Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Left Bank

And we close out our month of HROHFYSSBYD with this quality gem, a recent Belgian effort that’s so confident in itself that the DVD proclaims it to be just as important a film as Let the Right One In. While that’s just shameless hucksterism there (though seriously, you should also go see let the Right One In if you haven’t -- best vampire movie of the past decade, easily), it’s a tribute to the quality of Left Bank that I wound up more amused and annoyed by such a claim.
The film stars Eline Kuppens as Marie, a young runner who finds her dreams floating away from her after fainting at a shoe store and learning that she’s too badly ill to compete at a major meet in Portugal in two weeks. This comes shortly after she has a chance encounter with a naked man (Matthias Schoenaerts) who borrows her towel in the locker room, and so naturally rather than suspect he might be in any way connected to her sudden illness she instead agrees to go out with him. Her horror movie survival skills are not incredibly strong here, though in fairness that may well just be due to Belgium not having had a “major” horror movie since 1971’s Malpertuis.

Anyway, she quickly falls in love with him, and after a really hot sex scene (on their first date -- good for them!), she soon moves in with him in his apartment in Left Bank (a really notoriously sketchy neighborhood in Antwerp), where she discovers such things as that the apartment complex was built atop a seemingly bottomless hole of black mud, the girl that used to live in her new apartment mysteriously disappeared, and that the building was also made directly atop a ley line. And also Samhain is rapidly approaching, which I always enjoy in a movie, because it lets you know how they’re talking serious occultism here, unlike us Americans and our bastardized Halloween nonsense.

I am of course being a little snarky here. The movie is actually done really well, establishing a world filled with dark possibilities, and giving us a heroine that isn’t afraid to be somewhat less perfect than most Final Girls. Despite my teasing earlier, she does eventually twig to the fact that her new boyfriend isn’t quite on the up and up, and does try to escape and hide from him. That she doesn’t quite succeed isn’t really completely her fault; she is working alone, after all, and he’s got his whole crew helping him.

Also, while I’m not the biggest fan of children in the world, this movie may be especially resonant with would-be parents or those going through difficult pregnancies, or perhaps also those who had kids and then wished they hadn’t. The theme of childbirth is a pretty strong one throughout the film, beginning with her doctor informing her that she’s only had three periods all year, and if she doesn’t take a break from her training she might never have children. She has multiple dreams involving children, and at one point she wakes up, feels something in her underwear, and when she checks to see if she had her period, instead finds ashes have come out of her vagina. Ladies, I may not be a professional doctor here, but when you have black soot coming from your private region, you may not even want to waste the time needed to get fully dressed before you leave for the hospital.

I hope you enjoyed this past month. I’ll be finishing out the week with some reviews of movies I had seen over the summer but couldn’t fit into these theme months, and then most of the remainder of September will be an extended Q & A session due to my abbreviated schedule then. Feel free to fire off some questions then.

Rating: *** ½




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Monday, August 30, 2010

Last House on Dead End Street

I haven’t included many of the Video Nasties* in the HROHFYSSBYD, in part because they’re mostly a little too famous for a list of obscure movies, but mainly because most of them aren’t very good at all. I feel comfortable including this film, however, as it is both better than most of the Video Nasties, and is much more obscure, perhaps in part because it never made it onto the official list, as its alternate title The Fun House led instead to the Tobe Hooper film The Funhouse getting placed on the list instead. Whoops.
The film doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of. Roger Watkins (who also wrote and directed) stars as a man who just got done a year in prison for selling drugs, and is very bitter over the whole experience (I’d have thought he’d be happy to only get a year for selling, but I suppose drug laws were lighter back in the 70s). He decides, as any person in such a situation would do, to get a few criminal friends together, and bring some additional people over to an abandoned building under the guise of making experimental films, and proceeds instead to torture and kill them. It’s essentially the original torture porn, except that I seriously doubt most of the filmmakers around today making torture porns have ever even heard of it.

A large part of what makes it work is more the way it was made, instead of what it’s about. Apparently filmed on a budget of only $800, the film just look as seedy as a movie can possibly get, and with none of its original audio intact (I don’t know if it was actually filmed without audio like Beast of Yucca Flats, or if the audio was just ruined) we instead get treated to a lot of weird voice overs and (when they can’t hide that people are talking on camera) dialogue that makes no particular effort to synch up to people’s mouths. The violence in the second half of the film looks pretty realistic too, leading many people to speculate at the time of the film’s release that it was an actual snuff film. It certainly didn’t help matters when trying to disprove such rumors that the entire cast and crew were listed under pseudonyms, and we only discovered who had actually been involved in the film about a decade ago when Watkins broke his silence.

Let us understand each other here, this is not a great film by any means. It’s really rough around the edges, and it’s very uneven (the first half is mostly a mixture of the main character roaming around the city and some really tame hardcore sex scenes that led to the film being released in secret five years after it was made). It does, however, retain a certain undeniable power to it, its seediness and low budget coming to work in its favor. I can only picture what a nightmare it would be for some company like Platinum Dunes to decide they wanted to remake it as some slick Hollywood production with some popular teen stars in it. Though it would be kind of nice to get the DVD re-released so it wouldn’t cost me $80 just to get it used. Someone should really get on that.

Rating: ***

* For those unaware, back at the start of the 80s when slasher movies were coming into prominence, there was quite an outcry against what was viewed as the overdone violence in them, led by such types as Siskel & Ebert, prompting the British government to create the Video Nasties list, which was essentially a list of horror movies that would be outright banned in England. As one could expect, very few of the films that made the list were really all that nasty, and the whole venture wound up being more of a government witch hunt than anything actually helpful (the full list of films can be seen here).




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Friday, August 27, 2010

Kwaidan

We’re back once more in 1960s Japan for another supernatural tale. Actually, in this case we’re back for four supernatural tales, as the HROHFYSSBYD finally arrives at its first anthology. I know some horror fans don’t really like anthologies under the argument that there’s always one story that’s not as good as the rest, but that’s just foolish talk. When done properly, an anthology gives you several good stories, all short enough that they don’t have time to wear out their welcome like the majority of horror movies end up doing. This one (based on the stories by Lafcadio Hearn) is one of the best I’ve ever seen, though it does tend to be more of an art house horror film than something more instantly crowd-pleasing like Creepshow.
The four stories (titled “The Black Hair”, “The Woman of the Snow”, “Hoichi, the Earless”, and “In a Cup of Tea”) mostly function more as traditional ghost stories rather than outright spooky horror stories, giving us tales designed to evoke feelings of melancholy and loss rather than fright or shock. The first gives us the story of an impoverished samurai who decides to gain a new fortune by leaving his wife and seeking fame with a new lord and family. Years later, he regrets his actions, and returns home to find his old wife still waiting for him, looking perhaps a little too perfectly like she did when he left. In the second, a young woodcutter and his master are caught in a terrible blizzard and try to take refuge in a seemingly abandoned cottage. Unfortunately, they find the Woman of the Snow in there, who kills the master and promises to let the younger one live as long as he never tells anyone else what has happened for as long as he lived. Years later, he finds himself with a wife and three kids and makes a very bad decision. The third, and my favorite, follows a blind musician at a temple who attracts the attention of the Heike royalty, whose ghosts have haunted the area since their deaths in battle seven hundred years prior. The head priest, discovering his night time travels and seeing the effects on his health, tries to help him repel the ghosts, but makes a terrible error in doing so. The final, and most bizarre, follows a samurai who sees the reflection of another man inside of his cup of tea. Later, he encounters the man himself, but after trying to stab him with his sword finds that the man disappears when stabbed. It’s got a very unusual ending (some would even call it a non-ending) befitting its overall strangeness.

