Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chilling at Christmas/1984 Turns 30! A Retrospective: Two More from '84! Silent Night, Deadly Night (Charles E. Sellier, Jr.) & Gremlins (Joe Dante)

For my last post of 2014, another 1984/Christmas crossover... and this time it's a double! I've talked about these two briefly before (here and here) but wanted to explore them in a bit more depth, especially as it's still the festive season and all. I mean Christmas day is long gone now but hey, people still have their decorations up and we're still within the 12 days right? 

Besides both being (in wildly varying degrees) controversial Christmas movies, they're also two films that have grown on me exponentially this December. I mean I'd always liked them both but after re-watching them a few times each this year I'd have to say the like has turned to love. Why's that do you ask? All will hopefully become clear as we proceed...

The more controversial of the two by many miles, Silent Night, Deadly Night was famously picketed by angry parents, lambasted by critics and eventually withdrawn from theatres. The killer Santa wasn't exactly new by 1984 but apparently the appearance of the film during the festive season itself, coupled with what I imagine was probably far from subtle advertising... oh, and it's wide distribution (it was an early release for TriStar if memory serves)... so anyway, the above taken all together (and exacerbated by the media no doubt, who love a good moral panic) seemed to create the conditions for a perfect storm of controversy. All this was moot of course as the film was later re-released anyway (playing up the controversy card all the way in the ads... and why not?) and the opening aside, it all seems a bit silly when watched now. Which is not an attack on the film, I should add.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

1984 Turns 30! A Retrospective: 1984 Movie Music Megamix!

As an aural appendix to my previous post, here's a link to a Youtube playlist I made featuring 130 songs and snippets of scores from 1984 films. 

If I missed anything important, feel free to hit me up in the comments. Cheers :)

Here's a picture of Kevin Bacon (presumably listening to Kenny Loggins or Moving Pictures) to feast your eyes on while you listen. Enjoy! Or what you should really do is load the playlist and then (if you haven't already), read the aforementioned preceding post.

Coming up next year, a 1985 retrospective. And no, I'm not joking.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

1984 Turns 30! A Retrospective: 30th Birthday Moviethon Madness!

While writing my last post I noticed my next would be my 100th (yup, it certainly took me long enough!), so of course I felt compelled to mark it with something special. Anyone following this blog or that knows me via Facebook will know that to celebrate my 30th birthday in early October, I watched an insane amount of movies from 1984... well, 30 to be precise and over a period of 8 days (much as I was loath to, I had to go to work during some of those days!). So for this centennial post, it seemed entirely apt to give y'all a run down of the birthday moviethon shenanigans. As I've a lot of ground to cover, I'll be as brief as possible r.e. each film, especially if I've talked about it elsewhere on the blog. I'll offer a TV guide synopsis for the more obscure ones but I'll presume that's unnecessary for the more famous famous films. Without further ado then!

Friday 26th September 2014

20:00 - Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman)

I've spoken about this movie a couple of times before (here and here) so not much to say here but I knew I just had to kick of the moviethon with this one, it being, as I've said repeatedly, the gateway horror movie for me. Yup, I'm blaming Reitman, Ackroyd, Ramis, Murray et al for the sorry state I'm in today. Okay, so that's not really fair... there are many parties responsible for that and most of them are called Simon!

I was watching the old Blu Ray on this on the day in question, which I always thought was serviceable enough... I mean, this viewing alone I noticed one or two things I hadn't before... e.g. how the hell did I never notice Murray taking his Chinese food down the fire pole with him?! But a more recent viewing of the much more recent Blu (scanned in 4K no less) has revealed to me how much the old Blu and other prior home video incarnations left to be desired. If you love this movie, or are lukewarm about it and fancy reappraising it, buy this Blu Ray.

I've nothing to add for now but there'll be more Ghostbusters action on the blog before we leave 2014...

