The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

A movie about nazis being killed off by aliens should’ve been more entertaining – besides a really fantastic smoke-monster effect, this was only pretty good. It tries to be very serious and sets up many conflicts (good alien/bad alien, good nazi/bad nazi, nazis/jews, etc.) then doesn’t do anything wonderful with any of these things.

Trevor: “it fell apart for me when none of the story mattered… mystery invincible guy with glowing eyes walks in and defeats the beast, the worst execution of deus ex machina.”

Smoke Monster, de-smoked:

Okay, Nazis led by Jurgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane in In the Mouth of Madness, and I think Kyle’s dad in Dune) occupy a Romanian town and camp in an empty fortress watched over by a priest (Robert Prosky of Christine and Gremlins 2), who calls in his professor friend Ian McKellen with daughter Alberta Watson (Hedwig/Hansel‘s mom) to translate ancient writings after soldiers keep showing up dead. Prochnow isn’t murdering enough villagers, so the more ruthless Gabriel Byrne (three years before Gothic) is sent to take charge, later shoots Prochnow dead. Smoke Monster heals the formerly-crippled Ian McKellen, says he’s a golem-like Jewish avenger who will crush all nazis if Ian frees him. The priest gets all shitty and tells Ian he can burn in hell (admittedly all the nazis might be stressing him out), meanwhile Mystery Invincible Guy (top-billed Scott Glenn, Jodie Foster’s boss in Silence of the Lambs) has sex with Ian’s daughter until she notices he has no reflection. I think Invincible Guy and the nazis and Smoke Monster all kill each other at the end?

Alberta with sex alien:

Ian under Smoke Monster’s spell:

Second movie I’ve watched this Shocktober where the first death is by exploding head. TV veteran Mann’s second feature, which he has since disowned, based on a story by the guy who wrote Pelts. The actors act as big as possible (apparently Ian McKellen has mellowed with age) and the then-trendy Tangerine Dream soundtrack does the nazi-horror atmosphere no favors. But it’s a startlingly different movie, anyway.

The Maze (1953, William Cameron Menzies)

Oh this was awful! The worst, slowest, MST3K-worthy British (“made in Hollywood USA,” the end titles promise, but trust me) “horror” movie, back when horror meant anything out of the ordinary. And yeah the movie turns out to be about a 200-year-old frog who is lord of a castle, and that ain’t a bad concept, but nobody dies except the frog (one old woman is frightened, and a younger woman screams!) and nothing happens for the first 75 minutes except rich British people speak slowly and properly and act put out by things. Oh, and someone is menaced by an even worse rubber bat than the one in Black Sunday.

Also: the maze isn’t even really important.

Giant frog suicide:

Unwelcome houseguests:

Richard Carlson (of The Ghost Breakers and It Came From Outer Space) is to marry Veronica Hurst (a small part in Peeping Tom) but his uncle dies and Carlson disappears to tend to the family castle. Hurst arrives with her insufferable relative Katherine Emery (Isle of the Dead), and they worry for over an hour then invite some friends who worry more, then Hurst gets out of her room and sees the frog and it jumps to its death and the couple who’ve shown no affection for each other can finally get married. The second-to-last feature by Menzies, who made Things to Come in better days, adapted from a novel by Daniel Ullman (writer of a hundred westerns). I was surprised to see that a 3D version exists, since dull people worrying aloud in 3D is no more thrilling than in 2D.

Carlson conspicuously reading his teratology guide:

Narrator Emery begins the movie centered in-frame but her chair slowly sinks. Here she is at her lowest, pleased as punch after the giant frog suicide:

The Devil’s Backbone (2001, Guillermo Del Toro)

Set in a Communist-friendly haunted orphanage towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, but surprisingly, all deaths and horror in the movie come from twisted, selfish young Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega of Abre Los Ojos and Transsiberian) raised at the orphanage and now after its hidden gold, not from ghosts or General Franco’s men. He’s sleeping with one-legged Marisa Peredes (star of The Flower of My Secret) every night (she runs the place with older boyfriend Federico Luppi, the moral vampire in Cronos), stealing keys from her chain to try getting into the safe. When the orphanage is to be abandoned because the war is lost, he loses his shit and blows everything up, killing most of the movie’s characters except young viewer-surrogate Carlos. The ghost of a kid he’d killed the previous year has warned about this (“many of you will die”), but doesn’t try to stop it, only wants to drag Jacinto into the murky depths.

