Spookoween 2016: 31 Days of Horror, Part II

And so my days of horror continue with more moths, more fading young ladies, more vampires, more Carmilla, more bats, more jealousy and consuming obsession, more full coverage nightgowns, more curious portrayals of Asian people, more faces in the windows, more racial and gender allegory, more wings in the night, but also with mad science, professors, Deborah Kerr, doves, self-sacrifice, art that tells secrets, flies, brooding edifices and bees.

Part I includes: Prevenge (2016); Veerana (1988); Vincent Price’s reading of “The Stone King”; Peeping Tom (1960); Misty magazine; The Outer Limits‘ episode, “The Galaxy Being”; Young Frankenstein (1974); Dracula’s Daughter (1936); Son of Dracula (1943); The Purge: Election Year (2016); It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955); The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967); Crimson Peak (2016); and, The Vampire Lovers (1970).

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).

Oct. 11. Roland West’s  The Bat (1926) feels a lot like a play on a much bigger set, like many films of the late 1920s do. And it is–it is a Broadway hit filmed for the enjoyment of folks like us who missed its run back in the day. And for people at the time who wanted to see Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood’s play on a bigger scale.

Mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder (Emily Fitzroy) rents an old dark house to get some knitting and mystery-writing done over the summer. But her house also contains an ancestral treasure of some sort and the Bat–and seemingly everyone is after it. The Bat is a lot like Batman, if Batman were a supervillain intent on stealing the secret money in an old dark house while blending in with Cornelia’s niece, her beau, the comic relief maid and the comic relief cop.

The butler is not comic relief. Sōjin Kamiyama is credited as “Billy the Butler,” but he is most often referred to as “Jappy” and “the Jap butler.” His make-up might be yellow-face or it might be neandertal face. It’s hard to say and a confusing bit of possibly racist/possibly homininist business.  Kamiyama also appeared in The Thief of Baghdad (1924) as well.

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Sojin Kamiyama wearing a turban in Seven Footsteps To Satan (1929)

He seems to have left Hollywood in 1930 and started working in Japan’s film industry. He ultimately went on to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. and the first of Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai trilogy films.

This is a later era silent film, studios would start phasing in sound just one year later, and so The Bat has some really sophisticated use of silent conventions. My favorite is a shout down the stairs followed by a shot, using both writing on the scene and advancements in light and shadow to create a sense of drama and suspense. The Bat was remade in 1930 as The Bat Whispers and again in 1959 with Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead. The print I watched had the worst music. An endless loop of three songs, including “Pachelbel’s Canon,” which was hit and miss in terms of being appropriate to the scene.

I love Cornelia’s final line,”My first lie in an otherwise stainless life.”

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Oct. 12. Candyman (1992) 🐝🐝🐝 Bees over Chicago. Bees in a toilet. Bees in a dead man’s rib cage. Bees everywhere. Also, a brief appearance by Ted Raimi in a retelling of a urban legend. Urban folklorist and sorta Dana Scully Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and her good friend and fellow grad student Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) are studying the legend of the Candyman. The Candyman appears whenever someone says his name five times while looking into a mirror. Using a hook embedded into his arm, he murders whoever summons him and generally whoever is around. Which made me wonder why anyone summons him in the first place. Candyman leans into this question where a lot of movies just move on to the next kill. The Candyman is a sort of demon lover with a kiss full of bees for Helen. He entreats her, “Be my victim” and Helen’s consent to her death is important to him. Important enough that he tries to ruin her life so that she’ll choose to be with him for eternity. Though I suspect he feels he’s just revealing the emptiness of her existence. (But you know, Bernie is a swell friend and Anne-Marie McCoy and her dog didn’t do anything to anyone). But I’m getting a little ahead of things.

Helen and Bernie discover that a serial killer has stolen the Candyman’s modus operandi and is terrorizing Chicago’s no longer extant Cabrini-Green projects. They go to a building where he has murdered a woman. Helen takes pictures of a series of rooms dedicated to the Candyman. After identifying themselves as being from the univeristy, Helen and Bernie befriend Anne-Marie McCoy, a single mother who lives in the apartment next door to the one where the woman died. Bernie is pretty certain that the role of a folklorist doesn’t include a current murder investigation, but Helen is fascinated and returns to the building alone. Anne-Marie isn’t home, but she meets Jake, a little boy who tells her he knows where the Candyman is. He takes Helen to a public bathroom. He, not being a fool who would say the Candyman’s name 5x in front of a mirror, stays outside while Helen goes in to take more pictures.

