Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Day 92: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Based on the relative success of Coppola's Dracula, Kenneth Branagh (of various Shakespeare adaptations) was given the greenlight to do his own literary adaptation of a famous monster story. It is kind of fun to juxtapose this with Hammer's Curse of Frankenstein because, I would argue, Branagh's movie is the most faithful adaptation of the novel ever. All other movies seem to be adaptations of Karloff's film but this is from the genuine source.

That said, it was wildly disappointing to fans of the lumbering behemoth mode of Frankenstein's monster. Shelleys creature talks and runs and thinks on a level even above his creator at times. Deniro plays the monster as an injured, but intelligent animal that wants to see the good doctor suffer. Otherwise, all the characters from Curse of Frankenstein are present (Justine, Krempe, Elizabeth) but they are used in very different narrative ways. We even get a taste of The Bride of Frankenstein here.

If ever there were an artsy fartsy horror movie, this is it. I would argue it still has enough thrills in it to make it worth watching.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Day 91: The Curse of Frankenstein

This was Hammer Studios first real journey into horror. The studio came to define horror in the 60s but this 1957 foray was just a taste of things to come. Peter Cushing stars as Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the creature. He is awaiting execution as the movie begins and calls in a priest to explain how it was his monster that did all the killing not him. Of course, in the telling of the story he admits to several murders himself, either by direct or indirect action. Even if I believed his story, he should still be executed.

Anyway, the story all takes place in flashback as Frankenstein and his tutor, Krempe, figure out how to bring a puppy back to life. Rather than run with that little miracle, Victor wants to assemble the perfect man and bring him to life. It isn't long before he is collecting body parts (which got this movie an X rating when it came out) and luring a professor to his home to murder him and harvest his brain. By this time, Krempe was against the whole sordid mess and screws up the brain harvesting on purpose. When Christopher Lee awakens as the beast, Frankenstein blames his murderous rage on the brain damage caused by Krempe. Caught in the middle is Frankenstein's fiance, whom Krempe loves and Frankenstein's mistress.

The monster is kind of small potatoes in this production. The real villain is the mad doctor (this launched a series a sequels starring Cushing as Frankenstein and his various creations) and Cushing does a great job portraying himself as believing he is innocent. Lee is pretty great as the creature that can't quite control his motor skills. The body count is fair but the blood is at a minimum. It is pretty tame by modern standards but pretty entertaining.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Day 90: Last Shift

This is one of the better indie horror flicks I have come across in the last few years. The premise is simple: A rookie policewoman must stay alone overnight in an old precinct house the night before it is to be closed down. There is a creepy supervisor, the staff at the new precinct house, a tired hooker, a disturbed homeless man and even a friendly cop with a secret but the main character is still literally alone for most of the movie. The horror starts when the restless spirit of a Satanic murderer who committed suicide while being held in the building comes back to make trouble.

Juliana Harkavy does a great job carrying the movie as she is in every scene. She is living in the shadow of her father, a honored veteran officer who was killed apprehending the aforementioned Satanic murderer. The timeline doesn't especially hang together (as it feels like the death of her father came years earlier) but the wild ride that comes through is worth hanging in for. One especially creepy shot that will stay with you is the hanged body of the killer dragging itself into view in a physically impossible way. I couldn't really guess where the movie was going at any given point and I was so wrong about the role certain characters would play that I was pleasantly surprised. Your mileage may vary and you may be a step ahead the whole time but I would say, if you can let yourself go, you might enjoy it.

Day 89: Starry Eyes

Body horror is my second least favorite kind of horror (behind torture porn). Bodily fluids and fingernails are always involved in some way that turns my stomach. That's why I still haven't watched Anti-Viral despite hearing it is good. Starry Eyes is body horror about the movie industry so it is plowing some fertile ground.

The movie focuses on an actress who is struggling to find work in Hollywood but just doesn't quite have the look. She works a demeaning job and is friends with some pretty horrible people who love to undermine even her meager accomplishments with their own humble brags. At the end of her rope, she accepts an audition with a shady film producer and is pushed past her usual limits during the process. To say much more would be to give away the plot but it unwinds a little like Rosemary's Baby as the studio offering her so much wants something in return.

