My Favorite New (to Me) Films of 2018   6 comments

Looking back, it was a good year for movies.

Every year I say I’m going to keep track of what I watch. Sometimes, I make it to April before I stop logging films into Letterboxd. Sometimes, I don’t even make it that far. This year, I did it! I logged every film I watched this year. Well, I may have missed a few, but no matter. Huzzah!

According to Letterboxd, I watched 442 films this year. That’s kind of a lot. I only watched 13 films in the theatre, which is low for me, but I have a longer commute and I got a puppy. Whadya gonna do? The 13 were cool though. I saw Eighth Grade at the Independent Film Festival of Boston with Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham in attendance. At the same festival, I saw American Animals and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — both wonderful. I also went to the first Boston Noir Festival at the Brattle Theatre and got to meet Eddie Muller and hear his insights on rarely seen noirs. This summer, I braved the elements, met Jason Voorhees, and lived to tell of it after seeing Friday the 13th Parts 5 and 8 as a part of the Coolidge After Midnite at Rocky Woods program. Oh, and I watched Space Mutiny accompanied by the humor stylings of the Rifftrax crew and Isle of Dogs, accompanied by my daughter. Yay!

It didn’t come to this. Honest.

Of those 442 films, I watched 212 for the first time. That makes me happy. Few are from 2018, but there are a bunch from this decade. Here’s the breakdown of first-time watches.

2010s: 54
2000s: 16
1990s: 17
1980s: 26
1970s: 49
1960s: 19
1950s: 19
1940s: 8
1930s: 3
1920s: 1

There were so many this year, it was hard to choose a top 20, so I chose a top 35. You’re welcome.

Sometimes you have to flip a coin to decide.

My top 35 by the numbers

2010s: 18
2000s: 3
1990s: 3
1980s: 4
1970s: 5
1960s: 2

These are listed in the order I watched them.

Wake Up and Die (1966)

Breathless meets Baby Driver meets Brighton Rock, in Italy, kinda. The Baby Driver part is because it can’t seem to find an ending. A master thief goes on the run with his lady while police launch a nationwide manhunt. This early poliziotesschi is based on the real life thief, Luciano Lutring, the submachine gun soloist, who kept his weapon in a violin case. Lisa Gastoni and Robert Hoffman make a dashing pair and her outfits are fab!

Ski School (1990)

Yes, really. Dean Cameron (Chainsaw!) leads a bunch of party-crazed skiers in a quest to annoy the stuffy establishment types at Whistler. Fun, 80s snobs vs slobs film. Yes, I know it’s from 1990, but it’s an 80s film. Cameron channels early Bill Murray in this.

Bad Day for the Cut (2017)

Irish farmer, Donal (Nigel O’Neill) lives a quiet, lonely existence with his mother. When thugs violently change his life, he goes on a mission to find the culprits and get revenge.

Along the way, he meets an odd cast of criminals and helps a brother find his lost sister.

This is a violent, funny film with terrific dialogue that had me caring about the characters. It had a real Layer Cake/The Limey feel to it. Donal’s use of improvised weapons was always entertaining too. I expect to hear more from writer/director, Chris Baugh.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Part prison movie, part crime drama, part exploitation film, and part character study, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the brutally violent story of Bradley (Vince Vaughn), who makes tough choices and lives with the consequences. Vaughn doesn’t get enough credit. He’s really good in this and I hope he continues to find these offbeat roles. I loved this one.

The Ritual (2017)

I can’t say enough good things about this film. I wrote a piece last year about grief in modern horror films and this one would fit in there nicely. A group of friends go on a hiking trip in the Swedish forest to honor their dead friend. The local people and/or gods are displeased. It’s not perfect, but it’s tense, scary, and frighteningly realistic with some terrific special effects. Yes, The Descent is better, but I’m happy to see people making moody, well-shot horror films, so I’m cool with it.

The Perfect Host (2010)

John Taylor (Clayne Crawford), on the run after a robbery gone awry, shows up at Warwick Wilson’s (David Hyde Pierce) place, hoping to hide out for a bit and perhaps steal something before going back on the lam. Warwick has other ideas.

This is a pretty neat little thriller. Pierce and Crawford are both terrific and the twist-filled story keeps you on the edge of your seat. This was a nice surprise.

The Descent (2005)

This is the real deal. A group of women friends go spelunking for some reason. Seriously, this sport/hobby/whatever baffles me. Anyway, one of the women has just lost her husband and child in an accident (grief, again) and so she goes in a cave. The group gets lost and meets up with some scary folks. This is such a frightening movie. I watched this with my daughter and we both held our breath a lot. Great horror.

Tenebre (1982)

Tony Franciosa is a writer of gory crime novels on a book tour in Rome when people start dying with parts of his books stuffed in their mouths and junk. Whodunnit? This is a terrific Argento film, full of violent deaths, red herrings, and plot twists. The music, by Simonetti-Pignatelli-Morante, three members of the band, Goblin, is one of my all-time favorite soundtracks. John Saxon! You should see this right now.

