Sunday, December 4, 2022

Christmas Evil (1980) : Deck the Halls with Despair


Christmas Evil
--a.k.a. You Better Watch Out-- has gained a reputation as a rather obscure holiday horror film, and doesn't really fit into the typical killer Santa category. It's admittedly a bizarre film.  At its start, it's even a little slow and boring. But upon closer inspection, you can see the main character's decline into mental fragility coming into full view. The holidays are a precarious time for anyone who has had any trauma or loss in their life, and our sad Santa is suffering from a particular kind of PTSD.

On Christmas Eve, young Harry Stadling and his younger brother witness Santa Claus putting gifts under the Christmas tree.  Shortly thereafter, when Harry should be in bed, he hears murmuring and goes downstairs to take a look.  He sees Santa and his mother fondling each other and looking to take things to the next level.  Shocked, Harry rushes to the attic where, in the throes of hurtful dismay, he cuts himself on a snow globe he throws to the floor.

Thirty-some years later, Harry is weirdly and thoroughly obsessed with the man in the red suit.  He awakes each morning to a Christmas carousel alarm, plays carols all day, and has his entire apartment decorated for Christmas no matter what month it is.  He himself even dresses like Santa to sleep.  Though it's obvious he has some mental health issues, Harry manages to hold down a low level management position at the Jolly Dreams toy factory.  His co-workers make fun of him behind his back and trick him into working extra shifts on the assembly line making toys.  

Perhaps the most disturbing is Harry's habit of watching the neighborhood children to see who is "nice" and who is "naughty", taking it so far as to have two giant books in his apartment that he documents his findings, as in "Billy has impure thoughts" and "Susie is a little darling". While this is a disconcerting situation, it never quite gets to a creepy sexual level, thankfully. 

Harry comes to genuinely believe that he is the true Santa Claus - and he doesn't like how "bad" not only the kids but the adults, have become.  When one of his co-workers asks him to work a shift so he can be with his family, Harry agrees - only to discover Frank drinking and carrying on at the local pub.  

Harry's brother Phil invites him to Thanksgiving dinner with his family but Harry can't be bothered, and cancels last minute. He's still enraged about his co-worker lying.  He also gets upset when he finds out the owner of the Jolly Dreams factory is duplicitous in his idea of donating toys to kids - it turns out the staff has to work overtime and donate their own money.  

All of these things prey on Harry's mind until he pretty much snaps.  He dresses as Santa, steals toys from the factory, and paints his van like a sleigh. It's obvious that at this point, he truly believes he IS Santa Claus, and feels the need to exact revenge - while at the same time providing toys for the disadvantaged (and "good") children.  He takes off, starting with a local hospital, where he leaves bags of toys.  When he arrives at the local church right after Christmas Eve services, he is teased by a bunch of local yokels, and that's when he truly begins his reign of terror, killing the men and then quickly driving off, heading next to his co-worker Frank's house and then to the company Christmas party.

It's such a sad story, to be honest.  The depths of Harry's mental illness are not immediately recognizable, but come out in droves once he is pushed over the edge.  I think everyone can relate to having the holiday blues - or even getting completely overwhelmed and stressed out by all the expectations, but Harry's lapse of reality is next level. The worst part is that he has no one to help him.  His brother and co-workers surely all noticed that he was teetering on the edge of madness.  The trauma from his childhood caused the odd obsession with Santa, even pushing into believe he WAS Saint Nick himself.  

While some could see this film as not worthy of a watch because it does take its time to engage viewers, building poor Harry's tale of mental sickness slowly - which in turn makes it all the more believable.  The more angry he gets, the more delusional and reckless he becomes, culminating in his expected -- and quite frankly, pitiful-- downfall.  

The way society treats its "outcasts" is one of the reasons why the amount of mental illness that goes undetected and untreated is so high, particularly in America. It's a disgrace that more care is not taken.  We all should be watching for signs of depression, anxiety and other mental struggles in our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors.....anyone.  Sometimes people just need a friendly hello.  Sometimes they need intensive therapy.  It's not always easy to see, and it's not always easy to get involved, but it's something we all should be more aware of.  

I don't mean to be preachy, after all, this is just a horror movie.  But within the 90+ minute running time, there are plenty of examples of things to watch for - in the movie, and in real life.  And that gives "You Better Watch Out" a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Legends of The Gates of Hell


We all know Hell to be a place where the sinful and the wicked go after they die–if you believe in that kind of thing. But what if Hell was accessible not only by death? What if there was a physical entrance in our world? 

We will examine places around the world that bear the diabolical moniker “the gates of hell”.  

“‘THROUGH ME, you pass into the city of suffering: 

THROUGH ME, you pass into eternal pain: 

THROUGH ME, the way among the people lost. 

Before me there were no created things, 

Only eternity, and I too, last eternal. 

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!’ 

This passage is the words inscribed on the Gates of Hell in “Dante’s Inferno”. I’m sure you have heard the final line before; it’s become quite famous. 


Hell–or some version of it–exists in nearly every culture. We have been taught to fear Hell our entire lives. It is used as a way to frighten people into morality. To pass through the Gates of Hell would mean entering into eternal suffering, pain, and punishment, at the hands of the most horrid creatures by the most horrific means possible.  

