31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 27- Beyond Evil (1980)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 27- Beyond Evil (1980)

A few things about this film should attract cult film aficionados. Firstly, it stars John Saxon and Lynda Day George. It was also released on the infamous video label VIPCO (home of Zombie Flesh Eaters and Shogun Assassin in the early 80’s). It’s also features some of the cheapest special effects I’ve ever seen which have aged incredibly badly. In other words, it’s great fun and has plenty of things going for it.

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A couple move to a tropical island and find a mansion that is so cheap that they have to buy it. But it then becomes apparent that Barbara (George) is showing signs of being possessed by the evil spirit of the wife of the previous owner who was practising the occult before she ended up killing and being killed by her husband.

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This is kitsch cult cinema at it’s purest- bad effects, bad acting, bad plot. BUT, very enjoyable because of it. This film has, erm, character! This movie would be perfect if you stumbled upon it on an obscure cable channel late at night.

*** out of *****

Poster of the Week- Maniac (1980)

Poster of the Week- Maniac (1980)

I can still remember the first time I saw the poster for Maniac. The killers legs and crotch, his hand holding a severed head, his other holding a knife with the tagline of ‘I WARNED YOU NOT TO GO OUT TONIGHT’ in the deranged scrawl of a psychopath. What was not to like for a horror/exploitation film fan?

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I actually first saw the poster in a film magazine in the mid 80’s. Maniac was actually banned when it was submitted for cinema release in 1981. It was also banned when submitted for video release in 1998. It was then cut by 58 seconds when it was resubmitted for video release in 2002. And all of this brouhaha was only what happened in the UK. 

In the US it wasn’t just the film that sparked protests, pickets and disapproving TV programme segments but also the poster as even that was seen as being so massively offensive! Now that’s style! More can be seen about the moral panic regarding the film here.

Some theaters would only carry censored posters outside their cinemas.

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In fact, the L.A. Times wouldn’t even carry any advertising for the film. The film’s marketing department used that fact as the basis for another poster! ‘See the film The L.A. Times won’t carry ads for!’ All publicity is great publicity especially for an exploitation film. As if there could have been a higher kind of recommendation. 

I finally got to see the uncut film many years after first seeing the classic poster. Was the film as good as the poster? No. It was even better. Maniac is the grimier cousin of Taxi Driver and is not a million miles away from a film like The New York Ripper. Noo Yawk is especially fun on film when it’s crime-ridden and more like Gotham than Disneyland. 

Soundtrack of the Week- American Gigolo (1980)

Soundtrack of the Week- American Gigolo (1980)

Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack for Paul Schrader’s 1980 movie about a highly sought after male escort played amazingly by Richard Gere is perfection.

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Just as the movie portrays high living, sophistication but with a gritty menacing underbelly, so does the music. Tracks Night Drive, Palm Springs Drive and Night Drive (Reprise) all effortlessly convey a decadence which is a perfect way to usher in such a decadent and affluent decade such as the Eighties. But they also convey just how incredibly tough this new era was. There are sometimes movies and pop songs that capture the zeitgeist of the time at which they’re made and this movie and it’s soundtrack encapsulate this to a tee.

But there is also room for more avant-garde fare with The Apartment being experimental but not feeling out of place on the album.

But the best song on the album is also one of the best singles ever released. Blondie recorded Call Me especially for this movie with the version on the soundtrack being longer, more epic in scope and even with an extra verse. Debbie Harry was the perfect choice of singer for a soundtrack that ushers in this exciting new decade. Debbie would also lend her vocals to the soundtrack of another masterpiece the following year, John Waters’ Polyester. Now THAT soundtrack needs to be released!

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Moroder’s score for American Gigolo was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

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Soundtrack of the Week- The Fog (1980)

Soundtrack of the Week- The Fog (1980)

I actually think John Carpenter is as great a musician and composer as he is a film director.

