Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

Bride of Re-Animator (1990) movie poster

director Brian Yuzna
viewed: 10/17/2016

Brian Yuzna is no Stuart Gordon and Bride of Re-Animator (1990) is no Re-Animator (1985).  But you know, “so it goes.”

Jeffrey Combs is back as Herbert West at his twitchy, comic best.  And Bruce Abbott returns as the head of Dr. Cain.  And for just having one’s head in a movie, director Brian Yuzna gets a lot out of Abbott.  The film opens with his ominous visage and ends with his head (eventually getting squashed) but flying around with attached bat wings in one of the movie’s best elements.

Really, there’s a lot of let-down here, and some of that may as well be tied to the DVD that squished the picture to full-screen (I know, I’m like the last horror film guy who watches DVDs on an analog television — probably if I keep doing this long enough it will become hip).

Bride of Re-Animator has its moments, though it is a much sloppier, less inspired production on the whole.  I guess my advice here is “Prepare for disappointment, but enjoy what you can” (maybe not a bad life mantra, in general.)

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) movie poster

director Ken Wiederhorn
viewed: 10/16/2016

Okay, okay, Return of the Living Dead Part II is a serious let-down from The Return of the Living Dead (1985).  Written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn is not the same as written and directed by Dan O’Bannon.  Even with James Karen and Thom Matthews appearing again in this alternate universe Return of the Living Dead, it’s just a serious level or two below the other.

It’s still comedic, but skewed to the vantage of a kid, rather than a bunch of punks.

Oddly enough, I’m pretty sure that I also saw this one in the theater on its initial release.  We were living behind one of Gainesville, FL’s few movie theaters and a friend had a friend who snuck us in for free.  I think it says something that I remember more about sneaking into the movie than anything about the movie, other than its connection to its predecessor.

All that said, I still enjoyed it apparently more than most.  The 1985 The Return of the Living Dead is a true gem.  The 1988 Part II is campily bad, hammy, silly, but does have some decent visual effects and flashes of fun.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) movie poster

director Tobe Hooper
viewed: 10/15/2016

This viewing of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was for the kids.  Like any good parent, I try to expose them to the classics. I’d last watched it 14 years ago, the first year I was keeping this film diary.  It was fresh and fierce then and it still is today.

Watching movies with my kids is something I really appreciate.  I enjoy experiencing things with them and often vicarious enjoyment gives off contact highs better than I would get watching them alone.

This was a bit of a mixed bag here.  Though my son screamed aloud once (and immediately laughed at himself), my daughter was asking how much longer the film had during the late scene of nonstop screaming and terrorizing of Marilyn Burns.  It piqued a curious point of interest for me, this elongated torture/terror.  It is drawn out, and it is uncomfortable (perhaps at best).  The victimization of women, though, as common a trope in horror all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe, isn’t inherently misogynist here.  Especially in light of the current national dialogue as we seek to elect a president.

I recalled the first time I saw TCM, back in the 1980’s.  The movie had such word-of-mouth buzz that it was almost an urban legend.  It’s shocking reality was also nearly matched by its shocking 1970’s-ness (which is the Eighties seemed a bad thing). Featuring less gore than a lot of films, it was hard to appreciate the film properly.  I feel that it has grown in my estimation in my adult viewings.  And validated again here.

I still haven’t fully discussed it with my kids (we did a bit), so I don’t know their full take on the film.  I tried not to overhype it other than to say it was a true horror classic, a solid entry in our October horror festival.  It is interesting, though, to see a film from a fresh vantage, another reason watching with my kids is satisfying for me, especially now at 12 and 15, we can watch movies like this.

A brilliant film.

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989) movie poster

director Michael A. Simpson
viewed: 10/14/2016

Shot on the heels of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988), Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland does what none of the other films in this series did, bring back star of the previous film in a recurring role.  Not only does Pamela Springsteen return as Angela Baker, serial killer of the series, but the film was also shot at the same location as Sleepaway Camp II.

Continuity is a thing for some film series.  For others, it doesn’t mean squat.  And for the Sleepaway Camp series, even here with the same star, writer and director, it’s given relatively short shrift.

Because by Teenage Wasteland, Angela has shed any aspect of her transgendered self.  Virtually (maybe even explicitly) nothing is said about the most notable and radical thing about the original Sleepaway Camp (1983), leaving us with crazy, cheerful Angela creatively offing all of the folks at the camp.

