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Spookoween 2016: 31 Days of Horror, Part IV

More insects, well, arachnids; more ill-advised creeping through holes in basement walls; draculas; the past creeping into the present; old dark houses containing terrifying secrets; 1970s-ness; women’s latent terror; angry ghosts; the Ramsay Brothers; destructive passions and dangerous sex; young travelers and young lovers on their honeymoon; really spoiled honeymoons; mad science; Carmillas; desecrated cemeteries; questionable psychiatry; vengeance from beyond the grave and adding viruses that become malevolent, geo-acoustic phenomena, and a gentleman krampus who subsists on brains.

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 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)

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Oct. 29. The Black Scorpion (1957) does not stint on the giant scorpions or their excretions. People continue to impinge on the ranges of giant animals and monsters. When an earthquake creates a new volcano and releases one giant scorpion, it causes a lot of trouble  and gives “demon bulls” a bad name. Geologists Hank and Arturo go to investigate the geological phenomenon. After another eruption, more giant scorpions attack San Lorenzo and the army try to defend the  village to no avail. The Mexican government turns to entomologist, Dr. Velasco. Dr. Velasco, Hank and Arturo come up with a plan to blow up the vents leading from the subterranean world of fucked-up bug things and drooly scorpions to our world. Exploding their habitat just causes more trouble. The scorpions swarm out to attack and derail a train out of Monterrey and then head towards Mexico City. The only thing the citizens of Mexico City have going for them is that the scorpions kill each other, leaving only one gigantic one to defeat.

If only the people in Night of the Lepus had seen The Black Scorpion they might not have made their own giant rabbit problems worse.

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Drooly.

I also finished listening to BBC Radio Four’s 1981 adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula.” It’s one of my annual Halloween season traditions. And I read more of Shelock Holmes vs. Dracula, the novel, which is very enjoyable.  And later that night, I listened to Peter Strickland’s adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s “The Stone Tape” for BBC Radio 4’s Fright Night Halloween line-up.

Back in the 1970s, people were really into cool things like ancient astronauts, the ability of pyramids to preserve foods for a longer period of time, and the idea that materials we don’t usually think of as capable of recording sound could record sound. Specifically, things like vases might record the ambient noise around them at the time they were made. And if we just could figure out the right to play them–even just the right needle to fit their grooves–we could hear what the ancient world sounded like.

“The Stone Tape” followed up on this idea in Peter Strickland’s adaptation of a 1979 British horror classic. In this adaptation, a team moves into the lab hidden in a Victorian mansion. They are working on top secret mining rig that uses sound to drill through, well, almost anything. Unfortunately, it’s still dangerous and poorly directed. As the team leader says, “We have to be able to shoot this thing without driving the miners insane or turning them into jelly.”

Technical problems aside, there’s a whole slew of interpersonal ones, too. Mainly that they are all trapped in the mansion with Leo, and he is a terrible person who brings out the worst in everyone. Primarily, he worries all the time about them being scooped and crows about how famous this new technology is going to make them and also how Jill, the only woman on the mission, is hysterical and manipulative.”You know what she’s like. Drop of a hat she catches a does of the vapors.”

Jill, for her part, is grieving a loss in the tried-and-true manner, trying to hold it together while pretending she is unaffected and getting on with it. It doesn’t help that Leo is telling everyone she’s a hysterical woman. It helps even less when she hears a woman screaming in the house and no one is there. But others do hear the scream a second time, and somehow Jill knows it is going to happen before the scream does.

Of course, they become obsessed with the scream. And after recording it when it happens again, they decide that this is not a ghost screaming, but a recording that the material of the house made somehow that is played back or released by their mining equipment. Screw mining, they are now recording and re-recording and playing back the scream over and over in a particular room of the house. And, in the tradition of all people who become obsessed with such things, they’re personal problems are exacerbated.  But also in the tradition of Rational People facing such things, they rationalize, “It’s simply a geo-acoustic phenomenon. Until we crack it, it’s inevitable that it will play tricks on the mind.”

This all leads to madness and amazing sound design. I am always there for Peter Strickland‘s use of sound. I loved it in both Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy. (And he’s the only director who sent me an album of mole cricket field recordings after I went a bit crazy over mole crickets at TIFF’s Vanguard Program Blog).

