The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) movie poster

director Piers Haggard
viewed: 11/12/2017

Folk horror classic, The Blood on Satan’s Claw is a truly attractive production. It’s also a very earnest horror film, set in the 18th century in the English countryside. All the children, and some peasants, are going stark raving wild with evil, delving into sex and murder, and devil worship.

Be careful what you unearth when you plow the field.

Most of this is in the foreground, but it’s funny as I was reading up on this before writing, how much more the devil is in the details. When infected with evil, the innocent find a dark hairy patch on their bodies. Am I the only one who didn’t immediately attach that to adolescence and sexual maturity? Like the “deformed anatomy in those furrows,” there seems to be a lot of codified sexual innuendo throughout.

Of course, Linda Hayden as Angel, strips right down in the church to try to tempt the priest. And poor Cathy Vespers (Wendy Padbury) gets raped in a riotous frenzy.

There is that tension in a film like this, whether all is real or imagined. These are witch hunters, after all, seeking out the evil, seeing the evil in the children. Of course, in this case, it seems like the evil is real and there actually is blood on a claw belonging to some devil.

Superior stuff.

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.

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) movie poster

director Colm McCarthy
viewed: 09/16/2017

The zombiepocalypse over-saturation probably hasn’t peaked yet, so it’s harder than ever to make something new in this genre. The Girl with All the Gifts does try to push the zombiepocalypse a little and its efforts are not for naught.

The film opens on a young girl in a jail cell who has to be strapped down in a wheelchair and rolled by armed guards into a classroom of other young people. Right off the bat it’s a bit interesting. What is going on? Why are the kids in wheelchairs? Strapped down? Why are they being educated?

Really, most films try to tell you what’s going on from the get-go so the audience doesn’t have to figure anything out. So right there, it’s already kind of interesting.

It doesn’t totally stay with that. We find out pretty quickly that these kids are infected with a zombie fungus on the brain, but that they are different from freshly infected adults in that some sort of symbiosis exists that allows them to maintain a form of normality when they’re not hungry.

Eventually the movie goes pretty The Walking Dead, except these are speedy zombies, infecting at zero-to-sixty in a second and running fast at their food.

The film turns again toward the ending with more of its inventive qualities about these second generation zombie kids and the fungal apocalypse. I’ve always liked Gemma Arterton, who plays the good-hearted teacher. Sennia Nanua is Melanie, the girl with all the gifts, and she’s very good too.

Just sort this list of zombie films by date and you tell me when you think we’ve reached max saturation in the zombiepocalypse market.

Psychomania (1973)

Psychomania (1973) movie poster

director Don Sharp
viewed: 08/25/2017

Like a lot of people, I’d had Psychomania/The Death Wheelers in my mental movie queue for a long time. And also, like a lot of people, I think it’s a great weird mix of biker movie (and teenage delinquent flick), devil worship, pagan horror and every other strange note that adds to this decidedly unique work.

I was brought to mind of both the opening of These Are the Damned (1963) with its mixture of campish portrayal of British teens and their motorbikes and A Clockwork Orange (1970) with its decadent modernist society giving way to cruel amoral youth.

I actually thought it was interesting that the “The Seven Witches” stone circle of the film, which is the location of the biker gang’s groovin’ and the burial and rebirth of the freshly risen hoods, was not a real stone circle but a piece of set design magic.

Cool stuff.

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

director Arthur Crabtree
viewed: 08/22/2017

While not a really great film, I’m willing to bet if I’d seen Horrors of the Black Museum as a kid, I might have really dug it.

It’s a wacky concept, so specific. Scotland Yard has a “black museum”, essentially a museum of crime and criminality. Though initially created to educate and enlighten the police, it’s long been an actual museum.

In Horrors, someone has taken these curios and started re-using them, perhaps the most unusual and outlandish. The eye-popping beginning has a young woman receive a fancy new pair of binoculars that stab through to her brain. Another involves a guillotine bed.

See, there is genuine fun here. Moderate fun, but fun.

Director Arthur Crabtree had just come off the extremely fun Fiend without a Face (1958). It’s not a must-see per-se, but I’m happy to have watched it.

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014)

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014) movie poster

director Paul Goodwin
viewed: 07/04/2017

I experienced 2000AD sort of second hand. I got turned onto the Judge Dredd comics that were reprinted in the US in the early 1980’s and knew vaguely of the weekly British comic in which they originally appeared. I did at the time manage to land a single issue of 2000AD itself, but really had no sense of perspective or knowledge of the background of the publication.

So I was pretty stoked to see a documentary about it.

Sadly, it’s not a particularly great documentary.

Essentially an oral history as told by a litany of folks from the many decades and phases of the publication, it’s both insider-y and somewhat self-defined. It’s also a tad scattershot in focus and narrative.

Still, the tale of its origin, its eventual sapping by the DC Comics imprint Vertigo in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, and its near death around the turn of the century have interest for those interested in the subject.

Kind of a disappointment. At least I finally know how to pronounce Brian Bolland properly.

The She Beast (1966)

The She Beast (1966) movie poster

director  Michael Reeves
viewed: 06/11/2017

Known mostly for his last finished film, Witchfinder General (1968), Michael Reeves didn’t live long enough to build much of filmography. But it is the quality of Witchfinder General that has endured and thus made Reeves’s tragically short life one of those obscure tidbits of horror film history.

It’s also what led me to dig up The She Beast.

Actually I started to watch an incredibly beat-up version of the film on a DVD, only to really bethink myself that I was willing to bet a better version was out there on YouTube. And indeed there was. If anything, it’s underscored the importance of making sure that any worthwhile film is seen in its best available context and further reason that film restoration is so important.

Because The She Beast, even restored, isn’t a great film. But it’s interesting, slightly weird, and vaguely comic. And the restoration done makes a world of difference.

It stars the magnificently gorgeous Barbara Steele though there is all too little of her in it. It’s about a hideously ugly witch who was drowned in a lake (somewhere in Transylvania?), brought back to life by a doddering Van Helsing, and possessing a young newlywed (Steele).

I have no idea if it was seen by Roman Polanski, but it seems quite the template for his The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), strange semi-gothic horror comedy that it is.

Surely, no one would be remembering Reeves if this was his only film, but as part of what might have been, not the worst starting point for a directorial career.

Die Screaming, Marianne (1971)

Die Screaming, Marianne (1971) DVD cover

director Pete Walker
viewed: 05/24/2017

Oh, Wikipedia, your anonymous authors do sometimes get catty:

Die Screaming, Marianne (also Die, Beautiful Marianne) is a 1971 British low-budget film by minor cult director Pete Walker. Although Walker’s films were mostly in the horror or sexploitation genres, this is a straight thriller, with mild horror undertones.

I’m still working through Pete Walker’s movies to see just how “minor” a cult director he is or deserves to be. To be fair, Die Screaming, Marianne, despite its title is most assuredly NOT a horror film at all. It is a “straight thriller” and “low-budget” at that.

Any real disappointment would be going into this film and expecting something different.

Susan George stars as the go-go dancing Marianne, who is on the run from things that eventually turn out to be a corrupt family living in Portugal who would like to kill her and get her inheritance currently ensconced in a Swiss bank somewhere.

While it’s a far cry from Hitchcock or any other major thriller, its earnest and gritty tale isn’t utterly lacking in interest. I was more than once brought to mind of Sexy Beast (2000), though maybe it’s a stretch to imagine that this film influenced anybody.

Slaughter High (1986)

Slaughter High (1986) movie poster

directors  Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, George Dugdale
viewed: 05/21/2017

Slaughter High takes place in an alternative universe. In England, “public school” means the exact opposite of what it means in America. Maybe that’s why this not quite gothic mansion of a school stands in for an American high school circa the 1980’s.

But really, logic and reality are shirked at every turn, so much so, you stop really caring, even when really outlandish things happen (outlandish by even genre standards).

The kills in the movie range from benign to bizarre, and the latter ones are also done with quite cool practical FX.

I too was brought to mind of Terror Train (1980) in which the promise of sex turned to cruel prank leads to psychosis and slaughter. Only in Slaughter High, that prank is just the start. It only gets worse and for a slasher, there is quite a lot of story behind what turns poor Marty (Simon Scudamore RIP) into a vengeful, scarred jester. The ending takes a turn quite unusual for the genre, adding further character to the whole shebang.

It’s weird. And I kinda liked it.

Witchcraft (1964)

Witchcraft (1964) movie poster

director Don Sharp
viewed: 05/08/2017

 

“It’s witchcraft, wicked witchcraft,
And although I know it’s strictly taboo…”
— Coleman/Leigh

The 1964 British horror film Witchcraft flirts with a Mario Bava-style aesthetic and eeriness at times, but can’t really keep up that level of quality throughout.

Yvette Rees rises from the grave as a mute and spooky witch, the most interesting and creepy thing this picture has going for it. Her sleep was disturbed by some ill-advised redevelopment of a graveyard by a family with longstanding issues with a known devil-worshiping clan. And old and seriously pissed off Lon Chaney Jr is on hand for cachet.

This black-and-white witchery, devil worship picture starts out promisingly, and is well-shot, but it peters out in middling ways.