Friday, October 31, 2014

Nightbreed: The Director's Cut (1990)

It's officially Halloween and I have stuff to do tomorrow, so consider this your wrapping-up post for the October smorgasbord of dreads.  You can read all about the producer-meddling tragedy and restored-footage triumph of Nightbreed right here.  This Director's Cut adds roughly forty minutes of new stuff to the chopped-up theatrical version.  I saw that version of Nightbreed when I was in high school, but can barely remember anything about it.  Fans have raved about the corrected "Cabal Cut", so let's just see if this film has been elevated to epic status.


Boone has problems.  He's plagued with dreams about a place called Midian, a nocturnal deathscape full of monsters.  Seeking help, he sees a psychiatrist named Decker (David Cronenberg!) who, get ready to be shocked, gives him medication.  Decker also informs Boone that the police are looking for him, in connection with a series of brutal slayings.  Boone has a lover named Lori.  


Fascinating, but what about the monsters?  After a very Broadway-style dream prologue, they arrive in brutal fashion, torn between attempting to eat Boone and attempting to free him.  The monsters, if you will, are the Nightbreed, the last remnants of supernatural races hunted almost to extinction by man.  Most of them look better than the one below, so don't panic.


Director/writer Clive Barker deliberately directs the audience's sympathy to the Nightbreed.  It's obvious that a lot of care has been taken in rendering them and their underground world, too.  For a film made in 1990 on a relatively tight budget, the creature effects here are just superb.  But the monsters also get to act and we frequently zoom in on emotional faces, almost like some bizarre version of Cats.


I thought some of the non-monsters also gave good performances.  This is Deborah Weston as Sheryl Ann and she doesn't get a whole lot of film time.  But her performance and Barker's decisions in one scene are just golden.  We slowly pan around an emoting Sheryl Ann as plangent country music blares from a car.  The look in her eyes tells us she just wants to be loved.


You know who else is a good actor?  David Cronenberg!  I don't know if he could handle a wide range of Gary Oldman-style roles, but this part—a cold, clinical psychologist—was pretty much made for him.  


One of the cool things about Nightbreed is that there are multiple tiers of good guys and bad guys with some folks occupying the grey-shaded midway.  It's a really strong character movie, despite its giant corps of monsters.  This compensates for a few of the flaws that do exist.  Sometimes the budgetary restrictions are easy to read and scenes that should convey an epic feel look like they were shot too tightly.  And sometimes the monster FX do fail to live up to their usual excellent standard.  Don't hate me, but one sometimes wishes for a little CGI concealment in those moments.  


Overall, I liked this.  I still don't think Nightbreed is a classic horror film and I think it says something that it hasn't engendered the kind of cult that even Hellraiser (with its many very witless sequels) has.  But, make no mistake, it's a very fun film and pretty much a must-see for anyone who loves monsters in their natural habitats.  Enjoy Satan's birthday today, I love you guys and gals!


***1/2

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Full Moon of the Virgins (1973)

A good rule of thumb for these movies is that the cooler the title, the more sucky the film itself is likely to be.  That's certainly true of Full Moon of the Virgins, which is also called The Devil's Wedding Night, clearly a standout title.  But it turns out that the devil's wedding is, like all weddings, fucking excruciatingly boring.  And if, like me, you are tempted by the title, this review should set you straight.


Besides getting rooked by the title, I was also fooled by the early scenes, which seemed to promise a great crossover.  A young occult enthusiast plans to travel to the castle of Dracula to locate the legendary Ring of the Nibelungen.  And he's taking bling consecrated to Pazuzu as protection!  That's like three icons of the fantastic getting married.  But then the movie slumps into its glacial pacing and we get what would ordinarily be filler shots: people talking at a table, a guy riding a horse across miles of nothing.  But these scenes are what this movie is all about!


You might see Rosalba Neri as the castle countess and start to hope.  Don't.  Because most of her scenes involve talking at a table.  There is some mid-movie sex, including aristocratic lesbianism, and I'll never knock naked Rosalba Neri, but she can't save this mess. 


The titular full moon signals that Neri will use the Ring (the absurd thing below) to entice a whole five virgins to her castle for a ritual that involves reincarnation, a wedding, transformation into shitty bats, all the usual fare.  Let me be clear: this movie is boring.  I will have to choose more wisely for tomorrow's entry if October is to be saved.


**

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Waxwork (1988)

Definitely one of the world's more successful horror/comedy hybrids, Waxwork wins my heart from the start by casting names like Patrick (The Howling) McNee, Deborah (April Fool's Day) Foreman, and Zach (Gremlins) Galligan.  Gremlins is probably the best reference point for the goals here: we get smarter-than-average comedy paired with horror scenes that often get laudably graphic.


