Archive for the Devil Movies Category

THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

Posted in 2013, Demons, Devil Movies, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Monster Babies, Nightmares, Rob Zombie Films, Strange Cinema, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by knifefighter

THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Lords-of-Salem-horror-movies-25727552-1172-1772

I’ve been a fan of Rob Zombie’s for quite a long time now. First his music, then his movies when he started directing, beginning with HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003), which I liked a lot, and then THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), which I pretty much loved. Then he made his two movies in the HALLOWEEN franchise (2007 and 2009), and while they had some good moments, they were disappointments over all. So I’ve been really itching to see him back to making low budget films based on his own characters. The HALLOWEEN stuff just wasn’t a good fit.

His new movie, THE LORDS OF SALEM, is a step in the right direction.

Gone is the studio oppression. And a lower budget means Rob can stay true to his vision. So just what is his vision for LORDS OF SALEM? Well, I better add a disclaimer. Not everyone is going to dig this movie. But I had a lot of fun with it.

It begins in 1692 Salem, Mass. with the coven of Margaret Morgan (an almost unrecognizable Meg Foster, who was also in John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, 1988, and a lot more movies and TV series). Margaret is a genuine Satan-worshipping, baby killing monster of a witch. No Mother-Earth loving Wiccan is she. When she cuts open a pregnant woman, in order to sacrifice her child to Satan, Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne (Andrew Prine, star of lots of cool 70s flicks like SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES, 1971) has her and her coven rounded up and executed for their crimes. But, of course, Margaret curses Hawthorne and his bloodline before she dies.

Skip to modern-day Salem, Mass., where the Reverend’s descendent, Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie), is a recovering drug addict and a DJ at a local radio station, along with Herman Jackson (Ken Foree, who you’ve got to remember from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978) and Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips, looking a lot like a stand-in for Rob Zombie, he was most recently in the above-average revenge movie FASTER, 2010). The three of them do a “morning zoo” type show during the late night hours, and things get weird when they get a visit from a death metal singer named Count Gorgann (Torsten Voges), who goes on a blasphemous rant about his philosophy of life. Things get even weirder when a mysterious vinyl record shows up for Heidi in an antique wooden box, addressed simply from “The Lords.” The music it plays has a very strange effect on Heidi and some of the women of Salem who hear it.

The-Lords-of-Salem-poster #2There’s also Heidi’s deceptively friendly landlady, Lacy (Judy Geeson, TO SIR WITH LOVE, 1967) and her “sisters” Sonny (Dee Wallace, whose resume includes such classic films as the original HILLS HAVE EYES, 1977, E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, 1982, CUJO, 1983, and more recently in Chris Sivertson’s adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s THE LOST, 2006) and Megan (Patricia Quinn, Magenta herself from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975). These three ladies would fit in just fine in a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, if you know what I mean. They set Margaret Morgan’s curse into modern-day action.

The curse manifests itself in Room # 5 of the house where Heidi lives – an apartment long empty (and presumably un-rentable) that has now become some kind of portal into Hell, complete with a very strange-looking dwarf monster in a rubber suit at one point (the scenes with this dwarf demon are equally funny—because of the low-budget look of the monster —and weird, but actually work in a bizarre way). As Whitey slowly becomes aware of his true feelings for Heidi, he tries to save her. Also in heroic mode is Bruce Davison (WILLARD, 1971 and THE CRUCIBLE, 1996), as a writer and expert on historical witchcraft who is a guest on Heidi’s radio show, and figures out what is going on. But they’re up against some particularly formidable nasties.

There’s a scene towards the end that is pure Rob Zombie, a series of images that play out as a prolonged acid trip, and it’s stuff like this that makes THE LORDS OF SALEM so enjoyable. Yesterday, Michael Arruda and I reviewed the new Tom Cruise movie, OBLIVION, and opined that, despite the huge budget, the movie was kind of hollow because of a weak story, and a sanitized feel. THE LORDS OF SALEM is the exact opposite of something like OBLIVION. With a very low budget, Rob has to be more creative in putting his vision onscreen (thus that funny-looking demon) , and yet, because it is such a personal vision—and he has such a unique style—LORDS just seems more satisfying. Where OBLIVION is sterile and perfectly manicured, LORDS is dirty and depraved— coming at us warts-and-all—but that’s fine, because this is a horror movie after all.

There are parts of this movie that reminded me of Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968, an inevitable comparison), and some of the flashbacks from the 1600s had a slightly BLACK SUNDAY (1960) feel to them; there’s also a bit of the insanity from something like Andzej Zulawksi’s 1981 film, POSSESSION (that crazy dwarf demon) and the films of Alejandro Jodorowksy. The acting is mostly right on, especially Sheri Moon Zombie, who is becoming quite an effective leading lady for this kind of thing. There are some scenes that have her doing very bizarre things, but she’s a trooper, and you truly care about her character (frankly, I wanted an even deeper look at her life before the curse kicks in). I found myself wishing that more directors would use her in their movies (although Mr. Zombie has been giving her some plum roles over the years, it’s not just because she’s his wife –  she has actually done a good job with them).

I would have had liked to see more of Ken Foree’s character (we only get a taste of what he can do as an actor here), and Jeff Daniel Phillips and Bruce Davison are good as the forces of good (I’m actually a big fan of Davison, and have been since the original WILLARD, and was happy to see him here, as well as the great Andrew Prine in what is, unfortunately, little more than a cameo). And the witches—well, they’re just terrific here, and probably the main reason to see the movie (aside from Sheri).

There’s also a very strong 70s feel to the movie, starting with the opening credits-on, which should come as no surprise to fans of his films. Zombie has been strongly influenced by the horror films of the 1970s, which is just fine with me. I consider the 70s to be one of the two main golden ages of cinema, the other being the 1930s. And, like some of the witch films from the 70s, there are some clichés of the genre here, but there’s also enough originality to keep things fresh.

THE LORDS OF SALEM is in limited release right now (only one theater in my area was showing it, so it’s not going to be easy for some people to find), but it deserves a wider audience. Also, before the movie was released, a book came out by Rob Zombie (with B.K. Evenson), which is a novelization of the film. Or rather, it is based on the first version of the script, before budgetary constraints forced Zombie to change a lot to save money. Reading the novel, which is presumably what he originally intended to do on film, it’s fun to compare this to what actually got made. I’m about 100 pages into the book, and already there are some interesting changes between his original concept and the finished film.

The novel version of THE LORDS OF SALEM is also available now.

The novel version of THE LORDS OF SALEM is also available now.

Since the HALLOWEEN films, I have been eager to see Rob Zombie go back to his roots and give us something that was truly his own. He really should try to avoid directing remakes of other people’s films. His style is just too idiosyncratic to be used to present other people’s ideas. Like a Jodorowsky or a David Lynch, his best work is that which originates with him.

As I said before, a lot of people might not enjoy this movie as much as I did. The attempts at characterization might be a little slow for some people, and Zombie’s style during the weird stuff might be too bizarre for them. But for me, everything kind of clicked, and I was really pulled into this film. I loved the feel of it, the strong sense of atmosphere, and the imagery here. I do not think it is Rob Zombie’s best work (that remains THE DEVIL’S REJECTS), but after two steps back, this is a big step forward toward getting him back on track in making the kinds of movies only he can make, and I hope he gives us many more films in the future.

Welcome back, Rob. I give this one three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE LORDS OF SALEM ~three and a half knives.

THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (2013)

Posted in 2013, Demonic Possession, Devil Movies, Exorcism Movies, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Occult, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by knifefighter

THE LAST EXORCISM PART II
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

lastexorcism2

Before sitting down to review this one, I went back and read my Cinema Knife Fight review (with Nick Cato) of the first LAST EXORCISM movie from 2010, and it refreshed a lot of the back story for me. Back then, I gave the first movie three knives, and it was based mostly on the performance of Patrick Fabian as Reverend Cotton Marcus. The movie started out like a documentary of Marcus and his vocation as a preacher and exorcist. The way Fabian played him was likeable and charismatic, and I really enjoyed the movie until the final scene. The funny thing is, looking back at it now, I really don’t mind the ending at all, and it’s grown on me.

Which brings us to this new movie, THE LAST EXORCISM PART II. Based on the trailer, I thought this was just another cynical attempt to cash in on a movie that did pretty well at the box office (and cost a small amount to make) by producing a quickie sequel. But I have to admit, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.