A great example is his amazing soundtrack for his 1980 masterpiece, The Fog. Just as the film was a traditional ghost story rooted in the past but taking part in the present, his soundtrack completely conveys this.

There are the pianos and synths present on his scores for Halloween and it’s sequel but there are also musical nods to the past representing the timelessness of the campfire story being told to us as it plays on the screen. In fact, the starting story by John Houseman told to the assembled children around a fire on the beach makes an appearance as the first track on the soundtrack.

But it’s also worth noting how Carpenter conveys the concept of the fog within the music. There is the recurring motif on some tracks of air being released and spreading out. The way the fog moves is also represented on some tracks with a sense of it gliding through the music as a living, breathing malevolent being (the start of the epic Antonio Bay especially demonstrates this).

I felt like I have grown up with this soundtrack as I bought the Varese Sarabande edition in 1994 when I arrived in London to study film analysis, the 2000 Silva Screen edition which featured even more tracks not present on the previous edition but it is the 2012 Silva Screen edition which is the most complete edition you can buy. It contains cues not used on the original album all of which are great and the whole album is also remastered.A lot of these cues were used on the Special Edition DVD which was released in the early 00’s.

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The 2012 Silva Screen edition of the soundtrack. The most complete collection of the film’s music and remastered to boot. Buy this one.

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The Varese Sarabande edition…

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…and the 2000 Silva Screen edition

An essential soundtrack to an essential film, The Fog is an example of Carpenter firing with all six guns.

Soundtrack of the Week: Prom Night (1980)

Soundtrack of the Week: Prom Night (1980)

Every week I’ll be recommending one of my favourite soundtracks and why I like them. Hopefully this will inspire you to investigate more, buy the album or dig it out of your collection if you already have it so that you bask in it’s glory again.

This week is the turn of the Paul Zaza/Carl Zittrer soundtrack for the 1980 Canxploitation slasher movie, Prom Night.

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Whilst the film should have been a feeble Halloween/Saturday Night Fever/Carrie hybrid, it proved to be so much more. Great moments of terror, tension and genuine grittiness are punctuated by disco scenes (disco certainly doesn’t suck when it comes to this film!) leading up to the prom, great moments of character development and an introspection that is way too nuanced for other slasher fare of the day.

This is all perfectly manifested in the music on this soundtrack too. Firstly though I have an admission to make- I didn’t even know this soundtrack existed remastered on CD and expanded with extra tracks not included on the original vinyl LP. When I heard that some of the tracks were for pieces of music not used in the original film I thought, ‘Oh no! Filler!’ How wrong I was! The extra songs greatly embellish and expand upon the general vibe of the film.

The tracklisting works very well indeed. Theres the sturm und drang of the music used to underpin the terror scenes (the brilliant piece which accompanies the killer calling each of his future victims is here), the joyous disco songs (my life is better for knowing that there is a song titled ‘Love Me Til I Die’ in a disco inspired slasher movie) that are featured also find their way onto the CD along with others that weren’t used which are just as fantastic.

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Just as Synapse’s Blu Ray of the film helped to resurrect the film with a flawless restoration and a whole plethora of extras, this soundtrack contributes to this resurrection with Prom Night ready to rightfully takes it’s place amongst the vanguard of the slasher movement. Yes, it’s not as good as The Undisputed Champion of this subgenre (Halloween, in case you were wondering) but it’s at the forefront of the B+ movies which followed in it’s wake.

Prom Night the soundtrack is available on Perseverance Records.

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1980

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1980

I’m currently writing an article about my childhood in the 80’s, the massive part that video played during that period with regard to my obsession with cult/horror films and so I’ve decided to compile lists of my favourite horror movies from each year from that awesome decade. These will all lead up to a list at the end of this in which I will compile my favourite horror movies of that decade.

The release of horror classic Halloween in 1978 seemed to open the floodgates to many horror movies being made in what, with hindsight, can be seen as another golden era for the genre and this wasn’t just for slasher movies. There seemed to be a new horror movie being released every week and add to that the various double-bills being shown in cinemas here in the UK and the emergence of home video that seemed to pander primarily to those with a sweet tooth for horror and the 80’s were a great time for gorehounds. I look back at this period and smile. As I say to younger people- I might be an old cunt but at least I got to grow up in the 80’s.

And so without further a do here are my Top 10 movies from 1980. There is a corresponding video here. And whilst you’re there you should subscribe to my YouTube channel. Your life will be enriched because of it.

10. Antropophagus The Beast

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This Italian shocker goes the extra mile. In fact, it goes the extra five miles! It was directed by Joe D’Amato so you know you’re gonna get the goods.

If you ever find yourself in a group of tourists who want to detour to a desolate island whilst on a cruise, listen to the tarot reading member of the group who predicts something terrible is going to happen AND THAT YOU SHOULDN’T GO!

Guess what? They go! And they then hear stories of a man called Klaus who found himself and his family shipwrecked and so to survive ate his family. He (obviously) went insane in the process and became a human flesh craving madman.

The scene involving the pregnant character has to be seen to be believed (a skinned dead baby rabbit was used) as has the climactic scene. There is a reason why early 80’s horror movies were called Video Nasties in the UK. This film has a lot to do with it. Unmissable.

9. The Boogey Man

TheBogeyManAnother Italian shocker, the poster for this poster has a cameo in Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Blow Out as it appears on the wall of the schlock film company that John Travolta’s character works for.

Ulli Lommel directs this sleazefest, a name as revered by horror fans as D’Amato’s. I find horror movies that deal with children killing adults to be one of the ultimate taboos for the genre and this movie features it very early on. It feels so raw and upclose and personal that it almost feels like you’re watching something that you shouldn’t be privy to.

Years after killing his mother’s abusive boyfriend, Willy (!) goes back to the house where the abuse happened as himself and his sister try to face their childhood fears that have plagued them ever since.

The potential silliness of the plot (a possessed mirror resplendent with glowing shards once it is broken) is more than levelled with a gritty tone and gore galore. Witness the scene where with the scissors, for one example.

You’ll need a shower after seeing this. In fact, you will after seeing many of the films on this list.

8. Without Warning

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Malevalent aliens have never been so adorable as in this film. I love it when big star names (Jack Palance stars here) throw caution to the wind and star in something that at the height of their career would have been beneath them. I especially love it when they sink their teeth into these roles and bring real life and verve to their characters. It’s almost like they’re having fun! (See Joan Crawford in the brilliant Trog for another example of this). Palance is batshit crazy as is co-star Martin Landau and they both bring so much demented fun to proceedings.

Theres something very aesthetically pleasing about the alien in this movie and the  skin burrowing jellyfish he throws at his victims. They’re like deadly limpets, if you will.

Whatever drugs were being taken during the writing and filming of this surreal and unhinged epic worked really well! Pair with that the beautiful cinematography (courtesy of the ever amazing Dead Cundey who shot Halloween), a gorgeous colour palate and you have a visual treat with a one of a kind atmosphere.

When you get to see the lead alien, it’s well worth the wait! (Kevin Peter Hall of Predator fame did the honours).

7. Humanoids From The Deep

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A movie that was on my list entitled ‘Films I Must Get Round To Watching’ but hadn’t managed until quite recently. It was on Netflix and so I decided to satisfy my curiosity. And I’m glad I did!

I love a monster movie from a pre-CGI time that involved a man in a suit and loads of ingenuity (see also Slithis).

A coastal town is the target of a creature from the sea that kills people. Then the townsfolk discover that there is more than one of these creatures. And worse still, they don’t just kill but rape too.

This couldn’t be because of a nearby shady company called Canco who have conducted their own sinister experiments involving a growth hormone they’re fed to salmon, could it?! I jolly well think it could! Thus they find themselves the victims of horny, murderous creatures from the sea.

