Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Halloween 2012: September 26

The Beast Within (1982)
“The Beast Within” combines many different horror tropes. It plays like a werewolf movie without the werewolf at times. A Southern town with a dark secret is the primary setting. There are elements of demonic possessions and revenge from beyond the grave. Most famously, in the last half-hour, the movie explodes into body horror, with a vivid transformation and a monster gorily dismembering victims. The gritty violence and setting feels like ‘70s Savage Cinema, but the show-stopping creature effects puts it in the company of effects-heavy early eighties flicks, like “American Werewolf” “The Thing,” or “The Howling.”

The setting of Naoba, Missisipi provides Southern-fried atmosphere that’s hard to resist, especially when the moon shines through fog and tree branches. The story slowly puts down clues, drawling the audience in. The eventual transformation is set up subtly. The special effects are fantastic. Michael’s transformation is the film’s center-piece. It’s so climatic that it almost spoils the last act. However, Philippe Mora’s strong direction builds suspense through frenzied performances, noise clattering outside, and wisely delivered gore. The decapitation here is one of my favorites. The violence is calculated through-out, as the first murder, the mortuary sequence, and the electric kill are equally measured by suspense and make-up.

The cast is peppered with memorable faces, among them R.G. Armstrong and Don Gordon. Ronny Cox and Bibi Bersh are both excellent as the concerned parents, totally unprepared for what happens to their son. Cox, in particular, makes his everyman role highly relatable. L.Q. Jones is especially likable as the tough, no-nonsense sheriff, the only man in Naoba not involved in the conspiracy. If there’s a performance that doesn’t work, it’s Paul Clemens as the troubled boy. He’s frequently good when snarling threats but is less convincing as a normal teenager.

The script is by Tom Holland who quickly established himself as a reliable genre draftsman. The ambiguous story is frequently criticized. The story suggests that cannibalism and years of abuse is enough to transform a man into something inhuman. The possession, reincarnation, and bizarre metamorphosis are unexplained. Did Billy Curwin come back through pure force of will? Similarly, the connection with cicadas seems to have resulted through environmental influence. He imprinted on the forest and, likewise, it imprinted on him. Supposedly, about twenty minutes of deleted scenes would have clarified these details but, nah, I like it the way it is. You could probably give the movie shit for its underdeveloped love story but I like that too. Michael and Amanda have chemistry together and their hormones-heavy love-at-first-sight romance is exactly right for a pair of teenagers with overly protective parents.

Not every element works. Les Baxter’s score, his last, is bit confused, sounding one minute like a 1950s monster movie while featuring throbbing, overdone synth the next. The ending is hopelessly anticlimactic. The threat is dealt with too quickly and the emotional fallout isn’t focused on enough. Overall though, that last atmospheric shot of an old house in the darkness hits my horror-fan sweet spot. “The Beast Within” is a cult gem for me. [7/10]

The Nude Vampire (1970)
The movie is concerned with indelible images. There’s no dialogue for the first ten minutes. In the second scene, a young girl, clothed in a see-through orange shawl, is stalked by people (creatures?) wearing bizarre animal mask, the most striking of which is a deer mask with antlers made of tree branches. It’s creepy, dream-like, and sets the tone. That spooky deer mask shows up again, looking down from a building’s ledge. In extreme close-up, the camera roams a woman’s bodies, while she squeezes her nipples with long, golden fingernails. A cult, all wearing red hoods, shoot themselves with invisible bullets. Torches appear out of the darkness, a crowd suddenly walking in the night. We peer down a desolate beach, broken pier legs sticking out of the sand like rows of huge teeth, a bright red casket between the ranks.

While the movie is full of legitimately striking visuals, there are a few times when Rollin’s trashy, Euro-schlocky side pokes its head out. The villain of the film has twin maids. The pair is usually clothed in a bizarre get-up: A segmented leather skirt and glass do-dads dangling in front of their boobs. The house is decorated with baby dolls with colored-on pubes. Two people are sent into violent spasms after being gently knocked in the head with a candelabrum. People in odd red outfits teleport around a hillside. There’s an extended sequence of a mostly naked young woman dancing for a group of men, wearing an odd outfit that features little plastic spikes covering her nipples. At the end of her dance, she drops dead. If you couldn’t figure out from the title, there’s a shitload of female nudity, including a number of busty topless extras.

