Archive for January, 2011

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Posted in The Blair Witch Project (1999) [Matthew Nadbrzuch] on 31/01/2011 by Dave J. Wilson

“The Blair Witch Project” is one of the most controversial horror films of recent memory, and this is not due to explicit content; the movie was never banned or placed on a parents’ watch list. It is controversial due to its lack of explicit content; there are no CGI monsters or buckets of gore, bucking the trend of most contemporary horror. It derives its scares from its setting, atmosphere, and great performances from the three leads.

“Blair Witch” tells the story of Heather (Heather Donahue), Mike (Michael Williams), and Josh (Joshua Leonard); three student filmmakers who are producing a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch, who is said to reside in the woods outside Burkittsville, Maryland. They disappear during their venture, however, and the footage of what they experienced in those woods is found a year later. The film consists entirely of that footage as if it were spliced together chronologically.

The movie was preceded by an unprecedented advertising campaign, the first in history to truly utilize the internet; a website was established claiming the footage shown during the film is true and that the leads were missing and presumed dead. Posters advertising “The Blair Witch Project” were modeled to look like missing persons posters and featured images of the three protagonists. These tactics were highly effective, with many believing the advertising’s claims.

The movie was a huge box office smash, and received mostly positive assessments from the critical community. While the advertising for “Blair Witch” was successful in drumming up interest, it also proved to be the film’s undoing in some ways. There was such a buzz surrounding the movie, and many viewers were disappointed in the film’s sparseness. At its centre, the movie is about three people yelling at each other in a forest. I see this as a positive though; “The Blair Witch Project” eschewed most of the excesses and tropes, which defined the genre over the years. The film focused on our core fears of isolation and the unknown, making it one of the most frightening entries in modern horror cinema.

Matthew Nadbrzuch

out of

©2010 – 2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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CRAWLER’S CHAOS: The Rats/aka Deadly Eyes (1982)

Posted in The Rats/aka Deadly Eyes (1982) [Creepy Crawler] on 27/01/2011 by Dave J. Wilson

So, we open on this obscurity that is very very loosely based on James Herbert’s novel (it has rats too) and is not Bruno Mattei’s film, with a lecturer who is busy chatting about species of rat. He’s keeping the students’ attention so much they are passing love notes. We meet Trudy, who’s trying to get into the neat starched y-fronts of a tutor named Mr Harris (Sam Groom). Meanwhile, there’s a legal problem at the docks as some infested grain used as bait for rat exterminators has turned up. The gaffer has to leave it so the officials can burn it the following day. Scatman Crothers stands near his boss all hunched and grinning. In a dark corner, a large rat near the grain is savaging a cat! Crothers is driving in dark tunnels whilst fake rats with big teeth watch; Scatty is mumbling and acting like an irritating Uncle Tom/Bill Cosby hybrid. Credits appear – “Based on James Herbert’s The Rats.” Uh-huh. There’s also music blasts that sounds alarmingly like the score from Nights of Terror/Burial Ground/Zombi 3.

At a student party, one girl leaves baby Caroline in the kitchen whilst with friends. Cue huge rats invading the kitchen and eating the baby. Well, we see the aftermath – bloody clothes and bloody streaks on the floor. Her punishment for bad babysitting is becoming the next victim. Through a shallow political scene, we find a new subway station. Somewhere else a puppet bites a student and doctors sum up to Mr Harris that the bite is the size of a Great Dane; however, a dog’s jaw wouldn’t have the strength to sink so deep. Attacks increase as an old guy is totally owned by a dozen or so real rats (in close up shots anyway). Stereotype Crothers has to check the drains due to reports of rodents. “I got some shit in my truck that’s gonna kill yo ass!” he says to the noise of rats in the darkness, apparently he’s a pest controller. “Ain’t dis a bitch!” Some scriptwriters wear KKK gear in their spare time. Naturally, a rat glove puppet (seriously) bites him and he’s chased by hoards of dogs dressed as rats, then vanishes under a landslide of furry bodies. At least he fared better here than against Jack Nicholson’s axe…yes, it’s that Scatman.

Over coffee, Mr Harris and one of Crothers’ female co-workers discuss his death and the student’s bite. Is it possible for large rats to exist and attack a human being? They turn to the lecturer, who rightfully decides that the steroid corn feed may have something do with it, making muscle bound wrestling rats with small genitals. He figures they are using the sewers to find more food, so it’s time to gas out the sewers. However, the rodent army escape by chewing their way through various gratings and grids, and the lecturer gets it next in his basement, and a big party of rich people laugh their way through a scene when the subway opens. Can you guess the outcome of that?