22:00 - Beverly Hills Cop (Martin Brest)

It's probably a good time to tell y'all I was basically winging it with regards to sequencing these movies. I had a start point, a vague idea of what to end with, and a huge stack of stuff I wanted to get to in between. But even this early in the 'thon, I was encountering dilemmas r.e. what to watch. So thanks to anyone who helped nudge me in the right direction here or there... case in point, my good friends Brad and Steve for convincing me to finally watch Beverly Hills Cop...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Carry on Screaming! British Horror Week - The Sequel!/Chilling at Christmas AND 1984 Turns 30! - Don't Open Till Christmas (Edmund Purdom, 1984)

Rounding off the British horror blogging, kicking off the Christmas content and also returning to that all important year of 1984, today's movie is already sitting at a crossroads of general awesomeness, so is a review really necessary? Assuming not everyone will simply be sold by the above, I better tell y'all a bit more about it...

Reversing a trope that's been used in a few Yuletide horror films (i.e. the killer Santa), Don't Open Till Christmas is a giallo/slasher hybrid about a serial killer knocking off anyone dressed as St. Nick. Edmund Purdom (of Pieces - which we'll come back to - Absurd and The Fifth Cord fame. He also directs, sort of... and therein hangs a tale for later) is Chief Inspector Ian Harris of Scotland Yard, the man tasked with putting an end this next level Scrooge's not so festive frenzy. Also embroiled are Kate Briosky (Belinda Mayne), whose father (Laurence Harrington) has been murdered (and now she "can't concentrate!", which might explain a few things that transpire later), her sometimes boyfriend and general arse Cliff Boyd (Gerry Sundquist), who becomes a suspect, and Sherry Graham (from Slaughter High, which we'll also come back to), a stripper who witnesses one of the Santa slayings and narrowly escapes the killer's clutches.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Carry on Screaming! British Horror Week - The Sequel! Three for Thursday - Bela Lugosi in Britain

As much love and respect as I have for Karloff, I've always gravitated more towards Lugosi for some reason. I'm not gonna say Bela is better than Boris of course, them being different actors, both adept at bringing particular things to the table (of course there's an element of overlap too). For whatever reason though, I'll watch anything with Lugosi in it... and I do mean anything. There's just something utterly wonderful about watching him throw himself into every role, no matter how potentially ridiculous it is (The Ape Man and The Devil Bat both spring to mind) and going for it with full body and soul, treating B movies as if they were Shakespeare. Now this isn't to say the silliness of some of these movies was missed on the actor (just check out either The Devil Bat or Mother Riley Meets the Vampire for evidence that he was sometimes in on the joke too), I'm just saying I feel like he played every part as if it might be his last.

We've looked at a couple of Karloff's British horror films recently (and there's one more we might discuss soon if time permits) so I thought it'd be good to also talk briefly about three of Lugosi's. They're the only ones Bela made in Britain that I'm aware of and a bit of a mixed bunch, but all worth checking out for fans I'd say. Anyway, enough pre-rambling, on to the films!

The Mystery of the Mary Celeste (Denison Clift, 1935)

Linking back to my last post, this first film is actually one of Hammer's earliest and probably the best of these three Lugosi pictures. I saw it courtesy of an upload on Hammer's Youtube channel under the title The Phantom Ship, which is shorter than the original version. Sadly it seems that full length cut is now lost but I suppose film cans are found all the time so fingers crossed!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Carry on Screaming! British Horror Week - The Sequel! - Happy Birthday Hammer! 80th Anniversary Moviethon

Despite being a long term horror fanatic, I'd barely seen any Hammer films until late last year. Prior to that, all I can remember seeing were one or two when I was at university and that was in less than favourable conditions (overly bright lecture theatres in the middle of the afternoon, while hungover not being the best way to watch movies). But being aware of their importance to British cinema history and that some of my friends are big fans, I knew I owed it to myself to pull my finger out and start exploring their large and varied back catalogue.

As I think I said in the first post of this sporadic theme month, this British horror kick started by accident. But when I saw that Hammer were celebrating their 80th anniversary this month, I started watching as much as I possibly could. My characteristic laziness and procrastination has meant I've blogged about perhaps barely 10% of what I've watched but I'd be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to let you know about the Hammer 'thon I had three weeks back.

