Saturday, October 31, 2015

Well, Halloween has once again come and about gone. I decided my Halloween "night movie" would once again be Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I just won't go into details on its many flaws, but the look and sound, the genuine feel of what lies in wait for innocent children thanks to the intimidating Dan O'Herilhy, is solid Halloween entertainment. The Stonehenge (one of the stones being transported and used as a cosmic weapon that can produce bugs and snakes protruding from an insignia attached to the masks), why the killer mask maker wouldn't just kill Challis (Tom Atkins) and be rid of him instead of creating an android out of Ellie (Elkin) to later try and murder him, the time zones that would disrupt the power of the cosmic destroyer when the commercial signal was televised to all the children, and the continuance of commercials showing up on television non-stop; all of these moments that are questionable, do sort of provoke us into debating the weaknesses of the script. Still, at the end, when Challis tries unsuccessfully to halt the commercials, the impact of the horror that comes with his inability to stop the signal resonates.

When I woke up, I watched two Price films (The Tingler & House of Wax), and Christopher Lee in a rare and refreshing heroic role as the adversary of a Satanic cult (led by a formidable Charles Gray) before Halloween III. The Tingler is a film I just love and try to watch every October. But I typically watch it towards the middle of the month. It is one of those films that really works as a nice second week horror viewing while his Corman Poe films serve as the latter month entertainments regarding Price. For the first month, no Corman films made it into October probably since 2007. Pit & the Pendulum and House of Usher are October standards, but this year I just couldn't find the time. This saddens me, but night shift at my job really dynamited any desire to really get many of the movies I had in mind in this month. I still think the month went well, but no Corman or Naschy films does rather disappoint me. You can't win them all. But the creature that is born out of fear crawling around and being so strong, and the masterfully funny nightmare sequences that bring on panic death to a married couple (Castle toys with what exactly is real or brought on by guilt). Price is very subdued, only really somewhat campy during his LSD trip, the acid used to bring on fear and experience it in an experiment. Again, in a Castle film Price and his wife hate each other, their bone of contention being her sister and his colleague (a couple, they are) and inheritance money. The screaming faces at the beginning, and creature itself obviously pulled by a string just entertain me so.

I'm closing the night with Dead of Night which comes on next. I have written a rather satisfying review of it in the past, so I'll just wrap things up for this month and say that it's been swell. For sure, October 2015 was so much better than 2014. 2012, however, is still among my blog's best years ever. So to another October, I'm thankful I had a chance to once again spend time on the blog...but I'm positively exhausted and just a bit burned out.
Well, off to sleep I shall after finishing Isle of the Dead (1945), a horror film that seems to have gained momentum since its early release. Karloff as a Greek general, and an American reporter accompanying him to an isle known as a cemetery of the dead. Karloff's wife is buried there, so he hears a lovely voice he plans to follow in order to learn of who had been despoiling graves of the dead on the isle. He meets an assortment of nationalities from various countries, just so happening to be on the isle as a plague sweeps through. A supposed cursed witch is drummed up by a woman who owns property on the isle, allowing an antiquities expert to run the lodging on the isle. Karloff calls for his doctor and they determine that the isle cannot be left as his men (in war) must not be allowed to catch the plague. Soon they start falling prey to plague, death, infighting, and superstition. Catalepsy leads to a burial-alive development unleashing a mad woman to get revenge on Karloff and the superstitious owner of the lodging for their witch nonsense. The weakened woman of catalepsy has a lovely assistant considered the witch so mentioned often.

The gloomy atmosphere of the isle, how it shadowed at the end with the death-gown mad woman on the loose, and the plague tormenting the characters adds a lot of weight to the film. Karloff's military leader, requesting in function, using a pistol, for his officer to commit suicide for allowing his soldiers to lag behind certainly establishes his method of leadership...the watchman he is called. His domineering command over even civilians is quite elaborated...a tailor-made role for Karloff.
Often mentioned after the likes of Cat People & I Walked with a Zombie, Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher (1945) is my personal favorite of the Val Lewton series. To me, it has one of the best characters and performances of Karloff’s career. What a snake that will do whatever it takes to stay in the life of a professor of anatomy, assistant to Knox, a surgeon notorious for receiving the bodies from heinous murdering graverobbers, Burke and Haire. At any rate, Henry Daniell is tormented by Cabman Gray (Karloff), unable to dismiss him from his life. Gray supplies him bodies from the local Edinburgh cemetery, but this activity will soon be stopped as graves will soon be guarded and cut off. Karloff’s voice and how he creeps about, devious and wretched, and what motivates him; he’s masterful. Daniell is a different kind of evil. He’s the genius, sure, but how he achieves his success, willing to turn a blind eye to the murder that so obviously happens in order for those fresh bodies to show up for study at his home displays him as equally wrong as Gray.

