The Black Scorpion

Posted in Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on October 21, 2015 by Justin T.

The Black Scorpion

The Black Scorpion (1957) — Directed by Edward Ludwig. Starring Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Carlos Múzquiz, Pedro Galván, Pascual García Peña.

I loved monster movies as a kid. Aw, heck, I still do. You might think it’s all about seeing people picked up by giant claws and devoured by a gigantic creature or buildings smashed to pieces by enormous feet, which is a lot of fun, but for me it’s just as much about seeing things brought to life that don’t exist in the real world, someone’s imagination realized on film. I remember watching the original King Kong, captivated by Kong and the dinosaurs even on my parents’ tiny black and white TV. I marveled at Ray Harryhausen’s Cyclops in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Later I would be terrified of Medusa’s green gaze in Clash of the Titans; I almost couldn’t look at the screen, convinced I would turn to stone just by catching a glimpse of her eyes. Stop motion animation, particularly in older films, may look hokey if you didn’t grow up on it but I still love the craft. The patience and attention to detail required to simply walk a model across the screen still blows me away. We still see stop motion in current films but the trend is more towards animating an entire movie instead of integrating models with real actors and locations. I look forward to sharing these old classics with my sons at an age where they can be as dazzled by them as I was. Unfortunately The Black Scorpion, though featuring some impressive animation by one of the pioneers of the craft, isn’t one of the best examples of this dying art form.

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‘The Visit’

Posted in Found Footage, Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on October 7, 2015 by Justin T.

The Visit

The Visit (2015) — Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Kathryn Hahn, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Benjamin Kanes, Celia Keenan-Bolger.

M. Night Shyamalan is back! After taking a steep nose dive with some truly lousy movies that incorporated lame twists (The Village), spoiled brat whining about film critics (Lady in the Water), and just plain ridiculousness (The Happening), he has returned with The Visit, a found footage thriller/horror film that seems to work pretty well on the surface. After taking a closer look, however, I have some concerns with how the film exploits dementia in the elderly for its scares.

Siblings Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are heading out for a week-long visit with their grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie). The kids have never met them because their mother Paula (Kathryn Hahn), after leaving home during some tense family drama, has been estranged from them for the past fifteen years. Rebecca, a budding filmmaker, is eager to meet them and plans to make a documentary of their visit with the goal of initiating a reconciliation between her mother and grandparents. But as their visit begins they notice some odd behavior. Nana has mood swings and wanders around the house after bedtime doing strange things like projectile vomiting and scratching at the walls. Their mother, via Skype, brushes these incidents off as simple old people behavior but things gradually become more deranged and sinister. What is going on with Nana and Pop-Pop? Why are they so damned scary?

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‘The Green Inferno’

Posted in Found Footage, Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on October 5, 2015 by Justin T.

The Green Inferno

The Green Inferno (2013) — Directed by Eli Roth. Starring Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Magda Apanowicz, Ignacia Allamand, Daryl Sabara, Nicolás Martínez, Sky Ferreira, Ramón Llao, Antonieta Pari.

Feel like going on a trip? Eli Roth thinks you’re better off at home. Cabins in the woods, Eastern Europe, and now the Amazonian jungle have all come under his scrutiny and the world he sees is dangerously unaccommodating to outsiders. Woe to you, oh traveler, who wanders this wicked world!

Columbia University freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo, Eli Roth’s wife) doesn’t care if her dorm mate Kaycee (Sky Ferreira) snarkily proclaims “activism is so f**king gay”, she joins a campus activist group anyway. The group’s leader, Alejandro (Ariel Levy), sees her father’s connection to the UN as a vital piece in his plan to save an Amazonian tribe in Peru threatened by deforestation carried out by a company mining fuel in the area. The activists aim to halt the company’s progress by chaining themselves to the demolition equipment and streaming the protest online via their smart phones. They succeed surprisingly quickly, though there is a dubious reason for that, and while celebrating on the small plane taking them out of the Amazon, an engine explodes and the plane crashes… wouldn’t you know it, right next to the tribe they were trying to save. And they’re just in time for dinner! You can probably guess who is on the menu…

The Green Inferno is Eli Roth’s tribute to cannibal films of the kind that flourished in the 70s and 80s, peaking with Ruggero Deodato’s controversial Cannibal Holocaust. If you want to get caught up you can go through the filmography presented near the end credits of Inferno and then see how this one compares. The Green Inferno is the highest profile cannibal film in some time. The only other cannibal film I’ve seen is the infamous Cannibal Holocaust so I don’t have much to compare it to but as an exploitation/horror film in general, The Green Inferno held my interest but wasn’t all that impressive.

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‘Bad Biology’

Posted in Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on September 29, 2015 by Justin T.

