Slither (1973): No Snakes on the Plains   Leave a comment

James Caan polishes his comedy chops in this meandering story about an ex-con who takes a field trip with a gang of oddballs.

Dick Kanipsia (Caan) and Harry (Richard Shull), two cons just released from prison, head to Harry’s house to drink a few beers, have a sandwich, and relax in front of the TV. As soon as they start to get comfortable in the ramshackle cottage, gunshots ring out. Neither of the men can tell who’s shooting or where the gunshots are coming from and let’s just say things go poorly for Harry.


Harry and Dick in happier times.

Soon, Dick’s on the road, hitchhiking. He gets picked up by nutty Kitty Kopetzky (Sally Kellerman), whose manic behavior belies an off-center brand of innate logic, and the two begin a quasi-romance. Dick wants to keep moving though because he has a destination in mind. You see, Harry dropped a name and hinted about a big payday, so when Kitty takes a little too much speed and pulls a gun at a truck stop, Dick takes off again in search of Harry’s fortune.


Their denim game is strong in this.

Dick contacts Barry Fenaka (Peter Boyle), Harry’s old friend, and Dick, Barry, and Barry’s wife, Mary (Louise Lasser) hit the road in Barry’s Airstream camper.


“Mary who?”

Pulled by his shiny red Cadillac, the trio take off followed by an ominous black super van.


Got your copy of Catcher in the Rye?

I recently recorded a podcast (The Forgotten Filmz podcast) to discuss Slither and I stick by my theory that the mission to find the missing money is just a MacGuffin. The real point of this film is to let us meet and get to know these offbeat characters. It’s one of the reasons I love 70s films so much. In quite a few of them, the characters are the plot. Eccentric characters meet haphazardly, and because of their idiosyncrasies, they get into mischief. Their weirdness either extricates them from their problems or gets them in deeper. That’s a 70s film. By the time the film ends, you either love them, hate them or mourn them, but you’ve long since stopped caring about their quest.


“Course it’s a good idea!”

Another great thing about 70s films is the natural look of the actors. They’re not all shined up with perfect teeth and zero body fat. They look like regular people. They wear bellbottoms and jeans shirts and crappy poly blend sports shirts with white belts. They have average complexions and sticky-outy teeth. Slither has that in spades. It’s hard to shine up Allen Garfield and Alex Rocco, who, by the way, is billed as Man with Ice Cream. Man with Ice Cream! The year before, Rocco was Moe Greene, who was making his bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!


“I got a business to run. I gotta kick asses sometimes to make it run right.”

Slither is a weird, slice-of-life film with a road trip thrown in. Howard Zieff, who also directed The Main Event, House Calls, and Private Benjamin, keeps the structure loose even as he ramps up the tension. I mean, who are those guys in the scary black vans? The dialogue was natural, quick-witted, and perfect for Boyle and Caan, who have more comedic ability than they get credit for. The screenplay, an original by W.D. Richter, who also wrote the screenplay for Home for the Holidays and adapted Big Trouble in Little China for the screen, was a mix of road movie, crime film, and madcap adventure.


“Just one more thing.”

I have to admit, this film was completely off my radar before Todd Liebenow of the Forgotten Filmz podcast suggested it. I’m glad I saw it. I will say, Slither is a misleading title for a road movie. There’s not a single snake in this. I can only assume they called it Slither because of the labyrinthine plot. OK, I guess. I wonder if a gang of folks came to this film hoping to see Marjoe Gortner wrestle a boa and left scratching their heads.


Marjoe does not appear in this film.

Sidenote: There is a made-for-TV version of this film, directed by Daryl Duke ( The Silent Partner) starring Barry Bostwick and Patti Deutsch, made one year later. I have not seen this, but now I must.

Please listen to the Forgotten Filmz podcast  to hear the always gracious, Todd Liebenow and I discuss Slither. Find Todd @ForgottenFilmz and me, @echidnabot on Twitter.


Serpentine!

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Dementia 13 (1963) Revisited on Blu-ray   4 comments

I wrote a review of Dementia 13 a while back, but that was based on seeing a fairly grainy version on YouTube. Last fall, the lovely people at Film Detective sent me a Blu-ray of the fun horror gem. I had some dumb technical issues so I’m just watching it now. Sorry, Film Detective. I didn’t forget you.


“People get so dramatic when they’re not invited to the wedding.”

Dementia 13 was made in 1963, in black and white, for $40,000. Francis Ford Coppola filmed it, with Roger Corman’s blessing, around the set of The Young Racers, also starring William Campbell and Luana Anders. It’s just 75 minutes long and it’s a terrific little thriller. It’s not a perfect film, but it moves along and the acting is good, especially from Patrick Magee, who plays—surprise—a sinister doctor.


“Oh hi.”

Since I first watched and wrote about this film, I’ve seen it a few times, but it’s never looked this good. The Blu-ray version is crisp and clear and I managed to see more details of Dementia 13 in this viewing than I ever have. It’s a real treat to see a film you like in the best possible way. Director of photography, Charles Hanawalt, uses a lot of natural and dim lighting. That makes sense considering the modern Gothic setting. It also means that in the past, I’ve had to strain to catch details. Not this time.

