Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - Young Frankenstein (1974)

Quick!  Name Mel Brooks’ best movie!  Most people will probably tell you it’s Blazing Saddles, but I’m not one of them. , it would be Young Frankenstein.  It’s not a horror movie, but a damn good spoof of a horror movie.  I include this in my 31 Days of Horror Movies because it provides comic relief within the horror genre context.  I think it is must-watch viewing during the month of October.  It is sufficiently reverential to the Boris Karloff 1931 movie without going completely over-the-top.  I read somewhere that Mel Brooks even used some of the same props used in the 1931 classic.  As a bonus, any opportunity to watch at a young Teri Garr is not to be passed up.

You know the story, so there’s no use recounting it here.  There’s not a bad performance from the ensemble cast. 

Tony’s Favorite Moments [in a movie full of great moments] – in no particular order…

Teri Garr – Roll, roll, roll…would you like a roll in the hay? ‘Nuff said…

That’s “Fronkensteen” – The young doctor is so upset that one of his students keeps calling him “Frankenstein” that in a fit he stabs himself in the leg with a scalpel.  “Class dismissed…”

“What a filthy job” – “Could be worse – could be raining” [cue thunder].

“Abby Normal” – Igor [it’s pronounce Eye-gore] was so afraid of lightning he dropped Hans Dellbruck’s brain.  Dr. Frankenstein nearly chokes him to death when Igor tells him he put an abnormal brain into such a gigantic creature.

Gene Hackman – at this point in his career, who knew that Popeye Doyle could be funny.  His turn as the blind man whom the Monster encounters is hysterical.  I felt sorry for the Monster when he had the hot soup poured in his lap.  But I really felt sorry for him when the blind man set his thumb on fire.  Bonus points for Peter Boyle for the delayed reaction.

"Puttin' on the Ritz" –How could Peter Boyle dance with those big, clumsy elevator boots?

"Yes! Yes! He vas my…boyfriend!" – Cloris Leachman was great as Frau Blücher [cue the scared horses].  For the longest time I didn’t know that “Blücher” was a word for “glue.”  I believed her when she said young Dr. Frankenstein’s grandfather was her boyfriend.

Madeline Kahn’s singing – It’s funny how Madeline Kahn’s singing became a euphemism for an orgasm.  He must have had an enormous schwanzschtücker.

Put the candle back!             

Friday, October 24, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - The Shining (1980)

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All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
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All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
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I think if I was cooped up in a hotel for five months with only Shelley Duvall and a little kid for company, I’d go mad too.  I was actually rooting for Jack Nicholson to kill her.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

If you think that Pit and The Pendulum and House of Usher were the same movie, you aren’t the only one.  Roger Corman directed once again, he used the same screenwriter and cinematographer, and the music was scored by the same guy.  The themes are similar – sins of the father being visited upon the son, premature burial, life and love and death and madness [madness…madness…madness…].  Francis Barnard [John Kerr] is like the Philip Winthrop character from House of Usher, but instead of coming to claim a bride he’s coming to investigate his dead sister.  Like Winthrop, Barnard has to contend with a barely-balanced brother-in-law, Nicholas Medina [Vincent Price].  And also like Winthrop, Barnard refuses to take “no” for an answer and won’t leave until he gets one that satisfies him.  Barnard is more of an asshole about it, though.

Don Medina’s father was just as evil as Roderick Usher’s family.  His father was a member of the Spanish Inquisition [“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”] who had his own torture chamber.  As a small child, Nicholas used to sneak to the dungeon to player in the torture chamber.  One day, he saw his father bring his mother Isabella and his uncle, Bartolome.  He watched him beat Bartolome with a red-hot poker [whilst screaming “adulterer” over and over again].  He then entombed Isabella behind a brick wall while she was still alive.  So when Nicholas Medina entombed his wife Elizabeth, he feared he did so prematurely.  It was his greatest fear that he who share the same fate.

Nicholas believes Elizabeth’s ghost is haunting the castle.  He hears her harpsichord playing in the middle of the night.  He and Barnard open Elizabeth’s tomb and find a withered corpse inside that was trying to get out.  Nicholas is now convinced he buried Elizabeth alive.  Now he’s afraid – very afraid, then he hears her voice calling for him.  He went to her room and found it was trashed.  He’s going insane.  He went back downstairs to her crypt and found her walking towards him.  Then it looks as if he drops dead of a heart attack.  His best friend, Dr. Leon, has been having an affair with Elizabeth.  Thinking Nicholas was dead, the two of them begin to mock Nicholas about their plan to drive him insane so they can inherit his fortune and run away to be together.  However…Nicholas woke up, thinking he was his father.  He pushed the good doctor into the pit [killing him], and he threw Elizabeth into an iron maiden.  Meanwhile, Barnard came downstairs.  Nicholas, now completely insane, confused Barnard with his dead uncle Bartolome. 

