31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

A sequel to Village of the Damned which is less a continuation of the plot and instead like a film containing characters who possess the same powers as the children in the original but under different circumstances.

Whereas the original took part in a countryside idyll, the action within this film is based in London. A gifted child called Paul is studied and observed by the relevant governmental authorities. Other almost supernaturally gifted children are also discovered and brought to the city so that UNESCO researchers can witness them at work. They are brought from places as varied as China, Russia and Nigeria.

These gifted children then abscond from each of their respective embassies that they are staying in and take refuge in an abandoned church. It’s here that the authorities and the army find them and have to decide whether to try to coax the children out or destroy them if they pose a threat to humanity. It’s here that a tense standoff encroaches.

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This film as opposed to the original is firmly on the side of the children who we see as persecuted and in need of human support. The original depicted them as inhuman, devoid of emotion and empathy and very much as villains in a horror film. Children of the Damned elicits sympathy and compassion for the children who are shown as unjustly discriminated against, ostracised and treated as freaks in many ways. Having high levels of intelligence and other powers such as telekinesis are gifts but also hindrances. Witness the speech Paul’s mother shrieks at him that she should have destroyed him before she took him in her arms for the first time.

I made the mistake of reading the reviews for this film before I actually watched it. The few examples I could find were derogatory and very unflattering. They were also wrong, in my humble opinion. Children of the Damned may not be as good as the original film it is a sequel to but is still a vivid, well written, engaging film that is well worth a view. The shots of 60’s London are beautiful. A special mention to Ian Hendry (Repulsion) who heads a stellar cast.

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

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31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 17- Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 17- Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)

The head of a theatre troupe Alan (think of a cross between Charles Manson and Timothy Claypole in lurid and very colourful 60’s clothing) takes his fellow thespians (who he refers to as his ‘children’) to an island which is used as a kind of graveyard for dead criminals. He then assumes the role of a religious leader, puts on robe he just happens to have brought with him and  proceeds to try and raise the dead using his knowledge of magic. Whilst this (seemingly) doesn’t work they dig up the dead body of a man called Orville. However later on in the film the dead do indeed rise again and get their revenge. They board the actor’s boat at the end of the film.

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The director of this film is listed as Benjamin Clark but is in fact Bob Clark who went on to make the masterpieces Dead of Night and Black Christmas. Allan Ormsby who plays Alan went on to direct the excellent Ed Gein biopic Deranged.

This film has an interesting vibe to it that is similar to the counterculture early 70’s vibe of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (but without the violence or genuine transgression). This is gritty low budget filmmaking that points to the drive-in but also to the arthouse realm.

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The colour palette of the cast’s wardrobe is like watching an acid trip with each character wearing a different very bright colour and when more than one cast member is in the frame together it’s a trip. In fact theres a shot in the movie of the cast members all lines up behind each other and it’s like a spectrum of colour. The audience members on certain substances must have loved this sequence.

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This is an interesting film but far from being some kind of 60’s classic. The title is very misleading also.

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

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 13- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 13- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

A novel twist on the ‘demonic possession’ sub-genre. This is more a courtroom drama regarding the priest who tried to save a girl (Emily Rose) from possession by a demon but which resulted in her death. Father Moore faces life imprisonment for his activities trying to save the teenage girl’s life.

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There are of course flashbacks to the actual possession and how it manifested itself and also the resulting exorcism ritual.

Any film that deals with this topic will of course draw comparisons with The Exorcist and any film going up against the 1974 classic will ALWAYS lose.

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But The Exorcism of Emily Rose is passable even if it employs the broadest brushstrokes and whilst it may look great, there isn’t a great deal of detail, nuance or depth to the events.

If you flicked onto this whilst channel surfing this is perfectly enjoyable. But don’t scratch too far beneath the surface because you won’t find much.

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**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 10- Bloody New Year (1987)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 10- Bloody New Year (1987)

I knew very little about Bloody New Year prior to watching it for this review. I thought it might be another slasher movie themed around yet another public holiday just like New Year’s Evil.

How wrong I was! Every now and again I watch a film that is so ‘out there’ that I think to myself ‘What the hell was that?!’ Bloody New Year is one such film.

We see New Year celebrations at a small coastal hotel with the guests forming a conga and leaving the function room with only one woman remaining. The action then shoots forward to the 80’s whereby some young adults are at a funfair and see an American girl being harassed on the waltzers by some locals/carnies. They decide to rescue her but piss off the carnies in the process who chase after them. They all get into a boat and sail away to a small local island to escape them. They run aground and have to swim/wade to shore. Once there they see a small hotel in the distance and decide to go there to dry off and freshen up. Things turn increasingly weird when they get there.

