Just Follow the Bouncing Ball… to Murder! – Kill, Baby… Kill (1966)

(I’m cleaning up a few Halloween scraps this week – articles I’d meant to get posted before the holiday, but weren’t quite ready. This is the first.)

kbk1Let’s face it: evil little kids in horror films, especially when they have that just-that-much-off giggle, are especially creepy, and never more so than in Mario Bava’s eerily atmospheric creeper Kill, Baby… Kill.

Today considered one of Bava’s best, the movie had what is referred to as a “troubled production” and upon it’s initial release, though it received some critical praise it was not considered a success.

The film takes place in that vacation wonderland Carpathia, specifically the village of Karmingham, where Dr. Paul Eswal has been called in to perform an autopsy on one Irena Hollander, who has died under, as they say, “mysterious circumstances”. Or at least those who will say anything would say that, but you know how these small Carpathian towns are – more often than not, nobody’s saying anything, except perhaps to pronounce some dire warning.

Fortunately for the doctor, the lovely Miss Monica Schufftan who just happens to be a medical student has returned to the village to visit her parent’s graves (pretty, intelligent, and dutiful – better keep an eye on this one, Doc, and make sure those “mysterious circumstances” don’t catch up with her, too) is there to assist with the autopsy.41

kbk3Bewilderingly, while performing the autopsy, Dr. Paul and Monica discover that a silver coin has been embedded in the dead woman’s heart. Fortunately Monica has an explanation… or at least a reason – you see, the people of the area have a saying: “only with money in the heart can one who dies a violent death find peace”. And obviously if you have a saying like that, you also have a way to get that money into the heart without leaving a trace.

But medical mysteries are going to have to wait, because we need to squeeze in a romantic walk home between the doctor and Monica before black cats and running children can distract him so he can be attacked by ruffians who are chased off by the sudden appearance of a woman dressed in black who just as mysteriously vanishes.

Upon arriving back at his hotel, he is told by Nadienne, the daughter of the owners, that the inspector has gone to Villa Graps. “Did he tell you when he’d be back?” “You don’t come back from Villa Graps.” Uh, oh! Shouldn’t have said that, Nadienne! And she knows it immediately and tries to recant, but it’s too late, because as soon as the doctor has gone upstairs, she is visited by the face of a young girl in the window. Rushing to get help, no sooner does her father open the door than he finds Ruth, the local witch, who has arrived because she knows there is trouble afoot.

kbk2Coming back downstairs, the doctor spies upon a ritual which is designed to keep away evil spirits and apparently involves stripping the young girl and beating her with a branch. Preventative medicine at its finest, obviously.

Exiting, he confronts the witch upon her departure, and she too warns him to stay away from the villa. He does manage to get some ominous mentions of Melissa, but not many answers, because if anyone actually explained what they knew, Scooby Doc would pull the mask off the villain and the movie would be over.

Upon his arrival at the Villa he is told by the old Baroness that the inspector is not there, a fact that we the audience already know, because we have just seen him waiting for Ruth in her home (they are apparently lovers) with another dead body. They conspire together to hide the death, but not before Ruth prepares to do a little surgery of her own. That’s right, it’s time to play hide the penny!

kbk4From this point on, the madness just escalates as the Baroness is obviously being haunted by a little girl who also confronts the doctor on his way out. She has a nasty giggle and a little ball that she likes to bounce down the hallways, leading the doctor on a merry chase.

Meanwhile, Monica is dreaming. Of Melissa. Of the doctor. Of stairwells. And of a doll.

A doll which she wakes up to find at the foot of her bed. She reaches out to touch it then recoils, and when she looks again, it has disappeared!

I know I seem to be making light of the movie, and in truth it is kind of silly, but Kill Baby… Kill is also highly atmospheric, slightly hallucinogenic, and thoroughly entertaining. It is Bava at his most stylistic, and there is a definite air of oddness and mystery that sets the viewer on edge and gives one the feeling that everything is not quite right in this little town and that our protagonists may not make it out alive…or sane…

Highly recommended if you’re looking for something with a gothic setting without all of the jump scares of a modern horror.

