Monday, October 31, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/31


Vampyr (1932)
(2nd viewing) d. Dreyer, Carl Theodor (Germany) 74min
With Hollywood having discovered the vein of horror gold that was Dracula and Frankenstein the year before, pioneering German filmmaker Dreyer unveiled this remarkable tale of vampirism and the occult. Following young traveler Julian West, we arrive at a quiet village that has come under an attack from the undead and the strange adventure unfolds with the feel and tempo of a waking dream. Bold roving camerawork combine with exquisitely crafted visuals (a shadow that leaves its owner, a grave being dug in reverse, characters that materialize from thin air) make this a revelatory cinematic experience especially when held alongside its more traditional, narrative-bound Tinseltown counterparts.

Blood and Roses (1960) (2nd viewing) d. Vadim, Roger (France) 74min
The closest adaptation of the three, Vadim and co-screenwriters Claude Martin and Roger Vailland mount a modest yet gorgeous costume drama version of Le Fanu’s novella. The luminous Annette Vadim (the director’s then-wife) stars as Carmilla Karnstein, secretly pining for her cousin Mel Ferrer, himself recently engaged to the equally stunning Elsa Martinelli. However, when an ancestor’s grave is disturbed by an errant fireworks explosion, the undead spirit of Mircalla Karnstein inhabits Vadim’s lovely form. As the ever-growing circle of blood-drained victims draws ever closer to Martinelli, we are treated to some lovely visual stunts, peaking with a shuttered window that opens onto the watery surface of another dimension (complete with one of Vadim’s victims floating and beckoning for company). While not as faithful as Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers, this is certainly one of the worthier versions of the Carmilla story and well worth seeking out.

Alucarda (aka Sisters of Satan) (1978) (2nd viewing) d. Moctezuma, Juan Lopez (Mexico) 85min
From the faithful to the unhinged, we travel down Mexico way for this trippy spin on the feminist bloodsucker. Upon her arrival at a convent, newly orphaned Susana Kamini befriends exotic Tina Romero and before long, the two are rebelling against their constrictive religious bonds by declaring allegiance to the devil and his dark ways. If your appetites lean toward female nudity, blasphemous Christian imagery, and a truckload of hysterical shrieking, then you’ve come to the right place. Moctezuma revels in wild imagery and wanton emoting, the results being a highly theatrical religious horror piece along the lines of Ken Russell’s The Devils.


Phantom of Soho, The (1964)
(1st viewing) d. Gottlieb, Franz Josef (Germany) 92min
Phantom of Soho, The (1964) (1st viewing) d. Gottlieb, Franz Josef (Germany) 92min
A golden glitter-gloved serial killer stalks the London streets, carving a bloody path through numerous members of polite society. A reasonably engaging crime thriller whodunit notable for employing the killer’s POV, putting the audience in the driver’s seat of ripping and rending the shocked victims while looking them square in the eye.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) (2nd viewing) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) 92min
Two years before he emerged as a star filmmaker with Carrie, De Palma concocted this comedy/horror re-working of Phantom of the Opera. When enigmatic studio magnate Swan (Paul Williams, in a stroke of inspired casting) steals aspiring composer William Finley’s rock opera version of Faust, the spurned tunesmith swears vengeance. As he attempts to sabotage the Death Records offices, Finley’s face and vocal cords are destroyed in a horrific record pressing accident, transforming him into a masked freak haunting Swan’s new rock opera house, the Paradise. Walking a fine satirical line between horror and farce, the movie explodes out of the gates with fierce comic bravado, riding the energy of its rollicking musical numbers (penned by Williams). Jessica Harper makes her film debut as the unlikeliest rock starlet ever, Gerrit Graham gives a fine fruity performance as Beef, Swan’s newest protégé, and you gotta love those Juicy Fruits! Rated PG, despite numerous pointed allusions to the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll lifestyle (not to mention a few bloody bits).

Phantasm (1979) (5th viewing) d. Coscarelli, Don (USA) 88min
Writer/director Coscarelli (who would also serve up the Beastmaster series three years later) delivers one of the most daring U.S. horror efforts of the 70s, eschewing traditional narrative devices while embracing nightmare visuals and logic. Aided immeasurably by his extremely likeable and relatable cast of Bill Thornbury, Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister and the inimitable Angus Scrimm (as the instantly iconic Tall Man), we dive headlong into the goings-on of a mysterious mausoleum which may serve as the entryway to another dimension. The skull-drilling, brain-sucking flying chrome orbs of death that serve as the Morningside sentries are the most memorable of Coscarelli’s flights of fancy, but there’s never a dull moment as alternate realities, dream sequences and diminutive dwarf assailants lurk around every corner. A true low-budget modern horror classic, followed by three, increasingly confusing sequels.

First Time Views: 56
Repeats: 59
Total Films: 115

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/29 – 10/30


Scre4m (aka Scream 4
) (2011) (1st viewing) d. Craven, Wes (USA) 111min
15 years have passed since screenwriter Kevin Williamson and Craven teamed up to revitalize the horror genre and spawned an entire subgenre of knockoff slashers, but what once was clever now feels quaint and more than a little artificially hip. Series stalwarts Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette are all back, with new blood Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marley Shelton and Rory Culkin dropping like flies under Ghostface’s latest reign of terror in Woodsboro. While there are a few bright spots in Williamson’s dialogue (the stream of horror remake titles in response to a telephonic pop quiz had me smiling) and Craven still knows how to tell a screen story, there’s very little inspiration on display. (A franchise reboot commenting on franchise reboot? No thanks, guys.) I’d say it’s a dead heat between Scream 3 and this “was anyone really clamoring for another Scream movie” installment.

