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
As horror moved into the 1970s, the genre was becoming extremely savage, bloodthirsty, and unforgiving. Exploitation horror was gaining momentum and even the arty offerings didn’t hesitate to get right in your face with bludgeoning images of sex and violence. Subtlety was slowly getting buried six feet under, but one British horror film chose to take a different approach to creeping you out big time. That film would be director Robin Hardy’s 1973 Pagan musical-horror film The Wicker Man, an unsettling look at religion that slowly works up to a fiery climax that has become one of the most well known finishes in movie history. At first glance, most probably wouldn’t be quick to label The Wicker Man a horror film. It’s got a folky atmosphere with a number of strumming musical breaks, several of which feature free-spirited ladies dancing around in the nude. Once called “the Citizen Kane of horror films” by the film magazine Cinefantastique, The Wicker Man slowly grows on the viewer before fully revealing an ugly side. Undoubtedly, it will take the viewer a moment to adjust to it, especially when a pub breaks out into song in the first ten minutes and Hardy presents a slow-motion sex scene. But as Hardy lures us deeper into this island and allows us to mingle with the inhabitants, you’ll start to feel a churning sense of dread as Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle seals Edward Woodward’s Sgt. Neil Howie’s fate.
The Wicker Man begins with devout Christian Sgt. Neil Howie (played by Edward Woodward) arriving at Summerisle Island, where he is sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison. As he opens his investigation, the straight-laced Neil meets with locals who claim never to have heard of Rowan. As Neil explores the island, he witnesses several couples having sex in the open air of a park, observes the island’s doctor attempting to rid a young girl of a sore throat by putting a frog in the girl’s mouth, wards off the seduction of the innkeepers beautiful daughter, Willow (played by Britt Ekland), and bursts in on a graphic school lesson. To Neil’s horror, he is wandering around on an island full of Pagans. After finding Rowan’s grave and discovering that buried in her place is a hare, Neil meets with island’s leader, Lord Summerisle (played by Christopher Lee), who explains the history of the island, which is known for its fruits and vegetables. Enraged by his meeting with Lord Summerisle, Neil launches his own investigation of the island’s May Day festivals and in the process, he makes a shocking discovering that puts him in mortal danger.
What makes The Wicker Man such an uneasy experience is the exploration of religious extremity. We are asked to identify with a devout Christian, a virgin who trembles at the very idea of polytheism worship and open sexuality. While in front of the chuckling islanders, Neil wears an authoritative mask and a rigid stance, although it is easy to see that he is repulsed by what those around him claim to believe. Behind closed doors, he kneels beside his bed and prays furiously to his one true God. On the other side of he room lays the nude Willow, knocking on the wall and singing a hypnotic folk song in the hopes of luring the uptight Neil into her bed. She dances and sways around her room, seeming to cast a spell through her motions as Neil fights furiously to repel her advances. He sweats and stumbles, clinging to the wall as if an unseen hands were trying to drag him from the room. Early on, Hardy lets us know that Neil suffers from his religious beliefs, but he slowly allows us to glimpse the insanity of the islanders as they march in their animal masks and unveil their true intentions with our God-fearing protagonist. It’s horrifying what they will do for a successful crop season, a stomach-churning plot that reeks of lunacy and blind devotion. Even scarier is the way they smile proudly as they look upon their work, singing proudly and loudly up to their glowing sun god.
The two men caught in the center of this religious exploration are Christopher Lee’s shock-haired Lord Summerisle and Edward Woodward’s Sgt. Neil Howie, both who give drastically different but equally exquisite performances. Woodward is sensational as a man who just can’t open his mind up to the possibility that others do not believe what he believes. He is constantly irritated by the practices of the islanders and he even attempts to intervene when he catches an earful of what is being taught to the children in school. In a sense, we do feel bad for him when we see him struggle to stay pure, but it’s tough when he is basically a victim of his own faith and repression. However uptight he may be, you can’t help but feel for him when he is sacrificed at the hands of madness during the climax. On the other side of the spectrum is Lee’s Lord Summerisle, the island’s unhinged leader that smiles sarcastically as Neil accuses him of sacrificing the girl he is there to find in a Pagan ritual. By the end of the film, as the island wind ruffles up his hair and he explains that they have lured Neil into a trap, you’ll truly be convinced that Lee has never been more terrifying. He’s a realistic villain—a bonafide cult leader convinced that bloodshed is the answer to the island’s recent misfortunes. Lee is completely engulfed by the performance as Hardy zooms in on his euphoric signing with his faithful band of followers.
