Spookoween 2016: 31 Days of Horror Part I

The dark clouds gather, the leaves begin to turn and the veil between the worlds thins. It is indeed Spookoween, the time of year when I participate in 31 Days of Horror and cram my head full of horror movies, stories, podcasts, radio plays, and whatever I decide to define as horror and then I write about it. Because I’m running my own show, I define what  “horror” is and what “a day” is. Every year, I discover some resonance between the films and stories, which is one of the neatest things about 31 Days of Horror. I’m interested to see how it plays out this year.

Part II: The Bat (1926); Candyman (1992); The Invisible Man Returns (1940); The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944); Adventure Time, “Ghost Fly”; The Moth Diaries (2011); Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010); Breaker High (1997); Eye of the Devil (1966); The Innocents (1961); “Whistle and I’ll Come to You” (1968).

Part III: The Raven (1934); The Black Cat (1935); Blochtober 2016 at the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast; Tahkhana (1986); Genuine, a Tale of a Vampire (1920); How To Get Away With Murder (2016); Shock (1977); “The Van Helsing Mysteries” (2016); Boris Karloff’S Thriller, “A Man of Mystery” (1966); Day of the Arrow (1964 / 2016); Ghost Hunters, “Phantom for the First Course” (2016); House of Frankenstein (1944); House of Dracula (1945); Dracula (1931); Cat People (1942); and, The Seventh Victim (1943)

Part IV: The Black Scorpion (1957); “Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula”; “The Stone Tape” (2015); Dak Bangla (1986); “The Ring” (2016); Trouble Every Day (2001); Blood and Roses (1961); and, The Brainiac / Baron of Terror / El Barón del Terror (1962).

I got a bit of a slow start on 31 Days of Horror after being excited about watching all the horror movies in September, and even starting early. So I’m including a few of those movies I saw and wished I had seen during the official 31 Days of Horror. I’ll call it, “Prologue to 31 Days of Horror.”

In Prevenge (2016) Alice Lowe plays Ruth, a pregnant woman who is doing some murdering. Normally, I’d go into a lot of depth. (I sure do about The Purge: Election Year down below). But Prevenge is a small, indie movie I saw for TIFF (unlike The Purge: Election Year) and I think a lot of people who might be interested in it haven’t seen it yet. So I’ll say there is: Brief scenes of herpetology! Extensive scenes of spree-killing! An excellent notebook filled with crazy thoughts! Deadly humor! And an evil fetus! This is Alice Lowe’s first feature as writer and director and it makes me think that she’s what I really liked about Ben Wheatley’s movies. (And yeah, I know she was only in Sightseers and a voice in Kill List). Anyway, I liked it quite a bit.

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Here’s a swell interview with Lowe, entitled, “Alice Lowe: ‘I don’t mind being the evil weirdo who murders people.'”

I watched Veerana (1988) with my friend Beth from Beth Loves Bollywood. It’s a Ramsay Bros. film encompassing nearly all the horror that 1970s and 1980s Hollywood had to offer and then upping the stakes with a sparkle Aum staff and funky music by Bappi Lahiri. It also has this Mario Bava feel with its use of colored lights and in the story of Nakita, an ancient witch and probable vampire who will live again through the blood of sacrificial victims. Nakita then goes around killing people and feeding off them in the woods, until she is stopped by the Pratap family. Her body is stolen by cultists who attempt to revive by getting her the body of Jasmin (Jasmin), the daughter of the witch-hunting Pratap.  Which is kind of reminiscent of the witch vampire / vampire witch of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.

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There are so many influences, it’s hard to get into them all. But there are also things I have never seen before, like dudes with rocks for heads, an excellent villain lair with hanging skulls, an excellent quasi-Mesopotamian evil god and a muscle man who isn’t Dharmendra but wears Dharmendra’s clothes. And Jasmin has a stare up there with Barbara Steele’s and Suzzannah’s.

End Prologue.

