Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.15 “Chopper” (dir by Bruce Kessler)

Tonight on Kolchak….

There’s a headless man riding a motorcycle, using a sword to behead members of a rival motorcycle gang!  And …. well, really what else do you need to know?  When a headless cyclists start killing people, you don’t worry about why.  There is a reason however and everyone’s favorite nervous journalist is going to find out what it is!

This episode originally aired on January 31st, 1975!


Italian Horror Showcase: Beyond Darkness (dir by Claudio Fragasso)

In 1981, The Evil Dead was released in Italy as La Casa.

In 1987, Evil Dead II was released in Italy as La Casa 2.

In 1988, La Casa 3 was released in Italy and retitled Ghosthouse for distribution in America and the UK.

That same year, La Casa 4 was also released in Italy and it was called Witchery in America.

And then, finally, 1990 saw the release of La Casa 5.

Directed by Claudio Fragasso (who, outside of Italy, is probably best known for directing Troll 2), La Casa 5 was also known as Beyond Darkness* and it was the third “unofficial” Italian sequel to Evil Dead.  Like both Ghosthouse and Witchery, it actually has nothing to do with any of the Evil Dead films.  Instead, it plays out more like a weird mix of Poltergeist and The Exorcist.

Let’s say that you’re an aging clergyman and you’re living in a house that appears to be haunted by the ghosts of several dead witches.  Despite your own faith, you haven’t been able to exorcise their evil spirits.  What should you do!?  When Rev. Jonathan (Steven Brown) finds himself in that situation, his solution is to sell the house to one of his former students, Rev. Peter (Gene LeBrock).  Jonathan figures that Peter’s faith is so strong that he’ll be able to exorcise the house in no time!  Of course, Jonathan doesn’t actually bother to tell Peter that the house is possessed by evil.  Instead, Jonathan just lets Peter and his family discover that on their own.

And discover that they do, as the house quickly reveals itself to be haunted.  Meat cleavers fly across rooms.  Radios make strange noises.  Dishes are shattered.  A strange group of black-shrouded women are spotted hanging around upstairs.  It might have something to do with the big black swan statute that’s sitting in the kid’s room.  Or maybe it has something to do with the strange light that’s streaming out of one of the closets.  Eventually, Peter’s son gets sucked into the netherworld and, when he returns, he’s not only possessed but he keeps trying to kidnap Peter’s daughter as well!

Despite being told to avoid him, Rev. Peter is eventually forced to turn to another of Rev. Jonathan’s students, Father George (David Brandon).  Ever since he was forced to spend time with a serial killer who ate children, George has been struggling with his faith.  Will George be strong enough to help Peter exorcise the demon that has possessed his son?

(Incidentally, Peter’s son is played by Micheal Stephenson, who also starred in Troll 2 and who more recently directed the documentary about that film, Best Worst Movie.)

Watch and find out what happens!  Or don’t.  Actually,if you’ve seen The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, or Poltergeist, you’ll be able to guess everything that happens in this film.  Even the final twist has been borrowed from countless other horror films.  The presence of Claudio Fragasso in the director’s chair might tempt some to watch this in the expectation that it’ll be another “WTF!?” romp like Troll 2 but Beyond Darkness is actually pretty dull.

Beyond Darkness was the last Italian entry in the La Casa franchise but it was not the last La Casa film.  When the American horror film House II was released in Italy, it was retitled La Casa 6.  This was followed by La Casa 7, which was actually an American slasher film called The Horror Show.

And with that, the La Casa series finally ended.

* While we’re on the topic of titles, Beyond Darkness should not be confused with 1979’s brilliant Buio Omega, which was released in English-speaking territories as Beyond The Darkness and which was directed, under the pseudonym Joe D’Amato, by Aristide Massaccesi.

Italian Horror Showcase: Witchery (dir by Fabrizio Laurenti)

Like many Italian horror films, Witchery is a film that is known by many names.

When it was originally released in Italy, it was called La Casa 4 and it was sold as being a sequel to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films.  (In Italy, Evil Dead was called La Casa.)  In countries where Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse was a hit, this film was entitled Ghosthouse 2.  (Adding to the confusion, Ghosthouse was called La Casa 3 in Italy, even though it had nothing to do with the Evil Dead films.)  In countries where neither Ghosthouse nor La Casa were hits, this film was sometimes called Witchcraft and sometimes called Witchery.  For the purposes of this review, I’m going with Witchery, just because Witchcraft is kind of a bland title.

Anyway, the main lesson to be learned from Witchery is that David Hasselhoff will never be anyone other than David Hasselhoff.  In this film, he plays a character named Gary but, from the minute you see him and he starts talking, it’s impossible to think of him as being anyone other than David Hasselhoff.  You spend the film thinking, “Uh-oh, David Hasselhoff’s getting sexually frustrated.  Uh-oh, that witch is coming for David Hasselhoff.  Did they just throw David Hasselhoff through a window?”