Gray, within his poverty and day-to-day survival, all so humbling, uses his hold over Daniell (concealing Danielle’s name in court during the Burke and Haire trials) as a reason to continue on in life. Cabbie Gray and Dr. MacFarlane, joined by an unholy alliance certain to end in doom. Bela Lugosi’s role is so minuscule and underwhelming, Karloff’s Gray easily disposes of him…in a matter of murder called “Burking”. Smother the mouth and nose with a lot of pressure, Gray slowly takes their breath from them. Lugosi looks so aged and defeated…it breaks my heart. The subplot with Russell Wade, as a new assistant to Daniell, kind of what MacFarlane was to Knox is important in that the film builds to see this fractured and fallen to ruination. No one wants to see this young man winding up as MacFarlane, a tragic victim of association. 

Certainly, the film’s most memorable scene involved a lovely but poor singing girl, working the streets for meager earnings, and her voice going silent after Gray’s wagon passed…this is such an example of the depths Gray will go in order to provide MacFarlane with a body to be studied and dissected. Daniell’s fate is assured when he decides Gray must be gone and that he can just as easily take up graverobbing himself. It will at least provide the means for the assistant to be free from the anchor of guilt certain to drag him into the pit as well. That voice calling to “Toddy”, Karloff’s Cabbie having not left MacFarlane, to the very end his stain of evil remains. The film’s highly melodramatic story arc of the little girl with a possible tumor needing surgery, its repair (coming with the price of the study of bodies supplied by Gray), and her not walking despite Daniell’s insistence she try leads to a minor moment of light in a film full of darkness.
It is always the same every October: when do I watch Halloween (1978). I thought about watching this as soon as two weeks ago right around when I started night shift. I thought this would be the perfect "sundown viewing" right before work. One of the reasons I have always liked this is when the film starts with Laurie, it is her on the way to school, in school, after school, and into the night. I like how the sun finds its way into the car of Annie and Laurie while driving to Tommy Doyle and Lindsey's houses to babysit. It is primarily a night movie, but I have always considered it a nice viewing for the afternoon. This year I went back and forth on when to watch the film and decided Midnight as Halloween day begins was a right fit.

This go-around I enjoyed Annie's jokes, and tried as I might not to focus on how green the neighborhoods were as the girls  went on their walkabout, the organic nature of teenagers talking and walking always entertains me.

Interestingly, I had caught Reels Channel's Inside Halloween (from 2010) while putting together my review for Rattlers (for my IMDb account). This kind of was the injection that stirred up the decision to settle on Midnight Halloween day for me.

I always just get a thrill of its look, with how the panaglide camera gets so much, such wide space and makes the dark so rich, and the white mask of The Shape so distinctive when he emerges in frame.

Watched my 35th Anniversary version of the film, picked up two years ago (I think it was 2013) during the month. It has the Jamie Lee Curtis commentary with John (who just wasn't the same as when he did it with Debra Hill), and her Halloween con. I watched it last year thereabouts, and you realize the scope of the fanbase when you see just how many wanted her autograph, for pictures, and to just see her in person.

We are quite a voice, favorable and loyal, to this little 21 day movie shot in a California suburb for $300,000.00.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hammer movies were showing today on TCM, but I slept to 3 in the afternoon, having recorded them on the DVR. I had an interest in seeing a mixture today. Got in The Mummy (1959), which has Lee looking mighty fierce and menacing in his bandages while Cushing's archaeologist's son has to use his smarts in order to find a way not to be strangled by Kharis. This film, while no need was necessary, went to the Universal Studios' Kharis series for inspiration, including the awful one-armed gimmick where the Mummy strangles people without using both arms. I hate this when there is no reason. Just kill them with both hands so that when it happens, it looks more realistic. Lee, however, is superior to Chaney, Jr. in the menace department...he cuts that figure, tall and imposing in his swampy bandages (the coffin carrying him slides off from a boisterous carriage into a swamp outside of London in 1889), directed by an Egyptian who worships the god Karnak (George Pastell) to kill the British infidels who raided the tomb of their beloved Princess Ananka. Of course, Cushing's wife (played by Yvonne Furneaux) looks just like Ananka which will come in handy when Kharis threatens the last "infidel" still alive responsible for the English expedition that "robbed the graves of those meant to remain inviolate". The sets of Ananka's tomb and the flashbacks to her funeral and burial, along with Kharis' blasphemous attempts to resurrect the princess from beyond the grave, might look a bit inauthentic and look a bit "straight from the workshop", but Lee's Mummy and Pastell's revenge by using a scroll of life to control him--that is until Pastell's Bey asks him to kill Cushing's wife--to kill is reason enough, if not just to see Cushing's scientist have to come to terms with what is seemingly unthinkable (after his father is strangled in a cell after Kharis bends the bars and breaks in, and then strangles a family colleague right before his eyes) and then find a way to outsmart him or else also perish.

