#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 30th

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Oct 30th: House On Haunted Hill(1959): http://youtu.be/GZ5paTwRA_k

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Vincent Price is the man! Really, this review doesn’t need to say anything more.

 

But, I’m gonna write more anyway.

The film concerns eccentric millionaire Fredric Loren(Price), inviting five supposed strangers to an allegedly haunted house he has rented so as to throw a party for his fourth wife, Annabelle. The five guests are test pilot Lance Schroeder, newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges, the house’s frightened owner Watson Pritchard, psychiatrist Dr. David Trent who specializes in hysteria, and Nora Manning, who works for one of Loren’s companies. Each are told that if they can stay the night in the house, each will be given $10,000, the doors will be locked at midnight, and they will each be given guns to protect themself. Loren’s wife is reluctant to join the party because she feels that her husband is becoming unstable and might harm her. Meanwhile, the rest of the guests, particularly Norma begin to believe the house may actually be haunted, and that the rest of the guests may not be what they seem. It is a simple story, full of effects that were quite startling for the time, and anchored by the incomparable Vincent Price. The finally in which a skeleton rises from a vat of acid to torment a new victim is a great spectacle, and thanks to Director William Castle’s love of Theater gimmicks, was even better in the Cinemas. Castle had a knack for attaching special tricks to his films to enhance the thrill of the Audience. House on Haunted Hill was promoted as being filmed in a revolutionary new technology called “Emerg-O”, and during screenings, a skeleton would “float” over the audience, via wires during the finale of the film. How fucking cool would it be if studio execs still put that kind of care and effort into ensuring we enjoy the film experience? Oh well, at least the poster is still one of the coolest of all time.

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#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 29th

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Oct 29th: The Haunting(1963): http://youtu.be/AeAzGxWlEcg

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How well does this classic age? I’m of the opinion that it is timeless. Nearly every Fright-Flick to come after this film owes a large debt for either it’s direct influence, or the inspiration it provided. The Haunting is a flashback to a time when Gore or slick visual effects weren’t needed to elicit terror from their audience. The film follows 4 people who have chosen to stay in the notorious Hill House for the purposes of conducting experiments with the Paranormal. We have Dr. Markway, Luke Sannerson(next in line to inherit the house), a psychic named Theodora, called Theo for short, and frail Elenore Lance. The narrative of the film establishes the grim history of the house, and we also learn that there were no right angles used in the construction of the house, which fucks with perspective and your ability to gain your bearings. If I ever build my own house, i’m totally stealing that. 

The frights in this film are intense in their depiction, but they owe more to the foley artists and sound department than anything. Loud banging outside the bedroom door accompanied by ghostly wails, and the complete losing of their shit of the girls sleeping inside. The narration by Eleanor paints a picture of a woman shattered by her homelife, who’s mental state spirals further out of control since entering Hill House. Visually, this film is still unique in that it makes very interesting use of pans, zooms, tilts, dollys, and all manner of camera trickery to give the film a nightmarish intensity. %0 years later, and this film is still regarded as one of the scariest of all time. Sit down, shut up, and marvel at how Horror films used to be, and can one day be again.

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 28th

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Oct 28th: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974) http://youtu.be/Vs3981DoINw

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2(1986) http://youtu.be/7dyZVSNwJV4

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Two of the most misunderstood films in Horror History! We all know that the tale of Leatherface, and the rest of the demented cannibalistic Sawyer clan are loosely based on the crimes of Ed Gein, so I’ll save the Gein analysis for a later article I plan on serial killers. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is NOT the best film made by Tobe Hooper…but it is certainly his most well known, having become his infamous calling-card. Hooper has described in several interviews how the seeds of this film were planted as he was shopping in a crowded hardware store. He was getting annoyed at the huge crowds of people, when he thought to himself “If i were to grab that chainsaw and fire the sucker up, I bet these jackasses would get out of my way”. Glad to know I’m not the only one who has had similar thoughts. Other influences included changes in the American cultural and political landscape. The opening line of “The film you are about to see is true” is intentionally misleading as a reaction to “being lied to by the government about things that were happening all over the world”. As cool and smart as that sounds, the original working title for the film was “Headcheese”, so let’s not get too excited.

