Saturday 17 February 2018

Horror roundup - 32 (36 inc. the Fly/It's Alive sequels, 37 inc. Brotherhood of Satan)- Dreamscape, Last Voyage, F/X, It's Alive, Moon Zero Two, Three O'Clock High, Tam-Lin, Mumsy, Nanny, the Fly, X the Unknown,

The Witchmaker (1969) - Atmospheric if kind of dull horror, by L.Q. Jones and his mates, later to make the similar Brotherhood of Satan (1970),  good production values, nice sets lit in a Poe-Corman-ish manner, and swampy locations, but hasn't got much going for it.  The end has a neat climax that prefigures the later Devil's Rain, but features a lot more swamp drownings.

The Last Voyage (1960) - It's probably a good film, but its novelty is ruined by the fact that a. the crux of the film was used again and again as stock footage, and b. The Poseidon Adventure is more fun. The Last Voyage is rather dry, and the documentary style means characters are secondary. I like my disaster movies fun (though I am bored by the overlong Towering Inferno (1974)).

Flesh + Blood (1985) - Though I like Total Recall, I find Verhoeven's other dramas unwatchable. This is basically an R-rated, sexy, bloody reboot of his old Rutger Hauer kids' TV show Floris, but for the VHS age. The equivalent of making White Horses into an Emanuelle knockoff.

Dreamscape (1984) - A rather forgettable conspiracy thriller with a good cast, and a better poster. Like a lot of 70s films pre-Elm Street, e.g. The Premonition (1976), etc. - films that were emblematic that US horror in the 70s was kind of forgettable, even with good casts, the indie films tend to be oddly bland and oddly transgressive at the same time, and that those with higher aspirations just bore.

F/X (1986) and F/X 2 (1989) - the thing with these films is that the tone is not heightened enough for Bryan Brown and his character.  Needed to be a bit more pulpy/superhero ish, the problem with pulp adaptations or spiritual adaptations. The second one isn't as good but has a good twist. And the theme tune's by Imagination. 

The Girl in the Yellow Pyjamas (1977) - Typically routine giallo, Mel Ferrer and Ray Milland appear, lifted by being shot in Australia. A typical Italian potboiler (the titular girl is a burnt corpse with a remaining eyeball in a golden nightie) lifted by some well-shot Australian scenery. Pity the film isn't as good as the theme tune by international disco-chanteuse of mystery, Amanda Lear.

It's Alive (1974) - A good drama. Neatly performed, but Larry Cohen's stuff is like marmite. The characters aren't likeable, apart from John P. Ryan's excellent performance (It's Alive III misses his presence, Michael Moriarty is good but he doesn't do haunted like Ryan),  and the budget does restrict. The sequels expand the world, but it becomes silly. A Return to Salem's Lot (1986), The Stuff  (1985) and God Told Me To  (1976) I find are Larry Cohen's best films. The rest tend to be messes, enjoyable messes at times but still. I think he is like Brian Clemens, a decent, dependable TV writer (and I have kind of gone off episodic TV drama - too samey, even the anthologies) and a more interesting man than most of his films, who can at times come up with something brilliant, but a lot of his work is unique but messy. sometimes either too weird or not weird enough to work.

Three O'Clock High (1987) - Typical 80s high schooler - a subgenre I never warmed to once I became a teenager (see also US sex comedies), enlivened by a few sub-Raimi jokes and some good performances by the adults - John P. Ryan, Philip Baker Hall, Jeffrey Tambor and Charles Macaulay.  

Equinox (1970) - Good monsters, but otherwise an amateurish venture on a level somewhere between Blood Feast and Creation of the Humanoids. Clearly made by monster-mad kids, but still a home movie.

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1958  - B/W) - Noirish but not very engrossing sub-Creature from the Black Lagoon fare, same makeup team and all.

Moon Zero Two (1969) - Not as fun as it should be, ITC-like, got that live-action Gerry Anderson feel where the heroes are even wooden and characterless than puppets. It's all very UFO - nice modelwork, girls in funny wigs, but everything's cold and although there's some fun cameos from Michael Ripper and some overdone western elements (i.e. people in cowboy outfits for no real reason), it just  doesn't gel. Warren Mitchell has fun, and Bresslaw tries his best, but take the monsters of the shonky Green Slime (1968), and put them in here - and it'd have worked.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) - Typical Spanish horror - a few interesting images - skeletal horse-riding monks' corpses massacring a steam engine, but endlessly drawn out and sloppily put together.

Tam-Lin (1970) - Ava Gardner and Ian McShane in an annoying ITC-style psychedelic erotic thriller. Nice locations. For all my childhood obsession with the Wicker Man (1973), I find that film a pleasng musical comedy with queasy horror overtones, a sort of demented Scottish sex comedy, a Pagan pantomime  where Lee is the dame and Abanazer all in one, a variety show that builds up to that wonderful thing - a virgin sacrifice. This has a similar but slightly more rigid feel, despite having Cyril Cusack as a fruity vicar. It's nicely photographed, but all the characters are annoying sex-mad flower children, sort of like Blofeld's lovelies in OHMSS (and Jenny Hanley and Joanna Lumley turn up again). It feels stretched beyond its means. If it had been a TV anthology episode, it might have worked. Roddy McDowall, in his only film as director does it quite well, but it's a nonsensical eroticisation of Scottish myth. Some moments, i.e. the fiery inferno feel like a slavesploitation film, but with hippies instead of blacks, in other words boring, rather than toe-curlingly embarrassing that you can't stop watching. Gardner is convincingly terrifying, but possibly unintentionally.

