Sunday, October 31, 2010

#86. The Exorcist (1973)

DVD Synopsis: The frightening and realistic tale of an innocent girl inhabited by a terrifying entity, her mother's frantic resolve to save her and two priests--one doubt-ridden, the other a rock of faith--joined in battling ultimate evil always leaves viewers breathless. This greatest supernatural thriller of all time astonishes and unsettles like no other movie.

One normal summer day back in 1983, I was visiting a friend’s house, and a bunch of us were sitting around in his living room when someone suggested we pop a movie into the VCR. 

How about The Exorcist, my friend’s younger brother suggested, to which my friend immediately said “no”. 

It seems he had seen William Friedkin's frightfest just the night before, and it scared the hell out of him. But his brother was pretty persistent, and since most of us had never seen The Exorcist, my friend was out-voted by about 8 to 1. 

So, while he sat with his head buried in a pillow, the rest of us watched as Linda Blair flailed, spun and spewed. 

Well, it wasn’t long before I was covering my eyes, and I wasn’t the only one. 

Those images proved to be very traumatic for me; because of The Exorcist, I wore a rosary around my neck for two solid months. In fact, I’ve only worked up the nerve to see this movie something like 3 or 4 times since that afternoon all those years ago, and it never fails to frighten me. 

In my opinion, The Exorcist is the granddaddy of scary movies, and probably always will be.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

#85. Nosferatu (1922)

Directed By: F.W. Murnau

Starring: Max Schreck, Greta Schröder, Gustav von Wangenheim

Trivia:  Count Orlok is only seen blinking one time on screen (near the end of part 1)

Despite the many years that have passed since its production, director F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu is still a truly frightening marriage of character and atmosphere. 

Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), a real estate agent living in Wisburg, Germany, has been sent by his maniacal boss, Knock (Alexander Granach) to the castle of Count Orlok (Max Schreck), where he will negotiate a contract that will bring the mysterious Count to his home town. 

Leaving his new wife, Nina (Greta Schrõder), behind, Hutter makes the long journey to Orlok’s castle. Once there, however, the young man comes to the realization that Count Orlok is a monster, a bloodthirsty fiend who must never be permitted to leave the grounds of his dilapidated estate. 

But the Count moves quickly, sealing Hutter up in a room in the tower before setting out for Wisburg alone, driven by one desire: to feast on Hutter's beloved wife!. 

Perfectly portrayed by Max Schreck, Count Orlok is one of the most instantly recognizable monsters ever to grace the screen. When we first meet the Count, he’s emerging from a darkened tunnel to greet Hutter, who has just arrived at the castle. Menacing in appearance, Schreck’s vampire resembles a giant rat with deep, hypnotic eyes, and even the child-like Hutter, so carefree in the film’s early scenes, shrinks in terror at the sight of him. 

Later that night, Hutter joins the Count for dinner, and is cutting some bread when his hand slips.  The knife slices into Hutter's finger, drawing blood, the sight of which causes Orlok’s eyes to widen. He jumps from his chair, approaching his guest with a crazed look in his eyes, and once again the terrified Hutter withdraws in fear. 

Schreck’s performance - in these scenes and all others - is positively creepy, and 80+ years has done nothing to diminish it's effectiveness; his vampire remains the most chilling in cinematic history. Throw in Murnau's oft-experimental approach, designed to further enhance the audience's apprehensions and fear (negative images, fast motion shots, etc), and you have what amounts to a Gothic horror masterpiece. 

German critic Béla Balázs wrote in 1924 that the experience of watching Nosferatu was like a “chilly draft from doomsday”. Thanks to the combined efforts of F.W. Murnau and Max Schreck, this assessment holds true even today.  

Friday, October 29, 2010

#84. Black Sabbath (1963)

DVD Synopsis: A beautiful woman is terrorized by calls from an ex-lover who has escaped prison for the pleasure of killing her... a family becomes a feeding ground when their father returns home wounded after ridding the countryside of a hideous vampire... a nurse is haunted by reproaches from the Beyond after stealing a ring from the finger of a dead medium! Join Boris Karloff as he hosts (and stars in) this trilogy of terror tales, with every shock intact!

Before taking his seat in the director’s chair, Mario Bava first followed in the footsteps of his father, Eugenia, a well-respected cinematographer in the early days of Italian cinema. In watching Black Sabbath, you'll see that the junior Bava's days spent looking through the viewfinder were not in vain. 

Aside from his clever use of framing (In the segment The Telephone, the various shots of the phone itself, whether in close-up or positioned in the background, bring a level of real terror to a common, everyday item), Bava also gives his camera free range; it's as if it's gliding, in bold, smooth motions, throughout the entire film. As the final segment, titled The Wurdulak, opens, we're following along with one of the characters, whose riding across the landscape on a horse. But the camera doesn't stop when he does; it continues on past this character, and in so doing cleverly reveals that there's someone else hiding in the shadows, watching this rider's every move. By presenting this scene, and every other in Black Sabbath, with such eye-catching flair, Bava pretty much guarantees that his audience will squirm in all the right places.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

#83. Patrick (1978)

DVD Synopsis: After violently murdering his mother and her lover, young Patrick lays comatose in a small private hospital. When a pretty young nurse, just separated from her husband, begins working at the hospital, she senses that Patrick is trying to communicate with her, while others in her life are being killed in most mysterious ways.

