October 2015 Horror wrap-up

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What follows is my part in a correspondence with friends who do an annual Horror film binge during the month of October. Years ago it was dubbed ’31-in-31′ where we attempted 31 Horror films in the months 31 days. In recent years, various events in our lives have greatly lessened the scope and attempts made, but alas, this year was a return of sorts, which saw me complete 26 films. I cheated a little, Queen of Earth and Rosemary’s Baby were watched mid-September but counted towards my list here. I didn’t think it that much of a cheat since both works—which speak to each other wonderfully—really got me in the mood for the coming splatters, shrieks and scares. For my thoughts on Queen of Earth, please go here. Without further ado…

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Sept. 28 (dates indicated when email capsule review was sent out, while viewing was generally the night before or within the previous 2 to 3 days)
I cheated and started last night—with 1984’s Special Effects. When I toyed with the idea of watching it it was for the inclusion of Eric Bogosian, an actor I like for his turn in the highly underrated Stone film Talk Radio (and it is on free ondemand). But when I was created the list the last day or two I discovered it was made by Larry Cohen, a director of low grade trash who almost always delivers a worthwhile effort despite the clear limitations he always had. God Told Me To is a masterpiece of its type (for me his masterpiece), and It’s Alive is a classic of 70’s underground American horror, and The Stuff has long been held as a great example of the ‘beer and pizza-so bad it’s great’ film. Hell, he even turned in two action/subversive blaxploitation flicks before that (Hell Up in Harlem, and the very good Black Caesar). It was all this that had me excited to see this one.

It’s mostly a thriller with a trashy Hitchcock vibe to it. Perhaps with more money and slightly elevated actors it’d be a real prestige picture, but as it stands I’d take it over some of de Palma’s very similar work, and think that if a real artist directed it, it’d be spectacular (oh man, Jacques Rivette dressing this stuff up would be sublime). But all this makes me sound like all I saw was deficiencies, when in reality I had a lot of fun with it and have returned to it in my mind often since it ended around 10 pm last night. It’s the story of this young woman who moved to NYC to be an actress/movie star but has quickly descended into softcorn pornography. Meanwhile a famous director (Eric Bogosian) has been thrown off two consecutive films for going over budget; he’s a director of special effects laden films, and now can’t find work. He decides to make a movie himself to get back on track and claims that while the normal special effect is, “making the unreal seem real”, it’s also an effect to make the “real seem unreal” and goes about murdering the young woman when she arrives at his apartment when she runs away from her casually abusive husband. The rest of the movie is him created a fake movie about the murder he’s committed and filmed about the real life of this women (it’s to be a scathing attack on what the industry does to young women who come to the city looking for stardom). His plan is to put the actual filmed ‘real’ murder in the movie so that people wouldn’t think it real (it’s like a documentary with staged reenactments). The film is then ripe with subtle commentary on the genre and filmmaking process. Pretty cool.

Oct. 1
As to the list, I’m on a real roll: already seen 4 of my October Horror picks (granted 2 were watched a few weeks ago) with Goodnight Mommy getting screened last night. As usual with almost every horror work that is critically acclaimed in the states (It FollowsBabadook et al) I see it mostly as a mixed affair. Much works really well, while much relies on obscuring plot so that the ‘big twist’ at the end remains in the realm of plausibility (even if some is stretched, it’s not as implausible as the grossly overrated High Tension). I’m convinced that most of the prestige that the ‘it’ horror film gets (we get one, maybe 2 a year) comes down to non-genre fans who generally look down their nose at horror see something that they think is refreshing or different (when in reality horror works are made like that each and every year). Goodbye Mommy is certainly this, it looks like a cold, stylish work akin to much European art cinema today, and some of the psychosis is unsettling and strange.

