The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1426 Post by domino harvey » Sat Oct 08, 2016 1:15 pm

Second round of my Halloween adventure:

A Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman 1959) Superb exploration of the anguish of the untalented amongst their artistic betters, and one that does three times as much for the subject than Amadeus did in 3X the running time. Dick Miller is pitch-perfect as the sympathetic busboy who turns to murder to provide models for his sculptures. The film is funny in a clever fashion, and the film’s depiction of beatnik culture is both representative, respectful, and fully-knowing in its gentle satire— it is bar nothing the best depiction of the movement I’ve ever seen in film, and one that plays to all sides of it as seen from outside. The film is imaginatively directed by Corman, and I suspect Miller’s long legacy in horror film circles is due in large part to his rare starring turn here. A masterpiece well worth honoring in beat poetry (please do not write beat poetry).

A TON OF VAL LEWTON: the Body Snatcher (Robert Wise 1945) / the Ghost Ship (Mark Robson 1943) / Isle of Death (Mark Robson 1945) / Bedlam (Mark Robson 1946) I wasn’t a big fan of the other five Lewton movies in Warners’ box, and since those were the high profile ones everyone seemed to love best, I put the rest of the set off for years. Coming to them now, I think a few of these still suffer from stilted and often awkward dialog and crudeness in construction, but most at least offer individual positives to make up the difference. The Body Snatcher is a post-Burke and Hare tale of grave robbing that only finds success thanks to Boris Karloff’s terrifically engaged central performance. I’ve never seen Karloff livelier, and he really appears to relish playing the affably awful cabbie who latches onto the lucrative business model of providing corpses to docs. The Ghost Ship too features a colorful central villain role for ol’ Richard Dix, an officious ship captain who kills all who undermine his authority. Even though it’s de-militarized, this one’s anti-authoritarian message is still eyebrow-raising for being made during the war! Isle of Death also brings us an overzealous leader in Karloff’s plague-quarantined Greek military man who takes his role as protector to drastic ends when he becomes convinced one of his fellow survivors is actually an ancient creature bent on destroying the others. The core idea here is intriguing, but it never quite comes together like it should. Bedlam is probably not a horror film at all save the ending (unless thee is a Quaker, in which case thou can somehow square with God standing by and letting a man be buried alive), but this initially comic take on the archaic mental institution of the title is the best of the lot, so whatevs.

HAMMER TIME: the Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher 1957) / Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (Terence Fisher 1969) / Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (Freddie Francis 1968) / Taste the Blood of Dracula (Peter Sasdy 1969) Four more down, eighteen hundred Hammer films remaining. First up: the Frankenstein pics. Peter Cushing exudes the arrogance of Dr Frankenstein well in Curse of Frankenstein, but he and the film he’s in never rise above the confused reimagining of an already well-trodden adaptation subject. However, in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Cushing plays Frankenstein as 100% total asshole, terrorizing a young couple and forcing them to do his bidding in his quest to obtain secrets from a mentally infirm colleague. The body switching plotline finds unexpected gravitas in the last act, and I was surprised at the non-melodramatic and quite sad plight of the brain-transplant victim— it’s an unexpected pivot, but it works, and helps to underscore the film’s cruelty.

Apologies to my fellow moderator, but I don’t like Christopher Lee’s take on Dracula at all. While playing the character like an abusive boyfriend works on paper— he’s in control of the power dynamics and wouldn’t need the consent or non-fear-based affection of his female victims— it is just a chore in practice, and I quickly grew tired of Lee stepping onto set for fifteen seconds of him snarling and being a dick. I don’t find Lee’s embodiment of the role intimidating or charismatic in the slightest, at least based on the three examples I’ve seen thus far. Not that he faces competition from anyone in his films. These two sequels both feature similarly bland central young couples who encounter assorted vampiric calamities on the way to a happy ending. I also found the hollow and infantile provocation masquerading as social critique in Taste the Blood of Dracula especially odious— oh those deeply conservative Christians who berate their daughters for making eyes at a boy are secretly sex addicts and wannabe Satanists, how precious. I don’t understand Dracula’s motivation in the latter film either— he avenges the death of a smarmy ponce who looks like Louis Jourdan's prattish little bro because he drank the blood of Dracula while his wealthy older benefactors declined and watched him die? Would he really show loyalty to anyone but himself based on the evidence found in these films? I know there’s a requisite number of dumb character motivations in even the best horror films, but this one taxed my patience early and often by just about everyone onscreen.

I still have two more sequels from each subfranchise left in my unwatched realm once I get to that massive UK Hammer box, but only Destroyed from this lot gives me any hope for my future encounters.

Hellions (Bruce McDonald 2015) A pregnant Canadian teenager is tormented by costumed children and a purple light filter in the most confusing Planned Parenthood ad ever. McDonald directed the ambitious Pontypool and the Tracey Fragments, but I have no earthly idea what compelled him to make this trainwreck other than the ambition to make the worst Halloween film ever.

Horror House on Highway 5 (Richard Casey 1985) The slasher movie adaptation of Gravity’s Rainbow. An unknown man in a Richard Nixon mask terrorizes college kids sent to work on a project about an ex-Nazi rocket scientist, sometimes using invisible weapons. It will shock no one to learn that the two are one and the same. Also the scientist’s insane children, one named Dr Mabuse, kidnap and torment women as well. It’s a family thing. When the best defenders can come up with for this movie is, “Hey, there are guitars on the soundtrack,” you know there’s nothing actually worthwhile here.

It Came From Hollywood (Malcolm Leo and Andrew Solt 1982) Dan Ackroyd, John Candy, Gilda Radner, and Cheech and Chong introduce and sometimes talk over clips from b-movies. The title is a misnomer, as most of these are either independent productions or dubbed Japanese films, and the comments and skits surrounding the clips are remarkably unfunny, even for proto-MST3K humor. Example: During a Tarzan clip, Radner helpfully adds “Look out for that rock, it’s really heavy.” Comic genius right there. I don’t know that I expect much from the SNL crew but given Candy’s tenure on the film-smart SCTV, I am disappointed in his involvement here. The only ones who come off well are Cheech and Chong, who seem to actually engage with their bits, and having the two critique inauthentic drug representations is the only wholly effective segment of the film. Another film I enjoyed as a kid but can't see much value in now.

Night of the Living Deb (Kyle Rankin 2016) Maria Thayer is the titular Deb, a wonderfully endearing dork who finds herself navigating Portland, Maine in the wake of an overnight zombie apocalypse with her (quasi) one night stand. I know Thayer primarily from Strangers With Candy, where she played Tammi Littlenut, but the biggest and clearest takeaway from this film is that Thayer should be placed in more leading roles pronto, because she steals every second of this film with her goofy affability. The first half of the film is front-loaded with an exhaustive array of belly-laughs, including a wonderful discussion of murder-suicide that cheekily mocks the morose ending of the Mist and countless other downer film apocalypses. It’s obvious early on that this movie is too good natured to end so tragically, and the film’s best idea, outside of casting Thayer, is that it’s basically a stock romantic comedy transplanted into a different genre. But this eventually means the movie has to turn to more conventional arenas as it winds down. I was disappointed in the film’s second half, which feels less fresh and urgent than the barrage of huge laughs that came before it, though there are still a smattering of chuckles in the run up to the finish. This is still a winningly cute movie and gets an easy “Highly Recommended” from me, but as a horror film it of course pales in comparison to what Thayer’s Strangers With Candy co-star appeared in a decade earlier.

Scalps (Fred Olen Ray 1983) College students trespass on ancient indian burial ground despite Poltergeist coming out the year prior. At least one scalping occurs in the process. It takes almost an hour for anything to even happen in this movie. Then things happen and I immediately wanted the film to go back to there being nothing happening instead.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1427 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 4:18 pm

Just wait until you see Christopher Lee's take on Fu Manchu! He's as good as Boris Karloff, and better than Peter Sellers I guess!

I'd certainly recommend trying out The Brides of Dracula in the future domino. That's the Dracula film without Christopher Lee (there's a Dracula equivalent here but the focus is much more on the sexy 'brides' aspect), but Peter Cushing (literally) throws himself into the role, turning his Van Helsing into more of an action hero.

There's not going to be much to turn you around on the last three Christopher Lee Dracula films. He's always more used as a glowering, almost mute presence than anything more nuanced (which ties his Dracula in with his Frankenstein's monster and even his title role in The Mummy too), and that was apparently something that Lee was upset by, which led to him participating less and less as the series went on. Around this time Lee apparently jumped at the chance to do a properly faithful version of Dracula, but unfortunately 1970's Count Dracula was directed by Jess Franco, so you can probably guess how that turned out!

Its strange, but I think Lee's best Hammer performances, rather than pure physical appearances, are probably his roles in the Dennis Wheatley adaptations The Devil Rides Out and To The Devil A Daughter. And Rasputin of course!

