Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- The Horrifying Experiments of the SS Last Days (1977)

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- The Horrifying Experiments of the SS Last Days (1977)

Is this-

a) A beautifully acted, nuanced and sensitive portrayal of the horror of the Nazis and those unlucky enough to have crossed paths with them?

or b) A badly acted slice of exploitation resplendent with terrible dubbing and almost no budget?

I’ll give you a clue- look at the film’s name! This is also known as The Beast in Heat (it’s on the UK Video Nasties list under that title) and Gestapo’s Last Orgy.

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I’d love to give you a summary of the plot but I don’t want to be banned from this platform.

Be sure to run a bath before watching this. You’ll need it.

But when you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for this movie ticks all of the depraved boxes regarding lurid and boundary pushing schlock filmmaking. Imagine watching this back in the day on 42nd Street or on VHS in the early 80’s in the UK. Your mind would have been well and truly blown.

And by a weird turn of fate it’s uncut on YouTube! Enjoy (if thats the word).

4 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Creep (2004)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Creep (2004)

A privileged and thoroughly unlikeable woman ventures out to try to get into a party that George Clooney is supposedly to be at (really) and after failing to flag down a cab decides to get the last tube train from her local underground station. She then briefly falls asleep and on waking up discovers that she is all alone in the station. Or is she?

There have been horror films in the past that are either centred entirely around the London Underground (Deathline is one) or have had a scene set in a station on it (An American Werewolf in London springs to mind).

As someone who used to live in London I know how unsettling a tube line or station can be late at night when they are eerily quiet. Creep has this setting but unfortunately wastes this great location and premise.

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Maybe it’s the fact that the female lead character is just so vile. At one point in the film she seeks help from the homeless living under the station. This social divide between the rich and poor should have been explored in more depth but wasn’t.

Also, when the person stalking her is finally revealed it’s a massive anti-climax. He’s a Jason Voorhees of the Piccadilly Line but without the hockey mask, charisma or ingenuity when it comes to killing.

I would have loved to see the brattish lead suffer more for her horrible personality and thus learn some compassion and humanity as a result, a kind of cathartic redemption. But this doesn’t happen. A wasted opportunity.

2 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 7- Piranha 2- The Spawning

31 Days of Halloween- Day 7- Piranha 2- The Spawning

I actually saw this back in the 80’s when it was called Piranha 2: Flying Killers.

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Theres really not much plot except that there is a shoal of piranhas who have wings terrorising a resort. Pulitzer Prize worthy stuff.

The lead female character seems to have been based on Stevie Wayne from The Fog if we got to see her a few years later.

This film is famous for being directed by James Cameron. He stated in an interview that in fact he was fired after a week, the producer shot and edited the rest of the film and Cameron couldn’t get his name taken off the credits.

The movie feels like an early sun-drenched porno flick with all the sex cut out.

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This certainly isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen and doesn’t deserve it’s reputation. But it certainly isn’t a patch on Joe Dante’s original masterpiece. It does possess a certain weird cheesy charm though.

The print I saw of this flick was pan and scan and somewhat fuzzy. I’d love to see Scream Factory’s Blu ray. Apparently it looks and sounds amazing.

2 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 5- Day of the Triffids (1963)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 5- Day of the Triffids (1963)

I remember so well the 1981 BBC1 adaptation of Day of the Triffids. It may now be dated but, by Christ, it gave me plenty of sleepless nights as a 6 year old boy.

Years later I discovered the work of author John Wyndham who is now one of my favourite writers. Day of the Triffids is one of his best books.

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I didn’t know that there was a 1963 film version of his opus. I’m glad I’ve now seen it as it looks gorgeous. In these days of Blu ray restorations this film is a prime candidate. If a 4K scan of an original and restored print was released this film may be appreciated as a long-forgotten gem.

The plot involves a meteorite shower making whoever saw it go blind. Fortunately our leading man Bill Masen is in an eye hospital after an accident which has damaged his sight. His heavily bandaged eyes mean that he was spared from seeing the meteors fall. Plants called triffids have started to grow and come to life seemingly because of the shower. They are carnivorous, can walk and possess a very high intelligence. Oh, and they seem to hate and want to kill humans.