In the second film, Cotton Marcus is nowhere to be seen, since he pretty much met his doom at the end of the first movie. This time around, the focus is on Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), who was also a standout in the first film. She was the girl Marcus went to exorcize, and she was convincing as a poor, lost innocent undergoing a terrifying ordeal at the “hands” of a demon.

Things begin not long after the events of the first film. As PART II opens, a couple find Nell (again played by Bell) in their house late at night (she gets into bed with the husband and even scratches him, when the wife gets up to go to the bathroom). The scene where they track her down to the kitchen, huddled up on a counter and looking deranged, is actually quite effective. She ends up in a mental hospital, and it’s explained that her family died during the night that ended the first film, when her father’s house caught on fire. She is scared, confused and clearly traumatized by what she has gone through. We also see that everyone is treating her as the victim of a cult, which makes sense, but it doesn’t address the fact that she was truly possessed by a demon in the first film. Something the medical community would avoid.

Not long after being admitted to the hospital, Nell is determined to be pretty harmless to herself and to others, and is released to a halfway house in New Orleans. The place is overseen by Frank Merle (Muse Watson), and Nell makes some new friends, including her roommate Gwen (Julia Garner), who at times seems to have a cruel streak, along with Daphne (Erica Michelle) and Mo (Sharice Angelle Williams). Nell gets a job as a maid at a motel, and even finds herself attracted to a boy who works at the motel, named Chris (Spencer Treat Clark). She’s a little strange, but the others seem to accept her, and Nell starts to slowly adapt to a fairly normal life, which is amazing, considering the events of the first film.

But, as we know going into the theater, a normal life is not really in the cards for Nell. The demon that possessed her in the first film, Abalom, soon makes its presence known, and makes it clear it wants her back. The weirdness happens slowly, with the odd passerby on the street saying something cryptic to her. A street performer (who pretends to be a statue in the park) following her during some festivities. When she goes into a church for refuge, even there a preacher seems to have a link to Abalom and tells her it is useless to resist, as strange figures appear in the church’s windows. Nell flees in a panic.

There are also times when her father, Louis (Louis Herthum, who also played the role in the first film) appears to speak to her. Once, late at night, she sees him sitting in the chair across from her bed, and he tells her he is trying to protect her. Is he real or just a figment of her tortured imagination? Other strange things happen when she’s asleep, like the fact that one of her hands often caresses her when she’s unconscious, as if it no longer belongs to her, and she levitates and twists into painful-looking shapes, without ever being aware of it.

One particularly uncomfortable moment involves the other girls finding a video on Youtube of her being exorcized by Reverend Marcus in the first film. She is twisting violently into unnatural shapes, and speaking in voices, and the other girls are both fascinated and scared by what they see. Nell comes into the room, and when she finds out what they’re watching, she screams at them to shut it off.

Some of the people around her aren’t what they seem to be, but not all of them are in league with the devil. A woman named Cecile (Tarra Riggs) has made it her mission to save Nell from the forces that want her, and she sets up a meeting with some like-minded friends. Can they save her from the forces of darkness? Well, you’ll have to see THE LAST EXORCISM PART II to find out.

LastExorcism2

Right off the bat, I want to make it clear that not everyone is going to like this movie. First off, there are long stretches where nothing seems to happen. It’s almost more of a character study than a horror movie, as we watch Nell slowly adapt to her new life and become a part of normal society, something she was never allowed to do when she lived on her father’s farm. We want her to find happiness with her new friends and with Chris. But we know it’s only a matter of time before the satanic being that once shared her skin comes back. The movie is not fast-paced. It takes its time, and there are long gaps between scares. And anyone looking for a roller coaster ride isn’t going to find it here.

Strangely, I didn’t mind the pacing or the lack of scares at all. Nell is so interesting that I really wanted to see more of her life. I found her struggle for normalcy to be touching, and believable. And even if it comes off more as a drama at times, I didn’t see that as a bad thing. Ashley Bell gives a terrific performance here as a girl who has endured great horrors and struggles to transcend them. It’s really a showcase for her as an actress (just like the first LAST EXORCISM film was a showcase for actor Patrick Fabian) and in that sense, I enjoyed it. I also thought her looks worked very well in defining her character. She has an odd face that sometimes looks almost like an old woman’s and other times seems rather pretty. This odd quality gives physical presence to the confusion and turmoil going on inside her. I was really impressed with Bell, and thought she did a great job as the lead in this film. In fact, watching PART II, I actually found myself wanting to spend more time with this character, and I would actually look forward to a PART III if the same filmmakers were involved.

One thing I didn’t like was that, in trying to present things almost as a drama, the filmmakers felt the need to pop in some “false scares” to keep the audience awake. Stuff like dogs suddenly barking loudly in the dark, or images in Nell’s mind (visions or dreams) suddenly popping up on screen and screaming. I thought these things were unnecessary, but I’m sure that the people involved thought it was a legitimate choice, since the movie is pretty quiet for the most part, and it was their way of reminding us this is a horror movie, even if it is an unusual one. And not all audience members would be as patient without a few jolts added here and there. For the most part, LAST EXORCISM PART II is actually a good example of “quiet horror,” which means it’s not  really inhibited by its normally dreadful PG-13 rating.

Also, the ending this time around was a little predictable, and almost had a CARRIE feel to it, but it still worked for me. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I see similarities between Nell’s story and Carrie White’s.

I also thought it was interesting that PART II is filmed in a much different way than the first one. The first film was presented as a fake documentary, focused mostly on Reverend Marcus, and it worked very well in that way. You would think PART II would adopt the same gimmick, but it doesn’t. I thought it would hurt this movie to be filmed in a more traditional, straightforward way, but it actually works pretty well here. To film it as another “found footage” film would defy logic (who would be filming this fragile girl struggling to stay sane?) and the gimmick would get in the way of the storytelling in this one. So it was a good decision to leave the gimmicks behind in PART II.

By the end of the film, it is quite clear that this is a horror movie. But leading up to there, it could almost be the story of a girl dealing with mental illness, trying to get better after painful events. As I watched it, it made me think of how very different the original THE EXORCIST (1973) is from its first sequel, the quieter and more thoughtful EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977). Both THE HERETIC and LAST EXORCISM PART II took risks by not being rehashes of the films that came before them, and I find that much more refreshing than seeing the same thing all over again.

LastExorcism_1Sht_Wall_FM1Aside from Bell and Herthum, this new movie has a completely different team involved. Daniel Stamm, who directed the first film, has now been now replaced by Ed Gass-Donnelly, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Damien Chazelle. Gass-Donnelly’s previous work consists of several short films and two other features, THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY (2007) and SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS (2010), which also sound like small, quirky films, and I might just seek them out.

Eli Roth is one of the producers of this film (he also produced the first one), and I still think his name is associated with product that is a little more interesting than the standard fare.

Most fans of horror films probably won’t like this film, and will wonder what I see in it. But the truth is, the fact that this movie is so different from the first one, and takes risks that would alienate some theater-goers, endears itself to me all the more. I’m a fan of movies that take chances and confound expectations. And in that sense, THE LAST EXORICSM PART II is a success. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE LAST EXORCISM PART II ~three knives.

Transmissions to Earth: DEMON WIND (1990)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1990s Horror, 2012, Animated Corpses, Campy Movies, Demonic Possession, Demons, Devil Movies, Evil Spirits, LL Soares Reviews, Magic, Possessed By Demons, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , on August 23, 2012 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH:
DEMON WIND (1990)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

A house in the middle of nowhere with a horrifying past. A book of spells that maybe shouldn’t be read aloud. People who become possessed by demons. Sure, it’s been done before. Most famously in Sam Raimi’s classic EVIL DEAD (1981), as well as the cult classic, EQUINOX (1970). We even saw a new variation on the idea in this year’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  But there have been a lot of other movies with similar plots, and with varying degrees of success. 1990’s DEMON WIND is one of them.

The story begins in 1931. Outside of a farmhouse, there’ s a body burning on a cross and another dead body on the  ground. Inside the house, a woman uses a spell to keep the demonically possessed dead out (they’re banging on the door to get in). We can tell they’re possessed because they talk in a weird, demonic voice that is hard to understand. The woman turns to her husband, George, for help, but he suddenly starts puking up oatmeal. Oops, looks like he’s possessed, too! The woman raises a snow globe and says “If the crystal breaks, it’s the end of both of us.” By now, George has huge warts all over his face, tumors have grown on his body, and he has sharp teeth. I guess he’s a full-blown demon! He attacks her, she shatters the globe, and the house blows up.