I enjoyed actually seeing Dementia 13 after all this time. If you’re a fan, the Blu-ray is a must.

Psst…below is my review of Dementia 13, with a few additions.

borg

Fishy fishy in the brook
Daddy’s caught you on a hook
-Nursery rhyme

As John Haloran rows across the lake on his family’s Irish estate, he teases his wife Louise (Luana Anders). If he drops dead, Louise will inherit none of the Haloran wealth. Pro tip: Never annoy your wife in a rowboat…if you have a bad heart. The always resourceful Louise dumps John overboard, packs his suitcase, and tells the family he went to New York on business. She’ll stay at the Haloran castle and get to know them while John’s away. Psst…it’ll be a while. It doesn’t take long for Louise to see just how nutty the Halorans are. Richard (William Campbell) solders bad art and scowls. Billy (Bart Patton) walks around in a fog telling people about his dreams. Lady Haloran, fixated on death and grief, holds funerals to commemorate a funeral. Creepy Doctor Caleb (Patrick Magee) tells everyone they’re doing it wrong in a ‘Get into my van. I have candy.’ kind of way.

creepy
“…and then I crushed its head.”

They’re a fun bunch.

funeral
Weeeeee!

Louise, ever the multitasker, figures she’ll push the already dotty Lady Haloran over the edge using a few props from the nursery while insinuating herself into the family and the will. Her simple plan runs into a snag, however and then the fun really starts.

monkey
If you see this you have gone too far.

Francis Ford Coppola (yes that one), wrote and directed Dementia 13 with some tweaks by Jack Hill (The Bees, Coffy). Coppola gives the film a creepy quality by using odd camera angles and off-kilter close-ups and filming so much of it at night. The look reminded me of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Even the dim day shots look dismal and give the black and white film an eerie atmosphere.

spy
Eavesdropping on the funeral.

What’s missing is dialogue and character development. What dialogue there is works, but the characters need more to say to help us get to know them. More realistic conversations might also decrease the tendency toward exposition. Also, for a film set in Ireland, I found the lack of Irish accents from almost all the lead characters somewhat baffling. According to articles on the making of Dementia 13, producer Roger Corman assigned Coppola to make a gory version of Psycho on the cheap so he dashed off a script and went into production. In spite of this and the fact that this marked Coppola’s non-porn directorial debut, it’s a good gothic horror film with a creative plot and some genuinely scary moments. The nifty chamber music by Ronald Stein enhanced the mood as well. I understand why this has become such a cult favorite and I’m glad I finally saw it.

Thanks again to the folks at Film Detective.

Fun fact: Early on in the film, Louise discusses Richard’s girlfriend saying, “You can tell she’s an American girl, raised on promises.” Sound familiar? It’s pretty close to the first lines of the Tom Petty tune, “American Girl”, released in 1976. I can’t find definitive information to link the song lyrics to the film, but it’s a neat tidbit.

quality
A sure sign of quality

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Check out cinemashame.wordpress.com for more horrific reviews and @cinemashame on twitter.

I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

October 2, 2014

The Innocents (1961) 31 Days of Horror   3 comments

innocent

Michael Redgrave hires Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) to act as governess to two lonely children on a sprawling estate in the English countryside. Kerr bonds instantly with the little girl, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and her strangely sophisticated brother Miles (Martin Stephens). The mansion and grounds are beautiful and Miss Giddens adores children so it’s like Mary Poppins, right? Wrong. As time goes on the loneliness of the manor and Miss Giddens’ repressed nature play tricks with her mind…or do they? Is Miss Giddens losing her grip on reality or are the images of the children’s dead governess and her lover real?

kerr

The Innocents, based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and directed by Jack Clayton (Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Great Gatsby) blurs the lines between reality and imagination. Is Giddens’ repressed spinster a source of salvation or doom? Are the children innocent and imaginative or conniving and evil? Filmed by director of photography Freddie Francis (The Elephant Man, Dune) in glorious black and white, The Innocents plays with perception and perspective. Images thrust into the foreground catch your eye, then recede as a shadowy form in the background gains clarity.

spookyyy

If you turned off the sound, which adds an eerie aspect as well, you could still watch and enjoy the film’s spooky atmosphere. Wonderful performances by Deborah Kerr, Franklin, an underused Michael Redgrave, and the über creepy Martin Stephens of Village of the Damned fame make this a top-notch psychological horror film on the same plane as The Haunting. The Innocents just made it onto my yearly Halloween watch list. Terrific film.

shadow

I wrote this for the @cinemashame 31 Days of Horror Shame-a-thon. Check out @thirtyhertzrumble.com for more eerie reviews. I am @echidnabot on twitter.

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Black Sunday or The Mask of Satan (1960) 31 Days of Horror   Leave a comment

bsun

Beautiful Barbara Steele glares at her brother. He and his pious cohorts tie Babs and her lover to stakes and plan to warm things up for the accused witches. It’s a great start to an otherwise dull film. She promises vengeance. That’s the plot based on a story by Nikolai Gogol. Many years later the spitting image of the ancient burned witch (Barbara Steele again) is in danger and faints a lot and the big strong men have to save her. Blah blah blah. I know people love this film. I just don’t get it. Mario Bava directed Black Sunday so there is blood, but not much really. The titular masks make an appearance at the beginning as they’re nailed to the witches’ faces, which is pretty cool, and again later, but I have to admit by then I didn’t care.

nooo
I don’t believe you’re Estee Lauder at all!

