Thirty Hertz Rumble

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

Tag: 31 days of horror (Page 2 of 11)

suspiria 1977

Suspiria: 31 Days of Horror

#22. Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria 1977 poster

Nature of Shame:
First time on the big screen.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s

I first saw Dario Argento’s Suspiria when I was 16. I backed into the Argento brand of Italian horror via the brief theatrical run of Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore.

A one paragraph blurb the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette propelled me to see an Italian zombie movie playing at the Denis Theater. By this point, let’s say I’d… devoured… George Romero’s Dead trilogy so my interest in lumbering brain-hungry monsters had reached a crescendo.

In the part of my brain that might have otherwise been put to better use — by say, remembering a person’s name upon first introduction — I store information about the movies I watch. I can recall when and where I saw just about any movie, especially in a theater. Other cinephiles likely have similar powers, but muggles like my wife find this specific skill rather superfluous.

Michael Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore (1994), starring Rupert Everett and Anna Falchi.

Built in the 1920’s and formerly a one-screen movie house, the Denis had divided its one large theater into four smaller ones. The upstairs house created using the balcony seats, where I saw Dellamorte Dellamore, provided the unique perspective of looking down onto the film. I only saw one other movie on that particular screen — David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996).

This viewing of Dellamorte Dellamore, or Cemetery Man as it was called during its US release, remains one of my most memorable theatrical experiences. Both the movie and the unusual experience contributed to this visceral memory. I detail this experience because as movie fans we always have those benchmark moments when our cinematic frame of reference suddenly and often violently gets thrown into flux. If movies like Michele Soavi’s poetic metaphysical Euro-trash zombie comedy existed what else might I find if I dig deeper into Italian horror?

In that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review of Dellamorte Dellamore, the author called Michele Soavi a “Dario Argento disciple.” I went to Blockbuster Video the next day and rented the only Argento film they carried — Suspiria. I fell in love. I began ordering bootleg Argentos unavailable in the United States. In college I served up Opera (1987) to my unsuspecting friends one Halloween. 22 years later, I finally had the opportunity to see Argento’s masterpiece on the big screen.

Suspiria 1977

The Story

American ballet student Suzy Bannon arrives in Germany to join a prestigious dance academy. Upon arriving late one stormy night, she’s denied entry, and a frantic girl exits the building babbling incoherencies. In the first of many troubling events, the girl is found murdered, stabbed and hung from the ceiling of a friend’s apartment building.

The next day, Suzy returns to the Academy and meets the staff and students. During her first session, Suzy faints and is prescribed a specific diet to “build up her blood.” Forced to reside on campus due to her illness, Suzy befriends a girl named Sara, who shares with her information about Pat, the girl who evacuated the building that first night, and the suspicions Pat held about the teachers and administrators at the school.

Maggots rain from the ceiling. Sara disappears. The blind piano player that scored the students’ practice is killed by his seeing-eye dog. Suzy starts to put the pieces together and unravels a centuries old mystery.

suspiria 1977

Dario Argento champions style over substance. Argento critics recite the phrase ad infinitum. But what if style is the substance? Filmmakers generally — as visual storytellers — must use an aesthetic to serve their narrative. But is it actually a negative when a filmmaker wraps narrative over an aesthetic to the extent that the story itself seems like the accessory?

The criticism arises most frequently when flaws can be found in other aspects of the production. With regard to Suspiria, I’m not blind to the inadequacies of the screenplay or the narrative simplicity; however, Suspiria‘s flaws do not detract from the tension as Suzy delves deeper into the bowels of the estate and they certainly do not tarnish Argento’s phantasmagoria of color and haunting soundscapes.

suspiria pool

The weary “style over substance” criticism has been applied to films as long as projector gears have been turning. Critics hid this negativity behind layers of formal, ornamented prose, but their intent remained clear. Upon its release, German critic Herbert Jhering said of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): “If actors are acting without energy and are playing within landscapes and rooms which are formally ‘excessive’, the continuity of the principle is missing.” Jhering could have said the same about Suspiria 57 years later. Filmmakers as widely disparate as Sergei Eistenstein and Jean Cocteau echoed similar sentiments about Wiene’s masterpiece of surrealist cinema.

