Monday, June 19, 2017

"2,000 Years Is But a Sneeze" - Amok Train (1989)


We return to the work of producer/director Ovidio Assonitis (see Tentacles and The Visitor) with Amok Train, also known as Beyond the Door III and Death Train. Directed by cartoon writer Jeff Kwitny and produced by Assonitis, Amok Train is one of the finest cinematic depictions of a train going amok that has ever been created.

As usual with films of unique cinematic brilliance, your universe's critics, particularly those on IMDB for some reason, have little respect for Amok Train. Reviewer Justin Stokes writes, "This is a really bad movie with some truly lousy gore scenes....the effects are terrible, several of them using blatantly obvious dummy heads." (Clearly Mr. Stokes would prefer if the filmmakers had used real human heads.) Reviewer jet66 writes, "Magnificently incompetent on every level, this film features some truly absurd special effects, awkward and amateur acting, clumsy dialogue, and a very disjointed narrative." Reviewer leofwine_draca writes, "A largely unwatchable mess that alternates between crazy special effects, graphic gore, and unrelenting tedium."

No, these reviews are not correct. Read on for a clear picture of this masterwork.

Monday, June 12, 2017

"The Only Leaky Radiator I See Is Your Story" - Grotesque (1988)


It must be difficult as an actor to be known for one singular role in a motion picture hailed as a classic, and then to continue a career after that career high point. I am speaking, of course, about Linda Blair and her career high point, which as you can tell from the title of this post occurred in Joe Tornatore's Grotesque (1988).

Although Grotesque gets some recognition in your universe as the classic it is, some reviewers are, to put it bluntly, unkind. Reviewer moonspinner55 on IMDB writes, "Rarely have I seen such a sick, twisted piece of sludge." Reviewer lobelia-1, also on IMDB, writes, "some of the worst dialogue ever scribbled on scraps of paper in the bathroom." Mister-6 writes about the film, "You want a really bad movie? A really REALLY bad movie? One so bad that it'll make you trash your TV, gouge out your eyes with a rusty spoon and dive off the closest pier? Here you go."

I do not have to tell you how misguided these reviews are, but I will. These reviews are very misguided.

Monday, June 5, 2017

"An Unusual History Which Dates Back to His Childhood" - Hollowgate (1988)


Everybody likes a good slasher film, but it takes something special to elevate a slasher film to the realm of the truly great. Hollowgate (1988) is elevated by the brilliant and original concept of centering its kills around Halloween tropes, and by the powerfully quirky performance of its leading man.

Not everybody in your universe appreciates such originality, however. On IMDB, review sgtking says that the film was made by people "who obviously know nothing about making a good Horror film, or a good film in general." Similarly, reviewer HumanoidOfFlesh on IMDB writes, "This one is easily one of the worst horror films I have ever seen.... The storyline is so dumb, that you'll just shake your head in complete disbelief at some of the things these teenagers do. The acting is awful and there is no suspense whatsoever." Tom Damon, also on IMDB, writes, "Hollow Gate is so unoriginal, so cheap and shoddily produced, so very badly acted, and so dark at times, that it will come across as a complete and utter waste of time."

I must clearly and definitively show you why these reviews are obviously and blatantly incorrect. Thus, I will describe the film to you in great detail so you can see how brilliant and original it truly is.

Monday, May 29, 2017

"Anything Is Possible in a Cemetery" - Graveyard Disturbance (1987)


Here at Senseless Cinema, if there is one subgenre of the horror film that is beloved it is the bigfoot film. If there is another, it is the spending-the-night-in-a-cemetery subgenre; see Death Screams and Cemetery of Terror for examples.

But even this beloved subgenre is mistakenly lambasted by some of your universe's less perceptive critics. For example, HumanoidOfFlesh, on IMDB, writes, "pretty lame....the script...is mediocre, the acting is pretty bad and gore is nonexistent." Also on IMDB, Michael_Elliott writes, "in the end there's no real reason to watch this unless you have to see every horror film released in Italy." Woodyanders informs us that Lamberto Bava "hits his profoundly putrid nadir with this hideously botched would-be horror flick parody."

As always, the only way to dispel these atrocious indignities is to recount the excellent narrative elements of Lamberto Bava's Graveyard Disturbance (1987).

Monday, May 22, 2017

"Disturbed by Man's Stupidity" - Tentacles (1977)


We return to the sea again to discuss the excellent Tentacles (1977), a film set in the communities surrounding San Diego, California. Like The Visitor (1979), this film unites John Huston and Shelley Winters in an Ovidio Assonitis production.

Also like The Visitor, Tentacles is occasionally maligned by the critics. For example, Brandt Sponseller on IMDB writes, “Unfortunately, almost everything about the film is completely incompetent….The script is horrible and at times completely incoherent. It may also set a record for the largest number of abandoned threads. The director appears to have slept through most of the shoots.” Also on IMDB, Uriah43 writes, “Perhaps it was the bad camera angles, the incoherent script or the awful ending but it all seemed like a complete mess.” Finally, adriangr writes, “This film is bland, unsuspenseful and uninvolving….I'm sorry to say it, but this movie is not worth your time, because there is never really anything to see.”

