Here we are with 31 Days Of Horror Part III. Is my franchise faltering? Will I pull through? Will I be my own final girl? Will I go too over the top–or not quite enough–and blow it?
If you are curious, Part I 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.
Part II includes thoughts about: Misery (1990); The Manster (1959); Murder At The Vanities (1934); Hellbenders (2012); Cold In July (2014); Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971); The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971); Vengeance Of The Zombies (1973); “Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula” (1980); The Seventh Victim (1943); Welcome To Night Vale; Nineteenth Century macabre tales; and a tourism video for Styria/Steiermark.
As with the other parts, I am taking the broadest possible interpretation of “horror” and “movies” and generally including other business, too.
Oct. 22: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). Jim Jarmusch is one of my favorite directors and so it was inevitable that I would like it. Adam, Eve and Kit Marlow are vampires. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) lives in Detroit. Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Kit (John Hurt) live in Tangiers, living a life of writing and books and late night cafes. Adam makes music but has lost interest in life–or his undeath. Because this is a Jarmusch film, it’s a less a conventional narrative and more impressions of their lives. But there is a plot, as Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) visits them in Detroit and causes trouble that led me to exclaim: “No, don’t leave. She’s totally going to eat him!”
Beautifully shot and, as usual, I love the soundtrack. Also, because I saw What We Do In The Shadows (2014) before I saw Only Lovers Left Alive, when Adam has his lute, I can’t help thinking of a particular promotional clip for What We Do In The Shadows.
I forgot to mention that I love Eve and want all her clothes. Also, she has the perfect life.
Oct. 23: I watched Revenge Of The Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us with the Drive-In Mob. And I’m glad I did watch them with other people. While I see The Creature From The Black Lagoon every few years, I have avoided seeing either of these two films again because the people in them are just too cruel. In Revenge, the Gill-Man is fished out of the Black Lagoon, taken to a marine park in Florida to be studied and displayed. He is shocked with a bull-prod, shackled to an aquarium floor and subjected to horrible, gawking people and an apparently entirely empathy-free John Agar.
It only gets worse in The Creature Walks Among Us, in which scientists set the creature on fire and reveal “a structure of human skin beneath” his scales. They alter his lungs so he can only breath air and make him some clothes before penning him up with some sheep in a wealthy doctor’s yard to watch the human melodrama/local production of No Exit unfold before him. After being framed for murder, the Gill-Man escapes and I like to think he reverts to his true nature and lived happily ever after.
It’s enough to make me agree about people with Adam from Only Lovers Left Alive, and Adam would have tired me out fifty years into our immortal relationship.
Oct. 24: Sheshnaag (1990) is a swank naag/naga movie Beth from Beth Loves Bollywood invited me to watch with her. (See Beth’s review here). It is amazing. Outfits! Nagas! So many references to the Mahabharata–a couple of characters even note that they are re-enacting Yudishthira’s gambling away of Draupadi. And Krishna gets into the act in statue form, by clunking a guy on the head who is attempting to rape the woman who has been gambled away (Rekha in one of her two roles). An excellent villain, Aghori (Denny Denzongpa) who worships Trikala and actually reminds me quite a bit of kung fu movie villains, between his roaring laugh and his levitation. He reminds me particularly of Lee Wan-Chung. Anyways, the important part is that Rekha is a snake lady protecting an idiot (Rishi Kapoor) and his sister (also Rekha), the very same woman who was gambled away. Meanwhile, the villain is busy ingesting snake venom and becomes so poisonous that a snake dies when it bites his tongue. (Again, shades of kung fu movies). His plan is to kidnap Rekha and her mate (Jeetendra), who are wish-granting snakes, and force them to use their powers to help him become immortal. (Even more shades of kung fu movies). Sheshnaag is probably my favorite Indian snake lady movie so far. It has crazy special effects and did I mention outfits–including one very Southeast Asian one. The only downside is that the dutiful wife stays with her horrible, abusive, drunken husband who gambled her away. I’m not surprised she compares herself to Sita, but maybe some more Draupadi would be called for. Draupadi swore she would wash her hair in the blood of the man who tried to strip her and rape her. And that’s my kind of woman. So it’s not surprising that I would prefer Rekha’s attitude and her poisonous and treacherous beauty. Anyway, I included my favorite dance number above.
