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Hammer Horror Series: Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

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by Steve Habrat

In 1958, Hammer Films revived the gothic vampire film with Horror of Dracula, which is arguably considered one of the finest films the studio ever produced. Hammer would follow up Horror of Dracula with 1960’s The Brides of Dracula, a sequel that boasted the presence of Christopher Lee’s overlord vampire, but didn’t actually include a cameo from the head bloodsucker. In 1963, Hammer would release director Don Sharp’s Kiss of the Vampire, their second vampire film released before Lee returned in 1966’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Featuring an immensely strong opening sequence and presenting its vampires as a cult, the little-known Kiss of the Vampire is a unique entry within the vampire genre. It’s gracefully acted, stuffed with Hammer’s trademark gothic set design, and plenty eerie enough to entertain viewers when they have exhausted the Dracula series. Sadly, Kiss of the Vampire isn’t without its flaws, as the head vampire Ravna finds himself lost in Lee’s shadow, and the climax falls victim to some ludicrous special effects. It’s a shame to see the climax trip as badly as it does considering that Hammer consistently delivered strong finishes to their horror films.

Kiss of the Vampire begins with newlyweds Gerald (played by Edward de Souza) and Marianne (played by Jennifer Daniel) setting off on their honeymoon. They are traveling by car through the countryside when they run out of gas near a remote village. Unable to find fuel, the couple makes their way to a nearby inn and starts settling in for the evening. As they unpack, the owners, Bruno (played by Peter Madden) and Anna (played by Vera Cook), deliver an invitation to the couple from Dr. Ravna (played by Noel Willman), a wealthy local who wishes to have the couple dine with him in his lavish castle. Gerald and Marianne graciously accept the invitation and head up to meet Dr. Ravna and his two children, Carl (played by Barry Warren) and Sabena (played by Jacquie Wallis). After dinner, Dr. Ravna encourages Carl to demonstrate his talents as a pianist, but as he plays, Marianne seems to be falling into a trance. Convinced that all the action of the day his worn his wife out, Gerald decides to call it evening. Before he leaves, Dr. Ravna agrees to track down fuel for the happy couple. The next day, Carl and Sabena visit Gerald and Marianne to invite them to a masked ball they are throwing that weekend, but shortly after their arrival, they are scared off when the town drunk Professor Zimmer (played by Clifford Evans) approaches them. Ignoring Professor Zimmer’s warnings about the Ravnas, the couple attends the party, but as they mingle with the guests, they begin to suspect that there may be a wicked side to the seemingly polite family.

Before Sharp even rolls the credits on Kiss of the Vampire, he delivers the strongest and bloodiest scene of the entire film. He begins on a procession of mourners as they file through a graveyard under an overcast sky. At the head of the pack is a priest chanting in Latin over the sobs of loved ones. As they arrive at the grave, two mourners notice a man standing off in the distance. They whisper amongst themselves about how he is probably drunk when he suddenly starts making his way into the graveyard. As he approaches the coffin with fire in his eyes, he grabs a shovel and drives it straight through the wood. Sharp zooms in on the splintered wood as candle wax blood oozes through the gaping hole. Over the soundtrack, a piercing cry sends the mourners and the priest running for their lives as the coffin turns transparent and reveals a dying vampire. From here, Sharp and screenwriter Anthony Hinds allow the action to slowly build. We know there are sinister forces at play, but we’re unsure when they will make themselves known. After a number of teases, Sharp and Hinds let the evil run rampant at a masked ball where he finally lets us glimpse the undead cult.

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With its slower pacing, Kiss of the Vampire allows the audience to really get to know the characters, which are all splendidly brought to life by the cast. Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel capture the friskiness and optimism of a young married couple ready to take on the world. They playfully tease each other and when they embrace for a kiss, the dinner table they agreed to sit down to in ten minutes is forced to wait another five minutes. When the undead wedge is driven between them, we root for de Souza to find a way to reunite with his hypnotized lover before her soul is consumed by the vampire cult. Noel Willman is gentlemanly early on as the suspicious Dr. Ravna, but at times his performance is on the dry side. There is no flair to his performance and there are only hints of menace that show through when he stands in front of his devoted followers. Just like David Peel’s head vampire in The Brides of Dracula, he is forever lost in Lee’s vampire bat shadow. Clifford Evans rounds out the cast as the drunken vampire slayer Professor Zimmer, a no-nonsense protagonist who makes Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing look like a softie. His disgust for the vampire sect he is hunting is white hot and he will make sure he finishes off his prey by any means necessary. It’s a shame that Willman wasn’t eager to get a bit darker with his role to really ramp up the battle between good and evil.

