My, my, where have the days gone?
October 10: Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)
(Mystery Science Theater 3000 version)
I liked this film. It’s not too scary, not at all really – and as D pointed out, it straddles the horror/Sci-Fi line a little too closely – but I just liked it. And besides, it has a really high body -er skeleton count. The story finds some young space travelers landing on Earth to determine whether it is a suitable grazing ground for their Gorgon herd. The main guy, Thor, thinks it’s aces despite the fact that, you know, people live here. Fresh-faced spacedude Derek disagrees and tries to affect a revolution but only succeeds in getting an innocent dog skeletonized. He ends up running away and hooking up with cute Betty and trying to save the good Earth from the coming Gorgon herd – which is actually one regular-sized lobster, but I liked that about this movie. Like in The Manster, there is an earnestness about the film that just takes you along with it. Add in some excellent riffing from Joel and the ‘Bots, and you’ve got yourself three and a half screams.
October 11: The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963)
I took very few notes during or directly after watching this one. Subsequently, I have little recollection of it, save for the numerous diaphanous chiffon nightgowns worn by the main guy’s wife. Oh, and Christopher Lee was in it and he wasn’t evil!
October 12: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The original classic is still a creepy film, even nearly 50 years later. These many days later, my strongest memories of this film are the chest-tightening tense moments as Kevin McCarthy is confronted by that which cannot be possible, yet is. The horror and suspense wrap around what is essentially a sweet-natured love story, which itself turns into a horror. Love that complexity. All the players are excellent. A truly terrific horror month film. Four screams.
October 13: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1963)
(Mystery Science Theater 3000 version)
The plot of this one involves a young doctor who insists on tampering in God’s domain, the consequences of traveling at high speeds, and a head in a pan. There are some serious problems in the film, best illustrated by the monster in the last reel whose mask is very clearly tied in the back. Even without the MST3K treatment, I would enjoy it all the same. Herb Evers plays the sleazy doctor with a perfect constraint, and Virginia Leith makes a beautiful head in a pan – she’s darn feisty, too. The action tends to border on unintentional camp and the characters are all so unlikeable, you love them. Three and a half screams. MST3K fans note that this episode marks Mike Nelson’s first appearance as host-trapped-in-space.
October 14: My Bloody Valentine (1981) and Black Sabbath (1963)
Moosehead Beer is everywhere in My Bloody Valentine, although I wouldn’t notice that fact until Saturday night. The plot is your basic slasher fare – homicidal maniac stalks groups of nubile young people – with the twist in this one being that most of the action takes place in a (coal?) mine in British Columbia and that the killer carries a pickax, although the he uses many implements of death, including boiling hot dogs. You think I’m kidding about that, don’t you? My film time this evening served the dual purpose of being my research time for a paper due Monday, so I did not catch every nuance and subtlety of the movie. I did see enough to know that it pretty much sucked. One scream for the hot dog killing.
I thought I was done with films for the day, but as we were getting ready for bed sometime after 11pm, I flipped on the tv, and by a happy accident stumbled upon The World of Weird Monster Show on our local cable access channel. By now you should have some understanding of my love for hosted horror movies, so you know I had to stay up and watch it. Hosts Undead Johnny and curvaceous Dementia were showing Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath and the entire package was actually really good! The host segments were amusing and surprisingly well-produced, with some keen wit thrown in here and there. The film itself is a trilogy of vignettes, linked by Boris Karloff, and as creepy as it was dated. Much fun. Three and a half screams.
October 15: Half of The Thirsty Dead (1974) and My Bloody Valentine (1981) – yes, again.
The Thirsty Dead (aka The Bloodcult of Shangri-La; aka Blood Hunt; aka Swamp Jawas Need Women) is really bad. And why do so many bad 70s films like this one have so many darn titles, anyway? Admittedly my friend B & I gave it that last one, but what is with the naming and re-naming of this schlock? It never helps, believe me. Anyway, the plot has something to do with white go-go dancers in Manila being kidnapped by very tall Jawas, then dragged through the swamp to a secret cult compound. It’s a harrowing trip apparently as the go-go girls’ hair and faces become filthy almost immediately and stay that way throughout this long, long, over-long film. The pace is stultifying and though we enjoyed heckling the film for a while, we turned it off to go out for sushi. Dinner was excellent.
Afterward, the gang came back to our house for another showing of My Bloody Valentine. It is simply amazing how good friends and good sake can improve a film. We had a rip-roaring good time counting appearances of Moosehead beer and finding a homoerotic subtext in any and every scene, laughing and actually being shocked once or twice. A three-scream showing.