Theres a great atmosphere to this film with small town locales and American life of the time being captured really well. The kills are innovative and the film seems to want to push the envelope and give the viewer more thrills for their buck. It more than succeeds.

If there is one reason for this which also acts as a seal of approval and should have you eager to seek this film out it’s this- it’s a Roger Corman film. You don’t need any higher recommendation than that.

6. The Shining

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What more can be said about this film that hasn’t been said before?! Jack Torrence is a writer and gets a job to act as caretaker for The Overlook Hotel with his wife and son during the snowy winter season when the hotel is closed to the public. He envisages that this will be perfect for him to get some writing done. But little does he know that there are a few other inhabitants within the hotel who reside there and none of them are human.

Amazing direction by the genius Stanley Kubrick, wonderful performances from the entire cast with Jack Nicholson stealing the show with his character sliding into insanity and becoming utterly terrifying, but also very funny with it.

This film was actually panned by quite a few critics when it first came out and was nominated in several categories at that year’s first Razzies along with another film on my list and the likes of Cruising, Can’t Stop The Music and Dressed To Kill. I’ve looked to The Razzies to see whats great about film ever since and not in some vile ‘so bad it’s good’ kinda way either.

5. Maniac

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I remember the first time I saw the notorious poster for Maniac in a magazine when I was a young kid in the early 80’s and thinking ‘Whoa! I need to see this!’ This film has the distinction of being banned by the BBFC not once but twice and so it would be quite a few years before I could get to see it after I had first seen the poster.

When I finally got to see it, it didn’t disappoint! An unhinged portrayal of New York life when the Big Apple was rotten to the core, this is up there with Driller Killer. It has lots in common with Taxi Driver whilst being not as brilliant. Not many other films of any kind are as brilliant as Taxi Driver though and so this shouldn’t be taken as criticism.

There is so much to talk about- William Lustig’s assured direction, Joe Spinell’s devastatingly brilliant central performance, Tom Savini’s make-up work as well as the explosive end his character comes to in the film, Caroline Munroe’s character as a fashion photographer whereby we see another side to Frank as they start a relationship.

And then there are the murders. These pull no punches and are truly the stuff of nightmares. The subway scene is worth the price of admission alone. Think of Lustig and Savini choreographing his own extended version of the opening credits to The Equaliser and you’re almost there.

From the eye-popping ad campaign, to the film that was just as lurid and the genre advancing portrayal of madness and instability, this film is a classic. It also earned the highest honour of being picketed by angry feminists and people with nothing better to do with their time.

This has recently been released on Blu Ray in 4K. Karma.

4. Prom Night

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One of the Halloween clones that starred Jamie Lee Curtis and was the best of it’s class. An irresistible blend of Halloween, Carrie and Saturday Night Fever.

Theres high camp (check out the bitch off between Jamie’s character and the school bitch Wendy- ‘it’s not who you go to the prom with. It’s who takes you home!’) but also high grit. Check out the scenes in which the killer phones the classmates one by one, the opening scene involving a very sinister child’s game that ends with the death of one of the children, the subplot regarding the local paedophile who was blamed for the little girl’s death escaping his mental hospital and being hounded by police.

We also get to see JLC’s dance moves. She’s as good a dancer as she is an actress, something that we’d see further in Perfect a few years later.

Add to the mix a great ad campaign and a poster that is so disturbing that it hangs on my living room wall and you have one of the best horror films of 1980.

3. The Watcher in the Woods

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The rarest of things- a Disney horror film. This is one of the videos I rented the most during the 80’s.

A naive meddling with the supernatural causes one of the children involved to go missing under very mysterious circumstances. Several decades pass and a teenage girl and her family go to share the house owned by the missing girl’s elderly mother. She says that the teenager Jan resembles her missing daughter and so the unsolved is due to come full circle.

