Tag Archives: Horror

CAPSULE: EYE OF THE DEVIL (1966)

DIRECTED BY:  J. Lee Thompson

FEATURING:  Sharon Tate, , David Niven, , Flora Robson

PLOT: A happy marriage descends into an odyssey of terror when a woman’s husband is called to his ancestral estate by pagan heretics.

Still from Eye of the Devil (1966)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Eye of the Devil tells a strange story, the occult  genre always spins an unusual yarn. In this context, strange is normal. Aside from being well produced, Eye of the Devil is noteworthy only because it debuts the doomed Sharon Tate.

COMMENTS: Vineyard owner Marquis Philippe de Montfaucon (Niven) is called back to his castle when a drought withers the crop, upon which the entire region depends. His wife and children are supposed to remain in London, but of course she becomes curious and is compelled to intrude. Catherine de Montfaucon (Deborah Kerr) subsequently discovers that her husband is behaving in a secretive and peculiar manner. His personality has undergone a distinct change and he seems dreadfully grim and preoccupied. Why?

There are many mysterious comings and goings, some heavyweight clergy are milling around who appear to be legitimate, but why are the Marquis’ young cousins shooting medieval arrows at her, casting spells on her children, and trying to hypnotize her into leaping off of the castle parapets? And who the devil are those troublesome dark characters in black Franciscan monk’s robes, chasing Catherine about in the deep dark woods?

As Catherine snoops, she discovers mounting evidence of heretical pagan practices and that an extraordinary number of the Marquis’ antecedents met untimely deaths. Could there be a relation between the deaths and some profound event that her husband seems to be preparing for?

Flora Robson (The Shuttered Room) is creepy and aloof as always in her role as the Marquis’ Aunt.  Sharon Tate (in her film debut) plays a sinister and threatening witch who turns frogs into doves and seems to perversely enjoy taking a good old fashioned horse whipping from the Marquis. (Blow-up, Juggernaut) cavorts as her delightfully menacing, archery-happy brother. Eye of the Devil features crisp, striking, artful black and white cinematography by Erwin Hillier.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Kerr is our only touch with reality, and she tries to carry the pic, to little avail.”–Variety (contemporaneous)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

AKA:  Blood Island

DIRECTED BY: David Green

FEATURINGOliver Reed, Gig Young, Flora Robson,

PLOT: In this H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, a a string of grisly killings is linked to an unnameable creature inhabiting the loft of an abandoned New England mill inherited by newlyweds.

Still from THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:   The Shuttered Room showcases a strange story of monsters and madness. The setting is claustrophobic and creepy, the characters are downright bizarre, and so are the situations that the protagonists stumble into. The cinematography is expertly, if not artfully, executed. Thus the viewer expects a conventional storyline, and it is unsettling when shocking events unfold.

COMMENTS:  A newlywed couple, Mike and Susannah Kelton (Young, Lynley) travel to an island off of the Connecticut shoreline to visit an old mill which Sue just inherited.  It was once her childhood home.  From the start, she has reservations, but the couple perseveres at Mike’s urging.  They need to view the property with the goal of renovating the mill into a bed and breakfast.

As soon as they arrive on the island, the locals begin subjecting them to the old “Yew ain’t from around here!” treatment (even though Sue is). Mike meets her uncle who insists that they should leave.  The uncle’s employee shows Mike his mutilated face, missing an eye, and reports that the injury was caused by the devil when he got drunk and spent a night in the abandoned mill.  The couple also meet the local ruffians, a gang of unsavory toughs led by a psychopath named Ethan (Reed), who happens to be Sue’s cousin.  Mike is a dignified magazine editor. Both he and Sue are city-slickers—and it Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: DARK COUNTRY (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Thomas Jane

FEATURING: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Laurie German

PLOT: Two newlyweds returning from their Vegas wedding hit a man in the middle of the road; he lives, but the couple finds he is not all that he seems.

Still from Dark Country (2009)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Dark Country is a bit obtuse at times, and it frustratingly delights fans of the obscure by not explaining its motives or workings very often, but I hesitate recommending mainly because it relies a little too heavily on genre standbys and noir reverence instead of blazing new fantastic territory. It is a 50s thriller/noir mixed with a modern horror, but it doesn’t create its own identity between the two stylings. There are moments of heavy cinematic distortion and interesting ideas that run through the story like a highway across the hungry desert, but it can’t quite escape some level of mediocrity as it bends prostrate for that which has already been done.

