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MOVIE REVIEW ARCHIVES

A-C     D-F     G-I     J-L     M-O     P-R     S-U     V-X     Y-Z

 M

Mad Doctor of Blood Island

Madhouse

Magic

Magus

Malevolence

The Manson Family

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Meat Grinder

Midnight Mass

Mimic

The Mist

The Monster Of Piedras Blancas

The Monster That Challenged The World

Monsters

Mother of Tears

Mr. Sardonicus

The Murder Game

The Muse

 

 

N

The Nameless

Necromancy

The Night Child

Nightmare

Nightmare Castle

Nightmare Detective

Night Of The Big Heat

Night of the Demons

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Werewolf

Night Train

Night Watch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

O

The Oblong Box

The Omen

One Step Beyond

Onibaba

On Vampyres, and Other Symptoms

Opera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


(1968)
Directed by Eddie Romero & Gerardo DeLeon
Starring John Ashley, Angelique Pettyjohn, Ronald Remy, Alicia Alonzo, Alfonso Carvahal, Ronald Valdez, Tony Edmunds, Bruno Punzalan

"I will not give up the work of a lifetime, simply because you think I'm mad." - Dr. Lorca

Made in 1969, this was the quick follow up to Hemisphere's BRIDES OF BLOOD.  While it's not a sequel to BRIDES, it does feature the famous Blood Island and a different monster called the natives call the Evil One.  But those are the only connections, besides the star John Ashley.  In this outing, Ashley plays Dr. Bill Foster, who is going to the island to investigate a report of some strange happenings on the island, including a monster with green blood.  On the boat ride to the island, he meets up with Sheila Willard, played by the buxom Angelique Pettyjohn.  She is going to the island to see find her father that she hasn't seen since she was twelve.  They also meet up with Carlos (Ronald Valdez) who hopes to bring his mother home from the island since his father died there a few months ago.

But once they arrive, they don't find things as they hoped.  Sheila's father is a drunk, and Carlos' mother doesn't want to leave the island.  She is working with the strange Dr. Lorca.  Lorca, with his cane and tinted sunglasses, is played wonderfully by Ronald Remy.  Remy is one of the highlights of the film for me, playing the title character of the film with a great performance, rating him up there one some of the best mad scientists.  Playing Lorca's assistants is Bruno Punzalan, who is a very familiar face in these Philippine horror movies.  It seems that the good doctor Lorca is experimenting on human subjects with chlorophyll, in hopes of finding a cure for a disease.  Unfortunately, the side effects to the experiments have created a green-blooded monster, who rips apart anybody in it's path.  Just who exactly was this monster???

Probably the most popular of the Blood Island trilogy, this is actually my favorite of the three, with BRIDES coming in a close second.  The movie starts out with a young girl running through the jungle, completely naked.  No wonder why Ashley liked making movies there!  But then she runs into our favorite chlorophyll-blooded monster and is torn apart.  How could you go wrong with that opening?  Plus the dialog is great.  You get great lines like the one above, or even when one of the native girls is talking about Dr. Lorca and says "The Doctor is not afraid of death.  Death is on his payroll."

Always trying to top their last film, the film does have a little bit more blood, guts and nudity in here.  Some of the victims have their guts hanging out or sprawled out on the floor.  Granted, all these are animal intestines, but at least they look real.  Then of course, you also have Pettyjohn showing her assets while making out with Ashley, or unless she's about to fall out of her dress.

The movie does have a couple of downfalls that might put off a few viewers.  One of them, and the most common complaint, is the mega-zoom that is used every time the monster is about to strike.  With the quick zooming in and out, it can give one a headache after a while, and does go on a little too much.  But as Sherman mentions on the commentary, he thought it was a neat idea and does hide a little bit of the poor makeup.  The other is when some real animals are sacrificed during a native ritual.  These are obviously real animals being killed and dwelled upon too long.  Even Sherman mentions on the commentary that should not have been done, or could be done today.  But that was a different time and place.  But in my opinion, that is only part of this movie that could be keep one from watching it.

Even if you were one of the lucky ones to have one of those Magnum Entertainment pre-records of this movie, the quality still wasn't the greatest.  At the time, it was the best you could get.  Until now.  once again, Image has done a awesome job cleaning up the print of this film.  Even all the extras and trailers look great.

Like BRIDES OF BLOOD, this disc is also filled with extras, a lot of them being the same as on BRIDES and BEAST OF BLOOD.  It does contain the same trailers as the other discs: the three different Blood Island movies, along with BLOOD DRINKERS, BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRES, BRAIN OF BLOOD and RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD.  It also has the same 17 minute interview with Eddie Romero.  There is also the Blood Island Photo Gallery, which features pics and ads from BRIDES and MAD DOCTOR, which is also on the BRIDES disc.  But the essay by William Koenig is different than what is on BRIDES, and is a great read.

The commentary by Sherman is once again very informative, but is still just about an hour long.  As before, he talks more about the history of all the pictures, cast and crews, than about each individually film .  In any case, there is a lot of great information there that you can learn from Sherman, such as what goes on after the film has been made, and now has to be sold to the drive-ins.

But one of the highlights of extras, in the 'Drinking of the Green Blood' prologue promo that Sherman came up with.  It has a bunch of teenagers taking the "Oath of the Green Blood" which is classic drive-in promotions.  I had seen this before, but hadn't known that Sherman was behind it.  I was very happy to see that they had included this on the disc as part of the extras.  It actually plays before the movie, just like in the drive-ins.  A great piece of promotion history that you won't see these days.

As Sherman says in his commentary, if you were only going to buy one of these movies, this would be the one to get.  Although, if you're really a horror completist you really have to get all three of them.  And then, there's the other titles that Ashley and Romero made like TWILIGHT PEOPLE...


(1981)
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis
Starring Trish Everly, Michael Macrae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart, Allison Biggers

Julia is a teacher for young hearing impaired students and seems to have things going well for her.  But then she receives a call from her uncle in regards to her twin sister Mary, who has been hospitalized for some time.  Mary has developed some disease that is causing her face to become deformed.  It doesn’t help the fact that Mary is quite insane as well.  The uncle, who happens to be a priest, wants nothing more than the two sisters to be able to get along.  But days before their birthday, Mary escapes from the hospital.

Really being a producer, Ovidio G. Assonitis did direct a few films.  According to him, it was usually due to him either not finding the right director, or getting rid of the one he hired if things were not going well.  Which is the case for Madhouse.  But while Assonitis may not be a great director, he definitely is competent enough to deliver an effective horror movie.  His style is evident right away, during the wonderful opening credits where we have two young girls are in the dark, one standing rocking the other one in a chair.  Then moments later, the one standing repeatedly bashes the sitting one in the face with a large rock.  And so our movie begins.

Trish Everly, who really looked like someone I had seen in movies before, stars as Julia.  But this is her only film that she worked on.  She does do a good job in the role of the protagonist, with the viewer living the movie through her eyes.  But the real star here is Michael Macrae as the strange uncle, Father James.  It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s going on here, so this really isn’t that much of a giveaway.  But Macrae takes this role, putting a lot of depth into the role, and delivers a very good character presentation.

The gore isn’t anything over the top here, but there is enough of the red stuff showing to keep us happy.  There are a few scenes involving a dog that are the main supplier of the red stuff.  Though, animal lovers may squirm in the seats a bit during one sequence.

For a film that came out right at the beginning of the slasher explosion, this film has more background and storyline going on than most of that time.  And it is very well shot, with lots of atmosphere.  More than enough for us to recommend checking this one out.

Dark Sky Films has released this film on DVD, under the original title of There Was A Little Girl, which has even more of an Italian thriller sound to it than Madhouse.  The print quality of the film looks really good, nice, crisp and clean.  The only real supplement material on the DVD besides the still gallery is an interview with Assonitis.  As usual, he gives us a good inside look at what he does.  Explaining the role of a producer, trying to get the movie that he’s paying for, Assonitis shows us that is not as easy as some might thing.  But you can always see his passion for movies, no matter what role he may find himself in.  And he shows that he is never satisfied with his work, always hoping the next one will be the great one.


(1978)
Directed by Richard Attenborough
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith, Ed Lauter

I first learned who Anthony Hopkins was from this movie.  Long before he entranced the world with his Oscar winning performance as Hannibal Lecter, I was amazed at his portrayal of the magician with a slight case of split personality.  I had thought that when Hopkins won the Oscar for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS that this movie would 're-discovered'.  But it didn't seem to happen.  But now, thanks to Dark Sky Films, this highly underrated film can now be seen, in a wonderfully new high definition transfer from the 35mm original negative.  And it looks beautiful.

The basic story is very simple.  Hopkins plays Corky, a shy magician who overcomes his fears with the help of a ventriloquist dummy, named Fats.  As the story  progresses, we learn that Fats seems to be the more dominate personality and really is in control.  When he gets his chance to make it to the big time, he runs away back to his hometown, hoping to find his long lost love from high school, that he was always afraid to talk to.

The real catch of this movie is that Fats becomes a character in the film as much as anybody else.  I would like to say that he steals the scenes in most cases, but I think that Hopkins' performance here is incredible and surpasses it.  There are times when Corky really does seemed to be a little whacked, while Fats seems to be very calm and very smart, and very much in control.  The way that Hopkins interacts with this wooden character is what really gives it as much life as his co-stars.  You're really rooting for Corky to come out of his shell and be freed of Fats.  That he could break free of Fats' control.  And then you remember that Corky is Fats, and realize just how crazy Corky is.  All that credit all goes to Hopkins' acting ability.

This may not be the typical fare for someone looking for a simple horror movie.  Like the ads say, it's a terrifying love story.  That is just what it is.  Burgess Meredith, looking a little bit like Hunter S. Thompson, plays Corky's agent.  And he creates a wonderful old character.  He maybe a small guy, but his personality is huge.  Ann-Margret plays Corky's high school sweetheart that he was too scared to talk to all those years ago.

This is a film that I can watch over and over again.  Granted, it's mainly due to the interaction between Fats and Corky.  But there are other things that I've notice about the movie the more I watch it.  Like the use of shadows.  And I guess that if it wasn't for the screenplay, written by William Goldberg, which was based on his own novel, the acting wouldn't have mattered.  The dialog between Fats and Corky ranges from being funny, frightening, to some very sad moments, especially near the end.

So even if this movie was release with no extras, I would have been all over it.  But those lovely folks at Dark Sky Films have done a wonderful job bringing some nice extras.  There is an interview with the Director of Photography, Victor J. Kemper.  He does a great job explaining the technical side of of what a DP does, but in a way that even the most simple fan can understand, and have more of an appreciation of that job.

There is also a radio interview with Anthony Hopkins, where he discusses the film.  As well as an interview that was done for a Mexican program.  Hopkins discusses working on the film and having to learn the ventriloquist techniques.  This seems to have been shot shortly after the movie was made.  The disc also has a silent make up test for Ann-Margret, trailers, radio spots, and a photo gallery.

But the real highlight of the extras is the documentary, Fats & Friends.  Dennis Alwood, the ventriloquist consultant, who also operated Fats on the set, starts out with a brief history of ventriloquism.  He then goes on to explain how he became involved in this film.  When they wanted to use his own dummy for the movie, but also to change it, he refused.  And then Fats was born.  During the first part of this featurette, Alwood is sitting by himself.  Then his dummy Dudley comes out.  And once they really start talking about the film, Dudley is replace by Fats.  Yes folks, this is the original Fats.  And of course, like all ventriloquist, Fats and Alwood talk about the film, where Fats reminisces about working on the film and with the different actors.  This is great.

But I do say, that I think Dark Sky really missed a great opportunity to promote this DVD release.  With all the conventions around, they should have hired Alwood to appear at a few of these, bringing Fats.  Can you see Fats listed as one of the guests?  They could have done Q&A with him.  And then they could have even had the chance for the fans to have their picture taken with Fats.  "Buy the DVD and get your picture with Fats!"  Talk about a great way to promote it!  I know I would have done that.  Oh well....we can dream, can't we.  It is a shame though.

But none the less, this has always been a favorite of mine, so I really couldn't recommend this movie or this DVD enough.  For die-hard fans of it, you'll love the look of it, along with the great extras.  For those who have never seen it, then now is your chance to see Anthony Hopkins much younger than you've probably seen him, and giving a performance as good as, if not better, than he did for Hannibal Lecter.


(2007)
Directed by John Lechago
Starring Ron Fitzgerald, Bill Steele, Lizzy Strain, Eva Derrek, Al Burke, Michael Antonacci

We had the opportunity to screen this second feature from John (BLOOD GNOME) Lechago at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors (Chicago) back in February. Having met the 37-year-old writer/director, (his booth was across the aisle from the Krypt’s), I can say that Lechago is a great, amiable guy with his fantasy/horror heart in the right place. His latest effort, MAGUS, has a similarly genial tone in that it never goes for a tone of dread or fear—instead, he offers an engaging tale that borrows equally from Roger Corman’s THE RAVEN and Russell Mulcahy’s HIGHLANDER, with a dash of THE KARATE KID thrown in for flavor.

