Countdown to Halloween: What could have caused them, Professor?

Posted: October 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Happy birthday, Bela Lugosi! Your legend will let you live on long after your death.

(If you’re in a hurry, you can bail out when the Count makes his exit at 5:35).

And since imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery …

Countdown to Halloween: Party’s over …

Posted: October 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

So, I have this friend, Jon.

Jon is one of those guys who is a true aficionado of cheese. Not the kind you would eat, but the kind you would consume through your cassette deck or VCR. If it could be considered obscure or underground, or at least the sort of thing most sane people would recoil from out of fear and confusion, Jon had a line on it. It was pretty amazing considering this was still in the early days of the Internet; he did most of his hunting and gathering through the mail, discovering and ordering his oddities by following photocopied “catalogs” like faded parchment maps.

Best of all, he brought his friends along.

At the time we were all working together at the same newspaper, slogging (and then racing) through our 3-to-midnight shift on the copy desk. Once we actually left the building about an hour later, we’d often stop at some fast food place that was still open, head to Jon’s, and watch whatever bootlegged piece of culture-trash he’d managed to have shipped across state lines.

Basket Case. Meet the Feebles. Winnie the Pooh cartoons set to the Apocalypse Now soundtrack. I saw all of these for the first time at Jon’s apartment, full of Taco Cabana nachos and surrounded by friends (though the nachos might take care of that last part). I have fond memories of those times and of those movies, including this one — 1992’s Dead Alive (originally released as Braindead), a Peter Jackson splatstick film considered by most to be one of the goriest movies ever. Consider yourself warned.

Jon, this one’s for you.

Countdown to Halloween: Hey, wait a minute — where’s that big dude with the cape?

Posted: October 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Some things, like 1972’s Blacula, speak for themselves.

Countdown to Halloween: Look at me, Damien — it’s all for you!

Posted: October 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

As a kid growing up, the Catholic Church was a constant presence in my life. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was super-religious, but there was a Bible in the house and I went to church most Sundays with my family. I wasn’t even Catholic myself — but Grandma and Grandpa were, and that made me a de facto Catholic.

All of which means I had a healthy fear of the Devil. And lucky me, that dude was all over the movies in the 70s, scaring the hell out of me and teaching me to whip out the Sign of the Cross like holy lightning. Between The Exorcist (we’ll get to that one later) and 1976’s The Omen I spent a good part of my childhood absolutely positive that Satan had it in for me personally, and was either going to possess me someday or at the very least challenge me to a fiddle contest. Either way, I knew I’d be screwed.

It’s been years since I’ve been to church and I learned the trombone instead of the violin (so I’m really screwed). Luckily, though, I learned to love the devils I feared and now I try to watch The Omen at least once a year. What can I say? I’m a better movie fan than church-goer.

The Omen, of course, is the story of Damien, a cherubic little boy who also happens to be the Antichrist. This is a surprise to his parents Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, who are even more rattled by all the death and medieval chanting that seems to go on whenever their son is around. Meanwhile, Satanists are trying to protect Damien on the sly when they’re not throwing themselves out windows for him, and the good guys … well, the good guys have kind of a rough time.


Oh, OK — as a special bonus here’s The Omen‘s most famous scene, too. Let’s just say a certain someone made me do it.

Countdown to Halloween: No, no, don’t cry, ’cause if you cry … they’ll hear you …

Posted: October 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Between the bloody delivery room scene, the “something chewed through the umbilical cord” thing and the bizarre, animal-like crying of Junior, It’s Alive traumatized me in a lasting way. And since my mom is an OB-GYN nurse, at the time it meant it wasn’t unusual for me to be hanging around doctor’s offices and hospital labor wards surrounded by pregnant women.

Which only emphasized an important lesson: If you hear the pitter-patter of little feet … run.

Countdown to Halloween: What have you done to him?! You MANIACS!!

Posted: October 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Well, that’s one reason not to have kids.

Countdown to Halloween: Scalpel …

Posted: October 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

If you can get Billy Idol’s crooning out of your head long enough, you’d find 1960’s Eyes Without a Face to be a moody and surprisingly disquieting kind of movie.

Say what you want about the French (je t’aime, France), but they know how to make some weird movies. Even their mainstream films tend to be off-kilter and it’s not unusual for comedies to have a body count. It’s a tradition and style of filmmaking that goes way back, and watching this clip it’s obvious director Georges Franju had a firm grip on style and horror in equal parts.

In Eyes Without a Face, a doctor’s daughter is disfigured in a car accident, badly enough that Dad tells her she needs to wear a mask from now on. Soon enough, Dr. Génessier decides he’s going to restore his daughter Christiane’s face by pioneering the field of face transplants. He also decides he’ll find his own donors — whether they’re willing or not.