The characters talked a lot and ran from room to room of their ancestral castle, but other than a large, fake bat’s attacking one of the main characters, I got nothing. Barbara Steele looks great as do her costumes and the sets look appropriately gothic, but the film bored me. Sorry, Mario.

hiiiiiii
Hi guys!

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I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

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Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) 31 Days of Horror: Terror-Thon at the Somerville Theatre   1 comment

freddy

Freddy Krueger appeared first in 1984 and we still can’t get rid of the guy. I’ve never liked this Wes Craven franchise, but it was part of a mini-film festival so I endured it. Heather Langenkamp reprises her role as someone sleepy. This time she wants us to believe she’s a doctoral student so to prove it she dyes a skunk streak in her hair and wears her mother’s clothes.

heatherl
I’m a professional.

Robert Englund plays Freddy, of course and Patricia Arquette appears because at least one of the kids needs to act.

patty
My agent said if I did this film, I’d meet Christian Slater.

Craig Wasson sails through this based on the power of his star turn in Body Double. So there’s that. John Saxon also stars and has the best scene in the film. The eightiesness of Dream Warriors was the big draw, but I could have lived without it. Yeah yeah shoulder pads. Yeah yeah generic bad tunes. Anyway, they kill Freddy…again so yay! Oh crap, he’s back. Eight films and one remake of the original later, Freddy still hasn’t changed his shirt.

fredddddd
I’ve been working out.

This was supposed to be funny, but aside from floating angelic John Saxon surrounded by glitter and sparkles, I didn’t laugh once.

spa
Really, movie?

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I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

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Posted October 20, 2014 by Kerry Fristoe in 31 Days of Horror, Reviews

Let the Right One In (2008) 31 Days of Horror: Terror-Thon at the Somerville Theatre   Leave a comment

let

Oskar and Eli, both outsiders, meet in the courtyard of their apartment complex near Stockholm. Bullied and lonely, Oskar welcomes any positive attention so he and Eli begin an awkward friendship/romance. Is this a charming coming of age film with a wise old grandfather and an enlightened teacher? Not quite. You see, Eli can’t go out in the daylight much or she’ll catch fire and she never knows what she looks like either since she can’t see her reflection in mirrors. Yup. Eli’s a vampire. That doesn’t sway Oskar though and the two twelve-year-olds continue to get closer despite the rising local death-toll.

two

I liked this film. Director Tomas Alfredson takes time to show us the beautiful countryside and the violent attacks. He also does a lovely job showing us Oskar’s relationship with his divorced parents, his teachers, and the classmates who torment him. As brutal as the murders are, we still like Eli and Oskar. The innocence of their love for each other makes us cheer for them.

beddd

John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote the novel and screenplay and he does the show, don’t tell thing rather well. His characters don’t say much. Their actions speak for them. The mostly Swedish cast all acquit themselves well here and the production design and costumes defined the characters as well.

guy
No kidding, pal.

This film was a happy surprise. I knew almost nothing about it ahead of time and I really enjoyed it. It had an odd atmosphere for a horror film with suburban Stockholm standing in for Transylvania or London. Kåre Hedebrant was sweet and vulnerable as Oskar and Lina Leandersson did the emo pre-teens proud as Eli. The film also touched on sexual identity, but didn’t make a big thing of it. That made sense since the two leads are children who loved each other. Their sex didn’t matter to them so why should it to us? Of course the main characters do murder people and a sad future awaits so there is darkness at the edge of Stockholm. I liked it anyway. Let the Right One In was a thoughtful and different take on the vampire myth.

ohhi
Oh hi.

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I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

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The Thing (1982) 31 Days of Horror: Terror-Thon at the Somerville Theatre   Leave a comment

thinggggg

The men at a remote arctic outpost have a stranger in their midst. Based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?, The Thing shows how this stranger affects the men and how they deal with it. The simple plot works because of its cast of talented character actors and skillful direction by John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Richard Dysart among others, the film has a fast pace and crackling dialogue thanks to screenwriter Bill Lancaster and we get to know each man in only a few lines. The set-up reminds me of Alien with Antarctica standing in for the Nostromo.

auto

Howling winds and music by Ennio Morricone add to the eerie atmosphere and the special effects rule. Rob Bottin and his crew made most of the creatures with Stan Winston doing some fantastic work on the dog. The film is unpredictable and scary. You really get a sense of paranoia. My heart was racing for two hours and I’d seen it before. This is definitely one of those films in which you want to yell, “Look behind you!” The overall quality of the acting, writing, and effects make this one of the best horror films of the 1980s. I’m glad I got to see this on film in the theatre.

kurt

Trivia: Kurt Russell plays computer chess with the lone female (voice only) in the cast. She is actress Adrienne Barbeau, director John Carpenter’s wife at the time.

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I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

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