31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Dementia 13 (1963)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Dementia 13 (1963)

A movie directed by a young Francis (Ford) Coppola and produced by Roger Corman.

A genius plot-

One night, while out rowing in the middle of a lake, John Haloran, and his young wife Louise, argue about his rich mother’s will. Louise is upset that everything is currently designated to go to charity in the name of a mysterious “Kathleen.” John tells Louise that, if he dies before his mother, Louise will be entitled to none of the inheritance. He promptly drops dead from a massive heart attack. Thinking quickly, the scheming Louise throws his fresh corpse over the side of the boat, where he comes to rest at the bottom of the lake. Her plan is to pretend that he is still alive to ingratiate her way into the will. She types up a letter to Lady Haloran, inviting herself to the family’s Irish castle while her husband is “away on business.”

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In the UK the film was named ‘The Haunted and the Hunted’

 

But then after this something happens that changes the course of the whole film (I’m not going to ruin the film for potential viewers). This was a brave move a la Psycho and Night of the Living Dead.

And it works brilliantly. In fact, everything about this film works amazingly. It’s a great film with a great premise, gorgeous cinematography, uniformedly good performances from a cast of unknowns and direction that deftly straddles both drive-in cinema and the Nouvelle Vague. This is part Homicidal (this was made to cash-in on it’s success) and part Carnival of Souls but whilst retaining it’s own identity. Theres a strong Giallo feel to proceedings- the gloved killer with an ax, the sinister doll symbolism.

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The location used deserves a mention. A spawling castle in Ireland with a scene that takes place in a Dublin bar make this film even more special. It feels like part film, part time capsule. The costume design of the film is also something to behold- classic men’s suits (think Sean Connery as Bond and Michael Caine in The Italian Job), chic women’s miniskirts and the best bleached blonde 60’s haircuts seen in any film of the period.

Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

 

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 14- Vampires (1998)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 14- Vampires (1998)

A comic book type caper in which a posse hunts down vampires for a living.

This is at the lower end of John Carpenter’s filmography. It feels more intent with slick visuals and trying to come across as ‘cool’ than being a thought provoking piece of cinema with any kind of substance. We get nods to the Western genre with the posse. We even get a reference to The Searchers. That’s the deepest and most thought provoking thing in the whole film.

The only people this film is of interest to are the nerdier depths of the horror/sci-fi demographic.

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Yes, it’s as bad as this still suggests

In fact, this feels more like a TV movie than a proper film. The only innovation within this flick is that it’s ahead of it’s time in predicting the dearth of similar fare made to go straight to cable. As a matter of fact I saw this on the Horror Channel. I’m glad it found it’s rightful home.

Not the worst film I’ve ever seen but light years away from Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Someone’s Watching Me…

1/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- Martin (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- Martin (1978)

Martin is by filmmaker George A Romero and was his favourite film from his oeuvre.

Martin is a young man who we see travelling by train to Braddock in Pittsburgh to live with his elderly cousin, Tata Cuda who seems convinced that Martin is the latest in a long line of vampires (‘the family curse’).

The film centres around whether Martin is actually a vampire or if he is just a very confused young man suffering from a severe neurosis and only commits his bloodthirsty acts because of a self fulfiling prophecy.

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In fact the film constantly makes reference to Martin proving that there is ‘no magic’ in the world and that the conventions surrounding vampirism (many inherited from books and films) are untrue and so disproving the myth.

On the train journey over to Pittsburgh we see Martin sedate a woman, making love to her naked body before slashing her arm and drinking her blood. This very sequence shows how Martin accomplishes his ‘vampiric’ impulses. Instead of the well established tropes of hypnosis, fangs etc we see Martin use modern implements such as injections, chemical suppressants and razor blades. He has more in common with a rapist/serial killer than a ‘Nosferatu’. The woman as she is becoming subdued even refers to Martin as a ‘rapist asshole’.

