Monday, October 14, 2013


“What’s your pleasure, sir?”

To be honest, I haven’t read much Clive Barker since The Great and Secret Show. Up until then, however, I was a fan – devouring anything I could find. Weaveworld is still one of my favorites. However, I never got a chance to read The Hellbound Heart, the novella on which Hellraiser is based. From the synopsis, it seems like the film hews pretty closely to the source material (except for the end – what the hell is up with that homeless guy? Was it Alan Moore?)

Hellraiser remains a pretty decent horror film, even twenty six years later. A tale of obsession, lust, madness and murder, it contains the requisite fleshy nastiness one associates with early Barker while also featuring some almost lyrical moments – as when Kirsty has the nightmare about her father. For a novice filmmaker, Barker has a deft hand with camera setups. The camera is always moving, but in a revealing way. Exploring.

Frank, an unrepentant hedonist who is searching for the ultimate pleasure, finds more than he bargained for in a mysterious puzzle box. Opening it, he unintentionally summons the Cenobites, hellish creatures obsessed with pleasure and pain in equal measure. They tear him to shreds. Later, Frank’s brother Larry and his wife Julia arrive and Larry’s blood (from a minor wound) revives Frank in a masterpiece of gory special effects. He convinces Julia, who is still obsessed with him, to help him return to his full ‘humanity.’ This involves her luring men to the house and killing them, so that Frank can feed on their corpses.

It may be up to Kirsty, Larry’s daughter from a previous marriage, to end the carnage. IF she can survive her own encounter with the puzzle box – and those things that it summons.

Obsession, desire, and fear are the driving forces of Hellraiser. Julia’s obsession with her husband’s brother Frank and their one-time dalliance prior to Julia’s wedding. Her desire for Frank, to feel his hands on her again. Frank’s fear of the Cenobites and being returned to their tender care as well as his desire for the pleasures of the flesh. Kirsty’s fear of her uncle and for her father.

Weirdly, Hellraiser reminds me of Neil Gaimen’s Sandman – but with a ton of blood splashed about.

And there is blood galore. I remember when I first watched it that I thought it was one of the goriest movies I had ever seen (in 1987). I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but it’s definitely not a film for those with tender stomachs. The resurrection scene alone contains more blood, bile and unspecified fluids than most any other film outside of Dead Alive. I’m astonished it got an R rating.

I find most of the gore in this film to be purposeful, however, rather than explicitly for shock. Even little things, like the way Frank’s shirt – when he’s whole enough to start wearing clothes – starts out pristine white and slowly becomes soaked through with blood as the scene continues. (He still has no skin at this point, so it’s an inspired touch.)

I’m rambling on more than usual. Let’s tie this up. Though the ending is a little rushed, the acting uneven, and some of the optical effects sub-par (that ‘lighting’ effect is pretty cheesy), this is still an effective and strangely fascinating horror movie.

Fiend Without a Face

“We've got to have more power!”

This is an enjoyable sci-fi flick in the same vein as THEM! and The Thing From Another World, though it doesn’t quite live up to the quality of either. I know I’ve seen this film, but it must have been on one of those long ago afternoons of my childhood, staring morosely at the screen because it was raining outside. I didn’t remember much (well, any) of the plot, but I remember the monsters well enough. Glistening disembodied brains with spinal columns for tails and nerves/blood vessels for limbs. They make an impression!

The setup involves an American/Canadian joint military base in Manitoba. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any other film set in Manitoba. Anyway, the base is engaged in a secret operation to boost radar with broadcast nuclear power. (If this gobbledygook of science bothers you, the plan to shut down the plant by blowing up the control room (after the rods are destroyed!) will really upset you.) The local townsfolk are already on edge, unhappy with the loud jets and the nuclear power plant, blaming it for problems with their livestock. When locals start showing up dead, expressions of absolute horror on their faces, the fingers quickly start point at the base.

Of course this is the 50’s, and the military is not only blameless, but the only hope the town has against an insidious, invisible creature of pure thought. The result of the experiments of a local scientist, the monsters are literally sucking people’s brains out. For much of the film the monster is only shown via effect and sound – there’s a sort of creepy crackling noise as it moves long and knocks things down or tracks through liquid. When they finally do appear visually – due to an increase in the output of the nuclear plant – they’re well worth the wait.

