Horror on TV: Tales From the Crypt 1.2 “All Through The House” (dir by Robert Zemeckis)


For tonight’s excursion into the world of televised horror, we have the 2nd ever episode of the HBO anthology series, Tales From The Crypt!

In this one, a woman (Mary Ellen Trainor) kills her husband on Christmas Eve, just to discover that she can’t properly dispose of the body because a psychotic escaped mental patient (Larry Drake), who just happens to be disguised as Santa Claus, is hanging around outside of her house.  It’s a bit of a mess, especially since the woman’s daughter is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa herself.

This originally aired on June 10th, 1989 and it’s an enjoyably insane package of holiday cheer and menace.  And, of course, it was directed by none other than Robert Zemeckis!

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: A Name For Evil (dir by Bernard Girard)


So, this is an odd one.

First released in 1973 but reportedly filmed several years before, A Name For Evil tells the story of John Blake (Robert Culp) and his wife, Joanna (Samantha Eggar).  John is a successful architect who lives in the big city.  He used to be a passionate rebel but now he’s just a boring corporate man.  Even his wife is bored with him.  John knows that he has to make some changes.  Since this movie was made in 1973, those changes start with throwing a TV out of a window.

(Trust me.  If you watch enough films from the early 70s, you will see so many TVs get tossed through so many windows that it will no longer surprise you.  Apparently, being a rebel in 1973 meant destroying a TV.  According to Wikipedia, the top five TV shows in 1973 were, in order, All In The Family, Sanford and Son, Hawaii 5-0, Maude, and the NBC Sunday Night Mystery Movie.  I choose to believe that the NBC Saturday Night Mystery Movie is what drove everyone over the edge.  Anyway…)

Anyway, John decides to quit his high-paying job and instead move up to New England and live in his grandfather’s mansion.  (His grandfather, by the way, was known as The Major.)  Joanna is reluctant to accompany him and she’s even more upset when it turns out that 1) the house is a total wreck and 2) the last tenant died under mysterious circumstances.

John, however, grows somewhat obsessed with the house.  This is despite the fact that John doesn’t seem to really like the house or the inhabitants of the nearby town that much.  For instance, there’s a scene — which might be a dream — in which John crashes the funeral of a local boy who died in Vietnam and he starts to laugh uncontrollably when the minister praises the boy for sacrificing himself for his country.  I think we’re supposed to like John during this scene but John laughs so long and so hard and he just keeps going and going that, by the end of it, I think even the most dedicated peace activist would look at him and say, “What an asshole.”

At the house, John keeps seeing strange shadows and hearing weird noises.  Occasionally, he sees someone who looks like the long-dead Major riding a white horse.  He hears voices coming from the walls and he accuses Joanna of being behind it.  Joanna tells him that he’s being paranoid.  Of course, Joanna herself is slowly coming to appreciate the house, especially after a ghost kisses her hand…

Suffering from ennui, John does what anyone in 1973 would do.  He tracks down the local hippies and he takes part in a down-with-the-establishment orgy.  Are the hippies real or are they figments of his imagination?  Is the house real or is it a figment of John’s imagination?  Is John real or is he just a figment of his imagination?  A Name For Evil does not seem to really know but you can be sure that we’ll get another shot of that TV falling out of that window before the movie ends.

On the one hand, A Name For Evil is a standard haunted house/spiritual possession type of film.  But, on the other hand, it’s obvious that A Name For Evil was trying to make some sort of grand statement about life in America in 1973.  How else do you explain the hippies, the funeral scene, and that TV flying out the window?  Robert Culp spends the entire movie so pissed off that there’s no way he wasn’t meant to be some sort of generational spokesman.  It makes for a very strange, only-in-the-70s hybrid type of film.

Now, I should mention that I actually did a little research before writing this review.  I discovered that A Name for Evil was originally produced by MGM but it spent years on the shelf until Penthouse (the magazine) bought the film and re-cut it for theatrical release.  Apparently, the first version was clear about being an attempt at social satire with a little horror and nudity thrown in.  The version that was actually released was edited to emphasize the horror and the nudity.  That probably explains why the film feels like such a strange mishmash of genres and attitudes.