Sally Hardesty and her Brother Franklin, along with three friends are on a road trip to visit the grave of their Grandfather, after hearing reports of vandalism and grave-robbing in the area. After finding his grave has not been disturbed, they decide to pay a visit to the old family home…and on the way, they pick up a hitch-hiker. This fidgety ball of crazy talks about his family, the slaughterhouse, lights pictures on fire, and cuts himself AND Franklin, before he is booted from the vehicle. Continuing on to a nearby gas station, the kids find that the station is out of gas until the fill-up trucks come by later that evening, so they buy some Barbecue from the owner, and make their way to the Hardesty property. While exploring the grounds, more and more of the group find their way to the neighboring Sawyer house, filled with furniture made from human bones, wherein they are dispatched by Leatherface, a large, mentally handicapped cannibal, who compulsively kills and butchers the trespassers. Normally in a film like this, we kind of feel sorry for the victims…but since these idiots are trespassing in someones house, I don’t feel the slightest bit bad that they are bashed in the heads with large fucking hammers, hung up on meat hooks, and carved up with chainsaws. And the screaming…oh good god the screaming! It’s both fantastically expressive and mindbogglingly annoying as well.

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When only Sally is left alive, that is where the film really picks up steam. After fleeing to the Gas station, Sally learns that the owner at the station, Drayton, who at first had seemed so nice, is serving slow-roasted human flesh to his patrons. He captures Sally and brings her back to the Sawyer home, on the way, we run back into the Hitchiker, revealed to be Nubbins Sawyer, and brother to Drayton and Leatherface(whom they call alternately Bubba and Junior).

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After arriving back at the Sawyer House of Horrors, Sally is lashed to a chair and taunted while the demented cannibals eat dinner. Eventually she manages to escape, but is pursued by Nubbins, who is run down by a truck once Sally reaches the road, and Leatherface, who does the famous chainsaw dance of frustration after Sally gets away.

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The film is a classic! Painting a grim picture of an Insane Family who kills simply because they like it, and saving their body parts to make their furniture…or in the case of Leatherface, to express himself. Gunnar Hansen(who portrays Leatherface) explains that Leatherface is essentially controlled by his family, he’s afraid of them, and kills to protect his family home, even showing fear when new people enter the house. He is like a big dumb animal. He’s never learned to speak properly either, instead communicating through squeals and grunts. When we first see him, he is wearing a mask made of human flesh, and a bloody apron, but later, when it is time to prepare dinner, he has shifted to a flowered apron and a mask made from an old woman, complete with grey hair pulled back in a bun and brandishing a wooden spoon. This is how he expresses wanting to be helpful around the house. For the family dinner, I guess he wanted to look nice, so he dons a suit and tie, and a mask made from a woman’s face, complete with curly hair and make-up. As demented a picture this all paints of Leatherface and the Sawyer clan as a whole, the film is relatively tame compared to the reputation it received. Hardly any blood or gore is actually shown on screen, rather most of the violence either happens off camera or is all in the implication. By showing us just enough of the insanity to allow us to fill in the rest, Tobe Hooper managed to craft one of the most iconic and influential horror films of all time.  A backwoods Masterpiece of Fear and Loathing. Years later, Hooper would return to the franchise with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, one of the most under-rated pieces of Demented cinema ever unleashed! A film positively packed to the gory gills with severed limbs, bisected skulls, flayed flesh and screaming freaks! Truly a cracked out masterpiece, that actually WAS everything it’s predecessor got a reputation for being.

