Spookoween 2014: 31 Days of Horror

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I didn’t expect to participate in this, what with another story I need to work on and two promised pieces for other sites besides my usual writing for the Gutter. But I decided I could do it in little doses. Maybe tweets. Maybe storify them. Maybe collect them here. (Update: See Part II here and Part III here).

So here are my films so far:

Oct 1: Frankenstein’s Army (2013) I really enjoyed the found footage conceit when it’s in the form of a WWII Soviet propaganda project. That kind of found footage will never be tired to me. And I’m glad to see that mad scientists are back. So thanks for that Human Centipede, but I’ll still probably never watch you. Also, icky surgeries. In conclusion, more Soviet era propaganda found footage movies.

Oct. 2: Dracula’s Daughter (1936) & The Brides of Dracula (1960) as part of Drive-In Mob’s Vampire Ladies Night. Dracula’s Daughter is one of those movies that I didn’t like much as a monster-crazy kid, but kinda love now. I’d love to see a movie about the support group Countess Valeska and Irena from Cat People (1942) are railroaded into. They talk a lot. Are kind of gaslighted. There are hints of inappropriate sexuality. And then vampire attacks and panther transformations! Gloria Holden is magnificent as the possibly vampiric Countess Valeska. Otto Kruger continues to maintain a constant age of 63 years old.

With Brides of Dracula, I really enjoy how Peter Cushing has more outfit changes than the female lead. Also, I want all his outfits. And the name and address of his tailor. Vampire Baron “Buffy” Meinster has very little appeal to me, but once Peter Cushing shows up about halfway through, all is forgiven. He dismounts a moving carriage! He is gentlemanly! He is impeccably dressed! He does stunts!

Only herringbone can save this poor woman now.
Only herringbone can save this poor woman now.

Right now, I plan to update this as I see movies. But who really knows how it will work out? I sure don’t!

Oct. 3 The first two acts of Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) and collecting more Bloodclown tweets. I started watching Nosferatu too late to finish it, but I still enjoyed plenty of Count Orlok. Count Orlok pretending to be his own driver. Count Orlok standing and holding his keys in his clawlike hands. Count Orlok reading German Expressionist papers. (Which reminds me of Dr. Mabuse reading and Dr. Mabuse’s own German Expressionist papers in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse / Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1932)). There’s also somnambulism and a sinister real estate agent. Here are many stills to enjoy.

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Basically, you should watch the whole film. It’s public domain now, and there are many places to see it.

Oct. 4: Another Day of Horror includes a matinee of The Box Trolls. It was enjoyable and Dickensian and the non-box troll residents of Cheesbridge had the most terrifying teeth. I am very fond of Laika. I had a dream last night that Fox News was very angry about the movie because they saw the Box Trolls as Communists heavily invested in Collectivism and the film a critique of bourgeois Capitalism. But then it was possible to read the Box Trolls as real producers and the citizens of Cheesebridge as social parasites in a Randian sense. Then I woke up. And I’m glad, because mostly it is an enjoyable, well-made film with monsters and people reconsidering their choices in life. That’s good enough for me.

Another element of horror: pumpkin-carving. The first pumpkins of the season were carved yesterday because why the hell not? I’m not entirely pleased with mine, but it does have a cool missing eye. We watched/listened to the first half of The Comedy of Terrors (1964) while carving. It stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Joe E. Brown and Joyce Jameson (who I am listing last so I can note that she holds her own far better than Jack Nicholson did when faced with Price, Lorre and Karloff in The Raven). I always remember this as a Corman film, and I am always surprised once again to realize it is by Jacques Tourneur. I think it’s because I just don’t associate Tourneur with comedy or color and The Comedy of Terrors is a fine and great-looking color comedy. Price’s character married Joyce Jameson’s to acquire the undertaking business of her senile father (Karloff). Lorre comes along with the business, but things aren’t good and the landlord (Rathbone) wants his rent. As an “entrepreneur of death,” Price’s character takes matters into his own hands. Price plays a magnificent asshole.

comedy of terrors poster

And finally, I finished the last few acts of Nosferatu (1922). Not having Dracula’s Brides, Orlok just locks Harker (I mean, Hutter) in his castle and heads out for the abandoned house across the street from Hutter’s house. As Orlok floats down river to Varna, Hutter escapes and rides back to London. Orlok kills a shipful of guys and drifts into town. He deposits his boxes of dirt and rats in secret places, lets loose a plague and stares at Ellen from the window across the street. ‘Cause he likes her, you know?

