October 31, 2012

Thank God, it's Hallowe'en!

Yay! It's HALLOWE'EN! We've made it! Now for the biggest anticlimax of the year since it's also just another Wednesday.

Nobody is able to do anything too exciting tonight because of work so all that we have to look forward to is the next sucky episode of "American Horror Story", an early night with a mug of cocoa, or being swept away by the non-existent Frankenstorm.

1stThe Innocents11thStir of Echoes21stHorror Express
2ndLady in White12thHalf Light22ndThe Ninth Gate
3rdThe Changeling13thSmiley23rdPhantasm II
4thThe Fog14thThe City of the Dead24thPumpkinhead
5thSalem's Lot15thSinister25thDracula A.D. 1972
6thNear Dark16thRosemary's Baby26thRawhead Rex
7thInnocent Blood17thConstantine27thCarnival of Souls
8thDaughters of Darkness18thWitchfinder General28thProm Night 2: Hello Mary Lou
9thGinger Snaps19thBehind the Walls 3D29thThe Entity
10thThe Curse of the Werewolf20thFrankenstein Created Woman30thThe Serpent and the Rainbow
October 31st - It's Hallowe'en!

At least I've completed my 31 days of Hallowe'en horror movie reviews. I think I did okay, but I must admit that I started to feel burnt out occasionally. There's only so many times that you can watch the same movies over and over again without becoming bored with them so I wisely mixed up my selection a bit. I'm very glad that I didn't choose all the ghostie stories now or I wouldn't have made it past the first week.

Unlike last year, although October has been another disappointing time for new horror movies, I won't be giving up on my blog again for 4 months. I am going to take a small break to watch some non-horror movies though because I deserve it.

As usual, since it's Hallowe'en, I will be avoiding horror completely tonight by watching the ultimate romantic comedy starring Alicia Silverstone - "Clueless". I love Alicia Silverstone even though she's completely nuts. Will I be watching her team up with Amy Heckerling and Wallace Shawn again for "Vamps" in two days' time? Probably not, but maybe.

Obviously, Alicia Silverstone is no stranger to horror movies having been in "Hideaway" (1995) with Jeremy Sisto (another of her co-stars from "Clueless"). Brittany Murphy was in "Cherry Falls" (2000), Breckin Meyer was in "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare" (1991), and Paul Rudd played Tommy Doyle in "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers" (1995), but that's as far as I want to go with the horror connections. I really do want to forget all about the genre for a while.

Hallowe'en marks the end of the year for me and a new beginning for my blog. If the Frankenstorm doesn't get me (or my internet connection), I'll be back in a few days with an article or two rather than any more boring horror movie reviews. I have no idea what I'm going to write about yet. You could say that I'm "Clueless". Whatever (sorry, I couldn't resist it), it's going to be interesting.

Happy Hallowe'en!

October 30, 2012

Where's the Frankenstorm?

I made this very short video at 8 o'clock this morning after watching all the supposed devastation that was occurring on the news channels.

According to the satellite images and weather maps, I'm supposed to be right in the heart of Hurricane Sandy yet there's no storm here! Where is it? What's going on? Is this another hoax like the moon landings?

I must admit that I'm quite disappointed by not being able to fish all the pies and Monster energy drinks out of the alleged flood. I assumed that the Frankenstorm would have destroyed the 7/11 at the end of the road for sure.

Even my local Wal-mart is still completely intact so no discounted, water-damaged iPads for me. I've already given up hope of ever owning an iPad anyway.

I have no idea what other countries are being shown to get them all flustered, but there's nothing happening. Don't believe everything you see on the news!

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

"An anthropologist goes to Haiti after hearing rumours about a drug used by black magic practitioners to turn people into zombies."

It's very windy outside (and inside too now that I've just had a plate full of chips and beans), so what better way to end my "Hallowe'en Countdown" than with Wes Craven's zombie movie.

You don't see the connection in that segue, do you? It's okay, there isn't one other than the tenuous link between Haiti being destroyed by an earthquake a couple of years ago and the current "Frankenstorm" allegedly being about to destroy the East coast of America. It's just like how there's no connection between zombies or slashers and Hallowe'en, but that hasn't stopped other horror bloggers from writing about them for the last month.

Even though I've tried to keep my own reviews on topic during this month with lots of ghosties, witches, and other supernatural entities, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" has been haunting me ever since I got it in Universal's "Cult Horror Collection" 4-movie pack (along with "Phantasm II", "The Funhouse" and "Sssssss"). I remembered it as being a decent thriller rather than a horror so I couldn't wait any longer to see if it would still hold up today.

Inspired by the book "The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic", this has to be one of the most overambitious movies Wes Craven ever made. It's certainly a far more realistic and "back to basics" depiction of zombies than George A. Romero's ghouls. The zombies here are the drugged, hypnotised and brainwashed kind as in "White Zombie" (1932) or "I Walked with a Zombie" (1943).

The filming in Haiti and the Dominican Republic adds a lot to the atmosphere even though the voodoo rituals depicted are full of typical Hollywood excesses and clichés. In its favour, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" includes more details about voodoo and Haitian black magic than "The Vineyard" (1989), for instance, but they are still rather minimal and contrived.

Standout moments in "The Serpent and the Rainbow" include Bill Pullman wrestling with a very tame jaguar, Michael Gough being not very different from Alfred in the "Batman" movies for all of five minutes, and of course, the lovely Cathy Tyson constantly forgetting which accent to use and giving a quick flash of her boobs.

Most people rave about Zakes Mokae who is, without doubt, very sinister as Dargent Peytraud, but I found Brent Jennings to be far more entertaining as Louis Mozart. The scenes with Bill Pullman and Brent Jennings playing off each other are the best in the movie.

I wish I could say the same for every other scene that Bill Pullman is in, but I've never liked him as an actor. His role as Dennis Alan is, however, one of his best despite barely rising above two-dimensional. What do you expect though? This is a Wes Craven movie after all.

I'm not sure if it was added as a joke or a cliché, but one thing to remember from "The Serpent and the Rainbow" is that screaming, "I'm a U.S. citizen!" will never do an American any good at all. The rest of the world doesn't care, hates Americans anyway, and identifying himself as such a coddled, easy target in such a foolish manner is more likely to get the shouter's head kicked in than anything else. Oh yes, the xenophobia is rife in "The Serpent and the Rainbow", and with good reason given the political unrest in the background.

If you can't stand Bill Pullman constantly grinning and want "The Serpent and the Rainbow" to end in a downbeat way then stop the movie at 1 hour and 20 minutes. If you want to see a lame and formulaic horror movie ending full of explosions and dated effects, just continue to watch the last 17 minutes. In fairness, the final payoff scene is nicely done, but the silliness preceding it will probably make you groan in disbelief.

Overall, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" is a slightly more cerebral '80s horror movie than all the Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers tripe, and is well worth rewatching at this time of year (or any other for that matter).

Anyway, watch out for all the blustery winds and rain which the TV news is unnecessarily sensationalising. There's no need to panic, the stores will still be open, and you don't need to buy every can of beans and soup in the supermarkets. If you still have electricity, just stay safe indoors and watch some scary movies. It's Hallowe'en tomorrow!

October 29, 2012

I beat the Bewitched Kingdom!

It's taken me months to do it, but I finally beat "The Bewitched Kingdom" on Candy Dash just in time for Hallowe'en.

I obviously didn't get all of the stars - I got 86 out of 87 because level 5 was impossible to get more than 2 stars on even with a load of power-ups - but beating the final level is the only thing that really matters anyway.

Yeah, I know it's just a Facebook game, but it made me almost happy.

The Entity (1982)

"Supposedly based partially on a true story, a woman is tormented and sexually molested by an invisible demon."

We're on the vinegar strokes now with only two days left until Hallowe'en (although it's really three if you include the final daytime) so here's another supernatural '80s classic to get you in the mood.

Unlike most '80s movies which I've reviewed, I didn't see "The Entity" when it first came out. I'd heard about it and seen the advertisements for it in the newspaper, but it didn't really appeal to me. I think it must have been overshadowed by "Poltergeist" which had similar subject matter, and I made the wrong decision by only seeing the latter theatrically. I don't think I even saw "The Entity" for the first time until the mid-1990s when it was shown on TV.

