Thursday, October 02, 2008

Halloween Movie Marathon 2008

It's seems uncanny to me that I'm back here again, after a full year of not bloggin' on this site, and doin' another funtastic 31 in 31, (that's 31 movies in 31 days!) Halloween Horror Movie Marathon! So be it, it's my favorite thing to write about in the first place, AND it gives me ample reason to sit down and reinvigorate my various written ponderings! So here we go, Seekers! Off into the freaky, frightening, fun, funny, and fearsome. This year, for no real reason, I seem to have chosen a large amount of 1950's and 60's Sci-Fi and Horror. and that'll make for some interesting viewing I'm sure, and I'm gonna' continue to use my Scares, Effects, Fun rating scale so you'll have a pretty good idea of what your in for if you follow in my footsteps. So hang tight, fellow horror fans, 'cause here we go!!

1.) The Beginning of the End - 1957 - Oct. 1
I was 2 years old when this film made the rounds in theaters and drive-ins across this great land. My, oh my, how special effects have advanced in a half a century. Directed by Bert Gordon, yeah that Bert Gordon, it's another in a long line of atomically mutated giant bug epics. Not the best one by a long shot, but it has it's fun moments. Peter Graves stars in one of his earliest performances and delivers a solid B movie leading man. The effects are your typical super-imposed shots of bugs, in this case, Grasshoppers, laid over real shots of landscapes and cities. This one takes place in and around Chicago and there are some fairly admirable scenes of the hoppers crawling over several skyscrapers. Look closely and you'll be able to detect that these monsters are actually crawling over PHOTOGRAPHS of skyscrapers. Oh well, it was only 1957. A fine, easy start to this years fright fest. Scares: 0, Effects: 2, Fun: 4

2.) Below - 2002 - Oct. 2
Once in awhile a really interesting, well scripted, well acted, lil' genre film comes quietly down the line and fortunate are the few that stumble upon them. That's my take on Below, an above average ghost story (ghost stories, possibly THE hardest format for a horror film!) directed by David Twohy, of Pitch Black fame, and written, at least co-written, by Darron Aronofsky. This movie is beautifully filmed, the lighting, the staging, the sets, are all top notch. Quite a feat considering the whole damn thing takes place on a submarine. Fine ensemble acting by actors you don't know by name, but you'll recognize nearly all of their faces from dozens of TV shows and movies, really propel this story about an ill fated submarine crew during World War 2 who are haunted by the ghost of the ships first Captain. I'll leave out why, don't want to blow the story for you. But suffice to say, its a classic "guilty conscience manifests itself as ghostly apparition"narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The ghost story and the suspense is heightened dramatically by the additional plot device of the sub being stalked by an anonymous battleship determined to send the sub and it's crew to a watery grave. It's all good here, and I highly recommend that you add this one to your permanent collection!! Scares: 7, Effects: 8, Fun: 7

3.) Black Sunday - 1960 - Oct. 3

Okay, billed mainly as the launch pad vehicle for Mario Bava's movie career, this film also launched the "scream queen" career of Barbara Steel. Let's just say she has the biggest, largest, fullest...........EYES, of any woman EVER to be in the movies!! (and I'll bet you were thinkin' somethin' else, huh?). Clearly, Elvira took her eye makeup cues from Ms. Steel, and possibly some of her hairstyle tips too!! Chock full of atmosphere, Gothic scenery, misty landscapes, and embattled ruins, Bava's maiden cinematic voyage owes large debts to the Hammer films that preceded this directorial debut. This film is long on cinematography, (shot in pristine black and white, which adds to the overall mood), and sets, and costumes, and is a pure joy to watch, BUT, (and here the other shoe falls), suffers from "current film viewer paradigm', that is inevitable for those of us who have pondered and wandered through the genre for oh, these many decades. The film clocks in at a seemingly brisk 87 minutes, but you'd swear you've been watching for 2+ hours! Not in a bad way though, the movie, the beautiful cinematography, the Gothic imagery, and the imaginative sets, keep you interested in spite of the painfully slow moving story. Just as a point of fact, the films major antagonist appears in the opening sequence, vowing revenge on those burning her at the stake, and thereby setting up the entire movie's storyline; yet doesn't reappear, fully, until the last 5 minutes of the film! So you have this 70 odd minutes of slow boil build up, plastered tight with magnificent scenery, camera work, lighting, and atmosphere, that ends in a 10 minute flurry of "oh, crap, we've got to wrap this movie up!" type action. Nevertheless, it's well worth the time spent. Clearly Bava was majorly influenced by early Universal Horror films, Hammer Productions, and possibly even early Roger Corman films. Not totally original, but certainly admirable in his respect to the genre and the source material. Scares: 4, Effects: 6, Fun: 5

