Monday, October 24, 2016


Who is Coffin Joe? Well, he's the antagonist / star / alter ego of Brazilian horror director Jose Mojica Marins. The character's real name is the-difficult-to-remember-how-to-spell Ze do Caixao, but I'll just call him Coffin Joe because this is my review dammit and I'll do as I please. The character's first appearance was in the delightfully titled AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL, the first horror film to come out of Brazil. The character has since made appearances all over Brazilian genre media, including television. He's the Brazilian Freddy Kruger, I suppose.

But who really is Coffin Joe? Well, he's Friedrich Nietzsche reimagined as a Jess Franco villain. In the second of the Coffin Joe trilogy, THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE, he's up to his old tricks. See, Joe thinks of himself as a superior man, the Ubermensch, if you will, and as such this superior man needs a superior woman to give birth to his superior son. So Joe kidnaps a bevy of barely clothed women and begins a series of tortures, aided by his hunchback lackey, Bruno. These tortures include forcing the women to watch one of their own have her face dissolved with acid and enduring a tarantula onslaught. Only one woman shows no fear, the sign of the what? The Uberfrau? 

Unfortunately for Joe, the woman, Marcia, doesn't take too kindly to having to watch her friends being killed by poisonous snakes during sex so she calls the whole thing off. Later, Joe spots Laura, the attractive daughter of the take-no-shit Colonel. Once Joe manages to get his hands on her by killing her brother (and framing the Colonel's bodyguard for the murder), the two fall madly in love. Badda bing, badda bang, Laura's pregnant. 

And they all live happily ever after. The end. 

Not really but you kinda get the idea. THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE is a bizarre, everything but the kitchen sink kind of film. It's like watching FRANKENSTEIN on expired LSD. Joe's abode looks like a repurposed 1950s mad scientist set. At one point, Joe crushes a man's head under an obvious fake rock. When he learns that one of the women he killed was pregnant, he has a dream of visiting hell. It's like a student film remake of JIGOKU, complete with a wall made of severed heads, legs and arms, all of which are flogged and then poked repeatedly with a cardboard trident. The entire production is a mix of carnival spook show and Grand Guignol nastiness, and as such, the tone is just all over the place. The head crushing scene, the one with the large, fake rock, is immediately followed by a close up shot of a woman's ass. There you go. That's this film in a nutshell.

But what a nutshell it is. There's some strangely artistic shit going on here, some of it bordering on experimental art house. Every single shot is loaded with artifice, just dry ice and bric-a-brac as far as the eye can see. The non-matching edits would stick out like a sore thumb in virtually any other film, but the strange continuity errors only add to the weirdness of it all. And weirdness is this films stock and trade. When Joe and Laura finally conceive, the soundtrack blares Handel's Hallelujah. About ten minutes later, Joe is smashing a hatchet into some guy's face then drowning three others. Ten minutes after that, we're watching a mob, all torches and pitchforks, chase Joe through town. It's weird weird weird weird weird weird weird stuff.

And it's glorious.

The only weak point of the film is Coffin Joe himself. I just cannot take him seriously. Decked out in a cheap-o Dracula costume, his nails extending about three inches from his fingertips and sporting one helluva unibrow, Joe doesn't inspire fear as much as he does bemusement. You're never once going to cower in fear at the sight of him and his cornball, pretentious dialogue sounds like it was ripped from some high school anarchist's manifesto. Joe doesn't believe in god, doesn't believe in laws, doesn't believe in good or evil, doesn't believe in the state. Yeah, I get it. You're too cool for school, dude. You read The Gay Science and now you got it all figured out. I mean, it's difficult to take a serial killing nut job seriously when he looks like a cross between a stage magician and Torgo from MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE. It's even more difficult when Torgo is spouting anti-establishment lingo that sounds like it was ripped from any given /pol thread (minus the inevitable anti-Semitism, that is).