Perhaps assuming his audience versed enough to fill in the blanks, Lechago doesn’t present a lot of background details of the impending wizards’ duels that drive the plot. (No one actually ever utters the infamous phrase, "There can be only one," but the sentiment is understood.) We see our sinister bald baddie, the titular Magus (Ron Fitzgerald), escape from the insane asylum/prison where he was detained, though the hows and whys are left to our imagination. We see our aging spiritual warrior, Felix (Bill Steele), sensing the battle to come, but his link and/or history with Magus isn’t spelled out too clearly. However, the script does impart its fair share of martial arts philosophy in between the zippy zappy scenes of wizard warrior whacking, primarily through struggling ju-jitsu student Claudia (Lizzy Strain).

However, while the sketchy storyline (which also juggles in underworld dealings, ageism and teen romance) is easy to overlook, the performances require a bit more effort. Now, it’s understood that we’re dealing with a microbudget feature here, and our burgeoning auteur obviously knows how to get a lot onscreen for little to no money. The visuals are terrific, easily achieving the gloss of more expensive projects. Unfortunately, one often wishes that Lechago had attempted a silent film because his poor cast loses him major points every time they open their mouths.

Strain is, to put it kindly, miscast as the ingenue, her clunky martial arts teamed with an "oh my god" shriek that could shatter the strongest eardrums. With her every emotional moment patently false, it becomes impossible for the viewer to empathize with her character. The entire venture suffers as a result, regardless of whatever minor "marquee value" she offers. Steele fares better in his gruff "healer/wizard" role, but hardly has the presence to carry the picture’s emotional center—which is the task given, considering that Strain lives up to her surname in terms of testing audience patience. Lizzy is the half-sister of scream queen Julie Strain, who shows up for a welcome cameo as a fellow magic user who informs Felix that Magus is on his way, then writhes around semi-nude under a see-through chemise when the mean-spirited magic man shows up.

Fitzgerald has a great Nosferatu look (and his naturally two-toned eye color is a pretty nifty asset), but lacking an accompanying strong vocal presence, all his villainous power goes right down the drain whenever he speaks. Rather than an all-powerful spawn of Hell, he comes off as a whiny, bullying twerp, even when flinging his lethally crimson waves of wizardry. His familiar Sed, played by Eva Derrek, looks mighty fine in her outlandishly varied wardrobe of pleather outfits (she changes her duds about every five minutes). But this hardly serves to counteract her limited facial expressions, which run the gamut from A (sneer) to B (pout). Likewise, serving as Magus’ enforcer, Derrek’s martial arts "action" sequences are so roughly executed that we cannnot help but remain unimpressed. Without physically adept performers on the roster, these scenes would have benefited from more imaginative cinematography. But shot straight-on as they are, these supposedly epic battles often come off as thrilling and realistic as a university stage combat class.

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to like; it simply requires a healthy dose of audience generosity and empathy for the microbudget elements under which the creative team is toiling. There is an earnestness here that will appeal to many genre fans tired of the ever-escalating pissing contest of grit and depravity on display. MAGUS never pokes fun at itself nor the genre, and it refuses to stoop to nihilism simply because it’s the hot item on the horror menu these days. Additionally, the visual effects (also handled by Lechago) are more than adequate, culminating in a genuinely thrilling (and unexpectedly gory) climax. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the Canadian-born filmmaker—especially with an abler cast and a few more dollars at his disposal.

Aaron "Dr. AC" Christensen


(2004)
Directed by Stevan Mena
Starring Brandon Johnson, Samantha Dark, Heather Magee, Courtney Bertolone, Richard Glover

Usually one of the biggest flaws in low budget filmmaking is the acting, or really the lack there of.  I believe that can really kill a film, no matter how good the story or look of the film is.  Two good examples of this are 13 SECONDS (which I seemed to be alone on that opinion) and MIDNIGHT MASS.  But with MALEVOLENCE, I was very surprised to find the actors in here very well cast, and all doing a great job.  We’re not talking Oscar caliber stuff here folks, but they were very believable here, which really brought it above the usual low-budget fair.

But one of the biggest problems with the film is that it’s very derivative of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, with some nods to FRIDAY THE 13th Part 2 & TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.  Even the director admits this during the ‘Making of’ segment in the extras.  You have a seemingly unstoppable killer.  You have a simple, yet creepy musical score.  There’s even the musical cues, which Carpenter called “stingers”, used to heighten a jump scare, which are used several times here.  Plus, the storyline itself is far from original.  In the ‘Making of’ segment, director Mena explains his philosophical explanation of the storyline, where ‘evil begets evil’, which does make sense.  The problem is that even though it does make sense, that doesn't change the fact that it still has been done many time before.  Mena says that he was using the classic slasher films as inspirations and guidence, and paying homage to them, not parodying them like in SCREAM.

So even with the over-done storyline, Mena still manages to deliver the goods when it comes to atmosphere and all out creepiness.  The camera shots are set up quite well, giving us the multiple eerie shots of someone standing there watching, or slowly coming up upon a soon-to-be victim.  One might argue that making these stylish and creepy shots might be very easy to do, and I would like to agree with that.  But the problem is that if it was that easy, how come not too many people are accomplishing it?  Certainly not the guys doing all those HALLOWEEN sequels.  So I do give Mena a lot of credit for making the film look really good.

The basic story is about a group of bank robbers that set out to hook up at their designated meeting place after the robbery.  But after a few problems during and after the robbery, which includes a casualty and picking up some hostages, when they get to the meeting place, they soon find out that there are not alone.

The makers of the film were very lucky in finding the location used for this movie.  It fits perfectly for the story, almost as if it was written for this exact place.  This movie will give you yet another reason why you don’t want to just walk into some old and out-of-the-way house or building.  You just never know who might be in there.

Anchor Bay is releasing this DVD and giving it plenty of extras to give you even more of an insight to low budget filmmaking.  The featurette "Back To The Slaughterhouse" is enough to put out any smoldering fire of desire to get into filmmaking.  Going through all the troubles that the director went through to get this film made is enough to drive you crazy.  You realize that the reason that Mena is the writer, director, producer, composer, editor, and whatever else, is that he simply couldn't afford to hire anybody else to do it.  Plus, the stories of 'low-budget' filmmaking never ceases to amaze me how people have the drive to stay in the business when all around them is falling apart.  So kudos to Mena for hanging in there.

The DVD also has audio commentary by Mena, along with actor Brandon Johnson and Associate Producer Eddie Akmal.  This is interesting, but also covers a lot of material that is in the documentary.  There is also some deleted scenes, rehearsal footage, trailers, and still gallery.  The original screenplay is also available on DVD-ROM.

So as long as you're not expecting any new or different, but something that is at least scary and atmospheric, which a lot of the low budget films can not say, than I would recommend checking this one out.


(2003)
Directed by Jim Van Bebber
Starring Marcello Games, Marc Pittmanm Leslie Orr, Maureen Alisse, Amy Yates, Jim Van Bebber, Tom Burns, Michelle Briggs

So you think you know all about the Manson murders?  Sure, everyone knows about “crazy” hippy Charlie Manson, imprisoned for murders he merely instigated, but how much do you know about the real killers?  The ones who actually did the killing?  Jim Van Bebber wants you to find out and presents his case with THE MANSON FAMILY, a brutal film that sticks to the facts of the famous 1969 murders and pulls no punches in depicting those responsible.

The film’s biggest story asset is that Van Bebber keeps Charles Manson at a distance.  Rather than glorifying Manson as a savior/leader/head case (as the subsequent decades of mainstream media attention has done), he is presented as a very small piece of an intricate puzzle of 60s free love turned burnouts turned murderers.  Manson (essayed well by Marcelo Games) is presented very realistically (as a failed musician looking to make it into the big time) and the same can be said for the rest of the characters.  Often cast as peripheral characters to Manson, the film focuses on the lives of Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, Bobby Beausoleil, etc. and details how they became involved with “The Family” at the Ranch.  Van Bebber has obviously done his homework and presents the story with astonishing detail (which might aggravate the “Charlie is God” crowd).  With mostly unknowns and amateurs in the leads and the film’s pseudo documentary style, the viewer is easily sucking into the world of these characters.  To balance things out, Van Bebber also includes contemporary set (well, 1999) bookends to the film that feature a bunch of punks stalking a TV producer working on an upcoming documentary about Manson.  This works well in establishing both the idea that the media propagates the myth of Manson and that murder is always gonna be with us.  

Technically, THE MANSON FAMILY is brilliant, a film that performs so many editing tricks that it functions on almost a surreal level.  While I have never been under the influence of hallucinogens, I have it on good authority that this is as close as you can get.  It is equally remarkable given the film’s previous incarnations.  In the mid-90s I viewed a rough cut that told the story in relatively linear fashion.  This version captured the 60s look but not much else.  In the interim, Van Bebber and editor Michael Capone have seemingly taken the film and thrown it in a blender.  Sadly, a lot of the work they have done has fallen on dead eyes and is being misconstrued as shoddy filmmaking.  Believe me, every simulated emulsion scratch, jump cut and video insert is there for a reason.  The editing and soundtrack is top notch (check out the opening credits for a perfect example) and I wish the earlier version was included so people could see how much Van Bebber and company transformed this film.

That is not to say that Dark Sky, the film’s DVD distributor, have left you hanging.  The 2-disc Unrated Special Edition is a fitting tribute to the film.  I should point out that the film has been released in a single disc, R-rated version as well but this is definitely the one to get.  Disc one contains the film, trailers and a photo gallery.  The film is presented full frame (as intended) and looks great.  It is on disc two where the real meaty extras come forth.  First up is “The Van Bebber Family,” a full length documentary chronicling the filmmakers’ 15 year (!) struggle to get this film made.  You might think that you know it all about the film’s history but you don’t.  There is plenty of new info on hand and interviews with all of the major cast and crew (noticeably absent is Games).  The second documentary is the aptly titled “In the Belly of the Beast.”  This one follows several independent filmmakers, Van Bebber included, through the 1997 Fantasia film festival in Canada.  Familiar faces such as Richard (HARDWARE, DUST DEVIL) Stanley and Mariano (DARK WATERS) Baino pop up and remind us all how making an independent horror film is hell.  Sadly, a large amount of this documentary is spent on Fantasia co-organizer and filmmaker Karim Hussain, who is pimping his film SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY.  While I haven’t seen the film, Hussain comes off as the stereotypical “misunderstood artist” to the point that it ruins the entire feature.  Regardless, the film is worth checking out at least once for the other guys.  Finally, there is a 10-minute interview with Charles Manson himself.  Guys what kids?  Charlie is so crazy!  This really doesn’t serve much purpose but I guess if people want some real Manson, it is there for them.

While 2005 isn’t even over yet, I would be hard pressed to think of a better film this year.  THE MANSON FAMILY is many things – a fact based account of the 1969 murders, a statement on the media’s propensity to continue the myths surrounding the deaths and a declaration for independent filmmakers.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t take Van Bebber 15 years to make his next feature.

Review by William Wilson

(2012)
Directed by Sean Durkin
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner, Louisa Krause, Sarah Paulson

This was a tough review to write.  Had I written this right after I finished watching this movie, it would have much more of a negative slant.  But after thinking about it for some time, I will have to give it more credit than I would have at first glance.  But…that being said, I still didn’t like the film.  But let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?

The story is about a young woman named Martha who runs away from a cult/religious family that that she has been living with for the last two years.  They might not be too happy that she has left either.  She calls up her sister that she hasn’t spoken to in 2 years asking for help, who quickly picks her up and takes her back to her home.  But the couple of years under the influence of the “family”, and especially the leader, played wonderfully by John Hawkes, has really embedded in her head and is something that she is having trouble dealing with.  Is this paranoia just a delusion, or does she really have something to be afraid of.

About half of the movie is shown in flashbacks, on how Martha becomes involved with the “family” and is renamed Marcy May (not sure where the Marlene name came into play…must have missed that part).  But these memories are shown throughout the film as Martha tries to forget that part of her life.  But the ideals that have been drilled into her keep making her question what is really going on around her, as well as with her sister and brother-in-law and their beliefs and outlook on life.

The movie relies heavily on ambiguity with never really knowing if her paranoia is just in her head or real.  Even the ending (if you can call it that) never tells us what happens or happened.  The film literally just ends.  While I don’t have a problem with that, and don’t mind not having every little detailed explained to me, but for some reason with this movie it just left me a little cold.  Maybe because there isn’t that much that happens throughout the movie.  So when it just ends, it was kind of shock only because I was still waiting for something, like a major plot point or something, to happened.  And it never did.

Don’t get me wrong, I get what the movie was trying to do.  I get the whole aspect of now knowing if she really has something to be afraid of, if the family is coming back for her or not.  I get how traumatized she is from what she had seen and experienced with her time with the “family”.  I just don’t think there was much of a plot here.  To me, if seemed like we got to see little snippets of how she is having trouble going back to a normal life, if she really had one of those in the first place.  But after one little scene to another, all showing us really the same thing, and then having the movie just stop, it just left me a little flat.

But all of these complaints aside, I will say that the acting here, especially in the leads, are exceptional.  Elizabeth Olsen portrays this confused young woman that probably wants nothing more than to have a normal life, but with her mind twisted around, she really doesn’t know which way is up.  But the real star here, even though he doesn’t have much screen time, is John Hawkes.  This guy is usually in little bit parts in movies but always shines.  Here, as the leader of the “family”, he is simple damn scary.  He has the crazy look, like that of Manson, but can also calm the people he has control over, getting them to do what he wants.  That is the scariest part of this movie, knowing that there are people in real life just like that.

