Kbatz: The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again for April

 

The Oblong Box Along and Scream and Scream Again Dated, but All in Good Fun

By Kristin Battestella

 

The Vincent Price fest is never over, so along comes The Oblong Box and its double bill with Scream and Scream Again. Though not as special as some of Price’s previous Poe and Corman collaborations, this duet celebrates not one horror master, but two. Vincent Price, meet Christopher Lee.

Julian Markham (Price) has returned from his family’s African plantation with his cursed and deformed brother Edward (Alister Williamson) – who Julian keeps locked in an upstairs room. Despite the mysterious behaviors at his estate, Julian hopes to marry the young and beautiful Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer). The Markham lawyers Samuel Trench (Peter Arne, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Mark Norton (Carl Rigg, Marked Personal), however, plot Edward’s escape and cure along with African witchdoctor N’Galo (Harry Baird, The Italian Job). Unfortunately, Edward is accidentally buried alive in their scheme. Once rescued by Dr. Neuhart (Christopher Lee) and his grave robbers, the masked Edward romances the pretties and plots his revenge.

 

He may be top-billed, but there’s not as much of our beloved, over the top Vincent Price (The Tomb of Ligeia, House of Usher) in 1969’s The Oblong Box. Although he’s less than a decade removed from the early success of American International Pictures’ Poe series, Price looks a little old for his leading lady Elizabeth. Fortunately, outside of these quibbles, there’s still plenty to love. Julian looks the worn, conflicted English noble. Can he dare to hope while he’s also walking a deadly line of guilt and destruction? Price makes the most of his given scenes, both as a disturbed brother and a charming husband. Again Hilary Dwyer (Wuthering Heights, Hadleigh) seems a little young, but this works in her tender relationship and naivety with Julian. Likewise, Sally Gleeson (Bless This House) looks and acts the pretty -if a little naughty-maid.

Hammer Horror alum and Lord of the Rings veteran Christopher Lee also doesn’t have as creepy a role as I might have liked, but his mad doctor is a high brow mad doctor. He pays slick swindlers to steal the bodies of the recently deceased for his research, but Neuhart does his doctoring while wearing a silk tie and waistcoat. He gets down and dirty with cadavers in the name of science, but Neuhart objects to Edward’s blackmail and murderous revenge. There isn’t much time for this stylized ambiguity in The Oblong Box, but Lee’s presence and voice command your attention in all his scenes.

 

Price, yes, Lee, lovely- but The Oblong Box is Alister Williamson’s (The Abdominal Mr. Phibes) picture. Yes, the masked man who’s true face you never even see and who the voice was actually dubbed steals this picture. It would have been intriguing for Price to play both brothers-or even Lee take a turn under the crimson hood- but the voice and style of both men are too easily recognized. Williamson and his Edward are mysterious, unknown. What does he look like under that hood? We know he’s been wronged and wants to see Edward find justice, but how far will his revenge go? Which side of the law is he on -and why do the ladies find him so irresistible? This is England, 1865 as only 1969 could recreate. Williamson gives Edward charm and tenderness with some ladies, then rapacious violence with others. He’s naughty, nice, misunderstood, and vengeful-not bad for our unknown, unseen, and unheard actor, eh?

The cast keeps The Oblong Box charming, but this very loosely Poe inspired adaptation from Lawrence Huntington (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents) and Christopher Wicking (Murders in the Rue Morgue) isn’t as strong as it could be. Director Gordon Hessler (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) spends too much time on the stereotypical mistreatment of colonial Africa and blaxploitation-like zooms and voodoo montages. If you want to talk about the unjusts of slavery, set the entire picture in Africa and let the actors go to their scary depths.

 

Thankfully, the visual mix of the sixties and Victorian styles ties The Oblong Box together. The color and costumes are great even though Americans might be a little confused by the English style. When we see 1865 on tombstones, we think hoop skirts and Civil War extravagance ala Gone with the Wind. Here, however, the ladies “be-bustled” in a more mid to late 1880s style. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of bawdy English taverns and cleavage bearing working girls. The outdoor locations are also a treat, and there are even a few daytime graveside scenes- a rarity in these old horror flicks.

The Oblong Box isn’t perfect, but there are a few filmmaking strides here, too. The early, up close, claustrophobic deaths are from the askew killer’s point of view. We want to look away, but can’t. Despite the story’s thin execution, the charm and classic stylings of the cast win out -along with the mystery at hand. We can’t help but watch just to see if our hooded killer is caught and unmasked. Freaky faces, scares, voodoo, and violence -we just can’t help ourselves, can we?

Thankfully, Hessler, Wicking, Price, and Lee reunited the following year for 1970’s Scream and Scream Again. Who could they possibly add to up the horror ante? Why, Peter Cushing, of course!

 

 

Superintendent Bellavur (Alfred Marks, Albert and Victoria) and fellow officer Sylvia (Judy Huxtable, The Touchables) investigate a string of vampire murders. Each victim has ties to local scientist Dr. Browning (Price) and his nurse Jane (Uta Levka). Before Bellavur and morgue assistant David (Christopher Matthews, Scars of Dracula) can solve the case, Intelligence commissioner Fredmont (Lee) must strike a deal with torturous foreign dictator Konratz (Marshall Jones, Crossroads), who wants the files detailing the vampire case. Konratz has overstepped Major Benedek (Cushing) and taken control of a very grim conspiracy that has its subjects screaming and screaming some more.

 

Vincent Price is another year older now, and his old style presence and charisma is a little out of place amid fast-paced Brit coppers. The juxtaposition of all these young go-go folks would make Price seem past his prime -even though we know he has another thirty years of solid work ahead of him. His scenes are few and far between, but his Dr. Browning is so slick. He proves his worth against the hip stylings with suave answers for our detectives and high Frankenstein ideals. He’s a mad scientist with the best of intentions and Price leads us to Scream and Scream Again’s big finish. If the body stealing doctor with the vat of acid isn’t our bad guy, that’s scary.

