Ginger Snaps, Reviewed- BAM!


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I need to begin this film review by writing that I LOVE THIS MOVIE…A LOT!  There will be some geeking out- prepare yourselves.  The ideal horror film takes an issue or life lesson and hides the message in something scary. The horror genre is not alone; good science fiction does this, but it’s rare.  “Ginger Snaps” takes the milestone of 50% of the World’s population – the menarche and uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for it.  Yes, you read that right-  Werewolfism as a metaphor for the first menstrual cycle.  I have two very young daughters and in an odd way, I feel a little more prepared.  This film’s got it all: werewolves, a coming of age story, and Mimi Rogers.  Yes, Mimi Rogers – a Voluptuous Artsy Smarty Pants (VASP) and the uber crush of my youth – is in Ginger Snaps.

We open in suburban Canada- every house looks the same.  A mom is cleaning up yard waste and her son is playing in the sandbox with…. dog gore.  The mom sees her son covered in their dog and their dog is opened all up.  She freaks in the neighborhood and no one cares.

The story moves onto Brigitte and Ginger.  Brigitte is the introspective sister and Ginger is the more gutsy one.  They both are very Alternative and Gothish.  In high school, these would be the girls whom I would’ve crushed on very awkwardly and they would’ve thought I was boring because I was into sports and pretty stammering.  The sisters are obsessed with death.  They stage elaborate death scenes of each other impaled, hanged, poisoned, overdosed, and suffocated (list not exclusive). They present this avant garde masterpiece to their teacher who thinks they’re whacko.  Sidenote: I truly love the 1990s vibe the high school has!!!

The girls are trying to play Field Hockey.  Brigette is being bullied by a Mean Girl.  Then, Brigette trips into a dog and what I mean by into I mean there is ANOTHER mauled dog and Brigette is sitting in him. YEECH!

They get home and their mom- Mimi Rogers- is trying to connect with them.  She recognizes the premenstrual symptoms that Ginger is having and tries to bond with her. It fails- Poor Beautiful Mimi Rogers.  The girls sneak out of the house to kidnap the Mean Girl’s dog.  While canine hunting, Ginger gets her period as she calls it The Curse and the Werewolf attacks her.  Also, they call the lycanthropy a curse throughout the film.  Ginger is mauled by the werewolf and is saved by Brigette, but the werewolf gives chase and is run over by a Drug Dealer’s van.  Yep, forget silver to kill Werewolves; it’s all about an old school car.  A Prius, however, would not likely save you because they suck and are terrible.

The girls get home and Ginger’s wounds are already healing.  The movie continues with references to lunar cycles in relation to Ginger’s lunar and menstrual cycle.   Ginger rapidly leaves Brigette behind as she begins to chase a bad boy and the occasional neighbor dog for a snack.  Ginger also begins to dress more provocatively.  Then, Ginger porks her boyfriend and she grows a tail.  See what premarital sex will get you?! A Tail!

Brigette attracts the Mean Girl’s ex the Drug Dealer who ran over the werewolf.  He comes up with some nifty werewolf-be-gone remedies: One being for Ginger to get a belly piercing- Ok, whatever works.  Ginger gets more aggressive at school and beats the piss out of anyone who messes with Brigette.  We see Ginger’s Boyfriend and he looks roughed because Ginger gave him her werewolf disease by knockin’ boots with him.  The Drug Dealer guy figures out that mainlining wolf’s bane will cure Ginger.

The Mean Girl shows up at Brigette’s and Ginger’s home and hilariously slips and dies. Sorry, it was kind of funny.  The girls bury her in the cellar.  Later, Mimi Rogers finds the body of the Mean Girl and resolves to take the girls far away.  Ginger kills a few more people and becomes more wolf-like and decides it’s time to party.

She tries to seduce Drug Dealer guy, but is thwarted by Brigette.  Mimi loses track of her girls and is not seen again.  Brigette distracts Ginger by mixing their blood with the hope that this will distract Ginger long enough to inject them both, curing them all.  Does it work? Not so much. Ginger goes full-on werewolf, Brigette is becoming a werewolf, and …… You’ll just have to watch.  I’m not spoiling the 3rd act of the best Metaphorical Horror Movie Ever! NO WAY!  Go buy this film!!!  It’s really awesome!  If you buy Ginger Snaps and you don’t like it, you get to keep it.  This film is just purely great! I know many of you like my snark alec a lot, but this movie just wonderful!