Deadly Blessing (1981)
(4th viewing) d. Craven, Wes (USA) 100 min
Craven’s third feature film is a puzzlingly neglected chiller concerned with the potential rise of a demon (or “incubus”) in a Hittite community led by Ernest Borgnine. In addition to numerous well-executed scenes of gore and suspense (including a bathtub sequence that Craven would duplicate three years later in A Nightmare on Elm Street), the cast also features Sharon Stone, Michael Berryman, Lisa Hartman and Battlestar Galactica’s Maren Jensen. Not a true classic, but certainly worthwhile and with its pedigree, it’s surprising that no one has bothered to give this the shiny silver disc treatment yet.


First Time Views: 55
Repeats: 54
Total Films: 109

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/27 – 10/28


Thing from Another World, The (1951)
(3rd viewing) d. Nyby, Christian (USA) 87min
Along with The Day the Earth Stood Still, this represented the first wave of extraterrestrial visitor movies and with producer Howard Hawks standing behind longtime editor Nyby’s rookie effort (closely behind, some might hasten to say), a classic of sci-fi cinema was born. A team of military and scientific minds gather at the North Pole when a UFO is discovered in the ice, as well as an encased alien lifeform. As 60 years of creature features have taught us, that ice is gonna melt and “things” are gonna go crazy. There’s little I can add that hasn’t been said before and better, but I will say that I was struck on this viewing of just how much information – both plotwise and character – is packed into Charles Lederer’s dialogue (with uncredited assistance by Ben Hecht). The rapid-fire exchanges maintain a fever-pitch, keeping the early expository scenes humming until James Arness’ monster action takes over. Great stuff.

Thing, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. van Heijningen Jr., Matthijs (USA) 103min
Ever since the production announcement of the prequel/remake to John Carpenter’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece (itself a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks classic), I’ve wavered between soul-preserving pessimism and cautious optimism. After all, setting the action at the Norwegian camp three days prior the events shown in Carpenter’s 1982 film is a novel and worthy approach, and it seemed from all accounts that everyone involved in the production revered their cinematic source material and were intent on getting it right. Sadly, they get it wrong in two fundamental ways: 1) in trying to outdo Rob Bottin’s miraculous practical effects with “CGI-enhancement” and 2) the introduction of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s paleontologist/final girl to-be character. Regarding the former, this supercharged version of the space creature is completely inconsistent from the incarnation that will in 72 hours menace the residents of Outpost 31: it moves too fast, nimbly drops off limbs, attacks at completely random times... While the ’82 version took its “man is the safest place to hide” tagline to heart, here there’s no reason for it to hide since it can overpower and destroy anything in its path. Winstead does her best, but she’s just wrong for an overly cliché role that is wrong for the film in general – the smart young empowered woman who comes up with all the answers about everything. The venture is not a total loss, managing a few effective sequences and an impressive aural assault (full marks for Rick Hromadka’s shrieking creature effects), but in the end the naysayers were right: best to have left MacReady’s legacy alone.


Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Joost, Henry/Schulman, Ariel (USA) 85min
I enjoyed the original PA quite a bit, having seen it before the hype. I enjoyed PA2 a little less, only because I felt the demonic possession plotline suffered from being overly explained and justified. With this installment, which takes us back to 1988 where we encounter the female leads from the previous two films as children and how they come into contact with the supernatural presence for the first time. I agree with another reviewer’s assessment that the scares here are the most explicit of the trilogy, and on that level it works a treat. As has been the case with all the PA films, one’s enjoyment level is directly proportionate to the degree of suspension of disbelief one is able to generate in order to go along for the ride. For me, it was a satisfying enough diversion with legitimate tension developed, but it’s far from flawless.


Devil’s Rain, The (1975)
(2nd viewing) d. Fuest, Robert (USA) 86min
This pokey Satanic thriller survives on the strength of Ernest Borgnine’s captivating performance as a cult leader and some memorable makeup f/x, particularly in the awesome (if overlong) meltdown finale. (Borgnine’s goat demon makeup is pretty impressive as well). There’s some gobbledygook about a mysterious volume and William Shatner’s ancestor’s family curse, but really it’s all about seeing Ida Lupino, John Travolta (in his first film role) and Keenan Wynn wearing eyeless masks doing battle with the likes of Eddie Albert, Tom Skerrit and Joan Prather, which isn’t very interesting when someone isn’t melting…which is most of the time.

Ruins, The (2008) (3rd viewing) d. Smith, Carter (USA) 93min
Based on Scott Smith’s bestselling novel, this highly effective squirmer manages to provide nasty, gory goodies by the handful without skimping on believable and identifiable characters. A quartet of vacationing American college grads (Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore and Laura Ramsey) take a break from soaking up the booze and summer sun for an impromptu expedition to an ancient Mayan temple. Upon their arrival, they find themselves trapped by the locals atop the titular ruins, which soon reveals itself as the breeding grounds for a particularly nasty species of plant life. The notion of “killer vines” may not initially strike fear into the hearts of the strong, but screenwriter Smith (who adapted his source material) and director Carter Smith (no relation) have delivered a genre movie that’s as concerned with the physical and mental deterioration of its main characters as it is with grossing viewers out or dazzling with effects. The capable young cast admirably scours the emotional spectrum, devolving from entitled hedonists to cold-hearted savages, hysterical naysayers and/or near-catatonics. For the mainstream genre fan looking for an alternative to the steady stream of 80s classic remakes, you could do a lot worse.

What’s kind of remarkable regarding these three seemingly unrelated features is that they all traffic in the dubious subject matter of humans torturing other humans, and yet all three bring a degree of sophistication, intelligence and individuality to the proceedings that separates them from the likes of other, lesser cinematic exercises in degradation. It also helped that I knew absolutely nothing about the trio’s content – though I was aware of their “shocking” reputations – as it allowed them to do their jobs unfettered by expectation or foreknowledge of what was to unfold before my wondering eyes.

Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Six, Tom (Netherlands) 88min
Centering around Laurence R. Harvey’s rotund, bug-eyed misfit’s unhealthy obsession with the notorious midnight movie sensation, Six’s follow-up knowingly goes further in every respect than its predecessor and it is this glorious excess that brings the film’s black humor to the fore. It’s hard to recall the last time someone married such vile screen imagery with such a sense of glee, including the viewer in the joke instead of merely assaulting us. Harvey (in his screen debut) proves incredibly adept at mining both the empathy and villainy of his monster – all the more impressive considering he is given no dialogue to work with. A legitimately great sequel to a wildly divisive film.

Serbian Film, A (2010) (1st viewing) d. Spasojevic, Srdjan (Serbia) 104min
When former porno star Srdan Todorovic is approached by mysterious entrepreneur Sergej Trifunovic about doing a new feature, the down-on-his-luck cocksman agrees to saddle up for another go-round…not knowing what – and who – he’s being asked to do. A surprisingly accomplished feature, considering the odious and dark places we are unknowingly led, and one that cannot simply be written off as mere crass exploitation. Not saying it’s an “important” film, but credit must be given to Spasojevic for creating a legitimate, nuanced film that elevates its reprehensible subject matter to a place beyond blind knee-jerk moral-high-ground rejection.

Woman, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. McKee, Lucky (USA) 103min
Working from a script by himself and bad boy novelist Jack Ketchum, McKee unfolds a haunting fairy tale about a feral female captured by Sean Bridgers’ evil ogre of a family man, keeping her in his workshed while his complicit family pitches in to conceal and contain their new prize. There is some extreme, uncompromising violence and degradation on hand, but the real damage is inflicted on a psychological level (a Ketchum staple) with the weak-hearted preyed upon by the smiling monster dressed as Man. Great performances, and if taken as a mythic parable as opposed to realistic drama, it definitely goes down easier on a narrative level.


First Time Views: 54
Repeats: 53
Total Films: 107

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/26


Alien vs. Predator (2004)
(2nd viewing) d. Anderson, Paul W.S. (USA) 100min
Considering that the title conjures up images of a Japanese monster mash, any expectations of an intelligent sci-fi classic are ill-advised. And while the film bears little resemblance to its classic origins, if one can manage to switch off the brain and enjoy the mashing, this is an adequate popcorn burner. The film begins with the discovery of an Aztec pyramid buried deep in the ice of Antarctica, with wacky billionaire Lance Henriksen (smirking at his own presence in yet another Alien film) leading a group of archeologists on an exploratory expedition. Upon their arrival (and through some very sketchy translating), the team discovers that two thousand years ago, the pyramid served as an Alien hive for the extra-terrestrial race of dreadlock-wearing Predators, who would enter and combat the Aliens as a rite of passage. As the cinematic fates would have it, it’s time for the next Predator class to start and soon there are spaceships landing, Aliens bursting out of chests, and the clash of the sci-fi titans is on with the humans caught in the middle. With passable CGI effects, minimal character development, and yawning logistical plot holes, AvP only succeeds as the big, dumb fun that it intends to be. Purist fans of the originals will probably be horrified, but after numerous inferior sequels, how high could expectations be? Ultimately, the level of enjoyment will depend on the viewer’s mindset and preconceived notions. Rated PG-13, even though all of its predecessors were R-rated films – oh, how the times are a-changin’…

Contamination (aka Alien Contamination) (1980) (2nd viewing) d. Cozzi, Luigi (Italy) 84min
One of the finer example of 80s Italian cheese, director/co-writer Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates) borrows heavily from Ridley Scott’s Alien but then literally explodes in directions you’d hardly think possible. When a mysterious ship comes floating into a New York harbor, a group of investigators discover a crew that has been turned to a bloody mess and a cargo hold filled with strange pulsating eggs…much like strange pulsating eggs soon discovered in a NYC warehouse. At this point, a previous space expedition to Mars is revealed, which also involved some alien eggs, and we’re off to the races. It's all very silly yes... but that just makes it all the more enjoyable. One of the best “so bad it’s good” flicks, Contamination is highly entertaining from start to finish, rife with over-the-top performances, frequent verbal snafus, crazy conspiracies and a final-reel visual-feast alien creature with eating habits that will leave mouths agape. All topped off with Goblin’s rockin’ musical score and ooey-gooey-kerplooey special makeup effects by Giovanni Corridori. Put on your hazmat suits and take this one for a spin.

First Time Views: 49
Repeats: 50
Total Films: 99

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/24 - 10/25


Black Torment, The (1964)
(1st viewing) d. Hartford-Davis, Robert (UK) 90min
Striking Gothic visuals, stellar cinematography and a wingding of a climactic swordfight elevate this oft-neglected Brit horror. 17th-century aristocrat John Turner returns to his country estate from London with new bride Heather Sears, where he encounters hostility and accusations from his servants and associates. Amidst rumors of witchcraft and long-kept family skeletons, a spate of rapes and murders have befallen a number of local lasses…with all reports stating that the perpetrator is none other than Turner himself…in spite of the fact that he has been visibly out of the county. Fans of Hammer, Amicus and especially Tigon (Tony Tenser was one of the producers) should be pleased with the results derived by director Hartford-Davis, screenwriters Donald and Derek Ford, and a solid production team.

