Archive for the ‘horror’ Tag

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)   6 comments

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Ahhh Amicus. I love your sordid little anthology films. Just seeing the names Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg, and Freddie Francis makes me smile. The funny little touches, the simple linking story, and the superb casts combine to entertain me more than any other horror films of the period. Maybe it’s my short attention span, but I love these stories.

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“Read ’em and weep, gentlemen!”

In Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, six men meet in a train car. One of them, Dr. W.R. Schreck (Peter Cushing) has a set of tarot cards and claims he can tell the future of anyone who taps his deck three times. Schreck, which in German means terror, reads three cards for each man to tell his fortune, a fourth to determine his fate, then a fifth, which will divine whether or not the man can alter his future.

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“Tarot this, Dr. T!”

In the first story, “Werewolf”, architect, Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) travels to a remote island in Scotland to renovate his old house. While exploring the basement, Dawson finds a coffin full of Count Cosmo Valdemar. One of Dawson’s ancestors killed Valdemar hundreds of years ago and the Count holds grudges…even after he’s dead. Apparently, Valdemar is coming back to life as a werewolf. Dawson knows his stuff so he melts down a silver cross to make anti-werewolf bullets.  Things don’t go as planned.

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“I’ll make a mint with this on Antiques Roadshow.”

“Creeping Vine” tells the story of a robot that eats children. Actually, it tells the story of a creeping vine. I can’t put anything past you. This is no ordinary ivy plant. This vine is a killer. Even the marvelous Bernard Lee can’t stop it. All I can say is the British are too polite. A little well-place poison or a flamethrower would do wonders. This part has a cool ending.

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“Enough with the Miracle Grow already!”

“Voodoo” involves a trumpet player in a jazz quintet, Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) who hears a cool tune while visiting the West Indies. He decides to steal the song and call it his own. The people who actually wrote the song don’t like it.

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“A little auto-tune and this’ll be huge!”

Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee), who isn’t buying any of Dr. Terror’s tarot tales, stars in “The Disembodied Hand”.  In this segment, Lee plays a nasty art critic who insults the artwork of Eric Landor (Michael Gough). Landor makes a fool of Marsh and then taunts him relentlessly. Marsh has no sense of humor so he runs Landor over with his car. Hands go missing and soon Marsh is getting an unexpected back rub while driving. This almost never ends well.

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Digits roasting on an open fire…

The last story, “Vampire”, stars Donald Sutherland as Dr. Bob Carroll. Dr. Carroll moves back to his New England hometown with his new wife, Nicole (Jennifer Jayne) to start a practice there. A series of mysterious illnesses and deaths convince Carroll to look for a vampire. After consulting with the other town doctor, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), the men decide to take action. I love the twisty ending to this tale.

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“I don’t think we covered this in medical school.”

As in most of the Amicus portmanteau films, we switch back to the linking story between segments and at the end. The template, laid out in Dead of Night (1945) works a treat. This was the first of the Amicus anthologies and it’s fun. The pace drags in parts, but the last two segments and the linking parts make up for it. Also, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing!

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“Yes, it’s us.”

 

haunty

 

 

 

House on Haunted Hill (1959)   8 comments

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Vincent Price invites you to a party. Are there balloons and noisemakers and a clown? Gee, I hope not. No, but Price does invite a bunch of total strangers, a creepy housemaid, and a scaaaaary skeleton. Ahhhhh!!

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Avon lady!

Millionaire, Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) holds a birthday party for his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in a spooky mansion. For those of you playing at home, that mansion is Ennis House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. If his guests can stomach a night in the spooky house, Loren will pay each of them $10,000. That’s about $81K in 2015 dollars. A nice payday. It sounds simple enough until we learn that several people, including Watson Pritchard’s (Elisha Cook, Jr.) brother were murdered in the house. Funny thing though, they never found his head.

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A building from Wright’s pueblo pyramid period.

