D: Demon Wind (1990)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but… awwwww crap I used that lede for Assignment Terror didn’t I?

Well, you have heard this one before, because what you have here is the classic setup for what Joe Bob Briggs famously dubbed a “Spam in a cabin movie”. Not that there’s anything wrong with spam in a cabin movies. Hell, I wrote one. But I am also pleased to report that in this case, we have a movie that is determined to not just be another spam in a cabin movie.

We have a guy, Cory (Eric Larson) who is driving to the Middle of Nowhere with his girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensee) to a deserted farm somewhere just past the Middle of Nowhere. Cory had found his estranged father just two weeks before – his dad had disappeared after checking into the mysterious deaths of his parents at that farm – and after the subsequent suicide of Estranged Dad, Cory is going to find out what’s what. And since this is a spam in a cabin movie, Cory has invited along a bunch of friends who will serve as the potted meat product.

First, though we have to stop at the Middle of Nowhere Gas Station and Diner, to be menaced by this movie’s Harbinger (Rufus Norris), who bluntly tells them there is no farm and to go away. (Honestly, this guy might have served as a model for the character in Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods) As more friends arrive and gather in the diner (which oddly seems to be much bigger on the inside than out), the Harbinger ramps up his menace, finally pulling a gun and threatening them if they don’t leave and go back home. This leads to a cathartic confession from the Harbinger about the night that Cory’s grandparents died, after which the Harbinger admits the gun isn’t even loaded and becomes downright human.

This deviation from the spam in a cabin template, the humanizing of a traditionally one-note character is the first indication that Demon Wind might have a few more tricks up its sleeve than your typical Evil Dead cash-in.

We already know how the grandparents died because we watched the beginning of the movie, and it wasn’t good, so its time for our 8-pack of Spam to finally find what’s left of the farm. Only the ruined facades of the cabin and barn (that blowed up real good) still stand. Oh, and a skeleton tied to a cross.

The cabin’s facade holds the next interesting twist: basically just a wall and a doorframe, looking through the door lets you see and even enter an intact cabin, apparently maintained by the magic of Cory’s grandmother. This will become important since the cars will no longer start, and attempting to leave on foot results in a mysterious fog that transports our cast to different locations, ending back up at the farm.

So we have a bunch of people boarding up a cabin that does not exactly exist, and we get to winnowing down our chopping list. This all has something to do with Cory’s lineage – that plotline gets pretty berserk – there’s a zombie siege (of course) and oddly enough, two of the Daggers of Megiddo from The Omen. Even odder, they seem to be single-use weapons.

I love Spam! I’m having Spam Spam Spam Spam actress and Spam!”

There are parts of Demon Wind that play out like the sizzle reel to raise funding – the whole spam in a cabin thing, the zombie siege (“kids love zombies!”), the stuff modeled on obvious, profitable hits. Then there are the parts where writer/director Charles Philip Moore wants to show he can stretch the envelope on these things. Talking about those times any further would rob you of the fun of discovering them on your own. And you knew if you were going to watch this movie by the second paragraph of this review.

The movie comes so close to being a hidden gem. There are drawbacks, of course, most of them budgetary (oy that animation); the script deals in stereotypes, sort of a stylistic necessity in a story that deals in wall-to-wall murders, but the women seem particularly underwritten. Still, it’s a very good attempt to not exactly transcend the genre, but stretch it out in interesting directions. I’ll take interesting variations over rote repetition any day.

C: Catacomba (2016)

This is an anthology movie inspired by Italian erotic horror comics from the 70s. If you are familiar with those, you know what to expect. If not, I’ll try to ease you into it as best I can. The movie’s poster, which is also the cover of the eponymous comic book that will serve as the delivery mechanism for our stories, serves only the slightest initimation of what went on in these books.

It’s a movie poster AND a comic book!

Examples of the stories are not that hard to find on the Interwebs – try Googling “Lorenzo Lapori comics” since he provided the comic art used throughout the flick. (This is also the name of one of the directors, so don’t get waylaid) Doing this netted me two complete stories, and allow me to say holy shit. I feel physically abused by those stories, while still being amazed by the utter perversity of the creativity being displayed. Posting any art from them to give you, in one image, a demonstration of the genre would be like posting straight up porn. Snuff porn. This is amazingly transgressive stuff – or maybe I’m finally getting old? A close mixture of sex and violent horror has always been off-putting to me, which is why I can’t enjoy the films of Jean Rollin as do so many.