I've made up for youthful lack of judgement now that I've seen "The Entity" half a dozen times since (including rewatching it only a couple of hours ago), but I have to say that I've never found it particularly scary. The trouble is that I enjoy "The Entity" far more as a means to ogle Barbara Hershey than for any reason. I'm sure I'm not alone in this as the exploitation aspects of "The Entity", and the manipulation of Barbara Hershey's fun bits with jets of air to resemble fingers, are likely to induce even more lecherousness from a modern audience.

Let's be honest here, most people who went to see "The Entity" at the cinema also only did so because they wanted to see Barbara Hershey naked. I can't blame them for it because she was very sexy back then. Although she's started to look as scary as Karen Black nowadays, there was something very attractive about Barbara Hershey in her prime which had very little to do with her otherwise average looks. Depending on the angle and the lighting, Barbara Hershey can appear 10 years younger or 10 years older in "The Entity" which makes her appeal a large range of the horny male population although not without some obvious confusion being caused for MILF fanatics.

Of course, Barbara Hershey used her gifts to full advantage in her role as Carla Moran with facial expressions which either make her look like a vulnerable little girl or an empowered warrior princess depending on the scene. I'm still not sure how much of Barbara Hershey's performance in "The Entity" is actually good acting rather than just the fact that I fancy her, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

I'm not going to write a thorough review of "The Entity" since it's over two hours long (some would say overlong), and I'm sure you are very familiar with it anyway. I will just say that I never realised until fairly recently that "The Entity" was directed by the same Sidney J. Furie who directed "Doctor Blood's Coffin" and "The Ipcress File" (1965). Neither of them are particularly great movies, but both have a cult following especially by me.

I'm sure you also know that "The Entity" was based on the book of the same name by Frank DeFelitta which, in turn, was based on the true story of Doris Bither. Obviously, quite a few dramatic liberties were taken in both the novel and the movie, but the story itself is certainly very scary if it's really true. If you want to know more, Google is your friend.

"The Entity" adds a few suggestions about incestuous thoughts and their manifestation into poltergeist activity which have no part of the "true story", but they work fairly well dramatically despite being a red herring. Just look at the way Carla touches her son as she's talking to him at the beginning of the film as it's all very icky. Is the boy's later broken arm a metaphorical warning against Oedipal masturbation? Probably not, but I'm sure somebody would think so.

90% of the male characters in "The Entity" aren't very likeable and they all represent "types". I would love to see someone write an article on the subject. Maybe I'll write one eventually since it's on my list of things to do along with one about the relationships in "Stir of Echoes". Suffice it to say that Ron Silver comes across as a bit creepy as the psychiatrist Phil Sneiderman, and Alex Rocco as Jerry Anderson (nothing to do with the late creator of "Thunderbirds") is very sketchy too.

Although I have no problem with recommending "The Entity" to all lovers of the supernatural and paranormal, it isn't without some massive flaws. Not only are the blue, lightning-like, electrical effects (as also used in "Prom Night II") quite dated, but the thumping guitar chords and drums whenever anything spooky happens gets annoying pretty fast. The last 20 minutes are way too far-fetched and do their best to ruin the atmosphere of the rest of the film plus there's no real resolution at the end. Listen carefully to the last words the entity itself speaks for a quick chuckle.

For an '80s "horror" movie, "The Entity" can seem far more like a '70s exploitation flick in places if you are in the right (or wrong) frame of mind. I'm not sure how polarising the experience will be if you watch it in company so be prepared to watch this on your own as a kind of guilty pleasure. If you want to have the willies put up you or just want to see Barbara Hershey get several invisible willies put up her, "The Entity" is the film for you.

October 28, 2012

Prom Night II (1987)

"When Hamilton High's Prom Queen of 1957, Mary Lou Maloney is killed by her jilted boyfriend, she comes back for revenge 30 years later."

Only three days left until Hallowe'en? October has flown by for everyone who writes a daily horror blog although it's tiring work watching all these old movies again instead of being spoiled by new ones. Yes, I tell my cats how tiring it is every time we are all snuggled up together in front of a great horror film just how exhausting it is. I don't think they believe me, and nor should you.

I imagine that it's boring reading about the same things from everyone because I've noticed right across the board that hardly anyone is getting any comments and the pageviews are surprisingly low. Don't worry, it's nearly over. Next month, there are going to be a lot of changes on my blog including a higher ratio of articles to reviews. I've known for a long time that horror movie review blogs are old hat now, but I may still surprise you with a few dips back into "The Vault" for as long as I have any good films left to talk about.

Anyway, "Prom Night II" is yet another Canadian clone of better American movies which I used to think was very good indeed. I'm not so sure about it anymore even though it's easily the best of the "Prom Night" series.

Although it was originally released a couple of weeks too late for Hallowe'en in 1987, "Prom Night II" is yet another supernatural horror movie which suits the season perfectly. There's even a big plastic pumpkin sitting on a shelf in the school basement at around 19 minutes in.

I have no idea when "proms" actually happen in America or Canada since we don't have them in Britain (occasionally there's a disco at the end of term), but I assume that they are a Springtime event or something which happens after graduation rather than in October when everyone is going back to school. Whatever the case, they are a good setting for lots of teenager shenanigans and the focus of far too many '80s movies.

What makes "Prom Night II" stand out more than the rest is the abundance of so many hot girls all at the same time. While most people rave about Lisa Schrage as Mary Lou Maloney, she doesn't have a lot of time on screen, and she's not actually the prettiest. My favourite is Beth Gondek who plays Jess. She's the girl with the big hair and bad dress sense who is almost guillotined then gets hanged and thrown out of a window before she has chance to shine.

Beverley Hendry is also extremely good-looking and almost perfect in her role as Monica apart from being a little bit too old for the part. Think Charisma Carpenter in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and you'll get the idea. Actually, I don't think any of the actors are really teenagers, but I may be wrong about that. The most memorable is Terri Hawkes as Kelly, the wannabe prom queen, who is desperate to win that fleeting and totally worthless moment of popularity at any price. She's more "cute" than sexy, but she definitely shows more acting ability than her peers.

Surprisingly, the one girl I don't find attractive in "Prom Night II" is Wendy Lyon who plays the lead. The song by The Monks called "Nice Legs Shame About Her Face" is cruel but very fitting. As Vicki Carpenter, Wendy Lyon plays the part as a rather plain blonde who likes frizzy, permed hair and nail polish but doesn't like make-up. Her face really screams for make-up though, and it's a pity that YouTube hadn't been invented at the time or she would have learned a lot from the viral Jenna Marbles comedy video.

Vicki Carpenter is half Carrie White and half Andie Walsh from "Pretty in Pink" (1986) but not as cute or as likeable as either of them. Even when she gets completely nude for five minutes or so in the middle of the film, she just doesn't do it for me. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

I've been giving plot points away so I might as well just summarise the story completely by saying that "Prom Night II" is, basically, a fusion of "Carrie" (1976), "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984) and "The Exorcist" (1973). In fact, the latter even gets referenced in the dialogue in a "meta" moment which seems out of place in anything other than a comedy. The more I think about it though, there's a possibility that "Prom Night II" might be a very dark comedy which doesn't really work. It certainly reeks of John Hughes-style characters even down to a far too good-looking computer nerd played by Brock Simpson (the only actor to appear in all four "Prom Night" movies) who has all the best lines.

The disappointing ending is actually worse than "A Nightmare on Elm Street", "Friday the 13th" and "Phantasm II" which all share the same "now you think they're safe but they aren't" twist. If it hadn't been for such formulaic pandering, "Prom Night II" probably wouldn't have bombed at the box office when it came out. Stuff like that just spoils any emotional investment which you've put in so be advised that you really need to switch the movie off before Michael Ironside gets the kids into the car at the end.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that Michael Ironside is in this too. He's okay, but there's just not enough of him due to having to share his part with a younger actor, Steve Atkinson, who is made-up with a cheek scar to look just like him in the flashbacks. Out of the two Billy Nordhams, the younger one is the more interesting.

I recommend "Prom Night II", but it's one of those movies where you really had to be there at the time it came out to fully appreciate it. Some of the effects are dated now, there are two dream sequences which confuse matters and slightly spoil the flow of the story, and it's not scary. If you are into the '80s and nostalgia, it's still rather entertaining.

October 27, 2012

Carnival of Souls (1962)

"After a traumatic accident, a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival."