Plenty gory and more than a little creepy, this movie will make you uncomfortable but, if you really want a unique horror experience, you should check it out.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Day 88: Blade Trinity

Hoo-boy. This is one ridiculous movie. After Guillermo Del Toro's excellent work on Blade 2, they handed the keys of this superhero/vampire franchise over to David Goyer. Goyer had written the first two movies and has worked on a ton of comic book movies. This, somehow, did not make him the man for the job. After Blade (our half-human/half-vampire hero) had faced such dangers as a vampire cult and a group of vampires that only feed on other vampires, the logical next step was to throw him against Dracula (Dominic Purcell of Prison Break and Legends of Tomorrow fame). A roided out Dracula was not exactly scary.

The cast is full of funny ringers like Patton Oswalt, Parker Posey and Ryan Reynolds as a vampire hunter. The movie does succeed in the comedic moments but flies off the rails in the horror and action sequences. While the Blade movies were never the scariest things on earth, they stuck close to their horror roots so the action scenes always had a darker edge to them. This third movie just goes straight for campy action and one-liners. I would recommend this only if you are a completist who needs to finish the trilogy.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Day 87: Behind the Mask- The Rise of Leslie Vernon

I was going to write about The Omen or Suspiria but neither of them really move much in me to write about. I think both are dreadfully overrated (although Suspiria is pretty to look at). So instead, I am going to write about this little indie horror that tried to bring a fresh approach to the psycho killer genre. It begins as a documentary with a camera crew following "Leslie Vernon" as he makes meticulous preparations for stalking and killing a group of teenagers. He is a fan of Jason, Myers, Krueger, Leatherface but he doesn't have any supernatural abilities like being hard to kill or magically appearing where you least suspect. So, he booby-traps a house so he can outwit his prey.

There are appearances by Robert Englund (Freddy) and Kane Hodder (Jason) as well as other horror regulars. Everything seems very post-modern, with tongue planted firmly in cheek until the end of the second act. When the camera crew gets overwhelmed with guilt over filming this killer, the movie switches to regular third person omniscient and suddenly, the crew is part of their own horror movie. It is the kind of clever development that I was honestly expecting in Scream when I heard it was so "meta." There is a nice twist involving the final girl and lots of straight horror action in the third act as all of Vernon's traps get activated.

All in all, I found this surprisingly entertaining if not especially well made. If you want something different, check this out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Day 86: Madhouse

Skipping forward in my Essential Horror book, I watched the 1974 Vincent Price/Peter Cushing joint called Madhouse. If ever a movie was meant to herald the retirement of its star, it is this one. Even though his last film wouldn't come until Edward Scissorhands, Vincent Price's storied career as a horror icon is reviewed and honored in this movie (even if the movie around these bits is kind of on the lame side).

Price stars as Peter Tooms, an actor who has portrayed the villainous Dr. Death (definitely based on Dr. Phibes) in a series of gory horror movies. As the film starts, Price has a spat with his fiance and she ends up decapitated. This leads to speculation that Price has gone insane. The movie picks up years later as Price is hired by a sleazy producer to make Dr. Death, the tv series, in London. Cushing is his long-time collaborator who hosts Price at his country manor and keeps a spider-last locked in his basement (long story). Once Price resumes playing Dr. Death, a bunch of murders start that are convenient for Price's career. So, once again, he is suspected. If you can't figure out the real killer just from reading this review, this movie might be too advanced for you.

The really interesting thing about this flick, to me, was seeing footage of older Price movies worked in. There are at least five instances where the narrative halts for someone to watch an old movie starring Price. I recognized The Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven amongst the movies being reviewed. As a retrospective of Price's impact on horror, this movie succeeds pretty well. As a self-contained thriller, it falls short despite a genuinely creepy ending. If you like your horror with a slice of cheese, try this out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Day 85: The Maze (Spoilers)

This is the first real turd in the punchbowl from my Essential Horror book. Made in 3-D in 1953, the Maze has a decent enough premise: A young man becomes Baronet of an ancient Scottish castle when his uncle dies and, after he leaves his fiance to see to his inheritance, he turns into a real prick. He cuts off contact with his beloved gal, who comes to find him in Scotland. He looks twenty years older and insists she leave. Through various sneaky means, she discovers there is an off-limits maze and everyone gets locked in their room at 11pm. Every night a weird dragging sound can be heard and then a light can be seen moving through the maze. The next day, the lady friend finds weird footprints on the stairs. What is her man hiding? Why is he being such a jerk? The answer will make you laugh, unfortunately.

