6WH: Speed Round and Halloween

Time flies when you’re terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. After six weeks of marathoning horror movies, there are a bunch of films that I’ve watched that I didn’t write about. Maybe because it didn’t fit in a given week’s theme, or perhaps I just didn’t have that much to say about it, or maybe I do have a lot to say about it but didn’t have the time or inclination to do so. As of right now, I’ve seen 61 movies during this Halloween season, a significant bump over recent years (I usually finish somewhere in the mid to high 40s). Part of this increase is driven by a corresponding decrease in watching horror-themed TV shows (despite several of note that I should really catch up with) and only a moderate amount of spooky reading. Another part is my continuing focus on films made before 1950 (I made a resolution to watch 50 films made before 1950 in 2018), which in the horror genre, often means watching lots of 60-75 minute long features, which are naturally easier to consume than two-hour affairs (though one of the interesting things about horror movies in general is that they are much more likely to straddle the 90 minute mark than 120). So let’s get to it, here’s a bunch of movies I watched in the last six weeks or so that I haven’t covered yet:

  • The Devil Commands – Early on in the 6WH I noticed that a whole slew of Boris Karloff mad scientist flicks were being added to Amazon Prime, so I took a flier on this one, about a scientist working with brain waves who becomes obsessed with the idea of communicating with his dead wife.
    The Devil Commands

    Neat, fun, breezy little SF thriller with some pulpy spooks thrown in for good measure. Clocking in at 65 minutes, it flows quickly and Karloff is great, as always. I ended up watching a bunch of these throughout the marathon, and they’re all similar, but really fun. (1941 – this is a 50 under 50 movie) ***

