Thursday, March 26, 2009

House by the Cemetery (1981, Lucio Fulci)

Directly following Fulci's masterpiece, The Beyond, was House by the Cemetery. Continuing on with the theme of supernatural zombies started by City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, House by the Cemetery does have some differences too. The main difference is the setting. Almost the whole film is set in the house referenced in the title. I actually had this movie for a long time on one of those cheapo 10 movie sets but put off watching it until I picked up a copy put out by Anchor Bay, a double disc set with The Beyond - mainly due to Anchor Bay's history of releasing the best possible versions available.

House by the Cemetery is the story of - don't be shocked folks - a house by the cemetery. The Boyle family move into this house, which we find out was once the home of the mysterious Freudstein family. As it turns out, the basement in the house seems to be boarded up and after opening it, Mr. Boyle (Paolo Malco) and Mrs. Boyle (the yummy Catriona MacColl, yet again) are attacked by a very stubborn bat and decide to leave the basement alone. Their son Bob starts seeing a girl who lives across the street who tells him about the house and how Mrs. Freudstein was buried in the basement. Mrs. Boyle sees the tomb under a rug (?!?) and thinks nothing of it. Soon, it is uncovered that there is someone or something living in the basement and that if you go down there, you're fucked.

A step down from The Beyond, House by the Cemetery has a pretty slow start. Most people would probably lose interest early on which is a real shame. The last half hour is one of the scariest of any film I've ever seen. The claustrophobic feel of the house's basement, where most of the action takes place is pretty terrifying. The evil lurking down there is scary as hell and makes for a great adversary to the Boyles (and anyone else entering the basement). It's a shame so little happens in the first hour of the film, but if you give it a chance you will find yourself breathing into a paper bag held in one hand and cheering with the other for more of Giannetto De Rossi's brilliant makeup effects.

note: I just found out that the house in this film is located in my state! Honey, feel like visiting your uncle in Scituate?


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Beyond (1981, Lucio Fulci)

Continuing on with my Fulci-thon is The Beyond. Most people seem to argue about which is Fulci's masterpiece, this film or Fulci's Zombie. The Beyond deals with a lot of the same themes as Fulci's previous film, City of the Living Dead, and is considered by many to be part of a trilogy with City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery. Where Zombie dealt with a more straightforward zombie story, this trilogy features a more supernatural zombie theme. I guess it depends what your bag is. I actually came across this film under the title Seven Doors of Death, which I bought for like $4.00 in a bargain bin at a Strawberries music/movie store. I had already seen Zombie and thought this looked like it could be decent. I had never even heard of the film but I decided to take a chance. Did it pay off?

The Beyond starts in 1927 New Orleans with a group of witch hunters killing a painter named Zweick who they believe to be a warlock. As it turns out, he really is one and his death opens up one of the seven gates of hell under the hotel he is living in. 50-something years later, a young woman Liza (the beautiful Catriona MacColl) inherits the hotel and begins fixing it up. She starts seeing a blind girl who tells her to get away while she still can. In the meantime those who enter the hotel begin dying horrible deaths. Liza and her doctor friend (David Warbeck) try to figure out what is causing these catastrophes and soon figure out what evil lurks in the hotel.

As great as Zombie was, I would have to say The Beyond IS indeed Fulci's masterpiece. Pretty much everything about this film is great. The story, the great cinematography, the characters, the ending. Of course there is one other major thing Fulci is known for: G-O-R-E-GORE! There are so many classic scenes in this film that would make any gorehound's pants tight. Giannetto De Rossi proves himself as one of the greatest makeup effects artist of all time with this film. All of these things together make up one of the best horror films ever made. I can't recommend this film enough. Do yourself a favor and check this one out. If you hate it, go kill yourself because you suck. Just kidding. Don't go kill yourself. But you do still suck.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

New York Ripper (1982, Lucio Fulci)

Lucio Fulci is widely known for one thing: Zombies. Though more representative of Fulci's oeuvre is Gore. Fulci dabbled in many genres throughout his career (Italian Crime, Sword and Sorcery, Giallo, etc) but present in all of these films is Gore. This film is no exception. Though different from Fulci's earlier, less gory Giallo films (Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Don't Torture a Duckling) - New York Ripper is sick, depraved, sleazy and just plain nasty. Just the way I like it!