As this movie is not widely available (I saw a rip of it on youtube), I am going to go ahead and tell you that every night, the staff of the house let out their real Baronet, a giant frog who has been alive since the 1700s. They take him to the maze because he likes to swim in the pond at the center. The Shining it ain't. The final fate of the giant frog is kind of sad but too goofy to get upset about. I feel like this movie could have been a great comedy if it didn't take itself so seriously.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Day 84: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Almost not sure how this is a horror movie but it is close enough to count. In fact, it is one of the best movies I have seen in this trip through Essential Horror. Firstly, it kind of stars George Sanders...who I know from All About Eve as an utter badass of dry British wit. Sanders is a wealthy Londoner who enjoys messing with people's heads. As soon as he meets young, eager, handsome Dorian Gray, he begins convincing him that youth is the most precious possession and pleasure is everything.

This new philosophy, plus a wish upon an Egyptian relic, leads Dorian to the situation wherein his portrait ages and shows his sins while his face remains young and unblemished. A young Angela Lansbury plays a singer in a dive bar who captures Dorian's heart. Donna Reed plays a later suitor. One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is that it is in black and white but shots of the portrait are in color.

After some unpleasantness with the girl of his dreams, Dorian drifts into a life of drugs and cheap sex, perhaps darker occult things. He dedicates himself to evil. All sorts of plot developments come up, from the painter learning his secret to the brother of his beloved seeking revenge on Dorian. The ending, while meant to be shocking is kind of humorous in that the portrait starts looking like a straight up crazy asshole by the end. I know it is meant to be riddled with VD and the ravages of drug addiction, but it looks like a Red Skelton character.

Anyway, really well written, well acted and keeps up a great pace. I would highly recommend.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Day 83: Cat People

I have heard about this movie for years (ever since the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror comic book did a parody) but never seen it until last night. Full disclosure: I take a medicine with dinner that makes me very sleepy. Cat People is so heavy on atmospherics and psychology instead of thrills that I sort of nodded off. When I went to read the entry about it in the Essential Horror book, they mentioned the swimming pool scene and I thought, "What swimming pool scene? Uh oh." I thought I had dozed for a couple of minutes but, rewatching this morning, I realized I had missed a huge chunk. Now that I have really seen it all, I feel prepared to comment on it.

The story is that a guy named Oliver Reed meets a foreign cutie named Irena Dubrovna at a zoo. He falls for her so hard he marries her without their ever having kissed. She comes from a village in Serbia where the locals were hardcore into Satan worshiping and witchcraft. After King John of Serbia cleaned up the village, the witches fled to the mountains and became cat people, somehow. Irena believes she is from a long line of people who can transform into cats and also believes that, if she gets too hot n heavy with anyone, she will tear them to pieces.

Of course, haven't we all felt like that at times? Like we might destroy anyone dumb enough to fall in love with us? Well, this makes the threat literal. Irena is obsessed with a panther at the zoo and even slips it a dead bird when she gets a chance. As Irena and Oliver's marriage stretches on with no physical contact, Oliver realizes he is in love with one of his best friends, a lady who is not afraid to get touchy. Most of the second act is Irena stalking and threatening Oliver's friend/new love. In the meantime, Irena has been seeing a shrink about her issues and he is being totes inappropriate with her as he gets a crush on her.

Lots of Freudian symbolism in the movie (keys, walking sticks, rulers) and subtle scare effects add up to a pretty creepy classic. I'm surprised it took me this long to watch. Things do eventually hit the fan and not all the characters make it out alive but this is one very ambitious horror movie from the 40s it is easy to like and set apart from the pack.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Day 82: Extinction

This was a cool little straight-to-video horror movie from a few years back. It starred Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) and Matthew Fox (Lost). Both are living in a post-apocalyptic future where a zombie plague has been halted by freezing temperatures. Donovan is raising a little girl but she is drawn to Matthew Fox's hermit character who lives nearby but never interacts with them.

The story of their lives is told in flashback as both were in love with the same woman and we keep getting a different idea of whose daughter the little girl is. This is the emotional underpinning of the story that starts getting scary when the zombies find a way to adapt to the cold and continue their rampage. The whole thing is pretty well-written and well-acted considering it probably had a very modest budget. You really feel the weight of the past holding these two former friends down and when they inevitably join forces to protect the girl, you can't help but root for them.

Another not bad little gem hiding out in a Redbox or Netflix queue near you.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Day 81: Henry- Portrait of a Serial Killer

This is a toughie, folks. It feels like a snuff film due to the tiny budget and realism of the action. Once you watch it, you will probably want to rinse your eyeballs in some comedy or something. As it stands, for a movie I've only seen once, it has stayed with me. A lot of these older movies I have to google to remind myself of the plot...not so much this one.

