Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

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.

Movie Reviews 414 – The Reptile (1966)

November 23, 2019

While not one of the best of the Hammer Studios Victorian horror films, The Reptile has always been one of my favorites. While the renown ‘studio that dripped blood’s fame was founded on the many Dracula and Frankenstein epics starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, every now and then it strayed from those horror staples and The Reptile was one of those gambles.

The sentimental appeal for myself can be attributed to a number of factors including being one of the earliest horror films I ever saw in a full sized theater screen back in the early seventies – in French no less. It has what was then a fairly new concept for a creature and blends in South Asian mystical folklore, also a rarity at the time. But the one reason above all others it made such an impact is that this was the first movie that really scared the living crap out of me! Not such much while I watched it – although I was one the edge of my seat and cringing to be sure – but later that night when I tried going to sleep and could not rid myself of image of “the monster” from my hyperactive nine year old mind.

Recently married Harry and Valerie Spalding (Ray Barrett and Jennifer Daniel) arrive in a Cornwall town to claim the cottage inherited from Harry’s recently deceased brother Charles. They immediately get the cold shoulder from the locals as word gets around that they intend to make the cottage their new home and trying to get specifics on the circumstances of Charles’ death. The town has been victim to a spate of mysterious deaths, coincidentally beginning around the return of the Spalding’s neighbor Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman) and his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) from Bornean research trip. A theologian, Dr. Franklyn holds his daughter Anna on a tight leash while at the same time seeming to be under the control of his Malaysian butler who returned with them. The young couple have a tenuous relationship with their dysfunctional neighbors but befriend the local barkeep Tom (Michael Ripper) who has begun investigating the rash of deaths himself. While Harry and Tom know the Franklyn’s are at the core of the mystery, it takes the local town drunk’s ghastly death and a stray kitty to reveal the thru horror lurking in the doctors house.

The opening scene depicting Charles’ death throes after being attacked in the Franklyn mansion gives the audience a taste of the quickly spreading, eerie green skin discoloration and rabid-like frothing at the mouth of the victims. But that great and effect is nothing compared to the creature design of the reptilian morphing Anna. Sleek and serpentine except for one particularly glaring failing facet. The costume and makeup used separate plastic popping eyeballs that unfortunately are often misaligned from one another. Was it rushed shooting or a failed attempt at a chameleon-like independent eye direction, I do not know, but it is bothersome even in the many stills from the film. Another aspect that drives the slimy atmosphere is the steamy basement snake pit with a bubbling heat spring, the setting for the fitting film finale. Another fine touch is the effective and appropriate use of a catchy snake-charmer influenced music score. A particularly unsettling scene is one in which Anna entertains the her new neighbors playing a sitar while staring down her father and building the tempo to a crescendo until Dr. Franklyn loses it and does his own Pete Townsend guitar smashing routine.

Not counting films in which reptiles stood in for fake dinosaurs this can be considered as the first true horror where the creature in question was undoubtedly truly reptilian, and the beginning of a trend that continued into the seventies with films such as Sssssss, and Frogs.

For a long time this was one of those titles inexplicably hard to find for North American region media players without paying a king’s ransom. So when Scream Factory finally got around to issuing a new remastered Blu-ray this year I put in my order and anxiously awaited delivery. True Scream Factory reputation for putting out quality reissues is evident with this remastered print featuring vibrant colours in all but a few spots . The extra features go into detail how this film was one of four Hammer films that were basically shoot at the same time with reused sets and actors hoping to same on production costs.

While it was not as well received at the time, this is one of those films that I think even non Hammer fans can enjoy. Just skip the Popeye jokes, OK?

Movie Reviews 411 – Firestarter (1984)

October 25, 2019

Stephen King‘s cinematic legacy has always been one in which adaptations of his writing either fell in the “Terrific Film” category or “Dismal Dreg” cinematic swill bucket. You have your Shinings, Carries, Shawshank Redemptions and Mists against your Dreamcatchers, Maximum Overdrives and Thinners and there are very few that fall in between those extremes.

With an esteemed cast that includes George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Drew Barrymore, Art Carney, Heather Locklear and Louise Fletcher, you could be forgiven if you presumed that Firestarter would fall in the “Terrific Film” camp. (OK, I was just kidding when I included Heather Locklear’s thespian chops as a selling point). However this is not only not one of the better adaptations but would easily vie as one of the worst.

Firestarter is about a young couple who underwent experimental pharmaceutical testing for some secretive government agency which resulted in long lasting psychic abilities for the subjects – well for those that survived the ordeal anyway. As both Andy (David Keith) and Vicky (Locklear) were test subjects, their daughter Charlene “Charlie” (Barrymore) later proved to have even more powerful faculties. As a “firestarter” with unknown limits to her increasing powers, the same organization that administered the drug trials are now deeply concerned and want to get her into their labs for testing. As told from a series of flashbacks, the couple, fed up being confined and tested have long been in hiding with new identities. Accidental firebursts from Charlie allow the men in black to find the family and in trying to retrieve the girl Vicky is killed. Andy and Charlie, now on the run from one crummy roadside motel to another find a brief sanctuary with an elderly farm couple, but eventually they are hauled back to “The Shop” for analysis, and possible ‘threat eradication’.

