Halloween Horrors 2010!

Well, that didn’t work out so well!  I had an unexpected, and exciting, opportunity come up this year during October, so I missed out on a lot of blogging. However, here is my attempt at 31 horror films this year. Short of the mark, though I do have until the end of the night to add a few more!
The numeric rating is from 1 to 10 for ENJOYMENT and not necessarily critical quality of course!  Why rate any other way??

Demons 6 : De Profundis 8
Caltiki 8
It’s Alive 3-Island of the Alive 7
Piranha 2-The Spawning 7
Cross Of Seven Jewels 9
Sorority House Massacre 2 8
Witch Story 7
Baron Blood 9
Land of the Minotaur / Devil’s Men 8
Terror Circus / Barn of the Naked Dead 7
Horror Show 9
The Ghoul 6
To The Devil, A Daughter 9
Horrible Dr. Hitchcock 9
The Ghost 8
Vampire and the Ballerina 8
The Thirsty Dead 6
Curse of the Crimson Altar 7
Fascination 8
Beast 4
Tales From The Crypt 7
The Crazies 8
Night of the Bloody Apes 10

Halloween Horrors 12 and 13- Riccardo Freda Double Feature!

The Halloween Horrors project this year has brought me back through much of my collection-seeking out horror films to view for the first time, or revisit with a fresh opinion given how long I’ve been seeking these films out.  Well, I realized that I haven’t seen so many of them that some really respected films have dropped off the radar, and that includes a Gothic shocker set by Riccardo Freda, THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK and THE GHOST.

Now, this is a double shame as I really enjoy the Gothic horrors of Italy-so it was time to put the situation right. While I am probably more prone to enjoy a splatter laced kung fu driven zombie film, I can easily call myself a fan of the slower school of Euroshocks.  And now I realize that I need to watch a lot of them again, because both of these are amongst the best I can recall. I’d take Hichcock over The Whip and the Body right now, so I think I should do some research in to that opinion!

First up, Number 12–THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK.  This one is a note perfect shocker that is one of the most unsavory portraits of medical madness I’ve seen! The Third Eye and Buio Omega may not dress up in period clothing-but this is definitely one that slides right in to that nasty class of necrophilia nastiness. To think that audiences saw this AND The Awful Dr. Orlof in a double bill is brainwrecking for me.  My parents would have been in their early teens at the time!!

Dr. Hichcock (Robert Flemying) starts us off strong, popping open a coffin and touching the body in about as suggestive and lurid a way as possible, given the year it was made-and we know he is definitely not right in the head from beginning of this sordid tale. The doctor is a renowned surgeon, famous for a special anesthetic that slows a patients heart down and allows surgery to take place for a longer period of time.  BANG…we know where this is going. But things get even stranger as we meet his beautiful wife Margherita (Maria Teresa Vianello)–now, I’m thinking that he is drugging her to get his kicks. Not so. The pair are playing at necrophilia, an unspoken plot point that is put across brilliantly by one smile from Vianello. But as in all things dangerous and sexual, everything goes sideways and Margherita dies.  Hichcock is destroyed, and leaves his villa to the awesomely creepy maid, Martha (Harriet Medin).

Of course, the Doctor returns years later with his new bride, the also beautiful Cynthia (Barbara Steele)-and begins to unwind and unravel in spectacular fashion. His surgical career is sliding away and his sanity is in hot pursuit as the ghost of his dead wife haunts him, and Cynthia, in every way possible.  Add in the insta-love of a dashing young doctor and Cynthia is either going to be drugged and violated or destroyed by the ghosts of Hichcock’s past!

Riccardo Freda pulls out all the stops in the story obviously, but The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is a beautifully rendered nightmare for Cynthia, climaxing early (for me) with some creepy sound design meshing with an excellent portrayal of a woman waking up to find herself in a crypt, IN A COFFIN WITH HER NAME ON IT!  During a silent bit I realized that the sound I was hearing was my own breath being sucked in and held… for a month of horror films, this was a truly terrifying moment that will stick with me.

Flemyng manages to balance the aristocratic veneer of the doctor and the psychotic breakdowns he experiences with equal gusto. you want to slap him silly at first, and then you want to get as far away from him as possible.  This is essential horror cinema for fans of Italian exploitation. While it may have many of the trappings of the gothic genre, it is a dirty hearted dead letter passed from the imagination and skillful hands of Riccardo Freda that managed to shock me 48 years after it was released.  Special attention should be given to the amazing score by Roman Vlad, I actually put the film on in the background all weekend, not so much to watch (because nothing says cleaning on Sunday morning like a tale of medical mayhem), but simply to enjoy the soundtrack!
If you have seen it, give it another viewing–and if you haven’t, don’t be like I was. Go and grab it now.

