Another ten days of craze.
October 21 : The Hitcher (1986)
This is a really scary film. Scary and painful. And a testament to the unmatched genius of Rutger Hauer. He is terrifying in the title role without having to don a hockey mask or wield a chainsaw – his handsome, steely face is weapon enough. When an unassuming cross-country traveler (C. Thomas Howell) picks him up, it doesn’t take long for the horror to start. No one is spared in this tightly drawn story, especially me. Whew. Four screams and a prolonged cower.
October 22 : Oh dear.
I’m cheating here and I’m going to go ahead and fully acknowledge that. I did not watch a film today. I know. I know what my rules say, but I’ve decided that I had enough horror this day to keep the experiment going. Beloved D and my bestest of friends Melly and I spent most of the day and all of the night at Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest – that’s a whole amusement park tricked out for Halloween, with re-themed rides and haunted houses and freaks. Oh yes, the freaks.
I rode things that really, really scared me (the Hellevator, normally called The Giant Drop, is the best example of that), went through the Sleepy Hollow 3D Haunted House twice, saw a man swing a 6 lb can of dirt from his nipple rings and then stick hooks into his eye sockets. His friend stuck a long sharpened thing through his, er, breast area. I saw yet another man eat worms, and lick up the blood of of the breast guy. After all that, I witnessed my dear Melly stapling a dollar to a guy’s chest. Tell me I didn’t see a horror show! It was pretty great, I must admit, and a heaping dose of horror and Halloween-ness was had by all. On to tomorrow!
October 23 : Darkman (1990)
I really thought this was better than it was. I really did. I mean, come on! Liam Neeson! Frances McDormand! Sam Raimi behind the camera! A fleeting glimpse of beautiful Bruce Campbell! But no, even such a wonderful assemblage could not make this clunker work. I love the idea of a 30s era horror/super hero story, but the writing is simply so bad here that all of the fun visuals fall flat. Neeson chews, then spits up the scenery. Everyone else seems stunned and a little confused, with the exception of Larry Drake, who plays the cigar-chomping villian perfectly. Still, this is a painful film for the promise of what it could have been. One scream.
October 24 : Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
I saw this one the in theater when it came out, perhaps the only film this month to hold this distinction. My impressions from that first screening were: 1) surprise to see people walk out during that big wolf scene; and 2) a longing to see Aladdin playing in the next theater since I could hear it so clearly. My impressions 13 years later? Wow, so much sex! So many tits! I suppose all vampire stories tend to have a strong sexual current running through them, I’d just forgotten how far forward Coppola puts this theme in his version. But despite (or maybe for some of you, because of) the tons of tits, this film is a visual masterpiece. I was utterly impressed time and time again with set pieces, use of shadows, backgrounds, inventive entrances, and gorgeous shot after gorgeous shot. I could not, however, get past Wynona Ryder and Keanu “Neo” Reeves as Mena and Jonathan Harker, though I really wanted to. Gary Oldman’s amazing Dracula almost makes up for the both of them. Almost. Anthony Hopkins puts in a solid performance (when doesn’t he?) as Van Helsing, but all of these Brand Name Stars get to be a bit distracting. Without that incredible Gary Oldman, I never would have survived my cynicism. He kicks my ass. Three screams.
October 25 : Phantom Planet (1961)
World of Weird Monster Show version
Stranded spaceman story is really a lameass metaphor for the gender politics of the time. The mute woman will win her man everytime over the loud (read: slightly independent) one. Or maybe I was just cranky this evening. The monster itself didn’t show up for a long, long time, so I was starting to worry that the film wouldn’t make the cut as a horror film; however, Undead Johnny and friends saved the day with the saga of the Wipe-o-Rama and a fabulous heart-being-ripped-out-of-a-chest sequence. Oh, and Dementia’s bodacious cleavage. The film itself has one fabulous feature – the main character happened to share his name with a friend of mine, so I really enjoyed his constant need to yell out his identity to the denizens of the Phantom Planet: “I’m Frank Chapman! FRANK CHAPMAN!” Two screams for the Monster Show crew.
