Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 439 – The Whip and the Body (1963)

June 26, 2020

I’ve been inordinately busy the last while and had to severely curtail my usual movie viewing habits to just one or two films a week so I decided to treat myself to the equivalent of a “sure thing”, a viewing of a Mario Bava film I have never seen before.

La Frusta e il Corpo has a few surprises, the first being the many alternate English titles it was released under. Mainly found as The Whip and the Body you can also find it as “The Whip and the Flesh”, “Night is the Phantom”, and, most bizarrely, titled simply as “What”. One smaller surprise is the appearance of star Christopher Lee, or should I say not his inclusion but his hairstyle. I’ve never seen him with a plain, side part cut and I actually had to take a double, even triple, take before I was satisfied it was really him I was seeing. But fans of Lee will be delighted to learn that his role is satisfyingly evil and right at home as he plays the part of Victorian era pariah in this multi-layered, dysfunctional family horror drama.

The emphasis on romance, spurned, feigned, hidden, and even violent, is evident with the seductive score from the very first few notes. Kurt (Lee), the outcast son of a elderly Count, returns to the family’s seaside castle to reclaim the entitlements he lost when he was disowned by his father. As it so happens one of the things he lost was the love of Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) recently wed to Kurt’s straight laced brother Christian (Tony Kendall).

Kurt meets up with Nevenka on the beach below the castle cliff and tries to seduce and rekindle her love for him. In doing so he viciously whips the sadomasochistic loving Nevenka as the surf crashes and her screams fade into the night. Despised and unwelcome by all, Kurt becomes the focal suspect when Nevenka fails to return that night. Not only is Kurt a scoundrel, but the very reason he was turned away in the first place was his role in the suicide death of the daughter of the Count’s servant. That girl’s memory is enshrined in a glass case containing a solitary rose and the dagger she used to commit her final deed.

Nevenka is found the following day on the beach, still alive but shaken and that night the very same dagger is used by someone to kill Kurt in his darkened room. The suspects include nearly everybody from Kurt’s dying father, his jealous brother, the servant mother of the girl who killed herself and even his brother’s mistress, his cousin Katia. But apparitions of Kurt and the fact that the dagger used to kill him inexplicably was the one encased point to a supernatural influence at play and even suspicions that Kurt is one of the ‘un-dead’.

While this is clearly a lurid tale with Bava’s signature kaleidoscopic color palette to match, the sexuality is rather surprisingly tame, relying on hints and suggestive dialogue. The films straddles being a Gothic horror and a whodunit mystery with just enough to satisfy both audiences. Many elements such as the seemingly incessant howling winds, slowly turning door handles, muddy boot prints and a swivelling fireplace work well for either genre. All in all, another solid Bava oeuvre.

My DVD from VCI Entertainment features a restored, uncut European version that includes the infamous beach scene (often censored), but oddly retains Bava’s directorial credit listed as pseudonym John M. Old and has opening credits that are a mix of English and Italian. Another peculiarity I’ve never seen before for such a short feature, a mere 88 minutes, is the film being needlessly segmented as Part One and Part Two. I’m sure there is a story behind all these weird aspects of this cut, but sadly the only Special Feature on the DVD was a commentary track by a critic and no separate interviews or featurettes.

Movie Reviews 436 – Graduation Day (1981)

May 29, 2020

If you were to believe the cover of my DVD (not the poster shown here) then Vanna White, the letter flipping goddess of night time game show Wheel of Fortune, was the star of the film Graduation Day. In actual fact, she barely makes opening credits, being literally the last person listed, which should prepare you for the fact that her role – if you can even call it that – is one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ ones. And true to form, I did miss her while watching, but more because she was so young compared to how she later looked on the show. So right out of the gate, the expected, yet clearly misguided marketing had me wondering what I was in for.

My next surprise was to see that this was a Troma production. While the name of schlockmeister producer-director extraordinaire Lloyd Kaufman was nowhere to be found, the good folks at Troma are the ones who gave us such low brow classics as The Toxic Avenger, Father’s Day and Tales from the Crapper among the dozens of other B-film delights. Now I’m not averse to watching Troma movies, on the contrary, I believe that everyone should indulge in their brand of mindless entertainment on occasion, but I just wasn’t expecting that here.

You don’t have to be a genius to infer from the title that this film is probably about a bunch of school kids that will be ceremoniously killed off, and such turns out to be exactly the case. And for all the other flags encountered in those first few minutes, I must say that I had little hope for the rest, but I trudged on.

The film begins with a group of girls running in some high school race at track meet as they are cheered on by a grandstand of students and coaches. When one girl suddenly falters mid-stride suffering from some medical emergency and then dying right on the spot, she inadvertently sets in motion a serial killer among the student body. Taking a page from the Giallos that preceded it, the film then employs a black gloved killer point of view, stopwatch in hand, for the mounting pile of teen bodies, each death being ceremonially X’ed off from a team photo.

