When Steve from Anti-Film School asked me if I wanted to contribute a list of my five favourite movie monsters the first thought that came to mind was Toho. I did a month-long feature on the Japanese production company Toho and covered a few of the studios monster flicks. It would be pretty simple to compile a list of five of my favourite Toho monsters. Godzilla was the first horror film I ever loved. If it is easy it isn’t worth doing, right? Who the hell said that anyway? I thought I should challenge myself and at the same time come up with five titles that were lesser known. What variety of monster seems to get less love? By Georgette; I’ve got it! Female monsters! I am bringing the “girl” in Goregirl to the table for my favourite movie monster list; Cinq Monstres Féminins (Five Female Monsters).
Cinq Monstres Féminins
Delphine Seyrig as COUNTESS BATHORY in Harry Kümel’s 1971 film DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS.
A newly married couple’s lives are forever changed after meeting a countess while staying at a beautiful old hotel.
…THE SEDUCTIVE MONSTER…
I could have easily filled this list with five female vampires. There are countless brilliant performances in the sub-genre by women. The sexy, smart, seductive female vampire. Both men and women fall under her spell and oh, what a way to go! One of the absolute sexiest, smartest and most seductive of them all is the immensely talented Delphine Seyrig’s Countess Bathory. The infamous Countess Elizabeth Báthory who allegedly tortured and killed hundreds of women and bathed in their blood to maintain her youth. The Countess arrives with her assistant as the sun is setting at the nearly abandoned hotel; only the newlyweds to keep her company. She quickly acquaints herself with the couple and sweet sadism soon follows. Daughters Of Darkness is a sexy, stylish and psychological trip where violence and eroticism reign. The beautiful locations adds an old world charm to the contemporary setting as does its Countess. Countess Bathory seems to have come from another time, another century perhaps. As sophisticated as she is nasty; a chic, sexual, hungry beast. Delphine Seyrig is outstanding as the sophisticated, powerful and brutal creature. One of the most elegant movie monsters of all time; Seyrig is a class act.
Aurora Bautista as MARTA and Esperanza Roy as VERONICA in Eugenio Martín’s 1973 film A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL.
Marta and Veronica run an inn in a tiny Spanish village where sexy, young female guests check in but don’t check out.
…THE RELIGIOUS MONSTER…
Marta and Veronica are two sisters with repressive attitudes guided by religious principles who believe they are doing god’s work. At least that is what Marta, the more dominant of the two believes. Marta takes the accidental death of a female tourist tanning topless on their rooftop as a sign that they are to punish women of loose morals. Veronica is the subservient sister and goes along with Marta regardless of her comfort level. Veronica is having an affair with a young man who works for them and is twenty years her junior. She refuses to get completely undressed during these trysts for <em>moral reasons</em>. Marta has no such outlet for her sexual frustrations and was once engaged to be married until her fiancée ran off with a younger woman. Marta is a severe woman who is not easy to like. Is she a monster though? Blinded by her jealousy and hatred for other women she uses religion as an excuse to murder. Despite Veronica also being blinded by her religion (and an accomplice to her sister’s crimes) it is clear she is not comfortable with Marta’s decisions. The sisters are a fascinating pair and their escapades are complimented by all manner of religious imagery and expression. In one of my favourite scenes, Marta is spying on some young men swimming and runs guilty through thorny bushes arriving home lashed, bleeding and breathless; frantically she washes and scrubs the sin from her flesh. Aurora Bautista and Esperanza Roy who plays Marta and Veronica do one hell of a job! Although these are two huge personalities they are played with a great deal of restraint. A Candle for the Devil is stylishly filmed with gorgeous scenery but it is all about the sisters who use their religion as an excuse to murder nubile young beauties who are unfortunate enough to end up as guests in their inn.
Meredyth Herold as DAUGHTER and Michele Valley as MOTHER in Nikos Nikolaidis’ 1990 film SINGAPORE SLING.
A private eye is searching for a woman named Laura, and follows the trail to the home of an incestuous, sadomasochistic mother and daughter team.
…THE SEXUALLY DEPRAVED MONSTER…
If ever a film deserved the tag of polarizing it is Nikos Nikolaidis’ 1990 film Singapore Sling. There is more unsavory sex acts in this thing than you can shake a stick at. The comedy and the black and white photography do take some of the edge off, but I doubt this film is going to be palatable for most people. The women are killers, but they are far more interested in exploring the lines between pain and pleasure. Prepare yourself for shock therapy, water torture, golden showers, vomit orgasms and excessive amounts of masturbation. Mother looks like a silent movie star and has a flare for dramatics. She speaks her dialog in French and translates herself in English. Despite Daughter‘s actions she comes off as slightly naive and is in a constant state of pre-orgasm. Singapore Sling is partially narrated and Mother and Daughter often speak directly to the camera. Mother and Daughter are pleasure monsters. They will do anything in the name of sating themselves regardless of the results. They torture each other and the male guests who end up in their home. Mother and Daughter are definitely the most sexually depraved monsters on this list. Mother played by Michele Valley and Daughter played by Meredyth Herold both give bold and fascinating performances. They are monsters of a different variety; a delightful mix of degenerate and class. You’ll be glad the film is black and white (it is a really great looking film also) as there is stuff on display here that you would not want to see in color.
