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:

Throwback Thursday – The House on Haunted Hill

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

This post first ran on the Treasure Chest back on Feb 16, 2010.


Tuesday Terrors – House on Haunted Hill (1959) – starring Vincent Price

hhh1“The ghosts are moving tonight. Restless. Hungry.”

Doors that open and close themselves! Guests arriving in a funeral procession lead by a hearse! A falling Chandelier! Blood dripping from the ceiling! A witch that appears and disappears! 7 people already murdered! Detached Heads! Party favors that turn out to be loaded guns delivered in coffins! An organ that plays itself! The floating head of Elisha Cook Jr.! Ghosts! Dead bodies that disappear and reappear! Thunderstorms! Secret passages! Ropes that wrap themselves around the damsel’s feet! A wine vat filled with acid! A floating skeleton! And an elegant host (played by the ever-charming Vincent Price) who may be trying to kill his wife (who may, in turn, be trying to kill him)! It’s obvious that producer and director William Castle was trying to throw everything into the pot on this one.

In 1959, William Castle had made a number of b-grade pictures for various studios, but he was just beginninng to emerge as the king of the gimmick picture. His legacy today is as the man who, while he may not have invented the style, certainly perfected it and used it to bring amazing attention to his pictures. Some of Castle’s gimmicks included insuring movie goers in case they died of fright during a showing of Macabre; “Percepto”, in which audience members watching The Tingler, already encouraged to scream because the titular monster had gotten loose in the theater, recieved mild electric jolts from wires attatched to their seats; Illusion-o, which gave brave audience members a chance to see 13 Ghosts while those who were too fearful didn’t have to; and the “Fright Break” in Homicidal which gave audience members a chance to leave the theater and get a full refund before the climax if they were willing to sign a certificate of cowardicee In the midst of this came House on Haunted Hill which, through the magic of “Emergo” had a skeleton come out of the movie and float over the heads of the audience. (Don’t ruin the surprise by telling your friends, but it was actually an inflatable glow-in-the-dark skeleton that was pulled through the theater on a set of wires.)

hhh2In the film, Vincent Price plays Fredric Loren, a millionaire who is hosting a party for his fourth wife. Instead of inviting their friends, however, he has invited five guests who represent different layers of society. He has offered each of them $10,000 if they will spend the whole night in the House on Haunted hill, a house with a history of killings and hauntings. However, soon after they arrive, spooky things begin happening including all of the events listed above. Adding to the intrigue is the relationship between Loren and his wife, neither of whom like the other very much and they both have good reasons for wanting the other dead. The guests soon find that they are completely locked in the house, and there is no way out until the caretakers return in the morning. The haunted house may soon become their tomb and by morning may well have seven new ghostly residents!

Yes, the film is cheesy and some of the efffects are obviously lacking, but for a good low budget scare that is definitely highlighted by the presence of Mr. Price, you can definitely find worse ways to pass an hour and fifteen minutes. And it’s certainly more fun than the perhaps technically more proficient but heartless 1999 remake.

Preview time! Here’s the Trailer:

And here’s the skinny:

Title: House on Haunted Hill
Release Date: 1959
Running Time: 75 min
Black and White
Starring: Vincent Price
Director: William Castle
Producers: William Castle, Robb White
Distributed by: Allied Artists

House on Haunted Hill is available for viewing or download here.

Made for TV Monday – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Okay, we’ll start with a short intro for the newcomers: As implied by the phrase, “made for tv movies” are films that were created to be shown exclusively on television as opposed to having a run in theaters. Though they started in the mid-60s and continued on well into the 2000s, they were at their height in the 70s and 80s, and that where this column will mostly focus. Of course, this type of movie lives on today as direct-to-video, direct-to-cable or streaming movies. For more background, be sure to check out this introductory post, but for now let’s move on, shall we?

dba1Halloween is Thursday, so let’s start this rundown with something scary, shall we?

