Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 2.6 “The Thing From The Grave”


Welcome to tonight’s excursion into televised horror!

These old episodes of Tales From The Crypt are pretty fun, aren’t they?  Originally, I was planning on only showing Tales From The Crypt on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday but I’ve been enjoying the show so much that I’ve decided to add a Tuesday showing as well.

Tonight’s episode is called The Thing From The Grave and it originally aired on May 8th, 1990.  It stars Teri Hatcher as a model who falls in love with a photographer played by Kyle Secor (yes, the same Kyle Secor who went so brilliant over the top in The Purge: Election Year).  Hatcher’s boyfriend, an abusive asshole played by Miguel Ferrer, gets revenge but, since this is Tales From The Crypt, things don’t go quite the way that Ferrer intended.  Nothing can kill love, which is something that I’ve always believed!

This episode was directed by Fred Dekker, who also directed a brilliant film called Night of the Creeps, which I really should review someday.

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Tombs of the Blind Dead (dir by Amando de Ossorio)


(After you read my review, be sure to check out Arleigh’s thoughts on this film!)

If you really want to see something scary this Halloween season, I suggest tracking down Tombs of the Blind Dead, a Spanish film from 1971.

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Who are the Blind Dead?  Well, the obvious answer is that they’re a group of dedicated horsemen who have not allowed being both dead and blind to keep them from accomplishing their goals.  Of course, since all of their goals are evil, that’s not necessarily a good thing.  When they were alive, the Blind Dead were 14th century knights.  (The usual assumption is that they were Knights Templar, even though this is never specifically stated.)  Accused of witchcraft and heresy, the knights were executed and, as their corpses hung from the gallows, bird pecked out their eyes.  The bodies were eventually buried in an isolated Spanish monastery.

The future members of the Blind Dead

The future members of the Blind Dead

Jump forward six centuries.  The year is 1970 and Spain is still under the repressive grip of the feared dictator, General Francisco Franco.  (This is important because some critics have suggested that the Blind Dead were meant serve as a metaphor for Franco’s regime.)  The monastery sits deserted, an otherwise menacing ruin on the beautiful Spanish countryside.  There’s a train that regularly runs by the monastery but the train’s conductor is always quick to tell his son to never stop the train.  The monastery, he explains, is a cursed place and no one should go near it.

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Unfortunately, someone does go near it.  A passenger on the train, Virginia (María Elena Arpón) is annoyed that her boyfriend, Roger (Cesar Burner) has been flirting with Virginia’s former schoolmate and lover, Betty (Lone Fleming).  So, naturally, Virginia hops off the train and decides to take a cheerful stroll across the Spanish countryside.  With night falling, she decides to camp out in the ruins of the old monastery.

Now, if you guessed that this leads to a bunch of decaying blind knights coming out of nowhere and chasing her down, you’re absolutely right.  That’s exactly what happens.  And, when Betty and Roger come to the monastery to investigate what happened to their friend, the Blind Dead are waiting for them.

The Blind Dead are also waiting for that train, which leads the film to its bloody conclusion…

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Now, you may have noticed that I was very careful not to describe the Blind Dead as being zombies.  That’s because the film’s director, Amando de Ossorio, frequently stated that the Blind Dead were not meant to be zombies.  He stated that, if anything, the Blind Dead were mummies with vampiric tendencies.  He also pointed out that, unlike zombies, the Blind Dead are not mindless.  Instead, they are calculating, deliberately cruel, and, unlike the living, they work together.  Because of this, they’re even more dangerous and frightening than your typical zombie.

So, what distinguishes The Tomb of the Blind Dead from every other mummy/vampire/zombie/living dead film?  It’s certainly not the film’s plot.  This is one of those films were characters frequently do the stupidest thing they can at the worst possible time.  Instead, it’s the fact that the Blind Dead themselves are pure nightmare fuel.  Some of it is the brilliant makeup.  The Blind Dead truly do look like they’ve spent the last 600 years decaying.  Some of it is the fact that the Blind Dead are shockingly cruel and merciless, even by the standards of a European horror film.  When they finally do get on that train, no one — not even the cute little girl who sobs as her mother is killed in front of her — is shown a hint of mercy.

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But you know what makes the Blind Dead truly frightening?  It’s an amazingly simple thing.  de Ossorio films them in slow motion.  I know that doesn’t sounds like much but, along with the film’s brilliant soundtrack, it really does create a relentless atmosphere of impending doom.  When you watch the Blind Dead as they ride their similarly decaying horses across the Spanish countryside, you truly do feel that they’ve come from a different time and place.  The Blind Dead are so relentless and determined that, even though they may move slowly, there’s still no way you could ever escape them.