Just when we think we’re watching a straight haunted house film, Loren and his wife go at it. The couple do their version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and it’s clear this party will end badly. Loren, you see, has had three wives before Annabelle and each has expired under mysterious circumstances. Hmmm. Annabelle confides in guest, Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) that she fears for her life. Her husband, she says, wants to kill her and he’ll stop at nothing. When the servants leave prematurely, locking the party-goers in for the night, they’ll have to contend with ghosts and spirits and a possible murderer among them.

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Vincent has the coolest party favors.

Robb White, frequent William Castle collaborator, wrote the screenplays for House on Haunted Hill, Macabre, The Tingler, and others for the great showman.  Castle directed this movie and filled it with piercing screams, an active skeleton, and a rolling old lady. Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock saw Castle’s big box office returns and decided to make Psycho. Then, Castle saw Psycho and decided to make Homicidal. I hope that’s true. Anyway, we win. All three films are horror classics.

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“There’s no food at this party.”

Oozing charm and menace, Vincent Price does his best Vincent Price. The rest of the cast hold their own, but are nothing to write home about with the exception of Elisha Cook, Jr. His crazed, drunken ramblings about ghosts and unseen forces are appropriately over the top. Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, who might win an Una for screaming artistry, and Robert Mitchum’s big sister, Julie round out the players. Julie Mitchum’s claim to fame in this film is that when offered a drink, she always asks for a scotch and… A scotch and what? Motor oil? Drain cleaner? Mare sweat? It’s an odd thing, but it always strikes me as funny.

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“Aaahoooo Werewolves of London!”

Ever the marketing genius, William Castle used this tagline for House on Haunted Hill. ‘First film with the amazing new wonder EMERGO: The thrills fly right into the audience!’ I wish I had been around to see a Castle film in the theatre. Flying skeletons, fright insurance, cowards’ corner…such fun. By the way, does anyone know a good acid vat installer?

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“I’m not touching you!”

haunty

 

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)   2 comments

 

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Laura Mars might need a new eyeglass prescription.  Every so often, and without notice, she sees the world through the eyes of a serial killer.  Laura (Faye Dunaway) earns her living with her eyes.  She’s a high fashion photographer who specializes in photographing models wearing beautiful clothes in violent situations.

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The film uses Helmut Newton’s photographs as Laura’s.

She lives in a huge, penthouse apartment, wears expensive clothes, and goes to all the best parties.  Laura’s photographs and coffee table books sell like hotcakes.  She’s on top of the world.  When someone starts killing her friends, Laura’s life changes just a bit.

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Great lips.

At first, the police, led by Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) suspect that Laura is killing her associates to gain publicity for her artwork, especially when she tells them that she sees the murders…from three blocks away.  She claims to witness each crime as the murderer would.  Both authorities and her friends think she’s a loon.

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“What you talkin’ ’bout, Laura?”

I should point out that all this time, Faye Dunaway sports some happening duds.  It’s autumn in New York City and Faye’s got the tweed thing going on.  She wears a lot of cool mid-calf wool skirts with double front slits and high boots.  She also has the plaid shawl thing down.  Theoni V. Aldredge designed the costumes.  Well done, Theoni!  Clad in tight, bell-bottoms, boots, and wool blazers, Tommy Lee Jones cuts a dashing figure.  Even his mullet is impressed.

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The sheep are nervous.

The seventies lives through the music in the film as well.  Tunes by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Heatwave, Michael Zager Band, and Odyssey give the modeling sessions a Studio 54 vibe.

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After a few more bodies pile up, Laura convinces John that she’s not crazy so they fall in love after a funeral.  Sigh.  Now that the pair are a completely committed couple destined to spend their lives together, we can all relax, right?  Wrong.  Hey guys!  There’s still a killer out there playing ice pick tag.

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“I just remembered.  All my friends are dead.”