The monsters are stop motion, which was something of a rarity in the 1950’s. They’re suitabley gross and horrifying, flying through the air and wrapping their spinal cord tails around people’s necks. There’s some gore as well, which I wasn’t expecting. During a tense standoff in an isolated farmhouse several of them are shot, spurting blood and other substances. Must have drove the censors nuts back then.

It’s a bit unorthodox in that nuclear power itself isn’t the issue, it’s how it’s used that causes the problems. The characters are pretty cookie-cutter, but the effects are above average and there are some nicely tense sequences as invisible monsters stalk various victims.

All in all a decent fright flick in the atomic horror vein.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The House on Haunted Hill (1999)

“What good is a million dollars when you’re dead?”

In keeping with the ‘remakes’ theme of the weekend, I picked up a copy of Dark Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill for $2.97 at the local Bull Moose store. The clerk ran it through the de-scratcher twice, so I was a little worried it wouldn’t play, but it came through fine.

Bottom line – it was totally worth the three bucks.

There were a bunch of remakes of classic horror films in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. I actually kind of liked Thirteen Ghosts – mostly for Tony Shaloub, Matthew Lillard and the monster design – but the others were pretty awful. After House of Wax and The Fog I just kind of wrote them all off and never got around to seeing HoHH (even though it was the first of the bunch to be released).

Which was my loss, because it’s actually quite fun. There are not a lot of genuine scares to be had – everything’s a little too polished and tongue-in-cheek for that – but there are some good set pieces, fairly graphic gore, and decent special effects. The actors generally do a good job and the characters are not universally unlikeable (except for Christ Kattan, who is just excruciating to watch and listen to).

The basic plot is the same as the (much loved) original, where a group of strangers is invited to a haunted location as part of a rich woman’s birthday party. They’re offered a significant amount of money if they can survive the night in the house. Hijinks ensue.

I like the set design quite a bit, but it’s too polished and well-lit to be scary. Some of the jump scares and gore – particularly the ‘technician’ face reveal – are pretty good and there’s generally a nice atmosphere to things. Geoffrey rush is great, camping it up as the eccentric amusement park mogul – not quite up to Vincent Price’s level, but who is, really? Famke Janssen vamps her way through a thankless role and is quite fun as well. The rest are, as I said, likeable enough, but don’t make a huge impression as they’re picked off one by one. The most beautiful people are the ones that make it out alive of course, but at least they killed off Kattan’s character (nowhere near quickly enough for my taste). The final confrontation sequence is okay, but the CGI effects don’t work as well as the practical effects earlier on.

In the end I still like the original better, if only because I prefer the non-supernatural setup. That being said this is a million times better than the other remakes I mentioned earlier and well worth watching if it’s on TV, streaming or you can find it for $2.97.

Double Feature Weekend: Remakes! Halloween and Dawn of the Dead

 It’s Double Feature theme weekends this year! I’ve done Creature Features the last two years on one of the weekends, but this year I decided to expand. For the first Double Feature I decided to go with remakes. I’ve already seen John Carpenter’s The Thing for a previous 31 Days, so that was out. I then decided to narrow it even further to ‘remakes of films I’ve already seen for 31 Days.’ I’d been hoping to watch the remakes of Evil Dead and Halloween, as the originals were the bookends for my first year doing this. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a copy of Evil Dead in time, so I ended up watching the remake of Dawn of the Dead instead.

Halloween (2007)

"Whoa.. Mikey! What're you doing out of your room?"

I didn’t realize, but I haven’t actually seen any of Rob Zombie's other movies. None of the trailers for House of 1000 Corpses or The Devil’s Rejects grabbed me, and I guess I just never got around to watching them on video.
From this film he appears to be a decent filmmaker with an interesting visual aesthetic and a decent grasp of what makes a good horror movie work.

Unfortunately, I hated this movie.

It has more to do with my appreciation for the original and what I liked about that film, more than it does about the quality of the film on its own.

