Thursday, 1 November 2018

Belated Happy Halloween Everybody.

Well, phew – that was a lot of fun. My productivity both in work and day-to-day life may have suffered, but knocking out over 28,000 words of horror movie reviewin’ in the space of a month proved very enjoyable. Although I’ve fallen one short of last year’s total of fifteen reviews, I’ve still just about managed to meet my self-imposed ‘post every two days’ deadline, despite being derailed both by extra-curricular ‘Train To Busan’ re-evaluation [watch this space], and by the need to bang on for absolutely ages about Mandy. My review of The Monster Club just about made it under the wire at 11pm on Tuesday night… and we’re done.

Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to leave comments, or simply to read these posts – I really appreciate it, and I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to reply to some of them yet; all have been most apposite and welcome.

I hope that your own October was just as full of gratuitous and irresponsible wallowing in horror movies as mine has been. To finish things off nicely, here are a few brief-as-possible run-downs of some other movies I’ve managed to fit in this month, but have lacked either the time or inclination to write up in full.

All The Colors of The Dark 
(Sergio Martino, 1972)

Making Martino’s other gialli look like light-weight trifles in comparison, ‘All The Colors Of The Dark’ (which I returned to for the first time in a few years late weekend) makes for an oppressively heavy and intoxicating viewing experience. The film’s Polanski-esque immersion into the increasingly unreliable perceptions on a woman on the verge of complete nervous collapse leads to an airless and claustrophobic feel, and, unusually, Edwige Fenech makes for a fairly inscrutable and unsympathetic heroine on this occasion, meaning that the ninety plus minutes we spend following her every move are rather less pleasant than her fans may have anticipated.

The non-supernatural elements of Gastaldi’s script are likewise fairly tedious and over-familiar (a fact not helped by the film’s infuriating habit of introducing characters who look almost exactly like other characters), and Martino seems to struggle at times with extracting his preferred level of stylistic grandeur from the unusually drab British locations.

When he does get his mojo on though, the film crashes into heady, oneiric territory with almost frightening glee. Susan Scott / Nieves Navarro is great as the spaced out, witchy neighbour character, and the castle-bound Sabbath / orgy sequences she leads Edwige to are far stronger and more rapey than I remember from previous viewings - both totally freaked out and genuinely rather upsetting. (My wife was absolutely mortified by the bit where a cute little doggie gets sacrificed. Oops - I’d have held this one back for solo viewing if I’d remembered.)

Meanwhile, Ivan Rassimov drips menace as only he can, glowering mightily in his distinctive fashion, and, as fans will be well aware, Bruno Nicolai’s music is absolutely off-the-hook. One of the most raging, psychedelic Euro-cult scores of all-time, it adds hugely to the film’s overall impact.

Indeed, ‘All the Colors..’ remains an essential slice of full strength giallo / euro-horror business – the cinematic equivalent of being force-fed claret and sleeping pills, more or less – even if it falls to some extent into the “easier to admire than to love” basket.

Black Moon
(Roy William Neill, 1934)

Despite a wonderfully alluring poster and the always welcome presence of Fay Wray, this voodoo / plantation island tale from Neill (who went on to become the regular director for Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series) has never really gained much traction amongst vintage horror fans – probably due to the fact that it is both profoundly mediocre and very, very racist.

Lacking either the dream-like atmospherics of ‘White Zombie’ or the intelligence and subtlety of ‘I Walked With a Zombie’ (and, indeed, lacking any zombies), I suppose you could at least make a case for this one as the go-to template for all subsequent undistinguished voodoo b-movies, but that aside, it has very little going for it – unless you’re scared of black people I suppose, in which case… well, I suggest seeking psychiatric help rather than wasting your time watching old movies.

Actually, my one pertinent observation here is that this film represents an example of prevailing social attitudes having changed so profoundly in the eight decades since it was made that (child sacrifice notwithstanding), the supposed “bad guys” (ie, the black islanders and the white lady who grew up with them and digs their culture) now seem vastly more sympathetic than the stuck-up, slave-owning “good guys”. So, that’s quite interesting, I suppose?

Meanwhile, the staged voodoo rituals are filmed with a sweaty, feverish intensity, and the manipulative imperilment of a white child within them would almost certainly not have been allowed once the Production Code kicked in a year or two later…. but, beyond that, nothing much to see here folks – please move along.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that, unless you’re working on a biography of one of the principal cast members or carrying out a study of colonialist attitudes in 1930s horror films, there is very little reason to watch this in the 21st century.

