Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween 2013: October 16

The Leech Woman (1960)

By 1960, Universal had given up on Gothic Horror. Hammer had come along by that point, reinventing the classic monsters in bold, bloody color. Fittingly, “The Leech Woman” was quickly thrown together to fill the back end of a double feature front-lined by “Brides of Dracula,” one of Hammer’s best efforts. Man, that double feature really dropped off in the second half…

June Talbot, presumably no relation to Larry, is an alcoholic old woman, trapped in a loveless marriage to Dr. Paul Talbot. Enter Malla, an elderly woman claiming to be 140 years old. Malla claims that her African tribe has a method of extending life and regenerating youth. The two head off to African in search of the compound. Turns out, the potion does restore youth, with two important catches: First off, the pineal gland from a young man is required to make it work. Secondly, the effects wear off after twenty-four hours. June, the Leech Woman of the title, proceeds to stab her way through the supporting male cast, all in the name of vanity.

The tone, characters, and content of “The Leech Woman” marks it as the product of a new decade. Every character is a terrible human being. June is obsessed with beauty. Her angst is disproportional, considering Coleen Gray’s old age make-up amounts to some bags under her eyes. She’s become an alcoholic because her husband is a bastard. Dr. Talbot is manipulative, dangling the promise of love in front of pathetic June to keep her around. After discovering the youth potion, he redeclares his love, extending their marriage… But only so she’ll be his guinea pig! What an asshole! You’d think being chained to such a despicable person would make June sympathetic. Sadly, she comes off as bitter and resentful as him, even before she starts killing people! Not even the supporting cast is likable. Malla has no problem sacrificing people. Neil Foster, the lawyer June seduces, doesn’t think twice about cheating on his wife. Neil’s wife, played by the otherwise lovely and ironically named Gloria Talbott, has no problem pulling a gun on a stranger. Even the African guide is callow and opportunistic. As far as audience surrogates go, there’s no safe port in “The Leech Woman.”

At only 77 minutes, “The Leech Woman” takes too long getting to its point. The trek through Africa takes up plenty of time. The jungle adventure padding is ultimately soft but we still get footage of elephants, hippos, and dancing natives. Malla explains in extended detail the effects of the drug. After proving the serum works, June is given the opportunity to use it, finally turning on Paul, using him as the sacrificial man. Around the 44 minute mark, Coleen Gray can wash off her unconvincing make-up. About ten minutes after that, the next morning, she wakes up even older then before, Gray now done up in slightly more convincing, though still overly rubbery, wrinkles. Her dilemma, forced to kill to maintain her youthfulness, is established. A little while after that, the movie finally sets up its formula of June killing, becoming young, aging again, and killing again. By the time the murders have truly started, “The Leech Woman” is nearly over.

The ending is anticlimactic. After giving a random scumbag the pineal poke, June seduces Neil. His wife confronts her, forcing June to kill a woman. After Neil proposes marriage to a someone he’s known two days, the cops bust in. June’s not a very good monster. She left her address with her previous victim and stuffed the dead wife’s body in the near-by coat closet. After realizing a woman’s blood doesn’t have the same effects as a man’s, June throws herself from the balcony, preferring to be dead then old. Gee whiz, movie, way to assign a woman’s value to her physical appearance. The biggest plot hole is that Malla explained a way to prevent the aging effects from wearing off. She says the powder by itself stops aging. Why didn’t June restore her youth and then use the powder to stay that way?

The Leech Woman isn’t a very good monster. Which is a bummer, since she’s only one of three female monsters in the Universal canon, along with the Bride and Paula. Her motivations are deeply shallow but, then again, so was Elizabeth Bathory’s. The make-up isn’t great, leaving her shapely hips unaffected, but Coleen Gray still gives a good performance. “The Leech Woman” would be a good candidate for a remake, repurposing its sexist themes as a commentary on sexism. As Universal’s final black-and-white monster movie, it’s a real bummer. [5/10]

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

I previously reviewed “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” two years ago. That’s recent enough that my thoughts haven’t changed very much. I honestly considered not even rewatching four and five, simply posting links to both. Still, you can’t really have a “Halloween” marathon without including them. Jumping straight into six, which I haven’t seen since it first hit VHS, probably isn’t a good idea. Accordingly, I’ll keep this brief.

I’m not a big fan of the direction this film took the series. Or more specifically, what it did with Michael Myers. Originally a ghost-like entity, Myers has become just another late-eighties murder machine. He slaughters people with a variety of weapons, including, rather incongruently, a shotgun. He teleports all around, even right behind people. He hangs off of pick-up trucks and leaps off roofs. He slaughters random people who have no further importance to the plot. Most obnoxiously, Myers tears victims apart with his bare hands, shoving his thumb through a forehead or fingers into a skull. You can’t imagine Carpenter’s subtle, stalking Shape doing that. Finally, the ending changes the Shape’s nature entirely, making him some sort of possessing spirit. The biggest indignity of all is that shitty dime store mask and dorky shoulder pads.

