Archive for the 2010 Category

In the Spooklight: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2010, Christopher Lee films, Classic Films, Evil Doctors!, Frankenstein Movies, Hammer Films, Horror, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Peter Cushing Films, Reanimated Corpses with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by knifefighter

This is a reprint of my 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, which originally appeared in the HWA Newsletter in December 2010.  It’s on THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, one of my all-time favorites, and one of a handful of movies that influenced me at a young age and got me into this horror business in the first place.  Hope you enjoy it.  And don’t forget, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection – 115 reviews in all— is now available as an EBook at  Thanks for reading.

—Michael Arruda



Michael Arruda


Welcome to the 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.  Woo hoo!  It’s been a fun ride.  Thanks for coming along.

In honor of the occasion, let’s look at THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), Hammer Films’ first horror hit.

To make their Frankenstein movie different from the Universal 1931 original starring Boris Karloff, Hammer Films decided to concentrate more on the doctor rather than on the monster.  Enter Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein.

Hammer Films’ signing of Peter Cushing to play Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a major coup for the tiny studio which made low-budget movies.  In the 1950s, Peter Cushing had become the most popular actor on British television.  To British audiences, he was a household name.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was Cushing’s first shot at being the lead actor in a theatrical movie, and he doesn’t disappoint.  In fact, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN belongs to Peter Cushing.  He dominates this movie and carries it on his shoulders.  He’s in nearly every scene.

Cushing succeeded in creating a character who was the perfect shade of gray, a villain who was also a hero.  He’s so convincing in this dual persona that we want to see Victor Frankenstein succeed in his quest to create life, even though he murders a few people along the way.

Peter Cushing went on to become an international superstar.  He delivered countless fine performances over the years until his death from cancer in 1994.  Yet, his performance as Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is arguably his best.

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein

Like the 1931 version of FRANKENSTEIN before it, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, while based on the book by Mary Shelley, is not overly faithful to the novel and takes lots of liberties with the story.

Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) enlists the aid of his former tutor Paul (Robert Urquhart) to conduct his experiments, to “create the most complex thing known to man- man himself!”  Victor wants his creation to be “born with a lifetime of knowledge” and so he invites the brilliant Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) to his house for dinner.  After dinner, Victor promptly murders him.  Later, when Paul confronts Victor and says he’s going to stop him from using the brain, Victor replies with one of the better lines from the movie, “Why?  He has no further use for it.”

Lightning strikes and starts the lab equipment, while Victor is out of the laboratory, and the Creature (Christopher Lee, also in his starring role debut) is brought to life without Victor present, saving him from an “It’s alive!” moment.

Victor opens the door to the laboratory and finds the Creature standing in the doorway alive.  In the film’s most memorable scene, the Creature rips off the mask of bandages covering his face, and the camera tracks into a violent grotesque close-up of the Creature’s hideous face.  It’s a most horrific make-up job by Phil Leakey, and it’s unique to Frankenstein movies, since in all six of the Hammer Frankenstein sequels to follow, this Creature, so chillingly portrayed by Christopher Lee, never appears again.

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein's Creature

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein’s Creature

Lee’s Creature is a murderous beast, and he quickly escapes from the laboratory.  Victor and Paul chase him into the woods, where Paul shoots him in the head, killing him.  Or so he thinks.  Victor promptly digs up the body and brings it back to life again.

Victor performs multiple brain surgeries to improve the Creature, but eventually things get out of hand, as Paul goes to the police just as the Creature escapes again.  The film has a dark conclusion which I won’t give away here.

Over the years, Christopher Lee has been criticized for his portrayal of the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Sure, Lee’s Creature is not the Karloff monster.   However, the Creature, who appears fleetingly here and there, has an almost Michael Myers quality in this movie, a killer who creeps in the shadows, here one moment, gone the next.

Lee is scary in the role.  His Creature is an insane unpredictable being.  As the Creature, Lee doesn’t speak a word, and he hardly makes a sound, using pantomime skills to bring the character to life.  His performance has always reminded me of a silent film performance, a la Lon Chaney Sr.  Lee captures the almost childlike persona of a new creation born into the world for the first time, albeit a child that’s a homicidal maniac.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN has a great music score by James Bernard.  It’s haunting, ghastly, and memorable.