DEMON WIND then fast forwards to the Present, where Cory (Eric Larson, who, when he was younger, was also in the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA TV series from 1979 – 1980) and his girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensee) are arguing as they drive along a road that looks like it’s in the middle of a desert. Since his dad died recently, Cory has been hearing voices telling him to go to his grandparents’ farm.

When they reach a gas station (the sign reads “Harcourt’s Café”), Cory feels like he’s been there before, and we get a look into one of his dreams, where he’s standing naked among the gas pumps and is greeted by his grandmother, covered in blood with her throat torn out.

Shaken up, Cory drives to the gas station, where the old guy who runs the place, Harcourt (Rufus Norris), seems nice until Cory asks how to get to the “Old Carter Place.” Then the guy gets angry (what, ANOTHER spooky gas station attendant? Are they required in every movie like this?!!). He threatens them, then later pleads with them not to go there.

But Cory and Elaine aren’t going alone. It turns out they invited a bunch of friends to tag along. First there’s Dell (Bobby Johnston) and his girlfriend, Terri (Lynn Clark). They’ve also brought along another couple, Jack and Bonnie (Mark David Fritsche and Sherry Bendorf). Dell is the brawny, blond frat boy of the group, and Jack is the brainy guy with glasses. Just when you think this is enough people for a house-warming party, along come Chuck (Stephen Quadros) who shows up in full magician  regalia, and his buddy Stacy (Jack Vogel). To complicate matters, Chuck used to date Terri and secretly wants her back, and Dell isn’t too happy about this.

The gang’s all here for DEMON WIND (Facing the camera, from l to r: Francine Lapensee, Sherry Bendorf, Eric Larson, Mark David Fritsche)

As they all drive away from the gas station/cafe, Harcourt says “Damn fools!”

When they get to the farmhouse — or rather, what’s left of it—the first thing they see is the skeleton on the cross in front of the ruins. Then, when Cory touches a skull half-buried in the ground, he gets some kind of a shock and sees visions of his uncle as a kid, running from demons back in 1931.

The ruins of his grandparents’ farm house look like just a façade and a bunch of pieces of wood, but if you go through the front door, you enter a house that is suddenly intact!!

The first time they enter the house, there’s writing on the walls and Bonnie reads something aloud. The house goes crazy, shaking like an earthquake hit it, and bottles and dishes explode. Even a big cooked turkey (without a trace of decay after all these years!) on the dining table explodes! They run out.

A skeleton is there to greet you, in DEMON WIND!

Their cars won’t start, so Cory and the gang leave the house and walk down the only road, intent on finding help. They walk and walk, and when they reach a certain point, they see a fog that blows over them (is this the demon wind of the title?) Suddenly, they’re back at the ruins of Cory’s grandparents’ house! The house won’t let them get away.

Little girls appear talking in demon voices and dressed in vintage dresses. They say “You can’t leave.” One grabs Bonnie and turns her into a porcelain doll. No one seems to be very upset when the doll explodes in flames (doesn’t anyone miss Bonnie??).

It’s getting dark, so Cory tells the others that it will be safe in the house. When they argue with him he says “It was just trying to warn us before. Don’t ask me how, I just know it.”

They explore the house, which has several rooms. Cory and Elaine find Cory’s grandmother’s old diary, which tells of weird, demonic goings-on and offers some helpful spells on how to deal with devils. There are also a couple of magical daggers, which seem to get wasted on minor demons as the movie goes on.

Then even more friends show up! This time it’s Willy (Richard Gabai, who went on to star in tons of movies in 90s like VIRGIN HIGH – 1991, DINOSAUR ISLAND – 1994, and VIRTUAL GIRL – 1998, and continues to work steadily today ) and his girlfriend Reena (Mia M. Ruiz).

They all board up the doors and windows,  and, when night falls,  angry dead people (no doubt possessed by demons) rise from their graves. One by one, the friends begin to get killed off. Of course, none of them stays dead, as their bodies get possessed and their evil corpses try to kill off more of them. We never do find out who the little girls are. And the house itself becomes more and more menacing, as does a formerly destroyed barn in back that is also suddenly rejuvenated.

The monsters eventually break into the house, but before they can kill Cory and Elaine, they’re called away by a preacher (who looks sort of like Harcourt with grease in his hair), who absorbs them and then turns into a Big Daddy Demon.

The big daddy of demons from DEMON WIND.

When the big demon comes for them, Cory and Elaine read a spell asking for the “Spirits of Goodness and Peace” to help them, and Cory turns into a big-headed monster who fights for the forces of good! He kind of looks like a dome-headed alien from the old OUTER LIMITS TV series. Super Cory goes up against the ugly, pustulant, evil demon. Some weird monster wrestling ensues.

Cory turns into a “good monster” to fight the king demon in DEMON WIND.

Will Cory and at least some of his friends survive and go home? You’ll have to see DEMON WIND to find out for yourself.

The effects are pretty cheesy for the most part, although some of the monsters look pretty good. The look and feel of this movie reminded me of late 80s/early 90s “scream queen” movies like SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA and NIGHTMARE SISTERS (both directed by David DeCouteau and both from 1988), but this one is played completely straight and even though not much in this movie makes logical sense, it still works at times, in some bizarre way. It was directed by Charles Philip Moore, who also gave us ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION (1994) and the 1995 remake of NOT OF THIS EARTH.

Eric Larson does a good job as the hero, Cory, but Francine Lapansee as Elaine is the best actor here. The rest of the cast is likable enough, considering they’re just so much demon fodder.

DEMON WIND is not a great movie by any stretch, but if you like this sort of thing, you might just enjoy yourself. I don’t think it was scary at all, but there were several scenes that made me chuckle, and a few that were almost effective.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

(Special thanks to Henry Snider for suggesting this one)

Nick Cato’s 50th SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES Column!!

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, Blaxploitation, Crime Films, Devil Movies, Drive-in Movies, Gore!, Grindhouse, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , , on May 17, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Special 50th Column: “My Grindhouse Wish”
by Nick Cato

Since I’ve spent 99% of this column’s space talking about the experiences I’ve had at my local theaters, I figured I’d take this special 50th installment of SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES to reveal the top ten grindhouse films (that I’ve seen either on TV or video) that I WISH I could’ve seen at a seedy theater or drive-in upon their INITIAL release.  While I enjoyed the following films for a variety of reasons, I’m sure each one of them would’ve been enhanced, surrounded by wise-cracking theater patrons during a scratchy, poorly-focused screening.

10) I think I was about 10 years old the first time I saw DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) on late night television.  After a surprising opening, the film drags for a good fifteen minutes, then slowly builds to a finale that (at the time) was quite intense.  This underrated gem about lunatics running the asylum is currently being remade, but there’s just no way they’re going to capture the gritty, desolate tone of this low-budget shocker.

9) SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED is an extremely low budget 1974 Yeti thriller that goes in a direction few first-time viewers will see coming.  I saw this on TV for the first time around 1979 and couldn’t get enough.  I’d love to have seen an audience’s reaction to the twist ending.

8) Released in the summer of 1972, I’d love to have been at a rural drive-in when NIGHT OF THE LEPUS first screened.  This incredibly goofy film about giant rabbits attacking Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and STAR TREK’s DeForest Kelly must be seen to be believed, and must’ve had the crowds in stitches.  What makes it so good is how serious the filmmakers took the whole thing…

7) Every cult film fan has a favorite Russ Meyer film.  Mine is SUPERVIXEN (1975), which is basically a sexy road trip chase film with a little MANIAC COP thrown in.  But what blew me away was the dazzling editing during an early sequence split between a gas station and an apartment: every film maker should watch this at least once.  There’s a good chance you’ll get dizzy trying to keep up with all the angles and shots.  It’s also genuinely hysterical.

6) There must’ve been something seriously dangerous in the air during the early 70s.  Case in point is 1972’s BLOOD FREAK, about a dope-smoking guy who eats turkey from an experimental turkey farm and is turned into a turkey-headed monster who needs the blood of other drug addicts to survive.  Oh…and it also has a pro-Jesus message and stars Steve Hawkes, who had starred in a few Spanish TARZAN films (got all that?).  I can’t even begin to think what theater-goers must’ve thought of this, but thanks to the lunatics at Something Weird Video, adventurous cinephiles can obtain a deluxe DVD edition loaded with extras.  I’ve watched it too many times to admit…

5) In the late 90s I found a used VHS copy of 1975’s THE BLACK GESTAPO, a film I had never heard of despite being a life-long fan of blaxploitation cinema.  But unlike other films in this subgenre, THE BLACK GESTAPO was just downright nasty and mean-spirited throughout its entire running time: tired of their women being raped by white guys, a group of black men band together and start taking their streets back.  There’s plenty of action, classic dialogue, and violence (including a bathtub castration sequence that pre-dates I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE by four years) to keep any trash-film fan’s interest.  I’d hate to have been the only white guy at a screening of this, but then again it could’ve been a real blast!