I don't own any Criterion DVDs because I find them overpriced and don't really have much interest in their selection. If I were to buy one, however, it would be "Carnival of Souls" even though it's in the public domain and I have at least six copies of it in budget multi-packs already.

The reason I would buy "Carnival of Souls" again is the transfer. All the public domain versions are pretty horrible including the one on my YouTube channel which I've embedded above. If Criterion are to be respected for anything, it's that they nearly always find the best print available. There have been exceptions to the rule, but that's another story.

Make no mistake about it, "Carnival of Souls" is hardly the usual pretentious "arthouse" weirdness that Criterion are best known for. Apart from the innovative titles and a few surreal scenes which might indicate otherwise, "Carnival of Souls" is little more than a feature length version of a Twilight Zone episode called "The Hitch Hiker" (which in turn was based on an Orson Welles radio play from 1946). Allegedly, Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge" may have also been an inspiration for the story, but I've never read it and don't know.

Despite the unoriginality which most people wouldn't notice anyway, "Carnival of Souls" has a lot going for it especially in terms of atmosphere, a funereal organ music soundtrack, and, obviously, one of the most beautiful women to ever appear in a horror movie - Candace Hilligoss.

If the picture of her above isn't enough to get you to endure some old black and white nonsense then there's no hope for you. As Mary Henry, Candace Hilligoss may play one of the most frigid 1960s' horror heroines you ever encounter, but you can't deny that she's gorgeous.

The pushy John Linden (played by Sidney Berger) is certainly enamoured by Mary Henry. At first, Mary does precious little to encourage John's bad chat-up lines, and his drunken, predatory advances become increasingly loaded with menace and potential rapeyness.

These scenes are quite complex in some ways and very uncomfortable to watch. As they develop, there's actually only one way of describing Mary Henry, and it consists of two words ending in "tease". Although there's more to her actions than that, the whole relationship between Mary and John highlights a couple of very damaged individuals indeed, and that's the point. Even if everything was right in the world, they would hardly be a match made in heaven.

For 90% of the film, "Carnival of Souls" bumbles along quite nicely as what appears to be the psychological study of a schizoid personality disorder. It's suggested that because Mary is strong-willed and solitary by nature, her symptoms of depersonalisation and derealisation are the inevitable result. As things get progressively worse, there's a twist which I'm not going to spoil for you.

If you've never seen "Carnival of Souls" before, now is your chance. It's a creepy enough movie at any time of year, but it's especially good at Hallowe'en given what Hallowe'en is really supposed to be about.

October 26, 2012

Upcoming Horror Movie - Live-In Fear (2012)

"In the snowy Utah mountains, an ancient being terrorizes four friends as they try to survive."

I can't quite work out what "Live-In Fear" is supposed to be about from the trailer so I don't know if it's a supernatural horror or a slasher.

In an attempt to discover more, I even broke one of my unwritten rules and asked for a screener a few weeks ago. Since I have yet to receive one, I'm assuming the worst about this movie already, but I do like the poster.

Among others, "Live-In Fear" stars Arielle Brachfield and Maria Olsen who were both in "The Haunting of Whaley House" (2012) which I've already favourably reviewed.

According to the IMDb page, "Live-In Fear" was written and directed by Brandon Scullion and had an estimated budget of $50,000.

I know what you're thinking because I'm thinking it too. "Live-In Fear" will probably be little more than a glorified YouTube video which everyone ends up watching on Netflix when they've run out of real horror movies. But should a screener for it ever turn up, I'm still prepared to give it a chance.

Check out the official website for more details.

Music for Hallowe'en - part 2 - We're Having a Party!

Even though it won't be Hallowe'en until Wednesday, I know that a lot of people are too impatient and will be having their Hallowe'en parties this weekend.

Here are some more songs to get you in the mood.

1. Igor's Night Off - We're Having a Party!

The quintessential Hallowe'en party record. Annie Nightingale used to play this on Radio 1 every time her Sunday show fell on Hallowe'en.

2. Aural Vampire - Freeeeze!!

Everyone knows "Darkwave Surfer", but I'm sure you'd rather see the pretty girl all vampired-up rather than watch a lyrics video.

3. Jennifer Rush - I See a Shadow (Not a Fantasy)

When I first heard this, it made me think of vampires. I have no idea if it really is supposed to be about vampires though.

4. Aqua - Halloween

There's a better video here where some girls do an amazing job of miming to the song. It's a shame that Aqua never made an official video for it themselves.

5. And One - Traumfrau

Their video for "Sometimes" is far creepier, but I thought you'd enjoy this one more.

Rawhead Rex (1986)

"Ireland will never be the same after Rawhead Rex, a particularly nasty demon, is released from his underground prison by an unwitting farmer."

I'm sure the more astute of you will have noticed a pattern forming over the last week, or at least you would have done if I hadn't replaced "Wishmaster" with "Phantasm II". I didn't plan it, but I seem to have been picking out a lot of movies for Hallowe'en which are about releasing demonic beings from their prisons either accidentally or on purpose.

It's all a coincidence, but when patterns start turning up like this, it makes me wonder if I'm being warned about something by "the other side". Hallowe'en is definitely a time when all sorts of nastiness could be unleashed so be careful with those ouija boards, chalk circles on the floor, or trying to pull standing stones out of your field with a tractor.

Anyway, this post is just a recommendation for the movie which I use as the divider between what I find acceptable to watch and what I deem to be complete crap. If a movie looks worse than "Rawhead Rex", I kid you not, I will throw it in the bin without watching more than 5 minutes of it.

Having said that, "Rawhead Rex" doesn't look particularly bad to me. It's obviously low-budget, and Rawhead is just some guy in a badly made ape costume like the ones in "2001: A Space Odyssey" (which is highly overrated, boring beyond human endurance, and absolute crap), but the camerawork is decent.

Clive Barker might not like "Rawhead Rex", but I don't really care what he thinks about anything after seeing what he has on his Tumblr page. Trust me, you do not want to check that out no matter how curious you may be.

I really like the "Rawhead Rex" story, the Irish setting, and even some of the characters. The late David Dukes as Howard Hallenbeck is pretty good, Kelly Piper has a few decent moments, and, of course, Ronan Wilmot as the nutty Declan O'Brien stands out way more than anyone else just because he's awesome in the part.

Thankfully, even though "Rawhead Rex" appeals to those retarded folks who would laugh to see a pudding crawl, it's not a comedy. There are a couple of genuinely disturbing moments, and it definitely doesn't pull any punches when it comes to gory kill scenes. Considering the budget and the time it was made, "Rawhead Rex" is probably the best monster movie from 1986 (other than "The Fly"). If you don't believe me, just go back and rewatch them. Nobody had anything too brilliant in the way of practical effects that year.

As usual, when it comes to these ridiculously overpriced OOP DVDs ($299 for "Rawhead Rex" on Amazon? I think not!), I've embedded the movie from YouTube at the top of this post so you can watch it for free. Enjoy!

October 25, 2012

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

"Johnny Alucard raises Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) from the dead in 1972 London. The Count goes after the descendants of Van Helsing."

It's hardly a secret that I prefer Hammer horror movies over absolutely anything American or European from the same time period. I grew up watching Hammer movies on TV and probably saw them all at least a dozen times each before I left school.

As much as I've wanted to like the classic Universal monster movies from the '30s and '40s, black and white has never done it for me. I like my films in colour otherwise I wouldn't have a colour TV. If there's one thing you can be sure of with a Hammer production, that's lots of colour. There are always lots of boobs and blood too which is a bonus especially in something now rated PG.

I'm sure you are so familiar with "Dracula A.D. 1972" that I don't need to go through all the rigmarole of telling you who does what to who and why. It's yet another tale of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in their famous roles as Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing respectively but with a new angle (for the time) of being set (after a 19th century prologue) in the 1970s.

This was Hammer's attempt at modernising Dracula which worked in spite of itself and the fact that Christopher Lee really didn't want to have anything to do with it. The vampire Count isn't actually in "Dracula A.D. 1972" very much at all and only delivers about ten lines. Forget Bram Stoker's novel as much as you can because this "Dracula" is far more Hammer's invention.

Most of the action involves a gang of "young people" getting up to all sorts of mischief such as crashing parties, smoking pot, and hanging out in a coffee bar all day. I hate to use the term "hipsters" for them because that would imply that they are cool. If any of them had a brain, they'd be typical students.

