January 2013

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927) / The Resurrected (1992)

The Resurrected (aka Shatterbrain) is a 1992 horror film, released direct to video.  It is an adaptation of the H. P. Lovecraft novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.  For a short story it sure does have a bunch of covers from various publishers so here are the seven most popular I could find.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a short novel (51,500 words) by H. P. Lovecraft, written in early 1927, but not published during the author's lifetime.  Set in Lovecraft's hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, it was first published (in abridged form) in the May and July issues of Weird Tales in 1941; the first complete publication was in Arkham House's Beyond the Wall of Sleep collection (1943).

The novel tells the story of young Charles Dexter Ward, who in 1918 becomes embroiled in the past, due to his fascination with the history of his wizard ancestor, Joseph Curwen (who had left Salem for Providence in 1692, and acquired notoriety for his haunting of graveyards, his apparent lack of aging, and his chemical experiments). Ward physically resembles Curwen, and attempts to duplicate his ancestor's Qabalistic and alchemical feats, eventually locating Curwen's remains and by means of his "essential Saltes", resurrecting him.  Ward's doctor, Marinus Bicknell Willett, becomes enmeshed in Ward's doings, investigating Curwen's old Pawtuxet bungalow which Ward has restored.  The horrors of what Willett finds, and the crux of the identities of Ward and Curwen, form the hinge of horror on which the novel moves.

In August 1925, Lovecraft's Aunt Lillian sent him an anecdote about the house at 140 Prospect Street in Providence.  Lovecraft wrote back: "So the Halsey house is haunted! Ugh! That's where Wild Tom Halsey kept live terrapins in the cellar--maybe it's their ghosts.  Anyway, it's a magnificent old mansion, & a credit to a magnificent old town!"  Lovecraft would make this house—renumbered as 100 Prospect—the basis for the Ward house in Charles Dexter Ward.

The following month, September 1925, Lovecraft read Providence in Colonial Times, by Gertrude Selwyn Kimball, a 1912 history that provided him with aspects of Charles Dexter Ward, such as the anecdotes about John Merritt and Dr. Checkley.

A possible literary model is Walter de la Mare's novel The Return (1910), which Lovecraft read in mid-1926.  He describes it in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" as a tale in which "we see the soul of a dead man reach out of its grave of two centuries and fasten itself on the flesh of the living".

The theme of a descendant who closely resembles a distant ancestor may come from Nathaniel Hawthorne's “The House of the Seven Gables”, which Lovecraft called "New England's greatest contribution to weird literature" in "Supernatural Horror in Literature".

Another proposed literary source is M. R. James' short story "Count Magnus", also praised in "Supernatural Horror in Literature", which suggests the resurrection of a sinister 17th century figure.

The germ of inspiration came from Lovecraft reading Cotton Mather and running across a quote from Borellus. Borellus is Petrus Borellus aka Dr Pierre Borel a well known French doctor and alchemist.  The quote refers to old experiments of the alchemists in creating life/ rebirth from death using essential salts.  The entire quote is as follows: "The essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious Man may have the whole Ark of Noah in his own Studie, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of its Ashes at his Pleasure; and by the lyke Method from the essential Saltes of humane Dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust whereinto his Bodie has been incinerated."

The title character, Charles Dexter Ward, is a young man from a prominent Rhode Island family who (in the story's introduction) is said to have disappeared from a mental asylum after a prolonged period of insanity accompanied by minor, but unheard-of, physiological changes.  The bulk of the story concerns the investigation conducted by the Wards' family doctor, Marinus Bicknell Willett, in an attempt to discover the reason for Ward's madness and the physiological changes. When Willett learns that Ward had spent the past several years attempting to discover the grave of his ill-reputed ancestor, Joseph Curwen, the doctor slowly begins to unravel the truth behind the legends surrounding Curwen, an eighteenth century shipping entrepreneur rumored to have been an alchemist, but in reality a necromancer and mass-murderer.

As Willett's investigations proceed, he finds that Charles had recovered Curwen's ashes, and through the use of magical formulae contained in documents found hidden in the wizard's former town house in Providence, Rhode Island, was able to call forth Curwen from his "essential saltes" and resurrect him.  Willett also finds that Curwen, who resembles Charles enough to pass for him, has murdered and replaced his modern descendant and resumed his evil activities.  Unfortunately for Curwen, due to culture shock, he is unable to entirely successfully impersonate Charles - his lack of understanding of the modern world leads to him (as Charles) being certified insane and imprisoned in an asylum.

While Curwen is locked up, Willett's continuing investigations lead him to a bungalow in Pawtuxet Village, which Ward had purchased under the influence of Curwen.  It turns out that this house is on the site of an old farm which was Curwen's headquarters for his nefarious doings; beneath is a vast catacomb that the wizard had built to serve as his lair during his previous lifetime.  During a horrific journey through this labyrinth, Willet discovers the full truth about Curwen's crimes and also the means of returning him to the grave.  During the expedition it is also revealed that Curwen has been engaged in a long-term conspiracy with certain other necromancers (associates from his previous life who have somehow escaped death) to raise and torture the world's wisest people in order to gain knowledge that will let them gain horrible power and threaten the future of mankind.  Finally, while in Curwen's laboratory, Willett accidentally raises an ancient spirit (its identity is not made clear) which is an enemy of Curwen and his fellow necromancers.  The doctor faints at this eventuality: he wakes up back in the bungalow.  Willett finds that the entrance to the vaults has been sealed as if it had never existed, but finds a note from the spirit written in Latin in an Anglo-Saxon hand telling him to kill Curwen and destroy his body.