4.) The Crawling Eye - 1958 - Oct. 6 (first of double feature)
Okay, all I know is, when I was around 10 years old, this film was featured on "The World Beyond", a local horror show that played during the summer of 1965 on Thursday nights at 9:00 o'clock, and it was possibly the FIRST film I ever saw that showed decapitated bodies!!!! Whoah! Trust me, at the time that was big news!! Watching it now, it is no more than a welcome bit of nostalgia from a time when monsters and movies were all that mattered. Sure, by today's standards, or hell, any day's standards this film is a mere blip on the landscape. Basic plot? Strange, inexplicable cloud, (no origin offered or needed) is hovering over the Trollenberg Mountain in Switzerland. Something in the cloud is taking the heads off unaware mountain climbers. A vacationing United Nations investigator and a weird sister, paranormal, mind reading act have inexplicably decided to spend their time off at this particular "place of doom"! The film is 80 merciful minutes long, and about 70 minutes in you get your first look at the Octopus/Eyeball beings that inhabit the cloud that, once again, is inexplicably hanging around this mountain and eating the heads off climbers. God, don't you wish that all movies could be this innocent and blatant? Still, it is shot in some gloriously clear Black & White, and we get a good look at Forrest Tucker Just a mere 7 or 8 years before his "F-Troop" TV series, and there are some real moments of dread, suspense and drama. Totally fine for an early Halloween peek! Scares: 2, Effects: 2, Fun: 4

5.) Horror of Party Beach - 1964 - Oct. 6, (2nd of double feature)
Take Frankie Avalon and Annette Funnicello, strip them of most of their talent, surround them with the prerequisite cast of bikers, surfers, beach bunnies and a surf band, THAN have a monster or two start eating them for no apparent reason and you've got yourself a "Horror on Party Beach". This gem was a hoot from the opening scenes: a hip young couple in a small sport convertible come cruising up to a beach party and immediately begin arguing. He: "you've got to grow up and get serious now", and She: "You're a bore, I'm gonna' drink and party and dance on the beach with bikers I've never met!" I'm paraphrasing, but that' pretty much the drift. Just prior to this we have a brief interlude setting up our "monsters". Get this, some boat, looks like a commercial fishing trawler, for some reason has 55 gallon drums of radioactive waste on board and decides to chuck 'em overboard just off the shore of Party Beach. One of the cans hits the ocean floor and springs a leak. As fate, and bad scripting, would have it, there just happens to be the human skeletal remains of, what? A surfer? Drunk fisherman who fell outta' his boat? Whatever, no explanation, there's just a lot of skeletons off the coast of this particular town. Well, something in the radioactive ooze, mixes with the skeletons and I guess the fish in the area and creates a small army of, uh, let's see how can I best describe these things. They look like 6 foot tall Asparagus, or Artichokes with a semi-fish head, but the fishes' mouth appears to be full of about a dozen cucumbers!!! I'm not makin' this stuff up, kids, you check out the pictures here and you'll see what I'm sayin'. The rest of the movie? Well, suffice to say it has laughs aplenty as these toxic, amphibious, vegetable men proceed to raid a pajama party, a beach party, and lover's lane. This is part of the new Del Tenney Collection that includes 2 other titles that I'll be watching soon, and at least this one is pure fun. Tacky and cheap to be sure, but fun nevertheless!! Scares: 0, Effects: -1, Fun: 5