Black Sheep (2006) (2nd viewing) d. King, Jonathan (New Zealand) 87min
As surely as Peter Jackson drew inspiration from childhood idols Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen, King’s admiration for his fellow Kiwi filmmaker’s early madcap horror/comedies is apparent in nearly every scene. Much like Bad Taste and Braindead (aka Dead-Alive), the characters are drawn large and loud, then inhabited by appealing, offbeat actors. Nathan Meister plays Henry, a New Zealand sheep baron’s younger offspring waylaid by a chronic fear of the woolly ones due to childhood trauma at the hands of his sadistic, bullying elder brother. Now grown, Angus (Peter Feeney) has moved into genetically engineering his ovine, the fallout of said experiments resulting in the most ill-tempered baa-baa’s ever to graze a hillside. Of course, the joke of turning the proverbial docile lamb of the field into a homicidal carnivorous beastie is the basis for King’s (who also scripted) black comedy, but thanks to Jackson’s Weta Workshop, audiences are also treated to several half man/half sheep monstrosities and a trough-full of off-color intimations that Angus’ contributions to his work may extend beyond just his brainpower. Directed with verve and performed with shear abandon, this may not be a classic for the ages, but it’s delightful summery fun.

Shadows Run Black (1986)
(1st viewing) d. Heard, Howard (USA) 88min
Kevin Costner, playing a dum-dum murder suspect, already had Silverado in the can and The Untouchables on the horizon when this relatively bloodless, brainless, toothless, originally-completed-in-1984 slasher/strangler flick was released to capitalize on the rising star’s fame. While it falls short in the gore department (as well as acting, writing, cinematography, etc.), it works pretty well as a Skinemax flick, as nearly every female pops her top within 10 minutes of showing up onscreen. Strange little red herring subplot involving a loopy priest going by the name of “Father Murphy” (a laugh riot I’m sure for all those Little House on the Prairie/slasher fans out there). Utterly hilarious low-rent closing credits…in which Costner’s name is curiously absent.

Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan) (3rd viewing) d. Bava, Mario (Italy) 87min
One of the most atmosphere-drenched cinematic forays into the supernatural. Marrying the feel of the Universal classics with the darkness of a Grimm fairy tale, this tour-de-force directorial debut launched the careers of Italian cinematographer Mario Bava and scream queen Barbara Steele. As shocking as Psycho’s shower scene (which came out the same year), the breathtaking opening sequence in which a spike-studded iron mask is pounded onto a captured witch’s face shocked audiences around the world, passing instantly into horror film iconography. Bava weaves an elaborate tapestry of gloom over this tale of vengeance visited upon the family that burned Steele and her brother at the stake two hundred years before. Though few of the elements of the fantastic story (based on Gogol’s story “The Viy”) break new ground, this is an unabashedly gorgeous exercise in style and stunning black and white cinematography. Steele is outstanding as both the witch, Asa, and her modern-day descendent, Katia. Bava’s pioneering work here (and as cinematographer for 1956’s I, Vampiri) paved the way for fellow auteurs Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, and created an entirely new genre: the Italian horror film. Absolutely required viewing.

First Time Views: 49
Repeats: 48
Total Films: 97

Monday, October 24, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/23


Jigoku (1960)
(1st viewing) d. Nakagawa, Nobuo (Japan) 101min
After timid fiancé Shigeru Amachi runs down a gangster with his car and flees the scene, he enters a downward spiral of bad luck, with everyone around him meeting with horrible accidental deaths. Eventually, he meets his own demise and in the Underworld the film gearshifts into a 40-minute fever-dream visuals extravaganza, complete with pits of fiery despair, rivers of excrement, fields of human limbs, and horned demons doling out crime-fitting punishments. Certainly not for all tastes, but unquestionably original and boldly experimental, even a half century later.

Finale (2009) (1st viewing) d. Elfers, John Michael (USA) 93min
Impressive and well-polished microbudget effort from Ohio-based writer/director Elfers and his merry band of collaborators. When Carolyn von Hauck’s family is targeted by demon-worshipping cult members (headed by a double amputee priest and a vicious high school drama teacher!), she scrambles to save her kin’s skin, despite skepticism and outright defiance on their parts. Superb performances and creative cinematic solutions belie the meager coffers, leaving one doubly impressed at how little forgiveness and/or generosity is required of the audience. (Aspiring horrormeisters should sneak a peek at the behind-the-scenes DVD featurette to see true bleeding-celluloid ingenuity and determination at work.) Well worth checking out.

Automatons (2006) (1st viewing) d. McKenney, James Felix (USA) 83min
Bleak, low-rent, black and white vision of a post-WWIII dystopia, where decidedly analog robot warriors venture onto wastelands to do daily battle. McKenney’s titular troops are comprised of what appear to be – depending on the shot – plastic wind-up toys, hand-manipulated puppets or good ol’ fashioned guys in metal suits, and this nuts-n’-bolts approach manifests a certain charm, as does Angus Scrimm’s presence via recorded video journal entries. Even so, the enterprise feels a bit boggy (even with its brief 83-minute runtime) and the non-Scrimm human performances are amateurish and unconvincing. A shorter and less talky format would’ve been preferable, but still admirable on its own terms. Larry Fessenden executive-produced and cameos as a freedom fighter.

First Time Views: 47
Repeats: 46
Total Films: 93

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/22


High Tension (2003)
(4th viewing) d. Aja, Alexandre (France) 91min
Frenchman Aja burst onto the horror scene with this, his second feature film, which absolutely delivers on its titular promise. The premise is almost quaint in its simplicity: Two schoolmate chums (Cecilie de France, Maiwenn) get together for a weekend of study and relaxation at the brunette’s parents’ country home, only to come under the assault of marauding serial killer Phillippe Nahon. But it is the mayhem’s expert execution – literally and figuratively – that announced a major talent in the making. Combining forces with partner/producer Gregory Levasseur (with whom he wrote the script) and a terrific team of collaborators (the sound design deserves special note, as does the copious black-streaked bloodshed provided by longtime Fulci collaborator Giannetto de Rossi), Aja delivers perhaps the strongest slasher flick of the new millennium…right up until the 1:17 mark. It is here that he and Levasseur introduce one of the most wildly divisive plot twists in recent memory, and it is defiantly a matter of personal taste whether it enhances or diminishes what has come before. I reside resolutely in the latter camp, though, as evidenced by my repeated viewings, it hasn’t deterred my appreciation for the incredible sense of mood, atmosphere and, yes, tension generated. In hindsight, my deepest regret is not Tension’s twist, but the fact that Aja has never since exhibited the same feverish bravura, seemingly content to helm Hollywood horror remakes. Case in point…