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Oct. 30. The Ramsay Brothers return with Dak Bangla (1986). Is there a spooky old mansion? Is there a creepy monster in the basement? Is there a servant of an evil god? Is there a villain who bears a grudge against a noble thakur? And is that villain’s revenge just coming to fruition basically 18-25 years later–the time it takes a child to come of age? Is there a mysterious portrait and dreams of the past? YES! Because this is a Ramsay Brothers movie. In particular, this is Dak Bangla (1986)! Dak Bangla opens with a couple about to get busy in an empty rest house  (aka, dak bangla) when they hear a noise. They try to continue, but the noise is just as persistent as they are. When they go to look, they realize the noise is coming from beneath the floorboards. As they lean in, some kind of mummy-monster bursts through the floor!

The monster is the sewn together corpse of the evil–and, of course, rapey–Ozo (Praveen Kumar), who worshipped an evil god, as they always do, and was killed and dismembered by Thakur Mansingh’s (Anil Dhawan) soldiers after assaulting and then murdering Princess Sapna (Swapna). In fact, Ozo breaks into the palace and kills them in their bed while they are getting busy. Ozo’s dad, also with evil god contacts, is summoned to get his son’s remains and sews the body back together before spraying all his fatherly blood on the now heavily bandaged body and returning it to life. This is too creepy for anyone, so they seal up the dungeon with a very interesting sun symbol. It’s like an Italian sun is a devotee of Vishnu.

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But, of course, everyone in the world, including an interesting pseudo-Mithun (Rajan Sippy), a woman who is a dead ringer for Princess Sapna (Swapna) and a group of bandits, are headed to the mansion for a vacation. And of course, they break the seal, ’cause otherwise we wouldn’t have monster shenanigans.

Also, it’s the first movie I’ve seen that opens with a devotional image of Mahavira. Jainism and gory horror, baby.

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But was even Dak Bangla‘s gruesome glory enough on Devil’s Night? No. In the darkling hour’s I listened to James Robinson’s BBC Radio Four adaptation of the “The Ring.”  Anita Sullivan adapted Koji Suzuki’s novel and added some Britishness. Naoko Mori narrates. Mitchell Hooper (Matthew Gravelle) is a British journalist living in Tokyo with his partner, Toni (Eve Myles), and their daughter. Mitchell begins to investigate the death of four teenage girls. He discovers they had all died after watching the same videotape. He finds the videotape and foolishly watches it himself. He gets the warning that he’ll die in seven days unless he does… something. But the tape is too degraded and he can’t make out what he’s supposed to do. The tape preys on his mind and even on his body. As the narrator says, “Again, nausea tries to eject the dead thing that’s crawled inside his body.” Mitchell asks his friend Ryuji (Akira Koieyama) for help. Next thing you know, everyone has watched the tape–including Toni and Yoko. Mitchell and Ryuji desperately try to find a solution, something that will satiate or just salve “A virus pushed to extinction fused to a woman’s rage at mankind.”

The radio drama is totally worth it and, as with Strickland’s “The Stone Tape,” uses binaural sound in addressing mediums in both senses of the word, technology and the human mind. Fright Night also included a reading of Rosemary’s Baby that I still need to get to.

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Oct. 31. Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day (2001) Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) and June Brown (Tricia Vessey) are on a honeymoon in Paris. June has fantastically 1960s outfits and is ready to go. But Shane, not so much. He loves June, but he won’t have sex with her. Whenever they get to the point where he might orgasm, he goes off by himself. Shane’s having trouble. He’s getting excited by the idea of June covered in her own blood and it scares him. So Shane has an ulterior motive for this trip. He’s trying to contact his colleague Dr. Léo Sémeneau (Alex Descas) for help. Shane and Léo had worked together on something revealed indirectly and beautifully by Denis. They had created an infection. Léo lost his job, but continues working on trying to understand what happened. And back in Paris, Léo’s wife Coré (Béatrice Dalle) has the same illness and it is much further progressed in her. Léo keeps Coré locked in their bedroom and has come up with a drug regimen, but it’s not enough. Coré escapes. And at least once, men go in after her and she kills during sex.

Despite two very graphic scenes, the whole film has an old time sensibility to me. The goal is more to horrify than to disgust or frighten. We tend to see horror movies and scary movies as interchangeable, but there is a whole history of horrifying people. It was interesting to watch Trouble Every Day after I watched so many movies from the 1930s and 1940s that were necessarily more oblique with similar themes–Cat People, for instance–mad science, the dangers of women having sex, women killing when sexually aroused as some perverse climax. Trouble Every Day is often discussed as a cannibal movie. It’s an easy shorthand, but I’m right. Cannibalism takes place in the sense that Coré swallows rather than spits. But it could as easily be blood or the act of killing and hurting someone else that gets Coré and Shane off. They’re not just eating people. They’re hurting them. Injuring them. Killing them. And what it reminds me of is werewolves, or at least historical werewolf trials in France. See, people accused of being werewolves might or might not transform physically into wolves, but what they often did was enjoy tearing other people apart.