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This isn’t a particularly faithful adaptation of Wyndham’s book but it’s still interesting and holds perceptive observations into the breakdown of society when something catastrophic happens and how fragile the bonds that hold us all together really are. But it also shows how altruistic humans are when such an event happens.

The ending of this adaptation feels a little bit too simplistic and pat but it does very little to ruin the rest of this beautiful film.

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Fun fact- it’s this version that had gained the ultimate accolade- its quoted in a lyric of the song ‘Science Fiction, Double Feature’ in The Rocky Horror Show- ”And I got really hot when I saw Janette Scott/Fight a triffid that spits poison and kills…’

3/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Burnt Offerings (1976)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Burnt Offerings (1976)

A family rent a huge house for the summer from it’s brother and sister owners who have one condition for the rental- that their elderly mother stays in the house and they provide her with meals. Things then start to go crazy for the new inhabitants and it’s almost as if the house is alive and playing with their minds just for it’s own amusement (I hate it when houses do that). The family members start to act very differently to how they would normally as if the darkest parts of their psyches are being brought to the fore.

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The genre of a house as a living being and force of evil can either work really well or can come across as very cliched and tired. Burnt Offerings does both. The big scares feel a bit overplayed and done better elsewhere especially after having seen the genre changing horror of The Shining on one end of the spectrum and the unabashed popcorn cheesiness of The Amityville Horror. But Burnt Offerings has smaller, more subtle scares that work brilliantly well. Check out the scene when Marian sees the family portraits for the first time or when Ben, taking a break from gardening, suddenly sees a pallbearer arriving in a hearse at the house.

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It’s a shame that the film is such a mixed bag rather than being consistently brilliant as the cast (Burgess Meredith! Oliver Reed!! Karen Black!!! BETTE FUCKING DAVIS!!!!) reads like a wishlist of crazy brilliance who would work amazingly well together in a 70’s horror film. Davis especially is wasted in her role as she doesn’t have enough to do although wearing floral polyester prints and being Bette Davis comes close. I think it’s also because she’s playing a nice character. She disappears halfway through the film as if she had better things to do than last until the closing credits in some mediocre 70’s horror flick.

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Even though there are slow moments and the film could be so much better, the ending of the film is completely crazy, gory and genuinely unsettling. If you make it through to the last five minutes you will be richly rewarded.

The look of Burnt Offerings is beautiful. It’s almost as if the whole film was filmed with a veil of mist in front of the camera.

Fun fact- The location used for the house was later used in the horror masterpiece Phantasm. The photos below show the house in Burnt Offerings, Phantasm and as it is today.

So, a film with interesting moments but not enough to fill 90 minutes. But stick around for the ending- it’s a corker!

2 out of 5 stars

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 2- Witchfinder General (1968)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 2- Witchfinder General (1968)

I remember when I lived in London I loved perusing the list of films being shown citywide in the listings magazine Time Out. In those days (the mid 90s) there were plenty of funky little cinemas showing all manner of films old and new, renowned and obscure.

I remember going to see Witchfinder General and it instantly becoming one of my favourite films. The thing that shocked me most about the film was that it’s based on fact.

Set upon the backdrop of the Civil War between the Roundheads and Cavaliers, there was thought by those in charge to be a surge in lawlessness amongst the populace. With no state enforcers of the law being in place it was possible for self-appointed one-man ‘judge, jury and executioner’ figures to spring up.  With these times being still very religious with that fanaticism stretching to superstitious extremes then such a figure could rationalise that he was doing God’s work and stamping out witchcraft and Satan worship.

Step forward Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price). He leads his team of bloodthirsty underlings from town to town, stamping out ungodliness whilst accusing those who get in his way of being witches and so has the approval of the state to dispose of them in any number of ghoulish ways. One method in which he tests to see if people are witches is to throw them in a local lake or river. If they sink and drown, they weren’t a witch. But if they float then they are evil and need to be burnt, flogged or any other kind of torture. It’s lose/lose for the accused.

