October 31, 2016


As a child, I would often spend weekends in Girardville, PA. That's where my dad is from. It's a relatively small town, home to less than 2,000 people. Even at a young age, I was struck by how depressing the place was. The coal mines that once sustained the town financially had since long dried up. I don't ever remember seeing a single child in all my time spent there. It was like everything that still had any vitality to it had long since moved away or was swallowed whole by the crippling stasis of a town that never recovered from its economic collapse. 

There were churches, of course, and plenty of bars populated by old men that all looked like they had been stubbornly refusing the grave for decades. People spoke about pre-Vietnam times like they were yesterday. No one seemed concerned or even interested in tomorrows or todays. Just the old times, the better times. Every conversation was about people in the past or long evenings spent in the 50s or 60s, and nary an hour went by without someone telling me that I reminded them of so-and-so when they were little. Visiting that old town was like wandering into some great wake full of people endlessly mourning the death of the "good old days".

That is the kind of setting that George Romero's MARTIN takes place in. The town is Braddock, just outside of Pittsburgh. The town is old and dying. It's the kind of place where two cousins, one female and one male, living beneath the same roof is considered inappropriate. Masses are still partially delivered in Latin and the old priest still performs exorcisms, much to the chagrin of the new priest in town, a younger man who smokes and chuckles about seeing THE EXORCIST at the theater. The depressed state of the economy is driving the younger citizens out to the city. Every housewife we meet is either being cheated on or is cheating on her husband. Everything is decaying. People talk about the older days and the older ways, as if they were more pure and noble. It's like no one ever thought about whether or not they should move on and leave the past in the past.

Into this environment comes Martin, a young man in his early 20s. He has freshly arrived from some undisclosed place to stay with his elderly cousin, a man named Cuda. Martin is reclusive, almost cripplingly shy, but soft spoken and gentle. He's also a vampire. Or so he believe himself to be. The sun only bothers his eyes a little and religious icons hold no power over him. “I'm 84 years old”, he tells his cousin Christina, a 20-something woman looking to get the hell out of Braddock before it poisons her too.

Cuda also believes that Martin is a vampire. In fact, Martin has been sent to live with him for a reason. Cuda is to cleanse Martin's soul before eradicating him. To protect himself and Christina, Cuda hangs garlic on the doors, carries a crucifix and even rigs a bell system on the door so he knows when Martin comes and goes. For Cuda, the Nosferatu is a real thing, a demonic curse put upon his family. The evidence of that curse is kept in a family photo book and through the hushed legends the family pass down from generation to generation. “There is no magic”, Martin tells him, but for Cuda, the magic is all too real. Martin is a vampire and is to be destroyed if he so much as harms a hair on any person living in the city.

MARTIN is a complex bit of work, far more nuanced that your typical run of the mill vampire film. The world of the characters is an explicitly Catholic world (Romero himself grew up in a Catholic family) and perhaps this is just my atheism coloring my perspective, but the underlying point of the film seems to be that there is an inherent danger in adopting a Bronze Age system of beliefs.

Cuda belongs to the backwards intellectual class of people that once thought the way to solve tremors was by drilling a hole through the skull to allow the demons shaking the body to escape. He gives holy importance to plastic crosses and cloves of garlic. When Martin decides to give Cuda a little fright by dressing up like your typical movie vampire, complete with a cape and plastic fangs, Cuda doesn't respond with a frown and a groan of displeasure. He responds by collapsing in fear, dangling his rosary in front of him. His “old country” beliefs, rife with supernaturalism, have robbed him of the ability to know fantasy from reality. Martin may not be a monster in the literal sense of the word, but Cuda, his head pumped full of religious delusion, definitely makes him out to be.