First, let’s explore the various legends and locales dotting the backroads and byways of the United States… 

URBAN LEGENDS 

Urban legends regarding the Gates of Hell exist in at least a dozen states across America. Sometimes, it’s a nickname given to a local cemetery, such as the case in Kentucky and South Carolina. A mysterious green orb is reportedly seen in Kasey Cemetery in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and in Oakwood Cemetery in Spartanburg, South Carolina, cell phones allegedly go dead and feelings of illness and dread are felt. Particularly in the back of the graveyard, where the unmarked graves of prisoners, impoverished, and orphaned children are laid to rest. There are also rumors of satanic rituals and grave desecration. This town of Spartanburg seems to be prolific with haunted locations… 

California boasts not one, but FOUR Gates of Hell locations. In Redside, California, a pair of black gates stood roadside off of Sunset Drive, and it was said that those who dared pass through them would be chased by a ghost carrying a headless cat.  

Through the city of Antioch, California trails an infamous street called Empire Mine Road, which is home to three local legends: Gravity Hill, the Slaughterhouse, and, of course, the Gates of Hell. The “gates” were actually a graffiti-covered stucco wall. There’s a variety of legends relating to this particular spot. Many claim that there was once an insane asylum; pass through the gates and you will find the ruins of the building, and the ghosts of the tortured souls of who were once patients. Deeper into the woods is a second gate, and those said to have passed through will meet their death a year following, under mysterious circumstances… Unfortunately, both of these locations were torn down and no longer exist, but their legends live on… 

There are a variety of other fun little legends smattered across the U.S, but there are a few more I’d like to examine in particular, and they all are linked with a certain number… 

For some reason, the number 7 comes up again and again when it comes to Gates of Hell stories. Two particularly famous locations come up when seeking out these legends, and they are both dubbed “The Seven Gates of Hell”. 

The first one is in Collinsville, Missouri. The “gates” are actually a series of old train bridges, which are laid along a dark and winding road through farmland. Each graffiti-covered bridge has their own unique superstitions, from lynchings to satanic animal sacrifices, to ghost cars. This dark road will take you through sparsely inhabited countryside, requires the passing-by of a small cemetery, and any wrong turns can take you down rural roads into the woods. The legend has it that if you pass through all seven gates correctly at precisely midnight, at the end you will be greeted by the hounds of hell and the farmland before will transform into the Lake of Fire! Most likely, though, you’ll just be in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. You decide which is scarier. 

The second location is in York County, Pennsylvania–more specifically in Hellam Township. And while it does seem suspicious that the entrance to Hell is located in a town with the word “hell” in its name, the name of the town is actually a deviation of the word Halla, after an area in England. 

York County’s legend takes place on Trout Run Road, which is sometimes colloquially known as Toad Road, a rural drive through wooded farmlands. There are two different stories associated with the area. One persists that there was an insane asylum in the woods, which caught fire and released all the surviving patients to the surrounding area. In this story, the gates are said to have been set up to deter the escapees. 

In the second version of the legend, an eccentric doctor constructed seven gates along a path, each one leading deeper and deeper into the woods. At the end lay something mysterious, and possibly deadly, for it is said that no one who passes through the fifth gate returns. 

As it stands, the one gate that exists today was built by a local doctor, but there was nothing reportedly unusual about the man, and he only built one gate. 

There was never a mental institution in the area, and the structure that people believe to be that of a ruined asylum are mostly likely an old flint mill. 

Still, the legends live on, and the road has not only become a frequent spot for late night drives, but also the inspiration for a 2012 independent horror film, Toad Road. 


There’s a lot more to explore when it comes to legends and references regarding the Gates of Hell, so I’ll be discussing more in a Part Two… 

Next time we will be going into films and some other alleged entrances to the underworld. 


**If you’d like to read more on the topics we discussed today, feel free to check out my full source list here


~~by Marie Robinson

Thursday, October 27, 2022

DARK ARTS: CAPAT’S OTHERWORLDLY WOMEN AND THEIR COMPANIONS

 


Art is a way for us to express and explore the darkness that lives within myth and minds. I'd like to feature some of those strange internal landscapes and their inhabitants as depicted by artist Theodora Daniela Capat.

Originally from Romania, Capat weaves magic worlds out of a variety of mediums--ink, watercolor, charcoal, pencil, oil, and digital--and operates out of an island castle in Sweden called Vaxholm Fortress that can only be accessed by ferry. It sounds incredibly magical and inspiring, and it shows through her immersive imagery.

Capat is a very ambitious artist who values the fundamentals of art and is passionate about teaching them to students who she will tutor hands-on and side-by-side in the castle in which she resides. Some of her favorite themes and studies include culture, anatomy and animals (real and mythical), and mortality.


"Memento Mori" oil painting



"Apparition at a full moon" The creature depicted in this watercolor is an 'iele', a type of Romanian forest spirit that are only visible in moonlight.



"Sun Bringer Kisosen" This charcoal piece is an interpretation of a Native American solar deity who takes the form of an eagle, according to the Abenaki people.



This pencil drawing is called "Serenity". Capat shared that this piece was inspired by intense dreams of floating she was having at the time.



"Pestilence" charcoal


Capat's Website - visit to view the gallery, shop, and find information on the artist Vaxholm Castle

YouTube Channel - you may watch Capat create her artworks via her uploaded livestreams

ArtStation - digital artworks and video game/character concepts

Instagram - the artist is quite actively sharing posts and live streams of her creative process (@capatart)


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

BARBARIAN (2022) - a.k.a. Don't Go In The Basement, Part 734


 Barbarian is a film that in horror circles, was making waves and selling tickets - both of which are a big deal for a genre pic.  I was just as excited to see this one as the next guy, but I'm not much for heading to the theater just yet so I waited patiently and it finally arrived on HBO Max.   I hadn't seen anything but a teaser trailer, which is what I prefer with these "surprise hit" type of movies.  

After viewing, I realized it was nothing like what I thought it was going to be, and while that is not a bad thing, it was a little off-putting.

