Archive for the 70s Horror Category

Farewell to RICHARD MATHESON

Posted in 2013, 60s Movies, 70s Horror, Appreciations, Based on a Classic Novel, LL Soares Reviews, Movie History, Obituaries and Appreciations, Richard Matheson Movies, Steven Spielberg, TV Miniseries, TV-Movies, Vincent Price with tags , , , on June 30, 2013 by knifefighter

richard-mathesonWriter RICHARD MATHESON died this week. I can’t imagine anyone who’s a fan of  horror or science fiction who hasn’t been touched in some way by Matheson, even if they didn’t know it was him. From writing classic episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (he wrote 16 episodes between 1959 and 1964, including such standouts as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Steel“), to scripts for tons of movies including the classic original TV-movies THE NIGHT STALKER and TRILOGY OF TERROR, and many of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies of the 1960s, to writing classic novels like I AM LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, HELL HOUSE, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, STIR OF ECHOES and many more, several of which were adapted into movies, Matheson seemed to be everywhere when I was growing up in the 70s, and I for one was pretty thankful that he was so prolific. Every new Matheson project, whether it was a book or a movie or a TV episode, was a reason to celebrate.

Hearing earlier this week that he had passed away on June 23rd at the age of 87, was awful news. But he has left us with so much to remember him by.

Just some of the movies that he either wrote the screenplays for, or which were based on his fiction, include:

  • THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) – he wrote the screenplay based on his novel, “The Shrinking Man”
  • THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) – the first of many Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that Matheson would write for director Roger Corman, this one, like many of them, starred the great Vincent Price.
  • MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961) – based on the novel by Jules Verne, also starring Vincent Price.
  • THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)
  • BURN, WITCH, BURN (also known as NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) (1962) – Matheson’s screenplay was an adaptation of the novel “Conjure Wife,” by Fritz Leiber.
  • THE RAVEN (1963)
  • THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)
  • THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) – the first movie version of his classic novel, “I am Legend.” He also wrote the screenplay, using the name “Logan Swanson.” This one also starred Vincent Price.
  • THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley
  • THE OMEGA MAN (1971) – the second adaptation of Matheson’s “I am Legend,” this time with the vampires swapped out for mutants, and starring Charlton Heston.
  • DUEL (1971) – Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his story. This was the first feature film by Steven Spielberg.
  • THE NIGHT STALKER (1971) – the TV-movie that introduced the world to reporter Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin.
  • THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973) – TV-movie sequel to THE NIGHT STALKER.
  • THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) – feature film based on his novel, “Hell House.”
  • TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) – TV-movie based on three Matheson stories, the most famous segment was the last, “Amelia,” based on Matheson’s story “Prey,” about a “Zuni warrior figurine” that comes to life. All three stories starred Karen Black.
  • THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES (1980) – TV miniseries based on the classic book by Ray Bradbury
  • SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) – Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his novel, “Bid Time Return.”
  • WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998) – based on his novel of the same name
  • STIR OF ECHOES (1999) – based on his novel of the same name
  • I AM LEGEND (2007) – the third film to be based on Matheson’s novel, and arguably the least successful. Starring Will Smith.
  • REAL STEEL (2011) – based (sort of) on his short story of the same name

He leaves a large and wonderful legacy behind.

Farewell, Mr. Matheson.

~LL Soares

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 - June 23, 2013)

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013)

Transmissions to Earth: THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Bad Situations, Disease!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Monsters, Mutants!, Science Fiction, Trasmissions to Earth, Unfortunate Astronauts with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

zontar6

THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)
Review by L.L. Soares

Incredible Melting Man (1977)In this business I come upon a lot of bad movies. But what makes them “so bad they’re good” or just plain bad? Sometimes it’s pretty easy to answer that.

But I’m still not sure which one THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)  is.

Sure it has some funny aspects about it. But it’s also pretty much a waste of time, and has a storyline so thin, it could slip between your fingers.

It’s actually amazing that this one was made in 1977. It has the look and feel of a bad 1950s sci-fi film.

As we begin, three astronauts are passing through the rings of Saturn! Pretty cool. This must be in the far future, right? Well, not really, when we get back to Earth, it still looks an awful lot like 1977. Who knew we’d perfect faster-than- light interplanetary space travel so quickly?

As they pass through the rings, something goes wrong. This is when we see stock footage of sunspots close up, in negative. It’s supposed to be the astronauts “seeing the sun through the rings of Saturn,” and they’ll use it a few more times in the movie.  Two of the astronauts die soon after. The third one, Steve West (Alex Rebar) survives, but is horribly disfigured.

We have no clue how he gets back to Earth, but he does, and it’s kept under wraps (how do you keep the return of an astronaut secret, anyway?). Astronaut West is also “under wraps” literally as he’s wrapped up in bandages. When we see him after his return home, he’s bandaged and strapped to a bed in an undisclosed hospital. All of a sudden he just gets up, breaks the straps, and runs away, chasing an overweight nurse through the hallways.

Suddenly, Steve West is on the loose. But he’s not the same guy anymore. Now he’s the INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, whose skin is constantly oozing off his body. His face looks like a skull covered with dripping wax. Oh, and he’s radioactive! So you don’t want him to touch you. He goes around killing people, and we’re told he needs new cells to survive, but it’s not clear how he gets those cells. Is he eating people or what? One guy has his head torn off and thrown into a waterfall, another person is ripped apart – if Steve is eating people for their cells, then he sure does love to play with his food!. We never actually know what’s he’s doing to his victims, but they end up a bloody mess.