Overall, though not great, I enjoyed it and would give a slight recommend to anyone. A friend rated it at 4 star (of 5) seems, which seems fair, I’d probably go 3.5, maybe 3.75. His 4 is fine as the first viewing would be the strongest for a film like this. I’m pretty excited I’ve seen four films thus far—Queen of Earth*, Rosemary’s Baby, Special Effects and now Goodbye Mommy—and not one has been bad. Hope this trend continues but I know it won’t…

Oct. 2
Yes! The good roll continues; last night I got to the Lewton/Tourneur work The Leopard Man. It’s paired in the Val Lewton box set collection with The Ghost Ship, which has the unfortunate distinction of being the worst disc in the set as those are—to me—his weakest two horror films. It’s all relative of course, as my horror list is peppered with each of his works, and several appear in the top 100 (Seventh Victim is #6, Cat People #30, I Walked with a Zombie #56), and there is no doubt that The Leopard Man has several wonderfully tense moments. It’s also might just be Dynamite’s best work, the black panther that is in 3 of Lewton’s films (he’s also terrific stalking back and forth in his cage in The Cat People).

The film does have a cool William Friedkin commentary track on the disc, where he admits it’s his personal favorite Lewton work (hence the relative nature of my earlier claim), and one that “has given him joy and remained in his thoughts for some 40 years”.

If I was asked, “who is the greatest creator of Horror films?” After Polanski, I say Lewton, and on a wistful day, I might even reverse it.

I’m flying through these and might have to add a few titles at the end of the month, which is fabulous news! I think next I’m going tackle some of the gutter trash that is on my list. YES!

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Oct. 4
Yesterday the good roll continued of Horror; Return of the Living Dead (1985) was the start, a film I thought I’d see before but upon watching was quick to realize that I’d only seen bits and pieces of it. Bit and pieces is an apt metaphor for a film such as this of course, as the plot begins at breakneck pace and continues for the brisk 91 minutes and is chock full of chopping, dicing, and dismemberment. It’s pure 80’s sleaze, but tailor made for Horror fans, as it plays as much for laughs as it does genuine scares. The ‘punk’ insertion is funny, with one highly attractive character spending almost the entire film naked. For some strange reason that makes sense (on some level) when viewed. I’d recommend as a pure beer and pizza movie, if this is something one does (I do it less than I used to. I say this with a tinge of sadness. Sometimes. Sometimes I’m happy I’ve matured.).

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The real find of the month so far is undoubtedly 1982’s West German Der Fan (The Fan). Brian had pointed me in the direction of it—though he’s never seen I don’t think—and I can’t think that with the new special edition uncut blu ray of this hitting shelves that its (cult) status will grow by leaps and bounds. It’s technically a slasher I suppose, but then its European touches mark it as much a slowly paced psychological thriller about a 16 year old girls obsessed wishes of being with her favorite pop star, the synth pop crooner known simple as ‘R’. She gets her wishes to be with him—as she defines it, “I in him, he in me”, and while when this is first uttered she means “in” to be “in the thoughts of” as if when one thinks of another that person is forever a part of that persons subconscious DNA. But by the films wonderful tense, shocking, and gripping last 30 minutes or so, we understand she means it a bit literally too (to say the least). Highly recommend, even if for only to see just how much the (slasher) sub-genre could be stretched in the hands of an interesting director. Super cool era specific synth pop score too by Rheingold.

Oct. 5
Last night I got to the Psycho-biddy* film Lady in a Cage (1964), which speaking of Boris Karloff, seemed like a classic Thriller episode given full length movie treatment. Some of it labors a little, but overall it’s a real fun one, and remarkably violent for its time and prestige. As with all the films of this type, it’s a bit painful to have to see a once great star reduced to such corn and here it’s multiple Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland that gets debased. The hoodlums in the film are a real treat, especially ringleader James Caan, making his film debut. At first it looks like the clear Marlo Brando riff is going to get real tedious (understandable, I can only image how much a young American male actor would have wanted to be Brando in 1964), but eventually it begins to wear off the performance. He’s pretty darn sadistic, and I remarked to Christina, I wonder if ol’ Kubrick had watched the film and told Malcolm McDowell to study his act for the eventual creation of the lead Droog Alex in Clockwork Orange. It seems Caan here mixed with Malcolm’s own turn in If…. is where Alex came from.

* Ah, the sub-genre term ‘Psycho-biddy’, one I’ve always sort of hated. First, it often doesn’t even apply, and these ‘biddies’ often aren’t ‘psycho’, and two, the implication is a tad offensive, especially when realistic emotional trauma is being depicted. The other genre term I’ve seen thrown around is ‘Hag Horror’ which, laugh out loud, is even worse. I’ve also seen ‘Old Women in Peril Horror’ that while a mouthful, generally does come closer to the mark of usefulness. Lady in the Cage is clearly most closely aligned with ‘Old Women in Peril’.

