Spookoween 2017: 31 Days of Horror, Part III

Part I: Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope; The Frankenstein Chronicles; Skyrim; Ittefaq; Angel Heart; Fallen; Zoltan, The Hound of Dracula; and, The Velvet Vampire.

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.

In the last week or so 31 Days of Horror, there have/has been more Draculas; Count Dracula in Turkey and India; occult investigation; ghost ladies; revenge; vengeful ghost ladies; vengeful ladies transformed into cats; creepy collections of exes; Satan; stolen bodies; the dead returning; sisters banishing the dead and horror novels coming true; but now there is also 19th Century Austria; inappropriate advances; 1970s Halloween specials; cat demon ladies; Nobuo Nakagawa; and Tamiya Iemon.

Oct. 22. I read Dracula In Istanbul on the porch while eating curly fries. I guess it’s the upside of an abnormally warm October. I’m a little more than halfway through Dracula In Istanbul. Azmi is attempting to escape Castle Dracula after realizing Dracula means to feed him to the vampire ladies in another part of the castle. Güzin and Sadan have written each other letters. And Güzin is concerned about Sadan’s sleepwalking. Also, Sadan has so many suitors who are very close after fighting together during Turkey’s War of Independence. And I’ll go ahead and say that the thirty years between Bram Stoker writing Dracula and  Ali Riza Seyfioğlu writing Dracula really gave Ali Riza Seyfioğlu time to edit. It’s much zippier than Bram Stoker’s Dracula. and much more focused on Dracula’s years as Vlad the Impaler because, you know, Turkey.

I started to watch Midnight Meat Train (2008) and stopped after about 30 minutes. The acting is good. The cinematography is fantastic. I think I just don’t feel Ryuhei Kitamura beyond a perverse fondness for the excesses of Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). So I thought that reading Dracula In Istanbul was going to be it for my Day of Horror. Well, that and seeing a rad Dracula in a shop window.

But after losing patience with Midnight Meat Train, I watched Oz Perkins’ I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (2016).

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Ruth Wilson (Luther) plays Lily, a nurse who moves into the home of Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), an author suffering from dementia. Iris starts calling Lily, “Polly.” At first, Lily believes Iris is confusing her with someone in her life, but Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban), the lawyer handling the Blum estate tells her that Polly was a character in Blum’s most famous book, The Woman In The Walls. It is the one time he is helpful. He will not release funds to pay for the mold in the walls to be cleaned up, implying it will be after Ms. Blum dies and the house becomes a literary foundation. At first Lily resists reading the book because, as she jokes with Mr. Waxcap, she might end up running out screaming into the street. But strange things start happening and Ms. Blum tells her things like, “You pretty things are all the same. You fall apart and rot.” Iris decides she needs to understand what is happening and what about her is like Polly.

The film is very literary. It’s Gothic but it also reminds me of Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It feels like a Shirley Jackson story–and sounds even more so in Lily’s narration. “A house with a death in it can never again be bought or sold by the living. It can only be borrowed by the ghosts who have stayed behind,” she tells us.

Patricia Highsmith
Patricia Highsmith, thinking of Tom Ripley, probably.

And in the scenes in which Lily sees the younger Ms. Blum, Iris looks a lot like Patricia Highsmith. The literary stuff could be too cute, and it might be if it were actually a novella and not a film version of one. As it was, the movie spooked me good.

Oct. 23. The Dark Valley / Das finstere Tal (2014) is an Austrian weird Western! It’s a Western set in Nineteenth Century Austria! And it is an excellent follow-up to I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, as Luzi (Paula Beer) tells us in the opening, “Some things may not be spoken of. Things from the past. But this does not mean you can ever forget them. There are things that can never be forgotten.”

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In this case, the thing from the past comes in the form of an American photographer visiting a remote Alpine town. Mr. Greider (Sam Riley) wants to stay for the winter to photograph the valley, even if it means he’s snowed in with the people. He gets permission from the patriarch old Brenner and his awful sons. Hans Brenner (Tobias Moretti) orders a woman and her daughter, Luzi to take care of Greider. There is a lot of leering and posturing. Taking a page from Shane, they try to force Greider to drink schapps with him. Luzi, meanwhile, is about to marry Lucas (Thomas Schubert), but she’s not looking forward to the wedding.

The most Austrian thing about this film isn’t the gorgeous shots of the mountains or even a man taking pictures framed by the valley. No, it’s that Greider carries a beautiful metronome with him and its his source of comfort and contact with his mother. Unlike For A Few Dollars More, though, it does not serve to orchestrate a showdown, but there is a showdown and cold, bloody revenge.

