Review- The Anniversary (1968)

Review- The Anniversary (1968)

Even though her husband popped his clogs some ten years before, Mrs Taggart still makes an occasion of her wedding anniversary to him by making sure that her sons join her at the family home so they can celebrate together.

The build up to the event sees her sons describing her as akin to a force of nature that can’t be controlled and as a fierce matriarch. This seems fitting when she finally makes her entrance on screen as she is played by none other than Bette Davis who is on flying form and attacks her role with relish. Not just that but she has a fantastic wardrobe topped off with an eye patch!

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It’s obvious that Mrs Taggart will keep her boys in place by means necessary whether it be manipulation, knowing secrets that her sons would rather be kept private to be used at any given moment like some kind of trump card that she keeps up her sequinned sleeves and by finding any weaknesses that her sons or their partners possess.

It’s fitting that this film was made by Hammer Films as whilst on the surface it’s a very black comedy, it also works as a horror film with Davis demolishing all around her like a very stylish and catty version of Godzilla.

The tone here is high camp which is why it works so well. If this was presented as more serious it wouldn’t have been half as much fun and Davis would have been wasted.

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Davis didn’t want to take the role but only changed her mind when her friend Jimmy Sangster rewrote the script for the screen from the stage version. Sangster had penned the excellent screenplay for Davis’ earlier film, The Nanny (also highly recommended).

There was also animosity between cast members with ‘serious stage actress’ Sheila Hancock witnessing the way Davis was pampered over and given the attention deserving of a star of her stature and being utterly alienated by it. C’est la vie.

**** out of *****

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

For the longest time I didn’t get around to seeing Pieces. Just like the movie Madman, I had seen the poster and video artwork numerous times but hadn’t got around to actually investigating the film.

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But rather than being the average cookie-cutter slasher movie that I imagined it to be, it was a different beast altogether.

J. Piquer Simon’s shocker of a movie is actually a Spanish/American/Puerto Rican production with Valencia in Spain being used instead of Boston where the film is based.

Right from the opening scene we get to see how crazy, extreme and violent this film is going to be. We see a young boy putting together a jigsaw. This is seen by his mother who smiles until she sees what the jigsaw is actually of- a naked woman. She scolds and strikes the child whilst demanding that he brings some bin bags for her as she is going to burn everything he owns. She then starts going on a hunt to see if her young pervert of a son has any other filth stashed anywhere else.

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Before she can find anything though she is struck in the head by her young son who has found an axe rather than disposal bags. With Mother safely disposed of the young boy then deflects away from the fact that he was the one to have dismembered Mama by being found crying and whimpering for his mother in a closet by the police who have been called to suggest that he was hiding whilst his mother was being axed to death by someone else. It works.

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And this is only the film’s opening scene. It then flashes forward forty years with the action happening on a university campus. Someone is killing students but who could it be?

We see the killer wearing a fantastic Giallo-esque disguise which perfectly covers his identity therefore providing us with another Giallo trope- the whodunnit. Who could the killer be? Thankfully we’re provided with possible candidates and possible red herrings. The film does this with relish with one shot involving the campus gardener Willard lovingly cleaning his chainsaw.

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There are so many reasons to love this film whether it’s the kills (the hint is in the film’s tagline ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!’ Whereas TCM actually cut away from the camera seeing the murders, this camera in Pieces sticks around so that the audience gets their money’s worth. The murders seem to have been dreamt up in a pre-production brainstorming session. I can imagine the makers of Pieces proclaiming ‘What would happen if someone with a chainsaw got into a lift with a victim. Or what if a girl is rollerskating but then runs into a full length mirror?!’), the VERY quotable one-liners that beggar belief (‘The most beautiful in the world is smoking pot whilst fucking on a waterbed!’) right through to the sequences that are so over-ripe and overly dramatic that they are ensured a place in the hearts of the most ardent horror fan (one such sequence is the ‘Bastard’ scene that is so unbelievable that once it’s seen it can never be unseen. I think of this scene as my message to the world).

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Pieces is the gift that just keeps on giving. A stone-cold classic.

***** out of *****

Review- The Purge (2013)

Review- The Purge (2013)

A new political party called The New Founding Fathers of America (the clue is in the name) comes into power after the U.S. goes through a depression in their economy. Very soon they find that the country is back on an upward trajectory with the economy improving and unemployment hitting an all time low. Crime has also become almost non-existant. This is partly due to the party passing a new annual event called The Purge in which for one night all crime is legal and will not result in prosecution. Emergency services are suspended for the duration of The Purge. Because of this the crime rate for the rest of the year is also very low.