Here’s your trailer:

For The Love Of Crap – Dracula Vs Frankenstein (1971)

dvf6I would call Al Adamson’s 1971 movie Dracula vs Frankenstein a guilty pleasure, but the truth is, I really don’t feel that guilty about loving it.

No, I’m not going to try to make the case that DvF belongs in the horror flick pantheon alongside such movies as Universal’s original Dracula or Frankenstein, or any of the Hammer variations on those monsters, but then again, that’s not what this movie was meant to be, either. And for that matter, if you look at Universal’s own later monster mash-ups like House of Dracula or Hammer’s later films like (especially) Dracula A.D. 1972, they were not exactly paragons of high art either.

On the other hand, despite its obvious low budget and its couldn’t-be-any-time-but-the-70s feel, Adamson’s movie does deliver on its premise. Not only does it feature a climactic fight between the two titular characters, but it also features J Carrol Naish as a quite mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein and Lon Chaney in a Jeckyll/Hyde type role as his Igor-ish assistant. Hey, there’s even an evil little person (played by the instantly recognizable 2′ 11″ tall Angelo Rositto) who is the barker for Naish’s traveling House of Freaks – excuse me,”Creature Emporium” – carnival side-show. Even Jim Davis (who fans of the original version of the TV show Dallas will recognize as Jock Ewing) puts in an appearance as the local sheriff who apparently blames the local hippies for not only rape and drug use, but white slavery.

dvf2Of course, when I say the movie features Naish and Chaney, I should point out that this was the last movie for both of those stars, and they were both showing the effects of their years. Naish, who plays Dr.Duryea, the last descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, was wheelchair-bound and had to read his lines off of cue cards, and Chaney was at this point just a large ball of sweat and probably permantly pickled to boot. It’s no wonder that his character was written as basically mute.

Now that may sound like bad news for the film, but we really haven’t even scratched the surface. For his Dracula, Adamson cast an actor named Zandor Vorkov. Okay, Iactually made two misstatements in that sentence. The first was calling Vorkov an actor. He was actually Adamson’s stock broker. And his real name was Robert Engle. But that’s okay, because once Adamson was through smearing him with dime-store face paint and tricking out his goatee and afro (not to mention a set of fangs that probably came from one of those pseudo-gumball machines) it’s highly unlikely that any of his clients would have recognized him, especially since his voice is run through an echo box which gives him an uncanny sound. Yeah.

dvf1One thing that isn’t hidden, however, but possibly should be, is the abundant cleavage of Regina Carroll, who just happens to have been Adamson’s wife. Carroll plays a “singer” whose sister has gone missing, and who insists on trying to find her with or without police aid. We are introduced to Ms. Carroll onstage while she is on stage in a dress cut down to her navel perfoming what is presumably her signature song “I Travel Light”. (A song which, again fortunately for us, the viewers, we get to see perfomed in its entirety. Hey, Adamson had 90 minutes to fill. Why shouldn’t he take 17 of them to promote his wife’s singing career?)`

What’s that? So what’s the plot? Umm… yeah, sure, let’s take a look at that. It seems that Duryea has somehow come up with a serum that will… prolong life? …give extra power? let vampires live in the sunlight? Yeah, that last part eventually becomes a thing, but what it’s really intended for is kind of unclear. Oh, and there is one drawback to the serum. It requires enzymes that are released into the blood when someone is in fear for their lives. So in order to produce this effect, he sends Lon Chaney out with an axe to chop the heads off of unsuspecting women on the beach and he then reattaches the head and, using techniques developed by his infamous ancestor revives them and extracts their blood which is now saturated with this enzyme.

dvf3Yeah, that seems like a reasonable plan to me, how about you?