The Scars of Dracula is the last 'period' film, then there's the terrible but very amusing Dracula A.D. 1972, and finally The Satanic Rites of Dracula which kind of uses the same set up as Taste The Blood of Dracula for the Count's resurrection, only this this time it is updated from jaded aristocrats to unscrupulous property developers wanting to release some sort of experimental plague on the world!

I kind of prefer the more bizarre offshoot Hammers from its famous series to many of the more celebrated entries - Frankenstein Created Woman has a strange soul transference gender-bending thing going on (and itself is part of the brief trend of female led twists on established stories that includes Hands of the Ripper, Twins of Evil, Countess Dracula and Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde), The Mummy's Shroud is the better of the mummy films, The Plague of the Zombies is the best undead film even beyond the Dracula films, and so on.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Thu Nov 24, 2016 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1428 Post by domino harvey » Sat Oct 08, 2016 5:32 pm

Thanks for that rundown Colin! I did recently pickup that new Hammer Blu-ray set with Brides and seven others, so I'll hopefully be able to give your recommendation a spin at some point in this quest to minimize my unseen horror titles this season. Don't know if I'm ready for the commitment of dipping into that 20+ title UK set yet though!

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1429 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 6:28 pm

The one Hammer I'd say not to miss out on would be Quatermass and the Pit (and then if you like that the previous two Quatermass films are fun too. Then beyond those X The Unknown!)

EDIT: Although I've just remembered about Oliver Reed's performance in The Curse of The Werewolf!

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1430 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Oct 08, 2016 7:01 pm

It's been too long since I've seen it to remember specifics, but I always read Ghost Ship as being anti-fascist specifically in it's anti-authoritarian bent. Dix's ramblings have a whiff of it iirc. The film has always been linked in my mind with Hitchcock's Lifeboat, which of course is much more explicit.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1431 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 7:17 pm

I love Ghost Ship. It's not often you have the ostensible hero bound and gagged like the damsel in distress whilst the final knife fight takes place! (One of the best knife fights I've seen!) But it fits in with his character being at the mercy of others all the time. I remember seeing this back when I was at an impressionable age in my early teens and it really made an impact for the suggestion that doing the right thing and trying to be a good person just isn't enough to stay safe in the world, and might actually be the thing that turns you into a shunned pariah! I've always felt it was perhaps the bleakest of the Lewton films (perhaps only rivalled by The Seventh Victim!), but that might just be based on personal reaction more than anything else!

I'm in agreement with domino on Bedlam, and that also seems to follow a similar arc of well meaning individual trying to make a difference ironically getting trapped with and mentally tortured by the very representative of authority they were making a complaint about, who is interested in maintaining the status quo of how their organisation is run and also now has an element of feeling personally slighted to add to their maliciousness. (The lead in this film, Anna Lee, was only a couple of years past a similar resistance figure role in Fritz Lang's Hangmen Also Die!)

There is an interesting aspect to the supporting casts in these films, who are tainted by their blinkered attitudes to the cruelty around them, or maybe they are just inured to their living conditions! It is also as if everyone around the 'good' and 'bad' characters are not just getting out of the firing line, but are actively throwing these two characters together to see who will come out victorious.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1432 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Oct 08, 2016 8:51 pm

Regarding Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula's motivation makes no sense because he originally wasn't supposed to appear. Ralph Bates, our errant blood drinker, was supposed to be resurrected and seek revenge. Oh well.

I'm sorry you don't like Lee's Dracula--while I'm not much of a fan of Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, it does have my favourite Lee Dracula moment. It's small, but while on the roof he tosses the boyfriend aside with such a look of aristocratic disdain, then turns back to the girl with this quick, feral, wolf-like snap of the head. It sums up Lee's Dracula for me.

Overall, the Hammer Frankenstein films were much stronger than their Dracula films. I think you'll like Frankenstein Created Woman (my favourite along with Destroyed) and Revenge of Frankenstein. The former is quite poignant, and the latter just swift moving fun, much better than the stodgy Curse. I'll second Colin on Brides of Dracula, Plague of the Zombies, The Devil Rides Out, Quatermass and the Pit--and add The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll--as Hammer films you're likely to enjoy. Consider also seeing their black and white suspense films, much different from their colour gothics. The rest you can probably skip.

Also, have you seen Lewton's Curse of the Cat People yet, domino? It's aimed right at your interests, being an examination of childhood.
domino harvey wrote:The Body Snatcher is a post-Burke and Hare tale of grave robbing that only finds success thanks to Boris Karloff’s terrifically engaged central performance. I’ve never seen Karloff livelier, and he really appears to relish playing the affably awful cabbie who latches onto the lucrative business model of providing corpses to docs.
You really ought to watch his performance in The Black Room as twins. He puts an equal amount of lively relish into his evil twin, while seeming the gentlest soul in the world as his good one.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1433 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Oct 09, 2016 1:33 am

domino harvey wrote:MARIO BAVA-O-RAMA: Black Sunday (1960) / Five Dolls For an August Moon (1970) / Baron Blood (1972) / Lisa and the Devil (1973) While I liked parts of Black Sabbath, I wasn’t too taken with the other four Bava pictures I’ve seen, but I kept hearing and reading about his vaunted reputation, so I finally got to more of his high profile titles and… I’m now ready to write off yet another Euro horror auteur as Not My Thing. Black Sunday is a passable gothic tale of a vampiric witch brought back to life rather surreptitiously who proceeds to kill others to rebuild her body. I’m not the biggest fan of these spooky castle-set Euro movies, though I guess I should learn to love them since I still have a ton of unwatched Hammer films to get to! Though I can’t say I enjoy the modern-day Euro murder-fests any better: 5 Dolls For an August Moon is a confusing and silly portrait of mod rich people getting killed and shoved into a freezer every ten minutes. I did enjoy the jaunty theme that played every time we found ourselves back inside the deep freeze— it obviously gets played many, many times! Baron Blood is worse yet: Joseph Cotten is the titular cursed figure who is brought back to life in the form of Witchy Poo before transcending to his final slumming Hollywood star form. Borders on Jess Franco-levels of unwatchability. Speaking of, last up was Lisa and the Devil, wherein stupid shit happens to characters who may or may not be ghosts in yet another dilapidated Italian estate. If there is anything all these giallos and Euro sleaze horror pics have taught me, it’s that the truly lucrative business in the 70s was owning one of these properties to rent out for the seemingly endless stream of movies that needed a place to put dead bodies.
I'm with you on Bava as well. Black Sunday is one of the better ones. It isn't great and doesn't really succeed dramatically, but it looks good - kind of emulating the classic Universal horror look. Like you, I liked bits of Black Sabbath. The others I found varying from mediocre to atrocious (I'm looking at you, The Whip and the Body, one of the absolute worst films I've ever seen).

5 Dolls I'd put in the mediocre category, but it was actually one of the better Bava films I've seen. It's a bit faster-paced than some of his others and the more natural and pretty setting lends to a visually more appealing film, that has frequent neat little production design and cinematographic flourishes. I thought Baron Blood was actually one of the other better ones, a Hammerish Gothic horror film - but again the pros for me had to do with the appealing photography. It's at least better than the similar-titled Bay of Blood, perhaps the granddaddy of the slasher films, with its numerous, spectacular gruesome deaths, but a confusing film with too many characters that’s frequently very amateurish-looking and features an incredibly silly ending. Some often esteemed ones, like The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Kill, Baby, Kill (the latter a favorite of Scorsese's), were really quite a tremendous chore for me to get through.

On the other hand, I thought his last film, Kidnapped, stood out from the rest of his work. He dropped the giallo and the atmospheric visuals for a no-frills, mean, tough, semi-exploitation crime thriller. The villains are over-the-top, but that’s par for the genre, and the whole thing was very well executed and engrossing.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1434 Post by domino harvey » Sun Oct 09, 2016 12:51 pm

Lots of great discussion in here!

Cold Bishop: I definitely agree that the film was attempting an anti-despot message, but I couldn't help think that anticipating the Caine Mutiny wasn't the message Hollywood meant to send to troops dealing with their own powertripping ship Captains!

Colin: Now that you laid it out, it really does feel like these films form a loose trilogy of power mad authority figures!

Mr Sausage: Lots of good recs there, thanks! Especially interested in the Black Room-- of all the actors associated with the early monster movies, Karloff by far seems to be the only one who managed to leave much of an impression afterwords. And yes, I saw Curse of the Cat People earlier this year in prep for the All Time List, but I hated it and am shocked at its reputation here (where it finishes near the top in the Youth List). I think it has the worst sins of these Lewton films and is just a mess, but this only underscores my pleasure at being able to get something out of my Lewton viewings in this last round. I don't relish my often iconoclastic tastes!

Rayon Vert: Glad to have you on the team! I may not be over the moon about Argento but at least I get his reputation and the love of his early output. However, Bava to me ranks nowhere in the vacinity of being an equal or peer to him. I'd put Bava closer to Fulci (now there's fighting words!)