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(And, of course, it doesn’t help that the Blind Dead are basically indestructible.  You can shoot the walking dead in the head and go on about your day but that’s not going to help out when it comes to the Blind Dead.)

Amazingly, when Tombs of the Blind Dead was first released in the United States, the film’s American distributor added a nonsensical prologue that described the Blind Dead as actually being super intelligent apes and changed the film’s title to Revenge From Planet Ape, all in an attempt to cash in all the popularity of Planet of the Apes.

That PG-rating should clue you in on just how much material was cut out of Tombs of the Blind Dead in order to make Revenge From Planet Ape!

That PG-rating should clue you in on just how much material was cut out of Tombs of the Blind Dead in order to make Revenge From Planet Ape!

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Well, Tombs of the Blind Dead may not actually involve any super intelligent apes but it’s still a shocking and effective horror film and I highly recommend it for your Halloween viewing.  Just make sure you see the uncut Spanish version!

The Films of Dario Argento: Deep Red


I’ve been using this year’s horrorthon as an excuse to watch and review all (well, almost all) of Dario Argento’s films!  Today, I take a look at one of Argento’s best — 1975’s Deep Red!

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After the successful release of Four Flies on Grey Velvet in 1971, Dario Argento announced his retirement from the giallo genre.  His next film was 1973’s The Five Days of Milan, a historical comedy-drama with a political subtext.  The Five Days of Milan was a huge box office flop in Italy and, to the best of my knowledge, it was never even released in the United States.  To date, it is Argento’s most obscure film and one that is almost impossible to see.  In fact, it’s so obscure that, in two of my previous posts, I accidentally called the film The Four Days of Milan and apparently, no one noticed.

Forgotten Argento

Forgotten Argento

After the failure of Five Days, Argento returned to the giallo genre.  And while he was undoubtedly stunned by the failure of his previous film, Argento ended up directing one of the greatest Italian films of all time.  If The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet were both great giallo films, Deep Red is a great film period.  It is Argento at his over the top best.

Now, before I go any further, I should point out that there are many different versions of Deep Red floating around.  For instance, it was released in the United States under the title The Hatchet Murders and with 26 minutes of footage cut from the film.  For this review, I watched the original 126-minute Italian version.  I’ve always preferred the original to the shorter version that was released in America.  Oddly enough, Argento has said that he prefers the shorter version.

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Deep Red opens with a blast of music that both announces Argento’s return to the giallo genre and also provides some hints to his future as a filmmaker.  Whereas his previous films had all featured an excellent but rather serious score by Ennio Morricone, Deep Red was the first Argento film to be scored by Goblin.  There’s a gothic, almost operatic playfulness to Goblin’s work on the film.  (If the Phantom of the Opera had ended up working in Hollywood and writing film scores, the end result would have sounded a lot like Goblin.)  Goblin’s deafening score works as the perfect sonic companion to Argento’s constantly roving camera and vibrantly colorful images.  (The blood spilled in Deep Red is the reddest blood imaginable.)

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Deep Red‘s protagonist is Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) and, like so many Argento protagonists, he’s both an artist and a man without a definite home.  At one point, he explains that he was born in England, grew up in America, and now lives in Italy.  He’s a jazz pianist but he supports himself by giving music lessons.  In a scene excised from the American cut, Marcus tells his students that, while classical music should be respected and appreciated, it’s also necessary to be willing to embrace art that some critics would dismiss as being “trashy.”  Marcus, of course, is talking about jazz but he could just as easily be Dario Argento, defending his decision to return to the giallo genre.

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While Marcus plays piano and tries to help his alcoholic friend, Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), a German psychic named Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril) is giving a lecture when she suddenly announces that someone in the audience is a murderer.  Later, Helga is brutally murdered by a gloved, hatchet-wielding attacker.

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(Helga’s murder scene is always difficult for me to watch, even if Argento doesn’t — as Kim Newman pointed out in a review written for Monthly Film Bulletin — linger over the carnage in the way that certain other horror directors would have.  I have to admit that I also always find it interesting that Helga is played by the same actress who, that same year, would play the evil Lady On The Train in Aldo Lado’s The Night Train Murders.  Playing one of the Lady’s victims was Irene Miracle, who later co-starred in Argento’s Inferno.)

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The only witness to Helga’s murder?  Marcus Daly, of course.  He’s standing out in the street, having just talked to Carlos, when he looks up and sees Helga being murdered in her apartment.  Marcus runs up to the apartment to help, arriving just too late.  And yet, Marcus is convinced that he saw something in the apartment that he can’t quite remember.  Deep Red is yet another Argento film that deals with not only the power of memory but the difficulties of perception.  Marcus knows that he saw something but what?