Michael Rooker (full disclosure: he bought my lunch one day) burst onto the movie scene with this relentlessly human depiction of a man capable of inhuman violence. Based on the real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, we follow Rooker and his partner, Otis (based on Otis Toole) as they roam the western states, terrorizing anyone they come into contact with. Whether it is rape, murder, rape then murder or the worst, murder then rape, these guys cover all the evil bases but you can't help see some good in Henry (not Otis, he is the broadest depiction of evil). Their shenanigans even lead to a scene that predates the found footage movement by showing their point of view as they torture and kill a family they have stumbled across. The only other real character in the movie is Otis's sister, Becky. She starts to get through Henry's sociopathic veneer but, can she show him the way to love in time to stop his murderous ways? Let's just say this is a grim movie.

So, if you are feeling bold and want to see some well performed horror, check this one out.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Day 80: Halloween H20

Halloween H20 is a weird beast of a movie in regards to series continuity. It was meant to make Halloween a trilogy even though it was the 7th movie in the series. Infamously, Halloween 3 has nothing to do with Michael Myers but the 4th through 6th movies were all about him. Halloween H20 takes the fourth through sixth movies out of cannon and picks up 20 years after the end of Halloween 2...got it?

Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her breakout role of Laurie Strode but this time, she has changed her identity and moved across the country to escape her crazy-ass brother. She is raising Josh Hartnett and dating Adam Arkin. There isn't much innovative or interesting about this movie besides the attempt to capture some of that Scream magic that was all the rage in the late 1990s. LL Cool J guest stars as a campus security guard who gets involved in the hunt for Myers once Myers tracks his sister down. I will say the one image that stayed with me from this movie was the final confrontation between Laurie and Michael. It was an attempt to definitively end the series that still didn't work (see Halloween Resurrection, or better yet, don't).

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Day 79: The Witch

This is a nice recent horror movie that gets me and what I like to see in genre films. Movies that leave you thinking are my favorite and this one made you meet it halfway with the subtitle: A New England Folk Tale. Folk Tales are usually cautionary tales that are specific to a locality. Like Urban Legends, they let you know the dangers of straying too far from the herd. The Witch is all about conformity and rebellion. A man moves his family outside the protections of a Christian township due to differences in their beliefs. They move to the edge of a forest that is said to be inhabited by a witch. When the newborn baby goes missing under the elder daughter's care, things start to unravel quickly.

I know a lot of people were put off by the ending (which I won't spoil here) but you have to imagine this as a story told around a campfire to keep the youngsters in line. "Don't shun your community or this could very well happen..." is the unspoken line of the storyteller here. That the movie was filled with wonderful ambiguity before that is just walking that tight rope of "will this people end up ok?"

I had a slight problem with the thickness of the accents at times, but closed captioning remedied that. Otherwise, if you like slow-burn horror, this is the movie for you. Tell em Black Peter sent ya.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Day 78: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Tap dancing all around the original Dracula this week. This entry is all about the Francis Ford Coppola movie that was meant to be more "accurate" somehow even though it integrated a lot of material that wasn't in the novel. Coppola chose to really focus on Dracula as Vlad the Impaler and his participation in the Crusades. It also features Keanu Reeves hurting himself to try a British accent.

First of all, Gary Oldman is inspired as Dracula. He plays him old and young and monstrous and romantic. You've got one of my favorites, Winona Ryder, as the dead ringer for Vlad's love interest. Anthony Hopkins brings the gravitas as Van Helsing. It is just unfortunate that Keanu has to carry the beginning of the movie as the ill-fated Jonathan Harkness.

The history of Dracula section also sticks out as a weakness to me. I would rather not know all his backstory but that was Coppola's decision. Your own mileage may vary. In the end, when you get to the meat of the story (Dracula in London), things maintain a pretty high quality. The uneven nature of the movie makes it hard to flat out recommend but, if you've never seen it you might like it more than I did.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Day 77: The Devil Bat

Another from the Essential Horror collection, this one is a Bela Lugosi-filled delight. In this tale, Lugosi stars as a town doctor who runs experiments on the side in enlarging bats using electricity. He then trains the bats to kill when they smell a specific odor that he has placed in a shaving lotion and given to his enemies. After a few murders, the town is on edge about the gigantic bat that flies around ripping people's necks out. A reporter and his photographer are allowed to actually assist in the police investigation for some reason.

