FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Witches and Bayous, Oh My!

 

Witches and Bayous, Oh My! By Kristin Battestella

This trio of somewhat obscure retro pictures has the spooky mood, atmospheric locales, and bemusing magic needed for a little late night enchantment.

Mark of the Witch – A noose, mud, frock coats, and ye olde speaketh set the scene for this 1970 tale of 300-year-old witches and revenge on a Texas college campus, oh yes. Certainly, there are bemusing production values – false eyelashes on the witch, modern dental work seen in her over exaggerated delivery, more bad acting, and super windblown curses amid lengthy filler credits, off-key folk tunes, uneven sound, and cutting corners close camera work that’s just too up close. Fortunately, more natural conversations are casual fun alongside occult books, superstition and psychology studies, and ‘spook seminars’ recounting how those who exorcised and persecuted witches ended up suffering horribly themselves. Not to mention there’s a professor descended of those originally cursed who knows more than he’s saying. Colorful fashions, pigtails, and cigarettes add nostalgia as far out dudes play the sitar and ask hip chicks about their zodiac signs. Palm readings and Ouija boards lead to messing with a black magic tome and laughing at spells with belladonna and bat’s wings. They can substitute some dried rosemary for the fresh sprig in the recipe, right? Invocations, witch’s runes, candles, and wine goblets create an eerie ritual mood along with storms, possessions, and high priestess warnings. Things get slow when the embodied witch learns about our world – the telephone and coffee percolator are explained before campus tours and unnecessary music montages. And look at those classic station wagon ambulances! The men argue about ordering more books so they can learn how to excise the witch’s spirit from the coed, but she’s getting down with the fiery spells, demon summonings, and luring boys to the grove at midnight for some satanic saucy. Again, some action is laughable thanks to bizarre, poorly edited make out scenes and a certain tame to the potions, pompous explanations, repetitive rites, and psychedelic light show driving out of the evil spirit. There isn’t a whole lot to the actual revenge, yet eerie sound effects keep the cackling, daggers, and automatic writing interesting. This could have been totally terrible but the good premise doesn’t go far enough, either. Though neither stellar nor scary, this is both bemusing and creepy for a late night viewing if you can take the bad with the good.

Necromancy – Orson Welles (Chimes at Midnight) and Pamela Franklin (Satan’s School for Girls) star in this 1972 oddity also later known as The Witching with varying editing and runtimes. Hospital room scares and dead baby traumas restart the tale several times when an unsettled bedroom says everything needed before the husband’s job transfer to an isolated town called Lilith. His new boss is occult-obsessed and insists his dead son is only resting, but our wife doesn’t believe in life for a life rituals reviving the dead. The town name, however, gives her the creeps – as does talk of her having potential gifts thanks to being born with a veil. Although the outdoor filming is super bright, retro phones and a packed station wagon add to the desert drives, dangerous curves, and explosive accidents. A doll from the wreckage has fingernail clippings in its pocket O_o and the sense of bizarre increases with nearby funerals, dead children in coffins, burning at the stake flashes, disappearances, and tombstones. Older, castle-like décor – trophy heads, demonic imagery, magic tomes – pepper the spooky Victorian homes alongside women both seventies carefree yet medieval inspired with old fashioned names. There are however no children in town, pregnant women have to leave, and our couple moves into the same place as the recently, mysteriously departed. These devil worshiping townsfolk in white robes prefer hiding in the past with time stopped and have no interest in the present thanks to goblets filled with bitter red liquid, astrology, ESP, and tarot. It’s awkward when you invite someone new to a party and ask them to join your coven! Mismatched fade-ins, crosscuts, zooms, and askew angles accent the hazy rituals, devilish lovers, and brief nudity. However, such editing both adds to the eerie and allows for more weird while making it look like creepy, lecherous, self-proclaimed magician Welles filmed his asides separately. He’s upfront about the occult, terrifying yet luring the Mrs. as the messy visions, wolves, and injuries increase. Freaky basements, rats, seduction, voodoo dolls, dead bodies, bats – is what she’s seeing real? Have any of these encounters actually happened? Despite shades of The Wicker Man foreshadowing, it takes a bit too long to get a clue even as the poison mushrooms, skeletons, and rituals gone wrong become more bizarre. Fortunately, there are some fun twists to keep the somewhat obvious and slightly nonsensical warped entertaining. Season of the Witch – A spring thaw reflects the cold marriage and empty nest that drives housewife Jan White (Touch Me Not) to witchcraft in this 1973 feminist leaning thriller from George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead). Repressed dreams with through the peephole distortions, cages, and dual mirror reflections match subtle wedding ring moments and not so subtle slasher style violence. There’s a lingering sexual guilt, a her fault, asking for it societal mentality festering because women weren’t supposed to talk to or about their slap happy husbands much less get their kit off and question sense of worth after motherhood. These upscale housewives are trophies gussied up just to drink – but our Joan lets her hair down, goes for a tarot reading, admits her fears and sexual curiosities. Moans and naughty innuendo add to a sensuous, pretty in its own way seventies color with patterns, fringe fashions, and bright makeup. The psychoanalysis is of the time, as are dated ladies gossip and erroneous witchcraft clichés – buy a how-to book and a silver chalice and boom you have empowered yourself scandalous! Although some obnoxious acting and muddled meta conversation is poor, there is a teatime frankness on the emerging seventies lifestyles and well put occult discussions countering the stereotypes. It’s an interesting culture clash when these still fifties-esque hypocrites want to be the seventies kids doing grass. If the MILF wants kicks and it’s a joke to the stud, who is using whom? Neither the extreme repression or the escalating wanton is healthy, nor is replacing a crap marriage for the latest risque, dangerous vogue. Yes, this is a desperately bare production, and cheap editing leaves the ninety-minute version looking more like leftovers than a polished film. Fortunately, the bizarre accents the changing women’s attitudes and sexy, suspenseful encapsulation of the era. Instead of today’s curious young thang, the realistic cast delivers some fine feminine nuggets here. But really, the character’s name is “Joanie” Mitchell? Hehehe.

