The Second Round

So, I’ve made it two days in a row. Wonder how long I’ll be able to keep this up.

Tonight, another five horror flicks that I’ve enjoyed and that I think you might enjoy too.

Ringu (1998)

No, not the American remake, the original Japanese film directed by Hideo Nakata and written by Hiroshi Takahashi. This was my first foray into the world of Japanese horror – before I knew about the fear of long black hair and young girls prevalent in the genre.

The general premise, for those three of you who don’t know, is that after viewing a certain video tape, the viewer will die in seven days. This film follows the investigation of these deaths and the video itself by a young mother who’s son has watched the video.

This is one of those few movies that I mentioned a few posts ago about making me almost crawl over the back of the couch when ‘the scene’ happened.

If you’ve seen the American version and enjoyed it at all I urge you to see the original. It’s much scarier and doesn’t feel the need to spoon feed you the answer to every single, freaking piece of imagery in the cursed video tape. Also, the fact that the only special effect to make the ‘ghost’ move strangely was running the film backward makes it much scarier than the over-produced, computer-enhanced effects of the American film.

When will they ever get it? The more real a supernatural occurrence looks, the scarier it’s going to be? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Purchase Ringu

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The Black Cat (1934)

A rather subversive and sometimes perverse film, this movie stars both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Boris takes on the role of the bad guy in this film and has the widow’s peak to prove it. Both actors give it their all in this movie and it’s interesting to see Lugosi play the hero of the film. I haven’t seen all of Lugosi’s films, but this is the only one I’ve seen in which he plays this role. Most of the films I’ve seen of his he’s either trying to drain hapless victims or conduct experiments on…hapless victims. Oh, and bully Tor Johnson.

Purchase The Black Cat, part of The Bela Lugosi Collection

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The Evil Dead (1981), The Evil Dead II (1987) , Army of Darkness (1992)

(Yes, this is three movies, but I’m counting it as one for the purposes of this post.)

Poor Ashley. All he wanted was a quiet weekend in the woods with his friends, have some fun with his best girl, maybe get a little drunk. Instead, he got a sister molested by the local foliage, talking deer heads, possessed friends, medieval knights and he really lost control of that hand.

Now considered classics of the genre, The Evil Dead trilogy launched Bruce Campbell’s and Sam Raimi’s careers and gave us three of the most enjoyable gore-fests ever made. Often scary, sometimes funny and at times just downright silly, these movies show an ingenuity and wittiness on a shoe-string budget (Army of Darkness being the exception – it had an actual budget) that most horror movies can’t pull off even with millions being thrown at them.

Purchase The Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2 – Book Of The Dead Collection

Purchase Bruce Campbell vs. Army Of Darkness – The Director’s Cut (Official Bootleg Edition)

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

This is another of those movies that scared the poop out of me. Strange that I never had trouble sleeping afterward and I’ve only had three Freddy Krueger dreams in my life and that wasn’t until years later.

This movie just hit all the right notes to scare me – a monster that had the perfect hiding place where only his intended victims could see him, the fact that this monster was inside the mind and had access to those things that really scare you (although he didn’t really start doing that until the third movie in the series) and the scariest fact – there was no escaping him. Everyone has to sleep eventually.

I think if New Nightmare had come out shortly after the first movie, it would have damaged my psyche.

Purchase A Nightmare on Elm Street (Infinifilm Edition)

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Love at First Bite (1979)

This movie is probably the first vampire movie I ever saw. Therefore, I grew up thinking that to become a vampire, you had to be bitten three times. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. The first time I saw anything with different rules I was taken aback. It just didn’t seem right.

Love at First Bite is a very silly movie. Dracula, tired of being alone, decides to visit the United States to find a new bride. He chooses the height of the ‘me’ decade, 1979, and falls for an extremely self-involved model who finally finds herself after receiving that fatal third bite.

I think what makes this movie work is how George Hamilton plays the part. He certainly plays it for laughs, but he never makes fun of his own character. Dracula is still ‘the man’ and never does he take a pratfall or make himself look like a fool (I’m looking at you, Mr. Nielsen). Even though he’s been dropped into the absurdity of the modern world, he never lets it ruffle his wing hair.

And damn! He’s the finest looking vampire I’ve ever seen.

Purchase Love at First Bite

Time…she slips through the fingers

Well, so much for my horror movie a day plan. I don’t want to do the whole making excuses thing because I really don’t have one – other than life.