The second film I decided to watch was Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), with a limited but quite sinister Lee returning as the title character to terrorize a foursome of foreigners traveling through on holiday. Andrew Keir, with that thunderous voice and command on screen, is a right good candidate to take over Cushing's spot as monk crusader against the vampire count. Barbara Shelley has a memorable part as a turned vampire, her husband stabbed in the back and neck-bled by a disciple of Dracula over the count's ashes while hung upside down in the castle. Francis Matthews, who is Frankenstein's voluntary assistant in The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), gets to be the hero, the brother of Shelley's slain husband, and protector of his wife (played by Suzan Farmer), joining forces with Keir in an attempt to destroy Dracula. I really like this one, but those wondering why Dracula is even in this film I find preposterous. He is photographed and stylized extremely well by Hammer great, Terence Fisher, but no dialogue at all (regardless of who you believe Lee or those behind the screenplay is the culprit) from Dracula is a bit implausible. Hell, he could just make demands/commands, or threaten...sure, his foreboding presence alone is great, but the count should say something, right?

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) is certainly no Curse, Revenge, or even Must Be Destroyed, but Evil wasn't exactly a masterwork and Monster from Hell didn't necessarily emerge afterward as an improvement. I still found it quite entertaining. First off, just address the obvious. Susan Denberg. What a bombshell. Throw a facial scar on her initially and then later...va va voom! She is a "twisted and ugly" daughter to a cafe owner in the village, in love with a notorious killer's smart, tough, and spry offspring (the father watches in horror as his son won't go away as the guillotine blade comes down). The father is cane-beaten by a trio of drunken affluent droogs of the village from prominent fathers with a name among the villagers, and the kid Hans (who unfortunately tells the dead man he'd kill him for stopping him from using a knife on the trio for their constant mockery of his girl) is convicted of the crime, sentenced to the guillotine (the judge of his case begs him to unveil a possible witness who could rescue him from a death sentence, but Hans will not reveal his tryst with Christina, the murdered father's daughter, so he goes to the guillotine for a crime he didn't commit). This film has the Baron (Cushing) uncovering the means to sustain the soul out of a dead body and giving it a new body as a home. The irony of that body being Christina (after she drowns herself), with Hans using her rebuilt figure and face (thanks to Baron's assistant, played by Thorley Walters, a long-term doctor in the village with a life-long alcoholic problem) to seduce the trio and seek revenge on them when they're at their most vulnerable is what works as the film's most dramatic arc. This, once again, has Baron at odds with the villagers, believing his activities with Walter's doc are questionable and curious...perhaps witchcraft. So here we go again. Because of the murders, Baron's handiwork leads to his undoing. He is his worst enemy. To verify that the soul lives in Christina, the Baron takes her to the guillotine to see if *Hans* will emerge. When he does, this is the catalyst in the revenge angle. Baron once again has allowed his work to end in multiple murders. The downfall of the film, or perhaps it was on purpose, is that those hunted are morally reprehensible characters with no redeeming qualities. So when the Baron is charging into the woods to find Christina to find her before the last murder happens, it isn't suspenseful...because the victim is a scumbag. Denberg's looks are quite utilized. The bosoms of the beauties that Hammer could find for their films are stars themselves.

Thorley Walters was in two of these films today I noticed. He was the weak-minded mental case staying at the monks' chateau in Dracula: Prince of Darkness, used by the count to gain access to Farmer, and the tired, boozing wreck that Baron depends upon (due to his standing with the village and certain physician expertise) in Frankenstein Created Woman. He makes distinctive appearances and leaves these Hammer films with characters we don't forget...no matter how small or significant.
So night shift has me all out of sorts. I'm up at the time many are waking up. American Werewolf in Paris just went off. I believe I watched this on Sundance or Showtime a couple years back. Look I'm a Julie Delpy mark...just adore her. This is just beneath her. Everett Scott is full of appeal and charm, but the film just parades bad CGI werewolves in a setting that deserves better. She showed her tits in it, but that being one of the best moments in the film won't be shown on syfy. She is so lovely that her casting makes sense, being a familiar to France and all...this could have been set anywhere and the results would have been the same. This film even uses the corpse that talks gag from Landis' film and runs it into the ground.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I feel like Macabre (1958) was William Castle getting his feet wet. I never felt like this was prime real estate as much as a plot of land in need of some grooming. Castle's movies always have characters with dastardly plans and appear to be one way but are actually quite another. Macabre is no different. This is my second Castle film of the month, and I have two more I plan to watch this year (Homicidal & The Tingler). I think you could state the case that Mr. Sardonicas is a much better option than Macabre, but the latter came on this morning, so I had the opportunity to record it on my DVR. So, matter of convenience. Yeah.