Armed with this knowledge, Willett confronts Curwen at the asylum and succeeds in reversing the spell, reducing the undead sorcerer once again to dust. News reports reveal that Curwen's prime co-conspirators have met brutal deaths along with their households and their lairs have been destroyed, presumably the work of the spirit whom Willett raised.

Much of the plot is revealed in letters, documents and other historical sources discovered by both Ward and Willett.

The Resurrected (1992)

Actors: John Terry, Jane Sibbett, Chris Sarandon, Robert Romanus, Laurie Briscoe

Directors: Dan O'Bannon

Writers: Brent V. Friedman, H.P. Lovecraft

Producers: Kenneth Raich, Mark Borde, Shayne Sawyer, Tom Bradshaw, Tony Scotti

Rated: R (Restricted)

Studio: Lions Gate

DVD Release Date: September 20, 2005

Run Time: 108 minutes

Charles Dexter Ward's wife enlists the help of a private detective to find out what her husband is up to in a remote cabin owned by his family for centuries. The husband is a chemical engineer, and the smells from his experiments (and the delivery of what appear to be human remains at all hours) are beginning to arouse the attention of neighbors and local law enforcement officials. When the detective and wife find a diary of the husband's ancestor from 1771, and reports of gruesome murders in the area begin to surface, they begin to suspect that some very unnatural experiments are being conducted in the old house.

Outside of updating it to modern (1992) times, this is probably the most faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s work.  What does seem odd to me is that it was released direct to video when it had name actors at the time involved in it.  Chris Sarandon was still coasting off of Fright Night (1985), The Princess Bride (1987) and Child’s Play (1988) and John Terry was still being acclaimed from Full Metal Jacket and The Living Daylights, both from 1987.

In my opinion this is not only an underrated Lovecraft film, it is also an underrated horror film in general.  Do yourself a favor and hunt it down and give it a watch.  Sarandon chews the scenery but isn’t that the very reason you watch that guy.  Like Fright Night would be half as much fun if they cast someone else in the vampire role.

Related Articles:

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward – Wikipedia

The Resurrected – IMDB

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Little Otik / Greedy Guts / Otesánek (2000)

Actors: Veronika Zilková, Jan Hartl, Ivan Kraus, Juraj Herz, Jaroslava Kretschmerová
Directors: Jan Svankmajer
Writers: Jan Svankmajer, Karel Jaromír Erben
Producers: Jan Svankmajer, Erna Kmínková, Jaromír Kallista, Jirí Vanek, Keith Griffiths
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
DVD Release Date: January 21, 2003
Run Time: 126 minutes
Based on the folktale "Otesánek" by K.J. Erben, the film is a comedic live action, stop motion-animated feature film set mainly in an apartment building in the Czech Republic.
Karel Horák (Jan Hartl) and Božena Horáková (Veronika Žilková) are a childless couple and for medical reasons are doomed to remain so. While on vacation with their neighbors at a house in the country, Karel decides to buy the house at the suggestion of his neighbor. When he is fixing up the house, he digs up a tree stump that looks vaguely like a baby. He spends the rest of the evening cleaning it up and then presents it to his wife. She names the stump Otík and starts to treat it like a real baby. She then works out a plan to fake her pregnancy and becoming more and more impatient she speeds up the process and 'gives birth' one month early.
Otík comes alive and has an insatiable appetite. Alžbětka (Kristina Adamcová), the neighbor's daughter, has been suspicious all along, and when she reads the fairy tale about Otesánek, the truth becomes clear to her. Meanwhile little Otík has been just eating and growing. At one point he eats some of Božena's hair, and another day she returns home to find that Otík has eaten their cat. Karel and his wife are at odds with Karel pushing for killing the thing and Božena defending it as their child. The baby later consumes a postal worker (Gustav Vondráček) and then a social worker (Jitka Smutná).
The resulting deaths lead Karel to tie up and lock Otík away in the basement of their apartment building, leaving Otík to starve. Alžbětka secretly takes over as prime caretaker. She tries to keep Otík fed with normal human food, but, when her mother stops her, she is forced to drawing straws (matches in this case) to choose a person to feed to Otík. The first victim is an old man and pedophile, Mr. Žlábek (Zdeněk Kozák), and the second victim is Karel himself, who had come with a chainsaw but on seeing Otík calls him "son" and drops the chainsaw. Afterwards, Božena goes into the basement and is heard screaming. In the end, Otík disobeys Alžbětka despite repeated warnings and eats the cabbage patch of the paní správcová (Dagmar Stříbrná), meaning porter's wife or an old woman.
In the fairy tale upon which the movie is based, the old woman kills Otesanek by splitting his stomach open with a hoe, however, the film ends with her descending the stairs, Alžbětka reciting the end of the fairy tale tearfully; the audience is not allowed to witness the deed.
If for nothing else, the stop motion animation of that tree demon moving, eating and especially suckling…that’s right I said suckling are the creepiest thing I have seen in a long time.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Population 436 (2006)

Actors: Jeremy Sisto, Fred Durst, Charlotte Sullivan

Directors: Michelle MacLaren

Writers: Michael Kingston

Rated: R (Restricted)

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

DVD Release Date: September 5, 2006

Run Time: 92 minutes

Steve Kady, a US Census Bureau researcher is sent to the remote and seemingly idyllic village of Rockwell Falls to interview residents concerning the population. On the way to Rockwell Falls he is distracted by a woman falling off a horse and his vehicle hits a pothole and bursts two tires. He is eventually picked up by Bobby Caine, the Sheriff's Deputy, who drives him into Rockwell Falls and helps him find a place to stay.

