Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shadows of Blood (1988): or, Amsterdamaged

That's right--there is no poster for this movie.
In the late 80s, the port of Amsterdam is rocked by a series of brazen and motiveless murders. Local police are stymied, until they learn through Interpol that two vicious serial killers have escaped a French asylum and are currently engaged in a friendly competition to see who can deal the most Dutch death. One of the men (Barry Fleming) is a maniacal, hatchet-faced freak who nurses romantic delusions about finding true love, along with an extreme sensitivity about his male-pattern baldness. The other, played by his Mad Mad Mad Mad Magnificence Paul Naschy, is a grizzled, cigar-smoking old Spaniard, who turned to serial killing after a successful career as a b-movie horror star and champion power lifter...hey waitaminnit!

Shadows of Blood (1988, dir. Sydney Ling) is something of an oddity in Naschy's career. A flick so obscure it doesn't even have an IMDb entry--in fact, Paul is the only member of the cast whose IMDb page seems to exist!--the film was apparently a direct-to-video effort produced for the burgeoning Dutch VHS market. Like many of the early shot-on-video productions, this one suffers from terrible videography, laughable video effects, and incredibly amateurish acting from everyone but the Mighty Mighty Molina. While it's probably only of interest to hardcore Naschyphiles and obsessive DTV collectors, the movie still boasts enough MADness to make it an enjoyable waste of 70 minutes, at least for connoisseurs of trash cinema like your ever lovin' Vicar.


There is really no plot or character development to speak of here--we meet Fleming's killer window-shopping in Amsterdam, walking down the street like a regular (if funny-looking) tourist. On a busy thoroughfare, he sees a young New Waver coming toward him, and something behind his eyes just snaps! Without even checking whether all ist klar, Der Kommissar, he throttles the young punk on the hood of a nearby Citroen! Whether from lack of social engagement or crippling politeness, the other Amsterdammers passing by on the street take no notice.

"I told you not to put mayonnaise on my fries, but YOU JUST DIDN'T LISTEN!"

Later, Fleming meets Paul's character (who for sake of simplicity we'll call "Paul") and they discuss their newfound freedom and what they intend to do with it--which seems to be mainly random, motiveless stranglings. Of interest to Naschy fans here is that Paul speaks his few lines in English--though so heavily accented and with such strange inflection, he's clearly working it phonetically. (No shame there though--ALL of the actors in the movie seem to be reciting their lines phonetically, with the exception of a wisecracking Cockney detective on the Amsterdam police force, who seems to serve no other purpose in the movie.) I for one got a strong Lugosi vibe off Naschy's dialogue here, which of course made me giggle with glee.

"I crap bigger than you!"
Eager to show the youngster how it's done, Paul checks into a bed & breakfast. Moments after dropping his luggage in his room, he drags a chambermaid in by the throat! (In the first of many instances of somewhat effective black humor, Paul thoughtfully puts out the "Do Not Disturb" sign. Also, in the first of many instances of filmmaking flubs, we next see Paul stepping around a stage light to get to his mark.) Still spry despite his 55 years, Paul stalks his prey before executing a stunning leap attack!

As the bodies pile up, the Amsterdam police force finally takes notice. Though the tough-as-nails female chief orders her men to bring the killers in before Interpol can come in and trample the case, her elderly, Carlsberg-swilling flatfoots make no progress. Meanwhile Fleming strangles a hobo, and Paul one-ups him by walking into a cafe, ordering a dish of soup (or "soap"--it's hard to tell), and then strangling a Debbie Harry lookalike before his meal can even be served! A fellow diner, sitting literally the next table over, does nothing to help...though he may well have simply been paralyzed by Paul's mesmerizing manliness.

With no clues to go on (except presumably the DOZENS of eyewitnesses to every single murder!), the chieftess is forced to accept the help of an also-elderly Interpol agent, apparently sent over from their Department of International Standing Around with Hands in Pockets. (He's the best there is at what he does!) The agent fills them in on the killers' backstories, which include the fact that Paul has murdered 22 people, and his apprentice a respectable 19--not counting the latest additions. Together the crack task force investigate several tabacs, bars, and hotel bars, finding nothing but a series of suspicious-looking cocktails that must be immediately eliminated.

"Nope, no killers under the crumpets! Maybe at the bottom of this glass, then?"

From there on out, it's a series of curious events. Fleming strangles more random passersby. Paul throttles a few too--including one fat video editor (?), whom he takes out while wearing a Venetian plague doctor mask!--but later diversifies into stabbings and power-drillings. Things take a strange turn when Fleming starts courting a hollow-eyed local woman, who is not put off by his goblin-like face and penchant for killing people during lulls in the conversational courtship. Meanwhile Paul has an odd interlude wherein he meets an elderly Dutch serial killer to talk shop with, and later has his humanity reawakened by the not-so-skillful warblings of a homeless flautist. Seriously.

Fun fact: Naschy spent a good portion of the 80s touring with Jethro Tull
Things come to a head when Fleming senselessly murders the old flute-blower, which causes a rift in his friendship with Paul--a rift that's only exacerbated when Paul garottes Fleming's girlfriend before his eyes! Somehow the cops FINALLY catch up with the younger killer, leading to a foot chase and a showdown in which Fleming laughs like Dwight Frye on nitrous oxide and rips off his hitherto-unmentioned toupee! The police are powerless against such insanity, so it's up to Paul to put Fleming down like the rabid dog he is. As the chief of police stands by completely inactive--saying nonsensically via voice-over that "Perhaps it's better he gets away!" (wha?)--we get a flashback montage with strange video effects of blood-colored hands over the footage, grasping at the old killer while he offs victim after victim. Perhaps these are the "shadows of blood" that haunt him and inspire his murderousness? Director Ling leaves us to ponder this mystery as the end credits roll, and treats us to one of the most infectiously awful title songs I've ever heard in a Naschy flick.