At face value, the sister and brother-in-law seem a little uncaring about their recent house guest.  But coming from a family that had some siblings doing some pretty stupid stuff, I can completely understand the lack of compassion and understanding that isn’t shown or given in circumstances like this.  Not saying it is right, but just saying I understand how it could, and does, happen to families.

This is one film that I wouldn’t have a problem with if the filmmakers said the ever popular comment “this isn’t a horror film”.  The only real horror aspect of this film is the “family” and what they represent, and the fact that these types of stories can be all too real. THAT is the scary part.  But that is the same scariness that watching any crime drama could induce, especially when dealing with home invasion or these cults.

So the bottom line is that you really need to see this for yourself to decide if you’re going to like it.  I’ve heard several of my friends just love this film.  So maybe it is just me and my perception.  Being I knew nothing about this film before watching it, I know I didn’t have any preconceived ideas or notions about it.  So that couldn’t have swung me one way or the other.  It is a well made film with some very talented actors on screen.  It portrays a very dark and much too real slice of reality and how some people live and can motivate and convince people that what they are doing is okay.  So take a look at this film and see what kind of message it gives to you.


(2009)
Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong
Starring Mai Charoenpura, Anuway Niwartwong, Wiradit Srimalai, Rattanaballang Tohssawat, Duangta Tungkamanee

When we received this movie to review, we were not that excited about it.  When the press release calls it a “proud member of the ‘torture-porn’ sub-genre”, really didn’t look forward to sitting through yet another SAW / HOSTEL inspired movie that is about nothing more than seeing people getting beaten, tortured, sliced up and killed.  Hate to sound old fashion here, but for me to be entertained, really entertained, then the movie has to have a good story.  Sure, we not against gore for gore sake, and have enjoyed many movies over the years that don’t offer much more than that.  But as of late, since there has been a constant onslaught of these types of movies, they get really old, really quick.

But shortly after we started to watch MEAT GRINDER, we realized that while the film is pretty gory and graphic, there is much more going on here besides the gore.  Director, co-writer, cinematographer, and editor Moeithaisong really gave a lot of thought and background to this story.  Then he filmed it in such a way that we learned more and more about the main character Buss, played wonderfully by Mai Charoenpura, as the film plays out.  Yes, the film has a lot of gore and graphic violence in it.  But the story here is what sets this film apart from the tons of the other ‘torture-porn’ sub-genre.

Buss is a trouble woman trying to earn a living by selling noodles.  She has a crippled and sick daughter that she is trying to care for as well.  It also doesn’t help when some local hood comes to collect money that her missing husband owes.  Ahh….another fun day in Thailand.  The film doesn’t take long to show the viewers what we are in for, when a young man shows up at her house looking for his girlfriend who supposedly worked there.  She tries to convince the young man that his girlfriend was screwing her husband and took off together.  He doesn’t believe her and starts to search her house.  While he doesn’t find his girlfriend, he did find out what kind of woman Buss is and what she is capable of doing.  The things has see does to this poor guy isn’t really explained other than to watch him being tortured.  From having a leg cut off, to having each of his fingers nailed to the floor, with nice close ups of the fingernails being split open.  But none the less, gorehounds will be pleased.

But the real gem here is as the story progresses, and through the constant scenes of gore, we learn more and more about Buss, her history, and her family.  From her childhood with her mom teaching her all the important things about flavoring the meat used in cooking, and how to obtain it, to the terrible things that happened to her as a child.  There are several parts of this movie that we didn’t see coming.  Don’t really want to use the term ‘twist’ because it’s not like find out it was Old Man Smithers from the old amusement park that is behind it all, but just discoveries in the story that gives us more background and understanding of the character of Buss.

We do have to give credit the look of the film.  Granted, some of the different film styles, like the shaky-cam and fast editing got old pretty quickly, luckily it wasn’t used that much.  He also used a nice combination of black & white footage to enhance the story.  And where usually the black & colors can add beauty, here it is grainy and dirty…giving the appropriate feel to it.

So yes, gorehounds will get a big helping of lots of severed body parts, multiple murders, and tons of the red stuff flowing.  And all intertwined and simmering in this stew of tragedy and revenge is one story line that will leave you hungry for more….but probably more of a vegetarian fare….


(2003)
Directed by Tony Mandile
Starring Douglas Gibson, Pamela Karp, Julia Cornish, Elizabeth Vance, Mariana Matthews, St. James, Marvin W. Schwartz.

Many years ago, when I used to read horror fiction as much as I watched horror movies (no really, I did...quite a lot actually), F. Paul Wilson was an author that I enjoyed quite a bit.  Being the author of The Keep (which is so much better than the movie), he had written this short story called Midnight Mass, that was published in an All-Vampire anthology book.  The story just blew me away.  It was about a future time when vampires had all but taken over the world, and that humans were now the minority.  There was a strong religious aspect, mainly since the main character was a priest who had lost his faith.  While it had been a long time since I had read the story, I was very excited to hear that somebody was going to make it into a movie.  With a great story to start with, how could it go wrong?  Boy, did they show me.

I couldn’t have been more disappointed with this film.  Now before you say it, I know that you can’t judge a film by comparing to the written story that a lot of the details have to be left out.  But that really has nothing to do with my complaints.  The acting is just so bad in here that it takes your attention away from anything else that is going on in the movie. One of the main characters is a young girl who is an atheist.  She was good friends with the priest (who now instead of loss of faith, had been falsely accused of some indiscretion with a young boy), and would have long conversations about religion.  Well, her portrayal of this diehard atheist was just plain terrible.  Most of the other acting was pretty bad too, but she really topped it off.

I’m all for low budget films.  But this one was so obvious of the budget, it really took away from the film.  They make it out like there are vampires taking over the world, like it’s some sort of mass invasion.  But then you only see a few people, both human and not around.  Even with the big battle at the end of the film, there would only be a couple of people fighting at any given time.  And when two people were fighting in this small church, you really didn’t see that many more people around.

Coming from a makeup background, director Mandile does have decent makeup for the film.  The designs were pretty basic, with nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to vampires.  But once again, the actors under the makeup really didn’t enhance the makeup jobs.

I give the Mandile and the rest of the makers of this film credit for taking on this project, and getting it made.  Taking over 2 years, I’m sure they put a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears.  But unfortunately, for me the acting just kills everything else this movie is trying to offer, and it was really hard for me to get past that.

Lions Gate Entertainment has released this on DVD, with plenty of extras.  There is production audio commentary, bloopers and outtakes, still gallery, original designs and artwork, and a behind-the-camera featurette which talks to just about everybody involved from the director, author Wilson, the actors, and more.  That was pretty interesting, hearing the ins and outs of low budget filmmaking.


MIMIC
(1997)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Alexander Goodwin, Giancarlo Giannini, Charles S. Dutton, Josh Brolin, F. Murray Abraham

"Evolution has a way of keeping things alive."

Guillermo del Toro is one of those directors that you don’t see too often in the genre today . . . one with some true talent. While he has only made two films, it’s what he has shown of his ability with these two films that really makes him stand out.

In 1992, del Toro gave us a very different tale of vampirism with his first film, CRONOS. I don’t think you could compare this with your typical horror movie, because there was so much going on in the movie. This story of an ancient device that allows the owner to live forever, but with the price . . . the taste for blood.

After hearing of many different projects with his name attached to it, some of them making me want to cry (such as the adaptation of a John Saul novel), and some of them making my mouth water (a suppose remake of THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE), it seemed that the next project that he would helm would be the film MIMIC. The film was to deal with some genetically engineered cockroaches that kind of get out of hand. Yes, folks, I know what you’re thinking. Gee, that hasn’t been done before, has it? Well, in the hands of del Toro, one might hope that the end results would not only be different but also be worth it. And after seeing the final result, the answer is yes on both counts.

The story is about a deadly disease that is killing the children of Manhattan. Similar to the Black Plague, this time the disease is carried by cockroaches. An entomologist creates a new breed of cockroaches that would wipe out the disease and then die. It works and all is happy. Except . . . as one character in the film says, "Evolution has a way of keeping things alive."

The film stars Mira Sorvino as the ‘bug lady’ who is held as a hero for finding a cure for the disease. The film also stars Jeremy Northam, Josh Brolin, Charles Dutton, Giancarlo Giannini, and also in a bit part, F. Murray Abraham.

While the effects of the film are pretty damn outstanding, they are not the main stars of the movie. The creatures, which were designed by Rob Bottin are pretty incredible looking monsters. But the story and the characters really take center stage in this film. To make a comparison to another ‘bug’ movie, STARSHIP TROOPERS is the exact opposite of MIMIC, even though it tries not to be. The main stars of STARSHIP are the giant bugs. Yes they are done quite well, but the plot and story line leave much to be desired.

Another thing that I really like in this film was the way the death scenes were handled. First of all, there are some characters that killed that you wouldn’t think would die, especially in an American movie, unless it was some major plot point. Also, when someone is killed, there is very little gore. But what really make it effective are the sound effects during the killing, with the sharp, pointed arms of the creatures slicing and stabbing their victims, with quick whipping motions. You don’t need to see the gore in this case, with the sounds that you hear the images come to your mind on it’s own. Now I’m not saying that as a cop-out. I for one happen to like gore, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.

About the  only thing I could really complain about his movie would be the video poster artwork.  They also seemed to jump on the SCREAM bandwagon and throw away any sort of originality, like the original theatrical poster art.   Will they ever learn?  But anyway, if you want a very effective and creepy movie, definitely check out MIMIC.


(2007)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler,
Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Sternhagen, Nathan Gamble, Alexa Davalos, Chris Owen

For any movie, you need at least two elements to make it a great movie.  First you need the story.  Without that, it doesn’t matter how good of an actor you have, it just isn’t going to cover up a poor storyline.  The second would be the acting.  Even with a great story, if you don’t have the right talent there, this great story can come off as flat as the paper it’s written on.  Writer/director Frank Darabont was lucky enough to have high points in both of those two elements right from the start.

The Mist is based on the novella by Stephen King that was first published back in 1980 in the anthology Dark Forces.  The movie, which follows the book pretty closely,  deal with a small New England town that becomes enveloped by thick white mist that arrives the morning after a fierce thunderstorm.  A small group of people gather inside the local grocery store when they realize that something is in the mist.  Something deadly.  Although it takes a short time for everyone to realize this, especially for those that can't believe this is anything that couldn't be explained.  But they learn soon enough.

I remember reading this story when it re-published in King’s anthology book, Skelton Crew, and immediately fell in love with it.  It had the usually great story line from King, with very believable characters.  And most of all, it was scary.  I am amazed that it took over 25 years for it to finally come to the big screen.  But I for one think it was worth the wait.

Darabont is a horror fan.  And even though he has made commercially successful movies for Hollywood, like The Shawshank Redemption (also from a Stephen King story) and The Majestic, he started off writing horror movies.  He was the screenwriter for films like Nightmare on Elm Street 3, the 1988 remake of The Blob, and The Fly 2.  Even his very first film project that he did was a short film called The Woman in the Room, based on (yet again) a Stephen King short story.  So as a die hard horror fan, when I hear that Darabont is going to be directing a film adaptation of The Mist, I am very excited at that prospect.  And he didn’t let me down.

We know the story is coming from Stephen King, and we know it’s a good old fashion monster movie.  None of this “suspense / thriller” crap….it’s a horror movie.  But as we said, if you don’t have a good cast, even the best story is going to come up short.  Darabont has gathered an exceptional group of actors to fill out this movie. 

Thomas Jane plays David Drayton, our main character, and is very believable.  The audience is seeing what is happening through his character.  While he doesn’t understand what is happening out in the mist, he knows that whatever it is, it’s bad.  His main rival at the grocery store becomes the crazy Mrs. Carmody, played by Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden.  She gives this character so much depth and personality, that even though she is hated by just about all of the audience, you can at least understand where she’s coming from….as twisted as that place might be.

Using a lot of talent character actors, each one of the townspeople are memorable here.  People like Francis Sternhagen, Jeffrey DeMunn, and of course my personal favorite, William Sadler.  Every time you see one of these people on the screen you know you can count on a great performance.

Another point in this particular movie that could make or break it was the creatures.  If the CGI looks too cartoonish, then you lose the scare factor, and then it just becomes camp.  But no worries here, since everything is handled exceptionally well by Café FX.  And with the help of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, all the critters, big and small, are a wonder to look at.  And they are nothing like you’ve seen before.

But the real gist of the story here isn’t about the fight between the people inside the grocery store and what’s out in the mist.  It’s about the fight between the people in the grocery store against each other.  During a time of crises like this, would man turn against each other?  That is the real question put to the test here.

Dimension has released a 2-disc special edition DVD that really is a must for fans of this movie.  The first disc features audio commentary by Darabont, deleted scenes (with optional commentary), a featurette on the artwork of Drew Struzan, and trailers.  But the second disc features even more behind-the-scenes featurettes, from the making of the film, the visual and practical effects, creature designs, and much more.  But also on the second disc is the entire feature again…except in black and white.  This was the way that Darabont originally wanted to make the film, but obviously knew that the studios wouldn’t go for it.  But it is on this 2-disc edition.  For those out there that don’t have a problem with black and white movies, and God forbid even like them, this is a special treat.  Give it a try once and see what you think.


THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS
(1959)

Directed by Irvin Berwick
Starring Les Tremayne, Forrest Lewis, John Harmon, Frank Arvidson, Jeanne Carmen

A small coastal town has become the home of a few unexplained and grisly deaths.  Two fisherman are found a drift in their boat, with their heads missing.  The heads were ripped clean off, and their blood sucked dry.  Definitely not a boating accident.  But as the local sheriff and doctor try to discover just who or what is doing the killing, the owner of the general store is telling of the legend of the title creature to anybody who'll listen.

But why is the local lighthouse keeper so mean to everyone, and wants to make sure that nobody is around his property.  Could he be hiding something?  Or protecting something?  And just how could this creature waltz right into town to kill someone and nobody happened to see it wandering through the streets?  Guess that will teach you not to be working late in one of these movies.

Made in 1958, this low budget rip-off of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON gives us a little bit more in the gore department than it's predecessor.  Though this gore is really just a severed head that the creature is carrying around the first time we get to see it.  But remember, that's way more than what we see in CREATURE.  The design of this creature is a little bit more monster-like, than the original Creature was more to look like a fish-creature.

For me, the real standout of the film is Les Tremayne.  He has done a lot of voice work, as well as playing in some low budget classics like MONOLITH MONSTERS, THE SLIME PEOPLE, and Larry Buchanan's CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION.  Plus, he was also in WAR OF THE WORLDS.  But in whatever he played in, I've always found him entertaining.

If you are expecting anything that an old-fashion creature feature type film from the 50's, then you will be disappointed.  But if you are looking for one of those types of films to watch, then this isn't half bad.  Granted it would have been nice to see the creature a little bit more than we do, but that would given the viewer a better chance at seeing how bad the costume might have looked with a longer viewing.


THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD
(1957)
Directed by Arnold Laven
Starring Tim Holt, Audrey Dalton, Hans Conried, Barbara Darrow, Max Showalter, Harlan Warde, and Gordon Jones

"HORDE OF GARGANTUAN VAMPIRE SNAILS!"  With those words in the description, it was enough to get me to pickup this title.  Of course it didn't hurt that it was another one of those $10 titles that MGM have been putting out under their Midnight Movies moniker.

This is another one of those great little sci-fi / horror films from the 50's.  After a recent earthquake under the Salton sea, people are being attacked by these giant creatures, which actually look more like giant caterpillars than snails.  The navy is trying to find out just what these things are, as well as how to stop them, without letting the public know what's going on (for safety reasons of course).  You know, they don't want to start an unwarranted panic or anything like that.

The main man in charge of the local navy (Tim Holt) seems to have as about as much personality as one of the killer snails they're looking for.  But that doesn't stop him from developing a love connection with a local secretary, played by Audrey Dalton, who also was in William Castle's MR. SARDONICUS.

Once again, I have to give a lot of credit to the guys who designed and created the creature.  For something made back in 1957, the monster is done pretty well.  While it doesn't go sliding across the set or anything, they do seem to have quite a bit of movement, including a bunch of pincher arms.  Hell, it even spits out this gooey slime everywhere.  Gotta love that.

This was released by MGM under their Midnight Movies moniker, with a small price of only $10.00 (at Best Buy).


(2010)
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Starring Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

Right off the bat, we need to get one thing perfectly clear.  If there ever was a film that was miss-titled, this would be it.  Yes, there are monsters in this film.  But it is a very, very small part of this film.  It is basically just the background for this simple drama.  Which I wouldn’t have had as big of a problem with it had the film been called something like FINDING LOVE….WHILE SOME MONSTERS ROAM AROUND.  But when you call the film MONSTERS….I kind of expect some monsters….a LOT of monsters.  The actual working title for the film was FAR FROM HOME, which I think fits a lot better.

But what is even worse, is that since the film is basically following these two characters who are trying to get home, they have to carry the film.  Or at least until a creature shows up.  And therein lies the problem.  These two characters, played by Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, and the story, just cannot hold up the movie.  This has nothing to do with the two actors, who do a good job with what they had.  It is just the lack of a good script, if there really was one.  The story alludes to the fact that the character of Andrew as someone that we think at first is just a scumbag, until it’s revealed that he really is a nice guy.  Oh…how touching.  The character of Samantha is some rich guy’s daughter who is engaged to someone that she obviously doesn’t care too much about.  Especially if she starts to fall for this guy she just met just a few hours before.  So getting behind these characters or caring for them is something we just couldn’t get into.

As we follow them as they try to get to through the infected area in Mexico and the southern part of the US, they run into more and more trouble.  Having to make their way in a more unscrupulous way, and a much more dangerous one as well, we get glimpses of these alien creatures that have been slowly spawning in the south.  Like something from a Lovecraft story, these giant octopus-like creatures are pretty impressive.  But again, nothing is really done with them, other to give the audience a little scare here or there.

Now, with all that being said, I do have to say that the film was extremely well shot and was very well produced.  The creature effects are impressive, even in the darker scenes where we are not suppose to see that much.  They gave us little glimpses here and there, which made those sequences pretty frightening.  And when the monsters do show up, most of those scenes are effective in bringing terror to the viewer.  Because we’re not really sure what these creatures are, or what they are there for, anything is up for grabs.

The other amazing thing is the look of the film and how it was made.  These two actors and a minimum of a crew were filming in different parts of these small countries, usually without permission, using the locals there for extras.  With just a basic outline of what was supposed to be shot, the director lead these two through different scenes, all the while knowing in his head what was going to be added later in post production.  With a budget reported at around $800,000, this should show Hollywood that you don’t need $50 million dollars to make a movie.  Just some talented people working on it. 

Which leads to another mark of talent.  While the creatures effects were done well (though we really could have used more), all the other little parts that make this film seem much more expensive, was all done with CGI.  Anytime we see a sign or banner about the infected zone was either a real sign with a new face put on it, or a completely CGI sign.  The high towering fences used to keep the creatures out, airplanes and helicopters, all of that were CGI.  So in that regards, I have to give Edwards some very high marks.

I would like to say that MONSTERS is worth watching, if only because of the creatures and how well the film was made.  But the problem is that it is simply just too boring.  It would definitely not be one that I would ever sit down to watch again.  Or if I did, I would have my finger on the fast forward button through most of the movie.  Which is a real shame, because I think with the right story, and some more monster action, this could have been a great film, and still get the drama and message that Edwards wanted to convey.


(2007)
Directed by Dario Argento
Starring Asia Argento, Cristian Solimeno, Adam James, Moran Atias, Valeria Cavalli
Philippe Leroy, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Udo Kier, Daria Nicolodi

This is the long awaited film that completes Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy that he started over 30 years ago with Suspiria, in 1977.  Three years later, he made the second film in the trilogy, Inferno (1980).  It seemed that he was never going to return to the series that fans had been waiting for.  But now the wait is over.  Could this film compare to its two predecessors?

The film starts with a coffin of an ancient alchemist is discovered, along with a special urn.  This is taken to a museum for closer inspection.  But once the urn had been opened, something happens, and the Third Mother is awakened.  And so starts the path of death and destruction.

We really had mixed feelings on this movie.  There are points to the film that are incredible.  And then there are some that are not.  We had gone into it expecting the worse.  And this was only because we really wanted this film to be good.  Since it was the end of an epic trilogy, we really wanted it to end on a high note.  So we figured it we go in with low expectations, we have a better chance of liking it.

Let’s start with the positive first.  The look of the film is incredible.  While he doesn’t use the glowing color scheme that was used for Suspiria, and to a degree in Inferno, the use of colors is still here, but with more of a grittier feel to them.  Imagery in the film was greatly influenced by famous works of art.  So the look of the film sometimes looks as if it was a century old painting.  So while we don’t have the glaring colors like we did in Suspiria, we still have a very dramatic and capturing scheme being used.  And because of this artistic influence, we have some really messed up scenes of torture, murder, and sexual perversions that really make a lasting impression on the viewer.

The camera wasn’t used in some over-the-top techniques that he had in the past, but was moving around enough to keep it visually interesting, as well as captivating.  It shows that Argento has not lost his touch, when it comes to his cinematography. 

One thing that we haven’t seen this much of in Argento’s work in recent years was the amount of gore.  This film is filled with the red and gooey stuff, some being pretty over the top.  The murder that happens early on in the film sets the mood for the rest of the film.  Plus, while there is the use of some CGI blood occasionally, for the most part the effects are top notched.  There are several scenes that will have viewers either cringing, or cheering.  Once again, these were handled by Italian effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti.

Another high point to the film is the soundtrack.  While wasn’t done by Goblin, we got the next closest thing, Claudio Simonetti, former member of the band.  He does a excellent job creating another memorable score.

Asia Argento returns to work with her father after almost 10 years.  Asia plays Sarah Mandy, an art restorer who works at the museum where the urn has been taken.  The last film we seen her together with her father was in the dreadful Phantom of the Opera.  Cult favorite Udo Kier has a small role, with a very memorable ending.  Also making a return to an Argento film after many years is Daria Nicolodi.  Being Asia’s mother and co-writer of the Suspiria and starring in a few of Argento’s movies, it was cool seeing her back working with him.

Of course, we can not go through this review without mentioning the lovely Coralina Cataldi Tassoni.  While she is only (way too) briefly in the movie, she makes one hell of a lasting impression to the viewer.  And to go through what she did here, shows not only her dedication to her craft, but also the unquestionable trust she has for her director.  As strange and twisted as this may sound, she has shown time and time again, that when Dario Argento is behind the camera, dying can be beautiful.

Okay, now to the lower points.  I think the biggest element that hurt the film was the script.  Some of the dialog was just terrible.  Maybe that could have been something to do with the translation since it was filmed in English.  Not sure.  But it just seemed like some of the lines being spoken were so simple and unrealistic.  It really distracted me from the film.  This was pretty much throughout the film, so it was a constant distraction at that.

The other major problem I had was the ending.  This is going to give the ending away, so if you haven’t seen it, skip to the next paragraph.  Ready?  Okay, this demon witch, centuries old, has her flimsy top ripped off and thrown into the fire, and it destroys her power?  WTF?  Sure sounded like an easy out come up at the last minute.  Sure, maybe there was something based on historical data.  But in the film, it was extremely anti-climatic.  And then to make the ending even worse, after escaping from the collapsing building, Sarah and the detective crawl out of the ground on an extremely obvious CGI backdrop, and start laughing.  Once again…..WTF?  And since this was the ending of the film, that is the last thing you’re thinking about afterwards.

So while the film obviously has some major flaws to it, putting them aside, the film is a great addition to the trilogy that Argento started over 30 years ago.  If you are a fan of his work, then you will enjoy this one.  As we said, it’s not a perfect film, but is highly effective in the gore department, the scare department, and as an Argento film.

The DVD release was put out by Dimension on their Extreme label.  The disc comes with a great Making-of Featurette, that talks to both Asia and Dario Argento, and other cast and crew members.  There are many behind the scene sequences shown, including a few with Argento’s hands doing the nasty dirty work.  Nice to see some things haven’t changed over the years.  There is also a shorter segment where Argento talks about the film and its history.  And lastly, a couple of trailers round out the disc.

So the bottom line is that if you are a serious Argento fan, you are going to have to watch this film no matter what.  Plain and simply, you have to complete the trilogy.  And if you are a big fan of all of his work, I don’t think you will be that disappointed.  As we said, it does have its flaws, but those are minor enough not to overshadow the higher points of the film.  


(1961)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Guy Rolfe, Ronald Lewis, Oscar Homolka, Audrey Dalton, Vladimir Sokoloff, Erika Peters.

The groundbreaking doctor, Sir Robert, receives a strange message from an old love, asking him to come to her home in a distant land for some dire help.  Once he arrives there, he meets the husband of his long lost love, the Baron Sardonicus.  Sardonicus had acquired his wife after paying off the gambling debt of her father.  But the strange part of Sardonicus is that his face is hidden behind a mask.  He tells his story of how he acquired his wealth, and the terrible secret he is hiding behind the mask.  He blackmails Sir Robert into curing his affliction or his wife will come to great harm.

This is a great traditional gothic horror story, and has always been my favorite of Castle’s films.  It is filled with great performances from the entire cast.  Guy Rolfe plays the title role with such style that even though you don’t see his face throughout most of the movie, only seeing the expressionless mask, his evil just seeps out of his character.  His voice is perfect for the role.

Another awesome performance is given from Oscar Homolka in the role of Krull, Sardonicus’ faithful assistant.  When he is questioned by Sir Robert about him being a doctor, Krull’s reply is "I'm a man of all work, Sir.  When my master says 'Krull, do this thing.'  I do the thing.  Whatever it may be."  The last time he questioned his master's wishes, he lost an eye.  A great character, played by a great actor.

William Castle came up with one of his best gimmicks for this film.  When you went to see the film, you were giving a “Punishment Poll”.  Near the end of the movie, Castle came on the screen and asks you to vote for the ending of the movie.  Did you want Sardonicus to suffer for his actions, or would you rather show him mercy?  Well, knowing that everybody would want him to suffer, there was only one ending ever made.  Once again, this was pure genius from Castle.