Remember Trudy? As a subplot, she tries a lot of seductive tactics to capture Mr Harris, and the usual sex farce mistakes happen when Harris’ partner sees them together…ho-hum. The rats are now everywhere – basements, bowling alleys, a cinema (showing a Bruce Lee movie); where there’s darkness there’s a rat. Harris’ partner and son are at the subway party and Trudy goes to the cinema. This cinema part is especially well done (only a treasure in dust due to the rest of the film), as each row jump and scream due to their legs being torn into. This is spoiled by O.T.T slow-mo through the window crashes and a huge obviously rubber rat on a man’s back. Let’s be fair here, before CGI we had puppets and dogs in rat costumes; it was cheap and this is not the only film to do it. The cleverly named Makeup Effects Labs who handle the business wisely keep most of the action in lesser-lit areas. As we see the rats it is more hit than miss; there’s brief gore via throat bites and a quick Romero style nosh down to keep us happy. The standoff with Harris and family vs. endless rat crowds is very gripping at times since it occurs in a dark and long subway tunnel.

Downsides? I’ve mentioned Scatman Crothers’ toe curling performance, and really, the character of Mr Harris is as bland as possible. Also, the rat noises are a cross between cats and Gremlins mixed with the Tasmanian Devil; more funny than scary. It’s a hard watch truth be told; against Willard and Ben, this movie really blows! Saying that, you have to see the great ending that is a set up for a sequel, which never happened, and the cinema scene is well worth a view.

out of 

©2010 – 2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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CRAWLER’S CHAOS: The Hanging Woman (1973)

Posted in The Hanging Woman (1973) [Creepy Crawler] on 19/01/2011 by Dave J. Wilson

Here’s to another Naschy epic. Where to start? Our opening shot is of a funeral whilst a Goth like girl prowls around. Loud music plays and a bearded Paul Naschy bites his nails. When a storm begins, the mourners scamper away leaving the priest, who after hearing a scary noise performs the most unbelievable run away in film history, with an umbrella. Trust me, its solid gold. The Goth girl lets herself into the crypt and is killed by an unseen creature that snarls like a dog. Meanwhile, Serge Chekof (Stelvio Rosi as Stan Cooper) is a stranger in town, who wanders around a bit then heads for the cemetery; turns out he’s arrived to claim his inheritance from the dead man. “I have no fear of the dead, as for the living”… he shows a gun then proceeds past the cemetery. After hearing noises from the dark, he ventures in, “If you’re not a spirit now, you soon will be.” His lines are simply amazing. He finds the Goth hanging from a tree, and right on cue, the title flashes onto the screen to spoon-feed us.

Looking for help, he meets Ivan and family who happen to be related to the girl. The crime is reported and a standard crimson autopsy follows. A pipe smoking Inspector with a pervert beard arrives to smirk at everyone. Naschy, let’s not forget him, spends a lot of the film being chased around the graveyard almost Benny Hill style for being called Igor (again), and for being a necrophilliac gravedigger. He even has a box of used knickers! “The scum,” comments the Inspector; Paul Naschy is number 1 suspect. Perhaps the weirdest thing in this movie is the announcement of the Goth girl’s cause of death; the cast have been discussing possible murder when they find out she died of a heart attack BEFORE being hanged, ruling out foul play until a comment about fear in her eyes. So, corpses just go about hanging themselves for a laugh around there.

The film has a great old gothic feel, and for the first half can be mixed into the giallo genre. Then it suddenly changes into something else with elements of magic, spirits, and a few rather creepy zombies similar to the ones in Horror Express… those ones scared me as a kid, trust me. There’s brief gore including a nifty beheading with Argento like bright blood, and a lot of zombie action including Naschy walking around with a big knife fixed into his chest. The trouble is the film is just so dull; the cast are bland and euro hairy and the plot muddles itself so badly it cries in a corner.

La orgía de los muertos, a Spanish/Italian production directed by José Luis  Merino, has had many titles – Orgy of the Dead, Beyond the Living Dead, Return of the Zombies, and Troma have released it as The Hanging Woman. The disc also has a bonus film called The Sweet Sound of Death; after five minutes of this, my eyes simply refused to watch more, threatening to blind me forever, but it did have a b/w Something Weird Video feel to it. Extras are lacking Lloyd Kaufman and his usual antics with Toxie and nude women; instead, we have cast interviews and a 10-minute overview of Paul Naschy’s career. In Naschy’s interview, he clearly doesn’t like the film, but points out he wrote in the more interesting elements, i.e. zombie Igor and necrophilia.

