Tag Archives: Haunted House

CAPSULE: SPOOKIES (1986)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Genie Joseph, Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner

FEATURING: Felix Ward, Maria Pechukas, Alec Nemser, Dan Scott

PLOT: A mad warlock with his would-be bride in a coffin needs human blood to bring her back to life, so he sets up a mansion full of monsters to slaughter hapless travelers; the plan almost works.

Still from Spookies (1986)

COMMENTS: Bear with me this time, because Spookies takes some explaining. It’s well-established as a bad movie, and yet has a cult following. That cult, contrary to the norm, loves Spookies not in a so-bad-it’s-good ironic way, but for being a certain kind of niche “good.” The limited appeal of Spookies depends upon one’s appetite for carnival dark rides, AKA ghost trains, the horror-themed indoor track ride you find at every state fair and boardwalk. These rides are chock full of random scary props, rubber suit monsters, blaring air horns, blasts of compressed air, strobe lights, hairpin turns leading from mad scientist’s laboratories into mummy’s crypts and whatnot, and—attend carefully here—no logic. Here’s dark ride YouTuber Carpetbagger with a tour of one. The point of a dark ride is not to experience an enriching story. The point is to make your girlfriend scream and cling to you when the rubber bats swoosh overhead.

I have just perfectly described the experience of watching Spookies, right down to the “no logic” part. It is unrelentingly stupid. But if you’re the kind of person who never passes up a tour through those haunted house attractions that pop up around Halloween, this is your Citizen Kane. Come and get your monsters, we got all your monsters here! We got your vampire monsters, your zombie monsters, your eight-limbed spider-woman monsters, your possessed demon monsters, your green goblin monsters, a werecat monster, a skeleton monster, any monster you want! Grim Reaper fans, yes, you too, we got a Grim Reaper attack just a little after the 1:00 hour mark. It’s never a dull moment here at Mad Marvin’s Mansion o’ Monsters, come on over for Witching Hour when all our curses are half-price!

Just leave your brain at home. This movie was also allegedly produced in sections: either two half-finished movies nailed together or an unfinished movie that later got footage added, depending on who you ask. I’m going to try telling it in alleged filming order, not movie order, because this will help it make what little sense it can.

We have two carloads of teenagers, plus older people hanging out with them for some reason, who are driving around lost at night looking for someplace to party. They find the big spooky mansion located in a cemetery surrounded by foam headstones. “What a silly place for a house!” they titter as they stagger inside. Doors slam, lights go out, monsters attack for about an hour and fifteen minutes. This is all triggered when one member of the party finds a Ouija board in the house—she obviously missed her OSHA class on “Never Use A Ouija Board In An Abandoned Mansion In A Cemetery” day. This part of the movie was supposed to be a horror-comedy called Twisted Souls, but it was never finished.

In the tacked-on part, we have a “warlock” Kreon (Felix Ward) brooding in a secluded sanctum, far from the action, as he laments his late, pretty bride in a coffin, Isabelle (Maria Pechukas). To bring Isabelle back to life, he needs human sacrifices, so, it turns out, he is the one controlling the monsters. Earlier a young boy, Billy (Alec Nemser), ran afoul of one of Kreon’s monsters while running away from home because his parents forgot his 13th birthday. He got buried alive and resurrected as a vampire boy in a Little Red Riding Hood outfit, who plays candle-lit chess while Kreon discusses his plans in his Transylvanian Baron Von Hissing-Lisp accent. With all those people he slaughters to bring Isabelle back to life, is she going to be grateful? What do you want to bet? Ah, posthumous love, thy name be treachery!

