31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Dementia 13 (1963)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Dementia 13 (1963)

A movie directed by a young Francis (Ford) Coppola and produced by Roger Corman.

A genius plot-

One night, while out rowing in the middle of a lake, John Haloran, and his young wife Louise, argue about his rich mother’s will. Louise is upset that everything is currently designated to go to charity in the name of a mysterious “Kathleen.” John tells Louise that, if he dies before his mother, Louise will be entitled to none of the inheritance. He promptly drops dead from a massive heart attack. Thinking quickly, the scheming Louise throws his fresh corpse over the side of the boat, where he comes to rest at the bottom of the lake. Her plan is to pretend that he is still alive to ingratiate her way into the will. She types up a letter to Lady Haloran, inviting herself to the family’s Irish castle while her husband is “away on business.”

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In the UK the film was named ‘The Haunted and the Hunted’

 

But then after this something happens that changes the course of the whole film (I’m not going to ruin the film for potential viewers). This was a brave move a la Psycho and Night of the Living Dead.

And it works brilliantly. In fact, everything about this film works amazingly. It’s a great film with a great premise, gorgeous cinematography, uniformedly good performances from a cast of unknowns and direction that deftly straddles both drive-in cinema and the Nouvelle Vague. This is part Homicidal (this was made to cash-in on it’s success) and part Carnival of Souls but whilst retaining it’s own identity. Theres a strong Giallo feel to proceedings- the gloved killer with an ax, the sinister doll symbolism.

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The location used deserves a mention. A spawling castle in Ireland with a scene that takes place in a Dublin bar make this film even more special. It feels like part film, part time capsule. The costume design of the film is also something to behold- classic men’s suits (think Sean Connery as Bond and Michael Caine in The Italian Job), chic women’s miniskirts and the best bleached blonde 60’s haircuts seen in any film of the period.

Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Island of Terror (1966)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Island of Terror (1966)

Scientists on an island just off Ireland are close to finding a cure for cancer but accidentally produce ‘silicates’: tentacled creatures that suck the bone marrow from their victims.

This is a British film directed by Terence Fisher who made a lot of films for Hammer. The version that I saw had been restored by Pinewood Studios where the film was produced and it looks gorgeous. The cinematography and colour palate of the film have been brought out beautifully.

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This is a fantastic invasion movie from a bygone era and feels like something John Wyndham might have written. The creatures are like giant flattened slugs but with a single antennae which in reality are so unthreatening that it’s hilarious. But it adds to the charm of the movie- and it’s still better than some CGI modern multiplex borefest.

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But don’t think that this film is a just a cheesy film to merely laugh off. The version I saw had reinstated a sequence in which Peter Cushing’s character has his hand chopped off with an axe. This scene was taken out of prints after the BBFC said that it was too strong for audiences. With the restoration of the film for release on Blu-ray this scene is available to be seen in all it’s bloody glory.

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Cushing’s character post-axe.

The Odeon UK Blu-ray release of this film looks great. The US Scream Factory release is meant to be even better. I look forward to seeing it.

3/5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 out of 5

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

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What a cracking film to start my 31 Days of Halloween with.

This is a British film which stars Bette Davis as a nanny for a family living in London in which a young boy has been sent away for supposedly killing his sister. The boy is due to be released after two years and return to his family home and under Ms Davis’ supervision.

The boy vehemently protests his innocence and insists that instead it was the nanny who committed the terrible deed. Is he right? Or is the nanny indeed guilty?

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Theres already the almost unspeakable taboo of a child killing another child within this film which gives the film a grittiness right from the get go. The household in question is steeped in gothic tension even though it is in fact light and airy. No Baby Jane mansion here.

Theres also the stifling formality of English life at this time. There are so many manners and formalities at play that are overwhelmingly suffocating and claustrophobic.