Martin is both a victim and a victimizer. The film alludes to his upbringing being one of near constant brainwashing. He's been told that he's a vampire presumably since birth. Throughout the film, Martin suffers from delusions (presented to us in glorious black and white vignettes), exhibits signs of extreme gaslighting and routinely displays ambivalence towards anyone expressing doubts about his condition. “It isn't magic. It's a sickness”, he tells Cuda and right he is. In the underlying allegory of the film, Martin's vampirism, that is his inherent sinfulness, is a sickness, one that Catholicism claims we are all suffering from. We are all the inheritors of original sin, disgusting creatures in need of salvation, damned since birth.

The Catholic preoccupation with all things carnal is depicted here as scenes of vampirism (vampirism has always had a sexual component, after all). Martin, kept by his family in a state of repressed, almost infantile sexuality, can't even bring himself to refer to the act as “sex”, instead referring to it in a juvenile way as “sexy time”. His acts of vampirism are brought on by sexual longing, preferring to only attack attractive women. He drugs them and rapes them, ending the encounter by slitting their wrists with a razor blade, drinking their blood. He poses the bodies, giving the impression that the victims committed suicide (another Catholic preoccupation). 

Because of his upbringing, Martin only recognizes sex as something sinful, something that ends in catastrophe. When he finally meets Mrs. Santini, a bored, lonely housewife and has sex with her, razor blade free, it pacifies him. The sequences between the two are the only time we see Martin engage in what can be considered normal, healthy behavior. But because this is a horror film and the allegory cannot end in anything but total destruction, the happiness (or at least relative passivity) doesn't last long. Martin cannot completely overcome his delusions and Cuda, ever sure that Martin is little more than a mythical monster, misconstrues a simple tragedy as something unholy.

In the end, everyone suffers, all because of religious delusions. The film is a parade of wasted and ruined lives, and if that sounds like a downer to you, well, it is. MARTIN is not DAWN OF THE DEAD. It isn't a Saturday morning cartoon. This is a tragedy wrapped in a horror film. But it's also a breathtaking bit of work, a supremely fascinating deconstruction of the vampire film, written and directed by a true independent filmmaker at the height of his creative potential. It's my favorite of all Romero's films and at the risk of sounding like I'm heaping false praise, this is one of those films that offers me up something new each time I watch it. It's assured enough in its own message that it never feels the need to hold my hand throughout. It's subversive enough to be both hilarious and uncomfortable, often at the same time. It's existential as well as being delightfully morbid, capable of tickling both the brain and the gag reflex.

It's also a film that can be watched and enjoyed from multiple angles, which makes it a perfect film to argue about on the internet. And who doesn't love to argue about movies on the internet?

October 30, 2016


The PHANTASM franchise is the horror movie equivalent of Lost. What began as an engaging, mysterious puzzle box quickly tumbled down the rabbit hole of absurdity. The mysteries and riddles on offer were solved with even larger mysteries, all of which required increasingly ridiculous solutions. With each new go around, a little more luster was lost. After a handful of years, whatever it was that attracted us to the property was gone, replaced by time wasting, manipulative promises of more answers, more developments, more more more. Sure enough, the sneaking suspicion that no one really thought all of this out in advance began to set in. Not that it mattered though. We started the journey all those years ago. We kept going because of routine, because we hoped the promises would eventually be fulfilled.

Neither Lost or the PHANTASM franchise amounted to much in the end. PHANTASM: RAVAGER was the final breath of a franchise that had died creatively many years prior. It felt tired with itself, with its lore, with its audience. The only positive I can say about it was that it one upped PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION in sheer misery. Not much of an accomplishment, but hey, slim pickings. Watching the finale of the franchise (one can hope it is anyway), I was reminded why I have for years viewed the original PHANTASM in a vacuum, treating it as if it were the first and last of its kind.

PHANTASM, the horror feature debut of writer/director Don Coscarelli, is one of the best Nightmare Movies out there. It's a plastic reality thriller all about two brothers and the Tall Man, a fiendish ghoul in charge of the local mortuary. At the funeral of their brother (a brother whose death by multiple stab wounds was ruled a suicide for some reason), Mike, the younger brother, watches the Tall Man single-handedly lift the coffin into the back of his hearse, transporting the body back to the mortuary. For some unexplained reason, the mortuary houses an inter-dimensional portal that leads back to whatever fresh hell the Tall Man came from.

