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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mr. Sardonicus (1961) - William Castle

Mr. Sardonicus is a curious little story from William Castle that involves an impressive tale propelled by an enticing cast. Oskar Homolka was engaging in a truly weird way as the man servant Krull. He tortures a young woman by hoisting her up by her thumbs and then putting leeches on her feet and face. He is cold and merciless. Definitely a strong secondary villain. But, Guy Rolfe as Mr. Sardonicus is frightful as fuck. He is a great villain. Sardonicus appears to be haunted by ghouls and discusses his displeasure with them in long discussions. His demeanor is intimidating and gloomy. He uses this emotionless mask that makes him even more frightening. 

Baron Sardonicus brings the world's leading surgeon to his home to fix his freakish appearance. Sir Robert Cargrave has been brought in to the estate for this purpose. If he doesn’t do the surgery, then Sardonicus will make his wife's face appear like his own. Oh, Cargrave has been making night eyes with our evil hosts wife. Shades of the convenient Old Dark House trope come into play. 

The film examines the Sardonicus' back-story and depicts him, somewhat, in a sensitive manner. Basically, Sardonicus used to be identified as Marek Toleslawski. He was poor and worked frantically to make money. His father had picked up a lottery ticket (#7707). However, he died the night that he bought it and was buried with it in his waistcoat. It turns out that Marek’s dad had won the lottery but was accidentally buried with the ticket. So Marek digs up his dad’s corpse. Except that when his fathers body is uncovered it shocks him so much that it transforms his face. It turns him into the freakish ghoul with the tight disfigured mouth. I appreciated getting some backstory. I always applaud additional world building. 

It’s William Castle so you know that your going to get a good amount of jump scares. Those combined with the torture/leeches scenes and Sardonicus’ mug make for a pretty decent horror movie. It’s nothing a preteen should lose any sleep over. The gimmick that Castle takes advantage of for this movie is the Punishment Poll. This is a part of the movie that was supposed to feel like audience participation. However, it was nothing more than another gimmick from the king of shock cinema. 

Technically Mr. Sardonicus is a really sound movie. I don't have many gripes or concerns about the picture. However, I do feel that some of the low-budget techniques showed through a bit. For example, it would have been expensive to show Sardonicus mouth moving. So to remedy this, Guy Rolfe was barely seen on screen when talking. Sometimes they would film him from behind to get away with hiding the mask. 

Mr. Sardonicus was good. I admired the curious tale and direction. I would have killed to see this in the movie theater during the sixties. William Castle was recognized for his odd tricks and gags during the screenings of his pictures. This feature had some great reveal moments and jump scares. Perfect for the Castle experience. I found the film to be striking but not necessarily scary. The scariest parts were Sardonicus’ disguise and mutated face. His featureless mask was the criterion for creepy. I am so sure that Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween owe a great deal of inspiration to this one.

Of course I would have to recommend movies like Phantom of the Opera. That movie seems like the most obvious suggestion. But this picture has also invoked nostalgia for films like Mystery of the Wax Museum, the Peter Lorre classic Mad Love and the Tom Cruise drama Vanilla Sky

William Castle

William Castle

Ray Russell

Oskar Homolka
Ronald Lewis
Audrey Dalton
Guy Rolfe
Vladimir Sokoloff
Erika Peters
Lorna Hanson

Columbia Pictures

Release Date
October 18, 1961

United States

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tower of Terror (1997) - D. J. MacHale

The Tower of Terror was an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney, which appeared in 1997 on ABC Network. It’s a fun movie that makes a creative connection to a ride in the Disneyland California Adventure theme park of the same name. Tower of Terror truly has the Disney look and feel. It fits right in line with a movie like Hocus Pocus or Haunted Mansion. In fact, do yourself a favor and set-up a little marathon. Those movies aren't great but it’s a fun way to pass a late October afternoon.

Tower of Terror follows Buzzy, a single dad (Steve Guttenberg) taking care of his daughter Anna (Kirsten Dunst) in Hollywood, California. Buzzy is a tabloid reporter that desperately wants to start writing legitimate material again. Abigail Gregory had tapped Buzzy to investigate the Hollywood Tower Hotel. An infamous haunted hotel that had been gained popularity for some righteous parties. However, the disappearance of five people in 1939 on Halloween is what it is known for. The group had been in an elevator when the hotel was struck by lightning. This kick-started some sort of black-magic that swallowed all passengers of the elevator that night. Buzzy agrees to help and starts his investigation. Everything points to a witch among the original group from ‘39. However, mysteries start to unfold. Guttenberg is on the case!