Lugosi has this running gag of saying goodbye when others tell him goodnight if he is planning on their death. He is also easily goaded into confession, making him not that bright a villain. At any rate, despite the effects being kind of low rent, the movie pulls off a decent story.The giant bats are especially disheartening. They almost hang a lampshade on it by building a subplot where the photographer creates a fake Devil Bat that still has a "Made In Japan" sticker on it.

Lugosi is sufficiently creepy/concerned where needed. The square jawed hero is wise cracking enough to be endearing. There is an awkward moment where a young suitor to the female lead asks if they can announce their engagement that night and she says, "But I love you like a brother." Seems like it should have come up before. Oh well. If you want an old school creature feature on step away from MST3k, try this out.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Day 76: The Ballad of Black Tom

Just finished my first book of the year and it was a gift from a good friend of mine. I can't help but think he sent it as a corrective to my poor attempt to write a Lovecraft homage a few years ago. This novel, by Victor LaValle, is a quick read but also, excellent. The first half of the book focuses on Tom Tester, a black musician (who can't sing to save his life) who is hired by a mysterious man to play at a party. Of course, nothing is that simple in the world of Lovecraft homage. Tester has to care for his ailing father, try to earn money without any real talent, dodge police and private detectives as well as the wrath of a woman he double-crossed by stealing a magic book for her that was missing the last page.

Although short, the novel balances all these storylines pretty well (the woman with the stolen book was not given sufficient space, I felt, to make her threat seem real). Midway through, Tom undergoes a transformation and the novel shifts perspectives to Malone, a police officer in New York. The book loses some urgency when it steps away from Tom, as his experiences as a black man in 1900s New York are riveting.

There is an epic, gory conclusion that strikes all the right notes. If you like Lovecraft and want to see homage done right, this is a fine example.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Day 75: The Mummy's Hand

Another pull from my Essential Horror book, I have broken my own rules of watching in order as I can't locate a copy of The Walking Dead from 1936. I went ahead and entered the 1940s today with The Mummy's Hand.

Mummy movies really are better as adventure stories than horror, per se. In this one, an amateur archeologist (in the Indiana Jones mode of two-fisted justice) and his con man pal attempt to find the jewel-filled tomb of Ananka. Unfortunately, there is a death cult and an angry Mummy waiting to stop them. The cult are the bad guys for most of the running time, listening in on and sabotaging most of the plans of the hero. By the end, the Mummy is in position to gain ultimate power or something and a few minutes are devoted to stopping him.

I was taken aback by how much comedy was in this. The con artist friend, Babe, and the financier of the expedition (a magician named Solvani) are both pretty funny characters in that gentle, 1940s kind of way. There are a few times the Hayes Code intervenes, seemingly. When a woman brandishes a pistol there is some ADR saying it is a fake pistol ( although it seems to make real holes in a door just a few minutes later) and a major character was obviously meant to die but turns up fine in the end. Hell, I was surprised that the handful who do die were allowed to when you think of how bloodless movies were back then.

Anyway, not a bad flick, it made for a good Saturday morning creature feature.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Day 74: 28 Weeks Later

Welcome to my Friday the 13th edition of Halloween 365. Today another sequel popped up on the old "random horror list." For a long time, I told people I liked 28 Weeks Later more than 28 Days Later, even though the latter is widely thought to be a revolutionary horror movie. I think the reason I claimed 28 Weeks and maybe still do, is the emotional heft of the characters. As thrilling as 28 Days Later was, I never felt much emotional attachment to Cillian Murphy's main guy. By making a family the center of the action in the sequel, I cared more about what was going on.

Oh, in case you don't know, this is the follow up to the movie that gave us "fast zombies" for the first time. They aren't technically undead in these movies but rather, infected with the Rage virus that makes them want to tear other people apart. 28 Weeks Later picks up after the military has regained control of Britain by sectioning off whole neighborhoods and letting the infected die out from starvation.

After a widely hailed opening sequence where Robert Carlyle has to abandon his wife to the infected, the movie becomes one of those "can you take these kids?" endurance tests. Carlyle's son and daughter want to go back into the infected zone to search their old house. Doing so creates a chain reaction that endangers all of the world. I didn't mind the kids in this, probably because they are from the UK and that goes a long way.