Well, our man Dracula, aka Christopher Lee, as a good guy police minister-surely this can’t be? Again, there’s not nearly enough of him in Scream and Scream Again, but it’s a treat to see Lee young, modern, besuited and fedora wearing! Fremont has all the lines and politicking needed, using Konratz and Browning to his advantage. Who will come out on top? Who’s really behind all our slim and shady? In the end, Lee’s dominating presence is delightful, as is the freaky style of Uta Levka, another alum from The Oblong Box. This nurse’s devoid eyes and lack of lines would make any patient shudder.

 

Fellow Hammer Horror veteran and Sherlock Holmes star Peter Cushing doesn’t appear for the first half hour, but it’s no surprise that he would be the Major in charge of a Nazi-esque dictatorship successfully taking over a small European country. Unfortunately, his suave class and control over such ugly business is all too brief for Scream and Scream Again. I don’t know who the rest of the people here are and I really don’t care -and it seems the marketing folks who put Price, Lee, and Cushing in bold print knew that. Don’t Wicking and Hessler realize we can handle Price, Lee, and Cushing at the same time-nay we want to see them, we have to see them, we need to see them in more than these briefities! Forget the teenyboppers and bell-bottoms already!

It’s annoying and misleading, yes, as it has little to do with the film; but you have to admit Scream and Scream Again is a crafty title. There’s a nice chase sequence ala Bond as well, but is this so titled flick hip action or horror? Scream and Scream Again has a very interesting concept of realistic, multiple storylines amid scares and fast pacing. Unfortunately, the non-linear and jumpy approach disjoints and unravels any strides made. Each story could have been its own film, and each isn’t given its full deserving depths here. The swanky 1970 music and British contemporary style are very dated now. Scream and Scream Again might have been served better as a traditional period piece, but that probably wouldn’t have worked with Peter Saxon’s source novel. Fans of the cast’s other horror work might feel a little alienated by these vague thoughts on science and conspiracy, and Scream and Scream Again spends too much of its time trying to be hip and avant-garde with its pop music and interweaving trio of storylines.

 

I’ve been critical of the dated styles and misdirection of Scream and Scream Again because it’s a lost opportunity to do something really spectacular with our trio of horror masters. Having said that, it is still a scary and freaky film-psychotic and experimental doctors, cops chasing pseudo-vampire killers, maniacal governments torturing its subjects. When you look at Scream and Scream Again like that, well, then any fan of old school horror should be all for it!

Although these double billed DVDs are an affordable, quick and easy bang for your buck; most of them are a little older, and often double sided. It’s kind of a pain to flip the disc, but it’s better to have these gems digitally restored than not at all. (Insert rant here about how half the films made before 1950 no longer exist and that all the classics that aren’t available on DVD should be restored before any more Disney Direct to Video drivel comes out, thank you.) There are subtitles here at least if no features beyond trailers. What’s really unfortunate for Prince and Lee fans? Their next collaboration with Peter Cushing-and John Carradine- 1983’s House of the Long Shadows, is not available on DVD. Thankfully, The Oblong Box is viewable online.

Though seriously flawed and imperfect by modern standards, both The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again make for a fun night of horror and camp. Both may be too bawdy or uninteresting for the kids, but horror enthusiasts and fans of the cast can have a fun, quick marathon for Halloween or any time of the year.

Kbatz: Lady Horrors!

Frightening Flix

 

Lady Horrors!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Because new, retro, foreign, zombies or witches – we all need some more ladies in our horror!

 

The House of the Devil – Creepy menus, cult statistics, and retro credits start this 2009 blu-ray featuring Jocelin Donahue (The Burrowers), Dee Wallace (The Howling), and Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000). Payphones, eighties rhythms, and old fashioned style add period flair alongside onscreen smoking, maps, feathered hair, and a big old cabinet television showing Night of the Living Dead. Even the giant Walkman and slightly corny music montage and dance about the house has a purpose in the narrative. Church bells, cemeteries, and an imminent eclipse lay the scary foundation, and rather than an opening scare fake-out, writer/director/editor Ti West (The Innkeepers) uses zooms and movement within the camera frame to create viewer intimacy, closing in from the chilly exterior and ominous windows as the suspicious phone calls lead to desperate babysitting jobs, desolate night drives, and a maze-like Victorian manor. Yes, our Samantha is at times very dumb and unaware she is in a horror movies thanks to plot holes a collaborator not wearing so many behind the scenes hats could have clarified. Mistakes and convenient contrivances in the somewhat tacked on final act also break the solitary point of view for the audience’s benefit. However, that finale free for all with ritual candles, hooded robes, and a sudden twist ending is in the seventies splatter spirit, and the simmering, silent build happens naturally over the film. Instead of hollow thrills a minute, the viewer is allowed time to suspect the scary attic, theorize on suspicious photos, and listen for every noise – we know something is supposed to happen but not when. Though this kind of approach may seem boring to some, this innate alone trickle let’s us appreciate the dark basement and the inopportune power outage for when the titular frights do happen. It’s nice to have something different from the mainstream horror trite, too – not to mention an $8 pizza! 