So like I say, this is a stupid mess. Nobody can act, the scripts for both film fragments suck hot vacuum hose, and everyone on Team Carload of Teenagers is an idiot who obligingly stumbles right into the claws/fangs/tentacles of Team Monster. Team Monster, however, brings its A-game of practical effects at the cutting edge of 1986 technology (but sadly not a minute later). Although at one point even Team Monster has a setback, with a gang of sludge monsters (made of mud?) who fart when they walk. In a group, every step, “Prrt! Prt! Prrrrt! Prrt!” But for the most part, we keep to that dark ride pace, a fresh monster attack in a fresh room every ten minutes, whether you were ready for the next one or not. Which, once again I have to point out, makes it braindead, but never boring for a second.

As confounding as Spookies is, I still can’t recommend it specifically for our list.  We have haunted house movies, and when it comes to monster-per-minute low-budget horror, Turn in your Grave‘s weirdness-factor flush beats Spookies‘ bigger-budget straight. By sheer nose (snout) count, The Cabin in the Woods has more monsters. In fact, B-movie monster-mashes aren’t that uncommon; it’s just that Spookies did it in peak ’80s style, when rubber masks with pulsating goop were in their prime.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The later additions] made an already kooky movie even weirder, creating a disjointed plot no matter how hard they tried to shoehorn in the sorcerer. Yet, it also made it even more memorable at the same time, because it’s so nonsensical.”–Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

The story behind making-of Spookies

Thorough YouTube review of Vinegar Syndrome’s 2020 Blu-ray

STANLEY KUBRICK’S THE SHINING (1980)

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, which claims that telephoned author Stephen King shortly before filming commenced on The Shining (1980). Allegedly, Kubrick asked King: “Do you believe evil exists, as an entity?” “Yes, I do,” King answered. “Well, I don’t,” Kubrick replied as he slammed down the phone. According to the anecdote, King then knew his pulp novel had been “taken away” from him. His budding 1980 fan base agreed, feigning outrage at cinematic liberties Kubrick was to take. Despite King’s fans, The Shining was largely a hit with audiences and critics, though hardly unanimous. Since then, it has developed an epic cult reputation and is considered by many to be one of the greatest horror films of all time. As per the norm with extreme opinions, both views are off-kilter.

Underrated by literary critics and overrated by housewives, Stephen King was already a household name by 1980, and a film version of his novel about a possessed hotel was inevitable. What King was not prepared for was a forceful filmmaker with his own ideas. To be certain, this is Stanley Kubrick’s Shining, not King’s, and for that we can be thankful (King later proved the point in a dreadfully faithful 1997 television remake).

In Kubrick’s The Shining, the face of evil is not the hotel. Rather, it is the bourgeoisie husband/father Jack Torrance (), with the Still from The Shining (1980)hotel standing as an obvious symbol for man’s eternal evil. That very simple decision confused the hell out of its hyper-linear 1980 audience, although contemporary viewers seem less troubled by it. Yet, there are drawbacks; Kubrick does not make good on all of his promises. There is no substantial character arc for Jack. He is most interesting in the first half before being reduced to a monotone Looney Tune archetype. In sharp contrast, his wife Wendy () emerges from her bedside banality, like a figure jumping off a Symbolist canvas, to become a torrent. Channeling modernist painters (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Amedo Modgiglini) is a recurring Kubrick theme. Casting Duvall was shrewd. Footage from a “making of” documentary  reveals Kubrick was tyrannical when directing her. It paid off.  Unfortunately, the development of the patriarchal antagonist is not as layered. Kubrick fails to reign in Nicholson, whose character solicits identification and sympathy only from the film’s thug demographic (much in the same way that the Al Pacino’s Tony Montana does). In painting Jack two-dimensionally, Nicholson and Kubrick open wide the door of identification for simpletons. The film falters in allowing the ink to dry on Jack. The banality of evil theme is as subtle as the second half of Nicholson’s performance, but of course, Kubrick’s The Shining is not relegated to a single character.

Kubrick’s The Shining is a far more complex machine than the source Continue reading STANLEY KUBRICK’S THE SHINING (1980)

CAPSULE: BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Dan Curtis

FEATURING: , Oliver Reed, Lee Montgomery,

PLOT: A family of three, and their elderly aunt, find a deal allowing them to stay in an old country mansion for the summer, providing they keep the place up and leave out a plate of food for the house’s reclusive matron, who never leaves her room.

