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Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

220px-BurnwitchburnNorman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a professor at a prestigious British college where he teaches psychology, in particular the psychology behind superstition and various belief systems. When he finds out that his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), has been practicing witchcraft in order to protect them from what she believes are outside forces and attacks, he insists that she destroy all of her charms.

Almost immediately disaster reigns down on Norman and Tansy in the form of strange, hypnotic noises, lewd telephone calls, a near-death run in with a van and rape accusations. Norman shrugs it off as coincidence but as the strangeness continues he finds himself wondering if it was all true and if Tansy had been protecting them all along.

In the end it’s up to the audience to decide whether there was any real witchcraft going on or if it was all the power of suggestion.

Based on a novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber Jr. and a screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, this British black and white horror flick rises above the cheesy pre-credits sequence that American International slapped on it when it obtained the American distribution rights. Once Paul Fries finishes dispelling any evil spirits that could be caused by watching this movie, the film maintains a serious tone throughout and leaves AI’s attempt at camp behind.

Modern viewers may find this film slow and talky, but I found it to be a serious-minded, atmospheric examination of the power of suggestion and how easily it can be to be convinced of the supernatural when a person’s mind and body is stressed beyond endurance. The performances by Wyngarde, Blair and Margaret Johnston (as Flora Carr, a colleague of Norman’s) are top-notch and not once do they not handle the subject matter seriously.

Slither (2006)

poster 70x100 Slither nl nieuw 5.inddIf you’ve seen Night of the Creeps (1986) (and if you haven’t, you really should) then you know the plot of Slither. An alien comes to Earth via meteorite and takes over the first human who comes upon it. Eventually the alien spawns slug-like minions who roam the countryside, taking over any mammal it encounters and it’s up to the film’s heroes to figure out how to take them all out to save the world.

Prior to this year I had only seen Slither once and I remembered liking it quite a bit.

Upon re-watching, I’ll update that opinion to – I still like it, but not as much as I used to.

For one thing, I remember Nathan Fillion being in it a lot more than he actually is and I didn’t remember how low-key he plays the part. I had completely forgotten Elizabeth Banks is in it and that she’s pretty much the main character. I’m not saying that’s a problem – I like Elizabeth Banks – but I just forgot. Probably because I have Fillion-blindness – if Nathan Fillion is in it, that’s what I remember.

Sue me. I like Captain Tightpants.

The main thing I had forgotten though is that early in the film there’s a rape scene and later an attempted rape. Yeah, I know, it’s an alien transferring its slimy critters to incubate in another host and yeah, you could technically call the face-huggers in the Alien franchise rapists because they’re doing the same thing.

However, in Slither the incubation scenes are done with phallic appendages and it always involves a woman flat on her back, pinned down by her attacker. In the first scene, the woman even flails about rhythmically while alien-infested Michael Rooker sits by looking as if he’s really enjoying it. I admit to being hyper-sensitive to rape scenes so it left me uncomfortable for the rest of the movie.

However, Greg Henry is still a hoot as Mayor Jack MacReady and his over-the-top temper tantrum concerning some missing Mr. Pibb is a highlight of the film.

I can understand. Mr. Pibb is ‘da bomb.

Overall it’s an entertaining little creature feature with a nice sense of humor and heavy-handed with the gore effects. For some that’s a plus, for others a minus. It’s all a matter of taste.

The Stuff (1985)

stuffposterThe Stuff is not one of the best movies we’ve watched in our Halloween Horror-a-thon, but it has some merits.

After being found bubbling up from the ground at a mine, a white, creamy and apparently delicious substance is packaged and sold throughout America (and presumably the world) as The Stuff. Early on we, the audience, knows that something is a little off about The Stuff when young Jason (Scott Bloom) sees it moving around outside of its box in the refrigerator.

Undeterred by the fact that no one else in his family has ever seen it move, or anyone else that he knows, he’s hell bent on keeping people from eating it. At his local grocery store he goes on a rampage and destroys hundreds of containers of The Stuff.