 

Hush – Writer and director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Absentia) and his wife, co-writer, and star Kate Siegel place our deaf-mute author in a pleasant forest cabin for some writing, relaxation, and terror in this 2016 eighty minute Netflix original. Comfort cooking noise fades and unheard laptop tones switch to wild kitchen alarms – immediately establishing the common sounds taken for granted alongside subtitled Sign Language, feeling vibrations for sound, and hearing an author voice in your head brainstorms. Friends speak while they sign, breaking up the quiet for the viewer, and we must pay attention to writing onscreen such as book jackets and manuscript text. Understandably, phone technology and Facetime calls are important, but an over-reliance on gadgets in horror can be tiring and soon dated with wi-fi switches, lost connections, and cut power. Fortunately, the intimate home makes the audience accustomed to the hearing challenges before adding the muffled silence, unseen scares, unheard screams, and instant cyberstalking. Through windows or foreground focus and background action, we have the full perspective when the protagonist doesn’t. It is however a mistake to reveal the crossbow and Bowie knife wielding stalker so completely. We don’t need to know the sociopath motivation nor should the viewer feel for the killer or care if he has any personality, and removing his mask just creates limp assholery. The frightening unknown with footstep vibrations, hands at the window, and approaching shadows creates a better siege, and the mystery of who and why is lost in the contrived lulls and stupid mistakes while Maddie waits around for his taunts instead of fighting back. Why not set something on fire, smoke signal authorities? Having her inner monologue address the situation and the pros or cons in each course of action is also better than breaking Maddie’s point of view and using fake out possibilities. Although it’s a pity millennial viewers wouldn’t watch something that was all silent, the long periods with no dialogue, sound effects, and score crescendos do just fine in accenting these unique dynamics. While not perfect, this tale has enough thriller tense and innate woman alone in peril – and thus proves exactly why I must know where all the windows, entrances, and exits are in a given location and never sit with my back to any of them!

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Maggie Sad voicemails, outbreak news reports, desolate cities, quarantines, and martial law immediately set the bleak outlook for infected daughter Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and her gray bearded father Arnold Schwarzenegger in this 2015 zombie drama. Wait – Arnold? In a drama movie? About zombies? No choppers?! Nope, this is not an action horror movie, and gruesome gurneys, gangrene encounters, and blackened decay are not played for scares. Here the body horrors and social breakdowns go hand in hand – science can’t put a dent into the virus fast enough, and loved ones must wait as the vein discolorations and white out eyes spread toward heightened smells and cannibalistic tendencies. Minimal technology, chopping wood, rustic generators, cassettes, and older horseshoe phones accent the isolated farmhouse as insect buzzing, infected neighbors, and animal dangers mount. Younger siblings are sent away, and step-mom Joely Richardson (Nip/tuck) struggles with her faith, strength of conviction, and the promises they’ve made despite the deadly risks. How does a teenager keep it together when she has nothing better to do but sit around and die? Do you call friends for a last hurrah? This flawed father won’t send his daughter to die in quarantine with strangers, but he can’t give the painful lethal injection at home or make it a quick end, either. Creepy doctor visits amplify the stigmas and paranoia regarding these in between infected, and nice teen moments soon give way to growls and necroambulist changes. Where is the line between siege removal authorities and family compassion? Someone has to take control and there’s no time for sympathy – just the inevitable breakdown of families desperate to stay together. Governator Arnold produced the film sans salary, and the off-type surprise provides heart wrenching results and must see performances. Granted, most audiences probably expected zombie action thrills a minute and there are unnecessary artistic shots, long pauses, and plodding direction at times. However, this is a strong story with hefty goodbye conversations, and it is surprising such realistically upsetting and horrible circumstances rather than horror went unnoticed. Without mainstream box office demands, indie releases are free to tell their story as it needs to be told, and this tearjerker delivers a great spin on the flooded and increasing derivative zombie genre. 

 

Picnic at Hanging RockThe Criterion blu-ray has almost two hours more features discussing this 1975 Australian spooky drama based on the Joan Lindsay novel about schoolgirls gone missing in 1900. The innocent white lace and valentine wishes are soon to be ill foreboding thanks to eerie music and budding whispers. These girls tighten each others corsets in parallel shots with mirrors, BFF poetry, latent suggestions, and repression abound. The seventies breezy fits the late Victoria ruffles, hats, and parasols – gloves are permitted to be removed for this excursion! Capable Aussie help and buttoned up British elite mark a strong class divide, and pretty mountain vistas, wild vegetation, and rocky mazes contrast the lovely yet out of place English manor. Straightforward, controlled camerawork captures the society at home, but surreal, swooning outdoor panoramas invoke Bermuda Triangle suggestions alongside dreamy voiceovers, rolling cloud rumbles, and red symbolism. Insects, reptiles, swans, disturbed bird migrations, fickle horses, watches stopping at noon – the metaphysical or transcendental signs imply something beyond mere coming of age and sexual awakening. Trance like magnetic lures radiating from the titular nooks and crannies stir these Gibson Girl naps, and askew slow motion reflects this layered beauty meets danger. The enchanting blonde, the nerdy girl with glasses, an awkward brunette, and the complaining chubby girl – standard horror stereotypes today – all talk as if they are up to something naughty with self-aware doomed to die chats before scandalously removing their shoes and stockings. A flirty French teacher, the severe math teacher in red reciting lava flow build up and volcano rising statistics with an uncomfortable kinky – we don’t see what happens. However, hearing the screams and watching the resulting hysterics make it creepier. Incomplete searches, Victorian speculation, and unreliable witnesses muddle the investigation, but most importantly, doctors assure the survivors are still chaste. Such delicate interrogations and polite society leave newspapers and angry townsfolk wondering while the school faces its own fallout with withdrawals, unpaid terms, drinking, and guilt. Yes, there’s some artistic license with absent families, poor forensics, and missing evidence ignored. Surprising connections, however, and good twists in the final forty minutes keep this damn disturbing – and it’s all done without gore or effects. The innate power of suggestion, period restraints, and our own social expectations drum up all kinds of unknown possibilities, and I don’t know how anyone doesn’t consider this a horror movie.