This film is actually British made and feels like one of the Look and Read dramas that were made for schools in the UK in the 80’s. In fact I seem to remember seeing one which was called Fairground! (loving the exclamation mark!) in 1983. Its almost like this film was written for (and possibly by) a bunch of 8 years olds. That’s not to put the film down but just to point out that the whole film holds a remarkably non-jaded and innocent air to events that unfurl within the movie. 

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Notice the embossed video sleeve for the UK release. Maybe this is where the majority of the film’s budget went towards.

Bloody New Year is cheaply made, the special effects are sub-par, the events that happen within the hotel feel like a string of cliches. In fact, the film feels like a bunch of kids were given some video nasties to watch and then the film’s writers asked them what they had seen and noted their exaggerated recollections down and used them as the plot of this movie.

Whilst all of these points feel like criticisms, amazingly THEY’RE NOT! I watched it, was left with the feeling of ‘What the…?!’ when it finished but also realised that I had loved it! And that is one of the things about cult cinema- the film you hold dear might be completely inept and a poorly executed movie resplendent with shoddy production values. But it might have an air or an atmosphere to it that is specific to that film and that film alone. And Bloody New Year has this in spades. 

I love the fact that it is British made, with the male characters looking like contestants from a 1987 episode of Blind Date. They’re all mullets and C&A/Burton’s clothing. The fashions exhibited by the female characters is no better. It’s such a shame when they decide to change out of their clothes into the 1950’s togs they find at the hotel. 

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Mullets and clothes from C&A. One of many reasons to love Bloody New Year

The chain of events that happen in the seemingly possessed hotel feel like a million miles away from The Shining. In fact, instead of merely regurgitating the events from Kubrick’s film albeit with a fraction of the budget (although there are unavoidable similarities regarding past events being held in both locales), the film seemingly goes down the route of using The Evil Dead as a primary influence. This is interesting as the filmmakers must have seen the film, admired it’s low budget ethos (they knew that this was the route to go down for their film with it’s apparent lack of a sizeable budget) and how it worked admirably for Sam Raimi (and also how the film was absolutely huge and not just in the UK because of the video nasty furore and the film being banned but also worldwide) . Thus within Bloody New Year we get bodily dismemberment, characters turning into zombies/demons and even a male character who returns to the hotel only to then turn into a zombie/demon. There even a scene that takes place in the woods near the hotel in which they seemingly come to life and sounds of people’s laughter (in reality possibly a sitcom laugh track obtained by the filmmakers) being heard by the characters trying to escape this particular madness. There is even a POV shot with the camera rushing at the characters through the woods like Raimi used to great effect in his film. 

Then there is the make-up used for the effects in the film that looks like it was done by a GCSE art group. A trick within low budget filmmaking is not to focus on the make up or effects for too long especially if they were done on the cheap. This film bravely chooses to go the opposite route and focus on them in lingering shots. Potentially not a wise move but another quality of the film that makes it so endearing.

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The makeup and hair expertise of the film

I’m loving the fact that one of the deaths was seemingly inspired by The Exorcist with a character’s neck (one of the carnies from the beginning of the film who hated the group so much that they actually went to the trouble of finding another boat and sailing to the island after the youngsters to wreak revenge) being twisted around not just once but multiple times for added horror effect.

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Also within this mess is the fact that within the hotel seemingly inanimate objects have the power to come alive and attack the group (a fishing net and carved head on a bannister being but two), the character of a ghost chambermaid who reappears and then disappears numerous times during the film’s running time and a sequence involving all of the monsters/demons/zombies coming together to ask the two human characters to just give in and ‘join us’ (again, The Evil Dead influence resounds loudly!).

Look out for the scene near the end where the house seemingly gets bored of the couple of characters who are still human and just chucks them out of one of it’s windows. Hilarious.

Blend all of these ingredients together and you have a cheap horror movie made for the straight to video market in the UK where the whole ‘video nasty’ moral panic was going through a second wave (possibly because Sam Raimi had just released The Evil Dead 2, ironically). Bloody New Year should have been bogged down by it’s seemingly negative aspects and forgotten about.

