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 23- 31 Days of Halloween- Duel (1971)

Day 23- 31 Days of Halloween- Duel (1971)

This Steven Spielberg directed movie made for TV and adapted from Richard Matheson’s short story still packs a punch.

David Mann is a travelling businessman venturing to an appointment across California but is slowed down considerably by an ominous truck that at first inconveniences him until things suddenly take a much darker tone.

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This film could be seen to represent masculinity. David could be seen to represent the modern man- hen-pecked, pussy-whipped and a million miles from his caveman Id origins. Notice David meekly calling his wife to try and patch things up as he had earlier had an argument with her. They had been at a party when another man started coming onto her and acting inappropriately. He voices the opinion that she was sore because he didn’t choose to square up to the suitor and knock his lights out. He voices the opinion that she thinks he hadn’t fulfilled his traditionally masculine role.

Also, when David goes to the garage he asks the attendant to ‘Fill her up’ with the attendant replying ‘You’re the boss.’ To which David responds ‘Not in my house I’m not!’

David’s continued oneupmanship with the truck represents a display of masculine superiority. Whos the bigger man, who has the bigger penis?

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The clues to the driver of the truck point towards a more rugged, masculine opponent who is blue collar, possibly from Down South (he wears jeans and cowboy boots for his line of work as opposed to David’s white collar suit and polished shoes). 

The truck is the Return of the Repressed in the guise of David’s more base level, undomesticated masculinity. It’s always present, it’s unescapable and is waiting to confront him when he thinks he’s shaken it off.

Witness the scene in which David stops to use the payphone at the garage owned by the woman who keeps exhibits of rattlesnakes, tarantulas and lizards. Whilst the truck smashes the cages of these creatures and inadvertently sets them free whilst trying to run David over, it frees these creatures from their cages and places them where they would have been before- in the wild. This is also symbolic. The truck’s very deeds are also freeing David’s more primal masculine survival instincts which it thinks should be just as free but have become more deeply embedded and seemingly eradicated due to 70’s society with it’s emphasis on Women’s Liberation and, thus, the emasculation of men. The fact that the owner of the caged animals exhibit is female is also telling.

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But, whilst the truck might possess and exhibit brute force and traditional ‘Alpha Male’ qualities, it’s David’s qualities of cunning and intellect that save him. He utilises attributes that are above the level of the truck’s Id and he uses them advantageously.

Notice also the dinosaur roar the truck makes as it faces it’s demise. This could be seen as symbolic of this outdated, destructive and potentially dangerous version of untamed and unrefined masculinity. This dinosaur roar was also referenced in Spielberg’s later masterpiece, Jaws. He even made the roar louder when it was released in a new print on Blu ray a few years ago.

This really is a stunning piece of work. Acted to perfection, beautifully framed and paced amazingly. This may have been made for American TV but it proved so successful that it was expanded and released theatrically in the UK the year after.

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The UK cinema poster

A special mention to the gorgeous cinematography. The American landscape has never looked so beautiful along with the quintessentially American institutions such as it’s diners and random sideshow attractions such as the garage owner’s snakes and spiders sideshow. A gorgeous love -letter to Americana and a few examples of what makes this country so amazing.

Spielberg went on to make another horror themed TV movie, Something Evil the following year. This is also a resounding success but unfortunately never released on home media.

4/5 out of 5 stars

Day 22- 31 Days of Halloween- Look What’s Happened To Rosemary’s Baby (1976)

Day 22- 31 Days of Halloween- Look What’s Happened To Rosemary’s Baby (1976)

It’s extremely brave to decide to make a sequel to a beloved horror classic. It can almost feel like some kind of suicide mission as critics and the general public alike will trot out the hackneyed old cliche of ‘It’s not as good as the first film!’ as if this is an extremely original and perceptive line of criticism to extol.

