Category Archives: Movies

Halloween Horror Movie # 14 Dementia 13

If I were cleverer I would have worked it out so that this movie popped up as number 13, but that did not happen.

Dementia 13 is the fires mainstream feature film from acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola. It is a low budget horror/thriller intended to ride the coattails of the better-known movie Psycho.

The story concerns an Irish family that is haunted by the tragic and mysterious death of the youngest child, Kathleen. On an anniversary of her drowning, when the family hold yearly funerals for her, a scheming American woman Louise, recently married into the family, plots to manipulate the matriarch into changing her will. Louise’s plot is upended when people start dying at the hands of unidentified axe murderer.

Made for Roger Corman, Coppola was never fully satisfied with the final product and it even eventually fell into the public domain. If you buy one of 50 Horror, or Thriller, or Mystery DVD set you likely will acquire a copy of Dementia 13. Of course that will be an nth generation copy off some poor quality 16 mm print. Surprisingly someone splurged for a 4k restoration and that was what was screened at the Museum of Photographic Arts last night. My sweetie-wife and I attended, thought traffic nearly made us miss the movie. I can’t recommend this movie, it’s very uneven and convoluted but I do not seeing it in a theater instead of a poor quality dup.

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Halloween Horror Movie # 13 The House of Frankenstein (1944)

Mid week movies need to be on the shorter side; what with working the day job, particularly as we swing into overtime hours during the annual enrollment period and still need to put my but in the chair and fingers to keyboard for writing there simply isn’t a lot of time left over for movie watching. Luckily those only Universal horror films, designed to fill the ‘B’ slot are often well under an hour and a half and House of Frankenstein is no exception, clocking in around seventy minutes.

House of Frankenstein, another in the let’s throw a lot of the monsters into the same movie early cinematic universe trend, also heralded the of Boris Karloff to the series that launched his stardom. This time Karloff isn’t playing the created monster but rather Doctor Gustav Neimann, a scientist obsessed with following the trail blazes by Henry Frankenstein. Caught earlier in the experimentations, Neimann has spent fifteen years languishing in a dungeon cell. God, eager to get the plot started, strike the prison with powerful lighting bolts and Neimann, along another prisoner, Daniel the hunchback, escape. Not happy with a single coincidence to start the story, the hand of god, known to us as the scriptwriter, also gives the convict pair a favor by having a traveling freak-show get stuck nearby in the storms muds. Neimann and Daniel kill the proprietor and his driver, and then assume their identities along with possession of Dracula’s actual skeleton.

A wise man would simple skulk off and restart their experiments, but Neimann is not wise. Bitter over those who sent him to prison her seeks revenge as he travels back to his decrepit lab. Neimann revives Dracula by removing the offending stake and sends him after his first target. Dracula, ever the skirt chaser, spends too much time on wine and charm and though he kills his target, he is forced to flee with the police in hot pursuit. Neimann throws the count’s coffin to the side of the road and the vampire, unable to reach it before dawn’s first rays dies in the sunlight.

At the next town they pick up an abused gypsy dancing girl and the next two victims for the doctor’s revenge. A quick stop at village Frankenstein yields the good doctor’s lab notes, the monster, and the wolf-man. The latter two entombed in ice from the flood that swept them away the in previous film. Like every other scientist in the universe, Neimann promises Talbot that he’ll cure the man werewolf curse. They travel reaching Neimann’s lab, after a quick montage the facility is restored to mad scientist ready. Unconcerned with either his promises or having a werewolf running loose, Neimann refuses to treat Talbot, instead he works on the monster. Talbot and the gypsy girls fall in love, angering the hunchback. When the werewolf kills the girl and the girls kills the werewolf, the hunchback blames, rightly so, Neimann and attacks him. That doesn’t go well as the Monster throws the hunchback from the battlements and then flees the torch-wielding peasant with Neimann in his arms. Showing a moment of intelligence, the mob forces he monster into the swamp where he and Neimann drown in quicksand.

Now, compared to most movies this is really just a series of coincidences, but if you look at House of Dracula this film has a central theme, revenge, and a coherent plot. House of Frankenstein is not a great film but a passable seventy minutes.