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1970) - Freddie Francis' erotically-charged dark satire on the British family. Tonally all over the place, the innocence of the adult characters and the psycho-sexual awakening doesn't quite work. If it had been a TV production, with the more queasy sadistic elements chopped off and the childish camp played up, it might have worked in a hyped-up Avengers way, but it stands as an interesting failure. Like Tam-Lin, and inverted in Straight On Till Morning (1972), it gives us an unlikeable figure, usually a childish killer in swinging Europe and then tries to make them sympathetic, even though when we already know they are maniacs or at least dodgy sorts. It's Alan Hawe syndrome - making a psycho a saint. You can make a killer an audience surrogate, but usually if you pair them against someone worse. Not here.

Curtains (1983) - Neatly shot in attractively bleak Canadian locations, with an interesting killer (a cousin of the androgynous Compo in Pete Walker's the Comeback), but with its cold, middle of Canadian nowhereland setting, innately dull despite itself. Despite its film setting, with John Vernon as a director, Samantha Eggar as a method actress, and Linda Thorson as one of the cast, it doesn't make much of the Hollywood North setting. There's scenes in a Canadian comedy club, and Linda Thorson reading Variety, and hr agent moaning about the trades,  but it could be anywhere, and maybe that was the point. The film they are making isn't a horror, which is a shame, as it would have created some biting satire on the industry at the time, but no, we get a horror that thinks it is a Canadian soap opera. The ending is neat, but the film itself is evidence this was a tough shoot.

Also saw similarly themed psychodramas Julie Darling (1983), where Anthony Franciosa wanders around Canada and West Germany posing as the US, to contend with his loving but crazy daughter who is either fifteen or twelve, but played by a nineteen year old, directed by a German calling himself "Paul Nicolas" (note the lack of H),  and Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1982), which was a video nasty (the Young Ones watch it in their episode - "Nasty"), and stars Susan Tyrrell, the American Nurse Gladys Emmanuel as a crazy woman who loves her son too much, and despite being a nasty, was directed by sitcom/Beach Party vet William Asher, and produced by Comworld, a company initially founded as Osmond Enterprises, and then sold by Donny, Marie, Jimmy, and the other ones to Burt Reynolds. Both typically duff 80s horror, made without much care. Both films could be interchangeable, if they featured the same genders in the same roles. Both belong in the same bargain bin as  a dozen or other 80s horrors with melodramatically melancholy theme tunes and little else.

Blue Monkey (1987) - When Canadian films try to be American, they are usually a mess. This is no exception, like an overlong episode of a bland cable anthology. William Fruet is a bit of a hack. His films are usually samey, even Spasms, lots of darkness. Then again, he directed episodes of Goosebumps and a few other TV shows, so there's a reason why it feels a bit telly-ish. The OTT hair and looks of some characters seem to suggest a spoof, other details don't.

Dr. Dowell's Testament (1980) - Slow, overlong Soviet twist from Lenfilm on the tired old "ranting disembodied brain/head" genre of sci-fi. Set in an overcast Caribbean, i.e. the Black Sea. Quite unique though, gives its subgenre a weird spin.

The Fly (1958). Weirdly, never seen this. Seen the sequels, and bits of the remake, but I'm not a Cronenberg fan (The Brood's too clinical, The Dead Zone the same, it is good, the cold Canadian landscape works, but it's too serious and a little bland - could have been a bit more like The Medusa Touch but actually consistently good). As for the 1958 The Fly, The  production is grand, even though it doesn't convince as Quebec. The cast is good. Vincent Price looks happy to be in a relatively plush production. It has a sexist kid - "she changed her mind - you know how women are", while Kathleen Freeman is actually quite good in a serious role. One of the better B-movies. Well performed, well staged, well-paced = a good film.

Cul De Sac (1966 - B/W) - Polanski nonsense, as usual. Trying to make an Eastern European comedy in England and failing.

Happy Birthday To Me (1981) - Too much Degrassi-esque stuff (i.e. electrifying the teacher's hair during class) is in there, though having the lead (played by Melissa Sue Anderson, Blind Mary Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie) having a home life that is essentially a godawful Canadian Dynasty knockoff is fun, with the bitchy mother and her father being in Caracas. The teacher's accent I couldn't discern if she was Irish or Newfie. And Glenn Ford appears to be in a different, better film, one that J. Lee Thompson thinks he is making. There is a better film in there, but the actual film is too long. It is better directed than most  other slashers. A few choice moments sneak in - the bellringer death is a Phibes-worthy punchline.  But the doppelganger plot is confusing. A bit Clemens. One of the better-made Canadian horror ventures, but it's a disappointment.

X The Unknown (1957 - B/W) - Most fun of the 50s British SF movies. Proto-UNIT era Doctor Who.

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