Friday, June 5, 2009


This is one of the greatest movies hardly anyone has seen. It’s well-paced (much more so than Faust was), has a good deal of action, and even veers full-bore into some Lord of the Flies-type territory toward the end. Also, it’s Australian, so everyone has just adorable accents in it.

Our heroine is a young schoolteacher in rural Australia, who is teaching her class when they are interrupted by a gang wearing Santa masks, who kidnap everyone at gunpoint. The class is locked up in a cave, but manages to escape, leading inexorably to a surprisingly tense and bloody confrontation with their kidnappers.

The main thing that works with this film is how clever the characters are. While the fact that the class is of wildly varying age (something I hear can happen in rural communities, though I normally associate such phenomena with schoolmarms in westerns) does lead to a moment where a stupid little girl completely botches an escape attempt, for the most part the characters are able to think of ways to escape and defend themselves from their attackers. This is a major step up from most horror movies, where characters mostly have a tendency to actively seek out their deaths by the most stupid means possible.

There’s also some great tension to the film, as the villains are also pretty damn smart. They’re somewhat able to anticipate what the class is going to try to do, and even when they can’t, they’re still the ones with the guns, so how about that? And yes, as mentioned before, it ends with a fairly shocking amount of violence for a movie that’s comparatively restrained up until the climax, and for a TV movie to boot. It provides us with a nicely shocking, and wonderful, ending to a classic film.

Rating: ****


Saturday, May 30, 2009


I feel I should take a moment and defend the integrity of the 100 Rare and Obscure Horror Films You Should See Before You Die, as, in the world of silent movies, F.W. Murnau is admittedly not all that obscure. That being said, however, there really isn’t a great surplus of people my age (or in general) that have seen any silent films at all, except perhaps in a film class. Even then, any silent film is likely to be Nosferatu, the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or a non-horror movie. I feel confident, therefore, that few if any of you have seen this silent classic, about a renowned doctor who makes a deal with the devil to help his people, and surprisingly finds that it doesn’t turn out quite how he imagined it would.

The film, based on Goethe’s play that I’ve yet to read (I have read Marlowe’s version, if that makes up for it at all), opens humbly with the four horsemen of the apocalypse flying through the land. This turns out to be an opening gambit by the Devil, who, when confronted by God, argues that the human race is thoroughly corrupted and belongs to him now. God obviously disagrees, and so they make a wager: if the Devil can completely corrupt and ruin a pure soul – the aforementioned doctor – then the world is his.

The film, presumably like the play, is structured rather oddly. It’s bookended with some startling imagery that partially floats away from a conventional narrative, as when they show the Devil infecting Faust’s city with plague via him spreading his wings out to surround the land. However, during a good chunk of the middle portion, the film seems to turn away from the dark and fantastical, and towards romantic comedy territory, as Faust is given his youth, and spends his time chasing after a girl. I can only assume this section is meant to show us that even someone renowned for his wisdom and intelligence can turn into a damned fool when youth and beauty come along. It tends to go on a bit overlong (as the comedy sequences in Marlowe’s play did, come to think of it), but at least it wraps up appropriately miserably, as a story of a man making a deal with the devil should.

While the pacing is off (as was often the case with silent films), the movie is filled with such great imagery and tells such a classic, dark story, that you owe it to yourself to check it out. Also, if you find you just can’t bring yourself to watch a silent film, or if you’d just prefer a film that goes completely surrealist and weird, you can also check out Jan Svankmajer’s Faust from the mid-90s, which is also totally awesome. Sadly, though, it’s not available in full on Youtube, as Murnau’s is.

Also, keep in mind you can never go wrong with 1920s tits.

Rating: *** ½

*Further proof: on Amazon, Faust’s new 2 disc special edition DVD is currently ranked at 15,786 in DVD sales, while Basket Case, a cult horror movie about a man whose murderous mutant twin brother is kept hidden in a basket, is ranked at 8,934. This is scientific proof that Faust is only half as popular as semi-obscure cult movies from 1982.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Eyes Without a Face (a.k.a. Les Yeux sans Visage)

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but no matter how much I may enjoy gorefests and the over-the-top bloodiness of the best slasher movies, I will happily take a horror movie that emphasizes creepiness over blood any day of the week. That’s not to say that Eyes Without a Face has no gory moments (indeed, a couple shots are pretty extreme for a movie from 1959), but it does mostly focus on being one of the most unsettling and weird horror movies of its day.

The film is about a famous surgeon in the French countryside whose daughter’s face has been hopelessly ruined in a car crash, and so he becomes obsessed with kidnapping other young women and trying to surgically graft their faces onto his daughter. Clearly a man ahead of his time, as just recently have we had the world’s first successful face transplant. While he uses his first victim as a means of faking his daughter’s death, the police do eventually start noticing the disappearances of several young women in the area, all of whom seem to have recently been at the doctor’s clinic (way to keep attention away from yourself there, buddy). Additionally, he also finds he has to contend with his daughter, who is increasingly horrified at what is being done to all the young women, as well as to herself.

It’s always interesting to me how the French countryside can look so beautiful in so many movies, and yet look so grim and ghoulish whenever a horror movie is set there (Calvaire is another one where all of France seems to be a grim post-apocalyptic wasteland). Add to that the unsettling carnival music, and the constant sound of the doctor’s pack of dogs barking, and you’ve got a place that seems a wee bit less pleasant to live than, say, Manon des Sources.

I also enjoyed how plausible most of the film was – not only is there nothing at all supernatural about the plot, but it bears mentioning that quite a few of our major medical breakthroughs have indeed come from using people as complete guinea pigs. Sure, most of the time there wasn’t any outright kidnapping going on, but there hasn’t been any shortage of tests done on minorities or prisoners of war (or, in the case of the Japanese Imperial Army, all of China) – in short, any time someone was able to pretend someone else wasn’t a real person. This was a pretty dark subject matter for the 50s – or even today – and even if it doesn’t fully deal with the questions it raises, it still makes it one of the best horror movies out there, and one that it’s a shame almost nobody my age has seen.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Evil Dead Trap

Like the Eternal Evil of Asia, this was another of the first Asian horror movies I ever owned. In retrospect, I see that I was completely being spoiled by almost solely purchasing high quality Asian horror, as later years and the spread of what feels like hundreds of cookie-cutter “scary ghost girl terrorizes people for using technology” films would water the product down so heavily that an impulse purchase nowadays is far more likely to give you a mediocre to terrible film than one actually worth having. Fortunately, back in the days before Ringu/Ju-On/Dark Water/Angry Ghost Girl With Long Black Hair 87 flooded the market, here in America we were only given access to the very best Asia had to offer, such as this film.

The film follows a group of women that work for a small late night news show who receive a video detailing a woman being tortured and killed. Also featured on the video is a nice lengthy driving sequence showing the girls how to get to the abandoned warehouse/factory type place where the murder was committed. Now, as anyone with half a brain would do in their situation, they decide not to call the cops, as this might just be their big break as serious reporters, and they decide instead to grab a cameraman and drive out there to investigate. They all start dying soon afterwards.

