Rupert Pupkin Speaks: September 2013 ""

Monday, September 30, 2013

THE BIG PARADE on Blu-ray

One of my biggest shames as a cinephile is that I often find myself struggling to engage with silent film dramas. Comedies I am fine with and I adore, but dramas are tough for me for some strange reason. I think the last one I was able to align myself with was THE CROWD, which is fitting as that is another great King Vidor silent. In this interview clip, Vidor himself talks about THE CROWD and that it was just a "succession of the dynamics life of that period".
                                 
 

In his description of how he came to the story/approach for that film it is easy to see how he in turn chose to tell the story of THE BIG PARADE in a similar way. I think this is why his silent dramas are the ones I am able to connect with the best. The idea of using one guy's perspective seems a really is an obvious choice now perhaps, but it works. In PARADE, Vidor takes it from the point of view of one man(John Gilbert, who is pretty fantastic here) and follows him through his enlistment, going overseas, bonding with some working class fellas(he himself comes from a rich family) and meeting a cute French girl. This covers about the first three quarters of the movie to that point it felt like something of a propaganda piece to me. But then comes the real war stuff. The battle scenes in the film, though they are only a short portion of it are actually quite harrowing. I can only imagine how this film must have impacted audiences in 1925 as it was perhaps the earliest depiction of the "horrors of war" on screen. It really breaks down into terrifying chaos during the battle sequences and that shifts the whole film into new thematic territory. Apparently, the film was banned in Australia at the time because it was seen only as American propaganda, which is unfortunate. Taken as a whole, it is a simple, powerful film that packs quite a punch even today.

There are "movies"(entertainments) and then there are MOVIES(important pieces of beauty captured on film). THE BIG PARADE is certainly in the latter category. It is certainly among the great silent films ever produced.

The restoration of the film that was done glows brightly through this Blu-ray transfer. Apparently it's a 4K transfer from the rediscovered original camera negative. Since this movie had been mostly relegated to TV airings, this transfer will be pretty mind blowing to a lot of folks who are formerly familiar with the movie. Also included on the disc is an enlightening commentary track by Historian Jeffrey Vance with director King Vidor himself! Plus, as with many digibook packages, this one also comes with a lovely 64-page book with comprehensive notes by Historian Kevin Brownlow, rare original art, photos and advertising materials. A wonderful set for the classic film collector for sure.






HOUSE OF WAX - 3D Blu-ray

HOUSE OF WAX was a highly successful film for its time and perhaps the most successful 3D film of the 1950s. It's production budget was a whopping $1 million(quite a lot in 1953 money), but it grossed $23,750,000 so it's safe to say the studio was pleased. Watching it now, you can still see why it had such an impact on folks even 60 years ago. It's certainly in large part due to the 3D, but Vincent Price really delivers here as well. It is one of his most iconic and well-remembered performances. Vincent Price is a fella that has really grown on me over the past decade. I used to think of him as kind of a ham actor who made a lot of horror pictures. I completely underrated him. And then...and then I started to see some more of his non-horror stuff and I it started to make sense to me. My entry into the cult of Vincent Price came into crystal clear focus after two things happened. The first was that I saw him play a hammy actor character named Mark Cardigan in HIS KIND OF WOMAN with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. The second was that I saw HOUSE OF WAX in 3D at the Silent Movie theater in Los Angeles. It was fantastic. I had seen the film before on home video and had thought it was alright, but nothing as spectacular as it had been purported to be. Seeing the 3D version, in a theater shifted my opinion completely though.
The orange waxy dripping credits were like a punch in the face and the film never let up the while way through. It was truly a wonderful 3D viewing event, unlike that of our current theatrical 3D. Watching the old school 3D gave me a bit of a headache but the experience turned the tide of my Vincent Price fandom forever. I would see HOUSE OF WAX in 3D again at The Egyptian theater as part of a 3D Expo a few years later. It was still a magical event. Enter this new 3D Blu-ray Disc. The translation of the 3D to 3D Blu-ray is quite lovely. It really plays well in High definition and 3-dimensions! Unlike a lot of the films we see in 3D today, HOUSE OF WAX was truly crafted carefully to be a 3D movie. The sets, the colors, the way the shots are set up(layered with foreground, middle ground & background elements) all make it remarkably immersive experience. This disc coming out is very exciting for me in that many more people will get to genuinely "see" this movie again as it was meant to be seen. I am hoping some young people will give it a look too and perhaps some new Vincent Price fandom will be forged!
 