 

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The Witch – We don’t get many Puritan period pieces anymore much less ninety minutes plus of simmering 17th century horror as seen in this 2015 festival darling. Big hats, white collars, thee versus thou court room arguments, and family banishments immediately establish the ye olde alongside natural lighting and authentic thatch buildings for a rural, simplistic ambiance. Unfortunately, such exile to these empty, harsh, unyielding lands turns devotions to desperation with gray crops, bloody eggs, abductions, and babies in peril raising tensions in the humble hovel. Spooky forests, fireside red lighting, blood, nudity, ravens, and primal rituals suggest a dark underbelly only partially seen with hazy splices, shadows, and moonlight. The screen is occasionally all black and certain scenes are very tough to see, but such visual bewitching adds to the folktale surreal. Personal, intimate prayers are addressed directly to the camera, and we feel for Anya Taylor-Joy (Atlantis) as Thomasin when she apologizes for her sin of playing on the Sabbath. The scripture heavy dialogue and religious names are fittingly period yet remain understandable as coming of age children question how an innocent baby can be guilty of sin. Both parents’ faces are shadowed with hats, dirt, and impurity, yet snapping mom Kate Dickie (Red Road) gives Thomasin all the difficult work. Increasing dog problems, ram troubles, and creepy rabbits contribute to the toughness – the young twins chant oldeth nursery songs to the goats and claim there is a witch at work, but dad Ralph Ineson (Game of Thrones) isn’t totally forthcoming with his grief, hopeless trading, and family pressures. The isolated, starving couple argues, debating on sending the children away as the strain, zealousness, and fears mount. Ominous lantern light, alluring witchcraft, and almost ritualistic in itself bloodlettings stir the finger pointing hysterics while great performances hit home the wild bed fits and exorcism-esque prayers. Somebody has to be blamed. Where do you get help when evil would take advantage of such hypocrisy and social failings? It’s easy to imagine the fantastic or confuse apparitions of the dead as angels when the devil answers your pleas instead of Grace. Maybe one has to be familiar with Puritan history or Biblical texts to fully appreciate the struggles and references here. However, contemporary audiences should realize that there’s more to the horror film genre than today’s rinse repeat wham bam boo gore. Although a brighter picture would have been nice, the genuine designs here are much more pleasing than any digital overkill. Doubt, what you don’t see, and the power of suggestion escalate the horrors with maniacal laughter, screams, and one scary voice leading to a deliriously delicious finale. Why aren’t these niche indies that do film making right really the mainstream cinema?

 

Don’t forget you can read more of our Feminine Horror recommendations in the Horror Addicts Guide to Life!

Kbatz: Snowy Scares!

Scary, Snowy Romps!

By Kristin Battestella

Well there’s nothing like ye olde killer neighbors, mountain monsters, and things going bump in the cold night to keep you cuddled by the fire, is there?


howawful
How Awful About Allan
Joan Hackett strikes again alongside Anthony Perkins and the late Julie Harris (The Haunting) in this Aaron Spelling produced and Curtis Harrington directed (What’s the Matter with Helen?) 1970 television film from writer Henry Farrell (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). The suspense gets right to it with a fire, screaming, survivor guilt, resentment, and hysterical blindness. The intriguing, disorienting, blurry film focus and dark camera photography match Perkins’ sightless actions and mannerisms as his eponymous victim becomes obsessed with trying to prove his new, unseen roommate wants to do him harm. Yes, the Victorian house and post-institution, possibly crazy reclusiveness will seem too obviously Psycho to some viewers, but the increasingly angry tape recordings, crazy carness, heavy music, and scary whispers provide plenty of fearful spin. Retro décor and old, wintry styles accent the seemingly sunshiny household, but the nighttime paranoiaand scary inability to see intensifies the strange noises and point of view eerie. Why aren’t there more visually impaired horror protagonists? This tiny 73 minutes makes you love your glasses a little more! Though not billed as a horror movie per se and the end loses a touch, this taut thriller has all the suspense, lightning, creepy family implications, and desperation needed. 

Nightmare_1964NightmareOft Hammer compatriots Freddie Francis and Jimmy Sangster team up for this very moody and effective 1964 black and white thriller. Eerie music and smart uses of silence anddiegetic sound accent the sixties styles, snow scenery, and mysterious country estates. Excellent light and shadow, candlelight and silhouettes also push the insanity fears, paranoia, violence, murder, and creepy ladies over the edge. There’s a wonderful, scream-filled flashback adding to the mystery, and solid suspense filming works for both the nightmare bizarre and the askew real world, too. Is crazy inherited? What does childhood trauma do to the mind? Or is there something else at work entirely? Some of the screams might be a bit too much, and at first, one may think this is merely an extended Twilight Zone episode. However, some added kink keeps the audience wondering how far the terrors are going to go. The twists keep on coming for not one long Twilight Zone, but rather this invokes a lot of TZ-esque tricks woven together – and it works.

snowbeastSnowbeastOminous music and dangerous snowy slopes belie the sunshiny 1977 ski fashions, snowmobiles, and lush Colorado locales peppering this deadly bigfoot tale. Despite the faded public print, a slightly small scale made for television production, and some pathetically lame bloody ski jackets; lovely forests and mountain photography shine along with tracking zooms and killer camera perspectives. And the cast knows how to ski! The spooky atmosphere restarts slightly once Bo Svenson (Breaking Point) and Yvette Mimieux (The Time Machine) arrive, and a past love triangle is somewhat unnecessary, as is a skimpy Olympic flashback. However, these elements provide some unexpected for a horror movie of the week dialogue on how Olympians often have difficulty coming down to mortal levels and regular life after such glory. Womanly angst aside, this really is just a Jaws in the snow clone – one man believes in a monster after an opening attack, but pesky grandma Sylvia Sidney (Beetlejuice) dismisses it as an avalanche and withholds the news because the economically needed carnival must go on. Unheeding people take to the slopes, death ensues, and sheriff Clint Walker (Cheyenne) claims it was a grizzly attack by presenting a mistakenly shot bear. Contrived miscommunication and crap police action grow tiresome and the ski montages are a tad longer than necessary. Thankfully, the period lack of smartphones and natural snowy isolation remain effective. Shaggy Yeti arm appearances create scare toppers amid the more dramatic act by act pace, and the bigfoot gone wild is smartly only seen in shadows, dark windows, hairy flashes, or with quick, snarling teeth. Seeing what the monster does – over turned vehicles, logs tumbling, shattered glass – rather than what it definitively is keeps this watchable despite those Jaws comparisons and dated archetypes. The pace is uneven in the final act – switching focus on characters and coming to a somewhat speedily conclusion considering how we really just watched people skiing for 85 minutes – but this one remains fun for a summer cool down or a snowy night in with the family.