But you don't watch THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE for the frights and the shivers. You watch it for the madness of it all. I can't say Marins succeeded in making a successful horror film, but I can say that he most definitely succeeded in making one damn fine bit of bizarro entertainment. I was never bored by it. I was often overwhelmed though. For a shining example of auteurist, low budget horror goodness, look no further that this here excursion into lunacy. You will not regret it one damn bit.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


It's going to be difficult to summarize the plot of George Romero's SEASON OF THE WITCH as there really isn't a plot to be summarized. Romero's film follows a bored, aging housewife named Joan as she grows more distant from her already distanced husband, regards her daughter's affair with a college professor with a tinge of jealousy, dutifully endures the gibbering stay-at-home moms in the community, and engages in endless conversations with her best mate, another bored, aging housewife. This is “GET LIBERATED!” the movie, chock full of messages about female empowerment and feminist agency. It's also “GET BORED!” the movie, because all of the endless dialogue might be fine for proving a point or two, but it would also help if something actually happened along the way. 

Apart from a few very effective dream sequences, nothing much happens as the film lifelessly lumbers down it's nearly two hour path. I think the version I own is slightly shorter than some other versions. I know for a fact that Romero's first cut of the film ran over three hours. I would have preferred that version, honestly. There seems to be a great deal missing from the cut of the film I watched. There's a whole subplot about Joan's daughter going missing that is simply dropped ten minutes after it crops up. It feels like Romero didn't quite know what the hell to do with all the footage he shot so he simply decided to keep what was explicit and drop whatever was subtle. That's why the characters in this movie just talk and talk and talk. 

But truthfully, some of the conversations the film contains are quite good and the actors, none of whom had anything resembling careers before or after this film, sell the material quite well. The best scene in the entire movie feels like a Lifetime adaptation of Sartre's No Exit, just three people in a room quickly coming to the conclusion that they don't like each other very much, with the male aggressor using alcohol and drugs to force a woman to her breaking point. Scenes like this have an individualistic power to them, but as a whole, there's only so much talking one man can stand, especially when the dialogue is so completely on the nose that it feels like I'm trapped in a room with a street preacher for two hours.

The witchcraft angle (when it finally shows up, that is) more or less feels perfunctory. Witchcraft has long been tied to the idea of influencers, people (usually women) who can control or corrupt the will of others. For a film that expresses such a distinct hatred for patriarchal societal norms, witchcraft is perhaps the single best reversal Romero could have chosen. Joan falls into witchcraft because it offers her a chance to control that which has been decided for her. She's an older woman. The Women's Liberation Movement has left her behind. She's already in her trap, married to a controlling man, saddled with a teenage rebel for a daughter, condemned to the circle of babbling housewives. Witchcraft provides her with the agency she should have but doesn't. She (supposedly) weaves a love spell over the professor, allowing her to regain the sexuality societal custom has robbed from her. She (supposedly) performs a conjuration, a scene that is shortly followed by Joan shooting her husband dead, thinking he was the violent attacker she has been dreaming of lately.

Or was the shooting accidental? I say that Joan “supposedly” casts a love spell and “supposedly” performs a conjuration because I have no idea if these scenes were meant to be taken literally or not. I don't honestly think they were. The idea of “witch”, the label Joan defiantly places upon herself at the end of the film, seems as concrete and real in this film as the idea of “Nosferatu” is in MARTIN. The witch label, if taken figuratively, applies to Joan in a way. Witches were often believed to be women capable of deceiving men, often explicitly targeting them, often with their sights set on their money or their virility. But that is only one view of what a witch symbolizes.

As Joan's husband is dying on the lawn, a voice-over bit of dialogue plays out. The voices belong to men, apparently the cops arriving to the scene. They complain about the damn women doing this kind of shit all the time, not knowing their place, look at this poor guy who did nothing to deserve this. That is one interpretation of Joan's character, one kind of witch, evil women beset on destroying men.