The ending of “Halloween II” is cheaply retcon. Despite getting shot in the eyes and burnt to a crisp, Myers simply fell into a coma. Okay, sure, he’s not entirely human. But how do you explain Dr. Loomis, a normal man, surviving being exploded? With only small scars on his face and hands? Apparently, the doc is just a tough bastard, since the sixty-year old survives getting tossed through an upper floor window in this one.

No longer a random force, Myers is now determined to kill his remaining family for reasons that aren’t elaborated on. How do I feel about Jaime Lloyd? I dislike Laurie dying off-screen. The movie really lingers on Jaime’s misery too much, having nightmares about her uncle for some reason and being cruelly taunted by her schoolmates. Little Danielle Harris isn’t great  but she’s not annoying, a feat onto itself. Though Ellie Cornell is no Jaime Lee Curtis, her Rachel is likable enough. Her romantic relationships are unnecessarily focused on, but Cornell has got a tough, can-do attitude I like. The rest of the characters are thin, indistinct slasher fodder. Rachel’s boyfriend is unlikable and his bimbo side of ass doesn’t even show her boobs. Despite being obviously tired and probably intoxicated, Donald Pleasence holds the whole film together. His grave intonings never loose their spark, even after ten years.

Dwight Little’s direction is fairly flat. I like the opening, titles sparsely laid out against Halloween decorations, and occasionally he throws in some foggy, late night atmosphere. Overall though, his nights are far too bright, too clear. He also throws in some tacky slow-motion shots. The movie is never scary but the roof stalking scene comes close to generating suspense. “Halloween 4” is middling for me but I suppose it is important for reviving the franchise. I guess. [5/10]

Tales from the Crypt: “Fitting Punishment

Story-wise, “Fitting Punishment” isn’t anything special. It fits the “Crypt” outline. A recently orphaned nephew comes to live with his uncle, a mortician. Turns out, his uncle is a massive asshole. He embalms bodies with water and buries them in discount coffins sold for full price. He is also abusive towards his nephew, treating him like crap, smacking him around, devaluing the young boy as a person. The abuse escalates until the teen is cripple and, finally, murdered. Since this is “Tales from the Crypt,” the boy’s spirit returns to wreak havoc. If it had thrown in some infidelity, this would be the most typical episode ever.

This is still true. However, “Fitting Punishment” has got some fun stuff in it. It’s one of the few episodes focused on black characters, distinguishing it from the rest of the lot. Moses Gunn is fantastically mean-spirited as evil Uncle Ezra. The character is a total prick and Gunn plays it to the hilt. He successfully plays the character’s increasing cruelty as dark comedy. He’s a villain you love to hate. Jon Clair has less to work with as Bobby, the abused nephew, but still does a decent job getting you to root for him. The episode handles the mortuary business in a nicely causal manner. Jack Sholder’s direction is on the same level as the material. He intentionally recalls classic animation with his exaggerated transitions and wipes. Because Ezra is such a despicable villain, his comeuppance is deeply satisfying. And, hey, zombie Air Jordons and a feetless ghost? What’s not to like? This episode isn’t anything special but it’s the exact type of darkly comedic horror comfort food “Crypt” fans are looking for. [7/10]

So Weird: “Lost
“Lost” is a “So Weird” episode that is saved by the series’ typical earnestness. Fi’s opening narration helpfully explains what a coma is, for those who might not know. Cut to: A girl who has been in a coma for years. While hooking the hospital system up to the internet, the wires somehow get cross, and the girl’s spirit gets hooked to the world wide web. Ridiculous, right? For some reason, the girl contacts Fiona, her messages being conveyed as a spammy collection of random words. (It’s a good thing Fi just didn’t delete that, right?) Smelling a mystery, Fiona quickly realizes the girl’s situation, gets in contact with her family, and sets about waking the girl up.

While the plot machinations are contrived, to say the least, “Lost” has some intriguing ideas. While inside her coma, Kamilah is trapped within a recreation of her home town as it existed in the early nineties. She stands outside a movie theater showing the same film for ten years. The climax of the episode is three-pointed. In the waking world, Fi tries to correlate Kamilah’s memory of the streets with their modern lay-out. Out in the city, Jack and Clu follow the same steps, reporting back to their sister. Inside her coma, Kamilah walks the eerie, empty streets, trying to find the courage to take her home. The emotion her mother and aunt feel for the little girl is honest and help imbue the silly premise with genuine pathos. Kyla Pratt is very good as the lost girl while Candus Churchill and Dionne Warwick stop by for notable parts as the mother and aunt. “So Weird” continues to impress me with the way it pushes pass typical kid show clich├ęs towards more ambitious ideas. [7/10]

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