 

The Witchmaker – The picture may be a little flat for this 1969 slow burn also called The Legend of Witch Hollow, but vintage swamp scenery, moody moss, weeping willows, shallow boats, and Louisiana cemeteries set off the bayou murders. Mellow music and swimming babes in white lingerie begat violent kills with ritual symbols, dripping blood, binding ropes, upside down hangings, and slit throats. The disturbing is done with very little, but eight women have been killed in last two years, thus intriguing a parapsychologist investigator and his team of sensitives, psychic students, and skeptical magazine writers. It’s $21 for their three boat trips, supplies, and six people renting the no phone cabin for five days – I’ll take it! Old townsfolk fear the culprits are immortal witches who need blood to stay young and warn the guests of snakes, quicksand, and gator-filled marshes. Early electrical equipment, radios, and technical talk on waves and magnetic fields balance the somewhat dry acting and thin dialogue as more bikini clad psychic women rub on the sunscreen while our ominous warlock watches. Although the nudity is relatively discreet with the skimpy suggestion doing more, the maniacal laughter and slow motion running while clutching the boobies is a bit hokey. Thankfully, lanterns, hidden rooms beneath the floor, underground tunnels, and satanic rituals sell the macabre. Crones with gross teeth and dominant spells must recruit these psychics to the coven for invigorating body and soul trades as the scientific talk gives way to candles, seances, chanting, and fog. Green lighting, red sheer dresses, and skimpy blue nighties are colorful spots among ominous witnessing, creepy statues, torches, and demonic altars. The investigating team buries victims amid out of control powers, hypnosis, and screams while the witches enjoy a little necking, decoy dames, knives, and fiery brandings. Granted, the male investigators are limp leads, just the facts fifties cops out of place compared to the ladies feeling more of the sixties Hammer lite. A third woman does nothing before being used as bait in the men’s plan which goes awry of course. The raising of the coven is more entertaining – all kinds witches, warlocks, cool cats, and unique characters manifest for some wine, feasting, and whips for good measure. The red smoke, music, dancing, romance, and chases lead to a blood pact or two before one final romp in the mud. Overall, this remains tame, and the plot should have gotten to the more interesting coven action in the latter half sooner. However, the unpolished aesthetics and retro feeling keep this late night drive-in eerie fun.