I like EYES OF LAURA MARS.  I hadn’t seen it in 432 years and seeing it again was a trip.  Did you know it was written by John Carpenter?  I didn’t.  The cool set-pieces and shots of gritty, 1970s New York give the film texture and the cast is wonderful.  Raul Julia gets to play Laura’s alcoholic gigolo of an ex-husband and he’s perfect.  Rene Auberjonois, as Laura’s handler/manager does his usual terrific job.  I like Brad Dourif in this too.  As Laura’s mumbling, semi-sketchy driver, Dourif is convincing as a guy who’s polite on the surface, but might have a head in his fridge.

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“You looked in my fridge?”

Tommy Lee Jones is pretty hunky in this role.  My daughter said, “He’s so ugly, he’s cute.”

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“I’m not ugly.”

He’s likable, intelligent, and deeper than he seems.  Dunaway plays her part well.  She’s a bit over the top, but it works.  What doesn’t exactly work is her character.  Laura Mars, a wealthy, powerful, career woman who takes sexually charged and violent pictures seems sort of shy and virginal.  A few times in the film, people remark that she’s not at all what they expected when they saw her photographs.  It’s like they have to say she’s not really like that  as a way of making the audience like her.  Oh well.

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“The game is afoot!”

All in all, EYES OF LAURA MARS is a satisfying watch.  Carpenter’s story has a fun central idea and the performances are fun.  Oh right.  The song.  Jon Peters made his bones producing the Kristofferson/Streisand film A STAR IS BORN and this film.  A former hairdresser, Peters dated Barbra Streisand during this period and the two made a few successful films together.  Back to the song.  “Prisoner”, sung by Streisand at the beginning and end of the film is a perfect showcase for that voice.  She hits every note bang on.  I know what you’re thinking, but you have to admit, the woman can sing.

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“You shoulda seen it!”

EYES OF LAURA MARS stands out because of its creative concept and solid performances.  It has no castles or bats, but it does have the main character’s friends getting stabbed in the eye, so huzzah!

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More plaid.

haunty

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)   2 comments

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I first watched this film with my daughter in 2001.  She was four and I couldn’t watch THE WIZARD OF OZ one more time. My cousin, who’s a horror film fan and art school guy, had recommended the film to me years before, but I just never got to it.  What a revelation!  It’s such a joyous film.  Everyone in the film is trying his hardest all the time.  It’s honest and sweet and it even has a love story and a dog.  Wonderful.  I can remember watching my daughter’s face as she looked at the Halloween Town residents. “They scare for fun.  They’re not mean.”  Exactly.

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“This won’t hurt a bit.”

No one creates a spookier Halloween than the Pumpkin King.  All the goblins love him.  Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) is at the top of his game. After a particularly successful haunting one Halloween, Jack returns to his home in Halloween Town and mopes.  The ghosts and vampires and creepy-crawlies have lost their charm.  Jack is bored.  Something’s missing.

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“What’s missing?  Is it an eye?  Oh, I hope it’s an eye!”

On a long, doleful walk in the woods, Jack comes upon a circle of trees.  On each tree is a door and a picture which represents a different major holiday.  Intrigued, Jack opens the door marked with a Christmas tree and is sucked into Christmas Town. Clean, white snow, music, and smiling faces greet him as he ambles through the jolly village.  Charmed, Jack decides Christmas sounds like a capital idea.

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“You…light up my eyes.”

He sprints back to Halloween Town and regales his ghoulish friends with tales of the mysterious Sandy Claws, who rules over Christmas Town.  This year, he promises, the denizens of Halloween Town will run Christmas and give Sandy a break.

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“I have a headache.”

 Jack assigns tasks to each spooky group.  Dr. Finkelstein (William Hickey) will bring to life some skeletal reindeer to drive Jack’s sleigh.  The creatures of Halloween Town will make ghastly toys.  Sally (Catherine O’Hara), Jack’s friend and a talented seamstress, will make Jack’s Sandy Claws costume.  Devilish juvenile delinquents, Lock, Shock, and Barrel will kidnap Mr. Claws so Jack can take over.  