I kinda love that Denis uses a comics sans-ish font for the titles. I get tired of people going after it. It seems a learned thing. I mean, I believe there are people who, deep in their bones, are hurt by Comic Sans, but I don’t believe everyone is. I believe in appropriate font for the job. And I can’t say if it is for Trouble Every Day, but I think about whether it is.

Also, so you know, the dog does not die. The dog is fine.

Trouble Every Day made an interesting double feature with Roger Vadim’s Et Mourir de Plaisir/ Blood and Roses / Vor Lust zu Sterben (1961). Blood and Roses also opens with people traveling on a plane, but it’s also framed as a story told by a psychiatrist of another fascinating, yet failed, case.

Carmilla von Karnstein (Annette Vadim) attends a masquerade celebrating the engagement of her best friend Georgia (Elsa Martinelli) to Leopoldo. Leopoldo de Karnstein (Mel Ferrer) is Carmilla’s cousin and Carmilla seems to be both jealous of and attracted to both of them. Feelings that can only be illustrated and explored through vampirism. And so, at the masquerade, Carmilla wears the gown Carmilla Karnstein wears in a mysterious ancestral portrait in Leopoldo’s swinging mid-Century Gothic pad. And the resemblance freaks the gathered guests out. During the celebration, an old munitions dump explodes in the local graveyard. Carmilla wearing her trance gown, aka, Countess Karnstein’s dress, walks through the cemetery and discovers the Countess’ resting place. Afterwards, there are deaths by vampire all over. Carmilla has eerie dreams of blood and pursues Georgia more seriously.

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I am ambivalent about Blood and Roses. The dream sequence is gorgeous and I do like lady draculas. And I am generally happy to see a portrayal of a bisexual woman. At the same time, it is very much of its time. Carmilla is less a bisexual woman of today than a 1960s Freudian portrayal of a woman with a sexual dysfunction. At the time, Lesbianism and frigidity pretty much had the same cure–a strong man. Still, she’s a vampire and that groovy dream. And the greenhouse sequence has nice resonance with the greenhouse in both The Innocents and Paul Naschy’s The Vengeance of the Mummy (1975).

Dia de los Muertos Epilogue

Nov. 1. With Chano Urueta’s The Brainiac / Baron of Terror / El Barón del Terror (1962), I made it thirty-two days of horror–and one day of terror–this year. “What if William Powell played a Krampus or Chupacabra?” That was one of my notes for this movie, and it serves as a pretty good review. We are now observing the 355th anniversary of the Mexican Inquisition’s execution of Baron Vitelius d’Estera (Abel Salazar). The Grand Inquisitor has a great voice more suited to announcing the opening of a carnival or game show, things much more fun than pronouncing the sentence of a man condemned for heresy, witchcraft, seducing married women and maidens, necromancy and foretelling the future using corpses.

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The Baron is condemned to torment (“as far as is justified”) and burning at the stake. As the Baron is almost jaunty as he stands atop the pyre and notes a passing comet. He informs all assembled that when the comet returns again he will kill the assembled judges, revealing that he knows who they are behind their hoods.

In 1961, the comet returns and, I think, strikes the earth, cracking open to reveal the Baron seated within and ready to begin his revenge. It’s kind of like Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, but instead of possessing an ancestor who looks like him to get his revenge, the witch returns as a Space Krampus / Chupacabra played by William Powell).  As he leaves the area his comet hit, the Baron encounters two young astronomers Marcos Miranda (Ruben Rojo) and Victoria Contreras (Ariadne Welter) en route to see the celestial event. And they have one of the many awkward hang-outs in The Brainiac and become fast friends. Sadly, The Baron goes about giving a dinner party to introduce himself to Mexico City society, the most civilized form of revenge. When he’s not sneaking off to enjoy some brain carpaccio from a golden goblet he keeps locked in a chest, the Baron identifies the descendants of the men who killed him. Unfortunately, Victoria is one of them.

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In taking his revenge, the Baron transforms from a dapper man to space krampus who sucks people’s brains out by means of holes he makes with his tongue. But he still wears his suit, because he is a dapper Krampus brain vampire with a sense of sophistication. I mean, he has a cane with an anubis head and makes creepy shadows like Count Orlock. Sadly, I think the Baron was in love with Victoria, but he still tries to kill her anyway. As he says, “My hate is much stronger than my love.” And that made me think of Kuroneko and how pacts of revenge inevitably lead one to kill one’s beloved. Even more sadly for the Baron, the local police investigating the murders of local fancy folk have flamethrowers. Because flamethrowers solve every monster problem in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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