While I must confess that The Wicker Man didn’t entirely win me over at the beginning, the film grows on you with each passing second. I feared that I would never warm to the way Hardy works in some folky musical numbers, but they possess a pull that becomes hard to resist. The final chant around the burning wicker man is unforgettably scary, especially when complimented by Neil’s terrified pleas to God. The film also looks gorgeous, boasting breathtaking cinematography that makes great use of its picturesque Scottish locations. Overall, as far as the “Citizen Kane of horror films” praise is concerned, I don’t particularly believe that the film is scary enough to really earn that title. Sure, it is thought provoking and it certainly is a one of a kind, but it doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you. It disturbs more often than it terrifies. However, this isn’t to say that The Wicker Man isn’t a really good film. It’s handsomely made, sharply acted, cleverly written, and it features one of the most powerful climaxes in horror movie history. You will undoubtedly be playing it back in your mind the next day, but it won’t have you switching on a nightlight for weeks after.
The Wicker Man is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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.
The Legend of Hell House is available on DVD.
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Canadian broad who has had a lifelong obsession with horror films. Perpetually working on a screenplay, avid collector of soundtracks, belt buckles and wigs. You can find me on WordPress: http://goregirl.wordpress.com/, YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/goregirlsdungeon or follow me on Twitter: @ggsdungeon.
Goregirl’s Top Five Scariest Italian Horror Films
Nothing can whip me into an excited frenzy like finding an Italian horror and/or thriller I haven’t seen. I have hungrily devoured Italian horror titles like a rabid Ms. Pac-Man. It is getting more difficult these days to find films I haven’t seen. I am particularly fond of the Giallo of the 1970s. The word Giallo is Italian for “yellow”, which refers to the common coloring of cheap pulp fiction novels. The term “Giallo” is used to describe Italian literature and film that contains elements of crime, mystery, horror, thrillers or eroticism. I never miss an opportunity to talk about Italian horror! Italian horror generally speaking tends to be plot heavy with copious twists and red herrings and while the mood can be positively electric I don’t think I would classify most of these as “scary”. Coming up with five was more difficult than I anticipated. I wanted to insure five Italian directors were represented so I allowed myself just one title per director. After much inner debate I chose the following five horror films hailing from Italy that provide not just thrills but also chills…
THE BEYOND (1981)
Directed By Lucio Fulci
I could easily have filled this entire top five with Lucio Fulci films! His brilliant entries Don’t Torture A Duckling, Zombi 2, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and The Psychic all deserve high praise. I chose Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. In my opinion The Beyond is Fulci’s scariest, creepiest and goriest effort. The premise of The Beyond sees one of the seven gateways to hell being breached. This gateway lies beneath a hotel the main character inherits. Crazy shit happens, some of it’s illogical but every last bit is a fascinating, visual treat. People are nailed to walls, eaten by tarantulas, melted by acid, and of course there is classic Fulci eye trauma! And there are zombies! Beautiful, rotted wonderfully vial zombies! Don’t worry about a perfect logical narrative; just let the nightmare wash over you! The Beyond is classic Fulci at his gory best, but I can not recommend more highly checking out any of the aforementioned Fulci flicks!
BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
Directed By Mario Bava
Mario Bava is another favourite director whom I struggled to choose just one film for. Certainly his fantastic anthology Black Sabbath, the brilliant Kill Baby Kill!, the masterful The Girl Who Knew Too Much or his magnificent Blood and Black Lace would have all been great choices. I went with what is perhaps Bava’s best known film; Black Sunday. The stunning Barbara Steele takes on dual roles as Princess Asa Vajda and Katia Vajda. It is a wonderful richly gothic tale of a witch put to death by her own brother who returns 200 years later to seek revenge on her descendants. “The Mask of Satan” (which also happens to be one of its alternate titles) once pulled from the face of our witch makes for some grotesque visuals! Black Sunday was one of my dad’s favourite films and it absolutely terrified me as a child. While Black Sunday doesn’t quite have the same effect on me after 20ish viewings I think it is still one of Bava’s creepiest and most beautiful films.
Directed By Sergio Martino
No list of Italian films is complete without an entry from Sergio Martino. Anyone with even a casual interest in Italian horror probably knows the names Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava and Dario Argento but the lesser known Sergio Martino made several epic entries through the seventies. My favourite film by Martino is definitely The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh starring the gorgeous and sexy Edwige Fenech; Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail wouldn’t be far behind. I love these films but I would be hard pressed to say any of these are “scary”. Martino’s most frightening entry is Torso. College students are being murdered and the only clue to the killer’s identity is a scarf. A group of lovely ladies take refuge in the Italian countryside only to find themselves the killer’s target. The good old balaclava; headwear of thieves and serial killers alike! Torso has a balaclaved baddie, amazing scenery, plenty of skin and some impressive brutality! The final chase scene between the surviving female and the murderer is intense and exciting. Torso is gritty, sexy, suspenseful, violent and it has a great soundtrack to boot.
Directed By Dario Argento
What can I say about the great Dario Argento? The man knew how to construct a violent and visually stunning film. Argento’s Deep Red, Tenebre and Suspiria have long been personal favourites. Deep Red will always be my number one but for the “scary” category I would have to go with Suspiria. Suspiria takes place in a prestigious dance school where shenanigans of a supernatural nature are afoot. There is a feeling of unease established from the moment new student Suzy Bannion arrives at the school that doesn’t let up until the final credits. Its beauty is quite remarkable but is only one of its impressive qualities. Suspiria is claustrophobic, intense, suspenseful, thrilling and features some very impressive murder sequences! Suspiria is like an adult fairy tale and its impressive setting and props add a whimsical and yet terrifying sense of dread. Its brilliant soundtrack courtesy of Goblin is one of the best horror film soundtracks ever created! Performances are excellent across the board from Jessica Harper who plays Suzy, Stefania Casini who plays her friend Sara and great turns from classic actresses Alida Valli as Miss Tanner and Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc. Suspiria is part of Argento’s “three mothers trilogy” and I can not recommend enough also checking out Inferno, his second of the trilogy. Suspiria is a beautiful nightmare.
Directed By Lamberto Bava
Lamberto Bava is the son of the great Mario Bava. While I enjoyed Lamberto Bava’s Macabro, A Knife in the Dark, and Delirium, in my opinion Demons is definitely Bava’s masterpiece. There have not been many effects-intensive creature creations from Italy so for that reason alone this film is special. There are however a lot of other reasons Demons is special. The premise is a simple one; a group of people are given passes to a screening of a horror film and become trapped inside the theatre with a bunch of demons. Demons is very high-energy, it doesn’t let up for a second. The gore is plentiful; the effects are outrageous and occasionally gag-worthy. Most importantly, Demons has some really freaking cool looking demons! The transformations are fantastic; polished nails being pushed out in favor of nifty new gnarly claws, teeth pushed out to upgrade to some nice big pointy ones. It is a beautiful thing! Demons definitely has its campy qualities but it only adds to its charms. Demons insane finale involving a dirt bike, a sword and a helicopter falling through the roof is not to be missed! If you enjoy Demons, there is also a sequel you can sink your teeth into. Demons 2 isn’t as good as the original, but it certainly has its moments! Demons is an orgasmic, goretastic joy!
