The Final Six of 2015

Time barreled on by like the midnight meat train… there’s about a half dozen films I’ve seen since The Nightmare and it’s time I get write-ups done and posted. Here goes, the final stretch of my Halloween Horror Movie Marathon for 2015. Let’s get through these quickly…

The Unknown (1927) — Directed by Tod Browning. Starring Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Norman Kerry, Nick De Ruiz, John George, Frank Lanning.

With all the newer flicks I was watching it was time to change it up with something classic, something my great-grandpa might have seen. I reached way back and grabbed Tod Browning’s 1927 silent film The Unknown. Browning directed a ton of films in the early 20th century but he’s probably most famous for 1931’s Dracula, the movie that practically kick-started the horror film genre. The following year he also directed the fantastic and disturbing Freaks, which remains as frightening today as it was back then. The Unknown is one of his ten collaborations with the great Lon Chaney, “the Man of a Thousand Faces”.

Chaney stars as Alonzo the Armless, a circus “freak” who uses his feet to fire a rifle and throw knives at Nanon (Joan Crawford) while they rotate on a platform. He pines for the lovely Nanon, who also happens to be the unlucky daughter of the circus’s owner, Antonio (Nick De Ruiz). The circus strong man, Malabar (Norman Kerry), is also in love with her but she is terrified of him, specifically his hands and arms. Whenever Malabar reaches for her she retreats in revulsion. It sounds contrived but I think the suggestion is that, even though we don’t see it onscreen, her father beats her which makes her afraid of being touched by men. Lucky for him Nanon is not afraid of the armless Alonzo. Yet he hides a couple of dark secrets of his own. Using murder and manipulation he contrives to ingratiate himself into Nanon’s life at great expense.

The Unknown is a fantastic little silent flick that came before the horror genre was fully established. Lon Chaney is wonderful, of course. Joan Crawford, who I wouldn’t have recognized if her name wasn’t in the credits, claimed Chaney inspired her during this film’s shoot to recognize the difference between true acting and simply standing in front of the camera.

It’s great looking film too. The sets avoid a lot of the grand, Gothic feel typically associated with such early horror film precursors, although the surgeon’s enormous operating room is one impressive exception. Having originally worked in carnivals and circuses before becoming a filmmaker, Browning knows how to create a genuine circus atmosphere. Not that I would know since I’ve never hung around any early twentieth century era big tops.

The Unknown is highly worth checking out. It’s the perfect film to broaden an appreciation of two of the greatest original influences on horror.

The Babadook

The Babadook (2014) — Directed by Jennifer Kent. Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a grieving widow living alone with her six year old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). They are both troubled; Amelia has never recovered from the tragic death of Sam’s father after a car accident en route to the hospital to give birth. Amelia loves her son but remains distant and resentful of him. Sam obsesses over an invisible monster to the point that he cannot sleep. When a crudely crafted pop-up book appears on the bookshelf, they read the terrifying thing. It describes the a dark figure called the Babadook, a “special” friend that comes to life once you’re made aware of its existence. And as the story makes clear the Babadook isn’t a cuddly puppy come to give you wiggles and kisses…

The Babadook is not just a frightening horror movie but a raw, emotional exploration of grief and motherhood. Films like this get to me more now that I’m a father. I ached for poor Samuel, the disturbed, hyperactive young boy who can’t catch a break with his grieving mother. Amelia’s treatment of her son is awful but Essie Davis’s performance allows us to sympathize with her. Early on in the film she is impatient and dismissive of him in ways that serve as a reminder to me as a parent to pay close attention to how I treat my sons. After Sam has a seizure she gets the doctor to prescribe sedatives for him. As horrible as it is for her to keep her son sedated we kind of understand why what she is going through causes her to do so.

Oh, yes, there is that menacing figure of the Babadook. It’s certainly a more original take on a creature than any of the generic ghosts or beasts it could have been. It looks as though it stepped right out of an early German Expressionist film, which accounts for the jaunty top hat. The Babadook as a metaphor for grief is obvious but no less powerful because of it. I wish we had seen a little bit more of it. The lighting and camerawork is intent on mostly hiding the creature, even during the powerful final confrontation.

There’s a moment in the climax of The Babadook where I welled with tears. That’s something not a lot of horror films can accomplish for me. I wanted to grab my boys and give them enormous hugs after it was over. Highly recommended if you’re ready for such an emotional journey.

Unfrfiended

“You said it was a glitch!”

“Well, the glitch just typed!”

Unfriended (2014) — Directed by Leo Gabriadze. Starring Shelley Henning, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman.

Unfriended seems like an easy target for cynics to reject outright and I wouldn’t really blame them. Here’s yet another found footage film, this one capitalizing upon the prevalence of social media in the lives of teenagers. How good can a film with a bunch of bratty high school students snarking into the camera be? Turns out it’s not too bad.