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1435 Post by zedz » Sun Oct 09, 2016 3:08 pm

colinr0380 wrote:There's not going to be much to turn you around on the last three Christopher Lee Dracula films. He's always more used as a glowering, almost mute presence than anything more nuanced (which ties his Dracula in with his Frankenstein's monster and even his title role in The Mummy too), and that was apparently something that Lee was upset by, which led to him participating less and less as the series went on. Around this time Lee apparently jumped at the chance to do a properly faithful version of Dracula, but unfortunately 1970's Count Dracula was directed by Jess Franco, so you can probably guess how that turned out!
Though in doing so, he also managed to star in yet another Dracula adaptation, and one that was genuinely mysterious and dreamlike, Pere Portabella's Cuadecuc, Vampir. Technically, it was a making-of for the Franco Count Dracula, but it was made by a much better director, and it takes the form of a parallel adaptation of the novel (following the same basic narrative) utilising scraps of action caught from the set, minimising the filmmaking aparatus, and presenting everything in ultra-high-contrast black and white. Lee didn't come back for another Franco Dracula film, but he gladly signed up for Portabella's next movie Umbracle.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1436 Post by domino harvey » Sun Oct 16, 2016 1:52 am

More macabre movies as I reach the midpoint of my month of madness:

Carrie (Brian De Palma 1976) Iconic Stephen King adaptation that has become part of the common collective cultural consciousness since its release forty years ago. I vaguely remembered watching this one on TV as a kid and of course much of it had seeped into my awareness from years consuming media, but the film mostly lives up to its heady reputation and there are many strong elements in play here. What I most admired about De Palma’s film is that it highlights how cruel high schoolers can be— not just in the infamous pig blood plan, but throughout, in congress with themselves or those adults seen as authority figures, however fleetingly. This broad cynicism is appropriate to the subject matter, but also reveals an element of misanthropy that runs through most King works— those who have sat down to read a King novel know too well that he loves nothing more than giving time over the grotesqueries of the human spirit, and his novels are flagrantly ugly in their free depictions of such inner and outer demons. Now, this often coincides with a narrative that justifies this outlook, so it doesn’t seem to come up as much in discussion as it should, but this film expertly shows the depravities of its source. Beyond the garden variety “These kids” attitude of the film, I think Carrie does a marvelous job of showing the dangers of not just outright cruelty/bullying, but pity as well. The coach and Amy Irving may have meant well (and De Palma cleverly obfuscates the full intent of the latter until near the end), but to what ends? Who were they really helping with their actions, other than to make a volatile situation worse for their interventions?

De Palma has a good time soaking up the stressors, and while I know this is an old hat insight for the director, I was taken by how Hitchcockian the lead up to the pig blood moment was, and indeed De Palma seemed far more interested in Irving’s slo-mo discovery and the one-take revealing the final placement than with the more readily-referenced violent aftermath. Indeed, the carnage seems like an afterthought to the suspense and dread beforehand. Sissy Spacek is terrific and Piper Laurie plays an impossible part as broadly as possible, which is just as well (in for a penny, in for a pound with this kind of one-note figure). I don’t think the religious fundamentalist angle works in this material, since it’s clear from the start that Laurie isn’t insanely religious, just insane, which dulls any impact this tack might have had. Thankfully the film mostly uses this theme to underscore Spacek’s naivety and victim-status rather than make larger points about sexual repression, which are a bit too broad, even for a movie about a blood-soaked prom queen killing all her classmates with her mind. I mean, I’m late to the party here and “Great film everyone already knows is great is great” is hardly news, but here’s another plus in the De Palma “For” column!

Christine (John Carpenter 1983) I read the source novel back when I was going through my Stephen King phase in high school and didn’t care for it much then (in part due to its witless vulgarity, sadly carried over here in some of the dialog), but I found myself warming to Carpenter’s adaptation as it went along. The film like the book gets points for taking an utterly absurd premise— man falls in love with car, car kills out of jealousy for man— and playing it straight. Given that the movie adapts King’s novel faithfully (to my recollection at least), I initially found the title card of “John Carpenter’s Christine” a bit off-putting. But it ends up being a fair claim, since Carpenter’s cool aesthetic sterility here is what helps seal the deal as the action becomes increasingly supernatural. Whereas King’s novel is a near miss, Carpenter’s adaptation is a marginal success, though I think neither quite make the critical connections between car culture and teen masculinity that they could with the same basic materials. As it stands, the film is merely a novel variation on the slasher film made with style and restraint.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (Paul Schrader 2005) Famously refused release by Warner Brothers, who fired Schrader and hired Renny Harlin to refilm most of the picture into a different movie, unseen by me (and based on what is here, likely to remain that way). I know it’s tempting to defend Schrader’s film unseen on principle, but that’s the only way it should be defended. There are some compelling ideas here, but Schrader’s approach is slick yet inconsistent: The idea that the Devil would tempt victims by allowing them to relive and conquer their biggest regret is a solid concept. However, the Devil just shows them that they’d have been screwed no matter what and does so in the hopes of getting them to turn against God. And even this idea is about ten minutes out of an African-set horror film that hits every obvious note of banal villainy. Stellan Skarsgard, who is so much better than this material, is Young Father Merrin, who has retreated to Africa after facing his own crises during the second world war. Yes, this is another one of those movies that uses Nazis to cartoonishly embody the extremes of evil in a way that glorifies its depravity more than it ever decries it. There is nothing subtle about the film’s opening wherein a German officer orders Skarsgard’s priest to pick which of his parishioners will be executed to typically Nazian ends. This cheap and easy phony provocation of the audience is a joke: the film mostly chickens out, but still feigns outrage out of the side of its mouth. But it’s all so familiar. And that’s the problem with the film at-large: On paper this must have seemed like a deep philosophical horror film about regret and doubt in God’s will in the face of unspeakable tragedy, but in execution it’s all just so thunderingly obvious.

Pet Sematary (Mary Lambert 1989) Stephen King notably shelved the novel because he found it too disturbing, but while I never read the book that was 2 spooky 4 King, the film is certainly worth never experiencing. The premise here could go in many promising directions— the local pet cemetery is located near an ancient indian burial ground that will bring back evil versions of deceased pets… and humans— but where it actually goes is trite and familiar. And there is also a "helpful" ghost, who provides no assistance of actual use to any character, despite popping up all the time AND unbelievably there's also another ghost, this time a man dressed as a woman suffering from spiral meningitis. Because bringing back zombie pets and toddlers somehow isn’t enough material?

Spasmo (Umberto Lenzi 1974) Man finds himself in a crazy situation in more ways than one. While sometimes stylishly shot, the film doesn’t work because the Noir-ish twists come too late and the whole film is largely confusing and, once the explanation is provided, a bit silly. It does end up belonging in this genre, though:
SpoilerShow
I imagine this ends up being the briefest Giallo of them all, given that it doesn’t even reveal itself to be one until the second-to-last twist shows us all the horrors that occurred offscreen.
Strip Nude For Your Killer (Andrea Bianchi 1975) Not that I expected much from a film with a title like that, but this is one exceptionally ugly experience. A series of murders are centered around a modeling agency and our protagonist is literally the worst character in film history, a rapey piece of shit that makes Donald Trump look like Cary Grant. To give you some idea of his charm, allow me to relay to you the final “comic” scene of the film:
SpoilerShow
Our Hero, having just killed a woman enacting revenge for a failed abortion, prepares to bed his girlfriend. She tells him he doesn’t have to worry about that since she’s on the pill. He says he can’t be too safe and then flips her nude body over and against her protestations sodomizes her. After a few thrusts he tells her he was just kidding. Ha?
Mr Sausage’s epic takedown in his Giallo Roundup was too kind!

Superstition (James W Roberson 1982) Slightly more ambitious than most 80s slashers, this Exorcist/Amityville cash-in finds a family and the local priesthood facing off against the spirit of a witch who’s not even dead (?) in what ends up being a slasher Wake Island in that
SpoilerShow
every character dies.
The film answers the question, “Whatever happened to Lynn Carlin?” and you’ll regret you ever asked. Some decent, if brief, gore effects are present, and the film does memorably open by exploiting the worst fears of people who open the microwave too quickly, so there are some infinitesimal saving graces here… but this is still pretty awful… so I’m sure the Arrow release is right around the corner.