You make the call Addicts

Crawling_Eye_film_posterThe Crawling EyeThe true The Trollenberg Terror title actually seems like a better name for this 1958 SF gone awry tale, as highlighting the eponymous monster effect isn’t really a very good idea. Thankfully, climbing terrors, ropes fraying, men falling and natural fears of snow, cold, and mountains keep the pace interesting. Toss in a weird psychic chick (Janet Munro, the boy who’s a girl in Swiss Family Robinson), past radiation iffy, missing mountaineers, and local superstitions and you get plenty of peril. Great pulsing, heavy music and nice scares and violence increase as the suspicions and conspiracies get crazy. Unfortunately, the familiar premise would have been more interesting if not for the seriously hokey science equipment and faulty logic. The tone is too stuffy and British dry, and the mountain photography and poor backdrop designs are kind of, well, strange. All that might be a cult horror fan’s low budget or dated charm, granted. However, it is dang tough to tell who is who, and the deadly moving mists and that titular eye are too laughable for most viewers to take seriously, which hampers a lot of the campy fun.

Kbatz: Bava Special!

 

Super Mario Bava Special!

By Kristin Battestella

 

What’s not to love for the classic horror viewer when it comes to the stylish scares, tempting thrills, and colorful chills of that giallo master Mario Bava?

 

Baron BloodJoseph Cotten (Citizen Kane) and Elke Sommer (more on her in a bit) star in this often unloved 1972 tale of family curses, and the mix of centuries old torture, witches, hidden treasure, and vengeance does indeed need some polish and clarification. Is this about the past cruelty, the raised baron, or the contemporary haunted hotel? Why do these clearly out of their depth people go messing with these past horrors anyway? Despite a bright, swanky, jet setting, and cliché start – an American coming back to his spooky ancestral Austrian castle complete with outfitted dungeon – the titular ghost talk, tolling bells, and incantations build suspense. The accents, poor script, and exposition scenes may be tough, but the dark, murderous actions counter the lack of motivation or room to maneuver from the cast. How is the viewer to like them when the resurrected baron is their fault? Thankfully, the country locales and estates look lovely – the partially restored castle is both dreary as needed or lit with just the right ambiance and fog. Perspective kills, scary zooms, angles, shocks, chases, and kids in peril continue the creepy, and the sickening makeup is burned and nasty effective. The wheelchair bound Cotten does add some slick and twisted layers, however, we don’t see him enough to enjoy his nuances. The picture is off on the wrong foot and hampers itself under a muddled story because it doesn’t focus on the eponymous character. This is rougher around the edges than Bava’s usual style, charisma, and mood, granted, yet the look and players remain just watchable enough thanks to an entertaining finale.

 

A Bay of Blood Signor Bava directs this 1971 plot of heiresses, real estate, and murder – you know, the usual – with his expected mix of upscale cinematography and unsettling panache. Storms and classical melodies create a sadness to start as nasty deaths disrupt a would be old-time gentility. There’s no dialogue for the first ten minutes, but the silently designed kills are tantalizing nonetheless. Add swanky affairs, alluring secretaries, and skinny dipping run afoul to the zany fortune tellers and partying teens, and all today’s quintessential horror ingredients pack these eighty-four minutes. Pretty outdoor designs give way to blue nighttime hues and noir lit interiors add mood while red accents ominously treat the eye. Eerily framed bodies, hallways, and faux suicide notes add layers as those seventies zooms mirror the characters’ swoons and fears. Although this is more bloody than Bava’s earlier works – which some may like and others may not – the bodies here are normal compared to contemporary bimbos. The gory chase, squeamish squidworks, and nasty hatchet slices are artistically juxtaposed with sunshine, birds chirping, and that Bava delicacy. Of course, the weak script is certainly not perfect, the English audio is too low, the subtitles don’t quite sync, and who is who or double-crossing whom can be very confusing. Thankfully, the inheritance battles, illegitimate mysteries, and one by one eliminations mix well with the sex and violence. The bodies pile up in unique ways, and Friday the 13th certainly copied a kill or two! Some scenes may feel slasher for slasher’s sake, but the stylish, somewhat melancholy tone remains strong. Everyone is fighting over this lovely land whilst also ruining it with ghoulish mayhem, and this deadly mystery is still an exciting grandpappy for the slasher genre.

 

Black Sabbath Boris Karloff hosts this 1963 AIP/Italian trilogy production also starring Mark Damon (House of Usher) and Michele Mercier (Angelique, the Marquise of the Angels). ‘A Drop of Water’ leads off the English version here with lovely period charm and freaky questions regarding fright, spiritualism, and the moments immediately before and after death. Seriously, one should never, ever steal from the dearly departed! The great mix of solitary scares, what you don’t see approaching, and the shocker smoke and mirrors effects seal the deal. Hot damn, it got me! Plot two ‘The Telephone’ shines with the then contemporary sixties goodness and lots of suspense. There’s a sexy anticipation, a voyeuristic vibe, and predatory fear adding to the juice. Karloff’s introduction sequences are a lot of fun, too- serious and latently psychedelic in style but humorous at the same time. In his final story, a Russian vampire tale called ‘The Wurdalak’, all the mood, culture, and creepy come across wonderfully. The K’s makeup and approach is so angry and suspicious, even disturbing as familial angles come into play. Completists may go for the alternate Italian version for the full effect of director Mario Bava’s (Black Sunday) vision, but despite studio interference and changes that might upset purists; the scares are loud and clear here.

