31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 29- Carnival of Souls (1962)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 29- Carnival of Souls (1962)

A teenage drag race goes dreadfully wrong with one car being forced off a bridge and into a river. From the car a woman, Mary manages to escape and clamber ashore.

However, Mary’s life after that isn’t the same. She seems to see ghostly figures when she seemingly disassociates herself with everyday life that is going on around her. One example takes place on a bus when she sees seemingly dead people coming for her. The film very creepily plays with space and time and does so without warning. The film is just as disconcerting and disorientating for the audience as it is for Mary.

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The ghostly figures she sees seem to be led by a man (in reality, the film’s director Herk Harvey) who seems intent on somehow coming for Mary to take her somewhere as yet unknown.

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Mary is a church organist by occupation but even this is affected now with her only playing the kind of funereal pieces that in the future The Cure would be playing in 1981. Yes, they’re that bleak! One priest who hears her playing stops her and deems her playing as ‘Profane! Sacrilege!’

Add to this a very sleazy and creepy housemate who gets off on perving on her as she gets out of the bath and won’t let up.

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The action builds up to an ending that actually takes place in an abandoned fairground. This all adds up to a truly great cinematic experience. There are sequences of this film that are far removed from anything I’ve ever seen in a motion picture before or since. The haunting photography, the use of some sequences such as a dancing scene in the carnival being sped up, the way the film takes the audience with Mary as she enters her limbo world where the dead walk and stalk her.

The idea of a limbo world between life and death was also brilliantly explored later on in the classic movie Don’t Look Now. Carnival of Souls went on to influence George A Romero who said that it was a huge influence on Night of the Living Dead as did David Lynch on Blue Velvet. The influence of the film can also be seen within the better parts of the Goth movement. The sequence where the undead run after Mary on the beach feels like a fantastic Goth version of something from a Fellini film.

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Carnival of Souls is an anomaly in cinematic terms, a one-off which is like no other. It’s also a masterpiece. I’m so glad it wasn’t forgotten. It was restored and released cinematically in 1989 after it’s original 1962 release and is now on the Criterion collection on Blu ray alongside the best of cinema. And rightly so!

***** 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 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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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 24- 31 Days of Halloween- Psychic Killer (1974)

Day 24- 31 Days of Halloween- Psychic Killer (1974)

Arnold Masters has several axes to grind. Hes in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (his mother who had a tumour who due to be operated on but wasn’t. The doctor who was due to undertake the procedure was then found dead in his office by Arnold who was then framed for his murder).

He tells his backstory to a fellow prisoner who confides his story to Arnold in return. His daughter was turned into a prostitute by a pimp. He says to him that he will seek revenge on this man by carving his name into his chest and slitting his throat. Lo and behold, sometime later he tells Arnold that hes done it and without leaving his prison cell. Before Arnold can ask him how, his confident scales the prison fence and jumps from the very high prison wall killing himself. It is later confirmed in the paper that the pimp indeed was murdered in the way the prisoner stipulated.

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Arnold then inherits his friends belongings one of which was an amulet. This allows the owner to leave their body and travel psychically anywhere they want. Perfect for seeking revenge against your perceived enemies and enacting revenge.

Arnold is then found to be innocent and released. Those who failed his mother are then one by one found dead in very strange circumstances that defy logic and reason.

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The original UK quad poster. What a double-bill!

I remember seeing the trailer for this film on almost VIPCO video back in the 80’s. The trailer was extremely evocative and I’m glad to say that now that I’ve seen the film it is every bit as brilliant as it’s trailer.

Early/mid 1970’s America is captured beautifully and the film has it’s own very eccentric character. Check out the murders and how unorthodox they are- whether they involve a shower, a new building’s cornerstone or a bacon slicer and mincing machine! The sequence involving the nurse before she steps into the shower from Hell could have been lifted from one of the great Russ Meyers’ movies.

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Matron!

This is a great concept for a horror movie- someone spiritually leaving their body to avenge their grievances through the power of their minds. Transcendental meditation and other New Age concepts were very fashionable in the 70’s and so it’s great that this should mind it’s way into an exploitation movie made for 42nd Street and the Drive-Ins.

And if you need any other recommendation for seeing this I’ll just say this. It stars Neville Brand!!!Now if that isn’t enough of an incentive then I don’t know what is.

4/5 out of 5 stars

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- Mikey (1992)

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- Mikey (1992)

This entry into the taboo ‘killer kid’ horror sub-genre involves 9 year old Mikey. The first scene shows him slaughtering his entire adoptive family (yes, really) in one fell swoop. Whats more, hes videotaped the whole thing for his later entertainment. Mikey is found hiding in a closet by the police officers investigating who could have done this. After fobbing them off with a fake description of the perpetrator he is then placed up for adoption.

The majority of the film is centred around Mikey’s new life with his new family. He starts out by looking every bit the model angelic child but then red flags start to appear. Then the number of ‘accidents’ and casualties starts to grow.

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The power of this film is that it was filmed and feels like a TV movie. It adheres to this genre’s conventions but subverts it because of it’s controversial subject matter. This juxtaposition works amazingly well especially as the film pulls no punches when it comes to the truly sadistic and brutal deeds of it’s central character. The performance of Brian Bonsall is pitch perfect as the psychopathic child. It’s also great to see Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser fame make an appearance as Mikey’s concerned teacher.

