FILM OF THE MONTH House (Hausu) ☆☆☆☆
Blood Simple ☆☆☆☆
Bride of Frankenstein ☆☆☆☆
The Devil Rides Out ☆☆☆☆
The Mummy ☆☆☆☆
The Thing 1982 ☆☆☆☆
Phantom of the Paradise ☆☆☆☆
Phase IV ☆☆☆☆
We Need To Talk About Kevin ☆☆☆☆
This was not a commercial success on release as many are well aware. Just three years after the release of Alien some people apparently forgot what it was like to enjoy a serious science fiction horror story that was well made and really got under your skin. It was deemed was too nihilistic and too mean spirited in the wake of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. But why is that even a factor? Just because they came out close to one another? It seems like a bizarre comparison to make. Because both have spaceships? I'm sure they can exist together, I mean nobody balked at Alien because Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a different tone. It's 'pure nonsense'. This is of course John Carpenter's magnum opus; a love letter to the original 1950s movie and the peak of his work with Kurt Russell.
It's crazy to imagine now but that famous Bates Motel shower scene might ever have happened... this could have been a murder mystery with Audrey Hepburn instead. After she dropped out another direction was chosen, however studio stomachs turned at the idea of this adaptation of what they considered to be repulsive novel, and refused to produce the story. Costs were cut, black and white photography was in, and of course movie magic was set in motion. The look of the film as a purely economical measure seems strange to imagine, after all the fractured Saul Bass credits and many shots of silhouetted knives and creepy houses are so iconic in monochrome. But like many production stories there's often art through adversity.
George Romero's second, and most popular zombie flesh eater story is something that really shouldn't work. The sound quality is poor, the library music is weird and often feels 20 years older than the movie itself. The living dead make up is just blue paint for a large proportion of the extras and the blood is well, orange at best. Yet in spite all of these weird problems and oddities it endures, shambling on like its rotting menace. Recut in Italy on release and remade in the 2000s, the original version remains a cult classic whichever edition you see. Let's begin the dissection and take a look at what makes this cadaver tick; all the little things that made is so influential.
There's a sort of endearing quality to these kind of double features, the ones made in tandem to save costs and so they could be screened together. In this case a lot of the cast members and several sets are clearly the same as those in Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Seeing them decades after their intended release format it's never really a problem and more of a trivia point; watching them back to back and noting all the recurring scenery is lots of fun. Hammer plays it loose with the facts in this vaguely historical thriller in which Christopher Lee dons a beard and drinks his way to the top of Russia's social ladder to sate his less than pious ambitions. It's by no means an educational story, but nobody is going to mistake it for one with that title.
There's a lot that can be said about the classic killer shark movie; its effects on sea water ecology, its status as a turning point in the director's career, as well as its status of something new which heralded a new age of blockbuster style releases in the subsequent years. But Jaws is a monster movie at the core. It's not a realistic look at the possibility of swimmers being attacked of the coast of Massachusetts, it's a story where a giant fish hunts the waters maliciously and then goes after the boat sent to kill it. Summer movies as we know them today will never contain this much blood. It's a creature feature of the best kind - elevating a potentially silly premise through film making craft.
While the classic Hammer archive is full of what you might consider remakes and new versions of old material, particularly the Universal monsters, they also had their a hand in adapting TV serials which the BBC had produced. Their best science fiction release is one of these, taking an older story and giving it the full colour big screen treatment. Despite the leap from traditional fantasy style horror they retain a few recognisable elements, including cast members from the likes of Dracula Prince of Darkness. The director Roy Ward Baker would go on to make a few of his own vampire features for the studio. It's hardly a big budget adaptation and some of the sequences are laughable, but there's plenty to like and it's story with a lot of atmosphere no matter how ropey things look at times.
Placed between the two greatest Dario Argento releases Tenebrae and Suspiria, this second journey into a supernatural nightmare is never remembered quite as fondly; despite it being a thematic follow up to the latter. But this is strange considering that on the surface much of it is the same. The weird dream like visuals are still here, the shock deaths and surreal set designs are similar, but somehow there's something missing. It's not the music despite Claudio Simonetti and the rest of Goblin being passed over for a different sound from Keith Emerson. And it's not the really plot since a lot of these films are not heavily focused on character depth or super complex storylines. Yet there's something lacking that will need further exploration.