New York Ripper is a film about a killer who is hunting women on the streets of New York. Police Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) is out to find this killer and starts receiving calls from the killer who talks like a duck to disguise their voice. Williams partners up with a psychoanalyst to try to figure out what the killer's motives are. At the same time, we see a nymphomaniac and her husband who may know something about the murders or may become victims themselves.

New York Ripper was a fun movie. Not fun by most people's standards - with it's frequent use of sex and violence - but fun for me. It actually reminded me a lot of the early Dario Argento films I have been watching recently though it trades a lot of the psychological aspects with more graphic ones. I guess it depends on your tastes but I thought this film worked great and is one of my favorite giallo films. The movie kept me guessing until the end and the gore was top notch. There were some really uncomfortable scenes here, once again depending on your tastes may repel you, but I thought it just enhanced the 'in your face' nature of the film. As I said before: Sick, Depraved, Sleazy, Nasty...Just the way I like it!


City of the Living Dead (1980, Lucio Fulci)

Have I mentioned how much I love Lucio Fulci? Probably not, but I do. I guess this makes it hard to objectively review his films, but I'll do my best. Wait, since when are my reviews objective? Oh yeah, never. So forget that. Let's start with how I came across Fulci's films. It all started back in my junior year of high school. After watching a slew of zombie movies (wisely beginning with Romero's Living Dead trilogy), my friend and I began hunting high and low for anything zombie related. He came across Lucio Fulci's Zombie 2 (which I soon found out was also Lucio Fulci's Zombie, but I'll get to that when I review that film). Anyway, we decided to watch it with one or two of our other friends and it was great. Years went by before I really thought about Lucio Fulci again. It wasn't until I stumbled upon a bargain priced copy of Fulci's Seven Doors of Death (a cut version of The Beyond) that made me want to see Zombie again. After watching it, I was hooked and a friend at work recommended Fulci's Gates of Hell (aka City of the Living Dead), which I soon picked up. Anyway, here goes my review.

You know what sucks? When some crazy priest hangs himself and causes the gates of hell to open. That's exactly what starts this film. A psychic named Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) dies during a seance after seeing visions of a priest hanging himself. Though after she is buried, we find out she wasn't actually dead. Peter Bell (Christopher George), a reporter investigating her death, saves her from suffocating in her casket and the two start searching for answers to what's going on. They find that the priest in Mary's vision hanged himself in a cemetery in the town of Dunwich, so they decide to travel there. They meet up with a psychiatrist and his patient and together they find out through the book of Enoch that the gates of hell have opened and they must close them before All Saint's Day or else zombies will take over the world.

Pretty intense huh? Fulci stops at nothing to make this one a classic. There are some slow points where it seems like nothing is happening but then all of a sudden - boom - someone's eyes start bleeding and they vomit their internal organs. That's the magic of Fulci. This movie would probably get a 3 out of 5 rating if not for a few scenes (including the one I just mentioned) that make the film a classic gorefest, courtesy of makeup effects master Gianetto De Rossi. Catriona MacColl is stunning to watch and Giovanni Lombardo Ridice is creepy as Bob, one of the film's classic victims. Overall, not a perfect film and nowhere near as great as Fulci's masterpieces Zombie or The Beyond, but still worth a watch.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nightmare City (1980, Umberto Lenzi)

So let's take a few minutes and discuss the preconceived notions of the Zombie genre. I know what you're thinking: Zombie movies have pretty much become a dime a dozen lately. I agree that any genre that produces a noteworthy film also produces an immeasurable number of crappy ripoffs. So let's skip those for now. Let's talk about a film that often gets lumped in with the zombie genre, though when put under the microscope it actually bares little resemblance to the defining films that comprise the genre, the indisputable kings of which are George A. Romero's original living dead trilogy (I refuse to list them because you already know what they are...and if you don't, well...I don't even want to think about that possibility). The film I'm talking about is Nightmare City (aka City of the Walking Dead).