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This film was actually made for the ‘straight to video’ market in the US but was then to be released theatrically in the UK. The film was submitted for a certificate to the BBFC and was awarded an 18 cert in November 1992. But then things took an unexpected turn. The abduction of toddler James Bulger by two other children dominated the news in February of the next year and the media was stating how horror films and specifically home videos must be the cause. A number of films that had been released were targetted with Childs Play 3 taking most of the blame. The Daily Mail (who else) noted how Mikey was a future release and involved a child killer. Surely this couldn’t be released now, could it, they opined.  Head of the BBFC, James Ferman then took the unprecedented step of taking back the 18 certificate that had been granted to Mikey and banning it outright. It’s hard to believe that this happened but it did. Mikey was resubmitted for a certificate in 1996 but was rejected. The film is still banned in the UK.

BUT, it’s on YouTube.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 11- 31 Days of Halloween- Don’t Go In The House (1979)

Day 11- 31 Days of Halloween- Don’t Go In The House (1979)

Donny is a very damaged person. After an incident at work sees one of his colleagues set himself on fire, we see Danny freeze with terror at the incident. This is explained through flashbacks. We see that as a boy his mother used to punish him by burning his forearms.

When he returns home from work he finds that his domineering mother has actually passed away. We then see her throughout the film in different stages of decomposition.

Donny then constructs a flame-proof room in his house and lures women back there to strip them naked and set fire to them using a flamethrower whilst they are hung up.

As a study of mental decay this is closer to Maniac than Repulsion. Lurid, sleazy and generally unsettling, this shocker deserves it’s notorious reputation.

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The original title of the film was actually The Burning (the print I saw actually had this title card) but when the filmmakers found out that another film was being made using this name they quickly changed it.

The BBFC cut three whole minutes from this film for it’s cinema release and then banned it outright for video. Most of the cut material was from the first murder involving the florist Donny tricks into coming back to his house. And this sequence is VERY full-on! Theres shades of Ed Gein to Donny’s MO. But without Gein’s flair for interior decoration.

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Hows that for a double bill?! A pyromaniac and the silver spheres.

The first three victims he torches to death he then dresses in his dead mother’s clothes and places in armchairs. He rants to them as if they’re still alive which gives us a very darkly entertaining glimpse into his twisted psyche. He sometimes hears their voices.

As you can tell from the plot elements I’ve described above this certainly isn’t a film to put on in the middle of a family get together (unless you want them to leave of course). But if you love deranged, unhinged and off kilter horror then you’ll love this Check out the new Blu Ray release. The print is gorgeous.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 10- 31 Days of Halloween- The Burning (1981)

Day 10- 31 Days of Halloween- The Burning (1981)

Cropsey, a summer camp caretaker is burnt alive as an unfortunate consequence of a prank that goes horribly wrong. After five years he returns to the summer camp with vengeance in mind.

This is the slasher movie that helped form Miramax Films and gave a young Harvey Weinstein a career as a film producer.

The movie was actually written before the film Friday the 13th even though most people think it was the other way round.

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The Burning doesn’t just take place on a summer camp. We get to see the hospital where Cropsey (described by an orderly as looking like a ‘Big Mac overdone!’) is being treated and later his release. I love the following scene where he ventures to the seedier part of town and picks up a prostitute. She doesn’t see the full extent of his injuries until they’re in a cheap motel room (Cropsey wisely turns out the lights) and his face is briefly illuminated by lightning. On seeing his disfigured visage she screams to which he proceeds to stab her in the stomach with a pair of scissors whilst forcing her body through a window.

Cropsey’s garb on leaving the hospital is a classic Giallo look. He may have a rotten face now but looks to have gained key sartorial knowledge whilst he’s been in hospital. I’m wondering if this look was entirely coincidental or if the film’s makers were paying attention to the Gialli flooding 42nd Street and Drive-Ins at the time.

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The action then takes place in the familiar locale of the camp and woods that surround it. Theres performances by Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter who appear in early film roles.

But theres one crew addition who would make sure that this film wouldn’t just be a generic and mediocre slasher flick- Tom Savini. And what an astounding job he does. Garden shears (Cropsey’s weapon of choice) have never been used so innovatively or with such murderous intent. The raft scene is almost balletic and beautiful to watch in it’s brutality.

The Burning also features a Final Guy rather than a Final Girl and his character is VERY problematic! Alfred has been seen early on in the film spying on one of the young women as she showers. When caught and asked why he was there he says that he ‘only wanted to scare her.’ But this is disproved later on the film as we see him covertly perving on a couple of other characters who are making out and then follows Glazer as he goes back into the woods after retrieving matches to start a campfire with to enjoy with Sally who hes just done the deed with. It’s then that Alfred sees Glazer get murdered by Cropsey. This all leads to the film’s finale.

This film was so gruesome that it was cut by the BBFC for it’s cinema release. When it came to the film coming out on video, Thorn EMI accidentally sent the uncut version to video shops and had to recall all copies. Video shop owners decided to keep the uncut tapes instead! The film was then banned outright.

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The Burning is a treat to behold. Great cinematography and directorial touches (check out Glazer’s death and the killer’s/shear’s point of view shot) and a great music score by none other than prog rock’s very own Grand Wizard Rick Wakeman (apparently on his ’81 tour he was playing tracks from The Burning soundtrack. Whilst possibly wearing a cape). The teen characters are quite likeable too which is a real rarity for the slasher genre.

Who knew- a slasher/summer camp film that was once banned but is now viewable and revered nowadays. The BBFC/DPP must be outraged.

4 out of 5 stars