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

Dangerous Adventures Make the 1977 Island of Dr. Moreau by Kristin Battestella

AIP’s 1977 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau directed by Don Taylor (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) pairs down the half man half animal mad science to its core themes with claustrophobic symbolism and strong performances anchoring the beastly adventures as shipwrecked Andrew Braddock (Michael York) is taken in by the isolated scientist Dr. Paul Moreau (Burt Lancaster). Also on the beautiful but dangerous island are Moreau’s enchanting adopted daughter Maria (Barbara Carrera) and his crusty assistant Montgomery (Nigel Davenport). Braddock, however, discovers there are more monstrous inhabitants – victims of Dr. Moreau’s twisted experiments – leading to a struggle of wills, abominations, and control.

The silent vast and empty blue ocean open The Island of Dr. Moreau with a tiny boat and one small, desperate survivor bearded and thirsty. Epic music mirrors the hope of this green, lush island oasis, but hanging vines, uneven terrain, and booby traps belie this paradise said to be one thousand miles from nowhere. Fenced in buildings with food, bedding, mosquito netting, books, and fresh clothing appear civilized, however dangerous animals are said to roam the island and one should never leave the compound after dark. Idyllic pets and pleasant races in the woods lead to strange sounds in the night and “muffled roaring.” Viewers think we see something amid the rustling leaves but we don’t know what. Hunched creatures, creepy servants drinking from puddles like animals, and more “special” types of people on this island are in need of Dr. Moreau’s care – and his laboratory is complete with a menagerie of wild cats, cages, and shackles. Rearing horses, chases, fear of the unknown, and unanswered questions are difficult for men who like to know and control all when exploring the natural or unnatural boundaries they should not. The once lovely island locales become increasingly congested environs as the external out of control science closes in on the body sacred thanks to serums, syringes, and surgery. Why would a doctor create such suffering animals now made partially people? Are the hairy inbetweens and experimentation in the name of science worth the loss of one’s morality? The civilized man must defend himself in caves where unwelcome, monstrous, man made creatures have their own laws – not to walk on all fours, not to eat flesh, no taking of life. Gunshots scare away fierce offenders, for these animals given speech and rules remain controlled through fear. Will these hybrids remember what humans told them to say and do if they regress to their innate ways? After all, to study nature, one has to be as remorseless as nature, which has its own sense of justice, selection, and violence to match our undeniable ability to destroy. Dangerous tiger attacks, mercy killings, and angry mobs with torches lead to blood and pain in well paced action as power devolves into anarchy. Although The Island of Dr. Moreau’s symbolism is apparent, the sentiment doesn’t hit the audience over the head thanks to a multi-layered cycle of man made monsters and men made gods.

Dr. Paul Moreau showed signs of brilliance in his youth and loves to converse about emerging technology, but Burt Lancaster’s (From Here to Eternity) extensive academic has been here in his own paradise for eleven years. His colleagues opposed his work, criticizing his theories on the nature of good and evil, to which even Moreau agrees he doesn’t have all the answers. Fortunately, he admires Braddock’s intelligence, explaining to him the need to help his fellow human beings by controlling all stages of life whilst also keeping him at the compound and withholding the details of his trial and error experiments to save mankind. Moreau thinks what he is doing is just – making his work all the more frightening when the results aren’t as he hoped. The doctor gets angry with his whip when his creations remain animalistic. He speaks to his subjects about the law from his rocky pulpit, lording over those punished in his house of pain with his white suit and halo-like hat almost as if Elmer Gantry turned to dastardly mad science. Moreau thinks he can tell an animal he is human and it will understand. He wants his flock to obey Braddock – Moreau needs a successor to continue his delivery of science from cruel butchery and dissection. However, Braddock is a man who doesn’t do what he’s told, and Moreau is determined to use his tough love science to prove Braddock’s true nature. Unfortunately, Moreau is threatened by his own cause, unaware his do as I say not as I do superiority does not give him reign over his creations. Formerly of The Lady Vain, the situation goes from bad to worse for Michael York’s (The Three Musketeers) rugged seaman Braddock. He’s curious about the island, reads, questions where everyone came from and if there are nearby places. He walks the coast and repairs his damaged boat – the audience is on his side as the handsome hero uncovers the askew science. Alas, Braddock is too inquisitive for his own good, in over his head and meddling where he shouldn’t. He must learn to abide by this island’s rules or he will be punished for his interference. Braddock becomes desperate to remember who he is and where he comes from in all this upside down, and The Island of Dr. Moreau is a fine two-hander between its leading men – father and son figures where the elder won’t get his way thanks to the new, stronger man. Though often sweaty and shirtless when proving his macho, Braddock becomes embarrassed by his animal instincts. Ultimately, he buttons up his clothes when these dire circumstances force him to show he can behave like a civilized man. Barbara Carrera’s (Never Say Never Again) stunning image of beauty Maria, however, answers only to Dr. Moreau’s commands. He raised her, and initially, she keeps her distance despite Braddock’s romantic interest. Although the tender, sensuous explorations are well done, viewers know we shouldn’t trust the frolicking strolls along the beach as she gives in to her passion. Carrera doesn’t really have a lot to do, but Maria’s an innocent young woman, a blank slate being shaped by her in the wrong father figure and a lover who would take her away from the island when she’s afraid to go. Nigel Davenport (A Man for All Seasons) as Dr. Moreau’s gruff assistant Montgomery also has less to do than in the novel, but his cryptic attitude adds to the sinister isle orchestrations. He tells Braddock to get over the shock of it all, for he sleeps better on this island than anywhere else. Ironically, this man who chooses to be subservient because he lacks humanity becomes a problem once he does show sympathy.