Shadows of Blood is a terrible, terrible movie, and one that I'm sure Paul was not sorry to have left off most of his filmographies. Apart from a short write-up on the indispensible, there's little information in English about this flick, and many fans would probably say that's for the better. It definitely seems beneath Paul's considerable talents, and even the man himself seems to be uncharacteristically phoning in much of the performance, his eyes only on the paycheck waiting at the end. (Apart from those few lines alluded to earlier, most of Paul's acting here is done via broad gestures and pantomime.) Bad script, bad acting, a terrible Casio-fart score, and bad cinematography abound; it's little wonder that few if any of the other people involved have any further discernible film credits.

Your guess is as good as mine
Still, whether because of my own unique mental malformations, or because I'm always under the sway the Magic of the Mighty Molina, I admit to enjoying Shadows of Blood more than a little. The plot device of the competing serial killers isn't a bad idea, and the outlandish brazenness of their killings was a source of laugh-out-loud entertainment to me. Though I couldn't argue that it's anything other than one of the worst films in Naschy's long career, I nonetheless ended the flick with my trademark Naschy-induced grin on full beam. I was never bored by it, which is of course the gold standard for trash cinema in my opinion.

So for me and other Naschy completists, I would rate the film at 2 thumbs, something you need to see and might even enjoy. But for the average moviegoer, that rating would have to drop considerably, maybe even to the 1 thumb range. I freely admit to my bias--but what can I say? Naschy always makes me happy. Rest in peace, you wonderful madman. You are missed.

More images from Shadows of Blood (1988):





"Waiter, there's a Fly Girl in my soup!"

"Yeah, everyone keeps telling me Alcohol Niet Ils Ik Ru, but I don't believe it!"

That's right! KNEEL, PEASANT!

The Ghost Hand goes for Paul's Booty. Can you blame it?

Even Paul doesn't know what he was thinking


Tuesday, November 29, 2011


The Man
It hardly seems like two years have passed since Jacinto Molina, known to his still-growing legions of fans as the Lon Chaney of Spain, Paul Naschy, shuffled off this mortal coil and took his final bow. Followers of this blog know what Naschy's legacy means to the Duke and me: he was quite literally the impetus of this project of ours, and the subject of its first-ever review post. He left behind a legacy of joy, terror, and madness matched by few, and (in our humbles) surpassed by none.

He is sorely missed. We shall not see his like again.

It may seem incredible to some, but here, two years after the day I woke to discover that my icon and hero had succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 75, I still get tears in my eyes just thinking about it. At some point between that first giddy discovery of Naschy's work, through countless visits to his monster-choked realm, from the dizzying heights of his Waldemar Daninsky saga to the saddening lows of his bitter, fallow years, Naschy stopped being just an image on the screen, just an old man from a foreign land whose interests and passions neatly dovetailed with mine; he became, in a sense, one of my dearest friends. And his loss was hard to take. It still is.

The Myth

Though I have delved deeply into the legacy Naschy left behind, I still have much to discover. Later today I will be posting one of these until-now-untapped discoveries. But in the meantime, as my tribute and monument to my much admired and even-more missed old friend, I collect here all the Naschyness of the blog for your reference and enjoyment.

Rest in peace, Paul. Gracias.

The Legend

And remember last year, the glorious outpouring of love that was the Paul Naschy Blogathon? You can still visit all those links too! And well you should!

EDIT: It appears I've jumped the gun with my grief, as Naschy's official date of death is November 30. :( I'm letting this stand, though--expect my review of my latest Naschy viewing tomorrow.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Birthday to The Duke of DVD!

"Getting old ain't for pussies, verily."
 Two thousand years ago, in the Australian bush near what is now Bumbang, Victoria, an Aborigine shaman fell into a Dreaming in which he saw a huge, flesh-puddled mass, barely human, surrounded by heaps of gold, piles of roasted wallabies, and the twisted limbs of a thousand writhing damned. The poor man never fully recovered, and spent the rest of his days with a severe form of involuntary sweating lalalogia accompanied by explosive incontinence. Though his people had no written language, for years the oral history recorded his bizarre utterances, collected by Swedish anthropologist Høyt Møøsewørryer in the mid-19th Century. The strange locutions--"Noshee!", "Fool-chee!", "Bah Vah!", "Arrh Ghent Oh!" and "Ooh, Dat's a Bollocky Bumtikler!" have never been satisfactorily explained, but many occult authorities point to this nameless seer as the first to glimpse the coming of the Great Destroyer of Glazed Hams and Devourer of Insanity, whose nativity today is celebrated by some, mourned by others, and feared by all.

Yes, parishioners, today is the birthday of His Flatulence, The Duke of DVD!

As is our custom on this most blessed and cursed of all calendar days, let us take a moment to review some of the lore and legend surrounding everyone's favorite aristocrat:
  • In addition to his expertise in all things related to Madness in Cinema, the Duke is also an accomplished (some might say "cunning") linguist, being fluent in Cantonese, Hindi, Creole, and Sasquatchian.
  • In 1935, up-and-coming Burlesque star-turned-actress Fifi "Bang Bang" La Desh penned a series of tell-all articles about the Duke, drawn from her experience giving command performances at his chalet in Cunter, Switzerland. Among the startling revelations in La Desh's memoirs, readers learned that after a particularly intense bout of drinking, the Duke once expelled three cysts in the shape of an Eye of Horus, a Pentacle, and Teddy Roosevelt's moustache. It was later learned that the latter was in fact the actual moustache of the ex-president, though heaven knows how it got there.