Tess (an excellent Georgina Campbell) rents an Air B&B while she is in Detroit for a job interview.  Arriving well after dark and in the pouring rain, she finds that the key is missing from the secure box on the porch.  After voicing her concerns to both herself and to an unhelpful voice message at the rental company, she heads back to her car with the intent to leave when she sees a light come on in the house. 

Returning to the door, it soon opens and Keith (Bill Skarsgard) is standing there explaining that he too, rented the house for the same time as Tess.  At once we are confused and scared for Tess.  Even more so when she does the unthinkable-- goes inside.  Worse yet, after some conversation -- including Keith mentioning how bad the neighborhood is, if she didn't notice -- she makes the monumental mistake of saying she will go ahead and stay also.  Of course I am screaming in disbelief at this, because what woman would believe things like "there's a convention in town and there won't be any rooms available"?  It's Detroit! And seriously - it seems strange that a small rental in a bad section of Detroit would be double booked by accident?  [Side note:  yet another film showcasing derelict Detroit.  Can't we ever give this city a break? So many films highlight the wasteland that it had become (It Follows, Only Lovers Left Alive, Don't Breathe, and now Barbarian...I'm sure there are more!) that it is pretty depressing.  Okay, I digress...]  

Once Tess and Keith establish barriers -- she'll take the bedroom, he'll take the couch --  they eventually are sharing some wine and conversing about similar interests.  All the while I'm wondering what implement of destruction Keith will use when he maims and tortures her later on.


But wait!  It doesn't quite happen that way! Through the night when Tess is sleeping, her bedroom door opens and wakes her.  She hears Keith out on the couch in the grips of an obvious nightmare.  So has someone else been in the house?  Is someone STILL in the house? 

What Barbarian does is set you up.  They trick you into thinking this is just one of those movies where a woman ends up fighting for her life from a serial killer or the likes.  But this film is so much more than that.  It has an immediate sense of dread from the time Tess arrives at the house to the moment she heads into the basement....which I will not elaborate on lest I spoil anything.  Suffice it to say that things do not go well from that moment on.  

While it is exceedingly difficult to think of Bill Skarsgard as anyone but Pennywise, he does a great job here of making you unsure if he is a good guy or the villain.  Georgina Campbell is exceptional in her role as Tess.  Her uncertainty while trying to decide what to do upon meeting Keith is precisely the same feeling any woman alone would have upon arriving at an unfamiliar city and finding the rental already occupied.  Whereas I would have turned around and left and kept driving until I found the nearest Motel 6, Tess does take a chance on Keith - which is pretty unrealistic but necessary to the plot. 

The basement.  What can I say about the basement?  Nothing without giving away plot details.  So you will have to watch this one to delve further.  And hey! I didn't even mention Justin Long or his role as a disgraced actor.  I can't think of a way to tell you anything about his presence without spoilers - but he does have a big role here and his acting is on point! 

I will say there are a few flashback scenes in which we see the house in question in more lucrative times in the city.  I am not sure these scenes were necessary to the story to be honest.  I think the less told the better, and I would have been fine without the obligatory "here's why things are the way they are" plot point. 

But other than that, I feel Barbarian is a film that will be remembered for its uniqueness and its relevancy to the times.  Who hasn't been hesitant about a rental property?  Particularly if they have a creepy basement, right?  (This is why I rent a beach house every year on a barrier island - where it is NOT possible to have a basement.)  

Barbarian is a horror film in two acts.  And those two acts are as different as night and day.  I was buffaloed into believing I had things figured out.  And what a delicious surprise to find out I hadn't!


~Christine Hadden

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Return of the living blog!

What scares you?  Is it snakes?  Something under the bed?
What gives you goosebumps? What makes your heart race?
 Is it something strange? Or worse, is it something normal? 
 Do you avoid being afraid, or do you seek it out? 
 Does examining fear release it, or deepen it? 

 Within Gothic fiction, there is a literary distinction between horror and terror. Generally, it’s accepted that terror is what occurs leading up to a horrific experience. Terror is anxiety, anticipation of an event, and horror is felt at the time of the event. 

In a scary movie, terror is when the creepy music kicks in, and horror is when the monster bursts through the door. 

 However, horror and terror share the same root–fear. Fear is the driving emotion behind it all. And what is fear? And why is it felt?

 Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat, which in turn triggers a physical response. 
 This is the fight or flight response, which is carried out by the body’s sympathetic nervous system. The brain picks up on a potentially dangerous situation and relays the message to the rest of the body to prepare so that you can either run away to safety, or stand your ground and fight. This involves increasing heart and respiratory rate, dilation of pupils and narrowing peripheral visions, altering blood flow to muscles, and temporarily suspending digestion.

 So fear is actually meant to be helpful. It’s a tool… 
 
However, many of us don’t have to experience survival in the traditional sense, we don’t often have to deal with direct threats upon our life, so we as humans, through evolving and moving up the food chain and the advancements of society… now we are able to fear all sorts of things…. rational, irrational, and downright strange. 
When we get to the more irrational side of fear, where the fear experienced is disproportionate to the threat... It's called a phobia. 

 
Here is a small list of phobias some may find unusual: 

 Ancraophobia–fear of the wind 
 Koumpounophobia–fear of buttons 
 Apeirophobia–fear of infinity 
 Numerophobia–fear of numbers 
 There’s even panphobia–fear of everything!

But doesn’t fear also intrigue us? Obviously, tons of us find interest and enjoyment in horror films and literature, the paranormal, and general strangeness and morbidity. Over time, homo sapiens developed advanced cognitive abilities unique to our species; we can think about thinking. We can examine and analyze our own thoughts and emotions, and if you–like Christine and I–are fascinated by fear, then you are in the right place. 