Their leader, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) is, of course, a disciple of Dracula who comes across as half Alex from "A Clockwork Orange" and half Austin Powers (before Austin Powers ever existed). I haven't posted a picture of Johnny Alucard because, to be honest, his character is so overacted that the ludicrous expressions he pulls throughout would make you think that "Dracula A.D. 1972" is a comedy when it really isn't.

Here's a nice picture of Caroline Munro about to be baptised in blood instead:

Caroline Munro only has a small but important role in the movie. Unfortunately, she doesn't get nude or turn into a vampiress which is a bit of a shame. I would have loved to have seen her sprout fangs and bite a couple of the other hot girls in the movie. Alas, it was not meant to be.

The story moves along at such a brisk pace that there's plenty of other entertainment apart from the vampirism anyway. Just looking at the sets or the clothes (or watching the background to see some of London in 1972) is quite educational. The number of "day for night" shots which nobody ever seems to pick up are rather clumsy and cause a few inconsistencies, but whatever, it's still Hammer.

The various action scenes are quite energetic and are more than adequate to tell the story. "Dracula A.D. 1972" doesn't suffer from too much talk although several scenes are unnecessary. The one where Van Helsing reverses the name of "Alucard" on a piece of paper as if it's some hugely difficult anagram springs to mind.

Although there isn't anything which you could really call character development in "Dracula A.D. 1972", the closest to it is done by the lovely Stephanie Beacham who is also, for lack of a better word, quite "pneumatic". Her boobies are the stars of the show and a lot of her screen time is devoted to semi-gratuitously showing her cleavage off in close-up. The artifice of putting crucifixes round her neck and ripping them off again twice fools no-one.

Anyway, with only 6 days left until Hallowe'en, "Dracula A.D. 1972" is the last vampire movie in my "Hallowe'en Countdown". Last year, I recommended the original Hammer "Dracula" (1958), but I now think "Dracula A.D. 1972" with Johnny Alucard's occult ritual suits the season better.

October 24, 2012

Pumpkinhead (1988)

"A man conjures up a gigantic vengeance demon called Pumpkinhead to destroy the teenagers who accidentally killed his son."

'Tis the season for all things pumpkin-like after all, so what better film to begin the final week before Hallowe'en than "Pumpkinhead"? Okay, so it was originally filmed in Springtime and given a January release back in the day which kind of killed it, but it's still as Hallowe'eny as you could ever want.

"Pumpkinhead" was, of course, the late Stan Winston's directorial debut following years of work in the industry as one of the most well known creators of make-up effects. His credits include "Edward Scissorhands", "Batman Returns", "Interview with the Vampire" and "Constantine". As a director, however, he was still a bit of an unknown quantity at this point which is probably why there were, allegedly, so many mixed reactions to "Pumpkinhead". I can't understand how it could possibly polarise any audience. From the first time I saw it, I thought it was awesome.

"Pumpkinhead" is quite simply an underrated classic. The quality of the full screen DVD (which is the only one available as far as I know) probably doesn't help matters much, but before all the HD and widescreen shenanigans started, it was perfectly acceptable. It's an '80s movie which was a "must rent" on VHS, and is one which most of us originally watched on a standard ratio TV anyway.

With its combination of pathos, tragedy, teenage cannon fodder, creepy hillbillies, a "big scary monster", and even a terrifying old witch, it goes far beyond a standard "cabin in the woods" slasher. It's a harrowing journey from point A to point B no matter how tired you may be of the same formulas.

Just look at the creature (below) for one thing. How great is that? It's about as monstrous as you could ever make Lance Henriksen look without actually being Lance Henriksen! Sometimes people are just really stupid when it comes to rating movies, and the 6.0 score on the IMDb just highlights the lack of taste of the 12-14 year olds who get all "click happy" on that site. "Pumpkinhead" deserves at least an 8.0 and maybe more, but it won't get it because there are too many idiots raised on "haha, it's so bad and so funny" horror movies that their tiny minds can't even cope with a decently made and totally serious one.

Every element needed for a horror movie is brilliantly put together in "Pumpkinhead". The storytelling, effects, camerawork, and acting are all far above what you would expect for $3,500,000. That was a reasonably good budget back in 1988 too, but only if you were making a TV episode.

There's even perfect casting with stereotypical "teenagers" who create just as much depth with how they look as anything they say or do. They may all be clichéd, but in which other horror movie could you look at the characters individually and know exactly what purpose they would have right from the beginning? The asshole/badboy looks like one, his brother looks as if he will be the half-way house between right and wrong, the good "preppy" guy and his girlfriend are realistic, and the actress who is "slightly plainer than the other girls" is so obviously going to be some kind of easily freaked-out Christian. Of course, they are predictable, the actions they take are going to be the wrong ones, and they are doomed, but this is one of the few times where their innocence makes any of them likeable.

The relationship between Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) and his son is also so well acted that it's actually touching, and it makes the tragedy which follows even sadder. "Pumpkinhead" is a story about loss, grief, and not thinking clearly enough to avoid making some very bad decisions. There isn't a day that goes by when I wish that I'd understood the message of the film more and heeded it myself. There are no winners in this, no characters (except one) who deserves retribution, and the vengeance is excessive for the accidental crime.

"Pumpkinhead" is a good old-fashioned morality play which, unfortunately, is lost on the "popcorn crowd" by its reliance on spectacle. It's not a "creature feature" for dummies, but it appeals to the lowest common denominator who only want to see the monster and the kills. I can't blame them for it either. I like the monster too.

I highly recommend that you rewatch "Pumpkinhead" right now. I've even embedded the YouTube version at the top of this post so you don't have to go looking for your DVD. Don't bother with the straight-to-video or made-for-TV sequels unless you are a masochist, but just sit back and be amazed by an '80s horror movie which is actually good.

October 23, 2012

Phantasm II (1988)

"Mike, now released from a psychiatric hospital, continues his journey to stop the evil Tall Man from his grim work."

This is a change of plan since I was originally going to watch "Wishmaster" today. I've seen "Wishmaster" so many times that it would have been boring for me to rewatch or write about so I was eager to revisit "Phantasm II" instead. I also needed to spend some quality time with my cats in front of my big TV rather than half-heartedly watch DVDs on my computer while wasting my life on Twitter. When my internet connection went down for a few hours, it was the deciding factor.

Ever since I bought it on one of the Universal 4 Movie Marathon packs, I'd been dying to give "Phantasm II" another try just to see if it was as bad as I remembered it, and I'm pleased to say that it was. It was boring as Hell, made no sense at all (even though I watched the equally infantile "Phantasm" beforehand), had piss-poor acting, and I'm pretty sure that anyone who raves about any of the movies in this franchise can be dismissed with a simple "Ah, I bet you watched it when you were a little kid, didn't you?" remark.

"I hated you in Star Wars!"

As far as I could tell, a bunch of people who should have gone as far away as possible from the Tall Man and his army of Jawas decided to track him down. Why? I have no idea. Was "Phantasm II" supposed to be some kind of comedy or was it just badly made-up as they went along? Judging it on the number of "witty" yet completely unfunny lines being delivered, it was impossible to tell what the intention was.

Among the Tall Man-hunters, there was a pretty blonde called Liz and a fairly attractive brunette who got nude, but both were woefully underused. The male lead characters who I didn't care enough about to learn their names, I can only refer to as Baldilocks and Dweeb. They didn't fare much better.

Where were the scares? Where was all the gore that I've heard about? Where was the horror? I don't think I've ever sat through anything quite so unengaging since the first time I watched it, and I'm pretty sure now that whoever has been praising "Phantasm" over the years is just part of some giant sustained attempt at trolling.

I'll concede that the flying spheres were kind of neat, and the priest's death was fairly original (and pointless), but they still have to be one of the stupidest supernatural weapons ever devised. "Some flying Cuisineart" indeed. All you need is a tennis racket (not even a lightsabre) to defeat them.

My Bloody Valentine strikes back!

The chainsaw fight between Baldilocks and Gasmask Man was one of the most poorly choreographed scenes in movie history although I was pleased to see a batch of Jawas wiped out after with a four-barrelled shotgun. What a pity it wasn't Ewoks.

The special effects were just pitiful even for the time with the only outstanding moment being the "incredible melting Tall Man" which must must have used all the latex, candle wax and yellow paint that the budget could afford.

