Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 3.24 “To Serve Man” (dir by Richard L. Bare)


“It’s a cookbook!”

During the month of October, we like to share classic episodes of horror-themed television.  That was easier to do when we first started doing our annual October horrorthon here at the Shattered Lens because every single episode of the original, black-and-white Twilight Zone was available on YouTube.  Sadly, that’s no longer the case.  In fact, there is exactly one episode of the original Twilight Zone on YouTube.

Fortunately, that episode is a classic.  In 1962’s To Serve Man, an alien (Richard Kiel) comes to Earth and invites people to return to his home planet with him.  He leaves behind a book.  When everyone learns that the title of the book is To Serve Man, they excitedly decide that the book must be an instruction manual on how to help mankind.  The truth, as we learn in the episode’s classic finale, is something a little bit different.

Here’s the episode!  Watch it before YouTube yanks it down.

(This episode originally aired on October 2nd, 1962.  It was directed by Richard L. Bare from a script by Rod Serling.  It was based on a short story by Damon Knight.)

Enjoy!

 

“All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” AKA All the Bland Love Blandy Lane, Review By Case Wright


ATHBLML6

IT’S OCTOBER!!!! WOOHOO!!!! The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!!!!

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane….for some reason.  Let’s begin by admitting Amber Heard is pretty, but …. love at first sight obsession?! Word?! Word?!  This film was written by Jacob Forman who went on to …. not much.  Jacob Forman does have a few recent credits as a special thanks over the last few years, which means he let someone sleep on his couch or something who was making a movie.  I wonder if the film deserved to make enough money to afford the futon that he used to get those special thanks.  But it’s on Netflix; so, if you’re on an elliptical and have already caught up on your YouTube subscriptions…. I guess this would be a choice that you could make … on purpose.

Jonathan Levine (director 50/50) directed this mess and he’s a very talented director for … Dramatic Comedy and Drama… Horror…not so much.  It was one of his first films (2006) and didn’t get a US release until 2013 … for good reason.  He’s very good at filming true to life couch conversations, which was certainly evident in 50/50, but in a Horror/Thriller the camera work/direction has to act as another character to pull us into suspense and punch us with payoffs.  This piece uses a lot of shaky cam in a 1980s style with artsy cuts that never allow us to feel worried about anyone on-screen.  The direction is like someone constantly spilling water on your charcoal as your trying to get the barbecue going.

The exploitation premise is simple enough: A bunch of boys try to corrupt a naive virginal archetype – Mandy Lane (Amber Heard).  Mandy is kind of bland and has a friend Emmet who everyone picks on and gets even by somehow convincing a guy to jump off his roof into a pool and he dies.  It’s weird.

After the pool incident, Emmet is a pariah. Mandy, on the other hand, is apparently the paragon of the feminine ideal because every man within 100 miles will give up his eternal soul for a tryst with her.  She agrees to go to a ranch in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of dudes and girls who are equally boring.  They arrive at the ranch and there’s a ranch hand on the property who is supposedly a Gulf War veteran even though he’s 27 and not in his later 40s.  Sigh.  Mandy Lane and all the other girls are obviously smitten with the ranch hand and why not….the ranch hand defies time and math itself!!!  As the song goes, every girl crazy for a …. man who defies the space-time-continuum! [Sung as ZZ Top]  The ranch hand is bored with the teens and returns to his home sweet shed.

Later, the teens start doing a ton of drugs and booze and Emmet or someone (dun dun dun) arrives and starts murdering everyone.  They are pretty gruesome deaths and it does border on torture porn at one point, which makes sense because it was written around 2004/2005 when Hostel was all the rage.  Even though people aren’t returning, all of the guys continue to try to make out with Mandy in the creepiest ways possible.  Mandy Lane has 20 lines of very bland dialogue total in the film and there is a slight twist at the end that fails to thrill.

What bugged me about this film is that horror is always treated as the Red-Headed Stepchild of film.  Everybody seems to think the genre is easy to write and do and this film is proof that both of those assumptions are false.  First, you need to at least have some sympathy for the people getting killed.  Second, you need to explain in someway at the halfway why they don’t just leave.  In this film, it’s not clear why the dudes want Mandy to stay at the halfway point of the film when it’s clear that she’s not interested in any of them.  Third, the camera work and direction to pull you into the house and into the story to ratchet up tension; otherwise, it’s just boring.