by Steve Habrat
It is virtually impossible to shake Terrence Malick’s 1973 debut film Badlands from your head once you have seen it. This arty crime thriller that is based off of the real-life 1958 killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate watches the horrific actions of these two young murderers with a frustrating and nonjudgmental gaze throughout the hour and a half this senseless rampage lasts. This is a gaze that turns your insides to stone and freezes you in place while you watch Malick soften the blows of the chilly violence with whimsical music and achingly beautiful images of nature being nature. To say that one becomes almost as detached as these two misfit killers continue their journey is an understatement. You will fail to be moved when Martin Sheen’s captivating Kit blasts one of his victims without a glimmer of remorse as the body falls to the ground. Welcome to Badlands, one of the most extraordinary debuts from a director you are ever likely to see and one you are surely never going to forget. Complimented by a marvelous voice over teen dream confession from Kit’s galpal and accomplice Holly, Badlands becomes the road trip from Hell as bodies senselessly pile up even though our two young lovers know that this wind-in-the-hair freedom cannot and will not last.
One day while walking home from work, young garbage collector Kit Carruthers (Played by Martin Sheen) notices dreamy redheaded teen Holly Sargis (Played by Sissy Spacek) twirling a baton in her front yard. The two really hit it off but Holly is reluctant to really get close to Kit because she fears that her father (Played by Warren Oats) will not allow her to go out with a garbage collector. Soon, things begin to go sour at work for the rebellious Kit and he decides that he is going to run off with Holly. After Holly’s father refuses to let Holly leave, Kit murders him and then burns the house down. The two disappear into the woods and they attempt to make a life for themselves but they are soon discovered and chased off by a trio of bounty hunters. As Kit and Holly begin making their way towards the Montana badlands, they leave a trail of random murders in their wake. As their journey continues, police and bounty hunters slowly close in on the duo but Kit has no intentions of going down without a fight.
Malick’s Badlands is relentlessly surreal and oftentimes strangely dethatched, seemingly off in its own little world, much like the two misfit fugitives at the heart of the film. As they flee from their dead-end small town and wander into the strange and unforgiving landscape, Malick’s camera comes to life and gazes longingly at this barren, almost alien land that is acting as the stage from Kit to lash out at anyone standing in his way. Malick never demands that we come to one definitive conclusion about these kids and he even makes Kit strangely charismatic despite his trigger-happy tendencies. He almost clings to some foreign string of innocence as southern drawl threats pour from his mouth almost like syrup. This is the most disturbing part of Badlands, the fact that we never truly loathe the monsters causing all this senseless chaos. They seem to enjoy the thrill of it all even though the fully understand that they are bound for chains and shackles at some point. At one point, Kit tells his buddy Cato (Played by Ramon Bieri) that they may make a try for Mexico but just by the tone in his voice, you get the impression that he doesn’t half believe that they will make it.
Then we have Spacek’s Holly, who speaks to us in a child-like confession, dejected but never truly alarmed by what she has seen and done. While Kit thinly conceals his doubt that they will stay out of the law’s clutches, Holly doesn’t hide it in her confessions. She is a typical teenager, one who lacks one specific direction and is still trying to get to know herself. She speaks of moving on after her run with Kit is over and finding another boy to settle down with, almost like this is just a backyard game of cat and mouse that will end when her father calls her in for dinner. At one point she hints that she knows she is Kit’s puppet, telling a young girl that “Kit says ‘frog’ and I say how high” just before Kit guns the girl down. The two watch these murders with a sense of awe, impressed that they are capable of taking lives without a nervous blink or a shoulder twitch. Holly almost seems fascinated by it, even when her own father meets one of Kit’s bullets and lies bleeding out on the floor. She is angry for only a moment, slapping Kit as tears well up in her eyes but this is only brief and it is all the creepier for it. Later on, Holly watches a man slowly die in front of her and she almost studies it, pouring over the fading light in the man’s eyes before his last breath exits his lungs.