It’s just before Martin enters his victim’s train compartment that he has a vision (in black and white) of how his prey will greet him- reaching out to receive him whilst looking beautiful and seductive. In reality when she is seen leaving the bathroom after being sat on the toilet, her face grotesquely covered in a green face pack and blowing her nose- the exact opposite of the vision Martin had just prior. Martin has a few of these visions throughout the film- are they actually age-old memories (suggesting that he is a vampire) or are they imaginings that he has gleaned from books and films but has confused with memories as part of his brainwashing?

There are other examples of Martin disproving the conventions of the vampire legend. When he arrives at Tata’s house he sees that there is garlic nailed to both Tata’s and Cuda’s granddaughter’s bedroom door. Martin rips this off and takes a bite into a clove to prove to his cousin that this myth isn’t real. He also takes a crucifix from Tata’s hand and rubs it against his own face to prove the same thing- ‘there is no magic. Not ever’.

After Cuda employs an older priest to carry out a makeshift exorcism, Martin appears in front of Cuda dressed as a vampire resplendent with cloak, fangs and make-up. He then spits out the plastic fangs and wipes the white pan-stick from his face to show that this is just a costume. Again, the reality disproving the illusion.

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After interactions with people who treat Martin as a human being (the bored housewife he makes deliveries to, Tata’s granddaughter), instead of some kind of age old Dracula from ‘the old country’, he seems to curtail his bloody excursions and finds that instead of murdering he ‘just lets people go’.

Another aspect of reality that Martin observes is the truth beneath the illusion of the all-smiling American family that permeates advertising. It’s the couples in the film that have the most affluence and comfortable lives who seem the unhappiest and are either having affairs (the couple Martin invades the home of- only the female inhabitant of the house isn’t in bed with her husband) or completely alienated, misunderstood and unfulfilled (Mrs Santini).

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Braddock also provides a harsh reminder of reality. It’s working class, shabby and down at heel. The once active steel mills that were the town’s bread and butter have long since closed down leaving a town to slowly die and rot.

Far from being the villain or monster of a horror film, Martin himself earns nothing but the audience’s sympathy. He’s more like a victim of circumstance, even when we see the crimes he commits.

As you can guess, theres so much to analyse and, in fact, cherish with this film. This is a film with many layers that presumes that it’s audience have the intelligence to make up their own minds as to whether Martin is a vampire or not.

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Original newspaper ad for the Leeds cinema release of ‘Martin’

I first saw this film when it was shown on Channel 4 here in the UK in the mid-80’s. It’s so poignant that it has stayed with me ever since and even with regular viewings it loses none of it’s charm, brilliance or innovation. In fact, with every viewing theres something new that I missed previously.

This may be a small budget film but it feels like Romero gained from this rather than letting it detract from the film and it’s production. Romero and crew just used their ingenuity to overcome any limitations and work around them and it works beautifully. Martin feels intimate and personal as a film.

Romero’s original cut of this film was significantly longer, clocking in at 2 and a half hours and was completely in black and white. Only one copy of this version ever existed and mysteriously went missing from Romero’s office many moons ago.

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This film should be readily available on Blu ray but apparently there are, ahem, ‘rights issues’ that prevent a definitive version of this or Dawn of the Dead being issued on a restored Blu ray. Criterion or Scream Factory could give this masterpiece the treatment it richly deserves. Let’s hope these ‘issues’ are resolved soon so that these glittering jewels of the horror genre can be widely accessible and enjoyed further.

Another great component of the film is the soundtrack by Donald Rubinstein. A few years back this was reissued on CD and is currently on iTunes. The music is just as haunting as the film itself.

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The pop group Soft Cell wrote a song (also called ‘Martin’) based on the film which is very faithful to the movie’s narrative and is just as brilliant as the film. There are even snatches of the film’s soundtrack used on the song. Check it out here.

Martin is a peach of a movie. In fact, it’s a masterpiece just like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Island of Terror (1966)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Island of Terror (1966)

Scientists on an island just off Ireland are close to finding a cure for cancer but accidentally produce ‘silicates’: tentacled creatures that suck the bone marrow from their victims.

