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Tuesday, October 31, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 - DAY 31: SUSPIRIA (2018)


Slaves to the rhythm.

Virginal American Mennonite Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) goes to West Berlin to study at the all-female Markos Dance Academy during the infamous "German Autumn" of 1977. (Look it up.) Upon arrival she finds the school in a state of turmoil due to student Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz) vanishing after telling her psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor Dr. Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton in very convincing old man makeup), that the school is actually a coven for witches. Before she disappears, Patricia gives the psychiatrist her journals, which contain detailed information on the goings-on within the school/coven, including notes on the Three Mothers — Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, and Mater Suspiriorum — three pre-Christian witches of immense power. When Patricia goes missing, the aged psychiatrist begins to investigate.

While settling in at the dance academy, Susie is immediately tasked with learning the choreography to a complex multi-person dance that the rest of the students have been rehearsing, and she proves so good that she is given the lead. But just before Susie's leap into the spotlight, Olga (Elena Fokina), a student, who was close with the missing Patricia, has a meltdown and curses out Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton again) and bolts to her room, where she prepares to leave the school. Madame Blanc carries on nonetheless, directing Susie to try the dance, and as Susie performs various severe movements, an isolated Olga is thrown bodily around an empty and mirrored studio room with each abrupt gesture by Susie, her body becoming more and more impossibly distorted and broken as the performance goes on. 

The horrific fate of Olga. 

When Susie is done, several of the school's matron's go to the still-breathing Olga, skewer her with handheld meathooks, and spirit her body away.

From there, as rehearsals intensify for an upcoming live performance of Madame Blanc's piece, entitled Volk, Susie becomes drawn into the coven and more of what's going on with the coven, its members, and their purpose is slowly revealed, with Susie right in the center of it all, and Dr. Klemperer getting more than he bargained for as he uncovers the dark truth. I would love to tell you more, but the rest of the film's surprises are best gone into cold...

Legendary director Dario Argento's 1977 SUSPIRIA is hailed by the majority of horror fanatics as one of the scariest pictures ever made and a landmark in Italian horror, but I have to go against the herd and proclaim it a load of overrated bollocks. It admittedly looks great and is quite eerie, I won't fault it for either of those aspects, but the film is a textbook example of style over narrative substance. The conceit of a German dance academy being a front for a coven is little more than a framework upon which Argento could hang assorted violent/gory set pieces, or an excuse for creative set design and lighting, as there really isn't a story to speak of. The 2018 version is another matter altogether, as director Luca Guadagnino takes the basic elements of Argento's vision and weaves them into a well-fleshed-out examination of several themes, including motherhood, death, loss, the dynamics between females, embracing female sexuality, the abuse of power, and Germany's awareness of its culpability for the Holocaust. Over the course of its lugubriously-paced 2.5 hour run time, we get to know and understand the characters and how real world events are reflected in the coven, and we learn what's up right along with them. 

In this era of endless remakes that seek to cash in on name recognition while rendering what was once adult content into a soft, safe, and sanitized PG-13 confection, it's nice to see a remake that has the balls to take chances and treat the audience like grownups. The script approaches its particulars with  the assumption that the viewer has had a good deal of life experience, as well a working knowledge of late-20th century world events (much of the current events cited in the story is not explained in full detail), and the lengthy run time allows everything room to breathe. And the embracing of the R-rating allows for multi-person nudity that makes perfect sense for the events depicted and is never gratuitous, and the story's gory and violent visuals are let loose with abandon and skillful realization.

I could go on and on but I'll just leave with a recommendation that when sitting down to watch SUSPIRIA 2018, it's a good idea to have had a nap beforehand, as its slow and quiet pace can act as a soporific. I suffer with insomnia, so I came to it quite tired and ended up nodding off a few times, which necessitated backing up to where I left off and starting again. The film is in no way boring, but it's easy to crash on if you're just plain exhausted.

And with that...  


Poster from the theatrical release.

Monday, October 30, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 - Day 30: John Carpenter's VAMPIRES (1998)

"Well first of all, they're not romantic. It's not like they're a bunch of fuckin' fags hoppin' around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you've seen in the movies: they don't turn into bats, crosses don't work. Garlic? You wanna try garlic? You could stand there with garlic around your neck and one of these buggers will bend you fucking over and take a walk up your strada-chocolata WHILE he's suckin' the blood outta your neck, all right? And they don't sleep in coffins lined in taffeta. You wanna kill one, you drive a wooden stake right through his fuckin' heart. Sunlight turns 'em into crispy critters." - Jack Crow on vampires.

In New Mexico a team of hardened Vatican-sponsored vampire hunters led by Jack Crow (James Woods)  routs a nest of undead suckfaces, destroying nine of them with extreme prejudice. 

The team of Church-appointed vampire slayers receives a blessing before getting down to the business of wiping out undead suckfaces.

Not a bad day's work, but where is the master vampire? Seemingly nowhere to be found. But no big deal. The team celebrates their victory at a sleazy motel, surrounding themselves with whores and getting hammered. Too bad they didn't do a more thorough search of the acreage where the house serving as the vampires' nest was, because they they would have noticed the blatantly fresh grave only a couple hundred yards from the residence. 

