Spookoween 2017: 31 Days of Horror, Part I

It’s been hard getting into the Spookoween spirit this year. Lots is going on, but mostly I think it’s hard to feel like Halloween is coming when it’s over 100 F. While shorts are popular in horror movies, it’s hard to feel like it’s fall when that’s mostly what I’ve been wearing. But I’m getting there. Sometimes you can’t wait for inspiration. Sometimes you have to make Halloween happen.

So here is my first set of movies, old time radio shows, television shows and such that goes into my 31 Days of Horror. It involves: Surgical horror, gross eating and mouth shots, werewolves, the kindness of werewolves, syphilis, paranormal investigations, weird police procedurals, Margo Martindale, the devil, the Man using monsters for his own ends, “hocus pocus bitches,” practical solutions to occult problems, body snatching and digging up the dead.

Part II: Colossal; Count Dracula; The Hunger; Dark Fantasy; Dracula In Istanbul; Mindhunter; Breaker High; Latitude Zero; insect horror; It Conquered The World; Venefica; Wolfen Ninja / Wolf Devil Woman; BBC Radio 4’s The Omen; Lucha Underground; The Raven (1935); and, Pretty Maids All In A Row.

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Oct. 1. The first movie I watched for this year’s 31 Days of Horror was Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975), an adaptation of an early 1970s manga, Wolf Guy: The Origin. I’m writing about Wolf Guy for the Cultural Gutter, so I won’t get into it too much here. But Sonny Chiba plays Akira Inugami, the last of a clan of werewolves. It might seem like he never transforms, but the thing is, the true form of a werewolf is Sonny Chiba in a 1970s suit–or sometimes a murder romper. Chiba is such a werewolf that he can suck his organs back into his body. Can Larry Talbot do that? I think not.

Wolf Guy also has a cat demon lady in it as Miki (Etsuko Nami) grows so pissed off at a band who raped her and deliberately gave her syphilis to break up her relationship with the son of a member of the Diet that her “grudge” becomes a tiger. It worked, boy howdy. Instead of getting antibiotics, Miki continued to work strip clubs, but only as a singer who sings a creepy song about how women’s nails are tiger’s claws. And every man who participated in her gang rape was killed by a ghost tiger. Viewer advisory for surgical footage and close up shots of a mouth.The relentless funk and psychedelic soundtrack makes up for the more horrific elements.

Incidentally, Sonny Chiba is not fooled by the old mysterious motorcyclist revealed to be a woman all along trick.

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Although I guess the first horror I listened to this year was The Adventure Zone‘s live show at 2017 San Diego Comic Con, in which the mage Taako, the warrior Magnus, and the cleric Merle play through the infamous Dungeons and Dragons’ Tomb of Horrors adventure in their own special way.

And I did some reading about werewolves in Charlotte F. Otten’s The Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture (Syracuse, Syracuse University Press: 1986);  Adam Douglas’ The Beast Within: A History of the Werewolf (London, Chapman’s: 1992); and Early Modern European Witchcraft (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1993), ed. by Bengt Ankarloo and Gustav Henningsen.

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Schedel’sche Weltchronik / Nuremberg Chronicle, page XIIr by Hartmann Schedel, 1493.

Oct. 2. Werewolfery continues and even abounds as I play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. That’s right, it’s a popular game from years ago and I am finally playing it. Cause I wait for sales! Today I was sent to beat up a cave-ful of vampires. While I usually have some sympathy for the tormented souls I could not abide these vampires and their thralls’ gross eating habits. I don’t mean their need to drink blood. I mean that when I entered their lair, there were platters of blood ribs everywhere I looked. Seriously, guys, you’re gross eaters. And so I smote them. Viago supports me. Viago believes vampires can be neat.

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I left their altar to their evil god alone. I do have some standards and respecting someone’s right to observe their faith is part of that. Even if they are gross eaters.

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Inaccurate werewolf does not resemble Sonny Chiba.

And today’s the day my character agreed to become a werewolf, because why the hell not? It’s not like I’m going team vampire when team vampire involves eating plates of blood-covered ribs. Besides I recently saw in The Dracula Saga that Dracula family dinners are gross and appear to involve blood mixed with paint as wine and some kind of awful blood + tomato aspic soup.

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No, thanks, draculas. Only monsters eat tomato aspics and not the good kind of monsters.

I also discovered a source for my new favorite werewolf story. Peter Burke in Early Modern Witchcraft attributes the story of Thiess the werewolf to Carlo Ginzburg’s 1966 Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. It was in Livonia, where there were a lot of werewolves and werewolf trials in the Seventeenth Century. In a 1692 court transcript, an 80-year-old man was accused of making a pact with the devil and becoming a werewolf. However, he contested this strongly. He said that three times a year, he and some friends turned into wolves and traveled to hell where they beat up the devil in order to rescue crops and livestock the devil and his witches had stolen.  And you know he loved his community if he’s doing this at 80. Thiess is like the Captain America of Livonian werewolves. Or, I guess, Werewolf Captain Livonia.