Piranha (2010) (2nd viewing) d. Aja, Alexandre (USA) 88min
To be fair, there’s nothing serious about this in-title redux of Joe Dante’s 1978 Jaws spoof/homage: It’s clear from the outset that AJa is interested only in serving up a blowout beer n’ pretzels bounty of boobs n’ blood – and no one can claim he doesn’t make good on his offer. It’s just that it all feels, well, cheap. Set at an Arizona spring break hot spot, we are thrust into the off-putting company of hundreds of bootylicious co-ed horndogs out for some sun, fun, buns and booze. I don’t know about you, but I can’t relate to these people and while one could argue that’s the point, stupid, we just want to see ‘em get eaten up real good, it diminished the “fun factor” for me. The closest we come to a real character is Elizabeth Shue’s stressed-out sheriff, whose already unpleasant weekend of babysitting the drunken hordes is multiplied – courtesy of an earthquake-derived fissure – by the titular prehistoric fishy menace’s arrival from an underwater lake. There are some undeniably spectacular KNB gore moments, but they are matched by a wealth of underwhelming CGI effects shots – Richard Dreyfuss’ jaw-droppingly awful whirlpool sequence, anyone? Originally shot in 3D, there are “comin’ atcha” moments aplenty, and Kelly Brook & Riley Steele’s underwater nude ballet more than delivers its intended titillation (Brook’s “wild wild girl” is, in addition to being gorgeous, actually one of the few interesting and likeable characters). Ultimately, it’s not terrible, but never as much fun as it wants to be.

First Time Views: 44
Repeats: 46
Total Films: 90

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/21


Deaths of Ian Stone, The (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Piana, Dario (UK) 87min
The third of After Dark Films’ Horrorfest 2007 that I’ve seen this month, and probably the most successful of the bunch. (Jim Mickle’s Mulberry St. still takes the title as pick of the litter, however.) Confused young stud Mike Vogel continues meeting mortal ends, then awakening in a brand new life as though nothing had happened. As time passes, we learn that he is pursued by dark spirits known as “harvesters” who have a vested interest in Vogel and his relationship with comely blonde Christina Cole. Well paced and shot by Piana, with a legitimately interesting and original script by Brendan Hood (whose previous writing credits include the execrable Wes Craven’s They). Produced by Stan Winston, and created under his SW Studios’ roof.

Death Warmed Up (1984)
(1st viewing) d. Blyth, David (New Zealand) 85min
I swear to god, I have no idea what the hell was going on most of the time in this zany Kiwi flick. Released three years before Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, there’s a similar sense of loony abandon in terms of monster mayhem and gory goofiness, although it definitely lacks the style and polish of his successor. There was something about gene testing a la Dr. Moreau, lots of running around, limbs being chopped off, mutated beasts attacking young nubiles, but I’ll be damned if it made a lick of sense and I kinda wish it had been more fun than it was. Not bad, but lacking direction, vision, a strong narrative…you get the idea.

Death in the Shadows (1985) (1st viewing) d. Pieters, Vivian (Netherlands) 97min
When lovely Dutch lass Maayke Bouten’s mother is run down in the street, evidence begins to arise that neither was the woman her birth mother, nor was the death accidental. (Being run over twice is kind of a tipoff in these cases.) As the newly orphaned orphan looks for answers to her lineage, Bouten seems to be the next target on the killer’s list. Unfortunately, endless scenes of rummaging through old photo albums and documents don’t make for the most stimulating of screen action, especially when backed by a Casio keyboard score. Our heroine seemingly has no compunction about taking her top off, so there’s that, but one wishes that the sporadic attempts against her life were a bit more dynamic and/or successful. Pretty uninspiring overall.

First Time Views: 44
Repeats: 44
Total Films: 88

Friday, October 21, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/20


Night of the Demon
(2nd viewing) d. Wasson, James C. (USA) 92min
Oh. My. God. This is one amazingly bad, amazingly bloody, amazingly twisted, amazingly brilliant little pic that even on the second go-round, I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. From the opening credits where a guy’s arm gets ripped off and a Bigfoot track fills up with blood, James C. Wasson’s trashy, flashback-filled hoot has low-budget charm to burn. Um, dual girl scout massacre? Inter-species rape? Biker stops to take a leak and gets his Johnson pulled off? Yes, yes, and YES!!! Plus, it contains one of the great onscreen sleeping bag kills, awesome red-tinged “Bigfoot vision” and the finale is a jaw-dropping slo-mo masterpiece of high impact, low grade gore f/x mayhem, and how about the crazy van lovin' gal with the scary boob job? Her proooooloooooonged screams of terror are the least convincing in the history of cinema outside of DePalma’s Blow Out. Only there, the cries are supposed to be unconvincing. Wow. For fans of tasty grilled turkey and cheese, this is a must-see.

Rana: Legend of Shadow Lake (1975) (1st viewing) d. Rebane, Bill (USA) 96min
Wisconsin filmmaking wunderkind Bill Rebane’s homage to Creature from the Black Lagoon centers around one of the cheese state’s “warm!” lakes occupied by a prehistoric amphibian throwback, one that has no qualms with jamming errant speargun shafts into the necks of fishermen or making off with the occasional damsel in distress. Glenn Scherer recounts his childhood encounters with the beastie via flashbacks, where young Brad Ellingson and paleontologist Karen McDiarmid try to uncover the mystery beneath the surface. Unfortunately, as is the case with many Rebane efforts, it’s a long slog – with only the natterings of crazy ol’ coot Jerry Gregoris to keep us awake (as well as one awesome slo-mo gunshot/backfall) – until the final reel monster action goodies. The jolly green creature suit designed by Tom Schwartz is entertaining enough; it’s just too bad we have to wait so long to see it. Trivia: Rebane recycled the climax’s musical score for the opening titles of his next (and best) feature, The Giant Spider Invasion, released later the same year.

