Horror Scenes That I Love: Jack Torrance Explains The Donner Party


This scene, of course, is from 1980’s The Shining.

Technically, this is  before Jack Torrance met the ghosts and started to lose his mind but, in this scene, you can tell that Jack’s already getting a little bit tired of his family.  Jack Nicholson’s delivery of, “See?  It’s okay.  He heard it on the television,” gets me every time.

Dreaming of Linda Blair: Dead Sleep (1992, directed by Alec Mills)


Maggie Healey (Linda Blair) is an American nurse in Australia.  Freshly separated from her drug addict boyfriend, Maggie gets a job working at a mental hospital.  Dr. Jonathan Heckett (Tony Bonner) is experimenting with “dead sleep therapy,” where the patients are kept drugged at night.  Maggie notices that the patients keep dying and that Dr. Heckett doesn’t care so she teams up with an annoying activist to investigate what dead sleep therapy is actually about.

This was on TCM at 3 a.m. last night, airing right after DreamscapeDead Sleep might be disguised as a horror film but there’s nothing scary about it.  When the patients are in dead sleep, they don’t even have nightmares, which is a huge missed opportunity.  The movie is so sloppily put together that it doesn’t even reveal why Dr. Heckett is putting his patients in dead sleep, other than he’s just evil.  Linda Blair delivers her lines as if she is reading them off a cue card and the entire movie look like it was filmed at a community college.  The only amusing thing about the movie was that all of the male patients got to wear hospital gowns when they went under deep sleep while all the female patients slept topless.  Normally I wouldn’t complain but it was so blatant what the filmmakers were doing that it was hard not to laugh when the movie tried to pivot to being a serious drama.  A film starring Linda Blair has no right to be this boring.

Book Review: Eaten Alive, edited by Jay Slater


If you were to ask me to recommend one book to someone who is looking for an introduction to the world of Italian horror, Eaten Alive is the book that I would recommend.

That’s largely because this book was my introduction.  Way back in 2006, I came across a copy at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas and I bought it.  I bought it because, at the time, I was already into horror movies.  However, after reading the reviews and the essays in this book, I discovered that I wanted to learn much more about Italian horror.  Outside of Suspiria and a few giallos like Blade in The Dark, the first Italian horror movies that I specifically tracked down and watched were the movies that I read about in this book.  If not for Eaten Alive, I would never have seen the wonderfully macabre and disturbing Beyond the Darkness.  This was book was also my first real exposure to Lucio Fulci.  If not for this book, I never would have seen Zombi 2.  I never would have discovered the Beyond trilogy.

In fact, considering that Arleigh and I first bonded over Italian horror, it’s doubtful that I would be writing for this site if I had not made that decision to buy Eaten Alive.

As for the book itself, it’s a comprehensive overview of Italian cannibal and zombie cinema.  Along with containing information about every Italian cannibal and zombie film released in the 20th Century, it also features interviews with stars like Ian McCullough, Catriona MacColl, and GIovanni Lombardo Radice.  (Radice even reviews one of the films himself.)  The majority of the films are reviewed by Jay Slater but there are also contributions from writers like Ramsey Campbell and Lloyd Kaufman.  (In fact, Kaufman writes a rather stirring defense of one of the more controversial films to be found in Eaten Alive, Cannibal Holocaust.  Campbell, meanwhile, thoroughly destroys Nights of Terror.)

Seriously, if you’re interested in learning more about Italian horror or if you’re already a fan, this book is a must!

Halloween Havoc!: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Universal 1943)


cracked rear viewer

Universal’s 1943 remake of the 1925 Lon Chaney Sr. classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is definitely an ‘A’ movie in every way. A lavish Technicolor production with an ‘A’ list cast (Claude Rains, Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster) and opulent sets (including the Opera House interiors built for the ’25 silent), it’s the only Universal Horror to win an Oscar – actually two, for Art Direction and Cinematography. Yet I didn’t really like it the first time I saw it. It’s only through repeated viewings I’ve softened my stance and learned to appreciate the film.

Claude Rains’s performance in particular has made me a convert. As Erique Claudin, he’s a sympathetic figure, and one can’t help but feel sorry for him. When he’s let go from the orchestra by the maestro, after twenty long years as a violinist, his arthritis causing his playing to become subpar, I felt pity for…

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Italian Horror Showcase: Tentacles (dir by Ovidio G. Assonitis)


Okay, tell me if this sounds familiar.

There’s a beachside resort town, one whose survival is pretty much dependent upon tourists and big business.  If you give the tourists a reason to not show up, the town dies.  If you give big business a reason to build their factories and their underground tunnels somewhere else, the town dies.

Unfortunately, something bad is happening in this little town.  People are going in the water and they’re never returning.  It appears that they’re being killed by some sort of giant sea monster, even though the authorities swear that it’s simply impossible.  The town’s leaders are putting pressure on the sheriff to cover up the crimes.  A scientist shows up and thinks that everyone he meets is an idiot.

It’s not safe to go in the water but people keep doing it!

Now, you may be thinking that it sounds like I’m describing the plot of Jaws but actually, I’m talking about an Italian film called Tentacles.  Released in 1977, Tentacles was one of the many films that was directly inspired by the success of Spielberg’s film.  Jaws was such a phenomenal success that it was ripped off by filmmakers across the world.  That said, of all the people ripping off Spielberg’s film, the Italians brought an undeniable and frequently shameless flair to the Jaws knockoffs.

