Archive for the ‘horror films’ Tag

Blood Feast (1963)   4 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)


Frank

It’s only 67 minutes.

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Grave Encounters (2011)   Leave a comment

“It’s hard to beat a derelict mental institution used in Dr. Mengele-like medical experiments for pure heart-warming joy.”
-Some guy in a straitjacket

The crew of a Ghost Hunters-esque TV show led by Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) lock themselves into an abandoned mental hospital in Maryland to look for spooks. Will they find any? Three guesses.


He seems overly cheery about this.

Lance and his team, Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), Matt (Juan Riedinger), and T.C. (Merwin Mondesir) investigate paranormal activity. They look for legends and local rumors about long-abandoned abattoirs, orphanages, and schools and, armed with their Scooby-Doo starter kit—Geiger counter, ectoplasm detector, special hand-held tape recorder that picks up ghost chat, a metric shit-ton of cameras, and crappy walkie-talkies, our valiant ghost spotters, hunt for things that go bump in the night.


Pose away, Matt.

The foursome and their resident mystic, Houston (Mackenzie Gray), who looks like the middle-aged love child of Eric Roberts, Robert Davi, and Willem Dafoe, get a tour of the facility from the caretaker, Ken (Bob Rathie) complete with descriptions of the horrific treatment of the former inmates, the experimental surgeries performed, and the ghastly suicides of the poor tortured souls. Every new horror has the crew licking their lips and seeing ratings nirvana.


“Eat your heart out, Zak Bagans.”

To add to the general eeriness, Lance has Ken lock them into the asylum all night and promise to return in the morning. Great plan, Lance. Matt sets up the stationary cameras and they head out with a hand-held one to prowl the long hallways in search of spirits. At first, their trip is uneventful, but they persevere, consulting with Houston and checking the readings on their ghost gizmos. When the team are manhandled by invisible forces, they decide to pack it in and wait for Ken. Unfortunately, Ken doesn’t show and they’re stuck in a creepy insane asylum with a bunch of spooks.


Cozy

Directors, Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (The Vicious Brothers), establish the appropriately sinister atmosphere early on. The dark hallways are full of doors, each leading to another filthy room bedecked in peeling paint, graffiti, and disused wheelchairs. Through subtle exposition we learn the team know little more than the terminology used in paranormal, um, science and that Houston is merely playing a part. There are quite a few jump scares and the found footage aspect comes off naturally.


“A little paint, a few throw pillows…it can work.”

I liked Grave Encounters. I’m not usually a huge fan of shaky-cam cinematography, but they pulled it off here. The cast of actors were new to me and did an effective job of making me like them and not want them to die horribly. They were also not soul-crushingly stupid. As the film progressed and emotions took over, they made some less-than-stellar decisions, but they were running away from disembodied asylum inmates with grudges, so they sort of have an excuse.


“Take your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty inmates!”

I do wish these nutty ‘let’s stay overnight in the labyrinthine haunted house where police found 68 bodies skewered to the fenced-in part of the back garden’ folks would change it up just a bit. First, DRAW A FUCKING MAP! You’re in a place you’ve never seen before with a vast system of identical halls, empty rooms, staircases that go nowhere, and ghosts and it’s as dark as a coal mine at midnight. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs or something. Mark up the walls. Come on, guys, think! Second, bring a weapon. Carry a bat, a Maglite, a pointed stick, or some damn thing, and don’t, DO NOT drop the knife, bottle, or curtain rod the second after you use it to poke the evil spectral presence in the eye. You might need it again later.


Correct.

The main issue I have with Grave Encounters is the prologue. In the beginning of the film, a TV executive sitting in a production booth gives us a completely unnecessary introduction to the crew’s adventure. We don’t need it. The conversation among the protagonists explains it all without the tacked-on looking start, but the segment would make sense if it were bookended by an epilogue at the end. The abrupt ending with no explanation was unsatisfying. I get that some filmmakers want to withhold closure to amp up the sense of unease, or leave room for the sequel, but it left me with the same feeling I get when I get distracted and all the water drains out of the tub. Either do a scene at both ends or, if you must choose, do one at the end explaining how you got the film. Did kids, using the hospital as a place to party, find the equipment, watch the tapes, and turn them over to the police? Did criminals run across the pricey-looking stuff while dividing their loot after a hold-up, pawn it, get busted, and lead authorities back to the asylum? Did an apparition drop it off in the TV station mail slot? Enquiring minds want to know.


“It was not delivered by the US Postal Service. I can tell you that.”

Grave Encounters was entertaining and scary. It did its job.