If you do decide to make said sequel there are several routes you can take when doing this. You can either try to recreate the tone and feel of the original (Halloween 2 is an example of this and a very good sequel). You can try to make a film that has a tone and atmosphere all of it’s own whilst setting the action years ahead of the events of the original film (for example, Psycho 2 is an excellent film). Then you can make a film that is completely out there and batshit crazy. The ‘made for TV sequel’ to Rosemary’s Baby, the masterpiece made by Roman Polanski in 1968, goes down this route. It’s not often that whilst I watch a film I have a smile permanently etched onto my face at the sheer insanity I’m watching on the screen and that after the film has ended I have to take a few moments to reacclimatise myself to everyday life again whilst thinking ‘What the fuck was that?!’ And I mean that in the best possible sense.

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I will try to summarise the madness contained within this gem’s plot. I don’t normally like to give detailed and ‘scene by scene’ plot outlines in my reviews but what you will read speaks for itself and sells the film perfectly.

The film starts with a voice-over précis of the final events of the original but with the voices of the new actors in this production (only one actor returns from the original film and thankfully it’s Ruth Gordon who is as brilliant in this movie). In this scene Rosemary (now played by Patty Duke) discovers  the baby she has given birth to but has been swiftly taken away from her. Rosemary looks at him and expresses horror at his eyes. Obviously, the dialogue here is different and not as impactful as the original.

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The first part of the film is called The Book of Rosemary and concerns her taking her son (called Adrian by the Satanic coven we know and love from the original but called Andrew by her to try and distance him from the role the coven think he’s destined to live) away from the clutches of the coven and running away. She seeks refuge in a synagogue knowing that if she is in a house of God then the coven can’t harm her in any way. It’s here that we see her press a crucifix on a chain into her son’s chest only for her to later see with horror that it has seared an imprint into his skin. We then see Rosemary the next day at a bus stop making a call to her famous actor ex-husband Guy (now played by George Maharis). As she speaks to him a group of children start to taunt Adrian/Andrew and take his toy car from him. In return he turns all full-on Satan on them and they fall to the ground unconscious. A random stranger Marjean has seen the whole incident and hides Rosemary and her son in her trailer. Marjean then offers to help Rosemary and her son to get onto a bus to escape. But whilst Rosemary boards the bus, the bus doors close and it rides off with her trapped on it whilst Marjean is at the roadside with Adrian/Andrew in her arms. It becomes apparent that Marjean is in fact a follower of the coven and this was planned all along. Rosemary goes to speak to the driver of the bus but it’s then revealed that there is no driver on the bus. And this is the first act of the film! Crazy doesn’t describe it!

The second part of the film is called The Book of Adrian. It’s more than 20 years later. We see Andrew/Adrian get pulled over for speeding. He later goes to a casino/nightclub that Marjean runs (described by him as his Aunt) who is alarmed by his apparently wild behaviour. She then refers to his parents as being killed in a car crash. We then see Adrian/Andrew’s demonic side come to the fore as he tries to run over a biker gang. Minnie and Roman (the wonderful Gordon and Ray Millard) turn up to the casino to see Andrew/Adrian and ask him to drink one of Minnie’s concoctions (echoes here of the chocolate mousse and ‘health drink’ from the original film) and when he falls unconscious they paint him in demonic warpaint.

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The warpaint scene. Once seen, never unseen

It’s here that I will leave the plot synopsis alone as to reveal anymore would impact on the viewers experience on watching this TV movie for the first time (just to add that there is a third act to the film called The Book of Andrew). Theres a musical interlude within this second segment where we see a far-out rock band at the casino get stage invaded by Andrew/Adrian. It’s one of the freakiest scenes of the whole movie and thats really saying something!

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Lets here it for the band

There are never any troughs in this movie. It starts at weirdness level 11 and continues at that level until the climax.

I’m so glad that this sequel was made in the hedonistic, narcotically charged 70’s as the full unbridled eccentricity of the movie could be shot with no holds barred by filmmakers who were clearly heavily medicated. Add to the mental shenanigans a brilliant darkly psychedelic soundtrack by the ever great Charles Bernstein and you have a rollicking great time. There is also some impressive cinematography that is some of the best I’ve seen in a TV movie. In fact, I love the idea of some Average Joe at home in his 70’s American home watching this be accident. I actually think it enriched and expanded minds.

I’m so glad that this movie was made and that comes from a massive fan of the original film. If you love mental cinema, watch this. In fact, watch this back to back with the Exorcist 2: The Heretic.