Included in the range of suspects is the runner’s elder sister (Patch Mackenzie), a knockout military officer who comes back home to pick up her graduation award and armed with many questions even before the spree begins. Then there is her stepfather who seems more interested in any insurance proceeds. Is it the overbearing coach (Christopher George) whose drive for athletic supremacy may not only have led to the girl’s death, but also resulted in his firing? And what’s up with the sleazy, lounge lizard, toupee wearing music teacher? The principal with the switchblade collection? The spineless cranky cop? The mystery is spiced up by a string of crude, sometimes laughable, yet still fun, student demises, mostly with some sort of sport or sport equipment involved.

I have to admit that the nostalgia factor for myself was not merely tied into the fact that this was an 80’s slasher, but the entire look and feel of the school and students brought back memories of my own high school (Go JFK!), right down to the green and yellow school colors of the skin tight gym shorts and tees. Throw in retro oversized radio headphones, roller skates, a peach colored suit, and last but not least, scream queen Linnea Quigley and I was sold. While the reveal was far from a surprise (some of the kills give it away) it does end with a nice Psycho-esque ending.

So what is my rating for this movie? I’d like Vanna to reveal the letter B please!

Movie Reviews 433 – King Kong (1976)

May 8, 2020

You know the story. A ship in search of some precious resource journeys to a supposedly secret mid-ocean island, perpetually shrouded by fog. When the crew make landfall they are surprised to not only find a race of wild natives, but the natives have enclosed their village within a towering fence and sing and dance praises to simian deity. The inhabitants are captivated by the young blonde and fair skinned woman who, through some odd circumstances, arrives with the ship’s entourage. The natives kidnap the woman, tie her spread eagled to an offering altar outside the perimeter of their enclosed village, and await the mighty beast King Kong. But Kong takes a shining to the beauty. In attempting to rescue her, the ship’s contingent capture the mighty Kong, and with visions of fortunes, bring him to the Big Apple, to show their miraculous find to the world. But Kong makes his escape, and with the girl in hand makes his way to the top of the Empire State building, only to plummet to his doom.

The original 1933 King Kong created a stir at the time of it’s release largely because of the then revolutionary stop motion cinematography by Willis O’Brien and has remained a cult favorite ever since. It wasn’t until 1976 that King Kong finally got a remake by none other than the flamboyant Italian Dino De laurentiis. The producer, known to be somewhat of a sensationalist with movies like Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik, also produced a vast number of mainstream movies after starting his career with Fellini films. Never shying away from thinking “Big” this King Kong would be different while still adhering to the conventional story.

Most notably this film substituted the then newly opened World Trade Center twin towers as substitutes for the Empire State building, a fact prominently featured in the magnificent John Berkley porter art – despite the highly exaggerated proportions added for appeal. When it came to production and the depiction of Kong himself, the big question was of course which type of technology would bring the gargantuan ape to life. Costuming and practical effects had come a long way since the original and so for the vast majority of the shots a costume developed by Rick Baker and Carlo Rimbaldi was used with Baker himself donning the suit despite not being pleased with the final product. While the evident man-in-a-suit is certainly a detraction at times, they compensated with a number of clever superimposed live action foregrounds and backgrounds and innovative angles. Some animatronics were used such as the mandatory ‘giant hand’ gripping our shrieking heroine (Jessica Lange in her first film gig), and even some embedded within the suit to better articulate facial gestures.

In this remake, made at the tail end of the 70’s energy crisis, the original mission of the ship is a search for a hidden oil reserve by a corporate climber (Charles Grodin) working for the Petrox corporation. Desperately needing a boost to his boardroom ambitions, he relies on a geologist’s (René Auberjonois) satellite research of the island whose very existence only recently came to light. Their plans are thwarted by Jack, a stowaway paleontologist (Jeff Bridges, unshaven here and nearly as scruffy as Kong) who is convinced that some huge animal is living on the island. The damsel-in-distress, a wannabe movie starlet, arrives via a mid-ocean drifting dinghy and immediately takes a shine to Jack to complete the eventual interspecies love triangle.

This film is a bit of hodgepodge in that while we do get the thrills of seeing a decent (but sometimes flawed) Kong, you really do have to put your brain aside to enjoy it and even then there are moments you just can’t help groaning. There is so much of an attempt to focus on Lange’s beauty that we have to accept that she arrives wearing a spotless, pristine black evening dress after being adrift for who knows how long. Her on-ship wardrobe thereafter is supposedly cobbled up from sewn sailor threads, but inexplicably that ends up being a pair of skimpy, snug denim hot pants. Kong’s handling of her includes an exhale breath blow dry after her taking a waterfall shower (think wet T-shirt contest) and literally stripping her at one point. Making matters worse is her ditsy horoscope revelations that include her “Crossing water and meeting the biggest person in my life”. So sexual is her presence in the film that she even has a silly line about how she was saved by Deep Throat. (Dig into the history of pornography to understand that one kids. Skip the Watergate references.)

