Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Professor Abraham Setrakian's Virulently Vampiric, Malevolently Monsteriffic Super-Strain Halloween Movie Quiz
It appears that Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog is back on track, having posted two whole movie quizes within a couple weeks of each other. Given the Six Weeks of Halloween
horror movie marathon, I'm going to tackle Professor Abraham Setrackian's horror themed quiz
first (I will do the other one after 6WH). Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth
, David Huxley
, Professor Fate
, Professor Russell Johnson
, Dr. Smith
, Professor Peabody
, Professor Severus Snape
, Professor Ed Avery
, Dr. Anton Phibes
, Sister Clodagh
, Professor Arthur Chipping
, Miss Jean Brodie
, Professor Larry Gopnick
, Professor Dewey Finn
, and Ms. Elizabeth Halsey
are also available.
1) Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet?
When I was coming up with "Obscure Horror Auteurs
" for this year's Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, one of the filmmakers I looked into was Sergio Martino
. I may still get to him at some point, but I ultimately decided against it because many of his movies just aren't conveniently available. However, like a lot of giallos, they do have worderfully catchy names, such as the Edwige Fenech led Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
(alas, seems hard to find). She has lots of other nifty titles to her filmography too, including some that I've even seen. Barbara Bouchet, on the other hand, is a little less known to me, and to be honest, Don't Torture a Duckling
is not really my favorite giallo. So Edwige Fenech it is!
2) The horror movie you will stand up for when no one else will
I feel like there are whole sub-genres I stick up for when few others will (don't forget, this is the internet, someone somewhere is standing up for nearly everything), in particular, the slasher film is treasured by us here at Kaedrin. It's horror movie comfort food, like a comfy sweater on a cold autumn day. There are many specific films I could list here, but I'll go with one of my favorites, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
Other contending slashers that few stand up for: My Bloody Valentine
, The Prowler
, and April Fool's Day
. Another much lamented sub-genre: Torture Porn. It's not really my thing, but I think people in the future will view those movies the same way we view slashers today. Finally, to take this question in another direction, one movie I'll stand up for when no one else will.... because they don't even know about it... is Detention
. It's a divisive film to start with, but no one's heard of it, and I love it to death
3) Your favorite horror novel
It's cliche to say Stephen King's The Shining
, so I think I'm going to settle for Dean Koontz's Phantoms
, followed closely by Midnight
. The major caveat here is that I haven't read any of these books in, like, 20 years, and my teenaged self didn't have quite as refined of a taste. That being said, Phantoms
is the one I'd be most interested in revisiting.
Also of note, F. Paul Wilson's The Keep
, another one I haven't read in a long time but which I remember fondly. I... should really read more horror these days. Special caveat here, if we were to include short stories, that opens things up considerably, and would probably involve some sort of Clive Barker or Richard Matheson story.
4) Lionel Atwill or George Zucco?
This one goes to Lionel Atwill by default, since I've actually seen Captain Blood
, but I can't say as though he made a major impression.
5) Name a horror film which you feel either goes "too far" or, conversely, might have been better had been bolder
is the film that leaps to mind, but then, going too far is kinda the point, I guess. It's one of those movies that prompts you to question what the hell you're doing watching such depravity, but you also have to admire its dedication and unflinching exploration of its concept.
6) Let the Right One In or Let Me In?
Hands down, Let the Right One In
. Nothing inherently wrong with Let Me In
, except the fact that it doesn't really do enough to justify remaking the original movie.
7) Favorite horror film released by American International Pictures
I will eschew the typical Poe/Corman answers and jump to The Abominable Dr. Phibes
, which has always fascinated me because of its influence within the genre.
8) Veronica Carlson or Barbara Shelley
I'm not really the biggest fan of Hammer Horror, but I tended to appreciate the Frankenstein films moreso than the Dracula ones, so Veronica Carlson it is!
9) Name the pinnacle of slasher movie kills, based on either gore quotient, level of cleverness or shock value
Fantastic Fest is this great film festival that focuses on genre fare, and they have this one event called 100 best kills
where they show clips of the best kills, as curated by a couple of weird dudes who love this stuff. They have this great A/V equipment that allows them to speed up or slow down and easily replay the kills so you can see them in all their glory. It takes like 3 hours. So to answer this question, well, I'm not going to spend that long... but I probably could. Here are some great examples. First up is an obvious one, Jack in Friday the 13th
, blatantly stolen from Mario Bava's A Bay of Blood
(aka Twitch of the Death Nerve
), but the added starpower of Kevin Bacon always keeps it relevant. Jason has a lot of great kills, actually, including a slew of other Bava-inspired ripoffs in the early films, but also the Sleeping Bag kill in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
(with a wonderful callback in Jason X
), when Jason boxes with that guy in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
and knocks his head off, death by liquid nitrogen in Jason X
, the list goes on. Also of note, from Jason's rival Freddy Kreuger, two all time classics in A Nightmare on Elm Street
, including Tina's death (interesting because she's dying in her dream, but we're watching her being thrown around like a rag doll out here in the "real" world) and Johnny Depp's death (for its improbable amount of blood; they really got a lot of use out of that rotating room rig thing). But you already know all those, right? What are the more obscure ones? Tom Savini worked on two movies with lots of great stuff, The Prowler
(the pitchfork being particularly memorable) and Maniac
(though it should be noted that Maniac's most famous kill involves a shotgun, a decidedly non-slasher implement of terror). You've got to love the raft scene in The Burning
(I particularly love the way he poses with those garden sheers, despite how pointless that pose would be in that situation) and oh, that scene where the girl accidentally skateboards into a mirror in Pieces
. I should probably stop right now before I really disturb everyone, but you know what's funny? I'm using a pretty restrictive definition of "Slasher" here, not including neo-slashers or proto-slashers (I mean, yes, of course I want to talk about the trombone with a knife attached in The Town That Dreaded Sundown
, but you have to draw the line somewhere, right. But it's a trombone with a knife attached!)
10) Dracula (1931; Tod Browning) or Dracula (1931; George Melford)?
Alas, I have not seen the Spanish-language version, so I must take a mulligan here.