What happened next?  You guessed it – Barnard got strapped to a table and Nicholas fired up the pendulum.  Of course, as it swung it came down a few inches until it finally started splitting Barnard’s shirt.  But just in the nick of time, Nicholas’ younger sister Catherine and Maximilian [one of the servants] bust in and save Barnard.  Nicholas and Maximilian tangle for a short time before Nicholas joins Dr. Leon in the pit.   At the movie’s end, we see Barnard, Catherine and Maximilian leave the torture chamber, vowing to seal it forever.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth is still trapped inside the iron maiden.  It sucks to be her… J

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - House of Usher (1960)

England had Hammer Films, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. We had Roger Corman and Vincent Price.  It was a great time to be a fan of Gothic horror movies.  Vincent Price and Roger Corman made eight films together that were based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  The first of these movies was House of Usher (1960).  It was based loosely [very loosely] on the tale The Fall of the House of Usher.  The characters are the same, but other than that… Philip Winthrop [Mark Damon] is a man on a mission.  He’s traveling to meet his fiancée, Madeline Usher [Myrna Fahey].  She lives in this creepy mansion that’s in the middle of a swamp.  The place looks like death and pestilence and plagues.  This creaky pile of a house is very spooky, and it has the feel of being a sentient being in its own right.  The house is decaying, which is a mirror for the Usher family itself.  The house creaks and cracks.  It shakes so badly that a chandelier falls and almost kills Winthrop.  It's falling apart - the outside has a giant fissure running through it.  A bannister gave way at the slightest touch.  A casket in the crypt nearly fell on him.  Burning coals jumped out of a fire at him.  It's crumbling away under the weight of the Usher family's sins of the past, like it's some kind of sin eater.  And because the house has eaten the Usher sins, it too has become wicked. 

Her brother Roderick [Vincent Price in a horrible blonde wig] is as creepy as the mansion within which he lives.  He’s hypersensitive to light and sound.  He and Madeline can eat only bland food.  The sound of footsteps is painful to the Ushers.  He’s also barely sane [a common Poe theme].  When Winthrop tells Roderick of his intentions to marry Madeline, Roderick vehemently opposes it.  He tells Winthrop the Usher family has a curse, one that drives all Ushers insane.  Roderick doesn’t want any future Usher children to inflict any harm on the world - the Usher bloodline must end with Roderick and Madeline.  Roderick shows Winthrop a gallery of paintings.  They were all of Ushers past.  They were a family of killers, slave traders, drug addicts, swindlers, forgers, blackmailers, smugglers and thieves.  Roderick said "foul thoughts and foul deeds were committed" in the house.  Roderick thinks the world will be a better place without any more Usher evil spawn.  The house is crumbling away under the weight of the Usher family's sins of the past, like it's some kind of sin eater.  And because the house has eaten the Usher sins, it too has become wicked. 

Philip doesn’t want to hear it and makes plans to leave with Madeline the next day.  But during the night, Madeline has an argument with Roderick, after which she dies [or so we think].  Roderick entombs her in the family crypt.  As both Roderick and Philip pray over Madeline's open casket, Roderick sees a couple of Madeline's fingers move.  She's not dead, but Philip didn't see it.  Knowing that Madeline is still alive, Roderick closes Madeline's casket anyway.  Before Philip leaves the mansion, the butler told him Madeline suffers from a disease.  Madeline has catalepsy, which only makes her look like she’s dead.  Philip went to her tomb, opened it, and found she wasn’t there.  The Usher madness had set in, and with it Madeline gained superhuman strength and clawed her way out of her casket.  What Philip doesn’t know is Madeline is seeking to avenge herself on her brother – she’s pretty pissed off, and rightly so.  Wouldn’t you be pissed if your brother tried to bury you while you’re still alive?  Premature burial was another recurring Poe theme – see The Premature Burial, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Cask of Amontillado. 

Philip went into the crypt to look for Madeline but he could not find her.  Exhausted, he went upstairs to rest has a dream.  He encountered all the Ushers from the paintings, and he saw a skeleton in Madeline's casket, while Roderick carries her off somewhere.  He found himself trying to open Madeline's casket.  When she opened her eyes and screamed, he awakened.  There's a storm outside.  Winthrop again searches the house for Madeline.  When he finally found her, she nearly choked the life out of him. Once Madeline appeared before Roderick in the flesh, he’s driven over the edge into full-blown insanity.  Then Madeline and Roderick engaged in a battle to the death, which they both lose.  As the Ushers fought each other, the house cracked up as they crack up.  The house went up in flames and sank into the swamp, taking Roderick and Madeline with it.  So both houses of Usher [the family and the building] were erased from the planet.  At least Philip Winthrop got away.  Roderick Usher saved him after all.

1.  The cinematographer on this movie was Floyd Crosby.  He won an Academy Award for his work on High Noon.  He’s also singer David Crosby’s dad.

