Took a couple weeks off the blog, now back to the SHOCKtober backlog. Got a new visual theme to support larger images (and incidentally phones/tables/etc) so beginning with this post, screenshots are no longer limited to 640px wide. Party!

After enjoying The Tenant, I decided to rewatch the rest of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy:” this and Repulsion, both of which I’d seen on cable so long ago that I may as well have never seen them at all before now. Obviously these movies were the highlight of Shocktober this year, alongside Hellraiser, Scanners and Possession. After not paying him much attention until 2011, I’m a big Polanski fan. All three apartment movies have terrific peephole shots, and this and Repulsion both have a dream sequence in which a ticking clock is the only sound. I found out in the extras that Polanski threw off the lipsynch in another dream sequence on purpose – I’d been annoyed at the technical flaw but he meant it to add to the unreal atmosphere.

Omaha native Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and husband Guy (John Cassavetes, same year as Faces) shop for an NYC apartment with realtor Elisha Cook (Phantom Lady, The Killing), settle on a place with nosy neighbors whose previous tenant passed away just a few days before. Mia’s first friend (Victoria Vetri, Playmate of the Month right before this filmed) jumps to her death soon after they move in. Already this is sounding like The Tenant, but instead of the new tenants going slowly insane, aspiring actor Guy makes a deal with the intrusive Castevet couple next door to have his wife impregnated with the antichrist.

Collateral damage: the suicide woman, who it’s assumed was meant to be the demon child’s host before Rosemary came along, Hutch, the couple’s best friend before the whole demon pregnancy thing (Maurice Evans, a lead ape the same year in Planet of the Apes), Guy’s competition for a major acting role (he goes inexplicably blind). I think Rosemary’s doctor, the great Charles Grodin (as opposed to the doc the Castevets choose for her, Ralph Bellamy of The Wolf Man), is allowed to live.

Even without the demon baby, moving in next door to the Castevets seems like horror movie material – this may be what led to The Tenant. Paradoxically, the crazy Castevets also keep the mood light, injecting humor into the horror. Ruth Gordon won an oscar (beating the star of Cassavetes Faces), would star in Harold and Maude a few years later, and Sidney Blackmer played Leslie Nielsen’s dad in Tammy and the Bachelor. The ending is intense, though – Rosemary discovering the whole conspiracy, walks into a room with her demon baby, her traitor husband and a bunch of revelers yelling “hail Satan,” and instead of hurling herself out the window or burning the place to the ground, she approaches the cradle and starts to rock it gently.

Polanski’s first American film after Repulsion and two others in England. There was a sequel! It starred Pontypool‘s Stephen McHattie as the demon kid now in his twenties, with Patty Duke and Ray Milland. Mia Farrow starred in Secret Ceremony, another disappearing child/hysterical mom movie the same year as Rosemary’s.

Author Ira Levin in 2003:

Lately, I’ve had a new worry. The success of Rosemary’s Baby inspired Exorcists and Omens and lots of et ceteras. Two generations of youngsters have grown to adulthood watching depictions of Satan as a living reality. Here’s what I worry about now: if I hadn’t pursued an idea for a suspense novel almost forty years ago, would there be quite as many religious fundamentalists around today?

I know there’s a rule that Italian horrors need a minimum of three titles, but I don’t see why this is mainly known as Black Sunday when The Mask of Satan is its original title and far more descriptive. I believe this is my first Mario Bava movie unless we’re counting Danger: Diabolik on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Fun camerawork, great lighting and atmosphere, and mixed effects (swell zombie makeup vs. rubber bat on a string). Opening titles are unintentially funny (The Mask of Satan, produced by Jolly Films).

Wide-eyed Barbara Steele (of 8 1/2) is the resurrection of a murdered witch from the 1600’s, killed by nailing a devil mask onto her face. In present day, a stumblebum professor (Andrea Checchi, hotel detective of The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) pauses between clumsily destroying ancient relics to purposely remove the mask, and then I get confused because the witch is reborn but also has a doppelganger descendant living in the castle next door. The professor gets himself possessed, so his student (John Richardon of Torso and One Million Years B.C.) becomes our hero. He wrestles the devil in a hallway and wins! I’m used to rooting for resurrected ghosts to take revenge on the families of their murderers, but this movie makes it hard, the zombies all rotting and horrid with no vampiric panache. It also takes its Christ vs. Devils thing very seriously, and the townspeople with pitchforks and torches are the good guys.