EXTRA FEATURES: Included on this disc is a brand new featurette - "HOUSE OF WAX: Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen". This a a great little 48-minute retrospective on the film including interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, Wes Craven and many others. Very enjoyable stuff. There is also a commentary track by film historian David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr(of AMC's THE WALKING DEAD series). Also, as with the dvd of HOUSE OF WAX, this disc includes a bonus film as well in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM(which is a cool little movie in and of itself). Lastly, there is a short bit of (2 mins or so) archival B&W footage of the round-the-clock HOUSE OF WAX premiere in 1953.



My Warner Archive Grab Bag: LADY IN A CAGE, FIRE IN THE SKY

LADY IN A CAGE(1964; Walter Grauman)
Horror and terror in films and how it affects me and an audience in general has always intrigued me. What is it about these situations that make them so exhilarating and engaging if they are done well? Why would I be scared of some mythical dream specter that has a bunch of knives on his fingers? I know this creature doesn't exist logically, and yet I am drawn in and freaked out by him in the context of a film. I can't really relate to that scenario based on my own life experience but I am still caught up in it. So there are those fantastic scenarios of terror in films and then there are those scenarios which I find myself horrified by because they feel much more real. Like something that could and probably has actually happened. It is those scenarios that are much more impactful and sometimes emotionally scarring for me ultimately. LADY IN A CAGE is very much a terror film of this variety. Home invasion is one of those things that I think most all of us can relate to and are truly frightened by the prospect of. It is a legitimate nightmare scenario.
LADY IN A CAGE opens with a very Saul Bass-y title sequence and some blaring horns that let you know there may be a gritty intensity to what you're about to watch. The 1960s were a period that saw classic Hollywood actresses cropping up in horror films and thrillers. It was an interesting trend to see Joan Crawford in STRAIT-JACKET, she and Bette Davis in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE and Bette and Olivia de Havilland in HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. Olivia de Havilland made LADY IN A CAGE the same year as HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE actually which is intriguing to me. Olivia de Havilland is a favorite actress of mine. How can you not have a crush on her from her first appearance in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD? A lovely lady and an extremely talented actress to boot(and alive and well today at 97 I might add). She was never one to shy away from some difficult roles, but LADY IN A CAGE is a powerhouse piece of work. She plays an unfortunate, semi-invalid older woman who becomes trapped in the special assistance elevator in her home after a power outage. When she attempts to ring for help, she finds herself eventually under siege by a cavalcade of undesirable low-lifes who proceed to invade her house. One of said undesirables is played by James Caan's in his first film. And boy does he leave an effectively chilling impression here.
LADY IN CAGE is a movie that attempts to illustrate a disturbing trend of urban decay and the breakdown of civilized society on some level. It is disturbingly frightening and poignant even today in the world we live in today. In a society where we as people have become more and more disconnected from each other, it's hard not to relate to the sense of apathy  and cruelty with which we as people have come to 'observe' each other, but often do little to help out those we are observing.


FIRE IN THE SKY(1993; Robert Lieberman)
This film was always a popular renter at the video store I worked at in college. Maybe it was a Midwest thing, but this movie got checked out a couple times a week for YEARS. In all that time, I never saw it myself. I remember the cover box case for our copy being weathered and worn from so much handling. It was clearly a movie that fascinated people. I can see why it had some appeal. The cast is quite strong(D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Peter Berg, Henry Thomas, Craig Sheffer & James Garner), it's subject matter and its supposed basis in true experience give it a boost for sure. Mankind has obviously been obsessed with UFOs and alien abduction for decades. There is currently a website called AnonymousFO continues to this day creating monthly compilation videos of UFO sighting footage and photographs. We are fascinated by the possibility of Extra Terrestrial life and yet it is still relegated to tabloids and late night TV specials.
This film is unique in that it offers a very grounded, humanist approach to one specific alien abduction story. It shows the consequences and personal impact on the lives of folks having had some kind of alien experience and made it publicly known. Especially in a small town like the one wherein this incident occurred, the men in question are ostracized and ridiculed. It is really much more of a straight dramatic approach to this kind of story. There are sci-fi and even horror elements here, but the movie is much more about the guys and their personal struggles after their friend disappears for five days(and ultimately returns). D.B. Sweeney plays the abducted man with a degree of shell shock and trauma that is certainly unsettling.
The screenwriter of the film apparently took some heat for the changes made to the actual "abduction" scenes. They are certainly creepy and well done in the film, but apparently were grand alterations demanded by the studio. It was the extended flashback sequence of Sweeney's character exploring the alien ship and being examined that was a big selling point for the movie for a lot of folks who kept returning to it. It's a pretty terrifying sequence and the movie stops for 5-10 mins while we are plunged into that terror. It's like the movie is saying, "Alright here's the alien abduction footage you wanted to see". That being said, it is an interesting abduction film to be sure and one that became an apparent classic of the niche sub-genre.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Arrow Video: SQUIRM on Blu-ray

"Tell him about the worms."
"The worms?"
"They bite!"
 
