Spookoween 2014: 31 Days of Horror II

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After including stills from every shot in Blood & Black Lace in the previous post, it’s become apparent to me that I need to break up my 31 Days of Horror movie posts. The first one has almost become unwieldy. But I’m still including a still from Blood & Black Lace above–because I can. So, behold, Part 2, in which I watch way too many movies and possibly talk about them during the Halloween season. Theoretically, they are horror movies, but I am using a broad definition of “horror”  because, well,  because. I’ve already included some short stories I read among the movies, so who even knows what I am capable of.

Part 1 includes thoughts about: Frankenstein’s Army (2013); Dracula’s Daughter (1936); Brides of Dracula (1960); Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922); The Box Trolls (2014); The Comedy Of Terrors (1964); Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013); The Tomb of Ligeia (1965); The Leopard Man (1943); The Ghost Ship (1943); The Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942); Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943); Blood And Black Lace (1964)–plus, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and a few Nineteenth Century macabre tales.

Onward toward madness!

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Oct. 13: I watched Misery (1990). I haven’t read the Stephen King book, so I have no basis for comparison. I do really like the movie. Misery could’ve come out a really, really mean writer’s fantasy, but between William Goldman’s script, Rob Reiner’s direction and the performances of Kathy Bates and James Caan it just doesn’t. James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, an author of romance novels who doesn’t realy respect his own work and wants to finally write something he’s proud of. So like Arthur Conan Doyle before him, Sheldon kills off his character and tries to write something else. And like Arthur Conan Doyle before him, he drives off a mountain highway during a blizzard.  is rescued by his number one fan, Annie (Bates), who takes care of him and forces him to write a new novel just the way she wants it. It’s an incredibly well-cast film. Caan and Bates are great together. Bates is amazing and it’s nice to see Caan in his comeback role after he’d walked away from film in the Eighties.  And Frances Sternhagen and Richard Farnsworth are charming.

Oct. 14: I had planned to watch The Uninvited (1944) but was invited to watch The Manster (1959) with a gaggle of Twitter folk. In The Manster, Dr. Robert Suzuki slips foreign correspondent Larry an enzyme mickey. Believing he’s getting some sweet local Tokyo scotch, Larry shotguns it as he does all booze and ultimately transforms from a short-tempered, dough and hot-dog meat lunk into a “new species.” Dr. Suzuki has been trying for years with willing subjects including his wife, Emiko–whose makeup recalls Oiwa from Yotsuya Kaidan–and his brother, who we see Dr. Suzuki euthanizing very actively in the beginning of the film. For his part, Larry is having a great time as Dr. Suzuki takes him to a hot spring and a geisha house in Tokyo, all the while monitoring Larry’s transformation. And, once it happens, it’s a pretty good one. Larry is believably horrible and I found myself wishing his original head would dry up and fall off in favor of his second head. Composer Hiroki Ogawa leans heavily on the theremin, which is always fun, but the best things are the transformation sequences, Emiko and Tetsu Nakamura as Dr. Robert Suzuki. The Manster was an early Japanese-American co-production and has elements of both Japanese and American horror of the time–and an understandable underlying anxiety about the Atom Age.

Oct. 14: Murder At The Vanities (1934) Okay, so it’s a precode movie with a murder mystery plot tying together set pieces of gams, budget Busby Berkeley, Duke Ellington in a weird number that ends with Charles Middleton pretending to gun down everyone on stage–mostly Black people (with possibly white people in blackface), and Jack Oakie trading slang with Victor McLaglen, a very tall man in a world scaled for men who stand 5’8″. Also, a number about the virtues of marijuana.