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Halloween Horror Movie #12 The Haunting

Performing double duty last night as my Sunday Night Feature and the next up in the Halloween Horror Festival I watched 1963s The Haunting. (Not the terrible 1999 remake. I saw that one in the theater and once was far more than too much.)

Directed by Robert Wise, a talented and one of my favorite filmmakers, The Haunting is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s unsettling novel The Haunting of Hill House. The story concerns Professor John Markway who is investigating the supernatural. He has discovered Hill House, a 19th century mansion with a terrible past. Certain that he has found the location that will allow his research to advance to the next level he rents the house and attempts to bring together a group of sensitive persons to provoke events and document them. This is how the story point of view character and protagonists, Eleanor Lance is pulled into the plot. Eleanor is an unbalanced woman. She has spent her entire adult life caring for her bed-ridden mother, which has sparked and nurtured a deep resentment in Eleanor, and now longs for a life and a love of her own. Most of the people Markway had planned to assemble cancel leaving him with only one other sensitive Theodora, a woman with a talent for ESP and an unconventional sexual orientation. Rounding out our cast of ghost hunters is Luke Sanderson, a young man who believes not in the supernatural but rather in drink, women, and money. Luke stands to inherit the house and is on site to protect his future interests.

Filmed with a lens that presents a very mild distortion of the image, and several shots using filmstock that is sensitive to UV light, Robert Wise crafts a horror film that is built upon mood and disquiet rather than gore and monsters. The move boasts a terrific cast all of whom portray their characters with truth and credibility. It is interesting to me that I can watch Russ Tamblyn as a child in the noir Gun Crazy, a young adult man here in The Haunting, and as a senior actor in Twin Peaks: The Return, Claire Bloom as Theodora plays her character with a sublime subtlety. Yes, the production code forced all gay characters to be either coded and villainous but with this film it was required that her character be portrayed more discreetly and her attempted seductions and interest in Eleanor are better for their low key approach.

Among the classic horror films The Haunting ranks as one of the best.

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Halloween Horror Movie # 11 The Tingler

Saturday afternoon I treated myself to an at home matinee of the 1959 marketing classic The Tingler.

William Castle who made quite a name for himself with marketing ploys to attract people to his films directed this movie. His has done such stunts as offering insurance policies against dying of fright during the screening, having paper skeletons pulled on strings over the audiences heads and for The Tingler he had some seats in some theaters rigged with buzzers to surprise people during key moments of the film. Naturally all this does not translate to home video.

The Tingler stars Vincent Price as Doctor Chapin a pathologist who, in addition to his duties seeing to the remains of executed criminals, is researching the strange effects of people in acute fear. He has a dedicated lab assistant, a shrewish wife, seemingly a common character type in a Castle film, a new friendship with the brother-in-law of a recently executed murderer, and to help him with his research a nifty new drug that induces nightmares, LSD 25.

Chapin’s research not only proves that there is a previously unknown physical effect from unreleased fear, but that it is a living creature found in all of us, the Tingler. Most of the film is actually melodrama about the Chapin’s failing marriage, and mysterious scenes that keep the audience guessing just how far will he go for his research. Is he dedicated or a mad scientist?

This film is worth watching, but the concepts are rarely carried through and it does cheat with its plot twits. That is to say it doesn’t set up the twists but rather springs on the audience without the benefits of Chekov’s gun. The movie does have one fairly original set piece in it. There a sequence where a woman is driven into utter terror and in those scenes while the film remains in black-and-white the blood is a bright, brilliant, saturated red. Here’s a still to show you. Now, remember this was 1959; there were no digital effect to make this now easy process possible. Castle achieved this my making everything, including the actress, on the set monochrome so while the film is color film only the blood is appears to have color.

The Tingler is currently streaming on Shudder.

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Halloween Horror Movie #10 Ringu 2

Just in case you were under the impression it was only Hollywood that produced sequel after sequel to blockbuster successes Japan made four films in the Ringu Franchise.

