A Month of Horror 2014 – Chapter 3

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Let’s dig into a few more tasty horror treats…In this post: Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Monster Club, The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Gurozuka.

 

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (Bob Clark – 1973)
I’m not sure how this “let’s get our friends together and make a movie” movie didn’t completely collapse into itself, but it somehow stayed afloat even if about 70% of the frame at any given time seems to be complete blackness. Fortunately director Bob Clark (Black Christmas and a c.v. of films almost as diverse as Robert Wise) wisely decided to clad his group of friends in brightly coloured clothing for their night time adventure through an island cemetery for fun & games and inspiration for their play. None of them seem to like each other, so calling them “friends” might be a stretch, but they all seem to follow the egotistical and nasty director who performs a number of rituals over the graveyard. Without really meaning to, he ends up accidentally waking a whole assortment of dead folks. The last 20 minutes of the movie actually work quite decently with the troupe trying to battle and escape the zombies, but it’s a bit of a challenge to get there.

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A Month of Horror 2014 – Chapter 2

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I‘m behind in my viewing, so I’m feeling a bit under the gun…After this batch it’ll be time to pick up the pace again. In this post: Dr. Terror’s House of Horror, Trouble Every Day, Night Of The Eagle and I Married A Witch.

 

Dr. Terror’s House Of Horror (Freddie Francis – 1965)
I’m a big fan of the old Amicus horror anthology films – titles like The House That Dripped Blood, Tales From The Crypt, Torture Garden and Asylum would give you 4-5 short horror stories with a variety of actors (as well as a bonus wrap-around framing device) and bring forth a great 90 minutes of entertainment. The tales weren’t really overly gory or jump-out-of-your-seat scary, but they excelled in bringing horrific ideas into 15-20 minute long stories with dashes of black comedy. Dr. Terror’s grab bag was the only remaining one of the Amicus omnibus films that had eluded me, so I finally caught up with it and it didn’t disappoint. With Peter Cushing dolling out the fates to 5 men he meets on a train (via tarot card readings) and Christopher Lee and Donald Sutherland amongst the leads of the individual scenarios, the film breezes by at a fast pace and introduces you to plants with their own brains, voodoo jazz, an artist’s disembodied hand, and a couple of different spins on vampires and werewolves. Great stuff.

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A Month of Horror 2014 – Chapter 1

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Skeptical about yet another set of October horror reviews? Can’t says I blame you, but I’m doing it anyway…My first 4 of the month: The Comedy Of Terrors, Pieces, Society and A Page Of Madness.

 

The Comedy Of Terrors (Jacques Tourneur – 1963)
A less than auspicious start. You would think that with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff all being directed by Jacques Tourneur (Jacques freakin’ Tourneur!) that you might end up with a bit more than warmed over gags, broad dull humour and an uninteresting story with staid visuals. But that’s exactly what you get here. Price and Lorre are occasionally entertaining just by their sheer presence as undertakers that need to create a market for their services, but it all becomes old pretty quickly. The musical score is possibly the worst part of the whole affair – it’s overbearing as it continually tries to tell you what’s funny with little whistles, blorps, xylophone runs and all manner of recycled generic bad kiddie TV show music. Painful at times.

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A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 5

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Not sure if she’s winking, squinting or wincing? Neither am I…Anyway, these were all watched in October (so it still counts towards my month): Visiting Hours, We Are What We Are, Omen IV: The Awakening and Basket Case.

 

Visiting Hours (Jean-Claude Lord – 1982)
You can only suspend belief for so long, you know? I can forgive much of the silliness in the plot of this killer-stalks-hospital slasher – especially when it handles several early scenes with pretty decent tension – but the last 30-40 minutes so obviously contrives a final showdown that you can’t help but throw your hands up (several times). It’s sheer laziness really – I get why they wanted to have Lee Grant run through long empty hospital corridors with the relentless Michael Ironside chasing her, but couldn’t they be even slightly creative in figuring out how to clear out other people? With all the commotion that had been going on in the busy hospital and with it crawling with cops, the film (without any explanations or reasons) has the killer chase his intended victim across 3 separate floors without running into a single person. Well, except for the nurse he recently wounded who was lying on a cart completely unattended (even though she was moments earlier hurriedly wheeled in due to him stabbing her). Even William Shatner couldn’t make me forget that.

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A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 4

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Not watching horror films this October? Bela Lugosi feels sorry for you…This time around: The Night Flier, White Zombie, Aswang and The Invisible Man.