If there is one thing that Hammer Films could do, it’s end their horror films in the most satisfying manner possible. While there have been some truly classic finales (Horror of Dracula’s final showdown comes to mind), Kiss of the Vampire ends in the most lackluster way possible, a low for the studio. Our gruff vampire hunter conjures up a pack of bats to come flying to the rescue and it looks as cheap as special effects come. They bob through shattering stained glass windows and swoop down to feast on the flesh of the undead cult members, their white robes turning red with each new bite. The deaths are over dramatic and poorly timed as they shriek out through the rubber bats glued to their faces. Overall, Kiss of the Vampire begins with plenty of vigor as vampires are brutally slain right in front of horrified bystanders. From there it opts for a slow burn, but Sharp just can’t muster a fitting climax for what we have just seen. Extra credit is given for the solid performances, (especially from Evans), the cult angle given to the vampires, the bloody cross used to repel Ravna and his children, and the gothic set design that is turned up to eleven.

Grade: B-

Kiss of the Vampire is available on DVD.

TRAILER TUESDAY!

A mad creature born of the Atomic Age! That’s right, it’s a trailer for the 1963 science-fiction film Atom Age Vampire, directed by Anton Giulio Majano.

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That Old Haunted House: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

by Steve Habrat

If Robert Wise’s The Haunting is too tame for you, you’re in luck because there just happens to be a haunted house film that has plenty of gore and ghostly sex to please the edgier horror fan. That film happens to be John Hough’s 1973 film The Legend of Hell House, a film that is quite similar to The Haunting in the plot department but separates itself through the use of color and racy subject matter. While I personally do not find the film as creepy as Wise’s masterpiece, The Legend of Hell House has a suspenseful first act, one with slowly manifesting ectoplasm, supernatural intercourse, and tumbling chandeliers (those are the worst) but then collapses in its second act with corpses in hidden rooms and a seriously scrappy black cat (those are pretty bad too). Based on the novel by Richard Matheson, the man who brought us the classic vampire tale I Am Legend, The Legend of Hell House is never as understated and as slow building as The Haunting and it comes up short because of it. It can’t wait to show off a few special effects and throw a few of the snippy actors and actresses through the air. At least the film packs a hell of a séance sequence doused in vibrant red lighting and stunning exterior shots that conceal the house behind rolling walls of fog. It’s scenes like this that inject quite a bit of atmosphere and allow the film to receive higher marks.

The Legend of Hell House introduces us to physicist Lionel Barrett (Played by Clive Revill), who is sent to the legendary Belasco House, the “Mount Everest of haunted houses” to research the paranormal activity that is said to go on in the house. The Belasco House was originally owned by Emeric Belasco (Played by Michael Gough), a sadistic millionaire giant who enjoyed toying with the occult and may have even murdered people within the walls of the home. It is said that Emeric mysteriously disappeared after a brutal massacre at the lavish compound and was never heard from again. Barrett sets out for the home with his wife, Ann (Played by Gayle Hunnicutt), medium Florence Tanner (Played by Pamela Franklin), and Ben Fischer (Played by Roddy McDowall), another jumpy medium who has investigated the Belasco House before with another paranormal research team and was the only survivor of the previous investigation. As they explore the house, Lionel reveals to the team that he has created a machine that is able to rid the house of any nasty paranormal activity. Things become complicated when Florence becomes convinced that Emeric Belasco is not the one haunting the house but is actually his son, Daniel. As the group attempts to communicate with Daniel, madness begins to plague the group, possession is a daily occurrence, and repulsive horrors turn up behind doors that have been sealed many years.

Embracing more the macabre freedom that was surging through the veins of the horror film, The Legend of Hell House doesn’t settle on just telling us about the morbid back-story of the Belasco House. It dares to show us a little bit of the sleaze that took place and even enjoys some bloodletting from time to time. We hear about vampirism, orgies, alcoholism, mutilation, necrophilia, and cannibalism, just to name a few. Sounds like a kicking party, right? This is a film with plenty of sexuality boiling to the surface as characters plead with other characters for sex while even the shadowy spirits are getting busy. Most of it is unintentionally hilarious, especially when one character offers herself up sexually to a ghost (I dare you to watch that scene with a straight face). Despite some of the silliness, the film never seems to loose its grip on the gothic mood that creeps about it. The outside of the house is downright terrifying and certainly a home I would never dream of going in. The cherry on top is the black cat that waits in the fog outside, the ultimate Halloween touch. The interior of the home is crammed with shadows and hidden rooms that spit out decaying corpses and discolored skeletons. It’s all earth tones, which give the whole place a rotten feel, appropriate for what took place inside.