 Whether you are new to our blog, or an old friend, you can come here to read and take part in film and book reviews, discussions on art and music, and explorations on folklore, psychology, and general morbidity, from the perspective of two women who have been–and continue to be–fascinated by fear for a lifetime.

~Marie Robinson






Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Celebrating My 50th With 50 Favorites - Part 5 - THE TOP TEN

 Finally, my top ten have arrived.  Are any of these in your list of favorites too??

10. Frankenstein (1931)

My favorite Universal monster film.  There, I've said it. There's not much I can say about a film so revered that hasn't already been said.  But the reason I love it so much is that I can identify with the monster. Everyone probably can in their own way.  Pushed to be something that he wasn't, so much expected of him, yet misguided and anxious only for people to accept him the way he was, despite knowing he was an abomination.  Boris Karloff as the monster said so much just with his eyes and mannerisms, he didn't even need to speak to convey that message. The fact that Mary Shelley wrote the book when she was a mere 19 years old just blows my mind - so far ahead of her time! It's a beautiful film, too...the gorgeous sets, including Dr Frankenstein's laboratory, are a sight to behold particularly for such an early time in film.  And Colin Clive as the unhinged but brilliant scientist who steals bodies from their graves with his hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) brings to mind many an evil man who desires more than he should, and really should just leave well enough alone.  But the fact that he proceeds with his experiments despite the immoral and corrupt ramifications just goes to show that greed and the desire for fame and/or fortune always brings out the worst in mankind, often times with irreparable results - and it's still happening today, nearly 90 years later.


9. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, 1974)

It's only in the last several years that I have come to really love this film.  It's my favorite "zombie" film. George (Ray Lovelock) is off for the weekend on his Norton motorcycle when he stops to gas up and Edna (Cristina Galbó) rams his bike with her car, unintentionally but puts it out of commission nonetheless.  To make up for it, she tells him they can ride together and he can use her car while his bike is being fixed.  Traveling through the English countryside they stop to seek out directions and George sees some men using some kind of equipment that uses ultrasonic radiation to kill insects on crops.  Obviously that sounds like an awful idea and of course it is, as soon the dead are rising and George and Edna are smack in the middle of it.  The dialogue is campy, the blood is too red and film is somewhat dated but quite honestly it does raise the question as to what we are doing to the world with all our chemicals and treatments and what might happen if things go awry.  George and Edna are likeable leads and the gore factor is ratcheted up as the film goes on and the zombies get hungrier.  Just a damn fun film!!

8. Ghost Story (1981)

'Four old men and a secret' should be the alternate name for this chiller.  From Peter Straub's amazing novel comes the story of John, Ricky, Sears and Edward....a quartet of college pals that meet an enigmatic beauty and spend a summer charming her. Until something awful happens. The repercussions of the tragedy that unfolds are so malevolent, so vengeful that words can't quite do it.  The novel is very much my favorite book, and the movie, while not completely faithful, still packs a frightening punch with loads of disturbing imagery! And that house!!! So much love! Starring some of Hollywood's finest older leading men - Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  Alice Krige as Eva/Alma still haunts my dreams.


7. The Changeling (1980)

Years have not aged this fantastic ghost story starring George C. Scott as John Russell, a man grappling with the tragic death of his wife and daughter in a horrific accident. A famous composer, John moves across the country in order to take a teaching job and try to resume some semblance of a life  He rents an old mansion from the local historical society, makes friends with Claire (played by Scott's wife, Trish Van Devere) and gets to work on finishing a composition he's been working on. Soon though, hes awakened by loud banging noises during the night, which escalate to the point that a seance is held in which they discover a young boy was killed in the house.  Everything about The Changeling is stellar - the acting, the musical score, the house itself...it's just that good!  Scott's portrayal of a desperate man's agonizing mourning for his family is heart-breaking.  And though this one has every haunted house gimmick known to man, they make it work  - it's never cheesy and always legitimately frightening.  Loud, inexplicable noises, pianos playing by themselves, disembodied voices, a creepy attic with a child-size wheelchair - all these things combine to bring fear into your very soul.  This one just got a fantastic BluRay release so if you haven't seen it yet, now's the time.  Truly one of the best of its kind.

6. The Thing (1982)

You know how I feel about remakes, I've made it abundantly clear several times.  But when they are done right and it's time for one, I'm on board.  A remake of 1951's The Thing From Another World, John Carpenter's The Thing is in my opinion perhaps the best of his work.  With top-notch practical special effects by genius Rob Bottin and a stellar cast, it's a harrowing showcase of fear.  Frequent Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell as MacReady is just the icing on the cake, with his snide remarks yet excellent leadership skills when everything starts falling apart.  As researchers literally at the end of the earth, the Antarctic team finds themselves fighting the unknown...an organism that literally has the capability to attack unsuspecting victims and morph into an exact replica of them, so the question remains....who is the thing?  Everything about this film is terrifying - the isolation...the fear of the unknown...the thought that someone might not be who they say they are...it's an action-packed, straight-up thrill ride, one I've taken over and over again!

5. Alien (1979)

I mentioned previously that sci-fi isn't my favorite--(even though The X-Files is my favorite TV show- I prefer the stand alone horror episodes.) That said, I LOVE ALIEN.  To me, it's just the finest sci-fi horror film in existence. Sure, there are some who say Aliens is the better movie, but they'd be wrong. Ridley Scott's effective and brutal Alien, starring Sigourney Weaver as fierce heroine Ripley, is full of suspense and laden with terror. The Xenomorph creature is an astounding work of art conceived by H.R. Giger and the story by Dan O'Bannon is what nightmares are made of. Immediately claustrophobic due to the whole of the film taking place in space, mostly on the commercial towing ship Nostromo, the sense of helplessness permeates the whole two hour running time. There's nowhere to run when you're stuck in space.  Ripley is an excellent character, a welcome female presence in a mostly masculine crew. She's got guts and runs on pure adrenaline by the film's end. She's a role model and a formidable adversary for the relentless alien. For pure shock factor, Alien is bar none, particularly in that famous chest-burster scene. 
The last thirty minutes are a edge of your seat uncomfortable fright-fest in which you'll believe every word of the tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream. 

