Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

DECEMBER 28, 2013


It's a shame actor Nick Adams just sort of looks like an asshole, because it made Die, Monster, Die! harder to get on board with at the beginning, when his character is trying to find a ride to the Witley House. After a cab refuses to drive him there, he starts asking to rent a car or a bike, but still explains where he's going even though he should have already figured out that the town hated the place and wouldn't help him out. So why does he keep saying that's where he's going? Just say you're going for a leisurely drive, man! It makes him come across as a moron as well as a guy you'd probably want to smack, so it's not until Karloff shows up that you can start getting into the movie.

And you can get into it even more if you haven't seen House Of Usher, since it's pretty much the same scenario: a guy comes to a spooky, giant house seeking his fiance, only for her relative (also played by a horror icon) to try to keep him out and send him away. There's even a wall of portraits, where a character explains who everyone is and lets us know that there's seemingly a curse on the family, hence why they've become hermits and why the town fears them. Luckily, it starts taking its own path (though it still ends in a fire), and isn't vague with the source of the family's problems.

Well, not AS vague, I should say. Whereas Usher leaves it up to you to decide if Usher was crazy or correct, this one lets you know what it is: a green rock from a meteor that they've cut up and used in their greenhouse to grow giant tomatoes and also some weird creatures that just sort of sit there waving back and forth ("Jim Henson's Cthulhu", is what I'd say if I was writing for MST3k). As to WHY the rock had such a varied number of effects (it also turns people into glowing monsters), I can only assume that it makes more sense in the short story, but then again it's a Lovecraft story so maybe not, as being perfectly clear wasn't exactly his thing.

That said, based on what little I know of his story (titled "The Colour Out Of Space") from its Wiki page, it sounds like one of the more film-ready entries in his bibliography, with a team of scientists and a full family at the house (a farm in the story) to provide the action - it sounds like it could have been molded into a Quatermass sequel, actually. The film, on the other hand, just offers a three character piece for the most part, unless you count Karloff's wife who spends the movie behind a sheet in her bedroom, plus drops the scientific angle down to almost nothing. The story was adapted again in 1987 as The Curse, and was much more faithful from what I understand - I'll give it a look someday. Here, it's clear that AIP wanted it to fit the mold of their successful Corman/Poe cycle (which included The Haunted Palace, which took Poe's title but used a Lovecraft story for its narrative), so the farm had to go. Incidentally, first time director Daniel Haller was the production designer on most of those Corman movies, so it's no surprise that it looks so similar. All stately manors, all the time!

But it's still kind of fun. Karloff is always great to watch, and does a fine job playing a character who isn't exactly the hero but not an outright villain either; sort of like Usher but more sympathetic (being in a wheelchair helps!). The various makeup FX for the "cursed" family members are also effective for their day, particularly the glowing super-monster guy during the climax, though I'm sure the full reveal of Karloff's wife caused a few nightmares to any kids who snuck in during its run (which was with Bava's Planet of the Vampires! Moviegoing was so much more awesome in the 50s and 60s). And while Haller is certainly no Corman in the directorial department (it's not much of a surprise he only did a few other features before settling into the world of episodic television; his last credit of note was directing a few episodes of Matlock), he delivers some nice atmosphere at the beginning when Adams is making his way to the house, and the fire sequence is impressive.

He also shot it in 2.35 (again, like the Corman films), which makes a peculiar effect of the film all the more noticeable. Whenever there's a lengthy tracking shot, the left and right sides of the frame are noticeably squeezed; the objects become thinner as they pan on or off the screen (it's most obvious during a cemetery scene around 2/3s of the way through). I'm not sure if it's the transfer or the type of lens that they used, but it's very distracting, and since there's nothing really that requires the wider image, I almost wish it was just 1.85 like most movies of the day so it wouldn't be an issue. I looked on Youtube to see if it was on any of the clips, but the only one I found was presented at the wrong aspect ratio anyway, and the trailer didn't have any of the shots where it'd be noticeable.

