Cinema, Month of Madness

Madness, 2017 Style

With recent events, I haven’t felt much like watching horror movies, much less posting about them. But I have been watching and trying to contextualize and square the real life horrors happening in the world with the movies I’ve chosen. It’s not easy. After 9/11/01, I had to take a break from horror movies for some time. In fact, my now annual Month of Madness, which began in 2003, marked the first time after it that I truly felt comfortable watching them again.

And so here I am again, feeling like horror is just too real to enjoy; feeling like I don’t want to see anyone brutalized or killed for “fun,” when 58 people were just murdered in Las Vegas and countless others were injured and traumatized.

But it’s October, and this entire year has been filled with horrors and traumas and while I’m so tired of reacting to them, I was looking forward to some self-indulgent movie bingeing.  Not to mention the real challenge of sticking with the plan, and of course, the discipline orf writing every day. I really do love having a excuse to do that.  I want to write every day, you know, but my job kind of sucks the zest out of it for me a lot of the time. It’s tough, maintaining a real job and trying maintain your creative life.

I digress. The marathon. I’m doing it! It feels weird, and I’m not sure what it says about me that some of my most comforting childhood memories are of gruesome movies.

It’s interesting to me, too, that I keep coming back to the same titles over and over for this marathon. I have a working list of maybe 6-10 that I know I look forward to watching every year – look for lots of Hammer titles to pop up again and again – and I have little patience for a lot of horror films made since about 1991.

They are so …cruel. That’s the word I keep coming back to. They don’t feel creative or richly textured or exquisitely acted like the movies i love. They feel trendy and cheap and cruel, with extended scenes of torture and horrifying choices people are forced to make, usually involving other innocent people and their soft tissues. I don’t know, guys, plenty of people really disdain Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) based on the title alone, and I can’t blame them. It’s shocking, and I suppose, needlessly cruel in many spots, but there was something so fresh about it. The late Tobe Hooper had an eye for the Rockwell-style scene, turned on its side and left to rot. I found that fascinating.

But even more, I love the heavily costumed, intricately set-decorated horrors of the late 50s to late 60s, especially those produced by Hammer Studios. They are so rich to look at, and a feast of good, solid, British acting. I imagine that it’s a sign of my advancing middle age that I am becoming rigid in my tastes, especially where horror is concerned. I just turned 43. Who knows what I’ll disdain in my 50s.

And so, on to the movies. I will make the best of it, finding a way to make this marathon about joy and pleasure and self-care. Life is tough, times are uncertain, madness is perpetual.

Sunday, October 1:  Mausoleum  (1983) 

After trysting through Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery the day before, I wanted an appropriately-themed filmed. Hoo boy. Upon researching, I’ve written about this one before, and well, it does not improve upon viewing.

I settled for a bucket full of crazy from 1983, Mausoleum.  Somewhere, I have both audio and video tapes of all of the host segments from a Commander USA showing of this movie  …  So, I’ve had a special place in my heart for Mausoleum for a long time, even though I couldn’t remember a thing about it, except that it inspired The Commander to make a rash of cemetery jokes, and even turn his Video Vault into a temporary morgue. But the movie was a vague memory to me.  I figured it was because I was really only into the host stuff that I just discarded what I’d seen of the movie, rendering what I could remember as a hazy mish-mash of scenes and dialogue.

But no, I learned from finally seeing the movie in its entirely again that it wasn’t just my twelve year-old attention span, it was the editing for TV that did it! Mausoleum is so full of boobs and demon-possessed sex scenes that to air it on basic cable required quite a hatchet job to the (admittedly thin) story.  It’s not like we had a lot to begin with, either.  It’s your basic early 80s Exorcist rip-off: Bobbi Bresee (owner of the much-filmed boobs) is possessed by an evil demon named Nomed, and it causes her to turn from a sweetly naive housewife to a rampaging vixen who has a lot of sex with her husband, that actor with my favorite name ever, Marjoe Gortner.