Now that Freda had me entranced by his tale of mayhem, I had to go deeper into the pit-at least I’d hoped to-with THE GHOST (aka Halloween Horror 13).  While you do get a returning Barbara Steele as a very different character, a returning Harriet Medin (I love this woman’s performance in these films) and a Dr. Hichcock it is not all that similar to the earlier film.  And while it may not be quite as good, I found the conclusion of this one to be extremely satisfying.  Also, Barbara Steele gets more to do and vamps it up in the best way…if you were nervous about what Hichcock would do to you with his secret, you’ll be more afraid of crossing this Gothic schemer.  I’ve seen The Ghost listed as a “sequel” to The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, but it isn’t. You have a big house, a doctor and Barbara Steele walking the dark side.  The two films are perfect companions, almost like the use of Steele as Good Girl / Bad Girl in other films.

After we meet all our players it becomes obvious that the crippled Dr. Hichcock (Elio Jotta) is ready to end it all. He has a beautiful wife that is out for his money (and getting action on the side from his young physician of course)–and frankly, not a lot of options considering he has to take poison and get antidotes from said young lover.  This recalls the earlier film neatly and twists it around, also giving the viewer the “oh yeah, they are gonna kill him dead” tip off.  They do.  And then it all goes to hell.

The money is hidden, a spectral Hichcock appears, Barbara Steele is going nuts and swinging between tormented lady and queen bee bitch that would hurl over her dead husband in his coffin to get at his money.  And of course, there is something just not right about that housekeeper—or the specter of doooooom.  As the romance of young lust and money mongering fades, that straight edge razor that once slipped across the throat of her crippled husband begins to look better and better to Margaret.

The pace of The Ghost is different from Hichcock, it feels more typical of the genre in some ways-but plays a nice double twist finale out (I won’t spoil it) to perfection.  It feels more like a thriller than a horror film in some ways, but Freda’s directorial vision keeps the creeps coming whenever possible.  Sure, it isn’t a nasty tale of necrophilia, but Barbara Steele stands out here, getting to really show her beauty and skill as an actress to give the viewer a fully fleshed out villainous woman in her portrayal of Margaret.  While Bava may have given her some more iconic images to burn our brains with, Freda made her a force in this film.  When she goes wild with a straight razor in the last third of the film it is a fantastic bit of inspired carnage and may well have inspired a young Dario Argento (or at least placed the image in his mind) that he would use in Tenebre.  I did find it interesting that this character is named Margaret, while the original kinkier wife of the original Dr. Hichcock was Margherita by the way.  It appears that Ernesto Gastaldi, easily one of the most important writers in Italian Horror history, only wrote the first film.  Perhaps that was the shift from all out shock to a more “Secrets of Sinister House of Love” in the second film.  Regardless, both films work great and play with slightly different conventions in the same genre.

Dust off a Halloween skull and turn off the lights, because you can make a perfect night of Freda dementia and delight with this pair of Gothic Groovy Ghoulies.

Halloween Horrors 11 – Puppet Master – Axis of Evil

I love Puppet Master as a series. They aren’t all GREAT, but there are some real gems in there, and one of my favorites is RIGHT HERE in last years Halloween Horrors!  Ah, Toulon’s Revenge! And I was excited to see that era being revisited, all this time later, in PUPPET MASTER – AXIS OF EVIL.  I was also thrilled to see it on Blu-Ray!! 
And then, I watched the film. Now, to call it terrible would be an overstatement. So, once we get past the plot, we can  look at the good parts, even if it is hard to focus through the rather boring sub 90 minute runtime.

Briefly, we get a rehash of the death of Andre Toulon-adding in a character that sees the nazis leaving after he commits suicide to avoid the secret of his puppets being taken.  Then…well, we learn A LOT about that character.  And he fatefully bumbles across one of the same Nazis that infiltrates his girlfriends workplace to blow it up. Oh, and there is a Femme She Chew (the scenery)  that plays the “Evil Jap” role in a distracting but nicely hammy performance. 