There are some great moments in this film that feel very childlike but very unsettling because of it. Check out the scene in which Jan’s little sister (Lyndsey from Halloween!) goes into a trance and starts writing backwards onto a dirty window, the hall of mirrors scene at the local funfair, the flashbacks to the deadly ritual the children held in the local church. Watcher in the Woods would have made a great spin-off children’s TV series akin to Chocky.

And Bette Davis stars as the elderly mother! And she predictably steals the show and rightly so.

2. Friday the 13th

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It’s interesting to watch Friday the 13th again, especially after the whole franchise has become so huge and has established a formula (but also sees fit to subvert that formula). In 1980, spoiler alert, there was no Jason, no hockey mask. In fact, in this first film the killer isn’t revealed until the end.

For this very fact I always think of Friday the 13th as close to being an American Giallo movie (Giallo movies in Italy derived from the gory yellow paged detective pulp novels with a private investigator pursuing and then revealing a killer’s identity in the last few pages). The sequel would also share more in common with a certain Giallo movie with one death scene being reminiscent of Bava’s A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve.

Because this is the first film in the series there also isn’t a formula or pattern to proceedings yet and so we get elements in this film that aren’t present in the sequels. There is a goofiness and a brand of humour in this film that isn’t present in quite the same way in the later films (one example being the sheriff). There is also the well defined characterisation of the teens in this film and the inclusion of some of the secondary characters such as the diner’s waitress and Crazy Ralph which isn’t found to be present to such a degree with subsequent sequels.

Friday the 13th was conceived by Sean S Cunningham and Steve Miner as they saw the great box office Halloween was doing. Is this film as good as it’s inspiration? No way. But not many films are. But this has solid direction, a killer (sorry) soundtrack, very good performances all-round and some amazing special effects and make-up by Tom Savini. Check out the innovation of some of his set ups- the arrow through the neck of a young Kevin Bacon, the ax to the face, the beheading. All great stuff. Less art than Halloween but more blood for your buck. If Halloween is a trip to the opera, Friday the 13th is a trip on a rollercoaster. Both have their place.

1 The Fog

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One of my favourite movie viewing experiences occurred when I was in a shared house at University (studying film incidentally). It was late at night, I was all snug in bed and there was a storm outside, with wind and rain splattering against my window. It was at thing point that The Fog came onto my television. Utter bliss.

And that’s what The Fog is to me. It’s familiar, snug and comforting. It might not be as good as Carpenter’s best (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13) but it comes pretty darn close. The tale of zombie pirates coming back to right some previously carried out wrongs in an American coastal locale has interesting characters brought to life by brilliant actors resplendent. It also has amazing practical special effects, a brilliant baroque synth score, gorgeous cinematography (take a bow, Dean Cundey- again!) and Carpenter’s genius direction and dialogue (check out the brilliant rapport between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis) and you have a classic film.

It also shows that it’s as nasty as the leading lights in the slasher genre but can accomplish this without gratuitous violence and an over-reliance on gore. Look at the attack on the Seagrass- there aren’t gallons of blood and acres of flesh. Instead theres the pirates with hooks, steel skewers and sound effects of bones breaking and spines being severed. In other words, kills coupled with intelligence and verve.

Apparently close to the film’s release date Carpenter watched the film, realised that it didn’t work and so he inserted new scenes with literally days to spare. It worked. The Fog is a melding of new and old (a traditional ghost story made in the slasher era) just like the narrative is (pirates in an early 80’s locale) and the film’s soundtrack (baroque played on analogue synths).

The lighthouse is another huge character within the film with it’s old, traditional use being brought into the present (another example of the old/new theme present within the film) as it now contains the town’s radio station which proves to be massively beneficial as the fog rolls in as people are without communication with each other but DJ Stevie Wayne’s (Adrienne Barbeau- as brilliant as ever) voice guides, connects and unites the otherwise separated townsfolk. Her presence on the airwaves also helps to save her son (who is about to be attacked by the marauding pirates). The roof of the lighthouse being used as a locale when the pirates descend on Stevie still feels daring and inspired.

