31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 21- The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 21- The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

A young man who can restore frescos (ancient works of art) arrives to restore one such artwork but finds events within the remote town to be far from normal. Indeed, they are downright bizarre. Does the fresco hold any clues? Does it depict what people have been led to believe it shows? Will the events directly affect Stefano?

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This Italian film is one hell of a gorgeous (and VERY disturbing) journey. Not only do we get the backstory of the artist who first painted the fresco but also the freaky events that are happening in the Valli di Commacchio area that the action takes place in. 

With all the best of Italian horror/gialli, it also makes you want to go to Italy and experience such a seemingly fantastic and aesthetically pleasing way of life. The photography is magnificent. I’d love to see this film on the big screen. 

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The locales are sumptuous, the characters are left field to the max (at times I kept think of the films of Jodorowsky) which all adds to the overall vision and atmosphere of this gorgeous film.

I’d love to speak about the conclusion of the film but that would massively spoil the entire film for those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to see it yet. Also, if I tried to write down what happens you probably wouldn’t believe me. Just to say- it’s surreal, can’t be predicted and gets under your skin and inside your head and remains there long after the actual film has ended. Fantastic.

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****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

It’s 1974. A French starlet who isn’t averse to modelling with no clothes on is seduced by an enigmatic young man who asks to take her home to meet his parents. However, his home appears to be some kind of old institution like a long forgotten prison. And this is exactly what it is. His mother is the sadistic Governor of her own prison where her son takes flagrant examples of the new ‘permissive’ society so that they can be punished and even executed because of their lax ways.

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This is Within These Walls on steroids. I love the fact that there is a notice at the start of the film that reads “This film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment.” This is obviously a film that is parodying and sticking up two fingers to the puritanical types who didn’t like that the society of the time was becoming more permissive and free, the ‘Bring Back Hanging’ brigade. Britain was moving away from it’s more conservative ways and some weren’t happy about this as they flocked to fill the letters pages of every national newspaper. Precedents were falling and were set to fall even further as during the 70’s. One prime example of this movement that directly affected film was Mary Whitehouse and her Caravan of Light both of which would try to get exploitation films like House of Whipcord banned. Whitehouse was massively active during the Video Nasties furore that would occur during the next decade.

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But within the film’s duration there are currents of dissent as prisoners held at the institution secretly plan to overthrow the evil wardens and hopefully escape this kangeroo prison. This film adheres to but also subverts the conventions of prison genres but especially the ‘women in prison’ genre and only excludes lesbianism which maybe for the time in Britain would have been a step too far for that still conservative time. Had it have been included then the film may have fallen foul of the BBFC. The theme of an uprising is one of the prime tropes of this genre and I love that this was so brilliantly depicted. But I also love the result of this which ironically delivers back to the prison the woman who had successfully escaped.

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Special mentions go out to Barbara Markham as the deranged Governor and Sheila Keith as one of the sadistic wardens. House of Whipcord was called Flagellations abroad. Quite. 

Another Pete Walker masterpiece. Now, can we have a Blu Ray boxset of his back catalogue please?

****and a half out of *****

 

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 14- Schizo (1976)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 14- Schizo (1976)

This is another Pete Walker horror sleazefest (hooray!!!)

Figure skater Samantha is about to get married to wealthy businessman Alan. Her mother’s former partner has just been released from prison and starts stalking her, travelling from the North East to London to accomplish the job.

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‘Hello? Police? I think I’m being stalked…’

This film mines into the whole phenomenon of being followed, peeping toms and was ahead of it’s time in depicting stalking which wasn’t widely known about at the time.

The film also gives Hitchcock-esque psychological explanations as to what schizophrenia is (again, a term that was relatively unknown by many at the time) to help the audience better understand what they are going to see and the kind of mental condition which would drive the killer to carry out their plans.

But is all as it seems? In a word- NO! The film keeps us guessing as to the killer’s identity right up until the end and takes us on a voyage through 70’s locales to do so with impeccably decorated flats and the London streets of the time (again, Walker is so good at capturing the time and place that he sets his films within. Here we get gorgeous snapshots of a bygone era and a time capsule of London in 1976 whether it be the exterior of King’s Cross railway station, the inside of a supermarket or the grimy flophouses cum hostels of N1).

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The cast are all fantastic especially Lynne Frederick as Samantha and an early appearance by Stephanie Beecham as her best friend Beth. There’s even John ‘Johnny Remember Me’ Leyton and Queenie Watts in supporting roles.