The ending made absolutely no sense at all. Just like "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th", "Phantasm II" went for one meaningless twist too many and was ruined even more. Is this really the series that Don Coscarelli is famous for? Master of Horror? Give me a break.

Honestly, if you haven't already seen "Phantasm II" (or you haven't been unfortunate enough to buy it in a 4 pack), don't waste your time. It's a load of balls.

October 22, 2012

Hudson Horror Show 666 - 35mm Film Festival

Official press release:

On Saturday, December 1st, 2012 (12-1-12), Hudson Horror Show 666 will present a whopping six movies (for the price of five) along with shorts and vintage trailers, all off rare 35mm films. It’s a massive, sweaty 12 hour explosion of horror and exploitation!

This is by the far the biggest and most diverse lineup of movies we have ever presented. The show starts and heaven will be torn asunder as you run from, THE DEVIL’S RAIN! Starring Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, Tom Skerrit, and an appearance by John Travolta, this is the coolest of the Satan Chic classics from the 70’s.

One of the greatest exploitation movies of all time, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, tells the story of the Dagger Debs, the tough as nails girl gang whose members were hot as hell. Quentin Tarantino loves this movie, but hasn’t quite stolen from it yet!

Not many sequels can equal their predecessors, but PHANTASM II is one of the few. With more action, more midgets, and well, more balls, Phantasm II shatters the myth that all sequels suck.

There are no midgets in RE-ANIMATOR, but director Stuart Gordon’s unrated bloodbath has just about everything else. Mad scientists, zombies, talking heads and the most insane oral sex scene ever committed to celluloid, this film is cinematic proof that Jeffrey Combs got robbed of a best actor Oscar in 1985.

Sound the trumpets of Crom, after 30 years; the original CONAN THE BARBARIAN makes it triumphant return to the big screen! Forget the boring, anemic remake; Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakout film delivers more blood, blades and boobs than most vintage slasher films.

Speaking of slasher films, what’s a Hudson Horror Show without one? Have no fear as our mystery movie is now revealed to be the original BLACK CHRISTMAS. Again, screw the remake; this is the original yuletide horror classic from 1974, which many claim to be the very first true slasher film. And any movie starring John Saxon just kicks major ass!

Be sure to bring extra cash as we will have vendors selling more wares than ever before. Comic books, movie posters, super cool magnets, rare DVD’s, t-shirts, artwork and more will up for grabs at HH666. Horror author Jason Gehlert will even be in attendance signing copies of his brand spanking new book, Jeremiah Black. This book sounds even sicker and more twisted than Jason’s other works, for all of his info go to www.facebook.com/jason.gehlert.

Advance tickets are $26.00 in advance at our website, if any day tickets remain, they will be $30.00 at the door day of show, cash only. Doors open at noon, show starts at 1PM and runs until 12AM. One ticket gets you entry in and out all day long.

For more information on the show, head to www.hudsonhorror.com or email us at info@hudsonhorror.com. Advance tickets are going quick and are only on sale until Monday, November 26th at 11:59PM. Get your tickets now! We’ll see you on 12-1-12!!

Interested in becoming a vendor at the next show? Just shoot us an email to info@hudsonhorror.com.

Have a Happy Halloween!
[Reposted from my email]

The Ninth Gate (1999)

"A rare book dealer, while seeking out the last two copies of a demon text, gets drawn into a conspiracy with supernatural overtones."

Nine days left until Hallowe'en so it's time for "The Ninth Gate". See what I did there? Don't worry, it probably won't happen again. I doubt that I'll ever rewatch "The Ninth Gate" anytime soon either.

I'm not a Johnny Depp fan and find it kind of disgusting to watch somebody with $200,000,000 and their own island playing a part which absolutely anyone could have done just as well. I know his fizzog sells plenty of movies, but I find him overrated. Johnny Depp sort of reminds me of somebody I used to work with who had the same stupid little beard and reeked of body odour so, unfairly, I imagine him to be much the same.

I'm not going to get all moral on you but seeing Johhny Depp romp around naked with Roman Polanski's younger wife also makes me feel nauseous. Given Roman Polanski's criminal history, it's no surprise that his wife is half his age, but it's still weird to see her used in this way. I suppose she wanted to do it, but it's not right.

As you probably know, Johnny Depp plays the part of a "book detective" who gets hired to track down the last copies of a Satanic tome. With a neo-noir feel to the story, he's reminiscent of Mickey Rourke in "Angel Heart" to some extent. His employer, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), is hardly Lucifer in disguise, but there are superficial similarities.

I'm not sure if the intention was to rework the "Angel Heart" storyline because I only listened to a few parts of the director's commentary on the DVD. I do know that "The Ninth Gate" was based on a novel about something less Satanic with an ending which faded out in a way that made it almost impossible to conclude satisfactorily here either. Kudos for at least trying to wrap things up, but after nearly two hours of watching a mystery unfold, it was still weak.

The standout for me is Lena Olin who plays Liana Telfer as one of the more truly vicious femmes fatales that I've seen for ages. Not only is she extremely hot but sinister with it. Corso (Johnny Depp) describes her as "dishy", but scary and mad as a bag of cats would also apply. She's certainly got claws and she bites!

It's amusing that so many rich characters in "The Ninth Gate" are all into collecting old books about witchcraft. It's yet another thing for the conspiracy theorists who drag up even though though it's just a trope. Considering the elaborate measures many of the bibliophiles take to safely store their treasures, the rough treatment which the Satanic book that they are all chasing receives is also unintentionally comical. I can't think of any book dealers who would handle such a valuable item without gloves, and I highly doubt that they would smoke all over it or press it onto a photocopier.

Roman Polanski's wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, who plays "The Girl" or "Green Eyes" does a fine job as a demonic sidekick even though her role is never truly explained. Whether she is saving Corso from destruction or leading him to his destiny is flawed thoughout the story. Ultimately, she's there to encourage his bad side, but it's complicated and open to too much interpretation. She's nice to look at when nude even though she has a Maryam d'Abo thing going on with her eyebrows which is distracting.

As for the plot, well, it's a mystery in the same vein as "The DaVnci Code" or "Angels and Demons" but years before Dan Brown even thought about writing them and without any twists. It's a straightforward, "connect the dots" affair with a little bit of horror action along the way. It's actually rather difficult to classify "The Ninth Gate" as a horror movie except for the supernatural elements and the Satanism because it isn't all that scary.

"The Ninth Gate" is a beautiful looking film with a rather sleazy and grubby atmosphere which makes me homesick, but the ending is such a disappointment that it it spoils what could have been another Roman Polanski classic.

October 21, 2012

Horror Express (1972)

"An English anthropologist has discovered a frozen monster in the frozen wastes of Manchuria which he believes may be the Missing Link. He brings the creature back to Europe aboard a trans-Siberian express, but during the trip the monster thaws out and starts to butcher the passengers one by one."

It's the 21st of October! Only ten days left until Hallowe'en! Are you getting excited? Have you bought your mask and enough candy from the dollar store to give you diabetes? What about movies? Did you check the shelves in Dollar Tree for some of the public domain gems which only turn up at this time of year?

Last year, I was lucky enough to find "Horror Express" at one of my local branches of Dollar Tree and included it in my "I bought that for a dollar" series of posts. The Digiview Productions version is far from being the best transfer in the world - it looks like a VHS rip complete with tracking errors and tape damage - but it was only $1 for one of the greatest horror/sci-fi movies from the 1970s.

You just can't go wrong with anything starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as a couple of pompous Edwardian Brits especially when the same movie also has Telly Savalas in far more than just a cameo appearance as a Cossack captain. It takes an hour for him to turn up, but Telly Savalas absolutely steals the show. That's no mean feat either since the entire cast are at the top of their game throughout.

When I first saw "Horror Express" on the BBC far too many years ago to even remember the date, I was amazed that it was so underrated. "Horror Express" contains everything you could ever want from a horror movie including a kind of vampiric, body-hopping, alien monster, brutal kills, gore, beautiful women, and a resurrection of what can only be described as zombies near the end. There's even a mad monk who is Rasputin in all but name.

With Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza) and Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña) dominating most the screen time, it's pretty obvious that the Spanish cast could more than hold their own alongside more internationally famous actors. Sadly, this was the last movie for Julio Peña who died in 1972. After quite a successful career, Alberto de Mendoza also passed away in December last year at the age of 88.

