October Fast Cuts: The Final Slash

Another Halloween season has come and gone and, despite everyone wearing masks, it was not as festive as we would have liked.  I hope you all still managed to sneak in a little ghoulish fun…at a safe social distance of course.  For me, while I missed being able to attend the horror conventions and film festivals I would normally haunt, I did enjoy dedicating the last thirty-one nights to horror.  My thoughts on the first twenty films I watched can be found here and here.  I thought I might feel a little burnt out by the end but, on the contrary, I snuck in a few extra films along the way and feel no need to stop merely because Halloween has passed.  Please indulge me as I share the movies that kept me entertained, for the most part, from Oct. 21st to Oct. 31st, 2020.

Warning:  Horror movies and bad movies are an acquired taste.  What may be a bad film in one person’s estimation may be so-bad-its-good to another and a masterpiece to a third.  Please don’t let these brief critiques impact your viewing pleasures.

  1. City of the Walking Dead (1980)

Also known as Nightmare City or, its original Italian title, Incubo sulla città contaminate, City of the Walking Dead tells the tale of an unexplained C-130 transport aircraft that lands at the airport of an unnamed European city and unloads a cargo of violent and hungry zombies.  You may reasonably ask how a plane packed with zombies was able to successfully land.  Although it is never really explained, I have to assume some of the zombies were at the controls.  The zombies in this film use weapons and tools and are organized enough to intentionally take down a power station and coordinate lowering an elevator of potential victims to fellow zombies below.  Flying large military vehicles must be another of their skills.  But then the zombie traits in City of the Walking Dead are adaptable to the needs of the plot.  Sometimes they drag themselves around as you usually expect of zombies but sometimes they have fine motor skills and can move quickly.  We are told zombie bites are highly infectious and the zombies are impossible to kill and yet dead bodies are seen lying around everywhere.  During a lengthy debriefing, nuclear mutation is provided to explain all zombie traits including a crucial need for fresh blood.  If that is the case, why are these zombies so wasteful?  They barely take a swig of blood before discarding a carcass to move on to a new victim.  A few zombies look like the typical reanimated corpses but most look like people with ground hamburger rubbed on their faces.  City of the Walking Dead appears to have had a decent budget but the script is weak and the editing is abysmal.  You can see people, who I assume thought they were off camera, waiting for their cue before they begin to act terrified.  The dialog is equally appalling (although some of that is likely the fault of the English dubbing).  Metaphors are a particular weak point.  The zombie infection is likened to an oil stain without any explanation and the use of nuclear energy is apparently the same as enjoying Coca ColatmCity of the Walking Dead is just bad enough to be amusing.  It’s ending, which makes use of one of the most despised clichés in horror, does, however, spoil the fun.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

It`s probably for the best that these televised `Disco dancers` soon become zombie chow.
  1. Haunt (2019)

There is not a lot of complexity to the plot of Haunt, but simple does not have to be a bad thing.  A group of friends, looking for something to do on Halloween, visit an extreme haunted house in the middle of nowhere.  The proprietors of said haunted house have ulterior motives and murderous intent.  Haunt is well made and takes advantage of the haunted maze location.  The film has the claustrophobic and nervous atmosphere expected as you inch along a dark horror exhibit corridor while clutching at the shoulder of your nearest friend.  The villains of the film are also intimidating despite, or maybe because, they all wear those cheap, Collegeville/Ben Cooper style Halloween masks.  Their motives are kept intentionally vague but that doesn’t hurt a story like this.  Haunt does, however, have a few missteps along the way.  There is an abusive boyfriend character that does not appear in the movie long enough to justify his existence.  Likewise references to an abusive father seem tacked on.  I’m not criticising the inclusion of a heavy topic but rather the inclusion of any topic that is not flushed out or relevant.  I also did not care for the ‘surprise’ ending of the film, although I know of people who quite liked it so to each his or her own.  Haunt offered a few chills and ninety minutes of entertainment on a dark night.  That is really all I have the right to expect.