Still from Burnt Offerings (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s too mild, with some slight ambiguity but no significant weirdness.

COMMENTS: Burnt Offerings was the beginning of a late 1970s/early 1980s haunted house cycle that encompassed three Amityville Horror movies; the mini-movement climaxed commercially with 1982’s Poltergeist and artistically with 1980’s The Shining. In fact, Offerings is most interesting when considered as a precursor to The Shining, which would take its theme of a parent possessed by an evil spirit and catapult it into the horror stratosphere. Offerings, on the other hand, suffers from poor pacing. It’s too leisurely getting started: it’s over a half hour into the film before we see the first incident which might be categorized as “supernatural.” Up until then, the focusing on spooky shots of light bulbs while horror movie music plays just doesn’t cut it. Even when things do finally start to happen—swimming pool roughhousing that gets dangerously out of hand, a recurring nightmare about a smiling chauffeur—events occur in fits and starts, with husband and wife spending the interim discussing how each previous manifestation of evil is affecting their relationship. Offering a few creepy moments along the way, the movie crawls to a non-surprise ending.

The film’s biggest virtue is its cast. Karen Black, by now no longer a sex kitten but not yet a matron, centers the film. Her sensuality is perfectly constrained, and we are not surprised at hints that the couple’s sex life may be well past the honeymoon phase. Son Lee Montgomery is acceptable; he doesn’t sink the film, which is the most you can really hope from a young actor. Bette Davis is unremarkable here, but she is Bette Davis; her very presence adds legitimacy. Of all the actors, Reed may understand the material’s urge vto break through into camp the best; the moments when his face goes spastic as he fights off the evil inside him give it the film some melodramatic tics of life.

Burnt Offerings was based on a 1973 novel by Robert Marasco, although director Dan Curtis (of TVs “Dark Shadows” fame) rewrote it significantly. The movie was not a critical success, but it has a small but devoted fan base (probably enough to categorize it as “fondly remembered,” but below the threshold that would make it a true cult movie). The 2015 Blu-ray contains a number of new interviews with the surviving cast and adds a new commentary track from critic Richard Harland Smith to the old one from Curtis, Black and co-writer William F. Nolan that has been ported over from the DVD release.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Most of the cliches of the Gothic genre are encompassed in the plot about Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Bette Davis, and young Lee H. Montgomery having a weird summer after moving into a home owned by batty Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart… might have been interesting if director Dan Curtis hadn’t relied strictly on formula treatment.”–Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “sunspotbaby.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: LIVIDE (2011)

AKA Livid

DIRECTED BY: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

FEATURING: Chloé Coulloud, Félix Moati, Jérémy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Béatrice Dalle, Chloé Marcq, Marie-Claude Pietragalla

PLOT: When a student nurse and her companions break into an enigmatic patient’s mouldering mansion, they spiral into a horrifying mystery while being stalked by reanimated corpses, a marionette vampire, and a brain-sucking sorceress.

Still from Livide (2011)


WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Livide undergoes a continual genre metamorphoses from teen slasher, to haunted house film, to morbid steampunk thriller, to otherworldy fantasy. If that’s not enough, the underlying concept, while not purely original (though the story fresh) is completely off-the-wall.

COMMENTS: When Lucy (Coulloud) takes a job as a nurse’s assistant, her mentor takes her to a sinister, ancient estate where an elderly comatose patient named Mademoiselle Jessel (Pietragalla) has allegedly hidden a fortune in treasure somewhere inside the gloomy edifice’s crumbling walls. Lucy returns with accomplices to search for it. The trio unwittingly awakens an ancient matriarch who turns out to be a sorceress—and a brain-sucking vampiress.