Since Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Alice Reinheart, José Jaspe, George Rigaud, Víctor Israel, and Barta Barri have also shuffled off their mortal coils, "Horror Express" is yet another one of those movies full of dead actors who were so important to many of us in our youth. Of course, if you are aren't in your late 30s or older then you won't know who any of them were.

Eyecandy is provided by Silvia Tortosa, who plays Countess Irina Petrovski, and Helga Liné as an industrial spy who may well have inspired Famke Janssen's character, Trillian St. James, in "Deep Rising" (1998). Neither of them really do a lot, but Helga Liné provides a more lustful than usual Peter Cushing with some amusing moments.

For a low-budget movie, "Horror Express" has a great atmosphere and manages to successfully deliver several old-fashioned scares. Notwithstanding the plot-holes and minor historical inaccuracies, "Horror Express" is one of the must see '70s classics which rivals "The Thing From Another World" (1951), "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956) and their remakes.

October 20, 2012

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

"Abetted by the elderly Dr. Hertz (Thorley Waters) and handyman Hans (Robert Morris), Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) determines that the soul does not immediately leave the body upon death, and can be transplanted from one body to another with a special apparatus he has developed."

Since "Frankenstein Created Woman" is yet another overpriced and OOP R1 DVD, I've embedded the full movie from YouTube above. It's also another old Hammer movie which you've probably seen anyway so I don't need to spend much time reviewing it.

Set in an unnamed European country (either Austria or Switzerland) during an equally difficult to pin down historical period, "Frankenstein Created Woman" is a "fantasy" movie which is more about the drama than terror.

As ever, Peter Cushing provides a lot of class as Baron Frankenstein in this huge departure from Mary Shelley's original piece of science fiction. Thorley Walters also gives an exceptionally good performance as the amusingly named Doctor Hertz. In many ways, he's channelling Nigel Bruce's bumbling Doctor Watson throughout.

The real attraction, however, is Susan Denberg as Christina who evokes sympathy right from the beginning as she hides her disfigured face with her hair. It's not enough to hide her true beauty from her lover Hans (Robert Morris) or anyone else other than three excellently played but spiteful bullies.

In fact, the cruelty which the bullies inflict on poor Christina is one of the most harrowing parts of "Frankenstein Created Woman" which deserves far more attention than I'm going to give it. Suffice it to say that "Frankenstein Created Woman" is a great piece of wish-fulfilment fantasy for those who have ever been bullied themselves. Revenge is apparently best served cold in a mended body with a transferred soul.

Even though "Frankenstein Created Woman" lapses into the usual scientific silliness about resurrecting the dead, it deals with themes of injustice and vengeance quite admirably. It also unwittingly throws up a few questions about transgender issues which I'm sure get discussed on sites with an axe to grind about such things.

"Frankenstein Created Woman" is a sparsely populated, slightly stagey, and obviously low-budget production which looks better than it should do thanks to the geniuses at Bray Studios. While it doesn't have the great atmosphere of earlier Hammer horror movies and some of the camerawork could be better, it's a kind of in the middle deal due to having a much better story.

As a big fan of Hammer horror movies, I rate "Frankenstein Created Woman" quite highly despite its rather tame exploitation scenes which in no way match up to the promotional stills. Although "Frankenstein Created Woman" is listed as "Unrated", I wouldn't class it as more than a PG-13. There isn't much gore or anything too scary about it even for children so, apart from a very minor sex scene, it's almost good wholesome family entertainment.

If you are looking for something cosy and not too extreme for Hallowe'en, you can't really go wrong with horror movies from this period. If, like me, you grew up seeing everything by Hammer and Amicus repeated ad nauseum by the BBC, you might not be quite so eager to revisit them. Trust me though, it's always worth giving them another airing if only for the pretty girls and the nostalgia.

October 19, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

"It has been five years since the disappearance of Katie and Hunter, and a suburban family witness strange events in their neighbourhood when a woman and a mysterious child move in."

It's such a turd that I can't be bothered to review "Paranormal Activity 4". There's nothing to it but a lot of MacBooks, bad acting, boredom, and a few lame jump scares. It's all much the same as before only less so. I certainly don't recommend watching it even out of curiosity.

Instead, just look at a couple of nice pictures of sexy Katie Featherston and save yourself $10.

Let's face it, Katie Featherston is the only reason why anyone sane (or over 17) would choose to watch the "Paranormal Activity" movies in the first place.

I'll add a list of reviews from other bloggers below as and when (or if) they are posted:

Grimm Reviewz - Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Behind the Walls 3D (2011)

(AKA "Derrière les murs")

"In 1922, a young novelist goes to the countryside to write her latest book and falls victim to terrifying hallucinations and nightmares."

With everyone else frantically writing about "Paranormal Activity 4" today, I thought I'd provide an alternative in the form of "Behind the Walls 3D". It's not that I recommend it over "Paranormal Activity 4" in any way, but I've waited a long time to say something about it, and it seems appropriate for my "Hallowe'en Countdown".

Let me just forewarn you that I generally love French horror movies. I usually don't care how bad they are or how much of their stories make absolutely no sense. Having said that, I really don't have anything good to tell you about "Behind the Walls" because I barely had the patience to sit through it. "Behind the Walls" is, without doubt, one of the most boring movie experiences ever unleashed upon the unsuspecting public.

The warning signs were there before I even started watching the DVD. Just about any movie which is directed and written by the same people tends to be a low-budget abomination, and adding 3D on top of that almost always guarantees a turd. I hoped it wouldn't be so, but I was proven right on both counts. In spite of "Behind the Walls" being the first French live-action feature shot in 3D, the sparse 3D moments add very little to a story which is handled so ineptly that it almost makes no sense at all.

From the promotional blurb and French websites, I mistakenly believed that "Behind the Walls" was going to be a period version of "Half Light" but with an even more attractive actress in. Superficially, "Behind the Walls" and "Half Light" both deal with the loss of an author's child and that same author retreating into an isolated place to write her next novel. That's where the similarities end.

"Behind the Walls" isn't really a ghost story or a thriller except that it has elements of both which are used as confusing red herrings. The unfurling drama is mainly about our author, Suzanne (Laetitia Casta), mixing drugs into her drinks and getting crazier while the local villagers blame her for all their troubles. When a couple of their daughters disappear, it reminds them of the last outsider who came to live in the area and a series of unsolved child murders. It sounds a lot like "The Reflecting Skin" too, doesn't it? Trust me, it isn't.

The only reason to watch "Behind the Walls" is to ogle Laetitia Casta. She was a Victoria's Secret model before becoming an actress, but you can't really hold that against her. She can actually act a bit although she's a bit dour-looking and far from perfect. Depending on the angle she's filmed from, she's also reminiscent of several Hollywood actresses whose names I can't quite remember. In other words, she's a "type" rather than a star.

The French are such great copyists, and they know what sells. Even Laetitia's love interest in "Behind the Walls" is an "Antonio Banderas type" by the name of Thierry Neuvic. Again, he's not a bad actor, but you won't see him outside of French cinema or TV either.

You might as well give up on the plot since all the good stuff involving an underground lair which Suzanne's cat, Zola, accidentally discovers is quite unimportant except in how it highlights the state of our heroine's mind. When Suzanne moves her typewriter to that spooky place to write her Lovecraftian novel, of course, it's very creepy and full of supernatural shenanigans, but it's all in her head.

Everything is about coincidences, people jumping to conclusions with the minimum of circumstantial evidence, and ignoring what is right in front of them. That is except for the local pervert/mid-life crisis guy who becomes dangerously obsessed with Suzanne, and, of course, her Antonio Banderas lookalike boyfriend who gives her a gratuitous diddling before setting off to play detective in another village.

One scene which reeks of plagiarism (however unlikely it may be) is when Suzanne is in a bathtub surrounded by rats. Although the old porcelain bathtub reminded me of the posters for "Slither", Teeth" and "What Lies Beneath", the scene obviously owed most to the first of these and simply swapped alien bugs for a horde of rodents.

Without spoiling the ending for you (as if you'll ever be silly enough to watch this anyway), let me just say that my overwhelming thought when the credits came up was, "What the bloody Hell did I just watch?" I've tried to put it together for the purpose of this review, but I may be completely wrong about what the directors, Julien Lacombe and Pascal Sid, were trying to achieve.

