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

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