On the positive side this was a successful showcase for the World Trade Center, now of course ingrained in all of us after the events of 9/11. Watching the ads for this film back then was the first time I became personally aware of the towers as I must have missed news of the plans to change the Manhattan skyline with them earlier. I love how the film cleverly integrated them by having Kong associate the towers with the two restraining poles of the sacrificial altar back on the island. On my visits to the towers in years before 9/11 I would always think of King Kong while standing on the observatory floors.

One last comment on this King Kong is that when the beast comes to his eventual demise, it is presented in a very shocking and bloody end. Given the fate of those towers it stands as a startlingly prescient moment.

Movie Reviews 432 – Evil bong (2006)

May 1, 2020

I’m a huge fan of B-movie producer, director and writer Charles Band and the many films he created with his mini-empire of companies, the most notable being Full Moon Features.  For those who aren’t familiar with his low budget movies – over 300 films and still going strong – he has a tendency to revisit titles that gain traction, creating such series’ as Subspecies, Trancers, Demonic Toys, and my favorite by far, the many Puppet Master films (the first six films in the series I reviewed here and here).

Now with Evil Bong I had no idea what I was in for other than what the title offered and as it was in one of those multiple film horror boxes (8 films on two disks, half being Band films) I did not even have a decent cover photo to rely on. But the title pretty much says it and as the title credits rolled to the tune of a Rasta-like score, the cast of unknowns ended with none other than the godfather of ganja himself, Tommy Chong so I knew I was in for a good, if not high, time.

A pointdexterish dweeb answering an ad to share an apartment ends up living with three airheads: a surfer dude, a jock, and disinherited wealthy washout. When one of the doobie boys comes across an ad in High Times magazine for a vintage, reputedly haunted bong he responds to the ad while dismissing the seller’s unusual warning. When said bong arrives it is an intricately decorative piece with a nondescript inlaid female face, but the boys are more interested in lighting her up than heeding any caution.

The surfer dude is the first to succumb to the bong’s trance, fiendishly smoking the skunk until his essence is spirited away to some mystical dimension strip joint! But the gals there give him more than a show and he soon succumbs to them, his body dying in real life back in the pad. As the other boys try to hide the body, they too soon fall prey to the bong’s life sucking aura, as the bong begins developing facial features and world domination ambitions. Their only hope lies with a stoner former owner of the bong (Chong) to destroy it.

While not as imbued with a more intricate plot as is found in most earlier Band productions, it nevertheless does contain some of his staples, notably some animatronic puppetry and buxom babes. As one can imagine there are plenty of corny dopey scenes (aside from the actual dope) including a variety of ‘killer’ bikini tops in the dreamlike strip joint that are used as the coup-de-grace killing of the victims.

While the film is funny at times I will be honest and say that given the subject matter, which I felt would provide plenty of fodder for laughs, I felt it wasn’t as imaginative as I had hoped. Chong is well Chong, but minor roles by talents Bill Mosely and Phil Fondacaro are wasted here.

I was in a good enough mood to watch the entire end credits which surprisingly contained a trailer for the sequel Evil Bong 2: King Bong which honestly looked more interesting. And like so many other Band films, Evil Bong has developed into an entire series, eight to be exact (at least so far) if you count the Gingerbread Man Vs. Evil Bong crossover. Enough to satiate any craving and give you the munchies.

Movie Reviews 431 – The Invisible Man (1933)

April 23, 2020

Even with the limited availability to horror entertainment I had as a kid (in the form of a few comics, some hand-me-down Famous Monsters magazines, newspapers and two black and white TV channels), aside from Godzilla or King Kong, the monsters that gave me prepubescent hard-ons were undoubtedly the Universal studio monsters. But even among those classics there were the top triumvirate of stars, Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman, and then there were what I consider the second tier in The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And last, but certainly not least there was The Invisible Man.

I’m not quite sure why The Invisible Man always got the short end of the stick when it came to popularity but I would assume that part of the reason was that it becomes a lot trickier trying to market something that you can’t even see. And that’s a shame because it does have a lot going for it.

Claude Rains is no Karloff or Lugosi when it comes to horror film repertoire, but as a mainstream actor his credentials are unquestionable being four time Oscar nominee of many classic films. Oddly enough he was cast here in this starring role, his first American film, solely for his voice, and as you listen to him in the film, you can understand why. Directed by Frankenstein director James Whale, The film was based on the HG Wells novel, but because Wells was unhappy with his adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau (filmed as The Island of Lost Souls) he was able to secure control over the script so it is fairly faithful to the source.

The central special effects, not merely makeup and prosthetics, which features a live and moving actor with seemingly invisible portions of his exposed body, required intricate filming techniques and is still remarkably effective today. No shortcuts are taken either as we not only witness articles of clothing coming on and off, but also the removal of rolls of bandages covering his head when not fully invisible. Of course there are also a few gimmick shots like a self propelled bicycle and others.