So just how effective can a horror film be if its title character spends most of his time in a coma? If that film is Patrick, the answer is...pretty damn effective! 

A psychological thriller, Patrick succeeds in generating real fear for a character that never gets out of bed, a deeply disturbed young man who can control the world around him with his mind. Susan Penhaligon is very good as Patrick's nurse, but it's Robert Thompson as Patrick who you'll remember, despite the fact he does little more than lie in bed and stare. 

An unnerving film with a truly shocking final scene, Patrick is one you won't want to miss.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

#82. Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

DVD Synopsis: Haunted by horrifying childhood memories, the son (Vincent Price) of the Spanish Inquisition's most notorious assassin teeters on the brink of insanity. But when his adulterous wife fakes her own death to drive him over the edge, she soon discovers that betrayal cuts both ways – as the man she wants to destroy becomes not only her judge and jury – but also her executioner!

No actor was better suited for Edgar Allen Poe than Vincent Price. He embodied both the gentle sophistication and deep-seated despair that a Poe character demanded, and when it came to depicting a slow descent into madness, Price had no equal. 

Director Roger Corman brought great style to his various Poe adaptations, constructing an ambiance of foreboding doom by way of elegant period costumes and baleful set pieces. Showing a flair for color and an understanding of what it is that makes people squirm, Corman breathed new life into the great writer’s chilling compositions, with Vincent Price mixing in just the right amount of the macabre for good measure.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

#81. Horror of Dracula (1958) - Hammer Horror Movies

Directed By: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough

Tag line: "Who Will Be His Bride Tonight?"

Trivia:  Christopher Lee has only thirteen lines in this film

Horror of Dracula was Hammer Studio’s take on the world’s most famous creature of the night, Count Dracula. The title of this film was changed in the United States (in its native England, it was simply Dracula) to avoid confusion with Universal's classic 1931 Bela Lugosi film, which was still playing theatrically in select areas across the country. 

But after watching Hammer's take on the story, I admit that I don't quite get it. I mean, I understand Universal's trademark concerns, but the fact remains that any confusion between the two movies would have been unlikely. The regulations governing film production at the time prevented 1931’s Dracula from spilling a single drop of blood on-screen. In Horror of Dracula, the red stuff spatters all over the place in the opening credits!

Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) travels to a remote region of Eastern Europe to do battle with the evil Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). But he never returns. 

Back in London, Harker’s good friend Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) informs Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough), the brother of Harker’s fiancé Lucy (Carol Marsh), that Harker has died abroad, and will not be returning to marry his sister. 

Yet the story doesn't end there. When Lucy falls seriously ill, suffering from a strange case of anemia, all signs point to the fact that Count Dracula has made his way to London. Will the Count continue to build his army of the undead in England, or can Van Helsing end Dracula’s reign of terror once and for all?

Lee, like Lugosi before him, was born to play the infamous Count, successfully conveying Dracula’s sophistication as well as his savagery. We see both in the film's opening sequence, when Harker arrives at Dracula’s castle. During this initial meeting, the Count is ever so polite, and acts more like a butler than the Lord of the Undead. He even carries Harker’s luggage to his room. 

The next time we see Dracula, however, will be under more intense circumstances. That first night, after being lured out of his room by one of the Count’s wives (Valerie Gaunt), Harker finds himself cornered, and seconds away from receiving a bite on the neck. Suddenly, Dracula bursts into the room. With blood dripping from his teeth and wild, bloodshot eyes, The Count battles his deranged wife, quickly subduing her and carrying her off to another part of the castle.

Only two scenes in, and Horror of Dracula has set everything in motion, including Christopher Lee's performance - one for the ages - as Count Dracula.

Monday, October 25, 2010

#80. Rats - Night of Terror (1984)

DVD Synopsis: In the year 225 A.B. (After the Bomb), a group of post-apocalyptic bikers discover an abandoned research laboratory filled with food, water...and thousands of rats. But these are no ordinary vermin; these are super-intelligent mutant rodents with a ravenous appetite for human flesh. Can a bunch of heavily armed but not-too-bright human scavengers survive a night of terror against the most hungry and horrific predators on earth?

Rats, no matter how vicious they may be, are somewhat limited in the amount of panic they can generate in a movie, so director Bruno Mattei had to get a bit creative in Rats - Night of Terror to get our adrenaline pumping. 

And creative he was. 

For starters, he hides a few mutilated corpses for his characters to stumble upon from time to time, an early warning (for both them and us) of what's to come. And what's to come, of course, are rats...hundreds and hundreds of rats, pouring out of every hole in the wall or crack in the ceiling. And these rats are hungry! One even chews its way into a girl's body, and doesn't stop chewing until it crawls out of her mouth. 