The film has two main flaws to it, both heavily intertwined. One is in the weak pacing, as almost every death in the film occurs within the first hour. The reason for this is due to its other flaw, in how the first two thirds of the film work really, really well as a particularly nasty slasher film, while the final third suddenly turns into a Cronenberg film. Just completely out of nowhere it devolves into complete weirdness and insanity, and I can’t say I’m a very big fan of all that, at least not when a film was doing such a good job at doing things in a semi-sane manner.

That said, when the film is working it does a really great job. It’s got a really gritty, grindhouse-style look to it that perfectly complements the grisly murders that take place in it. The murders themselves are also a piece of work; it should come as no surprise that Japan was and is able to make video nasties much better and more grotesque than anything America or England was capable of. Just compare this to, say, its namesake Evil Dead, which got an NC-17 in the USA and an X in England prior to being outright banned as a video nasty, for reasons that elude anyone who’s ever actually seen the film. Compared to that film, this should have gotten a XXX rating while being edited down to a 20 minute run time. Moral of the story: don’t even try to compete with Japan when it comes to brutal violence against women, you’ll never come close to matching them.

Rating: ***


Friday, May 8, 2009

The Eternal Evil of Asia

This was one of the first Asian horror movies I ever bought, dating back to the fabled year 2000 when a co-worker brought in a copy of Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind and gave me the bug for more. Being a budding young Amazon enthusiast, I went on there and checked their Asian Horror category, which at the time consisted of three movies: Encounters, Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, and this film. It has remained a cherished part of my collection ever since.

While the film works on pretty much every level, if there is a weakness it would be with the plot. It’s the fairly standard “group of friends somehow wronged someone earlier in life, and now he’s back for revenge” type deal, though this one admittedly has a few nice twists. For one, it’s pretty much 100% the guy’s fault that they wronged him – the villain is a wizard, see, who tried to use a love potion on the main character to get him to fall in love with the wizard’s sister, only the main character’s friends accidentally got the potion instead. After a nice softly-lit orgy, she awakens, sees she’s attracted the wrong people, flips out and tries to kill them, and is accidentally killed in the process. Totally not our protagonists’ fault in any way, though this should be considered a strong cautionary tale of why one should never vacation in Thailand, for any viewers out there not already warned off by all the trannies.

So, with the plot more or less brushed aside, what does this film have to really offer? Well, it has a lot of great humor to it, such as when the evil wizard punishes our hero by using a voodoo doll to make him impotent right when he’s getting it on with his fiancee. That’s just cold. There’s also a good deal of fun with the unconcernedly terrible subtitles, which not only mutilate the English language (and presumably also whatever Asian language is sitting on top of them, though I haven’t sat any Asian friends down with the movie and had them verify this), but also sometimes says the exact opposite of what the character is actually saying.

Finally, there’s the unavoidable topic of the women in the film, who are tremendously attractive, especially our main character’s fiancee, played by Lily Chung, who IMDB helpfully tells me was Hong Kong’s representative for Miss Universe 1987. I hope she won, because she totally deserves it. Hell, the film’s climax alone, which plays out pretty much exactly how The Invisible Maniac SHOULD have played out, should have won her the title. If, you know, this hadn’t been made almost a decade later, which I feel is an unfair sticking point.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Eaten Alive

While a great many people have seen and loved Tobe Hooper’s first film, a little ditty known as the Texas Chain Saw Massacre (well, not counting some weird hippie movie he made in the 60s that all of five people have seen), surprisingly few have seen or even know about his second film, Eaten Alive. One could argue that this is because it’s not as good, but that kind of argument would then require us to watch only the single greatest film by each director and ignore all of their other films. I don’t think I want to live in a world where I’d be missing out on films like Creepshow (Romero), Last House on the Left (Craven), or Chopping Mall (Wynorski) just because they weren’t the top films of their filmmakers.

The film centers around Judd (Neville Brand), the owner of a small Texas hotel that, much like the Bates Motel, has its own swamp in the back. Even better than the Bates Motel, though, this swamp has its own crocodile, to which he feeds his more troublesome guests. It’s a nice way for him to expand from Texas Chain Saw, keeping things somewhat similar while taking them in a completely new direction. This would be pretty much the only time Hooper would ever do this, as almost every other film he’s ever made has been wildly different stylistically from all his others, leaving it very difficult to fit him into any kind of auteur theory. But I digress.

Even if it’s not on the level of Chain Saw (and honestly, that is kind of a tough act to follow), there’s still quite a lot to like about the movie. First is the quality acting of the film, headlined both by Brand and by a very young Robert Englund, who before becoming Freddy Krueger and Willie plays here a charmingly violent yokel that always enjoys plugging girls from behind. Also, while not an actual sequel, this does still follow the formula somewhat of ratcheting up the sex and violence to compensate for not being able to be the first film all over again. Not only does the croc kill people, but Brand takes a pitchfork and a scythe to his enemies, and a dog gets eaten too, something I always appreciate in a film. Also, following the simple understanding that everything is scarier (or at least creepier) at night, every single scene in the entire film is at night. Watching this, one would have no idea such a thing as the sun exists. It’s that kind of genius thinking that leads a man to make a movie about a house cursed from being built on an Indian burial ground, and then deciding to use actual corpses as props in the movie.

This is a true grindhouse film – nasty, vicious, and ugly. It’s also quite a lot of fun. If you want to see the kind of film that people reminisce fondly about when they complain about the dullness of present day movies, give this one a viewing.

Rating: ***


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dog Soldiers

When The Descent wound up being a surprise hit among horror fans, I had had some hopes that this would lead to fans then seeking out director Neil Marshall’s previous film Dog Soldiers, which I hold up as being possibly the best werewolf movie ever made. Sadly (and perhaps obviously), this did not happen, and it still languishes in semi-obscurity.

The film follows a group of Scotch soldiers on what seems to be a routine training mission out in the wilderness, when they find that the team they are fighting against has been almost completely wiped out by a pack of werewolves. Taking the lone, badly wounded survivor, they pretty much run screaming away from the vicious pack and hole up in a local’s home, where they have to make a NotLD-style defense against them all.

One of the things that makes this work so well is the rather frantic pacing of it all. I mentioned how it plays out somewhat like Night of the Living Dead, but only if you remove those wussy slow-moving zombies with the ones from the Dawn of the Dead remake. And make them smart, so they can figure out all the extra-sneaky ways to break in and kill people. Also, I don’t know if Britain just takes extra care in training its actors, but unlike many (read: all) of the United States’ low budget horror movies, there’s not a single bad actor to be found here.

This is not to say that the movie is perfect. I did, after all, not rate it quite four stars, pretty much entirely due to the ending, which takes all the momentum the film had built up and lets it drop with an ugly thud on the floor. It’s admittedly not the worst ending I’ve ever seen (I think that honor may permanently belong to Atonement), and also admittedly it’s not like there’s not a small army of horror movies out there that completely fumble the ball at the end, but for a movie that’s been so great up to this point, it’s all the more glaring. Still, if you watch it, the option is always there to turn it off ten minutes before it ends and imagine a different, much better ending. You can’t get that with most movies these days, you know.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Death Ship

Like most people (I presume), the bulk of my knowledge of George Kennedy comes from Police Squad! and the Naked Gun movies. As such, it was a fun experience getting to watch him, not only in a horror movie, but as one of the villains.