The mostly serious dramatic approach to the plot has a few well placed and timed comical sequences (shrieks really) highlighted by booze nipping character actress Una O’Connor and some Keystone Cops bungling. The plot, simple enough, is about a scientist who achieves a breakthrough in his research to develop an invisibility agent, but with the unfortunate side effect that it slowly turns him mad (a recurring theme that will remain prevalent in the sequels) and soon has him dreaming of world domination while at the same time seeking a cure to regain opacity – at least at first. His descent into insanity is peppered with maniacal laughs and by the end devolves into power crazed monologues.

My DVD box set from the Universal Monsters Legacy set included the four sequels including The Invisible Man Returns starring Vincent Price in the title role, but who much like Rains in the original we only get a glimpse of him at the very end. The third instalment takes quite a turn in more than one way. The Invisible Woman not only opted for a different perspective in gender, but went out for all comedy in a Three Stooges manner. I’m not kidding as Shemp Howard, the sometime Stooge when the original Curly died, has a minor role in this one. As a comedy you could do worse but it’s too jarring a change to really fit in with the series. It took World War II and patriotism to bring out The Invisible Agent in which the original Invisible man’s grandson disrobes to help the allies’ effort. This marked a return to a serious (if cliché) plot of Nazi maneuvering to get the invisibility serum and Peter Lorre as a Japanese foil. The last of the original series was The Invisible Man’s Revenge, easily the most inferior of the series, presenting a psychotic man who has been wronged by friends and seeking revenge with invisibility bestowed by a scientist. The only redeemable character is the scientist played by John Carradine. This box set also included Now You See Him, a great documentary on the making of the film, somewhat explaining how some of the effects were achieved, as well as some discussion on the sequels.

This film is a horror classic that, counter to the implication of the title, offers a lot more than the eye can see. Well worth a watch.

Movie Reviews 428 – Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

March 14, 2020

Historic Hammer studios became synonymous with horror for their prolific and highly successful Gothic films of that genre. But they also dabbled in a number of other categories – having roots in Film Noir no less – including science fiction, the most famous of those being their series of Dr. Quatermass films. Not surprisingly those films, based on the character of renowned scientist Dr. Bernard Quatermass, can fairly be called horror films with science fiction bases. Quatermass and the Pit, the third film in the series and the last one released theatrically, is considered by many – myself included – to be the best of the lot. As was the case for the previous Quatermass films (more on those later), the North American distribution removed the Quatermass name from the title, releasing it as Five Million Years to Earth.

Our story begins with a construction crew digging out a projected new subway station (or “Tube” as the locals now call it) in the heart of London. When they come across a few strange looking humanoid skeletal remains anthropologist Dr. Roney (James Donald) and his assistant Barbara (Barbara Shelley) are called in to assist with the removal and study of the specimens. With  commotion building over the controversial find due to their enlarged skulls, an on-site press conference is televised as the digging continues until workers encounter another metallic artifact.

Believing this to be some unexploded WWII ordnance (some of which still come up on occasion today) they call in the military expertise of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) who at that very moment happened to be shooting down a pet project of Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Keir) in a ministers office. Despite Breen’s insistence that the metal is merely some old war relic the new find turns out to be impervious spaceship. As that investigation continues, Barbara and Quatermass research the history of the area which is found to have incurred sporadic outbursts of demonic visions by the residents through the ages.

A breakthrough is achieved when portions of the inner ship turns into a crystalline form and they recover three giant locust looking, decaying alien bodies. But there are no other clues other than some of those people working on or near the digs having visions and exhibiting loss of self control. Quatermass and Roney team up to use a state-of-the-art brain scanning apparatus wherein they are able to record a long ago war that was wagged on Mars. The significance of the find is shocking enough when they put all the pieces together, until they realize the sobering truth that the war is still ongoing.

While the film delivers thrills in many ways, some of the plot elements will induce head scratching unless a wide berth from any critical thinking. The special effects, while primitive and cheap, are at times impressive such as when the spaceship goes aglow with veined luminescence only to falter ineptly when showing obviously strung together ‘marching’ armies of aliens. And the high strung climax featuring mad mobs and high drama is idiotically resolved by basic electrical concept. And yet, this film manages to capture my imagination every time I watch it. The designs are daring even if they don’t live up to expectations. The grandiose meaning of the find and subsequent revelations are huge, even when they succumb to a mediocre resolution. If nothing else, you savour the best parts and thus can ignore the fragile framework.

For those who desire a greater taste of Quatermass, track down The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2 (respectively released as The Creeping Unknown and Enemy From Space for North American markets). Also keep in mind that these first three films were preceded by BBC serial teledramas which, while rarer, can be found on digital media. A fourth Quatermass TV film simply titled Quatermass was made in 1974, and another in 2005 but I have yet to see those, so you may want to check out other reviews first.

All based on Nigel Kneal original writing, I’d also recommend readers to seek out the published versions of the original scripts.