As Badlands inches out of small town America and into the flat plains, the film takes on a western vibe with hints of a fairy tale whispered by a naive angel. These fairy tale hints also come from the chiming score from George Tipton, which enters the scenes low and adds an aura of whimsicality to the looming terror. While Badlands certainly frightens us with its insistent grit realism, it soothes us over with the beauty in between the fits of violence. The magnetic terror is abundant in the performances from Spacek and Sheen, two young talents who give the performance of their careers. Sheen is the one who earns the gold star for his chatty killer who sees himself as an adrift rebel with a soft spot for Nat ‘King’ Cole. Oats is also brilliant as Holly’s stern father who dares to stand up to Sheen’s rebellious greaser. The cinematography is to die for and the 50’s set design is fussy but never particularly overwhelming. Overall, Malick’s accessible but emotionally complicated vision of an America loosing its grip on innocence stands as an American classic. It is essential viewing for those who have a deep love of cinema and a film that elbows its way onto the list of most impactful films you are likely ever to see.
Badlands is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
After George Romero left his mark on American cinema with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, he made a handful of films that were largely overlooked until he returned to the zombie genre in 1978 with Dawn of the Dead. These films, made from 1971 to 1976 included There’s Always Vanilla, Hungry Wives, The Crazies, and Martin. Perhaps the best two in this string are 1976’s Martin and his 1973 film The Crazies, which like Night of the Living Dead, held up a cracked mirror up to the Vietnam War. In The Crazies, Romero didn’t go to great lengths to mask the fact that he was blatantly criticizing the unpopular war, even including characters that openly discuss fighting in the Vietnam War. While The Crazies certainly boasts Romero’s trademark brainy subtext, the film becomes one of his shoddier pieces, one that, like much of his other work, is extremely low budget and feels like gorilla style filmmaking. It’s the ideas and images that keep The Crazies in the horror game and the trademark gore is what has recruited its cult following.
The Crazies takes us to Evans City, Pennsylvania; where a mysterious biological weapon named Trixie has accidentally made its way into the town’s drinking water and is turning the good citizens of the peaceful town into wild-eyed “crazies.” After a series of shocking murders, U.S. troops descend upon the town and begin executing a quarantine of Evans City. As the citizens are rounded up without explanation, violence erupts and many of the citizens end up dead or irreversibly insane. Firefighter David (Played by W.G. McMillan), his pregnant nurse girlfriend Judy (Played by Lane Caroll), and David’s best friend and firefighter Russell Clank (Played by Harold Wayne Jones) begin trying to find a way out of the plague-ridden town. Along the way, they hook up with a terrified father Artie (Played by Richard Liberty) and his teenage daughter Kathie (Played by Lynn Lowry), but as their journey continues, certain members of the group begin to think they may be infected with Trixie and putting the rest of the group in danger.
The Crazies is ripe with images that could have been pulled from stock footage of the Vietnam War. In addition to our two heroes who served in the war (David was supposedly Green Beret and Clank was an infantryman), the opening moments of the film are frenzied flashes of an invasion, soldiers bursting into homes, rounding up civilians, encountering resistance from terrified citizens who only wish to know why they are being forced from their homes. In the opening moments, The Crazies gets by on the gossip spilling from the mouths of the actors in front of the screen, trading stories on mysterious truckloads of soldiers spilling into the town while Romero’s shaky camera hovers in all the confusion. His rapid fire editing is certainly in tact in these opening moments, giving The Crazies an almost documentary-like feel to it, like someone quickly spliced together these apocalyptic images for the evening news. The lack of a big budget also allows The Crazies to feel more authentic, much like the limited green that kept Night of the Living Dead grounded in reality. This imagery really comes to a head when a priest bursts from a church that has been overrun by the soldiers, none of them listening to his pleas for peace. He rushes into the streets with a can of gasoline, splashes it all over his body and then sets himself ablaze while horrified onlookers shriek and soldiers rush to put him out of his misery. It is scenes like this that elevate The Crazies from simple B-movie carnage to grave reflection, leaving it lingering in your head the next day.