Someone has written “Sweets To The Sweet” in shit on the bathroom’s wall and across one of the stalls. Someone had spray painted “Sweets To The Sweet” on the walls in the rooms Helen explored in the building. Despite the stank, Helen opens all the stall doors and discovers an arrow pointing down to a closed toilet. Never follow the dooky arrow. Helen, however, does and opens the lid to discover a toilet full of bees. As if that weren’t awful enough, a group of men confront her in the bathroom and one, in a long, black coat, tells her that he is the Candyman. Helen tries “I’m from the university,” but it doesn’t work with these men. They attack her. Jake calls 911 and after Helen recovers, the police are ecstatic that they have a witness who can identify the man–a witness who is a white, female grad student. The police had known who was committing the crimes, but a combination of silence from the project residents and few resources or institutional support to pursue a Black man preying on a Black community prevented them from apprehending the “Candyman.”

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Of course, the arrested man isn’t really the Candyman and the legendary Candyman is real, but now he’s angry because with the poser in jail, no one fears him anymore. He appears to show Helen his amazing sense of style and to tell Helen that he’s going to have to “spill innocent blood” to get people to believe in him again. At a dinner with her husband and his colleague (and her professional rival) Dr. Long-Haired White British Man,  Helen had discovered that the Candyman had once been a wealthy business man during the Civil War, inventor and the son of a freed slave who had fallen in love with a white woman. the woman’s father lost it when they had a child and an angry mob murdered him after hacking off his hand, sticking a hook in the stump and smearing him with honey so he would die of bee stings before burning his body and spreading his ashes over what would become Cabrini-Green.

The Candyman frames Helen for the kidnapping of Anne-Marie’s baby, Anthony, and the murder of her dog. Later, he frames her for the murder of Bernie. All the while entreating her to “Be my victim.” He promises her that if she will join him, he will save Anthony, but what he really wants is to reunite his family in a new world of bees, murdering and haunting mirrors.

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Oct. 13. Tonight’s Drive-In Mob double feature was, The Invisible Man Returns (1940)–written by H.G. Wells and Kurt Siodmak–and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944). The Invisible Man doesn’t return as Claude Raines, but as Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) using the duocaine formulated by the original invisible man’s brother to escape prison and clear his name. And in The Invisible Man’s Revenge, the revenge isn’t his so much as it is Brutus the dog’s after Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) murders mad scientist John Carradine. There are many swell effects, including an invisible guinea pig and invisible dog.

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Oct. 15. Adventure Time, “Ghost Fly.” After an evening struggling with restless leg syndrome, friends annoying him and a fly that dares eat his soup, Jake kills the fly and unleashes the horror of a restless ghost fly with unfinished biz. I love that all the ghosts wear sheets, that the dim mak is a crucial plot point and that Doctor Princess returns. Plus, I am always down with Peppermint Butler doing ritual magic.

The Moth Diaries (2011) might be my favorite new discovery this Halloween. Mary Harron directed and adapted The Moth Diaries from Rachel Klein’s eponymous novel. Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) is a young woman attending an all-girl private school after her father’s suicide. Her father was a respected poet. Her mother is a painter. In her studio, Rebecca’s mother still listens to the music her husband listened to as he died. Rebecca has started to find happiness again at Brangwyn Hall. She has friends and is excited to room right by her best friend, Lucy Blake (Sarah Gadon) this year. But there is a new girl, tall and pale with red lips straight out of Dracula (May 15 and Oct. 3, for instance). And her name is crying out to be an anagram in a Gothic novel, Ernessa Bloch (Lily Cole). And Ernessa seems to want Lucy to be her Lucy Westenra. Or, more precisely, her Laura from Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire story, Carmilla (1872).

The film is in love with literature from Carmilla and Dracula to Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Fly.” The only male teacher at Brangwyn Hall and the only living male character in the film, and the only male teacher at Brangwyn Hall teaches the girls about Byron and Gothic novels. I have had many a conversation with dudes who did not notice the sex in Dracula, or that most of the vampires in the book were women who developed sexual desires after encountering the count. But Mary Harron sure noticed it, and so did Mr. Davies. He tells them, “There are three things that you find in every vampire story: Sex. Blood. Death.”

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And he notes the fear that is at the base of novels like Dracula,”Fear that the pure, Victorian maiden would turn into a ravening beast.”