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Well, I’m not going to spoil it for you!  In this case, the mystery and its solution makes a bit more sense than the mysteries in Argento’s first three films.  Argento isn’t forced to resort to debunked science, like he did in both Cat o’Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.  One reason why Deep Red is so compulsively watchable is because, for perhaps the first time, Argento plays fair with the mystery.  After you watch the film the first time, go back and rewatch and you’ll discover that all the clues were there.  You just had to know where to look.

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That said, the way that Argento tells the story is still far more important than the story itself.  Argento’s first three films may have been stylish but Deep Red finds Argento fully unleashed.   The camera never stops moving, the visuals are never less than stunning with the screen often bathed in red, and Goblin’s propulsive score ties it all together.  This is one of those films from which you can’t look away.  It captures you from first scene and continues to hold you through the gory conclusion.  Deep Red is an undeniably fun thrill ride and, even today, you can easily see why Argento frequently refers to it as being his personal favorite of his many films.  In fact, Argento even owns a store in Rome that is called Profondo Rosso.

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But you know why I really love Deep Red?

It’s all because of the relationship between David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi.  Daria Nicolodi plays Gianna Brezzi, a reporter who helps Marcus with his investigation.  After three films that featured women as either victims or killers, Gianna is the first truly strong and independent woman to show up in an Argento film.  I know that some people have criticized the scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi, feeling that they drag down the pace of the movie.  I could not disagree more.  Both Hemmings and Nicolodi give wonderful performances and their likable chemistry feels very real.

Gianna and Marcus arm westle. (Gianna wins. Twice.)

Gianna and Marcus arm westle. (Gianna wins. Twice.)

To me, that’s what sets Deep Red apart.  You care about Marcus and you care about Gianna.  Yes, the mystery is intriguing and the murder set pieces are brilliantly choreographed, and Deep Red is definitely Argento at his best.  But for me, the heart and soul of the film will always belong to the characters of Marcus and Gianna and the performers who brought them to life.

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Deep Red was the start of Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s long and often contentious relationship.  (Dario and Daria’s daughter, Asia Argento, was born around the same time that Deep Red was released and has directed two films, Scarlet Diva and Misunderstood, that deal with her often chaotic childhood.)  This relationship would play out over the course of six films and, as much as I love those six films, it’s always a little sad to consider that, when watched in order, the provide a portrait of a doomed and dying romance, one that did not particularly end well.  (It is possibly not a coincidence that, with the exception of Deep Red and Tenebrae, Daria Nicolodi suffered some type of terrible death in every film she made with Argento.)

But, regardless of what may or may not have been going on behind the scenes, Deep Red remains a triumph for both its director and its stars.

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Halloween Havoc!: ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (Allied Artists 1958)


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“HAAARRRY!!!”

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It’s hard not to like ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN. Sure the premise is ridiculous, the script’s way over-the-top, the acting’s hammy, the direction’s practically non-existent, and the special effects flat-out stink. Yet the movie has an endearing, ragged charm in its unintentionally funny way that, like PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE  , sucks the viewer right into its bizzaro world. Plus, it’s got two of the 1950’s hottest sci-fi/horror babes, Allison Hayes and Yvette Vickers!

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A giant space ball lands smack in the middle of Route 66 in the California desert. Heiress Nancy Archer swerves to avoid it, and next thing you know a giant hand grabs her! Meanwhile at Tony’s Bar & Grill, her louse of a husband Harry is living it up with local floozie Honey Parker. No one believes Nancy’s wild tale, as she’s known for being a boozer and has spent time in a sanitarium. Sheriff Dubbitt and…

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Horror Film Review: The Mummy (dir by Karl Freund)


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Did H.P. Lovecraft enjoy movies?  I’d love to think that he did but in all probability, he didn’t.  After all, Lovecraft frequently wrote, in both his fiction and his personal correspondence, that he found the modern world to be “decadent.”  He was not a fan of technological development, viewing it as being the source of civilization’s decline.

In all probability, Lovecraft did not enjoy the movies.  When The Mummy was first released in 1932, it’s probable that Lovecraft did not rush out to a local Providence movie theater and buy a ticket.