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There were, however, no werewolves in The Frankenstein Chronicles episodes 3 & 4. I feel like I should make some kind of joke about whether Sean Bean dies. It seems the thing to do. But if I am honest, when I think of Sean Bean, I do not think of Bean in Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. I think of him in Sharpe’s Rifles, which I never watched but was relentlessly on or being advertized on PBS.  In The Frankenstein Chronicles, Bean’s character, Marlott, is a veteran of the Napoleonic War. And Marlott could be dying, but if he is, so far he is dying of syphilis, which isn’t funny.

He’s using the accepted treatment of the time, mercury pills. And the pills give him vivid, disturbing dreams. He remembers the loss of his wife and child. And he gains insight into the murder he is investigating. He had worked for the river police and pulled up what appeared to be the body of a child covered in sutures. It turned out to be the bodies of several children sewn together. These become known as “the Frankenstein Murders” in the press. A member of Parliament, hoping to fast track his anatomical research bill, assigns Marlott to investigate the murder and report back only to him. In the course of his work, Marlott encounters William Blake, Mary Shelley and the parents of a young girl named, “Alice.” The Frankenstein Chronicles features all the horror of early Nineteenth Century London. There are body snatchers, traffickers in women and children, tertiary stage syphilis, and muck everywhere. But there is also an excellent fop running a mysterious shop and a fine dandy journalist.

Oct. 3. There was no horror movie today. But there was more Skyrim. Werewolf killing mofos were punched and zapped. You’d think werewolf hunters with silver swords would keep their lairs neat. But no, it’s impaled werewolf heads everywhere you look. Have some pride in your work, werewolf hunters.

Chris O’Dowd worried me there for a minute as Miles in the tv adaptation of Get Shorty. His emotional state was really being misread by his ex-wife’s new gentleman caller. Ray Romano also has frighteningly accurate film executive dude hair.

I tried to listen to the Cromcast Podcast discussion of Robert E. Howard’s werewolf stories, “In the Forest of Villefere” and “Wolfshead.” From what I heard there were no 80 year old men transforming into wolves to go fight the devil, but pretty fun. I don’t know for sure because there were goddamn stinkbugs coming in from somewhere. I took at least 6 outside. They were attracted by the light in my bedroom. One landed on my pillow.

Unacceptable, stink bugs. Unacceptable.

ittefaq 1969

Oct. 4. Ittefaq (1969), aka, Rajesh Khanna Knows You’re Alone is a strange melding of psychological thriller and drawing room mystery. Rajesh Khanna is Dilip Roy, a man convicted of his wife’s murder in a very stylized trial. We see him expostulating in the dock, around him is blackness and the judge appears to be an org of light. Dilip is sentenced to an asylum for the criminally insane. He speechifiesand Khanna is acting all his acting. We know that despite his clearly violent temper, he has been wrongly accused, but Ittefaq tries to keep us guessing. Dilip escapes and hides in the home of Rekha Jaghoman (Nanda). Dilip becomes convinced that Rekha has killer her husband.  All the things she does to survive prove her guilt for him. It’s an unusual film and, best known for his romantic heroes, Khanna enjoys playing an antihero in an era of angry young men. It reminds me quite a bit Another Man’s Poison (1951), but with amazing 1960s hair and make-up.

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He has a shroud!

Oct. 5. I posted my article about Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope and you can read it here. And I watched Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula / Dracula’s Dog (1978) with Drive-In Mob. So many vampire dogs. So many. And a vampire puppy. Some guy named Mike Dracula is being pursued by Dracula’s dog-sitter. But really the important thing is vampire dogs.

 

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I hosted Cinejanes presentation of Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire (1971). A young swinging couple meets Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall) at an opening at the Stoker Gallery. They all touch the sculptures directly and agree to spend a few days at Diane’s ranch in the desert. Diane, like Carmilla before her, is a vampire who can handle a lot of sunlight and she even enjoys driving her dune buggy around. She likes 70s fashion and the color red. She also likes watching from her creepitorium as the young couple get it on. And she might enjoy driving a wedge between them so that she becomes the object of both their desire. She is lonely and perhaps envious of life.  But as she tells her friend Juan, something’s speeding up inside her and the whole, low budget but phantasmagoric thing can only end in blood. It would be an interesting double feature with Ganja & Hess.

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Oct. 7. There is more occult detective work in Alan Parker’s neo-noir, Angel Heart (1987). In 1955, private investigator Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by Louis Cyphre (Robert DeNiro) to look into the disappearance of singer Johnny Favorite. Angel is too embedded in the story to wonder if the names are too cute, but it’s his story.  He travels to New Orleans where he meets Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling. Lisa Bonet’s breasts are out a lot and it was kind of tiresome and just plain weird. Like ingenue Mambo Epiphany Proudfoot is so beautiful she doesn’t know she’s beautiful and can’t tell what’s going on with her breasts. Maybe they’re not really hers anyways. They’re Harry Angel’s or director Alan Parker’s. However, intrusive dude service aside, it’s a pretty fun film. My favorite part is a scene in a cemetery. As Epiphany Proudfoot visits her mother’s plot, Harry Angel hides, surveilling her.