Safari hats, white linen suits, and lacy women’s frocks match The Island of Dr. Moreau’s turn of the century talk of fantastic flying machines and underwater vessels. Candlelight, lanterns, gramophones, longhand journals, leather volumes, and pistols add vintage to the emerging gear, telescopes, globes, and specimens in jars. Laboratory equipment, medical beds, and giant needles create disturbing science alongside creepy teeth, gross smiles, and distorted faces making the audience recoil. Granted, some of the animal make up is weak compared to contemporary designs – the noses, wild hair, and horns could be laughable but they are not thanks to the serious abomination implications. One red scarf becomes a symbolic bright spot in the otherwise earthy palette while foreboding shadows around the buildings instill fear thanks to the natural and unnatural sounds beyond the halos of seemingly civilized light at the compound. Pans over the mountains capture the divine Caribbean locales, but the point of view more often looks out the windows or in past the verandas as if the cameras themselves won’t leave this little oasis. Overhead spins parallel the disorienting jungle alongside well done chases and unseen monstrosities amid dangerous but beautiful bears and big cats in cages. Animal claws and growling effects set off disturbing mobs and vicious attacks before a fiery finale with blood on all hands accenting both the messianic savior visuals and Judas retribution hangings. While the classic horrifics and big performances make Charles Laughton’s 1932 adaptation Island of Lost Souls, the 1996 Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer version is a little too messy despite being more faithful to the novel than the excised bookends here. With its horses, weapons, upside down tone, ravishing brunette, intelligent spark, revealing pace, and primitive design; this Island of Dr. Moreau at times feels more like the original Planet of the Apes. Perhaps we are due for another fully realized Wells interpretation, however, I fear that today’s over reliance on CGI talking animals, motion capture special effects, and spectacle transformations would miss the point of the piece.

Even if such shock value isn’t as important as the scientific harbingers, the bitter parable with man meets beast violence here can still be uncomfortable for some audiences. This well known story of half animal, half human would also seem to get old eventually – audiences aren’t meant to be surprised anymore by the monstrous warnings of combining man and beast for one’s own gain. Nonetheless, The Island of Dr. Moreau remains a relevant conversation starter in today’s era of cloning, stem cells, and healthcare debates, and this well done adventure with fine performances is worth a fresh look.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Poe Excursions!

 

An Excursion in Poe

by Kristin Battestella

 

A little bit of Edgar can be found in anywhere – if you know where to look.

 