But that’s the thing. Even though it should be rubbish, it’s not! One major plus is that it’s never boring. My interest never flagged during the runtime and I was gripped until the end. The film has so much wide-eyed innocence to it and that fact that it feels like an especially bloody ‘made for schools’ special or episode of Dramarama that it works. It also has heart. This is cult cinema at it’s purest and before you ask I would never call this ‘so bad, it’s good’ (I would never call any film that redundant term). It has qualities that any number of big budget horror films will never have. I’d see this again in a heartbeat. I think this is infinitely better than It and the recent Halloween reimagining put together.

And the strange thing is that others agree with me. I thought I was going mad at how much I enjoyed this film and so I did something that I rarely do- I search online for other reviews. Sure there were the idiots who said that this was trash. But there were others who loved the film also despite it’s flaws or limitations. I’m not mad after all! There’s even a Cinema Snob episode devoted to it.

I look forward to buying the Blu Ray release of this from the States on Vinegar Syndrome. Fortunately this film is also on YouTube here.

**** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 8- Hellgate (1989)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 8- Hellgate (1989)

A movie that was on the other side of my DVD of the (much better) film, The Pit. This direct to video movie concerns a young woman who is snatched by a gang of bikers and brutally murdered. Her father then discovers a crystal that can bring the dead back to life and uses it on his previously dead daughter.

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I read reviews of this film that mentioned that it’s so terrible it’s one of the worst films ever made. I’d like to say that these people obviously know nothing about cult cinema! This film has it’s own vision that is completely intentional and not the result of inept incompetence.

The whole film feels like it’s been filmed through a haze of Mogadon. The brightly lit diner scenes at the start look so hazy it’s like theres actually a fog on the set! Yes, some special effects are cheap and look it! But this is a low budget production aimed at the ‘straight to video’ market. Do the armchair film critics think all productions should be slick multi-million dollar affairs devoid of character or idiosyncracy? This feels like a feature length episode of The New Twilight Zone from the mid to late 80’s. It also has a feel of Night of the Comet with it’s own spaced out feel and atmosphere.

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There’s also a Phantasm feel about proceedings with Josie (the resuscitated young lady) killing any unfortunate young men who visits her town at the behest of her father. It reminds me of The Tall Man turning into a young voluptuous woman to bump off young men in the graveyard attached to his mortuary.

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This movie is like no other. Weird? Yes. A true one-off? Yes. Bad? Certainly not. File under ‘curio’.

** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 7- The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 7- The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

This Tigon film takes place in Swinging London as we see a bunch of twentysomethings at a party who then decide to liven things up by going to an old out of town mansion that is reported to be haunted. The backstory as to why is that the family who used to lived there twenty years previously had all been butchered by a family member.

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Things go awry when the group decide to split up and explore the inside of the property with candles. Two members of the entourage are then killed with the rest fleeing the mansion in fear for their lives. The police then investigate.

The film explores an interesting conceit that the group members who weren’t murdered and escaped now have to grapple with regarding the murderer. Was it someone already at the mansion or more shockingly, was it a member of their group? Paranoia and ennui ensue.

The version of this film that I saw was a 2K restoration and looked gorgeous. The colour palate for the film is shown off beautifully with the finest in late 60’s mind expanding fashions being shown in all their glory. The interior design is just as ‘of the moment’.

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Frankie Avallone stars as the only Yank in the film (he also looks like he’s been beamed in from the 1950’s) whilst his co-stars include Richard O’Sullivan and Jill Haworth.

The kills are just as lurid, colourful and ‘pop art’ as the fashions with the blood being bright vivid red and very paint like. It’s aesthetically pleasing and reminds me of the blood used in George A Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead a few years later.

But whilst the film looks great and acts as a time capsule for what was going on in 1969 (albeit a sanitised filmmaker’s version), the rest of the film is a bit pedestrian. The police investigate, the groovy bunch decide to go back to the mansion to look for clues (!) and then the film concludes (no ending spoiler here). It’s mostly unremarkable with bland characters, not much plot and middle of the road dialogue.

A bit like one of the groovy beautiful characters in the cast, the film looks great but is quite empty. A shame.

*and a half out of *****

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A beautiful film but somewhat empty

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 6- The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 6- The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984)

I remember seeing this on video shortly after it was released way back when. The original Hills Have Eyes wasn’t on video at that time and so seeing this was the next best thing especially in hindsight as there are LOADS of flashbacks to the first film. Yes, even a dog from the first movie who reappears in the sequel (‘the best character in the sequel’ someone wrote on YouTube!) has a flashback!