Director Terence Fisher, arguably Hammer’s best director, is at the helm here.  As he did in all his best movies, Fisher created some truly memorable scenes in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  The Creature’s first appearance is classic, one of the most memorable scenes of its kind.  The scene when Victor murders Professor Bernstein features a great stunt where Victor pushes the Professor off a second floor balcony to his death, and we actually see the stunt double hit the floor head first with a neck breaking thud.  It’s a jarring scene.  And this is 1957.

There are lots of other neat touches as well.  When Victor’s fiancée Elizabeth (Hazel Court) peers into the acid vat in which Victor has been disposing unwanted bodies and body parts, she covers her nose- a great little touch.

Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay is one of his best.  Probably the best written scene is the one where Victor tries to convince Paul how well he has trained his Creature by having the Creature stand, walk, and sit down.  Paul is unimpressed, saying “Is this your perfect physical being, this animal?  Why don’t you ask it a question of advanced physics?  It’s got a brain with a lifetime of knowledge behind it, it should find it simple!”  It’s also a great scene for Christopher Lee, as it’s one of the few times he invokes sympathy for the Creature.

But THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN sinks or swims with Peter Cushing.  Rarely has an actor delivered such a powerful performance in a horror movie.  Cushing is flawless here.  He draws you into Frankenstein’s madness and convinces you he’s right.

If I could give you one gift this holiday season, it would be to watch THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Rediscover it today, more than 50 years after it was made.  It’s time this movie received its due as one of the best ever, which isn’t news to those who saw it in 1957. After all, it was the biggest money maker in Britain that year.

One of its original lobby cards reads “THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN will haunt you forever.”

It will.


© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda


The Ghost of Christmas Past Presents: BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Posted in 2010, 70s Horror, HOLIDAY CHEER, Horror DVDs, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Review by L.L. Soares

Who would have guessed that the guy who gave us PORKY’S back in 1982 would also be the guy to give us two Christmas classics. Yes, TWO. The first one that comes to mind for most people is the movie Bob Clark made in 1983, and which has gone on to become a Christmastime juggernaut – A CHRISTMAS STORY. The story of Little Ralphie and his BB gun seems to be playing in a constant loop in the latter part of December. It’s become as much of a holiday staple as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. And I’ll admit, it’s a fun movie, as long as you don’t sit in front of the television for days on end watching it 150 times in a row.

But Clark also gave us 1974’s BLACK CHRISTMAS (also known as SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT), one of the first of the Christmas slasher films. And one of the best.

It may be the most famous of Clark’s early horror movies, probably because it was remade (badly) in 2006.

In BLACK CHRISTMAS, a deranged killer breaks into a sorority house, hides in the attic, and takes his time killing some of the girls who are left behind during the holiday (most of the girls have gone home to see their families). The killer has contacted them before this— by way of obscene phone calls that have plagued the house for a while. The killer says his name is “Billy” and his phone calls are pretty damn weird: he speaks in different voices and seems to be totally wacko.

One of the girls, Claire (Lynne Griffin) disappears, just before her father (James Edmond) comes to the college to pick her up, so he goes to the police, who are at first not very helpful, but grow more concerned as other murders pile up.

The other “girls” include Jessica (Olivia Hussey), the sensible lead; Barbie (a young Margot Kidder—most famous as later being Louis Lane in the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies—and I have to admit she’s pretty hot in this movie!), who likes to drink too much and tell dirty stories; Phyllis (known as “Phil” and played by Andrea Martin of SCTV, in a rare dramatic role) who is the nerdy one; and house mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), who’s always sneaking drinks and shouting for her cat. And the cop who investigates the case, Lt. Fuller,  is played by genre icon John Saxon.

