The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents (1961) movie poster

director  Jack Clayton
viewed: 10/28/2017

Are two young Victorian children possessed by evil spirits and driven to acts of incest? Or is their governess a pent-up Christian woman so full on repressed that she’s projecting psychosis and death everywhere?

On this particular viewing of Jack Clayton’s classic The Innocents, the latter reading struck home more so than the former. Though always part of the film’s (as well as the Henry James The Turn of the Screw) power is the uncanny variance between the supernatural and the psychological.

Another thing that struck me this time through The Innocents was how the horror imagery earns its eerie value. So many things that are “designed” to be scary (look scary at a glance) are imbued with nothing but surface horror. When the image of the woman standing in the far reaches of the pond recurs in the film, it’s still just a figure in the distance, but it is what has been impressed upon the children and upon us the audience, that gives the figure its essence and evil.

One of the great Gothic ghost story films of all time, The Innocents stands up time and again as truly classic horror. And Freddie Francis’s amazing cinematography – amazing stuff.

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968)

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968) movie poster

director Gianfranco Parolini
viewed: 10/24/2017

I’ve been working through a variety of lists of the “best” Spaghetti Westerns that I haven’t seen, something I’m cobbling together from a variety of sources. And I’m finding how many of these are available on Amazon Prime. Happily many.

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death launched another named antihero to the genre, starring Gianni (John) Garko as Sartana, the guy you don’t want to meet.

“You look just like a scarecrow.”
“I am your pallbearer.”

Armed with a cool four barreled Derringer, he strides into what I guess is a story about teams of robbers and other teams of robbers and local gentry robbing themselves for insurance money and a coffin full of gold (or rocks.) Apparently it’s not just me, the story is pretty hard to follow.

Luckily Gianfranco Parolini does better with the action than the story. It’s derivative but also employs other genre elements of giallo and horror, giving it some flavor.

Even with a very inept dub and an abbreviated role on his voice Klaus Kinski is by far the best actor in the film.

Night Feeders (2006)

Night Feeders (2006) movie poster

director Jet Eller
viewed: 10/23/2017

Night Feeders is kind of a low budget backwoods Pitch Black (2000) in which a group of photophobic aliens torment a bunch of deer hunters. It’s 2006. In North Carolina. Only one dude has a cellphone.

Really, it’s not an entirely bad enterprise.

Its real failing winds up being the digital FX, on which I am guessing the whole thing was predicated. Those bits and bytes are only a notch or two up from the work in Birdemic (others aptly compare the stuff to Playstation 1.) Frankly, it would have been a lot more charming without the digital FX at all and more limited practical effects.

I say this very specifically for this movie, though Christ, I could say it about virtually all movies made in this century.

“Hey you don’t know. This perfume could have saved my life!”

Still, hats off to regional horror on the cheap in any era.

Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972)

Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) movie poster

director  Ed Adlum
viewed: 10/21/2017

Invasion of the Blood Farmers is some legitimate trash cinema. Written by director Ed Adlum and co-scribe Ed Kelleher, edited by Michael Findlay (the two Eds also wrote Findlay’s abominably amazing Shriek of the Mutilated (1974), it’s got psychotronic pedigree.

Wonderfully stiff acting right out of Ed Wood. It also begs comparison to other low budget auteurs such as Andy Milligan or Al Adamson, maybe with a little prime H.G. Lewis thrown in.

“The more I scrub this bloodstain the bigger it gets!” – some dude scrubbing a bloodstain from the floor of a bar

The leads could be the prototypes for Brad and Janet in Rocky Horror they are so bland and ludicrous. Says the Brad to his Janet, “You’re just a pushover for pathologists!” This because both this Brad and Janet’s father are medical guys working at home on some strange multiplying blood. Ultimately it turns out that it’s all due to some literal blood farmers who are part of some weird druidic blood cult.

It’s the kind of bad that is so close to intentional comedy that you may wonder if there was intent of seriousness here at all.

The Cat Creature (1973)

The Cat Creature (1973) title

director Curtis Harrington
viewed: 10/21/2017

The 1973 made-for-TV movie, The Cat Creature won’t necessarily blow your mind, but it should entertain you. From the pen of Robert Bloch and the direction of Curtis Harrington comes this mummy-cum-vampire-cum-werewolf wholly made-up monster creature.

It’s actually kind of cute how this all starts out, with an auditor/attorney looking into the Egyptian artifacts of a wealthy collector in dark of night. Only a sneakthief steals an amulet and awakens The Cat Creature itself. Most of the happenings are just off-screen (this is 1970’s television, after all).

The fun, in my opinion, is in the cast and cast of characters that populate this flick. Meredith Baxter is fine as the lead, but I really enjoyed Gale Sondergaard, who plays the witch store matron. Apparently, Harrington wanted her to be a lesbian, which might explain a rather interesting pair of customers in her shop. In real life Sondergaard was an Academy Award winning actress whose career fell prey to the HUAC anti-communist bastards.

John Carradine shows up for a cameo, maybe the most notable name from the cameo crowd, but far from the only one of interest. Milton Parsons is amusing as the coroner. And a midget prostitute (unnamed actress) was apparently Harrington’s revenge on not getting a more pronounced lesbian portrayal.

Yeah, it’s no great shakes, but it’s decent fun.

The Penalty (1920)

The Penalty (1920) movie poster

director Wallace Worsley
viewed: 10/21/2017

Lon Chaney stars as “that cripple from hell,” a criminal mastermind in San Francisco who lost his legs in a trolley accident (though more significantly due to malpractice), by the name of Blizzard.

1920’s The Penalty is a sleazy pulpy proto-noir that helped Chaney burst into stardom despite playing largely villains or monsters. Really, he himself is the special effect. He plays a man who lost his legs beneath the knees and moves around with the help of buckets and crutches. Chaney’s legs were strapped painfully behind him.  It’s an amazingly physical role as he climbs around and menaces venally. He even slides down a fireman’s pole.

I’m not sure how much of it was shot in San Francisco but parts of the film certainly were. It’s a glimpse into a much different city.

It’s not brilliant but it is good pulpy fun despite the rather odd deus-ex-machina happy ending. It’s cool that Chaney was such a star since he’s so against type as a star though full of star-power.

“Don’t grieve, dear, death interests me,” a sweet epitaph.

 

Night of a Thousand Cats (1972)

Night of a Thousand Cats (1972) movie poster

director René Cardona Jr.
viewed: 10/20/2017

“He’s an excellent butler and as faithful as a cat,” so says star Hugo Stiglitz of his Man Friday, Dorgo. A man that he will eventually feed to his man-eating kittycats after Dorgo manages to beat him at chess. An almost Trumpian faithfulness.

Night of a Thousand Cats is a sleazy thriller about sexual predator (Hugo) flying around Mexico City in a helicopter scoping out victims. It’s got to be said, if all stalkers flew helicopters, they’d be a lot easier to spot. He smokes a wacky collection of pipes between abductions, sexual encounters, and murders. He eventually grinds up folks and feeds them to his cats, keeping victims’ heads in glass bottles for kicks.

It’s actually actually kind of a “roughie”. And it gets added creepy factor for the his tracking of child victims as nastily as adult women.

At 63 minutes, it’s a swift affair, trimmed from its original hour and a half. Add into that creepiness some dodgy treatment of the film’s feline stars, and you’ll probably want a shower afterwards.

Ghost World (2001)

Ghost World (2001) movie poster

director Terry Zwigoff
viewed: 10/20/2017

This viewing of Ghost World was me sharing it with my teenage kids. They both enjoyed it.

“The girl that looks like Scarlett Johansson” is indeed Scarlett Johansson.

This viewing also reminded me how cool the soundtrack was.

I now need to dig up the comic to share with my daughter.

Also, it’s nice how unresolved the film is at the end. Not knowing what one is and ruining all your relationships while you’re figuring it out. That things don’t always work out and resolution is often unachievable.

Disturbing Behavior (1998)

Disturbing Behavior (1998) movie poster

director David Nutter
viewed: 10/18/2017

Disturbing Behavior is one of a few Nineties’ big studio teen horror films that were almost great. Studio’s wanted semi-edgy stuff, but couldn’t produce something as original, pulpy, surprising or fun as Indie horror productions of the prior decades were.

It’s possible this film could have been better. Apparently director David Nutter (who had worked on The X-Files) had the film chopped down to its 83 minutes and a certain amount of its potential removed.

It’s horror/sci-fi as social critique. Small town kids are turning into perfect preppy angels with robotic speed and mannerisms and apparently it’s the adults who are implanting devices in their brains to “fix” them. They also indoctrinate them with something akin to Fox News as was done to Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

The cast is quite solid, with James Marsden, Katie Holmes, William Saddler, Steve Railsback, and stand-out Nick Stahl. It’s all pretty primal Nineties, from the styles to the soundtrack.

Disturbing Behavior is a quick-paced and amusingly satirical but not as clever or biting as it would like to have been. But still quite enjoyable.

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971)

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 10/16/2017

The Shiver of the Vampires is perhaps the most completely realized vision of Jean Rollin. In my opinion, that is.

Of his early films, Le viol du vampire (1968), La vampire nue (1970),  Requiem pour un vampire (1971) (all vampires, all the time), it’s as lush a production as he ever seemed to land, and also features another gorgeous Art Deco throwback movie poster, even nicer than La vampire nue.

On the surface, what’s really new? Naked vampires with sapphic leanings, elegant ruins inhabited, death and deathlessness, longing and desire. But at the same time it does differ. The soundtrack by Groupe Acanthus is certainly a-typical and kind of groovy. But that’s not it.

Rollin employs Bava-esque colored lighting , evoking a cheap but effective surrealism. The appearances of Isolde (Dominique), the vampire queen, first from a clock, then exploding from wall hangings, and (less effectively) dropping into a fireplace call to mind Jean Cocteau and the gorgeous simple effects in La Belle et la Bête (1946).

The story is the subversion of the heterosexual , or traditional married relationship. A freshly married man and wife arrive at the wife’s cousin’s castle only to find them dead. Well, dead and undead. Two mysterious nubile servants quietly run the show. But the wife is seduced away from her virginity as well as her husband’s grasp.

Rollin’s depictions of lesbian relationships is less purely exploitative and scopophilic. The women of his films escape their patriarchal worlds and find freedom and beauty in love between themselves. He’s nowhere as clear in his attitude toward male homosexuality, but maybe he’s frowns on all masculinity.

Ultimately, the heroes of the story are “the Renfields”, the unnamed lesbian servants, who overthrow not only the patriarchy at the end but overthrow the entire bourgeoisie.

I’ve watched Rollin’s vampire quartet over a four year span, in no particular order, so I would like to re-watch as a group sometime to better have a collective impression of the ideas and attitudes.

I do think this the best of the four, though I like them all.