Jeff Lieberman is a filmmaker I have a lot of respect and admiration for. He's only made a handful of features, but he has a very specific authorial stamp in terms of the genre films he's put out. His genre work also has some nice variety to it. From the electrically-charged killer worms on the loose in SQUIRM, the backwoods slasher antics of JUST BEFORE DAWN to the acid freakouts of BLUE SUNSHINE and the alien mind controll-y-ness of REMOTE CONTROL, he's crafted a neat little group of cult favorites. I've even yet to see his 2004 feature SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER, but I've only heard good things. One thing Lieberman always seems to mix into his movies is a fun, offbeat sense of humor without losing the thrills, scares and creeps of each particular story he undertakes. He's a low-budget director,  so that makes me think of him as independent guy who makes movies his own terms for the most part and that's one of the things I admire about him. 
SQUIRM was Lieberman's debut film and by some accounts it remains his most popular work to date. It's even being screened(as is JUST BEFORE DAWN) as part of Cinefamily's upcoming 'United States of Horror' midnight movies even this month:
http://www.cinefamily.org/films/the-united-states-of-horror/
I know that the programmers at Cinefamily were looking for some cool examples of regional horror and Lieberman's movies are great portraits of the areas they were filmed in. SQUIRM was filmed in Port Wentworth, Georgia in 24 days. It absolutely has that regional flavor that is often quite an enjoyable outcropping of this sort of shoestring budget cinema. Though Lieberman uses actors that aren't resoundingly experienced(and clearly some non-actors too), he directs and photographs them at a level that elevates this material above others of a similar ilk. I'm personally a huge fan of the "animals attack"/"nature strikes back" genre so this one already has a leg up in my book. It also features some early special effects work from the great Rick Baker and that can only make your movie better. He does a nice job making these worms make your skin crawl(and crawl inside your skin!). Those effects, and the assured directorial control of a cult auteur like Lieberman make it easy to see why this movie has hung on so long in the esteem of horror movie fans all over. Its well put-together, suspenseful, disgusting and funny throughout. Quality stuff.
This Arrow Video Blu-ray maintains the level of quality they've been shelling out this year in that it looks and sounds really great. One of the things I neglected to mention above is the music in this flick. It's kinda cheesy and synthy, but it just adds to the overall feeling of this very non-Hollywood production. It all sounds great here too.

Arrow has of course included a nice little packaged of extra features with this special edition:
-High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD uncut presentation.
-Audio commentary with director Jeff Lieberman.
-Filmed Live Q&A session with Lieberman and star Don Scardino from New York’s Anthology Film Archives (2011).
-The Esoteric Auteur - Kim Newman on Jeff Lieberman and Squirm.
-Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin.
-Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Lee Gambin, author of Massacred by Mother Nature and an interview with Jeff Lieberman by Calum Waddell, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.


You can pick up this disc from Amazon UK or Arrow Video's site:
http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/index.php?tle_id=777&art_id=44

Favorite Underrated Horror - Chuck Dowling

Chuck Dowling enjoys podcasting about B-movies and video games . and making videos at
he can be found on twitter here:
https://twitter.com/SmarmyJerkface 
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 Underrated horror movies? Why, that's my jam! Every October I do a video series on YouTube which is appropriately titled "31 Horror Movies in 31 Days" (Season 6 starts October 1st!). The goal, besides suffering, is hopefully to find some lost gems in the horror/thriller genre. And I've certainly managed to do that over the years. For example…

Black Roses (1988)
From the heyday of "heavy metal will summon the devil!" comes Black Roses, where a heavy metal band comes to a sleepy New York/Canadian town, plays a warm up gig, and the town goes nuts. Fist fights, traffic accidents, Big Pussy from The Sopranos gets eaten by a speaker monster… you know, all the usual tropes. The lead singer of Black Roses, Damian, is so not intimidating that he somehow becomes charming as a result. As goofy as the film gets, it's also incredibly sincere and it works.

Grizzly (1976)
JAWS on land, as a "giant" prehistoric grizzly bear is munching on campers in an otherwise peaceful national park. Lots of arguments between the rangers trying to protect people and the bureaucratic fools who want to keep the park open because of money. While they argue, the huge bear keeps tearing people to shreds. Rinse, repeat. Pretty disturbing at times, especially for a PG flick.

