Tag Archives: horror movies

31 Days of Horror 2018: The Nail in the Coffin

It’s November 26th. I’ve written 18 reviews for my 31 Days of Horror. At the rate I’m writing these things I won’t be done by 2019. I don’t want that. You don’t want that. So let’s make some magic here tonight. I’m watching snow fall out my kitchen window and the house is quiet. The wife and kids are asleep, and I’m experiencing my own little Box of Matches moment. Box of Matches is a book written by the great and occasionally warped Nicholson Baker. In this instance, Baker examines the profundities of life through the smallest of actions. Each chapter is about a man who wakes up early, before the day has begun and experiences the stillness of life before his family rises. Each chapter begins with him making coffee and lighting a fire with one wooden match.

I don’t do “early,” so I’m having my Box of Matches moment just after midnight. And it would be serene if I didn’t have a 4-month-old kitten running around like a f’ing maniac. SERENITY NOW.

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
#13. Messiah of Evil (1973)
#14. Possession (1981)
#15. Blood Diner (1987)
#16. Inquisition (1978)
#17. The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)
#18. Hold That Ghost (1941)
#19. The Dark (1979)

Back on track. Time to bang out a whole mess of mini-movie reviews.

 

#20. The Devil Rides Out (1968)

devil rides out 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

I keep forgetting that this movie is called The Devil Rides Out so I keep watching it every so many years because I’m going senile.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Pre-1970
Terence Fisher
50th Anniversary

Based on my ability to forget this particular film, you’d think I’d have been regularly ravaged by boredom. Quite the contrary. These devil-raising, fire and brimstone, hell and fury witchhunter movies have a tendency to be rather droll and redundant. No offense witchhunter movie fans, but they’re generally just okay.

The Devil Rides Out runs scattershot and fills itself chockablock with pentagrams and rearing horses and spiders and car chases and the summoning a generic looking black dude with a wild bit of sorcery (which, if I’m being honest, always plays a little bizarro because wouldn’t you summon someone a little more… anomalous?). And in the center of it all you have Christopher Lee fighting Charles Gray and the forces of evil.

devil rides out 31 days of horror

Final Devil Rides Out Thoughts: 

It might need to regularly job my memory but I’m always glad I come back around. The Devil Rides Out always impresses and remains one of the most satisfying of all the films I always forget I’ve seen.

Availabilty:

For whatever stupid reason, the powers that be have refused to release The Devil Rides Out on a Region A Blu-ray, and the DVD is long OOP. All I can tell you is that you should be region-free so you can tell the gatekeepers of physical media to bugger off and order the affordable Region B UK Blu-ray from StudioCanal. (Rumblings suggest a stateside release is on the way because the massive acquisition of StudioCanal titles by Shout! Factory and Kino, but nothing as of yet has been announced.)

 

#21. The Swarm (1978)

the swarm 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

An unseen thing that I’m told I should watch. I remain skeptical.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

40th Anniversary
Flying Things Will Kill You

If you’ve ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, “This is the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen and I hope it runs for three hours,” this is the movie for you.

The Swarm will give you hives, but you’ll keep watching and watching and watching and watching and watching and then Michael Caine goes [hear Rob Brydon’s latter career Michael Caine voice] ON AN ABSOLUTE BLOODY RAMPAGE ABOUT THE BLOODY HONEY BEES AND HE LOSES THE ABILITY TO ADEQUATELY USE TONE TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN A MAJOR FUCKING DISASTER AND A SLIGHT INCONVENIENCE.

Suddenly, you’re wondering where The Swarm’s been all your life and after watching this movie for-fucking-ever Michael Caine and Katherine Ross ever so calmly have a dynamite mini-Al Gore the-world-is-crumbling moment while a mushroom cloud surges skyward behind them. You know, a perfectly normal reaction to the detonation OF A BLOODY NUCLEAR WARHEAD.

the swarm 31 days of horror

Final The Swarm Thoughts:

Irwin Allen should not be allowed near an editing room.

Availability: 

The good folks at Warner Archive have seen fit to bless/curse us with a Blu-ray of The Swarm. You can own this and turn it on whenever you want! Torture unsuspecting friends and family! NOW THAT’S BLOODY LIKE IT. It’s a one-star movie with four-star entertainment value. Let’s round up to 2 1/2 and call it a day.

 

#22. The Funhouse (1981)

the funhouse 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unseen Tobe Hooper

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Tobe Hooper

Let’s make a movie with a super creepy carnival funhouse, BUT NOT DO ANYTHING WITH THE ACTUAL CARNIVAL/FUNHOUSE FOR MOST OF THE MOVIE. By the time this movie found itself some decent slasher elements and a relatively interesting menace, I’d checked out.

Final The Funhouse Thoughts:

Elizabeth Berridge probably deserved a more notable career. She was so good in Amadeus, but was still relegated to lesser supporting roles. This movie should have been fun. I’m sure a lot of people would give me a whole bunch of “yeah buts” about this movie, but it shouldn’t have been hard to deliver a halfway decent slasher movie with an entire carnival freak show at your disposal.

Availability: 

Scream Factory released this on Blu-ray. Huzzah. For completists only. 

 

#23. Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters Teaser poster

Nature of Shame:

I haven’t seen Ghostbusters this year. Showing it to my 9yo daughter for the first time.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Nothing!

I watched Ghostbusters again. I’ve written about my love of Ghostbusters many times over, so I’ll just direct you to the thousands of words I’ve already written. Most recently I wrote about some weird new negativity about the original film after the release of the remake in 2016. In 2012, I wrote about the ways in which the things we love from our childhood make us feel crazy old… like Ghostbusters came out 25 years before my daughter was born. From Here to Eternity came out 25 years before I was born… and From Here to Eternity seems reaaaalllly old to me. I’ve also written a couple of mental health bl-g posts about making time for the things you love and seeing the movie on the big screen for the first time since 1984.

Final Ghostbusters Thoughts:

It’s a couple of wavy lines.

Availability: 

Wherever fine films are sold. 

 

#24. Horror of Dracula (1958)

horror of dracula 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

First watch on Blu-ray. First watch in many many years.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Terence Fisher
Pre-1970
60th Anniversary

The Horror of Dracula (aka just Dracula in the UK) made a statement about the commercial viability of Hammer Horror. It proved that The Curse of Frankenstein was no fluke. It also cemented Peter Cushing and especially Christopher Lee as international movie stars.

It’s more atmospheric than creepy and lacks consideration for the source material, but goes about its business with a noteworthy efficiency. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing make this movie far better than the material. Hammer solidifies their model with exquisite production values on a razor-thin budget.

the horror of dracula 31 days of horror

Final The Horror of Dracula Thoughts:

The Horror of Dracula is comfort food. Safe scares foregrounded against gothic elegance.

Availability: 

Warner Archive just announced a Region A Blu-ray release of The Horror of Dracula. I own the Region B released from Lions Gate, which features some restored footage. 

 

#25. Night of the Demon (1957)

night of the demon 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

UNWATCHED! LEGIT SHAME. <GASP.>

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Pre-1970

If it weren’t for Possession, I’d declare this, without a doubt, the finest new watch of the season. Jacques Tourneur brings back some Val Lewton vibes with this story of the devil, the occult and a magician who thought he had it made in the shade. Dana Andrews plays the skeptic, steeped in science and reason, who arrives to argue against parapsychology at a conference. He finds himself mired in a case of some mysterious manuscripts and a hangup on a petulant Peggy Cummings.