I’m glad that Jonathan Levine found his voice soon after this. Amber Heard did a fair enough performance for what she had to work with.  There was good performance by Melissa Price, but from IMDB, it appears that this film probably tanked her career.  In any case, I’m crazy excited that October is here!!!

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Hellmaster (dir by Douglas Schulze)


Welcome to the end of the world.

Or something like that.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a struggle to say what exactly the 1992 film Hellmaster was actually about but I think it definitely had something to do with the end of the world.  John Saxon plays Prof. Jones, a sadistic eugenicist who, in the late 60s, developed a drug that he claimed would — I kid you not — “cure homelessness.”  Apparently, the drug would make the homeless so strong that they would be able to build a house or something.  Anyway, a reporter (David Emge, best known as the helicopter pilot in the original Dawn of the Dead) discovered what Jones was doing and that the drugs were actually turning the homeless into mind-controlled zombies.  Jones responded by murdering the reporter’s wife and then vanishing.

Are you following the story so far?

20 years later, the reporter is having nightmares about the homeless so he decides to start hanging out around the Kant Institute for the Gifted.  We’re told that the Kant Institute is a college.  There only appears to be one professor and a handful of students, the majority of whom appear to be in their early 30s.  I’m not really sure what’s being taught at the school.  (The only class we see features two white people debating whether or not Malcolm X hated the homeless.)  One of the students, Shelley (Amy Raasch), is apparently clairvoyant and she keeps having visions of the school’s chapel bursting into flames.

Meanwhile, there are shots of an old church bus driving down various deserted roads.  “Have a nice day” is written across the cross that hangs on the front of the bus.  On top of the bus, someone’s painted a smiley face.  The bus itself is occupied by four deformed followers of Prof. Jones.  Apparently, they’ve spent the last 20 years driving around the country and killing people.  One of them is dressed like a nun and carries several hypodermic needles.  They come across a stalled motorist and promptly kill him.  The man’s daughter (Sarah Barkoff) escapes and flees to the nearby Kant Institute.

It turns out that the bus is also heading to the Kant Institute!  Eventually, Prof. Jones pops up and explains that it took God six days to create the world but Jones believes that it will only take him one night to transform the world into Hell.  Why does Jones want to do this?  That’s not really clear.  Actually, it’s not even clear how showing up at the Kant Institute will even help Jones accomplish that goal.

Anyway, the rest of the movie is basically Shelley and the reporter and a handful of friends attempting to not get transformed into zombies by Prof. Jones.  This is easier said than done because, as we quickly discover, everyone in this movie is an idiot.

Hellmaster is one of those low-budget horror films that shouldn’t work and yet somehow, it does.  Yes, the plot makes absolutely no sense and, with the exception of genre vets Saxon and Emge, the performances are almost all terrible.  But no matter!  At its best, the film — which is full of dark hallways and deserted roads and twisty camera angles — achieves a dream-like intensity.  The zombies, with their hypodermic needles and their joyful savagery, are genuinely creepy and John Saxon is properly menacing as Prof. Jones.  It’s a relentless film, one that leaves you feeling as if anyone can die at any time and, when they do die, it’s often in the most macabre ways possible.  A crippled student is beaten to death with his own crutch.  Another is doused with acid.  And you may be asking yourself, “But why was there a big vat of acid just sitting around?” but oddly, it works within the surreal dream logic of the film.  It makes no sense and yet, it happens.  If anything, the lack of a coherent plot and the low-budget aesthetic help this film create and maintain its nightmarish atmosphere.

For all of its flaws, Hellmaster is a thousand times more effective than you might expect.

Elwes Unbound: American Crime (2004, directed by Dan Mintz)


Smalltown reporter Jessie St. Clair (Rachael Leigh Cook) has stumbled across the story of her career.  A stripper and a prostitute have been murdered.  Before committing the murders, the killer sent each victim a video tape of him stalking her.  With the help of her producer, Jane (Annabella Sciorra), and her cameraman, Rob (Kip Pardue), Jessie sets out to try to solve the case but when she receives a videotape that indicates that she might be the next victim, she quits her job and vanishes.