Instead of doing another dedicated review, I thought I would make a list of horror movies I have seen and enjoyed and little blurb as to why they made the list. That way, if I flake out again, you’ll have a few movies to take a look at and maybe rent for yourself.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

From the back of the DVD box: Desperate to retrieve a winning lottery ticket, a greedy baron unearths his father’s corpse. An enormous jackpot is his reward, but not without a price: his face is frozen permanently into a hideous grin. He enlists his fiendish one-eyed servant to help him lift this horrible curse, but their schemes fail. Finally, he turns to a noted neurosurgeon – and his wife’s former lover – to cure him.

Based on a novella by Ray Russel and produced and directed by the legendary William Castle, master of ballyhoo.

I have only seen this movie once and it was a few years ago but I do remember that despite it’s simple shooting style and story, it is quite effective and the make-up for the grin still gives me the willies. (I won’t post a picture here. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.)

Purchase Mr. Sardonicus

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The Wicker Man (1973)

A creepy, understated horror flick about a small community of druids lead by Christopher Lee and investigated by Edward Woodward due to a missing child that the community claims never existed.

I didn’t bother to see the remake. Subtlety isn’t common in modern film-makers’ vocabulary and I doubt this film would work without it.

Purchase The Wicker Man

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Horror Express (1973)

This would be a typical ‘stuck on a train with a killer/monster’ movie but both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are thrown into the mix which instantly makes it a horror classic. Besides, it has one of my favorite Peter Cushing lines of all time which means nothing out of context.

And for all you Kojak fans, Telly Savalis appears as the arrogant Captain Kazan. Who loves ya, comrade?

Purchase Horror Express

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The Changeling (1980)

The Changeling is a chilling tale of the ghost of a wronged child haunting the house in which he was murdered. George C. Scott gives a splendid, understated performance of a man who, after losing both his wife and daughter in a car accident, moves into the large house and attempts to help the spirit find peace.

The ending of this movie can seem a little goofy, but the film up to that point is genuinely scary and just a touch heart-wrenching.

This movie has no overt special effects and relies on story, performances and sound effects to scare you and does so to great effect. I never thought I could be afraid of a little rubber ball, but apparently, I can.

Purchase The Changeling

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Legend of Hell House (1973)

Huh. It’s starting to look like 1973 was a good year for horror movies, eh?

Based on Richard Matheson’s novel Hell House – and fortunately, the screenplay was also written by Matheson – this film is about a group of investigators visiting a house that is no doubt very haunted. The leader of the group believes he has invented a machine that can de-haunt it. I doubt that it’s any great spoiler that it doesn’t work.

You can’t stop ghosts. You just can’t.

Purchase The Legend of Hell House

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Okay, there’s five movies for you sink your teeth into if you haven’t already. And if you have – enjoy them again!

Playing Catch Up – Horror double-feature

Since I took the weekend off from posting, I thought I’d make it up to you by posting reviews of two horror movies tonight. One of my all-time favorites and one that I just recently saw for the first time.

I’ll start with the new one.

Several months ago my husband and I saw a trailer for a horror movie that looked like it had a good sense of humor. It would have to because really, I don’t see how you can make sheep genuinely scary.

Black Sheep (unrated cut) follows a young man, Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister), as he returns to his childhood home after a long absence. Because of a traumatic childhood event involving the murder of his pet sheep and his sadistic older brother, Henry has a deep fear of all things sheep and has been away from the family farm for a long time.

Meaning only to visit the farm to get the check from his brother Angus (Peter Feeney), turning over full ownership of the farm, he gets stuck and spends most of the movie running from one location to another avoiding genetically mutated sheep. Along the way he picks up a couple of friends including Tucker (Tammy Davis), an employee of the farm and Experience (Danielle Mason) the obligatory cute girl who is also an animal rights extremist.

The movie isn’t great – it suffers mostly from pacing problems and from the fact that the writers just couldn’t resist going for the more obvious, gross sheep jokes. This is also the second film this year where I’ve seen a fake animal latch onto a fake penis and stretch it way out of proportion, which is two times two many, in my opinion.

(If you really need to know, the other film that features this ‘gag’ (pun intended) is Strange Wilderness, a terrible movie that can’t even be saved by its normally funny cast.)