Not the main villain, though; that honor goes to the title character. This ship is just vicious; after the main characters have their ship wrecked and float on their lifeboat to the main setting, this ship does just about everything to murder them. Originally a nazi ship, as these things often tend to be, it knocks people into its propeller, it drops cranes on them, it possesses their captain (Kennedy) and gets him to attack people; in short, it’s one of the most inventive killers since Freddy Kreuger. And no, I don’t care that this came first.

I will be straight with you – this is not a perfectly made film. There are some noticeable continuity glitches, such as the rather abrupt shifting from day to night and back again. Personally, I’m willing to accept such snafus if the movie is entertaining enough to warrant it. Hell, Evil Dead had that problem, and I love the entire series. Plus, the ship itself just looks amazing, and that does tend to go a pretty long way in horror movies. It’s not really one of the better movies in the HROHFYSSBYD, but it’s still a fun movie, and in no way deserves the crap that seems to frequently gets slung its way (you know, on those rare occasions when anything at all gets slung its way).

One more thing. While this movie is not available yet on DVD (link to VHS below), you can supposedly see the whole movie at the link provided on the Youtube link. I can’t really confirm that at the moment, however, as the site seems to be temporarily on the fritz. Still, if it’s there when you go, be sure to check it out. It’s worth a viewing, at the very least.

Rating: ***


Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Deadly Spawn

If there’s ever a low budget monster Hall of Fame, the creatures from the Deadly Spawn absolutely deserve to be among the first inductees. On a budget of roughly twenty five grand, Douglas McKeown and company crafted some of the greatest looking monsters in film history, easily besting the lame CG monsters we often get in films today. Seriously, go check out, say, the monsters from the Underworld movies, and then come to this film, and tell me which look better to you.

This is a good thing, since the film operates on more of a premise than a plot. The story: aliens crash on earth, initially looking like large tadpoles with lots of teeth, and just growing more and more the longer they stay on the planet. Enter a small, relatively peaceful New Jersey family, whose cellar the alien fiends set up shop in, and who wind up getting chewed on a lot. The End.

So yeah, on paper it doesn’t really look like anything particularly special, but it’s simply a very fun, fairly gory 80s monster movie, in the grand tradition of the old 50s monster movies. The main character is a young kid, raised on such movies, who creates his own monster masks and is surprisingly well-equipped to deal with this onslaught. Somewhat less well-equipped are the boy’s parents, but hey, someone had to get eaten, right?

The eating, by the way, is easily the best part of the film, as it should be. Most movies like this, the actual violence is almost non-existent, or looks like shit. Not here. These bastards go around eating people’s heads, invading a vegetarian party full of old ladies (one of the best set-pieces in all of horrordom), and making blood splash all over the damn place. It is pure, unadulterated mayhem, and even though McKeown never went on to make anything else, this film shows he could easily have hung with horror standards like Craven or Hooper, had he wanted.

Rating: ***


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dead Eyes of London

For those unfamiliar with the subgenre of crime films from the 60s known as “krimi”, they basically came about as a result of the German public absolutely falling in love with the crime novels of Edgar Wallace, and making a frankly absurd number of movies based on them. Dead Eyes of London may not be one of the most graphic of them (the most violent of them I have so far seen would be The Bloody Dead, which was first known as Creature With the Blue Hand before extra shots of violence were clumsily added into it to make it more appealing to American audiences), but it’s still got enough horror elements to make it qualify for this collection.

The film involves a conspiracy of blind criminals that are going around killing rich foreign businessmen whenever London is overrun by fog (if you’ve never been to London they try to trick you and claim that it happens around forty days a year; in real life this means they’d be offing someone about every couple hours). Despite a lack of hard evidence, Scotland Yard begins to investigate a local church shelter for the blind, and their connection to a murderous blind man named Blind Jack.

The film has the traditional flashiness of all the best krimis, and also like many of the best krimis, it also features a supporting role by Klaus Kinski, who shows up looking so crazy guilty that we want to believe that he’s really the killer, even though the actual killer was the first character we saw. Don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away by that; not only is he on the cover of the DVD, he kills someone in the first scene of the film, so it’s not really all that ambiguous. Still, though, that Kinski, just as villainous as they come.

If you’ve never seen a krimi before, this would be a good place to start. The German film industry literally cranked out dozens of the damn things in the sixties, so there’s a lot to choose from, though most are not yet available on DVD in the US. Fret not, though, for if enough of you start buying up the ones that already exist, the studios won’t be able to resist releasing the other hundred or so in pristeen editions. Get to it already.

Rating: ***


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dark Waters

The term Lovecraftian often brings with it a sense of great foreboding, particularly in the realm of film, where most movies made based off of Lovecraft’s stories have tended to be horrible. Fortunately, this film manages to sidestep that problem, perhaps because it’s only stylistically similar to Lovecraft’s work, rather than being based on any specific work of his. Granted, that didn’t really work for Cthulhu Mansion, but you work with that you’ve got.

The film, by director Mariano Baino (I’m eagerly awaiting the day he decides to grace us with a second film, so I can see if this one wasn’t just a fluke), a girl travels to an island monastery connected to her family. According to the IMDB synopsis, she’s there following her father’s death to discover why he had been funding the place, but I must have missed the sudden burst of exposition within the film itself. Strange of me, both given that I've seen it twice and still had no real clue why she had originally decided to go there, and because there is such little dialogue in the film that I like to think I’d have heard it. Seriously, there’s maybe a hundred lines in the entire film. I’d say it verges on being a silent film were it not for the sound effects and surprisingly rousing music.

Regardless, the lack of much sound greatly adds to the overall creepiness of the film, which as you have no doubt guessed involves the monastery being a front for a murderous cult that is sacrificing women to help free a demonic figure trapped within the building. While it’s not a true Italian production – it was filmed in the Ukraine, co-financed by British and Russian companies – Baino gives it so much of the feel of the Italian horrors of the 70s and 80s that I feel it proper to label it as such. Sadly, the nuns don’t all get naked, or I could have cheerfully filed this one as nunsploitation as well, but the general mood and tension of the film make up for that tragic absence, I guess. Plus most of the nuns are a little too old to still be considered attractive, some even seeming to be in their mid-30s! It’s scandalous, really.

Rating: ***


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dark Night of the Scarecrow

TV movies would be a hell of a lot better today if they made them like they made this early 80s effort. Ignoring the fact that I never watch them anyway, I can’t think of the last time a network premiered a horror movie (yes, I’m specifying networks here, I’m sadly aware of all the horror movies that premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel) instead of whatever the hell they make TV movies out of nowadays.