Tentacles is a bit different from other Italian Jaws films in that, this time, the threat does not come from a shark.  Instead, it comes from a giant octopus!  That’s actually a pretty good twist because, in real life, an octopus is actually more dangerous than a shark.  Not only are they bigger and considerably smarter than most sharks but if they get enough of their eight arms around you, they can literally squeeze you to death!  I mean …. agck!  Say what you will about sharks, I imagine getting eaten by one would suck but at least it wouldn’t take long to die.  Whereas if an octopus gets you, you would actually be aware of it squeezing you to death and oh my God, I’m never getting in the water.

Anyway, in Tentacles, the octopus is snatching babies off of piers and sailors off of boats and it’s using its octopus powers to rip their skin from their bones.  It also attack scuba divers by firing ink at them.  The sheriff (Claude Akins) says that it’s nothing to worry about but Ned Turner (John Huston), a hard-boiled reporter, thinks that there’s a story here.  Ned’s in town visiting his sister (Shelley Winters).  She has a ten year-old son who enjoys sailing.  Uh-oh….

Henry Fonda shows up for a few very brief scenes, playing the head of a company that built the underwater tunnel that somehow mutated the octopus.  Fonda looks incredibly frail in his scenes (and apparently, he filmed his part while recovering from heart surgery) but his performance in Tentacles still isn’t as cringe-inducing as his performance in The Swarm.

Also showing up is a marine biologist named Will Gleason (Bo Hokpkins).  Fortunately, Gleason owns two killer whales so, after the octopus kills his wife, Gleason sends out the orcas to track it down.  Before doing so, he gives them a pep talk.  Apparently, killer whales respond to positive reinforcement.

Tentacles is unique in that it’s an Italian production that managed to rope in a few well-known American actors.  It’s an odd film to watch because, on the one hand, the film is full of risible dialogue and it’s painfully slow whenever the octopus isn’t attacking anyone and no one really seems to be that invested in any of their characters.  (When the octopus kills a baby, the actress playing the baby’s mother underacts to such an extent that the scene becomes almost surreal.)  This isn’t like Jaws, where you actually care about Brody, Quint, Hooper, and the Kintner boy.  On the other hand, the octopus itself is actually kind of frightening so, on that very basic level, the film works.

In the end, Tentacles is one of the lesser Jaws rip-offs but you’ll never forget that octopus.

 

4 Shots From 4 Beach Horror Films: The Horror of Party Beach, The Beach Girls and the Monster, Blood Beach, Sand Sharks


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.

Today, we celebrate horror on the beach with….

4 Shots From 4 Beach Horror Films

The Horror of Party Beach (1964, dir by Del Tenney)

The Beach Girls and the Monster (1966, dir by Jon Hall)

Blood Beach (1981, dir by Jeffrey Bloom)

Sand Sharks (2011, dir by Mark Atkins)

 

Horror Film Review: Blood Beach (dir by Jeffrey Bloom)


“Nom nom nom nom,” says that monster under the sand.

“Agck!  Agck!  Agck!  Agck!” says the people above the sand.

And that’s all you really need to know about the 1981 film, Blood Beach.

Blood Beach takes place on a beach that also happens to be a hunting ground for this mutated worm thing that lives underground.  Basically, whenever anyone takes a stroll on the beach, they get sucked down into the sand and, for the most part, they’re never seen again.  Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, as in the case of a wannabe rapist who ends up getting castrated while being pulled down into the sand.  But, far too often, the victims are innocent people who were just walking their dog, chasing after their hat, or searching for buried treasure.

The beach becomes so well-known for being a death trap that the locals start to call it Blood Beach but, for some reason, that doesn’t seem to stop people from wandering out on the sand at inopportune times.  I mean, it would just seem logical to me that if there’s a monster killing people on the beach then maybe it would be a good idea to avoid the beach for a while.  I mean, you could go see a movie or you could lay out and work on your tan in your back yard.  Believe it or not, you do have the option of not going to a monster-infested location.

Strangely, there’s one person who is always on the beach but never gets killed.  That’s Mrs. Selden (Eleanor Zee), a somewhat odd woman who always seems to be nearby whenever someone is getting dragged into the sand but who never gets attacked herself.  Interestingly, Mrs. Selden never seems to be particularly concerned by all the carnage around her.  (One victim is even killed while specifically checking to make sure Mrs. Selden is okay.)  I kept expecting some sort of major twist where it was revealed that Mrs. Selden was a witch or something but it never happened.

Now, you would think that the presence of an underground monster would be the perfect excuse to call in the national guard but instead, the local police (led by John Saxon’s Captain Pearson) handle it.  Sgt. Royko (Burt Young) heads up the monster investigation, which in this film means that he kinda of stumbles from scene-to-scene, never looking particularly impressed by or interesting in anything that’s happening around him.  If anything, Royko seems to be annoyed that he’s having to give up time that he could be using to drink beer and watch TV and that attitude makes Royke the hero of this film.  Forget the scientist who wants to understand where the monster came from.  Forget the habor cop who wants to rekindle things with an old flame.  Royko doesn’t care about science or love.  He just wants to blow stuff up, which makes him the perfect audience surrogate

Anyway, Blood Beach sounds like it should be a fun movie but it’s not.  The movie delivers a lot of beach but very little blood.  There’s a lot of “nom nom” but very little “agck!”  Blood Beach is almost as much of a misfire as spending spring break in West Texas.