11) Name a movie which may not strictly be thought of as a horror film which you think qualifies for inclusion in the category
In the interest of not always falling back on my favorite movies (but The Terminator
fits here!), I will go with Coherence
. It certainly doesn't start out that way, but as the implications of what's happening start to emerge, it gets pretty horrific.
12) The last horror movie you saw in a theater? On home video?
Last one in the theater was The Visit
, M. Night Shyamalan's attempt to clime out of the decade long hole he's been digging. It has its moments, and I have to appreciate the goofiness of the premise, but it also has some cringeworthy stuff (I thought we got over the whole isn't it funny when white people try to freestyle rap
thing, like, 20 years ago, and there are 3 goddamn scenes in this movie where a kid does horrible rap). Not a return to the promise that started his career, but at least a movie worth watching, so he's on the right trajectory.
On home video, well, I've been chronicling them pretty thoroughly of late. Last week was Dolls and Dummies
, before that was Comic Horror
week, then a mini-Henenlotter marathon
, and also some Larry Cohen
and Mario Bava
(the last three there part of a series of "Obscure Horror Auteurs"). It's been fun so far, and we're covering some new(ish) releases this weekend (stay tuned!)
13) Can you think of a horror movie that works better as a home video experience than as a theatrical one?
It is surprising how many horror movies are better, or at least different at home. Horror movies are almost always scarier at home (assuming you're playing along), but there are some that work better with audience participation. Still, I feel like most of the classics benefit from a quiet, dark home viewing. The Exorcist
comes to mind as something you don't really want to hear other people reacting to (there are probably a million others, but I'll stick with that one).
14) Brad Dourif or Robert Englund?
Robert Englund, full stop. I mean, Freddy Kreuger is almost as much his creation as Wes Craven's, and even beyond that, Englund has established himself as a sorta grand old man of the genre, instantly classing up whatever film he's in (and he's not above appearing in trashy independent fare
either, thus giving those films a nice little boost).
15) At what moment did you realize you were a horror fan? Or what caused you to realize that you weren't?
When I was younger, I was absolutely terrified of horror movies and hated even the thought of watching them. Then I went over a friend's house on Halloween to go trick 'r treating and when we got back, he put on Carpenter's Halloween
. Nothing like good old peer pressure to force you to watch something new, but lo and behold, I fell in love with the horror genre during that viewing. Since then, I've been mildly voracious when it comes to horror.
16) The Thing with Two Heads or The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant?
I have, sadly, not seen either of these movies, but at least the former has been on my radar (while I've never heard of the latter).
17) Favorite giallo or giallo moment
Blood and Black Lace
is, by far, my favorite giallo. My favorite scene is probably the one with the handbag at the fashion show. Bava makes great use of the frame in that sequence, and builds tension like the master he is.
Blood and Black Lace
18) Name a horror remake, either a character or an entire film, that you prefer over its original or more iconic incarnation. (Example: Frank Langella's Dracula/Dracula > Christopher Lee's Dracula/Dracula)
While recent remakes don't have the greatest reputation, there are a surprising number of remakes that are far superior to the original. Two examples from the 80s immediately jump to mind: The Fly
and The Thing
. A few weeks ago, The Canon podcast pit these two against each other
, claiming that only one could make it into the canon of great films. This seems like conclusive evidence that this "canon" that they are building is nigh worthless, but it's a fun episode nonetheless. However, since this is my blog, I don't feel the need to choose one over the other. They're both great and you can't make me choose.
19) Your favorite director of horror films
An impossible task, so I'm going to have to narrow the definition of horror here, such that it excludes some obvious greats like Alfred Hitchcock (who, to be fair, was more of a thriller/suspense director than straight up horror). It's still tough though. John Carpenter has two bonafide classics that are among my favorite movies of all time (Halloween
and The Thing
), but a lot of his other movies skirt away from horror. Wes Craven has several classics to his name and a more consistently horror genre filmography, but only A Nightmare on Elm Street
rises to Halloween
levels in terms of my tastes (though clearly The Last House on the Left
are influential). I'm having a hard time choosing between them, so I'll just leave it at that. Other notables: David Cronenberg, Mario Bava, Don Coscarelli, and plenty of others. I was actually trying to think of someone more modern, but there is not a huge amount to choose from. James Wan definitely heads that list, Adam Green, Ti West, and Adam Wingard all show promise as well. It's hard to tell these days, though, since so many horror directors move on to other genres rather than get pigeonholed into horror (even Wan has apparently moved on, directing Fast & Furious
movies and the like)...
20) Caroline Munro or Stephanie Beacham?
Caroline Munro is actually a name I recognize and look forward to seeing in stuff, including some of my favorite bad movies, like Slaughter High
, so let's go for it.
21) Best horror moment created specifically for TV
This is a bit of a broad question, so I'll just go with the first thing that came to mind, which was The X-Files: Home
(Season 4, episode 2). I've written about this before
, so I won't belabor the point, but it's an intensely disturbing episode that pretty much outclasses even the films in its sub-genre.
22) The Stephen King adaptation that works better as a movie than a book
The problem here is that the clearest answer is The Shawshank Redemption
, which is not a horror story. Plus, it's not like I've read all of King's books... Looking through the list, though, a couple possibilities include Misery
and maybe The Mist
. Special mention to Kubrick's The Shining
, which isn't really better than the book, but which is different enough that it carves out its own identity, allowing both novel and movie to stand as classics. That's enough of an accomplishment to warrant a mention here.
23) Name the horror movie you most want to see but to this point never have
There are a bunch of silent films that I'd like to catch up with sometime, one of which is The Phantom Carriage
. Others include Faust
and The Golem
. I smell a theme for one week during next year's Six Weeks of Halloween. In the meantime, I'll also mention the upcoming film I've not seen yet but really want to, Bone Tomahawk
. See you on Friday.
24) Andre Morell or Laurence Naismith?
Laurence Naismith, mostly because I can actually recognize him as having been in horror movies I've seen...
25) Second-favorite horror film made in the 1980s
Oy, I've already told you, I will not choose between The Fly
and The Thing
, but the answer is probably one of those. Or A Nightmare on Elm Street
. Or Evil Dead II
. Or... you know, I'll just stop now before my head explodes, a la Tom Savini.