This is a British film directed by Terence Fisher who made a lot of films for Hammer. The version that I saw had been restored by Pinewood Studios where the film was produced and it looks gorgeous. The cinematography and colour palate of the film have been brought out beautifully.

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This is a fantastic invasion movie from a bygone era and feels like something John Wyndham might have written. The creatures are like giant flattened slugs but with a single antennae which in reality are so unthreatening that it’s hilarious. But it adds to the charm of the movie- and it’s still better than some CGI modern multiplex borefest.

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But don’t think that this film is a just a cheesy film to merely laugh off. The version I saw had reinstated a sequence in which Peter Cushing’s character has his hand chopped off with an axe. This scene was taken out of prints after the BBFC said that it was too strong for audiences. With the restoration of the film for release on Blu-ray this scene is available to be seen in all it’s bloody glory.

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Cushing’s character post-axe.

The Odeon UK Blu-ray release of this film looks great. The US Scream Factory release is meant to be even better. I look forward to seeing it.

3/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- The Funhouse (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- The Funhouse (1981)

A double date decide to investigate a travelling carnival that has just come into town. After strolling around the different attractions they decide to hide overnight in the actual funhouse (like a ghost ride) which is on the grounds of the carnival.

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This film starts out so well with the carnival and the people who work there being shown as being utterly sinister and delightfully sleazy.

When the teens stow away in the funhouse they witness a murder following a paid for sexual tryst (seeing Sylvia Miles from Andy Warhol’s Heat give someone wearing a Frankenstein mask a handjob is worth the price of admission alone). When he prematurely ejaculates but isn’t given his money back (the quickest $100 she’s ever earned) he bumps her off.

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Just prior to the handjob from hell

But then, unfortunately, the film falls flat. Yes, the direction by Tobe Hooper is pretty good, the lighting and colour design make sure that the sets look amazing. But this can’t hide the fact that the script from here on in is badly lacking. There is also no characterisation and the teens might as well be robots. It’s a shame as earlier in the film the lead teen is shown at home with her parents who seem to not care about her whatsoever. Was this a sliver of social commentary from Hooper as to how he saw the American family at this time?

Also, when the Frankenstein mask disappears from the inbred freak (no doubt he would be labelled as ‘mentally and facially challenged’ today) who stalks the teens in most shots he just looks like a dude in a mask. Time had been spent on the look of the movie without a decent script being written or the killer being made to look convincing. All surface, no substance. This is such a shame.

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One mask replaces another

This film was shown in the UK with the MPAA pillaged version of My Bloody Valentine. The poster stated it was ‘the most terrifying 3 hours of your life’. Swap ‘terrifying’ for ‘distinctly average’ and you’re nearer the mark.

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The Funhouse ran into problems years later as part of the ‘Video Nasties’ furore in the UK. If anything shows how inept the police involved in this case were then this is it. Unless they were seizing horror films that had sub-par second halves, that is.

2/5 out of 5 stars.

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- Tales of the Unexpected (TV series)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- Tales of the Unexpected (TV series)

Sunday nights in the late 70’s/early 80’s here in the UK were great for TV. In my household we’d religiously watch That’s Life, a weird hotchpotch of hard hitting investigations into very dark subject matters with lighter fare which was designed to make the audience titter and guffaw (they loved vegetables that just happened to be shaped like genitalia). Going from a hard-hitting expose to a carrot shaped like a penis was sometimes very inappropriate but it worked somehow. This was all presided over by the ultra-camp Esther Rantzen (sometimes wearing a mumu).

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Esther in a mumu

After that was The Professionals, a very masculine (and thus, very camp) crime/action series tellingly made by the same company who made The New Avengers. These have now been reissued on Blu ray and are well worth seeking out. I fancied Lewis Collins like crazy.