It is a year after a student from a Fresno high school committed suicide as a result of a cruel cyberbullying incident. Blaire (Shelley Hennig), a childhood playmate of the deceased, is chatting via Skype with her group of friends when an unwanted caller joins them. The presence, who doesn’t speak or appear onscreen, cannot be booted out of the chat. As they try to get rid of it, the mysterious participant seems to not only know more and more about the group but is able to exert a supernatural control over them that endangers their lives. Whose secrets will be revealed and what will be the horrifying consequences?

Unfriended takes place in real time, all on the screen of a laptop. I was impressed with the film’s build up as the group tears deeper and deeper into each other. The actors are surprisingly good. I don’t know how difficult it is to act while talking to, or screaming at, a laptop camera but this cast pulls it off nicely.

Unfortunately it’s the kill scenes where this film is mostly lacking. While one of them is genuinely startling, most are laughable. One of the characters has something shoved down their throat in a way that seems damned painful but probably not lethal. In another kill I couldn’t tell what the object was,e even after running it back and watching it three times. Apparently it’s not easy to come up with clever ways for someone to uncontrollably kill themselves with an everyday object that might be handy in a teenager’s bedroom.

Overall Unfriended is a well made, tense little horror flick that falls short on the “money shots”. If it’s the kill scenes you’re looking for, you might want to pass this one up but if you’re curious to see how well it can pull off its gimmick, check it out.

And of course I watched it on my computer to enhance the experience. lol stfu! 😛

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) — Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Starring Arash Marandi, Sheila Vand, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains Mozhan Marno, Rome Shadanloo.

Do you think you’re done with vampire movies? You might not be quite yet. This right here is one of the best films I saw during this year’s Horror Movie Marathon run. It’s not action-packed or bloody or even very frightening but it’s still a wonderful little horror flick.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a black and white Iranian vampire/western/noir movie filmed in Taft, a small town in Southern California. How’s that for unique? It’s as though Jim Jarmusch made a vampire movie but with a little less quirk. Arash (Arash Marandi) is a young man who lives with his heroin addicted father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh, the limo driver from How I Met Your Mother). Arash encounters and becomes entranced by a mysterious young woman in a chador, who unbeknownst to him is a vampire. This creature of the night does have morals; she mostly feeds upon the drug dealers and dregs of the small Iranian town. As she gets to know Arash she becomes equally fascinated by him and yearns to return his affection, but can a vampire love a human?

The film’s simple story owes a bit to Let the Right One in but still feels fresh. It’s a slow moving film where each long, dreamy scene seems tenuously connected to the next one. I enjoyed the mounting tension of the first attack, which sneaks up on you with its creeping pace and then briefly turns violent while not going too over the top. The pace never felt too slow for me. It helps that the black and white cinematography is lovely, even if self-conscious at times. My only minor quibble is the moments during some of the vampire attacks where the film is sped up. That kind of thing can take me right out of movie.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the kind of slow moving film that I am drawn to and see all too infrequently. Don’t go into it expecting a saccharine Twilight story. If you can appreciate films that avoid the short attention span style of editing we see far too often these days, you should check it out.

The House That Dripped Blood

The House that Dripped Blood (1971) — Directed by Peter Duffell. Starring John Bennett, Denholm Elliott, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, John Bryans, Joanna Dunham, Tom Adams, Joss Ackland, Wolfe Morris, Nyree Dawn Porter, Chloe Franks, Ingrid Pitt, Geoffrey Bayldon, Jonathan Lynn.

I had a hankering for something from the 70s so I headed to Amazon Prime where I queued up this 1971 Amicus production. The House that Dripped Blood is a fun anthology film, if misleadingly titled, featuring some classic horror actors including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, “Third Doctor” Jon Pertwee, and Holocaust survivor Ingrid Pitt. All of the stories were written by Robert Bloch, who is probably best known for writing the novel Psycho upon which the Alfred Hitchcock film was based.

Let’s get this out of the way straight off: if the house in this movie ever dripped blood, you won’t see it on screen. I kept an eye on the walls, doorways, and ceilings but not a drop was dripped. It didn’t matter to me; as bloodless as the film is it’s still a blast.

We’ve got four tales centered around an old house in the country, framed by an investigation conducted by a Scotland Yard detective played by John Bennett. Each tale features a fine British actor in the starring role. Denholm Elliott is a horror writer who receives visits from Dominic, the deranged killer in the novel he’s working on. Peter Cushing visits a wax museum and becomes fascinated by a display of Salome that looks remarkably like a woman he once knew. Christopher Lee is a single father who, for mysterious reasons, is unusually cold to his young daughter. Finally Jon Pertwee, best known as the third doctor from Doctor Who, brings some comic relief as an actor who purchases a cape that turns its wearer into a vampire.

