31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- The Entity (1982)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- The Entity (1982)

Carla Moran is violently raped by a seemingly invisible force. She tried to tell the people around her about what has happened but finds only resistance as her family and friends don’t believe her as she didn’t see who assaulted her especially when she says that her house was locked up when it happened and the assailant seemingly vanished into thin air.

Frank De Felitta’s bestselling book based on a true story (the case of Doris Bither) translates very well to the big screen with Barbara Hershey cast as Carla doing a phenomenal job in invoking the terror of a woman going through something very real but undertaken by someone or something very unreal. Apparently, Bette Midler, Sally Field, Jane Fonda and Jill Clayburgh were all offered the role but declined.

Sidney J. Furie’s film stands alone as a one-off film of a one-off case that most people will have thought of as too much of a tall story to be true.

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The quad poster for The Entity

Carla not being believed can also be seen as an allegory of something that far too many women (and men) go through when they find the courage and strength to report a rape or sexual assault- that their horror isn’t over yet as they try to seek justice whilst being met with an unfeeling and cruel judicial system that views their account with scepticism and disbelief. If it actually makes it to a court of law they will be made to relive their trauma. Those opposing them will try to disprove and belittle the magnitude of what they’ve been through. Or they will try to convince a jury that it didn’t happen at all.

The film all too harrowingly shows the full horror of what Carla goes through when she is raped and does a great job of showing the trail of very disturbing signs when the spirit or entity is approaching (objects shaking, a certain odour that permeates the surroundings Moran is in, a very sudden drop in temperature). Hershey’s performance, just like the film in general, never slides into TV movie melodramatics or sensationalism.

There needs to be a special mention to Charles Bernstein’s insistent, pulsating and truly shocking score that is perfect for the movie and its subject matter. There are also echoes of the music he would write three years later for a new film called A Nightmare on Elm Street.

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Also, the special effects for the scenes in which Moran is molested by the invisible force are very effective indeed. For one sequence a body cast of Hershey was made that was manipulated by currents of air to make it look like the invisible entity was touching her. It succeeds eerily well. Stan Winston supervised the practical effects.

The effects also come into their own when Carla meets professionals who actually believe her story and work in the field of parapsychology. But to tell you more about this would make me tiptoe into spoiler territory…

When the film opened it was met with protests from those who thought that such a film was exploiting such a serious topic as rape. Hershey actually defended this claim and voiced that herself and the filmmakers had actually worked hard not to make the film exploitative and to display the true horror of sexual assault and rape.

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The film was shown with another 20th Century Fox movie in the UK, Alien.

All in all a terrifying film that still feels underrated and excluded from serious writings regarding 80’s horror.

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- I Don’t Want To Be Born (1975)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- I Don’t Want To Be Born (1975)

This film has the best plotline of any movie in the history of cinema. Really!

Joan Collins stars as a stripper in a burlesque joint. Her co-star is a gypsy dwarf named Hercules. He makes advances on his co-star but when she knocks him back he places a curse on her unborn baby making the unborn child psychopathic.

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If that wasn’t enough, the film also co-stars Donald Pleasance, Ralph Bates and Caroline Munro. Kids TV legend Floella Benjamin even stars as a nurse. Holy great casting, Batman.

The film effortlessly captures the period with 70’s London looking beautiful but with a sleazy underbelly as exemplified by the strip club. The film also gives La Collins an opportunity to look breathlessly fabulous in every scene. And every scene necessitates a costume change for Joanie.

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And then there are the fantastic kills from the baby from hell. I love how the film cuts from some awful act of violence to the cutest baby you’ve ever seen. It feels completely jarring, surreal and works really well.

I Don’t Want To Be Born also goes by other titles such as The Devil Within Her, Sharon’s Baby and The Monster which is the title that is being used for a new Blu Ray release from Network Releasing who are fantastic with their titles and so I look forward to how great this title will look. 70’s Joan Collins in High Def! We really don’t deserve it. And we’ve only just had Blu Ray releases of both The Bitch and The Stud.