6.) The Innocents - 1961 - Oct. 8
I guess I felt I needed to cleanse my pallet after that last film, so I chose a film I have heard about but never seen. Starring Deborah Kerr, an academy award winner no less, and featuring the great direction of Jack Clayton, this is a classic, Gothic, ghost story in the mold of The Haunting, Changeling, and Dead of Night. The formula is typical for the time and for the caliber of director and performers in the piece: they are in no hurry to rush you into a fake scare scene, or blood, or gore. Slowly building the dread, the storyline follows a newly hired governess assigned to take care of the unwanted nephews of a erudite, world traveler, played briefly by Michael Redgrave. The children reside in a gigantic, Gothic mansion in the middle of nowhere that has a tragic history. The previous governess committed suicide after the accidental death of her sadistic lover, the estate's groundskeeper. You are kept guessing throughout the film whether there are really ghosts haunting the estate, in effort to possess the children, a brother and sister who are creepily played here by two unknown child actors. Kerr is convinced that the ghosts are real and that they intend to inhabit the children to carry on their brutal love affair. However, no one else sees the ghosts, or knows of them. Is she crazy? Are the kids evil? Are the ghosts real? This is the device that keeps you watching til the end. Now, I personally was disappointed in the ending, it's one of those "leave the viewer up in the air and to his or her own conclusion" endings. I hate those. But still,this one is well worth the 100 minutes, and I'm not sure I agree that it's "one of the scariest movies of all time" as it proclaims on the box, but it does always find a place on most industry Top 100 Horror film lists. Scares: 4, Effects: 3, Fun:2

7.) Curse of the Living Corpose - 1964 - Oct. 10
Well, let's just say Del Tenney had some pretty good intentions with this film: clearly influenced by Roger Corman, Hammer, and to a lesser degree, early Universal films, Tenney sets out to make a gothic "who done it" film. A signifigant factoid of this particular movie is that it is the debut effort of Roy Schieder, who of course will go on to become quite a star. Outside of that it is an ensemble of unknowns including a Clark Gable look-a-like, and cadre of forgetable "B" movie stalwarts. So, back to the film, it's a hoot in many ways. The black and white cinematography is crystal clear, the 19th century costumes are well done and believable, and the outdoor sequences are lush. It's the sets that suck! I swear that all indoor shots were done in one room where they just moved the funiture around and changed the placement of the pictures on the wall. It's either that or the interior designer really liked this one pattern of wallpaper. The film is schizophrenic on multiple levels: part "who done it", part gore film, and then 45 minutes in it takes an inexplicable comic turn with the introduction of a Chief Inspector and his bumbling Constable side kick. Ala Universal horror where there would always be at least one character to provide comic relief between the scenes of "terror". So Del tries a little bit of everything in this one, his villian's main story line borrows liberally from Poe's Premature Burial premise in that the unseen Rufus Sinclair suffers from the paranoia that he will be buried alive. The movie commences with his funeral so we never really see or meet the ill fated Sinclair but we are soon introduced to his entire dysfunctional family. At the reading of the Will each of the characters greatest fears is revealed and used to threaten them in the event that the Patriarch of the family is indeed buried alive. The remainder of the film is the systematic carrying out of the threats. Again, there is clearly a decent storyline here, Tenney just doesn't have the writing skills to propel it forward. Not a total waste of time, and some yucks that'll keep you interested, but not a must see by any standard. Scares: 1, Effects: 1, Fun: 3

8.) Count Dracula (BBC Teleplay) - 1977 - Oct. 11
Beautifully shot, excellently adapted from the Stoker book, and professionally cast, this 1977 BBC mini-series is actually the best telling of the Dracula story. It is also clear that Coppolla liberally lifted large sections of this teleplay for his version of the movie as did many of his actors. If you watch the Frank Finlay performance of Van Helsing in this production and follow it with the Anthony Hopkins interpretation, you will know without a doubt that Hopkins closely studied Finlay's performance. Louis Jordan as Dracula is nothing short of brilliant in his smooth juxtaposition of grace and menance. The film jumps between film and video tape and this can be a distraction if you let it, but the transistions are put to good use and serve to enhance several scenes. Everyone knows the story so there's no use for me to belabor that here, but suffice to say that this Count Dracula is probably the definitive presentation of this timeless horror story. It just became available on DVD this year after 30 years as a lost fan favorite. I actually saw this when it aired in 1977 on my local PBS station and I never forgot it. Reviewing again today for the first time in 3 decades was well worth the weight. Scares: 4, Effects: 5, Fun: 5

