Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar
talk it out in The Brood

When you watch a David Cronenberg film, you know you are going to get something different. I'm surprised I had never got around to watching The Brood before. It's definitely an early entry in the Cronenberg canon and I had heard a lot about it, but never took the plunge into watching it for some reason. It didn't make the 1001 book, but is well thought of enough to have gotten a recent release from The Criterion Collection.

The plot involves an unusual institute run by a smooth talking con man named Ragland (Oliver Reed) that delves in a form of therapy called plasmatics, which involves a form of psychodrama for the patients there. One patient named Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) is holed up there separated from her husband and child. Much of the movie involves her husband Frank (Art Hindle) and his attempt to reach her.

But does he really want to reach her? Who is controlling who at the institute? What secrets are Nola hiding and what power is she unleashing? And the big question, who and what is this brood?

If this is a Cronenberg you haven't seen but like his films, it's one to pick up. The fact that it's low budget and Canadian made sort of adds to its charm. If you can use the word charm when referring to The Brood. In fact, forget I said charm. Let's go with nightmarish and shocking instead. 

The Criterion release of The Brood has some interesting extras. One has Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds (who plays the daughter, Candice) reunited and interviewed by a writer from Fangoria magazine. The two of them have fond memories of the film all these years later. A very interesting (but odd) extra has a clip of Oliver Reed on the Merv Griffin show in 1980 with the other guests being Orson Welles and Charro! It's an interesting discussion, though I don't think Reed talks about The Brood during the whole interview!

The brood of The Brood

Jeremy Irons and Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers

Cronenberg went on to direct some of the most interesting films of the 80's, (Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly) culminating the decade with Dead Ringers in 1988. This film has Jeremy Irons playing identical twins who go on to become famous gynecologists, but whose personal demons get the best of both of them.They become involved with an actress (Genveive Bujold), whose trifurcated cervix is an important plot point. It's the only movie I can think of where you can say that a trifurcated cervix is an important plot point.

I saw Dead Ringers when it came out and seeing it again has been most interesting. Jeremy Irons is fantastic in his dual role and Bujold has always been one of my favorites. The technical and medical detail of the film seems authentic enough to me to make some of the revelations of the film that much more disturbing.

One note on the film is that the twins bring up the case of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese Twins. They discuss the story of Chang and Eng's death in the film as if needing to explain it to the audience. But didn't everyone read about Chag and Eng in The Guinness Book of World Records when they were a kid and already know this story? Maybe that was just me.

Genevieve Bujold comforts one of the twins played
by Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers

Anyway, I may try to catch up on some more Cronenberg soon. I also have Naked Lunch still on the 1001 menu.  

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2018


1932 Universal Horror Double Feature!!!

Raymond Massey, Melvin Douglas and Charles Laughton 
try to refrain KARLOFF in The Old, Dark House

One of Leonard Maltin's 70's Movies on TV books (or was it Steven Schueuer's Movies on TV book?) had something in the foreword that stuck with me. It mentioned two movies that had yet to be on TV (This was from about 1975). One was Gone With the Wind, which did make its TV debut a year later. The other was a less famous (of course, most every film is less famous than Gone With the Wind) 1932 horror film called The Old, Dark House. It seems to have been a question of copyright as well as the original film negative being lost for a time that prevented it from us ever seeing this on the late show during the ensuing years.

It occurred to me all these years later that I have still never seen this film! Well, with YouTube, accessing The Old, Dark House is no longer a problem and it is 72 minutes I'm willing to invest.

The film starts with a couple and their wisecracking friend traveling by car in extremely bad weather when they come across an old...dark house. I'm sure many viewers will have visions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as they watch some of these early scenes, but these horror movie tropes had to have an originate somewhere! The group is let into the house with grunts by a sinister servant named Morgan (Boris Karloff). They are welcomed with open arms by the man of the house, though less so by his sister. They all have a nice dinner at a large table that seems to feature a lot of potatoes being passed around. (Personally, I don't think I could eat much with Morgan around!). Another stranded pair also come to the house and a place to sleep has to be made for them as well. We know all is not going to go too well pretty soon for all the travelers. The other occupants of the house we later come to see are the 102-year old invalid patriarch and the crazy arsonist uncle who is locked in his room most of the time.