Watch out for the literally eye-popping clairvoyant meeting scene which is both terrifying and very funny. Walker also has the ability of making something truly scary and unnerving but bookending this with dark observational humour. The character of Joy embodies this perfectly.

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Another Walker masterpiece. He really is worthy of more praise and to be reappraised as the King of 70’s British Horror.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 12- Frightmare (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 12- Frightmare (1974)

***TRIGGER WARNING!!!*** This is a Pete Walker movie.

In 1957 Dorothy Yates and her husband Edmund are convicted of murder and cannibalism (!) and sent to an asylum until the film’s present day (1974). They are then released supposedly fully cured and living a quiet life. But are they? The answer, of course, is no! The film shows Dorothy not being cured at all but using the cover of giving tarot readings to people who she then kills and eats.

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The film also deals with Jackie (Edmund’s daughter from a previous marriage) who regularly visits the couple offering gifts of animal brains whilst falsely telling them that they are actually human remains and that she is actually killing people so that her stepmother doesn’t relapse and remains free. It is also revealed that her father had actually faked being complicit in the crimes and faked madness so that he could stay with his wife. Jackie lives with Debbie, a wayward 15 year old who is the actual daughter of the couple who was placed into an orphanage as a baby just after her parents were institutionalised. She has recently been expelled from there as she is too much for the authorities to deal with and so spends most of her time with her boyfriend who is the leader of a violent biker gang.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this film that is typical Pete Walker fare in that it’s dark, violent and dares to go to the places that other milder horror films dare not go. Which is exactly why I love him. He knows exactly what horror fans want and he delivers it in spades.

But there is more than meets the eye. Frightmare is also blackly funny, almost (and intentionally) vaudevillian at times and extremely intelligent. This is not just a horror movie but also a funny and very perceptive satire on family values and blood (pardon the pun) being thicker than water.

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Add to that gorgeous cinematography, amazing locales (loving the London scenes and surrounding area shots) and a moment in time being captured not just on film but also regarding film (this was a boon time for British horror with Hammer, Tigon, Amicus and directors like Walker all making great horror movies which would do amazing business at the box office).

I love the scene where Jackie drags her new boyfriend out of a screening of Blow Up. What a great statement on art movies which were then in vogue in some quarters of the mainstream.

All of the characters are brilliantly drawn and portrayed fantastically well with Walker regular Sheila Keith playing Dorothy with twisted relish. She is also able to be completely nuts one minute and then change into a repentant innocent little wife persona when her husband has seen what she’s done.

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The magnificent Sheila Keith

Kim Butcher as Debbie is also great when it comes to portraying a young girl with the quality to make others do her evil bidding for her. This is shown when she tells her biker boyfriend about the barman who wouldn’t serve her but then embellishes the story. Her boyfriend and his biker friends wait for him after the nightclub they are in has closed up to give him a good hiding. She reminds me of Chris Hargensen from Carrie.

The film hits every target it aims for with a bullseye and is pretty much perfect. I honestly think Frightmare is a twisted masterpiece.

***** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 4- Abby (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 4- Abby (1974)

A Blaxploitation Exorcist rip-off.

A pastor goes to Nigeria and accidentally unleashes an ancient malevolent spirit. Oops. His daughter-in-law back in America then starts to change from being a God-fearing, wholesome wife to becoming a possessed randy harlot. 

This film is such good fun. The pastor is played by William Marshall who was already known to Blaxploitation audiences as Blacula. Austin Stoker also stars who would later feature in John Carpenter’s masterpiece Assault on Precinct 13 a couple of years later. But it’s Carol Speed as Abby who steals the show. She seems to truly relish her role and brings some much needed spice and vigour to it.

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There’s groovy interiors, snappy dialogue and effects that look cheap and nasty even by Exorcist rip-off standards. In fact they make Beyond The Door’s FX look highly innovative by comparison. But that’s all part of the fun.

I love the fact that the exorcism at the film’s conclusion takes place in a downtown bar.

This film made loads of money at the box office but was abruptly taken out of circulation when Warner Bros. issued a lawsuit as they stated that the film ripped-off The Exorcist a bit too much. Abby’s director William Girdler never denied this. The only existing prints are in very bad condition and it’s rumoured that a decent print hasn’t surfaced yet as possibly the lawsuit is still in place which prevents a decent DVD/Blu ray release. It’s also rumoured that the lawsuit also involved all copies of the print to be confiscated by Warner Bros. so that they could destroy it.