Speaking of the trailer, which is the only bonus feature on Scream Factory's new Blu (not even a scene selection! Come on guys), it's one for the ages. Not only does it spoil most of the movies kills and reveals (including the villain's death), but it neglects to include any sort of information about the film - no title, no "Coming Soon" or "AIP Presents"... not even a "Starring Karloff!". Just completely blank. Maybe that's why it spoils so many of the film's surprises? Figures the audience won't know what's being spoiled? Weird.

This is the sort of movie you'd expect to find on a budget pack rather than a stand-alone Blu-ray (one with a pretty good transfer to boot), and it's not memorable enough to really justify a solo release. But maybe Scream can repackage it with other Karloff films and do a nice boxed set like they did with Vincent Price last fall - these are the sort of movies that are great to throw on around Halloween time and just enjoy the simplicity and low-key charm of this era's genre output. I remember a couple years ago, Nic Cage tried getting a studio interested in funding a film that would be in this vein (with Corman attached to boot!) but none of them would bite. Perhaps now, with the success of (heavily 70s inspired) The Conjuring and the Hammer entry The Woman In Black, he can try again? I'd be all for it. Even when they're not great, they're harmless, the sort of thing we can show our kids and enjoy ourselves.

What say you?


Sorority House Massacre II (1990)

DECEMBER 19, 2013


Supposedly, Sorority House Massacre II was written and directed in a mere ten days, and thus the easy joke to make would be to wonder what they did with the other nine. It's stiff, poorly acted across the board, and features what has to be a record for kill scenes that play out entirely with shadows and cheapo bladder devices being used to shoot blood all over the wall. But, damn my eyes, I couldn't help but enjoy the shitty little thing. Maybe it's just because I haven't been exposed to as much rubbish in 2013 as I was from 2007-2012? I only get 1-2 movies a week to watch for my Netflix gig, and while they are almost always shitty horror movies (if I was a grading man, this would be a C at best and it was one of the better ones I've seen on their dime), that's still a huge reduction in how often I am exposing myself to "worst movie ever made" material (per IMDb message board users). So, like McDonald's or old man whiskey, I know it's terrible for me, but you gotta indulge every now and then.

I can't recall much about the first film (I couldn't even remember SEEING it until I looked up my own review), but I DO know Slumber Party Massacre pretty well, which left me equally amused and baffled when a character in this movie told Slumber's story via flashback as if it were the events of the first Sorority House Massacre. He also gives Slumber more plot than it actually had, giving a name to its previously unidentified killer (Hokstedter, which wasn't the name of the killer in SHM1, for the record) and claiming that this house that the sorority girls are inhabiting was the scene of his crimes. That we SEE the house in the Slumber footage and it looks absolutely nothing like the one they are in now is something we should probably ignore, I guess.

This character is named Orville Ketchum, and he's played by the lecherous, abusive stepdad from Freddy's Dead - which makes him the only recognizable actor in the movie, pretty much. The movie wants us to think that he's the killer, but with all of the kills occurring off-screen, you know it can't be that easy. Plus, there's a Ouija board sequence in the first act, so you can be assured that the answer is more supernatural based than the first film (of either series, I guess it's fruitless to try to separate them at this point). There's some half-hearted attempt at a twist, but with everything off-screen and Hokstedter's ghost apparently jumping around bodies like Horace Pinker, it doesn't have much of an impact.

However, if you enjoy looking at a variety of breasts, or are just an adolescent young man, the movie will be fondly remembered for years. Just about every female in the cast disrobes, with some of it being more gratuitous than the intentionally over-the-top shower scene in Slumber. There's a wonderful bit where they all run out in the rain in their underwear (no one wears actual clothes after the first 20 minutes or so) and stand around getting soaked while they argue their next move, allowing them to have see through nighties for the rest of the picture.

Needless to say, the movie was directed by Jim Wynorski.

I was also ironically charmed with the movie's ancient stock footage for the storm; I'd have to dig out my copy to be sure but I'd place a small bet on that it was from The Terror (this being a Corman production as well). One of the girls even comments that the raging storm makes her feel like she's in "one of those old horror movies", and I couldn't help but wonder if the film might have been elevated to "genuinely kind of good" had they embraced the spoofy elements more often and went all out. With the notoriously cheap Corman and Wynorski at the helm, it's hard to tell if the fact that they're using another, more famous franchise's footage to flesh out its backstory is supposed to be a joke (sort of like when Airplane spoofs Saturday Night Fever or From Here To Eternity in its flashbacks) or just them trying to save a few bucks and hope that no one noticed or cared.