Meanwhile, everywhere he goes, he leaves dripping oozy flesh in his wake. You would think someone like this would be easy to track down, but no way! Doctor Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) is ordered to go find Steve and bring him back to the army hospital by General Michael Perry (Myron Healey), but Nelson spends most of the time goofing off. At one point he’s home making a sandwich for his wife. Pretty awful tracking job, Dr. Nelson! He tells his associate Dr. Loring (Lisle Wilson) that his wife has had three miscarriages about this same stage in her pregnancy and she’s nervous something will go wrong again. This is about the time Nelson realizes that Steve West, who he is supposed to recapture for the government, is radioactive, and he’s worried that this might affect his wife (one of the few real dramatic aspects of the script, although it’s soon forgotten). Maybe that’s why he doesn’t seem to try very hard to find West.

Incredible-Melting-Man-LC-2-kleinWhen Dr. Nelson has no luck finding West, General Perry comes to town, demanding results. Meanwhile, the monster who used to be Steve West continues on his rampage until there’s a big showdown in some kind of power plant.

There’s not much of a plot, as you can tell. It basically amounts to 1) man comes back from space as some kind of monster, 2) government guys try to track him down when he goes on a killing spree, and 3) big showdown where the monster is killed.  Pretty-by-the numbers, and not very compelling.

The acting is so-so for the most part, but no one stands out here as a Shakespearean actor! Burr DeBenning (also in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: DREAM CHILD, 1989, and lots of TV shows like MATLOCK and FALCOLN CREST), as Dr. Ted Nelson, seems to love standing around, wasting time, and I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be funny, but he is. He comes off as completely incompetent. Myron Healey is convincing as General Perry, in a “TV general” kind of way. Healey had a long career as a cowboy or a military man in the movies and on TV, and was actually in tons of westerns in the 1950s and 60s, as well as such other horror/sci-fi classics as VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1962) and THE UNEARTHLY (1957) , and the TV-movie V (1983), and was also Colonel Wright in one of the best episodes of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, “Mr. R.I.N.G.” (from 1975). Local Sheriff Neil Blake (Michael Alldredge, who was also in THE ENTITY, 1982, and V, 1983) is okay as the frustrated cop who wants answers – that the government just isn’t giving him. Ann Sweeny is likable enough as Ted Nelson’s wife, Judy, and Alex Rebar is serviceable as Steve West/the Melting Man, since all he has to do is put on crazy makeup and run around causing trouble.

There’s also a great (but short) scene where a photographer tries to coerce a model to take off her top on the beach, until the monster shows up. The model is played by genre legend Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith. Future movie director Jonathan Demme also has a cameo as a character named Matt Winters, another one of the monster’s victims.

Probably the biggest star in this one is the makeup artist, the legendary Rick Baker, in one of his earlier jobs. The Melting Man is not one of his best creations, but it certainly looks too good for this movie! It’s amazing what Baker would do with a bigger budget and real equipment (see AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, just four years later in 1981).

Rick Baker's makeup effects for the monster might be the ONLY reason to see THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN!

Rick Baker’s makeup effects for the monster might be the ONLY reason to see THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN!

Star Alex Rebar (the Melting Man) had roles on TV shows like THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and MURDER, SHE WROTE. He was also one of the (9!) writers of the Italian exorcism classic, BEYOND THE DOOR (1974), and his first acting job was in a movie called MICROSCOPIC LIQUID SUBWAY TO OBLIVION (1970), which I would love to see, just for the title alone.

Director William Sachs also gave us GALAXINA (1980)  and SPOOKY HOUSE (2002).

Not bad enough to be good, and not good at all, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN is for fans of bad cinema only- who don’t mind wasting 90 minutes of their lives – or Rick Baker completists.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, Animals Attack, Bigfoot!, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)bbbcreature

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Howco International Pictures was a small, independent film production company that was established in 1951 by Joy Newton Houck, Sr.  Based out of New Orleans, they produced little movies for the Southern Drive-In circuits, usually double features like Lash Larue Westerns or the John Agar wonder THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957).  After releasing everything from Roger Corman to Ed Wood to Ron Ormand movies, they really hit the big time with a giant hit, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972), which effectively combined documentary footage with the story of a Bigfoot-like creature called the skunk-ape.  The movie made millions and was a hit world-wide.  Hoping to play on the success of that film, Joy Houck, Jr. directed a script by his pal Jim McCullough, Jr. entitled THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) and created the creepiest Bigfoot movie ever made.

The film begins with Joe Canton and a fellow trapper tranquilly boating through the swamps around Black Lake, checking their traps.  Suddenly, a hairy arm emerges from the water and snatches the buddy from the boat, leaving Joe Canton (played by stalwart Western veteran Jack Elam—ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, 1968 and RIO LOBO, 1970) screaming for help.  Nobody believes the old drunk except for two cryptozoology students in Chicago who read about the experience in the papers.  The two men take off in their van for Louisiana on a hunt for the monster.  Pahoo (what the hell kind of name is that for a Yankee?) is a Vietnam Vet who jokes about everything, hates chicken with a passion usually reserved for despots, and is played by Dennis Fimple (KING KONG, 1976, the MATT HOUSTON TV series, 1982, and he was Grampa Hugo in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003).  Rives is more serious and good-looking and a draft dodger, and he is played by ex-model John David Carson, who appeared in such diverse movies as EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), PRETTY WOMAN (1990), and THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973).  Together, they encounter a hostile sheriff, who warns them to get out of town, locals who proclaim the creature a myth, a practical joke-playing waitress, and more yokel southern-fired, hee-haw stereotypes than you can shake a Confederate Flag at.