More images!

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Oct. 5: Watched Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) and found H.R. Giger’s robot voice compelling, frightening, incredibly appropriate and hilarious. Giger sounds like the secondary set of jaws (that have another tiny larynxy) within his own throat that is doing his talking. I also read quite a bit more of Dracula. Lucy has become languid. There is growing concern. Laudanum, the Rest Cure and pelvic massage are sure to be prescribed soon. The New Woman is still of concern. Old Salt Swale has met an untimely doom and so I am sad to say there will be very little dialect as written by Bram Stoker until the return of Quincey Morris. I also had a fine discussion of various cinematic Dracula’s with friends on Twitter.

Oct. 6: I watched Roger Corman’s The Tomb Of Ligeia (1965), starring Vincent Price as Verden Fell and Elizabeth Shepherd in a dual role as Fell’s first (and deceased) wife, Ligeia, and his second, the lady Rowena. This is the last of Corman’s Poe pictures and has a remarkable spaciousness and openness to it. It is still a stylized Gothic film, but it is set against a background of a real-world ruined abbey and spends far more time outdoors than I think any other of the Poe films do. It is pleasantly filled with gloom, faux Egyptian artifacts, Regency archetypes and more than a hint of necrophilia at its core. The cat who might or might not be Ligeia is clearly very even tempered and its menace is projected largely by music and, occasionally, by throwing the cat at Elizabeth Shepherd. I took a slew of screencaps so everyone could appreciate the paintings in the opening credits and Verden Fell’s magnificent outfit. Unfortunately, the DVD was protected against me taking screen caps, so they are all as blank as if I were photographing a vampire or ghost who does not show up in photographs. This is inherently frustrating but it also makes me sad because I am incredibly fond of the artwork Corman commissioned for his films. If there were a coffee table book of just paintings from American International Pictures, I would look at it most days. So I must content myself with stills from the internet.

I have also been going through a massive collection of 19th Century macabre tales with Keith Allison from The Gutter and Teleport City. Last night, we read “The Prediction” by George Henry Borrow. A tale of murder, ironic murder and growing madness as a man named Rhys moves to a Welsh village and starts up a business as a predictor of things and a taker of walks. He takes a dislike to Ruth, mostly because everyone likes her, and decides to ruin her, prophesying that she will become a murderer. If Rhys were alive now, he would be an internet troll. “The Prediction” gets to its logical end and then just keeps going, piling on more characters and mad ravings and trying for more irony until, I, too, wanted to become a murderer and drop rocks on the story till it died. It hits that special place in which “ennervating” and “tedious” overlap. Fortunately, if you find yourself reading this and all possibility of happiness flying from your heart, jokes help a lot.

leopardman

Oct 8: Joined forces with Keith to watch two Val Lewton movies: The Leopard Man (1943) and Ghost Ship (1943). Directed by Jacques Tourneur, The Leopard Man concerns the arrival of a man named Jerry to a town of people who are kind of jerks. In fact the only two people who don’t appear to be kind of jerks in this town are the tarot card reader and a man named Charlie who has a little medicine show with a real leopard. Charlie makes an okay living and he loves his black leopard and his leopard loves him, so of course Jerry borrows it to give his girlfriend Kiki’s nightclub act some zing. Instead, the leopard panics when faced by the castanets of the performer on stage, scratches a man and flees. (Clo-Clo is not exactly a jerk, but she will not stop clacking her castanets). The panther is then wrongfully accused of a string of murders. While Jerry goes around being kind of a jerk. And the guy who runs the museum gaslights Jerry. And Jerry and Kiki decide to solve the case. But they are neither Nick nor Nora. And I kept wanting Jerry to be played by Ralph Bellamy. But it doesn’t matter because The Leopard Man is a Val Lewton picture and they are gorgeous. It’s a very big cat positive film, as might be expected from the makers of Cat People, as well as a pretty interesting depiction of a serial killer.