Oct. 6
Last night another ‘Psycho-biddy’, err, ‘Old Woman in Peril’ film was screened, this time being the William Castle’s 1964 spook-er The Night Walker. This one, like The Lady in the Cage, really seemed liked a Thriller* episode added mores by it being penned by the prolific horror pen of Robert Bloch. This time around we watch the legendary Barbara Stanwyck ply her trade to the lower genre, and to a lesser degree the matinee adult idol Robert Taylor. Stanwyck is her usual self, and when the material rises to her level (in does in a few keys scenes, but then robs her in several others) the film succeeds, specifically a gripping and mysterious title sequence that evokes surrealist dreamscapes. The film appears supernatural, but like a good many Thriller episodes bestows a more materialistic explanation before all is said and done. You seen it coming, at least a little, but still like the final reveal(s). I give it a slight recommend—especially if you’re doing a roundup of the subgenre as I am this month—but in the end do feel it looks too much like a TV show in the film world to evoke a great horror film. I think Lady in the Cage and this are very close in overall quality (or lack there of, however you’re looking at it).

*I’ve made two mentions of it and I know I’ve mentioned it to a Bob, but anyone else here familiar with Thriller (hosted by the inimitable Boris Karloff)? If not, I’d highly recommend. Over two seasons and some 60 episodes, it was a Horror anthology show from the early to mid Sixties. As with all anthology shows the quality will vary, but this one never really bottoms out and when it does succeed the results are often terrific. I’d say about 25 of the episodes are very good, with 10 or so being absolutely spectacular. It used to all be on netflix (sadly never streaming), via a nice box set complete series came out a few years back. I think copies were somewhat cheap on amazon recently, and it would definitely be worth the splurge.

Oct. 9
Last night I did Hershell Gordon Lewis’ Two-Thousand Maniacs. I was, It think, the fifth film of the Godfather of Gore that I’ve seen. Right now I think Color Me Blood Red is the best I’ve seen, but I do have Wizard of Gore coming this October. I don’t think Lewis deserves anything in Horror circles other than making Gore a sort of genre, but when you look at where Gore went about 5 years after him, his career sags even more. I think after Wizard I’ll be done, I’ve seen enough.

I can’t summon much else. The first film I’ve seen thus far this month, and I think it’ll be the worst when all is said and done—unlessWizard is worse. In the movie Juno Jason Bateman’s character talks about how great Lewis is, it’s only one of the many problems in that flick. LOL.

My list is getting really thin with 10 films already watched. I’ll probably be adding a few. Titles to come….

Oct. 14
Speaking of beer and pizza movies over the Gift Exchange Weekend, Bob, Brian and I watched Pumpkinhead 2: Blood Wings. It’s hilarious in several parts and had of laughing a lot. Some of the kills, executed by a huge beast, are laugh out loud funny, which afforded us several explosions of raucous laughter watching it together. The best is easily a WWF-styled ‘Back Breaker’ of a fat man who had just finished having sex with a women several notches out of his league. Great stuff.

We put Pumpkinhead 2: Blood Wings on because the previous pick, 1986’s TerrorVision was so dull. It’s clearly a film highly aware of itself and attempting high camp, but it’s delivery in cheeky cleverness which is neither smart, not very fun. The film, maybe in the hands of someone like Joe Dante or Larry Cohen would have worked, but instead it’s a prize of the hipster crowd—you’ll see it spoken of VERY highly on the internet—but to horror fans you’ll be bored… it’ll be the worst film I/we probably watch all month (I finished it’s last 15 minutes last night).

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Oct. 16
Last night was Murders in the Zoo, A. Edward Sutherland’s 1933 forgotten gem. It’s on a TCM DVD which I assume my print was from as it was a sparkling clean presentation of this truly unique and fun film. It’s a breeze at the brisk 62 minutes and bristles with a sense of violence rarely seen from this, or rarely any era. The story of a highly jealous, rich buyer of exotic animals for importing to a personally funded zoo, that he then uses as the murder weapons of his eye-catching younger wife’s male pursuers. The plan eventually foils after a dashing young scientist (played by a young Randolph Scott) discovers a discrepancy in the fang measurements of a victim and the caught green mamba that had been on the lose (and he’d been blamed for not properly caging). This is after he’s tossed his wife to the gators and sown a man’s mouth shut (for lying AND kissing his wife) and led him to loose tigers.