Faced with the dilemma of re-producing the claustrophobic pseudo-documentary style of the untouchable original, Hooper and screenwriter Kit Carson, opted to build an entirely different beast. Instead of idiotic/screaming college kids, we get Dennis Hopper! He portrays an alcoholic, half-mad, stetson wearing Texas Ranger named Lefty Enright. Fuck Yeah! Lefty is the uncle of Sally and Franklin from the first film who has been chasing the Sawyer family for the last 13 years. We meet a Daisey-Duke wearing DJ named “Stretch”, who inadvertently captured the slaughter of two idiot high school seniors by the Sawyer clan, when the yahoos call in to Stretch’s radio show from their car phone. The scene looks insane and awesome thanks to the FX mastery of Tom Savini. Lefty convinces Stretch to play the tape on the air in an effort to flush out the Sawyers, which works like a charm. Stretch is cornered at the station by Chop Top, the twin Brother of Nubbins, who was on a tour of ‘Nam during the events of the first film.

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For a trashy film, the portrayals are incredible!  Hopper’s brilliant saw-for-a-saw turn as the vengence-crazed Ranger, to Bill Mosely’s career defining turn as the spastic, scab-swallowing, music obsessed hippie with a metal plate in his head, to Jim Siedows cantankerous rambling expansion of his Drayton Sawyer character, are all so pulpy and over the top, that they threaten to jump right off the screen. An odd twist is the dramatic change to the portrayal of Leatherface. This time he is portrayed as a sweet-natured, confused, sexually frustrated innocent…who just so happens to kill people with a chainsaw and eat their flesh. The “Fuck-Me-Gently-With-A-Chainsaw” encounter with Stretch is both tense, and hilarious! As you can probably tell, I like this film FAR better than i like the original. Hooper and Co. ramped up the black-comedy in this sequel to make up for those who missed it’s subtle flourishes in part 1. Rather than dwelling within a creepy old house, The Family goes balls out and makes their home in the tunnels beneath a deserted theme part, decorating the place in garish lighting, corpses and remnants of the carnival they have scavenged.

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While film-makers such as Rob Zombie have openly stated they have taken great influence from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre while making films like House of 1000 Corpses, more credit belongs to TCM2. The campy, silly, wanton violence, the over the top eccentricity, and most of all, the joyful insanity is off the charts, making Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 the film that is perfect for those with cast-iron stomachs, and jet-black senses of humor.

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 27th

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Oct 27th: A Nightmare On Elm Street(1984)

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What can I say about one of the most iconic Horror films of all time? Nearly everyone has seen this film, and even if they haven’t, EVERYONE knows who Freddy Krueger is. It takes something very special to transcend it’s original franchise, but it’s medium as well.  Freddy has become a cultural icon, and while Wes Craven deserves immense credit for creating him, It is Robert Englund who truly breathed life into the character and truly allowed him to invade our dreams. The Character of Fred Krueger was a serial killer who targeted children, and it is implied that he was also a pedophile. After being killed by an angry mod of the parents of his victims, somehow his essence survived and began seeking his revenge by haunting the dreams of the remaining Elm Street children, and killing them. He becomes a local Boogeyman, not unlike “Cropsey” in New York, or “Spring Heeled Jack” in England. The Big Bad Wolf would swallow up children who strayed too far from home, but Freddy doesn’t wait for you to stray or to commit some transgression, no…he kills you because he can, and because he likes it.

Portrayed by Englund with a certain flair for the dramatic and charisma, we can very easily see that Freddy enjoys scaring his victims. He is the cruel clown, a demented Vaudeville  throwback. As he stalks Nancy, and she fights him off, there is definitely a psycho-sexual aspect to their encounters. It’s a classic telling of the dance between good and evil. On top of all of that, It’s a great date movie, or even great for kids getting together and watching it during a sleepover. Don’t question the classics, just accept that there is a reason they have proven so enduring, and watch it! Watch it several times! And don’t forget to dim the lights.

