Hooptober ’21 Challenge Checklist: Decade: 1980’s Asian Cinema Country: Russia
Viy Elevator Pitch
Three wild nights with sexy witch shenanigans and a “vampire” payoff.
Idle Viy Musings
Three seminary students get lost at night, stumble upon a farmhouse and ask the old lady for shelter. She agrees, on the condition that they sleep in different parts of her barn. She comes to one, Khoma, in the middle of the night and attempts to seduce him. He refuses — because she’s an old bag. Instead she puts a spell on him, climbs on his back and rides him around the countryside like a horse — a flying horse! When they land, he snaps out of the spell and beats the woman with a stick. As she’s dying to transforms into a beautiful young woman. He runs off to seek solace from his Rector who informs him that a rich merchant has a dying daughter — the woman he beat — and he’s asked for him by name to pray for her soul over the course of three nights. Else unstated severe punishment brought down from above.
There’s a lush and fertile weirdness running throughout Viy, directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov, that feels uniquely Russian — paced and rendered in a way that feels entirely other to our Western sensibilities. The specific color palette (assuming proper color timing on this disc) and the special effects by Aleksandr Ptushko, reserved for the film’s grand finale, surprised and delighted, a festive gathering of low-fi practical effects and rubber-suited weirdness.
Viy just became an early front-runner in my favorite Hooptober 21 first-watch. A wicked/sexy witch, three-crazy nights, and delightful practical effects made this simple story a weird and wonderful exercise in restrained horror showmanship.
Hooptober ’21 Challenge Checklist: Decade: 1980’s Asian Cinema Country: Hong Kong
BEWITCHED ELEVATOR PITCH
Shaw Bros. sponsored PSA about the dangers of casual sex. Complete with super-earnest post-movie title card. But really gooey.
IDLE BEWITCHED MUSINGS
This one doesn’t make a lot of sense, so I won’t spend much time trying to make sense out of any of it. It opens with a guy defending himself against the charge that he killed his daughter. His excuse? She was possessed by evil spirits and had to hammer a spike into her head to end her suffering and save his own life. You see, he traveled to Thailand, hooked up with a long-lashed honey and contracted a mad case of Gong Tauuuuuu! He’s been cursed and evil things happen all around him. His daughter trying to kill him just happened to be one of those evil things.
Our protagonist, a very lazy detective, heads off to Thailand to investigate the man’s claims where he also contracts a mean case of Gong Tauuuuuuu! Gong Tau is less a hex and more of a voodoo monk that pulls the strings from a safe, unnamed location that cost very few of the Shaw Bros. precious dollars to secure for long days of filming this wizard monk voodoo guy relishing the pronunciation of various hexes like “Hairy chest!” and “Strangling spell” with Chyron generated titles beneath.
Things get really wacky when the detective finds a good crazy voodoo monk to do battle with the evil monk. For 90% of this 45-minute battle they’re not even in the same room and they can’t even troll each other on the Internet. They’re squaring off remotely with mind powers and incantations. It’s not until they confront each other (with one extra wandering through the airport like she got lost on the way to craft services) that they come face-to-face.
Elsewhere you’ve got worm vomiting, maggot eating, pregnant demon ladies with goopy yellow snot, bursting bubble blisters… the list goes on and on. Thankfully this ooze and goo and GONG TAU! fest clocks in 101 minutes. Any more and GONG TAUUUUUU! might have worn out its welcome.
While I can’t say that Bewitched bewitched me (sorry about that), it did lead me to Kuei Chih-Hung’s follow up feature, The Boxer’s Omen (1983), which amplifies all the crazy I enjoyed in Bewitched. Maybe I’ll even write about it. Until then, stay out of Thailand and if you must go to Thailand, please keep it in your pants… because GONG TAU.
Nature of Shame: Unwatched Severin BD, “Folk Horror” Essential
Hooptober ’21 Challenge Checklist: Decade: 1970’s Folk Horror Country: UK
THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW ELEVATOR PITCH
A farmer overturns a mysterious skull, which sets off mass demonic possession among the village youth, aka raging puberty + ritual sacrifice.