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Lock, Barrel, and Shock have something to hide.

While the industrious townsfolk make hats out of dead turtles and stuff killer snakes into gift boxes, Sally tries to remind Jack he’s making a mistake.  Halloween is his true calling.  Ignoring Sally’s warnings, Jack takes off to deliver his weird toys to the unsuspecting boys and girls.  It doesn’t go well.  

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“But I already have one!”

Danny Elfman, former Oingo Boingo front man and composer, wrote some killer tunes for this Halloween-y/Christmas-y story. They’re creative, sweet, dramatic, and thoroughly singable.  They’re also complex as hell.  Elfman threw himself into this soundtrack. Elfman also sings the part of Jack Skellington and Barrel.  The multi-talented Catherine O’Hara sings and acts the Sally part along with that of Shock.  Ken Page plays the infamous Oogie Boogie and Ed Ivory is Santa/Sandy.  Glenn Shadix plays the typically wishy-washy mayor of Halloween Town.  Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) is Lock.  Tim Burton, Michael McDowell, and Caroline Thompson wrote the story and screenplay and Henry Selick directed.

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Tonight on 50 Shades of Christmas

It’s hard to know where to begin with this film.  I love it so much.  The music, animation, story, and talents of a wonderfully talented cast gang up and whack you.  It’s impressive.  There’s no wasted space.  In every scene, you see something fascinating. It looks so cool.  The creatures of Halloween Town look so different from the goblins of other films.  They’re spunky and fun and they clearly have relationships.  I’m still waiting for a behind-the-scenes documentary showing the vampires smoking between scenes and Zero, Jack’s ghostly dog, in a robe, signing autographs.  They have so much personality, you want to meet them.  A combination of the sophisticated stop-motion animation, the original story, and the fantastic soundtrack sung by a great cast make THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS the awesome film it is.  Happiness.  

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“Mom!  You might want to come down here.”

haunty

             

The Village (2004)   1 comment

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In an isolated colonial village, people live, work, play, and love harmoniously.  They’re civilized and rational.  The citizens work hard and the village prospers.  For some reason, the people never leave.  No one goes out to explore or hunt or just find out what’s beyond the city limits.  Why?  Well, it seems the village is under constant siege by large, carnivorous creatures.  As long as they stay within the confines of their little town, the villagers are safe from their ravenous attacks.  Oh that.  Sure, that sounds reasonable.  When jealousy and violence rear their ugly heads, the townsfolk finally have an excuse to cross the border into Monsterville where those we don’t speak of dwell.

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Not this guy.

Hi.  *raises hand*  I have a few questions.  No one ever tries to go over the wall?  What’s wrong with the teenagers in this town? They never have to go outside to get more livestock or wood for a new building?

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“All out of lobster bisque.”

General implausibility aside, I like this film.  I like seeing a happy, reasonable, positive society.  I understand the desire to grab my kid and my dog and live on top of a mountain.  Some days are like that.  That said, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it.

The cast in THE VILLAGE has some serious acting chops.  Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix (who I usually dislike), Cherry Jones, ❤ Brendan Gleeson <3, Judy Greer, and in small parts, Michael Pitt and Jesse Eisenberg all made me believe.  Adrien Brody’s Noah, a man-child with a sweet soul, steals a few scenes, but Bryce Dallas Howard shines.  She and Phoenix share great chemistry.

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It’s a terrific part.  Howard’s Ivy Walker shows compassion and love along with wisdom.  She’s a blind girl who can take care of herself.  She does the right thing, but is kind when others don’t.  She’s brave.

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James Newton Howard wrote a fantastic score for THE VILLAGE.  M. Night Shyamalan wrote, produced, and directed the film. He took some slack for the film, but it made a profit.  He even has a small cameo.  Star cinematographer Roger Deakins worked on THE VILLAGE.  It took 300 craftsmen to build the town modeled after Andrew Wyeth’s paintings.