Twins of Evil (1971)   6 comments

Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) is an avenging angel, burning folks at the stake for doing horrible things like living alone, being too pretty, and not attending church regularly. He’s looking for evil in all the wrong places though because living right next door is a super evil guy, Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), who worships the devil and rents local girls for torture, sex, and blood-letting. The aristocracy protects the Count though so Gustav’s out of luck. Into Gustav’s already full life enters his twin nieces, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn (Mary and Madeleine Collinson), who come to live with Gustav and his wife Katy (Kathleen Byron) after the deaths of their parents. Since the girls are twins, one is good and the other bad. Natch. Maria, the sweet, pious girl does what she’s told and falls for her teacher, Anton (David Warbeck), while Frieda, the scamp, falls for horny Count Karnstein and his torture chamber of fun.


“We’re all out of dip.”

Count Karstein and his agent, Dietrich (Dennis Price) continue with their late-night debauchery until some loose blood makes its way to the gates of Hell or Vampire Town or somewhere and Countess Mircalla (Katya Wyeth) transubstantiates to chew on Karnstein’s neck. Now that he’s a vampire, none of the peasant girls he leases from their families have a snowball’s chance in, well, you know where. Since Frieda’s been hanging out at Karnstein’s grotto, she too goes vampiric, but since her guardian’s a religious zealot, she keeps it to herself. When more villagers turn up with small neck holes they weren’t born with, Gustav and his minions decide to switch from hunting random hotties to chasing down actual murderers.


“And I-I-I will always love youuuuu!”

Twins of Evil is a fun entry in the vampire exploitation genre Hammer perfected. The village and castle look appropriately provincial and the story, written by Tudor Gates and J. Sheridan Le Fanu, is more fun than similar films. Peter Cushing does sanctimonious well and you can see he really believes he’s doing the right thing. Later, when he realizes the true impact of his actions, he makes a huge sacrifice to redeem himself, save the good twin, and release his town from the clutches of Satan. John Hough, who also helmed The Legend of Hell House and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry directs, highlighting simply the difference between the daylight world of goodness and the dark, malicious world of the Devil. The film moves at a good clip and the Collinson twins can act and are lovely to look at. Since this is a Hammer film, the women are between 19 and 25, buxom, and not averse to a little gratuitous nudity. It’s like the producers invaded the Castle Anthrax to cast their picture.


“A spanking?”

I’m a big Hammer fan, but I’ve seen more of their thrillers than straight Gothic horrors. Watching this crisp, high-definition transfer makes me want to see more.


“Oh, hi.”

Inferno (1980)   1 comment

Location, location, location.


“I wonder where Steven Marcato lives.”

A beautiful woman, Rose (Irene Miracle) buys a book from an antiques dealer. She’s irresistibly drawn to the basement, as one is, and she searches for something (?) in the the surrealistic cellar, only to lose her keys in a flooded sub floor full of dead bodies.


“No way this place passes inspection.”

Cut to Rose’s brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), a music student living in Rome, who sees a sexy spirit petting a cat in class.


This is the most normal thing that happens in the film.

All through the film, people keep looking for, finding, and stealing The Three Mothers, a book dealing with witches living in cursed houses in Freiburg, Rome, and New York. I have no idea why. Apparently, having the book gives the reader some kind of power—like a Necronomicon Ex-Mortis or something. I can’t be sure. All I know is the search for the books led characters into some sketchy digs. First, there’s Rose in the cellar lagoon. Then, there’s Mark’s girlfriend who lives in the Rome house, who climbs down into the basement of a library and walks, voluntarily, into a dank room full of cauldrons boiling over high flames lorded over by a wizard-y guy. She manages to make it out of there without getting a face burn, but things don’t end well for her.


“Is this where you return the overdue books?”

Mark ends up traveling to New York to help his sister, who lives in the Big Apple branch of the coven’s real estate holdings. It’s a large building with about four gigantic apartments in it. Alida Valli runs the place and it’s clear she hired the same decorator who did the school in Suspiria. In the building, Mark meets the countess and separately, they search the bowels of the building because walking around in a scary place alone, unarmed, and wearing your best outfit is always a good plan. Also, it’s totally normal for a New York City apartment building to have a completely empty wing.


“It’s probably rent-controlled.”

Bad things happen to pretty much everyone in this film, but no one gets a worse deal than the antiques dealer, who sets out to drown some cats in a bag. He has a bad leg and walks with crutches so carrying the burlap sack full of cats is tough for him. *sad violin* Anyway, he trips on an animal he was attempting to kill and…I won’t spoil it, but it’s ghastly. I watched this in the theatre and oddly, the crowd was not on his side.


Anti-cat shop.

A scary witchlike individual who could use some moisturizer and a manicure, cruises around grabbing people and closing windows on their necks.


“You couldn’t have used a little Jergens?”