COMMENTS: Dark Country represents a promising debut effort from a director who is willing to try new things. What’s really impressive from the start is the writing. It is intense and full of good, genuine human touches that help the movie flow from scene to scene. From the first scene to the end, I felt rapt with attention to these immersive characters and their odd relationship, especially after the drive out of Las Vegas.

It is a journey through dark and unforgiving territory, perhaps a metaphor for the new marriage between main characters Gina and Dick, newlyweds who don’t really know what they’re in for. The young couple just made it official in Vegas, and are ready to go home, but even before their fateful accident, things aren’t what they seem between them. There is tension, there are incidents between the two that are hinted at, and they have secrets from each other right off the bat. After their encounter in the desert with the strange man they hit, things only get worse between them. From an artistic standpoint, Dark Country can be commended as a smart thriller with some brains to back up its craziness.

Visually, it’s a feast for the eyes, and it’s tonally interesting. Thomas Jane wants a very engrossing visual experience, but he is also on a budget here, so we are caught in a limbo of many special effects, none of which really hit the mark in a spectacular way. The CG is on the cheap side (it looks like a violent episode of “Reboot” when they wreck the car near the end!) The green screen is not very successful in melding the real and fake, but the color effects are interesting, not to mention plentiful, and we are treated to some good old fashioned camera trickery with slick editing and nifty shots.

But while it’s a solid debut for Jane, and an offbeat one at that, we’re still not treading across any bold new frontiers with Dark Country. This is a movie I have seen before, in bits and pieces: intense psychological implications, a noir aesthetic, and the lush, frightening mysteries of the deep desert. It’s not anything breathtaking or unflinching. It’s a good and often disturbing take on some classic thriller ideas, and it has a twist in the story that will have you on your toes, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the weirdest movies I’d ever seen. With a good cast, a taut script, some interesting effects, and a more intelligent angle than your average thriller, Dark Country has a lot going for it. Just don’t expect it to be too weird, because you might be disappointed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The developments in Tab Murphy’s script are never quite as shocking to us as they are to Dick and Gina, and the story eventually builds the feeling of marking time on the way to its TWILIGHT ZONE-esque resolution… Jane’s visual sense assures that the film is always a spooky pleasure to watch, though…”–Micgael Gingold, Fangoria (contemporaneous)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Marina de Van

FEATURING: Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker

PLOT: Esther is a nice yuppie girl who enjoys her office job.  She also enjoys dismantling and consuming her own body.  After disfiguring her leg in an accident, Esther develops a necrotic fascination with herself and begins to self-mutilate.  She engages in auto-cannibalism while having hallucinations of limb disassociation.

Still from In my Skin [Dans ma Peau] (2002)


WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In My Skin is a different kind of horror movie. It plays on those grisly nightmares about things like inexplicably sudden tooth and hair loss, parasitism and other subconscious fears centering on uncontrollable bodily damage. There are no phantoms or monsters in De Van’s film, no outside threat. The horror comes from within as a woman sinks into insanity and demolishes her body.

COMMENTS: In My Skin is a study of morbid preoccupation with the physical nature of the human condition. It explores dissatisfaction with body image, and the finding of a decadent delight in its destruction. The lead character seeks psychological satiation through bodily deconstruction and self-consumption  She tries in vain to attack inexplicable and inexorable anxiety via the demolition of the human vessel.

Esther (De Van) falls on some construction debris in back of a friend’s house and gashes her leg open. Oddly insensitive to the pain, she does not sense the severity of her ghastly injury. She discovers the extent of the damage later, but even then, she goes to a bar before seeking treatment. When she finally does obtain medical assistance, she perversely declines measures to prevent disfigurement. At this point, her psyche undergoes a sinister change.

In My Skin is reminiscent of a Ray Bradbury story entitled “Skeleton” (one of two he wrote Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

SATURDAY SHORT: X-MESS DETRITUS (2008)

Voltaire gives his audience a different perspective on Christmas in his short, “X-Mas Detritus.”  Like many of the shorts posted here, “Detritus” contains some frightening images. So, even though this short contains some great insight into the impact of this holiday season on our world, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is very squeamish.

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SUBJECT TWO (2006)

DIRECTED BY:  Philip Chidel

FEATURING:  Christian Oliver, Dean Stapleton

PLOT: A medical student gets more than he bargained for when he accepts an experimental internship and discovers that immortality comes with a steep price.

Still from Subject Two (2006)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Subject Two is a fresh twist on the Frankenstein plot. It envisions reanimation from the undead’s subjective perspective. It is deeply disturbing and every bit as repellent and hellish as one could hope for.