The Old, Dark House is directed by James Whale, just coming off Frankenstein. There may be areas of the film that are a bit clunky and the fight scenes aren't exactly riveting, but Whale really knows how to set the mood and the way the film is shot is appropriate to the subject matter and definitely served as a blueprint for many others in this genre (at least during the Black and White era). The story was adapted from a book by the famous novelist J. B. Priestly.

Another thing that really stands out about this movie is in having such an exceptional cast for a low budget horror movie.Raymond Massey, Melvin Douglas and Charles Laughton could easily head up the cast for an expensive epic, but they all  do fine work here. I especially like Douglas, whose wisecracks remind me of his future role as Garbo's romantic partner in Ninotchka

This is also probably the most famous movie with Gloria Stuart not titled Titanic. Yes, Gloria Stuart at one time was twenty-two. There is a scene where she is in her slip and I was hoping that she would ask someone to "Paint me like one of your French girls", but that was not to be.

But the most important cast member of The Old, Dark House is undoubtedly Boris Karloff. There apparently was a big mystery about Karoff (billed as only Karloff!) because the open crawl reads:

Karloff, the mad butler in this production is the same Karloff who created the mechanical monster in Frankenstein. We explain this to settle all disputes in advance, even though such disputes are a tribute to his great versatility.

I love that disclaimer! Karloff has no lines but his menacing presence is felt throughout and does have a scene of poignancy at the end of the film.

Gloria Stuart is about to feel the
touch of KARLOFF in
The Old, Dark House 

 Bela Lugosi's one-of-a-kind stare
in White Zombie

White Zombie came out the year after Bela Lugosi made his big screen splash in Dracula (1931). The plot features a young couple (Madeline and Neil) who come to the West Indies to get married at the behest of a rich plantation owner (Beaumont), who has the ulterior motive of being in love with Madeline and wants her for himself. Beaumont has reluctantly received aide from Legendre, a voodoo master who convinces Beaumont that the only way to win her over is to turn Madeline into a zombie. He does and of course things do not pan out as Beaumont had planned. At Legendre's castle, we see the zombified Madeline, who is now under the control of Legendre and who takes control of Beaumont as well. Neil and his friend Dr. Brunner storm the castle to try to save the day.

One reason to see White Zombie is Bela Lugosi. Bela was never the most versatile of actors, you pretty much know what you're going to get a lot of menacing stares and dialogue that is basically a variation of his Dracula spiel. But I like Lugosi and he does this pretty well, though you do wonder why any character in any of his films would ever trust him in the first place.

White Zombie is also noted as the first feature film to depict zombies. These are Legendre's crew who he stated in life were his enemies, but who now serve him. They even work for him at the sugarcane mill (I'm guessing for less than minimum wage). They carry out his more nefarious assignments as well until Legendre is knocked in the head by Dr. Brunner, causing the now confused zombie crew to walk off the side of the castle to their doom.

The film may not rank in the top of the Universal horror movie canon, though I do like many of the shots employed by director Victor Halperin. I especially like the views of Legendre's castle and the setting is appropriately eerie. Halperin directed another zombie film, Revolt of the Zombies, in 1936.

The supporting cast for Lugosi is not in the same league as the cast for The Old, Dark House,  though my favorite is probably Joseph Cawthorne as Dr. Brunner, the missionary who can never seem to find a match to light his pipe.

The original zombie garage band
in White Zombie

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Mr. Viy on the attack
in Viy

Viy is a Russian horror film based on the book by Nikolai Gogol. The plot involves a lost (physically at first, emotionally and spiritually later) seminary student named Khoma who winds up sleeping in the barn of an old woman. The old woman tries to seduce him and yadda, yadda, yadda, she turns into a witch that casts a spell forcing him to fly with her on his back. After they land, he angrily begins to beat her...and she turns into a young and beautiful woman. Later at the seminary, his rector informs him that this same woman (now nearing death) has sent out a message by way of her rich father, that she has wants Khoma to hold vigil over her for three nights before her inevitable death. Khoma claims not to know her, but reluctantly agrees to the task.

Khoma begins his three night vigil for the girl...each night worse than the previous one.

The film is creepily effective, though some may find the low budget special effects a bit off putting (I didn't). The finale featuring a wide variety of monstrous characters converging on Khoma (including the hideous Viy!) may be the main reason to watch the film. 

If Andrei Rublev was a low budget horror film, it might look something like Viy.

The Groovy Ghoulies meet the seminary student
in Viy

Monday, October 15, 2018


"Cute meet" about to go wrong
in Audition

If I had gone into seeing Audition without knowing the film was labeled under the horror genre, I can only imagine what my reaction to it would have been like.