Needless to say, these critics have missed the proverbial boat. I must, as usual, correct their misconceptions and describe the true glory of Tentacles.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Who Turned Your Gas On?" - The Capture of Bigfoot (1979)


As we have seen repeatedly here on Senseless Cinema, bigfoot films are nearly always existential explorations of the complexities and paradoxes of life in our mysterious multiverse. For example, we have seen that films such as Night of the Demon (1980) and Demonwarp (1988) have nothing to do with demons, but they do feature bigfoot. On the other hand, Curse of Bigfoot (1976) has little to do with bigfoot, but it does feature a mummy. No other subgenre of monster movies is able to demonstrate the paradox of existence so clearly as bigfoot movies through the complex relationships between their titles and the creatures therein.

Some of your universe's critics are uncharitable. "This is a must see especially if you want to punish yourself mentally," writes MACREADY-3 on IMDB. "Did not like it at all. Boring," writes Bera Bellatrix, also on IMDB. And lartronic, also on IMDB, compares the film to rotting garbage. "Really, you can't make a film like this and think it will be successful, it was totally awful from start to finish." In fact, many reviewers on this film's IMDB page call it the worst movie ever made, a ridiculous and disrespectful exaggeration. After all, The Capture of Bigfoot is a film by Wisconsin's Bill Rebane, a master of the regional horror film. It is therefore necessary for me to relate the exceptional qualities of this film.

Monday, May 8, 2017

"Excess is What Makes Life Worth Living" - Turkey Shoot (1982)


While most of the tragically unacknowledged classics discussed here on Senseless Cinema are low budget, regional American productions, some are more epic, expensive productions (The Visitor, for example). Turkey Shoot (1982), aka Escape 2000, is another example of a well funded production, this one from Australia.

Your universe's most honored critics have a different view of the film. On IMDB, the_wolf_imdb writes, "This movie is really not bright, not clever and even very naive." Also on IMDB, bdl7421 writes, "This movie feels extremely derivative....it's really just a bit of forgettable fluff." Finally on IMDB, tomgillespie2002 writes, "If you love bad filmmaking, with no social commentary, and no element of surprise or suspense, then you may well love this. But, it is, and will always be a bore!"

Bad filmmaking? Nothing, literally, could be further from the truth.

Monday, May 1, 2017

"The Place That Sells Worms and Eggs" - Winterbeast (1992)


American colonialism and the exploitation of Native American culture in Massachusetts inform the dreamlike supernatural horror of the classic Winterbeast (1992).

Not all critics recognize the brilliance on display in this film, however. On IMDB, EyeAskance writes, "An amateur misconjecture devoid of anything recognizable as production values." Also on IMDB, A-Ron-2 writes, "This is quite simply the most terrible film I have ever seen in my life." Finally, again on IMDB, Michael Wehr writes, "This movie has opened my eyes to how horrible a movie can be.... It makes no sense, the villain is a gay Jewish guy, they all wear flannels, the acting is so bad, there is no plot, the bad guys are terrible claymation products, we don't even understand who actually IS the Winterbeast...it's just bad!!!!!"

No.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"You Don't Ask a Genius How He Spends His Money" - Metamorphosis (1990)


It is truly a special thing when a respected actor moves into the director's chair and crafts his or her own uncompromised vision of a film. Such a film is 1990's Metamorphosis, the most recent film directed by Luigi Montefiori, the actor known to English-speaking audiences as George Eastman. After directing an erotic bestiality film called Dog Lay Afternoon (1976) and co-directing the post-apocalyptic thriller 2020 Texas Gladiators (1982) with colleague Joe D'Amato, Mr. Eastman turned to the horror genre--home to his most memorable performances in films such as Anthropophagus (1980) and Absurd (1981)--to direct the body horror classic Metamorphosis.

Of course, this classic is unrecognized as such by the critics of your universe. Reviewer Coventry on IMDB writes, inaccurately, "it's mainly a talkative movie....the movie features loads of bad acting, poor lighting, lousy editing and a completely retarded climax to boot." Also on IMDB, evanston_dad writes, also inaccurately but at least eloquently, "This movie isn't even in the remotest realm of good." Finally, also on IMDB, reviewer Frequency270 writes, "Pacing is a large problem with the movie. After thinking I had been watching for ninety minutes, I realized I'd only been watching an hour." As always, such mistaken opinions beg to be corrected.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"It's a Real, Real Emergency" - Blood Rage (1987)


Slasher films, of course, are a respected staple of world cinema, and no country, perhaps with the exception of Canada, has produced as many high-quality slasher films as the United States. We have covered a few of the finer examples of the form here (A Day of Judgment, The Demon, Haunts), and now it is time to turn our attention to the Florida-set slasher Blood Rage (1987), a recently rediscovered masterwork of the genre.