Kim Darby, who you may recognize as the young girl who convinces John Wayne to help her hunt down her father’s killer in the original True Grit, stars as Sally Farnham who inherits an old house from her grandmother who is recently deceased. She and her husband Alex (Jim Hutton, who would later play the detective Ellery Queen in a short-lived series that was unique in that just before the end, Queen would turn to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and asking the viewer if they had figured out the solution to the mystery) move into the house and begin renovation.

Sally quickly falls in love with one particular room (of course, it’s initially mysteriously locked) which she want to turn into a study. She finds the closed up fireplace in the room especially intriguing, and she begins to try to open it up, despite warnings from the handyman who came with the house (William Demarest, “Uncle Charley” from My Three Sons) that “some things are better left as they are,”

Sally manages to slightly unbolt the plate that has been put into place over one part of the fireplace, but she and Alex decide that it really is unfixable. Unfortunately, in removing the cover Sally has unwittingly released three small demon-like creatures who at first seem to want to kill her but eventually decide that they want to turnher into one of them.

dba2Y’know, it’s really interesting watching a movie like this with 2019 eyes. In some ways, this movie could be taken as a banner for “me too” and “believe the woman”, because that’s exactly what no one (except, eventually, her best friend Joan, played by Barbara Anderson) will do. Her husband, her doctor, and everyone around her simply write off her troubles as hysteria. There’s even one point in the movie where Sally is walking along with her interior decorator (at this point she knows about the little demons and has convinced her husband that they need to sell the house) and when they are about to descend the stairs, the demons have strung a line across the top step which trips the decorator,causing him to fall to his death.

After the body has been removed and Sally has been checked out by the family physician, the doctor is talking to Joan and hes gives her some sedatives for Sally to take, saying “she does seem to have over-reacted”. Now let’s take a look at this. even without the tales of little creatures calling her name and telling her they want her (which Sally is actually keeping to herself), she has just seen a man fall to his death right in front of her. I don’t know about you, but I think I might find that just a bit traumatic.

Not that it’s just the men whose attitudes seem a bit askew when observed through modern eyes. Early in the movie, Sally and Joan are walking down the street and at this point Sally thinks the little critters in her house may be mice. When she shares this idea with Joan, her friend replies “I don’t care what  women’s lib tells me, the very mention of a mouse drives me crazy!” Then just a few minutes later, when the women are commiserating about feeling abandoned by their husbands who seem more concerned about their jobs than them, Joan states “As two  neglected wives of two overly ambitious husbands i suggest we go spend some of their money!” Well! Let the shopping commence!

dba4As far as the effects go, they’re kind of a mixed bag, The creature design for the demons is pretty darned effective, and though if you look closely you’ll notice that their mouths don’t quite move properly when they’re talking, the mask/makeup effect gives them a very creepy look.

To give them their diminutive look, the filmmakers used a combination of forced-perspective shots and oversized props, and again, these shots are kind of hit and miss, but I’d definitely say they hit more often than not.

Overall, for a movie produced on a television budget, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is an effectively atmospheric little thriller that shows you don’t have to have a 100 million dollar budget or an incredibly long running time (it clocks in at a tight 74 minutes) to produce an effective horror story that has an impact and leaves an impression.

 

 

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:

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday – The Brain The Wouldn’t Die

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

This post first ran on the Treasure Chest back on March 2, 2010.

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Tuesday Terrors – The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) starring Jason Evers

brain1Whatever you do, DON’T open the closet. I mean it. Forget the head over there on the table. Ignore its babbling. Forget the beakers and other instruments that are there to engage in experiments meant to prolong life or give it back to the dead. The dead bodies upstairs? Don’t worry about them. Just don’t open that closet door!

Ok, reminiscing time again. A few years back, yer ol’ Professor was spending Thanksgiving evening with his two then-younger-teen children, watching some retro-TV. Apparently one of the local stations had given up on trying to compete with the parades and football and decided to run a day of programming from the 50’s and 60’s that would have been seen on the channel. Surprisingly, to close out the day, they pulled out what is apparently one of the very few existing clips of local horror host Dr. Lucifer who presented shock Theater from 1958 to 1967. (For more info on Dr. Lucifer please see this site.)