But he treats Rebecca in much the way that the male characters in Dracula treat their women. She wants to tell him about her concerns about Ernessa and her fears for her friend. “Something terrible is happening to Lucy,” she says. And he responds, “Rebecca, you’re too young for all these morbid thoughts.” Kisses her and starts to unbutton her blouse. Rebecca leaves, not because she is frigid or afraid of her sexuality, as would be the case in so many other, earlier horror stories. She leaves despite her attraction to him because that is not what she’s there for and she probably is the only one in the room who realizes how inappropriate his behavior is.

Harron makes excellent use of uncertainty. In her essays on Hannibal, Cleolinda often talks about how “people in Dracula don’t know they’re in Dracula.”

But in a story, the characters don’t know. “Why would you go to the dark scary castle of a guy named Dracula?!” Well, because “Dracula” doesn’t mean anything to those fictional people–not the way it does to us. So, as a reader/viewer, you sometimes have to fight this impatient disbelief that the characters do not realize they are talking to a household name of horror. Rather, they’re living in a world where “This guy is actually a terrifying killer who wants to feast on you” is the least obvious conclusion.

If you know the story of Dracula and Carmilla, would it really save you or just make you less sure of your perceptions? Rebecca knows the conventions of Gothic vampire novels, but she also knows she lives in the real world and that vampires are not real. Grief and jealousy and love are real. But she still feels like she’s in Carmilla and that she’s neither Carmilla nor Laura. Ernessa is alternately aloof and frightening with Rebecca. She’s warm and friendly with Lucy, and they’ve come be be best friends. And anyone who Rebecca becomes close to in turn, leaves her one way or another. One friend is expelled. Another is taken out of school after she discovers a dead body in the woods. A third falls to her death walking along the school’s eaves late at night. This third friend is also the only one who might’ve seen Ernessa walk through a window.

And all the while Lucy is growing pale and weak. She won’t eat. She hasn’t had a period in three months. And she is finally hospitalized. When she recovers a bit, Rebecca goes to her and begs Lucy to let her call Lucy’s mother and have her taken home. Lucy says she’s not sick, “It’s something else,” before losing her temper with Rebecca. “I can’t stand having you around me all the time. Wanting me only for yourself. You’re a fucking drag. Pulling me down with all your pain.”

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And here’s where I wonder who the real vampire is, or how much like one Rebecca herself is. She believes she’s helping her best friend, but her best friend doesn’t want her help. And Rebecca is so lonely and angry and envious. And Lucy was the only one who made Rebecca feel the way she wanted to.

There is often madness in Gothic stories about women.In The Moth Diaries it’s not quite at the level where no one will listen to Rebecca. They are just busy with their own lives. And they understand that Rebecca is jealous and that she has lost her father and losing her best friend to someone else, might make her act out. So it’s not the madness of yellow wallpaper and sanitaria. It’s irritated friends saying, “We’re tired of you talking trash about Ernessa.” Or, “you need to leave Lucy alone if she doesn’t want to see you anymore.” Or, “Your teacher implied you might think that Ernessa is controlling your best friend so he sent you to talk to me, a guidance counselor.”

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It turns out that Ernessa has been deliberately isolating Rebecca. She stole Lucy so that Rebecca would notice her and so that Rebecca would be more alone. She shows Rebecca what might be her true self, whether it’s singing disturbing fairy tale songs, encouraging Rebecca to cut her wrists with a razor blade or a room full of swarming moths. She tells Rebecca that they look a like and talks to Rebecca about her own father’s suicide. Ernessa wants Rebecca to be her victim, to consent to an eternity of being best friends forever and maybe more.

Oct. 16. I watched Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010) with some good friends. Tucker and Dale starts with a car full of undergraduates (who all look like grad students) on a camping trip in Appalachia. They are creeped out by two “hillbillies” in a pick-up truck. And even more creeped out when they run into those men at a store off the highway. But the store is where things change and if you don’t like spoilers, I’d suggest seeing the movie and stopping here.

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Turns out those two men are Tucker (Alan Tudyk, in what I think is his best role so far. Even better than “Pirate Steve”) and Dale (Tyler Labine). They are picking up supplies before heading to Tucker’s new vacation home, an abandoned cabin in the woods filled with bones, traps and stories about killings. Also board games and the makings for pancakes. I love how Tucker & Dale plays with perspective and different understandings of a situation. The college kids think they are in a slasher movie, and they kind of are. Tucker and Dale think these kids have come to the woods to kill themselves–and proceed to do so all over Tucker’s property. Oh, and there’s a bee attack, too.