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I actually think this film is a masterpiece. It’s also my favourite film from 1975. Yes, I think it’s better or maybe just as good as Jaws and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Of course, there are those who dismiss this title as just 70’s exploitation fluff. But that lazy summation disregards the beautiful cinematography, the time capsule aspect of the time the film captures both on and off camera (there was a real thirst for horror movies amongst British cinema-goers in the 70s and 80s) and the set design which is pinpoint perfect. Oh, and the acting is pretty fantastic too. This film may be an Exorcist/Rosemary’s Baby rip-off but just like Beyond The Door it more than holds its own just like Piranha did in the wake of Jaws or Zombie Flesh Eaters after Dawn of the Dead.

A classic film. Seriously.

Grade- A+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 8- Beware! Children At Play (1989)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 8- Beware! Children At Play (1989)

The children of a New Jersey town are disappearing at a very fast rate and the adults of the same town are being slaughtered in ways that suggest a strange death cult are behind this. Could there be a connection?

The first time I ever heard about this film was when I saw the trailer that was included on the DVD for another Troma title. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the trailer as it showed the taboo subjects of not just children going missing but also of killer kids. And with this being a Troma title, obviously taste, subtlety and restraint went out of the window. My prevailing thought was ‘How the hell did they get away with that?’

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But when you actually make it past the trailer, is the actual movie a snoozefest? Well, no actually. the film is pretty good and held my attention with enough suspense, tension, kills and dark humour to satisfy the most committed gorehound.

This is Children of the Corn on steroids. Some of the acting is erm, over-ripe shall we say but you really don’t venture to this kind of fare to discover De Niro levels of performance.

If ever a film deserved a trigger warning it’s this though. Shocking, extreme but great fun.

Grade- B-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 7- Alligator (1980)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 7- Alligator (1980)

Ramon the baby alligator gets flushed down the toilet. 12 years later Ramon is now living in the sewers where he has ingested hormones that have made him grow massively. He’s also very hungry.

Alligator is a fantastic horror film that also has a brilliant sense of dark humour. But this isn’t one of those ‘comedy horrors’ that are light on horror and heavy on naff laughs.

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Robert Forster stars as the cop with the receding hairline who is on the case. With snappy (pun not intended) dialogue by the fantastic John Sayles, more quirky characters than you can shake a stick at and masterful direction by Lewis Teague (who would later direct the equally brilliant Cujo) this movie really delivers.

Watch out for the garden party scene. It’s a doozy.

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Alas, when Alligator was released in the UK the BBFC cut almost all of the gore from the film so that it would receive an ‘A’ certificate (the equivalent to today’s PG rating). The film would then be resubmitted uncut to the Board in 1991 and would receive a 15 rating with all previous cuts waived.

You know you’ve made a great film when a toy company makes a game based on it.

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The game made by Ideal based on the film

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 6- House III: The Horror Show (1989)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 6- House III: The Horror Show (1989)

I read about this in Fangoria and Gorezone in the late 80s and it looked so demented and gory that I didn’t know if it would actually be released in the UK. But, quelle horreur, it was released and uncut as House 3 part of the House franchise.

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On being fried in the electric chair, serial killer Max aka Meat Cleaver Max promises revenge on the cop who sent him there, Lucas McCarthy. Max means it too after making a pact with the Devil which means that he can wreak havoc from beyond the grave.

Two of cult cinema’s biggest icons Brion James and Lance Hendriksen star as Max and Lucas making this unmissable entertainment. The effects have to be seen to be believed. They pushed the boundaries regarding how far they could go in those days when it came to taste and decency. The effects are gross which is music to the ears of any discerning horror hound. There’s also a depraved and sick sense of humour at play within the movie which makes it even more likeable.

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This film has nothing to do with the House series of movies but was just given that moniker in the UK so that more people would rent the movie. It was actually released as a stand-alone movie in the US called The Horror Show.