The film deals with a doctor (not a good man, at all, even though the film tries to put him over as a flawed human being who still loves his daughter and wishes to find her) dealing with a kidnapping of his daughter, supposedly buried somewhere in town...according to this laughing, sinister voice heard across the phone of the doctor's secretary (who seems to fancy him). The doc was at home with another woman (who supposedly ruined her own marriage, this time ruining someone else's) at the time his daughter was born and ill wife dies (we get a flashback from the secretary of her trying to reach the doc and him all cozy at the home of the other woman, set to marry him now that the wife is dead). He gets back to his office and Jim Backus of Gilligan's Island (the sheriff of the town) had some punches to the jaws waiting for him. The film spends time with the doc and secretary (with other locals soon following suit, like the dead wife's heart-weary pops and the little girl's nanny) trying to locate the girl. As often happens in Castle's movies, the culprit might not be who you expect.

Considered a bit talky and lacking any camp that often is associated with Castle's films, I have often read Macabre mentioned as dull and absent the fun that accompanies the body of the director's work. I thought this was okay, but I wouldn't say Macabre is essential October viewing. But it has a wonderful end credits animation sequence, and the twist is rather clever. There's the use of a breathing machine in the funeral parlor, the accidental murder of a caretaker, a grotesquely skeletal doll that gives a character a coronary, and this ode to Hitchcock regarding umbrellas at a funeral that offer some fun highlights.
Like Dracula, my annual revisit to Hammer Studios' The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) is assured. I never tire of it. Good cast can do wonders with okay material. Cushing in the title role, as I have often mentioned whenever I write about Curse, is so *wrapped up in his work* as the scientist, he crumbles his entire world because of his obsession to create man from only the best body parts he can find. His tutor, Paul Krempe, built a type of brotherly relationship with Baron Victor Frankenstein as they worked on theories and experiments in the area of bringing life to the dead. But Victor just wasn't satisfied with that while Paul saw their work as a collaborative effort in the scientific breakthrough regarding resuscitating the dead, in the realm of surgery especially. The fracture that widens between them, and the friction that envelops them is the film's chief dramatic arc. Add to the equation of a cousin Victor is to marry as arranged (Hazel Court and her voluptuous figure, and her sophisticated manners) Paul feels the need to protect, Lee as the Monster made from the bits and pieces of those chosen by Frankenstein (the hands of a great sculptor, brain of a genius, body of a giant, the finest eyes, etc), and you have a decent plot that pits the title character against his own mad dream, leading (well, this film says so anyway) to his imprisonment while awaiting the guillotine (for the death of a maid in his manor he was having an affair with, leaving her in the lab with the Monster). The priest listens to Victor as he testifies to what he stresses is the complete, unaltered truth, but can he even get this Man of God to listen? Will Paul even corroborate such a fantastic testimony? The bright color of Hammer is so vivid, and the ugly brute creature posited by a mute Lee is a grotesque sight. The most memorable scene to me will always be Lee hanging there and eventually Victor showing Paul of what is left of it, a pathetic animal with a brain barely functioning (Victor blames Paul for destroying the brain when it was removed from the murdered body of a scientist he pushes off his stairwell in a mausoleum on the Frankenstein estate), chained to the wall and hardly able to walk or sit normally. Victor telling Paul that no matter what he does to try and stop him, he'll keep getting more bodies and parts. That drive to accomplish what none other has turns him into his own monster.

I plan to watch a few with Cushing in the role of Frankenstein tomorrow. The series gave him a chance to evolve the Baron in a variety of ways, but he is always trying to create life or bring life into the dead...even when he succeeds, the repercussions leave him either nearly dead or on the lam.
October, at its start, always builds to Dracula (1931) and Halloween (1978), it seems. Dracula's Daughter seems to be the opener more often than not, and eventually Dracula. After watching two of Tod Browning's other films today, Freaks & The Devil-Doll (both for MGM), it often leads eventually to one of my all-time favorite horror films. The kids watched with me, this year, and as it often does, leaves me once again quite satisfied. Now I can't watch the film without the Glass and Kronos score applied to it. It gives Van Helsing's resistance of Dracula, their battle at a short distance, a bit of pop. Renfield's bug-eyed interludes when he escapes time and again from his asylum cell. The approach and entrance to Castle Dracula and the introduction to the Count. Individual sequences that never fail to excite me and leave me once again realizing why I love it as much as I do. The decadent ruins of Castle Dracula and Carfax Abbey, that unbearable fog and how it seems to follow the vampire. His predatory influence over female victims. Van Helsing trying to convince Dr. Seward, Johnathan Harker, and others about Miss Mina's endangerment and the true existence of vampires. I won't balk about Manners who had the good fortune of winding up in this, The Mummy, and The Black Cat...talk about being in the right place during the right time...although actors and actresses weren't so keen on being *typecast into the horror genre*. But Lugosi's presence in the role, so iconic, is the real reason I can't wait to watch it again every October. He commanded that role, and much like poor Anthony Perkins with Norman Bates, it followed him (just like the London and Transylvanian fog) throughout his career.