What it boils down to – and this applies to my dislike of the sequels as well – is that this movie humanizes Michael. Makes him almost sympathetic. Oh, hell, it DOES make him sympathetic. And I can see where, given the expanded universe that the sequels built, how doing that seems to make sense. That whole screwed-up family dynamic is given center place and the whole first two thirds of the film is essentially a ‘how Michael became The Shape.’

But I liked it better when Michael was a faceless force of nature. When he was unexplained and unexplainable. I liked it when there was no rhyme or reason to his rampage. That’s what made him scary, to me. That you couldn’t predict or comprehend his actions.

The sequels kinda ruined all that, and this movie continues undermining the whole concept of ‘evil in the shape of a man.’ He’s an emotionless psychopath that loves his mom and baby sis and gets pushed too far only he forgets what he did and hides behind masks so people won’t look at him. And that’s how little the back story holds together.

You know, the acting is great – I particularly like the choice of Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis. Tyler Mane has a great physical presence as the adult Michael, looming over everybody and managing to convey menace in the turn of his head. The scares and gore are well handled and I like the way the film is shot and the set direction. All the bits in Haddonfield in the latter parts of the film – the actual remake section – are really good, though I still think Carpenter handled them better and with more finesse.

I dunno – maybe I’m just holding on to the original too much. It’s NOT a bad film – it just seems to undermine everything that made the original great, and for me that ends up making it a failure.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

"It's nice to see that you've all bonded through this disaster."

And then there’s this movie that, despite dumping a lot of the social commentary and humor that made the original such a classic, is a film I like a lot.

The first ten minutes of Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead are some of the most intense and horrifying of any film. I remember watching it in the theater and thinking - as the titles queued up some kickass Johnny Cash – that if the whole movie kept up this intensity that I was in for something special.

And of course it doesn’t, unfortunately. It goes from something amazing to something merely good, but it’s still an enjoyable zombie movie.

Snyder, to me, is an uneven filmmaker whose focus on spectacle undermines his interest in telling a good story. He strikes me as someone who WANTS to give you a movie that has things to say about people and society, but he keeps getting distracted by just how damn COOL all this stuff is.

In this film the mall and the survivor’s reactions to it have nothing to do with consumer culture and a desire to hold onto normality in the face of impending apocalypse, instead it’s just a safe place for supplies. The minor efforts at character building – the confessional dinner, the montage of ‘what are people doing now,’ the celebrity sniper hunt – serve only to sketch in personalities: here’s the slut, here’s the asshole, here’s the innocent. There’s nothing more than a nod at depth. Hell, I think I know more about Andy, the gun shop survivor, than I really do about the leads.

It probably sounds like I’m running the movie down a lot, and I guess I am, but that’s only because when it’s good it’s really good. The opening sequence, the zombie birth, the confrontation over killing a guy who’s been bit. The set pieces in the parking garage and the escape in their A-Teamed vehicles (that shot of the explosion with the zombies falling away – that’s awesome).

As I was watching it I kept asking myself why I was giving this film more of a pass as a remake when I was so hard on Halloween. I guess it comes down to two things:

1) DotD makes some changes to the underpinnings – fast zombies, for instance – but they actually add to the experience. I love traditional Romero zombies, but as Barbara says in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, “They’re so slow. We could walk right past them.” Fast zombies ratchet up the fear and consequences. It makes things scarier. The backstory of Michael in the Halloween remake does nothing to make him scarier and actually reduces him in some ways.

2) DotD is actually FUN. It has some scary moments, there are bits of character interactions that are heavy, but in general it’s a roller coaster of gore and action. Halloween is slow and ponderous to begin with and the remake turns that from a good thing – the slow buildup – to a bad, with the whole first part just dragging on and doing little to make the experience enjoyable.

So yeah. Dawn of the Dead isn’t a better movie than the original, but it’s still fun and has some cool set pieces. I’ve seen it a few times now and I’m always able to enjoy it. I don’t think I’ll ever watch the remake of Halloween again.

The Lurking Fear

I finally got up the courage to dip into my super-cheap ’20 Horror Movies’ dvd collection. I picked The Lurking Fear because, hey, Lovecraft and Jeffrey Combs! Can’t miss, right?


I give a certain amount of leeway to a Full Moon Entertainment movie, but even by that standard this is pretty lackluster. The acting is wooden, the writing hack, cinematography workmanlike, and the production… well, some of it is okay – though the set design makes all the interiors look like rural Romania or something.

Very loosely based on the Lovecraft short story, the film follows ex-con John Martense as he is given a map showing the location of some money buried with a corpse. The graveyard is in his home town, which just so happens to be dealing with some sort of assault from underground creatures. Add a trio of criminals also looking for the money and watch things go haywire.

The producers have tried to leaven the cast with some decent character actors, but they only serve as a contrast to how crappy the rest of the actors are. Like finding a chocolate bar in a bowl of crap, it somehow makes it worse.
And while the interiors seem rustic Eastern European, the exteriors are all southern US desert, which makes the whole “the monsters only come out when there’s a storm” aspect seem particularly stupid. It rains a LOT in this desert, though.

Combs does the best he can with the thankless job of alcoholic town doctor, the late Vincent Schiavelli chews the scenery as a bent undertaker and… is that Ashley Laurence? Wasn’t she in Hellraiser? Wasn’t she MUCH BETTER in Hellraiser? In this she plays a sort of paramilitary badass, but is completely unbelievable. I kinda wanted the woman playing one of the criminals to kick her ass – she at least had a little personality.

The monster design was pretty good, if a bit static – just the jaws move on the face. Unfortunately, you only see one of them for most of the movie. It was hard to believe it could threaten a whole town and I started to think they just didn’t have the budget for more monsters (spent it all on gasoline for the explosions). Then they show us a whole nest of the things about 5 minutes from the end. Why they couldn’t have used a few more of them for the attacks, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s was pretty terrible, even by Full Moon standards. And not ‘bad, but in a good way.’ It’s just… blah. Subpar, with little of interest and a lot of missed opportunities.

Monday, October 7, 2013

House (1977)

Holy. SHIT.

I have no idea what I just watched.

But I kinda want to watch it again.

This is one of the Criterion Collection films on Hulu and I put it in my queue (along with the original Blob, Vampyr, and Fiend Without a Face) to watch this month. I don’t know what I was expecting – something along the lines of the Shochiku horror films I’d watched a bit earlier (The Living Skeleton, Genocide, and  Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell) – but what I got was… crap, I don’t even know how to describe it.

Super-quick plot summary: seven high school girls travel to visit the aunt of one of their number. The aunt’s house is haunted and they’re picked off one by one.

Sounds like a straightforward enough movie, doesn’t it?

And there ARE horrific moments. There’s a severed head that vomits blood. A piano EATS a girl. But the severed head floats around and bites one girl on the butt while saying “Mmmm, tasty.” The girl eaten by the piano is also decapitated and her severed head looks up her own skirt and declares, “That’s my naughty!”

The first 10-15 minutes of the movie was so high school girl drama/comedy that I almost stopped watching. Soft-focus closeups, silly music, drama with a dad’s new fiancé – at times it almost feels like a musical. There’s even a whole sequence with a teacher walking past people working in rhythm to  the music on the soundtrack. (He falls into a bucket that gets stuck to his butt, then hops around on it, then calls the hospital while a little kid plays the bucket like a drum.) 

Is this a comedy? It has to be, right? 

Oh, and there’s a mysterious white cat in there as well, and it appears to be directing some of the action (tripping the teacher, having mail show up late).

Anyway, the girls arrive at the countryside and run into a round little fruit-stand guy. He apparently only sells watermelon, though. He directs the girls to the huge house on the hill and after they leave excitedly exclaims about the mistress being so happy to see them, all while dancing a happy jig.
The aunt greets the girls and the cat turns out to be hers. It’s all very lovely and rustic out in the gardens. Inside is another story, with cobwebs, weird architecture and general haunted house décor. The cat shoots green laser eyes and stuff happens. The aunt has white hair and is in a wheelchair – some of the time.

Despite the obvious creep factor, the girls are all very excited , though nice and polite. They fix dinner and start cleaning the house. They all have nicknames that are related to their personality:

  •  the main character is Gorgeous (it’s her aunt’s house) – she’s appearance focused
  •  then there’s her best friend Fantasy, whose imagination runs away with her a bit
  • Prof is the smart one
  • Mac likes to eat
  • Melody loves music, and the aunt invites her to use the cobwebbed grand piano (while a skeleton dances in the background )
  • Kung Fu does… well, kung fu
  • Sweet is the nicest one. She spends part of the movie washing the floor.

 Mac disappears during dinner (queue more fat jokes) and when Fantasy goes to look for her she finds her severed head in the well (leading to the blood vomiting, flying and butt biting). Nobody believes her, but during dessert the aunt smiles and reveals and eye in her mouth.

Things just get more wacky from there. There are a ton of special effects and they vary from pretty damn good (some great mirror stuff) to crazy bad (the piano eating the girl). It’s non-stop, over the top weirdness. I just kept shaking my head and muttering “what the fu….”

A girl gets killed by pillows and futons (or maybe turned into a doll, it’s not clear). Another gets dissolved in cat blood. There’s a lot more kung fu than I expected. A severed limb kicks a cat painting that explodes, leaving only the image of the cat that then vomits up enough blood to flood the building. People lose parts of their clothes a lot.

Meanwhile, that teacher who had fallen into a bucket is trying to meet up with them. After several random interludes with him he finally arrives at the fruit stand. The proprietor tells him that the girls have all been eaten and then asks if he likes watermelon. The teacher replies. “No, I like bananas.” At this point the fruit stand owner screams and dissolves into a skeleton. The teacher stumbles back to his car muttering about bananas.

When another character arrives later, she finds his car still there, full of bananas.

I don’t, I just… I can’t even…

I went from hating this film, to being totally confused by this film, to finally needing to own this film. It’s SO F’ing CRAZY.

If you get a chance to see it, I recommend it – but know you’re in for a really wild ride.


I'm posting a few times a day until I've caught up.

Apparently she’s hungry.
… Canned goods.

Thale was recommended to me last year by Jonas Albrecht, but it hadn’t been released in the US yet. Now it’s available (for free, with very annoying commercial interruptions) on Hulu. I’d urge you to rent it elsewhere, though, as the commercials really interrupted the flow of the film.

I liked Thale quite a lot, as it turns out. It’s not really horror, more… supernatural fantasy with horror elements? It doesn’t have much in the way of traditional horror beats, there’s more of a whimsy to it. (I Say this even though a character gets an automatic rifle shoved through his chest and the opening scene involves a dismembered corpse.)

What we have are two guys, Leo and Elvis, who work for a ‘crime scene cleanup’ business. Elvis is new and doesn’t have the strongest stomach. You get the impression that he’s not been the most reliable person and that he’s trying to get his act together. Leo is more stoic and laid back. Both come across as very likeable, and the actors manage to convey a lot of personality with not much dialogue.

They’re called to a job at a rural cabin where the body of an old man has been gnawed on and strewn about by animals. In the process of cleaning up the mess they come across a hidden series of rooms in the basement. In these rooms they find a very strange girl named Thale. A girl who may not be precisely human.

The actress who plays Thale does an amazing job. With no lines whatsoever, she has to use her face and body language to convey meaning and emotion, and she’s more than up to the task. All the actors are above average, especially for a low-budget production like this, but she’s given the difficult task of carrying a huge chunk of story without being able to say a word – and kills it. 

I dunno – it’s weird. It’s a quiet little character film for a lot of it. Yeah, there are fantastical creatures, a government conspiracy and the main characters all have secrets they’re keeping from each other, but that stuff never gets heavy, never really overwhelms the mood. Thinking about it now, it may be a little too light, a little too naïve, and the ending ties things up a little too neatly – but I really enjoyed watching it and was happy to have a ‘horror’ film that didn’t pander to/involve humanity’s baser instincts.

Things I noted as the movie went along:

  • Maybe it’s just me, but if something moves in a tub full of milky fluid while I’m exploring a creepy hidden basement? TIME TO GO HOME.
  • The whole ‘main character moves, revealing creepy thing behind them’ still makes me jump
  • Audio work is really good as well
  • Machine gun through the torso. Yikes.
  • Some of the CGI is a little dodgey, but not as bad as I was expecting.

 So, yeah, a nice little film. Happy to have had the chance to see it.