Béatrice Dalle as LA FEMME in Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s 2007 film INSIDE.
A woman about to give birth is terrorized in her home by a mysterious psychotic woman.
…THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS MONSTER…
Béatrice Dalle is the mysterious psychotic woman. Her intentions are simple; to take by force the baby inside of her victims stomach. La Femme as she is noted in the credits, is just straight up nuts. She kills a lot of people and barely breaks a sweat over it. Sarah the woman due to give birth unsurprisingly receives some visitors and La Femme barely seems phased by it. Oh well, more people to kill. She doesn’t care who she kills and she doesn’t care how many. She doesn’t really even go to any trouble to be careful about the whole business. She is tough, relentless, brutal and extremely sober for a woman who is completely and utterly psychotic. Béatrice Dalle is a talented and appealing actress who is a fascination to watch. Dalle’s performance is easily one of the most driven and brutal portraits of a psycho I’ve seen in a film from the past 20 years. Watching a very pregnant woman being terrorized is nasty business but the audacity of showing the action from the fetus point of view wins it a whole lot of extra respect. This however is Dalle’s movies, she owns it like she owns that adorable little fetus in Sarah’s belly.
Nobuko Otowa as YONE and Kiwako Taichi as SHIGE in Kaneto Shindô’s 1968 film KURONEKO.
Yone and her daughter-in-law Shige are gang raped, murdered and their home set ablaze by a group of samurai. The women return from the dead as vengeful spirits whose sole purpose is to kill and drink the blood of every last samurai.
…THE VENGEANCE MONSTER…
Kuroneko takes place during wartime and its opening scene illustrates the brutality of the period. The way the samurai swarm the women’s home was like wild animals stalking their prey. Once inside they raid the home of food and then each one takes their turn raping the women. The horrific scene is a strong argument for the women’s revenge but negotiating with the spirit world comes with a high price. The women are the focus of every shot. Their light ethereal appearance made everything around them appear darker. Kuroneko’s dream-like visuals are enhanced by beautiful and subtle touches like Yone’s slow rhythmic dance and Shige’s cat-like attacks. Kiwako Taichi is bewitching as Shige. Bound by her pact, Shige is a seductive and vicious spirit but the woman she once was lingers inside. Nobuko Otowa is superb as Yone. Yone is a strong, serious spirit who methodically goes about her rituals. Her unusual eye makeup gave her an appropriately menacing appearance. Yone seems to have considerably less connection to who she was and is more the vicious for it. Revenge is rarely sweet. Kaneto Shindô directed another film focusing on a pair of women during wartime called Onibaba which I highly recommend you check out if you enjoy Kuroneko; the two are great companion pieces.
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by Steve Habrat
By the late 60s and early 70s, Hammer Films was beginning to loose some of the popularity that the studio once enjoyed. They started trying to compete with the wave of exploitation horror that was beginning to emerge, which led to the studio cranking up the sleaziness in their pictures. In 1971, one of Hammer’s final triumphs would be director John Hough’s Twins of Evil, the third installment in the Karnstein Trilogy, which also featured 1970’s The Vampire Lovers and 1971’s Lust for a Vampire. Steamy, seedy, extravagant, and violent, Twins of Evil is a hugely entertaining horror film that retains Hammer’s gothic visual style while upping the amount of sex, nudity, and graphic violence for a crowd craving some exploitation insanity. Starring an aging yet wickedly sharp Peter Cushing and the beautiful former Playboy Playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson (who also happened to be real life twins), Twins of Evil is a thrilling combination of the vampire film, satanic horror film, and witch-hunt thriller, all expertly balanced by screenwriter Tudor Gates. It’s also extremely atmospheric and loaded with Hammer’s beloved castles, heavy fog, crucifixes, tangled woods, and rotting cemeteries.
Twins of Evil introduces us to innocent Maria (played by Mary Collinson) and rebellious Frieda (played by Madeleine Collinson), two identical twins who have traveled to the town of Karenstein to live with their uncle, Gustav Weil (played by Peter Cushing). As it turns out, Weil is the leader of a local witch-hunting group called the Brotherhood, who tracks down young girls who have been accused of witchcraft and burns them at the stake. As the twins settle in to their new home, they happen to hear about a wealthy local by the name of Count Karnstein (played by Damien Thomas), who is well known for practicing the dark arts and coming from a family of Satanists. One evening, Count Karnstein plays host to a satanic cult, and through a barbaric ritual, they happen to contact the spirit of Countess Mircalla (played by Katya Wyeth), who proceeds to turn Karnstein into a vampire. The next day, Karnstein is travelling through town when he bumps into Frieda, who has become smitten with Karnstein’s evil reputation. That evening, Frieda accepts an invitation to Karnstein’s castle, where she gets turned into a vampire and tortures a young girl with Karnstein. After Frieda attacks a member of the Brotherhood, Weil captures his niece and is forced to lock her up until he can decide her fate. His plans change when a local schoolteacher by the name of Anton Hoffer (played by David Warbeck) approaches him about the possibility of vampirism running rampant through the town.
