Tag Archives: hooptober

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

31 Days of Horror: 2017

Halloween brings out the best and the worst of us as obsessive moviewatchers. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine my experience mirrors many of yours. When October rolls around (now mid-September because the 31 horror movies in 31 days doesn’t jive with adult schedules), horror movies dominate all channels. The wife shrugs her shoulders. Hide the more explicit DVD cases from the kids. You start arguing about sequels and franchises and Argento vs. Bava vs. Fulci.

My wife joins in when I can find a nice, palatable mid-grade horror film. In recent years, she’s joined me for films like Tremors and The Fog and comedies like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. (Though, she still tells me she’s nervously scanning the mist for ghost pirates whenever a nice fog rolls through the Pittsburgh hills.)

Each year for the past four years, I’ve embarked upon the journey to watch at least 31 horror movies by the end of October. Last year I joined @ElCinemonster’s Hoop-Tober challenge on Letterboxd.com. Each year he lays down a few challenges to help guide the viewing of his monstrous minions. This year I’m again combining my Cinema Shame Horror Shame-a-thon with the Hoop-Tober Challenge 4.0 to perpetuate the most unwieldy title in the history of movie blogging and watching.

Welcome to the @CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile/Shame-a-thon 31 Days of Horror 2017

31 Days of Horror 2017

Let’s lay down some rules for any lunatics that might want to play the home version of the 31 Days of Horror 2017.

Pick 31 never-before-seen (or unwatched DVD purchases) horror movies — “horror” is broadly defined as anything containing elements of the horror genre. So, for example, I’ve count the Abbott & Costello monster films in the past because of the classic movie monsters. Watch as many as you can stomach during your “month” of October.

I’m air-quoting “month” because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m borrowing @ElCinemonster’s notion that we’re busy goddamn people and 31 days is just not a reasonable duration for busy people to watch 31 horror movies. He’s beginning his “month” on September 15th. I plan to do the same. I hit 33 last year(!) and while I don’t expect to top that total I aim to match.

I’m going to pluck as many movies as possible from my Watch Pile (any film I already own that hasn’t been watched). I’ve been making a more concerted effort to watch more movies than I buy. The worthy remain. The ones I don’t see myself watching again hit eBay. I’ll note the outcome of each disc in my blurb.

And speaking of blurbs… after each movie, I’ll toss up a mini-review and a 30Hz rating that will correspond to my review on Letterboxd.com. The review may or may not contain any actual insight. The reviews are the part of this project that will leave you a quivering pile of bloody goo. And now for the more specific Hoop-Tober demonic hurdles, courtesy of @ElCinemonster.

6 sequels (mix-and-match. 6 total)
6 countries
6 decades
6 films from before 1970
6 films from the following: Carpenter, Raimi, Whale, Browning, Craven, Tom Holland (mix-and-match, or all one)
3 people eating people (non-zombie)
1 Hammer Film
1 Romero film
1 terrible oversight aka OVERT SHAME! (use this link, filter out the films you’ve seen and picked the highest rated film from the list that you can get ahold of)

And 2 Tobe Hooper Films (There must ALWAYS be a Hooper film)

-review them all.(eek)

Clearly one film can satisfy multiple criteria. Viewing and reviewing will begin at 12:01am CST on Sept 15th.

I plan to call some audibles when spur-of-the-moment cravings strike, but here’s my blueprint for the 2017 31 Days Of Horror CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-Thon.

31 days of horror 2017

Past #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thons: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 Part 1 | 2015 Part 22016 

*rewatch

  1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
  2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
  3. Brain Damage
  4. Caltiki: The Immortal Monster
  5. Cannibal! The Musical
  6. Christine
  7. Death Walks in High Heels
  8. Eating Raoul
  9. Friday the 13th
  10. Friday the 13th Part II
  11. House*
  12. House 2*
  13. House 3
  14. House 4
  15. Fox with the Velvet Tail
  16. Invaders from Mars
  17. Mill of the Stone Women
  18. Posession
  19. Prince of Darkness
  20. Shocker
  21. Spontaneous Combustion
  22. Suddenly in the Dark
  23. The Devil Doll
  24. The Dismembered
  25. The Green Butchers
  26. The Hound of the Baskervilles*
  27. The Wife Killer
  28. Spider (Zirneklis)
  29. The Velvet Vampire
  30. What Have You Done to Solange?
  31. Two Evil Eyes
  32. The Initiation
  33. The Fan (Der Fan)
  34. The Invisible Man (familiar comfort horror)*

the invisible man 31 days of horror 2017

What’s your list? What’s your plan for horror movie watching this year? If you’re keeping a list or participating in the Hoop-Tober challenge, I’ll link you in the header for my posts. Just leave a note with a link in the comments. Together we shall overcome… or we’ll be the loser pumped off in the first act to establish indomitable menace. It’s more comforting to know you’re not doing this alone.