I saw this on YouTube in a transfer from a very poor VHS tape. With Scream Factory releasing horror TV movies on Blu ray nowadays I hope to God (pun not intended) that they unleash this. A great transfer using a pristine print would be something to behold. This film deserves it.

4/5 out of 5 stars

 

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Cujo (1983)

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Cujo (1983)

Adapted from Stephen King’s best-selling novel, Cujo tells the story of a rabid St Bernard dog terrorising and besieging a mother and her son in their broken down car.

This is a wonderful film, not just because of the car/dog storyline but also because of the rich characterisation (a trademark of King’s) which builds up to this scenario. Thank God for horror films that feature characters that are fully fleshed out, realistic and relatable to the audience. And an audience that the filmmakers warrant with having a modicum of intelligence. Thankfully the filmmakers had the good sense to carry over the nuance and eye for detail contained in the film’s source material and not dilute or erase it upon it’s transfer to the big screen.

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The original UK cinema poster

The movie is invested in portraying realistically flawed and multi-faceted characters and showing just how dark and dysfunctional life is for these players. Just as Donna’s husband Vic has created the advertising campaign for a cereal that is later found to have made several young children up and down the country vomit profusely, this is a perceptive peek into the whole ethos of the film. The professor in the commercial eats some of the cereal before showing the bowl’s contents to the audience and exclaiming ‘Nothing wrong here!’ This is a sarcastic and caustic comment on the artificial and ‘too good to be true’ world portrayed in the media (and particularly advertising) and the reality of the characters in the movie.

If the characters in the movie existed within the unreality of a commercial, Donna Trenton (the ever brilliant Dee Wallace-Stone) would be happily married, Charity Camber wouldn’t be in a violent relationship with her garage owner husband Joe and Vic’s advertising campaign would be a roaring success for a cereal that was rigourously tested before it went on sale.

But the film is only interested in depicting the reality for these characters without the sugar coating. Therefore, Donna’s marriage seems completely loveless to her to such an extent that she is having an affair with her high school ex-boyfriend Steve, Charity is trapped in an abusive marriage to her pig of a husband and Vic’s career might be in pieces after such an epic (and very public) fail regarding the cereal hes created a nationwide campaign for.

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A marriage on the rocks

But the movie is also about escape. Charity announces to Joe that she has won the lottery and wants to use the $5k prize to go away with their son to visit her sister. We see her taking clothes and photos for her trip and it’s suggested that this will be a permanent departure rather than just a week away. She seems to pack in a hurry so that her escape isn’t discovered by Joe.

Donna comes to the realisation that she wants to work at her marriage and goes to break the news to Steve that she intends on not continuing with their affair. It’s when Steve races outside to try to talk Donna round that Vic rides by and sees the two of them together. Steve then goes full-on Cluster B throughout the rest of the movie, firstly seemingly trying to violently sexually assault Donna in her kitchen (thankfully Vic comes in at that moment whereby Donna confirms that she has been having an affair to him) and then trashing her family home whilst she is at the garage being held hostage by Cujo.

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The ‘other man’- Steve Kemp

I love that Donna is shown to have some kind of psychic ability or finely tuned intuition. When she first sees Charity sat performing chores in the foreground of the garage her heart goes out to her as if she feels some of the pain that she experiences in her everyday life and purposely goes out of her way to speak to her. Likewise, when Donna sees Cujo for the first time before he’s turned into a rabid killer and is still a lovable St Bernard (albeit with a bite on his nose) shes still unsure and weary of him as if she foresees the horror to come.

Cujo the dog could be seen as a Return of the Repressed, a reminder of the brutal reality of life, a hurdle for Donna to overcome so that she can truly cherish the great things that make up her life and work on the areas (e.g. her marriage) which require more work. In fact, it’s when her son Tad is in a critical condition that her fighting spirit couples with her strong maternal instinct and she decides to become proactive even if it means risking her own life. It’s at this point that she leaves the car, grabs the baseball bat that shes noticed is on the ground and fights back. Cujo being a domestic animal turned rabid could be seen as a manifestation of Donna’s domestic sphere that has been turned upside down by her affair and that she now has to fight to mend and resolve her own situation.

