Friday, October 7, 2011

Diary of the Dead 2011: Week 1

Welcome to this year’s installment of Psychobabble’s Diary of the Dead. I’ll be logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Friday in October (this year I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

It begins again…

October 1st

Queen of Blood (1966- dir. Curtis Harrington) ***½

It is the year 1990, an age of mind-blowing technological advances, an age when astronauts can zoom off to Mars in rockets and commune with the sexy, blood-sucking troll doll they meet there. Queen of Blood gets a lot of juice from its cult-crazy cast: Basil “Sherlock Holmes” Rathbone, John “Enter the Dragon” Saxon, Forrest “Famous Monsters of Filmland” Ackerman, Dennis “Dennis Hopper” Hopper. It also looks amazing, with its vivid, primary palette and images straight out of a Weird Science comic book. The aesthetic is so strong and the cast is such a blast that the script’s mediocrity barely matters. Writer/director Curtis Harrington should have introduced his monster much earlier. Bava’s Planet of the Vampires remains the preferable alternative, but Queen of Blood is definitely worth a gander for sci-fi/horror junkies.

October 2nd

Tales That Witness Madness (1973- dir. Freddie Francis) ***½

This British portmanteau is an Amicus production in everything but name. You’d have to be mental not to recognize the similarities between this film’s mental institution wraparound and that of Roy Ward Baker’s Asylum, an actual Amicus film released the previous year. But Francis is the portmanteau master, and his film is a lot better. Despite the redundant wraparound, the episodes are uncommonly weird. A possessed photo forces a guy to time travel on an old timey bike. A tree-lady branches out into a jealous rage. Kim Novak unwittingly eats her own daughter at a voodoo luau. The special effects are laughable, but that’s part of the charm.

October 4th

Swamp Thing (1982- dir. Wes Craven) ***

Wes Craven’s goofy comic book adaptation was an afternoon HBO staple when I was a kid. It’s been decades since I’ve seen Swamp Thing, but since I haven’t really grown up during that time, I was still able to enjoy it on a certain level. Yes, it’s dumb. Yes, Adrienne Barbeau’s potentially interesting character is sacrificed to the creature’s need for a damsel to constantly rescue. Yes, the rubber suit he wears looks like a rubber suit. With all the cheesy monsters and explosions and gratuitous boobs you’d think a 12-year old made this movie. Of course, if those are your complaints about a movie called Swamp Thing, you probably shouldn’t be watching a movie called Swamp Thing. It isn’t boring and the creature has a definite Frankenstein-Monster charm.

The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970- dir. Roddy McDowall) **½

“The Ballad of Tam Lin” is an old Scottish folk song that tells the tale of a young man caught in the thrall of an evil fairy queen. In Roddy McDowall’s sole directorial effort, the queen is a sort of a hippie den mother embodied by Ava Gardner. Stephanie Beecham is the outsider who upsets her control by falling in love with skinny, young Ian McShane. The queen then turns vengeful. McDowall’s tasteful restraint keeps the The Ballad of Tam Lin from generating heat until its final twenty minutes, which over compensate with psychedelic silliness. As a romance, it’s somewhat effective. As a horror movie, it is decidedly unhorrific. Pentangle handles the title ballad, but Fairport Convention’s rocking version is the definitive one.

October 5th

Requiem for a Vampire (1973- dir. Jean Rollin) *½

A pair of robbers dressed as circus clowns take refuge in a castle overrun with depraved vampires. The minimal use of dialogue is interesting, and the photography is quite beautiful. The nonstop images of rape and torture it captures are ugly. There’s a pretty suspenseful scene in which one of the robbers is accidentally buried alive, but that isn’t enough to make this boring trash worth watching.

October 6th

Invaders from Mars (1953- dir. William Cameron Menzies) ****

I watched Invaders from Mars on the recommendation of a regular Psychobabble commenter known as The Baron. I’m glad I did. The plot is basically a precursor to Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which the alien replicas are really, really mean and a little boy fills the Kevin McCarthy role. Invaders from Mars has its intense moments, but its artificiality makes it a lot less scary than Body Snatchers. The blatantly phony sets and richer-than-reality Cinecolor still make for delectable eye candy. An endless pseudo-science lesson sequence causes the center to sag, but the film manages to get back in orbit with a war-of-the-worlds finale masterminded by a mutant squid-man who lives in a snow globe. Raoul Kraushaar’s score, which appropriates bits of Holst’s The Planets, is phenomenal. Look out for a fleeting cameo by June Cleaver!
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