It’s creepy and atmospheric and considering it was 1960 it’s not surprising that this movie made people go nuts, with half of the audience lauding it and the other half wanting to tar and feather it. This scene alone probably had people swooning in the aisles.

Countdown to Halloween: In order to live, it is necessary … to kill

Posted: October 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

It should go without saying that horror in the United States isn’t the same as horror in other parts of the world. And while I hate to say it, the U.S. isn’t always the best at it, especially lately. Grab a handful of horror from the past, oh, 15 years or so and you’ll be able to track its lineage back to Japan or Norway or some other place that might as well be fictional to most Americans.

Going back to the originals is always a good idea. Concepts and scenes are often watered down by the time they reach these shores, delivered on the backs of bland actors whose main talent is to be generically good-looking. This wasn’t always the case. Back in the 60s and 70s, producers  and distributers sometimes wanted to bring the undiluted sauce to the States, preserving their terrible visions for new audiences. And sometimes they just wanted to be cheap, because, hey, we’re still trying to make our money back on this movie, y’know? Which is one reason hallmarks of  60s and 70s foreign grindhouse movies often include a new name, some bad dubbing and cultural mysteries in strange locales that will never be resolved.

Personally, I love it. So does my wife, who suggested today’s entry — 1974’s Las Garras De Loreley (The Loreley’s Grasp), a Spanish film set in Germany known in the United States by the title When the Screaming Stops. The film — about a scaly monster ripping out women’s hearts — is the first horror movie she remembers ever seeing, and “it freaked me out. (The main character) was a pretty lady, and it was the first time I realized something that shouldn’t be scary could be really scary.”

I’ve never seen The Loreley’s Grasp, but judging by the trailer it’s something I want to watch in all its bloody, rubbery-limbed glory. The movie is written and directed by Amando de Ossorio — who also wrote and directed the “Blind Dead” quartet of films — and it really looks like a well-preserved artifact of its time and genre. It’s got an ominous hippy right there in the trailer, for God’s sake. Oh, and of course it all takes place in a girl’s boarding house.

It’s something I HAVE  to watch.

Countdown to Halloween: Mommy!!

Posted: October 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Gah, only a week in and I’ve already missed a day — don’t worry, kids, it’s all downhill from here.

To make up for it, today’s entry will be a double-feature. Unfortunately, both clips will be from terrible, terrible movies. First up is Grizzly, a 1976 movie that was obviously trying to cash in on some of the sweet Jaws ripple while jettisoning all the “plot” and “character” noise. Instead, Grizzly gave everything the title promised, and nothing more — a big-ass bear slashing people like in the woods like a fur-covered Jason at Crystal Lake.

This movie didn’t scar me like other movies from the time did, but it still managed to leave an impression. I had what adults would call an over-active imagination, and I’m sure everything in Grizzly seemed bigger and bloodier and louder than it really was. Otherwise, I can’t see how I could have missed the awful acting, the biggest wooden gate in the world and the multiple deaths-by-bear-hug.

Up next is a film that really did freak me out, even though I really remember only one scene and, a little research uncovered, it was actually a made-for-TV movie. Regardless, even though it kept within the constraints of early-80s television, This House Possessed managed to have plenty of weird to pass around. Starring Parker Stevenson and a bunch of people you’ve never heard of (the notable exceptions being fantastic character actor Barry Corbin and Slim Pickins), the movie tells the story of a house that really isn’t possessed at all. After a lot of confusion, misunderstandings and outright house-on-person killings, it turns out the house is sentient, and thanks to a technology update it’s able to show its affection for Stevenson’s girlfriend by murdering anyone who tries to take her away.

Honestly, that’s all you need to know. The movie is pretty ridiculous but it redeems itself by joyfully pulling out all the stops television Standards and Practices would allow. As I said earlier, there’s only one scene that made a lasting impact, but what an impact it was. Thanks to this, I got into the habit of showering with one eye open for longer than I care to admit. If I think of it even now, I’ll painfully peek through suds just to make sure my water is still just water.

Thanks a lot, Parker Stevenson.

Countdown to Halloween: Special anniversary edition

Posted: October 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

I’ll be honest with you — Needful Things is not a scary movie.

Sure, it’s based on a Stephen King story about the Devil himself coming to a small New England town, offering people what they want and exacting a little murder and mayhem as the price of doing business. There are some “Boo!” type jumps here and there, and Max von Sydow delivers a cheeky performance as an appropriately devil-may-care Satan. For the most part, though, there isn’t much scare there.

But I will always have a soft and treasured spot in my heart for this film because it was the first movie I went to see with my then-future wife. Today is our 16th wedding anniversary, and those years together have been anything but a horror movie.

Closet Surprise

Needful Things