October 16: The second half of The Thirsty Dead (1974) and Altered States (1981)
I finished TTD this evening out of duty and curiosity. I knew the conclusion would be pointless and I was not disappointed. Lead go-go dancer Jennifer Billingsley looked more and more tousled (and like she needed a dime bag – fast!) and small-boned Victor Mature-look-alike John Considine, as the cult’s leader Baroo, looked pinched, even in their love scenes. I’m not certain, but I think Baroo fell in love with J-Bill and helped spirit her away from the Blood Cult of the Thirsty Jawas before she was to be sacrificed, ironically, for him, um, I think. He got her away, but to do so, he had to pass the ring of age, which sounds painful, and turned really pruney. All in all, this movie blows goats.
D and I debated whether to include Altered States here. It’s very Sci-Fi/Thriller, with no real body count and a lot more philosophy than most horror flicks. But, the box of my tape lists “horror” as the category of the film, though, which is why I chose it in the first place. After watching it, D confirmed its place here. “It may not count for you, but it sure counts for me.”
You may know the story – William Hurt makes his film debut (and what a strong one!) as Dr. Eddie Jessup, a scientist on a mission to learn life’s absolute truths. He and his loyal research assistant, Arthur (a scruffy Bob Balaban), begin a series of experiments using a sensory deprivation chamber and ancient Mexican hallucinogens. The experiments take some unexpected and frightening turns, leaving Jessup, Arthur, and the viewer to question the very nature of reality itself. Ken Russell is at the helm here and his visually careening style is perfectly suited to the subject. Three philosophic screams.
October 17: The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)
(Mystery Science Theater 3000 version)
A near miss here. You’ll recall that I was distracted from the genius of My Bloody Valentine on the 14th because I was working on a paper. Well, this evening was the night before it was due, and I was focused on it alone. That’s why I did not realize that I hadn’t watched a horror film this day until 11:45pm. Thank goodness for DVD drives. It played on D’s machine while I worked on mine.
Now then, this film really scared me when I was little. It doesn’t begin to scare me now that I’m older and get all distracted by convoluted plots and incomprehensible acting, but the premise – a head found buried on a farm controls whomever looks into its eyes – is a good one. Sadly, seeing it again was a real disappointment as I’d waited nearly 25 years just to remember the name of the darn thing. Well, Mike and the ‘Bots really make up for it with some excellently funny riffing, but I still feel like my life has been based on a lie. Or at least a fib. Three screams with the riffing; none without.
October 18: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
This is Roger Corman at his finest. More or less based on Poe, Corman has tightly woven a story of adultery, madness, torture, and grief. The first half is a little talky, but Vincent Price, as a man deeply disturbed by the death of his wife, lights up his every scene and keeps the viewer interested in his fate. The pivotal moment – the opening of Price’s wife’s crypt – is simply splendid horror, and Price’s moaning, keening reaction is spot-on eerie. The end torture sequences could not be better and at least twenty years after first seeing it, the famous pendulum still gives me serious chills. A word about the DVD: the MGM/Midnite Movies release is excellent. It features trailers and a fascinating commentary track by director Corman. Plus the menus just look groovy. Four screams.
October 19: Blood of Dracula (1958)
I’m sensing a theme to my selections this month. Here’s another film I vaguely remembered seeing as a tot that I managed to track down. It was magnificent in that B-movie, nothing-here-will-make-any-sense-at-all way. I mean, you should just see the vampire make-up. And the “Puppy Love” production number. The plot deals with a bitter teenager being sent off to girls’ boarding school just weeks after her mother’s death and father’s remarriage. There’s a bitter pre-feminist science teacher who might be preying on the students in more ways than one, and a bitter school administrator who is terrified that the recent murders at her school will cut into her grant money. For reasons I can’t explain, I loved this movie. Four screams for fans of genre-twisting, 50s teenage-idol/horror flicks (see “Eegah” (1962).
October 20: Suspiria (1977)
The suggestion to add this film to my roster came from Norway, so I was eager to check it out. Like most Italian horror films of the 70s, and nearly all of the films of director Dario Argento, this one is thick with visual style, atmosphere, and visceral horror, and light on plot continuity. In fact, the plot, about a young American come to a German school of Ballet to study and soon thrust into the worst sort of culture shock imaginable, is really beside the point. You watch this film for the daring use of lighting, unique styles of composition, and that opening scene with the big window. Three and a half screams.