It was great to finally see this film get a release on DVD, especially since it was never released on video here in the states.  The movie is presented in widescreen format (1.85:1), and has been digitally re-mastered, both the audio and video.  The disc also comes with a documentary (approx. 7 minutes long) about Castle and the making of the film, which features comments by film historian David Del Valle, director Fred Olen Ray, and a few others.  The DVD also has the trailer.

I couldn't recommend this film enough.  It's a must for all Castle fans, but also fans of the gothic horror films of the 60's.  If you're not familiar with Castle's work, you couldn't pick a better title to start with.  This movie comes highly recommended.



(2006)
Directed by Robert Harari
Starring Steve Polites, Kati Sirk, Samuel Klein, Ariana Almajan, Vince Eustace, Max Hambleton, Christina Marchand, Julia Pickens

As many of you know, Kitley and I headed off to HorrorFind back in August to experience the sights, smells and tastes of the Baltimore suburbs.  While mixing with the fans and fanatics, we met up with local filmmakers Robert Harari and Jason Contino, the creative duo behind a new independent film, THE MURDER GAME, now being released on DVD through Warner Bros./Lightyear Video.  Having chatted with them via MySpace and knowing a little bit about the movie, I was curious to check it out.

The plot is nothing groundbreaking, a tried and true slasher recipe:  A gaggle of thrillseeking teens head off to a deserted locale to get away from it all and engage in their chosen activities without any outside interference.  The novelty in Harari and Contino’s screenplay is that this group likes to play what they have dubbed as “The Murder Game.” The rules are simple:  Each member draws a playing card and whomever comes up with the queen of spades is designated “The Killer” and must stalk the others to their mock deaths before they figure out who the bad ‘un is.  With every single one of their parents’ houses declared off limits to their “sick” game, one of them hits upon the idea of playing (after hours) in a local storage facility.   This, they argue, will also add an extra element of danger to the game, as they will be electronically locked in until 6am the next morning. 

Of course, this being a horror movie, things go horribly wrong and the participants soon being bumped off for real one by one, leading the audience down a familiar but enjoyable path of guessing who the killer is and taking bets as to who will be the last stragglers standing by daylight.  

Harari and Contino have assembled an attractive, well-scrubbed cast that would not seem out of place on the latest CW drama (right down to the fact that these are obviously twentysomethings playing at being teenagers).  Unfortunately, all of the characters are thoroughly unpleasant types, with not even a likeable Final Girl (or Guy) to root for.  Things simply get shriller and shriller as the minutes tick by and believe me, about a half hour in, I was definitely watching the clock.  Is it really that hard to create appealing and enjoyable characters?  Or were the writers not concerned about it, knowing that their audience would most likely be tuning in just to see them get bumped off?  Heads couldn’t roll fast enough as far as I was concerned – at least that would freaking shut them up.

To the film’s credit, the storage facility setting is well-utilized as anyone who has been inside one will attest to the aura of desolation and gloom within, along with the fact that one hallway of lockers looks decidedly like another, lending a labyrinthine quality.  The man-made landscape, with its tactile sounds of sneakers slapping on concrete and metal sliding doors squeaking open then clanging shut, provides a nice diversion from the clichéd lost-in-the-woods setting.  However, the lack of diversity is a detriment after a while, with the monochromatic visuals just as one-note as the performances.  When a character ventures into a stairwell late in the film, the change of scenery is startlingly welcome. 

This being a slasher flick, audience favor often rises or falls based on the gore content, and in the case of TMG, it is best to be patient.  Much of the sanguinary mayhem, at least early on, happens just out of frame or is merely indicated by blood trickling from victims’ mouths.  But, as we head into the final reel and discover the killer’s identity, viewers are treated to flashback sequences of great splash and splatter.  (The best of which is a “death by fire extinguisher” that is both amusing and shiver-inducing.) 

In the final analysis, this is a relatively enjoyable time-waster for genre fans that don’t mind being served the same old meal in a new dish.  The acting is not going to win any awards, but it rarely offends and while there’s a fair amount of padding and misdirection that could have been trimmed, there are several novel twists and turns with things taking a decided upswing in the final 25 minutes.  I could have stood for fewer snippets of generic pop-rock songs and more shots that lasted longer than five seconds, but that could just be personal taste.

For more information, including TMG’s numerous festival awards, go to www.murdergamemovie.com.

Review by Aaron “Dr. AC” Christensen


(2012)
Directed by Rufus Chaffee
Starring Isaac Simons, Marguerite Insolia, Mike Pfaff, Paul Blumenfeld, Christine Hunt, Vanessa Leigh, Alexandra Manea, Renee Miller

We normally don’t go out seeking low budget movies because honestly we are generally disappointed by them.  But after reading a review THE MUSE in a recent issue of HorrorHound magazine, it intrigued me to seek it out.  And I’m glad I did.  I will say that one of the great things about independent films is that they are making the films that they want to make, not one that is being changed or molded into what the studio or producer might want.  So it allows them to trying something…god forbid…DIFFERENT and ORIGINAL!  Blasphemy…I know.  I do think that is one of the main reasons to be seeking out films from outside of Hollywood.  The only problem is that most of them are trying to copy just what Hollywood is dishing out, without any of the originality.  So it is really a hit-or-miss chance you’re taking.  Fortunately, this time out, it was a hit.

Director Chaffee gives us a very simple tale, and a very common one that happens to so many people that you would think it would get more attention.  Since people are working so hard to get famous, either through music, movies, or whatever, they don’t seem to realize or care about the pressure of that industry.  That once they get their foot in the door, it is even harder to keep it there.  Your fame and fortune can leave you behind much quicker than you think, since the world is more than ready to follow the next big thing.  It is so easy to get left behind and having to go back to being a “9 to 5 nobody”. 

Isaac Simons plays our main character, Addison Taylor, a singer with a hit pop song that is having serious problems coming up with a follow up.  His agent, who is getting very nervous about the lack of music coming out of Taylor, sends him out to a lake house to see if he can find some inspiration there.  It doesn’t take Taylor long to realize that he might not be alone at the house.  And while that person might give him the push that he needs, what will be the cost?  Simons, who is an accomplished musician, supplies all the singing and songs in the film, which helps him fit into the role of Taylor like an old shoe.  Since he really is a singer/song writer, he doesn’t have to reach far to get into character, and is probably well aware of that chase of fame and fortune.

We know right away that there is a presence at the house.  Or do we?  Is it really a presence or just something that Taylor sees?  As Taylor’s creative juices start to flow, the more he starts to lose his grasp on reality.  It seems obvious to the viewer, but you just never know.  I think there could be a couple of different interpretations here.  But no matter which way you take it, seeing this stressed artist struggle to keep the momentum of his career going, we see a glimpse of what someone could be going through.

I know I must be getting old when I start complaining about a gratuitous T&A shot.  But here goes.  Years ago this wouldn’t happen since I would have been cheering.  But nowadays I am more interested in a good story.  So when you have a pretty decent story going, and then some nudity pops up for no reason other than to appease a certain market (and it is REALLY obvious), it kind of bums me out.  Trust me, I’m not against nudity.  I’m all for it.  And I know that is what is needed to sell it to the movie distributors these days, but it just a sad fact that a boob shot is going to mean more to the guy thinking of picking up the distribution rights than an actual story.  I remember about halfway through watching THE MUSE being surprised that there was no nudity so far, even though there were ample places for it.  I silently gave the filmmakers kudos for not going that easy route.  But then, sure enough, we have one quick moment of sex where we get to see one boob flapping about.  So yeah, I get it, guys.  Just wish that it didn’t have to be that way, especially when you have a decent story going on here.

One element that I really liked here was the guitar that Taylor finds at the house.  It has some strange markings on it at first, almost like some had taken a magic marker to it.  But before long, those markings start to change slightly, to the point where you start to see a face.  The more his muse comes to life, the more apparent the face is.  Nice touch.

Marguerite Insolia plays the title character and even though she doesn’t appear that much in the film, she does leave a strange impression with the viewer, with the undying need that she craves from whoever she can trap in her arms.  Renee Miller plays the somewhat nosey neighbor who sort of barges into Taylor’s life, but realizes too late what it is going to cost her.  Miller does a wonderful job playing this role and is a very likeable character.  Mike Pfaff, who is also one of the producers, plays Taylor’s best friend, seems more interested in helping him party and spend his money than being a real fried.  Have to say…really did not like his character and was happy to see what happened to him.

Rufus Chaffee wrote, directed, and co-produced THE MUSE and is definitely that I would keep an eye out for.  Great to see a nice character driven piece that has a good story that keeps you interested throughout the film.


LOS SIN NOMBRE (aka THE NAMELESS(1999)
Directed by Jaume Balaguero
Starring Jessica Del Pozo, Karra Elejalde, Tristan Ulloa, Emma Vilarasau

This film is based on the novel by Ramsey Campbell.  Back in my fiction reading days, I was never that big of a fan of Campbell’s work, but after reading about the film, and seeing the trailer, I was interested in seeing it.

The film is very dark and very atmospheric, with a lot of inspirations from David Fincher’s SEVEN and even some from JACOB’S LADDER.  Even though it is a color film, there are several sequences where due to the lighting, it’s in black and white, which gives it a great feel to it.  But not only does the film look very dark, the subject matter is very dark as well.

The film opens with the body of a five-year-old girl being found by the police.  They believe it is the body of a young girl that was kidnapped recently.  The body has been tortured, burn, with all types of identification being removed or destroyed.  The parents are called in to identify the body.  And all this in the first five minutes of the film.  So if that alone is pretty unsettling for you, you might want to avoid it, since it really doesn’t let up.  After several years go back, the parents have separated.  The mother is still feeling the pain of the loss, when she gets a phone call…from her daughter.

The story moves in such a way that it is crossing between a crime thriller and then possibly might have some sort of supernatural element to it.  You hear about experiments that were being conducted by the Nazis and that some people were continuing that work, trying to reach a new level of consciousness through the practice of evil.  So you’re never quite sure what to expect, which does keep you on your toes.

But the film is done really well, and the acting is also very good.  If you were looking for a way to really bring down a sunny day, this would be the film.  If you can deal with the dark subject matter, it’s worth watching for the style alone.  Being a parent, it hits a little bit more closer to home.


NECROMANCY
(aka THE WITCHING)
(1972)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon.
Starring Orson Welles, Pamela Franklin, Lee Purcell, Michael Ontkean, Harvey Jason, Lisa James, Sue Bernard.

Pamela Franklin and her husband move to the small town of Lilith, which is basically run by Orson Welles, the owner of a local toy factory.  She realizes that something is strange right from the beginning.  She soon discovers that the whole town is a coven of witches, led by Welles, who needs her help to bring his son back from the dead.

Made in 1972, the film has a lot of scenes with Franklin walking around with a new wave-ish soundtrack pounding away, that really never seem to go anywhere.  Welles is entertaining as the coven’s leader and does seem like he’s really enjoying himself, especially when there’s a bunch of naked women wandering around him.  It does have quite a bit of nudity, and some pretty interesting black masses and the likes, but besides Welles that would be the only recommendation for the movie.

It just seems to fall flat of any real eeriness or anything really scary.  While it’s still a hell of a lot more entertaining than something like THE VIRGIN WITCH, it’s still hardly worth the effort, which is a shame with the some of the cast involved.


NIGHT CHILD
(1972)
Directed by Massimo Dallamano
Starring Richard Johnson, Joanna Cassidy

After working as a cinematographer for many years, including working a couple of westerns like A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Massimo Dallamano moved onto directing.  He directed such films as DORIAN GRAY starring Helmut Berger, and WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO SOLANGE?, before moving on to this film.

I had come across the poster for this movie years ago.  I had never heard of the film, but it had Richard Johnson in it, so I added it to my collection.  Recently, while at a video store closing, I came across the pre-record of this film.  Once again, it has Richard Johnson in it.  It’s got to be good.

Richard Johnson is making a documentary on famous works of art, that all have a connection to demons and devils.  He travels to Rome to do some more research and start filming.  One painting in particular that he’s interested in, apparently has some sort of a haunted past.

Along on his journey are his young daughter and her nanny.  Her mother had died in a fire some time ago, which is still causing emotional problems with her.  The nanny is secretly in love with her employer, but is afraid to act on these feelings.

Nicoletta Elmi plays the daughter.  Fans of Italian horror films will definitely recognize her face, if not her name.  She is the freckled red-headed girl that has appeared in such classics like BARON BLOOD, FLESH FOR FRAKENSTEIN, DEEP RED, and making her last appearance in Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS.

But unfortunately, Johnson and Elmi could not save this movie.  It is simply awful.  Nothing happens, other than Elmi wandering around the countryside with this hip 70’s music playing.  The mystery behind the girl and the painting is not even that scary or even interesting for that matter.  Very disappointing.  The only highlight of the film, and this being only that the rest of the film is so bad, is when a women falls from a cliff and you get this incredibly terrible background projection when she’s falling.  It was enough to get a chuckle out of me.  But that was the only entertaining part of the movie.


