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I had heard positive reviews of this film before I saw it, but I was very disappointed in it. Paul Naschy stars as a troubled ex-acrobat (!) who is a prime suspect in the hunt for a killer who is murdering a string of women. Set in London, and filmed in the 1970s, the plot sees Naschy avoid capture as more and more murders happen, and the police try and catch him, and that's about as exciting as it gets. Casing itself in the giallo mould, the film tosses in a lot of "meaningful" details such as a child seeing the shoes of the stalking killer, the revelation that a different knife is used for each murders, and the fact that the killer removes selected body parts from each victim. None of which particularly enhances the plot or the big reveal at the end. There is blurb around the film saying that the killer is also a cannibal but that never surfaces in the actual plot at all.
The acting is all pretty poor, most notably from the women. The victims are played by women with no acting skill at all,and there's also a really terrible non- performance by a key female character who helps Naschy in the second half of the film. Naschy himself is not bad although he appears to be wearing a very bad toupee. Actually nearly all of the female parts are played by women in bad wigs as well!
The overall look of the movie is also quite poor. The print in this edition is widescreen, thankfully, but it's grubby and not very crisp. There isn't much artistry in the cinematography, many scenes are brutally lit with very harsh lighting, and a lot are overexposed. The English dub is awful, not just in the lip synching, but in the script - the lines that the characters come out with are very often hilarious. A lot of scenes are set in central London streets, and in nearly every one of them, the passers by gawp and stare directly into the camera, which totally distracts from the action, and should have been edited out. One man is even seen ducking out of the way!
I don't like being negative, but this is a very dull movie. There are a lot of murders but they are all exactly the same, an amateur actress screaming and the same close up every time of a knife digging into some rubbery fake skin in extreme close up! I have seen a lot of giallos and I am a fan of the genre, but when I sit through stuff like this I realise that it takes some skill to make what are essentially crime thrillers look stylish and suspenseful, and this movie does not have that skill.
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)
Shame it's not better
"Auntie Roo" is marketed a a "crazy old dame" movie, but it's very confusing in it's intentions. Here we have Shelley Winters playing a batty old lady with a large mansion, who likes to invite children across for parties to ease her loneliness. Unfortunately two of the children get a bit nosey and Auntie Roo's dark secrets come tumbling out.
What's wrong here is that the plot doesn't really give the viewer any clearly defined direction. The film uses the Hansel and Gretel fable as a parallel, and the constant reference to this subject matter does get a bit silly. Auntie Roo is not the witch that the children think she is, in fact the children terrorise her more than she does them. Maybe that was the twist that they were going for but I don't know if the story is supposed to paint the poor, misguided Roo as the villain, or the annoying children.
It's all over the place. Who are you supposed to like? Nobody? Shelley Winters does a good job of acting here, but sadly the two children (Mark Lester and Chloe Franks) do not. I can't imagine anyone coming away at the end of this film feeling satisfied.
The Night Walker (1964)
Effective minor chiller
Sadly not available on DVD at time of writing, "The Night Walker" seems to be one of William Castles more neglected films. It tells the tale of a woman named Irene,who is haunted by strange recurring dreams, which she eventually cannot distinguish from reality. Is she going mad or is something more sinister happening?
As usual with a Castle film, the production is effectively made, even with the evident low budget, the lighting and photography and performances are all well handled. Barbara Stanwyck makes a good effort in the leading role, and the supporting cast is fine too.
The story starts off in a fairly intriguing way with a bizarre prologue about dreams that has some superb kitsch imagery, and there are a few chilling moments as Irene starts to experience her weird dreams. As with a lot of William Castle movies there are just a handful of exceptional scare moments that really stand out...I sometimes wonder if this a fluke when he does this, but he can create some of the most delicious scares, such as the blind hag in "House on Haunted Hill" and the mute woman's hallucinations in "The Tingler". Well there are a couple of shriek moments even in this more humble offering, one down to the appearance of a ghoulish figure in fright make-up, and another, when Irene think she has woken up from a dream, only to realise in terror that she has not, and seems incapable of waking up at all, which is quite a deep concept for the general tone of the movie.