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Oct. 15: In JT Petty’s Hellbenders (2012), the Augustine Order of Hellbound Saints act as a kind of pan-denominational exorcist suicide squad that despite its uniting Protestants and Catholics, takes orders from the Vatican. Each ordained priest must be damnation ready, so that if worst comes to worst, they can take a demon into themselves, kill themselves and drag the demon to hell. And that means each member must sin every day and seriously. I’ve seen Petty’s The Burrowers (2008) and Blood Red Earth (2009) and liked them both very much. (Warning: Do not confuse The Burrowers with The Borrowers). I’m always happy to see Clancy Brown, and in Hellbenders, he plays a foul-mouthed Presbyterian minister who is remarkably reminiscent of the Dude from The Big Lebowski. And I was also happy to see Andre Royo as Stephen, the meticulous and most straight-laced of the Hellbound Saints. Stephen keeps the books recording each Saint’s sins. Royo’s most famous as Bubbles in The Wire. The Order is confronted with an angry Norse god determined to bring about Ragnarok and aren’t entirely ready for him. I liked the idea. The swearing is creative. The actors have great chemistry. And it’s shot really nicely and only really suffers from its budget in the flaming vagina dentata that I just wished had more presence–because a giant flaming vagina dentata should have presence. My only niggle is that I was disappointed by Rev. Elizabeth’s storyline after her first exorcism. Elizabeth is an ordained Unitarian priest with groovy nail polish and I wish her possession weren’t so damn predictable and that the attempted heart of the film wasn’t a love triangle–or at least a more interesting one. But still, she got to be Surtr and that’s very fun.

Cold in July

Oct. 16: Jim Mickle’s Cold In July (2014) is one of my favorite movies this year. Sure, it’s not horror, but it concerns some horrifying business and the little clots in some blood spray was viscerally gross. And, yeah, the music was heavy handed sometimes, but sometimes it was perfect. Anyway, it is like watching a Joe Lansdale novel and that is already good enough for me.  But then there are Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepherd and Don Johnson in an enormous red Cadillac convertible with red zebra stripe upholstery and both dice and a hula dancer on the dash. And I really appreciate the use of color and the careful establishment of the story without out too many bouts of exposition. I like a film where people don’t talk so much. Richard (Hall) shoots a burglar who has broken in to the home Richard shares with his wife Ann (Vanessa Shaw) and son.  But Ben (Shepard), the man’s father, is out on parole and comes looking for Richard. Then things take a turn. I’m tired of movies that have twists, but I do enjoy a good turn. And I’m really glad to see a movie where men go off to do dark and necessary deeds in which the wife isn’t portrayed as a nagging harridan. I really appreciate that Richard comes home to his family in the end.

Oct. 17: Someone on Twitter recommended I watch Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971) and I don’t remember who. (So, if it’s you, thanks!) I had avoided the film because I thought it was one of the era’s films about women being tormented, gaslighted and disbelieved. It sort of is. The plot takes a little while to unfold. It has a spacious pacing that I’ve been enjoying a lot lately. Jessica, like Mia Farrow before her, is released from an asylum into her husband’s care after a breakdown. Jessica (Zohra Lampert), her kinda doofy husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their good friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor) move from Manhattan to a creepy old farmhouse outside a small town. A woman named Emily (Mariclare Costello) has been squatting in the house and they decide to let her stay. Jessica hears voices and is attacked by a woman in white at the bottom of the murky lake she and her friends swim in. No one else sees the woman. Jessica also discovers a family portrait and an old timey wedding dress. One of the women in the portrait looks remarkably like Emily, who has been making time with Woody. All the townsfolk are middle-aged men with bandaged cuts and they do not like the out-of-towners at all, going so far as to grind their boot heels into the paint on Duncan’s hearse. Then, late one night, Emily commits mole-icide and seduces Duncan–like within a minute of each other. It turns out this isn’t so much a crazy lady is tormented by fears as much as a movie with secret vampirism. Emily makes for an interesting Carmilla who seems pretty happy in her town of middle-aged and old man maybe vampires. Jessica escapes in a rowboat, while Emily and her old guys watch from the shore.  RIP, mole and good job little mouse who played the mole. Also, there are some neat tombstone rubbings.