4) While the idea behind THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971) sounds better on paper than it translated to film, this early offering from director Ted V. Mikels is a real piece of cinematic insanity: a floundering pet food company—in an attempt to save money—begin to dig up corpses and grind them into cat food.  In turn, cats start going crazy and attack their owners.  A couple of moronic cops get on the case.  The corpse-grinding machine was made out of a refrigerator box and looks beyond cheesy, yet somehow certain scenes in the graveyard have fantastic atmosphere.  The cat attacks are unconvincing, the acting is horrendous, and I would’ve given anything to have seen this with a group of like-minded film freaks…

3) Since my initial Saturday afternoon TV viewing of SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS (1975), I’ve been hooked: a Satanist (who is also a janitor at a local high school) kidnaps four cheerleaders who get lost on a road trip.  He’s looking to sacrifice one of them in a ritual, but is killed by the Devil when he tries to rape one of them.  A shady couple (the wife played by Yvonne DeCarlo of THE MUNSTERS fame) then attempt to finish the janitor’s job, only to discover one of the cheerleaders is actually a closet witch.  In many ways this is the ULTIMATE 70s exploitation film: cheerleaders, backwoods Satanists, and four of the best looking actresses ever to grace a low budget feature add up to a true guilty pleasure.  This slice of 70s sinema ends with the cheerleaders using their newfound powers to help their football team win!  When I finally found a VHS copy of this sometime in the early 80s, I was surprised to see such a low nudity level (something most grindhouse films rely on), but the sheer nuttiness of this offering from director Greydon (BLACK SHAMPOO) Clark works well, despite its lack of skin.

2) When my family purchased our first VCR in 1983, I immediately ran to our local video store and rented 1963’s BLOOD FEAST, a film I had been reading about in FANGORIA Magazine since their fourth issue.  In the middle of watching it, my dad came home from work and freaked out.  He had seen this at a theater in Georgia a few weeks before he went to Korea with the army.  He told me people—some soldiers—actually passed out during a few of the gore scenes and most of the theater was empty by the time it ended.  NO ONE had seen anything like this at that time, and it was amazing to have first-hand proof that the accounts I had read in FANGORIA were true.  I can’t even imagine what it must’ve been like to be in a theater when something so different and ground-breaking was unleashed for the first time.  And being my old man was there, perhaps my love for this stuff was somehow passed through him to me at the time?

1) Despite the ground-breaking nature of BLOOD FEAST, I thought long and hard about what the A-#1 grindhouse film I wish I could’ve seen in a theater should be.  It might seem a bit typical, but I can think of no better film than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).  I remember reading an article from film critic Roger Ebert where he recalled his first viewing: a young child sat next to him, hiding his eyes and shaking in total terror, causing Ebert to write, “What kind of a parent drops their kids off at something called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?”  I first saw it on late night TV when I was about seven years old, and it’s the main film responsible for my love of the horror genre.  George Romero’s low-budget classic reinvented the zombie film, and, from all accounts that I’ve read, was one of the scariest experiences since 1960’s PSYCHO for many theater-goers.  What more could any fan of grindhouse cinema ask for?

SO there you have it, folks: ten films I wish I could’ve seen in a theater from the “golden age” of the grindhouse film.  Now it’s time for me to stop dreaming and begin searching my fading celluloid memory for the 51st column.  See ‘ya in two weeks!

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Remote Outpost: SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, 70s Horror, Devil Movies, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Satan, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2012 by knifefighter

The Remote Outpost by Mark Onspaugh
SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS (1973) —DORMS OF THE DAMNED

“…this venerable institution has been providing young women with a quality education and an appreciation for the arts for over 300 years. Located on several acres that look deceptively Californian, this Massachusetts landmark features a small lake, treacherous woods and more thunderstorms than the Brazilian rainforest. In addition to private rooms, each student is provided with a flammable and fragile hurricane lamp in case of a power outtage, since a flashlight would be impractical for the third act.

…have been with us for years, perhaps centuries. The headmistress, called “The Dragon Lady”, seems more befuddled than mean. The head of the art department, Mr. Clampett, serves his students large amounts of wine and advises them to “hang loose.” And the professor of psychology, Dr. Delacroix, just may be an escaped Nazi scientist…

Prospective students often ask, “Why is it necessary I be an orphan?”, “Why did the last girl commit suicide?”, and “Is Satan on the faculty?”

– from the brochure for The Salem Academy for Women

 ***

SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS is sadly not the name of the academy in this made-for-TV fun fest from Aaron Spelling, who would go on to help create horrors like DYNASTY (1981-1989), BEVERLY HILLS 90210 (1990-2000), MELROSE PLACE (1992-1999), CHARMED (1998-2006) and Tori Spelling. Aaron Spelling, whose house is about the size of Utah, also brought us CHARLIE’S ANGELS (1976-1981), which has a direct bearing on our hellish center of higher learning. (Listing Aaron Spelling’s credits would take most of the day, and there are some hugely successful shows we haven’t mentioned. Did he make a deal with the Devil? Is that why he got the Devil to do a guest spot in this movie? These are questions best left to professionals who aren’t afraid of ending up with a multi-eyed goat chasing them or having their face melt in some demonic weather anomaly… Neither of those things happen in this movie, which is too bad, but they happen with some regularity to those who piss off The Prince of Darkness, so I am going to let that sleeping three-headed-dog lie.)

We do not begin our adventure at the school, but with a pretty young girl named Martha Sayers driving a GM muscle car down a dirt road at a high rate of speed. POV shots show us she is all over the road and the tires squeal in protest. She keeps looking behind her for long beats, making me sure she was going to wrap her car around a tree or maybe one of Satan’s minions. Was this the school’s defensive driving course? Were the girls training to be chauffeurs for foreign potentates or possible GF’s for Jason Statham? The questions pile up as she passes a pay phone outside the standard “gas station in the middle of nowhere.” She stops, considers the phone. “Keep driving, you idiot!” I yell at my screen. She ignores me (they always do) and parks next to the phone. She tries to reach someone, but the party she is calling does not answer. She tells the operator that “Elizabeth” promised to be there. Before the operator can tell her this is not the phone company’s problem, our girl Martha sees a disheveled man lurch toward the phone. She tosses her cigarette and screams, runs to the car and peels out. He picks up the cig and takes a puff, and shakes his head in that world-weary way the TV homeless do.

Terry Lumley is a scream as Martha Sayers in SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

Martha reaches a lavish house next to a lake, and pounds on the front door… No one is home. She looks through the windows, growing more and more frantic. An old man walks up carrying a sickle. Confirming that Martha is Martha, he tells her her sister had to go out to the grocery store and left the house keys with him… Martha, displaying more courage than sense, moves in close enough to take the keys… Ah, turns out he is old Mr. Red Herring, the caretaker. Martha lets herself in and does not get filleted. The old man shakes his head in that world-weary way that TV caretakers who are not murderers do.

It’s a nice home —just what does her sister do for a living? —and Martha is relieved. She looks out at the lake, thinking everything just might turn out all right… Then, she realizes something is standing behind her. She turns, and her eyes go wide and she screams —the actress, Terry Lumley actually looked crazy, which was unnerving.

NOW Elizabeth comes home. She’s played by Pamela Franklin, who was also in THE INNOCENTS (1961), NECROMANCY (with Orson Welles! 1972) and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973). She finds the caretaker and two cops at her front door. The caretaker heard her sister scream and called the police. Although Elizabeth is standing there, the cops try to break down the door—she pushes past them and unlocks it with her key. But the skimpy chain has been drawn—Elizabeth asks the cop to break in… In one of my favorite moments, he does not slam into the door, but SHOOTS THE CHAIN —had I made this movie, Martha would already have died, but now have a bullet wound, as well. Alas, this does not happen —although we never learn just where that shot went. Everyone barges in and we find that Martha has hanged herself. It’s one of the worst reunions ever.

Elizabeth is sure her sister was murdered, because she was so happy. No one has a clue that she was unhappy… Except the caretaker, who no one bothers to talk to… The little fact that he was the last person to see Martha alive seems to have been forgotten… But when cops are trying to break down doors and using bullets as keys, a lot must get lost in the shuffle.