IDLE THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW MUSINGS
Folk horror became a buzzy subgenre after Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015) and Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019) shocked and horrified audiences with their relentless sense of self-importance and eerie and effective, long-game subversive terror. If that statement confounds you and blurs your understanding of where I stand on these films, I’ve done my job. Goodnight. Tip with your waiter. He doesn’t want to be here because he could be collecting a fat unemployment check and finally finishing up Red Dead Redemption 2 on his couch.
Having not heard the term folk horror pop up in my cinematic travels before The Witch, I struck out on my own in search of its nexus. Based on The Witch‘s singularity (in a contemporary sense), the concept seemed rather self-explanatory, but seeming and knowing are two wildly different states of being. The former works best when buzzing on two pints, the latter for writing a bl-g post about one of the Unholy Trinity, the three British films identified by writer and filmmaker Adam Scovell as the origins of the folk horror subgenre in response to a 2003 BBC interview with The Blood on Satan’s Claw director Piers Haggard. This interview represents the first known usage of the term folk horror. Mark Gatiss, in the 2010 BBC4 series A History of Horror, furthered the usage and yada yada yada… now it’s a thing, almost 40 years after the release of the final film in the Unholy Trinity. They are Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973).
If I wanted to do something useful with this space, I’d have watched all three just now, but that’s not what we’re doing here. I’ve seen the breads. It was time to watch the bologna in this here folk horror sandwich.
THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW REVIEW
If you look at Piers Haggard’s film as the Blood and Black Lace or The Bird with the Crystal Plumage of the subgenre, the tenets of folk horror fall into place. Like the giallo, the folk horror film relies on a narrow bandwidth of available visual tropes. Rural, pre-industrial landscapes (The Wicker Man and Midsommar artificially create this setting). Horror elements introduced via the occult, witchcraft, loopholes in religious doctrine. These limited elements work in service of a mood — isolation.
The remote landscape provides the perfect playground for a moral and spiritual corruption brought about by external supernatural influences such as demonic spirits and witches. Sometimes even the big bad Satan himself. The violence contained within often stems from a darker, buried human past, one that’s permanently entangled with these spirits and will continue to erupt because of mankind’s tenuous grasp on morality. There are startling comparisons to be made with the recurring themes in folk horror and the ebb and flow of political movements like fascism standing in for demonic possession, but that’s a tangent I’m simply not prepared to entertain in this space. I’ve placed upon you the burden of deeper thought and that’s more than enough for your average Tuesday.
On folk horror, writer and illustrator Andy Paciorek mused: “One may as well attempt to build a box the exact shape of mist; for like the mist, folk horror is atmospheric and sinuous. It can creep from and into different territories yet leave no universal defining mark of its exact form.”
The horror found within the genre tends arise from grotesque visions, but bloodshed occurs when humans turn on humans in service of dark spiritual forces. In one particularly brutal scene in The Blood on Satan’s Claw, the town teenagers lure one of their more innocent peers into a rape and ritual sacrifice to summon the dark lord. The unsettling power arises because one day earlier these were all average teens, joking about sex and idling in the fields. They played a game with Satan’s claws and now the innocents have become agents of pure, monstrous evil. The rape relished. The murder as natural and easy as killing ten minutes in Snapchat.
We, the viewer, feel remotely complicit. Due to the lack of sensationalism and stylized cinematics in folk horror, the dread and low-lying terror provides a greater unsettle to overt horror imagery ratio. The rape/sacrifice scene made me uneasy in ways that gore and violence in other supposedly shocking horror movies has not.
Like my immediate response to Eggers’ The Witch, I wanted to escape immediately, but chew on deliberately. Pardon my ghastly adverb abuse, but I’ve deemed them necessary. These are fascinating movies about human ties to the spiritual and our dormant, innate capacity for evil. They do not provide me with the same visceral and preternatural pleasures of the giallo movement, to put a capper on that analogy. Perhaps folk horror burrows too deeply, too coldly, whereas the superficial pleasures of garish colors, chiaroscuro, and black-gloved killers allows distance and escape.
I can’t be the only one that’s interested in what happens after the events featured in The Blood on Satan’s Claw. Twenty teenagers just kidnapped, raped and murdered a girl in addition to summoning the devil. Sure, this one had a deus ex witchfinder kind of finale (hooray!) that predicts evil’s certain return (booo), but there has to be some kind of ramifications beyond revoking idling in Satanic fields privileges.
Unsettling, fascinating, and defining film in the definition of the folk horror genre, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for more.