2.  Roger Corman shot this movie in only 15 days with a budget of only $200,000.

31 Days of Horror Movies - House of Wax (1953)

Meet Henry Jarrod [played by Vincent Price].  He’s a wax sculptor who runs a wax museum in New York.  His specialty is historical figures.  His business partner is a guy named Matthew Burke.  He wants more money, and he wants Jarrod to do more contemporary stuff, like what one would read from a newspaper.  Jarrod is an artist – he doesn’t want to stoop so low as to curry favor with the great unwashed for the sake of a buck.  Jarrod gave a tour of the museum for a local art critic.  The critic is so impressed with the place he offers to buy it from Jarrod and his partner.  Jarrod’s happy about it, but the critic can’t complete the sale until he completes a trip to Europe.  Burke can’t wait that long – he wants the money yesterday.  What does he do?  He does what any cash-hungry guy will do for instant money – he torches the place.  Jarrod was there when he did it.  So dedicated is he to his craft, Jarrod tries to save his wax creations in the fire, but he was unsuccessful.  Burke had poured kerosene on him, hoping he would die in the fire.  He didn’t die, but he did suffer significant injuries.  He was thought to have disappeared.  He did, but only for a little while.

Jarrod recovered and opened a new wax museum months later.  But he has difficulty doing the work himself.  His hands were “crippled” in the fire.  He has two assistants, one named Igor [Charles Bronson] and another named Leon Averill.  Why do lab assistants always have to be named Igor?  But I digress…Jarrod has this “new process” for making his wax sculptures.  His sculptures were so realistic, very “life-like.”  But unlike his previous museum, he bows to the public’s appetite for shock and horror.  Around the same time, people are dropping dead of mysterious circumstances.  In addition, the victims’ corpses disappear from the morgue.  Who might these people be?  For starters, Mr. Burke [the insurance fraud] supposedly “hanged” himself.  He was really murdered by some mysterious, cloaked guy who was disfigured.  This same mysterious killer then made it look like a suicide after the murder.  His “suicide” was depicted in the new museum.  Who else died?  Burke’s fiancée, Cathy Gray [played by the future Morticia Adams, Carolyn Jones]. 

Cathy had a friend named Sue Allen [Phyllis Kirk].  She visited the wax museum and noticed the Joan of Arc sculpture looked a lot like Cathy, even down to the pierced ears.  She asked Jarrod about it and he explained that Cathy indeed modeled for him.  Sue Allen didn’t buy the explanation.  She went back to the museum after hours and discovered the wax sculptures were really wax-covered corpses.  It was like Charlton Heston discovering that Soylent Green was made from people.  Jarrod catches her and reveals his secret to making wax sculptures.  And since Sue Allen knows the secret, she’s going to become an exhibit in the wax show.  Even more shocking to Sue Allen was when she peeled off Vincent Price’s face to reveal the hideously disfigured killer, who happened to look like Freddie Krueger.  But of course, Sue gets rescued, the new place burns down [who saw that one coming?], and Vincent Price dies in the end.  But really, this was a beginning for Vincent Price.  With this movie, he became a bonafide horror movie star.  Everybody has to start somewhere, and this is where his horror movie reputation starts.

House of Wax was filmed in 3-D, but the only real 3-D moments happen during the opening of Jarrod’s new wax museum.  Jarrod hired a guy with paddle balls on the end of a string, who kept hitting the balls right at the camera.  There are some can-can girls too. They kick a lot toward the camera.  That’s as much 3-D as you get in this movie.  But forget about the 3-D gimmick – this is a tale of madness and revenge, pure and simple.  But at least killing your enemies, covering them in wax [I wonder if this is where “getting waxed” became a euphemism for getting killed…], and putting them on display in your cascade of horrors is a unique approach.

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for blondes.  He liked to cast them as his damsels in distress: Kim Novak [Vertigo], Tippie Hedren [The Birds, Marnie], Eva Marie Saint [North By Northwest] and Grace Kelly [Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief].  Pretty ladies all, but none were more pretty [or sexy] than the blonde Hitchcock cast in Psycho [1960] - Janet Leigh.

The story has been told often.  Marion Crane [Janet Leigh] embezzled $40,000 from her employer, a real estate agent.  She and her boyfriend lamented they didn't have enough money to get married.  When a customer buying a house came by the real estate office, he brought $40,000 cash for a house.  Marion saw the shot and she took it.  She ran off with the money.  She stopped on the roadside to sleep, where she's awakened by a cop.  Nothing is wrong, but she's spooked enough to ditch her car for another one.  She ends up at the Bates Motel, where she meets Norman Bates [Anthony Perkins].  While they have dinner he tells Marion his mother is not all there.  Earlier she heard Norman's mother having sharp words with Norman.  When she suggest the mother be institutionalized, Norman gets a little pissed.  Marion went back to her room.  She was going to shower, then go back home and give the money back.