Tourneur plays both sides of the occult. Sure it’s crazy, but what if… what if, this parlor magician named Karswell really has discovered the power of black magic? What if… his prophecies of death really do come true? The director adds depth to his questions through the language of light and shadow and the possibilities of the unknown.

night of the demon 31 days of horror

Final Night of the Demon Thoughts:

Night of the Demon deserves elevation into the pantheon of classic horror films and should be viewed by anyone with a pulse.

Availability: 

Powerhouse/Indicator released the ultimate Night of the Demon set featuring four cuts of the film, a bounty of extras and an extra special Karswell business card that you might not want to hang on to… bwah hah hah. The Limited Edition set isn’t region-coded so it’ll play anywhere. It’s my favorite release of 2018.

 

#26. The Hearse (1980)

the hearse 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unwatched Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Inanimate Thing Comes Alive To Kill You

So it wasn’t exactly how I thought it was going to go because I’m not sure I can say that the hearse came live to kill anything because there was at least, I believe, always some kind of spectral Hearse driver… so not sure it counts, but it counts.

Anyway, The Hearse turned into a capable little spook flick once it found a groove and stopped with the Trish Van Devere city girl living in the country and oh boy things are going to get kooky! Also so much teen boy ogling. She’s harassed by unfriendly locals and a spectral (?) hearse. The biggest problem with The Hearse is that the locals are so terrible and the hearse haunting is totally weird and any sane human would have gotten the hell out of town long before the movie reveals the satanic nature of the disturbances. JUST GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM BECAUSE NONE OF THIS IS KOSHER!, I yelled at the TV at one point.

Even though George Bowers’ film is filled with a collection of 1970’s satanic horror tropes, The Hearse proves to be off-kilter just enough to make this languid (some would say boring) B-flick more than just a knockoff. Not much more, mind you. I was pleasantly surprised because my expectations were extraordinarily low. There’s a better movie in there if you care to find it. Plus, Joseph Cotten!

the hearse 31 days of horror

Final The Hearse Thoughts:

Unlike The Funhouse, in which nothing happens and I lost all interest, The Hearse manages nothing more than the oddity of the spectral hearse hauntings and I’m at least hooked and waiting for more. Potatoes. Tomatoes. I even hung on to watch the extras on the Blu-ray. That’s how into The Hearse I was — relatively speaking.

Availability: 

Vinegar Syndrome released The Hearse on Blu-ray because they do things like that when they’re not releasing porn.

 

#27. Alligator (1980)

alligator 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Where’s my damn Alligator Blu-ray protest watch.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Death from the Deep

Robert Forster has this thing about him as an actor. He’s gruff and unlikable but magnetic. He commands the screen with his demeanor — not bombast or histrionics, just quiet gravitas. He reminds me of John Garfield in many ways. I won’t dare say that Alligator is his finest hour of film, but the film is incredibly effective at transferring the Jaws model to the rough and tumble city streets with a sly sense of humor.

A pet alligator gets loose in the sewer, meets toxic runoff and becomes a very large hungry man-eating alligator. Director Lewis Teague has a checkered filmography. Cujo, Cat’s Eye and Alligator suggests the guy had great potential as a horror director. He creates a number of highly effective set pieces. Given stars and a budget, however, and he turns in Jewel of the Nile and Navy Seals. Okay, I do have a soft spot for Navy Seals, but it’s not a good film.

Now, pardon me while I resume my ALLIGATOR ON BLU-RAY campaign. Considering all the genre dreck that’s being released on Blu-ray you’d think we could get Alligator. I only have a Korean DVD release.

alligator 31 days of horror

Final Alligator Thoughts:

Don’t mess with Ramon.

Availability: 

Sadly non-existent. The aforementioned Korean DVD is all we’ve got. It’s better than nothing, but it’s a full frame VHS transfer. This YouTube version is even worse.

 

#28. Medousa (1998)

medousa 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unwatched Mondo Macabro DVD.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Country of Origin: Greece
20th Anniversary

Having just had a conversation about Hammer’s The Gorgon on the last Cinema Shame podcast, I had expected something similar. Not even the same ballpark. A boy’s mother goes missing. He remembers odd, specific details about the night of her disappearance and he’s trying to put them together into something that makes sense.All he knows is that it has something to do with a long-haired woman in black. Many years later he’s the head of a gang of thieves that has the opportunity to burgle the house in which his mother disappeared.

Viewers looking for a genre refashioning of the myth might become frustrated with the film’s non-existent pacing. Medousa, however, creates a substantial amount of tension through flashback and the concurrent police investigation into the sudden appearance of statues of people who’ve gone missing. This is an arthouse movie that transfers ancient myth to modern Athens through mood and mystery.

medousa 1998 31 days of horror

Final Medousa Thoughts:

I didn’t think I liked this movie. The more it simmered, the more I appreciated the psychosexual undercurrents and deliberate swell to catharsis.

The Medusa myth boasts such magnificent imagery — but imagery that becomes more complicated within the cinematic language. This might be one explanation for why it’s rarely attempted on screen. #IdleThoughts

Availability: 

Mondo Macabro’s DVD looks great. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick this up if you’re someone with a passing interest in Greek cinema or mythology. For anyone else, I struggle to offer a blanket recommendation. If languid arthouse cinema with a pinch of mystique is your bag, then by all means dabble.

 

#29. The Phantom Carriage (1921)

the phantom carriage 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unseen Silent Horror

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Country of Origin: Sweden
Silent
Pre-1970’s

I’d long heard tales of the great Phantom Carriage. The “I watch this every New Years” accolades. I prepared myself for worship.

Victor Sjöström’s macabre fable features stunning double exposures and a complex flashback structure uncommon to silent films. It’s a remarkable work of expressionist art — and the scene where the coach driver acquires a drowned soul by driving his carriage into the water felt nothing short of otherworldly. 

And yet… I didn’t love it. After my viewing I felt compelled to do some research about the source material. It felt at once like an ancient fairy tale and a cautionary scared straight video. They Soul Shall Bear Witness! (wow–just wow) was a 1912 novel by the author Selma Lagerlöf. It was originally commissioned by a Swedish health association as a means of public education about tuberculosis.

Sjöström downplays the novel’s message about the nature of the contagion, but retains the character of Sister Edith as The Phantom Carriage‘s main protagonist and every time it returns to her, the film rolls through molasses.

the phantom carriage 31 days of horror

Final The Phantom Carriage Thoughts:

If for no other reason, you should watch The Phantom Carriage for some of the most impressive special effects in all of silent cinema. Don’t let my relative disappointment deter you. Sjöström has created a masterpiece of visual artistry and for that reason alone it deserves your attention. 

Availability: 

The Phantom Carriage has been brought to us on a spectacular Criterion edition of the film featuring multiple scores, including a modern experimental version; an except from an interview with Ingmar Bergman; and a visual essay by film historian Peter Cowie.

 

#30. Scanners (1981)

scanners 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unseen Cronenberg “classic”

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Cronenberg

I picked up the Scanners Criterion Blu-ray many years ago because it was a genre film released on Criterion and goshdarnit I should watch this thing because who doesn’t make references to Scanners‘ exploding heads? I know I do. And it always felt disingenuous. A little pang of guilt with every mention. Cronenberg’s most visible film.

I no longer feel disingenuous, but I do feel underwhelmed.