Elizabeth decides she will find out what happened to her sister. In true 70’s transition, we see a jumbo jet take off and wing eastward. First stop, Martha’s BFF Lucy, played by Gwynne Gilford of BEWARE! THE BLOB (1972) and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987). Lucy serves sherry but keeps trying to get Elizabeth to drink some vodka… It’s a weird bit that never goes anywhere. When Elizabeth decides she will visit the school, Lucy freaks out and begs her not to tell anyone they talked. Elizabeth seems to take this is stride and leaves Lucy and her liquor cabinet for the gentle, rolling hills of Hell U.

Now, mind you, Elizabeth does not fill out any applications or go to some shady back alley for fake ID, transcripts, etc. She seems to have merely called ahead and is accepted that day for classes. This sort of thing only happens in bad movies and commercials for trade colleges. Elizabeth drives another GM muscle car (can you deduce who provided vehicles for SSFG?) and is met at her parking spot by two angels and a head case. Actually, that would be Roberta (Kate Jackson, an original Charlie’s Angel), Jody (Cheryl Ladd, the “cousin” of Farrah Fawcett’s Angel) and Debbie (Jamie Smith-Jackson), who we know is artistic because she wears a bandana on her head. Various ominous comments are made about the headmistress, who the girls call “The Dragon Lady.” To get Elizabeth ready for her first encounter with this gorgon, they give her a brandy snifter full of chardonnay —this is the sort of glass that serves as a fish tank in romantic comedies, but here it is just filled with wine, albeit, enough wine to get everyone in Hrothgar’s great hall drunk.

Pamela Franklin as Elizabeth and future Charlie's Angel Kate Jackson as Roberta in SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

Elizabeth goes off to meet the headmistress, Mrs. Williams. She’s played by Jo Van Fleet who was in great films like EAST OF EDEN (1955), GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957), COOL HAND LUKE (1967) and THE TENANT (1976). She welcomes Elizabeth to the school and gives her a schedule of classes that start immediately. I kept yelling at Elizabeth that it was a trap, but it didn’t matter —no one discovers Elizabeth’s subterfuge until she herself admits it much later.

We meet her first teacher, art instructor and department head Dr. Clampett, played by Roy Thinnes, who did a whole slew of roles, but is best remembered by us at the Outpost for his turn as David Vincent on THE INVADERS (1967-1968). Clampett is good-looking and all the girls are gaga over him. He reviews a couple of paintings by the girls, including Debbie’s. Debbie’s painting is of Elizabeth’s sister Martha in an ancient room, looking terrified. Elizabeth makes a mental note to grill the artist later… which is probably what the school founder (hint: horns, tail, pitchfork) is also planning.

Dr. Clampett encourages them to “hang loose,” and reminds the girls he is having a wine party that evening… Can we trust him? He certainly is the sort the magazine was thinking of when they asked “What sort of man reads Playboy?” —he has the groovy clothes and one can only imagine a state-of-the-art stereo and NaugahydeÔ furniture… Probably a GM muscle car, too (maybe a Barracuda or a Road Runner), but we never see anything but his classroom.

Elizabeth questions Debbie in the hall —who was in the painting, why did she paint it, was she influenced by Seurat at all? (Sorry, that last was just me showing off.) Debbie can’t remember much, but is pretty sure she was in that room at some point, which is “down under the building.”

Next, it’s off to Behavioral Psychology… Why they are teaching this course in a fine arts college, I don’t know. It may be that the rats in the class were all they could afford for a “creep factor,” though domesticated rats are pretty low on the spectrum. The instructor here is Dr. Delacroix, played with stern intensity by Lloyd Bochner, who seems to have guested on every TV show ever made, including the role of “The Old Vampire” in THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY (1988-1992), which I must rent immediately, and THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970). Delacroix is teaching rats to run a maze and find food behind a red door. When they master that, he’ll switch to a white door, and then back again—over and over and over. While we puzzle over who is supporting such questionable research (my money is on Monsanto or McDonald’s), he demands the girls explain why he is torturing rodents. Only newcomer Elizabeth knows the answer, to “make them passive.” Delacroix takes this metaphorical ball and runs with it, saying such minds would become pliable and could be made to do anything. He’s like a Bond villain without the budget, and you kind of feel sorry for him.

After class, Debbie starts raving and freaks out, collapsing in the hall and going on about rats and red doors. Do the girls call the nurse? Do they call for a teacher? Nope, and don’t expect one to show up, either. Either the staff is deaf or students go mad with some regularity. It’s off to bed with a cold washcloth on her forehead. Roberta says they’ll watch her —if she’s not better by morning, they’ll tell the Dragon Lady. As if on cue, Debbie rouses and wants to gnaw on… a vegan snack. Or granola.

Clampett’s wine party does not, I am sorry to say, take place in his groovy bachelor pad. Just in the art studio. He is, however, the only adult and the only male. This is the sort of situation that either becomes a sitcom, a Police song or an episode of Law & Order SVU. The girls drink, Clampett leers, and a good time is had by all…

Idyllic campus life is interrupted by the news that alumni Lucy has committed suicide. Debbie remarks, “That’s two of us,” and Elizabeth pumps her for more info. During a storm of epic proportions (thunder like Thor’s hammer, doncha know), Elizabeth steals Debbie’s painting of Martha from the art studio and goes searching for a room that matches it… She goes down into the basement with just her hurricane lamp and the painting, past a room full of creepy theatrical props. Going through an empty wine cellar (no wonder, with the way everyone on campus is swilling the stuff), she finds an ancient-looking door. Beyond that door is the room in the painting. Elizabeth is scanning the room for signs of what killed her sister (cabalistic symbols, demon spoor, a hoof print or two) when she sees someone in the shadows with a straight razor. Not being a fool, Elizabeth hightails it out of there, fast.

Elizabeth goes to Roberta since she seems the most level-headed. She tells Roberta what she has seen and says that Debbie is terrified of the room in the sub-sub-basement. Roberta tells her that’s because a group of girls supposedly hung themselves in a basement room during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. She agrees to help investigate the spooky room with Elizabeth, who is now certain she saw Delacroix with the razor.

The next evening, poor Debbie makes a break for it, running off campus. Later, Elizabeth and Roberta find her in the secret room, strangled with pantyhose. They go to the Dragon Lady, and tells her it looks like Debbie is another suicide… Eh? Dragon Lady mutters she must call the sheriff. She does the old “dialing while I have my finger on the disconnect bit.” She tells the girls to wait. They look for files on the girls who committed suicide —they are missing, including Debbie’s… So is Delacroix’s file. Elizabeth tells Roberta that she is actually Martha’s sister. They search for the missing files in Delacroix’s classroom and find them conveniently placed next to his rat maze. Delacroix confronts them, sure they are in league with you-know-who. He panics at something unseen and jumps out a window.

Enter heroic and handsome Dr. Clampett. He learns Elizabeth’s true identity and tells the girls to stay put. Rather than wait for the sheriff who isn’t coming, he is sure he can talk Delacroix into giving himself up.

Delacroix runs through the woods, tripping over every root, rock and shadow. He then blunders into the lake. In a mildly creepy scene, he is nearly surrounded by girls on the dock and on shore who poke at him with long poles. In case you were wondering, none of the girls is wearing a PETA shirt, since that organization won’t be founded for another seven years.

Clampett goes to the Head Mistress and tells her he wants the school evacuated. While Roberta and Elizabeth wait patiently, all the other girls are being loaded onto buses and a van… Only eight girls are left, but Clampett assures the others he will see to them. Elizabeth, hearing the buses leave, runs out to see what is going on. Seeing that everyone is being evacuated, she goes to her own car, only to have dead and soggy Dr. Delacroix spill out of the driver’s seat.

Elizabeth goes back to Roberta, who lures her back to the secret room. She shoves Elizabeth in, where Clampett (in a black robe) waits with the other girls (all in white). Roberta, of course, is one of his girls. In a rather cool aside, she tells Elizabeth that he is “Malleus Maleficarum,” or “The Witches’ Hammer”—I had to look this up, and it’s a famous medieval treatise on witches designed to help priests and magistrates identify witches. Not sure how Clampett came by the title, but it does sound kind of cool, especially if you don’t know what the Malleus Maleficarum really is.

Clampett then explains that he “lost” his girls a long time ago, and it’s taken him “many years” to find replacements. All I can say is, this particular Son of Darkness is a real underachiever —it’s taken him over 300 years to find the right girls? Dude’s been spending too much time drinking chardonnay and listening to bebop.

