The October Country Purge II

Oh God finally some actual time off quick write no don’t write relax watch a movie or something no that’s just making it worse but you just got this sweet Zatoichi box those 25 movies aren’t going to watch themselves shut up SHUT UP

stake-land-movie-posterStake Land is a movie that is apparently loved by many, and considered meh by others. My son sits in the former category; I am in the latter.

So there’s no zombie plague this time, it’s vampires, and young Martin (Connor Paolo) is saved by a vampire hunter known only as Mister (Nick Damici) when his family is slaughtered in the first wave. Mister takes Martin under his wing and the two go on a Northward journey, seeking a promised land known only as New Eden. Things happen on the way.

This is an attempt to make a fairly epic horror movie, and I applaud things like that. My problem with Stake Land lies not in the fact that the movie has taken several other movies and put them in a blender and then didn’t hit the button long enough. It’s I Am Legend crossed with The Road with a very healthy dollop of The Outlaw Josey Wales as Martin and Mister pick up a surrogate family along the way. My problem lies with the fact that the movie keeps trying to get an over-arcing plot started, then resolves it in five minutes. Episodic works for some movies, but not here. It also doesn’t help my temper that our characters keep finding fairly safe enclaves and then abandon them for the uncertain promise of New Eden, which may not even exist.

stake_land03The acting, however, is every bit as good as it needs to be and often better. Once again I find myself singling out Kelly McGillis for outstanding work in a genre picture. This will lead to people doing the Internet version of singing “Take My Breath Away” to me, as if this is clever or original. McGillis impresses me; she’s that rare actress who’s managed to get past the industry’s insistence on youth in its actresses, to do interesting, solid work. I had absolutely no desire to see We Are What We Are until I found out she was in it.

I can’t recommend Stake Land, but remember our mantra: Your Mileage May Vary. I use reviews as only vague indicators of what I might find interesting. I always have to see for myself.

The-Conjuring-2013-Movie-PosterI had wanted to see The Conjuring in theaters, but never managed to carve out the time. This works in my favor as I was able to work it in after some really tepid movies, which was a relief and a half, let me tell you. It does deliver, up to a point, and that point, I admit, may be my personal failing (or lack thereof). Confused yet? Let’s get underway:

The Conjuring is subtitled “Based on the True Case Files of The Warrens”, and by now we’ve learned that a combination of “Based on” and “True” applied to a movie can usually be translated as Hi, this is total bullshit, and that is especially true where the Warrens are concerned. There is an entire body of literature, online and off, about the veracity of The Amityville Horror. But you know what? I don’t care about that. I’m here to get scared, or at least heavily creeped out, and on that The Conjuring delivers. Up to that point.

the conjuring 1A very nice family, the Perrons. buy a lovely house, and faster than you can say “I can’t believe we could afford this”, weird things start to happen, eventually leading to Mrs. Perron (Lili Taylor) begging the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) to investigate. The movie has started out well enough with one of the Warren’s other cases, a possessed creepy-ass doll named Annabelle, and it continues to get even better as director James Wan delivers again and again on the setup-and-payoff scheme that somehow never quite manages to become mechanical.

Where The Conjuring scores big over the other modern major horror movie I watched in October, Sinister, comes down to one scene: Mrs. Perrone, investigating weird late night noises, moves through the house to investigate, and along the way turns on every single light in the house as she comes to it, a trick Ethan Hawke never managed to learn. It doesn’t do her any good, but at least she’s not an idiot.

THE CONJURINGI’m also going to give Conjuring props for taking paranormal research seriously. I love movies that do that – Legend of Hell House comes to mind. Paranormal research has been seriously shot in the foot by the popularity of “reality shows” on various cable channels, where you can watch bros in night vision scaring themselves in the dark. I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact approach in The Conjuring.

Well, it sounds like I loved it wholeheartedly, doesn’t it? And I did, up until the last fifteen minutes or so, when it decided it didn’t want to be a haunted house story anymore, it wanted to be The Exorcist. Which, with all the talk about demonic entities and  the Warren’s reporting to the Catholic church, I really should have expected.

Look, I don’t find The Exorcist scary. Okay, that first scene with the discovery of the statue of the demon, but after that, eh. I am one of the least religious people on the planet, so the possession of people by boogeymen and their casting out by hyper-prayer just leaves me cold.