Deep Red (1975)

David Hemmings witnesses the murder of his neighbor, a psychic, and investigates. Fortunately, he’s a musician with no day job, so he can devote his full attention to crime-solving. People die violently as Hemmings gets closer to the truth.

Dario Argento does giallo proud. Bloody, atmospheric, and spooky, Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) has a psycho killer (Qu’est-ce que c’est?) some great deaths, and a terrific score by Goblin. Just wonderful.

The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

This time, Argento directs Karl Malden and James Franciscus in this thriller about a series of grisly murders which may be related to corporate espionage. Another Argento giallo classic.

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Hey! This one came out in 2018! Wes Anderson’s sweet, funny stop-motion story follows Atari (the voice of Koyu Rankin), who travels to the titular island, where the evil ruler has exiled all dogs, to find his beloved dog, Spots. There, he meets a motley crew of mutts who help him and have an adventure. The animation in this is a marvel. The voiceovers, by Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, and a bunch of others are spot on. Get it? Teehee.

Hearts of the West (1975)

Jeff Bridges, in an early role, plays an Iowa farm boy who comes out west to write western novels like Zane Grey. He wanders onto a movie set, becomes an extra, and meets a bunch of oddball characters. Alan Arkin, Alex Rocco, Blythe Danner, Donald Pleasence, and a cool performance by Andy Griffith make this fun to watch. It gets a bit slapstick at times, but it’s a sweet story. Howard Zieff directed this, Slither, Private Benjamin, and a bunch of other films and TV shows.

Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Brian Trenchard-Smith directs this fun Ozploitation film about a futuristic society that captures unemployed and unwanted youth and keeps them prisoner in an old drive-in. Authorities supply the kids with all the junk food, drugs, sex, and B-movies they can handle to keep them docile. Crabs (Ned Manning) wants out and he spends his days trying to escape. This is a fun one. They even show Turkey Shoot at the drive-in.

Kill the Irishman (2011)

Extreme bad ass, Danny Greene was a low-level mob guy in Cleveland in the 70s. He pissed somebody off. Over one summer in 1976, Cleveland saw dozens of car bombs detonate all over the city. They were aimed at a few guys, but many of them were meant for Greene. This is an entertaining look at a real life character who was also an enforcer. Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, and Vincent (oh yes!) D’Onofrio star.

Eighth Grade (2018)

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is an awkward 13-year-old girl dealing with all the normal pre-teen/teen angst while posting super confident-sounding videos on her YouTube advice channel. What’s refreshing about this film is Fisher’s character and Burnham’s story and dialogue. She’s not a genius hiding her smarts to get by or a dazzling beauty hiding under Goth makeup. She’s a smart, regular girl who’s trying to figure it all out. There are some great scenes in this that really bring you back to that time when you doubted everything you did and worried so much about whether or not you’d fit in.

Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s (2012)

This is a terrific documentary on Italian poliziotesschi films of the 1970s. Henry Silva, John Saxon, Franco Nero, Fred Williamson, and a bunch of other actors, directors, and stuntmen discuss the genre and tell stories. I learned a lot about the industry and production methods in Italy at that time and came off with a gigantic list of films to see. If you’re into Italian crime films of that era, you’ll like this doc.

Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (2010)

I went into this film blind and learned a decent amount about Nilsson. The doc is full of celebrity anecdotes (He was pals with the Beatles.) and Nilsson’s music. I enjoyed it even though it didn’t delve as deeply as I would have liked. I liked it so much, I went right out and bought some of his music.

Skippy and the Intruders (1969)

Skippy, the bush kangaroo! Pirates try to salvage an underwater wreck illegally. When Sonny and Skippy, who’s a kangaroo, by the way, witness the crime, pirates kidnap her, her pet, Sonny, and his babysitter, Clancy. Will Sonny’s park ranger dad get there in time?


I loved the series, Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo, as a kid. She is a kangaroo who solves crimes. What’s not to love?

Who Saw Her Die? (1972)

Don’t Look Now is on a bunch of top horror film lists, but I liked this one more. George Lazenby and Anita Strindberg star in Aldo Lado’s giallo about a serial killer of young girls. This one’s set in France and Lazenby takes an active part in finding the killer. An excellent film.

The Stepfather (1987)

Terry O’Quinn plays a man desperate to be a part of the ideal American family. That would be lovely except he longs for something he already had — and slaughtered brutally in the living room. He takes it all in stride though and moves right along to the next family. What will happen to them? DA DUMMMMMMMMM!

Based, in a small part, on John List, who murdered his mother, wife, and three children, then left town and started a new life somewhere else. Sweet.

O’Quinn is absolutely brilliant in this film. Seriously, this is a fantastic movie.

Shutter Island (2010)

I’m not sure why I waited so long to watch this film. I think it’s because they made it right down the street from me and I was worried it would let me down. It didn’t.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are police detectives sent to a mental hospital on a Boston Harbor island to find a missing inmate. As they delve more deeply into the case and the institution, they discover things aren’t what they seem.

I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to spoil it. This was a cool mixture of crime, psychological thriller, and Gothic horror and I wish there were more films like it.