Barrymore As Grandma...with Killer Dolls



Well, if you want to see Lionel Barrymore dressed as an elderly lady, with voice to match, using the disguise to exact revenge on those who framed him of a crime he didn’t commit (and they were responsible for), then Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll (1936) will hit the sweet spot. It is a rather amusing film to me, seeing the diminutive dolls actually alive and obedient, born from the mad genius of a scientist who escaped with Barrymore from prison into a swamp cabin occupied by Malita (Rafaela Ottiano, wearing a Bride of Frankenstein coif, scientist Marcel’s (Henry Walthall) assistant). When Marcel dies of cardiac arrest when it appears his newest experiment (a pint sized beautiful variation on an inbred mute street urchin) is dead, Malita and Barrymore’s Paul Lavonde take their work to Paris, operating a doll shop as a front to carry out the revenge on the evil three using the dolls to paralyze them with poisoned action-figure daggers. I think the novelty here will be Barrymore as grandma, trying to get as close to his resentful daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan of Tarzan fame), and avoiding detection while sending out the dolls to paralyze those who put him away in prison falsely for seventeen years. The effects are not too bad but just a bit dated. Ottiano mugs it all crazy in a high camp performance playing the nutty Malita, bound and determined to see her beloved’s work accomplished although Lavonde is just using Marcel’s experiments to get revenge and nothing else. While Lavonde is presented as a rather sympathetic character, he does use violence through the hate built inside during his prison stay, so this isn’t someone without flaws. Seeing close ups of a lustfully grandma Barrymore eagerly awaiting the results of his diabolical dolls, as they discreetly move about, unbeknownst to the corporate white collar crooks that sent him to the slammer, at his command is part of the campy charm of this Browning offering. Not exactly a horror-packed film as much as mad science used for revenge tale. I think horror fans just need to be prepared because the title could be misleading. Frank Lawton is O'Sullivan's laundress' cabbie love interest. The Paris setting is occasionally used for effect but not much so.
On a separate note, the "human torso" lighting up a cigarette with a match on his own, with just his mouth, was amazing! And the way Browning provides individual scenes depicting the everyday of those in the circus, relationships and conversations, with humor that comments on how they interact with each other is rather refreshing and even endearing. To see them outside the spotlight of how supposed normal folk recognize them--as certain actors at MGM saw them as "exhibits on display"--since Browning grew up with this circus community and looked at them differently (he chose this project and actually paid the price after its notoriety earned him disdain with Hollywood's community), the film dares to express these people as human beings that aren't things. They are different, and maybe their appearance isn't considered worthy of your eyes, but that doesn't mean these people deserve the scorn and ridicule targeted at them. As a timepiece, this film is fascinating, but it has earned a deserved re-evaluation and reputation as a classic.

Who are the real Freaks?



When you watch Cannibal Holocaust, there’s a line at the very end where the narrator ponders, “who the real monsters are…” It is the kind of pretentious line which forcedly places a significance on your work, when what had just been shown does so without it. However, in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), there is a significance that isn’t spoken but emphasized. The “circus freaks” are actually the decent, honest, and intelligent folk (they think and feel) while the “normal-sized” folk (not all of them, a clown and a “lovely-figured woman” (once with the strongman) turn out to be swell) are foul, rotten, dark-soul bunch. Two antagonists, a “Cleopatra” on the flying trapeze and a strongman, in an affair, decide to dupe a lovestruck dwarf (she jokily refers to him as dwarp) into marrying her so she can balk him of an inheritance while the little man’s fiancé watches from the sidelines as he’s taken advantage of.

Something I have read about is the racism prevalent in the 30s when the film was made and released. How repulsive the *freaks* are. I hope that we have at least evolved somewhat from that but I highly doubt it. Particularly depressing to me is how the *freaks* were forced (most of them) to eat outside the MGM commissary because the *normal* actors were disgusted by their presence. It doesn’t surprise me, though. 

At any rate, this film, perhaps in as good a form as can be considering the footage that is lost (if someone could find this footage, I’d be certainly grateful!), sympathizes (as it should; kudos to Browning for what he could accomplish, and thankfully a decently restored version now exists. I wish he could have had the chance to understand how admired his work is in later years, particularly Freaks) with the *freaks* and abhors the actions of Cleo and Hercules. The scene near a pond, for instance, towards the beginning addresses how the circus “pinheads” and their “mother” are just enjoying some time in the sun outside the confines of the wagons and tents, with a local all in arms about them “trespassing” on land, *them monsters* (as he describes them), while the officer considered their argument and was pleasant and understanding. That is something that does shine through at times: not all the *normals* are monsters. Venus, the former strongman Hercules’ squeeze, becoming romantically involved with Clown, sees that he and Cleo are working together (and are lovers) against Hans, the dwarf, while Frieda (Hans’ fiancé before Cleo emerges to seduce him) must look on, attempting to thwart their efforts. What happens to Cleo is poetic justice. I can imagine the horror that audiences experienced at the time: particularly those so repulsed by the undesirables appearing on screen or in their presence. The idea itself that a normal could be violently mutilated into a freak through the wake out of the outrage of a family exacting revenge is the stuff of nightmares for many…especially those in the MGM commissary or audiences so comfortably superior in their *normal bodies*.