The film was directed by Masaki Kobayashi, who was mostly known for his incredible films like Harakiri and the Human Condition trilogy (both of which are available from Criterion, as is this), as he made his only horror movie as though he were making another serious dramatic work that just happened to have Japanese spirits in it. It’s an approach that really works, as it means that the very first thing you can say about each of the four stories is that they all look completely gorgeous. The stories themselves are fairly simplistic, and indeed somewhat repetitious (particularly the first two, which both revolve around a man who finds his wife is not what she seems), but are still done extremely well, to the point where I don’t know which one to point to as the weak link in the group. The third one is certainly the goriest (in fact, it’s the only bloody one) and the fourth is the weirdest, but that doesn’t make either stand out so far as quality goes, only in uniqueness.

This film should appeal to anyone that enjoys old ghost stories. It fits with the tone of them perfectly, giving us a film full of quiet sorrow and beauty. At over two and a half hours, it’s a bit on the lengthy side, but it’s a thoroughly absorbing, rewarding film, and one that should not be missed by anyone. While I certainly don’t have anything against filmmakers who spend their entire careers making horror movies like Wes Craven or George Romero, I always enjoy it when a major filmmaker known for his more serious films decides it’s time to make a horror movie, and that’s just what we get here. It’s like if Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese suddenly decided they had to make a horror movie (and no, Shadows & Fog and Shutter Island do not count, however good both films are) and just making something incredible in the process. We certainly could do with more films like this.

Rating: ****




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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kingdom of the Spiders

Once more the alphabetical nature of this list leads to me reviewing two fairly similar films back to back. This shouldn’t really be that much of a problem for all of you, though, as who could ever get tired of watching movies where nature runs amuck and kills everyone? Certainly not I, and certainly not you, if you’re the kind of person that I would ever want to meet.
This film starts off already better than Kaw, as instead of starring cult actor Sean Patrick Flanery as a police chief, we instead get cult actor William Shatner as a cowboy. He shortly finds himself embroiled in a mystery wherein a neighbor’s livestock seem to be getting killed by a mysterious plague. After sending off some blood for analysis, a scientist (Tiffany Bolling) travels down to explain to him that the cattle are being killed by massive injections of spider venom. They quickly discover that something has occurred to make all the tarantulas in the area start banding together and attack animals much larger than normal, up to and including humans, but before they can formulate a solid strategy for destroying them the spiders swarm the town en masse, leading to some delightful pandemonium throughout the town and forcing our heroes to try to barricade themselves inside of a lodge for safety.

Being a film from the 70s, there wasn’t even the thought of using CG for the spiders, so they actually purchased 50,000 tarantulas to crawl all over everything like the creepy little monsters they are. This was kind of a double-edged sword. It makes the animal attacks somewhat more real-looking, as you get to see very obviously real spiders crawling all over people (though we unfortunately are denied any money-shot close-ups of any actual bites). On the other hand, due to delightful 70s indifference quite a few of the spiders were killed during production, leading to several animal rights groups being quite upset with the film and with director John Cardos. I can sort of understand the outrage, but come on. They’re spiders. It’s not like they were killing something cute and non-terrifying. I can only hope that when they were done filming they just let all the tarantulas loose on site.

The attack scenes are completely awesome, by the way, even without any kind of animatronics to better control how they look. We get a woman so freaked out by them swarming her that when one jumps on her hand, she straight up shoots it, blowing off one of her fingers. We get a little girl just trying to play on her swing outside as an army of tarantulas runs around underneath her (and when the mother tries to rescue her, they kill the mom! Nice!). They manage the surprisingly intelligent maneuver of killing off the dispatch agent so that calls for help can’t reach any other police agencies (much like in Kaw, actually), and unlike Kaw, we do get a shot of the main street of the town as everyone is running around being killed or laying there already killed by the unstoppable arachnid army.

It’s a pretty visibly 70s production, as we get everything from goofy, inappropriate music (apparently taken from old Twilight Zone episodes) to our scientist heroine speculating (completely without any evidence, of course) that the attacks are being caused by the damage done by humanity to the environment (such as, say, the damage done by buying up tens of thousands of spiders for a movie and then killing a whole bunch of them) to its nice downer ending. It’s just about everything that you should want in a movie like this, so I hope you check it out. And no more Shatner movies here for a while, I promise.

Rating: ***




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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kaw

For those of you playing along with my blog at home, yes, this is indeed a recent horror movie about killer birds, and yes, it is a much dumber film than Hitchcock’s effort, and yes, I do indeed like it a great deal more. In fact, thanks to the scientific process of star ratings, one could make the argument that I like it exactly twice as much as The Birds. You can’t argue with the scientific method, you know, so don’t even try.
Sean Patrick Flanery stars as Wayne, the retiring chief of police for a small town (and one that I don’t think was ever identified by name at any point, though the car plates are from Pennsylvania and there‘s a Mennonite community present), who is merely the latest to discover that announcing your retirement from law enforcement ahead of time is a very bad idea. In this case he has it worse than many, as instead of dealing with some action movie villain dramatically killing him so his heroic partner can vow revenge, here he has to spend his final day in office trying to defend his town from the menace of an army of malevolent, intelligent ravens that have decided to wage war on the populace. You know, as ravens do.

Not to reference The Birds yet again (oh by the way, Rod Taylor is also in this), but I believe I mentioned in that review how the technology needed for such a story wasn’t really there yet despite his best efforts. Of course, to do such a thing properly today with conventional special effects would still require a budget at least as large as a fairly mid-sized Hollywood movie, so director Sheldon Wilson went the cheaper route of using CG for most of the shots of the birds. While this presents its own problems, it’s mostly done pretty well for such a low budget movie, with gore effects that never actually look cheap, and birds that are then able to look much bigger and scarier than regular birds ever do.

They’re all a lot smarter, as well. When faced with the problem of some potential victims hiding on a bus, they all start picking up rocks and hurling them at the windows to try to smash their way in. Later, when going after a group that’s holed up inside a gas station, they engage in some psychological warfare, smashing all the windows in the parking lot so the humans can’t see what’s coming. These are some suspiciously smart birds. Much smarter than you’d casually expect from ones that had been driven crazy by Mad Cow Disease. Admittedly, though, I’m not completely up on the science there.

Obviously, there are some problems with the film. If it came out in 2007, why doesn’t anyone seem to have a cell phone to call for help? While I can accept that Mad Cow Disease could transform into Mad Bird Disease, why would it make them so smart too? Why did it miss the big money shot where the entire town is attacked in one mass assault, leading to people running through the streets screaming and falling over? And why are they all called ravens when they look like crows? Still, it manages to work where it needs to, giving us plenty of nice animal kills, blood, and people panicking and firing guns into the air, because that’s how they do it in Pennsylvania.