Oct. 25: Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. And while it is not “scary” in modern terms, it is genuinely horrifying. There is a civilized and even jovial veneer as Boris Karloff as engineer and Brutalist architect Hjalmar Poelzid and Bela Lugosi as Dr. Vitus Werdergast menace each other over drinks and chess in front of a couple of young newlyweds on their honeymoon in Hungary, but underneath, there is modernist Satanism, the trauma of war, serial killing, revenge, incest and necrophilia. They play a game of revenge that is not only deadly, but cruel. Poelzig has built his house on the site of a WWI fort, in which he fought with Werdergast’s side before betraying the fort to the Russians. Werdergast was imprisoned and tortured by the Russians. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, Poelzig married and then murdered Poelzig’s wife Karen, then raised Poelzig and Karen’s daughter to be his new wife, naming her also Karen. And in his basement, he keeps Karen’s body preserved with the bodies of other women he sacrificed. The ending, in which a revenge-maddened Werdergast skins Poelzig alive is truly disturbing, though it is not graphic in any contemporary sense. It’s not so much that Werdergast reveals a bestial nature underlying human civilization so much as both Poelzig and Werdergast reveal the brutal flipside of that very civilization.
Incidentally, The Nitrate Diva has a fantastic essay on this film. You can read it here.
Oct. 26: I watched Ishiro Honda’s The H-Man (1958). The H-Man is part hardboiled Noir detective thriller and part Atom Age Horror with a nightclub chanteuse caught in the middle. Yakuza drug dealer Misaki (Hisaysa Ito) melts in the rain leaving only his clothing behind while fleeing the police, who believe it’s just a mysterious disappearance of a naked fugitive. They hassle Misako’s main squeeze, Chikako Arai (Yumi Shirakawa), going so far as to put a tail on her. The yakuza are looking for Misako, too. And this means that everyone converges on Cabaret Homura for a song by Chikako, a perfectly respectable floor show, and some sweet jazz composed by Masaru Sato. Meanwhile, science has discovered that if you irradiate toads, they dissolve into a mysterious, seemingly living liquid, just like the liquid that seems to be dissolving people all around the city. And further, science discovers that a ghost ship called the Ryujinmaru has three H-Men on board made of the same living liquid/melting jelly/dishwashing detergent after being exposed to atomic testing on the Bikini Atoll. (Shades of Lucky Dragon #5). Science, in the form of young Prof. Masada (Kenji Sahara), discovers Chikako and her relationship to the melted man and develops a crush on Chikako. Science discovers a connection between this ship and Misako’s disappearance and posits that the H-Men are in Tokyo’s sewers. Science, the police and the Self-Defense Forces finally get together to destroy the menace with gasoline and flamethrowers. Because there hasn’t been an atom age threat yet, that can’t be destroyed with flame throwers. (Well, except for Godzilla)
Oct. 28: It was all old, weird Frankenstein with Frankenstein (1911) and The Tales Of Frankenstein (1958). Frankenstein (1911) was produced by Edison Studios and directed by J. Searle Dawley. It’s a good reminder that if filmmakers never made remakes or adapted the same works, this would be the cinematic face of Frankenstein*
To be honest, I don’t really have a problem with that. (Though my friend John says that this Frankenstein reminds him of a Gilda Radner character). This adaptation of Mary Shelley’s book is a series of vignettes in the life of a mad scientist with some very charming and pretty effective special effects. As in the book, Mr. Frankenstein creates life, only to regret it. Unlike the book, Mr. Frankenstein successfully removes the evil from his mind. The film is only a little over ten minutes long and is now public domain, so go ahead and watch it on YouTube or the Internet Archive.
I also watched The Tales Of Frankenstein, accompanied by Teleport City’s Keith Allison. Hammer Studios and Columbia Pictures co-produced Tales as the pilot episode of a series that never came to be. But I have to tell you, I find it quite satisfying. It has a great title, some spooky lab equipment, a wolf howling, a head in a crystal ball and the words, “From the beginning of time.” I have to say, that’s enough for me. A woman and her dying husband have traveled all the way to Baron Frankenstein’s village to plead with him to save the husband’s life. Grumpy from another experiment gone wrong, the Baron refuses. After the man’s death, the Baron claims to feel guilty and, as might be expected, bribes the gravedigger and steals the dead man’s body so he has a fancy new brain to put in a specially designed, customized bod. It doesn’t go as well as the Baron might expect. This was a short program, only about a half an hour long. The Baron in this is very much in line with the crabby, nasty Baron Frankenstein of the Hammer films. I don’t know if every episode would involve the Baron trying to solve problems with by transplanting the week’s guest’s brain into the body of his monster, but it would be interesting to see.