4. Friday the 13th (1980)

Oh Friday the 13th, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.  Warning: SPOILERS! 
I love your campiness (pun intended). I love your heroine, Alice and her mad drawing skills. I love Crazy Ralph and the fact that you all actually ARE, in fact, doomed. I love that you play strip monopoly. I love that Bing Crosby's son is a hottie and can play a mean guitar. I love that sexy Brenda wears a granny gown. I love that Jack and Marcie have sex with Dead Ned above them. I love that poor Annie doesn't like to call children kids because it sounds like little goats. I love that when Mrs Voorhees finally gets a chance to kill Alice she slaps her up and pushes her face in the dirt instead. I love that Steve's Jeep won't pull that tiny trailer and that he only leaves Sally a 75 cent tip at the diner, even though she flirts with him like crazy. I love that Marcie has dreams about little bloody rivers and can fix a faulty faucet. I love that Jack puts it all out there in his Speedo at the docks. I love that Alice and Bill don't run for their lives after they find the bloody ax in the bed. I love that Mrs Voorhees hands still clench their fingers after she loses her head. 
What I don't love? The fact that they killed that snake. 😐


3. The Woman in Black (1989)

I've been championing this film for 25 years or longer.  I can't remember the first time I saw it but as soon as I did, I knew I had to own it. I had it on VHS first, and when DVD's began taking the world by storm, I purchased a bootleg copy from overseas and I'm not afraid to admit it. The novella by Susan Hill that it is adapted from is the best ghost story I may have ever read, and the only one that gave me legit chills when I read it. The story adapted for film changes a few minor details but involves Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins), a lawyer who is assigned the task of closing the estate of one Mrs. Drablow, an eccentric old woman who lives on an isolated piece of land across a causeway that floods during high tide. Kidd attends the funeral of his client and notices a woman in black at the back of the church and later in the cemetery. Townsfolk seem terrified when he mentions it, and later he comes to know why after spending the night at the spooky Drablow house. By investigating the decedent's personal belongings, he learns of a horrific accident involving the mysterious woman in black and her relationship with the old woman. Vengeance is a great motivator, apparently even after death. This film is hard to come by, out of print for many years. It is available on YouTube, and though not a stellar copy it's still worth seeking out! 


2. Psycho (1960)

As previously mentioned, Psycho is very special to me, right up there with Jaws as far as movies I've seen the most. I can quote every line, I know every scene. I love Norman Bates, in all his quirky, psychotic glory.  John Gavin...be still my heart! And the sheer brilliance of killing off your marquee name in the first act of the film, well....that's brave....hats off to Hitchcock. Robert Bloch may have created the character of Norman, but Hitchcock perfected it and Anthony Perkins embodied it. Even people not familiar with the horror genre as a whole know Psycho. The shower scene....the fruit cellar...Mother and Norman's "close" relationship, there's so much to appreciate. It's one of my desert island films, because I'll never tire of it. And if you're sitting there thinking I'm nuts then we just can't be friends. 


1) Jaws (1975)

My favorite. The I-Ching of films for me. The be-all-end-all.  I don't think I've seen any movie as many times as Jaws.  I own multiple copies over many formats and yet if it is on television with commercials every five minutes I'm still unable to turn it off. As with Psycho, the book is good, the movie is superior.  All the characters, Brody (Roy Scheider ), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Quint (Robert Shaw) are strong and engaging in their own ways. John Williams' score is just legendary, the most recognizable two notes in music. Spielberg's direction jump-started a visionary, critically acclaimed career and with good reason! We're not just talking summer blockbuster here, we are talking about a film beloved by fans and critics alike. The simple plot of man vs. shark made millions of people afraid to go in the ocean. An impressive feat to be sure. Let's just say, if I could marry a film, this would be the one. My only one!


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Celebrating my 50th with 50 Favorites ~ Part 4

We're getting down to the nitty gritty now.  Good stuff ahead.....

 20. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

I'm what I'd consider to be a connoisseur of vampire films.  I've seen a ton...disliked some, liked most, and truly loved only a handful.  This film falls into the latter category.  From Jim Jarmusch comes the story of Adam and Eve - no, not that Adam and Eve....right?
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are two vampires who have been married for centuries though at the moment are living apart on different continents. Eve decides to make the trip from Tangier to Detroit to pay a visit to her hubby after a phone call from him tips her off to his despair.  Adam is a very melancholy vampire, disillusioned with his life to the point that he even is contemplating suicide. If it weren't for his music he'd end it, and in fact has a wooden bullet for that very task. Eve arrives and together they try to make some sense of their never-ending existence and to find reasons to go on.  Everything about this movie is just steeped in a thick veil of moody atmosphere. When they cruise around derelict Detroit it touches a nerve, as it seems they are as old and forgotten as the rows of dilapidated, abandoned house that line the streets. Eve tries to convince Adam that life is still worthwhile, but extenuating circumstances in the form of Eve's sister coming for a visit throw a wrench in their happily ever after.   Just a brilliant, amazing film.