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The butch camp of The Professionals. Lewis Collins on the right *blush*

Last, but certainly not least, there was Tales of the Unexpected. This gem of a series told a different story every week and each episode was introduced by Roald Dahl. You may have heard of Dahl as the writer of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda and other classic children’s books. But he also wrote short stories for adults, many of which were very dark and had a twist in the tail. And that’s precisely what this series was based on. Most episodes were written by Dahl but not all. He introduced each episode from what appeared to be his favourite comfy chair in front of a roaring fire. His introductions were just as brilliant as the stories themselves. And these tales were executed (pardon the pun) very well indeed- in fact, a bit too well.

This programme was the last thing I saw every Sunday night before going to bed. I remember not sleeping most Sunday nights because of this and Mondays at school being very tiring affairs.

A number of the episodes of Tales of the Unexpected have stayed with me as they terrified me as a child. I bought a boxset containing all of the episodes recently and can report that they still terrify me.

The opening credit sequence was enough to have me cowering behind the sofa. Creepy organ and saxophone music that sounded like the ultimate in sleaze and menace. Over this were images of silhouetted dancing naked women, guns, lion-like gargoyle faces, tarot cards and skulls. Nothing traumatising there for a 5 year old boy. The woman dancing in front of the flames was later referenced in the video for Cities In Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees (as if Siouxsie couldn’t be cooler- she then shows she’s a fan of this TV programme).

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The dancing woman from the opening credits made the front of the DVD collection
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Siouxsie’s homage

I’ll recommend the two episodes that freaked me out the most. Firstly, theres The Flypaper written by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one). A schoolgirl who doesn’t feel like she fits in is preoccupied with other stuff going in her life when she quickly comprehends that the accidental stranger on her bus in fact being a bit too over-friendly and overfamiliar with her. She decides to get off the bus to try to get away from him. And that’s all I’m telling! When this was transmitted here in the UK it seemed like kids were going missing every other week. This grim tale reflected what was going on in society at that time all too well.

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The second is Galloping Foxley. A man on a train recognises the bully who regularly beat and humiliated him at boarding school. The young Foxley is played by the always brilliant Jonathan Scott-Taylor from Damian: Omen 2. I went to private school myself after passing an exam which was designed to allow poorer families to send their ‘academically gifted’ children there without having to pay the hefty fees. Whilst I experienced no bullying or brutality from my fellow peers, I did very quickly pick up on how oppressive the actual system was, the teachers especially. I started within this system in 1986- the same year that corporal punishment was outlawed in all schools in the UK. My timing was impeccable! I could see that the angriest teachers hated this decision and would rather have been inflicting some kind of painful punishment out on us for some real, imagined or fabricated misdemeanour. Friends have told me about when they went to school in the days of such physical punishment and were themselves beaten. One friend tells me of his time at a strict Catholic school where they were beaten with a studded leather strap. If they didn’t say ‘thank you’ after their beatings they would be beaten some more.

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Prefect and anti-Christ

To me the best horror comes from the unembellished factual accounts from people’s lives. Truth is stranger than fiction. And sometimes a lot more warped and fucked up.

Please peruse these two episodes but proceed with caution. They aren’t for the fainthearted. For more episodes click here.

 

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- Plague of the Zombies (1966)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- Plague of the Zombies (1966)

This has one of the most crazy plots of any Hammer film I’ve ever seen. I won’t give away everything that happens though.

A Cornish village is suffering from some sort of plague that is bumping people off at such a rate that the local doctor asks an expert friend to investigate what is happening. When opening up the graves of the recently deceased they discover that all of the coffins are empty. Could the answer to this mystery be connected with the tin mine which is on the land of Squire Clive Hamilton? Is it also relevant that he used to live in Haiti and the fact that he practiced voodoo and the black arts whilst he was there?

I remember seeing this in the 80s as my local television station used to show a double-bill of Hammer films every Thursday night (a blessing!) It was scary then and it’s retained it’s ability to shock. The zombies themselves are the stuff of nightmares.

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But unfortunately the film drags every now and again. But on the whole it’s worth seeing, even if it’s not the best of the studio’s output.

Fun fact- Martin Scorsese thinks highly of this film.

2/5 out of 5 stars