All of this is why The Fog is my favourite film of 1980.

 

Day 29-31 Days of Halloween- The Prey (1983)

Day 29-31 Days of Halloween- The Prey (1983)

Healthy horny idiots go camping in the woods (I know, an alien scenario for a slasher film!) The woods they go to were the location of a bloodbath decades earlier as someone from a gypsy camp was falsely accused of rape by a female member of the townsfolk. The townsfolk burnt down the gypsy settlement but one of the younger members of the travellers escaped albeit with massive amounts of burns. The present day campers get the feeling that someone is watching them and then start to be dispatched by You Know Who.

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The Prey was made in 1980 but not released in the States until 1983. Edwin Brown was directing porn movies before he decided to branch out into horror. And it shows! The sex scenes in this movie are a lot more raunchy than in other slasher movies. Theres a longer version of this film called the ‘Gypsy Cut’ which contains a full prologue regarding the traveller characters. This sequence is VERY sexual and feels like the sequences of porn movies that you see before sexual organs get an airing. This includes the kind of flat acting that you could only see in pornography.

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The film feels like it wants to establish the fact that it’s a Hillbillies vs City Folk movie and even has a character playing a banjo!

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But whilst this is a blatant Friday the 13th rip-off theres enough here to hold your interest. The kills are very effective (courtesy of special effects guru John Carl Buechler), the cinematography is stunning (even if scenes shot in a forest are pretty hard not to portray as beautiful. Check out the scale of some of the shots and how the humans are sometimes shown as minuscule in comparison to the woods. Also, check out the abseiling scene). Theres also a very unexpected ending that shows that Ol’ Scarface has other plans for the Final Girl rather than killing her. This reminded me of the backstory to the mutant family in the masterpiece, The Hills Have Eyes. The kill of the Final Girl’s friend before this is also very left-field and takes the audience by surprise (no, I’m not going to disclose what it is!)

Check out the Arrow Films Blu ray. Both cuts are on there along with a gorgeous transfer and plenty of extras.

3 out of 5 stars

Day 26- 31 Days of Halloween- The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Day 26- 31 Days of Halloween- The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Disney Pictures once made a horror film. Really! In the early 80’s they decided to capitalise on the horror boom and make a scary film for young adults.

The Watcher in the Woods was made in 1980. It holds the honour of being possibly the most rented VHS tape of yours truly when he was a young boy (Supergirl was a close second). I saw the film when I was 9 and loved it from the first time I saw it.

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The film concerns a family renting a large house in the country which is suspiciously being let out at a very low price for some reason (always a red flag in a horror film. If this ever happened to me I’m pretty sure I’d ask about whether an Indian burial ground was beneath the premises in question). Theres one catch though- the rather sinister old woman who owns the property will be living in a room in the huge rambling mansion.

Pretty soon strange, bizarre things start to happen. Could there be something which explains this? Is there something that happened in the past that is the cause of these occurrences? Of course there is. This is a horror film, albeit one made by Disney Inc.

I watched the film again recently for the first time in years and I’m glad to say that the dark magic the movie held for me as a child hasn’t dissipated. There is something about the disquieting goings-on in the movie that feel like ingredients of a classic, quintessentially English and utterly unsettling ghost yarn. Everything points to a girl called Karen and what has happened to her.

Her ghostly omnipotent presence is felt in numerous different ways such as the youngest daughter, Ellen (played by Kyle Richards from Halloween) going into a trance and writing Karen’s name backwards on a dirty barn window (The Watcher in the Woods came out before The Shining and so it’s this film that owns the honour of giving audiences the first glimpse of an unnerving sequence involving a child writing something disturbing backwards). She then gets a new puppy who she calls Nerak (the name she wrote earlier and Karen’s name backwards).