Nature of Shame: Massive Amazing Stupendous Unwatched Gamera Arrow Box Set
Hooptober ’21 Challenge Checklist: Decade: 1960’s Kaiju!
GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER ELEVATOR PITCH
[ahem]…it’s GODZILLA, except… wait for it… HE’S A TURTLE…
And he flies and spins and fire comes out of his mouth. Plus some other weird places on his body because nuclear bombs and planes and war are bad! REAL BAD.
My first viewing of an un-MST3K’d Gamera movie. Even during the riffs, Joel and the bots didn’t set out to undercut the movie’s relative quality. In my opinion, they’re not among the best Mystery Science Theater riffs because they’re more hangout-inspired rather than a celebration of the joys of bad cinema. The same observations could be made about any non-Godzilla (1954) kaiju film that strains its budget to an obvious breaking point. More on this later.
While watching these low-budget kaiju offerings, it’s easy to slip into a childlike frame-of-mind. The obvious model-work (and destruction) and person-in-a-rubber-suit costume party doesn’t lend itself to mockery so much as isn’t it cool they made a movie like this? You can see clearly how the film comes together absent the moviemaking magic allowed by money to make those models and costumes less obvious.
It probably benefitted the MST3K riff that the version used was the 1985 Sandy Frank-commissioned release featuring an atrocious English dub and new soundtrack.
I love watching these movies with my youngest daughter (now 9yo), who thinks all of the kaiju are just adorable and has started to identify some of the filmmaking and special effects techniques. Enjoying low-budget monster knockoffs like Gamera isn’t about ignoring the shortcomings; it’s more about embracing the artifice as its presented. We watched through a handful of offerings on the Criterion Godzilla set last year, so she’s primed for everything Gamera has to offer.
In 1964 Dalei Film studio head Masaichi Nagata wanted to piggyback the success of both Toho’s Godzilla (obviously) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (not as obvious?) by creating a “Nezura the Giant Horde Beast” franchise and replace birds with mammoth-sized man-eating rats created by a revolutionary high-calorie food source that causes mutations. The real Japanese health department shut down production because the flea-infested wild brown rats used for the film escaped the set and had the potential to spread disease. The climax? Neutralization through rat cannibalism.
Nagata conceived Gamera as his Nezura replacement. Due to an extra-tight budget and schedule, the production used outdated equipment and faulty props and faced the wrath of other Japanese film producers for its unrepentant clone of Godzilla right down to its nuclear anxieties. This time, however, an American jet shoots down an unknown, unidentified aircraft in Arctic waters. The blast awakens a dormant prehistoric tusked turtle that an Eskimo chief identifies as Gamera. “Action” shifts back to Japan where the story localizes on a kid whose turtle obsession is threatening to derail his studies.
Anytime a monster film focuses on the kid, I have concerns. Toshio (played by Yoshiro Uchida). Perhaps because he’s mugging in Japanese I’m less bothered by this tendency to put himself in irresponsible situations. Goshdarnit he’s gonna stand between that turtle and the collective forces of the U.S. and Japanese military to ensure its safety. A few moments of sisterly hand-wringing aside, everyone seems okay with this crusade even as little Toshio stows away to the frontlines of Gamera battle.
Gamera lands on that elusive intersection of corny and cool. Outdated effects, hokey dialogue, and blatant Godzilla lifts don’t betray the film’s independent spirit. A fire-spitting turtle that hurtles through space and destroys Japan? What’s not to enjoy about that? It’s not great or original or Godzilla — it’s just Gamera.
After taking a COVID-break last year (8yo being remote-schooled next to me would have received a very interesting brand of education based on some Jean Rollin I’d planned to watch), I’m refreshed and ready to Hoop it up in 2021. Not familiar with Hooptober? Here’s a primer. The Cinemonster started Hooptober on Letterboxd.com as a way for horror fans to come together during this holiest time of year. The rules of engagement? Watch 31+ horror movies during the month of October (starting September 15th because we’re adults and we can do what we want) and write a review on Letterboxd.com for each and every flick. I’ll be documenting my progress here and on Letterboxd. More words here. Short bits there. Each year The Cinemonster comes up with some specific parameters to direct viewing and highlight filmmakers and subgenres.