So, thus fortified, let’s deal with the movie.

The mandatory framing device involves a young man seeking a haircut so he can have an evening of bouncy-bouncy with a girlfriend. Finding his usual hairdresser closed for a funeral, he happens on a flyer for “A Devil for Every Hair” salon (not a red flag, no siree). he makes his way there, and while waiting, peruses a comic book. This is, of course Catacomba, which will yield four story sequences, each beginning and ending with line art by the aforementioned Lapori.

The first involves a horror writer lolling about under a tree that, legend has it, was used to hang witches. He needs inspiration, you see, and is a bit put out when two gothy women arrive on motorcycle, but then thinks perhaps his inspiration is going to take a much more sexual form. They do indeed accost him, but then proceed to torture him in a graphic manner (including emasculation), pulling his arms off with a motorcycle, and then cutting off his head. They eat parts of his corpse, and that night Satan comes and screws them (Satan appears to be on loan from The Devil’s Rejects). Then the dead author gets reanimated as a tree monster and kills them. The end.

What? You were expecting more of an EC-style twist, with a moral or something? Ha! Forget that nonsense, this is Catacomba! Enjoy your atrocities!

The second story is going to jettison the economy of the first by presenting us with a number of threads: There is a killer in a Halloween mask stabbing people for no good reason; an unemployed scumbag raves to his friends that his wife is cheating on him; the wife insists that it is an alien who made love to her; and the scumbag’s friends decide to have some “fun” with the wife. This fun will involve rape and the murder of the scumbag, who was getting on everybody’s nerves anyway. The cops are chasing the maniac through the nearby woods, resulting in one cop dead and another wounded. The wounded cop, the murderous friends and the alien lover all wind up in the same place, where everybody dies except the alien and his lover. The maniac gets away, I guess. The end.

Incidentally, the guy waiting for the haircut is waiting so long because the hairdresser keeps taking people in back to kill them. Oops!

Third story lifts the central concept of Robert Bloch’s The Man Who Collected Poe, substituting Paganini for Poe. A noted Paganini scholar and collector has actually raised the composer from the dead and forced him to write new music for a highly anticipated anthology. The collector’s wife and her lover conspire to kill him, but the Paganini-obsessed lover just has to speak to the revenant and find out what fueled Paganini’s virtuosity. Turns out it was Satanism and stringing his violin with human guts. Go figure.

Our hero finally winds up in the barber chair, and reads the final story at the behest of the hairdresser. This one is more a chaotic tone poem than anything else, involving a Satanist seeking the spirit of his old lover, who either committed suicide or he murdered, and following yet another gothy seductress through rooms of a house with a different sex act in each room, and finally he winds up screwing the body of his former lover until the goth chick cuts him in half with a machete. Slowly.

And then the hairdresser feeds our hapless hero to the zombies in back of his shop. The end.

The Paganini story is the most handsomely mounted of the four (five, counting the framer), and is worth watching. The others are hindered by the usual mundane roadblocks of such fare – budget mainly, some corners cut story-wise (especially the alien lover story) – and some of those are no doubt due to the vicissitudes of filmmaking, where if anything can go wrong, it will.

I’ve already stated that these sorts of stories aren’t really for me. There will be some folk who are familiar with the source material and might want to check this out, though. I just hope that after the last three movies, my next one will at least feature some coherent story telling. Then again, we are also aware of who I am and what I do, so confidence is not high.

B: Blood of Ghastly Horror (1973)

I think we all know there is a movie called Blood of Ghastly Horror. We saw the video cases, the ad mats in genre magazines. And somehow I had passed it up all these years. Let me emphasize that: I used to run a movie review site called The Bad Movie Report and I had spent my entire life not watching something called Blood of Ghastly Horror.

Well, I’ve taken care of that. Go me.

Ahem.

Blood of Ghastly Horror opens with the murder spree of a disfigured green-faced guy who goes around crushing people, racking up five kills in a few minutes, and two of them are cops. (Budget-minded viewers will note that the cops all drive the same car, and they all park in the same alley for the entire movie) Homicide detective Cross (Tommy Kirk!) is on the job, especially after he is delivered a box containing the head of one of the dead cops. A note enclosed with the head leads him to opening an old case file about a killer named Corey (Roy Morton), and so begins our first flashback to another movie entirely.