The most troublesome aspect of  the modern use of “style over substance” isn’t its omnipresence. It’s a phrase that professes sincere criticism but offers none. I return to the thought that style in a visual medium is nothing short of substance. However, that a film values aesthetics first neither betrays nor necessarily elevates other aspects of filmmaking. A beautiful film may be resplendent, but it might also be vapid. The question must be: Does style contribute to the success of the filmmaker’s vision?

neon demon

Nicolas Wending Refn’s Neon Demon (2016)

Nicolas Wending Refn dwells in that perverse balance of style and substance. Consider the differences between Drive (2011) and his latest Neon Demon (2016). Where Refn uses substance to propel and embellish a standard narrative in the former, a similar overall aesthetic fails to support the labored metaphors of the latter. Speaking of “labored,” this has been a convoluted way to state the obvious fact that the value of a film is a subjective verdict weighed against dozens of different aspects of filmmaking working together to unite a collection of signs and signifiers.

With regard to the production of Suspiria, Dario Argento clearly set forth to produce a visual and aural spectacle that titillated the senses and immersed the viewer into an otherworldly atmosphere. He bathes the viewer in an unnatural palette of gaudy blues, purples and reds. Blood spurts orange. Any individual frame could be used in a master class on composition and lighting, and these stylistic choices all contribute to the instability and visceral unease that the audience shares with Suzy Bannon.

suspiria

Final Suspiria Thoughts:

Before heading off to see Suspiria on the big screen, I tossed in my old Anchor Bay DVD. I wanted to take one final look at the traditional home video color palette for this film before basking in the restoration work done by Synapse. Even though I’d only seen glimpses of the new images, it felt bleak.

I’m happy to report that everything I loved about Suspiria has been magnified. The big screen immersion just cannot be replicated at home — and maybe not even by the pending Blu-ray release. The colors envelop you — Argento’s grip is firmer, the tension more present. You’re properly captive. If you’ve never seen Suspiria on the big screen — or better yet, if you’ve never seen Suspiria at all — I cannot properly convey without a string of expletives how strongly I feel that you must see this film theatrically to properly judge Argento’s “style over substance.”

And do me a favor, if you still default to using “style over substance” as a criticism, follow that up by discussing how that style fails to support the filmmaker’s intent. Only then can we have a proper discussion about the value of Suspiria.

suspiria 1977

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

Availability:  

Suspiria 3D Blu-ray

Pre-order the Synapse 3D Limited Edition Suspiria Steelbook from Diabolik DVD. This will, without a doubt, be the definitive version of the film on home video.

diabolik dvd

 

 

 

 

2017 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Shame Statement
31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.

#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) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991) / #25. The Wife Killer (1976) / #26. Cannibal! The Musical (1993) / #27. The Wicker Man (1973) / #28. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) / #29. Night Creatures (1962) / #30. Nosferatu (1922) / #31. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare / #32. Day of the Dead (1985) / #33. Psycho II (1983) / #34. The Green Butchers (2003)

closet monster house

House & House II: 31 Days of Horror

#19. House (1985)

house 1985

Nature of Shame:
Revisiting on old favorite on a brand new Arrow Films Blu-ray box set.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s

From The Old Dark House, let’s move on to just plain old House, the horror comedy that mingles PTSD and George Wendt. While we’re on the topic of house-based horror movies, I wonder if you could fulfill and entire Hooptober Challenge list with only movies containing “House” in the title. Hausu, House of Sorority Row, Last House on the Left, House of Wax, , House II, House 3, House 4, Road House, Animal House, etc

Take a moment to look at the word “house.” Don’t you think it starts to look a little strange? I looked up the origins, just for a little bit of learning this morning and came up with this:

Old English hus “dwelling, shelter, building designed to be used as a residence,” from Proto-Germanic *husan (source also of Old Norse, Old Frisian hus, Dutch huis, German Haus), of unknown origin, perhaps connected to the root of hide (v.) [OED]. In Gothic only in gudhus “temple,” literally “god-house;” the usual word for “house” in Gothic being according to OED razn.

It’s no surprise that the Germans had a hand in this.

house 1985

But what would the Greatest American Hero know about Germanic word origins?

The Story

Troubled author Roger Cobb (William Katt) misplaced his son and as a result of his separation from his wife, moved into the family house in which his aunt committed suicide.