Oh, and puppets. A little bit.  We see our old friends, less animated than they were 20 years ago somehow. And a new NINJA puppet, though for the life of me I couldn’t see how Toulon would be using that as a guide for his work.  NINJA is kinda cool, but too generic. We remember BLADE, TUNNELER, PINHEAD and LEECH WOMAN because they are unique. I love ninja, but ninja is not synonymous with unique.
Stuff happens, very little puppet action occurs and then it ends in a cliff hanger?

 So, that speaks for itself I’d hope. The good parts are that the film looks really nice. David DeCoteau does a nice job creating atmosphere on a limited budget and with some small sets. I mean it, there are great bits to the look of the movie.  The puppets look good, if not a bit more “real” than they did in the original.
Also, I liked the music. Charles Band. Good stuff. Always good.
And…well, all the acting isn’t that bad.

The good stuff, not a ton, but it is very well made low budget filmmaking that seems utterly derailed by a really pedestrian script in the end.  There are so many things to do with these puppets, and to give them next to nothing is just unbelievable. If it was for budget, than retool the entire thing before just padding it out.  Just my two cents.

Now, the most important. The Puppets!!  They do look nice, and when they aren’t moving there are some nice shots of our old pals, but they are BARELY IN THE MOVIE!!!!  Nothing even happens of a puppet nature for ages. And when you are talking an 80 minute running time, there should not be a feeling of AGES involved.  They also have lost a ton of steps, animation and movement over the years. I want to smile when I see Blade stalking, instead I was groaning at the swinging arms that make a Bruce Le film look like training video for manipulating microchips.  Nice sculpting, but the rest ain’t cutting it. 

I want Charles Band to succeed. I do.  Badly. I just don’t think that taking the premier franchise and doing this is the way to go.  Also, avoid the Blu-Ray disc. It doesn’t look good, and you can check BLU-RAY.com for more on the specs stuff.  I also used a few of their screens here because I can’t do captures from Blu just yet. 

I’m hungry for a good Halloween Horror-and I’m going to have to add another Puppet Master to the list in the next week or two, because I want to see a good one now!

Halloween Horrors 10 – The Horror Show

If there is one 80s film that really caught a gorehounds attention from looking at all the MPAA censored shots in magazines like Gorezone, it would be the James Issac / David Blyth film THE HORROR SHOW.  And when you can see it uncut, as the German unauthorized release I watched is, what you get is a supremely fun showdown of some iconic presences, effects by KNB and an embracing of the whole “Elm Street” cycle that manages to be gritter than most Freddy offerings.  Plus, Brion James vs. Lance Henrikson is just perfect. They could shoot My Dinner With Andre and cast those two in 1989 and have a hit.

Max Jenke (James) loves his meatcleaver, and on his way to the electric chair he requests to be buried with it!  Detective Lucas McCarthy (Henrikson) put the crazy serial killer on Death Row and is haunted by the incredible carnage of the night he captured the madman.  He can’t stop dreaming about the scene, and those dreams are all bent up in classic Kruegerisms as well.  But after the Death Sentence goes haywire and a bursting and popping Brion James swears vengeance against the cop amidst yelling UP THE VOLTAGE ASSHOLE!! at his executioner.  Well, Jenke has a post grave plan.

Now we go to Elm Street, but the pacing is so fast and the stars so entertaining that it outdoes most all of them!  Jenke uses electricity to Shocker his way around and become a ghost that can kill all those important to Lucas, and manages to frame him along the way.  But, will the psuedoscience guy that shows up to explain this think he is going to see the end credits??  Nah…but who cares.  What we have is a psycho turkey with a tiny Brion James head battling head to head with Lance Henrikson that acts so intense that it looks like his head is going to turn inside out–DEATHMATCH style!

While the plot is a bit shopworn, but who cares?  The characters are clearly defined and it must have been a fun day at casting to see James and Henrikson arguing who was going to play the psycho and who would play the cop. These two could have swapped and made a different, yet interesting, film as well.  The only thing I can say about the multiple directors is that I like both. Blyth was fired early on, but DEATH WARMED UP is a favorite of mine!  Isaac directed Jason X, so that gives him some massive splat-cred with me. AND the music is by Harry Manfredini!  You have to see it uncut to enjoy it fully, the German edition is very well done and it becomes obvious where the edits are made. This film was cut A TON, and without all that extra splat it would lose a few steps.  The opening sequence is gore loaded and paced incredibly well.

And..there is a European Trash Cinema connection!  Mac Ahlberg of Flossie and Justine och Juliette (????) is the cinematographer and he does a great job at pulling the most from the locations and sets.  Spooky boiler room? CHECK!  Power Plant with lots of generic stairs? CHECK!  Looking cool regardless? CHECK!