Still enjoyed The Conjuring immensely, though. I knew I was going to have to see it after this teaser trailer:

l_37415_0bec18faI love it when the Criterion Collection puts out movies that must seem kind of marginal to the typical cineaste, but bless ’em, they do it often enough to be interesting. In October, one of their selections was Lewis Allen’s 1944 ghost story The Uninvited. In a story that is starting to sound familiar, brother and sister Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) find a surprisingly affordable clifftop house in Cornwall that they move into, only to find the joint’s haunted, not only by a ghost, but by a living young girl (Gail Russell) whose mother died there.

Ray, of course, gloms onto the girl and romance blossoms, impeded by the girl’s cranky old grandfather (Donald Crisp), who has a valid point: whatever is haunting the house also seems intent on killing the girl. There’s a mystery at the root of The Uninvited, and the new tenants start to unravel it, aided by the village doctor, a shockingly young Alan Napier. Though there’s some goofy humor, there is also some serious dread in this flick, and it’s a grand way to spend 99 minutes.

Death-Ship-1980I had managed to forego Death Ship for 33 years – 33 years! – since its release, but the combination of a halfway decent review by Chad Plambeck and a $5.00 blu-ray steered me toward it. That “I always have to see for myself” dictum of earlier  really does bite me on the ass sometime.

George Kennedy is Captain Ashland, who is on his last voyage as the captain of a cruise ship because, basically, he is an asshole. Richard Crenna is First Mate Marshall, who will be taking over. Marshall’s wife and two children are on the voyage, too, so we can see that Ashland hates children and happy couples. Then the cruise ship is rammed by the titular Death boat, killing everybody except Ashland, Marshall and his family; Nick Mancuso (sorry, never caught his function) and his hottie; an older woman, Sylvia (Kate Reid); and Saul Rubinek, because someone has to be the first to die.

These survivors manage to get on the Death Ship, which begins to pick them off one by one. The delirious Ashland keeps hearing a voice telling him this is his new ship – in German. And there is your plot. Now for my litany of problems.

  1. If you fall in the ocean, you are dead. No saving throw.
  2. If we establish, several times, “It’s like the ship is alive! It’s trying to kill us all!” why does the hottie decide to take a shower? Besides the fact that she’s the hottie, I mean?
  3. When it comes to that, the hottie discovering that the shower is raining blood on her, not water: I get it, it’s blood, it’s gross, it probably smells bad. The door won’t open. But why the histrionics? It’s not like it’s acid, or it’s filling up the room.
  4. What the hell is the Marshall boy’s obsession with peeing?
  5. As if you didn’t already know, the boat is a “Nazi Interrogation Ship”. Were there such things? Isn’t that kind of inefficient?

There is precious little tension or even excitement here. Save the nudity, there is no reason this couldn’t have been a TV movie. The only death with any real punch is Mancuso’s, and that is largely due to his over-the-top acting. Not a criticism – I appreciated such a diversion at that point. The death of Kate Reid is barely seen, as her boil-consumed makeup  (which was good enough to make Fangoria) embarrassed the filmmakers or something.

Bah and double bah.

DE1I’ve downloaded a bunch of images of movie posters over the years, and one poster in particular surprised and intrigued me: The Devil’s Express, which was seemed to be a mix of horror, martial arts and blaxploitation. I can’t claim an encyclopedic knowledge of those genres, but I am fairly well-read, and I had never heard of this flick. There was also no info on it to be found on the IMDb, so intrigue grew into a low-level obsession.

So thank God for Code Red DVD and Diabolik.