Within the film there is also a delicious generation gap which underlines this and presents a tangible ‘Old vs new’ scenario. The boy in question, Joey forges a friendship with a 14 year old girl who lives in the same building. She dresses like a hip 60s girl, all white lipstick and black eyeliner. When we see within her bedroom Joey gazes up at a Beatles mobile she has hanging from the ceiling and at one point we see her reclining on her bed reading a copy of the girls magazine Jackie which has a pin up of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones on its back cover.

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Beautifully acted (especially Ms Davis of course, whose character has a pair of the ugliest eyebrows ever captured on film) and elegantly directed, this is one of Hammer’s finest films.

Of course this would only have been made with Ms Davis if Hollywood wasn’t casting the very best stars of yesteryear anymore. Every cloud has a silver lining. What was Hollywood’s loss was very much Hammer’s gain.

Dirty Harry (1971) *****

Dirty Harry (1971) *****

A film I know word for word as my brother and I were obsessed with it when we were growing up.

A classic but a problematic one. The cop who flaunts the law and the rules to catch his prey. Hes proud of hating everyone and all groups (the character in this film and in so many Clint Eastwood movies seems to be politically incorrect decades before political correctness became an actual concept). Hes a one man lynch mob who follows his instincts and isn’t afraid of blowing away a suspect and asking questions later (I wonder if one of these questions is ‘Was the dead actually guilty?!’) This character is a right-winger’s wet dream- who cares about a fair trial and the law when these things take so long and might not (seemingly) provide actual justice. The Daily Mail’s readership must love Harry.

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Harry’s policing would also include beating interviewees for confessions and said victims somehow developing breathing problems whilst in police custody.

Of course in this and subsequent films Harry is always shown to be right. Its a wasted opportunity that a Dirty Harry film wasn’t made that shows that Harry blew away an actual innocent person. At the films climax there could be a scene after that shows that the wrong person was killed and that the crimes being committed beforehand were actually continuing. Its not late for such a movie to be made. It would have the ‘Bring back hanging’ mob in uproar.

But for all of the bending of rules and trigger happy exploits of the main protagonist during the course of the film it is established that whilst he may be an authority hating maverick its because he actually wants law and order and for the citizens of San Francisco to be safe. The scene in which he runs from phone booth to phone booth to save the kidnap victim shows his willingness to undertake near impossible feats if there is a chance of a saved life at the end of his toils. There is also the scene of the kidnapped girl’s lifeless and naked body being dragged from its underground lair which Harry watches from the distance. This scene is a rare moment of tenderness in such a rough and tumble movie and is genuinely moving. Harry is established as having his priorities right even if they are accomplished in questionable ways.

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But to quote Last House on the Left this is only a movie. Aside from the films politics this a rollicking good ride. It perfectly captures its time effortlessly and can be seen as some kind of American time capsule regarding the era it portrays. This was a divisive and fractious period in American history which manifests itself throughout the film. Whilst this was the time of hippies and peace and love this was also the time of Charles Manson and Altamont with more dark times ahead for America.

Whilst Clint may be the star of the film there is another star that is just as important and that is the city of San Francisco itself. It is photographed to perfection with every scene being memorable due to the amazing locales. The neon ‘Jesus Saves’ sign, the huge crucifix monument, the grandeur of City Hall…the list is endless. All beautiful and integral to the film to such a degree that they feel like an actual breathing entity. This film would have been inferior or cliched if filmed in New York for instance.

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An anti-hero as hard boiled and gritty as Harry Callahan deserves a villain just as idiosyncratic. Thankfully this film provides just that and then some. The character of Scorpio (named as Charles Davis in the film’s novelisation) is brilliantly depicted by Andrew Robinson as utterly unhinged, homicidal and completely batshit crazy. This character is obviously based on the Zodiac Killer who was operating in the Bay Area at the time of the films conception. In fact this is one of those performances that not only goes the extra mile but goes considerably beyond that. Watch the scene in which Scorpio hijacks a busload of schoolchildren and gets them to sing ‘Row Your Boat’ whilst saying that hes taking them to the ice cream factory. This level of insanity reminds me of Betsy Palmer’s turn as Pamela Voorhees at the end of Friday the 13th in terms of getting into ‘the zone’.