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The films sure highpoint was when the rich villain opens the cages of all his ‘big cats’ to elude capture and we see real lions, tigers, and leopards go at it without any of the trappings of modern fake CGI. The cats are actually fighting and we hope the edits in the film mean they were pulled apart before any deaths happened. I had to stand up in excitement, at once amazed by the power when films were real chance events, sometimes controlled, sometimes not, but pictured by a real lense and not via a computer in Burbank.

I’d seen about 20 minutes of this film prior (mostly to check quality) but am happy I finally watched it all. A forgotten masterpiece from American horror when most where Universal Monster Movies or ones made by Tod Browning or James Whale. This is neither, but no less wonderful… I’m sure to not have a more pleasant surprise this Halloween season than this one.

13 down in 16 days… Not bad!

Oct. 17
Last night the Horror clip continued with two old ones; a revisit of Mad Love the 1935 creeper starting Peter Lorre as a wonderfully demented surgeon erotically obsessed with the local Grand Guignol Theater, specifically their lead actress. He’s seen early in the film getting absolutely aroused by the sight of her tied up and mock tortured. It’s cheeky creepy stuff, certainly for its time and Lorre is tremendous throughout. The film is an adaption—somewhat loose, somewhat not—of The Hands of Orlac but to me it’s mostly the Peter Lorre show coupled with Karl Freud’s American debut as director. It’s 25 on my Top 565 Horror films, so that more than speaks to my love of the film. I’ve now watched it 2 Octobers in a row.

The other was the Bela Lugosi/Lionel Barrymore Mark of the Vampire from 1935. Directed by the great Tod Browning, this is one I’m sort of surprised I’ve never seen. Overall it wasn’t a complete waste of time (at about an hour how could it be?), even if the tonal shift of the film about midway through where it goes from a genuine creep vampire movie to a phony one in an attempt for local authorities to catch a murdered and discover his motive/ways who has been using the local vampire myth to build hysteria and cover his tracks robs the film of any greatness. Good atmosphere when it was a vampire movie especially the shadowed photography by the great James Wong Howe.

Oct. 19
A Whisper in the Dark (Un sussurro nel buio) (M. Aliprandi… 1976), a decently effective film of great period color photography. It oozes a foggy atmosphere and a lush operatic score, but in the end probably doesn’t provide any real scares  to be a full on horror flick. It’s definitely a psychological thriller; a mother loses her child at 6 months of the pregnancy and we pick up the family almost 8 years later when another of the couples children—Martino—has taken to acting if the deceased child is in fact alive. The mother thinks he has supernatural powers as he’s named the imaginary boy ‘Luca’ by chance, the same name the couple had picked out had the pregnancy come to fruition. Thus the movie is mostly about post-traumatic grief, and after the couple seeks a Psychiatric’s help with the young Martino in Venice the connections to Roeg’s Don’t Look Now become apparent. This is how I came upon the film and while I am happy to have seen it would probably just rate it as slightly above average.

Blood Mania (R. V. O’Neill… 1970) was complete and utter trash but not in a good way, the promised ‘gore mania’ was really minimal and instead should have probably been called ‘Boob Mania’. The film laboriously lurched from soft-core scene to soft-core scene almost how most slashers would execute stylish kills; one has the feeling watching this that a bunch of hardcore pornography scenes where cut out to make one version of the film for horror/drive in audiences and then re-inserted for a cut of the film to play in red-light theaters. It’s that much of a mess when watching and I actually debated fast-forwarding through parts, which says something because I don’t think the film was over 80 minutes in total run time. A ‘must miss’.

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Since Blood Mania was such a complete and utter waste of time I went off the script and screened 2014’s The Girl Who Walks Home Alone, which was for a while my favorite film of its year. Upon revisit it sagged a little, but it’s to be expected and I still really do love it. It’s a darkly photographed work, in nice digital black and white, full of early Jarmusch touches and subtle contemplation of present day Iran (where the film originated from).