The movie is described as incomprehensible. A character even says, “Does this make any sense to you?” The story is secondary but not difficult to follow. There’s a vampire girl, a rich man trying to exploit her abilities, a cult who worship her, and the millionaire’s son who falls in love with her. Also, a group of hyper-dimensional mutants. (The portal to the other dimension is a pair of red curtains.) When the movie stops to explain is actually when it falters. The last ten minutes feature a character explaining that final twist in excruciating voice-over. Frankly, I think the film would have fared better if it dispensed completely with a story and focused on the surreal imagery. It also would have been shorter and better for it. The copy I have is a brief 81-minutes, shorter then the 90-minute French cut, and all ready feels like it could have lost ten minutes.

There’s little blood and the film, overall, has a gentle, dreamy tone. “The Nude Vampire” isn’t for everybody. It’s probably not for the majority of people. But when it’s at its swimmy best, I can dig it. And I’m certainly more interested in Rollin as a filmmaker now. [7/10]

The Last Warning (1929)
I don’t have too much to say about “The Last Warning.” It’s not much of a horror film. There’s certainly some horrific elements floating around. The story revolves around an actor dying mysteriously on-stage during a theatrical performance. Years later, a man reopens the theater and decides to restage that play, in hopes of luring out the murderer. This plan is wildly successful.

Sometimes, the only difference between a murder mystery and a horror film is the delivery. “The Last Warning” is focused on sleuthing. A large portion of this short film is devoted to sneaking around the theater, investigating things. There’s plenty of cobwebs, reported ghost sightings, creepy old prop dummies, and a killer in a weird mask with monster claws on. All of these things make up a small portion of the film.

Because of the lousy condition of my copy, the inappropriate musical score, and the silent format, I had trouble sousing out the individual details. The guy playing the theater owner/detective seems to give a good performance. An old man who constantly yells at a stage hand for dancing or singing is funny. But other details, such as who exactly everyone is and the obligatory love story, got lost among the static.

This was the second teaming of director Paul Leni and star Laura La Plante, after “The Cat and the Canary.” Leni’s visual sense continues to be strong. An opening montage establishes the Broadway spirit in a surreal, interesting way. Shots, like a grasping hand appearing over the action, a wounded man stumbling out of the shadows of a secret passageway, or a bump appearing in the carpet from under the floor, are nice touches. La Plante has even less to do here as she isn’t involved much in the action. The film’s Broadway setting made me think Universal was hoping for a cheaper “Phantom of the Opera.” The climatic sequence, involving the cops chasing a murderous man in a creepy mask across the theater, certainly recalls that film. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also the best moment in the movie. Generally speaking though, I don’t think “The Last Warning” has much to offer horror fans, classic or otherwise. [5/10]

High School of the Dead: “Escape from the Dead”
All ready, I’m having some trouble with the characters. Takashi, Mr. Obligatory Boring Protagonist, is fond of melodramatic voiceovers about his parents and the apocalyptic scenario. Rei, the brown-haired girl with the huge tits, starts the episode crying and yelling at a cell phone that just happens to be out of bars right that second. Neither trait endears them.

Luckily, this episode is mostly focused on the supporting cast. Saya, the pink-haired girl with huge tits, is the know-it-all, stuck-up bitch. She gets paired up with Khota, the fat military nerd. Saya’s constant need to remind everyone she’s smart is annoying but Khota is kind of bad ass, especially after he starts shooting zombies with a nail gun. Either way, the characters have a decent back-and-forth. We’re also introduced to Saeko, the purple-haired girl with the huge tits, who is an expert at smashing zombie heads with a kendo sword. She fills the soft spoken, honorable warrior type. Her combat expertise is over-exaggerated. Generally speaking, the action is over-the-top and cartoonish. I guess that comes with the territory.  

How long a character survives seems to correlate with their cup size. A nervous nerd murders a zombie with an IV pole, which is cool. He doesn’t live. The clueless school nurse with the humongous tits (They make a jiggling noise with each wiggle, in case you didn’t notice) does survive. In any other anime, she’d fill the Ms. Fanservice role but I don’t see her purpose in a show we’re every female is bodacious and scantily clad. Despite that, this episode dials the obnoxious perviness back a little bit. I only counted, like, six panty shots.

The ending is dramatic but at least some of the emotions are actually earned. I’d say episode two is better then the first, even if this show is still about half-entertaining, half annoying. [7/10]

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