Guillermo’s movie between Mimic and Blade 2, a solid haunted orphanage movie but not as great as I’d heard it would be. Some nice details which are more rich and mysterious than the ghost: an unexploded bomb in the middle of the courtyard, the titular backbone, the orphanage selling aged embalming fluid in town as liquor, gold stored in a hollow leg.

M. Kermode:

It is a film about repression that celebrates, albeit in heartbreaking fashion, the irrepressibility of the innocent human spirit. This duality also underpins Pan’s Labyrinth, a fable about a young girl’s exploration of an underworld. Both films balance political tensions with a feud between fantasy and reality, between the way the world seems and the way it is. And both counterpose the recurrent fairy-tale motif of choice against the specter of fascism — the ultimate lack of choice.

Fall of the House of Usher (1928, Jean Epstein)

Everyone in a Poe adaptation is weak, white and willowy, and it’s expected that at least one of them will die of consumptive illness, as did Poe’s own wife, as we learned in the D.W. Griffith bio-pic. Here it’s Usher’s wife (played by Marguerite “wife of Abel” Gance), but not for a while. First, portrait-painting-obsessed Usher (Jean Debucourt, decades later the jeweler in Madame de…) has his “dear and only friend” over for the season, then mostly tends to his paintings (which move and blink) while his wife dies (shades of Dorian Gray).

I love how this silent film portrays music. Everything starts moving in slow-motion until Usher plays his guitar, then his playing is illustrated with quick cutaways to nature shots. Overall lots of camera movement for 1928, with crazy angles and ghostly superimpositions – a slow and moody film. Excellent looking except for the fake castle (in wide shots) and owl.

This is the third House of Usher movie on the blog after the Watson & Webber and the Ken Russell, but the first to tell the Poe story in a way I can follow. IMDB says assistant director Luis Bunuel quit over liberties taken with the adaptation. In the Poe story Madeline is his twin sister instead of his wife, but otherwise doesn’t seem too dissimilar. Epstein made this the year before his amazing Finis Terrae.

Ed Gonzalez in Slant:

The film’s tour-de-force is a hulking funeral procession of overlapping visual textures and animal-like camera movement, a startling vision of metaphysical passage and metamorphosis. With the castle’s dripping candles in ominous tow, the men proceed through land and water toward the netherworld of Usher’s catacombs, with Madeleine’s veil weighing them down like an arm digging into the ground; all the while, an owl keeps ominous watch and two toads get their groove on. Madeleine will not go gently into this sinister night, nor will Usher let her, insisting that her coffin remain unnailed, which, in effect, precipitates a supernatural spill between worlds.

Kiss of the Damned (2012, Xan Cassavetes)

“He used to think he was John Luke Truffaut”

My second super-stylish vampire love-affair flick this year after Only Lovers Left Alive. Also my second Cassavetes movie this Shocktober (see also: Rosemary’s Baby). Xan, daughter of John & Gena, appeared in Husbands at age 4. Sleek, sexy movie with great rumbly music, surprisingly shot by the DP of Momma’s Man.

This is more the standard vampire love-affair setup than the Jarmusch movie, though they both have a destructive sister character who shows up halfway through the story. Juna (Josephine de la Baume of Listen Up Philip) meets Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia, Stallone’s son in Rocky Balboa) at the video store and tries to warn him that she’s a vampire, but he’s into that, so she turns him and they move in together. She teaches him to hunt deer, but her sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida, Fat Girl‘s older sister) starts killing every person living nearby (including, presumably, Paolo’s literary agent Michael Rapaport), bringing outside attention that concerns head vamp Xenia (Anna Mouglalis of Merci pour le Chocolat and Garrel’s Jealousy). Nobody directly stops Mimi, but she stays out too late and the housekeeper decides not to drag her inside before the sun comes out.

