Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Trauma (1978)

JULY 1, 2020

GENRE: GIALLO
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

If I tell someone I watched Trauma, they're going to think I mean the Argento film, but THIS Trauma is directed by León Klimovsky (who gifted us with The Vampires' Night Orgy) and came out fifteen years earlier. So technically Argento's should be the one that needs clarification, but as this one is included on a Vinegar Syndrome collection literally titled "Forgotten Gialli"* I guess it's fair that you'd automatically first think of his 1993 effort upon hearing the shared title. Luckily, beyond a Psycho reference (well, more of a full blown lift in this one) the two don't share anything else of note in common, and we can simply enjoy the coincidence and perhaps even watch them back to back someday, as they're very different beasts.

Also, no babies get beheaded in this one, so it gets the advantage in that department. Here, a writer does that thing that all movie writers do: goes off to an isolated place to write and ends up in a horror film. He takes a room at a very hazily defined inn run by a woman and her invalid husband, but while the woman seems to enjoy his company and even hits on him a few times, she gets annoyed at two couples who show up to provide the body count. Specifically, she seems alarmed that they are not married couples (one of them is a prostitute, in fact), so their inevitable deaths seem to be the result of a Jason Voorhees-esque hatred for pre/extra marital sex, assuming she is indeed the killer, that is. Could it be our writer, who is clearly sexually repressed himself (and perhaps even gay)?

Well (spoilers)... I actually don't know. The ending of the film finds the woman, totally crazed, swinging a razor around, but after she is sent to jail we see the writer - wearing the black gloves! - hiding a razor with a smirk on his face, suggesting he more or less framed her for the deaths using her mental illness as a cover. It would certainly explain the obviously male forearms we see on the otherwise off-screen killer, but there's also a scene where he finds the buried car of one of the now-dead couples, so if he was the one who murdered them in the first place (and then hid their car to use the "they left" cover story) why was he surprised to find it? I mean, I wouldn't trade anything to lose his hilarious little smirk (and the subsequent knowing nod from a neighborhood kid who seems to have been watching all of the film's events from the sidelines), but it's rare to see a whodunit where I can't actually answer the question of who done it.

Don't get me wrong - this in no way took away from my enjoyment of the film, as I had a blast. It's been quite a while since I've seen a new giallo (over a year, in fact! Unless I just didn't bother to review one I saw between) so such lapses were very easy to forgive, as I was just so happy to be seeing something new in this style again. Plus it was a Spanish giallo (Amagiallo?), which I tend to enjoy more for whatever reason - perhaps because they're less convoluted, at least in my experience? I mean this was a straight up Psycho riff (it's so obvious that the "invalid" husband that we never see is dead, I almost expected a reverse twist where it turns out he is actually alive), without police investigations and inheritance/jewel robbery kinda stuff cluttering the narrative, so it's easy to just enjoy the simple pleasures (i.e. sex, weird diversions, and of course, black gloved murder scenes).

The movie also had something I don't think I've ever seen before, and I swear I applauded even though I was at home watching it alone (if I was at the New Bev or something, I would have led a standing ovation). One of the couples is about to start having sex when the killer enters their room, slowly approaching (via POV) as if to kill them both in the throes of passion, Bay of Blood style. However, the killer opts to back off instead and let them have their fun! He/she kills them the next morning! I absolutely love this, even if it makes no sense given that an aversion to sex seems to be the motive regardless of which one was the actual killer.

The commentary doesn't help answer that question, as no one from the movie is on board to discuss it (Klimovsky passed away in 1996). Instead we get Troy Howarth, who literally wrote the book (three of them, in fact) on these movies and is always fun to listen to. He spends a bit too much time on a few ultimately uninmportant details (such as an alternate title for the film that IMDb lists as a different film entirely), but he's got lots of insight on where the sub-genre was at the time (his research suggests there were only five other giallo films that year) and the careers of its participants. However he seems to think there's no question who the killer is, whereas I saw it as a question mark (leaning toward the other person being the true culprit, if anything), and he knows more than me on these things, so maybe I just missed something. Luckily, the film is one I wouldn't mind watching again anyway, so if I did miss a specific clue I will enjoy finding it the next time around! But I'll watch the other two films on the set first, of course.

What say you?

*Specifically, Forgotten Gialli Volume 1! Well then, BRING ON VOLUME 2 AND THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Universal Horror Collection: Vol. 5

JUNE 23, 2020

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, PREDATOR
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc (and very stupid/selfish people continue to spread it by being stupid and selfish), it's looking more and more likely that the fall will be spent not at my usual film festivals and repertory screenings, but in my own home 24 hours a day except for the rare trips to the grocery store (and the drivein, bless it). The thinnest silver lining to this grim future is the fact that being forced to stay home means I'll have more time to watch old horror movies during the season, something I love doing but rarely have the time to. There's nothing that gives me that life-affirming jolt of nostalgia like staying up late watching a selection of Universal, Hammer, and AIP horror movies with a cup of (oft spiked) hot cocoa, but I'm often pulled away for a 35mm screening of something more recent, or a Screamfest/Beyond Fest premiere. Probably won't be the case this year!

