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.
Next 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.
Nugent 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!).
The 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.
This 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).
In 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.
You’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)?
If 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.
As 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.
Let’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.
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.
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.
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: