Wednesday, October 31, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Movie

For Halloween itself I decided to revisit the best horror movie of the year, and one of the best of all time. I saw Hereditary (2018) opening day during it's theatrical release, and left the theater, stunned, amazed, and possibly a bit traumatized. There's one image in the film that fused onto my retinas, so that every time I closed my eyes for days after i saw the movie it was there. I can still conjure it forth with too much ease.

Without getting too much into the plot and spoiling this film, which I saw only knowing what I'd seen in the trailer, the film is pretty much about coping with grief. In this case a maternal figure with a complicated relationship to her daughter and grandchildren dies, and the surviving members of the family watch their lives unravel after that. There are suggestions of inherited mental illness, and for much of the film the viewer is made to wonder if that might be all there is to what's transpiring on screen, until one scene happens, and you know for sure.

Writer/Director, Ari Aster, makes one hell of a feature film debut with this. Everything about this movie is pretty perfect, compositions, the often time excruciating pacing, the music by Colin Stetson, the foreshadowing, art direction and cinematography are all top notch. What really sells this movie though are the performances, especially the four leads who really display some emotionally traumatized characterizations.

I saw this movie with a friend who will watch much more extreme material than I will, and afterwards he declared he was going to have nightmares for a week. This movie may be more intense than some people can handle, but it is really worth the experience.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

Halloween is allegedly the holiday people spend the most money on every year besides Christmas. My guess is that most of that money is spent on candy and costumes, since many retail outlets often have their Christmas stuff going out on the floors at about the same time their Christmas stuff does, with not a lot of lead time for Halloween and more and more for Christmas. I have a hard time believing that billions of dollars are being spent on Halloween decor since I've noticed that the houses that put up any outdoor decorations for Halloween have become pretty scarce.

Because of that, I've always made a real effort to make the outside of our house a beacon for trick-or-treaters, the one magical house in the neighborhood that gives them their real sense of "wow" for Halloween Night.

The catch though is that I don't put any decorations out until the last schools has passed through the neighborhood on Halloween day, and I take them all down in the middle of the night some time after the last trick-or-treater has long gone to bed. This way it's as if the decorations have all magically appeared and disappeared.

Our yard got to be pretty spectacular for a few years. Lately, because of logistics of the way our yard is (with no trees out front, and no outside outlets on the house to plug anything into), it's a little more sparse. But there's still something out there to ad a bit of holiday magic to the street.

Photographing our yard in the heat of setting up and attending to trick-or-treaters ends up being pretty spotty, at best, but you can see the way our yard has looked in the past beginning with 2006. Images and commentary can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie

A family scavenges supplies, makes their own home and grows their own food, performing everything carefully and with a need to move as silently as possible. The consequences, as we learn quickly, for making any sound are terrible. There are monsters lurking in the spaces around them; incredibly fast moving, lethal,  monsters with outstanding hearing. The complicate things, the mother of this family is pregnant and will give birth any time now.

In a nutshell A Quiet Place (2018) is a family drama about surviving against incredible odds. Except for one element ( a nail that's existence and location is highly improbable and rings false), everything in the movie is presented with precision. The family involves a deaf teenage daughter which allows everyone to already have a means of communicating without verbally speaking. Their carefulness and ongoing emergency preparedness allows for a horror film that doesn't require its characters to make dumb, logic defying, decisions in order for the horror to work. Most of all the film, especially through its silence, really pulls you into the family so that you are fully engaged with them and care about their survival. The cast is outstanding, especially Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, who really commands the film. This is one of the best genre films of the year, and one of best of any kind of film this year.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

Before you or your little ones go trick or treating tomorrow, you should review some important safety tips which can be found here and here.

Monday, October 29, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 2

A woman hires a naturalist to hunt down the wolves that she claim took away her son. When the naturalist begins his investigation her uncovers a much stranger and more sinister truth, and a bloodbath is unleashed upon the small Alaskan community caught up in the secrets uncovered.

Hold the Dark (2017), based on the novel by William Giraldi is a mersmerizing, intense, and not easily ingested thriller. Every thing is delivered in a very low key, matter of fact manner, and you leave the film with more questions than answers, which is something I really liked about it. It's the kind of film that invites further examination, and really makes you work for what you can extract from it. The cast is uniformly outstanding.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 1

A girl unknowingly frees a devil imprisoned by a blacksmith hermit. The devil's recapture leads to more trouble as a mob of townspeople, led by a disguised devil, descend upon the blacksmith's fortress. The end result has the blacksmith crashing the gates of Hell in order to bring the little girl back to earth, and life.

