Sunday, October 9, 2011

31 Days Of Horror Movies, Part III

Three more down. You’ll notice that a pattern of movies about houses, and others about devils, sometimes both, is emerging; I noticed this myself when I was compiling my list, and I decided to just go with it (it’s the reason I started with The House Of The Devil). Lots more of these coming, some in this very entry!

The Devil Rides Out (1968)
This classy production from Hammer Studios, scripted by Twilight Zone legend Richard Matheson (from a novel by Dennis Wheatley) and directed by Hammer mainstay Terence Fisher, might be the only time I’ve ever seen Christopher Lee play a good guy (other than Airport ’77, that is). The former Dracula, along with Leon Greene, battles Satan worshippers (led by Charles Gray, best known as Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever and the criminologist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) to rescue a family friend from the irresistible sway of the powers of darkness. Not really very scary by today’s standards, The Devil Rides Out is a lot of fun regardless. I’m not sure why Lee’s character knows so much about the mystic arts and how to combat the forces of evil, but it comes in handy about every five minutes or so. This is one of those Sixties horror films where the scares are buoyed by a brassy score—every scene featuring a shock of some kind is accompanied by a deafening blast from the horn section. Most of the dark powers on display are of the hypnotic kind, although there are some cool scenes where cult leader Mocata conjures apparitions from the pit to torment our heroes, like an oversized tarantula, a goat-faced devil, a hooded spectre of death on horseback, and, most confusingly of all, a smiling, bearded dude in a red diaper.

The Sentinel (1977)
In the wake of the runaway success of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, movie studios in the Seventies scrambled all over themselves to produce the next blockbuster supernatural thriller. Sometimes this led to hits like The Omen, but more often than not, it resulted in turkeys like The Sentinel (not to be confused with the Kiefer Sutherland/Eva Longoria thriller from a few years back). A young model (Cristina Raines) moves into a surprisingly affordable New York brownstone to gain independence from her lawyer boyfriend (Chris Sarandon). There’s a reason why the rent is so cheap, though—the building sits on the very entrance to Hell itself, guarded by the sightless priest who lives on the top floor. The building’s other tenants are all apparently ghosts of long-dead murderers, embodied as a bunch of wacky seniors and a couple of kooky lesbians (one of whom is played by a young Beverly D’Angelo!). Weird reaction shots, an insistent and inappropriate score, and endless, boring exposition scenes abound, and the controversial climax—where director Michael Winner chose to use people with real physical deformities to portray the denizens of Hell (!)—is more sad and depressing than terrifying. To its credit, this movie does boast a shockingly prestigious cast, featuring Ava Gardner, Eli Wallach, Martin Balsam, Burgess Meredith, Jose Ferrer, John Carradine, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, and, strangely enough, a Hitler-mustachioed Jerry Orbach. It also features a birthday party for a cat. Go figure.

Hausu (1977)
Man, where to begin with this one? Hausu is a crazy Japanese haunted-house flick that truly feels like a small child was given free rein to make a movie, along with a small army of actors and craftsmen to make it happen. Former commercial director Nobuhiko Ohbayashi apparently asked his preteen daughter to contribute lots of ideas, so that explains a lot. Seven Japanese schoolgirls, all with names like Gorgeous, Melody, Prof, and Kung Fu, spend the weekend in a remote house inhabited by Gorgeous’ spinster aunt. The house then proceeds to devour them one by one in increasingly crazier ways. Hausu is a dizzying funhouse ride of freeze-frames, fadeouts, flashbacks, painted backdrops, Little Rascals-style iris edits, dancing skeletons, hungry pianos, carnivorous mattresses, talking severed heads, evil cats, and guys getting turned into piles of bananas for no apparent reason. I have no idea if Sam Raimi saw this film before making the Evil Dead movies, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a fan. By the way, this movie is often called by its North American title, House, but I'm not calling it Hausu for any kind of pretentious reason or whatever--I'm planning to watch the unrelated 1986 American film House later this month, and I wanted to avoid confusion.

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