David Cronenberg’s not an easy filmmaker. Affinity for his films cannot necessarily be predicted. I’m a fan of Videodrome and Naked Lunch. I love The Fly (1986). I still need to see The Brood. But every once in awhile he makes a film to which people really gravitate and I’m standing there wondering what the hell I missed. So it goes with Scanners.

Beyond the exploding head effects, I found the film an easy enough watch through the face-value weirdness of intense staring contests as a form of cinema. After the first head ‘splosion, however the film relies largely on sequences teasing more of the same brand of body horror. Unsettling, off-kilter tension throughout with little of the same payoff.

I didn’t *dislike* Scanners, but I constantly struggled to identify with the film. I grasped for meaning that might not have been there at all. Was it about the rise of a nefarious counter-culture? Was it about post-60’s hippie radicals becoming working professionals? Hell, after watching the film I went online and Googled “the meaning of Scanners.” It didn’t help.

scanners 31 days of horror

Final Scanners Thoughts:

Stephen Lack should not act in the same movie as Patrick McGoohan.

Availability: 

Criterion has blessed us with a Scanners release so we can dive into the extra features to help explain the point of what it was we just watched. 

 

#31. Tales from the Hood (1995)

tales from the hood 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

A thing I really liked in the theater, but haven’t seen since.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Hooptober Extra Credit

I remember loving this film after its release. For whatever reason I just never picked it up on home video until Scream Factory recently released the Blu-ray. The “Gotta Have Its” kicked in finally and I picked myself up a copy.

I’ve never been a huge fan of anthology films. With the exception of Dead of Night, I’ve never *loved* any of them. It just seems like there’s always one story that takes a bite out of the overall experience. Even if 3 out of 4 segments land that’s still just 75% of a good movie. C-grade. Good luck with your job as a grocery bagger, movie.

tales from the hood 31 days of horror

Tales from the Hood confronts real goddamn issues through some mildly unnerving set pieces. I admire the film now more than I’m wowed by it. In 1995 it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It felt vibrant and fresh, like discovering a new thing. Now, it’s fine. I love that Rusty Cundieff is out there making films as wild and experimental as this, but 23 years between revisitations feels right by me.

I still adore the third segment, “KKK Comeuppance.” Stop motion and POV shots abound in this wildly inventive short film about a slimy white politician getting his due from the ghosts of racial injustice past.

tales from the hood 31 days of horror

Final Tales from the Hood Thoughts:

I love that people love this film; there’s much to admire. As I said, I just have this thing about anthology films. It’s the “It’s not you; it’s me” film criticism.

Availability: 

Scream Factory Blu-ray looks and sounds great considering the negligible budget and effects. Definite pick-up for fans. Definite watch for the curious.

#32. Tales from the Hood 2 (2018)

tales from the hood 2 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

It’s out there. I haven’t seen it.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Extra credit

Tales from the Hood 2 further reinforces my negativity about anthology films by being cheap, poorly written and wildly erratic in tone. Where the original found some nuance with its characters, this is the sledgehammer of stereotype. Negative production values undermine whatever value might have been present.

After the horrifying (in a bad way) opening segment, I thought the film could only get better from there. NO! It maintains the same level of leaden jokes and unnecessary histrionics until you stop watching and just do something else while it’s on in the background. I hope for everyone the stuck around for the duration that something rewarded their efforts.

tales from the hood 2 31 days of horror

Final Tales from the Hood 2 Thoughts:

Ack.

Availability: 

Sure you could own this, but why would you? 

 

#33. Suspiria (2018)

suspiria 2018

Nature of Shame:

The only “Shame” is that maybe I didn’t believe that this should have been made at all.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

None

Call it a remake or a reimagining, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is at least a reaction to Argento’s film. Relevant information: I consider 1977’s Suspiria a masterpiece of art horror. The film’s threadbare narrative permits Argento’s nearly singleminded focus to remain on the image — the color, the depth of focus, the set design. Style over substance… unless as in this instance, style *IS* the substance.

Guadagnino’s takes Argento’s skeleton and stuffs it with narratives and themes and some of them flesh out ideas that ’77 skirts like a passing breeze. Set in the same time period, in a divided Berlin, ’18 digs into gender politics, dance theory, body horror, terrorism, religion, alienation, etc. Another viewing might pull out twelve more points of concerns for Guadagnino’s lens. Guadagnino has tossed so many different balls in the air it would be impossible for Suspiria to catch them all — even with its 2 1/2 hour runtime.

suspiria 2018

What 2018’s not concerned about is the aforementioned color, set design, etc. Set in a spartan Eastern block universe, the director waltzes among grey and greyer, mirrors and concrete. It’s not that he’s ignored visual aesthetics, it’s that he’s reacted with equal and opposite vigor.

Guadagnino’s greatest success comes in the ways he incorporates dance into the narrative. Argento used the dance academy as an insular world that might secretly foster a coven of witches. At best, a convenience. Guadagnino uses the dance setting as a playground for body horror and gender identity and politics. Aronofsky covered some of this in Black Swan, but not like this, not with this attention to detail and performance. The ballet (Volk, in this instance) becomes as integral to the film as the witches themselves.

I might still be coming to terms with my overall opinion of Suspiria. I walked out bewildered and frustrated. My frustration has dissipated under the observation that Guadagnino’s missteps originated in overzealousness and ambition.

suspiria 31 days of horror

Final Suspiria Thoughts:

Polarizing, maddening, overlong, fitfully brilliant, Suspiria is a movie with 200 different angles. Find the right one and you might see transcendence; find the wrong one, however, and… well, your fate might very well align with those that backed Mother Markos. (#SpoilerAlert: Scanners doesn’t have a monopoly on ‘sploded heads anymore.)

Availability: 

Not yet. But you can pre-order it here from Amazon.

 

#34. The Black Doll (1938)

black doll 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

I dunno.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Pre-1970
80th Anniversary

Universal’s Crime Club mysteries are a largely forgotten off-shoot of their early horror films. Spooky old houses, mysterious charlatans, and a murder mystery to be solved!

Otis Garrett’s The Black Doll starts in earnest. A black doll appears on a dishonest mine owners desk and he fears that death has arrived to make amends for the murder of his former partner. The building blocks of a eerie movie about black magic and the occult! The proto-Night of the Demon!

Alas.

Edgar Kennedy arrives and turns the movie into a light comedy murder mystery. Kennedy’s charisma makes it entertaining for entirely different reasons than you’d hoped after that first reel. Pleasant but forgettable.

black doll 31 days of horror

Final The Black Doll Thoughts:

I figured out why the Crime Club mysteries have largely been forgotten. This might have been the best one.

Availability: 

The Black Doll is available on a less-than-stellar DVD-R. It does the job, but it’s got a case of the jitters. 

 

#35. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

usher 1928 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Haven’t seen in a long time?

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Pre-1970
90th Anniversary
Silent

Jean Epstein’s La chute de la maison Usher is the best adaptation of Poe’s source material ever made. I’m throwing down that gauntlet.

Weird, unsettling and otherworldly, it places the viewer off-balance and conveys the psychological terror through silence. Unusual camera angles and expressive lighting depict Roderick Usher’s descent into madness where dialogue would only get in the way. Gothic horror rooted in pure cinema — visuals and a minimalist score place the horror in the mind, exactly where Poe would have wanted it.

la chute de la maison usher

Final The Fall of the House of Usher Thoughts:

Just as moved by the film as during my first viewing many years ago for a term paper on cinematic adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe, I wish we could see a fully restored version of Epstein’s masterpiece. It’s easy to see where Luis Bunuel influenced Epstein as his assistant director.