Whoa! Moment #1 - The shower scene, of course.  You don't get a look at who is doing the stabbing, but it looks like a woman.  For a stabbing there isn't much blood involved.  Marion doesn't blink - yup, she's dead.  Who kills off a main character only 1/3 the way into a movie?  Hitchcock didn't have a problem with it.  It was in the original story, so he decided not to take any liberties and left it the way it was originally written.

After Norman finds dead Marion in the shower, he wraps her up, throws her, her stuff and the money in with her, and pushed the car into a swamp.

Marion had a sister, Lyla [Vera Miles].  She and her boyfriend knew Marion was in some kind of trouble.  They had a detective named Arbogast [Martin Balsam] on the case.  He traced Marion to the Bates Motel.  He questioned Norman about Marion.  When he mentioned that Marion met his mother, Arbogast demanded to see her.  Norman refused.  When Arbogast came back to the hotel to look for Mrs. Bates, he too is stabbed to death.  I saw that one coming, so there's no surprise there.  Arbogast doesn't really fall down the stairs, but it looks like it.

Lyla and the boyfriend had a feeling something happened to Arbogast.  They told a local sheriff that their private eye was looking for Mrs. Bates.  The sheriff thought this was odd because Mrs. Bates had been dead for 10 years.  After Lyla and Sam get to the motel, they found Mrs. Bates in the hotel's basement.  This is Whoa! Moment #2.

Whoa! Moment #2 - Mrs. Bates is a decomposing corpse.  Not only that, her voice is coming out of Norman, who is dressed like her.  That's taking the Oedipus Complex to an extreme degree.  So, Norman gets carted off to the loonie bin.

Joe Bob Briggs rating - 3 dead bodies, 3 more dead bodies off-screen, shower-fu, 1 car in a swamp, and one wigged-out hotel clerk.  Oddly enough, there are no gallons of blood.  I've seen the result of stabbings - they're pretty messy.  Not so the stabbings in this movie.

What Came After - 3 sequels [II & IV were ok], 1 remake from Gus Van Sant [don't bother - I'm still wondering "why?"], and a very nice prequel series on A&E called Bates Motel.  I highly recommend Bates Motel.

Very cool notes - not once did the knife that killed Marion Crane touch her.  Such was the brilliance of Hitchcock's filmmaking.  You think you saw her get stabbed, but it didn't happen.  Janet Leigh later developed a fear of showers.   Hitchcock filmed the movie in black & white with his television crew, not his movie crew.  It made what little gore there was more believable.

The late Roger Ebert put it best about Psycho - "What makes "Psycho" immortal, when so many films are already half-forgotten as we leave the theater, is that it connects directly with our fears: Our fears that we might impulsively commit a crime, our fears of the police, our fears of becoming the victim of a madman, and of course our fears of disappointing our mothers." 

I can't argue with that...

31 Days of Horror Movies - The Birds (1963)

There we were...we had just been stationed a Langley AFB, Virginia.  We took a trip during the off-season to Virginia Beach.  Of all the beaches we've been to, this one actually had a McDonald's on the beach.  We got an order of fries and went outside.  Big mistake!  We usually ate our fries fairly quickly, but not as quickly as on this day.  As soon as we got back to the beach, we were surrounded by rats with wings, otherwise known as seagulls.  Not only were we surrounded by them, they hovered in our faces.  Yes, they wanted our fries.  We quickly obliged them and threw our remnants in another direction in order to make our escape.  They weren't threatening us in any way, but it was kind of unnerving to be less than a yard away from having a bird land on your face.  Unnerved yes, but we weren't nearly as unnerved as Tippi Hedren was in The Birds (1963).

My mom loved Alfred Hitchcock movies.  She loved Vincent Price movies.  I guess you could say she was my gateway to horror movies.  The only thing she wouldn't let me watch was The Exorcist (1973).  So when I first saw The Birds, it was with her.  There are no individual Whoa! Moments in this movie because the whole movie was one big Whoa! Moment.  They attacked school kids.  They attacked diners coming out of a restaurant.  They pecked a farmer's eyes out.  They attacked a guy at a gas station while he was filling his car.  This killed a guy nearby who was smoking.  The dude who was attacked at the gas station spilled a bunch, and the poor smoker didn't know he was standing in the stuff.  Birds came down and out of chimneys.  They caused traffic accidents.  The cause of all these bird attacks in Bodega Bay, California is unknown.  The reason they stopped attacking is also unknown.  When they've done their damage and Tippi Hedren leaves town, many birds are sitting on power lines all over town.  It's as if they're sending a message - be careful or we'll do it again.

Joe Bob Briggs score - 4 dead bodies, no naked breasts, gas station-fu, phone booth-fu, and one drunk who thinks The Apocalypse is upon them.

