Grandma Guignol: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE (Warner Bros 1962)

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Joan Crawford  and Bette Davis had been Hollywood stars forever by the time they filmed WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?. Davis was now 54 years old, Crawford 58, and both stars were definitely on the wane when they teamed for this bizarre Robert Aldrich movie, the first (and arguably best) of what has become know as the “Grand Dame Guignol” (or “psycho-biddy”) genre.

Bette is Baby Jane Hudson, a washed-up former vaudeville child star with a fondness for booze, while Joan plays her sister Blanche, a movie star of the 30’s permanently paralyzed in a car accident allegedly caused by Jane. The two live together in a run-down old house, both virtual prisoners trapped in time and their own minds. Blanche wants to sell the old homestead and send Jane away for treatment, but Jane, jealous of her sister’s new-found popularity via her televised old films, descends further into alcoholism…

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Forever Young: Ingrid Pitt in COUNTESS DRACULA (20th Century Fox/Hammer 1971)

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Iconic Ingrid Pitt became a horror fan favorite for her vampire roles in the early 1970’s.  The Polish-born actress, who survived the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp as a child during WWII, played bloodsucking lesbian Carmilla in Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, based on the classic story by J. Sheridan LeFanu, and was a participant in the Amicus anthology THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD opposite Jon Pertwee in that film’s best segment. Finally, Ingrid sunk her teeth into the title role of COUNTESS DRACULA, a juicy part where she’s not really a vampire, but a noblewoman who gets off on bathing in blood, loosely based on the real life events of Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

Portrait of the real Elizabeth Bathory

Bathory (1560-1614) was the most infamous female serial killer in history, officially found guilty of 80 murders, yet a diary allegedly found puts the count as high as 650!…

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Film Review: The Howling (dir by Steven M. Smith)

Horror is all about atmosphere.

It doesn’t matter how bloody or gory a film is.  It doesn’t matter how creative the filmmakers gets when it comes to creating their monster or plotting out their haunting.  It doesn’t matter how meta the dialogue is or how many references are tossed in to other horror movies.  It all starts with atmosphere.

The right atmosphere keeps us, the viewers, off-balance throughout the entire film.  The right atmosphere leaves us wondering what’s lurking behind every corner and it makes us jump at every unexpected sound.  The right atmosphere tells us that something terrifying could happen at any minute.  The right atmosphere makes us feel as if we’re watching a filmed nightmare.  The right atmosphere keeps us watching even when we might want to look away.

The Howling is full of atmosphere.

Now, before anyone asks, this British film is not a remake of the classic American werewolf movie.  Instead, it deals with the legend of Dr. Rathbone (Jon-Paul Gates).  Rathbone, it’s said, was a scientist who lived in a mansion outside of a small English village.  Everyone suspected that, inside of his mansion, Rathbone was performing horrific experiments on both animals and humans.  When Rathbone mysteriously disappeared, no one regretted his absence.  In fact, many people suspected that perhaps Rathbone had been killed by one of his experiments and, if so, good riddance!  Of course, the only problem was that, with Rathbone gone, no one was quite what had actually happened to his experiments.  Were they now living in the woods or was the whole thing just an urban legend?

Dr. Rathbone, at work


As Halloween approaches, three teenagers — Jason (Erik Knutsvik), his girlfriend Kristy (Tiffany-Ellen Robinson), and their friend Sophia (Maria Austin) — camp in the woods, hoping to discover the truth.  After all, there’s a lot of online clicks and youtube views to be captured by hunting the paranormal.  One need only watch Mystery, Uncovered with Ben Tramer (Matthew Fitzthomas Rogers) to understand that!

(I assume that Ben Tramer was named after Laurie’s unfortunate crush in the first two Halloween films.)

When it starts storming and their car disappears, Jason, Kristy, and Sophia are forced to seek refuge in what appears to be some sort of decrepit asylum.  They’re met by the caretaker, Shelley (Hans Hernke), who says he works for the Master and who, when an inmate suddenly makes an appearance, says, “Don’t mind him, he’s harmless.”

Of course, no one that they’ll meet that night is harmless…

The Howling plays out like a filmed dream, full of strange characters and nicely surreal images.  The film starts with a series of overhead shots, all of which suggest that not only the main characters but the entire world is being watched and stalked by some ominous and unknown force.  With the exception of a few key scenes, the majority of the film is in black-and-white and some of the images captures, especially in the doctor’s lab, are striking in their starkness.  (There are also a few brief scenes where the asylum is so dark that it’s hard to visually make out what’s happening.  Instead, we only hear voices in the blackness, an effective reminder of why so many people sleep with at least one light on.)  The few times when color does intrude on the film, like when Shelley lights a candle or when we see an episode of Mystery, Uncovered, the effect is a disquieting one.  In perhaps the film’s strongest sequence, several of Rathbone’s “patients’ suddenly appear in full, vibrant color, a nightmarish montage that seems to literally explode from the film.  There’s also a nicely down black-and-white scene involving a rather haunting dance.