Based upon a popular novel, Ringu, and its American re-make The Ring dealt with a ghost from a well, a video tape that in view caused your death in seven days, and the single mother reporter that was the story’s protagonist. (Though interestingly the film differs from the novel so much that the main character switched genders.)

In Ringu the single mother has worked out to survive the curse she and her son, who accidently watched the tape, must make a copy and show it to someone else. Mom has already unwittingly done this and her mathematician boyfriend’s death provided the clues to working out the curse. Now to save her son she has had him duplicate the tape and shown it to here father.

Ringu 2 picks up the story where Ringu left off, but now our protagonist is the mathematician’s female assistant who starts down the plot trying to understand what has happened to her mentor. The police get involved, after all they have a number of unexplained deaths on their hands, as does a doctor treating a girl who survived seeing the ghost of Sadako but is now in a mental ward.

Built on mood, atmosphere, and mystery, Ringu 2 continues the stylistic horror that at the start of the century became known as J-Horror. Not all of the Japanese horror films imported under their sudden popularity deserved to be held up as an example of their industry’s superior craftsmanship but quite a few were several levels above the derivative slasher fare that so many in Hollywood pushed into our theaters.

The franchise continues beyond this sequel, producing an inconsistent and unrequired prequel, which the fandom rejected, and then a second revisionary prequel before finally sputtering out.

Ringu 2 is a film worth watching. Moody, creepy, and with explorations of themes raised in the Ringu it is that rare beast, a worthy sequel.

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Halloween Horror Movie #9 The Devil’s Rock

Searching through the offerings on Shudder I stumbled across this 2011 film from New Zealand. The description caught my attention and with low expectations I streamed the movies.

The Devil’s Rock, set during World War II, follows two Kiwi commandos. Ben and Joe, as they land on a channel island to destroy a big gun as part of that allies’ plans of confusion and deception before the D-Day invasion of Nazi Occupied Europe. Ben is distracted by persistent screams coming from the blockhouse and decided to expand their mission into rescuing the tortured prisoners of the Germans. Inside the concrete fortification they discover a charnel house, blood stained walls, more screams, and everywhere violently torn apart corpses. Uncovering the mystery and the German’s plots is a tale of terror, violence, and patriotism.

A low-budget movie The Devil’s Rock exceeded my expectations. The filmmakers understood the limitations of their production and made the use of their limited recourses. A limited cast, very restricted use of special effects, and an understanding of what can be done with practical effects all served the story well. The script is in fairly decent shape. I do think it could have benefits from one more pass, as there are a few elements that do not quite flow smoothly. All said though this movie worked, presenting a tense situation, conflicting characters thrown into a situation that tests all of them, and it even raises a few questions about how far is acceptable in service to your country and your ideals. This is worth your time to stream this horror season.

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Halloween Horror Nights 2017: A Report

Saturday night a friend and I drove to LA to take in Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Night for 2017. We had managed to attend for a few hours last year but this year wanted to make a proper ruin on the event. Armed with ‘Head of the Line’ passes that allowed us to skip the main lines at the attractions we endured LA traffic, arriving about 40 minutes later than expected.

Let me tell you if you plan to do this, particularly on a weekend night, the ‘Head of the Line’ pass is the way to go. The mazes had long waits in the lines, often 80 or even 100 minutes. Given those sort of lines the best you might hope for is to visit three or four mazes in the night, while our passes allowed us to see all eight with time to spare.

The mazes and the open-air maze that is part of the terror tram attraction were all fun. Naturally we are talking professional special effects and make-up and performed that really enjoyed their gigs.

While all eight of the mazes were indeed fun, there are a few I want to shout out as being a cut above the crest.

Ash vs. The Evil Dead. This maze nailed its property, actors made up as deadites and some wearing Bruce Campbell masks, brought the fun and fear of the series to life.

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning. This maze walked you through many of the memorable moments from the classic film. Special effects recreated the images of the twin girls being suddenly replaced with their bloody corpses, the rivers of blood, and Jack Torrance popping out of the walls with an axe is sure to wake you up.

FX’s American Horror Story: Roanoke. I confess I have yet to watch this series, though it is in my queue. The atmosphere and oppressive mood were terrific and it was a memorable maze.