Easily ranking as one of the most fun horror films that Hammer Films ever released, Twins of Evil is an exotic breed of vampire film. The first half is a witch-hunting horror film ripe with hair-raising scenes of Cushing’s Weil ruthlessly running down young girls, tying them to a stake, and burning them to a crisp. Though the film has a heavy B-movie vibe, Hough doesn’t hold back exploring the senseless brutality of these witch-hunts. After finding a man dying in a foggy graveyard from a vampire bite, Weil and his Brotherhood attack the first girl they spot wandering through the woods and drag her off to face a cleansing fire. It really makes for some alarming glimpses of religious extremity at its absolute worst. For a stretch, Hough lays off some of the witch hunting in favor of a satanic horror film set to growling organs, hooded high priests, human sacrifice, and a cry for Satan that would make the climax of Rosemary’s Baby blush. Hough uses the satanic pit stop to glide straight into vampire mayhem that is simultaneously bloody and sexy. The true strength of the film is the way it seems to be able to switch subgenres on us in the blink of an eye.
Performance wise, the actors and actresses seem to have been encouraged to have as much fun with the material as humanly (or inhumanly) possible. Cushing is at his absolutely cheesiest (that is meant as a compliment) as the perpetually serious Weil, an antihero willing to burn an innocent victim at the stake just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’ll loathe him at first, but as the film progresses, you’ll be forced to admire the way he sticks to his beliefs. As far as the Collinson twins are concerned, they actually prove to be a pair of competent actresses for a pair of Playboy Playmates. The standout of the two would be Madeleine as the wicked Frieda, who enjoys flirting with the dark side. Hough seems pressured into showing off their bodies for the camera, something that I’m sure Hammer insisted on considering they have Playboy Playmates in the main roles, but the Collinsons don’t seem to mind too much. Damien Thomas gives a vile turn as the satanic Count Karnstein, who grins and snarls through a pair of vampire fangs and shrugs his shoulders in boredom over a satanic ritual that fails to impress him. He can pull off seductive, creepy, and charismatic like a real professional. David Warbeck also holds his own as the kindly schoolteacher Anton, who basically becomes the true hero of Twins of Evil.
While Hammer’s earlier horror films were stone-faced and relentlessly somber, Twins of Evil seems to have a sense of humor about itself. The soundtrack—while exceptional—is wildly over the top, resembling something you might have heard in an Italian spaghetti western. Its all mighty trumpets and ominous organs blasted for maximum effect. Visually, Hough sticks to Hammer’s gothic calling card, but at times he seems to be really laying it on thick, especially in the early scenes when stuffs a gigantic crucifix into a handful of shots. Then there are the overdramatics and the not-so-subtle symbolism that chew on the screen. Cushing screams and shakes his fists at the sky while yelling, “God has sent me TWINS OF EVIL!!,” and during a steamy make-out scene, one character suggestive strokes a nearby melting candle. These winking moments could have been a bit distracting, but Hough has a way of making them strangely charming. Overall, while it certainly drives a stake right through the heart of subtlety and its strongly self-aware, Twins of Evil is still a scrappy little horror movie with plenty of blood, sex, and nudity to go around. It’s a smooth blend of multiple subgenres that all compliment each other quite well in the end. Twins of Evil ranks as one of Hammer’s strongest films in their horror vault.
Twins of Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Raymond Esposito
Echoes in a Quiet Room
When Steve asked me to write an article for Anti-Film School, I was honored. When he said, the topic was “my” top five horror movies I thought, “Perfect. Two things that I love…horror and my opinion. I can write that in about ten minutes.” It took me almost five weeks…not to write the article but to choose the movies. For a horror fan and dark fiction author, asking me to pick my five favorites is like asking me to eat a single potato chip…I can do it, but it’s really difficult. There are, after all, so many great horror scenes spread out across so many movies. The challenge loomed even larger when I considered all those scenes that filled me with dread, but didn’t actually belong to a horror film. Take for example, Saving Private Ryan. It’s a war movie true, but there is one scene in that film that disturbs me more than most horror scenes I’ve watched. Near the end of the film an American soldier fights a Nazi. The Nazi gets the upper hand, pins the American’s arm and so begins the short struggle with a very large knife. The American soldier pleads while the Nazi slowly impales him all the while softly whispering. I always skip it. I’ve watched hundreds of other knife scenes that had no effect on me, but this one is different. Perhaps because there is nothing more frightening than watching another human plead for their life – not in screams of horror, but in the soft voice of reality.