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Oval PortraitStormy nights, carriages, red velvet, and antiques accent this loose 1972 adaptation alongside candles, staircases, ominous housekeepers, late relatives, and ghostly piano playing. The titular painting, apparitions, and haunted house atmosphere come early with eerie music, lovelorn letters, and fainting ladies. However the inaccurate Civil War costumes, shabby uniforms, off kilter voices, and dark print make it difficult to tell who’s Union or Confederate. The echoing overlays, visions of past couples, and angry artist can’t overcome the lookalike characters, soap opera stylings, and rip off plots. Sure Poe’s tale is thin, but here the new wife shocks everyone by coming down the stairs in Rebecca’s clothes – and yes that’s the late subject’s name. More people keep arriving, but the ghostly possessions are put on hold for flashbacks with rally calls, cavalry, and a soldier on the lamb that look borrowed from another picture. If this scandal is where the story starts, why not begin there? Of course, there’s also confusion between this movie and another with the same cast called One Minute Before Death, and the bookends make it seem like the two movies are combined into one on top of weak scripting, fly by night production, and jumpy flash cuts between the back and forth that never lets the forbidden love build. The muddled dialogue and stalling gothic romance feel like part of the story is missing – compromising the illicit, funerals, and grave robbing before more hysterics, wills, and tacked on ghosts. Though watchable – bemusing even thanks to the overlong, nonsensical dancing with the corpse finale that’s probably followed by some good old fashioned necrophilia – this could have been a better, faithful adaptation of Poe’s story instead of some kind of two for the price of one messy that doesn’t go together.

 

The Fall of the House of UsherThere’s not a lot of information available on this elusive 1949 British adaptation of Poe’s famously flawed siblings. The opening here is weird, with Brit pimps in their boys club chatting up their Poe favorites. When the story moves into the tale itself, however, solid dialogue from the book, lovely period décor, and bizarre designs put on the right demented atmosphere. Piano interludes, candlelight, unique photography, and one very creepy crazy mama add to the fun. Yes, today’s audiences may feel the plot meanders a bit with seeming slow or quiet scenes. Fortunately, the fade-in editing, ticking clocks, and slow-burning wicks encapsulate the tomb-like mood. This actually does what an adaptation should do- I want to go read the source again! It’s a bit dry, but this one is worth the Poe study or classroom comparison for the scares and macabre it gets right.

The Raven He’s hamming it up and quoting death as his talisman – Bela Lugosi is creepy as ever behind his doctor’s mask and a suave god complex for this 1935 Poe based hour. The bearded, raspy, demented looking Boris Karloff (also of the unrelated 1963 mash-up of the same name with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre) is trying to reform his criminal ways, but Lugosi’s twisted doctoring wrenches that! This quick plot wastes no time thanks to car accidents, desperate medicine, titular quotes, mad love, and torture gear. Though not a full-on, proper adaptation of the famed poem, great shadows, interiors, organ music, furs, fedoras, and screams accent the obsessed with Poe layers and madcap style. A large ensemble can make it tough to tell who is who, and we don’t see much of the Poe-esque devices or their violence compared to the torture porn we expect today. However, the time here is steeped in an entertaining interwar gothic atmosphere – the wild contraptions are fun yet there are poignant moments and comeuppance amid the haunted house attraction mayhem. Edgar aficionados and fans of the cast will enjoy the uncanny charm here.

 

Spirits of the DeadI’m not really a Jane Fonda fan, but she looks superb in this colorful 1968 Italian anthology with designs from Edgar Allan Poe. Perfect locales, music, horses, castles, and foggy coasts set an ethereal, dreamy mood for the first tale here. The period costumes and sixties fusion might be a bit too Barbarella, and some will be put off by the spoken French and reading subtitles. Yet Fonda fans will enjoy the suggested kinky and ménage taunts- even if it’s her brother Peter (Easy Rider) sparking the obsessions. ‘Metzengerstein’ is more sauce than scares, but it might have made a nice fantasy movie by itself.  By contrast, ‘William Wilson’ adds Italian occupation and religious motifs for the second installment.  Iffy kid acting, look a likes, and flashbacks can be confusing to start and some of the butchery won’t be for everyone. However great fashions, sweet cadavers, autopsy educations, and historical brutalities are scary good- not to mention a dark-haired, poker playing Brigitte Bardot (And God Created Woman) to keep the questions on one’s conscious and duality from getting too dry. Terrence Stamp (Billy Budd) is a wonderful drunkard in the almost too trippy ‘Toby Dammit’ finale, but cool Roman amusement, bizarre locations, and weird play within a play production keep the plot from being too nonsensical. Though the final ten minutes get tough, the well-edited and intense driving scenes make for a fitting overall conclusion.  Not all will enjoy the near-psychedelic period and foreign sensibilities, but this is some twisted fun for fans of the players and all involved.