The Crazies also uses the idea of peaceful people suddenly erupting into violence to really give us a few sleepless nights. A father destroys the inside of his home while his two terrified children watch, one child finding their mother murdered in her bed while the father douses the downstairs in gasoline and then drops a lighter into the gas. Countless wild-eyed citizens arm themselves with double barrel shotguns, pitchforks, and knitting needles to kill them a few gas-masked soldiers who refuse to spill any updates on their situation, some soldiers not even fully understanding why they are taking over this seemingly harmless small town. There are very few images more harrowing than a grinning granny walking up to a soldier and stabbing him in the throat with a knitting needle. There are also the scarring images of children witnessing their parents murdered by the trigger-happy soldiers, who fail to find any alternative to calmly talking down the citizens trying to defend themselves. Romero expertly blurs the infected with those who are on the defensive, causing the viewer to be unsure who is really sick and who is protecting themselves, further adding to the unruly terror.
The Crazies does suffer from some shoddy craftsmanship at points but one can assume that is because of Romero’s limited budget. Yet having seen Romero with a big studio budget (Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead) and comparing it with his much more resourceful work, I have to say I prefer the contained Romero. There is plenty of gore in The Crazies, a trademark of Mr. Romero and there are plenty of disturbing moments to solidify The Crazies as a horror movie legend. The presence of a few familiar B-movie faces (Richard Liberty and Lynn Lowry, who together get one of the most unspeakable sequences of the film) also makes The Crazies worth your while. The rest of the cast does a fine job, especially Jones as Clank, who may or may not be sick with Trixie. The appearance of Richard France as the cure-seeking Dr. Watts is also a fun addition, playing almost the same role he would eventually play in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The Crazies works on multiple levels of horror, from the documentary-esque footage on the streets of Evans City to the good citizens turning mad all the way to the scenes with several major government officials discussing dropping an atomic bomb on the town, all of which are classic Romero touches. Even though it is not as consistent as Romero’s other horror offerings, The Crazies ultimately settles like a brick in the bottom of your stomach, cynical and suggesting that our own unwillingness to work together will be our ultimate downfall.
The Crazies is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
When it comes to horror remakes, I tend to be less forgiving than I usually am with my reviews of classic horror films or more recent original work within the genre. To me, the never-ending string of remakes and face lifts that have been given to horror classics in the past several years just reflect the sorry state of Hollywood and reveal their appalling lack of creativity. But since Hollywood continues to force them on us, I guess we have to separate the good from the very, very bad. In early 2010, we saw the Breck Eisner directed remake of George Romero’s 1973 cult horror film The Crazies. The Crazies ended up being one of the better remakes that I have seen, ranking next to 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes and 2004’s Dawn of the Dead as one of the best ones out there. The Crazies actually works because there is some minor involvement from Romero, who helped pen the screenplay and served as executive producer of the film. With Romero’s involvement, The Crazies plays with the idea of the people we know and love suddenly becoming homicidal maniacs and the savagery that lies in the ones who are supposed to be protecting us.
The Crazies takes us to the small farming town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, where a government engineered biological weapon code named Trixie is accidentally unleashed in the town’s drinking water. Soon, David (Played by Timothy Olyphant), the local Sheriff, and his wife Judy (Played by Radha Mitchell), the Ogden Marsh doctor, begin noticing strange behavior in the town residents. After an encounter at a high school baseball game and several other bizarre murders, David, Judy, and David’s dependable deputy Russell Clank (Played by Joe Anderson) find the town under quarantine and gas-masked soldiers separating the sick from the healthy. When Judy, who also happens to be pregnant, is separated from David, he breaks away from the soldiers and ventures back into town to find Judy and save her. With Russell at his side, they have to continuously avoid the trigger-happy soldiers patrolling the town and the roaming “crazies” who will tear anyone apart who get in their way. As they look for a way out of the war-zone town, the government’s horrifying plans to contain Trixie are revealed.