So that was my dilemma. How does one decide the “best” or the “scariest”? Is it based on how many times one jumps in fear? Do you have to spend the entire film cowering in your seat? Does it matter if you were five or forty-five years old when you watched it? Can a movie from the seventies scare anyone these days? These were all difficult questions I needed to consider. I mean I can’t just “rank” things without a proper criteria – that’s anarchy. I spent a number of weeks contemplating these and many other questions. It was a quest not for my five scariest movies, but for the criteria to reduce a list of at least twenty five choices. (Steve said be creative, but I was certain he didn’t mean go ahead and make up my own rules.) Five. I needed just five.
Resonance. That was my final criteria. I decided it did not matter when the movie was made, how old I was when I saw it, or even if it was the overall scariest movie. It had to be a film that resonated long after I watched it. And resonate in a “bad way.” By that I mean I had to find myself in situations where I remembered the movie and maybe ran a little faster up the stairs, or closed the door a little quicker…and locked it, or actually decided not to do something because I remembered “that scene.” Now that level of fear may seem a little extreme for a forty six year old guy who writes horror stories. All I can say, in my own defense, is that an active imagination is both a gift and a curse. I feel sorry for people who are so pragmatic that a horror film could never scare them or those who can dismiss the darkness as just the world without light…people with imaginations understand that the darkness is so much more than just daytime’s counterpart. Those pragmatic souls may lead a braver life than me, but I don’t think they’re having as much fun. When it comes to horror, well I’m still ten years old.
Resonance. Like that scene from Saving Private Ryan. That helped. It brought my list down to eight films. Did I want to cheat? Hope that Steve would overlook my three “extra” films? Maybe he just threw out a number and didn’t really care about the actual count. I considered it. I realized however that not all eight films ranked the same in their resonance. I mean, The Strangers left me as enraged over the characters’ stupidity as I was filled with dread. That single line from the darkened doorstep, “Is Tamara here?” was creepy but it’s not like it made me pause each time the doorbell rang (well maybe for a couple of weeks.) The randomness of why the killers choose that couple, “Because you were home,” certainly confirmed my belief that the world can be dangerously random, but hey, that’s why I have a gun and a 135 pound dog. So The Strangers didn’t feel like top five material. So seven it was. And while I’ll admit I was a big fan of keeping the lights on after that opening scene of Darkness Falls, today it is hard to recall why I found it so frightening…it no longer resonates in emotion or in memory…so I was down to six.
I turned to the three films competing from my long spent youth. One was a keeper because it changed me so fundamentally that it had to be number one. The other two presented a real problem. The first film stayed with me for years and I can still recall that fear. Forty years later the “idea” still resonates. The other by and far was the scarier film and if I wanted to be popular, this would be the choice. The Exorcist should be on anyone’s list of scary films, but for me it would be number six because as crazy as it sounds, The Omega Man gave me more nightmares than the young Linda Blair and her friend Captain Howdy. It resonated longer and broader too. The hooded “white” people. Those crazy eyes. Jumping from windows onto Heston’s car and that primal requirement to “get inside before the sun set” were all the perfect fodder for my five year old imagination…and eight…and ten. Perhaps it was the combination of my age in 1971 (5), the fact that I saw it at a drive-in, and that my brother and I kept the scare alive by taking turns screaming… “Watch out for the white people,” while locking each other out of the house at sunset or in the dark basement. Today it can’t hold up to new films…but when I was five…oh boy!
So nine hundred and something words later I arrive at my top four. Number four is a little odd, for two reasons. The first is that once they cleaned up the film quality for DVD, the effects were sort of lost…I mean the gore looked fake.. The second, and bigger issue, is that following The Evil Dead were the Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness and both films turned the original into a sort of “horror-comedy trilogy.” This was not how I felt in my first viewing of The Evil Dead and I don’t believe Sam Raimi intended it as a comedy. Nonetheless, my seventeen-year-old self loved this movie and I still do, at least in memory. It stayed with me for a long time. Partly because of that “demon in the basement” scene…that is one of my primal fears…basements. But mostly because of the texture of the film and those cackling demons. Demons can talk, they can scream, hell I don’t care if they sing, but that damn giggling…that’s creepy and I want it to stop.
The film Paranormal Activity is more dividing than a presidential election. Audience opinion on Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 56%, which demonstrates that this film has only two camps…love it and hate it. The biggest criticism I hear from the haters is “it was stupid.” I’m not sure what that means, but perhaps they wanted more special effects. Maybe they needed to “see” the demon. Granted this low budget Indie only used a bag of flour and an old photo, but for me it comes in firmly in the number three position. It resonated. I jumped several times during the film and actually felt something I don’t often experience during horror films…fear. Sometimes it’s what we don’t see that frightens best. Years later I still worry that I may awake to find my wife standing over me in the darkness (I’m not worried that she’ll be dragged down the hall because I see that as my escape opportunity.) I thought about setting up a camera to assuage my fear but then thought, “wait I saw that movie…everybody dies.” We have an attic hatch in our laundry room. It’s a low ceiling attic, more like a crawl space and I’ve never been up there. I have no desire to come face to face with a spider in a place that I can’t run. (I have no facts to support that spiders live in our attic, but it’s prudent to err on the side of caution.) Sometimes at night when I pass that dark laundry room, I think about that hatch. I wonder if there is a photo of someone I know sitting amongst the installation. I often pick up my pace as I pass and try to keep my eyes forward, but at times…it’s just so difficult not to steal a glance.