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Oct. 22
Tuesday night was the second of two H.G. Lewis works, The Wizard of Gore from 1970. I think this is at least the sixth horror flick of his I’ve seen (the only ‘major’ one I haven’t seen is Gore Gore Girls), and while I think this may be as good as anything I’ve seen him do (though I’d still take Color Me Blood Red over it) it’s still largely a lukewarm watch for me, if that. It opens with slightly elevated production values—he made the film for 65 grand, easily his biggest budget up to that point—which help the proceedings immensely, with the story being a somewhat reasonable facsimile of an actual movie. This is both good and bad as his writing and director chops then have less a place to hide and while ambitious (the film attempts a mild police procedural, gore film, and satire of violent images on TV all at once), many of these divergent tangents see themselves rendered as threadbare, or worse yet, half cooked. The film does deliver a few genuine squeamish moments, which I suppose is the point.

I remain firm that after I do get to Gore Gore Girls—which I’m in no hurry to do at this point—I’ll probably be done with H.G. Lewis for the rest of my life. There are better uses of ones time devoted to unearthing gems in the genre.

Oct. 23
Last night was The Invisible Man, the James Whale 1933 masterpiece. I’d see it before, and my list reveals that I rated it at 311 in my Top 565 Horror Films. That’s insane (but also speaks to the depth of quality of my list as it’s surrounded by many really good films) and I assume it’ll rise into the low high 100’s (175-199 I’d say) when I reorder that list come Halloween (or so). Whale was a true master and since Christina has responded so much to the older classics, I thought tackling him was the correct direction to go. We’ll do his other non-Frankentstein Horror masterpiece, The Old Dark House in the next couple of days as well. The Old Dark House is the funniest of the Whale Horror movies, his darkly sardonic British sense of humor with regards to casting always placed his Horror works in a unique place, but The Invisible Man isn’t far behind. Claude Rains, whose face remains hidden through the film (or rather invisible), is tremendous (or rather his voice is) and as his illusion of grandeur (or rather delusions) at political and financial power build to fever pitch I started seeing a little bit of Dr. Strangelove is his dark spectacle cloth wrap image. It probably isn’t as apparent if I watched the Kubrick prior to the Whale, but my mind kept racing to nightmares of nuclear showers as the mad invisible chemist ran amok in rural England.

It goes without saying that the film, almost 75 years old, remains a fresh technical marvel. Even as shots appear slightly fake the real surrounds wow more than most contemporary CGI, and we laugh a bit at the surreal whimsy of it all too. A masterpiece of Horror, even if he might have made three better ones…

Oct. 27
Friday night and Saturday morning saw the completion of James Whale’s other non-Frankenstein classic The Old Dark House (1932). I’ve long thought it the best of his career outside the Frankenstein’s, which was a fact that I openly questioned after I finished the wholly satisfying and upgrading revisit of The Invisible Man. Even after about 15 minutes I thought myself really correct—that The Invisible Man is in fact better—but then Charles Laughton’s character arrives and Karloff’s Neanderthal man gets drunk and the film takes the vague niceties and trades them for bizarre happenings, class conflicts, and Lost Generation subtexts. The film appears as rickety and dusty as the titular old house itself as it unfurls in the first act, a good many modern audiences would probably dismiss it at this point, but when the gin gets busted out things become as strange and eery as you’d expect from the director of Frankenstein. It’s a triumph, and the oft conflicting narrative only aids the proceedings.

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Oct. 29
Following a friend’s recent glowing review and in need a break from a recent spat of hellish work at the office, I turned for the high camp fun of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, which resulted in the expected fun—and needed—experience. It seemed slightly more arty than I remember, a relative term in a Hammer film to be sure, but several passages work really well outside our contemporary era of seeing camp within nothing but hipster irony. It’s surely a film that couldn’t be made today (modern filmmakers and especially modern audiences would be winking throughout and having a lark at its expense during it all), and we’re worse off for it. It’s closest kissing cousin is surely de Palma’s also supremely underrated The Phantom and the Paradise, which borrows liberally here and there (though, one could easily argue that neither are stealing from each other, and instead BOTH lifting from the late 30’s serial The Fighting Devil Dogs, another piece of nice raucous camp that features fodder that inspired Darth Vader [which could be said for everything here]). The deaths are fun, if mostly implausible, but really I stay for the orchestral organ music, neo-futuristic style and set design, Virginia North’s spectacularly chic and silent Vulvania, and Vincent Price’s pseudo-ventriloquist act (his skeleton face speaks under a face made of ‘real’ prosthetics, and provides the greatest trick of the film). If you wanted to have a real time with it, you’d watch it in a double bill with Josef von Sternberg’s kinky b-movie themed masterpiece The Shanghai Gesture (a Christmas Day[!] release in 1941) and count the connections that may or may not be there that my mind was drifting to throughout.