During his stay, Kady notices a number of increasingly strange things about the town, people acting awkward, and strange. People make vague allusions to 'the fever', and several residents treat him as though he were not just a visitor, but has moved to Rockwell Falls permanently. His research reveals that the town's population has remained at exactly 436 for over 100 years. People who try to leave Rockwell Falls seem to meet with bizarre and deadly accidents, or just vanish, which the residents believe to be the work of God. Kady also begins to have eerie dreams about a truck, a cross and a doll.

Kady becomes romantically involved with Courtney Lovett, a local woman and the daughter of his host, much to the chagrin of Caine, who is also in love with her. He also befriends Amanda, a young girl whose father was killed trying to escape the town and who is being held at Dr Greaver's clinic, on the pretext of treating her for schizophrenia. Courtney and Amanda both express a desire to leave the town, but are afraid of the consequences of trying.

After stumbling upon some books on Biblical numerology, Kady realizes that the townspeople attach a mystical importance to the number 436 and are willing to go to extreme lengths to keep the population at exactly that number, including executing surplus residents. Anyone who expresses a desire to leave is treated for the 'fever' by Dr. Greaver, the town doctor, with electroshock therapy or in extreme cases, frontal lobotomy. It gradually becomes apparent to Kady that the residents of Rockwell Falls have no intention of allowing him to leave.

This movie carries a more-than-passing parallel/allusion to Shirley Jackson's classic short story, "The Lottery", published in New Yorker Magazine, 1948. This is particularly apparent in the sequence where the resident who is to be sacrificed to keep the population down is selected by drawing a name from a box full of slips of paper on which residents have written their names. It also shares a similar theme with M. Night Shyamalan's “The Village”, and Robin Hardy's “The Wicker Man” as being a secluded small town stuck in a completely different era, both in custom and in dress.

The story also contains references to numerology, in particular Biblical numerology. The residents of Rockwell Falls believe that the word 'solidarity' has a numerological value of 13, which is also the sum of the digits of 436, the town's population (There are also 13 letters in the town's name).  In Population 436, special meanings are also attributed to the individual numbers 4, 3 and 6.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Colour Out of Space and Die, Monster Die! (1965)

"The Colour Out of Space" is a short story written in March 1927. In the tale, an unnamed narrator pieces together the story of an area known by the locals as the "blasted heath" in the wild hills west of Arkham, Massachusetts. The narrator discovers that many years ago a meteorite crashed there, draining the life force from anything living nearby; vegetation grows large, but tasteless, animals are driven mad and deformed into grotesque shapes, and the people go insane or die one by one.

Lovecraft began writing "The Colour Out of Space" immediately after finishing his previous short novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and in the midst of final revision on his horror fiction essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature". Seeking to create a form of life that was truly alien, he drew his inspiration from numerous fiction and nonfiction sources. First appearing in the September 1927 edition of Hugo Gernsback's science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, "The Colour Out of Space" became one of Lovecraft's most popular works and remained his personal favorite short story.

Written in the first-person perspective of an unnamed surveyor from Boston, "The Colour Out of Space" tells the story of the narrator's attempts to uncover the secrets behind a shunned place referred to by the locals of Arkham as the "blasted heath".  Unable to garner any information from the townspeople, the protagonist seeks out an old and allegedly crazy man by the name of Ammi Pierce who relates his personal experiences with a farmer who used to live on the cursed property, Nahum Gardner. Pierce claims that the troubles began when a meteorite crashed into Gardner's lands in June 1882.

The meteorite never cools, but begins shrinking and local scientists are unable to discern its origins. As the stone shrinks, it leaves behind globules of colour that are referred to as such "only by analogy", as they do not fall within the range of anything known in the visible spectrum. These remains eventually disappear but, the following season, Gardner's crops come in unnaturally large and abundantly. When he discovers that, despite their appearance, they are inedible, he accuses the meteorite of having poisoned the soil. Over the following year, the problem begins spreading to the surrounding vegetation and local animals, warping them in unusual ways. The plant life around the farmhouse becomes "slightly luminous in the dark", and Gardner's wife eventually goes mad, forcing him to lock her in the attic. During this time, Gardner begins to isolate his family from the rest of the town and Pierce slowly becomes his only contact with the outside world.

Soon after Gardner's wife becomes mad, the vegetation begins eroding into a grey powder and the water from the well becomes tainted. One of Gardner's sons, Thaddeus, goes insane like his mother and is similarly locked in a different room in the attic. The livestock begins turning grey and dying and, like the crops, their meat is tasteless and inedible. Thaddeus eventually dies and Merwin, another of Gardner's sons, goes missing during an excursion to retrieve water from the well. After two weeks of silence from Gardner, Pierce visits the farmstead and witnesses the tale's eponymous horror for the first time in the attic. Gardner's final son, Zenas, has disappeared and the "colour" has infected Nahum's wife, whom Pierce puts out of her misery. He then flees the decaying house as the horror destroys the last surviving resident, Nahum.

Pierce returns to the farmstead shortly after with six other men, including a doctor, who begin examining Nahum's remains. They discover Merwin and Zenas' eroding skeletons at the bottom of the well, as well as remnants of several other creatures. As they reflect upon their discoveries in the house, a light begins to emit from the well that eventually transforms into the "colour" and begins pouring out, spreading over everything nearby. The men flee the house just as the horror blights the land and then shoots towards the sky. Pierce alone turns back after the "colour" has gone and witnesses a small part of it try to follow the rest, only to fail and return to the well. The knowledge that part of the alien still resides on earth is sufficient to alter his mental state. When some of the men return the following day, there is nothing remaining but a dead horse and acres of grey dust, and the surrounding area is quickly abandoned by all of its remaining residents.