Availability: 

Image released a now OOP 2001 DVD of the film, but we’ve seen nothing since. While the DVD certainly improves upon the VHS bootleg copy I tracked down 20 years ago, there’s room for improvement and I hope someone like Flicker Alley picks this up and works their magic.

 

31 Days of Horror 2018: Recap!

31 days of horror 2017

Total Number of Horror Movies: 35
First Time Watches: 25
Total Number of Minutes: 3378
Average Length of Film: 96 minutes
Average Year of Release: 1973
Countries of Origin: 7 – US, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Sweden, France

Top 5 First-Time 31 Days of Horror 2018 Watches

#1. Possession (1981)

possession 1981

#2. Night of the Demon (1957)

night of the demon 31 days of horror

#3. The Mist (2007)

#4. Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

#5a (tie). The Phantom Carriage (1921)

the phantom carriage 31 days of horror

#5b (tie). Kiss of the Vampire
kiss of the vampire 1963

So it’s October and it’s time to watch 31DaysOfHorror

I love coming up with lists of underrated flicks for Brian Saur’s www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com page because I revisit old favorites and explore oddballs I’d always meant to watch. It focuses my attention and simplifies the selection process. When a movie collection reaches a certain size, the wall of potentiality paralyzes. When it comes to horror films, there’s no better reason to binge on spooks and slashers than Halloween. The last couple of years I’ve approached my 31 Days/Night of Horror with a kind of reckless schizophrenia, loading the DVR with TCM horror flicks and throwing in an odd DVD when I’ve got the chance.

This year, inspired by the Cinema Shame method, I’ve created a list of 31 movies that fall in the “Shame” category (How have I not watched you, Texas Chainsaw Massacre?!?) or ones that I own and I need a good excuse to watch (I picked up Inugami at a Hollywood Video liquidation sale six years ago and still haven’t tossed it in). Will I watch all 31? Probably not. Absolutely not. But it’ll be a helluva lot of fun trying to sneak in as many as possible until the clock strikes midnight on October 31st.

I’ll toss a short write-up for each flick along with a snap judgment rating on the Hz Record scale. Commence the 31DaysOfHorror.

 

horrorshame

 


 

  1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
  2. Re-Animator
  3. Nightmare on Elm Street 2
  4. Bird with the Crystal Plumage
  5. Night of the Devils
  6. Lair of the White Worm
  7. Wicker Man (1973)
  8. House on Sorority Row
  9. Piranha (1978)
  10. Without Warning
  11. Night Train to Terror
  12. Fascination
  13. Stage Fright
  14. The Fly (1986)
  15. Romasanta
  16. Vincent Price Wildcard
  17. Vincent Price Wildcard
  18. The Whip and the Body
  19. Lifeforce
  20. Countess Dracula
  21. Killer Party
  22. Cat People (1982)
  23. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  24. Inugami
  25. Ticks
  26. Night of the Comet
  27. Scream of Fear!
  28. Black Belly of the Tarantula
  29. Nosferatu (1979)
  30. Vampyr
  31. The Mystery of the Wax Museum

Alternates (aka spur of the moment pop-ins and TCM happenstance)

  1. The Man Who Could Cheat Death (Blu-ray)
  2. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (TCM)
  3. The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (DVD)
  4. Transylvania 6-5000 (DVD)
  5. Massage Parlor Murders (Blu-ray)
  6. The Mummy’s Shroud (TCM)

#31DaysOfHorror Statistics

1920’s:
1930’s: xx
1940’s: xx
1950’s: xx
1960’s: xxxx
1970’s: xxxxxx
1980’s: xxxxxxxx
1990’s: x
2000’s:
2010’s

#1: 10/2 – Fascination (1979, dir. Jean Rollin)

fascination by jean rollin scythe

“Allow me to examine you like I would my horse.”

My first Jean Rollin. I’d been meaning to dig into the Rollin catalog of artsy naked vampires for years now. I even picked Fascination up on Blu-ray thinking that would finally provoke me to take that first step. Well that didn’t work… until now. That pang of guilt resulted in Fascination being added to this list and a watch on Day One of my #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thon list. Rollin is a true aesthete, an appreciator of color, contrast and vamp-on-vamp action. This film might boast more memorable images than lines of dialogue. Rollin definitely doesn’t want dialogue to get in the way of his other interests. I just don’t know if the above scene featuring Brigitte Lehaie wielding a scythe can really be topped. The last third of the film grows oddly chatty, but the lusty vampire girls doing the philosophizing are all wearing transparent gowns and capes, so I really can’t be too critical.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#2: 10/2 – The Mad Magician (1954, dir. John Brahm)

The Mad Magician, starring Vincent Price

“Good luck on your murder.”

I’ve been very much enjoying the obscure offerings brought to us by the people at Warner Archive, Sony and MGM through their respective burn-on-demand DVD services. Sure, there’s some conversation about the longevity of the discs, but I’m getting to see some seriously cool flicks that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. (Plus, if the need arises I can just rip the movies to a big ass hard drive.) The Mad Magician is one of those movies, released on the Sony Pictures Choice Collection. I picked it up, blind, for the same reasons that it was chosen for the “Choice Collection” in the first place. It wasn’t previously on DVD and it starred Vincent Price. Sold.

Let me preface this next statement by saying I’ve seen dozens – nay, hordes – of Vincent Price movies and The Mad Magician just jumped up to the top tier. In this one he’s an inventor of gadgets for magic acts. When he, as the Gallico the Great, attempts to perform a trick of his own design, his jerk-store manager shuts him down so that a more well-known, rival magician can perform the act. Gallico, who has anger management issues, loses his mind and starts using his inventions/illusions to eliminate those who have served as impediments to his own success. It’s part The Abominable Dr. Phibes, part Mission: Impossible, and part Phantom of the Opera. The whole bloody affair could have been avoided if Gallico had hired a decent lawyer and bypassed the decapitations, but where’s the fun in that? Plus Eva Gabor pops up in a hat of feathers and a fur shawl, exactly how you’d want Eva Gabor to make an entrance.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#3: 10/6 – Vampyr (1931, dir. Carl Th. Dreyer)

carl theodore dreyer's vampyr

Mr. Dreyer and I have a love/hate relationship, but that’s a new development. Until a few minutes ago it was just hate/hate. You see, Mr. Dreyer twice forced upon me The Passion of Joan of Arc during my film school curriculum. Picture this: I’m a college junior, spread too thin, running the campus television station and directing my own sketch comedy show for said TV station, plus, of course, acing all my film studies classes. My Film Theory class screens it’s movies at 8pm every Thursday. No amount of caffeine (IIRC, it was a six shot Americano) could have kept me awake for a silent movie comprised largely of static close-up. I was toast twenty minutes in. I had to go to the library to watch the laserdisc on a 7-inch Viewmaster to make up for that little cat nap.

Step 1: Watch The Passion of Joan of Arc on a 7″ screen in library.

Step 2: ???

Step 3: RAGE

Two semesters later another class thought it’d be wise to screen Joan. You can preach the merits of that film until we’re both blue in the face and doing tequila shots and my eyes will still gloss over as I go to my happy place. I get why it’s brilliant cinema. I do. But that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy any second of that film.

