Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Three schoolteachers stop at a garage on their way to a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium. Their car isn’t running properly and so they need to look at it and maybe try to fix it. But thats not their biggest obstacle- they come face to face with Charlie Tibbs and his girlfriend- a couple of killers who are accused of murders in Arizona and are on the run. Charlie has a gun and insists that they work on the car so that he can get away in it.

This film is like a play that has been filmed- there is primarily one main setting (the film reminded me of Cujo in that respect). But this doesn’t mean that the film is static and boring. The one setting is used innovatively and this means that the film is directed with verve. There is also a sense of ‘us versus them’ with the schoolteachers in their Sunday best (shirts, ties or a nice conservative dress) whilst Tibbs is looking every part the juvenile delinquent in his denims and sporting a greasy quiff. Tibbs is obviously based on real-life serial killer Charles Starkweather.

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This film is brilliant- will the teachers get away, when and how? The film ramps up the tension and suspense and never lags- theres no scenes that feel unnecessary. The film is also very extreme for its time. It was even rejected by the BBFC when it was submitted for classification in 1964.

Arch Hall Jr in the lead gives an extraordinary performance as Tibbs- the Sadist in the title. His face and facial expressions are almost other-worldly and supernatural as is his portrayal. Quite extraordinary.

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Watch out for the poignant scene in which the schoolteachers hear on the radio the baseball game they should be at instead of fighting for their lives.

Theres also some innovative direction within the film- it almost feels like Tibbs’ gun in the first half of the film is an actual character.

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I didn’t know about this film until recently. I’m glad I do now. Why isn’t this more widely available on DVD and Blu ray?

Apparently this film is a favourite of director Joe Dante’s- a seal of approval anyone would be proud of.

4 out of 5

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Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) -Day 17 – 31 Days of Halloween

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) -Day 17 – 31 Days of Halloween

One of the few Dario Argento films I haven’t seen. Until now that is.

And what a treat! A rock drummer notices that hes being watched by a mysterious stranger. He confronts this person in an abandoned opera house and after disarming him of a knife accidentally stabs him. This is all witnessed a photographed by an onlooker who wears a very unsettling dolls mask.


Cue many twists, turns and red herrings.

Even by giallos standards this is an amazing film- gorgeous locations, imaginative cinematography, brilliant quirky characters and last but not least, Bud Spencer is in this film. Bud Fucking Spencer! Whats not to like?


Another thing I love about this is that one of the characters is gay, camp and proud of it. Not once is he depicted as subhuman, deviant or somehow inferior. That means a lot- especially to a gay film critic. If Argento could imbue gay characters with some kind of dignity in 1971, why couldn’t Martin Scorsese recently in Wolf of Wall Street? Dario- loving your work.

I watched this on Shameless Entertainment’s Bluray release. Highly recommended- it does the film a real justice.

4.5 out of 5

The Evil Dead (1981) – Day 16 – 31 Days of Halloween

The Evil Dead (1981) – Day 16 – 31 Days of Halloween

This movie is just as infamous for the furore surrounding the film as it is for the actual content.

I grew up in the midst of the Videos Nasties storm in a teacup in which the Tory government led by Herr Thatcher thought that the commoners who watched certain horror movies would grab a chainsaw and start the Tring Chain Saw Massacre.

This movie was dubbed Video Nasty Number 1 by Christian busybody and all round philistine Mary Whitehouse (even though she admitted she hadn’t seen the film from start to finish) and referred to it as if Satan himself had made a low budget horror movie and released it on video. The film would be placed on the infamous DPP list and banned.

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Herr Thatcher’s equivalent of book-burning

Was it as bad as this- a horror film to end all horror films? A film that can corrupt a nations viewers and instigate a countrywide bloodbath?

The answer is- of course not. But it is a brilliantly inventive horror which oozes intelligence, charisma and knowledge of film in general.

There are horrific sequences within the film to prove the points made by the country’s self appointed moral guardians. One such is the forest rape scene. This sequence feels like something from a really perverted Japanese horror movie. Its horrific, repellent and surreal all in equal measures. Apparently Raimi feels that this scene now sticks like a sore thumb and would never have shot it with hindsight.

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The precursor to the infamous forest rape scene

But theres a lot more to this complex movie. Its reference points are far reaching and reach beyond just the horror genre.

The film starts out innocently enough- a trip to a cabin in the woods by a group of unremarkable teenagers. But then things start to go awry and with the forest rape and the game of ‘Guess The Card’ things go completely insane. In this respect the film is like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre- a well worn storyline is suddenly massively subverted. In fact the scene in which Scott sees all of the animal bones hanging from the cabins rafters on entering the property was a direct reference to this movie. Another point of reference is that like TCM the hero is left battered, bruised and bloodied at the end of the film.

