Tag Archives: horror

30 Days of Madness, Day 31 — Ranking the 30

by Tom Kapr

This has been an interesting month of film viewing, made far more enjoyable by the friends who voted on the movies I watched.

I’ve had dragons, witches, vampires, werewolves, Nazis, serial killers, beast people, alternate realities, zombies of every variety, at least two alien invasions, at least two foiled armageddons, about half a dozen mad scientists, at least half a dozen cases of possession, and at least half a dozen disembodied hands (seriously, did I watch a single movie this month where someone’s hand didn’t get proper mangled?); as well as killer ants, cars, cats, klowns, plants, goats, beavers, Drew Barrymores, and one really big octopus.

I’ve been including my Flickchart rankings with each film, so I thought as a wrap-up, it would be fitting to list again the 30 films I watched, in order of their placement on my chart. I’ve re-ranked each film to see if hindsight has had a significant change on their placement.

Here are the 30 films, by ascending rank, with a comparison to its original placement. I’m ending this month of October with 3275 titles ranked on my chart, which includes 32 more than I ended September with (I saw two new movies at the theater), so numerical rankings and percentages are always fluid.

 

-30-
ZOMBEAVERS (2014)

zombeavers

Original rank: 3202 (2%)
Adjusted rank: 3166 (3%)

Zombeavers is now 1% less terrible.

 

-29-
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

killerklowns3

Original rank: 3081 (5%)
Adjusted rank: 3081 (6%)

Interesting that Killer Klowns ended up at the same numerical rank but falls 1% relative to a list that is now 32 titles heavier.

 

-28-
DEATHGASM (2015)

deathgasm

Original rank: 2863 (12%)
Adjusted rank: 3036 (7%)

I actually expected this to come out higher than its original rank. Deathgasm was such a great movie for the first half. I tend to rank movies lower if they build me up only to knock me down so hard by the end.

 

-27-
Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

qwingedserpent

Original rank: 3193 (2%)
Adjusted rank: 3019 (8%)

Which is probably how Q managed to rise above Deathgasm. No goodwill built up, so less disappointment at an ending that was just as bad as the rest of the film.

 

-26-
FIRESTARTER (1984)

firestarter

Original rank: 2612 (20%)
Adjusted rank: 2643 (19%)

Here, on the other hand, Firestarter is a slog for much of its running time only to suddenly race full speed ahead with a hell of an ending. Not enough to save it from dropping a bit, though. I covered two Stephen King adaptations this month. One was a good movie called Christine. The other was Firestarter.

 

-25-
ROAR (1981)

roar

Original rank: 2634 (19%)
Adjusted rank: 2512 (23%)

I expected Roar to rise a bit, and won’t be surprised when it eventually breaks out of the bottom 25%. It might even breach the 2000 mark. I have a feeling the bizarre and singular nature of the film, coupled with the fact that it really is well shot, will cause it to appreciate over time.

 

-24-
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)

princedarkness3

Original rank: 1629 (50%)
Adjusted rank: 2049 (37%)

Prince of Darkness was my biggest disappointment based on expectations going in. Those expectations being that John Carpenter is a favorite director of mine, and this was made when he was in his prime (1978-1988). I didn’t expect it to drop quite so far on the re-rank though, and I am sure it will rise back up to around the middle of the list over time.

 

-23-
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)

littleshop2

Original rank: 2553 (22%)
Adjusted rank: 1906 (42%)

Little Shop has one of the biggest leaps of all the films on the re-rank, a 20% jump, freeing it from the bottom quarter. I’m not totally surprised, as this one had already been slowly creeping up my chart.

 

-22-
BLAIR WITCH (2016)

blairwitch

Original rank: 2186 (33%)
Adjusted rank: 1706 (48%)

Blair Witch is another I expected to rise somewhat in the ranks, simply because I found it to be mediocre but not terrible. It definitely has some excellent sequences, and I suspect that if I watch it again on a small screen in a dark room, it will be more effective.