At sundown the master vampire, Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), claws his way out from the soil, and track the hunters to their place of revelry. In short order the master suckface mercilessly and gorily slays all but Crow, whom he calls out by name, and Crow and his righthand man, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) barely manage to escape, dragging a bitten prostitute with them. Despite Montoya's protests, Crow knows that prostitute Katrina (Sheryl Lee) has 48 hours before she fully transitions to being a vampire, but as she chcnages she will become connected to the master, hearing what he hears and seeing what he sees, so the hunters can track the master through Katrina. And there's also the question of how the master knew Crow's name. Crow realizes that the hit on the vampires' nest was a setup because the master knew not to be present, so who marked the team for a massacre? After returning to the motel to stake, behead, and bury the dead and burn the place to the ground, and, with a young priest in tow (Tim Guinee), the proper hunt for Valek is on. But exactly who is this Valek, why is he so powerful, and what is he after?

Makin' with some stakin'.

Yer Bunche has been a John Carpenter fan since seeing the network television debut of HALLOWEEN back in 1979, and I have seen all of his films over the 44 years since. His films often bear a signature look, feel, and sound and, good or bad, they tend to entertain me with an experience akin to reading a comic book, but some comics books are masterpieces, others are just okay, and what remains are wastes of trees. VAMPIRES, though quite entertaining, a very much a flawed work that feels like Carpenter's heart just wasn't fully in it. The script is about 2/3 polished, but it falls apart significantly during the final act. The ending is one of carpenter's weakest, and by the start of the final reel I found myself checking my watch.

I first saw VAMPIRES when it came out, but that was during a period I consider my "lost years," when I went through life engaging in excessive drinking and weed-smoking, so I saw a lot of movies in states so wasted that I barely remember the details of a lot of those flicks. This was one I remember finding middling at best, so I hoped that in seeing it again I would experience a work whose merits I had mostly erased with my own drunken disconnect. But no, my initial impression was spot on, and what I got was pretty much a mid-level actioner that was like what I would have come up with in my backyard at age seven while enacting a story with my Adventure Team G.I. Joes and their mobile support vehicle, only with vampires. (Though I did not have any dolls that would have made for decent vampires. I did, however, have a Mego Supergirl that served as an all-purpose female character, so she would have been a good fit as Katrina.) The film doesn't bear the signature Carpenter look or feel, nor is the score as pronouncedly loaded with Carpenter's composition flavor. Among the roster of the director's works, VAMPIRES, while an okay way to pass just over ninety minutes, is a lesser work, and you miss little if you give it a miss. There are many much better vampire films to be seen, so go for something like Hammer's KISS OF THE VAMPIRE or TWINS OF EVIL.

Poster for the theatrical release.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 -Day 29: THE BABADOOK (2014)

If it's in a word, or it's in a look... You can't get rid of the Babadook.

Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis), a single mother in suburban Australia, struggles with raising her six-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The boy's father was killed in a car accident while driving in-labor Amelia to the hospital, so Amelia has held onto and not processed her grief over the entirety of her son's life. The boy is raised knowing that his father was killed on the day he was born, but all mention of the father is swiftly shut down by his mother. The pair pretty much live isolated within their house, with their most frequent social interactions being with Mrs. Roach (Barbara West), the kindly old lady next door, so their world is quite insular and sad. Samuel is an intelligent, creative kid who is learning elementary stage magic and build functioning weapons for home defense, but his behavior has become increasingly erratic and aggressive, some of which may have to do with him being on the spectrum, which leads to his mother withdrawing him from school. Caring for her difficult son while also juggling her job as a caretaker at a home for the elderly has left Amelia a wrung-out mess, both at work and at home. She has not slept for weeks, and catering to her son's constant needs wears her down to the point of her beginning to weary of motherhood. 

Part of their nightly ritual is Amelia reading the restless child a story to lull him to sleep at bedtime. One night, Samuel selects a book from the shelf that neither has seen before, a book entitled "Mr. Babadook," about a dark and scary monster that announces its presence by screaming "BA BA BA DOOK DOOK DOOK" and then terrorizing its victims. 

The book spooks the shit out of Samuel, who already had fears of monsters lurking beneath the bed and in his closet, but once the book is read, he begins to see the Babadook and yells at it to go away. Of course Amelia thinks it's just another element of her son's issues, but when scary and dangerous things begin to happen, Amelia and Samuel are confronted with the Babadook. But even with all of the experienced evidence, is the creature real, and if so, what is its motivation?  Or is Amelia, whose patience and nerves are beyond frayed, simply going mad?

It's nice to know that studios can still make intelligent horror films for grownups (though it should come as no surprise that a film of this nature was not made in the United States.) I steered clear of THE BABADOOK for years, because I often disagree with the opinions of those who gush over modern horror efforts seemingly indiscriminately, and also because it involved a kid, which is often a formula for trite and toothless scare-free shudders. That said, I'm not gonna lie when I tell you it's really heavy stuff.

When a harried mother can take no more. 