He’s determined to finish the book about his time in Vietnam, but unsettling nightmares about his time in the war and his potentially sociopathic commanding officer (Richard Moll) deter progress. Soon the house itself attempts to expunge its new inhabitant. Cobb attempts to convey suspicions about the house to his next door neighbor Harold (George Wendt). Instead of assisting, Harold begins a peeping-tom suicide watch.

house 1985

House remains an oddity in the horror genre — a goofy, schlocky horror film that simultaneously entertains a rather serious conversation about post-traumatic stress disorder. If you remove the creature effects (that owe a deep debt to Evil Dead and perhaps in turn influenced how Sam Raimi approached Evil Dead 2) and the light-hearted interaction between Cobb and Harold, House becomes a psychological thriller about the Vietnam War.

You have to peel back a few layers, but it’s there — even though the film’s limited budget (and William Katt’s hair) undermines the gravitas of the war-era flashbacks. So what is House exactly? Without more space and a greater study of the film’s specific eccentricities, we’ll call it a kitchen sink horror film of ideas and inspirations that works more often than it doesn’t even though it shouldn’t. Follow?

With that in mind, House‘s lasting value remains the “things” that go bump in the night. Backwood Films designed and fabricated seven different creature models for the film. The obese witch that Cobb chops to bits and Richard Moll’s rotting corpse of a solider leave lasting impressions but it’s the closet-bound “war demon” that deserves a special shout out. The elaborate, fully-mechanical puppet required fifteen operators/handlers. Modern CGI would have rendered this in a weekend. And it would have been dull and forgettable. Take a moment to cherish these efforts.

closet monster house

Credit where credit is due. House’s “war demon” puppet is a work of art.

Directed by Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2, Part 3) and produced by Sean S. Cunningham, the creator of Friday the 13th and director of Part 1, House boasts a curious pedigree and one of which I wasn’t even aware until this rewatch. House manages are few moments of legitimate suspense as Cobb dares to discover what might lie behind Door #3.

 

Final House Thoughts:

Still effective, still funny, House’s scattershot brand of horror succeeds because it embraces the audience experience. A little bit of horror, a little bit of humor, and a little bit of something to ground the film in real world trauma.

richard moll house

It won’t hold up under the critical eye of someone looking for flaws, but that’s not our concern. Don’t we all just want to have some fun with our 80’s haunted house flicks? House is probably a three-star film, but I hold a special place in my heart for movies that dare to give me a Victorian mansion filled with oozy, drippy, practical-effects creatures from another dimension.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

#20. House II: The Second Story (1986)

house 2 posterHoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Sequels

First of all, love the punnage, House II. Bravo.

Miner and Cunningham abandoned House. Ethan Wiley and Fred Dekker snapped it up. If you’re a horror fan, there’s a good a chance you were familiar with the names Miner and Cunningham; I doubt, however, that Wiley and Dekker ring many immediate bells. You’re excused.

Fred Dekker actually had a nice little career in the offing at this point in 1986. He’d had hand in the screenplay for House (1985) and wrote and directed the fantastic Night of the Creeps (1986). He added The Monster Squad (1987) to his resume a year later. His films tended to earn a nice critical reception, but flop at the box office.

The House II filmmakers looked at House and said, “We’ll make that look like a Merchant Ivory melodrama when we’re done here. Also, dollars to donuts, Indiana Jones is gonna rip off this crystal skull bit.”

house 2

The Story

I’ll tell you, but you won’t believe me.

Jesse (Soul Man‘s Arye Gross) and his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln — real name!) move into an old mansion that had been in his family for generations. His parents were murdered there; you know how that whole childhood nostalgia thing goes. As a kind of housewarming party, Jesse’s friend Charlie arrives with his wife Amy Yasbeck for a sleepover.

Jesse finds a picture with his great-great grandfather holding a crystal skull thing and he decides for some reason that the skull must be buried with him. So they dig him up. After “Gramps” returns to life and tries to kill them, they all become buddies. Just two crazy friends and their redneck cowboy. Why this never made the leap to TV sitcom, I’ll never understand.

gramps house 2

The boys drink and carouse and tell stories and Gramps explains that the family house was actually built with Aztec stones that somehow, with the help of the skull, certain rooms create a portal across space and time. Gramps then makes Jesse and Charlie promise to protect the skull from the forces of evil that would try to steal it.