Chopping Mall (1986)
Terrific early Jim Wynorski flick where a shopping mall has been taken over by deadly security robots. Laser blasts, explosions, rampant mall destruction and killer bots… what's not to like here? Oh and Dick Miller too.

The Majorettes (1987)
Much of the Night of the Living Dead production crew sans George Romero put together this slasher/biker/revenge tale that sounds dull on paper but comes together surprisingly well in the end. Okay surprisingly well might be overstating things a bit, but it's pretty damn entertaining. And it's got loads of 80s nudity if you're a fan of girls from Pittsburgh.

Scream For Help (1984)
If you've never seen Scream For Help, don't even watch the accompanying video. Just go do whatever you can to track down a copy immediately. Written by Tom Holland (Child's Play, Fright Night) and directed by Michael Winner (Death Wish 1-3), this thing might be the most melodramatic, ham-fisted thriller I've ever seen. And it's glorious. A teenage girl starts to think her stepfather is trying to kill her mother and so she starts playing junior detective, with increasingly hilarious results.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke is a Senior Editor and columnist for The Digital Bits, one of the leading DVD/Blu-ray websites on the net. Among other things, he's responsible for the annual Hell Plaza Oktoberfest horror-thon and, most recently, Burnt Offerings, a weekly column devoted to Manufactured On Demand DVDs from Warner Archive and other studios. http://www.thedigitalbits.com/columns/burnt-offerings-mod-dvd/welcome-to-burnt-offerings  
https://twitter.com/DrAdamJahnke 
Also, check out the Underrated Comedies list he did for me a while back: http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2013/06/favorite-underrated-comedies-adam-jahnke.html
And his Underrated Dramas too!
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2013/07/favorite-underrated-drama-adam-jahnke.html
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Depending on who’re you’re talking to, recommending underrated horror movies is either the easiest thing in the world or the hardest. There are plenty of people who just plain don’t like horror. For them, pretty much everything is underrated because they stopped paying attention to the entire genre about five minutes after they were traumatized by The Exorcist.

But if you’re talking to another fan, it’s virtually impossible. Horror fans are voracious, eagerly watching anything and everything that looks even remotely scary. We are opinionated, talking up (and down) what we’ve seen to anyone who’ll listen and a fair amount who won’t. We are also extremely forgiving. This isn’t meant as an insult. I’m including myself in this. But honestly, we do enjoy a lot of movies that really aren’t very good. In some cases, it’s because we can legitimately see past the flaws to focus on the few things the filmmakers got right. But sometimes there’s no real excuse. The movie’s crap, we know it’s crap and we like it anyway.

For this list, I’ve steered clear of the “guilty pleasure” movies (a term I despise but what can you do). These are all genuinely well-made movies. Some are scary, some are creepy, some are funny. And while I believe all five have cult followings, none of them are as large as they ought to be. Even in hardcore horror circles, they don’t come up as often as I think they should.


Mad Love (1935) – Maurice Renard’s 1920 novel The Hands Of Orlac has been told, retold and ripped off so many times, it’s hard to imagine it was ever actually scary. Director Karl Freund’s super-stylish adaptation does the trick, thanks in no small part to Peter Lorre’s amazing performance as the unhinged Dr. Gogol. Lorre alone would be reason to watch this but Colin Clive also has his best non-Frankenstein role as the concert pianist who receives a killer’s hands after his own mitts are crushed in an accident. Full of unforgettable images, this is one of the most unusual horror movies of its era.


The Asphyx (1973) – The title alone makes this a difficult movie to recommend to people. But after Beavis and Butt-Head get over their giggle fit, explain that this is a highly original, atmospheric British horror gem. Robert Stephens stars as a 19th Century scientist who uses primitive photography to identify the Spirit of the Dead, the Asphyx, a creature that comes for the living at the moment of death. He resolves to summon and imprison his own Asphyx and discover the key to immortality. The sole directorial effort by cameraman Peter Newbrook, the movie is undermined slightly by an apparently low budget and would probably have benefited from a more experienced director. But the movie’s ideas are so strong and the story is so compelling, it comes awfully close to being a truly great, unsung classic.