Any horror fan that loves 80s films should revisit this one!

Halloween Horrors 9 – Barn of the Naked Dead

Look look…I can watch the animals from here…
Andre (Andrew Prine) has got issues. Mommy issues. Interpersonal relationship issues.  Circus issues? Well, that last part isn’t exactly right.  Instead of a circus this nutjob has set himself up in an H-Bomb testing area outside of Las Vegas in order to capture women and induct them in to his little fantasy world by sniping their car engines and chaining them up for training sessions!  Sleazy and straddling the line between exploitation and horror, Barn of the Naked Dead / Terror Circus manages to hash the two elements together to make the most of it’s running time.  Because just as you wonder how another hour of Andrew Prine twisting his face around and shouting can carry this one, in comes two doofy guys to be killed by a mysterious HAND with burn marks all over it.  You know…twisted mutant monster man is a’comin!  And he sure does… Everything comes to a crashing halt when Daddy returns and turns this barn in to a Slaughter Hotel!  But hey, the three lead ladies agent and a state trooper will solve the mystery, just a bit too late.

This was exactly what I needed right now, in the midst of Halloween Horrors I’ve been jonesin’ for some good exploitation fare, and Andrew Prine screaming and flailing around with a whip and babbling about his imaginary circus to his “mother” is rambling and goofy enough to get me in that happy state of trash film mind that will send me recharged in to the world of horror films.  PLUS, it maintains a horror atmosphere once it introduces the promise of a monster. But unlike many other exploitation films that promise something to happen, this movie delivers in spades.  The monster shows up and rampages around and, to my surprise, really gets the upper hand!  GO MONSTERS!!!  Of course, it does take any form of interest you built in the characters, ball it up and dump it into a deranged dump of nihilism.  But, that works for me, especially in a month of monster movies.

While the film is certainly almost entirely on the shoulders of Andrew Prine, who doesn’t just keep it going, but hurls his scenes AT the viewer with a crazed intensity that you have to love. Most of the cast, especially Manuela Thiess as Simone, are fairly spot on-and the insane captive girls all are convincing. The “rescue” subplot is silly, but has a huge payoff that I won’t spoil.  It was just…this….close!
Directed by Alan Rudolph, who would later go on to other fare, the movie isn’t a stylistic triumph by any stretch. However, the final 10 minutes are great-the editing and music give it a weird atmosphere that comes out of nowhere in the best possible way.  Without the Tommy Vig music and it’s warped and perverted circus music the film wouldn’t work nearly as well. For a film about a pyscho circus, it sounds like a sickly band of clowns losing time constantly.  Excellent!
 There is not a lot of Naked in the Barn, but here is some!!
Click to see a larger image…check out the SEA DEVILS comic on the wall!

Halloween Horrors 8-The Devil’s Men / Land of the Minotaur

Those who enter the forbidden chamber of the minotaur must die..die..die…
I had no idea that I was going to get to see the gore n’ nudity edition of Land of the Minotaur, a title I’ve always been intrigued by, completely by accident.  Years ago I traded for the UK disc of THE DEVIL’S MEN and it sounded like a good title to watch during October.  Now, this is not a film with an excellent reputation, but I found it to be great fun, like watching a Charlton comic book picked up at a Woolworths for a dime-and it comes packed with a Brian Eno flexi disc of spooky slashsawing to boot!  Peter Cushing glowers, there are tons of sexy hotpants and tight shirts bits and you even get titles that are exhaled by a fire blowing stone minotaur!!  Bonus!
Director Kostas Karagiannis may not have a great handle on fast paced action, but he does throw us square in the middle of sinister goings on and keeps interest high for the wandering eyes by adding in some lovely nude ladies on occasion.  It really helps that we have a multicolored rainbow of cultists doing a groovy sacrifice sequence to get us started.  We know trouble is afoot, and trouble has a hepcat tailor!
After Father Roche (Donald Pleasance) warns some nice young folks not to go poking around some ruins, they do and end up on the receiving end of the Cults wrath.  Roche calls his pal, and apparent monster smasher, Milo Kaye (Kostas Karagiorgis) into action.  One of the girlfriends of the missing lads also arrives, to keep the skin quotient high!  Luan Peters looks like a Tom Sutton woman in action as the girl on the scene, one that seems to get left behind a lot actually, and shimmies and screams her way through the role with great gusto.  Of course, the cultists begin to attack and there are several chases that lead to Peters getting smacked around as a silly girl by the hero (yeesh)–but it all falls in to place as the sinister Carpathian, Baron Corofax, steps up the game and is looking for more sacrifices.  It helps that Peter Cushing plays the Baron, though for this writer I must admit that I’ve seen so many Neil Vokes images of Cushing that the man looks more like a moving comic character to me than the other way around.  