The list of problems with this film is longer than a Green Mile. An occasional trait of Dino De Laurentiis productions is that he sometimes opted for money and star power alone In lieu of a good script and production values for his film productions – the 1976 King Kong, Orca, and David Lynch’s Dune come to mind as prime examples. This was the fate here, but only the first obstacle.

Barrymore, somewhere between her “cute preschooler who can innocently repeat swear words” debut in E.T. and her current adult director/producer/comedy actor phase, seems to be merely putting on choreographed faces while memorizing lines and is clearly beyond her range. Scott, ever the hard-as-nails heavy is just that, but his macho demeanor and murderous intentions aren’t really backed up by any real threat so he comes off as a delusional psychotic. He inexplicably sports an eyepatch during the latter half of the film (apparently an eye infection developed early in production), but no attempt is made to reconcile it in the film. He also sports and long ponytail coif that is at odds with his military precision facade. Carney is the lovable grampa figurehead as the farmer, but I’m at a loss as to what Fletcher was even thinking as she cardboard-coasts her delivery as his wife. Sheen’s character as the guy running “the Shop’ is meant to counterbalance Scott’s hard handed approach towards Charlie, but in the end he does absolutely nothing. Even a small part for everyone’s favorite “Huggy Bear” (Antonio Fargas) as a cabbie is basically squandered.

Now with a premise completely based on a character that can spontaneously start a fire, one can imagine to type of special effects featured in the film. A few car explosions and inferno’s aside, a lot of the FX are laughable. The zoom in on Charlie every time she is about to unleash her power in which we see her hair suddenly going airborne to an invisible wind tunnel loses its charm the second time we see it and would make for a good beer drinking game by the halfway mark. By the end of the film she can bounce bullets off her like Wonder Woman and start shooting what I can only describe precision meteors to those who stand in her way. Yes it gets that silly and all this before a groan worthy Three Days of the Condor ending.

I never read the novel so I can only conjecture that there may have been a lot of the narrative that  got trimmed as the story does suffer from broad jumps and sparse background of what I suspect may have been a compressed plot. Interestingly, this film was once slated to be directed by John Carpenter but the perceived failure at the time of The Thing resulted in him being removed from the film. (Yes, you got that right. The Thing was not a box office smash and only later received acclaim once it was released on home video.) We can only imagine what his version would have been like.

My Firestarter DVD happens to be the dual set that includes the sequel Firestarter: Rekindled, a TV miniseries made 20 years after this original. I haven’t watched it yet but it stars Malcolm McDowell and Dennis Hopper so it’s gotta be good right? What are the odds I get burned on that one? (I’ll be sure to have some burn ointment close at hand.)

As for Firestarter itself it would be no loss if someone burned all remaining prints and copies off the face of the Earth. I’ll start rubbing sticks. Throw a little gasoline on it for good measure…


Movie Reviews 410 – Shock (1977)

October 11, 2019

In the mood for a vintage giallo this week I perused my movie library and was happy to find Shock (original Italian title Schock and released in North America as Beyond the Door II) by none other than director Mario Bava, the patriarch of the giallo maestro triumvirate (the others being Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci of course). Sadly this, one of his last films, was mediocre at best, and nothing comparable to any of his classics such as Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, or even the quirky Sci-Fi horror Planet of the Vampires. This despite the contribution of Daria Nicolodi in the starring role.

As a young family is moving into a house we sense that the wife Dora (Nicolodi) who seems quite familiar with the place is nonetheless not happy about the move. We soon learn that this is because she once lived there with her former husband Claudio, now deceased. Her distress is more than just a reminder of Claudio, but an actual apprehension of the house harboring some malevolent entity. Moving back in was her new husband Bruno’s (John Steiner) idea, one she only reluctantly accepted.

Their young son Marco (David Colin Jr.) seems quite taken with the house, especially the cellar and Dora can at least enjoy his amusement. That is until he starts muttering things like “Pigs, pigs, PIGS!” when his parents engage in any hanky-panky, or when he innocently tells his mom “Momma, I have to kill you”. But Dora’s worries are not confined to her son’s sudden odd behaviour. She starts seeing floating drawings, a razor laced piano playing by itself and even learns that Bruno, a pilot, briefly lost complete control of the plane he was flying at the same time Marco was having a psychotic episode at home. All her torment seems to be related to her troubled past husband who was a drug addict before he disappeared. But what exactly were the circumstances of that disappearance?

While there is a decent payoff when we learn the truth of what happened, the reliance on cheap scares and the wavering between Dora being insane and imagining all these events or Marco really being possessed gets stale fairly quick. Putting all the clues together it isn’t really all that hard to see where things end up going, at least in the big picture sense. However some of the details of the ‘big reveal’ were surprising.

