Archive for the Inheritance! Category

The Reassessment Files: SHATTERBRAIN (aka THE RESURRECTED) (1992)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2012, Demons, H.P. Lovecraft Movies, Horror, Indie Horror, Inheritance!, Lovecraft Movies, Paranormal, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files with tags , , , , , , , on September 12, 2012 by knifefighter

The Reassessment Files:
SHATTERBRAIN (originally titled: THE RESURRECTED)
By Paul McMahon

SHATTERBRAIN came out in 1992 under the far more appropriate title THE RESURRECTED. I didn’t get the opportunity to see it right away. As I established in my last column, I came to the works of Lovecraft relatively late. By the time I got around to seeing THE RESURRECTED, I had read enough that I was impressed with how closely the movie mirrored the tone and feel of Lovecraft’s work. I liked it overall, and told friends it was an upper-tier B-movie, well worth hunting down and checking out.

The story begins with a confusing mess in a gore-spattered cell of the Waite Institute. Amid the blood, we see scorch marks on the floor, a headless corpse, shattered overhead lights and an open window with a suitcase smashed on the concrete four floors below. Charles Ward has escaped! We are then transported across the city to the March Agency, where someone — presumably March — is bloody and beaten and dictating into a tape recorder the closing events of the case of Charles Dexter Ward.

He begins: “Three weeks ago, Providence was a sane enough place….”

It’s the same trite, “Sleight Of Hand Start” that these days is over-used and much-abused. Normally this turns me off, but here director Dan O’Bannon (who also directed RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1985, and wrote ALIEN, 1979, DEAD & BURIED, 1981, and the original TOTAL RECALL, 1990) uses the trope to good effect, giving us a taste of weirdness and leaving us with a good number of questions to ponder while the story builds.

Claire Ward hires John March to look into the business of her estranged husband, Charles Dexter Ward. He was working on something in their carriage house until — between the foul smells and the all-night noises — she told him to find someplace else to conduct his experiments. He moved to a long-forgotten house owned by his family in Pawtuxet Valley. Recently, the police contacted her, asking if she knew why her husband was receiving the remains of dead human beings at all hours of the night.

Lonnie: “What?”

March: “I don’t know. That’s why I’m a detective, to find out all about what I don’t know.”

The strangeness of this mystery, coupled with the gory images that started us off, keeps us interested and invested as John March and his assistant Lonnie delve into the increasingly morbid world of Charles Dexter Ward.

The buildup is slow, with quite a few twists and turns. We learn that Charles inherited an old family trunk from “an obscure relative,” and that his strange behavior began shortly after. We learn that his family had a long and sordid history in Providence. We learn that Charles took on an assistant, a man that Claire is afraid of called Dr. Ash. Each secret we learn is not only weirder than the last, but promises even weirder secrets to be revealed, the last of which — what happened in that padded cell at the Waite Institute — comes at us like a car crashing after a very long skid.

The acting is exactly what you would expect. John Terry (ZODIAC, 2007) does a serviceable job as Detective John March, delivering his lines with the seen-it-all matter-of-factness you’d expect of a detective that had been in the business for a long time. Jane Sibbet (various TV appearances such as CHEERS, FRIENDS and more recently OUT OF JIMMY’S HEAD) plays Claire Ward serviceably as well, a rich girl who is accustomed to getting what she wants but is thrown off by the oddball nature of her husband’s activities.

Chris Sarandon plays both Charles Dexter Ward and Charles’s distant relative Joseph Curwen in his usual commanding fashion. He owns the movie when he’s on screen, and his smirk is obviously hiding far more than he lets on.

What really sets this movie apart is the shocking and creepy special make up effects created by Todd Masters’ Company. A lot of the monsters are shot in bright light, and the camera lingers on them as they squirm and writhe and try to communicate. They are in such bad shape that it is obvious these are not costumed actors, but detailed and remarkable animatronics. The workmanship involved and the puppeteers required to pull these effects off must have cost a lot of money — and with this movie you can see that money on the screen.