The actors did as good as they could be expected too. Obviously, Steve Guttenberg is the lead actor here. And with good reason. It’s pretty much just him. Kirsten Dunst does alright but her character doesn’t evolve much. Michael McShane is the next best. He is always funny. He is a master at timing and physical comedy. The other actors are kind of blah. The beginning of the movie shows us 1939 and the night that the people disappeared. However, it never really feels like ‘39. It looks like a poor interpretation of what a shined up version of the thirties would look like if it were made in 1997. The actors are too peppy. The thirties are too shined up. It’s too happy. Nothing looks real.

The movie isn’t necessarily scary. Tower of Terror has supernatural elements that are constrained in this neutered made-for-television short film. But that shouldn’t serve as a distraction. The movie still works on a number of levels and younger viewers will appreciate the minor scares. In fact, it might be too much for the very young and meek. Don’t let the fact that it’s a Disney movie fool you. You won't have any singing birds or other doe-eyed forest folk here. This movie exists solely as a minor thriller for pre-teens.

This movie was one of the first VHS tape that I had found when I started collecting. I think I found it sealed at a thrift-store for twenty-five cents. You have to love old media like VHS. It’s such a classic format. Of course this movie is more-than-likely available in higher resolution. However, watching it on VHS brings a sense of nostalgia. It’s a kind of nostalgia that belongs with a movie like this. It’s that warmth that Disney strides for.

Director: D. J. MacHale
Producer: Iain Paterson
Writer: D. J. MacHale
Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Kirsten Dunst, Michael McShane, Melora Hardin and John Franklin
Studio: Zaloom/Mayfield Productions, Walt Disney Television & ABC
Release Date: October 26, 1997
Country: USA
Did ya Know: Most of the tower footage in the film, both interior and exterior, were shot at the actual Tower of Terror attraction at the Disney's Hollywood Studios. Every time the hotel is seen from the outside, the Hollywood sign is seen behind it. In the 1939 sequence, the sign reads "Hollywoodland" which was the what the sign said back in those times. Steve Guttenberg and Nia Peeples would co-star in another TV movie together with 2015's Lavalantula.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Pit (1981) - Lew Lehman

The Pit (AKA. Teddy) is a dreadful horror film. The usual tropes exist. The list is loaded. But this poor horror movie has something all the other poor horror flicks don't have. Sammy Snyders. Snyders plays the annoying lead antagonist. Who am I to complain? This role is what brought the film to cult status. The other elements lack but Snyders' work is what remains the most notable. That's not a good thing. The picture looks interesting enough. But, doesn't take long for the picture to derail. It's just so damn curious. The box art is pleasant and weird. It's not the best art but at least it was created by hand. I hadn't heard of the movie before discovering it online. I can't think of seeing this movie on the racks at the video store. And seems to be pretty forgotten. I believe that makes it pretty rare. 

The plot revolves around a kid going through puberty in the worst way. I am not one to mince words. He acts like a strange little creep. His name is Jamie, and he isn't normal. Jamie flies off the handle at the slightest bump in a social setting. It's understandable that he would be bullied. But Jamie has a weapon for those bullies. A hole in the forest. Jamie had come across this hole deep in the woods. Inside of the hole are these weird goblin  things called Tra-La-Logs. These creatures need meat to survive and Jamie appears to be their only friend. One day he just starts pitching folks down into this pit. Anyone that had wronged him. Later he literally lets the Tra-La-Logs out! But that's when the horror movie really begins. It's not just about some awkward little asshole. 

Sadly, the movie takes a great deal of time to show Jamie lusting after his babysitter Sandy (Jeannie Elias). She is at the center of his perverse attention. Jamie clearly makes his intentions known while playing dumb the entire movie. It's annoying. Sandy denies his advances and he goes into full dramatic Emo mode. I would like this movie much more if Sammy Snyders wasn't in it. It's the worst. His annoying voice just rips across each scene thoroughly. I had to take a break. His antics infuriated me. 

There are small pockets of attempts at horror. I believe that this must have looked great on paper. But the movie doesn't genuinely deliver and I wouldn't want to watch it again. The ending is so mishmahsed that it becomes too unusual for it's own good. The sleaze, the gore and tone in the second half of the movie feel like a Roger Corman picture. Ordinarily that would be a good thing. In this case it just boils down to bad film-making. I can't say that I recommend it either. I can see why people would subject themselves to something like this as a cult feature. I would like to cast this movie into a pit. 