With that in mind, I hope Scream Factory keeps these Universal Horror sets coming, because they're a perfect fit for that kind of late night, "Maybe I'll fall asleep but it's OK" comfort viewing. With Universal releasing deluxe editions of their big guns (i.e. Frankenstein, Dracula, etc) themselves, Scream Factory has been cranking out four-film sets of the studio's B-movies from the same era; the sort of films that probably wouldn't get picked up individually but when packaged together (with historian commentaries on each one to sweeten the deal) become quite attractive additions to the collection. This fifth volume focuses on "Jungle" horror from the early '40s, with The Monster and The Girl along with the "Cheela" trilogy that began with Captive Wild Woman and was followed by Jungle Woman and The Jungle Captive.

Now, the 1940s are generally considered to be the weakest decade for horror (thanks a lot, WWII!), but Universal was of course the company to get around that thanks to The Wolf Man and the entertaining "Monster Rally" films that followed. But alas, despite the two sequels, Cheela never quite found herself joining the likes of Larry Talbot and his frenemies. One could argue that the timeline wouldn't match up, since these three films seem to be taking place in the time they were produced instead of some vague yesteryear, but it's not like the continuity made any goddamn sense across the "Monsterverse" anyway, so they could have thrown her into the mix if they wanted to despite the anachronism.

Then again they couldn't even keep much consistency within the series itself, so perhaps it's better they didn't muck it up further by having her interact with Dracula. In Captive Wild Woman (the best of the lot), a circus trainer finds a female ape named "Cheela" (played by a guy in a suit) in the jungle and brings her back to the States in order to train her along with all the other animals he captured (mostly lions and tigers - real ones in this case). John Carradine shows up as a mad scientist type who wants to turn this intelligent ape into a human, and using his own assistant's brain and the body of a patient he turns Cheela into "Paula", a lovely woman played by Acquanetta. But Paula shares Cheela's devotion/attraction to the trainer guy, and gets jealous about his traditionally human fiance, which turns her back into her animal form - very Cat People, admittedly. However she only scares the fiance - as a "monster", she's quite heroic, going after only Carradine and then, during the climax, some animals that have broken free of their cages and attack the trainer.

All of this is summed up at the top of Jungle Woman (complete with recycled footage - in a movie that only runs 60 minutes! Charles Band must have seen this as a lad), but despite the attempt to present it as a direct sequel, the film then goes off in a different, largely disconnected direction as "Paula" is revived and finds herself committed at a sanatorium, where she sets her sights on her doctor's would-be son-in-law (the trainer and his fiance from Captive Wild Woman pop up early on but then disappear with little explanation). But this time she never turns back into Cheela as we saw her in the first film, and since there's no wild animals to cause a threat, she goes after innocent people (including a dimwitted fellow patient who has a crush on her, poor bastard). A few dialogue snips and it could very well just be a movie about an insane woman. It's enjoyable enough, but even with Acquanetta returning it feels like a very different character.

The actress sat out the third film, The Jungle Captive, with Vicky Lane taking over in a film with an even flimsier connection. None of the other characters return, newspaper headlines suffice to briefly explain the connection before Rondo Hatton (!) steals her corpse from a morgue, bringing it to yet another mad scientist who is trying to make human/animal hybrids. This time around, instead of her becoming obsessed with a handsome (and taken) young fella, Hatton becomes kind of infatuated with Ann, the scientist's assistant who is being held there (they need her blood for the experiment). Of the three films it's got the most traditional horror elements and action (there's even a car wreck!), but it's a good thing I accidentally watched it first (didn't realize it was a sequel) because anyone showing up for "Captive Wild Woman 3" would be disappointed or even confused, since it's so far removed from the series' origins. Even if you ignore the recasting of Paula, her role in the film is almost unnecessary, as the focus stays mainly on Hatton's growing conscience and the cops who are trying to find the assistant/solve the murder Hatton caused at the morgue. But on its own, it's a decent little mad scientist tale, and Hatton's character is more interesting than his usual "Creeper" appearances.

That leaves The Monster and the Girl, a true outlier on the set as not only is it unrelated to the others, but it's not even a true Universal movie (it was produced by Paramount and bought by Uni later). It's also needlessly confusing, with a flashback-heavy opening half hour devoted to a mob plot where a guy is framed for a murder while trying to save his sister from a prostitution ring (!). At the halfway point, the guy is killed and his brain is put into a gorilla, allowing him to avenge his own murder as an all powerful beast, which must feel kind of awesome for him since he was a clumsy square kinda guy as a human and probably would have gotten instantly killed all over again if he had to use his own body. The gorilla scenes are pretty great, but you'd be forgiven if you checked out by the time they finally arrive when the movie is essentially almost over since it too is only an hour long. Watchable, but of the four movies on the set it's probably the last I'd ever revisit.