The film opens with a retarded man (played by Dr. Giggles himself, Larry Drake) being falsely accused of assaulting a young girl and getting hunted down by a group of men and murdered. After seeming to escape punishment for their crime, the men now find themselves stalked by the scarecrow the retarded man had tried to disguise himself as when they killed him. One by one, they are killed, but who could their killer be? Could it possibly be the undead form of the slain retarded man????

While it’s a fairly standard plot for a horror movie, the film does function pretty darn nicely within its contexts. For one, it’s actually pretty surprisingly racy for a TV movie from 1981. While most of the violence is off screen, they all but outright state that the leader of the men wanted the retarded guy dead because he (the leader) had the hots for the young girl he (the retarded guy) was friends with. A strong undercurrent of pedophilia is always a welcome addition to any network entertainment, right guys?

Additionally, the film does a pretty nice job of keeping it a mystery of who the killer actually is. While there’s a good deal of speculation by the characters that it might be the dead man back from the grave, there’s quite a few less supernatural suspects that it could be, from his wrathful grieving mother, to the idealistic lawyer that basically declared a war against them when their case was thrown out for lack of evidence. You don’t get to find out definitively who it is until pretty much the very last minute of the film, which is rather nice for a time when most killers took pride in announcing their existence through sequel after sequel.

Rating: ***

P.S. While it’s outright impossible to purchase this movie in any official manner, you can still watch the entire film on Youtube. It’s certainly not an ideal way of watching it, but if you click on the trailer below, the user that posted it has the entire film on his channel for you to watch. Interactivity!


Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Crazies

I don’t know why, but one of my biggest thrills in movies is to see a devastating viral outbreak that requires a government quarantine to save everyone outside of the hot zone. It’s why I’ve read the first hundred or so pages of the Stand many more times than the rest of the book, and it’s probably connected to my similar love for zombies. How good for me, then, that the creator of the modern zombie story, Mr. George Romero himself, made this little-seen classic viral outbreak tale in the early 70s.

The film, set in a rural town in western Pennsylvania (curiously like a lot of Romero’s films – from what I can tell, western Pennsylvania is one of the most dangerous places in the world), concerns an experimental government bio-weapon that is accidentally released into the town’s water supply, and the military’s efforts to blockade the town so that nobody outside can learn of it, or be infected by it. The virus, of course, has a seemingly 100% success rate (just once, I’d like to see a movie about a deadly virus that’s like the flu and only has a crappy 20% infection rate), and everyone who gets it either dies or goes irreversibly insane. We then focus on a small group of locals that decide to hide from the government quarantine so that they don’t all get boxed into the high school to die like the rest of the town, only to find that they may have already been infected anyway.

This was Romero’s fourth film, after Night of the Living Dead and the as-yet-unseen-by-me There’s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch. While those two middle films were largely panned and seem to have fallen into obscurity, this one is absolutely due for people to discover. Like Night and Dawn, this is not a very polished film; the acting is all done by local unknowns, and is average at best (with the exception of the delightful Lynn Lowry, whose creepy self I’ve also seen in I Drink Your Blood and Shivers, two other 70s films where she went crazy). What it does have going for it is a frenzied energy, of things crumbling apart around everyone, of events having gotten way out of control before anyone even noticed things were wrong (cue Grant Morrison hyping up Final Crisis some more). It’s a strong, bleak film, from a great director that finally seems to have ended his hiatus from filmmaking (though it would be nice if he’d continue making films that didn’t have zombies in them too, considering his past two films and his next are all part of his Dead series). It’s not quite his best (that will probably always remain Dawn of the Dead), but it definitely hangs with his top efforts. Go give it a try.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, February 28, 2009

City of Rott

Of all the animated films I’ve seen in my day, I think this may even outrank Fist of the North Star as the most over-the-top violent. Also like Fist of the North Star, it starts to wear a little thin after a while. Still, this remains the only zombie cartoon I’ve seen to date and even if it doesn’t have quite enough variety to stand with the best zombie movies out there, it’s still well worth at least a viewing.

The film follows the adventures of an old man named Fred as he bludgeons a small army of zombies to death with his walker, which he also talks to. Apparently the zombie infestation was caused by a new species of worm that got into the water supply and is turning everyone into ravenous zombies, so whenever a person gets bitten, we get to see worms dripping out of the zombies’ mouths into the wounds so as to infect new victims. Being old, Fred’s kind of a prick, and spends his whole time ignoring any fellow survivors he sees in favor of trying to find something to drink that’s not contaminated with worms, and getting some more comfortable slippers so his feet won’t hurt so much. While it’s entertaining seeing him just slaughter zombies nonstop a la Dead Alive, it is nice that right when it gets to be a little too repetitive to continue, writer-director Frank Sudol changes it up by killing him and then starting to follow the adventures of Zombie Fred.

The animation is pretty interesting in a deliberately underdone Aqua Teen kind of way. It’s nice and detailed, so you can see just what body parts are getting ripped out of someone, or what’s left of a zombie’s head after half of it is ripped off with a walker. There’s also some nice bits of humor, as when he walks past a store named Tex’s Chain Saws, or when he meets a girl that’s been bitten, and lies about having a cure so he can get her to brave a zombie-filled mall to get him some slippers. Even at under 80 minutes it goes on a little long, but I think I can say with some assurance that it is still by far the best zombie cartoon ever made, and you should give it a whirl on that alone.

Rating: ***


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Church

The Church (a.k.a. Demons 3 – not Demons 3: The Ogre, the other one. The other one that’s not Black Demons) opens with a band of knights massacring an entire village and building a church overtop of the corpses, and then spends an hour and a half showing that this was exactly the right thing for them to have done. It’s uncommon to find a movie so willing to make its heroes a pack of vicious thugs.

Fast forward to the present day, and an exploration is being done of the basement of the church, which seems curious when at least one elderly priest at the church is familiar with the legend surrounding the place (though he later goes crazy and tries to end the world, so maybe this isn’t so strange after all). The church’s new librarian manages to find an underground cave where something possesses him and starts to turn him into a demon, and before long the church has been sealed off and it's now a race against time for one lone priest to stop all the demons before they escape and destroy the world~!!!

This film, by Argento protégé Michele Soavi (yes, the guy that did Cemetery Man), was originally intended to be the official Demons 3. For reasons I do not know, Lamberto Bava (the director of the first two Demons films) instead made the terrible TV movie Demons 3: the Ogre, leaving this one to remain an unofficial sequel, despite stylistically being an obvious continuation of the series. We have people getting possessed when injured, everyone trapped in a confined space, and tons of needless yet wonderful gore. Compare that with the official Demons 3, where we get one monster that doesn’t really show up until the end of the film, and possesses and frightens nobody at all. I’m still not certain how Umberto Lenzi’s Black Demons factors into this, outside of Italians being absolutely shameless at ripping off popular franchises (see Lucio Fulci’s “official” Dawn of the Dead sequel Zombie). Regardless, of the three Demons 3 films, this is the only one at all worth watching.

If you’re a big fan of Italian horror, then you already know what you’re in store for here: great visuals, lots of blood, a fine mix of heavy overacting and thoroughly wooden underacting, and a fairly incoherent plot to help you along the way. Seriously, you can just watch it safe in the knowledge that pretty much an entire class of schoolchildren is wiped out by demons. And who can’t get behind something like that?

Also, the main characters totally fucks the Devil in it.

Rating: ***


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cherry Falls

One of the worst parts of slasher movies is the unbearable sameness of them all. It’s as though there were a firm blueprint they all must share in or else nobody will take them seriously, which severely weakens any attempts at originality they might try. While this film does not completely break free from the bonds of slasherdom, it makes a surprising enough try that I feel I must commend its efforts.

The film, set in the small town of Cherry Falls, concerns a mad killer that is slicing up all the teenage virgins in the town. Right from that we’re getting an inversion of the normal premise, where now a person is only safe if they have had sex before. The main heroine, Jody (played surprisingly by Brittany Murphy, as part of her ongoing efforts to prove to me that no matter how many times I see her, I still have no idea what she looks like), who has just broken up with her boyfriend, is now being pressured not only to start dating him again, but to immediately sleep with him so that she isn’t murdered. It’s a nice change of pace from the necessary virginal beauty we usually get in movies. This is further compounded by the general student body, getting wind of the killer’s modus operandi, deciding to engage in a big group orgy after school to keep themselves safe. Nice!

This is not to say the movie is perfect, mind you. I managed to successfully identify the killer from the first time they appeared, which does not really help when so much is made of who it could possibly be. There’s also the maddening cleverness of how a movie that’s all about arguing for young people to screw contains exactly zero nudity (sort of like the complete lack of anyone smoking in Thank You For Smoking, only not as fun because we are deprived of tits). The characters also tend to verge on the annoying side, which I guess is to be expected in a slasher film, but speaking just for myself I do always prefer getting a chance to actually give a shit about the characters before they start dying off. Still, despite its faults, it is definitely one of the better slasher movies to have come out since the 80s, and you should at least give it a try.

One more thing: if you watch the trailer below, you’ll notice Murphy spouting off about how your first time is supposed to be perfect and wonderful and magical and all that nonsense. For those younger readers that have as of yet not had sex yet, here’s how your first time is going to be, no matter how well you plan it: awkward, uncomfortable, and probably outright painful for the girl. The magical aspect of things doesn’t show up until you’ve had enough practice to actually be good at it. This is why you should in no way wait until marriage, as all that means is that your wedding night won’t stop being awkward, uncomfortable, and painful until well after the ceremony and reception.

Rating: ***


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Changeling

It’s admittedly kind of a toss-up as to whether this qualifies as a ghost movie or a haunted house movie, but I’ve always counted it as a haunted house film just for the fact that a) the ghost is possessing the house, rather than just appearing by himself a lot, and b) were it not for this film, I would have been much harder pressed to name a single haunted house movie I unreservedly liked (the only other I can name is The Legend of Hell House, and I only saw that for the first time last year).

The film opens with George C. Scott watching in horror as his wife and daughter are killed by a truck that skids in the snow. Trying to pick up the pieces of his life, he moves into an old mansion, where he swiftly realizes that things are Not Right. Here’s where the film really stands out among other haunted house stories, because unlike the standard two responses to creepy things happening in the old house, where the main characters either try to pretend nothing is happening, or see something fairly minor and just immediately flip the fuck out and go completely crazy, Scott gives a great understated performance in acknowledging that something clearly supernatural is happening, but it’s not that big a deal. Presumably due to how his world has already been destroyed in the opening scene, he doesn’t bemoan his fate at having done such a bad job picking a new home, but instead decides that helping the young boy whose spirit lives on in the house might help him move on from the deaths of his own family.

It’s a nicely understated, fairly intelligent film, that manages to throw in some good visual style as well. One visual, in fact, was apparently so good, that of him going through the floorboards to search for the boy’s body in an old well under the house, that it was so totally ripped off for The Ring (I don’t care if this isn’t that famous a movie, Hideo Nakata must have seen it). Lest you think it ends with a whimper, have no fear: director Peter Medak made sure to fill the ending with fire and pain and the death of someone who wasn’t really much of a guilty party, just to ensure that everyone goes home somewhat uncomfortable and uncertain.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cemetery Man

There seems to be something hard-wired into my brain that makes me get all stupidly excited whenever I see a cemetery. I want to run around and explore them all, and get chased by ghosts and monsters in them. This is what a childhood filled with horror novels and movies causes. Fortunately for me, unlike a great deal of shabby-looking horror movie graveyards, this cemetery looks really, really good, as if Argento protégé Michele Soavi were actively shooting for an updated version of the cemeteries from the old Universal horror films.

Rupert Everett stars as Francisco Dellamorte, the cemetery’s groundskeeper who is stuck with the thankless side job of re-killing his tenants after they rise from the dead. He is remarkably blasé about this situation – at one point he starts to wonder if this is happening in every cemetery or just his, then just says “who cares?” His only companion in these endeavors is Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro), his retarded mute assistant. Although it starts out seeming like a fairly standard zombie movie, it soon moves into a more surreal area, to the point where we aren’t sure just how reliable the film narrative is. We see him seduce and sleep with a woman in the cemetery, and then the next day we learn that he’s impotent, which would seem to have made the earlier scene physically impossible. Further, after a conversation with Death, where the being advises him that if he doesn’t want the dead to rise, he should instead kill the living, he embarks on a murdering spree with no effort at all made in not getting caught, only to find that just about everyone but him is getting blamed for his crimes. And that ending, wow.

This is certainly not a movie that everyone is going to really get behind. It is weird and off-kilter, and leads you in one direction before shunting you off into madness and ridiculousness. It is, in short, the kind of movie that I generally love. While the 90s were largely a bit of a creative dead zone for horror films, this shows that the decade was far from a complete wash. If you have a similar taste in movies to me, you will find this film quite worthwhile. If not, then you need to develop a more refined taste.

Rating: *** ½


The Cat O'Nine Tails

I don’t know that I can stress enough just how much I adore the films of Dario Argento. He is easily the greatest Italian horror director of all time, and while his output after the 80s generally doesn’t come close to matching his earlier work, he is still responsible for many of the greatest horror films and gialli ever made. This is one of his earliest, most unheralded films, but it definitely holds up as well as his more famous gialli like Bird with the Crystal Plumage or Tenebrae.

The film partners up two sleuths (an elderly blind puzzle maker played by Karl Malden and a young reporter played by James Fransiscus) as they try to solve an increasing series of murders centered around a robbery at a research institute that’s studying the effects of the XYY chromosome on violent crime. They find a series of loose clues, nine in all (hence the title), but find that they have attracted the attention of the killer, and every time they get any closer to solving the case, they put themselves and their friends in harm’s way.

There’s quite a few of what would become Argento’s standard “killer’s POV” shots, several years before films like Halloween and Friday the 13th would make such shots routine in American horror, and a number of creepy quick closeups of one of the killer’s eyes. Argento has always been a very stylized director (indeed, part of the reason his more recent films have been so lackluster has been a sharp toning down of that style), and while he doesn’t quite hit the heights here of later films like Suspiria or Opera, he still infuses the film with a look and feel that helps to elevate it above most of its giallo brethren.