Despite the recent praise of many of your universe’s more perceptive critics, many reviewers somehow fail to see the charm and sophistication of Blood Rage. For example, Dennis Schwartz writes, “Despite an intriguing premise, the pic falters. It seems played only for laughs. It might work best if viewed as an oddity.” On Rotten Tomatoes, Edward Boxler writes, “Blood Rage is a laughably silly slasher film where the whole premise is void of logic, the acting is horrendous, and the low budget feel poses too many awkward situations…It’s just bad.” On IMDB, reviewer tomgillespie2002 writes that the film is “terribly acted, badly written and features a plodding narrative….the same stretched-out chase scenes and clunky dialogue seen in a thousand films of its ilk.”

I will not contemplate how these misguided reviewers reached such blatantly incorrect conclusions. Rather, I will present the brilliance of Blood Rage, also known as Nightmare at Shadow Woods, to you so you may reach the correct conclusion, that Blood Rage is a masterful 1980s slasher film.

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Peculiar to Men Who Follow the Dangers of the Sea" - The Dungeon of Harrow (1962)


We shall next turn to a classical adventure story set in the nineteenth century: 1964's The Dungeon of Harrow. This tale of derring-do proves that filmmakers do not require huge budgets or big-name performers to entertain; as long as they have a dungeon and some scenes of torture, they can create high art.

Of course, not all critics appreciate this chilling tale. JoeKarlosi on IMDB writes, "Make no mistake - this is a pretty awful film." Reviewer rwagn , also on IMDB, writes, "the most plodding delivery of lines that I can recollect. Even the voice over narration is stupor inducing. Every line is delivered in this irritating plodding demeanor." Reviewer lemon_magic writes, "The plot is a shambles with no continuity to speak of....Most of the dialog is simply ridiculous and stilted."

Such slanders will not stand. Let us prepare to take a voyage through The Dungeon of Harrow.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Movies from Another Universe #2: Capsule Reviews

Here are some capsule reviews of films that do not exist in your universe. However, they do exist in my universe, Universe-Prime. For additional movies from another universe, check out Ed Wood's Bride of Peeping Tom (1960) and Frankenstein's Mobster (1964).


House of Bloody Limbs (1975)

Four British university students and their American exchange student friend take a road trip in a camper from London to Scotland. Once they cross the border, they run afoul of three aggressive men in a pub who object to their socializing with a young local woman. The young woman says her family will protect them he students, but the students misperceived the situation at the pub. The aggressive men were trying to warn them, and the young woman's family turn out to be cannibals squatting in a ruined castle and the tunnels beneath. Only one of the students is destined to escape and reach the closest farm, where the aggressive men from the pub, three brothers who live alone, reside. The film falls to disclose the final fate of the survivor.

A British response to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of Bloody Limbs is more energetic than most British films of the mid 1970s, but its bland color palette and predictability do it no favors. The house of the title, a ruined castle with tunnels filled with body parts, is memorable and the cannibal scenes are more grotesque than expected, with generous shots of the large cannibal family tearing into various body parts, but the overall effect is only mildly interesting. Noteworthy scenes include a chase through the tunnels that ends in a girl falling into a stone well full of lopped off hands, a seduction scene between the American student and the cannibal girl that occurs on a bed under which the bloody corpse of another student is barely hidden, and the atmospheric reveal of the cannibal clan in the fog-shrouded ruins.





Testament of the Living Organ (1959)

A black and white, low-budget ghost story from 1959, Testament of the Living Organ is haunting and almost entirely effective. The organ is a musical instrument haunted by the ghost of a sinister organist named LaGrange who murdered his rival years before falling to his own death from a church bell tower in the rain. When a new minister and his family move into the church, it soon becomes clear the church organ is haunted. The minister’s wife is the only person who can play beautiful music on the organ; everyone else who tries either produces a cacophony or is injured by the keys or pedals. The organ’s pipes begin to spew steam, which scalds a janitor’s face. In a graphic scene for 1959, a teenage boy’s hands are mauled by the organ’s keys when he tries to impress a girl.

After some investigation, the minister and his wife discover the identity of the sinister organist, but they are helpless until they find that the ghost of the man the organist killed is haunting a harp. The finale is a showdown between the haunted organ and the haunted harp, with the minister's wife in danger as the church collapses.

Testament of the Living Organ was unsuccessful not because of the quality of the film but because of its title, considered inappropriate for many newspapers. The filmmakers never realized the double entendre inherent in the title, and the film was doomed to failure.




The Body Had Three Eyes (1976) aka Three Eyes of the Murdered Corpse (Tre Occhi del Cadavere Insanguinato)

Giallo with a murderer who leaves the eyes of his victims on the next corpse

A woman walking a dog discovers a corpse in suburban Rome with another person's eye resting on its forehead. A police detective and his assistant are assigned to investigate not only the corpse but where the additional eyeball came from. The murder victim was the patriarch of a wealthy family that exerts pressure on the detective to cover everything up, including the victim's affair with a burlesque artist. In an extended chase sequence, a second murder is perpetrated by a figure in a white hat and raincoat; the victim, an elderly woman, is killed with a gardening fork and the killer places another eyeball on her forehead.

