Never seen this, and I’d steeled myself for a first half of boring scientist buildup, but nope, he arrives at an inn, already invisible and in a terrible mood. This was a good pick, excellent and humorous, as I should’ve expected, coming between The Old Dark House and Bride of Frankenstein.

While the voice of Claude Rains is off being invisible and trying to complete his studies if only the other residents would leave him alone, his mustachey coworker Kemp (William Harrigan of Flying Leathernecks) takes the opportunity to mack on Claude’s girl Gloria Stuart.

The innkeepers curse their luck:

At the inn, the highlight is Una O’Connor, who has a terrific scream. Claude’s only special powers are to beat people up while invisible, and fuck with their heads – the news reports the so-called invisible man as a group delusion, a bumpkin madness, but things escalate when he kills a cop halfway through the movie.

Clarence and Gloria hear the bad news:

Kemp and Gloria arrive along with her scientist dad Clarence, who says the chemicals in Claude’s invisibility formula can cause madness. Proving his point, Claude kills 100+ innocents by wrecking a train and tearing through his own search party, then murders Kemp, sending his car off a cliff. Since neither science nor the love of Gloria Stuart can tame him, the townsfolk hunt the guy down.

Played at the second Venice Film Festival, with Little Women, Twentieth Century, It Happened One Night, and Golden Lion Mussolini Cup winner Man of Aran. One of the five classic Universal monster movies, all of which got multiple sequels. Joe May would direct Invisible Vincent Price in 1940, and the same year Virginia Bruce would play The Invisible Woman, though of course she doesn’t get to be a scientist, she just answered a newspaper ad placed by Dr. John Barrymore. Jon Hall fought nazis as The Invisible Agent, returned for his Revenge two years later, then Arthur Franz got invisible with Abbott and Costello. There have been plenty more invisible (and Hollow) men and women, and it looks like the guy who made Upgrade is rebooting the original next year with Elisabeth Moss.

Released from church school on vacation, all the students immediately steal from the market, assault women, and generally terrorize the town. Three dim individuals get lost in the country and find a barn to bed down. In the night, a crone hits on Philosopher Khoma Brutus, and flies away with him when he refuses her, but he knocks her down and beats her senseless with her own broom – crisis averted. I mean, the old witch transforms into a beautiful young girl, but that’s probably nothing to worry about.

But back home, the Michael Shannon-looking rector sends Brutus to give last rites to a landowner’s lovely daughter, who was beaten nearly to death by unknown assailants in the night. Brutus is terrified, tries to escape the whole way back to the farmhouse and… stuff like this starts happening:

Also, cranes!

The now-dead girl’s very unhappy father locks Brutus in the chapel for three nights to pray for her soul. Night one goes okay – she rises from her coffin, but the magic chalk circle he draws around himself keeps her away. “A cossack fears nothing,” he swears drunkenly to the guards… survives an all-night assult by her floating coffin the next night, but the stress turns his hair white, and he tries again to escape.

He’ll get a thousand gold pieces if he survives night three, goes into the chapel drunk as hell, then the movie pulls out all the stops. The effects are just great, like Goofball Cocteau. Shadows and projections and disembodied arms and skeletons, dwarves and wall-crawling demons and many-eyeballed goblins, attack from all sides, but he’s safe in his chalk circle. Then everyone steps the fuck back when she summons Viy, a golden-eyed giant, and when the foolish cossack locks eyes with the beast, his soul is lost and the monsters descend on him.

Russia’s first(?) horror movie, supposedly based on the same Gogol story as Black Sunday. Lead actor Leonid Kuravlyov came up with Tarkovsky, but only appeared in his student film, and is better known for starring in the sci-fi comedy Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future. One of our codirectors died in 1984 – the other, Kropachyov, did production design for Hard to Be a God. Art and effects by Russian animation legend Aleksandr Ptushko, whose 1935 stop-motion feature The New Gulliver sounds cool.

Opens with a shaky walking cam, some zooms and shock edits, brief gore and nudity, but feels like its own thing, distinct from the Argento and Fulci movies I usually end up watching. Since discovering the great Michele Soavi last year, I’ve been optimistic about expanding my Italian horror canon. Ferroni was a familiar name because of his Brigade, and this, his penultimate film, was quite good.

I don’t think this was the intention, but I’m going to think of this as one of those stories where someone shows themself to be a real asshole, then they get severely punished by paranormal forces. Nicola is an entitled city dude, played by Gianni Garko (star of the Sartana series, Fulci’s The Psychic, and Dracula Blows His Cool) who busts up his car then intrudes on a rural family as they’re returning from father’s funeral, claiming he doesn’t want to be a burden, but also insisting everyone listen to his problems and give him immediate assistance.

