the stone women 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Mill of the Stone Women Shame:
Unwatched Double Dip! Mondo DVD & Subkultur Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s
Country of Origin: Italy



 

#4. Mill of the Stone Women

mill of the stone women japanese poster

So far my picks for this year’s Shame-a-thon have been top notch entertainment. Four movies. Four keepers. I hope I’m not frontloading this marathon because that would make for a grueling final few weeks of horror movie viewing.

I purchased a DVD copy of Mill of the Stone Women from Mondo Macabro during one of their sales. Shortly thereafter, Mondo offered a great deal on the then OOP Subkultur Blu-ray. In addition to the improved transfer, the Subkultur disc offered a few different features to *totally* justify that unwatched double dip. Totally.

The Italian gothic shocker Mill of the Stone Women keeps the trend of top notch horror flicks going strong with a Hammer-style dose of brooding restraint and Grand Guignol. Allow me to pause one second here for a word from our sponsor.

stop hammer time

Released the same year as Black Sunday, Mill of the Stone Women actually outgrossed Mario Bava’s classic in Italy. In the years since, Black Sunday has become an essential genre staple and Giorgio Ferroni’s film slipped into relative obscurity.

Released on August 30th, 1960, Mill of the Stone women became the first color film released in Italy, which is a useful anecdote for pub trivia and the offhand dropping of impressive film nuggets. But Mill offers even more fun oddities for posterity. In the opening credits, the film gives story credit to a book called Flemish Tales by Pieter van Weigen. As far as anyone knows, no such book exists.

mill of the stone women 31 days of summer

The Story

Borrowing themes from House of Wax (1953), Mill of the Stone Women amplifies the horrific mental imagery of corpses imprisoned in a museum-like setting. A Dutch professor of fine arts and self-proclaimed “doctor” uses the blood from ill-fated women to repeatedly revive his terminally ill daughter. The victims become the centerpieces of his macabre, moving art installation.

In House of Wax, Vincent Price’s madman revives his corpses through painstaking recreation of lifelike detail. Attendees are meant to see a proximity of humanity in the wax figures. Professor Val on the other hand, turns his corpses into a legitimate, representational horror show, like Peter Pan’s Flight at Disney World gone horribly horribly wrong. The bodies are formed into horrific vignettes, rather than a reconstitution of their former selves or famous historical figures.

The haunting visages of the women create a prolonged, underlying sense of unease. The dead-eyes of dolls, the smoky complexions of burned or disfigured women. These images linger and fester just beneath the surface even when they’re not on screen. The psychological horror of Mill of the Stone Women isn’t easily put into words — but it is effective, often more so than the Hammer films which it is clearly emulating.

mill of the stone women 31 days of horror

Though the film relies heavily on seasoned tropes of the genre — coffins, corpses, screaming vixens, mad science — the elements are woven and integrated so that they don’t play like a “how to do horror on a budget” playbook. It’s not that you don’t see the seams of Mill of the Stone Women, it’s that they don’t amount to anything that feels traditional. The film casts a certain enveloping spell. It’s not terror, per se, but an investment in the face-value quality of the horrific imagery.

It’s a skill the great horror filmmakers of the 1950’s and 1960’s had to have in their bag of tricks in order to convey more horror than they were necessarily able to show on screen. That which was felt became more potent than that which was seen. Watch The Innocents, Black Sunday or Carnival of Souls if you need to revisit some concrete examples. Mill of the Stone Women is unique because none of its magic was lost when color shed some light on the darker corners of the film. Less was often more in terms of graphic content and color, but Ferroni’s film plays with the texture of a black and white film — and I mean this in the best possible sense.

mill of the stone women 31 days of summer

Audio/Visual notes:

After a quick comparison of the Mondo DVD and the German Subkultur Blu-ray, there’s not a huge amount of gain in the crispness of the image — but rather the vibrancy of color on a largely grey palette. Note the above image. That yellow really pops on the Subkultur, but doesn’t have the same visual impact on the DVD. If you love Mill of the Stone Women, seek out the Subkultur, but you won’t be disappointed with the Mondo DVD. But good luck tracking down a reasonably priced copy of either.

Final Thoughts:

I’m going to stop just short of saying that I loved Mill of the Stone Women, but I am compelled to watch it again no more than 24 hours after my first viewing. That’s saying something as I’m always inclined to move on to the next new unwatched conquest. It’s just got a quality that belongs to a certain era of horror filmmaking. It’s called effective restraint and patience. Ferroni stared down “plodding” and “pedantic” and weathered poor contemporary reviews to produce a brand timeless terror that likely plays better for classic film fans in 2017 than it did to contemporary audiences in 1960.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


Availability:  

The OOP Mondo Macabro DVD can still be purchased for a hefty price at Amazon. The German Subkultur Blu-ray also seems to be OOP. Your best solution for watching Mill of the Stone Women right now seems to be Youtube.

mill of the stone women subkultur
amazon-buy-button

 

 

 

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The Velvet Vampire: 31 Days of Horror

velvet vampire 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of The Velvet Vampire Shame:
Unwatched Scream Factory LE Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s



 

#3. The Velvet Vampire

velvet vampire poster

Euro-trash vampirism makes me weak in my horror-loving knees. Stylized photography. Vibrant colors (usually red, obviously) foregrounded against a muted color palette. Heightened vampiric subtexts. Nudity and sexuality depicted as power, domination over mortal weakness.