Bad Biology

Bad Biology (2008) — Directed by Frank Henenlotter. Starring Charlee Danielson, Anthony Sneed, ‘Rude’ Jude Angelini, Eleonore Hendricks, Vinnie Paz, Reef the Lost Cause, Bjorn Milz, Vicky Wiese, J-Zone, Remedy, Tina Krause, Jelena Jensen, James Glickenhaus.

If you’re put off by a movie that opens with the main character stating, “I was born with seven clits”, or the other main character later exclaiming, “I got a drug-addicted dick with a mind of its own!” then you might want to skip this movie, and this review. But if you’re up for a movie that takes you on a campy ride through the world of a pair of sexually mutated human beings, then you must check out Frank Henenlotter’s Bad Biology.

Jennifer (Charlee Danielson) is a woman with seven clitorises, that she knows of, who feeds on sex like it’s food. Her metabolism, perhaps working to support a sex drive accelerated by her seven clits, operates so quickly that not only does she have to wolf food down like an animal after every sexual encounter, she also conceives, gestates, and gives birth to what she calls “fake, unfinished freak babies” two hours after copulating. During her quest to find men that satisfy her intensely advanced libido, she often kills her mate during climax. “Oops.”

Is there anyone who can fulfill her freakishly insatiable needs? Enter Batz (Anthony Sneed), a man who is a slave to the ravenous sex drive of an enormous, sentient (though mute) penis. The two foot long dick is addicted to steroids, literally slurping down liquid drugs like a child drinking a milkshake. Poor Batz does not enjoy being controlled by his drug-addicted penis but he goes to great lengths to satisfy its enormous cravings. What will happen when our twisted pair of sexual misfits finally cross paths?

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‘Berberian Sound Studio’

Posted in Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on September 19, 2015 by Justin T.

Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio (2012) — Directed by Peter Strickland. Starring Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino, Fatma Mohamed, Salvatore Li Causi, Chiara D’Anna, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Lara Parmiani, Gido Adorni.

It is the mid-70s and English sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) has been hired to work on an Italian film called The Equestrian Vortex. But the slimeball director, Giancarlo Santini (Antonia Mancino), has brought him in under false pretenses; while Gilderoy anticipated working on a nature documentary, much to his surprise Vortex is an Italian horror film. Although this isn’t our poor little sound engineer’s cup of tea, he agrees to continue working on the film. But participating in the presentation of the film’s dark violence takes a toll on his reserved, fragile mind.

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‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

Posted in Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, Movies, Slasher on September 12, 2015 by Justin T.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

“Morality sucks…”

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) — Directed by Wes Craven. Starring Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Amanda Wyss, Ronee Blakely, Nick Corri, Lin Shaye. 

We lost one of the great ones recently. On August 30th Wes Craven, age 76, succumbed to brain cancer. Director of landmark horror films such The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have EyesScream, and A Nightmare on Elm Street he is probably one of a handful of directors whose name might even be familiar to those who don’t pay attention to the genre.  Folks, let’s pour one out for Wes…

RoxieTo commemorate his passing San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre ran A Nightmare on Elm Street each night over the Labor Day weekend. A buddy and I headed to the Mission District to eat some grub, drink some brews, and watch Elm Street on the big screen. …if you can get away with calling the screen at the Roxie “big”. I wondered if there might be a big crowd of enthusiastic fans dressed up as Freddy Kreuger but there was not a clawed glove to be found. There was a noisy guy a few rows behind us who spouted random film-related comments (“I’m a Dapper Dan man! This theater’s a geographical oddity… two weeks from everywhere!”) but he quieted down when the movie started.

Obligatory plot synopsis: High school student Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends are all experiencing the same dream of being chased in a boiler room by a crazed, snarky killer with burned flesh. The teenagers get together for a sleepover to comfort Tina (Amanda Wyss), who is the first to share her dream with the small group. But she is brutally murdered in her bed by an unseen presence while her boyfriend, Rod (Nick Corri), watches in horror. Soon Nancy learns that the evil presence terrorizing their dreams is Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a child murderer who evaded the justice system of Springwood, Ohio and then subsequently killed by a vengeful mob of angry parents, burned to death in the same boiler room where the dreams are taking place. But he’s back and seeking to return revenge on his killers by invading the dreams of their children. After a week of no sleep Nancy vows to defeat Freddy and the battle is on to bring the fight into the real world.

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The Sixth Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!

Posted in Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, Movies on September 3, 2015 by Justin T.