In the meantime, Dracula has tracked down the remains of the original Frankenstein monster who now,thanks to all that he’s been through in innumerable sequels, has a face that looks like it may very well be made of deformed mushrooms. He brings the monster to Duryea and offers to give it to the doctor so that he can get revenge on the men who caused the accident that killed his wife and left him crippled. (Why Duryea couldn’t have just sent Chaney after the men since he seems so adept at swinging that axe I’m not sure, but hey, let’s not ask those kind of questions, okay?) And what does Drac want in exchange for the monster? Well, remember above when I mentioned that the serum was able to give vampires the ability to withstand the sunlight? Well somehow Drac not only knows about the serum but what it can do. Therefore he proposes an exchange.

Meanwhile… remember Adamson’s wife with the missing sister? Well she’s been investigating on her own, which leads to her going to a hippie hangout bar, getting her drink drugged, dancing like a dervish, passing out, and waking up in the apartment of “Mike” who apparently serves as some kind of father figure to the local beach rats. It doesn’t take long for the two of them to fall for each other, nor to fall into the hands of Duryea when she becomes the target of one of Chaney’s little murder sprees. No, he doesn’t cut her head off, but he does wind up chasing them into Duryea’s lab where she finds that her sister has become one of his victims.

dvf4Okay, once again dear reader, I have to admit that I have lied to you. I said “it doesn’t take long”, but the truth is everything in this movie takes far too long, mostly because ev-er-y-th-ing must be spelled out with inane exposition. Still, eventually we get there.

Meanwhile again, Duryea has succeeded in reviving the monster, who he has sent out to kill the first of the doctors who wronged him, Forrest J Ackerman. That’s right, kids, Uncle Forry himself shows up and actually gets a decent bit of screen time before Frankie off him with an extremely aggressive crotch bump.

Anyway, all of this eventually leads to everyone reconvening in Dr. Duryea’s lab where mayhem (and possibly junehem and julyhen as well…) ensues. The doctor is killed. Drac is interrupted in his bondage playtime with the busty blonde by her new boyfriend who winds up incinerated by Drac’s fire-ray spouting death ring for his troubles. (Oh, had I forgotten to mention that Drac has a fire-ray spouting death ring? sorry. Yeah, that’s a thing.) Drac realizes that his plan to raise a Legion of the Unliving has been denied him, he takes it out on Frankie which leads to a dramatic fight in the woods where he proceeds to rip the monster’s arms and then his head off before being melted himself by the rising sun. And Adanmson’s wife escapes her bonds just in time to watch the dead leaves that used to be Drac blow away.

dvf5Now i know it may seem that I’m being pretty harsh on this flick, and that may seem inconsistent with the fact that I said at the top of this that i love this flick, but the truth is that the movie’s awfulness is a big part of its appeal. We all have this notion of the “so bad it’s good” movie, and this one falls into that category for me. Everything from the horrendous “acting” of Zandor Vorkov to the less than especially effective special effects to the almost pitiable appearance of the former classic horror stars to…well, all of it, it’s a case of the whole being an incredibly much greater sum of the parts.

Is Dracula vs Frankenstein kinda crap? Yeah, I admit that it is. But it’s crap that I love. And I suspect that if you give it a look it might turn out to be the same for you.

Here’s your trailer:

 

 

 

My Old Haunted Kentucky Home – Hauntedween (1991)

hw1Okay, I’m just gonna be upfront here – there’s one main reason that I’m writing about this one, and it’s because I went to Western Kentucky University and was living in Bowling Green during the time this film was made, and I do know some of the people involved in it.

Yep, that’s right, this film, Hauntedween, is a product of the Bluegrass State which, I will readily admit, is not really that well known as a horror flick hotbed. At the same time, Bowling Green and Western did produce John Carpenter, so…

Bias declared, I’m gonna go ahead and say it, I kinda love this movie. Now, don’t misunderstand, this ain’t no Carpenter-level classic, but at the same time, it’s as entertaining as a lot of the low-budget slashers that flooded the market throughout the 80s.