Wolfen (Michael Wadleigh 1981) There is so much I liked about this film as it unfolded that I was surprised and disappointed when the credits started to run— not because I was sad to see the film end, but because I didn’t register that it had achieved anything resembling a narrative resolution. Up til the ending, this tale of NYC wolves run wild charmed me with its droll patience, sly visual style (sans stupid negative-space Wolf Vision), and how it convinced me that all of the characters existed before the world of the film. Albert Finney takes a role we’ve all seen a hundred times, the world-weary detective, and somehow makes it feel fresh and entertaining. But the ending is too amorphous and ambiguous and worst of all small stakes for the larger themes the film flirted with for most of the running time. I still give the film a solid recommendation, but I would have afforded far more praise if the film had managed to live up to itself.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1437 Post by knives » Sun Oct 16, 2016 1:59 am

I actually find the Harlan take to be more enjoyable in how it forgoes any sense of being taken seriously and just tries to be s gross and over the top as it could possibly hope to be with a decent action sensibility spread throughout.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1438 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Oct 16, 2016 5:50 pm

domino harvey wrote:Beyond the garden variety “These kids” attitude of the film, I think Carrie does a marvelous job of showing the dangers of not just outright cruelty/bullying, but pity as well. The coach and Amy Irving may have meant well (and De Palma cleverly obfuscates the full intent of the latter until near the end), but to what ends? Who were they really helping with their actions, other than to make a volatile situation worse for their interventions?
I thought that was handled extremely well too, sort of an atonement by Sue for joining in with the gang in the opening shower scene (or perhaps in being singled out and noted disappointedly by Miss Collins. Perhaps Sue is trying to wash away the tainted blood of her actions Lady Macbeth-style). It kind of takes the form of almost condescendingly throwing the victim a bone in the form of her boyfriend though, as if she can do this with the assurance that this will be Carrie's single moment of happiness at the prom, and then Tommy will go back with her (I wonder if there's the the 'safe apocalyptic' sense there of this being the end of High School and the last time they'll ever see Carrie anyway, so why not offer her a night to remember before everyone moves on with their lives and forgets her. That's probably the motivation on the bullies side of things too). I like that Miss Collins herself calls both Sue and Tommy out on what they are doing, but its as if something superficial turns meaningful for them too as the film goes on, and they get caught up more in what the event means to Carrie, even if it is all just a performance on their parts. But its overboard, overblown and out of proportion in almost the opposite extreme to the bullying. Everything seems too good to be true, almost parodical in its superficiality, and of course it all gets extra heightened with the winning of the contest, as the prom king and queen votes get rigged without the knowledge of our sympathetic-to-Carrie characters.

I wonder if there is the satirical take on the American dream here. You're either the belle of the ball or the victim/mass murderer wrecking everything (similar to the religious extremism perhaps. And it interestingly equates Carrie and Chris together, with Chris being the 'fake' victim/aggressor whilst Carrie isn't faking it in either area!). There's no in between, because that removes the drama and just makes you into one of the crowd rather than someone 'special'. That strikes me as Carrie's tragedy - that she wants to just do the things that everybody else does without being overly noticed and hounded, but nobody is allowing her to be 'normal'. The 'happy ending' of just going to the prom with the boy you like and having a dance and perhaps a goodnight kiss gets overblown into crowns and thrones. With that raising up being all the better to bring Carrie crashing back down into victimisation again (almost as if the characters could say it is obviously Carrie's fault in pridefully trying to rise above her station and no-one else's for having manufactured the situation in the first place to then exploit. Both her rise and fall in status happen entirely outside of her control).

One of the brilliant things about that final situation is the way that we get that amazing victim-point of view shot of everyone ridiculing her combined with the swirling voiceover remembrances ("We're all sorry, Cassie", "Trust me Carrie, you can trust me"), and the way that we get even shots of the sympathetic characters (apart from the pointedly knocked unconscious Tommy) and authority figures unable to stop themselves from laughing at the degrading spectacle in front of them. I like that it feels a little ambiguous over whether this is actually happening or whether we are so deep into Carrie's swirling shock and feelings of betrayal welling up that we are seeing even those who cared for her as aggressors now. I've always loved the Miss Collins character and the shot of even her beginning to laugh feels like the moment that dooms everyone to dying (and of course Betty Buckley has to get one of the most violent, personalised deaths of all for that)

Its the anger of someone betrayed that wouldn't have exploded so violently if they were not given that small glimmer of hope to then have it pulled away again. In some ways it would have been better for everyone if they had not offered that chance at all in the first place.

I also particularly love that this all gets contrasted with the Piper Laurie religious mother section which is much more personalised and almost tender (as well as religiously eroticised!) in its death scene, as Carrie almost gives her mother the death she has been lusting after. That's the more devastating area of the film too as its about Carrie struggling for control of her life and chance to have her own experiences from her domineering mother whilst still not wanting to hurt her mother's feelings. In a horrible way her mother is vindicated in her dire warnings about boys and proms, but we never get the sense that either extreme (the kids or the adults, whatever they stand for) are the winners here, more that Carrie is left without any place to fit into. Except the praying closet that travels straight into the bowels of the Earth at the end of the film.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Fri Sep 29, 2017 6:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1439 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Oct 16, 2016 8:06 pm

colin wrote:I like that Miss Collins herself calls both Sue and Tommy out on what they are doing, but its as if something superficial turns meaningful for them too as the film goes on, and they get caught up more in what the event means to Carrie, even if it is all just a performance on their parts. But its overboard, overblown and out of proportion in almost the opposite extreme to the bullying. Everything seems too good to be true, almost parodical in its superficiality, and of course it all gets extra heightened with the winning of the contest, as the prom king and queen votes get rigged without the knowledge of our sympathetic-to-Carrie characters.
This is a great point. The kindness in the movie is initially a self-focused expiation, mainly from a sense of not having lived up to one's self-conception. Notice the teacher, in explaining the situation to the principal, says that even she is susceptible to the power of in-group/out-group dynamics and only barely restrained a desire to chastise the terrified Carrie. We can see in her excessive sternness (to which the excessive revenge is an equal reaction) the kernel of her own guilt and a will to stamp out vigorously certain behaviours without a concern for addressing their cause or where that suppressed energy is going to find an outlet (the kids may be leaving school, but they will be taking their mentality and behaviour with them). Sue clumsily assuages her own guilt as well by compelling her boyfriend to do something she oughtn't to ask anyone to do and in the process treats Carrie with condescension, as someone to be helped rather than, say, befriended and understood. This is what domino gets at above.

And yet as Colin notes, the film shows how kindness that begins in self-interest can become genuine, other-directed warmth. However condescendingly Sue's plan started, it ended as the opposite, with two people really connecting and treating each other as valuable human beings. Tommy is a decent person, without design, and responds to Carrie's good qualities. And Sue's concern about the plot against Carrie is represented as unconnected with her guilt, as being mainly a very serious concern for Carrie's well-being and the overall injustice of how she'll be treated. She has to work through it, but she gets past guilt to something less interior. Finally, the teacher's treatment of Sue shows that deeper concern for the behaviour and well-being of her students that she lacked while punishing them, and her concern for Carrie, her happiness at Carrie's moment at the end is real.

This latter point is necessary for the movie to be a tragedy rather than ironic fatalism, with values held up only to be revealed as empty. The happiness and the fellow-feeling has to be real for there to be a sense of actual loss and for Carrie to receive an actual fall when the reversal comes. Otherwise, she would've remained where she always was, and we would only be recognizing that it was dumb to think she could rise in the first place. The kindness is real, and the result is tragic because indiscriminate: the good are punished as horribly as the bad. Horrible deaths are reserved for a decent boy and teacher who didn't deserve it, as well as scores of people innocent of the whole situation. It's a long fall from an expertly constructed melodramatic height. It's beautifully done; and that shot of Carrie walking, stiff as Frankenstein's monster, from the doors of the burning gym is haunting and sad.

So, yeah, the film has a slightly more complicated attitude to kindness and charity, but opts (smartly) for a simple melodramatic resolution of two heightened opposite states: joy and fear. It's not a high art film or a complex social film; it's a superior grand guignol genre film and one of a small number of De Palma's very best.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1440 Post by Sloper » Tue Oct 18, 2016 11:14 am

Great discussion on Carrie. Lots of really good points. When I watched it again a while ago, I found myself hoping things would turn out differently at the end. Maybe Sue will bring along a sturdy pair of scissors this time... Maybe Miss Collins will listen for a second... I first saw Carrie when I was nine, and only really enjoyed the violence of the final scenes, but in my teenage years this became one of my favourite films. As a misanthropic outsider myself, I loved the nihilistic spectacle of the put-upon Carrie getting her revenge. These days I find the film much more poignant and sad, for all the reasons discussed in the above posts.

It’s such a terrible story of missed opportunities and misunderstandings. Yes, a question hangs over Sue’s actions and what the long term implications would be for Carrie if things went well here. Sue’s happiness when she sees Carrie and Tommy on stage at the prom almost suggests that she might be willing to give up her boyfriend entirely for Carrie’s sake. Perhaps they don’t have such a great relationship, mirroring the more obviously dysfunctional (and indeed abusive) Chris and Billy pairing. On the other hand, I like the way the film doesn’t overegg the bonding between Carrie and Tommy. There’s a nervous kiss on the dancefloor; he tells her that he likes being with her; and she’s obviously delighted just to be treated like a human being, and doesn’t jump to any wild conclusions about having gained a boyfriend. She even expects Tommy to dump her and go somewhere more interesting after they leave the prom. So you might plausibly see all this as a simple, innocent step towards Carrie becoming ‘normal’ and ‘a whole person’, as she herself puts it.