As the only child of  single mother whose nerves and patience were on a hair trigger, writer/director Jennifer Kent's examination of her story's two leads hit me like a sledgehammer to the guts. It's an intense, very emotional slow burn that perfectly communicates the fear of madness, from the POV of both mother and child, while making us care for the main characters. There are no cheap jump scares or gore, but what it brings instead is a mounting sense of tension and dread that held me riveted. During some of the mother's freakouts, I was transported right back to the fear I felt of my own mother during her manic, angry episodes. Essie Davis's performance as Amelia is utterly believable and natural, especially when losing control, and six-year-old Noah Wiseman gives the best performance by a child actor that I've seen in decades. At no point does he play Samuel as preternaturally precocious or cloying, instead enacting a confused and fragile child that we have all encountered at some point. Or a confused and fragile child that we ourselves were.

 In short, THE BABADOOK is an excellent film that I recommend to all who seek dark material that has more to offer than some dumb-as-dirt slasher movie or cookie cutter possession flick, but I will not be revisiting it. Sometimes art just hits too close to home.

Poster for the theatrical release.

Saturday, October 28, 2023



Lately I've been using Ian Fleming audiobboks to lull me to sleep, and Fleming's super-exhaustive outlining of every detail in a scene's environment puts me out after about 15-20 minutes. Last night, however, I woke up about ninety minutes into DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, the fourth James Bond novel (originally published in 1956), and lay there in the dark for a while, actually concentrating on the story. I had not read that book since probably 1978, when I devoured all of the 1960's editions of Fleming because they were an ubiquitous presence in second-hand book shops (I got the whole run at Fairfield's long-defunct Book Finder), so I had forgotten just how bad that novel is.

When Fleming is firing on all cylinders, his work is exciting and visceral, but when he's off, it's painful and embarrassing to read. He tends to write American gangsters as cartoon stereotypes straight out of B movies of the 1930's and 1940's, so reading the dialogue of those characters immediately brings to mind the caricatured mobsters from Looney Tunes shorts. It's bad enough while reading the novel, but it's immeasurably worse when an actor reads it aloud in audiobook form. Yeah, I accept that all literature is a product of its era, but DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER serves to underline Fleming's considerable ignorance regarding people and cultures other than his own.

Bottom line: I rank this as Fleming's weakest book, somehow worse than THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (which also featured cartoon gangsters, one of whom was named "Slugsy"). If you ever decide to read Fleming's Bond stories, most of which have little or nothing to do with the subsequent films bearing their titles, I advise you to skip DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. It has aged about as well as milk.

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 - Day 28: KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER "The Trevi Collection" (1975)

"Webster's definition of a coven is concise, terse, without the usual disclaimers or qualifications. It states simply that 'a coven is a band or assembly of witches.'"

While covering a garment union extortion racket, a string of suspicious maimings and deaths surrounding Trevi haute couture fashion collection for 1975 leads Independent News Service reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) down an investigative trail to direct confrontation with black witchcraft. As Kolchak, no stranger to sniffing out the supernatural, does the research, properly arms himself against old school maledictions, and gets closer to his target, the witch that he's after marks him as their next victim. But the question at the root of all of this is who's responsible, and what is their motivation?

The first thread in a diabolical web. 

As mentioned in previous years of 31 DAYS OF HORROR, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER is part of the bedrock that turned me into a "monster kid" at a tender age. Though already addicted to horror movies, it was a delight to receive a weekly network teevee show that brought nine-year-old me stories of an ordinary man who found himself contending with the weird, the arcane, and the unnatural, and you can bet your ass that I never missed an episode while watching from the relative safety beneath our family room's coffee table.

I was drawn to Kolchak by virtue of his very ordinariness, coupled with his willingness to accept the impossible when directly faced with its complete and utter lethal reality. He was a Van Helsing for the late 20th century, an unlikely warrior against darkness whose vocation as a journalist gave him the patience, tenacity, and tools to do the work of figuring out the old ways to put a foot straight up the ass of the diabolical, and he never let his understandable terror spur him to flee. He always got the job done, often at great personal risk, and because of that he was my shabby hero.

Kolchak seeks answers from a coven.

I chose to spotlight "The Trevi Collection" because this year's roster of items needed a dose of Kolchak, as well as a bit more witchery, but also because in this era of endless reboots, reimaginings, and remakes, Kolchak is ripe for an update, provided the right cast, scripts, and directors were in place. "The Trevi Collection" would be a fun place to start, as witches on the left-hand path are among the most human of all supernatural menaces, so they are not as easily identifiable as, say, a stitched-together abomination like Frankenstein's creature, or a full-on werewolf, or even a triffid. They are the evil that lurks hidden among us, and once they strike, it's usually horrific and too late. Their unholy endeavors can take on a myriad of dire forms, so the story potential is limitless, constrained only by the imagination of the writer and by what the censors will allow. And since witches usually bear the aspect of an ordinary person, there's little or no need for expensive prosthetics or CGI for their appearance, and studios love being able to turn out a work that won't bankrupt them. Especially if there's likely a colossal box office return on a relatively low budget. In this case, picture Kolchak in an R-rated version of this story, complete with all the tropes of classic black magic narratives. Bloody sacrifices, nudity, and general disturbing weirdness and actions that would never fly on TV or with a PG-13 rating. Now, that I want to see, but unless that quality reboot happens, I will just have to be satisfied with the legacy of a weekly spookshow that's just a year shy of being a half-century old.