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Ash- battered, bruised and bloodied. Notice the clock motif behind him

There is also a torn Hills Have Eyes poster in the cellar- this was a reference to the torn Jaws poster in the Winnebago in Hills. The Evil Dead is also watched by Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street also.

Theres a real sense of disorientation in this film for the characters and the audience. Any sense of time or space in the ordinary world is jettisoned. The clocks stopping, running backwards or the sounds they make being exaggerated is one sign of this.

In fact, sound is exaggerated and altered within the film as a whole. The overhead scene in which the camera pans across the rafters of the cabin whilst Ash prowls around below is a great example of this. Where there should be silence and logic there is instead the nonsensical and bizarre.

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Logic is jettison to be replaced by the illogical and bizarre

Another aspect of the film’s sound is that it must be one of the loudest films I’ve ever seen. Just as the violence and horror is graphic, exaggerated and cartoon like then so is the sound. Screams and sound effects are turned up to 11. I once watched the film in a cinema after it had been released in THX. The volume for the screening had been cranked up to such a degree that audience members were covering their ears at some points. One such scene was where the possessed Shelly is stabbed in the back with the kandarian dagger- the level of the screeching is something to experience especially in a cinema.

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Shelly is stabbed in the back- literally. Are my ears bleeding?

However, whilst Mary Whitehouse would have Daily Mail readers believe that this film is evil incarnate, Raimi’s tongue was firmly in cheek when he made this. The violence is slapstick and colourful (its not just blood that is emitted but what looks like milk, paint and green bile) in nature, like a cross between a Tex Avery cartoon and an E.C. Comic. Your average filmgoer will realise this, your genre fan will lap it up with a spoon. The filmmakers are trying to gross out their audience but whilst they are also carried along with the film’s slapstick sensibility. A pipe rupturing and pouring out shitloads of blood into Ash’s face is the film’s equivalent to a custard pie in the mush. Maybe if Mary Whitehouse had watched the entire film she might have surmised this. But then again she seemed to hate other people’s pleasure so she would probably still have been outraged.

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Got milk?

The film’s camerawork is also noteworthy. The first person use of the camera to convey the evil presence lurking in the woods is genius and brilliantly effective. The film is full of examples of camera trickery to take the audience on a disorienting ride that feels groundbreaking and never showy. This film’s strength lies in the inventiveness of the filmmakers. Take note Hollywood- innovation and ideas are always better then throwing a huge budget at a project to make a mediocre piece of shit.

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The Evil Dead is now firmly ensconced on lists of critic’s lists of the best horror films ever made. And it deserves it. It continues to influence filmmakers today and is forever being referenced.

Now if only Sam Raimi would release Within The Woods karma would be complete for us Deadheads.

The film was eventually legalised in the UK. Mary Whitehouse died. Karmas a bitch.

5 out of 5

Chopping Mall – Day 11 – 31 Days of Halloween

Chopping Mall – Day 11 – 31 Days of Halloween

Corman romp about security robots in a shopping mall that malfunction and take it out on a group of teens who are there after closing time.

With this being Corman there are some great cameos from stable regulars like Mary Waronov, Paul Bartel and Dick Miller.


A great sense of humour and some gory moments. But nothing to write home about. File under ‘cheesy’.

The Watcher in the Woods – Day 10 – 31 Days of Halloween

The Watcher in the Woods – Day 10 – 31 Days of Halloween

I remember watching this as a kid on VHS in the 80s and loving it.

Now as a gay horror fan whos all grown up watching the film feels different.
Firstly, its because the great gay icon Bette Davis is in it. Safe in this knowledge I know that this isn’t just any run of the mill performance in a horror film. Ms Davis makes every scene her own, reviting each line her own way and with her own meter. Its as if shes too big for the film. Every scene shes in is special.

The divine Ms Davis

Secondly, I now watch this knowing its a very rare gem- a Disney horror film. And whats really shockkng is that this is very scary indeed! And judging by the film’s alternate endings and the idea for the original opening scene (as yet, unavailable to watch) the film was intended to be even darker. I think Disney must have not wanted to completely sully their family friendly name with an out and out scarefest.

The monster from the alternate endings that was cut from the film

Atmospheric, haunting and intelligent. This is a must see. Just don’t underestimate its power. 4 out of 5

The Stepford Wives (1975) – Day 8 – 31 Days of Halloween

The Stepford Wives (1975) – Day 8 – 31 Days of Halloween

If you could replace your wife with a robot hausfrau who lives to cook, clean, be subserviant to her man and climax every time you had sex, would you? 

Joanna Eberhart has just moved to Stepford and is suspicious of the sinister Men’s Association. Joanna is a liberated woman, a free spirit. And in Stepford that just won’t do.