ACTING!

Let’s see if we can manage better detective work than Cross in untangling this Gordian Knot of a movie. This flashback is excerpted from Adamson’s first movie, Echo of Terror, which is actually a pretty decent low-budget suspense flick about a failed jewel heist. An unwitting everyman (Kirk Duncan) gets involved when a doctor’s bag (did I mention the robbers are dressed as surgeons in full gear? Walking around an office building?) containing the jewels is hurriedly dropped in the back of his pickup truck when the heist goes sour. His daughter finds the bag and hides the jewels in her doll, which would charitably be called a Golliwog by our British readers. Thus supplied with a MacGuffin, she leaves for a tour with her nightclub star mother, supplying us with the basis for the rest of that movie.

In order to make this movie more commercial, Director Al Adamson and Producer Sam Sherman added go-go dancing and more murder for a version called Psycho A-Go-Go. Corey was already a sadist in Echo, but here blossoms into full-bore psychopathy. Now, one of the jewel robbers (played by Adamson himself) got killed in the heist (by Corey), and the cops find his fingerprints all over Adamson’s apartment – but Corey was declared dead two years before! The investigation leads to Dr. Howard Vanard (John Carradine!), who signed the death certificate. Vanard will eventually confess that Corey was one of the first casualties of Vietnam, so brain-damaged he was doomed to life as a vegetable – until Vanard installed a device in his brain that would take over from the damaged parts. The result: Corey was functional again, but was also a psycho.

My father wore this helmet to work for years.

We are, incidentally, into yet another movie, The Fiend with the Synthetic Brain, an effort to turn Psycho A-Go-Go into a science fiction movie, as the go-go dancing fad was over by the time that version was finished. It also means that Vanard engages in a flashback-within-a-flashback, which I believe is illegal by international law.

Meanwhile, back in Blood of Ghastly Horror Vanard’s estranged daughter Nancy (Regina Carroll!) shows up because she’s been receiving bizarre psychic messages to come to the city. This because Corey’s father Dr. Elton Corey (Kent Taylor!) who spent many years in Jamaica studying voodoo, is the one using the green-faced zombie (Richard Smedley) to kill everyone involved in his son’s decline and eventual death. Dr. Corey will then take us through the remainder of Psycho A-Go-Go (with a brief sidetrip to The Fiend with the Synthetic Brain for Corey the Younger to kill Carradine). Then damn near everybody dies and Tommy Kirk arrives too late, as usual. The end.

The major reason to watch/survive a movie like Blood of Ghastly Horror (besides the fact that it’s named Blood of Ghastly Horror) is to pick out the various sources, which is how I’ve survived a number of Godfrey Ho ninja stitch jobs. This is made infinitely easier here due to the fact that Psycho A-Go-Go was shot by the recently-immigrated Vilmos Zsigmond and looks gorgeous, especially those final chase scenes in mountainous wilderness. You can’t really say those sequences stand out like a sore thumb, it’s more like they stick out like a healthy thumb on a diseased hand.

I’d say that Blood of Ghastly Horror‘s value – if it truly has any – is educational as concerns the actual movie business. Unable to find distribution for a low-budget crime film with no bankable stars, it was turned into a more violent, sexy film, then a science fiction movie, then a bare-bones horror flick. It’s a fascinating process to watch, but ugly.

A: Assignment Terror (1970)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: aliens from a dying world plan to invade the Earth, and decide to start raising the dead to conquer our supposedly inferior race. Except this time the dead being raised are classic monsters, and the aliens are once again represented by Michael Rennie, in his last film role as “Doctor Warnoff”.

To aid him, Warnoff has two more of his alien pals inhabiting recently dead Earthers who have skills he requires: Maleva (Karin Dor), a biochemist, and Kerian (Angel del Pozzo), a soldier. It took me two viewings to figure out that particular part of the plot, thinking during the first runthrough that his two henchmen were simply raised from the dead. And, eventually that Warnoff himself is seemingly an alien in a Earth suit. I think.

This is not the least confusing part of the plot, either.

Warnoff starts off by pulling the wooden stake out of the skeleton of Count Janos (Manuel de Blas), a nod to the classic Universal monster mashes of the 40s, specifically House of Frankenstein. There will be enough of these nods to wear out your neck gimbal as the movie progresses. Warnoff’s plan is to infect humanity with vampire blood, which, like a lot of Warnoff’s plans, will not come to anything. Count Janos will occasionally wander around unsupervised and cause problems.

