The day of Halloween itself usually doesn’t involve much travel for me. I try not to stray too much from my TV, as not to interrupt the final day of the Halloween Horrorfest Blog-a-thon. But 2015 was a little different. A friend talked me into helping her hand out candy. In my slightly tossed-together Babadook costume, I ran over to help her out. Truthfully, I’m glad I did, as I had a blast. I’m pretty sure I traumatized a few kids. Isn’t that what Halloween is all about? After making it back home, I resumed the final day of the Six Weeks, packing in as much stuff as possible. Considering Day Lights Saving time was giving me an extra hour tonight, I went for it.
Mark of the Vampire (1936)
It’s a well-known story that, after “Freaks,” Tod Browning’s career was in tatters. Though well regarded as a cult classic now, the film was a bit too confrontational for 1932. After that commercial mishap, perhaps Browning was looking for a sure-fire hit. “Mark of the Vampire” was a remake of “London After Midnight,” a notoriously lost silent that was an early hit for Browning. In an attempt to emulate his last big hit, “Dracula,” the film features Bela Lugosi as another vampire count, hanging out in a spooky castle. The film even threw in some additional star power in the form of Lionel Berrymore, who gets top-billing. Tod Browning would make a few more movies, so I guess “Mark of the Vampire” did revive his career to a degree.
In a superstitious, rural part of Europe, a local nobleman has been found dead, his blood drained from his body via pin-pricks on his neck. The locals blame the murders on a vampire. The mysterious Count Mora and his daughter Luna, who inhabit a spooky near-by castle, are immediately picked out as the attackers. Everyone is convinced except for Inspector Neumann, a skeptical police officer. The locals fear that Irena, the murdered man’s daughter, is the vampires' next target. Professor Zelin, an expert in the occult, is brought in to get to the bottom of things.
Disappointingly, “Mark of the Vampire” isn’t just a gothic horror story. Instead, the film is also a mystery. After that incredibly atmospheric first act, the film devotes itself to the story’s machinations. There are long scenes of Professor Zelin telling people what to do about the vampires. You’re likely to get tired of hearing Lionel Berrymore talk about herbs and flowers. (These scenes draw direct parallels between Zelin and Van Helsing.) Lugosi and his ghostly daughter disappear for long stretches of time in the second half. Instead, the movie focuses on the various hypnotized men wandering around the castle, the Lionels Berrymore and Atwill always on their tales. This leads up to a twist ending that’s been pissing off horror fans since the thirties: There are no vampires. Count Mora and his daughter are actors. The entire plot has been a scheme to reveal the true killer. On one level, making a skeptical vampire flick is an interesting idea. On the other hand, the ending flies in the face of everything the movie has been building up to. Not to mention making the title, posters, trailers, and everything else seem very misleading.
I love most everything about “Mark of the Vampire,” except for its actual story. The scenes of dusty, foggy atmosphere are incredible, some of the best in all of classic horror. The movie definitely features some fun performances, amusing moments, and fantastic images. The plot, meanwhile, is a bit lame. Reportedly, about ten minutes of footage was cut from the film upon release, mostly dealing with the Count’s backstory and including suggestions of incest between him and his daughter. Unless that extended footage included a radically different story, it’s hard to imagine it improving “Mark of the Vampire” too much. [7/10]
House of Wax (1954)
Before “House of Wax,” Vincent Price was a character actor, turning in solid parts in classics like “Laura” or “Dragonwyck” without ever breaking through as a leading man. After “House of Wax,” Price would be completely reinvented as a horror icon, a great that stood along side other masters of horror like Karloff or Lugosi. From this point on, even Price’s non-horror parts would tend to recall his work in the genre. All of which is slightly odd, when you consider that “House of Wax” was actually a remake of an earlier film, 1933’s “Mystery of the Wax Museum.” The remake would move the story back in time to the late eighteen-hundreds, emphasize horror over mystery, become an early 3-D hit, and completely overshadow the original.
Henry Jarrod is a wonderfully talented sculptor of wax figures. He is so enamored of his own work that he often talks to his wax models as if they were people. However, his work is noncommercial and the owner of wax museum decides to burn the place down for the insurance money. Jarrod disappears in the fire. Years later, he reappears in New York, his hands and legs ruined in the flames. Jarrod opens a new wax museum, catering to the public’s macabre taste. Around the same time, his old partner dies and bodies begin to vanish from the local morgue. A young woman named Sue notices that one of Jarrod’s hyper-realistic sculptures resembles her dead friend and begins to suspect that something ghoulish is going on.