  • The Brood – I watched this during the Criterion Collection week, but didn’t cover it in that post because I’d seen it before (I mentioned it in a Speed Round 8 years ago, though I hadn’t watched it yet at that time either). It moves a little slower than remembered, but the central conceit is interesting, the, uh, broodlings are interesting little monsters, and that ending remains effective and bracing. Not Cronenberg’s best back catalog piece, but still above average. The Criterion BD is amazing, as per usual. ***
  • Operation Avalanche – More a conspiracy thriller than a horror movie, this one is a found-footage flick about four CIA agents sent undercover as a film crew at NASA. They discover some surprising things, get caught up in conspiracies, etc… Much of this is absolutely ridiculous, but it eventually brings the conspiracy to a full fever pitch, at which point it feels somewhat worthwhile. Still highly flawed, it might be worth a watch for conspiracy nuts. **
  • Pumpkinhead – This Stan Winston directed Lance Henriksen vehicle has a lot to recommend it. Great atmosphere, a cool backstory for the monster, decent effects and monster design (though it clearly falls behind other similar designs – it seems noticeably reminiscent of Giger’s Alien designs, but clearly inferior), and a generally fine execution. Not an all time classic or anything, but good Sunday afternoon fare. **1/2
  • Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings – The odd sequel that doesn’t really bring back any of the stars from the original, this one actually probably fares better for that decision than the sequels that have to shoehorn in weird ways to get the original folks back in the mix. It keeps many of the successful things from the first movie, while adding a few wrinkles of its own (I particularly enjoyed the poem that Andrew Robinson recites about Pumpkinhead, apparently a real poem that inspired the original movie but did not make it into the movie proper). Also of note: A Linnea Quigley sighting; just a bit role, but this was completely accidental and somehow lined up perfectly to her 6WH week. Ultimately more of the same, but pretty great for a sequel. **1/2
  • Satan’s Little Helper – A naive little boy makes friends with a serial killer on Halloween day, not realizing that the costumed killer is for reals. It’s more comedy than horror, which results in some tonal weirdness, but it’s probably worth it for the scene in the parking lot where they run over people with a shopping cart. There are some interesting twists at the end that nonetheless strain credulity and eventually fall flat. Not highly recommended or anything, but there’s a sorta goofy, mean-spirited charm at work here. **1/2
  • Mayhem – A virus spreads through a corporate office building, causing white collar workers to go insane and attack their coworkers. Nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times before, but a reasonably well executed version of this sorta zombie-esque corporate satire thing. **1/2
  • Deep Blue Sea – Dumb movie about smart sharks taking over an aquatic research facility. Most notable for a scene where a monologuing Samuel L. Jackson gets wrecked by a CGI shark, this certainly has its moments and a certain dumb fun feel that carries the movie, but is not particularly great. **
  • The Silence of the Lambs – A classic that I covered in depth last year, so not much else needs to be said, except that Criterion’s handsome new(ish) blu-ray release is fantastic and looks great. I may watch this yet again before the Six Weeks are over, with the commentary track on this time (though I think it’s the same disjointed commentary track from the original Criterion DVD release). ****
  • White Zombie – Rote pre-Romero zombie tale involving some dude using zombies to court love or something. Not terrible, but I didn’t really connect with it. Bela Lugosi is great though, and I regret not watching more of his stuff during these six weeks. (1932 – this is a 50 under 50 movie) **
  • The Blackcoat’s Daughter – Two girls are stuck at boarding school during Christmas break when some spooky stuff goes down. It’s an interesting story and it’s got a visual flare that works well, but it’s a bit too glacially paced, and there’s a subplot about a young girl traveling that feels a bit like a cheat in the end, though it ultimately still works. Worth a watch for fans of deliberate filmmaking. **1/2
  • Anaconda – Dumb movie about smart snakes attacking a national geographic film crew, with a totally trustworthy local snake hunter on board for mischief. Like Deep Blue Sea, there’s a sorta dumb fun component to a movie like this, but it’s ultimately nothing special. **
  • Freaks of Nature – I’ve always had this idea to do an alien invasion movie where the aliens come down and promptly get devoured by the monsters humans also fear (but know how to deal with). This movie… is not that, but it has some similarities. A town where humans, vampires, and zombies live together in “harmony” is invaded by aliens, and each faction has to get over their prejudices to fight back. Or something. It’s more of a comedic take on the premise, which isn’t great news since it’s not that funny, but it is still functional and there’s a surprising amount of talent on board. **
  • The Man They Could Not Hang – Another Boris Karloff mad scientist tale, this time concerning cryonics. When one of his patients is lost, he gets sentenced to hang, but if he can perfect the cryonics process, he can come back from the dead and get vengeance upon those who condemned him. Pretty neat little tale, and the last act seems like it could have influenced later films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes or even the Saw movies. Karloff is great, as usual, and this more villainous take on the mad scientist provides plenty of opportunity for him to monologue about science and the short sighted nature of the authorities, and it’s all great fun. (1939 – this is a 50 under 50 movie) ***
  • Before I Hang – Yet another Boris Karloff mad scientist riff (also involving a hanging!), this one presents a distinctly more mild-mannered Karloff scientist, one who is sentenced to death row for a mercy killing, but who the prison seems lenient on, to the point of allowing him to continue his experiments. Convinced he’s on the right track, but despondent at his lack of time, he tries an experimental anti-aging serum on himself, since if it doesn’t work he’ll be hanged in a few hours anyway. Naturally, the governor orders a stay of execution, and Karloff is eventually released… but his serum… changed… him. These things are starting to get repetitive, but Karloff is always great and gets lots of nice little speeches here too. (1940 – this is a 50 under 50 movie) ***
  • Mandy – Super simple revenge plot that is elevated by the trippy visual style of director Panos Cosmatos and the manic performance by Nicolas Cage. Is is definitely bloated and indulgent and I couldn’t help but think that a movie where Nic Cage forges some crazy battle axe and fights reptilian demon bikers and religious cults with chainsaws should be more enjoyable than it was, but it has a lot going for it.
    Mandy

    Plus, there’s the Cheddar Goblin, which is one of the best things in any movie all year. **1/2 (or maybe *** – I keep going back and forth with how much I like this).