The movie is unique for its camera work (the killer is never shown, and the camera is often from his point of view in his scenes) and weird sound effects (the killer’s phone calls are downright weird and unsettling). This is one case where the killer actually seems frightening and totally unhinged. The fact that not much is explained actually works to the story’s benefit, building suspense. The identity of the killer is also a source of much suspense. Is it Jessica’s boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), who seems a bit unstable after a piano recital that fails to impress his professors, and who is angry that Jessica plans to abort their unplanned baby? Or is there going to be a twist as the story develops?

Bob Clark had a real talent for simple little horror flicks that were also very effective. It’s too bad he didn’t seem to be a big horror fan (he treated these early films more as a way to build his film resume). His biggest successes were  comedies like the PORKY’S movies and A CHRISTMAST STORY. Then, later in his career, he turned out, almost exclusively, family films like BABY GENIUSES (1999) and KARATE DOG (2004).

BLACK CHRISTMAS is a classic of its kind and a real pioneer, since it pre-dates another “mysterious killer” movie, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Also, its famous “the phone calls are coming from inside the house” storyline was ripped off years later in 1979’s WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (which Bob Clark seems to feel both flattered and annoyed about in a Q&A session that’s one of the extras on the DVD).

The 70s horror films Clark made (especially this one,1974’s DEATHDREAM and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS from 1973) are all worth checking out. They’re all entertaining and suitably creepy. Clark had a very unique vision for these kinds of things, and I wish he’d made more horror films.

I think DEATHDREAM is the best of the bunch, but BLACK CHRISTMAS probably has the biggest profile of his horror work. Watch it this Christmas with someone you love (and who scares easily!).

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares


Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2010, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Deformed Freaks!, Drive-in Movies, In the Spooklight, Mad Doctors!, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , on July 13, 2012 by knifefighter

The following IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2010.  Look for it and all 115 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in the IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook due out from NECON EBooks later this year!

By Michael Arruda


Are two heads really better than one?

Not when one head belongs to an insane murderer, as is the case in THE INCREDIBLE 2- HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971), a lurid little film which for some strange reason I happen to like a lot.

Bruce Dern, one of my all-time favorite film crazies, is cast against type as Dr. Roger Girard, a scientist who has devised a method to create two-headed beings.  Why?  I have no idea, and the movie doesn’t really give us a reason either.

I wish they had.  It would have made things really interesting.  I mean, think of the things you could do with two heads:  read twice as fast, eat your meal and dessert at the same time, drive while texting, and kiss your wife while flirting with the blonde at the next table.

When an insane killer named Cass (Albert Cole) breaks into Roger’s home, attacking his wife Linda (Pat Priest – Marilyn from TV’s THE MUNSTERS!) and murdering the gardener, Roger and his assistant fight back, and the assistant shoots Cass.  Before the killer dies, they attach his head to the hulking body of Danny (John Bloom), the simple-minded son of the slain gardener.  Nice going!

What is it with mad scientists in the movies?  Why do they always settle for less?  If you were on the verge of some amazing medical breakthrough, wouldn’t you want only the best materials for your experiment?  In this case, these guys have been planning for months to construct a two-headed person, and they choose for one of the heads a murderer?  Don’t you think they could do a little bit better?

Our two-headed friend eventually breaks loose from the lab and goes on a murderous rampage, as the movie becomes a straightforward “monster on the loose” story during its third act.

If you can get through the horrible theme song—a song so bad it makes you wonder what racy photos the songwriter and singer had of the director—you’ll be rewarded with a deliciously lurid movie that will tickle your horror movie funny bone.

Bruce Dern is always worth watching, even in movies as bad as this.  And John Bloom who played the giant Danny actually went on to appear in many genre films.  He played the Frankenstein Monster in another infamously bad low-budget shocker, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), and he also appeared in HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (1987) and STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991).  He passed away in 1999.

And hey, Casey Kasem plays the hero in the film!  That’s right, the Casey Kasem, of America’s Top 40 fame, and the voice of Shaggy from the SCOOBY DOO cartoons.

He has two heads, but only half a brain!

The screenplay by James Gordon White and John Lawrence never rises above standard low-budget 1970s horror fare, but that’s part of the fun.  Believe it or not, these same two guys also wrote the screenplay for THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) (starring Ray Milland and Rosie Grier!)

Director Anthony M. Lanza does an adequate job with the material, but his idea of a scary scene is the 2-headed monster fighting chain wielding biker dudes.  This is the type of movie best watched at the Drive-In Theater.  You can go for the same effect by watching it at home late at night on a hot summer evening with the windows open.

The special effects are pretty bad.  You’ll laugh at the long shots of the obviously fake rubber head bouncing up and down on John Bloom’s shoulder.  It looks like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT isn’t really all that incredible, unless you interpret “incredible” to mean unbelievable.  But it is an entertaining little piece of 70s horror cinema, and it’s a nice reminder of what low-budget horror movies were like back then.


© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda


In The Spooklight: MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935)

Posted in 2010, Classic Films, Horror, In the Spooklight, Remakes, Universal Horror Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2011 by knifefighter

The Bela Lugosi movie MARK OF THE VAMPIRE was mentioned in our recent FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE COLUMN in which L.L. and I debated Bela Lugosi vs. Christopher Lee as the screen’s ultimate Dracula.  I dug up this column on MARK OF THE VAMPIRE which was originally published in February 2010.~ Michael Arruda, 3/11

By Michael Arruda

Made four years after DRACULA (1931), by the same director, Tod Browning, and with Bela Lugosi again cast as the vampire, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) appears at times to be DRACULA II.

But it’s not.

I wish it had been a genuine sequel to DRACULA.  But even more so, I wish it had been a genuine vampire movie.

Generally heralded by critics as a classic of the genre, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, thanks to the talents of director Tod Browning, and a strong cast that included Lionel Barrymore, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill, is a well-made horror movie that does rival DRACULA.  However, its plot is largely disappointing.

You see, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a remake of the silent lost classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), also directed by Browning, starring Lon Chaney Sr., in which Chaney plays a police inspector [SPOILER ALERT!!!] who dons the disguise of a vampire in order to catch a criminal.  In short, although MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is so rich in atmosphere you can almost taste the bed of vampire earth on your tongue, the vampire elements in this movie are false.  This is almost as bad as playing the “it was just a dream” card, which is too bad, because MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is one of the best-looking vampire movies ever made.

Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, apparently by a vampire, in a village where everyone believes in vampires and lives in mortal fear of them, or would that be immortal fear?  Anyway, Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) calls in Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) to help dispel the vampire rumors, but the professor only adds fuel to the fire because he believes in vampires too.

Things get worse for the Inspector and his efforts to prove that Borotyn was murdered by an ordinary human being when members of Borotyn’s household begin seeing the suspected village vampire Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Caroll Borland) lurking around the house.  Borotyn’s daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) and her fiancé are also attacked by a vampire, and suddenly the entire household is terrified.

Of course, it turns out that the vampires are really actors, and the entire scheme has been part of a ploy by Inspector Neumann to smoke out the real killer.  This plot point does not work for me at all.

Still, there is an awful lot to like about MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.  Director Browning seems to pick up right where he left off with DRACULA. The scenes in Count Mora’s castle are reminiscent of the scenes in Dracula’s castle, complete with spider webs and scurrying creatures and critters.  Lugosi looks terrific as Count Mora in a mostly mute role, as he gets to lurk around dark corners and windows, and Caroll Borland is even more vampiric as Mora’s daughter Luna.

Lionel Atwill, as he always does, turns in a solid, enjoyable performance as Inspector Neumann.  Sure, he became typecast over the years, playing police inspectors in several of the Universal monster movies, most memorably in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) but truth be told, nobody did it better than Atwill.

The lead went to Lionel Barrymore, today most remembered for his performance as the villainous Potter in Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), though his career spanned several decades.  He overacts here as Professor Zelen.  Edward Van Sloan is sorely missed!

The screenplay by Guy Endore and Bernard Schubert is very good and includes some memorable lines, but the real stars in this one are the atmospheric direction by Tod Browning, and the undead shenanigans of Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland.