Torso (1973) – If you were to tell me you don’t like giallo, those uniquely Italian horror-thrillers that thrived primarily in the late 60s and into the 70s, because they’re all the same, you wouldn’t get much argument from me. The elements are so routine, you could practically watch them with a checklist by your side. Sergio Martino’s Torso is no exception to that. In essence, this is just another masked killer slaughtering beautiful women in Italy shock-fest. But the thing that makes certain movies stand out in this admittedly repetitive genre is the filmmaker’s mastery of the camera. And make no mistake, Martino is a master. If this movie’s finale doesn’t have you on the edge of your seat, you may want to check your pulse.

The Day Of The Beast (1995) – It is one of the great frustrations of my life that Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia isn’t more well-known in this country. I’ve been talking about how great his movies are since I first saw this gonzo horror-comedy back in the 90s. The Antichrist is due to be born in Madrid on Christmas, so a priest decides to embrace his dark side in an effort to summon Satan, uncover the location of the birth and kill the Antichrist. He gets some unlikely help in the form of a death-metal record store clerk and the host of an occult TV show. Very dark, completely unhinged, wildly funny…and virtually unknown. This was never even released on DVD in the US after its brief theatrical run. I blame Satan.


Murder Party (2007) – When I first wrote about this movie back in 2007, I was sure I’d discovered a new cult classic. I still am. It’s just taking a whole lot longer for people to discover it than I’d thought. On Halloween night, a lonely parking violations officer (Chris Sharp) stumbles across an invitation to a “Murder Party”. With nothing else to do, he bakes some pumpkin bread, whips up a homemade suit of armor costume from cardboard and tinfoil, and heads out. Thing is, the party is being thrown by a group of artists competing for a grant to see who can kill whatever poor slob responds to the invite in the most artistically transcendent way. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier and produced by a collective of friends called the Lab of Madness, Murder Party is sharply satiric, enthusiastically performed and stylishly directed. I still think it’s a gem waiting to be unearthed. Fortunately, Saulnier and the Lab’s second feature, Blue Ruin, is currently getting good buzz on the festival circuit. I can’t wait to check it out and I hope it’ll be successful enough to get more people to seek out their debut.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Mike McPadden

Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos & Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big-Scream Films Ever!, coming from Bazillion Points in 2014. He’s also the Head Writer at Mr. Skin (active), and publisher of the ’90s sleaze zine Happyland (retired). Tweet away @Mcbeardo.
http://mcbeardo.com/
http://www.bazillionpoints.com/shop/heavy-metal-movies-by-mike-mcbeardo-mcpadden/

In chronological order:
Grave of the Vampire (1972)
The shocks erupt early, as buried vampire Caleb Croft bolts to life, rapes a nubile, and sires a son. The young mom casually filling a baby bottle with blood and feeding it to junior remains indelibly unnerving. It also sets up a trippy atmosphere where the highly groovy early-’70s aesthetic regularly gets blown asunder by cruelty and chaos.


The Pit (1981)
Twelve-year-old Jamie, an unpleasant kid to the point of being repulsive, psychically communes with his teddy bear and befriends troll-like mole-men he calls “Trogs” that reside at the bottom of the titular location. Jamie feeds his enemies to the Trogs and spies on his babysitter’s bare nipple. A head-scratcher on every level, based on a novel I’ve been meaning to track down for three decades.


Scrapbook (2000)
From St. Louis it came and to the depths of your most horribly credible fears it will go. Screenwriter Tommy Biondo (who died before the movie’s release) stars as a disgustingly convincing serial murderer who keeps pieces of his victims in his private diary. Emily Haack—nude, abused, and subjected to hardcore miseries unseen outside of German porn—delivers the most fearless performance in all of horror. Director Eric Stanze renders a palpable world of hurt that builds to an unusual ending, providing just one more element for you to try and claw free from your brain after the fact.


Dagon (2001)
Director Stuart Gordon’s greatest triumph this side of Re-Animator returns to the H.P. Lovecraft universe, in this case to a seaside Spanish village where fish-fried locals worship and pay human tribute to the aquatic monster-god for whom the movie is named. Gross, funny, scary, and rousingly exciting.


Inside aka "À l'intérieur" (2007)
The closest moment any movie has ever come to actually making me throw up occurs at the climax of Inside, when witch-like Beatrice Dalle finally catches nine-and-a-half-months pregnant Alysson Paradis. It’s not so much the gore—which is copious—it’s the volcanically visceral, synapse-shattering terror of the previous ninety minutes: a cat-and-mouse chase where slapstick is deadly serious and agonizing to the audience. Paired with the better known Martyrs, Inside proves that France won the kickoff horror movie decade of the twenty-first century.

