William Lustig’s depraved classic was massively controversial when first released. It garnered the ultimate accolades for an exploitation film- it was HATED by Siskel and Ebert (Gene Siskel said he made it to the shotgun murder then had to leave the preview screening as he couldn’t stomach anymore!) and it was picketed by feminist groups.
The film centres around serial killer Frank Zito who likes to scalp his victims and place the scalps on top of shop mannequins in his apartment. It’s also shown that hes a victim of abuse by his mother who later died in a car accident (did he cause this?) On the walls of his apartment are paintings of deformed children amongst other things.
Tom Savini provides the special effects and does so with gay abandon. He also stars in the film with explosive results!
Maniac isn’t just a great piece of sleazy horror cinema but is also a snapshot of a time when New York really was run-down, dangerous and crime-ridden. It feels more like a gritty documentary than a film made for 42nd Street. The scene in the deserted subway station at night is the stuff of nightmares!
The movie also places actor Joe Spinell centre stage in the role of Frank. He gives one of the greatest depictions of psychotic psychopathy ever captured on film. Spinell can also be seen in Taxi Driver (he delivers that ‘You talkin’ to me’ line in Maniac) and William Friedkin’s masterpiece Cruising. An amazing actor.
The film also looks gorgeous. Check out the framing of the murder of the couple on the beach that opens the film. It’s exquisite. In fact the film seems more like a giallo, an opera of blood, splattered brains and strands of hair.
The first time I learnt of the film was when I saw the poster for the movie in a copy of the French horror magazine Vendredi 13 in the mid-80s- a close up of the killer’s midriff and crotch (which leaves nothing to the imagination), the words ‘I warned you not to go out tonight!’ written in spiky font, a knife in one of the psycho’s hands and a severed woman’s head in the other. Even this poster wound up in trouble and had to be censored in certain countries.
The film was rejected for cinema release by the BBFC in 1980 and again in 1998 for a potential VHS release. It was then cut for a DVD release in 2002. But worry not- Blue Underground, the director’s Blu-ray label are releasing a 4K transfer in December.
A sick, disgusting film that proves itself to be worthy of the hype. Highly recommended.
An eccentric millionaire invites five strangers to a haunted house with each receiving $10,000 if they last the night.
This is a William Castle film so you know it’s going to be genius. And it doesn’t disappoint. I love the house with it’s sliding doors, acid bath and shadow play. Vincent Price in the lead is once again perfect casting with his trademark wryness, camp and sarcasm being demonstrated in spades. There also seems to be more understatement and, dare I say, nuance in this role.
The film itself looks amazing. I wish director Castle would get the proper adoration and respect for his films and legacy. The gimmicks associated with his films seem to overshadow the actual films themselves. This is a shame. I honestly thing Castle was an auteur who seriously influenced the genre of horror for the better. The House on Haunted Hill influenced Hitchcock when he was making Psycho apparently. I’m wondering if Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques influenced Castle’s film with the numerous double-crossings and red herrings that keep the audience guessing until the very last frame.
Emergo was the gimmick Castle used for this film. During a scene concerning a skeleton an actual skeleton on a pulley would be flown over the startled audience. Genius.
This film is currently (and inexplicably) in the public domain. I look forward to a really great Blu-ray release and transfer. The film’s beauty is a gem yet to be seen in all it’s glory.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…’
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.