Movie Reviews 426 – Shock Waves (1977)

February 27, 2020

As a teenager flipping channels in the wee hours looking for a ‘late-nite’ movie back in the 70’s, (not too many channels to flip through in those days mind you) my remote ‘clicker’ stopped the moment my eyes laid upon a squadron of ashen faced Nazi SS officers synchronously emerging from the still waters of a river. I knew right away that my channel flipping had come to and end for the night, such was the immediate allure to watching Shock Waves.

And up until a little over a week ago when the title appeared a horror movie buy/sell/trade forum I could not recall hearing anything about this title in all those years, but I jumped at the chance to watch it again. If finally getting the DVD in my hands wasn’t a happy enough moment imagine my surprise seeing none other than Peter Cushing and John Carradine as featured stars on the cover. While thrilled, the inclusion of Cushing in particular dumbfounded me as I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in acumen from his days at Hammer, Amicus, AIP and other studios. While odd that I could not remember seeing him in this film, it was so long ago I did not remember anything plot wise. But why had I not come across this title in features and articles discussing those studios? Why had I not in fact heard really anything about this film all those years?

The answer lay in the opening credits which indicated that this was a “Zopix” production, which as it turns out was a company created by the young producers whose only feature film was this single film. Unfortunately, this explains a lot about the quality of the production and the ultimate fate of the film.

You can almost queue the Gilligan’s Island TV show theme as a small chartered boat with a few vacationers touring islands are suddenly caught up in a storm that messes up their navigation and communications, setting them on an uncharted course. The next morning they find themselves next to a hulking, rotting WWII wreck of a ship offshore a small island. With the captain (Carradine) nowhere to be found, they shuffle off to the island only to see his dead body slink across their rowboat’s glass bottomed portal. Once on the island the only signs of civilization they find is a dilapidated and deserted hotel. Rounded up by a blaring phonograph in a hallway they can briefly see an elderly man (Cushing) above them who only warns them to leave before disappearing.

The group then sporadically spot and are attacked by zombie SS men lurking in the jungle foliage and beaches. Eventually they corner the man that turns out to be the former SS commander of The Death Core, experimental super soldiers who turned on their own creator, now haunting him along with the castaways. Their only hope is a dinghy the commander pleaded with them to escape in.

While the motley group includes young Rose (Brooke Adams), handy young crewman Keith (Luke Halpin), a pretentious man and his wife, a mangy drunken cook, and a sporty claustrophobe, overall there isn’t much for them to do other than scamper and die. What tension there is only comes when the goggled and golden haired Nazis are pouncing on them but after a while even that gets repetitive. But Carradine and scared faced Cushing have all too brief roles and are a far cry from their meatier memorable performances.

Disappointed by the film itself, I was hoping that my Blue Underground DVD (reputedly made from one of the producers personal prints as the original negatives have been lost) would contain interviews and other special features that would delve in the making of the film, but I was once again frustrated with only a brief interview Halpin interview.

Sometimes films don’t live up to one’s memories. Shock Waves is borderline satisfactory from a nostalgic point of view, the few moments with Cushing and Carradine, and of course the iconic Nazi scenes. But from a story, script, production point of view all I can say is “Ich war enttäuscht”.

January Movie Marathon – 2020 Edition

January 24, 2020

Time for my annual 31 Movies in 31 Days challenge that I’m glad to report was successful with one caveat. In past years these were January challenges where the movies had to be watched during the month alone. Suspecting that I would be a bit busier this year I cheated a bit by shifting the challenge to begin Christmas day,and gave myself 31 days from that point, so ending January 24th (today!), which also made more sense given that those interim days between Christmas and New Years are really prime relaxing viewing days. My suspicions were correct and even with the shift I just made my quota!

Unlike previous years where my movie viewing was across the gamut of genres and eras, my son and I decided to binge rewatch all the Harry Potter movies so the scale is slightly tipped in favour of those eight movies. But I think the others films preent are a nice variety regarding content and quality. In the order in which I watched them, here are my short reviews.

#1 – Dead Snow (2009) My second viewing of this Norwegian Nazi Zombie film was not as memorable as the first time I watched it at the Fantasia film fest years ago. A bunch of young adults shack up in a remote cabin for a few days of skiing the slopes when (surprise!) World War II era SS troops led by recalcitrant commandant disturb their snow bound vacation. Some fairly funny bits and I did love the Nazis popping out of the snow like Whack-a-Moles at and arcade.

#2 – The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)  As are all the Roger Corman Poe adaptations, this one is a very loose interpretation of the source material. But with Vincent Price and Barbara Steele headlining you really can’t go wrong. And damned if there really isn’t a pit and a giant human slicing pendulum in it and other interesting devices in a torture chamber.

#3 – Christmas with the Kranks (2004) Well I had to watch at least one Holiday film for this list, didn’t I? Sadly, there are a lot better than this one. Even Jamie Lee Curtis as the wife of a couple who decided to forego Christmas for a cruise couldn’t really raise my interest above “Meh.” Should have gone with other Christman movie standards like Die Hard, Gremlins, (Yes, those last two are Christmas movies!), A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life. I guess you could say this one left me Kranky.