Favorite Underrated Horror - Jason Hyde

Jason Hyde is a top shelf cinephile. He was kind enough to write up an underrated comedies list for my last blog series. Read it that here:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2013/03/favorite-underrated-comedies-jason-hyde.html
He also did an underrated dramas list for that series as well:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2013/06/favorite-underrated-dramas-jason-hyde.html 
Horror is quite near and dear to him I believe so this is a very cool list as well:
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VOODOO MAN (1944; William Beaudine)
All of the strange, cheap horror movies that Bela Lugosi did for Monogram have their charms, however dubious. Of the bunch, THE INVISIBLE GHOST is probably the best, thanks to sharp direction from B-Movie maestro Joseph H. Lewis. But VOODOO MAN is in a crazed class all its own. It starts off fairly creepy with a people getting lost in the backwoods set-up that anticipates TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, among other films. From there, it turns surprisingly self-referential for its time, with jokes about the hapless hero's job writing cheap horror films for a guy named "S.K." (think producer Sam Katzman). Lugosi brings class and surprising restraint to his role as villainous Dr. Marlowe. The great, underrated George Zucco goes gloriously over-the-top as a gas station owner who moonlights as voodoo witch doctor (or is it the other way around?), and John Carradine beats the bongos and steals the show as Lugosi's halfwit assistant. And it's all over in 61 oddball minutes.

DEMENTIA (1955; John Parker)
There is no other film quite like this one. DEMENTIA is a sort of beat/noir horror about, well, it's not really about anything. It's basically a nightmare on film in which a young woman has various terrifying experiences over the course of a particularly bad night in Venice, California. Or does she? Originally filmed without dialogue and accompanied by an eerie score from the great avant-garde composer George Antheil, DEMENTIA barely got any kind of release until it was retitled DAUGHTER OF HORROR (picking up a voiceover narration by a young Ed McMahon in the process!). Now it's probably best known as the movie that's playing in the Colonial Theatre when the Blob attacks. See it in its original dialogue-free form for maximum weirdness.

THE BLACK SLEEP (1956; Reginald Le Borg)
It's hard to believe that a horror movie with Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, and Tor Johnson in it could be as forgotten as THE BLACK SLEEP. This is one of those films that spent my life reading about in books but it never seemed to show up on any of the late night horror shows of my youth and only recently made its home video debut via MGM's on demand series. It didn't make much impact when it was new either, coming at a time when Gothic horrors of this sort had fallen out of favor with audiences. But it's a solid, creepy tale of medical experimentation in a dark castle with a fine lead performance from Rathbone. Lugosi and Chaney make less of an impression with their mute supporting roles, but it's always great to have them around. Carradine hams it up as only he could, Tor Johnson does what Tor Johnson always did, and the great character actor Akim Tamiroff walks off with every scene he's in, playing a gypsy tattoo artist/corpse provider, a role that was written for Peter Lorre. Watch out for the grisly pre-Hammer effect of a dripping brain during the big surgery scene.

TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960; Terence Fisher)
One of the first real flops of Hammer Horror, TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is actually one of Terence Fisher's best films. A literate horror film for grownups, this radical re-working of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic turns the familiar story on its head by making Jekyll the unattractive half and Hyde a dashing, grinning, handsome monster. Stage actor Paul Massey is great in both roles, but it's his cherubic, jaunty Hyde that makes the most lasting impression, grinning as he beats a young Oliver Reed nearly to death. Christopher Lee has one of his best Hammer roles and delivers one of his best-ever performances as Jekyll's wastrel friend who's carrying on with Mrs. Jekyll (Dawn Addams). Essentially, this is what "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" would be like if it was written by Oscar Wilde instead of Stevenson, and it's not only one of the best Hammer horrors, but it may just be one of the best British films of its time.

VIOLENT MIDNIGHT (1963; Richard Hilliard/Del Tenney)
Credited to Richard Hilliard, but really the work of Del Tenney (HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE), VIOLENT MIDNIGHT is a moody proto-slasher about murders in and around an isolated women's college in a small New England town with no shortage of suspects. Is it the shell-shocked vet-turned-painter (Lee Phillips)? His vaguely sinister family attorney (classic TV regular Shepperd Strudwick)? The motorcycle-riding town bad boy (James Farentino, making his film debut)? In all honesty, it's not too hard to figure out if you watch closely. But the real joy of this film is not in the plot or even the characters (Except maybe Lorraine Rogers as the school's bad girl. Yowza.); it's in the unique small town setting with all of its seething melodrama and the beautiful black and white photography. There's a definite Lynchian quality to this film, sort of like TWIN PEAKS crossed with DEMENTIA 13. It's surprisingly bloody and sexy for its time, too. Also featuring Dick Van Patten in his film debut as the detective investigating the murders.

 CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1966; Hy Averback)
CHAMBER OF HORRORS is actually one of the greatest missed opportunities in TV history. It was originally produced as a pilot for a series called House of Wax (and features some stock footage from that Vincent Price classic), which would have followed the exploits of two wax museum proprietors (Cesare Danova and Wilfrid Hyde-White) who moonlight as amateur criminologists, solving crimes with the help of their dwarf assistant. For some inexplicable reason, the series never sold, and the film was released to theaters with the addition of the William Castle-esque gimmick of the "Horror Horn" which sounds every time something frightening is about to happen. The Horror Horn's kind of annoying, but the film is fantastic. Our intrepid heroes find themselves on the track of the extremely villainous Jason Cravatte (played by familiar classic TV actor Patrick O'Neal in his best performance). Cravatte loses a hand in a thrilling escape from a train and then sets out to get gruesome revenge on all the people responsible for his imprisonment, using a series of detachable devices to achieve his nefarious ends. Just about everything about CHAMBER OF HORRORS works. It's got top-notch production values for a TV production, eye-popping color, terrific performances, a truly insane plot, and a completely random Tony Curtis cameo. Also, a dwarf. What more could you possibly want?

GAMES (1967; Curtis Harrington)
A list like this wouldn't be complete without at least one film from Curtis Harrington, possibly the most underrated horror director of all time. GAMES is maybe a bit closer to thriller than horror, but I think it's horror enough to qualify. It's certainly packed with grotesque imagery and there are hints of supernatural goings-on. In GAMES, James Caan and Katharine Ross play a rich couple who love to play mind games on each other in their amazing pop art apartment. But when Simone Signoret comes into their lives, they get a bit more than even they bargained for as the games start to get deadly. Essentially an homage to LES DIABOLIQUES filtered through a late 60s camp style, GAMES is a great, stylish thriller where nothing is entirely what it seems. You might guess where it's going, but that doesn't take away any of the fun of getting there. Caan and Ross are both terrific as the spoiled rich couple (based on Harrington's friends Dennis Hopper and Brooke Hayward), but this is Simone Signoret's show all the way, and she does not disappoint, delivering a sly, playful performance that really sets the tone for this sly, playful film. Why GAMES isn't better known or more frequently screened may be the true mystery here. I caught a Chicago screening of it a couple of months ago, and the packed house ate it up.

LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971; John D. Hancock)
Zohra Lampert gives an incredible performance in this understated, haunting cult classic. Lampert stars as Jessica, a mentally fragile young woman who, with her musician husband and friend, leaves the hustle and bustle of New York for the peaceful farm life in rural Connecticut. Only country life maybe isn't so peaceful, after all, and soon she's learning dark secrets about the town and starting to wonder if she's losing her already tenuous grip on reality all over again. LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH has, for much of its running time, a nicely relaxed vibe that perfectly captures the feel of hazy, lazy days in the country. As a result, the horror builds slowly through odd things like the hostile locals who all seem to be old men with bandages on their necks. This film definitely requires patience from the viewer, but it rewards it like few others. In the end, it's an unforgettable, uniquely eerie experience that shows what can be accomplished with just a few good actors, an old house, and some effectively spooky music.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)
Always the runt of the HALLOWEEN litter, SEASON OF THE WITCH's reputation has been slowly but surely growing in recent years. Its original release was pretty much a disaster, disappointing just about everybody who came hoping to see more of Michael Myers stalking and killing attractive young people. Personally, I got enough of that in the first two entries, so this crazed detour into science fiction and occult territory is just what the doctor ordered. Originally written by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale (who had his name taken off the film after more violence was added to his story), HALLOWEEN III's witchcraft meets technology premise plays somewhat like a particularly deranged installment of Doctor Who, and Dan O'Herlihy's mad scientist villain seems like a throwback to a type of horror that just wasn't being made much in 1982. You could easily see him being played by Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee if this film was made twenty years earlier. O'Herlihy's so good in this movie that you almost wish his mad plot would succeed. Tom Atkins does another one of his entertaining gruff guy turns as the hero, Stacey Nelkin makes for a lovely heroine (despite the 80's fashions she sports), and the score by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth is one of their very best, which is saying a lot. Good luck getting the Silver Shamrock theme out of your head after watching this one.

