This was the second Italian horror of SHOCKtober, and usually it’s wisest to stick with one Italian horror, but I was psyched about Suspiria Remake. There is screaming in the first two seconds of the movie, a good sign. Finally watching Kill Baby Kill after years of hearing about Kill Baby Kill, so the title card was a surprise:

It is slightly Dracula-ish for a second, a doctor being dropped off outside town by a coachman who refuses to drive any further. Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, star of War Between The Planets the same year) has a cravat and nice hair, is joined by local student Monica, who of course will end up being involved in the supernatural conspiracy. It seems a long-dead little girl appears to people, then they die mysteriously soon after, a precursor to The Ring.

There’s a beardy inspector, a bald burgomeister, and a wild-haired mystic girl, and you can’t always tell whose side anyone is on, but really they’re all just suspicious and terrified because of the baby murders, which are somehow caused by the dead child’s mother, a reclusive baroness. After the burgomeister dies, his girlfriend the mystic goes on a suicidal revenge quest, takes out the baroness, and our innocent heroes are free to get outta this burg.

Ruth the Sorceress (Fabienne Dali of Le Doulos) was cool, and I liked all the colored lights shining on the sets. Apparently the lighting and camerawork are the reason for this appearing on so many best-horrors lists, but prosaic me was paying too much attention to the silly plot. Bava directed some 15 movies in the 1960’s, including The Mask of Satan and Black Sabbath and I’ve got Five Dolls for an August Moon around here somewhere.

“Your daughter’s screaming. The house is burning.”

This movie has been back in the national consciousness, for reasons similar to The Manchurian Candidate, and I had great fun rewatching Cronenberg’s The Fly last SHOCKtober, so let’s keep it going. Starts out shaky, asking us to accept the weird, nervy Christopher Walken as a wholesome young teacher named Johnny taking his sweetheart to the fair. After a car crash and five-year coma, Johnny wakes up to an upturned life and inexplicable psychic powers which make him an outcast – this is a more suitable Walken role, and he’s perfect in it.

Brooke Adams (of the good 1978 Body Snatchers) was his sweetie, now married to another man with a kid, and Tom Skerritt is the local sheriff who resorts to asking the psychic Walken for help catching the Castle Rock Killer (the Stephen King connected universe wasn’t as annoying 35 years ago), who turns out to be Tom’s own deputy. Walken meets politician Martin Sheen through a rich dad who hires him for private lessons, and having seen the future of the country under Sheen’s evil reign, Walken takes drastic action, surviving just long enough to see that he’s fixed the future.

It’s presumed that the accident/coma gives Walken his powers, but the movie pointedly shows him having one of his headaches that accompany psychic episodes before the crash happens, so I dunno. This came out just eight months after Videodrome, which it’s probably time to watch again soon.

Oh no, it’s a bunch of right proper British people. Just looking at them in their identical suits, I can tell they’re going to tell the most tame unscary ghost stories and the others will act like it’s just so horrible they might spill their tea.

Mr. Craig (Mervyn Johns, 1951’s Bob Cratchit) arrives at a hotel, says he’s never been there and doesn’t know anyone but he has dreamt this and knows what will happen. Series of stories/flashbacks ensue, while a doubting psychologist with an overdone accent (German Frederick Valk) observes.

Cratchit and the German:

First we’ve got auto racer Hugh (Anthony Baird), who had a premonition of a creepy hearse driver that reminded me of the first story of The King in Yellow, skips riding a bus that ends up crashing. Not a terribly spooky way to start the movie, if you haven’t just read The King in Yellow, directed by Basil Dearden of The League of Gentlemen fame.

Next, Sally (Sally Ann Howes) recalls a party, and the only thing worse than uptight proper British adults is British youngsters. She meets a ghost boy who lives in the walls, and either this segment was quite short and nothing much happens, or I’m just blocking it from my mind due to all the youngsters.

A good one next, by Robert Hamer (Kind Hearts and Coronets), in which a wife (Googie Withers of One of Our Aircraft is Missing) gives her new husband (Ralph Michael) a haunted mirror, which shows him an alternate reality that entrances him for hours at a time.

Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob) directs the weirdest segment, a love triangle between two sportsmen who propose a golf game to win the hand of Mary (Peggy Bryan), who is delighted by the idea instead of appalled, because it was the 1940’s. The older Michael Caine-looking guy wins by cheating, so the other guy suicides into the water hazard, then returns as a ghost to torment his buddy during golf games. The two guys are Charters and Caldicott of The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich and Crook’s Tour, and I wouldn’t normally welcome a wacky comedy golfing bit in the middle of my ghoul anthology, but they pull it off.