The Sandin family settle into their secured home for The Purge night hoping that it passes without incident. However, the boyfriend of their daughter Zoey who is forbidden from seeing her sneaks in before the house’s security system is activated and decides that tonight would be a good night to settle affairs with her father. The Sandin’s son Charlie sees a man desperately screaming for help on the houses CCTV system and decides that he can’t just leave the poor man out there and so disables the houses security system so that he can allow the man to enter their house rather than being left vulnerable on the street. This provokes a posse to come to the house to demand that the family turn over the man to them or they will be forced to enter the house themselves.

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When I saw that this was a Platinum Dunes/Blumhouse film my heart sank. But, it’s actually a pretty solid and enjoyable film! There are elements that I don’t normally associate with films from these stables like, oh, suspense, intelligence, great acting and genuine scares.

Issues regarding law and order and the idea of bloodlust as a form of entertainment aren’t looked at to their fullest but I think that this works to the film’s benefit. In an era of films overanalysing any kind of statement regarding society or dumbing such issues down for their audiences, this is most welcome. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are crediting the audience with a modicum of intelligence. Which is nice.

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The ending is just as abrupt as the end of the night itself but again I didn’t mind this. Theres no overlong and cloying ‘deep’ speeches given by characters about what they are going through/have been through. It gives the film an air of being akin to a short sharp shock which again, I quite liked. It was much preferable to MTV style philosophising.

The storyline regarding the vulnerable man being inside the house whilst others try to get in to kill him reminded me of the 1983 Canuxploitation masterpiece, Siege which is a much better film and is due to be released on Blu ray soon by Severin.

This is no masterpiece but it’s still a fun hour and a half and I’ve seen worse. Much much worse.

*** out of *****

Review- La Dama Rossa Uccide Sette Volte (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) (1972)

Review- La Dama Rossa Uccide Sette Volte (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) (1972)

Hooray for Facebook. I was browsing pages devoted to cult cinema as I’m prone to do during my downtime and I saw a post about the Giallo gem, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and realised that I had never seen it. And lo and behold it was on YouTube in both Italian or badly dubbed English.

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This film concerns two sisters, one good, one evil. Their spacious abode has a very disturbing painting on the wall that evidently influences the black haired evil child, Evelyn to act terribly towards her blond haired more rational sister, Kitty. The artwork has a backstory- the evil Red Queen depicted in the picture was killed by her sister but the murdered then rises from the grave and becomes murderer, killing seven people linked to her death.

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Evelyn just being Evelyn
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The painting

A brilliantly funny sequence during the film’s opening credits shows that the teasing of Kitty by Evelyn continues throughout their childhood. The teasing carries on into adulthood. But during one incident Kitty accidentally kills Evelyn.

Real life seems to imitate art however when a figure dressed in a red cloak appears and starts to murder those connected to Kitty in gruesome ways. Who could this person be? Is it really Evelyn who has risen from the grave?

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This is classic Giallo with gorgeous direction, innovative and VERY gory kills and style oozing out of every frame. Listen for the fantastic cackle the Red Queen gives after each murder as she relishes her evil deeds. She reminds me of Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! who used to laugh loudly after doing something reckless and thrilling.

The film is also sleazy as hell. This is one of the things about Giallo that I love the most- the impeccable interiors, perfect hair and make-up, the gorgeous aesthetics. In short, stylisations that are in stark contrast to the messy dabblings of the main characters.

Barbara Bouchet in The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)
Kitty- immaculate hair and make-up

Theres a wonderful Scooby Doo moment near the end with a mask being pulled off to reveal a true identity (not the caretaker in this instance) and massive plot points being spat out faster than a snitch giving evidence. One of the final scenes does for rats what Jaws did for sharks. It’s fantastically gross.

The use of the colour red evokes the horror masterpiece Don’t Look Now which was made the year after this film. Had Nic Roeg seen this brilliant film prior to making it?

This film is great fun. And has a soundtrack to die for (no pun intended). I look forward to buying the Arrow Blu ray.

4 stars out of 5

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

I first heard of this Yuletide horror flick as John Waters spoke about it as being his favourite seasonal cinematic shocker. With such high praise from The Prince of Puke I later heard it was being shown at a local cinema in Sydney, Australia where I lived for a year (it was actually shown as part of a double bill with Black Christmas which is possibly the greatest duo of films I’ve ever seen on the big screen).

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This film was also seized during the raids on video shops that happened in the UK during the video nasties furore. After it was seized it was then banned by the BBFC. Hence, why I wasn’t allowed by the powers that be to see this masterpiece in the 80’s.

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The film centres around Harry Stadling who we see first as a child as he sees Santa pleasuring his mother. After seeing Old Nick being so naughty he goes upstairs and self harms with a broken ornament from a Christmas tree.

