Horror on TV: Thriller 1.7 “The Purple Room” (dir by Douglas Heyes)


For tonight’s televised horror, we have The Purple Room, an episode of Thriller!  This was an anthology series, which was hosted by Boris Karloff.  Admittedly, Thriller was not always a horror show.  Several of the episodes were crime stories that had a diabolical twist.  But anything hosted by Boris Karloff is perfect for October viewing.

The Purple Room is the story of what happens when a skeptic (played by a young Rip Torn) learns that he must spend a year living in a house that may or may not be haunted.  This episode is enjoyably creepy and, of course, it has a twist.

This episode originally aired on October 25th, 1960.

Advertisements

Horror Film Review: It (dir by Tommy Lee Wallace)


Last month, before I saw the latest film version of Stephen King’s It, I watched the 1990 miniseries version.

This was my first time to watch the It miniseries, though I had certainly heard about it.  Most of the reviews that I had read seemed to be mixed.  Everyone seemed to agree that Tim Curry was the perfect choice for the role of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.  However, many other reviewers complained that the program’s television origins kept It from being as effective as it could be.  “Not as scary as the book,” everyone seemed to agree.  The actors who played the members of the Loser Clubs as children all seemed to receive general acclaim but not everyone seemed to be as enamored with the adult cast.  And everyone, even those who liked the miniseries as a whole, complained about the show’s finale, in which Pennywise took the form of a giant spider.

Well, I have to agree about the giant spider.  That spider looked painfully fake, even by the standards of 1990s television.  Not only does the spider look too fake to truly be scary but, once that spider showed up, that meant that Tim Curry disappeared from the film.  Curry deserved every bit of acclaim that he received for playing the role of Pennywise.

All that said, the miniseries was still a lot better than I had been led to believe.

Certainly, it’s not as frightening as the book or the movie.  Considering that the It miniseries was produced for network television, that’s not surprising.  As opposed to the movie, the miniseries attempts to cover King’s entire novel.  That’s a lot of material, even when you have a five hour running time.  Obviously, a good deal of the story had to be cut and there are a few scenes in the miniseries that feel a bit rushed.  Characters like Audrey Denbrough and Stanley Uris, who were compelling in the novel, are reduced to being mere bystanders.  Some of the novel’s most horrific scenes — like Henry Bowers cutting Ben — are either excised or heavily toned down.  If the novel was as much about the hypocrisy of the adults of Derry as the paranormal horror of Pennywise, that theme is largely left out of the miniseries.

That said, It still had its share of memorable moments.  The image of a clown standing on the side of the road, holding balloons, and waving is going to be creepy, regardless of whether it’s found in a R-rated film or on ABC.  The death of little George Denbrough is horrific, regardless of whether you actually the bone sticking out of his wound or not.  Even the library scene, in which a grown-up Richie Tozier deals with a balloon filled with blood, was effectively surreal.

As for the actors who played the members of the Losers Club, the results were occasionally uneven.  The actors who played them as children were all believable and had a credible group chemistry.  You could imagine all of them actually being friends.  As for the adults, some of them I liked more than others.  Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, and Tim Reid gave the best performances out of the group.  John Ritter and Annette O’Toole were somewhere in the middle.  Richard Thomas was absolutely awful and I found myself snickering whenever he was filmed from behind and I saw his pony tail.  Richard Masur, unfortunately, wasn’t around long enough to make much of an impression one way or the other.

Ultimately, though, the miniseries (much like the book) suffers because the adults are never as interesting as Pennywise.  Tim Curry dominates the entire movie and, when he’s not onscreen, his absence is definitely felt.  Watching the miniseries made me appreciate why the film version kept Pennywise’s screen time to a minimum.  Pennywise is such a flamboyant and dominant character that, if not used sparingly, he can throw the entire production out of balance.

Despite its flaws, I liked the miniseries.  Yes, it’s uneven.  Yes, it’s toned down.  Yes, it works better in pieces than as a whole.  But, taken on its own terms, It was effective.  Director Tommy Lee Wallace creates a suitably ominous atmosphere and the child actors are all properly compelling.  And, finally, that damn clown is always going to freak me out.

Just for fun, here’s a trailer for It, recut as a family film:

Horror Book Review: A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis by Christopher Curry


Remember the movie Juno?

I can remember when Juno first came out, a lot of people were shocked when the character of Mark (played by Jason Bateman) suddenly started to come on to Juno (Ellen Page).  (For the record, as a result of that one scene, I’ve always had a hard time watching Jason Bateman in practically anything.)  Myself, I knew Mark no good long before he asked Juno what she thought of him.

Remember the scene where Mark asked Juno who her favorite horror director was?  Juno, being intelligent, replied, “Dario Argento.”  Mark smirked and replied that Herschell Gordon Lewis was better.  As soon as Mark said that, I knew he was no good.

Now, I should make clear that’s nothing against Herschell Gordon Lewis, who was one of the pioneers of independent American cinema.  Though I don’t think that there’s any way you can compare him to Argento, Lewis played an important and often undervalued role in the development of horror as a genre.  Lewis may not be a household name but Blood Feast and 2,000 Maniacs are two of the most influential films ever made.  Something Weird was one of the first films to feature an acid trip and it’s title inspired Something Weird Video.  Speaking of Something Weird Video, the clip that they always play before their films — the one of the bald man shouting that “you’re damaged merchandise and this is a fire sale!” — was taken from Lewis’s Scum of the Earth.  And finally, Lewis’s political satire — The Year of the Yahoo — pretty much predicted the current state of American politics.