Idris Elba, Jeremy Renner, Imogen Poots and Rose Byrne are quite good in this. It caught quite a few people during the upswing of their careers. The director hasn't been very prolific but I think he did a fine job taking over for Danny Boyle. Exciting and moving, I would say this is worth a watch.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Day 73: The Roost

This post is all about the directorial debut of a mostly consistent horror director, Ti West. While his House of the Devil and Innkeepers are two of my favorite horror movies, he came out of the gate with tongue firmly planted in cheek on The Roost.

Tom Noonan is kind of in the movie in that he is a late night horror movie host whose show bookends (and in one memorable case, interrupts) the movie we are watching. As usual, he is a lot of fun but don't expect much from his performance in regards to time on screen. The bulk of the movie is about four friends trying to get to a wedding when a car accident leaves them looking for help. They stumble upon a seemingly abandoned barn that is filled with bats. Beyond just the normal flying vermin problems, these bats can turn you into a zombie. And so, the stage is set for the usual deaths and attempts to outwit a flock of bats.

As homage, this movie is spot on. It recalls 80s schlock horror pretty well and could easily have been a creature feature movie on late night UHF channels. As an actual horror movie...well...not so strong. The characters aren't entirely there and that makes tension or suspense slacker than it should be. West could go on to strong character work in his later movies but this was an entertaining first step. I could give this a solid C.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Day 72: Werewolves

This is the latest entry in my series "Why Are They Scary?"

Of course, Werewolves frighten on a purely animal level wherein you try to keep yourself from getting ripped apart by fangs and claws as much as possible. On an entirely different level, the werewolf is a handy psychological shorthand for the beast inside us all. Like the Incredible Hulk, we each have a raging hellbeast trapped inside us that occasionally comes out in the form of snide comments, passive aggression or "accidental" traffic violations. For the worst of us, it comes out in domestic abuse, breaking things and other violence.

Michael Chabon has a short story collection called "Werewolves in Their Youth" and it is mainly about using werewolves as metaphors for the evil inside us all. It is a pretty great collection (including the story "Son of the Wolfman" in which a rape victim decides to keep her baby) and I would recommend it.  For all the hue and cry over evolution not being real, our ancestors (superstitious as they were) could see the animal side in our actions and conclude that we had grown in time to quell those base impulses.

Either way you slice it, as an external monster lurking in the bushes to rip you apart or as an internal struggle to control your base urges, the werewolf is  a formidable monster and my personal favorite.
For good portrayals of werewolves, check out the TV show Werewolf and the movie Dog Soldiers (to be reviewed at some point this year).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Day 71: Friday the 13th, Part 3

If you're wondering, I won't be covering every single entry in the Friday the 13th series, only my favorites. Part 3 is pretty much a triumph of 3-D filmmaking and watching the movie in 2-D is kind of hilarious. This is also the first movie in the series where Jason dons his famous hockey mask disguise. That's right...it took three movies!

An injured Jason spends the first half of the movie licking his wounds in the small town around Crystal Lake. A girl named Chris and her group of friends descend on her family's lakeside cabin. The usual hilarity ensues. The fun comes from all the moments an object is shoved right into the camera in order to goose the 3-D. For example, an old man gives the kids a warning about being near the lake but it ends with him shaking what looks like an eyeball directly into the camera. Other objects that end up at the front of the frame include a harpoon gun, rat and yo-yo. It is pretty much a must see movie if you like awkward staging.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Day 70: Mad Love

This is an entry from my Essential Horror book. Mad Love was Peter Lorre's first American movie after years climbing the European ladder of stardom (most notably with the excellent "M"). This one is actually a retelling of The Hands of Orlac from the point of view of the mad scientist who gets the whole ball rolling. Whereas the original followed Orlac slowly going insane, this one shows all the machinations of Dr. Gogol as he tries to steal Orlac's wife away (a motivation I don't recall from the original).

It starts with Orlac's wife performing at the Grand Guignol in Paris. If this was a real thing, and I'm pretty sure it was, I would have loved it. It was like Medieval Times for Horror fans. People would buy tickets to see torture re-enactments. There were waxworks and the the employees all dressed like demons. Dr. Gogol has been buying an expensive box seat every night to watch Orlac's wife perform. He even buys her wax statue when he learns they are throwing it out.

I must say, the plot makes less sense this way. Orlac's father has a much diminished role and the bit about the killer having his head re-attached just doesn't play because you immediately know it is Lorre under the disguise. Still, his sweaty, greasy performance is pretty wonderful and makes you feel super creeped out no matter how sympathetic the script tries to make him.