THE VILLAGE, Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, 2004, (c) Buena Vista

I know there are some plot holes, but I don’t care.  THE VILLAGE tells an entertaining story and I love seeing such a strong, sympathetic, female character.

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haunty

Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985)   7 comments

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In 1920, a group of people we care nothing about abandon their sinking ocean liner in the North Atlantic and hit the lifeboats.  They end up on a thickly forested, warm island.  Lifeboats drift, after all.  They have to find water and food to survive, but spend most of their time standing around complaining about Morgan, the grumpy, rich guy you love to hate.  Morgan is obnoxious, but at least he has a personality.

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“Morgan, are you drooling again?!”

A guy who looks like George Peppard’s son, finds a creek and boy is he thrilled.  Unfortunately, it turns out to be filled with acid.  The corrosive brook melts his face and he’s toast.

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“I love it when a plan comes toaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!”

After the Peppard-melting incident, the group begin to feel a bit homesick and we learn that one of the women comes from an Iowa farm and she digs sailors.  Mrs. Gordon, the only character we might have even mild feelings for, says dreamy, yet practical things that boost the troops’ morale.

As the gang sleep peacefully around the fire, crazed, toothy, 16-inch natives jump them and begin to snack on the castaways.  Instead of running full speed to the shore to build a huge fire and survivalist junk like that, the crew do a kind of Bataan Death March through a forest in Connecticut…I mean, some foreign land.

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Not Connecticut or anything.

Their pokey speed means they’re constantly at the mercy of these nasty little dolls.  Many don’t make it.  It would be tragic if you cared about any of these people, but the wooden acting, prosaic dialogue, and just lack of suspension of belief make that impossible.  Will they make it?  Who cares?

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“I sure wish we weren’t on this island.”
“Yeah.”
“Do you like crullers?”

The horrendous earworm theme killed any possible drama and the director, Michael Stanley, was out of his element.

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“Shut up, Michael.”

Then came the moonlit beast creature attacks.  Ferocious, ankle-biting crazies with glow-in-the-dark eyes launch themselves toward our heroes with reckless abandon.  People scream, wrestle dolls, and flail about helplessly as the little buggers screech and bite.

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“Let’s do the beast creature tonight!”

It’s fun to watch.  In fact, it’s odd that there’s no beast creature wrangler credit because the people who chuck the little beasties onto the victims are talented.  The diminutive critters have voracious appetites and grip like pitbulls.  There’s even an homage. Really?  Yes, it’s a tribute, of sorts, to Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.  At one point, Mrs. Gordon, lost in thought, turns around to see dozens of the little bloodsuckers staring at her from the trees.  A moment later, they’re hurling themselves at her and there’s no escape.

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“Ready…set…hurl!”

Amazingly low production values and a sound crew who phoned it in knock the wind out of ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES and it was winded to start with.  During a night scene, I swear they miked the fire.  I could see mouths moving, but all I heard was crackle crackle.  I recommend watching this with a group of like-minded friends as I did.  If you can slog through the dull conversations, you’ll enjoy the Olympic beast creature toss.

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“I’m coming to get you, Barbara.”

I watched ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES with the #Riffotronic crew on Twitter.  Thanks, @adw1661 and @DmathchesLive who allow me and other weirdos to watch strange and wonderful films with them every Saturday night.  I may never forgive you.

haunty

 

Ghost Adventures: Clown Motel and Goldfield High School (2015)   3 comments

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Acrophobia, fear of heights, affects 3-5% of the population. Claustrophobia, fear of tight spaces, affects anywhere from 15-37%. Coulrophobia, fear of clowns, affects everyone with sense. Clowns are evil. It’s a well-documented fact. The Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada exists. It’s an actual thing. People pay money to register in a room filled with clown figurines of all shapes and sizes. They stay in rooms decorated with clown artwork and clown dolls. Those who stay at a place like this are obviously freaks and we’ll probably read about them someday in connection with a large shoe fetish cult.