 

-21-
IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

itcame2

Original rank: 1588 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1612 (51%)

It Came from Beneath the Sea manages a 24-spot jump but doesn’t shake its 51%. This is another one I found disappointing, certainly not by its special effects, which are still awesome thanks largely to Ray Harryhausen; but because the story framing them was much less well done than other favorite Hollywood creature features of the 1950s like Them! and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

 

-20-
EVIL DEAD II (1987)

evildead2

Original rank: 1510 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1531 (53%)

Evil Dead II has been in and out of the “gateway” position into the top half of my chart; that is, when I add a new title, this is the one it often comes up against, being at the middle. I honestly don’t know which way this one will head over time, but the 2% indicates an appreciation in hindsight. Sam Raimi’s ingenuity and Bruce Campbell’s campy, cult-status-cementing performance will be the deciding factors.

 

-19-
PHANTASM (1979)

phantasm

Original rank: 1206 (63%)
Adjusted rank: 1425 (56%)

Phantasm probably doesn’t deserve to have fallen even further, and I think it’ll probably rise back up a bit over time.

 

-18-
CAT PEOPLE (1942)

catpeople

Original rank: 1607 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1297 (60%)

Cat People managed to rise a couple hundred spots, thanks in no small part to the fact that it’s just a technically well-made film. It’s my aversion to some of the norms of the time period (xenophobia and animal abuse being unfortunately among those crimes) that will keep it from making a showing in the Top 1000.

 

-17-
XTRO (1982)

xtro

Original rank: 1894 (42%)
Adjusted rank: 1261 (62%)

Another 20% leap, this time from the bottom half well into the top half. Xtro is the one that has appreciated the most in my mind, and rather quickly. It may have been the tug-of-war between my awe at its visual effects and my repulsion to those same visual effects. I’m sure it also helps that this has become somewhat of a favorite in the past month among my fellow horror aficionados. It’s a strange film to bond over, but hey, if it works, it works.

 

-16-
GREEN ROOM (2015)

greenroom

Original rank: 1230 (62%)
Adjusted rank: 1031 (69%)

Green Room is another I expected to appreciate a bit, though I don’t expect to see too much greater movement.

 

-15-
MAY (2002)

may

Original rank: 761 (77%)
Adjusted rank: 887 (73%)

I was actually surprised to see May drop out of the top quarter on the re-rank. This is one that will always have favor based almost entirely on its wonderful lead performance by Angela Bettis. That will be the deciding factor anytime it’s up against a film of similar quality.

 

-14-
TRIANGLE (2009)

triangle1

Original rank: 782 (76%)
Adjusted rank: 885 (73%)

Triangle. I’m still not sure what to make of this film. It will definitely take a second viewing to know how I feel about it. For now, I expect it to bounce around the top middle quarter of my chart.

 

-13-
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943)

walkzombie

Original rank: 919 (72%)
Adjusted rank: 884 (73%)

Zombie rose a bit, and no surprise. Sometimes a film’s effective qualities stick more than its ineffective ones, and this one is a slow-build of a scary film that overcomes its bad narration and the hard-to-swallow romantic relationship at the center. It also has the distinction of introducing me to the work of producer Val Lewton, whose catalog I wish to complete.

 

-12-
HUSH (2016)

hush

Original rank: 804 (75%)
Adjusted rank: 876 (73%)

Hush is the one that I was second-guessing the most on whether it deserved the A I gave it, or if it was really more of a B. It works far more often than it doesn’t, but some of those things that don’t work stick with me. This will probably be one of those films that is always just on the verge of being knocked out of my top 1000.

 

-11-
ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

islandlostsouls

Original rank: 877 (73%)
Adjusted rank: 826 (75%)

Another film that manages to overcome an inauthentic romantic entanglement with a genuinely horrifying story, a strong heroine, and an iconic villain courtesy of Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls manages to climb to the brink of the top quarter on the re-rank.