Elizabeth now takes her trusty lamp and throws it at the ground. It shatters and flames spread quickly. Elizabeth makes a run for it, and no one stops her. Clampett tells his comely disciples to wait, that soon they will all be together. Elizabeth manages to get Mrs. Williams out and throws another unsafe lantern into Clampett’s path. He smiles, and goes back to the secret room, now an inferno. With no more concern than stepping into a tepid bath, he walks on in…

Elizabeth watches her brief alma mater go up in flames, sure that the guilty have been punished. On a nearby hillside, Clampett watches the fire and smiles, then fades away, leaving a patch of scorched earth with a little wisp of smoke… If you were hoping for even a cheesy devil head or man-in-a-rubber-demon-suit, I am afraid this is the only evidence you get that Clampett was indeed Satan, or, at least, one of his more suave minions.

A few burned matches pretty much covers the effects budget for SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

For all my carping and sniping, this is not a horrible movie. True, the constraints of television at the time (1973) mean no nudity and almost no gore. Budget constraints were probably the reason we do not get a cool reveal of Thinnes as the Devil—even some modest horns and bad skin would have been fine, but alas… However, the acting is all good across the board, and Pamela Franklin’s Elizabeth is brave, committed and strong —she is proactive and every bit the heroine, never wimping out or seeking help from (the admittedly small pool of) males.

The movie was remade in 2000 with Shannen Doherty, another Spelling favorite. Kate Jackson returned to play the Head Mistress, now called the Dean. It looks like the remake is much more centered around a mini-coven of five witches who want to rule the world. I wanted to compare and contrast the movies, but only snippets of the remake seem available at this time. If I can hunt down a copy we may revisit these not-so-hallowed halls again.

One last note: I am not sure I understand the motivation of Satan finding seven orphan girls only to have them kill themselves—seems like the guy should have plenty of souls by now (almost as many as hamburgers served by McDonald’s). Why not train them to go out and spread misery and malice around the world, corrupting and terrifying the populace—wouldn’t that be more devilish and hellish? I guess when you spend all your time looking cool for teenage girls and finally manifesting your demon side as charred grass and less smoke than a Camel cigarette, our expectations of you as a The Fallen One should be very, very low.

Remote Outpost… out.

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

(Mark Onspaugh is currently editing an anthology entitled The Forsaken with Stoker Award winner Joe McKinney for 23 House. His essay, “Evilution: A Short History of Monsters from Black & White to Blood Red” appears in “Butcher Knives and Body Counts: Essays on the Formula, Frights and Fun of the Slasher Film” edited by Vince A. Liaguno for Dark Scribe Press.)

Screaming Streaming: TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, 70s Horror, Devil Movies, Hammer Films, Horror, Michael Arruda Reviews, Satanists, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2011 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review: TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976)
By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to the first ever SCREAMING STREAMING! movie review column, where I’ll be reviewing movies available on screaming— er, streaming video. I’ll cover a mix of old movies and new releases, as well as different genres, including horror, action, thriller, mystery, and comedies. Chick flicks?— no.

We begin with an oldie, the Christopher Lee/Hammer movie TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976), notable because it was Hammer Film’s last horror movie, that is, until its recent comeback film LET ME IN (2010). And that’s really all that’s notable about it. It was a flop back in 1976. I saw TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER several years after it was released, in the early 1980s on HBO, and I hated it. Other than Nastassja Kinski’s full- frontal nude scene, there was nothing memorable about it. In fact, as I sat down this week to watch the movie again, that’s the only thing I remembered about it!

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is a story about Satanists, which comes as no surprise, since it’s based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley, who also wrote the novel THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, also about Satanists, also filmed by Hammer in 1968, with the U.S. title THE DEVIL’S BRIDE, also starring Christopher Lee. Wheatley died in 1977 at age 80.

In TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, a distraught man, Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliott) seeks out the help of an American occult novelist John Verney (Richard Widmark) to protect his daughter Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) from an evil Satanist, an excommunicated priest named Father Michael (Christopher Lee). It seems, years earlier, at Catherine’s birth, her parents made a “deal with the devil” promising the girl’s soul to Father Michael on her eighteenth birthday. Father Michael intends to hand over Catherine to Satan for reasons we can only imagine— let’s see, she’s 18 and beautiful, what do you think he wants her for? Sounds like a marriage made in Hell.

It also sounds like a plot I just saw in a movie a few years ago, THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY (2008), as that film was also about parents who made a deal with Satanists to turn their daughter’s soul over to them when the girl turned 18, and in that movie the dad also changed his mind and tried to protect his daughter.

And that in a nutshell is the plot of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, as Verney vows to protect Catherine from Father Michael, and Father Michael vows to find Catherine and get her to the altar in time to make whoopee with Satan. Along the way there are some satanic goings-on by Father Michael and his cohorts, including the painful birth of a baby which they plan to sacrifice later. What is it about Satanists and babies, and why do they always want to sacrifice the little infants? I just finished watching DRIVE ANGRY (2011) on DVD starring Nicholas Cage, another movie about Satanists, and what did these folks want to do? Sacrifice a baby, only they picked the wrong baby, Cage’s granddaughter, and he’s not about to let that happen, which is why he’s driving angry.

Anyway, back to TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER. In addition to the Satanic shenanigans, we also get to watch John Verney try to solve the mystery of what’ s up with Catherine, since her daddy wasn’t exactly truthful in his explanation of why he wanted Verney to watch over his daughter. Of course, Verney eventually figures everything out, being the intelligent occult novelist that he is, which sets us up for the final and dramatic confrontation between tough guy Richard Widmark and Dracula himself, Christopher Lee.

All of this sounds better than it actually is. Truth be told, age hasn’t really helped this movie. It’s still all rather dull.

A lot of the blame here falls on the shoulders of screenwriter Christopher Wicking, who wrote the screenplay. There really isn’t much of a story, which is why it’s so dull. Not much happens, and the little that does is painfully stretched out to fill the 90 minute running time.

The characters aren’t fleshed out. We know very little about the evil Father Michael. Christopher Lee is fun to watch, as he does evil as good as anybody, but Father Michael isn’t developed beyond being a bad guy. Lee looks like Dracula wearing a priest’s collar. Since Lee always looks good as Dracula, he looks good here, too, but other than being a straightforward evil baddie, he does little else. Compared to Lee’s Lord Summerisle in THE WICKER MAN (1973), a character who was chilling because he was an oddball who was difficult to gauge, Father Michael is a one-trick pony.

Richard Widmark’s occult author John Verney is dreadfully dull, about as boring a hero as you’re going to find in a horror movie. He has very little personality, and comes off as wooden as a fence post. Nastassja Kinski’s Catherine is also a bore. She hardly says two words, but she’s beautiful in this movie, and that’s probably all the filmmakers were going for here.

Some memorable dialogue would have helped this movie. Christopher Lee gets one of the best lines in the movie, and really, it’s memorable not so much because of the line, but because of the way Lee delivers it. After the woman has given birth to the Satanists sacrificial baby, Lee leans close to her and says with a smile, “You can die now.” It’s Lee at his evil best.

Christopher Wicking also wrote the screenplay for Hammer’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971), Hammer’s final Mummy movie, and for the movie SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970), famous for the first-time triple teaming of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, and also famous for being one of the most confusing horror movies ever made!) Storytelling with clarity doesn’t seem to be Wicking’s strong point.

Wicking died in 2008 at the age of 64.

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER was directed by Peter Sykes, and he does an okay job at the helm. And, photography wise, the film looks good. It’s handsomely photographed and makes good use of some on-location filming in the German countryside. But in terms of memorable scenes, there’s nothing.

For a movie that compared itself in its original theatrical trailers to ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973), it forgot one very important ingredient: it forgot to be scary, and that’s really the major problem with TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER. It’s NOT scary. Not a good thing when you’re a horror movie about Satanists.

It’s no surprise then that Hammer struggled in the 1970s and eventually went out of business. Their style of movies couldn’t compare to the other horror movies of the 1970s. Just look at THE EXORCIST, for example. Besides the obvious, that THE EXORCIST is scary, it also has realistic and very memorable characters. Father Karras (Jason Miller), for instance, seems like a real person. The characters in TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER don’t seem real at all.

If there’s a reason to watch TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, it’s the cast, which is the best part of the movie. Father Michael may be a one-dimensional character, but Christopher Lee at least makes that one dimension— evil— fun to watch. Over the years, nobody has done evil as well as Lee, and in TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, he’s at his evil best. Plus at this point, pretty much anything Lee has done is required viewing. Just don’t expect THE WICKER MAN.