We meet Luke (the musically named Warhawk Tanzania), a Harlem-based kung fu master and his rather skeevy student Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan). Luke and Rodan travel to Hong Kong (Central Park) so Luke can be certified to a higher level of mastery; during the final ceremony, Rodan steals an amulet that was keeping an ancient demon imprisoned. Said demon follows them to New York, where it finds things entirely too bright and too noisy, and it hides out in a subway, killing people at random. Meanwhile, Rodan ignores his sifu and continues his drug-dealing ways, eventually causing a turf war with a Chinese street gang, which is why the subway murders go undetected for so long. The demon finally kills Rodan, but that Asian street gang has already stolen the amulet and passed it to an ancient Chinese sage (who sports the worst makeup job evar), who guides Warhawk to fight the demon, and then takes the amulet back to China.

warhawk-tanzaniaThe reason I could never find any info on the movie is that, in order to capitalize on the success of Walter Hill’s The Warriors, the name was changed to Gang Wars, which is how it is listed in the IMDb. The gang war aspect of the plot is so prevalent that Warhawk all but vanishes from his own movie for some time, and sad to say, it’s no great loss. As a fighter, he’s certainly no Jim Kelly (hell, he’s barely even David Carradine), but he does have some presence. He’s better when he’s dissing honky cops and telling them he won’t subscribe to their “white legal ways” when he determines to avenge the death of his student. In the final (inevitably weak) fight scene with the demon, he does rock  sweet gold lamé overalls with matching boots, give him that.

The gang war segments are interspersed with the demon murder scenes, which have no real motive except demons like to be murderous dickweeds, I guess. There one scene where it drags off a rapist, which triggered a nasty Blood Beach flashback.

devils-expressThere are unexpected bright spots: when the demon possesses an innocent traveler to get to New York, when he arrives, the demon’s sensitivity to light is signified by painting huge eyeballs on the man’s eyelids, and having him stumble around. It works a lot better than it has any right to, until he gets too close to the camera. There is some swell footage of good old, bad old New York. And the priest who keeps showing up to say last rites over the bodies is none other than Brother Theodore. Just when you think “These guys hired Brother Theodore and totally wasted him,” Warhawk needs a distraction and Theodore cuts loose with some insane street preaching, and they’re smart enough to just let the cameras roll.

Blaxploitation/kung fu/monster movie. There was no way it was ever going to be as awesome as it sounds, but it is strangely entertaining.

Thanks to Halloween sales, I got my hands on the blu-rays for a late-period Hammer double feature I had not seen: Hands of the Ripper and Twins of Evil. The lack of earlier Hammer flicks on blu in the US is a continuing sore point with me, but if we finally get some Region A love in that respect, I hope Synapse Films has something to do with it, because boy, are these discs pretty. Hands  is flawless, Twins only slightly less so.

twinsThat carries over into the movies themselves. Twins is a fairly tepid affair, once again attempting to riff on Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”, as the cursed castle on the hill belongs to the Karnsteins, not the Draculas. The twins in question are the Collinson sisters, Mary and Madeleine, playing Maria and Frieda. After the death of their parents, they are unfortunate enough to be remanded to the care of their dour, neurotic puritan uncle, Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing),  who spends his evenings finding young girls to burn at the stake. The rebellious Frieda takes a shine to Count Karnstein, whom she sees as her ticket out of Gustav-ville. Unfortunately for her, Karnstein has recently resurrected the infamous Carmilla, who vampirized him and then conveniently left the movie.

Bereft of the talent that made their star rise though the 60s, Hammer is jobbing in people at this point and not just teasing the sexuality but employing full nudity. There’s really not much else to recommend this particular outing, except a bunch of familiar, welcome faces in the cast, including a sadly ailing Dennis Price in his final role, Kathleen Byron, and David Warbeck. I guess we could also count the sets recycled from Vampire Circus as a guest star, too.

hands_of_ripper_poster_01Hands of the Ripper is much the stronger movie, benefitting greatly from the strong direction of Peter Sasdy guiding an equally strong cast. Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter) takes in the orphan waif Anna (Angharad Rees), after her fraudulent spiritualist foster mom is brutally murdered. Pritchard seeks to use this newfangled Freudian psychoanalysis to plumb the depths of Anna’s trauma, only to discover that under a particular set of circumstances – all too easily duplicated – she channels the spirit of her father, Jack the Ripper, and recreates the murder of her mother at his hands.

Porter is intriguing as he covers up murder after murder, determined to solve this mystery; at the beginning of the movie he is angrily planning to debunk the medium that Anna nails to a door with a fireplace poker, but by the end he has not only consulted another medium, but has come to believe that Anna truly is possessed. The realization comes far too late for either of them as events rush to a suitably tragic, yet impossibly bittersweet, resolution.