 

-10-
CHRISTINE (1983)

christine

Original rank: 511 (84%)
Adjusted rank: 666 (80%)

Christine dropped just enough to land at #666. So, yeah. Devil car.

 

-9-
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)

pitpendulum1

Original rank: 438 (87%)
Adjusted rank: 615 (81%)

Pit seems to have dropped a bit, but I won’t be surprised to see it claw its way back into the top 500. Of the two Roger Corman pictures I covered this month, this was the good one. (The other was The Little Shop of Horrors.)

 

-8-
TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)

trickrtreat2

Original rank: 614 (81%)
Adjusted rank: 595 (82%)

Trick ‘r Treat was a pleasant surprise and a great film to end on. Full disclosure: this is the second time I re-ranked this. The first time, it came up against Fargo, which was inexplicably low and kept it from even breaking into the top 1000. After re-ranking Fargo (which jumped way into my top 250), Trick ‘r Treat was able not only breach the top 1000 but the top quarter of the list.

 

-7-
HALLOWEEN (1978)

halloween

Original rank: 397 (88%)
Adjusted rank: 417 (87%)

Halloween has been on my Flickchart for years. It had started out in the 500s before I saw it on the big screen this month. The re-rank didn’t hurt it much, and I expect it to be a staple of my top 500.

 

-6-
PHASE IV (1974)

phaseiv-1

Original rank: 751 (77%)
Adjusted rank: 383 (88%)

Phase IV was probably the greatest surprise of the month. What I expected to be a cheesy 70s creature feature turned out to be a thoughtful piece of sci-fi. No great surprise that it jumped a few hundred spots on the re-rank. Sometimes it just depends on what films it comes up against.

 

-5-
THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)

bodysnatcher

Original rank: 177 (95%)
Adjusted rank: 318 (90%)

Again, sometimes it just depends on what it comes up against. I didn’t expect The Body Snatcher to drop as far as it did, but nor do I expect it to depreciate over time. Even if it weren’t an excellent film, it would be kept afloat by Boris Karloff alone. But this is a great film that will continue to haunt my 300s.

 

-4-
THE WITCH (2015)

thewitch

Original rank: 329 (90%)
Adjusted rank: 316 (90%)

The Witch was another pleasant surprise: not surprise that it was good, but because it was nigh impeccable. I think the only thing that keeps it from climbing any higher is its extremely disturbing subject matter. The higher on my list we go, the more likely we are to see films that emphasize the beauty in life rather than the horror. But The Witch is about as beautiful as a truly disturbing horror film gets. It had its general release in 2016, and I expect it to be on my year-end top 10 list.

 

-3-
GOJIRA (1954)

gojira

Original rank: 347 (89%)
Adjusted rank: 270 (92%)

Gojira makes the leap to the borderlands of my top 250. This was a film that actually got more engaging as it progressed, and has appreciated quite a bit in my mind.

 

-2-
EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

eyesface4

Original rank: 389 (88%)
Adjusted rank: 178 (95%)

While Eyes Without a Face, with the benefit of some time to process, leaps effortlessly into my top 250. I was considering compiling my list of the best horror film of each year, only to realize that it would have to be between this and Psycho. That’s not a decision I want to make, but it does speak volumes about how good this movie is to challenge an established favorite.

 

-1-
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013)

onlylovers

Original rank: 150 (95%)
Adjusted rank: 145 (96%)

I knew this was going to be the top spot. I was pretty sure about it even when I watched it on day 4. I was expecting Only Lovers Left Alive to be a challenge to sit through, but it is such a beautiful, engaging, life-affirming film–about vampires. It’s funny, heart-warming, shimmering with music and art. I certainly didn’t expect it to take a place among my  favorite films, but now that it’s there, I don’t see it leaving any time soon. Thank you, Jim Jarmusch.

And thank you everyone who read and commented and voted and helped make this such an unpredictable movie-watching adventure for me.