  • The Duke has one of the greatest collections of false limbs ever assembled. His prize exhibit is the false arm of Admiral Horatio Nelson, which he employs to open stubborn jars and retrieve hard-to-reach items from high shelves. He also owns the peg leg of privateer François le Clerc, which he habitually puts to more unspeakable uses.
  • On his last trip to the Amazon, the Duke and his party discovered a hitherto unknown species of beetle, Ducalias Dvdius Vulgaris, which as a defense mechanism excretes a pheromone that causes uncontrollable orgasms in its attacker. Shortly thereafter, the Duke single-handedly hunted the bug to extinction.
  • After receiving a pre-festival tasting pass to the 1979 Munich Oktoberfest, the Duke consumed every vat of ale earmarked for the celebration. As a result, a Novemberfest was held that year, the only such festival in the city's history. The Duke has since been banned from attending, but still sneaks in occasionally in the costume of a Gypsy prostitute.
  • The above is also how the Duke covers his airfare and lodging expenses for the trip.
"I find his eminence the Duke...disarming!"
"Also, a right cad. *sob!*"

  • The Duke is the 3-time world champion in the Vertical Luge, and the first to be inducted in that sport's hall of fame, by virtue of his being the only person to compete in a VLA meet and survive.
  • Among his many hobbies, the Duke enjoys Underwater Sculptural BB-stacking, and being tossed by dwarfs.
  • The Duke's middle name is Eunice.
Many happy returns to my friend, my confidant, my blackmailer and fashion consultant, and one of the MADDEST men I know--parishioners and subjects, raise your glasses to the Duke!

Don't Hate Him Because He's Beautiful

The Vicar


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Night of the Living Dead (1968): or, Slow and Steady Wins the Race

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 31!

I probably don't have to summarize this one for any of my parishioners, but in the interest of keeping good form, here goes: after laying a wreath on their father's grave, siblings Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) are attacked by a shambling, murderous lunatic. Johnny is killed in the struggle, and Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse, whose sole occupant is a partially devoured corpse. Soon she is joined by Ben (Duane Jones), a take-charge kinda guy who is fleeing from a horde of similarly murderous shamblers. They discover another group of refugees in the cellar of the house--lovebirds Tom and Judy (Keith Wayne and Judith Ridley), bickering married couple Helen and Harry Cooper (Marilyn Eastman and Karl Hardman), and the Coopers' injured daughter Karen (Kyra Schon). News reports inform them that what's outside are worse than murderers--incredibly, the unburied dead are coming back to life to kill and eat the living! As the group of would-be survivors tries to find a way out, tensions mount between them and the zombie horde grows larger and hungrier...

Rewatching Night of the Living Dead (1968) for the who-knows-what-numberth time, I was struck as I always am by how near-perfectly paced the film is. There's little to no drag, and from the opening scene in the cemetery to the well-known shock ending, the movie hums along like clockwork--with a very tightly wound spring. Every scene has a purpose and pushes the film forward, gaining momentum as it goes. The characters behave believably, doing what anyone would do in a similar apocalyptic situation; even Barbara's paralytic shock and Harry's angry assholery are understandable and relatable. And Romero's zombies are slow, implacable, and overwhelming, setting the standard for flesh-eating ghouls that continues to hold today.

Suspenseful, thrilling, and still scary after all these years, Night of the Living Dead is the perfect Halloween rewatch, and a great way to cap off my 31 days of horror movies. 3+ thumbs, of course.

They're all messed up.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Skew (2011): or, Tale of the Tape

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 30!

Amateur videographer Simon (Rob Scattergood) embarks on a week-long road trip with his beer-swilling best friend Rich (Richard Olak) and Rich's girlfriend Eva (Amber Lewis) to attend another friend's wedding. Simon's girlfriend L.T. (Taneal Cutting) was also supposed to go, but cancels at the last moment, leaving Simon a third wheel. As the friends travel cross-country, tensions mount due to Simon's obsession with recording everything they see, and also due to his growing romantic obsession with the lovely, bra-poor Eva. Soon triangular tensions are the least of their worries, though, as Simon begins to notice strange images through his viewfinder: a hotel clerk and a gas station attendant both show up with their features strangely skewed on the tape, and later both wind up dead, the victims of seemingly random violence. As the video anomalies become more common, the body count rises, and Simon fears his camera is the instrument of a terrible supernatural curse. Still, he feels strangely compelled to keep filming, putting his friends in greater danger with every push of the "record" button...

I hadn't heard of Skew (2011) before reading a recent review on the excellent site Planet of Terror, but I'm very glad I did--dispite obvious similarities to the Ring/Ringu movies (cursed characters there also show up distorted on video), director Sevé Schelenz manages to make his "reality horror" film something fresh and intriguing. The main genius move is making our point-of-view character a flawed, possibly unreliable narrator--in addition to experiencing the supernatural visions along with him, we also slowly piece together his own neuroses and strange desires, which enhances the film's texture and deepens the resonance of the images we're shown. Schelenz does a great job revealing his character through visuals and interactions with his friends, giving the audience enough to stay interested without seeming unnaturally expository.

The cast helps things a lot too, as Scattergood, Olak, and Lewis have a lot of natural chemistry. Watching their relationships develop and change is often just as interesting as the next creepy set-piece. Which is not to say Schelenz skimps on the creepiness--the skewed faces of innocents and our knowledge of what that means generates some suspense, and Simon's periodic visitations by the ghosts of those who died of the curse are shocking and goosebump-worthy. The director also uses the medium to good effect--scenes where Rich and Eva borrow Simon's camera reveal a lot about them all, and when Simon rewinds and rewatches some of his footage at the end, it adds another possible explanation to the strange happenings. Or maybe not--I found the final image (no spoilers) puzzling, but still got an inexplicable shiver out of it, which is perhaps a testament to how the film gets under your skin.