I always attempt to watch as many new-to-me movies as possible. Cinema Shame demands it. I must broaden my horizons… even if they’re the more unsavory horizons. It makes me a better and more respectable human to watch as much Eurotrash as possible. I will assault innocent bystanders with conversations about Jess Franco and Sergio Martino. Inevitably, some old favorites sneak into the mix because goddammit, yes, I want to watch AnAmerican Werewolf in London again, okay?!?
CINEMONSTER’S 2021 HOOPTOBER 8 GUIDELINES:
6 countries 8 decades 2 folk horror 4 films from 1981 2 films from your birth year 2 haunted house films The worst Part 2 that you haven’t seen and can access. (I realize that this will take a little work) 1 film set in the woods 1 Kaiju or Kong film (not the new K v. G) 2 Hammer films 3 films with a person of color as director or lead. (excluding Asian) 3 Asian horror films.
And 1 Tobe Hooper Films (There must ALWAYS be a Hooper film)
American Werewolf in London (1981)* Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) The Black Cat (1981) The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) Bones (2001) The Boogens (1981) Cat People (1942)* The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)* The Curse of the Cat People (1944) Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) The Fly II (1989) Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965)* Ganja & Hess (1973) Ghost Story (1981) The Girl With All The Gifts (2016) The Howling (1981)* The Howling II (1985) Invaders from Mars (1986) Lake of the Dead (1958) The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) Murder Obsession (1981) Mystics in Bali (1981) The Old Dark House (1932)* Patrick (1978) The Pit (1981) Suddenly in the Dark (1981) Tales from the Crypt: Demon Night (1995)* Thirst (2009) Ugetsu (1953) Venom (1981) Viy (1967) Wolfen (1981)
What’s your list? What’s your plan for horror movie watching this year? If you’re keeping a list or participating in the Hooptober challenge, I’ll link to your Letterboxd list or blog in the header for my posts. Just leave a note with a link in these comments. Together we shall overcome… or we’ll be the losers knocked off in the first act to establish the killer’s indomitable menace. It’s more comforting to know you’re not doing this alone.
Between a glut of paying gigs, vacation, and holidays I’ve managed to stretch Hooptober into the Christmas season. That’s a first. Nobody’s reading because we’ve all moved on to the traditional “Die Hard is/isn’t a Christmas Movie” debate. That’s fine, too. I made a commitment to watch and review 31+ Horror Movies for the month of October. I’ve watched them all. Now here are the remaining reviews, told in hurried, one-paragraph fashion to satisfy your ho-ho-horror cravings.
#19. The Mummy (1932) – Karl Freund
Karl Freund’s wrangles light and shadow like he’s applying it with a paint brush. The love story that traverses multiple lifetimes gives this one its dramatic weight and Karloff’s undead love monster his humanizing baggage. I’d recommend The Mummy in any master class about using cinematography to cure all narrative ills.
#20. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – James Whale
Elsa Lanchester as The Monster’s Bride in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
I’ve always thought that the people who don’t appreciate James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein don’t see the humor in The Bride of Frankenstein. It’s a tale skillfully told — but it’s Whale’s ability to comment on the genre from within (something he did more overtly in The Old Dark House) that makes the film such a brisk romp.
#21. The Mummy’s Hand (1940) – Christy Cabanne
Universal’s Mummy series loved to cut narrative corners. This constant familiarity allows the viewer to embrace each film’s eccentricities or dismiss them entirely as hack regurgitations without creative advancement. The Mummy’s Hand borrows the setup and footage from Freund’s 1932 effort but adds enough padding to make it feel fresh (enough). Easy to enjoy. Easy to forget tomorrow.
#22. Captive Wild Woman (1943) – Edward Dmytryk
Aquanetta, mid-transformation, in Captive Wild Woman (1943)
The Universal well had clearly run dry when they conjured this pathetic excuse to transform another human into another animal. But but but this time it’s a woman! The horror elements become secondary concerns. The movie spends an inordinate amount of time engaging in animal cruelty and disturbing racial connotations. If there were something here more worth watching we’d have something to discuss.
Parisian-born Liliane Montevecchi thinks she sees Jaguars around every corner in The Living idol (1957)
#23. The Living Idol (1957) – Albert Lewin, Rene Cardona
Gorgeous-looking Aztecploitation, oozing in Technicolor and wide-format location cinematography, but lacking anything in the story department. A woman may or may not be the reincarnation of an Aztec princess and jaguars may or may not be coming for her. This loose remake of Lewton’s Cat People gives us just enough to keep watching but not enough to distract us from the backdrop. Co-directed by the Cuban-born Rene Cardona — a central figure in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.
