31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 9- Ringu (1998)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 9- Ringu (1998)

Every now and again a horror film’s reputation builds through word of mouth and because the first horror fans who have seen it rave about it and this snowballs until it can’t be denied or ignored by fans and film journalists alike. This happened in 1998 when Japanese film Ringu was made. This was also when the internet was in it’s infancy still and so this was actual word of mouth which made it’s way into print media such as Empire magazine and other publications. Everyone was saying that Ringu was one of the most imaginative, innovative and scary movies that had been seen in some time.

When I finally saw the film I had to agree. Again, this was before the internet and social media when fanboys (and girls) can build up hype about a film just as filming has started. The consequence of this is that when the film is actually released it turns out to be a huge damp squib (take a bow recent woke Halloween reimagining). And so the acclaim and word of mouth before the internet boom felt a lot more sincere and genuine.

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The film concerns a cursed VHS tape which brings death to it’s viewers seven days after they have watched it. When the niece of an investigative reporter watches it and then has an apparent heart attack, the journalist Reiko Asakawa starts to dig deeper. When she goes to a cabin that friends of her niece’s had died in in much the same way as her niece she finds a videotape. She then recruits her ex-husband to unfathom the mystery and hopefully break the curse.

This film works on so many levels. Firstly, there is the whole adventure that we are whisked away on which is extremely dark and full of mystery and intrigue. It never lets up for the viewer and never lags. There are also so genuine shocks along the way, one that involves Reiko’s son.

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The film also mines into the culture of VHS tapes that was still prevalent at that time amongst horror fans. Before the internet took off and made it possible to order first generation video tapes from overseas (hello Amazon!) the main way to obtain videotapes of films that were unavailable or banned in the UK was through film fairs. Films were taped from other sources onto blank video tapes (the picture and sound quality of these ‘pirate videos’ could vary massively!). The timing of the Ringu’s production and release was impeccable because DVD was just about to take off and make the whole VHS horror film fair scene obsolete. No more fifth generation pirate tapes when a pristine and legitimate copy of The New York Ripper could be bought online and delivered to your door (customs permitting).

The film also brings centre stage the continued relevance of urban myths and urban legends. The schoolgirls who watch the video tape have heard about the dangers attached through the myths told regarding it. So even in the advanced age in which the film takes place the power of a shared story told between friends still shocks and frightens just like the film itself for the viewer.

The use of photographs that show it’s subjects as distorted is also interesting and brings to mind The Omen. Photographs taken of subjects within the 1976 film show distortions and imperfections of how that person will die. The same is true within Ringu. 

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And then there is the tape itself and it’s contents. I’m not going to spoil the surprise of watching the tape for the first time for cineastes here but I’d just like to say that it lives up to the hype and will make your skin crawl.

In fact ‘lives up to the hype’ could be an expression used when describing Ringu as a whole. Unmissable. 

****and a half 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 4- Abby (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 4- Abby (1974)

A Blaxploitation Exorcist rip-off.

A pastor goes to Nigeria and accidentally unleashes an ancient malevolent spirit. Oops. His daughter-in-law back in America then starts to change from being a God-fearing, wholesome wife to becoming a possessed randy harlot. 

This film is such good fun. The pastor is played by William Marshall who was already known to Blaxploitation audiences as Blacula. Austin Stoker also stars who would later feature in John Carpenter’s masterpiece Assault on Precinct 13 a couple of years later. But it’s Carol Speed as Abby who steals the show. She seems to truly relish her role and brings some much needed spice and vigour to it.

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There’s groovy interiors, snappy dialogue and effects that look cheap and nasty even by Exorcist rip-off standards. In fact they make Beyond The Door’s FX look highly innovative by comparison. But that’s all part of the fun.

I love the fact that the exorcism at the film’s conclusion takes place in a downtown bar.

This film made loads of money at the box office but was abruptly taken out of circulation when Warner Bros. issued a lawsuit as they stated that the film ripped-off The Exorcist a bit too much. Abby’s director William Girdler never denied this. The only existing prints are in very bad condition and it’s rumoured that a decent print hasn’t surfaced yet as possibly the lawsuit is still in place which prevents a decent DVD/Blu ray release. It’s also rumoured that the lawsuit also involved all copies of the print to be confiscated by Warner Bros. so that they could destroy it.

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I hope this isn’t true. I’d love this film to be released after being restored. In fact, I’d love a Blu ray box set containing all of Girdler’s films. He deserves to be recognised as one of the leading auteurs of brilliant exploitation films. 

*** and a half

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.

