Day 23- 31 Days of Halloween- The Savage Bees

Day 23- 31 Days of Halloween- The Savage Bees

The other half of a double-bill in UK cinemas with the other film being the far better The Incredible Melting Man. This was actually made for television in America.

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Killer bees have flown into America and are claiming their first casualties disturbingly close to New Orleans when their Mardi Gras is due to kick off. A bee expert (of course) and a guy who isn’t quite a coroner yet (so he isn’t taken seriously) are on the case but come up against obstacles in the form of sniffy officials who don’t want to see Mardi Gras cancelled- at any cost (hints of Murray Hamilton’s character in Jaws here).

We learn that the bees don’t like noise and the colours black and red. The first human victim is a coloured girl in a red dress blowing a toy horn. Not her lucky day.

The finale involves Ms Bee Expert being nudged into a sports stadium in her red Beetle which the bees have covered as she was earlier using the horn near them (doh!). The temperature of the Super Dome is then lowered as the bees die when temperatures reach below 35 Degrees Fahrenheit. This sequence is very unexpected and works well with tension being ramped up as the temperatures come down (we see this on huge displays which show the actual countdown).

This is an above average TV movie which received a video release in some territories. There aren’t enough action sequences and some of the more talky bits are quite pedestrian. But when it gets going its quite exciting. Because I saw it on TV when I was a small child and loved it then it will always hold a special place in my little black heart.

Look out for the scene in which someone in fancy dress tries to take on the bees with a sword. Yes, a sword!

2 out of 5

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Day 22- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Day 22- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

I first learnt of this film’s existence by walking past a cinema at the tender age of 4 and seeing a poster for the double bill of this and a TV movie that was shown theatrically in the UK called The Savage Bees (to be reviewed tomorrow night). Even the poster for this genius double bill of terror fucked me up psychologically as I was obsessed with the idea of the villians of both films coming to get me when I was least expecting it.

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I finally saw The Incredible Melting Man years later on TV- and loved it. It harks back to the horror films made for drive-ins in the 1950s. The plot involves three astronauts going on an expedition to Saturn (“You’ve never seen anything til you’ve seen the Sun through the rings of Saturn”). But something goes wrong and the only surviving astronaut, Steve West comes back to Earth to find that his body is slowly melting. We find out that to slow this down Steve who is now insane, must consume human flesh to decelerate the decomposing process.

This film is ripe for people to call it ‘so bad its good’ as if its absolutely terrible. It isn’t- and not by a long chalk.

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Yes, sometimes the acting is a little, erm, natural shall we say (the actress who plays the mother who stops off to steal lemons reminded me of Edith Massey from John Waters’ films. Yes, her acting is that raw!).

But theres also some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen which were crafted by a young Rick Baker. Yes, the Rick Baker who won seven Oscars (take that cinema elitists). The melting effects are very aesthetically pleasing and the scenes in which El Melto sheds an eyeball and leaves his oozing ear on a bush have to be seen to be believed. Watching a severed head splat on a rock after going down a waterfall in slow motion is also a beautiful sight for horror fans.

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Theres also a cameo by a young Jonathan Demme as the boyfriend of a teenage girl played by none other than Janus Blythe who played Ruby in The Hills Have Eyes. Her performance is brilliant. I love any character that goes mad at the horror of what has just occurred. She does a great job with her character alternately crying and laughing manically.

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But theres also a greater depth to this film. There are many scenes of West walking up and down hillsides with the sun setting behind him and with the sounds from the expedition in his head. These scenes show Steve to be completely alone and nomadic. West is a melting freak but not through choice and is so grotesque that he’s utterly ostracised and feels completely separated from the rest of the human race. These sequences reminded me of the melancholic piano music at the end of each episode of The Incredible Hulk or the underlying sadness to the TV programme The Littlest Hobo. The audience feels pity for West and his condition rather than his character being a two-dimensional grotesque baddie with no other sides to his persona.

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Theres also a heartbreaking scene wherein Steve reaches a barrel of water on his wanderings and sees his reflection that makes him cry out and place his head in his heads.

This film also possesses a scene which is the hallmark of a really fucked up movie- someone runs through glass. A nurse runs through a plate glass door after seeing Steve’s face when he removes his bandages for the first time. If this ‘running/throwing yourself through glass’ scene is in a film you know its special and that you’re watching high art. The scene appears twice in Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), twice in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) and once in Halloween 2 (1981)- all great, fucked up pieces of cinema.

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Any film that features the lead character melt in a great big pool of ooze at the end and is then seen being swept up and placed into a trash can by a janitor is A-OK with me.

The next time someone tells you that The Incredible Melting Man is one of the worst movies ever made tell them to fuck off. They wouldn’t know great entertainment if they fell over it.

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

In the 80s I was obsessed with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Because of the popularity of this film an earlier Wes Craven film was re-released on video in the UK. That film was 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes. I first saw the video for this release on a video store’s shelves whilst on holiday visiting relatives. Some of these relatives were born again Christians and so I don’t think renting a film about mutant cannibals would really have gone down that well.

On returning to York and away from The God Squad I rented the film from my local video library. I loved it.