Sadly at the half way point, things become less dreamlike and more mechanical as a few truths are revealed and the layers of mystery are stripped away. The last 20 minutes does not equal the first hour at all, which may be part of the reason why few people rate this very highly. Still, its a competent and entertaining piece of work, and definitely worth seeing. What a shame it's impossible to find
M.D.C. - Maschera di cera (1997)
Wax Mask is an energetic and full blooded horror romp that doesn't tread much new ground but has a fun time all the same.
Unsurprisingly, this is a retelling of the familiar "House of Wax" story, but with some more modern and ghoulish overtones. Still with a period setting, the creation of the wax statues is rather more hi-tech than in previous versions of the tale, but the outcome is still the same.
It's very well photographed and things move along at a pretty nice speed so it's certainly never boring. There are several graphically gory scenes and they do rival some of the stuff being done by Dario Argento in the late 1980's to early 90s (Argento is involved here too, but not as director). Colours are bright and location settings look great.
Sadly the acting is fairly flat, although the English dub is the main culprit here, with a terrible job done, with vocals that show no sensitivity to any possible subtlety in the original performances. Its so bad it almost renders the whole movie as one giant cartoon. So don't expect to have any emotional attachment to any of the characters, but you can still enjoy the vibrant gore and the outrageous liberties taken with the possibilities of biology and science of the period (you'll know what I mean when you see the ending!). So realism is pretty much out the window, and yet, it's still a great fun movie to watch if you don't try and take it seriously
The Chalk Garden (1964)
This is a very odd and obscure film, but with major star names like John Mills, Hayley Mills, Edith Evans and Deborah Kerr, it's hard to understand why it's very little known. I guess this might be due to the fact that it doesn't fit into any simple category. The plot tells the tale of a troubled (i.e, bratty) teenager who scares off all her governesses until the enigmatic Miss Madrigal comes to stay. A small scale battle of wits begins to play out, until the situation reaches a climax and various secrets are revealed.
So basically we have a two-hander between Deborah Kerr as the governess/substitute mother figure and Hayley Mills as the annoying daughter, which would seem to categorise this as a soap opera, and really thats all it really amounts too. Having said that, I really enjoyed watching it. The film benefits mainly from the performances of it's two leads, with Kerr poker-faced and icy as the governess, and Hayley Mills skillfully managing not to alienate the viewers affections with her portrayal of the out of control girl. Kerr has all the best lines, with some very smart comebacks to Mills nosey questioning, in fact the whole script is well written with a lot of very natural sounding dialogue. The settings don't stray much from the house and a nearby beach, which gives away the movie's origins as a play - I could see exactly how this would have been staged in a theatre. Luckily the filming is well handled, with some nice lighting and camera angles, even if some of the outdoor scenery look a bit artificial - however I honestly could not tell if that beach was a real or a set!
I would recommend this for the strong performances, especially if any of the cast I have listed above are favourites of yours - and the script - but it's really only Saturday afternoon matinée material as the plot is hardly earth-shattering. A neat metaphor using the concept of flowers growing in a chalk garden rounds it off nicely.
"Berserk" is another movie about violent deaths in a circus that is certainly no better than any other film of it's type, it's probably not better than "Circus of Horrors" from the same era, which had a far more sensational plot than this does. "Berserk" sees star Joan Crawford playing circus owner Monica Rivers, whose travelling show is suddenly beset by violent accidents. Bodies pile up until the killer is finally unmasked.
You won't really care about this slender story, what people no doubt come here for is Joan Crawford's performance. She doesn't disappoint, and even though the film is low budget and low on thrills, Joan is always able to hold your attention. What does grate, though, is that in EVERY medium or close shot of the ageing star, a black shadow is deliberately placed between her and the lighting to cover her (presumably) unflattering chin and neck. It looks like artful "mood lighting" the first time they do it, but after it's repeated over and OVER again, it becomes a game to count how many scenes Joan acts with the same horizontal dark shadow cutting her head off.
The violent deaths in the movie are not particularly graphic, and there is never much of a build up to them, although I suppose in 1967 audiences might have found it exciting. What I found harder to withstand were the extended sequences of the regular circus acts, which include lion taming, performing elephants, performing horses and "intelligent poodles". All of which do nothing for the plot but fill out the running time substantially. As does a truly hideous "singing performance' by some of the circus performers to their own colleagues, with a little ditty called "It Could Be You". Most of the acting is forgettable, and you won't really care who is responsible for the murders, but prepare for a laugh when you do find out, as the revelation is extremely implausible.