Can I be unfair to the memory of Paul Naschy, and simply say don’t waste your time with this movie? It isn’t up there in the ranks of say Horror Rises from the Tomb or Werewolf Shadow, but has one or two interesting ideas dotted about. Perhaps if it had been better written, directed, acted, and scored… hang on, that’s not leaving much in its favour is it? Well, the zombies are cool.

out of

©2010 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

City of the Living Dead (1980)

Posted in City of the Living Dead (1980) [Dave J. Wilson] on 13/01/2011 by Dave J. Wilson

Click here to go directly to this article at its new home at Cinematic Shocks.

 

 

CRAWLER’S CHAOS: The People Who Own the Dark (1976)

Posted in The People Who Own the Dark (1976) [Creepy Crawler] on 12/01/2011 by Dave J. Wilson

This Spanish film directed by Leon Klimovsky, was kind of like a Holy Grail to me; I’d heard about it, seen posters all over Ebay, and read up on what sounded like an excellent story, but there was no DVD releases or any decent priced VHS sales. It took me a few years until I managed to get a hold of it, when I bought a DVD copy transferred from a VHS for a fiver. It was a few months to get round to watching it, but when I did it was a blast. It was nothing like I expected; is that a good thing or a bad thing? Half-and-half really.

We meet Paul Naschy as Bourne, minus joke shop werewolf hair, and shooting the same bird three times whilst drinking scotch from a table in a field and acting very business like. We then meet other businessmen and women who are planning on meeting up at a manor house in the middle of the countryside. We have doctors, psychiatrists, etc. The reunion goes on and they all decide to head to the cellar and perform a ritual whilst wearing assorted rubber masks (!!??!). Suddenly, a low rumble splits the ceiling and goes on getting louder. Heading back into the house, a pigeon is flying wildly into the wall, its eyes totally white, as are the maids – a similar appearance to Emily in The Beyond. The phones and radios are dead, and they are isolated.

“The idiots! The fools! Huh Huh!”, exclaims a cast member when they figure out that they’ve missed a nuclear explosion. To avoid the oncoming radiation clouds, they plan to stock up on supplies and hide in the cellar for a month or two. This means heading to the local village where they discover the survivors are blind and very desperate for help and are protective of their food. This problem isn’t helped when one of the rich lads decides to stab a blind villager who stumbles around sightlessly with a rifle. Most of the villagers are in the church bouncing off the walls all wearing sunglasses or bandages to save on contact lenses. The same rich lad decides to open fire on a few, and you know all hell will break loose soon.

Back at the manor, one doctor cracks and becomes a sort of fat, bearded, naked gibbering lunatic on all fours. This scene is incredibly random; out of nowhere, he scuttles by a doorway all nude. Two younger cast members take their chance by heading to the village and find out just how mad the blind villagers have become; they are beaten to death by sticks. Soon the crowds are surrounding the manor and begin an Assault on Precinct 13 siege, heavily inspired by Night of the Living Dead… hands through the door, that sort of thing.

If you can ignore the plot holes and lack of reality, there is much to enjoy here. Some scenes are quite tense as characters sneak around rooms filled with the blind. The film is bloodless, apart from a brief eye gouging and one or two bullet shots. Paul Naschy takes a step back and Alberto De Mendoza takes central place as Professor Fulton. It’s all rather predictable if you’ve seen endless zombie or post radiation movies, or even Romero’s The Crazies, but it is enjoyable. Be in a charitable mood.

out of

©2010 -2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

CRAWLER’S CHAOS: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Posted in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) [Creepy Crawler] on 09/01/2011 by Dave J. Wilson

Okay, okay, you’ll all look at this and say “Pah! Sci-Fi? Why, this is meant to be horror! Damn you Crawler!” and so on. However, this film is perhaps the only Star Wars rip off to feature the removal of an arm via a futuristic chainsaw (with lights on it), a severe stabbing with green blood, scar faced mutant bad guys raping a woman (only suggested but quite effective), and Sybil Danning dressed as a space fantasy dominatrix with chest valley on show. Forget Caroline Munro in Star Crash folks, this is the real deal! There is a pretty horrific burning, ears bleeding, and most shocking of all – George (A Team) Peppard and John Boy Walton!

John Saxon plays Sador, the overlord of a galactic empire who takes his crew and army of scar faced and mistake like warriors planet to planet with the intentions of enslaving the populations. His ace card is the Steller Convertor, which is similar to the power of the Death Star only more graphic – this baby literally cooks the planet slowly. They arrive at Akir, a peaceful planet with a population of robe wearing crowds who don’t really know what to do in the face of such violence. Zed, an old blind man who recalls more harsher times, loans his ship to Richard Thomas (Waltons), and a mission commences to follow producer Roger Corman’s great ideas and rip off The Magnificent Seven… interesting to note, Corman reused scenes for about another two cheap knock offs afterwards.

