Friday, October 12, 2018

Diary of the Dead 2018: Week 2

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews at the end of every week this October. I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

October 5

Mill of the Stone Women (1960- dir. Giorgio Ferroni) ***½

A young doofus goes to work for an artist famous for creating a gruesome carousel of infamous women condemned to death. The doofus has a fling with the artist’s daughter despite the warning that she’ll drop dead if she becomes slightly upset. Needless to say, this relationship does not end well. Despite a plot so similar to a couple of other movies that if I gave you their titles you’d have this one’s plot figured out lickety-split and heaps of exposition subtle as Nikolai Volkoff’s scrotum in your soup, Mill of the Stone Women is pretty exceptional. The creepy-sculpture-crammed windmill is an ace horror movie setting, and though the characters all start off pretty blah, they all go absolutely bonkers by the fiery, freaky climax. Poe would have been envious.

The Boogeyman (1980- dir. Ulli Lommel) **½

The Boogeyman is pseudo slasher garbage, but at least it is pseudo in an entirely clever way. An abused little boy offs his parents and he and his sister, who witnesses the murder, grow up to have serious issues. I’ll admit to a bias against slasher movies, and this one didn’t challenge it, but I didn’t see the supernatural twist coming (though maybe I should have considering that it’s called The Boogeyman) and the editing is effectively fractured. Nicholas Love, who plays the grown up version of the little killer, has the distinction of starring in the worst subplot in the history of Twin Peaks.

October 6

The Children (2008- dir. Tom Shankland) *

Two families convene in the country to enjoy a nice Christmas holiday together and the children start acting like mini Lizzie Bordens and Norman Bateses. There’s no explanation for the tots’ homicidal behavior, so this glorified slasher flick feels especially empty and pointless. This wad of stupidity might have at least been good for a few unintentional laughs if it wasn’t so ugly and cruel. Alas, The Children is good for nothing.

Ghost Story (1974- dir. Stephen Weeks) ***½

Three plum-sucking poshos go on holiday in a mansion for the purpose of shooting pheasants. With the help of a Victorian doll that follows him everywhere, the most skittish of the trio starts having time-traveling visions of Marianne Faithfull in a snake pit. Ghost Story is pretty surreal and it takes some time to get oriented in its machinations. That’s a good thing, because without the unconventional storytelling, Ghost Story would be a fairly conventional ghost story. The asylum inmates are grotesque caricatures of the mentally ill, but this movie still works quite well as a sort of Twilight Zone nightmare for Oxforders and that doll is nearly as terrifying and hilarious as Talky Tina. Incidentally, the most superfluous of the three boys is played by the actor who inspired Withnail of Withnail & I.

October 7

Society (1989- dir. Brian Yuzna) **½

I like Brian Yuzna, but the tone of the first film he directed is all off. Neurotic Billy comes to believe his family is involved in some sort of gang-bang conspiracy on the eve of his sister’s coming out party. The conspiracy is intriguing, and Billy—with his own weird incestuous desires—definitely isn’t your run of the mill hero, but too many scenes feel like they belong in a dumb teen sex comedy and Billy too closely resembles a mini-Charlie Sheen to earn our sympathy. The impressively realized surrealistic climax loses much of its potency because of the silliness that precedes it. As a social satire, Society is as blunt as they come. Slamming a Jäger shot every time a character says “society” would be an awesome drinking game for anyone who longs to die of alcohol poisoning.

October 8

Long Live the King (2016- dir. Frank Dietz and Trish Geiger) ***

Long Live the King is the kind of fan appreciation that usually appears as a DVD bonus feature. Fans such as Joe Dante, Bob Burns, Greg Nicotero, Doug Jones, and Dana Gould describe their first experiences seeing King Kong, give a pointless synopsis of the entire film, provide some background information on the its creation, and a few genuinely interesting tidbits, such as a ridiculous King Kong vs. Frankenstein monster rally that never got made. No one engages with Kong’s troubling depictions of race and gender, which would have made this a richer look back on a great yet flawed movie. The more critical discussions of Kong’s legacy on screen (including the Rankin and Bass cartoon!) provide the juiciest moments.

October 9

I Vampiri (1957- dir. Ricardo Freda w/Mario Bava) ****

In Paris (where everyone speaks Italian), a killer who exsanguinates victims is on the loose. An old woman who hides her face behind a curtain of scary veils is pulling the strings. The plot is fairly predictable, and the first half drags, but I Vampiri has a lot going for it that mitigates those issues. There are neat nods to Dracula and Frankenstein, a fab score that breaks out the theremin at just the right moment, breath-taking widescreen B&W cinematography from Mario Bava (who finished directing the picture after Ricardo Freda butted horns with the producers), superb use of the transformation effects Mamoulian pioneered in Jekyll and Hyde, and some of the most marvelous sets I’ve ever seen in any film. This was Italy’s first sound horror film, and it’s a commendable start to a most fruitful strain of Gothic nightmares.

The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972- dir. Warris Hussein) *

Shirley Maclaine is a fancy shmancy rich lady whose brother is possessed by the spirit of a Puerto Rican serial killer. Needless to say, The Possession of Joel Delaney treads into some seriously sketchy territory. Perhaps the filmmakers intended to make some sort of comment on the haves’ disconnect from the have-nots. If so, there’s an embarrassing lack of focus, and the film ends up painting NYC’s Puerto Rican populace as superstitious and downright supernatural, and in the case of the title character’s occupant, homicidal. It all builds up to an absolutely loathsome home invasion scene that would never get made today. It’s unfortunate that The Possession of Joel Delaney got made at all. 

October 10

The Night Stalker (1972- dir. John Llwelyn Moxley) ****

OK, I’ve watched one too many crappy movies on Marriott and Newman’s recommendation, so I’m going to start working off book. As a palette cleansing, I’m starting with an easy A. The Night Stalker became a mini-sensation by introducing the wisecracking, monster-hunting reporter Carl Kolchak to TV. A short lived series followed, but the original movie—in which Kolchak stalks a Vampire stalking women in Vegas— is generally regarded as the best Kolchak adventure. I agree, though more for the dramatic quality of its denouement than its monster, which is a pretty generic bloodsucker. This definitely feels like a stand-alone piece rather than a pilot for the more frivolous series. The Night Stalker is a tad grittier than the show, but Darrin McGavin is great fun as the main character despite his occasional off putting callousness toward the victims.

October 11

You’ll Find Out (1940- dir. David Butler) **½

Totally cornball old dark house flick, little more than a cut-rate vehicle for band leader Kay Kyser and his goofy troupe of musicians, has the distinction of being the only movie to feature Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre. Really, that’s reason enough to watch this piffle, and it isn’t exactly unentertaining. The songs stink, but the grand horror trio are fun to watch, and there’s even some genuinely creepy stuff involving a séance and stomach-churning voice effects. Plus, now I finally know what an Ish Kabibble is. I was probably better off before I did.

October 12

The Babadook (2014- dir. Jennifer Kent) ****

The horror sensation about a scary children’s story that comes to life may not be quite as scary as its rep suggests but it’s still a quality horror picture. The top-hatted monster serves as a not-too-subtle metaphor for the pain of losing a spouse and the difficulty of raising a troubled child solo (he’s apparently also a symbol of the LGBQT community, but I’ve never understood that). There are some clunky bits, but The Babadook is original, features a memorable monster and a memorably harried performance from Essie Davis as the woman who can’t get her crazed kid under control and can’t get rid of that damn Babadook book.
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