Archive for the George Romero Category

Suburban Grindhouse Memories # 60 – SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Classic Films, George Romero, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Witches with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 60:
Season of the Zzzzzzzzzzz…
By Nick Cato

SeasonWitchPoster In October of 1982, fans of the HALLOWEEN series were confused about the third film, which was titled HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. While technically it had more to do with the actual holiday than the others in the series, the film didn’t feature infamous slasher Michael Myers or star Jamie Lee Curtis. In time, the film gained a cult following and a slick blu ray edition has recently been released. But when the film was originally released theatrically, someone thought it would be slick to simultaneously repackage a 1972 film titled HUNGRY WIVES under the title SEASON OF THE WITCH and put it out the same weekend as the third HALLOWEEN film to swipe some of the successful series’ revenue (got all that?). And while I couldn’t find any proof they were successful, I can testify that the theatre I saw George A. Romero’s SEASON OF THE WITCH in (the now defunct Amboy Twin) was packed to the rafters…and the second showing sold out as well.

Despite being a huge Romero fan, I had never heard of SEASON OF THE WITCH (or HUNGRY WIVES) until I opened my local paper that Friday afternoon and saw an ad for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH and, right across from it, and ad for another film simply called SEASON OF THE WITCH with the tagline, “An early work from the master of horror, George A. Romero!” And seeing this, I knew where I’d be that night; HALLOWEEN III was going to have to wait a day or two. I also convinced two of my buddies to put off their HALLOWEEN III screening and, knowing we were doing it for a Romero film, they joined me. In the pre-Internet days, there was no Googling to see if something was worth it or not.

I still have the black and blue-marks on my upper arms from being punched for a few hours after SEASON OF THE WITCH ended. And I couldn’t blame my friends for their anger.

The film takes forever to get moving. And, even then, it moves like a horse being dragged to the glue mill at high noon. We meet a bored housewife named Joan (Jan White) who has a husband who’s always away on business and a college-aged daughter who has the personality of a handball. Joan spends her days as a bored housewife and her nights at her neighbor’s boring parties, as well as a ridiculous amount of time walking through the woods in artistically-shot, trippy sequences. I think this was the first time I heard an audience start yelling for the film to get going so early on…maybe after fifteen minutes? As a Romero fan, I was getting annoyed at all the noise, but by the middle of the movie I had joined them.

The boredom is broken up with dream sequences of Joan being attacked in her home by a masked assailant. She seeks therapy for her nightmares but it doesn’t help and the dreams continue…as did the audience’s cheers for the masked assailant to kill her. Joan eventually visits a woman who gives her a tarot reading, and she develops an interest in witchcraft after finding out the tarot woman is part of a coven.

In the only sequence I enjoyed, Joan goes to some kind of underground hippie-owned store to purchase witchcraft supplies. I couldn’t stop laughing over a sign on the wall that said “Take Some Trash” posted over several garbage cans right inside the store! Over the years I’ve wondered if this was some kind of comment on the end of the hippie era, but now think it was just Romero tossing some goofy fun into this dreadful mess that I recently read is the only film of his even he wishes he could remake.

One amazing thing here: I don’t recall a single person leaving the theater. The film, while slow and painfully boring, does tend to keep your interest in the wake of the nightmare scenes. I think most audiences had a crazed bloodlust by the final minutes, hoping this masked intruder would finally decapitate Joan and end this celluloid torture session.

But in the “shock” ending, Joan is having another nightmare when she wakes; someone is pulling on the front door handle, trying to break in the house. She grabs a shotgun. The crowd I was part of went nuts…and I’m talking scream-out loud nuts! Most cheered for the guy breaking in to kill Joan…a few even begged her to blow her own head off! (Yeah, we New Yorkers are a happy bunch). But neither request happens. Joan ends up shooting the intruder.

And the intruder ends up being her husband Jack, back early from yet another business trip.

Boos erupted to the point I was partially deaf for a good half hour.

I still can’t remember what happens after that, but I’m pretty sure Joan joins the tarot reader’s coven. Either way, some older woman next to me said, “Man, that was really for the birds!”