Anyway, if I ever move into a castle, first thing I’ll do is measure all the walls House of Leaves-style to check for hidden passageways.

Basically a Richard Burton heaven-and-hell monologue, plus a few conversations with baldy Andreas Teuber as Mephistophilis, some fleeting glimpses of Liz Taylor, and one fart-joke scene. Idiot Faustus, supposedly a scientist with a thirst for more knowledge though we never see anything scholarly beyond some lab equipment in the first scenes, signs a deal with the devil – his soul in exchange for all the power and riches he wants for the next 24 years. But Faustus (who speaks his own name roughly twice per sentence, lest we forget it) doesn’t want to be king, he wants only to impress the current king with his magic tricks. We don’t know what other powers he has or desires, since he seems to spend all 24 years fretting about the bargain he made instead of enjoying it, being tormented by angel voices emanating from a cool arrow-pierced mannequin in his lab. Sounds like theater but it looks like a proper film, full of cool effects and dissolves.

“There is no point. That’s the point.”

I always enjoy a good Tilda Swinton performance, and was willing to put up with a grim school-shooting drama to get one. I wasn’t expecting the movie to be such a cartoon, though. Her son is portrayed as so single-mindedly hateful that I’m disappointed the movie didn’t turn into straight supernatural horror by the end. Stylized movie with blatantly unrealistic portrayals of human behaviour (there’s definitely, definitely no logic) are usually okay, but the movie acts like Tilda’s world, feelings, situation are to be taken seriously. I couldn’t put all the parts into a whole that made sense.

Tilda has a devil child who has hated her since birth. Movie flips back and forth in time, culminating in the shooting (with a bow and arrow!), before which Kevin (sadly not Devon Bostick of Rodrick Rules) also shoots his little sister (whom he partially blinded in an earlier scene) and dad John C. Reilly. It seems like the whole rest of the movie was his build-up, that everything Kevin has ever done was to make Tilda’s life miserable, which it finally is as the town’s parents sue for all she’s got, and she ends up working a shitty job at a travel agency, living in a shack, drinking herself to sleep, with no family, visiting her mute homicidal son every week. Then the movie sabotages its demon-spawn horror by almost making Kev seem human in the final scene – what for?

Based on a novel. Intriguing Jonny Greenwood score featuring old-timey songs, well-shot by Seamus McGarvey (Atonement).

F. Croce:

The symbiosis between anxious mother and psychotic son—is she absorbing his growing malevolence out of guilt or responsibility, or is she projecting her own bad vibes onto him?—is what gives the film its shape, the sense of a deforming bulge resulting from turmoil swept under the maternal rug. But Ramsay doesn’t let the horror arise from the material; instead, she pulverizes it with a cacophony of clashing sound bridges, crudely symbolic colors and overwrought edits. Like Steve McQueen’s Manhattan in Shame, Ramsay’s Connecticut is a netherworld of vacant signifiers (Home, Office, Hell) where blunt abstraction and blunt literalism wrestle for control.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination is the title on the print, and IMDB calls it Histoires extraordinaires. An anthology film with three shorts based on Edgar Allen Poe stories, its reputation is of a brilliant Fellini film saddled behind a harmless Malle and terrible Vadim – but I like the Vadim (and I watched it twice, so I’m sure) and found the Malle unpleasant.


Metzengerstein (Roger Vadim)

Started watching this on DVD in French with bad dubbing – I noticed Jane Fonda was mouthing the words I saw in the subtitles, though I was hearing French voices. So after this segment, I started over with the British blu-ray, which has a great picture-quality advantage even if some of the voices are still dubbed. IMDB claims Vincent Price is narrating, but it sounds more like Rod Serling.