The Legend of Hell House does feature some pretty good performances, especially from Roddy McDowall as the spooked medium who refuses to help out. Only there for the large some of cash he was promised, McDowall’s Fischer is an irritating and prickly geek with oversized glasses who has to man up in the final moments of the film. I would never expect his character to suddenly become as brave as he does but that is part of the fun of his character. Revill plays Lionel much like every other head of a paranormal research team. He is deadly serious and always just a tad bit dry as he drones on about scientific theories. His wife Ann, however, suffers from a severe case of ennui and sexual repression, something the spirits of the Belasco House prey upon instantly. Wait for the scene where she tries to seduce Fischer. Rounding out the main players is Franklin as Florence, who seems vaguely similar to The Haunting’s Eleanor but also drastically different. She appears to be connected to the house and also a bit reluctant to leave. She is really put through the ringer as a nasty demonic kitty claws at her bare skin and a ghostly presence wishes to get busy with her. Franklin does get the film’s creepiest moment, a séance sequence that is lit entirely by harsh red lights. And keep a look out for Michael Gough as a very still Emeric Belasco.

While there are plenty of flashy moments strewn about The Legend of Hell House, it does take a page out of The Haunting’s playbook and does spend a good chunk of time allowing its character to really develop. They argue and fight much like they did in The Haunting but they are never allowed the depth that Wise’s characters were. There is no question that Edgar Wright’s fake trailer Don’t, which appeared in 2007’s Grindhouse, was inspired by the film. All it will take is a quick glimpse of the outside of the Belasco House and you will see what I am talking about. The second half of The Legend of Hell House is what really derails the film. The last act twist is sort of silly and doesn’t shock us nearly as much as it wants to. Despite how cheesy it may get, you can’t take your eyes of McDowall and his suddenly tough medium who was such a pain in the ass before. Overall, The Legend of Hell House is a fun little erotic spin on The Haunting and visually it is something to behold. The heavier use of special effects have caused the film to age poorly but as a lesser-known horror film of the 1970s, it actually manages to be a fun little ghost party. There is no doubt that you can do better but for those on the search for something they haven’t seen before on Halloween night, The Legend of Hell House may be just what the goth doctor ordered.

Grade: B

The Legend of Hell House is available on DVD.

That Old Haunted House: The Haunting (1963)

by Steve Habrat

I think that most critics and horror fans would all agree that Robert Wise’s 1963 chiller The Haunting is the king of haunted house films. Adapted from the novel by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting is a psychological spookfest that immensely enjoys developing its characters before it slow burns into a seriously terrifying blaze of unhinged madness and supernatural bangs. Reluctantly to get flashy with its special effects, Wise keeps The Haunting down to earth with only ghostly whispers just in the other room, shadowy faces crawling across the wall, and a buckling door, all of which scare the viewer more than a ghostly specter manifesting ever would. While it certainly won’t go over big with the blood and guts crowd, Wise crafts an arty and classy character study that certainly pushed the envelop for its time. While The Haunting didn’t initially blow me away when I first saw, repeated viewings and readings on the film have deepened my appreciation of Wise’s vision. The understated style of the film was the ultimate shock for me, that Wise was able to scare us so badly while barely lifting a finger. You’ll never hear knocking the same way again.

The Haunting begins with a lengthy back-story of Hill House, a sprawling mansion that has seen its fair share of suicide, death, and horror over the years. The film then speeds ahead to present day with Dr. John Markway (Played by Richard Johnson), a paranormal investigator, searching for supernatural evidence at Hill House. He has invited three other guests, Hill House inheritor Luke Sanderson (Played by Russ Tamblyn), psychic Theodora (Played by Claire Bloom), and supernaturally sensitive Eleanor Lance (Played by Julie Harris), to join him in his search. As the group settles in, they are given the history of Hill House and taken on a tour of the massive structure. While most of the occurrences are debunked instantly by Dr. Markway, the night unleashes horrors beyond the group’s imagination. To make things worse, Eleanor begins to loose her grip on reality and becomes convinced the house wants her to stay. Things go from bad to worse when Grace Markway (Played by Lois Maxwell) shows up to make sure her husband isn’t having an affair.