But it really doesn’t matter because it’s everywhere – grocery stores, department stores, 24-hour specialty shops. Even at 2:30 in the morning there are lines around the building waiting for more of the ‘all natural, low calorie’ dessert treat.

Meanwhile, slimy Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) is hired by a The Stuff competitor to find and steal the formula for the product so that his employers can make their own knock-off version of The Stuff.

Along with the help of The Stuff’s publicity manager Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci) and Chocolate Chip Charlie Hobbs (Garrett Morris), a candy company owner whose company was taken over by The Stuff’s parent company, Mo witnesses the truth about The Stuff – it’s a sentient, killing and very addictive substance that’s goal is to take over the world.

Through a series of misadventures and some very , very bad editing, Mo and his friends (which eventually includes Jason who barely escapes from his possessed, crazed family) track down a right-wing militant nutjob (Paul Sorvino) who happens to own some radio stations. Convinced that The Stuff is Communist, he sends out the warning to avoid The Stuff and to destroy it.

This movie has some interesting practical special effects (although the miniatures rarely match up with the full-size sets they’re supposed to model) and the acting is adequate and sometimes fun, but the poor direction and just plain awful editing often led me to stare at the screen and say ‘huh?’ I understood what was going on but it was often not clear how the characters obtained their knowledge.

This movie was entertaining enough and I think could have been a decent monster invasion film but it really needed a better director and an entirely new editing crew.

You’ll Find Out (1940)

You'll Find Out PosterA Halloween tradition in our household is the viewing of classic horror-comedies including the likes of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Hold that Ghost (1941).

Last year we added to our collection with the purchase of You’ll Find Out (1940) which stars not one, not two, but three classic horror film stars – Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

However, the real star of the film is the now nearly-forgotten band leader Kay Kyser and his group, the Kay Kyser Band. Kyser was famous for his radio show “Kollege of Musical Knowledge” and the film actually starts with a radio broadcast of the show.

In the movie, Kyser’s band is hired to play at the 21st birthday party of the girlfriend of Kyser’s agent, Chuck Deems (Dennis O’Keefe.) It becomes clear quite early on that someone is trying to kill birthday girl Janis (Helen Parrish) and it’s up to Kay and the gang to figure this whole thing out.

The movie is full of self-aware corny jokes, over-acting, Scooby-doo type shenanigans and even a dog in a wig. Nevertheless, the séance scenes are genuinely creepy, the cast is enjoyable and it moves along at a nice pace. The character of Ish Kabibble (M.A. Bogue) is on-screen just a little too much considering how unfunny he is, but he was apparently quite popular at the time.

As for the main attraction for modern film-lovers, Boris Karloff is slimily sinister, Peter Lorre is apathetically aloof and Bela Lugosi creepily charming. All three of them are a delight to watch and one of the funnier conceits of the film is that no one suspects Lorre and Karloff of evil-doings until the last five minutes of the film.

If you’re a fan of these types of movies I highly recommend you try this one out. It’s a hoot and even has several very catchy musical numbers.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

in_mouth_of_madness_poster_01In this third installment of what John Carpenter calls his Apocalypse Trilogy, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) takes a trip with a publishing company’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) in order to find the missing author Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow.)

Despite Styles’ insistence that the publishing company knows nothing about Cane’s disappearance, Trent becomes convinced that the whole thing is a publicity stunt to promote Cane’s newest book titled ‘In the Mouth of Madness.’

However, Trent’s resolve is tested when they reach the supposedly fictional town of Hobb’s End where they do find Cane. Images, people and even the physical landscape changes in the blink of an eye, making both characters question what they had actually seen in the first place. Cane claims to be re-writing the reality of the entire world and once everyone reads his new book, the reality will manifest permanently.

This film is quite surrealistic with many effective sequences. Sam Neill brings some weight to the film as the one character that seems able to hold onto his sanity…at least for a while. Some fourth-wall breaking comes into play, leaving the viewer to wonder what was real and what wasn’t.

I didn’t like this one quite as much as I like Prince of Darkness, but it’s pretty good and taken as part of the aforementioned trilogy (bundled with The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987)) it brings the whole slow apocalypse to a satisfying close.

I can only assume the film ends in 1999.