The accompanying commentaries are a mixed bag; the most interesting is fittingly for the best movie - Tom Weaver on Captive Wild Woman. He's got the usual biographical info for the actors, but he also tracked down a lot of the production history for this film as well as The Big Cage, the earlier film from which most of Captive's circus footage was obtained. I also enjoyed Greg Mank's discussion on Jungle Woman, especially since he rightfully notes how horror-lite the movie is, and both Mank and Weaver also discuss the unfortunate racial issues with the two films (Acquanetta was a black woman, but claimed to be Venezuelan to keep her career afloat). The other two are less interesting; in fact Scott Gallinghouse doesn't even make it all the way to the end of Jungle Captive before running out of things to say. Ideally they'd just have all of these guys sit together and do all of the movies since there's definitely a "more is merrier" law to these historian tracks, but as far as solo ones go, they're certainly better than average.

Scream Factory has been putting these volumes out every three months almost like clockwork, and hopefully they continue the trend as that would put the next one out in September, when my "old horror movies" itch really starts to go off. I haven't watched every film on the 3rd and 4th volumes (and missed the 2nd one entirely somehow), so if Volume 6 isn't out in time I still have a few to tide me over. But as the Blu-ray format continues to be "last-gen" (even Scream's parent Shout Factory is starting to release 4K UHD discs) it seems the time to get these "filler" kind of movies the proper presentations they deserve is inching closer to being done with, I truly hope they are already working on it in some capacity. It's become a nice thing to look forward to every couple of months; enjoyable movies plus bonus history about the legendary horror studio's golden era to soak in thanks to the omnipresent commentaries!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1965-1972)

JUNE 14, 2020

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

When I got Severin's Al Adamson set, I was stoked to discover new favorites and get a better sense of the guy, as I had only seen one of his films before (that would be Blood of Dracula's Castle, an ancient HMAD entry). But after only a few hours with the massive set I discovered that the movies themselves were sometimes less interesting than their production histories, and there's no better example than Blood of Ghastly Horror, aka Fiend with the Electronic Brain, aka Psycho A Go Go, aka Echo of Terror. And no, those aren't mere alternate titles - they are all different versions of the same movie about a jewelry heist gone wrong.

The basic plot is present in all four movies: a trio of men rob a jeweler, but a triggered alarm on their way out sends them into a panic, prompting one of them to toss the jewels over a railing, where it lands in a guy's truck. The guy drives off unaware, and the robbers track him down, only to discover the jewels are missing. So they kidnap the guy's family as ransom to get him to give up the location of the jewels, while the robbers start turning on each other. Echo of Terror was the first version of this story, and it was deemed "fine" by potential distributors but they all passed because there weren't any stars or exploitative elements for them to market. So Adamson and partner Sam Sherman decided, since it was popular at the time, to add some go-go dancing sequences in the film by expanding the role of the truck-owner's wife, seen performing a few times before being taken by the kidnappers. Hence the new title: Psycho A Go Go.

But that one didn't get picked up either, so Adamson and Sherman decided to give it some horror/sci-fi flair by adding in a few scenes with John Carradine as a standard movie mad scientist (test tubes filled with colored liquids, Jacob's ladder, the whole shebang), with new backstory establishing that the reason the most violent of the robbers, a guy named Joe (Roy Morton), was so crazy was because Carradine experimented on his brain. These scenes are noticeably detached from the rest of the movie, and for some reason Adamson didn't opt to cut much (if anything) of the Psycho A Go Go version out, making it basically an extended cut thanks to the Carradine scenes. This one was the version known as Fiend with the Electronic Brain, and can basically be skipped entirely since Blood of Ghastly Horror kept all that stuff but excised some of the earlier version's flab.

The Ghastly Horror version came along a couple years later, during Adamson's very prolific 1971. As I mentioned, this time he did overhaul the original footage to make room for his new material, which frames everything as flashbacks to a story about the daughter of Carradine's character, who is now a target of the father of the Joe character as he wishes to exact revenge for what Carradine did to his son (you follow that?). Since this story is more complicated and has many new characters, lots of the post-robbery stuff fell by the wayside, as did the go-go scenes, keeping the runtime more or less the same with Psycho A Go Go (and 15 minutes shorter than Fiend). So it's probably the most action packed version of the movie, for sure, but it's also the most jumbled and patched together, as even a child could probably detect the difference between the two productions (I don't think any characters appear in both timelines).

(Fun side note, there's actually a fifth version titled The Man With The Synthetic Brain, but it was basically just a TV edit that excised one violent scene. No new footage for that one.)

Oddly - considering my personal tastes, that is - the Psycho A Go Go version is probably the best (I should note that the Echo of Terror version does not appear on the set), even though it's horror-free. I mean it makes sense that it'd be the easiest to digest, since it was mostly designed as one movie from the beginning, with the go-go scenes coming off more as padding than something shoehorned in much later (also, since it just gives the wife character more development, it's easier to get more invested in her predicament in the film's second half). Apart from some clunky edits and performances (what I came to learn was an Adamson "staple"), it really is a pretty solid little B thriller, with some excellent photography by Vilmos Zsigmond - particularly in the snowbound climax, where the psychotic Joe chases the family around as the father and his brother (a cop) close in on him.

However that chase does go on too long, and it's baffling Adamson didn't think to fix it or any of the other pacing issues for the Synthetic Brain version, as it seems like it would have been an excellent excuse to do so. Again, the Ghastly Horror footage added too much plot for him to keep everything from the older cut (whereas Electronic only added the Carradine scenes, which amount to about 10 minutes or so), but it feels more like he was forced to finally cut some stuff to keep the runtime manageable, as opposed to thinking "Hey, the reason we have to keep fixing this movie is because it's not exciting enough, shouldn't we make some trims?" I had to laugh that a particularly awkward and unnecessary insert of the three robbers on an elevator during the jewelry robbery is present in all three versions; when I saw it in Psycho A Go Go I assumed it'd be the first thing to go when he recut the movie, but nope. It survived both of its future incarnations, somehow.

Luckily, no version of the movie is exactly long, and watching them in rapid succession proved to be an interesting viewing experience, seeing how the movie kept getting further and further away from its original form while using a majority of the same footage. The closest modern equivalent would be the two versions of the final Exorcist sequel (Dominion and The Beginning), but since Adamson himself kept reshaping his own movie, even that doesn't really fit the bill (also, Renny Harlin only kept like ten minutes of Paul Schrader's footage, if memory serves). Adamson certainly made better movies, but in terms of curiosity, it's been the highlight of the set for me thus far.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

JAWS, The Movie? Masterpiece! JAWS, The Book? Well...

(NOTE - This was written for this week's Collins' Crypt prior to the site going dark due to unsettling news about the site's (new!) owner, Cinestate. I present it here so that it doesn't go to waste, and encourage you fine folks to make a donation to RAINN if you can.)

In this era of certain sites championing every birthday for every movie ("Happy 17th birthday to DARKNESS FALLS!" is a phrase no one should utter, even ironically), I occasionally worry about legit milestone birthdays being lost in the noise. At a certain point, our eyes are going to be trained to just glaze over tweets like "On this day in 19whatever, (MOVIE) was released!", because half the time it's a film no one even needs to remember at all, let alone celebrate. For me, I try to stick to multiples of five for movies that - thanks to the relatively long time since their release - have stood the test of time and continue to hold their power. In other words, we do not need anyone writing up a piece for this week's 25th anniversary of CONGO, thank you.

And then there are movies like JAWS, which are worthy of any and all celebration people deem fit to bestow upon it. This year marks the 45th anniversary of its release, and Universal wasn't about to let Twitter mark the occasion with a few GIFs and people misquoting its most famous line. In addition to releasing the film on 4K UHD Blu-ray*, they put together a massive package that would make any fan of the film drool: it's got the 4K set, the board game from Ravensburger, another game from Funko, and a complete wardrobe: t-shirt, swim trunks, hat, and socks. In addition to all of that, there's an "Amity Island Summer of 75" boxed collection that has even more goodies, including a beach towel and Quint's wooden keyring.

In fact, it's pretty much everything you could ever want about JAWS (the movie, not the franchise) except for the novel that started it all. The film rights to Peter Benchley's debut were purchased by producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown before it was even published, so it was still riding high on the bestseller list when the film was released, which is rare. In turn, the novel's fans made up a sizable chunk of the film's record-breaking audience, which makes it a good thing we didn't have social media in 1975 because anyone who loved every word of the book was probably disappointed at the considerable changes Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb (who took over after Benchley himself wrote a few drafts) made for their adaptation.

I myself read the book when I was 12 or 13, but apart from Hooper dying at the end (and sleeping with Brody's wife), I couldn't really remember much about it or how it differed from the film. So when all this stuff arrived and gave me an excuse to watch the movie again, I realized "Hey, I have a lot of extra free time these days due to *gestures at everything*, maybe I should read the book again while I'm at it." And so I dug it out of the ever-growing pile of books I own because movies I love are based on them (but will probably never get around to reading) and flipped it open, laughing at it was pretty different starting with the very first page. Instead of college kids who just met at a beach party, we meet an established couple who leave the house they're staying in and have sex on the beach before the woman goes off skinny dipping while the man passes out.

So sure, the end result is the same (a girl gets killed and her date doesn't notice), but the circumstances have all changed, something that's common throughout its 309 pages. The basic plot remains the same: a week after that (presumed isolated incident) a little boy is killed, which mounts pressure to close the beaches, something the mayor is opposed to, but after another attack the chief hires a man named Quint to take him and an ichthyologist named Matt Hooper to head out on Quint's boat to track and kill the shark. Spielberg and co. knew that this basic outline was perfect - it's just that Benchley's version of these events and people needed some overhaul. His book is a decent enough timekiller, no doubt, but if filmed word for word it wouldn't have been a particularly great movie, and certainly not one of the most beloved of all time (or, for what it's worth, the inventor of the summer blockbuster).

The biggest problem is that Benchley's characters are largely unlikable, including Brody himself. He's basically a beta male with a temper as opposed to a guy who is faced with his first real challenge as the chief in a sleepy little beach town; even when he stands up to Vaughan and the other town elders he comes off as a man who doesn't like being bossed around and protecting his pride as opposed to one that's doing it because it's the right thing to do. And his personal investment isn't even shark related - instead of one of his kids nearly being a shark victim himself, a mobster kills the family cat in front of one of them, as a warning for him not to close the beaches.

Wait, what? A mobster? Yes. In Benchley's novel, Vaughan is partly against the drastic measure because he owes a lot of money to the local mob, who have interests on some properties in town, so the whole "don't close the beaches" element takes on a different meaning here. For what it's worth, Benchley offers a few slice of life scenes about the ramifications of a closed beach season on Amity (people are already losing their jobs due to slower business, even Vaughan isn't exactly well off and eventually has to leave town), something the movie only offers lip service to, but the mob nonsense is extraneous at best - the movie's simple "We need summer dollars" works perfectly, whereas Benchley practically makes it sound like even a few more deaths would be preferable.

Matt Hooper comes off even worse. Not only do him and the chief not get along (upon their first meeting, Brody instantly decides he doesn't like him and also that he could probably kick his ass if he had to), but he also quickly hops in bed with Brody's wife, and even almost taunts the chief with it when they're out on the Orca. Quint is more or less the same (albeit without the songs and Indianapolis speech that made him as memorable as he was), though he also only appears in one quick scene in the first 215 of the book's 309 pages before reentering the story, as opposed to the halfway point as he does in the film (and no, that one scene isn't the same as his film introduction - it's closer to his wordless turn watching the crowd after they catch the tiger shark). I truly believe Harry Meadows (the newsman played by Gottlieb himself) has more of a role in the novel than Quint.

But honestly? The thing that really makes the movie so much better than the book is the latter's total lack of warmth or humor. Think about your favorite moments in JAWS, and things like the younger son mimicking his father, Hooper's "So... how was your day?", and of course the scar comparison scene will come to mind... and those were all the total invention of the film. Brody's kids are total non-entities in the novel (even the aforementioned cat killing part is just told to Brody later), the three guys on the boat barely speak civilly at all, let alone bond, and I honestly think the closest Benchley gets to humor is the chief making fun of his wife's cooking (I can write a separate article entirely on how badly Mrs. Brody comes off here). The mob stuff and weird lack of suspense (the affair sequence goes on so long that the shark isn't even mentioned for about 30 pages straight, and the guys on the Orca return home every night - even after Hooper's death!) are one thing, but Benchley's seeming commitment to having us root for the shark just kept the book at arm's length for me, regardless of how it paled in comparison to the film.

Long story short, there's a reason there's 45th anniversary branded swim trunks for the film, but little celebration for the book it was based on. It isn't the first film to improve on its source (Puzo's THE GODFATHER comes to mind), but it's strange that there literally isn't one part of the book that was dropped that I thought "I wish this was in the movie" (not counting ironic desires; it'd be kind of funny to see Roy Scheider and his "man's man" tan get cuckolded by the goofy Richard Dreyfuss), which has to be a first for an adaptation. In 30 years of knowing what JAWS is and that it was based on a book, I can truly say I have never once talked to someone who thinks the movie did the novel a disservice, which is both testament to the latter's shortcomings (again, it was a bestseller - people obviously liked it, then) and the former's status as an inarguable masterpiece. And so without irony I say, Happy anniversary, JAWS.

*No new extras, so unless you're a 4K champion - or lenticular cover junkie - there's no reason to upgrade from the definitive 2012 release that it otherwise matches exactly. It looks spectacular though! You can see the fibers on Larry Vaughan's anchor suit!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Dracula vs Frankenstein/Brain of Blood (1971)

MAY 25, 2020

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I saw my first Al Adamson movie (Blood of Dracula's Castle) in 2010, and was so delighted I instantly knew I had to seek out more of his work. And now, over a decade later, I've finally done that, thanks to Severin's incredible new boxed set of pretty much the filmmaker's entire filmography. A whopping 31 films are included on the set, which includes a new documentary about his life (and very weird death) and more extras than even a supplements junkie like myself could probably get through in a reasonable amount of time. Just on the first disc I picked out, which includes Dracula vs Frankenstein and Brain of Blood, there are two commentaries, interviews, a 55 minute video essay about the former, and more - so you're talking 7-8 hours' worth of content on a single disc, and there are fourteen of them!

It's amusing that a filmmaker like Adamson would be the subject of such a lavish set (one that took Herculean efforts from the Severin folks) to pull together, because the films themselves are cheap, quickie productions that allowed Adamson and frequent collaborator Sam Sherman to cut corners (some of the films have the same score, for example). But that sort of "let's get it done" attitude is a big part of their charm, in my opinion, and the bonus features actually shed some light on how/why the films are the way they are. Dracula vs Frankenstein, for example, started life as a film that didn't include either character and simply focused on a hulking killer picking off people on/near the beach. But for business reasons the two legendary monsters were added in, and now we have a film that lives up to the Adamson gold standard.

And by that I mean it's a kitchen sink-type affair, just as Blood of Dracula's Castle and (as I'd discover the next day) Brain of Blood were. The films come off like something being described by Stefon from SNL; DvF has the two title characters, a mute murderer (played by Lon Chaney Jr!), hippie protests, a Vegas act, a carnival dwarf, evil bikers... and, if anything, Brain of Blood has even more packed into it (a possible government coup, for example). As I get older and see more movies it gets harder to truly surprise me anymore, as I recognize the beats and sleight of hand attempts at misdirecting the audience, but I can truly say that with these movies I never in a million years could have predicted where they'd end up based on their first few minutes. Good or bad doesn't really matter - long as I'm engaged and surprised, then I call it a win.

Dracula vs. Frankenstein has a notoriously low rating on IMDb to give it some "worst movies of all time" type exposure (being Chaney's last film doesn't help either; it probably generated some interest from Wolf Man fans that would have otherwise skipped such fare), but I found it to be a fun little flick. I assume that the shoddiness of Dracula's costume and performance (the "actor" was Sherman's stockbroker, from what I understand) is to blame for the poor reviews, but I've seen worse incarnations of the character (Dracula 3000, for example) and knew not to expect anything on par with Lugosi or even Butler. Plus he's not in the movie all that much (makes sense since he was added in later), and his scenes are ridiculous enough to be enjoyable in their own weird way, like when he first encounters Frankenstein (the doctor, not the monster) and proceeds to explain the man's own backstory to him.

Plus at its core is a "looking for a missing family member" subplot, which is something I always take a liking to - everything from The Seventh Victim to the Friday the 13th remake has some version of this story and it tends to keep me invested when we're finding things out along with the hero (which is why it doesn't fully work in F13 '09 - we know his sister's alive long before he does). Her journey is what gives the film many of its more random elements (LSD trips! Biker run-ins! A cop that looks like David Lynch!) so in addition to not knowing if her sister is alive or not, we also never have even the slightest idea of what she might get mixed up in next as she tries to find out.

Brain of Blood, featuring many of the same cast members (including the stockbroker guy again, albeit in a far less crucial role), somehow manages to be even wackier, since the plot concerns the fictional Arabian nation of Kalid and how its dying leader's brain will be placed in a healthy body (and then given plastic surgery to make sure no one can tell the difference!), which goes horribly wrong and the brain ends up inside a hulking brute, who has some of the leader's brain but retains some of his own, murderous instincts as well. There's almost a mild Bond (or, at least, Bond ripoff) kind of vibe here - amidst all of the murders there's a big car chase and a rooftop fistfight, not to mention "stop a crazy man from taking over a foreign country" sounds more like a spy movie plot than one for a horror movie from the Dracula vs Frankenstein team.

Whether these are the best, worst, or merely "average" Adamson films is something I look forward to finding out as I go through the boxed set, though these two more or less match up to my take on Dracula's Castle, which is that they're kind of stuffed to the gills with random elements that somehow ultimately work together. None of them are what I'd call "great", but that's sort of besides the point, because (especially at this moment in history) they held my attention and made me smile for 90 minutes, which is what I'm sure anyone involved was hoping to achieve in the first place. And besides, they were made for drive-in audiences 50 years ago, not exhaustive special edition Blu-rays, so the fact that they can still entertain a guy by himself at home is proof of their enduring success. Obviously the boxed set itself is kind of expensive for your average blind buy, but if you're unaccustomed to Adamson's style, I highly encourage seeking out one of his movies and seeing if you too can appreciate his vibe. And if you ARE a fan, then I can't imagine not wanting this on your shelf, if the presentation and accompanying extras just on this one disc are any indication of the quality of the rest of the set.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Among The Living (2014)

MAY 4, 2020

GENRE: SLASHER, THRILLER
SOURCE: STREAMING (SHUDDER)

If you would have told me on my way out of the screening of Inside that I attended in 2007 that someday its filmmakers would make a slasher movie that would be free for me to watch for literal years before I finally watched it, I woulda told you that you were nuts (and also that you were a very strangely selective time traveler). Among the Living (French: Aux yeux des vivants) is the 3rd film from the Bustillo/Maury team that gave us that aforementioned classic (now officially cemented as one of my favorite horror films of the past twenty years), but the uneven Livide and misguided Leatherface left me hesitant about watching it, as I couldn't take another disappointment from a pair of filmmakers I briefly considered to be genre saviors.

Well, if nothing else, it's their 2nd best movie, and ironically it's only because of my now-lowered expectations that I was probably able to enjoy it to the extent that I did. Had it been their sophomore effort I would have been more disappointed, and if it was the first film of theirs that I ever saw I can't say I'd be clamoring to see what else they had done, but as is? It's pretty good! After the nutty Livide they went back to something more grounded, with a fairly straightforward tale of three boys who skip school and see something horrific in the woods, then get chased by the villain back to their homes. It oddly reminded me of a particular film that we can't mention by name (a house and clowns are involved, perhaps not in that order), but it also had some elements of the Chainsaw films as the killer has a demented family and has turned a dilapidated tourist spot (a movie studio in this case) into their lair. Is this what got them the Leatherface gig?

Like Livide, the first half is stronger than the second, buying it a lot of goodwill. After a prologue featuring Beatrice Dalle (one that allows her to pay gruesome and ironic tribute to her Inside character), we meet our trio of eighth grade boys, who are typical lads of that age, cracking dirty jokes and goofing off, drawing the ire of their teacher. On the last day of school they get detention for having a minor food fight at lunch, but using the "what can they do?" power of it being their final day, they decide to skip and go exploring in the woods instead. After causing a fire in a barn, they run to the abandoned Blackwood Studios, an ideal location for a horror movie as it has a variety of backdrops and an appropriately creepy feel.

It's there that they see a woman being tortured by a pair of hulking killers (Dalle's husband and son from the prologue), resulting in a quick chase around the place. Unfortunately, they escape the grounds relatively quickly and flag down some cops, who - as per the rule of horror films - find nothing and write them off as pranksters. The boys go home, get into their respective trouble with their parents, and then one by one the killer shows up at their homes and does... something! to all of them (more on that soon). The structure has two issues, one being that their homes are nowhere near as interesting to look at as the run down studio, and the other (more important) one is that the boys never interact again for the rest of the film. Their dynamic was one of the film's strongest points; they had distinct personalities and a fun rapport, but after the 40 minute mark they're stuck with their forgettable families.

And it's frustrating, because (here come the spoilers!) when the killer has isolated them (offing one's babysitter and another's abusive father) and closes in, we see their face as a white light blankets the screen and fades to the next scene, as if they were being "taken" as opposed to being killed. To me this seemed to promise a reunion, with the trio banding together to take on the beast they had unleashed, but... nope. They're dead, as apparently even these guys won't kill kids on screen (though realizing they were in fact dead made me chuckle as I assumed this was their way of ensuring that the film wouldn't get bought to be remade in the US, which was the fate of poor Livide, which remains unreleased here). Robbing us of the film's best asset is one thing, but to do so in favor of standalone setpieces that lack definitive conclusions is pretty weak.

That said, at least those setpieces are pretty good in their own right, particularly the third as it has a family of five at risk (the other two boys were only with single adults), and features one of the weirdest deaths I've seen recently, which might forever kill a viewer's foot fetish if they have one. There's also a mortifying reveal of the killer, which I found interesting because (spoiler again!) we discover he only LOOKS like a grown man but is actually only six years old, which re-contextualizes all of his earlier actions as a kid who doesn't know his own strength playing with "toys" (young people). The only physical evidence of his real age that we are offered is a microscopic baby penis, which was interesting because right now I'm reading a book called Damon which does the opposite thing with a similar case: a young boy with a growth disorder has all appearances of a child *except* for his junk, which is fully grown, so we're "treated" to descriptions of the thing nearly touching the floor because of his toddler-length legs. I swear... only I could manage to be entertained by TWO stories of murderous five year olds with penis issues in the same day.

If you're a Shudder subscriber there's no excuse not to watch it (especially *now*, lol sigh), but it'd help to think of it as "The followup to Livide" or something and keep your affinity for Inside at bay (at least as much as you can, as they seemingly reference it more than once). That movie was lightning in a bottle, it seems, and the mixed results for their following films (Leatherface was overcooked by producers, so we can asterisk the issues with that one and not chalk its failure entirely up to them) wouldn't be so disappointing if not for coming out of the gate so strong. Both this and Livide are pretty good movies with issues, which is, you know, how most horror movies are. If they can keep subsequent films at this "pretty good, at times great" level, that'd be fine by me. And besides, it took Wes 12 years to match Nightmare (with Scream) and Tobe close to a decade to live up to TCM (with Poltergeist, and don't even start) - perhaps their next masterpiece will be coming someday. I just have to stop expecting it.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Uncanny (1977)

APRIL 28, 2020

GENRE: ANTHOLOGY, PREDATOR
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Despite having an affinity for cat-driven horror, I somehow never heard of The Uncanny until I saw a trailer at the New Bev (can't recall when exactly, though it was in the past few years I think. In my head it was during one of their all night horror-thons), at which point I immediately made plans to see it. X number of years later and one quarantine at home later, I finally found the time to check it out via the Blu-ray I managed to obtain somewhere along the way (though it only came out last year, so it hasn't been THAT long). I really should start cataloging where exactly I get these things - for every one I distinctly recall getting ("Won at trivia") there are five that I haven't a clue how they ended up in the endless pile of films next to my couch.

As it's an anthology that rarely gets brought up, I wasn't expecting much out of it beyond a few laughs at the never-successful attempts to make cats act as threatening as they often are in real life. Since cats can't be trained as well as dogs, they're rarely used as the main antagonist for a horror film, as there's simply not much a director can do with the damn things when they won't do what you want. Basically you have to piss them off to get them to do something like snarl and swipe (not very nice!) and then toss one at an actor from off-camera, hoping editing can cover the rest. But director Denis Héroux (who was following up the woefully unpleasant Naked Massacre) and screenwriter Michel Parry came up with a solid workaround: make an anthology where the evil cats change every 20-25 minutes!

The wraparound is pretty great: Peter Cushing (!) plays a frazzled author who is trying to get a book published on how cats are evil and have been the ones in control for centuries, and to convince a publisher about it he presents three of his findings. As he tries to sway the man (who clearly isn't buying it), more and more cats keep appearing outside, which to Cushing means more proof of his theory and that they're there to silence him. It's fun to see Cushing as kind of a loser for a change, since he's usually the most prim and proper (and awesome) guy in the room, and you can't help but feel bad for him since he's obviously right. A lazier producer would have cast him as the no-nonsense, slightly antagonistic publisher, but instead we get the rare sight of pitying the actor.

The stories aren't too bad either, and get better as they go which is always a plus. The first one is fine, but the problem is that it's basically a sped up version of Eye of the Cat, the terrific (and funny) thriller about a guy trying to scam his way into his cat-loving aunt's will. Here, the devious nephew is barely seen - more of the focus is on his lover, who is the woman's maid and target of her cats. It's all too straightforward and brief on characterization to feel suspenseful or intriguing, and the plot similarities to the superior film don't help matters any. But in terms of ridiculous cat action it delivers better than the other two (which only have single cats in them) so it kind of evens out.

The second one kicked things into gear, and won me over quickly with the appearance of a Cathy's Curse cast member (Renee Girard, who played the lady who lived next door in that film), and got even better when I realized it was a low-key evil child story, as our antihero (and cat owner) was a little girl sent to live with her cousin after her own parents died in a plane crash. It takes all of seven seconds for the cousin to start being awful to her (including terrorizing her with a remote controlled plane that crashes! I mean, JEEZ), and her AND her mother hate the poor girl's cat, trying to get rid of it within days. So the young lass does what you or I would do: uses a book on black magic to cast a spell that shrinks the evil cousin down to the size of a mouse, then lets Wellington the cat bat her around as if she was one. The FX are largely terrible, naturally, but the sheer insanity and viciousness of it more than makes up for it.

Then there's the third and best story, in which Donald Pleasence (!!!) plays a Vincent Price-esque actor who arranges to have his own wife killed during the shooting of a Pit and the Pendulum film, replacing the fake blade with a real one for its iconic scene, a scheme hatched between him and her stand-in (Samantha Eggar), with whom he has been having an affair. When they go home that night (my man has zero interest in putting on the pretense of being in mourning, I guess) we learn the woman had a cat, so you can guess what will happen next. But what it lacks in surprises it makes up for in Pleasence's performance, as he's having a ball playing a total scumbag (this was one year before Halloween gave him a bit of a career boost), and if you're a Curtains fan then you can enjoy Eggar as another actress for director John Vernon - I had no idea the later film was actually a reunion for them, in similar roles to boot.

As the disc was only released in 2019 it's pretty scarce on extras, since Héroux, Parry, and a lot of the cast are unfortunately now deceased. The lone supplement is an interview with Susan Penhaligon, who plays the maid in the first segment, who reveals Cushing sent her flowers for her first day of filming, which was quite nice of him since their characters weren't even in the same scenes. So I can't say it's a disc worth paying full price for as the movie is fun but not exactly one you'll watch over and over, and the thin supplements mean you'll spend well south of two hours with it. But if the film ever pops up on Shudder or whatever, give it a look - it's a pretty fun timekiller that offers about as much evil cat footage a movie can without resorting to CGI or something, and treats you to the sight of Donald Pleasence as an man women would literally kill to be with.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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