COMMENTS: A misanthropic medical student named Adam (who flunked his ethics exam) receives a cryptic email from a Dr. Fanklin Vick. It offers him an opportunity to assist in unusual medical research and subsequently to share in the revolutionary scientific advances in medicine that result.

He bites on the lure, but to accept the position, he must wait on an icy mountain road in the middle of nowhere to be offered a ride by a stranger. The alluring and mysterious chauffeur obviously knows more about what is going on than he does. His journey to meet the elusive Doctor Vick is itself a snowy odyssey into the isolated, surreal drifts and folds of the Colorado Rockies.

When Adam and his driver reach a landmark beyond which the driver is no longer allowed, Adam must hike up a snow covered mountain to the doctor’s laboratory. Now he is stranded, beyond the point of no return. The research facility turns out to be a converted chalet, reminiscent of  Nikola Tesla’s Colorado Springs retreat in The Prestige.

He meets Vick, who tells him that the research is very unusual and important and that Adam is uniquely qualified. Vick avoids going into much specific detail. Adam accepts. What Adam doesn’t understand is that what uniquely qualifies him is that he is now a captive. Nobody knows where he is, he has no means of departure, and nobody will miss him if he disappears.

On this isolated, snowbound mountain peak, Dr. Vick is indeed performing very unique research. He is experimenting with life, death, and reanimation. In combination with makeshift cryogenics, he is using a bizarre recombinant DNA serum that alters and Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SUBJECT TWO (2006)

CAPSULE: GRACE (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Paul Solet

FEATURING: Jordan Ladd, Gabrielle Rose, Stephen Park

PLOT: A mother gives birth to a stillborn baby girl after a car wreck leaves her young family dead. The baby, however, comes back to life shortly after she is born. Unfortunately, the infant girl, with her proclivity to attract flies and drink human blood, is far from what her mother expected from parenthood.

Still from Grace (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are sequences in Grace that approach a state of uncomfortable strangeness, but too often the movie subverts itself and stews in its own conformity by sticking to horror conventions. By the time there’s a chance for a chance for what might have been a truly remarkable climax, the film has devolved into a maternal instincts cat-and-mouse thriller of sorts.

COMMENTS: Out of the gate, Grace has a strong concept that needs to be applauded. The undead-baby market has been virtually untapped, and I’m glad someone finally “went there.” The indie horror circuit has buzzed about writer and director Paul Solet as the next big thing, and this, his feature-length debut, is a notable entry amidst the middling horror releases this year. This is a strong film that is fresh, fairly terrifying, and smarter than one might think.

Grace’s complicated spirit masks itself in familiar trappings. It has an intellectual mindset, full of surprisingly difficult questions about a myriad of issues: veganism, lesbianism, midwives, maternal instincts, and coping with loss. And while we don’t always know where the filmmakers stand on said issues, posing the questions is intriguing enough. The ideas revolve around the modern family, and its new-found complexities in the 21st century coalescing with the timeless trials of parenthood. We witness complex relationships where people are intertwined in ways that are hard to understand, and at times hard to take; this is a movie where a woman asks her husband to suck her breast like he was a baby out of maternal grief for her dead son!

But in the end, it chickens out quietly and ends up being a horror movie like all the rest. The plot untangles rather quickly as we shift from a particularly nasty mother-daughter relationship to a thriller involving a mother-in-law off her rocker. In a brief 87 minutes, we’re back to basics, with only a hint of weird lying around as a memento in the form of Grace, a somewhat zombified child. What could have been something remarkable is instead just good, and while it won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, I was really looking for something more from a film that proposed such interesting ideas.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a horror movie but not a simple genre widget. That it’s rooted in reality gives its strange images the power to disturb. Even its environment is unusual, informed by women’s studies and alternative medicine.”-Michael Ordona, LA Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003)

DIRECTED BY: Uwe Boll

FEATURING: Jonathan Cherry, Ona Grauer, Clint Howard,

PLOT: Teenagers go to the Isle of the Dead for the “rave of the century,” but ravenous killing machines from somewhere within the zombie genus spoil the party.

Still from House of the Dead (2003)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Uwe Boll’s weirdest idea is to periodically insert brief, totally unrelated clips from the “House of the Dead” video game into fight scenes in the House of the Dead movie. It’s not enough of a gambit to make this into a truly weird experience, but combined with the film’s transcendental, comic dumbness, it’s enough to make it an interesting curiosity.