Rating: ***




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September Announcement

Due to pressing time issues next month, I won't have much time to be watching and reviewing films. However, that shouldn't stop this blog from being updated, so as an alternative I'd like to primarily make the month one vast Q & A session. Any questions you've ever wanted to ask, toss them here or fire off an e-mail, and I'll try to answer them sometime next month.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jigoku

It’s fun watching a movie whose DVD case carries such statements as that the film’s director is the “father of the Japanese horror film”; it makes you feel as though you’re in for a movie that can’t possibly live up to the hype that’s just been tossed its way. Bless it’s heart, though, the film certainly does its best, though in a typically Japanese weird and tangential manner.
Indeed, the first hour of the film, after a brief intro where we get a university lecture on how many different religions believe in the concept of a Hell (which is what Jigoku translates to), and how it exists to punish those whose sins went unpunished in life (which is not how I have ever heard Hell described before, but alright), feels more like a crime movie by Seijun Suzuki than anything else. It follows a student named Shiro (Shigeru Amachi) who goes driving with his irresponsible friend one night, only for them to accidentally run over a drunken gangster before panicking and driving away, leaving the yakuza’s mother and girlfriend to track the pair down and plan their revenge. As it must with such tragedies, further sins continue to pile atop their initial sin, until we reach the one hour mark and the entire cast winds up dead.

I don’t think I’m spoiling much here, as the main focus of the film comes over the final forty minutes, as all the characters are now in Hell being tortured for all that they have done. It comes off like the segments in Hell from Awakening of the Beast (yes, I know Jigoku came first, that’s just the closest comparison I can think of), hyper stylized, and filled with screams and torture. We are treated here to just about every vision of Hell that one could hope for, from the circles of fire to the Greek irony of masses desperately clutching for water they can never quite reach to a more Dantean lake of blood to punish the lustful. Our protagonist even finds himself haunted here by the sounds of his unborn baby now crying for eternity around him, with him doomed to spend all of time trying and failing to rescue her.

It’s a pretty trippy and intense experience, and to the best of my knowledge it’s the first film ever made that actually tried to depict Hell, so it definitely gets some bonus points for that. The film does come off as somewhat disjointed, as it’s essentially two different films that connect at the hour mark, but I can’t really fault it too much for that. After all, both sections are still engaging, and the grand finale wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if we didn’t have such a sense of who these people are and how they wound up in Hell in the first place. Sure, we could wind up getting a great deal more gore scenes then (side note: according to IMDB, this was the first movie to use elements of gore as FX, which I assume means that it’s the first film to show violence in a manner beyond just splashing victims with red paint), but there wouldn’t really have been any emotional element to really make it click.

Regardless, due to the nature of its disjointed narrative and its overall strangeness, I can’t really give this one as unreserved a recommendation as a more standard film. All I can truly say is that I personally enjoyed it quite a bit, and if the above description sounds interesting to you, you may enjoy it quite a bit as well. I honestly hope that you do.

Rating; *** ½




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Monday, August 23, 2010

Insanitarium

Let’s face it, we all have out own personal weaknesses. Every last person reading this has some kind of movie that they like a good deal more than they honestly should, and for me, two of those are zombie movies and horror movies set in insane asylums. Which brings us to today, where I bring for your consideration a film that gives us zombies running around inside an insane asylum. It’s like a perfect storm of trying to discover what will make me squeal with joy.
Of course, it helps a lot that the film itself is actually pretty damn good as well, or I would certainly not be demanding that you all check it out (well, I probably still would, but I wouldn’t respect myself for it). The film stars Jesse Metcalfe as Jack, a young man whose sister has been admitted into a mental asylum after attempting suicide, and after being told over the phone that he’s not allowed to see her, decides his only option is to get himself committed to the same asylum so that he can then break both of them out. If that sounds suspiciously similar to the original plot of Prison Break, then don’t worry, because writer/director Jeff Buhler decided to run with it, and threw in Peter Stormare in as the villainous head doctor so you’d feel right at home.

Stormare is clearly up to no good here, not just because, y’know, he’s Peter Stormare, but because he’s testing out an experimental new treatment on his inmates called Orpheum, which he believes will work on everyone regardless of their own personal type of madness because, rather than being a drug, it releases an army of nanites into the body to transform the patient into being a more productive member of society. While this provides an initial great visual cue of who is taking the treatment when their eyes start looking all weird and robot-like, it later acquires the even greater visual cue when everyone on it starts developing an insatiable craving for living flesh, a craving that gets a delightfully gruesome outlet when Stormare gets all pissy and short circuits all the power in the building.

Probably the most notable facet of the movie (aside from the utterly ridiculous and fairly retarded plot) is how fast-paced it is, and how willing to go as far as possible in every awful direction it can. Need a sex scene? Alright, we’ll have one where Stormare ties up his assistant, cuts her inner thigh with a scalpel, and jams her panties in her mouth. Need to subtly show that the patients are developing a thirst for blood? Why, just have one find a cat out in the yard and yank its damn head off on camera before eating it! Want a semi-famous genre name as an unofficial leader of the simplified, to provide that spark of charisma? Can’t go wrong with DS9 and Buffy’s Armin Shimerman! The last third of the movie is just awash in blood, with people getting killed left and right (usually of the simplified persuasion, though our group of heroes suffers some casualties I was not expecting), so those of you worried that I’ve been spending too much time on moody horror movies rather than gory ones can rest a bit easier.

I only had one real issue with the film, and that is apparently due to how I never watch Attack of the Show. There are two female staffers at the asylum (Olivia Munn and Carla Gallo) that are attractive 20-something women with shoulder-length black hair, similar jobs, and rarely have their names spoken aloud during the film. As such, my first time through the film I had no idea they were two different people until one of them got their arm ripped off (oh, spoiler alert for this past sentence, by the way) around the start of the third act. It may be a somewhat minor point, since neither is such an important character that the film hinges on us being able to tell the difference, but come on. At least give one of them highlights or something.

Still, that is a fairly minor beef, and I suppose if I watched G4 for anything other than Ninja Warrior even that wouldn’t have been a problem for me. Bottom line is, if there had been a little more humor thrown in this would’ve fit in just fine with Peter Jackson’s early horror efforts, and anyone hoping for some nice over-the-top violence should feel right at home here.

Rating; *** ½




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Friday, August 20, 2010

Incubus

Here we have a nicely underappreciated horror gem, long thought lost to history and now mostly lost because people see that it’s a horror movie starring pre-Star Trek William Shatner and assume the worst. Hell, just check out the trailer below, where they have a girl screaming right after Shatner’s name is mentioned. It’s a bit of a shame, too, as this is quite a good effort, weird and hallucinogenic in the way of the best Euro horror (yes, I know the film is American, now hush).
The film is set on an island where the water is rumored to both restore health and make those drinking it healthier and better than they had ever been. Of course this attracts a great deal of attention from those who want a nice easy fix to whatever problems they feel they have, making it easy work for the succubi who dwell on the island to seduce them and cast their souls into Hell. However, one succubus named Kia (Allyson Ames) decides she’s sick of wasting her efforts on those who are already 99% damned anyway, and wants to try the challenge of corrupting a truly noble soul, and against the advice of her sisters finds one in Marc (Shatner). Sadly for her, soon starts to appear as though her sisters were right, as her efforts to ruin him are being turned back around on her, due to the holy power of love starting to work its own magic on her.

It’s a very different kind of movie, not least because of how it’s the only film ever made in Esperanto. That, combined with the black and white cinematography and the isolated nature of the film leaves us in a murky grey area in which the film feels like it’s set somewhere in Medieval Europe (something like an old Bergman film more than anything), but somehow not completely. The film functions as more of a dark parable than as a standard movie narrative, with Shatner behaving like a total saint than anything resembling a real person, and I do find the idea of love being the most holy, evil-conquering power of all was rather refreshing. Not to get all political on my fledgling audience here, but it would be rather nice if more of the self-professed Christians in this lovely country would try to embrace the power of love and togetherness, rather than doing nonsense like, say, whining and protesting anytime someone tries to build a new mosque here. Just saying, you know?