Another inadvertent benefit of the movie being so cheap and made so quickly is that it's impossible to gauge who the Final Girl is, because the girls only separate when they're going off to die or shower (actually in the latter, one comes in before the other is finished, but there's sadly no "action" to sleaze it up a bit). Otherwise, they're constantly grouped together and framed in master shots, making them rather indistinguishable. Your best bet at placing any sort of stock in one over the other will be based entirely on how attracted you are to them (sadly, the gal I liked was one of the first to go), as they have no specific character traits; even basic things like "the bitchy one" are hard to pin down (though some have random European accents). So when they start getting offed, there's no sense that any one of them is safer than the others, a rarity for even the best slashers.

Incidentally, Netflix also assigned me Cheerleader Massacre 2, which had many of the same problems and also a penchant for laughably gratuitous nudity. However, I did NOT see that original film, so maybe its bizarre combination of slasher (like Cheerleader Camp, it involves a cheerleading competition where many of the participants and various horny male hanger-ons get offed) and killer robot (!) tropes are familiar to its fans. All I know for sure is that it sets up a sequel that I won't be watching unless Netflix forces me to, though I admired the high body count and oft-ridiculous kills - if they weren't all done via low-rent CGI I might have had more fun with it.

The era of this particular brand of slasher has long since passed (hell, even by the time the original came out the slasher era was pretty much over). Post-Scream (which is 17 years old this week! I FEEL OLD.) you have to either do it straight (like Cold Prey) or constantly remind your audience that you're in on the joke, which gets tiresome more often than not. Cheerleader was made in 2009, and I couldn't help but wonder if the killer robot nonsense was an attempt to modernize an old script that they forgot to make when it would have been relevant. As for Sorority, it was made in 1990, when this sort of thing was only being churned out for the hardcore fans looking for something new at the video store - Hollywood productions (or even acquisitions) were a thing of the past. The odds of me finding a slasher from that period that I really like are slim to none, but I'm happy that there are still some I missed as a young lad that can provide some basic entertainment to 33 year old me.

What say you?



I never like skipping a month for HMAD screenings, but that just makes their triumphant returns all the more special! After sitting out November, we are back on Saturday, December 28th with a 35mm revival screening (likely the first) of the 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. The Devil epic End Of Days! Directed by Peter Hyams, this is sort of an anomaly in Arnold's career, as at times it skews closer to films like Seven than his shoot em up classics. It's certainly the only one I'd ever do for a HMAD screening (though I could probably be swayed to do Total Recall).

And like HMAD, Arnold decided to make End of Days his comeback vehicle, after taking off over 2 years due to heart surgery. It was a bit of a curious choice for a big return, since it was so unlike most of what he had done before - if you've seen the movie you know it's hardly him at his most indestructible. You'd think he'd pick a movie that had him kicking ALLLLL the asses, but he gets beat up pretty good, nearly gets killed in his first action moment, and, well, he cries. And he also gets the movie stolen away from him by his co-stars; this was the beginning of a still going period where Arnold would be surrounded by a great cast of actors who you otherwise wouldn't expect to see in an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. Rod Steiger plays a priest who knows what's going on, Gabriel Byrne plays the Devil (with Udo Kier (!) as his eyes and ears on Earth), and Byrne's fellow "Usual Suspect" Kevin Pollak plays Arnold's partner.

Pollak actually gets all the great one-liners in the movie, too (though Arnold's "I want you... to go TO HELL!" is pretty great), which is why I'm stoked to announce that (schedule permitting) the actor will be joining us for pre-movie Q&A! He's been in a few of my favorite movies (Usual Suspects, A Few Good Men, 3000 Miles to Graceland) and is, I believe, the first actor that has played a (fictional) President that I've had for one of my Q&As, so that's pretty damn great. Plus I'll have the usual stack of DVDs to give away for easy trivia, and, as long as the theater lets me, I'll be making Jericho Cane's legendary breakfast smoothies (ingredients include coffee, pepto-bismol, and cold pizza) and passing out samples, so it will be a damned awesome time for all the folks that are like me and stuck in LA for the holidays.