The film starts out with a man named Aoyama whose wife dies in the first scene, leaving him alone to raise a young son. Cut to several years later when the now teen-aged son encourages his father to get out and meet someone new. Before you can say The Courtship of Eddie's Father, the dad is convinced by a television producer friend to hold a mock audition for a show that is in reality a search for a suitable wife for Aoyama. The film shows several of the beautiful women being interviewed and the comedy here is pretty good. 

I'm guessing this is going to be a cute meet chick flick, right?...Well, let's not call Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant for the remake quite yet.

Aoyama chooses a girl named Asami, who has a very blank past and gives everyone else but Aoyama really bad vibes. As the movie progresses, we get parts of Asami's past that are pretty awful and one thinks this is closer to a female revenge movie. It is to a degree, but the extent to which Yasuhisa conducts her business at the end of the movie was very repellent and hard to sit through. I say that, yet I do admit I had trouble closing my eyes during the finale. This is definitely a film that will stick with you and one I never plan to watch again.

Asami (Eihi Shiina) at the end of her Audition

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Behold! The Wicker Man!
Christopher Lee sets the tone
in The Wicker Man
I first saw The Wicker Man on the USA network during the 80's and thought it was a creepy, but effective movie about a policeman that goes to investigate the disappearance of a girl on a island of pagans and is met with resistance or indifference at every turn.

Watching it again, I do realize I missed Britt Eckland's nude ritual dance during my initial viewing (I would have remembered seeing that) and a few of the outdoor pagan rituals that involved nudity as well. I also didn't remember the policeman character (Edward Woodward) as being such a devout Christian. It's an important part of the plot and adds greatly to his confrontation with the Pagans.

The fact that this film doesn't devolve into camp is a credit to the filmmakers and the performers. To see how easily that could happen, one has to only look at The Wicker Man remake with Nicholas Cage (Not the Bees!)

Britt Ekland performing her exotic dance number
in The Wicker Man

Friday, October 5, 2018


The salary man being taken over in
 Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Tetsuo: The Iron Man has been described as sort of a Japanese version of Eraserhead, but more cyberpunk. I think that's as accurate as anything I could think of. The plot involves a metal fetishist and a "salary man"who...I changed my mind-I'm actually not going to recount the plot.  Let's just say I see the whole thing as a metaphor for how technology is taking us over where it not only becomes one with us but ultimately takes charge. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I may have liked this more If I had seen it on Night Flight on the USA network the year it first came out, but sometimes you see a movie when you see it.

The metal fetishist asserts his authority in
Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Monday, October 1, 2018


 Gary Bond and Donald Pleasence prepare to dine
on Kangaroo in Wake in Fright

I admit that the only thing I knew about Wake in Fright going in was that it was Australian. I was trying to do some horror movies this month and I thought a film called Wake in Fright might work for that...but after watching this for a bit I realized  that this one doesn't  fit into that category the way I thought it would. Not that there isn't a great deal of horrifying images in it (Can you say Kangaroo hunt?). The film is kind of like Deliverance meets Walkabout meets Crocodile Dundee meets Heart of Darkness with maybe a touch of Groundhog Day (In that the protagonist can't escape his situation.)

John Grant (Gary Bond) is a discontented teacher, who while traveling on his way to Sydney for a holiday, makes a pit stop in a small town where he gets involved with some of the locals in most unusual ways. He gets in some back room gambling in which after an initial winning streak, ends up losing all of his money and finds himself now stranded in the town (known as The Yabba).

The films unfolds very slowly and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I found myself often questioning what it was all about early on, but I kept on plugging, though the movie doesn't play its hand in any obvious way.

During the second part of the film, John gets involved with a group of swaggering hunters. These sporty fellows mostly like to drink, fight, debauch and go out on Kangaroo hunts. He also gets involved with a local woman...or should I say doesn't really get involved as this movie never seems to go in the direction you think it might. John also meets a  sort of doctor (Donald Pleasence) who might be the oddest of all the odd characters he runs into.

Most of the film is about how John changes throughout. His contempt for his surroundings dissipates as the contempt for himself seems to increase. It doesn't look like going down this rabbit hole is going to end well.

It's an odd film and one that does take a little patience. Enter The Yabba at your own risk. G'day.

Male bonding before the hunt in Wake in Fright