Based on a Basque folktale, Errementari (2017) is a visually striking fairy tale much like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) and Viy (1967) where the story is presented in a non-naturalistic, heightened manner, which may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I found it, even with its really simple story to be a pretty rich viewing experience. The movie also boldly features a Hell populated by pointy talked devils armed with pitchforks which was a big plus for me.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

The Halloween Parade in New York City is a huge event now, but it used to be more of a neighborhood event and part of one of my favorite Halloween memories. You can read about it here.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 2

To compliment my viewing of Creepshow (1982), I also watched Just Desserts (2007) a very solid documentary look into the making of Creepshow. Featuring interviews with cast and crew members (though Stephen King is conspicuously absent, and would have been a welcome addition) we are taken through all of the trials and tribulations (many very funny) of what it took to get this film conceived, cast, made, and distributed. There are some nice behind the scenes segments and outtakes presented among the interviews, and everything is covered from the difficulties in getting make-up appliances on Stephen King, to dealing with tens of thousands of cockroaches on set, to Ed Harris' dancing. There are also a great bundle of extras thrown in for good measure.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 1

Creepshow (1982) directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King is a love letter to EC Comics. An anthology movie, is consists of five tales and a wraparound story which stars Tom Atkins and horror writer, Joe Hill. The tone of the film, like the comics that inspired it, is very tongue in cheek, even with the extensive amount of blood and grue. The star filled film is so skillfully production designed that it implies a grand budget, when in fact the budget was pretty tiny. Unlike most portmanteau films, the quality of the segments is pretty even here. Yes, some are better than others, but there are no clunkers. John Harrison's score is perfect. This was one of my favorite genre movies when it was new. When I last watched it in the late 90s, very early 2000s, it felt a little dated to me, which filled me with sadness, and kept me from revisiting it until now, and now it doesn't really feel dated at all. It's a very fun film and perfect for Halloween.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

Today's the birthday of Elsa Lanchester, perhaps best known for her portrayal of the bride of the monster in Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Take a look at this gallery of images of this iconic role as interpreted by some incredible artists.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 2

Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), now living in Seattle, finds himself investigating a new string of murders; women found strangled, their throats crushed, blood removed via a syringe, and decaying flesh found on their necks. The killer is described as corpse-like and incredibly strong. Research leads Kolchak to discover that the same kinds of murders, with an identically described murderer have been occurring in Seattle every 21 years since 1898.

The Night Strangler (1973) is a sequel to the successful The Night Stalker (1972), and as a follow-up I think this film works even better than the original. Mathewson, returning as screenwriter, obviously has a better handle on the characters, as does McGavin, and co-star Simon Oakland, their relationship shining even more than before. The mystery is interesting, with a decent payoff, and the setting of old Seattle lying beneath the ground that modern Seattle was built on gives it an otherworldly quality.  This time Carls seems to have developed an even worse relationship to the police in his new city, if that were possible, and this makes Kolchak seem more isolated as he goes it alone to, again, prove what no one is willing to believe.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 1

Down on his luck Las Vegas reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), investigates what becomes a series of young women found drained of blood by an incredibly strong man. Initially suspecting a man who thinks he's a vampire, Kolchak begins to believe he's stumbled on to the genuine article. Law enforcement, and Carl's editor, Tony Vincenzo aren't buying into it.

The Night Stalker (1972), is a made for tv movie, which would spawn a sequel, a short lived television series, The X-Files, and a second short lived television series, was popular, and influential. It also beat Stephen King's Salem's Lot to the punch of removing the vampire from its gothic, 19th century trappings, and loosing it upon the modern world by three years. Based on a then unsold story by Jeff Rice, most of Kolchak's success comes from the performance of McGavin and with the character's relationship with Vincenzo, as well as the way he perseveres despite the constant hostility directed towards him by the police and officials of all kinds. We believe and believe in Kolchak, and root for him to succeed. Credit must be given to Richard Matheson for taking Rice's characters and breathing life into them so successfully.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27

Do you have little ones at home? Do you need some last minute Halloween craft projects for them? I have some easy ones you can print out and make at home. Take a look here, here, and here, and some masks you can make with things found at home.

Friday, October 26, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 2

Without getting too spoilery, Shin Godzilla (2016) is a stand alone Godzilla movie from Toho Studios that is not a sequel to any other Godzilla movie. Here Japan has never been menaced by a giant monster before. Godzilla has also been given an entirely new origin story and biology. He's a self mutating creature generating four forms in this film, and hinting at a truly horrifying fifth. He also demonstrates some jaw dropping upgrades to some of his more familiar abilities.

A lot of people disliked the film because of the long monsterless scenes of government officials taking meetings and making decisions on how to deal with this new threat. Yes, there is a lot of this, but it's presented in such a fast paced manner, that I didn't find it boring. The procedural material was similar to what was presented in Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996), showing the bureaucracy necessary to be able to deploy Japan's Defense Forces. The film doesn't waste any time getting started and is told in an almost documentary style putting the viewer right in the middle of events as they unfold. The Godzilla scenes are tremendous, from his unexpected, weird fish-eyed forms to his unstoppable fourth mutation. The creature, awesome as he is, always appears to be sickly and corrupt.

Toho was originally going to produce a sequel, which I would have liked to see, but have apparently shelved plans for that movie, instead planning to return to a shared universe that would feature a more traditional looking Godzilla pitted agains his familiar kaiju foes.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 1

After the death of a member of their group, four men go for a long hike in northern Sweden in his honor. After one of the men is hurt, they decide to take a short cut through the forest, where unsettling events begin to accrue, especially after they take refuge in a seemingly abandoned house with a weird effigy in its upper floor. They now seem marked by some sort of immense creatures inhabiting the forest, and as they seek for a way out, their interpersonal relationships begin breaking down making the experience more fraught with danger, and more intense.

The Ritual (2017), based on the novel by Adam Nevill is a smart horror film that takes advantage of its sinister, claustrophobic setting to amplify the tension. The forest is so densely packed with trees that not only is visibility limited, but there are times when the mysterious creature is in view and you still can't really see it for the trees. The creature itself is pretty great in a weird design that suggests something both natural and majestic and something supernatural and impossible in its design.

The plot itself is a pretty familiar one, but while the characters often make decisions that are bad ones, it's not out of lazy writing. The decision to make the short cut in the first place is a rational one, as are decisions to abandon following a direct compass driven route through the forest in order to follow an obvious path. The cast is really strong playing their characters who may sit pretty close to being archetypes, are also well rounded and authentic.

I've watched this a couple of times already and am sure to revisit it more times in the future.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26

Whenever Halloween falls on a Tuesday, or close enough, The New Yorker magazine will typically have a holiday pertinent cover. Like all their covers, these are usually pretty great. You can see some of them here.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 2

Ghosts Stories (2018) is also a portmanteau film with three stories surrounded by a wraparound tale that connects them. In this case the wraparound ends up being the most significant story and not simply something to link the other tales. Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) is a man dedicated to exposing fraudulent psychics. The man who inspired him tasks him with solving three unsolved cases, which are the three tales making up the rest of the movie; a night watchman has a really bad night; a young man hits something unexplainable with his car; and a businessman finds his home plagued by inexplicable phenomena while his wife is going through a difficult childbirth at the hospital.

The film is based on the hit stage play by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson (who also wrote and directed this adaptation), which I've only heard and read extraordinary things about. The film is really well done and knows when to hold back and when to let loose. It has it's share of jump scares, but the really unsettling bits come in the form of the nearly mundane. Like other portmanteau films, the short films within don't always come to an actual resolution, just building to a climax that leaves the rest of the story unresolved. In Ghost Stories we learn that those loose ends are intentional as the wrap around story has plenty more to say about the big picture that those short stories are simply parts of. Even so, the writer in my finds it frustrating when the stories in an anthology are incomplete in themselves. I do appreciate the effort to not only incorporate the shorts into the wraparound story, and the fact that the wraparound story was the story and not just some hastily and lazily conceived time filler that tries to convey to the viewer that they just watched a feature film and not simply a bunch of random short films one after another. Ghost Stories was not as great as I wanted to be, but it will definitely be rewatched by me, and I suspect that over time my fondness for it will grow.

Revenge of Frankenstein 200

Chogrin has curated a show which opens tomorrow at The Dark Art Emporium celebrating 200 years of Frankenstein. "The Revenge of Frankenstein 200" features some great artists presenting their interpretations of the Frankenstein monster in his numerous incarnations.