If you want to find out more about the life and career of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the 1999 book, A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, is a good place to start.  The author, Christopher Curry, admits from the start that he is an unapologetic fan of Mr. Lewis’s.  As such, don’t expect the book to be too critical of any of Lewis’s films.  That said, A Taste of Blood contains not only interviews with the always articulate Lewis and some of his collaborators but it also contains a synopsis of every single Lewis film that had been released up until that point.  As such, the book is not just a tribute to Lewis but also a fascinating record of what it was like to work outside of the mainstream Hollywood establishment in the 1960s.  For that reason alone, it’s a valuable resource.

Now, it should be remembered that A Taste of Blood was written in 1999.  At the time that it was written, Lewis had retired from filmmaking.  Lewis, who passed away in 2016, would return to make three more films after the publication of A Taste of Blood.  As a result, A Taste of Blood is not a complete look at Lewis’s film career.  But it is a good place to start!

Finally, I bought my copy of A Taste For Blood at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas.  As far as I know, it’s out of print but, as always, there are still copies to be found online.

Horror Scenes That I Love: Karma Get Revenge On Johnny In Night of the Living Dead


Today’s horror scene that I love comes from 1968’s Night of Living Dead.  (Read Arleigh’s review here and Gary’s review here.)

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara…”

“Stop it!  You’re ignorant!”

Okay, this may not be a popular opinion but I’m just going to say it: Johnny was a jerk and he kinda got what he deserved.  Nice gloves, though.

Run, Barbara, run!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Jess Franco 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 filmmaker: the legendarily prolific Jess Franco!

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962, dir by Jess Franco)

Female Vampire (1973, dir by Jess Franco)

Oasis of the Zombies (1982, dir by Jess Franco)

Faceless (1988, dir by Jess Franco)

Horror On The Lens: My Dead Girlfriend (dir by Brett Kelly)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have the low-budget, 2006 indie zombie film, My Dead Girlfriend.

The Late Night Movie Gang and I watched this move on Saturday night and it amused the Hell out of us.  It’s about a guy (played by director Brett Kelly) who somehow manages to roll over his girlfriend while backing out his car.  She’s dead but, fortunately, there’s some black magic books lying around so, before you know it, she’s alive again!

Except, of course, she’s kind of undead and hungry now.  Amy, the formerly dead girl, is played by Caitlin Delaney and she has a blast trying to eat everything that she comes across.  Eventually, Kelly decides to take her up to a cabin so that he can figure out what to do next.  Unfortunately, a lot of their friends decide to come hang out at the cabin at the same time…

Anyway, this is a fun movie.  I always like watching movies like this.  For what they may lack in budget, they often make up for it in passion.

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Wolves at the Door (dir by John Leonetti)


I’m really not sure what to make of Wolves at the Door.

I knew the film was inspired by the crimes of Charles Manson and his family before I watched the film.  Not only was Wolves at the Door specifically advertised as being “Inspired by The Infamous Manson Family Murder Spree” but just check out the plot description that was provided by Warner Bros:

Four friends gather at an elegant home during the Summer of Love, 1969. Unbeknownst to them, deadly visitors are waiting outside. What begins as a simple farewell party turns to a night of primal terror as the intruders stalk and torment the four, who struggle for their lives against what appears to be a senseless attack.

The Manson Family have inspired a countless number of films, so that’s not really an issue.  Almost all of those films either presented Manson and his followers as being the epitome of evil or they told stories that were heavily and obviously fictionalized.

Wolves at the Door, however, is different.  Other than in some news footage that is shown during the end credits, Manson is not seen in the film.  For that matter, the members of the Family don’t get much screen time either.  Mostly, they’re just seen as shadows, creeping down hallways and sometimes materializing in a doorway before vanishing.  There’s no mention of Helter Skelter or the Beatles.  I’d have to rewatch the film to say for sure but I think it’s possible that we only hear them say one or two words over the course of the entire movie.

Instead, Wolves at the Door spends most of its running time with the victims of the Manson Family, following them as they are unknowingly stalked inside of a Los Angeles mansion.  Usually, in a film like this, you would expect the names to be changed but, for some reason, that doesn’t happen in Wolves At The Door.

So, Katie Cassidy plays a pregnant actress who is named Sharon.

Elizabeth Henstridge plays a coffee heiress who is named Abigail.

Adam Campbell plays Abigail’s Polish boyfriend, who is named Wojciech.

Miles Fisher plays a hairdresser who is named Jay and who just happens to be Sharon’s ex-boyfriend.

And, finally, Lucas Adams plays a teenager stereo enthusiast named Steven, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Speaking as someone who loves horror and who has defended some of the most critically derided films of all time, everything about Wolves at the Door just feels icky, tacky, and wrong.  Many grindhouse horror films have been inspired by actual crimes but most of them at least changed the names of the victims.   You really have to wonder just what exactly the filmmakers were thinking here.

(Then again, just two years ago, NBC greenlit a show called Aquarius, which could have just as easily been called “The Adventures of Young Charlie Manson.”)

It’s not just that Wolves at the Door is offensive.  In fact some of the best movies of all time were specifically designed to be offensive.  The problem with Wolves at the Door is that it’s also just a very shoddy film.  (In fact, if the film had been well-made, it wouldn’t be quite as offensive.)  Though the actors may be talented, they’re let down by a script that’s full of some of the clunkiest dialogue that I’ve ever heard.  Though the soundtrack may feature some good songs, they’re still the same damn songs that show up in every movie set in 1969.  (Judging from the movies, everyone in 1969 just listened to the same five songs over and over again.)  Though the movie itself is only 73 minutes long, it is so abysmally paced that it feels much, much longer.

Sadly, this film was directed by John Leonetti, who did a pretty good job with Annabelle.  Again, I’m not sure what exactly he or anyone else was thinking with Wolves at the Door, which I’m going to go ahead and declare to be the worst film of 2017.  I know that the year isn’t over yet but I just can’t imagine anything as bad as this.