Then, Albert Bodine (Cary Elwes) shows up in town.  Albert says that he’s the anchor of the UK’s top true crime show, American Crime, and that he wants to investigate not only the two murders but also Jessie’s disappearance.  When both Rob and Jane are suddenly fired by their station, they reluctantly agree to work with Albert.  Albert soon proves himself to be so incompetent that his new colleagues start to wonder if he’s actually who he says he is.  Meanwhile, another videotape turns up, this one starring Jane.

The tone of American Crime is all over the place and it never seems to be sure if it wants to scare us or if it wants to make us laugh but there are some tense scenes and a good twist ending.  American Crime tries to strike a balance between being a horror/thriller and a satire of media sensationalism.  It doesn’t always succeed but you really haven’t lived until you’ve seen Cary Elwes play a sleazy tabloid reporter.  Imagine an even more hyperactive version of Robert Downey, Jr’s performance in Natural Born Killers and you’ll have some idea of what Cary Elwes does in this movie.  Elwes sweats profusely, bulges his eyes, speaks with an extremely affected English accent, and plays with his hair every time he passes a mirror.  Everything sets him off, from his camera falling off of its tripod to people questioning his journalistic credibility.  Though the movie does feature good roles for underappreciated actresses like Rachael Leigh Cooke and Annabella Sciorra, Elwes is definitely the best thing about and the main reason to watch American Crime.

Halloween Havoc!: FRANKENSTEIN (Universal 1931)


cracked rear viewer

Two hundred years ago, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley unleashed her novel FRANKENSTEIN upon an unsuspecting world. The ghastly story of a “Modern Prometheus” who dared to play God and his unholy creation shocked readers in 1818, and over the past two centuries has been adapted into stage plays, radio dramas, television programs, comic books, and the movies, most notably James Whale’s seminal 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, featuring not only a star-making  performance by Boris Karloff as the Creature, but ahead of its time filmmaking from Whale.

Director James Whale and his star

James Whale had directed only two films before FRANKENSTEIN (JOURNEY’S END and WATERLOO BRIDGE), but the former stage director certainly adapted quickly to the new medium of talking pictures. The story had been made three times for the silent screen, but the new sound technology adds so much to the overall eeriness of the film’s atmosphere. Whale was obviously influenced by…

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Scenes that I Love: Bela Lugosi Says “Pull the string!” In Glen Or Glenda


“PULL THE STRING!  PULL THE STRING!”

Hi, everyone!  Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s October and we’ve pulled the string here at the Shattered Lens!  Welcome to the annual TSL Horrorthon!  For the next 31 days, TSL is going to be home to everything that makes October our favorite month of the year!

So, here’s Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda, performing the opening ceremony of the season:

Horror News: Hellboy reboot Poster Released


Hellboy The Wild Hunt

The Hellboy reboot has been a tad polarizing with fans of the films pretty much wanting the film to fail because it’s not Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman doing Hellboy 3. Then there are fans of the source material who have faith that this reboot will skew more towards the horror origins that it’s creator had in mind when he created Hellboy and the BPRD.

In fact, the reboot will take ideas from two of the character’s later trip down horror lane with the story arcs from Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and Hellboy: The Storm and The Fury.

Hellboy The Storm and the Fury

While news came down that the release of the Neil Marshall-helmed Hellboy reboot has been pushed up by several months, there’s at least some very good news relating to the BPRD’s number agent.

A new poster for the film has been released courtesy of Entertainment Weekly and we see David Harbour in full Hellboy make-up with unbroken horns, flaming sword and the Right Hand of Doom very much present. This Hellboy also seem to be a bit more worn and scarred from previous fights with a much more demonic visage than the Guillermo Del Toro/Ron Perlman incarnation.

The film won’t be out in the theaters until April 12, 2019, but this cast and crew and this poster is just helping drive my interest in this reboot towards hype level.

Hellboy

Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King


First published in 1974, Carrie is often cited as being Stephen King’s first novel.