Die, Monster Die! (1965)

Directed by Daniel Haller

Produced by Pat Green

Written by Jerry Sohl

   Boris Karloff
   Nick Adams
   Freda Jackson
   Suzan Farmer
   Terence De Marney

Music by Don Banks

Cinematography - Paul Beeson

Editing by Alfred Cox

Distributed by American International Pictures

Release date - October 27, 1965

Running time - 80 min.

Die, Monster, Die! (British title: Monster of Terror) is a 1965 horror film directed by Daniel Haller. The film is a loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's story The Colour Out of Space. An American scientist, Stephen Reinhart, goes to the village of Arkham, England, to visit Susan Witley, the woman he hopes to marry, and to meet her parents. He is put off by the villagers' lack of warmth, by the bleak grounds surrounding the Witley house, and by the cold reception given him by Susan's father, Nahum. Susan's mother, the bedridden and veiled Letitia, greets him warmly, however, and pleads with him to take Susan away. That night he encounters frightening apparitions and sees from his window the burial of Nahum's manservant Merwyn. The next day he goes to the village to find out about the strange occurrences at the Witley house, but he learns nothing. Later, Stephen and Susan investigate the Witley greenhouse, from which an unearthly glow emanates, and there they discover grotesque plants and organisms. In the cellar of the Witley house they find a huge, radioactive meteorite, which Nahum has been using to create mutations. Letitia, already disfigured from overexposure, is subsequently killed; and Nahum, also exposed to the radiation, dies in a fire which engulfs the house as Susan and Stephen escape.  American International Pictures released the film as the first feature on a double bill with Mario Bava's “Planet of the Vampires” (1965).

This was the first directing job for veteran art director/production designer Daniel Haller, which began filming February 15 1965.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The City of Lost Children (1995)

First, my wife says I need to apologize for something I posted yesterday.  I wish to retract one of my 6 movies only I like.  Halloween 3 is a terrible film and should not be viewed by anyone.  I am sorry for the trauma I caused by saying that movie was worth a damn.

With a mad scientist kidnapping children to steal their dreams because he cannot dream, only brave young Miette (Judith Vittet) and a kindhearted circus strongman (Ron Perlman) can save them. Part fantasy, part nightmare, this production used more special effects than any other French film to date. Featuring stunning visuals from directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the sci-fi fairy tale was nominated for a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.

Just off the coast of a dank, teeming harbor town, a horrible scientist named Krank lives on a mist-shrouded rig. He is aging prematurely because he lacks one vital function: the ability to dream. Krank's henchmen, a community of Cyclops, kidnap children from town and take them to Krank's inhospitable laboratory, so that Krank can tap into their dreams, invade them, and make them his own. In the laboratory, Krank is assisted by the pint-sized Miss Bismuth; a disembodied (and philosophy-spouting) brain known as Irvin; and six identical Clones.

The latest little kidnappee is a voracious toddler named Denree. Although Denree remains impressively calm, his adopted brother, One, a circus strongman, is distraught. While searching high and low for his "baby brother," One is shanghaied by Miette, a nine-year-old femme fatale. Miette is the undisputed leader of a gang of orphans who, like petite resistance fighters, have developed ingenious strategies to survive, and evade, the sinister forces at work.

The brave little girl and the gentle giant need each other: she has the brains, while he has the brawn. Together, the pair embark on a series of wondrous but harrowing adventures. They escape the clutches of Siamese twin sisters (collectively known as The Octopus) who operate both an orphanage and a black-market business. They encounter an amnesiac Diver who collects refuse from the bottom of the harbor...and whose striking resemblance to Krank's Clones is the key to the mystery of Krank and his fiendish plotting. One and Miette must ultimately challenge Krank and his ultra-dysfunctional "family" on a level playing field -- within the world of a little boy's dream.

Holy crap this is a fun film to watch and try to understand.  I watched this in French with English subtitles and don’t actually know if there is a dubbed version but does that really matter?  Young Ron Perlman speaking French, how could you not want to see that. Even though my creditability is probably shot with the whole H3 debacle, I highly recommend this film and the previous one from the same Director/Producer team, Delicatessen which has a completely different dark feel.

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6 Movies I Like No One Else Does

As the title says and I will justify my odd tastes in no particular order.  The movies will become more terrible as we get further along.  No judging, like everything you like is a masterpiece.

Outlander (2008)

During the reign of the Vikings, Kainan, a man from a far-off world, crash lands on Earth, bringing with him an alien predator known as the Moorwen. Though both man and monster are seeking revenge for violence committed against them, Kainan leads the alliance to kill the Moorwen by fusing his advanced technology with the Viking's Iron Age weaponry.

Something about the story just intrigues me.  I think it is well written and the plot builds at a reasonable pace.  The Moorwen looks cool too.

Soldier (1998)

In a futuristic society, some people are selected at birth to become soldiers, and trained in such a manner that they become inhuman killing machines. One of the most successful and older of these soldiers (Russell) is pitted against a new breed of soldiers, and after the confrontation is believed to be dead. His body is left behind in a semi-abandoned colonial planet, where everything is peaceful, and he is taught about the other aspects of life. But eventually he has to fight the new breed of soldiers again, this time to defend his new home.

