We horror aficionados have always claimed October as our own. Unfortunately, the state of the world has put a definite damper on all horror and Halloween related festivities. But, if we cannot go out to haunt the land, we can use the opportunity to shutter ourselves away in a dank dungeon and watch as much horror as possible. I have had the incredibly unoriginal idea to watch a horror movie every evening in October. Furthermore, I have decided to share my viewing selections. These mini reviews will be divided into three sets to be posted today, October 21st, and November 1st so that you, my raving reader, may partake in these films yourself if you wish. I realize this schedule prevents anyone from watching my last eleven selections within October but I have to have some time to watch them myself. Besides, it provides an excuse to stretch your horror intake well into November.
Warning: As these reviews are intentionally short, they do not provide a lot of opportunity for elucidation. I, therefore, suggest that you not let any disparaging comments I make sway your decision to watch a film. Rather, if the summary peaks your interest, seek out the movie and let my opinions be damned.
- The Milpitas Monster (1976)
The small town of Milpitas is terrorized by a Cthulhu-like monster…if Cthulhu was made of trash bags, bubble wrap, & used septic hoses. In defense of the creature’s appearance, it was birthed from pollution and thus the resemblance to a trash heap is probably intentional. With its slow pacing, terrible dubbing, and a cast comprised entirely of non-actors, this is an easy film to pick on. But, much like an Ed Wood production, there is a sense that The Milpitas Monster was spawned from a love for the genre rather than from garbage. Additionally there is a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek attitude in play. The townspeople are less concerned with monstrous footprints left all over town then they are with their missing trash cans. Classic cartoon fans may recognize legendary voice actor Paul Frees (possibly best known as Boris Badenov on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) providing the opening narration and thus giving the whole production the feel of a Jay Ward cartoon. Reportedly made on a mere $5000 budget, the film began as a school project at Milpitas High School that eventually involved a sizeable portion of the town’s population. Taken in that light, one can’t help be impressed with the combination of stop-motion, costuming, miniatures, and giant props used to bring the monster to life. Does all of this add up to a good or even entertaining film? No, unfortunately, but many filmmakers have done worse with a lot more.
- The Evil (1978)
Psychiatrist C. J. Arnold (Richard Crenna) and his wife purchase a run-down mansion with the intent to turn it from a house of the devil into a drug-rehabilitation centre. Well, of course, they don’t know it is a house of the devil at first but that is the description I found online. The couple, along with a small team of friends and former addicts, move in and set to work repairing the house. Oh, and there is an apparently friendly ghost that only Arnold’s wife can see. In his benevolence, this ghost kills a groundskeeper as way of warning the others to leave. Before long, Arnold makes the very unwise decision to pry open a mysterious trap door in the basement that was protected by a wrought iron cross. Demonic forces are released and everyone finds themselves trapped in the house as they are picked off one by one. The special effects are almost entirely people throwing themselves around as if they are under attack by invisible forces. Although occasionally amusing in its ineptitude, The Evil is too dull to be truly entertaining. The film’s only saving grace is five minutes of Victor Buono portraying an amused and mocking Satan.
- Blood Ransom (2014)
Independent film, Blood Ransom is touted as a vampire romance film. Such a designation does not normally hold a lot of appeal for me but I will say that the story is a far cry from the mopey, Twilight-inspired, love story I might have expected. Crystal (Anne Curtis), a dancer at a seedy club, is turned by vampire crime boss, Roman (Caleb Hunt), as he intends them to be together literally forever. Crystal’s transformation into a vampire, however, is a gradual one. When the opportunity arises, Crystal escapes from Roman and, with the help of love interest Jeremiah (Alexander Dreymon), attempts to regain her human soul before her conversion is complete. Writer/director Francis dela Torre attempts to do something different with the vampire mythos. Unfortunately, the rules are not well defined which leads to a very confused story in which nobody’s motives or plans are clear. A subplot involving a cop friend of Jeremiah’s who is trying to have a baby with his wife is completely irrelevant and just gets in the way. It’s all a bit of a shame as there are hints of interesting concepts but a sloppy screenplay fails to sufficiently develop them and does not give the actors enough to work with.
Available for streaming on Tubi.
- Psycho III (1986)
If you are unfamiliar with the original Psycho (1960), stop reading this and go watch it. Much more than just the earliest slasher film, Psycho is a cinematic masterpiece with a nervous tension, a haunting atmosphere, and a career-defining performance by Anthony Perkins. The sequels, occurring twenty-two years later, were never going to compare to the original but they are entertaining films in their own right. In Psycho III, the events of Psycho II have left Norman disturbed and up to his old habits. The film loses something due to the lack of any mystery and Norman is necessarily less sympathetic than in the previous film. But Psycho III is all about watching the deterioration of Norman Bates’ mind. Anthony Perkins continues Norman’s backslide into madness that began in Psycho II. The nervous, deranged twitches and ticks he forces upon Norman are marvelous and enough on their own to make Psycho III a worthwhile watch.
Available for streaming from Apple TV.
- Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)
This gender swap film from Hammer Productions is nowhere near as sleazy as one might assume, or as the poster would imply. It is actually a clever amalgamation of the stories of Dr. Jekyll, Jack the Ripper, and the Burke and Hare murders. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has always been more about the dual nature of man then a simple monster story. It is a somewhat logical extension that Jekyll’s experiments release his ‘feminine side’. The fact that Sister Hyde is as contemptible as her male counterpart may be construed as a bit misogynistic but it is worth noting that Dr. Jekyll himself does not require much coaxing to commit some terrible acts. Martine Beswick, as Sister Hyde, may not fit the typical pretty and dainty heroine mold but she has a handsomeness and commanding presence that suits the role perfectly. Written by The Avengers scribe, Brian Clemens, the script never takes itself too seriously but avoids delving into the absurd.
Available for streaming on Hoopla.
- From Beyond (1986)
The late Stuart Gordon’s follow-up film to Re-Animator was also based loosely on a short story by H. P. Lovecraft. From Beyond tells of the creation of a device that allows humans to perceive, and interact, with creatures outside of our dimension. Things go wrong when the lead scientist on the project is consumed by an extra-dimensional being causing the two to merge and mutate into a mockery of humanity. I am a bit of a purist when it comes to the tales of H. P. Lovecraft so it can be hard for me to look past the license with which Gordon handles the stories. That said, I prefer From Beyond to Re-Animator as it is a more serious take on the material. Jeffrey Combs who, like Barbara Crampton, appears in both films tones down the scenery chewing in From Beyond to what I find more acceptable levels. Ken Foree is a welcome addition to the cast as police detective, Bubba Brownlee, but beware the gratuitous speedo shot.
Available for streaming on Shudder.
- The Split (1959)
Better known as The Manster, The Split tells the story of Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley), an American news correspondent in Japan, who is injected with…something by mad scientist Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura). At first the only effect on Larry is to turn him into a lecherous adulterer, although it is admittedly not clear if that is really an effect of the drug. Soon, however, Larry grows a second monstrous head and goes on a killing spree in Tokyo. The two-headed effect looks as ridiculous as you can imagine. The plot may be an attempt at another take on the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but that is probably giving more credit than is deserved. Don’t miss the attempt to teach you a valuable lesson on the human condition in the very last scene.
Available for streaming on Tubi.
- The Brides of Dracula (1960)
This Hammer film contains no brides and no Dracula. What it does have, however, is Peter Cushing reprising his role from Dracula (1958) as Dr. Van Helsing. (Christopher Lee would return to the series in the third film, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, in 1966). The draw of Cushing cannot be overstated as his performance elevates the proceedings beyond the straightforward script. However, even without Dracula, this is a fine addition to Hammer’s horror library. The Baron Meinster (David Peel) has been locked away for years by his mother to hide his vampirism. When French schoolteacher, Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur) misinterprets the situation as a kidnapping, she frees the Baron and unleashes his evil on the local citizenry. The relationship between the Baron and his mother is an intriguing one and Van Helsing displays some ingenious methods in the fight against the vampires. If you can get past the odd appearance of a vampire with blonde, voluminous hair and some rather poor fake bats, The Brides of Dracula is an enjoyable vampire tale.
Available for streaming from Apple TV.
- The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Boris Karloff portrays Dr. Leon Kravaal, a scientist experimenting with the theory that a person can be put in a state of suspended animation through freezing. Dr. Kravaal believes that this “frozen therapy” can be used to cure ailments that science is unable to cure while the body is active. When a group of men interfere in his work, they and Dr. Kravaal are accidentally frozen for ten years. Once thawed out, Dr. Kravaal continues his studies using the other men as his guinea pigs. The fact that the title makes little to no sense notwithstanding, The Man with Nine Lives is a wonderfully engaging film. Of course, the science is a little hokey (you’ll be surprised how important hot coffee is to the medical sciences) but it makes enough sense to be passable. Karloff is great portraying the dual aspects of a madman willing to experiment on unwilling human victims but doing so in an attempt to cure all of mankind’s ailments. The rest of the cast is serviceable but can’t help but be overshadowed by Karloff’s commanding performance.
Available for streaming from Google Play.
- Curse of the Swamp Creature (1968)
Larry Buchanan, the self-proclaimed “schlockmeister”, directed this story about a mad scientist living in a very suburban looking home in the deep swamps of Texas. Dr. Trent (Jeff Alexander) is attempting to create mutant reptile men for no clear reason. His failed experiments get fed to the (stock footage) alligators he keeps in his swimming pool. A group of oil hunters lead by geologist Barry Rogers (John Agar) get in his way and a group of voodoo snake worshipers revolt against him. The film includes way too many characters and pointless side plots and yet somehow nothing happens for 90% of its duration. Audio appears to be almost completely re-dubbed with only minimal sound effects. The titular creature is not seen until the end of the film and then only for a total of two minutes. It is not worth the wait.
Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
Happy viewing! And check out part two of my October movie watch here.