When the detective finds that the murder victims were members of a secret spiritualist club whose founder died nearly one year earlier, he investigates the other members of the club--a mute old man in a wheelchair, a young up-and-coming soccer player, a fashionable young woman with a sordid past, and a research scientist who lost his left eye in a boating accident. After two more members are murdered, the detective pieces together the story: The club's founder faked his own death but also stole the identity of the wheelchair-bound man. The eyes left at the crime scenes represented a psychic "third eye" that all the victims lacked, in the killer's estimation. In the end, the detective finds the killer in an abandoned mansion. About to apprehend the killer, the detective causes the killer's collection of eyeballs to spill onto the floor, forcing the hero to squish through the swamp of eyeballs to chase the man. The chase spills out onto the streets of Rome, where the killer causes a traffic accident and dies when he is smashed between two cars in a head-on collision.

Although derivative of earlier gialli, The Body Had Three Eyes shows off a colorful, fast-moving style and its eyeball imagery is frequently quite gruesome. The highlight of the film is a centerpiece murder in which the gadgets filling the successful soccer player's apartment are turned against him as he is strangled by electrical cords, slashed with an electric knife, and finally crushed by a huge television set, all accompanied by flashing lights and a pulsing disco score.

Monday, April 3, 2017

"Suck a Greyhound Bus Through a Straw" - Skullduggery (1983)

Our next classic will be Skullduggery, 1983's avant garde slasher comedy/talent show.

While some reviewers might be forgiven for not seeing the brilliance of Skullduggery's mixing of genres and tones, there is no excuse for some of the ridiculous responses to the film. For example, perl writes on IMDB, "plot is incomprehensible and filled to the brim with pompous symbolism no one buts its filmmakers could explain.”  Also on IMDB, evan90 writes, “ Its plot holes had plot holes. The intense amount of useless character who die evoke no emotion.” Again on IMDB, tromafreak writes, “Every review I ever read turned out to be a warning, in one form or another.”

Perhaps tromafreak should read the review that follows, which will not be a warning in any form but a strong endorsement of the ahead-of-its-time Skullduggery.

The film begins with a now-classic theme song, whose words I have transcribed below for the purpose of highlighting such brilliant songwriting.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"You Got Nose Trouble?" - The Game (1984)


The Game (1984), also known as The Cold, is an exhilarating odyssey through the mind of Wisconsin’s Bill Rebane, who cut his directorial teeth on films such as Monster-A-Go-Go and The Giant Spider Invasion before creating the cryptic masterpiece we are considering today.

Unsurprisingly, the critics of your universe are not on board with The Game. On IMDB, Clint Walker, presumably not the Killdeer star, writes, “The Game still has that feel of the producers just making a movie tailored to fit whatever props and settings they had at their disposal.” Reviewer Coventry asserts that this film includes “…retarded plot twists, the dumbest dialogs ever and a total lack of excitement.” Further, reviewer irishjenny96 writes, “What's really strange is that towards the end of the movie it turns into like a 5 minute western, and at the end, the twists, of which their were several, don't make sense with the rest of the movie.” The film does not in fact turn into a western, and I can only assume irishjenny96 is delusional.

In order to counter such libelous reviews, I will describe this twisting masterwork in detail below.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Movie from Another Universe #1: Frankenstein's Mobster (1964)

(Note: The film described below does not exist in your universe. However, it does exist in my universe, Universe-Prime. For another movie from another universe, check out Ed Wood's Bride of Peeping Tom from 1960.)


A low-budget, 70-minute black and white movie from 1964, Frankenstein's Mobster tells the story of a low-level gangster whose luck changes when he finds the body of the titular creature.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"You Couldn't Hold Her Like a Moth" - Death Screams (1982)


Death Screams (1982) is a celebrated example of the slasher film cycle that burned so brightly in the very late 1970s and the very early 1980s. Filmed in North Carolina, Death Screams, also known as House of Death, is a fine regional contribution to that revered subgenre, and has the further advantage of being directed by a former child actor from a 1950s sitcom.

Again, and with great frustration, I must list examples of esteemed critics that fail to see the brilliance of the film we are discussing. Several examples follow from IMDB. Reviewer heosh2494 writes, “It's full of lame actors, a bad script, slack pacing, among other things.” Reviewer Dana Volkmer-Jones: “In addition to the movie having terrible acting, thirty-something teenagers, and a lifted soundtrack, there didn't seem to be much motive or plot.” And RareSlashersReviewed writes,  “The story is also a headache of a conundrum with sub-plots sprouting out but never getting fully resolved.”

Although it is not my fault such short-sighted critics ignore the finer qualities of Death Screams, it is my responsibility to set them straight with a discussion of this powerful slasher film.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"It Walked Across Eons of Time" - Curse of Bigfoot (1976)


We must return to the bigfoot "well," that source of artful, soul-searching cinema, for the 1976 film Curse of Bigfoot.