Soldier was written by David Peoples, who co-wrote the script for Blade Runner. By his own admission, he considers Soldier to be a "sidequel"/spiritual successor to Blade Runner.  It also obliquely references various elements of stories written by Philip K. Dick (who wrote the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", on which Blade Runner is based), or film adaptations thereof. A "Spinner" vehicle from Blade Runner can be seen in the wreckage on a junk planet that features in the film.  There are also several dialogue references to events such as "Tanhauser Gate" from Blade Runner. 

You wish you were as cool as Kurt Russell and more movies should be as cool as the storyline of this film.

Reeker (2005)

Five students driving through the desert encounter the inescapable stench of death in director David Payne's retro-inspired slasher/monster/supernatural horror hybrid. The highway has been inexplicably closed, forcing five young travelers into a mysteriously abandoned travel oasis where they are soon confronted with disturbing visions of maimed travelers. Disturbed by the grisly series of visions and determined to escape the spooky motel and diner before whatever killed the previous customers returns, the frightened travelers soon meet a frantic stranger who claims to have recently lost his wife to a terrifying entity that seems to hover between life and death. As the night falls, a blind grad student with heightened senses proves the only hope for survival as the body count begins to rise and the smell of death becomes too suffocating to endure.

Unlike what they said on Rotten Tomatoes, I do not find this film insipid.  At a time when I was looking for something in the horror genre that was new and interesting I came across this.  I think the plot is great, the ending surprised me and in general the monster scared the crap out of me…especially after getting to the end.

Rubber (2010)

Rubber is the story of Robert, an inanimate tire that has been abandoned in the desert and then suddenly and inexplicably comes to life. As Robert roams the bleak landscape, he discovers that he possesses terrifying telepathic powers that give him the ability to destroy anything he wishes. At first content to prey on discarded objects and small desert creatures, his attention soon turns to humans, especially a beautiful and mysterious woman who crosses his path. Leaving a swath of destruction behind, Robert becomes a chaotic force and truly a movie villain for the ages.

The story this film follows is so original it boarders on insanity.  The thing the reviews don’t discuss is there are two movies going on here.  Story one is the adventures of Robert the tire and the other story is a group of people watching the adventures of Robert from a distance.  Both stories are completely insane on their own but play off each other in an amazing way that only makes both better.

Halloween 3 (1982)

An apparent murder-suicide in a hospital emergency room leads to an investigation by the on-call doctor, which reveals a plot by an insane toymaker to kill as many people as possible during Halloween through an ancient Celtic ritual involving a stolen boulder from Stonehenge and Halloween masks.

And then my creditability got ruined.  Yes, I like the most hated film in the franchise.  You may be asking yourself how can someone who considers the first Halloween to be a masterpiece of horror and film-making?  Well, John Carpenter planned on making this films an anthology of bad stuff that happened on Halloween but that damn Michael Myers hijacked his plans.  I am able to enjoy this without thinking about Michael Myers.  Is it a good film? Hell No!  This movie is the aftermath of a train wreck in mid-August and the track was inaccessible for months, but I do appreciate what they were trying to do.

Van Helsing (2004)

Van Helsing is in the world to rid all evil, even if not everyone agrees with him. The Vatican sends the monster hunter and his ally, Carl, to Transylvania. They have been sent to this land to stop the powerful Count Dracula. Whilst there they join forces with a Gypsy Princess called Anna Valerious, who is determined to end an ancient curse on her family by destroying the vampire. They just don't know how!

Is that an angry mob with torches and pitchforks I hear at the door?  I don’t care what you people say, that is one of the best werewolves of the past 10 years.  Frankenstein’s Monster is one of the better incarnations I have seen and the brides were amazing.  The only real shortcoming is in my opinion Dracula was kind of mediocre.  If for nothing else the eye candy was well worth the price of admission.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Werewolves on Wheels (1971) and Meridian (1990)

Boy are we featuring a lot of werewolves this week and both of this week’s date night films are horrible and dripping with sex.  So put the speaker in your window and let’s light this candle.

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

As a group of bikers moves across the desert, they come across an old church that a satanic cult has taken over. The cultists give them drugged food, and the bikers soon fall asleep. That night the cultists cast a curse on the biker leader's girlfriend, that makes her turn into a werewolf after nightfall; she soon infects her boyfriend. The bikers leave the church, and begin to be killed off whenever they stop for the night. Things come to a climax when the couple changes in front of the bikers, who quickly kill the beasts. The bikers return to the church to have their revenge, but stop when they see themselves in the cult-procession.

Wow! Just wow.  The highlight of this film, besides a werewolf on werewolf fight sequence, is the werewolf on a motorcycle.  Words fail me to explain this film, you just have to see it for yourselves to understand the insanity.  To save on the budget there are scenes of actually bikers, whether they are aware they are being film is a mystery.  Odd trivia, Michel Levesque the director of this fine film is also the Art Director for “The Incredible Melting Man” and TV’s “Hunter” for 1984-85 seasons and “Renegade” for the 1993 season. 

Meridian (1990)

Catherine Bomarzini, travels back to her family castle in Italy after her father's death. Overwhelmed with excitement, Catherine invites her best friend Gina to spend the weekend. Gina and Catherine discover a local carnival outside the castle gates. Curious they wander to the carnival to enjoy the show and acts. Pleased with the performance, Gina invites the head magician Lawrence and his crew to the castle for dinner. Drugged and seduced, Catherine finds herself drawn into a mysterious love triangle with the handsome magician and a creature of the night whose gentle eyes and touch reveal his infinite love. Is this creature real or an illusion? Guided by the ghost of a slain ancestor and the advice of the castle caretaker Martha, Catherine discovers the ancient curse that enshrouds the Bomarzini Castle... a curse that only she can dispel.