 

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Black Sunday We’ve seen other anniversary curses and execution revenge pictures beyond this 1960 black and white so-called Bava directing debut, originally edited and released by AIP stateside without its proper Mask of Satan title. Every cliché is here, complete with a coach breaking down in front of a derelict mansion, scholars turned grave robbers, and a few drops of blood releasing a ghoulish mistake, but we’ve never seen such lurid family history, look a like damsels, and undead doctors like this. The stereotypical hysterias, Old World mysticism, Eastern European staples, and Moldavia vibes not only work, but the opening 17th century fire and brimstone narration is darn effective with excellent wind and thunder to match. Sudden movements add surreal jump scares, but fog, phantom carriages, and creepy forests know when to be still. Artfully, posed scenes are filmed thru branches, shadows, cobwebs, and smoke – almost like a silent movie. Sure, this was probably done to conceal the on the cheap but no less crafty period flair or assorted set flaws, but the design looks damn scary and perfectly atmospheric. I wouldn’t go out alone at night and milk the cow either! Though the English delivery and vocals are very well done, it is unfortunate Barbara Steele (The Pit and the Pendulum) is dubbed. Nonetheless, her dual role as the ingénue princess and the not-so-well-to-do witch is ethereal and captivating – the classic lighting and photography captures her stunning beauty as well as the totally creepy corpse effects and ghouly makeup. Of course, the blood necessities, servants dead in the day but alive at night, bodily possessions, and witch or vampire and Satanist terms are all somehow used wrongfully or interchangeably as needed; yet the science versus occult talk is also well thought out, even ahead of its time. Thankfully, the complete 87 minute European version has all the simmering pace and swelling music intact, and one can see why so many other films followed this model. Why did we forget how to make pictures like this?

 

Blood and Black LaceSweet, jazzy rhythms, classy titles, and a suspicious tone open this 1964 ninety minutes – one of Bava’s earlier saucies full of secret diaries, scandal, drugs, hysterical dames, and murder. Though a little slow to get going thanks to confusing lookalike women, uneven or hampered dubbing, and misogynistic “I don’t believe in permanent, exclusive relationships” two-timing men; the violence here is carefully styled and well filmed whilst also being rough, haphazard, congested, and disturbingly intimate as such horror risque should be. It is chilling and uncomfortable to watch as these women are attacked, abused, and tortured – this is real world scary violence not the fantastic or fake monsters. Ripped garments and blood marring the pretty faces add enough skin and gore suggestions alongside a vivid palette of flashing lights, shadow schemes in multiple colors, and symbolic reds matching the illicit. Rome exteriors, layered décor, and fancy frocks accent the mid-century behind the scenes fashion drama, and delightful editing, interesting camera framing, and multi action intercutting raise the tension. The viewer side eyes these naughty women going off alone at night with obsessed, lusty men, yet it’s fun to suspect as the screams and crazy turns add surprises. Who is this fedora wearing masked killer so desperate to keep the off the time racy hidden? Sure, the lethal planning and police investigation are a little sloppy; the subtitles don’t match and thus send some of the details amiss. However, the deadly vignettes progress into an intriguing mystery rooted in a realistic setting and simmering schemes – making this little thriller a wild, must see precursor to slice and dice horror as we know it.

5 Dolls for an August MoonA swanky, sunny, coastal start with groovy records, spinning beds, and heady parties full of glitz and glamour quickly leads to bad business deals, isolated island danger, and mysterious science experiments in this 1970 thriller. Jokes about virgin sacrifices and saucy torture make way for kinky seductions, skimpy skin, juicy gold digging dames, and shady millionaires. No price – such as a life or two – is too much for this elusive formula, and smartly used darkness, silhouettes, and flickering lights accent the fine editing and carefully placed zooms. Though perhaps dated, now period flair and colorful Bava style don’t look budget, and early genre staples add panache. From a false scary start to a scantily clad running beauty and a group of people trapped with a high stakes killer, the eighty minute suspense moves quickly as the players fall. Some of the back and forth money double talk might get lost in translation amid the Italian audio and English subtitles and too many Jacks and/or Jacques do make it tough to tell who is who. However, the dead piling up in the freezer adds a touch of humor, and it’s amusing how the money and formula are more important to these people than finding the killer! Interesting lady leaning innuendo, character turnabouts, missing money, and finger-pointing accusations accent the deadly competition, and red herrings lead to some excellent ante ups for the final twenty minutes. No, there isn’t a lot of outright slice and dice scary or gore as may be expected, and calling this horror feels slightly mislabeled. Fortunately, there is a lot of entertaining tension here to match the interconnecting intrigue, and it’s fun to guess who’s behind the ‘formulaic’ foul play.