Monstroid (1980) (1st viewing) d. Hartford, Kenneth (USA) 98min
What do you get when you combine an unscrupulous American concrete company, a poor exploited South American village, polluted water supplies, liberal newspaper reporters, superstitious locals, ancient legends, ecoterrorists, fiestas, suspected witches, moonlight swims, drunken fishermen and one giant rubber monster puppet? Sadly, not as much fun as you’d hope, as director Hartford (billed as Kenneth Herts) commits the mortal sin of any low budget creature feature: being boring. Despite authentic helicopter (complete with saucy Latina pilot Maria Rubio) and location footage, the dozens of subplots and ancillary characters provide a bit more padding than necessary. (With four credited screenwriters, it’s easy to see how things might have gotten a little muddled en route.) However, the totally unconvincing (though not unimpressive) lake beast manages to satisfy in its full endgame glory, jousting with a speedboat and a helicopter until it gets blowed up real good by company man Jim (son of Robert) Mitchum. The opening credits tell us (twice!) that the events herein are based on fact, but it’s the closing credits you’ll want to stick around for, as they are some of the roughest scrolling final credits I’ve ever seen. John Carradine slums it up gloriously as an ex-pat verse-spouting priest, and that’s the director’s son and daughter as the kids who provide photographic proof of the monster.

First Time Views: 41
Repeats: 44
Total Films: 85

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/19


My Mom’s a Werewolf (1989)
(1st viewing) d. Fischa, Michael (USA) 90min
Frustrated wife/mother Susan Blakely gets nibbled on by dashing mystery man John Saxon and soon she’s sprouting fur and fangs in most inappropriate fashion. No way this dumb-dumb 80s comedy should have been this entertaining, but it breezily sails along thanks to the oh-so-very-game performances of Blakely and Saxon (the hand-licking scene alone, folks). John Schuck, Tina Caspary, Ruth Buzzi and Marcia Wallace all lend able support. No classic, perhaps, but surprisingly funny and good-natured, especially for fans of that decade’s particular brand of goofball laffs.

Night of the Howling Beast (1975) (1st viewing) d. Iglesias, Miguel (Spain) 94min
Paul Naschy stars in his fifth installment of the ongoing adventures of tortured lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky, this time leading a Himalayan expedition which runs afoul of inclement weather, roving bands of marauders…and yetis. Naschy is bitten by a couple of nubile, scantily clad, cave-dwelling wolf women and transforms into his venerable wolfman character (shocker, that), which comes in handy when battling bloodthirsty cult members and abominable snowmen. (As the engaging adventure played out, I found myself wondering what might happen were a bigfoot to be bitten by a werewolf, and getting legitimately excited by the prospect. Sadly, the answer is not revealed here.) Enjoyably furry fare, directed by Iglesias under his “M. I. Bonns” moniker.


Cthulhu (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Gildark, Dan (USA) 101min
College professor and estranged son Jason Cottle returns to his small coastal hometown for mother’s funeral, where his father (Dennis Kleinsmith) leads a strange purple robe-wearing religious order that comprises seemingly the entirety of the village’s population. In addition to a well-developed paranoid atmosphere, director/co-writer Gildark deserves major points for introducing a strong, well-drawn gay character, successfully dealing with his protagonist’s sexuality within the story while never making it about his sexuality. Cottle eventually becomes the unwitting key player in a grand May Day scheme, the sinister mood admirably echoing Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man in its isolation and enclosed community conspiracy. Based in part of Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and though not slavishly loyal to its source material, there is great care taken in not showing the monsters, thereby leaving them to the viewer’s imagination – a decision that may frustrate some (as will the ambiguous ending), but which seems entirely in keeping with Lovecraft’s “unspeakable” horrors. Solid ensemble performances (including the unexpected Tori Spelling) sell the watery apocalyptic goods.

Exorcismus (2010) (1st viewing) d. Carballo, Manuel (Spain) 98min
Refreshingly well made, grounded possession feature, with rebellious teen Sophie Vavasseur falling victim to the demonic assault, which also manifests itself as attacks on her family and loved ones. Utilizing an superb all-English cast shot by Carballo’s Spanish crew, there is legitimate drama and tension created here, wisely steering clear of the shadowy grandeur of its 1973 namesake and staking out unique terrain both in atmosphere and theme. Vavasseur’s father Richard Felix (who resembles a younger John Hurt) and her priest uncle/“Father” Stephen Billington (who resembles a younger Jeremy Irons) wage war against supernatural forces, self-doubt and occasionally each other as they seek to free the lass from her unholy occupation. The snap-zoom camerawork gets a little old, but it’s easily forgiven considering the wealth of effective sequences that Carballo and cohorts crank out of this well-traveled material. Hellraiser stalwart Doug Bradley contributes a subdued but welcome cameo as Billington’s former mentor.