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Oct. 18: Strangely enough, the movies I’m watching seem to keep lining up by year. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) came out the same year as Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, though they have very little in common. Let’s Scare Jessica To Death gets its power from its naturalistic aesthetic, making it hard to know what to make of the woman in white. Is she Emily? Is Jessica insane and we are seeing what Jessica sees? But Phibes is all about the joys of stylization–all the glorious forms of horror. Dr. Anton Phibes, doctor of theology, music and sartorial splendor, enacts an elaborate scheme to avenge his  wife by murdering the medical team who failed to save her after a car accident. Phibes supposedly died in that same accident, giving him the freedom to create a fabulous, lucite pipe organ-controlled lair in the Phibes crypt, design amazing clothes for himself and his mysterious assistant Vulnavia (Ph.D. the Dance Sciences, Fashion, Murder, Ineffability) and to work out the details of killing nine people according to the Bibllical plagues visited on Egypt. I am amazed each time at Price’s discipline in performing Phibes, a man who lost his face in the tragic car accident and who speaks by jacking his neck into a record player–or any available audio technology. While the film is gorgeous, exquisitely composed, kinda gruesome and beautifully scored, it is Vulnavia and her mysterious nature that sticks with me.

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Oct. 19: My plan had been to watch A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971), but fate interceded and I broke the run of 1971 movies by watching Vengeance of the Zombies / La Rebelíon de las Muertas (1973). Vengeance of the Zombies is crazypants. It is 80% freeform jazz. The remaining 20% is quasi-traditional Vodun zombis, eccentric Hinduism, Seventies surreal Satanism, sorta giallo with weird, homemade harlequin and box masks, the Whateley family from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” (cause why not) and Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy in three roles. Naschy plays the guru Krishna, who is afflicted with a spiritual weakness; Satan; and Krishna’s evil brother Kantaka. Kantaka is ostensibly creating zombies to avenge himself, but his ultimate plan is to become immortal through a pact with Baron Samedi. One of the things I like most about Naschy’s films is that you can always tell what Naschy was into at the time. Naschy wrote this one, but León Klimovsky directed it. Also, a chicken was harmed in this film. So watch out.

Oct. 20: I listened to the BBC radio production of “Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula: The Case of the Sanguinary Count,” which I love and listen to every year. It’s very well done–seamlessly integrating the epistolary materials and newspaper articles from Dracula into the world of Sherlock Holmes. Also, Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Steward in Doctor Who, plays LeStrade.

And I watched Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim (1943), directed by Mark Robson. The Seventh Victim is all Satanic Noir and perfect bangs. In her first film, Kim Hunter plays Mary Gibson, a young woman searching for her older sister, Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) after Jacqueline and her bangs mysteriously disappear. Mary wears a very stylish, shoulder-padded private investigator trenchcoat and kicky private school beret as she first searches Greenwich Village, then moves there and takes on a job teaching kindergarten. Mary is helped by three men in her search, two of them in love with her: Jacqueline’s husband Gregory Ward (Hugh Beaumont); Jason Hoag (Erford Gage), a writer with writer’s block; and the skeevy Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway), who you might remember as the skeevy and very wrong psychiatrist in Cat People (1942). After much pestering, Judd reveals that Jacqueline’s caught up in a Satanic cult, and that it’s a pretty boring one, involving very respectable people who don’t understand the appeal of fancy hats and robes or strewing human femurs around your basement as Paul Naschy does in Vengeance of the Zombies. (I find the bourgie boringness of it very believable after having been scarred by watching a Satanic Christmas Special on NYC public access). But Seventh Victim has Noir shadows and style, a shower scene that prefigures Psycho,  fine performances and characterization, perfect bangs and atmosphere and some amazing shots of 1940s Manhattan.

Oct. 21: Listened to Welcome to Nightvale and read some more Macabre Tales with Keith Allison. I learned that Styria is not only the homeland of Carmilla, Countess Karnstein, but that there are many dangers for lovers in Styria. Mostly, it involves your dad making a bad deal with what is probably the Devil, but appears as a little person or a Hunter in Green. This led directly to me becoming obsessed with this tourism video. Visit Styria. Men say “jo jo.” A woman’s heel sinks into the snow. There are plates of salted meat. A Boot stomps. Lighting. Rainbow. A deer runs. Wine. A doorman leads a woman to a horse she never reaches.

So I think this has gotten long enough and I’m going to start 31 Days of Horror Part III with Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive; The Revenge of the Creature; and, The Creature Walks Among Us. Click through for Part III.

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