Y’know, there’s just something different about watching a film like this late at night, with the lights off, having been invited into the film by the sometimes sonorous, sometimes dissonant (depending on the temperament and character of the particular host) tones of a local host who would often give you some background on the film, who would sometimes give you some critique of the actors and the movie itself, who would sometimes simply ridicule the advertisers. There was a connection that would be made, and even though quite often everyone, from the host to the people behind the cameras to the viewing audience knew that the show wasn’t really that good, we were still drawn in, co-conspirators with the host, and we would watch until the bitter end, if only to see how he (or she) would wrap up the evening’s proceedings. There was many a Saturday night when I was a child that simply couldn’t end until I was bid by MY host, Sir Cecil Creape, “Goodnight. Sleep Tight. And don’t let the beddy-bugs bite”.

luciferAnyway, there was a little bit of that same magic in the air that particular thanksgiving night. Starting about 10:30, the dulcet tones of Dr. Lucifer emanated from the television as he invited us to share with him a film called The Brain that Wouldn’t Die! With a title like that, how could we be for anything but an hour and a half of cheesy fun?

And cheesy fun is exactly what we got from this flick. It wasn’t long at all before my son and I were completely wrapped up in the plight of Jason Evers‘ Dr Bill Cortner. Dr. Bill, you see, is frustrated, because he knows that he has developed new techniques and serums that can save and extend lives. But he’s being held down by the medical establishment, represented specifically by his father, also a surgeon, who thinks that Dr. Bill is irresponsible and too far ahead of his time. Soon, however, he is going to have a chance to prove just how well his techniques work.

On their way to the remote cabin in the woods where Dr. Bill does his research, he and his fiancee, Jan Compton, are caught in a fiery car accident. Dr. Bill walks away mostly unscathed, but Jan is nowhere near so lucky. Snatching up her disembodied head from the fiery wreck, Dr. Bill carries it to his lab where he injects it with various fluids, hooks it up to electrodes, and sets it upright in a pan full of chemicals on his workbench that somehow restore life and thought to the bodiless head.

Now all Dr. Bill has to do is find a body to reattach the head to. Of course, not any body will do. Janet was quite the looker when she had something more than a pair of eyes and a smile to look at, and Dr. Bill decides that only the perfect body will do. This is where the movie truly begins to show its seamy exploitation roots, as the good doctor decides the best place to find a suitable candidate is a “dance” club. Apparently he is quite a charmer, for he soon finds himself backstage, where instead of kicking him out, the dancers are soon catfighting over him. When that doesn’t work out, he decides to go visit a former patient of his who is now working as a nude photography model. Of course, this being the early sixties, these scenes are handled with a kind of edgy discreteness, more tease than true titillation.

From there the film just seems to slide more and more into a kind of delirious insanity. I haven’t even discussed Jan’s seeming new psychic abilities. Nor Dr. Bill’s vengeful deformed assistant. Nor the thing in the closet. Ah, yes, now we come back to the thing in the closet. You see, Jan is not the first person upon whom Dr. Bill has tried his new techniques, and locked in a closet in the laboratory basement, fed only scraps and aching to kill, is a creature that is apparently an amalgam of all of those failed experiments. And once Jan starts using her newly expanded mind powers to convince the creature to escape, well, you know it can’t be a good thing.

Ok, enough of me talking, let’s take a look at the trailer, shall we?

And here’s the skinny:
Title: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
Release Date: 1962
Running Time: 82 min
Black and White
Starring: Jason Evers, Virginia Leath
Directed by: Joseph Green
Produced by: Rex Carlton, Mort Landberg
Distribution Company: American International Pictures

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is available for free to watch or download here.

 

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…

 

Saturday Double Feature: Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) and…

zombieland-2Yeah, it’s been a minute… but we’re back, and let’s kick things off with a double feature, shall we?