The remake changing the title from “Mystery of the Wax Museum” to “House of Wax” is significant. There’s less sleuthing, as there’s no equivalent to Glenda Farrell’s reporter character. Aside from an enthusiastic ping-pong guy or fainting ladies, there’s little of the original’s comic relief. Instead, “House of Wax” focuses on the story’s macabre elements. The Wax Phantom’s facial deformities are lingered on more. There are more scenes of the fedora-and-cape clad villain stalking his victims. This includes a stand-out scene where Price follows Phyllis Kirk’s Sue through the foggy New York streets. Even the wax museum itself, with its displays of murder, execution, and torture, is still creepier. “House of Wax” builds up some decent tension towards the end. The reveal of Jarrod’s hideous true face is far more effective then the thirties’ version. As he dangles his female victim under the boiling hot wax, the movie reaches a fever pitch. (The implied nudity is also fairly edgy for the time period.) As a fifties horror show, “House of Wax” is entertaining and successfully spooky.
Carolyn Jones’ wide-eyed beauty and quirky charm, best utilized during her most famous role as Morticia Addams, is very memorable as the gone-too-soon Cathy. As Jarrod’s lackeys, Charles Bronson as the mute but intimating Igor and Nedrick Young as the alcoholic Leon are hugely memorable parts of the movie.
For devotees of Vincent Price, “House of Wax” is essential viewing. It’s the prototype for the many sinister, extravagant villains he would play throughout his long, fantastic career. Much has been written about how the director, Andre De Toth, was blind in one eye and unable to appreciate his own movie’s 3-D effects. Despite that, there’s still lots of silly 3-D shenanigans, with paddle balls, chairs, iron spears, and can-can girls flying at the audience’s eyes. Though it doesn’t break any new ground, and could’ve had some more interesting side characters, “House of Wax” is still lots of fun for classic horror fans. [7/10]
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Les yeux sans visage
Leave it to the French to take the raw materials for an exploitation movie and make something artful out of it. Story wise, “Eyes Without a Face” doesn’t sound that different from any number of American B-flicks. A mad scientist kills unsuspecting women, in hopes of grafting their faces until his faceless daughter. The man even receives an appropriately ironic fate at the end. The execution changes everything though. Georges Franju lends the story an artistic, dream-like style. By the same accord, the violence in the film was shocking and groundbreaking for the time. The original American distributors maybe recognized the movie’s exploitation roots. They chopped up the film, dubbed it, and re-titled it “The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus.” When the original French version emerged, it was hailed as a landmark horror film and remains a classic today.
Some time ago, Dr. Genessier’s daughter Christiane was in an awful car crash. Burned, torn, and chewed on by rats, the collision left Christiane with only a bloody, raw blank for a face. Dr. Genessier previously, successfully completed a full face transplant. Now he’s obsessed with doing the same for Christiane. He lures young girls in, knocks them unconscious, removes their faces, and attempts to attach them to Christiane’s face. Until the surgery is successful, Christiane hides in her room, wearing a blank white mask. Soon, the daughter and the doctor come into conflict.
her face-concealing mask, Christiane is a walking bit of strangness, always slightly out of step with reality. In the final scene, she releases a number of caged birds, symbolizing her own freedom. This moment has that same stillness to it, like a photograph sprung to life. It’s hard to explain but “Eyes Without a Face” successfully captures the visual language of a dream.
That surreal quality contrasts with the blunt violence. In “Eyes Without a Face,” we see a woman’s face slowly, meticulously cut off. Another girl falls from a window, her head bloodily cracking on the concrete. Later, a man is brutally mauled to death by hungry dogs. The gore was certainly extreme for 1960. However, it’s not shot in a sensationalist manner. Previously, Franju made a documentary about a Parisian slaughterhouse. “Eyes Without a Face” has a similar, almost scientific approach to its gore. The face removal scene is slow and drawn-out because real surgeries are like that. For another example, look at the scene where Christiane’s body rejects the skin graft, which includes necrosis and rotting flesh, shown in a photo montage with bland voice-over narration. Dr. Genessier considers himself a scientist, so the scientific approach to the violence makes sense. The deliberate contrast between the two tones – dream-like and coldly violent – displays the two worlds that “Eyes Without a Face” inhabits.
A subplot about a group of detectives is so irrelevant that I wonder if the director isn’t intentionally mocking irrelevant detective subplots. The musical score helps lull the viewer in a trance-like state, making us especially susceptible to its dream logic and shocking violence. “Eyes Without a Face” is both an art film and a horror film, creating a powerful mood all its own while also providing some effective gore. Plus, it inspired a pretty good Billy Idol song which is a fun bonus. [8/10]
Trick or Treat (1986)
Last Halloween, I watched “Trick r’ Treat,” an increasingly popular choice for Halloween viewing, especially among horror fans. That movie should not be confused with “Trick or Treat,” an oddball heavy metal-themed horror/comedy from 1986. This movie was a bargain bin buy for me. I saw a DVD of a cheesy eighties horror movie with Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons on the cover. There’s no way I was turning that down for five bucks! Of course, that DVD cover was hilariously misleading, as Osbourne and Simmons only have cameos in the film. After watching it, seriously unimpressed, the movie was slipped into my collection and basically forgotten. But, hey, it’s Halloween. If there’s any night to give this movie a second chance, it’s this one.