And despite being a George Romero fanatic, I had to agree. SEASON OF THE WITCH (a.k.a. HUNGRY WIVES, a.k.a. JACK’S WIFE) is a slow, tedious, boring-as-you-can get feature that even the most die-hard horror fan will have trouble getting through without a fast forward button. Being in a suburban grindhouse made it kind-of fun (and barely bearable), but I’d love to know how other audiences around the country reacted to this “early work from the Master of Horror.”

I’ll take another dozen of Romero’s …OF THE DEAD films before sitting through this thing again. Until next time, I’ll be putting ice packs on my upper-arm bruises…

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

When the BEST part of a film is a slow-moving recurring nightmare sequence, you know you’re in trouble! The Masked Intruder from SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972).

When the BEST part of a film is a slow-moving recurring nightmare sequence, you know you’re in trouble! The Masked Intruder from SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972).

Screaming Streaming Looks at NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE: THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009)

Posted in 2012, Documentary, George Romero, Horror Movies, John Carpenter Films, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Movie History, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2012 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review:  NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009)
By Michael Arruda

Let’s shake things up a bit and look at a documentary for a change.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009) is a documentary directed by Andrew Monument and written by Joseph Maddrey, that examines American horror movies from the silent era up to the 2000s. It’s now available on Streaming Video.

The film definitely takes a psychological and sociological approach to looking at American horror movies. It attempts to explain why Americans love horror movies so much, what the filmmakers were trying to say with their movies, and how horror movies are tied into the times in which they were made.

NIGHTMARES begins with the silent horror movies of the 1920s, and it makes the argument that horror movies of the 1920s, especially the films of Lon Chaney Sr.,  were interested in deformities because after World War I soldiers were returning home maimed and injured, often without limbs, and these injuries were a large part of the American consciousness.

Horror in the 1930s picked up steam and most of the horror movies made during this decade, specifically the Universal monster movies, were true classics of the genre. These movies struck a chord with audiences and heavily influenced future filmmakers. I loved the comment made in one of the interviews about why boys loved the Wolf Man, because he was the perfect adolescent and they related to his problems:  he got hairy and lost control of his emotions. Yep, the Wolf Man does remind me of some teenagers I know.

The movie argues that horror was toned down in the 1940s because of the real-life horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Budgets were reduced as well, and people like Val Lewton had to do more with less, and as a result he made his movies much more artistic.

Into the 1950s the movies reflected Americans’ fears of the Cold War and atomic bombs, and thus we had giant atomic monsters like TARANTULA (1955) and the giant ants in THEM!  (1954). Americans also feared UFOs, which gave us movies about alien invasions like THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) , and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951).

Alfred Hitchcock changed things with PSYCHO (1960), and suddenly audiences had to expect the unexpected, such as lead characters getting killed early in the movie, and the most sympathetic character in the whole movie turning out to be the villain. As the 1960s went on and the United States became bogged down in the Vietnam War and race riots at home, films like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) emerged, mirroring the horror and disillusionment Americans were feeling at home.

In the 1970s, horror went through a movie boom again, with films like THE EXORCIST (1973) and JAWS (1975). As a big budget movie, JAWS  made horror mainstream, and had it been made in the 1950s it would have simply been a B movie.

In the 1980s, NIGHTMARES covers George Romero’s zombies and some of John Carpenter’s movies. It was interesting to listen to Carpenter as he explained that he made THEY LIVE (1988) out of anger and frustration with the Reagan administration.

NIGHTMARES definitely runs out of steam as it moves into the 1990s and 2000s, and only briefly  covers the movies from this period, with  fleeting mentions of THE SIXTH SENSE (1999, )and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the SAW movies and HOSTEL (2005).

The film was narrated by Lance Henriksen, and he does a good job, as his voice is a natural fit for the subject matter. Some of the people interviewed in the movie include Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, George Romero, and Roger Corman, among others.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM is an enjoyable way to spend an evening, but it does have a couple of drawbacks. Since it covers so many years in just 90 minutes of running time, it moves quickly and never really provides an in-depth look at the movies it covers. As a result, while entertaining, NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE is rather superficial. It might have worked better as a TV series, where the filmmakers could have given the films and the people they interviewed more screen time. Personally, I would have loved to have listened to John Carpenter or George Romero go on for thirty minutes or so.