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Director Micheal Reeves’ film doesn’t flinch away from the sadistic acts that Hopkins (who actually existed) inflicts and how utterly barbaric and cruel the times were. There are some great examples of dark gallows humour too- notice the children who have just witnessed a supposed ‘witch’ being burnt to death. We see them baking potatoes in her still smouldering ashes.

Witchfinder General was very controversial when it was first released with the BBFC demanding cuts and most critics denouncing the film’s unblinking depiction of the devilish practices carried out by Hopkins and his cronies. But, some critics saw the greatness in the film and over the years the film has gained a reputation as somewhat of a sick classic. Price’s performance is restrained and nuanced. Reeves’ direction is amazing and it feels almost as if you are watching a documentary rather than a British/American horror film from the late 60’s. American International Pictures invested some of the money for the film to be made but only thought of it as a tax write-off. They were actually very surprised when they saw the finished movie and how good it was. It’s name was changed to The Conqueror Worm for the U.S. Drive-In markets as this was a line from Edgar Allen Poe whose adaptations AIP were (in)famous for.

I love the stories about Price and Reeves not getting along during the shooting of the film.  Donald Pleasance was originally chose to play Hopkins but Price was available and a bigger star which could translate as more money at the box office. With Price playing the lead instead the script had to be changed to accommodate him. Reeves wasn’t impressed by this and let it be known that he didn’t want Price in the leading role.

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Vinny munches on a Toblerone on the film’s set

One of many examples of the bitchiness between them was from when they first met. Price’s opening gambit to the 28 year old Reeves was ‘I’ve starred in 87 films. What have you done?’ to which Reeves deadpanned ‘I’ve made 3 good ones.’

Witchfinder General is a warts and all classic. But don’t underestimate it. This is strong even by today’s standards and contains one of the most disturbing endings for a film I’ve ever seen.

5 out of 5 stars

Day 31- 31 Days of Halloween- Seytan (aka Turkish Exorcist)- 1974

Day 31- 31 Days of Halloween- Seytan (aka Turkish Exorcist)- 1974

There was a long standing tradition for Turkish remakes of huge Hollywood blockbusters. These remakes have miniscule budgets and are made quickly so that they can be released soon after the original.

The Exorcist was remade in Turkey for a tiny proportion of the original’s budget. This means that we get hilarious special effects, truly garish decors and the worst hairstyles ever committed to celluloid.

 

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But whilst we know what we’re getting this film is a true cult movie through and through. It might be cheap and tacky but its also what a lot of more expensive films struggle to be- utterly charming, engaging and a pleasure to watch.

Let me leave you with a question- would you rather watch a film like this or a Hollywood studio multiplex movie that has a budget of millions but also has characters you couldn’t care less about, an uninspired plot and CGI that makes the film look more like a computer game?

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I hope these Turkish remakes get restored and released on Blu ray. I’d buy them.

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- It Follows (2014)

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- It Follows (2014)

A young girl has sex with her boyfriend only to be informed that hes passed on a curse to her. From now on she will be followed by a supernatural entity. If the entity reaches her it will kill her. Only she will be able to see it. The only way to get rid of the curse is to have sex with someone else and pass it on.

Any modern horror film that isn’t a remake or reboot is a bonus. This film’s premise is innovative and imaginative.

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But I just didn’t connect with any character or care what happened to them. The film feels like a series of teenage dramatics that become tiresome after a while.

The film also feels like some update on the after school special which tackles an issue of the day. Don’t screw around or THIS will happen to you! Give me Jason Voorhees as the punisher of the teenagers who are doing the do before marriage anyday.

But, as I said before, at least this was an original idea- a rarity in the horror genre these days.