The Onion Field (1979)

On a quiet night in 1963, two career criminals took two police officers hostage. What happened next would change the lives of the policemen, their families, and a host of legal professionals for the next twenty years.

The film is authentic and full of the actual locations where the crimes took place. Joseph Wambaugh, who wrote the book and film and co-produced it, was on the LAPD when it happened and he felt strongly about being true to the people involved.

James Woods and Franklyn Seales play the criminals and John Savage and Ted Danson play the detectives. They’re all wonderful. Ronny Cox is great as the lead detective on the case.

I recommend the film and the book highly. It’s a tragic story told well.

The Robber (2010)

This is the fascinating, action-packed, true story of an Austrian world champion marathon runner who robbed banks. Seriously. In one scene, he wins a breathtaking surprise victory, dons a mask, and robs a Viennese bank. It’s bonkers. I watched it in German with English subtitles.

War on Everyone (2016)

What a fun movie! Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña star as bent cops trying to bust seriously twisted bad guy, Theo James. The lines are quick, funny, and literate and the humor is jet black. John Michael McDonagh wrote and directed and it’s whip-smart and incredibly funny.

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017)

This one caught me by surprise. Melanie Lynskey, who’s terrific, is fed up with people being assholes. After a series of small indignities, she’s had enough and decides to fight back.

Macon Blair wrote and directed this quirky film that had me rooting for the heroine and hoping for a happy ending. Elijah Wood has an odd role and does a great job. Worth seeing.

Shimmer Lake (2017)

Shimmer Lake is a creative thriller with some neat twists and turns. Writer/director, Oren Uzial plays with the chronology of the story and the performances by Benjamin Walker, Rainn Wilson, and Wyatt Russell (Kurt and Goldie’s kid) are solid. Quirky and inventive.

Happy Hunting (2017)

I’m a sucker for a Most Dangerous Game storyline. Martin Dingle Wall drifts into the wrong town and ends up running from a bunch of would-be murderers. Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson (Mel’s kid) wrote and directed this violent, action-packed tale. Fun.

The Collector (2009)

Arkin, an ex-con (Josh Stewart) needs money to save his wife from some baddies so he breaks into a house where he’s been working to rob the safe. During the crime, he sees a masked man brutalizing the family who lives there. As he runs around trying to save them, he finds elaborate traps set all over the house and the mom and dad being tortured.

Who is the masked man? Why is he doing this?

This was tense and violent and well done. It feels like Saw, in a way, except we don’t know this guy’s motivation. Maybe he’s just nutty as a fruitcake or maybe he has some other plan.

[REC] (2007)

In this Spanish film, Manuela Velasco and her film crew are profiling the men from a local fire station when the firefighters get a call. Velasco and her team go on the routine run which turns out to be more than routine. Scary, tense, and unexpected.

8MM (1999)

A wealthy widow hires Nicolas Cage’s private detective to find out if the snuff film she finds in her husband’s effects is the real thing. Joachin Phoenix is excellent and Peter Stormare and James Gandolfini are fabulously sleazy.

Filmworker (2017)

A fascinating documentary about Leon Vitali, a promising young British actor, who, after working as an actor in Barry Lyndon, decided to dedicate his life to Stanley Kubrick.

It’s an odd story about loyalty, obsession, and the lengths a man will go to for someone he idolizes.

I was unaware of this story before watching the film so I was astounded. It’s a good doc and Vitali is an intelligent and reliable witness to Kubrick’s eccentricities.

Hard Eight (1996)

Philip Baker Hall is an experienced gambler who takes John C. Reilly under his wing. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the cocktail waitress/prostitute Reilly loves and Samuel L. Jackson is Reilly’s profane friend.

The dialogue is spare and perfect and Hall is absolutely amazing. Paltrow was miscast, but other than that, this is a great watch. I’m glad I finally saw it.

Blitz (2011)

Detectives, Jason Statham and Paddy Considine are partners trying to stop a serial killer targeting London police officers. I’m a big Statham fan and he worked well with Considine. A cool action film.

Wind River (2017)

When a young Native American woman is found dead on a reservation, an inexperienced FBI agent and a local hunter team up to find her killer. Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed the film and it’s riveting and spare. Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Graham Greene all give terrific performances. Sheridan is great at the dialogue between men of few words.

Southern Comfort (1981)

Walter Hill directed this film about a squad of National Guardsmen who piss off the wrong hunters in the Louisiana bayou. The cast is amazing. Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, Peter Coyote, Franklyn Seales, Brion James, and Sonny Landham! Yikes! This is a terrific movie that combines aspects of Deliverance, The Deer Hunter, and Predator.

This was a long one. I saw so many good films this year, I just couldn’t stop at 20.

Thank you for your time. Please enjoy a hot towel.











Posted January 3, 2019 by Kerry Fristoe in Lists

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31 Days of Horror: 2018 Edition   6 comments

October’s here and it’s time to dust off your skulls.

“Jeez! It’s just morning breath!”