With an interesting post-apocalyptic back story, some cheesy special effects and an ever-increasing body count, Rats - Night of Terror proves a lot more entertaining than you'd think.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

#79. Diabolique (1955)

Directed By: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse

Tag line: "See it, be amazed at it, but... BE QUIET ABOUT IT!"

Trivia:  Two women drive from the outskirts of Paris to Niort, the birthplace of director Henri-Georges Clouzot

Diabolique is the film that Alfred Hitchcock almost made. The Master of Suspense was anxiously pursuing the rights to the French novel, Celle qui n’était plus (She Who Was No More), the literary work that would form the basis of Diabolique, when, legend has it, French director Henri-Georges Clouzot beat him to the punch, purchasing the rights only hours ahead of Hitchcock’s offer to do so. Yet Hitch wasn’t bitter about losing out to Clouzot. On the contrary; he became quite a fan of Diabolique, and the events of this film would serve as an influence on one of Hitchcock’s most popular works; the 1960 psychological thriller, Psycho

Michel (Paul Meurisse) is the director of a boarding school for boys that's owned by his wife, Christina (Véra Clouzot). Privately, Michel is a brute, a man who terrorizes both his wife and mistress, Nicole (Simone Signoret), also a teacher at the school. Michel is abusive, both verbally and physically, and both women have had enough of his hateful ways. To this end, Nicole formulates a detailed plan by which she and Christina will murder Michel and dispose of his body. Despite a few second thoughts by Christina, the plan goes off without a hitch, and it appears as if both women will literally get away with murder. That is, until a string of coincidences suggests that Michel may not be dead after all. 

In true Hitchcockian fashion, Diabolique perfectly balances elements of suspense and horror, with a few surprising twists thrown in to keep us on our toes . One such twist involves the film’s sudden change of pace, during which it transforms itself from a tale of murder into a perplexing mystery, complete with scenes of unbearable tension. Hitchcock would use a similar narrative switch years later in Psycho, a movie that begins with a robbery and ends amid a bloody mess at the sinister Bates Motel. In fact, there are a number of similarities between Diabolique and Psycho, not the least of which is each film’s murder scene. Like Psycho, Diabolique’s killing occurs in the bathroom, but with one small difference. Whereas Janet Leigh suffered a gruesome fate while taking a shower, Paul Meurisse meets the grim reaper at the bottom of a bathtub. 

If you’re a Hitchcock fan, then I would most certainly recommend Diabolique, but let me give you a little advice: don’t plan on taking a bath once the film is over. In short, Diabolique does for bathtubs what Psycho did for showers!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

#78. Galaxy of Terror (1981)

DVD Synopsis: The mind's innermost fears become reality for the crew members of the Quest when they land on the barren planet Morganthus hoping to find the missing crew members of the starship Remus — only to discover something deadly waiting for them. Each member of the rescuing team must come face to face with their darkest fears or perish. The cast onboard the Quest includes Edward Albert (The House Where Evil Dwells), Erin Moran (Happy Days), Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian), Robert Englund (A Nightmare On Elm Street series), Zalman King (Blue Sunshine) and Sig Haig (House Of 1,000 Corpses).

Galaxy of Terror is insane as hell, and while it didn't work 100% for me, I had to admire how far it was willing to go.  

The various kills that occur throughout the film were pretty outlandish.  For example, in one scene, a female crew member battles a maggot that’s grown to an enormous size. Inexplicably, this huge, worm-like creature manages to wrestle every stitch of clothing off of her body, and then, before doing away with the poor girl, it rapes her (that’s right, folks…raped by a giant maggot). Galaxy of Terror contains a hodge-podge of gory kill sequences such as this, though I have to say not one of them matched up well with any of the others; they just kinda "happened", with no real explanation as to why. 

For a low-budget movie, the special effects were quite good, and this, along with its impressive cast and gruesome kills, was enough to keep my interest. But with a story that doesn't make much sense, Galaxy of Terror was also a bit trying at times, and had me scratching my head more often than not. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

#77. Die Sister, Die! (1972)

DVD Synopsis: Go ahead and SCREAM Amanda - it can't help you now! An isolated house is the setting for horror and perversion as a family of troubled souls play out their violent fantasies. A man hires a nurse to care for his ailing but nasty and shrewish sister. What he really intends to do, however, is to convince the nurse to join him in a plot to kill her.

A made-for-TV movie from 1972, Die Sister, Die! is surprisingly entertaining, and while its story of sibling hatred and greed has been done before, the performances go a long way in making it all seem fresh.  

Edith Atwater is excellent as Amanda, the sister whose secrets are so terrible that they drive her to attempt suicide, and Antoinette Bower is also quite good as the nurse hired by Amanda’s brother, Edward (Jack Grieg), who wants to ensure that his sister’s next try at suicide succeeds. 