Dr Phibes Rises Again!
(Robert Fuest, 1972)

It recently occured to me that, although I have naturally seen Robert Fuest’s ‘The Abominable Dr Phibes’ (1971) many times over many years, as is only right and proper, I’d never actually got around to watching the sequel.

With this oversight duly corrected, I can immediately understand why this one is somewhat less well-regarded than its predecessor. Whereas the first Dr Phibes film feels like a perfectly formed cinematic creation, with every detail carefully planned out in advance, ‘..Rises Again’ by contrast is absolutely all over the place, feeling very much like a series of random incidents strung together with little rhyme or reason, leaving all kinds of incongruous bits and pieces flapping inelegantly in the breeze.

This is especially unfortunate given that Fuest’s plan for this film seems to have been even more extravagantly ambitious than the first one, with Dr Phibes’ decision to decamp to a network of cyclopean ancient Egyptian ruins allowing the director to indulge in some of the most wildly imaginative (and, no doubt, expensive) sets and props of a career spent more or less specialising in such things. (Caroline Munro’s Rolls Royce coffin is a definite highlight.)

I’ve not yet had a chance to dig into the various extras on the blu-ray, but one suspects that a perfect storm of budgetary and scheduling problems, studio interference and unsympathetic editing may well have led Fuest to crash and burn here.

No one could accuse him of not giving it his best shot however, and whilst ‘..Rises Again’ is objectively a far poorer film than its predecessor, that thankfully doesn’t prevent it from being an absolute hoot from start to finish – a raving mad car crash of fiendish weirdness, the like of which has rarely been seen before or since, with an extraordinary cast and some murder set-pieces so grandiose and surreal they even eclipse those of the first film.

I mean, really, what can you really say to the sight of Milton Reid getting a golden snake rammed through his brain (I think that might actually be my favourite scene from either film), Hugh Griffith being cast out to sea in a giant gin bottle (rather cruel I thought, given his well-known drinking problem), John Thaw getting his face chewed off by an Andean Condor, and the likes of Terry Thomas, Peter Cushing and Beryl Reid all turning up for no apparent reason to take a bite out of the scenery before disappearing again..?

It would take a hard-hearted movie fan indeed to witness such wonders and still emerge complaining that the script doesn’t make much sense, the humour is puerile and the make-up effects are a bit iffy. Highest possible recommendation.

Zombie Creeping Flesh
(Bruno Mattei, 1980)

AKA ‘Hell of the Living Dead’ and probably about a dozen other things.

Claiming that this is the best film ever realised by the dynamic duo of Mattei and Fragrasso may not sound like much of a compliment, but… there ya go, make of it what you will.

Unfortunately, ‘Zombie Creeping Flesh’ is marred by a veritable avalanche of poorly matched stock footage during its ill-advised cannibal movie-style middle section (not only do we get to see grey elephants stampeding across the majestic plains of Papua New Guinea but I think they cram in enough National Geographic ‘native tribal customs’ clips to cover about three continents) -- but, if we can leave all that aside, I’d argue that all of the legit, men-on-the-scene type stuff with our team of hard-boiled commandos tangling with the zombies is actually pretty damn boss.

The mad laughing, Klaus Kinski-type dude is great; the business with the zombified kid is brutal (but great), the Baader-Meinhof style terrorist siege that introduces us to the commandos is, uh, *kinda* great, the stolen Goblin music on the soundtrack is great, and the whole opening section with the zombie outbreak in the power plant is awesome.

And, nearly forty years down the line, dare I even suggest that the film’s once laughably heavy-handed political sub-text actually now seems pretty on-point, vis-à-vis the developed world inflicting plague and environmental devastation upon poor island communities..? Not least in the eerie (and weirdly audacious) scene that sees New Guinea’s representative at the U.N. angrily pleading his nation’s case to a near-empty chamber.

Well, anyhow - it may not be as funny as Zombi Holocaust, as icky and dream-like as ‘Burial Ground’ or as brilliantly mental as Cannibal Apocalypse, but if the clock strikes midnight and you find yourself in the mood for some rock solid Italio-action-horror goodness, this one won’t let you down.

Salem’s Lot
(Tobe Hooper, 1979)

I’ve never been much of a Stephen King fan, so I’ve not read the novel, but I can easily believe that this leisurely three hour TV-mini-series-converted-into-theatrical-feature type effort gives a pretty good impression of what the experience of reading it might be like, complete with reams of extraneous sub-plots and secondary characters, heavy small-American-town-gone-to-seed vibes, and a brave, easy-lovin’ novelist with big glasses turning up to save the day.