Fast forward a decade. I pick up Vampyr on Criterion DVD because 1) vampires and 2) Criterion. I throw it in the DVD player that very same week. 10 Internet dollars if you can guess what happened…. I fell asleep. Damn you, Carl Theodore Dreyer. I added Vampyr to this horror list to make amends on 16 years of Dreyer negativity. Thank goodness for that because Vampyr‘s a class in How to Film Horror 101. Creative (brilliant) use of light and shadow, combinations of multiple negatives. Haunting imagery. Skewed camera angles. Creepy ass dudes with scythes. Seriously have you thought about the efficacy of a scythe at foreshadowing evil? (see also: Fascination). Max Schreck may have been the creepiest vampire ever on screen, but Nosferatu lacked this constant, obscure feeling of latent doom. Also, don’t expect much on-screen bloodsucking. Despite the name of the film, the evil is almost all of a more ghostly, ethereal variety.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#4: 10/7 – Cat People (1982, dir. Paul Schrader)

catpeople

“You can’t escape your nightmare without me, and I can’t escape my nightmare without you. I’ve waited a long time for you.”

Paul Schrader made some silly ass movies in between writing some of the gold standards of American cinema (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). I resisted watching Cat People until now because, well, I had very little faith in Schrader’s remake of Jacque Tourneur’s elegant, atmospheric Cat People from 1942. I gave in and blind bought the Scream! Factory release because A) Nastassja Kinski; B) Giorgio Moroder’s excellent score (which I have on vinyl); C) I’d recently gained an appreciation for one of Schrader’s films. I’d just  watched and enjoyed the underrated 80’s thriller Light Sleeper starring Willem Defoe and Susan Sarandon. This forced me to reconsider my position on Schrader, who puts a nifty spin on the 80’s noir cycle. I’m here to report that Cat People is indeed one of those silly ass Paul Schrader movies without any definite identity. It’s not without merit, however. There’s some nice tension that builds through the first 90 minutes as we learn about Irena’s (Kinski) burgeoning sexuality/animalistic tendencies. Meanwhile crazy Malcolm McDowell’s hair becomes the creepiest element in the movie (as he serially beds and devours hookers). The gore effects play comical (Ed Begley, Jr lends a hand here… get it… lends a hand?) which could play right into Schrader’s cheese, if indeed the psycho-sexual stuff felt less stilted and similarly fell in line. Cat People‘s a mixed bag of the 80’s horror I crave and the kind that conceives itself as something far greater than the sum of its ridiculous parts.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#5: 10/8 – Re-Animator (1985, dir. Stuart Gordon)

re-animator

“Don’t expect it to tango; it has a broken back.”

I picked up the DVD of Re-Animator when it was first released. At some point along the path of not watching Re-Animator I’d convinced myself that I’d actually watched Re-Animator. Of course, when the Blu-ray was released I needed to upgrade. What is this special brand of sickness? I remembered/realized that I’d not watched Re-Animator when I pulled that decade-old DVD off the shelf still sealed. This particular event made Re-Animator the first movie considered when crafting this #31DaysOfHorror list for the Cinema Shame Shame-a-thon. Like many of the films explored during the Cinema Shame process, I wondered if there were any secrets left to reveal. I’d become so familiar with the story and notion of Re-Animator I worried it wouldn’t thrill me upon a proper viewing. …as Monty Python once said, however, no one expects the Re-Animator… or something like that. As a side note, I tried to place the lead actress Barbara Crampton (she was in Stuart Gordon’s other films such as From Beyond) with a quick IMDB search and I stumbled across the following piece of information:

But anyway… This movie, Re-Animator, goes gloriously… gleefully balls out. Filth and gore played to comical extremes. Once decapitated heads in bowling bags start controlling animated corpses (topped with masked mannequin heads for verisimilitude!) you just know Re-Animator gets it. Barbara Crampton deserves some sort of medal for laying on a gurney while the blood-spewing severed head of Dr. Hill goes both uptown and downtown. Amazing stuff. 30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#6: 10/8 – The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933, dir. Michael Curtiz)

mystery of the wax museum

“I don’t know what it was but it made Frankenstein look like a lily.”

I watch a lot of Michael Curtiz movies because Michael Curtiz directed a lot of movies. I justify watching a lot of random Michael Curtiz movies because Casablanca. I looked for a short flick to squeeze in before prior #Bond_age_ commitments and noticed this little two-strip technicolor ditty just hanging out on the flipside of the old House of Wax DVD. Most of the characters think they’re acting in a Cagney picture and at one point a particularly egregious character lovingly fake punches Fay Wray on the chin to flirt with her. I can’t remember, however, if he called her “kiddo.” And now random thoughts:

The Mystery of the Wax Museum offers up some lingering imagery — the burning mannequins intercut with a fistfight in the opening sequence offers far more than the movie actually delivers as it plays out like a slightly creepy potboiler — the Technicolor certainly doesn’t enhance anything. Lionel Atwill needed more screentime or scenery to chew. Fay Wray and her exquisite wardrobe remain nice on the eyes, if nothing else.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#7: 10/11 – The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959, dir. Terence Fisher)

the man who could cheat death

Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher directed this fair-to-middling remake of The Man of Half Moon Street (1945). Also, forget any connection to Dorian Gray. A centenarian scientist/artist remains youthful by periodically replacing a gland with that of a living person. I’m a bit sketchy about the whole “living person” element of the transaction. It doesn’t seem like gland function would be predicated on the healthfulness of the donor. Perhaps that conversation requires a med student and a few pints of ale. There’s some nice foggy Parisian street scenes and Christopher Lee slips comfortably into “doctor with reservations” but The Man Who Could Cheat Death rarely breaks free from the feeling that this is Hammer Horror on auto-pilot. The original cut of the film reportedly contained a Hazel Court topless scene.. and at least that would have livened things up a bit. Anton Diffring’s relatively understated approach to “mad scientist pouring a glowing liquid from a beaker into an Erlenmeyer flask” could have used a bit more hyperbole. Threw this in because it’s the first feature on a double bill with The Skull. Basically I need to get back on the reservation and watch movies on my list. No more freeballing.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#8: 10/13 – Countess Dracula (1971, dir. Peter Sasdy)

countessdracula

“Well, how should I know where she is? Try the whorehouse.”

Hammer attempts to cash in on its own bloodsucker series by tacking “Dracula” onto this loose adaptation of the Countess Bathory story. In keeping with tradition no blood is sucked… though much is let, mostly off-screen. Here’s the 30Hz Notes version of the tale: Elizabeth Bathory is considered the most prolific female serial killer in history — she reportedly imprisoned and murdered hundreds of young girls because she believed that bathing in the blood of virgins kept her young. In this little ditty, the lovely Ingrid Pitt murders, bathes and woos. Repeat. The gentleman suitor believes he’s trying to jump the bones of the Countess’ 19yo daughter not the aged Countess. Meanwhile she’s holding her daughter captive so that the truth about her bloody duplicity never comes to light. There’s some buxom beauties scattered about and one memorable scene with Pitt giving herself a bloody sponge bath, but the film lacks menace or any persistent tension. It’s hard not to place this film in direct comparison with the far more interesting Vampire Lovers. Ingrid Pitt, per her usual, makes this one worth visiting. Her character dominates the film and provides Pitt with a meaty role; the male characters, including Nigel Green despite being a brilliant asshole, recede into the background. It’s a shame that Pitt saw few (if any) great roles after Countess Dracula — this woman commanded the screen and deserved a shot at a broader audience outside the limited (but entertaining!) industry of Hammer Horror.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#9: 10/14 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964, dir. Michael Carreras)

mummystomb

“Those Egyptian gentleman are always up to some very funny tricks.”