Director Eisner approaches The Crazies in a surprisingly conservative manner. Sure, it has its fair share of stomach churning gore for the horror gurus who thrive on the red stuff but it is incredibly muted for a horror film and especially for material from Romero. Even though it is conservative in approach, the film is fairy intelligent behind all the apocalyptic hoopla. The material is very weary of the government and what they are willing to reveal to their own civilians. The army refuses to tell the terrified citizens of Ogden Marsh what exactly is happening to their friends and family and even worse, if the army detects any sign of infection while processing the civilians at a makeshift quarantine camp, they panic and rip the individual away from their confused family. The images are reminiscent of those we have seen from the Holocaust and they still haven’t lost their lingering power. The film also touches on the idea of those that we think we know suddenly becoming homicidal maniacs who will maim in the blink of an eye. A scene in which a husband locks his wife and young son in a closet and then lights the house on fire will send chills down your spine.
The Crazies has a talented lead in Timothy Olyphant’s David, who is determined to protect his pregnant wife any way he can. His role doesn’t demand too much of him, playing the cookie cutter Sheriff who is just searching for answers and trying to protect the town citizens but Olyphant does his best to add some emotional depth. I did like the way Eisner had his character react when he was forced to take the life of one of the roaming “crazies.” Instead of reacting with indifference, his initial response after the shot if fired from his gun is, “Oh, my God!” The first time he is forced to shoot one, he races to the crumpled body, stricken with shock and grief over taking the life of someone who was close to him and he thought he knew. Olyphant also has some great chemistry with Mitchell as his soft-spoken wife Judy, the pair getting a handful of great one-liners. Together, they provide us with some tender moments of affection and even some sly black humor. Joe Anderson also gets to have some fun as the deputy who may or may not be loosing his mind. He ends up getting the best line of the film, “Welcome to Ogden Marsh! The friendliest place on earth!”
The Crazies doesn’t attempt to break any new ground and instead retreats to familiar territory to scare us. It applies the same old jump scares and despite my dislike for this technique, a few actually end up working. The premise of a small town gone to Hell has been done countless times before and Eisner really does nothing to build upon it. There are a number of chilling scenes; the standout is the group trying to hide from an army helicopter that wishes to wipe them off the face of the earth. They hide in an abandoned car wash that just so happens to be the hiding place of a handful of snarling “crazies.” The scene ends in a shockingly sadistic death that will not settle well in the pit of your stomach. The Crazies doesn’t shy away from B-movie premise and it is aware that the idea is a bit outlandish. Eisner does manage to pepper in a little fun in all the solemnity (both a certain nursery scene and a run-in in the town morgue come to mind) and the fact that the film doesn’t go on longer than it needs to is a major plus. Eisner wastes absolutely no time getting to the action that we came here for and I applaud him for it. Also, for fans of the Romero original, keep an eye out for a seriously awesome cameo from original cast member Lynn Lowry. Scaled back for mainstream audiences (there is no father raping his daughter in this remake), The Crazies is a bare bones horror remake that thankfully doesn’t ask us to switch off our brains to have a spooky good time. You’ll be happy you gave this remake a chance.
The Crazies is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If you are one of the individuals out there who suffers from coulrophobia, a crippling fear of clowns, you should stay far away from Álex de la Iglesia’s hectic foreign art house flick The Last Circus, a bloody allegory that is a visual fiesta and resembles something from the minds of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. For all its visual gifts, The Last Circus falls apart slowly and by the end, is a giant lumbering mess of a film. The load grows heavy with too many characters serving no purpose but to fill up a frame and populate the circus that is the main setting. The Last Circus does succeed as a bizarre genre mash-up, at one moment it’s a horror film, the next second it’s a dark comedy, the next moment it’s a romance film, and the next it’s a perverse action film. Experiments like this don’t always work (Take a look at the western/science fiction action dud Cowboys & Aliens for obvious proof) but The Last Circus balances it quite nicely. Good thing since this film is already walking a swaying tightrope.