Here's mine:

This was constructed in 3-D cut paper. The 3-D is subtle, but as seen in the first two photos with the switch in lighting, still pretty apparent. If you are in southern California, stop by the gallery and see it in person.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 1

Trapped Ashes (2006) is an anthology film featuring four stories and a wraparound story connecting them. In the first story, an actress who undergoes breast enlargement surgery finds her career also enhanced, but unexpected side effects in the form of vampiric breasts. The second story involves a wife being seduced and abducted by a Japanese demon. The third story is about Stanley Kubrick's girlfriend who he passes on to his best friend when he suspects that she is an immortal vampire. The final story is about a girl who as a developing baby, shared her mother's abdomen with a tape worm who becomes her secret, avenging, sister. The wraparound story, set in a haunted house set on a studio backlot, involves the trapped guests of a VIP tour, who also happen to be the characters in the four stories being told. If you've seen any other anthology horror movie involving a wraparound story, you know what connects them all.

This was a very disappointing movie. Most of the stories didn't really come to a satisfying conclusion, and there was an overall feeling that this was made for HBO or Cinemax, cable channels which require every production to feature bare breasts, and feel like they are soft core porn. I only kind of liked the Kubrick story, mostly because of the Tygh Runyan's performance as Stanley Kubrick. The premise for the final story had promise that was not delivered.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25

Ads in comic books were pretty great, even if the actual products being (falsely) advertised were not. Through the years all sorts of ads appeared for giant monsters and ghosts that you could control. See those ads, and learn the truth about them, here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 2

I actually saw Halloween (2018) on Sunday, but didn't want to interrupt the Phantasm posts in order to post my response to it. So now that the Phantasm series has been completed here we go.

Ignoring all of the sequels and serving as a sequel only to the original film, Halloween is set 40 years later. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) lives in a remote fortress where she has spent her entire life since her first encounter with Michael Myers (Nick Castle returning to the role, and James Jude Courtney providing the unmasked Michael's role) preparing for his eventual return. This has led to a sad and complicated life for her. She's twice divorced and mostly estranged from her daughter, but has a more positive relationship with her granddaughter. People think she's a bit of a nut, but when Michael escapes custody during a transfer to another hospital, she turns out to be the only person prepared to deal with him.

As I've stated previously here I'm not a huge fan of the original film. To me it's like a tv movie, and the "force of nature" that Carpenter claims he envisioned Michael Myers (or "The Shape" as he was being called back then) as "a force of nature," it's hard to take that seriously when the character is actually pretty inept, and about equal in fighting ability to Laurie Strode. The new film was enjoyable. There were nice homages to the original (and even Halloween III: Season of the Witch). It had some story issues, including one questionable plot point from the original film, which is Michael's ability to drive a car considering he's been institutionalized since he was a small boy. In this film, the scene's even more puzzling since he couldn't possibly have been sitting in the driver's seat either.

The filmmakers seem to have been a bit influenced by the Rob Zombie remake as well as the original movie. Carpenter's 1978 version was pretty bloodless. Zombie's was a bloodbath. This new film is pretty brutal, too. Myers also seems to be more in line with Zombie's hulking powerhouse more than Carpenter's Myers who struggled to get out of a closet. The characters seemed kind of sketched out versus being fully fleshed out, and unnecessary weight was put on characters who really didn't matter to the story as a whole, while more important characters didn't have much to do and vanished from the screen for long periods of time. Also, one character's motivation and actions almost derailed the movie for me being a bit hokey and far fetched for the non-campy nature of the rest of the film. Of course, also the way the movie ends was inevitable, but doesn't really take away from the experience. I don't regret seeing it, though I'm not really the audience this movie is catering too. In the end though, while there was plenty of blood, I would have liked a bit more meat.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 1

Phantasm: Ravager (2016) is the fifth, and final, film in the series. The time-whimey dimension hopping aspect of the series comes front in center in this segment, which focuses on Reggie bouncing back and forth from several narratives. In one, we pick up shortly after the events of the previous film, with Reggie hunting for Mike and Jodie and the Tall Man while being pursued by a number of silver spheres. Following the pattern of previous episodes, Reggie picks up an unattainable woman and pulls her into the drama that he's involved in with supernatural forces.

There's also another time line, which is more in keeping with the nearly two decades that have transpired in the real world between this and the previous Phantasm world. In this one a discombobulated Reggie is rescues from a table where he's been lying for years, unconscious, with the top of his head thrust into one of the gateways to another dimension. Reggie is awakened by a group of freedom fighters, which includes Mike, Jody, and Rocky from the third film, in an Earth where the Tall Man has essentially won. Cities are now a burning wasteland occupied by the Tall Man's minions, and giant, Death Star sized spheres hover over the landscape. It is a bleak world, and one wonders if the freedom fighters can possibly win, and if they do, will there be anything left worth winning back.