Miss Collins’ scepticism, as was pointed out above, is actually more of a problem than Sue’s good intentions. Not only does Miss Collins claim to empathise with Carrie’s tormentors, she also slaps Chris – and this is clearly figured as inappropriate, and obviously fuels Chris’s rage (which she displaces from Miss Collins to Carrie) – and, just after telling Carrie how pretty she is and how happy she should be to go to the prom with Tommy, she’s asking Tommy, ‘Don’t you think you’ll look a little ridiculous turning up to the prom with Carrie White?’ Her inability to see Sue’s plan for what it is stems, not from a mistrust of Sue herself (because it’s clear that Miss Collins knows Sue is one of the nicer girls, and senses how genuinely guilty she feels about the incident in the showers), but from her own suppressed contempt for Carrie. Hence, when she sees Sue at the prom, she immediately assumes the worst – and this is really the final moment when the tragedy could have been diverted. I don’t think Miss Collins does start to laugh when the pig’s blood comes down; this looks to me more like a sort of shocked gasp. But it’s important that Miss Collins should appear in Carrie’s subsequent hallucinations, even though Tommy and Sue don’t. Perhaps Carrie is picking up on the contempt that her teacher had tried to disguise.

One other thing: although Piper Laurie herself said she approached her part as a deliberately overblown satire, I don’t actually think her performance is completely ‘one-note’. There are a few moments of normality, softness and even tenderness, of which the beatific expression she assumes at the moment of death is the ultimate example. You could say that she looks like a painted martyr at this moment, but one of the things that contributes to this effect is the appearance of almost child-like innocence in her features, and we see this a few times earlier in the film as well. Perhaps I’ve just watched it too many times, but I’ve come to see Margaret White as a sort of frightened child, damaged so badly in her youth that she’s never been able to come to terms with the concept of being ‘a woman’, menstruation, men, sex, parenthood, etc.. The backstory revealed in her final scene hints at some of this, but it’s the hidden vulnerability of Laurie’s performance that makes me see the character in this light.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1441 Post by Feego » Tue Oct 18, 2016 12:10 pm

Sloper wrote:Yes, a question hangs over Sue’s actions and what the long term implications would be for Carrie if things went well here.
Of course, it's important to remember that no matter what happened at the prom, Carrie's mother was still waiting to kill her at home. So even if the prank never occurred, Carrie was still likely destined to either die that night or kill her mother in self-defense (or both). Their tragic fate was put into motion the moment Sue set up the date. It's the fate of everyone else that was contingent on the prank taking place.
Sloper wrote:One other thing: although Piper Laurie herself said she approached her part as a deliberately overblown satire, I don’t actually think her performance is completely ‘one-note’. There are a few moments of normality, softness and even tenderness, of which the beatific expression she assumes at the moment of death is the ultimate example. You could say that she looks like a painted martyr at this moment, but one of the things that contributes to this effect is the appearance of almost child-like innocence in her features, and we see this a few times earlier in the film as well. Perhaps I’ve just watched it too many times, but I’ve come to see Margaret White as a sort of frightened child, damaged so badly in her youth that she’s never been able to come to terms with the concept of being ‘a woman’, menstruation, men, sex, parenthood, etc.. The backstory revealed in her final scene hints at some of this, but it’s the hidden vulnerability of Laurie’s performance that makes me see the character in this light.
I too see a vulnerability in Laurie's performance, particularly in the scene in which she begs Carrie not to go to the prom. It's not the usual fire-and-brimstone preaching that we see in most of her scenes. She seems on the verge of tears and genuinely protective toward her daughter. Even her warning that "They're all gonna laugh at you" seems less a fear-mongering way of preventing Carrie from engaging in sin than a real show of concern for her feelings. These moments make her final stabbing of Carrie take on an added depth as well. Even though we certainly don't condone her actions or her extreme beliefs, there's a sense that she is acting out of what she truly believes to be good and just. She is not the type to selfishly use religion as a means of furthering her own agenda but perhaps as a way of coping with a world she finds terrifying.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1442 Post by Sloper » Tue Oct 18, 2016 12:50 pm

Feego wrote:Of course, it's important to remember that no matter what happened at the prom, Carrie's mother was still waiting to kill her at home. So even if the prank never occurred, Carrie was still likely destined to either die that night or kill her mother in self-defense (or both). Their tragic fate was put into motion the moment Sue set up the date. It's the fate of everyone else that was contingent on the prank taking place.
You're right, and we do see Margaret muttering 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' and frantically chopping up the carrot. But for me, the film makes it seem like Carrie's vulnerability after the nightmare of the prom is what leaves her open to her mother's attack. Remember that before she went out, she was asserting herself in an increasingly mature way against her mother's attempts at control. I'm not suggesting we're meant to speculate about how Carrie would have fended off her knife-wielding mother if things had gone well, just that the prom scene destroys whatever maturity she had built up, and reduces her to an infantile state, saying 'Hold me momma, please hold me'. This makes it a lot easier for Margaret to stab Carrie than it would otherwise have been. In a sense, yes, it seems inevitable that her mother will kill her, just as it seems inevitable that the pig's blood will fall on her and she will use her powers to wreak a terrible revenge; but in another sense both these outcomes seem avoidable, and a happier fate for Carrie can at least be imagined, if only for a few minutes.
Feego wrote:She is not the type to selfishly use religion as a means of furthering her own agenda but perhaps as a way of coping with a world she finds terrifying.
I think that's exactly right. What I've come to realise in recent viewings, and what the above discussion helped to clarify for me, is that the film is not actually as nihilistic as I used to think it was. After all, most people at the prom seem quite accepting of Carrie, Norma only goes along with the prank for fun (i.e. not because she hates Carrie), Billy only goes along with it in exchange for sexual favours, Billy's friends are just mindless twerps, and even Chris seems angrier with Miss Collins than she does with Carrie herself. Despite the bullying at the start, it's remarkable how benevolent the people around Carrie (Tommy's friend's girlfriend is a notable example) turn out to be. People look twice when she arrives at the prom, but no one makes any derogatory comments when she's dancing with Tommy, or when they win the contest. And yet, the cruelty of those one or two people who are willing to inflict it is so damaging that it transforms Carrie's entire vision of her world in a matter of seconds, and the film quietly implies that something similar may have happened to Margaret White to make her so afraid of these 'godless times', and of the boys who she says will come 'like sniffing dogs' to the menstruating girl. The world may not be as cruel and evil as Margaret thinks it is, but even one abusive act can make it seem that way.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1443 Post by Feego » Tue Oct 18, 2016 12:59 pm

Sloper wrote:Despite the bullying at the start, it's remarkable how benevolent the people around Carrie (Tommy's friend's girlfriend is a notable example) turn out to be. People look twice when she arrives at the prom, but no one makes any derogatory comments when she's dancing with Tommy, or when they win the contest.
Absolutely. I always like that little moment when Billy says, "That Carrie White, she sure is cute!" Quite a difference from King's novel, where Billy is a complete sociopath who is prepared to dump the pig's blood on anyone.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1444 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Oct 18, 2016 2:20 pm

I don't think the film is nihilistic, either, and one of the reasons is that the tragedy comes from the intrusion of something that shouldn't be there: the telekinesis. It's responsible for Carrie's delayed sexual maturity (I'm guessing), and thus both for a crucial moment of humiliation and trauma and for revealing to her, belatedly, the extent of her mother's mental instability. It's also responsible for the dramatic irony that is the cause of the tragedy and the narrative's main trope: as Sloper implies, the prank is cruel and crude but not especially destructive; it's humiliating, but no one is supposed to get hurt. Even as a conception, it's particularly corny and farm-bred (and is treated as such during the pig-pen scene). None of them could know they were playing with a volatile mixture of sex, repression, and incredible power. Indeed, the image of dropping a bucket of pig blood on someone in public has become a minor cultural symbol of cruelty gone too far. But would it even be culturally notable if it had been in some school comedy or drama? It's not much in itself; it's the incredible reaction that burns it into memory. It's interesting that we tend not to separate them.

Without the intrusion of this outside element, the narrative wouldn't have happened in the first place, and even if it did (say, Carrie just has a physical abnormality unconnected with hormones that delayed menstruation), the narrative most likely goes one of two ways: momma wins and Carrie does not go to the prom; Carries goes, has a fine time, is humiliated, but Tommy is still hit over the head, so there is a major comeuppance for the pranksters for that alone, and Carrie either retreats into herself or finds some inner strength to come out of it and reconciles with Tommy in the hospital and with Sue at some later point.

