Thursday, October 22, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR, HALLOWEEN: The Films I've Watched Part 2

This second round of films I've watched during the 31 Days of Horror seems to have found some connecting themes. Alienation, loneliness, films that blur the line between reality and fantasy as well as characters who are some of the last beings on Earth. For the most part I have randomly picked films to watch and it is interesting to see some common themes and similarities emerge. Enjoy films 11 to 20. -- Robert A. Mitchell

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) Directed By: Herk Harvey

A film that upon it's initial release came and went very quickly. Once it wound up on late night showings on television found a cult audience that appreciated the film. Carnival is a well made psychological horror film. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) survives a horrific car crash and then moves to a new town for a fresh start. At this new town she sees a mysterious man (played by Director Herk Harvey) and is drawn to an abandoned carnival. There are some wonderfully creepy moments in the film and some beautiful surrealistic imagery. This film would ultimately be Mr. Harvey's first and only feature length film. He made a lot of short films before Carnival and after. It would have been great to see other feature films from him.

BARON BLOOD (1972) Directed By: Mario Bava

One thing I have learned in my years on this planet is NOT to read aloud ancient incantations on tattered parchment paper. The characters in this Bava film had not had that life experience yet. For a lark Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) in an ancient Austrian castle of one of his ancestors and does exactly that. As the last utterance is spoken it awakens an ancient evil the Baron dubbed Baron Blood. He goes about what he was doing four hundred years prior. Kill and kill again. The film also features Joseph Cotton (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons) and the always striking Elke Sommer (Deadlier Than The Male). The film looks extremely beautiful and lush in all it's technicolor glory. The set designs and decoration are wonderful. I'm sure it is no small task to fill the rooms of a castle. There is something that I have always enjoyed about these films, way before buzz words such as globalization and Transformers 4 being made because of a giant overseas market. This Italian movie has an American, German and Italian leads and was made in Vienna, Austria. As with these movies they have there own pace and style that you are either going to be on board with or not.

THE HAND (1981) Directed By: Oliver Stone

Way before Oliver Stone took himself and his films way too seriously he wrote some good to great screenplays (Scarface 1983) among them. As the old saying often goes you either start in "B" movies or end up in them. As is the case with Mr. Stone he very much started in "B" movies. The Hand marks his second feature film as a director, his first the seldom seen horror film Seizure (1974).

Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) which made me think of prolific author Joe R. Lansdale. The Lansdale in the film is a comic book artist who is in the midst of a problematic marriage. The on-going strife calumniates in an argument on the road while his wife is driving. She swerves into the on-coming lane with disastrous results. Lansdale's arm is inexplicably out of the passenger side window and subsequently his hand is ripped off in a freak accident. Of course the hand he loses is his drawing hand which further complicates the rocky marriage as his very livelihood is threatened, which in turn threatens his art as new artist is taking over his comic strip.

The Hand feels very much like a Ripley's Believe It Or Not tale or a Twilight Zone episode. It features some great horror elements such as the accident that causes Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) to lose his hand. If as seeing the accident once was not enough we get to see it later in flashback from a different angle in slow-motion. There is also some great psychological visual imagery as Jon Lansdale slowly descends into madness. The central conceit kept me interested. Was it The Hand doing the murders or Lansdale? This film is a good one to fire up at one in the morning.

NOSFERATU: Phantom der Nacht (1979) Directed By: Werner Herzog

Soldier of Cinema Werner Herzog's now classic film on the classic tale of Dracula aka Nosferatu. Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) against the misgivings of his wife Lucy, warnings from Gypsys and the unwillingness of the locals to give him a lift with their horses and coaches heads to Count Dracula's castle to help him complete a real estate deal.  (That must be one hell of a commission.) In true Herzog fashion Harker having no other means of getting to the castle hikes up a mountain as a roaring waterfall rushes past him while the beautiful score composed by Popol Vuh plays.

Nosferatu is played by Klaus Kinski (Herzog's often early collaborator/adversary). It goes without saying that Kinski is absolutely amazing as Count Dracula. You are equally drawn to and repulsed by the Count's presence. His gaze is constant, unblinking and unnerving. As Harker explores the castle we see it's enormity and sparseness. The castle far a top the mountain looks more like ruins. This is a Dracula that has not given into the trappings of material possessions as a bridge to the living beings he shares a parallel existence to. "Time is an abyss, profound as a thousand nights. Centuries come and go, to be unable to grow old is terrible."

The scene with the coffins stacked upon a raft that is being navigated down a river by two underlings is wonderful imagery that is pure Herzog. There is also the sequences of the ship of death carrying The Lord of the Rats as it sails to and mysteriously docks in Wismar. A lone dead man slumped over the ship's wheel as thousands of rats scurry off the ship and into the town. Herzog has coined the term "unprocessed imagery and this film does not disappoint. Many great images that stay in your imagination. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht is a meditation of the true curse of a vampire. Never dying, never truly living and never feeling love.

NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) Directed By: Thom Eberhardt

A comet passing by Earth has created a grand spectacle. Almost everyone is outside to witness this celestial event. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) works at the El Rey movie theater as the comet passes she's in the projection booth hanging out with bad boy projectionist Larry (Michael Bowen). The next morning they wake up. Larry is going to head out to collect a film print he lent out over night. As he opens the back door of the theater he is quickly and brutally killed by what can only be described as someone who is no longer human. Regina quickly finds out that most people are gone. Reduced to red dust surrounding piles of clothes. She heads back to her house and finds her sister still alive. The look of this film is great. The reddish sky and the abandoned city of Los Angeles are images that stay with you. This film combines sci-fi, horror and comedy and does a good job.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) Directed By: Ubaldo Ragona & Sidney Salkow (Uncredited)

I wanted to get a Vincent Price film in during this 31 Days of Horror marathon. I think I made a good choice. Last Man is based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend. A disease has swept the land killing everyone. Only Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) survived.