NIGHTMARES is definitely interested in how American horror movies are connected to American audiences, and how American filmmakers were influenced by their times. Now, this is an interesting angle, but I have to admit, I prefer stories about how the movies were made. I find the historical backgrounds of the people and events behind the movies much more interesting, but that’s not what this documentary is about. You won’t be learning how Willis O’Brien created King Kong, or about the thought processes of James Whale when he made FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). You won’t hear John Carpenter talk about how he filmed certain scenes in HALLOWEEN (1978).

There really isn’t a whole lot of new information in NIGHTMARES. It’s not an eye opener filled with fascinating facts and tidbits about horror movies. But it does do a good job selling its angle, that American filmmakers and their movies are tied into the American experience. Based on the material presented in the film, I bought this argument.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM is a mildly entertaining documentary on American horror movies, mostly because it contains interviews with some of the greatest horror filmmakers who are still with us today. Hearing what they have to say is always a rewarding experience. But in terms of new or insightful information, especially regarding the older movies, NIGHTMARES is lacking. Sure, you’ll get to see lots of neat film clips and see snippets of neat interviews, but it’s definitely a movie in need of more meat on its bones.

It’s a tasty appetizer rather than a satisfying meal.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Me and Lil’ Stevie: CREEPSHOW (1982)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, Anthology Films, Classic Films, Family Secrets, George Romero, Horror-Comedies, Just Plain Fun, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by knifefighter

Me And Lil’ Stevie

Feel Right at Home at the

CREEPSHOW (1982)

EXTERIOR/NIGHT.

(Establishing shot of a lone house in Late October.  There is a Jack O’lantern burning in the front window.  From inside the house we hear the sounds of a father berating his son for reading comic book-style horror magazines.  Camera pans up at the full moon hanging directly over the house, and then pans downward again at the figure of a frightening, maniacal skeleton lurking about just outside the boy’s bedroom.   The skeleton laughs and waves at the boy in a display of intimate understanding, and then the skeleton lifts its hand and pulls off its costume, revealing underneath a man with a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  I can’t breathe in this thing!

Peter:  Greetings, and welcome to our latest edition of Me And Lil’ Stevie.  Today we’ll be discussing the 1982 George Romero sleeper hit CREEPSHOW!

Lil’ Stevie:  It was MY hit too, ya know!

Peter: …And since most of you are fans of horror, George Romero needs no introduction, but for the rest of the uninformed heathens, Romero is the mastermind behind the LIVING DEAD zombie series as well as a multitude of other beloved horror gems.

Lil’ Stevie:  Really?  What else has he done?

Peter:  C’mon…you really need to ask?  Romero filmed THE CRAZIES (1979), MARTIN (1976), MONKEY SHINES (1988), and THE DARK HALF (1993), which is also based on a story by Stephen King.

Lil’ Stevie:  So the man’s got some taste!

Peter:  As well as talent and style.  But CREEPSHOW seems to be a stand-out favorite among us horror fans, and for good reason.  Romero and the real Stephen King teamed up specifically on this picture, with a concept for an anthology-style film that celebrated the campy fun of the old E.C. Comics of yesteryear (VAULT OF HORROR, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, etc.).  The result is five independent stories, book-ended by a story concerning the boy above and his stern, overbearing father who doesn’t want him reading trashy horror comic books.  If you didn’t know, the boy in the movie is actually played by King’s real-life son Joe!

Lil’ Stevie:  Who now goes by the name Joe Hill, and writes kick-ass horror stories just like ME!

Peter: You don’t write anything, Splinter-Chin!

Lil’ Stevie:  Do SO!

Peter:  Really?  Well maybe you could help me write up an Ebay ad for a used ventriloquist dummy…

Lil’ Stevie:  (moping) I’ll be good!