Die Sister, Die! doesn’t break any new ground, but it does manage to breathe some life into an old, familiar tale.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

#76. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

DVD Synopsis: The Blair Witch Project follows a trio of filmmakers on what should have been a simple walk in the woods...but quickly becomes an excursion into heart-stopping terror.  As the three become inexplicably lost, morale deteriorates.  Hunger sets in.  Accusations fly.  By night, unseen evil stirs beyond their campfire's light.  By day, chilling ritualistic figures are discovered nearby.  As the end of their journey approaches, they realize that what they are filming now is not a legend...but their own descent into unimaginable horror.

The Blair Witch Project works for me because, every time I see it, I’m immediately pulled in by the film’s documentary style, which brings a chilling air of realism to an unbelievable tale.  

A great deal of the credit for this perceived reality must go to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, who wrote and directed The Blair Witch Project, but, in my opinion, it’s the three lead performers who really sell it.  These three set out at the beginning with an energy level one would expect from young filmmakers, but as events grow more strange, and the hope of escape fades with each passing night, they slowly begin to unravel, lashing out at one another before breaking down completely.  All three are utterly convincing, and it’s because of them that I find the events depicted in The Blair Witch Project so frighteningly unsettling.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

#75. House of the Damned (1963)

DVD Synopsis: A perfect romantic getaway turns into a hellish nightmare in this suspense-filled thriller! Architect Scott Campbell (Ronald Foster) and his wife Nancy (Merry Anders) join another couple, Joseph and Loy Schiller (Richard Crane and Erika Peters), for what promises to be a pleasant stay at an empty castle set on a seculded California hillside. Soon, however, tension mounts as terrifying things begin happening.

I have a soft spot for black and white ‘haunted house’ films, so I was really excited when I first sat down to watch House of the Damned. But the film establishes pretty early on that the house of the title is haunted not by a ghostly presence, but beings of flesh and blood, which kinda took the edge off for me. 

With ghosts, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen. Will the house shake? Will the walls bleed? Will chains rattle in the hallway? There’s no way of knowing, and that’s what ultimately builds tension. The unwanted guests in House of the Damned, who are 100% mortal, seem limited to stealing keys and locking doors. I’m not saying there aren’t a few thrills to be found in House of the Damned (there’s one excellent scene in which we see the silhouette of a strange being with no legs walking on its hands across the floor); they’re just not as thrilling as they could have been.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

#74. Black Sheep (2006)

DVD Synopsis: Black Sheep is a gruesomely twisted horror/comedy about mutant flesh-eating sheep run amok in rural New Zealand. When sheep-aphobic Henry returns to sell his share of the family farm, he finds his brother has been genetically altering the animals. The resulting monsters go on a murderous rampage, and it's up to Henry to stop them. With frighteningly grotesque effects courtesy of Peter Jackson's WETA workshop, Black Sheep is a frenzy of severed limbs and manic mutton definitely "not for the weak of stomach" (Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News).

Black Sheep is about killer sheep.  Yes…killer sheep!  And as amazing as that sounds, it’s not the most incredible thing about this movie.  No, the most incredible thing about Black Sheep is that it actually makes you fear the sheep!  

The blood runs by the bucketful when these normally docile creatures turn on the inhabitants of s small farming community, bringing about enough carnage and mayhem to satisfy even the most fickle gore-crazed horror fan.  Of course, it’s all a bit silly (sometimes too much so for its own good.  When your film is about killer sheep, do you really need to throw cheesy comedy into the mix?  I'm thinking the whole ‘killer sheep’ angle is comedy enough), but that doesn’t make it any less stomach-churning.  

Watch Black Sheep and I guarantee you’ll never look at those roadside petting zoos in quite the same way again.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

#73. The Mummy (1999)

DVD Synopsis: Deep in the Egyptian desert, a handful of people searching for a long-lost treasure have just unearthed a 3,000-year-old legacy of terror. Combining the thrills of a rousing adventure with the suspense of the legendary 1932 horror classic, The Mummy is a true nonstop action epic, filled with dazzling visual effects, top-notch talent and superb storytelling.

It's the characters that make Stephen Sommers' 1999 action / horror film The Mummy so entertaining. They are unlike the heroes you'll find in most adventure films; in short, these people are almost completely incompetent! 

O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), the ‘hero’ of the story, is an adventurer, but he’s not a very good one. At one point, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) has to step in and save him when he’s sentenced to hang for drunkenness and public fighting. 

Then there’s Evelyn herself, who, as the movie opens, is working as a librarian for the Cairo museum. In a well-choreographed scene, we watch as she clumsily knocks over every bookshelf in the room, domino-style, sending thousands of books crashing to the ground. 

Her brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), a self-proclaimed ‘explorer’, is in reality a drunken fop whose most amazing archaeological discovery was made in a bar. 

Even the supporting characters aren’t much to write home about. On the way to the lost city of Hamunaptra, O’Connell and company meet a trio of gun-happy Americans who are also searching for the lost city’s treasure. They’re led by a weasly little man named Beni (Kevin J. O'Connor), who O’Connell knows from his days in the army, when Benni’s cowardice almost got him killed.  