Available for streaming on Shudder.

Who knew a mask held on with an elastic band could be so scary.
  1. Patchwork (2015)

Going into it, I was not aware that Patchwork was a comedy.  In all honesty, this threw me off enough that I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the film.  There is no denying that some of it is stupid but it’s supposed to be stupid so it is kind of unfair to fault it for achieving its goal.  Patchwork tells the story of three women who awaken in a lab to discover they are sharing a single, patched-together, reanimated body.  How the personalities of Jennifer (Tory Stolper), Ellie (Tracey Fairaway), and Madeleine (Maria Blasucci) have all managed to survive in a single brain is not explained but the film’s refusal to even attempt to pretend the science makes sense is probably part of its charm.  Patchwork definitely pays tribute to Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, right down to the large syringe full of glowing, green elixir of life.  It’s also hard not to think of Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker when looking at the ladies’ stitched together body and face.  Tory Stolper is entirely responsible for physically portraying the Frankensteinian creation but, in order to represent the triple nature of their mind, all three women appear in scenes to discuss and argue over how to proceed under these new circumstances.  Patchwork is most entertaining when the women go on a homicidal rampage in the search for whoever did this to them.  It is least entertaining when trying to go for blatant laughs like when Stolper eats and kisses like someone who has never used her mouth before.  I felt that a twist near the end ruined the story of three, admittedly stereotypically, different women forced to literally come together.  That said, Stolper gives a solid performance and Patchwork runs at a good pace that is never boring.

Available for streaming on Shudder.

Having the three women appear together despite inhabiting a single body is a clever solution.
  1. The Day of the Triffids (1962)

A meteor shower is so spectacular, so mesmerizing, and so vast that almost the entire world watches.  The next day all these people are struck blind.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, the meteor shower also apparently awakens the appetites and restlessness of the triffids.  Triffids are carnivorous plants of non-terrestrial origins with the ability to uproot themselves and move about at a brisk walking pace.  Bill Masen (Howard Keel) is one of the few people to have retained his sight as he was recovering from eye surgery when the meteor shower occurred.  He and a few other sighted survivors attempt to defend themselves against the hordes of attacking triffids.  The plot is outlandish and cheesy.  The fate of most of the human population is downplayed to focus on a few key individuals.  The monsters are silly looking while still managing to convey a sense of danger.  The solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem is trivial but takes scientists the entire movie to ascertain.  The Day of the Triffids is exactly what I look for in 60’s sci-fi/horror and I delighted in every minute of it.

Available for streaming on Tubi.

Are Tom Goodwin and Janette Scott shocked at how callously our ‘hero’ abandons a group of blind women to their fate?
  1. Tormented (1960)

Bert Ira Gordon (or “B.I.G.”, as he is often referred) is best known for his B movies depicting oversized creatures including King Dinosaur, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Cyclops, Beginning of the End, Earth vs. the Spider, Attack of the Puppet People, Village of the Giants, and The Food of the Gods.  The other trait his movies tend to have in common is the use of superimposition to achieve the distorted size effects (a method I find very unsatisfactory).  While Tormented contains no enormous lizards, spiders, or chickens, Gordon realized that imposing one image on another could also be used for cheap ghost effects.  Tormented is the story of Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson) who finds himself harassed by his old flame, Vi Mason (Juli Reding) just before he is scheduled to marry his fiancée, Meg Hubbard (Lugene Sanders).  During an argument at an abandoned lighthouse, Vi falls through a faulty railing and finds herself hanging precariously over the rocks below.  Tom chooses to watch her fall to her death rather than help.  This, surprisingly, does not solve Tom’s problems as a beatnik (portrayed by Joe Turkel best known as the bartender from The Shining) starts snooping around.  Oh, that and the ex-girlfriend comes back as a ghost to haunt Tom and mess up his wedding to Meg.  Vi’s disembodied head superimposed into Tom’s living room is something to see.  The dead jilted lover out for revenge could have made for a good movie but there is too much focus on the beatnik blackmailer and not enough on the actual haunting.  Tom’s concern over keeping his relationship with Vi a secret also never makes sense.  She is an old girlfriend not a mistress and Meg even tells Tom that she would try not to be jealous even if there was another woman.  Tom could have avoided a lot of trouble and been a lot less loathsome if he had just helped Vi.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