Right from the get go, Wise makes sure we know that Hill House is the star of this show. The house is certainly a character here as Eleanor constantly complains that the house is watching her and that it is demanding that she stay there forever. While it seems to have some ghostly spirits wandering its halls, the house itself appears to spring to life as doors swing shut, horrific banging can be heard echoing through the halls, and faces appear in the walls. We don’t need the characters to tell us that the house is evil, all we have to do is take a look around. The real beauty of The Haunting comes in the way it handles its supernatural inhabitants. There is no elaborate monster waiting to leap out of a darkened closet or damp basement and there is no doorway to Hell waiting under the stairs. It just seems like it is a home stuffed with bad energy and that is creepy enough for me. A good majority of the time, I wondered if the home was truly haunted or if one of the other guests had a sick sense of humor and was just out to give Eleanor a heart attack. For a while, Wise allows us to believe that I must say it adds a bit of comfort before he really allows his spirits to have their hair-raising fun.

When Hill House isn’t busy stealing the show, Wise keeps his camera aimed at the splendid Harris and Johnson. Harris is unforgettable as the emotionally fragile Eleanor, who falls apart at every little bump or whisper. She is incredibly naïve and repressed as she longs for the affection of Dr. Markway. Johnson never ceases to amaze as quickly tries to explain away all the activity that is taking place around Eleanor. He probes her inner demons and really digs deep into why she seems so emotionally unstable. Bloom holds her own as the lesbian psychic Theodora, who pines after the worrywart Eleanor. Wait for the scene in which a loud banging noise has Eleanor jumping into bed with Theodora. You’ll see why it raised a few eyebrows at the time of its release. Tamblyn is mostly a background player, a hard-drinking playboy who seems more interested in turning Hill House into his own private Playboy mansion rather than really getting to the bottom of anything substantial. When his fear claws its way to the surface at the end, he sure does make us feel it. The only one who I can honestly say is underused is Maxwell as John’s suspicious wife, Grace. Her character seems like it is only there to create more pandemonium but it sure is effective pandemonium. I just would have liked to see more of her.

I can’t praise The Haunting enough for showing us just how effective the tool of atmosphere can really be. Atmosphere is everything in a horror film and The Haunting has plenty to go around, that I can assure you. There is no doubt that the lengthy character development at the beginning is exhaustive but it pays off when the tragic climax freezes our blood. Wise adds another supernatural layer by the way he uses his camera throughout the course of the film. At one point, the camera zooms from the highest point of Hill House down to the face of Eleanor. Wise also twists and turns his camera while shooting the interior of the house, almost distorting it in small ways and making it seem otherworldly. Released in 1963, there is no doubt that the vague sexual repression and explicit lesbianism struck a chord with viewers. Intelligent and eloquent, The Haunting rightfully earns its spot among the horror elite. It dares to show us that very little can actually be quite a bit, something that more horror directors should pay attention to. Overall, The Haunting is one of the scariest, most unsettling films of the 1960s, one that rewards with multiple viewings and continues to terrify to this very day.

Grade: A+

The Haunting is available on DVD.

Paranoiac (1963)

by Steve Habrat

In the wake of Alfred Hitchcock’s slasher-thriller classic Psycho, British horror production company Hammer quickly tried to copy the slasher-thriller’s formula and success with a number of films that dealt with maniacs wielding a knife. While none of them were able to match the intelligence of Psycho, one did come close to matching it entertainment wise. Director Freddie Francis’ 1963 gothic thriller Paranoiac may not have bird-like nutjob Norman Bates but it does have enough chuckle-worthy melodrama, wild-eyed overacting, and creepy killers for every slasher fan out there. Francis, who never applies the attention to smaller details like Mr. Hitchcock so memorable did, still makes a luxuriant picture that holds itself together with plenty of nail-biting anticipation (When will that crazy Simon really snap?) and cobwebbed gothic atmospherics that was a must for nearly every single Hammer horror offering. Paranoiac never achieves the level of intensity of Psycho and you really can’t blame it because the film is riding a bloody wave that was becoming overly familiar.