Eddie, who prefers to go by Ragman, is a dork. A metal-head especially obsessed with controversial shock rock singer Sammi Curr, Ragman doesn’t get much respect. He’s bullied at school by a clan of frat-bro jock-head douchebags. The girl he has a crush on thinks he’s creepy. His best friend is the only kid in school that’s a bigger nerd then him. When Curr dies unexpectedly, Eddie is crestfallen. Through his DJ friend, Ragman gets his hand on Sammi’s last record. When played backwards, the record reveals Sammi’s voice, speaking directly to Ragman. Using the record and Eddie’s gullibility, Curr returns for the dead on Halloween night, looking for some heavy metal vengeance against the world that spurned him.
Teenage boys are assholes. Teenage nerds, even in the days before internet mob mentality, could be especially nasty. I know these things because I was a teenage nerd. Movies are usually too willing to soften the blow and make antisocial nerds merely misunderstood. “Trick or Treat,” in its favor, has no issue portraying Eddie as a creepy weirdo. His devotion to Curr borders on the obsessive. He writes long, loving letters to the guy and has a huge poster of him in his room. While the bullies that torment him are inexcusable, Eddie is an unlikable clod. He’s always dressed in greasy metal shirts and everything he does is off-putting. In its first third, “Trick or Treat” looks like it could be a slightly campy if interesting revenge story. Using the magic powers provided by Curr’s possessed record, Ragman proceeds to turn tables on his tormentors. If it continued down this path, “Trick or Treat” could’ve been a goofier, eighties version of “Carrie” for metal-obsessed boys. A big problem with the script is that the movie has a lot of ideas that it haphazardly tosses together.
The eighties moral hysteria over heavy metal is decent ground upon which to build a horror movie. “Trick or Treat” even throws in the backmasking controversy, which is a nice touch. However, the movie seems really uncertain how to feel about its subject. At first, the film seems on Eddie’s side, with his obvious admiration of Curr. An early scene, mirroring Dee Snider’s appearance at the obscenity hearings, has Sammi in Washington, shooting back against the moral guardians who seek to censor him. The movie’s soundtrack is also packed full of metal, though B-listers Fastway don't pack as much punch as they think. On the other hand, “Trick or Treat” plays the hysteria totally straight. Curr is a devil worshiper who kills himself and his band mates to achieve eternal life. When he successfully resurrects himself with satanic magic, he goes on an indiscriminate killing spree for no clearly defined reason. Maybe it’s all tongue-in-cheek, especially since Ozzy Osbourne has a cameo as an evangelical pastor preaching about the evils of rock music. Yet to what purpose? Are you pro- or anti- metal, “Trick or Treat?” The movie can’t decide.
Blackie Lawless, whom the character resembles, but was instead played by former "Solid Gold" dancer Tony Fields. His preening and goofy dancing makes it clear that the actor was more disco then metal.
If thrills were the filmmakers’ goal, “Trick or Treat” is way too goofy to be scary. If comedy was what it was after, it’s too dumb to be amusing. The film doesn’t even utilize its Halloween setting that much, outside the Halloween dance and some flaming pumpkins. I suspect fans of cheesy – not necessary good cheesy either – eighties metal might get a kick out of it. Or if you wanted to see what the other kid from “Family Ties” got up to. Ozzy’s cameo, brief as it is, is probably the film’s high light. Oh, and that cool lizard monster on the poster? He's in one scene. Too self-aware and unfocused, the five dollar dump bin is definitely were “Trick or Treat” belongs. Maybe I should watch “Trick or Treats” next Halloween? [5/10]
Tales of Halloween (2015)
Over the last few years, the anthology film has become the favored format in the horror scene. Usually, a few directors with a notable flick or two to their name are invited to make a short, fitting some sort of theme. I go to bat for the “V/H/S” films, or at least the first two, though they are understandably divisive. “The ABCs of Death” series is hugely uneven, too often gross or weird for its own sake. When “Tales of Halloween” was announced, it fit this established mold: Ten directors, each with a movie horror fans are likely to recognized, made a segment based around Halloween. Two attached names really caught my attention. Everyone knows I love Lucky McKee and Neil Marshall is pretty great too. The rest of the list? Needed some work. Yet then “Tales of Halloween” started getting better reviews then any of the previous indie horror anthologies in recent memory. Obviously, I had watch this on the 31st.