2 out of 5

Day 29- 31 Days of Halloween- Prom Night (1980)

Day 29- 31 Days of Halloween- Prom Night (1980)

A childrens game goes horribly wrong and a child falls backwards from the first floor window of an abandoned building and dies. The remaining kids vow to never tell anyone about what happened. Its now 7 years on and the children in the gang are preparing for their prom night. They one by one start to receive menacing phone calls…

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I first saw this and expected to see a C grade slasher movie- one of the many mediocre movies made in the wake of Halloween.

Boy, was I wrong! Theres loads to love about this movie. Firstly, Jamie Lee Curtis is in it. Shes such a great actress that if shes on the cast list you can expect a stunning performance. Not only is she another kick arse Final Girl but we also get to see her disco moves. She also has a great exchange with the school bitch. This features some fantastically camp lines (‘Its not who takes you to the prom. Its about who takes you home!’) Jamie wins and has the last word in this verbal volley naturally.

Another great feature of this film is that its actually very scary in the appropriate scenes. The killer ringing the teenagers one by one is a scene so threatening and jarring that its a sequence that is one of the scariest I’ve ever seen in any horror film. The simplicity of the scene (just a hand, a pencil, the school yearbook, the list of names and the phone) is extremely effective and downright chilling.

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The film is also brilliantly chilling as it touches on the subject of paedophilia- a local sex offender is known to the police and they think he is the reason for the dead little girl. They hound him to such a degree that he crashes his car which bursts into flames. The police had no evidence that it was him but hey, hes so disfigured that he now can’t commit anymore crimes and is placed in an asylum.

And there are the actual kills and the scenes they are contained within which are directed with aplomb. These are very tense and unnerving. OK so this certainly isn’t John Carpenter’s Halloween but these scenes are still very good for a slasher movie.

With Halloween being a major influence on this film there are also the atypical scenes of the female characters talking about, y’know, girls things- boys, hair, going to the prom etc etc. In fact in the book Blood Money it has been suggested that there were two types of advertising for this film- one that dwelt on the themes thought to be more appealing to a young female demographic (the disco music, the relationships and drama within the film) and one that dwelt on what was thought to appeal to the guys- namely the tension, suspense and kills.

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The film really does feel like a cross between Halloween, Carrie (the prom setting and the potential for carnage in this setting) and Saturday Night Fever- this film has disco stomps and a brilliant disco soundtrack that strangely provides a brilliant and sinister backdrop to the murders.

Another great feature is that of the character of Slick. Just like the bawdy British comedies of the 1970’s featured the most unlikely candidates for male eye-candy who somehow get the women, so does this film. Slick thinks hes a modern day babe magnet. I’ll leave it up to you to agree or disagree with his self perception.

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This movie also has one of the most hilarious characters in horror history- look out for Mr Sykes played by Robert Silverman (he would also appear in Scanners and Jason X). Is he the killer or a far too obvious red herring?

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Prom Night is far too good than a Halloween rip-off slasher movie deserves to be. If Halloween is A+ then Prom Night is B+

If you’re going to buy this film please look out for the Region 1 Blu ray from Synapse Films. The best transfer and bonus features I’ve ever seen for ANY Blu ray title. Stunning.

4 out of 5.

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- The Lift (1983)

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- The Lift (1983)

I remember this film being on the shelves of all of the local video stores I used to pore over the contents of in the 80s. Amazing cover artwork and a great premise (lifts have always freaked me out) and yet I never got round to renting this movie. Years later I watched it whilst living in Sydney, Australia.

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A lift is trying to kill people. Its up to a lift repairman and his journalist friend to investigate and put an end to this dastardly contraption.

This is a Dutch film and contains more than meets the eye. Its very tongue in cheek and humourous in places. In fact its a delicate line for filmmakers to tread when making a horror film both funny and scary- and it succeeds brilliantly.

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Theres also very perceptive observations of Dutch society at this time and the divide between the haves and have nots. Also, theres a subplot in which the wife of the leading male character has been spending so much time with his female journalist friend that she leaves him. This is no mere farfetched and kitsch possession B-movie.

For horror fans this film delivers the goods. The kills are innovative, nasty and in some cases, funny.

Worth checking out. And coming out on Blu ray via Blue Underground this month.

3 out of 5.

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