Of course, I’m digressing just a little bit here. The film keeps things spooky and mysterious, with dark covens creeping through the night and women being struck blind by the power of Satan (the Incubus of the title, played here by Milos Milos a scant year before murdering a woman and then killing himself -- you certainly can‘t say he didn‘t get into the part). It’s a strange art-horror film that you can actually show off to people and feel good and superior about when they flat-out hate.

Come on, it’s in Esperanto. Did you really think your buddies were all going to love it?

Rating: ***




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Thursday, August 19, 2010

I, Madman

It seems like just earlier this week I was extolling the virtues of moodiness and dread in horror movies, and now here’s one I quite enjoy that’s meant to be more fun and silly than anything else. It does have its share of suspenseful moments, to be sure, but it’s a nice (and increasingly uncommon) experience to find a horror movie that’s trying to actually entertain rather than merely gross its audience out. Wow, do I sound like a cranky old man lately.
The film follows the adventures of Virginia (Jenny Wright), an employee of what is one of the greatest used book stores in all of film. Seriously, not only is it huge, but the books are just piled up all over the place in a seemingly intentional effort to make sure you’ll find something completely random and wonderful everywhere you look. All that and not a single discernible location for five thousand copies of best-sellers by political pundits. It’s everything a book lover could want a book store to be.

But anyway, our heroine (who completely pulls off the nerd glasses, it must be said) finds a horror novel that she swiftly devours, and learns that the author had only managed to write one other novel called “I, Madman” before retiring (as a fan of trashy 80s horror novels, I can vouch that a writer doing just one or two horror novels and then vanishing into the haze was not that uncommon at this time). Using her used bookstore connections to sort of track down a copy (someone leaves it outside of her apartment, but her only co-worker claims not to have done it), but she discovers that each time she reads about a murder, the book’s killer seems to actually appear in real life and kill someone in the same way as in the book. Can she convince the police of the killer’s supernatural origins in time to avoid the fate of the heroine in the novel?

The killer is completely awesome. He looks like a combination of Frankenstein’s monster and the Phantom of the Opera, with an origin story where he cut off his ears, nose, lips, and hair, and is now going about killing people and replacing his missing parts with theirs. There’s also another killer from the first book that’s just a straight up stop-motion animated monster, recalling director Tibor Takacs previous film The Gate. While the kill scenes are fairly bloody (especially for the late 80s, when the MPAA seemed to be spending most of its time making horror movies remove every trace of blood if they wanted an R rating), the film keeps it light by making everything hyper-stylized, giving us a great many shots of a backlit killer with fog swirling all around him, often even when he’s indoors. We also get some great scenes like the opening, where she’s in her room reading at night with lightning crashing outdoors and her one sad lamp casting spooky shadows all over her apartment. It’s like a throwback to a time when horror movies were a bit more innocent, and tried to focus on fun above all else.

Further, while this may not be the best film I review this month (or even this week, what with House of the Devil and Hour of the Wolf), I can guarantee it will be the cheapest, with it’s suggested retail price sitting at a tremendous $3.98. That’s the kind of deal you’d be a fool to pass up. You don’t want to be thought of as a fool, do you?

Rating: ***




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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The House with Laughing Windows

Did you know that it’s been over a week since I last had an Italian horror movie in the HROHFYSSBYD? Indeed, I haven’t included an actual giallo since Amuck!, which you all of course remember as being the film that kicked off this whole deal. To rectify this great problem, I bring to you now Italian director Pupi Avati’s most famous (admittedly not setting the bar high here) film.
The film follows the adventures of Stefano (Lino Capolicchio), who is hired to venture out to a small town in the Italian countryside to help restore a badly damaged painting in an old church. The painting is a surprisingly gruesome effort for a church (well, for an American church at least, all the European churches I ever see seem to have demons and shit inside them), with a man being repeatedly stabbed while screaming in agony. The artist, he is told, was a bit of a madman, obsessed with the transcendence brought on by death, and to help capture it properly in his art his sisters would help find him victims to kill for his art. Lest the film be too obsessed with past murders, however, he now discovers that people are once more being murdered as his restoration continues. Can he figure out who is committing these grisly crimes before it’s too late?

This one may throw off casual giallo fans a bit, as it’s a good deal more slow-paced and chaste than most gialli, focusing on developing the mystery and establishing the feel and look of the film rather than throwing lots of blood and nudity out at us. Indeed, I was more than a little amused by the astonishingly chaste sex scene early in the film, where the girl strips down to her underwear, then slips under the covers before removing the rest, and keeping herself firmly covered through the whole sex scene. Compare that to virtually any other giallo ever made, where it’s almost surprising at times to find a girl dressed at all while indoors.

This is not to say that it’s a totally bloodless affair, mind you. The film slow builds to a pretty gruesome climax and ending, culminating in murder, rape, and a twist ending that I doubt anyone sees coming their first time through. Indeed, most of the criticism of the film comes from the distastefulness of the rape scene, which absolutely seems like it was included solely due to fears that the film wasn’t exploitative enough for audiences otherwise, but it hardly goes so far as to ruin the film or anything.

It’s a similar level of slow moodiness as his zombie film Zeder, which is not only the only other Avati film I have seen, but which appears to be the only other horror movie he’s ever made. It’s a shame, as he had a real talent for them, though since he’s still making movies to this day (his latest drama, Una Sconfinata Giovinezza, comes out in Italy in October), I suppose there’s always still the chance he’ll return to horror now that he’s in his 70s. It’s just how people deal with growing old in Italy, right?

Rating; ***




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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The House of the Devil

If any of you should ever wonder why Hollywood makes so much terrible garbage every year, I have a fine example for you from the world of horror. Here is The House of the Devil, which in my own opinion is the greatest, scariest horror movie of the past few years. There’s so much tension in this film that even a jaded asshole like myself was actually getting a little scared by it, and it made a whopping $100,000 in theaters before dropping onto DVD with a soft thud. Its big competitor at the time was Saw 6, which had a plot so easy to follow that someone on IMDB needed to write a thousand word essay just to explain the ending. It made $27 million, or roughly 270 times House of the Devil's take. The upcoming Saw 7 is in 3-D, so we can safely assume it will make twice that. Also, I hear the traps come alive!
Anyway, the film is meant more to evoke the creeping terror of horror films of the 70s rather than the more present-day torture porns and DTV slasher rehashes, and opens with some great fake statistics about how in the early 1980s, over 70% of American adults believed in the existence of evil Satanic cults, while an additional 30% believing the lack of evidence was due to a government cover-up. With that astonishing figure of over 100% established, we follow the story of Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), a poor college student hoping to make some quick money so that she can move into a new apartment next week, and who manages (after some initial incredibly shady difficulties) to get hired as a babysitter for an evening. Her best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) demands to accompany her there, and extracts a promise that if the job appears suspicious (or really, more suspicious than it already has) then they can bail. Unfortunately, despite the job becoming shadier by the minute once they arrive there, their host Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) offers up far too much money for Sam to pass up for just one night’s work, and she sends her friend home, a decision both girls would soon regret.