Maybe try hanging on with both hands?
  1. Basket Case (1982)

Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) carries around Belial in a wicker basket everywhere he goes.  Belial is Duane’s homicidal, deformed, formerly conjoined twin.  The two are seeking revenge on the doctors who surgically separated them against their will.  Along the way, Duane starts a relationship with Sharon (Terri Susan Smith).  Belial is not happy with this turn of events.  Complete schlock and more than a little sleazy, Basket Case still can’t help but entertain.  The film is coherently put together, some of the acting is decent, and, despite an obviously low budget, the puppet and stop-motion effects used to bring Belial to life are at worst amusing and at best disturbing.  Despite exploitive and offensive scenes, Basket Case actually seems to have been made with a little heart.

Available for streaming on Tubi.

Duane and Belial only stay at the finest hotels.
  1. The Tingler (1959)

The films of William Castle were never meant to be seen in the comfort of your home.  Castle was, and probably still is, the “King of the Gimmick”.  Attendance at a theatrical showing of his films was an experience unto itself.  Castle had life insurance policies for patrons that might die of fright, skeletons that floated above the audience, nurses on hand in case of fainting (or worse), a “Coward’s Corner” for those too frightened to make it through the entire movie, and much more.  The Tingler involved Castle’s most elaborate gimmicks.  In the film, Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) discovers the existence of a parasitic, fleshy, centipede-like creature he names the tingler.  The tingler attaches itself to the base of the human spine and feeds off of fear.  Only screaming can stop the tingler.  Twice during the film, the screen goes black to allow Price to talk directly to the audience.  In the first instance, Price draws attention to a fainting woman, planted by Castle, in the crowd.  The second time the screen goes black, Price claims that the tingler is loose in the theatre and warns that all patrons must scream for their lives.  As if this wasn’t enough, Castle had some seats in the theatres wired with vibrating motors that were used to startle certain audience members into jumping from their seats.  Unfortunately none of this can be experienced at home and the moments in which Price speaks over a blank screen seem oddly out-of-place with the rest of the film.  That said, even without the theatre gimmicks the film is a fun ride that still manages to deliver some thrills and a couple of surprises when colour is used in an otherwise black & white film.  The ending makes no sense but I’m sure Castle knew this.  It was just one more chance to give the audience a scare.

Available for streaming on Tubi.

Dr. Chapin’s experiments with LSD are too successful at instilling fear.
  1. Monster from Green Hell (1957)

Scientists, Dr. Quent Brady (Jim Davis) and Dan Morgan (Robert Griffin), are experimenting on the effects of cosmic rays by sending various animals into space.  Despite seeing some alarming results (guinea pigs bleached white, crabs grown to ten times their natural size), they send a rocket full of wasps up for an extended period of time.  Wouldn’t you know it?  That particular rocket goes off course and crash lands somewhere in Africa.  Completely coincidentally, reports of giant monsters start to come from an area in Africa known as Green Hell.  Before you can say, “excessive travel footage”, the two scientists slowly make their way to Green Hell.  When they arrive in Afrca, Quent and Dan are told it will take several weeks to hike to Green Hell and it feels like the trek is filmed in real-time.   When they finally reach the compound of fellow scientist, Dr. Lorentz (Vladimir Sokoloff) and his daughter, Lorna (Barbara Turner), they immediately set out on another long hike to find the missing doctor.  More of the movie depicts teams of explorers walking from one place to another than any promised monster attacks.  This is a shame as the monsters, represented both with stop-motion and with giant models, are, despite some scale inconsistencies, pretty nifty looking whenever they do make an appearance.  Eventually after a lot of walking and numerous deaths along the way, the scientists are completely ineffective at stopping the overgrown wasps.  Fortunately nature intervenes.