 

Hatchet for the HoneymoonRomantic scoring and stylish red designs over the opening credits of this eighty-eight minute 1970 slasher deflect the killer scares to come, but arty, distorted deaths and dreamlike swirls are edited in time with the eponymous slices, shiny blades, symbolic wedding night blood, and bridal voyeurism. Unique camera shots and frames filmed through the mirrors or the internal fashion photo shoot lenses add to the quality, non herky jerky camera movements, and creepy mannequins, seances, secret rooms, askew sexuality, marital dysfunction, and beautiful roses create heaps of atmosphere along with lovely locales, lush interiors, and a spooky speeding train. The killer narration is also bemusingly honest – this psychopath nonchalantly admits where the tallied and once pretty bodies are buried and how he hates his brow beating but unaware spiritualist wife Laura Betti, also of A Bay of Blood. The struggle against the urge to kill escalates as painful memories and seductive, tempting models help piece together this deadly psyche and the murderous source. Brief mentions of a faltering business and rocky inheritance, however, seem of little importance, and the police investigation feels too weak, even easy. Obviously, there are also perhaps too many motherly roots and Psycho parallels, but strangely, partway through the time here, the murdering mayhem turns into something more paranormal. The audience is intrigued by the killer and the surrounding twistedness, but this seemingly rushed double plot tries to do too much. Thankfully, there is a wacky, whimsical mood and internal wink to the deathly love and saucy subtext without the need for excessive skin or gore. There are some fun spins here to keep the bridal butchery entertaining, and I’m surprised this one seems a little unloved.

 

Kill, Baby, KillFrom the period start with bloody spikes, evil child laughter, and coffins to he superb crumbling locales, bleak landscapes, and foggy cemetery – Maestro Bava invokes the total gothic formula for a macabre, dreadful mood in this 1966 mystery. Horrendous deaths, a foreign doctor’s arrival, the mysterious baroness on the continent, suspicious townsfolk, village curses, and carriages complete with fearful drivers blossom amid an impeded investigation, reluctant autopsies, scared girls, and scary ladies. Eerie rituals and specters tapping at the window escalate the suspense while a dizzying spiral staircase and carefully placed zooms increase anxiousness – be they fast, hectic ascents or slow, simmering tracking shots. The print would show its age and low-budget, but there are no faded visuals here thanks to the intentionally lush dimension, well-lit design, smart shadows, strategic cobwebs, and spooky chic interiors. The hazy dream sequence isn’t over the top yet remains disturbing alongside an orchestra of scary sounds, cat meows, and tolling bells topping off the atmosphere. While those familiar with the gothic Hammer productions or our recent American in another country versus juvenile phantom trends may find some elements predictable or the expositions convenient; skin suggestions and hints of blood do enough without the need for excessive nudity or gore. The English audio and subtitles are pretty good, too, and the players are quite fine over the fast-moving eighty-three minute duration. Whichever of the assorted distribution titles you find this one under, there’s no reason not to like the creepy mysteries, spooky revelations, paranormal fun, and sorcery shocks here.
And See

 

Lisa and the Devil The dubbing is off, the spoken volumes low and the music too loud and over the top for this dreamy, stylized, and somewhat confusing 1974 Bava bent. Subtitles are definitely a must to help explain the mysterious men, macabre apparitions, bizarre guests, and Spanish flair. The maze like city streets, weird statues, cluttered Old World feelings and eerie estate, however, are perfectly atmospheric and match the almost elegant filmmaking. Fresh color and blood add to the scandals and up close, erratic violence while reflections, zooms, and angled camerawork anchor the photography and parallel the multi dimensional players and their affairs, secrets, and crimes. This ensemble is aware of their spooky circumstances, even when the script is uneven with superfluous soliloquies and silence. Wispy flashbacks take too much time to explain all the past connections, yet the tale also seems overlong like a 85 minute supersized anthology segment. The nasty implications will be tough to watch, too, but the unique saucy and peculiar sensuality is smartly obscured what we think we see sex and nudity. Telly Savalas (Kojak) is likewise creepy yet charismatic with the svelte ingénue Elke Sommer, and this crisscrossing mix of Doppelgangers, demons, and the dead is a bizarrely entertaining, twisted little ride.

 

But Skip

House of ExorcismStay with me now, for this re-edited version of Lisa and the Devil from producer Alfredo Leone adds new possession themes, exorcism footage, and Robert Alda (Rhapsody in Blue) as the titular performing priest in an attempt to mainstream Bava’s Euro-fashioned uncut edition. From different opening titles and the re-christened Mickey Lion aka Leone directing to more blood, violence, and intercut medical scenes, it’s apparent this is not the same film. Sommer’s grunting and demonic scenes are embarrassing and somehow seem more exploitative than her nasty sex scene in Lisa and the Devil. Not that this is a bad performance by Elke, but the crass sex, extra boob shots, and full frontal nudity just seems so classless – sex and priests just don’t feel right then or now. All the exorcism clichés seem trashy, and the language is so unnecessarily foul it’s almost funny: “Where do you come from?” “A cunt, you jerk!” Wtf? “Don’t break my balls, Priest!” Granted, Bava’s tale is confusing, but this Lisa being possessed has nothing to do with the doubly flashback scandals and makes even less sense. Would I have liked to see an exorcism or possession drama from Bava? Sure. Is this it? No. Die-hard fans may like to watch and compare, but otherwise, don’t bother with this rehash.

 

Kbatz: Slashers Galore!

 

Slashers Galore!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Be it old school cult thrillers or screaming college coeds and some slicing and dicing thespians or killer hobbits, we have your slashers and gore galore covered!

 

Alone in the Dark – A cult cast featuring veteran Jack Palance (City Slickers), minister Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible), unusual doctor Donald Pleasence (Halloween), and his new protege Dwight Schultz (The A-Team) adds class to this 1982 slasher full of topsy turvy patients. The solemn mental hospital locale is pretty but cluttered with knickknacks, loons, and converted with buzzed entries, faulty electrical systems, and bizarre treatments. Medical textbooks don’t apply in this ward! This perilous crowding contrasts the new, open, family farmhouse potential, which soon finds itself in a fearful switcharoo. Who’s a patient or employee? Who’s harmless or dangerous? Some crazy rambling is confusing to start, but shadowed dorm rooms with spooky, whispered plotting create a paranoid atmosphere – especially when such heavyweight gents are doing the evil planning. A touch of hot pink sideways pony tails and punk bands remind us of the early eighties hip, but any datedness is quickly forgotten as violence, escapes, and riots escalate during the titular blackout. The crazy inside spreads outside quickly with one flick of the switch, and flashlights, lanterns, candles, and fire sell the precarious mood. Daylight doesn’t alleviate the killer tendencies or child peril, and except for a fittingly sardonic little girl, the frightful is played seriously. While some jump scares and teen sex may seem commonplace now, these early genre staples are well paced and plenty of surprises, siege horror, creative weapons, and simmering kills make up any difference. Not only is there no cheap nudity or excess like today, but progressive talk about the pitfalls of wind power and nuclear energy add to the social commentaries at work. The fragile balance of polite society cracks pretty quickly once the kill or be killed terror flourishes here.