I love their widescreen house:

Alloy Orchestra double-feature

I never got to see Alloy Orchestra very often in Atlanta, but apparently both Lincoln and Omaha are on their regular tour schedule. They played different movies (with very different scores) in each city, so I made us watch both. Roger Miller seems very approachable at the merch table, but I have all his records and am therefore afraid of him.

Son of the Sheik (1926, George Fitzmaurice)

Sequel to Valentino’s The Sheik from five years earlier, so the flashbacks to his father as a young man are scenes from that film. Son walks in his doppelganger-father’s footsteps by kidnapping and raping the woman he loves, the same way Sheik met his wife. Son’s girl (Vilma Bánky, also in Valentino’s The Eagle) dances for a nomadic group of entertainers/bandits who are trying to extort and/or murder the Son. Much unconvincing swordplay ensues!

Man with the Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov)

Timely screening, less than two months after Sight & Sound declared this the best documentary of all time. It certainly has one of my favorite silent-movie scores, all driving percussion to fit the unrelenting pace of the film, and we sat right in front of the band for an awesome sensory experience (also because we arrived too late to get seats further away).

Always surprised that this “day in the life of a city” movie opens with the city waking up but ends abruptly without showing it go back to sleep. Probably a “sun never sets on Russia” sort of thing. I realized while looking up Vertov that he invented cinema-verite (his newsreel series Kino-Pravda translates as film-truth), took his moving camera into the streets to film everyday people, and made a film that contains its own behind-the-scenes elements – all forty years before Chronicle of a Summer did these same things.

Demonic Toys (1992, Peter Manoogian)

“Full Moon Entertainment presents”

FM made this between Puppet Masters 3 and 4, and the year after Dollman, now fully invested in Puppets, Dolls and Toys, dreaming of franchise crossovers to come.

“Screenplay by David S. Goyer”

Goyer later wrote The Puppet Masters (no relation!), the Blade movies (arguably his peak) and the latest Batman movies.

“Directed by Peter Manoogian”

Manoogian isn’t a made-up alias for Charles Band, but a guy who worked on The Howling, Trancers and Ghoulies.

Opens with POV shot of a demonic-toy and grandfather-clock-filled dream sequence, and I’m afraid the budget might be spent already. Then undercover cop Jude (Tracy Scoggins of Toy Soldiers, no relation to demonic toys, and Watchers II, which was a remake, not a sequel to Watchers) is explaining her dreams to scruffy boyfriend/partner Matt (Jeff Celentano of American Ninja 2: The Confrontation), and enter the Goyer trademark dialogue: “You got your piece? Then let’s dance.” While Matt is clumsily arresting arms dealers, he’s killed and an enraged Jude (I keep typing “Dude” by mistake) follows them into – where else? – a conveniently unlocked warehouse. As an injured criminal stumbles into a toy company, I’m checking to see how long ago Child’s Play came out, oh, was it four years before this?

Chicken Boy:

Hold up, movie is getting too action-packed this early on, so suddenly we’re asked to care about a rebel chicken delivery guy named Mark, played by Bentley “grandson of Robert” Mitchum, who also starred in hits like Nice Guys Finish Dead and Real Men Don’t Eat Gummi Bears. He is friends with the gross security guard (Pete Schrum, Santa Claus in Trancers) at the conveniently unlocked toy warehouse. After long periods of time without any toys, demonic or otherwise, finally the injured baddie (possibly Barry Lynch of The Call of Cthulhu) is killed, followed soon enough by the security guard, and we’re off. If the guard worked here for years, how come tonight the demonic toys kill him? It’s something to do with Jude the cop, her pregnancy and/or dreams. An actual kid with glowing eyes (Daniel Cerny, who’d go on to star in Children of the Corn 3 before getting involved with a movie called Bitch Slap) explains all this but I was barely listening, just caught the line “we feed off your fear” and reminisced about Ghostbusters 2.

Trick-or-treating flashback:

Intense surviving baddie (longtime stuntman Michael Russo of The Toxic Avenger and Death Wish 4) and Jude have their “you killed my partner/boyfriend” standoff extended, the chicken delivery guy helps out, and in a moment of Cube-like genius, a dirty-haired girl drops in from the air ducts. More top-notch dialogue: “I played the old houdini act on your lady friend back there, chicken boy.” Flashback to 1925 in which some lady gives a stillborn demon baby to trick or treaters. Homeless girl dies, as does the demonic jester toy, but the talking baby gets away. Did I dream it or was there some decent stop-motion for a second?