As he investigates further, Mike comes under attack from little people in robes, the result of the Tall Man distorting the bodies of the dead, and flying orbs capable of attaching to (and drilling through) the skulls of trespassers. After mutilating the Tall Man's hand, Mike shows Jody, his older brother, a still-twitching disembodied finger. That's enough to convince Jody that Mike's tall tales are a reality. Together with their friend, the local ice cream man Reggie, they confront the Tall Man.

Anyone who has seen PHANTASM would not be surprised to learn that Coscarelli and Co. filmed without a completed script. Many (if not most) of the scenes in the film are arranged almost haphazardly without any regard to formal structure or pacing. Twice Mike returns from a close encounter in the mortuary, twice he is then immediately left on his own, and twice does the Tall Man return to finish the job in the very next scene. All of this random (or I should say non-standard) pacing results in Nightmare Logic taking over. 

By the time the film reaches its penultimate climax, the idea that Mike cannot simply escape from the Tall Man reaches absurd heights. Not only can Mike not outrun him, the Tall Man can appear in front of him in the guise of an attractive woman (a staple trick of the villain throughout the film, true, but how exactly is he both chasing Mike and standing in front of him?). The solid ground beneath Mike's feet turns to mud and hands come reaching out, grabbing at his ankles. The entire concept of a logic-based reality crumbles as the movie goes on. We're no longer watching two brothers deal with strange things. We're watching two brothers deal with surviving in a world that seems to be going mad.

The final solution to the puzzle of what is real and what is fantasy is completed ignored in the films final moments. We receive an answer, then a rebuttal to that answer. Like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, you could arrive at the conclusion that the entire film, from the first frame to the last, was just a dream. In the same way that Craven's film puts your nerves at rest by telling you “ah, see this is all just a metaphor for repression and the cathartic release that comes when facing your fears and troubles” only to then violently yank Ronee Blakley through a front door window, PHANTASM only provides a fleeting glimpse of closure. Yes, you could choose to ignore the final shot of the film and tell yourself that this is all a great big story about a child dealing with the death of a loved one, but that would require ignoring the lessons the film has been teaching you for the past 89 minutes. 

Ever have that feeling when waking up from a nightmare, the doubt of whether or not its really over, if you're really awake or if you're only buying time, only momentarily safe from the shadowy beast that's been chasing you through your subconscious? That's PHANTASM in a nut shell. The later attempts to provide some kind of logical structure for all this nonsense to adhere to seems counter intuitive. Does it matter that we watch a man's entire blood supply get vomited out the back end of a death sphere yet don't see a drop of blood anywhere in the hallway after? Does it matter that characters seem to take preparations for oncoming attacks yet still end up in the most vulnerable situations? Do we need to know what exactly the Tall Man is or why his disembodied digits can turn into pissed off, giant flies? Do we really need explanation or concrete reasoning in a film that is, from start to finish, one long nightmare sequence? No, we don't. Because as a singular film, PHANTASM is beyond mere explanation. It's just a bad dream. Just a glorious, wonderful bad dream.

October 29, 2016


MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY & GIRLY is one of those overlooked gems of 1970s British horror that deserves rediscovery. In my oh-so-humble opinion, it's the single greatest film Freddie Francis ever made, a genuinely beguiling bit of work that is every bit as idiosyncratic as its title would suggest. It's weird, that much is for sure, and its stubborn refusal to ever come clean with the audience, suggesting more than it ever explicitly states, shapes the film into a wholly effective tale mad tale.