#4 – Mommie Dearest (1981) The legacy of silver screen diva Joan Crawford is not so much her films as the events described in the tell-all book “Mommie Dearest” (adapted here) by her daughter after her death in which she revealed that her troubled childhood included beatings with coat hangers. It made headlines at the time and I can’t get it out of my mind that arch enemy Bette Davis must have loved every minute of it. Faye Dunaway nails it as Joan. (Disclaimer: No Nails were used in the beating of the children.)

#5 – Ransom (1996) Mel Gibson turns the cards on Gary Sinise, his son’s kidnapper by putting a ransom on his head rather than paying one, much to the surprise of his own wife (Rene Russo). A decent thriller although Mel is over the top at times as is the entire premise. Much better Gibson/Russo chemistry in Lethal Weapon 3 and Gibson is crazier in that one as well.

#6 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) It’s been a long time since I watched the Harry Potter series. The first movie about the boy wizard, introduces us to Hogwarts, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Snape, McGonagall, those other meddling kids (Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley), a few muggles and not to forget: Quidditch!

#7 – The Night Strangler (1973) This was the second Kolchak TV movie before the The Night Stalker TV series. (I already watched The Night Strangler  pilot movie which started it all a month earlier). l Always wanted to watch the proto-X Files series and I’m finally getting around now 47 years later.  This one has Kolchak (Darrin McGavin) being aided by an exotic dancer (Jo Ann Pflug) solve the mystery of a recurring murderer popping up every few decades since the civil war.

#8 – Harry Potter and the Secret Chamber (2002) Harry, with the help of Ron, Hermione, Dobby the elf, Moaning Myrtle (not a porn star as you would be led to believe), and a book previously owned by Voldemont himself rescue Ron’s sister from the titular chamber. And of course more Quidditch!

#9 – Halloween (2019) I was very excited to hear that there would be another Halloween reboot after the dismal last entry in Rob Zombie’s reboot. The fact that Jamie Lee Curtis was returning in her original role sealed the deal. Now I have to admit that this was not as good as I had hoped and the slow, predictable start nearly had me give up on it entirely but stick with it to the end, bear some of the sillier aspects, and it does carve out a place for itself in the Halloween pantheon. At least it’s a lot better than some of the others.

#10 – The Rock (1996) When a bunch of uber-patriot elite Marines feel slighted by their country they take over Alcatraz and threaten to launch missiles they’ve set up on the isle of the former prison. Without any accurate blueprints and layout of the compound they ask a current convict Sean Connery who is also being screwed over to help.The plot is as convincing as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but it’s Bad-Ass Connery so who cares?

#11 – Godzilla VS. Hedorah (1971) Read review here.

#12 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Someone is out to kill Harry, Ron’s rat escapes, and there’s a werewolf. If nothing else, this was an excuse to get Gary Oldman into the storyline. And there’s a game of Quidditch against a team with the unlikely name of Hufflepuff.

#13 – The Thirteenth Floor (1999) Twists and turns galore as character’s jack-into a 1930’s virtual world with mols, cops, murder and mystery. Sure the effects are dated (even for that time) but this is all about plot and plotting and the truth is a doozy!

#14 – Red Eye (2005) Nearly the entire film takes place within the confines of an airplane as a hotel manager is coerced by a terrorist (Cillian Murphy) to make particular arrangements for a special guest.

#15 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) Not just any Quidditch but nothing less than the World Cup of Quidditch. And then a Tri-Wizard tournament! Sounds like a lot of fun except for that Voldemort dude killing folks.

#16 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) Harry Potter gets expelled from Hogwarts! Actually one of the better films in the series but (egads!) no Quidditch! Includes one of the most wasted character names in cinematic history: Nymphadora Tonks. Nuff said.

#17 – The Purge (2013) The Purge series of films set in a not too distant future America in which once a year, for 24 hours, people can kill one another to ‘purge’ pent up frustration (the thinking being that it’s somehow better in the long term). This first movie has an upper scale family being safely locked in their home until one of the kids decides to ‘save’ a stranger being hunted. But the stranger ends up being the least of their problems.

#18 – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009) The ‘blood’ in the title must be indicative of the many fluids in the plot including love potions, poison, liquid luck, and mead. My least favorite of the series and more a setup for the ending in the next installment.

#19 – Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) Read review here.

#20 – First Strike (1996) Jackie Chan dishes out his usual “Chan-anigans” as a Hong Kong cop helping the CIA nab an arms dealer in Australia and meeting up with some Russians. I think they were going for International appeal.

#21 – The House that Dripped Blood (1971) Read review here

#22 – Dead Reckoning (1947) Humphrey Bogart has to track down his best friend and fellow former paratrooper after he ditches at a train stop just before the to are set to receive prestigious war medals in Washington. Following a byzantine set of clues (including a false name to begin with) he finds that his buddy was an accused murder on the run. But why did he suddenly go back to the scene of the crime and them seem to disappear altogether. Bogey has to rely on his buddy’s former gal (Lizbeth Scott) but can he even trust her? (prosecution witness?)