And, really, that’s a shame.  Of the many horror films released by Universal Pictures in the 1930s, The Mummy was perhaps the most Lovecraftian.  The bare bones of the film’s plot could have easily been lifted from one of Lovecraft’s stories: a group of rational and educated men are confronted with an ancient evil that defies all reason.  When the title character is brought back to life by a man foolishly reading from the fictional Scroll of Thoth, one is reminded of not only the Necronomicon but also of the dozens of other fictional-but-plausible texts that have appeared in the works of both Lovecraft and his successors.  Just the sight of the Mummy coming back to life causes one man to have an immediate nervous breakdown, a fate shared by almost every Lovecraft protagonist who was unfortunate enough to learn about Cthulhu, Azathoth, and the truth concerning man’s insignificant place in the universe.

The story of The Mummy goes something like this:  In ancient Egypt, a priest is caught trying to bring his dead lover back to life and, as punishment, he is mummified alive and locked away in a tomb.  Centuries later, a group of explorers discover the tomb.  The mummy comes back to life and, ten years later, he abducts the woman (played by the very beautiful Zita Johann) whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his former love.

I’ve watched The Mummy a few times and one thing that always surprises me is how little we actually see of the Mummy as a mummy.  After he’s accidentally resurrected by Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher), the Mummy steps out of his sarcophagus and stumbles out into the streets of Cairo, leaving a now insane Norton to giggle incoherently about how the mummy just stepped outside for a walk.  That is pretty much the last time that we ever see the Mummy wrapped up in bandages.  When we next see the Mummy, he’s going by the name Ardath Bey and he bears a distinct resemblance to Boris Karloff.

Karloff gives one of his best performance as the sinister and calculating Bey.  Of all the horror films that were released by Universal in the 1930s, The Mummy is perhaps the only one that can still be considered to be, at the very least, disturbing.  That’s largely due to the fact that, as played by Karloff, Bey is the epitome of pitiless and relentless evil.  I’m always especially shaken by the scene in which Bey uses his magical powers to make a man miles away die of a heart attack.  It’s not just the fact that Bey has the power to do something like this.  It’s that Bey seems to get so much enjoyment out of it.  There’s a sadistic gleam in Karloff’s eyes during these scenes and his expression of grim satisfaction is pure nightmare fuel.

Just compare Bey to the other Universal monsters: The Invisible Man was driven insane by an unforeseen side effect of his formula.  Frankenstein’s Monster was destructive because he didn’t know any better.  The Wolf Man spent five movies begging people to kill him and put him out of his misery.  And while Dracula was certainly evil, he had as many limitations as he had power.  He couldn’t go out in daylight.  He was easily repelled by both crosses and garlic.  He often didn’t do a very good job of hiding his coffin.  Ardath Bey, on the other hand, was not only evil but apparently unstoppable as well.

The rest of the cast is pretty much overshadowed by Karloff but fans of the old Universal horror movies will enjoy picking out familiar faces.  They’ll recognize David Manners from Dracula.  Edward Van Sloan also shows up here, fresh from playing Van Helsing in Dracula and Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein.  But ultimately, it is Karloff who dominates the film and that’s the way it should be.  There’s a reason why Boris Karloff could get away with only his last name appearing in the credits.  He was an icon of both cinema and horror and The Mummy reminds us why.

For a film that was first released 84 years ago, The Mummy holds up surprisingly well.  There have been countless movies about homicidal mummies over the years but none have yet to match the original.

“Surgeon X” Commits Medical Malpractice


Trash Film Guru

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I have to admit, of all the end-times scenarios I’ve imagined — and there have been many, I can assure you — the idea of a “medical apocalypse” due to the over-prescribing of antibiotics is one that never occurred to me. But maybe that’s just because I’m allergic to penicillin —

Still, it goes to show that there is, in fact, a pretty unique premise at play in the pages of Sugeon X, the latest Image Comics series to debut with a what’s-fast-becoming-commonplace (not that I’m complaining, mind you) extra-sized first issue for the standard $3.99 cover price (are you paying attention to how this works, Marvel? Because you really should be). Sadly, a gripping premise alone isn’t enough to salvage a comic.

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So, yeah, this is a less-than-stellar review that I’m cranking out here, and of all the less-than-stellar reviews I’ve written over the years, this one hurts…

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4 Shots From Horror History: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Haxan, Nosferatu, The Hands of Orlac


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we take a look at the first half of the 1920s.

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, dir by Robert Wiene)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, dir by Robert Wiene)

Haxan (1922, dir by Benjamin Christensen)

Haxan (1922, dir by Benjamin Christensen)

Nosferatu (1922, dir by F.W. Murnau)

Nosferatu (1922, dir by F.W. Murnau)

The Hands of Orlac (1924, dir by Robert Wiene)

The Hands of Orlac (1924, dir by Robert Wiene)