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If you see this sign, you have gone too far.

Anyway, the television show Ghost Adventures went to this weird inn to check on reports that odd things happen there. Well, duh. Located next to a creepy graveyard, the motel has clowns inside and dead guys outside. TripAdvisor needs to come up with a new rating system for this place.

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“I give this motel 3/5 tiny cars.”

The paranormal experts bring their entire arsenal of spook detection gear to check out the motel, the graveyard, and an abandoned school in a ghost town about 25 miles away. They also speak to few locals who claim to have seen shadowy figures appear out of graves and in clowncentric motel rooms. The motel owner recounts that, “A guy woke up in the middle of the night and experienced a clown in his room.” Clowns. One woman, who leads the guys through the old school, says she sees and feels the spirits of dead children along with something ominous; waves of dark energy and an evil force she can’t explain. During a burst EVP session (?), her right leg tingles, so…ghosts.

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View from the motel—which is full of clowns.

The intrepid and highly impressionable spectral detectives split up to cover more ground. A couple of them take a young motel resident to the graveyard where they use an SB7 Spirit Box and see a spirit that’s really a large bug. Then, they hook a magneto up to some wire and, just like in elementary school, they make a potato radio. No, wait.  They make a communicator and the ghost tells them a light turned on. Thanks, Ghost Captain Obvious. Two other guys on the team go to the school where they use a pocket ghost translator. They get a message that a little murdered girl is buried under the school, then one of the men climbs down into a crawlspace that would make John Wayne Gacy cringe. There, he’s sure a presence tells him to shove off, so to speak. Back at the Clown Motel, coulrophobic host, Zak Bagans walks around in a darkened room full of clown memorabilia. The hand of a large clown doll moves off its lap and Zak breaks the land speed record to get out of there.

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Too. Many. Clowns.

All this, according to Zak, PROVES that there are ill-at-ease spirits haunting the school, the graveyard, and the bizarre motel. Sure, guys. What it proves is the power of suggestion is kind of a big deal and that people don’t want to think that the dead are gone. Oh, clowns are still evil.

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Proof.

 

haunty

Dead of Night (1945)   3 comments

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Five stories connected by a linking narrative make up the anthology horror film, Dead of Night. Though it wasn’t the first portmanteau film ever made, it has influenced many filmmakers. Martin Scorsese lists Dead of Night as one of the scariest films ever made. It was also one of the few horror films made in Britain during the era. Horror movies were banned in Britain during the war. Produced by Michael Balcon for Ealing Studios, Dead of Night boasts an A-list cast of British actors, directors, and writers.

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Spurred on by the dreams of Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), an architect who’s come to design an addition, a group of people in an English country house discuss their dreams and what they mean. At first skeptical, the people, with the exception of Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk) begin to believe their dreams are telling them something.

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“Doctor, I dreamed I was on a train passing through a tunnel.”
“I’ll need to see you three times a week.”

Basil Dearden (Victim) directed the first story, “Hearse Driver” along with the tale that links all the others. Dearden is one of my favorite British directors. If you haven’t seen Victim, Sapphire or All Night Long, run out and do so right now. Anyway, in “Hearse Driver”, Hugh Grainger (Anthony Baird), a race car driver, wrecks his car in a race and goes to the hospital. As he recovers, he dreams he sees a hearse driver in a horse drawn carriage beckoning him. After his release, he sees the same driver, now a bus conductor, say the same words from his dream, “Just room for one inside, sir.” Grainger doesn’t take the bus. Was that a good decision? That would be telling.

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“Just room for one inside, sir.”

“Christmas Party” stars the endlessly appealing Sally Ann Howes as Sally O’Hara. Sally attends a party full of children, but meets a little boy who wasn’t invited, because he’s been dead a hundred years. Alberto Cavalcanti directed the second segment. It’s chilling and also sweet.