Jack Elam swears he wasn't drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Joe Canton (Jack Elam) swears he wasn’t drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Pahoo accidentally finds Joe Canton, but he loses him, but not before Rives encounters a young man named Orville Bridges, played by hawk-nosed screenwriter Jim McCullough, Jr. (the multi-talented guy also wrote and sang the songs for the movie).  Orville informs them he saw the creature when he was a toddler in a car crash that killed his parents.  Now he lives with his grandparents, and he’ll show them around if they don’t talk about Bigfoot.  They go home to a big country dinner.  Grandpa is played by Dub Taylor, from THE WILD BUNCH (1969), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and BACK TO THE FUTURE III (1990).  The old man is a walking advertisement for hick Southern trash, wheezing and making jokes nobody finds amusing.  During dinner, a mule brays loudly, and Pahoo shouts out, “Is that him?  Is that the creature?”  Grandma goes into a PTSD inspired sobbing fit, and Grandpa kicks the two Yankees (who, by the way, both possess southern twangs) to the barn for the evening.  While getting ready for bed, they hear the howling, haunting cry of Bigfoot closer than is comfortable.  They are terrified, but not so much that they don’t pick up two pretty southern belles in the local hamburger joint and invite them to their camp for the evening.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

The girls show up, and they all party a bit, playing over the recording of the Bigfoot cry.  Soon, they discover one of the girls has a father who is the sheriff – the same one who warned the boys out of town on the first day.  He hauls them into jail, where they stay the night with stinky Joe Canton, who is in the tank for getting drunk and chasing the creature with a shotgun.  Instead of heeding the sheriff’s warning, the two boys head for the woods to track the beast, which leads to a night of harrowing horror as the Bigfoot stalks them, separates them, and brutally attacks them.  These scenes are incredibly intense for a PG-rated film, never gory, but always scary and suspenseful.

The acting is good enough – nothing to shout over, but tolerable for this sort of yee-haw Southern horror tale.  Jack Elam chews the scenery with gusto, camping his drunken role up to the tenth degree.  Dennis Fimple and John David Carson make for likable heroes, and their interactions are natural and believable.  The extras and small roles are filled with people who obviously live in the town where this was filmed.  Their non-acting abilities actually lend an air of documentary-like verisimilitude to the proceedings, and the accents are to die for!

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE benefits most, however, from the wonderful cinematography of Dean Cundy.  Cundy started his career with the exploitation circuit, lensing such films as BLACK SHAMPOO (1976), the amazing THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979).  He moved on to larger pictures like THE THING (1982), WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988), JURASSIC PARK (1993), APOLLO 13 (1995), and THE HOLIDAY (2006).  THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is filmed in a gritty, sun-fried style, much like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and this lends a feeling of you-are-there realness to the action.  The scenery is beautiful, but never intrusive, and the Bigfoot creature is wisely kept mostly in the shadows, so the movie is about suspense and the threat of violence more than the actual acts of violence.  This may be what makes that final fifteen minutes so disturbing and exciting.  We do care about these two men by this point, and it appears as if we are watching documentary footage of their stalking and possible killing by his monster.  The suspension of disbelief is suspended way up in the sky somewhere, never interfering with our nerve-wracking enjoyment of the movie.

One of the CREATURE's victims floats to the surface.

One of the CREATURE’s victims floats to the surface.

The movie isn’t perfect.  There’s a bit too much of the folksy humor, especially around Dub Taylor’s character, who seems like he should be plucking a banjo and attacking Ned Beatty any second.  It slows down the momentum of suspense in the film and the characters strains credibility as much as he strains his overalls.  Plus, the epilogue of the movie seems tacked on in order to pacify an audience that wanted a happy ending.  After the sheer terror of the previous night, the sun is shining and everything is just hunky-dory.  In the real world, this would have ended very differently.

But why quibble?  On the whole, THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is a wonderfully spooky Bigfoot movie, possibly the best one out there.  The scares at the end are earned, and the photography is fantastic.

I give THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE three trespassing Yankees out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with JOSEPH BISHARA

Posted in 2013, 70s Horror, Aliens, Barry Dejasu Columns, Compelling Cinema, Demons, Evil Spirits, Indie Horror, Music for Film, Occult, Outer Space, Paranormal, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH BISHARA
By Barry Lee Dejasu

There’s a sound for everything, including fear.  Not everyone can hear those sounds, but for musical composers such as Joseph Bishara, it’s the very realm of inspiration.

Joseph Bishara

Joseph Bishara

A veteran of genre films since the late 1990s, Mr. Bishara’s work includes the scores to The Gravedancers (2006), the Night of the Demons remake (2009), and Darren Lynn Bousman’s 11-11-11 (2011).  He also served as producer on the soundtrack to REPO! The Genetic Opera (2008).

Mr. Bishara also made a bit of a splash in the horror scene with 2010’s Insidious, a tale of creeping menace from director James Wan (Saw, 2004 and Dead Silence, 2007).  With appropriately eerie musical touches, Mr. Bishara’s presence was heard—but he also took on another responsibility, namely acting, on-screen, as a scarlet-faced demon lurking in the shadows.