If you ever get the chance, I’d recommend watching A Name For Evil.  It’s not that good but it’s just too strange not to watch.

 

A Movie A Day #270: Prison (1987, directed by Renny Harlin)


In 1964, the state of Wyoming executed Charles Forsythe (Viggo Mortensen) for killing another inmate at Creedmore State Prison.  Forsythe was innocent of the crime but the only other two people who knew, a prisoner named Cresus (Lincoln Kilpatrick) and a guard named Eaton Sharpe (Lane Smith), kept silent.  Twenty-three years later, Cresus is still an inmate and Sharpe has been named the new warden of Creedmore.  When a group of prisoner open up the old execution chamber, Forsythe’s electrified spirit escapes into the prison and starts to kill the prisoners and the guards, one-by-one.  A convict named Burke (also played by Mortensen) understands what is going on but can he get anyone to believe him?

If the idea of an executed murderer turning into an electrified spirit sounds familiar, that’s because the exact same idea was used in Destroyer, The Horror Show, and Wes Craven’s Shocker, all of which went into production and were released at roughly the same time.  Why did the late 80s see so many director making movies about convicts coming back to life after being sent to the electric chair?  We may never know.

Of the four electric ghosts movies, Prison is the best.  Lane Smith is a great villain and Prison makes good use of its claustrophobic setting.  Since Charlie is stalking inmates instead of horny teenagers, there literally is no way for anyone to escape him.  (It never makes sense, though, why Charlie is killing “innocent” prisoners when Sharpe, who hates all of this prisoners, is the one that Charlie is targeting for revenge.)  The best scenes are the ones where the warden desperately tries to force the inmates to confess to the murders so he won’t have to confront the truth about Charlie’s revenge.  Lane Smith, who would later be best known for playing Richard Nixon in The Final Days, acts the hell out of those scenes.

Prison was the first American film to be directed by Finnish director Renny Harlin and it is a hundred times better than many of the overproduced action films that Harlin would later be best known for.  Of course, it’s no Die Hard 2 but I would gladly watch Prison over Cutthroat Island.

Halloween Havoc!: SUGAR HILL (AIP 1974)


cracked rear viewer

The worlds of Horror and Blaxploitation intersected frequently during the 70’s, beginning with American-International’s BLACULA . The vampire tale spawned a subgenre of black oriented riffs on familiar themes: BLACKENSTEIN (man-made monsters), DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE (Stevenson’s classic novel updated), ABBY (demonic possession), and SUGAR HILL, a crazy voodoo-zombie revenge tale that’s creepy, outrageous, and entertaining as… well, as hell!

Foxy lady Marki Bey plays foxy lady Diana “Sugar” Hill, whose boyfriend Langston runs the voodoo-themed Club Haiti. Southern-fried gangster Morgan (Robert Quarry) wants to take over the club, and sends his goons to ‘persuade’ Langston. When he refuses, they stomp him to death in the parking lot, leaving Sugar no recourse but to return to her ancestral home and ask ancient voodoo queen Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully of THE JEFFERSONS) for help. Mama conjures up voodoo god of the dead Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), who gives Sugar control over an army of…

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Horror Scenes That I Love: Mary Philbin unmasks Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera!


Today’s horror scene that I love comes from the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera.

In this famous scene, which was directed by Rupert Julian, Mary Philbin unmasks the Phantom (played, of course, by Lon Chaney).  Both of their reactions are justifiably famous.

I have read that Philbin was apparently not told what Chaney would look like when she removed the mask, which contributed to her state of shock.  I don’t know if that’s true but I hope it is.  It’s certainly a good story.

Was this horror cinema’s first “jump scare?”

Horror Film Review: Joy Ride (dir by John Dahl)


The 2001 film Joy Ride is an example of a subgenre of horror that I like to call the Don’t Fuck With Truckers genre.  It all started with Duel back in the early 70s and since then, there’s been a large number movies about ordinary people who end up getting on the wrong side of a trucker.