Joan's repossession of her freedom from her husband, her reclamation of her own sexual agency, and her stern refusal to bow to the pre-liberation ideas of what middle age women should be, belongs to the second interpretation of a witch, that of an empowered woman no longer shackled to the will of men. Now if only the rest of the film allowed us any room for interpretation.

I have a feeling that I need to watch the film again and maybe even one more time after that before I actually come to an opinion on SEASON OF THE WITCH. For the most part, I just found the film boring. I think it was well acted and most certainly well directed. It looks like a dry run for MARTIN, a film I consider to be Romero's finest work. But there's no room for interpretation or mystery. Characters speak bluntly and at length. They don't grow or change as the story goes on. Everyone and everything is placed in such a deliberate fashion that the film never feels organic. It feels like a polemic rather than a drama, a diatribe rather than a conversation. And in the end, that is what pulled me out of the film, sat me on the sidelines and left me feeling rather cold.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


THE DEVIL RIDES OUT boasts a pretty terrific roster of talent, with Christopher Lee and Charles Gray in front of the camera, and Terence Fisher and Arthur Grant behind it. The source material comes courtesy of the great Dennis Wheatley, here adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson. All the pieces are in place for a good, spooky time. But THE DEVIL RIDES OUT isn't interesting in frights. It's interested in thrills. What emerges during the near 90 minute running time of the film is a tale of adventure, not a tale of terror.

In many ways it resembles one of Hammer's Dracula films. The Satanic antagonist is after a young woman, can hypnotize people at will and meets his end in front of a large holy cross. This is, by the way, one of the great joys in watching THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. Lee, iconic for playing the Prince of Darkness, is here cast in the Van Helsing role of a well-mannered and brave pseudo-mystic, the only one capable of stopping the evil before it can succeed with its nasty plans.

But I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Perhaps a simple synopsis is in order?

Lee plays the Duc de Richleau, or as his friends call him, Nicholas. He is in town to visit with his two friends, Rex and Simon, though no one has seen Simon for quite some time. He's become a bit of a recluse, it seems, but that doesn't stop Nicholas from stopping by his home one evening. Simon is having a party with his new friends, the members of an exclusive astronomical society. As Rex flirts with the pretty Tanith, Nicholas takes a closer look at the people attending the party, especially Mocata, an intimidating chap with piercing blue eyes and a bad attitude. Putting two and two together, Nicholas comes to the conclusion that the people at the party are all Satanists, a suspicion confirmed when he discovers a basket of chickens in the upstairs observatory. Nicholas knocks Simon out and the three friends make a run for it. 

And that's basically the first ten minutes of the film. From that point on, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT hurdles along at a breakneck speed. There's very little downtime during the first half of the film, just a relentless barrage of exposition and light action set pieces, all culminating in a rescue at a Satanic ritual. Up until that rescue scene, you could have mistaken THE DEVIL RIDES OUT for a serious film. But it's difficult to hold that opinion once the devil shows up (just a man with hairy shoulders wearing a goat mask, I'm afraid). “Oh my, Lucifer himself!”, you say? Yes, indeed, the devil himself makes an appearance, only to literally explode when Rex hits him with a crucifix.

The final half of the film dives straight into the bowels of camp, with plenty of corny hallucinations, a young girl threatened by a giant spider, Christopher Lee spouting gibberish to ward off evil, deus ex machinas left, right and center, and a final battle that looks and feels like the production just ran out of cash. At one point, the Angel of Death shows up riding a black horse. The horse rears up. Then it rears up again. And again and again. And then you think “hold on… are they just playing the same five seconds of footage over and over of the horse kicking the air?. Well, yes. Yes, they are. Then the Angel of Death pulls off its hood to reveal a laughably fake plastic skeleton head, Lee screams more gibberish and POOF end scene. Oh, and at one point, a smiling black man in what looks like an adult diaper materializes on screen in a cloud of fog because why the hell not?

Look, let's not mince words here. This movie is fucking great. What? Expected me to say something different? 