Next up, and the real reason we are all here, is the infamous lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), whom they revivify by surgically removing the silver bullets from his still-beating heart (real open heart surgery footage – the 70s, everybody!), while Warnoff explains that the idiots back in Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror did it wrong, and helpfully informing the aide who will eventually betray him the proper way to go about killing a werewolf.

Not-Drac’s feeling much better.

Oh yeah, that’s right: Warnoff is kidnapping local women and brainwashing them with his Super Annoying Sound MachineTM. This sort of thing brings the attention of the police in the person of Inspector Toberman (Craig Hill), who seems to be the sole person in the employ of the Commissioner… no, wait, there’s a guy who brings in a file folder. So Toberman is the other cop in whatever strange land this takes place. As is traditional in these flicks, the Police are a hapless lot.

A treasure trove of information!

While Toberman meanders through his investigation, Warnoff also racks up a living mummy (George Reyes) and the Monster of um, Farancksalan. Naturally, all these personages will gather at the local creepy castle owned by Warnoff, so there will be more unrealized plans and more importantly, inter-monster carnage, while the Commissioner shows up with the Army just in time to see the castle blow up.

This is actually Paul Naschy’s second outing as Daninsky (it was supposed to be his third, but a French co-production never happened). Assignment Terror exists mainly because his first, Las Noches del Hombre Loco, was an enormous hit. Promised a healthy budget, Naschy (under his given name of Jacinto Molina) wrote a script that drew heavily on his love of the Classic Universal monsters (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man being a particular favorite of his). Then the budget did not materialize, a whole lot of plot got dropped (including the Golem of Prague and some flying saucers), production stopped several times, and there were at least three directors involved over time.

Waldemar has looked better…

Naschy himself was not very kind to the flick, being especially disappointed in the makeup effects by Francisco Ferrer. Given that Assignment Terror bends over backwards to avoid any possible legal problems with Universal (Farancksalan? Really?), I was surprised to see that the makeup for the Farancksalan Monster is a direct quote of Universal’s, kind of like a comic book simplification. Though I also note that it looks like the Monster is blind, only directed by Warnoff’s psychic guidance, which continues a thread from Ghost of Frankenstein on through Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

I mean, you remember that, right? Ygor had his brain put in the Monster’s body, but the blood types didn’t match, so he went blind? And the Monster was still blind in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man? Naschy sure did. How the hell Naschy managed to become such a serious Monster Kid in Franco’s repressive Spain is probably a fascinating story.

This really is a confusing jumble of a movie (small wonder). The timeline is twisted, unknowable, and extremely elastic. Although we see the beginning of his plan, Warnoff will later take credit for actually creating the monsters over thousands of years. Which is a really long time to figure out that human emotions will eventually resurface in the aliens occupying Earthly bodies, causing Plan 10 from Outer Space to ultimately fail. Warnoff’s terrible management skills must also take some of the blame.

Assignment Terror is surprisingly restrained for a Naschy script – this could have easily been shown as part of a monster double or triple feature where all the movies were rated PG at most – I could really imagine it on a bill with The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant and Twilight People. There is little blood, no sex (Count Janos will paw Maleva’s boob, in a bit that could have been easily cut)… it’s all pretty mild stuff. And yet, because of the heavy nostalgia riffs, I found myself quite enjoying it. There are several instances of lovely, moody cinematography, particularly when a tomb is involved, which is at least three times.

Despite its shortcomings – and there are many – it’s just so darned eager to please. I can see Naschy cackling because Universal never got the Mummy into their monster mash movies, and he was going to rectify that matter! And he got to do his Farancksalan vs the Wolf Man fight. That’s not nothing.

Happy Semi-Hubrisween to You

Oh. Hello. Yes, I’m still alive. Caught COVID from a vaccine-hesitant co-worker, but that’s over and, yes, I still live. Thank you vaccines. (I was amused that one of the reactions to my positive test was “Think of all the movies you can watch while you’re down!” This from a person who didn’t realize how exactly down the virus puts you)

I’ve got at least four drafts still loitering around about my absence from this page and why. Suffice to say that anxiety and depression, the usual culprits, are to blame, and the continuous dumpster fire of Current Events did nothing to alleviate that. Days were spent working, evenings were spent playing the newly-resurrected City of Heroes with friends, which offered escapism, stress relief and companionship during lockdown.