9.) Phantom from 10,000 Leagues - 1956 - Oct. 13 (1st of double feature)
The premise of this incredible stinker is, and I'm doing my best to explain what I think the premise was, a Professor at an undisclosed Oceanographic Institute is working on some top secret, uh, experiment or something.......apparently so secret that we, the audience, never know what the hell it was!! But no matter, the opening scene is of some fisherman off the coast (of we never learn where) bringing in his net to examine the catch of the day when his rowboat is capsized and he is killed by a, well the best way to describe it is, an underwater Chinese parade dragon. And no, I'm not kidding. Fortunately for us, the doomed viewer, this underwater demon, the Phantom I suppose, only has a total of less than 90 seconds of screen time in this 80 minute travesty. No name actors of any kind in this forgettable sci-fi film, and the story is loose and lost for much of the film. Part monster flick, part international espionage flick (there are some random scenes interjected throughout that deal was some Femme Fatale that is blackmailing the aforementioned Professor's lab assistant for.......oh, who gives a shit!) In fact, there's not much use in me going into anymore detail on this one. If you watch it, and I don't think you should, be prepared for unrelenting boredom!!! Scares: 0, Effects: 1, Fun: 1

10.) Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes - 1955 - Oct. 13 (2nd of double feature)
The previous film would have been my candidate for worst film I'd ever watched during my marathons, until I saw this one!! Sucking on so many levels, this film is an early effort in part of Roger Corman, who would of course later go on to some pretty watchable "B" films. But this one is not a cornerstone of his career, in fact, I don't know how he got work after this junk. First off, there is NO beast with any eyes, much less a million of 'em! Basically, this isolated family living on what appears to be a "palm tree" farm, is terrorized by, get this, farm animals and birds under the mind control of a being from another planet. The being appears in the form of a pressure cooker, or teapot, with spinning antennae that emits a high pitched whistle that apparently takes over minds. Horrible editing, stilted acting, crappy sets and filming, and the worst dialogue I've heard since Catwoman, this movie is so bad that if you watch it, I will personally come to your house and slap the crap outta' you!!! Scares: 0, Effects: 1, Fun: 1

11.) Dr. Phibes Rises Again! - 1972 - Oct. 14
Long on style, heavy on 1930's era deco, deep on pre-psychodelic renderings, but oh so woefully short on substance, this film is only watchable due to the mesmorizing presence of Vincent Price. Basically relegated to a silent film role (Dr. Phibes can only "speak" through some weird electronic outlet on his neck) Price carries himself in his usual over the top, grandiose, but ultimately menacing presence that we have come to know and love. The first Phibes film left me questioning, and this sequel does little to provide answers . But the sets are lavish, the plot murkey but followable, and the atmosphere is creepy. This movie is thought by many to be superior to it's predecessor, but I differ with that thinking. At least the first movie set up the character and his motives, this film merely perpetuates the bizarre killing devices that Phibes employes to extract revenge on those he perceives to have wronged him. Scares: 2, Effects: 2, Fun:4

12.) House - 1986 - Oct. 15
Departing momentarily from his bread and butter, Sean Cunningham, (of the Friday the 13th series), offers us this fairly refreshing ghost story. Although convoluted at times with regard to several simultaneous storylines, it is a well paced, well acted, and quite an original lil' spin on the standard "haunted house" theme. Clearly advertising for this film was geared to make the audience think that it was a different kind of movie with the "Ding, dong, you're dead!" catch line. Only one character dies in this move as a direct result of the house, or the haunting and the film is really delivered in a comic horror tone. Nevertheless, William Katt (Carrie) turns in a likeable performance as an ex-Viet Nam vet, turned horror author, who lost his young son in an "abduction", is seperated from his beautiful actress wife, and whose Aunt just committed suicide. See what I mean about the plot lines?? It all manages to work somehow and the film is a clean 82 minutes long. There are some good scares here and the back story about Katt's time in Viet Nam is intriguing. I hadn't seen this film since it's release and I was pleasantly reminded of how much I liked it. Good stuff, well worth your time. Scares: 4, Effects: 5, Fun: 5