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“You’re dead? How about a nice cup of tea?”

Googie Withers and Ralph Michael star in the next piece, “Haunted Mirror”, as Joan and Peter Cortland, a newly married couple. Joan tells the group that shortly before their wedding, she bought her intended an ornate mirror at an antiques shop. Soon after hanging the mirror, Peter sees things when he looks into it that aren’t actually there. He seems to be getting a bit cranky, too. Jane does a bit of research and finds that the original owner of the mirror was not a wonderful guy and he, well, sort of killed his wife. Is Peter seeing things through the eyes of a killer?

 


Do you hear or fear or do I smash the mirror?

In the comedy, “Golfing Story”, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne play best friends who love golf. At their favorite golf club, they meet a woman, played by Peggy Bryan. Both men fall for Peggy and decide to play eighteen holes for her. It’s not as nasty as it sounds. The vignette is played as a very British comedy and Peggy has a say. Basil’s character wins and Naunton decides to end it all. Later, he returns as a ghost. Radford and Wayne gained fame as cricket fans in The Lady Vanishes and acted together in several films after that. This segment acts as the comic relief. It’s light and silly.

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“I say!”

The fifth part of the film, “Ventriloquist’s Dummy”, is the one most people remember. Michael Redgrave plays Maxwell Frere, a ventriloquist with an unruly dummy. The twosome are successful and perform at the swankiest clubs, but something is amiss. Hugo begins to miss cues and refuses to sing songs in the script. Who’s Hugo? Oh, he’s the dummy. Yup. Dead of Night is the original dummy-is-taking-over-and-no-one’s-sure-who’s-in-charge film and it’s a good one. Michael Redgrave looks like he’s really ventriloquizing. Redgrave is good anyway, but in this he’s mesmerizing. He appears for a short time, but makes a big impact.

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“What have you done to Mortimer?”

Dead of Night is an entertaining and well made film. This is a film Criterion needs to add to its arsenal.

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Great party, kids!

 

haunty

 

 

Housebound (2014)   7 comments

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Sentenced to house arrest after getting in trouble…again, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) returns to her childhood home in rural New Zealand to spend the next eight months at home with her mom and step-dad.  Kylie’s a bit miffed about this and takes it out on her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata).  She sits around drinking all day and makes a mess for her mother to clean up.  She resists counseling and is generally obnoxious.  She won’t even let her mom watch Coronation Street.

aamean

Kylie says darn a lot.

Soon after her arrival, Kylie starts hearing things and gets the feeling she’s being watched.  After talking to her mom she learns that she too has been hearing things for years.  Their neighbor, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), who is also the technician who fitted Kylie with her surveillance anklet, believes in the paranormal and begins to monitor the house.  Kylie discovers her home once served as a halfway house for kids with psychological issues and that one of them was stabbed sixty-seven times with a carving fork.  Now, she has something to think about.  She and Amos think the spirit haunting the house belongs to the murdered girl.  Kylie finds a cache of souvenirs under a floorboard.  She also finds dentures.  After reading old newspaper accounts of the crime, they learn the girl was bitten.  Could the murderer have lost dentures while biting the child?  Armed with this theory, Kylie and Amos come up with a possible killer.  The two amateur sleuths launch an investigation with a lot of twists.

aaabinoc aaawaru

Director, Gerard Johnstone does a nifty job pulling you in different directions.  As soon as you think you know the answer, he changes the question.  Johnstone wrote the story as well and filled it with fun dialogue and tense situations.  When Kylie says her method of dealing with a ghost is a punch to the face, Amos counters with, “You don’t punch ectoplasm.”  Fun stuff.

aaabear

“I ate Ted for lunch.”

The soundtrack by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper has a quirky feel during quieter moments, but builds rhythmically, pounding faster as the tension mounts.