Six months after I saw my number two film I was in a hotel traveling on business. Every now and again I get it in my head to take the stairs just to burn a few extra calories (I pretend twenty steps will offset that coffee cake muffin I ate). On this particular night, I took the two flights up to my room. It was a well-lit and well maintained stairway at the Hilton. Absolutely nothing to conjure thoughts of creepiness. Halfway up I remembered The Grudge and thought, “this is exactly why people die in horror films you idiot…now run!” I don’t often take my own advice, as my pragmatic self can be a real f-in kill-joy, but that night I did. Later… after I locked the door, turned on all the lights, checked under the bed and in the closet, and pulled back the bathtub curtain (don’t invite trouble leaving that closed) … I felt foolish for running up those stairs. The Grudge had so many great moments. Probably the “under the covers” scene was the worst, followed closely by “meow boy” and “whatever the hell that mouth noise was.” I still like to think about it from time to time. It doesn’t scare me as much today, but I can still remember how much it did frighten me. It still resonates at least in memory.
When a film touches a “primal” fear, when that film changes how you experience an activity, when it can transfer to any body of water…that is the ultimate definition of “resonates.” Before the summer of 1975 I was a water rat. We lived in Connecticut about thirty minutes from the beach and I loved the ocean. At the age of nine, I was certainly aware of sharks, but seldom thought about them beyond science class. After Jaws my love of the ocean was forever tainted. Besides being frightened of the sea, my nine year old self began to question the safety of ponds and lakes…and swimming pools. Several times I had a dream that my bed had been washed out to sea and the waves kept threatening to toss me into that dark green water where Jaws waited. I guess being in the ocean is like that attic crawl space…not much chance of escape. I live in Fort Myers Florida now and still go to the beach and I still swim in the warm gulf. Never though without consideration that perhaps at that very moment, a black-eyed death is charging silently towards me. And all these years later I still take a quick look at the deep end of my pool before I get in, I pretend I’m checking for snakes (they get in sometimes) and in part I am, but in truth I’m also looking for that fin. Jaws may not be a horror story in the classic sense, but its attack on primal fears, the way it forever changed my thoughts on the ocean, and for being an iconic symbol, it earns its place as number one on my list.
So those are my top five horror films…with some creative cheating to add the others…and it is what I love about the genre. It’s a personal experience – some things scare universally but most just individually. I don’t believe special effects cause fear. I’m not even certain it is the monsters on the screen. I believe the truly haunting moments, the terrifying things are just a reflection of the stuff we brought with us to that movie. The dark little thoughts our imaginations create and our rational minds work to hold at bay. And when every so often, if we’re lucky, a story stirs those fears, we hear the sounds like echoes in a quiet room, and they whisper to us… Yes, I understand.”
A little about Raymond:
American novelist, Raymond Esposito lives multiple lives. He is a husband, father of five, the executive vice president of an international professional services firm, proprietor of the website Nightmirrors.com, and when time allows, the voice of Graveyard Radio. His debut novel, “You and Me, Against the World,” is book one of his Creepers Trilogy and provides his own spin on the zombie apocalypse.
To purchase “You and Me, Against the World,” click here.
by Steve Habrat
There has been three attempts to bring Richard Matheson’s vampire tale I Am Legend to the big screen and two of them have been fairly decent and one has been absolutely wretched. Boris Sagal’s 1971 adaptation The Omega Man is one of the fairly decent attempts. Starring Charlton Heston as the last man on earth going up against a troupe of albino mutants with poor fashion sense, The Omega Man is tripped up by lousy pacing, uncomplimentary music, and bursts of melodramatics that never quite resonate like they should. The Omega Man does strike gold when the film focuses on Heston exploring deserted Los Angeles. The Omega Man is actually a science fiction film but it is also interested in being a horror film even if it is not very effective at scaring us. Furthermore, the film lacks a creepy monster that never really makes us cower in fear. Despite the numerous flaws, The Omega Man is still a dreary vision of a world succumbing to violence and destruction, all while still flirting heavily with Cold War paranoia.
In March 1975, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union wage biological war on each other, wiping out most of the world’s population. The few survivors that remain have been exposed to a lingering virus and turned into robe-wearing albino mutants who are sensitive to sunlight. Two years later, the last man on earth seems to be U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D. (Played by Charlton Heston), who spends his sunny days driving around deserted Los Angeles looking for mutants to dispatch. These mutants, who find a leader in Matthias (Played by Anthony Zerbe), a former news anchor who has organized the mutants into a “Family”, spend their nights prowling the streets and attempting to lure Robert from his heavily fortified penthouse. While out looking for supplies, Robert spots a female survivor who quickly flees from him. After the mutants capture Robert, he is about to be put to death when the survivor he stumbled across earlier narrowly saves him along with another heavily armed survivor. These two fresh faces are the street-smart Lisa (Played by Rosalind Cash) and former medical student Dutch (Played by Paul Koslo), who is also familiar with Robert. It turns out that Lisa and Robert are protecting a small group of survivors that mostly consists of children. When Lisa’s brother comes down with the deadly virus, Robert begins racing to find a cure that could save mankind.