It's all about a family of four living in a secluded Victorian estate. There's Mumsy, the matriarch of the family, and Nanny, the keeper of the house. Neither character is ever named. They simply refer to each other by their titles, simple labels that describe their position of power within the home. Then there's Sonny, the rambunctious male child, and Girly, the coquettish female child. Only neither is actually a child. They're late teens at best, yet they spend their days playing children's games, singing nursery rhymes and getting into trouble. They sleep in beds made for children, are required by Mumsy to take their medicine before dinner and are doted on incessantly, provided they keep Mumsy's rules for how to behave in the house.

Sonny and Girly bring a drunk home with them one day. They name him New Friend. We learn that this man is but one in a long line of New Friends the “children” have brought home with them. When the new New Friend cannot seem to follow the rules, the family force him to play a game, one that just so happens to end with Girly bringing an ax down upon his tender neck.

A few days later, another New Friend is chosen. Like all the other characters in the film, he is never named, only referred to by his room number (“Friend in Two”). New Friend is a bit perplexed at first by the behavior of the family, but soon settles into the routine. What other choice does he have? New Friend thinks that he was the one who killed his lady friend the night they met the "children". But it was really Sonny that caused the unfortunate woman's death. Trapped in blackmail hell by the family, New Friend does his best to stay calm. He obeys the rules, only once trying to escape. Anymore than that and the family would most certainly send him “to meet the angels”.

But as the days go on, the man finds himself seduced by Mumsy, something that triggers the jealousy of both Girly, New Friend's object of lust, and Nanny, the most neglected member of the family. When Sonny catches wind of the quickly escalating sexual relationship between his sister and their captive, he sets upon Mumsy, trying to get her to see that Friend in Two needs to meet his maker. But New Friend has his own ideas and soon sets each member of the family against the other.

You would expect that a film primarily revolving around a sexual power struggle would be a) a bit sleazy or b) a bit heavy on the drama. MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY & GIRLY isn't either of those things. Sure, watching Girly, played by the stunning Vanessa Howard, flounce around the house in short skirts and frilly panties is delightfully sexy, but all the shock of her seduction by Friend in Two is gone once you remember that her character is probably nearing 20 years of age. The shift from “sex as pleasure” to “sex as a tool for manipulation” removes much of the eroticism from the film. Girly's deflowering isn't a deviant sexual act here nor is it especially fun to watch. For Friend in Two, it's a drawing of first blood, literally and figuratively, the first step towards the planned destruction of this so-called family.

So if the film isn't a sleaze fest or overly melodramatic, what does it have to offer? Well, it's utterly bat shit for starters. Between the “children” playfully placing the corpse of New Friend's lady friend in his bed to the family time spent watching Sonny's snuff movies, there's a definite air of the horrific here. There's also a slight whiff of sexism, as there is in many of these kinds of films. Without a father figure, this family has gone straight to hell. One has to wonder if Norman would have ever cracked if Mr. Bates had just hung around a bit longer. SPIDER BABY cast Lon Chaney Jr. in the role of surrogate father, doing his best to keep his mentally ill adopted family from killing half the populace. This underlying subtext doesn't loom over the film, but it's definitely there. There's also a flirtation or two with simplistic male wish fulfillment. Who wouldn't want to play favorite in a household consisting of a gorgeous young woman in a school girl's outfit, a domineering Mrs. Robinson type and a housekeeper dying for male attention? But this wish fulfillment goes right out the window at about the halfway point of the film. By then, the film has turned male endowment from a blessing into a kind of curse.

What I'm trying to get at (and failing miserably) is that MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY & GIRLY isn't a simplistic film. There's many layers to it and the ever shifting tone of the film gives it a schizophrenic atmosphere. The finale hints at the madness of the household finally infecting our hero with the promise of more violence to come. It isn't as effective a bit of Twisted Family horror as say THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or FRIGHTMARE, but as a subtly comedic bit of British nastiness, it works wonderfully. In all honesty, trying to write a review just after watching the film is a struggle. Right now, my thought are as scattershot as this film. It's almost as if it's driven me a bit mad too.