So to sum up, Joan does her best, but she's got little to work with here and the film is a dud
Death Spa (1989)
I hadn't heard of this before until it came up in a recommendation on Amazon. Sadly there was a good reason for me not having seen it...it's pretty awful!
Story goes something like this...a state-of-the-art health spa suddenly becomes accident prone and it's customers meet with hideous fitness-related accidents and deaths. Seems like the fully automated, computer controlled system is being controlled by a mysterious presence! Who is to blame? Who will be next? Let me spoil this for you...you won't care.
Death Spa is hilariously dated, and it shares a similarity with "Evilspeak", which also used computers as a "means of supernatural manifestation", but just raises giggles when viewed today (sadly I presume this future obsolescence was not apparent at the time). Death Spa has forgettable characters (several of whom look the same), confusing motivations, a really silly true culprit, and really bad gore scenes which seem to be attempting the "operatic deaths" of more stylish horror movies of the era (late 80s). The film makers do attempt to gross you out with prosthetic heads and body parts but they just aren't very good...one decapitation scene leaves behind a body that appears to be just a costume draped over a broom. Sadly nothing really works, and even if you forgive the sniggering at the dated 80' computer wizardry, and the cringeworthy 80's fitness fashions, the film still doesn't deliver. I got pretty bored as the running time crawled by..I think you will too.
Tôkyô zankoku keisatsu (2008)
I've only seen a couple of Japanese "techno-horror" movies before this one, and have always found them a bit confusing, but I thought I'd give this a try and I found it to be really good fun.
Tokyo Gore Police is intentionally extreme and sensational in its use of blood and gore. If you choose to watch it, be prepared to see almost every part of the human body ripped apart in close up. Luckily the tone of the whole movie is one of black comedy, so although the effects are startling, they should not make anyone feel too nauseous. But if you can't stomach the sight of blood, I would stay away! The story sees a future version of Tokyo in which a new type of criminal is causing mayhem in the city and the futuristic police squad have a special "star officer" who excels in hunting them down. This special type of criminal is infected with a parasitic tumour that enables the host to turn wounds into weapons, therefore it isn't long before the screen is full of outrageously mutated characters who sprout knives, chainsaws and other killing tools from their own twisted flesh.
The movie starts as it means to go on with a shock gore effect pretty much within the first two minutes, and it barely lets up for the entire running time. Most of the action is directed at hysteria pitch throughout. In between action scenes there are fake commercials for tasteless products and recruitment messages on behalf of the police force. Japanese horror directors must enjoy parodies of TV advertising, as I had seen this before in "Stacy", which this movie resembles in a lot of respects.
There are very few quiet spots, but when they do happen, the movie benefits from a subtle but intense performance from Eihi Shiina as the leading character (the criminal hunter). She looks terrific, even though she spends a lot of the movie hardly saying a word. Mind you she is dressed up in some superbly fetishistic outfits, which also adds to the appeal. The look of the movie, is of course everything. The gore (of which there is a lot) is often jaw dropping, and yet sometimes also hilarious, and as a result the film is NEVER dull. Thankfully the plot is not complicated, and character motivations and fairly clear. I often have trouble unravelling character motivation in Japanese cinema, I assume it's a cultural thing, because they expressions on the actors faces often seems at odds with the translated English dialogue we get, but here it mostly seemed to make sense.
I should point out that I saw the DUBBED version of the film where all the dialogue is in English. This seemed very out of place, the American drawl given to all characters seemed very far away from their real cultural identity. I would have probably chosen the subtitled version given a choice, as the lip synching was terrible, as much as the accents were. However having dialogue in English did allow me to focus purely on the visuals. Oh and also the music the movie features a terrific theme tune, very much like the gladiatorial anthem from "Kill Bill", which crops up throughout, and it really works wonders, elevating the stylishness of the movie still more
Watching Tokyo Gore Police made me curious to see more in the same style, so after seeing it I tried "Meatball Machine", which was only half as good, so in my opinion, "Tokyo Gore Police" is one of the better examples of the "high-gore" trend coming out of Japan.