Bottom line: If you have never availed yourself to KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, you owe it to yourself to check it out. In many ways there would never have been THE X-FILES if not for this series that predated it by two decades. There's good reason for KOLCHAK to be remembered and revered today, so stock up on crucifixes, holy water, and garlic (among other items) and join one fleabag reporter's ongoing battle against that which should not be.

Carl Kolchak: un-deterrable reporter and ass-kicker of the fantastic.

Friday, October 27, 2023


Fleeing a dead world. Next stop: Earth.

This is going to be a quick one.

This disco era remake of the 1956 masterpiece of paranoia updates the story beautifully, as we are taken along for the ride when a group of San Francisco residents try to navigate through a subtle incursion from outer space. Having abandoned their dead world, alien plants land on our world and reproduce by large seed pods that grow next to humans while we sleep. The original human is duplicated and replaced by an identical plant doppelganger that can only be differentiated from the original by its complete lack of emotion. The invasion of replacements is quiet, but it swiftly escalates and those who are not part of the extraterrestrial collective must flee or be subsumed. If unchecked, the encroachment of the plants will spell the end of humanity, but how to fight an invader that wears the faces and bodies of friends, loved ones, authority figures, and whomever else? And who would believe so fantastical a tale if one was able to get the word out?

A replacement germinates.

This quality remake employs the same basic setup as the classic original (only minus the Cold War allegory) and it's every bit as effective, thanks to a solid script, tense direction, and a game cast led by Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy. Much like the original, the frisson here is the familiar being twisted into something distant from itself, the loss of individual humanity, and the horror of implacable uniformity. 

That's all I will say, because if you have not yet seen it for yourself, there are plenty of surprises that must be experienced cold. Especially one that shocked the shit out of those of us who saw it during first run while we were in junior high school. (If you've seen the film, you know exactly which bit I'm on about.) See the 1956 original, as it still wields considerable power, and also for the sake of comparison, but this version is strong meat that can stand on its own.

Poster for the U.S. theatrical release.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 - Day 26: NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980)

Bigfoot: HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS this ain't.

An anthropology professor leads an expedition of a handful of students into the backwoods of California, where they seek to prove the existence of Bigfoot and determine whether or not the legendary cryptid is responsible for the murder of an assortment of victims. The search reveals a community of hillbillies that worship the Sasquatch, with a clearly unstable woman as the focus of a Bigfoot-related sex ritual, and stories of dire incidents involving the beast being recounted in flashback. The expedition is stalked and killed by the monster, and the unstable woman's history with the creature is made plain. She was raped by Bigfoot when she was fifteen, a violation witnessed by her religious fanatic father (who stood by and did nothing), and her father is convinced that his daughter is evil. Bigfoot's sexual assault was meant to impregnate the girl as a means to perpetuate his species (he's apparently the last of his kind), and when she agonizingly gives birth, her father kills the baby. Now totally around the bend, the girl burns her father alive in the family's barn.  Anyway, while trapped in the girl's cabin, the expedition is stalked and killed by the beast, with only the professor surviving the massacre. Upon telling his story to the authorities and mental health professionals (the events leading up to his hospitalization are told as a feature-length flashback), the professor is declared criminally insane. THE END.

NIGHT OF THE DEMON — not to be confused with other similarly-titled films — arrived at the start of the 1980's slasher movie boom, and the narrative is pretty much a backwoods-set slasher with a Sasquatch as the killer. It stars no one anybody's ever heard of, features overlong takes and bad editing, and is an exercise in padding and utter boredom. Other than some memorably shocking set pieces, the film's sole distinction is that it was one of the films cited on Britain's infamous "video nasties" roster in the 1980's and banned as a result. I had never heard of this film until recently, and I totally understand why. It's cheap-looking, features no scares or suspense, and even its ban-worthy gory and violent excesses are about on par with gore effects one would see at a junior high school's cheapjack annual haunted house.

The film's two standout moments showcase a motorcyclist pulling over for a roadside piss, only to have Bigfoot's hairy hand grab the biker's penis from out of a nearby bush and rip it off, thus leading the poor bastard to bleed out,

and the flashback of Bigfoot raping that girl in her front yard while her shotgun-wielding dad observes in disgusted horror.

A rare example of what's often implied in monster movies being made quite explicit.

NIGHT OF THE DEMON was an amateurish waste of my time and Amazon rental money, and I am actually angry that I saw it. It's not so-bad-it-s-good. It's just a soul-sucking piece of anti-entertainment that is best avoided.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023


"Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it? Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease and Death! They rule this world." — Prospero

In medieval Italy, Satan-worshiping prince Prospero (Vincent Price) rules over a village with an iron hand, making the lives of his subjects a cruel misery. While on her way back to the village after collecting kindling, an old woman encounters a mysterious hooded figure clad from head to toe in crimson, and he gives her a white rose that he turns red. The figure tasks the woman with presenting the flower to Prospero and alerting the cruel ruler that the time of the people's deliverance is at hand.