In fact this is the greatest thing about The Hills Have Eyes Part 2- it makes you want to watch the first (and far superior) film. It does this really early on and so I doubt many people have watched more than half an hour of the sequel. I watched it all the way through for this review. Do I deserve a medal for this as it sooo bad? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, this film isn’t good. But it’s passable. If you flicked onto it whilst bored, it would pass the time for you.

But as a sequel to a (in my opinion) masterpiece and the film that in my opinion is Wes Craven’s best, this could have been a lot better. Craven said he only made this for the money. That’s not really good enough. There was loads that could have been explored within this film but wasn’t.

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An ad for HHE2 from 1984

It’s great to see the characters of Bobby, Ruby (now renamed Rachel), Pluto and Beast. But the rest of the cast are largely wacky (i.e. irritating) teens and deserve to be dispatched much quicker in the movie. The motorbike plot device holds no interest to me whatsoever.

Even Harry Manfredini’s soundtrack is sub-par sounding like trimmings from his far better music scores he’s composed for other movies especially the Friday the 13th films.

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A trade magazine ad for The Hills Have Part 2

New mutant cannibal family member The Reaper is pretty good. He features prominently on the film’s artwork. In fact I’m guessing it’s this artwork which persuaded viewers to rent the video. Never judge a video by it’s cover. 

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Some films that I watched on VHS as a kid in the 80’s have stood the test of time really well and become some of my favourite films (take a bow Halloween 3). But then others may have been passable or even enjoyable when watched through a child’s (i.e. not yet jaded) eyes but The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 isn’t one of them. Strangely I feel kind of reassured that such a clunker of a movie still got a deluxe release from Arrow Video. Even rotten films are loved by somebody and deserve the best treatment possible. 

*and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 5- Land of the Dead (2005)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 5- Land of the Dead (2005)

Land of the Dead is George A Romero’s next instalment in the Dead series after 1985’s pedestrian and plodding Day of the Dead.

This involves the human race who are still at the mercy of a world overrun by the undead and now being split into the ordinary folk who are forced to live in slums whilst a few privileged individuals live in luxury in a part of Pittsburgh called Fiddler’s Green.

Whilst the zombies in the film are shown being unfeeling killing machines, so is Kaufman (brilliantly played by Dennis Hopper) who resides over Fiddler’s Green and the rest of the city. It is understood that he engineered the whole new division of the slum dwelling majority and the richer minority who live in luxury.

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There are analogies abound within the film with parallels being made between the film and the real America at the time of the film’s conception. The majority of American society have to scrape by to survive yet those who are in control have unfair access to the rewards and luxuries afforded to them because of it. Kaufman is shown to be completely devoid of empathy, humanity and scruples. His character is blatantly based on a certain US President who was in power at the time.

There are also comparisons between the zombies and the slum dwellers at the end of the movie with the undead leaving alone the surviving subjegated humans. The zombies also show signs of intelligence within the film with them making the trek to Fiddler’s Green by learning that they can travel underwater. There are also examples of them starting to use guns and firepower during the film’s running time.

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But the film’s moral message feels very heavy handed in retrospect as well as being way too simplistic and a bit too ‘right on’. Theres no nuance.

That being said this is a zombie flick with the undead kicking ass, looking amazing with action sequences coming thick and fast. But whereas Day of the Dead, this film’s predecessor was too ‘talky’, some of the action here feels a but hollow and almost like filler.

A satisfactory film but not a great one.

** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 3- Day of the Dead (2008)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 3- Day of the Dead (2008)

I didn’t even know there was a remake of George A Romero’s 1985 film. When I found out about it I was hardly looking forward to reviewing it as I found the original to be the runt of the litter of Romero’s zombie movies- it was too slow, talky and with not enough action.

The remake however is lacking in the intelligence of the original but doesn’t skimp when it comes to the action. However, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s an enjoyable enough ride whilst it lasts and I can think of worse films to watch.

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In fact, if I had to choose I’d say that I’d prefer to watch this again rather than the original (Romero fans are tutting as they read this).

Ving Rhames stars but is criminally underused. But the rest of the cast do a great job without him. This was made for TV and feels like it but if I flicked onto this it would still hold my attention until it’s conclusion.

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Great zombies, great effects (even if you can tell they’re working on a relatively small budget) and Colorado has never looked so beautiful in some shots.

Certainly not the bad remake I thought it would be even if only zombies and the military are the only elements that link the original and this later film.

***