Even so, the film is quite a bit of an improvement on Sleepaway Camp II.  It’s silly to the nearly intentionally comedic level, but smilingly so, and it moves along at a good clip.

The opening sequence, in which Angela tracks down a camper, runs her over with a truck and then composts her body, all to take her identity, is bizarre and ridiculous.  That she’s able to pull all this off after the prior killings at the same camp only months before with no one recognizing her is about all you need to know about the film’s logic or commitment to reality.

And that’s pretty well fine.

The Black Cat (1981)

The Black Cat (1981) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 10/11/2016

The Black Cat makes the 10th Lucio Fulci flick that I can claim to have seen.  So I guess I can no longer say that I’m a babe in the wood with Fulci anymore.  But I also don’t know that I can claim a complete picture of the Italian director.

Fulci’s 1981 film The Black Cat is a little Edgar Allan Poe and a lot Fulcian weirdness.  Poe’s short story is gory and bizarre in its own right, but Fulci’s version extends that psychological horror into the far out and supernatural.  Close-ups on eyes abound, as do Patrick Magee’s fantastical eyebrows.  This black cat is more than a projected upon victim and more of a demonic phantom.

Coming the the heart of Fulci’s fecund “Gates of Hell” period, The Black Cat seems to get shorter shrift from Fulci aficionados.  The film is far less gory, there is no “gate of hell”, nor a zombie in sight, but it’s highly surreal and strange and evocative. To my mind, it’s as strong and as strange as anything he made.

Sure, it’s sort of bizarre to have a potential slasher film in which the killer is a somewhat ordinary black house cat.  I don’t know.  I’d definitely give this one another go.

A lesser Fulci that I would suggest isn’t a lesser Fulci at all.  A full-on Fulci.

Parasite (1982)

Parasite (1982) movie poster

director Charles Band
viewed: 10/09/2016

You kind of have to admire the ambition of Charles Band’s Parasite.  It’s a sci-fi horror film originally released in 3-D and made on a budget of apparently two bucks.

There is a lot of backstory here, a complex post-apocalyptic near future in which the haves control the suburbs and the have-nots live in more deserted regions.  Throw into this the titular Parasite, a genetically engineered creature that eventually gets some moments of cheap but pleasing FX.

It’s cheap and it’s bad, but it’s also kind of enjoyable.  A very young Demi Moore is on display, very pretty and very Eighties.  Though Moore’s appearance is often noted, the film also features The Runnaways’ Cherie Currie in a smaller role.

This was the 2nd film in my suckfest double feature, alongside 1960’s The Leech Woman, and I have to say the night sucked just fine, thank you.

And the poster is pretty awesome.

The Leech Woman (1960)

The Leech Woman (1960) movie poster

director Edward Dein
viewed: 10/09/2016

I like a good double feature when I can arrange one, and as the fates would have it, I found myself with the 1960 horror film The Leech Woman alongside 1982’s Parasite.  Tonight was gonna SUCK!

The Leech Woman seems to be the last of the original run of Universal Horror films, and as you would expect from the last of a dying breed, it’s not spectacular.  It’s also a bit of a misnomer because there is no leech in the picture.  There is blood-drinking, African stereotypes, and stock footage animals, but no leeches.

Somewhat like Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman (1959), we’re faced with a sort of proto-feminist horror, the crisis of the loss of youth in female beauty in a society for whom a woman’s looks are her everything.  Here Coleen Gray is June Talbot, the alcoholic wife of a heartless doctor who has lost all feeling for her save cruelty.  When the doctor stumbles on a potential formula for renewed youth, a formula that must be traced to deepest, darkest Africa, he pulls her along as well.

It turns out though that this formula is a mixture of parts of a very obscure orchid and fluid from some gland at the back of the human skull, obtained only in murder!  June quickly sacrifices her husband to gain her youth, getting some revenge for his coarse misogyny.  What happens next is a brutal slaughter of the denizen of this obscure village so that the two white people can escape alive.

June also finds that this formula is not one meant for long-time use and has some pretty bad side-effects as well.

I don’t know that there is or isn’t a feminist critique inherent to the film, though I think one can read it for those things.  The period racism is painful, but hardly original, sadly.

Overall, though it lacks much in the way of thrills (or even a real leech woman), there is a level of pathos to the human element of the story.  Alcoholism, female sexual desire, revenge…it’s rife with those “adult situation” that the MPAA is always talking about.  A bit more complex than you might initially give it credit.

Tenebrae (1982)

Tenebrae (1982) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 10/08/2016

In introducing my 15 year old son to Dario Argento and the giallo, we watched the classic, Tenebrae, which I myself had never seen.  But as the body count rose and he started to try to solve the murders, I noted to him that in my experience, gialli narratives tend toward the baroque, convoluted and confusing, and that ultimately the cohesiveness of the logic really often is unimportant.

Maybe this isn’t the greatest advice on the genre, but for now I’m sticking with it.

Marked with Argento’s keen aesthetics and style, Tenebrae is a giallo among gialli.  Bloodier and bit more visually violent than some of its brethren, the mystery dances along the lines of its contemporary slasher films as well.

In reading up on the film, post-viewing, it’s rather remarkable the amount of influence and impact Tenebrae has effected.  And a lot of analysis.  Definitely suggesting a further viewing of the movie.

I’ve a sense that this is a film that is still working its way through my psyche and that further thoughts will come.  Very interesting indeed.

The Shallows (2016)

The Shallows (2016) movie poster

director  Jaume Collet-Serra
viewedL 10/07/2016

Trailers for The Shallows seemed to promised a stripped down shark thriller starring Blake Lively stuck on a rock in a cove, hunted by a shark.  And yes, that is the general premise.

She’s a surfer girl, hunting a hidden beach in Mexico, to surf in her mother’s memory a place her mother had surfed when pregnant with her.  That he mother has just died of cancer is the motivation for this adventure.  Such an isolated beach is the key to the set-up: so all alone, so close to shore, so fucked.

Aspects of this movie work well.  Some of the cinematography, Blake Lively herself does well, holding the screen on her own for the most part.  The basic set-up.  This is a real-world scenario, or could be.  And that seems to be where the film had the most opportunity to thrill.

Lively realizes that a cluster of birds on the water, seemingly magical, turn out to be drawn to a whale carcass.  And before she has a chance to put two and two together to consider the dangers of being in the water with such a huge chunk of animal fat and protein, a shark starts going for her, forcing her onto the whale and away from her surfboard, eventually onto the one rock above water nearby.

I’m no marine biologist, but this is where the film stops clinging to a reality.  A shark might be super happy to much away at a huge pile of floating meat like a whale, but why would it focus on an (albeit bleeding) skinny girl on a rock.  Taking queues from other shark movies that anthropomorphize the top predator, this shark just fucking wants her and is willing to do all kinds of illogical things to try to get her, which leads to the most improbable thing in the film, the shark’s ultimate demise.

Maybe this is on me for thinking that the set-up needed more grounding in reality, but that was where I thought it had the most going for it.  Coming from director Jaume Collet-Serra, he of House of Wax (2005) and the pretty decent Orphan (2009), I found The Shallows less satisfying than most, but okay for what it was.


Tormented (1960)

Tormented (1960) movie poster

director Bert I. Gordon
viewed: 10/05/2016

Childhood love of old horror movies introduced me to Bert I. Gordon, though I can’t say that we were formally introduced.  I watched Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and its sequel War of the Colossal Beast (1958) one summer, interested in those no doubt from an issue of Famous Monsters.   I’m sure I’d seen The Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977) as well.

Gordon had quite the career in horror and camp, and interestingly is still alive at age 94.

Tormented is a ghost film, lacking one iota of terror.  Though there is a vaguely noirish angle to the story, it plays very, very closely to straight out comedy.  Easy pickings for your MST3k brand.

It stars Richard Carlson, who I’ve liked so well from It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1955).  Here he’s a jazz musician marrying a rich girl, only he’s got some skeletons in his closet.  Actually, he makes his skeletons, or ghosts, if you will, not rescuing an ex-girlfriend and letting her plunge to her death…this for trying to blackmail him.

Her ghost pops up.  In funny inventive ways.  Footsteps in the sand.  A disembodied hand stealing a ring.  A disembodied head.  The effects a cheap but kind of funny, amusing but not the least bit scary.

And then Carlson’s character has a rather odd relationship with the 8 year old younger sister of his fiancee.  It’s one of those paternal, friendly 1950’s style relationships that now just seem kind of troubling nowadays, lots of added weird and comedy therein, too.

But you know, it’s kind of fun.  It gets strangely dark, and maybe it’s just strange because it seems like it really just wanted to be a comedy.  Quirky stuff.