Most of my friends are still actors, even though I counted myself out of that game long ago. My main CoH buddy opened a show a couple of weeks ago, and that, along with the rehearsal period, put me at liberty most evenings, so I eased back into the Old Ways, the watching of movies, that had narrowed down to once a week – my usual Friday night brain-cleaning binge.

You know, I thought, this would be a good time to get back into the blogging game. Hey, Hubrisween is next month! Never mind that this was in September, and when I did Hubrisween in previous years, I started banking the reviews in July. Hell, I reasoned, if I can get halfway through the alphabet – to the letter M – by the end of September, this was doable.

And right there is the Hubris part of Hubrisween.

The real world intruded, as it is wont to do. I’m facing the busiest two week span I’ve had in a long time, and am stealing time to rap out this apology/reintroduction piece (In fact, as this goes live, I’m working on a live remote). I got through the letter H and stalled out, because once more, in my usual lump-headed fashion, I had found a way to make watching movies a job, a chore. That shouldn’t be work, that should be a joy.

So I realized a full return to the event was not in the cards.

But those first eight reviews are already scheduled, so enjoy. Maybe more will come. Hope springs eternal, yes?

Z: Zoombies (2016)

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So. Back around 2004 or so, I declared a personal moratorium on zombie movies. There were just too many of them, almost all laughably bad. Before you ask, yes, I’m pretty sure it was the one-two punch of Resident Evil and House of the Dead that put a bullet through the brain of those movies for me. I didn’t even rouse myself to watch George Romero’s Land of the Dead until seven years after it was released. So I’ve been very picky about what zombie movies I will watch, and I discovered while watching [REC]³: Genesis that my old zombie fatigue was waking up and gnawing on my skull again.

Since for some reason all movies beginning with a Z (except Zelig) have something to do with zombies, this could be a problem in an A-to-Z movie challenge. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps the problem is with human zombies. Maybe I should check out this Zoombies people are asking about. In the interest of transparency, I should admit that I put it off primarily because I thought it was about fast zombies, or maybe zombies on motorcycles. It’s not.

Let’s start with a promotional video for the Eden Wildlife Park, a combination safari park and endangered animal refuge. This is hosted by Dr. Ellen Rogers (Kim Nielsen, who has simply impossible cheekbones), the granddaughter of the conservationist who started the refuge. We’ll find out later that she’s added such things as a rock-climbing wall and a zip line to attract families and therefore more money for the park.

But never mind that, let’s go the veterinary clinic, where workers have brought in several monkeys that have all contracted an unknown virus. One goes into cardiac arrest and dies, and the desperate vet injects some adrenaline in an attempt to save the endangered species; when the monkey revives, hoo boy, the carnage starts.

See? CARNAGE!!!!

In parallel with that, Dr. Rogers is bringing in her new interns. The newly renovated park isn’t open yet, so she confiscates all their cell phones so no interpark espionage can take place. While their shuttle distributes the interns to their new jobs, they run across a security guard on his bike, headed to the veterinary clinic because they’re not answering the radio.

You can probably write the script from there, if you’ve seen any movies at all in last ten years. Virus spreads to the other animals, has to be stopped before it gets outside the zoo, oh god what about the aviary, we can’t let a single infected bird fly out . Some of you will groan when the credit “The Asylum Presents” appears at the beginning, and those people need to seriously check their B-movie cred, because these guys have been doing yeoman work in that realm for years. Much of Zoombies is done by the numbers, sure – there are a lot of things in the first twenty minutes, like the new security card system acting dodgy, that will have you stroking your beard (or chin, if you are not particularly hirsute) and murmur, “Hmmm, I wonder if that will be significant later.” (Frankly, I was a little disappointed that they never managed to work in the rock-climbing wall)

I will give them this: you are presented with a fairly large cast of characters – which start being winnowed down almost immediately – but among the remainder, you are fairly uncertain who is going to survive, and who might grow into the hero role. I, at least, got surprised a couple of times, and if you can violate my jaded expectations, good on you.