Another thing that helps is the refreshing viciousness of the kills. This is another area Argento has never shirked away from, and the brutality of such kills as a poor photographer getting strangled with a garrote for having unknowingly photographed a murder just makes the movie an extra bit of fun for everyone. If you like your thrillers flashy, bloody, somewhat incoherent, and ending with a chase through the rooftops, you need to check this film out. And then go see Argento’s other films, if you haven’t already.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Carnival of Souls

This one may be a tad overly famous for the HROHFYSSBYD, but while it was fairly well-known for its time, it seems to have largely escaped the consciousness of the more modern day audience, and so I feel justified in including it here. This is one of those films, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, that just functions so far outside the boundaries of a normal film, that it starts to feel more like a fever dream than anything sane.

The film opens, at least, with some fairly standard early-60s fare, with a group of cheerful youths deciding to go for a friendly bit of drag racing. Events quickly take a turn for the worse, however, when the girls’ car goes out of control and flies off a bridge, seeming to kill the pair in the river below. Some time later, one of the girls resurfaces long after she should have drowned, and tries to start going about her life as if nothing has happened. Unfortunately, she now seems to be getting stalked by a mysterious man that seems to be coming out of the river after her, and wants to drag her away to where others like him are. It all leads to a climax at a dark carnival filled with ghouls that all want her to join them.

There’s not really that much of a coherent narrative to the film after a while, as it gets more and more dreamlike and hallucinatory the farther she gets from her accident. I like a movie that’s not afraid to actually try something new, and I also enjoy when a movie is perfectly happy to be weird and bizarre and never actually explain what’s going on. We are somewhat left to figure out just what the hell happened, which (to me, at least) is a rather nice change of pace from modern horrors like the Saw films, where we have everything over-explained to the point where we just wish they would let us be already. It was definitely a movie ahead of its time, which perhaps explains why nobody watched it when it first came out.

Fortunately for anyone interested in seeing this film, it has lapsed into the public domain, so there is no shortage of ways to view it. There are probably dozens of prints of it on DVD of varying quality (I’ve included a link below of the Criterion edition, which is a tad on the pricey side but which is easily the best version you’ll ever be able to get), but in case you wanted it cheap as free, the entire movie is up on Youtube. Enjoy.

Rating: ***


Friday, February 6, 2009

The Car

Out of all the Jaws ripoffs that littered theaters in the late 70s, I don’t know of a single one that was better than The Car. Much like last week’s Bug, it shows that in the 70s, PG movies were fully allowed to scare the shit out of little children, something that the PG-13 rating has robbed our generation of.

The film, set in the deserts of Southern California, follows a small town sheriff (played by James Brolin, father of Josh), as he struggles to defend his people from the sudden onset of a demonic car that has started murdering everyone. The car, when you see it, just looks like trouble, even before it murders two bikers at the start of the film (and its early reveal, charging out of an ominous dark tunnel and roaring like an old muscle car with the driver flooring it every second of the drive). Even when everyone thinks someone must be driving it, the driver must be like the one in Duel, where it would almost ruin things to see his face and find he’s just some guy.

One nice thing is in how Brolin steadfastly refuses to acknowledge any supernatural possibility with the car, no matter how much the evidence seems to pile up. A large group of people attacked by the car, but is saved when they flee into a graveyard, as it seems unable to drive onto consecrated ground. One victim is killed within her own house, as the car outright leaps into the air to get into her living room. When Brolin himself is attacked, he even sees up close that there’s nobody in the driver’s seat. And then there’s the ending, which I cannot reveal, but seems to point pretty conclusively that the car was not born on this earth. All that, and Brolin stolidly refuses to accept anything other than that it was just some maniac in a car. Good for him.

The film, for all its origins as a goofy cash-in from Jaws, is quite well made, and even though the PG keeps it from being as bloodthirsty as other 70s horror films, it manages to keep as tense and exciting as any thriller (or car chase movie, while we’re at it). The car is as frightening as any masked killer, and is quite a bit louder too – this might be the loudest killer in film history, even topping the Screamers. If you liked Jaws, or just want to see a demon car running roughshod over a bunch of small town folk, you should give this one a look.

Rating: ***


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Captain Kronos -- Vampire Hunter

I don’t know that it can really be overstated how nice it was having Hammer around for our horror needs from the 50s through the 70s. Sadly, this film, released in the twilight of Hammer’s existence, wound up being relegated to relative obscurity, despite being one of their all-time best vampire movies.

That admittedly sounds like higher praise than it actually is, as I normally don’t like vampire movies, even ones that have Christopher Lee in them. Still, this one works, perhaps because you almost never see an actual vampire in the film itself, instead getting to witness our totally badass master swordsman Kronos (Horst Janson) as he rains hell on his enemies, wiping out three enemy swordsmen early in the film with only two slashes of his sword, and later killing off what seems to be every last damn man in the village when they foolishly try to rise up against him. Perhaps he’s not quite as rough as the kung fu brothers in Hammer and the Shaw Bros. joint venture Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, but he’s certainly much more badass than Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing ever was.

There’s also some nice humor in the film. About halfway through the movie, Kronos learns that his friend, who had first summoned him to the village in fear of the vampires, has become one of them. Captured and tied to a chair, we are reminded that there are as many types of vampires as there are types of animals in the world, and each needs to be killed in a different way. What then follows, as it must, is a series of scenes of them trying every method of killing him that they can think of, from a stake to hanging to fire, before they stumble across the needed method by sheer chance. Thank goodness the needed method gives him the opportunity to have his hunchbacked assistant (John Cater) craft him a newer, bigger sword.

I sound like I’m making fun of the movie, but I don’t really mean to be. For a company that was in the process of collapsing in on itself, it’s admirable that it was still able to make films of this quality, even with nobody going to see them. If you want a fine Hammer vampire double feature, this would absolutely play great with Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (for a triple feature, you could even throw in The Horror of Dracula), so go check it out.

Rating: ***


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


One of the staples of 70s horror was the Animals Attack subgenre, where our intrepid heroes are menaced by vicious wildlife. The most famous by far, of course, was Jaws, though there were a great many more of varying levels of fame. Bug is one of the lesser-known ones, usually only unfairly known as a joke instead of anything worthwhile. I can understand people making it out like that, as that’s somewhat to be expected when talking about a movie with deadly pyromaniac cockroaches. Still, even if this is the weakest of the three Animals Attack movies in the HROHFYSSBYD series, it manages to be consistently entertaining from start to finish, and that’s all you can ask for.

The film opens every bit as promisingly as one could ask for, with a group of church-goers listening to a fiery sermon suddenly beset by a massive earthquake that makes the floor roll about. While nobody seems seriously hurt at first, the quake has opened up a large fissure from which pours an army of the aforementioned roaches, which soon begin starting fires and burning people to death. Just when most of the initial cast has been wiped out, in strides our hero, Professor James Partimer (Bradford Dillman), who captures a few of the bugs to experiment on and figure out a way to stop them. Here’s where the film takes a dark turn.