19. Half Light (2006) 

This is probably a movie that most people have never even heard of and is a relatively PG-13 type of film. It stars Demi Moore as Rachel, a best-selling American author of thrillers that gets caught up in a mystery of her own,  It's not giving a lot away to say that her young son dies at the beginning, as that's the set up for the story.  Grief-stricken, she flees from her home in London to an isolated Scottish cottage on the beach, where she intends to finish her latest novel by her deadline. But soon, she begins to experience typical 'ghostly' behavior and assumes her son is trying to make contact. Meanwhile, she meets the attractive lighthouse keeper who lives just across a short stretch of water who helps her face her fears.  But is there something supernatural at work? Why does everyone in town act so strangely? And what really happened to the previous lighthouse keeper?  While there is nothing truly fantastic about this film, the story is decent enough, there are some genuinely creepy moments, and of course Demi is attractive as hell, especially with her long dark hair blowing in the Scottish sea breeze. But it's the location and the music that just suck me in.  Sweeping ocean vistas, the perfect little cottage at the sea's edge, the quaint yet quirky village nearby, wild horses running next to the ocean, and the simply gorgeous score accompanying all of this, making it a film I come back to again and again.


18. Don't Look Now (1973)

It's too bad that when most people think of Don't Look Now, they think of the controversy of whether the two leads, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, actually had sex during their graphic love scene...because behind all the speculation lies a truly satisfying film.  John and Laura Baxter have just lost their daughter in a drowning accident and flee to Venice to try and get their minds off their tragedy.  John accepts a commission to work on an ancient church there, and the two settle in.  One day, Laura meets a couple of sisters at dinner, one of whom claims to be a psychic and says she is in contact with their daughter.  John doesn't believe this at all, but goes along with it to make Laura happy.  Then John starts seeing a young person in a red cloak all around town, just like the one his daughter wore. So the question becomes is his daughter haunting them or is he having visions?  Or a little of both?  And where do the sisters fit in?  The Venetian scenery is a gorgeous back drop to the thrills and chills this movie provides.  John and Laura are very much in love, and the scenes of them together getting ready to go out for dinner are among some of the finest love scenes put to celluloid.

17.  The Evil Dead (1981)

Bruce Campbell is not just my hero, he's the world's hero, as we find out in this first movie in the series.  Ash, his girlfriend Linda, sister Cheryl, and friends Scotty and Shelly travel to a proverbial cabin in the woods for a nice getaway weekend.  Once at the cabin, it becomes quickly evident that something isn't quite right.  Touring the cabin's basement, they find recordings that when spoken aloud, summon demons - which is exactly what happens.  Only these demons inhabit the living. One by one, Ash's group succumb to the "deadites", until Ash is the only one left.  A very simple premise but oh so very effective.  What's great about this little low-budget charmer is the GORE.  The blood and guts and massive spewage is completely over the top - and you're going to love every second of it. This is the basis for the wildly popular Starz television series, Ash vs. Evil Dead - and I'd certainly check out at least this movie before digging in to that.  Though the series is ended, I find it so hard to believe that our beloved Ash is gone forever.  In fact, I'm holding out hope.....


16.  Angel Heart (1987)

Voodoo holds in inexplicable fascination for me, and there are just not enough films about it!  It feels like a sub-genre of its own, but maybe people are just deeming it religious horror, I don't know. Angel Heart, in my humble opinion, is one of the best examples of voodoo in the genre. Mickey Rourke plays Harry Angel, a gumshoe in Harlem who gets a call from a lawyer on behalf of an eccentric man looking to collect a long overdue debt.  Mr Cyphre (Robert De Niro) can't seem to locate crooner Johnny Favorite and employs Harry to track him down.  This leads Harry down a very precarious road, a journey of discoveries he may have been better off leaving alone.  The mood of this film is so dark and gritty, with so much impending doom, backed by a soundtrack by Trevor Jones that reeks of dread itself, with its sultry, melancholy lead sax that should be illegal it's so good. And yes, there is blood and chickens and dancing and chanting and curses and tarot readings and murder and magic and of course THAT extremely unsettling and immoral sex scene that nearly gave the film an X-rating.  In other words, it's a must-see.


15. Psycho II (1983)

Oh Norman, you sexy thing, you!  Anyone that knows me knows I have a huge crush on mama's boy Norman Bates.  With the exception of Jaws, there is no film I love more than Psycho.  It's a perfect, perfect film, and you'll see it on this list soon. But Psycho II is a terrific film in its own right. Made 22 years after the original 1960 film, we see Norman finally being released from the mental institution he was remanded to years ago. Considered "cured", his caseworker drops him off at the old homestead, where the motel has been used as a sleazy stop-over slash drug den these last several years. The house itself is exactly the same, and Norman immediately feels uneasy and soon starts finding notes from Mother. He is set up as a cook's helper at a local diner, where he meets Mary (Meg Tilly) and soon offers her a room at the motel when she has man trouble.  That's when things get even more wonky.  Is Norman losing his mind again? Is Mother really dead and buried? Is someone else haunting the Bates house? In most cases, sequels leave a lot to be desired, but in Psycho II's case, it's a truly understated yet formidable return to form.  It's no Hitchcock film, but Anthony Perkins slides easily back into the embodiment of Norman Bates, with all his nervous tics and mannerisms still spot on.  And so we're left to ponder whether Mother is trying to terrorize her son once again or if Norman just thinks she is.  Or....has it been Norman all along?


14. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

While others prefer Day or Dawn, I am firmly in the Night camp when it comes to Romero's Dead movies. It's the first one I saw, and has been my favorite for as long as I can recall, way back to watching it on Chilly Billy's Chiller Theater.  After all, I'm a Pittsburgh girl.  Well, northeast of the Burgh but somewhere between there and Evans City, where this film was shot. In case you've been living under a rock, Barbara and brother Johnny are visiting their father's grave at the cemetery when things run amok and the dead start walking.  Johnny is killed and Barbara finds cover at a house nearby where she meets our hero, Ben (and later a few others holed up in the basement). The remainder of the film is them attempting to find out just what is going on and how to deal with the zombies that are gathering outside the house quicker than a bunch of teen girls at a Justin Bieber concert.  Besides Ben being the first black hero in a horror film, it's really the living dead in their slow-moving madness and their voracious appetite that make this movie such a ground-breaking film. Though filmed in black and white, it takes nothing away from them chomping on viscera like mindless.....zombies.


13. Dead of Night (1945)

I love most anthology films, and you've seen a few here on this list already, but THIS British 1945 shocker is my favorite.  Walter keeps having a recurring nightmare and so the good wifey recommends he spend some time relaxing away from home.  He goes to a friend's weekend house and upon arrival feels a dreadful sense of deja vu, and all the other guests have been in his dream that he keeps having.  And each guest has their own story to tell.  A race car driver is haunted by the driver of a fatal bus crash, a haunted mirror, a Christmas ghost, a golf outing with a supernatural touch, and the most affecting and creepy story - a ventriloquist's dummy comes to life. There's something so fun about having not one but multiple stories to give you the chills.  And this one is a stellar production, the best anthology I've seen - including all my Amicus favorites.  The black and white makes it all the more terrifying. I dare you to sleep after watching that one with the dummy.   I double dog dare you.


12.  The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Many of you may already know that parts of The Silence of the Lambs were filmed in my hometown, quite an experience and such a great feeling, considering the film won five Academy Awards.  Leads Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster who won Best Actor and Actress respectively, embody the roles of Dr Hannibal Lecter and FBI trainee Clarice Starling.  As Starling is given the assignment to meet with Lecter at the prison where he lives, the interactions between them are just impeccable, the bantering back and forth - quid pro quo, as Lecter says - will help Clarice in the FBI's search for the most vile serial killer, Buffalo Bill.  Say what you will, but this film is a horror film.  When someone is removing the skin from their victim in order to make a dress out of it, that's HORROR, people.  So it's good to know the Academy does recognize horror....it's happened a few times before, with Jaws, The Exorcist and Misery...but it's rare.  But for under your skin (pun intended) cinematic terror, The Silence of the Lambs fits the bill. 

11. City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell, 1980)

I'm a pretty big Fulci fan, and it's hard to choose from his films for this list, but this is the one I knew I couldn't leave off.  I've seen it so many times yet it always entertains.  A priest hangs himself and starts a chain reaction of evil predicted by the ancient book of Enoch.  Reporter Peter (Christopher George) saves Mary (Catriona MacColl) from suffocating to death in a coffin in which she was buried after collapsing at a seance.  Together, they investigate the evil taking over their town, trying to find a way to close the "door" to the Gates of Hell, which was opened by the priest's suicide.  As in usual Fulci fashion, there is loads of gore including a woman vomiting up her own entrails and a man killed by having a drill run through his head.  Every time the priest appears, he makes his victim's eyes bleed in ghastly fashion, then they die and become one of his undead army.  Once again, Fabio Frizzi provides the soundtrack to this gore-fest as we're treated to sublime 80's horror at its best.




Monday, August 13, 2018

Celebrating My 50th with 50 Favorites ~ Part 3

Still counting down - here's numbers 30-21...


30. Session 9 (2001)

Psychological horror makes an indelible impression on me. A movie need not have even a drop of blood, if the story-line is compelling and plays with my emotions, I'm hooked.  Session 9 is one of those films, with its subtle yet ominous mood.  It digs under your skin until it finds a place to relax, then it hits you when you least expect it.  With the benefit of probably one of the greatest movie locations, the former Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, the hulking ediface just screams haunted, so it is with great ease that one gets sucked into the atmosphere of quiet terror it presents. Gordon (Peter Mullen) owns a small asbestos removal company and he takes on the contract of removing the nasty product from the hospital, claiming that it will be done in one week.  He and his crew, led by Phil (David Caruso) begin the task as Gordon grapples with problems at home, and a sense of deja vu at the hospital.  Meanwhile, another crew member, Mike (Stephen Gevedon), becomes obsessed with the audio sessions of one of the patients, Mary Hobbes, who displays a number of distinct personalities.  To say more would ruin the film, so I'll leave it at that.  Seek this out if you haven't seen it.  It's disturbingly excellent.

29. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

"I'm sorry I called you a meatloaf, Jack."  John Landis's brilliant werewolf film is equal parts fright and fun.  Special effects by Rick Baker won an Academy Award and there's a reason for that - they are outstanding.  Poor David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), all they were trying to do is see the English countryside when even after being warned, they veer off the road and onto the moors, where they are promptly attacked by....something.  Injecting humor at every turn, Landis nonetheless creates a terrifying film with gruesome and suspenseful attacks. You're rooting for David to discover the truth, and with the help of new girlfriend Alex (Jenny Agutter), he's bound to figure things out, right?  I've loved this film since I was in high school, shortly after its release.  When it comes on TV, I'm compelled to watch it.  Likewise I can throw my BluRay in for some much needed comfort horror, it's just that good.


28. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) 

I love Donald Sutherland.  Who doesn't?  He's great in everything he does and this film is no exception.  With the benefit of a stellar cast including Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, and Veronica Cartwright, this remake of the 1956 classic is an unnerving look at an alien invasion that occurs much more inconspicuously than most sci-fi flicks.  When Elizabeth (Adams) comes to her co-worker at the Health Dept, Matthew, and describes the change in personality that her live-in boyfriend has been displaying, they take it upon themselves to investigate, realizing that something is happening all over the city.  People are devoid of emotion and completely unfazed by the growing epidemic.  Science fiction has never been my favorite, but when it's as exceptional as this I am totally all-in. 