 

The Night Flier (Mark Pavia – 1997)
Miguel Ferrer runs roughshod all over this film and holds together a story that could easily fall apart, but strangely doesn’t. The titular character has been flying into small airports and killing the unsuspecting souls that he encounters. Dubbed the “Night Flier” by a tabloid reporter (due to the black plane only taking flight during the evening hours), this serial killer ends up being a different take on the vampire mythology. Ferrer plays the reporter who gets deeper into the story than he should – simply in order to get back on the front page. But as the Flier seems to know his every move and begins to warn him not to follow, will the grumpy, hard-nosed sensationalist be able to let it go? As an under the radar Stephen King adaptation, I was surprised by how much I actually cared about the answer to that question.

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A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 3

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In this installment Exorcist II:The Heretic, Ravenous, Possession (1981) and The Devils. Now work with me Linda, work with me!

 

Exorcist II: The Heretic (John Boorman – 1977)
There are some great elements to this jumbled mess of a movie, but none of them ever quite fit together enough to bring even one great scene to bear. Moments, shots and ideas pop out, but then get ground down and trampled with remarkably silly and inconsistent plot points (usually involving religious flapdoodle, terrible “scientific” theories or ancient myths). Also of an inconsistent nature is the acting (though Richard Burton does stay reasonably consistent as the priest investigating what happened years ago), which can shift from moments of subtlety to awkward line readings – within the very same scene. Now that I think of it, nothing is consistent in this movie – even the special effects at times could provide an impressive set or shot, but then fall into almost laugh-out-loud goofiness (just because you can almost replicate a man falling down a chasm, doesn’t mean you should do it). No one gets away with their reputation intact.

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A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 2

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You know, I think Peter Capaldi is going to be just fine as Dr. Who…

 

The Lair Of The White Worm (Ken Russell – 1988)
There’s a moment in this movie (right around 23:25) when it suddenly becomes readily apparent that this is a Ken Russell film. That moment is when things turn batshit crazy. It only lasts a minute or so and it’s a hallucination of sorts, but it comes out of nowhere after a young woman touches a cross which has been sprayed with snake venom from another woman with fangs. OK, so there had already been a bit of craziness beforehand, but the great thing about the film is that it can take these insane segments and fit them in ever so perfectly with the rest of the story. As much fun as I had watching it, I think Amanda Donohoe must have had even way more fun filming it as the owner of a large estate looking for a virgin to sacrifice to the titular creature (she’ll even go after boy scouts). Hugh Grant and Capaldi (as Angus Flint – how great a name is that?) are having a high old time as well and it translates across to the audience.

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A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 1

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I‘m a little late in saying hello to another month of horror viewing, but it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my hands. A few of my early watches will show up on my blind spot later in the month, so I’m just now getting to this year’s first installment. I’ll watch horror anytime, but as in past years I love to pack them in during October – especially the first time viewings. Let’s start with some of the older classics..

 

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931 – Rouben Mamoulian)
It really is high time I see more films by Mamoulian…His use of moving cameras, shadows, point of view shots and quick edits not only greatly enhance the story of a man wrestling with temptation, but also rival many directors 80 years down the road. He also cuts in numerous shots of inanimate objects (statues, boiling cauldrons, burning candles, etc.) to convey emotion, suspense and foreshadowing. As an early sound picture there are still some awkward moments (and a rather disturbing pronunciation of the good doctor’s name as “Gee-kull” – though maybe I’ve been saying it wrong all these years…), but that really only underscores how impressive the rest of the picture is. A great start to my October.

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A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 7

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This guy can’t believe October is over, but I still have one more chapter left in my month’s viewing to follow…

 

Pet Sematary (1989 – Mary Lambert)
A good half of this adaptation of yet another Stephen King novel is essentially foreshadowing. You know what’s coming, you know how it’s going to happen and you know what the result is going to be, and yet it takes its time getting there…That’s mostly OK as you get a heaping helping of Fred Gwynne during the setup and those bits alerting you to what is to come are handled rather decently. After a new family moves into a house on a well-traveled road (with a single tank truck apparently driving by about 20 times a day), they discover a cemetery at the end of a path behind their house. With help from their kindly neighbour (Gwynne), they learn it’s a cemetery for pets and it dates back hundreds of years. When the family cat gets munged on the road, he lets the father in on a special secret – a bit further afield from that cemetery is another one that provides some interesting side effects to those buried there. It has its goofy bits and Denise Crosby threatens to shut the whole damn thing down on her own, but it finds its rhythms here and there and manages to hold you until the eventual denouement which spirals nicely out of control.