All I know is this - every time I see a lot of birds in one place, I think of this movie.  And this is more than 40 years after I first saw it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965)

This is the first horror movie I ever saw.  I saw it in a double feature with The Curse of Frankenstein at the Fairborn Theater when I was 9 or 10.  This was the true sequel to The Horror of Dracula.  There was a sequel called The Brides of Dracula (1960), but Dracula was nowhere to be found in the movie.  In Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Christopher Lee reprises Dracula.  This movie starts where The Horror of Dracula left off – with the climactic death scene.  Once the viewers are caught up on the story, the movie fast forwards 10 years.  The next chapter to the Dracula saga begins with a funeral.  A dead girl is carried to a forest where a priest is about to stake her for being a vampire.  Father Sandor [Andrew Keir] appears and chastises the priest and the locals for spreading superstitious nonsense about vampirism.  He offers to bury the girl properly. 

Meanwhile, four English tourists, Alan and Charles Kent and their wives are on their way to a place called Karlsberg.  They’re at an inn where we find Charles [Francis Matthews] drinking copious amounts of beer with the locals.  His sister-in-law Helen [Barbara Shelley] disapproves.  As the Kents are arguing about how much money Charles is spending on beer, Father Sandor visits the inn to warm himself and get a meal.  He meets the Kents.  When they tell him about their destination, he warns them not to go there.  But since they’re English, they disregard his warning and proceed to Karlsberg anyway.  Their coach driver is scared shitless to go to Karlsberg at night, and he abandons the Kents outside of Karlsberg.  He says he’ll come back for them in the morning.  Then out of nowhere appears a driverless coach which stops, picks them up and takes them to a nearby castle.  When they arrive at the castle, they are greeted by a man named Klove [Philip Latham].  There’s a dining table set with four places, and their things have been taken to their rooms and unpacked.  When Alan Kent inquires about the whereabouts of Klove’s master, Klove reveals that his master [Dracula] is dead, but his will left instructions to always have the house ready to receive guests.

Whoa! Moment #1 – Helen Kent heard a noise outside the bedroom.  Scared out of her wits, she begs her husband Alan to go investigate.  Once he leaves the room, you know he’s not coming back.  He found Klove dragging a trunk to a crypt.  He followed Klove, but Klove knew Alan was there, snuck up behind and knocked him out.  Klove retrieved a box of Dracula’s ashes out of the trunk and emptied them into an empty coffin.  He ties up Alan Kent feet-first and hoists him over the empty coffin.  Klove then kills Alan, slitting his throat and allowing him to bleed out over the empty coffin.  Alan’s blood and Dracula’s ashes mix, and it gets very foggy inside the crypt.  Dracula’s body begins to reconstitute, and in a close-up of the coffin the viewer sees Dracula’s hand [fully reformed] coming out of the coffin.  That’s spooky stuff for a 10 year old.

The next morning, Charles and Diana Kent are downstairs waiting for Alan and Helen, but they are nowhere to be found.  We already know Alan is dead, and we find that Klove enticed Helen to the crypt where she meets Dracula and becomes his first victim.  Charles then found Alan’s corpse stuffed into Klove’s trunk.  At the same time Diana meets an undead Helen, who tries to bite Helen.  At that moment Dracula appears, as does Charles.  The two struggle, and Charles and Diana manage to escape.  They get away in the coach that brought them to the castle, but they crash the coach.  Diana is knocked out, so Charles has to carry her through the woods, where they are rescued by Father Sandor and taken to a monastery.  Klove brought two coffins [containing Dracula and Helen] to the monastery and asks for sanctuary, but the monks refuse.  Within the monastery there is a Renfield-like character named Ludwig.  Dracula is his master.  Meanwhile, Helen gets caught and staked.  I think she was a diversion.  Ludwig helps Dracula get to Diana, who spirits her away from the monastery to his castle.  Father Sandor and Charles follow them on horseback.  They ride cross country as Klove drives the wagon with two coffins [this time it’s Dracula and Diana inside].  This brings us to Whoa! Moment #2.

Whoa! Moment #2 – Another Dracula Death Scene.  Father Sandor and Charles Kent catch up to Dracula’s coach.  His coffin fell out of the wagon onto the ice covering Dracula’s moat.  Of course, as Charles tries to stake Dracula, the Sun goes down.  When will they learn?  But Father Sandor has a rifle.  He knows running water can kill a vampire, so he shoots holes in the ice.  For a few seconds Dracula surfs on a piece of ice before he loses his balance.  He falls off the ice, into the water and drowns.

Whoa! Moment #3 – Christopher Lee didn’t say a single word throughout the entire movie.  His story is that the dialog written for him was so bad that he refused to say the lines.  The screenwriter’s story was that no dialog was written into the movie for him.  Which story is true?  It doesn’t matter.  Christopher Lee can still be scary without uttering a single word.