Tonight, god willing will be Silent Rage. Fingers crossed.

Oct. 30
Last night was the action horror hybrid Silent Rage from 1982. It was one that was on my list last year that I never got around to, so added it this year at the back end. It’s a funny thought; this piece of garbage loitering around my head for more than 365 days. Now that I can say I have watched it, I can say others should avoid it; it’s the story of local small town sheriff Chuck Norris responding to a call when a crazed man goes berserk and kills his wife with an ax (in a scene borrowing heavily from The Shining) and a neighbor that dares to intervene. Once the man is captured he attempts to flee police custody and is promptly shotgun blasted in the chest. Local mad scientists than decide that this man, with a clear history of mental imbalance, is the perfect candidate for their new serum that has previously only been successful on lab animals. The man (now alive) becomes a quick healing super killer, who after his second rampage must be again brought down by the now super cop Norris. The plot, which was the extent of what I knew going in, sounds fun in a beer-and-pizza sort of way, but when you watch it you realize that the secondary plot involving Norris’ love life, complete with not one, not two, but three (god damn it) sex scenes takes up a good third of the screen time. A tedious bore, only slightly warmed up briefly when Norris engages in a bar room brawl in the first reel. For some reason.

I thought this morning that the next time someone dare utters to me that I’m a film snob, or elitist, or whatever, I’ll have at the ready the fact that I have seen at least 15 movies starring Chuck Norris. I don’t really like any of them, but alas, I did find a love of film during the Mom and Pop VHS Store boom of the 1980’s so films of the type go with the territory. Rarely do I met people who though they feel like they like ‘broader’ films that can attest to so much ‘low art’ being positioned in front of their eyeballs. Surely not a brag—if you know the filth you know one would never brag about it—but it does say something about what we’d process in our formative years before the DVD era.

I’m now squarely at 23 now. I’ll watch one film tomorrow, maybe two. 25 would be a tremendous haul for how much work begged of me this month. I’d be proud/happy with that!

Another Halloween treat for me was last night’s playing of Scott Walker’s The Drift (#150 on my Top 300 albums list) from 2006, but I’ll have more on that later….

Trick or treat.

Nov. 1
Yesterday being Halloween and nursing a slight haze from the previous nights ska/reggae night festiveness afforded a lot of viewing time, so three films were watched, and if you account for the Sergio Martino (The Vice of Mrs. Wardh, 1971) that was taken off about halfway through you could even say that three-and-a-half were watched. Midway through two vegan pizzas arrived complete with a few sodas to ensure that stamina remained high for the spooks, scares, and general high atmosphere drama that remained on until the calendar struck November.

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Up first was the Peter Lorre shocker The Beast with Five Fingers (1944), a film I’d never previously seen but seemed appropriated after the victory lap Mad Love had a few weeks past. It’s a similar story—a high riff on The Hands of Orlac thereabouts—this time the proceedings take place in a small village in turn of the century Spain, where a wealthy one-armed pianist (rather he has two arms, but one side of his body is paralyzed) dies accidentally and the will creates enough jealously that Peter Lorre must deliriously dream up a scenario where his one working hand is removed from his body and begins haunting the remaining players, even killing one. It’s a marvel in the limited special effects as the hand creeps around and plays a sonata or two as we watch mystified. That Lorre is acting out of pure delirium to keep his treasured library of books that the pianist has bought for him (but he’d potentially loose if the will isn’t honored) is even more noble in my eyes and the film succeeds in its ultra brisk pacing. A definite recommend.