 

Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 2.13 “Korman’s Kalamity”


Believe it or not, I was planning on sharing more than just episodes from Tales From The Crypt this October but seriously, these old shows are just so much fun!

For instance, consider tonight’s episode!  In Korman’s Kalamity, Jim Korman (Harry Anderson) is an artist who works on the popular and famous comic book … Tales From The Crypt!  (Needless to say, his name should also make you think of Roger Corman, as well.)  After his wife (Colleen Camp) orders him to take an experimental fertility pill, his drawings suddenly start to come to life!

Since Korman specializes in drawing monsters, you see how this could be a problem…

Korman’s Kalamity is a self-referential delight.  Needless to say, it’s all played for laughs and sentiment so be sure to sit back and enjoy!

This episode was directed by Rowdy Herrington (who also directed that cable mainstay, Road House) and originally aired on June 26th, 1990.

 

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Ghost Galleon (dir by Amando de Ossorio)


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The Blind Dead are back and this time, they’re on a boat!

Yes, you read that correctly.  1974’s The Ghost Galleon is the third film in Spanish director Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series.  The decaying and blind Knight Templar are back and they’re just as evil and blood thirsty as they were in both Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Evil Dead.  However, this time, they’re on a boat.  What are they doing on a boat?  Apparently, they’re guarding some sort of Satanic treasure chest and they’re killing and eating anyone who makes the mistake of boarding their boat.

That means that this is the first Blind Dead film to not feature any scenes of the Blind Dead riding their horses in slow motion.  That may not sounds like much but the absence of those horses is definitely felt.  The Blind Dead on horses are a metaphor for everything from political tyranny to religious oppression.  The Blind Dead on a boat are still scary but now they’re also vaguely silly.

And yet, the Blind Dead on a boat is not the silliest part of the film!  The Ghost Galleon starts out with two models lost at sea.  Apparently, they were hired by a businessman and aspiring politician named (in the version released in America, anyway) Howard Tucker (Jack Taylor).  Howard is a boat manufacturer and he felt it would be great publicity if the models took one of his boats out into the ocean and pretended to get stranded.  Apparently, Howard felt that this would convince the public that they could live for weeks in one of his speedboats if they needed to…

No, I’m not making that up.  That’s the plot of the damn film.

ANYWAY — the models get stranded for real but suddenly, here comes a big, dark, old timey galleon.  It’s just floating out in the middle of the ocean and it appears to be surrounded by a very thick fog.  Naturally, the models decide to leave their boat for the galleon because why stay somewhere vaguely safe when you can get on a big, scary, evil looking galleon?

Now the models are missing and Howard needs to get his boat back.  So, he and his evil henchman get yet another model to sail out to the middle of the ocean with them.  Also accompanying them is a historian/scientist guy, who is mostly there because the film will later need him to fill in the backstory of the Blind Dead…

Now, I know that it probably sounds like I’m being supercritical of the third Blind Dead film but actually, it kind of works.  The key is not to worry about logic, consistency, or anything you learned about at that screenwriting workshop.  Instead, simply accept The Ghost Galleon as being the equivalent of a filmed nightmare.  For everything that the film lacks in logic, it makes up for in atmosphere.  (Let’s just say that the fog machine gets quite a workout.)  And while it may not make much sense for them to be on a boat, the Blind Dead are just as scary, evil, and merciless as ever.

Add to that, the film has a great ending.  I won’t spoil it here but I will say that the film’s final shot makes up for a lot of what you have to sit through in order to reach it.

The Ghost Galleon should not be the first Blind Dead film that you see.  (Unfortunately, it can be found in several ultra cheap box sets, complete with a bad transfer and spotty soundtrack.)  But if you’ve seen Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Evil Dead, you should also see The Ghost Galleon.  If nothing else, it proves the de Ossorio could get results with even the most ludicrous of premises.

The Films of Dario Argento: Suspiria


I’m using this October’s horrorthon as an excuse to take rewatch and review all of Dario Argento’s films!  Today, we take a look at one of Argento’s best known and most popular films, 1977’s Suspiria!