Yeah, there’s not a great deal of plot to the film, but it more than earns what surprises it has, so I’m not going to spoil any of them here. I suppose it’s become a bit clear over the past couple of weeks that I tend to prefer when my horror movies focus on suspense and mood rather than gore and jump scares, and while this film has its fair share of the latter, the bulk of the film is devoted to tension and the growing anticipation of whatever horrible event is soon going to happen. It’s a film of rare subtlety, as when she’s exploring the house and sees a painting of four cowboys on horseback, one of whom rides a pale horse. Put that in almost any other horror movie made in the last decade and the director would have nervously cut to the inscribed title “FOUR HORSEMEN” for fear that his audience wouldn’t have understood it.

While most movies tend to at least try to be laden with emotion, horror movies tend to be almost entirely based around the emotional response elicited from the audience. While this tends to mean that the plots of these films are allowed to be somewhat more simplistic than in more mainstream genres, a good deal of the time that’s unfortunately taken to mean that they’re allowed to be completely idiotic as long as people get carved up in them. It’s the sort of mindset that has led to the creation of Platinum Dunes and their endless parade of dull remakes (most recently the dreadful remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street). Fortunately, this film manages to do it the right way. While it keeps the plot fairly simple, it never actually insults our intelligence, the characters behave like the rational, smart people they’re intended to be, and at no point does the movie ever run the risk of grinding to a halt unless a character magically turns into an idiot so that the plot can continue. It doesn’t hurt that the house is creepy as all hell, either.

I haven’t seen any of writer-director Ti West’s other films like The Roost or Cabin Fever 2, but I’ve been told I’m not missing anything. That’s a shame, because he clearly shows here that he has the ability to make a classic horror movie when he really wants. Hopefully his upcoming film The Innkeepers will be able to capture the same magic this one did, as I would hate for him to fizzle out with just one really great movie under his belt.

Rating: ****




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Monday, August 16, 2010

Hour of the Wolf

Hour of the Wolf was the first (and better) of acclaimed director Ingmar Bergman’s two horror movies (the other, The Serpent‘s Egg, is really only for Bergman completists or those that have always wanted to try Bergman but fall down weeping at the thought of having to read subtitles or learn Swedish). It may be a bit presumptuous to include a movie that’s fairly well-known to the art house crowd in the HROHFYSSBYD, but I will argue to the end of my days that this is hardly known among general horror fans, and that is something that needs to change. After all, if we refuse to honor horror movies with an actual heart and purpose, then we truly deserve to keep having endless remakes and Saw sequels thrown at us.
The film stars Bergman stalwarts Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman as an artist and his wife who move to an island so that Sydow can hopefully focus more time on his painting. Unfortunately, their plan seems to have a flaw in it, as the island is apparently a good deal more populated than they had first thought, and populated by surprisingly weird and vicious-seeming people at that. In fact, the first one to show up and welcome them to the island kind of gives away the game a bit by telling Ullman that she’s 216 years old, before catching herself and saying she’s 76 and never mind what she said earlier. She comes with a somewhat vague warning to Ullman about her husband, as well as a good deal of hidden knowledge about him that even Ullman didn’t know (which should be setting off even more warning bells, frankly). Sadly, the warning isn’t taken seriously enough, and soon Sydow is accepting an invitation for the two of them at a nearby castle or mansion or whatever, where they get to enjoy one of the most unpleasant dinners I have ever encountered in the movies. Even the one dinner in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover, with its forced cannibalism and gunplay seemed like it would have been better to sit through.

Eventually they escape back to their own house, where the real meat of the film lies. The pair now has to endure the Hour of the Wolf, “the hour at which most people die, and most children are born.” It’s when the ghosts and demons attacking them are at their most powerful, and while Ullman tries her best to help protect her husband, his sanity rapidly deteriorates under the assault.

As befits a Bergman film, it’s a very dark, miserable affair, much quieter than your average film, giving you time to really ponder the various implications presented to you. This is hardly going to be every horror fan’s cup of tea, with its near-complete lack of violence or action. For those of you that want something a bit moodier, though, one that’ll creep inside of you a bit and maybe make you want to call up a loved one before life cruelly snatches them away from you, then you should definitely hunt this one down.

Rating: *** ½

P.S. Once again, be aware the trailer has some brief nudity. It seems the trick to showing tits on Youtube is to bury them inside a movie trailer.




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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Horrors of Malformed Men

One thing you have to give to the Japanese: they know how to make a movie that just revels in weirdness and doesn’t have any issues with not making a lick of sense. This trend is only exacerbated when we get a pairing of cult filmmaker Teruo Ishii (maker of such classics as Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf) and cult author Edogawa Rampo (author of a bunch of Japanese novels I never read). That and we get treated to a delightfully modest statement on the box cover, which read “Banned for decades! The most notorious Japanese horror film EVER made!” Really, you should have already ordered your copy by now.
Okay, it doesn’t quite live up to that level of hype. But it is quite entertaining. The film follows a man named Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida) who gets framed for murder at a circus (in pretty much exactly the same way as in North By Northwest), and while on the run he sees a news article about a recently deceased man that seems to have the same face as him. Now, just as anyone else in such a situation would do, he digs up the body, switches clothes with him, and impersonates him to infiltrate his family and try to discover how they are connected. I know, what else was he supposed to do, right? Of course, the family is also being targeted, and it seems to be connected to the family’s private island off the coast.

I really want to reveal to you all what’s on that island. I really, really do. That I won’t isn’t so much that I want to avoid spoiling the film, so much as that I have no clue how I would begin to describe it. Let’s just say that it involves a great many beautiful women in various stages of undress, a great many of the malformed men so slyly hinted at in the film’s title, some second-degree cannibalism, and a man that looks and acts quite a bit like Samara from The Ring. Seriously, go look at that trailer below and try to tell me what it’s about. I’ll wait. Yeah, exactly.

There’s also another great bit at the end that evokes, if not specifically Hitchcock’s Psycho, then at least the proud British tradition of the detective explaining the grand mystery to the cast. Of course, in truly inspired fashion, we get a ten minute attempt at explaining a truly crazy and incomprehensible film that makes the film remain crazy and incomprehensible, just a slightly different crazy and incomprehensible.

As far as wild Japanese horror movies go, this isn’t quite as good as Hausu, but while it’s missing some of that movie’s silly charm, it does make up for it somewhat by going even farther with the horror elements and throwing a whole lot of nudity our way. As I think everyone can agree, breasts do indeed make any movie better.

Rating: ***




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Horror Rises from the Tomb

Paul Naschy has a very qualified level of fame. His name is celebrated among those who are fans of 70s Spanish horror movies beyond the Blind Dead films, which is a pretty scant level of fame indeed. Even by that low measuring stick, his fans are mostly devoted to his seemingly endless number of werewolf movies, leaving this so far behind that I suspect I may even have more readers on this blog in a month than see this film in a year. Despite all that, it manages to be one of his more entertaining films, giving us a nice tale of revenge beyond the grave (not unlike the plot of the Blind Dead movies, actually), complete with blood, nudity, and zombies.
The film opens in the Middle Ages, with Naschy and his mistress (Helga Line) tied to trees and accused of witchcraft, vampirism, and lycanthropy, because clearly all of those are thoroughly interchangeable terms. After the pair are condemned to death by Naschy’s brother (also played by Naschy), he places a curse on his brother, condemning his descendants to all be killed by his hand, for he will be back! After his head is ordered separated from his body so he can never return, we cut ahead to the 1970s, where we once again meet Naschy (the guy gets around) as the descendant, who along with his friends is attending a s√©ance. Because that’s what people did for fun back in the day. Just look at Family Plot if you don’t believe me. Anyway, they accidentally summon the spirit of his ancestor, who mentions that he wants his head and body restored again, and present day Naschy decides to visit his family’s ancestral castle with all of his friends just to prove that the medium was a fraud.