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Redrum my arse

The older daughter Jan also has her share of visitations from Karen in other disturbing ways. When a window breaks she can suddenly see her in the broken glass wearing white, blindfolded and crying for help. The same thing happens when a mirror is broken. She also sees Karen in a hall of mirrors at her local funfair. This imagery suggests that Karen is trapped somehow between dimensions, as if broken glass and mirrors can see beyond the rational world and into the beyond.

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Broken mirrors/windows are passageways to other worlds

The film also suggests that both Jan and Ellen possess some kind of ESP or second sight which is triggered in different situations. In a huge plot reveal, the elderly owner of the property, Mrs Aylwood (played by the very Ms Bette Davis, no less!) also picks up on the fact that Jan reminds her of her daughter Karen who, it is revealed, disappeared decades before in mysterious circumstances. Suddenly Jan knows who the girl is in the visions.

But the film also mines into a fear of that particular time that was just starting to gain national attention. That was of the existence of prowlers and perverts who could harm children and young teenagers in a number of different ways. One of the characters in the film is called Tom Colley and it’s suggested at one point that he could be the watcher in the woods that the film’s title makes reference to. Why is he shown to be watching the two young girls so intently and then ducking out of view so that he isn’t noticed? In fact, his appearance and early scenes in the film reminded me of an episode of the children’s drama Grange Hill that was brave enough to cover the issue to alert kids and parents like of this phenomenon.

Another facet of the story that greatly adds to the film is the storyline as to how Karen went missing. During an eclipse four children (one of whom was Karen) practised an old ritual they had heard about which was something akin to an occult ceremonial rite in which they kinked arms around Karen in a local church not knowing that this childish excursion into the paranormal would have disastrous consequences for her. She is now trapped in a supernatural netherworld or limbo and appears to the newest child occupants of her old house (Jan and Ellen) pleading to be freed. This idea of an ancient ritual also suggests an old English ghost story in much the same way the events and imagery used within The Wicker Man do.

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A detail from the UK cinema poster of the church ceremonial ritual

But whilst I watched this as a child and thoroughly enjoyed the film, I wasn’t to know of the troubled production and reception of the film and how Disney responded to this. The screenplay that was originally written for the film was by the genius Brian Clements who has written many classic British dramas including the brilliant Thriller series. But his version of the screenplay was based too closely to the source novel A Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall that was way more nuanced that the version of the film that I eventually rented on video. The original novel went to great pains to explain what the actual watcher was and why it was haunting the environs of the mansion and it’s adjacent woods. Within the novel the watcher is described as-

”a female alien humanoid-child. She was described to have a pointy chin, an upturned nose and wore a long flowing robe. Fifty years before, her parents had taken her to a ceremonial coming-of-age ritual on their home planet in which she was to view earth, but Karen, during her walk, was too near the portal when it opened and the two changed places. She is here as an observer and communicates with her race through telepathy.”

Whilst this would have been great to read off the page of a novel it would have been hard to depict in a motion picture. It would have required deft adaptation in terms of screenplay and a massive increase in budget and effects to successfully convey. But the filmmakers tried their best to depict this in the film’s original version. How was it received? Critics and audiences alike doubled up with laughter when the watcher was revealed at the end of the film.

This obviously didn’t sit well with Disney. They pulled the original version of the film from theaters after just 11 days of it playing and replaced it with a re-release of Mary Poppins (!) instead. The film’s conclusion was then rewritten (a crew member said that over 150 different endings were penned!) before a suitable ending was agreed upon and reshot, but not using the original director John Hough but the uncredited Vincent McEveety instead. This new final scene is the ending that exists today and is a lot more simplistic and in keeping with the rest of the film. There is no big reveal and it works so much better for that reason. Sometimes in a horror film, mystery is better than a flawed reveal resplendent with a complicated backstory ten minutes before the movie is due to end. However, this original ending does exist and can still be seen. The amended version of the Watcher in the Woods was released the following year in 1981.