31 Days of Horror Movies - The Horror of Dracula (1958)

In the late 1950s, Hammer Films got into making horror movies in a big way.  Their first horror production, The Curse of Frankenstein [more on that movie in another blog], came in 1957.  Its importance can’t be understated – it’s the first horror movie to be filmed in color.  Of course, critics at the time hated it [they hate everything I like – a good barometer for quality film], but it made a lot of money anyway.  Since then it has been hailed as a horror classic.  Don’t you love revisionist history?  Hammer horror movies had Gothic romanticism, melodrama and overtly sexual themes [no wonder critics hated them], unlike the Universal horror movies of the 1930s.  Add to those elements, Hammer films were extremely English.  The stars of the early Hammer films were usually Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee.  They were the pre-eminent horror film actors of their generation.  Lee was the “sexy” one, Cushing was the more “austere” one, always consumed by his “work” in whatever role he played.  Terence Fisher directed the movies, Jimmy Sangster wrote the scripts, James Bernard did the music.  All contributed to the Hammer “brand.”  Because of the work of these men, within 10 seconds of seeing or hearing one of their movies, you knew it was a Hammer film.

After the success of The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer went after another classic horror character, Count Dracula.   In The Horror of Dracula (1958), Christopher Lee is Dracula [best Dracula ever, BTW…].  Béla Lugosi practically created Dracula’s image in 1931 with his charm, heavily-accented English [“I don’t drink…wine”] and hypnotic stare.  He played Dracula on Broadway before he played him on-screen, so he had all the mannerisms down.  Christopher Lee’s Dracula is very tall, handsome, charming, very much like an English aristocrat no Hungarian accents here].  Peter Cushing is Van Helsing.  Edward Van Sloan’s Van Helsing is a much older guy, but Cushing’s Van Helsing is an intense, dynamic younger guy who is very intelligent.  He can mix it up with anybody.  The dynamic between Lee’s Dracula and Cushing’s Van Helsing is fun to watch.

Jimmy Sangter’s script keeps the same characters as Bram Stoker’s novel, but the story is a lot different.  Instead of taking place in England and in Transylvania, this Dracula story takes place in place called Klausenberg.  Jonathan Harker is not trying to help Dracula buy a house in England.  He’s there to be Dracula’s librarian.  He is also an associate on Dr. Van Helsing.  He also knows what Dracula really is, and he’s there to kill him, or as he puts it in his diary, to put an end to his reign of terror.  Before Harker meets Dracula, he’s confronted by a desperate young lady who pleads with Harker for his help in escaping Dracula.  Then Dracula approaches and she disappears.  Dracula welcomes Harker and shows him to his room, but as Dracula leaves he locks Harker inside.  Eventually Harker frees himself, and is met by the desperate young lady again.  She again begs for his help, but then bites his neck.  Suddenly, Dracula appears with bloody lips, bloodshot eyes and fangs bared in all their glory.  He pulls the girl away from Harker, and knocks him out.  Harker wakes up hours later, and notices he has bite marks on his neck.  He’s doomed and he knows it.  Before he turned, he mailed his diary to Van Helsing. 

Whoa! Moments
Whoa! Moment #1 – This is more like an Oh Shit! moment.  Harker goes in search of Dracula to kill him.  He finds the desperate woman who tried to bite him sleeping in her coffin.  After he stakes her, he finds Dracula’s coffin…empty.  The sun goes down, and Dracula enters the room at the top of the stairs, shutting the door.  Don’t these smart vampire hunters wear a watch?  Don’t they know when sundown is?  How come they always try to kill vampires right at dusk?   You’d think they would know better.

Most of the usual Dracula suspects are in the movie – Arthur Holmwood, Mina, and Lucy, but no Renfield.  Each assumes their respective roles in the Dracula story.  Dracula is pissed because Harker tried to kill him.  He wants revenge on Harker’s family.  The first thing he does is to drink Lucy dry.  Then he wants to make Mina his bride.  He bites her a couple of times, just enough to have her under control.  Arthur and Van Helsing search for Harker – they find him.  He’s sleeping in a coffin, fangs bared, blood dripping on his lips.  Van Helsing stakes him.  Then they found Lucy.  She gets staked as well.  Dracula lured Mina away from her house and took him to his castle.  That’s where Van Helsing found them, which brings us to Whoa! Moment #2…

Whoa! Moment #2 – The climactic scene between Dracula and Van Helsing.  As Van Helsing and Dracula battle to the death, Van Helsing acts as if he’s dead, but when Dracula’s about to bite him, he breaks free.  He sees a large window with curtains closed.  He jumps up on this very long table, runs to the end of said table, jumps at the curtains and pulls them down.  As Dracula is exposed to the rays of the Sun, he slowly turns to ashes and blows away.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Of all the movies Tim Burton has made, Sleepy Hollow (1999) is perhaps the one I like the best.  In the original story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, Ichabod Crane was a schoolteacher from Connecticut who was made to disappear by some headless Hessian from the Revolutionary War.  Burton’s Crane [Johnny Depp] is an unorthodox detective/constable from New York City.  He’s unorthodox because he tries to apply scientific methods to police work, which the NYPD is not ready to embrace.  He is sent by the local magistrate [Christopher Lee] to a little dreary, gray hamlet in in upstate New York called Sleepy Hollow.  There he will be allowed to put all of his “unorthodox” tools to use in solving a mysterious string of murders that have taken place there.  All of the murders resulted in decapitated corpses, with the heads nowhere to be found. 