***

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 2- The Honeymoon Killers (1970) ****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 2- The Honeymoon Killers (1970) ****

Fat nurse Martha Beck is joined into a lonely hearts club by her best friend Bunny. Almost instantly she starts to correspond with a man called Raymond Fernandez. Their correspondence grows more intense with the bond between them being so strong that Martha invites him to her home in Mobile, Alabama. After a night of wild passion he leaves her to go back home but not before he has secured a loan from her.

She then receives a letter from Ray breaking up with her which causes Bunny to ring him to say that Martha is suicidal because of this. When Ray is relieved to find out that neither of them have involved the police, he invites Martha to New York to visit him. When she gets there he lets the cat out of the bag- he is a professional hustler who cons lonely women out of their money and moves onto his next target. Martha is so in love with Ray that she stays by his side and even becomes his accomplice as he commits his next crimes.

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This movie is based on the true life crimes of a couple dubbed The Lonely Hearts Killers with the film using their real names. The film was also originally to be directed by a young director named Martin Scorsese (wonder what happened to him) but he was fired several days into the shoot as he was just taking so much time getting master shots set up whilst not shooting any coverage shots (according to himself. He even went on to say that it wasn’t probably for the best for the film that he was fired as the film was made on a low budget and needed to be shot quite quickly). Leonard Kastle stepped into the breach instead and does a phenomenal job. The film looks gorgeous and is framed to perfection. It’s almost like any frame from the film could be hung in an art gallery and admired. The monochrome look of the film is also astounding and reminds me (as does the film as a whole) of Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Sisters.

The cast are exceptional also with Shirley Stoler utterly iconic in her role as Martha and Tony Lo Bianco also iconic and perfect casting as the money-hungry lothario Ray.

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This movie is on The Criterion Collection as it deserves to be. In fact, when I rewatched the film for this review I was getting strong John Waters’ vibes from it. It was almost like a lost Waters film from around the time of Multiple Maniacs (also deservedly on Criterion) and I could imagine either Divine or Edith Massey playing Martha and Tab Hunter playing Ray. Maybe in a parallel universe this movie was made.

Apparently Francois Truffaut named this movie was his favourite American film. And if that doesn’t act as a high enough recommendation for you to see the film then I don’t know what will.

When the film first played in the UK it was as part of this double bill

**** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 1- Blood Link (1982) ***

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 1- Blood Link (1982) ***

A man finds himself having visions of murders being committed that turn out to be true. His visions and investigations take him to Berlin where several revelations bring him face to face with the killer.

I love ‘one good twin, one evil twin’ movies. This is another example of this genre but is closer to Dead Ringers than Basket Case.

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I hate it when people describe movies as having a ‘dream like quality’ but that description is entirely applicable here. I’m not sure if this was the intended outcome for the movie’s director or if this was the result of inexperienced filmmaking but it works really well. If you like to have a few tokes whilst watching a film then that’s not needed here. It’s obvious that the cast and crew have done all of that for you. I’m surprised Mary Jane wasn’t given her own credit to be honest.

The Berlin locale works really well with moody, neon lit scenes of down town Berlin at night looking gorgeous and fitting the darkness of the film splendidly.

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Spot the difference- the posters for The New York Ripper and Blood Link.

And then theres the cast. Michael Moriarty shows his continuation of giving off-beat performances to bring to life off-beat characters after his surreal role in the brilliant Q. He’s just as idiosyncratic in Blood Link as he was in Larry Cohen’s cultfest and is a major part of why this film is so likeable and watchable. We also get Cameron ‘Toolbox Murders’ Mitchell as an ageing wrestler whois also fantastic. We also get an Ennio Morricone score (quite surprisingly).

File this movie under ‘Oddity’. Not a cult classic but well worth seeing.

*** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- The List

31 Days of Halloween 2020- The List

It’s that time again even though we’re already living within some kind of freaky biohazard/contagion real life horror movie anyway!

Here’s my list for 31 Days of Halloween 2020. Each day I’ll be watching and then reviewing the following pieces of celluloid depravity-

1. Blood Link

2. The Honeymoon Killers

3. Day of the Dead (remake)

4. Abby

5. Land of the Dead

6. The Hills Have Eyes Part 2

7. Haunted House of Horror

8. Hellgate

9. Ringu

10. Bloody New Year

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11. The Sorcerers

12. Frightmare

13. The Exorcism of Emily Rose

14. Schizo

15. Village of the Damned

16. House of Whipcord

17. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things

18. Children of the Damned

19. Dawn of the Dead (remake)

20. The Guardian

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21. The House With Laughing Windows

22. The Ambulance

23. Halloween 4

24. Horror Hospital

25. Zombie High

26. Diary of the Dead

27. Beyond Evil

28. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors

29. Carnival of Souls

30. Inseminoid

31. Onibaba

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