Jane Fonda, happiest when someone is getting hanged:

Frederique (Jane Fonda a few months before Barbarella) is a countess who wears outrageous clothing and hangs out with her rich friends and exotic pets (a blue/gold macaw, a baby leopard) taunting the peasants, sometimes to death. She meets a distant relative who lives on neighboring land (Fonda’s actual brother Peter, between The Trip and Easy Rider). She’s infatuated with him, but he doesn’t fall for her power trip, so she orders his barn burned down and he dies trying to save his prize horse. Just then a black horse appears at her castle, and she becomes obsessed with riding it, finally riding into some burning fields to be with her deceased cousin. It’s not much of a story, but I liked its mix of gothic brooding and 1960’s decadence. Also I liked Peter’s baby owl.

Francoise Prevost, a conspirator in Rivette’s Merry-Go-Round, plays “friend of countess” – not sure if that’s the friend Jane was fondling naked in a bathtub or not. The Poe story (in which the Jane Fonda character was male) was filmed again in the 1970’s by some French people I’ve never heard of.


William Wilson (Louis Malle)

Opens with the jump-cuttiest scene of a man running intercut with a rag doll falling off a church tower. Alain Delon (year after Le Samourai, two before Le Cercle Rouge) barges rudely into a confession booth and subjects a priest to his flippantly-dubbed flashbacks. First, as a psychotic young boy (fun fact: 27 years later, the actor playing young Delon would appear in Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak), Wilson was tormenting his classmates when another boy named William Wilson showed up, frustrating him. “Several years later I entered the school of medicine out of curiosity,” and as a psychotic young man, he rapes and tortures some girl on the autopsy table in front of his colleagues, again is frustrated when another William Wilson (now clearly played by Delon himself) shows up. Finally as a psychotic adult, Wilson is cheating a rich woman (Vadim’s ex-wife Brigitte Bardot, a few years before her retirement) at cards then whipping her (!) when Other Wilson arrives and reveals the fraud.

That’s the autopsy girl, not Bardot:

I don’t know what Wilson wanted the priest to do about all this, and I’m not sure if he’s just bringing up a few specific examples of the many times WWII turned up in his life, or if the guy only arrives once a decade. WW goes running outside, fights his doppelganger in a duel, and either stabs himself or leaps off the church tower, it’s hard to tell which. Good. It’s a misogynistic little film with diabolically bad dialogue. The Poe story (which has less nude-woman-torture, and fewer leaps from atop church towers) was filmed before in the silent era with Paul Wegener and again with Conrad Veidt, and I can tell just from its wikipedia entry that the original story is better than Malle’s visualisation.

William the Second:


Toby Dammit (Federico Fellini)

A drugged-out British actor arrives in Italy to appear in a film, for which he has been promised a ferrari. After suffering through his flight, cast and crew meetings and a party (haven’t seen it in a while, but looks like they’re partying on the set of Satyricon), he gets his hands on the ferrari and drives through the confounding Italian countryside, finally leaping an out-of-order bridge but failing to notice the steel wire just at neck level.

A decadent little film – every shot is crazy and imaginative and essential. Terence Stamp (year after Poor Cow) was so good in this, that it will now be necessary for me to watch everything he did between it and The Limey. Creepiest is the devil girl with a white ball who alternately torments and provokes the volatile Stamp without any dialogue. The Poe story actually features a character named Toby Dammit’s bridge-jumping beheading – though not in a ferrari, obviously.


Bonus image – a Jean Cocteau snowball fight:

I always like a good satanic cult movie, and the cult’s power in this one seems much stronger than in The Seventh Victim. The movie as a whole isn’t as great as Seventh Victim – much more straightforward, less mysterious and with appalling special effects – but it’s also more audacious and intense.

Doomed professor Harrington (Maurice Denham, appropriately of Shout at the Devil) comes running over to see devil-bearded Dr. Karswell (Niall MacGinnis, appropriately of The Devil’s Agent), asking him to take back some curse, but Karswell declines, and Harrington is chased by a giant demon into power lines. So dreamy Doctor Holden (Dana Andrews, appropriately of Hot Rods to Hell and The Devil’s Brigade) arrives in town to take over Harrington’s work, gets cozy with Harrington’s niece (Peggy Cummings, appropriately of Hell Drivers and Meet Mr. Lucifer) and ignores all this devil/curse nonsense – until it’s too late!

