Lucio Fulci, the master of the soft-core thriller, is back with… wait, what? Let’s start over, shall we? Lucio Fulci, the Italian maestro of the viscerally dangerous and compellingly disgusting, dips his toe into—for me, that is—uncharted waters with The Devil’s Honey (1986), a melodramatically erotic piece resurrected by Severin Films for a packed Blu-ray release. This is not your dad’s Fulci. (Unless he had a special drawer…)
Richard Stanley has always marched to the beat of a unique drum. He hasn’t made very many narrative films (Hardware, Dust Devil) since arriving at the turn of the ’90s, but he has always fascinated due to his quirky spirit and dedication to the odd and unusual. And so it goes that his documentary The Otherworld (2013) follows a path true to his nature, but is shot with a touching sense of humanity in its look at strange phenomena and the people who embrace it.
No! Don’t run away! Where’s your Halloween spirit? Yes, Halloweentown (1998) is a Disney Channel movie, but that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; if you’re looking to introduce your kids to horror, it’s better to pitch them some underhands than speedy overhands. (I don’t really know baseball.) In a cynical and bitterly crumbling world, it’s nice to know that a bit of low-key innocent charm still exists.
The Creative Death sub-sub-genre took flight in the ‘70s with The Omen (1976), as that little imp Damien (and his dad) dispatched the cast in different macabre and entertaining ways. (Variety is the spice, and all that.) The ’78 sequel continued the burgeoning tradition, leading us up to The Legacy (1978) - a film that takes its own stab at variety by marrying The Old Dark House to The Dark Underlord and delivering a fun, wicked (albeit goofy) little offspring.
“Charming” is not often a word associated with horror films; it’s counterintuitive to what the genre usually stands for—you know, terror and tension, followed by release and a sense of ease, then repeat—but yet here we are with a romantic tale about a boy, a girl, a teleportation device, and the insect that comes between them. Welcome to the world of The Fly (1958), where the hosts are welcoming, the police polite, and the monster bug-eyed.
Director Curtis Harrington always offered up solid, unassuming genre fare on the small screen (How Awful about Allan, the wonderfully goofy Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell); and when he collaborated with noted scribe Robert Bloch (Psycho), the result was NBC’s The Dead Don’t Die (1975), an effective throwback to the Lewton/Turneur era beloved by both, shot through with a big dose of pulpy goodness.
Brian DePalma has always come under the gun of the Movie Police, whether it’s for charges of Hitchcock “homages” or misogynistic attitudes towards his female characters. Well round up the paddy wagons for Body Double (1984), the clever thriller that mixes Vertigo, Rear Window, and the adult film industry into one heady stew that audiences took a hard pass on at the time. Maybe it was too classy?
And sometimes, they suffer in silence. Suffer, Little Children was a Holy Grail for collectors of ultra-low budget oddities; shot on video for a song with a troupe borrowed from a local British acting studio, the film used its own trumped-up mythology as an “almost” video nasty to move some tapes in a golden age when it was fairly easy to do. Alas, they didn’t, and Suffer became a black market curiosity. Enter Intervision, who once again drag the waters to revive a long-lost film, restored to pristine grime on DVD.
In regards to his filmic output, director Michael Winner was wildly inconsistent at his worst and wholly divisive at his best (and vice versa). The remarkable thing is that those two extreme opinions can be about the same film; some find the kinetic sleaze of Death Wish (1974) powerful and disturbing, others find its ham-fisted social grazing problematic and off-putting. But it was a big hit, so naturally Universal let him ride the satanic tide with The Sentinel (1977), a Good vs. Evil, Portal to Hell potboiler that warms this Fulci-loving heart three years before Lucio even set foot in New Orleans.
Making a sequel to a beloved horror film is a daunting proposition. Making one with practically none of the creative elements in place is a dangerous one. Using the medium of television to tell it has more than a hint of insanity to it. Yet here we are, or rather were, for ABC’s Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976), an ultimately slight yet entertaining turn with everyone’s favourite Antichrist. (Damien notwithstanding, of course.)
Filmed in 1959 but not released until AIP picked it up in ’62, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is a weird little treasure that deserved to be saved from the wreckage. It surpasses all yardsticks of measurement such as taste or talent, and instead floats to the surface on sheer strangeness and a stringent commitment to sleaze. Man cannot live on refinement alone.
Redemption can be a hard ticket to punch, in real life let alone on film. An arc has to be convincing in a short space of time and make us believe our protagonist’s journey. Thanks to a brilliant performance by Karen Black and a meticulously unfurled plot, The Pyx (1973) offers sorrow and resolution in a gripping package.
Throughout his film career, John Carpenter was always ahead of the curve; whether finalizing the blueprint for the modern slasher or offering an ever prescient political take on alien invasions, Carpenter always seemed to be ahead of what the next big thing would be, often to decreased box office receipts. So it came as a surprise to many (myself included) that he started up Body Bags (1993), a would-be anthology series ala Tales from the Crypt for Showtime. The bigger surprise though is that it didn’t fly, because this one off is terrific entertainment.
Everyone needs an escape from time to time. A place apart from reality, where the strange whisper with the miraculous, and cheap trinkets are bartered with greasy denizens of the night. What better place to set a horror film than the carnival, where the potential for mystery awaits around every crimson tent and distorted mirror? If you’re so inclined, step right up and buy a ticket to The Funhouse (1981), the late Tobe Hooper’s wonderful tribute to the seedy shadowed world of carnies, caramel apples, and Universal monsters.
Schlock should never be a dirty word in the world of cinema. Some of my favorite films are utterly devoid of taste and frequently, refinement. The majority of drive-in treasures lie somewhere between perspiration and inspiration, covered in flop sweat and trying desperately to entertain. This is often where you’ll find the films distributed by American International Pictures, and always where you’ll see director Bert I. Gordon’s oeuvre. Empire of the Ants (1977) is no exception.