The soundtrack is very Hans Zimmer, and it turns out that composer Matthias Weber had worked with Zimmer

Oct. 24. I don’t remember. I mean, I remember watching Get Shorty. And I remember starting work on a new grimoire, but I don’t remember anything else…

And there’s that fly that follows me around like a puppy…

the amazing mr x seance

Oct. 25. I thought I hadn’t seen The Amazing Mr. X (1948) before, but it turns out I had. Starring Turhan Bey as Alexis, a professional psychic who preys on a vulnerable widow played by almost Barbara Stanwyck, Lynn Bari. Christine feels she might be ready to move on and marry Martin Abbott (Richard Carlson), but one night on the beach, she hears her dead husband calling her from the surf. She encounters Alexis moments later and he seems to understand her better than even her little sister or fiancé. It’s always nice to see Turhan Bey. And tt is beautifully shot by John Alton–who has some lovely sun-lit shots of of Alexis’ mysterious pyschic parlor.

the amazing mr. x alton
Extremely John Alton.

Also, Alexis wears a turban at one point to impress one of his marks with his mysterious “Eastern” wisdom and knowledge of the other side.

Oct. 26. Drive-In Mob’s line-up was particularly terrifying as we watched Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special and Judd Hirsch as Dracula in The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t (1979 ). If I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House was the most chilling thing that I have seen so far this year, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976) was the most horrifying thing I have seen this year.

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I hosted Cinejanes and imposed the awfulness of Iemon Tamiya on my fellow Janes with Nobuo Nakagawa’s Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (1959). I have a lot to say about Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, and, in fact, have said it at Teleport City. Otherwise, it is a classic vengeful ghost lady movie in which Oiwa takes revenge on her husband Iemon, who is the absolute worst. Also, though it is a movie that has both a sociopathic asshole and terrifying ghosts, I felt a lot better about things after watching it. The Paul Lynde Halloween Special really messed me up.

Oct. 27. Though I was still recovering from my contact with Halloween specials, I managed to get myself out to see a procession. It is pretty much artsy-fartsy dance party with light-up costumes, exhibits and a labyrinth. It was too rainy for me to walk all the way to the labyrinth, but I did watch the parade of the skeleton band (in derbies) and saw many angler fish and monsters.

I watched The Good Place, season 2, but am not going to say much other than this show is so well-written. And if you plan on watching it, start with season 1, which is advice I rarely give. And I started Stranger Things 2. I kind of wish they had started from here. A lot of the things I had trouble with–the female characters, how Lucas was underused, how apparently no one gave a shit about Barb–the writers had obviously worked on.

I also watched Nobuo Nakagawa’s Lady Vampire (1959), which is amazing. It features more occult investigation. A painting of a nude wins best of show in a local art gallery. The artist is anonymous, but the painting’s subject looks very much like a Itsuko Yamamura’s (Junko Ikeuchi, who played Ume in Nakagawa’s Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan) mother, who disappeared twenty years before. No one knows who the painter is. And the painting appears in Itsuko’s father’s (Akira Nakamura) house probably to torment him with the memory of his missing wife. Then, one night after a birthday party, the woman (Yoko Mihara) reappears. And Miwako looks exactly the same.

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Meanwhile, we get to know the mysterious and extremely dapper artist, Shiro Sofue. (Shiro is played by the same Shigeru Amachi who played Iemon in Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan. Shiro is troubled at night. And he is accompanied by mysterious henchmen–a little person, an old woman, and what appears to be a muscle man. Does he use a flower to draw Miwako to him like some kind of evil Tuxedo Mask? Yes!  Could the artist be a mysterious vampire? Yes! Could he be active in the daytime and transformed by the moon into a kind of werewolf vampire? yes! Could he be a survivor of an medieval massacre of Christians in Kyushu? Yes! As Shiro warns Miwako, “Betray my love and you will wear the gold cross and stand among the statues of my display.”

It turns out he does keep a creepy display of all the ladies who have gone before! Hjalmar Poelzig, Bluebeard and the Red Devil from Wolf Devil Woman would be so proud.

Oct. 28. Many Halloween activities were engaged in. I went to the cider mill for cider and apple strudel. I also carved my second pumpkin of the season and it came out well, though I would not suggest ever taking its advice. I had tasty Korean food. And I spent an evening enjoying horror in short segments. I watched Fewdio’s “Vargel Geroth, Monster from Hell” (2008), which just makes me happy. It’s a translation and learning another language thing.  And I watched Erlinger Thorodssen’s “The Banishing” (2013). An older sister tries to protect her younger sister from a supernatural entity, “The Bad Lady.” The short involves dolls and a dead puppy. (The puppy dies before the story starts, so you know). And I listened to Dark Fantasy, “Rendezvous with Satan.”  I always dig the organ flurry in the beginning and the creepy voice that intones, “Dark… Fantasy…” In this episode, a man returns from the dead, but he only has twenty-four hours that he can be good or the Devil will claim his soul forever.

Oct. 29. I took a lantern tour in my local cemetery. Our guide was good at pacing, adorably awkward at storytelling and had corny macabre jokes down. (He told us to be careful not to trip on the headstones, but if there was an accident we shouldn’t worry. He knew where the equipment was kept and one blow from a shovel should be enough. The cemetery wouldn’t notice a few more graves). I used to find local history kind of boring, but now I love its strangeness. Stories involved: mysterious murders; a man fooled by spiritualists; a corpse discovered in the Detroit river with chains dangling from its legs; an industrialist who made his fortune from “buggy whip stabilizers”; a woman named, “Repentance”; Masons vs the Klan; the Hell’s Angels; and a hooded figure who attacked a car, shook it and said, “You’ll get what you deserve.”