Each of these characters is comically inept, and we’re left questioning whether or not they can read a map, let alone find Hamunaptra. 

The special effects and exciting action sequences certainly work in the movie's favor, and the opening sequence (set in ancient times) as well as Arnold Vosloo's intense yet strangely sympathetic portrayal of the title character do their part to help make The Mummy an electrifying film.

But it’s the hilariously incompetent cast of characters that makes it an endearing one.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

#72. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) - Hammer Horror Movies

DVD Synopsis: A fiendish evil lurks beneath the mist-shrouded cliffs of England's fabled moors. In the form of a hellish hound, it feeds upon the trembling flesh of the heirs of Baskerville Hall. But before this savage beast can sink its teeth into the newest lord of the manor, it must pit its vicious fangs against the searing intellect of the most powerful foe it has ever encountered - the incomparable Sherlock Holmes.

In an effort to bring the appropriate atmosphere to Hammer Studio’s production of the classic Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, the film’s central location, Baskerville Hall, was surrounded on all sides by the most sinister-looking moors I’ve ever seen. In fact, they’re so creepy that they even managed to give Holmes himself the willies (while standing in the middle of them he confessed to Watson, “There is more evil around us here than I have ever encountered before”). Production Designer Bernard Robinson did a wonderful job laying out this spine-chilling locale, complete with fog, mist, and a hell of a lot of atmosphere. Each new scene set in these moors proves more disturbing than the last, culminating in a finale that’ll have your nerves hanging by a thread.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

#71. Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

DVD Synopsis: Welcome to upscale Crawford Academy, where everyone – especially new student Ginny (Melissa Sue Anderson) – wants to be part of the school’s most popular clique. But now somebody has begun butchering the group's members. Could a deadly accident from Ginny's past be connected to the brutal killings? And as her 18th birthday approaches, will Ginny be the guest of honor at the most horrific party of all?

Happy Birthday to Me was a real mixed bag, a movie with a number of excellent kill scenes that’s ultimately ruined by as lousy a twist ending as I’ve ever encountered.  

First off, the good; there are two or three pretty gruesome kills in Happy Birthday to Me, the best (or worst) of which involves a weight set (I was cringing through this entire scene, mostly because I knew what was going to happen.  And no, that didn’t make it any easier to watch).  

As far as the ending goes, it’s more than a mere head-scratcher; the final twist is so out of left field, so ridiculously thrown together that it actually pissed me off.  With a running time of over an hour and fifty minutes, Happy Birthday to Me is longer than most slasher films.  Were any of those extra minutes dedicated to setting up this ending?  Yeah…maybe 2 of them; which are two more than the filmmakers spent thinking it through. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

#70. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

DVD Synopsis: Edgar Allen Poe's classic of paranoic and suspense, The Fall of the House of Usher, has been filmed many times over the years--none as highly acclaimed as this 1928 masterpiece by one of France's leading avant-garde visionaries, Jean Epstein. The last of Epstein's collaborations with Luis Bunuel (Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) and the only one of Epstein's works to receive theatrical distribution in the US, The Fall of the House of Usher is pure Gothic eye-candy and must-see viewing for all aficionados of fantastic film.

In the hands of director Jean Epstien, The Fall of the House of Usher is as much a celebration of the art of film making as it was a cinematic telling of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous short story. 

The film abounds with special effects, from the use of superimposed images (like when Madeline’s casket is being carried to the crypt), to slow motion shots of curtains blowing in the wind. At one point, the camera actually seems to ‘break free’, flying through the hallways of the house as if carried by the wind. It is rare, especially in the silent era, to see an artistic approach such as this blend so well with engaging storytelling.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

#69. Ginger Snaps (2000)

DVD Synopsis: Ginger and Brigitte, two sisters trapped in suburbia, are obsessed with mayhem, torture and death until they get a taste of the real thing. Bitten by a wild animal, Ginger begins to mutate into a sexy, uncontrolled woman, with some nasty canine tendencies.  Is it a virus? Is it a curse? Or the first step towards becoming a vicious werewolf!

I first learned about Ginger Snaps while perusing one of the many on-line horror forums, and I wish to hell I could remember which forum it was because I owe them a shout-out, not to mention a ‘thank you’.  

Who'd have guessed that, in the year 2000, it would’ve been possible to make a completely original movie about werewolves?  But that’s exactly what Ginger Snaps is; it’s bloody, scary, and even manages to throw in some interesting characters along the way.  If you’re like me, and hadn’t heard of Ginger Snaps before now, then you owe it to yourself to check this film out.  It’s a hidden gem that really has no business staying hidden anymore.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

#68. The Curse (1987)

DVD Synopsis: During a terrible storm over the Hayes family farm, young Zack (Wil Wheaton) watches a glowing meteorite plummet from the sky to crash on his stepfather's land. But before the object can be removed, a disgusting ooze seeps into the groundwater...turning the farm's crops, animals and adults into mutated monsters! Now Zack must become man of the farm to save his sister and escape from the freaks that won't rest until the kids are dead!

