One of the greatest benefits of being a movie fan on Twitter is the pooling of shared knowledge and obscure movies. With the decline of the video store, Twitter has arisen as the new video store counter, albeit less personal but more expansive. Every year the greater movie-watching community at large makes October the official month of horror. I scour the Turner Classic Movies schedule for flicks we’ve never seen (and often of which we’ve never heard). I obsess over the newly registered deals on cool horror flicks on Amazon. I dig out movies in my own collection I’ve not had the impetus to watch in many moons. The result, at least in my house, a gleeful (and directed) film festival of my favorite genre. The great thing about horror is that the genre is so expansive to include films and styles for nearly all cinematic predilections.
Welcome to my 31 Days of Horror Film Festival
I shared some brief thoughts and underseen gems on the joy of horror in my Underrated Horror list on @bobfreelander’s RUPERT PUPKIN SPEAKS last month.
I’ll detail the movies I’ve watched this month and offer a brief write up as the words come to me. 31 horror flicks or bust. If you’re keeping a watch list for your October horror spree, send me a link and I’ll put a link to yours below. If you don’t have a web page for your list and want to participate, I’ll set you up with a page on the Rumble.
#1. Man Made Monster (1941) starring Lionel Atwill and Lon Chaney, Jr. (DVD)
A fairly standard fear of science / Frankenstein-type story where a lone bus crash survivor (the rest were electrocuted) is treated to increasingly larger quantities of electricity as a means to control his mind. Welp. As these things tend to go, the decent guy commits a murder under suggestion, admits to it because he’s a decent guy and gets sent to the chair. But ooops! More electricity just makes him ANGRY! The glowing electro-man effects and Lon Chaney make it worth the watch. Rating (out of 5):
#2. The Black Cat (1941) starring Basil Rathbone, Broderick Crawford and Bela Lugosi (DVD)
When I put the DVD in, I thought I was watching the Karloff/Lugosi movie from 1934. It was just the second movie on the disc with Man Made Monster. Big difference. This one, as it turns out, is a comedic romp containing greedy relatives groveling after inheritance and the cats who dared to kill them off. Popular comedian Hugh Herbert provides odd and intermittent pratfalls. The movie’s a bit of a mess but the oddly inserted comic relief makes this oddball one to check out. Lugosi has merely a couple of scenes and gets offed by a kitty rather unceremoniously. Rating (out of 5):
#3. The Vampire Lovers (1970) starring Ingrid Pitt, Kate O’Mara, Peter Cushing (BD)
Far from pure exploitation, this adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, best represents the Hammer ideology. Showcase beautiful women and classic movie monsters in contemporary and brilliant technicolor style and Gothic atmosphere. The restoration done for this new SHOUT! FACTORY Blu-ray makes the movie look brand new. Hammer fans know it well, but those unfamiliar with the Hammer films oeuvre might only know the reputation. Also, Ingrid Pitt is beguiling. Rating (out of 5):
#4. The Gorgon (1964) starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele (TCM)
The greatest surprise so far. I’d never heard of this film until I happened upon it on the TCM schedule. It might be overlooked because it lacks a traditional movie monster. Director Terence Fisher was repsonsible for some of Hammer’s greatest hits in the 1950’s and 60’s: The Horror of Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein among them. The delineation between good and evil here is far less defined. As it turns out, most people are as evil as the mythological monster haunting this picture. Considered an extra half-spot on the rating just for Peter Cushing’s badass facial hair.
#5. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974) starring Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock and Arthur Kennedy (BD)
A zombie picture with good acting, a bit of gore (but not enough that it begins to bore) and legitimate suspense? The hell you say! Some spooky set-pieces and setting elevate Manchester Morgue above your average intestine-muncher. I’d put off watching this movie for many years first under its US release name (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) and then again after borrowing the recent Blue Underground BD release from a friend. It wasn’t until I looked the movie up on IMDB (like 5 minutes ago!) did I realize I’d been avoiding the the same movie twice at the same time.
#6. The Devil’s Bride aka The Devil Rides Out (1968) starring Christopher Lee and Charles Gray (TCM)
Charles Gray unleashes the power of the devil. Christopher Lee disagrees. A pretty entertaining satanic cult, demonic-possession, good vs. evil flick that I’d long known about but never watched. Christopher Lee gives Peter Cushing’s facial hair in The Gorgon a run for its money. A standard narrative with an interesting twist that should have played like deus ex machina, but I was too entertained by the demonic histrionics to pay attention.