Available for streaming on Tubi.

The gentleman on the right needs to work on his energy levels.
  1. Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (2017)

Errementari is not so much horror as it is a dark folk tale.  Based on one of the oldest and most common European stories, it involves a blacksmith that is holding a demon captive in retaliation for his granted wishes not turning out as he expected.  The film is fantastic in both senses of the word.  Kandido Uranga as the blacksmith, Francisco Patxi is powerful and intimidating yet also clearly carrying an almost unbearable sadness.  Eneko Sagardoy as the demon, Sartael, and Ramon Agirre as the government investigator, Alfredo Ortiz, give stand out performances as the blacksmith’s foes.  Not only is the story engaging but the visuals are mesmerizing.  I greatly appreciate the films willingness to use demons that adhere to a medieval aesthetic.  The supernatural elements of the film look like they could have been taken straight from religious woodcuts.  The demons are reminiscent of those appearing in the 1922 silent film Häxan.  Some may find this approach a little childish and clichéd but the naïve style perfectly meshes with the fable being told.

Available for streaming on Netflix.

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
  1. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are a married vampire couple who, despite living on opposite sides of the Earth, are still very much in love after centuries of being together.  When Adam grows suicidal, Eve comes to console him.  Only Lovers Left Alive is a romance more than it is a horror film.  Even vampire feeding habits are downplayed as Adam and Eve usually partake in blood obtained from blood banks and labs rather than directly from the necks of victims.  This would seem to be as much in respect for human life as it is a need to ensure the blood they drink is not ‘contaminated’.  The performances are what make this picture.  Swinton in particular is perfectly cast.  Her elfin features and fair, almost albino-like complexion completely sell her as a vampire.  More importantly, her every movement is otherworldly but in a subtle, barely noticeable way.  Hiddleston is also very good as the adored musician that just wants to be left alone and is weary of hiding from humans that he, ironically, considers an inferior species.  Rounding out the cast is Mia Wasikowska as Eve’s younger, irresponsible sister, Ava, and John Hurt as famed playwright, Christopher Marlowe, who faked his own death in 1593 to avoid revealing his vampirism.  There aren’t any scares to find in Only Lovers Left Alive but instead an often sad but always droll look at the relationship of two souls who have truly seen it all.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

It’s not easy trying to fit in with the cool kids, especially when they are vampires.
  1. Dead Men Walk (1943)

In Dead Men Walk, Dwight Frye finds himself once again calling a vampire, “Master”, but this time the vampire is George Zucco.  Zucco plays dual roles as twin brothers Dr. Lloyd Clayton and Dr. Elwyn Clayton.  Lloyd is a much beloved and usually kind-hearted physician while Elwyn is a vampire returned from the grave.  Zucco does well enough in the role of the good doctor but he completely fails to give the vampire a forbidding aura.  This is all the more disappointing when you realize there was no need for Zucco to play both roles.  The twins device is not properly taken advantage of.  Townspeople, including the doctor’s own assistant, start suspecting him of malicious activities long before anyone actually witnesses his twin commit a violent act.  Dwight Frye plays Elwyn’s assistant, Zolarr.  The creator of the theatrical posters for Dead Men Walk must have felt that Frye was the bigger draw for movie goers.  Despite the notable absence of his name, Frye is featured prominently threatening Mary Carlisle while Zucco appears only in smaller pictures off to the sides.  Unfortunately, Frye is wasted in the role and barely seems to make an effort.  It is disappointing to think that the man capable of such brilliant performances in Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man was merely going through the motions in one of his last films before he died.  Dead Men Walk isn’t a terrible film but the plot is a bit weak and the performances should have been much more.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

George Zucco the amicable, family physician is confronted by George Zucco the cold-hearted, blood-sucking vampire.

Keep horror in your hearts!  Remember Halloween is only 364 days away.

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