Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Horror - Jason Chirevas ""

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Jason Chirevas

Perhaps more than any other genre, I feel like horror has to be just so for me to like it, particularly if there isn’t a black-and-white Universal globe at the start of it. So, with that in mind, here are five movies I quite like that I think maybe you should, too.

In the event you find this list, or the way it’s written, interesting, follow my trail of tweets @JasonChirevas or have a look at, my occasional blog.

On to the list...

5. Murders in the Zoo (1933, screenplay by Philip Wyllie and Seton I. Miller, directed by A. Edward Sutherland)
Before he was a supporting stalwart for Universal, Lionel Atwill played villainous leads in some early horror talkies and, later, some Poverty Row Bs. An example of the former was Paramount’s pre-code shocker MURDERS IN THE ZOO and it is bizarre.

Atwill plays Eric Gorman, wealthy big game hunter who really, really does not like it when men pay attention to his wife (Kathleen Burke, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS’ panther girl). So much so that, during a trip to Indochina to procure animals for the Metropolitan Zoo back in the States, Gorman sews the mouth of a man who has designs on Mrs. Gorman closed and sends the poor bastard, hands bound, into the jungle to meet his fate.

Back at home, the zoo has hired a PR man (Charlie Ruggles, whose comic relief is completely jarring) to promote the arrival of the new animals. Of course, Gorman arrives with them and it’s not long before every male in sight, including resident zoo scientist Dr. Woodford (a young Randolph Scott, of all people) has run afoul of Eric’s maniacal jealousy and he starts using the zoo animals as murder weapons.

It’s as crazy as it sounds. See it.

And speaking of crazy…

4. Ravenous (1999, screenplay by Ted Griffin, directed by Antonia Bird)
This is a movie about vampirism as cannibalism that stars Guy Pearce as directed by one-time indie darling Bird. It is a movie that features Jeffrey Jones as a cavalry colonel. This is also a movie that includes David Arquette, Jeremy Davies, John Spencer, Stephen Spinella and Neal McDonough as supporting soldiers. It also features a weird, haunting score by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman, and, in the end, is probably more about cowardice and heroism than anything else.

Intrigued? I hope so.

3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, screenplay by director Wes Craven)
After six NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies, the last of which–the wholly underwhelming FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE in 1991–was meant to end the series, the original film’s writer/director returned to Elm Street to try something different.

What if there really is a Freddy Krueger? What if, instead of existing in the real world, or even in a dream world, Freddy is actually a demon that will cross over into our world, through our dreams, unless Hollywood keeps making movies about him to keep him in the public’s mind, and, therefore, somehow at bay in whatever demonic realm he occupies? What if this new movie not only demands the return of the man who played Freddy six times, Robert Englund, but also the presence of his original foil, Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson, to ensure the demon never penetrates our form of reality?

Well, if you were demon Freddy, you’d probably want to kill everyone involved, no?

With most of the actors playing themselves in scenarios and a story structure similar to the original film, WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE is a pretty daring experiment. It seeks to wring actual horror from a premise so high-concept, it may cross the border to the absurd, loop around the globe, and then come back to just fall shy of that border and actually work as pretty scary thriller. The script wisely gives Langenkamp a fictional husband and son, kills the former almost immediately and puts the latter (Miko Hughes, who was everywhere for a little while) in almost constant jeopardy. This allows the viewer to empathize with Heather as she tries to resist this demon and protect her son, knowing all the while she’s going to have to put herself in Nancy’s shoes one more time if this is ever going to end.

NEW NIGHTMARE works for just one reason, Langenkamp is fantastic. She buys into the premise, she makes you buy into it, and her struggle to save her son is compelling. Seeing people like Craven, Englund and John Saxon play themselves is fun, but Heather Langenkamp is the pole that holds this whole tent up. Surely this is her finest hour.

Fun side note, there’s a scene late in the picture in which Heather elbows a nurse in the gut to get into her son’s hospital room. It is the most unintentionally hilarious thing I have ever seen in a movie. Watch for it.