The dialogue fascinates me. It’s pre-Code nature. What is implied and subdued, but also what isn’t. The greed, booze, abuse, sexual innuendo, violence, and racism all emerging in action and word is quite eye-brow raising considering the eventual “blockade of morality” that would soon work as a stoppage to artistic freedom. Exposing people in all their darkness and ugliness and showing that those supposedly physically repulsive are beautiful on the inside with a certain audience disgusted by it: I admire the approach, although the dinner table scene leaves me a bit unsettled because it kind of reduces the freaks to what they appear to the outside world. I had liked how the film didn’t dehumanize them and actually shone a light on them that was different that what the customer or patron views them as. I thought the dinner table scene works against what Browning had accomplished throughout. One thing that will always stand the test of time: don’t fuck with the family because they will return in kind…with a vengeance. The family pulling out a switchblade or Luger gun, the daggers and hiding in the darkened areas under wagons, steps, and behind wheels; this is their world and if you are in it and hurt one of their family, you hurt them all. Cleo and Hercules learn that the hard way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tales That Don't Quite Keep You Up at Night



Tales of Halloween (2015) has a bunch of ground to cover due to the number of directed stories involved, and Adrienne Barbeau, radio show for the city, is the narrator (inspired casting, no?). It gets right to it after introducing the directors and tales for which they are responsible for.

The budget is what it is. This isn’t exactly Trick ‘R Treat (which it might be coupled with in future October haunts) in terms of the production budget. I have read on Tales from others and it is a constant, it's relation to Trick 'R Treat (although there really isn't any similarity at all except the holiday they're set on)

The first tale deals with a kid being told by his sister and her boyfriend of a local boogeyman named Sweet Tooth who was never allowed by his parents to eat his candy despite the night of trick or treating he dedicated himself to in the homes of his neighborhood. Come to find out, his parents were the ones eating the candy (the mom is Caroline Williams, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre II) and pay a price for it. It comes down to eating his candy…his appetite is voracious. His parents learn of that the hard way when he takes his pent up frustrations and candy hunger out on them…and from them, literally. His notoriety spreads as a cautionary scary tale to frighten kids who eat too much candy, and Sweet Tooth, because this is an anthology in horror, does manifest himself in this uglied demonic form (with talons and pallid flesh). The kid’s sister and her boyfriend, you see, eat all his candy…so Sweet Tooth will visit them. Of course the parents come home and find their son standing in front of Sweet Tooth’s handiwork, believing he’s responsible (ludicrous in that he’s not covered in blood considering the mess Sweet Tooth left). **

The second tale has a warped twist which tells us that the actions of kids on four young adults isn’t just random violence for the sake of it. This starts with a girl in a witch costume stabbing the owner of the house, with his friends and wife scattering in panic to get him help, but when the remaining survivor doesn’t dial 9-1-1, and removes some grotesque images from her phone the twist is revealed...it seems that the four of them partake in a ghoulish hobby and the kids are exacting their revenge. This one has Tiffany Shepis as one of the adults (she is trying to get the vehicle started when she’s ambushed and victimized by the Children of the Suburbs) who isn’t getting out alive.
The third tale describes how you really prank on Halloween. A kid is told that if he doesn’t egg the house of a local man, a supposed tradition, it’ll be told around school he pees his pants (his sister’s boyfriend is a bit of a douchebag). When the kid’s about to do so due to the pressure, Barry Bostwick’s Satan supposedly shows him how it’s done. However, all is not what it seems as the one in the devil costume, accompanying the *real thing*, wreaks havoc in the town (a dentist handing out toothbrushes to kids due to how candy rots teeth gets a surprise, a liquor store owner is held up and others in the neighborhood also are treated to gunshots, ghost sheet decorations are gasolined and set on fire!) but the kid who attempted to egg Satan’s home will learn all too well how it feels to be the one pranked. **½



The forth tale is a bit hard to swallow due to how hot the lead villain is of a trio of thugs who torment innocents who trespass their area of a street. One *avenger*, with a reason to see them endure punishment, calls them out and is chased by them to a trailer home that was burned down with his parents inside of it…by the trio when they were kids on a Halloween night in costumes and face paint. When the trio believe they have this kid right where they want him, he’s got a trick of his own up his sleeve…a piece of paper with a character drawn on it has specific spells which summon a “demon of revenge”! Grace Phipps (and this isn’t a snide remark, but just how her and the character came off the screen) is simply too model-attractive to make the leader of a street gang credible. *½