Richard Widmark runs hot and cold as American author John Verney. When he’s doing his “tough guy” routine, and he gets to be physical and fight, he looks more at home. When he’s talking about the occult and Satanists, he seems out of place. He also doesn’t really sound like an author. He sounds like a police detective. Widmark died in 2008 at 93.

Honor Blackman (Miss Pussy Galore herself from GOLDFINGER (1964), and from THE AVENGERS TV show (1961-69), is on hand as Verney’s agent Anna, and she adds style and class to the proceedings with a very good performance.

Denholm Elliott as scared daddy Henry Beddows gives the best performance in the movie, other than Christopher Lee. He seems scared to death throughout. Elliott died in 1992 at age 70.

And while Nastassja Kinski is beautiful in this movie, her performance is blah, and other than her beauty, she doesn’t stand out a bit.

But in spite of its strong cast, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is slow and dull. Hammer had much more success with their other Dennis Wheatley film, THE DEVIL’S BRIDE, but of course that one was directed by their best director, Terence Fisher, and Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay. TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER can’t boast of such talent.

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is a mixed bag, with very little to offer other than Christopher Lee’s demonic performance. Of course, there IS that Nastassja Kinski full-frontal nude scene.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

THE RITE

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Devil Movies, Exorcism Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE RITE (2011)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The interior of a darkened room. The shades are drawn and the door is closed . L.L. SOARES is tied to a chair . MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed as a priest, stands over him.)

MA: Tell me your name, demon!

LS: Never! Get out of my face, priest!

(MA splashes LS with holy water . LS licks his lips.)

LS: Mmm . Lemon flavored. I rather like that.

MA: Stick to the script .

LS: The props department actually gave us lemon-flavored holy water?

MA: The usual crew’s on vacation. Someone new is working props this week.

(CUT to DONKEY and SHREK playing around inside the prop room.

DONKEY: How about some lemon-flavored holy water?

SHREK: I don’t know, Donkey. I don’t think they drink it.

DONKEY:  Don’t drink it? What else do they do it with it? Splash it on their foreheads or something?

Cut back to MA and LS.)

MA: Demon, tell me your name!

LS (Curly voice): Sointantly! I’m the devil. I go by many names. Lucifer. Beelzebub. Jay Leno!

MA: Begone! That was easy.  Now that that’s over with (unties LS) let’s get on with our review.

Today, we’re reviewing THE RITE (2011) the latest movie about exorcists, this one starring Anthony Hopkins. I did not have high hopes for this one, as I didn’t expect it to come close to last year’s excellent and very scary exorcist movie, THE LAST EXORCISM (2010), but I have to admit, I was surprised.

THE RITE is the story of young Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue). He lives with and works for his mortician dad (Rutger Hauer), a life he really wants to escape from, so he decides to enter the seminary because, as he tells his friend, in his family the men either become morticians or priests. Michael admits to having lots of doubts in terms of his faith, and so he fully expects that after four years in the seminary, he most likely will drop out.

After four years, he decides to do just that, but his advisor priest tells him he sees lots of potential in him and doesn’t want him to leave the priesthood. He asks Michael to give the vocation one more chance and go to Rome to take a course in exorcism, and then make his final decision. Michael accepts the offer, and when he continues to express his doubts in Rome, the priest there teaching the course on exorcism, Father Xavier (Cirian Hinds, who played Julius Caesar in HBO’s series ROME), sends him to work with Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) an eccentric local priest and very experienced exorcist.

Trevant is anything but conventional. He invites Michael to take part in an exorcism within moments of meeting him; in the middle of an exorcism he answers his cell phone; and he is, by all accounts, an odd fellow, but there is something charismatic about him, perhaps his honesty in acknowledging that he too has doubts.

At first, Michael continues to be skeptical, but then weird things begin to happen that make Michael think twice about his lack of faith. To add fuel to the fire, Father Lucas himself becomes possessed by a demon, and suddenly Michael has lost his mentor to the other side. He enlists the aid of a reporter, Angeline (Alice Braga), he had befriended earlier in the exorcism class, and the two of them together confront the evil that is stalking Michael and Father Lucas.

(LS snores loudly)

MA: Hey, wake up!

LS: Huh? You were putting me to sleep.

MA: Uh oh. I guess that means you didn’t like this one, but I’m not surprised . There weren’t any scenes of torture in it.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised by THE RITE. I did not think I was going to like it, but I have to say, I did.

First of all, I found the story believable….

(LS laughs hysterically)

MA: Let me finish before you choke to death on your funny bone—I’m not just talking about the good and evil stuff, as in whether one believes in God or the devil . I’m talking about that I believed in these characters and their beliefs and doubts. They were convincing, as was the story. It’s a solid story, and while it’s not flat out scary, it is kinda creepy. There’s an undercurrent of dread throughout this film.

(Someone knocks at the door)

MA: Come in!

(A very pregnant Italian girl enters)

GIRL: I am here for my exorcism.

MA: Sorry, the exorcist is on a lunch break. We’re doing a movie review here.

GIRL: That’s okay. I’ll wait. (She sits down on the chair LS was previously sitting in)

MA: The other thing I liked is it didn’t go overboard with the exorcism scenes. These scenes didn’t come off as fake, where we see priests acting like Jedi knights, fighting off demons and the devil, as if they’re supervillains. The exorcism scenes in THE RITE were realistic, in that nothing that happened in the scenes jumped out at me as phony. I wasn’t thinking “that would never happen.” And that’s why this one remained subtly disturbing; there was a strong sense of realism throughout.

LS: Realism? No, wrong word. You must mean boredom. Because the exorcism scenes just never go far enough. They seem on the verge of really turning into something, but they never cross the line into real scares.

MA: So, you’re saying that a movie can’t be scary if it’s not graphic? I don’t agree with that at all .

LS: Stop putting words in my mouth! (begins to choke and then spits up plastic words onto the ground)

Ouch. No, I wasn’t saying things have to be graphic to be scary. But this movie would have been a lot better if it had the balls to take its premise all the way.

Of course the limitations of the PG-13 rating don’t help. What that means is that instead of spouting real profanity, the possessed souls spout gibberish which is a mix of “acceptable” swear words (for the rating) and nonsense that sounds like swearing.

MA: So, if a demon doesn’t say four letter words, it’s not realistic? That doesn’t make any sense.

LS: Actually, it does. And, in this movie, the sexuality also just goes so far – but doesn’t cross a line.

MA: That’s right. No boobs . I guess you don’t like this movie then!

LS: If you’re possessed by a demon – chances are pretty good you are going to have some extreme behavior that is going to go beyond the limits of PG-13. This movie always seemed on the verge of wanting to cross over into truly disturbing territory, but it never does. It wimps out repeatedly. In turn, the “scary” scenes never get really scary. We know they will only go so far. And the most we get in the way of unsettling imagery is people spitting up iron nails.

MA: Last time I checked, a person spitting up iron nails is kinda unnerving.

LS: Not really. I thought it was kind of lame.

MA: The acting was excellent. I thought Anthony Hopkins more than made up for his subpar performance in THE WOLFMAN (2010). He created a very memorable character in Father Lucas . While I don’t think Father Lucas is quite as dynamic a character as the Rev. Cotton Marcus in THE LAST EXORCISM, he’s pretty darn close. Whereas Marcus considered exorcisms to be phony and went through the motions to satisfy his “customers,” Lucas believes in the demons he’s fighting . Lucas is a much more deeply haunted character than Cotton Marcus, and Hopkins does a terrific job bringing this character to life.

LS: Okay, maybe his performance in THE WOLFMAN wasn’t the best, but that was certainly a better movie than this one.

MA: I thought THE RITE had a tighter story, but I wasn’t really comparing the movies, just Hopkins’s performance in them.

LS: You’re right. The acting in THE RITE is very good. Hopkins is fine. So is Colin O’Donoghue as Michael, and I liked Alice Braga a lot as the reporter, Angeline. My problem isn’t with them. My problem is with the script. It’s a friggin snoozefest.

(Suddenly, the GIRL starts screaming. Her legs rise and a BABY’s head pokes out from between them.)

BABY (in a gruff voice): Do you guys mind? I’m trying to sleep in here.

LS: Everyone’s a critic.

MA:  I also appreciated the fact that once Father Lucas becomes possessed, the film didn’t deteriorate into a silly “good vs. evil” melodrama. What happens to Lucas is consistent with the story, and how Lucas reacts during the possession is also very realistic. He doesn’t become Bad Ass Devil Villain from Hell . He’s simply Father Lucas possessed by a demon. He’s not running through the streets trying to take over the world.