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I’m going to start things out by admitting that this is an intimidating review to write.  I once had a discussion with fellow TSL contributor Leonard Wilson about why it’s always so much easier to write about films that we hate than it is to write about films that we love.  That’s certainly something that I’m thinking about right now, as I try to think of where to begin with Suspiria.

It’s not just that I like Suspiria.  Anyone who has ever visited this site before knows how much I appreciate Italian horror in general and Argento in specific.

No, it’s that I absolutely love this film.  I was sixteen the first time that I saw it and I’ve loved it ever since.  To me, Suspiria is not just one of the best horror films ever made.  It is truly one of the best films period.  And I know that I’m not alone in feeling like that.  Suspiria is a classic in every sense of the word.

Compared to almost every other film that Argento has made, the plot of Suspiria is remarkably straight forward.  Suzy Banyon, an American ballet student, enrolls at the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in Frieburg, Germany.  From the minute she arrives, she gets the feeling that there is something strange happening behind the garish walls of the school and she’s right.  While the film may be best known for Argento’s directorial flourishes and Goblin’s classic score, the story itself unfolds with the simplicity of a fairy tale.

The film even opens with a narrator who informs us, “Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freiburg. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.”  It’s the film’s equivalent of starting things off with, “Once upon a time…”  Having let us know that we’re about to watch a fairy tale and therefore having served his purpose, the narrator isn’t heard for the rest of the film.

Instead, we watch as Suzy first arrives in Germany:

As played by Jessica Harper, Suzy Banyon is yet another neurotic but brave Argento protagonist who has found herself in a strange land.  One of the things that I love about Suspiria is that Suzy is such an ordinary and relatable character.  She’s not “the chosen one.”  She’s not a witch or an aspiring witch or the daughter of a witch or the reincarnation of a witch.  She’s not desperately looking for a husband or dealing with a family tragedy or any of that other BS that we have to deal with in today’s cinema..  She doesn’t have any dark secrets or untapped magical powers.  She’s not seeking vengeance.  She has no trendy agenda.  She’s not the protagonist of the latest YA novel.  Instead, she’s a dancer.  She is someone who is attempting to pursue something that she is good at and that she loves.  In short, she is the viewer.  Suzy Banyon is us and we are Suzy Banyon.  Like us, she’s sometimes scared.  Like us, she’s sometimes brave.  And, like us, it’s just not in her nature to leave a mystery unsolved.

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It’s obvious, from the moment that Suzy arrives, that there’s something strange happening at the school.  We, of course, already know that it involves witchcraft.  This is largely because we’ve been listening to the film’s score and we’ve heard Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti chanting “WITCH!  WITCH!” as Suzy’s taxi drives through the woods and arrives at the school.  (The journey through the woods adds to Suspiria‘s fairy tale atmosphere.)

However, for Suzy, her initial concern is that everyone at the school appears to be trying to cheat her out of her money.  Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) has arranged for Suzy to stay in an apartment on which she’ll have to pay rent.  When Miss Tanner (Alida Valli, a force of pure nature in this film) finds out that Suzy’s bags have yet to arrive and Suzy doesn’t have any ballet shoes, she tells her to borrow a pair from another student.  The student immediately offers to sell them to Suzy and is visibly deflated when Suzy says that she’s just needs to borrow them for a day.

And, of course, there’s Olga (Barbara Magnolfi), a student who thinks that names that start with S are the names of snakes.

(I have to admit that, as a former dance student, that scene brought back a lot of memories.)

But it’s not just money that Suzy has to worry about.  There are also maggots that fall from the ceiling, the result of a shipment of spoiled meat.  There’s the strange and labored breathing that Suzy occasionally hears behind the walls.  There’s the fact that her new roommate, Sarah (Stefania Casini), is convinced that the teachers are hiding a secret.  Sarah’s therapist, Dr. Frank Mandel (Udo Kier, playing an oddly respectable role) thinks that Sarah is suffering from delusions but is she?

And, of course, there’s all the mysterious deaths.

For instance, Daniel, a blind piano player, has his throat ripped by his seeing eye dog.  Interestingly enough, Daniel is played by Flavio Bucci who, in The Night Train Murders, played a murderer.  One of his Night Train victims was played by Irene Miracle, who would later have an important role in Suspiria‘s semi-sequel, Inferno.

