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 20- The Guardian (1990)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 20- The Guardian (1990)

A young couple have their young baby snatched away from them and offered as a human sacrifice to an ancient tree to prolong it’s life by the infant’s nanny. We then see a short time later the Druid nanny from Hell starts new employment caring for another couple’s child.

This tautly and stunningly beautiful film was director William Friedkin’s first excursion into the horror genre again after that low-key film that he directed in 1973 that no-one ever talks about anymore. Just kidding. Friedkin’s first horror movie after The Exorcist was bound to garner much press and this film did. It was also predictable that any film that wasn’t as genre-defining and revolutionary as The Exorcist would provide howls of derision and bad reviews which was the fate for The Guardian.

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I refuse to think of any film directed by William Friedkin to be irredeemably bad or massively flawed. And this truly is the case with The Guardian. Amazingly directed, beautifully shot, pinpoint perfect performances (a big shoutout goes to Jenny Seagrove as the anti-Mary Poppins) and you have a taut 1990 film that has more positives than negatives. If anything is lacking it’s maybe the generic source material and the constant re-writes that affected the film. But it’s interesting to see such a great director working on strictly genre fare and seeing what happens. This reminds me of Martin Scorsese directing Cape Fear and seeing what he could do within such parameters.

The horror scenes are great and the buildup of tension is lovingly established. The film establishes the feeling of placing the well being of your baby into someone else’s life and that someone turning out to be a nutjob (if only the film had ditched the supernatural element and made it about a psycho nanny instead. This film could have been to childcare what Jaws was to sharks). The loss of control and the erosion of some of the most precious parental boundaries are fully explored here and the result makes for a very chilling film.

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Time has been very kind to The Guardian. It’s established a fanbase and isn’t the disaster some critics would have you believe it was at the time. In fact, it’s a very good movie.

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

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

A sequel to Village of the Damned which is less a continuation of the plot and instead like a film containing characters who possess the same powers as the children in the original but under different circumstances.

Whereas the original took part in a countryside idyll, the action within this film is based in London. A gifted child called Paul is studied and observed by the relevant governmental authorities. Other almost supernaturally gifted children are also discovered and brought to the city so that UNESCO researchers can witness them at work. They are brought from places as varied as China, Russia and Nigeria.

These gifted children then abscond from each of their respective embassies that they are staying in and take refuge in an abandoned church. It’s here that the authorities and the army find them and have to decide whether to try to coax the children out or destroy them if they pose a threat to humanity. It’s here that a tense standoff encroaches.

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This film as opposed to the original is firmly on the side of the children who we see as persecuted and in need of human support. The original depicted them as inhuman, devoid of emotion and empathy and very much as villains in a horror film. Children of the Damned elicits sympathy and compassion for the children who are shown as unjustly discriminated against, ostracised and treated as freaks in many ways. Having high levels of intelligence and other powers such as telekinesis are gifts but also hindrances. Witness the speech Paul’s mother shrieks at him that she should have destroyed him before she took him in her arms for the first time.

I made the mistake of reading the reviews for this film before I actually watched it. The few examples I could find were derogatory and very unflattering. They were also wrong, in my humble opinion. Children of the Damned may not be as good as the original film it is a sequel to but is still a vivid, well written, engaging film that is well worth a view. The shots of 60’s London are beautiful. A special mention to Ian Hendry (Repulsion) who heads a stellar cast.

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

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31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 15- Village of the Damned (1960)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 15- Village of the Damned (1960)

Mysteriously one day everyone in the village of Midwich suddenly lapses into unconsciousness. After a few hours everyone just as mysteriously wakes up. Two months later every woman in the village who is able to become pregnant finds that they are pregnant.  Whats more the embryos are found to develop abnormally fast.

The children look eerily alike with blond hair and strange eyes. They are also shown to possess intelligence way beyond their years. As the children grown older they are shown to be able to control other’s actions through using their ‘stare’ in which their eyes seemingly glow and hypnotise their prey. They are also able to read other’s minds. As if that wasn’t enough, they display a telepathic bond between themselves also.

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There soon develops a separation between the ‘normal’ children and indeed people of the village and the ‘gifted’ children. The twain very rarely mix except within their respective families.

But then strange and unaccountable deaths of locals start to occur in the village. One example is of a villager who was an excellent swimmer suddenly drowning. Another example finds the children causing a man to crash his car into a wall at high speed. The dead man’s brother tries to avenge his death but is forced by the children to shoot himself instead.

The children appear to have a complete lack of empathy, compassion or indeed, humanity. They appear to be complete devoid of emotion or warmth.