Isn’t that Bob Stoeckle of Bloodsucking Pharaohs In Pittsburgh?

What of the toys? Baby Oopsydaisy speaks, which was a bad move. The jester, with its long coiled tail with a rattle at the end that I only now realized was supposed to resemble a rattlesnake, and the sharp-toothed teddy bear aren’t bad, and there’s a robot tank that you don’t see too often. As opposed to most Puppet Master murders, demonic toys are slow, painful, and take teamwork. A single Puppet is a killing machine. I think it’s clear who’s going to win when these groups face off.

Jester, jack-in-the-box, whatever:

The movie is foul and stupid, and I hated watching it, and afterwards vowed to not watch any more bad movies on purpose, but writing it up days later is kinda fun, so maybe I’ll just limit to one shitty Full Moon direct-to-video possessed-toy flick per Shocktober.

Silver Bullets (2011, Joe Swanberg)

Not the kind of movie I was looking for. It has realistic lighting instead of movie lighting, which makes all the difference. Also I’m not sure that it was a horror movie. Depends what happened, who any of these people were, and whether the one bloody action montage (preceded by a girl dancing topless in a wolf mask, but with poor lighting) was supposed to be actually happening, or was the movie they’re shooting, or something else.

Sheil:

Swanberg (his own lead actor, just like Polanski, except not at all like that) is casting a werewolf movie, frustrated with moviemaking, says it’s crap if it’s just filmed theater, that we need new forms (I suggest he watch some Guy Maddin). I think he’s casting a girl in his movie who makes his girlfriend uncomfortable. He goes on about how movies (making/watching them) doesn’t make him happy, and right now his movie isn’t making me happy, so I’m off to the IMDB. Interesting thing is this one stars two experienced actresses – Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color) and Kate Lyn Sheil (all the Alex Ross Perry and Ti West and Adam Wingard movies) – plus at least three four film directors – Swanberg, Ti West, Larry Fessenden and Antonio Campos – but I’m not sure who anyone played or what was going on. Maybe I could’ve paid closer attention. Anyway, first movie I’ve seen by Swanberg (not counting a V/H/S episode) and I was hoping I’d love it since he has made a hundred more.

A werewolf with a gun is twice as deadly:

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971, Robert Fuest)

“What goes up must come down.”
“Brilliant!”

No dialogue for the first ten minutes, stylish use of camera, Vincent Price, and a mechanical band called Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards – this is already a favorite movie. Huge step up from the Freddie Francis anthology horrors I’ve watched in Shocktobers past. But British horror just can’t help itself from being campy.

Vulnavia and dog:

Hopefully this was an influence on Se7en, as Phibes (Price, a few years after Witchfinder General and The Oblong Box) takes revenge on the doctors present during the hospital death of his beloved wife via the ten curses of the pharaohs, killing doctors with bats, frogs, rats, locusts, etc. It also may be an influence on the Saw movies, as Chief Surgeon Joseph Cotton has to cut a key from inside his son’s chest before he’s killed by a slow acid drip.

Inspector Trout (Lindsay Anderson regular Peter Jeffrey) figures out the curses thing but doesn’t do much else besides attract unfunny fish-name jokes. Dr. Cotton actually knocks him out to go face Phibes alone. Phibes has an unexplained female assistant named Vulnavia (Virginia North of a James Bond movie and a James Bond knockoff movie). A guy who describes himself as a head-shrinker gets his head crushed by a Halloween III frog mask. Terry-Thomas has a cute role as a doctor who secretly watches snake-charmer films when the housekeeper is away; he bleeds to death but still returned for the sequel.

T-T:

Quality cinematography by Norman Warwick (Tales from the Crypt). Who is Fuest? He went straight from making acclaimed horror films to ABC after-school specials. Gotta check out his Phibes sequel and The Final Programme.

Amazing locust death (LOL at the full-body smiling-woman sketch):