 

Tale of a Vampire – A delicious Julian Sands (Warlock, people, Warlock) leads this 1992 brooding character study brimming with “Annabel Lee” and Poe references to match the bleak back alleys, dark morgues, abandoned blue buildings, and dreary British mood. Despite the underlying urge to bite, predatory love, black cats, creepy vampire beds, and sucking on some bloody fingers, this isn’t a gorefest thanks to multilayered social awkwardness, melancholy, loss, and conflict. This lovelorn vampire spends his time in the rare books section of a sweet old library – you use that card catalog! The plot is unfortunately very slow, the isolated characters have no sounding board, and confusing flashbacks of lookalike women and lost bliss don’t explain much. The centuries ago golden patinas are well shot, however the uneven pacing and flawed constructs interfere with the storytelling. We should have seen the past to start, using that previous to accent the current torment and slightly unreal, demented fairy tale tone. Why is the audience more sad than creeped by this thirsty stalker? Fine performances carry the drama once the characters actually interact by quoting history and poets in insightful two-handers. “’Tis better to have loved and lost” and all that. Lighting and shadow schemes add to the mysterious rivals, for good love or ill pain possibilities, and strange seductions. Can it really be love if a vampire’s idea of romance is to consume the life of his lover? It’s oddly pleasing to see this kind of twisted vampire bite symbolism rather than teenage moon eyes, and this simmer builds to a fine finale with some interesting surprises. While not scary, the Gothic romanticism and Victorian waxing on forever and death not being the end of love provide a solid helping of morbid and memento mori.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Twisted Numbered Films!

Twisted Numbered Films!

By Kristin Battestella

Even if it isn’t that dreaded 666, you know a horror movie with a number in the title will carry a certain amount of bizarre, twisted, and freaky.

Dementia 13Roger Corman produced and eventually interfered with this 1963 directorial debut of Francis Ford Coppola (I will hit you if you need a film reference for Francis Ford Coppola!) Clearly made on the cheap with quick, iffy dialogue, most of the picture is too dark and tough to see. The title doesn’t have much to do with anything, either, but the opening crime, water motifs, and axe murders are pretty entertaining. It’s a weird mix of both men- Coppola’s brooding atmosphere and complexity against Corman’s hint of over the top blood. Fans of both will indeed be curious to see this special blend of contemporary crime and creepy Irish castle. Eerie music and suspenseful, deceptive builds carry the weird family, death, and grief thanks to Coppola’s stylized interpretation. However, Corman’s insisted upon shocks aren’t bad, either. It’s almost as if two different films are happening- a ghost story and a slasher mystery. It makes the vision muddled at times, but it’s all quite creepy and entertaining nonetheless. Yes, this will be too slow or poorly done for some modern audiences, but a few good ghostly scares and deaths make this one wonderfully worthwhile for fans of the boys.

Devil Times Five – Teen idol Leif Garrett and his sister Dawn Lyn make for some creepy youngins in this 1974 picture also known as Peopletoys – and a dozen other titles for good measure. Eerie seventies lullaby notes ironically accent the snowy vacation spot, yuppie couples, and old fogies as perilous, icy, winding roads lead to vehicular disasters. Nuns and kids should be a sign of safety, however, real snow filming, old fashioned cars, and past technological isolation up the apprehensive mood. Although the teen voiceovers and their jive lingo are dated and the characters are initially stock stereotypes, the acting both from the adults and the children isn’t bad. Slow motion and still zooms are unnecessary now, granted, but the black and white scenes showcase the shocking child violence, blunt objects, and group attacks – an extra oomph on how these miniature sociopaths get hungry and sleepy after a good bludgeoning. A belittling sex proposition of a slow adult is awkward, but cat fights, lingerie, and boobs about the bedroom scenes create a saucy upscale before our unaware adults come to realize they can’t handle these escaped, killer charges – who have a wicked motivation and intellect far beyond their years. Guns go missing, knives disappear, wood needs to be chopped, and it’s fun to see who or what is going to set off another crafty murder. Sure, this isn’t scary by today’s standards. However, the bathtub terrors and snow siege build well over the 88 minute time for some bemusing – if twisted – entertainment.