(2005)
Directed by Dylan Bank
Starring Jason Scott Campbell, Nicole Roderick, Jennifer Carta, Amin Joseph, Sean Matic, Lars Stevens

This film had a great set up for a movie.  After a couple of film students hook up at a party and have a wild night of sex, they wake up to find a video camera set up at the end of their bed.  But what is on the tape is not anything close to what they remember.  In fact, they don’t remember any of it.  The footage shows two people that look like them, attacking and killing three people in the very room that they slept in.  How’s that for a mind-fuck?  That really is the basis for the entire film.

The guy is a film student director and decides to use this bizarre event as the basis of his latest project.  The problem arises when he keeps waking up with new tapes, and still not remembering doing anything that is on the tape.  Paranoia starts to set in.

With such a great idea for a story, about half way through I was really puzzled on how this was going to end.  At that point, it started to flash through so many different sequences of reality and/or delusions that you really don’t know what is real or not.  Enough so that it started to get tiresome.  When we do get the ending, for a brief moment, I thought it was a great idea.  But then it just seemed to go too far in to almost like a reality TV and then lost me completely.  I think it had so much potential up until that point.  I guess I still really liked the idea of what happens at the end, but I just didn’t care for how it was played out.

Most of the acting is pretty strong, especially the two leads, Jason Scott Campbell and Nicole Roderick (who is just stunning).  Campbell came across as one of these manic auteur, who sets himself much higher than everyone else.  The film professor, oddly enough, seemed a little too fake.  But everyone else did a good job.  Especially with the amount of nudity throughout the film.  Be warned for any younger viewers out there, this film contains plenty of full frontal nudity.  The film does have a little bit of blood, but the real horror from the story is aimed at the mind, not the eyes.

For his first movie, Bank did a good job coming up with something a fresh idea to a very old and tired story.  Unfortunately, in the end, that fresh outlook just couldn’t find it’s way through to the very end of the film.  I would still recommend this film.  As I said, my only problem with the film was the very ending, and not all viewers are going to agree with me.  So I would definitely chance a chance on it and see what you think.  It is a film that will make you think, that is for sure.  And the bottom line is that any movie that can make you do that can’t be a bad film.


(1965)
Directed by Mario Caiano
Starring Barbara Steele, Paul Muller, Helga Liné, Laurence Clift, Giuseppe Addobbati, Rik Battaglia

In 1960, Barbara Steele starred in a film that was to set her on her path for being a horror icon.  That film of course was Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.  From then on, she starred in many gothic horror films in Italy and other parts of the world.  When she was to star in Mario Caiano’s first entry in this sub-genre, she was no stranger.  Caiano’s work consisted mainly in the westerns and peplum films.  So it’s pretty surprising that he and co-writer Fabio De Agostini came up with such a great tale, with plenty of strange angles.

Paul Muller plays Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith who lives in a large castle with his wife Muriel, who seems pretty bored with her husband most of the time.  So when he leaves on one of his many medical trips, it doesn’t take her long to hook up with one of the servants.  But this time, the good doctor is on to them and catches them in the garden.  The good doctor is more than just a jealous husband.  He goes to great length to torture his adulterous wife and lover.  He’s not satisfied with just killing them, but goes to even greater lengths to prove his hatred for her.  But we don’t want to go any further without giving away details.

When he soon finds out that his wife’s money and estate will now go to her sister, who is spending time in a mental facility, he sets his plan to marry her to make sure he gets all the money.  With the help of his assistant, played by the beautiful Helga Liné, who somehow has gotten much younger, he puts his plan in action.

Steele plays the cheating Muriel as well as the sister Jenny, identical except she has blonde hair instead of black.  There is a reason that Steele made a lot of these types of films.  She excelled in them.  Whether she’s playing the spiteful Muriel or the confused Jenny, her performance is one to be remembered, as much as her looks..

One of the best things about this film is the incredible score from Ennio Morricone.  From the use of a simple piano to the thundering sound of the pipe organ, the score is haunting, elegant, and downright chilling.  Morricone would go on to score many famous movies, both in and out of the horror genre.  And each time, he would help the movie make even more of an impact.

Severin Films has released this movie on DVD in a restored, remastered, uncut version that looks incredible.  The disc comes with a very entertaining interview with Barbara Steele, who has had a reputation of not being too fond of being known for her work in the horror genre.  But you’d never know it from this interview.  She speaks very highly of her time in Italy and making these pictures.  There is also an interview with director Caiano, which is also very good.

So the bottom line is that if you are a fan of those classy black and white gothic pictures, like Bava’s Black Sunday, then you do need to add this title to your collection.  It is a great film to help set the mood for one of those dark and stormy nights.


(2006)
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring Ryuhei Matsuda, Hitomi, Masanobu Ando, Ren Osugi, Yoshio Harada, Shinya Tsukamoto

Director Tsukamoto takes the basic theme from the 1984 film DREAMSCAPE, but then puts his stylistic spin on it, while incorporating a pretty decent mystery.  A young man has the ability to enter people’s nightmares to help them figure out the cause of their nightmares.  But the toll it takes on him is too much, along with the constant onslaught of the thoughts of the people around him.  He just wants to end.

At the same time, the police are investigating what appears to be the suicide of a young woman, who apparently killed herself while on the phone.  And then they find another victim of very similar circumstances, but this time with a witness.  But we as the viewer have seen that these people are being killed in their dreams by some unseen attacker.  A female police detective, new to the department, tries to get the help of this young psychic to discover who or what is causing these people to kill themselves.

Tsukamoto is still best known for his first film TETSUO, which is filled with hyper-kinetic camera moves.  This film does have some of those elements here, but they are only kept during some of the attack sequences.  That helps, since that style can get old and tiresome pretty quick.  But here it is used just to give the effect of the attacking force  and even gives some creepiness to it  This is due to the use of the jerky camera, we’re not really sure what we are seeing, only glimpses of something bizarre and scary looking.

He also makes some great usage of color in the film, or more importantly, the lack of color.  In some of the dream sequences, most of the color is bled out, making it appear almost in black and white.  But yet the color of some items stand out more than others, especially red blood.

On a slight serious note, the other scary element to this film that may not sink into the American viewers is Japan’s problem with suicides.  Over the last 10 years, Japan has had an average annual suicide rate of 30,000 people.  That is twice the numbers of the United States.  Due to the stress of the economy there, a lot of people feel that is their only way out.  And that can be pretty scary in its own right.  The characters in this movie are fighting their own inner demons.  Whether it be the desire to just end it all, or perhaps some tragic moment from their childhood that is haunting them, these demons can tear you apart.

With all the Japanese horror that has been flooding the market since the original RINGU came out back in the late 90’s, and with all the lame American remakes as well, it was nice to see something a little different.  Here you have a combination of some the usual Japanese ghost/mystery/revenge story, but thrown into the Tsukamoto blender, coming out with something that tastes similar, but yet different and refreshing.

The film stars Japanese pop star Hitomi as the troubled detective, out to prove that she can handle the job.  For her first time role, she does a good job.  She has the look of this detective with a dark past down pretty good.  Especially since she is a huge pop star and one wouldn’t imagine that she could ever have thoughts of suicide.  As usual for his films, director Tsukamoto plays one of the main characters as well.

Released by Dimension Films under their Extreme label, the disc at least comes with a nice and long featurette on the making of the film.  The featurette is almost an hour long and was made during the filming process, letting us see how Tsukamoto works with the camera, and the other actors.  Most of the major cast are also interviewed.  The movie and the featurette all are subtitled.


(1967)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Christopher Lee, Patrick Wayne, Peter Cushing, Jane Merrow, Sarah Lawson,

I had seen this one a long time ago, under the title ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED, which I actually a lot better…more exploitive sounding, isn’t it?  Anyway, I don’t believe this was ever released here in the states on videotape, let alone on DVD.  So when it was released in the UK, with extras(!), I added it to my ever-growing DVD list.

Made in 1967, this features a few Hammer regulars.  Terrence Fisher was behind the camera with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in front of it.  While some would call it more sci-fi, I say that if you have alien monsters running (or crawling as the case may be)  about killing people, that sure sounds like horror to me!

This film is also a kind of change of pace than the normal Cushing / Lee films.  Here, Cushing is really a supporting role as the local doctor.  The main characters are Patrick Wayne, who runs a pub / boarding house on the island, and Lee as a mysterious tenant of his.  Lee almost starts out as another villainous role, but we find out later it’s quite different.  Although, he is playing his usual uptight authority figure that he does quite well.

Set on a small English island, where the temperature seems to increasing to the 80's and 90's, even though it's February.  As the locals try and figure out what the cause is, as well as what the sneaky Hanson (Lee) is doing, there are mysterious deaths happening about.  The bodies are found burnt to a crisp.  While several people are attacked by the invading aliens, we never seem them until the end.  If you're a fan of the old Dr. Who series, then you'll enjoy these creatures, since they look like they were extras at one point.

I think that's the biggest problem with this film: the creatures.  Since they are not shown until the very end, when we do see them, they are a little less than frightening.  ISLAND OF TERROR, made a year earlier and is pretty much as the same basic story, was a lot more effective as a monster movie.

But Fisher does do pretty good job building suspense, where the audience is finding out what's going on the same time the characters are.  The cast also holds up really well, making this film a lot better than it really is.  Especially when you get to see the lovely Jane Merrow in a bikini.  It's a shame that they couldn't come up with something a little bit more frightening for the creature than a big glowing rock.

This was released in the UK in a PAL, region 2 DVD that has audio commentary by Christopher Lee, screenwriters Pip & Jane Baker, and film historian Marcus Hearn.  The commentary was very interesting since most of it is reminiscing about the film, the people involved both in front of and behind the camera.  Granted, Lee does  have to give his obligatory speeches on how he hasn't made a horror film since the 70's, and that he is not typecasts as a horror actor.  But other than that, I found the commentary very interesting, giving a insight to British filmmaking in the middle 60's.

The disc also comes with some Hammer trailers, such as THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, CAPTAIN KRONOS, and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL.  There is also a photo gallery, and a very nice 24-page booklet that is filled with information about the making of the film, the book it was based on, and much more.


(2009)
Directed by Adam Gierasch
Starring Shannon Elizabeth, Edward Furlong, Monica Keena, Bobbi Sue Luther, John F. Beach, Michael Copon, Tiffany Shepis, Diora Baird

Not being a huge fan of the original film, I was hoping to get a little more entertainment out of this latest Hollywood remake.  And I guess maybe since my expectations were so low, this remake turned out to be okay.  Not great, mind you.  But okay.

The plot is pretty much the same as the original, but does have a little different angle.  Angela, played by Shannon Elizabeth, is throwing a big party at an old house that has a murderous past that is told in a well done opening prolog.  This is the anniversary of the strange death of the previous owner, who killed herself after several people turned up missing from a séance that she was holding.

But Angela’s party is a much bigger, until the police bust it up and send everyone home, everyone except our main cast.  Since the main gate is lock, they can’t seem to find a way out.  I’m guessing the gate is too high to climb???  None the less, they all end up in the basement; mainly since Furlong’s character can find the drugs he ditched earlier, and stumbles across several skeletal corpses lying in a big circle in a hidden room.  When Angela seems to get bit by one of the skeletons, she slowly starts to change.

Scripted and directed by Adam Gierasch, who was one of the screenwriters on Argento’s MOTHER OF TEARS, he does a pretty decent job using the basis of the original, using some key elements or scenes, but also taking the story to a different place and not a straight up remake.  Granted, there is not a lot going on here story wise, since the main part of the movie is the non-demon-affected people trying to stay away from the demon-affected people.

There’s plenty of bizarre demon makeup being used here.  Some of them are pretty interesting, while others are a big too much, at least for me.  Come on….tentacles shooting out of the girl’s nipples?  But besides that, the makeup effects are handled pretty well.

Furlong is playing a burnt out drug dealer and pretty much looks the part.  Wonder why?  But he is better here than I would have expected.  Monica Keena plays our main protagonist and she is a real beauty.  We first came across her in the low budget LEFT IN DARKNESS, and really enjoy her work, as well as watching her work!  The rest of the cast is good, but nothing spectacular.  Look for a quick cameo from original NIGHT OF THE DEMONS star Linnea Quigley passing out candy to kids, wearing what looks to be the same costume she was wearing in the original movie.  Of course, when she turns around bends over to get more candy, that was probably one of the scariest parts of the movie.  Tiffany Shepis also has a fun, but too short, of a role here.

I do have to give credit to the music that was used for the movie; using songs from punk and goth bands really did fit the movie and played well.

If you are one of those that really doesn’t care for Hollywood remakes, you might be a little surprised with this one, to find out that it is not as bad as what we’ve normally been getting.  Granted, it’s not going to blow you away, but there are much worse out there.  How’s that for a glowing review?


(1968)
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, Keith Wayne, Russ Streiner, Bill Hinzman

There are a lot of movies that are called or considered “classics”.  These days, that term is probably used on some films that might not exactly deserve it.  I know I’m probably guilty myself of doing this with some films.  But one film that would get this moniker without any argument or ever discussion would be George A. Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.