I guess since it’s been awhile we should start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the before the year 2000. (Yes, this is a change from the original rules, which said the movie had to be from 1980 or before, but let’s be honest, at this point even 2000 is ancient history to a lot of the younger readers out there, so while I’m most likely still going to go for older movies whenever possible, since the real reason for this idea is to introduce my readers to movies they may not be familiar with, I think the rule chnfge works.) Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

So we’ve actually got an interesting week at the box office this time around since there are two movies opening that could be vying for the top spot, depending on what kind of mood audiences are in when they plunk down their ticket money.

First up, there’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, the sequel to 2014’s colon-less Maleficent which is Disney’s latest attempt to see just how much money they can squeeze out of live-action “prequels” to their well-beloved animated movies. (As opposed, of course, to their other strategy of seeing how much money they can squeeze out of “live-action” remakes of their well-beloved animated movies.) (Or their other strategy of simply buying up anyone that night be considered competition.)

The other big opener, however, is the one I want to concentrate on today, and I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on Disney opening a sequel, since it, too is a sequel, this time to a movie that’s ten years old. That’s right, I’m talking about Zombieland: Double Tap.

I’ll admit I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the original Zombieland, and that’s due in large part to the performance of Woody Harrelson, who I honestly think has become… maybe not one of the best actors working today, but certainly one of the most interesting. It seems lately that no matter the quality overall of the movie he’s in, Harrelson is going to give it his all and bring an interesting interpretation to the character he is given.

So… having made my choice of a modern feature, the question then became what to pair it with. As always, there were a lot of directions I could have gone in. In the end, however, I decided to go with yet another zombie horror-comedy, but perhaps not the one you’re thinking of.

cemetery-man-movie-poster-1996-10204714051994’s Cemetery Man finds Rupert Everett starring as the caretaker of a small cemetery in Italy who finds himself busier than one might expect because, for reasons that are never really explained (the question does at one point come up as to whether this is an isolated phenomenon or perhaps part of a more widespread issue,but it’s pretty well dismissed with a simple “I don’t know”) the people who are buried in the cemetery return as zombies seven days after they are buried.

His life becomes even more complicated when he falls for a beautiful mourner at a funeral who is burying her husband. He manages to seduce her by showing her the cemetery’s ossuary, but they are interrupted while making love on her dead husband’s grave when the deceased in question suddenly rises and bites her before he can be dispatched for good. And that’s the least odd thing that happens in this movie.

If you’re getting the idea that this movie is a quite odd and more than a bit darker than the one at the top of the column, then you’re absolutely correct. But that’s also why I like it so much and highly recommend checking it out. Obviously, it’s not going to be a movie for everyone, but if you find this premise intriguing, and want something more challenging and out of the ordinary than what you’re going to find in your local multiplex, then I highly suggest checking this one out.

Here’s your (NSFW) trailer:

 

 

 

The Birds – Alfred Hitchcock’s Zombie Movie?

A note on spoilers to begin: Since this is the first real post here on the blspoilerog, I’m going to go ahead and throw up a general spoiler warning. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that dome would consider spoilers, including the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances, such as this one, where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

So I recently had a chance to revisit Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds on the big screen thanks to a Hitch film marathon run by our local “art-house” theater the Belcourt Theater . While I was sitting there watching the last thirty minutes or so of the movie, especially the part where our main characters have boarded themselves into the house and are fending off an attack from thousands of mostly unseen birds that what I was seeing could easily be a precursor to George Romero’s 1968 zombie film Night of the Living Dead.

Here’s the way I see it: In both films you have a threat that at the first seems somewhat innocuous. Ok, maybe zombies are never really innocuous, but at the beginning of Living Dead we don’t even know that the first zombie Barbara and her brother encounter is one. When he first approaches, he could possibly be simply a deranged, perhaps drunken or drug-addled old man. And even when the threat does reveal itself to be more sinister, well, let’s face it, as slow-moving as Romero’s zombies are, if there’s only one around, it can easily be outrun. Likewise, in The Birds, when the threat is simply one bird, such as the one that first swoops from the sky and attacks Tippi Hedren’s Melanie as she’s crossing Bodega Bay, it could simply be an isolated incident, fairly easily fended (and written) off. It’s only when the attacks begin, in both movies, more en masse that the true threat becomes apparent.