The plot is fairly straightforward. A fraternity with money problems decides to throw a huge blowout party complete with a haunted house. While searching for a location, they are mysteriously given the keys to an abandoned house on the edge of town which, surprise! just happens to have been the site of a tragic murder years before. In an even more unexpected twist, the killer, who was a young boy when the original murder happened, has come back and intends to use the haunted house set-up as the background for a new killing spree.

hw2And that set-up is part of what makes the movie so entertaining. As opposed to the typical slasher where the victims are picked off one by one (or maybe two at a time if they’re having sex) in secret, this killer is able to use the haunted house setting to take out his victims in full view of those who are passing by, because they believe it’s just part of the act. Therefore we get scenes where the victims are shouting “NO! You don’t understand! He’s really killing us!”, and the spectators are laughing and applauding the gory “effects”.

Speaking of the effects,this was, of course, made at a time when practical effects were still the norm, and although at times the budget does show and there are a few definite cheats, for the most part they are as effective as any that you’re going to see in this type of movie.

hw3And that, I think, brings us to the most important part of this movie, and perhaps it’s best “special effect”, and that is one Brad Hanks. Now, again, I’m going to be honest with you folks, Hanks’ performance is kind of the “make it or break it” for this film. His performance is so broad that you’re either going to be completely charmed by him (as, admittedly, I am) or you’re going to be so completely turned off that it will sour the whole movie for you.

If any of this sounds like it’s up your alley, I really do suggest giving it a look. The entire movie can actually befound fairly easily online, and there is an official 20th anniversary dvd release including a commentary and behind the scenes documentary which is available here.

Okay, this is the point where I would usually give you a trailer for the movie, but since it’s impossible to find one online (and I honestly suspect one was never actually cut), instead, here;s the video for the theme song which includes some clips…

 

This New Trailer for The Conjuring Is Certainly Trying To Conjure Up the Creepiness By Bringing In the Real Family

conjuring_ver2_xlgI’ll be honest, there are very few of today’s horror movies that really make me want to see them. I’m just not that interested in what seems to pass for “horror” these days. Jump scares and extreme physical torture that is more aimed at making people squirm in their seats rather than give them a good old fashioned fright just is not my cup of blood.

Perhaps that’s why ever since the first trailer for The Conjuring dropped I’ve been quite curious about it, especially since reports started coming in that the MPAA gave the film a R rating not for any of the usual reasons, but simply because the film was too scary for a PG13. According to the film’s producer,

“When we sent it [to MPAA], they gave us the R-rating. When we asked them why, they basically said, ‘It’s just so scary. [There are] no specific scenes or tone you could take out to get it PG-13.’”

Now in my mind, that’s actually quite a ringing endorsement. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see whether it can actually live up to the hype, but it really does look like the makers of this movie are really more interested in creating a true atmosphere of terror rather than simply aiming for the lowest common denominator and throwing as much blood and gore as they can at the screen.

Anyway, here’s a look at the latest trailer for the flick, which definitely plays up the more Amityville aspects of the film by introducing the real family the movie is supposedly based on, but still looks like it’s going not only far beyond its most obvious predecessor, and really does have an intriguing story to tell in its own right:

What do you think? Does the “true story” claim make any difference in the way you approach a film like this? If so, does it draw you in more, or does it simply make you more skeptical? And what about the rating and the reason behind it? Will that influence you any? I’m curious to know, so let me know in the comments below.

If You Think You Need Sound To Be Funny Check This Out – The Monster (1925)

Shhh... we're looking for a... well, yeah, one of those..
Shhh… we’re looking for a… well, yeah, one of those..

Just a quick post today for those who think that the horror-comedy genre began with Scream, or worse, the Scary Movie series. The truth is, the first horror comedy was likely preceded by only a few weeks or months by the first horror movie. I don’t even pretend to know. However, here’s a fine example of the genre from the early days of film. 1925’s The Monster, starring none other than Lon Chaney Sr. and Johnny Arthur. And no, you don’t need to bother checking the sound on your computer, because yes, it is a silent film. Still, don’t let that put you off, because it really is quite funny, not only in a slapstick way, but also because of the wordplay on the intertitle cards.

Ah, what am I doing talking so much about it? Just give it a look. I’m betting you’re going to enjoy it.

Oh, and be sure to check back tomorrow when I actually will have more to say about a favorite 1950s sci-fi classic that I recently had a chance to watch on the big screen.

Until then, Happy Viewing!