This is a brilliant satire of both the patriarchy and Women’s Lib movement. It hits its targets effortlessly and is a bone chilling joy from start to finish.

A great cast with the director Bryan Forbes’ wife Nanette Newman playing a home loving android. Her casting is genius as shes known in Britain as the face of Fairy Liquid and an uber Stepford Wife in the sunshine drenched world of advertising.

This is one of the scariest and bleakest horror films I’ve ever seen. Brilliant.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Day 7- 31 Days of Halloween

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Day 7- 31 Days of Halloween

This is the movie that made me into a major fan of horror and cult cinema in general. I saw this when I was 11 years old on its release onto video. Since then I watched it numerous times and know it off by heart.

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The original UK video artwork

With a film so ingrained into my psyche it would have very easy to watch it again for this review and miss out details and nuances that I would tend to subconsciously gloss over. Such is the tendency on watching a film so many times. I have therefore made a real effort to watch this again with fresh eyes and ears and imagine seeing it for the first time. Here goes.

One thing that strikes me is Wes Craven’s subversion of the horror genre. Like Halloween, this film is presented as a teen movie. Tina talking to Nancy about the dream she had the night before is punctuated by Rod talking about waking up with a hard on. The teen girls talk is penetrated (pun not intended) by a horny teen male’s talk of sex. But then Craven subverts the 80s teen genre with the brutality of the following events just like Romero subverted the horror drive in sub-genre with the brutality and pessimism within Night of the Living Dead. ANOES reads like a knowingly atypical 80s teen movie up until Tina’s quite extraordinarily violent demise.

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Teen movie girls just hanging out

The scene of Glen playing the airplane sound effect tape also plays like a scene from an 80s teen movie. Again, Tina’s death shows that this is no ordinary 80s horror movie depicting teens. Instead it stands out as an intelligent horror film that is just as violent as the most shocking video nasty Mary Whitehouse was trying to ban.

Not only is Tina’s death too graphic for an average 80s horror movie, its also too innovative. Tina literally climbs the walls and ends up on the ceiling. If Lionel Ritchie wants to dance on the ceiling then Wes Craven wants to portray a more realist depiction of the 80s- a bloodied victim being lifted skyward and killed on the ceiling.

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Teen movie subverted

Tina’s death also subverts horror film conventions like Psycho and Night of the Living Dead did. The female character we presume to be the female lead is dispatched of early on in the film just like Marion Crane was in the shower and Barbara was made incapacitated via her catatonic state.

Thus it is left to Nancy Thompson to become the film’s heroine. She fulfils all of the classic attributes for being a Final Girl. Where as Tina has been shown to have just had sex with Rod, Nancy is shown as chaste by rejecting her boyfriend Glen’s invitation for a game of hide the salami.

There are several incidents and signs that make Nancy realise the truth about the dream world, whatever happens in it and how elements from this world can be brought into the real world. The burn on her arm during the classroom dream, the single feather she sees floating out of her bedroom window, the cuts on her arm and the appearance of Freddy’s hat she retrieves in the dream clinic are all used for Nancy to gain knowledge which leads to Nancy eventually applying this logic to bring Freddy out of her dream so that he can be defeated. This demonstrates another Final Girl attribute- shes smart.

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The Final Girl uses her resourceful and logic to hatch a plan

There is a sequence that shows where Nancy may have got her Final Girl attributes from- her mother. When Nancy is almost killed in the bathtub, Marge deftly picks the bathroom door lock. Maybe this resourcefulness has been passed down from Marge to Nancy. Later in the film Marge confirms Nancy’s Final Girl status by saying ‘You face things, thats your nature. Thats your gift. But sometimes you have to turn away.’ This also predicts the end of the film.

Nancy’s proactive qualities are also shown by her taking sleeping pills and drinking copious amounts of coffee. She doesn’t want to succumb to sleep and potential death until shes hatched a plan and had a crack at defeating Freddy.

This plan also shows Nancy’s Final Girl attributes- and her boyfriend’s ineptitude. Nancy asks Glen to stay awake and stand guard over her. She wants to go into her dream, grab Freddy and bring him into the conscious world. He fails, falls asleep and Nancy is left to battle Freddy alone. The fact that she isn’t killed shows her strength and the fact that she can do this alone. Its also a subversion of horror film cliches. Rather than having a guy defeat the killer, Nancy will do it herself.

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Nancy battles Freddy whilst Glen sleeps

There is another example of Nancy’s resourcefulness being highlighted at the expense of inept male characters. Nancy brings Freddy into the real world and as he stumbles into each of the traps she has laid she calls out for help to the cop watching her house. Its only after her repeated screaming for help and saying ‘Get my Dad, you asshole!’ that he says ‘I’d better get the Lieutenant…’ Men are seen as impotent, inactive and ineffective.