Originally, I believed this movie was just Lovecraft-ish. The opening credit sequence is less-than-average and does very little to hold your attention. That would explain how on my first viewing I missed the writing credit for Brent V. Friedman (TICKS, 1993 and NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD, also 1993), which stated that he based the movie on Lovecraft’s story “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” Turns out, THE RESURRECTED is the most faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s work that I’ve seen.

The fact that this was released straight-to-video in the early nineties tells you that it’s one the distributor had little confidence in. As much as I enjoyed the film, I think their decision was the right one. I can’t see this little tension-builder blowing anyone away on the big screen. It certainly wouldn’t have impressed fans of 1985’s RE-ANIMATOR, who would most likely have considered THE RESURRECTED boring. I think giving the film a chance to slowly build a fan base on VHS was the right choice.

The only moment in the movie that comes close to living up to the idiotic new title “Shatterbrain.”

I do not understand the decision to re-release it under the ultra-dumbass title SHATTERBRAIN. On the one hand, the word says nothing about the movie. On the other, it implies exploding heads and enough gore and screaming to make the hardest of hardcore fans grin. I go on record saying that the decision to re-title the film this way could only have been cooked up by a room full of suited morons.

If you can only find a copy of this under the title chosen by this pool of dopes, I still recommend giving it a look. Just pay no attention to the packaging. It’s a very cool movie.

First viewing: 3 out of 5 stars

Reassessment: 3 out of 5 stars: Still an upper-tier B-movie, well worth hunting down and checking out.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Stands in THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2012, Animals Attack, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, British Horror, Family Secrets, Hammer Films, Inheritance!, Revenge!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961)

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

Since the beginning of motion pictures, films have attempted to cast average household pets as evil villains, waiting for their owners to forget them for just one moment before they pounce on them and perform various unspeakable acts upon their persons. From Holmes and Watson facing off against the eerily howling THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939) to the rabid St. Bernard of CUJO (1983) to the human-flesh-addicted felines in THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971) to the hundreds of starving cats in STRAYS (1991), Hollywood has tried to make man’s best friends into horror movie fodder, with mixed results. For every CUJO, there is a DEVIL DOG, HOUND OF HELL (1978), in which scary music plays over the cutest puppy you’ve ever seen. For every scary cat from PET SEMATARY (1989), we get a killer kitty like the pussycat in THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961), which just happens to be on our drive-in screen tonight!

Amidst a furious lightning storm, an old lady, Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey), reads The Raven aloud to her pussycat, Tabitha, who doesn’t seem very interested in the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. When she glances up, she sees one of her servants, Andrew the butler, with a cudgel, and he promptly bashes her head in while Tabitha watches, unperturbed. The servant drags the old lady outside while the female cook/maid, Clara, watches and the old woman’s husband, Walter (played by Andre’ Morrell of THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, 1959, BEN HUR, 1959, THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, 1965, and BARRY LYNDON, 1975) helps with the corpse. Once in the woods, they quickly bury her in a pre-dug grave. All the while, the cat watches, freaking out the hubbie and the servants to no end. Two days later, Walter calls the police and reports his wife as missing, while the servants try to catch the cat. It seems the animal just keeps staring at them. Clara, the cook, played by the great Freda Jackson (who starred in such fabulous movies as GREAT EXPECTATIONS, 1946, TOM JONES, 1963, and THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, 1969) is especially disturbed by the cat, and she falls into hilarious shrieking fits every time she sees the pussycat. Walter claims the cat “saw everything. It’s a witness, and it needs to be killed.”   Walter and Andrew decide it’s time to send for Ella’s niece, Elizabeth, played by the Queen of British Horror herself, lovely Barbara Shelley (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, 1960, DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, 1966, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, 1967, and the titular monster of THE GORGON, 1964). Walter wants to “deal with” Elizabeth so that the will isn’t disputed.