Every October, I assemble a list of horror films I plan to watch during the month. I look through my collection and find a bunch I haven’t seen yet, then I check out Shudder, Netflix, and Amazon Prime and come up with 31 new-to-me horror films. I write a little something, post the list here, and proceed to watch 31 entirely different films. Sometimes, an unplanned trip to the theatre throws off my plans in a good way. Other times, I join in a live-tweet of an old favorite. Mostly, I just change my mind. This year, I’ve decided to make a list of genres instead of specific films and just roll with it.


Giallo: I’ve watched a lot of gialli and poliziotesschi this year, so I plan to continue watching murder-obsessed Italians and ex-pat Americans murder each other in stylish and sexy ways.


Slasher: I still haven’t seen Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Midnight Meat Train, Maniac, or a couple of the Saw films, so…


Psychological: In the Mouth of Madness, Berberian Sound Studio, or The Strangers might be fun, but I’m not watching effing Funny Games again.


B-movie horror: There are still a few Corman, Wood, and Castle films I need to see.


Mystery killer flicks: Everyone’s dying! Whodunnit?


Serial killer/cult films: So scary ‘cause they’re true.


Found footage: I might have to break down and watch The Blair Witch Project. That’s harsh. It’s just slipped through the cracks. I haven’t seen REC either.


The Gerbils That Ate Manhattan: Razorback and Of Unknown Origin spring to mind here.


Demonic possession: You know, Satan.


Horror comedy: I still haven’t seen Scream.



Old fashioned horror and vampires and werewolves: You can’t beat the classics! Hammer, Amicus, and Universal are all favorites and I haven’t seen them all.


Anyway, I’ll be watching and tweeting about my picks throughout the month and writing about some of them here and on Letterboxd. I’ll post a final list of all the goodies I watch after the month is over.


Look for the #31DaysofHorror on Twitter to see what I’m up to and I’ll check out what you’re watching too.



Posted October 2, 2018 by Kerry Fristoe in 31 Days of Horror

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Camp Crystal Lake at Rocky Woods Reservation   2 comments

A poster for Camp Crystal Lake at Rocky Woods by Mister Reusch


Recently, I had a wonderful horror film experience. I got to watch a couple horror films in the woods with a whole bunch of other reprobates and it was a gas.

Friday night, close to a hundred people gathered at Rocky Woods in Medfield, Massachusetts (my home town) to watch a double-feature of Jason Voorhees’ best efforts. The Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Coolidge After Midnite, in conjunction with the Trustees of Reservations presented a walk-in. Technically, it wasn’t a drive-in since we parked our cars a few hundred yards away and walked to Camp Crystal Lake, unfolded our lawn chairs, and planted our butts in front of a large, outdoor screen to watch art house favorites, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. The weather was pleasant and spring-like; the trustees cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and served craft beer; and Jason lumbered through the crowd wielding a machete. Ah…summer.

“Sure. Take my popcorn.”

The Coolidge has been showing horror films at Rocky Woods on various Fridays the 13th for a couple years now and I’ve only missed one. That night, it rained so hard, the animals would have refused to walk outside to get on the ark. When you live in the suburbs and crave cult, indie, horror, or just plain weird films, you either buy them (which I do—too often), or trek into the city, struggle to park, and creep back out toward home far too late on a school night. Whenever someone ventures out my way, I’m in.

I’ve enjoyed every showing. I go alone, but I usually go to movies alone. Oddly, my friends and even my daughter, who’s game sometimes, aren’t keen to hike down a dark path, sit in the woods, and commune with a guy dressed as a mute, psychopathic, but resilient murderer. The people I work with are convinced I have a screw loose. Maybe I do, but I have a good time.

On this Friday the 13th, we watched Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. It wouldn’t matter which of the Jasons played, I have a soft spot for each one of them.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Tommy (John Shepherd) has seen some shit. He’s done some shit, too. As a child, when he was Corey Feldman, he watched Jason Voorhees kill some of his family and friends, so he killed Jason back. Since then, he’s been a bit…off. To help him recover from his post-Jason trauma, the state sends Tommy to a facility for troubled youth out in the sticks. With the help of Matt (Richard Young) and Pam (Melanie Kinnaman), who run the camp, Tommy will be back to his old self in no time, right? Not so much. Unfortunately, someone (Is it Jason?) starts killing the kids at the halfway house. Can Tommy make it out alive? Reggie (Shavar Ross) does a nice job and the main characters seem less stupid, and more, unlucky. I cared when some of them came to a sticky end.

Pam and Reggie made a good team.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

A class cruise to New York City goes pear-shaped when Jason (Kane Hodder) stows away and begins culling the graduating class. Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett), our star, has a problem. She’s afraid of the water. Naturally, she climbs aboard a boatload of jerks, including her class principal/uncle, Charles (Peter Mark Richman), who’s off-the-rails obnoxious. Will the boat dock in NYC? Will Rennie figure out why she hates the water? Will Uncle Charles get tossed out a window and drowned in raw sewage? Well, yes.

Ya think?