At the movie’s beginning, we see a will being drawn up by a guy named Peter Van Garrett.    He left all of his possessions to his new bride, Emily Winship.  But on that same night, he’s killed [decapitated], as was his son Dirk and Emily Winship.  When Crane arrived in Sleepy Hollow, he was met by town leaders who tell him that the culprit of the murders was an undead headless Hessian mercenary [Christopher Walken, who for once doesn’t play himself] who rides at night in search of his head.  Ichabod Crane, being the logical, scientific type, dismisses any thought of there being anything supernatural involved in the murders.  Although he’s the scientific type, he was scared shitless by the tale of the Horseman.  Crane stayed at the house of the richest family in Sleepy Hollow, that of Baltus Van Tassel [Michael Gambon].  He met Katrina [Christina Ricci, who looks great as a blonde], to whom he became instantly attracted.  Her fiancé, Brom Van Brunt, wasn’t pleased in the slightest.

After Jonathan Masbath was murdered, Magistrate Philipse told Crane there were five victims up to that time instead of four.  He said “five victims, four graves.”  Crane has the Widow Winship exhumed and he performs an autopsy.  He discovered she was pregnant when she was murdered.  He also remembered [from the Van Tassel family Bible] that the Van Garretts and the Van Tassels were related.  He saw Philipse trying to flee Sleepy Hollow.  Crane and Philipse discussed the widow Winship’s pregnancy.  Crane still didn’t believe there was a Horseman until he saw Philipse decapitated by the Horseman.  He was perplexed because the Horseman didn’t kill him when he had the chance.  He realized that somehow all the deaths were connected. 

Whoa! Moments
Whoa! Moment #1 - The Sorceress.  Crane and the young Masbeth found a cave where a sorceress lives.  She told Crane about the Horseman’s grave - the Tree of the Dead.  She told Crane the tree was not only the Horseman’s grave, but also the Horseman’s portal to Hell.  The “Whoa!” part came when her face was revealed - no skin, eyes popping out, and snakes too.

Whoa! Moment #2 - The Tree of the Dead.  Soon after encountering the sorceress, Crane, Katrina and young Masbath found the Tree of the Dead.  When Crane touched the tree, it bled.  Then he cut at the tree with a hatchet.  The tree spewed more blood.  When he pulled apart some of the tree, he found the missing heads from the murder victims.  Crane began to dig out the Horseman’s grave, and when he found the Horseman’s skeleton, the skull was missing [his severed head was originally buried with him 20 years prior].  Suddenly the Horseman and his horse appeared from inside the tree. 

Whoa! Moment #3 - Brom Van Brunt’s death.  When the Horseman and Van Brunt fought, I was pretty sure Van Brunt was going to die.  I figured he would be decapitated, but no.  The Horseman used his sword and an axe to cut him in half in one fell swoop.  But Van Brunt wasn’t an intended target.  The Horseman killed him only because Van Brunt attacked him.

Once Crane realized all the deaths were connected, he deduced that the Horseman didn’t kill randomly.  He killed by someone who controlled him.  The person who controlled the Horseman also possessed his skull.  That someone turned out to be Mary Van Tassel [Miranda Richardson], Katrina’s step-mother.  It turns out that when she was a little girl, Mary was thrown out of her home, which sat on Van Garrett property.  She controlled the Horseman to get rid of everybody between her and inheriting her husband’s riches.  This was a tale of revenge and greed.  She even tried to kill Katrina, but ultimately failed.  In the end, Crane got possession of the Horseman’s skull.  After Crane gave the skull back to the Horseman, The Horseman took Mary Van Tassel away with him to Hell.  Crane, Katrina and young Masbath returned to New York, and Sleepy Hollow was colorful, no longer gray and dreary.

The Horseman’s Victims -
-          Peter Van Garrett, his son  Dirk, his new bride Emily Winship and her unborn child
-          Jonathan Masbath - he witnessed Van Garrett’s new will
-          Samuel Philipse - he made sure all of Van Garrett’s affairs were legal in the eyes of the law
-          Beth Killian, her husband, and their son - She was Emily Winship’s midwife, and her husband and  son were collateral damage because they knew of the pregnancy, too.
-          Brom Van Brunt - he got in the Horseman’s way
-          Baltus Van Tassel - he inherited everything from Van Garrett once Van Garrett died
-          Six American soldiers killed during the capture of the Horseman

Joe Bob Briggs rating - I counted 25 dead bodies, 17 decapitations, 20 gallons of blood, windmill-fu, church-fu, and 1 psycho hose beast step-mother.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

From Dusk Till Dawn [1996] is a Quentin Tarantino film directed by Robert Rodriguez.  The first Tarantino movie I saw was Pulp Fiction [1994].  Soon after I saw Reservoir Dogs [1992] and Four Rooms [1995], so when this came out in 1996 I thought “I’ll bite” [no pun intended].  It has about a thousand vampires in it, which makes it a horror movie in name.  But there isn’t any real “horror” [I use that term loosely - this movie isn’t scary] - it’s a black comedy.  At least Tarantino didn’t ram the word “nigger” down our throats like he usually does.