October 28, 2016


SATAN'S BLADE is the second horror movie I've seen this week that uses a bank robbery as a segue into a larger story. In the case of THE CHILLING, it was a weirdo zombie story. Here, it's a slasher. We start with two armed robbers stealing 50k and shooting two bank tellers. The bank robbers head back to their hideout, a winter lodge somewhere in Ski Country, USA. Turns out, our robbers are not men, but two lovely ladies, therefore we get a bit of requisite nudity before Bank Robber 1 shoots Bank Robber 2 dead. And just when you think things couldn't get more convoluted, along comes some mysterious third party to literally back stab backstabbing Bank Robber 1.

The very next day, two loads of vacationers come to town. Despite the fact that a double murder happened in the lodge just 24 hours prior, the vacationers decide to stay and get in some skiing. The first group consists of five of the most unconvincing college age chicks you've ever seen. The second group consists of two married couples. They hear of an urban legend, the tale of a murderer who lives in the nearby lake, a killer controlled by Satan. Any reasonable person would be majorly freaked out by the unsolved double murder that just happened at the very lodge they're sleeping in, but these folks seem more spooked by AquaDahmer than anything else.

Well, guess what? They should be freaked out, because about halfway through this interminable bore of a film, a gloved maniac starts slicing and dicing everyone he (or she) comes across. Is it the maniac in the lake come to ruin everyone's weekend? Or is it someone after the 50k our late Bank Robbers stashed in the heating vent of one of the cabins?

Do you folks at home know?

Spoiler, it's a bit of both.

SATAN'S BLADE is a tale of two halves. The first half of the film is simply dreadful. The acting is ungodly, the writing is unbearably bad and the direction is about as lively as Bank Robber 2's corpse. This is one of those films where characters talk about doing things we never actually see them do. I know these people had fun skiing, but I never actually saw them ski. They talk about things that happen outside of the periphery of the film, like what they were doing days before the film started. They seem like people with lives and interests and aspirations, but on screen they're just… there. We never get to know any of them well enough to even know which of these idiots is the lead character. There is a bit of a romantic complication going on with one of the girls taking an interest in one of the husbands, but that's as far as the film goes in providing us with any meaningful character action or drama.

But then the second half of the film kicks off. The slasher action of the film is satisfying in a purely visceral way. SATAN'S BLOOD doesn't try to make its violence cinematic. It tries to make it painful. Characters don't drop dead after being stabbed once or twice. They writhe around in agony. Despite the shoddiness of the effects work, the way the violence is handled makes the film strangely disturbing, even a bit nauseating at times. It's all brutal stabbings, too, with only one scene of “cinematic” violence, the killer chucking the knife 30 feet through the air, embedding the blade into the back of a fleeing woman. SATAN'S BLADE trades cinematic violence for the more realistic kind.

This brand of realistic violence was practically gone by the time this film was released in 1984. Hell, that same year saw Jason lift a dude in the air using a harpoon gun he unceremoniously rammed through his groin and crushing a man's skull against a bathroom wall. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET vomited Johnny Depp's blood supply though a hole in a bed. Those scenes are brutal, sure, but they're too cinematic to be really effective. SATAN'S BLADE does exactly one thing right. It shows that you don't need gimmicky violence to get audiences to say “ouch” or “ick” or “I'm writing my Congressman”.

But unfortunately, folks, that is quite literally the only thing SATAN'S BLADE does right. It's final reveal is laughable, a bit of supernatural hokum that sends the film off on the wrong note. It does go a step further than most slasher films though. Not a single protagonist is left alive by the time the credits roll. They're all dead, as dead as the careers of everyone involved with the making of this film.