There are a few inventive deaths in this film and some characters no one will miss. I love when Jason stands up to the gang of toughs. The dog, Toby, played by Ace, was my favorite character.

Ace, as Toby

At the screening, Mark Anastasio, program manager of the Coolidge, announced their upcoming October feature, It. I’m excited! As long as the Coolidge keeps putting on these woodsy film festivals, I’ll be there.

Freddie Francis: Reluctant Horror Icon   3 comments

Freddie Francis once said, “Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films.”

The director of more than forty films and television episodes, including twenty-five horrors and the cinematographer of nearly forty more, Freddie Francis may have been typecast as a horror director for good reason. He was good at it.

He started his film career as a camera operator. A friend and protégé of Oscar-winning cinematographer, Oswald Morris, Francis worked for and with Morris and Ronald Neame at Pinewood Studios until World War II broke out in 1939. Francis joined the Army Kinematographic Society, based at Wembley Studios, and spent the next seven years making training films. After leaving the military in 1946, Francis found work as a camera operator at Shepperton Studios, where he worked with Powell & Pressburger, John Huston, Tony Richardson, and a bunch of other incredibly talented directors. On the set of Huston’s Moby Dick, Francis asked if he could head up the second unit. Oswald Morris gave an enthusiastic yes, and Francis acted as director of photography for the first time.

“Call me irresponsible.”

From 1956 to 1964, Francis was director of photography on over a dozen films before beginning his directing career with the film, Two and Two Make Six in 1962. It didn’t fare well. After winning the Oscar for cinematography with Sons and Lovers in 1960, and acclaim with The Innocents, (Francis’ favorite film), his friends were surprised he made the leap to directing.

Don’t turn around.

His background in cinematography may explain why Francis directed some of the most visually stunning of the Hammer and Amicus films. In the early 1960s, Francis directed Paranoiac, Nightmare, Hysteria, and The Evil of Frankenstein for Hammer before making Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, and The Torture Garden for Amicus. In 1968, another terrific Hammer director, Terence Fisher was hit by a motorbike and broke his leg during post-production work on The Devil Rides Out. Fisher was set to direct Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, starring Christopher Lee, but Hammer replaced him with Freddie Francis. Throughout the 1970s, Francis worked for both Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, and other, smaller companies, making The Creeping Flesh, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and an odd little nugget made by Apple films and starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr, called Son of Dracula. He also directed some episodic TV shows before returning to cinematography.

Ringo Starr is Merlin and Harry Nilsson is Count Downe. Yup.

In 1980, David Lynch hired Francis as director of photography on his disturbing and poignant film, The Elephant Man, and later his ill-fated, but gorgeously-photographed, Dune. Francis also served as DP on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Executioner’s Song, Glory, for which he won his second Oscar, The Man in the Moon, Cape Fear, School Ties, and the beautiful and simply shot film, The Straight Story, again, for David Lynch.

Mr. Bytes thinks up his next good deed.

One of the reasons I chose to write about Francis for this blogathon was my love for Amicus anthology films and Freddie Francis directed three of them. In Amicus’ first anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), six men meet on a train. Peter Cushing (Dr. Terror) pulls out a deck of tarot cards, claiming he can see what’s to come for each man in the car. Oddly, their futures don’t look bright. Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Donald Sutherland, and Bernard Lee also star in the five segments.

“Got anyyyy eights?”

In Francis’ next anthology film, The Torture Garden (1967), Burgess Meredith stars as Dr. Diabolo, a carnival barker who lures four unsuspecting victims into his cave-like back room where they learn about their less than rosy fates. Peter Cushing, Michael Ripper, Niall MacGinnis, and Jack Palance join in the fun. Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame, wrote the stories in The Torture Garden and many of the other Amicus anthologies. They’re literate, full of black humor and twisty endings, and a lot of fun.

“Lemme tell ya about the rabbits, Jack.”

Francis ended his anthology run with a bang. Tales from the Crypt (1972) stars Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper, who leads five people through their terrifying stories. Peter Cushing, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Nigel Patrick, and the spectacular Joan Collins star in these dark tales, based on William Gaines’ EC Comics.

“Want to hear a story?”

Francis dug Peter Cushing, by the way. He said of the actor, “I think Peter is absolutely wonderful. There is not an actor in the world who can speak rubbish like Peter and make it sound real.”

“I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Amicus producers, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg borrowed the template of individual tales connected by a linking story, from the portmanteau horror film, Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was not the first anthology film or even the first horror anthology, but it aligned well with Amicus’ association with Robert Bloch and suited the repertory company of actors working in horror films at the time. It also made money for Amicus, who made seven of these films.

“Once, I picked up a squirrel and squeezed it until it stopped moving.”