26) Tell us about your favorite TV horror host and the program showcasing horror classics over which he/she presided/presides
The obvious choice is Elvira, but to be perfectly honest, I don't have any specific memories about horror movies when it comes to her (I have memories of, um, other things). So I will go with Joe Bob Briggs
because he sticks out in my mind the most. In part, this is because I kinda hated him the first time I saw him, but repeated late night horror viewings hosted by Briggs ended up being fun, and I warmed to the guy, who clearly has a lot of love for the genre, knows his stuff, and doesn't take himself too seriously. Also worth checking out: Zack's podcast episode
on the subject.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
6WH: Week 5 - Dolls and Dummies
It's funny how many horror sub-genres are derived from harmless entertainments of years past. Most infamously, clowns are pure nightmare fuel these days, but this week, I focused on a more goofy sub-genre, that of dolls and dummies, particularly of the ventriloquist variety. For the most part, when you see a doll or dummy on screen these days, chances are that it's being played for scares. And it's not hard to see why. Dolls often seem to occupy the same Uncanny Valley
territory that CGI characters, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and pretty much any other politician inhabit (zing!) Ventriloquist dummies, in particular, have lots of metaphorical potential - a body that must be occupied from the outside just begs to be filled with something supernatural, right? So let's take a look at some dolls and dummies:
- Chinga (The X-Files)
- The Dummy (Short)
- The Inheritance (Friday the 13th: The Series)
- Magic - This movie has the most weirdly impressive pedigree of anything I've watched for 6WH this year. Directed by Richard Attenborough, written by William Goldman, starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith, and Ed Lauter, none of whom are particularly well known for horror movies (except perhaps for Hopkins' turn as Hannibal Lecter over a decade later). While a lot of "Demonic Dummy" type stories have an element of goofy irony to them, this movie plays the whole thing completely straight, not even a trace of ironic winking. What's more, this approach actually works. Anthony Hopkins plays a talented stage magician that doesn't really have any stage presence. Cut to a year later, and he's a big star, doing Johnny Carson and talking to the networks about a series of specials. What happened? How did he turn it all around? With his ventriloquist dummy, named Fats, of course!
A shy, timid man, he gets scared of his sudden success and packs his bags to return to his hometown and visit with his old crush. Soon, though, we begin to suspect that Fats has other plans. This is a surprisingly effective movie. It's hard to really call it horror, but there are several very suspenseful, Hitchcockian sequences. Fats is suitably creepy, and the movie does an excellent job maintaining plausibility (Fats never really speaks or movies unless Hopkins is in he room with him). Things do get a little more farfetched as the film moves along, but by that point, we're wrapped up enough in the characters to give it a pass. Hopkins is excellent here, and I don't know that the movie would work without his performance. A surprisingly decent film! ***
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III: Clown Without Pity
- Buffy Season 8 (Robot Chicken)
- Child's Play (trailer)
- Bride of Chucky - I've never been a huge Child's Play/Chucky fan, but the franchise has some serious legs, and this fourth installment had a surprisingly good reception back in the day. Clearly influenced by the self-referential Scream, this film took the series in a decidedly more comedic direction than the first three films. The Chucky doll is liberated from the police evidence locker (where you get glimpses of a bunch of other horror icons and their masks and whatnot) by his former girlfriend Tiffany, played by Jennifer Tilly, who immediately sets about trying to repair and revive the "dead" doll (using a "Voodoo for Dummies" book, obviously) Tiffany and Chucky have an argument, and Chucky throws a TV (which is playing Bride of Frankenstein, obviously) into her bubble bath, then uses his own voodoo to transfer her spirit into another doll.
From there, they employ some unwitting teenagers (one of which is played by a very young Katherine Heigl) to drive them to Chucky's grave, where they can retrieve the amulet... you know what, it doesn't really matter. It's all in good fun, and Chucky/Tiffany do a good job framing out unsuspecting teen heroes. This isn't exactly deep stuff. The references are ham fisted and superficial, Jennifer Tilly's voice has always grated on me, and the whole mean-spirited black comedy bit is overplayed, and yet, it worked well enough, and somehow manages to entertain for the full running time, and it ends pretty damn strong, with the only real unexpectedly interesting tidbit in the movie. It's fun, but nothing more than that. **
- Living with Jigsaw (short)
- Sawed by the Bell (Robot Chicken)
- Annabelle (trailer)
- Dead Silence - James Wan must have something for creepy dolls. Saw employs a creepy doll, as does The Conjuring, not to mention other movies he had less involvement with, like Annabelle. Then you have this film, his follow up to Saw, a film about a man who receives a mysterious ventriloquist dummy in the mail. Shortly after that, his wife dies in suspicious circumstances. He returns to his hometown to investigate a local urban legend about a ventriloquist who gets you if you scream, and quickly starts to unravel. Wan is visually talented and that's the best part of the movie; it looks great. Lots of well constructed sequences with the dummies, some very creepy imagery, and nifty enough twists late in the story. Some of the beats are a bit tired and predictable, but there's always room for good execution in my book, and Wan certainly manages that. There's no real irony here either, but it does rely on the supernatural quite a bit, so perhaps not as effective or as metaphorical as Magic, but still a creepily entertaining sit. **1/2
There you have it. Stay tuned for a horror quiz and next week, we'll tackle some recent releases (I think).
Sunday, October 11, 2015
6WH: Week 4 - Comic Horror
It occurs to me that this year's Six Weeks of Halloween movie marathon is about as long as possible (assuming the six weeks begin on a Sunday) because Halloween falls on a Saturday this year. As such, we're just a hair over the midway point of the marathon, and after last week's batshit insanity
, I decided to go a more humorous route this week. Some genre mashups go together like ink and paper (numbers on a calculator), but balancing horror and comedy is a tricky beast that few films manage to tame. Some figure it out by accident; the fabled "so bad it's good" type of movie often runs on an engine of unintentional comedy. But intentionally mashing these genres up takes a deft touch, and even the best examples often veer hard in one direction or another. I'm hard pressed to think of two better examples than Shaun of the Dead
, but you already knew about those, didn't you? So let's troll the depths of Netflix in search of more.