In addition to making sure you have a ‘Head of the Line’ pass, if you go be prepared for walking. Lots and lots of walking. My iPhone reports that I covered 6.5 miles and I can assure you very little of that was backtracking and being inefficient.

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Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Last night’s plans for board and card games fell apart and turning lemon into lemonade I took the opportunity to see Blade Runner 2049.

Blade Runner 2049 as the name suggests is a sequel to 1982’s classic SF film Blade Runner. The original movie was set in Los Angeles 2019 and concerned a policeman, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, who was a Blade Runner, someone who hunted down and killed rouge androids called replicants. Through the course of first film Deckard learns empathy for the replicants and eventually flees with one, becoming a fugitive himself. It is a source of endless debate if Deckard is truly human or a replicant himself. (The director Ridley Scott is adamant that he is and Harrison Ford is equally adamant that Deckard is human.) Now is it thirty years later, and we are again following a policeman/Blade Runner as he pursues a mystery concerning replicants from the original film and an impossibility of their existence.

Where the first film’s foundation lay in ambiguity Blade Runner 2049 deals with more explicit information, but doesn’t sacrifice the deep philosophical questions that drove the original including what is it that makes us human. To explore these questions in addition to the replicants, the writers have added digital artificial intelligences creating a world that is awash with people who aren’t considered ‘human.’ The Film’s protagonist is ‘K’, and he status as a replicant is made clear from the earliest scenes of the story. That he is hunting his own kind is one of the sources of tension for the story. As he uncovers secrets and mysteries about the events of the original film, K discovers truths about himself and the world around him.

Clocking in at two and three quarters hours Blade Runner 2049 is not a short film, but it did not feel overly long. This is a movie comfortable in its pacing, and well footed enough to slow down and explore ideas and characters without fearing that it might bore the audience. (Though that itself makes it a movie for everyone. There were walkouts about halfway through last night’s screening. However the original Blade Runner failed at the box office and because a classic, revered and studied to this day.) A tricky aspect to crafting a sequel is what do you do about the fact that world has moved on since the first movie? Even in 1982 setting Blade Runner in 2019 was overly optimistic about technological advances and now the original simply is impossible. The filmmakers solution was to treat the Blade Runner setting a parallel time-stream and continue forward along it, ignoring reality’s conflicts. (Though I wonder how many of the younger audience member’s understood the significance of the CCCP in the world-building.) With frequent nods to the original film and even the original novel, Blade Runner 2049 is a respectful and intelligent film from the man who directed last year’s equally smart movie Arrival. I can’t wait to see what he does with Dune.

 

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Halloween Horror Movie # 8 House of Dracula

Okay, not everything I watch is going to be a chill your blood, tense your muscles, classic of the horror genre. I mean I did watch The Norliss Tapes after all didn’t I?

Anyway, House of Dracula is one of a slew of sequels that Universal Studios produced in their very successful and famous series of horror films running from the early 1930s through the 1950s. By this point in their run the films were produced as ‘B’ features, meaning that they were intended to play as a second film in a double feature bill. B features, in addition to being lower cost were also shorter and House of Dracula clocks in at a very slim 67 minutes. In that one hour seven minutes the studios packed into the plot Dracula, naturally his name is in the title after all, the Wolf-man, Frankenstein’s Monster, a mad scientist, and a hunchback.