Director: Lew Lehman
Producer: Jennet Fode/John F. Bassett
Writer: Ian A. Stuart
Starring: Sammy Snyders and Jeannie Elias
Studio: Amulet Pictures/Ambassador Film Distributors/New World Pictures/Embassy Home Entertainment
Release Date: October 23, 1981
Country: Canada

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Mist (2007) - Frank Darabont

With the modern IT coming out soon followed by The Dark Tower, it seemed to be a good time to look at the King adaptations. Like this revisit of Frank Darabont’s The Mist. I had reviewed this back in 2011 and decided to give it one more day in court. I am glad to go back and view The Mist. This time I had taken the advice of Rocket Film School and saw the movie in black and white. It was so much better.

This picture is the closest thing we have to a Lovecraftian feature film. In the horror society it is well known that Sir Stephen King holds H.P. Lovecraft in high regard. He has been loving up to that man for his entire career. I had always felt Cthulhu would have been genius on the big screen. In my wildest dreams I can picture Kubrick showing us a great Lovecraft story. Now I understand Ron Howard is working on something. Let's hope it is better than this...

The Mist is a movie about a small town that gets terrorized by alternate dimension monsters that hide in a thick mist. The movie doesn't focus on the monsters it focuses on the emotions of the people that had become trapped in this situation. The movie takes this small town that has grown up around each other and turns them on one and other. Even though the movie focuses on the group part of the film more than the horror part. It still has some decent gore with horrible CGI. You see this giant ??? outside, holding everyone inside of a supermarket. All we know is that this monster has tentacles that rip people to shit.

The initial paranoia that the movie begins with is great. The creeping fear that doesn't stop and can't be explained is perfect. Then they add terrible CGI monsters ruining the whole damn thing. The Mist was a huge disappointment but the noir style version I had watched made it more palatable. The acting wasn’t as horrible as I had remembered but it was far from perfect. What else would you expect from a Thomas Jane led film? Did anyone not learn anything at all from Punisher!? This movie is hot wind and nothing more. The scariest thing in the movie is not even the Monsters, it's the bible thumping psycho bitch that kills a military guy in a human sacrifice. What the hell... nuts.

The good is that the characters are pretty well flushed out. They just aren’t believable. The cast has a number of actors from The Walking Dead and a few that appeared in other King works like William Sadler, Frances Sternhagen, Jeffrey DeMunn and Andre Brauer. Not to mention Thomas Jane himself who had also been in Dreamcatcher. A movie that I expect has ties to this one. Both dealing with similar looking creatures being hunted by a covert arm of the military. Both movies taking place in the King multiverse is just more evidence. 

Also, I cannot stress enough that this black and white thing is far superior. The black and white makes me appreciate the shots. It’s lovely aside from the CGI. Which is better but still horrible. The movie has a very minimal soundtrack, and that adds to the impending dread and despair but the music it uses is pretentious and exceedingly melodramatic. The worst part about the movie has to be the ending though. The ending... The damn ending. A horrible display of wrapping this nasty excuse up by copping out and wasting everyone. There are no incentives for any of the evil acts that take place.The survivors kill themselves leaving Thomas Jane the only survivor. Just as a tank strolls past and the mist clears up, revealing troops killing the monsters. I am expected to believe that the survivors drove on however much gasoline. Across highways and strange roads. Only to commit suicide and be passed by truckloads of survivors from THEIR TOWN! Did the armed forces follow them? They roamed across highways, freeways and fire roads but nevertheless the military found them! I can’t even.

Director: Frank Darabont

Producer: Frank Darabont, Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer

Writer: Frank Darabont
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher and William Sadler. 
Studio: Dimension Films, Darkwoods Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: November 21, 2007
Country: United States
Did Ya Know: Frank Darabont agreed to make the film with Dimension only under the condition that no matter what, they wouldn't change the scripted ending. They agreed.(WHAT!?) This is the same director as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile (WHAT!?) The movie actually got pretty good marks from different websites.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Death Ship (1980) - Alvin Rakoff

Death Ship is striking. The exterior resembles any other small-budget horror movie released in the late-seventies or early eighties. It's muddy and coarse. But Death Ship is surely worth trying out. It has tension and terror. Plus, stages of certain fright. If that's not sufficient. Consider seeing a possessed George Kennedy starring in a movie set on a runaway Nazi ghost ship.

An ocean liner is bearing out on a retirement voyage for its captain. The ship is run into by an unknown dark vessel and draws on water. This causes it to sink. A lot of the voyagers and crew are drown and are killed. But both captains and their families live along with the band leader. They are ultimately "rescued" by that same dark vessel that sank them. A solitary German World War II Nazi torture ship that desires to execute them one by one. To make things worse, the retiring captain becomes possessed by Nazi ghosts and cooperates in the deaths. It's insane.