Thanks again to Planet of Terror for turning me on to this hidden gem. It's streaming on Netflix instant, so if you're looking for a creepy little story for your Halloween viewing, you could do a lot worse. 2.5 thumbs.
"I think this shirt really brings out my eyes."


Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Bat People (1974): or, Echolocation Nation

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 29!

Scientist Dr. John Beck (Stewart Moss) really loves bats--so much that he's devoted his life and his ski vacation in northern New Mexico to his avid chiropterology. His beautiful wife Cathy (Marianne McAndrew) tries to make the best of things, inviting her hubby for a frolic off the tourist paths in some beautiful caves beneath the mountains. Unfortunately the amorous pair tumble immediately into a hole filled with beetles and are soon after attacked by a very frightening rubber bat replica! After their rescue, Johnny suffers a pair of hilarious seizures, which makes his wife and ski-bum physician Dr. Kipling (Paul Carr, moustache fancier extraordinaire) fear John has contracted the rubber rabies. After a bad reaction to his first rabies treatment, Paul is hospitalized.

The first night, Paul awakens from a dream of murderous bats to find himself transformed, Kafka-esque, into a Man-Bat! Half-man, half-bat, all murdery, Paul offs a nurse and later a dope-smokin', fornicatin' teen...or does he? The doctor believes his transformations and rampages are all in his head, but local cop Sgt. Ward (Michael Pataki, Mad Movie veteran of The Baby and Grave of the Vampire) is not convinced--and the pair of bodies cooling in the morgue don't help Kipling's case either. In a fit of animalistic rage, Paul escapes the hospital, steals an ambulance, and tears out of there like a bat out of hell! (So to speak.) Fleeing back to the cave where his troubles began, Paul descends into either madness or bat-itude, while Cathy and the increasingly unhinged Ward try to track him down. Can they get to him before he kills again?

Spoiler: nope.

A mad mad mad mad movie if ever there was one, The Bat People (1974) is really something special. Sure, director Jerry Jameson's film has pacing problems, and relies too heavily on poorly matched stock footage of bats in nature, but the several things about this flick had me grinning idiot-wise throughout:
  • Any movie gets bonus points from me when it opens with a plaintive, 70s theme song. This one has "Angel of Fear," and it's a stunner.
  • Some of the "attacking bats" shown in closeup are clearly being held by their wingtips directly in front of the camera and are struggling mightily against the injustice. This is both slightly cruel and deeply hilarious.
"I am not an animal! I...oh, wait. Fuck."
  • A late scene where John transforms while making love to his oblivious, orgasming wife is also Naschy-esque (q.v. Curse of the Devil [1973]). 
  • An early bat-creature attack scene is scored with the most incongruously toe-tapping free jazz you can imagine. The Naschy parallels have pretty much got to be intentional at this point (q.v., Vengeance of the Zombies [1973])
  • Stewart Moss's eye-rolling, face-twitching seizures should have won him an award. Also, awesomely named Arthur Space has a show-stealing scene as a philosophical hobo. 
  • There's an odd kneecapping of our sympathy/admiration for the shrewd, no-nonsense Sgt. Kelly when out of nowhere he gets all rapey on Cathy in her hotel room! WTF, lawman?
  • The final "bat-attack" scene, which also explains the plural form of the noun used in the title, is simply fantastic.
I'm not going to say The Bat People is a great film, or even one that most viewers would like--it's stupid, cheap, and takes a while getting to the bat-action (though some would count that as a strength, leaving viewers to ponder whether John is actually transforming or just rabid and hallucinating). But as a fan of all things cheap and cheesy, I thought it was great. If you feel the same, Bat People is a fun time. 2.5 thumbs.

And many thanks to the beautiful and deadly Jenn of Cavalcade of Perversions, whose love for this flick is what caused me to seek it out in the first place!

"Look, I'm getting used to the sweater, but if you say 'Good Grief!' to me one more time, so help me..."


    Saturday, October 29, 2011

    Madhouse (1974): or, Making a Killing in Show Business

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 28!

    On New Year's eve, movie star Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) throws a party with three goals: to celebrate the annual changing of the calendar, to premiere the latest in his successful series of horror flicks in which he plays macabre supervillain Dr. Death, and to announce his engagement to his much, much younger lover Ellen (Julie Crosthwaite). Things are spoiled when Paul's former lover Faye (Adrienne Corri, of the previously reviewed sci-fi funfest Moon Zero Two [1969]) interferes with some cutting remarks, and Ellen's old beau, adult film producer Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry) reveals to Paul that his new fiancee has a history doing the belly-bumpin' boogie for the camera. 

    This news shocks the old man into spurning his soulmate, going upstairs, and collapsing in a depressed heap on the bed. A bit later, a man dressed in a very convincing Dr. Death costume sneaks into Ellen's room and dispatches her, gaining style points for perfectly balancing her head atop her severed neck for Paul to discover later! Paul is accused of Ellen's murder, and sentenced to twelve years in a mental institution.

    When he gets out, he is offered a job by his old friend and screenwriter Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing)--who is also Faye's brother and her sole caregiver after a fiery car accident left her disfigured and insane--reviving the Dr. Death character for a television series. However, as the Hollywood bloodsuckers come out of the woodwork and the temperamental old actor adjusts to modern moviemaking, he suffers further bouts of unconsciousness and wakes up to find more corpses, killed just as Dr. Death would have done. Is Paul a closet psychopath, using his cinematic alter-ego to avenge himself on those he hates? Or is there something more sinister afoot?

    With a real all-star cast of horror heavyweights (in addition to Price, Cushing, and Quarry, we get "special participation" by Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff! Though this participation is limited to archive footage from other films), Madhouse is pretty much guaranteed to please. The plot is a little threadbare and silly (the cocky TV director being pressed like a grape in one of Dr. Death's props is just one example), but Price goes at it gamely as always, and Quarry makes an excellent big Hollywood baddie. Cushing is fun as the milquetoast writer who may know more than he's saying, and Corri steals the show as the former beauty whose tragedy has somehow made her a basement-dwelling, spider-coddling old crone. If nothing else, the Dr. Death makeup is simply wonderful, and will make fans of Price wish he actually had made a few films as the character.