*If you are wondering why I am using the name “Frankenstein” for the monster created by Dr./Baron/Mr. Henry/Victor Frankenstein, I explain some of my thoughts on the matter here.
Oct. 29: William Castle’s movies weren’t just movies, they were attractions and 13 Ghosts (1960) surely would’ve been among the best haunted houses. It’s still pretty fun without the special “viewer” that allows one to see the various ghosts “through the magic of Illusion-O”–including a lion and an intriguing lion tamer, and some Italian stereotype comic relief with a truly impressive and apparently paper mustache. The apparently Zorba family is bequeathed a spooky house inhabited by ghosts and the very much alive Margaret Hamilton. There is a treasure and a dead paranormal investigator and a conniving jerk. And I was interested to learn that if I had switched my field from sociocultural anthropology to paleontology, I could’ve learned so much about ghosts. Which makes sense because ghosts are old and dead, like the dinosaurs, giant mammals and condors we see at the La Brea tarpits, where family patriach, Cyrus, works. I’d like to give Buck and Hilda some props for naming their daughter Medea. I’m impressed. Of course, watching the film without the viewer makes it much less fun, but the version I watched did show the ghosts and they look pretty neat red on blue. The film was perfectly competent and actually felt a lot like a made for television production, but I bet it was a lot of fun in the theater with a full William Castle treatment.
I also listened to two version of “War of the Worlds.” The first was the Mercury Theater of the Air’s 1938 production. And I listened to about half of Jeff Wayns’s progressive rock opera narrated by Richard Burton. (Then I fell asleep, but, sadly, I do not believe I dreamed of Martian war machines). I came out feeling very sad for Ramón Raquello and his orchestra. Orson Welles remains the coolest.
Oct. 30: For Devil’s Night, I joined in on the Drive-In Mob and TCMParty’s combined viewing of another William Castle film, The House On Haunted Hill (1959) and The Legend Of Hell House (1973). One suspects, but does not know, that Castle, being the canny man he was, played on the then popularity of Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House (1953). As it is, it’s easy enough to confuse all three titles. And I suspect Castle was well-aware of that. In The House On Haunted Hill, blends The Cat And The Canary (1927) with Bluebeard. Mr. Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) is holding a little house party, though he claims it’s really a party for his fourth wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). He offers $10,000 to any of his guests who survive the night, and arms each with a revolver. After which, there is a lot of screaming, disbelief of a “hysterical” woman, Richard Long as Lance the ostensible hero who bravely battles his Gig Young tendencies, a vat of acid and one of my favorite skeletons in horror movie history. My favorite parts were Price, Ohmart, Annabelle’s loungewear, the ghost that appears to be on tracks, and that skeleton. You might recognize Loren’s house, aka, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House from Blade Runner (1982), The Replacement Killers (1999), Twin Peaks and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
The Legend Of Hell House is based on a Richard Matheson novel that draws very heavily on Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1953). In fact, the characters repeatedly refer to an even that took place in 1953 in the house they are investigating for paranormal activity, and that they hope to clear. Roddy MacDowell plays Benjamin Franklin Fischer, a physical medium who escaped from the original investigation with his life and his sanity. He returns to the house twenty years later with a parapsychologist/physicist Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill); Ann Barrett (Gayle Hunnicutt); and Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), a “mental medium.” They have been offered $100,000 each to stay a week in the house and figure out what’s up. There is an entity in the house who is not happy to see them, and certainly doesn’t want to leave. The ladies suffer the sexy times possession and rage. Dr. Barrett dismisses everyone and builds a machine to drain the house’s power. (I like to call it his Hubris Machine, but I’ll also go with Hubris Ex Machina). And Fischer alternately helps and doesn’t help, though when he does try to help people don’t listen. Legend is a fine example of Seventies horror and while probably shocking and naturalistic at the time, I see it possibly bridging, but certainly balancing the naturalistic horror of movies like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971) or Ganja & Hess (1973) with the more stylized, Technicolor Gothic horror that had gone before. And dig those crazy angles. (Also, warning: violence to a cat).