I hear a faint, desperate howling on the wind, accompanied by a persistent piano melody… Is that a mask outside the window, its hollow eyes gazing into mine? Is that a Shape lurking among the shadows in the dark corner of my room? As a chill raises goose bumps across the back of my neck I begin to comprehend the horror creeping along fringes of my mind… it is the ghost of the Halloween Horror Movie Marathon 2014 returned to haunt me. The 2014 marathon wrap up that never was bears a year long grudge against me…. But what was I, father to a demon child, to do? I’m now caught between the ferocious claws of a beast and the ghost of Michael Myers…

Yes, I failed to produce a wrap up post… oh well… last year’s fall was a busy one, with a one year old terrorizing the home while a close family member stayed in the hospital waiting for surgery. The good news is that the family member is now well and continuing on with their daily routine almost as if nothing happened while the younger of my two demons is at least somewhat easier to maintain these days. His spells and sacrifices involve me and his mother less often. He now focuses his diabolical energy on his older demon brother. The satanic siblings are still a force to be reckoned with as their battles are epic. But at least they sleep more often than they used to, perhaps weary from the energy spent attempting to destroy each other.

I reread last year’s reviews and if I were to give a quick, single paragraph wrap-up of last year, as best as my memory will allow, it might be this: Of all of the Halloween films, the original is the best. The most brutal kill was of the nurse played by Octavia Spencer in Zombie’s second Halloween film. The worst Halloween film was, predictably, Halloween III, although Resurrection came pretty close. The worst film from last year overall was Annabelle. Yeah, hard to believe it could be worse than III, I know… Favorite campy performance was by Donald Pleasance as Doctor Loomis. Scariest performance by Nick Castle as Michael Myers in the first film. Special shout-out goes to The Corridor, which was about as unique a horror film as I’d seen in a while.

But now we’re back to horror movie season 2015 and it’s time to get things started. I’ve already got one movie under my belt and that is…

The Black Sleep (poster)

The Black Sleep (1956) — Directed by Reginald Le Borg. Starring Basil Rathbone, Herbert Rudley, Akim Tamiroff, Patricia Blake, Phyllis Stanley, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Tor Johnson, George Sawaya, Sally Yarnell.

The Halloween Horror Movie Marathon tradition is to kick things off with an older film. This year I picked The Black Sleep because I was intrigued by its large cast of classic horror film actors and… well, it was one of the few older horror movies I could find while perusing the catalog on Netflix.

Basil Rathbone is Sir Joel Cadman, an esteemed neurosurgeon of the late 19th century who helps former student, and wrongfully accused, Dr. Gordon Ramsay escape death row. To accomplish this he fakes Ramsay’s demise by feeding him an East Indian drug that simulates the death of whoever ingests it, a state Cadman refers to as the eponymous Black Sleep.

Dr. Ramsay, his “body” brought to Cadman’s estate via the machinations of Udu the Gypsy (Akim Tamiroff) and revived by Cadman, becomes an assistant to his mentor. Through operations performed on human bodies, they set out to map the human brain. Of course Dr. Ramsay will soon learn that nothing is as it first seems and he’ll soon be wishing he became an angry chef instead of a gullible surgeon.

As with any mad scientist, Cadman cannot be trusted with this powerful substance. He has tricked poor Gordon into operating on living subjects, not the expected cadavers. His home is filled with subjects of his failed experiments, including Mungo (Lon Chaney Jr.), Casimir (Bela Lugosi), “Bohemund” (John Carradine), and Curry (Tor Johnson). They’ve all been induced with the Black Sleep and then operated on, resulting in either their madness, disability, or deformity. Although Cadman haughtily huffs and puffs about tossing aside common morals for the sake of scientific progress, it is all done as a lead up to operating on his comatose wife who suffers from a brain tumor. It appears that even a cold, callous man of science can be swayed by tender matters of the heart.

The Black Sleep is a run of the mill mad scientist tale that isn’t quite campy enough to merit ironic viewing, nor does it contain any of the tension or compelling drama of the films it is a tribute to. Basil Rathbone, ten years after his final turn as Sherlock Holmes, is fine. Although he’s not very menacing, his slick stiffness manages to convey some sense of evil in the well-worn role of the mad scientist who eschews morals for the sake of progress. You know, how most films of this era tend to portray scientists. Or of just about any era, come to think of it.

Although it is novel to see all of these classic actors together in one film, they’re under-utilized. I love Chaney so much in The Wolf Man that every time I see him I feel like I’m revisiting an old favorite uncle. Here his talents are wasted. With no lines, he grunts, lurches about, and attacks random characters. Bela Lugosi has some amusing facial expressions but, his character being mute, he has no dialogue either.

It’s not all so disheartening. Akim Tamiroff provides some comic relief as Udu the Gypsy and John Carradine is fun for the scant minutes he’s around. There’s also a brain operation with effects convincing enough that they might induce some squirms and queasiness. But overall The Black Sleep might be more interesting as a historical horror curiosity.

Here’s a post on the film with a lot of cool promo stills.  And, if you have the time, another review that is quite well written.

If you don’t have a Netflix account, you can watch The Black Sleep here on Dailymotion, along with many other old horror films. Don’t expect high definition quality on any of them…

I couldn’t post this without mention of the passing of horror legend Wes Craven. It’s fitting that I should revisit some of his classic films this year. I’ll be starting with a special showing on Friday night of what is perhaps his most famous film.