30 Days of Madness, Day 30 — Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

trickrtreat2

Written & directed by Michael Dougherty. Produced by Bryan Singer.

Starring Dylan Baker, Brian Cox, Quinn Lord & Anna Paquin.

Trick ‘r Treat  is a rollercoaster ride. I am a fan of horror anthology films like Creepshow and Cat’s Eye. I was both intrigued and hesitant to watch this. I have a strange relationship with horror. I love horror, and exploring the things that horrify, but I do not like watching a lot of nastiness. The problem with a lot of horror films is that they are made by filmmakers who seem to have nothing but contempt for their characters.

Trick ‘r Treat is nasty, to be sure, but has enough love for the characters and stories and is crafted well enough to be enjoyable as a sort of quintet campfire of campfire tales. It also sets itself apart from other anthologies, such as the ones I mentioned, with its strong narrative structure. It doesn’t need to break away from one story altogether before telling another. All four main stories are interwoven–one is happening, noticeably, while another is taking place, and all occur on a single Halloween night in a single small town–and are bookended by a fifth story that gives the film a satisfying sense of coming full-circle.

The film quickly establishes that nobody is safe from the horrors running amok in this town on this night, children included–part of the reason I was hesitant to watch. I’ve stated in previous reviews that I didn’t enjoy watching children get gunned down for the sake of an action movie. And I’m not saying I enjoy similar fates in this film, but the nature of film gives it all a very contemporary fairy tale feel; and anyone familiar with the fairy tales of old know that children, especially naughty and nasty ones, are fodder fit for the terrors that lurk in the dark.

Brian Cox and Dylan Baker, especially, turn in great performances that revel in the ridiculousness and of their respective stories. And Anna Paquin is just fine in a tale that has not one but two satisfying twists. The reason I make mention of Quinn Lord in my cast list above is that he plays Sam, the burlap sack mask-wearing “child” who acts as a sort of connective tissue, making appearances in each segment, much in the way the cat did in Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye. Sam instantly becomes one of the most iconic and beloved horror characters in cinema. Just a creepy presence that eventually becomes much more for one or two unfortunate souls.

I am so glad this one got voted through as my final film of the month. It’s a great scary, fun flick, which, as an added bonus, is full of old-school practical effects that rank among the best. And any horror movie that references Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is okay by me. It’s a fine ending to month of horror movies.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #614 (out of 3275, a relative 81/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 29 — It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

itcame2

“The mind of man had thought of everything–except that which was beyond his comprehension!”

Thanks, narrator guy.

It Came from Beneath the Sea, with one the most 50s of all movie titles, was directed by Robert Gordon, who went on to direct mostly for television in the 50s and 60s; and written by George Worthing Yates, who also gave us Them! and Attack of the Puppet People; and Harold Jacob Smith, who would go on to write The Defiant Ones and Inherit the Wind.

None of that really matters, however, because this will always be known as a Ray Harryhausen film. I make mention of Ray Harryhausen often when talking about effects films, and covered The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms both here and on my podcast. And really, Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects are this film’s saving grace.

Otherwise, the film seems to think it should focus almost entirely on the cringe-inducing romance between Kenneth “Block of Wood” Tobey and Faith “Ruuuth!” Domergue. Ah, the 1950s. When the way to a woman’s heart was undressing her with your eyes, backing her into a corner (literally), and pawing suggestively at laboratory beakers. And even though she’s a scientist and a professor, she’ll get all hot and flustered like a freshman girl. This film unfortunately wallows in its sexism, and even when it does try to get suddenly progressive, it is patronizing as hell.

But back to the real star, Ray Harryhausen. It Came from Beneath the Sea features some of his best work. His giant octopus is detailed and textured and, considering a cephalopod’s physiology, is impressively animated. The scene on the Golden Gate Bridge is probably the best in the film, though the excellent composite work is more on full display in the creature’s attack on the San Francisco Embarcadero. I’d even say that Harryhausen’s giant octopus is one of the greatest visual effects ever created for a film. It single-handedly (or, octopodedly?) saves the film and imbues it with a classic status it would otherwise not deserve.