- Shining (Fake Trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
- What We Do In The Shadows (trailer)
- Housebound - After a hair-brained attempt to rob an ATM machine, Kylie is sentenced to house arrest by the judge. The catch is that it's her childhood home with her step-father and frustratingly talkative mother. Also, apparently, ghosts! With the aid of the security officer who monitors her ankle-band (he is an amateur paranormal investigator, naturally), Kylie transitions from selfish punk to mildly-interested in figuring out what is going on. Apparently, house arrest is quite boring so you could argue otherwise, but Morgana O'Reilly plays Kylie with such aplomb that you can't help but fall in love with her, despite her curmudgeonly sneering and initially self-absorbed whining.
We are spared any romantic subplots, allowing that central performance to really shine through, and O'Reilly doesn't waste the opportunity. I don't want to say more about the plot, especially as it really starts to twist and turn later on, but it's quite enjoyable, with a good proportion of creepy atmosphere and just enough of that quirky New Zealand weirdness to win you over. Of the movies I watched, this one is the clear winner. Great central performance, just enough humor to carry the day, and the best use of a cheese grater ever. Recommended! ***
- The Ring Video Dating (Robot Chicken)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror: Bad Dream House
- The Hitchhiker's Guide To Murder (short)
- Out of the Dark - Stephen Chow's made a career out of genre mashups, and this early one works reasonably well for fans of the genre, even if it isn't nearly as seamless as Chow's best work (Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer are excellent and worth checking out). The Looney Tunes-like slapstick is the highlight of the film, mostly driven by our intrepid hero, played by Chow, a literal mental patient who dresses up like Leon The Professional and fancies himself a ghost hunter ever since he visited a circus and confused the paper mache monsters for the real thing.
The scenes with him training the security personnel of a haunted building are delightfully well structured and build on the humor with each variation. The romance is a little less successful, though one can't help but appreciate her pluck when she goes to visit Chow's character by dressing up like Natalie Portman in The Professional. There are one or two decently creepy moments in the film, but the balance tends to favor the more slapsticky side of things, which gives the film less coherence than you'd usually want. The plot, concerning a haunting of a high-rise, is pretty standard stuff and doesn't really hold much interest. This is a fine movie, but Chow doesn't quite hold it all together the way he managed later in his career. Worth checking out for students of the genre. **
- Tremors (trailer)
- A Ruined Nation (Robot Chicken)
- The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. (Short)
- Grabbers - An Irish monster comedy that plays into the stereotype, this one mashes up several tropes and sub-genres to get to the finish line. You've got your typical monster movie conventions, then we've got the the by-the-book cop gets assigned to a rural town and falls in love with the local whilst solving a string of mysterious murders sub-genre (yeah, that old chestnut), and then a good old-fashioned drinking film, a stereotypically Irish sub-genre. Our hero is played by Ruth Bradley, a charmingly prim and proper young woman who is partnered with the generally drunken, curly haired local cop. She looks askance at his general approach, but unlike Out of the Dark's romance, this one works reasonably well.
The monster works well too, all tentacles and goop. When it's discovered that the attacking monsters can't process alcohol and thus avoid drunk victims, our intrepid heroes endeavor to get the whole town together in the pub to tie one on. You know, for their own safety. This isn't quite as uproariously funny as you'd hope, but it's got plenty of laughs balanced out by solid monster movie execution. This isn't the sort of thing that feels the need to reinvent the wheel or to go particularly deep, but it knows what it's doing and it does it well. Definitely worth checking out, if for no other reason than to see Ruth Bradley's adorable drunken bravura. **1/2
Also of note, What We Do in the Shadows
, a movie already covered on the blog
(ever so briefly), but highly recommended and hilarious (would make a great double feature with Housebound
)! A generally successful mission in Week 4, and you know, Shaun of the Dead
are pretty much annual rewatches at this point, but you already know about them so I don't need to go over them, right? Good. Stay tuned for next week's theme, scary puppets. Or something like that.
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
6WH: Fellow Travelers
It appears I'm not the only nutbar engaging in an enthusiastic horror movie marathon and general seasonal festivities. These people are awesome, check them out:
- Six Weeks of Halloween - I can't not include the man, the myth, the legend who created the 6 weeks of halloween all by his lonesome many moons ago. It appears that his is more busy with family and professional responsibilities this year than in recent years, but he is watching all of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and he's doing a great job so far. I particularly like the little notations on "favorite sin" and "Jason's mood" etc... on each entry. Great times, as usual.
- Film Thoughts - As usual, Zach puts everyone to shame by reviewing two movies and two television episodes every day. And these aren't chinsy capsule reviews like I do, these are full fledged, detailed overviews of each and every movie, even the bad ones. There's no way I could maintain a schedule this crazy and will probably only watch about half as many movies as he does during this timeframe (somewhere on the order of 30-40, while he will probably hit 80-90). He's got a great perspective, check him out (and he's active all year round too!)
- Final Girl - Every year, she does this SHOCKtober thing, and while this year seems less interactive, she actually has been posting up a storm (despite anemic posting otherwise during the year). As always, her reviews are hilarious and even a little insightful.
- Hey Look Behind You - The usual 31 days of horror marathon here, but always good stuff, with a focus on shorts too!
- She Walks Softly - A Halloween countdown that takes a broader view and includes more than just movies, a welcome change of pace.
- Halloween Special - Nifty look at some movies and other spooky happenings and random creepiness, including a pretty detailed calendar of events. Much more organized than I am, that's for sure!
- Countdown to Halloween - And if the above doesn't satiate your appetite for Halloween goodness, check out this list of other websites doing their own thing for Halloween...
And that's all for now. Stay tuned for some general comedic horror zaniness on Sunday...
Sunday, October 04, 2015
6WH: Week 3 - Frank Henenlotter
The "Obscure Horror Auteurs" theme continues with the grossest auteur yet, Frank Henenlotter. With his trademark combination of shameless bad taste and an almost complete lack of self-restraint, Henenlotter made quite a name for himself in the 80s and early 90s, after which he became involved with Something Weird Video
, a film distributer specializing in rescuing obscure exploitation films (most notably the gory films of Herschell Gordon Lewis). He made a brief return in 2008, but has essentially remained silent since the early 90s. In terms of what he goes for, it's, uh, difficult to really encapsulate. His movies are generally set in pre-Giuliani New York, they go for sleazy melodrama, often touching on the intersection of sex and gore, and they are, of course, very low budget. I can't say as though I love his aesthetic, but it's sometimes fun to spend some time in the gutter, you know?