David Hasselhoff and his friend Leslie (Leslie Cumming) are in Massachusetts, staying at an abandoned hotel.  It’s rumored that, living nearby, there’s a reculsive actress, known as the Woman in Black (Hildegard Knef), who decades ago made some sort of deal with the devil or a witch or something like that and the hotel is now some sort of portal to Hell.  Leslie is determined to discover whether the rumors are true but all David Hasselhoff cares about is the fact that Leslie is still a virgin.  “It’s not normal,” he tells her, with a look in his eye that suggests that he’s willing to help her out.  Somehow, Leslie manages to resist Hasselhoff.

Before Hasselhoff can continue to make his case, both he and Leslie have to hide in the hotel because a group of people show up.  It turns out that the Brooks family is interested in buying the hotel so that they can renovate it and hopefully make some money!  Now, they’ve arrived and they’re looking to inspect the property.  There’s Jane (Linda Blair), who is pregnant.  There’s Jane’s obnoxious stepmother, Rose (Annie Ross), who won’t stop complaining.  There’s two real estate agents, Linda (Catherine Hickland) and Jerry (Rick Farnsworth).  And then there’s a little kid who has a Sesame Street cassette player with him.  Have you ever wanted to hear a demonic chant come out of a bulky box decorated with Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch?  Well, this is the film for you!

Anyway, the Brooks family ends up getting stranded at the hotel for a night, which gives the Woman In Black several chances to pop up and send people to Hell.  It turns out that the hotel is crawling with all sorts of demonic creatures and not even David Hasselhoff can scare them off.  One person gets their lips sewn together and is hung in a fireplace.  Someone else gets crucified upside down.  Someone else gets impaled on a marlin.  Because she’s played by Linda Blair, Jane gets possessed….

It’s a real mess of a film and not one that ever makes much sense.  You keep wondering just what exactly the Woman In Black is hoping to accomplish but then you realize that the film itself has no idea so you stop worrying about it.  Witchery may not be a good film but it’s such a strange film that it’s a little bit hard to resist.  I mean, how many other films combine demonic chants with Big Bird?  How many other films feature David Hasselhoff playing himself and getting into a fight with Linda Blair?  Watching the film, you get the feeling that everyone involved just kinda made it up as they went along.

I’m not exactly recommending Witchery but it is one of those films that’s weird enough to justify viewing it at least once.

All That Vampire Jive: Old Dracula (1975, directed by Clive Donner)

Count Dracula (David Niven) is old and lost in the swinging seventies.  He has been reduced to opening up his castle to tourists and Playboy Bunny photoshoots. When his manservant drains the blood from the bunnies, Dracula discovers that one of them has the same blood type as his comatose wife, Vampira.  Dracua decides to use the blood to finally revive his wife but, when he does so, Vampira turns into a black woman played by Theresa Graves.  (Graves is best remembered for playing the title character on Get Christie Love.)  Vampira keeps calling Dracula a “jive turkey” while Dracula heads to London to try to collect more blood cells.

The idea of David Niven playing a comedic Dracula seems like a no-brainer but Old Dracula is one of those films that is so dated and unintentionally racist that you worry you’re going to go to Hell just for watching it.  It seems like the film was trying to satirize race relations in the same way that Godfrey Cambridge and Melvin Van Peebles did in Watermelon Man but most of the jokes fall flat.  The film also tries to mine humor out of Dracula, with his old world manners, trying to survive in the modern world but, again, there’s not much here beyond the idea of Dracula being old.  The concept is far funnier than the execution.  While Theresa Graves is a lively presence, David Niven often seems to be tired and weary.  I can only guess he really needed the money because Niven’s heart does not seem to be in the film and even his famous natural wit is muted in most of his scenes.  Niven does get a few decent one-liners but otherwise, Old Dracula is a painful relic.

Old Dracula is often mistakenly referred to as being a rip-off of Young FrankensteinOld Dracula was actually made a year before Young Frankenstein but it sat on the shelf for two years before American International Pictures finally decided to release it.  The title of the film was originally Vampira but AIP changed it to capitalize on the success of Mel Brooks’s far more successful film.

Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S CURSE (Universal 1944)

cracked rear viewer

Okay, how the hell did Kharis and Ananka get from Mapleton, Massachusetts to the Bayous of Louisiana? That question is never answered in THE MUMMY’S CURSE, though I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The Mummy series needed an injection of something, and despite the unexplained change of scenery, this last entry is better than the previous two.

The Federal government is determined to drain the local swamp (how’s THAT for a switch!) down in Cajun Country, when two representatives of the Scripps Museum, Drs. Jim Halsey (Dennis Moore) and Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe ) arrive, sent to retrieve the two mummies lost there in our last episode (even though the swamp was in Mapleton then!). Project leader Pat Walsh (Addison Richards) protests, but there’s nothing he can do about it. One of the workers is found murdered, and the rest of the superstitious lot suspect Kharis has returned (“The devil’s…

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Horror Scenes That I Love: Vincent Price Watches Home Movies in The Last Man On Earth

The great Vincent Price passed away 25 years ago today.

In honor of his memory, today’s horror scene that I love is from the 1964 film, The Last Man On Earth.  Based on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, The Last Man On Earth stars Vincent Price as John Neville, a man who believes that he’s the sole survivor of a plague that has transformed all of humanity into vampires.