Also, the Ladies Library is deeply involved in all of this. Oh, and citizens tried to burn down the U of M medical school because of allegations of grave-robbing back in the day. The students effectively defended the building, so, Go Blue?

the body snatcher 1945 poster

Because of the grave-robbing, I was inspired to watch Robert Wise’ The Body Snatcher (1945). Almost-Basil Rathbone Henry Daniell plays a Wolfe MacFarlane, doctor who is not a werewolf or an action hero, but gets in too deep with a grave-robber who turns to murder when there’s money to made. Boris Karloff plays the unctuous John Gray, a hansom cab driver and supplier of bodies to a medical school in Edinburgh run by Wolfe. Wolfe is not a werewolf, unfortunately, but he is a man with a history. He used to run with Burke and Hare, the notorious murderers who sold the bodies of their victims to doctors and medical students. When MacFarlane’s student,  Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) wants to help a paralyzed girl, MacFarlane tells him that MacFarlane must practice the procedure to remove the tumor pressing against her spine. MacFarlane approaches Gray about finding a body to practice on. With the “kirkyards” guarded after his recent spate of  Gray reverts to his old Burke and Hare days. He murders a lovely singer to get one.  Noiry horror with almost Basil Rathbone Henry Daniell saying things like, “Bonny lass” and Karloff as genially oily as can be. Poor Boris Karloff has a brief appearance as a greedy servant with a terrible haircut who isn’t smart enough to recognize the danger he is in.

2017 the unquenchable thirst of dracula bbc radio 4 image

Oct. 30. I listened to BBC Radio 4’s “The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula,” based on an unproduced script from Hammer Studios. Penny (Anna Madeley) travels to India to find out what happened to her sister. On the train she meets Babu (Kulvinder Ghir), sitarist Prem (Nikesh Patel) and dancer Lakshmi (Ayesha Dharker). Babu invites Penny to stay in his home with him and his wife after discovering the is traveling alone and with little baggage. Prem and Lakshmi are on their way to the palace of a maharaja to perform. But it turns out they are performing for Count Dracula (Lewis MacLeod), who has fled to India to escape that accursed Van Helsing! In audio form, the Orientalism is somewhere between bemusing and amusing as a historical document. And the voices of the actors are more powerful in a radio drama than Anthony Frank Hinds’ 1960s sexploitastic descriptions of  naked ladies sacrificed by an evil cult or documentary images of sacred sexytimes sculpture from Khajuraho. There are lady draculas! A secret evil cult! And much heaving narration! A rani “sweeps from the room.” A woman “caresses her [own] naked body.” A face becomes a “mask of evil” and there are “vicelike grips.” Will Dracula escape the vengeance of Penny? And will Dracula find his end in a Parsi Tower of Silence?

Oct. 31. Listened to BBC Radio’s 1981 radio dramatization of “Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula” while making snickerdoodles and a snickerdoodle homunculus. The Mercury Theater of the Air’s “Dracula” from 1938. Orson Welles chose not to play Dracula, but rather Dr. Seward, which is an interesting choice. I mean, he was probably right not to play Dracula, but of all the suitors, it is interesting that he chose Seward. He also made Seward the narrator.

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And my final feature for 31 Days of Horror this year was Nobuo Nakagawa’s Black Cat Mansion (1958). A woman is cured of her dislike of cats after a brief stay in a santorium in Kyushu. Yes, we’re back in mysterious Kyushu, home of draculas and cat demon ladies. Yoriko (Yuriko Ejima) travels to the sanitorium to recover from her tuberculosis, but the place is an old haunted mansion. This ghost is much more malicious than Pretty Thing‘s Polly, though. It’s targeting Yoriko, but respectable men don’t believe her when she says something is trying to kill her. Fortunately, a local priest explains the story of the mansion and the vengeful ghost.

During the scenes set in 1958, the film is black and blue-tinted white. The scenes set in the 1600s are shot in color and are luridly Nakagawatastic. The jerky Lord Shogen (Takashi Wada, who played a journalist in The Lady Vampire) murders Kokingo (Ryuzaburo Nakamura, who also plays Yomoshichi Sato in Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan), a young man who is teaching him to play Go. Kokingo had dared to imply Shogen was cheating, when Shogen was in fact cheating. Kokingo’s ghost informs his mother, Lady Myaji (Fumiko Miyata), that he has been murdered. Myaji tries to take revenge while alive, but it doesn’t go well. So kills herself after imploring her cat to drink her blood and take revenge. The cat does both and the haunting is pretty spectacular. (Also, the cat demon lady cleans her face with her “paw,” which is just great.).


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