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Santa sangre (1989)
Beautiful Repulsive Art
Alejandro Jodorowsky's (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) SANTA SANGRE was produced by Dario Argento's brother. It contains the same brutal violence towards women as Argento's pictures; although one man (Stockwell) is castrated via acid to the nether regions negating this as an anti feminist film. But this is not a horror movie in any way, shape or form as this is as beautiful as it is repulsive.
The strange Oedipus tale resembles Hitchcock's PSYCHO but this is a whole new kettle of fish. Elaborate colours, (the cemetery scene with the victims painted white resurrecting is similar to the climax in MANIAC but more effective) recalls Japanese films, e.g. Kwaidan. The OTT horror is occasionally camp but this is intended and the closing line MY HANDS' will either make you laugh or cry. Love the film and you'll cry. The emotional soundtrack will enhance this effect, so be warned.
Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
Udo at his best
To begin honestly, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN isn't for all tastes. However, the film and brother, BLOOD FOR Dracula, are great treats to genuine horror movie buffs. Surprisingly, for some reason the latter, as offensive as the former was not listed as a 'Video Nasty'. These two films were made back to back (a la Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions) and by the same cast and crew and exploited Andy Warhol's name for distribution.
If you have a fondness for cheesy, funny and gory decadence, then you'll love this film. Plus Udo Kier is and Arno Juerging are great in their roles. The fabulous line To know Death Otto, you first have to f**k life in the gall bladder was a bloomer influenced by Last Tango in Paris, but was so funny, director (Paul Morrisey) left it in.
As a passing note, I remember seeing both Ace Ventura and Blade in the cinema for the first time and loudly saying 'It's UDO!' when he appeared.
Shiver inducing stuff!
Based upon the great novelist, M. R. James' short supernatural tale, Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad, this early crafted BBC effort from director Jonathan Miller (director of many Shakespeare TV adaptations) still retains effectiveness today despite its lack of action. It is a character-based piece about the sexually repressed, pompous, prudish and introverted Professor Parkins (played wonderfully by Michael Hordern). During one of his trudges' through the Norfolk dunes, he discovers a whistle on an ancient Templar burial ground. Disrespectfully he takes it back to his two-bedroom hotel for inspection. Disregarding the Latin inscription warning on the whistle, he blows it. Subsequently he suffers nightmares of an ominous figure following him through the dunes and begins hearing rustling in the empty bed opposite him. It all eerily culminates with an invisible figure reaching out for him from under the sheets. Whether or not it's all his twisted imagination or an actual haunting is subject for debating. Do you believe in Ghosts?'
The lack of music and obscure use of dialogue emphasises our lead character's seclusion from the real' world' and relates the viewer to him on a basic level; he mostly groans and moans opinions instead of speaking them coherently. A constant aura of unnerving atmosphere pervades the mere 40 minutes of this recently released BFI DVD, but without a doubt for lovers of the British supernatural this is definitely interesting viewing.
The Fog (1980)
A Good Ghost Story
I'm hurt by the amount of people who disregard John Carpenter's film, The Fog as nonsense. Though the director himself denies and scoffs at such supernatural existences it's this doubt that make his films so credible. There is no tongue in cheek here; this is all played out as sincerely as Michael Myers getting up after being shot six times. During it's making Carpenter himself has to re-shoot certain scenes to spice up The Fog. Despite it's flaws John Carpenter's THE FOG (I hate it when they confuse it with the novel by James Herbert!) is a genuinely good modern ghost story. It concerns the spirits of long dead pirates that were led to their death by the inhabitants of a small coastal village, and now, exactly one century later it's time for retribution.
As always JC's score is simple but excellent, the cinematography fabricating the piece to be far more expensive than is its budget should allow and, despite inconsistencies in the script, this is another great film for fanatics of John Carpenter's works. Plus there are some great performances, especially by Carpenter's then wife, Adrienne Barbeau It might not be Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing or Big Trouble in Little China, but is definitely worth analyses.