First Time Views: 39
Repeats: 43
Total Films: 82

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/18


Killer Tongue (1996)
(2nd viewing) d. Sciamma, Alberto (Spain) 98min
Bank robbin’ lovers Jason Durr and Melinda (Return of the Living Dead III) Clarke pull a double cross on their partners, only to have all kinds of unholy and extraterrestrial karma come back and bite them…literally. While Durr sits out his prison sentence, Clarke and her color-coordinated poodles have a close encounter with a bit of space droppings (via a bowl of soup, no less) that transforms the pooches into a quartet of flamboyant drag queens and her tongue into a weapon of mass destruction. Courtesy of Image Animation’s worthy f/x, the titular premise lives up to its promise, with la lengua loca ramming, ripping and rending everything within reach – and considering its elastic properties, that’s covering some ground. Robert Englund devours the scenery as a tight-assed prison captain, while Doug Bradley (credited as “Dough Bradley”) lends able support as Durr’s fellow inmate. Alternatively deliriously madcap and batshit bonkers, this under-the-radar gem deserves some attention, in particular by fans of Clarke (who spends the majority of the film in a skintight black latex bodysuit).

Ravenous (1999) (3rd viewing) d. Bird, Antonia (UK) 101min
“It’s lonely being a cannibal. Tough making friends.” Director Antonia Bird serves up heaping helpings of black comedy and gory carnage in this hilarious, edgy period horror. Set in the waning days of the Mexican-American War, Guy Pearce’s cowardly Army captain is stationed at a remote outpost in the Sierra Nevadas where daily routine is stultifying dull…until Robert Carlyle staggers in from the wilderness with tales of survival that would turn the hardiest soul into a vegetarian. A clever combo of mysticism, vampirism and cannibalism, with Bird’s superb cast – which includes Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies, and Neal McDonough – licking their lips and devouring Ted Griffin’s script with gusto. A decidedly underrated flick, with Slovakia’s Tatras Mountains (standing in for the Pacific Northwest) providing the picturesque exteriors.


My Bloody Valentine (2009)
(2nd viewing) d. Lussier, Patrick (USA) 101min
The one ’80s slasher remake in recent memory to get it right. Director Patrick Lussier’s redux of 1981’s classic pickaxe-wielding boogeyman flick earns its red wings by providing a straight-faced, straight-up whodunit/body-count pic loaded with blood, guts and nudity. True, it does have the requisite TV heartthrob (Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles) in place, but the entire enterprise is handled with panache and skill, delivering more than enough jump scares and heavy gore to satisfy anyone. While the 3D effects – so well executed in theaters, providing plenty of the usual “comin’ atcha!” gimmicks as well as giving the eerie mineshaft scenes a claustrophobic feel – lose some of their impact on the small screen, there’s still enough solid material to carry the day. Finally, big time kudos to clothes-shy starlet Betsy Rue for her brave and bare extended hotel room sequence (yielding both titillation and vulnerability – no mean feat) and genre vet Tom Atkins for their strong support.

Love Me Deadly (1973) (1st viewing) d. Lacerte, Jacques (USA) 95min
Who knew that daddy issues and necrophilia were so intricately connected? Lovely, frigid blonde Mary Wilcox carries a deep, dark secret: She can only derive sexual pleasure from visiting funerals and kissing corpses, much to the dismay of her suitors Christopher Stone and Lyle Waggoner. But when serial killing funeral director Timothy Scott recognizes a fellow stiff-lover, he draws her into his underground coven of like-minded, black-candle burning, black robe-wearing, dark hymn-chanting… Oh, heck, they’re Satanists, all right? Goody two-shoes Wilcox isn’t so sure about all this, but baser desires prevail and there’s some unintentional comedy derived from the fact that every time she attempts to satiate her cold flesh desires, either Stone or Waggoner show up and ruin the party. Phil Moody’s easy-listening, love-ballad heavy soundtrack nearly keeps the lurid atmosphere in check, which somehow makes the whole enterprise that much more bizarre.

First Time Views: 35
Repeats: 43
Total Films: 78

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/17


Live Feed (2006)
(1st viewing) d. Nicholson, Ryan (USA) 81min
Nicholson toiled for years as a Hollywood makeup special effects artist before striking out on his own, and so it’s no mistake that the highlights of his films tend to be the wetter moments. And while his DIY spirit is laudable, the sheer unpleasantness of his characters (see Gutterballs for further evidence) makes the rest of the jagged SOV production values that much tougher to sit through. When a quintet of self-centered bar-hopping “Ugly American” tourists in China find themselves as the main feature in a closed circuit snuff film within a house of ill-repute, one would hope that we might root for them to survive…just a little? But when the victims are just as repellent as the torturing sadists, all we can do is sit back and take what pleasure we can from the bloodletting, which is likely Nicholson’s nihilistic intent. Tons of sex, nudity and gore are plusses for any hardcore horror fan, but minus any sense of context or relatability, it all feels empty and vacant. Co-written by Nicholson with brother Roy.

Gorotica (1993) (1st viewing) d. Gallagher, Hugh (USA) 60min
Taboo subject matter (necrophilia) combined with subtle black comedy and zero production value equals a WTF experience for the ages. Jewel thieves Dingo Jones and Bushrude Gutterman (think those are pseudonyms?) have their plans spoiled by a sharpshooting cop who kills Gutterman after he swallows a large diamond for safekeeping. Jones is forced to lug his partner’s corpse around, eventually ending up at dead-lovin’ chick Ghetty Chasun’s above, where she seizes the opportunity to make sweet, sweet music with the stiff. Zany and clumsy, but possessing a charming attitude of naughty rebellion, right down to the final credit: “These characters and situations are fictitious and any similarity with real persons living or dead makes me nervous.” The hour-long runtime is an added bonus.


Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
(2nd viewing) d. Morrissey, Paul (Italy) 95min
Blood for Dracula (1974) (3rd viewing) d. Morrissey, Paul (Italy) 106min

“Presented” by Andy Warhol and written/directed by Paul Morrissey, these Eurohorror spins on the titans of screen terror are unlike any Dracula or Frankenstein film you’ve seen. While the latter is inarguably the more polished of the two, both offer plenty of campy pleasure and endlessly quotable dialogue, with lovely musical scores by Claudio Gizzi and Carlo Rambaldi’s juicy blood f/x splashing about.