The Watcher in the Woods is a peach of a movie. Classic haunted house/haunted surroundings tropes are handled by a great director and with an all-star cast. The events of the film never feel cliched or hackneyed. Grand Dame Bette Davis gives a truly great performance. Watch the scene where she meets Jan for the first time and utters the following in inimitable Bette Davis fashion- ‘Are you sensitive? Do you sense things?!’ all in close up. It chills to the marrow whilst making you think ‘They don’t make actresses like that anymore!’. The scenes of her with Kyle Richards in which we see that she’s not so sinister after all are beautiful to behold.

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‘Are you sensitive? Do you sense things?!’

In fact, Ms Davis insisted that she could play the scenes of her character as a younger woman in the film. However this didn’t work after make-up tests were carried out and she just didn’t look 30 years younger. When the director said that she just didn’t look convincing enough Bette looked in the mirror and quipped ‘You’re Goddamned right!’ Another actress was employed to depict the character three decades before.

There was much derision of the choice of Lynn Holly Johnson for the part of Jan as she was more famous at that time for her ice-skating endeavours than for acting. But she brings a dewy-eyed innocence to the role as the young teen who is still very innocent and naive, even a little aloof. She was perfect for the role. Diane Lane was meant to have been cast in the part as was reported in The Hollywood Reported when the film was announced but Lynn was cast instead.

I honestly think The Watcher in the Woods is a classic horror film. A brave move for Disney that paid off, even if it took a rethink and a reshoot to fully realise it’s potential. If only they had done this before it’s release a few red faces at Disney could have been spared.

The Watcher in the Woods can be seen here.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Day 16- 31 Days of Halloween- Contamination (1980)

Day 16- 31 Days of Halloween- Contamination (1980)

A boat sails into New York containing what appears to be innocuous boxes of coffee. However they actually contain alien eggs that cause people to explode when a change in heat cause the eggs to emit their contents.

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Yes, this is a cheap Italian Alien rip-off but it’s darn entertaining nonetheless. There might be considerable budgetary constraints but imagination can overcome any amount of limitations. This film is testament to that.

The film suddenly changes from a horror/sci-fi splatter fest and morphs into an action/adventure flick but this is where the film starts to lag. It doesn’t affect the film massively but you’re left wishing that the film hadn’t moved into this kind of direction.

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However, the ending brings the film back to it’s gory best as we get to meet the creature that actually produces these eggs. The ‘Alien Cyclops’ is really something to behold.

Check out Arrow Video’s Blu ray of this pic. It’s also something to behold.

3/5 out of 5 stars

2019- The Year of ‘Cruising’- Soundtrack and Blu ray release due

2019- The Year of ‘Cruising’- Soundtrack and Blu ray release due

Today is my birthday. What would I love more than anything to celebrate 44 years on this planet? World peace? Sure. An end to poverty? That would be on my wishlist. The soundtrack for William Friedkin’s 1980 masterpiece ‘Cruising’ remastered from the original master tapes? HELL YEAH!!!

And that’s whats happening. The brilliant company Waxwork Records is releasing the ‘Cruising’ soundtrack after sourcing master tapes, liaising with Mr Friedkin and giving the release the love and respect it truly deserves (something we’ve come to expect from Waxwork). And it’s here and it’s queer. Apparently this project has taken the company 4 years to complete. IMG_5472

This release comes at a time when Arrow Video (who are thankfully one of the best Blu ray labels) are due to release the film on Blu ray later this year.

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Mark my words- 2019 will be the year that ‘Cruising’ is finally fully reappraised as the classic film that it really is (something that some of us have known since we first saw the film) and will be viewed as a cinematic gem that deserves to be in a lineage of other classic films such as The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer.

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The soundtrack drops this Friday. My essay on ‘Cruising’ is here.

This news is the best birthday present I could have wished for.