A strong cast and unique storyline carries the day here, allowing me to gloss over some problems like where the hell does Anna keep getting those knives or why there’s not more fallout from at least one of her trance-induced murders. It remains a solid movie overall, and good way to finally close out this massive piece of catch-up.

Now where’s that leftover turkey?

The October Country Purge

I have got a lot of ground to cross. Let’s see if I can make a dent on my backlog without going on and on for 1500 words each like I did on Night Train to Terror.

NightDemon2Next up was the unfortunately-titled Night of the Demon, which starts out with one strike against it, as the title immediately reminds one of the superior Jacques Tourneur  movie of the same name. No, this one is about the search for Bigfoot, which lead me to my current thesis that there has never been a good movie about Bigfoot (I am not a fan of Harry and the Hendersons. Great suit, though).

So this Professor Nugent (Michael Cutt) and some of his students go off into the woods to search for Bigfoot. Along the way, they are going to recount the many murders of Bigfoot they have heard about, while we, the audience, are treated to reenactments of these bloody acts of violence. In a court of law, these would all be dismissed as hearsay, but what are ya gonna do? The worst part of this device is it keeps giving me flashbacks (see what I did there?) to Screams of A Winter Night and nobody needs that, not even us Robin Bradley fans.

Night of the Demon is, Code Red‘s box promises us, “The goriest Bigfoot movie ever made!”. Well, it is 1980, and they’re not shy about throwing around the red stuff or running the occasional hose through some clothing for the gushing of watery stage blood… but as a former avid reader of Fangoria, I demand some prostheses with my effects, and those are few and far between. Demon is probably most infamous for the scene where a motorcyclist pulls over for a roadside leak, and Bigfoot rips his dick off (naturally, this is referenced on the box, above). I will award points to the cyclist and the filmmakers for showing us an actual penis, pre-dismemberment.

nightfoot4Nugent and his crew of students make the mistake of leaving their supplies, radio and ammunition in their canoe while they camp out for the night, proving that they are enrolled in a graduate course for applied idiocy, because Bigfoot just shoves their canoe into the river and they’re screwed.

There’s an interesting subplot about a local woman recluse who was apparently raped by Bigfoot years ago, and is now the center of some hillbilly cult. The cult is never exploited, but that connection between the woman and Bigfoot will provide us with the third act, and eventual bloodbath as Bigfoot kills all of the college group but one – Nugent, because Bigfoot apparently respects tenure – who is telling us the whole thing in flashback from a hospital bed (more hearsay!).

nightofdemon1The original ending seemingly had more of a payoff concerning the woman, and possibly the cult, but a distributor thought it would be more commercial if Bigfoot just killed everyone in a big slaughterfest at the end – they were likely right, since that massacre scene is one of the few things about the movie that has any staying power (well, that and getting your johnson pulled off). The Bigfoot makeup is good, and reasonably unique. I just wish we had some sort of indication why Bigfoot is such a murderous dickweed in the first place, as there isn’t anything in the popular literature to suggest the creature is anything more than a gentle, if smelly, herbivore. Also, I want to know where he learned to tie a sheepshank.

Code Red, incidentally, starts out the disc by apologizing that all they could find was a one inch video master of the movie. It looks absolutely great, and while the apology speaks well of their work ethic, it is unnecessary.

This trailer has a warning that it’s fan made; it’s also better than the official one.

the-town-that-dreaded-sundownThis led me to a movie I had somehow never managed to see: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976). Director Charles B. Pierce had an unexpected hit with The Legend of Boggy Creek, made a couple more flicks to lackluster response, then came back strong with this movie based on the 1946 Texarkana Moonlight Murders. There was an ad campaign that successfully evoked Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though people going to the theater expecting that went home unsatisfied, to say the least.

Town starts out as straight docudrama, as we are introduced to the small town of Texarkana, which is going to be rocked by a series of murders – five in all – that are never solved. We meet local lawman Deputy Ramsay, played by the always-welcome Andrew Prine, who nearly catches the killer after the second murder in a rainstorm. The equally-welcome Ben Johnson arrives, playing Texas Ranger J.D. Morales, who takes charge of the investigation. The only description given  by the survivors of the incident is of a hooded man wearing overalls… that’s right, it’s Jason Voorhees, five years early (okay, more like 35. Or Zodiac, 23 years early).