A waxwork is opening and the guy dressed like Willy Wonka is its proprietor.  He offers a sneak peak to two girls who obviously haven't seen Demons.  They invite four of their friends, one of whom skips out on a massive paper assignment, risking the wrath of his Nazi-sympathizer history prof.


They misspelled "fascism", but these scenes are still a good prologue for what's to come.  Waxwork constantly hustles between laughs and frights, but plays them all with a good dose of fun.  Striking the balance well is pretty tough, but this movie does a great job at keeping things moving and keeping us from overdosing on cutesy dross.


The horror aspect of the film comes to the fore once we learn that people can magically fall into the waxworks, whereupon they must survive encounters with werewolves, vampers, and many other golden oldies.


The inventiveness and level of detail in these scenes should be commended.  The makers obviously knew that the monster scenes were going to be highlights because they put a lot of thought into framing and rendering very striking sets.  They got the pentagram right!  Good job, movie!


The creatures and their deaths are pretty spectacular, too.


Although Waxwork does seem to have a weird impalement fetish.


It's great fun throughout and the one that irked me was the portrayal of the Marquis de Sade.  Not that this actor does a bad job, it's really just that I'm tired of seeing Sade depicted as a romance novel coverboy instead of a puffy mutant, as he actually was.


But Waxwork should get credit here, too, because its portrayal of BDSM as an interest of relatively normal people was way ahead of its time.  Plus this leads to some superb Deborah Foreman acting, when her eyes fill up with embarrassment about her behavior.  If Deborah Foreman had done more ponderous & preachy films and fewer fun ones, she'd definitely have more actress acclaim.  She definitely had the skills.  But I'm grateful that she's one of ours.


We as viewers are lucky because the film ends with its strongest scenes.  What had been basically an anthology film with a really thick wraparound story ends up as an amazing monster mash.  The waxworks come to life just in time for an elongated battle royal with some senior citizens.  If that doesn't sell you on Waxwork, nothing will.


***

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

It's finally time to spend some more time with Coffin Joe.  I love the lazy setup for this sequel.  A townsperson points at Joe's corpse and says, "Look, he's still alive!" and then it's on.  I am coughin' Joe today, but will try to make this not completely atrocious, despite my cold.


As with The Evictors, the credits could reasonably be called the best part of the movie.  Names expand and hover over screaming, dying actors and closeups of their body parts.


But then there's still a movie to watch.  Coffin Joe sticks to his guns about the whole desire-for-a-son thing, since it's the only way to guarantee immortality in his pseudo-Nietzschean worldview.  Unfortunately for women, they're liable to be kidnapped and put through assorted tests before Coffin Joe picks a gal that he would actually do.  Who will be Miss Coffin Joe?


This movie does seem a bit edgier than the first Joe adventure and contains some inspired trash.  In one memorable moment, Joe opens a trap door so that his captives can watch him have sex while snakes bite them to death.


And there's a vision of hell which provides the film's only instances of color.  It's a bold choice and I liked the Dante-style portrayal of hell's torments (in theory).  In execution, though, it goes on for too long a time and the camera gets really close to the fake tridents so you can examine in detail how fake they are and see how they're not even nearly touching flesh.


Of course, Joe's scheme to impregnate someone is foiled by interlopers who are mad about all the killing he does.  It's also foiled by God, who accepts Joe's invitation to show him a miracle.  I won't spoil the miracle, but it's seriously hilarious that Joe is all, "No, this is just a coincidence!" while it's happening.   Again, these seem to be horror movies only by the loosest definitions.  Joe is a pseudo-intellectual brute, but he doesn't have any supernatural powers and doesn't have the killing prowess of a slasher villain.  Maybe things will get spookier as the series continues.  At any rate, this is just as fun as the first outing.


***

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mas Alla del Terror (1980)

I'm tired (October takes forever) and this Spanish curio isn't that compelling, so let's just zip through it.  We begin with a homely woman and her tryst with a podgy man.  She claims to be interested, but doesn't want to go to a "dirty motel".  So they go to a forest by a small road and lie down on literal dirt instead.


Turns out she's one of a quartet of criminal degenerates.  The Last House on the Left influence is very pronounced, although the dialogue is a little more simple-minded.  OMG 2 XTREME~


Dragging along an adulterous couple, they home-invade an old lady and also meet her grandson, who is crying upstairs.


The gang betty tells stories of past run-ins with sheriffs and their corrective methods.


Long story short, the old lady dies and spends her dying breaths summoning up the powers of darkness to avenge her.  Incredibly, it's at this point that what had been just a mediocre film starts slowing to an annoying crawl.