    There's no actual madhouse action to speak of in Madhouse, but the climax is MAD enough without it. Light on gore and scares, but nonetheless a fun matinee-style horror flick. 2 thumbs.

    "The Doctor's on smoke break, baby. Blow."
     (image borrowed from the excellent horror-centric tumblr, Where Beauty and Terror Dance. Check it out!)


    Friday, October 28, 2011

    Spider Forest (2004): or, What Tangled Webs We Weave

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 27!

     TV journalist Kang Min (Woo-seong Kam) finds himself inexplicably wandering through a beautiful, creepy forest, and soon happens upon what appears to be an abandoned cabin. Inside, however, he discovers the mangled body of a half-naked man, his face frozen in a rictus of terror. In another bedroom he finds his girlfriend, who was apparently there for a tryst with the dead man. Also mortally wounded, the girl babbles cryptically about "The spiders! The spiders!" before expiring in her wronged lover's arms. Hearing a noise outside, Kang Min chases a shadowy figure into the woods, but gets waylaid with a stout tree branch to the noggin. Concussed and confused, he stumbles onto a nearby road, into a tunnel, and is immediately run down by an SUV! As he bleeds out on the pavement, he sees a blurry, dark figure that seems strangely, impossibly familiar...

    Flashing back, we follow the events that led up to Kang Min's bad end--or do we? In Spider Forest (2004), writer/director Il-gon Song weaves an intricate web out of his protagonist's past, present, and possible futures. At the center of the web is the mysterious Min Su-Jin (Jung Suh), an enigmatic photo developing clerk who tells him the story of the Spider Forest--a place where ghosts who no one loves or remembers haunt the amnesiac living as eight-legged revenants. As the TV journalist spirals toward the truth, he becomes more and more entangled in his own memories, leading to (naturally) a shocking and slightly head-scratching conclusion.

    Some of the commenters on Spider Forest's imdb reviews page compare the style and content here to a David Lynch film, and the comparison is apt. Though the movie has some horror elements--there's a ghost story in there somewhere, and the scene of the double murder is grim, especially later when Kang Min's friend detective Choi (Hyeong-seong Jang) discovers the bodies teeming with baby spiders--but mostly this is a narrative puzzle of a Lynchian stamp, where the viewer is invited to make connections between seemingly disparate events and symbols and interpret the ending on an almost subconscious level. I don't think this flick is quite as inscrutable as much of Lynch's work, but it is tightly constructed and beautifully shot, with some stunning compositions, particularly in the forest itself and the traffic tunnel where Kang Min meets his fate.

    The movie doesn't have a lot of pulse-pounding action, and I would really classify it more as "brain-twisting drama" than horror (but imdb classifies it as horror, so I'm keeping it for the Challenge!)--still, it is a very interesting movie that kept me engaged and intrigued. 2.25 thumbs.

    "I just want to drive a big, long semi down this tunnel, again and again and again! I don't know why..."


    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    The Cabinet of Caligari (1962): or, Crazy, Baby

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 27!

    Jane Lindstrom (Glynis Johns), a free-spirited and adventure-seeking young woman, is driving her little sports car through a mountainous stretch of countryside when her tire goes flat, forcing her to seek shelter at the palatial home of enigmatic Dr. Caligari (Dan O'Herlihy). After an extremely odd and disturbingly insinuating conversation, the doctor instructs his assistant Chris (Constance Ford) to prepare a room for their new "guest." As it turns out the Caligari estate is full of guests, each one more eccentric than the last and none of them in a terrible hurry to leave. As Jane's stay stretches from hours to days, she discovers weirdness upon weirdness: the doctor's study has a glass revolving door behind its ordinary wooden one, the gates are locked and electrically charged at night, and the doctor seems inordinately interested in Jane's early sex life.

    Things go from strange to threatening when Jane sees a leering face in the skylight window above her bathtub, and later watches Caligari's henchman David (Lawrence Dobkin) beat lovable elderly nutcase Ruth (the show-stealing Estelle Winwood) to death with a cane! Despite the reassurances of kindly old codger Paul and periodic visitor Mark (Richard Davalos), Jane grows more and more frantic to escape Caligari's sinister clutches--and then a shocking revelation sends her into a tailspin of phantasmagoric madness from which she might well not recover...

    Until director Roger Kay's 1962 flick The Cabinet of Caligari showed up on my "suggested for you" queue, I had no idea the film even existed. (The only other version of the 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari I knew of was the psychotronic brainfuckler Dr. Caligari, made in 1989 by Stephen Sayadian). I'm glad I gave this one a chance, because Kay (working from a script by Psycho author
    Robert Bloch) delivers a neat update on the German-Expressionist classic, with beautiful black & white cinematography, bizarre and entertaining dialogue, and some truly odd images that will stay in your mind for quite a while.

    The differences between this movie and its inspiration are significant. Here Caligari is a controlling Freudian madman, keeping Jane against her will and taunting her with scarcely glimpsed perversities. Kay and Bloch do away with the somnambulist Cesar and the carnival setting, focusing instead on the implications of the earlier film's ending. But while the majority of the action seems much more "real world" than in Weine's film, the climax in which Jane descends fully into madness is a real stunner. One particular sequence in which Jane sees a baker pulling loaves of bread shaped like infants out of a blazing oven even seems to prefigure David Lynch's Eraserhead in both theme and imagery--in fact, I would not be surprised to learn this film was a direct influence on that one.