Overall, this isn’t a bad vampire story – nothing too earth-shattering, but there are plenty of effective moments; it’s interesting to see James Mason of all people popping up as the sinister, vamp-enabling antique dealer, Elisha Cook seems to have wondered straight in off the set of ‘Messiah of Evil’ six years earlier, the circa ’73 fashions everyone wears already seem to be gathering dust, I loved that little jeep with the canvas door that the playboy writer guy zooms around in, and there’s some choice stuff with the pre-‘Lost Boys’ vampire hunting monster kid character. (DAD: “magic, monsters – what do you see in all this?”, KID: “I dunno, I just like it I suppose – the same way you liked numbers, so you became an accountant”.)

Things take a startlingly apocalyptic turn towards the end (I could have done with a bit more of that), and the eventual revelation that the head vampire is none other than motherfucking Graf Orlok himself is absolutely brilliant – like his silent-era predecessor, he’s a pure monster-vampire who doesn’t mess around, and a truly terrifying figure.

So that’s good, but, ah, I dunno – unless you watched this on TV at an impressionable age or you’re a big King fan, I don’t think ‘Salem’s Lot’ will really knock your block off. *SHRUG* It passes the time well enough, I suppose, but I wouldn’t really recommend prioritising it unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands.

Actually, perhaps the most surprising thing here is the revelation that cantankerous wild man of genre cinema Tobe Hooper once managed to direct over 180 minutes-worth of blandly proficient TV movie story-telling without freaking out or doing anything crazy (well, not on-screen, at least). I’ve not read up on the background, but I’m guessing that perhaps it was this uncharacteristic fit of good behaviour that got him the gig on ‘Poltergeist’..?

And finally….

(David Gordon Green, 2018)

Well, this was a bit of a mixed bag. As is outlined at length by Robert Skvaria’s review at Diabolique, this “forget all the other sequels” sequel to Carpenter’s original faces serious problems with regard to its scripting, its attempts to tell a character-based story and its questionable approach to mental illness. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the opening twenty or thirty minutes are flat-out dreadful.

Some plummy-voiced true crime podcasters go to visit Michael Myers in a Bedlam-style loony bin where the inmates stand in the yard chained to lead weights and howl like dogs. Some doctor is like, “Donald Pleasence is dead now, so I’m here – any questions?”, and everyone goes on and on about the “legend” of Myers, unveiling artefacts and reminders from the original film as if they were The Holy Grail and…. please god, make it stop.

Well, thankfully, it does more or less stop, and from the moment Myers is on the loose, things improve considerably. The strongest element of H-2018 comes via the fact that director Green understands The Shape, and how best to use it – ie, as a purely cinematic conceit, rather than as a flesh & blood “character” (god forbid).

He realises that when the on-screen characters struggle for survival, they are not battling against some guy in a mask, but against the fiendish ingenuity of the filmmakers themselves, and his film proceeds to exploit this forty year old revelation extremely well.

I’ll say straight out that I do not really give a damn about Michael Myers’ psychiatric diagnosis, or about Laurie Strode’s troubled family history, or about her granddaughter’s poorly realised (and ultimately pointless) high school shenanigans – and, more to the point, this film does very little to make me care about them, despite exerting great effort in trying to do so.

But, each time the switch flicks into “horror mode” (and thankfully it stays there for the entirety of the second half), the game is on, The Shape is in play, and the pay-offs are extremely satisfying. Forget all that script stuff, revert to your lizard/survival brain, and enjoy, because as well-crafted stalk n’ slash hokum, mixing wink-nod references to the original with some new surprises, H-2018 really does the business.

(It’s nice to hear Carpenter and his boys back on soundtrack duty too. I wouldn’t say that their re-working of the original score is exactly a knock-out, but I appreciated the way they held back the main theme for so long – just dropping it when it really counts – and the addition of some squelchy, doom metal guitar chords sounded nice through the cinema’s sound system.)

Oh, and the eventual message of all that Strode family hand-wringing by the way? Seems to be that becoming a paranoid, survivalist prepper may alienate you from wider society, harm your children and destroy your family relationships in the short term – but they’ll all come running back to you in tears as soon as a monster shows up, so it’ll all turn out good in the end. Hey, I can dig it. Sure makes a change from “love conquers all”.

Happy post-Halloween November drudgery, everybody!

1 comment:

Elliot James said...

All The Colors has a tremendous score by Nicolai. Sitars are rarely used in film soundtracks. The movie itself is a well-made giallo, not as good as The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and The Case of the Bloody Iris but better than Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. Edwige: the queen of gialli.

Halloween: I saw the original. Never bothered with the endless sequels and remakes, more of a cash grab than anything else like the Jason flicks.