It being their 80th anniversary, I decided to watch 8 films in one day (not a world record by any stretch but perhaps a personal best for me), 3 of which I'd never seen. Rather than going in depth on these right now (we can always return to the films individually at a later date), here's a blow by blow account of how the Hammer action went down...

Saturday 8th November 2014 

10:00 - The Quatermass Xperiment (Val Guest, 1955)

Literally two days before this moviethon, I was lucky to stumble across a DVD of this and its sequel (I hadn't seen either) for the very reasonable sum of £5. And I'm damn glad I bought it. The Quatermass Xperiment (the title apparently stylised to xpolit - sorry couldn't resist -  the recently introduced X rating) is not only an excellent sci-fi horror film but apparently it could be considered Hammer's first horror film. 

Based on the seminal TV serial from a few years earlier, the film follows the eponymous Professor (played here by Brian Donlevy, who writer Nigel Kneale reportedly hated, calling his performance "belligerent" if memory serves. Apparently the actor was mostly drunk during shooting, which might explain this) as he and Inspector Lomax of Scotland Yard (Jack Warner) attempt to track down an AWOL astronaut (the only survivor of an ill-fated mission) who is mutating into an alien organism that has invaded his body and which is now attempting to assimilate anything unwise enough to cross its path.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Curse of the Crimson Altar (Vernon Sewell, 1968)

For the second part of my impromptu Boris Karloff's birthday celebrations last night, I decided to check out today's movie, which I'd never seen. It seemed appropriate as it was supposedly Boris's last British movie (yesterday's film, The Ghoul, being his first). And very strangely (i.e. I only discovered this a few hours ago) it also features someone he shares his birthday with, who is a horror movie fan favourite in his own right, Michael Gough! And that's Alfred from Burton's Batman for you young whippersnappers wondering who I'm talking about!

Also starring horror icons Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele (seen above, looking even scarier than usual), the film follows antiques dealer Robert Manning (Mark Eden), who is looking for his missing brother. His search leads him to the seemingly remote Craxted Lodge, where he wanders into a party full of swinging hippies and is soon escorted to meet the house's owner, Morley (Christopher Lee, plus moustache) by his lovely niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell). During a discussion regarding Manning's missing brother, he and Morley are soon joined by a Professor Marshe (Karloff!), who, when not rolling his eyes at Manning's lack of appreciation for his brandy, is generally helping twist the creepiness dial (located next to the lever opening the secret passage) up higher and higher.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Happy Birthday Boris Karloff! The Ghoul (T. Hayes Hunter, 1933)

I'll confess that due to post work fatigue I was tempted to be lazy and skip another day but when my good friend Brad of Yellow Razor informed me it's Boris Karloff's birthday today, I had to take the opportunity to talk about a movie of his I just re-watched last night (funnily enough!)... and while I'm not quite gonna be able to do this one justice right now, I'll try and briefly tell y'all why you should check it out if you haven't...

While somewhat reductive, a description offered by one critic of the film being like The Mummy meets The Old Dark House still gives you a reasonably clear and concise idea of what you can expect here. Karloff plays Professor Morlant, who just before dying, spends most of his fortune on an Egyptian jewel that he believes will allow him to come back from the dead and achieve immortality. His faithful servant Laing (played by Ernest Thesiger... reversing roles with Boris here from what they played in The Old Dark House), is on hand to help carry out his esoteric instructions relating to what to do when he passes. And around all this are assorted scallywags all trying to get their hands on said jewel.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Happy Birthday Hammer! Nightmare (Freddie Francis, 1964)

Sorry for the slight hiatus there folks, life intrudes! As I said in a previous post, the British horror blogging is probably gonna run till the end of the month anyway. So then, as I also mentioned earlier, Hammer Films is celebrating its 80th anniversary this month. We'll be looking at quite a few of their movies before November is through but first up I figured I'd share some of my initial impressions of one I saw for the first time recently and it's a film that's 50 years young this year... the Hitchcock inspired Nightmare.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Madhouse (Jim Clark, 1974)

