Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Film Series - Horror ""

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Underrated Film Series - Horror

Well, it's about that time of year folks. Time when my thoughts and fancies drift towards the macabre side of cinema. This is a series I've run before, but who among us can get enough of horror movie lists? Certainly not me. I realize it's only September, but I plan to run this series all through this month right up to Halloween. I personally need a big ramp up when it comes to Halloween and horror movies. I start watching them at the end of the summer and carry on past Thanksgiving sometimes. Heck, I watch horror year-round, but I certainly get more fixated on horror movies around this time of the year. Horror was one of my first darlings as far as movie genres go. It was the kind of movie I was most into in high school and most often rented on VHS. Horror movies for me were a kind of gateway into loving movies in general and they will always have a special place for me.
With this list, I tried to run the gamut a bit with a range of older stuff. thriller-y stuff, animals attack(a genre very close to my heart), some classic films and straight horror. Hopefully you enjoy this list and keep watching Rupert Pupkin Speaks for more horror recommends in the next few months!

P.S. - here's my list from last time:

PRIVATE PARTS(1972; Paul Bartel)
Weird, sleazy, atmospheric 'horror hotel' story with more than a little bit of PSCYHO in it. Deserving of cult status. Might be my favorite Paul Bartel film. The atmosphere he creates here is fantastic and I wish he'd attempted more films along these lines for that reason. The lead girl (Ayn Ruymen) reminds me of a cross between Christina Ricci and Karen Allen. Cute and great in the role. Sadly she didn't do too many other films(mostly a lot of TV in the 70s and 80s). 

THE MAD MAGICIAN(1954; John Brahm)
If you don't adore Vincent Price then I really just don't know what to tell you. I used to not totally understand Tim Burton's fascination with him, but as I've seen more and more of his work over the years, I've come to truly cherish him all-around. You'll notice that this movie has a kinship with HOUSE OF WAX(which was released the year prior) when you see it. Some similarities along plot lines and both films were exhibited in 3D. Apparently THE MAD MAGICIAN was the first movie to be broadcast on Television in 3D. Why this film is better known is a little baffling to me. The only DVD release it's ever gotten is a Sony MOD. It deserves more. There's some truly vintage Vincent Price here. Also, I wonder if Chris Nolan watched this before working on THE PRESTIGE. Not that the stories are all that similar except for the idea of stealing magicians competing and stealing tricks from each other. Fun flick. Would make an interesting double with CONFESSION OF AN OPIUM EATER. While we're on the subject of underrated Vincent Price movies, I have to recommend THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS as well. Probably my 2nd favorite Invisible Man film after the definitive one with Claude Rains. It is quite solid and folks don't talk about it nearly enough.

OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN(1983; George P. Cosmatos)
Next to DEADLY EYES, I always say this is the best killer rat movie out there. A powerhouse performance from Peter Weller(pre-ROBOCOP and BUCKAROO BANZAI) is what carries this thing as it's all about a man who becomes obsessed with killing a large rat that is fucking up his townhouse. Director George Cosmatos does a fine job here and shows great chops just before he would become known for 80s action classics such as RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and COBRA(and later TOMBSTONE). A really fantastic little psychological horror film.

THE INCUBUS(1982; John Hough)
From the director of THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE(and also WATCHER IN THE WOODS and DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY) comes this very unsettling and disturbing film about a demon creature that rapes women in a small town. John Cassavetes plays the town doctor. All the performances have this  sort of "dead inside"quality that gives the movie this sense fear and dread. Almost like the characters are from a slightly alternate dimension or something. Very effective horror. Some freaky stuff. This was the farewell film that Zack Carlson programmed at the Alamo Drafthouse so I know he's a fan as well:

BLOOD AND BLACK LACE(1964; Mario Bava)
This was the movie that really got me into Bava. I think I saw it because Quentin Tarantino had bought it on Laserdisc from a video store I was working at. I had heard Bava's name mentioned before(by Tarantino and others), but I think I had only heard of(but not seen) PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and BLACK SUNDAY. After I saw this crazy giallo predecessor I had to check out more of his stuff. This film is just dripping with style. There's even a shot that I think Sam Raimi stole for EVIL DEAD II(blood on swinging lightbulb). The killer also has  great mask that makes him look faceless, which is quite memorable. Also memorable is a dude who looks like the Italian Peter Lorre. Love that guy. 

One of the better witch-related TV-movies I've ever seen. Melissa Sue Anderson(of Little House on the Prairie) is a deadly evil bitch in this show(and a witch to boot). I was so used to her role on Little House that this caught me off guard. She's really great.
 Was turned onto this one by Jeff Nelson over at Scream Factory. Hadn't heard of it before he mentioned it. 

THE REFLECTING SKIN(1990; Philip Ridley)
Creepy, David Lynch-ian horror film. The first time I saw it on VHS it kind of knocked me for a loop as it was quite strange and unique in it's vision of what is ostensibly a vampire film(though it's not 100% clear what it is). It got me interested it Philip Ridley for some time afterwards though I've yet to find a film of his I like quite as much as this. Always hoping for a domestic Blu-ray of this one.