COMMENTS: I think the people who have voted House of the Dead into the IMDB bottom 100 movies are too hung up on little things like believable characters, continuity, acting that doesn’t embarrass the performers, and dialogue that respects the intelligence of the target audience. Those are fine qualities in, say, a movie about a poor seamstress who falls in love with a consumptive poet in 19th century England, but they’re just window dressing in a movie about pumping as many bullets into the heads of as many zombies as possible in 90 minutes. Uwe Boll understands this, and, with an honesty that proved too brutally revealing for the 2003 movie watching public to handle, he delivered an experience in House of the Dead that’s the equivalent of sitting in front of a video game screen for an hour and a half, watching blood spatter, without even having to frantically press buttons for the gory payoff. I could say many uncharitable things about the inessential technical qualities of House of the Dead, but I can’t say that I was ever bored watching it, or that it reminded me of any other film in existence. The unbelievable seven minute centerpiece alone should save it from being listed among the worst movies of all time. Set to a relentless rap/metal metronome meant only to pump adrenaline, not generate suspense, it features photogenic, scantily-clad teens grabbing a cache of automatic weapons and slaughtering legions of living dead extras while Boll experiments with Matrix-style “bullet time” effects. Blood spatters; heads explode; college girls in low-cut, skintight American flag jumpsuits reveal ninja-quality melee skills; grenade blasts fling bodies through the air; guns inexplicably change from rifles to pistols in the blink of an eye. All the while, video game footage flashes onscreen, complete with health bars and “free play” notices.

There’s an energy and misplaced love of brain-dead action moviemaking here that’s brilliant, in its own way. It’s as effective a parody of the first-person shooter mentality as will ever be committed to celluloid. Add in shameless gratuitous nudity and pepper with headscratching verbal exchanges (“You did all this to become immortal.  Why?” “To live forever!”) and you have a movie that is unforgettable in its stupidity.

If you gave this exact same material to a competent hack like Michael Bay, he would work it over, smoothing out the rough patches of dialogue and continuity errors and polishing it to a dull, marketable, mediocre sheen. Given a modicum of acceptable storytelling and a surface appearance of competence, audiences wouldn’t feel so insulted—although the joke would be on them, since at bottom the result would be just as dumb. I much prefer the rough-hewn, all-too-human character of Boll’s work, which is at least interesting in its flaws.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…cheese of the purest stripe, bafflingly bad to the point of being oddly charming in its brain-dead naivete.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THIRST [BAKJWI] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Chan-wook Park

FEATURING: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Hae-sook Kim

PLOT: A priest becomes a vampire after he receives a blood transfusion during an experimental treatment to find a cure for a deadly virus; after his transformation he becomes erotically obsessed with a young woman who lives as a virtual slave to the family that adopted her.

Still from Thirst [Bakwjwi] (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  All of Park’s films at least flirt with weirdness, and Thirst is no exception. In a way, however, this vampire drama is the Korean fantasist’s most conventional effort. Aside from a disorienting dream sequence intercut into a bout of lovemaking, Park adds only a few short surrealistic bursts here and there, instead sticking surprisingly close to the vampire formula.

COMMENTS: Like all Chan-wook Park films, Thirst is technically excellent: the cinematography, musical accents, and nuanced performances are all top-notch. The plot, while rambling and overlong, ties up loose ends neatly by the end. Many of the individual scenes are nearly perfect, too; the long and violent sequence where a furious Sang-hyeon forcibly converts Tae-joo into a vampire in front of her paralyzed adoptive mother is intense and beyond criticism. Hae-sook Kim’s Lady Ra has a particularly excellent turn that catches fire once her character becomes nearly comatose, and Song and Kim’s love scenes sizzle with guilt-ridden eroticism. Park even scales back the distracting, heavily stylized directorial flourishes (such as the dotted line coming off the hammer in Oldboy) that seem to pop up in his every effort just because the director thinks they look cool; the imagery in Thrist flows naturally, like uncoagulated blood.

With all of the above going for it, what I found most shocking about Thirst is how little spark or originality it emanates. We’ve seen the tragic reluctant vampire since 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter, and thirst for blood has always been a metaphor for lust (in the 1970s exploitation filmmakers became quite explicit with the theme in flicks like Lust for a Vampire and Vampyres). There’s no real spin on the vampire legend to be found here. A few traditional nemeses—garlic and crucifixes—have been jettisoned, but the vampire’s psychological essence—predation and isolation—remains intact. Making the bloodsucking protagonist a priest, while adding the superficial appearance of depth, doesn’t pay off in any profound poetic or philosophical way.  If there’s a spiritual dilemma to be found here, it’s of the mostobvious sort, as the fallen Father struggles to reconcile his vow to serve his suffering flock with his need to drink their blood and avoid sunlight.

