Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Halloween 2011: October 17

Silent Madness (1984)
Now my friends will know what the hell I’m talking about when I talk about faith in work pants. Bleeding Skull described “Silent Madness” as a cozy, unambitious, slasher snack. But is it, really? The plot of a mistakenly released psychotic killer returning to the sorority house where he murdered a bunch of girls decades ago is as about routine a slasher premise as you can get, but the movie does a few things a little differently.

First off, the main characters aren’t brainless teenagers preoccupied with boning. Instead, it’s a responsible, work-a-holic female doctor, bristling against the corrupt staff at the mental institution responsible for freeing pasty-faced, beady-eyed psycho Howard Johns. Belinda Montgomery gives a pretty solid performance too. She’s not just a screaming, panicking girl that succeeds mostly through luck. She’s a pretty feisty chick. Also, her newspaper editor boyfriend… preoccupied with boning. (The movie’s not that different.) The supporting cast is equally eccentric. Lisping, grouchy, antisocial Sheriff Leggitt swears, whines, barks orders, and never actually does anything to help anybody throughout the course of the film. I suppose that makes the character sound annoying, but he’s actually endearing in an anti-heroic sort of way. (His relatively small amount of screen time might help too.) Seemingly the only other person working at the newspaper, an old woman, is also kind of bitchy but similarly entertaining. The sorority sisters aren’t defined to a great deal, but they’re never annoying or actively unlikable. I imagine if the film was longer, we certainly would have found out more about them. Stack a mysterious sorority mother with a funny accent on top and you’ve got a kooky character sundae.

The corrupt hospital staff, occupied by asshole doctors and especially sleazy orderlies provide another interesting, different aspect to the film. The twist ending more then implies that it’s actually the deranged hospital attendants that are responsible for making Howard Johns a silent, murderous madman and, when ordered to silence our lead lady, they seem far too eager to get their murder on. Maybe this subplot and its characters was added just to increase the body count but, even then, it further distinguishes “Silent Madness” from the rest of the pack.

Of course, there’s lots of good old fashion murder and exploitation to be had too. The first thing Mr. Johns does upon being released is murdered a naked couple in a van and crush a rollerskating teenage girl's head in a vice. Once he makes it back to the sorority house, he makes creative use of ropes and dumbbells. When we get to the inevitable climax of the final girl (Or woman, in this case) alone in an isolated building together, the movie features an intense chase through the ventilation shafts and an unexpected twist ending that successfully changes much of the film’s plot. The movie was originally filmed in 3D and the blades, blood, and other implements comin’ right atcha ya! ups the enjoyment even more. My copy of “Silent Madness,” purchased from the VHSPS booth, even features an MST3k style stinger at the end. Perfect. Seek this one out. (7/10)

Seconds Apart (2011)
Why do I keep taking a chance on After Dark Films’ unoriginal, mean-spirited, boring little pieces of shit? The concept of psychic twins seems like a decent start for a genre film but, sigh, “Seconds Apart” doesn’t do anything but annoy and aggravate.

First off, why the fuck are all of these HorrorFest movies shot in the same goddamn style? If I have to see another shaky-cam, music-video style nightmare sequence, Jesus Christ, I don’t know what I’ll do. Beyond that, seems like most of these movies are shot in the same gloomy, blue and grey color. And the cast members are always the most generic set of vapid, pretty young things that never seem to have more then one or two emotions. When the 7 Up Yours guy is the most interesting actor in your movie, you’ve got problems. And even then, his character has the most generic fucking arc you can imagine. He’s a bitter detective with a dead wife, reoccurring nightmares, and lots of guilt. (The token alcoholism has been substituted with an inability to quit smoking.) Gee, I wonder if he’ll manage to resolve his emotional problems right around the same time he resolves the case?

I had hoped that, twins being a different kind of subject, that the characters themselves would probably be interesting, right? Nope. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are mean-spirited little pricks, indifferent little monsters, that are, as far as I can tell, trying to experiences heavy emotions like love or disgust. This is sort of funny since they don’t seem to have any problem with other, run-of-the-mill emotions. Using their telepathic abilities, they force disgusting, unlikable people to do disgusting, unlikable things like shoot themselves, fuck random strangers on video, or drive into oncoming trucks. Before long, some random girl decides she wants to bang one of the twins for seemingly no reason and, even though the girl has no discernible interests or personality, the twin decides he loves her. (And doesn’t screw when she gets all naked and slutty with him. Because he's got feelings.) Hmm, could this relationship conceivably cause a conflict between the brothers? Duh. And, hey, let's throw a little bit of incest on there too, why the hell not?