Lest I give you the wrong idea, The Howling definitely has a sense of humor about itself.  In many ways it’s an homage to the gloriously over-the-top horror films of the past.  It’s a film that obviously was made for horror fans by horror fans and, as a result, the 83 minute running time is full of references to other classic horror films.  Shelley, for instance, will be a familiar character to anyone who has ever seen a haunted house film from the 40s or 50s.  There’s always a mysterious caretaker.  As for the Asylum itself, it feels like it could have been transported in from the twisted, psychological landscape of German Expressionism.

I liked The Howling.  It’s a low-budget horror film that makes pays homage to some of my favorite horror films and makes good use of a dream-like atmosphere.  And, as I said before, atmosphere is everything….



Canadian Dances Scenes That I Love: Jamie Lee Curtis and Casey Stevens in Prom Night

Prom Night … everything is alright…

Since today is technically still Canada Day, I figured why not share one of the greatest dance scenes ever filmed?  This scene is from the classic 1980 film, Prom Night, and it features Jamie Lee Curtis and Casey Stevens showing what they can do on the dance floor!

Well, actually, it shows Jamie Lee Curtis showing what she could do.  According to David Grove’s Jamie Lee Curtis, Scream Queen, Casey Stevens claimed that he could dance but, when it came time to shoot the scene, he turned out to be rather awkward and the responsibility for selling the scene pretty much fell completely on Jamie Lee Curtis’s shoulders.  As Prom Night co-star MaryBeth Rubens put it, it was impossible to imagine Casey and Jamie Lee ever being a couple in real life, despite the fact that they were during the making of this film.

Interestingly enough, Prom Night would later bring Jamie Lee Curtis her first acting nomination when she was nominated for a Genie Award for Best Foreign Actress.  (Indeed, one of the interesting thing about the early history of the Genie Awards is just how many slasher films were nominated.  Apparently, during the early 80s, the Canadian film industry was a bit less robust than it is today.)  That said, Jamie Lee does give a really good performance in this film and dammit, she deserved the award!

(Or, at the very least, I assume she did.  I’m not really sure to whom she lost and I’m too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia.)

(Okay, screw it.  I felt guilty for being lazy so I decided to look it up.  Jamie Lee Curtis lost to Susan Sarandon, who won for her performance in Atlantic City.  Since Sarandon’s role was actually a supporting one to Burt Lancaster’s, I still say that Curtis should have won.)

The song’s great too.

So, enjoy this scene and just try not to dance!

Here’s The Trailer For The Night Eats The World!

Somehow, I failed to share this trailer for The Night Eats The World when it was released earlier this week.

So, I’m sharing it now!

Now, this does look like it’s yet another zombie movie.  I love zombies but I’m afraid the whole living dead genre is getting a bit over exposed.  I mean, everyone is making zombie jokes now.  Even insurance companies make jokes about zombie apocalypse insurance.  Zombies were never supposed to go mainstream.

That said, this trailer is actually pretty effective.  So, who knows?  Maybe The Night Eats The World will live up to all of that potentially deadly hype.

We’ll see!

4 Shots From 4 Daria Nicolodi Films: Deep Red, Shock, Tenebre, Opera

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.

Today is Daria Nicolodi’s birthday!

Daria Nicolodi has been called the “unsung hero of Italian horror” and it’s an apt description.  Along with starring in several of the films that Dario Argento directed during the first half of his legendary career, Nicolodi also was responsible for the story of and co-wrote the script for Suspiria.  (Nicolodi has always said that Suspiria was based on a true story involving one of her ancestors.)  Argento’s decision to give the lead role in Suspiria to Jessica Harper, instead of Nicolodi, is often cited as the beginning of the end of their relationship.

(It’s also a shame — actually, a more accurate description would be to say that it’s a goddamn crime — that Nicolodi apparently will not have even as much as a cameo in the upcoming Suspiria remake.)

Nicolodi also appeared in films directed by Mario Bava, Luigi Cozzi, Michele Soavi, and several other distinguished Italian directors.  In Scarlet Diva, she was directed by her daughter, Asia Argento.

This edition for 4 Shots From 4 Films is dedicated to Daria Nicolodi!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Deep Red (1975, dir by Dario Argento)

Shock (1977, dir by Mario Bava)

Tenebre (1982, dir by Dario Argento)

Opera (1987, dir by Dario Argento)