Teenage Zombies (1960)

Teenage Zombies (1960) movie poster

director Jerry Warren
viewed: 10/27/2016

It’s not actually all that unusual when a movie poster is better than the movie it’s meant to promote.  Albert Kallis crafted a lot of classic images for Roger Corman productions that could never hope to live up to their gorgeous promotional materials.

The poster of Teenage Zombies doesn’t begin to achieve the qualities of an Albert Kallis.  Far from it, it’s almost comically crap itself, with its buxom cutie in the clutch (one-handed clutch) of a seriously fanged gorilla.  And yet, this poster is still way, way more entertaining and funny than the movie that it was crafted to promote.

“Young Pawns Thrust Into Pulsating Cages of Horror in a Sadistic Experiment!”  Do you want to parse that phrasing?  “Thrust” into “Pulsating Cages”? Wait, what? of “Horror” in a “Sadistic Experiment”  There is a lot of titillation in those words, even more than down the “Young Pawn’s” open shirt front.

The movie?  It’s 70 some odd minutes of teens falling into the figurative clutches of an evil female scientist who has developed a mind-control device to turn humanity into “zombies”.  And she tested it on a gorilla, too.

Yes, it’s very bad.  In a somewhat pleasing if also tedious and boring way.

The poster is much better.

The Slime People (1963)

The Slime People (1963) movie poster

director Robert Hutton
viewed: 10/26/2016

Before the zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion, Los Angeles was beset by slime.  Disturbed by testing of underground explosives, the slime people emerge from below the streets of the city of angels, armed with spears and a fog machine so powerful, it is able to create an impenetrable bubble over LA…in slime!

Star/director Robert Hutton flies into this mess (from where?) and runs into a scientist and his two daughters who through the magic of television, show him just what is going on.

The film’s fog is notorious, occasionally obscuring the entire scene, and its creatures loping gill-man variants that are actually kind of cool.  It’s also somewhat notable that you see the monsters before you even get the film title, unusual in almost any movie.

My favorite tidbit from Wikipedia on The Slime People:
“Producer Joseph F. Robinson recalled that the filmmakers originally intended to feature midgets as giant voles, who would serve as the advance guard of the invasion, but the sequence was so bad it was cut from the released film.”

A remarkable trash classic, worthy of consideration of one of the worst films of all time.

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Night of the Blood Beast (1958) movie poster

director  Bernard L. Kowalski
viewed: 10/26/2016

When you’ve watched enough Roger Corman 1950’s horror and science fiction films, you begin to feel that there is a rather low ceiling to how high the quality will ever rise.  But like any creative toiling prolifically in pulp, especially one who brought on lots of first time talent on the cheap, every once in a while, something more interesting comes along.

Re-using the monster costume from his film Teenage Cave Man shot only weeks before, Night of the Blood Beast is typically cheap but atypically interesting.  It was written by Martin Varno (his only writing credit per IMDb), apparently under the spell of Howard Hawks’s The Thing from Another World (1951).  It has, however, more in common with The First Man in Space (1959), a pair of space race sci-fi/horror stories about what might happen when man first made it out of Earth’s atmosphere and tried to return.

In Night of the Blood Beast, the pilot comes back dead but impregnated with alien fetuses and revivified by the creatures he carries inside him.  The monster is pretty silly looking but the image of the embryos under the fluoroscope, as well as an opening title image and visions of cells under the microscope are cheaply but interestingly animated and drawn.  There is also a suggestively gruesome corpse with half its face torn off, dripping blood in near silhouette.

I would not try to suggest that this is necessarily “good” science fiction, but there are some interesting ideas here.  The male impregnation is definitely on of them.  The script also has the pregnant pilot struggling with empathy for the aliens (for whom all the other humans have a “destroy first and ask questions later” attitude about.  It’s almost as though the story was hedging its bets as to whether these were benign aliens or true “blood beasts” until the very end.

Ultimately, I think this has a bit more going for it than some give it credit for.  It surprised me a bit.

Evil Spawn (1987)

Evil Spawn (1987) VHS cover

director Kenneth J. Hall, Ted Newsom, Fred Olen Ray
viewed: 10/24/2016

Two phrases that come to mind in watching Evil Spawn:  “They don’t make ’em like they used to” and “I know a friend or two who would LOVE this stuff.”

That said, I don’t know what I have to add to the discussion of Evil Spawn other than it’s more fun than it seemingly has a right to be.

It opens with message about “alien microbes” and an FX shot of a spaceship flying towards Earth?   Then, a somewhat inexplicable sequence in which a strange woman releases a creature in a lab that attacks and mutates a schlubby looking scientist.  Who then goes crazy and attacks some “teens” looking for a lost cat before getting killed.  Followed by another scene in which the strange woman from before has a conversation at a table with a very elderly John Carradine.

Followed by a whole new scene with a voice-over by a hard-boiled writer who turns out to be writing the biography of a faded starlet, Lynn Roman (Bobbie Bresee).  These seemingly unrelated segments result in the reappearance of the strange woman bringing Ms. Roman an injectable youth serum, presumably infected with these “alien microbes” which sort of freshen her up but also turn her into a rather strange bug-like mutant with a penchant for murder.

It seems the film was patched together from various versions by at least three directors including Fred Olen Ray (though it’s Kenneth J. Hall who is credited).  The footage, for instance, of Carradine was generically shot by Ray some time before (Carradine would be dead a year later with Evil Spawn as one of his final films).  In additional notes on the DVD, Ray suggests that there had been an entirely different monster at one time too.

All this retroactive knowledge helps make sense of this mildly warmed over (not really “hot”) mess.  But again, doesn’t really tell the tale of why it’s low budget hack filmmaking turned out such a rather entertaining piece of cult junk.  But it did.

The Neon Demon (2016)

The Neon Demon (2016) movie poster

director Nicolas Winding Refn
viewed: 10/22/2016

Effin’ Nicolas Winding Refn.  At least that is how I’ve come to think of him.

I liked Drive (2011) (liked not loved).  Afterwards, I went back and saw Valhalla Rising (2009), Bronson (2008), and Pusher (1996).  And then Only God Forgives (2013).

Now, it’s possible that Nicolas Winding Refn is a genius and that Only God Forgives and now The Neon Demon too are remarkable cinematic works.  It’s even possible that at some point in the future, I too, will realize this and concede that my initial experiences with them were errant.

But as beautifully shot as some of this stuff is, Winding Refn starts resembling fellow Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier.  As in filmmakers who are totally up their own asses.  The Neon Demon skates close to the extreme misogyny of Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013).  It’s a film ostensibly about women and beauty and ugliness.  Psychological horror.  Meant to be off-putting.

But am I the only one who found the film hugely problematic?  Not even in the more obvious moments of sexual violence but even in its quieter scenes?

I don’t know, man.  I recognize I could be wrong.  But I seriously don’t know.

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (1973) movie poster

director William Friedkin
viewed: 10/22/2016 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

“I’ve seen The Exorcist about 167 TIMES, AND IT KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER EVERY SINGLE TIME I SEE IT!” – Beetlejuice

Okay, I’m not quite up there with Herr Beetlejuice, but I’m with him in spirit.

I actually had probably only seen it once before this, decades ago.  So the opportunity to see it on the big screen and share that with my kids was prime.

I grew up in the generation over which this movie loomed.  “The scariest movie ever made” to many, many people.  And I think that it’s important to keep that in the context of its time.  Because it is a very well-made and well-acted movie and features some iconic moments and effects, things that were absolutely shocking in 1973.

But “scary” is an ever-evolving thing.  And once it’s out there, it quickly become appropriated, subsumed, regurgitated (even projectile-regurgitated), and effects and technology change the movie game as well.  The effects are pretty great, but they are also kind of comic as well.  In fact, the whole thing plays much more to the comedic and absurd than terrifying.  My son thought it was hilarious.  My daughter was nonplussed.

One thing that put her off was the pacing.  It’s a slow build-up, creating the mood of normalcy that is about to go awry, the pressure on Jason Miller’s Father Damien.  And then even when things cut loose, it’s one crazy possession scene cutting back to slower, quieter narrative moments.  And I’d say that it’s not that this is bad, but rather that it’s an unusual tempo in comparison to a lot of things.

It’s a pretty brilliant movie, in my mind, whether scary or side-splittingly funny.  It doesn’t get a whole lot more iconic in modern horror.  And let us not forget that all this intense visual imagery from the projectile vomit, the levitation, the spider-walk, or the head spin, this was all brand-new, fresh, original shit.  Hence copied, aped, paid homage to, culturally referenced into banality almost.

The Sentinel (1977)

The Sentinel (1977) movie poster

director Michael Winner
viewed: 10/21/2016

As per the Stanislavski line, “there are no small parts, only small actors,” you get a movie like The Sentinel in which a lot of big actors show up in a wide range of roles.  Packed with folks like Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, and Martin Balsam but also up and comers like Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo (oh my), and that cool Christopher Walken guy.  John Carradine!  And these aren’t even the leads!

Actually, I saw The Sentinel as a kid and always remembered liking it.  I couldn’t remember much about it but a big house and something evil or demonic or what-have-you.  Really, it’s best not to know what’s coming because the ending really is a twist.  And I think that is really what turns The Sentinel into something above the par.

At times it feels like a Rosemary’s Baby (1968) wannabe.  But it’s a little more odd, much more Catholic, if not quite as nearly as eerie.  Michael Winner’s direction if proficient, if not really full of terror.  There are some interesting FX moments, including a serious face-slashing.

The final sequence where the story becomes finally exposed is the film’s best and most vivid.  Winner employs a bunch of people with extreme deformities (to play visions of hell), co-mingled with some with make-up on, something that you don’t see so much of by 1977.  I’m somewhat curious about this.

Beverly D’Angelo has both a nude scene and one of the most hysterically funny masturbation scenes ever set on film.

My daughter wasn’t overly impressed by it, saying, when’s it going to be scary?  Not a connoisseur yet sadly.

Sledgehammer (1983)

Sledgehammer (1983) DVD cover

director David A. Prior
viewed: 10/18/2016

It’s kind of amazing that a movie like Sledgehammer ever got made in the first place.  What’s maybe even more amazing is that it wasn’t a one-off independent little horror film, but the launching pad of a long thriving film career for director David A. Prior.

Shot-on-video, cheap in its day, heralded for fringe fun now, Sledgehammer is a slasher film featuring a cast of schlubs and schmoes whose lack of professional acting skill doesn’t belie a thing.  These are totally 80’s bros and the girls that endure them.  I suppose with the exception of the director’s brother Ted, who also continued a career in cinema as well as landing on the pages of Playgirl.  Overall they are the folks you’d imagine running into at a dreary 1983 keg party.

All that said, such an unlikely cast find imaginative deaths throughout.

God bless the amateurs.

 

The Creeping Flesh (1973)

The Creeping Flesh (1973) movie poster

director Freddie Francis
viewed: 10/17/2016

I like to think that we all have our “holy grails” of childhood movies that we saw in our youth, affected us greatly, and have longed to see again.  For me grails is definitely plural, and some of those holy grails are still more difficult to seek out than others.

Freddie Francis’s 1973 The Creeping Flesh starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee is absolutely one for me.

I saw it like a hundred years ago, and I can’t fully explain how this strange story about a giant Neanderthal skeleton that grows flesh when exposed to water struck my brain.  It’s all too true that the movie isn’t quite as amazing as one might remember or have imagined it.  Meaning that the flesh doesn’t creep quite as much as you’d like and the skeleton creature is more of promising intrigue than fully formed monster.

But still, it’s strange and weird, full of Freudian psychology, sex and repression, wonderful fantastical pseudo-science and pseudo-psychiatry.  And a big phallic finger to rule them all.

The Creeping Flesh just happened to be coming on TCM just as I turned it over to it, a type of synchronicity and frisson that virtually never happens.  My holy grail bucket list is one less item long.

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.)