The third narrative is the most interesting and completely colors the entire series. This one is set in the present day where Mike regularly visits Reggie at a nursing home where Reggie is being treated for dementia and nearing the end of his life. In this narrative, Mike has no experience with the Tall Man, other than Reggie's stories, which are taken as the product of his diminishing faculties. The worlds do all collide, and at the end, we're left with two bleak possibilities as to the true nature of the events in this series.

This is by no means a perfect film. It's obviously small budget is stretched with passable CGI which adds scope, and in terms of the weird fantasy established in earlier films, is not much of a detrimental element. The story would have benefitted with more scenes of the Tall Man, but Angus Scrimm was obviously in poor health during the filming and has limited, but memorable participation.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24

Movies aren't the only venue for really creepy looking haunted houses. There are plenty to be found in cartoons as well. Casper may be a friendly ghost, but his cartoons had an abundance of not so friendly looking abodes as can be seen here.

Scooby-Doo also had some amazing, dilapidated structures as can be seen here and here. If you are daring enough to approach any of these buildings, you may find one of Mystery Inc.'s many eerie foes such as these creeps and these villains.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23 - movie

Phantasm IV - Oblivion (1998) has the least going on in it of  any of the films this series, thus far, with the bulk of the film being made up of padding and flashbacks consisting of cut scenes from the first film.

Mike and Reggie are separated throughout most of the film. Mike spends what time he's not sitting in a car, or walking through a canyon, trying to come to terms with who he is now, now that he has one of the chrome spheres in his head, and yellow formaldehyde for blood. Is he still human, or one of the Tall Man's creatures? He has telekinetic powers, and the Tall Man, spends quite a bit of time waiting for Mike to accept his fate and to go join him. It's very much a Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker relationship now -- without lightsaber battles. Mike dimension hops a few times and sees the Tall Man's origin, which changes, nor really adds, nothing.

Meanwhile Reggie does even less, wanting to give up chasing after Mike and the Tall Man, but doing it anyway. To create the illusion that Reggie really needs to be in this film, he encounters a monster impersonating a police officer, and a damsel in distress, who ends up being a host to two spheres, and he fights some of the dwarf creatures, but that's pretty much it.

Even though this film was made with the shortest amount of time separating it from its predecessor, the inclusion of flashbacks to the time of the first film shows just how much the cast has aged in the twenty years since the original film was made. Unintentionally, the film is pervaded by a sadness for these characters who really seem to have thrown away their lives on their mad pursuit, because their visible aging shows just how long they've been at it. It would be almost 20 years before the final film would be made and released.

Opening Friday

This Friday will be the opening for the "Revenge of Frankenstein 200" show at The Dark Art Emporium in Long Beach, California. I'll be previewing the piece I did for the show here on Thursday. For details about the show visit the website.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23

I love monsters. All kinds. Here are my favorite monsters of the movies, fiction, and folklore. Monsters have appeared throughout my work in vast numbers, most of them I make up, but often times I'll take one from mythology to craft a story around. For my 2013 Halloween Countdown I showcased many of the monsters that appeared in stories I wrote. You can find them here.

Monday, October 22, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - movie

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) picks up right where the last one left off (even though 6 years have lapsed between when the films were made. This time A. Michael Baldwin returns as Mike. After waking from a two year coma, Mike is abducted by the resurrected Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) sets off to rescue him. This time he has some help in the form of Mike's dead brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) now in the form of one of the Tall Man's spheres, and Tim (Kevin Connors) an orphaned kid with a penchant for weapons, and Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) a badass woman with her own vendetta against the Tall Man.

This time the Tall Man is harvesting brains for his spheres, and continuing to create his dwarf creatures. The group traps the Tall Man within a freezer, a sphere launches from within his head, but is caught and disposed in liquid nitrogen. In the end, Mike is discovered to have a sphere occupying his own head and departs with Jody telling Reggie not to follow. Tim and Reggie then are attacked by dozens of spheres, and before Tim can save Reggie, he's whisked away by one of the Tall Man's minions as the Tall Man reappears.

While still not as magnificent as the original film, this was a step up from the second film. Reggie and his new companions don't have the same chemistry that Reggie, Mike and Jody did in the original film, but they bring their own dynamic to the story, which is much needed since Mike becomes increasingly haunted and withdrawn, and Jody now has a role similar to the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Bringing him back in the manner that they did, brought back some of the anything goes storytelling that made the original so wonderful, and was lacking in the first sequel. It also allowed the introduction of a whole new plan for the Tall Man to mastermind.