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VII: The Thing and I
- Horror Movie Daycare (short)
- The X-Files: Humbug
- Basket Case - As mentioned above, Henenlotter is all about the seedy New York city before it was cleaned up in the 90s, and this movie revels in that setting. A naive young man named Duane Bradley arrives in town with a wad of cash and a locked wicker basket, quickly taking up residence at the Hotel Breslin. You see, Duane was once part of a Siamese twin that was separated against his will. Now he's reunited with his deformed brother Belial (who lives in the titular basket) to take revenge upon the doctors who so rudely performed the operation. Along the way, Duane meets a woman who, er, comes between him and Belial.
This is clearly pretty silly stuff, but while there is some sense of perverse humor here, Henenlotter is mostly playing it straight. The other folks at the hotel are colorful, Belial's an amusing little monster, and Duane is weirdly, like, under-the-top naive. It's one of those so bad it's good kinda things here, which is good because it doesn't really work without that added level of ironic detachment. You really just have to go with the flow on this one. Looking for meaning in these films is probably a fool's errand, but hey, separation anxiety is a thing, so let's go with that. The ending gets to be a little on the ridiculous side and one character is unnecessarily dispatched (rumor has it that Henenlotter's crew walked out on him before filming that scene), which leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth, but then, I'm pretty sure that's what Henenlotter's going for. All that being said, this is the "tame one" of his films, so if this is too much for you, you might not want to explore more of his work. I find it impossible to rate these movies, so I'll just use question marks instead of stars: ??
- Shivers (trailer)
- Slither (trailer)
- Bad Milo (trailer)
- Brain Damage - This is probably the Platonic ideal of a Henenlotter movie. It's all here, sleazy melodrama, gross sex metaphors, perverse dark humor, psychadelic drugs, disturbing gore... This movie has it all, and while I wouldn't say restraint was involved, the elements are kinda proportional here. Brian is just your typical guy with a girlfriend and a roommate... until he unexpectedly encounters a smooth-talking, brain-eating, slug-like parasite named Aylmer.
Aylmer injects a highly addictive blue hallucinogen directly into the brain in order to control Brian, who takes Aylmer out to find unwitting victims. It's an incredibly gross movie, featuring another infamous scene in which Henenlotter's crew walked out on him (this one much more taboo than the previous instance, I must say), but there's something at the heart of this movie that kinda clicks. As mentioned above, looking for thematic heft is probably a bad idea, but this is probably a better anti-drug movie than anything kids are likely to see at school. While the budget is still microscopic, this one actually looks pretty good, with some decent shots and not wholly incompetent acting (I mean, it didn't win any Oscars, but it's a big improvement over Basket Case). The voice of Aylmer, played by famed television horror host John Zacherle, is utterly brilliant, and it's a testament to the performance that his generally evil actions don't seem to matter much. We're even treated to a quick history of Aylmer, who seems to have originated in the Fourth Crusade (though it's implied he was a lot older than that) and passed from host to host.
The ending goes to some batshit insane places (including, once again, the death of our protagonist's girlfriend - one wonders about this recurrent motif in Henenlotter's work), but the final shot is actually pretty fantastic, even if I have no idea what the hell is going on. ????
- Bride of Frankenstein (trailer)
- Frankenstein's Fiancee (Robot Chicken)
- Frankenweenie (trailer)
- Frankenhooker - Yeah, so you know pretty much exactly what you're in for just from the title alone. A mad scientist's girlfriend dies in a freak lawnmower accident, so he seeks to bring her back. The only problem is that the lawnmower did a number on her body, so he'll need to find some more viable parts to rebuild her... but he only has a short time to put all this together, so where's he going to get the parts? Yep, let's take a trip to New York and pick up some hookers. A pretty despicable premise actually, but Henenlotter's in on it this time, and the ironic ending of the film puts a nice cap on it (even if it probably doesn't actually make up for what came before). Not as balanced or gross as Brain Damage, this one leans pretty heavily on the comedic side of things. There are actually a lot of great lines here, and our mad scientist's plan to lure crack-addicted hookers to him with his "supercrack" is inspired lunacy (if, again, totally disgusting). Here's an example of some dialog:
Jeffreys Mother: Oh Jeffrey! I'm worried about you.
And another, from the news broadcaster describing the girlfriend's demise:
Jeffrey Franken: Yeah, well so am I, Ma. Something is happening to me that I just don't understand. I can't think straight anymore. Like my reasoning is all twisted and distorted, you know? I seem to be disassociating myself from reality more and more each day. I'm antisocial and becoming dangerously amoral. I've lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad. I'm scared, Ma. I mean I feel like I'm plunging headfirst into some kind of black void of sheer, utter madness.
Jeffreys Mother: You want a sandwich?
In a blaze of blood, bones, and body parts, the vivacious young girl was instantly reduced to a tossed human salad... a salad that police are still trying to gather up... a salad that was once named Elizabeth.
So yes, lots of absurdist dark humor and even one-liners here. What initially seems like a deeply misogynistic is at least somewhat mitigated by the ending, if not completely. Like I said above, looking for meaning here is probably not wise. It's fun batshit insanity, but yikes. ???
Well that was fun? Lets, uh, take a break from this whole Obscure Horror Auteurs thing and maybe go a little more lighthearted next week, shall we? I've got plans for some horror dummies and comedies, and perhaps even a currently playing post in the works. Stay tuned!
Sunday, September 27, 2015
6WH: Week 2 - Larry Cohen
Continuing with the theme of "Obscure Horror Auteurs", this week we tackle Larry Cohen. As B-Movie filmmakers go, he's pretty successful and some of his films have become well known. He made his name with some blaxploitation flicks like Black Caesar
, but pretty quickly transitioned over to more traditional genre fare like the films we're looking at today. There are a bunch of other Cohen movies worth watching that I won't cover, like The Stuff
or Q: The Winged Serpent
. In general, Cohen likes to mix his sleazy premises with social commentary and while it's not often subtle, his pet concerns do give his films a veneer of relevance that, um, keep them relevant today. Let's get started:
- Pet Sematary (trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: Time and Punishment
- It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (trailer)
- It's Alive - I don't have kids, but I'm beginning to suspect that pop culture has given me a false expectation as to how births normally go. I mean, yeah, I assume 25% of births occur in cabs on the way to the hospital, another 25% happen at the workplace, and the remaining 50% are just regular frantic rushes to the hospital during rush hour, but there's got to be more variety than that, right? On the other hand, It's Alive goes in the complete opposite direction. I've never seen a more leisurely trip than the one portrayed at the beginning of this movie. We open on the mother waking her husband to let him know it's time. They smile and share a tender moment before he yawns and walks into the closet to pick out his ensemble. What does one wear in the waiting room? I mean, all the stuff they do are sorta natural consequences of a trip to the hospital, but the lack of urgency here is notable. Anywho, once at the hospital, the father hangs out in the waiting room with a bunch of other guys as they BS on environmental catastrophes and pesticides and poison-resistant cockroaches and whatnot (no social commentary here, move it along) while the mother begins to experience... difficulties. We don't see the actual birth, but we do see the aftermath wherein it appears our intrepid heroes' baby has murdered all the doctors and nurses in the room and escaped the confines of the hospital. From here, we settle into a bout of angsty hand-wringing as the cops begin their manhunt (er, babyhunt). It appears the father has taken a hard stance on his son, namely that he's an abomination that should be destroyed at the first opportunity. Things pick up again in the third act, where our father has a sudden, Grinch-like transformation into a good father (but not before, you know, shooting his son). It's not exactly great storytelling, but it's got just enough trashy elements to be fun. If memory serves, the sequels cash in a little more on the sleaze factor (I have a distinct memory from the third movie which, come to think of it, starts with a birth in a cab, and what I remember is someone saying something like "Oh no, it's one of them!" while pulling out a gun and blasting away.) A modest effort, but maybe worth checking out for students of the genre. **
- M. Night Shyamalan's The Twist (Robot Chicken)
- The Fourth Kind (trailer)
- The Exorcist (amazing unreleased trailer)
- God Told Me To - If you thought killer mutant babies were weird, you ain't seen nothing yet. This movie starts with a sniper gunning down random pedestrians in NYC (super pleasant way to start a movie, though in all seriousness, some notion of relevance here). When asked why, the gunman simply states "God told me to..." After a spate of other, similar incidents where the perpetrator simply states that God told them to do it, our intrepid detective hero begins to put some pieces together. And then it gets really weird. Not completely batshit, but I also don't really want to ruin it. What initially seems like it could be an exploration of faith and religion goes in a completely different direction, turning towards science fiction and conspiracy thriller territory.
Some plot machinations are tough to swallow, but look at what we're watching here. Good central performance from Tony Lo Bianco (most famous for The French Connection), and some nice visual elements too. It's got all the makings of a cult classic and I can see why it has a following even to this day. Great B movie flare, and the new Blu-Ray transfer is actually a dramatic improvement over the previous DVD that I saw many moons ago. Hey, look, I mentioned this in the 6WH from 2008, though I was not quite as impressed then as I was this time around. Upgrade to: ***
- The Stuff (trailer)
- Night of the Creeps (trailer)
- White Zombies (Key and Peele)
- Maniac Cop - It turns out that I've never actually seen this one before. Maybe parts of it, but what I remember most is stuff from Maniac Cop II or III (which, to be fair, I probably never saw from start to finish either). What we have here is the Face versus the Chin. Yes, this movie stars a veritable plethora of B-movie icons, including Robert Z'Dar (aka The Face), Bruce Campbell (aka The Chin), horror icon Tom Atkins, even folks like Richard Roundtree and Sheree North pitching in.
This was only written by Larry Cohen, and it sorta represents his take on the vaunted slasher film. Most of the elements are there, except that our Maniac Cop sometimes uses a gun. Directed by William Lustig, who, come to think of it also directed a quasi-slasher movie called Maniac where the killer also uses a gun. Must be his thing. Anyway, Maniac Cop is actually a guy named Matt Cordell, an old school cop framed by corrupt police chief and mayor and sent to prison, where his admiring public gets the chance for revenge (in the shower, naturally). Declared legally dead, his body nevertheless disappeared or something (don't kid yourself, it's not that important) and now he's out to avenge his wrongful prosecution. And also, apparently, anyone who runs across his path, including innocent pedestrians and other cops. Speaking of which, Maniac Cop somehow manages to almost inadvertently frame another cop for his spree. This guy is played by Bruce Campbell, who goes about trying to clear his name and uncover Cordell's tragic origins. Robert Z'Dar is absolutely perfect in this movie, mostly because of his physicality. Lustig keeps his face pretty well hidden in shadows for most of the movie, but you know, with a face like that, all you need to see is the silhouette in order to identify him (plus, he's a big dude to start with).
Atkins and Campbell are fine, but don't really have anything to do that is as good as the roles that made them famous (except, I guess, for that scene where Atkins smiles. That's awesome.) You know what else also works for me? The theme is actually really nice. I mean, it's not going to win awards or anything, but it perfectly captures the enduring glory that is Maniac Cop. I'm only being slightly facetious, I swears! It's all in good fun, and strikes a particularly relevant chord given all the police abuse showing up in the news these days. I had a lot of fun with this, even if it isn't doing anything particularly noteworthy. **1/2
- Maniac Cop III: Badge of Silence (trailer)
- Honest Zombie (Robot Chicken)
- Hell No (fake trailer)
- Maniac Cop 2 - Bonus! Since a lot of what I remember about Maniac Cop comes from the sequels, I figured I should check at least one of them out, and this did not disappoint. Generally more of the same, only a little sleazier. Campbell, whose character has just officially been exonerated from the tragedy of the first film, is dispatched fairly quickly. His female partner in non-chrime has a better go of it, including a wonderful setup where she takes on Maniac Cop with a fucking chainsaw.
Alas, it doesn't work out quite as awesome as that sounds, and she is thus dispatched pretty quickly. In their stead, we've got two new characters; one played by Robert Davi, who I must admit, does a much better job as a brooding badass than Campbell or Atkins did in the first movie, and the other played by Claudia Christian playing a psychologist (you nerds probably remember her from Babylon 5). And this time around, Maniac Cop makes a friend! A serial killer who stalks strippers and talks way too much gives Cordell a place to stay for a while, and for some reason Maniac Cop breaks him out of prison when he finally gets caught. Or something. The plot makes no real sense, and once Davi and Christian suss out the commissioner's corruption and force him to confess in public, Cordell can rest in peace. Or something. This is getting ridiculous and the whole thing makes no sense, but like the first movie, it's a whole lot of trashy fun. **
Another common theme that emerges out of all these movies? Cohen loves a good media leak. Whether it's initiated by our heroes (both Maniac Cop
movies and God Told Me To
) or whether our hero is simply suffering from the consequences of a leak (It's Alive
), it's always there. And the consequences of the leak are always ambiguous. In Maniac Cop
, no one trusts the police and we even see one random pedestrian shoot a cop in a panic. Heck, media leaks even play a role in The Stuff
. Larry Cohen clearly has some thoughts on news media influence. I think I might just have to rent Maniac Cop III
tonight to see if the pattern holds. Anywho, stay tuned for more obscure horror auteurs next week!
Thursday, September 24, 2015
6WH: Wes Craven's Twilight Zone
These days, we tend to look askance at reboots and remakes, but it's not like it's a new thing. In the mid-80s, CBS revived the beloved 50s/60s classic Twilight Zone television series, and looking back on it now, they managed to assemble a pretty impressive amount of talent at the time, including: Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Greg Bear, Arthur C. Clarke, Joe Haldeman, Robert McCammon, Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, John Milius, Joe Dante, William Friedkin, George R.R. Martin, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, heck, even the Grateful Dead performed the new theme song. To kick the series off, they tapped Wes Craven, hot off the success of Nightmare on Elm Street
. Craven would go on to direct seven segments of the show (mostly in the first season), most of which I have not seen, so I thought it would be a fitting tribute
. Each show has two or three segments, so here's some assorted thoughts on each segment:
- Shatterday (S01E01) - The opening salvo of the new series was this character piece starring Bruce Willis in a dueling role, directed by Craven and written by Harlan Ellison (which was a big deal, given how dismissive Ellison always was about TV). It features one of the pure Twilight Zone ideas. Willis accidentally dials his own phone number, but is then surprised when... another, better version of him answers the phone. Some back-and-forth cat-and-also-cat follows, Willis doing an admirable job in both main roles. It's an introspective piece, and a bit of a departure for Craven (in fact, all of these episodes are a bit of a departure for Craven; I'm guessing he relished the opportunity to work in the spooky but bloodless realm after mastering the raw, bloody slasher or hillbilly horror sub-genres). The ending is a bit anticlimactic, but it works well enough. A good opening to the series.
- A Little Peace and Quiet (S01E01) - This second segment in the episode doesn't quite boast as much starpower, but it's Craven branching out again, this time looking at a frazzled housewife with the worst family evar (she's played by Melinda Dillon, who you may remember as the mother in A Christmas Story). They all scream at each other and her and Craven does a good job playing up the unbearable nature of her situation. All she wants is a little peace and quiet, and whilst gardening, she finds a box with a nice looking necklace on it. Later in the day, while her family is once again acting crappy, she gets fed up and screams "Shut up!" and everything freezes (er, sorta, it's clearly a bunch of actors just trying to stand still, but it works well enough). It turns out she's able to press pause on the world, then resume it whenever she wants. This comes in handy at a busy grocery story and in a few other situations, then the hammer drops with the ending. I won't spoil it here, but it's a pretty dark one, fitting for the Twilight Zone. A fitting end to the series opener...
- Wordplay (S01E02) - I should probably stop referring to these premises as very Twilight Zoney, huh? In this one a salesman (played by Robert Klein) starts to hear people substituting words for other words. For instance, suddenly people are referring to lunch as "Dinosaur". At first, it's only a couple isolated words, but by the end of the episode people are talking full on in this new style (which is weird because it's not quite gibberish... words are generally the same, they just mean different things). The ending is perfectly bittersweet, and Klein really sells it well. It's interesting to contrast a segment like this with, say, Tales from the Crypt, which almost always ends with comeuppance or darkness. The Twilight Zone can make that work when it wants, but it can also make a story like this one, with an almost uplifting ending and everything.
- Chameleon (S01E02) - Ah, well, I guess this one is less Twilight Zoney than your typical episode, so there's that. A shapeshifting alien returns with some astronauts on a shuttle mission and starts absorbing some humans. It's an interesting segment, though it doesn't really do a whole lot. Some mysterious stuff happens, and then it ends. I would have expected to like this one more than I did, but hey, they can't all be brilliant pieces of work, I guess.
- Dealer's Choice (S01E08) - Now this is the stuff! Craven directs a Murderers' Row of character actors playing cards. Included are Morgan Freeman (you know him), M. Emmet Walsh, Dan Hedaya (a little Blood Simple reunion with those two, not to mention a gazillion other movies each), Garrett Morris (of SNL fame), and Barney Martin (probably best known as Seinfeld's dad). Four friends and a strange newcomer who's having a streak of luck. In fact, his hands always hinge on having a three of a kind... three sixes each time. Yes, our intrepid heroes are playing cards with the Devil, who's very sorry he had to put on a ruse about filling in for a regular, but he just wanted to get a few hands of cards in before moving on to his next job. Oh and one of the other players is that job. A final, double or nothing bet is made over a hand of cards... dealer's choice!
This is a darkly humorous segment, perhaps my favorite so far, and it tickles one of my soft spots. I love it when larger-than-life evil is personified as a blue collar dude just doing his job, and the segment wrings a lot of humor out of this inherently goofy premise. I like the idea of the Devil really just doing his job, not being all that into it, and welcoming the opportunity to let the puny humans win one every now and again. It turns out that the Devil is actually a pretty good sport, not to mention a good loser. In fact, the Devil comes off as the most likeable character of them all.
- Her Pilgrim Soul (S01E12) - Two scientists working on a holographic system suddenly find the spirit of a woman displaying without having been programmed to appear. What follows is surprisingly tender, another example of The Twilight Zone's ability to shift gears and go with a different tone. It is perhaps overlong, and the surprises not quite as snappy as your typical segment, but yet, they are more emotionally resonant. (Also, while not directed by Craven, definitely watch the other se segment in this episode, "I of Newton", one of my all time favorites and one that obviously made an impression when I saw it as a youngster way back when...)
- The Road Less Traveled (S02E07) - A Vietnam draft dodger begins to see visions of an alternate history where he did go to war. Interesting exploration of guilt, written by George R.R. Martin (who would go on to work on some other stuff you may have heard of), and it resolves itself well, once again finding a tone not normally reserved for such stories. Not the best episode, but still an effective one.
This was a pretty good run for Craven, and as mentioned above, allowed him to branch out and try something other than gruesome slashers or Swamp Things. He would go on to work on a few other shows, but nothing of quite this caliber. I'm glad I made the effort to watch these episodes though, and will almost certainly be posting about some other episodes in the coming weeks of Halloween! RIP Wes Craven, you will be missed.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Six Weeks of Halloween 2015: Week 1 - Mario Bava-Thon
The most wonderful time of the year has rolled around, bringing with it the requisite leaf piles, mutilated pumpkins, paper skeletons, pumpkin spiced abominations, decorative corpses, "fun" cobwebs, and other oxymoronic traditions that are nominally ghastly but suddenly become socially acceptable during this season of seasons. To celebrate, I always embark on a six week long horror movie marathon
. That's like two weeks longer than most Halloween movie marathons, because we're pretty awesome, that's why.
Today we examine a trio of films from Mario Bava, the godfather of Italian horror cinema and one of the more influential visual stylists of the 20th century. Bava is famous for his Gothic works and for popularizing the Giallo sub-genre
(plus numerous pre-slashers), thus inspiring other Italian horror maestros like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Bava is the first of what I'm calling "Obscure Horror Auteurs", though he's probably the least obscure of the ones I'm tackling (then again, he's obscure enough to general audiences, I think). Others will follow in the coming weeks.
It should be noted that I've already seen a good deal of Bava's work, so the below is actually filling in some gaps, rather than an ideal collection of his films. If you're looking for a good intro to Bava, go for Blood and Black Lace
, Black Sunday
, Black Sabbath
, or A Bay of Blood
(aka Twitch of the Death Nerve). I've covered
some of these
in past Six Weeks of Halloween posts. Several of these are available to stream on Netflix, and upstart horror streaming service Shudder
recently had a big event. Check out this gif from Kill Baby, Kill
So let's get into it, here's three of Bava's lesser-known works:
- Alien (Trailer)
- Doctor Who: State of Decay (Episode)
- Alien's Acid Blood (Robot Chicken)
- Planet of the Vampires - This movie is perhaps best known as a precursor and influence on Ridley Scott and Dan O'Bannon's classic film Alien, and yes, there are definitely some similarities here. A group of astronauts find themselves on a mysterious planet and begin to turn on each other as they are influenced by mysterious forces native to the planet. The most Alien-esque sequence involves the crew investigating an old spaceship wreck (dare I call it a derelict spacecraft?), discovering the long-dead remains of a species of giant creatures who must have succumbed to the planet's spooky inhabitants.
You could also argue that some of the visuals also influenced Alien, though Bava's tone is a decidedly more pulpy, Flash Gordon style of vivid colors and ulta-low budget cheese. There the similarities end. Bava's film starts off a bit talky and the plot is minimal, but there are some neat visual flourishes, such as when a number of buried crew members rise from their hasty graves or the aforementioned trip to a derelict spacecraft.
Bava's no-budget effects, all done with lighting, miniatures and forced perspective, are pretty interesting, though some don't hold up so well. Also of note: the distinct lack of vampires. There is nothing even remotely vampiric in the film, just some sorta space ghosts. Ultimately a film that is probably only of interests to students of the genre, though perhaps some of you normals might find something to like here (Like those bitchin leather uniforms!) I had a decent enough time with it, but wasn't super impressed either. **
- Grindhouse: Don't (Fake Trailer)
- Black Sunday (Trailer)
- The Pit and the Pendulum (Trailer)
- Baron Blood - Modern-day gothic horror, a young man named Peter visits his ancestral home in Austria, a castle that once housed a sadistic Baron who was cursed to a violent death by a witch the Baron had burned at the stake. Peter has found a series of incantations amongst his family belongings and decides to read them aloud in the castle not once, but twice. The first time, he and his lady friend hear strange noises and bumps in the night, so he reads the incantation to reverse the summoning spell. But that wasn't enough, they do it again the next night, only this time he drops the paper into a fire, thus losing the ability to fight the Baron, who is now free to roam about the castle and get up to murderous mischief. Yeah, so not a particularly clever setup, but there's some gorgeous and elaborate production design here, and Bava crafts a few decently suspenseful sequences. The ending almost turns into a dark Scooby Doo episode, which I actually appreciated, though the film as a whole never really took off for me. Lesser Bava and probably my least favorite of the weekend... *1/2
- Village of the Damned (Trailer)
- Young Frankenstein (Trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV: Bart Simpson's Dracula
- Kill Baby, Kill - Now this is more like it. A more traditional gothic horror tale, this one is set in a cursed town. A doctor arrives to assist an inspector looking into several mysterious deaths. In performing an autopsy, he discovers mysterious coins placed inside the corpses. Meanwhile, a mysterious young blond girl is seen about town (often peering through windows and laughing), and the local witch is also on the case (interestingly, the local witch is actually a protagonist, and she's pretty awesome).
An altogether more successful tale than Baron Blood, this one contains some similar elements, but it is executed much better. Again with the gorgeous production design, and Bava's use of vivid colors, camera movement, and zooms are quite effective. Not really his best work, but this does seem to be one of the more underrated films in Bava's oeuvre, and worth checking out for fans of gothic horror. **1/2
That wraps up the first week. Stay tuned for another obscure horror auteur next week, the films of Larry Cohen! Also check out fellow practitioners of the six week marathon at Kernunrex Six Weeks of Halloween
and Film Thoughts
. Lots of fun stuff to come!