Not a prominent member of our cinematic society, the golem is. Despite being a consistent source of early Germanic films, mostly under the creative guidance of Paul Wegener, the stone protector has been generally cast off, perhaps because his identity is couched in a specific cultural background. Frankenstein’s monster is a universal (and Universal) concept, but the golem will always be referred to at one point or another as hero of the Jews. Interesting then to see it in a decidedly British production, with the only chosen one in sight being the helpful but ominous rabbi who supplies history and caution in equal measure. And an odd bird IT! (1967) is, starring Roddy McDowall as a wispy curator whose fragile psychosis is given a swift power kick when he discovers the secrets to awakening and controlling his newly acquired museum piece. The movie truly lies on McDowall’s shoulders, for as deliciously fruit-loopy as it can be, the film would probably be far less interesting and definitely less engrossing if it were not for the actor’s capable skill in turning his megalomaniac momma’s boy from a one-note caricature into a sensitively portrayed weirdo who for all his eccentricities and derangement is still identifiable as a human being. The scene of McDowall tearfully relinquishing his hold on the behemoth is surprisingly touching. Other than that, this one has enough splashes of madness to hold the viewer’s attention. Most prominently: McDowall’s mummified mother who he carries on conversations with; the golem shaking a bridge to the ground and calmly stalking back to the getaway car; McDowall lighting a screaming old woman on fire; and our anti-hero’s eventual demise by nuclear warhead. Also suggested for fun parties: taking shots any time macho hero Paul Maxwell utters a line of homoerotic dialogue.
I tend to be an anthology apologist (also known as an anthologist), but with even that slight bias in mind there’s enough to be gained from this shiny-faced portmanteau that is thankfully and generally free of any of the self-referential smarminess that proliferated Gen Y horror in the wake of SCREAM (1996). CAMPFIRE TALES–which is not the one with Gunnar Hansen narrating spooky stories to some kids or the one with David Johansen narrating spooky stories to some kids–uses urban myth as its bedrock, giving little twists to tales that will be all-too familiar to any self-respecting horror hound who thumbed through their share of ghost books as a youngster. The majority of the vignettes are competent, each helmed by a different director and featuring a host of “What ever happened to them?” personalities, with only “The Honeymoon” delving into some Idiot Plot contrivances that entail slaughtering the Helpful Ethnic character when he uselessly stomps around the forest immediately after warning a pair of newlyweds to stay in their RV until sunrise if they want to keep their skin. Truly unnerving in moments is the second story, “People Can Lick Too,” especially as it pits twelve-year-old Alex McKenna against a garden shear-wielding pedophile who sneaks into the girl’s home after posing as a friendly member of an online chat room. Those who are sensitive when it comes to staged animal deaths–particularly that of friendly house pets–are advised to use caution here. “The Locket” is a hoary old chestnut outfitted with new time-warp duds that do little to unnecessarily mask what the creative team must have thought was a goofy stinger, but it’s nice to see it played straightfacedly for the duration. Binding these stories together is a lark of an opener that plays up on that ol’ saw “The Hook” and a wraparound involving the teenagers who are spinning this trio of yarns after they have a close call on the nighttime highway. The punchline of this grim joke is refreshingly delivered, one that takes the time to wink at the audience but is nonetheless played for its inherent tragedy, asking its brash, handsome lead to look into the faces of his friends and confront the gravity of his actions. Now that’s scary.
I got the opportunity once again to participate in Dementia von Grimm’s 31 Days of Horror series, this time tackling the 2012 documentary THE AMERICAN SCREAM, a charmingly told account of three families who put their all in turning their happy homes into hellish haunts every Halloween night. It’s a great watch to get you in the proper mood for the season, and it comes highly recommended from yours truly.
That being said, this go around with the Google Hangout app didn’t quite pan out so smoothly, as there was a duration of time when our hostess disappeared from the podcast into some unknown void (probably the same one where Carol Anne and the sandworms hang out). What resulted is several minutes of myself and co-host Boris chuckling awkwardly at each other and fruitlessly trying to restart the conversation. It’s raw, uncomfortable confusion at its finest, so don’t miss it!
