Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days Of Horror Movies, Part VI

Messiah Of Evil (1973)

Thirteen years before making Howard The Duck, Willard Huyck (who, along with Gloria Katz, co-scripted American Graffiti and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom) directed this oddball little number. It’s mostly pretty slow and very rough around the edges (I also saw it on an extremely cheap DVD that didn’t do it any favours), but it’s got one or two great scenes that made it worth checking out. A woman named Arletty (High Plains Drifter’s Marianna Hill) visits the strange seaside burg of Point Dune to investigate her father’s disappearance. She soon makes the acquaintance of a tall, well-dressed lothario (Michael Greer) and his two girlfriends, all of whom promptly move into Arletty’s father’s house with her. They should have all just packed up and left, since Point Dune’s citizenry is slowly turning into robotic, hungry ghouls who cry tears of blood (years before Lucio Fulci would use that gag in Gates Of Hell). At least, I think that’s what’s going on. It’s pretty tough to tell at times. There are definitely some cool moments and creepy imagery here, like a rat-eating, crosseyed albino truckdriver, and an ill-fated attempt by the local constabulary to disperse the growing horde of ghouls. The design of Arletty’s father’s house is pretty memorable, with giant black-and-white paintings of crowds and escalators all over the walls for some reason (I got the sense that the house they were able to shoot in came like that, and they just went for it). The best scene--for me, the one that made it worth watching--is the one where one of the girlfriends goes off to see a movie alone (appropriately, it’s titled Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye). As she sits in the empty theatre, munching giant handfuls of popcorn while watching the coming attractions, the seats around her begin to slowly fill up with the creepy townsfolk. She doesn’t realize until the trailers are over that she’s surrounded, and that all the other moviegoers are bleeding from their eyesockets. By then it’s much, much too late. Not a great movie, but certainly unique.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

Wow, this is one high-strung movie. It’s just filled to the brim with screaming kids, whining Margot Kidder, swooning clergymen, and the sweatiest James Brolin you’ve ever seen. If The Amityville Horror were a person, it’s be that Panicky Idiot from every disaster movie--the one who spazzes out and needs to be shook by the shoulders & slapped until they’re inevitably killed by a falling piece of debris. Why is The Amityville Horror such a hysterical idiot of a film? I think it’s because its insistence that it’s based on true events (outlined in Jay Anson’s “nonfiction” bestseller) makes all the ridiculous shenanigans even more doubtful to any sane or reasonable moviegoer, so director Stuart Rosenberg and his cast metaphorically (sometimes literally) wave their arms and shout a lot and try to convince you that NO, THIS ALL REALLY HAPPENED AND IT WAS SUPER SCARY TOO…when it really comes off as a lot of horseshit. The supposedly true story of the Lutz Family taps into some interesting and fertile material on occasion; a lot of the horrors that befall them are all too financial, and the fact that Kathy’s three children are from a previous marriage adds an interesting dimension to the threat of the increasingly distant George doing them harm. But then, there’s also all the foolish business about the black crap pouring out of the toilets, and the horde of flies that just won’t buzz off, and the terrified priest (Rod Steiger, who must have been wondering how his storied career came to this) who is stricken blind for his interference. By the end of this movie, I imagined that Spielberg & co. made the far superior Poltergeist just to show these clowns how it’s done.

Terror In The Aisles (1984)

This weird little clips-show of a movie used to play on A & E a lot when I was a teenager. It features a theatre full of overacting “audience members” who are apparently watching Terror In The Aisles—that is to say, ninety minutes of horror movie snippets—while Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen sit amongst them narrating to us the effects that these movies have on us. That part of it is pretentious and kind of ill-conceived, but this is a fun watch because it really does sample from the best of the best. Keep your eyes peeled for scenes from Jaws, The Exorcist, Halloween, Night Of The Living Dead, The Texas Chain saw Massacre, Psycho, Poltergeist, Alien, The Thing, Rosemary’s Baby, An American Werewolf In London, The Howling, and many more, but be warned—if you haven’t seen any of these (and if you haven’t, shame on you!), Terror In The Aisles spoils many of their key scenes. There are also a lot of dubious inclusions as well that no one in their right mind would consider horror movies. Nighthawks? The Silent Partner? Marathon Man? Regardless, if nothing else, this compilation (which is only currently available as an extra feature on the Halloween II Blu-Ray!) made me appreciate what a golden age of horror I grew up in. If Terror In The Aisles were made today, it would likely be ninety minutes of clips from Saw and Final Destination sequels, as well as the lackluster remakes of a lot of the movies I mentioned above.

Targets (1968)

Out of all the stuff I’ve watched so far this year that was new to me, this one was my favourite by a long shot. In Peter Bogdanovich’s directorial debut, embittered horror icon Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) announces his retirement, stating that his brand of gothic horror isn’t scary in the modern world. A parallel story follows an ordinary, all-American family man who can’t contain his homicidal rage any longer, randomly shooting innocent motorists with a long-range rifle after killing his wife and mother (this part of the story was loosely based on Texas bell-tower sniper Charles Whitman). The two stories intersect in a gripping finale at a drive-in where Orlok is making a public appearance at a screening of his latest movie. Unbeknownst to everyone, the fugitive sniper has taken up behind the movie screen—all the easier to pick off the helpless moviegoers sitting in their cars.

The story of how Targets came to be is pretty fascinating. Producer Roger Corman gave Bogdanovich the job, insisting that Karloff owed him two days worth of work on a movie. He also instructed Bogdanovich to recycle twenty minutes of The Terror, starring Karloff. The rest of the story was up to Bogdanovich. The first-time director came up with the idea of using the footage from The Terror as a movie-within-a-movie—it appears as Byron Orlok’s latest film—and having Karloff more or less portray himself. He then fused this story with the Whitman-inspired sniper plotline, and Targets was born.
The result is a neat commentary on the end of an old kind of horror, and the beginning of a new kind. The final shootout at the drive-in a masterpiece of tension.

Snowbeast (1977)

You know how sometimes you stumble across a movie you’ve never heard of, and you hope against hope that you’ve found a hidden gem? Well, Snowbeast is not that movie. This 1977 movie-of-the-week is little more than a Jaws rip-off, set at a ski resort under siege by some kind of abominable snowman. The little-seen beast looks kind of like one of the Morlock costumes from the original version of The Time Machine…if it were left under a pile of wet, dirty rags and garbage for ten years. The cast includes Bo Svenson, Clint Walker, Yvette Mimieux, and Tim Burton favourite (and the original Mrs. Carlson from the WKRP In Cincinatti pilot!) Sylvia Sidney. Most depressingly, it was written by Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano! It’s not even one of the better Jaws knockoffs (give me William Girdler’s Grizzly any day), and it’s so poorly shot that some big reveals—like the corpse of a park ranger that falls out of the ceiling of a cabin—don’t even register. Being a TV movie, there isn’t even any gore to speak of. I’d say avoid it, but you’d probably have a pretty tough time finding it in the first place.

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