Directed by Roger Corman disciple Stephanie Rothman, The Velvet Vampire, only emulated the Euro-styled vampire film. Rothman had written a follow-up to her successful film Student Nurses called Student Teachers, but the producer shifted the focus of the film to capitalize on the success of the European vampire film Daughters of Darkness.

1971 turned out to be a banner year for films of this particular model. In addition to The Velvet Vampire and Daughters of Darkness, Jess Franco released his masterpiece of erotic vampirism, Vampyros Lesbos. Rothman’s film, however, flopped at the box office. She believes this was due to the American audience’s inability to compartmentalize the film as either a traditional horror film or a full-on piece of exploitation.

the velvet vampire 31 days of horror

 

The Story

Doe-eyed Lee Ritter (Michael Blodgett) and his vapid (“vapid” is really putting it quite nicely) wife, Susan (Sherry Miles) join the beautiful and mysterious Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall) at her desert estate. Diane, meanwhile, begins to put the moves on both of them. The couple begins having shared, foreboding psychedelic visions. Diane’s emotional sorcery leads them both to transgression.

Sidenote: The name Diane LeFanu is a reference to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, author of the vampire novella Carmilla that pre-dated Bram Stoker’s novel by 26 years.

The non-existent narrative benefits the more European aspects of the production. The story provides the blank canvas for striking imagery and hypnotic dream sequences. Celeste Yarnall makes the most of this space and all but consummates her love affair with the entranced viewer.

the velvet vampire

That the American audience failed to embrace The Velvet Vampire is not surprising. While Yarnall’s vamp dominates the film with stoic sexuality, the ultimate motivations for her actions serve to diminish her menace and strengthen the character as flesh and blood rather than a self-serving monster. By adding grey to the black and white relationship between the vampire and its prey, Rothman complicated the emotional balance of the film — a development that undermined standard audience expectations.

The film’s sexuality also likely contributed to misapprehensions about Rothman’s intent. European sensibilities would have been far more accustomed to casual nudity as an aesthetic choice. Diane LeFanu uses sex to torment and control her unwilling guests. They are both repelled and obsessed by their host. The lack of graphic sex — despite the rampant sexuality — might have further confused an audience signed up for traditional Corman-brand low-budget trash.

Indeed, the performances of houseguests Blodgett and Miles belong in the realm of moldy and forgotten exploitation. Both turn in off-putting performances that nearly sink the film entirely during the first thirty minutes. Miles, especially, shrieks and recoils with a purposeful commitment akin to reading the TV Guide for enjoyment. The actress reacts the same to every scenario. Getting bitten by a snake? Walking in on her husband having sex with a vampire? Burnt toast? The emotion is called “open-mouthed dullard.”

the velvet vampire 31 days of horror

Audio/Visual notes:

The Scream Factory Blu-ray looks quite good. Colors seem to have been pumped up relative to the DVD and the grain seems entirely consistent with most low-budget films of the era. A few minor blemishes remain — it’s clear that Shout! cared enough to release this cult favorite, but expected only minor returns (if any) on its investment. An ever-present low-volume static rumble mars the soundtrack as a testament to this half-finished restoration job. Fans of the film should not complain, however, as The Velvet Vampire looks as good as it ever will, and a minor hum on the soundtrack won’t deter anyone’s overall enjoyment.

Final Thoughts:

Keep in mind my weakness for this style of horror and gauge the film accordingly. Like my prior Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober review of The Devil Doll, I enjoyed the film’s twists on the formula. While much of Rothman’s film follows the guidebook to Euro-trash vampirism, it’s clear she made this movie with a certain amount of sympathy for her vampiric anti-heroine. Celeste Yarnall’s Diane lives and breathes in ways that the on-screen humans do not. Some artificial art-house transgressions and unfortunate performances detract from the overall package, but The Velvet Vampire has earned a place as a rough and underseen gem of cult cinema.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


Availability:  

Shout Factory released a limited run of The Velvet Vampire on Blu-ray. It appears the Blu-ray is now OOP and selling for upwards of $40. The film can still be found on a Shout Factory 4-film DVD called Vampires, Mummies, and Monsters.


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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

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