The October Country Trek Begins

I love October. It’s my birthday month, temperatures finally begin to cool in the hellhole where I’ve set up shop, but above all, the macabre becomes the law of the land. Yeah, I watch a lot of horror movies, but in October, everybody watches horror movies. Unless they’re wusses. You’re not a wuss, are you?

That’s a hard sell, this year, The popular challenge is “31 Nights of Horror”, but if I’m not working evenings at Job 2 or Job 3, I’m trying to churn out 1000 words a night on a writing contract (yes, four jobs, because like all liberals, I am such a fucking moocher. Bitterness intended), and this does not leave a whole lot of time for movie watching. Yet, I manage, such is the siren call of the horror movie. I can sleep when I’m dead (or collapse from exhaustion).

220px-Prince_of_darknessIt feels like I’ve been championing Prince of Darkness forever; ignored at the box office, lambasted by critics. So I, of course, love it – it’s the sort of mashing up of science and horror I really enjoy, and director John Carpenter’s choice of pseudonyms for the screenplay credit – “Martin Quatermass” – really points up his desire to do a Nigel Kneale-type picture. Although the last faux Kneale movie he was involved with, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, didn’t do so hot, either.

Supported by one of Carpenter’s creepiest soundtracks, the opening of Prince is marvelous in its precision; an elderly Catholic priest dies before his appointment with the Cardinal, and thus Donald Pleasence discovers the Brotherhood of Sleep, who have kept in the basement of their discarded church an ancient, sealed vat of green liquid which has begun agitating itself of its own accord. The problem is, the substance, locked away in the vial, is getting more active. Actually, the problem is it appears to be Satan.

So the priest reaches out to Professor Birack (Victor Wong), a quantum physicist who had engaged in a series of televised debates with him years earlier. Birack and a troop of graduate students set up shop in the church, hoping to quantify just what the liquid actually is – and that process leads to madness, death, possession, and an army of the homeless led by Alice Cooper.

prince-of-darkness-liquid-container-devilThis was Carpenter’s first independent production in years, and it’s nice to see him blossom again on a comparatively low budget. Some concessions are made to this lack of money, as in the cost-effective menace of homeless schizophrenics (a constant lightning rod for PC bitching). Bits of questionable science provide grist for nerd pedant complaints, but good grief, I realize faster-than-light travel is impossible, but I still watch Star Trek. Even I wince at the ancient astronauts angle, which is so outlandish that I expect to see Prince of Darkness playing regularly on what now passes for The History Channel.

Thing is, I don’t care. I love this movie, one of the last movies to actually frighten me in a theater. There is so much here that is good, I can actually forgive any shortcomings and enjoy myself. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for the Scream Factory blu-ray, which did not disappoint. But I did wait a couple of weeks to watch it. Stupid Jobs. Stupid adult life.

There was a brief detour to watch Gravity on opening day – yes, if you still haven’t, see it and spring for the 3-D and huge screen. This one will not be the same on home video, I don’t care how orgasmic your home theater system might be. In the spirit of contrarianism, after enjoying the $80 million dollar CGI of Gravity, I partook of the $80 menace of The Devil Bat.

devil_bat_poster_01The Devil Bat, in my opinion, gets unjustly dismissed. Sure, it the quintessential Poverty Row production (for years, i thought the distributor’s name, PRC, stood for Poverty Row Company, not Producers Releasing Corporation), small cast, limited locations, a risible flying monster on a string. In fact you’d see the same setup many times from Poverty Row, notably with George Zucco in The Flying Serpent, not to mention the deliriously-named Devil Bat’s Daughter. But this time out, we have Bela Lugosi, not quite yet a parody of himself, and a somewhat fresh angle on the revenge motif.

Bela is Dr. Paul Carruthers, whose chemical genius has made multi-millionaires of the Heath and Morton families, who built their cosmetic company fortune on a revolutionary cold cream formula sold to them for a mere ten thousand dollars. Sadly for the families, that ten grand (an all the other money they’ve paid him for subsequent products) has gone into his experiments with “Glandular stimulation through electricity”, which means he’s been creating a bigass bat with Kenneth Strickfaden equipment.  Deciding to kill off both families, Carruthers gives each a sample of a new after-shave he’s working on, and the Devil Bat uses that scent to track down its targets.

devilbatLugosi is really good in this; he gives the character a tragic undertone. Every time a future victim leaves with their bottle of Bat Bait, no matter how they take their leave – “So long, Doc!” “See you later!” he always answers “Goodbye” in as portentous a manner as possible, and we even see a little regret in the mad genius.

As is the tradition of the times, our hero is a wisecracking reporter – Dave O’Brien, the “Faster! Faster!” dope fiend of Reefer Madness. He’s actually a solid leading man, small wonder he eventually became Captain Midnight.  This was also apparently a time of unparalleled cooperation between the Police and the Press, as O’Brien walks into the Police Chief’s office and offers his investigative skills to the poor, bemused bureaucrat. Thank God for the fourth estate!

The Devil Bat itself is fairly ridiculous, especially since they keep cutting in the head of a fruit bat in close-ups – I guess because of the pointy ears, but come on, it’s a fruit bat! They have one of the cutest faces in the bat world!

I watched this on the new Kino-Lorber blu-ray, and the commentary track by Richard Harland Smith is first-rate, presenting a ton of information in a brisk 68 minute span.

So… How busy am I? That’s only two of nine movies I’ve watched lately… and I don’t have time right now to even name the rest. Best to just get these up and write up the others as I have time …IF EVER. See you when I can.

Or, as Bela would say, “Good bye… Dr. Freex.”

1 Comment

  1. […] then I looked sadly at my handful of Scream Factory blus beside Lifeforce and  Prince of Darkness – The Howling, The Fog, Prison, From Beyond, The Vampire Lovers – movies I have already […]

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