27. The Fog (1980)

Following up with a film after Halloween must have been a difficult task for John Carpenter, and I'm not here to say The Fog is superior to Halloween even though it is higher on my list.  I just happen to find the themes and atmosphere of The Fog more intriguing.  I love the ocean, so anything creepy and set at the sea does it for me.  The Fog also has some serious horror heavyweights in it, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, and Janet Leigh.   When the town of Antonio Bay is set to celebrate its 100th Founders Anniversary, a curse is let loose upon them - seems the original founders sunk a ship full of lepers before they made shore and then proceeded to steal all their gold to build the current town.  And the ghosts of the pissed off sailors exact a nasty revenge....


26. Gojira (aka Godzilla, 1954)

First things first - stay away from the 1956 Americanized version with Raymond Burr....just NO.
When I was a young whippersnapper, Mom and I used to watch Godzilla movies on Saturday afternoons and this was my first experience with the great monster from the deep.  And I LOVED it.  I still have unwavering love for the big guy, but I will always count this one as my favorite.  Long story short, giant dinosaur-like creature is awakened deep under the sea by hydrogen bomb testing and wreaks havoc on unsuspecting Japanese folks. Some viewers may say this is hokey, and of course they'd be right.  But Godzilla is KING OF THE MONSTERS and don't let anyone tell you different.  If you've seen all the remakes and sequels but haven't seen the original, you need to rectify that shit right now.


25. From Beyond the Grave (1974)

Another Amicus anthology starring Peter Cushing as the owner of an antiques shoppe, it has four stories that involve antiques purchased at said shoppe.  Each customer tries to trick or rob the proprietor, but he has the last laugh.  A man buys a haunted mirror that talks to him and requests victims; a disgruntled husband finds love with a match & shoestring salesman's bizarre daughter; a witch warns a man of an 'elemental' on his shoulder; and after purchasing a door from the shoppe a man finds more than he bargains for after installing it in his home.  Of note, Donald Pleasence and his daughter Angela (who truly is very creepy, whether she means to be or not) star in the second segment. What can I say?  I love Amicus and their anthologies.  There are many more of them, such as Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, and The Vault of Horror, just to name a few. They are all fairly dated, having been produced in the late 60's and early 70's but they are all worth a look!


24. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

One of the newest films on my list of 50, this movie is a joy to behold. I don't particularly like comedy in my horror unless it's done right (as in An American Werewolf in London) but this is truly one of the funniest movies, any genre, that I have ever seen.  With a random group of vampires from many different eras all sharing a flat, you can expect laughs - and this delivers.  Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi wrote and directed this independent film from New Zealand that has a quartet of vampires trying to fit in to "normal" society, with hilarious results.  There is a supposed sequel in the works that involves the werewolves (not swearwolves) in the film, and an American television program based on the film heads our way in 2019.


23. Jurassic Park (1993)

I know what you're thinking.  Jurassic Park (and all its counterparts) is not a horror film, and while I would agree with you on a grander scale, this is my blog and I think anytime you have man-eating dinosaurs, it feels like horror to me.  As the Steven Spielberg train keeps a' rollin' down this prehistoric track even today, Jurassic Park is the one that started them all and still packs the biggest punch.  Who wasn't psyched to see those dinos out on the grasses just like Dr Grant & co?  But of course the greatest thrills in the film come from the Velociraptors and the big man himself, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  I can honestly say the huge lump in my throat when the T-Rex made his presence known is just as big as any other horror film I have been terrified by.  And those raptors in the kitchen? Yikes!  I love dinosaurs, and who doesn't? I would be happy if there was a Jurassic Park sequel every few years FOREVER.

22. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Yes, I know The Devil's Rejects is a better film.  No, I don't usually love exploitation films. Yes, I know this movie is trashy.  But damn if I don't adore it.   Rob Zombie has a mixed bag of tricks in his director bag, and there are a few of his I could toss by the wayside.  But I truly appreciate his devotion to the genre because I know he is a true-blue fan.  House of 1000 Corpses plays like a 90 minute music video by Zombie, which would seem unbearable.  And though the film falters a bit at the end, the first hour is just so much fun.  With humor (intentional or not) rife throughout, the 70's vibe is spot on and the disturbed Firefly family is ridiculously over the top, but in a good way.  Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon, has a starring role as is the norm in his movies, and here she plays Baby with all the demented intensity she can muster.  Playing her mom is genre favorite Karen Black, and Bill Moseley as Otis and Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding make up the craziest motley crew you've seen since the Sawyers in rural Texas.  Chris Harwick as Jerry and Rainn Wilson as Bill bring their girlfriends along on a road trip to discover unique roadside attractions.....and they hit the mother lode when they stop at Captain Spaudling's.

21. Candyman (1992)

Candyman is actually a fairly frightening film. It benefits by the great Tony Todd starring as the title character and Virginia Madsen as the fearless Helen Lyle, a graduate student focusing on urban legends for her thesis.  She hears the local story of Candyman and goes in search of the truth behind the speculation.  It's a gritty look at the seedy underbelly of a major city, where the lore usually comes from actual events in the past - and I'm not sure what's scarier, the made-up stories or the truth.  The Cabrini Green housing projects of Chicago figure prominently into the plot, and to me, they are vastly more scary than anything else on screen, with its graffiti-laden walls and fiercely protective gang members.  When Helen comes face to face with the evidence, it all backfires and she becomes the hunted, much like Candyman was in his bleak and depressing past, where just falling in love comes with a price.  Clive Barker's tale is brought to the screen with fervor and passion, and a captivating score by the great Philip Glass adds an extra layer of depth.