So here’s your inciting incident. I’ll just lay it out plainly so not to confuse anyone.

At an impromptu Halloween party, a barbarian guy steals the skull, which is just hanging out on a pedestal at the party, while Jesse fends off a drunk ex-girlfriend, meets a baby pterodactyl and a worm-dog thing, and his current girlfriend runs off with Bill Maher in a jealous rage over the ex’s party presence. Obviously the guys keep the pterodactyl and the worm-dog thing as pets. Obvious. No concern over the cross-dimension consequences.

The worm-dog thing.

This ushers in the film’s most inspired sequence where Bill (John Ratzenberger) arrives to inspect the old house’s wiring and introduces himself (with business cards!) as an “electrician / part-time adventurer” and proceeds to lead Jesse and Charlie through the inter-dimensional portal to retrieve the skull and rescue a would-be virgin sacrifice. I cannot stress this enough. John Ratzenberger as a time-traveling spacetime adventurer should have been a 12-movie franchise.

house 2 1986

And yada yada yada, they get the skull back and Jesse fights an undead gunslinger named Slim Reeser and saves the day.

Final House II Thoughts:

This movie doesn’t give two $&^#s about anything, and I can admire that about a movie. Two guys got drunk on tequila and wrote this thing on expired Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

Availability:  

house 4-disc blu-ray

Don’t settle for the stateside offering of merely House and House II when you can have all four House films by ordering Arrow Films’ House: The Collection. On the other hand it’s a bit rare now, so you should probably just go ahead and order the US edition, House/House II: Two Stories. And upon further review, it appears that that is also rather hard to get. So. Here’s the newly available House and House II single movie editions.

amazon-buy-button

2017 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Shame Statement
31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.

#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) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991) / #25. The Wife Killer (1976) / #26. Cannibal! The Musical (1993) / #27. The Wicker Man (1973) / #28. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) / #29. Night Creatures (1962) / #30. Nosferatu (1922) / #31. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

The Old Dark House: 31 Days of Horror

#18. The Old Dark House (1932)

old dark house 1932

Nature of Shame:
No shame. Just a brilliant new restoration on the big screen at the Hollywood Theater — Dormont, PA.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1930’s
Pre-1970’s

99% of all movies merely exist. They’re created to make money. They play in theaters. And then they disappear. Sometimes people remember them. Sometimes they don’t. There’s no sense of divine intervention or immaculate conception; they come about as the result of a screenwriter sitting at his desk wondering what someone might want to see.

And then there’s James Whale’s The Old Dark House. The Old Dark House doesn’t give a damn.

old dark house 1932

The Story

At face value, The Old Dark House descended from “the wayward travelers stranded in a spooky house” boilerplate. One might easily mistake it for any of a dozen other films where doors creak, lightning crashes and a damsel leaps into the arms of her rock-solid man-hero.

We’ll skip ahead to the part where the wayward travelers (Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart) learn that their host, Horace Femm, a man with twitchy, cavernous eyes, is on the run from the law, and his overbearing, bible-thumping, disapproving sister Rebecca Femm believes all modern humans are condemned to rot in hell. Oh, and then there’s Boris Karloff’s Morgan, the alcoholic mute butler with a streak of sociopathy. You apparently couldn’t even get good help in 1932.

While it’s true that The Old Dark House is filled with long shadows, billowy drapes and mysterious voices, the film differentiates itself because screenwriters R.C. Sherriff and Benn Levy populated the film with properly bizarre and often untethered moments. You’ll never look at a bowl of potatoes the same way again.

Credit owed to Universal’s Carl Laemmle. Laemmle fancied himself a lover of film, a champion of the artist’s vision. Uncle Carl admired Whale’s and Levy’s Waterloo Bridge (1931) and brought them together again to work on an adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s Benighted, a novel about post-World War I disillusionment. Sherriff came on to add that touch of comedy to the script.

 

Despite garnering mostly popular reviews, The Old Dark House fared poorly at the American box office. According to the booklet accompanying the Kino Lorber DVD, poor word of mouth sunk the film after its initial weekend. Rialto Theater in New York City pulled The Old Dark House only ten days into its initial three-week run.