DOLLS (1987; Stuart Gordon)
Stuart Gordon seldom lets me down. From RE-ANIMATOR to FROM BEYOND to his more recent (and also underrated) DAGON, Gordon's best films have a wit and style to them that's unlike any other director's. DOLLS tends to get a bit overlooked compared to some of Gordon's other films, but it's a lot of good, bloody fun. It's essentially a modern updating of a fairy tale, complete with wicked stepmother. But this is not the sanitized Disney take on the fairy tale. DOLLS hearkens back to the days when fairy tales were fairly horrific stories where characters frequently died horrible deaths. That's basically what happens here. Bad people act badly, and then get killed by the dolls, and the good people are spared. It's really that simple. As the makers of the dolls, Guy Rolfe and DON'T LOOK NOW's Hilary Mason are charming and lovable, and you're clearly meant to root for them, even though they're making dolls that kill punk rock girls just because their music is too loud.



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Dale Lloyd

Dale Lloyd is a giant in the VHS collecting community who can be found on Twitter @VivaVHS.
also check out his site:
And here's a cool interview with Dale wherein you get to witness some of his amazing collection:

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The word 'underrated' is a bit of a minefield, as we live in a time that gloriously restores and releases the likes of The Nesting and Remote Control on Blu-ray. So with that in mind, here are a few movies that I rarely hear come up in conversation with friends, mixed in with a few obscurer titles for you to possibly take a chance on.

The Black Room (1983)
A fantastic sleazy, sexy, swinging vampire flick. I never hear anyone talk about this movie, which is a crying shame because it's nothing short of magnificent.
A couple rent out a room in their Hollywood mansion, advertising it as a swingers pad, a place where you can fulfill your deepest and darkest sexual fantasies. The twist? the pair are actually vampires. The unsuspecting guests are then hooked up and drained of their blood. Co-directed by the man behind The Horror Star. It's incredibly atmospheric and has a chilling score which really compliments the film.
It's a twisted vampire porno (a vamporno?). Currently unavailable on DVD, which would explain why it's little-known, I guess.

Lurkers (1988)
A very early viewing for me. I can remember my friends' Dad bringing home a box of tapes one night, and we sat up until the early hours watching almost half of its contents. Lurkers was one of the better ones inside.
It's about a young girl (Cathy) who is tormented by her mother, scared of going outside, and haunted by ghostly visions. The film then skips forward some 15 years and we learn that she is still unable to shake these nightmarish encounters. I just love the fact that the movie is half about the troubles of Cathy, and half of Bob, her soon-to-be husband who wanders around town hitting on women. I'll never know what he whispered in that waitress' ear...
The highlights are some really creepy imagery (a party scene in particular) and an ever-present soft-core porno soundtrack. Oh, and Bob.

Paperhouse (1988)
In my eyes, one of the most underrated and often overlooked horror movies of all time. I caught this one at a very early age and it disturbed me for many years after.
It was directed by Bernard Rose, a man probably better known for another horror classic - Candyman. Here he delves into the mind of a child with occasionally nightmarish results. I mean, this is essentially a kids horror tale after all, about a feverish girl whose drawings appear to affect reality.
I was probably about 12 the first time I saw this movie and I can remember it leaving me a little scared and/or depressed. I revisited it many years later and it's a genuinely haunting film and really well made.
I wouldn't want to ruin too much of this movie by going into it in greater detail, but mark my words, this is the most terrifying adult-themed episode of Penny Crayon you are ever likely to see.
Apparently this has seen a Blu-ray release in France, so maybe we'll see the same treatment here soon. We can but hope...

Retribution (1987)
Released on the Medusa label (a personal favourite), and bearing a cover that was so familiar to me from my first years in the local video store.
This film features a sleep-based spirit swapping plot much easier to follow than say, Appointment With Fear ('85), and it's also a low budget offering that delivers on so many levels.
Dennis Lipscomb puts in a fantastic shift as the wimpy suicidal artist possessed by a local thug, and there are plenty of well-shot death sequences to satisfy most, as well as a haunting synth score by one Alan Howarth (same year as Prince of Darkness). My only gripe lies with the runtime, which could have been reduced by some 10-15 minutes.
Also, I firmly believe every person that suffers the cruelty of possession should at least gain the power of illuminous eyes.

Lucifer (1987)
Another film I have creepy memories of from my childhood, and released on the Mogul label with the most iconic artwork.
The opening of this movie haunted me for years - A priest wanders into a school playground and starts picking off the kids and teachers one by one. Only a girl survives the massacre and it's the job of the police to protect her from the priest who seems hell-bent on finishing the job off. I am honestly amazed that this was never banned.
If you are ever in the mood to take a chance on a British horror movie from the latter end of the 80s, this is the one to test the water with. I am in awe of its awfulness.