As always, tickets are a mere 8 bucks at the door, or online via BrownPaperTickets. The Q&A with Mr. Pollak will be BEFORE the movie so get there on time! The New Beverly is located at 7165 Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles, 90036. Parking can be found on Beverly or on the side streets (Formosa is the best bet; just watch out for the odd permit-restricted areas!), and the theater now takes credit cards if you forget to go to the ATM. End of Days runs a bit longer than most of my midnight shows (just a hair under 2 hrs) so we will be trying to start as close to on time as possible - please be there for the 11:59pm start time! See you there!

P.S. As always, feel free to steal the poster and blog, tweet, Facebook, etc to help get the word out for the screening! Thanks in advance!


The Conspiracy (2012)

DECEMBER 8, 2013


I recently felt guilty about all my "enough found footage!" ranting on Twitter, as I have a few friends with FF movies on the way (two of them I even did credits for!) and it comes off like I'm telling you to avoid them. But that's not true; the fact remains that I will champion the hell out of the GOOD ones, but that people who have no idea what they're doing need to stop clogging the sub-genre with their nonsense, making everyone sick of them as a whole. It's like Rock Band/Guitar Hero; there's nothing wrong with their last games, but there were so many crappy ripoffs and unnecessary spinoff games (Guitar Hero: Van Halen?) that everyone just checked out as a whole. Thankfully, there will still be movies like The Conspiracy, which avoids ghosts and creepy asylums in favor of something a little more interesting.

Indeed, for a while it's not even in the neighborhood of horror; it depicts a pair of guys (Aaron and Jim) who are doing a documentary on Terrance, a conspiracy theorist that is the kind of guy who shouts "9/11 was an inside job!" at passerby from the park and has an apartment wall covered with newspaper clippings that explain how everything is connected. In other words, it's a documentary SOMEONE MIGHT ACTUALLY WANT TO WATCH, unlike about 90% of found footage horror films that start out this way. Anyway, one day Terrance disappears without a trace, and while Jim is happy to just wash his hands of the whole thing, Aaron digs into his disappearance and discovers that the guy might have been on to something, with several signs pointing to a mysterious "Tarsus Group", which is sort of like the Masons crossed with the UN.

Needless to say, the group is pretty sinister, and the last half hour of the film is creepier than most traditionally shot horror movies of late, as our heroes worm their way into a Tarsus group meeting that's not dissimilar to the cult sequence in Eyes Wide Shut. And the first person camera actually adds to it, as both of them are wearing button cams that provide awkward angles on the proceedings while also handily avoiding the "Why are you still filming?" issue. Plus, the documentary aspect means everyone's face has been blurred out, adding to its unsettling nature (though I had to laugh as even though he was blurred out I still recognized Patron Saint of Canadian Horror Julian Richings as one of the group's higher ups).

In fact this stuff works so well that I can forgive some of writer/director Christopher MacBride's missteps with the logic of the camera in the pre-cult scenes. It SEEMS as if they only have one cameraman with them (before they "get too deep" and do the camerawork themselves), but conversations get back and forth cutting, meaning there has to be a second guy shooting. Even when they are tailing a Tarsus member, there are cuts back and forth, making me wonder why they even had ONE extra body with them, let alone the two that would have to be there for the incident to have been shot as depicted. I know it sounds like a nitpicky thing, but it's really not - the whole point of these movies (besides to cash in on a trend) is to give us a character's POV on the proceedings, so if they are constantly switching perspectives, it's leaving the audience at bay. And either way, their cameraman is a non entity, another thing that bugs me - it makes sense for him to be quiet when they're shooting parts of the documentary, but when he keeps shooting after they've finished for the day and are just sort of hanging out, why is he sitting there like a mute? Shouldn't he be "off the clock" and acting like a human being?