 

 

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Session 9 – Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) wonderfully executes this taut psychological thriller and smartly tells his 2001 tale in the gloriously eerie Danvers State Hospital for premium naturally spooky effects. Both Peter Mullan (Red Riding) and David Caruso (CSI: Miami) are on form, keeping the viewer intelligently guessing as to all the mystery and paranoia right up to the end. Unfortunately, everything falls apart for the finale. There are so many suspenseful and horrific possibilities, and any one of them was possible here. Yet none actually happens in this disappointing end.For all the smarts and interesting strides made beforehand, Anderson and co-writer Stephen Gevedon (Oz) leave you scratching your head at the unexplained conclusion. Claiming the deleted scenes on the DVD resolve everything doesn’t help, either.

Room 6 – Frightful Hospital nightmares of masked surgeons and aware as the scalpel cuts but immobilized patients open this 2006 in limbo experience starring schoolteacher Christine Taylor (Hey, Dude! people, Hey, Dude!), creepy kid Chloe Grace Moretz (Let Me In), and the mysterious Jerry O’Connell (Sliders). Our couple has moved in together but rushed proposals and reluctant answers escalate to car accidents with realistic shocks, injuries, and intensity. Retro taxis, old fashioned nurses uniforms, and a sickly green surreal add to the unfamiliar hospital fears and confusion aftermath. Overhead or looking up from the operating table camera angles increase the bizarre afoot – lots of blood needs to be drawn and disappearing patients aren’t sure how they got there or why they are being treated. Resorting to pay phones or phone booths and avoiding suspicious bums increase the uneasy unknown as the accident survivors look for missing victims. Everyone seems to know their names and histories while freaky voice messages and blood splatter create disturbia. Unfortunately, from boo visions, dream splices, and false wake ups to rapid fire images, phantom bloody faces, and cryptic child warnings – a lot of unnecessary clutters the already weird, which world is real, obvious purgatory tone. Less is more, even if it means ditching the naughty naked nurses and interesting levitating demon church battles that should have happened much sooner if they were critical to the plot. A lack of modern technology leaves the research to an old lady in a dusty archive telling stories of fiery devil worship that should have been seen and not told in cliché explanations complete with background thunder and lightning. The ensemble struggles as the contrived connections, suspect characters, and required twists get silly, and the disjointed nature of the onscreen reality does not excuse the disjointedness in the film. While clearly about the titular past reconciliations, the finale strays with zombies, ridiculous flickering lights, and a nonsensical, realm mixing maze akin to a hospital themed house haunt. There are some quality, entertaining moments here, and this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be – but the big reset button mood is no secret and this never cashes in on any of the potential intrigue.

4gettable!

Apartment 1303Two and a half minutes of loud, padding opening credits don’t help this muddled 2013 remake starring estranged singer Rebecca De Mornay (Risky Business), miscast snarky daughter Mischa Barton (The O.C.) and foolish youngest Julianne Michelle (looking like a sickly thin fourteen year old) who signs a cheap lease on the titular flat complete with a view, creepy kids, a pervy super, and ghostly residue. The mother/daughter arguing plot feels like a dramatic movie separate from the horror, but De Mornay’s husky singing is more interesting than the cliché girl alone taking selfies and talking to herself over ironing board jump scares. It’s tough to care about this drinking, quivering kid. What did she expect? Rattling doors, phantom shadows, spooky sounds, foggy attacks, and scary faces tapping at the window do better than the ugly crying shouts, cheating boyfriend, the black best friend in only one scene, divorced dad cop subplots, and one uncomfortable sex scene. The ghost girl looks like a man, the bathroom scenes are laughable – those fake bubbles in Mischa’s tub! – and the screaming ghost roars are useless. The spectre and its special effects are barely there but this ghost can physically do a lot – like dragging the stick chick all across the floor. An unexpected turn halfway through makes viewers wonder why one plot wasn’t just told in its entirety as a short opening prologue before the family pieces. However, the sisters really are interchangeable, and I would rather have seen their broken down mom moving into the haunt to do some comeback songwriting and solve the scares. Phantom phone calls, bizarre dreams, investigation of past deaths, even calling the police for the deadly facts come too late, and the paranormal really happens most in last ten minutes with no resolution and four more minutes of credits. Eighty-five minutes my foot! There’s no time to waste, yet this does everything but focus on the horror – and its ten years behind on the blonde moves to a creepy place with a kid trend. While serviceable for those who can laugh at this kind of babe alone boo fest, I suspect the J-horror original is better.

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.