Nightmare City begins with an unmarked airplane landing on an airport runway without any notice or response to radio communication. Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) is a reporter who sees the spectacle and decides it might make a good story, so he brings his cameraman over with him to catch it on video. When the plane doors open, out pop a whole army of crazed madmen who start killing everyone in sight and drinking their blood. Miller tries to get his footage shown on the news but is stopped to avoid an unnecessary panic. The psycho vampires invade the station and soon appear to be everywhere. Miller escapes and goes to find his wife, a doctor at a local hospital which has also become overrun by bloodsuckers. We then learn that these zom-pires were actually exposed to radiation causing them to go apeshit. The couple get away and have to fight for their lives to find a safe place away from the killers.

Nightmare City was a great zombie movie, despite the fact it's not really a zombie movie. Unlike most living dead films, the zombies here aren't really even dead. They have become supermen of sorts (thanks to radiation) who need to drink blood to stay alive. Plus, they don't stumble around like most zombies. These fuckers run, drive cars, shoot guns and plot out attacks. They even manage to cause a major blackout fer crissakes! Good stuff. The action is great, the gore is well done and the story hardly gives you time to breathe. A nice addition to...well...whatever the hell genre it belongs to.


Snuff (1976, Michael Findlay)

If you know anything about the horror/exploitation genre, you may have heard of the term "snuff film". For those of you who haven’t, a snuff film is a film which shows a real killing caught on tape. One of the most famous supposed snuff films is Flowers of Flesh and Blood, part of the Japanese Guinea Pig series. This film became so well known when it was viewed by Charlie Sheen who thought he was witnessing a real snuff film and in turn contacted the Feds. Of course the film was not real, but the film’s special makeup effects were so well done the filmmakers had to prove it was fake in court. Long before this though was a film which purposely tried to trick the public into thinking it was a real snuff film, 1976’s Snuff. What it actually was though was a film called Slaughter made five years earlier but was so bad the filmmakers couldn’t get it distributed. The producer then tacked on a new ending with realistic effects to make it look like it was a real snuff film. Thus began the legend of Snuff!

Snuff (or Slaughter – whatever you want to call it) is the story of an actress named Terry London who goes to South America to work on a low budget exploitation film for filmmaker Max Marsh. She meets up with Horst, her husband or boyfriend or something, even though he is living with another girl (who he gives the boot to). Anyway, there is a cult of drug addicted women run by a Charles Manson-esque leader named Satan (pronounced Suh-tan, naturally) who take joy in torturing and killing people. Satan wants one of his girls to bear a child with Horst (I’m not sure why him or why at all, they probably didn’t say). And then other stuff happens too.

As you can tell this film is a muddled mess. I’m not really sure what was supposed to be going on half the time but I'm sure a great script wasn't the filmmakers first priority. What started off as a film to cash in on the Charles Manson hysteria, became famous for it’s tacked on ending, which was publicized to be a real killing. A clever idea but as a film itself, it’s pretty bad. Just the main title sequence (which is missing the main titles) shows two girls riding motorcycles to an instrumental rip-off of Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild (seriously, I’m surprised they weren’t sued), When the characters begin speaking you can instantly tell that this film was dubbed (very poorly of course). The person who dubbed the voice for Max Marsh, the movie producer, sounds exactly like Charles Nelson Reilly, which made his character unintentionally hilarious to watch. Also, there is a scene where one of the characters is having a flashback to when she was a child and I swear to God her voice sounds like a man imitating a little girl’s voice. Cinematic gold, I tell ya. Other than that the movie pretty much sucks. There are lots of pointless scenes that go on forever. The movie got some more unintentional laughs from yours truly when every time the cult went into their secret hiding place, the movie became black and white. I don’t know if it was supposed to make it look dark or what, but it was hilarious. Then there is the faux-snuff ending, which shows (SPOILER!!!) a girl getting a finger cut off by a pair of wire cutters (I think that's what they were). She is then disemboweled and…wait a second…how come she has all of her fingers again? What the fuck? People actually believed this shit was real? Stupid asses. Where was I? Oh yeah, I’d say give this film a shot if you are a fan of the exploitation genre or if you just want to say you saw it. I’m sure you won’t want to watch it again though.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971, Mario Bava)

