Friday, October 31, 2008

31 films of halloween (part 3)...

Ok, it's a little after the fact, a little late, but here's the rest of my list of 31 films for Halloween. Now that Halloween is over, watch them anyway, and pretend it's Halloween. Or something. Anyway, enjoy. Happy Halloween!

21. Eyes Without a Face (1959)- Georges Franju's haunting, stylish film used to be something of a cinephile's secret. Art houses like New York's Anthology Film Archives would roll out a well-worn print around Halloween time. Now it's been remastered, briefly re-released and issued on a Criterion DVD. Bratty as I may be, I feel a little resentful that I have to share this movie with the rest of the world now. Simply, one of the best horror movies ever made. At least I have a nice DVD of it now. "Eyes Without a Face" has been unofficially remade by Michael Pataki as "Mansion of the Doomed" with Lance Henriksen in 1976, and by Jesus Franco as "Faceless" in 1988. See the original, though. Did I mention that I really love this movie?

22. A Bucket of Blood (1959)- This early Roger Corman film, written by Charles Griffith, is remarkable on several levels. It was among the first to combine humor and horror in such as fashion as is still often imitated today. It's also the only film in which the great character actor Dick Miller has a leading role. He's terrific as an emotionally unstable, somewhat dimwitted busboy who longs for acceptance among the beatnik elite. His story is not only humorous, as he becomes an overnight art star by casting scultpures around the corpses of his victims in an intially accidental kill spree, but also heartbreaking, as Miller's performance as Walter Paisley makes the character particularly loveable, we really don't want to see him as a villain, and we don't want to see him get his comeuppance. This has been remade several times as well, including an offical, made-for-cable remake in 1995 with Anthony Michael Hall in the lead. Justine Bateman is the female lead, played by Barboura Morris in the original (directed by Michael McDonald from Mad TV, it also features David Cross, Will Ferrell, Mink Stole, Jennifer Coolidge, Shadoe Stevens (!) and the late, great Paul Bartel, and it's better than you think it is, though it's still not that great). Joe Dante and other filmmakers who have subsquently cast Dick Miller in their films have often called his character Walter Paisley.

23. The Night Walker (1964)- William Castle's films are better known for their gimmicks and clever marketing campaigns (and, in the case of "House on Haunted Hill" and "13 Ghosts," tepid remakes), but he was actually a pretty decent filmmaker. "The Night Walker," writte by Robert Bloch, is effective and atmospheric, even if it does have basically the same plot as most of Castle's films (someone may or may not be going insane, or someone may be trying to drive them insane, or something). Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor are the stars, and the awesome instrumental theme is by Vic Mizzy (best know for the "Adams Family" theme). "I Saw What You Did" (1965) is another great horror films by Castle, and another one with an inexplicable made-for-TV remake, from 1988.

24. Masque of the Red Death (1964)- Another great Roger Corman film, this time with some seriously psychodelicate cinematography by "Don't Look Now" and "Man Who Fell to Earth" filmmaker Nicholas Roeg (who also served as cinematographer on Truffaut's Fahrenheint 451 and Richard Lester's Petulia, which is almost kind of a horror film in its' own weird way, maybe). Vincent Price is in top form here as the sinister, decadent Prospero, and he's got Hazel Court, Jane Asher and unsung hero of horror Patrick Magee supporting him. The sequences with the multicolored rooms are pretty dazzling.

25. Scream and Scream Again (1970)- Genuinely weird mixture of horror, science-fiction and dark comedy, starring a tryptich of fiendish fiends Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Some people will probably remember this as the movie where a guy keeps waking up in a hospital bed with limbs missing. Director Gordon Hessler also made "The Oblong Box" with Lee and Price, "Cry of the Banshee" with Price and "Murders in the Rue Morgue" with Jason Robards and Herbert Lom, all of which, as well as this film, were written by Christopher Wicking, also a co-writer on "To the Devil a Daughter."

26. Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)- I've often used the word "listless" to describe the films of Lucio Fulci. Sometimes, it feels like the films themselves don't want to exist, they sort of drag on despite themselves, somewhat apocalyptically. This earlier film, what I guess you'd call a giallo, is somewhat more spirited, though the story is, in true giallo fashion, almost incoherently, it's held together by a series of strong setpieces (how about that ending!), odd visuals and great music, with a few really swinging psych-pop rock numbers, by Riz Ortolani. Florinda Bolkan stars with Barbara Bouchet, Thomas Milian and Irene Papas. Fulci's "Lizard in a Woman's Skin," also with Bolkan, is just as good, if not better.

27. Torso (1973)- Another psychedelic giallo, along the lines of "Autopsy," this one directed by Sergio Martino. Again, it's less about story than visuals. This one really swings.

28. The Deadly Spawn (1983)- This ultra low-budget film with really impressive special effects is an odd mix of understated likeability and extreme gore. It's pretty fascinating. The violence is pretty graphic and fairly brutal, but filmmaker Douglas McKeown really takes his time with the characters, too, and they're sketched in such a way that might usually be found in a much tamer film. So you have these likeable monster movie loving kids, some eccentric old women and a few smart teenagers (to its' credit, the movie actually makes a point of making its' teen characters smart), it feels like PG terroritory, but then there's these crazy tentacled, giant toothed aliens (great special effects puppetry and miniatures) ripping people's heads off and shooting lampreys into old women's faces and stuff. But it's sincere, and it works, and you should see it.

29. The Stepfather (1987)- Joseph Ruben's domestic slasher, with great Canadian character actor Terry O' Quinn as the titular menace, actually has something to say about families, the failure of the "ideal" nuclear family and the menace of patriarchy. O'Quinn is amazing as a seething agent of rage who demands perfection, and kills when he doesn't get it. Jill Schoelen, who did a number of horror films in the 80s and whom I've totally had a crush on forever, is the stepdaughter who stands up to him. Shelley Hack, from "Charlie's Angels" (of all people), is the mom in the middle. This is one of those movies I assume everyone has seen, then I bring it up and people haven't heard of it, although it's gotten pretty universally good reviews and even been the subject of some academic writing. For some reason, I don't think it's on DVD, although its' inferior sequels are (or at least "the Stepfather 2" is, it's not that bad but it isn't that good either. In the third one, which really is bad, they couldn't get O'Quinn back, so his character undergoes plastic surgery).

30. Prom Night 3- the Last Kiss (1990)- "Hello Mary Lou, Prom Night 2" is better than the original "Prom Night" (and also pretty much totally unrelated to it), and this one is even better than the second one. It's got style, humor and weird visuals in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" vein. There's a killing by giant ice cream cone in this one. There was another, lesser, sequel ("Prom Night 4- Deliver Us from Evil"), and this year, a remake of the original (didn't see it, but "Prom Night" with Jamie Lee Curtis is actually pretty bad, so for once it might be some kind of improvement, though probably not), but it's really 2 and 3 that you need to see.

31. The Ruins (2008)- A new horror film...but I liked it. Saw this in the theatre with a few friends, and we were laughing uproariously the whole time, then a few days later, we reconvened and, in the interim, it had dawned on all of us individually how much we actually enjoyed the film, not just as camp, but as a genuinely good movie. A few of the more visceral moments are genuinely harrowing, particularly when the girl is trying to cut the vines out of herself with the knife, it packs a hearty emotional punch. Decent cast, too.

Thanks for spending your Halloween season with Negative Pleasure! Regular programming, which is virtually identical to Halloween programming, will recommence shortly...

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