A great movie that history has treated very well with the ever-excellent Scream Factory releasing it all spruced up. And it deserves that kind of release.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 3- Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 3- Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

I first saw this movie on VHS when I spent a year in Sydney, Australia. There was a Civic Video just off the red light district of Kings Cross that had a stash of low budget horror movies and other obscure titles. This was manna from heaven for me as I rented them all. One of them was Werewolves on Wheels, a film I had first read about in the essential tome Incredibly Strange Films by the Re:Search publishing house.

A biker gang break bread with the members of a local Satanist church and then start to change.

Let’s check off what this movie has all present and correct-

– Great movie title- check

– Great movie poster- check

– Great soundtrack- check

– Great plot- no, nope, NOPE!

It’s such a shame when a movie has so much going for it but forgets about a plot or any kind of narrative for an audience who isn’t stoned.

Werewolves on Wheels is too much wheels and not enough werewolves.

Grade- D

Review- Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

Review- Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

I love the horror films that are unlike any other films in the genre and stand-alone with their quirks and idiosyncrasies. One such film is Alice Sweet Alice.

The film was actually called Communion when it premiered at numerous film festivals but was then retitled Alice Sweet Alice when it was picked up by its distributor and then released in 1977. With one of its stars, Brooks Shields becoming a star in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby even though she only appears in this film for all of about 10 minutes, it was then released again in 1981 under the name of Holy Terror. The film also received the ultimate seal of approval in the early ’80s when it was banned during the Video Nasty moral panic in the UK.

Not many horror films revolve around the issue of Catholicism but Alice Sweet Alice does and to horrific and chilling effect.

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We see Karen who is preparing for her first communion and her older sister Alice at home. It seems that whatever Alice does Karen whines about to their mother as is the case when Alice puts on her communion veil. This first scene seems to expand into a deeper theme within the film and that is what psychologists talk about regarding family relations when one child is treated as a ‘golden child’ (in this case Karen) and when another is treated as a ‘scapegoat’ for anything wrong that happens or any misdemeanour (Alice). The film expands on this further later in proceedings.

As revenge for Karen being such a brat, Alice lures her to an abandoned warehouse and scares her before locking her in a separate room and then threatening her if she tells anyone.

We see Alice wear a transparent (and very creepy) mask and bright yellow raincoat to scare their housekeeper Mrs Tredoni. Later on during the communion service we see someone wearing the same mask and raincoat bump off Karen by strangling her and then placing her body in a compartment within a bench then placing a lit candle inside for good measure. Could the person who did this be Alice who we had seen wear a similar mask earlier in proceedings?

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The film is very much a whodunnit as to whether it is Alice who is carrying out the murders and also if it isn’t her, then who is it and why?

Alice Sweet Alice is a proto-slasher movie and a fantastic one at that. Not only do we get the storyline regarding whether Alice is the murderer or not but also a brilliant character study regarding this character that goes into family dynamics that have only started to creep into public discussions recently.

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Add to this the very unexpected supporting characters who are as out-there as they are unexpected (check out the character of the bald, fat neighbour Mr Alphonso and you’ll fully understand what I’m talking about) and you have another demonstration of why this film really is a one-off and all the more brilliant because of it.

There are also moments of near hysteria within the narrative that feel like they’re straight out of a John Waters movie. In fact, when I first saw the sequence in which the character of Annie is stabbed I instantly thought of when the shopper has her feet stomped on by Dexter aka The Baltimore Footstomper from Polyester. The acting is unhinged and utterly genius because of it.

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Add to this some very inventive kills (check out the sequence in which Annie is killed in the hallway and when a later victim is thrown from a high building to land on broken mirrors down below) and one of the creepiest killer’s disguises I’ve ever seen (the director was influenced by Don’t Look Now in his choice of the raincoat).