On Halloween night, the spirits rise from their graves and weirdos and freaks of all sorts come out to play. One small town is especially hit by horrific, wild events. Zombies eat candy. Demons make mischief and take revenge, which is sometimes mischievous too. Slashers and aliens collide. Ghosts prowl the streets. Witches prey on children. Vigilantes attack evil-doers. Pumpkins go on rampages. Guiding all of this madness is the local DJ, narrating the events as they happen.
Then there are stories that are more middle of the road. Lucky McKee still hasn’t found his groove, post-“The Woman.” “Ding Dong” has a nice starring role for Pollyanna Macintosh as a manic witch. Marc Senter is equally good as her put-upon husband. However, the visual design of the short, with its red faces, twisting limbs, and rising flames, is way over-the-top. Furthermore, it’s too off-putting to be funny but still too silly to be creepy. McKee’s visual sense remains strong, if nothing else. “Sweet Tooth” and “Grim Grinning Ghost” are unambitious if well executed takes on traditional stories. “Sweet Tooth” is an EC Comics style moral about eating too much candy. “Grim Grinning Ghost” is a simple ghost story with a fun, last minute stinger. Both are entertaining but neither break much new ground.
Ransom of Red Chief.” It’s easy to see where it’s going but the trip is so much fun, as the clueless kidnappers suffer more ridiculous punishment. The final segment, “Bad Seed” from Neil Marshall, gives the world the killer pumpkin movie we’ve always needed. The mayhem is serious but the execution is with a wink. The story also throws in amusing parodies of cop movie troupes. It ends the movie in a nice way.
Maybe front-loading with the weaker shorts was a smart decision. You start out thinking “Tales of Halloween” is going to be another lame, indie anthology. By the end, it becomes a lot of fun, ending with a series of delightful segments. Unlike other Halloween-themed flicks I’ve watched this Six Weeks, “Tales of Halloween” actually utilizes the troupes of the holiday nicely. I doubt it’ll become a yearly tradition but its way better then either “ABCs of Death” flicks. Would I be down for a “Tales of Halloween 2?” Perhaps, if the line-up of directors is as good. [7/10]
This has been a long time coming. How long have fans asked for a new “Evil Dead” adventure starring Bruce Campbell’s Ash? After so many false starts, promised beginnings, and one subpar remake, we finally got what we’re where asking for… But as a TV show, instead of a movie. The first episode of “Ash vs. Evil Dead” sees Ash as a washed-up guy who hasn’t fought evil in decades. He uses his stories of heroism to pick up girls in bars and still gets bossed around at a his crappy job. The evil he fought so long ago has finally tracked him down. Now, Ash has to team up with some younger sidekicks, strap on the chainsaw, and pick up the boomstick once more.
As far as premieres go, this one kicks a lot of ass. Sam Raimi directs. Despite his years in blockbuster land, he still has a grasp on that “Evil Dead” style. We have shots from the perspective of the evil force. A showdown with a twitchy demon recalls the scarier moments of “Evil Dead 2” and easily feels similar. Bruce Campbell remains shameless about getting a laugh. Ash is as much of a bragget as always and may be an even bigger loser then last we saw him. As in the films, the show delights in tormenting him. One especially goofy sequence has him fighting an evil doll. Yet Ash can still be a bad ass, as seen in the final show-down in his trailer. It features plenty of shotgun action and chainsaw swinging. The dialogue is pack full of funny one-liners. The two young kids along for the ride, Dana DeLorenzo’s Kelly and Ray Santiago’s Pablo, get some amusing lines of their own. I’m not sure where the show is going with the storyline involving Jill Marie Jones’ detective and Lucy Lawless’ mysterious character. The first episode of “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is a lot of fun. Can the series keep it up? Who knows. But it pleased this fan. [8/10]
|The Frankenstein Wedding Reception|
This has probably been the most organized Halloween Horrorfest Blog-a-thon I’ve ever had. Not a single day did I ever wander. I watched at least two movies every day this year. On one level, I’m proud of achieving that. On the other hand, I wonder if perhaps the Six Weeks was too structured? I missed that spontaneity, the chaos the season can bring.
Still, I can’t say I didn’t have a boat load of fun. I went to a horror con. I visited a corn maze. I dressed up and handed out candy. I watched 95 movies, crossing many styles and time period. I watched 55 TV episodes, finishing up “So Weird.” I even sneaked in 10 short films. Total number?: 158. Not my best number but not bad either. The book is closing on October. November looms. Did I face the Six Weeks of Halloween head-on and live the season as hard as I could? You know I did. I have honored the spirits of Halloween. It is time for bed. Let us bid fair well to the season. Goodnight, Halloween 2015. I had fun. Thank you. And thank you, readers. The trip wouldn’t mean as much without you.