#24. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) – Dario Argento
One of the few prime-era Argento holdouts on my viewing resume. Some wonderful imagery, visually inventive flourishes and a memorable Ennio Morricone score undermined by a predictable twist. I’m itching for another viewing despite its flaws.
#25. All the Colors of the Dark (1972) – Sergio Martino
Sergio Martino directed perhaps my favorite mindf#ck giallo Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (also starring the perpetually vexing Edwige Fenech). I picked this up during the last Severin Black Friday sale and I’ve been waiting all year (for no especially good reason) to watch it during Hooptober 2019. Perpetually needy and terrified Edwige finds herself stuck in a mental state between fact and fiction, unable to escape the grasp of a Satanic rape cult. Don’t attempt to strangle narrative from this psychosexual satanic panic film told through the perspective of an unreliable narrator. Just let the misdirection wash over you like Bruno Nicolai’s score.
Mirjana Nikolic as the “She-Butterfly” in Djordje Kadijevic’s Leptirica (1973)
Just another made-for-TV Serbian folk horror film. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. A vampire-like menace attacks people in and around an old mill. No explanations given. Awkward light humor and a haunting and singular score. A few truly memorable images give Leptirica aka The She-Butterfly her bite.
#27. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) – Renny Harlin
I feel like “perfectly capable” is a solid recommendation for any horror sequel with a number greater than or equal to 4. In this entry Freddy Krueger becomes a nightmare wielding clown, but still retains the menace that made the original such an effective horror movie. What The Dream Master lacks in thrills, it makes up for with inventive kills and set pieces. Lisa Wilcox gives us an engaging protagonist that helps smooth over some of the hackneyed plotting.
#28. Vampire’s Kiss (1989) – Robert Bierman
Nicolas Cage going full bonkers in Vampire’s Kiss (1989)
What the hell is Nic Cage doing? What is this accent? What is this laugh? It’s almost as bizarre as his creative choices in Peggy Sue Got Married — but that was an otherwise straight movie. This? Bizarre performance, perversely entertaining movie. Crazy Nic eating cockroaches and chasing pigeons with fake vampire teeth. The movie plays so dumb you don’t see final narrative shift coming. Vampire’s Kiss gets “smart” — and works because Cage’s highwire histrionics provides the necessary smoke and mirrors.
#29. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) – Stephen Hopkins
Hopkins gives this entry some flair, but the series is running on fumes. The film’s set pieces have become completely disengaged. Feel free to admire the creativity, but these sequences fail to contribute horror or forward momentum. It all feels watchable but perfunctory.
#30. The Church (1989) – Michele Soavi
Demon hankypanky in Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989)
Overdue rewatch of a Michele Soavi classic and unofficial third act of Lamberto Bava’s Demons. Demon sex, possession, creepy gothic imagery, Keith Emerson score, young Asia Argento, and choice bits of goo. Always recommended.
#31. Popcorn (1991) – Mark Herrier
Tom Villard tormenting Jill Schoelen in Popcorn (1991).
Would-be cult classic riffs on the same gag for 90 minutes. The homage to William Castle stunts makes for fun viewing, but it too-often wanders into (uninspired) traditional slasher territory. The best bits take place in the films within the film that make up the all-night horror marathon. As they were shot by the film’s original director, Alan Ormsby, I can’t help but think he might have had a better grasp of the offbeat tone and pacing. That said, Herrier shepherded the film to completion or maybe it wouldn’t have existed at all.
#32. Innocent Blood (1992) – John Landis
Robert Loggia in John Landis’ Innocent Blood (1992)
My favorite part of Innocent Blood takes place when a car chase enters the Ft. Pitt tunnel but comes out on the south side of the Liberty. Robert Loggia sucking the scenery of blood as a vampire gangster makes this a winner.
#33. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) – Scott Glosserman
Nathan Baesel in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Straightforward, talking-heads doc about the Black American connections to the horror genre (and Hollywood as a whole). Essential viewing for horror fans — but I’m not sure it captivates the average moviewatcher without a pre-existing love for the genre.