Perhaps most popularly known as the director who was inevitably replaced by Mario Bava on I VAMPIRI (1957) and CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959), Riccardo Freda did helm a number of genre pictures that have gained a respectable cult following in the intervening years. Today’s film (original title THE TERRIBLE SECRET OF DR. HICHCOCK) is one of these, and a fine-looking number it is by any standard. One of the many Gothic chillers that proliferated in Italy during the better part of the 60s, HICHCOCK tells the tale of the eponymous surgeon whose first wife Margherita dies from an overdose of a drug that induces catatonia. It seems the good doctor Bernard has a particular predilection for petrified ladies, which is bad news for new wife Barbara Steele as she finds the specter of Margherita presiding over the shadowy mansion and Bernard growing increasingly weary of his new maiden’s liveliness. Freda’s film boasts some marvelous set pieces, namely the pictured scene of Steele awaking in a VAMPYR-style casket, and a sumptuous color palette that is a visual treat for the eyes. It’s late night horrorshow viewing that hits all the right notes to make it a perfect comfort watch for the genre fan who likes their bosoms to be heaving and their candelabra flickering by a bitterly cold wind. Even if the climactic revelation that Margherita is alive and well (and living in Italy) as a veiled corpse hungry for youth-restoring blood seems shoehorned in at the last minute, it’s all part and parcel of the archly-stylized, hyper-kinetic fun of the piece. The moniker of our villainous physician is no mere throwaway either; keep an eye out for a poisoned glass of milk that shows echoes of SUSPICION (1941).
Few things warm the cockles of my heart more than a period setting in a horror film, especially when we find ourselves in Merry Olde England, all starched collars and guttering candle flames and crisp accents and more bristling chops than you can shake a silk top hat at. For these reasons alone CORRIDORS OF BLOOD–cheap-sounding in name only, as the film got the prestigious Criterion treatment–was sure to stir loving tingles in my bosom, but that it should star that great King of Terror Boris Karloff and the simmering malevolence of Christopher Lee as Victorian boogeyman Resurrection Joe only made it a more wonderful occasion. (For viewers who crave the same kind of thrills, you can’t go wrong with THE BODY SNATCHER  either, but you should know that by now.) In truth, this Richard Gordon-produced picture is just barely a horror story; the argument could even be made that it isn’t one at all. Physician Thomas Bolton desperately wants to create an anesthetic that will relieve his suffering patients the pain of surgery and amputation. Any expectations that the tale will become a remixing of the Jekyll and Hyde formula with Karloff’s dark side being awakened by his tampering with medical drugs are dashed as it becomes apparent there will be no moony-eyed mad doctors found here. The literate script forgoes any monstrous melodramatics to show us the classic tragical arc of man’s best intentions leading him into a pit of self-absorption, addiction, and obsession that results in his ultimate doom… and, later, reverence by the world, even if it is only after death. There is also an appropriately Dickensian slant to the story, especially in the final act that finds the den of cutthroats infiltrated by the law and Francis De Wolff’s ringleader meeting a gnarlier end than even ol’ Bill Sikes did at the end of his makeshift noose.
And now for something completely different….
In more ways than one, incidentally. Not only is the subject of discussion today the highly unconventional, mind-bending mutant of the arthouse and exploitation camps that the world knows as Andrzej Żuławski’s POSSESSION (1981), but the format in which our review will be delivered has been changed up as well. Joining forces with mighty cosplayer Dementia von Grimm and Patrick Hawkins of The Geeks of Comedy for Demmie’s 31 Days of Horror countdown, I showed my cretinous face for the camera to discuss this one-of-a-kind film that divided, confounded, and generally irritated us viewers.
Watch the video below to get the full scoop.
You know what’s another great locale for shuddersome stories? Submarines. Playing on all the same fears as the ones that plagued our ladies of the cave in THE DESCENT (2005), David Twohy’s slick, under-the-radar film benefits greatly from its submerged war station, pitting iron-willed men buckling under (water) pressure against an intangible threat they cannot cope with or comprehend. Like the traumatized veterans of war, the cast of BELOW are haunted by past acts that they can never forget, no matter how many fathoms deep they remain. The script, a collaborative effort between David Twohy, Lucas Sussman, and Darren Aronofsky, is actually quite cohesive and there’s an overall wholesomeness to the story and the performances of the cast that is singular for a post-millennium picture. It feels at times like an artifact from an earlier, simpler time, appropriate given that it concerns the relations of an American crew and the British survivors they pick up at sea during World War II as they try to face the possibility that there may be restless spirits aboard their vessel. What’s especially old-fashioned about the movie is its approach to the supernatural. Fleeting faces are glimpsed in the metal bulwark, whispering voices are just barely heard over the hum of machinery, reflections move of their own volition. Don’t let the musical stings littered throughout fool you; this is a story that’s more intent on making you ask “Did I just see that?” than trying to scare you out of your skin. This objective is epitomized no more clearly than in a sequence that would have been exploited by Hollywood for its maximum shock factor but is here delivered quietly. The fact that the film can wipe out two-thirds of its cast without a single thing being said to the audience before we see the horrific aftermath makes me wish that David Twohy would make more movies other than another CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK sequel.