While I love the portmanteau horrors Freddie Francis directed, I love two of his films more. In 1965, Francis took the Robert Bloch story, “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” and an all-star cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, and Patrick Magee, and made The Skull. The Skull is awesome on so many levels, it’s hard for me to contain myself to write this. Cushing and Lee collect demonic art. They also play billiards holding brandy snifters and wearing smoking jackets while discussing pure evil. The oft-sniveling Patrick Wymark is a scuzzy seller of stolen devil memorabilia, who offers to sell Cushing the skull of the Marquis de Sade. He happens to have it lying around. Since Wymark already sold Cushing a book made of human skin, he figures it’s a cinch. Amazingly, the skull of the Marquis de Sade is no ray of sunshine. Let’s just say anyone associated with the skull in question better have his beneficiaries updated. Story aside, the effects in this film are killer. The evil skull floats all over Cushing’s well-appointed gentleman’s lair of evil stuff and the skull POV shots are fantastic. The Skull is so much fun.

“Have I mentioned I sell Amway?”

The second film worth highlighting is The Deadly Bees (1966). If you know me at all, you know I love skulls and movies with bees in them. The Deadly Bees is a movie with bees in it. Suzanna Leigh is a frazzled pop star recuperating from a nervous breakdown. Her doctor recommends that she rest on friendly, Seagull Island, where no one is getting killed by bees or anything. While Leigh relaxes, her hosts, who might have watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too many times, fight about just about everything, including bees. Will bees attack Suzannah? What about Michael Ripper? The Deadly Bees also has a cool cameo. Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, appears on a Hullabaloo-like show, early in the film, as a member of The Birds. The bee effects lack sophistication, but it was the first killer bee film, after all, so back off.

Suzannah Leigh wears a bear before meeting the bees.

Freddie Francis may not have relished his career in horror, but I do and if you’re reading this, you probably do, too. Francis directed and filmed the biggest stars in Britain over a career spanning sixty years. He worked with Hammer, Peter Cushing, the Archers, Christopher Lee, Amicus, John Huston, and Captain Ahab. Not a bad record for this vicinity.

I wrote this article for The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeedgieMidget Reviews. They’re swell movie types and @Barry_Cinematic and @realweedgiemidge on Twitter.


Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (2010)   2 comments

Harry Nilsson was “a big bunny with sharp teeth.”
-Paul Williams

Recently, the good folks at the See Hear Podcast (Maurice Bursztynski, Bernard Stickwell, and Tim Merrill) invited me as a guest on their show. We talked about the 2010 biopic, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)

Not gonna lie here. I love Nilsson’s voice and it chokes me up just thinking about “Without You”, but other than that and a few stray bits of information, I didn’t know much about him. Basically, Nilsson was a smart kid from a poor family in Brooklyn, who traveled west to make his way in show biz. Unlike many others who have done the same thing. Nilsson had some actual talent, and someone noticed.

Early Nilsson albums had a decent amount of studio backing, it seems.

When he first arrived in California, Nilsson and a friend made a few bucks singing Everly Brothers tunes. They amended the songs to fit their vocal ranges and lyrical choices and realized they were writing songs. That was it. Harry worked at the Paramount Theatre in LA as a manager until he began working in a bank to keep him in writing paper and beer. He would work work the swing shift at the bank, go to a bar and drink write all night, get up in the morning and flog his songs to recording studios, then go back to work at the bank. Rinse, repeat—for 7 years.

When one of his songs, “Cuddly Toy”, caught the attention of Monkees singer, Davey Jones, and Jones recorded it, Nilsson quit the bank and became a full-time musician.

This is when the film goes the typical ‘innocent young man makes good and is corrupted by the vile, capitalist music industry’ route, but since it seems to be at least partly true, it’s hard to complain.

Ringo, Harry, and Keith Moon (teetotalers)

Nilsson made a gang of studio albums that seemed to have little to do with musical trends and much to do with his clever way with words, his melodic talent, and his angelic voice. I listened to Nilsson Schmilsson, A Little Touch of Schmillson in the Night, and Nilsson Sings Newman for the podcast, but, spurred on by host, Maurice Bursztynski’s recommendations during the podcast, I also listened to earlier albums, Harry and Pandemonium Shadow Show, which are full of all the witty, musical touches Nilsson was famous for. They’re both also fighting neck and neck to be my favorite Nilsson album. Nilsson got the name for the album from the carnival sideshow in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. That’s the name, Pandemonium Shadow Show, not Harry. Harry was his name. I figured I’d clear that up.

Pandemonium Shadow Show album cover

Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) does the talking head thing pretty well. Musicians like Van Dyke Parks, Jimmy Webb, Paul Williams, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, and Mickey Dolenz all weigh in on their admiration of, love for, and frustration with Nilsson. A prolific songwriter and arranger, Nilsson recorded albums, made TV specials, and contributed or wrote entirely, the soundtracks for films including Midnight Cowboy, The Point, Son of Dracula, and Goodfellas. He wrote and recorded his own songs, covered others’, and wrote songs for other bands to record. Literate, quirky, and romantic, Nilsson’s songs are about love, childhood, heartbreak, dogs, and everything in between.

Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) is a survey course in Harry Nilsson. It doesn’t dig too deeply, but uncovers enough to pique the interest if, like me, you admired the songs and knew little of the man. If you’re a Nilsson aficionado, you might not get a lot from this film. I did get a lot from it. I didn’t know John Lennon and Paul McCartney both listed Harry Nilsson as their favorite musician. I didn’t know he was Ringo Starr’s best friend and the two served as best man for each other. Unfortunately, Starr does not appear in this film. Apparently, he was still saddened by Nilsson’s tragic death in 1994, at the age of 52, and found it too difficult to talk about.


Harry Nilsson burst on the scene in the late 60s, made some lovely albums, and partied way too hard with the usual suspects. Robin Williams is on this bio too. I feel like he hung out at the Chateau Marmont for about 26 years waiting for someone to pull out some coke. Anyway, Nilsson made pretty music, did too many drugs, smoked and drank too much, and redeemed himself later in life. He met a pretty, Irish woman, made lots of babies, and relished his family.

Harry with third wife, Una

It’s too bad that once he had his shit together, he had to die. It’s like his life was subject to Hayes office motion picture rules and after his early carrying-on, they just couldn’t let him live happily ever after.

John Lennon, Anne Murray, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, and Mickey Dolenz

I recommend this film if you want to learn more about the 70s music scene, fashion for people who don’t have day jobs, or about Harry Nilsson’s sweet, melodic music.

Here’s the link to the See Hear Podcast: Harry Nilsson episode. Thank you, Maurice Bursztynski, Bernard Stickwell, and Tim Merrill for inviting me on your show and for the lovely, literate, and friendly conversation.

Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Io: Outland (1981)   8 comments

On a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, workers are acting strangely. They go outside the space station without spacesuits and cut their own air hoses and generally explode, spilling their guts all over. Is this a strange new space hobby? Why are they doing this?

Enter Marshall William T. O’Niel (Sean Connery), the new sheriff in town. O’Niel has just arrived at his new duty station with his wife and son. None of them is overjoyed with this new assignment, but O’Niel sucks it up and begins to learn about his new job. As soon as he heads off to work, O’Niel’s wife and kid hot foot it off planet and head back to Earth. So much for family.

“Yeah, dad can’t make it.”

Right off the bat, O’Niel gets the message from the mine’s general manager, Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle) that since the miners work so hard, they also play hard in the bar and the company brothel and it’d be best if O’Niel looked the other way. O’Niel is not amused.

“I am not amused.”

When a miner (Steven Berkoff) goes on a tear and holes up in one of the leisure (read brothel) cells, threatening a prostitute with a knife, O’Niel and his men, including Sergeant Montone (the underrated James B. Sikking) arrive on the scene. The hostage situation goes a bit pear-shaped, but the ensuing autopsy shows the miner was on a powerful synthetic narcotic, polydichloric ethylene (PDE). Since Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen), who performed the analysis, assures O’Niel the colony lacks the facilities to manufacture PDE, it’s clear someone is smuggling it in. A bit of research leads O’Niel to the two men who must be in cahoots with the smugglers.

“Avoid spikes. This is my favorite part.”

Now the fun really begins. Since the whole compound is wired for camera and sound, O’Niel surveils the two suspected drug runners and catches them in the act. He wants to question them to find out who’s behind the operation, but things go poorly for the pushers. He confronts Sheppard with the news that he’s seized and destroyed the contraband, knowing Sheppard will have to call his superiors and retaliate. Now O’Niel is the target.

Peter Hyams wrote and directed Outland as a futuristic western. It’s High Noon in space. In Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 film. High Noon, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) tries in vain to get the townspeople to help him defend against an outlaw with a grudge who will arrive on the noon train. In Outland, Connery’s O’Niel fails to get any of the locals to help him fight off two hired killers, expected on the regularly-scheduled space shuttle. In both films, the directors ramp up the tension by showing shots of clocks to highlight the approach of the bad guys. The only difference is in Outland, the clocks are digital. Both directors also offer their heroes help from the women in their lives. In High Noon, Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly come to Cooper’s aid. In Outland, Frances Sternhagen’s wreck of a doctor (her words), serves as Connery’s only ally.

“Think it over.”

The sets in Outland are like the air-lock connected hallways in the 1979 film, Alien. They also have that same industrial look. The bar is a bit wilder, with it’s neon lights and nude performance artists. The club does nod to the western with its swinging saloon doors though and it works. Hyams is an artist and he dabs the dark sets with pops of color to accentuate certain features, like the huge digital clock counting down the arrival of the hit men. There are also stunning shots of Connery walking outside the structure in his space suit.

“One small step for—ah you know the rest.”

Peter Hyams directed a number of films, including The Presidio (1988), Narrow Margin (1990), and the space-centric films 2010 (1984) and Capricorn One (1977). He was also a painter and a jazz drummer, performing with Maynard Ferguson and Bill Evans at Birdland, the Newport Jazz Festival, and other prestigious venues.

Hyams adds a dose of paranoia and a mistrust of authority to many of his films, including Outland. The mining company, Con-Amalgamate, wants to boost production, so they dose the workers with powerful uppers that fry their brains, making them psychotic. They cover the deaths by jettisoning the bodies into space. Con-Amalgamate is also the company in Capricorn One that makes the faulty life support systems leading Hal Holbrook to devise his cunning plan.