DVD_the-town-that-dreaded-sundown_t658In fact, there’s a real opportunity to do a proto-Zodiac movie here and beat David Fincher to the punch, but Pierce squanders a lot of screen time on inept patrolman A.C. Benson, played by himself, a policeman so bungling and annoying that the soundtrack almost steals the Barney Fife Theme for him. The major difference, of course, is that Don Knotts was actually funny and lovable doing this schtick. Then, Deputy Fife was never up against a serial killer, either. Though now I want to see that movie.

Probably the best bit of stunt casting was purely accidental; Dawn Wells, best known to everyone as Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island, did Pierce a favor and stepped into the role of the Moonlight Murderer’s last surviving victim. She has one of the best extended scenes in the movie – impressive because she only shot for a day and a half.

Dawn-WellsYou’ve kind of lost patience with the movie after this, especially since the poster already told you that they never caught the killer – but you do get a bit of excitement when Ramsay and Morales almost catch him at the end. We know it’s him because he’s walking around in his hood in broad daylight.

So Town That Dreaded Sundown is notable mainly as a movie that could have been much better with a script more interested in a serious take on the investigation. There are some good suspense scenes, and the period detail is excellent. The Odious Comic Relief just needed to get dialed back a few thousand clicks.

After this string of clunkers, I deserved a break, and if nothing else, the odds were with me. So I finally got a good movie. But why, oh why, did it have to be The Thing prequel (2011)?

the thingIf you’re reading these words, chances are you have already seen John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing. If not, dammit, go watch it right now. I’ll wait. You are missing one of the best horror movies ever made, if not the best monster movie. A sequel is impossible. But for some reason, a prequel was thought possible.

Yes, this is the story of what goes on in that Norwegian camp prior to the events in Carpenter’s movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays an expert in frozen corpses (she’s working on a mammoth at the movie’s beginning) who is flown up to help with the frozen Thing. Events go sour from there, but they go CGI sour instead of the outrageous practical effects of Rob Bottin in the original. As expected, that is good in some scenes, bad in others.

the-thing-2011-_139366-fli_1373209660As Chad Plambeck put it brilliantly, “they do a good job of decorating the corner they were painted into.” Clues that are picked up by Kurt Russell and crew are diligently placed. The logical Thing test is sabotaged, but Winstead comes up with a viable, desperate alternative. The score echoes Ennio Morricone’s minimalist thrumming. They even use the same damned font for the credits. The one thing they cannot bring themselves to do, thus invalidating the continuity between the two movies, is blow up the alien saucer that brought The Thing to Earth in the first place. They have to have the climax in its interior. Maybe the videotapes of the saucer blowing up in the ’82 version were portions of the 1951 version that some Norwegian taped over?

Gaaaah, now I have a headache.

It was much better than I thought it was going to be. There is also still absolutely no reason for it to exist.

POSTER-THE-WITCHMAKERLet’s close out this section with another return to the depths, in this case a movie it took me 44 years to see: The Witchmaker (1969) and the ad above was what knocked my 12 year-old eyes out and set certain juices to boiling in my body that were already at a simmer thanks to Diana Rigg continually getting tied up in The Avengers.

The Witchmaker was one of the first movies to get an “M” rating, which eventually mutated into “R”, and finally seeing it now – once again, thanks to Code Red – God, this movie is such a tease, The scene to the right does sort of happen, and the scene leading up to it – topless sunbathing, with that classic dodge, the conveniently-located tree branch! Producer/character actor L.Q Jones was hedging his bets magnificently.

Cheater!

Cheater!

Alvy Moore, a long way from Green Acres, brings two of his graduate students, his secretary, and a medium given to sunbathing, to a deserted cabin in the swamp where, wouldn’t you know it, a wizard known as Luther the Berserk has been killing young ladies and using their blood in black magic rituals. Also coming along with Moore’s merry band is the ever-reliable Anthony Eisley, as a two-fisted journalist.

"Paranormal research pays for crap. You should check into agriculture."

“Paranormal research pays for crap. You should check into agriculture.”