With this one, they certainly left their mark, the MARK OF THE VAMPIRE!


© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE



Posted in 2010, Controverisal Films, Experimental Films, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on January 3, 2011 by knifefighter

(Author’s note: when I originally saw ENTER THE VOID in the fall of 2010, I didn’t review it for It was one of the rare films of the year that I saw purely for pleasure and didn’t know if it would appeal to the audience that reads the more horror-oriented reviews of CKF. However, since this movie does appear on my “Best Films of 2010” list, I figured a proper review was in order, especially since Michael Arruda reviewed the similarly-themed Clint Eastwood film, HEREAFTER a few weeks back. So here, finally, is the review.)

Film review by L.L. Soares

A few weeks back, Michael Arruda reviewed the new Clint Eastwood movie, HEREAFTER, and complained that while it was a movie supposedly about the afterlife, it didn’t give the viewer much in the way of answers. Well, Gaspar Noe’s new film, ENTER THE VOID, is the exact opposite. It’s over two hours of what happens after someone dies. And we get to see it all.

Noe, for people who aren’t familiar with his name, is the French director of the controversial, grim (and disturbing) films I STAND ALONE (1998) and IRREVERSIBLE (2002). And while both of those films are very downbeat (to say the least) with eruptions of graphic violence, ENTER THE VOID is fairly upbeat in comparison.

Our main character, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is a young French guy living in Tokyo, but we only catch glimpses of him, because the movie is mainly shown from his point of view. What we see is also affected by his altered consciousness. After he gets high, what we see starts to get fuzzy and weird. Light explodes into kaleidoscopes of color. Then, soon afterwards, he goes to a club where he is set up by his friend Victor (Olly Alexander) and is killed in the restroom by police in a drug raid gone bad.

The rest of the film is what happens to Oscar after he dies, and can be pretty much summed up in an conversation early on (before he’s killed) that he has with his friend Alex (Cyril Roy). Alex has lent Oscar a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. As they discuss it, it gives us the plot of the movie. First you die, then you linger above your body and drift around watching the lives of those you loved. Then you have to decide how you come back – in what body you want to be reincarnated.

That’s pretty much what happens next. We continue watching from Oscar’s point of view as he lingers above his own body, then travels to various places to watch friends, and especially his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta, who some people might recognize as Lucy, the flapper girlfriend of Steve Buscemi’s character, Nucky Johnson in the HBO show BOARDWALK EMPIRE). These events happen immediately after his death, and then he moves slowly into the future to see what happens to them in his absence.

This wouldn’t be a Noe film without some controversial scenes. One involves Linda having an abortion to get rid of the pregnancy she had from her boss at a Tokyo strip club. Another involves a sex scene shown from a very unique angle.  But ENTER THE VOID is mostly about watching the lives of others, while drifting about in a colorful haze.

There are also flashbacks to Oscar’s childhood, where we see how he and Linda were separated at an early age after their parents’ death in a violent car accident (the accident scene is quite jarring and does not lose its power even though it is shown a few times over the course of the film). They went to live with different relatives after that, which is difficult because they had been very close. It turns out that Linda has not been in Japan long before Oscar is killed. It was the first time they were able to live together again since being children, and their relationship is intense, almost bordering on incestuous. While Oscar got involved in dealing drugs, Linda got involved in stripping and prostitution. So much for their big reunion.

However, despite some of the subject matter, ENTER THE VOID is ultimately a celebration of life of and rebirth.

This movie is not going to be for everyone, but it had a real impact on me. I just love the way Gaspar Noe films his movies – from his trademark camera shots that start in a room, then pan up to the ceiling and then outside and looking down from the sky above. (He’s used these kinds of camera angles in his previous films, and he really makes them work.) To the way he tells a story. Noe is a true artist.

Needless to say, ENTER THE VOID is a very visual movie. Noe has said several times that Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), had a strong impact on him, especially the surreal imagery of the  “Cosmic Child” sequence at the end of the film, and you can see its influence on ENTER THE VOID.

