Another Universal acquisition from Paramount and also a pre-code film. It’s most notable for sticking out among Carole Lombard’s body of work, her only horror film. The film has two stories that slowly intertwine. A woman strangler is on death row, pleading revenge on the guy who turned her in. After being executed, her body is left to a scientist who has some strange experiments in mind, a pure plot device. The second story involves Lombard as the grieving inherent to her millionaire brother’s fortune. Seeing an opportunity, a villainous false-medium, the guy who sold the strangler up the river, decides to take advantage of Lombard’s morning. Remember the scientist I mentioned? Somehow, the spirit of the dead strangler possesses Lombard’s body, seeking revenge on the slimy medium.
Having enjoyed the previous pre-code Paramount horror films I’ve seen, I had high expectations for “Supernatural.” Should have kept them in check. The movie is hampered by a bad case of melodrama. Willowy choir music plays over the opening titles, along with numerous massive lightening strikes. After the credits, we get like four different religious quotes vaguely related to the film’s themes. At only an hour-four minutes long, it’s a quick watch. However, the majority of the runtime is spent setting up the premise. The movie takes a lot of time establishing the medium’s villainy, which involves strangling an old lady who lives in his apartment and cackling wildly why doing so. Lombard, while looking fantastic in tight dresses, spends most of the early half crying. Watching the chicanery involved in faking a séance is at least sort of interesting.
Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998)
Growing up in the nineties, UFOs and alien abductions were on many tongues. Though obviously in pop culture since the sixties, the decade of my youth was filled with stories of little grey men and nocturnal visitations. “Communion” was recent enough to be easily found in libraries, “Fire in the Sky” hit theaters in ‘93, "The X-Files" brought alien conspiracy theories to the masses, and “documentaries” filled cable. For years, I considered alien abductions to be definitive proof of extraterrestrials. As a teen, I spent many nights worrying about greys in my bedroom. Until I read about sleep paralysis and found it explained the majority of encounters. Anyway, it’s a good thing I didn’t see “Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County” when it first aired on television. There would have been many more sleepless nights if I had.
A found footage film just predating “The Blair Witch Project,” if not “Cannibal Holocaust,” “Alien Abduction” depicts the McPherson family’s Thanksgiving dinner, all filmed by youngest son Tommy. At first, the tensions of Thanksgiving are normal, such as mother’s alcoholism, the liberal sister bringing her black boyfriend to dinner, and her racist brother reacting. When the power goes out, the three brothers discover a cadre of aliens mutilating some cattle. The family spends the rest of the night terrorized by the beings, Tommy catching it all on tape.
There’s a reason found footage has taken a foothold in the culture. It’s not just because the movies are cheap to make and speak to millennial paranoia about privacy. The best moments of “Alien Abduction” create an eerie tension. The lack of any music has the audience listening carefully for sounds off-screen. Similarly, the handheld camera-work has the viewer watching the corners of the frame, on the look-out for half-seen aliens. The best moment in the film involves Tommy retreating to his bedroom and putting the camera down. When he picks the camera up, an alien appears in the room. Without an obnoxious score signifying the scare, the jump is allowed to breath, stretching to disturbing lengths. Another notable moment involves the men retreating outside, noticing the upstairs bedroom window is open.
The movie has a bizarre legacy. It was aired on UPN, presented as fact, and heavily edited to conform to docudrama standards. Despite having end credits, many were convinced it was true. “Alien Abduction” is actually a bigger budgeted remake of the same director’s first feature and probably based on the Hopskinville/Kelly encounter. Weirdly, a tape of that rare, original film circulated at UFO conventions, convincing many it was genuine. Despite the director out right saying it’s fiction, some still believe the original McPherson tape is legit. You can’t convince those who truly want to believe. Anyway, “Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County” won’t blow your socks off. The acting is sometimes sketchy and the writing occasionally rough. The premise is still fantastic and the creepy, effective moments justify the whole project. [7/10]
Tales from the Crypt: “The Man Who Was Death”
Before getting to the episode, can I talk about how awesome the opening to “Tales from the Crypt” is? A POV shot swerves through a misty graveyard, lit cool night blue. We slide into a creepy mansion on the hilltop. Darting back and forth through the cobweb strewn gothic manor, the viewer is taken behind a secret passageway. Careening down a winding, stone stairway, lit only by torches, we wander into the titular crypt. Our host, the Crypt Keeper, greets us with a maniacal laugh, ooze dripping down the screen as the title comes up. Accompanied by Danny Elfman’s carnival funhouse theme, this tells us everything we need to know. The show is traditional but technically advanced, winking and self-aware while still delivering classic horror chills. Pure, delicious comic book horror.
In this first season, the Crypt Keeper wasn’t quite the cheesy one-liner tossing, quick-talking goofball corpse we’d come to love. He spoke a little slower, the jokes slightly more subdued. Stature-wise, he’s smaller as well, apparently a dwarf in these first few episode. Soon enough, John Kassir’s vocal performance and Kevin Yahger’s puppetry would come into their own, even if the idea of a slightly darker, slightly more serious Crypt Keeper is sort of intriguing.