While it is far from perfect, there is a lot of fun landscaping to be done in this Land of the Minotaur.  The costumes are utterly cool and the night time stalking and prowling cultists are exceptionally spooky, and when the final trio of intrepid minotaur hunters are wandering the ruins and descending down the caves it has a great spooky feel.  That atmosphere is undercut a bit by the silly leads, though I take that as a positive as I couldn’t help but smile and think of all the great covers and stories from Charlton Comics MONSTER HUNTERS as I watched them wander around and come face to face with fire, exploding statues, Peter Cushing and even some exploding cultists!  There are showers and slapping and a whole lot of yapping here, but hey…it’s alright because I still enjoyed every minute of it.  

A nice Saturday Afternoon spooky, with some extra breasts and booty–I like this flick, and if you find it in the longer print, I’d recommend it.  It was released by Crown International with a PG rating, so I’ll assume that there is a less bloody and breasterific edition out on US DVD-which is a shame.  While I wouldn’t climb a Kraken to find it, I would recommend the hunt.  Fans of cool soundtracks will enjoy the Brian Eno scraping and tingling for sure, but for me…the end credits song is one of the BEST 70s vocal horror themes I’ve heard.  I NEED IT!

Now THAT is a trio of Monster Hunters!

Halloween Horrors 7 – Witch Story

I’m a sucker for late era Italian horror films, and Alessandro Capone’s STREGHE – WITCH STORY is a fun last gasp of gore and mayhem.  To give it an extra OOOMPFH I finally managed to check it out in full widescreen thanks to the Japanese VHS version, which gave this little film a nifty shine that it might not have had on full frame crappy vhs from 20 years ago. 

A tired and well worn plot doesn’t hold this film back from being fun. After a flashback to a witch being burned alive by a small Florida town (??)-we quickly realize that the evil woman’s daughter is not just watching for a laugh. No, she is going to be trapped in time as her hells bells loving momma goes poof.  Years later, in the films late 80s present, a bunch of college kids go to the house to renovate it, almost exactly like the earlier watch of Sorority House Massacre 2!  They kibitz. They have sex. They have one dude that sings very poorly… and then they die!!  But the witch is clever and takes three of the most attractive of the ladies and converts them to her cause. So, you have carnage being dealt not just by the wicked ghost, but by the hands of the kids themselves.
Glass breaking and axe slinging ensue.  Also add in a priest that knows what is going on and may be able to stop things and you have a well tested plot.  But we don’t watch these for plots many times…

Witch Story plays like a much more carefully shot Filmirage production from around the same time and feels a whole lot like Killing Birds minus the birds, yet with more killing.  The cast is really flat, and after the opening sequence the whole thing flatlines excitement wise for a bit. But don’t let that stop you!  After all this time I’ve come to except that I embrace these time filling scenes and have found the zen of enjoying them. Witch Story doesn’t equal Demons (what does), but also avoids being utterly generic by employing the girls to do the dirty work, giving each scene it’s own dynamic.  Also, I have a thing for shattering glass and people KIYIIIIIIIIIING through it to deliver a scare (kind of the Ninja Condors 13 effect for horror films)-and this has several scenes.

Alessandro Capone is no Lucio Fulci (or Joe D’Amato), but Witch Story shines in it’s full scope presentation of spooky lighting and outrageous action when the time comes.  It looks really cool and features a scene that has a witch possessed girl THROW a guy through an upstairs wall that leads to him crashing in to a swimming pool.  It looks awesome.  And then she pops up behind him WITH A CHAINSAW!!! Yes, Italian Horror, no matter the vintage, always finds something to offer me.  Also notable is that Filmirage and Mattei score maven Carlo Maria Cordio does the score and it is as great mish mash of early 90s Filmirage “wwwwwhhheeeeerrrrryaaar” sounds and rhythms.  I have to admit to buying the Killing Birds score, and this one would be equally welcome.

Violent, in scope and drenched in Italian style splatter sauce when it wants to be, this is the tale of some cutouts that get chopped up.  Essential for those that have it all when it comes to EuroSplat!