More Amicus on the menu today folks, and like Asylum, this is something I discovered recently for the first time, though unlike that movie, I'd never even heard of this one! I know another Madhouse, but that one's Italian and from '81, where as for this film, we're heading back forty years to 1974...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Asylum (Roy Ward Baker, 1972)

So my plans to have a belated Halloween blogathon went right out of the window but no matter, there's always next year! On the watching films front I've been busy as ever though and for the next week/possibly till the end of the month, I'm gonna be talking about an area which has been shamefully neglected by me up until recently... homegrown horror!

While there are certainly many British horror films I love, some of which have been firm favourites for years, for some reason I still haven't checked out as many of the classics of the British horror canon as I no doubt should have. This recent kick I've been on started somewhat accidentally with the film I'll be looking at today, but when I discovered that Hammer are celebrating their 80th anniversary this month, I decided to start immersing myself in as much Anglo-horror as possible.

I'll be getting to Hammer in due course over the next week (including a write up of a moviethon I had to celebrate said birthday) but the first few films are courtesy of Amicus...

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's Goin' On? or Where on Earth is Simon Wright?

Howdy strangers!

As is no doubt self-evident from the lack of posts since July(!), I've been slacking in epic fashion during the summer months. No reason really, apart from the overriding compulsion to watch movie after movie after movie (and then not write about it!).

I'll be tied up with commitments relating to the real world this month and over Halloween, so this year's Hootenanny will be a much more subdued affair than the last two... plus, I'm gonna let this spill over into November so I can enjoy some belated Halloween viewing and blogging shenanigans.

Coming soon in that regard, I'll be talking about an impromptu theme weekend I've just had, featuring the likes of Vincent Price, Cameron Mitchell and a posthumous contribution from Lucio Fulci. I'll say no more for now though...

Also in the none too distant, I'll be returning to my 1984 retrospective with an extended piece that'll hopefully make up for the fact I've been neglecting my birth year blog wise as of late. To celebrate my 30th birthday at the beginning of this month I watched 30 films from '84 over 8 days and I plan to write it up and give y'all a whistle stop tour of where I went on my filmic travels.

And last but not least, I want to mention a print project I was involved in which should hopefully be of interest to readers of this blog...

Richard Schmidt of Doomed MoviethonCinema Somnambulist and Hello! This is the Doomed Show was kind enough to ask me to contribute to the second issue of his Euro-horror/giallo 'zine Fang of Joy and of course I jumped at the chance. 

You can still get hold of issue one (from Goblinhaus) which is also well worth a look but this second is a serious step up in terms of the amount of content it has and also production value. Kudos are especially due here to Richard's wife LeEtta (check out more of her artwork here and she also has a piece in the 'zine) who designed the amazing cover, which should speak directly to the hearts of any horror fans out there.

Featuring some great pieces from the likes of Jeffrey Canino, Jose Cruz, Brad and Elizabeth Hogue, Scott MacDonald, ship's captain Richard and many more fine folks, this is a must read for fans of Euro horror and the giallo. 

I won't give it all away but it includes two interviews with noted horror filmmakers, insightful essays on Scooby-Doo Gialli and the Spawn of Romero, reviews aplenty and a checklist of essential gialli. 

I had several ideas fighting it out for what I wanted to cover but in the end I went for a giallo double bill... and more specifically I chose a pair of films one could show someone as Giallo 101, as it were... the sublimely entertaining, twisted slasher/giallo hybrid Pieces and the proto-slaser-esque Sergio Martino classic Torso. It occurs to me now that another good giallo crash course would be Case of the Bloody Iris (which is Martino-esque) and Umberto Lenzi's Eyeball (which has a connection to Torso in the form of John Richardson)... might have to do that one day as a companion piece to my contribution to this wonderful 'zine. 

Thanks again to Richard for asking me to contribute, it really is an honour to be between the same pages as so many excellent writers/enthusiastic horror fans. 