We all know the story of this low budget film made by some small company in Pittsburgh that mainly did local commercial work.  If you don’t know the story, then you need to do your homework.  One way to do that would be to pick up the newly released 40th Anniversary Edition DVD, put out by Dimension.  This film is one that is a ‘must-have’ for horror fans to have in their collection.  It can be watched over and over again, and never loses the impact, the entertainment, or enjoyment.  That is what makes a great film.  One that can still do these things, 40 years later.  Not a lot of films being made today will be able to hold that test of time.

One of the beauties of Romero’s film is that he’s not really concerned on how exactly this zombie epidemic started.  We’re given a few hints or ideas on some of the possible causes, but Romero never comes right out and tells us.  Could that be that it really doesn’t matter?  Could it be the real story is the interactions between the different characters?

Siblings Barbara and Johnny are visiting the cemetery to pay respect for a lost relative (at least Barbara is), when they are attacked by a man staggering through the cemetery.  It doesn’t take long for us to find out that not only is he one of the living dead, but there are more of them.  Many more.  We also discover that they are also hungry.  Making her way to a farmhouse, the rest of the film stays in this location, introduction several other characters that end up at the house.

The rest of the movie really deals with how we as humans interact with each other during a crisis.  That during a traumatic situation like this, would we really be fighting amongst ourselves instead of banding together for a common cause?  Romero really doesn’t give us that glimmer of hope of humanity.  And 40 years later, and 4 other Dead films, he still hasn’t.

You had never bothered or gotten around picking up a copy of this movie, then now is your chance.  Dimension Home Entertainment has recently released a 40th Anniversary edition of the film that is a must have for fans.  It has two different audio commentaries that were I believe from the Elite laserdisc.  Between the two commentaries, we hear from Romero, John Russo, Russ Streiner, Marilyn Eastman, Bill Hinzman, Karl Hardman, Krya Schon, Keith Wayne, and Judith O’Dea.  And we get tons of entertainment and information about the making of the film.

There is also a new feature length documentary called One For The Fire.  When I first sat down to watch this, I figured it would be the same old stories from the same people involved.  So I was really surprised to see people that had worked on the film that I had never seen before talking about the movie.  And the people that I had seen before, like Romero, Russo, and the rest, were telling stories and remarks that I either hadn’t heard before or had forgotten.  So if you own a previous edition of this movie, I’d be the last guy to tell you to double dip, but you might want to check it out for the documentary.

There is also an interview with Romero that was done at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto, Canada on August 26th, 2007, where he talks about his earlier films such as Night, The Crazies, and Dawn of the Dead.  There is also the last interview (audio only) with the late actor Duane Jones.

So the bottom line is that if you don’t have this film on DVD, now is your chance.  Go out and buy it.  If you already own it, depending on what version you have, you might want to think about upgrading it.

And one last thing.  Always remember.....Cooper was right.



(1981)
aka THE CRAVING, THE RETURN OF THE WOLFMAN
Directed by Paul Naschy
Starring Paul Naschy, Julia Saly, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernández, Beatriz Elorrieta, Rafael Hernández
Pepe Ruiz, Ricardo Palacios, Narciso Ibáñez Menta, Pilar Alcón

The very first Paul Naschy werewolf movie I saw was NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST (1975), which remained my favorite of his Daninsky films.  Until now.  I was in a mood for some carnivorous lunar activities over one weekend and decided that I needed to watch one of Naschy’s werewolf films.  So I had picked FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1972) since it had been a while since I’d seen it.  Of course, as much as I love Naschy’s work, it’s not one of his better films, rumored to be due to the director.  So my craving just wasn’t satisfied with that one, so I grabbed another one: NIGHT OF THE WERWOLF, appropriately also known as THE CRAVING.

I had seen this movie under the American released title THE CRAVING years ago, and also watched the incredible looking DVD release from Demios Entertainment under the title NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF title when it first was released.  But while watching this recently, it must have been one of those "just at the right time" thing because the film just blew me away this time, and is now my favorite of his many Daninsky films.

The original title was EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE-LOBO (THE RETURN OF THE WOLFMAN), but was called THE CRAVING when it hit theaters here in the states as well as when Vestron released it on video.  So it was one that was pretty available to horror fans, though the version that we were watching might not have been the best presentation.

Back in 1971, Naschy wrote and starred in LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (aka WEREWOLF SHADOW, BLOOD MOON, and WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMEN).  It was directed by Leon Klimovsky and tells the story of some young women who are searching for the tomb of Countess Wandessa, thought to be a murderous vampire from medieval times.  During their search, they come across Waldemar Daninsky, who says he can help them.  But one of the women accidentally revives the Countess, who starts her plan of world domination.  But she didn’t count on the fact that Daninsky is a werewolf!  The film was a great success and a very entertaining film.  But Naschy wasn’t completely satisfied with the finished product.  So it was ten years later when he wrote EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE-LOBO, which though not technically a remake, it has a very similar theme and plot, but directed it himself this time.

The film is about three young female students who are searching for the tomb of the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory.  She had been accused of witchcraft, vampirism, cannibalism, and sorcery, and was sentenced to death for her crimes.  Also accused and sentenced were her many accomplices, including Waldemar Daninsky, who was said to turn into a wolf during the full moon.  He was a helpless pawn and was under the control of the Countess.  Back to modern day, one of the students, Erikia, has her own reasons behind searching for Bathory’s tomb.  She plans to awaken the dead countess for her own personal needs.

On their way to the castle ruins, the girls are attacked by some local thugs.  But they are saved by the crossbow of a mysterious stranger.  This turns out to be Daninsky, who had been unknowingly revived by a couple of grave robbing thieves.  He tries to warn them to stay away from the ruins, but Erika will have nothing of it, determined to continue her evil plans.

There are many reasons to watch this film.  The first being it’s a Paul Naschy film!  DUH!  But not just that, it’s also one of his best made and best looking of his films.  If you are a fan of Hammer Films and their gothic look and feel to them, then you will love this one, since it follows those same themes to a T.  You have some beautiful women, most of which are turned into vampires.  You have a resurrected zombie guard that almost looks like an extra from a Blind Dead.  All of this, set around a beautifully decrepit old castle ruins.

This is one of the things that made me fall in love with Spanish horror films:  The locations.  Shooting these films in these ruin castles, the mountainous landscapes, the fog enshrouded forests, all fill this viewer with such nostalgia and makes me feel like a little kid again.

And of course, you have Naschy’s werewolf.  The makeup and look of the werewolf here is one of the finest jobs you could see.  And as always, Naschy’s performance of the hairy beastie is top of the line.  Playing with such energy and enthusiasm, he shows why a werewolf is not one to mess with.  Brutal and savage, this is one creature that cannot be bargained or reasoned with.  He will simply tear you apart.

Julia Saly stars as the evil Countess, and had worked with Naschy on many movies like INQUISITION (1976), THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976), HUMAN BEASTS (1980), PANIC BEATS (1983), BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD (1983), OPERATION MANTIS (1984), ULTIMATE KAMIKAZE (1984) and MY FRIEND THE VAGABOND (1984).  She also appeared in Amando de Ossorio’s DEMON WITCH CHILD (1975) and his fourth Blind Dead film NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS (1975).

If you still haven’t experience any of Naschy’s work, or especially any of his werewolf films, then this is a great one to start with.  It was released on DVD here in the states under the title NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF and was also even released as a double feature DVD with Naschy’s VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES.  You really can’t go wrong with this one, folks.  Trust me.


(2009)
Directed by M. Brian King
Starring Danny Glover, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Matthias Schweighoeffer, Geoff Bell, Richard O’Brien.

The basic story here is simple and is a familiar theme that we’ve seen in some variation many times before.  A few people on a train discover a package on a dead man that holds a treasure so great, that they will do anything to have it for themselves.  Danny Glover plays the old train conductor who tries to be the rational one here.  But with the influences coming from medical student Sobieski and drunken salesman Zahn, he’s not thinking too straight.  And the treasure of the box doesn’t help either.

While the basic story might not be something that we haven’t seen before, it’s the performances by Glover, Sobieski, and Zahn that really help the movie.  Of course, anything with Sobieski in it, especially when she’s holding a meat cleaver, is going to get my attention right away.  But that’s just me.  Zahn, who’s usually known for his comedic roles, does a good job playing the rundown salesman.  While there’s a little humor to his performance, its all based in reality of his character and makes him more real.  Of course there’s Richard O’Brien, who we almost didn't recognize at first, that is quite a bit of fun.

As the story progresses, we learn just a little more about this strange little wooden box.  The more we learn, the more we’re not sure if any of these three are characters that we can trust.  Then that goes out with any of the characters that we meet.  Plus, with the promise of this great treasure, it can bring out the darkest in anybody.

That is really the highlight of this film is its character study of these simple people that have been thrown into this story by chance.  Each character has their own history and own dreams.  When the opportunity arises where they think those dreams could come true, that is when people can change.  Some more so than others.  And some down to the core of their being.

The film is played out like an old mystery film, where you have a group of people in one setting, somewhat trapped there.  So when things start to happen, you know it’s only a selective choice of characters, but it still gives you that mystery.  You could almost see this done as a stage play.  The mystery of the box is never really explained, which is fine since that isn't the point of the story.  Its how the characters around it where the story lies.

When the opening credits are rolling by (which are done quite well and with a lot of style), and you see quite a lot of producer credits (12 total, when you count co-producers and executive producers), that’s usually not a good sign.  Same goes when you have that many writers.  It just means that the films have a chance to have too many fingers in the pot, which can make a film seem disjointed or doesn’t give it a nice flow.  So I was very surprised to find that not the case for this film.  This looks like a small budgeted film that just kept getting bigger and bigger.  Sure, it’s still a low budget film, but other than the oh-so obviously CGI train sequences, they do a great job putting that low-budget look and feel behind them.

The behind-the-scenes features on the DVD show the dedication and work that was put in on this small feature.  I think this is where the extra producers must have come in handy.  Building and creating these train cars was an incredible job that was extremely well done.  It gives the actors a chance to perform and give their best.

While gorehounds won’t get a lot here, there is a good amount of blood and gore to at least get a smile.  And the effects, done by Elvis Jones and Jason Collins, are done well enough to add to the actors’ portrayal.

Overall, we did enjoy the film.  It’s not one that we would revisit over and over again, but the story and the actors give it enough shine to make it worth watching.  It won’t change your political views, but it won’t make you think you just wasted 90 minutes of your life. 


(2004)
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Starring Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Valeri Zolotukhin, Mariya Poroshina, Galina Tyunina, Yuri Ketsenko, Aleksei Chadov, Zhanna Friske, Ilya Lagutenko, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Dmitry Martynov

Some of the reviews that I have read about this movie compares it to THE MATRIX and/or UNDERWORLD.  And they are right to some degree.  But to think that the movie being about vampires, demons, and shapeshifters doing battle, isn't what you'd expect.  Nothing like UNDERWORLD.  And while there are similarities to THE MATRIX, I feel that there's so much more going on here.

Some reviews have complained that there was just too much 'eye candy', with all the slow motion and other camera tricks.  I do agree that there was a lot of this, but I wouldn't consider that a negative.  First of all, it shows that this director has some cinematic style, something the horror genre is greatly lacking in this department these days.  And while he does use a lot of slow motion shots, I think the difference is that here the slow motion shots are not used just so the character can pose with their guns for the camera as if saying, "Damn, am I cool!", as THE MATRIX does quite a bit.

The film does introduce a lot of different characters right away and it does take a little bit to figure out who's on who's side.  But once you realize that there are vampires and shape-shifters on the good side, or Night Watch, it makes it a little easier to understand.  I think that is what through me in the beginning, automatically thinking that the man vampire character was on the bad side.  Plus, there were a couple of characters that I wasn't sure just what they were suppose to be doing.

At least the main plot of the film is simple.  Centuries ago, the forces of good and evil met in a great battle.  But each of the leaders realized that it was an equal match and that no one would win.  So they called a truce until one day, a boy would be born that would sway the power to whatever side he joined.  So each side formed a team to watch over the other...a Day Watch, and a Night Watch.

The characters range from vampires, to shape-shifting tigers and owls.  Their talents and powers are not overused throughout the movie, so it doesn't turn into a super hero movie or something more along the lines of MATRIX or UNDERWORLD.  I think that is the main thing that sets it apart from those two.

Plus, another part of the film that I liked was the whole mythology that they created.  There is something called 'the gloom' which seems to hide these creatures from the real world, or shows their true nature.  As we said, these aren't your normal monsters from countless other movies.  So don't expect your traditional lore and legends.  This is something very new, and it's great to see something original come out for once.

Not to set this up as the greatest film ever, but it has been a long time since I've been this impressed with a film.  With all the awesome camera work, the characters and their little 'talents', and very interesting storyline, this is a film that I could sit down and watch again and still be entertained.  And since this is the first film in a trilogy, this segment has more of a chapter ending, rather than a regular ending.  But that just leaves us wanting more.


(1969)
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Uta Levka, Sally Geeson, Alister Williamson, Peter Arne, Hilary Heath, Maxwell Shaw, Carl Rigg.

Made in 1969, this was supposed to be the next film for Michael Reeves to do after WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but he declined due to a supposed illness.  A few months later, he was found dead of an apparent suicide.  That was a real shame and a great loss to the horror genre.  At such a young age, and showing great talent for filmmaking, one can only imagine what else he could have shown us.