31 Days of Horror: A Chinese Ghost Story

31daysofhorror a chinese ghost story

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Blu-ray. Long overdue rewatch. Shame prep for A Chinese Ghost Story 2.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1980’s
Country of Origin – Hong Kong


The Advance Word: I remember being transfixed by Joey Wong and the amazing zombie-skeleton things in the basement of the haunted temple that clearly came from the same brand of undead as the ones from Army of Darkness, but gooier.

Wa Mu combats evil forces in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Later he raps.
Wa Mu combats evil forces in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Later he raps while training.

A Chinese Ghost Story remains one of those fine examples of Hong Kong cinema that refuses to be defined by any specific genre. Blending elements of horror, romance, slapstick, musical and wuxia, the film probably has more in common with the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera any specific genre. When you think director Ching Siu-Tung (best known perhaps as John Woo’s action choreographer/stunt director) has crammed everything imaginable into this tale of supernatural romance, his demon warrior played by Wa Mu, drops a rhyme while he trains for his final battle against the Tree Devil.

Beneath the pratfalls and hilariously ineffective gooey, undead basement zombies, lies an earnest supernatural romance. Leslie Cheung’s roving collection agent stumbles across a beautiful woman near an abandoned temple. She’s radiant. Flowing black hair. Sexy little anklet. Unfortunately she’s also quite dead… and a kept spirit who lures libidinous men to their demise. It seems the Tree Devil feeds on their souls. Further bad luck, she’s also been given to another malevolent spirit as his future bride. The deck’s stacked against our bumbling, good-intentioned hero.

The chaotic finale finds Leslie Cheung and Wa Mu battling demons and other various undead creatures to rescue the lovely (but still very dead) girl from her captors. More wuxia, magic, swordfighting and breaches of the ethereal plain in order to make her not quite so dead. Critics might fault A Chinese Ghost Story for working on so many different levels but only excelling at one — when it slows down the pace to explore the romance between Cheung and Wong.

I enjoyed rediscovering the absurdities all over again. Having not seen this film since college, the lingering memories were little more than individual images. When Wu Ma begins his rap, you’re either on board with the whole endeavor or checking out for good. The best comparison I can offer for this film is Army of Darkness with a heaping tablespoon of gooey romance.

 

Technical Notes:

Hong Kong cinema has never been known for taking especially good care of its film stock, but the Kam & Ronson Blu-ray looks rather sharp. The film always had a soft feel to it so it’ll likely never look better than this. A good amount of grain remains and there’s some nice contrast where the DVD looked uniformly dull. All of this is relative. If you’re familiar with Hong Kong cinema of the 1980’s you should already have reasonable expectations. The English subtitles are generally intelligible — only a few mental leaps of translation required. This is likely the best this film will ever look or sound.

a chinese ghost story

Final Thoughts:

Ever since I first viewed A Chinese Ghost Story as part of my college class in Hong Kong Cinema, I’ve considered a favorite. It even made an appearance in my Top 100 Films Ranking for a short time. At the time A Chinese Ghost Story blew me away due to the film’s total disregard for genre convention. Was it horror? Melodrama? Comedy? Clearly nobody makes movies like this over here. Now that I’ve taken off my Hong Kong cinema training wheels, I realize this method of genre-bending isn’t as unusual as I first thought. I still revere A Chinese Ghost Story for those moments where Ching Siu-Tung spits on narrative convention for the sake of pure entertainment.

30Hz Rating: Bloody Good

30hzrating4

A chinese ghost story blu-rayBlu-ray Verdict: I was happy to replace that old DVD and long may A Chinese Ghost Story anchor my shelf of Hong Kong cinema.

Availability: The All-Region HK Blu-ray is now Out of Print. A Japanese box set of the three films is available at YesAsia.com.

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