The film has character development, but it mostly evolves gradually from what Oscar sees in his journey from death to rebirth. If this sounds at all interesting to you, you really should see it on a big screen if you can. In a theater, you can fully appreciate the journey. I’m guessing it could lose something when you watch it on your smaller television screen.

Some movies just work for you when you see them, even if they don’t work for everyone. This movie worked for me. It was easily my favorite film of 2010. I give it four and a half knives.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

LL SOARES gives ENTER THE VOID ~ 4 and a half knives.


Friday Night Knife Fights – December 2010 – Part 2

Posted in 2010, Friday Night Knife Fights, M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 31, 2010 by knifefighter

With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Colleen Wanglund

This month’s debate:


Last Friday, LL, Colleen Wanglund, and I were discussing WES CRAVEN vs. M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN, and we were attempting to answer the question, which of these two directors is in the worst slump?  Tonight we conclude the debate.

Of the two, which one do you want to see get back fastest to making good horror movies again?  And if you were this person’s agent, what advice would you give him to help resurrect his career?

COLLEEN WANGLUND: I’d really like to see Wes Craven right the wrongs he’s done, because, again, he’s made some really great movies and still has the potential to get back to making good movies.

The advice I’d give him is to stop taking scripts for crap like CURSED (2005) and MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010) and to STOP WITH THE SEQUELS ALREADY!!  Maybe if Wes went independent he’d do a better job.

LL SOARES: I think I consider them both lost causes at this point. If I was Craven’s agent, the first thing I’d tell him is to stop working with people like Kevin Williamson. Williams might have given Craven some hits, but he’s also been responsible for some of his worst films. Secondly, to get back to his roots and try to recapture the edge of his early work. Seeing how many of his early films have been remade lately, there’s definitely a market for more edgy horror.

As for Shyamalan, I’d tell him to hire a decent writer and stick to just directing. His scripts have been getting increasingly awful over time. And annoyingly preachy. No one likes to be preached to (the movie DEVIL (2010), which he only wrote the script for, was guilty of this as well). Since writing seems to be Shyamalan’s Achilles’ heel, it seems rather silly that he’s started a project called THE NIGHT CHRONICLES where other directors direct scripts he’s written. Hopefully the poor reception DEVIL received will kill the project before it continues.

MA:  I want to see Shyamalan get back to making good horror movies again, since I liked his work better in the first place.  If he could make other movies with the precision and care he seemed to show when he made THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), he’d be enjoying a helluva career right now.  Just because THE SIXTH SENSE had a knockout twist ending, he seemed to believe that was why the film was good, and suddenly all his movies had to have twist endings.  The problem is, THE SIXTH SENSE’s twist ending belonged in that movie.  It was an integral part of the story.  It wasn’t tacked on as an afterthought in the mistaken belief that “my movies need twist endings.”

If he were making quality horror movies, the horror genre would be stronger for it.

If I were his agent, what advice would I give him?

There would be three things.  First, like I just said, I’d advise him to ditch the twist endings.  That’s not why THE SIXTH SENSE was such a good movie.  It was such a good movie because he did such a good job with the entire package.

I agree with LL that Shyamalan shouldn’t write his own movies, that he’s a much better director than a writer.  So, that would be my second piece of advice.  Let someone else write the screenplay.

And my third piece of advice would be to get off his high horse and get out of the limelight for a while.  He should stop advertising his movies with his name in front of the title, as in “M Night Shyamalan’s DEVIL” or whatever.  It’s too presumptuous.  It’s so bad movie audiences are laughing at his name.

Instead, he should just direct his movies to the best of his ability— and don’t hype that it’s HIS movie—and then, if it does well, people will give him credit.  Right now, the last thing he needs is movie audiences knowing in advance that he’s behind the camera.  This information might actually keep people away from the theater.  Ultimately, if the movie is good, people are going to like it regardless of who made it, so if he makes a good movie, it’s not like people aren’t going to like it because he made it.

Moving on to our next question, right now, which one of the two is doing more damage to the horror industry?

LS:  Craven is doing another SCREAM movie soon. So I’d say him.

MA:  You really give SCREAM (1996) too much credit.  Come on, it didn’t ruin horror.  That being said, the world doesn’t need another SCREAM movie.

LS:  The first SCREAM movie thought it was so damn clever by pointing out all the clichés of the genre (which everyone who’s a fan of horror ALREADY KNEW).  SCREAM made horror a joke. Ironically, one of the movies that let people take horror seriously again was Shyamalan’s SIXTH SENSE.

MA:  I don’t understand why you say that, why you think SCREAM made horror a joke.  It was a horror movie with a sense of humor.  What’s the difference between SCREAM and ZOMBIELAND (2009)?  Did ZOMBIELAND make horror a joke?

LS:  You don’t understand my comment. ZOMBIELAND was a horror film with a sense of humor, and it worked. There’s nothing wrong with humor in a horror movie. SCREAM pretty much ridiculed the horror genre – the laugh was on us. The way to make better horror films is not to make the genre a laughing stock – but rather to stop making crap and make good movies. Which is why THE SIXTH SENSE was one of the films that lifted horror out of the funk that it settled into post-SCREAM.

The SCREAM movies also started a trend where almost every horror movie for a few years had to star kids (who looked like models) and no adults, which was abysmal. Shymalan never hurt the genre as a whole. He just made a lot of stinky movies.

CW:  The most damage?  It’s hard to say.  Shyamalan is still wet behind the ears and should maybe actually WATCH some horror movies to get a better understanding of the genre.  He seems to have at least made an attempt to make suspenseful films, but they fall apart with some really bad endings.

Wes Craven has been around longer and did at one time know what he was doing.  You know, maybe Craven is doing more damage because he’s helping Hollywood to churn out the lousy cookie-cutter crap they call horror movies.

MA:  I don’t think either one is damaging the horror industry.  I don’t give either one of these guys that much power.  The industry is full of talented people working in it right now.

That being said, I think Shyamalan’s movies get more press, but he’s starting to become a joke these days, so if he keeps this up, eventually people are just going to quit watching his films.  It’s not like people go to the movies these days to see one of his movies expecting it’s going to be a classic.  People know now that the guy’s not producing quality stuff.

I don’t think Wes Craven is even in the mix anymore.  Among today’s moviegoers, I don’t hear his name mentioned at all.

LS: Oh yeah? If the new SCREAM sequel is a big hit, that will change.

MA: These guys are both in slumps, but I don’t think they’re hurting the industry.

Alright folks, it’s decision time.  Time to pick a winner.  WES CRAVEN vs. M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN –which of these two directors wins today’s booby prize for worst director?

CW:  I give the booby prize to Wes Craven because he really has fallen farther from grace in the last two decades.  I think he’s gotten lazy and very sloppy.

MA:  I’d have to go with Shyamalan.  It’s almost as if his troubles are in his head, as if he’s lost his way.  He reminds me of a baseball player who’s a lifetime .300 hitter but is stuck in an awful hitting slump and can’t bat .200 to save his life.  His mechanics are all there, but he can’t buy a hit.  He just has to stick with it and work through it.

I think with time, Shyamalan will come around and make good quality movies again.

I think Craven is just old.  No, seriously, based upon his recent movies, I’d have to guess that he doesn’t even care anymore.  His films look like they were made by someone just going through the motions.

LS:  I’d say it’s a tie. They both are pretty awful at this point in their careers. And I dread seeing either of their movies. I wish they’d both go away.

MA:  A tie?  Interesting.

That gives us one vote for each, plus a tie, which puts us at 1 ½ for Craven and 1 ½ for Shyamalan.  Fittingly enough, tonight’s bout ends in a draw.  Both these guys are in a funk, and it seems these days neither one can make a good movie to save his life.

Therefore, tonight we award two booby prizes to both these directors.

On that note, go out and see a movie directed by someone else!

Well, folks, that all we have time for tonight.

LS:  Thanks, Colleen, for joining us.

CW:  It was a pleasure, guys.

MA:  This has been the last FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS for 2010. Good night everybody!



Suburban Grindhouse Memories Remembers BEHIND LOCKED DOORS!