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to tell you that “the curse” of the title is spread through the water supply.  If the opening sequence, in which John Schneider shouts “it’s in the water” as they’re hauling him off to jail, isn’t enough to convince you, then the threatening score that thumps its way through a montage of cows drinking and sprinklers switching on will certainly do the trick.  

No, subtlety is not one of The Curse’s strong suits; not in its execution, or its characters (Claude Akins plays a textbook bible thumper, one of several stereotypes to be found in this small community).  Still, The Curse is a fun watch.  The gross-out ratio is pretty high, what with all the maggots and the green slime oozing from the eyes of chickens, and it stars a post-Stand By Me, pre-Wesley Crusher Wil Wheaton, who plays the family’s lone voice of reason.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#67. Rabid (1977)

DVD Synopsis: After undergoing radical emergency surgery, Rose (adult film star Marilyn Chambers in her first leading role in a mainstream film) develops an insatiable desire for blood. She searches out victims to satisfy her incurable craving, infecting them with an unknown disease which in turn swiftly drives them insane and equally bloodthirsty.

A clever marriage of vampires and zombies, David Cronenberg's Rabid tackles several challenging issues, such as medical experimentation and the government's role in a time of crisis, and wraps them in a slick, stylish, often quite gory horror film. 

Marilyn Chambers stars as Rose, a woman whose emergency plastic surgery goes very wrong, leading to an epidemic that transforms normal people into mouth-foaming cannibals. The casting of one of the most famous porn stars of the day in a government-funded film was controversial, to say the least, but Chambers silences all critics by delivering a solid performance, walking a fine line between feminine allure and uncontrollable insanity.
Rabid is as thought-provoking as it is frightening, and stands as an early example of the genius of David Cronenberg.

Monday, October 11, 2010

#66. Shrooms (2007)

DVD Synopsis: Keen for adventure, a group of American teenagers come to Ireland, having been promised the "trip" of a lifetime by their Irish friend, Jake, a mushroom expert. But the vacation takes a horrible turn when the teenagers ignore Jake’s warnings and ingest the local 'shrooms'. Before long, the panicked friends are stalked by ghostly creatures. Are these hallucinations—or gruesome reality?

Shrooms keeps you guessing throughout: is what we're witnessing real, or simply one person’s perception of reality?  

You see, all of the film’s main characters have ingested mushrooms in order to experience a drug-like high, and during the 'trips', their minds play tricks on them (one character even receives a warning from a talking cow).  There are some legitimately frightening moments to be found in Shrooms, most of which involve a ghostly monk who'll send shivers up your spine.  The ending, unfortunately, is a let-down, and more formulaic than I was hoping for, but it doesn’t detract from the rest of the film.  

Pardon the obvious pun: Shrooms is definitely worth the trip.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

#65. Earth vs. The Spider (1958)

DVD Synopsis: A giant spider goes on a rampage through a small town. Can anyone stop it before it takes over the world?

Earth vs. The Spider is pretty much your standard 1950’s Sci-Fi / Horror film, where an insect has grown to enormous size and is threatening a small town of sub-par actors. There’s no new ground broken, and nothing to really distinguish it from the dozens of other ‘big insect’ films that were prevalent around this time; nothing, that is, except the damn spider. 

Now, some people are terrified of spiders, but I’ve never been. I can watch a spider crawl across a table, or climb a wall, and it won’t bother me in the least. But for some reason, watching that big, hairy spider in Earth vs. The Spider got to me, and the thought of one of these things walking around really gave me the creeps.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

#64. Castle of Blood (1964)

DVD Synopsis: When American author Edgar Allan Poe visits London, he is approached by British journalist Alan Foster, who becomes the target of a peculiar wager. Not believing Poe's assertion that all of his macabre stories have been based on actual experience, Foster accepts a bet from Poe and his friend Sir Thomas Blackwood that he cannot spend an entire night in the Blackwood's haunted castle. Once installed in the abandoned castle, Foster discovers that he is not alone, as he is approached by various beautiful women and handsome men, and a doctor of metaphysics -- who explains that they are all lost souls damned to replay the stories of their demises on the anniversary of their deaths!

Director Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood is a movie ripe with ambiance, a horror film that deserves a place among the classics of the genre.

Shot entirely in black and white, Castle of Blood gives off a creepy vibe, one that kicks in the moment the main character arrives at the castle, lights a candle, and starts to look around. The darkness he encounters on this initial visit has an atmosphere all its own, one that immediately sets our skin to crawling, and even the various clichés he encounters along the way; the black cat, the foggy graveyard, the hanging portrait with deep, probing eyes, seem fresh in the confines of director Margheriti’s mysterious black and white world.