Of course, once we get to his ancestral home (seriously, who owns a castle and just never visits it?) the real fun starts, as they swiftly dig up his ancestor’s head, which is of course still very much alive, and his ancestor wastes no time in hypnotizing everyone he sees and turning them into his zombie minions. It’s a surprisingly convoluted plot after that, involving magic talismans and Thor’s hammers get thrown in somehow and they sleep in the lake and I don’t really know what happened but it was brilliant.

I freely admit that this is a terrible movie. However, it is terrible in the best possible way, in that it manages to transcend its own lousiness and become something borderline awesome. I’d hesitate to call it outright good, per se, but it’s certainly fun and enjoyable, complete with all the violence, nudity, and gloomy scenes of crypts and woods that you could want in a film. The music is nicely subtle and not at all over-the-top too, featuring nothing but an organ and some sound effect that sounds kind of like one of those noise makers you get at a carnival. It apparently also spawned a sequel called Panic Beats, which I haven’t seen, but I can only hope it’s every bit as delightful as this one was.

Rating: ***



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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Horror High (a.k.a. Twisted Brain)

In keeping with the inadvertent 70s motif this week, here is another effort from that wonderful decade. This one isn’t quite on the level of House or Hitch-Hike, but it carries its own private charm in its classic tale of a wronged figure who gains his revenge on all those who scorned him. Sort of like a rape-revenge picture, except he wasn’t actually ever raped. Not on camera, at least.
The film follows the tragic exploits of Vernon (Pat Cardi), a hopeless high school biology nerd that is getting bullied by almost everyone in his life. Indeed, the first act of the film is so entertaining in large part because of how over the top all the bullying gets -- he’s really getting it from all sides here, from his English teacher to the gym teacher to the jocks, all the way to the damn janitor! Fortunately for him, he’s been working on a formula to cause physical changes in animals, and in a twist that was not at all clumsily foreshadowed by his class having to read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in English, he’s soon forced to drink his formula himself, and transforms, I guess, into a vicious killer. I’m not honestly sure if he actually transforms beyond getting strong enough to manhandle everyone, as their efforts to save on makeup costs led them to just filming him in extreme shadow the whole time he’s in Hyde form, which leads to him looking largely the same, just running around all stiff and spastically like he’s the Crow.

But I digress. This is a proper revenge story, as all effort that went into the film went into the two important parts -- the abuse he suffers, and the subsequent brutality he later inflicts on his tormentors. I don’t really want to ruin the kill scenes, so I’m going to be somewhat vague here, but just by way of example I feel I must point out that my high school certainly didn’t have a giant man-sized vat of acid lying around probably due to incidents just like the one in this movie.

Which is not to say that it’s an outright great film at all, of course. The acting is pretty uniformly terrible, and there are some pretty big pacing issues that leave sections of the film fairly dull. It’s a good film overall, but flawed enough to never be considered an outright classic of the genre. Still, it’s a mostly enjoyable film, as over the top as you’d really want an effort like this to be, and with the lovely people at Code Red finally giving it a proper DVD treatment this week, there’s no better time than the present to check it out.

Rating: ***




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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hitch-Hike

So here’s a perfectly enjoyable forgotten classic from the mid-70s for all of you to enjoy. It’s that rarest of 70s exploitation films: one that is actually really well-made. If it stumbles slightly at the end, it still has a pretty major lead over most of its peers.
The film follows Franco Nero and Corinne Clery as a squabbling couple on vacation in the southwestern United States. After a long evening spent hunting, arguing, singing campfire songs, fighting, sleeping, and then yelling at each other, Clery decides to pick up a hitch hiker (David Hess) to give her someone she won’t necessarily hate to talk to for a while. Unfortunately, as any exploitation aficionado could have told her, allowing the vicious rapist/murderer from Last House on the Left into your car isn’t really the smartest move one could make. This is especially the case when you just heard a quick snippet of radio news about three bank robbers running loose in the area (after stealing a massive $2 million from the bank, no less -- what bank is this, exactly?). Sure enough, he’s soon got a gun pulled on them, forcing them to take him to the Mexican border where he can make his escape with the frankly ridiculous amount of money that was in the bank, and to keep himself occupied on the drive he’s just being as boorish a passenger as one could find. He delivers some brutal beatings to Nero, he drinks most of his whiskey, he molests Clery every chance he gets, and just in general behaves in a way very contrary to making anyone want to pick up a hitch hiker again.

There aren’t very many movies made today that are as unrelentingly mean-spirited as this, and the ones that do (such as Eden Lake or Shuttle) tend to screw it up with idiotic plot contrivances. While Hitch-Hike does have one rather goofy bit near the end, it isn’t something that really harms the film in any way. What we do get is a tight and clever script, three great acting jobs (Nero shines here as a miserable alcoholic, not really all that much of a change from the grizzled spaghetti western roles he’s more famous for, and Hess is as horrid and vile as one would imagine him to be), and a great score by Ennio Morricone. In checking director Pasquale Campanile’s filmography to see if he had made any other films I had seen, I found he mostly made movies with titles like Sex Machine and X-Rated Girl, which both explains why I hadn’t seen anything else he did, and why this one was so overtly sexual. Not only does Hess molest Clery repeatedly, but at one point she even goads him into forcing himself on her while her husband is tied up and forced to watch, effectively using Hess as a weapon against her husband.

There’s also a couple great small moments to the film, my favorite being when Nero and Hess are screaming at each other in the car, and right in the middle of the argument Hess hands Nero the bottle of whiskey, and Nero takes a drink and says “thank you” prompting a nice “you’re welcome” from Hess. And then immediately back to arguing. Awesome.

It’s a great, dark film that does its very best to remind us what we enjoy so much in exploitation movies; it’s sleazy, it’s violent, and it eagerly goes far beyond the boundaries of what a more mainstream film (then or now) would have managed. The DVD is pretty cheap too, so you’ve got no excuse not to check it out. It’s a shame that this isn’t a more famous film than it is, it’s much better than 90% of the grind house fare out there.

Rating: ****

P.S. Be careful with that trailer. Despite being on Youtube, there is some nudity.




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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hausu (a.k.a. House)

Into everyone’s life a few utterly insane films must fall, for sheer variety’s sake if nothing else. Fortunately, this one’s also a pretty damn entertaining movie, and very close to being one you could watch with your kids too.
The film follows seven female high school students, one of whom decides to spend summer vacation in the country with her aunt and brings her friends along with her, only to find that all is not as it seems at her aunt’s home. That description doesn’t do the movie proper justice, however, as the movie is so crazy that every few minutes some new mad thing is happening, whether it be them walking in the house and immediately being attacked by the chandelier, a character being eaten by a piano, or the severed head of a boy floating up out of a well, saying hello, and then biting a character on the ass. There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, and no way of anticipating what’s going to be flying out at you next. More movies should be like that.

The visual style has to be mentioned as well, because it’s just as over-the-top, sometimes a bit much so. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi creates a fairly dreamlike world, giving us a nice Douglas Sirk-type overtly fake backdrop when they head to the aunt’s house, there are several animated sequences, and some frequent camera tricks, even at times when there’s no real reason for any. At one point, for instance, there’s a pretty extended camera shot following the girls as they leave a room, walk down the stairs, try the telephone, and talk to each other for several minutes, and the whole time this is happening the film is slowed down and strobing, for seemingly no reason other than Obayashi was presumably worried that people might find the scene boring if he didn’t do anything. It gets a little unnecessary after a while.