MARTIN(1976; George A. Romero)
My favorite Romero film and one that though it has some notoriety among hardcore horror fans, is not known enough. When I heard Romero speak of Hitchcock being a big influence on him, I didn't see it as much in his films as I did when I saw this one. This feels like an artsy, low-budget Hitchockian take on a vampire tale. Nice mix of B&W and color.

MIDNIGHT LACE (1960; David Miller)
This probably falls closer to the thriller side of the line, but it can pass as horror I think and few people ever talk about it. Doris Day is plagued by disturbing phone calls and her husband Rex Harrison is skeptical it's not all in her head. Also stars Myrna Loy, John Gavin and Roddy McDowall. Shot by the great Russell Metty (who was cinematographer on many Sirk films among tons of other good stuff).

PHASE IV (1974; Saul Bass)
Sadly, this is the only feature that Saul Bass ever made. That makes me crazy because I would have loved to have seen what else he would have come up with. With this film he created what is basically an art house take on an animals attack movie. Some ants lay siege to this small desert town and a couple scientists (Michael Murphy & Nigel Davenport) must do their best to combat them. This is one of those movies that is sort of a spellbinding watch. The style and pace with which Bass made it really make it feel unlike most films I've seen. I know it was a big influence on director Panos Cosmatos and his film BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (which is also quite spellbinding). Needs a Blu-ray with the option of seeing the recently found "freak out" ending.

DEATH VALLEY (1982; Dick Richards)
I like to call this movie "THE HITCHER JR", which I think sums it up pretty well for the most part. This was a very early film for the great Peter Billingsley, but anyone expecting a warm-hearted CHRISTMAS STORY-type flick will be in for a rude awakening. This movie puts a kid in peril in a big way! Not that I am in favor of such things, but it is sad to me when we find ourselves in an era where certain films just wouldn't get made, especially on a studio level. Well worth tracking down the Scream Factory Blu-ray on this one.

OGROFF aka MAD MUTILATOR (1983; N.G. Mount)
One of the most hypnotic, mesmerizing pieces of horror what-the-fuckery I've seen in a long time. Sick, trashy killer-on-the-loose stuff. To reductively label it a 'poorly made horror film' does an injustice to not only the film, but to you the potential viewer. Must be sought out. Phil Blankenship (who programs the amazing Heavy Midnites series at Cinefamily) turned me onto this one and I am forever in his debt for it.

BUG (1975; Jeannot Szwaarc)
I think we can all agree that cockroaches are pretty gross and annoying. Well, they're even more so when they are a foot long and can spontaneously start fires. That's what Bradford Dillman (who I always refer to as the poor man's Heston) has to contend with in this William Castle produced nightmare (that uses the Brady house set as one of its locations). Directed by Jeannot "JAWS 2 & SUPERGIRL" Szwarc.

CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957; Jacques Tourneur)
Have you seen DRAG ME TO HELL? Well if you see that film and then watch this one you may notice that Sam Raimi may be a fan. I can't blame him though, it's a great movie and surprisingly affective for the time it was made. I'll bet this movie scared some folks pretty good in 1957 with its special effects. It's expertly directed by Val Lewton alumni Jacques Tourneur and he brings his usual striking visual flair and creepy mood to it in a grand way. Dana Andrews plays a skeptic doctor who must come around to a new belief in the supernatural via his dealings with an evil man called Karswell (a name I've always loved). Also features the lovely Peggy Cummins (of GUN CRAZY fame) which is a nice bonus. French Blu-ray coming later this year.

DAGON (2001; Stuart Gordon)
When you say the word's "fish people" it doesn't necessarily inspire dread or terror. In fact, some of us may think back on comic book ads for sea monkeys and giggle to ourselves. This movie brings respectability back to fish people. They are creepy as hell and truly scary in this movie. One of the lesser exalted Stuart Gordon film adaptations of Lovecraft and that's a shame as I am a big fan.

VENOM (1981; Piers Haggard)
The child-kidnapping plans of a chauffeur (Oliver Reed) and a housekeeper(Susan George) go horribly awry when they are trapped in a house by police with a deadly Black Mamba.
Also headlining: Klaus Kinski as a terrorist and Sterling Hayden (with a full-on LONG GOODBYE beard) as a grandfather. It's a treat to see Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski yelling at each other (I get a sense they perhaps didn't care for each other). This film also has some fun 'snake vision' and snake terror moments peppered throughout. Very much a hybrid of the 'animal attack' and 'siege film' genres.
Edgar Wright discussed this movie for Trailers from Hell a while back:

FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958; Arthur Crabtree)
Herbert J. Leder (the writer of this film) must have had a thing for brains. About 10 years after this film, he wrote and directed another brain-related movie called THE FROZEN DEAD about Nazis being unfrozen after 20 years. That film is not nearly as interesting or successful as this one. When you hear about a movie with flying brains attacking people, you probably won't think much of it beyond it being some kind of a joke movie. Brad Bird's film THE IRON GIANT even features an old sci-fi movie about brains attacking people and it is understandably played very much for humor. That's what I thought of when I first sat down to watch this movie, but it surprised me. It is very well made and has moments of genuine scariness that were a pleasant revelation. The brains themselves kill by wrapping their little tentacles around people's throats and choking them. Oh and they fact that they fly around is much freakier than some little crawling creature on the ground. I put this film right up there with the heavyweight sci-fi horror films of the 1950s like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE BLOB and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD . Truly a good time.