MY EYES!  Oh My Gosh this is a terrible movie.  I’m just going to cover the major plot points, werewolf rape, werewolf orgy and a too well lit werewolf on werewolf sex scene.  If you ever wondered what two werewolves look like while copulating, well wonder no more.  If the idea of two fur covered humanoid shapes bumping uglies for what feels like twenty minutes in a room populated by eighteen 400 watt light bulbs is what gets you going then you are one sick puppy and should talk to someone about your odd perversion.  Now I need to go and pour bleach into my eyes and maybe set my whole head on fire to clean the abominations I have witnessed from my memory.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Crimson Cult (1968)

As usual, in order to understand where the film is coming from we have to discuss the source material.  Quick! To the library!

"The Dreams in the Witch House" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft, part of the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror fiction. Written in January/February 1932, it was first published in the July 1933 issue of Weird Tales.

Walter Gilman, a student of mathematics and folklore at Miskatonic University, takes a room in the Witch House, a house in Arkham thought to be accursed. The first part of the story is an account of the history of the house, which has once harbored Keziah Mason, an accused witch who disappeared mysteriously from a Salem jail in 1692. Gilman discovers that for the better part of two centuries many if not most of its occupants have died prematurely.

The dimensions of Gilman's room in the house are unusual, and seem to conform to a kind of unearthly geometry that Gilman theorizes can enable travel from one plane or dimension to another. In his dreams Gilman is taken to a city of Lovecraft's "Elder Things", and even brings back tangible evidence that he's actually been there. Several times his dreaming self encounters a bizarre "congeries of iridescent, prolately spheroidal bubbles", as well as a trapezoidal figure, both of which seem sapient.

Brown Jenkin Of much more direct concern, however, are Gilman's nightly dream sojourns with the old hag Keziah Mason and her rat-bodied, human-faced familiar Brown Jenkin, sojourns which he increasingly believes are actually happening in the real world. One night, Gilman dreams Keziah, Brown Jenkin, and the infamous "Black Man" force him to be an accomplice in the kidnapping of an infant. He awakes to find mud on his feet and news of the kidnapping in the newspaper.

On May Eve (Walpurgis Night), Gilman dreams that he thwarts Keziah from sacrificing the baby, only to have it killed by Brown Jenkin. Coming back to wakefulness in this plane, Gilman hears an unearthly cosmic sound that leaves him deaf. The next morning, Gilman is found dead in his room in the Witch House, a hole burrowed through his chest and his heart eaten out.

The landlord then abandons the house completely, and when it is finally demolished years later, a space between the walls is found filled with children's bones, a sacrificial knife, and a bowl made of some metal that scientists are unable to identify. A strange stone statuette of a star-headed "Elder Thing" is also found, and these items go on display in the Miskatonic University museum, where they continue to mystify scholars.

Curse of the Crimson Altar is a 1968 British horror film directed by Vernon Sewell and starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele and Mark Eden. The film was produced by Lewis M. Heyward for Tigon British Film Productions. The film was cut and released as The Crimson Cult in the United States. It is based (uncredited) on the short story "The Dreams in the Witch House" by H. P. Lovecraft. The house in the film is Grim's Dyke House in Harrow Weald, Middlesex, England, the allegedly haunted former home of William S. Gilbert; this film also featured the final appearance of horror heavyweight Boris Karloff.

Robert Manning (Mark Eden) goes in search of his brother who was last known to have visited the remote house of Craxted Lodge at Greymarsh. Arriving at night, he finds a party is in progress, and he is invited to stay by the niece of the owner of the house, Eve (Virginia Wetherell). But his sleep is restless and strange dreams of ritual sacrifice disturb him. Enquiring about his brother, he is assured by the house owner Morley (Christopher Lee) that the man is not here. But Manning’s suspicions are aroused further by his nightmarish hallucinations. When Manning learns from occult expert Professor Marshe (Boris Karloff) of a witchcraft cult based around the ancestral Lavinia Morley (Barbara Steele), the cult is uncovered. Craxted Lodge is burned to the ground, with the head of the cult being consumed in Boris Karloff as death the flames.

When we say based on “The Dreams in the Witch House” what we really mean is someone read a blurb about that story and pieced together their own ideas because this is nothing like the source material.  It feels more like your average Hammer film and less like the gothic horror it is supposed to be based on.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great movie but may be a bit slow and dry for most people. 

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)

Oh Troma Entertainment, you never disappoint me when I need something weird to talk about.

Directed by Peter George

Produced by Robert Tinnell

Written by Jon Ayre

Gail Neely
Barry Brenner
Robert Harden
Tom Demenkoff

Music by Jon McCallum

Cinematography Rolf Kestermann

Editing by Craig A. Colton

Distributed by Troma Entertainment

Running time - 83 minutes

Surf Nazis Must Die is a 1987 American comedy film directed by Peter George and starring Gail Neely, Barry Brenner, and Robert Harden. It was produced by The Institute, a production company formed by Peter George, Craig A. Colton and Robert Tinnell, and distributed by Troma Entertainment, a company known for its low-budget exploitation films.

