The world of cinema has always been filled with dreamers, and a lot of those dreamers start out with nothing more than a Super 8 or 16mm camera, all the way up to the latest iPhones; little backyard excursions with friends and sisters or parents to fill out the cast for a monster on the loose or a super sleuth flick. Every once in a while there’s genuine talent to back up the enthusiasm; our Raimi’s and Coscarelli’s bear this out. But before them a group of enthusiastic teens actually had their vision realized, and eventually a mutated form of it invaded drive-ins as Equinox (1970), an inspirational and energetic full blown monster mash.
I normally equate seaside towns with peace and tranquility, a place for rest, relaxation, and perhaps writing the Great Canadian Novel (it’s going to be a thinly veiled takedown of beloved children’s TV host Mr. Dressup, for the record). Clark’s Harbor however, the setting of Cry for the Strangers (1982), is a place where my laptop and I shall never set foot; there’s just too much damn tribalistic murder.
“The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and where the other begins?” This is a quote of course from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Premature Burial, but ends up in the end credits of The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s final film in his Poe cycle for AIP, an eerie and fitting conclusion to a beloved series. (And doesn’t starting with a poetic quote make me sound fancy?)
Nunsploitation is definitely not a strong suit of mine; going through a list to see which ones I’ve viewed has left me feeling ashamed and repentant. So after three Hail Mary’s and four Our Father’s I knelt down and witnessed The Other Hell (1981), Italian grimemaster Bruno Mattei’s take on fervid religiosity, rabid dogs, satanic offspring, and enough Catholic iconography to set a priest on fire. Which is a thing that also happens.
Pity the poor gargoyle, second tier (at the very least) in horror iconography, resigned to being stone portents in many a film, but never getting their creepy due. This brings us to CBS’ Gargoyles (1972), a TV movie that aimed to rectify that situation and give these mostly forgotten creatures a chance to shine through the filter of a demented Saturday morning vibe.
The Women’s Liberation Movement, or more commonly known as Women’s Lib, was in full swing by the mid-’70s. The fight for equality raged on from the late ’60s until…well, what time have you got? It was only natural for the arts to comment on the growing and vocal discontent within the feminist community, and so it was that The Stepford Wives (1975) hit the screen (based on the Ira Levin novel) with a resounding thud. Regardless, it plays as a witty indictment of male morals and suburban blandness.
As a child, the notion of romance to me was distant and adult, and frankly I wanted no part of it – especially in movies; I was the comedy and horror kid, with the occasional foray into fantasy. (Okay, I kissed Bev Peters on the cheek under the schoolyard tire when I was seven, but that fizzled out quickly.) I did however make my way to my small town’s Orpheum theatre at the age of nine to see what looked like a promising horror/sci-fi blend, Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time (1979), and stumbled out into the darkness with a new understanding of what romance meant to me.
Creepy kids, am I right? The horror landscape has been littered with them as far back as The Bad Seed (1956). Every once in awhile TV too would trot out the killer tots in hopes of alluring viewers with no-good imps and smiling, murderous waifs. One such early effort is A Little Game (1971), an ABC Movie of the Week thriller that leans heavily on the psychology behind stepparent-child relations.
Ever since seeing Creepshow (1982) when it first arrived on video, I’ve been enamored with anthology films; reaching back to Amicus’ ‘60s and ‘70s treasures like Tales from the Crypt (1972) all the way up to Epic Pictures’ Tales of Halloween (2015), omnibuses scratch a very particular itch for this viewer. Falling somewhere in the middle of my terrorline is From a Whisper to a Scream (1987), a proud and nasty addition to the sub-genre. This bugger does not mess around.
If you were a kid or teenager in the ’50s or ’60s and dug horror and/or sci-fi, the chances were astronomically good that you were watching something from American International Pictures, aka AIP, home to hormonal werewolves, monsters, and other adolescent dilemmas. Add in British comedy makers Anglo-Amalgamated Productions (the Carry On series of films) to the mix, and you probably ended up watching Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), a wry and dry romp highlighted by Michael Gough's (Sleepy Hollow) delightful performance.
Hey everyone. Having written and rewritten this introduction four times, I’ve resigned myself to a simple fact: I can’t rewrite what has been. I can’t change what is done. But the future isn’t set in stone, and my present is better than it’s been in a very long time. I guess which is to say that I’m forever an optimist; I can’t help it and frankly, I don’t care to change. It’s just the way I’m built. So, it was a busy year, and many of the reasons why you’ll see described below with my list of favorite things from 2017. As you’ll see, horror—and horror people—never let me down.
Happy Horrordays, Boils and Ghouls! ‘Tis the season to be…murdered, perhaps? Okay, I’ll stop with The Cryptkeeper puns because: A) I’m terrible at them, and B) see A. But it is the season when we focus on blood dripping from the tinsel-laden tree, and there are more than enough solid to great Xmas goodies to help cope with a visit from that racist aunt who’s pleasantly surprised Idris Elba speaks so eloquently. (Don’t pretend you don’t have one.) Mining the Vault of Horror comics, HBO’s Tales from the Crypt delivered their holiday cheer in Season One’s second episode, And All Through the House. If you’re looking to get the kiddies into horror but they still have an affinity for Old Saint Nick, this is not the place to start.
All hail Film Ventures International. Long-time purveyors of cinematic sleaze and genre enchantment, they’ve produced or at least distributed some of my very favorite low budget wonders: Beyond the Door (1974), Grizzly (’76), The Incubus (1981), and Pieces (’82) are only some of their titles that have provided hours of entertainment, from the goofy to the sublime (which in their case, is often one and the same). One of their final releases, The Power (1984), is a good example of their often heady mix, and a solid springboard for directors Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow on their way to their demented mutant mash The Kindred (’87).
Old dogs and new tricks, that’s me, as I’ve never seen a Sergio Martino film until now. If Torso is to be my first, so be it; a fun giallo with copious amounts of strictly gratuitous nudity is nothing to scoff at, and UK boutique label Shameless Films lovingly stabs their way onto your video shelf.
Have you ever had the feeling you’ve seen something before, but couldn’t quite place when or where? A sense of…deja-view? (Hold your applause and/or groans. It was a premium cable channel way before this stupid pun.) I’m sure it’s happened to all of us at some point, and because I’m an old it took me halfway through watching A Taste of Evil (1971), an ABC Movie of the Week, to realize I had seen the almost exact same plot rolled out in a movie earlier in the same week. Horror is incestuous, and it had to happen eventually, especially when the same writer pens both.