Disappeared from the public conscience, the film maintained a critical reputation as a stunning example of the gothic style of early Universal horror. After Universal lost the rights to the story in 1957, William Castle remade the film in 1963. The original became a forgotten commodity and potentially a lost film. Whale’s friend, director Curtis Harrington (Queen of Blood), went on a quest in 1968 to assure the film’s survival. He discovered a print in the Universal Studios vault and persuaded the George Eastman House to finance a new print and a restoration of the nearly destroyed first reel.

Even though we can still enjoy the perverse pleasures The Old Dark House (in a newly and beautifully restored Blu-ray from Cohen Media to boot), it saddens me as a lover of classic film that something so singular very nearly disappeared forever — despite being the product of a revered filmmaker such as James Whale. What other treasures have slipped through the cracks from directors we never had the pleasure of knowing? What other films debuted decades ahead of their time only to be met with public confusion and disinterest? These are no new epiphanies; certain films just rekindle old standard film-lover woes.

Final Old Dark House Thoughts:

Top to bottom, The Old Dark House wriggles beneath under your skin — not in that lingering gonna-haunt-your-dreams way. You’ll be thinking about The Old Dark House for days after viewing, whether its your first or your fourth. It’s all the little things that add up to something unforgettable.

the old dark house staircase

The old woman dressed as an old man because Whale couldn’t find an old man worthy of playing a frail character of 100+. #HaveAPotato. Gloria Stuart making shadow puppets as if she had merely found some downtime on set. Melvyn Douglas taking time out to woo Lillian Bond in the garage while chaos ensues inside the house. The ornate and shadowy staircase and bannister. Boris Karloff’s hulking and mischievous servant, falling off the wagon and glaring through broken windows. I could come up with 100 reasons why The Old Dark House is worth your time, but then what would be left for you to discover? Or discover all over again?

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

Availability:  

old dark house blu-ray

 

Buy this brand new Blu-ray immediately. The film will never look better and this is an essential film in any self-respective classic horror lover’s collection. Check that. It’s an essential in any self-respecting film lover’s collection.

amazon-buy-button

2017 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Shame Statement
31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.

#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) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991) / #25. The Wife Killer (1976) / #26. Cannibal! The Musical (1993) / #27. The Wicker Man (1973) / #28. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) / #29. Night Creatures (1962)

symptoms 1974

Symptoms: 31 Days of Horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.
View my ’17 Cinema Shame/Hooptober Shame-a-thon Statement

Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Mondo Macabro Blu
I’d never seen a film by Jose Ramon Larraz.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Country of origin: UK


#15. Symptoms (1974)

symptoms 1974Preconceptions can be damning. Especially, I think, when it comes to horror filmmakers. For example, I toss around the term “schlock” too cavalierly, and I’m quite sure most people misunderstand the affection I have for films falling under this umbrella.

After the Cinema Shame podcast I just released about Friday the 13th, I noticed that I used the terms “schlock” and “trash” to describe a certain genre of European filmmakers that indulge their baser instincts, mingling sex and bloodletting as if the two were inseparable parts of the same whole. These are not the correct usages of the terms, but I’ve come to use them both as shorthand.

Somewhere along the way “schlock” and “trash” became more prominent in my own lexicon. Shame on me. Words have meanings. Irony and certain twists of phrase are understood by those familiar with our tastes — not casual conversationalists.

Maybe a review of Jose Ramon Larraz’s brilliant Symptoms isn’t the place for soul searching about the way we present and interpret film criticism. Then again, I had prejudged Larraz based on the way other people used those very same terms to describe his work. It’s a commentary on how easy it is to misappropriate these blank and banal verbal shortcuts and how dangerous they can be when used unconsciously.

in my defense, however, I’d read plenty of discussion that superficially linked José Ramón Larraz with Jesus Franco, and while I hold great affection for a few of Franco’s films, a great auteur Franco was not. I made the shortsighted assessment that I did not need another “Jesus Franco” in my life, and therefore, Larraz waited on the sidelines until I finally uncorked this beautiful Mondo Macabro Blu-ray.

symptoms 1974

The Story

A young woman, Anne, is invited by Helen (Angela Pleasance) to stay at her English country mansion. She encounters a repulsive male-gaze creeper outside the estate and the increasingly off-kilter and fragile disposition of her host. Any further narrative detail would overburden Symptoms‘ efficient slow-burn efficacy and betray the final revelation.