Which is not to say there are no blemishes, oh good heavens, no. They make fruitful use of their location, but obviously, live stunt animals were way out of their budget, so CGI is the order of the day. The devil monkeys in the clinic are pretty good, but later beasties – giraffes, elephants and the like – look like they’re jobbing in from the original Jumanji. I can forgive a certain amount of “Sorry, this is the best we could afford”, but others won’t be so charitable. Lala Nestor, who plays Rogers’ young daughter, Thea, has been directed to say all her lines with an odd smile that shows no teeth, because somebody deemed that “cute”. It takes twenty minutes for it to look psychotic. The fact that she’s written to be precocious and cute and barf-worthy does not help the poor girl, either. She does have the best twist in the movie, though, and at least after that they said she could stop smiling.

Ah, which brings us to the writing. I’ve got absolutely no problem with the plotting (some difficulty with some of the physics, sure, but…) it’s the dialogue. I am painfully familiar with this type of dialogue. It seeks to give us exposition in a clever, amusing way. It is dialogue that looks great on paper but feels entirely too stagey when uttered. I spent most of this movie thinking, Jesus, this is the sort of stuff I would have written twenty years ago, and probably still do. It’s not awful, but the shock of familiarity stayed with me through most of the movie.

Also, I’m not sure why people trying to get away from zombie monkeys think climbing up a tree will do the trick, but it does give the zombie giraffes a chance to shine.

The bitching done: the sequences that are supposed to ramp up the tension actually do, and those are the reason folks watch movies like this. None of the actors are bad, they’re just written that way. Some surprising gore, and some of that is even practical. It’s is a pretty painless way to kill 87 minutes, and remember, that’s a zombie hater talking here.

Y: Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)

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So it was *mumblemumble* years ago that the late 60s Japanese Yokai Monsters movies were released on VHS: this one and the earlier Along With Ghosts, and 100 MonstersI think I wrote about 100 Monsters somewhere back there: I found it diverting, even charming at times. I always intended to check out the others, but life got in the way, and so here we are.

In an utterly cool prologue, we are told that an ancient Babylonian demon is sleeping in some ruins, which is a pretty good arrangement until some treasure hunters show up and unearth his magic staff (I am endlessly amused by the fact that the raiders are dressed like Bedouins but speak English). The demon (conveniently named Daimon) awakes and wrecks everything, burying the despoilers under styrofoam rocks, and then leaves for greener pastures.

Which means, as so often happens when it comes to monsters, he is now Japan’s problem. Ever the dick, Daimon’s stormy passage sinks a fishing boat.

It’s medieval Japan again, though, so when the local beneficent lord is checking out his turf before the oncoming Daimon storm, he finds his samurai sword is useless; Daimon drinks his blood and takes over his body. The sudden change in the lord is noticible (after all, he goes into his compound and starts wrecking all altars and holy items, calling for them to be burned), and when the steward inquires as to what is going on, Daimon drinks his blood and takes over his body, too.

A Kappa living in the compound’s pond sees the demon in his true form, and challenges him. In the ensuing fight, he is severely overmatched and kicked out of the compound. He goes to his fellow Yokai monsters in the local graveyard, but they don’t believe him. At least, not until Daimon tires of exsanguinating servants and sends his lackies out to kidnap children from the village. Then the good-hearted monsters decide it’s time to kick some foreign monster butt.

Spoiler: Daimon is still too tough for them, so they have to call on every monster in Japan to fight Daimon, who naturally grows to giant size to do some Yokai-stomping. KAIJU BIG BATTEL!!!! (I thought I was going to be showing my age again with that reference, but nope – they’re still going!)

I see where the IMDb now has this listed as Big Monster War which is a better title, if a bit misleading. The last fifteen minutes delivers on it, but for the most part, so much time is spent on the samurai drama of dealing with a Babylonian vampire, there are times I found myself wondering, “Wasn’t this movie supposed to be about yokai monsters?” It’s 1968, so prepare yourself for the suit technology of that era. The monsters are pretty nicely detailed, but largely unable to so much as crack a smile. The Kappa gets a movable beak, though, and is a good choice for comic foil, the actor moves so expressively; the rest, save for the two with human faces, have to rely on their voice actors.

Heyyyy, Karakosa!

It still manages to be pretty charming, in a creepy fairy tale kind of way. Despite some blood, it’s the sort of dark fantasy you could show the kids. It does help to be familiar with the folklore monsters referenced. I’m glad that it features my favorite, the karakasa kozō, the one-legged , one-eyed umbrella creature who likes to scare people by licking their cheek with its long tongue. Do not judge me.