Prospero arrives in the village to announce a feast and masquerade in honor of the end of the peasants' harvest season, a bounty from which Prospero benefits while the townspeople starve. Rulers from nearby kingdoms will be in attendance and the members of the court will find sport in throwing table scraps to the peasants as if they were dogs. But while the rest of the town resigns itself to bear the ongoing degradation, a young man, Gino, and village elder Ludivico speak out against Prospero, and the prince immediately orders the pair to be garroted. But as the royal stranglers set to work, Francesca, the elder's daughter, begs for mercy. Prospero offers to let one of the men live, but the girl must choose who is to survive — her father, or Gino,  with whom she is in love. But before that dreadful choice can be made, screaming is heard from within a nearby hut, and when the prince interrupts his cruel game to investigate, he finds the old woman, who promptly dies, her face mottled with red blotches. Her demise indicates that a dreaded plague, the Red Death, has come to the area, so, having determined that his three victims have not had contact with the old woman, Prospero has the trio taken to his castle to further his entertainment, and orders his soldiers to burn the plague-besmirched village to the ground.

Upon arrival at Prospero's castle, Gino and Ludivico are imprisoned and trained in armed combat to serve as amusement for guests at the upcoming celebration, while Francesca is forcibly stripped and bathed. Striding in to observe the modest peasant in the bath, Propero notes that she wears a cross. When asked if the crucifix is mere decoration or if she is a true Christian believer, Francesca answers "yes" and is told to take it off immediately and never wear it in the castle again, at which the terrified girl hands him the cross. Prospero then takes his leave, but not before ordering his Juliana, his concubine, to dress Francesca in finery from the Juliana's own wardrobe and that she instruct Francesca in the ways of the court. Francesca agrees to cooperate, but if anything happens to her father or her lover, she will die...and so will Prospero. But Prospero aims to corrupt Francesca and usher her into his diabolical faith, with the masquerade ball designed as an orgiastic offering of souls to his dark master. But what of the mysterious hooded figure in red?

This seventh of producer/director Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations is a mashup of the titular short story and "Hop Toad," but I did not outline that second thread because it's best experienced with no foreknowledge. All one needs to know is that the film is a lush, colorful effort that affords Vincent Price one of his best opportunities to play unabashedly evil. His Prospero is a cruel and vile despot to whom the lives of his subjects are worth less than dog droppings on the street. He degrades all who cross his path, even his concubine, and he simply revels in the pain and humiliation he causes, so when he inevitably gets what coming to him, it's immensely satisfying.

For my money, this is the best of Corman's Poe wave, and it's a leisurely-paced effort that's not all that scary or gory, but it has the look and atmosphere of one of Mario Bava's films of the period. If you ever wondered why Vincent Price, a hammy actor if ever there was one, is a horror icon, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH will provide you with a solid answer.

Poster for the theatrical release.


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 - Day 24: THE GREEN INFERNO (2013)

                                 "I smell him. Oh, my god...I smell my friend being cooked..."

College freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo), daughter of a United Nations attorney,  joins a campus activism group led by the charismatic and intense Alejandro (Ariel Levy). Alejandro plans a journey deep into the Amazon rainforest, where he and his group seek to bring international attention to a corporation's illegal deforestation efforts and pillaging of natural gas that will also wipe out a local tribe of indigenous people. Justine and Alejandro's followers travel to the Amazon and make their stand against the corporation's clear-cutters and armed mercenaries, using their cell phones to broadcast the incident to the world, but as they make their way home via a small prop plane, things go awry, resulting in a crash that kills several of the activists. Justine, Alejandro, and the remaining activists manage to crawl from the wreckage, but they are immediately captured by the indigenous tribesmen, who think they are members of the faction that is destroying their habitat. The tribe are skilled hunters who have co-existed with the dangers of the jungle since time immemorial, while Justine and the crash survivors are pampered westerners with no clue of exactly where they are, no way to communicate with their captors, and no hope of escape, as they are guarded 24/7 by tribesmen with sedative blow darts. Unfortunately for Justine and the survivors, the tribe are also cannibal headhunters, and Justine and crew make for a bountiful feast...

"Come and get it!!!" 

Basically a love letter to the Italian cannibal sub-genre — one of the sleaziest, grubbiest, most negative and exploitative corners of horror cinema — Eli Roth's THE GREEN INFERNO is perhaps the first iteration of the form to be realized with actual craft and not just an exploitative desire to slather the screen with plotless gore and sadism. I've seen several entries in this singularly unsavory category, and this is far and away the most competent and professional-looking of the dubious breed, unlike the garden variety Italo gut-munchers that look and feel like a snuff film. Roth has crafted a harrowing survival narrative that allows us to get to know the characters to a decent degree before the mayhem starts, and once the gruesome ball gets rolling, it's a bleak and nasty affair for the hapless prisoners. Live dismemberment, dysentery-fueled diarrhea within a confined space, torture with hungry ants, inspection of the female prisoner's hymens with a sharp probe, and even the threat of female genital mutilation are all on the table, and Roth manages to bring us all of that within the constraints of an R-rating and done more tastefully than one might expect. 

When one woman's waking nightmare goes from incredibly bad to immeasurably worse...

Yes, it's bloody and unabashedly gory as hell, but it's all presented in a matter-of-fact manner, as if it's all just another day in the existence of the cannibal tribe (which it is, but only with a sudden windfall of fresh meat).