Not close to perfect, this was still fun to watch.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22

If there's any one author who embodies the Halloween spirit, it is this man here; Ray Bradbury. To me he's as much a part of the season as Jack O'Lanterns, ghosts and the colors orange and black. For years he was centrally represented in my outdoor yard decorations in the form of Jack O'Lantern filled Halloween Trees. Sadly, the house I'm currently occupying does not have any trees in our front yard, so that tradition has stopped until my next move. To learn more about Ray Bradbury's connection with Halloween read here.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - movie 2

Again, I previously included Phantasm II back in 2011's Halloween Countdown. I really disliked it back then, but on a second viewing find it to be far more tolerable. I still have some of the same complaints such as the characters of Liz and Alchemy not really contributing much. Liz, at least starts out as a guiding factor to the plot, but once she's connected to Reggie and Mike, she has a lot less to do beyond being a captive, even though she is instrumental to the climactic showdown with the Tall Man. Alchemy is essentially there to be eye candy and to begin what will be a running character trait for Reggie, making him a horny dude constantly trying to sleep with the female characters in each subsequent installment. It's not a charming trait.

The plot is much more down to earth this time, as Mike (now played by James LeGros - less jarring for me this time, but I'd rather A. Michael Baldwin had returned as Mike) and Reggie pursue the Tall Man through the trail of towns that have fallen into becoming ghost towns in his wake of grave robbing. The chrome sphere is back as are the killer dwarves, the Tall man and the hemi 'Cuda, but the relentless inventiveness of the original is not present in this film. Instead, the established tropes of the first film are locked in place as being the key elements, and no new madness is introduced to supplement them.

It's a watchable sequel, but not a necessary addition to the fine film that the original Phantasm remains.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - Movie 1

I first wrote about Phantasm (1979) way back in 2007, as part of that year's Halloween Countdown. I never wanted to repeat myself here, but since I decided I wanted to include Phantasm 3-5 in this year's countdown, I felt a need to revisit the first two.

My love for this film remains strong, from the beautiful 1971 Plymouth hemi 'Cuda, to the flying sphere, to the camaraderie between the three leads, who when I was young, seemed to be about the coolest people out there. They seem a little less cool now, but the dynamics of their relationship to one another is still really strong and what really drives this series.

I'm still amazed by all of the weird stuff that's just thrown up on screen, often without connection to anything else (such as Mike's visit to a psychic), and typically without any explanation (the fly). The only explanation we are given is that something weird is going on at Morningside Mortuary involving  the Tall Man and that he's stealing corpses, shrinking them down, packing them into barrels, and shipping them back to his own planet where they are reanimated as diminutive slave labor (due to the heavier gravity). Everything else is WTF dressing to move the plot and characters along.

It's a beautiful thing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21

While not necessarily a Halloween movie, per se. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) has one of cinema's best witches. Her transformation scene from being the queen is quite an amazingly choreographed spectacle as well. Check it out here and here.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20 - Movie

Werner Herzog's remake of Nosferatu (1922) , Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht/ Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) returns the proper names to the characters (mostly. Mina and Lucy are swapped, and Renfield is now Harker's boss instead of a coworker) from Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, which the original film was based on. Rather than being a straight adaptation of Dracula, the remake includes elements that originate in the 1922 version of Nosferatu and not with Dracula, the novel. These include the plague of rats that accompanies Dracula on his voyage, and Lucy's attempt to save her husband from the vampire by sacrificing herself. Van Helsing is also present, but presented as a skeptical man of science as opposed to the vampire expert we all know and love.

Less atmospheric than the original, Herzog's version is more matter of fact with some poetic moments and nice visuals. Klaus Kinski as Dracula is not as iconic as Max Shreck's Count Orlok, but comes off as more complex; a predatory creature wearing a more, or less, human appearance, his eyes, locked on to their prey, guiding his physical mannerisms, too. Isabelle Adjani is a haunted Lucy, and Bruno Ganz is Harker, completely overcome by his encounter with Dracula. The score by Popol Vue has a fairy tale quality to it, and some of is seems to be echoed in this year's horror stand out, Hereditary.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Dracula by Bram Stoker are both classic novels whose influence can still be felt today. Both have also been published in numerous editions. The covers to a number of versions of Frankenstein can be found here and here. Covers for Dracula can be found here, here and here.