Originally presented in 3D (with body parts and entrails being thrust at the camera), Flesh features plenty of its namesake, both male and female, for your viewing pleasure, with Udo Kier starring as the mad baron bent on animating dead tissue and mating his male and female creations. Meanwhile, his randy sister/wife Monique van Vooren (sans eyebrows) looks to couple up with hunky servant Joe Dallesandro speaking in his full-on New Yawk accent. Filled with immortal lines like “To know death, Otto, you have to f**k life in the gall bladder,” and van Vooren’s makeout session with Dallesandro’s armpit has to be seen/heard to be believed.

Meanwhile, Morrissey’s Dracula pic finds the count wasting away in Transylvania due to the lack of virgins (pronounced “were-gins”) available for blood sampling and so, with his trusty – and more than a little bossy – servant Arno Juerging leading the way, they head for Italy hoping to find ladies of higher moral fiber. Unfortunately for Drac, agitprop-spouting handyman has made a point of deflowering everything on two legs with a double-X chromosome. From its striking opening (undead Kier applying makeup to his pallid cheeks and black dye to his hair before his non-reflection in a dressing table mirror) to the Monty Python-eque limb-lopping finale, it’s a winner all the way. Classic quote as Udo imbibes some impure plasma: “The blood of these whores is killing me!” Goofy as hell, but there’s enough atmosphere, quirky performances, enthusiastic bloodletting and nudity from both sexes to keep you glued to your seat. Roman Polanski shows up in a cameo in the bar scene.

First Time Views: 34
Repeats: 40
Total Films: 74



Nightmare on Elm Street, A (1984)
(5th viewing) d. Craven, Wes (USA) 91min
Horror Hall-of Famer Wes Craven created this hugely successful fright flick, which spawned multiple sequels, launched New Line Cinema, and introduced the moniker of “Freddy Krueger” into pop culture consciousness. Attractive (if acting-talent-challenged) Heather Langenkamp plays a teenager plagued by dreams of a horribly scarred figure wearing a distinctive red-striped sweater, battered fedora, and a glove with knives attached to the fingers. Robert Englund, in the role he would forever be identified with, creates an original and frightening villain in Freddy, an executed child-murdering psychopath who has found the means to keep up his gruesome work by entering his prospective victim’s dreams. Not yet the wisecrack-spouting centerpiece of future installments, Englund’s minimal appearances pack a darkly effective punch. As Langenkamp and company (including Johnny Depp, in his feature film debut) struggle to stay awake, Krueger’s sinister history is gradually revealed, along with the small town’s dark and horrifying secret. There is certainly much to applaud in the film’s fiercely innovative concept, nightmare imagery, and gory special effects; but the line between Craven’s real world and dream counterpart becomes so blurred in the end, there is no logic remaining except dream logic. Consequently, it often feels like the viewer is being cheated of a legitimate story for the sake of some “really cool kills,” (many of which are admittedly memorable, particularly one in which a character is swallowed and regurgitated by their own bed). This aspect, along with stiff performances and a really weak ending, lands Nightmare on a slightly lower rung than other modern horror classics.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/14


Nature of the Beast (1995)
(1st viewing) d. Salva, Victor (USA) 91min
Salva, who would later direct the Jeepers Creepers pictures, makes an impressive showing with this genuinely thrilling thriller that pits the wits of traveling salesman Lance Henriksen against Eric Roberts’ cool calculating psychopath. Conjuring shades of The Hitcher (and anyone who’s seen the opening 30 minutes of the first JC flick knows that the writer/director knows his way around a suspenseful automotive sequence), this two-hander continues to crank the tension right up until its sterling climax. The final (and grin-inducing) twist is but the topping on the cake.

Friday, October 14, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/13


Corpses (2004)
(1st viewing) d. Kanefsky, Rolfe (USA) 90min
Star Tiffany Shepis and writer/director Kanefsky teamed up again after banging out The Hazing earlier the same year for this quickie undead comedy. Zombies recruited by ill-tempered funeral home owner Robert Donavan to rob jewelry store. Headliner Jeff Fahey stars as a police captain dealing with the complications of rebellious daughter Shepis and Donavan’s hot-pants ex-wife (Melinda Bonini). Kanefsky’s tried-and-true formula of blood and boobs is in full flower here, and really, if you’re not up for that and some mindless yuks and yucks, keep on moving down the line.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/12


Lunacy (2005)
(1st viewing) d. Svankmajer, Jan (Czechoslovakia) 118min
Animated sequences featuring renegade disembodied beef tongues, entrails, and other fleshy bits running amok trade turns with live action scenes of Marquis de Sade (an unhinged Jan Triska) tormenting grieving mourner/asylum incident Pavel Liska. The haunting and repetitious calliope refrain keeps the mood light in the face of such transgressions, the final result feels inspired if a little disconnected. But then again, considering the subject matter, who’s going to complain?

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/11


Undertaker and His Pals, The (1966)
(1st viewing) d. Swicegood, T.L.P. (USA) 63min
Taking a page from H.G. Lewis’ Blood Feast, writer/director Swicegood dishes up a juicy black-and-blood-red comedy featuring a trio of mysterious motorcycle thugs who choose their random murder victims from the phone book. After the deaths, friendly undertaker Ray Dannis extorts the grieving mourners with exorbitant burial fees whilst two café owners serve up daily specials, such as “leg of Lamb” after dear Sally Lamb meets her untimely end or “breast of chicken” following Ms. Poultry’s demise. Lots of pretty girls meeting their demise at the hands and knives of the three hard working stiffs, although even for a comedy, things get a little grotesque at times (such as the gore-strewn lovely whipped to death with a chain to the face). Even so, there’s little doubt about the harmless intent of Swicegood and his pals and a valuable lesson is learned via this cozy 63-minute fable: There’s no honor among thieves – or psychopaths.