Despite all that it was a fun watching experience and had several genuinely funny scenes. Most of the performances were better than I would expect for a movie like this and the effects are quite good, especially considering that they chose to do practical effects as opposed to all CGI (which is always a good thing, in my book.) The only thing I saw that was obviously CGI were the morphing scenes and it was very subtly done. A very nice job by the Weta Workshop.

I recommend Black Sheep if you’re looking for a tongue-in-cheek ‘horror’ movie with an original concept.

At least, I’ve never heard of any other movies about killer sheep.

IMDB Entry

Trailer:

There are plenty of horror movies that give me the creeps – make me turn on the lights before going into a room and all that stuff. But there have only been a handful that have scared the bejeebus out of me – made me gasp, maybe even scream a little and once, literally push away from the screen.

The Blair Witch Project was is one of those movies.

When a horror movie is good, it can scare you more with what you can’t see. It leaves you imagining what could be going on and the fact that it never shows you what is making that noise makes it all the more scary. An excellent example is the original The Haunting directed by Robert Wise. I won’t go as far as to rank The Blair Witch project with that classic, but it uses the same techniques to scare its audience.

If you can’t – or won’t – use your imagination, you can just skip this movie. There are no special effects, no music cues to tell you when you should be scared and not once do you actually see anything scary. This film depends on pure atmosphere, tension, sound effects and a dependence on the audience to have actually paid attention to what was said about the background of the strange happenings related to the titular character.

One of the first of a rash of mockumentaries, The Blair Witch Project follows a three-man team investigating the Blair Witch of Burkittsville, Maryland. Through filmed interviews of the townsfolk we learn the various legends of the Blair Witch before Heather (Heather Donahue), Josh (Joshua Leonard) and Mike (Michael C. Williams) head into the Black Hills to do some on-location shooting.

After getting lost, the three wander the woods for days trying to find their way out. Along the way they start to fall apart mentally and physically, tortured by lack of food and unexplained sounds in the night and odd ‘gifts’ left outside their tent in the morning. After Josh mysteriously disappears in the night, Mike and Heather go on alone. The film ends at the abandoned home of the alleged child murderer Rustin Parr who claimed he was told to go on his killing spree by the witch.

The final shot of the film will either have you crawling out of your seat or saying, “Huh?” If you’re one of the former, then you get it. If you’re the latter, well, here’s a little pat on the head for you.

IMDB entry

Trailer:

From Beyond the Grave

I will be doing my best to review at least one item a day this month. Those items will have something to do with scary stuff – it’s October you know and Halloween is my favorite holiday. I even got married on it.

Last night I asked the husband to pick a horror movie that wasn’t too scary and that I hadn’t seen before and that had Peter Cushing. So, he picked an old Amicus anthology film titled From Beyond the Grave.

Just so you know that title has absolutely nothing to do with the movie.

As with all anthology films, some segments are better than others. However, if one doesn’t strike your fancy, there’s always a good chance that the next one just might. This one only has one weak story.

In many of the anthology films that Peter Cushing appeared in, he was the major character of one of the segments. In this film, Cushing is the main character of the framing sequence. This might seem a lesser role, but it has the advantage of letting the viewers know that even if the segment they’re currently watching isn’t all that good, they’ll at least get to see more of Peter and that’s always a good thing.

Cushing’s character is an old, kindly owner of an antique shop called Temptations. Each main character of our tales comes into this shop and purchases an item. All but one of these fellows finds a way to cheat the poor old man out of the price he deserves.

This film starts out with a very weak story. The only saving grace it has is the presence of David Warner as its lead character. He comes into Temptations and finds a 400 year-old mirror whose selling price is marked at 250 pounds. Warner tells Cushing it’s not nearly as old as it really is and gets it for a pretty heft discount.

Of course the mirror cleans up beautifully and he hangs it in his flat. A friend says it looks like it belongs in the home of a medium so they decide to have a séance. As a result, a ghost trapped in the mirror appears to Warner and demands that he bring him victims so that he can be freed from the mirror.

This segment started out kind of creepy – ghosts and mirrors tend to scare me and the first time the ghost appears is genuinely chilling. However, all tension leaves the piece almost immediately and the viewer is subjected to a stony-faced Warner seeking out victims to sacrifice to the Mirror Man.

We never have a chance to really care about this guy. He starts out as a cheat and we learn nothing about him to gain our sympathy. His only saving grace is the fact that he fights the ghost one time and saves a woman we can only assume is his girlfriend from a grisly end. This is not directed well enough to make the viewer really believe he loves her and doesn’t do anything to make us feel for what is the character’s obvious destiny.

In the end, the ghost is freed and it’s no surprise when Warner is then placed inside the mirror to search for another hapless soul to help free him.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie is substantially better.

Our second character to be tempted, Mr. Lowe (Ian Bannen), is a man who keeps eying some war medals in the Temptation shop’s window. We quickly find out that his time in the service was the only time Lowe felt any self-worth. His shrew of a wife quickly shoots him down from that high horse, reminding him that he never saw any combat and he was just as useless then as he is now. His son just sits at the table and smirks at all the nasty remarks both of his parents hurl at each other.

So, he returns to the shop. Cushing puts one of the medals aside and tells him he can have it as soon as he brings in documentation proving he used to have one that he lost. Lowe agrees but when Cushing steps away, he takes the medal and runs.

He befriends an out-of-work war veteran, Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasance.) Underwood starts calling him sir and saluting him making this man feel important for the first time in his life.

Soon, Pleasance invites the man home for tea and introduces him to his daughter, Emily (Angela Pleasance – Donald Pleasance’s real-life daughter). When we first meet Emily she appears quite homely but ends up appearing strangely beautiful – a trick done more with attitude and good acting than any physical changes made to the actress.

Of course the man falls in love with meek, accommodating Emily and when she asks him if he wants her to stab a doll modeled after his wife, he tells her that he does.

When he gets home, he is surprised (although we are not) to find his wife dead, their son hunched in a corner. Seconds later, Pleasance and his daughter arrive and walk in the door in black formal clothing. The traditional wedding march starts and they walk toward Lowe so that Underwood can give his daughter away. This scene could be seen as rather silly – the music sending it straight over the top – but the smiles on the Underwoods’ faces make it more eerie than loopy.

Of course, all can’t end well for Lowe – he stole from gentle Mr. Cushing, after all – and he meets the same end that his previous wife suffered and in the same exact way. The Underwoods weren’t there to help out that old milksop Lowe – they were there to help out the always-smirking punk of a son.

So, we return to the Temptation shop to see what cheat is going to come in next. We find nicely dressed man, Reggie Warren (Ian Carmichael) looking over some snuff boxes. He switches the tags on a couple and walks out paying four pounds for a much more expensive box.

He takes the train home and is told by an eccentric woman, Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) that he has a rather nasty elemental on his shoulder. He dismisses her, of course, but after some unseen force attempts to kill his wife, he calls Orloff and asks for her help.

This story is simple but it is the most humorous and the performance of Leighton is probably the best in the film. The character’s self-confidence and lack of pretension about her work is refreshing.

But don’t worry; it doesn’t end well for Warren. Madam Orloff rid him of the elemental, but it didn’t go far.

Our last tale is a little different. William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) comes in and buys a door from Mr. Cushing and although he talks down the price from 50 to 40, he does so honestly. Cushing turns his back on Seaton and we see him pick the money back up, but when he leaves, a pile of money is still in the register.

The antique door is a monster – almost literally. Big, ornately decorated and dirty Seaton finds it irresistible and places it in his office, replacing the stationary cupboard door.

However, the next time he opens it, he finds not a box of paper but a large Blue Room decorated in late 18th century style. He also finds a book written by the room’s owner – a man who purposely studied all things evil and how he could use it to his advantage.

The story is simple but this is often best, especially in a horror movie like this that isn’t really scary but relies on atmosphere more than plot.

The room itself was a great set piece. In one scene, the room seems to be becoming devoid of color and it was then that I realized the blueness of the room was being done with lighting. Because of this, the changes made to the room over the course of the story were subtle and quite eerie.

This story does end on a happy note. Even though he has to demolish the door to do it, the evil man and his blue room are destroyed completely and the Seaton and his wife live.

And why is this? It’s not for certain but it seems that it’s because he didn’t cheat our dear, kind Mr. Cushing.

The film ends with the attempted robbery of the shop. Turns out dear, kind Mr. Cushing is impervious to bullets and large metal objects being thrown at his head. The thief, backing away from the menacing shop owner, falls backwards into a spike-lined coffin.

So, the overall moral of this story is – don’t frack with Peter Cushing. Unless you’re Luke Skywalker, it will always end badly for you.

IMDB Entry

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