Hammer mainstay Barbara Shelley gets cozy with the kitty.

Meanwhile, Tabitha lures the two evil servants and Walter into the cellar, where Walter admits, “I’d like to brain it. I hate it!  Here kitty-kitty!”  Of course, the scene ends with Walter braining Andrew while the cat/witness escapes. Once again, everyone is terrified of this adorable little pussycat. Walter even sees a dead rat on the floor, neatly arranged by Tabitha, and he has a heart attack. Unfortunately, Walter lives, but the family’s friend and Ella’s protégé, Michael Latimer (played by Conrad Phillips of CIRCUS OF HORRORS, 1960 and SONS AND LOVERS, 1960) becomes concerned with the missing woman and the unnatural fear of the kitty in the household. When he drives Elizabeth to the spooky mansion, he mentions it, and she asks, “You mean to tell me an ordinary domestic cat is terrorizing three grown-ups?”

Andrew, watching over the sick Walter, is clawed in the face by the cat, but the little beast purrs and loves on Elizabeth. Clara tries to poison the feline eyewitness and Arnold chases it to the swamp. The cat waits till he’s on an unsteady log over quicksand before shaking the log and sending the butler to his doom. Soon after, the cat trips the cook/maid, and Clara tumbles down the stairs, breaking her neck.

Uncle Walter, still obsessing over Tabitha, sends for three cousins. He promises them a cut of his inheritance if they find and kill the cat as well as tracking down a hidden will made by Ella, which gives everything to Elizabeth. This sets them off trying to trap the murderous kitty as well as hunting for the will. The wife of one of the cousins takes to suddenly popping into the disabled old man’s bedroom and shouting “UNCLE!” at the top of her lungs, hoping to instigate another heart attack. Her husband, supposedly watching over the recovering uncle, decides to cut him out of the will entirely, and he leaves the window open, a perfect entryway for Tabitha. Our vengeance-fueled feline promptly enters the room, climbs up on the bed, and scares the old man so much he succumbs to a fit, dying in bed.

I CAN HAZ VENGEANCE!

Will the missing documents be found?  Will the cousins “take care” of Elizabeth?  Will the kitty slaughter off the rest of the cast?  Will justice be served?

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT is purported to be a BHP Production. Upon further inspection, it appears this is a subsidiary of the beloved Hammer Films, which only makes sense when you peruse the production credits. Almost all of the actors had starred in or soon would appear in Hammer productions. The film was stylishly directed by John Gilling, who also helmed THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, 1967, THE REPTILE, 1966, and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, 1966. The effective, shadowy black and white cinematography is by Arthur Grant, who also shot FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, 1967, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, 1968, and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, 1970. The gothic drama reeks of fog and atmosphere, aided immensely by the creepy old Bray House (often utilized for exteriors by Hammer) and that creepy old bog of a swamp. It’s a complete Hammer film without the Hammer moniker. The moody music is by Mikis Theodorakis, who would memorably compose the themes for ZORBA THE GREEK (1964) and SERPICO (1973). It’s a quality production all around, and that’s what makes it so confounding.

Is Tabitha really the villain here?  I hope not, because there is literally NOTHING scary about the kitty-cat killing machine. Every time they show its sweet face, scary music plays, and the audience is supposed to be held in suspense. Instead of terror, this inspires fits of giggles, completely defeating the rest of the production. Everything in the flick is great, with the exception of the cat not being scary. It’s just so cute you want to put its picture on a meme and add funny sayings at the bottom. So you have this well-made movie with an ineffective monster.

Or is the monster supposed to be reflected in the servants and the family. They see their guilt and complicity in Tabitha, and they bump themselves off through their self-doubt and the knowledge of their culpability in Ella’s murder. They are being stalked and murdered by their own subconscious guilt. It’s much more interesting than the killer pussycat movie.

Meow!

I give THE SHADOW OF THE CAT two and a half dead butlers in the bog.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl