Sunday, October 30, 2016

October Quick Picks and Pans – Halloween 2016

Theatre of Blood (1973) Vincent Price stars as Edward Lionheart, a stage actor with a bone to pick against a group of London critics. After he fails to win the coveted actor of the year award, he exacts his unique brand of revenge, based on Shakespearean scenes. Theatre of Blood shares many similarities with 1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes,(a man, presumed dead, is wronged, and plots elaborate killings using classic literature as his template, aided by his enigmatic assistant), but Price keeps things interesting with his inimitable wit and sense of style. The torments he concocts are truly inspired, and Price seems to be having a great time reciting Shakespearean monologues. The film features some fine supporting performances, including Diana Rigg as Edward’s daughter Edwina, and Robert Morley, Ian Hendry and Harry Andrews as some of his more ardent critics.

Rating: ****. Available on DVD and Hulu

What We Do in the Shadows (2015) Writer/director/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi really hit the mark with this clever mockumentary about a group of vampires residing in a New Zealand flat. We learn about their day to day lives, loves, rivalries and petty squabbles (arguments over cleaning the bloody dishes) in the days leading up to an annual convention of the undead. The film, which has an ad-libbed Spinal Tap feel, showcases some great ensemble work by Clement, Waititi, Jonny Brugh and Ben Fransham, and elicits laughs over their often tone-deaf attempts to integrate into human society. Just when you’ve seen it all, this imaginative horror/comedy places a new, affectionate spin on the time-worn vampire genre.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971) The pacing of this giallo, directed and co-written by Aldo Lado (its original title was Malastrana) is very slow, but don’t let that discourage you. The intriguing premise requires a deliberate build-up, and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Jean Sorel stars as Gregory Moore, an American reporter in Prague. The story is told from his perspective as he’s lying in a morgue, unable to move but cognizant of everything around him. He retraces the events leading up to his unfortunate predicament, including his failed attempt to smuggle his fiancée Mira (Barbara Bach) out of the country. Her disappearance uncovers a larger conspiracy that might just get him killed. According to Lado, the concept for his film came from the idea of someone being buried alive by the establishment, indicative of the political climate in Italy at the time. More than just a simple mystery or whodunit, Short Night of Glass Dolls has much to say about those in power, and the lengths some will go to keep that power.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

The Raven (1935) Bela Lugosi (who unfairly gets second billing) stars as Dr. Richard Vollin, a mentally unstable, but brilliant neurosurgeon. When a beautiful young woman (Irene Ware) suffers a spinal injury, he’s coaxed out of retirement to operate on her. He immediately becomes infatuated with his patient, but unfortunately for Vollin, she’s betrothed to someone else. He only sees this as a minor inconvenience, however. Oh, did I mention he keeps a torture chamber in his basement based on the torments imagined by the works of Edgar Allan Poe? Boris Karloff co-stars as Edmond Bateman, an escaped convict and his unwitting accomplice. Outside of Lugosi’s recital of “The Raven,” the film has little to do with Poe’s seminal poem. The tone is also inconsistent, and Vollin’s motives are murky, but it’s always enjoyable to see two horror titans in the same movie.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) This slow burn (and I mean, slow) psychological horror film features Zohra Lampert in the title role, as a troubled woman who moves from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a small island community. Not long after Jessica arrives, she starts to notice a series of strange occurrences and bizarre behavior from the townspeople. The film does a good job keeping us guessing about her mental stability. As we continue to hear her paranoid thoughts, we begin to suspect she’s not quite reliable as a narrator. Director/co-writer John D. Hancock and co-writer Lee Kalcheim have created a thoughtful mood piece, which forces the question: are we seeing what we think we’re seeing?

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Blood Feast (1963) The late director/provocateur Herschell Gordon Lewis introduced the world to this original gore-fest (the first of his “Blood” trilogy, followed by 2000 Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red), and horror movies were never the same. Sure, the acting’s wretched and the story is vapid, but Blood Feast is somehow compelling. Mal Arnold (with fake gray hair) stars as Fuad Ramses, an evil delicatessen owner who belongs to an Ishtar worshipping cult. He endeavors to bring the goddess back to life through a series of sacrifices, culminating in a banquet of human flesh. Ramses finds the perfect victim when a well-to-do lady (Lyn Bolton) commissions him to cater a traditional “Egyptian feast” for her daughter’s (Connie Mason) dinner party. The cops take what seems like an eternity to make a connection between a series of brutal killings/mutilations, as Ramses gathers his ingredients. Of course, the plentiful gore effects are the film’s raison d'etre, and while dated, they don’t disappoint. As long as you don’t expect the same level of care with any other aspect of the production, you’ll have a good time.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Pieces (aka: Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche) (1982) This movie is terrible. Why am I recommending it? Because it’s so much good, trashy fun.  Set in “Boston” (look for all of the not-so-subtle reminders to trick us into believing this takes place in the States, and not Spain), someone’s hacking up nubile young female university students with a chainsaw. The heavy-breathing killer incorporates the body parts into a human jigsaw puzzle. The mystery shouldn’t baffle anyone beyond a third grade education, but the inept police don’t catch on until the very end. The clumsy plot requires a monumental suspension of disbelief (Just how do you hide a chainsaw behind your back without anyone noticing?), but it’s never dull. After the body count begins to rise, you’d think someone would use the buddy system, but the victims continue to place themselves in harm’s way. The whole thing would be offensive if it wasn’t so cartoonish and stupid.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) The title creature in writer/director Fredric Hobbs’ obscure curiosity, filmed in Virginia City, Nevada, takes a back seat to the subplot. The first hour gets bogged down in a story about a mining company executive threatening to buy out a small town, and his clash with the mayor who wants to preserve things exactly as they were 100 years ago. In the meantime, an enterprising scientist pokes around an old mine, and discovers a new mutagen. When we finally get to see the creature, described as some sort of mutant sheep thing, the results are less than awe inspiring. The film might be worth a glance, if only to glimpse one of the most awkward, ill-conceived monster suits you’re bound to see. Too bad the rest of it is so unforgivably dull.

 Rating: *½. Available on DVD


  1. Some of these I've seen and some of them I haven't, but need to!

    I'm just thrilled you enjoyed WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS! It seriously entertains me and holds up to multiple repeat viewings!

    I recently saw a French film with a similar premise called VAMPIRES, but it was lacking in plot, pacing, and interesting characters.

  2. What We Do in the Shadows is a hoot! I just heard that the filmmakers will be doing a sequel about werewolves, so I can't wait. :)

    1. A werewolf sequel is news to me !!! Now I can't wait!