That, of course, isn’t technically true.  King had written three novels before Carrie, the majority of which weren’t very good.  Carrie is a novel that King says he wrote in a hurry because he was living in a trailer and needed the money.  It’s also a novel that King says he had absolutely no faith in because he didn’t feel like he could write from a female perspective.  Despite King’s then-low opinion of what he had written, Carrie went on to become his first published novel.  Thought the novel wasn’t an immediate success (the hardback edition only sold 13,000 copies), it subsequently became a best seller after it was adapted into Brian DePalma’s 1976 film of the same name.

By now, we all know the story, don’t we?  Even if you’ve never read the book or seen any of the film versions, there’s been so many different rip-offs and unofficial remakes of Carrie that I doubt that there’s anyone who doesn’t know the story.  Everyone knows that Carrie White was a high school outcast and that her mother was a religious fanatic.  We all know what happened the night that Tommy Ross took Carrie White to prom.  We all know about the cruel prank that was played on Carrie, about the pig’s blood that was dumped on her right after Tommy and Carrie were crowned king and queen of the prom.  And we all know that Carrie’s response was to use her own telekinetic powers to burn down the entire town and to kill the majority of her tormentors.

44 years after it was first published, it’s still interesting to read Carrie.  On the one hand, you can definitely see the beginnings of King’s signature style, especially towards the end of the book when Sue Snell comes across a dying Carrie.  On the other hand, this book is definitely different from any other King novel.  For one thing, it’s only 199 pages long.  Living in a trailer and struggling to make ends meet may not have been easy for King but I would say it actually made him a better writer.  Carrie contains none of the rambling, self-indulgent filler that’s come to typify much of King’s recent work.  One imagines that, if King wrote Carrie today, we’d have to wade through at least 500 pages of people talking about the history of psychic phenomena before the book even got around to Sue asking Tommy to take Carrie to prom.  Instead, because King was writing while hungry, there’s a hunger to the book.  It doesn’t waste any time.

King structured the novel so that half of it was narrative and half of it was, for lack of a better term, evidence.  We get excerpts from police reports, newspaper articles, and books written after the prom disaster.  The White Committee offers up their official report.  We get to read a little bit of Sue Snell’s book, I Am Sue Snell.  I imagine the structure was largely the result of King’s self-confessed insecurity with the book’s subject matter.  (For instance, whenever you doubt that Tommy Ross would actually take Carrie to prom, an except from the final report of the White Committee pops up and assures you that he did.)  Though borne of insecurity, the structure actually works pretty well.  It leaves little doubt that, after Carrie’s prom, the world will never be the same again.

The thing that really struck me while rereading this novel was that Stephen King himself seemed to dislike Carrie White almost as much as her classmates did.  King focuses, to an almost uncomfortable degree, on Carrie’s unattractive appearance and, often times, he seems to be keeping his own distance from his main character, as if he was weary about trying to get inside of her head.  When Carrie does go on her rampage, she comes across more as an out-of-control monster than someone who has been pushed too far.  Our popular conception of Carrie being a tragic victim really has more to do with how Sissy Spacek played her in the original film than in how King wrote about her in his novel.

Instead, the book is far more concerned with Sue Snell and Tommy Ross, who are both portrayed as being everyone’s idealized high school companion.  As both a novel and a film, Carrie‘s greatest weakness has always been that the plot hinges on the idea that any teenager, no matter how guilt-ridden, would actually ask their romantic companion to take someone else to prom.  The pig’s blood, I believe.  The prom, less so.

Carrie has its flaws but, to be honest, I actually think it’s better than some of King’s more recent books.  If nothing else, it’s a chance to look into Stephen King’s mind before he became the Stephen King.

Are You Scared Of Snakes?


Snakes!

Unknown Artist

Are you scared of snakes?  If so, you’re not alone.  According to 2001 Gallup Poll, 56% of Americans said they were scared of snakes.  By comparison, only 45% of Americans said they were scared of public speaking while 41% said heights.  Only 36% said they were scared of spiders and only 7% were frightened by the prospect of going to the doctor.

There are nearly 3,000 different species of snakes in the world and only 25% of them are poisonous.  Most snakes are harmless and even the poisonous ones usually won’t strike as long as they’re left alone.  But people will always be scared of snakes.  The sound of a hiss is enough to send most people into a panic.