At The Cultural Gutter, alex MacFadyen has more swell thoughts about Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.

I was also reminded of the existence of Breaker High and the fact that Tyler “Dale” Labine and Ryan Gosling starred in it. Do you dare watch an incredibly high concentration of Canadian content in less than 2 minutes??? Can your heart endure the shock of a high school on a cruise boat???

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Oct. 17. In Eye of the Devil (1966), Philippe de Montfaucon (David Niven) is interrupted at a lovely party he and his wife Catherine de Montfaucon (Deborah Kerr) are giving at their Paris home. He has received news that he must return to his ancestral castle in Bellenac because the vinyards are failing. Philippe warns Catherine not to come with him. He says the people are suspicious of outsiders and their ways are strange.

Catherine is worried about Philippe. After speaking with her old friend (and probably old flame) Jean-Claude Ibert (Edward Mulhare), she drives to Bellenac soon after with their young children, Jacques (Robert Duncan) and Antoinette (Suky Appleby). Once at Bellenac she meets Christian de Caray (David Hemmings) after he shoots a dove out of the sky and the dead bird lands at Catherin’s feet. She also meets Odile de Caray (Sharon Tate) in an amazing witchy outfit and wearing *trousers*. Odile is more of a trickster, sometimes helping, sometimes undermining. Once in a while trying to lure people to their deaths.

Whens suggesting that Philippe has been lying to Catherine, Odile says that all men lie. “I don’t have much use for them except for Christian, but he’s different.” And while this can be read as incestuous, for me it reads more as both Odile and Christian being Queer. After all, Odile is wearing trousers and boots in 1966.

Philippe has been lying to Catherine, though I will give him that he lies rather than gaslights. He doses her with belladonna, too. She has seen him in a ceremony with strange robed figures. The priest on the premises, Pere Dominic, is strange. And really we should all be a little concerned about any priest played by Donald Pleasance. Cathering gradually pieces together that Philippe has returned in order to sacrifice himself to return fertility to the fields. He is the local lord and, as the ways of his ancestors have had it for 1,000 years, it is his duty. It must also be his choice, as Pere Dominic emphasizes when Philippe asks if the father were surprised he had returned rather than staying in Paris.

“I never doubted the path that you had chosen.”

“What makes you think I’ve chosen it?”

“You came back.”

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It’s a lovely piece of folk horror  evoking the fear of a pagan past–and just a bit of the England’s Papist past. Like The Wicker Man (1973), it relies on Sir James Frazier’s The Golden Bough. Philippe de Montfaucon is much less jolly than Lord Summerisle. Eye Of The Devil is more solemn and it is gorgeously noir with excellent composition. I loved Sharon Tate in the film. And I really enjoyed seeing Catherine’s competence and plain old smarts. I’ve ordered the novel the film is based on, The Day Of The Arrow (1964), from the library and hope to finish it before these days of horror end.

(If you are curious, I wrote quite a bit on The Wicker Man, The Golden Bough and Margaret Murray’s witch-cult books in “Sex & Naps: Lessons From The Wicker Man at Teleport City)

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Oct. 18.  Deborah Kerr returns in The Innocents (1961) and this time she’s trying to save the children from the ghost of Peter Wyngarde. Well, Peter Quint, played by Peter Wyngard, and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). Kerr plays Giddens, a governess hired to take care of the niece and nephew of a wealthy man who can’t be bothered. The children are twins, and, I think it is possible that they grow up to become Odile and Christian from Eye Of The Devil.

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Great Peter Wyngarde’s Ghost!

Miss Giddens travels to a country estate to care for Flora (Pamela Franklin) with the help of the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) and a host of unseen and possibly spectral servants. Shortly after her arrival, she receives a letter saying that Flora’s brother Miles (Martin Stephens)has been sent home from boarding school for “corrupting” the other boys. On his arrival, however, Miles seems perfectly fine, if a bit like a tiny Patrick McNee. He is pleasant, but oddly flirtatious for his age.

But the house seems to be haunted. Miss Giddens sees and hears things. And her relationship with the children, once close and loving, changes after a night when they have a fancy dress part and, dressed as a king, Miles recites:

What shall I sing to my lord from my window? / What shall I sing for my lord will not stay? What shall I sing for my lord will not listen? / Where shall I go when my lord is away? Whom shall I love when the moon is arisen? / Gone is my lord and the grave is his prison. What shall I say when my lord comes a calling? / What shall I say when he knocks on my door? What shall I say when his feet enter softly? / Leaving the marks of his grave on my floor.