As usual, we shall begin with some poorly considered reviews from IMDB users. For example, Larry Landolfi writes that the film is “SO HORRIBLY bad that it actually left an impression on you.......like a Mack truck does when it runs over your face….the most boring piece of garbage ever put on film.” Reviewer rlewicke writes that the film has “wooden acting, long long stretches of the "actors" walking through the forest (accompanied by a thrilling music score, as if something interesting is actually happening), a perfectly inane bigfoot costume.” Flixer1957 writes, also on IMDB, “It's almost as if a drunk cut up several different films in a Cuisinart and a dope fiend randomly sewed 87 minutes together afterward.”

Of course, no bigfoot film could be as bad as these reviewers claim. We must correct the record and recount the splendors of 1976's Curse of Bigfoot.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Scary Numbers: Blumhouse's String of Hit Horror Movies


Starting with Paranormal Activity in 2009, Blumhouse Productions has produced a string of remarkably successful horror movies, averaging almost four widely released theatrical horror movies per year between 2011 and 2016. Between 2009 and March, 2017, the company produced 27 horror movies with wide theatrical releases in the U.S. for a combined budget of $139 million dollars (average budget $5.1 million). These movies have grossed a total of $1.34 billion domestically and $2.49 billion worldwide. Looking only at U.S. theatrical grosses, these 27 movies have taken in 9.68x their production budgets. Looking at worldwide grosses, they have taken in 17.9x their budgets.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"We Will Steal a Body and We Will Take It to the Cemetery" - Cemetery of Terror (1985)


Let us now consider a Mexican film from 1985, Cemetery of Terror, aka Cementerio del Terror, a creepy old dark house story, expertly told.

Your universe's uncharitable critics, as ever, fail to recognize the value of Ruben Galindo Jr.'s classic. For example, reviewer insomniac_rod on IMDB writes, ”'Cementerio del Terror' isn't by any means a good Slasher flick. Let's take it for what it is: a cynical rip-off of the Friday the 13th sequels and a rip-off mix of 'Evil Dead' and 'Night Of The Living Dead.'" BA_Harrison on IMDB writes, “extremely dumb and utterly chaotic nonsense from start to finish.” Patrick Van Hauwaert, also on IMBD, writes “Cemetery was a total flop for me. So bad that I had trouble keeping awake.”

What these critics fail to understand, however, is that this is a film about goings-on in a cemetery. Of terror.



Monday, February 27, 2017

"The Only Way to Survive is with Food" - Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985)

(This post is for The Shortening, The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's annual celebration of deadly little things...)


Attack of the Beast Creatures! The name is legendary as one of the finest of the 1980s films about small creatures causing chaos. It is legendary in my universe, anyway. In your universe, there is less unanimous acclaim. For example, Rich "Lowtax" Kyanka at Something Awful writes, "'Attack of the Beast Creatures' is just a bad movie...you will end up depressed and unfulfilled." Captain Obscurity calls it incredibly amateurish and frighteningly obscure, but the captain adds sensibly that the film is also oddly compelling. Reviewer gpeltz at IMDB writes, "The film constantly challenges common sense, and in that it is consistent." On IMDB, reviewer s_gerald writes, "This is one of the most horrid movies I have ever seen....stay far far away from this film."

The willful blindness of these highly respected reviewers is extensive and can only be countered by a more perceptive analysis of the masterwork that is Attack of the Beast Creatures.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Haunted Worlds of Buster Keaton

This post is part of the third annual Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology, celebrating 100 years of Buster Keaton.

Buster Keaton’s is a clockwork universe. Cause and effect are at the heart of gags both big and small. Johnnie Gray might not see a boxcar roll past his train engine on an alternate track and return to the main track right in front of him, but the audience sees exactly how it happens. Rollo Treadway, conversely, can see the potential cause and effect when he is tied to a tiny cannon with a lit fuse. In both cases, physical causes are set up and their effects play out like clockwork. The gags are assembled with the precision of an engineer. Part of my admiration for Keaton’s work is due to the awe that his clockwork universe inspires.

 

But is this an accurate description of Keaton’s universe?

Monday, February 13, 2017

"Open Your Blouse! It's the Only Thing That Will Slow Him Down!" - The Mummy Theme Park (2000)


Mummy movies receive little respect in any universe, but there is at least one mummy movie that provides thrills, chills, and spectacle better than any other. This is The Mummy Theme Park, an Italian film from the year 2000 given short shrift by your universe's critics. For example, on Rotten Tomatoes, viewer Jonny Priano writes, “This film was doomed from its opening credits but it would have been a lot more interesting with a mummy attack on a rollercoaster.” (It must be noted that Mr. Priano is correct, but of course all movies would be more interesting with a mummy attack on a rollercoaster.) On IMDB, davelynch16 foolishly writes, “nothing what so ever to recommend…go watch paint dry it's more exciting.” Also on IMDB, Russell62 even more foolishly writes, “Everything about it is a dismal flop…no plot, no character development, and no reason to waste your time renting this atrocity."

Needless to say, these critics are quite mistaken.

Monday, February 6, 2017

"I Heard About All the Terrible Goings-On" - Haunts (1977)


I was surprised to learn recently that 1977’s Haunts is not considered one of the classic suspense dramas of the 1970s in your universe, as it is in mine. Directed by Herb Freed—veteran of subtle, thoughtful horror movies like Graduation Day (1981) and Beyond Evil (1980)—this classic features performances by both Cameron Mitchell and Aldo Ray. How could it not be a masterpiece?