And Jeffrey made an awesome trailer for his Scooby-Doo Gialli essay which you can check out here.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Giallo July - Late Night Double Feature: Hatchet for the Honeymoon (Mario Bava, 1970) & Opera AKA Terror at the Opera (Dario Argento, 1987)


As per usual, I've spent far more time watching movies than writing about them recently, hence the highly sporadic output during this sorry excuse for a theme month. All that aside, I figured I'd try and get one more post in before the month comes to a close.... and seeing as I had something of an impromptu giallo double bill last night, I figured I'd share some brief thoughts I gleaned from re-watching the films...

First up, an atypical example of the genre and one that was pretty much pre-convention (it being contemporary to Argento's Bird with the Crystal Plumage, which itself cemented most of the tropes that would later become cliches)... Hatchet for the Honeymoon...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Giallo July - Five for Friday: Five American Gialli

As I said in the previous post, the Italians aren't the only ones to have made films one could arguably label as gialli. It's well known what a seminal influence this European sub-genre had on American horror cinema and specifically the slasher but for the most part these later films divert from their elder relations enough to be considered their own separate thing. Unsurprisingly though, there are times when these two worlds have overlapped, bringing things, as we'll see, essentially full circle

Before we begin though a quick controversy alert(!)... depending on your definitions, you may or may not consider some or all of these gialli at all... and if you don't, please feel free to hit me up with your two cents in the comments

For your consideration then, here are five "American gialli"....

The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1945)

An appropriate film to start with for a couple of reasons... Firstly, it's very much a Transatlantic affair, having a German born director but being American made. But more importantly, there seems to be a direct line of decent from these old dark house thrillers to Italian gialli. For one thing, we know Argento is a fan as he's openly said so... and even if he hadn't, a murder scene from Tenebre, which is staged in a strikingly similar fashion to one from Siodmak's film, would make it pretty damn obvious.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Giallo July: A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (León Klimovsky, 1974)

As giallo aficionados will well know, Italy wasn't the only country to produce films that can be seen as belonging to the sub-genre.... and without getting into the can of worms that whole area presents (though we may return to it before the month is through), I'll simply say for now that after the Italians, the Spaniards were among the most prolific in terms of producing gialli. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy ended up appearing in a few in his time... and out of the three I've seen, the film we're looking at today is perhaps not the best... but if pressed, I'd say it's probably my current favourite.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Giallo July/1984 Turns 30! Murder-Rock: Dancing Death AKA Murderock (Lucio Fulci)

Released in Italian cinemas on 30th April 1984, Murder Rock is perhaps the least well known of Lucio Fulci's gialli and certainly the most maligned. Sure, anyone going in expecting something like Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Don't Torture a Duckling, the infamous New York Ripper (the film of most similar vintage to this) or even the relatively restrained and slightly similar Seven Notes in Black (AKA The Psychic) will probably be left somewhat dissatisfied... but taken on its own merits, this is a stylishly shot, engaging and enjoyable giallo with plenty of points of interest for fans of both the director and, more generally speaking, of this most decadent and deranged of sub-genres... 

Before we continue, a quick note of thanks is due to someone who will (to protect the innocent) remain known as "The Black Gloved Patron"... without your continued generosity and edification, much of this month would have been impossible... you know who you are! And worry not, your secret identity is safe with me! Now on to the film...

How much you enjoy this movie, without even getting into the plot yet, will probably be determined within the first five minutes of watching... Basically, if you have a taste for mid-80's cheese and music video-esque dance numbers, then you're gonna get a kick out of this, regardless of whether you're a giallo aficionado or not... If you lack the palate for that sort of thing though then this movie might be a bit of a harder sell... it's hard to say, everyone's mileage varying and all... but hopefully you'll get a better idea whether this is for you or not as we proceed...

At New York's prestigious Arts for Living Center (which will obviously be in dire need of a name change very soon), a group of dancers are working up a serious sweat trying to perfect a routine in order to impress the higher ups. Overseeing their progress is Candice Norman, played by the first of many familiar faces from Fulci's filmography we'll encounter during the course of the film, Olga Karlatos of Zombie... worry not though, anyone out there averse to images of eyeball related trauma... her peepers are safe this time... but the lady herself... well, that would be telling, wouldn't it? 