So off goes John Boy, with the company of a ship’s wise ass talking computer that sounds like Whoopie Goldberg sat in the audience in Jerry Springer’s studio. He collects a bag of mercenaries and people who hate Sador, oh and telepathic aliens who have no reason to come along apart from the experience. These saviours of Akir are treated with fear by John Boy’s people at first… bear in mind, they include a mean spirited Robert Vaughn as Gelt, who is the same character he played in the Seven under the name of Lee. Also included is a big loud lizard freak who has a tattooed sidekick and two bald headed electric fires with him (trust me on this), and there is Sybil Danning’s rather shocking tits.

They soon warm to their heroes, and after a little talk around the fire, the first attack comes. George Peppard who plays Cowboy (!!) leads the ground force whilst John Boy takes to the stars with Gelt, the lizard, and a few others. Here’s where the film really takes an adult turn, proving it was never really sure of its audience; we see a sonic tank that bursts eardrums so gushes of blood oozes out, and we see a hell of a wham to the guts stabbing. After the battle comes the chainsaw arm scene… I’ll say no more. The second attack is an epic balls to the wall space fight with many deaths and prolonged acting by John Saxon, who is a pure master in any roll he performs. Oh, and Sybil Danning really screams at one point.

So, that’s the story. As for the rest, I have to say that the effects are excellent for the era; decent model work, good rubber masks, great zap gunfire bolts… the team have really taken care on this film. The acting by all the main stars is spot on, they seem to really enjoy the material, but the under-stars let the film down; some of John Boy’s people are as wooden as Keanu Reeves. The music by James Horner is well worth a listen to (one part has been sampled by cult NYC rap group Non Phixion on their track Futurama) and, apart from a really long drawn out section in which John Boy meets his love on a space station manned by androids, the film never slows its pace. The horror elements work very well and help elevate what may have been just another George Lucas rip off…, which it is, but it has a good script. Additionally, this was my favourite film as a kid… I think that answers a lot of questions. Umm.

out of

©2010 – 2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Posted in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) [Matthew Nadbrzuch] on 08/01/2011 by Dave J. Wilson

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” directed by Tobe Hooper, is a landmark film in the annals of American horror cinema. In its portrayal of Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding lunatic, it is a precursor to the slasher sub-genre inhabited by numerous other fringe-dwellers wielding a cornucopia of sharp-edged objects, including the legendary Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. The film’s cinema verite style gives it a frighteningly gritty realism, the influence of which can be seen in the infamous “Cannibal Holocaust” and the controversial “Blair Witch Project”.

The film follows the exploits of a group of young adults cruising through the barren wastelands of rural Texas in a dilapidated van. The group includes Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), and her disabled brother Franklyn (Paul Partain), who want to investigate their grandfather’s possibly vandalized grave. They pick up a bizarre hitchhiker who sets fire to a photograph of the group before he is kicked out of the van. Little do they know that they are now marked for a grisly end. After stopping at a gas station run by a peculiar old man (Jim Siedow), they decide to stop at the Hardesty siblings’ grandfather’s abandoned farmhouse. As the group partakes in the requisite foolish investigation of the surrounding property, they run afoul of the hitchhiker, the old man, and the aforementioned Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen). Needless to say, carnage ensues.

One of the most effectively unsettling aspects of the film is its sense of realism. Director Hooper filmed on location in Texas, and hired unknowns to play all of the roles. The film stock itself has a grainy washed out look, evoking a ‘found footage’ feel. As a friend of mine and son of the Lone Star state informed me, the movie “feels like Texas”; something sorely lacking in the film’s 2003 remake (among other things). Those who have not seen “TCM” might be surprised to know that it relies more on suggestion than actual gore to frighten the audience. The kills in the movie, while undoubtedly brutal, happen very swiftly. The camera does not linger on the action after the fact. Instead of viscera flying around the room, the film utilizes the pervasive dread inherent in the isolated locations. The gradual narrative further provokes the anxiety, as a relatively benign opening slowly transforms into an inescapable nightmare.

This movie has received a more positive reception from the mainstream critical establishment than most horror films. It was selected for the 1975 Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight, and the Museum of Modern Art acquired a print of the movie for its permanent film collection. These accolades are well deserved, as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is not just a great horror movie; it is a great piece of cinema in general terms.

Matthew Nadbrzuch

out of 

©2010 – 2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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THE FULL FILM


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