October 27, 2016


Not be confused with the anti-abortion propaganda film, Denny Harris' THE SILENT SCREAM is a 1979 slasher film all about a college student desperate to find a place to stay because she couldn't manage to get her housing application in on time. For shame. The student, Scotty, finds a room at a secluded estate house owned by Mrs. Engels, a distant older woman who spends most of her time locked in her bedroom. Her son, Mason, is a bit of a weirdo, but he also keeps the boarding house up and running with little troubles. Along for the ride are Peter, a preppy douche with a wealthy dad, Doris, the sassy female friend, and Jack, the dreamboat love interest.

Oh and there's someone else at the house, someone we spot digging around in the walls. Someone with a hard-on for large kitchen knives.

THE SILENT SCREAM doesn't do much different from other slasher films of the time. We have a large, spooky house, a few exposed nipples and more than a few stabbings, all accompanied by shrieking violins, a la PSYCHO. As the film goes on, we begin to realize that all is not well with the Engels family. There's some hushed talk of a sister named Victoria that supposedly lives somewhere on the east coast and that the patriarch of the family died a long time ago, two things that should raise suspicion levels for fans of the sub genre. When Peter ends up stabbed to death at the beach, two cops (who might as well be named Captain Exposition and Detective Padding) start an investigation with all signs pointing to someone in the Engels family being the murderer. The final solution to the mystery of who is slicing and dicing our surprisingly likeable cast involves implied incest, lobotomy, spilled blood and a loaded gun. Does that sound like fun? 

Well, it is. THE SILENT SCREAM certainly isn't the most hyperbolic or hyper violent slasher movie around, but it's very well crafted and executed. My only real complaint is that the cop angle is only there for exposition. Our leads are not actively engaged in finding Peter's killer, nor are they even aware that a killer is in their midst. So from time to time, we have to have chunks of exposition delivered to us by Cameron Mitchell. It's not ideal. I would have preferred more active characters than those on display here, but everyone is likeable enough that I didn't mind just hanging around these clueless dipshits as they're bumped off one by one.

And not only does Cameron Mitchell make an appearance, but the film gives us both Yvonne De Carlo and Barbara Steele in supporting roles. In fact, the whole damn movie is stolen by Steele, despite her character never uttering a word. She's all eyes in this one, just penetrating glares and stares. Steele has always been a mesmerizing, almost hypnotic screen presence and the film is much better with her than it would have ever been without her.

Because, and let's be honest here, there isn't much in the way of scares in this film. The violence on display wouldn't raise 1/8th of an eyebrow in 1980, let alone 2016. But THE SILENT SCREAM trades the more explicit sex and violence of your routine slasher film for three things that work very well in its favor. One, competency. This is a very well put together film, unlike a lot of cheapo slashers that are loaded with suspension of disbelief shattering fuck ups. The second, the characters are likeable enough to invoke sympathy. I genuinely liked Scotty and Jack as a couple. Their relationship wasn't used a quick gimmick to show some bare breasts on screen. And the third, intrigue. While the finale is awash in tenuous movie psychology, the underlying mystery and suspense aspects of the film kept me invested. THE SILENT SCREAM might not have the most compelling story, but at least it has one, more than can be said for most slasher movies.

So if you're looking for sex and violence, go watch literally any other slasher movie. But if you want a decent tale to go with your breasts and brain matter, you could do a hell of a lot worse than THE SILENT SCREAM. Because it's actually good. I'm as shocked as you are.

October 26, 2016



The Establishment is the Devil, man. 

No shit, in QUEENS OF EVIL, the Establishment is literally the Devil. That is what this film is, an anti-establishment, pro-free love allegory dressed up as a Jean Rollin film. It's all about David, a good looking. motorcycling hippie (so of course he's played by Ray Lovelock) who happens upon a broken down, luxury car on the road one night. He stops to help the driver change his tire. The driver, who is never named, casually berates David about his lifestyle, pointing out the foolishness of his personal beliefs. And though he thanks David profusely for his help, the driver still sticks a nail in the front tire of David's motorcycle. Bummer.