It’s not a bad film and it features one of Price’s best performances.  In this scene, he watches home movies of his family, movies that were filmed before the world ended.  As he watches, he goes from laughter to tears.

Vincent Price, R.I.P.

Horror Film Review: Anaconda (dir by Luis Llosa)

In many ways, the 1997 monster film Anaconda is an incredibly dumb movie but let’s give credit where credit is for.  Whoever was in charge of casting this movie managed to assemble the most unlikely group of co-stars that you would ever expect to see in a movie about a documentary crew who run into a giant snake while sailing down the Amazon River.

I mean, let’s just consider the most familiar names in the cast.  Jennifer Lopez.  Ice Cube.  Jon Voight.  Owen freakin Wilson.  I mean, it’s not just that you wouldn’t expect to come across these four people all in the same movie.  It’s that they all seem to come from a totally different cinematic universe.  They’ve all got their own unique style of acting and seeing them all on the same small boat together is just bizarre.  You’ve got Jennifer Lopez, delivering her lines with a lot of conviction but not much sincerity.  And then you’ve got Ice Cube coolly looking over the Amazon and basically daring the giant snake to even think about trying to swallow him.  Owen Wilson is his usual quirky self, delivering his lines in his trademark Texas stoner drawl.  And then you’ve got Jon Voight.

Oh my God, Jon Voight.

Voight plays Paul Serone, a Paraguayan who says that he can help the documentary crew find an isolated Amazon tribe but who, once he gets on the boat, basically takes over and announces that he’s actually a snake hunter and he’s planning on capturing the biggest anaconda in existence.  It takes a while for the snake to show up.  When it finally does, it’s actually a pretty impressive throw-back to the type of cheesy by entertaining monsters that used to show up in drive-in movies back in the 50s and the 60s.  But really, the biggest special effect in the movie is Jon Voight.  Wisely, Voight doesn’t waste any time trying to be subtle or in anyway believable in the role of Serone.  Instead, Voight gives a performance that seems to be channeling the spirit of the infamous Klaus Kinski.  Voight growls, snarls, and glares as if the fate of the world depended upon it and he rips into his Paraguayan accent with all the ferocity of a character actor who understands the importance of being memorable in an otherwise forgettable movie.  It’s as if Voight showed up on set and looked at what was going and then said to himself, “Well, Jon, it’s all up to you.”  Serone is really a pretty vicious character.  I mean, he literally strangles a character to death with his legs!  But, thanks to Voight’s crazed energy he’s still the most compelling character in the movie.  It’s really scary to think about what the film would have been like without Voight shaking things up.  Along amongst the cast, Voight seems to understand just how silly Anaconda truly is.  Voight takes a rather middling monster movie and, through sheer force of will, manages to make it at least somewhat entertaining.

Personally, I’d like to see a remake of Anaconda, one that would feature the same cast but would be directed by Werner Herzog.  Just imagine if Herzog had told the story of that trip down the Amazon.  Gone would be the bland dialogue and rudimentary character motivations.  Instead, we’d have Jennifer Lopez slowly going insane while hundreds of monkey lay siege to the boat and Ice Cube musing on the never ending conflict between man and nature.  Herzog’s Anaconda would probably be just crazy enough to keep up with Jon Voight’s performance.

4 Shots From 4 James Karen Horror Films: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster, Poltergeist, Return of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead Part II

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 lets the visuals do the talking.

Yesterday, we lost one of the great character actors, James Karen.  Over the course of his long career, Karen appeared work in almost genre imaginable, including horror.  Today, we pay tribute to him with….

4 Shots From 4 James Karen Horror Films

Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (1965, dir by Robert Gaffney)

Poltergeist (1982, dir by Tobe Hooper)

Return of the Living Dead (1985, dir by Dan O’Bannon)

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988, dir by Ken Wiederhorn)

Horror On The Lens: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (dir by Robert Gaffney) (RIP, James Karen)

Today’s horror on the lens is dedicated to the memory of the great character actor James Karen.  Horror fans will remember him from Return of the Living Dead and Poltergeist.  He appeared in a countless number of films, usually playing men of authority.  1965’s Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster featured him in a rare starring role.

Despite the movie’s title, it’s not about Frankenstein.  Instead, it’s about an astronaut named Frank who is actually an android.  When his latest mission into space goes wrong, Frank ends up crashing in Puerto Rico.  Now malfunctioning, Frank causes some major chaos.  Can his creator, Dr. Adam Steele (James Karen), track Frank down and put an end to his reign of terror?

And what about the Martians?  Android Frank isn’t the only threat in Puerto Rico.  A group of Martians have landed and are determined to kidnap any girl wearing a bikini so that they can use them to repopulate their race.  We’re told that every woman on Mars — with the apparent exception of Princess Marcuzan, played with evil haughtiness by Marilyn Hanold — has been killed as the result of an atomic war.  Assisting Princess Marcuzan is Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell), a short, bald Martian with pointy ears.

One of the oddest things about Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is that, despite being a standard — if wonderfully nonsensical — low-budget B-movie, it features a great soundtrack!