So it's not nihilism because: A. dramatic irony implies that, if all were known, things would've gone differently, with a better outcome; B. the key failure is not of any political, social, or personal structure, but the inability of those things to contain something elemental that lies outside of them. There are lots of personal and institutional failures in the narrative (and some successes), but what makes those failures so heightened, and turns them into types, is the unnatural catalyst of Carrie's power. It's all mainly the result of there being no way to deal with this unknown outside fact that can externalize emotion in such ferocious ways. But then this story may well be about what psychic trauma does to the community, albeit condensed into one small series of events. Everyone suffers when people are allowed to be mistreated and the mistreatment ignored.

Another thought: latent in the narrative is probably the symbolic story of sexual force, with its power or destructiveness being the result of its lying outside the systems set up to organize people along healthy lines (the home, the school, religion, etc.); and therefore, when achieving a sufficient pitch in an individual, without an outlet established by convention, that sexual force immolates everything. But De Palma isn't much interested in this kind of symbolism, and he fills the movie with less weighted, more realistic details (eg. the uncomfortable looks the principal gives to the blood on Miss Collins' shorts--which here is a nice detail in a rounded movie rather than a moment heavy with narrative meaning). I think that's the right choice, too. This movie works better as a melodrama than something conceptual.

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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1445 Post by domino harvey » Mon Oct 24, 2016 2:04 am

Horror month continues on mercilessly

Black Magic Rites (Renato Polselli 1973) I have to confess: this is the film that finally let me give Jess Franco a small amount of credit, as he had nothing to do with it and it’s somehow worse than anything I’ve seen by him.

Body Snatchers (Abel Ferrara 1993) It takes real effort to make a bad body snatchers movie, and hats off to this movie for pulling it off. While stylishly shot, the film is empty and pointless. Why would anyone adapt this material and then remove everything about it that gives it such staying power? There’s no escalating threat, there’s no paranoia, and there’s nothing driving the narrative forward. It’s all one big zero balanced on a few halfway memorable moments that were somehow enough to convince everyone involved to waste their time and talents in making this a movie.

the Case of the Bloody Iris (Anthony Ascott 1972) This giallo really throws everything at the wall: black butt-kicking stripper, ex-cult member, burn victim shut-in, and even the titular plot device apparently has no connection with the actual killer’s reveal. It’s weird, I’ll give it that— but only that.

Cat’s Eye (Lewis Teague 1985) Three part anthology of Stephen King adaptations and original works. The worst comes first with the James Woods-fronted Quitters, Inc, which has a novel idea— the mafia offers smokers a Murder, Inc approach to quitting the habit— but literally does nothing with it. There’s no resolution here, which is fine because there’s no story to resolve. This segment also tries to be funny with a lengthy hallucination (and some bargain basement cover songs) that is a mistake of the highest order. Speaking of high, the middle and best (by far) sequence finds a high roller offering his wife’s lover a wager: either go to jail for a fake drug rap, or walk all the way around my hotel on the ledge and I’ll give you money and my wife. A great premise and the way it plays out is deliciously EC Comics-inspired— really this feels like a left-over from King’s Creepshow ode to Tales From the Crypt et al, and it’s a nice (though less histrionic) supplement to that film more than anything. The final segment, linked to the others by a cat, is a silly breath-stealing troll versus cat showdown that has some impressive effects even now (as does the ledge segment) but doesn’t add up to much. I liked this one best as a kid though, so maybe it plays better for younger viewers— the others are definitely geared at adults though! Can’t recommend, but worth watching the middle segment at least once in your life.

the Dead Pit (Brett Leonard 1989) A young amnesiac is institutionalized in an insane asylum that helpfully provides her with mini bikini bottoms and a crop top for after hours attire in this slasher for an hour and zombie film for the last forty minutes. So the inherent value here is you get two films you don’t want to watch. Soon our protagonist finds herself facing off against an undead trepanning aficionado who eventually summons all of his past victims to rise again and attempt to make the film interesting. Like most movie villains, he fails.

the House of Seven Corpses (Paul Harrison 1974) John Ireland’s film director wrangles his cast and crew while filming in John Carradine’s historical murder house. Nothing supernatural or otherwise happens until the last ten minutes or so, though I did enjoy how the film kept teasing the fake death scenes being real over and over. Not terrible but completely disposable.

the Nightcomers (Michael Winner 1971) I know this prequel to the Turn of the Screw is not well-regarded, but I have no strong attachment to James’ source text and think this film’s twisted and unusually amorphous morality makes for a more disturbing experience. Marlon Brando plays a part much stronger than his detractors allow: He’s a shiftless sexual predator who enjoys the captive audience and eager ears provided by the two young, mostly unsupervised kids running around a large, mostly empty estate. If you ever felt the anxiety of kids learning the wrong lessons from things you say metaphorically or jokingly, this is the film for you! The Nightcomers is a surprisingly deviant film in its moral compass, and there are moments here that are profoundly disturbing, like the sequences in which the two children begin to imitate the various sexual and physical liaisons between Brando and the governess in their play. The film plays with the elephant in the room of inescapable tragedy and the movie achieves a superbly unpleasant tenseness and unease throughout. Highly recommended.

the Others (Alejandro Amenábar 2001) Another welcome treat, given that I wasn’t sure how much enjoyment I’d get out of this after having the basic twist spoiled for me long ago. But I’m not sure the twist is all that subtle anyways, and the film operates on sustained atmosphere and Nicole Kidman’s impeccably-coiffed performance. Recommended.

Practical Magic (Griffin Dunne 1998) Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are two witchy sisters who encounter more than their share of supernaturally-enabled romances in this unexpectedly enjoyable piece of fluff. Filmed with a Barry Sonnenfeld-esque candy-coated lens like the empty yet delicious Halloween candy it is, the movie is often silly and not remotely logical or likely, but I liked how the film normalized witchcraft in a way that is closer to veganism than summoning powers against the laws of nature and man. The movie’s a doofy romantic comedy and sisterhood celebration and is sooooo much better than I thought it was going to be going into it. Recommended (!).

Rabid (David Cronenberg 1976) Marilyn Chambers gets plastic surgery after a motorcycle accident and somehow ends up with an anus in her armpit that hides a bloodsucking, rabies-like disease-carrying stinger. Oh-kay. There are some effective passages here and there and the film is vibrantly Canadian, but the entire movie rests on a premise that is missing a crucial causation element explaining how any of this happened in the first place. If Cronenberg couldn’t be bothered to even attempt to explain how Chambers came to her condition, why should I be bothered to care? That said, I do think this would be a fun Halloween costume:

Image

the Sentinel (Michael Winner 1977) The production staff seemingly spent all their money on getting name brand Hollywood stars to show up for ten minutes and were left holding the bag on the rest of this unbelievably awful piece of shit. I’ve liked Chris Sarandon in other movies but he gives one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen, though so many good actors are so bad in this (only Burgess Meridith and Ava Gardner come out of this okay) that I think a lot of that boils down to poor direction on Winner’s part. Scream Factory's Blu-ray has three commentary tracks-- I assume that's because it takes four and a half hours to fully apologize for this movie.

Strange Behavior (Michael Laughlin 1981) Shot in New Zealand but set in Illinois, this slasher finds high schoolers coming down with a case of Being a Slasher Movie Villain-itis after volunteering for clinical research at a local college’s Nazi-founded science department. Shot in ‘Scope for no reason, this, like most slasher movies, is a mess. Nearly every scene is timed incorrectly in how the characters interact, and I suspect the director was too intimidated by Michael Murphy to give him direction or even ask for another take. A few meager bits of novelty pop up here and there, but this is low man on the slasher totem pole regardless.

Vampyres (Jose Ramon Larraz 1974) I can’t wait to never see another “erotic” Euro horror movie ever again.

Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost in Time (Anthony Hickox 1988/1991) A group of college students find themselves fumbling into David Warner’s waxwork tableaus, instantly transporting themselves into horror story situations in which once they are brutally murdered, their corpses become part of the wax display. Hickox has a lot of fun with this by giving us three entertaining and dryly comic tableaus in the first hour, with the clear best being the vampire one set in a gothic castle out of a romance novel cover. A young girl finds herself invited to dinner and is served a bowl of bloody flesh. “You… like… raw meat... don’t you?" the host prods— and that’s before the special sauce is added! This segment takes a left-turn into Tarantino-anticipating insanity once our heroine enters a white tile room and the audience soon realizes that while it’s unlikely a castle would ever have such decor, it’s only there to not stay white for long!

While things start well, Hickox rapidly cycles through his best ideas and the last act is less inspired and more conventional, though it retains its droll humor throughout. Waxwork is of a piece with movies like Night of the Creeps that combined comedy and horror without tipping the scales into full-on lampoonery, and this strikes me as the kind of movie Arrow keeps trying to reclaim with little success-- and now Vestron’s new label beat them to the punch!

Bringing back Zach Galligan from the first film but replacing the boring last girl with a supermodel-looking “plain” girl, the sequel is a mess. Hickox already didn’t have enough ideas to stretch across the first film, so it’s no surprise a second movie ends up grasping at straws. Now our protagonists are in search of evidence supporting the actions of the first film, as the girl is on trial for a murder committed by a zombie hand let loose from the waxworks. So they go tumbling through time and end up in what’s described as “God’s Nintendo,” in which God and the Devil battle out Good vs Evil within different scenarios.