That said, this is still a ridiculously fun and amusing film, and is mostly pretty child-safe aside from the climax. There’s a little bit of blood and nudity at the end, but nothing beyond what I’d have enjoyed as a little kid (well, the blood I would have enjoyed, the nudity I would have been indifferent to). The actresses also help sell the idea that it’s all lighthearted and safe, as they all seem thoroughly bubbly and air headed at all times, and don’t really seem incredibly concerned even after their friends all start disappearing and the aunt has suspiciously gone from being wheelchair bound to dancing with skeletons. They also laugh at completely inappropriate moments, like when they all start laughing hysterically after one randomly says “old cats can open doors, but only ghost cats can close them again”. Some would call that bad acting, no doubt. I prefer to view it as inspired.

The film is just now getting its first DVD release in the US, and by Criterion of all companies. They’re more known for releasing art house fare, which I suppose simply means that Hausu is indeed an art film and should be held in the same high regard as Forbidden Games or L‘Eclisse. It feels a bit closer to an early Peter Jackson film than either of those, but clearly this is a film that works on many levels.

Rating: *** ½




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Friday, August 6, 2010

Habit

Way back in my review of Wendigo I mentioned that I was eager to try some more of Larry Fessenden’s films, as he has a curiously absorbing directorial style, and a way of blending “real” life with the supernatural that one rarely finds elsewhere. With Wendigo’s immediate predecessor Habit here, he shows that Wendigo was not a fluke but a normally high-quality effort from one of the best horror directors around today.
The film stars Fessenden as Sam, a New York mess who spends all of his time in a drunken stupor. He still has a solid group of friends around him, but no doubt if they were better or more perceptive friends they’d have noticed that his alcoholism is no longer particularly functional. After an evening spent at a Halloween party, he wakes up the next morning riding a subway train, and is more upset about having had his wallet stolen than about the implications of being the type of person who passes out on subway trains. Into this imitation of life he encounters Anna (Meredith Snaider), a mysterious woman who sweeps him off his feet and promptly gives him his second grand addiction in herself. Unfortunately, she has a rather nasty habit herself of biting him and drinking his blood whenever they have sex, which leads to him becoming slightly suspicious of her…

The main thing that makes the movie so interesting is that it doesn’t really matter if she’s a vampire or not. It’s really about the complete self-destruction of Sam, through his drinking, his loneliness, and his overall paranoia. We do see a few incidents that appear to be clearly supernatural, but filtered through the lens of Sam’s mind we can’t really trust everything we see. Even his irritatingly theatrical best friend Nick (Aaron Beall) openly calls him out for being so ridiculous and thinking she’s undead, and he’s probably just feeling sick from a regular cold. I’d personally imagine any feeling of sickness would have more to do with all the alcohol he’s been drinking (and Nick, in his great helpfulness, simply tells him he needs to go get drunk and he’ll feel better), but that’s just me.

As Fessenden mentioned on one of the DVD features, he had been trying to make the film look and feel more like a Scorsese or Cassavetes film than a standard horror movie, which goes a long way toward explaining why it’s so easy to believe she’s not a vampire at all, and he’s just crazy. The film looks rough and raw like Cassavetes or early Scorsese (to where I wonder if it might have looked even better in black and white) and perfectly matches the isolation and paranoia on display. Fessenden’s role is completely fearless; few actor-directors would be so willing to make themselves look so wretched and pathetic. Indeed, all the actors do great jobs for such a low-budget film, though Nick’s character is so god damned annoying with his overdone theatrics that I started being a little glad I never got as far into the acting life as I once wanted.

While this is hardly a standard vampire tale, and those looking for a story with plenty of vampiric attacks will be a little let down (though not those hoping for some hot vampiric sex scenes, because damn), anyone who wants to see a nice, different sort of story, one that really delves into your head and doesn’t want to come back out easily, this is certainly one for you.

Rating: *** ½




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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Goregasm

Well, I promised yesterday that today’s update would be a little more graphic than the last few, and I am quite happy to deliver here. This is an underground film (so underground, in fact, that it’s not even available on Amazon, you have to get it off the companie’s website) about a once quiet New Orleans faced with the small problem of a sexually deviant serial killer called the Cockface Killer running around.
The sequel to (surprisingly enough) Attack of the Cockface Killer, a film I am a little sad I haven’t seen, follows two clerks that work for the cheerfully named Filthy Frank’s Fuck Flicks & Fake Dicks Emporium and find that their favorite pastimes are being severely hampered here. After all, wouldn’t you be upset if a mad killer would break into your house any time you tried to masturbate or have sex and then beat you to death with a giant dildo? Complicating matters further is an insane detective assigned to the case who is convinced that Cockface is a myth, and there’s actually a fetish killer running around. His method of trying to get into his mind, sadly, seems mainly to be based around masturbating with whatever happens to be around at a crime scene, whether it be a blow up doll or the victim’s own shit, much to the horror of his bright female partner. Finally, New Orleans is also facing the menace of the CLAM -- the Clitoral Legion Against Mankind, a group of women led by a bearded lady determined to wipe out the male scourge on the planet, and apparently also to enslave all women that aren’t in their crew.

It’s a surprisingly complicated effort for a film with a production level not all that much higher than what you’d get on the Tomb of Terrors collection (though much more entertaining), though with that framework you wind up with exactly what you’d hope for out of such a movie. It’s mostly funny (the detective can be a bit overdone at times, but how can anyone not enjoy when he tosses an open cup of semen at his partner? Don’t answer that), it’s got quite a bit of blood and gore to it (in addition to the previously mentioned dildo beatings, Cockface also uses a knife and a chainsaw to help ensure that nobody in Louisiana can have a happy healthy sex life), and it’s got nudity just about every half a minute. Hell, the porn shop even has a pair of unofficial mascots who just spend their days and nights going at it in the store, which I can only assume has gone long past the point of chafing.

It’s as delightfully tacky as a movie can get, as one would hope when the killer wears a mask that has a dildo dangling from the chin. You get a surprising amount of anal rape, a woman’s intestines falling all over the floor, a guy wrapping a donut around his dick and providing his own cream -- chances are that if there’s any kind of horrible sexual trauma in your past, this movie features it. That’s not a bad thing, people, that’s how the healing process begins. There’s even a nice punk soundtrack to the film, which, while not as good as the punk goth soundtrack to Return of the Living Dead, does have one incredibly catchy song that mostly appears to just be the singer screaming “Bitch, get your ass in the car!”

I re-watched this so I could review it shortly after watching the Batman porno (what the hell is wrong with me?), and while it’s true that Goregasm does suffer from the lack of such things as the Riddler -- sorry, the Puzzler -- tossing out jokes like “When is a pussy like a flower? When it’s got two lips!”, I do still think it may somehow beat batman as the more enjoyable film. I could go on for quite a while like I did above about what else is in the movie, but it would be unfair to blab about all of it here. Go follow that link about and check it out, you should know by now if it’s the kind of movie you’d want to see.

Rating: *** ½

P.S. While all nudity has been blurred out in the trailer, I’d really hesitate to call it work safe, unless you have a much more understanding boss than I have ever had.