Friday, October 19, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 19 - Movie

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is the story of a young girl whose sexual awakening happens to coincide with the arrival of a troupe of actors and a group of missionaries to her village. Also arriving are Orlik, who may, or may not be her brother, and the mysterious Constable, who is determined to obtain Valerie's earrings. The Constable is also a vampire, who was once the lover of Valerie's aunt, Elsa. He promises to make Elsa young again if she will give him the house Valerie is to inherit. This pact also turns Elsa into a vampire. The use of magic objects protects some of the characters and dooms others.

Obtusely told, this fairy tale unfolds like someone else's dream, filmed in soft light which gives it a hazy uncertain feel at some moments, and appears like a soft core pornographic film in others. It's hypnotizing to watch, and there are some arresting visuals. Jaroslav Schallerova is captivating to watch, though the way the camera lingers over her often creates an uneasy sensual feeling.

This would make a good companion piece to a viewing of Viy (1967) or The Company of Wolves (1984).

31 Days of Halloween - Day 19

Most years I posted a seasonally suitable comic book story that I wrote. The image above comes from Xombi, which you can obtain in an inexpensive paperback version from Below are some stories from other comic books told in their entirety.

Night Terrors

Spook House 

Something to Sink Your Teeth Into 

It Lurks In the Night


Man of a Thousand Monsters

Thursday, October 18, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 18 - Movie 2

After a meteor strikes outside a small California town, Martian war machines rise up out of the ground and start destroying everything in their path. The same thing is happening all across the earth, with more and more of them arriving, and nothing can stop them.

You can't get more classic than War of the Worlds (1953). Beautifully filmed with those well designed, and terrifying Martian war machines, their mysterious, and predatory nature amplified by the incredible sound design, this is simply a suspenseful tale well told. Granted, the religious angle to the film is a bit preachy, and the very visible wires and wrinkles on the backdrop are a bit unfortunate (and an instance, much like with Frankenstein (1931) where I'd be okay with some George Lucas-ish digital clean-up), overall the film remains a masterpiece.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 18 - Movie 1

I first encountered Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler through the pages of Cinemagic magazine, where he provided numerous articles on how to make props and accomplish special effects on almost non-existent budgets. Dohler was the epitome of an amateur fimmaker, creating simply from the passion to do so. The Alien Factor (1978) is one of the feature length results of this passion to create movies. Elements of this film were the source of numerous articles in Cinemagic.

The film concerns a small town dealing with a crashed spaceship that was transporting three specimens for an alien zoo, now released and on the rampage, while an outsider appears to stop these creatures, before they can kill anyone else. It's a decent premise. The outsider's true identity is not surprising, but provides a solid (if also not surprising ending). The filmmakers also get kudos for not just creating one alien being, but five. These are also not cheesy aliens in the sense that they are humans in futuristic clothing, or humans with weird ears, or bumpy foreheads, but full blown creature suit aliens (plus one delivered courtesy of stop-motion animation). Sure, everything is crafted for virtually no money, but the effort and ambition show.

The movie itself drags. The opening credits are really long (though nicely done), the acting is amateurish, the filmmaking equally so. There's quite a bit of padding, illogical storytelling (including a bullet proof monster foiled by a screen door, and dispatched with a syringe needle), wonky sound design, and a sudden halt while a band performs. It's tough to beat on something that was clearly created with a lot of love and enthusiasm, which is why I'm always willing to give Ed Wood films a pass, but Ed Wood is practically Orson Welles in comparison to Dohler's work.  It was almost nice to finally see a film that I knew so much of the behind the scenes material for, but I can't say I was glad to have used my time this way.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 18

Monsters carrying women, usually unconscious, have been a staple of monster movies and publicity photos pretty much since the beginning. I have amassed a number of these photos here and here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 17 - Movie

John Agar started with a promising acting career which he derailed with a drinking problem. Amiable in his 1950s Universal monster movies, he eventually ended up in a number of less than stellar science fiction and horror films, including Night Fright (1967), which has to be one of the worst.