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 26th

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Oct 26th: Return Of The Living Dead(1985): http://youtu.be/wylpeAXYcBQ

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For a 1985 Horror Comedy with a wacky ensemble cast and dated(yet awesome) music, Dan O’Bannon’s “The Return Of The Living Dead” holds up incredibly well. This film remains one of the most fun films ever made. From Linnea Quigley’s iconic nude graveyard romp, the the epic Tar-man, who looks like a living Bernie Wrightson drawing, to the strains of “Do Ya Wanna Party?” by 45 Grave blaring as dozens of the undead crawl from their graves, this film hits on all cylinders!

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Anyone who considers themselves a Zombie fan, and lets face it…there are an awful lot of you trendy lil bandwagon jumpers out there…owe a huge debt of thanks to ROTLD, as this was the film that introduced the notion of Zombies eating brains. Another plus for this film is the last minute inclusion of the incredible Clu Gallagher, who plays Burt, the owner of Uneeda Medical Supplies. Gallagher’s performance not only adds a fantastic presence to the film, but helped a largely unknown cast step their collective game up. But the real star of this film was, and always will be, The Tar-man!

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Not only is this a dramatic leap forward in Zombie portrayal, as far as make-up effects go, as well as over-all design, but the producers were able to find an Actor who actually had a the body type to wear the suit and make it look convincing. Take a moment to appreciate that. Not only was this person( Allan Trautman), very thin, but incredibly limber and had fantastic muscle control. He manages to pull off staggering, stumbling movements that look as iff the bones themselves will pop out of their loosened joints at any second.  It’s no secret that this film is quite silly, I think we can all agree it makes up a large part of it’s charm, but it is very ahead of it’s time. At the beginning, warehouse worker Frank, acknowledges that “Night Of The Living Dead”(it’s linear predecessor) is a real film, and that it was based off of a “real event” that happened within the universe of ROTLD. This pre-dates the wave of Meta-films we would see later on such as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and the Scream series. The notion that a film is aware of the existence of a certain film, and opperates outside of that reality, effectively portraying “real-life” is largely lost in this film though. After the initial mentioning of it, it pretty much gets glossed over in favour of Punk Rock, Brain Munching, and tits. Fair Trade.

 

Full Film: http://youtu.be/mO9ZKzF9EmM

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 25

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Oct 25th: Phantasm(1979): http://youtu.be/xmcR8_2RinY

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Normally I try and shy away from too many spoilers in my reviews, but this time i have to throw that right out the window. If i were to do a spoiler free review, it would be: “This movie is fucked, and somehow managed to spawn several sequels”. Not very interesting, is it?

Mike and Jody are two Brothers who have recently lost their parents. Jody is the older, so he is taking care of Mike, who can’t shake the suspicion that Jody is going to stick him with relatives and leave him. When Jody’s friend Tommy is killed during a steamy love fest in the cemetery, Mike starts to notice strange occurrences happening around the Mortuary and surrounding  cemetery, chief among them, a very creepy, very Tall Undertaker, who has the strength to lift a full casket by himself. Mike takes his suspicions of something sinister to a local fortune teller, who instructs him to place his hand into a black box on the table. After the box grips his hand, Mike freaks out, but as he is told to not fear, he gradually calms down and is released. Fear itself is the killer. This notion is kept fresh in the mind of Mike, as he begins to be pursued by Dwarf minions of the Tall Man, and pursued by the Tall Man himself. Eventually Mike convinces Jody to help him, and they find that the Tall Man is killing off locals, then turning their bodies into his dwarf minions to be used as slave labor on another world. Oh yeah, The Tall Man has weapons. Big Silver Balls that seemingly fly around the mausoleum at his will, and at times unsheathing deadly blades or even a drill. The finale of the film sees Mike and Jody carrying out a plan to drop the Tall Man down a mine shaft, when all of a sudden, Mike wakes up. The whole film was a nightmare. Jody is dead, and mike is struggling to cope. After waking from the nightmare, Mike heads upstairs, only to find the Tall Man is waiting for him in his bedroom!