Peter:  The first story is called “Father’s Day”, and it appears to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to all the other horror films around that time that were based on some holiday or other gone horribly awry (HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH,  etc). The story concerns the posh, snobby heirs of Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer, THE BOOGENS, 1981), whom congregate every Father’s Day to remember their patriarch on the anniversary of his death…murdered by dear Aunt Bedelia after the old man drove her crazy.

Lil’ Stevie:  Bashed his head in with a marble ash tray!  Of course, he had it coming after he murdered Bedelia’s suitor in cold blood.

Peter:  Grantham had made the family fortune by bootlegging whiskey.  So when Bedelia visits his graveside with a bottle of booze and accidentally spills some on his tomb, the old man comes back from the dead to extract vengeance.  There seems to be a lot of extracting vengeance in this pic…but I think that mirrors the style of the old pulp comics.  There’s a moral code in their somewhere, and it’s delivered in all its bloody tongue-in-cheek fun.

Lil’ Stevie:  Leave it to Romero to lead off with a zombie story first!  I wanted to lead off with “Jordy Verrill”…

Peter: …Which leads us to the second story, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”.  This story is one of the two in this movie that are based on pre-existing Stephen King stories.  This particular story is based on “Weeds”, which was published in Cavalier magazine in May, 1976 (and remains unavailable in any subsequent King story collection).  It is a retooling of the story, “The Colour Out Of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft, and concerns Jordy Verrill, a rube farmer who finds a meteor on his land.  Verrill is played by none other than…

Lil’ StevieMEME!  I played Jordy Verrill!  Wasn’t I stupendous?

Peter: ….the real Stephen King. Not you! Verrill finds the meteor, and dreams of selling it to the local university (to the Department of Meteors, to be specific) and pay off his outstanding bank loan.  When Verrill douses the meteor with water to cool it off, the meteor breaks in two, killing his plans immediately.  Of course, Verrill has already touched the meteor and been infected by whatever alien growth it contains.

Lil’ Stevie:  “Meteor shit!”

Peter:  You can’t swear like that.  L.L. will censor us again!

Lil’ Stevie:  “That’s the Verrill luck for ya!  Always in…Always bad!”

Peter:  (Sighing) Anyway, the rest of the story is Verrill’s downward spiral as the alien plant growth slowly consumes him.

Lil’ Stevie:  Easily the best story in the movie!

Peter:  The third tale is called “Something To Tide You Over”, and with the title alone we see more of that ironic, tongue-in-cheek wordplay that makes this movie such fun.  This is another vengeance tale, concerning crazed millionaire Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielson, AIRPLANE, 1980), who is bent on murdering his adulterous wife, Becky (Gaylen Ross, DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978), and her lover, Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson, who played Sam Malone on the hit television show CHEERS, ’82-’93).  Richard shows up at Harry’s house and informs him that he knows what’s been going on.  Harry tries to play it cool, but when Richard informs him that Becky is in peril and that if he wants to see her alive again, he’d better do as he says, Harry allows himself to be led out to Richard’s beachfront property.  There is a hole in the sand waiting for him there, and Richard (while holding him at gunpoint), tells him to get in and start burying himself.

Lil’ Stevie: Of course, the tide is just starting to come in…

Peter:  Once Harry is buried up to his neck, Richard sets up a television and video player, right there in front of him, so that Harry can watch how Becky drowned, just as he is about to, with the return of the tide.  Of course, the two dead lovers are reunited by the sea, and come back from the dead to extract further vengeance on Richard.

Lil’ Stevie:  Not as compelling as “Jordy Verrill”.

Peter:  Or sandpaper!

Lil’ Stevie:  You’re so mean to me!

Peter:  The fourth story is “The Crate,” and it is the other piece that is a pre-existing Stephen King tale (and like “Weeds”, it doesn’t appear in any subsequent King collection.  You can find it, however, in the Arbor House Treasury of Horror & The Supernatural, 1980 or Great Tales of Horror & The Supernatural, 1981.)  The story concerns Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook, THE FOG, 1980), a college professor who is forever cowed and browbeaten by his obnoxious, overbearing wife, Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau, also in THE FOG).

Lil’ Stevie:  Adrienne Barbeau!  Rowwwrrrr!