But otherwise, I was impressed by how well it was structured, completely turning around at the 30 minute mark or so and then switching again when they crash the meeting. If not for the recognizable actors (Aaron is played by Aaron Poole, from Rosalind Leigh) I could believe that this was an actual blend of reality and fiction, not unlike JT Petty's S&Man. Terrance is spouting off about real world things and namechecking actual politicians, and getting into the nitty gritty about foreign policy and such, which went over my head just as any real conspiracy theorist's rants would. I don't know how much time they spent developing the backstories and such, but I assure you if I just started watching this completely blind (i.e. not knowing it was a horror film) and didn't recognize Poole, I'd be totally duped into believing it was a real thing, at least until they go to the Tarsus lodge. But by then I'm on board and sympathetic toward the characters, so it worked as it should - by the time it became a horror movie, I was invested into the "reality" part of it. Not an easy thing to pull off, and it's a shame more FF films feel the need to make sure we know it's a genre film right off the bat.

It's also got a downer ending that doesn't leave any plot holes. 9 times out of 10 I am left wondering who found this footage (Apollo 18 remains the champ), and with this sort of thing I'd also have to wonder why these all powerful people didn't have it destroyed, but here there's a narrative explanation for its "return". And it's not because it's got a happy ending with everyone surviving - it's actually pretty grim and disturbing, and the fact that there probably IS some variation on the Tarsus group in reality (not THIS far-reaching, I hope) gives it an edge that even the best "ghosts in the mental hospital" faux doc could never manage. It should be hitting DVD soon (it's been released on disc in other countries, and Amazon has it on their streaming service), so keep an eye out for it. Ti West's terrific The Sacrament covers similar territory (in that it fully/realistically establishes its documentary subject before turning scary), but that won't be out for a while - this is a perfect appetizer if you've been waiting for that one.

What say you?


Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

NOVEMBER 28, 2013


The first time I ever watched Dawn of the Dead was on Thanksgiving (in 1994, if memory serves), and for the next few years I made it a tradition. The irony is that when I was 14 I didn't even pick up on the satire re: consumerism, and when I got my car a couple years later I would join the rest of the folks on Black Friday shopping the following day - the very sort of thing the movie was commenting on, which has only become more apt as the day (which now stretches into Thanksgiving itself) becomes more and more insane. It's pretty easy to find screencaps of Romero's movie placed next to shots of Black Friday shopping, in fact.

So it's kind of ironic that by the time I caught on to the movie's subtext, the tradition was waning. I added End of Days to my Thanksgiving tradition, and when life got too busy for both (a girlfriend (now wife) meant two family gatherings), I went with Arnold for my sole tradition, since that one had a challenge built into it (staying awake for the whole thing, post-dinner). And then during HMAD's "golden" era I had to use that time in the morning for a new movie anyway. So when I quit the daily aspect, I was stoked that I'd be able to revive the tradition - even if it's just this one time, it was a delight to wake up and sit on the couch in my pajamas with my favorite zombie movie, like I did as a kid.

...I have weird bouts of nostalgia.

BUT, I did opt to mix it up a bit. After querying folks on Twitter, I realized that I had never actually seen the European cut (sometimes referred to as the "Argento cut") of the film. My copy growing up was the theatrical, and when I got Anchor Bay's DVD, I only watched the extended version. Not sure why I thought I had seen the European version, but I was tipped off when I learned that version had ALL Goblin music, and none of the library stuff - I knew for sure I had never seen it without that goofy theme at the end (which is now used - albeit in chicken cluck form - for Robot Chicken's end credits). So it was a bit of a mix of old and new, making it ripe for a HMAD entry (which have been lacking thanks to my Twilight Zone column, and again I apologize).

So what's the verdict on this one? Well, it's certainly not BAD - the worst editor in the world could probably still make a good movie out of the footage Romero and his team created. But I certainly wouldn't recommend this version to someone who was a complete virgin to the film, as the changes aren't necessarily for the better and some of Argento's edits render things slightly confusing without the context of footage you had seen in the other cut(s). For example, when Roger and Peter move the trucks to block the doors, he omits the entire first sequence, which goes off without a hitch and fully explains what they're actually doing - it starts with Roger already getting a bit cocky and Peter telling him to calm down. So not only is it unclear as to why he is so excited, it's a bit vague as to what they're actually DOING, and thus when they move the second (now first) truck, it kind of makes them look incompetent as well, since everything goes wrong there.