Much to my surprise (and counter to Larraz’s well-documented reputation), Symptoms‘ pacing belongs to the realm of gothic horror. The film most obviously recalls Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), but further scrutiny reveals flavors of Hitchcock. A heaping tablespoon of Psycho (1960) and a dash of Rebecca (1940). One particular scene might even rekindle memories of The Innocents (1961).

symptoms 1974

Mood and tone dominate the film. Suspense lies in the anticipation, the constant sense that something — you don’t know what — will divert the film’s narrative at any moment. Larraz patiently invokes multiple sources of voyeurism, and John Scott’s score perfectly complements the camera’s study of the voyeurs’ uneasy objects of obsession.

The primary object, Helen (Donald Pleasance’s daughter, by the way) graces the screen with a porcelain countenance undermined by a tremor of madness. Despite her frail, vulnerable beauty, the viewer comprehends something terrifying within. Liken her to Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins’ boyish everyman. Norman differs because he projects his crimes onto another and that act of projection ameliorates the transgression behind the placid exterior. In the role Angela Pleasance is mesmerizing.

As an uncertain testament to the artistic value of the film, the British film board submitted Symptoms as the UK’s official Cannes entry in 1974. Produced in England, but directed by the Catalonian Larraz and funded by the Belgian Jean Dupuis, the international flavor of the production may have made it an unusual choice. (Fun fact: Smurf money paid for Symptoms. Jean Dupuis was heir to the Éditions Dupuis S.A empire — the Belgian publisher responsible for European comics such as The Smurfs and Gaston Lagaffe.)

smurf

Final Symptoms Thoughts:

Back in 2010, the BFI placed Symptoms on its short list for most wanted missing British films. Long unavailable on anything but a fuzzy VHS tape, the discovery of a new print in 2014 set in motion the events that brought this Mondo Macabro Blu-ray (and a Region B/2 BFI release) to fruition and hopefully a modern re-evaluation among the great films of 1970’s horror.

The flawless restoration work that appears here would never betray Symptom‘s longstanding status as a so-called “lost film.” José Ramón Larraz’s film not only deserves mention in the same breadth as Polanski’s Repulsion, but it might just be the superior film. Lingering and unsettling psychological terror characterizes Larraz’s masterpiece. “Schlock” this is not.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 

Availability:  

symptoms blu-ray

I might require another viewing to unpack this movie, but in the meantime, you’d be well Smurfed to pick up Mondo Macabro‘s pristine Blu-ray release.

amazon-buy-button

diabolik dvd.

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) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991)

from hell it came

From Hell It Came: 31 Days of Horror

from hell it came

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 Warner Archive Blu

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1950’s
Pre-1970’s


 

#14. From Hell It Came (1957)

from hell it cameThe “Killer Tree” sub-sub-subgenre has deeper roots than you might imagine. Off the top of my head, you’ve got the tree from Evil Dead (1981), The Guardian (1990) starring my muse Ms. Carey Lowell, Day of The Triffids (1962), and a brief segment in Poltergeist (1982). But we’re really just scratching the terra firma of this fertile film forest.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention The Crawlers (1990), Trees (2000), and Trees II: The Root of All Evil (2004). The last of which is notable because it stars Ron Palillo (aka Arnold Horshack). You haven’t seen any of these, and I haven’t either. (Though, Trees II boasts a good pun and I can’t often resist titular punnage.)

Without a doubt, however, the grandaddy of them all was 1957’s From Hell It Came, a film that is unfairly maligned as one of the worst movies ever made. None other than Leonard Maltin gave this film his backhanded seal of approval by saying, “As walking-tree movies go, this is at the top of the list.”

That said, let’s look at this logically. If a movie resides in the canopy of its particular sub-sub-subgenre, how can it possibly belong on your or anyone’s worst movie list? I’ve already named a handful of films that live in the shadow of From Hell It Came.

from hell it came 1957

The Story

On a South Seas island, a prince is wrongly “convicted” of murder after he embraces the devil medicine brought to the island by Western doctors hoping to wipe out the island’s plague / potential nuclear fallout problem. That the tribe’s witch doctor did the killing, framed the prince, and judged him guilty of murder represents perhaps a glitch in the island system of law. Before being put to death with a dagger in his heart and buried in a hollow tree trunk, however, the prince vowed to return and seek revenge on those that had wronged him.