Friday, October 8, 2010

#63. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Synopsis: Due to some mysterious radiation emanating from outer space, the dead have risen from the grave, and are feasting on the flesh of the living. A small band of survivors takes shelter in a Pennsylvania farmhouse, including Barbara (Judith O’Dea), whose brother, Johnny (Russell Streiner) was killed earlier in the day by one of the walking dead, and Ben (Duane Jones), a drifter who’s the only one with a solid plan for survival. But will he execute this plan in time to save them?

The first time I saw George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was when I was in high school, and even though I thought the first 15 minutes of the movie were pretty exciting, the living dead hadn't really done anything by that point to make me truly fear them. Sure, they took out Johnny (Russell Streiner), but only because he didn't know what was coming.

In the first real confrontation between the living and the dead, Duane Jones’ Ben finishes off three walking corpses without too much effort, and the six or seven that were left surrounding the farmhouse didn’t seem like much of a threat. 

Honestly, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. 

Then, a few minutes pass, and about a dozen or so dead were now hanging around…

then two dozen…

then about fifty…

then a hundred! 

Before I knew it, “no real threat” had become an impenetrable wall of death! 

This, for me, is the real magic of Night of the Living Dead, and the reason why its success has never been duplicated: the film is incredibly patient. It works on you, slowly breaking down your sense of security before snatching it away without a moment’s notice. 

So much for not being scared; after 25 years and about two dozen viewings, I still can’t watch Night of the Living Dead with the lights off!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

#62. Venom (1981)

DVD Synopsis: It was supposed to be the perfect crime: The sexy maid (Susan George of Straw Dogs), a psychotic chauffeur (Oliver Reed of Revolver) and an international terrorist (the legendary Klaus Kinski) kidnap a wealthy ten-year old boy from his elegant London townhouse. But they didn't count on a murdered cop, a desperate hostage siege and one very unexpected houseguest: a furious Black Mamba, the most lethal and aggressive snake known to nature. It can attack from ten feet away. Its bite brings excruciating death, and it is on the loose. Now, terror knows no antidote... and the ultimate in slithering mayhem is Venom.

Sometimes a film’s cast is just too interesting to pass up, which is exactly what was going through my mind when I saw the trailer for 1981’s Venom. In this film, you have Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski and the smoking hot Susan George playing a trio of kidnappers, all of whom battle it out with colorful old grandpa Sterling Hayden. Now that’s a cast! 

Of course, no actor, or indeed assembly of actors, can save a bad film. Well, Venom is far from that; in fact, it's a damn good one. When the police show up unexpectedly, thus throwing a monkey wrench into the three kidnapper's well-laid plans, an engaging battle of wits develops between the always-imposing Kinski and Police Commander William Bulloch, played with real gusto by Nicol Williamson (Merlin in Excalibur). And if that's not enough for you, there’s the additional tension brought about by a lethal black mamba snake, which was mistakenly released from it's cage and is now loose in the house.; 

With something going on all the time, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll never lose interest while watching Venom; its 92 minutes seem to fly by.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

#61. The Fog (1980)

Directed By: John Carpenter

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh

Tag line: "What you can't see won't hurt you... it'll kill you!"

Trivia:  Kurt Russell was offered a key role in this film, but had to decline

Director John Carpenter refers to The Fog, his 1980 horror film, as a “learning experience”. 

After shooting and editing the entire picture, Carpenter realized he was stuck with a movie that simply didn't work. So, he paid a visit to Avco-Embassy, the production company financing the picture, and told them he needed to re-shoot, re-cut and re-score a movie they were planning to release in three months' time. 

It was a bold move, yet Carpenter and his crew worked diligently over the next three months to transform The Fog into something the director felt was much more feasible. 

The result? A story that gives you the willies, and a movie I enjoy immensely. 

The California coastal town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, but the planned festivities are threatened when local priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), uncovers his grandfather’s diary, which reveals the shocking story of how Antonio Bay was actually founded. 

Exactly 100 years earlier, six of the town's leading citizens caused the deaths of a ship full of invalids, who were hoping to settle nearby. Fearing what such a group might do to their growing community, the six lured the ship towards the shoreline by way of a campfire, causing the vessel to break apart on the rocks, and killing everyone aboard. 

But guilty consciences isn’t the only thing the townsfolk of Antonio Bay have to worry about.  A thick, threatening fog has also enveloped the community, one carrying the spirits of those killed a century earlier, who have risen from the sea to seek their revenge. 

The chills and thrills brought on by The Fog get under way pretty quickly. As the film opens, Mr. Machen (John Houseman) is telling the story of the 100-year-old shipwreck to a group of kids sitting around a campfire, explaining that the crew of this ghostly ship is now set to return from the depths, drawn to the light which lured them to their doom. 

It's an effective pre-title sequence, yet it’s only the beginning. Once the clock strikes midnight, the entire town goes haywire. Car alarms sound for no reason, dogs bark uncontrollably, lights dim, and convenience store shelves rattle, all before the opening credits have had a chance to finish! 

These initial scenes are jarring, and drag us to the edge of our seats, which is exactly where we’ll stay until the next time we see the credits roll. 