Another bizarre edit comes early on, when they're in the chopper. As they pass over Johnston, the sequence with the rednecks plays out pretty much the same way, but it omits Stephen's line "Those rednecks are probably enjoying the whole thing." So now the movie just cuts in a lengthy sequence of previously unseen (and never to be seen again) characters shooting at zombies and discussing their ammo over coffee, with zero explanation or setup. I mean, it was always kind of an extraneous sequence anyway, but it sticks out even more here - I suspect they just left it in because it's got some zombie kills. Indeed, the most obvious thing about this version (and Argento's intent with it) is that it's faster paced; many of the shorter character beats have been omitted, leaving all of the action more or less intact (it's been a while since I've watched it, but I'm pretty sure the biker attack at the end goes on even longer). Without all those quiet moments, the movie is long past its halfway point before they even "settle in" at the mall, and then it goes right into "We have to leave" mode.

But if you ARE hip to the original version (or the longer (too long?) extended cut), then it's all good. I love the library music cues, but few would argue that having more Goblin is a bad thing, and Romero's version DOES get a bit lax at times (as most of his films do). And it doesn't omit anything you love, though I think they trim even MORE out of the dock scene - I'd have to go back and check, but even though Joe Pilato only showed up in the longer version, didn't the guy asking for cigarettes still appear in the theatrical? Speaking of smoking, I still love how much the pregnant Frannie smokes (and drinks); they talk about aborting it but it seems like she's well on her way to killing the kid on her own. Ah, the 70s! And while some say that this version omits the humor, there's still plenty of it - Peter and Stephen posing for the bank camera, Frannie "shooting" Stephen with the hair dryer, etc. Hell it even keeps in the stupid biker guy that is obsessed with checking his blood pressure during a zombie attack, as well as the pie in the face gags.

And what's important is that the SCOPE of the film has been left intact. It hits the ground running (few films, sequel or otherwise, have managed to convey such chaos and doom in their opening sequence) and rarely lets up as the characters make their way to the mall, stopping to off some zombie kids and (in Peter and Roger's case) take down a zombie-infested highrise. I quite like the remake, but there's so little buildup to them getting to the mall, and they more or less have it secured much quicker as well. Some of my favorite scenes in this Dawn are when they're just trying to find their way in, or going on a supply run for just a couple of things, BEFORE they decide that they can pretty much just live there. Even with this faster version, it still gives us time to know our four heroes and make sure we understand that securing this giant mall isn't something they can do in a couple hours (as always, it's impossible to tell how much time passes from the moment they arrive to the time where Roger dies, but it seems at least a week or so).

The effects also hold up; I'll never shine to the "melted pink crayon" look of the blood, but the bites and headsplosions all look great, and I couldn't help but wonder if Tom Savini ever watches Walking Dead and feels insulted that his former protege (Greg Nicotero) is relying on horrible digital blood/impact shots on the show. I know it's TV and they have to move a bit quicker, but certainly Nicotero and his team (otherwise the best in the business, as far as I'm concerned) can be doing better work than this, and have to feel at least slightly embarrassed to see their stuff stacked up against superior work from 35 years ago. And Romero/Savini didn't exactly have all the time in the world either - all of the mall stuff was shot during closing hours, so they had to start late at night and be out of there early - hardly the most luxurious shooting arrangements. Maybe making it look so bad helps them get past the AMC censors?

So, in conclusion: I think this "Dawn of the Dead" movie is a keeper. If you're reading this site and haven't seen it yet, I'm not sure what the hell the problem is, but certainly any one of the 11,000 Anchor Bay releases are available at your local used DVD store. Again, if you haven't seen it yet, either version of the US cut is where you should start, but for fans who have also neglected to check this version out - it's definitely worth a look, but don't be surprised if you go back to your preferred one the next time you take a trip to Monroeville Mall.

What say you?

P.S. The viewing inspired me to load up Dead Rising for the first time in over 6 years and wander around slicing up zombies. Forgot how damn tough that game was, especially if you get captured by those cult assholes.


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