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.

Part of Shadowplay‘s Project Fear. The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, and has no immediate plans to leave (or “czexit”). I’m seeing no Britain connection, though Škoda Motorsports’s website says one of their cars won a British rally the year this was filmed, so it’s probable that some British racers were present at the 8th International Škoda Rally, where this film’s climax was shot. Also, our hero Jirí Menzel would later shoot an award-winning adaptation of I Served the King of England.

The titles appear in a black void revealed behind a canvas being pulled away by hooks – then illustrations of a car getting progressively evil via crossfades, sparking brief hope that the design of this movie would live up to the high standards of Polish film posters. No such luck, it’s mostly guys in drab clothes having conversations… though a sinister low-angle camera and atonal doom music introduce the Vampire: a prototype Škoda Super Sport which runs on blood drawn from the driver’s pedal foot. “With today’s energy crisis, blood is the cheapest fuel I know.”

Mouseover to see the car become More Evil:
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Two flirty ambulance drivers chase down the Vampire after it causes an apple-truck accident, and they chat briefly with Luisa, Ferat’s hired racer who complains of foot pains then drives off and dies immediately. Ambulance medic Merak follows up, an amiable morgue attendant telling him it looks like someone bit the racer’s foot off.

“She wants to be bitten again. It’s like a drug.” Professional conspiracy theorist Kaplan pins down Merak and explains the vampire car principle by showing scenes from Nosferatu (source of the Ferat name), but a fake version of that film starring our director Herz(e) in the title role. Meanwhile, Merak’s ambulance-driving sweetie Mima is applying for the vacant position of Ferat racecar driver. Kaplan: “It might be circling around Prague now, and during every push on the accelerator pedal your loved one’s blood is travelling through its internals.” The movie is still mostly drab-looking dialogue scenes, but Herz is trying to keep things visually engaging – his mobile camera runs up and down hallways, and he opens one scene with Mima blasting the camera with a hose.

conspiracy theorist:

“I haven’t been myself lately” says Luisa’s identical-twin sister Klara, right after blaming Team Ferat boss Cross for the auto death, and right before seducing Merak. They discover bottles of blood at the sister’s place, and Merak dreams of the car as a Cronenbergian flesh machine. I can’t tell whether the repeated images of Merak being chased by cars are part of the dreams, or if he keeps running into traffic like an idiot. After a major rally race, Mima is rushed to the hospital for blood loss

“We’ll start from where the truck opens. Play it again from there.” It’s increasingly clear that doctor Merak is being played, and Madame Ferat has been encouraging his investigation and filming events – the phantom director of the very film we’re watching – cutting them into promotional materials for the commercial release of the car, driving huge pre-sales. I thought the “vampire car possessing its drivers” concept might be a metaphor for how perfectly nice people like Mima become huge assholes when they get behind the wheel of a car, but the movie ends on a more cynically anti-capitalist message: “Hundreds of people can’t wait to feel the thrill of dying in a Ferat.”

Herz was a prolific director, working almost up until his death last year. Ferat Vampire came a decade after his Cremator and a few years after his acclaimed Beauty and the Beast. Story by Josef Nesvadba, writer of both my favorite 1970’s Czech time-travel comedies, Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea and I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen.

Lead medic Merak is played by Closely Watched Trains director Jirí Menzel. Ambulance-turned-racecar driver Mima is Dagmar Havlová of time-traveling sci-fi miniseries The Visitors, Věra Chytilová’s The Inheritance, and at least a couple movies with exceptional posters – also, she would later marry the President. Luisa/Klara is Jana Brezková of Chytilová’s Panelstory, and conspiracy theorist/participant Kaplan is Jan Schmid of Chytilová’s Fruit of Paradise.

As far as vampire/zombie/possession movies go, this falls chronologically between 1981’s semi-comic zombie-town Dead & Buried and 1983’s possessed-car movie Christine. Thematically, it’s got the auto-executive intrigue of Black Test Car mixed with the car-crash penetration-fetish of Ballard & Cronenberg’s Crash mixed with… I dunno, Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Something where our investigative lead finds out the horrible truth at the end, but nobody cares and capitalism triumphs. The fact that the car was German seems significant, since most of the Czech movies I came across while researching actors were WWII-related – and this movie had a cool German title (Der Autovampir). Maybe the time is right for Tarantino to film a remake – a fast car that sucks on women’s feet seems right up his alley.