OK folks, this review might get a little nostalgic and sappy. I am going to go back to a time of innocence when the younger and slightly (well, a little more than slightly) skinnier me was on a pilgrimage. A quest for something that seemed so unattainable that a hunger grew inside of me. A hunger that took over my life and turned every day into a search for this one prized possession. Ready for the big reveal? Too bad, I'm not done yet. Let me start from the beginning. I clearly remember seeing the first two Friday the 13th films back to back. It was the summer before 8th grade and I soon became obsessed with everything Jason. I was never really big into horror films before but these films were the perfect gateway. I started branching out and watching lots of other horror films and then one day I read about a film that heavily inspired the Friday the 13th series. Friday the 13th part 2 actually ripped off two of the kills almost frame by frame from this film. The film was Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve and my search proved fruitless. I searched every backwoods, mom n' pop video store across the state of Massachusetts. This was back in the time of VHS and before the almighty interweb could deliver just about anything to your mailbox. I searched flea markets, yard sales, junk shops, thrift stores...just about anywhere that might have a dusty old video tape for sale.

Well, I'll finish the story in a bit. Let me tell you about the movie first. Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood, Carnage, Last House on the Left 2, Chain Reaction, Antefatto - Ecologia del delitto, and a few more I think) is the story of a rich woman who owns a valuable piece of lakeside property. Her husband murders her to cash in but then he himself is offed by a mysterious killer. Soon, several relatives want a piece of the pie and start showing up at the lake house. It seems that as soon as they arrive, they end up dead. The question though is who is this killer and how far will some of these relatives go to be the last surviving heir.

OK, back to my story. So high school came and went with no luck. It seemed as though this film was just impossible to find. Well, my search took a backseat to life and eventually I discovered the blessed format called DVD. Not too long after, I remember walking into a local music and movie store and seeing it staring at me from the shelf. I couldn't believe it. The one possession that I swore I would hunt for until the day I died was finally right in front of me. So what did I do? I went home. Didn't even buy it. Why you ask? Well, I had grown up a little and I felt the whole "hunt is better than the kill" let down that you sometimes feel when you finally fulfill a quest. I finally decided to buy the DVD but when I went back, it was gone. I did end up finding it a short while later, started watching it and fell asleep. That was roughly 5 years ago. So here I am, about 15 years older than when I started this search and I have finally watched Twitch of the Death Nerve.

So what did I think of it? It was OK. Yeah yeah, I know. How anti-climactic Mr. Starmummy. One of the problems with the DVD and one of the reasons I fell asleep the first time I watched it was because the sound on the DVD (put out by Image Entertainment) is so bad you have to constantly adjust the volume up and down. I'm not talking just a little bit. There were times I had the volume cranked to maximum and would then suddenly have to drop it down real low. Pretty annoying. There is a new version out in the Bava 2 box set (under the title Bay of Blood) that I am curious to see if the sound was fixed. Other than that, the movie had lots of great, gory kills (courtesy of ET creator Carlo Rambaldi) and an interesting take on the mystery-stalker genre. I must also mention that Stelvio Cipriani's score is perfect for the film, going from creepy to lush and beautiful to cheery at just the perfect moments. Another strong point is Bava's cinematography (which he did himself). There were lots of beautiful shots that actually bumped this film up a notch from average to really artistic and special. Overall, the good out weighs the bad and even though the film wasn't perfect, it is something that I will always remember.


Tenebre (1982, Dario Argento)

Ok, this should be the last Argento film for a little while. I'm sure my readers (I'm being generous by making that plural) are sick of reading about my new found obsession. I couldn't pass up reviewing this one though. It fits in very well with Argento's other giallo films that I have been reviewing. I've actually had the Anchor Bay double dvd of this film and Deep Red for a long time because I knew I would be watching them eventually.

Tenebre is a film about an American author, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), who is over in Italy promoting his book, Tenebre. The book is about a killer who goes on a murdering spree. As is expected with an Argento film, a real killer is on the loose who seems to be inspired by Tenebre. Before a murder occurs, a note with a quote from the book is left in an envelope for Neal. It is discovered that each of the murders has something to do with the quotes and with the help of his secretary and a local boy, Neal becomes his own private detective to try to stop the killings before he is next.