Peter:  Um, yeah…not in this picture.  In this story, Wilma (“Just call me Billie…everyone else does!”) appears to be the consummate pain-in-the-ass significant other; drinking, complaining, and verbally emasculating Henry at every opportunity.  So when Henry’s colleague and best friend Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver, MARATHON MAN, 1976) shows up at his home rambling incoherently about a crate that has been found at the university, and the monster inside that devoured the janitor who found it (as well as one of the school’s brightest students), Henry begins hatching a scheme to murder his ball-and-chain and be rid of her forever.

Lil’ Stevie:  Some things are just better off left alone…particularly if they are chained and padlocked and hidden away in a college basement!

Peter:  This segment was my least-favorite in the movie.  Adrienne Barbeau is a hottie, and to see her in this role really, unfortunately, changed how I feel about her.  She embodies the role with such efficiency that whenever I see her I instantly correlate her to the character she portrayed here.  And that’s a drag.

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s her job, you idiot!  She’s an actress!

Peter:  I’m sorry, I’m sorry!  And yeah, when Billie finally falls prey to the beast in The Crate, I did feel a sense of huge satisfaction.  I guess maybe it’s because I just don’t care to see people get brow-beaten, especially in public places.

Lil’ Stevie: And did you notice the personal nod I gave to my wife Tabby in this one?

Peter:  Yeah, one of the secondary characters is named Tabitha…and unlike Billie, she’s polite and well-mannered.  It seems almost like an inside joke that her name appears in this piece.  On to the final story, “They’re Creeping Up On You!”  This tale concerns another eccentric millionaire, Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall, 12 ANGRY MEN, 1957), a germaphobe who has turned his upscale penthouse suite into a colorless, sanitized-white protection bubble.  Pratt hides away from the rest of the world in this bubble, where he can be a ruthless tycoon that makes business dealings that destroy other peoples’ lives without ever having to face them.  Through his personal interactions over the telephone, we get a glimpse of a man that has reduced the rest of mankind to being nothing more than pesky insects, which he loathes.

Lil’ Stevie:  So, of course, we have to call in the cockroaches and sic them on him!

Peter:  This piece is not for the squeamish.  Thousands of roaches invade the apartment, and before it is over, the dead Upson Pratt’s body literally erupts with insects as they burrow and tunnel their way through his corpse.  It’s an amazing scene to watch, with props to special effects master Tom Savini for making the body infestation so life-like you’d swear it was real!

Lil’ Stevie:  And you should note that Savini makes a cameo appearance as a garbage man at the end of the movie.

Peter:  In all, CREEPSHOW really is a standout King movie.  Even if this movie isn’t the scariest thing that either King or Romero has put out, the tagline on the poster reads “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared,” and that still holds fairly true, even 30 years later.  With the screenplay written by King, the all-star cast, and the great comic book animations and panel-framing, this movie is a celebration of all things dark and macabre…more like a film for summer camp than for the Cannes film festival.  It is a treasured homage to those horror-themed comic books we dug on in our childhood, rather than reading Boy’s Life or Y.M..

Lil’ Stevie: Just out of curiosity, if you could pick any five of my stories for a CREEPSHOW sequel, which would you choose?

Peter:  Wow, that’s a tough one…you’d want to go with the ones that are visceral enough to paint that comic book sense of grue while maintaining that almost moralistic come-uppance at the same time.  Off the top of my head, “Grey Matter” really stands out.  As does “Home Delivery” and “The Monkey”.  Of King’s more recent works, I’d say “In The Deathroom” or “Mute” would be cool.  Then again, I’d also hope that King would make the effort to write some new stories specifically for the screenplay.  The REAL King, of course, not your sorry ass. 

(Lil’ Stevie’s eyes roll back in his head, and then the dummy lunges forward, mouth wide open, and begins biting Peter’s face off.  Peter screams in agony as the blood begins to spray in comic book gushes of blood.)

Lil’ Stevie: (At the camera, with blood all over his wooden face), Goodbye, folks!  See you next time!

The scene fades into an animated sequence of Lil’ Stevie devouring the rest of Peter as camera pans out.

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar