Occultober – Day 10 – Häxan

Häxan, aka Witchcraft Through The Ages, is a Swedish-Danish documentary made in 1922 that is super-stylized, often hysterically theatrical, and a fascinating curio of its era. Director Benjamin Christensen gives an overview on demons and witches in Medieval times, not often (to me, anyway) clear in his distinction between fact and fiction, such that Häxan feels less like a documentary (admittedly the form was young, Nanook of the North having come out in the same year) and more like a horror-fantasia. Satan and witches and other assorted demons prance around in front of the static camera with varying colour tints applied to the Black & White footage and lots of special effects which evoke the pioneer of the form, Georges Méliès. The director himself plays Satan in the film, an image and performance that is difficult to forget. (He also plays Jesus Christ and simply himself in the film.) And the film has a field day with Inquisitor torture devices and other acts of human barbarism in medieval times.

The final product is surprisingly entertaining, gruesome, grotesque, and frankly, well ahead of its time; albeit it is difficult to put yourself into the mindset of an audience, either domestic or foreign, taking it upon its initial release. However, it is certainly enough that The Criterion Collection obtained the film and did a full restoration in 2001.

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Occultober – Day 7 – The Devil’s Rain

The Devil’s Rain
There is no end to the crazy in Robert Fuest’s occult-ritual fantasy, The Devil’s Rain. It is perhaps the only film in the large run of Satanist films in the 1970s to feature ‘technical advice’ from the actual Church of Satan’s Anton LaVey. Nothing makes much sense, scenes go on, plot happens withe little connection or rhyme or reason. Even the tagline, “Heaven Help Us When The Devil’s Rain” verges on the edge, but never achieves any sense. So it goes.

Ida Lupino, the classic silver screen actress (and occasional director) plays a woman trying to hide a book of names from a Satanic priest. Her son, played by William Shatner, with all the requisite over-acting pauses and perhaps the worst cowboy hat ever put on film, instead goes hunting. It turns out to be Ernest Borgnine. They have a pow-wow about whose faith is stronger, before Borgnine carves ritual symbols on Shatner’s chest, hangs him on an upside-down cross, and then proceeds transforms into a goat-man, or were-ram if you prefer. Somehow Lupino and Shatner are now soulless, possessed, and eyeless. The weird make-up effects of Shatner-no-eyes was the basis of the Mike Myer’s mask for John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Meanwhile, Shatner’s brother, played by a young Tom Skeritt, brings his psychic girlfriend to the site where Shatner’s soul was stolen, looking for answers, and gets in a big scrum with all the local Satan worshippers (including John Travolta and Keenan Wynn) but manages to find the big bottle of souls Borgnine hides under the altar and smash it to pieces with the help of Green Acres’ Eddie Albert. What follows is a 20 minute long sequence where all the Satanists melt like hot wax, perhaps the basis for the climaxes of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gremlins, both of which managed to pull off the effect in under one-twentieth of the time. At 86 minutes, The Devil’s rain feels like twice that, and is hilariously exhausting, despite being billed as “Absolutely the most incredible, unforgettable, ending of any motion picture ever.”

In spite of me giving the plot, when you watch the film, nothing flows organically, except the quite lengthy, utterly creepy opening credits which features a great score on top of slow pans over Hieronymus Bosch prints.

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Occultober – Day 4 – Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon (1957)
Director Jacques Tourneur, who often collaborated with producer Val Lewton, delivers a very thought-heavy horror film on faith and respect of the unknown things in our universe versus stubborn skepticism. Maybe a precursor to the X-Files long before Mulder and Scully got into the game, albeit here the male-female pairing (both psychologists) are in reverse.

When the diabolical Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) summons a demon to kill a professor trying to debunk his power, the professor’s niece (Peggy Cummins) and American colleague, John Holden (Dana Andrews), are on the case to find out what happened. After a bizarre and memorable chat at a children’s Halloween party, with Karswell in clown make-up happily doing cute magic tricks for the kids, Karswell puts a curse on Holden: A demon will arrive in three days to claim his life.
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Occultober – Day 3 – The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wickerman (1973)
Not the American one with the bees, but rather the original British version with the apples.

When an uptight, very catholic, police sergeant (Edward Woodward) investigates the mysterious disappearance of a little girl on the isolated Scottish island of Summerisle, he quickly comes to suspect that she could possibly be sacrificed by the local pagans to help next years harvest.

Part musical, part pagan-wiki, part philosophical treatise on belief and morality, it remains, along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist as one of the truly iconic films of the genre. From a screenplay by Anthony Shaffer (Frenzy, Sleuth) it is barely a horror film by conventional standards. It is a bizarrely paced folksy crime procedural prone to bouts of ecclesiastical chagrin. But the ending is haunting enough to make up any lost ground. Likely the tour de force finale lead to The Wicker Man being branded “The Citizen Kane of horror films” by Cinefantastique Magazine; after its original theatrical release (the B-Side to Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now) was kind of ignored, the magazine devoted an entire issue to it.
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DVD Review: Devil’s Rock

[Please note, this film is showing as part of Fantasia 2011 but I’m reviewing a screener of the British DVD release]

Director: Paul Campion
Screenplay: Paul Finch, Paul Campion & Brett Ihaka
Producer: Leanne Saunders
Starring: Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela, Karlos Drinkwater
Year: 2011
Country: New Zealand
Duration: 83 min
BBFC Certification: 18

At first glance this looked like another crappy straight to DVD horror movie that didn’t interest me and I almost passed it on for someone else to review, but after noticing that it had been lined up to play at the Fantasia Film Festival and hearing some good things about it I actually got quite excited about checking it out. Unfortunately I set the bar a bit high and was ultimately disappointed, but it’s not all doom and gloom, the film has it’s moments. Read on and I’ll explain as best I can.

Devil’s Rock is set in the Channel Islands during World War II where two Allied commandos have snuck onto one of the islands to sabotage a gun emplacement with the ultimate goal of shifting focus from Normandy where the D-Day landings are set to happen the next morning. While carrying out their mission, the two soldiers hear some terrifying screams so, thinking the Nazi’s are torturing prisoners, they venture further into the base to come to their rescue. All is not as it seems though as they actually uncover forces much more evil than the Nazi’s themselves.

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Cinecast Episode 202 – Obviously You’re Not a Golfer


It is a cornucopia, a smörgåsbord, a veritable potpourri of cinema, as the Cinecast regulars get together with nothing on the agenda other than to talk about what they have watched, in the cinema, on the DVD and streamed from the internet or (in an exciting technology development, from the Computer Hard Drive.) Andrew continues to dig into the Foreign Language Nominees with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful. Kurt comes at Oscar a different way with the new documentary on the man with the midas touch when it comes to little gold men, Harvey Weinstein. And Gamble talks best animated film of 2011 with a preview of the flat out awesome Gore Verbinski/Nickelodeon/Industrial-Light-And-Magic Johnny Depp western, Rango. From there, we go from the occult, to Penelope Cruz DTV failures, to two vastly different takes time travel from the 1980s to Chinese shopping malls. Then it is onto Romans wandering about Scotland, Aussie crime dynasties and suburban teenage prostitution rings! It is all a part of your complete breakfast.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!



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ALTERNATIVE (no music track):

Full show notes are under the seats…
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