2. In the Mouth of Madness (1995, screenplay by Michael De Luca, directed by John Carpenter)
John Carpenter is awesome. He’s made a western (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), a zombie movie (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13), a pulp hero movie (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA), the prototypical slasher movie in HALLOWEEN; he’s even made a Karen Allen movie, for God’s sake.

What else is there?

Well, he’s also made IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, which most people will tell you is an uncredited homage to H.P. Lovecraft. Oh, but those people are wrong. Sure, Cthulu may be on the wallpaper, but MADNESS is John Carpenter’s hardboiled detective movie.

Crackerjack horror novelist Sutter Cane (whatever happened to Jurgen Prochnow?) is missing. His publisher (yes, Charlton Heston) wants Cane’s new book, or the insurance money if Cane is dead. To that end, he hires John Trent (Sam Neill), a man willing to get his hands dirty to sniff out a bogus claim. Trent and Cane’s editor (Julie Carmen in an absolutely wretched performance, the film’s one big weakness) set out to track Cane down once Trent figures out where the author might be hiding.

Where is Sutter Cane? And what’s he doing there, if, in fact, he and the place he is actually exist? And if they don’t exist, where are Trent and Julie Carmen’s horrible performance?

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is lots of fun, especially when viewed as a detective story. Carpenter intended every bit of those undertones, too, down to Trent tugging his ear whenever something doesn’t ring true ala Philip Marlowe in Howard Hawks’ THE BIG SLEEP (Hawks, as Carpenter fans know, is the director’s idol), so it’s great to watch Carpenter use horror trappings to tell another type of genre story, once again, and I’m not sure he does it better than he does here.

This movie is also the third in Carpenter’s unofficial end of the world trilogy, following THE THING and PRINCE OF DARKNESS, which is the Carpenter picture most people say is underrated.

I choose IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS for that spot, though. See it.

If you do, by the way, be on the lookout for a future co-conspirator in the death of Darth Vader. All I’ll say.

1. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974, screenplay by director Brian Clemens)
1974 gave birth to two uniquely entertaining things, this movie and me. Originally intended at the first film chronicling the adventures of a time-traveling, swashbuckling hero, CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER ended up being the only such movie, and all reference to his Doctor Whoishness was excised. Don’t let his lack of franchise deter you, though, the one Captain Kronos adventure we got is wonderful.

Murders of young women–their bodies drained of youth–are plaguing the English countryside. Captain Kronos (Horst Janson), his professorial associate (John Cater), his old doctor friend (John Carson) and the barefoot gypsy girl they befriend (God help me, Caroline Munro) come to suspect there’s more to the children of old Lady Durwood than a youthful glow and good skin cream.

While the premise is rather straightforward, CAPTAIN KRONOS has a lot going for it. The characters are fun, every frame of the film drips with awesome Hammer atmosphere, the vampire deaths are genuinely creepy, there’s an awesome tough guy played by REPULSION’s Ian Hendry as well as some great fight scenes and swashbuckling, and whole thing adds up to a horror experience that hasn’t quite been duplicated before or since.

Plus, Lobot’s in it, so, I mean…c’mon.

It’s a great shame veteran screen and TV writer Clemens was never allowed to play in the feature film sandbox again as a director. I would have loved the chance to enjoy more Captain Kronos movies.

Still would.


the Trash Man said...

Such a fantastic list.

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS might actually be my personal favorite Carpenter film.

Anonymous said...

I agree, I thing MOUTH OF MADNESS may be Carpenter's best, period - not just most underrated. Of course, I'm almost afraid to re-visit it, since I liked it so much the first time. And, let's face it, most of Carpenter's post MADNESS films have been...uh...lacking, let's say kindly?

Danny said...

All excellent choices, with the only one I haven't seen being Captain Kronos. This will be remedied now. Thanks for the list!