Another key ingredient to the After Dark formula of suck is an asinine, pointless twist ending. Naturally, “Seconds Apart” delivers in that capacity. Not that the twist the hack writers came up with make any fucking sense. That’s not important. All that’s important is that they totally blow your mind, man!

About the only thing positive I can say about “Seconds Apart” is that the scene of the priest pulling the worm out of his leg is kind of cool, even if its as crass and gross as everything else. Also, it's short. For the people who manage to get through all of these things every year, I salute you. You’re stronger men then me. (2/10)

Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
This is what I needed to wash the flavor of that trash out of mouth. This was my introduction to Hammer and, along with “Horror of Dracula,” defined the studio style. Right out of the gate, the movie goes out of its way to distinguish itself from the Universal Frankenstein films. Instead of focusing on the monster, it focuses on the doctor himself and would continue to throughout the whole series. The creation doesn’t even show up until well after the halfway point.

This might have been a disappointing, frustrating move if it wasn’t for one point: Peter Cushing is fantastic as Baron Frankenstein. Cushing could play both ends of the spectrum. His Van Helsing was practically a superhero, always going head to head with Lee’s Dracula and bravely battling evil in all its form. His Baron Frankenstein, on the other hand, was devious, deceptive, sadistic, and focused solely on his mission of creating life, morality be damned. Throughout this movie and its many sequels, he has no qualms about murdering or betraying anybody who gets in his way. The Baron isn’t exactly evil to begin with and the movie makes it clear that his obsession steams from his parent’s early death. But it doesn’t take him long to fall off the slippery slope. He commits murder pretty much without any pause or concern. It’s not the richest character but Cushing goes at it with gusto, creating one of the most memorable villain protagonists of all time.

The thing I noticed this time when watching is the role women play. They are heavily featured but aren’t super important to the story. Hazel Court gets a lot of screen time as Elizabeth and the movie seems to set her up as Frankenstein’s moral compass. But the doctor’s pretty much evil right from the beginning and Elizabeth doesn’t actually do much beyond get threatened by the monster at the end. The doctor even gets a mistress in the form of maid Justine, but her role is small too. If anything, it’s the almost homoerotic relationship between Frankenstein and his best bro and science buddy Paul Krempe that provides the tension. The “Frankenstein” story has always been laced with a gay subtext but its pretty evident here. Frankenstein and Krempe are devoted to each and determined to create life on their own… At least until Frankenstein’s commitment to science breaks them up. The scene of Paul and the doctor fighting over a jarred brain, which ends with Paul damaging the brain like a passive-aggressive girlfriend, plays not like one man fighting the immoral decisions of an old friend, but more like a lovers' spat.

If anything, the movie slows down some once Christopher Lee’s monster shows up. Lee gets a truly fantastic introduction and his make-up is fantastic but the creature certainly doesn’t have the pathos of Karloff’s take, if for no other reason then he doesn’t have as much to do. He’s also more generally psychotic then Karloff, as his violence is mostly unprovoked. The movie does feature a lot of the standard Hammer bright red blood but it comes mostly from the doctor’s dissections then the monster’s rampage. Even without the monster, “Curse of Frankenstein” would have been a classic, just based on the strength of Cushing’s performance. (8/10)


Kernunrex said...

Woo, I'm strong! I'm not sure why I force myself to watch all of those fest films when fully 80% are terrible every single year. I kind of like having some of the decision making taken away from me. I'm watching like 50 movies per Halloween season, so it's nice to have a chunk come from Netflix that I don't have to think about. And, it's nice to stumble on the good ones, which are not always ones with great reviews.

Damn, I still need to get around to seeing Curse of Frankenstein. I haven't seen nearly enough Hammer in my life.

Sorry, I haven't been reading your blog for bit, so I'm catching up today.

Bonehead XL said...

What's really disappointing is that the horrorfest concept is such a great idea. It's a great way for indie movies that otherwise might not get a wide release to find an audience. But it seems like all they scoop up is mediocre stuff. A real shame.

In the near future, using whatever peer-to-peer streaming service replaces the rental services of today, hopefully someone will revive the horror-fest idea more successfully.