13.) From Beyond -1986 - Oct. 16
It's hard to believe that this film and the previous one both came out in the same year! The approaches to horror are so distinctly different. Stuart Gordon, following on his dynamic debut with ReAnimator, takes us on another "in your face" weird, psycho-sexual, trip down terror lane. Loosely based, as many of Gordon's films are, on an H.P. Lovecraft tale, once again the wonderfully weird Jeff Combs turns in another over the top performance as a lab assistant to a malevolent genius who has invented a machine that, uh, will, it, uh..........not quite sure what the intent was, but it apparently torques up your 6th sense and, as an added bonus, puts you on the express train to nutty town! Barbara Crampton, one of the Gordon ensemble group, once again plays the female lead and cements her status as the 80's sexy, scream queen. The gore is fairly up front in many of the scenes, but there are plenty of other moments of building tension, and suspense. Again, I'm not sure at all how close this screenplay comes to the original source material, but it is classic Stuart Gordon and a film I've always remembered since originally viewing it in 1986. It has been re-released within the last year in the "unrated director's cut" edition, and the transfer to DVD is flawless. I highly recommend this one. Scares: 5, Effects: 7, Fun: 7

14.) Cloverfield - 2008 - Oct.17
Okay, let's get it straight: If not for Blair Witch, there would be no Cloverfield; If no for Cloverfield there would be no Quarantine. The building number of "hand held video" point of view films would seem to indicate that they work, at least on some level. Cloverfield is one of the better, if not the best of this genre. Smartly scripted, amazingly edited, and cleverly acted, this film actually gives us a believable "giant monster invades city" film! Can you believe it? After nearly 70 years of this theme, J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves have the hutzpah to try and deliver this tired format to a knowing audience base. It works on all levels. Now, in order to sell us on idea that this is a "real" video, they do have to use some rather tired effects. Apparently "real" videos are always framed on the diagonal, or cut off the subjects heads or half their bodies. You know, going overboard to convince us that this ain't professional. But that's little enough to swallow considering we've already bought into the fact that anyone on earth would really take the time to continue "filming" while: being attacked by crab like carnivorous bugs; running through destruction ravaged streets while the military relentlessy bombs a giant monster; or, perhaps being in a helicopter that is knocked out of the sky by the aforementioned monster. So, we've agreed to suspend disbelief, and we are better for the bargain. Cloverfield is smart, scary, and original. Can't ask for more than that in todays horrorverse. Scares: 5, Effects: 9, Fun: 7

15.) Demons - 1985 - Oct. 18
Man, oh man! Uh, just a tad in your face, Lamberto Bava (son to the master, Mario Bava) follows in Dad's footprints but trades in the atmosphere for gore. I remember seeing this one in the theater with my brother and not really believing what we were seeing. Ahead of it's time in the "knowing" horror movie theme, the plot (such as it is) revolves around a group of people who have accepted an invitation to a free viewing of a movie in a large, gothic, theater called the Metropol. While the film unfolds, the audience members begin living the nightmare being played out on the screen. Somehow having to do with Demons, and ancient Nostrodamus predictions about the end of man, the movie characters and the audience members beginning turning into boil splattering, gut chewing, profusely bleeding, razor toothed zombies hellbent on, whatelse? Carnage. No real explanations given or needed in this one, you just have to go along for the ride. Plenty of horror, decent effects and make up, and pretty cool sets and scenery make this an above average entry into the zombie/ghoul/living dead genre. Scares: 6, Effects: 5, Fun: 4

16.) Target Earth! - 1954 - Oct. 20
If you didn't know it, you'd swear by the opening scenes of this movie that it was an earlier version of 28 Days Later. Young women, scantily clad, wakes up in hotel room looking a tad outta' touch with reality. She meanders around to discover that she is ALONE IN THE CITY!! EVERYONE IS GONE!!!! Not. Real soon, Richard Denning (Revenge of the Creature) shows up and they calmly figure out that the entire city has been evacuated in the last 12 hours, and somehow they apparently did it without making a sound! Oh, the innocence of the era. But wait, it gets better. Everyone was sheparded outta' town because, you guessed it, spacemen have landed and seem content to hobble around this one city without picking on any other cities, or heck, even making threats against humanity. Sheeeesh, lazy alien robots. Oh yeah, and on the robot subject, they amount to, let me see, cardboard boxes, with accordian tube legs, and what appears to be fast food cup dispensers for arms. Here's the deal, it's 1954 and by gosh, they just didn't have a handle on effects. At least not this film, on the other hand, Earth VS the Flying Saucers was essentially the same plot right down to the "soundwave" gun that the earthlings develop to combat the the invaders. So, what's the difference? Ray Harryhausen, that's what! he did all the effects for Earth VS, and that makes all the difference in the world. Anyway, this is a blast from the past and alot of fun to watch. Not gonna' keep you on the edge of your seat, but it'll entertain you for 80 minutes. Scares: 0, Effects: 1, Fun: 4