When Marjoe turns out not to be enough (no surprise there), Bobbi starts in on her gardener, the guy who delivers the landscaping supplies, and her therapist, I think (all those early 80s guys look alike to me).  Oh, and she gets more demonic and a bit more kill-ish which each guy.  It’s very gory and ripe with the stench of a Madonna/whore backlash theme (paging Susan Faludi).  But, it was good to finally see the whole thing, I guess, though it left me wondering where my Commander tapes are.

I mean, what can I add? It was still bad, still pretty weirdly backlashy-sexist. But oh! I didn’t really pay attention to the awesome mall Bobbie Breeze’s Susan visits. It’s the now-struggling Westfield Promenade in Woodland Hills, CA. I really love malls, and there’s a lot to say here about the rise of fall of the American Mall as it parallels the evolution of Generation X, but that is a project for another time…

Monday, October 2:   What (1970)

Okay so. I’ve watched this before, too. Two years ago,  this was one of the first of the Madness for 2015, and I had this to say:

La Frusta e il Corp0 aka The Whip and The Body aka What! (1963) My #monthofmadness continues tonight with a Mario Bava directed atmospheric film, with lots of false eyelashes on the ladies and a whip-brandishing Christopher Lee, a bit of light BDSM (seriously), and a bit of haunted revenge. I first saw this on Commander USA in 1988. I’ve been looking for it ever since. Thanks, Amazon Instant, for confirming that this stylish fever dream really happened. Crack that whip!  #daytwo #horrormovieaday#christopherlee

Something I neglected to mention that under the whole film is one long piece of music, this thick, romantically sad, violin-forward composition that gives the whole thing an intensely poignant energy, even when nothing is happening – which happens a lot. Also, the dubbing is really loud and fights with Love Theme from What, making for a jarring experience. Also! Christopher is really handsome and evil here, and I love him all handsome and evil.

Tuesday, October 3:   Night of the Lepus (1972)

Oh god in heaven. Killer rabbits. DeForrest Kelley, Janet Light, Rory Calhoun. I’d never seen this one and it left me with that What did I just watch feeling? Have you seen Kingdom of the Spiders? It’s that, more or less, swapping out tarantulas for RABBITS, which are infinitely less threatening. I honestly can’t think of anything less threatening. Even the Queen’s adorable Corgis are known to get a little nippy with you, where the worst a rabbit can do it cute you into helplessness. So this movie is terrible. And I was really worried about the well-being of some of the rabbits here, like I was with the tarantulas in Spiders. – I’m sure HSUA wasn’t on site here. See this with the Rifftrax, if you must see it all.

Wednesday, October 4:   The Undead (1957)

Time for Roger Corman! Who doesn’t love Roger Corman? Well, MST3K doesn’t that’s who! To be fair, they’ve seen more of his films than most anyone should, but I think this one is an exception. The Undead sounds like it’s going to be about, well, vampires maybe, or zombies? But I was a little bit tricked. It’s about someone dead, but reincarnated? But she’s going to die? Or something? It’s much more fantasy than horror, but with some horror elements (witches, axe murders, beheadings) that kept me watching, and were enough, I decided, that it could be allowed. According to horrorpedia.com, “The movie was filmed in a converted supermarket, and was completed in only six days.” Yes, it certainly feels like that. Or like community theater with a few really decent actors. Those sets were so flat, the blocking was so uninspired, it felt a lot like some of the shows I was in back in my 20’s. But say what you will about Corman, but he hired good people and got solid, even moving performances out of so many of them. My favorite here was the lead actress, Pamela Duncan, as Diana, a prostitute who is hypnotized by a researcher (Richard Garland) into reliving her past as is forced to make a horrible choice. Duncan takes what amounts to some typical ingenue stuff, and gives it a lot of heart until the last bit of the film when she really shines. She’s lovely.

And there you have it. The first four days. More to come. Follow me on instagram for immediate posts and extras!

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