Day 9- 31 Days of Halloween- Phantasm (1979)

Day 9- 31 Days of Halloween- Phantasm (1979)

I first heard of Phantasm when its sequel came out. Barry Norman reviewed it and admitted that he hadn’t even heard of the first film. Neither had I.

Fortunately my sister in law had a friend who had closed down their video business and so gave her a lot of the videos he used to rent out. She lent me two films that could be classed as life-changing. One was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The other was Phantasm.

The film starts off like standard horror fare- sinister goings on at a small town American mortuary. But then the film starts to get more and more surreal. Its like a lot of the film inhabits a dark dream-like world.

Check out the scene where the lead character goes to see a local seer. Add to that the chase scene in which Michael chops off The Tall Man’s fingers and takes one home. This film is most famous for the flying silver spheres within the funeral home. These spheres certainly don’t disappoint.

And then theres the soundtrack which fluctuates between gritty analogue synths of doom and funereal organs. I found the soundtrack on CD and within the sale section of a local and long gone record store.

One of the best purchases I’ve ever parted money for.

Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man deserves recognition as one of the scariest and most sinister baddies of all time. Hes unrelenting, otherworldly and the inhabitant of many viewers nightmares.

Back in the day this film was shown not just individually but also as a double bill with John Carpenter’s The Fog. Two amazing kick-ass horror films right there.

This film was remastered and released at cinemas across America last year. And it deserved the 4K treatment.

File this film under ‘underrated’. Also file it under ‘masterpiece’.

5 out of 5.

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Day 8- 31 Days of Halloween- Les Yeux Sans Visage/ Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Day 8- 31 Days of Halloween- Les Yeux Sans Visage/ Eyes Without a Face (1960)

The daughter of a famous plastic surgeon causes a car accident in which his daughter’s face is disfigured. The surgeon has a new theory hes dying to carry out which involves transplanting a face to replace his daughter’s maimed features but this involves donors- willing or not.

I forst saw this film when I was studying film analysis and writing at University. I throughly enjoyed it but I’ve only just rewatched it now. This film is haunting, poignant and so very sad. Everything about it is pinpoint perfect from the cinematography, the music score and the acting. Edith Scob’s portrayal of the surgeon’s daughter Christiane needs highlighting here. Never has a performance been so nuanced and touching as Scob  comes across as vulnerable, child-like and so sad. On of the most touching perfomances I’ve ever experienced in the whole medium of film.

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The film has some amazing observations to make about beauty, self-image and superficiality. Beauty is only skin deep and is also transitory. In these times of facelifts, implants and Botox, this film is even more relevant.

There is also a running theme in the film regarding being caged or constrained and being free- bother physically, mentally and ideologically. If I went into these themes anymore I’d ruin this film experience for anyone who hasn’t seen this gem.

Please see this film. You won’t regret it.

5 out of 5.

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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Rob Bottin and Hal Holbrook on set

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 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes avenges the death of his wife by bumping off the culprits with each murder having a biblical connection.

Very camp, very funny and very unsettling- this is one of Price’s best just like Witchfinder General and the Poe films he also made with Roger Corman.

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Check out Phibes’ clockwork band- one of the eeriest things committed to celluloid.

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Also check out the classic art deco decors and groovier surroundings that capture the early 70s so fantastically.

Caroline Munro appears but only as photos of Phibes’ tragic dead wife.

4.5 out of 5

Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Small town vigilantes wrongly accuse a mentally challenged man of attacking and killing a little girl. It turns out he didn’t attack her but saved her from a neighbour’s vicious dog. The vigilantes find this out just after killing the innocent man who is disguised as a scarecrow. Oops. When the local courts offer no justice, the vigilantes start getting bumped off one by one.

This is actually a TV movie and is a cracker. It built up a cult following amongst horror fans and is one of the best horror TV movies ever made.

The film feels authentic and depicts the bloodthirsty lynchmob really well. We see during the course of the film that these people are the true simpletons of the piece. We also see that a group of people who are desperate for violence and maybe more don’t need any justification for it. Its also interesting that the members of the lynch mob are all depicted as being fine upstanding members of the community (the postman, mechanic, farmer etc) whilst being completely hellbent on inflicting their lawless brand of ‘justice’ on someone whos just a bit different.

This film has a great cast that is like a whos who for horror fans. As well as Larry Drake from Tales From The Crypt, Charles Durning who amongst other things was in When a Stranger Calls, John Houseman from the original Hills Have Eyes and Ed Call who played Glen’s (Johnny Depp) father in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The tension in certain scenes is built up to nailbiting levels and the direction and screenplay are top notch. This is the perfect example of a TV movie that was so great that it transcended its medium and was given a VHS and DVD release. And deservedly so. This is brilliant.

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4 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 3- 31 Days of Halloween- The Exorcist (1974)

Day 3- 31 Days of Halloween- The Exorcist (1974)

I feel like I’ve grown up with this film.

This was one film that I remember seeing on the shelves of video stores when I was a child but didn’t get round to seeing before it mysteriously disappeared. Absence made the heart grown fonder and I knew I must see this forbidden fruit.

But when I was at school a friend of mine had the video as his Dad ran a video store which was very fortunate. I borrowed The Exorcist and watched it with my father whilst we were eating our evening meal. A bad mistake.

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Then in 1993 on my 18th birthday I went to see the film at the Odeon in York with some friends where it was being shown as a one-off midnight screening. The print was in terrible shape. But it still scared me so much that I spent a sleepless night tossing and turning in bed thinking about what I’d just seen.

Then in 1998 the film was rereleased in cinemas in a digitally remastered form. It looked and sounded amazing. Again I saw it.

Then in 2000 came the ‘Version You’ve Never Seen Before’ that incorporated deleted footage and CGI at different parts of the film.

For my money, the best version is the original.

Yes, everyone knows about the famous (or should that be infamous) scenes that are actually more shocking and effective on screen then in the telling. But this is a multi-layered complex film and demands repeated viewings to reap everything the film has to offer.

Captain Howdy, Burke Dennings, Friedkin playing with our senses in certain scenes (check out the scene where Chris sees Karras and Dyer for the first time but we don’t hear what they say as theres a jumbo jet going overhead or the dream sequences involving the St Christopher necklace falling to the ground and you’ll see what I mean), the epic and haunting otherworldly sequence in Northern Iraq, Chris’ speech about why she wants an exorcism (some of the best acting I’ve ever seen- although I could say the same about all of this film), the desecrations, ‘Have you seen what shes done? Your cunting daughter!’, ‘Your mother sucks cocks in Hall!’, ‘The sow is mine!’…theres so much to love.

Look out for actor Paul Bateson in one of the murder scenes. He was later charged with murder and was the inspiration for Friedkin’s later masterpiece, Cruising.

The Exorcist is the horror motherlode. 5 out of 5- a true masterpiece.