17.) Dr. Cyclops - 1940 - Oct. 21
It's starts right after the opening Universal logo. There's no break in the building momentum, the unrelenting terror, the pounding and persistant nerve shattering horror of it!!! Is it Dr. Cyclops??? A giant cat??? An unspeakable evil that torments us so??????No, it's the SCORE!! Damn, from frame one the music never stops! I don't think I've ever watched a movie (that wasn't a musical) so chock full of music!! Frolicking, menacing, gay, sinister, pounding, light and name it. The fella that sat down to score this pic sure gave the studio it's moneys worth! Oh, yeah, about the film itself. It's a clever lil' story about a Col. Kurtz type guy, holed up down in South America somewhere, diddleing around with radiation and such. Somehow stumbles on a way to shrink big things down to little things and goes blind and mad at the same time. Your Mom told you that would happen! Anyway, this film, and the next few that I'll be reviewing are from the Classic Sci-Fi Ulitmate Collection Volume 2, that was a Best Buy exclusive. (refer to my last years column for some interesting tid bits on Volume 1). I gotta say, these collections, both Volume 1 and 2, are really well presented. They feature classic Universal Studio Sci-Fi films that didn't get the love that the Monster features recieved, but as kids we really loved these films. Never before released on DVD, the prints are pristine. This movie was an early Technicolor film and it is beautiful in it's print. But I'm tellin' you, the music will end up makin' you nutz by half way through the film!! Scares:2, Effects:4, Fun: 6

18.) Cult of the Cobra - 1955 - Oct. 22
I don't think I've ever seen a film with so many actors that were just on the doorstep of TV stardom!! David Jannsen (The Fugitive), Richard Long (yes, that's his REAL name, The Big Valley), Edward Platt (Chief on Get Smart), and a handfull of others that any baby boomer would recognize are featured in this tale of 5 GI's who accidentally get themselves cursed by and ancient cult that worships Cobras. A beautiful shape shifter carries out the grizzly deaths of the infidels but falls in love with one of them and has second thoughts. I know, I know, you're thinkin' "gee, Cal, this film sounds like a load of crap". But hold on to your hats, seekers, this lil' gem is actually quite decent. Sure, it was made in 55 so it ain't gonna' go all Jason Voorhees on ya', but it does demonstrate some of the magic Universal formula that launched many a classic monster. The pathos is there, you actually feel sorry for the poor Cobra woman who just wants to love and be loved, right after she kills a handfull of GI's. A nice alternate love story, fairly good dialogue and hey, it's a movie about snake people, we ain't thinkin' Oscar here. Just go with it! Scares: 2, Effects: 2, Fun: 4

19.) Fears of the Dark - 2008 - Oct. 26
Okay, like last years "Young Frankenstien" on Broadway, this time I was in New York and went to the opening of this animated, horror anthology movie. A French production, and admittedly, a lil' weird, it's comprised of 5 short cartoons, all done in crisp black and white, by 5 different animators. There's some moments here, but overall, the stories don't really deliver. They set up decent plots, but never close the deal. One of the more notable episodes, by Charles Burns, is about guy who collects bugs and stumbles upon a rather unique, almost human like, bug in the woods. He loses it in his bedroom and we are led to believe that it is gone. He goes on with his life, meets a girl, she becomes "infected" by the bug and............well in case you ever get a chance to see it, I won't blow the remainder of the film. Another threading short about some guy walking his killer dogs that end up killing him in the last frame; a short tale of a killer crocodile, or is it?; and the finale dealing with a man trapped in a haunted house. All interesting, very attractive art and animation, but sorely lacking in payoff. Worth a look on DVD if you get a chance. Scares: 1, Effects: 6, Fun: 2