Monday, January 30, 2017

"A Pyromaniacal Nazi Down the Hall" - Amityville: It's About Time (1992)


Of all the major horror movie “franchises” (a singularly odd word for "series"), only one consists solely of excellent, challenging, brilliantly made masterpieces. Of course, I am referring to the Amityville Horror films, which began in 1979 with the original film, based on a true story. Two of the sequels are based on a book called Amityville: The Evil Escapes; one of these sequels aired on television and the other we shall discuss here: Amityville: It’s About Time (1992), originally known helpfully as Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (1992).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Programming Note...

Future movie reviews will not be broken into two or three separate posts. I'll start posting self-contained reviews each Monday. That is all.

Monday, January 23, 2017

"My Sacred Dagger is Raised in Trembling Anticipation" - Demonwarp (1988) - Part 3 of 3


This is Part 3 of our discussion of Demonwarp (1988). You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. At this point, Jack follows a zombified Cindy through the forest.


The film cuts to the cave in Bronson Canyon, familiar from decades of classic and non-classic films alike.




Thursday, January 19, 2017

"You Just Destroyed the Life of a Pine Cone" - Demonwarp (1988) - Part 2 of 3


This is Part 2 of our discussion of Demonwarp (1988). You can read Part 1 here. At this point in the story, we have seen bigfoot kidnap Academy Award winner George Kennedy's daughter. The creature has also apparently killed two members of a bigfoot-hunting party, Tom and Fred. Their friends are trapped in a mountain cabin without a door.


Later in the night, the three survivors sleep, all of them in extremely uncomfortable positions.



Monday, January 16, 2017

"Don't Bother Looking for the Key. There's No Door" - Demonwarp (1988) - Part 1 of 3


I must make another note about the differences between your primitive Universe-X and my more advanced universe. This new comment will join my previous observations about the differences between universes, namely that your nights are considerably darker than ours, you use an incorrect word to describe convoluted Italian thrillers, and your men of the cloth choose their religious denomination at a different time. My latest observation is that in your universe, bigfoot films are not highly respected works of art. I need only point out the names of the classic bigfoot films covered here—Shriek of the Mutilated and Night of the Demon—to prove the error of your universe’s lack of reverence for the genre. And I need add only one more classic title, the subject of our next discussion, 1988’s Demonwarp, the story of a bigfoot from space (more or less).

Your universe's critics extend their irrational bias against bigfoot films to Demonwarp. The_StarWolf on IMDB writes, “this confused mess definitely ranks (literally) right down there with some of the worst.” GorgonHeep, also on IMDB, writes: “the acting ability portrayed in Demonwarp is pretty poor. You'll notice it especially when two or more characters are arguing in the film (it actually happens quite often). Although technically their words are focused on the same subject, their portrayed emotions are so different (sometimes really hokey and lame) that you would think they're arguing about two separate things.” Finally, Tikkin, again on IMDB, writes, “To be fair Demonwarp isn't the worst film I've seen (I've just seen Night Of The Demon and survived) but it is pretty dire. It starts off OK (as many films do) but it soon becomes clear what we're dealing with - a mostly boring and silly film that isn't going very far.” (I found it shocking that Tikkin slanders both Night of the Demon and Demonwarp in the same negative review.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"One of Those Drive-In Grocery Stores" - Mark of the Witch (1970) - Part 3 of 3


This is Part 3 of our discussion of the 1970 film Mark of the Witch. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

At this point in the story, the witch from three centuries ago has possessed the body of college student Jill and moved in with Jill's boyfriend Allen in the home of Professor Stuart, ancestor of the man who betrayed the witch in an earlier life.


Allen, Professor Stuart, and the witch have a nice breakfast with, as might be expected, Harry's occult murder the topic of conversation.

   

The witch, a brilliant strategist, plays mind games with Allen. When he asks why she killed Harry, she says it is not her fault their friend Jill had murderous impulses. After all, if they told the truth, Jill would be implicated as the murderer.

Allen is thoroughly cowed by her cold logic. The professor asks how long the witch will be in control of Jill's body. "I am Jill for as long as I must be and as long as I am, you're helpless."

But the witch has not counted on Sharon, Harry's girlfriend. After knocking politely, Sharon pushes her way into the house to confront the witch. Sharon knows Harry was at the grove because of Jill.

The witch uses another stratagem worthy of the tragedies of Shakespeare, or even of Three's Company. She tells Sharon that Harry had planned to ask Sharon to marry her, and he was in the grove to ask Jill how he should propose.

Of course, Sharon is overjoyed to hear all this. She is no longer suspicious of Jill, even trusting Jill to give her some kind of potion. Sharon drinks quickly. "A fitting memorial," the witch says, and there is a sinister musical sting. "So you can be with Harry, Sharon," the witch clarifies after the potion is drunk.