I can't say for sure what issues Carpenter had with the original cut of The Fog, but clearly, he was able to fix them. The Fog is an electrifying motion picture, one I love a little more each time I see it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

#60. Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)

Directed By: Antonio Margheriti

Starring: John Saxon, Elizabeth Turner, Giovanni Lombardo Radice

Tag line: "In the jungle, or in the the city, still they must EAT!"

Trivia: This film was available uncut on UK video back in the early 80, but found its way onto the government's "Video Nasties" list, and the distributors were successfully prosecuted for obscenity

Right out of the gate, when we're treated to a military rescue operation in Vietnam, Cannibal Apocalypse had the promise of being a very entertaining movie.

It is a promise the filmmakers certainly delivered on!

Vietnam veteran Norman Hopper (John Saxon) is having nightmares about his wartime experiences. More specifically, he has been dreaming about a rescue mission he led to recover two of his men, Sgt. Charles Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and Tommy (Tony King), who had been captured by the enemy. The mission was a success, but something happened to both men while they were in captivity. When Hopper and his troops finally located Bukowski and Tommy, the two were devouring a recently killed Vietnamese woman, and Tommy, in a fit of rage, ran over and bit Hopper on the arm.

Though married now and living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Hopper is still haunted by this mission, primarily because, ever since that incident, he himself has been fighting the urge to take a bite out of the people around him!

When Hopper learns that Bukowski, who was recently released from a Veteran’s hospital, bit the neck of a young girl in a movie theater, he decides its time to get some answers to those questions he’s avoided asking for years.

There are plenty of gory shocks throughout Cannibal Apocalypse, with cannibalism treated as a contagious disease transmitted by a bite from the infected. At one point, Hopper finds himself alone with Mary (Cinzia de Carolis), a teenage neighbor who has been flirting with him. Unable to control his urges any longer, Hopper stares into Mary’s eyes, lifts the young girl’s shirt…and bites her on the stomach! It’s a quick U-turn from where we assumed the scene was going, and a rather humorous way to kick off what would soon become an epidemic.

While fitting neatly into the horror genre, Cannibal Apocalypse also boasts some impressive action sequences. Aside form the opening scene, which recreates the battle that led to Bukowski’s and Tommy’s rescue, director Margheriti throws in some car chases, a few fistfights, and even a dramatic stand-off with the Atlanta police department. Not to be outdone, the film's climax is equally as thrilling; a chase through the sewers!  It’s moments like this that keep Cannibal Apocalypse flowing along at a brisk, almost break-neck pace, which it effectively maintains throughout.

Monday, October 4, 2010

#59. Humanoids From the Deep (1980)

Directed By: Barbara Peeters

Starring: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow

Tag line: "From the Ocean Depths They Strike ... To Terrorize ... To Mate ... And To Kill!"

Trivia:  One scene of the Humanoids attacking a victim was shot when the temperature was cold enough to turn the actress's lips blue

The Roger Corman-produced 1980 horror fest Humanoids from the Deep is  shabby, and more than a little rough around the edges, but I really get a kick out of it!

All hell has broken loose in the normally peaceful fishing village of Noyo, where a mysterious rash of violence is paralyzing the community. Long-time resident Jim Hill (Doug McClure) sets out to investigate the cause, while the town’s most prestigious businessman, Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow) lays the blame for the recent bloodshed at the feet of the local Native American population, including Hill’s good friend, Johnny Eagle (Anthony Penya). 

Unbeknownst to them all, the true source of the hysteria is a group of mutated sea monsters, which have massed in the nearby river system. But these creatures, the result of a failed scientific experiment, are interested in a lot more than simple destruction; they’re after the female population of Noyo, not to kill, but to use as mates!

Now, this synopsis, particularly the horny humanoids slant, may cause a few eyes to roll. I agree it's perplexing, to say the least, yet it's just one of several aspects of Humanoids from the Deep that I have a hard time explaining. 

For instance, I don't know why the humanoid creatures are powerful enough to savagely maul every guy they get their hands on, yet at the same time dainty enough to remove a buxom young girl’s bikini top without inflicting so much as a scratch. 

For that matter, I’m baffled by the entire female population of this town, most of whom look as if they’ve jumped off the pages of Playboy (I’ve visited a few fishing villages over the years, and would have never left had I seen women this beautiful). 

Finally, I’m at a complete loss as to how these bulky, seaweed-laden sea monsters can mate with human women. The mere physics of it sets my mind to spinning! 

But, you know what? I don’t want to explain it, and neither will you. When watching Humanoids from the Deep, all you’ll want to do is sit back…and scream…and smile. 

The movie comes by its screams honestly. Despite its low budget and the general tackiness of the creatures (I swear there are times when you can see the zippers in the back of the suits), Humanoids from the Deep does manage to generate its fair share of spine-tingling moments. Corman himself commented how surprised he was at the movie’s preview, where audience members screamed uncontrollably throughout the entire picture (especially during the film’s shocking finale). 

But then, why wouldn’t they?

Cheesiness be damned… Humanoids from the Deep is flat-out fun!