Thursday, October 28, 2021

October Quick Picks and Pans – Horror Month 2021


Symptoms Poster

Symptoms (1974) Angela Pleasence stars as Helen, a disturbed young woman in writer/director José Ramón Larraz’s thriller, a bubbling cauldron of repressed sexuality and unrequited love. She lives alone on a country estate, nursing the wounds of an unspecified psychological trauma. As a comfort to her friend in need, Anne (Lorna Heilbron) leaves London to spends some time with Helen. Over the course of the next several days secrets will be revealed. Symptoms takes its time, building up suspense gradually, and letting the story unfold (in the kind of slow-burn approach that’s so distinctively 1970s). Not much occurs for the first half, but stick with it, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Pleasence turns in a subtly creepy performance, portraying one woman’s disintegrating psyche.  

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray

Parents Poster

Parents (1989) What goes on in the secret world of parents when the kids are in bed? Director Bob Balaban’s pitch-dark comedy/horror attempts to answer that question. Balaban and writer Christopher Hawthorne use an idealized ‘50s backdrop to spin a subversive yarn about domestic conformity. A young boy (Bryan Madorsky) suspects his squeaky-clean parents (Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt) are up to something nefarious (Just what is that mystery meat they keep trying to serve him?). The film keeps its cards close to its chest about what his parents are really up to (Are they or aren’t they?) for the first two-thirds. Although Madorsky’s performance tends to be one-note, it’s mainly a foil for all the erratic behavior and skullduggery around him. Even though the climax is a trifle predictable, it’s worth seeing for the build-up.   

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Tubi and Amazon Prime

Grave Encounters Poster

Grave Encounters (2011) Before you think, “Oh no, not another found footage movie,” give this one a try. The host (Ben Wilkinson) and crew of a TV ghost-hunting series named (Can you guess?), investigate an abandoned mental hospital, which might not be as uninhabited as they originally thought. Although the movie relies on a few too many CGI-enhanced jump scares, it stands out by introducing some intriguing concepts. The more time the investigators spend in the haunted asylum, the further it alters their perception of time and space. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Shudder, and Amazon Prime

The Terror Poster

The Terror (1963) If you think Roger Corman’s The Terror seems cobbled together from his other Poe movies, you’re not wrong. Corman repurposed the sets from The Raven for his film, along with a couple of its stars, Boris Karloff as Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe, and Jack Nicholson, as French soldier, Lt. Andre Duvalier. Corman regulars Jonathan Haze appears as a mute, and Dick Miller (sporting an odd accent) plays the Baron’s butler. Duvalier meets a mysterious young woman wandering the beach (played by Nicholson’s then-wife, Sandra Knight), who seems to be linked to Van Leppe’s castle, and its brooding baron. I’m not sure where the eponymous “Terror” fits in, but Corman’s attempt to (in his words) “out-Poe Poe…” has some nice atmosphere, and Karloff seems game enough. It’s not as bad as some might attest, but there’s a “been there, done that” feel to the production. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime, and Kanopy

The Gruesome Twosome (1967) Herschell Gordon Lewis does it again, with this gore-laced oddity. An elderly lady (played by Elizabeth Davis, who spouts aphorisms to her stuffed wildcat “Napoleon”) lures young women to her house, under the auspices of having a room for rent. Subsequently, her deranged son Rodney (Chris Martell) scalps them, using their hair for a home-based wig shop (Not exactly a sustainable business model). A snooping college co-ed (Gretchen Wells) investigates a series of missing young women, while her irritating boyfriend doubts her suspicions. The story and characters have about as much depth as a puddle, but if you’re a fan of H.G. Lewis, or just curious about his movies, you could do much worse. 

Rating: **½. Available on DVD

Guru the Mad Monk Poster

Guru the Mad Monk (1970) Here’s another baffling, bargain-basement wonder from filmmaker extraordinaire, Andy Milligan (I think he had about $50 allotted for this movie, yet somehow managed to stay under budget). Lead Neil Flanagan plays the titular character, a ruthless, self-serving priest who tortures for the thrill of it (a highlight is a scene where he acts against a mirror). He runs his cathedral like a private fiefdom, while sheltering his former mistress, a vampire named Olga (Jaqueline Webb). Everyone recites their lines with a strange cadence as if no one knew what real speech sounded like. The story is supposedly set on an island, but there are no location shots (or stock footage) to establish where they are. Instead, we just hear a looped recording of the crashing of ocean waves and seagulls. Its many faults aside, you have to admire how anyone could attempt to shoot a medieval period piece with virtually no resources, except for the use of an old Manhattan cathedral. 

Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Tubi

The Stone Tape Poster

The Stone Tape (1972) The scariest thing in this BBC television production from writer Nigel Kneale and director Peter Sasdy might be the appalling preponderance of the color green in the set and costume design, but it does have its moments. The Stone Tape carries many of the themes that Kneale has explored previously, albeit with mixed results. The director of an electronics firm (Michael Bryant) stumbles on a potential new recording medium, thanks to a discovery by his resident mathematician (Jane Asher). Ghostly sounds and visions emanate from the ancient stone foundation of an estate, leading a team of researchers to investigate. Madness and chaos ensue. An interesting premise is hampered by casual racism and sexism throughout. Overwrought acting, and an unlikable lead also make this difficult to stomach. 

Rating: **½. Available on DVD (Region 2)


The Mummy's Hand Poster

The Mummy’s Hand (1940) This sort-of sequel to 1932’s The Mummy is a big step down. An archaeologist (Dick Foran) and his very annoying sidekick (Wallace Ford) set out to find the tomb of Karas, with the promise of untold riches and notoriety. A high priest (George Zucco) who’s sworn to protect the tomb, and the not-so-dead Karas have other plans. There are some impressive sets, and the mummy (played this time by Tom Tyler) is truly frightening. It’s too bad the story is so scattershot and unfocused, and the emphasis on comedy doesn’t help the mood. Watch if you must. 

Rating: **½. Available in The Mummy: Legacy Collection Blu-ray and DVD


  1. Yeah, I remember 'Parents' - haven't seen it for about 30 years. Not a bad piece of work. Never seen the Stone Tape, although generally I find Kneale's later work to be too crackers to take seriously.

    The Mummy sequels really aren't a patch on the Karloff original, but personally I find that they get better as they go along (although their grasp of geography is nuts, even by Hollywood standards!)

    1. It had probably been 30+ years since I last watched Parents, so I almost consider it a first watch. ;) I was really looking forward to The Stone Tape. Too bad it was a letdown. I'm still looking forward to catching up with the other Mummy sequels. At least Chaney's in the next one. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Where do I even begin, Barry?
    Symptoms sounds intriguing and I'm sad to hear the stone tape doesn't live up to the intriguing title.

    I'm happy to see parents in this list and I've never been a huge fan of the terror, but maybe it needs a second viewing.

    Of course, I I am beyond thrilled that guru The mad Monk made the cut, sort of. it's one of Andy Milligan's films that has grown on me since first viewing it. Yes, that means I've watched it more than once. Lol

    1. Symptoms was truly the find of the month. I highly recommend it. The Stone Tape had a great premise, but its execution was lacking. It had some blatant racist/sexist elements that were truly icky to sit through. I don't know if I'd recommend The Terror, but I'd say it was "adequate." ;)

      Andy Milligan is sort of like Lays Potato Chips, isn't he? I know his films aren't "good" for me, but I can't watch just one. :)

  3. I remember being very impressed by THE STONE TAPE when I saw it but that was about twelve years ago.

    1. I loved the concept. The execution... not so much.

  4. As always, a very interesting, eclectic mix. I noticed Parents on Prime several weeks ago and favorited it, although I haven't gotten around to it yet. Like you, I saw it eons ago, so it will be like a first watch for me as well. It might pair nicely with Nic Cage's Mom and Dad from 2017. As for Grave Encounters, I've gotten to the point where I generally avoid found-footage films, but I do love a good, original eccentric premise. (Although this reminds me somewhat of a low-budget sci-fi film from the 20-oughts - I forget the title - about 20-somethings vacationing in the proverbial cabin in the woods, who stumble upon a mysterious force field, and the more they're exposed to it the crazier they become).
    I've never seen an Andy Milligan film although I've read reviews and one fairly extensive article about him. I admire the passion to make films against all the odds and with just a couple of bucks in your pocket, but no-budget films, especially ones that are absurdly ambitious, tend to be excruciating experiences. But Andy still has a cult following to this day, so who am I to judge? :)

    1. Thanks again for stopping by! I haven't seen Mom and Dad. I should give it a try. Grave Encounters was decent, but I think Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) handled the premise with more aplomb. The other movie you mention sounds very familiar to me. Andy Milligan is very much an acquired taste. I'm not sure if I can say I've quite acquired it, but I'm strangely attracted to his movies. Maybe I just can't believe what I'm seeing? ;)

  5. The Mummy's Hand was influential, though. It reinvents the ancient Egyptian backstory from the 1932 original, with Prince Kharis stealing tana leaves to restore life to his beloved, deceased Princess Ananka. Plus, the music score is a good one--it's recycled from Son of Frankenstein.

    1. It does have its moments. If not for the irritating Babe character, I would have recommended it. I think I'll just stick with the Karloff original. ;)