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I hope this isn’t true. I’d love this film to be released after being restored. In fact, I’d love a Blu ray box set containing all of Girdler’s films. He deserves to be recognised as one of the leading auteurs of brilliant exploitation films. 

*** and a half

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 2- The Honeymoon Killers (1970) ****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 2- The Honeymoon Killers (1970) ****

Fat nurse Martha Beck is joined into a lonely hearts club by her best friend Bunny. Almost instantly she starts to correspond with a man called Raymond Fernandez. Their correspondence grows more intense with the bond between them being so strong that Martha invites him to her home in Mobile, Alabama. After a night of wild passion he leaves her to go back home but not before he has secured a loan from her.

She then receives a letter from Ray breaking up with her which causes Bunny to ring him to say that Martha is suicidal because of this. When Ray is relieved to find out that neither of them have involved the police, he invites Martha to New York to visit him. When she gets there he lets the cat out of the bag- he is a professional hustler who cons lonely women out of their money and moves onto his next target. Martha is so in love with Ray that she stays by his side and even becomes his accomplice as he commits his next crimes.

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This movie is based on the true life crimes of a couple dubbed The Lonely Hearts Killers with the film using their real names. The film was also originally to be directed by a young director named Martin Scorsese (wonder what happened to him) but he was fired several days into the shoot as he was just taking so much time getting master shots set up whilst not shooting any coverage shots (according to himself. He even went on to say that it wasn’t probably for the best for the film that he was fired as the film was made on a low budget and needed to be shot quite quickly). Leonard Kastle stepped into the breach instead and does a phenomenal job. The film looks gorgeous and is framed to perfection. It’s almost like any frame from the film could be hung in an art gallery and admired. The monochrome look of the film is also astounding and reminds me (as does the film as a whole) of Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Sisters.

The cast are exceptional also with Shirley Stoler utterly iconic in her role as Martha and Tony Lo Bianco also iconic and perfect casting as the money-hungry lothario Ray.

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This movie is on The Criterion Collection as it deserves to be. In fact, when I rewatched the film for this review I was getting strong John Waters’ vibes from it. It was almost like a lost Waters film from around the time of Multiple Maniacs (also deservedly on Criterion) and I could imagine either Divine or Edith Massey playing Martha and Tab Hunter playing Ray. Maybe in a parallel universe this movie was made.

Apparently Francois Truffaut named this movie was his favourite American film. And if that doesn’t act as a high enough recommendation for you to see the film then I don’t know what will.

When the film first played in the UK it was as part of this double bill

**** out of *****

Poster of the Week- The Exorcist (1974)

Poster of the Week- The Exorcist (1974)

William Friedkin tells a great story in his autobiography about Warner Bros’ marketing department and how they wanted to market The Exorcist on it’s completion. The idea they came up with was a drawing of Regan’s bloodied hand holding a crucifix (referencing the infamous masturbation scene) with the tagline ‘For God’s sake, somebody help her!’

For obvious reasons he declined this idea. Instead he spoke to them about the Magritte painting The Empire of Light and how he wanted the poster for The Exorcist to be inspired by that.

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From this came the iconic poster for his movie. The mystery of Max Von Sydow’s character outside Chris McNeill’s house with light poring out of the window but whilst cloaked in darkness. A poster that is perfect for a masterpiece like The Exorcist. And the general public agreed with the film breaking records faster than cinema ushers could break open smelling salts for patrons who had staggered into the lobby to faint.

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A friend of mine went to see the film on it’s first run and said that members of St John’s Ambulance were waiting in the cinema for the inevitable fainters and/or vomiters. Now that’s style.

And whilst we’re at it I’m loving the visual blitz of this UK Exorcist double bill poster. The hot pink is everything.

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Soundtrack of the Week- Chi Sei aka Beyond The Door (1974)

Soundtrack of the Week- Chi Sei aka Beyond The Door (1974)

There is so much to love about Beyond The Door, the 1974 Exorcist rip-off made in Italy.

Yes, it had a budget that was a tiny fraction of that of the William Friedkin classic but thats part of it’s charm. It also copies similar scenes from it’s parent movie with varying degrees of success. The fact that Juliet Mills from the very popular sitcom The Nanny and the Professor signed up to play the lead only made the film more appealing and more of a draw.

The Franco Micalizzi soundtrack is just as off the wall, bizarre and inappropriate as the rest of the film. It feels more like the score for, in places, a 70’s porno movie, a Blaxploitation movie and an experimental drug inspired counter culture movie.

The edition I own is the Digitmovies edition from 2011.

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The soundtrack kicks off with an actual song with vocals named Bargain With The Devil. In a parallel universe this was released as a single and got to the top of the charts.

As the album goes on it gets funkier, sexier and more extreme- not really adjectives usually used for a horror movie score but somehow it works and makes Beyond The Door even more of an enjoyable and unique experience.

Jessica’s Theme  is suitably slinky, mysterious and psychedelic (perfect to eat a banana skin to), Dimitri’s Theme is unexpectedly goofy (this was also used in the film’s trailers) and Robert’s Theme has such uplifting lyrics as ‘Theres no hope!’ and ‘No one will help you!’

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The bass gets funkier, the flutes get an airing as they do on any self respecting funky 70’s soundtrack (they even get their own track called Flute Sequence!) and the only track approaching something found on a more conventional horror soundtrack is the track for the film’s prologue.

There are also outtakes of the tracks on the album which haven’t previously been released before and these are in mono. The sound quality of this whole edition is superb. Highly recommended.

Poster of the Week- Enter The Dragon/Death Race 2000

Poster of the Week- Enter The Dragon/Death Race 2000

This week’s Poster of the Week is for the double bill of Enter The Dragon and Death Race 2000.

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Double bills were very popular at cinemas in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s and seemingly the more lurid films the better with horror, kung-fu and cult films being selected for these billings which were traditionally shown at midnight on a Saturday night. It was like the cult film ethos that permeated 42nd Street in New York was proving so popular that it even influenced the cinema programmers of Britain.

It was rightly assumed that the kind of audiences who would go to see a Bruce Lee film would also want to see a Roger Corman movie, especially as one of it’s stars (Sylvester Stallone) had since become famous for his role as the eponymous hero of the movie Rocky (check out the cheeky reference to this in the billing for Death Race 2000 on this poster).

Both of these films were also resurrected from years gone by for this double bill and so this gave cult film fans the opportunity to see both on the big screen again. These were also the days before home video and so cinemas were the primary source for seeing such fare.

Double bills fell out of favour in the 90’s and onwards but thankfully there are now special cinema screenings of films that have just been restored for Blu ray. I’ve noticed a lot of older films receiving cinema showings to commemorate an anniversary of a film’s release also. Inception and Back to the Future are two such films showing on the big screen again recently because of this. And this is a great thing. To see a film on the big screen with a great sound system are the optimal conditions for experiencing a film.

Soundtrack of the Week- The Amityville Horror (1979)

Soundtrack of the Week- The Amityville Horror (1979)

This week’s Soundtrack of the Week is for the 1979 haunted house (hoax!) The Amityville Horror.

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This soundtrack is amazing as theres so much going on and so much detail and nuance that might not be noticed on first listening/viewing.

If there was music that would be perfect for such fare it would be sinister and utterly unsettling children’s voices singing a lullaby cum nursery rhyme. Thats what we get here and it works beautifully. However, this basic coda is repeated throughout the film but each time is made to sound even more disturbing with added squeals and shrieks from a waterphone being used more and more each time. This perfectly mirrors the events in the film as they get darker and much more disturbing as time goes on.

There are also sounds of screeching, white noise and static that are used to blinding effect as undercurrents for some of the compositions. Theres even a track which is just the sound of a bass-like rumble to represent the unseen, omnipresent evil presence in the house that is one of the most unsettling and disquieting things I’ve ever heard on a soundtrack.

It’s no wonder that this film music is so brilliant when you consider that it was composed by Lalo Schifrin who wrote the amazing score for Dirty Harry and also composed some pieces for the aborted score for William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Theres a story why this wasn’t used in the finished film in Friedkin’s autobiography of why they fell out over the music written and why they still unfortunately don’t speak.

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The edition of the Amityville Horror soundtrack that I have is the Quartet Records Spanish double CD edition that has the mono film score and also collects together the surviving stereo tracks along with loads of added and previously released tracks. Theres even a track of Schifrin’s SFX track that was used in the film. The number of tracks here is breathtaking. If you’re going to buy this soundtrack, look for this edition. You won’t be disappointed.