Directed by Mark Robson, The Ghost Ship is a tale of madness and murder off the coast of Mexico and California. Young Merriam signs on to be the third mate of the Altair. At first, his captain seems very solicitous and kind, but it turns out he has very little concern for anything other than his own authority.  And Captain Stone has a very ass-backwards sense of what his authority means, explaining ot Merriam that when one has authority, and is responsible for the safey of others, one has the right to spend those lives as he chooses, without question. As with most Lewton movies, the horror is more psychologica, though Merriam and his crewmates are in danger. But the monster is a man obsessed with power, maintaining it–and possibly even displaying it by risking and taking the lives of his crew. And this whole analysis of the abuse of authority and power, the fetishization of that authority, and the fear of the sailors to stand up to Captain Stone, seems very much like a response to fascism in general and Nazism in particular. Though Keith rightly points out a comparison to J. Edgar Hoover. There are also some intriguing Classical theater elements–or at least an apparent chorus in the form of Finn the Mute, whose thoughts we can still hear. A much less expressionistic movie that Lewton’s other films, but the very mundane details of the ship (again, shot beautifully), help create a desperate, claustrophobic atmosphere.

The_Ghost_Ship_1943_Finn_the_Mute
Just another beautiful shot in a Val Lewton picture.

Oct. 9: I watched The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943) with the Drive-In Mob. You know how I really wanted Jerry in The Leopard Man to be played by Ralph Bellamy? Guess what–Ralph Bellamy plays Erik Ernst, the man in control of the Trial of Frankenstein. That’s right. Frankenstein, played this time by Lon Chaney, Jr., takes the stand in his own defense Bela Lugosi reprises his role as Ygor. They see out the monster’s brother, Ludwig Frankenstein, who is a specialist in “Diseased Minds.” And there is a little girl with a terrifying ball that has a clown face painted on it. The girl brings to mind not only the poor little girl Frankenstein throws into a pond, but somehow the ball brings to mind M (1931). The ball is far more frightening than Peter Lorre, though. Anyway, aside from the Trial of Frankenstein, there is brain-switching shenanigans and much science.

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In Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, Frankenstein is played by Bela Lugosi in part because Lon Chaney Jr. is playing Larry Talbot, who is half man, half wolf and possibly all bassett hound. The Wolf Man has been freed from his familial crypt by foolish graverobbers. There are shenanigans and Talbot decides to seek the help of Dr. Frankenstein. Fleeing villagers of a Bavarian re-enactment community, Larry finds Frankenstein frozen in the ice of a cave. Since this is Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and not Frankenstein Vs. The Wolf Man, together they decide they need help. This time they go to Baroness Elsa Frankenstein for help. An old diary describes the process of creating the Frankenstein monster and they decide to hook both Larry and Frankenstein up to the doctor’s old machinery. The idea is to “switch the poles,” resulting in Larry’s longed for death and Frankenstein’s brain being cured. But, as might be expected, it doesn’t work out that way and there are explosions and a monster fight. Those Frankensteins really go through houses.

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Oct. 10: I attempt to watch another Val Lewton movie, The Seventh Victim (also from 1943), but the dvd Netflix sent me tasks me and will not play. I read two more old macabre tales.

Oct. 11: Mario Bava’s Blood & Black Lace (1964). It’s a gorgeous film. All of Bava’s films are gorgeous. He’s one of my favorite directors and I think he might be my favorite giallo director. I think it’s not just his style, but the sly humor and the almost campiness–but knowing camp, like Douglas Sirk–just appeals to me so much.  Anyways, in Blood & Black Lace, the Christian fashion house is beset by a faceless killer. Because models are going down left and right, the police think the murderer is a sex maniac. But could it have to do with a mysterious red diary kept by the first victim? The plot is way less important than the style, the lighting, the use of color–especially the reds–and the cinematgraphy and that’s fine by me. I also enjoy the balance between later slasher conventions and horror and little gestures toward gothic horror–a bookcase that leads to a secret chamber, a suit of armor, a fountain surrounded by sphinxes. And the opening theme is just plain delightful.

(Part II of my 31 Days of Horror is here)

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