What this really means, however, is that the characters move from horror movie property to horror movie property a la Stay Tuned, and it struck me how much more successful the film would have been if it had just admitted that’s what it wanted to do instead of confusing the issue. The sequel is far broader and more comic, which sometimes works, but the narrative frequently feels forced and low-stakes as a result. The best parody here tackles the Haunting (which, somehow, the Blu-ray.com reviewer couldn’t even recognize), jokingly playing with the framing of Wise’s film… but also including an endless Bruce Campbell cameo, so even that ends up a wash.

The first film gets a solid Recommendation, but no need to bother with the sequel unless you really want to see what John Ireland was reduced to in his waning years.

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barryconvex
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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1446 Post by barryconvex » Mon Oct 24, 2016 11:06 pm

Vampyres (Jose Ramon Larraz 1974) I can’t wait to never see another “erotic” Euro horror movie ever again.
Ouch...and i thought this was one of the better sexy-british-girl-vampire movies.

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domino harvey
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Low energy responses. Sad!

#1447 Post by domino harvey » Mon Oct 31, 2016 5:29 pm

Final round of viewings for my Octoberfest of Horror. All told I managed to knock 77 films out of my unwatched pile in the past month!

Audition (Takashi Miike 2001) I’m not sure I buy either side of the feminist/misogynist defenses here. I do find the film far more effective in its first half, when the creeping dread and unease with what are outwardly “normal” interactions and events populate the film. The overall message here is cloudy, especially when we get the gross-out moments and extreme violence. None of the insights I gleaned from the film about relationships, infatuation, or twisted coping mechanisms for childhood abuse were particularly noteworthy, and the film could have used its own mantra to dig a little deeper deeper deeper into its material rather than offering so much crypticism. Enjoyable, if that's the right word, but not nearly as smart as it could be.

the Changeling (Peter Medak 1980) Solid haunted house pic with more than a little timely political conspiracy thriller thrown in. The film works mostly thanks to George C Scott’s central perf, which does all the heavy lifting and gives the picture a sense of respectability, though Melvyn Douglas turns in good work in a supporting role late in the pic. A lowkey but effective “Unfinished business” haunter.

the Doctor and the Devils (Freddie Francis 1985) Fine repurposing of Burke and Hare told with appropriate squalor and filth by the stalwart Francis. The film is colorful if a bit overstuffed with characters, and Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea are quite good as the infamous grave-robbers.

the Evil (Gus Trikonis 1978) Professor Richard Crenna invites a bunch of his students to a haunted house for the summer and they can’t even stay alive for one day.

Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner 1978) Faye Dunaway sees through a killer’s eyes as he or she stalks and kills all of Dunaway’s modeling industry friends in this “mystery” where the audience knows immediately who the killer is the moment they appear on screen and have to wait for the film to play catchup. I liked the notion that Dunaway’s success in fashion photography was due to her unknowingly stealing all her poses from real-life murders, but this is barely dealt with by the film, and most of the psychic aspects are brushed aside too quickly to ever be utilized fully.

the House on Skull Mountain (Ron Honthaner 1974) Dying matron summons her heirs who arrive to first find the old woman and then themselves dead. Made with a predominately black cast and reliant on some exceedingly mild hoodoo voodoo no one does so well. It is comforting to know making crummy horror films transcends race.

the House Where Evil Dwells (Kevin Connor 1982) Edward Albert and Susan George rent a Japanese haunted house in this Amityville ripoff that manages to be worse than its inspiration. The most horrifying thing here are the performances of George and Albert. Everyone in this film is an idiot, and the ghosts make up their own rules. And, near the end, when it seems like the film couldn’t get any worse, the film gives us a remarkably stupid sequence in which giant crabs chanting in gruff Japanese descend upon the house out of nowhere and for no reason, and are then never discussed again. And even that is not the low-point: in the finale, our protagonist is expressly warned by the helpful monk he’s enlisted to ward off the spirits to not let anyone into his house and then, I kid you not, less than a minute later he lets someone into the house with no prompting.

the Killing Hour (Armand Mastroianni 1982) Blatant cash-in on Eyes of Laura Mars that is slightly better than its inspiration. An “unknown” assailant is killing people around town and then handcuffing them to things. An unfunny stand up comedian cop and an overeager TV personality both hover over the plain art student who’s psychically able to channel images of the murders into her art. If nothing else, the film opens with a clever murder that is disturbing in its simplicity:
SpoilerShow
The unseen murderer handcuffs a swimmer’s ankle to the bottom rung of the ladder in a pool, leaving the man to slowly flail and drown just below the surface of the water. Teeth clenching good fun!
The film has some moments of style and cleverness even if the script and dialog are lacking (and oh God, anything set in the comedy club, give someone else the remote so you won’t be tempted to cheat and hit Fast Forward), but the film still completely lifts its villain and their exit from Eyes of Laura Mars, showing its debt to an inferior source.

Mark of Cain (Bruce Pittman 1986) Two twins and one’s a murderer who escapes from the loony bin one fateful night and proceeds to stalk his brother and his friends in his childhood home. You already know the twins will change places from that sentence alone, but this film really hammers away at that one idea for the entire second half. Some self-consciously “artsy” camera moments only highlight how poorly made the film actually is, since the filmmakers don’t know how to employ them properly into a narrative function.

the Mephisto Waltz (Paul Wendkos 1971) Alan Alda befriends dying pianist Curt Jurgens, who eventually steals Alda’s body thanks to his lucrative endorsement deal with Satan. Purple oil anointed on the forehead means you’re the next to die, and RIP all those latchkey kids doing finger painting after school at the Y. If there’s any reason to see this, and there really isn’t, at least Jacqueline Bisset looks ridiculously attractive here as Alda’s suspicious wife. But no amount of physical beauty could justify the equivalently ugly plotting here, with a story that makes less sense the more it gets explained and an ending that nullifies the entire third act.

Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow 1987) White trash clan of vampires tentatively show the ropes to a newcomer in this spirited and concise thriller. Bigelow exhibits a lot of style and while the film is violent, she uses restraint elsewhere to highlight the more brutal elements, as in the dive bar centerpiece. Another popular film I’m only now getting to and am glad to report earns its reputation. Highly recommended.

Phase IV (Saul Bass 1973) While this film showed me more ants than I wished to see, I admired its strange construction and sense of pacing and tone. This tale of scientists trapped in a geodesic dome in the desert and facing off against killer alien-driven (?) ants is about the silliest thing ever, but the film plays it so impressively straight that it begins to work in spite of itself. There are so many necessary parts missing here that it’s hard to picture what anyone involved really thought they were doing, but it has an odd charm to it. I feel like Bass cheated in his only credit as director by having no title sequence, though!

Twice Dead (Bert Dragin 1988) Family moves into house haunted by former Hollywood star who took his own life. Star ends up protecting the family’s teenagers by graphically killing a bunch of punks who spend most of the movie harassing the kids. Basically the New Kids + every haunted house movie ever, though I’ve sat through far worse examples of these kind of things.

Two Evil Eyes (George Romero and Dario Argento 1989) Adopting two of the same Poe tales that made for poor material in Tales of Terror, Romero and Argento deliver substandard work here. Romero’s segment fares far better than Argento’s, but it’s needlessly padded out to an hour. It looks like a masterpiece next to Argento’s half though— Good God, if he ever made a worse film than this I hope I never see it. Reliant on Harvey Keitel’s abrasive character doing the absolute stupidest shit over and over long past the point of it being tolerable, this “Black Cat” adaptation shows that maybe this just isn’t a source text capable of being made into a movie.

Vampire at Midnight (Gregory McClatchy 1987) It’s asshole cop versus bargain basement Tom Noonan wannabe in this dumb straight to video flick about a motivational speaker who hypnotizes his followers into committing bloodletting. The film is strictly amateur hour, but it’s one of those admirable messes where you can tell the filmmakers really tried their best and still couldn’t even come close.

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zedz
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Re: Low energy responses. Sad!

#1448 Post by zedz » Mon Oct 31, 2016 8:38 pm

domino harvey wrote:the Mephisto Waltz (Paul Wendkos 1971) Alan Alda befriends dying pianist Curt Jurgens, who eventually steals Alda’s body thanks to his lucrative endorsement deal with Satan. Purple oil anointed on the forehead means you’re the next to die, and RIP all those latchkey kids doing finger painting after school at the Y. If there’s any reason to see this, and there really isn’t, at least Jacqueline Bisset looks ridiculously attractive here as Alda’s suspicious wife. But no amount of physical beauty could justify the equivalently ugly plotting here, with a story that makes less sense the more it gets explained and an ending that nullifies the entire third act.
This film is the subject of a really boring formative film memory for me. When I was a kid I used to religiously scour the forthcoming 'Movies on TV' reviews in national magazine The Listener every week, to see what films (and especially what horror films) I could see. It was very easy to track everything, since there were only two TV channels, only one magazine that was permitted to publish advance TV listings, and just the sole regular guy giving capsule opinions of every single movie every single week. Occasionally the reviewer would get passionate or sarcastic about particularly good or bad films, but generally he was blandly consensus-based and neutrally informative.