  • Innocent Blood – An incredible amount of talent is assembled here for a middling vampire flick in which a bored French vampire accidentally turns a mob boss into a vampire. And “middling” might be too generous. It’s attempting to mashup vampire movies, mob movies, and comedies, but it doesn’t particularly nail any one aspect, which leaves it feeling a bit flabby. But again, lots of great “hey, it’s that guy/gal!” actors and actresses (including a teensy tiny Linnea Quigley sighting, amongst lots of other small cameos). **
  • Nightmare Sisters – Three nerdy sorority sisters (played by the 80s trinity of scream queens, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, and Brinke Stevens) have a party and invite some frat bros. During a seance, they become possessed and start killing the guys. Pure 80s sleaze, tons of nudity and gratuitous violence, it’s pretty fun, but not quite the best even amongst its peers. Worth it for 80s cheese fanatics. **
  • The Ninth Configuration – Utterly bizarre, singular story from William Peter Blatty (of Excorcist fame) about a psychologist and commanding officer being posted at some insane asylum in a literal castle. I don’t know, this movie doesn’t really make sense. It’s part comedy, part existential drama, as the psychologist and one of his patients argue about the existence of God and whether someone can commit a truly selfless act. There’s some spooky elements too, notably a nightmare that a crazy astronaut keeps having. All these components don’t really mix too well. This may be something that works better on the page than it does on film, but the movie does capture some real standout moments, particularly a scene in a bar where Stacy Keach beats up an entire bicycle gang. An A+ for originality and ambition, but it doesn’t quite live up to what it promises. A movie I admire more than I actually like, it’s probably still worth checking out for the adventurous. **1/2
  • In the Mouth of Madness – John Carpenter’s underrated movie about an insurance investigator hunting down a missing Stephen King-like author whose delirious horror stories… seem to be more reality than fiction. It’s a genuinely unusual story with lots of unsettling components. I’ve always enjoyed it, but it seems to be getting better with age and more repeated viewings. The new-ish Scream Factory release is also pretty fantastic, which helps. ***
  • Pieces – One of the more bizarre slasher films ever made, it’s kinda endlessly watchable because of it’s sheer absurdity. I’ve seen this before, but I rewatched this through The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder, who provies his usual insightful context and anecdotes. Some of the scenes still slay me – in particular the “Bastards! You Bastards! Bastaaaaards!” sequence is just astounding. A must for golden age slasher fans. ***
  • Isle of the Dead – More Karloff; he’s not a mad scientist this time, but rather a military man trapped in an island quarantine for the plague. This is one of Val Lewton’s RKO horror programmers, which are always more interesting than they might seem on the surface, though this is probably on the lower end of these types of movies. It was fine for what it was, but I preferred Karloff’s mad scientist films greatly to this one. (1945 – this is a 50 under 50 movie) **
  • Halloween (2018) – It’s fine, I guess? There are some things I really like about it, such as the reinstatement of Michael Myers as an evil force of nature, a shark, always moving, always killing, rather than just a dude who’s going after his sister or working at the behest of poorly drawn druids or a bullied redneck from a broken home. Indeed, I think it’s great that everyone in the film who is trying to get inside Michael Myers’ head and understand his motivations are summarily killed. I don’t know that it’s intentional, but it does feel almost like a commentary on all of the dumb explanations for Myers over the years (and particularly Rob Zombie’s over-explained version of the character).
    Halloween 2018

    Having three generations of Strode women fight Myers is a pretty interesting idea, but in practice it just means that none of the three get enough to do. Jamie Lee Curtis is decent enough as the PTSD prepper version of her character, Judy Greer is the counterpoint to the prepper mentality, but still feels like she doesn’t have enough to do (though she does get the one great crowd-pleasing moment of the film, so there is that), and Andi Matichak is fine, but also weirdly separated from the rest of the story (it feels like there was some stuff cut from the film perhaps? The climax feels a little loose and weird, and I expect the ending was changed in some way…) Most of the new characters are also decent, but some are eye-rollingly unnecessary (I mean, the podcasters? Really?) Will Patton’s police officer feels very at home with the series, almost like a returning character. Some of the kids are pretty good too, but the standout is Jibrail Nantambu, the young kid being babysat that steals every scene he’s in. Also, whoever wrote this is so uninformed about firearms that it makes Laurie Strode’s prepper background feel a bit stilted and unearned. It’s really weird though, because the movie is actually pretty pro gun? But when Laurie goes looking for Michael Myers inside a house and has her pick of literally any weapon, she takes a… lever-action long rifle? Without a pistol backup? But! At least we get to see Michael Myers being himself, and there are several sequences that are quite effective on that front. Unfortunately, it all feels a bit disjointed and the movie as a whole doesn’t really add up to anything beyond “typical sequel to slasher movie”. Like all the sequels to Halloween (and the remake), this one struggles in comparison to the original. That’s maybe not fair, but I dunno, I’m not the one trying to ape a near perfect film. I was not in love with it, but it’s worth a watch for fans of the series, I guess. Curious to see if the big success of this movie ignites another wave of remakes or long-gap sequels of other series. They’ve been promising another Friday the 13th for years, but somehow keep missing the boat on that. **1/2