After that was a revisit of the original The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932) since it’d come up in recent conversations online, and seemed a nice tie in to all the Boris Karloff jaunts we’d had and tied to the earlier watching of Freud’s later Mad Love (1935). Freud is surely one of the cinema’s great cameramen and The Mummy might just be his best directorial work, but I’d think that anyone tuning in are doing so to see Karloff and the make up he sits beneath. Sure, Zita Johann also delights, but isn’t it those super creepy still shots of The Mummy’s face in tight crop with the whites of his eyes ablaze that remain some of Horror’s most iconic shots? The make-up is revelatory, each wrinkle a deep crevice of longing and pain that our Mummy has endured as his soul remained in loveless limbo over centuries, and it’s just this extra subtext that takes the film from its meager monster origins into masterpiece status. One of Horror’s benchmark works.

Lastly, we decided to tie-in all the Psycho-biddy works from mid-month with Seth Holt’s 1965 slow-burner The Nanny, starring Bette Davis as the titular Nanny. I’d previously commented on my problems with the sub-genre title of ‘Psycho-biddy’ or it’s even worse one of ‘Hag Horror’, and while most recall the genre via What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? a film I feel as much overwrought as it is overrated, with both of its star being in other films in the sub-genre that greatly better it. The inimitable Joan Crawford had the piece of trash that is William Castle’s Straight-Jacket, a film I happen to think is a wonderful piece of lurid camp as Crawford chugs hooch and not-so-subtly flirts with her daughters hunky beau. She’s not the usual put-em-out-to-pasture lead and the films is all the better for using that point as its overall point. While Bette Davis is a deranged harpy in Baby Jane? in The Nanny she’s a seemingly caring, tolerant servant in a position that most would have lost their mind decades ago in. As the film begins pulling away its many layers (Holt’s direction is at least as masterfully suspenseful here as it is in his other great genre work Scream of Fear [UK title Taste of Fear] from 1961) everything isn’t as it seems, and the film pulls minor and major chills from the chamber-piece like singular setting of an affluent families English apartment/condo unit.

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I can’t say I’ve had a Halloween as candy-free as this one since I was a toddler and didn’t know a piece of candy from a brussels sprout (which us German’s eat like candy), but with all these delectable treats for the eyes I can’t say I missed anything!

10 thoughts on “October 2015 Horror wrap-up

  1. I am left just about speechless over this incredible presentation. I do of of course know well you have been adding to this the entire month, having been given notifications as such, but I had no idea you were bring such scope, appreciation and comprehensiveness not to mention the consistently superb quality of the writing throughout. You really bring a special meaning to Halloween Horror Cinema, I am on board with the vast majority of your assertions, and applaud you statement that Val Lewton could be the greatest horror auteur of all, in a close alternately call with Roman Polanski. I do agree that both THE LEOPARD MAN and GHOST SHIP are not among his best films, but I still like both and consider a few sequence in the former among the horror icon’s finest. I have always been a big fan of both DR. PHIBES films, consider the Universal MUMMY as one of the greatest of horror films in any measure. Likewise THE OLD DARK HOUSE and THE INVISIBLE MAN are masterpieces, and THE BEAST WITH THE FIVE FINGERS is first-rate. I might like MARK OF THE VAMPIRE a bit more, but your summary is fair enough. I love MAD LOVE. I’m excited to see MURDERS IN THE ZOO, and much appreciate that buffo assessment. TWO THOUSAND MANIACS is trash of course, I’d never look at that one again. I’m very intrigued by the German film THE FAN.

    I am so “thrilled” at the love here for THRILLER, which is one of my favorite shows of all time!! I look forward to discussion it with you further.

    Just an overwhelming report here! A true labor of love! An work of exceeding expertise!

    1. Thanks Sam, I’ll let you know when I update my master horror list. I’m thinking with all the additions from this month (plus all the Horror I’ve watched since I last updated it) my list should go from a Top 565 to somewhere in the low 600s. I dream that next years update can get me to 666, the number of the beast.

  2. Here’s to ‘The Nanny’ and camp horror and all those “Master Joeys” delivered by Davis. Ever notice (sure you have) how she repeats her ‘Little Foxes’ scene, here with (the great) Jill Bennett? My favorite film of Bette’s self-parodying grotesque horror phase.

    1. Yes to all you say here. I’d say THE NANNY is also my favorite Bette Davis horror vehicle, so long as we aren’t considered about 75% of her other performances as horror. I mean, she’s terrifying in King Vidor’s BEYOND THE FOREST, a film as surely not horror as it is supremely underrated.

      Thanks for the comment.

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