It seems Karswell is part of some demon cult and Harrington planned to publish a conference paper exposing the group, so K. passed H. a slip of paper with runes written on it, and after three days of spooky signs, the giant demon came for Harrington. K. asks Holden if he plans to continue his predecessor’s work, Holden says yes, gets the runes, is doomed – unless Karswell forgives him and breaks the spell, or Holden figures it out and passes them to someone else before they “escape” (are pulled by a clearly visible string) from his grasp.

Karswell’s pet cat morphs into a leopard, shown here mid-transformation.
Not shown: the leopard’s transformation into a stuffed toy, which “wrestles” comically with Holden.

Clearly the best scene is when our heroes show at Karswell’s house to speak with him and his mother (Athene Seyler, appropriately of Satan Never Sleeps) and K. is dressed as a clown, using his dark magic to entertain children. Challenged to prove his powers, he summons a hurricane and destroys his own party. His mom isn’t pleased, and starts helping the do-gooders behind her son’s back.

Clownswell with the grinning do-gooders:

There’s also some business about an ex-cult member, a farmer now in an insitution, who is hypnotized into revealing some plot points about the runes, before jumping to his death under Holden’s supervision – you’d think he’d be blamed for the poor guy’s death but nobody seems to care.

Holden and Ms. Harrington gradually become convinced of the dark powers, go to the police complaining of smoke following them through the woods and pages ripped out of books, and are rightly dismissed. So Holden fights witchcraft with witchcraft, manages to pass the runes back to Harrington who is immediately killed by the demon and/or a train.

A cool, noirish shot:

From what I’ve seen, it looks like Tourneur went from genre cheapies (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie) to great studio pictures (Out of the Past and Stars In My Crown) back to genre cheapies, maintaining unusually high quality throughout.

IMDB on Drag Me To Hell: “Raimi intended this to be a remake but could not secure the rights to the film. Instead, they kept many elements and rewrote the story. Elements kept: 3 day hex, the passing of an item to be rid the curse, the train station used for the ending.”

I was under the mistaken assumption that this would be a great movie. I remember everyone talking about it because it’s shot on 16mm in the style of an early 80’s horror movie, promos were sent out on VHS and it has a retro-looking poster. But I guess people get excited over anything that references the 80’s, and under all that excitement lay a blandly average horror movie.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue of The Burrowers) is a starving college student with no apparent knack or affinity for anything besides her walkman with orange-padded headphones. Is it just me, or do the period-specific details of movies set in the recent past always seem like they’re trying to be funny (I’m thinking Donnie Darko, The Big Lebowski, etc)? Obviously a college student in 1983 might have that exact walkman, but to me it automatically feels like a gag. I wonder if that’s how people who were my age in the early 80’s felt watching films set in the 60’s. She also wears oven mitts as gloves, but I don’t remember that part of the 80’s. Maybe I wasn’t cool enough at the time. Anyway, Sam rents a room from Dee Wallace (The Howling, The Frighteners) to get away from her sex-crazed dorm roommate, then answers a babysitting ad so she can begin to be able to pay for the room. Her less-poor, patient, understanding friend Megan (mumblecore star Greta Gerwig of Baghead) gives her a ride, then is shot in the head Harry Brown-style by a creepy Zach Galifianakis lookalike (AJ Brown of The Signal).

Hallo, Greta:

At the spooky house (on the night of a lunar eclipse – the most boring kind of eclipse), Sam meets friendly, old-fashioned Tom Noonan (Wolfen, Robocop 2, Frankenstein in Monster Squad) and wife Mary Woronov (TerrorVision, Warlock, The Devil’s Rejects). Tom gives her $400 and tells her the job is really to watch the house and make sure his aged mother upstairs doesn’t get into trouble. No baby no problem… except that Tom, Mary and Zach are a satanic-cult family who poison her pizza and tie her up in their pentagram-decorated attic. She kills two of ’em with a knife, tries to shoot herself in the head, but ends up alive in a hospital, impregnated by the devil.