    The actors seem to pitch their performances to match the strangeness of the material. O'Herlihy, best known among horror geeks as the sinister Samhain stealer Conal Cochran from Halloween III, delivers his lines with such an odd accent and cadence that he seems almost like an alien from another planet impersonating Bela Lugosi. Glynis Johns's voice sounds like that of a particularly fluffy kitten that wandered into Dr. Moreau's transformation room, and her dreamy, high-pitched delivery never lets you doubt she's not entirely anchored in the real world. And Robert Bloch's dialogue--poetic, unnatural, and just plain weird--somehow manages to fit in perfectly.

    Fans of the silent film by Robert Wiene--indeed any student of horror films worth his or her salt--will not be surprised by the explanation for the strange happenings at Chez Caligari. Nonetheless, The Cabinet of Caligari is a deeply odd and beautifully made film, and one that fans of the classics would do well to rediscover. 3 thumbs. 

    "It will be morning soon. Halloween morning. A very busy day for me."


    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    Dreamaniac (1986): or, Pour Some Caro On Me

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 25!

    Heavy metal musician and songwriter Adam (Thomas Bern) is housesitting for a friend, spending his days smoking cigarettes, ironing his Def Leppard t-shirts, and researching new lyrics in his large library of occult grimoires. It seems that despite having a smokin' hawt, punk rock riot grrrl girlfriend in Pat (80s porn legend Ashlyn Gere, here credited as "Kim McKay"), he still wants more carnal satisfaction--which thanks to his researches soon arrives in the form of small-chested, blood-spattered succubus Lily (Sylvia Summers). As Adam battles his disturbing sex dreams and struggles to find a rhyme for "METULL," Pat and her mousy sister Jodi (Lauren Peterson) prepare for a rockin' house party--the kind of Gathering of Stereotypes that only happens in 80s movies.

    On the guest list are rich snob Francis (Cynthia Crass), who has designs on Jodi's out-of-her-league football player boyfriend Brad (Brad Laughlin); Valley Girls Jan and Rosie (Linda Denise Martin and Lisa Emery); specs-wearing nerd Jamie (Bob Pelham) and skinny Jughead-style glutton Foster (Matthew Phelps). Don't get too attached to any of them though--Lily's crashing the party, and is thirsty for sex and blood, not necessarily in that order.

    "An original made-for-video feature film" produced in 1986, Dreamaniac is cheap, stupid, and a whole lot of fun. This is perhaps the most awkward house party in the history of partying, possibly because each of the attendees is the only representative of his or her clique and would never associate with any of the other partygoers in their natural high school environment. Things heat up as the night wears on, though: either due to the influence of an ancient sex-demon or else good old teenage hormones, sooner or later most of the girls and guys get undressed and do that horizontal bop. Director David DeCoteau (CreepozoidsSorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-RamaThe Brotherhood) is clearly more interested in Man Meat than girlflesh, though, so there are plenty of gratuitous butt-shots for the ladies...and dudes too, for that matter. There's also more than one illustration of why you should never accept a blowjob from a demon, a BDSM scene that leads to a package-jiggling electrocution, a final showdown in which Jodi and Pat must fight their way through the reanimated zombie corpses of their friends to get to Adam and Lily, a decapitation by power drill (wha?), and a "stinger" ending that makes almost as little sense as that of Pieces.

    The acting is all broad, high-school level, as the cast is full of first- (and only- ) time actors. The notable exception is Gere, who perhaps unsurprisingly gives the most natural, engaging performance in the film.The fashions and set design are almost a parody of the movie's own era--watch particularly for Francis' amazing knit sweater and Jan's side-ponytail and skin-tight yellow jumpsuit. Dialogue is bad but in a strangely charming way, and the gore is mostly of the caro-syrup variety. DeCoteau's direction is competent, though he does rely rather heavily on slllloooooowwww pans and tracking shots, especially early on.

    In my youth, when I would load up on VHS rentals every Friday, snatching anything off the shelves that looked even remotely like a horror flick, Dreamaniac would have been just the kind of fun, goofy ride I was looking for. Your enjoyment will depend on how well you like your DTV cheese. For me, 2 thumbs.

    "OK, Jodi--you know the drill."


    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Inferno (1980): or, Death is a Mutha

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 24!

    Poet and antique book aficionado Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) finds an enigmatic tome entitled The Three Mothers in her local junk shop in New York. The book is the autobiography of an alchemist-cum-architect named Varelli who claims to have built three houses for the titular creatures--malevolent, mythological beings like the Fates, who poison the air and bring destruction to everyone around them. Unfortunately for her, Rose's apartment building just happens to be the home of Madre Tenebraum, the Mother of Darkness. After exploring the building's flooded basement and discovering proof of the Madre's residence (not to mention a very clingy drowned corpse), Rose decides she needs to call in some help.

    That help is thousands of miles away in Rome, in the form of her brother, musicology student Mark (Leigh McCloskey). Upon receipt of his sister's letter detailing her troubles, Mark begins to experience strange phenomena himself--a mysterious green-eyed woman (Ania Pieroni) sits in on class, causing freak windstorms while stroking her big furry Mark's friend Sara (Eleonora Giorgi) reads Rose's letter and goes to the local library to pick up a copy of The Three Mothers, only to be menaced by a bookbinder, picked up by a sports writer, and then stabbed in the spine by a scar-handed killer. Mark beats it to New York, where in the meantime his sister has been offed by another shadowy figure with the same sinister psoriasis. He befriends weirdo neighbor Elise (Daria Nicolodi) and journeys deep into the bowels of the Mother's abode, which as you might imagine stirs up all kinds of fragrant, freaky shit.