Oct. 1  I was working on my article about Misty magazine and two reprinted stories for an article at the Cultural Gutter. I finished reading the first of the Misty stories, “Moonchild.” And instead of getting into it here, I’ll link to my finished piece, “Misty and the Many Faces of 1970s Horror.”

I did, however, listen to Vincent Price read “The Stone King” from the album, A Coven of Witches Tales (Caedmon, 1973). A Danish warrior wants to be the king of England, but vexes a witch by climbing her mountain. In return, the witch hexes him after telling him, “Never shalt thou take those seven long strides to the top.” She turns the would-be king into stone and, in an inversion of Greek myth, herself into an elder tree to keep them in their place. Later, some villagers try to move the stone, but it is filled with cursing them and the village and can only be put back in place with the help of an old gray mare. Possibly the witch, Vincent Price’s sepulchral tones seem to imply).

Oct 2. I read the second Misty story, “The Four Faces of Eve.” And I watched Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) for the first time. I’m not sure what I expected, but this wasn’t what I expected at all. I had some half-conscious things based on writings by various critics. Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm) rents out his dead parents’ house to boarders. Lewis works as a focus puller in the film industry and moonlights as photographer for a softcore porn studio above a corner store that sells “educational books” to select clientele. Lewis takes his camera with him everywhere and he has discovered, to his horror discovers he can only be aroused by another’s fear.

The film opens with Lewis stalking a prostitute, filming her all the time–even as he kills her with a spike embedded in the tripod of his camera. As Mark tells the wholesome Helen Stephens (Anna Massey), who lives downstairs from him, his father filmed his every moment, focusing especially on Mark’s reactions of fright. “What was your father trying to do to you photographing you at night?” she asks, horrified. Marks father was a prominent psychiatrist and claimed he was using Mark for research, but it’s pretty evident that the research was just an excuse.

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Mark’s abuse made clinical and commodified.

Like all of Michael Powell’s films, Peeping Tom is compelling. We focus a lot on the visual elements, because of the subject matter of the movie and because they are so arresting, but the audio elements are just as powerful.

Oct. 3. Today’s horror business was finishing reading “The Four Faces of Eve” for my article about Misty magazine at The Cultural Gutter.

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Oct. 4. I thought the Young Frankenstein event was tonight, but it was not. Why is Snowden playing in the auditorium that rightfuly should be playing Young Frankenstein? Because Young Frankenstein is plays on Wednesday, October 5.

And I followed author Chuck Tingle’s livetweet of the Vice Presidential Debate because really that’s the only way to face the horror.

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I did, however, watch  The Outer Limits episode, “The Galaxy Being” (1963). Yeah, it’s more science fiction than horror, I guess, but the series’ opening freaked the hell out of me when I was a kid. Not the content even, the idea of someone else controlling my tv–but the form: the music and the narrator’s voice. There’s a Carol in this episode. She’s busy undermining a radio station KXKVI engineer  Alan Maxwell, who is the dude every mansplaining dude sees himself as–the heroic individual standing up for science and exploration and using over half of the station’s power for his experiments out by the transmission tower.

“You don’t have time for friends, but you have all the time in the world for a cloud of static?” ~ Negative Carol, wife of Alan Maxwell, amateur researcher.

Despite Carol, Alan is proven right when he makes contact with an alien being having some kind of rave on the northwest quadrant of Andromeda. The Galaxy Being glows and makes the same howling noises that the box full of radiation does in Kiss Me Deadly. After Alan communicates to the alien that it should “translate your binary impulses into my computer,” the alien tells Alan all about the nitrogen cycle and asks why he has a mouth. Alan receives answers about death, “Death is property of carbon cycle in three dimensions.” They also talk about God, “Infinity is God. God, infinity. All the same.”

The alien warns Alan, as they so often do, that it should not be talking to carbon beings because of our wars and danger to other galaxies. Then Alan has to go to the stupid party to receive some stupid award in front of his stupid friends. When the Galaxy Being wants to end the call, Alan ask the alien to stay on the line. The Galaxy Being agrees as long as the power is not increased. And off Alan goes. but of course, the temp DJ decides now is his big chance to become famous all the way to Canada and ups the power all the way–leading the Galaxy Being to crawl out of Alan’s tv screen like Sadako, but more radioactive.