Luther sets his sights on the sunbathing sensitive as a new witch for his coven (the Borchardt pronunciation of “KOH-ven” is used), and enlists the help of an aging witch from another co-ven to help. This involves murdering the handy extra co-ed and using her blood to make the aging witch young again. These murderous supernatural hi-jinx continue until Moore creates a garland of wild garlic for Eisley to wear (his knowledge of occult matters tells us this will make Eisley invisible to witches), so that the hero can sneak into the co-ven’s sabbath and sabotage the goings-on with pig’s blood instead of the required secretary’s blood.

This is a GREAT co-ven!!!

This is a GREAT co-ven!!!

The major reason Witchmaker got made was the success of Rosemary’s Baby, and thanks to that, the ritual magic is handled pretty matter-of-factly, and it ain’t bad. The rituals are consistent, and the main prop is a heck of a nice Satan statue. Sure, you’re going to get tired of wondering how Luther lives in a perfectly dry subterranean cavern in a swamp (magic, obviously. Duh.), and when the co-ven finally meets, they are a varied and entertainingly unique lot. Seems almost a pity they have to be on the losing end. Oh, wait, it’s 1969, and evil started winning at the end of these movies a year or so earlier (in fact, it was already a cliché by this time).

So Witchmaker is some low-budget horror claptrap, but it’s some good low-budget claptrap, even if it didn’t deliver on all the flesh it promised to my 12 year-old brain, cooking in its own testosterone. To nobody’s surprise, it played drive-ins under various names over the years, including The Naked Witch – though it’s much better than Larry Buchanan’s debut horror feature. Here’s one for it under the guise of Legend of Witch Hollow:

Night Train to Terror (1985)

night_train_to_terror_poster_01Night Train to Terror is a very strange beast; I’ve been hearing about it most of my adult life, in one way or another. I think I first encountered it in that battered first edition of Mike Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.  It’s an anthology film, and the stories contained therein are (according to who you’re reading) drawn from three, or two, or no unfinished movies. This often puzzled me, because early on in my amateur critic career, I reviewed one of the “unfinished” movies excerpted here, and it seemed pretty complete at the time.

Well, we finally have what has got to be the definitive version of Night Train to Terror, thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, who put out the most gorgeous presentations of the least defensible movies ever. And we can finally, finally figure out some of this thing’s ancestry.

We see the title train chugging on through the night, alternately as stock footage or a model. One entire car is given over to a music video. At least, that’s what it appears to be, with singers singing and dancers talking directly to the camera, all wearing clothing that was fashionable for about five minutes in 1985. Or on the set of Jem, take your pick.

vlcsnap-2011-03-09-17h29m48s71In another car, God and the Devil (Ferdy Mayne and Tony Giorgio, respectively) are having a meeting.  Satan is none too happy about the music video, which is something that always puzzles me when it crops up in a movie like this. Everybody knows that rock is the Devil’s music, so why do cinematic Satans always hate it? Maybe it’s because in this case, breakdancing is involved, and Satan has some standards.

It doesn’t matter, anyway, because the train is destined to wreck in ninety minutes, and all those poppers and lockers and gyraters will be dead. To pass the time, God and the Devil go over the case histories of three individuals, with the aid of the Night Porter (Earl Washington). As far as framing stories go, that’s not bad.

…because we’re going to leave the bad to the stories themselves.

screencap-02-03The first story, “Harry”, is going to test our mettle tout d’suite. This is the only segment actually taken from an unfinished movie (although there are rumors of available copies), Scream Your Head Off. The story is so disjointed, I fear actual brain damage can result from trying to follow it, but here goes: Harry (John Phillip Law!) is a jerk who crashes his car on his wedding day, killing his bride and putting him in the care of Drs. Fargo (Sharon Ratcliff) and Brewer (Arthur Braham), who brainwash him into drugging and kidnapping women. For what purpose, we’re not sure, except for Richard Moll to paw them. Then there’s some new footage that tells us that Richard Moll’s stand-in (note the hairy arms) cuts them up and the parts are sold to medical schools. Except for the ones that get lobotomized. Or something. And I deserve a medal for even figuring that much out.

There are some versions of Night Train that put “Harry” in the third position rather than the first. Putting it first certainly makes you appreciate what comes afterward – if you continue watching. I can see a whole lot of people jerking the tape/disc out of the player before the movie can unleash anything else in their direction. Then, I also know a whole lot of other people for whom “Harry” would only be an appealing appetizer.

