Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Challenge Totals to Date:

Movies Watched: 6
Total Movies Watched: 82
Total First Time Views: 34
Scare-A-Thon Donations: $2320.60

Remember, if you would like to make a pledge toward Scare-A-Thon 2015 (benefiting PLANNED PARENTHOOD and GREENHOUSE SHELTER) at any time, drop me an email at drach101@gmail.com to say how much you would like to pledge. Your donation is tax deductible and, seriously, even a penny per film helps.

Chronicle (2012) d. Trank, Josh (USA) (2nd viewing) 84 min

This sci-fi/superhero origin story winner emerged as one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012, and its subsequent strong word-of-mouth following since show I wasn’t alone in my appreciation. The story is fairly standard stuff – three teens (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan) encounter a strange vessel interred deep below the ground and subsequently find themselves endowed with ever-increasing telekinetic powers – but it is director Trank’s handling of Max Landis’ material that surprises time and again with its emotional heft and legitimacy. The “found footage” angle – and the assembly thereof – requires substantial suspension of disbelief (especially in the final reel), but the performances by the trio of young performers and the fantastic subject matter eases the load considerably.

Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth) (1967) d. Baker, Roy Ward (UK) (2nd viewing) 97 min

Hammer’s third effort featuring the brilliant and irascible Professor Quatermass, played in this incarnation by Andrew Kier with sci-fi legend Nigel Kneale adapting his own 1958 BBC miniseries. While working on an extension of the London Underground, the excavation crew comes upon fossil evidence of humanoid creatures. Anthropologist James Donald and his attractive, intelligent, and resourceful assistant Barbara Shelley are brought in, whereupon subsequent diggings unearth a strange craft with an impenetrable surface. To everyone’s surprise, the spaceship, for that is indeed what it is, begins to emit sonic vibrations, resulting in mass violence among the London inhabitants. A smart feature with well-articulated concepts about man’s origins and our compulsion to destroy our own kind, although one could argue that it gets a little heady at times for its own good. Despite some of the effects being less than stellar (the extraterrestrial remnants look like big plastic grasshopper toys), this handicap is masked relatively well by displaying them on fuzzy television monitors. The sturdy and capable acting by the three leads conveys sharp intelligence and determination, with the scenes of mass panic and destruction appropriately disturbing.

Lighthouse (aka Dead of Night) (1999) d. Hunter, Simon (UK) (3rd viewing) 95 min

Survivors from a prison transport ship run aground on an island, the same island where notorious serial killer Leo Rook (Christopher Adamson) has also taken refuge. Dumped straight-to-video with its generic Dead of Night retitling and nondescript box cover art, it’s no surprise that this solid indie Brit slasher has labored in obscurity for over a decade, with limited hope for rediscovery on the horizon. (Outside of Adam Lukeman’s citing it in Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Films You’ve Never Seen, which was where I first became aware, I’ve never heard anyone singing its praises.) Unfortunate, since there are plenty of legitimately suspenseful stalking sequences, stylish cinematography, and juicy throat rendings to be had, and it’s a far sight more accomplished than the myriad of post-Scream pretenders that cluttered up the video shelves in the late 90s/early 2000s. With James Purefoy as a crook with a heart of gold and Rachel Shelley as the criminologist out of her element.

Luther the Geek (1990) d. Albright, Carlton J. (USA) (2nd viewing) 80 min

Mentally (and physically, since his teeth were knocked out) scarred from witnessing a sideshow act in “1938 rural Illinois,” Luther Watts (Edward Terry) grows up to be a special kind of psychotic: one that bites the heads off chickens, sucks down raw eggs in the supermarket, and chomps unsuspecting human victims with his razor sharp metal teeth, all the while bawking like a motherclucker. Bizarre but fully committed weirdness bogs down in the middle, then builds to a climax that has to be seen to be believed, one against which all other resourceful final girl showdowns should be measured. (Big props to actress Joan Roth for going there.) A decade before, Albright and Terry co-wrote the script for the radioactive zombie tyke schlocker The Children, while enthusiastic pop-topping ingĂ©nue Stacy Haiduk went on to enjoy a robust television career (Superboy, Seaquest 2032, and several soaps).

The Skull (1965) d. Francis, Freddie (UK) 84 min

An outrageously padded, crushingly tedious affair, all the more disappointing considering the talent involved. Based on a short story by Robert Bloch (and then puffed up by screenwriter/producer Milton Subotsky), Peter Cushing plays a collector of occult artifacts who purchases a skull reportedly possessed by the malevolent spirit of the Marquis de Sade and unwittingly inherits its accompanying curse. One of Amicus’ early efforts, the cheapie film has an off-putting “Hammer-Lite” look to it, with an obviously plastic skull as the titular object. Famed cinematographer-turned-director Francis tries to inject some ingenuity into a dull story with colored filters, flashing lights, and “Skull-cam” trick shots from inside the cranium, all to no avail. Genre alumni Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, and Patrick Wymark are on hand, looking as though they are doing their best to get through the proceedings without falling asleep. You may not have the same success.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) d. Worsley, William (USA) 101 min

This silent film version of Victor Hugo’s classic is arguably Lon Chaney’s finest hour, in terms of both performance and makeup. Nimbly directed by Worsely, this fine spectacle boasts terrific sets, particularly the reconstruction of Notre Dame’s famous cathedral and town square. Patsy Ruth Miller’s Esmerelda is exuberant and lovely, flinging her affections towards the handsome and vain Phoebus (Norman Kerry), yet still exhibiting kindness towards those less fortunate. Ernest Torrence portrays Clopin as a man divided between love for his adopted daughter and anger towards the oppressive nobles (such as Norman Hurst’s slithery villain Jehan). Still, it is Chaney’s show, his Quasimodo an astoundingly visceral creation — immediately hideous, yet undeniably moving. More monstrous than any other screen Hunchback to come, the star never goes for pathos, capturing our sympathies while remaining authentically base and animalistic. Buried beneath a fright wig, pounds of nose putty and a restrictive body brace contorting his frame, the “Man of a Thousand Faces” conveys the fury of the oppressed as well as the wondrous response to a kind touch. The scenes of his ferocious resistance to Clopin’s attempts to retrieve Esmerelda from the church’s sanctuary are at once terrifying and thrilling.


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