The plot goes something like this. Dracula, seeking a cure to his vampiric condition, seeks out the services of a brilliant doctor, Edlemann. Edlemann, who has two nurse assistants, one the hunchbacked Nina, is working on a breakthrough treatment using a compound grown from a mold. (See ripping of breaking science for bad plot devices is nothing new.) On a following night Dracula has come seeking treatment, and to snack on the blonde non-hunchbacked nurse Milza, Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf-Man, has also come to the brilliant doctor seeking a cure for his condition. (There must be an ad running the Monsters Quarterly.) Unwilling to wait for the doctor to complete his appointment with Dracula, Talbot rushes out and get himself locked up in jail. Edlemann comes to the jail, sees the transformation from man to wolf-man and thinks, hey I’m brilliant, and I can fix this. He brings Talbot back to his cliff-side home and clinic but when Talbot learns that he’ll have to spend the full moon nights locked up, he throws himself off the cliff. Really this guy has less patience than I do waiting on book publishers.) The good doctor goes down to save him finds him in wolf form, is nearly killed, but then the moon sets saving the foolish physician. While exploring the caves at the base of the cliff they discover the Frankenstein Monster V3. (This is Glenn Strange as the monster, following Lugosi who followed Karloff.) Wouldn’t you know it, it lives and the good doctor, ever the friend to all things monstrous, bring it back to the lab to restore it to full health because killing it would be murder. Okay we’ve got all three major monsters in the story, but then Dracula misbehaves, mingles his blood with Edlemann’s, and gets killed in the least climatic destruction of vampire ever. The doctor’s corrupted blood turns him into a Jekyll and Hyde. Edlemann manages to operate on Talbot, reversing the werewolf curse, murder a servant, and enrage the peasants. They of course chase him back to the cliff-side clinic where he revives the Frankenstein Monster V3 and then gets killed by Talbot. The Frankenstein Monster V3 goes after the peasants; he never got along with them, but dies when the clinic burns. Talbot, now safe in a full moon, has a happy ending with blond, living, and non-hunchback nurse Milza.

If this sounds like a mess of a plot thats’ because it is. This boys and girls is what happens when you have no unifying theme for your story, it is reduced down to a bunch of stuff that happens.

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Halloween Horror Movie #7 Prince of Darkness

In my opinion Prince of Darkness is the last film John Carpenter made that I enjoyed from start to finish. His films after this one, starting with They Live are all flawed in such a significant fashion that I cannot ignore the miscues and illogic to enjoy the movie.

Prince of Darkness is a horror film that focuses on the personal level while exploring themes that are cosmic. When the last remaining Guardian Priest, a member of a Catholic sect known as the Brotherhood of Sleep, dies, it exposes a secret society within the Church and a mysterious canister that they have been guarding for two thousands years. The Priest who uncovers this, played by Donald Pleasence and never given a name, turned to a physics professor, Birack, played by Victor Wong, to prove the truth of the canister, and its terrible revelation about the nature of God. Birack recruits a number of gifted post-grad students and a few colleagues for the weekend long examination of the thee canister at its hiding place, an old church in downtown Los Angeles. Very quickly after their arrival things turn ominous, they are threatened by the homeless in the area, the canister starts showing new and unexplainable properties, and the translation of the Brotherhood’s documents illuminate a disturbing history. While the film’s ending seems to promise a happy resolution with the evil defeated and banished, the very final images suggest that at least one survivor will not be able to leave things as they are and though that meddling unleash the doom that they had fought and died to prevent.

As I have stated, I enjoy this movie. I like the cast, I like the atmosphere, I like the slow wind up to a final act that is anything but slow, and I like that even when the characters are at cross purposes they all proceed from a foundation of trying to do the right thing. That said there are issues I have with the film and the logic of the story truly does not stand up to close scrutiny. Spoilers follow as well critique so some may not want to proceed.

In my opinion, gleaned from watching the films and listening to various audio commentaries, Carpenter is more drawn to style, mood, and image than he is to consistent world-building or attentive backstory. For example it is established that the Guardian Priest lived in the church alone, he ventured out once per week for groceries and supplies while checking on the canister everyday. Judging from the sheer number of candles lit in the basement the man’s sole job was placing, lighting, and replacing candles. In the early evening we see the team eating take-out Chinese food and pizza. It is presumed that meant they ordered the food and yet when things go south and people are being murdered there’s not even ‘they cut the phone’ to explain the lack of calling out for assistance. The canister we are told holds the offspring of a god, the anti-god. He buried the canister on Earth in the Middle East before he was banished. Christ was not a divine but a humanoid alien come to warn us about the godling in the bottle. IF he was an alien and the aliens knew about the godling in a bottle why did they leave it with the savages of Earth? That seems pretty irresponsible.

Those issues aside this is one of my favorite Carpenter films and when I got the chance to get it on Blu-ray I did not hesitate. It is film for the season.

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