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The look of the film is just as striking with a gorgeous muted colour palette that I’ve never seen in a film before and beautiful photography that means that this is so much more than just your average 70’s horror oddity. In fact, it’s just one reason as well as the ones mentioned previously why this film is a complete and utter gem. The way to experience this flick is by going for the US Arrow Video Blu Ray. Their restoration of the film is a revelation and really something to behold.

Grade- B+

Review- He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

Review- He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

This 1980 slasher movie concerns a jilted lover who kills his ex prior to her wedding day. He’s now been released from prison and intends on repeating history as he’s after a soon-to-be bride.

The film borrows heavily from Halloween (the piano score, the autumnal street shots etc etc) and even the title card for the movie uses the Friday the 13th font. But for what it is, it’s actually really enjoyable.

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The look of the film captures early 80’s small town America in all it’s soft gaze, wood panelled glory. The kills are actually well executed, inventive (watch out for the fish tank scene) and the killer is very scary indeed. He needs to work on his non-psycho face though as he looks like a serial killer even when he’s just out and about. It’s a bit of a giveaway.

The opening ‘film within a film’ scene is also fun. The kind of self-referential quality that the film possesses could in part be because renowned future film academic Vera Dika worked on the film as script consultant and as part of the editorial department. She would go on to write about the slasher genre and it’s conventions in her book Games of Terror.

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This film will never be a shining beacon of the genre but it’s a great way to pass an hour and a half. It’s also my favourite Tom Hanks movie.

Grade- B

Review- Girlhood (2014)

Review- Girlhood (2014)

Marieme is an African-French tennager living in a poor neighbourhood in Paris. As her mother works long hours she has plenty of responsibilities within her household where her older and very strict brother takes the unofficial mantle of head of whilst their mother isn’t present. Marieme’s academic career has been affected adversely because of her household duties and it is suggested that when she leaves school she takes a vocational course which leaves her disillusioned and despairing.

She quickly finds solace and escape under the auspices of a girl gang. With this she appears to come out of her shell more but also sacrifices her true personality so that she can fit in and so a kind of grooming starts with her adopting the ways of the gang as a collective and burying her true self in the process. The gang appears to be the role models and family she always wanted rather than the actual family situation she finds herself in. This is very liberating. But also very dangerous when the will of the collective group take over her individual will. She is even given a new name by the group- Vic which is short for Victory and hew new (and fake) identity is sealed.

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This film is stunning. It’s a tale of coming of age, friendship and how life can hold many unexpected twists and turns. It also shows how some people’s futures are so empty and devoid of meaning due to a bleak future that they are enticed by the perceived glamour of a life as a rebel or maverick. But with such a life comes serious consequences that are shown worts and all within the film.

With being in a gang there are also rivalries with other gangs to show who is the baddest and most dangerous. This happens in the form of organised fights that are arranged between members of rival gangs with plenty of onlookers cheering and even filming proceedings on their phones. The fights reminded me of some of the fights seen within the TV series Wentworth as they symbolise more than just a winner and a loser but also how they can determine one’s status within a much bigger hierarchy.

Reject a boring life with soul destroying jobs, lack of prospects and a bleak future. But beware of what you accept in it’s place as this may make you vulnerable to other kinds of dangers and place a target on your head.

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One criticism that director Céline Sciamma received on making this film was that she is a white women telling a story of black women and so her film is somewhat disingenuous and not authentic. This is nonsense and I oppose this criticism just as much as the arguments levelled at certain actors for portraying a character who is within a different demographic to themselves. It’s called acting for a reason just as directors can tell stories involving characters with different origins to their own.

Look out for the amazing sequence in which the leads mime to Rihanna’s Diamonds, not that you would fail to miss such an exquisite moment. But this could be said about the whole of Girlhood. It’s a stunning film.

Grade- A-

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Visiting Hours (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Visiting Hours (1982)

Some of my favourite childhood memories involved me being in a local video shop (and there were quite a few in my area) and poring over the lurid and sleazy artwork for the horror movies. In the 80’s video shops were like art galleries for weirdos and I was (and proudly still am) one of these freaks.