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Don't judge it first time around
Well, what can I say? It saddens me that John Carpenter hasn't made a film since Ghosts of Mars, and with word of his retirement looming it emphasises the displeasure. This film seems like the anthology of Carpenter's craft, from the satirical science fiction of Dark Star (1974), the claustrophobia of Assault on Precinct 13, the alien possessions of The Thing (1982) and the machismo of Escape From New York (1982) and Vampires (1998).
A police squad is sent to Mars to return a criminal to trial only to find the area of the prison camp deserted. It transpires that Mars is dominated by homicidal demons. The squad defend themselves, including teaming with the surviving inmates, then must destroy the monsters and escape before the plague spreads to other planets
Unfortunately, it doesn't quite stick together on initial viewing but I believe, as with all Carpenter's films, it'll be a movie ahead of its time'. It's fun, it's different, it has another throbbing Carpenter score and has some subtext. The concept that human fear of invasion from Mars has created a negative destructive force on the planet is ingenious.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
I agree with regular J.C. actor Kurt Russell on a point he made about the director: If you want to make a cheap movie but make it look slick and expensive, Mr. Carpenter is your man. Like HALLOWEEN this was made for very little money but appears to have been made on a modest budget.
After the box office failure of the underrated Big Trouble in Little China, Carpenter left the studio system and returned to independent and horror filmmaking. The soundtrack is constant synth, the acting average, the tension constantly increasing and widescreen lens used to perfection, all combined scream Carpenter's name from the lengthy opening credits scene. PRINCE OF DARKNESS sits among the most eerie and interesting of Carpenter's work. Defects are it isn't very exciting and divulges a lot of unnecessary quantum physics jargon that seem pompous on the writer's behalf (sorry J.C. but 'Martin Quatermass'? your devotees know you love Nigel Kneale's work!). Despite a few scenes of action, which seem thrown in to gather momentum, the film just moves along.
Basically PRINCE OF DARKNESS combines ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 with THE THING. A character driven story concerning isolated individuals and one by one falling victim/possessed to/by an alien foe. Priest, Donald Pleasence (HALLOWEEN) hires University Professor, Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China) to investigate an ominous cylinder. The green ooze inside this cannister, hidden for centuries by the 'Brotherhood of Sleep', is the 'anti God' who will end the world if the secrets of its origin remain unsolved.
This is the second part in Carpenter's 'apocalypse trilogy' that began with THE THING and concluded with IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a must for all J.C. fans, but is the slowest of the trilogy.
It has power
I was also one of the fortunate immature teens who saw Ghostwatch sitting alone on the sofa watching in 1992. Computer games awaited but better than average Saturday night quiz shows light entertainment cajoled me to stay rooted to the spot. I was looking forward to Hammer's/Terrence Fisher's Curse of the Werewolf that followed this 'Ghostwatch' program I was about to witness. This documentary/drama/horror/supernatural closed the curtains for the evening but I didn't turn off the light that night. I think it has something to do with the story development. It is revealed that this should be taken seriously and cleverly absorbs and you willingly go along. When the scares eventually occur you are totally disorientated and afraid. Images in Ghostwatch stay in your mind for hours afterward, the haunting Pipe's (true evil) revelation is typical Nigel Kneal, combined with the destruction of the family unit is absolutely terrifying. I got the DVD after all those years and now I'm convinced that the scare has something to do with periodic emotions. Those who saw it at a vulnerable age and wanted to be socialising more successfully than their older brothers or had dreams of being on where the best Halloween party of 1992 was being held got scared. Those socialites who were at those parties and heard the hype and saw Ghostwatch subsequently were less impressed. Why? Because they missed out on something that will never happen again. I say this because, depending on my emotional balance, sometimes I laugh hard at all the ham acting/sketchy dialogue and Parkenson, but sometimes when Pipes speaks, suddenly materialises and disappears I still find the experience unnerving. Only five films have made me feel like this: Demons (age 8), Ghostwatch (age 11), The Exorcist (age 13), Blair Witch Project (age 19) and Ringu (age 22).
Rawhead Rex (1986)
Read the short story
The short story Rawhead Rex is a gory and stomach churning piece of literature appearing in Clive Barker's Books of Blood Volume 3. Reading it one sees the possibilities of a good old fashioned monster on the loose movie. Unfortunately, most of the graphic violence of the story is removed from the film that followed. Although many of the character details remain the same, except that the protagonist and his family are Londoners instead of Americans in the short story. The setting, score, a few actors and the occasional scare make the films worth seeing for true Clive Barker completists. Be warned, what does make the proceedings less alluring is the fact that Rawhead himself is a great disappointment; the direction somewhat poor and from a script by Barker himself I expected more. Not even in league with his superior Hellraiser, effective Candyman or intriguing Nightbreed. Though I must admit I must've seen this film about eight times since it was initially released.
Trivia note: The mother of the American Family is the actress who plays the nurse Joe Spinell skewers in Maniac.
Zombi 2 (1979)
The father of many sequels
It is common knowledge that Mr. Fulci made films that were compelled to replicate what was successful in the States at the time, but fair play, we're talking about the Italian film business, remember the flood of successful, sometimes more engaging Spaghetti Westerns in the 60s? I must give it to Lucio though, his most successful films (1979 1983) may never have surfaced if it were not for Romero's Dawn of the Dead, but they can and do stand alone without the Romero relations.
Ignoring the bad dubbing, unusual narrative development and some excessive gore, try remembering the good points within the film. For one, Fulci's worm infested zombies are far more hideous and terrifying than Romero's shambling poke 'em and they go down living dead. The score by Fulci regular, Fabio Frizzi is also more seedily effective, especially during the scene where the conquistadors rise from an ancient burial ground. An underwater battle between shark and zombie? The idea is so ludicrous but shot with such sincerity that it loses its comic effect and adds to the mystifying world of the film. There's also a good sweaty performance from Richard Johnson as the doctor struggling to discover the cause of the zombie takeover, reluctant to see anything but scientific causality. Which brings me to my final point, Zombie is more of a supernatural/folklore nightmare than the socially conscious Dawn of the Dead. Romero's great skill is making the impossible seem believable, and has never really explained the reason for why his dead return to life, refusing to resort to logic. In Zombie the fact is made clear Voodoo is the cause of the horror, making the film a more fantastical, and light-hearted, if repulsive undertaking.
If you enjoyed this then you might want to look at the flood of imitations that followed, Zombie Holocaust, Nights of Terror, Hell of the Living Dead, Nightmare City
Angel Heart (1987)
Once hated now loved
Being totally honest the first time I saw Alan Parker's bone chilling Angel Heart I was not overwhelmingly impressed and found it slightly too sombre and stylish for its own good. Since then I have seen the light, or the masterpiece in the dark in this case, and can only put it down to a film that was ahead of its time. The 1950s setting absorbs you into the seedy world of New Orleons where Angel is hired to track down Johnny Favourite by the ominous entrepreneur, Cypher. The mood throughout is intense as we discover piece by piece what initially seemed like a typical Chandleresque story is in fact something more sinister. There is still a lingering sense constantly that not all is as it should be. And believe me it really isn't in this evocative combination of the supernatural and film noir. I found Rourke, in one of his better roles, believable as the confused and doomed detective and DeNiro's underused Mr. Cypher incredibly chilling. Unforgettable scenes include the infamous sex scene between Rourke and Bonet, DeNiro's infamous 'the egg is the soul' scene and the ending twist, that I found far more effective than those of alternate broody films such as The Sixth Sense or Fight Club. This is definitely not the sort of film you'd want to show at a family gathering.