"Behind the Walls" has some beautiful locations, is nicely filmed, the sparseness of the setting works in its favour, and the costumes are spot-on, but it lacks a cohesive and involving story. It's not a traditional ghost story, and it may have a deeper meaning about French national guilt or some such tripe which is way above my head, but it's just as likely to be only a badly made movie.

October 18, 2012

Witchfinder General (1968)

(AKA "Conqueror Worm")

"England is torn in civil strife as the Royalists battle the Parliamentary Party for control. This conflict distracts people from rational thought and allows unscrupulous men to gain local power by exploiting village superstitions. One of these men is Matthew Hopkins, who tours the land offering his services as a persecutor of witches."

Although I prefer "Mark of the Devil" (1970), for the 18th day of my "Hallowe'en Countdown", I offer you the director's cut of "Witchfinder General" which I have embedded above.

Back in the '80s, there was an unofficial novelisation of "Witchfinder General" in the series of pulp horror paperbacks published by Sphere and written by James Darke (a pseudonym for Laurence James) called "The Witches". I read those books long before I ever saw "Witchfinder General" for the first time and think they were rather good for what they were. For all of its merits, you see, "Witchfinder General" is a little bit tame in its non-director's cut version, and even with the gorier bits put back in, it's not exactly terrifying as a horror movie.

Where "Witchfinder General" does excel though is in how Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins without hamming the role up. It's quite a surprise to see that Vincent Price can actually act although the arguments on set between him and the director which caused such restraint are legendary. Vincent Price and Michael Reeves did not get on well together with Vincent being quite a primadonna considering that he wasn't even the first choice for the role. Originally, Michael Reeves wanted Donald Pleasance to play Matthew Hopkins, but Vincent Price was considered a better draw for American audiences.

As much as I love most of Vincent Price's movies, I wonder what "Witchfinder General" would have been like without him. His American accent is a bit incongruous among all the British ones, and, of course, he's too old to match the historical Matthew Hopkin's age. I don't think anyone else would have looked right either except perhaps John Hurt, but he was hardly a big name in 1968.

In the very late '70s, I was a huge fan of Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar in the "Return of the Saint" TV series, and it's hard for me to get that later role out of my head whenever I rewatch "Witchfinder General". His Roundhead captain character, Richard Marshall, is too posh to be a "jumped up ploughboy" (as he is referred to in the script), but he's still fairly decent as a dashing hero whose life is torn apart. When I first saw "Witchfinder General" in the late '80s, I almost felt sorry for his character at times. Now that I'm older, harder and wiser, maybe not so much.

Hilary Dwyer plays the love interest and the cause of most of the problems for Richard Marshall. If only Sara Lowes wasn't so "easy", she could have saved everyone a load of trouble.

I found the scene where Sara offers herself to Matthew Hopkins to be far too hasty and contrived. She isn't in any real danger herself at that point, and there is no deliberating about it whatsoever. Having previously been fornicating in the Rectory with her future husband, she's no innocent. In many ways, what happens is simply the justice of "horror movie morality" being served.

Highlights of "Witchfinder General" include spotting all the British talent who went on to mainly do TV work including Nicky Henson, Rupert Davies, Bernard Kay, and Wilfrid Brambell (most famous for being Albert Steptoe). It's also a rather unpleasant piece of nostalgia as not only did Michael Reeves succumb to a drug overdose a year later but Patrick Wymark (who has a cameo as Oliver Cromwell) died a couple of years later as well.

"Witchfinder General" looks good, has a similar vibe to it as a Hammer production, but it isn't the most historically accurate depiction of 17th century England. The more eagle-eyed of you should scan the background for some obvious goofs including TV aerials.

According to the records, the extreme torture methods such as those used by the Spanish Inquisition to extract confessions were rarely used in England, and witches weren't burned at the stake in the 17th century. That's not to say that there were never burnings, but it was a punishment reserved for treason. If a suspected witch confessed to treason as well, there would be grounds for a burning, but hangings were the easier, preferred, and most common form of execution. Even in the case of Guy Fawkes, who we Brits all remember with our "Bonfire Night" on November 5th every year, he was never actually burnt at the stake either but condemned to hang.

Anyway, have a look at "Witchfinder General" for yourself, and let me know what you think about it in the comments section below.

American Horror Story: Asylum

"Welcome to Briarcliff Manor, a notorious insane asylum home to the deranged serial killer, Bloody Face. Lurking in the shadows of this sanctuary of healing are terrifying evils that blur the boundaries between reality..."

In case you missed the TV event of the year, "American Horror Story" returned to the FX channel last night with a completely different story and characters to the first season. This time it's all about a Catholic mental asylum in 1964, alien abductions, and crazy experiments. Alas, there are no more Harmons, Langdons or hot maids, but just another confusing mess to start working out over the coming weeks.

I didn't find the first episode to be so instantly engaging or even half as interesting as before although, with a lot of new cast members, it's too early to tell how this will go.

While I'm pleased to see Sarah Paulson in a bigger part which promises some sapphic sauciness, I'm sure all the fangirls are now ecstatic that Evan Peters is also back in a new role. He's playing a killer who can't remember anything so no big change there.

Of course, the big draw, since she's won a few TV awards, is the return of Jessica Lange. Now she's a nun with an agenda which will surely become more obvious as the story continues.

With its distinct lack of supernatural elements, I doubt that I'll watch "American Horror Story" every week this time. I'm not into space aliens or nutters, and I already have a bad feeling that it's going to become a generic slasher at the end.

October 17, 2012

Constantine (2005)

"Constantine tells the story of irreverent supernatural detective John Constantine, who has literally been to hell and back."

What the Hell is wrong with Roger Ebert? He only gave "Constantine" 1.5 stars out of 5 and then spent 90% of his review retelling the story in his own words. Pretty lame stuff, but he's already earned a small fortune by leeching from people with the ability to actually make films so what does he care? Probably about as much as I don't care for anything he has to say. Just to do something different on my blog though, I'm going to go through his "negative Nancy" criticism of "Constantine" and refute it.

Let's see how Roger begins his critique:

No, "Constantine" is not part of a trilogy including "Troy" and "Alexander." It's not about the emperor at all, but about a man who can see the world behind the world, and is waging war against the scavengers of the damned. There was a nice documentary about emperor penguins, however, at Sundance this year. The males sit on the eggs all winter long in like 60 degrees below zero.

Hmmmm, nobody thinks "Contantine" is about the Roman emperor who created Catholicism as the vessel to carry the word of God and control the unruly masses. Most people don't have a Classical education and have never even heard of him. Those who do also know that Constantine the Great was emperor from 306 to 337 A.D. and isn't even from the same period as either "Troy" or "Alexander" (which are only a couple of thousand years apart themselves). No, nobody expects "Constantine" to be part of a sword and sandals trilogy, we all know that it's based on a comicbook which we've never read. As for the penguins, what do they have to do with anything?

Keanu Reeves plays Constantine as a chain-smoking, depressed demon-hunter who lives above a bowling alley in Los Angeles. Since he was a child, he has been able to see that not all who walk among us are human. Some are penguins. Sorry about that. Some are half-angels and half-devils. Constantine knows he is doomed to hell because he once tried to kill himself, and is trying to rack up enough frames against the demons to earn his way into heaven.

Actually, Roger, none of them are penguins and you aren't funny. Thanks for retelling the story though because we never would have worked that out by watching the movie ourselves. By the way, "chain-smoking" is when you light a fresh cigarette with the smoldering butt of the previous one. Constantine never does that anywhere, he likes flicking his Zippo lighter open far too much.

There is a scene early in the movie where Constantine and his doctor look at his X-rays, never a good sign in a superhero movie. He has lung cancer. The angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) tells him, "You are going to die young because you've smoked 30 cigarettes a day since you were 13." Gabriel has made more interesting announcements. Constantine has already spent some time in hell, which looks like a post-nuclear Los Angeles created by animators with a hangover. No doubt it is filled with carcinogens.

More storytelling? I thought Roger Ebert was some kind of great movie critic not a synopsis writer. Oh dear. "Constantine" is not a superhero movie, it's a supernatural action movie/comicbook adaptation with a huge $100,000,000 budget.

Tilda Swinton is perfectly cast as an angel, really looks the androgynous part, and is completely disturbing in a "Should I fancy her or be terrified of her?" way. It's probably her most iconic role and Roger Ebert dismisses her with one misquoted line. Gah! Constantine smoked from the age of 15 not 13.