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The Galaxy Being, instead of staying put, starts to wander around and accidentally kills people by being radioactive. For an obsessive dude who hates parties, it takes a long time for Alan to return to the station when he has the excuse of something being terribly wrong with the KXKVI’s transimission. While he dithers, the army is quickly deployed. When Alan arrives at the station, he talks to the alien about maybe turning down his rads and sends Carol out to talk to the army. The army shoots Carol as soon as she appears. Luckily the Galaxy Being goes all jesus-y and heals her and then gives a warning to the people of earth. He warns us about the powers in the universe and tells us we need to explore and “reach out,” even though his own people are coming to punish the Galaxy Being for breaking their laws.

“There is no death for me,” he tells sad Alan.

“What will happen?”

“I don’t know.” Then the Galaxy Being alters its own microwave levels and leaves saying, “End Transmission.”

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Oct. 5 Fathom Events: Young Frankenstein introduced by Mel Brooks. It was one of the films in Painfully Funny slapstick film course from TCM and Ball State. And I had just watched the week before as part of TCM’s tribute to Gene Wilder with Drive-In Mob and TCMParty, but I was excited to see it projected and it was neat to see Mel Brooks talk a little bit about the film and writing it with Gene Wilder. Plus, there’s a sweet mural on the outside of the soundstage where Young Frankenstein was filmed. At the screening I attended there was a woman dressed like Frau Blücher and her companion was dressed in Styrian peasant clothing. He carried a plush horse that would neigh whenever he squished it–which happened whenever someone said, “Frau Blücher.” They were good eggs, though, and only did it once on entering the auditorium, teased the rest of us for not being in costume and then did not use the horse during the film. I know certain old movie weirdos would certainly be relieved. This time watching it, I paid a lot of attention to Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher. I think she was trying to make Gene Wilder crack.

Oct. 6. Drive-In Mob presented a Dracula double feature with Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and Son Of Dracula (1943). I’m pretty sure I watched them before in previous years. (Dracula’s Daughter for Spookoween 2014, and Son of Dracula for Spookoween 2015). So I won’t get into either very much.

I love how almost Weimar Dracula’s Daughter is, as the cosmopolitan and lady-loving Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden) mourns the past and fears her present. Otto Kruger is remarkably young and his Dr. Jeffrey Garth is a terrible psychiatrist. I also always appreciate stories about the dangers of being an artist whether in Richard W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow or the stories of Guy de Maupassant.

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I’m fond of Son Of Dracula for how Kay, Countess Dracula and very literal femme fatale, makes patsies Count Alucard (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and that other guy. Kay Dracula is the best dracula name.

Oct. 8. The Purge: Election Year (2016) Merry Purgemas, everyone! This year’s Purge movie is set in a future election in which Sen. Charlie Roan runs against some stooge of the New Founding Fathers of America, a stooge very likely selected by the Man played by Raymond J. Barry (aka, Arlo from Justified). As her name might indicate, Charlie is a final girl, having survived a Purge Night many years ago when her family was killed in front of her. The murderer also ruined P-Funk for her, too, which is just unforgivable. Sen. Roan runs against the Purge, but not P-Funk, because she is a hero.If you haven’t seen any of the movies, the purge is a national holiday lasting 12 hours during which all crimes are legal. This is the third film in the series. The first was a much more straightforward home invasion film where white homeowners are threatened by creepy, entitled people in masks. The second film, The Purge: Anarchy, explores the social order a little more and The Purge: Election Year continues from there, addressing race and class much more explicitly.