Tenebre is another great Argento giallo. The plot is similar to his early giallo films but there is a lot of added gore and nudity this time. The story and characters are solid and the killer's identity is well concealed until the final terrifying frames. The bloody killings are very well done as is the cinematography. Goblin's score is perfect for the film as well. There are a few slow spots and some strange scenes, but overall the film was very enjoyable.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Deep Red (1975, Dario Argento)

Another Dario Argento film, Mr. Starmummy? Aren't you sick of them yet? No, my good chap. In fact, I could hardly wait to toss this bad boy into ye olde player of dvds. Deep Red is probably tied with Suspiria as Argento's best loved film and I was really anxious to see how it held up to that film (review coming soon) and his other films.

Deep Red is a classic giallo film about a pianist, Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) who witnesses a murder and will stop at nothing to find out who the killer is. He is sure that there was a picture on the wall at the murder scene that disappeared shortly after the killing. He knows this must be the missing piece of the puzzle and goes searching for it. A series of murders soon begins, with Marcus in the middle. It seems that the killer wants to off him before he can figure out who is responsible.

Deep Red is overall an excellent film. I would say masterpiece but unfortunately the film lags a little in the middle. Most of the film is creepy, suspenseful and gory, with all of Argento's trademarks present (quirky characters, gruesome makeup effects and unconventional cinematography). Also present is a great score by Goblin, one of the best I have heard, replacing Ennio Morricone's more ethereal sounds with a more rock oriented sound. Definitely check out this film as it is a classic and well worth the time put into it.

I would suggest though that you watch it in Italian with English subtitles. The reason for this is because the English version has dialogue missing and it switches back and forth between English and Italian with subtitles. Very hard to follow in this manner.


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970, Dario Argento)

Continuing on with the master Dario Argento is his first film as director and writer. A giallo film that I actually watched about 6 months ago and decided to revisit after watching the other two films in his "animal trilogy", Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Cat O' Nine Tails.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage follows american Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) visiting Italy with his girlfriend. Shortly before he is supposed to go back to the United States, he witnesses someone dressed in a black hat and trench coat try to kill a woman in an art gallery. The doors are locked but he still manages to save the woman's life. The police confiscate Dalmas' passport to make him stay in the country since he was the only witness. They believe that over time he will be able to remember important pieces of the attack that he has blocked out. Sam himself starts trying to solve the crime and finds himself the next target.

Argento proved that he was definitely capable of writing and directing an effective murder mystery his first time out. There are many great camera tricks used in this film (one of the director's trademarks), including lots of complete darkness and a POV shot of someone falling out of a window. The cast is great and the story moves along at a nice pace, with lots of twists and the usual odd characters that Argento is always good for (the scene with the painter was a little silly, but kind of creepy and gross too). Very good example of a classic giallo and a film I would recommend to those unfamiliar with Argento.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Prom Night (2008, Nelson McCormick)

You may or may not have read my review of the original Prom Night starring Jamie Lee Curtis. That film could be considered by some as a classic but I myself thought it wasn't that great. When I found out there was a new Prom Night coming out amidst the current endless supply of horror film remakes, I had mixed feelings. I thought the original could definitely be improved upon but at the same time I wondered how much you could truly polish a turd? I was a little disappointed when I found out that this new Prom Night wasn't actually a remake but a completely different story with only the name in common. I was still interested enough to check it out.

High School student Donna Keppel (Brittany Snow) is haunted by the memory of her family being murdered by a former teacher who was obsessed with her. Flash forward three years where Donna is going to the prom with her boyfriend Bobby and four friends. After arriving, it is revealed that her psychotic teacher escaped from jail and is stalking her at the prom.

Unfortunately, this film is not any better than the original Prom Night. I did think Johnathon Schaech as the psycho teacher was effectively creepy but the rest of the film was predictable, anti-climactic and run of the mill. There was too little character development, especially with the killer which I think would have helped the story. The rest of the characters are basically just there to be pointlessly slaughtered.