LS: Yeah, Father Lucas is possessed by a demon. An incredibly wimpy demon who really doesn’t know how to generate real scares. He has a few good moments, but overall, the possession scenes were a letdown.

BABY: Yeah!

MA (to BABY): You’re annoying, and you’re not even born yet! I disagree about the exorcism scenes. I thought they were adequate enough.

LS: Adequate. What a ringing endorsement!

(BABY laughs)

MA: As you pointed out, Colin O’Donoghue delivered a strong performance as Michael Kovak. Again, it comes down to believability. I believed in his character’s doubts . I also enjoyed how Kovak doubted at every turn, and how he was quick to express these doubts, telling Father Lucas that the girl they were helping needed a doctor not a priest, to which Lucas quickly quipped, “I am a doctor.” I was happy to go along with Kovak on his journey, and this was because of both O’Donoghue’s performance and the writing.

LS: Yes, O’Donoghue is very good in this movie. I liked his character, too. Too bad he wasn’t in a better movie.

MA: And yes, Alice Braga was also very good as the reporter Angeline. We saw Braga in a couple of movies last year, PREDATORS (2010) and REPO MEN (2010). She was good in both those films, and she’s good here in THE RITE. And it’s always fun seeing Rutger Hauer in a movie, as he remains one of my favorite actors, even though his role here as Michael’s father is not very big.

Michael Petroni wrote the screenplay based on a book by Matt Baglio, and for the most part, I thought it was a decent script. Petroni created a very memorable character in Father Lucas, brought to life by Anthony Hopkins, and he crafted a story that remained convincing throughout. I could have done without the “inspired by true events” at the beginning. These words appear so much in movies nowadays it’s almost like writing “this is a horror movie” on the screen, or “inspired by thoughts in the writer’s head.” If it’s not a documentary, I’m really not all that interested in knowing that true events might have inspired it. After all, isn’t this the case with most fiction? Duh!

THE RITE was directed by Mikael Hafstrom, and he proved adept at the helm. There were a lot of neat and memorable images in this one. I liked the demonic donkey, which sounds goofy, but in the film it’s anything but.

DONKEY (Pokes head out from behind a curtain): I knew there was a reason I was appearing in this column today, other than my good looks!

LS: Actually, it was a mule. And yeah, I liked it too.

DONKEY: Mule, donkey, what’s the difference! Who cares! I still get to be here!

LS: (His eyes suddenly turn bright red) Possessed animals are cool.

BABY: Yeah!

DONKEY: YIKES! (runs away)

MA: The exorcism scenes were handled well, as they were scary without going over the top .

LS: Actually, when a demon possesses someone in a movie, going “over the top” is exactly what should be happening. All HELL should break loose. Demons aren’t mannered and adhere to boundaries of good taste. They go wild. Not once in this movie does anyone go wild. And you’re right, there are exactly zero scares in this movie.

MA: Yes, that was one area where THE RITE could have been better . It’s not all that scary.

LS: You think?

MA: But getting back to the “over the top” comment again. I’m talking about movies like EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) where the exorcism scenes were overdramatic and phony. I thought the scenes here were low-key, yes, but they were realistic and a bit creepy.

And I don’t think THE RITE fails as a scary movie. I mean, it’s not an in-your-face- scarefest . It’s more of a “quiet horror” story.

LS: Quiet? Try mute!

MA: I thought there was an undercurrent of discomfort throughout THE RITE. While I wouldn’t describe it as edge-of-your-seat by any means, still, you could find yourself with a sweaty palm or two.

LS: Maybe you did.

MA: It moves at a deliberate pace, and it takes its time telling its story.

LS: Deliberate pace? That’s a nice way of saying it’s very drawn out and slow and boring, right? Because that’s how I saw it.

MA: I wasn’t bored . I was captivated pretty much from start to finish, again, because of the solid writing, acting, and directing.

LS: That makes one of us.

MA: One question I did have about the story is why would the demon take so much interest in Michael in the first place? Michael was a skeptic who didn’t believe in the devil. Now, since this was the case, if the demon had simply left Michael alone, Michael wouldn’t even give him the time of day. Why bother? To me, the demon would have benefited by Michael remaining a skeptic.

LS: You’re wondering why the demon in this movie isn’t smarter? No one said a demon has to be smart, Michael. They aren’t forced to take IQ tests.

MA: No, I’m saying it’s a plot point in this movie that’s questionable because the demon goes after Michael, seemingly trying to get him to believe in him, which when you think about it, will only lead to Michael’s believing in God as well, which is not going to help the demon’s cause. But I guess that’s what demons do. They go after people whether they believe or not, which is actually a point Father Lucas makes in the movie.

LS: No, this is not what demons do. This is what demons do when a writer makes them do it so that we get this forced plotline of an unbeliever forced to become a believer. It’s the same old tired redemption plot we’ve seen a hundred times. I liked Michael, but I couldn’t care less if he got faith. The entire movie seems like a recruitment commercial for the Church. Maybe exorcism will look exciting and more men will sign up for the priesthood.

BABY: Yeah, a commercial. Just like there’s an obvious moment in the movie that is advertising McDonald’s.

LS: Exactly!

MA: Can you two stop chit-chatting so I can finish my point? Jeesh! The demon’s focusing on Michael was counterintuitive to me . I could see the demon wanting to get back at Father Lucas, since he had performed so many exorcisms, but Michael didn’t believe to begin with.

LS: Don’t strain your brain too much about this. It’s not worth it.

MA: But all in all, I liked THE RITE a lot . I thought it was a solid piece of storytelling, well-acted, and well-written. Definitely check this one out. I give it three knives.

LS: That’s funny, because it’s almost like we saw different movies. I thought this movie was a complete bore. It moved too slow. Nothing ever goes far enough. There are no scares. I thought the acting was very good, but not good enough to save a very weak script. I thought the best scenes were when Father Trevant tries to exorcize a pregnant Italian girl (Marta Gastini). These scenes are the only ones that even come close to pushing the envelope, although they stop short before they can push us into “R” rated territory.

I wanted more from this movie. I wanted scares. There wasn’t one moment when I felt the characters were in real danger. The scenes where Hopkins’ character are possessed just seemed like a babbling old man who had lost his marbles (with some CGI lines growing on his face to look spooky). I wanted this one to really cut loose. It never does. And the pacing is just way too slow.

The direction by Mikael Hafstrom is fine, and the movie looks good. It’s the script that is the fatal flaw here. It’s just much too restrained and weak for the subject matter.

Ironically, the only good exorcism movie I’ve seen in the last ten years was THE LAST EXORCISM, which you mentioned earlier. Ironic, because that movie was also rated PG-13 and had the same limitations on what we could be shown. And yet it worked. It worked surprisingly well within its boundaries. But I’m thinking that was a fluke. I doubt we’ll see too many more PG rated exorcism movies that are any good.

MA: I completely disagree. THE RITE worked.

LS: When we’re talking about demons, we are talking about creatures capable of extreme behavior. They want to scare us. They want to shock us. Just look at the king of this genre, THE EXORCIST (1973). There’s a reason why that movie is still such an iconic classic. At the time it came out, it pushed boundaries aside with ease and gave people something they’d never seen before. it freaked people out! THE RITE offers us nothing new, nothing we haven’t seen before.

MA: Yeah, because in THE EXORCIST it’s not just a demon possessing the Linda Blair character, it’s the devil himself, and so things were supposed to be more extreme.

LS: In contrast, there is NOTHING shocking or scary about THE RITE. It’s just a showcase for good actors working with a slow, tedious, unscary script. It’ll make you sleepy! I give this movie one knife. And that’s mainly for the acting. Don’t waste your money seeing this one in a movie theater. Wait for it to come to Netflix or cable.

MA: No, no, no . Go see this one. This is exactly the kind of horror movie horror fans should be supporting . High production values, solid acting, and a decent story are all in this package. Just because it doesn’t jump out at you with traditional shock scenes doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. See it!

Well, it looks like we had very different reactions to this one.

LS: Yeah. I’m right and your wrong. That was easy enough.

MA: What’s with the right and wrong crap? I liked it, and you didn’t.

BABY: Good review, you two. But can you guys leave now? I wanna come out of my momma’s womb, and I’m shy. I don’t want you to see me naked.

MA : Shy? You haven’t shut up since you stuck your head out!

LS: We’re done anyway. Let’s go Michael. Let’s give them some privacy.

MA: Gladly.

(They leave)

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
.

Michael Arruda gave THE RITE3 knives

LL Soares gave THE RITE1 knife