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:
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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).

A sexy 1970’s Euro-vampire movie. Newlyweds Valerie (Danielle Ouimet, of a few Canadian sex movies and devil movies) and Stefan (John Karlen, kind of a brutish, squished Mark Hamill type, of Dark Shadows) arrive at a hotel where a countess (Delphine Seyrig, between Donkey Skin and Discreet Charm) and her companion Ilona (Andrea Rau, of German sex comedies) are also staying. The newlyweds hear there have been murders in Bruges, so they take a day trip there and back, then a cop arrives at the hotel (final role of Belgian 1930’s and 40’s actor Georges Jamin), and at this point I’m pretty sure everyone in the movie is a vampire – they all wear scarves and act suspiciously.

“You’re being foolish… I won’t let you leave until you explain” – different characters say the same lines, and it’s either a deep commentary on identity, or lazy writing. The camera lingers on bodies and gets draped in colored filters (Kumel also made an Orson Welles occult mystery the same year). Stefan tries to get playful (while nude) with Ilona, but I didn’t realize vampires hate showers, and she falls onto a razor. Delphine takes Valerie as her new travel companion, but they immediately go for a drive into the dawning sun and get burnt up. The whole thing’s got some fashion and visual style at least, and it’s agreeably colorful and odd.

Ilona:

Delphine and Valerie:

A few of the most beautiful shadow-moments and one of the greatest monsters in all silent cinema hung around a flabby retelling of Dracula – it’s maybe my fifth-favorite Murnau film, but I was happy to watch it on the big screen with an excellent, tightly synchronized live band, Invincible Czars.

In memory of two recently-departed horror directors, who made some of the best horror films in history, I caught up with two of their worst pictures…

To begin with, a bullshit voiceover lets us know that this spaceship, created with colored lights and 1980’s computer graphics, has some inexplicable gravity technology – just trust us, we’re on a spaceship but there’s gravity. I don’t recall Star Trek worrying themselves with explaining the ship’s artificial gravity, except when it broke in the sixth movie.

Discovering nude-vampire crystals inside the space anus:

Fallada, looking like an apocalyptic preacher:

“I almost have the feeling I’ve been here before” as they fly into a giant vaginal-looking tunnel. Astronauts discover nude, crystal-encased space vampires and bring them home via a badly failed first mission plus a second rescue mission. The sole survivor of the first mission is Steve Railsback (later of Scissors and Alligator II: The Mutation), who couldn’t help but sexually harass the female alien (Mathilda May, later of some Chabrol and Demy films) and becomes psychically connected to her. Railsback works with Peter Firth (Tess, Equus) and alien-invaded doctor Patrick Stewart to track down the vampire girl, while dapper white-haired Professor Fallada (Frank Finlay, one of Richard Lester’s Musketeers) and barely-competent Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard, Oliver Reed’s executor in The Devils) try to contain the evil – and fail utterly, as most of London falls to the vampire-zombie plague.

Patrick Stewart Replica:

Return of the Living Dead Zombie Phantom Alien Vampires:

More perverted and apocalyptic than most 1980’s horror movies, at least. The movie’s pretty okay, but the concept is cool as hell, so it’s got my respect. Tobe’s follow-up to Poltergeist, produced by Cannon Films, cowritten by Dan O’Bannon, who made Return of the Living Dead the same year, which ties into our next filmmaker

I’ve heard Jean Rollin’s movies are very bad, but I’ve also heard that they’re sensual atmospheric wonders full of naked woman, so finally I am finding out for myself. Started with Rollin’s fourth feature after Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire and Requiem for a Vampire, cowritten by Bernard‘s daughter Monique Natan. The verdict: it’s bad, but it’s true about the naked women, and I also enjoyed the groovy electric guitar music.

