Horror Bites - Dripping with Goo

PART ONE- Splatterhouse


It's that time once again, where we settle down and block out the outside world of tepid mainstream blockbusters and jump scare horror attempts. Time to warm the cockles of our hearts with a lot of grotesque violence and nightmare visions. And what a selection there is to choose from, whether it's Italian gore or madcap visions of '80s America. There's never a short supply of features that include pouring blood, dissolving skin and eye popping effects.

House (Hausu) is a 1977 horror feature from Japan, not to be confused with the American film from the '80s, which we will get to shortly. At some point the director saw Steven Spielberg's Jaws in theatres and thought yeah that's pretty good, but what can we produce which will have a similar result? Naturally he talked to his young daughter about what is scarier than sharks and came up with a list of things including haunted houses, evil cats, blood spewing clocks and monster pianos. It's a slight leap in creative thinking to say the least... but the results are pretty unique.

Like other movies which feature Japanese folklore there's a vengeful ghost involved, and like other horror films there's a band of teenagers. But this one is packed with surreal visual choices and weird editing effects that make it stand out in a variety of ways. A girl running away to avoid seeing her father's new girlfriend decides to visit her Aunt in the countryside, and she ends up taking her school friends along for the trip. Right away there's a whole lot of crazy matte paintings, animation and strange scene transitions.

Even normal daytime skies and background locations have been replaced by cartoon like mattes as they travel out of the city by train. Some of this stuff was done during production, without anyone really knowing how the end results would look as they scratched effects into the celluloid itself. Adding to this weird storybook atmosphere the girls all have silly nicknames like Sweet, Gorgeous and Fantasy which note their character traits. No prizes for guessing what Melody and Kung-Fu are good at.

Of course they all get picked off slowly as the Aunt and her creepy cat begin acting strangely, although the deaths and how things unravel into madness is anything but predictable. Even the deaths themselves are often bizarre. There's a lot of blood, a lot of music, and a lot of silly humour. A few bits and pieces feel like a step to far, and in particular a character suddenly transforming in a mass of fruit is either a cultural reference I lack context for or just a silly gag. But it's all strange and charming enough to work.

4/5


Jumping over to Italy, Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (L'Aldila) features another haunted house of sorts. However this one has even less plot. The main location this time is a hotel which the lucky heroine inherits under suspicious circumstances. Unfortunately the whole place is in pretty bad shape. As well as coming packaged with some rather creepy and unhelpful employees called Martha and ... Arthur (really), it's also the location of what is one of the seven gateways to Hell. Typical. It's very similar to Fulci's City of the Living Dead, not only in terms of this story outline where events allow the dead to rise, but also the random horror and violence scenes which are hung onto this vague and often nonsensical plot.

His earlier movie Zombi 2 being popular seems to have have had an effect on both of these subsequent stories as they continue to feature shambling corpses, but whether they are ghosts or the actual walking dead is never clear. Sometimes bodies appear after being moved to separate locations, and sometimes they just materialise out of thin air. Sometimes they awake in morgues and wander around as you'd expect... so it's hard to say what is really going on.

In the 1920s an artist is brutally murdered after being accused of witchcraft. What he did besides create a sinister painting is never explained, but it's a great intro with dark and moody monochrome visuals. In the present day the place has fallen into disrepair and the inhabitants vanish, until the new owner arrives. There's a blind woman trying to ward them off the place, and a subplot about a mystery book which tells of the building's secrets.

But the rest is all just random shock sequences and violence, with all the kinds of lengthy gouging and stabbing you would expect. You get spiders, exploding heads and accidents with acid amongst many other grisly moments. As far as Fulci's output goes this is one of the better ones in terms of the style and all the wacky sequences but it's still not exactly a great film. There's at least a lot of good atmosphere and some interesting set pieces. Viewing it as a surreal nightmare in which the underworld begins to cross over into reality is the only choice.

3/5


Street Trash on the other hand is on the other end of the narrative spectrum, with far too many plots going on. The main part is what they show on the poster so you'd expect it to be central here right? But the results are... less than focused. A shopkeeper finds a box in his basement, it's filled with something called Viper which he assumes is liquor. It's many years past its sell by date, so of course he puts on sale at a discount. The local winos soon find out that the stuff has a nasty side effect - not only is it poison, but it's also some kind of flesh melting acid which reduces people into multicoloured slurry minutes after they drink it.

It's a bizarre starting point that offers some crazy special effects scenes as people dissolve in different ways. The dubious sub-genre of "melting movies" certainly lives up to it's name here. But ... everything else is less clear. To start with there's a thread about a gang of homeless people causing mayhem in the streets. They're being led by a psycho who has been mentally scarred by the Vietnam war, and large portions of the film diverge from the stomach melting booze idea to explore his grim existence and the nightmares he lives with. As an antagonist I guess he works, but way too much time is spent here.

Elsewhere our main characters are a separate pair of hobos who narrowly miss the effects of the circulating Viper bottles as they trying to avoid the gang violence. There's also a cartoonish cops versus mobsters story playing out as a detective comes across these recent events. There are some particularly grotesque moments peppered throughout, some being more comical than others. The film is notorious for a drawn out scene where a game of catch is played with someone's dismembered genitals but it also features a paralytic woman being raped by some of the titular street trash and left to die. This part is off screen but adds to the overall gross factor and any sense of levity is immediately lost.

To make things worse her body is violated by a sleazy scrap yard proprietor who owns the land where the hobos live. Considering everything that transpires during the running time he is just the worst character of all, and it sort of derails the movie. Even with all this other stuff they manage to make it a bit too repellent. It's a movie that ends with a My Way style musical number about someone drinking the mystery liquor so what else can I say. It's sometimes funny, it's often gruelling, it's ... an experience. Only those with strong stomachs need apply.

3/5

(PART TWO)