To say more would ruin the surprises, so if you have the stomach for this sort of thing, I heartily recommend that you check it out. Unlike the Italian sleaze-fests that it drew inspiration from, THE GREEN INFERNO is actually a very good film, albeit a particularly nasty one. I don't think it's anything that someone who watched the more excessive episodes of GAME OF THRONES couldn't handle, but I get it if you opt to steer clear. Cannibalism is ugly business and there are few ways to depict such without going there, but those who brave this film are likely of stern enough stuff to be able to handle its charnel house shocks, and if they do they may just be surprised at how much they enjoy the proceedings. Like I said, I am no stranger to gory cannibal films, but I cannot say that I actually enjoyed any of the classic examples thereof. I appreciate them for their audacity and merry willingness to be as nauseating as possible, but I do not find them to be fun cinematic entertainment. THE GREEN INFERNO, I am glad to say, is the first such film that I have genuinely enjoyed, so make of that what you will.

Oh, and stick around once the end credits roll...

Poster for the theatrical release.

Monday, October 23, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 - Day 23: SHIVERS (1975)

"I had a very disturbing dream last night. In this dream I found myself making love to a strange man. Only I'm having trouble you see, because he's old... and dying... and he smells bad, and I find him repulsive. But then he tells me that everything is erotic, that everything is sexual. You know what I mean? He tells me that even old flesh is erotic flesh. That disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other. That even dying is an act of eroticism. That talking is sexual. That breathing is sexual. That even to physically exist is sexual. And I believe him, and we make love beautifully."

The Starliner, a luxury apartment complex on an island near Montreal, is overrun by caustic parasites that amplify the host's sexual desires, thus leading to the creatures spreading via any available human orifice. Transmitted through intimate contact and at other times getting around independent of a host and attacking at random, the phallic slug-like creatures reproduce rapidly. The creation of a doctor at a local research facility with the intent that they be medically useful as, once implanted, they search out failing organs, dissolve them, and replace them with full function. But the apparently insane doctor also intended them as "a combination of aphrodisiac and venereal disease that will hopefully turn the world into one beautiful, mindless orgy." So when he implanted a 19-year-old female student with some parasites (a girl with whom he he'd been having an affair since she was a minor), she went all horny and got down to business with a number of the complex's male residents, and then it was off to the races for the nasty little wigglies. Literally overnight, the situation escalates to a proliferation akin to a George Romero-style proportions, with the infected behaving like swarming zombies, only this time around the zombies are sentient and will sexually assault you, resulting in a mindless, writhing euphoric dog pile of orgiastic couplings. 


A self-contained horny apocalypse.

Young or old, regardless of sexual orientation and even direct familial connection, no one is exempt from this horrific invasion, so how does one keep up with them, much less stop them altogether? The complex's on-premises all-purpose physician, Dr Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton), investigates and attempts to navigate through this hell of the horny but it soon becomes apparent that there is no escape...

A couple who who just moved in goes to the building complex manager's office to complain about the sounds of what they think is the other tenants having an out of control party, only to enter the office and immediately get violated by six of the sexed-up parasitically-infected.

SHIVERS, released in the U.S. as THEY CAME FROM WITHIN, is the debut theatrical feature by Canadian master of "body horror" David Cronenberg, and his clinical approach to to body gone wrong is apparent from the word "go. The parasites are an obvious metaphor for STDs in the post-hippie era, and perhaps even a snarky commentary on the ludicrous setups in '70's porn where people just walk into a room and start fucking with barely so much as a "How do you do?" Everybody in this movie gets jumped and infected, and I do mean everybody, including children, with the most disturbing example of this being an infected father/daughter pair who attempt to entice Dr. St. Luc into joining them for a threesome. (I let out a loud "Eurgh" at that one.)

But while the parasites invade and proliferate through sexual assault, the end result is indeed their creator's intended utopia of a mindless orgy in which all are embraced and apparently happy (if quite crazed). One of the threads in this prurient tapestry is that of Janine Tudor (Susan Petrie), wife of Nick (Alan Migicovsky). Unbeknownst to Janine, Nick has been cheating on her with 19-year-old parasite Patient Zero and is infected with the wigglies, so he has grown distant from his wife. Janine worries for him because she thinks his illness might be cancer or something equally dire, but once the parasites gain full control over Nick, he attempts to rape Janine by way of spreading the parasites. Understandably terrified, Janine flees their apartment and makes her way to the flat of her best friend, Betts (horror and exploitation film legend Barbara Steele). They are seen interacting a couple of times earlier in the film, and it is made clear that Betts is single and independent, and there are hints of potential for something more than simple friendship intimacy between the two women. What the audience is aware of but Janine is not is that earlier that evening, Betts was vaginally invaded by a parasite while she enjoyed a hot bath and a glass of wine, so Janine is seeking comfort and support from one of the infected. 

Horror and exploitation film legend Barbara Steele as the unfortunate Betts, receiving an bathtime unwanted visitor up the cooter. 

But unlike the ravening rapists infesting the rest of the Starliner complex, Betts is kind to Janine, and offers tender seduction in lieu of violent assault. The neglected and mistreated Janine responds, thus unwittingly and painlessly joining the ranks of the infected. There is no violence in the women's coupling, and if not for the parasitic element, it would be beautiful. 

A dark romantic interlude: sapphic desire is given free rein with the help of a parasite. 