Leeroy's Mama An earthquake leaves the California coastline in ruins and reduces the beaches to a state of chaos. A group of Neo-Nazis led by Adolf (Brenner), the self-proclaimed "Führer of the new beach," takes advantage of the resulting chaos by fighting off several rival surfer gangs to seize control of the beaches. Meanwhile, an African American oil well worker named Leroy (Harden) is killed by the Nazis while jogging on the beach. Leroy's mother "Mama" Washington (Neely), devastated by the loss of her son, vows revenge. After arming herself with a handgun and grenades, she breaks out of her retirement home and sets out to exact bloody vengeance on the Surf Nazis.

The Fuhrer I re-watched this film earlier today and afterward considered going with a different movie, perhaps Poultrygeist or Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. but decided against it so I could torture myself with those films at a later date, I mean reserve the right to discuss and share the brilliance of those masterpieces of cinema at a future time if you all can behave yourselves.  Damn it I sat through Surf Nazis and if I had to suffer so should you. 

As usual this film is up to the high standards you would expect from a Troma movie but if you are watching a Troma movie you are not expecting Oscar award winning anything from it.  The above blurb pretty much covers everything you need to know about the plot.  What is surprising is that the acting is better than most films in the Troma vault.  If you accept the goofy nature of the film then the characters become believable.  The backstory of how the world got this way seems to be missing some details but in all it explains what it needs to.

If you are the curious type then you can watch the film in it’s entirety at youtube.  Troma released most of their catalogue to the internet over the past couple of years.  This is a fun film but be ready for some gory scenes when Leeroy’s Mom gets her revenge on the Surf Nazis.


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How not to make a werewolf movie

If you have been following you are already aware of my deep love and respect for the majestic werewolf.  If there was one mythological beast I hope is real this would be the one.  Today we will delve into that special combination of budget, script, effects and acting that can suck the life out what should be a simple formula for terror.
I will be avoiding the various arguments of humanoid vs. quadruped, behavior and killing method that seem to span the current breed of werewolves in cinema, did you see what I did there with ‘breed’, and just stick to the basic universal rules of lycanthropy. 
  1. Character gets infected and isn’t aware that he/she is.
  2. Character transforms and doesn’t particularly care for it.
  3. Friends and loved ones are placed in jeopardy.
  4. Everyone dies violently.
  5. Werewolf either gets killed or vanishes into the darkness to kill again in the sequel.
Now an otherwise great werewolf movie can be brought to a sudden stop by something as simple as a bad makeup design.  Using the most excellent film “The Howling” by Joe Dante as my example I wish to demonstrate what I mean.  Keep in mind this is the same movie and the same effects department creating the very different looks of two of the characters.
This is a werewolf
This is a Pomeranian
After a movie full of some of the best looking werewolves that 1981 had to offer, they end the movie with Dee Wallace turning into Chewbacca.  But I’m not here to tarnish this wonderful film.  I’m here to show two examples of screwing up a simple horror movie concept.

War Wolves (2009)

War Wolves is a 2009 television movie that originally aired on the Syfy network on March 8, 2009. The film stars John Saxon and Michael Worth, who also serves as the film's director.
Jack Ford leads a special forces unit back to the United States to hunt down Jake Gabriel, a soldier who has been infected with the werewolf virus that turns man into wolf. Little does Jack know that three of the female soldiers serving in his unit have also been infected and have already transformed into she-wolves. The she-wolves' forces of evil and Ford's special op forces of good, are pitted against each other in the race to save mankind from turning into wolves.
Oh boy, where to start?  Staring and Directed by the same guy is never a good sign.  How about SyFy original, which usually means done for $20 and lunch.  But I have seen some great films done cheap so maybe this one will be…
Sweet Jeebus!  Really?!  The makeup is really just plastic ears and teeth, contacts and black greasepaint on the end of her nose?  There is no way it can all look this bad.  They had to make the male werewolf better.
Ah…Bad picture, maybe a different angle.
Holy Crap!  Yep, and it only goes downhill from there.  Fight sequences over-use that Matrix bullet time effect and flight by wire so the jumps are epic and acrobatic.  Dialogue is delivered by growling but the ill fitting plastic teeth also make the actors slobber so every line is this weird gravelly lispy spit projecting overdone emoting monologue.  Last but not least, let’s look at the character descriptions:
  • Michael Worth as Jake Gabriel who had left his former comrades behind and uses alcohol and drugs to suppress the urges and changes his body is undergoing. He coins the alias Lawrence Talbot, the name of the original Wolfman
  • Natasha Alam as Erika Moore Jake's love interest and leader of the wolves in Jake's absence, she attempts to convert the reluctant Jake into embracing his wolf side and turning against the humans.
  • John Saxon as Tony Ford an aging military General in hunt of the wolves. Detached from his family due to his lengthy, seemingly endless work.
  • Tim Thomerson as Frank Bergman Ford's assistant, a rambunctious old man who seems to make light of about any situation. He is Tony's opposite and best friend.
  • Adrienne Barbeau as Gail a woman who has taken Jake in, she attends an AA group at the local church which Jake attends as well. She is a very insightful woman who regales stories of "her" Kenny and provides profound insight, mixed with a little belief in Men in Black, Sasquatch, Aliens etc.
They just had to invoke Lon Chaney Jr. not that it lends any respect to the film.  There are so many clichés and recycled plot points in this film I don’t think there is anything original in the whole 104 minutes.