Imagine waiting in the dentist’s office with only a copy of Better Homes & Gardens to read. That’s how this movie begins. I began to wonder if there was going to be any actual horror beyond a dude getting his hand chopped off in the first five minutes. There was the novelty of seeing Jeanne Roland outside of the Bond universe for the first time. The actress appeared in both You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale (67). Still, a lopped off hand and Jeanne Roland but no animate mummy despite excavating the mummy right from the get go. They load the mummy onto a boat. Nothing. They set up a mummy exhibition. No mummy. Finally… finally! at a preview appearance for special VIP’s the sarcophagus opens to reveal…. that the mummy has disappeared!! Anyway, at least this is something because the disappeared mummy catalyzes a fun, campy final third of the film that nearly redeems all of the aforementioned sluggish bits. The actual animate mummy looks quite a bit like a papier mache Creature from the Black Lagoon. Overall, this one’s a fun entry in the Hammer Mummy series (the second of four) even if it does strike all the requisite and predictable beats for a mummy flick (with one twist you might not see coming). Terence Morgan does a nice job carrying the film as a haughty skeeze. I was distracted by my inability to place him in context — after consulting IMDB I learned that he played Laertes in Olivier’s Hamlet. He must have stopped by the Hammer studios to class up the joint.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#10: 10/15 – Ticks (1993, dir. Tony Randel)

ticks

“Dude, you’re all messed up.”

Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air plays a bit of a brash tough-guy and then transforms into mega-tick despite Seth Greene’s best efforts to save the poor chap. If you’re not interested in watching Ticks after hearing that, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. So it is still your standard troubled-teens-encounter-genetically-mutated-killer-insects-on-a-rehabilitation-weekend-with-Peter Scolari narrative, however…

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#11: 10/16 – The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967, dir. Harald Reinl)

Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism

“It could have all been a bad dream. But me, this is real.”  

This German production was directed by a guy best known for Karl May Westerns, Dr. Mabuse sequels and a bunch of films that provided stepping stones for the giallo genre. This low-budget revenge/demonic resurrection flick stars Christopher Lee, Karin Dor (best known for her roles in You Only Live Twice and Hitchcock’s Topaz) and a dude named Lex Barker who had a minor role in La Dolce Vita. While browsing a recent sale on the TCM site, I came across this movie. The name alone warmed my cockles. How can you not love that the movie pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to its title. THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM!! It’s just too damn perfect. It even sounds great in German: Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel, but then again all movies sound like horror movies in German.

There’s a lot of shoestring style to love here. Castle halls wallpapered with skulls, series of rooms filled with various torture devices… the evil Count Frederic Regula (Lee) even keeps the bled bodies of the women he’s murdered along the way to his resurrection on slabs in one of these rooms. It’s like the Upright Citizens Brigade’s “Hot Chicks Room” sketch, except all the hot chicks are naked and dead. Totally the same thing. Lee doesn’t get a ton to do as he’s drawn and quartered in the pre-credits and then re-appears 50 minutes later. So as the titular Dr. Sadism, he’s a bit of background noise. The real star of The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism is, appropriately, the torture chambers. This really is the work of an under-funded Ken Adams. So I looked the fellow up… or as it turns out, fellows. Rolf Zehetbauer and Gabriel Pellon. The latter toiled on similar low-rent projects for his entire career. The former, however, made a name for himself on Cabaret, The Neverending Story, and Das Boot. I should scout art direction talent. I saw a glimmer of brilliance in that young Rolf’s eye, I did.  

Right, well, anyway. The Count needs to sacrifice 13 virgins to attain immortality. He’s drawn and quartered before he can kill the 13th and he returns to seek revenge on the daughter of his intended original target and yada yada yada finally achieve immortality. A cool flick that probably deserves more attention from fans of Mario Bava, Euro trash and the giallo genre. The DVD from Desert Island Classics is a disaster, by the way. It’s not an especially deep experience, but the following conversation with my wife made my day:   Wife: What did you do today during your 2-hour break from child rearing?   Me: Finished up some edits on my query letter… and watched The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism.   Wife: … I’m sorry I asked.

  30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating  

#12: 10/17 – Lifeforce (1985, dir. Tobe Hooper)

lifeforce

“The girl chose me. And when she mixed with me she gave me a part of herself. And now she wants that part back.”

So space vampires terrorize London and then Patrick Stewart shows up. It’s 2001 meets The Thing meets Dawn of the Dead with more nudity and vampires. Basically I watched this movie thinking about much I love the 1980’s. I love the 1980’s because Kenny Loggins and Oingo Boingo appeared on 72% of all movie soundtracks. I love the 1980’s because frivolous nudity was both a right and a privilege. I love the 1980’s because people made bonkers horror/sci-fi like this, where every line sounds like it requires a THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID and nobody knew what the hell a computer generated effect was.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#13: 10/17 – Transylvania 6-5000 (1985, dir. Rudy de Luca)

transylvania 6-5000

“Ooh, bazonkers! I never counted on bazonkers.”

There was a certain symbiosis in following 1985’s Lifeforce with 1985’s Transylvania 6-5000. Not only did the share the same release year but also wacked out vampires… in a certain sense. Of course there’s a far cry from space vampires to Geena Davis, but in my brain they made a perfect double feature. Not only am I glossing over the hackneyed connection between the two but I’m also stretching the notion of “horror” by including T6-5000 in my #31DaysOrHorror list. So you’re just going to accept this. Recently I’d read a few blurbs touting this one as an underrated little gem. Certainly the critics had ripped it to bits and, well, it had… a reputation. Reputations be damned. If the movie contains Jeff Goldblum, Michael Richards, Geena Davis, and Carol Kane I’m going to watch it. And I wasn’t disappointed. Of course it’s dumb. But this was the 80’s when movies knew how to have a 5 IQ and still reward with creative ineptitude and brilliant character actors just doing pratfalls and Carol Kane being Carol Kane. Ed Begley, Jr. in a starring role! Moving along. I’ll just make this another entry in the Why I Loved the 1980’s coffee table book.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#14: 10/20 – House on Sorority Row (1983, dir. Mark Rosman)

house on sorority row

“I’m a sea pig!”

I’d read good things and not so good things about this one. Consequently it’d festered on the shelf in my stack of new Blu acquisitions. I recently watched Slumber Party Massacre for the first time and while I enjoyed it, I couldn’t place it in the top tier of 1980’s slashers. My expectations, thusly, limped into House on Sorority Row because clearly movies about sororities and slumber parties are related. Despite the implications of “sorority” in the title, House on Sorority Row‘s less exploitation and more straight-laced slasher. But it’s also funny and more often than not earns its thrills. I don’t remember any tacky red herrings, and the camerawork teases and rewards in equal measure with explicit and implied gore. It’s not the scariest flick, but what House on Sorority Row lacks in the way of sustained tension it makes up for in technical merit. Am I praising a slasher for low-budget technical merit? Good goddamn I think I am.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#15: 10/21 – Night of the Comet (1984, dir. Thom Eberhardt)

Night of the Comet

“Daddy would have gotten us Uzis.”