The scene which precedes it in which Nancy lays the traps in her house for when she brings Freddy out of the dream sphere. This has to be one of the most empowering scenes in horror history. Craven loves his booby traps with them being an ingredient of both Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. But they have never felt so satisfying as in Nightmare. This is true Girl Power rather than the fake manufactured kind peddled by The Spice Girls in the 90s.

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Girl power

The scene in which she shows the peak of her Final Girl qualities is the penultimate scene with Nancy showing Freddy that she feels no fear towards him anymore and turns her back on him- the ultimate act of power and defiance. She literally takes away his power and becomes all powerful herself.

Freddy Krueger’s cruelty manifests itself throughout the film. This man was a child molester and murderer ‘the most loathsome of creatures’ as Craven said and the seriousness of this isn’t passed over. Freddy likes to inflict harm to himself to disgust and repulse his victims. Hence he slices off two of his fingers when pursuing Tina and slices himself open during Nancy’s school dream. Both of these acts are done whilst smiling sadistically. Freddy seems to revel in the Grand Guignol act he can transform his body into.

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Grand Guignol

There are also signifiers towards the sexual and violating nature of Freddy’s crimes- the scene where he says ‘Come to Freddy’ to Nancy and then flicks out his tongue vulgarly is repulsive in the extreme. Also the scene involves Freddy’s tongue coming out of the telephone receiver demonstrates another violation. The most obvious example of Freddy’s sexual intent of his crimes is when Nancy is in the bath. Freddy’s glove appears from in-between her legs. This scene depicts Nancy as victim in the most vulnerable of situations in the same way that Hitchcock did with Marion Crane in the shower.

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Freddy’s sexual threat

And yet these aren’t the only examples of Freddy’s need to violate and invade. He wants to intrude into the different spheres of his victims lives- their homes, schools, even their bedrooms. And yet his biggest violation is the sphere of their sleeping lives. By violating this sphere he can affect their conscious non-sleeping spheres also.

Craven seems to be critiquing Reagan era America within the film. The neighbourhood is shot to look idyllic on the surface- gleaming white houses with no trace of any dysfunction at all. Advertising at this time was saturated with these kind of images.

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The American lie

However, Craven is ironically sending up the images seen so frequently in the adverts of the day. Scratch beneath the surface of the characters living in these houses and theres parents hiding a secret and the lynching of a child murderer after several of their children had been murdered by him. Maybe this influenced David Lynch and his portrayal of small town life in Blue Velvet.

The ultimate signifier that things aren’t quite right in this idyllic town is that whenever the neighbourhood is shown in this Norman Rockwell way, the angelic little girls are shown to be actually jumping rope to a rhyme about Freddy. This is a crack in the shiny veneer of the manufactured lie.

Another way in which Craven is showing the rancid underbelly of Reagan America is through his depiction of the law in the film. Policemen are shown to be either inept and pathetic, sometimes dangerously so. Rod Lane dies in police custody and is of Hispanic descent. This painfully mirrors news stories then and now as this is still a pertinent issue. This is portrayed in the film as the loaded look Rod’s father exchanges with Nancy’s cop father during his son’s funeral when the priest says that ‘He who lies by the sword must die by the sword’.

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The Police as ineffective and incompetent

The example of the policeman who is supposed to standing guard over Nancy outside her house as she brings Freddy into the real world also shows that the police are inefficient and this can result in lives being lost. Institutions valuable to American society under Reagan aren’t functioning properly.

There is also another valuable insight into American society at the time of the film’s production. When Tina is killed in her bed, Rod sees no killer just Tina being killed by an invisible force. This is eerily like a filmic representation of AIDS, the invisible killer that is killing thousands of people in their beds. With hindsight this is telling of the mentality of the Reagan led era- it was decades before Reagan even acknowledged AIDS as a disease that needed to be combatted even when people close to the Reagans such as actor Rock Hudson was dying of the disease.

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Silence = Death

The fact that the film depicts a female character as resourceful, strong and assertive as Nancy also goes against the female gender role the Reagan era wanted women to aspire to. It wanted women to be wives, mothers and homemakers. They should have no aspirations or ambitions let alone possess or demonstrate any redeeming qualities.

Watching this film again was a treat. I loved the film as a child and my opinion hasn’t changed. The film is multi-layered, insightful and above all a kickass horror film experience.

Heather Langenkamp’s amazing portrayal of Nancy heads a brilliant cast. The photography is stunning as is Charles Bernstein’s menacing synth score. Only the rushed and lacklustre ending marrs the film.

This rightly deserves to be seen as a horror classic.

4 and a half out of 5

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