#7. The Devil Bat (1940) starring Bela Lugosi (Amazon Streaming)
The shriek of the Devil Bat so affected me I provided it’s very own page. I don’t often recommend a movie solely based on cheesy special effects but the motionless rubber bat sliding down a fishing wire visual doesn’t get old. The movie goes as far as showing you, within the narrative, how the filmmakers created the devil bat attacks. Also, Bela Lugosi gets ample time to mug for the camera. It’s refreshing to see these horror icons playing roles unburdened by the shackles of their traditional horror monster roles. See also: Karloff in Isle of the Dead.
#8. Isle of the Dead (1940) starring Boris Karloff (TCM)
This Val Lewton-produced vampire(?) flick boasts the filmmaker’s trademark atmosphere and gorgeous black and white cinematography. Flowy white robes. Chiaroscuro lighting. Light. Shadows. And the caverns of Boris Karloff’s visage. A bunch of people are stranded on a Greek island during 1912 due to an outbreak of the plague. The General (Karloff) visits his wife’s grave and finds it empty. A local peasant woman keeps spreading notions of vampirism. Is she strung out? Is Karloff as evil as he looks? And where’d the goddamn body go? Peasant women are spooky. I mean, remember the FLORES PARA LOS MUERTOS woman in Quick Change? Spooky. Looked great but Isle never really hooked me despite Karloff’s standout performance.
#9. Dead of Night (1945) starring Michael Redgrave, Mervyn Jones (TCM)
Ealing Studios best known for its UK comedies dips a toe in the horror genre with a chilling compilation of tales told by attendees at an unexpected soiree. One guy tells a story… then the others offer their own tales of the macabre. And just when you think the whole endeavor is going absolutely nowhere, the film (rather skillfully, despite my early concerns) manages to pull everything together with flare. Don’t think that you’ll escape the film without that Ealing sense of humor. One of the stories adapts an HG Wells short about a haunted golfer and offers some welcome comic relief. This one needed some patience, but your patience pays dividends. The movie really hits its stride during the Michael Redgrave segment.
#10. House of the 7 Corpses (1973) starring John Ireland, Faith Domergue, John Carradine, Carole Wells (TCM)
I’m glad I watched this movie. There’s just so much wrong that it’s almost right. Film crew making a movie of the “true” story of the grisly tale of a family massacred in their home. Up until the last ten minutes, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that happens in the movie is a red herring. The crew keeps reading passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead prop. SUSPENSE! Nothing happens. Every time a murder scene is filmed for the movie within a movie, the camera lingers over the corpse just long enough for us to think that something *gasp* has gone wrong in filming! The actor/actress is dead! SUSPENSE! Nope, she was just hanging out for an extra few seconds after the director yelled “Cut!” Then suddenly, the guy that keeps reciting passages of the Book of the Dead (I guess he claims verisimilitude for their movie within a movie crapfest) FINALLY… FINALLY summons some zombie thing from the graveyard. The zombie takes so long to emerge from the ground that the movie intercuts a bunch of other scenes in between the dirt moving… ever so slightly. Footage of dirt moving is RECYCLED to prolong the emergence. Then once the ground finally births the monster, it just reaches up and grabs the John Carradine character by the leg. Because he apparently couldn’t step lively enough across the gently shifting ground. Oh, and by the way, Carradine dies because the monster grabbed his leg. He’s grabbed. Intercut him tugging at his pants with the movie being filmed inside. Still tugging. Still filming. Then he’s dead. As to the redemption part of the movie. When the zombie thing rampages all over the film crew, it also destroys the film cans of the almost-completed movie. The director (John Ireland) comes in, sees the dead bodies everywhere… but loses his shit over the film. He collapses in the pile of cans, holding the tarnished film up to the heavens with his best “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” face. Extra half 30Hz for the hilarious filmmaking ineptitude.
#11. The Vampire Bat (1933) starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglas (TCM)
Early talkie that suffers from wooden acting from its (apparently?) disinterested stars, a lack of dramatic momentum and a (unintentionally?) comic ending. The supporting actors fare better because they’re given actual motives and eccentricities to use in their performances. The stars might as well have been cardboard lobby standups. I don’t mean to spoil any potential viewings of this dull slog through vampire hysteria, but [SPOILER] there’s no vampire bat in a movie called The Vampire Bat and the film concludes with a frantic run to the toilet because of laxative abuse. I had to rewatch the finale to confirm what I’d just seen.