Oct. 31: So much spookiness. I probably overdid it. I listened to a few of these episodes of the old time radio show, Suspense, picked out by the excellent Nitrate Diva. And I listened to Vincent Price explain in echoing tones much about the history of Witchcraft on his 1969 album, Witchraft & Magic: An Adventure in Demonology. I think, in a pinch, one could use Price’s incantations here to call the Quarters or, at the very least, to charge one’s magic wand.
I also watched two films I hadn’t seen before. My intention during 31 Days of Horror had been to watch mostly films new to me or films I’d been meaning to watch for a while. I’m not sure how well I feel I managed that. It’s hard to balance a desire to see my favorites and watching movies with others with seeing new films. Anyway, I watched Office Killer (1997) and Ganja & Hess (1973).
Even though I watched Ganja & Hess second, I’m going to talk about it first because I think it leads naturally from my discussion of The Legend Of Hell House. Where Legend is transitional between Gothic horror and the new more naturalistic, less brightly colored and more mobile cinematographies of the Seventies (helped in no small part through new camera technologies), Billy Gunn’s Ganja & Hess is naturalism and immediacy intertwined with experimental art film.It is an ambitious film and offers few explanations and nothing like Dr. Barrett’s spiritual energy sink.
The Night Of the Living Dead‘s Duane Jones plays anthropologist Hess Green. Hess is stabbed with a Myrthian ceremonial dagger by his grad assistant George Meda (director Billy Gunn). Dr. Green dies, but rises again as a vampire. He is, however, not like Dracula or even Count Orlok at all. He is more like Jessica in Let’s Scare Jessica To Death–one of the peculiar vampires of the Seventies. He is awake in the daytime. He goes to church and participates in a service. He even receives the blessing of a priest. He definitely drinks wine. The only difference between Hess and other people is that he is immortal, he will die for good if the shadow of a cross ever touches his heart, and he is addicted to blood. Meda kills himself and Hess stores Meda’s body in the wine cellar, because there’s not point in letting good blood go to waste, and blood isn’t easy to find. Meda’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) comes looking for Meda and ultimately discovers Hess’ secret.
But this isn’t really a linear narrative. There are dream or visionary sequences. And the details of Hess’s and the Ganja and Hess’ life together are shown in a a series of acts that offer impressions more than anything else. But the details of his world, the dirty ring of a toilet, a dead woman in bed, awkward conversations, do create an eeriness. And I can’t help wondering about other films and filmmakers that Bill Gunn and Ganja & Hess influenced. Vampirism as blood addiction returns in Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995). And the focus on the relationship between Adam and Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive feels very similar to Ganja & Hess, even if Jarmusch’s cinematography, lighting and composition is much, much different. Sadly, both Gunn and Duane Jones produced very little work, though Jones went on to teach. And both died quite young. I can tell that this is a film I will ponder for a while. And I think that’s always a good thing.
Cindy Sherman’s Office Killer is very, very different. It is completely delightful. Carol Kane plays Dorine Douglas, a magazine copyeditor who has been given a laptop and directed to work from home after company downsizing. But Dorine shares her home with her ailing mother and memories of her skeevy father (Eric Bogosian). And Dorine doesn’t really want to spend more time with either. Dorine’s mousy, weird and nerdy. She can never quite apply her eyebrow pencil correctly. (I love that it’s her eyebrows and not her application of her lipstick that indicates something is wrong). And she is mocked by office mean girl, Kim Poole (Molly Ringwald), and staff writer Gary Michaels (David Thornton), who has the perfect Nineties player hair. One night, Dorine goes to Gary for help with her new computer and accidentally electrocutes him. This accident opens up a whole new world to Dorine as she creates the life she always wanted. It’s kind of Noir and kind of crazy lady slasher and it made me laugh. I also enjoyed Barbara Sukowa’s performance as the asthmatic editor and terrible boss Norah Reed. And the opening credits are gorgeous and gorgeously scored–using the printing process and the sounds of late Nineties office work.