Finally, the obligatory ventriloquist dummy story, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, who also did the framing story and the youngsters with the ghost in the walls. I’ve seen Cavalcanti’s gonzo silent Nothing But Time, but he has fully adjusted to the sound era, because all the characters talk too often and use too many words. Hartley Power is a balding ventriloquist who crashes the show of Michael Redgrave (also The Lady Vanishes, and The Go-Between), annoyingly creates a rivalry where there didn’t need to be one, while the psychologist has himself a flashback-in-a-flashback. I think one of the dummies is alive, but I was focused on the movie having a Harry Parker and a Larry Potter, and how close they came. Whole bunch of writers, including H.G. Wells, who did the golf story of all things.

An unusual Western with a pretty usual setup: two killers are sent after a guy who a fourth guy is tracking, only this time all the guys get to talkin’ all philosophical-like, and decide to team up. One of the Brothers (J. Phoenix) is kinda the dumb drunk one, and doesn’t seem completely on board with quitting the killing business to join the others and start a utopian society in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but as time goes by, he upgrades his ambitions from killing the target to replacing his boss (Rutger Hauer). Phoenix also gets overzealous with the gold-detection chemical which the gentle escaped commie scientist (Riz Ahmed) has invented, leading to the loss of his hand and the death of the scientist and his tracker-become-bestie Jake Gyllenhaal. His brother (JC Reilly) is the more thoughtful one, is a good mediator between the others and also an excellent killer. Between the cast (including Rebecca Root as a local town/crime boss who hunters the Sisters) and the movie’s title and character names (Riz plays “Hermann Kermit Warm”), the movie seems like a comedy, but doesn’t have many laughs, and is gradually revealed to be its own weird thing. Surprising change from the over-serious immigrant crime dramas A Prophet and Dheepan. The actors’ faces aren’t usually visible, and I can’t tell if it’s a stylistic choice or Audiard not knowing how to light people wearing cowboy hats. Nice to see, briefly, Carol Kane as Mother Sisters, not made up to look like a crazy person for once.

The intro shows Nick Offerman getting killed after burying some stolen money under a hotel room floor, and between this and The Sisters Brothers, I’m having a Coen Brothers-reminiscent double-feature. Ten years post-Offerman, four guests meet in the hotel lobby: false priest Jeff Bridges, pissy Dakota Johnson (A Bigger Splash, daughter of Melanie Griffith), salesman Jon Hamm, and downtrodden singer Cynthia Erivo (Tony-winning star of The Color Purple musical), along with lobby boy Lewis Pullman (The Strangers 2). Four of these people are not who they seem (the singer is exactly who she seems), and the movie will cut back and forth in time introducing each of their backstories as they violently collide in the present day of 1970-something. I heard this movie was a fun Tarantino knockoff, and it’s kinda Four Rooms-meets-Hateful Eight, maybe not up to the high standard of Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods and The Good Place, but it looks excellent and is a fun way to spend two long hours (each scene deliciously stringing you along, knowing you ain’t got nowhere better to be).

Chris “Thor” Hemsworth is introduced in the second half. After so much violent duplicity it seems like overkill to suddenly introduce a sex/death-cult leader, but I was busy being distracted by thinking he was definitely Chris Pine, but knowing he couldn’t be since Pine has bright glowing eyes and the only person in this movie with bright glowing eyes is Jeff Bridges as the false priest. Bridges was Offerman’s partner, seeking the money after a decade in prison, and Johnson and her psycho-killer younger sister Cailee Spaeny (Pacific Rim 2) are escapees from the Hemsworth Manson/Morrisson cult. Hamm is an FBI agent looking for God knows what but stumbling across the surveillance system in the hotel, run by self-hating Vietnam sniper-turned-heroin addict Pullman. Everyone kills everyone else, but Cynthia is too sympathetic to die, so she makes it out, possibly with the cash and/or Jeff Bridges, I don’t remember. Desplat lays down some fun music, but most of the entertainment comes from the jukebox songs and the ones Cynthia sings, sometimes in fragments, pausing and backing up.

I watched this near the beginning of the First Videodrome Era and thought I remembered only a couple things about it, but I think I was getting it mixed-up with Tenebrae and actually remember nothing about it. So here again, for the first time, The Beyond:

Louisiana 1927 (at least it’s not Maryland), two rowboats full of Southern white men bearing torches – this won’t be good. They accuse a dude of being a warlock, whup him with a chain, nail him to a wall then throw shovelfuls of boiling grits in his face.

54 years later, Liza (Catriona MacColl, screamer star of City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery) just bought the building where the grits murder took place, is having people fix it up when a painter falls to his near-death after spotting a dead-eyed woman. Liza is fond of the dreamy attending doctor David Warbeck (Fulci’s Black Cat), and unaware of the gate to hell in her new building’s basement. Joe The Plumber (who looks just like Chris Meloni in Wet Hot American Summer) is the first to dig around down there and get his face clawed off, then his whole family goes to the hospital to identify the body and is murdered by the undead.