20.) American Werewolf in London - 1981 - Oct. 26
This one wasn't on my watch list for this year, but I'm sure glad I watched it. Clearly a bar raising event in the history of werewolf movies, Jon Landis' take on the Wolfman mythos is nearly a seamless blend of dark comedy and horror, and the transformation scene set the standard for all werewolf movies to follow. Not to be confused with Scary Movie, or any of the other horror satires, this movie scares you when it's supposed to. The comedy portions come mainly in the form of "back from the dead" visits of the hero's dead friend. By now, nearly everyone has seen this movie so there's no need to detail the story, but it's worth noting that this was one of the earliest "knowing" horror movies. You know, like Scream did a decade later, our characters here are aware of the horror movie traditions and myths that proceed them. Get it, watch it, love it. Scares: 5, Effects: 8, Fun: 7

21.) The Strangers - 2008 - Oct. 26
"Inspired by true events", the hook in the marketing for this thriller is a direct nod to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even the narrated beginning smacks of the original TCM. But the similarities end there. Smart, clever, well paced, and brief, this movie delivers a lot with a little. I'm no big fan of Liv Tyler, but let's just say it's easier for me to buy her as a terrorized woman trapped in a cabin, than as a nuclear physicist ala Hulk!! Basic story can be loosely traced to the Manson Family murders that made headlines in the 60's. A couple is staying at a family summer home, isolated in the woods of anywhere USA. There is an unnecessary sub-plot about the girl refusing the guys marriage proposal, but the real terror comes when a young woman knocks on their door at 4:00 am in the morning. Hidden in the dark, we cannot see her face, as she blankly asks the couple if "Tambra" is home. When she is informed that she must have the wrong house she creepily replies, "are you sure?" From this moment on it's pretty much full out terror. Two other figures join our mysterious woman, all in creepy masks or hoods. Adding to the tension of this film is the anonymity of the villains (we never see their faces) and the random, needless, brutality of their acts. Don't want to give up too much here, but I'd recommend it now that it's been released on DVD. Scares: 6, Effects: 4, Fun: 2

22.) Night of the Demon - 1957 - Oct. 27
Also known here in the States as Curse of the Demon, a shorter version of the complete film, this one may have been a trailblazer in the Cult/Demon/Satan based horror films. It's a pretty intriguing storyline dealing with a cult leader and his "witchcraft", a cynical scientist bent on proving him a hoax, and the niece of a murdered professor out to avenge her Uncle's untimely demise. Got all that? Beyond that it could have easily been titled Night of the Dick, since the our hero, played by Dana Andrews, is possibly the biggest A-Hole ever written into a script. From the very first scene he establishes his Dick credentials and relentlessly pursues perfection at this act throughout the film. That's fun to watch in and of itself. But back to the film, it's a pretty crisp yarn that doesn't waste time. All the scenes propel the plot. There are some decent scares interwoven into the mounting tension. The acting is good, and the special effects, in particular the "Demon" (which most of us will remember fondly by the Basil Gogos cover art on Famous Monsters of Filmland!) are totally worthwhile. A solid horror movie, perhaps a decade ahead of its time. Scares: 4, Effects: 4, Fun: 5