    I've always been lukewarm on the work of Dario Argento--I mean, I appreciate his importance and his vision, but I've never been the raving fan of his stuff that others--notably his corpulence the Duke of DVD--are. Still, even a jaded critic like me has to admit that Inferno (1980) is absolutely stunning stuff. The director's trademark use of color, particularly his strong use of red and blue gels, consistently wows the viewer and lends the whole film a weird, dreamlike beauty. The opening scene with Rose swimming through the flooded subterranean ballroom is simply amazing. Stylistic camera placement and frame composition abound--in a favorite scene of mine, the camera seems to float on a breeze into the lecture hall where Mark is reading his sister's letter. The whole movie is just gorgeous to look at, and proves just how powerful Argento's vision can be. And the gore scenes, particularly the death of Sara's ill-fated pickup, are fantastic.

    Story-wise, this is one of my favorite of Argento's films, perhaps only slightly behind the glorious MADness of Phenomena (1985). The middle of the Three Mothers trilogy, this one cements the supernatural mythology of the series and effectively conveys the vast power of these forgotten goddesses, or demons, or whatever they are. If there's any criticism to bring to bear, it's that at times the movie seems to lose its focus, jumping from Rose to Sara to Mark to Elise without ever settling fully on one protagonist. However, this could as easily be counted a strength of the film, whose real star is Argento's camera and the labyrinthine, expressionist nightmare that is Madre Tenebraum's house.

    In short, wonderful stuff from an artist near the peak of his powers. 3 thumbs.

    Significant Stroking


    Monday, October 24, 2011

    TerrorVision (1986): or, Quite the Dish

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 23!

    In the days when "satellite TV" meant having a dish the size of a bisected Volkswagen in your backyard and access to NASA-level array-control technology, Stanley Putterman (the inimitable Gerrit Graham, "Bud the CHUD" and The Phantom of the Paradise's Beef himself ) installs a "Do-It-Yourself 100" dish in the hopes of opening a new world of entertainment possibilities. This meets with the approval of his wife Raquel (Mary Woronov of Eating Raoul, Silent Night Bloody Night, and Chopping Mall), daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin, of the superlatively MAD Amityville II: the Possession) and son Sherman (Chad Allen, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman). Even military-minded Grandpa (Bert Remsen) is down, excited about the possibilities for monitoring enemy troop movements.

    However, when a sanitation worker from Planet Pluton accidently beams a dangerous piece of garbage--a slavering, amorphous mutant called a "Hungry Monster"-- into the Puttermans' new dish, what started out as a nice night in front of the tube becomes a fight for survival and the future of the human race. As the monster crawls out of the boob tube to munch on its new hosts, the Puttermans' "swinging" guests, and Suzy's punkish boyfriend O.D. (Jon "I'm a Wolfman and I've Got Nards" Gries), Sherman makes desperate calls for help, first to the police and then to late-night horror hostess Medusa (Jennifer Richards). Meanwhile, O.D. and Suzy try to train the beast, which goes well until the Pluton Sanitation Department shows up to try and correct its error. Then things get a little messy...

    Produced by Charles Band and directed by Full Moon Pictures-mainstay Ted Nicolaou, TerrorVision (1986) is an energetic, broad parody of everything 80s that, like many a fine cheese, has only grown more delicious as it ages. Viewers of a certain age will recognize a lot of the period piece details, from Raquel's Jazzercize obsession to Suzy's Cyndi Lauper fashions to Medusa's Elvira-esque show and costumery. Graham is hilarious as always (what an underrated performer this guy is), and Gries steals the show in a role that prefigures Bill and Ted by three years. The effects are goopy, practical, and disgusting, and the monster design is gross but strangely adorable. (In a standout scene, the monster uses its mimicking ability to morph several appendages into a slime-covered orgy involving the Puttermans, their guests, and even Grandpa! Must-see.) The music by Richard Band is as good as you'd expect.

    TerrorVision is nothing but OTT fun from one end to the other. Even those born in the era of dinner plate-sized satellite dishes should find this blast from the past enjoyable. 2.5 thumbs.

    "Don't wait up! I've heard these Noam Chomsky lectures sometimes go long."

    Bonus: The awesomely 80s TerrorVision Theme song!


    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    The Strangers (2008): or, Don't Be Home

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 22!

    After a friend's wedding reception, hopeless romantic James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) proposes to his chain-smoking girlfriend Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler). Unfortunately she is just not ready for marriage and shuts him down hard, which turns the elaborate romantic weekend James has planned at his parents' isolated summer cabin a real Olympics of Awkwardness. Soon they have bigger fish to fry, however, as a mysterious girl keeps knocking at their door, at 4 am, asking for "Tamara." Later the knocks become loud bangs, the chimney gets blocked off, and someone not only cuts the phone line, but sneaks in and steals Kristen's recharging cell. As the creepiness and hostilities escalate, James and Kristen find themselves fighting for their lives against a trio of implacable killers whose motivations are as inscrutable as the faces behind their creepy, old-fashioned Halloween masks...

    The Strangers (2008) does exactly what I believe it sets out to do--to unsettle the viewer, ramp up the tension, and send you home determined to buy new deadbolts for all the doors in your house--and does so very efficiently, with very little extra narrative fat. After a Laroquette-ish opening voiceover and a flash-forward "discovery" scene, we're thrown right into Kristen and James's uncomfortable arrival at the cottage, and from there things just get more tense. Tyler is a gifted actress, and brings her talents fully to bear on the role of Kristen, both in her sad, emotionally-troubled opening scenes and in her terrified, fighting for her life scenes at the end. Hoyt is fine as the shell-shocked beau suddenly called upon to protect the woman he loves. It's a testament to their skill as actors and the skill of director Bryan Bertino (working from his own script) that, despite being largely a 2-character piece, the flick kept my interest and never felt boring.