All in all, Mad Love is just ok.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Day 69: The Dead Room

This was a recent watch during my horrorthon. This is a riff on the classic haunted house story. It starts with the audio only of a family fleeing in terror from...something...in the house. A group of paranormal researchers (two older guys and a young girl) show up to see if they can find evidence of the supernatural. The leader of the group has a theory on how to destroy ghosts using subsonic frequencies, so it even swerves into ghostbusters territory a bit.

Here you get lots of ghostly footsteps and slamming doors but also pretty violent poltergeist interactions where the ghost is trying to injure people. The investigators figure out there is a "dead room" at the back of the house where the ghost won't go. Whenever they get menaced, they race back to it like a panic room and this seems to repeat a couple of times in the movie.

The motivations for sticking around become less and less clear as their lives become more and more threatened but, mostly, it holds together. Of course, there is a big twist at the end but it takes forever to play out. This is one of those features that really could have been a short film and had greater impact. I would put this one as mediocre at best.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Day 68: The Ghoul

Boy oh boy, if any movie could be prescribed as a sleep aid, it is this. I fell asleep watching this on three separate occasions. I finally made it through last night. It might be the heavy thudding soundtrack that repeats forever, putting one in a somnambulistic state. The movie itself isn't bad, actually.

Boris Karloff is a professor of antiquities getting ready to die. He has spent his life savings buying a jewel that will grant him eternal life if Anubis accepts it as an offering, after he is dead. So, Karloff gets the jewel taped to his hand, has a tomb built with an Anubis statue in it and has the key left inside the tomb so he can get out after he is resurrected. Meanwhile, an oddball cast is assembling in the rest of the film. Karloff's two heirs (bickering distant cousins so are also the love interests in the movie), his very Scottish manservant, his weaselly lawyer, a local do-gooder priest and a dangerous member of a religious cult all want the jewel Karloff was buried with for various reasons (mostly money).

Sure enough, Karloff emerges from his tomb on the night of the first full moon after he is buried. After killing the chauffeur of the cult member, he gets into his old house where the rest of the cast is gathered (also included is the female cousin's roommate, a man-hungry goofball). Now, I thought, here is a recipe for a great horror movie. All these distinct characters in this gloomy mansion being offed one by one by Karloff.

Unfortunately, he doesn't kill anyone else. He just lurks and scares people until he gets his jewel back. It isn't until the last ten minutes, set back at his tomb, that things get exciting. All the parties collide and everyone who is dangerous makes their play against the others. The last ten minutes almost make up for the interminable second act of mindlessly moving pieces around the board.

I won't spoil anything but I was kind of surprised by some of the plot developments at the conclusion. This is a fun movie that should probably be watched when wide awake and not after any heavy meals.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Day 67: Disturbing Behavior

This is one is a trip in the wayback machine for me. I saw this in college, I think, which has been a minute. Katie Holmes was well before her Tom Cruise drama and James "Cyclops" Marsden was in this, I guess? I mainly remember it because Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger was a single on the soundtrack and was super catchy.

So what is this movie about? I had to read a refresher but it all came back to me anyway, a group of alterna-teens in Washington start getting turned into perfect, wholesome teens by their parents and a mad scientist by the name of Caldicott. James Marsden and Katie Holmes have to outwit and out fight all their classmates and all the adults in the community (with the exception of Good Will Hunting hidden-genius janitor William Sadler). A lot of teens are killed. In fact, I remember this being a pretty dark movie. It was marketed to people just slightly younger than me at the time and I wonder how it holds up in people's minds who saw it in high school. The whole "wanting to fit in by being different" thing still resonates with me as it was my own strategy for the first two years of high school. The other selling point of this was it's director, X-Files alum David Nutter.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Day 66: Darkness

This is a little seen ditty from 2002 that features Anna Paquin and Lena Olin. It was shot in Spain and features mostly Spanish actors. The beginning is kind of rote as it features a family moving into a new home and experiencing strange things. The father starts going mad, the son starts seeing things in the shadows...so far, so Amityville Horror or the Shining. Like both those movies, the protagonist (in this case, Anna Paquin) figures out that the house was used for bizarre and evil rituals. There are a few clever twists on a prophetic ritual that must be completed in order for a dark power to rise in the world.