Until the car can be fixed, Nicola is stuck with the seven remaining family members, who are worriedly whispering about ending a curse, so he gets gradually clued in. It’s not long before the hot daughter Sdenka falls in love with the stranger, and also the dead man’s brother goes out to fight the witch in the woods, returns cursed, and after being stabbed in the heart his face melts nice and slowly, and the movie just chills out and watches it go.

Mouseover to melt Uncle’s face:
image

The second half ends up like so many horrors, with family members in the dark outside yelling someone’s name over and over. The curse catches them quickly, since it causes the afflicted to seek to turn the one they love most, a detail reminiscent of It Follows. “The terror of loneliness – they kill others primarily because they want company, and those victims search for their own company… a neverending chain of death, unless one can break a link,” says the organist in town after Nicola gets his damned car fixed. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the youngest wanders off, comes back bloodthirsty and kills her mom, then all hell breaks loose and our dude returns to a total zombietown. He flees his loving Sdenka, arrives crazed and nonverbal at a hospital, where Sdenka tracks him down, he stabs her and… she doesn’t melt, so he’s just a lunatic murderer.

The same Tolstoy story (here adapted by the writer of Kill, Baby… Kill! and at least two others) was also filmed as the Boris Karloff section of Black Sabbath a decade earlier, The Vampire Family in Russia two decades later, and a Fear Itself episode by Larry Fessenden. Damn good music – the composer also did La Notte and Deep Red, and died before having to hear one of his songs in Gaspar Noé’s Love. The DP shot The House That Screamed, which I’d hoped to catch this SHOCKtober but the month wasn’t long enough. Sdenka is Agostina Belli of a Richard Burton Bluebeard and Fulci’s The Eroticist, and her family members include Roberto Maldera (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), Cinzia De Carolis (Cannibals in the Streets), and the Deneuve-looking Teresa Gimpera (Spirit of the Beehive).

It has been over a year since I’ve watched the last ten minutes of a bunch of mediocre horror movies on streaming sites, and the temptation to properly watch some of these has been building, so it’s time to knock out a bunch and save myself some time.


Bird Box (2018, Susanne Bier)

Sandra Bullock regains consciousness and calls out “boy! girl!” when searching for the boy and girl, while phantoms are trying to trick the kids into removing their blindfolds. Is avoiding names a Pontypool sorta thing? “I have so much I want you to see” sounds like a sideways Hellraiser reference? The oppressive sound design is meant to distract the characters from locating the birds they seek. Once they get indoors, where the monsters cannot reach, there are no birds, annoyingly, it’s just a school for the blind – the last survivors of the suicide-sight monster-pocalypse. Blinds are like normals, now. She DOES have a box full of birds, pretty blue-green guys, then she names her “son” after the guy from Moonlight, presumably deceased. This was part of that wave of netflix movies that everyone thought they had to watch just because they had netflix, so I’m probably the last person in the world who hasn’t seen it. Bier made After The Wedding, which I saw a very long time ago, Bullock hasn’t been prolific since Gravity.


The Silence (2019, John Leonetti)

Netflix knows you want to watch this after Bird Box. This is obviously where Bird Box and A Quiet Place meet. From the fast-forward it looks Tucci-centric and monotonously beige. Stanley Tucci’s family encounters a traumatized lost girl who was sent with a noisemaker-rigged suicide vest to attract the murder-bats that killed the world, while masked dudes kidnap family members in slow-mo, and mom does that Quiet Place thing where she suicide-screams so the kids can escape. Tucci-gang and kidnap-gang brawl under a swarm of murder-bats, then an unwelcome voiceover catches us up. The director made Mortal Kombat 2, the writers worked on Transmorphers and a C. Thomas Howell movie,


Velvet Buzzsaw (2019, Dan Gilroy)

Zawe Ashton wanders into a haunted art gallery alone at night, the artworks all streaming paint onto the floor and into her body, while in a storage facility, Jake Gyllenhaal encounters a killer android on crutches, and at home Rene Russo gets assaulted by sculptures. Russo survives the night and tries to stay safe by divesting herself of all paintings and sculptures, but her tattoo counts as art, and kills her via shady CG. As in Bird Box, Malkovich had been killed off in the previous 90 minutes, damn it. Gilroy made Nightcrawler, but more importantly, he cowrote Freejack.


Apostle (2018, Gareth Evans)

Since we’ve watched the Downton Abbey movie, let’s see what old too-good-for-TV Dan Stevens is up to… ah, burning swamp witches in direct-to-video films. Dan rescues two women from a sexist cultist, whom they strenuously murder, while the cult compound burns, the camera bouncing here and there, recalling Evans’s V/H/S/2 segment. A mountainside explodes in fire and blood, the women escape, and the cult beardo watches a dying Dan embrace the grasses and become the new swamp-witch. Evans made The Raid movies… oh jeez, I watched one of those just three years ago and have forgotten all about it.