This is followed up by more rock, then “Gretta”, which is taken from a movie called, unsurprisingly, Gretta. Vinegar Syndrome was kind and conscientious enough to actually track this sucker down, though they could only find a one-inch video master. I’ve only had time to skim it, but it is odd. Gretta (Meredith Haze) is an adventurous young lady who gets picked up by rich douchebag George Youngmeyer (J. Martin Sellers) at a carnival. He exposes her to a better way of life, which involves starring her in porn reels. Her true love in life Glenn (Rick Barnes) sees her in one of these stag reels while visiting his old frat and knows he has to immediately seek her out.

nighttrain19Youngmeyer gets Glenn involved in his “Death Wish Club” (which appears to be another title under which Gretta was released), a bunch of rich idiots who have, in one way or another, barely avoided dying violently, and try to replicate that rush at their meetings. In the first, one of the members has brought a “Tanzanian Flying Beetle” whose sting means horrible, instant death. In Gretta, it’s a realistic insect. In Night Train, however, it is a fairly cheap bit of stop-motion animation. It eventually flies out a window and kills a guy necking on a park bench, and his bloody, boil-bursting demise is another addition for this anthology.

vlcsnap-2011-03-09-17h34m57s84There are two more encounters with the Death Wish Club, though Gretta and Glenn want nothing to do with them; in the first, involving random electrocution. they are held at gunpoint. (Once again, the fairly gruesome fatality here was specially made for Night Train). In the second, involving a bizarre pendulum with a wrecking ball at the end, they are forcibly kidnapped. The wrecking ball takes out the perverse countess who was bankrolling the whole affair, but that’s only something you find out if you watch Gretta – in Night Train, she just dies, and the story ends, and Satan is told by the Night Porter that Gretta “went off with the nice young man, and lived happily ever after. Isn’t that nice?” A kiss-off that would probably lead you to guess that this movie was never finished.

But that is exactly what happens in Gretta. They probably could have trimmed its coda down and included it in Night Train, but there was no horror there, I guess, so it got tossed away. In a way that would piss off Old Scratch and the audience in equal measure.

Which brings us, at last to “Claire”, which is taken from the movie I had reviewed so many years ago. Originally called Cataclysm, the version I saw was titled The Nightmare Never Ends, and it honestly does have some nifty stuff in it.

It starts with an old Jewish man recognizing a young man named Olivier (being interviewed on TV) as a notorious Nazi war criminal – who has apparently not aged a day in 35 years! Oooh, there’s some devil shit involved, you can be sure of that! Cameron Mitchell is the cop who doesn’t believe the Old Man (but starts believing when the Old Man dies violently trying to shoot Olivier), Faith Clift is Dr. Claire Hansen, who is destined to go toe-to-toe with the Man-Goat, and Richard Moll – yes, again – is James Hansen, author of the international bestseller, God Is Dead. Who the Antichrist kills just to be a dick about it.night-train-to-terrror2

There is more of Cataclysm‘s source material in evidence here than in the other two cases, making it the strongest of the three stories, but doesn’t mean it’s any more coherent. There’s an itinerant priest roaming around telling people they’re messing with the Devil, but faster than you can say “The Omen”, he gets pulled down to hell by a stop-motion demon.

nighttrain10I really don’t remember any of the three stop-motion beasties that crop up here occurring in Nightmare Never Ends, and they all look like they were done by the same person who did the Tanzanian Murder Beetle in “Gretta”. Another argument that these sequences were done post-production (way post production) is their interaction with the tiny humans they terrorize isn’t done with foreground plates or any of that other fancy Harryhausen stuff. They made little puppets for the priest, and Richard Moll, and one other dude who gets  stomped by a big demon. And the puppets are very cartoony – it all looks like Davey and Goliath Go to Hell.

And there’s also a woman who shows up at the climax in an operating room (Claire has to put the Antichrist’s heart in a special box, because God uses the Snow White playbook, or something), and I know she had something to do with the plot, but now she’s just some crazy chick who shows up in scrubs and blood and starts stabbing the Antichrist (she always shows up on the video box). But if you haven’t kissed any hope of linear storytelling good-bye by now, you are far more of an optimist than I.

band2The train crashes, via stock footage of a building burning behind a model train. And God seemingly resurrects the music video on the next train, just to piss off Satan. The end.