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The film was then released shortly after that on retail label Palace Horror and so I bought my own copy of the film which I then watched with shocking regularity.

After these releases the film then seemingly sank into semi-obscurity again. I hoped and prayed for a DVD release that was halfway decent.

It was a long wait but this actually happened courtesy of Anchor Bay. I remember seeing the request that had placed on many film industry forums for a negative that they could use as the basis for a release. When that release finally saw the light of day the wait was justified. The print had been restored as had the audio. The DVD was also chockful of extras including an alternate ending that none of the fans of the film knew about.

Whilst watching this film for this review I watched the latest release- Arrow Video’s 4K Blu ray which is the best edition of the film so far. The picture is so sharp that Post-It notes posted on a pinboard in the mobile home can be read and the sign outside the garage in the movie can be made out. Hooray for advancements in film technology. Another Arrow Video triumph.

The-Hills-Have-Eyes_ArrowThe film itself is about a family who are travelling to California but decide to look for silver mines that are off the beaten track. The family’s car and mobile home attached to it swerve off the road and the family find themselves stranded. Unfortunately they also find themselves under the unwanted gaze of a local group of mutant cannibals who have grown up in the area which is used by the Army to test nuclear capabilities. The film then develops into a battle between the All- American family and the cannibals.

On watching this film again for this review the strongest feeling I got was just how outrageous the film is. It certainly goes the extra mile in terms of plot and grittiness. In fact the film goes even further than director Wes Craven’s previous film Last House on the Left. At one point during Hills a baby is kidnapped by the cannibals for food. If that isn’t pushing the horror envelope then I don’t know what is! But whilst the film and it’s plot may be extreme there is never a sense that the film is ever gratuitous or sensationalistic but still sets precedents. A good point of comparison here is with the godawful remake from 2006. In this original version of the film there is a rape scene that is signified by the eyes of the victim widening. And thats enough for the audience to know whats going on. The same sequence in the remake is much more drawn out, unnecessary and involves the victim getting her face licked by her cannibal attacker. And thats just for starters. Enough said.

Speaking of Last House on the Left, the artistic leap between these two films seems huge. The Hills Have Eyes is positively polished by comparison to Last House in terms of technical ability, acting and direction. However, The Hills Have Eyes still feels gritty, subversive and downright dangerous- like watching a renowned video nasty classic for the first time. Both Last House and Hills use their low budgets feels to their advantage. It seems like Wes Craven believed that a lower budget just means you adapt to this and rise to the challenge creatively without sacrificing quality. Both films have a documentary and realistic feel to them rather than just being examples of exploitation cinema awash with bad acting.

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In fact, one of Hills’ many strengths is the acting. As soon as you see the name Dee Wallace on a cast list you know that the film will have a certain level of prestige and integrity. She is amazing as are all of the cast. In fact there are pieces of acting within Hills that seemingly exceed the horror genre. One example of this is when Doug gets back to the mobile home to find that family members have either been raped, shot or killed. And on top of that his baby daughter has been kidnapped. His acting on seeing his dead wife is incredible and extremely poignant.

The movie also made a horror icon of Michael Berryman. Even the poster for the film featuring Mr Berryman’s face was iconic. Imagine seeing that poster outside a cinema in 1977. Even if you didn’t know anything about the film you’d still go and see it as the poster and tagline are so brilliant.

Another example of The Hills Have Eyes as a cult classic is that it is endlessly quotable. It also goes to show that they might be nuclear mutant cannibals but they have some great oneliners. ‘Whats the matter? You don’t like dog anymore?!’

Craven has some very perceptive insights to convey regarding issues such as the family, the relationships within the family, the differences between the two families but also the less obvious similarities between them. I could go into these in much more depth along with my other theories about the film but this will be done soon in a separate article about the movie.

For me, The Hills Have Eyes isn’t just a stunning piece of horror cinema it feels like an innovative and genre-defining film that is just as important as The Exorcist, Halloween or Night of the Living Dead.

The Hills Have Eyes will always be in my Top 10 list of favourite films.

 

Day 11- 31 Days of Halloween- Blood Beach (1981)

Day 11- 31 Days of Halloween- Blood Beach (1981)

An anomaly from the early 80s, this film is about a flesheating creature hidden under a SoCal beach.

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Quirky characters, supporting players who you just know are actually inhabitants of the area being depicted and some leads who are well know to fans of cult cinema (John Saxon, Burt Young) help this film immeasurably. This is no mediocre fare- this is an enjoyable film that captures a time really well and is very watchable.

Watch out for the beach rapist scene- instant karma.

Day 7- 31 Days of Halloween- The Fog (1980)

Day 7- 31 Days of Halloween- The Fog (1980)

I remember being traumatised by the Poster for The Fog before I actually saw the film. We had driven past The Odeon in York and I briefly glanced at it. As this was just a glance I thought I saw a woman lying in bed with a ghostly hand reaching out to grab her. I didn’t sleep for several nights after this.

I finally saw the film on video years later and loved it. Whereas Halloween is a killer on the loose movie, The Fog is a modern twist on the old fashioned ghost story.