InsidiousUKPoster

Something unique for you amongst other composers is that you’ve appeared on-screen in the very movie you were scoring.  How did that come about?

Basically, James just asked me to do it one day, hanging out on a friend’s film set.  For some reason, he seemed to think it’d be a good thing.  It was a good experience.  It definitely was a fun thing to do.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Will you be involved in the recently-announced sequel to Insidous?

Yes, I’ll be involved.

What do you think was the most influential film upon your work?

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was an early influence on me; I first saw it on Super 8 film; I was probably eight years old.  That really stuck in my head, that imagery always really got to me.  The visual and sonic and whatever (other) creative stuff bleeds together into something that can affect things musically.

What was your first instance of noticing sound and music in movies?

Hmm.  I don’t know if I can recall the first, but I can definitely think of some early instances where my mind was pretty blown.  Some of the first sounds that really compelled me were the early synth sounds; Tangerine Dream, that kind of stuff.  I remember seeing Liquid Sky (1982), and thinking that one really stood out as like, “Holy shit, this is different, this is…wow.”  (laughs)  It’s this kind of off-beat little… New-York-alien-drugs-synth-heroin movie.  It’s worth a look (if you haven’t seen it).  Some really interesting synth work in that.  It’s a really unique electronic sound.

LiquidSkyPosterWould you say there’s a sort of “signature” to your sound?

It’s probably more audible to others than myself; I don’t really think about it too much.  It’s more of a feeling-response for these kinds of things.  It’s not really a… I’m sure something comes up that someone else might be able to point to; you could probably tell that better than I could.

What are some older/classic movie scores you’re into, or were influenced by?

I love the Howard Shore score to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983); I think it’s fantastic, I love that, and Scanners (1981).  I loved that whole wave of Cronenberg films.  It’s just such a rich collaboration.

When you’re watching a movie that you’re working on, how does the score come to you?

I think I’m fortunate enough to get started on projects pretty early.  I’m usually thinking about projects from just talking about it or at script stage; it’s been pretty cool to work that way.  It can start anywhere.  Instrumentation is what seems to come to me first.  It can come off of anything in there; even a frequency range or a pitch; maybe it’s a way of the light that everything’ll grow out of.  The first exposure to the material you’ll get these splinters that stick (and) they grow into tumors, I guess, or something (laughs).

In a film like Insidious, so much silence is used to help set the mood or create tension.  How much input do you have about using silence?

That does come up, and I voice my opinion there with James; but we’re on the same page when it comes to being okay with a lot of quiet.  I like extreme dynamics; it sounds right to me.  I kind of like hearing things that are barely there.  It’s the kind of thing that the tendency is when something is quiet, (someone will want) to turn it up—but it’s like, “No-no-no, it’s quiet like that for a reason.”  It’s the finding attention to these little things that— It’s part of the palette, I guess, having the full range from barely-there to extremely loud.

This year also sees the release of Dark Skies, from director Scott Stewart (Priest, 2011 & Legion, 2009).  When you were watching the early cuts of Dark Skies, which musical/thematic approach did you have in mind, and what did you wind up creating? 

From the script, one overall idea that stood out was that of a stripping away of familiar context.  It became a fast process of getting into the energies and finding it, taking in the concepts and talking with Scott.  He was looking for a motivic, rather than thematic, approach, and that informed the composition process.

Unrecognizable sets of sounds comprise the palette, along with crystal bowls and an ensemble of viola, cello, and bassoon.

DarkSkiesPosterAnd how about with The Conjuring?

For whatever reason, I was hearing a brass clustering pretty early in response to the stuff.  Somehow, I just really wanted to hear this really quiet shimmering flutter-tongue brass effect.  For some reason, that’s what I was hearing; it started with that, and kind of grew from that.  It won’t be until (this) summer, but it’ll be out there soon.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

What are some other projects in the works for you?

(I’ll be) starting up Chapter 2 of The Devil’s Carnival (2012).  I’m not scoring, but I produce the music.  I did REPO! The Genetic Opera, and The Devil’s Carnival, so now there’s the second part of that.  I’m starting that very shortly here, so that’s going to probably (take up) the next little while.

What are some movies you’ve enjoyed recently?
Off the top of my head… There’s the Maniac remake (2012), A Serbian Film (2010), and Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (2012).

With any number of movies in various stages of production, if you had dibs on them all, which ones would you “jump at” the most?  For instance, there’s the new Star Wars movie…

I probably wouldn’t be a very good choice for that.  (laughs) I would make time for anything Lars von Trier was involved with, same for Gaspar Noé.  The Funhouse (1981) is a film I’ve always enjoyed, (and so) if a remake happens, I would be interested to see where it goes.

Would you use any unusual instruments or other approaches, if you had free range to do whatever you wanted, musically?

Probably.   I don’t think about it (in terms of) unusual instruments; there’s nothing really unusual in there to me, it’s just kind of whatever it is.  That said, I do enjoy experimenting with things, in finding the sounds that things make, whether (it’s their) intended purpose or not, or even with some more experimental art instruments.  There are some pretty radical electronics engineers out there with pretty neat art instruments that generate some pretty neat sounds.

If you had full freedom to do so, what are some already-existing movies you would want to newly score?
Wow, um…  Hmm.  That’s such an exercise to even think about.  As far as what I would bring to something, it would more be purely for enjoyment, I would think. It would be (less of) a creative thing, it would be more for fun.

I’ve been drawn to making a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari score; that wouldn’t really be replacing a score, since it was silent.  That was something I always wanted to do one day.

Nosferatu (1922), that would be cool. Any of the striking-visual stuff, just because that’s fun stuff. Santa Sangre (1989) definitely. How could you look at something like that and not have something to throw out (musically)? Häxan (1922) I could get into. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) definitely.

What music is out there now, be it popular or underground, that you enjoy (and may or may not influence your work)?

I like constantly listening to new stuff.  It really kind of comes and goes in waves.  It can be an electronic wave, which’ll go into a black metal wave, which’ll go into…some other weird genre metal stuff wave, and then back into ambient, and there’ll be a lot of variety.  These days, there’s a band called Crossover, they do some pretty cool stuff.  This guy Daniel Knox, a singer-songwriter, amazing.  I did just pick up this thing recently called Botanist; it’s basically black metal with a hammered dulcimer; pretty interesting sound.

What is it about horror, and genre films in general, that you’re so drawn to?

I don’t know if I can really answer that.  It’s just kind of…  It’s where I’m drawn, it’s what feels right.  It holds my interest.  I’m generally drawn to darker material.  It’s what I like.  I’ve always enjoyed horror and more extreme cinemas; that’s just what I like to watch.  That’s kind of the world I like to live in.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Dark Skies opens February 22nd.

The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter Two open this summer.

And to learn more about Joseph Bishara, go to his site.

Interview © Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, 70s Horror, Cannibals, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Gore!, Indie Horror, Sequels, Serial Killer flicks, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

chainsaw3d

(THE SCENE: a meat packaging plant. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are seated at a table.  LEATHERFACE slams a slab of meat onto the table in front of them and promptly slices into it with his chainsaw, spraying both LS and MA with blood.  He places dripping chunks of meat onto two plates and slides them in front of LS and MA.)

LS (grinning):  Oh boy!  (begins to eat raw meat.)

MA (frowning at plate in front of him):  I’ll pass, thank you.

(LEATHERFACE grunts and points towards plate.)

MA: Nothing against your cooking—(aside) what cooking?—but I ate before we got here.  Anyway, we’re here to review your new movie, so why don’t you let us do that, and maybe I’ll work up an appetite.  (LEATHERFACE nods).  Since L.L. is busy filling his face, I’ll start things off.

LS (wipes blood of his chin): Gee, thanks, buddy!

MA: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013) is the latest movie in the TEXAS CHAINSAW franchise, a series that started with Tobe Hooper’s original THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), a classic of the horror genre, but a movie that I just have never been able to get into or appreciate.  In short, I’ve just never liked it.

LS (spits out his food in shock):  What kind of a horror fan are you?  How can you not like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE? It might just be the best horror movie of all time.

MA:  If we were reviewing that one, I’d tell you, but right now we’re reviewing TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.  Anyway, along the way, there’s been various remakes and sequels, including THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE:  THE BEGINNING (2006).  None of these movies did anything for me, but if you’d care to comment more on them, to give the folks a little history, be my guest.

LS:  Not really. As is usual with these kinds of things, the various sequels and remakes run the gamut of various levels of bad (or at least inferiority) compared to the original film. I thought the recent remake and its sequel were incredibly bland and sterile compared to the visceral power of the original film. The nominal sequels have been a mixed bag of wasted celluloid, with only the sequel Hooper made himself, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) worth checking out at all, and that one is a train wreck of another kind, which is sad, considering the great cast involved. I think the one I hate most is TEXAS CHAINSAW: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994) which is like a really wimpy retelling of the original film with a younger cast that includes Matthew McConaughey and Rene Zellweger in early roles (let’s just say, they’re wasted) and a skinny Leatherface! Just pathetic! Nope, there’s not much to recommend about the franchise aside from the first movie. Unfortunately, Tobe Hooper’s career hasn’t been especially awe-inspiring since his first film either, he never did recapture the pure gut-punching adrenaline of TCM ever again, although he’s made a few okay films. I wish he had something to do with this new one, other than a “Characters created by” credit, though.

MA:  Which brings us to today’s movie, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.

The film opens with events from the original film

LS: In 3D no less! Looked….kinda goofy.

MA: …and then adds new footage showing the locals forming a lynch mob, surrounding the home of Leatherface and his family, and burning it to the ground, killing everyone inside.  Well, almost everybody.  A couple rescues a baby from the home, although you wouldn’t want these folks working as your local paramedics, as the man, once he takes the baby from its mom’s arms, kicks the mom in the head, killing her.  And of course, we never do see Leatherface perish in the fire.

LS: This first scene really set the wrong mood right from the start for me. The first film is so dark, almost subterranean in its spookiness, that a shootout in broad daylight seemed like a real letdown. This holed-up-in-a-house-with-the-police-outside scene also reminded me of a similar scene that started off another, much superior horror film – Rob Zombie’s classic, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)– which makes this one look pretty awful in comparison.