He discovers that the creatures are both unable to breed, and are dying out on their own due to the change in atmospheric pressures between the planet’s surface and the deep underground region the bugs came from. This would seem to be a good thing, as the bugs are soon going to die out on their own. Of course, being the budding mad scientist that he is, he can’t leave well enough alone, and so decides he must see if he can successfully breed the new bugs with regular American roaches, creating a new, more intelligent strain.

The film moves along at a pretty steady clip, and makes damn sure to keep us fully icked out by having cockroaches crawling over people at every possible moment. It also makes sure to answer one of life’s eternal questions for us: if you’ve created a race of super cockroaches that are both capable of starting fires, and able to spell out words with their bodies, is it really a wise decision to panic and announce to them that you must destroy them?

Rating: ***


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Blood Diner

The first time I watched this movie, it was very late at night, and I was drifting in and out of consciousness, though the scattered trace remnants of the films I could remember had me convinced that this was a potentially brilliant film, though I had no idea how to connect the various moments I had witnessed into any sort of coherent narrative. Watching it a second time, I began to realize why: this movie is kind of a jumble of not-very-well-connected moments that on their own are good enough to make the whole movie goofy enough to demand a viewing.

The film opens just as it should, with a radio announcer giving a neighborhood warning about a killer in the area, armed “with a meat cleaver in one hand and his genitals in the other.” Sadly, he is soon taken out by the police, but not before he imparts gifts upon his two young nephews and ensures that they will carry on with his occult work. Fast forward twenty years, and the nephews are now the owners of a trendy vegetarian diner, and who have decided that now is the time to dig up their beloved uncle so that he can continue guiding them. Not as a corpse or a zombie, of course – that would just be silly. Instead, they keep his talking brain and eyeballs in a jar, so that he can properly command them on how to resurrect their composite goddess Shitaar. This resurrection involves them killing a great many vegetarians and using their body parts build a Frankenstein-style vessel for her and then luring their remaining clientele for one big feast where they will sacrifice a virgin.

It doesn’t sound like an overly elaborate plot, and it isn’t, so they filled it up with some delightful side jaunts. Their required virgin, for instance, is found when she was the only one in her cheerleading squad who refused to participate in some videotaped nude aerobics (something that, frankly, all movies should include). One of the brothers also has a side job as a pro wrestler, which treats us to a wrestling match against his arch-nemesis Jimmy Hitler. It’s these side jaunts that are the most entertaining parts of the film, though even when they don’t provide enough humor director Jackie Kong helpfully throws in enough blood, body parts, and shameless nudity to get us past any weaker moments.

This was originally planned as an unofficial sequel to Blood Feast. I haven’t seen that movie, as Two Thousand Maniacs left me with little interest in seeing any of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s other films (yes, this does somewhat connect with my comments in Anthropophagus). However, if it’s half as fun as this movie it should be worth at least one watching. Unlike Blood Diner, that has gotten a DVD release (Blood Diner is currently available on VHS or from the website linked in the Youtube video below). With all of the companies devoted to releasing weird horror movies onto DVD nowadays, I have to assume Something Weird Video or Blue Underground – SOMEone – will be releasing this at some point. It’s just frustrating seeing how many terrible DTV films are being released these days while entertaining cult films like this get stuck in obscurity.

Rating: *** ½


Monday, January 19, 2009

Bad Taste

For those that haven’t heard of this film, it’s a bit of important history up there with the original Evil Dead. Much like the Evil Dead was director Sam Raimi’s debut film, paving the way for him to inexplicably make the leap from cheap horror movies to helming the Spider-Man franchise, so here does first-time director Peter Jackson show the promise that would lead to him directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Watching this film, it’s easy to understand how that could come to pass.

Set in Jackson’s home of New Zealand, it follows the adventures of a small band of intrepid defenders of Earth known as “The Boys”, who are assigned to figure out what a group of aliens is doing here on Earth and, if necessary (and it so totally is), blast them all to hell. After all, what else are you going to do when aliens come around to turn your species into fast food?

One thing that I always enjoy about this film, perhaps more than I should, is the locations that are used. For the most part, this film actually looks like it’s set in an actual part of the planet. The locations seem to be real places, rather than constructions on some Hollywood sound stage (this is with the exception of the final house, which is at times so absurdly fake looking that Jackson almost seems to be daring you to say something about it). Director Werner Herzog likes to mention his theory of “the voodoo of location”, wherein going out and filming in an actual real location lends a mystical additional power to the film, making it that much easier for audiences to become absorbed in and entranced by the movie. It’s something I can’t really overstate: film at a real place, don’t just build sets or (for the more budget-minded filmmaker) hide the whole movie inside your house!

Now, my rant on film location aside, this movie is extremely over the top and blissfully stupid. It’s the kind of film where a man will dramatically load his assault rifle and storm off after a group of aliens with dramatic action music playing, and then slip in a pile of cow shit. It’s the kind of film where a character will fire a rocket launcher at an alien in a house, only to miss and blow up a sheep instead. It is a terribly brilliant film that absolutely lives down to its title.

Despite that, this isn’t really a very well-known film, except perhaps to die hard horror junkies, and even among them I’ve met quite a few that have never heard of it. The DVD, unlike, well, every other last one of Peter Jackson’s films, has long been out of print, which certainly doesn’t help matters. Seriously, I get that it’s a tad outside the mainstream, but is it really that much more obscure than Forgotten Silver or Meet the Feebles? Really?

Rating: *** ½

P.S. If you watch the trailer, be sure to take note of how filming went on for so long (shot over weekends for four years) that Jackson elected to play not one, but two different characters, one of which is noticeably fatter than the other. We can already witness his love of hobbits and second breakfast forming.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Asphyx

One thing that I rather admire about the British horror films of the 60s and 70s is in how they seem to have a great deal more thought to them than their American counterparts (and much more than the bulk of their European brethren at the time – Spain, France, and Italy may have been making some damned entertaining horror in that time, but intelligent would not be a word I’d use to describe most). Led primarily by Hammer Studios, the films of that time tried both to re-envision classic horror themes in exciting new ways and to try to envision entirely new types of horror films to thrill us with. The Asphyx is one of the latter.

The film is set in the late 1800s (I think), and stars Robert Stephens as Sir Hugo Cunningham, a beloved and respected scientist who makes a startling discovery. It seems that every photograph taken of someone as they are dying features the same dark smudge hovering around them. He soon theorizes that this must be the “asphyx”, the spirit of the dead written about in ancient Greece, and soon sets his scientific sights on finding a way to make the spirit visible when it arrives, and then on finding a way to capture it. This is no minor thing, as capturing it and sealing it away ensures that the dying person or animal that summoned the asphyx will now live forever (or at least as long as their asphyx is sealed away).