The film then flashes forward to Harry as an adult working in a local toy factory. He seems to be completely obsessed by Santa Claus and even dresses like him, sleeps in his outfit and orientates his whole being towards becoming him. We even see him applying way too much shaving foam to his face so that it resembles a white beard to make the likeness even more apparent. He has also starts to make notes regarding the neighbourhood children as to who has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ whilst jotting down examples of why he has arrived at his decision.

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Harry is told by his boss that the factory will donate toys to children at a local hospital but only if production at the factory increases and employees chip in with their own money. This angers Harry who sees this as an indication that his boss only cares about production rather than genuinely caring for the local unfortunate kids.

Harry’s Santaphilia reaches new heights on Christmas Evil when he seems to truly believe that he is Father Christmas. He starts to travel around in his equivalent of a reindeer led sleigh- a van with a picture of a sleigh on the side of it. He creeps into his brother’s house and leaves bags of presents for his nephews and then leaves a bag of dirt to one of the other neighbourhood children he has noted down as being ‘bad’.

After he is mocked by three men who are leaving church, he stabs one of the men in the eye with a sharpened Christmas ornament and then kills all three with an axe. After then entertaining people at a local Christmas party who mistake for just some harmless Santa impersonator and after telling the kids present that they should be good, he breaks into his co-worker Frank’s house (who we saw earlier in the film after he asked to swap shifts with Harry so he could be with his family only to be then spotted by Harry in a local bar drinking with his pals much to Harry’s chagrin) and murders him but not before leaving toys for his kids.

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To tell you much more would ruin the film for everyone and disclose some genuinely unexpected and quite brilliant twists. Without giving too much away I love the fact that even though he’s a murderous Santa, the neighbourhood’s kids protect him from an angry mob who have formed to capture or even kill him. The kids will save Santa even he is to Christmas what Michael Myers is to Halloween.

The final scene will fully ignite the magic of the Yuletide season in your soul. Seriously! Did Steven Spielberg steal it for possibly the most iconic scene of E.T? Quite possibly. I’ll take this movie over Spielberg’s saccharine family favourite any day though.

A genuine oddity and a film unlike any other, Christmas Evil was worth the wait for me and John Waters is completely justified to have taken this to his heart. Perfectly acted, beautifully photographed and with some fantastic insights regarding ‘this most wonderful time of the year’. These include those who are permitted to buy into the whole illusion of Christmas whilst others aren’t, the vileness of capitalism masquerading as being caring and charitable (but only if production is increased) and how in-crowds and groups judge others as ‘one of us’ or not.

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Waters said that if he had kids (and that would be quite something) he would sit down and watch this seasonal shocker with them every year. And if they didn’t like it they would be PUNISHED! That’s fair enough in my book.

***** out of *****

Review- Children of the Corn (1984)

Review- Children of the Corn (1984)

I first saw Children of the Corn when it was first shown on UK TV in the mid 80’s. The following day it would appear that most of my school friends had seen the movie too as we all recalled the events of the film in grisly and lurid detail.

On watching the film again recently I can say that it holds up very well indeed. The plot involves two characters called Vicky and Burt taking a roadtrip and happening upon a small Nebraska town called Gatlin. A major red flag goes up when the couple notice that on approaching the town the radio now only plays content that appears to be Baptist ‘fire and brimstone’ style sermons.

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What Burt and Vicky don’t know is that three years earlier the town’s adultfolk had been slaughtered on the wishes of 13 year old Isaac who has set up his own religious sect with ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’ as their god, the rows being the huge cornfield which is central to Gatlin. A failed harvest had prompted the uprising with Isaac asserting that his new god needs human sacrifices to be appeased and so that there are bountiful harvests as a result. Young child Job wasn’t involved as his father didn’t like Isaac and so wasn’t allowed to go to a gathering organised by Isaac for all of the town’s children. Job’s sister Sarah also wasn’t there as she was severely ill with a fever. She is shown to have some kind of psychic powers and depicts what she sees from the future in the pictures she draws.

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Things go from bad to worse for the adult couple who have now stumbled across the town which has been run by Isaac and his henchman deputy Malachi for three years now. When they hear about the adult trespassers they demand for them to be captured and then sacrificed to their cornrows deity. Poor Burt and Vicky. They discover Job and his sister who assist them in not becoming human sacrifices.