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She’s protected by Leo, who you might remember from The Purge: Anarchy. After surviving last year, Leo signed on to become Roan’s chief of security. This year, Arlo directs the NFFA to pass a law allowing government officials to be targeted and killed during the Purge. His sneaky plan is to assassinate Sen. Roan and put an end to all this talk that the Purge is a way of killing off people of color and poor people of all races. Which, as we found out in Purge: Anarchy, it is. I’m not sure what his plan to deal with Dante Bishop, the voice of the resistance to the NFFA, is. But I suppose he has one.

Roan refuses to go into hiding, insisting that she will stay home like everyone else does during the Purge. This exasperates Leo, but he’s obviously aware of the ways of popular leaders in movies and doesn’t bother to argue. Instead, he tries to make her house as safe as it can be, while being suspicious of the police chief who’s there to help and totally depending on his second-in-command in a way that let’s you know that second-in-command is going to let mercenaries who make cylon noises and wear scary masks in through the back door. How dare you betray Leo’s trust and friendship for money, second-in-command? Did you not see The Purge: Anarchy? Don’t you know Leo would risk his life for you? Maybe you could ask him for a loan or to help install that new hot water heater? Did you ever think of that???

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Marcos, Laney and Joe.

Meanwhile our everyday folk Joe, probably former sicario Marcos from Juárez and Laney, aka, La Pequeña Muerte, are securing Joe’s Deli ready for Purge Night. It makes sense that he is working till closing, but I always wonder why people don’t take the day off before the Purge. Just seems safest. Anyway, Joe receives a call from his insurance company saying he needs to pay them thousands of dollars or his purge insurance is gone. Then they get into an altercation with two young women who are shoplifting candy. It is impossible for me to say whether the characters were supposed to be younger than they appeared or if the characters just liked the fashions of private school bad girls. Regardless, you can bet that they are coming back from her candy bar and the outfits will be purgeriffic.

And you can bet that Joe, Marcos and Laney will meet up with Leo and Sen. Roan to try to stop the Purge. And that they’ll have to rescue Sen. Roan from being sacrificed  at the Purge Mass celebrated by the New Founding Fathers of America themselves. Plus, teaming up with the resistance led by Dante Bishop, who you might remember from The Purge: Anarchy, and the Crips!

The New Founding Fathers say things like,”We are not hypocrites. We practice what we preach.” Because, as you know, hypocrites are worse than murderers. And they say,”Jesus died for their sins. Now our modern day martyrs will die for our trespasses” before starting their evening of human sacrifice at the National Cathedral in D.C., which just happens to have an escape tunnel built by George Washington himself.

Anyways, I’m mostly here for the heavy-handed allegory, the diversity and the art design. What outfits and creepy masks will Purgers wear? Many patriotically themed ones this time!  Is it heavy handed? Yes, but that’s why I like it. Besides, every post-apocalyptic or dystopian movie has a shouty muscleman prophesying and The Purge: Election Year also has a bunch of musclemen in a overpass in a swordy fight club. And there’s one of those scenes where a dude remove the bullet from his own shoulder. In this case, Leo removes it while sitting in a triage van with medical personnel and a dude from Juarez who knows how to treat bullet wounds. But you know, dudes gotta remove their own bullets for badassery reasons. The church gunfight between Joe and the NFFA priest needed more doves, though.

Oct. 9. It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)  Faith Domergue  plays Dr. Lesley Joyce, a female scientist beset by a 1950s doughy male love interest, Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey), who say things like, “Do you mind if I make a mental comment upon the nature of women?” Fortunately, they have a gigantic sea beast to study. And then, unfortunately, to try to kill. But still–Tentacles! Ray Harryhausen!

Listened to Nightmare Before Christmas while carving a pumpkins.

And there was more Chuck Tingle livetweeting.

Oct. 10. Bailed on American Psycho 2 (2002) despite the presence of William Shatner. I didn’t even make it to the part with Geraint Wyn Davies from Forever Knight.  It was really hard to drop it, though. William Shatner has a draw.