The Hole in the Ground (2019, Lee Cronin)

Seána Kerslake is in a hole in the ground. I hoped from the description that this would be a modern The Gate, but it looks like another The Descent. After an eternity of crawling, she rescues her unconscious son but awakens the blind beasties who can transform into people who probably died earlier in the movie. Back home, how can she know who’s real and who’s a beastie? Movie characters do not care about what is knowable, so she burns down her house with one son inside, and drives off with her “real” son, then we wait for the inevitable reveal that she got it wrong – there it is! Lee is presumably Mikal Cronin’s brother, his cowriter did a series called Zombie Bashers.


Cabin Fever Remake (2016, Travis Z)

Oh no, sad Matt (Daddario, of the Buffy-looking series Shadowhunters) is burning down the cabin with his feverish girlfriend inside, then his feverish buddy gets shot by rednecks and Gage blows them away. I see this is going the horror-comedy route, with the ever-popular overbearing sound design. He comes across Louise Linton of The Midnight Man, calls her a bitch, then I guess he walks into the woods and is killed by the editing and the too-loud music. Our director Mr. Z worked on Hatchet III and Behind the Mask, and screenwriter Randy cowrote the original with Eli Roth, who made not one but two poorly-reviewed films last year, plus a History of Horror doc series.


Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018, Hèctor Hernández Vicens)

Ooh the zombie can talk and kidnap children in this second remake of the Romero sequel. Some bellowing army dudes are extremely good shots with their pistols as a horde approaches, but they all suffer the fate that army dudes in zombie movies must, while Sophie Skelton (Outlander) runs right past the horde to rescue her kid, beheads the talking zombie (Johnathon Schaech of The Scare Hole) with typical action-movie kissoff dialogue, then reads some science narration in as bored a voice as possible. The director’s follow-up to The Corpse of Anna Fritz, which itself got a remake, perpetuating some sorta horror sequel-remake super-cycle.


Await Further Instructions (2018, Johnny Kevorkian)

I skipped back an extra couple minutes because I noticed the movie’s blue-gray palette suddenly bloom into full color. It’s nothing though, and back in the blue-gray house the TV is telling the family members to kill each other, and dad complies with a hatchet before he’s taken down. I hope this all turns out to be a gag by the neighbor kids at the end. Nope, when smashed, the TV comes to Cronenbergian life and Tetsuos the dead dad. Sam Gittins (this year’s Ray & Liz) appears to win, then the whole family is murdered by cables except the newborn who I guess grows up with cables as parents. The director made family thriller The Disappeared a decade ago, the writer has a short about deadly colors called Chromophobia.


Cargo (2017, Ben Howling & Yolanda Ramke)

Oh, Martin Freeman is not gonna survive this pandemic apocalypse. After he goes blind and hungry, a kid takes his baby and rides undead-Martin to the zombie-hunter tribal lands in painful, wordless slow-motion. A remake of their 2013 short, but 98 minutes longer.


Veronica (2017, Paco Plaza)

The Spanish Ouija horror – kids are fleeing a demon-infested apartment building, Vero goes back for the youngest, then realizes the demon was inside her all along and tries to stop herself. Inventive effects, a cool look, and kickass post-punk song over the credits – one of the rare Last Ten Minutes entries that seems like a good movie. From the director of the original [Rec] plus two of its sequels.


Life After Beth (2014, Jeff Baena)

It’s killing me that the Zombie Aubrey movie was deemed not good enough to watch, but hey, my time is valuable. Dane DeHaan (Valerian himself) has strapped a fullsize oven to Aubrey’s back to slow her down, and they go for a romantic canyon hike before he shoots her. “I am sorry the whole world went to shit, but it was totally worth it.” John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon must be dead, but Anna Kendrick is here. The movie’s best original detail is that zombie gravestones have two death dates. Our writer/director specializes in little-loved Aubrey Plaza movies, also made The Little Hours.

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.

Happy SHOCKtober 2019!

From the first five minutes, this movie is too energetic and stylized to be a standard-ass survival/horror. Even the character setup scenes, video phone calls with her family, are visualized in a way I’ve never quite seen before. After that you’ve got your surfer, stranded on a tiny island trapped by an angry killer shark, and we remember Open Water but we’ve established that she’s organized and resourceful so this could go either way. Some dodgy CG when she escapes to a buoy and the enraged shark chomps the metal railings, otherwise a colorful, terrific-looking movie. The winning move, crowning this the queen of all shark-attack films, is introducing an injured seagull as Blake Lively’s only companion, naming it Steven Seagull, then feeding it crabs and letting it live to the end. Guess I’ll have to watch the rest of Collet-Serra’s movies now, to thank him for this seagull generosity (not including any superhero spinoffs and/or theme-park-ride adaptations he may have in the works).