One of the video artworks that I was obsessed with was for the Canadian movie Visiting Hours.

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When I rented the movie I wasn’t disappointed.

I love horror movies based in hospitals especially if they’re made in the early 80’s and are really nasty. Another example is, of course, Halloween 2 which is a peach of a movie. But Visiting Hours is also a great movie. And the hospital the film is set in seems to be a hundred times bigger than Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and has more than ten people in the whole establishment (staff included).

Visiting Hours concerns Colt Hawker (no, his character isn’t a gay porn actor even though his name sounds like he should be) who is obsessed with Deborah Ballin, a TV journalist who campaigns for female victims of domestic violence at the hands of their partners. She is shown defending one such woman who was driven to murder her husband after he had abused her. Hawker is triggered by this because of a childhood memory he has that recalls his mother throwing a pan of boiling oil in his father’s face after he had tried to beat her.

Hawker invades Ballin’s home and sets out to kill her. After a really nasty confrontation, Ballin is injured but survives and is taken to the local General Hospital. Colt learns where she is and starts to stalk her.

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What a double bill!

It’s in the hospital that most of the film’s action now takes place. It’s interesting to see that Colt will adapt any variety of aliases and roles to get to his quarry- nurse, orderly, surgeon and finally, patient.

Deborah seems to be so hated by him that even those who sing her praises or sympathise with her now being a victim of male violence become a target for Hawker. Nurse Sheila Monroe becomes one such with Hawker following her home to find out her address and later in the film invading it. Any strong woman is an enemy of Hawker’s and needs to be dealt with accordingly.

Of course, with such a villain and his repugnant views, the film was labelled as ‘misogynistic’ on its release. But several things make me think it’s actually a very conservative depiction of the kind of violence some women are subjected to. Yes, we get to see the sheer horror of Hawker and the crimes he carries out against the women he sees as assertive and liberated. But we also have the film’s final act in which the balance is reset and, without giving the ending away, a levelling of the playing fields with an ending that sees Hawker getting the justice he deserves and at the hands of one of the people he wanted to dish it out to. Ballin gets to experience first-hand what she’s only ever had to talk about regarding other women’s lives. There is more retribution by female characters in the film but I’m not going to ruin the film with spoilers here.

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Loving this Turkish poster for the film sooo much! A sex scene starring Andrew Stevens whilst Jack Torrence watches outside with a knife. Needless to say, none of this happens in Visiting Hours. But it would make a kickass sequel. It’s not too late.

Also, Visiting Hours doesn’t titillate with its depiction of violence against some of the female characters within the film. And that’s a huge reason why I don’t think it’s misogynistic. It feels like the film has serious things to say about violence against women rather than making a trashy and extreme shocker.

Visiting Hours feels utterly serious and is almost devoid of any kind of humour or lighter moments. It’s also nasty and mean spirited in tone. In other words, it’s perfect for an early 80’s slasher movie. Unfortunately, the BBFC didn’t agree and the film suffered several cuts for its cinema release. These cuts were sustained for the eventual video release and the film was also (albeit briefly) put on the Video Nasties list.

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The casting of the film is also pinpoint perfect which is a major part as to why the film succeeds so brilliantly. Michael Ironside is just as amazing here as Hawker as he was in Scanners as Daryl Revok. He really was fantastic at playing psychopaths. In fact, when I see Ironside’s name on a cast list I know that it will be well worth a watch. Lee Grant is fantastic as crusading feminist Ballin and Linda Purl hits just the right tone as nurse Munroe. On top of that, we get star power through William Shatner being a cast member and we even get to see the guy with the bald head and moustache from Cagney and Lacey.

But the hospital setting is a major part of why this film is so damned effective. Hospitals have always struck me as macabre places and this film feeds into this further. It’s why I love hospitals and this film so much.