Another former student, Pat Hingle (Eva Axen) is brutally stabbed to death and, after her body falls through a skylight, the shattered glass kills her best friend as well.  Of course, the killer wears gloves.  It wouldn’t be an Argento film otherwise.  (Pat’s murder is one of Suspiria‘s best known set pieces, one that is so brutal and violent that it retains its power to shock even after you’ve seen it a few times.  For the most part, if someone is going to stop watching or walk out on Suspiria, it’s going to happen during Pat’s murder.)

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And through it all, you have Goblin playing on the soundtrack.  The film’s score is so important and so relentless that, in its way, it becomes just as important a character as Suzy, Sarah, Madame Blanc, Miss Tanner, or even Udo Kier!  The score is relentless and, depending on how loudly you play the film, almost deafening.  I saw an interview with Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti where he said that he wanted the score to be “almost annoying” in its relentlessness.  The score overpowers you, in much the same way that the witches of Suspiria overpower their victims.

Suspiria was co-written by Daria Nicolodi, Dario Argento’s girlfriend and the mother of Asia Argento.  Nicolodi has long claimed that Suspiria is based on something that happened to her grandmother.  Argento, meanwhile, has said that nothing in the film was based on fact.  Reportedly, Nicolodi wanted to play the role of Suzy and was so offended with Argento instead offered her the role of Sarah that she went off and made Mario Bava’s Shock instead.

(Suspiria is often cited as the start of the long and acrimonious process that would eventually end with Argento and Nicolodi ending their relationship 8 years later.)

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Personally, I think that Nicolodi would have been wasted in the role of Sarah but, at the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jessica Harper as Suzy Banyon.  For that matter, it’s also impossible to imagine anyone other than Dario Argento directing Suspiria.  Suspiria is Argento’s masterpiece, taking all of his frequent and familiar motifs (bloody murders, artistic protagonists, the constantly roaming camera, the use of primary colors) and pushing them to their natural extreme.  It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Argento telling Suspiria’s story.

Dario Argento on the set of Suspiria

Dario Argento on the set of Suspiria

And yet, that is exactly what is about to happen.  For years, of course, I’ve heard rumors of a remake and, perhaps naively, I’ve dismissed them.  I took some comfort in the fact that even Dario Argento himself came out and forcefully denounced the idea of anyone remaking his masterpiece.  Remake Suspiria? I would think to myself, Surely no one is that stupid.

Well, it’s happening and if that doesn’t outrage you, perhaps you should leave right now.  Reportedly, the remake is set to be released in 2017.  It’ll be directed by Luca Guadagnino and it’ll star Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Tilda Swinton.  Guadagnino says that his remake will be all about the “power of motherhood.”

Whatever, Luca.  Suspiria doesn’t need you and it doesn’t need to be remade.

Suspiria is perfect just the way it is.

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Halloween Havoc!: Peter Cushing in CORRUPTION (Columbia 1968)


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Hammer horror icon Peter Cushing is remembered for his two signature roles with the company, the obsessed Baron Frankenstein and the vampire hunter Van Helsing. The actor made many other films as well, but none as bizarre as CORRUPTION. This sleazy slice of 60’s dementia finds Cushing once again a brilliant surgeon, this time in a contemporary setting, in a gore fest that goes off the deep end with a uniquely wild denouement that will leave viewers in  shock.

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Sir John Rowan (Cushing), eminent plastic surgeon,  is engaged to beautiful young model Lynn Nolan, popular fashion face of the day. Despite being tired, John attends a typical swinging 60’s party with her, and it’s clear he’s not comfortable in this milieu. When the host begins taking sexy pics of Lynn, John’s had enough and wants to leave. The host gets belligerent and a fight breaks out between the men, causing a flood lamp to…

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Horror Film Review: The Bride of Frankenstein (dir by James Whale)


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1935‘s The Bride of Frankenstein is usually described as being a sequel to Frankenstein, but I think it would be better to call it a continuation.  In much the same way that all modern YA adaptations seem to be split into two parts, Universal split Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein into two separate films.  The bare basics of The Bride of Frankenstein‘s plot — the monster learns to talk and demands that his creator build him a mate — can all be found in the original novel.

(Of course, in the original novel, the monster somehow learns how to speaks like an Oxford grad and Dr. Frankenstein destroys the female monster before bringing her to life.  The monster responds by killing Elizabeth.  Seriously, Frankenstein is a dark book.)