And we don’t really get to see any of the original characters in the shootout scene– Chop Top (Edwin Neal in the original and Bill Moseley in Hooper’s 1986 sequel) was hit by a truck before this, Leatherface is in hiding, and the Cook, maybe my favorite character in the original, isn’t shown at all (actor Jim Siedow died in 2003, but they couldn’t have had someone else play his character?). The only character from the original movie we see in the shootout scene is old, zombie-like Grandpa, sitting in a chair with his deathly white face (anyone could be behind that old man makeup). It turns out a bunch of relatives showed up at the house before the police, to defend their kin (including Drayton Sawyer, played by the previously mentioned Bill Moseley in a different role here). There are so many new faces, it doesn’t even seem like the same family or the same story, although it was cool to see Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) as “Boss Sawyer.” But something about this whole opening shootout seemed too normal, too bland right from the start. The original cast and house made us feel like we were traveling through Hell itself. Here, it’s just another shootout with the police…

(A man holding a chainsaw and wearing a severed pig’s head over his own head enters the room)

LS: It’s Farmer Vincent from the movie MOTEL HELL (1980)

FARMER VINCENT: That’s right, boys. I’m here to make sure old leatherbutt here made the meat correctly. Did you use my special recipe?

(LEATHERFACE grunts and nods his head no)

FARMER VINCENT: The hell you say! How could you prepare these people a decent meal of meat and not prepare it correctly! DAMN YOU!

(FARMER VINCENT revs up his chainsaw, and LEATHERFACE revs his up in turn)

MA: Now gentlemen, there’s no reason for violence here.

FARMER VINCENT: Like hell there’s not!

LS (grin): Let ‘em fight, this might be fun.

(Suddenly the Sawyer family member known as THE COOK enters the room, flapping his arms)

COOK: Dang nab it! Don’t go making a mess in here.

FARMER VINCENT: I thought you was dead!

COOK: Well, I ain’t. And I prepared the meat. So you bet damn well it’s done right.

(FARMER VINCENT grabs a chunk, lifts his pig mask and tries it)

FARMER VINCENT: Mmmm. Pretty good.

COOK: Now get yer ass out of here before I kick it across the state of Texas!

FARMER VINCENT: I’m going, I’m going.

COOK: Now look what you done! (he slaps LEATHERFACE). Causing all this commotion. And me in the middle of my cooking! (LEATHERFACE cowers before him)

(COOK stops and turns to LS and MA)

COOK: Sorry, gents. I didn’t mean no harm here. Just go about enjoyin’ your meals.

(COOK goes back to the kitchen. LEATHERFACE is still whimpering in a corner)

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LS: That was fun! It’s like dinner theater!

MA: Can we get back to our review…finally?

LS: Sure!

MA: After the shoot-out, where the Sawyer home gets burned to the ground, the story then jumps ahead to present day where beautiful young Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) receives a letter informing her that her grandmother has died, and that the woman left a home in Texas for Heather in her will.  Now, Heather wasn’t even aware that this grandmother existed, and so she also learns at this point that she was adopted, and that her true blood line lived in Texas.  Yep, Heather’s the grown up baby that was rescued from Leatherface’s home, making her Leatherface’s cousin.

LS: Woo-hoo! That sure is some looker, you’ve got for a cousin, Leatherboy!

(LEATHERFACE grins and nods his head)

MA: Heather and her hip friends decide to take a road trip to Texas to check out the new home.  Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker (an event which mirrors the original story) and once in Texas, they find that the home left for Heather is an elegant mansion.

The twentysomethings prepare to celebrate, but their plans are short-lived when it turns out that Leatherface still lives in the basement, and he’s none too happy about new folks moving into his home.

Further complicating matters is that the mayor of the town, Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), is the leader of the lynch mob who burned Leatherface’s home to the ground.  He hates Leatherface’s family, and he’s not above lynching Leatherface a second time, or his young cousin Heather.

It seems lovely Heather has more to worry about than just Leatherface.  In fact, Leatherface might even become her ally.  Aww, a kinder gentler Leatherface!  Just what we need.

(LEATHERFACE nods at first, then pauses as if thinking, then vigorously shakes his head “no.”)

MA:  I didn’t think so.  Honestly, I’ve seen worst movies than TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and I didn’t hate this one by any means, but that being said, boy, what a lame movie!  In short, this one’s awful.

The worst part of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and why I called this one lame, is its story.  Its premise generates absolutely no suspense—Heather and her friends arrive at her new home—does anyone in the theater (and there were three other people there besides me, by the way) not expect Leatherface to be living somewhere inside that mansion?  A creative story would have taken us in a different direction, one that we didn’t expect.  Not so here.  You can see every move happening long before it does.  It’s standard horror storytelling all the way.

LS: Unfortunately, yes.

MA: And nice job, Grandma!  Way to go, caring for your long lost granddaughter by giving her a house with a homicidal maniac living in the basement!  Yup, as they say in the movie, blood is thicker than water.  What a boneheaded move!  I’m supposed to believe that a woman who cares for her family would bequeath a home with Leatherface living in it to her unsuspecting granddaughter?

LS: Yeah, Leatherface almost kills her a bunch of times, until he realizes who she is. But you can’t completely blame Grandma! She did leave Heather a letter.

MA: Yeah, she says in her letter to Heather that all Leatherface needs is a little loving and caring, and he’ll protect her.  How sweet.  Leatherface is a regular hero.  I don’t think Heather’s friends, all butchered by Leatherface, would agree.

LS: This is one major plot point that bothered me. Leatherface kills some of her friends (I’m not saying who) and suddenly it’s like it never happened and Heather has to make some choices about who she’s going to stand by and who’s the enemy. And suddenly, she’s able to forgive the murders of people she cares about without a second thought. It didn’t seem genuine to me.

MA:  I agree.