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I ended up watching Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) starring Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu. I ended up watching the whole thing because the Fu Manchu parts of the story were clearly shot in Shaw Studio in Hong Kong. I’m always intrigued by Asian co-productions that include yellow face. It really underscores a difference in position between Asian Americans and people living, in this instance, in Hong Kong. Of course, the most horrifying part was this terrible green shirt worn by an ugly American in Fu Manchu’s service.  I’d be really interested in seeing a Chang Cheh or King Hu film shot at Pinewood or Shepperton now.

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Oct. 11. In Crimson Peak (2016), we turn from an American ambassador to a supervillain in England and then China to an English Baronet in the United States. It’s 1901 and Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), presumably a relation to Richard Sharpe played by Sean Bean in that endless BBC series, Sharpe, has traveled to Buffalo seeking funding for his new invention. It’s an elaborate digging machine will increase clay mining by a jillion percent, in particular, it will allow for the efficient extraction of the oozing blood red clay beneath his familial mansion, a clay he asserts makes for better bricks and therefore better buildings.

Sharpe figures this brick pitch is a good one, since he’s making it to Mr. Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), a man who is building buildings all over the place. But Sharpe is also there to make some cash in a more cadlike manner. He’s wooing Carter’s daughter Edith (Mia Wasikowska) in hopes of getting her inheritance. After receiving some trouble information from a private detective (probably a Pinkerton), Carter gives Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) a check and tells them to pack up and go–but only after Thomas thoroughly breaks Edith’s heart. He does, because as Lucille tells Edith, while putting a dying butterfly amid a swarm of ants that begin to murder the poor thing, “Beautiful things are fragile.”

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Lucille prefers moths, which turns out well for her, because the Sharpe family home, Allerdale Hall, has luna moths in uppermost floors. It also has creepy mannequin heads and dolls and disturbing “charming” toys in the old nursery where Lucille and Thomas were confined as children. And it has red ghosts who have something to tell Edith. I enjoyed the presence of Buffalo in a Gothic thriller and the mirroring of the Englishman in America followed by the American woman in Cumberland. Usually, the American, like Quincey Morris in Dracula or the dude from The Vengeance of Fu Manchu, is some kind of Texan in a hat and an ugly shirt and he travels to England. Rarely is there a portrayal of a Gothic Rust Belt.

The costumes and setting are gorgeous to look at, but for some reason the pacing made me aware of how predictable the story was to me, when usually I can put such things aside in watching more formalist genre films. For me, Crimson Peak was  The Honeymoon Killers + Flowers In The Attic + Bluebeard’s Wife with just a dash of Dracula or Ruthven and Jane Eyre (What are those noises? Who is that dead woman in the basement? Or the mad woman in the nursery–take your pick). The set is gorgeous, I understand Del Toro built a mansion in a soundstage in Toronto. (Unfortunately, this makes some of the less practical effects look like they are on a different plane, and not in an eerie way).

Crimson Peak also has some of the gender issues I find difficult in Guillermo del Toro’s movies–Orphanage‘s ending just pissed me off and I am still annoyed by the motherhood thing in Hellboy. Here I am more ambivalent because a Gothic story set in 1901 does call for some of the conventions of the genre. Jessica Chastain is excellent as a wicked, love-crazed Lucille, but it bothers me how she become the locus of all guilt by the end. Del Toro’s work focuses so often on innocence and the sacrifice of the less-than-innocent to save the innocent and somehow redeem themselves. In Crimson Peak this often plays out in amazing outfits and a spooky manor house, so it is pretty.

Del Toro is, in some ways, the new Tim Burton. We think of Burton’s vision as tired now, but there was a time when he offered a distinct Gothic image. They are both genius art designers and excellent at picking out talent. Del Toro is definitely the better writer and director. And again, Crimson Peak is very pretty to look at with great atmosphere, which is generally enough for me.

I also watched the last 15 minutes or so of The Vampire Lovers. (1970). I got to see Countess Karnstein take out a sap and draculize her special lady. But then it was all punishing the Lesbian Vampire and attempting to preserve the innocence of the bi-curious, vampire-curious Laura (Pippa Steel). However, I did also get to see the ancestral portrait age as Countess Karnstein turned to dust.

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