As the entire complex swiftly falls to the parasites, there is a twisted joy evident in all involved, so even though the creatures spread via sexual assault, the victims shortly come to exist in a state of what appears to be joyfully mindless sexual insatiability, a thronging hive mind of febrile pussy and cock, if you will, so is the end result really all that bad? Cronenberg does not answer that question and instead opts to leave things open-ended, but for all intents and purposes the events ignited at the Starliner could mean the end of the world as we knew it. It's like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or a zombie apocalypse narrative where the individual is subsumed into a faceless, mindless horde, only this time everybody gets laid. 

SHIVERS presents a majorly fucked-up scenario when one stops to examine its ramifications, and I very much doubt a film like this could be gotten away with today without seriously toning down the concept and content. It's quite hellish, and the fact that something so very physical/carnal and utterly bleak is what Cronenberg brought us in his initial effort serves as a harbinger of a fascinating and intellectually challenging filmography marked with uncomfortable explorations of the body and its potential to lapse into that which is grossly un-human. Not perfect and in places clearly the work of a filmmaker who was learning his craft by the seat of his pants, SHIVERS is nonetheless compelling stuff right out of the gate.

I've been a Cronenberg junkie since seeing SCANNERS (1981) during its original release when I was sixteen, but I somehow missed seeing this first film from the director until watching it for this year's round of essay. Finally discovering it at age 58 was a real treat, and I strongly recommend it.  One of my favorites from this year's screenings, and now one of my favorite works from Cronenberg.

Poster for the Canadian release.

Poster for the U.S. release.

Sunday, October 22, 2023


More laboratory shenanigans, this time from Italy.

Dr. Frankenstein (Joseph Cotton) is up to his old tricks again, and the creature he's assembled over three years finally nears completion. Though facial burns and a dislodged eyeball render the creature hideous, the real problem is that its brain is defective, but Frankenstein is simply to gung ho to care. As this is going on, his daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri) returns from medical college with a degree in surgery and immediately twigs to what her dad is up to. The doctor does not want her getting involved, in case something goes wrong and the authorities become involved, but Tania will not be denied, and her enthusiasm is supported by Frankenstein's assistant, Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller). While continuing to hold his daughter at bay, Frankenstein completes the creature (Ricardo Pizzuti), which kills Frankenstein and immediately begins rampaging around the countryside. 


Will this dumb motherfucker never learn?

As the monster's body count grows, Tania seizes the opportunity and convinces Marshall that the only thing that can stop the creature is another man-made affront to nature, and she proposes transplanting Marshall's brain into the younger, handsome, and fit body of mentally disabled Thomas (Mariano Mase), her late father's servant. Marshall stuck around with Frankenstein for years in hope that Tania would someday return, as he has carried a torch for her for ages, so he agrees to her plan with the understanding that she will love him back once he's in Thomas's body. But as the monster keeps on killing, matters are complicated for Tania as the avaricious graverobber who supplied her father with corpses makes it clear that he wants to slip her a length in exchange for his services, a detective investigates the monster's killing spree and comes to suspect Tania knows more than she's letting on, Thomas's sister shows up just as he's been missing for days (he was seduced by Tania, then murdered by Marshall while Tania straddles poor Thomas and achieves orgasm as the simple man expires), and the villagers, fed up with the monster killing everybody, soon storm the castle with torches and an aim to end the monster and Lady Frankenstein once and for all. Once Marshall has inhabited Thomas's body, the need for a monster to fight a monster is completely forgotten, though we do get a rather feeble set-to between the pair, during which Lady Frankenstein shoves a knife through the monster's back, killing him. As the castle burns, the inspector and Thomas's sister burst into the lab, where the see the monster dead on the floor, while Tania and Marshall/Thomas inexplicably have sex amid the flames. Then, for no apparent reason, Marshall/Thomas strangles Tania and the film abruptly ends.

Karloff only got a little girl to chuck into the river. This putz gets a full-grown nekkid lady. Ah, the joys of European cinema...

Basically what would happen if Italy attempted to ape the look and tropes of Hammer's Frankenstein series, only minus the resources and a compelling story while skimping on the blood but upping the gratuitous nudity, LADY FRANKENSTEIN is nothing but a pedestrian rehashing of nearly every Frankenstein movie trope one can think of, with the promise of titillation constantly looming. It's rather dull when there's no tits or killing going on, and the monster is just a mindless brute, so there's nothing there to care about or sympathize with. There is, however, a memorable and unintentionally funny scene where the monster, rampaging around the hills in broad daylight, encounters a pair of lovers in the act, right next t a river. The monster attacks and while the man flees, the monster picks up the nude woman and dumps her into the water, where she just up and dies. At least in the 1931 classic version of FRANKENSTEIN with Boris Karloff, the monster fatally chucking a little girl into the drink is set up by the child and the monster innocently playing a game where they toss flowers into the water to watch them float. Karloff's monster throws the little girl into the water, not understanding why the child ends up drowning. It's tragic as fuck and bears hefty emotional weight, both in sadness for the little girl, but also for the uncomprehending monster. This Italian take on the scenario cares for nothing but fueling the sex and violence quota, making sure we get to ogle the woman's naked body for all it's worth. (Though no bushola, unfortunately.)

When all is said and done, you've seen this movie before, countless times and done much, much better, so I can't even recommend this for Frankenstein completists. it's just a rote, disappointing Hammer knockoff that's directed by Mel Welles, the actor who played the owner of the florist's shop in the original 1960 Roger Corman no-budget classic, THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. If you must waste your time on a bad Frankenstein movie, at least make it  FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND. That movie has the common decency to be entertainingly stupid as well as cheap and awful.