    The trio of Killers are extremely creepy and menacing, at times seeming almost supernatural in their machinations and ability to walk in and out of the house at will, despite James and Kristen's best battening-down efforts. (In fact I was wondering for a while whether they were some kind of supernatural beings, but the ending has little in it to support that idea.) Their nightmare-fuel masks and the sing-song voice of Dollface, the only one who talks (Gemma Ward, I think) are sure to produce shivers. And Bertino's decision never to show their faces--even when they unmask themselves to James and Kristen--hammers home the idea of them as something more than run-of-the-mill psychopaths. They're almost symbols of all senseless violence and murder. When Kristen asks Dollface the usual question--"Why are you doing this to us?"--the killer's answer is chilling: "Because you were home."

    A very creepy and well-made home invasion flick, The Strangers is not the feel-good flick of the year (though its ending is happier than it could have been, in a way), but it's definitely a tension-filled ride. 2.75 thumbs.

    "I'm going to ask you this one more time: WHERE'S THE GODDAMNED BATHROOM?"


    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    The Last Exorcism (2010): or, He Puts on a Hell of a Show

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 21!

    Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), former child preacher and the last in a long line of evangelical exorcists, invites a film crew along to document all the hocus pocus that goes on behind the scenes. It seems the good reverend has lost his faith--while he still believes he provides a service for his flock, giving them the mystical experience they psychologically crave, he does not see himself as anything more than a showman and second-tier magician. Picking a letter at random from his pile of requests, Marcus and crew go to rural Louisiana to help Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), whom her widowed and Bible-obsessed father Louis (Louis Herthum) insists is possessed by the Devil. Marcus gives the yokels the whole show, and seems to cure Nell's ills. But soon the preacher discovers that there might be something to all this exorcism business after all...

    The Last Exorcism (2010) does a lot of things I liked, and does them very well. The set-up of a revivalist preacher documenting his own hokum is taken directly from Marjoe (1972), the fascinating documentary about child-preacher and later B-movie star Marjoe Gortner.* Certain early scenes and even some of the dialogue seem to be direct quotes of that movie. Director Daniel Stamm lets the mystery of what's happening to Nell unfold slowly, rushing directly to the neck-snapping exorcism business, but still dropping enough clues and stingers along the way to keep the viewer engaged--unlike some recent horror flicks. The script by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland is intelligent and intriguing--and I don't want to spoil the ultimate solution to Nell's troubles, but it was shocking in a way that still made sense with what had come before, and sent me into the end credits with an appreciative smile.

    *And a highly recommended viewing in its own right.

    The acting is great from top to bottom. Fabian plays Cotton Marcus as a charismatic, sardonic but lovable rogue, a man who knows he's full of it but nonetheless genuinely seems to care about the people who come to him for help. Bell's Nell (ha!) is wonderful--all fresh and innocent and giggly at the beginning, throwing her later sinister turn in stark relief. (According to imdb trivia, Bell also did all the amazing, poster-spoiled contortions herself, without the aid of special effects.) Herthum makes a great menacing, possibly not so well-meaning dad, and Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class's Banshee) gives a nice performance as Nell's brother.

    Put simply, The Last Exorcism is one of the best recent horror films I've seen in a long time. A fresh look at the "possession" subgenre--a stylish, entertaining and even frightening film. 3 thumbs. Recommended.

    On third and short, the Devil shows Blitz.


    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Paranormal Activity 2 (2010): or, Wake Me When It's Haunting

    October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 20!

    In the months before the events of the first movie, new mother Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and husband Daniel (Brian Boland) bring their infant son Hunter home from the hospital to their palatial mini-mansion in the suburbs. All is happy days and lollipops for a while, until one day the couple finds their house completely trashed, apparently by vandals who had the courtesy to lock the doors behind them and not steal anything of value. Being the wealthy, proactive father he is, Daniel has surveillance cameras installed so that they can monitor all nocturnal goings on in the house. But the footage thus captured doesn't reveal bored teenagers emulating their favorite MTV shows--rather, it's g-g-g-ghosts!

    The strange happenings escalate--pots fall from kitchen racks, mobiles spin by themselves over Hunter's crib, the automatic pool cleaner inexplicably removes itself from the pool, and strange knockings are heard. As the frightened young parents try to make sense of things, they discover a dark secret in their family history that will threaten not only their own safety, but spill over into the lives of Kristi's sister Katie (Katie Featherston) and her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat)--the protagonists of the first film, whose own subsequent travails are a direct result of what happens here.

    I was a bit lukewarm about Paranormal Activity (2007)--I thought it had some unsettling imagery and well-executed, totally legit scares, but found the main characters annoying and their actions more than a little contrived. I also felt it was a bit too light on explanation for the haunting, and the pacing much too slow. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) does a bit better on the first count, proposing a Faustian bargain in the sisters' family history in which a first-born son was promised and must now be delivered, since Hunter is the first male in the line for a few generations. However, it does even worse on the second count. There are a few scare scenes in the flick, but you have to sit through more than an hour of fairly boring "found footage" before you get to them--by which point, if you're still awake, you might well wonder if the payoff is worth the wait.

    The acting is okay, and the "reality" filming is done pretty well, but in the end there are few things more boring than watching someone else's home movies, particularly when you don't know or care about the people involved. While a little restraint and deliberate, slow-boil reveals are usually a good thing in a haunted house flick, I felt director Tod Williams went a little overboard here--when you're more than an hour in and the scariest thing that's happened has been a CG shadow disturbing someone's nap, you run the risk of trying your audience's patience.

    Once we actually reach the climax, it's pretty good stuff--nothing we haven't seen before at this point, but well executed nonetheless--and I appreciated the creepy little tie-in to the ending of the last film. But after enduring an hour and fifteen minutes of only occasionally-broken boredom, I felt it was too little, too late. 1 thumb.

    "Screw this, I'm outta here."


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