Twenty-three SHOCKtober movies this year… I would’ve guessed the worst would’ve been Cannibal Holocaust, or another Italian horror, or the late Ken Russell, or one of the 1980’s movies… but it ended up being this made-for-TV horror-comedy stop-motion feature. The very words “stop-motion feature” make for a must-see movie, and this month’s The Wolf House was an insane masterpiece, but this thing felt like a celebrity Scooby Doo episode.

Outside of the stop-motion (especially anything involving water), Bride of Frankenstein Phyllis Diller’s laugh is the main source of enjoyment – otherwise it’s all horrible jokes and slow, pointless plot and voice impressions. All the world’s monsters, plus a sap (Jimmy-Stewart-sounding Felix Flankin) convene at Dr. Frankenstein’s castle for something or other, then fight over the doctor’s inheritance and his “formula for destroying matter.” I think we turned it off after red-haired Francesca falls in love with Felix for hitting her, or maybe it was during the endless song she sings right afterward. The monsters are all hoping IT doesn’t show up, so I watched the end of the movie the next day, but IT was just King Kong minus his trademarked name.

Most voices were by Allen Swift – his career ranged from Howdy Doody to Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the late 1950’s he was on WPIX channel 11 NYC as “Captain Allen,” ensuring his eternal legacy via the Arcwelder song. Karloff played the Doctor, at the end of his career, the year after voicing The Grinch. Francesca was Gale Garnett, who beat Bob Dylan at the Grammys a few years prior, and also appears in future Shocktober classic The Children. Diller was in her celebrity prime, the year before Tashlin’s Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell. Rankin/Bass made this between their Rudolph and their Frosty, long before their Hobbit and Last Unicorn, and the cowriter was Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, whose jokes work better in print.

Man, the French sure love Joan of Arc, don’t they. I guess she appeared out of the blue, giving new hope to the troops and French king, and led some decisive battles which eventually caused them to drive out the British after a century of war. It’s a good legacy, but mostly in cinema I see her being interrogated and executed, exceptions being the first halves of the Rivette and the Dumont. And here we go again… I don’t necessarily love Bresson’s choices of subject matter or his morose characters, but something about his style really gets me. This was made earlier than I realized, between Pickpocket and Balthazar – the real test will be when I get a chance to rewatch the 1970’s movies.

Not much suspense for us – the movie is based on trial records and Tarantino hadn’t invented historical revisionism yet – but even within the film, her burning is made out to be a foregone conclusion, so there’s no real point to the interrogation.

Florence Delay went on to narrate Sans Soleil, the bishop went on to nothing at all, and the Jeans… were there really four guys named Jean questioning a woman named Joan? Music by Delphine Seyrig’s brother. The last Bresson film to be shot by L-H Burel, who’d worked on Abel Gance’s J’accuse! over forty years earlier, and the first to be edited by Germaine Artus, who gives us quick fades between scenes, little downtime before dialogue starts again. Won a prize at Cannes, where it played with Cléo from 5 to 7, L’Eclisse, The Exterminating Angel, and surprisingly, Mondo Cane.

Creepy opening song by Baby Jane… not creepy in the standard SHOCKtober sense, just that it’s a packed 1917 theater full of women in old-timey hats who inexplicably love a maudlin tune competently sung by a cute kid (semi-competently dubbed, anyway).

In 1935, Jane’s sister Blanche is a movie star and the studio is pissed that her contract says they also have to produce films starring her drunk, untalented little sister Jane (untalented-Bette is represented by Ex-Lady clips, fair enough). Fun’s over when Blanche’s legs get crushed by a car in her own driveway. Thirty years later, the two ex-stars live together, griping back and forth.

Blanche (Joan Crawford, whose film career had dried up since Johnny Guitar) loves her pet parakeet, so of course it’s the first victim – just more evidence that The Shallows was special for letting its birdie survive. Crawford is quietly desperate as her sister isolates her and goes increasingly, dangerously crazy over the next couple days (“You aren’t ever gonna sell this house, and you aren’t ever gonna leave it”). Bette Davis, who it appears had been working more steadily, seems kinda one-note wide-eyed eccentric-horrid, so it’s delightful when she “acts,” impersonating her sister’s voice over the phone.

Just as the situation and dialogue are getting tiresome, the movie introduces sweet Victor Buono, hilarious as a pianist who answers Jane’s newspaper ad to accompany her Baby Jane comeback act. The plot only keeps functioning because Blanche doesn’t yell when he’s over, but she becomes more desperate later after Jane kicks the hell out of her for using the phone, the movie getting better as it gets crazier. Bette scares off Victor, crushes the housekeeper’s skull with a hammer, and takes her dying sister to the beach.

Played Cannes with The Leopard and Harakiri. Nominated for all the Most Acting awards at the oscars, but luck be damned, a Helen Keller movie came out the same year, so it only won for costume design. The same director/star/novelist/screenwriter combo followed up with Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

The wikis say this is a Grand Guignol horror movie, but this is less well-defined than last night’s Giallo genre (black-gloved assassin kills people with knives – admittedly kind of a crap genre). Apparently it involves naturalism, and its followers claim that all horror movies are Grand-Guignol-influenced because they involve people doing some things that real people really do. The Guignol wikis also reference John Zorn and say the GG’s lead actress was “raped at least 3000 times,” so maybe let’s not linger on this.

Lena Dunham was a Manson cultist! Aha, the ex-boyfriend of Sharon Tate is played by Emile Hirsch – I’ve seen a bunch of his movies (including some great ones) but I never recognize him. Same goes for Scoot McNairy, who played Business Bob. Dunno what Kevin Smith’s daughter or Demi Moore’s daughter look like, but they were both in there somewhere.

