Wrapping up the month with: The Serpent And The Rainbow, The Majorettes, The Flesh Eaters and The Ghoul.
The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988 – Wes Craven)
Thanks in part to Matt Price and his podcast “Let’s Scare Matthew Price To Death”, I’ve finally closed a huge gap in my horror knowledge by seeing – on screen no less – Craven’s enormously entertaining film. This past week Matt helped present Craven’s The Serpent And The Rainbow at The Royal cinema here in Toronto and then did a live on stage podcast directly after the film (inviting several other local podcasters to join him). I had started watching the film years ago, got 10 minutes in, tuned out and promised I’d get back to it one day – and thank goodness I did. I must’ve been in some weird zombi-fied state lo-those-many-years-ago not to have jumped head first into this movie. Granted, Bill Pullman is Bill Pullman in it and occasionally distracts from the more serious moments, but fortunately the film allows itself to play in that surreal middle ground between reality and dream and have a ball with it (that coffin scene is one for the ages). There’s also a wider view of how Haiti itself woke from their own political slumber (which is done surprisingly subtly) and a couple of proper jump scares – build-up, payoff and well-deserved audience reaction. That voodoo is gonna get ya!
The Majorettes (1987 – S. William Hinzman)
Watching The 50 Year Argument recently, I heard a great opening line for a book review: “This is a poor book irritatingly marred by good features”. Having just seen the Z-grade slasher The Majorettes, I immediately thought it was a fairly apropos description – a rather awful movie that you annoyingly can’t dismiss due to several darn good moments and an overall approach that keeps one reasonably engaged. It sticks to your basic slasher conventions – a group of high school girls (some of whom look juuuuuuusssssttt a couple of years out of teenager-dom) get picked off one-by-one due to “loose” morals – but also throws in a couple of side stories, an actual surprise or two and a weird descent into an action film with about 15 minutes left. The acting is terrible, the script at times is eye-rollingly crappy and the dancing of these “majorettes” is cringeworthy, and yet…And yet, I kinda enjoyed the damn thing. How annoying.
The Flesh Eaters (1964 – Jack Curtis)
Another example of a film that is really far better than it really has any right to be. And certainly more than you would ever expect it to be given the set-up, dialogue and goofy line readings. A pilot and his 2 passengers (an alcoholic actress and her assistant) are forced to land near a small island inhabited by a sole scientist who has been performing experiments with a glowing life form in the ocean. Turns out, there was some Nazi experimenting in his past and he’s not really looking to help his new found acquaintances get back to civilization. Even with this plot – and a hepcat on a raft joining them midway (seriously head-slapping stuff) – there’s a strong craft to the visuals, the shot selections and the gore. There’s moments of real creepiness here and it helped put a much more menacing feel to the whole film and in particular to the stereotypical “German scientist”.
The Ghoul (1933 – T. Hayes Hunter)
Boris Karloff “plays” a dying man who is desperate to live for eternity and insists his manservant perform numerous rituals before entombing him. The pagan gods will only accept him if his corpse has an ancient jewel grasped in his hand, but when it is stolen the dead man becomes a zombified revenant bent on vengeance until he can find the jewel. It’s a mish mash of all the best and worst features of the 30s horrors – some great black & white compositions and a fun adventure, but also fraught with jumbled story points and stereotypes up the wazoo. Karloff shuffles more than he acts throughout the film, but that’s OK – his face is a goldmine of spookiness and looks like it’s already been through several awakenings from permanent slumber. Stretched thin at 78 minutes, it still ends abruptly with loads of unresolved questions – like, for example, what could this have been like with a stronger director and script?