Friday, October 31, 2014

Horrorthon 2014 - Vampires, ghosts, monsters and boobies

In an effort to get onto the holiday spirit, I watched 75 horror movies for the month of October, including 44 first-time watches. Below are the top 5 good, bad and fun of the new watches.

Good

5. Daughters of Darkness (1971)

For some reason, I was expecting a Jess Franco-type film with lots of sleaze and some marginal style, however, the visual eye candy alone in this Harry K├╝mel quasi-vampire story was very impressive and made me curious about the Belgian director's other work. Delphine Seyrig is great as Countess Bathory and it was a hoot seeing John Karlen from the Dark Shadows TV show as the male lead. My only problem was with stiff, angular actress Danielle Ouimet, who played Karlen's wife and Bathory's object of desire. Ouimet had little chemistry with the other leads and is outclassed in the sexiness department by everyone else. Happily, the colorful sets, costumes and general art design more than make up for any deficiencies. And, despite the strong implications, there is little overt vampire iconography in the story to distract or annoy with it's obviousness. 7.25/10

4. The Haunting of Julia (1977)
I read Peter Straub's novel when it came out but never got around to the film adaptation until now. It features very low key storytelling and may move a little slow for some, but I loved the ambiguity and mystery of it. The tension is built up gradually over the course of the movie culminating in some very creepy character reveals towards the end. Though the finale does not explicitly show anything supernatural, much like the rest of the story, it feels far from a cheat. Despite an English accent that is dodgy at best, Mia Farrow does a good job as the fragile, broken lead and has a strong supporting cast particularly in Tom Conti. 7.5/10
 
3. The Black Cat (1935)
Though the plot is a bit muddled with certain aspects never paying off, it's still an excellent showcase for Karloff and Lugosi and features an unusual, post-modern manor that adds to the atmosphere immensely. Karloff, whose character is blatantly evil, dominates the picture with glee while Lugosi plays an unusually interesting wild card whom you're not sure to root for or against. Ace, low-budget director Edgar Ulmer helmed and created one of the strangest horror films of the period. 7.5/10

2. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
An unconventional, stylish vampire film from Jim Jarmusch that's much more of a contemplative look at culture through the ages than a horror picture. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are very good as two jaded but still interested lovers who get back together in a spooky, deserted, modern-day Detroit. Like most Jarmusch films, it's long, slow, intelligent, romantic and very cool. 7.75/10
1. The Raven (1934) 
While catching up on these Lugosi features, I've noticed that the less likely Bela is to get with a girl in a film, the more awesomely evil he becomes. He absolutely owns this movie with a performance that engaged me to a far greater extent, and was much more wicked, than Dracula. The film also has one of the best Poe readings ever from Lugosi. Karloff's make-up is kind of crappy and he's a bit marginalized, but this is obviously Bela's show and he delivers.  7.75/10


Bad 

5. The Strangeness (1985) 

A monster-in-a-cave movie that's a real a chore to get through with corny characters, terrible writing, bad lighting and some very dated, ill-fitting, stop-motion animation. The storytelling was so dull and the acting so irritating, it made The Boogens look like The Descent. 4/10

4. Not of This Earth (1957)
Badly edited and poorly shot science fiction/horror from Roger Corman that has a few interesting moments from Birch but otherwise bores. I'm a big Corman fan, but he did make some unwatchable dreck in the 50's like Creature from the Haunted Sea, She Gods of Shark Reef and this one. In his defense, he did direct eight other films in the same year so maybe he was just tired. 3.75/10

3. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965)

This Something Weird Video-feeling, campy sci-fi/horror may have wound up in the fun category had it not been for the endless padding of military stock footage and wildly out of place scooter joyride by the lead couple. Also, I smelled the distinct odor of self-awareness on numerous occasions which killed any so-bad-it's-good pleasure. There was some enjoyable cheese to be had, but too many tedious, drawn out scenes in between that were obvious filler. Also, the ending fight scene where the titular characters finally throw down looks like a mild tussle you'd see on an elementary school playground. 3.75/10

2. Odd Thomas (2013)

Adaptation of a Dean R Koontz novel (uh-oh) from the man who brought us Van Helsing, Deep Rising and The Mummy movies (double uh-oh). The writing was obvious and self-congratulatory with noxiously cute and wannabe pithy characters. The overly long, goopy and saw-it-coming ending made me actively hate it. On the plus side, Willem Dafoe shows up briefly to give the only believable performance. 2.5/10

1. Raiders of the Living Dead (1986)

All the incompetence of a Don Dohler or Arch Hall film with none of the heart, charm or fun. Cynical, amateur filmmaking at its worst from low-grade schlock writer/producer Sam Sherman. The interminably long scene of Scott Schwartz assembling his laser gizmo was the first of many warning signs that this movie was going to be an epically awful slog. 1.75/10

Fun 

5. The Devil's Partner (1961)
Black & white, low-budget, satanic horror that's very strange for the time period it was made. It concerns an affable young man. played by Ed Nelson, who shows up in a small town to claim his much-loathed, hermit uncle's estate/shack. Although it is nothing like the spectacular DVD cover above implies, and was directed by Charles Rondeau who made the craptastic, The Girl in Lover's Lane, the previous year, the film is still oddly appealing in its own weird way. Making things even more surreal is a co-starring role by Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction (Edgar Buchanan) as the town doctor. Far from a great movie, I still enjoyed it's offbeat quality. 6/10

4. Shocking Dark (1990)
Enjoyably shameless Bruno Mattei rip-off of the Aliens and Terminator movies with world-class bad acting, a nonsensical script (courtesy of Claudio Fragasso), and an ugly industrial plant setting. A cheesy classic without a doubt. 6.25/10


3. Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981)
Andrea Bianchi in my opinion made the quintessential, trashy giallo with Strip Nude for Your Killer. It is far, far from the best in the genre, but delivers exactly on what most fans want in a giallo. In the same way, Bianchi brings everything you ever want to see in an Italian zombie picture and more. Shotgunned zombie heads, flesh eating, maggots, gratuitous nudity, sleaze, etc. Yes, the characters are mostly flat and forgettable (excepting that mother and son, of course), the plot is barely there, and the zombies have a very leisurely, unannounced way of showing up, but holy cow, is this some bizarre fun. 6.5/10


2. The Deadly Spawn (1983) 
A no-budget, independent film with surprisingly good monster effects. The story is simple and straightforward but still contains some rule-breaking surprises and an enjoyably dark sense of humor. 7/10

1. Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Rape-y sea monsters, rednecks and nubile women provide an entertaining mix in this derivative slice of Corman-produced cheese. The Rob Bottin creature make-up effects are good, there's lots of jaw-dropping sleaziness including a ventriloquist menage-a-toi that is enjoyably out of left field, and the opening features the most incompetent fishing crew ever. Ann Turkel is kind of lame in the Matt Hooper role, but Vic Morrow once again plays another great bastard and Doug McClure is the lead. 7/10

Happy Halloween everyone!





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