And the Batman XXX trailer (much more work-safe):


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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Girly (a.k.a. Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly)

So remember yesterday, when I promised that there’d be two nice and bloody movies later this week? Well, I had intended this to be one of them, but it seems my memory was quite faulty as, despite the number of murders going on here, there’s a shockingly complete lack of blood. It’s still a pretty fabulous movie, however, filled with some nice dark British humor, and you should definitely check it out.
The film follows the four title characters, who comprise an isolated wealthy British family, and the transients the “children” (both obviously adults, which should really be a bit of a tipoff to the transients) bring home to play games with. Of course, we and they soon find out that when they break the rules once too often, it’s then time for a final game, where Girly (Vanessa Howard) or Sonny (Howard Trevor) sends them to live with the angels. Into this, New Friend (Michael Bryant) arrives, and quickly figures out just what a dangerous situation he’s in, and decides to play along while he figures out how to resolve things without being murdered himself.

I must say, I admire the sheer bravado in New Friend is to seduce both Girly and Mumsy (Ursula Howells) so that he can turn them (well, mainly Girly) into weapons against both each other and the rest of the family. His seduction of Girly in particular, coming as it does in the middle of a game of cowboys and Indians which Sonny is also playing, takes some real daring, and while they keep it clean and don’t show any actual nudity, we do at least get treated to Girly’s “O” face when he goes down on her.

All five main cast members give surprisingly good performances for such a nutso story, and the humor is nicely understated and fun. The real breakout talent (and presumably the reason for the shortened name) is Vanessa Howard, of course, so it’s a little sad to read on IMDB that she quit acting a few years after this, in large part because Girly and What Became of Jack and Jill? vanished into the ether so soon after their initial releases. Indeed, that second film is still unavailable on DVD, and while I can find a copy online it’s clearly from a badly worn-out VHS, so it’s hopefully due for a proper re-mastering. Spielberg or someone should get right on that.

I’m honestly surprised that since starting the HROHFYSSBYD reviews up again, the first three films I’ve done have all been fairly blood-and-nudity-free. That’s going to change tomorrow in a big way, but it was kind of nice watching Fright, The Ghost, and especially Girly together, as though I were returning to a more simple time, one prior to Saw and Hostel and characters didn’t all have to be viciously tortured before being mercifully killed off. These were horror movies you could watch with the family, you know? Hopefully a more stable family than the one we got here.

Rating: *** ½




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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Ghost

This is a fairly obscure little gothic treat with Barbara Steele as the unfaithful wife to a crippled doctor, and the awfulness that results. It’s another moody little piece with little blood to it, but I swear, I’ll have two nice gruesome ones for you later this week.
Much like Fright, this one is also fairly light on plot. Steele is cheating on her husband (Elio Jotta) with another doctor (Peter Baldwin), who decides that the only way to resolve the situation is if the two of them murder him. Indeed, there’s perfect opportunity to do so, as his planned paralysis cure is to daily take two deadly poisons together, so the wife-stealing doctor simply doesn’t give him the second poison during treatment, and the poor invalid promptly dies.

That’s the set-up; the rest of the film revolves around them trying and failing to find his fortune, while seemingly being haunted by Jotta’s ghost. Could he truly be back from the dead? Could this mysterious haunting be in any way connected to how his will curiously stated that Steele got everything, but only if she kept their faithful maid (Harriet Medin) at the spooky mansion with her? Not to spoil anything here, but come on. There were a bunch of movies around this time with similar plots, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out that he’s not dead, and the maid’s helping him torment his wife and her lover.

What makes the movie work is not its plot, but rather the look and feel of the film, and that director Riccardo Freda mostly keeps it fairly effective and creepy, not letting it devolve into campy silliness -- the exception being at the end, where a character spends several minutes explaining how the film‘s plot was able to work, before concluding with “it was all very simple.” Yes, of course it was. Outside of that bit of absurdity, we get some nice moments, like when Baldwin tries to enter a room and sees Jotta’s “corpse” hanging from a noose, or when we get a surprisingly vicious attack with a straight razor late in the film. Barbara Steele is her usual wonderful self, of course; for those of you who haven’t seen her before, she is a real treat, though I’d have to suggest your first experience with her be a more famous one, like Black Sunday or Castle of Blood (or, for a non-horror effort, Fellini’s classic 8 ½). The Ghost is indeed good, but there is already a proper procedure in place for falling in love with 60s scream queens, you know.

I really wish I hadn’t been so determined to do these in alphabetical order, as I almost feel like I’ve just reviewed the same film twice in a row. For the none of you following along at home, this does feel somewhat stylistically similar to Fright, so if you want to make a nice moody double feature, they would go fairly well together. Of course, the best available print on DVD also comes with Dead Eyes of London, but I trust you to make your own double feature decisions, you don’t have to blindly follow their advice here.

Rating: ***




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Monday, August 2, 2010

Fright

If I’m going to be reviving this blog, I may as well try to make a further dent in the Hundred Rare and Obscure Horror Films You Should See Before You Die, or HROHFYSSBYD for short. We’ll be knocking out a good twenty two more of them by month’s end (barring a hospital stay or something), which should finally put me past the damn halfway mark on these. This time, we’re taking a look at a fairly unknown British thriller that’s low on blood but high on atmosphere.
You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but there was a time back in the 60s and early 70s when the Brits were actually the ones pushing the envelope on blood and gore in movies. Led by Hammer and Amicus (neither of whom produced this), they were greatly ramping up production of red paint all throughout England. Which is why it’s a little surprising that this one manages to get by mainly on mood and tension, and mostly without any level of graphic violence. The story follows Susan George as a babysitter hired to watch over a young boy while his suspiciously nervous parents have a nice night out to dinner. Sadly, as the night progresses she learns that the reason the mother is so nervous is because the boy’s biological father is a mental patient she’s just divorced, and who has decided that the proper response is to break out of the institute and head back to his old home.

After discreetly terrorizing her by banging on windows and various things, he eventually breaks in (though not before savagely assaulting her boyfriend, which produces the only real blood in the film, or before taking out the phone lines). He then proceeds to terrorize and assault her (and in a particularly brutal moment, her boyfriend again) until the parents finally realize something’s gone wrong and manage to get the police on over there for the climax.

Of course, much more than the actors or the violence, the real star of the film is its overall look. Even before a maniac shows up, the house looks about as scary as a house possibly can, looking more like it belongs in some gothic nightmare starring Peter Cushing than in a normal suburb. It also makes great use of the night: outside of a few cutaways to a restaurant and police station, the whole film takes place in shadow, and not the cheap shadow of a no-budget horror movie where you can’t see a damn thing, either. The film is well titled (much better than its more lurid and cheesy alternate title “I’m Alone and I’m Scared”), as the entire movie seems more designed to frighten rather than outright horrify (though our female lead does have the thankless role of having roughly a third of her lines being nothing more than screaming).

The only one of director Peter Collinson’s other films I’ve seen was his immediate follow-up Straight On Till Morning, another fairly obscure horror entry (this one actually made by Hammer) that deserves to be much more famous than it is. I rather wish he had made a few more horror movies before his death (just eight days after I was born, in fact), as he was a man who clearly understood how they worked. In fact, he understood them so well that this is apparently the first ever horror movie where a maniac stalks a babysitter, making this a pioneer in the field. Just think, if not for this underseen classic, we may have never gotten Rob Zombie’s Halloween. And really, I think we all would have missed out then.

Rating; ***




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