Having a mini-crush on Catherine Mary Stewart since Weekend at Bernie’s should have made a viewing of Night of the Comet essential, right? It’s never too late to right that egregious wrong. I picked up Scream Factory’s Night of the Comet specifically to add to my personal 31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thon. As a horror movie it’s pretty tame. As a time-capsule of the 1980’s with a valley girl cheerleader  spraying a MAC-10 and a side dish of zombification it’s high m’f’ing art. It’s the Casablanca of post-apocalyptic zombie-sci-coms. Or something. Jesus. Stop looking to me for words, I only got 4 hours of sleep last night. No more sentences. Movie good. You watch. Lots of hair. Catherine Mary Stewart. If someone wants to track down a copy of this soundtrack on vinyl, I’d be open to that. Christmas is coming, you know. On to #16.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#16: 10/21 – Daughters of Darkness (1971, dir. Harry Kümel)

Daughters of darkness

“It is since long that I have crossed the river Ocean!”

I’m typing this blurb with a cat sprawled across my arms. If you’ve never typed with a cat across your keyboard let me tell you it is not especially easy. Especially with a stubborn feline like my own. Back on track. Daughters of Darkness had sat on my DVD shelf for ages. On one of those low shelves full of neglected DVDs that you never notice. At the moment I wish it would have stayed there. Can you suggest a movie is a sexy vampire movie and neglect the “sexy” and the vampirisim? Okay sure there’s ample nudity and the specter of vampirism, albeit in a less obvious manner, like the “I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD” situation. In this film the vampire merely stalks young couples with the intent of, ahem, borrowing the body of a young, beautiful women in order to remain young and beautiful. There’s some deft cinematography and the promise of a better movie among the bumbling narrative. There’s enough soft focus on the lovely Delphine Seyrig to choke a camel and so many people staring awkwardly at nothing that Marty Feldman might have felt at home.

…and then, just as I was beginning to rage against this movie the end sucked me in.

This caused me to consider how much of the movie I actually need to enjoy in order to consider the ending a miraculous savior. The end partakes of shock and awe and woke me from my slumber of pessimism. Even though the ending had been telegraphed for some time, the visceral imagery of the final five minutes almost…. ALMOST… makes the entire ordeal worthwhile.

…almost…

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#17: 10/21 – Massage Parlor Murders (1973, dir. Chester Fox, Alex Stevens)

massage parlor murders

“Creatures of twilight and illusion, we drift and drift towards our unknown ends. And that’s why I feel the best thing is not to be born. But who is as lucky as that?”

The line between intentionally bad and unintentionally bad filmmaking is a razor’s edge. I’m not sure which side the movie falls on. All I know is that the oddball opening sequence had me hooked, for better or worse. And then there was some killing and some pointless nudity and then some killing and then some pointless indoor pool nudity and then some killing and then the detectives had a EUREKA! moment and the movie was over. Murder and sexual exploitation of the most innocent sort. Or something like that. I watched three movies today and I’m still four behind.

Shit.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#18: 10/22 – Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971, dir. Paolo Cavara)

black belly of the tarantula

Pre-billed as the giallo with 3 Bond Girls! Claudine Auger and Barbara Bach, yes, sure. But once you start calling Barbara Bouchet a Bond girl because she appeared in Casino Royale (’67) I’m calling shenanigans. You don’t include Peter Sellers alongside Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Anyhooooo. This one’s a traditional giallo about a killer who injects his victims with tarantula venom to paralyze them so they can watch their own murder. Ennio Morricone’s score serves as a juicy nugget during the stalking and slashing, but he occasionally goes over the top. The bombast during one of Giancarlo Giannini’s drinking sessions caused a chuckle. He’s a haggared investigator so he partook of some libation… WITH LOTS OF BLARING STRINGS! Caraza’s direction feels pretty traditional for the golden-era of giallo — it lacks a bit of the perverse style of Argento, for example — but the actors are game (I do love me some Giancarlo Giannini — even if his voice is dubbed over) and the tension builds as the killer gets too close to Giancarlo’s home for comfort. Top tier-ish for the genre.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#19: 10/23 – Night Train to Terror (1985, dir. John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, Gregg C. Tallas)

Night Train to Terror

“Like, I really wish our bus hadn’t broken down, ya know?”

What the actual fuck?

Segmented horror flick framed by argument between God and Satan (both played by Cameron Mitchell) about whether man is good, evil or just insanely stupid. Because this movie is a pastiche of stupidity I’ll just verbally recreate what I just saw for the uninitiated. Stone cold aerobicize dancers that failed to make Madonna’s Like a Virgin Tour. Richard Moll. Psychotic John Phillip Law. Recant! Never! Big ol’ iron ball on a rope. Stop motion Satan monsters. Hacksaw surgery, crotch north. Scalpels in the hands of lobotomized morons. Mind control serum. Poor John Phillip Law. Stop motion insect with mammoth stinger. Exploding eyeballs. Cloven hoof under argyle sock. Did I mention Bull from Night Court? Melting wax head. Surgery on Satan? I think. Except it wasn’t Satan’s heart in the box. Some dude from Diamonds Are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun. His name escapes me. Come on and dance with me! Dance with me! Everybody’s got something to do! Everybody but you! Toy train. Fire ball.

“Shall we continue?”

This was the most insane movie I’ve seen since Hausu and even though I wanted to turn it off by the 30-minute mark, it grew endearing. Instead of giving this a traditional rating, I’ll just drop this picture of moldy cheese.

moldy cheese

#20: 10/23 – Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949, dir. Charles Barton)

Abbott and Costello Meet Boris Karloff, the Killer

“It’s a booby trap.”

“For what?”

“For boobs.”

Spare me the criticism that this isn’t a horror movie and I’m merely padding my totals. It features Boris Karloff and someone gets murdered. And yes, I’m padding my totals and it isn’t exactly a horror movie. I needed a rebound movie to come down off of Night Train to Terror. I needed an elementary narrative with a predictable outcome and a few laughs. I needed to return to a cinematic womb for some coddling. Hold me, Abbott and Costello.

I’d seen all the other A&C “Meets” pictures as a kid but don’t recall this ever being a part of the rotation. It’s not the best Abbott and Costello and it’s also not the best “Meets” but it’s still highly enjoyable… enjoyable like finding an old pair of super cushy sherpa-lined slippers that still fit juuuuuust right. Except the interminable subterranean climax.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#21: 10/26 – The Mummy’s Shroud (1967, dir. John Gilling)

The Mummy's Shroud

You can pretty much lift my blurb from The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and put it right here. This one was a bit of a slog and if my cat hadn’t been sprawled across my lap I’d have put a movie in the player instead of fiddling with the DVR on this one. Instead I hoped for a quick nap, but alas I was also not granted a mid-movie siesta. The Mummy crushing a bottle of hydrochloric acid over a victim was a nice change of pace from the traditional lumbering and moaning. A slightly more entertaining Mummy death, as well, but for the wrong reasons. The bad guy was laughing himself silly as the Mummy closed in on the protagonists (and they chanted the incantation that would supposedly send the mummy put to sleep) and yelled something akin to “You fools! The Mummy won’t respond unless you’re holding the shroud!” So they went and grabbed the shroud from him, offed him and won the day. Darwinism for deserving villainy.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#22: 10/27 – Piranha (1978, dir. Joe Dante)

Piranha (1978)

“What about the piranhas?”

“They’re eating the guests.”