Paranoiac begins during a shadowy anniversary service for three fallen members of the wealthy Ashby family. In attendance are drunken playboy Simon (Played by Oliver Reed) and emotionally fragile Eleanor (Played by Janette Scott) Ashby, the two children of the deceased heads of the Ashby family. Simon and Eleanor are also there to mourn over their brother, Tony, who apparently committed suicide after the death of their parents. It is said that Tony left a suicide note at the top of a seaside cliff and then plunged himself into a watery grave eight years earlier but a body has never been discovered. Meanwhile, a clause in their parent’s will prevented the large inheritance to fall into the hands of Simon and Eleanor earlier but the time has come for them to get the money. Recently, Eleanor has been suffering from chilling sightings of a man that she believes to be Tony although no one will believer her except her loving nurse Francoise (Played by Liliane Brousse). Simon launches a campaign to convince Aunt Harriet (Played by Sheila Burrell), who has taken care of Simon and Eleanor since the death of their parents, to lock Eleanor away in a mental institution and give him all of the money. Simon is on the verge of accomplishing this when a mysterious man (Played by Alexander Davion), who claims to be Tony, arrives at the Ashby doorstep. Eleanor is delighted by the return and doesn’t sense anything to be out of the ordinary but Aunt Harriet and Simon suspect that there is more to this return than they are being led to believe.

Paranoiac is skillfully photographed, the crisp black and white brought to gothic life through the moaning organ echoing through the scenic cliffs and dilapidated chapels. There is no question that Paranoiac is heavy on mood even though the story often times feels like it would have been more at home in an episode of Dark Shadows. Things really get nice and scary at the end, when our revealed maniac sits at an organ with mummified remains watching the ghastly performance. While all of this is just fine and dandy, nothing compares to the appearance of the knife-wielding killer with a mask that will make you loose more than a few nights of sleep. Going in to Paranoiac, I knew the film had a masked killer on the loose but wait till you get an eye full of this menace. Looking like a demonic angel in a cherub mask, the killer drifts about the old chapel armed with a bale hook and makes the disguise that Norman Bates hides behind look tame by comparison. This bloodthirsty maniac is certainly the macabre visual highlight of this thriller.

In addition to the soapy dramatics of the storyline, Paranoiac has plenty of soap opera style acting to fuel a dozen afternoon dramas. Oliver Reed gives a performance for the ages as Simon, a belligerent drunk who smells something fishy about the sudden reappearance of Tony. He screams bloody murder over the fact that he has run out of brandy and he picks drunken fights in a bar that leads to him waving darts around like a lunatic. Equally batty is Scott as the emotionally unstable Eleanor, who attempts suicide to free herself from her daily torment. She isn’t as hysterical as Reed but there is plenty of crazy in her character. Her dramatics come to a screeching halt with the reappearance of Tony, the only character who seems to have both feet on the ground. Then there is the chilling Burrell as Aunt Harriet, a frigid force in the Ashby household who keeps Simon and Eleanor in line. Harriet is only successful half the time but like any domineering force, you will straighten up when she enters the room and has had her say. The frame is given more eye candy in Brousse, a French fox who is carrying on an affair with the unhinged Simon. Rounding out the main players is Maurice Denham as Ashby family attorney John Kossett, a man who has slowly been growing more and more exasperated with the actions of Simon.

With surprisingly solid acting, wonderfully rich sets, and wisely placed twists that spring themselves on the viewer at just the right moment, Paranoiac generates enough tension and dread to become a must for fans of the slasher subgenre while Hammer horror fanatics will gush over it for hours after they have watched it. Francis masterfully delivers a number of moments to send your heart into your throat. An attempted double murder during a cliff-side picnic will grab a few gasps and the ghostly sightings that Eleanor suffers from will keep you on the edge of your couch. The film runs a brief eighty minutes so you don’t have to worry about the film overstaying its welcome or the pacing getting thrown off with a bunch of unnecessary filler. It may not come close to sly genius of what Hitchcock came up with in 1960 but as a British alternative, it gets the job done. I can promise that it would have Norman Bates kicking himself that he didn’t decide to make a quick trip overseas to raid this killer closet and don this killer’s attire while terrorizing Marion Crane. Maybe next time, Norman.

Grade: B

Paranoiac is available on DVD.

Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

After seeing many of the negative reviews of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1964 gore flick Two Thousand Maniacs!, I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that was much better and much smarter than it should have been. For those who are unfamiliar with Lewis, he is the man that created the splatter film subgenre of horror, cranking out ultra-violent films starting in 1963 with Blood Feast, which is considered to be the first gore film by many critics and film historians. Two Thousand Maniacs! is the film that followed Blood Feast and there is plenty of hacked off limbs to go around in this southern fried nightmare. On the surface, Two Thousand Maniacs! has a fairly easy set up and basically just moves around from one elaborate torture device to the next, but just when you have waved the film off as simply a gratuitous exploitation film, the film pulls an intriguing and thought provoking last act twist that I have to admit I never saw coming and I absolutely loved. Two Thousand Maniacs! is the first of the southern horror films, ones that played upon the idea of a bunch of northern strangers getting lost in the south and then finding themselves preyed upon by savage backwoods dwellers, a subgenre that would become increasingly popular as years passed. Surprisingly, Two Thousand Maniacs! has a handful of tense sequences, a shocker because I figured the film would be a cheaply made torture film that only existed to show us lots of the red stuff.

Two Thousand Maniacs! follows three Yankee couples who are lured into the small southern town of Pleasant Valley, where they are told that they are the guests of honor for an unspecified centennial celebration. Soon, the couples find themselves trapped in ghastly carnival-esque devices that brutally maim and kill them, all as the two thousand deranged citizens of Pleasant Valley happily cheer along. One couple, Terry (Played by Connie Mason) and Tom (Played by William Kerwin), discover the disturbing secret that the town is concealing and they decide they are going to attempt flee and get help. Mayor Buckman (Played by Jeffrey Allen) becomes aware that Tom and Terry are missing and he ends up rallying the citizens to launch a manhunt to bring the couple back before their secret is revealed to the local authorities.

Lewis certainly does not portray the south in the most flattering light, portraying the Pleasant Valley residents as sweet-as-sugar on the outside but hellish on the inside, every man, woman, and child howling along as the Yankee tourists meet horrific ends. The vilest is Mayor Bruckman and his henchmen, who in one scene gleefully hack off a woman’s arm for their upcoming barbecue, making vague hints at cannibalism. In another scene, a man is pulled apart by horses. Lewis allows his camera to creep in for a close-up of the man’s entrails and mutilated body, making sure we get a good look at the carnage before he cuts away. These sequences boast masterful make-up and visual effects photographed in color, hauntingly real especially for the time in which it was made. I’d heard that the gore effects had become dated but from what I saw, I can confidently say that I believe that they have held up just fine. For as impressive as this all looks, the repetitive flit from gruesome event to gruesome event became a bit wearisome. It is all broken by the gripping extended chase sequence, a scene in which Lewis establishes himself as someone who could make something far more riveting if he desired.

Much of the acting throughout Two Thousand Maniacs! is adequate, especially for this sort of B-movie drive-in entertainment. At times, I found the sound work to be abhorrent, the dialogue running together and indecipherable. I’m sure the neighbors were thrilled with me while I watched this. Jeffrey Allen has a hearty ball hamming it up as the boisterous Mayor Bruckman. He howls with delight as he hacks off the young woman’s arm, his glee all the more disturbing as his bulging eyes that light up at the sight of the butchery compliment his delight. Allen ends up being the standout in Two Thousand Maniacs! Slightly behind Allen are Mason as Terry and Kerwin as Tom. Kerwin embraces the typical macho role as the guy who has to protect the pretty damsel in distress, which is played by Mason. Everyone else ends up being largely forgettable, either becoming elaborate cartoons of southern stereotypes or in front of the camera because they look pretty.

In addition to the impressive gore that Two Thousand Maniacs! boasts, I was also intrigued by the exploration of the southern animosity for the north. Released in 1964, right smack dab in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, the film doesn’t overtly tackle the racial tensions at the time, but the film suspiciously bases its twist around the Civil War and the bitterness in its wake. The soundtrack declares that, “the south will rise again!” sounding more and more like a threat every time it is belted out. Lewis also has his camera focus in on the frantically waving Confederate flags in the hands of the wild eyed southern tormentors and a lynching rope that is carried around by a young boy that he uses to hang a cat, images that are evocative of horrifying images that surfaced from the south during this time. A hazy snapshot of the violent political climate at the time, Two Thousand Maniacs! isn’t as empty headed as many would be quick to deem it. In the end, the film is worth your time for its attempt at an intellectual statement, as I’m sure that many casual viewers would assume that sleaze cinema of this kind would never even make the attempt. Lewis certainly does and it actually pays off.