Posted in 2010, 80s Horror, B-Movies, Mad Doctors!, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2010 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES no. 20: “An Eye-Opening Second Feature”
By Nick Cato

How or why Barbara Bach was conned to star in the unwatchably bad 1980 slasher film, THE UNSEEN, is anyone’s guess.  It’s one of the few films I’ve ever walked out of (and if I walk out on a film, there’s simply NO hope for it!).  Thankfully, the first of this double feature (which stormed NYC theaters in 1981) was a wicked little sexploitation film from 1968, re-titled in the 1970s by the always reliable Harry Novak, and yet again unleashed on an unsuspecting public just in time for my seventh-grade eyes to feast upon.

BEHIND LOCKED DOORS earned audible groans from the audience upon its early scenes of two girls dancing around at a hippie “rave” party held at an isolated barn house.  We all knew this was some recycled left-over acid trip from the Woodstock era, but before anyone could complain any louder one of our girls is struggling away from an attempted rape.  Whoa . . . where did that come from?  She’s rescued by a slightly overweight guy who looks eerily like Henry Kissinger, but little does she (or her girlfriend) know that her would-be hero has also siphoned all the gas from their car!

Stranded in the middle of nowhere, Ann and Terry begin to search for a gas station when they eventually find a house that’s even more isolated than the party barn.  Surprise, surprise: it’s the home of Ann’s rescuer, who they discover is named Dr. Bradley.  He lives here with his sister, Ida, who likes to spy on people before breaking out her whip.

Most of the audience had no idea what to do with this set up.  My friends and I laughed at the continual, silly soft-core sex scenes, and a couple of us yelled out in geek-glee when Dr. Bradley’s handyman came walking out (Cult film freaks will recognize him as the Indian from 1974’s SHRIEK OF THE MUTLIATED—see pic below).  Although he doesn’t do anything a quarter as depraved as the doctor or his sister, it is hinted at that he’s a necrophiliac.  Just seeing this whack job from one of my favorite trash films made my day.  (The three stars of BEHIND LOCKED DOORS, Eve Reeves, Joyce Danner, and Daniel Garth have only starred in this one film . . . and if you see it you’ll see that acting wasn’t a good career choice for any of them).

The second half of BEHIND LOCKED DOORS takes a spooky turn.  Ann and Terry are offered a room for the night, but discover (when it’s too late) that it locks from the outside.  Now captives, they begin to panic, wondering what this freak and his sister have planned for them.  If nothing else, BEHIND LOCKED DOORS stands above the countless other exploitation films of its time due to its growing sense of doom; while there’s plenty of nudity and simulated sex scenes (plus off-screen violence), I doubt anyone who paid to see this was expecting more than a T&A show.  Despite the horrendous acting, there’s some real tension built here, enough to quiet down my fellow suburban film-goers who thought they might be getting duped (although when Dr. Bradley began to rub oil on his slightly plump, pale torso in preparation of his “love experiments,” the place howled in both laughter and disgust.  I still crack-up whenever I think of the crowd’s reaction to this).

In one eerie sequence, our girls discover a basement full of corpses posed as statues (if memory serves me, they were actually bloodied mannequins).  Between this, the rape scenes, and the doctor’s sister, I continue to wonder if I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978),  TOURIST TRAP (1979) and MOTEL HELL (1980) didn’t each borrow a little bit from this seldom-seen 60s shocker.

With a semi-happy ending (and the discovery that “Dr.” Bradley is actually a demented mortician), BEHIND LOCKED DOORS was a fine way to kill an afternoon at my local cinema, and at least made us feel we got our money’s worth when we left about 25 minutes into the main feature (seriously: THE UNSEEN should remain unseen!).  I saw this for a second time in the late 80s on VHS, and today there’s a double feature DVD available from the fine folks at Something Weird Video (although the other feature—thankfully—isn’t THE UNSEEN).

© Copyright 2010 by Nick Cato

Ivan Agar co-stars as a corpse-loving necrophiliac a few years before he turned cannibal in SHREIK OF THE MUTILATED.