In fact, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is an absolute blast of a film and a must watch around Halloween time. It is a total celebration of witchcraft tropes and hokey Satanic horror. There are so many wonderful moments here, like when our not-so-intrepid heroes defeat a giant spider by splashing it with a little water or when God shows up to save the day by reversing time, a la SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. I'm really not sure if anyone involved with this film meant for it to be taken seriously (even though both Lee and Charles Grey play the material exceptionally well), but it's difficult to imagine that anyone ever could. It isn't scary or disturbing. It's just a massive load of fun.

And who doesn't like fun?

Friday, October 21, 2016


A woman moves to a small, quaint town only to find out that it is home to a coven of witches.

Now that single line synopsis could be used to describe a whole lot of movies. If you replaced “woman” with “man” and “witches” with “Satanists”, it could be used to describe a whole lot more, too. It's one of the most common horror movie set-ups and it is exactly what THE WITCHES is all about. And that's a problem, because all of its narrative twists and shocks are ruined by familiarity. There isn't a single element here that you haven't seen before.

Look, I know formulaic is often used as a pejorative (even I use it that way from time to time), but there really isn't anything wrong with watching and enjoying movies that adhere to a very specific narrative formula. Sub genres are popular for that very reason. Hell, people love to bitch and moan about the lack of originality in movies these days, but when January 1st comes 'round and we sit and look at the previous years box office results, a clear trend towards the comfortable becomes clear. People clamor for sequels to films they love, new entries in franchises they love, etc. Originality isn't well received. If it were, movie theaters would be packed full of art house films during the summer. People like what they like and want more of what they like.

So don't get me wrong. Taken on its own, THE WITCHES is a perfectly decent film. But watching it in 2016, a full 50 years after its premiere in 1966, is difficult to do. If we were in a classroom all taking a course called “Outsider Discovers the Town is Full of Occult Types 101”, THE WITCHES would be the introductory film we would watch. This kind of narrative had already been around for awhile, but THE WITCHES is perhaps the single best example of it at its most pure and basic. The films that came after it all provided the variations and deviations that kept the narrative formula feeling fresh. Remember the ending of THE WICKER MAN? Or how ROSEMARY'S BABY brought this kind of pastoral cult terror into the modern world of New York City? Those were deviations. There is no grand deviation from the norm in THE WITCHES, but that's largely because this kind of film had not yet become routine enough to need deviation.

Beginning its life as a novel called The Devil's Own, written by a female author known for her historical romance novels, THE WITCHES was adapted as a black comedy by Nigel Kneale, the great British science fiction and horror writer. Unfortunately, whatever overt humor there was in Kneale's screenplay was removed, leaving behind only the unintentional kind. This is the type of film wherein a handful of over-middle aged men and women conduct an orgy fully clothed before engaging in ritualistic “dancing”, essentially just running in place while flailing their arms about, all  while someone's granny spouts gibberish in the background. It's meant to be threatening and spooky, and the gibberish is supposed to sound menacing. But it actually just looks like a bunch of people doing geriatric jazzercise while someone tries to recite the lord's prayer through a mouthful of marbles.

And stuck in the middle of all of this is Joan Fontaine, acting her heart out. Perhaps the single best thing about the film, Fontaine's performance manages to somehow hit all the right notes, even as the film descends into ridiculousness. Another interesting thing about the film is how it seems to be written from a singularly female point of view. It's a story that includes among its talking points the puritan obsession with virginity and the societal obsession with feminine youthfulness, especially the fear of aging into obsolescence. There isn't much to chew on in THE WITCHES, but there are scraps of life here and there. But mostly, it's just a lot of the same old thing.