Mostly I watched the movie so I could finally read all the articles about the movie…

ScreenCrush: “Cliff is actually the type of guy Rick plays on television.”

Roger Ebert: “a movie not so much about an era but about the movies of that era”

The movie’s wikipedia is surprisingly good, and I found an in-depth article on a music site about the song the ranch girls sing while dumpster diving.

Slashfilm has a LOT about the movie’s songs – I found it while searching for the “Behind the Green Door” novelty song DiCaprio sings badly on television in flashback (which is period-correct).

Burt Reynolds was supposed to play the blind ranch owner, but he died while rehearsing his lines. Pitt’s character was partly based on a stuntman who worked with Reynolds. And this is Tarantino’s second movie about a stuntman – the last one starred Kurt Russell (here he played the stunt coordinator on the Bruce Lee set) and Zoe Bell (she played Kurt’s wife whose car is wrecked by Pitt – and she’s the actual stunt coordinator of this movie).

For balance, The New Yorker was not impressed, says Tarantino is racist, sexist, and a wannabe cult-leader.

The Atlantic responds (“Charles Manson was a white supremacist, a fact that does tend to put a lot of white people in a movie”), attacking the New Yorker, and ending with a hilarious Brad Pitt anecdote.

Lee Remick (of Wild River and A Face in the Crowd, great in this) is a banker who gets phoned up by a psycho and threatened into stealing some money, in a 5-minute close-range opening scene with no music. Warned not to contact police, she calls Glenn Ford anyway, and he investigates, talking with Patricia Huston, who ends up dead.

Patricia is discovered by the landlord, “Mr. Curry” in my notes but maybe I just wrote that cuz he looks like Tim Curry:

A stoolie named Popcorn gives Glenn some leads, the killer’s girlfriend refuses to cooperate and says he’s a good man who pays for her son’s medical treatments. The baddie eventually kidnaps Lee’s sister Toby (Stefanie Powers, future star of Hart to Hart) to guarantee compliance, and arranges the handoff at Candlestick Park during a Giants/Dodgers game, where things go wrong for him, and he’s gunned down by Glenn Ford on the pitcher’s mound.

The baddie also sneaks up on Lee in a hallway disguised as an old woman… I forget why:

Written by The Gordons, who are best known for That Darn Cat!, and scored by Henry Mancini, the opening theme sounding like a warmup for The Pink Panther the following year.

The first I’ve seen by the legendary King Hu – his followup to Dragon Inn. I kinda love him, great compositions and movement, and killer distortion when he pans with the super-wide lens, which I know is a defect but in the fisheye 2019 post-Favourite world it comes across as a feature. Apparently the first Chinese film to be awarded at Cannes (in main competition with Pastoral, Kasper Hauser and Chronicle of the Years of Fire).

We follow Gu (Chun Shih of Dragon Inn), who is a well-meaning but unambitious scholar and painter, with a tendency towards being clumsy and ineffectual. He’s the patsy witness to all the nearby political intrigue, falling for the hot girl next door, Yang (Feng Hsu of Legend of the Mountain, later a producer on Chen Kaige films), who is in hiding after her dad was tortured to death, then in the second half he inexplicably becomes a master of strategy and helps Yang and her loyal generals ward off the corrupt government attackers. Some invincible monks get involved, there are a bunch of good faceoffs, Gu wears too much makeup.

This has a decent reputation, and is based on an acclaimed novel, so maybe I was just in a mood – I found it weak, clunky, unconvincing in every way. Fun in theory to watch a tormented Vincent Price (same year as Masque of the Red Death) as the sole survivor in a world overrun by zombies, searching for other uninfected humans by day, trying to ignore the monsters yelling his name outside the house all night. I’m gonna blame Addams Family director Salkow and his mysterious Italian codirector for the clunkiness.

Price narrates, and shows us his lost family in flashback, eventually locates “survivor” Ruth, who turns out to be a zombie spy sent to flush him out. This is four years before Living Dead, so I shouldn’t call them zombies, but they’re ex-humans who only need to dispose of Price in order to form a completely ex-human society. This was remade with Charlton Heston (The Omega Man), then Will Smith (I Am Legend) – maybe fourth time’s the charm.

Oh dear, it’s almost Christmas and I’m still catching up with SHOCKtober movies…

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.

Maybe the grungiest, most lo-fi, handheld Oshima movie I’ve seen, with some apparently documentary segments. Also maybe more sexual violence than usual. Some nice closeups on hands, like in other thief movies. Whole movie looks dubbed, with some cool troubadour songs (not as funky as the ones in Izo).

Longhaired anarchist book thief Hilltop Birdman (Tadanori Yokoo, a minor role in Mishima) is nabbed by employee Umeko (Rie Yokoyama of Wakamatsu’s Ecstacy of the Angels), to the delightful indifference of her boss, who tries to give the thief more free books. But it’s the late 1960’s and if anyone’s gonna embrace the revolution in the air, it’s Oshima. The movie goes off on tangents about sex and psychology, turns from black-and-white to color, plays with poetry and literature and theater, and makes cool images and tries to freak out the normies. “I do feel something like rage toward nothing in particular.”

It’s all crying out for some explanatory blu-ray features – for instance, it’s been a minute since I watched Death By Hanging, so I didn’t realize that movie’s primary male cast appears in a roundtable discussion as themselves – but I tend to love Oshima films even when I’m confused by them.