The fifth tale is really a basic “spirit spoken of in ghost story shows up to surprise the daughter of a local eccentric on her couch”. Lynn Shaye is the mom of the victim, with director Mick Garris (dressed as the opera phantom), Barbara Crampton as a witch, and Stuart Gordon among the party guests. Shaye tells the story of the ghost that eventually stalks her daughter from behind while on the way home from the party. While Night of the Living Dead has been playing on the Telly for the duration of previous tales, this go-around, Carnival of Souls is on. **

The sixth tale is quite bizarre. It centers on a married couple during a night of Halloween, one of which is some sort of demon who slaps around her emasculated husband (Mark Senter of Jack Ketcham’s The Lost) because he can’t give her the child she’s always wanted. Trick or treaters are like a gushing wound to her. Senter later reveals that he purposely made sure she couldn’t have a sperm donor because of her monstrous nature. She proceeds to take advantage of the heated stove, and his favoring Gretel of the Hansel and Gretel story does him no favors…this turns that tale on its head due to her being dressed as a witch. Her mean streak and outbursts from human to demon (with multiple arms, red face, and sharp black talons) will probably be best remembered in this one.
Neighbors duel it out over who has the best décor in the yard: Morbid Manor against Dante’s Inferno. One is your basic cemetery setting with skeletons while the other goes for a bloodied, torn-apart torso aesthetic. Well, the spirit of competition (often a demonic spirit as it typically leads to tempers flaring and acting out in anger, resulting in irrational behavior) gets the better of them, and the two are at odds, physically duking it out when the loud music of the new neighbors disrupts the harmony of the old school lawn setting that has been synonymous with the neighborhood for twenty years. Soon a gathering of neighbors and trick or treating kids and parents are looking on with either great interest or rowdy celebration. Eventually it gets a bit too violent. One broken display leading to a protruding wooden stake leaves quite a shocked audience not expecting such a violent squabble over a contest of “who has the best decorated yard?” *

The next tale starts off like the ending of a slasher film with a girl in pig tails (???) and dress (a five year old would wear, looking kinkily skimpy on her) is running from a psychopath carrying a severed head in one hand and machete in the other. She enters this wooden workshop where dismembered bodies lay strewn throughout. We have obviously entered a slasher film where a Friday the 13th reject (something close to the second film than the others) with a deformed face, mental deficiency, and farmer’s clothes has butchered a gaggle of Halloween party friends, on the verge of finishing off the final girl among them. What this guy doesn’t expect is a little alien (some cute claymation effects that I found endearing) looking for candy, emerging from a flying saucer overhead! When the killer gets frustrated when he can’t give the alien what it wants (all the alien can say is “trick or treat?”), he stomps on it, but it wants some candy, by golly, and won’t go away that easy. Possessing the body of the murdered girl, the alien is pissed off and looking for blood…don’t deny it the candy! Okay, this is something right out of the mind of a creative process looking to really stir things up with a slasher plot. Introduce an adorable alien creature that looks harmless and then, when denied its candy, turn it loose inside the dead body of a hot looking lady chasing after the killer (this is when it certainly takes on complete comedy) a splatter film emerges. Each character picks up the nearest weapon and body parts come off and blood spews. Guess who the victor is? This could be the tale that might be best remembered out of them all due to its absurdity. **½



A couple of crooks, normally robbing joints, decide to kidnap a millionaire’s kid and demand a ransom. The millionaire is played by none other than director John Landis. The hoods couldn’t imagine that this isn’t his kid…but some sort of pointy-eared demon (with a face I thought was very similar to Robert Duvall!), with a long slimy tongue, with quite the appetite! That's something quite revisited: the hunger on Halloween. They try to negotiate a ransom, but Landis isn’t interested! Haha. Even though this is played up simply for amusement, it does serve as the perfect punishment for two criminals looking to score easy money. The two trying to get rid of it, and not being able to, is one of those humorous attachment scenarios…as the hoods believe they have gotten rid of it, deciding a life of crime might not be such a good idea, doing so (the getting rid of demon part) isn’t so easy. **½



The town has gone to hell and the police department is exhausted (the captain, played by John Savage, of all people, swearing and anxious due to “every fucking Halloween, it’s the same thing…”) and on edge. This ties all the previous tales before it together…as the opening credits had shown through a type of visual map, areas of town make up each tale. The police force just seems ill equipped to deal with this next doozy…a killer jack-o’lantern, made right as the tale starts, just comes alive eating the head off its creator! Bizarre as this might be, the gutted pumpkin with the voracious appetite isn’t done chowing on some human grub! Oh, even though a cop and dental expert/impressionist (Pat Healy, Ti West’s The Innkeepers) are able to take the killer pumpkin down, they realize to their horror that a scientist (played by director Joe Dante) at a “pumpkin-producing facility” has harvested quite the *killer crop*. This is a fun bookend to a rather exhaustive accumulation of horror vignettes. So many compare this unfairly to Trick ‘R Treat, but I think this is more along the lines of VHS or ABCs of Death (the latter, to me) in terms of a series of stories loosely tied together by the framework of “a town gone to hell on Halloween”. Still, Kristina Klebe (Rob Zombie’s Halloween; Chillerama) is fun as the cop on the trail of the killer pumpkin, while director Adam Green getting a cameo as one of two cops smothered in chocolate after apprehending a killer kid (who ate a lot of candy…and his parents), and Cerina Vincent (looking hot as she always does) in a kitty cat costume finding her pumpkin-carving husband getting his head eaten off by his own creation. **½