I only know Lively from Age of Adaline. The writer followed up with a Coachella satanism flick and a couple TV movies, and is headed back out to sea this year with Gary Oldman. DP Flavio Labiano has also worked with Alex de la Iglesia and Snoop Dogg, and shot Timecrimes.

I keep thinking I haven’t watched a Gaspar Noé film since I Stand Alone, but that’s because I forget about Love, which if I’d remembered, I might not have gone out to let this movie mess up my mind on an especially heavy weekend. But Love is forgiven, because this totally worked for me, as horror and a filmmaking exercise and an ensemble dance piece and an extended collective freakout. Every player gets their own solos (in interview, dance and neurosis), and their interactions after the spread of the drug punch (and/or the collective paranoia) prove horrible, sometimes fatal. It’s all shot with a confident, formalist flair, unafraid to get ugly.

Blake Williams in Filmmaker:

The film ends up reaching, or at least approaching a state where it can’t even decide itself who is fucking and who is dying — the camera, now upside down, even loses its own bearings on gravity and horizons. It’s a monumentally liberating film, and so what if it offers us nothing other than the pleasure of being entirely there with it for the time it’s in front of us.

It’s unwise to watch more than two Italian horrors per SHOCKtober, but this caught my eye at Videodrome, and it’s been years since anything caught my eye at Videodrome since we haven’t lived close enough, so I rented it to celebrate being able to spontaneously pick movies off shelves again, rather than relying on my premeditated lists. Surprise: it’s really good. Almost seems like a parody of previous Italian horrors – “woman in a strange new house discovers gateway to hell in her basement” is the plot of half these things, and this one adds a Rosemary’s Baby element, with supernatural cultists enlisting the unwilling woman in their rituals.

If you see something suspicious in an Italian horror, always put your eyeball reeeeeal close to it:

Starts off shaky, with a mad prophet stumbling in from the desert, meeting some hippies, mis-quoting a Rolling Stones lyric to each other, making me wonder if the song was translated into Italian and back – then when night falls there’s a hippie slaughter, and I realize after Race With The Devil, I’ve accidentally programmed a satanist double-feature. In Germany years later, a balding dude follows a woman home and kills her, “why did you disobey?,” then on the subway a pickpocket pulls a human heart out of the balding dude’s jacket, and this is already crazier with more visual imagination than the other satanist movie.

A straight plot summary seems wrong for such a mad movie, but I’ll try, Kelly Curtis hits an old man with her car (Herbert Lom, Walken’s doctor in The Dead Zone), takes him home where his insects impregnate her with the devil, then he dies after a rabbit knocks over his meds, leaving behind a sentient death-shroud. Kelly is attacked by the reanimated body of her knife-murdered friend. A hot doctor helps her out, investigates the subterranean cult beneath her house, somehow ends up dying in an auto explosion, and the mom apparently survives the same fire, saved by her devil-baby. Whatever nonsense is happening, the camera is always up for filming it in bold color, with roving movements or in extreme close-up. There is bird tossing, voicemail from a dead man, a metal coffin unsealed with a can opener, a stork attack, a face transplant, and a basement with a skylight.

I mostly know Fessenden from his roles in Kelly Reichardt movies… only previously seen his Habit, the other mid-90’s heroin/vampire movie – know I didn’t like it much but I don’t recall anything about it and don’t trust my 1996 self’s opinions, since 1996 Self loved From Dusk Till Dawn and Happy Gilmore.

I guess this is The Thing meets The Happening meets The Screwfly Solution, an “eco-thriller” in which the environment fights back against an arctic oil team who already had their own inter-personal drama and now have to contend with people turning suicidal/homicical after seeing snowy ghosts. Throw in an evil corporation covering up climate-change evidence, Ron Perlman and Connie Britton, and remarkably good plane-crash effects, and it’s a solid little apocalyptic movie.

Connie and Ronnie:

Maxwell (Connie’s Friday Night Lights costar) is first to die naked in the snow, Jamie Harrold (Kingdom Hospital) just nosebleeds to death in his sleep, and a couple people get taken out when the “rescue” plane crashes into their base. Perlman and his rival, Phantasm II star James Le Gros, end up stranded in the snow with approaching ghost-deers, while back home, Connie kills Joanne Shenandoah for smothering Kevin Corrigan (the not-bright, cleaner-spraying guy in Infinity Baby).