Now, there is not a lot of terrible acting in Night Train to Terror, except in the music video segments. This is actually a pretty good bunch of actors trapped in a series of weird, if not outright bad, movies. Scream Your Head Off was never going to be high art, but Gretta is an intriguing little oddity and Cataclysm/The Nightmare Never Ends, as I said, has some good stuff that never quite managed to jell into a solid movie.  The slicing and dicing involved here did those two movies no favors.

It does, however, have a wild feeling of anarchy and desperation about it that’s kind of cool, if not ultimately satisfying. It’s the sort of thing you can inflict on your friends with a semi-clear conscience, especially if a copy of Things or Nukie is not readily available.

And there’s cheesy stop-motion. What more can you ask?

Just try to resist Vinegar Syndrome’s trailer:

HALFTIME SHOW

As usual, I feel the need to step outside the English language to express, in only one word, my life in the last few weeks: Oy.

Let’s see if I can use that to inspire succinctness in the remainder of this post. Brevity is going to be necessary. I’m in the midst of a writing contract, first off, and funny thing: when people pay you to write, they expect you to write. This particular project is taking such a grindingly slow, meticulous approach that I feel like I’m constructing the story molecule by molecule. It is such an antithesis of the way I usually work that I find myself sullen and depressed at the prospect of going into the file again. I generally produce work like Frankenstein’s Monster, birthed whole and gloriously misshapen, with additional surgery to make it more perfect (perhaps Moreau would have been a better simile). This is more like writing a novel the way a stalactite is formed.

So when writing becomes work and not a form of expression, all forms of it suffer, like this blog. I still love watching movies, though. My pal Dave once put it to me that all I have to do is play the movie and then write while it’s going on, but I can not do that. Like I said, I love watching movies. That means I only watch them when they can have my full and undivided attention. Those opportunities have become few and far between, what with building the stalactite, the show I do twice (and sometimes more often) a week, and my duties at the Municipal Channel and city meetings. I also like to throw my family a bit of attention every now and then, you know?

Cripes, don’t even talk to me about podcasts. My commute is ten minutes. No time.

So of course I got sick last week, and absolutely lost two days. Not kidding there. I have vague memories of walking to the bathroom and nearly not making it back to bed before collapsing again, but not much more.

I’ve been watching movies, though, when there was absolutely no way I could do anything else on any of these things without something breaking (likely me). I fully intend on writing about them (why waste that suffering?). It will happen.

And a nice, new poster, too!

And a nice, new poster, too!

In the meantime, there is one thing that mystifies me, and bears examination: it’s the taste of my fellow B-movie fanatics. I personally champion some incredibly disposable titles, but as we recall, I was moaning about The Visitor last time, and in the intervening time Drafthouse Films has come up with a 35mm print that is playing to some acclaim as an undiscovered masterpiece.

As you probably noticed, I didn’t feel that way. I felt it was crap. And not even lovable crap.

The first inclination is to doubt your own taste. Did the people whose raves I’m reading see something I didn’t? Has my own tour through the higher echelons of film blunted my taste for the absurd, for the cinema of lowered expectations? Good Christ, am I growing up or something?

The second inclination is to doubt everybody else’s taste, but that’s pretty short-lived as you hit on the probable reason for the gulf between the two schools of opinion: the people posting good reviews did so after watching one of Drafthouse’s presentations. In short, they saw it with an audience.

I have very fond memories of The Apple, mainly because my first viewing was at B-Fest, with a crowd buzzed on caffeine and high on their own creativity. That was a fabulous experience, and yet, I am positive that watching the very same movie, by myself, all alone, would be nothing less than a season in hell.

So, watching my Code Red DVD of The Visitor (which, like the Drafthouse version, is uncut) was possibly doomed to failure. I might have been more attuned to its *ahem* charms had I been in a hooting, hollering assembly… but I also think there’s still no way in hell I would ever consider it a good movie.

So bear with me. I’m still going to tell you about a bunch of movies I don’t consider to be good, either.

Eventually.