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Donna prepares for a home run

Up until the book and movie of Cujo came out the St Bernard dog was either seen as cuddly or as a dog traditionally utilised as a helper (they are well known for their strong sense of smell and brute force which made them perfect for finding and rescuing those stranded in snowbound conditions) only makes it’s transformation even more extreme and subversive. Sharks were seen as killing machines and predators even before the novel and movie of Jaws were released.

The book differs from the novel is some key ways. I’m not going to go into the main way that they are different as I don’t want to ruin either experience for horror fans but I can understand why the filmmakers chose to conclude the film differently. If the film was ended the same way as the book the entire audience would have been alienated. Thats not to diss the conclusion of the book in any way. But seeing certain events unfurl before your eyes is very different to reading them off the page. Apparently King agreed and said that if he could rewrite any ending to one of his novels it would be Cujo and that it would resemble the film’s ending.

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I find Cujo to be a terrific work. Whenever Dee Wallace-Stone is in a film you know it’s going to be something special. She gives one of her best performances in this film and exhibits a range that is nothing less than astonishing. Her transition from mother and wife into a survivor who is literally fighting for her life and the life of her child is utterly believable and exquisitely acted. It’s another example of the reality portrayed in the film that a character who is seen as flawed and human can also be the main character and ultimately the hero of the piece.

It’s also worth noting that the film portrays the heat and airless conditions in the car in which they are stranded in perfectly and yet apparently the film was shot in winter and it was freezing!

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There are uniformly brilliant performances in the film. There needs to be special mentions to Danny Pintauro as Tad and Kaiulani Lee as Charity. Also, it’s great to see Dee’s late husband Christopher Stone as a such a dark character.

Lewis Teague’s direction is kinetic rather than static which helps the film move along greatly especially with the storyline that involves the dog keeping Donna and Tad in the car. It would have been very easy to have this sequence make the film drag through flat, uninspired direction in a scenario that revolves around one setting. Instead, Teague keeps the camera moving especially in an extraordinary scene whereby Donna ventures out of the car and is promptly attacked. To show her mental state after her attack the camera starts to move in 360 degree arcs. An ambitious idea in a cramped environment like the inside of a car. It works beautifully.

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Donna ventures out of the car. And instantly regrets it.

Donna really suffers in this film which is another nod to the reality of the movie as opposed to other more glossy motion pictures. There is much in common with Donna’s character at the end of the movie and Marilyn Burns at the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Both have been thoroughly bloodied, battered and bruised on their individual trips to hell in their respective journeys. TCM and Cujo would make a great double-bill with both being claustrophobic horror films depicting mid-summer madness.

Yet another recommendation for the film was that good ol’ Siskel and Ebert hated it! The kings of the backhanded compliment called the film ‘dumb’, ‘flimsy’ and ‘dreadful’. However, King himself called the movie ‘terrific’. High praise indeed.

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Can your pussy do the dog? No but my St Bernard can do the can-can

I think Cujo is massively underrated and one of the best horror movies of the 80’s.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Day 20- 31 Days of Halloween- Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Day 20- 31 Days of Halloween- Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

A madman escapes from an asylum. A group of female friends have a slumber party. Join the dots.

Mary Holden Jones brings to the screen a screenplay by Rita Mae Brown. This was supposed to be a ‘feminist’ slasher movie in what is considered to be a deeply misogynistic genre. Hence we have young women flicking through Playgirl, expressing their desires when it comes to men and women who show they can kick ass.

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The UK quad poster for the film

But is the film as good a slasher as it proports to be? It starts well enough with engaging characters, a great tone and a fantastic soundtrack. But when it comes to the actual horror it feels generic, unscary and very cliched. The number of tedious jump scares grates on the nerves after a while. And who is cruel enough to lock a cat in a closet?!

Yes, the killer has a big drill. Yes, we know what that signifies. Yes, we also know what it means when one of the women breaks his ‘big tool’ in two. If only this film built suspense and tension first I would have been more impressed instead of it relying on cheap thrills and techniques from ‘Slasher Movies For Dummies’.