HOUSEBOUND keeps you guessing and entertained.  I like it a lot.  Because of the surprises and twists, I’ll stop now before I give the game away.  The film is a happy surprise full of flawed and interesting characters.  Kylie is a strong woman who comes off as a real jerk at the start, but she doesn’t take any crap and that’s fun to watch.  I hope Gerard Johnstone writes another film soon.

aaaboo

Hey, Boo.

The Deliberate Stranger (1986)   2 comments

harmon tv ad

Ted Bundy admitted to killing thirty women in seven states between 1974-1978.  Police believe, but cannot confirm, that he killed many more starting years earlier.  Ted Bundy fooled everyone.  No one knew the charming, handsome man who picked them up hitchhiking or asked for help putting a sailboat on his car rack was a serial rapist/killer and necrophile.  His carefully constructed front worked until it didn’t.  At some point his compulsions and arrogance and disdain for humanity showed through the facade of this golden boy with a great future.  People who had known Bundy for years were stunned that the friendly, capable legal student was really a twisted psychopath.

bundybeach

“Want to try my candy handcuffs?”

THE DELIBERATE STRANGER, a made-for-television movie aired, in two parts, in 1986.  Mark Harmon plays Bundy as a smart sociopath who knows the right things to say, but has none of the real feelings behind them.  The film begins right before Bundy’s move from Washington to Utah to attend law school.  Similarities in the disappearances of several young women convince police to look for one perpetrator.  Since these murders happened in the 1970s, before national criminal databases existed, police in different jurisdictions have no idea that their neighbors might be dealing with the same criminal.  This lack of communication helps Bundy and he’s able to kill women all over several western states without notice.  Detectives in Washington, played wonderfully by Frederic Forrest, John Ashton, and M. Emmet Walsh start hearing about other, similar crimes in Utah and Colorado and soon those departments are sharing information.  Well, most share.  Some think their missing women are unrelated which makes the process move more slowly.  Bundy disposed of his victims in wooded areas as well so it could take years to find them.

found

“She had more hair in the photos.”

I’ve always liked this film.  It’s told as a police procedural and I love those.  You get to learn what detectives were thinking at the time of the murders.  For instance, the term deliberate stranger implies a criminal who has never met his victim, but chooses her just the same.  Bundy often stalked his prey for weeks until he found an opportunity to strike.  It seemed to many victims’ friends and family that their loved one simply vanished.  One minute they saw her, then she walked out of sight and was never heard from again.

bundybad

“Would you like to take a ride?  I have duct tape.”

George Grizzard plays Richard Larsen who later wrote Bundy: The Deliberate Stranger.  Larsen, a Seattle Times reporter,  knew Bundy in Washington before he was suspected in the murders.  Grizzard does a nice job showing his change of heart on Bundy.  At first, he’s a fan and supports Bundy.  After it becomes obvious that Bundy is the killer, Larsen tries to learn more about him and why he became such a sicko.  Then there are the women in Bundy’s life.  Glynnis O’Connor and Deborah Goodrich play women romantically involved with the killer.  O’Connor drops him when she realizes he’s murdered 30 women. Nice move, G!  Goodrich, not so much.  Her character might be modeled after Carole Ann Boone, who moved from Washington to Florida to be near Bundy and later married him in court.  Ahhh love.

notdead

“Not tonight, honey.  You’re not dead enough.”

Now, a word about Mark Harmon.  Yes, I know.  I remember SUMMER SCHOOL.  Trust me.  Harmon’s good.  He pulls it off. You see the wheels turning behind that handsome face.  Harmon was a sharp casting choice.  He has the looks and the chops.

jail

“Don’t forget the profile, Ed!”

Anyway, I realize THE DELIBERATE STRANGER isn’t a typical Halloween choice, but I can’t think of anything scarier than an attractive face that smiles at you while he plans your death.  Boo.

national-museum-of-crime & pun

Ted Bundy’s VW on display at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, D.C.

haunty

 

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