Quentin Tarantino programmed this movie on the short-lived Trio Channel when they gave him cart blanche for a week some years ago. I wish someone would have hung onto his little intros and outros for each film because they were of course fascinating. All that I can vaguely recall from his intro for this film is some tidbit about him calling the director Alfred Vohrer the German Hitchcock or something. It's kind of a mystery, creepy-house kind of movie with Klaus Kinski (more Klaus for my list!), but one I enjoyed a good deal.

BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (1951; Curt Siodmak)
A brawny, evil Raymond Burr works a rubber plantation and decides to off his boss when he is fired. The boss is watched over by an old gypsy woman and she puts a curse on him that turns him into a gorilla. This is a cult favorite of sorts I guess (at least according to Danny Peary's books) which is why I sought it out. The presence of Lon Chaney Jr., Woody Strode and Tom Conway (the Falcon himself) give it a boost too. Written and directed by Curt Siodmak who also wrote THE WOLFMAN, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and the above-mentioned INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS as well as many others. The film is short and sweet at about 65 mins. Nice double with ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. Appears to be public domain so can be found easily on cheapie dvds and YouTube. I believe Joe Dante is a fan of this one as well.

Honorable Mentions:

HOTLINE (1982; Jerry Jameson)
Wonder Woman herself (Lynda Carter) plays a bartender who takes up a job answering phones for a crisis center and finds herself stalked by riddling a serial killer. Nice little mystery thriller with some kills and creepy voices. With any luck, this may show up as a release from the fine folks at Scream Factory some day (I heard Scream's Jeff Nelson mention it as one he'd like to put out in a recent podcast interview). 

TENTACLES (1977; Ovidio G. Assonitis)
TENTACLES is pretty much exactly what you might expect from an American International Pictures knockoff of JAWS. Instead of a shark, you've got a rogue octopus of course and it's far from being on the upper tier of JAWS knockoffs, but there's still something fun about it for me. The cast (who must have just wanted an Italian vaction) helps in that it includes John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Henry Fonda and Claude Akins. AIP really wanted to try to make people think this movie was in league with JAWS though - check out the trailer as they even got the same narrator as JAWS (the amazingly iconic Percy Rodriguez):

THE CHILDREN (1980; Max Kalmanowicz)
Some would certainly call this a guilty pleasure, but I have genuine affection for it. Sure, it's a bit silly - a school bus passes through a radioactive cloud and the kids on board become zombie-ish beings who hug to kill. I still think it's a hoot to watch.

Also tepid "horror" at most, this is still a fun 'animals attack' TV movie from the late 70s that I think we can all relate to. Weren't you ever at the zoo looking at the lions and thinking to yourself "what would happen if any if these guys got loose??". Well that's what happens in BEASTS and the animals cut loose on lots of innocent folks on the freeway and it rocks.

MOTHER LODE (1982; Charlton Heston)
Heston directs himself here and teaches us a valuable lesson: Don't Mess With His Gold! I've heard it said that this is basically a Heston slasher film and I kind of agree. It's certainly the closes thing he ever did to one. He plays this kind of half-crazed, grizzled mountain man pretty well for sure.  


Will Errickson said...

Fantastic list! I also developed my love of movies through horror as a teenager. Glad to see REFLECTING SKIN, MARTIN, DAGON, & OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN here - so so good. I haven't seen INCUBUS but I'll tell ya, the original novel, by Ray Russell - he was fiction editor for PLAYBOY back in the day - is outrageously sleazy fun.

Tommy Ross said...

Great post! You did it again Rupert. I had not heard of "Martin" by George Romero before, just ordered on Amz, thanks...and Bug is a major 70's classic, actually quite good and very scary, my stepmom was an extra in the first scene inside the church, she's seated on the aisle in pink top...also recently acquired and watched Beast On The Streets from one of your previous posts, classic 70's Television movie, great to see mostly for the locations...thanks again for all your great work!

SteveQ said...

Really hit-and-miss list, I think. Guess I'll just have to make my own list!

Curse of the Demon may be underseen, but hardly underrated. The Reflecting Skin is a favorite of mine and Fiend Without a Face is truly surprisingly good.

Fun story about Bride of the Gorilla: the actress billed as Giselle Werbisek's real name was Gisela Werbiserk-Piffl. People made fun of her name all the time (a lot of prank calls) and she never understood why.

Torei said...

Great list. Can't believe I've never seen Private Parts.

The Creature With the Blue Hand is what is commonly called a "Krimi," and Germany cranked out dozens of them in the Sixties. The ones Vohrer directed tend to be good, and I'd say the one listed here is one of the best.

I skimmed through my copy of Blood and Black Lace, but couldn't find that pesky light bulb....

The Collector said...

I have been trying to get hold of Incubus since reading the book years again, another on my list of films I need!