“Is Kubrick here yet?”

I’m a big fan of Outland. I saw it in the theatre with my dad when it came out and it’s one of my favorite films from that era. We also saw The Long Riders the year before, so offbeat westerns must have been our thing at the time. I like the main characters a lot, too. Connery is terrific as O’Niel, a worn, but professional law enforcement officer who ticked off one too many superiors and wound up on Jupiter. He’s smart and resourceful. When he knows the hired killers are on their way, he prepares. He formulates a plan to compensate for his lack of help by closing airlocks, stashing weapons, and generally out thinking the criminals. He’s also lucky to have Sternhagen’s Dr. Lazarus on his side. She’s a joy in this. Sarcastic, self-deprecating, and smart as a whip, Lazarus makes a great partner. I wish she had more screen time.

“I’m unpleasant; I’m not stupid.”

There are a few oddities in this film. Sean Connery has a Scottish accent. Kika Markham, who plays his wife, is British. Nicholas Barnes, another British actor, plays their son, but speaks with an American accent. Why? Also, why does Connery have a shotgun in space? A shotgun blast might not be my first choice in a pressurized space cabin. That said, any film with Sean Connery busting baddies on an Io space station gets my vote.

“O’Niel. William T. O’Niel.”

I wrote this piece for the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. She’s @debbievee on Twitter. Thanks for having me!

Blood Feast (1963)   5 comments

“This looks like one of those long hard ones.”
-Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin) commenting on a series of violent murders

Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) runs a grocery store and deli that caters to the rich and bored. He specializes in authentic ancient Egyptian cuisine and brutal mutilation. Ramses murders beautiful young women and takes a different body part from each of them to make a sort of sacrificial mulligan stew.

“Bake at 450° for 45 minutes until medium rare.”

Soon, Florida’s beautiful sunshine-riddled lifestyle is all bloody. The headlines are filled with stories of murder victims and people are starting to notice. Well, some of the people are. The murders pale in comparison to the important issues in this film. Namely, will Suzette be surprised at her party? The whole time the killer is butchering helpless victims, society matron, Mrs. Fremont (Lyn Bolton) is planning a big party for her daughter, Suzette (Connie Mason). It should be a gas, since they’ve hired Fuad Ramses to cater.

“Authentic Egyptian cuisine!”

Blood Feast broke new ground for violence in 1963. Made in four days for $24,000, the film angered or disgusted a lot of people. It also sold a lot of tickets. Director, Herschell Gordon Lewis generated buzz around the film by issuing vomit bags to filmgoers. He even served an injunction against theatres in Sarasota, Florida to prevent the showing of Blood Feast, which, of course, drummed up business considerably. According to imdb, Blood Feast made $4 million in the US. It’s no Hitchcock thriller, but at least Lewis accompanies the unrealistic gore with wooden acting and unnatural dialogue. At one point, Mrs. Fremont reads her lines off a sheet of paper sitting on the sofa beside her. Classic.

Ramses continues his violent spree, taking pleasure in eviscerating his victims and caressing, then stealing their innards. The only hint to his motive comes from an Egyptology class Suzette and her boyfriend, Detective Thornton, both take. Ramses may be following a recipe from his own book, Ancient Weird Religious Rites. Isn’t that a great title?

Crazy must make you strong, because, despite his small stature and a severe limp, Ramses pushes a strong healthy woman onto a bed and pulls out her tongue. Apparently, she didn’t fight back because she didn’t need it anyway. Later, in the hospital, she manages to describe her assailant articulately to Detective Thornton using her auxiliary tongue.

“Tell me who cut out your tongue.”

Lewis directed mostly nudie films before Blood Feast, but jumped into the slasher genre with both feet. The first film in the Blood Trilogy, Blood Feast preceded Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965). Blood Feast is a gory film, even when weighed against today’s slashers. Ramses holds a severed leg and a tongue and manhandles assorted internal organs. He also whips a young girl ecstatically.

This pretty much say it all.

Blood Feast entertains accidentally. It’s fun to guess which organ Ramses will collect from each murdered woman and the acting is stiff and stilted. Mrs. Fremont and Suzette are attractive, but no competition for Meryl Streep, or her gardener. Then there’s the soundtrack. Cool organ music from couples’ skate night at the roller rink plays while Ramses stalks and kills women for parts.

“I have issues.”

I enjoyed Blood Feast. It’s goofily unreal and full of scenes like this. After rescuing Suzette, clad in her best pink party dress and white gloves, Detective Thornton and his partner, Frank (Scott Hall) go after Ramses. Mrs. Fremont fires off the best line. When it’s obvious Ramses is the killer and he’s abandoned his catering duties, she says, “Oh dear. I guess we’ll have to eat hamburgers tonight.”

“I wanted granite.”

After the dramatic rescue, the police chase Ramses to the landfill, where he jumps in the back of a trash truck and gets squashed.

“He died a fitting death for the garbage he was.”
-Frank (policeman poet)


It’s only 67 minutes.

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