Mademoiselle Jessel’s very habitation is in collusion with her. The manor is nearly a living entity and becomes a central, personified lead in the film. Baroque and timeworn, intricate, creaking and groaning, and full of decorative complexity, the edifice resonates from a terrible secret enclosed within.

The house is monstrous and overwhelming, with winding corridors, door-less rooms, portal mirrors, and darkened, cluttered spaces filled with the aberrant memorabilia and paraphernalia of Mademoiselle Jessel’s moribund life. The mansion has its own plan, in malignant collaboration with an undead menagerie of taixdermied creatures.

There are menacing shadows, disturbing movements, and a feeling that one is not alone within these walls. In fact, Lucy and her compatriots are not. The residence’s creaking floors, locked doors and disintegrating walls alternately conceal and release unmentionable abominations upon the hapless intruders.

Trapped in the house with all exits inexplicably locked behind them, exploring eerie room after eerie room, Lucy and her cagey cohorts are drawn into an alternate reality behind a magic mirror. As they frantically scramble for a means of escape, the three friends are pursued by animal and human corpses reanimated as ghoulish marionettes. Meanwhile Lucy finds herself entwined in a vintage riddle which she must solve in order to keep her soul.

Livide is a visually stunning horror film, utterly fresh, and free of all clichés, cheap tricks and tired gimmicks. From the mummy-like, comatose Mademoiselle Jessel, her finger nails grown long as talons and her face obfuscated by a grotesque oxygen mask, to the dreary, decaying mansion in which she is entombed alive, Livide is a morbid cavalcade of ghastly settings, objects and characters.

Intricate sets, elaborate, horrifying makeup effects, along with cryptic objects and props accentuate an original and bizarre genre-bending story. Livide begins as a mystery, evolves into horror and concludes as grisly fantasy. The film’s claustrophobic optical signature enhances its uncanny and eventually surreal feel.

Livide is the ultimate haunted house film, but it is also a diabolical odyssey. Dark, striking, slick, inscrutable and arty, but conventionally filmed and superbly produced, Livide proffers moments of sheer terror accented with otherworldly wonder. A visual extravaganza of the dreadful visions and horrible ideas lurking in the hearts of all proud horror aficionados, Livide unnaturally speaks to something locked deep down inside of us. Livide is an absolutely bitchin’, smashing, slam-bang groovy movie all the way.

LIVIDE 450 (2)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…while the duo has reduced the ketchup factor by at least 50% [from their debut Inside] in this rather surreal mélange of ballet, taxidermy and vampirism, they’ve also cut down on the frights to the point that their doomed Gallic chateau seems about as scary as Disney’s Haunted Mansion.”–Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Repoter

147. KEYHOLE (2011)

“…a ghost sonata in which dream and waking life are seamlessly blended to isolate and expose universal feelings.”–description from the Keyhole press kit

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Jason Patric, , , David Wontner, Brooke Palsson, Udo Kier

PLOT: A group of gangsters rendezvous at a large old house filled with ghosts, bringing a kidnapped man tied to a chair with them. They meet with their leader, Ulysses Pick, who arrives carrying an unconscious woman on his back. As the mobsters wait in the parlor, Ulysses travels through the house with the woman and the kidnapped man, trying to reach the upstairs chamber where his wife awaits him with her father and her lover.

Still from Keyhole (2011)
BACKGROUND:

  • Guy Maddin lists the Bowery Boys’ Spooks Run Wild, French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space,” and Homer’s “The Odyssey” (or, as he once joked at a screening, Ulysses’ Wikipedia page) as among the influences on Keyhole.
  • This is the director’s first film shot on digital video. Because Maddin’s style is to evoke the look and feel of old movies, the use of actual film stock has been important to him in the past to achieve an authentic period look.
  • Maddin wrote the part of Ulysses Pick with Jason Patric in mind.
  • According to the director, Ulysses’ son Manners is named after David Manners, a “bland” (Maddin’s word) Canadian lead in 1930s horror films (Manners played John Harker in Dracula, among other roles).
  • Maddin wanted to use music by Bernard Hermann for the score but could not afford the rights to license the music. Jason Staczek wrote an original soundtrack for the film instead.
  • Keyhole was one of two movies selected as among the best weird movies of all time in 366 Weird Movies 4th Reader’s Choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Unfortunately, the image you will not be able to get out of your mind is Louis Negin’s wrinkly nudity. Negin plays Calypso, the aged father of Ulysses’ wife Hyacinth, who is chained to his daughter’s bed—naked. His chain is long enough that he is able to walk around the house where, in invisible spirit form, he sometimes whips the assembled gangsters, including one memorable moment when he flogs a mugging mobster played by “Kids in the Hall” alum Kevin McDonald as the gunman is fornicating with the ghost of a maid while she scrubs the floor.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: All of Guy Maddin’s movies are dreams, but Keyhole isn’t just a dream, it’s a dream of a ghost. An amnesiac ghost, with deep psychological issues, who finds that extracting strands of his wife’s hair from a keyhole unlocks buried memories of family tragedies. Hazy double images, avant garde editing, and unexpected color intrusions supply the visual weirdness Maddinites have come to expect and treasure, and the bizarre collision of gangsters and ghosts does the rest.


Original trailer for Keyhole

COMMENTS: Memory is sacred to Guy Maddin; his movies are always about remembering. Sometimes the connection to memory is explicit. Continue reading 147. KEYHOLE (2011)

71. HOUSE [HAUSU] (1977)

“One of the most, if not the most, original films I’ve ever seen… and I’ve seen some weird stuff.”–Ti West, director of House of the Devil

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Nobuhiko Obayashi

FEATURING: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Yôko Minamida

PLOT: A group of fun-loving Japanese school girls plan to spend their summer at a beautiful, isolated mansion, but after experiencing paranormal activity they come to realize the house itself may want them dead.  Their mysterious wheelchair-bound hostess seems to have a nefarious fate in mind for her guests, but the girls are oblivious to the warning signs.  Their affable, mutton-chopped teacher is en route to the house, but may not make it in time to save them—and indeed, has no idea they are even in danger.

Still from House (1977)

BACKGROUND:

  • Hausu was writer/director Obayashi’s first full-length feature. He had previously made a name as a director of commercials, though he had also made some experimental art films in the 50′s and 60′s.
  • The movie draws concepts from popular Japanese folklore/horror movie tropes, including a kaibyo: a half-feline, half-demon who can move between cat and human bodies. Much of the plot was actually inspired by the “eccentric musings” of Obayashi’s eleven-year-old daughter.
  • Hausu was initially intended as a horror-thriller meant to appeal to a teen audience, as Toho Studios tried to compete with Hollywood blockbusters like Jaws that were dominating the Japanese box office. The film was released on the bottom half of a double bill along with a sweet teen romance, sporting the tagline “How Seven Beauties Were Eaten!”
  • Obayashi spent two years working on the story and music, working with pop group Godiego on the soundtrack. He also inserted cultural and era-specific references in his casting of the teen-idol lookalikes. Hausu was a big hit in Japan, establishing Obayashi as a well-known and successful filmmaker.  Today he is popular for his anime and manga adaptations. In 2009 he received the imperial badge of the Order of the Rising Sun, along with Clint Eastwood.
  • Despite its popular success in Japan, House was never released in the United States until recently. After a spectacular success debuting at the 2009 New York Asian Film Festival, the film was picked up for screenings across the nation.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Almost any scene could fit the bill, but the most infamous and iconic sequence is the ravenous piano gradually chopping up the music-loving “Melody” as her friend helplessly watches. With a mixture of live-action and animation techniques, the scene depicts various body parts flailing throughout the instrument (after she’s somehow been stripped of her clothes, of course) and colorful effects. Sounds of pounding piano keys mix with screams and, for an unknown reason, laughter, as a display skeleton dances goofily in the background. It’s a strange scene, both hilarious and terrifying.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A more apt question would be, what doesn’t make it weird? Rife with images of flying heads, murderous furniture, laughing watermelons, an invisible wind machine, and a truly demonic kitty, the film’s surrealist atmosphere and ever-shifting styles are as hilarious as they are inscrutable. There is no way to get a handle on Hausu—the viewer is completely at the mercy of Obayashi’s bizarre whims.