#23 – Duck Soup (1933) You can never go wrong with The Marx Brothers’ vaudevillian humour. Between Groucho’s fire-a-minute witty one liners, Harpo’s voiceless antics, and Chico’s accented haggling and scheming, who needs a plot? But if things like that are important to you, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is sworn in as the new leader of Freedonia to remedy their cash shortage, while his brothers are bumbling infiltrators sent in from a rival country hoping to start a war. I won’t mention Zeppo.

#24 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) Harry and his friends ‘jump the shark’ with this entry in the series. What began as a fun, interesting saga with great characters has transgressed into a dark, repetitive here as they set up the finale in Part 2. And not even one damn Quidditch game (although a Snitch figures prominently in the plot).

#25 – Romeo Is Bleeding (1993) A greedy cop (Gary Oldman) earns a little extra side income by tipping off the mob on informant hideout information but things start to go wrong when they take out an informant about to spill their secrets but also take a few cops with them in their assault. Not only can he not back out of their little deal, but he is now being forced to take out one of those informants on his own. But Mona (Lena Olin) is no mere informant, but a mob hitwoman who took out the previous informant and a roomful of cops. Intense, action packed, saucy and sentimental.

#26 – Forbidden Planet (1956) Read review next week here!

#27 – The Money Pit (1986) Mid-eighties rom-com where a young couple (Shelley Long and Tom Hanks) are suddenly in need of a place to stay and chance upon a mansion that needs a little work but is surprisingly within their limited means. But as all “too good to be true” parables their fortunate find ends up putting a strain on their relationship as their dream house begins to crumble before their very eyes. Corny but fun.

#28 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) I must admit that my disappointment with part one of this finale was fully redeemed with this satisfying ending. All the questions, some looming since the very beginning, are answered here although not always to fan’s hopes. Which is as is should be. My one complaint was that a lot of scenes seemed to be pilfered directly from other blockbusters including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. How many times must we see hordes of evil creatures descending on an isolated hamlet backstopping the forces of good? How many times must we see the two most powerful characters, good vs evil, deploy mystical weapons against each other, streaming in mid air (conveniently in different colors), to determine which is stronger?

#29 – Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935) One of nearly fifty movies featuring the illustrious pulp-era Chinese sleuth (the first few being silent era films and many of the others now lost). Hard to believe that it’s been nearly 40 years since the last, loosely based on a real life Hawaiian detective of Chinese descent. Scored ten DVDs last week so I’ll be enjoying a few more. This one even has Stepin Fetchit who only adds to negative stereotypes depicted in these films. (The DVDs even include a warning lest some be offended.)

#30 – Watching the Detectives (2007) Not the Elvis Costello song but a film about a versed film buff (Cillian Murphy) who owns and runs a low key video rental store whose life gets turned around when he meets quirky Violet (Lucy Liu) who lives her life on the edge, moment by moment while playing sophisticated, agonizing pranks on him. Some pacing irritants but the characters make up for it. I must confess that I just loved all the movie references bantered between all the video store employees although the message of the film is to abandon viewing and start to live instead. Disingenuous as had I done that I wouldn’t have watched this film.

#31 – Fury (1936) This was Fritz Lang’s first American film after escaping an increasingly Nazi led Germany. Spencer Tracy is a hardworking, honest man saving every penny so that he can get married to the love of his life. But life throws him a curveball just as he has finally saved up enough and is on his way to meet his fiance when he is thrown in jail suspected of being a member of a group of kidnappers that have taken a child. As word of the capture spreads across the grapevine, the overzealous townsfolk have made up their mind and storm the jailhouse which is soon engulfed in flames. Miraculously managing to escape the inferno, the innocent man, now out for blood himself, decides to lay low as a number of the lynch mob are put on trial for his murder having established that they had the wrong man. Great suspense and pathos.

Movie Reviews 422 – The House that Dripped Blood (1970)

January 17, 2020

My love for The House that Dripped Blood began long before I saw the film. While there have been many horror films for which my adoration started from reading horror magazines as a kid, in this case it was not because of any article but rather the use of the gorier portion of movie poster (just look at it!) as part of the cover of the september 1971 issue (#86) of Famous Monsters. (Ironically not one of the countless acclaimed Basil Gogos painted covers for that magazine.)

While esteemed Hammer studios produced the bulk of the British horrors of the sixties and seventies, the smaller Amicus Productions who copied Hammer’s Bosoms and Blood formula were known for producing anthology films comprised of three or four self contained stories with a “wrapper” story that tied them all together. (Another fine anthology example being Black Sabbath).

Aside from the beautifully graphic gory poster (surprisingly actually relevant to one of the stories) this film stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – horror royalty if there ever was – Jon Pertwee (best known as the third doctor in the Doctor Who TV series) and if that weren’t enough, scream queen Ingrid Pitt. I don’t think I would be alone in stating that in this case the house itself – with or without the blood – can be considered a character. While plain looking on the outside, the interior is full of old portraits, statuary, and beautiful ornate carvings. Just the perfect digs for a horror setting.