Following the rehearsal, one of the dancers is killed in the changing rooms by a black gloved assassin with a hat-pin (of all things)... and as it transpires that the dancers were being potentially head hunted by some big wigs promising fame and fortune and, more crucially, the victim was seen as the most likely candidate, suspicion falls immediately on the other dancers. Overseeing the police investigation is Lieutenant Borges, played by the next of our Fulci repeat offenders, Cosimo Cinieri of New York Ripper and the also underrated Manhattan Baby. I enjoy this guy's performances in all three of these Fulci flicks but probably this one the most... his character seems to almost defy you to either like him or dislike him... it's hard to explain... but at any rate he makes for a wonderfully curmudgeonly copper and has most of the film's best lines. And speaking of The New York Ripper, I find it curious that both it and Murder Rock partner their detectives with academics called Davis... though this time he's a professor as opposed to a doctor and is played by Giuseppe Mannajuolo rather than Paolo Malco. 


As the bodycount increases, so do the list of suspects, especially after Candice has a crazy-ass nightmare where a beardless Ray Lovelock (who will hereafter be referred to as Ray Loverock) tries to stab her with a hat-pin of mindbogglingly indeterminate size. Soon after this she sees the same man on a billboard and it isn't long after that that she's somehow snuck into his hotel room, avoided an altercation with a drunken Loverock but left her handbag there while fleeing and then, despite this slight trauma, still meets up for drinks with this dubious character later on anyway...

I think we can probably leave it there as far as the plot goes. This is nothing earth shattering narratively (and arguably somewhat familiar territory to Fulci fans) but it kept my interest for the duration.... though a lot what kept me engaged is probably more related to my enjoyment of the aforementioned 80's cheese and what the assembled cast and crew brought to the film than anything else...

Which brings us neatly to the other talents from in front of and behind the camera... As far as the former goes, we have quite a few appearances from people who worked within the Italian horror/giallo genre, such as Claudio Cassinelli of What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, Cristian Borromeo of Tenebre and Robert Gligorov of Stagefright... and two more (uncredited) Fulci repeat offenders in the forms of Al Cliver (who is sporting some very studious looking spectacles this time around) and Silvia Collatina of The House by the Cemetery, who plays a creepy, wheel-chair-bound, insect obsessed kid who goes all Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window at one point in the film. And speaking of Hitchcock, there's an obligatory (and all too brief) directorial cameo for fans of Fulci's acting to enjoy.

Regarding behind the scenes, the film was written by Fulci and three others, all of whom had worked with the director before and on many other Italian genre films... and as I said before, there's some delightful dialogue to be savoured. And as far as I can tell, the plot itself is fairly tight... though I'm not someone to trust as far as story goes, my attention usually being focused on other elements of the film. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi returns to work with Fulci again and does a spot on job, especially in splicing together those wonderful music video montages. Regular Fulci cinematographer Sergio Salvati is curiously absent but Giuseppe Pinori does excellent work in his place, excelling especially in the murder set-pieces, dance numbers and the climactic unveiling of the killer.

And last but not least, a few words about the music: Keith Emerson provides the music and lyrics to another New York set giallo (the other being Argento's Inferno, which I know many may not regard as one but that's a debate for another time...) and helps immeasurably with keeping up the 80's kitsch quota. Most of the music from this movie is currently stuck in my head but perhaps no track more so than this little number... I apologise in advance... it's ridiculously catchy.

While admittedly nowhere near as gory as his other films of the period, Murder Rock is still an above par entry as far as Fulci's filmography and gialli of this era go. The cast are consistently compelling, there's plenty of production value to be savoured and overall I found it a lot of fun... so for anyone sold on Fulci and/or the giallo I'd say give it a shot... just don't expect it to be typical of the director or the genre and you'll fare just fine... and for those unversed in either I'd say just lap up the period charm and enjoy!