Enter my lord. Come from your prison.

Come from your grave, for the moon is a risen.

Enter, my lord.

Which seems a lot like an invitation. One night, Miss Giddens sees Miles wandering in the garden and when she puts him to bed, he claims he and Flora had decided to be naughty to be more interesting. Under his pillow, she finds one of his doves, strangled. He claimed to be keeping it warm until he could bury it in the morning. For her part in creepy animal interactions, Flora is very interested watching a butterfly in a spider’s web.

Miss Giddens becomes convinced that the children are possessed by the spirits of two servants who had a torrid affair, Mr. Quint and the former governess, Miss Jessel. According to Mrs. Grose, the children had seen something. And Miss Giddens had heard the ghost of Miss Jessel say, “The children are watching! The children are watching!”

After observing Flora dancing to a song from a music box, a song the children keep playing and singing, while a figure watches in the distance, Miss Giddens confronts Flora. She demands that Flora name the woman she sees. Flora goes into a frenzy, shrieking and spends the night saying terrible things in her room. Miss Giddens, convinced that the truth shall set you free, decides to send Flora, Mrs. Grose and all the servants to town. She confronts Miles over tea and a jiggly rabbit aspic and chases him to the greenhouse where he admits that he was thrown out of school for saying the same kind of terrible things he’s screaming at her–as Quint appears to peer through the window and say them, too. She ultimately forces him to admit or at least to say that he’s learned these things from Peter Quint.

It is a beautifully made ghost story, with fantastic editing and a fascinating electronic soundtrack in parts by Daphne Oram. I cannot say it’s not good or creepy. But for me, the Freudian business of women’s repressed sexuality coming out as hysteria is a little tiresome. The movie is ambiguous, but it leans towards Miss Giddens terrorizing the children into saying what she wants to hear. Which happens and is awful. But sometimes, I like ghosts for their sake alone, and not as a representation of the trouble repressed, hysterical women cause. I think this is largely a problem of timing, though. If I had watched it before The Moth Diaries and maybe even Candyman, I might not feel the same.

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Oct. 19. Whistle And I’ll Come To You (1968) is based on a 1904 short story by M. R. James, “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” The adaptation I watched was an episode of the British arts show, Omnibus, and starred Michael Hordern as Prof. Parkin a guest at a small hotel or large boarding house. It’s hard to say whether Parkin is on vacation or trying to get some work done. He’s certainly down for breakfast and tromp through the woods or along the beach. He’s not down with interacting much with the other people on holiday.

Parkin is always muttering to himself or expostulating, snorting, chortling or harumphing as if it were some kind of academic echolocation. He’s asked, “Where do you want this blanket?” and begins responding in one place before coming to a satisfactory answer 20 feet away from where he started. He’s fond of clichés. And so when he tromps through the sea grass and finds a grave eroding by the sea, he says, “Give a dog a bone” when he sees something sticking out from the grave. It’s a flute of some kind. “Finders keepers,” he says as he pockets it. He’s an British academic. He can just pick up an artifact and carry it off. But what he’s found and kept seems to have a ghost attached to it. Parkin cleans the flute and discovers a Latin inscription: “Quis est iste qui venit?” or “Who is this who comes?” Then he blows the flute, the ancient grave flute. But it’s okay, he’s with the university.

That night, Parkin has a frightening dream of being pursued by something. The next day, one of the guests at the hotel asks Parkin if he believes in ghosts. Parkin, eating maybe something made from eggs, feels very clever and pleased with his whole discourse on what does “ghost” mean, how we talk about death, and finishing up with “There are more things in philosophy than are dreamt of in heaven and earth.” In fact he’s so pleased with his inversion that mutters to himself about it as he has lunch on the beach. It’s definitely going into his next book.

When Parkin gets back, the maids cleaning his room ask him which of the two beds in his room he plans to use that night because both have been slept in. This naturally disturbs Parkin, because, as far as he knows, he stayed in one bed all night.

There’s more, but it’s a ghost story, so I’m stopping here. I enjoy the simplicity of “Whistle and I’ll Come to You.” And I appreciate how evocative it is while telling us very little about what’s going on.  But, beware, this story includes: 1. Handling artifacts with bare hands (and mouth); 2. Lots of eating noises. Either is chilling, but both could freeze your heart with terror!

(There’s also a 2010 remake starring John Hurt Look at him in his pajamas!)

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