  • The Monster Squad – This movie is so much fun and I always enjoy revisiting it during the Halloween season. Even given the resurgence of “kids on bikes” horror in recent years, this holds up pretty well. ***
  • Summer of 84 – One of the aforementioned “kids on bikes” movies that’s come out recently, this one nails the aesthetic and the interactions between the kids, but perhaps doesn’t get to the meat of the story for too long. A decent enough premise, but we’ve seen this sort of thing before and it treads water for far too long given the straightforwardness of the premise (it might be another story if there was some sort of twist or subversion of the normal take, but there really isn’t). Once it gets there, though, it’s a lot of fun. Straightforward, but well executed. ***
  • The Man with Nine Lives – Yet another Boris Karloff mad scientist tale, this time dealing with Cryonics. Wait, so does The Man They Couldn’t Hang? It’s actually remarkably similar, but hey, don’t mess with a working formula, I guess. Karloff is great as always, and the situation gets appropriately dire when needed. I’m giving all of these three stars I guess, but they do get a bit repetitive, so take it with a grain of salt. (1940 – this is a 50 under 50 movie) ***
  • Slither – James Gunn’s gross-out alien invasion flick strikes an interesting tone throughout, and I always enjoy revisiting this one too. Now that Gunn is off of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, maybe he can make another one of these goofy small films? ***
  • Flesh Feast – Veronica Lake’s final screen performance is ultimately a barely watchable garbage heap that’s almost redeemed by the delirious, absurd ending that I fortunately did not have spoiled for me (even though, for example, the IMDB plot summary completely ruins the ending). This is exactly the sort of thing that’d be ideal fodder for a remake, though it would require a lot of reworking to reduce the lame first hour of the film. *
  • Dark Angel – A movie that I always knew as “I Come in Peace” when I was growing up. It’s… not a great movie, but it is still super entertaining, and while it’s not exactly a high budget affair, they don’t skimp on the explosions, which are plentiful. A sort of last hurrah of 80s cheese that infected the early 90s action cinema. Also: great ending one-liner delivered by Dolph Lundgren. **
  • The Return of the Vampire – Another Bela Lugosi vehicle, this time basically ripping off his Dracula in all but name. The story actually has a pretty odd structure, starting just after WWI, then jumping forward to WWII for the rest of the film. Lugosi plays a vampire who was temporarily dealt with, then comes back when the German’s bomb his cemetary. Or something. It’s not terrible, but it’s super derivative and doesn’t really go anywhere special. (1943 – this is a 50 under 50 movie) **
  • Phantasm – I’ve repeatedly opined on this film’s virtues. It’s inexplicably one of my favorites, despite a lot of not so great elements. But the stuff that is good is great. Another almost annual rewatch for me, always a good time. ***
  • Vampire’s Kiss – A not so great movie that is completely justified due to Nicholas Cage’s completely unhinged performance. I definitely saw this when I was younger, but I may not have seen the entire thing, start-to-finish before. Obviously there are some standout sequences that are impossible to forget, such as the ABC rant or his chanting of “I’m a vampire”, but what I noticed the most this time is that he’s affecting some sort of bizarre accent throughout the movie that’s just crazy all by itself. It’s worth a look, if only to see Cage’s performance. **1/2
  • Halloween (1978) – Duh. The annual rewatch gets an upgrade to 4K this year, and it looks great. ****
  • Trick ‘r Treat – This has joined Halloween as an annual night-of tradition, and I don’t really get tired of it. There’s been consistent rumors of a sequel for the past five years or so, but alas nothing has materialized as of yet. ***1/2

Unlike recent years, I only watched 2 episodes from a horror themed TV show during the matathon, but for whatever reason, never really got back to them. They were both good though, and I will probably catch up with and finish Netflix/Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House and Ash vs Evil Dead… Anywho, that just about covers it for this year’s Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon. It’s been great, and I’m already thinking of ideas and themes for next year’s marathon. In the meantime, well, I’m not sure what we’ll be covering in the next few weeks, but stay tuned, I’m sure it’ll be awesome.

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