31 Days of Halloween- Day 23- The House on Haunted Hill (1959)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 23- The House on Haunted Hill (1959)

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.

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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.

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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.

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The audience experience ‘Emergo’

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.

4 out of 5 stars

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Urban Legend (1998)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Urban Legend (1998)

A group of teens find themselves the victims of urban legends that come true. These legends range from ‘The Stranger in the Backseat’ to ‘Eating Pop Rocks and Drinking Soda’ (never heard of this but I’m keen to try it).

In the late 90’s there were a slew of teen horror movies made in the wake of one of the most irritating and terrible films ever made, Scream. They involved a group of pretty young actors in movies completely devoid of likeable characters, tension or any kind of intelligence.

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This still is better than the entire film

Urban Legend is an example of this wave. Stars from recent TV shows were cast to draw in the young audience members who wouldn’t know good from bad in terms of filmmaking. Even Robert Englund can’t save this turkey.

Aside from being a time capsule from the late 90’s this really doesn’t serve any purpose. When I went to see the vile Scream in the 90’s I saw David Cronenberg’s Crash straight after it. So my advice to you is to watch this auto-erotic car fetishist’s wet-dream instead. Crash proved that some great horror movies were being made in that time period.

1 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- Halloween (2018)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- Halloween (2018)

So, the day has finally arrived. Fanboys have been counting down to this release since the start of the year. Yes, even though the film was due to drop in October. This film is a direct sequel to the first film, the filmmakers told us. We must pretend Parts 2-8 didn’t happen.

So, whats it like?

It feels like some kind of faux sequel made exclusively for Netflix. Even John Carpenter’s score feels like a plastic pastiche.

It’s quite an achievement to make a horror film that has no tension or atmosphere. They have managed with this film. Which is such a shame. The original Halloween has atmosphere, tension and menace by the bucketload.

I have never rolled my eyes so many times during any other film. The starting sequence in which Michael is shown his old mask and then all the surrounding asylum inmates start to go crazy made me want to stab myself in the eyes. That was followed by a title sequence which made me scream ‘Oh please!’ in the cinema. A flattened and deflated pumpkin filmed in reverse becomes whole again. In fact it’s a good metaphor for the whole film- inadvertently funny yet tragic at the same time.

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Unintentionally hilarious/vomit-inducing. Michael is shown his mask again

The only character I liked in this film was Michael. Some of his moments were the only moments of light in the whole affair. When asked to speak by his doctor (imagine an Omar Shariff impersonator doing a dreadful Donald Pleasance impression) Michael stamps on his head making it smash like the pumpkin at the beginning of those awful titles. Michael speaks through violence. Another moment has Michael walking through a house which he has adorned with his latest victims- like a very sick art installation. This was a nice touch and a great (and subtle) reference to the original.

But the worst aspect of the film were the nods to modern politics. There is a very obvious thread of ‘diversity’ that comes across as ham-fisted and very patronising. Theres a character whose gender is unconfirmed (looks like a boy, talks about getting back for dance class) but might be a girl. Strode’s granddaughter and her boyfriend go to a Halloween party dressed as Bonnie and Clyde- her as Clyde (male), him as Bonnie (female). Edgy. Except it’s not. There’s even the grotesque stereotype of the sassy black child. I honestly expected him to exclaim ‘What You Talking About, Willis?!’ Please have a diverse cast, please don’t make it so obvious so that it feels like tokenism.

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Sarah Connor Laurie Strode

There’s also plenty of references to Me Too, Times Up and The Sisterhood (I’m dry-heaving typing this). Laurie exclaims ‘Times up!’ at one point and screams over her colleagues who are talking over her. She will have her voice heard! The film further reinforces this sense of the sisterhood with a prominent scene really obviously placing Strode, her daughter and granddaughter all together in the frame (I could say more about this scene but I’d hate to spoil the film for you hahahaha). In fact this scene is so repellent that when I saw it I actually screamed ‘Oh *beep* off!’ in the cinema. But, the film depicted Me Too and Times Up a bit too well. Laurie is hysterical, irrational and deranged most of the time. Kudos to the director for holding up a mirror.

For a brilliant, deft, and innovative example of feminism and diversity in a film check out Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. The ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence epitomises ‘We Can Do It!’ in action and without the amateur dramatics. The scene in which she recruits the member for her expedition team is a far greater and emotionally moving demonstration of diversity and a sense of everyone being empowered to get involved and engaged.