The witch pulls the same trick on Sharon that she played on Harry. Sharon is now unable to speak for herself. The witch means to induct Sharon into the coven, as she apparently did with Harry the previous night.

Meanwhile, Professor Stuart and Allen are at an Italian restaurant, complete with a wicker bottle of chianti. They are making fun of a spell in the red book that calls for boiling herbs, identified by the professor as stimulants and aphrodisiacs, in brandy to drive out evil spirits.


Stuart believes the recipe as written is incorrect. Somehow he knows the correct spell despite the errors in the book. His occult powers appear to be kicking in. Later, at his desk, a sleeping Professor Stuart writes the key to the spell in his notes. The key involves enveloping the witch with a symbol of goodness.

Meanwhile, the witch has taken Sharon to the grove to complete her induction into the coven, which involves, as it must, opening her shirt to reveal her bra, as well as branding Sharon with the mark of the witch. The witch cackles madly at the successful spell.

The next morning, Allen wakes up on Professor Stuart's sofa. "If we could just get her to tell us what she's going to do next," Allen laments, ignoring or forgetting their previous attempt to do just that. "Maybe Harry was enough." Allen is interrupted by a phone call informing them that Sharon has also been killed.

Later, at what appears to be a ski lodge, Allen and the professor are still discussing the problem when the witch enters.


She informs them she is done with Jill's body. It is time for the charm to be reversed. They are in luck, for the signs will be right tomorrow.

Tomorrow, they set up a table to perform the reversal. Allen enters with a paper bag, saying "Hardware store was closed, so I had to go to one of those drive-in grocery stores. This was all the extension cord I could get." They are wiring the living room as part of some unexplained plan that is set to go off at 10:15 with an automatic timer. Probably sensibly, they do not trust the witch.

At 10:00, the witch arrives to perform the ceremony. Allen and Professor Stuart play their roles in the spell, even drinking a potion from a wine glass and sitting still while the witch unsheathes a knife.


As part of her invocation, the witch reveals her plan to bring "the Stuart" back into the coven tonight. She calls forth the coven, naming their names (Dagon, Asmodeus, Leviathan, etc.). Nothing responds, but the witch continues to unspool her plan by raising the knife over Professor Stuart.

At that moment, however, the electronic timer activates. The result is a projection of a cross onto the witch's face.


Indeed, this plan did require a long length of extension cord. It is fortunate the drive-in grocery store was open!

The witch screams as lights flash around her.


The image of the cross has succeeded in separating the witch from Jill's body.


Allen and the professor grab Jill and carry her away while the witch is imprisoned against the wall by the beam of light. They subdue the witch with a silver crucifix, but in a shocking, ambiguous ending, we see that Macintyre Stuart is now at the end of the hangman's rope. He and the witch are hanged together.

   



Mark of the Witch works so well because it is not just an occult revenge movie, and it is not just a supernatural mystery, and it is not just a light romantic adventure. It is all three of these, and more. Where most witch movies simply concern themselves with the tired trope of good vs. evil, the filmmakers of Mark of the Witch are more interested in exploring a question that is more relevant to our times: How would an immortal child of the devil assimilate into the culture of a 1970 Texas college? How would she deal with coffee and table lamps, not to mention negotiating the social environment in order to sacrifice college students to restore her coven.

Above all, the film illustrates the hubris of modern generations. When the witch says,  "you will remember my words to your dying day, yea, they will be pondered upon by your sons and the sons of your sons until the last star gutters from the sky; they will ponder my words until they gibber in madness and remember unto their unhallowed graves the curse I now lay upon the Stuarts," she probably believes this to be true. However, the Macintyre Stuart of 1970 has no knowledge of the curse. It is interesting for us as the audience to consider how many generations, in fact, did ponder upon the witch's curse. Perhaps one or two generations, but certainly no more. If only the family had pondered her words until gibbering in madness, etc.--they would have been prepared for the relatively predictable occurrences of this film.

In addition to shining a light on modern man's hubris, another of the film's many positive qualities is the element of surprise. For example, we do not expect there to be a domestic love triangle between the witch, Allen, and Professor Stuart, but the three of them occupy a high proportion of the film's running time as they cohabitate with varying degrees of supernatural conflict. As another example, an audience might expect Professor Stuart's attempt to train himself in the occult heritage of his family line to play a part in the defeat of the witch, but in fact the witch is defeated by an electric light, an electronic timer, and an extension cord.

A final example of the element of surprise is Jill's immediate transformation into the witch. An inferior film might spend some time hinting at the transformation subtly, building mystery, in this film Jill becomes the witch instantly and the audience is made aware of the transformation almost as instantly. Mark of the Witch has no time for such mysteries, as its plot must move forward quickly to show us the details of the domestic triangle discussed above, not to mention to impart the specifics of running a book fair and to eliminate all of Professor Stuart's innocent pets.

I believe I have made my point that, contrary to much of your universe's critical opinion, Mark of the Witch is a sophisticated and heady exploration of the sins of the father and the hubris of modern man. Farewell until next time!

Monday, January 9, 2017

"It's Used to Talk to People Who Aren't Here" - Mark of the Witch (1970) - Part 2 of 3


This is Part 2 of our discussion of the 1970 film Mark of the Witch. You can read Part 1 here.