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I also liked these novices.

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As Harry investigates, everyone he talks to ends up dead and the frame looks like it’s hanging around his mug. Harry tells Cyphre he’s not going to continue, but Cypher peels an egg while maintaining his impeccable manicure and offers Angel more money. And Angel doesn’t really seem like he’s in it for the money. He’s in it to know just what the deal is with Johnny Favorite. And also Louis Cypher’s press-on nail brand.

There is some presentation of Voodoo/Root Magic. And Southern Gothic is all over. It has lines like,  “I hate those hocus-pocus bitches.” And “There ain’t nothing worse for a cop than people who get killed for nutso reasons.” Of course, I am here for a movie where an occult detective investigates why people get killed for nutso reasons.

Angel Heart certainly feels like a precursor to Dark City and M. Night Shyamalan’s early films. But I really could’ve done without this:

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Oct. 8. I blundered into a tweetalong of Fallen (1998), a movie I didn’t even know existed and in which people get killed for nutso reasons. It makes for a nice pairing with Angel Heart. It’s another occult detective thriller! Det. John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) is stalked by an entity after serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas) is executed. The killer had sworn at him in Syrian Aramaic–a dead language spoken at the party store a few blocks from my house.

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“Louis Cyphre? Really? You didn’t see that one coming, Angel?”

And after Reese’s death, murders sharing his M.O. start happening again. Which means, obviously, a trip to the university and meeting with a theology professor who knows more than she’s saying. Though if he’d spoken to someone in Comparative Religion or the anthropology of religion, they might’ve helped him out with some practical solutions to demons hassling you. If you were wondering, one sure sign of demonic possession is singing The Rolling Stones’ version of “Time Is On My Side.”

It has a fascinating cast–Hobbes’ partner is played by John Goodman. His boss is Donald Sutherland. And there’s a part for  James Gandolfini with a sweet strongman mustache. Plus, not one, but two cats!

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Gandolfinistache

What if, after having extensive plastic surgery and removing the “e” from his name, Hobbes goes on to become Hobbs in the Fast and the Furious movies? After his mysterious experiences with the demon Azaz[a]el, he becomes a secret agent and massively jacked human being. It’s too dangerous for Azaz[a]el to ever possess him–not with those frighting traps–and so he changes his name and works dark. Yeah, probably the same character.

I also watched Project Runway, season 16, ep. 8.  My God, the Twins. They are a vision of existential horror. They never stop fronting. I think they not only wear the same shade of lipstcik, but literally use the same tube. My God.

 

Practical Magic ritual

Oct. 9. Practical Magic (1998) is kind of like the other side of the occult thrillers. This time it’s not from the detective’s perspective. Instead we spend our time with the witches of Practical Magic –Sally (Sandra Bullock), Gillian (Nicole Kidman), Aunt Frances (Stockard Channing) and Aunt Jet (Dianne Wiest) all in one big old New England house. These witches do have practical solutions for if your abusive ex pursues you from beyond the grave. Sally and Gillian accidentally kill James Angelov (Goran Višnjić)–not to be confused with Harry Angel–when he has carjacked them after Gillian leaves him. Det. Gary Hallett (Aidan Quinn) dark and handsomely investigates Angelov’s disappearance and finds both shenanigans and hijinx. Also, you know, love. And Margo Martindale has a small role. Everyone likes to see her.

Practical Magic also makes me think that, aside from more people of color who did more than sit in at town meetings*, The Gilmore Girls probably needed more witches. I mean, it is New England.

*I salute the civic mindedness of the people of color living in Stars Hollow. They do not get caught up in romantic drama and bolting from commitment. They show up to stop Taylor and get those millages passed.

Oct. 10. Watching episode 3 of Get Shorty, I determined that Miles (Chris O’Dowd) is a terrible person no matter how much he might feel like he is basically a decent guy who is trying to make a new life for his family. He is also old enough to know that intentions aren’t enough, that one’s secret heart feelings aren’t enough. He always falls back on shitty means to get what he wants. In the film adaptation and in the book, Chili Palmer is more sympathetic and there is more satire (?) I guess in the portrayal of the overlap between the film industry and organized crime. But this Get Shorty feels different as even the outsider deludes himself–maybe deludes himself even more than the desperate producer Rick (Ray Romano being the least Ray Romano I have ever seen), who he ropes into making his period piece, The Admiral’s Mistress.  I suppose it feels a little more Elmore Leonard. Amara, the drug lord in Nevada, is amazing and frightening. If it keeps up, she might give Margo Martindale’s Mags Bennett in Justified a run for her money.

Oct. 11. I’ve already written a bit about The Frankenstein Chronicles, so I’ll just sa that Episodes 5 and 6 has the phrase, “a young mind driven to distraction by dark science,” and a wedding set to Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor.” Everybody needs to watch it so I can talk about it more.

 

 

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