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Brainscan (1994 – John Flynn)
You really have to love those older films that played with the early home computers – whether they got the technology right or not, it’s always great to see how little we expected the huge revolution that was just around the corner. Brainscan gets a bit of it, though, by centering the story around a interactive, virtual reality horror video game that sucks in shy teenager Michael (played by Edward Furlong). After being unimpressed with the sales pitch, he gives the game a whirl and suddenly finds himself tasked with killing some unknown sleeping man in his bedroom. Thinking it’s all a game, he completes the task and can’t wait to play the second part since it all felt so real. And then he sees a news story depicting the murder he just committed in the game. Is it real or was it just a game? He balks at playing again, but the virtual host of the game morphs out of his TV into his room and forces him to play several more rounds with more deaths piling up each time. It’s a neat premise, but any dread or even general horror at the concept is diminished by the cartoon character Trickster (egads, what a terrible name). It does keep you in suspense as to how it will all play out and stays at a reasonable entertainment level (and provides Frank Langella as a cop on the case – so you’ve at least got that), but still very much a lesser effort.

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A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 6

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For today’s lesson…

 

The Mummy’s Hand (1940 – Christy Cabanne)
A poor cousin to the Universal Monster classic The Mummy, this short cheapie may lack in characters, story and humour (not that it doesn’t “try” to be funny), but there’s one thing that it has in spades in comparison to its older relative – an actual walking mummy. And a beady hollow-eyed one at that. Not that it makes this film any better than its parentage, but it at least helps its bland beginnings become somewhat more entertaining in the latter part. Less a horror film and more an action/adventure flick, it’s a reasonable watch and fairly inoffensive (except the attempts to be funny) as two archaeologists find a clue to the ancient Ananka’s hidden tomb. A magician who funds their trip joins them and brings along his beautiful daughter. The four of them must contend with a high priest and his zombie-like mummy who guards the grave. There’s little more to the razor thin plot, but at least it goes about its business quickly and probably provided for a bit of time-wasting fun for kids back in the day (and possibly even today if they aren’t too jaded).

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The Curse Of The Crying Woman (1963 – Rafael Baledon)
The dubbing is horrible and the DVD is a mix of grey and light grey, but this Mexican take on the “evil family curses reaching down the generations” genre is far better than you ever might imagine as director Baledon fills the movie with some memorable images and creepy scenes. Amelia is visiting her aunt by invitation for the first time in many years, but in standard horror movie fashion none of the townspeople want to go anywhere near her aunt’s mansion. Turns out they’re not so dumb, since auntie has plans for Amelia. Before the stroke of midnight on her birthday, the curse will take affect and she will help reawaken a witch from years of decomposed sleep. Amelia’s constantly cigar chomping new husband is also present and relatively useless in helping her even if he is clearly about 20 years older than she is (one can only imagine Amelia has some father complex issues to work out). It’s a breezy 74 minutes and despite some blathering about the history of the curse and maddening plot elements, it really does kinda fly by with some well deserved minor scares and, my favourite word in horror, atmosphere.

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A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 5

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Batten down the hatches and prep for battle – the horror is among us again…

 

The Hole (2009 – Joe Dante)
Part of me thought this would be a great “first” horror film for my 12 year-old. The characters are likeable, the pace is solid, the gore is minimal and the scares come from empathizing with those characters – not just from random jump scares or loud noises. Having said that, it’s pretty disturbing – both within individual key scenes and viewed as an overall concept. A hole in your basement that will bring your deepest darkest fears to life which you must face in order to survive? A hulking zombie-like father who used to beat his family regularly and still keeps track of where they move? Now there’s a film that understands something about what can scare a kid…It’s pretty entertaining too since they keep the mystery alive long enough and create some engaging moments and dialogue between the two brothers and the girl next door. And you also get Bruce Dern and Dick Miller popping up briefly to lend Dante a hand (which they do with ease). If the payoffs to the stories don’t quite hit with force or perfect accuracy, they still hit. It’s a shame this 3 year-old film never really got the wider audience it deserved. I’d even go so far as to say that I would be curious to see it in its 3-D incarnation because of Dante’s grasp of how to entertain an audience.

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Cabin In The Woods (2012 – Drew Goddard)
I guess I’ve missed the window for any real discussion of this film – since I get the feeling EVERYTHING has already been covered – but even though I greatly enjoyed it (I fall squarely on the “pro-Cabin-In-The-Woods” side of the divide), I don’t know how much I would have wanted to add to the conversation. I mean, it knows exactly what it’s doing and does so in wholly effective ways. I liked the performances across the board, felt every scene with Jenkins and Whitford was a winner and enjoyed the different uses (and meta-uses) of the horror film conventions – like the brief takes on foreign horror, the calling out of stupid decisions (“no wait, we should split up…”) and sudden changes of character to better fit stereotypes. I can certainly see complaints about it not being as clever as it thinks it is, but it sure felt at least as entertaining as it thinks it is. As a bonus, even if this were just a straight-up kids-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods horror film, it would still be a huge cut above many simply because the 5 main actors come across very well, remain interesting and even somewhat sympathetic. And can I just single out Kristen Connolly here for a second? Not just because she is incredibly attractive, but, well, she really is…

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