The movie doesn't come without obvious issues. There are terrible cuts and snags from the dreaded low-budget. But the overall trend of the movie still comes off as dark and foreboding. It's unnerving. One scene is when an individual falls into the hull of the ship. The possessed captain fetches him out utilizing a net full of bones and decomposing corpses. It's brilliant. The man suffers as he yields to despair. The movie slows down in this spot to tack on extra fright and irregularity. That scene is hard to watch. The whole time we get to intense levels of unhealthy quality nazi music. That's enough to contribute to a few rough dreams.

Issues are bound to occur. These headaches are with the condition of the film, dubbing and acting. Sure. But the effects aren't insignificant. In fact a number of them were outstanding. But this film isn't about blood and guts. This horror movie relies on environment. The shots of the inner recesses of this huge abandoned ship are enough to give you the willies. The casting is likewise impressive. Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso and Saul Rubinek all star or make appearances. The acting is television quality, but it's not the most terrible. And it doesn't take away from the surroundings or how weirdness. Another cool thing is that the movie was written by grind house legend Jack Hill. So that gives Death Ship points.

I found it funny that the most convenient group of people survive the wreckage. Just about everyone featured on board the first ocean liner survived. Moreover, both captains fail to go down with the ship. But those are mere petty criticisms. I admired this picture. The movie touched a lot of buttons for me. It isn't perfect, but there's an attraction. This anti-Semitic murder machine is preposterous. A giant nazi killer ship! I mean what in the hell! George Kennedy as a nazi possessed curmudgeon is the definition of fright. This is a must see for horror fans.

Director: Alvin Rakoff
Producer: Derek Gibson and Harold Greenberg
Writer: Jack Hill and David P. Lewis
Starring: George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso and Sally Ann Howes
Studio: Avco Embassy Pictures
Release date: March 7, 1980
Country: Canada and United Kingdom
Did ya know: The make and model of the derelict mysterious black 'Flying Dutchman like' "Death Ship" was a deserted German World War II freighter which had once been a Kriegsmarine prison ship used for torturing.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Laid to Rest (2009) - Robert Hall

Laid to Rest is a low quality but high effort horror movie written and directed by Robert Hall. I say high effort because Director Hall had the drive and wanted to create something. The parts that succeed remind me of Hatchet but the rest suffers from the Director's inability and a low-budget. 

This movie features a slasher named Chromeskull. A serial killer that wears a chrome-skull mask and specializes in brutalizing his victims. Of course he does it in the goriest ways possible. Chromeskull is in pursuit of Princess, a young woman with amnesia that woke up in a morgue. Princess (Bobbi Sue Luther) is joined by Steven (Sean Whalen) and Tucker (Kevin Gage). They serve as her protectors that aid her escape from the clutches of this malicious masked stranger whose motives are a mystery chased through the entire picture.

Chromeskull is awesome. His style is the coolest-looking thing in the movie. His mask reminds me of Marilyn Manson's album cover for Golden Age of the Grotesque. Robert Hall must have had a great time directing Chromeskull's mutilation scenes. Gore levels in this movie are off the charts. In one scene, the killer takes a knife and stabs a man through the mouth. Cheek to cheek. Right through the teeth and gums... yikes. Then rips off the dudes face! That was wonderful! The practical effects were wonderful. I even liked the CGI when it was used sparingly. 

That's all the movie did well. The Director misused the computer graphics when he put cheap splatter effects in. I saw that CGI blood and lost it. Then the movie has horrendous editing that hinders a number of scenes. Sometimes it's hard to tell what is happening and who is getting attacked. And the casting is weird. Why even get Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones) when she is so inefficient. 

In fact, all the characters are inefficient. It's a cliche female lead with Goldberg and Steve Buscemi’s little brother in tow. Your biggest known actor that gets a decent chunk of screen time is Sean Whalen (Frogurt from LOST). It could have been good if it were made better. The occasional stabs at comedy are okay but not enough to save it. 

While the Director tried, and the movie had its moments. The poor just outweighed the good. I appreciate low-budget movies that pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But movie is not well executed. Maybe Robert Hall will get it right for the sequel. Check this out if you are looking for something to watch and you feel like seeing just about anything. 

Director: Robert Green Hall
Producer: Chang Tseng and Bobbi Sue Luther
Writer: Robert Green Hall
Starring: Bobbi Sue Luther, Kevin Gage, Sean Whalen and Johnathon Schaech
Studio: Dry County Films and Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: March 18, 2009
Country: United States
Did ya know: When Tucker and Steven print off the information about The Girl they use a laser printer, but the sound is that of a matrix style printer.