The gang end up in some temple's ruins and are summarily killed by the bruja's dark magic.  Mas Alla del Terror doesn't really offer anything that you haven't seen before and doesn't improve the execution of its well-worn tricks.  The aforementioned dialogue is pretty funny on occasion, but can't compensate for the movie's dull and tedious everything else.


**1/2

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gargoyles (1972)

Gargoyles has such a promising youth.  It begins with narration about the gargoyles, sons of the devil who he uses to assail Earth because he's bitter about being kicked out of heaven.  This happens as we see old woodcuts, William Blake paintings, and stone gargoyles perched atop cathedrals.  Then we get an A+ Gargoyles logo rendered in splendid mint green.


Epic.  But now the scale constricts a bit, as we meet Dr. Mercer Boley and his daughter Diana.  They've traveled to a godforsaken desert in search of new material for one of their books.  They find something interesting at a barren roadside shop.  Can you guess what it is?


Wrong, it's gargoyles!  Specifically, a gargoyle's skeleton, offered for sale by the proprietor, Uncle Willie.  But gargoyles don't just laugh off relic-selling like the Catholic church does and this shack is attacked.


From here, the movie basically reinforces what it told us in the prologue: gargoyles are emissaries of evil, here to destroy mankind, they pop up every few hundred years.  And they're apparently big pervs, because I can't think of any other reason why a gargoyle would be going through a lady's bathroom and then look like this when he's caught.


This is a TV movie and the reduced ambitions and resources are, at times, apparent.  But much of this is better than you'd expect.  The acting's pretty solid all around, and let's give a special ribbon of merit to Grayson Hall as Mrs. Parks, the hard-drinkin' hotel owner.  There's one scene that made me literally lol: she goes to the sheriff to report gargoyle activity and immediately finds the bottle of whiskey he has hidden in his desk.  It's like she has booze radar!


As for the gargoyles themselves, Stan Winston did their makeup, so they're often pretty decent-looking.  I was not crazy about the decision to render a lot of their movements in slow-motion (it looks really dated now, plus it exposes a lot of makeup/design flaws).  Obviously, with a TV-movie budget, this isn't going to wow you like, say, Jaws or The Exorcist.  But within a set of well-guarded borders of expectation, it works pretty well.


I think I'd be forced to praise a movie in which a gargoyle rides a horse and takes reading lessons, though.


***

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

It was probably inevitable that Ken Russell would adapt Bram Stoker's story, based on the title alone.  "Lair of the white worm" as a phrase could be interpreted two different ways and this film gives us both options.  Horror pops up, but there's no denying the sleaze factor of this film, although it's filtered through very British sensibilities and disguised as garden hoses and cave openings.  Douse with buckets of camp comedy and you've got White Worm.


Mary (Sammi Davis) and Eve (Catherine Oxenberg, mmm) have had it rough recently.  Their parents disappeared on the walk back from a pub, plus Mary's boyfriend died in some kind of piping accident.  There's a Dickens/Sade streak to their run of bad luck, but now young Scots archaeologist Angus (Peter Capaldi) has arrived to dig up the lawn.  He finds the skull of some thing, dating from the Roman occupation of Britain.


Oh yeah, and this area, Mercia, also has a famous legend in which John Dampton slew a giant white worm who was eating cows and wenches.  That's his descendant down there, played by Hugh Grant.  Grant would go on to denounce his horror past, much like Renee Zellwegger, and would also get smacked hard by karma for it.  The actors are all pretty admirable, especially in these early scenes, where they have extended dialogue-exchange scenes that get practically Shakespearean.


My VIP pick, though, is Amanda Donohoe as evil monster Lady Sylvia Marsh.  Donohoe would go on to a successful stint on the TV show L.A. Law, but spitting venom at crucifixes and dancing to Turkish flute music in her underwear had to have been her favorite part of her career, no?


Donohoe carries a lot of the film, since the titular worm stays in its lair for most of the running time.  Thankfully, she's committed to the role and keeps a good balance between camp, sensuality, and menace.  She was perfectly cast.  PS I love that this movie has a Chekhov phallus.


Sex is prominent here, but it's weird dreamy British Ken Russell sex, like a super-fetishy dream that involves airplane bondage and stewardess catfights in the aisles.


The film, with its many concerns about pagan/Christian altercations, half-naked Catherine Oxenberg, the corruption inherent in the moneyed aristocracy, fully-naked and blue Amanda Donohoe with fangs, and mockery of local customs and awful British food sometimes gets a little fuzzy and  unfocused, much like this sentence.


But don't worry, because there's always a bisected vampire or lines like "It can't be much fun playing with yourself!" to save the day.


Or a weaponized phallus.  


***1/4