Bride of Frankenstein features one of my favorite openings of all time.  Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) are praising Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) and the story that she’s told about how a dedicated scientist played God and created life.  Mary informs them that she’s not finished and then proceeds to tell them the rest of the story.  It’s a great opening because it lets us know that the rest of what we’re seeing is taking place directly inside of Mary’s mind.  It frees the film from the constraints of realism and allows director James Whale to fully indulge his every whim, no matter how bizarre.  When you’re inside someone else’s imagination, anything can happen and that’s certainly the feeling that you get as you watch The Bride of Frankenstein.

The Bride of Frankenstein opens with that burning windmill and a wounded Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) being carried back to his wife, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson, replacing Mae Clarke).  Gone is the original film’s coda, in which Elizabeth announces that she’s pregnant.  And why shouldn’t it be gone?  It felt awkward in the first movie and, like any good writer, Mary Shelley is fixing her story as she goes along.

While Henry is recovering, he is approached by a former mentor, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger).  Dr. Pretorious is undoubtedly an eccentric and definitely a little bit crazy but he believes in Frankenstein’s work.  In fact, Dr. Pretorious has even created life on his own!  He’s created a bunch of tiny people that he keeps in several glass jars.  They’re impressive but, sadly, they’ll never conquer the world.  Pretorious wants Frankenstein to, once again, work with him to create life.  As Pretorious explains it, it’s time to usher in a new age of “God and monsters!”

(Interestingly enough, one of Pretorious’s henchmen is played by Dwight Frye, who previously played Frankenstein’s henchman, Fritz, in the first film.  Frye dies in both films.  Reportedly, Universal bestowed upon him the nickname, “The Man of a Thousand Deaths.”  It can perhaps be argued that Dwight Frye was both the Steve Buscemi and the Giovanni Lombardo Radice of Universal horror.)

Meanwhile, the monster (Boris Karloff, credited with just his last name because, just four years after Frankenstein and the Mummy, he was already an icon) has survived the burning windmill.  He’s lonely, he’s afraid, and he actually kills more people in The Bride of Frankenstein than he did in Frankenstein.  And yet, he’s still the film’s most sympathetic character.  With everyone constantly trying to kill him, you can understand why the monster is quick to attack every human being that he sees.  He’s almost like a dog who, after years of abuse, automatically growls and bears his teeth at anyone that he sees.

And yet, the monster does eventually find a friend.  A blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) invites the monster into his own home.  (Of course, the hermit does not know who the monster is.  He just assumes that monster is a normal man who does not know how to speak.)  As time passes, the hermit teaches the monster how to say a few words and also tells the monster that there is nothing worse than being lonely.  The monster learns that “Friend good.”  The monster even learns how to smoke a cigar and Heggie and Karloff play these roles with such warmth (Bride of Frankenstein is not only the film where the Monster learns to talk, it’s also the one where he learns to smile) that you really start to dread the inevitable scene where everything goes wrong.

And that scene does arrive.  Two hunters stop by the hermit’s shack and immediately attack the Monster.  The Monster flees.  The shack burns down.  The hermit is led away from his only friend, apparently destined to be lonely once again.

Eventually, of course, the Monster does get his bride.  The Bride is such an iconic character that it’s easy to forget that she only appears in the final ten minutes of the film.  Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary and the Bride.  She screams when she sees the Monster.  “We belong dead,” the Monster replies and my heart breaks a little every time.

So, which is better?  Frankenstein or The Bride of Frankenstein?  I don’t think it’s necessary to choose one or the other.  To use a metaphor that might be appreciated by Henry and Dr. Petorious, Frankenstein is the brain while The Bride of Frankenstein is the heart.  They’re two good films that, when watched together, form one great film.

4 Shots From Horror History: Dracula, Frankenstein, Vampyr, White Zombie


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 start of the 1930s.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Dracula (1931, dir by Tod Browning)

Dracula (1931, dir by Tod Browning)

Frankenstein (1931, dir by James Whale)

Frankenstein (1931, dir by James Whale)

Vampyr (1932, dir Carl Theodor Dryer)

Vampyr (1932, dir Carl Theodor Dryer)

White Zombie (1932, dir by Victor Halperin)

White Zombie (1932, dir by Victor Halperin)