There’s not too much to dive into with this one. With the exception of the comedic fourth story, all of the stories have the same basic style. They remind me of EC Comics tales, although that might be easy to say about most horror anthology films. None of them are really scary; even my wife who has a low threshold for horror movies watched it with me. My favorite of the four is probably the one featuring Christopher Lee. He is always a pleasure to watch and the offscreen death is delightfully disturbing. Keep an eye out in Pertwee’s segment for a good-natured joke at Lee’s expense. The House That Dripped Blood is perfect Halloween viewing for the whole family! Unlike the next film…

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) — Directed by Tom Six. Starring Dieter Laser, Laurence R. Harvey, Tom Six, Robert LaSardo, Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr., Bree Olson, Eric Roberts, Clayton Rohner.

Why does Tom Six keep making these movies? Why do I keep watching them? The series’s concept of a human centipede is a drunk dudebro’s lame joke put onto screen. The first movie was far too subtle, believe it or not, so the second one provided the audience the awful blood and gore they expected. Six promised that the third and final one would make the second one seem like “a Disney film”. I think he just wanted to use a sentence combining his movies with the phrase “Disney film”.

Dieter Laser, star of the first Human Centipede movie, stars as Bill Boss, the cruel warden of an isolated prison. His assistant, Dwight, is played by Laurence R. Harvey, star of the sequel to the original film. Clever, eh? Wait, the meta referencing gets even better; in HC3 the previous two films exist and Dwight is a huge fan. He is eager to convince his boss that they need to create their own human centipede out of the prison population, because why torture one prisoner at a time when you can do it all at once? Eric Roberts, who was not in any of the previous Human Centipede films, is the governor who rightly thinks Boss is doing a terrible job of running the place and threatens to fire him if things don’t shape up. Boss decides that Dwight’s human centipede idea is the way to win over the governor’s good graces and gets to work. He even brings in the director, Tom Six, who plays himself and is about as good an actor as you probably expect. I don’t think Six acted in any of the previous films but it’s rumored he was on set.

My first question is, why doesn’t anybody notice the striking resemblance of Boss and Dwight to the actors in the Human Centipede movies? The prisoners are made to watch the movies back to back before they are made into the centipede. You’d think at least one of them would notice something odd. Even Tom Six, who ostensibly spent weeks with these guys, doesn’t seem to have a clue. Oh well, I guess we have to suspend our disbelief for something in this movie.

The best thing about HC3 is Dieter Laser’s over the top performance. It is epic. He chews the scenery like Al Pacino, Nicolas Cage, and Dennis Hopper are in his head and participating in some kind of “Who’s More Crazy?” competition. He moves throughout the movie like a demented scarecrow, prancing and humping nearly everywhere he goes (my apologies to any scarecrows reading this review. We all truly appreciate the work that you do.). He shouts about 90% of his lines, sometimes drawing them out like he’s talking to a toddler. If you like a lot of yelling in your movies, this should be near the top of your list.

Nothing else about it is as out there as Laser’s epic performance, even with the list of atrocities I’m about to name for you. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read this. They include, in no particular order, compound arm fracture, a jar of dried clitorises, forced oral sex, limb severing, castration, a meal made from cooked testicles, a prisoner choked to death and then brought back to life, Tom Six vomiting, coma patient rape, a gun forced into a stoma and fired, waterboarding with boiling water, and last but oh so seriously not least kidney rape, which turns out to be part of a dream.

Yeah, I didn’t think you really wanted to read that. All of it is so ridiculous that somehow most of it is not hard to watch… well, it probably is for anybody who’s not halfway screwed up in the head, like I apparently am seeing as I voluntarily watched all three of these movies. The dark tone of the previous film made the graphic violence that much more disturbing. The comedic approach here puts the violence on an absurd level that can’t be taken seriously, which is probably Six’s goal. So apparently I’m in on the joke. Yay? I am curious to see what Six does next.

Is it bad? Is it good? I don’t know. It’s something, I guess. I can’t recommend it, or any of the Centipede movies, unless you’re a part of a certain audience, in which case go ahead. Put another notch on your Endurance Test Belt, an accessory we should all probably just throw away by now. If Six holds to his promise HC3 is the Human Centipede movie to end all Human Centipede movies. Or at least I hope it is.


There you have it, a half dozen horror films of varying quality. Next time I’ll bring in the hordes of demons and once we’ve finished our bloody ritual we’ll give you our overall impression on these films of horror. Until then, keep the lights on and don’t open the door for anybody.

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