[wposflv src=http://366weirdmovies.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/hausu_piano.flv width=450 height=338 previewimage=http://366weirdmovies.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/hausu_piano.jpg title=”Hausu clip”]
Brief Clip from House (Hausu)

COMMENTS: This movie starts off as a laughably saccharine, soft-glow teenage drama, Continue reading 71. HOUSE [HAUSU] (1977)

READER RECOMMENDATION: HOUSE [HAUSU] (1977)

The third submission in the June review writing contest: by Alex Kittle.

DIRECTOR: Nobuhiko Obayashi

FEATURING: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Yôko Minamida

PLOT: A group of fun-loving Japanese school girls plan to spend their summer at a

Still from House [Hausu] (1977)

beautiful, isolated mansion, but after experiencing some paranormal activity they eventually realize the house itself may want them DEAD!

WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST
:  “Weird” doesn’t even begin to describe this movie.  A floating head, a ravenous piano, sporadic animation, a laughing watermelon, a dancing skeleton, a glowing cat, gusts of wind that only affect one person, a host of aggressive, mobile objects, and a group of girls who REFUSE to acknowledge the weirdness: it defies explanation, really.

COMMENTS
House is a wondrous sight to behold, with delightfully trippy colors, spontaneous animated sequences, and experimental horror imagery; several sequences are reminiscent of home-made youtube music videos.  The effects are noticeably antiquated, but that just adds to the fun!  The entire film is really a collection of incredible, strange, and under-explained moments that left me as incredulous as I was tickled pink.  Cats fly, clocks bleed, mattresses, logs, and floating heads attack, skeletons dance, and a score of other ridiculous, unexpected things happen at every turn.

The bluntly-nicknamed characters are hilariously one-dimensional, each one relegated to her specific interest/trait.  Mac talks about nothing but eating, while Melody is only the focus when there’s a piano in the room (a very… hungry piano).  Fantasy is the only one who plays witness to most of the strange occurrences, and of course no one believes her for her overactive imagination.  Kung-Fu is by far the best character, handling every obstacle with badassery and no questions asked.  Also: she has the best hair.  Supporting characters include the girls’ heavily-sideburned teacher en route to the House but finding an impediment in bananas (that will make sense when you see it, I promise- well as much sense as it can make), a pudgy salesman with talking watermelons, and Gorgeous’s new step-mother, who literally cannot go more than 2 seconds without a gust of wind blowing romantically around her.  It’s a remarkable talent.

The dialogue oscillates between being frivolous and insanely over-dramatic, but the best part about it is its frequent insistence on completely ignoring what’s happening in its own movie.  Most of the weirdest scenes are just passed over by the characters without comment, and that just makes the “WTF?!” factor that much better.  House is a strange, strange, strange film and I absolutely loved it.   It’s hilarious, inventive, utterly unexpected, and lends no comparison to any other movie I’ve seen.  Look for it on Criterion in September 2010!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“You, my friend, lover that you are of the obscure, the grotesque, the inscrutable, and the just flat-out funky and awe-inspiringly eccentric, have never, ever seen anything like House (aka Hausu). Even by my permanently warped standards, House is beyond the pale: a surreal, indefinable piece of proto-Japanese horror/comedy that was made in 1977 (it was director Obayashi’s debut feature), only to find a second life at Austin’s Fantastia International Film Festival, Sitges, Fantasia Fest, and wherever connoisseurs of the outré, the outrageous, and the seriously freaky gather.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (rerelease)