Dead Silence (2007)
I like it
Dead Silence is good old fashioned horror entertainment, done right. Helped by a sense of style and great imagery, it's slim story works well enough and the movie does provide some good scares
So, to the plot - a creepy ventriloquists dummy is delivered anonymously to the door of a young couple. Naturally this precipitates something supernatural, ending in violence. The hero of the tale is the husband, who recognises the dummy and takes it with him on a trip to his childhood home which is now a ruined ghost town only inhabited by a few crazy folk. The rest of the story is spent unravelling the history of the town and why the dummy brings death to the people who come into contact with it.
The story is not complex but it's a good one, and it holds your interest. What supports it is the great look of the movie, with some spectacular sets and locations including several elaborate buildings. There's atmosphere in abundance, and the film is littered with lots of clever touches, like scenes changing from maps into real roads, or dissolves from drawings into flashbacks, plenty of fluid camera-work and unusual angles. Too much of this could have got gimmicky, but it's kept in check just enough. If anything it's the shots of the creepy dummy that start to get boring, as there are only so many times that slowly swivelling eyeballs are going to give you goosebumps
The acting is so-so, the film certainly does not live or die by the performances, but they are all fairly good. There are some gory scenes, and there is a pretty good twist at the end too. Because of the great camera work and sense of style the movie looks pretty classy. I can forgive a few plot-holes when I am being entertained, and "Dead Silence' is certainly a lot of fun
Yet another creature feature from Asylum, this time we see lampreys (eel like marine creatures) running amok in a lake and killing people. A heroic wildlife expert tries to stem the invasion, while at the same time tussling with a grumpy town mayor who doesn't want to scare away tourists. You can work out what happens yourself, I'm sure.
The problem with this movie is that it thinks people will be so entertained by the concept of lampreys attacking that they will overlook a LOT of bad movie making. This is a mistake. Viewers do care about logic and common sense, but there's very little of that in Blood Lake... The attack style of the lampreys is maddeningly inconsistent. When a supporting character comes across a pack of them, the lampreys attack and kill in seconds. Yet anytime one of the main cast members is in peril, the lampreys just writhe around on the floor and give the actors plenty of chances to escape.
Some examples: A woman is killed by lampreys invading her indoor pool, but while she dies instantly, the two main cast members - who are also fully in the water - are unscathed. A policeman turns up to help and he falls in the pool. And then he dies instantly! Later on Shannon Doherty and her daughter are searching a house. Shannon is suddenly trapped in the shower with the cubicle door closed (why?) and dozens of lampreys swarm the bathroom. The daughter and Shannon escape unharmed. Shannon's young son is on the beach and finds a couple of bodies of strong healthy adults who have died. The kid is about 10 years old and a bit shrimpy. Lampreys attack him and of course only one of them even manages to land a hit. The wildlife expert and his assistant enter a flooded home swarming with lampreys where other people have been killed in seconds. They each suffer one single lamprey bite each. Later still, the young son is trapped in a room with a single window that is just barely too high for him to reach. Although the room is chock full or chairs, desks, tables and so on, he never tries to use anything to climb up and reach the window. Meanwhile lampreys are busting out of pipes and ducts all over the ceiling and dropping on the floor. Not one of them manages to attack him. And most laughably of all, at the movies climax, two of the main characters have a "don't be a hero" argument in the middle of a sewer, full of the entire pack of squirming lampreys, which patiently wriggle around them, without making a single leap, so that the full dialogue can be played out in comfortable time. The on screen effect is so bad, it makes it appear as though the characters are surrounded by an invisible shield!
At no time does there ever seem to be a real threat to the main cast, the film makes it glaringly obvious that they are all invincible. One additional moment of "heart stopping terror" is provided by scenes with people clutching onto or falling from a slightly wobbly ladder. Another great moment is the revelation that lamprey livers will provide the solution.
Watching this movie will make you as bored of spotting these examples as I am of writing them down. The acting is not good either...especially the shrimpy son and the wailing daughter. Shannon Doherty and Jason Brooks do okay in the lead roles but it's a shame to see screen legend Christopher Lloyd stooping to such lows as this. All the lamprey effects are poorly conceived CGI, and none of the wounds on any of the actors look real. Films like this are like the new b-movies of the 1950s. They seem a lot glossier now, but in reality they are still as cheap and as rushed out as "The Giant Claw" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space".