The film’s supposed organizing principle, the vampiric curse, gives way to a noirish supernatural love triangle; as it turns out, it’s that old snake in the garden, sex, that’s the root of all evil, not nocturnal bloodsucking. The shift from the struggle to create a personal system of ethical vampirism to a story about falling for a femme fatale means film looses its thematic focus, if not its drama, about halfway through. Thirst is well worth the watch, but frankly, it left me thirsty for more.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If, like me, you believe Thirst can’t possibly get any weirder, then you’re in for a comically surreal ride as Park’s genre mash careens of the beaten logical path into that magic land that seems to exist only in the mind of Korean filmmakers.”–Jacob Powell, The Lumiere Reader (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THIRST (1979)

DIRECTED BY: Rod Hardy

FEATURING: Chantal Contouri, Shirley Cameron, Max Phipps, Henry Silva, Rod Mullinar

PLOT: A direct descendant of Elizabeth Bathory is kidnapped by vampires who want to make her one of their own.

Still from Thirst (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Thirst has an offbeat plot for a vampire movie, it doesn’t go that extra mile to make itself stick out from the bloodsucking crowd.

COMMENTS: All that charming and wealthy Kate Davis (Contouri) wants to do is live happily ever after with her handsome boyfriend.  Unfortunately, unbeknown to her, she is a direct lineal descendant of Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  You remember Liz, she was that Hungarian rich chick who drank and bathed in 600 or more gallons of blood from 600 or more beautiful young women in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s.

I might mention that Liz Bathory also sodomized the comely maidens first, then partially ate some of them alive, before torturing and murdering them and drinking, bathing, and masturbating in their blood.  But then gee golly gosh, what’s a bored aristocratic gal supposed to do for fun in the darned old dark and dusty 1500’s anyway?

So it turns out that there are 70,000 well networked, politically powerful vampires in the modern world, and some of them come from equally distinguished aristocratic families.  Unfortunately for poor Kate, a member of one wants to marry her, and probably do a few other things to her that we won’t go into here; suffice it to say that the hapless and desirable Kate is snatched away to a vampire “resort.” While there, she will become indoctrinated into vampire culture, get hitched, and.. and well, I suspect “get” other things as well, seeing as how her vamp suitor has been watching surreptitiously-filmed home movies of Kate getting her groove worked over by her boyfriend.

The resort also happens to be a human blood farm.  Kidnapped, tranquilized mortals are put out to pasture and herded in a couple of times a week to be “milked” for, you guessed it, rich, red, raw human blood!  They are referred to as “blood cows,” and they are drained of a pint or so each time via the latest technology in a huge row of sanitary stalls.  They don’t appear to be very happy about it either, but then that’s a good incentive to unionize.

The vampires hook a “direct-to-line vacuum pulsator” (dairy speak for the milking machine hose terminal that is supposed to fit around a cow’s udder) right into the helpless humans’ jugulars.  They then suck, pump, filter, pasteurize, homogenize, inspect and certify the blood as safe, just like at a real dairy (hey, vampires have a right to protect themselves from hepatitis too, you know).

Then, presto. They distribute the human Clamato juice world-wide in conventional milk cartons.  Makes you thirsty just thinking about it, huh?  It turns out that the facility gives consumer tours and everything.  It also has some nice amenities such as swimming pools, racket ball courts, and booze kiosks (vamps only!)  Unfortunately for Kate, since she’s on a special diet, the program for her consists of involuntary drug-induced hallucinations, coercive brainwashing and blood force-feeding, just to get her in the mood for her wedding night.

It works!  Well, sort of.  The problem is that the plan, like most in these hemoglobin flicks, doesn’t go very smoothly.  In fact after some initial difficulties, then apparent success, it blows up right in everyone’s faces with gruesome and disturbing results.  This is a solid Australian film and one of the best vampire movies from the 1970’s that I have seen so far.  If you like odd and twisted cinema, or hot and heavy bloodsucking action, I give it four and half stakes through the heart out of five.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the quirkier horror films in recent history… The movie comes off as one long dream sequence (which it is, as Kate goes through a long programming session) — it’s mood music for the eyes, and bloody music at that.”–Christopher Null, AMC Film Critic (DVD)