But maybe that “same old thing” is “your old thing”, hmm? If so, THE WITCHES might be just what you're looking for. Personally, I just couldn't get into it. Maybe the problem is with me and not the film? That's a definite possibility. For right now though, I'm comfortable with saying that THE WITCHES is a decent film and a decent bit of history, but that's all it is.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


When we first meet Elizabeth, she is running through the woods. Who or what she is running from is unknown to us. She encounters Carl Richter, a medical student. They spend just a few days together, making love and enjoying the company, before Elizabeth is abducted and returned to her family estate in Bavaria. We meet her distraught father, the Baron Zorn, and her aunt Hilda. They return Elizabeth to her bedroom, locking the door. We also meet Elizabeth's brother, Emil, a gaunt and pale faced chap who also spends his days locked inside his bedroom. The Baron refuses to let them see each other and for good reason. Neither is well off mentally and the two siblings share an obvious incestuous attraction to one another.

A few days later, we find Richter in the company of Falkenberg, a hypnotist on his way to visit the Zorn family. He was the “doctor” treating Elizabeth in Vienna shortly before her escape into the woods. While Falkenberg heads off to the Zorn estate, Richter stays behind in town. The townsfolk are in a panic. Several women have recently gone missing in the woods surrounding the estate. Superstitious to the extreme, the townsfolk believe a demon is afoot, a suspicion spurred on by the recent arrival of a wandering, ranting Christian priest.

Meanwhile at the Zorn estate, we learn more about the inner workings of the family. The Baron's wife committed suicide many years ago, back when Elizabeth and Emil were only children, slashing her own throat in front of them. Hilda is using bloodletting to keep the siblings weak. Falkenberg tries to alleviate the madness in the family, a madness the Baron puts down to a hereditary stain, a severe madness passed down through the generations, a lunacy carried in the blood.

Equal parts Satanic Panic film and psychosexual thriller, DEMONS OF THE MIND is a film about madness. More precisely, about how madness begets madness. The Baron's tall tale of hereditary madness turns out to be true, only not quite in the way he believes it to be. The townspeople burn Pagan effigies for protection, a harmless bit of violent abstraction, only to be drawn into committing actual physical violence by the words of a lunatic priest. A trustworthy companion enables a character's madness by setting a brute upon helpless women, dutifully cleaning up the mess afterward. Instead of a man of science, we have a hypnotist acting as family doctor, promising cures and offering solutions not grounded in scientific reasoning, but in folk tales and delusion.

There are no heroes in this film. Even the most well-meaning of characters is informed by some line of faulty reasoning. The whole damn world of DEMONS OF THE MIND is insane. As such, it's a difficult film to get emotionally invested in, even after we learn the truth of what is going on, a revelation that turns a couple of characters we thought were simple nutty deviants into the films most tragic victims. What the film offers up in lieu of emotional resonance is visual splendor. DEMONS OF THE MIND is a gorgeous movie that aims for simple, naturalistic realism. It contrasts that realistic depiction of its setting and time period with the absolute madness of the narrative and its many instances of gruesome violence. This creates a film that feels itself unbalanced in vision and clarity, almost like the movie is slowly going mad right alongside the characters.

It's impeccably acted too, with strong lead performances from Robert Hardy and Patrick Magee, as well as wonderful supporting turns from Gillian Hills and Yvonne Mitchell. When you add in assured direction from Peter Sykes and gorgeous Arthur Grant photography, you have one hell of a film to be reckoned with. But alas, it under performed with both critics and audiences, and was largely dismissed as yet another example of just how far Hammer had fallen in 1972. It is certainly better appreciated these days and for good reason. It's a far more demanding film than most Hammer productions of that era and one that is largely free of any kind of tacky romanticism or tawdry melodrama. It contains all the requisite nudity and violence you would want from a Hammer production, and marries it to a tale that is measured but messy, psychologically complex but strangely reductive. It makes tonal consistency out of cacophony. DEMONS OF THE MIND is a film that by and large shouldn't work as well as it does, and it may take more than a single viewing to really figure out why it works at all. But make no mistake, there is glorious method in all its wonderful madness.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Meet Georges Bonner, surgeon, aspiring sculptor, discoverer of eternal life. He's 104 years old, though he barely looks 45. What's his secret? Well, science, of course. In particular, a special kind of surgery involving a gland replacement. And if you find yourself getting a little older a little quicker than normal, just drink some of his patented green elixir, the perfect impediment to slowly rotting to death as your body's cells play catch up with your actual age.

Georges' next gland transplant is quickly coming due and to conduct the surgery, he calls upon his old friend and colleague in dastardly science, Dr. Ludwig Weiss. Unfortunately, Ludwig has recently suffered a stroke, crippling his right hand, and worse, the back-up glands Georges had in storage have gone off. So what is Georges to do? Not having the transplant means that his body will age rapidly, turning to dust in a matter of minutes. There's only one thing he can do.

Georges has a complicated romantic history with a pretty socialite named Janine. The two have recently started seeing one another again, a development which annoys Pierre Gerrard, a French surgeon (this film takes place in Paris in the year 1890, by the way). After speaking with Ludwig, Pierre agrees to do the procedure, thinking that it is a routine medical operation needed to save Georges' life. However, once he learns the truth of Georges' condition, he quickly changes his mind. So Georges has little recourse. If moral persuasion isn't enough, maybe a little blackmail will do the trick. But first, he has to obtain a shiny new gland…

How cool does that sound?

Trust me, on paper THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH sounds pretty great, but on film, it's one long bore. A remake of Ralph Murphy's much better thriller THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET, Terence Fisher's film is a lethargic melodrama for most of its running time, only picking up steam at around the 40 minute mark. That's around the time Ludwig and Georges begin to butt heads. Georges is willing to kill to get a new gland for his operation, but Ludwig refuses to play any part in it. For a good ten minutes (and I mean good), the film becomes an interesting treatise on mortality, the ethics of life extension and the morality of selfishness. All of the films underlying philosophical concerns are laid bare in these scenes, with great dialogue and a passion in the performances that is not found anywhere else during the films 83 minute running time.

But then the film quickly descends back down into routine melodrama for another long half hour stretch of lifeless performances, stiff dialogue and languid pacing. The film ends with a kind of fevered ferocity so out of place with the rest of the film that it almost feels like someone swapped out the final reel of this film with the final reel from a typical Italian Gothic horror film. This has one of those “shrieking women in a burning building” endings that generally gets my pulse pumping, but by the time sparks started to fly, all of my patience had run out. I just sat there, waiting for it all to end, feeling like I too had aged 100 years over the course of those 83 minutes.


The more I think about it, the less I want to do a full series review of Romero's Dead films. At least now during October. I have far too much to say and seeing how each film is just a variation on a handful of common themes, it wouldn't quite work to discuss them one at a time. There would be a lot of redundant text. So what I'm going to do is put that task on hold until November/December when I have the time to write something a bit less rushed (and a whole lot longer) than just simple daily reviews. I'll discuss them as a singular body of work, rather than individual films (though I'll be sure to give each film its due care and attention).

So now I have seven days to fill. I'll still be kicking off next week with a review of Romero's SEASON OF THE WITCH and ending the whole shebang with a review of MARTIN (mostly because I'm dying to watch it again), but the meat in that Romero sandwich will be seven films chosen at random from my omnipresent "to watch" pile. So this is what next week will look like:

Oct. 23 - SEASON OF THE WITCH (aka HUNGRY WIVES) (George Romero, 1972)
Oct. 24 - THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (Jose Mojica Marins, 1967)

Oct. 25 - THE CHILLING (Deland Nuse, Jack Sunseri, 1989)
Oct. 26 - QUEENS OF EVIL (Tonino Cervi, 1970)
Oct. 27 - THE SILENT SCREAM (Denny Harris, 1979)
Oct. 28 - SATAN'S BLADE (L. Scott Castillo, Jr., 1984)
Oct. 29 - MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY & GIRLY (Freddie Francis, 1970)
Oct. 30 - PHANTASM (Don Coscarelli, 1979)
Oct. 31 - MARTIN (George Romero, 1977)

But for now, it's back to Hammer films.