Half the cast: newlyweds framed by mute girls:

Whatever is going on, we’ve got two women who aren’t saying a word and there’s a coffin ritual and some unhappy guys chained in a castle. I’m starting to suspect vampires. The next(?) morning newlywed Isle (Sandra Julien of Je suis une nymphomane) arrives with her guy (Jean-Marie Durand, who had a career in film doing everything except acting) and learns that the cousins she has come to visit have just died. Then the cousins show up and say no, just a joke, everything’s fine. Isle meets the two silent women and two others: widow Isabelle (Nicole Nancel of Don’t Push Grandpa Into The Cactus) and Isolde (Dominique of Rollin’s previous film), who walks out of a clock. Everyone’s a vampire, of course, and there are playful attacks and serious attacks and lots of boobs, and I think Isolde uses boob-daggers to stab Isabelle in her boobs, and despite all this bawdiness I couldn’t focus very hard because it’s all so terribly dull, the sort of thing that happens when your slow arthouse movie relies on a sense of atmosphere you failed to create. There are some freeze-frames and fun camera pans, but there’s no saving it. One of the cousins was Michel “The Ethnologist” Delahaye, at least.

The Ethnologist and his dark-haired brother in front of some vampire wall art:

I guess the groom and the two unnamed girls from the beginning help defeat the evil Isolde and/or Isabelle, then the two male cousins and the bitten Isle die on the beach as the sun comes up. It’s possible that the groom Antoine was meant to be our hero, but he also gets beaten up by a library.

Isolde and her daggers… I’m actually trying to avoid nudity in the screenshots because I know all my traffic on this post will come from guys searching for “boobs”, but with this movie it’s difficult:

Every wall in the castle where they filmed has been vandalized:

Filmed in super-grainy black and white on set of a lesser Christopher Lee Dracula movie. Mostly it’s not the behind-the-scenes type footage I’d expected, but the actors of that film in character, either rehearsing or performing their scenes shot from a different angle. Scenes are even edited in order corresponding to the Dracula story. We often see the production lighting, and sometimes catch the crew and camera peering from the sidelines, as if haunting the characters from another era.

No sync sound until the end – instead it ranges from symphonic music to low doom-strings to bird sounds and construction noise to ambient loops. In the last few minutes, Christopher Lee explains then reads Dracula’s death scene from the novel.

The synopsis states that this film is “a sly political allegory about generalissimo Francisco Franco” but I’d like to hear some support. IMDB says “Cuadecuc” is Catalan for “worm tail.”

Rosenbaum:

Recalling without imitating such classics as Nosferatu and Vampyr, the film uses high-contrast cinematography to evoke the dissolution and decay that strikes viewers who see those films today in fading prints. It all adds up to a kind of poetic alchemy in which Portabella converts one of the world’s worst horror films into one of the most beautiful movies ever made about anything. (It’s characteristic of his artistic integrity that he refused to allow Cuadecuc-Vampir to be used as an extra on a Count Dracula DVD.)


Acció Santos (1973)

It’s odd that the other short on this disc is Play Back, which I’ve watched before, because this one could very easily share the same title. Carles Santos (composer of Cuadecuc Vampir and the composer/star of Play Back) performs a Chopin piece in the first half, then listens to a tape recording of his performance in the second. The part that turns this from a typical conceptual piece into a weirdly frustrating one is when he plugs in headphones, leaving us in silence for the last four minutes of the film.

Feels like it wants to be Mulholland Drive-ish, as young beautiful Elle Fanning arrives in the L.A. fashion business and experiences nightmarish visions before she’s eaten alive by her competitors. Dialogue delivered in weirdly silent rooms – I was expecting more keyboardy soundscapes, and maybe that would’ve helped get me on the wavelength of cool horror and deep mystery the movie seemed to think we were on together.

Elle is the Fanning from Super 8 and The Boxtrolls (older sister Dakota is the Fanning from Night Moves, War of the Worlds and Coraline). She arrives in town with her photographer friend, Karl Glusman from Love – another lethargic, sex-minded movie I had to struggle to keep from turning off. Elle meets makeup artist Jena Malone (the girl Donnie Darko likes) and a couple of evil models, gets work with famous photog Jack, and avoids her awful landlord (a miscast Keanu Reeves).

M. Sicinski:

Neon Demon is an inert object, mostly comprised of color-saturated tableaux and walking-dead, anti-psychological “performances” … Much like Matthew Barney’s films, The Neon Demon delivers in chunks and slabs, but never seems cognizant of cinema as a time-based art.