Built like an elephant, moves like a monkey; Sammo Hung. While only Jackie Chan could ever get away with saying this about his old friend, it's never been more true than here in a film where Sammo's fugitive rickshaw operator 'Bold Cheung' is possessed by the Monkey God in the final showdown. I'm not sure the kinds of things portrayed here ever happened in Journey to the West. Mixing both supernatural fantasy, horror and kung fu, it's often absurd and frequently spectacular. This is up there with his best martial arts adventures, and is probably tied with Odd Couple and Eastern Condors - which combined make for a good trilogy of different action flavours. But this is the month for ghoulish thrills, so we'll take a look at those on offer here.
There have always been comparisons with this to Joe Dante's Gremlins, and it's easy to see why. Both are horror comedy creature movies with a twisted sense of humour and a bunch of titular puppets on the rampage. Interestingly the makers refuted this and said it was written prior to its release, which is sometimes the case with production periods overlapping and actual release dates seeming to confirm shall we say, inspired ideas. There are some key differences; while the holiday favourite is clearly a supernatural adventure, this is purely science fiction schlock. Many of the funniest moments come courtesy of the intergalactic mercenaries sent out to stop the monsters, since their methods are often incompetent and excessive in equal measures. So let's break down all of these ingredients and see what other parts stand out.
Peter Jackson is often accused of being excessive and self indulgent, pushing material beyond it's natural life span and extending films to extremes that need to be pared back. It's odd that people generally aren't talking about his splatter films when these criticisms are brought up. Perhaps it's because these are actually the reasons they work. At a trim 100 minutes, his entry into the living dead category is overflowing with bodily fluids and puppet effects. Outdoing similar flesh eater adventures in terms of violence and out goofing the likes of Evil Dead II and Return of the Living Dead, it's a comedy horror feature on a whole other level.
Time for a cartoon. The translation of folklore from Europe into features made in East Asia is always interesting, their takes on vampire mythology in particular. This animated horror adventure is full of zany ideas like werewolves with torso mouth parts, armoured cars with crucifix headlights and bounty hunters with astral projection mind powers. Not content with taking elements from Dracula and Carmilla, this is a full blown fantasy world mixing parts medieval Europe, parts Mad Max and parts Old West. The title half-human half-vampire loner races against time and rival bounty hunters to save a girl from the clutches of a bloodsucking noble, but does she want to be rescued?
Rarely has there been a more fascinating mixture of contradictory elements. The lavish sets and costumes, the garish art direction and the fine creature and make-up effects... clashing with the bizarre casting and performances. Coppola's (or Oldman's if you like) Dracula is a wild blend of creative ideas and creepy moments, not all of which are related to monster sequences. Alive with masses of writhing bloodsuckers and eye popping decorations, it's never going to live up to the title which declares this is a definitive adaptation. It just doesn't work as Stoker's Dracula. There are just too many odd choices and extraneous plot elements that don't belong. But seeing what works and what doesn't is always an interesting experience.
The so called 'best of the Jaws ripoffs' seems sort of like damning praise when you consider how many of those must have existed in the late 1970s. Fortunately this quote is attributed to Steven Spielberg, and he was talking about a film from Joe Dante, someone who he'd later work with on several entertaining projects. He even stopped Universal interfering with the release which was close to their official Jaws ripoff, it's own sequel. It seems like an idea that should be boring, stupid slog - the killer fish movie. The premise itself sets off all kind of alarm bells - the search for two missing hikers accidentally releases the threat from ... a military research facility. But like anything, with the right amount of effort and a tone that works it can be made into something watchable.
The third instalment in the Evil Dead series is a dumb, dumb movie. Skeleton puppets without any articulation get smashed to broken crockery sound effects. Store clerk Ash teaches medieval peasants how to fight better than their castle knights somehow. A car wrecked after falling from a great height is fitted with a working steam engine, including a train whistle. Ted Raimi has multiple cameos, in one instance playing two characters in the same scene. Perhaps that's why I can't stop watching it. In some ways it was a logical regression into madness; the original film had some goofy splatter moments but was generally quite gritty, and the second introduced real slapstick to widen the scope. This one barely has any violent gore in it at all, even if you watch the extended cut. But while these changes in tone seem a little incongruous the result is still fun; a total guilty pleasure viewing experience.