Final grade: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1588 (out of 3274, a relative 51/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 28 — Prince of Darkness (1987)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

princedarkness3

“Say goodbye to classical reality, because our logic collapses on the subatomic level into ghosts and shadows.”

Written & directed by John Carpenter.

Starring Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper for about a minute, and a bunch of white people with bad hair.

In my last review of Christine, I lamented how unfairly forgotten and underrated it was compared to Carpenter’s other work. With Prince of Darkness, I get it.

The slow build toward apocalypse is good and tense (at least when Mustache McGee and Lady Hockey Hair aren’t making out and having inscrutable conversations), helped along by Carpenter’s soundtrack and the acting talents of Pleasence as a priest from a secretive Catholic sect and Victor Wong as an eccentric quantum physicist. But then about halfway through it kind of stalls and just plateaus. The freaky things that start happening are undercut by underreaction from characters almost across the board. It starts to crescendo again, but then there are weird scenes that go nowhere, leading to a pretty trifling “apocalyptic” climax. It doesn’t help that the screenplay’s grasp of theology is tenuous at best, so it all feels rather silly.

As with any Carpenter flick, a lot of the special effects are really well done, but the philosophy behind the homeless zombie horde was a bit insulting. Every homeless person in the vicinity of this parish immediately becomes part of a hive mind, but not the scientists or students, because, what, they have better brains and aren’t susceptible? Not until they get physically infected, anyway. There’s even a conversation about it when the physicist is comparing their behavior to that of the ants, which do have a hive mind, and the other bugs and creepy crawlers that start showing up. It just draws an uncomfortable parallel, as if the homeless are on the same plane as the other vermin. It’s not Carpenter’s most nuanced writing.

And that’s too bad, because the idea of crossing the usual Judeo-Christian religious traditions with quantum physics in an apocalyptic plot is unique, and would be fascinating, if the religious part of it was treated with as much respect as the physics part. If only the entire script was as good as that excellent line from Victor Wong’s character that I used at the beginning of this review.

I also said in my Christine review that this would fill the remaining gap in what I consider the “classic Carpenter” era–1976 through the 80s. That is, the era beginning with Assault on Precinct 13, which put him on the map and allowed him to make Halloween, which catapulted him to being one of the premiere directors in Hollywood working in the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres. Through the 80s, he made film after film that cemented him as a cult classic director.

I didn’t start watching R-rated horror and sci-fi until the late 90s. I was in high school, and Escape from L.A. was my introduction to Carpenter, though I didn’t know who he was at the time. I wasn’t even fully aware that it was a sequel. But I developed a kind of affection for that film and for Snake Plissken as a character. I had already been a fan of Kurt Russell. In college, I saw Vampires, and by the time I saw Ghosts of Mars I knew Carpenter’s reputation and had already begun familiarizing myself with The FogThe ThingStarman (which I’d seen part of as a child and was freaked out by it), Big Trouble in Little China (a personal favorite and a film that is more important than it gets credit for), They LiveHalloween, and the original Escape from New York. Unfortunately, Ghosts of Mars was a terrible movie, but I’d become a late-blooming Carpenter fan who figured it was just a case of a master filmmaker losing his edge.

Prince of Darkness isn’t the only film of his from his “classic” era that I’m not sold on. I’m pretty indifferent toward The Fog and found Assault on Precinct 13 too disturbingly violent to be enjoyable. (I just don’t need to see little kids getting gunned down in the street in what is essentially a basic action movie, though an important one. Even with something like City of God, I’d rather not watch that kind of thing.)