The Last Circus packs as much content as it can into its hour and fifty minute runtime. It saddened me to find that there are quite a few slow spots in what promised early on to be a nonstop rush. Beginning in 1937 and using the Spanish Civil War as the backdrop, a guttural militia group drops in to a local theater where a sad clown and happy clown are performing for a cheering group of children. Just outside, bombs fall and shake dust from the ceiling onto the clowns. The militia leader is looking for any help they can find and they need every able bodied man to join their ranks. The happy clown is forced into service, handed a machete, let loose on the National soldiers, and in a frenzied attack, the happy clown lays waste to an entire platoon. He is soon captured and placed in a military jail, forced into labor and waiting out a death sentence. His young son vows to free his father and almost succeeds. The film then fast-forwards to 1973, where the son, Javier (Played by Carlos Areces) has now grown up and gotten a job working as a sad clown for a local circus. He is paired up with the happy clown Sergio (Played by Antonio de la Torre), who is married to the striking and beguiling acrobat Natalia (Played by Carolina Bang, who wears multiple wigs throughout the runtime). Javier falls in love with Natalia, who appears to share the same feelings. Sergio is abusive and unwilling to let Natalia out of his site, as he suspects she is cheating on him with another man. Javier and Sergio soon clash with each other for her affection, a clash that escalates into a violent stand-off between the two men. Murder, savage beatings, self-mutilation, graphic sex, and sinister figures from the past all emerge as the two fight to the death for Natalia.
While the only way to describe The Last Circus is a truly bizarre work of art, the film seems unsure what to do with everything crammed into it. Characters get lost in the shuffle or are unrecognizable due to ever changing physical appearances, the ending is too CGI heavy, and the constant grotesqueries mar what could be a thought-provoking event. I’m sure the film is more rewarding for the Spanish audiences, who are the ones who will be able to piece this allegory together. The film also has some cool use of stock footage that was incorporated smoothly throughout the journey. Yet I found glaring problems with the storyline, mostly in the sudden mental collapse that Javier undergoes. Why has he suddenly just snapped? Was he that close to the breaking point? The film never gives a clear-cut answer to this question. The only hint we get is the constant harassment from Sergio. Even this explanation I do not buy, mostly because Sergio isn’t that terrible to Javier in the first place.
The performances in The Last Circus are all quite good; the best is easily de la Torre’s Sergio, who looks like Heath Ledger’s alcoholic stunt double from The Dark Knight. He endures a beating so brutal, it’s amazing he isn’t dead. He looms in the shadows watching Natalia, all of these scenes resembling images out of a comic book. Areces does a fine job when he’s completely lost his marbles but he is astonishingly uninteresting as the sane Javier. When he is randomly firing his machine guns in a small diner, you’ll find yourself developing coulrophobia with each bullet fired. Bang’s Natalia is all deceitful smiles and suggestive lip licking, cleaning blood from her oozing nose. She’s masochistic and does more flip-flops than I ever thought possible. At one second she is shrieking at Sergio’s mutilated mug and the next second she can’t get enough of him. I am still trying to figure out if she was sincere in her interactions with Javier.
I would recommend The Last Circus for it’s Baroque settings and macabre make-up effects. Someone get this crew to the set of J. Edgar and fast! The action is disorienting in the first ten minutes of the movie and then it maneuvers into tedium by the final fistfight. A figure from the past is wasted and would have been a far more lasting villain than Sergio. But for all the smarts this film has, and trust me, it is very clever, it consistently looses site of what it is trying to achieve. At times it felt rather preoccupied and more concerned with its visual stimulants. Sure, I like a film to look pretty and have some nifty sets, boast a crisp picture, and have an aura of impulsiveness, but The Last Circus left me unaffected, the furthest thing from traumatized, dismayed, or charged up politically. I turned it off thinking about how pretty it looked in HD and how disturbing clowns really are.
The Last Circus is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.