In our story, a group of college students attempted to perform a spell from a red book of witchcraft. Did it succeed? The answer is yes. What will happen next? Read on.


Nobody notices the changes in Jill. When Allen drives her home in the pouring rain, she asks, "Is this my home?" Allen thinks nothing of it.

In the next scene, Jill has returned to Professor Stuart's house, though she is not wet from the rain. He is letting his dog out into the backyard, despite the rain, lightning, and thunder. Jill is straightforward with the professor. "One acquires an almighty thirst in 321 years, Macintyre Stuart. Or has it been 322?"

The professor thinks she is play-acting to prove the spell was effective. She smiles. "Where's your dog?"

"In the yard," he replies.

"He's dead," says Jill--or rather, the witch possessing Jill. The professor steps outside to confirm the fact, offscreen.

The witch proves she is a witch by showing him the mark of the witch--an S-shaped birthmark that both the witch and Professor Stuart, whose ancestor was a witch, share.


The witch then describes her nefarious plan, over which she obsessed during her three centuries in hell. Her sinister plan is to learn the ways of the modern world. "To begin with," she asks, "what is that?"


"It's called a telephone," the professor explains with annoyance. "It's used to talk to people who aren't here."

The picture fades to black, the first act completed.

When the film fades back in, the witch who was Jill has learned much about the modern world. She has mastered turning off--and on--a table lamp.


Her murderous demeanor from the prologue has shifted to a mild delight that would not be out of place on an episode of Bewitched.

"You explain this to me, this...coffee," she says when the professor offers to make some. "What is it used for?" He responds with a history of coffee houses through the ages.

The film has successfully shifted from an occult thriller to a light romantic comedy, establishing the beginnings of a love triangle between Allen, Professor Stuart, and the witch. When Allen finds the professor and the witch together, Stuart attempts to tell the truth, but manages to simply sound crazy. However, the witch is able to convince him by exploding the professor's parakeet.


(We must note here that the witch has brutally murdered two of Professor Stuart's pets.)

With Allen convinced, the witch continues her evil plan by memorizing Jill's class schedule and learning the layout of the campus so she can attend classes. "Even my second sight failed to tell me I would one day be a student in a college...and in a new world, at that."

When Jill goes to class, Professor Stuart explains to Allen that Stuart himself was responsible for Jill finding the red book, which had been his family's possession for years. His intention was to demonstrate the power of suggestion. "Needless to say, I never expected anything would happen."

"She's got us both over a barrel," Allen says. The witch is in possession of Jill, so they can't act against her.

Reasonably, Professor Stuart, convinced by the mark on his wrist, announces his attention to cultivate his own supernatural powers. They begin to read through the red book.

At night, the witch who was Jill dances in front of a small campfire in a grove of trees near campus. "Now will I call forth my coven, those 10 remaining steadfast in our vows. Now will I pursue our vengeance against he who betrayed us unto shameful death." She explains aloud that her coven will manifest one by one to carry out their revenge, and to complete their coven of 13 members.

(One of the ways the film keeps the audience on its collective toes is through ambiguity. Her plan must include more than vengeance against Macintyre Stuart, whom she could easily have killed earlier. We must keep viewing this powerful film to learn its true secrets.)

Allen meets Professor Stuart at a bar while the witch is busy in the grove. Allen wants to know if the professor really has powers. Stuart is not sure. "I have never in my life experienced any supernatural powers...never even won a bingo game." The professor's plan is to order books through interlibrary loan from Cornell, read said books, and find a spell to counter the witch's possession of Jill.

They both leave the bar urgently, without stopping to pay for their beers.

The professor returns to his home, where the witch seduces him, explaining they were lovers three centuries ago. "Have you considered that I might have an insatiable desire for my first demon lover?"

   

Macintyre Stuart does not resist.

Their love-making is approximately as clean-cut as the rest of the film, until Professor Stuart breaks it off, possibly due to guilt. He retreats to his bedroom.

The next day is the long-awaited day of the book fair. The witch, posing as Jill, attempts to seduce Harry, the loutish student from the seminar. He agrees to meet her at the grove at midnight.

Just before midnight, Harry arrives at the foggy grove of trees. The witch gives him a drink and he is immediately paralyzed. She forces him to recite a vow to give his body and soul to Satan.

Meanwhile, at Professor Stuart's home, Allen enters, worried. He thinks the witch took Harry, whose car was seen driving toward the stadium.

The professor thinks fast. "Where does Harry go to make out?"

"The grove," Allen says without thinking. They make a bee-line for the grove.

They find Harry's body. It is unclear if he is dead or near death, because he is clearly breathing. "Mac, let's get out of here," says Allen. "There's nothing we can do for the poor guy now and there's no way we're gonna explain this to the police." They hightail it out of the grove quickly.


Things are getting exciting now that murder has entered the picture. Will there be more murders? The answer is yes [spoiler]. Who will be murdered? Find out in Part 3 of our discussion of Mark of the Witch.