 

The Flesh and Blood Show An old time, put on your glasses 3D warning opens this 1972 British saucy before naked chicks– err “flat mates” get out of bed, answering the door in the middle of the night whilst still unclothed. Fun film within film plays on the title follow along with a cool abandoned theatre, waterfront pier dangers, creepy props, and off camera screams. Yes, many scare gags obviously hinge on these people not knowing they are in a horror movie – sardonic and hip to the times as they may be. The cave girl outfits and black leotards may seem exploitative, too, but hey, the ladies help each other out of their costumes while the lads watch! Who needs subtitles, right? Great congested camerawork ups the scares as the slowly realizing and pairing off players argue with disbelieving authorities and fishy locals. The lines between stage and screen blur further, and despite an assault scene that may be tough to watch for some, most of the violence escalates without much blood or gore. Red herrings, twists, suspects, a whiff of Shakespeare, and a mysterious stage producer send home the low budget but pleasurable shadows and deaths with a smooth black and white finish. After all, as they so bluntly put it here, “If it wasn’t so bloody tragic and horrible it could almost make a movie script…”

 

Maniac Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me) joins writer and star Joe Spinell (The Godfather) for beachy kills, prostitution, hot pants, and plenty of dirty nostalgia in this 1980 low budget slasher. The New York shady setting, hints of Christmas, disturbing dolls, misused mannequins, and sexualized violence add to the sweaty, gross mood – not to mention the vomit, scalping, blood, and brains. Big old newspapers and dark room development make for more period piece fun, but the late seventies fashions and edgy eighties photo shoot contribute to the drive by cheap production values. Though the very brief nudity and little harsh language belie the explotation tone or may feel tame today, the conflicted perversions, talking to oneself over the killings, and a childlike stunted warp accent the gruesome shot gun blasts and not for the squeamish murders. The editing and pace, however, do feel uneven – going back and forth between stylized murder scenes and quiet, demented psychosis. Thankfully, this focus on the killer’s perspective and the icky source of his depravity is unique for this genre built on the hero being the victor. The variety of deaths is also quality, with a mix of premeditated preparation, somewhat random victims, and a choice of weaponry. Hiding in a subway bathroom to avoid being killed? No, that’s not the best course of action! The thin script doesn’t do much with its vapid victims and the finale is a tad confusing, but fortunately, the inner killer point of view makes for an interesting character study.

 

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Maniac Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood anchors this 2012 remake with intriguing, murderous perspectives and heavy breathing to sell the stalking, predatory mood. We only see our protagonist via the rear view mirror or other reflections, and it’s almost as if he himself is filming what we see. Camera pans up and down and up close zooms on the ladies show his attraction and blurry, frenetic frames harken panic attacks or resisting the urge to kill. White knuckles on the steering wheel and a dirty windshield add to the depressed intimacy, and the unique camera design remains a personal analysis on the psychosis rather than something akin to the found footage gimmick. The underlying social commentary of this unreliable, warped viewpoint is also interesting – what’s art? What’s a little too weird? Does the photo lens show the truth or how we perceive life as colored with our own issues? Maybe it really is the seemingly sweet quiet ones that are the unnoticed but disturbed among us. How many seemingly strong, independent, modern women walk the streets unaware they are being stalked? Ava Maria music hints at the twisted root along with some uncomfortable flashbacks, and though it might not be meant as humorous, I had to laugh at the bug spray. It’s tough to keep scalps fresh these days! Some of the otherwise fine but graphic blood, knives, and poor man’s scalpings are borderline CGI obvious or excessive at times, and onscreen dating sites – though fitting for today’s creepy pick ups – will be dated soon. Thankfully, refreshingly un-cookie cutter women, nudity, and a frank showing of sex and penetrating violence add to the unique film making and stay just this side of unnecessary gross.

Silent Scream A slow motion police raid starts this 1980 slasher along with atmospheric music, askew angles, and quality blood splatterings. Late seventies college cool and an isolated old house – also seen in Spider Baby further set the scene with deceiving nostalgia, a creepy walk up attic, dusty antiques, World War II motifs, and Victorian maze like sinister. Imagine turning the knob on that big boob tube! For sure, some of the plot is cliché – there are unaccounted for occupants, a chunky best friend, seaside perils, the spooky laundry room in the basement, and free love possibilities. Fake jump scares, bad date fears, and unseen killer stabbings, however, make for then-new genre staples. Great intercutting and editing accent the murders, yet there isn’t an excess of gore overtaking the smart slices or violence. An excellent Barbara Steele (Black Sunday) introduction, the spooky old lady perfection from Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters), and the likeable Rebecca Balding (Soap) add to the heavy as the 90 minutes mount and family secrets come to light. The police investigation is touch and go, and today this isn’t that scary, but a commentary and over an hour of retrospective interviews discussing a unique behind the scenes situation adds some slasher conversation. Maybe this isn’t perfect by contemporary standards, but this little number does everything it is supposed to with entertaining twists and a crazy finish.

Horror Addicts #066, M. J. Hahn

Horror Addicts Episode# 066
Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich
Intro Music by: Saints Of Ruin
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