director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
A shade of giallo and Hitchcock’s Psycho tint La Residencia, so inaptly re-named in English The House That Screamed. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s elegant and sophisticated boarding school horror film could almost be a “Women In Prison” movie, “Young Girls In Reform School,” if you will.
Señora Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) runs her school for wayward girls with an iron fist, dishing out rigorous structure and necessary punishment with a flair of S&M.
“This is a boarding school, not a prison.”
“If it isn’t one, we’ll make it one!”
The repression and desire of the girls brought to mind Don Siegel’s The Beguiled , though the only roosters in this hen house is Señora Fourneau’s also repressed son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown), a gristly handyman, and the occasional visits by the hunky woodsman.
“None of these girls is any good. You need a girl like me.”
Mama Fourneau forces the Oedipal on Luis and let’s just say that the results are … “interesting.”
Another solid horror film from the director who also gave us Who Can Kill a Child?
director David A. Prior
Not like I didn’t live through this period of world history and pop culture, but God those outfits God those hairstyles!
For starters David A. Prior’s Killer Workout a.k.a. Aerobicide turns a tanning bed into a toaster oven, while the main course features a killer with big safety pin.
Watching Killer Workout back-to-back with Death Spa makes me wonder about a history of popular exercise regimens. Like, could this be made today with Zumba or CrossFit? Probably not the latter due to all their fanatical licensing.
Other stray observations: sexual harassment, a lot of sexy gyration, leering, who were the few random guys working out with all the chicks? Pretty stylin’ cars.
Aerobicide is clearly the better title.
director Michael Fischa
“I’m beta; you’re VHS.”
From the moment the Star Body Health Spa sign blinked out to just Death Spa, I knew I was in for a good time.
Death Spa exudes high cheese aesthetics of somewhere in the Eighties. Plasticine, neon, leg warmers and pastels accessorize the glorious tackiness of the set design.
This movie is serious bananas, in the best of ways. There’s a ghost in the machine that runs the highest tech health spa in Los Angeles. And that spells death in a huge variety of ways, getting wackier as the whole shebang marches on, as well as a goodly amount of nudity for the era.
I hadn’t thought of Merritt Butrick (RIP) in many years and never realized that he was born in my hometown of Gainesville, FL.
director Jesús Franco
I think I may be forgiven for mistaking A Virgin Among the Living Dead as one of Jesús Franco’s lesser works. In reality, it’s one of his best.
The late 1960s through early 1970s, when gratuitous nudity was de rigueur, Jess Franco found himself as director. Franco burned brightly during this time and in this period made his finest films. True, along with some much less fine films, but when you’re releasing upwards to a dozen films a year, they’re not all going to be wonderful.
Here, Jess appears as a babbling idiot, a gofer for a family of arch weirdness, kooky sexuality, and supernatural possibility. Christina (Christina von Blanc) comes to visit, having never met any of her family before, and discovers her heritage isn’t what you’d call “run of the mill”.
For me, this is one of Franco’s most aesthetically pleasing films. The dreamy nightmare is beautiful and the plot isn’t challenged by unnecessary logic.
It’s been a decade since I saw Vampyros Lesbos and Venus in Furs, two other high point Francos. A Virgin Among the Living Dead may be in the running for my favorite.
director Roman Polanski
Fear thy neighbor.
“The previous tenant threw herself out of the window. Ha!” (I love Shelley Winters more every day.)
The Tenant takes personal alienation from society to new precipitous heights and then throws them out the window. Not once, but at least twice.
Roman Polanski’s 1976 movie was first recommended to me by a colleague from grad school who had a penchant for disturbing movies. And I had to agree, it out-paranoided Rosemary’s Baby in its portrayal of dissociation from one’s neighbors, right in one’s very building, right on one’s very floor.
The reason for the tenant’s fears, real or imagined, or real and imagined, brought on by alcoholism or the supernatural, this is societal dysphoria, pan-dysphoria.
“What right has my head to call itself me?”
Was Sven Nykvist’s claustrophobic cinematography an influence on the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink (1991)?
director Joseph Zito
The more I delve into classic slashers, the more I realize that most of my previous “back in the day” experience was tied to the bigger franchises, rather than the one-offs and unique individual films. It’s another argument against corporate franchises, in my book. No matter the individual qualities, these one-off slashers have something unique about them.
Absolutely, The Prowler (1981) shines brightest around the FX work of Tom Savini. Seriously vivid viscera and evisceration.
But there is definitely more than gore to The Prowler. Director Joseph Zito and cinematographer João Fernandes effect some amazing sequences. That swimming pool death scene might well be the most aesthetically beautiful death in the genre.
I also liked the some of the little bits and pieces, like the hilarious scene with the fat hick cop pretending to check on the sheriff, while really just goofing off.
director Vicente Aranda
The Blood Spattered Bride offers lots of Freudian/Jungian imagery relating to brutal masculinity and sexuality.
Director Vicente Aranda deals not so much in pulp but in the artsier vein, ultimately channeling Sheridan Le Fanu’s oft-channeled Carmilla into some lesbian vampire biz. With a proto-feminist heft.
“Destroy his masculinity!”
The best scene is the most surreal, when the husband finds the naked blonde buried in wet sand at the beach, having survived through her snorkel. Digging her out and feeling her up in one act.
director Len Anthony
Spelunking in obscurity, the happy cult film fiend stumbles upon Fright House, Len Anthony’s movie mash-up of (“Two Tales of the Occult”) his own Al Lewis-starring “Fright House” and a edited down version of his 1986 Vampires as “Abadon”.
“Fright House” is the first part of Fright House, if that’s not confusing enough. Anthony’s editing and sense of narrative (or lack thereof) make it so befuddling and disorienting.
That said, “Abadon” abandons reason in a more whole cloth sort of fashion. Duane Jones (of Night of the Living Dead fame) stars in this tarot-infused story about a private school and a legacy of machine-based energy vampirism, which reminded me of “cosmic horror” like the work of William Sloane.
In “Abadon” something far more bizarre and disordered shapes into something sublime and surreal, the ineptness gives way to the fantastic, only scratched at in the “Fright House” episode. Duane Jones imbues some gravitas in this whole strange affair, giving it wings of weirdness (and awesomeness).
director Jeff Burr
It’s easy to see why some people consider A Whisper to a Scream (a.k.a. The Offspring) to be one of the best horror anthologies of the 1980s.
Vincent Price stars in the wrap-around story but the whole movie is rife with excellent actors in small roles and contributions: especially notable are Clu Gulager and Terry Kiser, but you’ve got Cameron Mitchell, Susan Tyrell, and Rosalind Cash too.
The stories have the eerie irony of classic The Twilight Zone, but heightened with a darkness and nastiness that eventually made Price bemoan his participation. The creep factor blends wonderfully with the sleaze and gore, giving the movie a quality and interest much above other films of the period.
I watched a crappy old VHS version of this on YouTube. It deserves much better. It deserves to be seen.
director Dario Argento
I first encountered Dario Argento’s Phenomena as Creepers back in 1985 in the theater. Lucky me! I don’t recall my exact impression, though years later when I realized I’d viewed a compromised and hacked-up version, I wasn’t terribly surprised.
As a lot of folks have noted, Phenomena reuses several scenarios from Suspiria, which isn’t such a bad thing, but makes for a little confusion. And though I would agree with most that Phenomena doesn’t stand up quite as well as its predecessor, it’s still vivid, surreal, and in the final moments, a whole lot of bananas!
Actually, that ending that just won’t quit. I sensed a serious borrowing from the ending of Friday the 13th. You’ve got the girl on the raft on the lake, the mutant child attack, the finale with the mother on the shore and a beheading that comes out of nowhere.
I was a little more enchanted by the firefly scene than I was back in the day. I think even then I was cognizant of the slowed motion of the images tracking the animated light. This time through I found that quite nice.
Maybe the borrowed elements from Suspiria work against Phenomena only really in comparison. It’s an entertaining brew of its own, though probably not a masterpiece.