Although you have ten directors (with the likes of Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Neil Marshall, and Lucky McKee) involved, I couldn’t really tell a distinctive difference in the styles of any of the vignettes. Like ABCs of Death, the directors seemed boxed into a specific time frame for their stories, and I felt this rushed nature to each tale presented. I think the tone of the whole film, tale to tale, is a mixture of laughs and tension. But I felt that the tone just goes too far into the former than the latter. I wish the option would have been set for each director to take the material in whatever tone they desired. Maybe that was the case, but I just never felt that was the intention of the entire narrative. That is what sets this apart from ABCs of Death where the directors involved in each alphabet tale have a few minutes but can go wherever they want as long as they get it done within their allotted time frame.
However, while I didn’t come away from this with the desired emotional effect, the spirit of Halloween is alive and well in Tales of Halloween. I think the next installment should go crazy in the sense that the directors involved should have more freedom to bring more tension and apprehension to their tales if they so choose, instead of relying so much on comedy. I don’t might crazy black comedy or subject matter that is subversive, but I also like to be on the edge and have that gulp in the mouth…can’t say I ever had that here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

I failed to mention the included Nightmare sequence of Laurie replacing her young brother, and Annie (a reminder of what Michael did to both of them) taped to a chair as Forsythe was in Zombie's first Halloween getting a throat slashing. This was quite a moment of madness as Rob admittedly had the girls Scream obscenities into a microphone to possibly use later! The director's cut has a lot of included bits and pieces that do indeed flesh out the film somewhat, but I have to say so much shouting and rage can eventually exhaust most people when there is so little relief.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Price at his most Cold Blooded


I watched this late Saturday night into the early Sunday morning. I have had it for a few weeks actually and just didn't know when the time was just right. I had this small window and the mood was right.

It is perfectly sadistic and its presentation isn't apologetic in how it shows two "witchfinders" (profiteers off of religiously fanatical (and obviously lustful for torture seen live or knowing torture was committed) just use violence in such diabolical ways with the end result already planned in advance. They will not leave those towns without the tortured perishing horribly, whether by drowning, hanging, or burning at the stake. Unpleasant and unsettling, as it should be (accusing, torturing, and killing innocent women (and men in certain instances) isn't pleasant or entertaining (or it shouldn't be). Price, due to his antagonistic relationship with director Reeves, is stone cold in the part of Matthew Hopkins, and the iconic actor distills from the darkest aspects of this character and leaves out any hint of pomp or circumstance. This piece of nasty work, the film and its witchfinders, leaves a bitter taste as it needs to...those victimized by the witchfinders (Hopkins and his repellent assistant, Stearns) are the never the same, even if they live. Ian Ogilvey as a plucky soldier full of bravado and Dwyer as his lovely fiance becoming troublesome targets of the witchfinders leave the film totally lost out of their minds. The violence is potent and shocking, even to an audience of today, I imagine. The witch burning, the face whippings, the rope dipping of beaten subjects of torture into a lake to see if they "sink or swim" (to determine if they are or are not witches; if they die they weren't witches, but if they swim, then witches they were), pin-stabbings to backs, dagger stabs that draw bright red blood, and the ultimate satisfactory ax beating of Hopkins, and eye gouging of Stearns produces plentiful reasons for those with a disdain for such on screen unpleasantries to complain of it all.

Hopkins having pretty young things attempting to negotiate through sexual wares out of punishment, and Stearns openly enthusiastic about his duties of "serving God and country", director Reeves' film certainly exploits them as quite a despicable and cruel duo. The film is a hard watch, for sure, but Reeves was no doubt a talent behind the camera. The countryside is used quite well, and rural England gives the film a period flavor and authenticity that works in favor for the film.

It is bested perhaps by Mark of the Devil and others after it in terms of mutilating and punishing folks through sick acts by human monsters using "God's work" as a means to cause suffering and ridicule, but the use of war as a backdrop (civil war) provides an outside presence of something large scale, with the smaller story of traveling maniacs hurting and killing folks for profit taking center stage. The war isn't forgotten, as Ogilvey's actions are under question due to his "moments on leave" (sometimes worthy of court martial), but his vengeance will be met war or no war.

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The Boogens - Intro

While I must admit that as a monster movie, The Boogens (1981) doesn’t quite measure up (its monsters aren’t particularly menacing ...