It is also well worth mentioning that no less than Takashi Miike remade this in 2005 as The Great Yokai War and that is all I need to know.

Man, like I needed another movie to track down and watch.

X: X Moor (2014)

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Honestly, any year when I don’t have to cheat to get a horror movie starting with X is a good year. So I’m not going to have anything to with it’s alternate title, The Beast of X Moor.

X Moor is based on a true story, for a certain definition of “true”; it uses as its basis the urban legend of a great cat resembling a panther or puma sighted in the Exmoor region of southwest England. The bulk of the sightings referenced on that page are from the 1980s, but let’s not let that get in the way of our movie.

Upon learning of a £25,000 reward for proof of the Beast’s existence, Georgia (Melia Kreiling) convinces her boyfriend Matt (Nick Blood) to “borrow” some fancy equipment from his job to get some footage of the elusive kitty. They’ll be aided in this by professional hunter Fox (Mark Bonnar), who seems to feel that catching the creature is a very personal challenge. Perhaps too personal.

After a couple of violent encounters with local hooligans, our documentarians set up their network of motion-controlled night vision cameras and the control center in their central camp, only to discover a dead body – in fact, several dead bodies – and their survival on this expedition is suddenly in question.

There is a plot twist in X Moor I did not see coming, so I’m going to keep mum about it. The story developing from that is itself full of twists and turns, not all of them logical or deserved. It’s fairly well done, and although as a whole the flick just didn’t gel for me, I recognize there are other folks out there that will enjoy it. It might be also be appreciated that although it seems to be setting up a found footage movie, it’s not that at all.

V: Vanishing on 7th St. (2010)

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Here’s a story that may seem familiar to you: see a title that looks interesting, tag it on Netflix… and then proceed to ignore it for a few years.

Until you need a movie that starts with a “V”, anyway. (I may have lost some of you there)

We’re first going to meet Paul (John Leguizamo)a projectionist at an AMC theater in Detroit, puttering around his domain, headlight ablaze, making sure the latest Adam Sandler movie runs smoothly (all we hear is some really improbable music and the audience’s laughter). There is a sudden blackout, and when the lights come back on, everybody is gone. Literally. All that remains in the theater and lobby is spilled popcorn and empty clothing, still in shapes that suggest the people once wearing them. There are screams in the distance.

Then the lights go back off again.

We are introduced to Rosemary (Thandie Newton), a physical therapist at a hospital, and Luke (Hayden Christensen), a TV reporter who managed to sleep through the whole thing. Like Paul and his headlight, Rosemary was holding a lit match, and Luke’s girlfriend had some candles burning on a bedside table. In the 72 hours that follow, they wander around Detroit, scavenging flashlight batteries and glowsticks, finally winding up at a bar on 7th Street that has a backup generator, its lights keeping the hungry darkness at bay. There they meet a fourth survivor: James (Jacob Latimore), the 12 year-old son of the bartender. They will try to figure out what happened, and how they can get out of Detroit – or if they should even try.

The first 15-20 minutes of Vanishing are absolutely perfect and nightmarish, leaving me wondering why this movie wasn’t better known. Then we settle down in the bar and it becomes a different movie; a kind of a spam-in-a-cabin flick with all the bickering and psychological drama you’ve come to expect. That was a bit disappointing, but it has to be admitted that director Brad Anderson and a quartet of talented actors sell it and keep it moving, breaking up the submarine movie with flashbacks from Rosemary and Luke  – Luke in particular receiving a satellite broadcast, during a momentary resumption of power in his TV station, from Chicago – implying that whatever it is, it’s worldwide, and laying out the rules: Stay in the light, don’t listen to the voices, and only trust the light that is in your hands.

I may have checked the time remaining, but I never once was tempted to press the fast-forward button.

There are going to be those among who will look askance at my describing Hayden Christensen as a “talented actor”, but really, separated from George Lucas’ ham-fisted direction (the man is a brilliant technician but considers actors mere props – and let’s not talk about his dialogue) Christensen is fine. We already knew about Newton and Leguizamo’s talent, and Jacob Latimore has had a good career since. Honestly, the fact that there are two kids giving great performances in this movie is amazing (the other is Taylor Groothuis).

