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.
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
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
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.
#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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.