As for the "post-nuclear Los Angeles" jibe, that's exactly what it was meant to look like. It's all explained during the "Making of" featurettes on the DVD. "Animators with a hangover?" I doubt it, but all that hard work coding images probably gave a few of them eye-strain and headaches. You should try it for yourself one day, Roger, instead of stuffing your fat face with popcorn. None of it looks bad to me or over 900 reviewers on the IMDb who think the effects are amazing.

The half-angels and half-devils are earthly proxies in the war between God and Satan. You would think that God would be the New England Patriots of this contest, but apparently there is a chance that Satan could win. Constantine's lonely mission is to track down half-demons and cast them back to the fires below. Like Blade, the vampire-killer, he is surprisingly optimistic, considering he is one guy in one city dealing on a case-by-case basis, and the enemy is global.

Yeah, we know. Why don't you just tell us the whole story, Rog? Sure, Constantine is a bit like "Blade", so what? He's not black or a half-vampire. He doesn't even look like Sting or come from Liverpool like his comicbook form. What's the point? His optimism is out of place? He's actually rather pragmatic for a "superhero". Wait. Isn't Constantine supposed to be "depressed" according to the second paragraph of the "review"? "Depressed" and "optimistic"? How does that work?

We also have no idea what the sports reference is to because we're movie fans and couldn't care less about grown men being overpaid thousands of times more than a doctor earns just to fight like little babies over a bag of air on a field. If you are going to use an analogy, make it one that people understand.

Constantine has a technical advisor named Beeman (Max Baker), who lives in the ceiling of the bowling alley among the pin-spotting machines, and functions like Q in the James Bond movies. Here he is loading Constantine with the latest weaponry: "Bullet shavings from the assassination attempt on the Pope, holy water from the river of Jordan, and, you'll love this, screech beetles." The screech beetles come in a little matchbox. "To the fallen," Max explains, "the sound is like nails on a blackboard." Later there is a scene where Constantine is inundated by the creatures of hell, and desperately tries to reach the matchbox and get those beetles to screeching.

Again, we know. How is this criticism in any way? But yes, I do love all the weaponry and the humourous way some of the items are introduced. It's called "entertainment". "Beeman" was a character made-up just for the movie so make of it what you will.

Rachel Weisz plays Angela Dodson, an L.A. police detective whose twin sister, Isabel, has apparently committed suicide. Isabel reported seeing demons, so Angela consults Constantine, who nods wisely and wonders if Isabel jumped, or was metaphysically pushed. Later in the film, to show Angela that she also has the gift of seeing the world behind the world, Constantine holds her underwater in a bathtub until she passes out and sees the torments of hell. No bright white corridors and old friends and Yanni for her. You wonder what kind of an L.A. cop would allow herself to be experimentally drowned in a bathtub by a guy who lives over a bowling alley.

More storytelling and blah, blah, blah. Strangely enough, the kind of L.A. cop who allows herself to be "experimentally drowned in a bathtub" is one who is beside herself with grief/guilt over her sister's death and will try anything to find out why it happened. Did you miss that part, Roger? Nobody else did.

It's also worth noting that Rachel Weisz is awesome in the role. She's English but manages to pull off a perfectly legitimate American accent which is incredibly difficult. She's quite pretty too.

Together, they prowl the nighttime streets. At one point, Constantine needs to consult Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), a former witch doctor who runs a private nightclub where half-angels and half-demons can get half-loaded and talk shop. There is a doorman. To gain admittance, you have to read his mind and tell him what's on the other side of the card he's holding up. "Two frogs on a bench," Constantine says. Could have been a lucky guess.

Nope, it couldn't have been a lucky guess as Shia LeBoeuf's character, Chas Kramer, finds out when he attempts to bluff his way in. You have to know the answer, that's the point. It's a bar full of angels, demons, and psychics with supernatural abilities. What password method would be more appropriate? A secret handshake perhaps for those who have hands not paws?

What would have worked here is some condemnation of how weak Shia LeBoeuf's character is for most of the movie until he gets chance to cast off the comedic aspects and shine for a moment later. That would have been too much like reviewing though, wouldn't it?

There is a priest in the film, the alcoholic Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince), whose name, I guess, is product placement. Strange that there is a priest, since that opens the door to Catholicism and therefore to the news that Constantine is not doomed unless he wages a lifelong war against demons, but need merely go to confession; three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, and he's outta there. Strange, that movies about Satan always require Catholics. You never see your Presbyterians or Episcopalians hurling down demons.

I think you'll find that Father Hennessy is a conflation of three characters from the "Hellblazer" comicbooks, and the one whose name he uses actually eats himself to death originally. Product placement? Hardly. A little word play on his alcoholism? Of course.

Talk about missing the point of the story completely! Constantine can't earn his way into Heaven by fighting demons or repentance. Confession may be good for the soul but Constantine's is already doomed. He's a suicide destined for Hell when he dies. Ever get the feeling that someone didn't watch the movie or remember what he wrote a couple of paragraphs ago?

Of course, most movies about Satan require Catholics. It's the "one true church" and all that jazz. If it wasn't for Catholicism (and the aforementioned Emperor Constantine), Christianity wouldn't have such a recognisable form. Post-reformation times, there are around 500 different Christian denominations, but none of them have the iconography (and idolatory) of Catholism. If you want a Christian minister in a movie, you need to have him in black and wearing a dog collar. It's the first thing people think of. Also, on the contrary, you do see Presbyterians and Episcopalians hurling down demons just not in the movies. Seeing people quietly praying instead of screaming Latin words doesn't have the same entertainment value. Baptists have been shown to be just as effective in "The Last Exorcism", but I'll give you that one because it was only recently.

The forces of hell manifest themselves in many ways. One victim is eaten by flies. A young girl is possessed by a devil, and Constantine shouts, "I need a mirror! Now! At least three feet high!" He can capture the demon in the mirror and throw it out the window, see, although you wonder why supernatural beings would have such low-tech security holes.

Why not give away an entire scene and spoil it for everyone? To answer the question with another, why would supernatural beings not have high-tech security either? They are narcissistic, vain and evil, that's why. They think they are invincible. Pride, however, comes before a fall. It's a proverb, look it up. It's an important plot point.

Reeves has a deliberately morose energy level in the movie, as befits one who has seen hell, walks among half-demons, and is dying. He keeps on smoking. Eventually he confronts Satan (Peter Stormare), who wears a white suit. (Satan to tailor: "I want a suit just like God's.") Oh, and the plot also involves the Spear of Destiny, which is the spear that killed Christ, and which has been missing since World War II, which seems to open a window to the possibility of Nazi villains, but no.

Finally, something approaching a real critical comment!!! Yes, Keanu Reeves does have a "deliberately morose energy level in the movie". It's called acting, that's what he does and what has made him an A-list celebrity. His character is morose for a reason. So would you be if you knew you were going to Hell to be torn apart over and over again for all eternity. He's also a rude asshole with a cold demeanour but a kind heart. Constantine is a multi-layered character hidden under a two-dimensional one which Keanu Reeves excels at bringing to life. That's what should have been said.

So what if Constantine keeps on smoking? It's even mentioned by his doctor. As if closing the stable door after the horse has bolted will make any difference once you have inoperable lung cancer! If you are addicted to smoking, it isn't that easy to stop even though you know it's killing you.

All Roger Ebert got from Peter Stomare's outstanding performance as Satan was that he wore a white suit. Jesus wept! This is what famous movie critics get paid for? I might as well say, "Roger Ebert has grey hair. Now send me $20,000 for stating the obvious!" Why no mention of Gavin Rossdale's equally sinister performance as Balthazar? Wasn't there some snarky comment Roger could make about the dapper way he was dressed?

Yes, the plot involves the Spear of Destiny. It also appears in a lot of other movies which don't contain Nazi villains. Google is your friend for that one. If you want more of the same, read Trevor Ravenscoft's "The Spear of Destiny: The Occult Power Behind the Spear which pierced the side of Christ" or even James Herbert's "The Spear". Those will sort you right out.

Roger Ebert, you are an overpaid idiot! "Constantine" is a great movie with a cult following which you will never have. Your time is over, dinosaur. Go watch penguins dressed up as football players and leave the movies to people who aren't too burnt out to enjoy them.