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Add to this a barrage of brilliant and quirky supporting characters (shouts go out to Inspector Frank “Fatso” DiGiorgio and Hot Mary) and the stage is set for a blast of a film.

Lalo Schifrin’s score is both funky and also very, very disturbing. The music is just as brilliant as the rest of film. Thankfully the full soundtrack is available to buy both physically and as a download.

Everything is in place to make this movie a masterpiece- iconic, quotable and career defining. There was also a rash of vigilante/maverick cop movies influenced by Dirty Harry led by Michael Winner’s Death Wish (also highly recommended).

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Just don’t start wishing for the kind of justice Dirty Harry or the sub-genre it spawned seem to condone.

Tenebrae – Day 24 – 31 Days of Halloween

Tenebrae – Day 24 – 31 Days of Halloween

Probably Argento’s best movie in my opinion.

A successful writer Peter Neal is visiting Rome from America. He becomes aware that a serial killer is on the loose and strongly influenced by his work.

This film is staggeringly good. Prepare to be astounded by the tracking shot of the outside of the apartment block- one of the best shots I’ve ever seen in a film. Also, the scene where a characters arm is chopped off with an axe and her blood completely redecorates a wall. Directed with the usual flair and attention to detail and aesthetics that you’d expect from The Master.

This film also features an amazing turn by the legend John Saxon. Argento manages to coax a wacky, insane performance out of the actor which steals the show. Look out for the scene where he shows how his hat stays on no matter what.

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The ending is a master stroke also. I’m certainly not going to spoil the surprise here but its a corker and doesn’t feel forced or contrived.

This film came a cropper in Britain- it was mixed up in the 80s Video Nasties moral panic and was banned for years. There seems to be three vile repercussions of the DPP list- obviously the fact that it prevented the viewer watching what they wanted but also that masterpieces like Tenebrae were banned and much lesser films were immortalised. Wrongly so- some of the films on the lists should have disappeared without a trace otherwise.

Even the poster for Tenebrae caused a commotion. The original poster features the blood from a neck wound on a female victim. This was too much for London Underground who said that they wouldn’t display the posters as they were too graphic. Hence the red trickle of blood was instead replaced by a red ribbon for the UK posters and even the soundtrack art here.

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The original poster
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The altered poster- now fit for London Underground
If you love horror, see this film. If you love giallo, see this film. Damn- if you love cinema full stop- SEE THIS FILM.

5 out of 5

Halloween 2 (1981) – Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween

Halloween 2 (1981) – Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween

It takes a great big set of balls to make a sequel to a film that is recognised as a classic. One such film is Halloween. Is the sequel any good?

Well, yes it is actually. There are many things to love.

One such thing is that the film carries on straight after the events from the first film. Laurie is taken to hospital and Michael Myers follows her. This is audacious in the extreme. It also means that the feel and look of the original need to be similar to the iconic original. And whilst Carpenter isn’t directing this time (he co-wrote the film with partner Debra Hill and co-scored with Alan Howarth), new boy Rick Rosenthal does a pretty good job. It feels for the most part like the first film but that doesn’t mean that its as good. But if Halloween is A+ then Halloween 2 is B+.

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Original press ad

The hospital provides the perfect setting for the terror to continue. Yes, there aren’t many people in the building but its a small local hospital. Stop nitpicking, horror geeks. The setting also means that Michael can use medical implements to kill with- ironic when these instruments are intended to save lives rather than shorten them. Hence, Michael’s weapon of choice is a scalpel. In other scenes he also uses syringes (inserted into eyeballs!) and a therapy pool is turned up to boiling and a nurse is dunked underwater until her face receives the face-peel from hell whilst drowning at the same time. This scene was severely cut in the UK video release. In its uncut glory it really is something to behold.