Rating the movie itself I would have to say that it is more for die hard giallo fans than for casual horror lovers. My Blue Underground DVD did include a number of features that were somewhat interesting, the main one being an older Bava interview. A second interview where son Lamberto Bava describes working on the production and learning ‘the chops’ (literally and figuratively) was fascinating in that we know he was on his way to becoming a respected director himself, eventually directing the classic Demons.

Movie Reviews 407 – Basket Case (1982)

September 20, 2019

The title of Frank Henenlotter‘s 1982 film Basket Case is not so much a double entendre as it is a triple one. It refers to an actual woven carrying basket seen throughout the film, the emotional instability of our protagonist who basically carries said basket with him at all times, and lastly it also references the aberrant contents of said basket.

The movie is about a young man, Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) who has travelled to New York city to hunt down a group of individuals who long ago performed a backroom surgical operation on him, separating him his semi-formed twin growing along the side of his body. Despite living with “Belial” and forming a telepathic link with him, his father hated the outgrowth and blamed it on the death of Duane’s mother during the birth. The father had procured the services of three doctors to forcibly remove the growth and disposed of it in the trash where it was rescued by Duane. Now a young man, Duane is hunting down the doctors responsible with the aid of the diminutive yet powerful Belial to do the dirty work.

This is 80’s camp at it’s best.  Duane moves into a seedy 42nd second street hotel to seek out the last two targets on his list and this hotel provides ample odd interactions with the other denizens of the dump. Belial – Hebrew for The Devil -is an oversized deformed head with nothing more that two powerful arms and somewhat demonic hands. While mostly shot as a puppet or just a masked actor (strategically placed where the actor’s body can be hidden under something) there are a few scenes in which he is shown scampering about and for those some really cheesy, uneven stop-motion was used.

Things begin to go awry when Duane starts to date a secretary (Terri Susan Smith) behind Belial’s back. (Well if he had a back.) and triggering Belial’s anger when he and Sharon get too frisky. Turns out Belial wants to sow some oats of his own and not having the necessary appendage is not going to stop him. The scene where he exercises a bit of necrophilia is both disturbing and comic at the same time.

While there is plenty of slashing going on a blood, those are far from shocking. In fact, probably the most shocking scene is on in which Duane runs stark naked through the streets with some full frontal nudity. That odd filming choice is but one when it comes to pace and continuity. The film includes a rather lengthy flashback explaining the backstory which stands out as by the time we get to it late in the film we already know most of the story so it is only exposition.

Two sequels were made, Basket Case 2 (1990) And Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991) but I have yet to watch those, only being lucky enough to find this movie for the first time because I recently set myself up with the free streaming provider Tubi to see what gems may be there. This certainly qualifies.

Movie Reviews 406 – Private Parts (1972)

September 14, 2019

If you were looking for a review of the Howard Stern biopic, you’re not going to find that here. The Private Parts we’ll be discussing here are quite different, though equally disturbing. Here, we’ll be indulging in director Paul Bartel’s Private Parts (so to speak). While he will forever be closer associated as the director of low brow classics Eating Raoul and Death Race 2000, Private Parts was Bartel’s first feature and shows some of the blemishes due to inexperience. But the film does entertain if you are looking for the niche it fills. Filmed in and around Manhattan’s seedy 42nd Street at the height of it’s sleez era, this rather tame slasher horror delivers more on eccentricity than any scare or comedy it intended.

Cheryl (Ayn Ruymen), a young runaway living with her best friend Judy in Los Angeles has an argument after being caught peeping on Judy and her boyfriend doing the horizontal. With nowhere else to go she heads to the Big Apple where her aunt Martha (Lucille Benson) owns a dilapidated hotel a stones throw from the dingy Peepshows, Adult magazine shops and other sordid dens of sin. Martha only reluctantly agrees to let Cheryl stay, but makes clear her distaste for any wanton lifestyles.

Cheryl encounters some of the eccentric boarders but takes a particular shine to George (John Ventantonio) a photographer loner, the one person her aunt has warned her to stay away from.

As she settles in to her new digs Cheryl continually hears questions about Alice, a former resident who suddenly disappeared. But it’s her developing womanhood that fills her mind and the enigmatic George becomes a lustfull obsession. Instead of being shocked and outraged when she finds peepholes in her room and shower, she purposely poses for her concealed audience.

An electrified key only discovered when Martha’s pet rat accidentally triggers it opens up a new world to Cheryl, those looking for Alice, and a few other mysterious disappearances. But those are nothing compared to be one big secret shared by Martha and George.

While the performances are nothing to write home about, it’s the sheer weirdness that captivates audiences here. Aunt Martha’s penchant to go to funerals – mostly for people she never knew. George’s inflated sex-doll which he fillls with water and to which he has tacked on a picture of Cheryl’s face which he cuddles to sleep. The old eccentric lady walking the halls and the priest who wears the collar by day but transforms in the sadomasochistic, leather bound homosexual by night.

Produced by Gene Corman, the brother of legendary B-movie producer/director Roger Corman, this film doesn’t get as much exposure as it should. While I can’t say it’s “must see” material no matter which genre peaks your interest, as a historical cult curiosity it is still worth a watch.