LS:  Although, they’re not the best friends. Her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz, who is okay here, but not very developed as a character) is cheating on her with her best friend, Nikki. (Tania Raymonde).  But Heather doesn’t know that.

MA: Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Kirsten Elms wrote the screenplay for this one. You’d think three writers would have come up with a better story.

LS: Maybe they should have gone with Arruda and Soares instead?

MA: I like the sound of that!

LS: Seriously, they have some good ideas. The script just wasn’t good about following through with them.

MA: Director John Luessenhop does an okay job at the helm.  The film looks fine and includes the expected gore, which I found both tasteless and fake-looking, not a good combination.  One guy gets his body sawed in half by a chainsaw, grisly and pointless, but expected, and yet it didn’t disturb all that much because it looked fake.  That CGI culprit again!

LS: I didn’t mind the stuff you’re calling tasteless. But some of the fake-looking stuff I could do without.

MA: But anything resembling genuine suspense is absent here, as are any real shocks.  And as you already know by its title, it’s in 3D, and no, I wasn’t impressed.

LS: I don’t know. It wasn’t worth the extra price, I’ll give you that. But there were some cool moments where chainsaws come right out of the screen at you, that I enjoyed. But it was just a gimmick. Over all, it wasn’t really worth seeing it in 3D.

MA: I did like Leatherface’s mask, as it was sufficiently gruesome.  But that being said, Leatherface himself didn’t make for the scariest villain.  I mean, he comes off as this overweight lump of a man barely able to run—I was half surprised he didn’t keel over and die from a heart attack.  His cholesterol level must be off the charts!

LS: Another big problem I have with the movie is that you’re right, Leatherface isn’t scary here. In the original, he was this big killing machine. Intimidatingly huge, and vicious. Here, he’s kind of like the smaller, less scary version. Sure, he’s supposed to be 20 years older, but not once did I feel like he was a force to be reckoned with. Not once did I think he could scare the hell out of anyone. The chainsaw—sure, that’s scary. Leatherface here, not so much. Gunnar Hansen in the original movie was SCARY AS HELL.

MA: For the most part, the acting was okay.  Alexandra Daddario holds her own in the lead role as Heather Miller.  She’s beautiful and she can act, so that’s nice combination to have.

LS: You’re right. She’s very stunning. Between those eyes of hers, and everything else (she wears shirts exposing her belly in almost every scene of the movie), my eyes were just drawn to her like a magnet. And she’s okay here as an actress. Nothing amazing, but she pulls it off.

MA: Her friends were fine, but reminded me of the same types of characters I’ve seen in countless other horror movies of this type.  I recognized Tania Raymonde from LOST, as Heather’s friend Nikki, who likes to flaunt lots of skin and cleavage in this one.

Also in the cast as a young police officer is Scott Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s son.  He’s okay.

LS: Scott Eastwood as Carl is really wasted here. He’s actually really good in every scene he’s in. But then, toward the end, once the action shifts to the inside of a slaughterhouse, he is completely forgotten and we don’t see him again, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

MA: Paul Rae as Burt Hartman makes a nice villain, and he’s actually the main baddie in this one, as he’s one big pain in the ass.  He seems to want to lynch everyone he meets. One other thing I’ll say is that this movie doesn’t paint a very nice picture of small town Texas either.  These folks aren’t friendly.

LS: Hartman is good, even if he never does seem like that big of a threat. He’s the leader of a lynch mob who became a crooked mayor in a small town. Somehow it seems like the enemy here should have been more formidable.

MA: And of course there’s Dan Yeager as Leatherface, wowing us with his multidimensional performance.  Yeah, right.  Sorry, Leatherface, but you’re about as multidimensional as a loaf of white bread.  In fact, at times in this movie, you resemble a loaf of bread.  A big fat loaf.

LS: He’s supposed to be Leatherface as an old man, so sometimes it worked for me. But as I stated before, he’s simply not intimidating or scary. They needed to get a bigger, scarier actor in this role. Yeager just seems like a mini version of the real thing.

MA: Sorry TEXAS CHAINSAW fans, but I can’t really find anything good to say about this movie, the latest silly chapter in a series that I just can’t warm up to.

I give it one knife.

LS: I actually liked this one more than you. But in the end, it is a disappointment. First off, I think the people who made this film had their hearts in the right place. You could tell they really wanted to pay respect to the original film. TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D states its goal early on with the footage from the original film. It’s meant to be a direct sequel to the 1974 movie. It simply dismisses all those bad sequels and boring remakes. In the remakes, by the way, the family’s name was changed to Hewitt for some inexplicable reason. Here, in this movie, we are told right off the bat that the murderers are the Sawyer family—the correct name—and that immediately got points from me early on.

I really think the people who made this film liked the original and wanted to do it justice, but  they just didn’t have the imagination to do it well. That said, there were scenes I liked, and things about the movie that worked for me. I just didn’t think it was scary, and I don’t think it’s very logical (especially toward the end). The fact that Leatherface is able to walk away without being arrested, after killing Heather’s friends, other people, and running through a local carnival with a chainsaw, completely puzzled me. It just wasn’t believable.

MA:  Not only that, but in a key scene, the sheriff just stands and watches a main character get murdered in front of his eyes without offering assistance.

LS: Well, he does kind of deserve it! Strangely, I liked this movie. I thought its flaws outweighed what was good about it, but I saw this as kind of a labor of love, and I can appreciate that. The original CHAINSAW deserves to be revered in the horror genre. And for once, this didn’t feel (completely) like a movie that simply wanted to cash in on a name brand and make some quick money.