October 26 : Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Some of the cinematic styles are distractingly out-dated now and some dialogue borders on hysterical melodrama, but this 73 year-old film holds its own as a chilling tale of good vs. evil and of the power of repression. The film really belongs to Fredric March as the title dual role, but it’s nearly stolen by Miriam Hopkins as the tortured Ivy. She is so resolute in her station in life, so tragic in her devotion to a monster, that she breaks your heart. Her final scene with Mr. Hyde is shocking. I had goosebumps. Three and a half screams.
October 27 : The Touch of Satan (1974)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 version
Oh my god this film. My lordy lord, what a piece of work. The key players are Emby Mellay (“that’s not a name, that’s a bad Scrabble hand”) as Melissa, a creepy-faced, vacuous witch, and Michael Berry as Jody, a guy who’s just passing through, but gets sort of stuck. There’s also Margaret RawhideChew, I mean Lucinda, Melissa’s grandmother, or something. I’m not sure who she really was, except a wizened little murderous grannie who doesn’t knit or bake, just stabs. There’s also something about witchcraft and a rampaging mob and pacts with the devil, or someone, but I really couldn’t tell you what’s going on because, well, I don’t even think the filmmakers knew. Berry is a passable actor who gives the movie much more effort than it deserves, and drives a groovy Maverick. Emby Mellay is a pillar of whiny blandness. All in all, this is another crappy z-grade flick made into fabulous entertainment by the guys on the Satellite of Love. I laughed a really lot. I think I even cried. A four scream MST3K.
October 28 : The Exorcist III: Legion (1990)
When we saw that this film was on, I balked. All I really knew about it was that Exorcist II really blew the livestock, and that Jeffery Dahmer was reported to have watched this film before he killed his victims. So, you can see my reluctance to get into this one. But I was actually sort of wrong. It was good. And freakishly scary, without any Dahmer-ness. George C. Scott is great as a cop investigating a series of murders in Georgetown. He performance was nuanced, heartfelt, and incredibly powerful. The tie to the previous Exorcist story was imaginative and frightening, and the huge autopsy scissors were horrific. We slept with a light after this one, I kid you not. Four head-turning screams.
October 29 : The Isle of the Dead (1945), Friday the 13th Part V (1985) and Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)
Isle is a creepy, atmospheric chiller, with Boris Karloff as an unrelenting Greek colonel, intent on protecting his troops at any cost. He ends up stuck on an island with a group of travelers, waiting for a coming horror, and wondering who will make it through the next few days. Karloff is splendid. He makes this Val Lewton quickie. Without him, it would be a bit of a bore. Two and a half screams.
What can I say about the two Friday the 13th sequels we watched back to back? You know the story. Absolutely mindless, trashy fun, and while watching it we enjoyed stuffing ourselves on both Halloween candy and bad horror effects. A couple of screams for cute little Corey Feldman’s cameo in V.
October 30 : Bedlam (1946) and An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Bedlam is pretty much in the same vein as Isle of the Dead (in fact, they are on the same DVD). Karloff plays the villainous director of the Bedlam Asylum in London. He’s excellent here. Overall, the film is a little too focused on the romance of a nobleman’s courtier and an inexplicable Quaker. The end is smashing, though. Two and a half screams.
An American Werewolf is a devastating film. It’s taken me years to see it again. I love Griffin Dunne as Jack. Poor, rotting Jack. David Naughton is great, if a little cheesy, as doomed David. The whole darn thing is so fucking scary, I watched it with all of the lights on. In fact, while watching it, I was trying to write reviews 10-20, and I made a ton of typos because I was just too into the movie. It’s funny, it’s horrible, it’s gory, it’s fantastic. Four undead screams.