23.) The Signal - 2007 - Oct. 27
Wow, where in the hell do I start with this one. Let's see, the opening sequence and credits are a complete nod to the horror/exploitation films of the early 70's. Very impressive beginning. We then segue to our real movie: basic idea is that some hidden thought control commands begin emanating from TV sets (apparently mainly Plasma sets since every friggin' body in this movie appears to have one!) that make the general population freak out and begin killing each other. I remember an X-Files episode that used this plot device and I wonder how much the writers here borrowed from that idea. Anyway, the film is presented in a kind of Horror Pulp Fiction format: we are treated to three separate yet related tales all of which revolve around the same day, characters, and events. This is a pretty interesting format and I liked that part of it alot. Now, the segments go from full on horror, to semi-comedic horror ala Sean of the Dead, and back to full on serious horror again. It's not a totally smooth ride, but considering the budget, the independent nature of the film, and the first time cast and crew, it's easy to overlook some of the shortcomings. There's some definite gore, some hilarious laugh out loud parts, and even a damn love story worked in here so be prepared to pay attention. The fact that the source or the reason for the "signal" is never established, explained, or justified is a little bit of a drag, but again, doesn't really detract from the movie. I'd give this one another shot next year. Scares: 5, Effects: 7, Fun: 6
24.) Let the Right One In - 2008 - Oct. 27
Okay, this one is most definitely the topper for strangest, possibly most intriquing, horror movie of this years marathon. It's Swedish, so it's subtitles all the way, it just opened in theaters, has a totally balls out trailer online, and, get this, is actually BETTER than the trailer!! Based on the book, "Let Me In", it's deals with a 12 year old girl named Eli who has been a vampire for decades. Always on the move with her "Father", an older man who is her caretaker and sometime provider of her special diet, she moves into an apartment project where she meets a 12 year old boy named Oskar. Long story short: Oskar is a quiet bookworm, bullied by his school mates, who fantisizes about exacting his revenge. Eli and Oskar develop a strong friendship and, at least for Oskar, a budding first love. They become boyfriend and girlfriend, and she tutors Oskar in growing up and becoming a man. Sounds like some sucky chick flick, right? WRONG!!!! There are some full on, balls out, vamp scenes that'll smack you right in yer doubtin' lil' face. The movie comes off like a Bergman film with monsters in it, in that it is beautifully filmed, and the musical score is lush and moving. But have no doubt about the horror, it's there brewing from the first moment, and the end scene which takes place in a swimming pool where Oskar is being bullied for the last time, is like no other scene I've ever witnessed in a horror film. It totally rocks. The movie is LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG, clocking in at 2 hours, so at times it plods and you may find yourself shifting in your seat, but overall it's one of the better new entrees into the horror genre in many a year. Scares: 8, Effects: 7, Fun: not really so much....
25.) The Land Unknown - 1957 - Oct. 28
Think Jurassic Park.........then get that thought right out of yer head, 'cause this ain't no Jurassic Park. But, it does deal with dinosaurs existing among us in the "now". Scientists exploring the South Pole, that's Antartica for those of you a tad challenged in geography, find an area in the tundra that is nearly tropical in its climate. Upon closer inspection, so close that they fly a damn helicopter into it, they find a crater that leads to a lost world beneath the ice cap. Featuring Jock Mahoney (later to go on as one of the many Tarzans) and Shawn Smith, doing her best Janet Leigh (really, she's the spittin' image of Janet), as a Navy commander and a journalist respectively, much adventure ensues. Typical of the 50's era sci-fi they encounter killer plants, sea creatures, giant lizards and a T-Rex!! Yep, that's right, and this T appears to be a guy in a costume super imposed into the scenes! It's a hoot, not bad for the time but obviously the effects are timed out. Another one from the Classic Sci Fi Ultimate collection, Vol. 2. Scares: 1, Effects: 4, Fun: 6
26.) The Deadly Mantis - 1957 - Oct. 29

So I'm 10 years old, I'm totally all about monsters, and monster movies. Summer of 1965, a show called "The World Beyond" begins airing on TV on Thursday nights at 7:00 pm, showing mainly an eclectic blend of sci-fi films from the 50's. How much heaven can one kid stand? Among the many films that I watched that Summer, The Deadly Mantis stands out as one that I truly loved. In fact for Christmas that year my Grandma bought me a record album (remember those?) called Themes from Horror Movies by Dick Jacobs and his Orchestra that featured, among others, the Theme from The Deadly Mantis. Clearly formulaic in its approach yet improved by a fairly decent effects team that gave us a "Mantis" that you could actually believe was real. The creature is incredibly detailed, right down to the mandibles and quad wings. Believe me, many giant insect film suffers from the totally crappy special effects team. Mantis succeeds in its semi based in reality approach to the sequence of events that lead to the Mantis' reign of terror. But, pound for pound, the Mantis has a pretty low body count for a giant monster. My count was 7, 5 soldiers and 2 Eskimos. But the time the beast migrates to the populated areas, Washington DC and New York City, the carnage is held to a minimum. Still, nostalgia dictates that I recommend this film to you all. It's truly one of the better giant bug movies that populated the 50's. Scares: 2, Effects: 4, Fun: 6
Well, Seekers, I guess I came up a tad short this year. Crap, could'nt get my 31 in 31 done, but hey, we got in some real chesnuts and had a bunch of fun celebratin' the season. Next year, I'm gonna' start a tad earlier, perhaps around the Autumn solstice like I did last year, to make sure we get in all the flicks we wanna' watch. Hope it was a fun ride for you, it sure was for me. Time now to move on with my regular media reviews and posts. See ya' in the movies!!!


Post a Comment

<< Home