I give it two and a half knives. Not a great score, but not a dismal one. And it’s at least as good as some of the movies I’ve given that score to in the past. This one has its problems, but it has just enough heart to come close to winning me over.

(LEATHERFACE pushes plate of meat back in front of MA and grunts.)

LS:  That’s right.  You said you’d build up an appetite.

MA:  I meant, like next week.

LS:  I think he wants you to eat it.

MA:  Oh well.  (grabs a fork and digs in).  (chewing).  Not bad. Rather spicy.  What kind of flavoring did you use?

(LEATHERFACE reaches into his pocket and removes what looks like squished guts and organs.  MA stops chewing.)

LS (laughs):  Sorry you asked?

MA:  I was thinking steak sauce and paprika.  Anyway, isn’t it time we move on?

LS:  What?  And skip dessert? He made us blood pudding!

(LEATHERFACE nods eagerly)

MA:  Well, folks, at least you get to leave now.  Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D ~one knife!

LL Soares gives TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D~ two and a half knives!

Meals for Monsters (Christmas Edition): SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Evil Santas, Family Secrets, Grindhouse Goodies, HOLIDAY CHEER, Jenny Orosel Columns, Low Budget Movies, Meals for Monsters, Psycho killer with tags , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2012 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972)
Special Christmas Review and recipes by Jenny Orosel

SilentNightBloodyNight1974USposterThere are a ton of Christmas horror movies to liven up the season. For every disgustingly sweet animated special with singing toys and perky reindeer, there is a psychopath in a Santa suit screaming about “garbage day,” or a homicidal, wise-cracking snowman. But a truly scary horror film, those are harder to come by. Recently, though, I discovered SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972), and it saved my sanity from the season’s twentieth bad cover of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”.

Something happened in the Butler mansion on Christmas Eve, 1935. Little is known, other than the mansion had been converted into an asylum in order to provide treatment for Wilfred Butler’s teenage daughter. Neither of them survived, and the asylum was shut down. Fast forward three decades and Butler’s grandson is trying to sell the old house. The city’s elite want it destroyed. And people connected to the house are dying at the hands of a masked killer. Who is it, why are they massacring the town one by one, and what does it have to do with that fateful Christmas Eve?

SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT could have easily been a horrible movie. Let’s face it, a psychotic killer and a mental hospital setting are hardly original. Yet somehow writer/director Theodore Gershuny manages to make it as realistic as it can be, consistently suspenseful, and rather unpredictable. The performances were pretty good as well, especially from genre favorites John Carradine and Mary Woronov. There wasn’t much of a budget, but BLOODY NIGHT didn’t need it. The scares came from the great pacing not fancy special effects, so I rarely noticed. It might be that I expected so little going into it but I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had with BLOODY NIGHT.  So much fun, in fact, that I made it the Christmas Meals for Monsters column.

The Christmas Eve of 1935 included a huge feast with champagne flowing freely. In honor of one of the stars, I’ve named the cocktail:

THE GINGER WORONOV:

drink1 part ginger ale
4 parts sparkling wine
1 splash bitters
serve cold

You can’t have a feast–especially a Christmas Eve feast–without a roast. The traditional beef rib roast or Chateaubriand can get pricey VERY fast, and would hardly fit the budget of BLOODY NIGHT. An eye of round is a relatively inexpensive beef roast, and can still be delicious if done right.

CHRISTMAS EVE ROAST BEEF:

dinner3-pound eye of round roast
1 bunch fresh sage
1 bunch fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Soak the herbs in water while the oven heats. When the oven is ready, put the herbs in the roasting pan underneath the rack. Salt and pepper to taste. Put the roast in the hot oven for a half hour. Turn off the oven but DO NOT open the door. Leave the roast in the oven for an hour and a half. This will make it medium doneness. If you prefer your beef more cooked through, increase the initial cooking time. Serve sliced thin.

The Christmas Eve scene included a cameo by Candy Darling, one of my favorite “superstars” from Andy Warhol’s stable of actors. Her role was small and added very little to the overall plot, but she was memorable and a nice little addition to the flick. As a nod to her and her inclusion:

CHRISTMAS CANDY DARLING (aka Peppermint Bark)

dessert1 pound dark chocolate (NOT chips)
1 pound white chocolate (not chips, either)
6 candy canes

Smash the unwrapped candy canes until well pulverized. Line a 9×9 square cake pan with wax paper. In the microwave, heat the dark chocolate in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each, until completely melted (you will be tempted to heat it for longer increments. DON’T DO IT! Trust me.) Pour melted chocolate into the pan, spread evenly, and refrigerate until solid. Heat the white chocolate in the same manner. Pour over the cooled dark chocolate and, before setting in the fridge, sprinkle evenly with the candy cane pieces. Once the candy has hardened, break apart into wedges. Will stay good for weeks, as long as it isn’t stored on a radiator.

SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT is in the public domain and easy to get a hold of. Getting a hold of a decent copy, though, is much more difficult. The copy I watched was from Alpha Video and, while grainy, was not unwatchable. And there’s something fun about it, amid the Martha Stewart level of neatness and precision abounding during the holidays, to watch something with flaws and scratches. So relax, let your hair down, and blow off all that holiday season steam with some good, old-fashioned lunatics.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel

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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

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
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