Surly teens ignore Agar, as the sheriff, when he tells them to stay away from an area where a double murder has occurred, possibly by a large animal. Benevolent teens assist him. In the meantime Agar is also having trouble from Federal officials keeping him away from a rocket crash site. Could the murders, the animal, and the rocket all be connected? In a movie this simple they have to be, and we learn that the creature responsible for the deaths is an alligator muted by cosmic rays from the rocket into a ape-like creature with a spiky purple head that looks something like a Klingon, though it's hard to see exactly, since the print I watched was really murky, and is apparently the same one this screen grab I found online was from. Anyway, it doesn't really matter what the thing is, because you should never attempt to view this unwatchable mess.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 17

I've always been fascinated by "All Is Vanity" by Charles Allan Gilbert, and other versions of skull illusion art. You can learn about them and see a wide variety of examples here, here, and here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 16 - Movie 2

In Frankenstein 1970 (1958) Boris Karloff plays a descendent of the original Dr. Frankenstein. Disfigured for nazis for not cooperating with them he still lives in the family castle, but has been selling off the family heirlooms in order to buy laboratory equipment. His latest scheme is paying for a nuclear reactor by allowing a tv movie crew to film a Frankenstein movie in his castle. He also picks off the cast and crew, one by one, in order to manufacture the latest in his family's line of monsters.

This film is a real mixed bag. While I like the concept, Baron Frankenstein is pretty inept. After making his victims disappear, he keeps claiming they left, which is easily checked and found not to be true. He also activates his monster before giving it eyes, necessitating a second batch of invasive surgery to install them later. The laboratory scenes, and their pseudo medical gibberish are a bit of a chore to sit through, and the monster itself, as shown above, may be imposing in size, but is hardly enough to cause someone to die of fright (as happens with one victim). The catty banter amongst the film crew is mildly entertaining, but the bulk of this movie, sadly, is not.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 16 - Movie 1

There are many films in which Boris Karloff plays a kindly doctor, or social reformer, with good intentions, who ends up being turned into a murdering fiend. The Haunted Strangler (1958) is one of the better ones. Here he plays a novelist investigating a case in which a one armed man was hanged for a series of murders that were half strangulations, half slashings. He's convinced the wrong man was hanged and instead believes that the doctor who performed the autopsy on the hanged man was actually guilty of the crimes, especially since he suffered from left arm paralysis. Seeking the doctor's missing surgical knife, he finds it in the coffin of the convicted man. A exhumation is refused, so Karloff's character dig it up himself. He finds the knife, and once it's in his grasp he finds his left arm paralyzed and his facial features grotesquely contorted. He also finds himself compelled to murder. Once he returns to normal, he finds that no one will believe his story when he tries turning himself in, and the weird compulsion comes over him again, and again...

This film was very enjoyable, even though it starts off following the formula of many other films with a similar plot/theme. The film really takes on life during Karloff's desperate attempts to convince everyone of his own horrible crimes. Karloff puts in a great performance.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 16

Do you want to know what comic books scared the crap out of me as a kid? The one above probably would have had I owned it, but the one's found here and here certainly did.

Monday, October 15, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 15 - Movie

A murderous priest learns that his cellmate in prison committed a robbery in which the money was never found. When he is released from prison he sets out to find the robber's widow, and her two children, and to get his hands on the money. Soon, the children who have it on their possession, find themselves on the run from the never tiring patient pursuit of the evil man.

If John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) counts as a horror movie, then Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter (1955) is most certainly one. Filled with gorgeous, haunting, and dreamlike imagery, the story is told from the perspective of the two children as they are pursued by this sinister, seemingly unstoppable, bogeyman in the form a very disturbing Robert Mitchum. Mitchum's character has all of the adults believing he is a generous, kind-hearted, man of God, while only the children know better. The film has a real fairytale quality to it.

This is a gorgeous masterpiece and it's a shame that Laughton never directed another movie after this.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 15

Halloween is the perfect time to read the works of Edgar Allan Poe. While doing so, take a look at this gallery of art illustrating Poe's works by Harry Clarke.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 14 - movie

The Evil of Dracula rounds out Toho's Hammer inspired trilogy of vampire movies and is a direct sequel to Lake of Dracula. This time, like Hammer's Brides of Dracula, the action takes place at a girls' school, where the headmaster's wife has recently died. The new psychology professor finds himself having dreams of the dead woman, and is soon caught up in the middle of a mystery where the students are beginning to fall ill with strange puncture marks on their breasts and pallid skin.

This one has some striking visuals, nice plot elements and Shin Kishida as a complex vampire who is cooly suave when in his non-predatory mode and completely feral when on the attack.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 14

Does your interior, or exterior need something to make it feel more Halloween-like? Try adding some ghosts. they are cheap to make, fast to make, and just require three ingredients. Take a look at the most popular post ever from my blog to learn how.