The story is very effective in black and white. The scenes of Dr. Morgan driving a black station wagon which now doubles as a hearse through abandoned, empty streets lined with the corpses of the dead are very haunting and creepy. The doctor leaves his abode only during the day and goes about the task of trying to secure supplies he needs to stay alive and also trying to collect the dead and dispose of the corpses. A task which seems to have no end insight. He must hurry back because at night the "vampires"/"zombies" come out and are trying to kill Dr. Morgan. Adding to the creepiness factor the undead entities know Morgan's name and as they arrive every night at his house and try to get in and murmur "Morgan, Morgan are you there?"

The film is also a major influence on George A. Romero who would go on to make The Night of the Living Dead four years later. Last Man is a film that is dark in tone and full of despair. It is a heavy burden to be the last living human on Earth. 

BRUISER (2000) Directed By: George A. Romero

I think Mr. Romero wanted to make all kinds of films spanning many genres, stories and characters. All one has to do watch Martin (1977) the year prior to Dawn of the Dead to see that. Romero's zombie films became so synonymous with his name that I think it became very difficult for to him secure financing for different films. Perhaps conversations went like this, "That's a great idea George, I'm not sure how viable it would be. Is there anyway you could put zombies in it?" Of course this is only speculation on my part but could explain all the "Of Dead" films, especially his last three films.

Bruiser is notable for the very fact that is not a film you would readily think was a Romero picture. It was also his first feature film in several years. Prior to this film was The Dark Half (1993). Also worth mentioning is that it would be the first film he would make in Toronto. His now place of residence and where he has made the last three "Of Dead" films.

The film centers around Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng), who works for a fashion magazine. A man who has been taken advantage of most people close to him. Henry often drifts into flights of very violent reverie. One day he wakes up with a mask on his face, or is it a mask? Henry then gives into his violent reveries and turns them into reality.

THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988) Directed By: Wes Craven

With the recent passing of Mr. Craven I wanted to watch one of the master's films for this years thirty one days of horror. Notable classics A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream I have watched many times. I opted for Serpent. A film I had not watched before. 

Bill Pullman plays anthropologist Dennis Alan who heads to Haiti on behalf a pharmaceutical  company to find a rumored drug that black magic practitioners are using to bring back the dead. Dennis learns early on that not every thing in the jungle is what it seems.

After landing in Haiti Dennis meets up with doctor Marielle Duchamp. She takes him to meet a woman who died several years ago and yet was recently found wandering the streets. Dennis looks at the woman and tries to communicate in French to her. She stares at him. Dennis remarks in his journal: "A warning that's it what I found in those eyes, I did not know what, but it chilled me to my bones."  Meeting another local who tells him "Be careful. In Haiti my friend there are secrets we keep even from ourselves" Not heeding these warnings he pushes on.

The film is based off an actual ethnographic account by Wade Davis. I'm not sure where the actual account ends and the film begins. That the fact the film is based off of actual ethnographic research works very well. What is true? What is film fiction? As the film unfolds we have many great moments of not knowing what is real or what is imagined. At the end of the day The Serpent and the Rainbow is a horror film and a good one at that with some great imagery.


I was strolling through my local county library looking for some films I had not seen to watch for this marathon and saw the spine of this. What a great title and directed by Bob Clark (Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, Porky's)

The film follows a theater troupe who travel by boat to an island graveyard for buried criminals. The director of the theater group is Alan. He is played by Alan Ormsby who wrote the screenplay for Cat People (1982), The Substitute.

The troupe or more apt Alan the theater director wants to raise the dead because it's is such a transgressive idea that can only help the acting of this troupe. He invokes a seance to accomplish this. "Oh God this is getting worst all the time!" One of the characters exclaims. Yes, yes it is. In a classic case of be careful what you wish for the dead FINALLY raise from their graves. A film that was definitely inspired by Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

It's great that Bob Clark went onto bigger and better films. Watching this film is like getting invited by an acquaintance who is a really shitty actor to their fringe festival play and you actually show up to find out they know five other equally shitty actors who also happen to be in the same play.

THE BAD SEED (1956) Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy

Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) is a precocious, smart and sweet child. She is also head strong and an over achiever who is quick to anger when things don't get her way, who is also manipulative, and a compulsive liar. When a boy in Rhoda's class get awarded a gold medal for penmanship that she thought was hers she gets very upset. The boy then turns up dead. There is no way Rhoda had anything to with the boy's tragic death.....or is there?

A movie that originated on stage, Nancy Kelly also acts in this film version. She plays the mother of Rhoda and won a Tony award for her performance in the play. Ellen Heckart who plays the mother of the dead boy turns in a great performance. The Bad Seed is a great mystery. The horror of the film lies in the possibility and the notion that a child could kill another child.

Monday, October 19, 2015

THE MIND'S EYE World Premiere Interviews Joe Begos, John Speredakos, Graham Skipper & Larry Fessenden

Joe Begos returned to the 2015 Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival with his second feature film The Mind's Eye. His first film Almost Human premiered in Toronto at 2013 program. Robert A. Mitchell was on the red carpet and spoke with Joe about his follow up telekinetic horror film. Robert also spoke with actors John Speredakos, Graham Skipper and Larry Fessenden.