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When dealing with such entities it is realised that drastic measures have to be taken as has been demonstrated by other countries who have also shown evidence of similar mutant children in recent years.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you! The ending is a real shocker! In fact this is a superb adaptation of one of my favourite books (The Midwich Cuckoos) by one of my favourite authors (John Wyndham- and if you haven’t read any of his books I implore you to read some NOW!)

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Amazing direction, perfectly acted, a great sense of tension until the shocking conclusion. This film wasn’t just taboo then but also feels taboo now, such is the power of the material. This was remade by John Carpenter in 1995.

There was a VERY funny parody of this movie within The Simpsons with a new movie called The Bloodening playing at a Springfield drive-in. Have a look on YouTube for the clip. It’s The Simpsons at their best.

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

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 8- Hellgate (1989)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 8- Hellgate (1989)

A movie that was on the other side of my DVD of the (much better) film, The Pit. This direct to video movie concerns a young woman who is snatched by a gang of bikers and brutally murdered. Her father then discovers a crystal that can bring the dead back to life and uses it on his previously dead daughter.

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I read reviews of this film that mentioned that it’s so terrible it’s one of the worst films ever made. I’d like to say that these people obviously know nothing about cult cinema! This film has it’s own vision that is completely intentional and not the result of inept incompetence.

The whole film feels like it’s been filmed through a haze of Mogadon. The brightly lit diner scenes at the start look so hazy it’s like theres actually a fog on the set! Yes, some special effects are cheap and look it! But this is a low budget production aimed at the ‘straight to video’ market. Do the armchair film critics think all productions should be slick multi-million dollar affairs devoid of character or idiosyncracy? This feels like a feature length episode of The New Twilight Zone from the mid to late 80’s. It also has a feel of Night of the Comet with it’s own spaced out feel and atmosphere.

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There’s also a Phantasm feel about proceedings with Josie (the resuscitated young lady) killing any unfortunate young men who visits her town at the behest of her father. It reminds me of The Tall Man turning into a young voluptuous woman to bump off young men in the graveyard attached to his mortuary.

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This movie is like no other. Weird? Yes. A true one-off? Yes. Bad? Certainly not. File under ‘curio’.

** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 6- The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 6- The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984)

I remember seeing this on video shortly after it was released way back when. The original Hills Have Eyes wasn’t on video at that time and so seeing this was the next best thing especially in hindsight as there are LOADS of flashbacks to the first film. Yes, even a dog from the first movie who reappears in the sequel (‘the best character in the sequel’ someone wrote on YouTube!) has a flashback!

In fact this is the greatest thing about The Hills Have Eyes Part 2- it makes you want to watch the first (and far superior) film. It does this really early on and so I doubt many people have watched more than half an hour of the sequel. I watched it all the way through for this review. Do I deserve a medal for this as it sooo bad? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, this film isn’t good. But it’s passable. If you flicked onto it whilst bored, it would pass the time for you.

But as a sequel to a (in my opinion) masterpiece and the film that in my opinion is Wes Craven’s best, this could have been a lot better. Craven said he only made this for the money. That’s not really good enough. There was loads that could have been explored within this film but wasn’t.

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An ad for HHE2 from 1984

It’s great to see the characters of Bobby, Ruby (now renamed Rachel), Pluto and Beast. But the rest of the cast are largely wacky (i.e. irritating) teens and deserve to be dispatched much quicker in the movie. The motorbike plot device holds no interest to me whatsoever.

Even Harry Manfredini’s soundtrack is sub-par sounding like trimmings from his far better music scores he’s composed for other movies especially the Friday the 13th films.

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A trade magazine ad for The Hills Have Part 2

New mutant cannibal family member The Reaper is pretty good. He features prominently on the film’s artwork. In fact I’m guessing it’s this artwork which persuaded viewers to rent the video. Never judge a video by it’s cover. 

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Some films that I watched on VHS as a kid in the 80’s have stood the test of time really well and become some of my favourite films (take a bow Halloween 3). But then others may have been passable or even enjoyable when watched through a child’s (i.e. not yet jaded) eyes but The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 isn’t one of them. Strangely I feel kind of reassured that such a clunker of a movie still got a deluxe release from Arrow Video. Even rotten films are loved by somebody and deserve the best treatment possible. 

*and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 5- Land of the Dead (2005)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 5- Land of the Dead (2005)

Land of the Dead is George A Romero’s next instalment in the Dead series after 1985’s pedestrian and plodding Day of the Dead.

This involves the human race who are still at the mercy of a world overrun by the undead and now being split into the ordinary folk who are forced to live in slums whilst a few privileged individuals live in luxury in a part of Pittsburgh called Fiddler’s Green.