Look, up in the sky! Are those birds?!
Look, up in the sky! Are those birds?!

Then there is the aspect of the main characters being cut off from the outside world. In Birds, this isolation is represented by the insular community that is the town of Bodega Bay. In Dead, of course, it is the cemetery and house. In both instances, there comes a point where the only communication our characters can get is one-way via television or radio, and even then they are only given glimpses of what may be the broader picture occurring in the outside world.

Also, in both movies, there is a central question that is never really answered: what is the real reason for, or origin of, the threat? Why are the birds just now attacking? Where have the zombies actually come from? And while there is speculation on these topics in each movie, we (nor for that matter, the characters) are never really given a satisfactory answer. Which is actually okay, because in neither instance does it really matter. That’s not the story the movie wants to tell, because in both movies, the main concern is not with the attackers, it’s with the characters that are being attacked. How are they going to respond to the threat once it becomes apparent? And perhaps even more pointedly, especially in Living Dead with its very timely black lead, how are they going to interact?

Is this the result of a) a zombie attack, b) birds, or c) an all-day Honey Boo-Boo marathon?
Is this the result of a) a zombie attack, b) birds, or c) an all-day Honey Boo-Boo marathon?

Of course, eventually, and this is where the comparison really became obvious to me, both movies end up becoming what is known as a base-under-siege film. In The Birds, our protagonists eventually find themselves boarded up in the Brenners’ home. In Living Dead, it’s the farmhouse that Barbara runs into. In both cases, the characters find themselves essentially trapped and trying to fend off attacks from an unknown but obviously overwhelming number of unseen opponents. As the climax rages, in both films we have scenes where all we see of the birds is their beaks as they try to peck their way through the doors and windows or the grasping hands of the zombies as they attempt to reach, grasp and claw their way towards their victims. It’s this overwhelming force, the sheer number of opponents that makes each respective “monster” truly a credible threat. As long as they keep coming, there is no way that our protagonists are going to escape.

There are, throughout the movies, even more parallels that could be pointed to, for instance in both, there are trails of gas that lead to (in both cases similarly foreshadowed) explosions. There are wild-eyed crazies who want to blame others in the party for their current predicament. And I’m sure there are even more that could be pointed out, but the most striking, of course, is the rather ambiguous ending given to each movie. because in both cases, the threat is never really neutralized. In The Birds, even though the “heroes” do make it out alive, there is still that huge mass of birds just waiting and watching as they drive off, and we know that even though these particular people may have made their escape, (perhaps they were even simply allowed to?) the threat is still out there, and in Living Dead, even though we’re told that patrols are clearing out the area and neutralizing the threat it’s obvious from the several sequels how effective that effort was.

Now I’m gonna be honest here and admit that I haven’t done any real reading on the topic, and it may very well be that Romero has acknowledged his debt to the earlier film. Or not, though it certainly seems obvious that he must have had the Hitchcock film in mind when he was writing his zombie flick, even if it was only subconsciously. And while Hitchcock certainly wasn’t the first to introduce the base under siege trope, it certainly can’t be denied that he not only brought his own flair to it, he really made it his own. But it’s that ability that shows him for the true genius that he was.

And in the end, let’s face it, no matter what parallels there may be, intentional or not, both films are true classics, and should be simply enjoyed for what they are: Simply Great Movies.

Until next time, happy viewing!

By the way, I should note, since this is the first “real” commentary post, that comments are not only welcome, they’re invited. Whether you agree or disagree with my take on a particular flick, I want to hear from you. Especially as I’m working on building the site and getting things set up here. Let me know what you like, what you dislike, etc. Just click on the “Leave a Comment” button below and do it, and pretty soon I’ll also have up links to my Facebook page and an address where you can email me directly if you so desire. For now, though, thanks for reading, and i look forward to hearing from you.

-Michael