In fact the plot comes from an event that happened in the late 1890s with a ship being lured onto rocks so that the gold onboard could be robbed and the people onboard left to perish.

The film makes light of this with a buried secret and buried treasure both coming back from the dead. People coming back from the dead in the film is also a knowing wink to the EC Comics of the 50’s and 60’s in which the dead avenge the living by coming back from their graves. The guilty who are still alive have to face those whom they wronged and with ghastly consequences. Theres also a feeling of ordinary people having to endure extraordinary circumstances with these specific comics and within this film.

Whilst the cast is amazing (watch out for the interactions between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis- they’re hilarious) the true star of the film is the fog itself. With this picture being made in 1980 the fog was real rather than being computer generated as it was in the appalling remake. The fog here is a living, breathing and very menacing entity.

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This film also has some of the best cinematography in any horror film and its courtesy of Dean Cundey who had also shot the masterpiece Halloween. The anamorphic Panavision used here was inspired and this and the film’s lighting make the movie absolutely beautiful to look at.

Whilst this is an old fashioned ghost story there is also a modernity about proceedings with some sequences that are as nasty if not nastier than the other horror films of the day by their being committed out of frame or within the fog itself. Check out what happens to the men aboard The Seagrass and the way they are dispatched. The sound effects suggest breaking bones and slashed flesh whilst being obscured by the fog itself. Whilst other horror films were being more explicit with their blood and gore, Carpenter suggested these atrocities whilst not fully showing them. This was the correct approach for this film as excessive gore would have seemed out of place and quite cheap for this movie. Carpenter actually reshot scenes to add to the film as he didn’t think it was scary enough. I’m glad he didn’t go overboard (pun not intended).

Another thing to love about The Fog is the soundtrack. We get the simple piano motifs like in Halloween but also analogue synth atmosphere that really adds to the film as a whole. But most surprisingly there are fully blown baroque pieces that suggest something older and more classical- a reference to what happened years before in Antonio Bay and the resurrection of this piece of grisly history.

Add to the mix some pretty amazing special effects (look out for special effects genius Rob Bottin as lead zombie pirate nicknamed on set ‘Wormface’) and you have a rip-roaring ride that never outstays its welcome and always feels fresh, innovative and a joy to behold.

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In fact this is one of Carpenter’s best films and is often overshadowed by Halloween. Its almost as if when a director makes a bona fide classic then any other film is destined to be unfavourably compared to it. The Fog and Halloween are both from Carpenter’s Imperial Phase and are both stunning pieces of cinema.

5 out of 5

Day 4- 31 Days of Halloween- Piranha (1978)

Day 4- 31 Days of Halloween- Piranha (1978)

One sign that you’ve made a horror classic- your film spawns a slew of imitators.

Sometimes one or two of these imitators are witty, knowing and innovative.

Thats what happened here. Jaws made such a splash (pun intended) that there were plenty of rip-offs. Piranha was one such film but was great on its own terms rather than being a pale imitation.

Director Joe Dante said the original screenplay for this Corman produced film was dire. He worked on it with John Sayles and made Piranha into the hoot it is today. Quirky characters, great scenarios and references to other works such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon abound. One lead character plays a Jaws arcade machine at the start of the film. The movie knows exactly what it is and isn’t afraid to shout it out.

Another great facet of the story- its the heroes of the piece who actually cause the near disaster they have to deal with.

The leads are amazing (Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies) as are the supporting cast that features Kevin McCarthy, Corman regulars Paul Bartel and Dick Miller and Euro scream queen Barbara Steele.

A cult classic and deservedly so.

4 out of 5.

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

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What a cracking film to start my 31 Days of Halloween with.

This is a British film which stars Bette Davis as a nanny for a family living in London in which a young boy has been sent away for supposedly killing his sister. The boy is due to be released after two years and return to his family home and under Ms Davis’ supervision.

The boy vehemently protests his innocence and insists that instead it was the nanny who committed the terrible deed. Is he right? Or is the nanny indeed guilty?

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Theres already the almost unspeakable taboo of a child killing another child within this film which gives the film a grittiness right from the get go. The household in question is steeped in gothic tension even though it is in fact light and airy. No Baby Jane mansion here.

Theres also the stifling formality of English life at this time. There are so many manners and formalities at play that are overwhelmingly suffocating and claustrophobic.

Within the film there is also a delicious generation gap which underlines this and presents a tangible ‘Old vs new’ scenario. The boy in question, Joey forges a friendship with a 14 year old girl who lives in the same building. She dresses like a hip 60s girl, all white lipstick and black eyeliner. When we see within her bedroom Joey gazes up at a Beatles mobile she has hanging from the ceiling and at one point we see her reclining on her bed reading a copy of the girls magazine Jackie which has a pin up of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones on its back cover.

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Beautifully acted (especially Ms Davis of course, whose character has a pair of the ugliest eyebrows ever captured on film) and elegantly directed, this is one of Hammer’s finest films.

Of course this would only have been made with Ms Davis if Hollywood wasn’t casting the very best stars of yesteryear anymore. Every cloud has a silver lining. What was Hollywood’s loss was very much Hammer’s gain.