I’m all for that, but it was hard to discern a meaning from any of these goings-on. It might have helped if I spoke Italian or if the subtitles, apparently written by a drunk person unfamiliar with horror films, English, or words in general, made any sense at all. In fact, they became so convoluted, the theatre chose to skip the whole thing and just play the film without them. They told us about it beforehand, so we knew what we were in for. The film continues, people run away from the evil being, things catch fire, and before you know it, the film is over. Huzzah!


“Some paint and a light dusting and it’ll be fine.”

Dario Argento meant Inferno as a sequel to Suspiria, but he forgot he needed a story and just ran with it anyway.  Despite the shambolic plot, Inferno entertains. It’s nowhere near as good as Suspiria, but there are some original kills and the sets are gorgeous. Maurizio Garrone was part of the set decoration team on both films. I liked the crazy Dali-esque basements with precariously-balanced chairs and stuffed lizards strewn about. I half-expected to see a melting clock.


Nice gator.

Though not a fantastic film, Inferno is a good time. See it on the big screen if you can.


The Three Mothers: Mater Suspiriorum (Mother of Sorrows), Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears), and Mater Tenebrarum (Mother of Darkness).

Thus endeth the lesson.

Cube²: Hypercube (2002)   1 comment

A handful of strangers awaken in a cube. They have no idea how they got there. The cube is attached to other cubes and they climb from one to the other in a vain attempt to figure out who put them there and how to get out.


“We’ll call the cubes Tom, Dick, and Harry. No, wait.”

Ok. I’ll admit it. I saw Cube and thought it was an interesting concept. It was more interesting when Pirandello, Sartre, and Serling thought of it, but no matter. The film had some bright spots, but it didn’t quite gel. I thought maybe they’d nail it down in Cube²: Hypercube. My hopes were dashed about four minutes into the film.


“What’s my motivation?”

In the first film, I cared somewhat about a couple of the characters and was drawn into their struggle to find the key to their Rubik’s Cube prison. In the second film, I just wanted it to end. The characters, all connected in different ways to the company, Izon, which is obviously evil because they produce armaments and their employees know math, are so completely underdeveloped, it’s tough to care about them. Then, there’s the dialogue. Cribbed from any number of ‘scenes for actors’ type books and probably workshopped in an improv studio somewhere in Toronto, the conversations reeked of cheesy experimental community theatre and the acting, from much of the cast, carried the same stench. Kari Matchett and Geraint Wyn Davies, both familiar faces, were the exceptions. They’re both solid character actors who must have felt hoodwinked after reading the script.


“I found the stage directions. The characters climb into another cube and talk some more.”
“Terrific.”

Anyway, the cube denizens move from cube to cube trying to avoid the evil, and sharp tesseracts that appear and expand and oh I don’t care. Mean computer-generated shapes attack people we don’t care about and then the same characters reappear because parallel universes! Yep. The gang bandy about terms like quantum and gravity shift and draw pictures of cubes and all I thought about was how smart it was for the filmmakers to choose a big cube for the set because they’d only have to make one.


“I knew I hated geometry for a reason.”

There was a twist at the end which didn’t make sense and served no purpose and I didn’t care about anyway. Something something evil corporation experimental cube? I have no idea. I get when a film purposely withholds closure to make a point. I feel like in this case, the lack of a satisfying ending was less by design and more by “Hey, I know! We’ll make the whole thing a conspiracy and junk.”
“Great idea, Tad.”


“Mrs. Paley, you’re smudging the prism.”

No one connected to the film is called Tad, but it fit. The trouble with a conspiracy film without a well-defined conspiracy is you at least need Elliott Gould or Mel Gibson to liven things up and they need something lucid to say. Cube 2: Electric Boogaloo fails on both counts.


“She’s right, you know.”

Cube²: Hypercube lasts an hour and thirty-four minutes. You’re better off spending an extra twenty-one minutes and watching Con Air.


“Turn the channel or the bunny gets it.”

 

Don’t Torture a Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino) (1972)   3 comments

Don’t Torture a Duckling ticks a lot of boxes for me.


It’s an Italian giallo!


It’s a police procedural!


It’s an ‘evil lurks beneath a façade of goodness’ melodrama!


It’s a witch hunt!

Don’t fight, guys. It’s all that and a cautionary tale about kids hanging out with naked women and watching murders and junk. It’s also a cool mystery that has more red herrings than King Oscar.

Don’t Torture a Duckling is Lucio Fulci’s country giallo and it’s glorious. The film is set in the backward, yet picturesque mountain town of Accendura, Italy, accessible only by an impressive raised highway bridge used mostly by visiting prostitutes and tourists heading somewhere else.


Isn’t that cool?

In this quiet town where everyone knows everyone’s business and the people don’t worry about crime, a series of brutal child killings alters the chemistry of the town and force the residents’ baser instincts to bubble to the surface.


Bubbling

The film starts out a bit Leopold and Loeb-ish. After the first boy goes missing, his parents get a ransom demand. It turns out the boy is already dead and the plot takes a different turn.


“Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Fulci?”

A psychopath continues to kill little boys until one by one, pretty much every person in town is either killed or implicated in the murder. That includes the sexy sorceress, Florinda Bolkan and spoiled rich girl, Barbara Bouchet, who ends up helping a visiting journalist look for clues. This is the procedural part and it’s well done. The police aren’t backwoods brutes. They’re smart and they really want to catch the killer. We don’t see them worrying about appearances or trying to make an easy bust. They’re genuinely concerned for the safety of the townspeople. That’s a smart choice on Fulci’s part. It keeps the focus on the real murderer.


“Maybe I should send for more guys.”

I loved this film. The characters were real people with flaws and hang-ups and the kids weren’t obnoxious. They were even childlike. They weren’t acting like short adults. The entire situation was genuine right down to the pitchfork-y vigilantism of the locals when they think they know the killer.


“Do you know whodunnit?”

The setting, full of stucco houses carved into a mountain, contributes to the sense of isolation.

The remoteness of the village means all the action takes place without much outside influence. Even the big city reporter, Tomas Milian, doesn’t come off like a pushy urbanite who complains because he’s in the boondocks and there are only two channels. He thinks logically and treats the townspeople with respect. The more cosmopolitan policeman and the commissioner, played by Ugo D’Alessio and Virgilio Gazzolo, don’t abuse the local constable and he doesn’t roll his eyes at them because they’re not dumb. They’re intelligent, experienced, and motivated to solve the crime.


“This is a no smoking village.”

Don’t Torture a Duckling is sensational, and violent, but it’s also thoughtful and well made. Written by Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, and Gianfranco Clerici and shot by Sergio D’Offizi, the film grabs you right from the start and maintains that suspense throughout. It also keeps you in the dark and I like that sense of mystery. This is a thinking person’s giallo. Gore fiends, take heart. There’s a pack of mayhem and blood too. Worth seeing. I might have to buy this one.

 

And Soon the Darkness (1970)   4 comments

When two friends on a biking tour of France are separated, one of them suspects the other is in trouble. Can she find her friend? How will she know who the good guys are when nobody wears a hat?


“Hey, is that Cary Grant up ahead?”

Two young British women, bicycling through the French countryside, have a row. Jane (Pamela Franklin) wants to stick to their schedule (pronounced shehjule), and Cathy (Michele Dotrice), fancies a bit of a lie down in the sun. Cathy falls asleep on the grass, but when she wakes up, she’s not alone. Meanwhile, Jane has cycled on to the next village to wait. When hours pass with no sign of her friend, Jane heads back to where Cathy was resting and finds no sign of her. She hitches back to town with the handsome, yet creepy, Paul (Sandor Elès), who claims to be an off-duty Sûreté officer.


“Have you ever seen a crawlspace?”

Paul vacations in this part of the country every year because he’s obsessed with an unsolved murder committed there a few years prior. Sure, buddy. Jane is understandably freaked out by Paul and his weird hobby, so she runs away from him to the home of the local gendarme, (John Nettleton) and his war-addled father, where she stays while the policeman searches for Cathy and Paul. Will the gendarme find Cathy safe? Will Paul get his motorbike started? Will Jane ever go to the bathroom? I mean, she’s been riding a bike all day and she’s had two orangeades without stopping. She’s like a camel.


“Just loading up for the desert crossing.”

Robert Fuest directed And Soon the Darkness as well as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Devil’s Rain, and some of The Avengers series, so we know he’s a cool guy. The story, written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation, is simple and Fuest keeps it taut and fast-moving. The tension comes from within the characters and it’s genuinely scary at times.


Quentin?

The music, by Laurie Johnson, who wrote the fab theme for The Avengers and a ton of other films and shows, contributes to the film’s urgent mood. The film looks great too. Cinematographer, Ian Wilson makes pretty pastoral shots and then moves in for a heart-pounding close-up. The final shot is chilling and beautiful.


“A little wax and she’ll be good as new.”

The oddball characters add to the atmosphere of confusion and fear, but Pamela Franklin carries the film. Her facial expressions convey what she’s feeling without exposition or a lot of dialogue. That works since one of the problems Franklin’s character, Jane faces is that she’s a British woman in a small rural town in France. She speaks very little French and the locals speak almost no English. It’s a subtle performance that could easily have descended to pantomime and shrillness, but doesn’t because Franklin keeps the character grounded. Sandor Elès as Paul is equal parts menacing and comforting in keeping with the whole ‘I’m not sure who to trust.’ theme.


“Get off my pelouse.”

And Soon the Darkness is a terrific little gem of a film. These smaller thrillers from the 1960s and 70s are my favorite things in the world and the British ones are the best. This was a great find.

 

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