Whilst the zombies in the film are shown being unfeeling killing machines, so is Kaufman (brilliantly played by Dennis Hopper) who resides over Fiddler’s Green and the rest of the city. It is understood that he engineered the whole new division of the slum dwelling majority and the richer minority who live in luxury.

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There are analogies abound within the film with parallels being made between the film and the real America at the time of the film’s conception. The majority of American society have to scrape by to survive yet those who are in control have unfair access to the rewards and luxuries afforded to them because of it. Kaufman is shown to be completely devoid of empathy, humanity and scruples. His character is blatantly based on a certain US President who was in power at the time.

There are also comparisons between the zombies and the slum dwellers at the end of the movie with the undead leaving alone the surviving subjegated humans. The zombies also show signs of intelligence within the film with them making the trek to Fiddler’s Green by learning that they can travel underwater. There are also examples of them starting to use guns and firepower during the film’s running time.

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But the film’s moral message feels very heavy handed in retrospect as well as being way too simplistic and a bit too ‘right on’. Theres no nuance.

That being said this is a zombie flick with the undead kicking ass, looking amazing with action sequences coming thick and fast. But whereas Day of the Dead, this film’s predecessor was too ‘talky’, some of the action here feels a but hollow and almost like filler.

A satisfactory film but not a great one.

** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 3- Day of the Dead (2008)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 3- Day of the Dead (2008)

I didn’t even know there was a remake of George A Romero’s 1985 film. When I found out about it I was hardly looking forward to reviewing it as I found the original to be the runt of the litter of Romero’s zombie movies- it was too slow, talky and with not enough action.

The remake however is lacking in the intelligence of the original but doesn’t skimp when it comes to the action. However, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s an enjoyable enough ride whilst it lasts and I can think of worse films to watch.

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In fact, if I had to choose I’d say that I’d prefer to watch this again rather than the original (Romero fans are tutting as they read this).

Ving Rhames stars but is criminally underused. But the rest of the cast do a great job without him. This was made for TV and feels like it but if I flicked onto this it would still hold my attention until it’s conclusion.

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Great zombies, great effects (even if you can tell they’re working on a relatively small budget) and Colorado has never looked so beautiful in some shots.

Certainly not the bad remake I thought it would be even if only zombies and the military are the only elements that link the original and this later film.

***

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 2- The Honeymoon Killers (1970) ****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 2- The Honeymoon Killers (1970) ****

Fat nurse Martha Beck is joined into a lonely hearts club by her best friend Bunny. Almost instantly she starts to correspond with a man called Raymond Fernandez. Their correspondence grows more intense with the bond between them being so strong that Martha invites him to her home in Mobile, Alabama. After a night of wild passion he leaves her to go back home but not before he has secured a loan from her.

She then receives a letter from Ray breaking up with her which causes Bunny to ring him to say that Martha is suicidal because of this. When Ray is relieved to find out that neither of them have involved the police, he invites Martha to New York to visit him. When she gets there he lets the cat out of the bag- he is a professional hustler who cons lonely women out of their money and moves onto his next target. Martha is so in love with Ray that she stays by his side and even becomes his accomplice as he commits his next crimes.

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This movie is based on the true life crimes of a couple dubbed The Lonely Hearts Killers with the film using their real names. The film was also originally to be directed by a young director named Martin Scorsese (wonder what happened to him) but he was fired several days into the shoot as he was just taking so much time getting master shots set up whilst not shooting any coverage shots (according to himself. He even went on to say that it wasn’t probably for the best for the film that he was fired as the film was made on a low budget and needed to be shot quite quickly). Leonard Kastle stepped into the breach instead and does a phenomenal job. The film looks gorgeous and is framed to perfection. It’s almost like any frame from the film could be hung in an art gallery and admired. The monochrome look of the film is also astounding and reminds me (as does the film as a whole) of Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Sisters.

The cast are exceptional also with Shirley Stoler utterly iconic in her role as Martha and Tony Lo Bianco also iconic and perfect casting as the money-hungry lothario Ray.

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This movie is on The Criterion Collection as it deserves to be. In fact, when I rewatched the film for this review I was getting strong John Waters’ vibes from it. It was almost like a lost Waters film from around the time of Multiple Maniacs (also deservedly on Criterion) and I could imagine either Divine or Edith Massey playing Martha and Tab Hunter playing Ray. Maybe in a parallel universe this movie was made.

Apparently Francois Truffaut named this movie was his favourite American film. And if that doesn’t act as a high enough recommendation for you to see the film then I don’t know what will.

When the film first played in the UK it was as part of this double bill

**** out of *****