Grade: B-

Two Thousand Maniacs! is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The 25 Horror Films That Have Scared Steve… Pt. 3

by Steve Habrat

Here are four more of the films that freak me out. Enjoy! And feel free to comment with your own favorites. I love from hearing from out ghoulish readers!

14.) The Exorcist (1973)

It’s not the scariest movie of all time. I think it’s more of the hype that surrounds the film than anything else. But The Exorcist is one hell of a wickedly good horror film. It’s really quite amazing that this film continues to scare the living hell out of people almost forty years after it’s release. What makes the film so effective is its lack of hope and the absence of a true hero at the heart. Sure, little Reagan puking pea soup churns the stomach. And I’ll agree that the anxiety of waiting for the Devil to flare up in his “sow” becomes unbearable by the end. But it all boils down to the lack of light at then end of this dark, dark tunnel. While it would be criminal to leave it out of the top horror films of all time, I really think the film has been made out to be something its not. It’s the superstition that I think frightens people away more than the actual film does. But as a film, it ranks as one of the most powerful of all time. Loaded with enough jaw dropping performances to fuel a dozen horror films, The Exorcist has left its mark on the horror genre. It set the bar high for demonic horror and all these imitators can do is swipe at its knees.

13.) Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Savage in execution, Night of the Living Dead pins you up against the wall with it’s cinema-vérité-esque, is-this-really-happening approach, and then proceeds to take a big bloody bite right out of you. It’s grainy black and white cinematography, claustrophobic atmosphere, and, at the time, it’s never before seen gore catapults George Romero’s first installment in his zombie series to the front lines of the horror genre. Utilizing it’s Who is worse: the zombies or the survivors? to brutal effect also brings another distressing quality to an already incredibly austere film experience. Dismissed upon first release, it stands as one of the heavyweights of the atomic age paranoia, the idea of turning normal people into bloodthirsty cannibals rather than giant mutated ants, blobs, or wasp women had to have audiences fleeing in terror. The best part is that it still sends people fleeing in horror and the weak stomachs grabbing for the barf bags.

12.) The Birds (1963)

Auteur Alfred Hitchcock’s apocalyptic nightmare The Birds is a concept that if you were to be told about it today, you would probably assume would be the hokiest film concept you’ve ever heard. In Hitchcock’s hands, you will never look at a bird the same way ever again. And those special effects will make your jaw hit the floor. Patient and calculating in nature, The Birds slowly builds upon one disastrous attack after another. Just check out the mounting tension when Tippi Hedren sits outside a school house and a lone raven lands on a swing set just a few yards away. Then one raven turns into twenty, then forty, then hundreds. I dare you not to start clutching the armrest of your seat just a little harder during that scene. And when these attacks finally erupt, they will make cower behind your couch. While its slow pace might drive some viewer away from it, when the shit hits the fan, you start to feel the dread of the characters. When will the birds attack again? How are they going to keep them out of the house? This is one that will cause you to yell at the screen more than once. Hitchcock weaves it all with devilish glee and elevates a simple B-movie concept to another level.

11.) 28 Days Later (2002)

            Sure, Danny Boyle may have made the feel good film of 2008 (Slumdog Millionaire), but his 2003 apocalyptic vision 28 Days Later will scare the living shit right out of you. I’m becoming convinced that Boyle can perfect any film genre he wants! While widely known now, it still has to be the most artful vision of the end of the world ever dreamed up. It elegantly pays respect to the apocalyptic horror genre and through it all, Boyle brings a new brainchild to the table: running zombies. I should warn you, these zombies are absolutely terrifying. Flailing and snarling like demons and spewing bloody vomit, they are called infected and they have redefined the term zombie. While it mostly is an intimate portrait of survivors wandering a post apocalyptic Britain, the film manages to lure you in with it’s chilling shots of abandoned London. Boyle also makes stunning use of the atmosphere and he makes us feel the distressing isolation. The film becomes about finding love in the face of annihilation but the path it chooses to take is one that will shake you to your bones. I promise, if you have not seen 28 Days Later yet, it’s unlike any horror experience you have had. You will be left speechless by its beauty and rattled by its relentless intensity.

Creep on back tomorrow for the final entry in this Feature and see the final top ten. In the meantime, click on the Halloween pin-up girl above to be taken to our tiebreaker poll. The voting closes at midnight tonight. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Prevues of Ghoulish Coming Attractions…

The Birds (1963)

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NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached trailer.

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