No doubt you can see where the movie’s going with this. As a result of the nuclear contamination — because you positively cannot have a 1950’s monster movie without some sort of atomic age panic — the prince returns as a scowling tree stump known as “Tabanga,” the legendary tree monster of the South Seas.

Paul Blaisdell’s original sketches for the Tabanga in From Hell It Came.

Produced and directed by the Milner brothers, From Hell It Came represents their second and final creature feature after The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955). Without belaboring the point, there’s a good reason they only made two.

From Hell It Came gained due infamy from the remarkably labored tree monster that lumbers (pun intended) around screen terrorizing island wrongdoers. The Tabanga effects have been credited to the legendary 1950’s effects man Paul Blaisdell. Blaisdell monstered up films such as Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and It Conquered the World (1956) among many others. After submitting a few color sketches to the Milners with no response, Blaisdell figured the filmmakers had passed on his ideas… until he saw the film and recognized his concept — in a laughably lesser package.

I’m going to shop short of crediting Tabanga’s comical “guy-in-a-tree-suit” appearance for the lasting appeal of From Hell It Came because the film contains more than just ironic entertainment. Not much more, but perhaps as a result of the Milners’ lack of any formal filmmaking skills they ignored screenwriting and narrative convention as much as they embraced face-value 1950’s science fiction tropes.

from hell it came

The way the Milners force the “Tabanga” legend into the story of American doctors investigating nuclear fallout, never comes together — but a viewer steeped in 1950’s science fiction will note the bubblegum holding the operation together.

When the Tabanga first begins to grow up from the ground — his pout face and permanent frown lines betraying the sadness in his lonely, still-beating heart — the doctors’ first reaction to exhume the thing to take it back to the lab. To study? To nurse back to health? The true motivations remain slightly unclear and grow even foggier when they determine that the “life” begins ebbing from this roadside stump carving. To break this down, they took the pulse of a tree stump and then decided to inject it with a serum that’s proven successful at exacerbating radiation effects in monkeys.

They’re justifiable shocked when the arrive at their lab the next morning to discover that it’s been trashed, and Pouty McStumpface has disappeared, having already commenced his comeback tour of revenge. Tabanga’s targets offer little resistance as he systematically dispatches them in quicksand and apparent strangulation. There’s no will they or won’t the survive. The wrongdoers die and the doctor’s go on a half-hearted crusade to maybe dissuade a tree from killing or maybe not. The plan’s not entirely clear; they’re armed with a mild case of righteous indignation and rifles.

from hell it came

Final Thoughts:

I won’t oversell this. The locals dress in cabana wear from Tommy Bahama and the doctors dote over a grotesque tree-stump like it might potentially cure cancer — yet it seems overtly clear that a frowny-face tree stump that grows magically from the ground would most certainly harbor ill will.

The off-kilter dialogue between the American doctors contains upwards of 75% sexual innuendo, and veteran character actor Tod Andrews in particular delivers his share of lecherous lines with unrequited panache. And most notably, From Hell It Came lacks any particular moral compass. The doctors recklessly engage in pseudo-science and local politics. The islanders murdered an innocent man in cold blood. The tree monster — who should be our rooting interest by process of elimination — doesn’t return with conscience enough to differentiate between those that deserve a comeuppance and those that do not.

All this adds up to a film that can’t be pinned down despite the fact that as viewers we’ve seen this particular story play out in dozens of creature features from the 1950’s. Odd, offputting and poorly conceived, From Hell It Came might not be the result of great minds, but the baffling filmmaking decisions that came together to create the great Tabanga stumbled into an unforgettable branch of inexplicable entertainment.

Now, Warner Archive, as long as we’ve deemed From Hell It Came worthy of a Blu-ray, where’s my SHH! The Octopus 3-disc Special Edition?

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


 

Availability:  

from hell it came warner archive

A 1957 killer tree movie doesn’t deserve to look this good. But as long as it does, let’s embrace the absurdity and applaud Warner Archive’s efforts.

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diabolik dvd.

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) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. House III: The Horror Show (1989) / #22. House IV: The Repossession (1992)

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