This is a Frank Henenlotter movie, so from his repertoire there are a lot of staple ingredients you can expect to be included. You might have guessed from the title, but like his films prior to this it's weird, sleazy and full of black comedy moments. In fact this is probably the funniest one of all. They make sure to include plenty of Frankenstein references too of course, and in general the science fiction production values are pretty good. But you can't avoid the fact this is full of flying heads, exploding bodies and bizarre characters. For those familiar with with this sort of thing, it's exactly what you think it is. For anyone else prepare yourself, this is one crazy adaptation. The dirtiest streets in New York City await.
Well it had to be done eventually, let's take a look at that awkward early 2000s period when was leather was in, sunglasses were on, and bad techno music played frequently. Ryuhei Kitamura's zombies versus yakuza flick is anaction and horror hybrid that throws in all kinds of random influences. It's a blood soaked kitchen sink effort; you want shots lifted from Evil Dead II amongst your gun-play and sword battles? Sure, here they are. What was once a brain melting look into foreign cinema for teenagers in a time when DVD was new, is now over acted and ridiculous. But like all cheap films that spent their budget on fake blood, dismemberment effects and corpse makeup, there is a certain level of enjoyment to be had in all this. It's welcome entry to any guilty pleasures list.
The dubbing of foreign language films is a contentious issue which can often change the meaning or general cadence of dialogue. However there are always going to be those types of movies which seem to fit a cheesy, over done sound because it just seems to fit more with the tone. It's probably no surprise that this is something I often apply to guilty pleasures, and Lamberto Bava's cinema nightmare is a good example of this. Credible Italian speakers are not going to help a story which includes vomiting zombies and motorbike action sequences. The plot is minimal, the splatter effects are overflowing and the levels of '80s schlock are all the way up to 11.
While the Hammer library is full of different takes on Dracula and Frankenstein, their adaptation of this Dennis Wheatley novel - via a Richard Matheson screenplay - is a stand out entry which exists without the usual monsters. Christopher Lee gets to fight against the forces of evil rather than embody them this time around in a story about devil worshippers and black magic. In some areas it's just as silly as you'd expect a 1960s take on the subject matter would be, but there's something endearing about the deadly seriousness of the characters and the inclusion of ritual elements that feel authentically researched. It's also a great mixture of supernatural set pieces and suspense building that still holds up in many ways and delivers a fine trip into the occult.
A musical may not the obvious choice for Halloween viewing, but of course there are several exceptions to the rule. Pre-dating some of the more popular rock operas out there, Brian De Palma's take on the masked avenger combines the music - and screen persona - of Paul Williams, as well as his own cinematic style to bring new life to the Paris Opera tale. Opting to move the action to the present day allows for a scathing fantasy version of the music industry, and we are treated to voice modulators, deaths by neon lighting fixtures and a twist on the material which merges the original novel's Faust performance with the plot itself.
It's been a long time since the J-Horror craze was big, but it's still fun to check out the original films which started the trend. It's interesting to see how things began in the days before everything was digitally graded to make it look spookier and prior to so many remakes and sequels. Ju-On is an absurdly long running series, and though this movie was first released in English speaking regions it's actually part three of a franchise that has by now over ten instalments; not including short films. But the narrative was never the strongest element, so it just about works by itself. Let's go back and take a look at where for things started for those of us outside Japan.
Ahh, pre Hays Code horror movies. There's a certain charm to the sort of ghoulish thrills they could include before the censorship guidelines of the day were introduced, but the kind that are still within the accepted limits of this period of cinema. Nothing exemplifies this quite as much as the James Whale adaptation of H.G. Wells' story. The death toll is surprisingly high as Dr. Griffin runs amok, though there is never any real violence on screen. Of course this is all done with a dark and twisted sense of humour as he rants and raves about revenge and his lust for power and calls people miserable fools every few minutes. There are many classic entries in the Universal series, but this is best; it may portray a human title character, but he's certainly the most monstrous.
While the original James Whale Frankenstein is iconic, and is full of moments that are memorable and stand the test of time, it's always felt like a prelude. Perhaps it's because the creature never developed as a character, and was so quickly disposed of by the classic angry mob. The sequel builds on just about every aspect of this and fits in perfectly as a second half to the story. It looks better, has more quirky bit parts, and gives the monster himself more to do. It never goes in for the parenthood idea from the original book which is a shame, so we are still left with the theme of a flawed creation acting out because of an imperfect brain. Mary Shelley herself makes a fun appearance in the recap, but her intelligent and more human creation never materialises. But this is still the best adaptation in many ways, and of course one of the best sequels.