The plot - two brothers, Seth [George Clooney] and Richie Gecko [Quentin Tarantino] are bank robbers.  After robbing a bank in Texas, they take one of the tellers hostage and head for Mexico.  They stopped at a liquor store, killed a cop and the cashier, and burned the place to the ground.  Then they stopped at a motel, and Seth went out to buy food.  While Seth was away, Richie raped and killed the teller.  In need of a new hostage, along comes preacher Jacob Fuller [Harvey Keitel] and his two kids Kate [Juliette Lewis] and Scott [Ernest Liu].  The Geckos kidnap the Fullers, commandeer their motorhome and head to Mexico.  The plan is to travel to an all-night strip bar called the Titty Twister, where they’re supposed to meet a guy named Carlos at dawn.

After Seth and Richie beat the crap out of the doorman Chet Pussy [Cheech Marin], this gang of five gains entrance to the Titty Twister.  But the bartender [Danny Trejo] only serves bikers and truckers.  Jacob convinces the bartender that because he has a license to drive an RV, he is a trucker.  The bartender relents and serves them.  Seth just wants to get shitfaced until Carlos shows up.  He teaches Kate how to drink tequila the correct way.  Jacob drinks with Seth.  Then, a show begins, starring Santánico Pandemónium.  Shortly after the show begins, chaos ensues [see Whoa! Moment #2 below].  With the help of other bar patrons named Frost and Sex Machine, Seth Gecko and the Fullers wage an epic battle for survival.  When dawn finally comes, Seth and Kate Fuller are the only survivors.  At the end, we see the Titty Twister actually sits on an Aztec ruin, behind of which are the remains of cars, bikes, trucks, etc. of victims past. 

Joe Bob Briggs rating - This movie doesn’t get a Joe Bob Briggs rating.  There is too much vampire-fu going on to count the number of dead bodies or gallons of blood spilled. 

Whoa! Moments
Whoa! Moment #1 - This is more like an Ewwww! Moment, and it has nothing to do with vampires or blood or anything.  Richie Gecko asked Kate Fuller “would you do me a favor?”  Richie didn’t really ask Kate anything, but he imagined asking her if he could perform cunnilingus on her.  The thought of an ugly f**k like Tarantino going down on anyone is enough to make your colon clench.

Whoa! Moment #2 - Seeing Santánico Pandemónium [Salma Hayek] in a bikini and a Burmese python.  ‘Nuff said…

Whoa! Moment #3 - After Chet Pussy [Cheech Marin] stabs Richie’s hand [already wrapped in duct tape because of a gunshot], it starts to bleed.  When Santánico Pandemónium sees the blood, she turns into a vampire [she’s the first one to reveal herself as such].  She attacks Richie and kills him.  No loss - Richie is a worthless character.

Whoa! Moment #4 - All the mayhem that occurs in the Titty Twister after Santánico Pandemónium killed Richie Gecko.  There’s a lot of it.

Funniest Moment
Chet Pussy’s Speech - Chet Pussy is the Titty Twister’s doorman.  He gives the following spiel to lure customers inside:

All right, pussy, pussy, pussy! Come on in pussy lovers! Here at the Titty Twister we're slashing pussy in half! Give us an offer on our vast selection of pussy, this is a pussy blow out! All right, we got white pussy, black pussy, Spanish pussy, yellow pussy, we got hot pussy, cold pussy, we got wet pussy, we got smelly pussy, we got hairy pussy, bloody pussy, we got snappin' pussy, we got silk pussy, velvet pussy, Naugahyde pussy, we even got horse pussy, dog pussy, chicken pussy! Come on, you want pussy, come on in, pussy lovers! If we don't got it, you don't want it! Come on in, pussy lovers!  Attention pussy shoppers! Take advantage of our penny pussy sale! If you buy one piece of pussy at the regular price, you get another piece of pussy of equal or lesser value for only a penny! Try and beat pussy for a penny! If you can find cheaper pussy anywhere else, fuck it!

George Clooney gets a special mention because of his comeback about being Santánico Pandemónium’s slave in Hell.  His response - he’d already been to Hell - he’s been married before.

The soundtrack.  It has music from ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan, The Blasters, and Tito & Tarantula [they’re the Titty Twister’s house band].  A movie with music like this has got something going for it.  J