#12. The Vampire (1957) starring John Beal, Coleen Gray, Kenneth Tobey (TCM)
What a slog. The Vampire is a lukewarm vampire/werewolf pu pu platter leftover from the Universal horror classics. Maybe it’s because by now I’ve seen so many vampire movies that I’ve gone beyond the need for ingenuity. I now require genre trappings. Some mystery, blood and at least one sexy vixen in distress. This is a 1950’s Fear-of-Science coloring book with vampirism (vampire bat blood transfusions gone wrong!) scribbled between the lines. You can’t fool me, movie. I’ve been around the block on both genres. When your vampire feels like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Werewolf, you’re doing something wrong.
#13. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) starring Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine and Katrina Bowden (Netflix Streaming)
There’s nothing particularly shocking about the way T&DvE plays out. You know what’s going to happen in the first five minutes, but the movie rolls on with such a carefree and brainy joie de vivre that it can’t help but be admired. There’s no beating around the bush. Once T&E are mistaken for bloodthirsty hillbillies, game on. The “accidental” deaths are hilarious, trumped only by Tucker’s reactions to those “suicidal college kids.” It’s not complicated; it’s Tucker and Dale — they’re hillbillies who just want a nice vacation home.
#14. The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) starring Howard Vernon, Conrado San Martin (Netflix Streaming)
I don’t know if there’s a dub that wasn’t carried out by the voice talents of The Rugrats but I’d really like to see this movie without odd inflections at the end of sentences. Then again, this is Jesus Franco we’re talking about here. I’ll just take the dubbing as part and parcel with the experience. Dr. Orlof provides some good chills between the mangled faces of the good Dr.’s skin-graft reclamation projects. Franco’s camerawork is actually quite inventive. The camera hinges at varying degrees offering steep shots up and down upon its subjects. With The Awful Dr. Orlof it seems Franco has sketched out the blueprint for early Euro-trash cinema. It’s a gleeful romp through the beauty and horror of botched plastic surgery on “dead” people.
#15. Horror Castle aka La vergine di Norimberga (1963) starring Rossana Podestà, Georges Rivière, Christopher Lee (TCM)
…and speaking of that Euro-trash horror blueprint, along comes Horror Castle — a good excuse for a very attractive woman to run around an old spooky castle, willy nilly, while screaming with great frequency. You’d think she’d get tired of scurrying from room to room. I don’t know if it actually constituted 75% of the film’s relatively short runtime, but it certainly felt that way. Women are being captured, tortured and killed by a mysterious masked madman that’s NOT Christopher Lee, although he does appear in a small-ish role. It turns out that the madman is mad because he’s a deformed holocaust survivor. When they drop that bomb on you to explain away the dude’s actions, you’re almost like, “Well that makes perfect sense now.” EXCEPT IT DOESN’T. But it’s a pretty solid Euro-trash creeper, even if it does move rather slowly. Also, you’ll never forget the rat scene, just a heads up if you have issues with torture by rodent.
#16. Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) starring David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Richard Roundtree (BD)
David Carradine goes full creep. Michael Moriarty acts like he’s in Shakespeare instead of a Larry Cohen creature flick. Richard Roundtree, well, he gets eaten rather unceremoniously. Is this movie as bad/good as advertised or is it just good/good with ridiculous creature effects. I’m caught somewhere in between. It is, however, a f’ing blast… filled with awesomeful effects, people staring toward the sky in terror and all too infrequent creature effects (all of the C/C- variety). I’d waited many moons to watch this movie and now I regret waiting so long. I’m compelled to watch it again just for the final moment of the movie when the Q egg bursts open and begets “A LARRY COHEN FILM.” Oh, Larry Cohen. I give this one a rather generous 4 30Hz’s.
#17: Night of the Living Dead (1968): Rifftrax Live! starring Barbra! (Theater)
It had been a long time since I’d seen the original NOTLD. I’d spent far more time with Dawn of the Dead in recent years. NOTLD still holds up despite being riffed to (un)death my the Rifftrax crew. The problem with these live Rifftrax events is that you’re laughing too hard, too in the moment to remember any of the damn jokes. At home I’d just skip back a scene and watch it all over again. I really want a chronicle of Barbra’s deep thoughts.