Half Moon (2010)

"Half Moon" tells the story of a city gripped with fear because of a man killing prostitutes. When down on her luck prostitute Rose (Shellie Chapman aka Tori Black) goes to a hotel to meet a man who seems like the perfect guy things soon change and she suspects he could be the killer ...or worse a Werewolf.
When I first became aware of this film I thought it could be a great film.  There is a Jack the Ripper killing working girls, Rose meets Jacob at the hotel and after a few hours of just talking lets her guard down.  When Jacob goes to the bathroom she opens the duffle bag he brought and finds it full of S&M gear and weapons.  After handcuffing him to a chair the mystery of whether he is the serial killer or not begins to play out all the while trying to not reveal what he really is.  I believed this could be the best idea I had heard for a werewolf movie.  Not really sure if our character really is infected or just insane.  Unfortunately, there is so much wrong with this movie I actually only watched twenty minutes of it and then jumped to the end for the forty seconds of werewolf…blurry, fun fur wearing werewolf.
You would think the problem would be Tori Black since adult film actresses are not known for their acting ability but she did a great job.  As I recall this film only has two locations, the street where Rose hears about the job and the hotel room so money got saved there.  The pacing and dialogue feels so far off my head hurt after only the twenty minutes I gave it.  There are stretches where Rose and Jacob are talking about absolutely nothing and it feels like the cameraman just let the camera roll while the two characters made up their own awkward lines.
I wanted this to be a good film both because I thought the plot sounded interesting and I wanted Tori Black to deliver a performance so amazing it made people rethink their prejudice toward adult film actors.  Too bad I was wrong.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

The Traveler (2010) and Twixt (2011)

We have a super very extra special double shot of Val Kilmer for this ICFIFC. 

Val Kilmer at Cannes in 2005Born in Los Angeles, California on December 31, 1959. Studied at Hollywood's Professional's School and, in his teens, entered Juilliard's drama program. His professional acting career began on stage, and he still participates in theater; he played Hamlet at the 1988 Colorado Shakespeare Festival. His film debut was in the 1984 spoof Top Secret! (1984), wherein he starred as blond rock idol Nick Rivers then the cult classic Real Genius (1985), as well as the blockbuster action/fantasy film Willow (1988). He was in a number of films throughout the 1980s, including the 1986 smash Top Gun (1986). Despite his obvious talent and range, it wasn't until his astonishingly believable performance as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's The Doors (1991) that the world sat up and took notice. Kilmer again put his good baritone to use in the movie, performing all of the concert pieces. Since then, he has played two more American legends, Elvis Presley in True Romance (1993) and Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993). In July 1994, it was announced that Kilmer would be taking over the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne from Michael Keaton.

The Traveler (2010)

A mysterious drifter blows into a small town on Christmas Eve, and sets off a string of gruesome events that threaten the lives of six police officers in this thriller starring Val Kilmer. As the townspeople settle in for the holiday and darkness washes over the town, a man (Kilmer) enters the local police station and confesses to committing multiple murders. Now, with each new detail the stranger reveals, it becomes increasingly clear that the real nightmare is only beginning.

The majority of reviews call this Rod Serling’s High Plains Drifter, but if Serling or Eastwood had anything to do with this film it might have been good.  As it stands, it would have to improve to be mediocre.  I wanted to like this film since I like Val Kilmer as an actor and normally I would relish a weird tale about revenge of an innocent(?) man coming back from the grave to pay back those who wronged him but it comes across as a excuse to string six killing scenes together.  A straight to video release and it shows.  At points the plot comes to a complete halt, probably because there is about 40 minutes of material to fill 96 minutes of film.  If you are a true fan of Kilmer you are welcome to watch but if you want a decent movie you should look elsewhere.

Twixt (2011)

A writer with a declining career arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl. That night in a dream, he is approached by a mysterious young ghost named V. He's unsure of her connection to the murder in the town, but is grateful for the story being handed to him. Ultimately he is led to the truth of the story, surprised to find that the ending has more to do with his own life than he could ever have anticipated.

In an interview with The New York Times, Francis Ford Coppola discussed the origins of the film, which he said "grew out of dream [he] had last year – more of a nightmare" and "seemed to have the imagery of Hawthorne or Poe." He continued:

But as I was having it I realized perhaps it was a gift, as I could make it as a story, perhaps a scary film, I thought even as I was dreaming. But then some loud noise outside woke me up, and I wanted to go back to the dream and get an ending. But I couldn't fall back asleep so I recorded what I remembered right there and then on my phone. I realized that it was a gothic romance setting, so in fact I'd be able to do it all around my home base, rather than have to go to a distant country.

Twixt was filmed at Coppola's estate in Napa County as well as locations in Lake County, California, including downtown Kelseyville and Nice.

Musician Dan Deacon scored the film. The film's name was changed from Twixt Now and Sunrise to Twixt, and scenes from it were played at the July 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International.

Now we’re talking!  Alcohol induced hallucinations, ghosts of little girls, vampire orgies and Edgar Allen Poe making an appearance.  This is where I disagree with other reviewers, I liked this film.  Kilmer owns his character and squeezes every last drop of a writer in decline out of it that he can.   Elle Fanning, who’s acting ability I am starting to pay attention to, plays the little dead girl is the creepiest fashion.  There are points in this film you start questioning whether anything is real or all in Hall (Kilmer) Baltimore’s head and then ten minutes later reverse what you decided.  It is a shame Coppola only did a limited release when it was in theaters which would be the reason it didn’t make any money.  This could have been one of the films Kilmer would have been remembered for.  If you can hunt down a DVD or catch it on Sundance Channel like I did I would highly recommend you take in this film and savor what was created.

Related Articles:

  1. Val Kilmer Page at IMDB
  2. The Traveler Review at Answers.com
  3. Twixt Page at IMDB
  4. Twixt Page at Wikipedia

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