Poster for the Italian release.

Saturday, October 21, 2023



An inspector from Scotland Yard investigates the disappearance of a film star, and the trail leads him to the man's last known residence, a remote house somewhere in the English countryside. While seeking information at the local police station, the inspector is told four stories involving the home's former residents.

"Method for Murder"  

A horror novelist (Denholm Elliot) and his wife move into the house, where the author hopes to find inspiration for his latest work. He begins writing about a strangler named Dominic, and in no time he begins to see his creation as a flesh-and-blood man who lurks around the house and its grounds. Fearing that he is losing his mind and having no memory of a strangulation attack against his wife that she swears he committed, the writer seeks help from a psychiatrist, only for Dominic to arrive and throttle the therapist to death. And then it gets weird...



A lonely retired stockbroker (Peter Cushing) moves into the house, and it is clear that he pines for a lost love, the rivalry for whom led to a years-long falling out with his best friend. While exploring the nearby town, he encounters a wax museum that includes a figure of Salome bearing John the baptist's head on a platter, a figure that mesmerizes him because it's the spitting image of his lost love. Disturbed, he returns home, and his former friend unexpectedly drops in. The pair reconcile, and while the broker shows his old friend around the town, the friend notes the wax museum and wants to check it out, despite the stockbroker's obvious reluctance. Upon seeing the wax figure of Salome, the friend is transfixed and soon becomes obsessed by its visage. And then it gets weird...

"Sweets to the Sweet" 

A widower (Christopher Lee) and his young daughter move into the house. The girl has a terrible fear of fire, and her father does not allow her to own any toys or associate with other children. A nanny is hired and she begins to bond with the sheltered child, but she cannot help but question why the girl's father so strictly treats his daughter as he does. And then it gets weird...

"The Cloak" 


A hammy actor (Jon Pertwee) known for playing vampires and possessing a fascination with the lore of monsters moves into the house, hoping its gothic authenticity will further inspire his craft. While filming the cheesy low-budget "Curse of the Blood Suckers," the actor is appalled by how cheap the production is, so he balks at the costumes and opt to obtain a proper cape himself, one that he feels suits the role with more dignity. In his dressing room, he finds an anonymous note with the address of a shop that can provide him with what he needs. He obtains a sumptuous Dracula-style cloak, and when he dons it just before shooting resumes, he notes he does not cast a reflection in the mirror. And then it gets weird...

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is one of several portmanteau horror films from Amicus studios, and it serves a fun entry-level anthology for younger viewers. There are superior anthologies, but this one is worth a watch. It's creepy but not actually scary or gory, and the cast is superb. I neglected to mention the always welcome presence of the eternally stunning Ingrid Pitt in "The Cloak," but that's best left for you to see for yourself. If I had to break it down, the last two stories are the strongest, with "Sweets to the Sweet" being a bit of a slow burn, while "The Cloak" is clearly meant as a comedy.

And did I mention Ingrid Pitt? YUM!

Ingrid Pitt. Oh, the thoughts I've had about her since I was old enough to know what's up...

Poster for the U.S. theatrical release.


Friday, October 20, 2023




 Queen Tera sleeps...for now.

In ancient Egypt, evil queen Tera (Valerie Leon), who's a witch or a sorceress or something, is executed, perfectly preserved without the usual mummy's wrappings, and sealed in a tomb for eternity. That is, until a British expedition unearth her grave and the archaeologists abscond with sacred artifacts. Margaret (Valerie Leon in a dual role) is the daughter of the expedition's leader, and she is a dead ringer for the evil queen. When her father gifts her a ring taken from the severed right hand of Tera, the spirit of the queen begins to take over Margaret's mind with an aim to resurrect, and to fully manifest in the 20th century the queen must retrieve her pilfered artifacts and kill those who had held them. If the queen resurrects, apparently all manner of evil will be unleashed upon the world, but can anyone stop her?

By the dawn of the 1970's, Hammer, the once-groundbreaking British studio, saw its flame fade as its flavor of gothic horror spiced with bright red "Kensington gore" and voluptuous actresses began to be superseded by more explicit efforts from upstart studios that took advantage of the more permissive era. Hammer's charms now looked quaint, and though they still had a handful of solid works left in them before their looming demise, they issued more lumps of coal than gems. One such dud is this lifeless catalog of every mummy movie trope we've seen a million times since Universal's THE MUMMY back in 1932. The story is rote to the point of inducing torpor, the blood and gore is at a bare minimum, there's not rampaging gauze-wrapped mummy out murdering people, and there are no scares to be had. It's simply a product to fill time on a double-bill, and its sole saving grace is star Valerie Leon, who is ravishing and kindly allows us a brief glimpse of her ample backside. 

BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB was a real slog for me to get through, as I found myself checking how much run time was left, and nearly falling asleep on it at four points during the narrative. Even if you consider yourself a Hammer loyalist/completist, I cannot in good faith recommend this one. Good mummy movies are as rare as tits on a trout, and this film can be relegated to the legion of sub-par mummy offerings that are best relegated to obscurity.

Poster for the U.S. theatrical release.