David tries to catch up with the car, but the driver loses control, plowing into a ditch. David stops to check on him, only to find him dead. Seemingly not bothered at all, David then stops at a lovely cottage in the woods and sets up a sleeping bag in a shed out back. In the morning, he wakes to discover three sisters, Liv, Bibiana and Samantha, eyeballing him. As these sisters are played by Ida Galli, Silvia Monti and Haydee Politoff, David decides to hang around for a bit. They feed him cake for breakfast, flirt with him and generally treat him like he's the only man for miles. Though the outside of the house looks quaint, the inside looks like a haute couture nightmare, with a picture of each sister, blown up to gigantic proportions, hanging on the wall, gaudy bric-a-brac everywhere and lighting clearly designed for fashion rather than visibility.

Over the next few days, the sisters take turns seducing David, forcing food upon him and generally acting a bit strange. David begins cracking a bit. At one point, he leaves the house but quickly returns, only to find the kitchen barren (though it was stocked with food a minute ago) and all the sisters missing. He finds them in the woods, conducting some kind of ritual at a bonfire. He thinks it's all in his head. Just some freak twist of his own imagination. Or is there something more going on here? He is invited to a party at the spooky castle behind the cottage by the sisters. Inside, he meets a priest and some socialites. A little while later, he meets his fate.

Now this is why I have that spoiler warning above, because this is a movie whose power was clearly intended to be derived from its ending. Long story short, David decides that he wants to stay with the sisters. They ask him if he will give up his ideals for them, his freedom even. He replies “yes” so they messily slaughter him. In the morning, they bury him outside of the castle with all of the socialites in attendance. And that's when HE arrives, the Devil himself. Surprise, surprise, the Devil is indeed the man David thought to be dead in that ditch at the beginning of the film. The Devil berates the attendants, all figures of the Establishment, telling them that he's losing power over the people, all because of folks like David spreading too much damn free love, fight the power sentiment around the world. “They don't even think sex is a sin anymore”, one of the attendants remarks. The Devil angrily sends them off to win more people to the Dark Side. In the final shot, pretty flowers begin popping up all over David's grave.

I'm all for a good allegory, but there's a lot that doesn't make sense here. If David is the poster child for the anti-establishment, free love hippie, then wouldn't David throwing out his principles be a victory for the Devil? If so, why exactly was David killed? Wouldn't the allegory of the film be better served if David was like “gee whiz, I'd love to stay here with you three exotic beauties, but I'll never stop fighting the man, man”? If that happened, David's death would have felt like it actually meant something. The allegory would have had some kind of power to it. But as it stands, it just falls flat because it's ill defined and muddled by the desire to simply cap it all off with a shocking death scene. It's like fumbling the ball at the half yard line.

And why exactly is the rest of the film so heavily laden with obvious fairy tale references? From one of the sisters giving David an apple from the only apple tree around, to David's remarks that the sister's home looks like something out of Snow White, to the sisters feeding David gluttonous amounts of food, to the spooky castle… That all feels strangely out of place here, like the film was originally going to be a play on folk tales, but was then shifted into some strange theological-political allegory. Whenever the film isn't winking at us with allusions to fairy tales or common horror tropes, it's stuck in a kind of oddly subdued erotic mindset.

The sisters are all beautiful and, in typical Italian genre fashion, are often seen in barely there negligees or skin tight clothing. We get one sex scene per sister and director Tonino Cervi spends ample time on shots of moist lips, smoky eyes and smooth curves. All great to gander at, mind you, but I shouldn't be asking myself what genre of film I'm watching every twenty minutes. Is this a drama? A horror movie? A piece of softcore erotica? It's all and none at the same time.

When you add a schizophrenic soundtrack (which bounces from lounge to child's melody to jazz to chamber music) to the schizophrenic tone of the film, you end up with something completely off-putting yet strangely beguiling. I don't dislike this film (even though I find the underlying allegory to be weak and largely ineffective), yet I don't particularly care for it either. It's a strange one, more of a collection of moments than a cohesive whole. For good chunks of time, I was wholly under its spell. But when the film wasn't working or was too busy dragging its feet over the same metaphors to make any progress, it was like pulling teeth.