Back in the pulp era, snakes used to regularly appear on the covers of magazines and paperbacks, often being held by a cultist or threatening a bound victim.  When it comes to pulp art, snakes are never good news.  Take a look:

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

by Ed Valigursky

by Hans Wesselowski

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist

by Rudolph Belarski

by Griffith Foxley

by John Pedersen

 

Italian Horror Spotlight: Ratman (dir by Giuliano Carnimeo)


This October, along with with everything else, I want to highlight Italian horror!  Today, we start things off with a look at 1988’s Ratman!

Terry (Janet Agren) has come to a Caribbean island, not for a vacation but instead to collect the remains of her sister, Marlis (Eva Grimaldi).  Marlis was an up-and-coming model who came to the island with a photographer named Mark (Werner Pochath) and another model named Peggy (Luisa Menon).  Marlis had her entire life ahead of her but apparently, someone murdered her on the island and then left her body in an abandoned building where it was eaten by a rat.

Obviously, identifying a dead sibling would be a difficult task for anyone.  Fortunately, no sooner has Terry arrived on the island than she runs into Fred (David Warbeck).  Fred is a true crime writer, a man who knows the island and who is always ready with a quip or a joke.  For reasons that are never quite clear, Fred invites himself to accompany Terry down to the morgue.  Why does Terry allow a complete stranger to go with her to identify her sister’s body?  Who knows?  Maybe it’s because Fred is played by David Warbeck, who was one of the more likable actors to regularly appear in Italian horror films.

It turns out to be a good thing that Fred came along because, when they arrive at the morgue, it turns out that the police don’t actually have Marlis’s body!  Instead, they have Peggy’s body.  Peggy was murdered while wearing Marlis’s dress, which led to a case of mistaken identity.  But, if Marlis isn’t dead, where is she?

Could she and Mark have gone deeper into the jungles of the island, hoping to find the perfect place to take the pictures that will turn Marlis into a superstar?  Of course, they have!  Unfortunately, what they did not take into account is that the island is also the home of the Ratman!

Who is the Ratman?  Well, his name is actually Mousey (Nelson de la Rosa), despite the fact that he doesn’t really act like a mouse.  Mousey was created a mad scientist who wanted to see what would happen if he crossed the genes of a monkey and a rat.  The end result was a 2’4 sociopath with really sharp teeth and an insatiable urge to kill.  The scientist thinks that he’ll win the Nobel Prize for this creation but Mousey seems to be more concerned with killing people.  As soon as he gets out of his cage, he goes on a killing spree….

Mostly because of the presence of Nelson de la Rosa (who, until his death in 2016, was the world’s shortest man), Ratman has a cult following.  And it must be admitted that de la Rosa makes for a memorable ratman.  Unfortunately, he’s not really in the film that much.  The majority of the film is made up of filler.  For instance, we spend a lot of time watching Mark take pictures.  A lot of time is also devoted to Fred and Terry having to deal with the incompetent island police.  (The police are convinced that Marlis is dead and are apparently willing to force Terry to look at every dead body on the island to prove it.)

Fortunately, this film also features David Warbeck and, as any fan of Italian horror can tell you, Warbeck was one of those actors who improved any film in which he appeared.  Warbeck always approached his roles with a sense of humor and a likable joie de vivre and he’s probably as convincing as anyone could hope to be when appearing in a film like Ratman.  Warbeck delivers his lines with just enough of a smile to not only let you know that he’s in on the joke but to also invite you to play along with him.

Reportedly, Ratman was a troubled production and the film’s producer stepped in to take over from the credited director.  That perhaps explains why the film itself sometimes feels rather disjointed.  There is one undeniably effective sequence, in which a model is stalked by a knife-wielding maniac just to then be attacked by Mousey instead.  Otherwise, by the standards of most Italian horror films, it’s a visually bland movie.  I would have liked to have seen what someone like Lamberto Bava and Lucio Fulci could have done with Ratman.

Ratman exists in several different version.  The version I saw was dubbed into French and it was obvious that a good deal of gore had been cut from the film.  (The “official” Italian version has a running time of 82 minutes.  The version I saw only ran 76 minutes.)  Still, even in an edited form, this film has an undeniable “What did I just see” appeal to it and it’s always worth watching anything that features David Warbeck.