The early scenes of The Omega Man are the ones that really grab the viewer. In these stage-setting moments, Robert wanders around a sprawling wasteland clinging to what is left of his sanity. He drives around like a maniac, shooting at fast moving shadows that may just be figments of his imagination. After he totals one car, he sets out to find another all while carrying on conversations with himself. He attempts to suppress his sex drive, ripping a racy calendar off a wall in a rage. He spends his evenings playing chess against a statue, sipping scotch, and dressing up fancy for easy meals that are interrupted by attacks from the cloaked mutants taunting him outside. You can’t help but wonder when this guy gets any sleep! Heston does a fantastic job in this one man opening and he keeps us fascinated by his every step. After about thirty minutes in, The Omega Man can’t keep up its one-man show and it introduces us to the less interesting Lisa and Dutch. The film then busies itself with establishing an odd love story that we want to celebrate considering how lonely Robert is but it comes off a bit far fetched and faintly creepy considering Heston seems a hell of a lot older than Cash.
While The Omega Man has its roots in science fiction, it tries to extend them to the realm of horror even though the film wouldn’t scare a three year old. It certainly is bloody and gory, but it never once gave me the creeps. The ghouls that terrorize Robert all look like Regan from The Exorcist sporting black cloaks and sunglasses, making them all look like demonic monks who are getting ready for a trip to the beach. Their leader, Matthias, tells Robert that he wishes to do away with Robert because he is the last remnant of an old culture. The creepiest member of the “Family” is brother Zachary (Played by Lincoln Kilpatrick), who appears to be the most deadly of all the mutants. He should have been the leader over the Matthias, who is a rather dull antagonist. The wandering packs of mutants do have a few moments where they work (the wine cellar scene comes to mind as does the scene where they reveal their eyes), but they are all so skittish that when Robert fires one shot from his machine gun, they scatter in all directions rather than continuing to charge. Are you shaking in your boots yet?
As far as the acting is concerned, The Omega Man features some mediocre performances, the best being Heston as Robert. Cash seems a bit forced and far from convincing as a pistol packing bad ass who is capable of slapping Robert around. For such a terrifying lioness, she is easily tamed into a purring kitty. Koslo’s Dutch is a pretty crafty fighter when he is let loose on the howling mutants but he isn’t really given much to do except walk around shirtless and babble on about cures and whatnot. Heston goes a bit overboard at certain times, falling victim to over dramatics, sometimes seeming like he has forgotten he is acting an a B-movie that is more interested in gore rather than bellowing emotion. Still, he wins us over in those fantastic opening moments and I was willing to stick it out with him until the very end. I also enjoyed seeing what weapon he would whip out and use on the ghouls next.
There are multiple moments when The Omega Man is unintentionally hilarious, especially when a serious moment is thrown off by wildly upbeat music that seems like it was borrowed from a blaxploitation film. You will also have a ball spotting dated make-up work, especially a scene in which one character is beginning to transform and he obviously has powder sprinkled in his hair. Director Sagal is infatuated with filling The Omega Man with religious symbolism to further drive the point home that Robert is a savior and he will deliver the last remnants of mankind from evil. Every time that Robert is tied up, Sagal contorts him to look like Jesus hanging on the cross. Even though there is much to laugh at, The Omega Man still features several moments that are sharply executed, especially the sequences that show off abandoned Los Angeles and some bloody clashes between Robert and the mutants. It may be a huge hunk of smelly apocalyptic B-movie cheese, but The Omega Man is filled with enough morbid surprises to keep things interesting, transforming this film into a fun guilty pleasure.
The Omega Man is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If you’ve ever found yourself pondering about what film Roman Polanski made after Charles Manson and his bloodthirsty band of cult killers slaughtered his wife, his unborn baby, and a handful of his friends, the answer to that question is a dreary, mud caked version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Perhaps one of the bleakest films you will ever see, considering that in August of 1969, several of his loved ones were so senselessly slain, the film was made out of his engulfing depression, and the result is all sound and fury indeed, but not necessarily signifying nothing. In fact, Macbeth signifies a lot, mostly the events that surrounded the Tate-LaBianca murders. There have been a handful of films made on the notorious Charles Manson, but none have been as lingering as Macbeth is. Polanski molds the tragedy to fit with certain events from the infamous murders, descending into trippy montages, blood-spattered hallucinations, and at the center, a devious Macbeth who dispatches his loyal cohorts to slaughter at will to make the prophecy that was predicted by a motley band of witches remains true. Of course, anyone who has studied the Manson Family murders understands that Charles Manson was a fan of the psychedelic rock record The White Album by The Beatles. He was convinced the album was a witchy message to him about the end of the world, a race riot between the whites and blacks that would devour the earth and leave only him and his followers to rule the world.
In Roger Ebert’s review of Macbeth, Ebert declares that the reason the provocative Polanski elected Macbeth as the film he would make in the wake of his beautiful wife’s death is elusive, and I have to agree with his insight to an extent. It is confounding that he would find solace in the Bard’s material, but Polanski has also made the point that he found himself in a bottomless pit of depression, a depression he had to so desperately shake from his life. He makes the claim that he always wanted to tackle a Shakespearean project and that critics would have labeled any film he would have made as a subtle commentary on the murders. After watching his vision, I found it be one of his most terrifying films (creepier than Repulsion or Rosemary’s Baby), and perhaps a more personal, cathartic film. It’s virtually impossible to watch the intrusion on Macduff’s castle while he is away by two murderers who hack up his wife and children. Maybe it is, after all, easy to see why Polanski gravitated to this material. There is fury and superstation leaking out every shot in this film to the point where watching it in halves makes it easier to endure. I should add that it is even harder to watch the climax, which is a handheld shot of a savage fight between Macbeth and Macduff, and not think that maybe this is a personal fantasy of Polanski, where he imagines himself as the vengeful Macduff attacking the despotic and ignorant “king”–Manson.
If you find yourself drawn to this film, you should be aware of what you are getting yourself into. This is Shakespeare after all and the furthest thing from modern day interpretations like 1996’s Romero & Juliet or 2001’s O. The medieval surroundings may send some casual film viewers fleeing, especially when the Bard’s dialogue starts erupting from the mouths of these thespians. For the viewers who watch this with a glass of red wine in their hand, theater junkies at that, they will be tantalized with overdramatic delight as they quote along with the renowned dialogue. I’ve always found medieval projects a tough pill to swallow, and theater even more grueling. Although I find that the underlying implications this film contains to be attention grabbing and an opportunity to watch someone mend wounds that will never truly fade. I don’t believe Polanski when he says that this was an excuse to get back to work. In fact, I think it would be more commendable if he were to admit just that, that it was made in response to the atrocity that shook his very existence and to publicly mend.
Polanski’s Macbeth is a gruesome affair, one that seems hell-bent on showing the audience the carnage that Polanski saw in his home. The film is also a Playboy Production, yes the same Playboy responsible for the nudie magazines created by Hugh Hefner. He serves as a producer here, and judging by some of the films graphic nudity, heavily involved with some of the production, especially with the casting of the beautiful Francesca Annais as Lady Macbeth. This film contains a sequence in which Lady Macbeth sleepwalks nude, a result of oppressive fear, guilt, and paranoia for all the terrible manipulation running rampant in her life. I will only sum up Macbeth briefly, as many should already be familiar with the story. The story follows a Scottish lord Macbeth (Played by Jon Finch) who stumbles upon three witches whom prophesize that he will become king. Macbeth becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming the ruler, taking control of fate and destiny, and murdering the current king. Macbeth gets what he wants and becomes a vicious ruler who will stop at nothing to keep his secret that he murdered the previous ruler to ascend the throne even as suspicion bears down on him. Meanwhile, his wife Lady Macbeth slowly descends into madness in the wake of her guilt.
There is much to compare and contrast with real events in Polanski’s Macbeth. The witches could be seen as mirroring The Beatles, who Manson believed were predicting Helter Skelter, which would bring about the end of the world. He believed that he was to become king of a new world and his followers would be his loyal disciples. Loyal in the pre-apocalypse they were, when at his command, they were sent out to butcher innocent people, primarily wealthy white families and leave “witchy” messages in the hopes that the white cops who would find the scene blame African Americans, sparking a race war. The witches prove to be false, dabbling with psychedelics, which coincidentally The Beatles were too at the time. I have also pointed out the similarities in the siege on Macduff’s home, which ends in slaughter. Funny enough, he is away while this takes place. Polanski has said that he found the inspiration for this scene from when a Nazi SS officer terrorized his home. Manson was also rumored to be a sympathizer of the Nazi party. The scene in which Macbeth stabs to death King Duncan is also graphically violent as Macbeth stabs relentlessly, evocative of what the Manson Family did to his friends and family, all of which were stabbed multiple times all over their bodies. Even during a trippy hallucination montage, we catch a brief glimpse of a baby being ripped from the mother’s womb, an image all to personal to Polanski, who lost his unborn child at the hands of the murderous intruders.
Earlier on in this review, I said that Macbeth was Polanski’s most terrifying film, even more so than Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, two films I highly respect and our proud members of the horror community. Macbeth scares because of it’s scowling pessimism, understandable at the time. It scares because of Polanski’s bobbing authenticity and the darkness of its soul. Macbeth is the ultimate Manson Family film, proving to be higher brow than the decadent exploitation wannabe The Manson Family and more eloquent than Manson, My Name is Evil, which both tackle the Family head on. I believe that Polanski denies that this film is about Manson because he wishes to give Manson zero satisfaction. Manson was blatantly power hungry and had a voracious desire for fame. Definitive if slyly indirect, Macbeth peers into a troubled soul, stanch and grisly about what it displays, even if there is some dishonesty and recoil when it is confronted.
by Steve Habrat
If one is to break down the subgenres of the horror genre, it can be separated into three separate groups—the horror of personality, demonic horror, and the horror of Armageddon. The first subgenre, horror of personality, can often be the most terrifying of the three subgenres because the monster is ultimately our fellow man. While Targets and Psycho are the two films that are often praised for starting this subgenre, neither chilled me like Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 film Straw Dogs. Masquerading as a drama and a thriller, Peckinpah’s growling film sits firmly as one of the most horrifying motion pictures I’ve ever sat through. It fits securely into the horror of personality subgenre and it leaves the viewer shaken for days after seeing it. Perhaps it’s the fact that a young Dustin Hoffman, an actor you would never picture in a film of this sort, gives this film its disconcerting spirit. The audience would never equate him with a role that requires him to shed his skittish nice guy roles and descend into a quivering, bug-eyed monster when his back is pushed against the wall. I’ve caught some flack for allowing this to occupy a spot on my scariest movies ever made, but I maintain that Straw Dogs is indeed a horror film. It will scare you and it will send you away locking your doors at night. And perhaps investing in a mantrap.
Director Peckinpah (Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) follows wimpy American mathematician David Sumner (Hoffman) and his stunning wife Amy (Played by Susan George) as they move to rural England so David can peacefully work on research. Their quiet life is soon interrupted by a group of bullying locals working construction at their new home. The locals consistently poke fun at David and lust after his gorgeous wife. When David finds their beloved cat dead and hanging in their closet one evening, Amy demands that David confront the men as she suspects that they are responsible for this gruesome act (Still convinced it’s not a horror movie?). Simultaneously, the film keeps a watchful eye on Henry (Played by David Warner), a pedophile who currently walks the small town streets. The townsfolk are aware of his troubled past and consistently complain about his interaction with children. A young girl Janice seduces Henry one evening and when her brother comes calling for her, Henry accidentally kills the girl. Her father, Tom Hedden (Played by Peter Vaughan) begins a manhunt for Henry and rounds up the men who are also terrorizing David to find Henry. The two plots meet and the film ends in a sweaty, bloody, and unsettling siege on David’s home.
If you have ever seen a film from Sam Peckinpah, you understand his ability to heighten tension before an explosion of action and or violence. As an example, watch the opening moments of his famed western The Wild Bunch. Here, Peckinpah does the same thing within the first few minutes of this particular film. David goes to a local pub to purchase cigarettes and while in the pub, we meet some of the leering, ticking time bomb locals. They appear vaguely animalistic and predatory as they take giant swigs of ale (a deliberate appearance that I’m sure Peckinpah was aiming for) and we can tell they lust after violence as well as David’s wife. They are looking for a good fight. Two of them even go as far to ask David about violence in the United States. They never convey disgust or concern about the violence over seas, but hints of amusement at what David has to say. The stress on the viewer, which stems from the constant threat of a confrontation, is what builds the terror to staggering heights.
While Straw Dogs is a film about the animal within, lurking even in the most sophisticated of human beings, the film is also a commentary on territory and property (“I will not allow violence against this house!”). David is just a pup to the big dogs that prowl the town’s streets. Tom is the symbolic pact leader of the locals. One of them even goes as far to tell David “We always protect our own!” It’s a bit heavy handed at times, but it does add a chill or two near the end. Especially when David snaps from the runt into a seething predator that will not stop his defense until the last antagonist is dead and bleeding. The film also offers up a disturbing rape sequence in which Amy is rapped by two of the attackers. During the first rape, she shows glimmers of pleasure and then shrieks in terror when a second attacker mounts her. The scene suggests that the attackers are under the impression that they can claim anything and this situation rears its ugly head again during the final siege. David and one of the attackers Charlie have a savage, doglike fight for Amy. It’s bloody and ends with a death that will have you covering your eyes.
Straw Dogs will linger with you for days after you have seen it. The film packs a number of savage death sequences in which Peckinpah slows the action down and gives you a pristine view of the carnage. It’s also Hoffman’s silent slip from a rational man into a beast that will haunt your dreams. He so expertly blurs the line between sane and insane that when he attacks one of the men at the end, there is an aura of unpredictability. How we will he strike next? Trust me, wait for the scene with boiling cooking oil. It makes me cringe just replaying it. Straw Dogs is a film that forces the viewer to analyze outwardly, but the scariest trick up this film’s sleeve is the analysis that points inward. Sure, we can debate all day about the horrors lurking in the people around us, but this film will also make us stop and think about ourselves. Am I capable of something like this? Would I savagely kill or choose death at the hands of someone else? Not necessarily the easiest question in the world, is it? That is what makes Straw Dogs one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. The self-reflection it will no doubt evoke from the view. It will send you away petrified of something you can’t escape from—yourself. Grade: A
Straw Dogs is now available on Blu-ray.