Mary and Tom:

I suppose Ti West (who later made Cabin Fever 2) perfectly captured the spirit of the original Halloween, wherein fuck-all happens for the first 75% of the movie. I just didn’t expect that Harry Brown would be a better Shocktober movie than House of the Devil – it was more tense, bloodier and even funnier.

I pick these movies up one at a time on cable and elsewhere so I don’t have access to the Val Lewton box set bonus material which would explain why it’s his name I always hear associated with this and Cat People instead of Robson and Tourneur. This one is more eventful than Cat People, has quite a large cast and a packed, twisty plot for a seventy minute film.

Mary (Kim Hunter of A Matter of Life and Death in her first film role) is told by her school that her sister Jacqueline quit paying her bills six months ago so she’ll have to go home. Mary heads for scary, shadowy Manhattan to locate her sister and gets caught up in all kinds of intrigue. Turns out the sister joined a satanic cult (the most gentle, mild satanic cult I’ve ever seen in a movie) and mentioned it to her psychologist Dr. Judd. Well, the first rule of the satanic cult is you do not talk about the satanic cult, so the members have been hiding her away trying to get her to kill herself. Sorta. She found time to get married (to a dude named Greg Ward) and she continues to see Dr. Judd at least once a week, and she’s spotted around town, so the seclusion thing doesn’t seem to be happening – plus the cult sends a man with a knife after her towards the end, kinda defeating the get-her-to-kill-herself angle.

Mary falls sorta in love with her sister’s husband, and a poet who hangs out at the Italian restaurant under her apartment (called Dante) falls sorta in love with her, and I can’t tell whose side the doctor is on, exactly. A craggy-faced private investigator with no known motive tries to help Mary but gets killed by Jaq by accident. Jaq shows up then disappears then is easily located again. The cult members ask very politely and straightforwardly for her to drink poison, but she just won’t. Finally Dr. Judd and either the husband or the poet (it’s not important) tell off the cult by invoking the lord’s prayer (good luck with that) and Jaq has an intriguing chat with a sick, dying neighbor then goes and hangs herself.

Kim Hunter with private eye Mr. August (Lou Lubin, was a bartender in Scarlet Street)
image

(L-R): Jason the poet (Erford Gage of Curse of the Cat People), Dr. Judd (Tom Conway of Cat People, 12 to the Moon, The She Creature, Bride of the Gorilla) and secret husband Greg Ward (Hugh Beaumont of The Human Duplicators and The Mole People, also the Beaver’s dad on TV)
image

More weirdness: The woman who bought Jaq’s cosmetics company, Mrs. Reddy, uses a satanic symbol as her brand trademark (not too subtle for a secret society). The society has presumably coerced six others to kill themselves before (hence the title). And they go on about something that sounds like “the pilates movement.”

The Satanic Cult, led by a guy whose name I didn’t catch
image

Jacqueline (Jean Brooks of The Leopard Man and some 40’s serials) stares down a glass of poison
image

Katy told me Jack Black was in a depression after this movie failed, so I felt bad for skipping it and thought I’d rent it to cheer the guy up. Maybe it’s director Liam Lynch who’s in a depression… if your feature debut bombs, do you get a second chance? I hope he’s at least working on a second album (and more music videos).

The celeb cameos are as good as you could hope for – meaning the film isn’t weighed down by the awkward injection of whichever actors would say yes, but they actually have funny parts that work with the movie. Amy Poehler as a waitress: (“do we have to pay for all these refills?”, “No, you’re so pretty you get everything for free.”), Neil Hamburger gets about one line, Dave Grohl was apparently the devil, Tim Robbins is surprisingly good at silly comedy under lots of makeup – only Ben Stiller is a problem as a prophetic Guitar Center employee, and even that is only because his scene goes on too long.

After an outstanding musical intro (a kid who is perfect as a young Jack Black with Meat Loaf as his metal-disapproving father), the D members meet and perform open mic nights, but in order to win the big open-mic grand prize they’ll need the titular pick made from satan’s horn. It’s a mix of some original episodes (biggest fan Lee is in the movie; they borrow then trash his car) and music videos (the final scene is basically the “Tribute” video with a less catchy song, and there’s a hilarious shroomy Sasquatch sequence). Kept me entertained.