I guess it's the way that this looks, but you'd be forgiven for thinking this is going to be another Gremlins or Critters. A creature feature right? Puppet mayhem and all that good stuff. But the title monsters are only a weird tangent in all this, a story which is in fact about demonic rituals and evil powers being drawn from the netherworld. The little guys are always around whether it's the opening ceremony or the third act where things get out of hand. But there are so many other pieces that make them feel strangely superfluous. It's a weird mesh of ideas that doesn't really fit together in a lot of places, and worst of all you get the impressive that the rubbery menace could be excised, and it would have no impact on the narrative.
Dario Argento's tale of ballet and blood is sort of a crazy fork in the road when you consider the films which came before, particularly the straightforward detective genre elements which were so strong in his earlier films. Some stylisation was always present but even the telepathy subplots in Deep Red were nothing compared to the fantasy madness that was to follow. Reality is almost completely absent as soon as American student Suzy (Jessica Harper) arrives in Germany to attend a dance academy. Strangers in a foreign land is still a theme here, but the rest out the window. The shift in colours and sounds as she passes through the airport doors are just a hint of what is coming in this surreal journey into the occult.
This is certainly another case where the crazy name can't possibly live up to the film it's headlining, but as 50s B-movies go I guess this isn't too bad. Even the title card is super dramatic with exaggerated lighting bolt letters on the screen. But how to describe this? There's more than one fiend for a start, if you can call it that. I guess I'll just say it, this one sits under the dubious category of killer brain stories. Even within this period of genre movies where scientific experiments run amok, it's pretty silly. An invisible killer stalks the grounds outside an air force base on the US Canada border, strangling its victims. Is it something to do with the new arrival of atomic power or are there more human forces at work?
Part man, part ant... wait hang on, let's back up and try that again. This is one of those sinister 1970s science fiction movies, the kind that really get under your skin. It's sort of like a demented clash between Look Around You and The Andromeda Strain. The isolated laboratory setting and the focus on testing solutions to a problem in particular remind me of Michael Crichton's space microbe story. Interestingly, it's the one feature film directed by artist and designer Saul Bass, who of course made numerous title sequences and posters for classic movies, but never made another full length release. This is a story full of striking images, eerie moments and a general sense of creeping dread. But they're just ants, what can you do outside of b-movie monster moments?
Yeah, it's a killer hand movie, just check out that name - what a title. But bear with me, it's not total nonsense. Well sort of. While this kind of idea appears in all kinds of features from Dr Terror's House of Horrors to Evil Dead II, this one at least tries to maintain a certain tone of seriousness. Which is pretty difficult of course. But this is the 1940s, and Warner Bros have Peter Lorre on board for what will be their only horror movie from the period. Instead of going for silliness, this for the most part, plays out as a murder mystery plot inside a mansion in rural Italy. A wealthy pianist, left with only the use of one side of his body after as stroke gathers his acquaintances around him to witness his last will and testament. What could possibly go wrong?
Watch Franco's Count Dracula they said, it's more faithful to the story they said. Okay maybe I'm being harsh. But while it's true that Christopher Lee actually gets to speak some of the dialogue that Bram Stoker wrote on the page, there's more to whether this works or not than just lifting scenes from the book. It's probably better than Lee's other vampire movie with Hammer that year at least; the title of Taste the Blood of Dracula is the best part. But the film in question here is kind of a mess with parts that work, parts that are just bizarre, and all kinds of head scratching technical choices involved. After hearing Lee's complaints about the sort of lines he got working with the likes of Terence Fisher, I wonder if he was happy with the results here.
Something rotten is going on in Potter's Bluff, a seaside town where you certainly do not want to spend your weekend away, or even stop to ask for directions. Yeah it's another scary isolated community story, albeit with a few surprises along the way. There are a couple of reasons to see this beyond adding to the obvious '80s horror quota for the month, and while Dan O'Bannon's name on the title credits is apparently there against his wishes, the other main draw here is Stan Winston, who provides some of the memorable moments here. But let's go past the names involved and talk about this creepy venture into mysteries at the morgue.