Nevertheless, I think Carpenter, even post-Ghosts, remains one the most fascinating and respectable filmmakers in history. Now I need to fill in the pre-Assault and early-90s gaps. And I’m especially interested now to see In the Mouth of Madness. I did not realize until today that it is the third in what Carpenter calls his “Apocalypse Trilogy,” after The Thing and Prince of Darkness. That is a fascinating trilogy of apocalyptic themes–one extra-terrestrial in nature, one mixing Judeo-Christian religious tradition with quantum physics, and the third an exercise in Lovecraftian horror.

Final grade for Prince of Darkness: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1629 (out of 3273, a relative 50/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 27 — Christine (1983)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

christine

Directed by John Carpenter. Adapted by Bill Phillips from the novel by Stephen King.

Starring Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul; and a triumvirate of old-guy character actor royalty: Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, and Roberts Blossom. (And Kelly Preston.)

I don’t understand why Christine gets so little love. Carpenter’s direction, music, and special effects are as solid as ever. And any film that starts strong, first introducing the eponymous Plymouth Fury just as she’s coming off the assembly line in 1957 and then jumping to 1978 to establish a really interesting and rare best-friend relationship between a nerd and a jock (played well by Gordon and Stockwell, respectively); effectively keeps the suspense up for an hour and a half; and then ends strong on one of the best “or is it?” endings ever, deserves high praise.

My first thought is that, being released right after Carpenter’s masterpiece The ThingChristine could seem a bit of a let-down. But then I remember that The Thing was an even bigger critical and financial disappointment, whereas Christine doubled its budget, and, you know? Sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. Where hindsight is concerned, Christine is unfortunately sandwiched between The Thing and Carpenter’s other masterpiece Starman.

Still, Christine deserves more praise and recognition. It’s a solid thriller. And it’s a solid thriller about a murderous car, AND teenagers. By all rights, it should have been terrible.

I’ll delve more into Carpenter’s body of work in my next review (because I’m watching Prince of Darkness next, which will fill in the last gap in my “classic Carpenter” viewing), but my only real final burning question about Christine is: What heterosexual man in his right mind would turn a blind eye to Kelly Preston? I found this to be the most fantastical aspect of the film.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #511 (out of 3272,  a relative 84/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 26 — Triangle (2009)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

triangle1

Writer/director Christopher Smith has crafted one of the twistiest thrillers in recent memory. Melissa George plays the mother of an autistic child who just wants to have a day away at sea with a guy who frequents the diner where she works. But they sail into the Bermuda Triangle, get hit by a freak storm, and then picked up by a cruise ship. Things get weird from there, and to say anything more specifically from there would be a spoiler of the criminal kind.

The other two films that come to mind while watching this are Shane Carruth’s Primer and the Ashton Kutcher vehicle The Butterfly Effect.  This film will take a long time, and possibly repeated viewings, to process, so at the moment I’m not sure if it’s closer to the logic of Primer, where maybe you can’t follow all of it but it still feels like it makes sense; or the illogic of The Butterfly Effect, where certain moments were concocted merely for shock effect at the cost of the integrity of the story. I do feel like the story has some cracks that start to show the more I think about it, but I’ve rarely so enjoyed thinking about a film, so that in itself is a plus.

It helps that the film is patiently and painstakingly directed, and that Melissa George is a fine actor to take on the complex emotional demands of her character.

Final grade: B

My Flickchart ranking: #782 (out 3271, a relative 76/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 25 — The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

pitpendulum1

Quickie Review: Produced and directed by Roger Corman, adapted by the great Richard Matheson from the story by the great Edgar Allan Poe, these guys knew how to do atmospheric horror. Beautiful production design by Daniel Haller and cinematography by Floyd Crosby, great brooding music by Les Baxter, and a great cast that includes John Kerr, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone, scream queen Barbara Steele, and the one and only Vincent Price. This is a Poe mystery done right.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #438 (out of 3270, a relative 87/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 24 — Roar (1981)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

roar

Written & directed by Noel Marshall. Produced by Marshall & Tippi Hedren. (Pretty much made by the entire Marshall clan.)

Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren were married animal rights activists, and man, are their home movies weird. Seriously though, there is something Tommy Wiseau-level crazy about Noel Marshall in the making of Roar. He spends nearly every second of his screen time ranting like a mad scientist about how misunderstood and harmless big cats are, while the hundred or so–I just said “hundred” and I’m not being hyperbolic–of big cats (lions, tigers, panthers, cougars, jaguars, cheetahs) spend every second of their screen time (and they get the most, by far) pretty much sealing the opposition argument.

And now it’s time for me to regurgitate some stuff I read, because for a film like this, you just have to. It took eleven years to make and cost something like $17 million to produce, but was released only in Europe and pulled in around $2 million. It only saw its U.S. release finally in 2015 because the wonderful Drafthouse Films financed a restoration and re-release (much like they did with other bonkers obscurities like 1979′s The Visitor and 1987′s Miami Connection). The new tagline reads, “No animals were harmed in the making of this film. 70 cast and crew members were.”

First of all, the assertion that no animals were harmed is total hogwash. Even if it weren’t for the fact that several lions (including the “hero” king) died in a flood (admittedly not the fault of the production), there is no way you’ll get me to believe that not a single cat was injured on this set. This production was one of unconscionable recklessness, especially considering Marshall and Hedren’s own children were among the 70 injured humans. And 70 seems, from some accounts, including Hedren’s, a conservative estimate. Hedren’s own daughter Melanie Griffith almost lost an eye and had to get 50 stitches and plastic surgery to her face. Noel’s son John Marshall got 56 stitches. The assistant director had his throat bitten open. Marshall himself got attacked so often he developed gangrene and took years to recover. Cinematographer Jan de Bont got freaking scalped by a lion and needed over 200 stitches. (And, oh yeah, Marshall and Hedren divorced soon after the film was released, so you can probably chalk that marriage up to one of the film’s casualties.)

Yet, for a film that is, objectively, one of of the most batshit insane movies ever made, it’s really pretty boring. The plot is, Marshall plays a guy (basically himself, I imagine) who keeps a sanctuary somewhere in Africa for big cats and some elephants. There’s a bunch of locals who think the cats are a danger. Their one expedition to the compound proves them right, but hey, they walked into it with hostility. Marshall waxes crazy about how not-dangerous the cats are while simultaneously trying to keep all the blood from pouring out of the bite wound to his hand. His wife and children are on their way to visit this, to put it mildly, unpredictable situation, so of course he doesn’t communicate with them about when he’s picking them up, they arrive at his place while he’s out looking for them, and the hundred or so cats swarm them. But even then, when things should be suspenseful, most of the time is spent watching massive predators acting like big versions of house cats and Marshall’s family acting like total idiots.

It’s actually not really a horror film. There is one rogue lion who wants to attack everything and everyone and there are a pair of disgusting trophy hunters who massacre a bunch of cats. But most of this is played like light comedy, right down to the slapsticky soundtrack. Tonally speaking, it’s all over the map. Between the amateurish filmmaking and the cuckoo bananas premise, this film is a feature-length exercise in idiocy, that is far more fascinating behind the scenes than on the screen, and that has one of the most asinine plot resolutions I’ve ever witnessed.

Roar, in terms of what we actually get to see in the movie, has two distinct saving graces: the cats themselves, who display much more charisma than the human characters; and the cinematography. Jan de Bont (who returned to the production after almost literally losing his head) would go on to shoot such films as Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and then himself take the director’s chair on Speed and Twister. (He also directed the ludicrous Speed 2: Cruise Control, the terrible 1999 remake of The Haunting, and the somehow-worse-than-the-first sequel to Lara Croft Tomb Raider–but let’s focus on the good the man has done.) The scenery and the animals look beautiful in this film, with some really interesting camera work. But that good is only just good enough to keep it from being a total miserable failure.

Final grade: D

My Flickchart ranking: #2634 (out of 3269, a relative 19/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 23 — Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

qwingedserpent

Written & directed by Larry Cohen.