#18: Lisa and the Devil (1973) starring Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer (Netflix Streaming)
This would be Euro-trash without Telly Savalas in there classing shit up. Also, there’s plenty of attractive women but they all seem to be wearing clothes. It’s shot like Euro-trash, (mostly) acted and written like Euro-trash (logical character motivations are non-existant), weird like Euro-trash… but it’s got my micro-genre radar all messed up. Bava shoots the film in his typically grand, hallucinatory style with plenty of underlying tension. I need to give this one a rewatch if only because I think it’s actually *gasp* a pretty great movie without requiring excessive amounts of 1970’s Euro exploitation. Weird, right? Plus, you just have to hear Savalas say “The Devil loves ya, baby!” about ten or twelve times before it even comes close to getting stale.
19. Spider Baby (1964) starring Lon Chaney, Jr, Carol Ohmart, Sid Haig (TCM)
Director Jack Hill cut his teeth as an AD on the Corman films The Wasp Woman and The Terror and gained funding for this project from two real estate investors (whom he met through a friend/private investigator) who wanted a piece of the movie business. Is this how they’d imagined it?
For the first fifteen or so minutes, I couldn’t tell if Spider Baby was a satire, a sincere(ish) slasher or just a completely bonkers mess of a movie. It was honestly one of the most bizarre openings I’ve seen, horror or otherwise. I had no sense of what Spider Baby was supposed to be. I tweeted thusly:
I was well aware of Spider Baby‘s cult status… but quite often the quality of a film has very little to do with the esteem. The inbred Merrye family lives with the inherited curse of a disease that causes them to mentally regress to “pre-human savagery and cannibalism” as they age. After the death of the family patriarch, the family’s chauffeur becomes the guardian of the motley crew. When I sent that above tweet, I was thoroughly convinced that the film’s popularity had been based on the “so-bad-it’s-bad” mantra rather than the “so-bad-it’s-good” variety. But then the movie clicked. Spider Baby boasts a wicked sense of humor and some creepy proto-slasher moments in addition to some surprisingly crisp and moody black and white cinematography. It’s at once a send-up of the old Universal monster flicks and a gateway to the 1970’s slashers. The movie doesn’t have a genre, but it’s wicked fun you won’t forget. (Also, does Lon Chaney, Jr. give the best performance of his career here? This movie had no business cultivating a performance like that.)
20. Masque of the Red Death (1964) starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher. (BD)
See my more extensive write-up here.
21. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) starring Paul Massie, Dawn Adams, Christopher Lee
An interesting variation on the Dr. Jekyll story that entertains some discussions on gender and gender power. Overall, I probably preferred this to Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Two Faces had some thoroughly entertaining sequences… and perhaps most notably and coy, smarmy playboy played by Christopher Lee with a certain charismatic panache. If for no other reason, check this out of Christopher Lee’s performance and the performance of his impressive sideburns.
22. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
I don’t really feel like I need to comment much on this one. It’s the Nightmare. On Elm Street. Freddy Kreuger and all that. I happened upon it in HD on the Spike Channel and couldn’t stop watching it. Why did it suddenly seem so radically different? Ahhhh, yes. I hadn’t watched Nightmare since the days of VHS rentals. VHS rentals! Remember those? You’d walk into a store, there would be rows and rows and rows of tapes… sometimes organized, sometimes not… and you’d stand there staring at a wave of tapes just waiting for one to strike the right chord. No premeditation other than the need to watch a movie. We were all so innocent…
Anyway, Nightmare has an entirely different feel in widescreen. A shocking, change-all-my-preconceptions difference actually. It made me realize I’ve undervalued the film as a cinematic experience. The low-lighting cinematography is quite stunning, actually, as opposed to the chalky, uniform variations on grey that I remember from the VHS. It’s causing me to consider a wholesale re-introduction to Craven’s filmography.
23. Night of the Creeps (1986) starring Jill Whitlow, Jason Lively, Tom Atkins
How have I lived this long without seeing Night of the Creeps? What a lot of fun. Hot college girls with flamethrowers. Alien slugs that turn people into zombies? Tom Atkins spewing one liners. “Thrill me.” “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good new is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.” THAT’S GOOD STUFF. I tweeted a whole bunch of stuff about crushing on Jill Whitlow in this movie so I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention it here. Jill Whitlow! Also, zombie David Paymer. So. So. Good.