Jawsploitation of the most obvious order. Created as a military weapon to use against the Vietnamese and ultimately destroyed by the pollution of the new era. It’s either a thinly-veiled socio-political statement or an excuse to show a lot of girls in bikinis. I’ll go with both. I can’t get enough of the sound the piranhas make while they’re feeding. I’m on a mission to make that a ringtone. Fun and campy, but also fleeting and temporary like a wintergreen Life Saver with genetically enhanced intelligence and lots of teeth and awesome sound effects.

P.S. I love it when R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) shows up in a movie to be all gruff and annoyed.

Kevin McCarthy in UHF

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#23: 10/28 – The Whip and the Body (1963, dir. Mario Bava)

the whip and the body

“You haven’t changed, I see. You’ve always loved violence.”

Filmed almost exclusively in obscured shadows and darkness, the Bavalicious gothic horror picture serves up a case of the bumps and creeps. Easily the most impressive visuals of any movie I’ve watched this month. Bava (using the name John M. Old) also doesn’t shy away from rather overt depictions of sadomasochism. Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) strikes Kurt (Christopher Lee) with a whip. Christopher Lee stares at her, a virulent rage simmering just beneath his placidity and he says, “You haven’t changed, I see. You’ve always loved violence.” The then proceeds to beat her with the whip five or six times across her back. With each lash she becomes more submissive and receptive to his brand of aggression until he falls upon her. Coitus assumed. When Kurt is killed (he’s been persona non grata since arriving due to his past transgressions with Nevenka) his “form” continues to stalk her, proceeding with some whipping and more voilent S&M from the beyond. The lust coupled with the dramatic piano score render The Whip and the Body at face value a wonderfully macabre soap opera of blood and inescapable passion. Daliah Lavi and Christopher Lee render delicious performances and raise the material above mere bodice ripping. This film reeks top to bottom of Mario Bava and had I not been so engrossed in the film I might have seen the twist coming before the FIN. As a result I bestow the highest honor of my #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thon, the rare and honorable 4-record salute.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#24: 10/29 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, dir. Philip Kaufman)

invasion

I’d seen the Don Siegel 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers a bunch of times. I’d set the over/under at 6.5 in case you’re putting hard cash on that. That includes a couple of viewings during film school. Invasion ’56 is a meticulously crafted red-scare parable conveyed through the the science fiction genre. Was it my fear of a remake of a classic that kept me away from this highly regarded film? Or was it just convenient happenstance? I’ll go with “I was busy being born in 1978 and had a pretty packed calendar.”

Kaufman’s update is an entirely different beast. Less political and more reflective of man’s modern malaise. Invasion ’78 uses the people-replacing premise as a way to explore what it means to be human, to exist in this world of perceived soullessness. If we were replaced one night would anyone even really notice? The shift from small town America to big city San Francisco punctuates this tonal shift. The characters wax philosophical and political, intellectualizing the horror that takes place around them as a coping mechanism, but they fail to act until the horror they’ve imagined manifests in a legitimate, terrible form. But can it now be reversed? Both Siegal and star (Kevin McCarthy again!) of Invasion ’54 appear in cameos, offering their remake blessings. And justifiably so.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#25: 10/30 – The Blob (1988, dir. Chuck Russell)

The Blob (1988)

“Chew on that, slimeball.”

I got caught up in the Twilight Time The Blob Blu-ray craze. I know I’d seen this at some point but couldn’t remember one thing about it other than a guy gets sucked down a sink drain. Seriously, that moment will mess with your head as a kid. I wouldn’t look down a drain for weeks. And because I don’t remember anything else, I’ve deemed that it fits the Shame-a-thon concept since I dropped $30 on a movie I don’t really remember watching.

Also, I’d forgotten about my Shawnee Smith crush. Watch The Blob, Summer School and Who’s Harry Crumb for the Shawnee Smith trifecta.

Shawnee Smith The Blob

So I rekindled a long dormant 10-year old crush, rediscovered a really cool B-grade horror flick and justified the semi-blind purchase of a $30 Blu-ray disc. That’s what I call a 90-minutes well spent. I’m sorry… did you want to know something about the movie? Okay, well, uh it’s a pink blob thing that absorbs people into its ever-increasing gelatinous mass and Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith run away from it better than most. The end. Sadly, Kevin McCarthy doesn’t make an appearance so I docked it a few points for the lack of R.J. Fletcherness.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating

#26: 10/31 – Lair of the White Worm (1988, dir. Ken Russell)

The Lair of the White Worm

 “Oh, good! So you’ve taken to our local specialty. Pickled earthworms in aspic is not to everyone’s taste, I can tell you.”

This. Movie. Is. Hilarious.

Other than some of his early, non-representative efforts like Billion Dollar Brain and Lisztomania I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any of the more “conventional” Ken Russell movies, the ones for which is he more widely known. The Devils and Altered States for example. Russell’s reputation has never been an especially strong selling point with me. But when I was compiling my list for this 31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thon I found Lair of the White Worm tucked away at the bottom of a top 100 Horror and Sci-Fi movies in my mid-90’s published Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made. Though the book sounds rather silly considering EW‘s current reputation, the book itself contains some fairly strong lists, featuring both essentials and sleeper picks.

Lair of the White Worm in EW's Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made

So I added it to my list. This same list inspired me to add Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Re-Animator. Both of those worked out pretty well for me so I squeezed in Lair on the final day of October. It’s on Netflix, by the way, with a pretty nice HD presentation.

Based on the lowly-regarded shortish gothic novel by Bram Stoker, the movie lays bare the comical subtext of the unintentionally comical novel. Russell amplifies the subtext (Christian symbolism and phalluses for everybody!) through venom-induced hallucinations that are more z-grade music video than budgeted feature film. Starring Hugh Grant (Lord James), future Doc Peter Capaldi (playing a Scottish archaeologist) and Amanda Donohue, Lair allows it’s stars to bask in the absurdity of this horror-com mishmash. Cheap props, cheaper effects and rampant punnage. Everyone’s in on the joke. Lair of the White Worm is a B-grade movie made by A-grade talent based on a Z-grade book by an A-grade writer.

And can I just for one second sing the praises of Amanda Donohue? Donohue makes this movie with her over-the-moon performance as Lady Sylvia Marsh. 4-inch fangs and blue full body paint. Wowza. You should see what she does to the boy scout.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_half_rating

#27: 10/31 – The Uninvited (1944, dir. Lewis Allen)

The Uninvited (1944)

This one’s cheating. I’ve definitely seen The Uninvited before. I know I love The Uninvited. The only “shame” part of this entry is that I’ve owned the Criterion edition of the movie on Blu-ray for a year now and I’m just getting around to watching it. I wanted to pick a favorite to watch on Halloween and cap off the 31DaysOfHorror run. Most would cite Robert Wise’s The Haunting as the pinnacle of the haunted house genre, but I’m sticking with The Uninvited. It’s genuinely creepy, stirring you with more than just bumps in the night. The sordid tale of the house’s history reflects the familial struggle that took place within it. The story touches on a lesbian affair, an unconventional marriage arrangement and centers the story not on a married couple but a brother and sister played by Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. The movie throws the entire notion of traditional and familiar family dynamics into flux. This puts the viewer on edge, expectations usurped. This was 1944! When I first say The Uninvited as a kid, the eerie crying and ghostly effects spooked me. Having watched this many times over the course of 20 years, the movie constantly reveals more layers, exposing greater “spooks” than just the shimmery specter that appears on screen during the climax. If you allow yourself to connect with The Uninvited it will leave you as unsettled as any ghost story put on film.

30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating30hz_alternate_rating