Anyway, one week The Mephisto Waltz was up, and it got a middling, noncommital review (three out of five stars, or whatever the equivalent then was for the publication). It was a horror movie I hadn't seen, so I stayed up late to watch it anyway. Apart from a vaguely different atmosphere (in the sense that 70s Hollywood dramas had a different look and feel from 50s monster movies or the Hammer productions that were the stock and trade of the regular horror slots), I wasn't especially impressed and agreed with the middling rating.

Then, a couple of weeks later, in a rather uncharacteristic personal bit from the 'Movies on TV' writer, he explained, in relation to some film that was screening that week, that he couldn't personally see all of the films he reviewed, and sometimes had to rely on other people's reviews and opinions. This, he explained, generally worked out okay, but sometimes it led him badly critically astray, as with The Mephisto Waltz, about which he couldn't have been more wrong.

Which immediately became a big conundrum for my young mind. What was it about this film I had found unremarkable that had so impressed this reviewer that he felt the urge to issue a totally out-of-character mea culpa several weeks later? Did he think it was unexpectedly astoundingly good, or unexpectedly astoundingly bad? What had I missed? And then there was the niggling logical flaw, that, whatever he thought of the movie when he finally saw it, the very fact that he'd given it a lukewarm rating unseen meant that he could very easily "have been more wrong": at most he was only two stars out. I never really trusted the guy again.

Anyway, this weird little contextual hiccup has stayed with me far longer than anything in the actual film!

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colinr0380
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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1449 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Oct 31, 2016 9:50 pm

It does seem that Paul Wendkos is one of those directors fêted by auteurists, although I'm only getting that impression because Fred Camper kicked off that a_film_by group with a discussion topic about the director!

Here's my horror post in honour of Halloween!:

Leviathan (George P. Cosmatos, 1989)

Leviathan is not really what I could call a good film but it is quite a fun monster movie piece with a great cast mostly made up of the familiar faces of character actors (albeit being rather underused, or used in a clichéd manner). It is also a film that is interestingly occupying that specific period of time between James Cameron films, taking a lot of cues (as much horror and action films would up to today!) from Aliens but in its underwater monster setting weirdly anticipating Cameron’s next film The Abyss. I seem to remember both this and the other underwater monster movie of the time, DeepStar Six, vying for supremacy of my local supermarket’s VHS rental section in the years surrounding The Abyss coming out at the cinema and pre-its rental release (I always used to get the two films confused at the time!). I suppose The Abyss had such attention surrounding it even in pre-production that other films were trying to anticipate the underwater action trend and beat Cameron’s film to the punch with Aliens-style monsters under the sea – though of course The Abyss itself starts off threatening and then ends up going off in a more Spielbergian wonder, Close Encounters direction for its own storyline.

Leviathan (not to be confused with Leviathan or Leviathan!) involves a group of bickering blue collar deep sea miners looking forward to getting some shore leave instead getting a message from the bosses on the surface (amusingly played through a videoscreen by the icily duplicitous Meg Foster!) to explore a derelict submarine for some overtime bonus. They explore the mysterious vessel and find out it is Soviet but because of the Cold War tensions the Soviets have disowned any knowledge of the submarine when it sank and covered up the disappearance. The crew do a bit of exploring and unwittingly bring something back with them in the bottle of vodka they pilfer from the captain’s cabin.

This is all very Alien in set up, although the Soviet submarine exploration opening section to set up the action is very similar to both The Abyss’s inciting incident as well as the vessel in Michael Crichton’s Sphere, which was written in the same year Leviathan was released. There must have been something in the air, or at least in the water, at the time to spark this trend of paranoid concerns regarding poorly managed Soviet submarines in late 80s cinema! You could even throw in The Hunt For Red October too, I suppose!

There are a few interesting character touches here. Peter Weller just post Robocop is the ship captain here, and while his playing feels a little monotone and not particularly engaging or charismatic enough to really work as the ostensible lead of an action film that the audience can particularly care about one way or the other (the same qualities on display in Robocop, though that helped to emphasise a slightly detached, inhuman quality to what was left of Alex Murphy under the suit that worked really well. Or played up to capture the almost drugged into sedation, beaten down character in Naked Lunch. It strikes me that Weller has been used really well in this period despite seemingly having a slightly limited range), that helps to capture the interesting ‘middle manager’ aspect that it seems that his character has been not entirely willingly forced into, reading leadership manuals and trying to mediate between the coercive bosses up top and the surly crew out there doing all the work.

That’s an interesting perspective that is rarely shown in these kinds of films where it usually boils down to an easier conflict of ‘the crew’ versus ‘the Company’ (or Ripley against Burke!). Perhaps the closest comparison is to the situation that Captain Dallas in Alien is in. It is interesting to see someone conflicted about the position they have ended up in and wrestling to actually properly manage people and resolve conflicts without falling into the situations of either becoming too matey with the crew and therefore being easily influenced by their demands, or overly exerting authority to a bullying extent in order to prove their word is final, both of which can suggest an exploitable sense of weakness. I don’t think that Weller’s character in this film is particularly adept or comfortable in a managerial position, and everyone in the crew (and Meg Foster!) knows it. But luckily he has the same unflappable reaction to everything from the ship’s doctor being a bit lackadaisical to a DNA-mutating monster killing off most of the crew! So I guess that makes him well suited to adapting to the monster threat!

I particularly like that Weller has anticipated the crew taking the vodka from the exploration of the submarine and having a celebratory drink, and has switched the contents of the bottle for water! So when the (Alien-style) dinner table scene happens with everyone but Weller and the heroine partaking (and thereby implicating themselves in the petty theft! It’s a weirdly moralistic film about the dangers of drink in that sense!), we don’t immediately get a gory chest-bursting style scene!

Of course the lecherously abrasive character (played by Daniel Stern a couple of years before he teamed up with Joe Pesci to try and break into Macauley Culkin’s house in Home Alone!) is the one who steals into Weller’s safe to get the siphoned vodka, and shares it with another crewmate as the music swells ominously and there are extreme close up shots of the liquid being poured out from a metal hip flask, distorting the character’s faces in the reflection.

The clock now ticking these initial characters get badly ill and die (leading to another awkward call from Weller to Meg Foster, as the middle manager has to break the bad news to the strangely unperturbed boss!) and then the dead bodies start mutating together and moving around. Cue a hasty burial at sea (again like John Hurt’s space burial in Alien), but unfortunately everything was too hasty and a couple of mutated body parts got chopped off in airlock doors and go on to grow into a monster that runs around and picks off the crew one by one throughout the rest of the film.

The rest is rather run of the mill, although Hector Elizondo (usually the calm supporting presence in Gary Marshall romantic comedies, here playing a grumpy cynic!) gets to have the palm of his hand grow a mouth with razor sharp teeth, in a brief moment that is either a brilliant homage to Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet or just the natural weird place for monster makers to add a disturbing extra mouth!

So it follows all the beats of Alien, with a bit of a ‘burgeoning romance abstracted through figuring out how to murder a monster’ aspect of Aliens. But the ending rather stumbles over itself in its haste to get the surviving three characters back to the surface and saved by civilisation. I was left wondering at the miracle of getting picked up in the middle of the ocean so quickly! As well as curious about just how deep the underwater mining base was anyway? Not deep enough to have to cope with the problems of decompression in the race to get to the surface and the escape helicopter at least (though the two survivors by this point just exploding mid-triumphant hug in the helicopter might have provided a fun image to go out on!)

These days I think Leviathan makes a great companion to Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea! For the weirdly complimentary endings more than anything, as the films seem to mirror each other in who they let survive and who kill off! While in Leviathan the black guy (played by ex-Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson) gets all the way to the surface only to be jumped and killed by the monster at the last moment (though he goes down wrestling it!) while the British heroine survives, in Deep Blue Sea the British heroine sacrifices herself (in a moment that neither of the other survivors capitalise on, which makes the sacrifice rather pointless!) for the black guy to go off into the sunset with the hero! I guess in the next film the British lady and the black guy should team up and use the rather wooden square jawed hero as bait during the final escape scene!

Probably the most amusing part of the entire film though is the tying up of the whole middle manager subplot of the film in the (major spoiler) final scene!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Mon Oct 31, 2016 10:16 pm, edited 7 times in total.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Horror List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Projec

#1450 Post by domino harvey » Mon Oct 31, 2016 9:57 pm

The only other films from Wendkos I've seen are Gidget (Great) and the Burglar (Awful). Looking at his CV is like peeking into an alternate dimension in which a different version of me actually made worse viewing choices

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