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Ok…so What The Fuck is going on here? Well, we learn that the bulk of the film does indeed take place within the nightmare of Mike, which explains the surreal and exaggerated tone of the film, and clues of this are peppered throughout the film. Once you understand how your environment  influences your dreams, this becomes much more clear. Imagine you are Mike. 13 years old, you’ve lost both your parents, and then you have just lost your older brother, who had become your whole world. In your grief, you would likely spend a lot of time in Jody’s room, yearning to hold on to him for just a little bit longer. You would likely stare at the posters he had in his room…maybe Star Wars, and the Allman Brothers Band? Those aren’t random guesses either, it doesn’t take a genius to see that the dwarf minions of the Tall Man look just like the droid peddling Jawas from Star wars episode IV. As for the Allman Brothers? Jody’s friend Tommy, who is killed in the cemetery, bears a striking resemblance to Dwayne Allman, his look standing out drastically from the other characters in the film. It should go without saying at this point that I am purely speculating on the hidden meaning. Ultimately, The whole film is a story of how an adolescent deals with Mourning and Death. In the case of Mike, he dreams up a sinister personification of death culled from pop culture and fear. This personification, The Tall Man, is causing the deaths to fuel his own agenda, effectively stealing these peoples lives before their time. This is much easier to accept for someone so young, rather than the knowledge that everyone must die, and we have no idea how long they will have. If death is the result of a sinister external force, as opposed to a mysterious whimsical happenstance, then might one be able to resist it? Could you fight against this force, and stop death? That seems to go in line with Mike’s dream…you see where i’m going with this.

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…But what about after Mike wakes up? Why is the Tall Man waiting in his room? It was all a dream, wasn’t it?

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 24

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Oct 24th: Zombi 2(1979): http://youtu.be/ViXN7D3E7aI

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I won’t get into the complicated lineage of this film just yet (I’ll save that for my review of the Video Nastys), suffice it to say that this unofficial Italian sequel to Dawn of the Dead spawned countless unofficial sequels itself, and it gets more complicated from country to country.

Zombi 2 is an elusive masterpiece that doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves. And, to be honest, I like it that way. The film opens with a seemingly deserted yacht drifting into New York harbor. A the Harbor Patrol boards the derelict vessel, they find the ship in shambles, and a Zombie on board who manages to kill one of the patrolmen before having it’s brains blown out. In the ensuing investigation, We learn the ship belongs to a Mr. Bowles, who has fallen out of communication with his concerned daughter Anne. All she knows of his whereabouts is that he was supposed to be conducting research on a tropical island somewhere. After being assigned the case by his News Editor, Peter West joins up with Anne and offers to help her track down her father. They learn that Anne’s father is on a remote island called Matool, and seems to be suffering from a strange disease. It wouldn’t be an Italian film unless a mystery was investigated by amateurs.

The two arrive in the tropics, and enlist the aide of a couple who are touring the islands in their boat. Upon arriving on Matool, things are much worse than they thought. On this island, the dead are rising…and they are going to eat you! The reason i say this film deserves more credit, are because not only is this film one of the best Zombie films ever made, it has slipped under the mainstream radar. The make-up effects are stellar, especially on the Zombies that we see rising from ancient graves. They appear caked in mud and mold, and have live worms wriggling around on what is left of their flesh. The score is minimalist and keeps the tone haunting and full of despair…exactly what it should feel like when the world as you know it is coming to an end.

Now on to why I’m glad more people haven’t caught on to this film. One scene depicts one of the greatest gore gags in the history of cinema, as a zombie pulls a woman by the hair, and her eyeball draws closer and closer to a jagged piece of wood. We can’t draw our gaze away as she draws closer and closer, eventually piercing deep into the eyeball, everything in full display!

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But the ultimate is the depiction of a shark, and a Zombie, both attempting to make a meal out of a scuba diver, who then turn their attention towards each other to fight over the meal. It is a Zombie vs. Shark Deathmatch, and it is as awesome as it sounds!

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If this film were more well known, the Hipsters would ruin Zombie vs Shark… it would be just like when the Emos stole Nightmare Before Christmas from the Goths. I still haven’t gotten over that one…