Famous Monsters issue #86, September 1971

Every one of the four segments in this anthology with styles range from dead serious to mildly amusing are solid stories.

In the first, a horror novelist and his wife rent the house for a short period so that he can finish his latest book. But almost as soon as they settle in the husband begins having apparitions of an ashen faced, gnarly smiling man both in and around the house. While he believes a character from the very book he is writing is the haunting entity, his wife cannot see this man. In the end, there is not one but two delicious twists to the story.

Next is the story of a recently retired stockbroker (Cushing) that buys the house hoping to relax in his golden years, reminiscing memories of some young past lover. As he strolls through the nearby town one afternoon he is enticed by a wax museum that catches his eye. Inside he is shocked when he comes across a ghastly exhibit of a woman holding a platter with a man’s severed head upon it. The troubling aspect is not the horror of the display but the fact that the woman depicted is clearly the woman whose memory he romanticizes.  When an old friend visits him they suffer the same shocking reaction to waxen woman. The woman is one they both loved at some point and both men feel compelled to return to the display. But the man is unable to convince his friend that going back can only lead to some heinous resolution. He was right on that point.

The story starring Christophe Lee has him moving into the house as a single parent to a very young girl. The live in tutor he hires for the daughter notices both his disassociation with the child and a number of strict odd rules he imposes including that she have absolutely no dolls. It turns out he had every good reason for those rules. Too bad the tutor did not know the real reasons before it was too late.

The last segment hilariously depicts Pertwee as conceited old horror actor making yet another vampire film with one of his usual vivacious co-stars (Pitt). Flouting his knowledge of horror and vampires, he purchases a cloak from an antique shop to be used in the film. Not only does the cloak have a surprise for him but so does his co-star. There one particularly clever line where Pertwee brags about his illustrious career playing Dracula while putting down “this new fellow”, clearly a comical reference to Christopher Lee who was at the time the de facto reigning Dracula at Hammer.

Cast aside, genre fans will immediately note the name in the credits of former pulp writer Robert Bloch, best known for penning the original Psycho novel, but who’s talents garnered him Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards.

While my heart will always be with Hammer when it comes to Gothic horror, films like this remind me that other studios like Amicus are good for an occasional bloody drip as well.

Movie Reviews 417 – Nightmare Beach (1988)

December 13, 2019

Nightmare Beach (A.K.A Welcome to Spring Break) is not one of those 80’s juvenile hormonal beach frolic films where a bunch guys just want to get laid in a sea of bikini clad babes while swilling beer and ogling wet T-shirt contests. Oh, it has all that to be sure. But behind the sand strewn beaches of spring break mecca Fort Lauderdale is a twisted serial killer leaving a path of well tanned murdered grisly bodies.

The assumed culprit is a biker gang leader named Diablo who we see frying in the electric chair  at the beginning of the film while proclaiming his innocence and vowing revenge from the dead. His ire is squarely aimed at police officer Strycher (genre film stalwart John Saxon) who he claims framed him for the murder of a teenager. The assembled execution audience includes a smirking Strycher and Gail (Sarah Buxton) the older sister of the murdered teen who watch with the rest of the gallery as Diablo sizzles.

When Diablo’s grave is later found to have been unearthed and students – or ‘breakers’ as they are called – start dying in various gruesome ways. The town mayor and Strycker want to keep it hushed up at the risk of losing their cash cow of visitors at the peak of the season. To keep it quiet they blackmail one the resident doctors (Michael Parks) to cite obvious incorrect cause of death assessments for the growing list of bodies.

The killer rides around town on a full geared up travelling motorcycle wearing a helmet with full face shade visor, thus creating the legend that Diablo has returned from the grave to enact his vengeance. One of the victims was the wisecracking best friend of a jock named Skip (Nicolas de Toth) who has been hanging around one the the watering holes trying to figure out his buddy’s sudden disappearance. He soon teams up with Gail who is working as a waitress at the bar and the two set out to lure this mysterious rider out and find out the truth behind the rumours.

Arguably directed by Umberto Lenzi of Nightmare City fame or screenwriter Harry Kirkpatrick depending on who you believe, this italian production (originally titled La spiaggia del terrore) takes more than a few cues from Jaws but stays firmly in the street killer mode. While the first few kills are literally electric, the spree continues with a number of novel killing moves. The sleaze factor is bolstered by some light comedy from a promiscuous call girl who leads a string of older Johns to visit her room in the hotel – each falling for a different sob story for some extra cash – and a pervy hotel clerk who sneaks peeks on the proceeding with a closet spyhole.

While not as satisfactory as other Italian giallos of the era, fans will instantly delight in the techno score by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti. I do have to admit that the final reveal was a bit of a surprise and helps bringing this one closer to home. That is if you’re at home with thong bikinis, car chases, slashing, strangling, and lots of blood.