This movie should have been called Q: The Whiny Small Time Crook. Michael Moriarty is one of the whiniest, weasliest protagonists ever, and the majority of the film follows him around, so its his unbearable show. Am I supposed to find him funny? Or sympathetic? It really seems like he was intended to be both. He’s terrible. And castmates Candy Clark, David Carradine, and Richard Roundtree aren’t much better.

In fact, there isn’t a single character in this film I did care about. All I could think for an hour and twenty minutes was how much I wanted to see this giant bird dragon appear and destroy everyone. An hour and twenty minutes into a 1 hour 32 minute movie. Fifteen minutes from the end, and I was still waiting for real monster action beyond the quick glimpse here and there. I’m thinking there’s only about a minute and a half of monster in this entire film. And maybe another couple of minutes of gross Aztec ritual killings, because, oh yeah, there’s also a cult that’s barely shown. They worship the ancient god Quetzalcoatl, which I guess is what this monster is supposed to be, even though it ends up being nothing more than a lazily designed lizard with wings. It doesn’t look remotely birdlike, even though they’ve been referring to it as a bird throughout the film. Did they even look a picture of Quetzalcoatl before making this movie?

And then the police force’s response to finally finding this giant flying monster is to shoot automatic weapons wildly from the top of a skyscraper out across lower Manhattan. They probably killed more people than the monster did. It would take a scene by scene breakdown to appropriately explain how bad this movie is.

Bad writing, bad directing, bad acting, bad cinematography, bad music (I kid you not, there were two separate pieces of music playing at the same gorram time in one scene), and, I’m sorry to say since I’m a lover of old-fashioned stop-motion monster movies, bad special effects. I actually can’t find anything worthy of legitimate praise.

Final grade: I’m afraid I have to give this an F. I was looking forward to watching this, too.

My Flickchart ranking: #3193 (out of 3268, a relative 2/100) (Bottom 100!)

30 Days of Madness, Day 22 — The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

littleshop2

 

Written by Charles B. Griffith. Produced & directed by Roger Corman.

Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors is probably the least “real horror” film I’ve done yet this month. I mean, sure, there are scenes of bloody body parts being fed to carnivorous plant, but the entire production is just so ridiculous, nothing can be taken seriously.

In fact, the only real horror in this movie is Jonathan Haze as the accident-prone protagonist Seymour Krelboyne. In my opinion, bad filmmaking is rarely worse than when it’s bad comedy, and Haze’s pratfalls are awful. Still, watching the pratfalls is not nearly as painful as listening to him speak. In fact, most of the characters in this film have grating voices.

This film was rough in the beginning. After a little while, I kind of understood the vibe a little better, and things evened out to the point I was actually enjoying it. I was certainly enjoying Audrey, and Audrey’s malapropisms, and Audrey’s outfits. A hearty thank you to the wardrobe department.

The detective characters in this film (Sgt. Fink and Officer Stoolie–the names of the characters are a lot of fun, too) are hilarious with their deadpan, world-weary, quickfire film noir-ish banter. Even a lot of the stuff involving Mel Welles’ exasperated outbursts of Yiddish and Dick Miller’s weird flower fixation turned out to be a lot funnier than I had anticipated in early scenes.

Basically, anything not involving Seymour turned into a source of enjoyment for me. But as most of this film focuses on him, a lot of this was a slog to get through. And the third act was a parade of increasingly WTF moments, and not in the good way.

Oh right, Jack Nicholson is in this too, for one scene, where he plays a masochistic dental patient. If I had seen this in 1960, I probably would have been surprised a decade later to see that guy’s career taking off. What a weirdo. (Still, I suppose.)

Final grade: C

My Flickchart ranking: #2553 (out of 3266, a relative 22/100) - This is probably the biggest disparity so far this month between my letter grade and Flickchart ranking. It probably doesn’t deserve to be quite that low.