This film has a great premise which is based on a short story by Master of Horror Stephen King. The film also taps into one of the last taboos especially in film which is that of the killer child. And here we have scores of them. The milleu of the religious sect and the small details connected to this like the children being made to change their names to more biblical monikers also adds to the utterly sinister tone of the film. It also shows what can go wrong when a setback or downturn of fortunes can be taken as an opportunity by a charismatic person with sinister motives to come to prominence and give the downtrodden and disillusioned someone to believe in even though he/she is up to no good.

The opening scene takes place in a diner in which the children present (after being given the nod by Isaac) poison and violently slaughter the adults in attendance. I remember being utterly shocked by this scene in particular when I first saw the film and I can reliably report that it’s hasn’t lost any of it’s power to shock decades later.

But this isn’t the only sequence which has the power not just to shock but also to worm it’s way inside your head. The sequence in which Vicky is placed on a cross with it then being hoisted up, the shot showing the weapons hanging from the hands of the children as they descent on a house which has one of the couple in it and the gruesome scene in the church as we see what happens to the children who come of age are such examples.

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The casting of the movie is also excellent with Sarah Hamilton as Vicky and Peter Horton as Burt. But the attention to detail regarding the casting of the children is just as impressive. The casting of the freakishly sinister Isaac and his horrifyingly hillbilly deputy Malachi are inspired. In fact, it seems they cast every child with unconventional and unique looks.

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Another great quality that the film possesses is whether He Who Walks Behind The Rows is actually a real supernatural force or just completely fabricated by Isaac.

There are also some 80’s visual effects in the film which are still extremely pleasing to the eye and have aged very well indeed.

In fact the same can be said about the whole film. In lesser hands, this could have aged terribly and been forgotten about. Instead we get a film where thought and innovation were used to fully bring to life King’s great plot idea and which still has it’s own rabid fanbase. However the film still doesn’t get enough praise or recognition when films are talked about which were adapted from King’s novels. This is a real shame. Maybe this will change.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 31- Onibaba (1964)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 31- Onibaba (1964)

A mother and daughter in law (named in the credits as ‘older woman’ and ‘younger woman’ respectively) are waiting for their son/husband to return from the war he’s fighting in. A soldier named Hachi who fought alongside him comes back to tell them that in fact he saw him killed. He then starts having a torrid affair with the daughter against the wishes of her mother in law. This is going on in secret although the mother in law knows all about it and is jealous. All of this continues until…well, that would be telling!

Breathtaking cinematography, a great plot, amazing acting and imagery that will stay with you well after the film has ended!

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This film was banned outright when it was first submitted to the BBFC and then released heavily edited. It’s now acknowledged as a classic with it being on the Criterion collection.

A classic.

***** out of *****

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 28- Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 28- Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

As soon as I saw that this 1965 Amicus film was directed by Freddie Francis I knew that the direction and photography would be beautiful. And I was right! I was also excited as I knew that this was a horror anthology film and starred two heavyweights of the genre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

As well as Cushing and Lee the cast also includes Alan ‘Fluff’ Friedman, Donald Sutherland and Roy ‘You’re a Record Breaker!’ Castle. We even get Kenny Lynch appearing in a cameo role.

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Travellers in a train compartment are joined by the very sinister Dr Schreck who whips out his deck of tarot cards and tells each of his fellow traveller’s fortunes. Each fortune told is a separate episode in this anthology.

The separate stories involve vampirism, a vine seemingly related to a Triffid that comes to life, lycanthropy, voodoo and black magic and a severed hand. I want to give more details away about each segment but there are so many brilliant twists and turns that writing any more would be like trying to tiptoe through a field full of landmines.

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Each episode is completely different from each other, taking place in a real breadth of locales and circumstances which keeps the film as a whole really varied and interesting.

This film has all the ingenuity of five separate mini episodes of Tales of the Unexpected. Each concept is unpredictable, genuinely ingenious and likely to surprise most viewers.

A joy from start to finish with perhaps the biggest twist coming after each of the characters fortunes has been told.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 25- Zombie High (1987)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 25- Zombie High (1987)

A very exclusive school is lobotomising (what is it about lobotomies in my choice of films for this year’s 31 Days of Halloween?!) it’s students so that they become the kind of upstanding captains of industry that makes society great. This is the High School version of The Stepford Wives. 

Played more for comedy than horror, this film isn’t as irritating as many other horror-comedies. Great characters, especially the unconventional supporting players and nice art direction help proceedings pass very well indeed.

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The idea of the school being a kind of sausage factory to make capitalist highflyers out of isn’t really explored enough but who cares as this is a late 80’s horror comedy yarn after all.

Notable for it’s cast which includes Virginia Madsen, Sherilyn ‘Laura Palmer’ Fenn and Richard ‘Cruising’ Cox all of whom should be known to cult film/TV fans. 

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*** out of *****