I remember going to see this one in the theater for some reason and not being terribly impressed by it. I haven't returned to it since but something about it has lingered in my mind for the 15 years it has been since I saw it. I remember Paquin being kind of a non-entity and Lena Olin being as good as ever (whatever happened to her?). I remember it had kind of a bummer ending but then again, outside of the Hayes Code productions, few true horror movies end well for the protagonists.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Day 65: Frankenstein

I promise I am not intentionally stacking all these oldies here, this is totally the luck of the random number generator. This post is about the original Frankenstein movie and maybe the monster, too. I started watching another Karloff movie last night, The Ghoul, which I will review in a few days. I realized just how charismatic his performances are. Even the most staid, stale, dusty beginnings of a horror movie are enlivened by his performance. Frankenstein, of course, made him a big star of horror. His departure from the book version is kind of fascinating because it feels like he thought through what it means to be made of dead men. His movements are jerky and forced, like rigor mortis has set in and won't let go. When he becomes reanimated, we have to assume his blood starts pumping again but all those necrotic tissues wouldn't really bounce back would they?

Also, his vocalizations are all grunts and groans as if playing a deaf made who hadn't heard himself speak in years. He can't make his body or vocal chords do what he wants. Likewise, his abnormal brain is constantly rebelling against what he wants to do. Fun times with kids become drowning parties. Lighting a few matches turns into a full-on freak out. And really, as Monster Squad had it pegged, the monster isn't even a villain. It has no real evil about it, just a childlike simplicity that makes it irrational and uncontrollable. Really the villain here is Dr. Frankenstein, who lives to cause more problems with more golems in the future. But again, and really, the show here is Karloff bringing the monster to life.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Day 64: Haxan

Oddly, this silent era horror movie popped up in my natural rotation for today even though I haven't seen it in years. It certainly fits in with all these other classics I am covering. Haxan is sort of a documentary about Witchcraft but it is mostly known for some horrific visuals of Black Masses and other dalliances with the Devil.

Released in the 1920s out of Scandinavia, the movie's silent origins help it tremendously since only title cards have to be changed. As the movie explores the workings of Witchcraft, it plays up the idea of women cavorting with demons and wrecking havoc on their communities. It has been years since I saw this, mind you but I recall there being an educational slant to it. Like, "these are the mental illnesses most likely confused with witchcraft." Of course, even back in the 1920s, we still didn't know much about female mental illness beyond "hysteria." Again, not a terribly scary movie but the visuals will stick with you for awhile.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Day 63: Vampyr

Still chugging through the 1930s, I finally saw this near-silent classic on New Year's Eve. It is very dreamlike (in fact the subtitle is something like The Dream of Allan Grey) and the first forty minutes or so are very slow and disorienting. A young man in the countryside of Europe stops at an inn where an old man busts into his room with a vague warning about "not letting her die." Before the night is through, Allan (or David, in some translations) is caught up with a household that may be under attack from a local vampire, as well as a kind of rapey old doctor. Allan has a handy book that tells him all about the history of vampires in this small town that almost provides some narrative logic on which a viewer can hang his hat. Mostly, though, it is creepy images (like a one-legged soldier whose shadow moves independently of his body) and unsettling performances that give this movie its power.

The movie, while putting me into a sort of half-awake state myself, also inspired me to jot down some ideas for a short horror movie I would like to make myself. I realized from this how much mileage you can get out of fairly simple things like supposedly locked doors slowly opening in the night, etc. I can't say the pacing of this movie is for everyone and it is definitely more on the artsy side of things. Still, if the imagery and tone of a movie mean a lot to you, check this one out.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Day 62: White Zombie

Continuing to burn through old horror, I finally saw White Zombie, the movie that gave Rob Zombie a band name. Much like the Island of Lost Souls, which came out the same year, it seems to be about white colonialism and the horrors of a workforce upraising. Unlike Moreau's animal men, Bela Lugosi's Murder (that's his damn name) has figured out a way to fake people's deaths and bring them back as obedient zombies.

The plot is really weird. A couple getting married are invited to a rich guy's house in Haiti where they are promised a wedding ceremony and the male is promised a top of the line job. Turns out the rich guy just wants the girl for himself and he turns to Murder (the guy, not the act) at the last possible minute to somehow get the girl. Murder can only do so much and the best he can offer is to fake the girl's death and bring her back as a zombie. This turns out not to fun for anyone involved.

The despondent groom teams up with a local priest to figure out what is going on with all these island zombies. By the end, chaos reigns. Lugosi does a great job cranking it up to eleven here. The supporting cast are all a little flat and boring but it helps to contrast with the evil shenanigans of the zombies. I will say, the sound design in the sugar mill scene was nerve shredding.