You may have noticed that a couple of paragraphs above, I dropped the name of the director, Brad Anderson; you should recognize that name, as he is the director of, among others, Session 9 and The Machinist, both off-kilter, unusual horror movies. Vanishing on 7th Street was his first, and as far as I know, only apocalypse film, and I’d love to see what he could do with a larger budget on the same subject. He seems to be concentrating on TV more in the last eight or so years, with only the occasional movie, seemingly leaving overt horror behind. Let’s hope not, though.

U: The Uncanny (1977)

Letterboxd Master List

Another anthology already?

The first thing you’re going to ask is, “Is this an Amicus Film?” Which is fair, since the name Milton Subotsky is right there in the credits. But no, at this point Amicus’ grave wasn’t even cold yet, after The People That Time Forgot. Subotsky relocated to Canada, and tried to get the ol’ anthology (“portmanteau”, if you want to get fancy) mojo workin’ again with this and The Monster Club. That didn’t work out so well, alas.

Our two big stars for the framing device are Ray Milland (yay!) and Peter Cushing (double yay!). Cushing is a very high-strung writer (his previous books were on flying saucers and ESP), who has made his way to Milland’s house with a thick binder. He’s Cushing’s publisher, you see, and he’s doubtful about the new book. Cushing responds that he has proof going back years that cats are horrible monsters that actually control the world.

Most of us who live with cats will shrug “well, duh”, but we already bought the ticket so let’s see what Peter has to say.

In 1912 London, a rich old matron (Joan Greenwood, rather wasted here but still managing to steal the show) dictates her new will, cutting out her wastrel nephew (Simon Williams) and leaving her vast estate to her multiple cats. Our snoopy maid (Susan Penhaligon) however, is also the lover of that nephew, and they hatch a plan to steal the old lady’s copy of the will. When she surprises the maid during the theft, there’s an employer murder, bringing down the wrath of all those kitties. I liked this story better when it was called Eye of the Cat and starred Michael Sarrazin, but that movie didn’t have the murderer trapped in a pantry for days, living on cat food, or the gruesome discovery that the hungry cats figured out the old lady was made of meat (Joan Greenwood, ladies and gentlemen – even dead, still upstaging everybody).

Oh, that’s never a good sign.

Then, in 1975 Quebec, the Blakes (Alexandra Stewart and Donald Pilon) take in their young niece Lucy (Katrina Holden Bronson) when her parents die in a car wreck. She brings with her dead mommy’s black cat, Wellington. Mrs. Blake doesn’t particularly like this, and she definitely hates the cat. Their daughter, Angela (Chloe Franks) is a nasty little shit who proceeds to make Lucy’s life hell. Mom finally steals Wellington away to have it euthanized, and burns Lucy’s mother’s book on black magic. Not all of them, though, and the euthanasia doesn’t take, and Angela is about to be in a lot of trouble.

Lastly, in 1936 Hollywood, a tragedy happens on the set of Valentine De’ath (Donald Pleasance)’s latest horror movie, when somehow the Poe-inspired pendulum over his co-star – his wife Madeliene (Catherine Bégin) – turns out to be quite real. Luckily for the desperate producer (John Vernon sporting a really weird accent), Madeliene’s stand-in Edina (Samantha Eggar) is willing to step into the role. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, Edina is Valentine’s mistress, the accident was murder, and Madeliene’s cat is going to be tossed out as soon as possible. Just to make sure you know Valentine is a cad, the cat has kittens and he drowns them. Well, that doesn’t go over well at all, and not only does the wily cat evade every trap Valentine sets out for it, it starts engineering on-set accidents to avenge its mistress.

Back at the framing device, I’m sure you can figure out how things shake out. Cushing is murdered by a mob of cats on his way home, and Milland burns his book while giving his cat nice dish of milk. The end.

Most of Subotsky’s anthology movies had four or even five stories, and cutting them down to three isn’t justified by the stories, which get so padded out that your wristwatch arm will get lots of exercise as you check how much time is left. The only story that doesn’t have this problem is the third one, where everybody – especially Donald Pleasance – seems to be having a lot of fun. Sure, Bram Stoker should have gotten a writer’s credit because it rather shamelessly rips off “The Squaw”, but, we take our entertainment where we may. I pondered if my reaction to The Uncanny was due to its close proximity to the more feral and kinetic Tears of Kali, but no… this one creaks in the wrong places. Oh, it’s a fair use of 90 minutes, the actors and game and uniformly good, but some patience will definitely be called for.