Myself, I would never piss off a trucker.  First off, I have a few cousins who are proud members of the Teamsters and I can tell you, from personal experience, that you don’t want to get on their bad side.  Secondly, those trucks are really, really big and it takes a certain amount of skill to drive them, certainly more skill than it takes me to drive my little convertible.  (Truckers can make turns in those gigantic trucks and somehow do it without crashing into a stop light.  I can barely parallel park.)  Trucks block out the road, making it impossible to see anything beyond them, which makes the prospect of trying to pass them all the more frightening.  Essentially, if you get into a vehicle fight with a trucker, you’re going to die.  There’s just no way your little car is going to be able to beat that giant truck.

Now, I have to admit that I really like Joyride but sometimes, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t.  It basically comes down to two things:

Number one, I have always defended horror movies against the charge that they always feature people making the stupidest possible decisions.  My defense is usually that people in real life are actually far more stupid than they realize and that whenever anyone says, “I would never be stupid enough to wander around a deserted camp ground in the middle of the night!,” they are essentially lying.  Seriously, everyone would do that just so they could later joke about how it was just like being in a horror movie.

That said, the majority of the characters in Joy Ride are really, really dumb.  Basically, two brothers (Steven Zahn and Paul Walker) are driving from California to Colorado so that they can pick up Walker’s best friend (Leelee Sobieski).  Along the way, Zahn and Walker decide to have some fun by getting on the CB radio and telling a trucker who calls himself Rusty Nail (voiced by Ted Levine, who was also the killer in The Silence of the Lambs) that there is a prostitute named Candy Cane waiting for him in a motel room.  The joke, of course, is that Zahn and Walker know that an obnoxious businessman is actually staying in the room.

The next morning, after playing their little joke and then listening to Rusty Nail and the businessman have a huge fight, the brothers are informed that the businessman has been found on the side of the road.  He’s still alive but his jaw was ripped off.  The brothers’ reaction is to get the Hell out of town.

Okay, so far, so good.  The joke was mean but people are mean.  Leaving town instead of helping with the police investigation was selfish but people are selfish.  What drives me crazy is that, once they’re on the road, the brothers get back on the CB radio and inform Rusty Nail that there was no Candy Cane and that they were just playing a joke on him.

IDIOTS!  Seriously, you’ve just been told that the guy ripped off another man’s jaw and now you’re going to piss him off more?

My other problem is that Leelee Sobieski’s character is so underdeveloped.  The film’s nearly halfway over before Zahn and Walker reach Colorado and pick her up.  Just a few scenes later, Sobieski is kidnapped by Rusty Nail.  Characterwise, she pretty much only exists to be kidnapped and held hostage.  It seems like a waste of Sobieski’s talents and the flatness of her character is especially disappointing when you consider how well-developed the characters played by Walker and Zahn are.

And yet, despite all of that, I really like Joy Ride.  It’s just a well-made film, a relentless thrill ride that succeeds largely because director John Dahl never gives the audience any time to relax and think about whether or not the film makes any sense.  As a largely unseen threat, Rusty Nail is both plausible and seemingly supernatural at the same time.  I mean, that truck literally pops up out of nowhere sometimes.  Zahn and Walker are very well-cast as brothers, with Zahn’s natural goofiness nicely paired up with Walker’s natural earnestness.  You like them, even if they are selfish idiots.

Almost despite itself, Joy Ride is a good movie and it features an important message: Don’t fuck with truckers.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Tod Browning Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

This October, I am going to be using our 4 Shots From 4 Films feature to pay tribute to some of my favorite horror directors, in alphabetical order!  That’s right, we’re going from Argento to Zombie in one month!

Today’s director is Tod Browning, who started his career during the silent era, ended it in the sound era, and was responsible for some of the most important horror and suspense films of both!

4 Shots From 4 Films

West of Zanzibar (1928, dir by Tod Browning)

Dracula (1931, dir by Tod Browning)

Freaks (1932, dir by Tod Browning)

Mark of the Vampire (1935, dir by Tod Browning)