One thing that makes this film so unique is in its overall tone. This is partly due to how there is no real villain in this piece, and if Hugo’s efforts transform into a closed-minded obsession after the tragic deaths of his wife and son, well, it’s a totally understandable one. There’s also a great deal more talking than in most horror films. Our main character is a man of ideas, a more benign Dr. Frankenstein, trying to puzzle together a newly-discovered mystery of the universe.

It ends in tragedy, as such a film must, with the deaths of some characters that we truly care about (the effort to capture an asphyx is indeed a risky one, since it requires each person to start to die in order to summon it), but one interesting thing – and I realize this is going to partially spoil the ending, but the opening scene of the movie spoils it anyway so I can’t feel too bad about doing it – comes in how two characters actually do survive to the present day. Of course, as the Greek legend of Tithonus could have informed Hugo, having eternal life isn’t necessarily all that wonderful without eternal youth to go with it, but still. Imagine if Frankenstein had ended with the doctor and his creation making peace with each other, and then continuing on together somewhere else, that’s sort of what this is like. This may not be as flashy or fast-paced as your average horror movie, but if you want something that tries something new and isn’t afraid to have actual ideas in it, you should definitely try to hunt this one down.

Rating: *** ½


Monday, January 12, 2009

Anthropophagus (a.k.a. The Grim Reaper a.k.a. Antropophagus)

One mistake that is often made by people, myself included, is to write off a director that they’ve seen two or three bad films of, in the belief that he will clearly never amount to anything worthwhile. While I’m certainly quite guilty of this, I’m glad I decided to give Joe D’Amato a third chance (after the terrible films Beyond the Darkness and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead – what, you’re telling me you’re not intrigued by the title?), because this is the film where he finally goes as crazy as his reputation warrants.

The film is set on a secluded Greek island, as a group of tourists decide to go on a boat tour of a series of islands in the area, and choose the worst possible island they could as their first stop. While seemingly deserted, the friends soon find that they are being stalked by a mad killer who has already wiped out the rest of the island’s inhabitants. With their numbers dwindling, will the survivors find a way to stop this mad fiend before he kills them all?

Well, okay, this is not the kind of film you watch because it has a really fascinating plot. It’s the kind you watch because it has some crazy scenes of violence (that’s a definite, in this case) and hopefully a creepy mood during those tragic scenes without violence (thankfully, that’s also a yes here). While the film suffers from some pacing problems – the killer doesn’t even show himself until about fifty minutes in, leaving most of the more disposable characters to get offed pretty rapidly – it keeps itself interesting enough through most of the film that I was never bored once they reached the island.

I feel I do have to spoil one of the kills, though, as it’s the kill that made me certain I was going to include this in the HROHFYSSBYD, so if you don’t want to have it ruined for you, stop reading now and just go rent or purchase the movie. Anyway, one of the female characters is heavily pregnant, a situation that never turns out well in such movies. Her encounter with our villain has him choking her a bit, then slowly rubbing his hand across her swollen belly, then reaching his hand down under her skirt and yanking her fetus out through her vagina before eating it. You can’t find movies like that nowadays.

Rating: *** ½


Friday, January 9, 2009

And Soon the Darkness

Two films into the HROHFYSSBYD and already certain biases of mine are shining through. This film, like Amuck before it, is a European film from the 70s. Two films can be a coincidence, of course, but the two I’m throwing in next week are from the same decade and continent, which may make this overall list a tad circumspect for anybody that prefers their horror films to be made in the good ol’ US of A, preferably sometime after they’ve already been born. However, I say nuts to that. You will all be much happier watching these films than some awful Hollywood remake, you have my word on it.

This one especially is pretty damned great, as we follow the adventures of two British girls, Jane and Cathy Pamela Franklin and Michele Dotrice), that decide to go on holiday bicycling through the French countryside. After a minor fight, the two separate for a time, and never meet up again. After a couple hours, Jane grows worried for her friend’s safety, and goes back to find her, only to discover that she has disappeared. She heads back to town for help, but finds that her essentially high school level command of the French language is not overly conducive to obtaining help from the locals. What help she does find, indeed, seems mostly circumspect, as her would-be allies are a woman with a worryingly angry husband that doesn't want her around, a mysterious man in sunglasses that alternates between oozing charm and ridiculously suspicious behavior, and the local gendarme, who appears somewhat eager to help but who is described as “tres trouble”. She also learns from two other locals that another foreign girl on vacation – also a blonde like Cathy – was viciously murdered on the same road that she had left Cathy on. As she tries to find her friend, if she still has a friend left to find, the day is slowly fading away into night…

This is definitely one of the tenser thrillers I’ve seen, aided both by quality direction from Robert Fuest (who would go on to helm The Abominable Dr. Phibes a year later) and from a suitably creepy, unsettling score. The language barrier really ratchets up the tension of the film, as she seems to have nowhere to turn for aid in a thoroughly alien land (made all the worse by how almost every English speaker she encounters seems like a potential killer themselves). It’s a shame this one isn’t more famous, because it easily ranks with some of the major thrillers of the 70s – The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, When a Stranger Calls, etc. As a nice bonus, unlike Amuck, this one is easily availably on DVD, so go check it out already.

Rating: *** ½


Monday, January 5, 2009


Welcome to the debut of the 100 Rare and Obscure Horror Films You Should See Before You Die, or HROHFYSSBYD for short. As mentioned before, these are all done in alphabetical order, so that nobody gets their feelings hurt, and so we begin with an appropriately unknown giallo, Amuck.

Amuck (Alla ricerca del piacere) is one of those films that functions with more of a premise than a plot, and as such it finds itself developing a weird kind of mood as it lingers on moments far beyond what a more plot-intensive film would entail. Barbara Bouchet stars as Greta, a secretary that goes undercover at a mansion to try to discover what has happened to her friend that disappeared there the year before. The bulk of the film is taken up by her growing odd relationship with the two homeowner, Richard and Eleanora (Farley Granger and Rosalba Neri), as she is captivated by them even as she uncovers evidence that one or both of them might have been involved in killing her friend.

There are two main things worth noting about the film. One is that the two leading women are just amazingly attractive. Furthermore, in the grand Italian tradition, roughly two minutes after Greta moves into the mansion, Eleanora seduces her, giving us a fine lesbian sex scene to get the movie started right. Seriously, they start making out almost immediately after they first meet each other, and good on both of them for it. This film keeps the nudity going for the duration of the film, which (to me at least) more than makes up for the film’s big flaw.

That flaw, as you may have already figured out, is that not enough really happens in the film. It does a pretty good job at building mood, but it would have been a better film had a good ten or fifteen minutes have been trimmed from it. Indeed, with such a small cast (only five or six notable characters), two of which are potential villains, there’s not all that much that can happen fright-wise before the climax. Writer-director Silvio Amadio seems to have realized this, though, and dealt with it in the most sensible manner possible: by having Greta fall into some quicksand while duck hunting about halfway through the film. What can I say, not all gialli can be made by Argento or Fulci.

One final note: I had planned on including trailers of each film in the HROHFYSSBYD collection, and yet all I was able to find on Youtube was part of the film’s score. Further proof of the rarity and brilliance of this film! Enjoy!

Rating: ***