Martha The Maid:

I thought Martha The Maid (baddie of Inferno) was acting suspicious and would turn out to be the hotel’s demonic caretaker, but nope, Undead Joe shoves her head into a large nail (Fulci’s signature eyeball trauma). There is however a psychic blind girl (Cinzia Monreale of Beyond the Darkness: “We blind see things more clearly”) who knows the history of the place, but she might be a ghost. A dude investigating at the library gets his face chewed off by tarantulas, a doctor is killed by very much broken glass, and eventually dreamy Dr. Warbeck is defending the survivors against hospital zombies by shooting them all in the shirt pocket. Movie ends in an inexplicable surrealist hellscape, and would’ve ended a half hour sooner if all the characters didn’t keep repeating everything they say. Cool movie though – one of the better Italian horrors I’ve seen.

There’s a new Puppet Master movie out this year, so I am falling behind – decided to watch the last of the “classic” series. It’s the Puppet Master clip show, featuring scenes from the other movies in roughly chronological order, with a framing story of an anti-Toulon woman reading a giant book, presumably the official novelization of Puppet Masters 1-7, then trying to get the secret of eternal puppet life out of some vaguely Toulon-looking guy (Jacob Witkin of the Evil Bong trilogy). She’s an assassin, who conveniently claims to have killed the survivors of previous movies, so no more sequels I guess.

We start with the Greg Sestero movie, go through the nazi era to parts one and two, then the laser tag sequels. With all these craptastic movies crammed into one hour, the few decent performances stand out: Guy Rolfe, and surprisingly Cameron, the asshole computer rival in part four. I thought the flashbacks would be a “best of Puppet Master,” so a montage of murder scenes, but the writer/directors (ashamed, working under pseudonyms) assume we watch these movies because we care about the fleshed-out history of original puppetmaster Andre Toulon, so it’s all the mythology stuff (with some good murders mixed in). As a result, this is probably the best Puppet Master movie – but if you’re some kind of idiot who watched the previous seven of these, then there’s no need for it, unless we’re gonna need all this recapping in order to follow Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys.

After Possession and Cosmos, I’ve been anxious to watch more Zulawski. There’s a World War II drama, a space-travel sci-fi cult thing, a love triangle story, and this one, with which I informally kicked off SHOCKtober this year.

A nervous, wild-eyed stranger arrives at a convent in total bloody chaos where two political prisoners are being held. He kills Thomas, saves Jacob, kidnaps a nun and rides the hell out of there, but everywhere he goes is about as hysterical as the convent, and Jacob starts murdering people with a knife. He buries his father, attacks his friends, murders his mother, gets injured in a duel, deliriously gives up his co-conspirators to the stranger, then is killed. The nun takes out the devil, who transforms into an animal as he dies. It’s all very intense, and I didn’t always follow it (nor its political allegory which got it banned), but it’s definitely something else.

Jacob and the stranger:

Jacob’s mom with snake:

Jacob and the nun costarred in Zulawski’s feature debut The Third Part of the Night the previous year, and devil Wojciech Pszoniak was in Wajda’s Danton.

Jeremiah Kipp (director of The Minions and Contact) in Slant:

Jakub is led home by his dark-clad benefactor, only to discover that everything has taken a turn toward the rancid and horrible. His father has committed suicide, his mother has transformed into a prostitute, his sister has been driven insane, and his fiancĂ©e has been forced into an arranged marriage with his best friend, who has turned into a political opportunist and turncoat. Leading him through this world turned upside down is the man in black, who continually whispers sarcastic platitudes in the hero’s ear and inciting him to acts of extreme violence … As usual for his films, the camera hurtles vertically across rooms and fields and spirals around as the actors pitch their performances at maximum volume. Society for Zulawski is just a thin veneer used to disguise the horrible sadism and unhappiness lurking inside every human heart. The Devil would make for maudlin, depressing viewing if every scene didn’t feel like explosions were being set off, sending the inmates of a madhouse free into the streets outside.

A different, more personal take on the Blaze Foley story than the (also great) Tales from the Tour Bus episode – this one duct-tapes the opening title and some clothing along the way but never tells duct tape stories or even directly acknowledges it. It’s a different approach for a biopic, taking a not-so-famous subject and refusing to tell the memorably quirky stories about him. Loosely structured around a concert (which was recorded, available on CD!) a month before he was killed defending a friend, and a radio interview with Townes Van Zandt regaling a clueless DJ with Blaze stories.

I watched this half for the country music stories and half for Alia Shawkat as Blaze’s wife Sybil. At least I think they got married, I forget, maybe not, but I might’ve found clarification at the Landmark Q&A with the real Sybil had I known it was happening. The other biopic-unusual thing here is telling the life story out of order, editing scenes more for emotional flow than narrative structure. I learned my lesson about watching movies about real-life musicians (this week I’m skipping Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters), but this sounded good from reviews, and dammit, it was real good.

With musicians Ben Dickey and Charlie Sexton as Blaze and Townes, plus Kris Kristofferson, Gurf Morlix, and Steve Zahn as an oilman-turned-record executive. This movie’s gonna end up like Blaze’s music, never well-known but passed around and talked about by fans, used (with Bird) as a counter-example when someone tells us all musician dramas are bad.