There is some great humour in the film. Check out the pizza delivery guy getting killed with one of the women later feeling no remorse for tucking into the pizza. Hunger doesn’t abate just because the delivery guy gets drilled through the eye sockets whilst doing his rounds.

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But this is pretty anaemic stuff. Don’t waste your time. Watch Halloween (1978) instead. It may have been written and directed by a man but it’s a truly great feminist slasher pic.

1/5 out of 5 stars

Day 19- 31 Days of Halloween- I Am Nancy (2010)

Day 19- 31 Days of Halloween- I Am Nancy (2010)

When I learnt that there was a documentary all about Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from the first Nightmare on Elm Street film) and the whole fan phenomenon that surrounded the film and specifically her character I thought it sounded a very interesting concept.

But, alas, the reality is very different. Theres a reason I don’t go to horror fan conventions where the fans get to meet their idols and get 8” by 10”s signed and that is the cringe factor. The fans with the tattoos and the collections of memorabilia pertaining to their favourite films has always made me roll my eyes and here, unfortunately, the filmmakers give them a platform for the majority of the film. And it’s just as excruciating as I thought it would be when I learnt that this film was about the fans rather than the surrounding mythos of the Nightmare series.

There are some great moments that should have been developed into full segments in their own right. We see Heather signing different types of Krueger merch (the Freddy talking doll, the vinyl record that was released at the height of Freddymania of him singing cover versions). I’d love a documentary about how the cult of Freddy grew with a comprehensive round-up of the different merchandise that was produced to satiate Freddy fan’s needs back in the day.

 

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Also, an analysis of how this could have developed around a character as perverted as a child killer needs examination. Freddy pushes the notion of the cinematic anti-hero to it’s furthest point. How could a character that in real life would have been universally reviled be revered by horror fans when he appears as the lead character in a film franchise. A look into that would have been amazing.

This feels like a Blu ray special feature and a very shoddily made one at that. The fact that this was released as a stand alone documentary is pretty shocking.

Whilst this film is billed as ‘Never Sleep Again Part 2’ it only goes to show how comprehensive and detailed the original epic length documentary was. Stick with that. And watch the original films. Especially the first one. Oh, and check out Freddy’s spin-off TV series, Freddy’s Nightmares. History has been VERY kind to this horror anthology series. It’s very underrated.

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1 star out of 5 stars

Day 18- 31 Days of Halloween- The Forest (1982)

Day 18- 31 Days of Halloween- The Forest (1982)

Two couples decide to go camping in the woods. Arriving separately (darn that wonky radiator!), they soon realise that the woods aren’t as peaceful and reinvigorating as they first thought. It is in fact a killing ground for a father who mudered his philandering  wife, went mad and took his two young children to live in a cave. Unfortunately they got sick and killed themselves. Daddy has been killing anyone stupid enough to camp in his woods ever since and eating their remains. Insanity does that to you.

The Forest is one of the more, erm, extreme entries in the ‘City Folk vs Hillbillies’ horror genre which is really saying something when you think about how outthere some of the other films in this genre are (Deliverance and it’s ‘squeal like a pig’ sequence springs to mind and that was a studio film!).

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The film starts almost like a zany and not very funny comedy movie made for TV about the two witless and dull couples deciding to live in the wilderness for the weekend (you almost expect the TV listing to include the words ‘with hilarious consequences!’). Thank God the makers of this decided on making a horror movie instead. In the genre it’s quite natural to set up irritating characters to have them despatched by the ruthless killer. It puts the audience firmly on the side of the killer as we root for him to kill the boring couples in even more of a sick and twisted fashion.

I love the fact that the couple of guys decide to eat with the hunter whilst being blissfully unaware that a) he is the killer and b) the meat on the barbecue could very well be the remains of one of the women who arrived before them and was promptly bumped off.

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I also love the fact that the ghosts of the killer’s children appear to the campers to warn them that ‘Daddy’s gone a-huntin’!’ and to warn them if he’s near.

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The kills are gory (thankfully) and the scenery is glorious. This isn’t some lost gem of the horror genre but I’ve seen much, much worse. Check out the DVD/Blu ray release of this and compare with the VHS transfer thats on YouTube. The difference is astounding.

3 out of 5 stars