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Genuine feminism, genuine diversity- WW kicks ass

Back to Halloween 2018. The references to the original film will have you rolling your eyes/wanting to scream/wanting to actually inflict violence. Theres a moment that copies the ending of the first film- but with a twist. It’s so obvious, heavy-handed and irritating that I felt like randomly slashing cinema seats with my keys. Whats more, they use footage from the 1978 film within this film which is a very risky manoeuvre. Especially when you’ve made an utterly inept piece of crap. It reminds the viewer that they could be watching a much, much better film instead.

But then that’s one of the few good things about this sequel- it means there there are screenings of the original in cinemas at the moment and a new Blu-ray release. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Oh, and for the record- this film isn’t fit to even be compared to Halloween 2 (1981). In fact, the argument should be about which film is worse? This or Halloween: Resurrection. Yes, it’s that bad.

1 out of 5 stars.

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Jason X (2001)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Jason X (2001)

This film is basically Jason in Space.

This movie massively divided fans. Some loved the innovation but some hated it to such an extent that they viewed it as the worst in the series. Yes, they even hated it more than Part 5: A New Beginning.

But I loved this movie. I even went to see it a bunch of times during it’s original release.

Theres so much to love. The claustrophobia of the spacecraft, the tongue in cheek humour, the nerdy aspects of the film’s vision (check out the eye operation on Jason and the way that injuries like severed limbs are remedied).

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A tongue in cheek cameo by David Cronenberg

Theres also an amazing cameo by David Cronenberg thats worth the price of admission alone.

With this installment being based in space theres many nods to satify the most ardant sci-fi fanboys. Least not Lisa Ryder who was a star of Andromeda. Her android character is a great addition to the cast.

Uber Jason is a sight to behold! And check out the liquid nitrogen kill. It’s one of the best in the whole series.

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Liquid nitrogen kills

Highly recommended. File as ‘underrated’.

4 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- Final Exam (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- Final Exam (1981)

A killer stalks a high school. And thats the plot.

This is a cookie cutter slasher film. The only interesting thing about this movie is it’s historical value as an atypical sub-genre piece. You get to see the sheer rubbish that was made to generate ticket sales and box office. Movies with no artistic merit or intelligence such as this were shot quickly in the wake of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

You could watch this to try and spot whats been stolen from other films. But don’t watch for it’s entertainment value as there is none.

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Theres also a scene where a masked gang mows down fellow students that feels massively inappropriate and just plain tasteless.

In the words of Simon Cowell this is ‘distinctly average’.

If you have masochistic tendencies and feel a need to watch this then please watch the excellent Good Bad Flicks video on YouTube which goes into the chaotic and shambolic production of this folly.

Avoid.

1 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- Martin (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- Martin (1978)

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Original newspaper ad for the Leeds cinema release of ‘Martin’

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.

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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.

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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.

5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- The Funhouse (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- The Funhouse (1981)

A double date decide to investigate a travelling carnival that has just come into town. After strolling around the different attractions they decide to hide overnight in the actual funhouse (like a ghost ride) which is on the grounds of the carnival.

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This film starts out so well with the carnival and the people who work there being shown as being utterly sinister and delightfully sleazy.

When the teens stow away in the funhouse they witness a murder following a paid for sexual tryst (seeing Sylvia Miles from Andy Warhol’s Heat give someone wearing a Frankenstein mask a handjob is worth the price of admission alone). When he prematurely ejaculates but isn’t given his money back (the quickest $100 she’s ever earned) he bumps her off.

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Just prior to the handjob from hell

But then, unfortunately, the film falls flat. Yes, the direction by Tobe Hooper is pretty good, the lighting and colour design make sure that the sets look amazing. But this can’t hide the fact that the script from here on in is badly lacking. There is also no characterisation and the teens might as well be robots. It’s a shame as earlier in the film the lead teen is shown at home with her parents who seem to not care about her whatsoever. Was this a sliver of social commentary from Hooper as to how he saw the American family at this time?

Also, when the Frankenstein mask disappears from the inbred freak (no doubt he would be labelled as ‘mentally and facially challenged’ today) who stalks the teens in most shots he just looks like a dude in a mask. Time had been spent on the look of the movie without a decent script being written or the killer being made to look convincing. All surface, no substance. This is such a shame.

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One mask replaces another

This film was shown in the UK with the MPAA pillaged version of My Bloody Valentine. The poster stated it was ‘the most terrifying 3 hours of your life’. Swap ‘terrifying’ for ‘distinctly average’ and you’re nearer the mark.

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The Funhouse ran into problems years later as part of the ‘Video Nasties’ furore in the UK. If anything shows how inept the police involved in this case were then this is it. Unless they were seizing horror films that had sub-par second halves, that is.

2/5 out of 5 stars.