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A new use for a syringe

In fact, the murders in this film are a lot nastier and more graphic than in the original. When Halloween 2 was made the slasher genre it inspired was in full swing. This film had something to prove and so the murders are very nasty indeed. Its like the makers of Halloween 2 were trying to show that they were still head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. And they succeed whilst doing so with artistic aplomb.

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The murders in Halloween 2 are more graphic than the original

There also seems to be a grittiness and cynicism underlying the film that is both endearing and entertaining to watch. Examples of this jaded mentality are peppered throughout the movie. A child is admitted with a razor blade embedded in his mouth which alludes to the ‘razor blade in the candy’ urban legend. A female reporter tells a colleague when reporting Myers’ bloodbath from the first film ‘You need the parents’ permission to get a statement. If you can’t get it then get a statement anyway!’ The nurse who deals with the child bleeding from his mouth shows no compassion at all and gets the child and his mother to wait whilst the child suffers. The security guard Mr Garrett is seen reading a comic book instead of doing his job properly. Hence he doesn’t see Myers on his CCTV monitors. The doctor who treats Laurie’s injuries from the first film was at the same party as her parents and is actually drunk on the job. These quirks make Halloween 2 much better than its competitors. Whilst this isn’t George A Romero level social commentary this film isn’t as vacuous as many slasher imitators and still has astute observations to make.

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Razorblade in the candy

But there are a few (but not many) examples of the film pandering or conforming to slasher movie conventions. One such is the scene in which Mr Garrett goes to investigate a break in. There is the cliched cat scare and also a door being opened to have lots of boxes fall onto the rotund night watchman. Whilst this all happens as a build up to Michael finishing off this character these events would never have happened in the original film. In fact, wasn’t there a cat scare in Friday the 13th Part 2? Thats more the kind of thing to find in that franchise than the Halloween films.

Also, the nudity and sexual references are ramped up in this film. Hence there are more titties and the irritating character of Bud singing a really unfunny dirty version of Amazing Grace. I cheered when he was killed by Michael in such a non-descript way. His vile character deserved no more than this.

Within this film is the revelation that Michael is actually Laurie’s brother. Hence why Myers wants to kill her- hes killed one sister, hes come back for the other. This plot detail doesn’t feel forced and gives the film the truly chilling dream sequence that Laurie has- including seeing an evil looking Michael in his asylum.

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Laurie’s flashback of Michael in the asylum

Theres also appearances of other characters from the first film. Annie appears as a corpse (!) and Laurie’s crush Ben Tramer is killed by when running from a gun wielding Dr Loomis (more of that cynicism). Freud would have a field day with the Myers costume that Tramer is wearing. Was this the film being really clever by suggesting a kind of subconscious incestuous desire between Laurie and Michael or was it just being really stupid by having Ben coincidentally wear the exact same costume as Michael? The examination of the teeth of Ben Tramer’s charred body fully depicts the sequel’s mentality- where the original used the economy and anonymity of shadowplay and genius framing this film presents the horror in full sight with all of the lights on, warts and all. Nothing is hidden, on any level.

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Halloween 2- horror with the lights on

On the whole the film feels similar to the original and pulls off, for the most part, the impossible. Jamie Lee Curtis is as kickass as ever as Laurie (check out the big chase scene- its edge of the seat brilliant) and Donald Pleasance is also excellent (even though some of his dialogue lapses into camp. ‘I’ve been trick or treated to death!’ says a neighbour to which Loomis replies ‘You don’t know what death is!’ I stifled a laugh).

The score is a progression of the original score. Where the original was piano led with a smuttering of synth, this score is all synth with the original songs elaborated upon by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Its a great soundtrack even though, like the film itself, it isn’t as great as the original. The score for this film was named one of the best soundtracks of all time by Empire Magazine.

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The remastered and expanded soundtrack

This film is great fun. Its as good as a sequel to a masterpiece could be. Which is the highest praise possible. Judging by the other Halloween movies featuring Myers, this could have been a lot worse.

4 out of 5