Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween...For Realz!

My favorite holiday is finally upon us! Happy Halloween, folks. I've had a lot going on this week so I didn't finish the sketch I had planned for today. So I thought I'd post the Jack o' Lanterns Suzanne and I did. We haven't done this in about fifteen years but I was really in the mood this year.

Suze is more adventurous than I am and really went for the gusto with her Jolly Roger:

I'm more of a traditionalist and stuck with the old school triangle face. This sucker was huge. Suzanne picked me up a pumpkin that's at least a foot-and-a-half tall. Now I ask you, would you dare approach this guy? Even for candy?

Last year was the most miserable Halloween I've ever experienced so, this year, I wanted to go all-out. Suzanne's entire family is up for a visit and we've got a big day planned tomorrow. We got our nephew a Clone Trooper costume to wear, complete with blaster and we've been duking it out all night. I've been chasing him around the house with the phaser my friend Paul got me for my birthday. It's the really good one that makes the sounds, lights up and separates the Phaser 1 from Phaser 2. We're taking him and my niece over to Paul's house tomorrow night because we get absolutely zero kids in our neighborhood while Paul's neighborhood is overrun each year with trick-or-treaters. So we're going to go hang out and hand out candy while our niece and nephew go beg for goodies with the rest of the costumed kiddies. I'm really looking forward to it. Besides, Ricky is HUGE into Star Wars right now and Paul is the biggest Star Wars fan in the world. (Sorry Christian.) And Ricky has really taken to him. It doesn't hurt that he has a home theater with a a screen the size of Nebraska and puts on ATTACK OF THE CLONES whenever we bring over the kids.

I hope everybody has a great Halloween. I know I will. For the next four months, at least.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Norliss Tapes

I’ve gotten a lot of good horror movie recommendations from folks based on my Hammer and Robot Monster posts. Paul Rogers’ recommendations can be seen in the comments for the Robot Monster post (though I’ll be steering clear of Weasels Rip My Flesh, thank you Paul.) I’ve seen all but Weasel multiple times. The one recommendation I haven’t seen before was from Leanne Hannah. She told me about a British made-for-TV movie called The Woman In Black that I absolutely can’t wait to check out. I watched a clip on YouTube and it really creeped me out. So I’ll definitely be watching that. Thanks, Leanne.

I thought I’d return the favor and recommend a good Halloween movie I remember from my childhood. Often, when I revisit films I really liked as a kid, I’m sorely disappointed. For instance, I remember being terrified by a low-budget flick called Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. I saw it on my grandmother’s tiny black and white TV sitting in her kitchen late at night. Her house was very old and there were often spiders crawling in the most inconvenient places. She was always finding ways to save money so, when we stayed with her, she would turn out all the lights when she went to bed and you’d have to blindly navigate the claustrophobia-inducing hallways to the back bedroom and I would always swear I could hear the spiders skittering after me in the dark. So it was with that journey ahead of me that my seven-year-old self watched Jessica and it was no wonder I suffered from nightmares for weeks afterward. Flash forward 30 years and I’m renting the just-released video on NetFlix. I practically jumped up and down in anticipation as I put the disc in the player. Suze was out of town for the weekend and I had the house to myself. I turned out all the lights in the house and curled up on the couch with a bag of popcorn, looking forward to ninety minutes of spine-tingling delights. Not to be. The movie turned out to be an acid-trippy, hippy-infested borefest. There's even a musical number. Granted, there were a few chilling moments (including a show-stopper at the lake) that made it worth checking out but it was nowhere near the thriller I remembered. I was sorely disappointed.

Fortunately, that is not the case with The Norliss Tapes.

This Dan Curtis-produced TV movie featuring Roy Thinnes and Angie Dickenson was made by the same team that brought us the original The Night Stalker movie starring Darren McGavin. And you can tell. All the elements are there: the writer protagonist, the story revealed by the playing of audio tapes, the mute, snarling creature in a suit and tie nobody believes exists. Heck, Claude Akins even shows up as the doubting sheriff. While certainly dated (an aspect not helped by the funky 70's soundtrack) the film holds up well has some genuinely creepy moments, not the least of which is the scene depicted in my sketch above. That's the shot that stuck with me all these years. A young woman staying in a motel room can't shake the feeling she's being watched. As a storm rages outside, she slowly, reluctantly forces herself over to the window and, with one quick jerk, yanks open the curtain to reveal that blue, blank-eyed face.

This movie was another film that plagued me for years (along with Gargoyles, Agent from H.A.R.M. and the aforementioned Giant Claw and The Creeping Terror)and I was so relieved when some deft Googling finally revealed not only the title but the fact that it was available on DVD. Netflix to the rescue. It does suffer from a hokey ending but it has some really good performances (especially Thinnes and also Nick Dimitri who wasn't given much to do but seemed to have a great time doing it) and quite a few chills. If you can get past the pasty blue makeup, I think you'll really enjoy this one.

Now, if I can only figure out what that movie was with the headless female ghost haunting the old Victorian mansion...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Robot Monster

Ro-man. Just because.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Why I love the Internet

One of the most persistent, gnawing mysteries of my life has been the title of a movie I saw when I was a kid on the 6:30 MOVIE in Lynchburg. I've mentioned it before. The local ABC affiliate (Channel 13) would show movies after the evening news but before primetime. Back then, the news came on a half-hour earlier, leaving a 90 minute block of airtime for local programming. For an all-too brief time, Channel 13 filled this block with week-long themes like GODZILLA WEEK! or PLANET OF THE APES WEEK!. One week it was INVADERS FROM SPACE WEEK! and they showed this movie that absolutely terrified me. In fact, it very nearly scarred me for life. There was one scene in which a damsel in distress is devoured by what can only be described as a mobile carpet with a sunflower for a head. In fact, that's what I just typed into Google in the hopes of finally figuring out just what the hell that movie was called. Well, mystery solved.

After some 30 years of wondering, I present to you...The Creeping Terror.


Oh, wow! This is fun. Here's two more I remember. Sam Katzman was the man!

The Giant Claw!

And The Werewolf!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Don't Hurt 'Em, Hammer!

This month, (God bless 'em) is having a sale on horror movies. Obviously, the economy is a little unpredictable right now and nobody really knows what the future holds but it's hard to be especially frugal when my favorite web site is dangling such tasty tidbits in front of my face. 

I'm finding it hard to resist, in particular, their selection of Hammer Films. As we enter the era of Blu-ray, a lot of Hammer films are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain on DVD. Many were never released to begin with and a lot that were are out of print. To get them, you have to be willing to part with some cash. For now, I'm going to pass on such high-dollar gems as The Abominable Snowman (the inspiration for this post's rather disappointing sketch) and The Reptile and head straight for quantity over quality.

This set is one I passed on a few years back when money was tight (we'd just bought a house) and I've regretted it ever since. Costco had it for around $50 or $60. Now Amazon has it for $16. That's too good to beat. It has two films I'm especially interested in. Curse of the Werewolf and Brides of Dracula. Curse was a film I never saw as a child but I had seen numerous stills in the backs of Marvel's horror magazines and a wonderful Skywald comic adaptation. I was always intrigued by the creature design. I ended up picking up a VHS copy of the movie as an adult and remember being disappointed by it. For one thing, the werewolf was barely in it and for another, when it was, it sounded more like a horny cat than a wolf. I ended up giving the movie away. (I KNOW!) But my tastes have matured a little and I can't wait to give it another go. Brides is another film I didn't see until adulthood and also remember seeing stills of in the backs of Marvel's mags. It was the direct sequel to Horror of Dracula, Hammer's adaptation of Stoker's novel but strangely did not feature Lee as Dracula. 

Hammer films hold a special place in my heart. I may be committing heresy, but I've always preferred them over the Universal versions. They were more more lurid, less sophisticated and certainly more overtly sexual. There was something grimy about the sets that really grabbed me as a kid. And as an adult I can really appreciate the Hammer trademark...the heaving bosoms of the damsels in distress. One actress in particular seems to epitomize the Hammer feminine ideal...Valerie Gaunt. Her only two Hammer films were Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. I remember liking her very much when I was a kid. She had many attributes of which I came to consider "my type" if there is such a thing. Dark, lustrous hair. Arched eyebrows. Lots of curves. Sadly, she appears to have given up acting after Horror of Dracula as there are no further listings on her IMDB page.

When we were kids, Mike and I used to stay up late on Friday nights because that was when the local CBS affiliate would run horror or sci-fi movies on the late show. Sometimes it would be a couple episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker or the Planet of the Apes TV shows mashed into a single "movie." But sometimes we'd luck out and get another Hammer film.  If it was winter, we'd lay under a blanket on the living room floor, propping our faces up with cushions from the couch and try to stretch a corner of the blanket over the heat vent to trap the warmth. Usually, I'd make it almost to the end before falling asleep. Sometimes Mike would take pity on me and wake me up for the "good" parts. 

I've been buying up a lot of those old favorites over the last few years and I'm really gaining a true respect for the outstanding quality of them. Yes, some of them bordered on exploitation, but there was a certain charm to them and everyone involved seemed to be taking their work seriously. Peter Cushing in particular. To this day, seeing the word "Hammer" written out sends a little thrill through me that folks today, post-M.C. wouldn't understand. If you haven't tried any of these movies yourself, I highly recommend you head straight to NetFlix and do yourself a favor. The early Dracula's, Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy and the Quartermass films should be at the top of the list.

Oh, and Christian recommends Plague of the Zombies. Right, Christian?