October 25, 2016


I'm not afraid of death. It's like being afraid of Tuesday afternoon. No matter how terrified of it you are, you can't stop the orbital rotation of the Earth. Death is like that, the inevitable end of existence. It's a strangely beautiful thing. It provides urgency, a reason to live every moment to its fullest. Life without death would be far less meaningful and important.

But one thing about death DOES terrify me. They say that right before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. The thought of that scares the hell out of me. Because the last thing I want to think about in my final moments is the fact that I once spent 90 minutes of my life watching THE CHILLING.

This movie stars Dan Haggerty and Linda Blair. That's really all you need to know. What's that? You want to know more? OK, then. You asked for it. 

THE CHILLING begins with bad apple Joey boffing his girlfriend before slitting her ex-boyfriend's throat. He then picks up his gun and heads out with a few buddies to rob a bank. Things don't go so well for Joey. He and his friends are quickly slaughtered by a couple of cops. And that, Dear Reader, is the weirdest segue into a zombie movie ever captured on celluloid. Shortly after that, we're introduced to the staff of Universal Cryogenics, a state of the art 

Sorry, I couldn't stop laughing for a moment. Ahem.

laboratory that is secretly a front for black market organ traffickers. On Halloween night, a massive thunderstorm breaks out (even though we never see it raining) and the lab loses power. The genius security guard Vince (played by Grizzly Adams) decides to move all the cryo-tubes (which are filled with the hollowed out and embalmed people Universal Cryogenics is supposedly keeping on ice until the time of their revival) outside to keep them cold. But for some unexplained reason, all the frozen bodies thaw out and come back to life as zombies. Zombies that are clearly just men in Halloween masks. Zombies that are wrapped in what looks like tin foil. Zombies that can use weapons, snap necks, leap from ledges and prefer to walk in single file lines everywhere they go. 

And who is going to save the day? Linda Blair and some guy whose name I don't remember. Oh, and Grizzly Adams.

This movie is atrocious. It begins by telling us that “the facts (about cryonics) are true” only to turn around two seconds later and tell us that cryonics has been “successful in lower animals”. There's a lot of anti-cryonics talk in the film with multiple people shouting “it's against God!” or “it's against nature!” as the film goes along. Was cryonics ever really that big of the thing back in the 1980s that someone felt the need to make the world's worst anti-cryonics propaganda film? Hell, the only time the film lives up to its claim that “the facts are true” is when Linda Blair tries to use an electric door but can't get it to work. She screams “nothing works when the power is out!”. 

And that's a true fact, people. Non-battery operated electronics will not work when the power is out. Let that sink into your thick fucking skulls, you goddamn idiots.

I like the fact that Joey and his friends don't wear masks to rob a bank in broad daylight. I like when our characters all pile in a car to get away from the zombies, only to drive two feet into a wall because no one noticed that they were in a one way alley. I like how Grizzly Adams dismisses his friend's claim to have seen something at the window by saying “nah, it was just a trick or treater” as if their town is full of kids who will go trick or treating in a massive thunderstorm, let alone expect candy from the local cryonics lab. I like how the zombies all retreat back into their cryo-tubes at the end of the film, magically fixing the metal doors they all wrenched free of their tubes when they busted out. I like the way this film made me want to punch myself in the eyes with a crusty dildo.

I'm lying, of course. I didn't like a single thing about this rancid turd of a film. It's so ineptly made that you can't even get a good smile out of it. I tried. I sat forward, trying to force the corners of my mouth to rise into a grin, every muscle in my face burning from exertion, but all I could manage was an inhuman grunt of displeasure and 10 minutes of painful face spasms. I couldn't even pretend to find this all amusing. I just wanted it over. I just wanted it to stop.

And then it did. So it's all good. How's your night going? You look cute as hell. My face hurts, how 'bout yours?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.