But…back to the film at hand.  This movie could have been pretty enjoyable…if only maybe it had a major rewrite.  Or maybe it had too many to begin with, and that was the problem.  It seems that there is really too much going, like they came up with a subplot just to get Lee’s character involved in the story.  But instead of keeping your attention, you keep trying to figure out just where this movie was going, or if it was going anywhere.

The main plot of the movie is about Vincent Price’s character and his brother Edward after their returned from Africa.  The film starts off with some sort of voodoo ritual, with Price breaking into the ritual but not before his brother is tortured.  But now his brother is now kept hidden, locked in the upstairs room, away from society.  The tortured and mutilated brother final escapes and plans his revenge against the people who wronged him, including his brother.  His face is kept hidden by a crimson red mask, as he seeks out his vengeance.

Price talks of being cursed, and having to pay for their sins.  We finally find out at the end of the film what really happened in Africa.  That is the real plot of the movie.  Everything else, like Lee’s character, is just filler.  And unfortunately, that’s just what it seems like.

Price is good as always, but just seems that there could have been so much more for him.  Lee is completely wasted as a doctor, somewhat modeled after the famous Dr. Knox, who is buying bodies for study from a couple of shady characters.  The film should have either eliminated Lee’s character altogether or done something a little different.  Rupert Davies has a small role as an artist friend of Price's.

Another highlight of the film is the artwork during the opening credits.  I’m not really sure who did the paintings, but they look like something from the NIGHT GALLERY TV series, and definitely give off that feeling of Edgar Allan Poe…though these paintings are probably the closest thing to Poe in this movie…

The music was composed and conducted by a couple of familiar names if you are a fan of Hammer films.  It was composed by Harry Robinson, who was responsible for the scores for films like DEMONS OF THE MIND, TWINS OF EVIL, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, COUNTESS DRACULA, VAMPIRE LOVERS, as well as other British horror films like FRIGHT and LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF.  Robinson’s score was conducted by Philip Martel, another well-known name in the horror genre for his skills as the music supervisor on tons of great British films.

Released by MGM on a double bill DVD with SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN for a mere $10-15 (depending if you have a Best Buy near you), and for that price, you really can’t go wrong with buying it.  It isn’t one that I would be breaking out every now and then.  But with Price and Lee in both titles (along with Cushing briefly in SCREAM), it wouldn’t be a bad addition to any horror collection.


THE OMEN
(1976)
Directed by Richard Donnor
Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Harvey Stephens, Martin Benson

THE OMEN is one of those films that truly is a “classic” in every aspect of the word.  Every part of this film is done incredibly well.  There is great acting.  The storyline is excellent.  There are some truly frightening moments in the film.  The whole element of “what if Thorn was crazy and his son wasn’t really the Anti-Christ” is great.  And the downbeat ending probably wouldn’t happen today.  In fact, I’d doubt that this movie would never of gotten made today.  If it did, there’s no way they would let Satan win at the end of the film.

The music adds so much to the feel and atmosphere of the film.  This is a great example of what a great score can do to a film.  No wonder it won composer Jerry Goldsmith an Oscar for the score.

It’s often been said that with Gregory Peck in the lead role, it brought seriousness to the movie.  His portrayal of Thorn couldn’t be better.  The torment that he goes through while discovering little by little just what the child he is raising really is, makes an incredible impact on the audience.  There’s always that sliver of doubt that maybe it’s not true.  It’s too bad that we, as the audience, knew right from the beginning that Damien was in fact the Anti-Christ.  It would have been interesting if it never really said one way or another if he really was the Anti-Christ.

The rest of the cast were great.  Billie Whitelaw was a true find for the role of Damien’s nanny, Miss Baylock.  She definitely had the look of evil in her.  She was also in the classic film MANIA (aka FLESH AND THE FIENDS), with Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence.  Lee Remick also adds so much to the film, with her tortured role of Damien’s mother.  Of course, a genre favorite of ours, David Warner, as the photographer who helps Peck uncover the truth.  And then there’s the troubled priest, played by Patrick Troughton, who gives another outstanding performance.

The movie was released on a special edition DVD that is a must for any horror fan.  The movie is presented in widescreen format (2.35:1) and comes with the original theatrical trailer, and an all new 46 minute documentary “666: The Omen Revealed”, which talks to many of the people behind the camera, such as the writer, producers and director.  There is also an interview with composer Jerry Goldsmith.  The DVD also features audio commentary by Richard Donner and Stuart Baird.


ONE STEP BEYOND
    One Step Beyond was a TV show that was created back in the late 50's to try and get the young viewers back to watching their televisions for their need of mystery, suspense and thrills.  Producers knew that most of the audiences that were going to the movies were kids, and they were going to see the B-type horror and sci-fi pictures that were being released.  So this was their attempt to drawn them back into their own little homes to get that same entertainment.

    Much like The Twilight Zone, Beyond was a little different in that each one of the stories told, were supposedly based on actual facts.  Now, compared to today's standards, this series would not hold up to someone who is used to watching HBO's Tales From The Crypt.  But for those who like the older, more subtle atmosphere to their shows, you might want to take that One Step Beyond.

    The series ran from January 1959 to July of 1961, running a total of 94 half-hour episodes.  Each episode was directed and hosted by John Newland.  Like much like The Twilight Zone, Beyond also had it's share of it's up-and-coming stars.  People like Susanne Pleshette, George Grizzard, and Dennis Patrick.

    One of my favorites on the disc, which happens to be the very first episode on the disc is entitled Delusion, which stars Norman Lloyd and Suzanne Pleshette.  Lloyd plays an accountant who has a rare blood type but refuses to donate any when a young girl needs a transfusion.  He says that he can see the future of the person he donates to, and some of the time the future is too much for him to bear.  Lloyd is gives a great performance as the older gentleman who is just trying to save his sanity.  Pleshette plays the young woman who is need of the rare blood.

    VCI Entertainment has released 12 episodes from the second season of One Step Beyond, on either a 2-disc DVD set, or there are also available on VHS as well.  The retail price for the DVD set is $29.99.  The episodes on the discs are below.  For fans of these early sci-fi/horror/fantasy shows, this is a great way to spend a few hours, reliving some of these great shows.  Because of shows like this, and Twilight Zone, is why we got Night Gallery and Ghost Story.

DELUSION (9/15/59)
ORDEAL ON LOCUST STREET (9/22/59)
BRAINWAVE (10/6/59)
DOOMSDAY (10/13/59)
THE INHERITANCE (10/13/59)
THE EXPLORER (3/15/60)
THE CLOWN (3/22/60)
DELIA (5/3/60)
HOUSE OF THE DEAD (6/7/60)
TIDAL WAVE (8/30/60)
ANNIVERSARY OF A MURDER (9/27/60)
TO KNOW THE END (11/1/60)


(1964)
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Starring Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato, Taiji Tonoyama

When you're talking about classic Japanese horror cinema, you can't help but mention this film.  That image of the demon mask has been in so many reference books, that you may not have seen the movie, but you've most likely seen that mask.

Based on a old Japanese folktale, an woman waits for her son to come home from the war.  Waiting with her is her daughter-in-law.  Since their farming isn't going so well, they have come to killing wandering samurais and stealing their clothes and equipment to sell for food.  They get rid of the bodies by dumping them in a large and deep hole near their straw hut.

Then one day, the friend of her son arrives home from the war...alone.  When it looks like he is trying to take away her daughter-in-law, the woman tries to stop her.  And when he meets up with a mysterious samurai with a strange mask on, it seals her fate.

Now if you're expecting some over the top action or horror like some of the modern day Japanese horror films, then you will be very disappointed.  This is not BATTLE ROYAL.  What you do have instead is style.  Shot in beautiful black and white, in 2.35:1 ratio, this film is just like the old samurai movies.  The way it was filmed, and just the look of the movie is entertainment alone.  And the story, a very old story, is a very simple and still a very effective one at that.

The images of the demon mask is a haunting image.  Even though the face is in a big smile, the evil is still there.  If this would have been filmed in color, I do think it would have lost a lot of the power that is there.  And while some people out there don't like to have to 'read' films, the story is so straight forward, you could watch this without the subs and still get a pretty good understanding of it.

Criterion has once again done an phenomenal job with their release.  They give us a new high-definition transfer of the film, with restored image and sounds.  It also comes with an interview with the director Kaneto Shindo, which is about 20 minutes long, that was conducted in 2003 for this release.  It's very interesting to hear the director talk not only about this film, but also his induction to filmmaking and the rest of his career.  It also comes with an essay by Chuck Stephens about the film, as well as an English translation of the original Buddhist fable that the movie was inspired by.  Add to all that, it has some actually super-8 film that was taken by actor Kei Sato during the filming of the movie.  The footage is in both color and black and white.  While there is no sound, it does show some interesting things as how the movie was made.  There is also a still and poster gallery, along with the original trailer.

So if you are a fan of the classic horror, this disc is for you.  It does have an SRP of $29.95, but like all Criterion discs, it's worth every penny.  This movie is one of the foundation blocks for the Japanese horror cinema.


(2011)
Directed by Celia Novis
Narrated by Marianne Morris & Anulka

Most people who know Spanish filmmaker José Ramón Larraz are probably familiar with this 1974 film VAMPYRES, but maybe not much else.  While he has made his share of films, some of them being quite successful, his name still lives mostly in obscurity.  And that is a shame.  But filmmaker Celia Novis has done something to try and change that.

ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS is a documentary on Larraz, but is not your ordinary kind.  In between clips from his films VAMPYRES and SYMPTOMS, we get to hear some of Larraz’s life stories, some directly from the man himself and others through something like a narrated animated comic book.  In fact, Larraz was a comic book artist early in his life, before he got into film.  So there are a lot of shots and images in his films that are like if you were looking at a comic book.  We learn about he got started in film, and what has kept his passions alive for all these years.

Narrated by the original “Vampyres”, Marianne Morris and Anulka, they read lines from his different movies, while the actual scene plays out.  This shows us the film in the script stage and how it was created for the film.  The documentary not only focuses on Larraz but also his work, especially the written word.  Even though he has retired from filmmaking, he is still writing scripts, including a sequel to VAMPYRES.

One of the highlights for me during this documentary is when Larraz goes to the 2009 International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia (Sitges) to receive an honorary award for VAMPYRES as well as his whole career.  There to present the awards Marianne Morris and Anulka, who Larraz has not seen in a few decades.  Plus, getting to hear Larraz speak to this crowd of people that have come to see his films, and seeing just how humble this man is, made me respect him even more.

So while this isn’t the usual informative documentary that we see, it does show a closer and deeper look into this filmmaker that has definitely left his mark in the world of fantastic cinema.  It is now up to us to make sure other fans know who he is.  And I think Celia Novis has done a wonderful job showing us a more personal look at his director.

For more information about this, as well as being able to see the trailer, just head over to the official website by clicking HERE.


OPERA
(1988)
Directed by Dario Argento.
Starring Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Antonella Vitale, Daria Nicolodi, William McNamara, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Barbara Cupisti.

Probably the most memorable image in Daria Argento’s OPERA (aka TERROR AT THE OPERA) is that of actress Cristian Marsillach, mouth taped shut with needles taped right under her eyes, forcing her to keep her eyes open. This is a very strong and intense image, one that always will be thought of when discussing this film. This idea of the needles comes from the fact that Argento doesn't like it when people cover their eyes while watching his movies.

"For years I've been annoyed by people covering their eyes during the gorier moments in my films.  I film these images because I want people to see them and not avoid the positive confrontation of their fears by looking away" Argento says.  "So I thought to myself, 'How would it be possible to achieve this and force someone to watch most gruesome murder and make sure they can't avert their eyes?'  The answer I came up with is the core of what OPERA is about."

One of the reasons that this film stands out to me is the classic Argento cinematography. OPERA is filled with slow, panning shots, sometimes it’s a POV shot, and sometimes it’s just slowly creeping along.  From the opening close up shot of the raven’s eye, to the long tracking shot of the opera lead singer leaving the theater.  There are several other interesting things Argento does with the camera, such as the raven’s POV shot as it’s circling the opera audience, or when you hear the heartbeat of the heroine the screen thumps with each beat. But one scene that really stands out is when Daria Nicolodi gets shot in the eye while looking through the peephole. From the camera’s view looking out the hole, to the bullet coming down the chamber, this is simply a fantastic cinematic moment.

At one point in time, Argento was to direct a version of Verdi’s Rigoletto for the stage.  This apparently never got off the ground.  It seems that Argento did the next best thing and make a movie about an opera.  Plus there are the obvious similarities between Argento and the character of Marco, the director of the opera in the film. Marco is best known for his horror films and his opera directions, according to the critics, leaves little to be desired.  One critic stated that "He should go back to his horror films".  In another scene, Marco’s girlfriend calls him a sadist and that everybody who knows him says the same thing.  Argento has always gotten blasted by the public for the violent acts in his films, especially the ones towards women.

I did like how Argento used the way the killer tried to bring out the character of Betty’s sadist nature by making her watch these brutal murders, which in the end doesn’t work.  Could Argento’s main point of the film is to show that just because a person could watch brutal and violent things, such as horror films, doesn’t mean that they’ll turn into some sort of sadistic deviant?

Whatever point Argento was trying to make, if he even was, this film stands out as my favorite of his films.