Angst (aka Fear) (1983) (Gerald Kargl)
Arguably one of the best Austrian horror movies ever made. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. The chilling realism and creepy soundtrack haunted me for days afterwards. The drip drip of the tap in the opening scene is so simple yet so effective.
Most of the film we listen to the inner monologue of the disturbed main character, we are basically inside his warped mind and along for the ride. The camera angles from above give you a birds eye view of what’s happening.
He is afraid of himself, and you can understand why. A sick mind and due to a dysfunctional family he became a monster. It’s also an indictment of the legal system in that despite murdering in the past, he is set free with no supervision.
You could question the ethics of making a movie based on true story crimes, but it also serves as a warning that damaged people exist with no empathy for others. Parents who don’t love their children is also a horrible crime, so even though he is despicable I did feel sorry for him. An important film about why monsters become monsters.
The Witches (1990) (Nicolas Roeg)
Like others who were born in the late 70s or early 80s, the children’s books of Roald Dahl were part of my childhood. I enjoyed reading The Witches when I was about 9 or 10 and tried watching the film adaptation in the 90s, but it was just too scary. Today I admire there was no restraint in how creepy the Grand High Witch looks. The illustrations in the book by long-time collaborator Quentin Blake were somehow less threatening than the moving images.
Watching the film as an adult, I wish there was a reason for the evil rather than just being evil. The mouse puppetry by Jim Henson is impressive. Roald Dahl disliked that the ending was different to his book. The film is probably best remembered for Anjelica Huston’s turn as the head witch. WTF? Why is Rowan Atkinson dressed as Mr Bean? Who is the intended audience for the movie? I’m not really sure. Good but not great.
The ’Burbs (1989) (Joe Dante)
Labelled a black comedy, I’m including it anyway because there are horror elements. Has a pretty good cast and director. Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, and Corey Feldman(back when he was cool). It’s a shame the story is so silly. There’s social commentary on being afraid and suspicious of foreigners, which on paper is an interesting concept. Unfortunately it takes 50 minutes before it’s actually watchable which is when they go into the mysterious house for the first time, the movie has that one great scene. The rest is filler and the ending in the ambulance butchers what up to that point was a positive message. In fact the godawful finale is so bad it justifies all the neighborhood abuse.
The redeeming quality for me was the soundtrack, and the discovery of bands such as Circus Of Power.
Favorite quote: “got somebody tied up in the ol’ cellar, have yah?
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (Charles Barton)
I had no idea what to expect. Tarantino said it influenced him. My first encounter with the comedy duo, so I don’t have the luxury of comparing the film to their other work. Considered the best of the 35 Abbott and Costello movies made between 1940 and 1956.
The plotline is of Frankenstein needing a new brain. Nice idea to mix comedy with horror, back then it was a fresh idea.
The competitiveness between Abbott and Costello to catch girls is pretty funny.
Dracula, Frankenstein and the Werewolf in comparison feel like props and just there to give a contrast. Abbott and Costello have the best dialogue, with Dracula the most memorable of the universal monsters.
The story doesn’t really go anywhere, and has to be manipulated to fit with the long running joke of Abbott not noticing the horror. It’s an amusing joke, but some viewers may find that aspect too repetitive.
Took awhile to grab me, the second half was the most entertaining.
I’m giving it an extra point for the dialogue and for the original horror/comedy approach.
“The moon will rise in 20 minutes, and then I’ll turn into a wolf.”
“Yeah, you and about a million other guys!”
The Brood (1979) (David Cronenberg)
From an era when Cronenberg was coming into his own as a horror/sci-fi master.
I have no clue if the movie holds up to repeat viewing. All I can say is it was incredibly tense and genuinely scary. The subtext about the damage a divorce, experimental drugs and therapy sessions can cause is equally as disturbing as the visuals.
By withholding information until the horrifying climax, the film keeps you on edge. Contains one of the most horrifying break-up scenes of all-time. Written during Cronenberg’s own divorce and custody battle, there’s an anger at its core. Includes Cronenbergian body horror, so not for the squeamish.
The Hole (2001) (Nick Hamm)
Psychological horror/drama about a group of high school teenagers who become trapped in an old bunker. Starring Thora Birch and Keira Knightley. The flashlight effect on all the names in the credits was a nice idea. The film received mixed reviews, I consider it better than its reputation. A flawed, but quite gripping story.
SPOILERS: Why was it necessary for Martin to lock the hole from the outside? Why would Martin lock up his best friend? There are twists and turns in terms of what happened, which are revealed later on. As an anti-rape movie, it’s effective, even when it’s a little too on the nose. The scene with the attempted rape was memorable for how the onlooker behaved. Although what really happened is murky and I’m still confused if Liz was raped herself, as it is implied when she is examined and all is not right. The fact we see her escape in the opening scene does take some of the edge off the suspense however. The police investigation is stupid if you think about it, and I don’t understand Liz’s actions on the bridge, which seemed out of character. I’d be interested to inspect the lock of the door, because the cops forgot to look.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) (John Carpenter)
Considered by some to be the best movie of the 90s by the horror master. A divisive film, receiving mixed reviews upon release. A second-tier Carpenter, that logically doesn’t make sense if you think about it, but I like the subtext that horror is a threat to society. About a successful horror writer whose novels have an effect on his less stable readers. Sutter Cane’s new novel is even more dangerous and potentially causes all readers to go insane.
Refreshing to see a director who is self-aware and looking at how fiction affects the consumer, which is where the story has its strength. Tonally the movie feels like a product of its time, attempting to cash in on the huge popularity of Stephen King. If I didn’t know who made it, I would guess it was a TV-movie based on King’s writing.
There’s a good movie in there somewhere, the opening 30 minutes are outstanding, but the middle part in the mysterious town is too silly and not as scary as it should have been. The ending is good and Sam Neil is convincing in the lead role, but you may feel it’s tough to know what is real or madness by the end.
Jürgen Prochnow doesn’t have much to do as the villain, it seems horror fiction and its repercussions is the real threat. The horror about horror meta approach was popular at the time with the likes of New Nightmare, Scream, and Funny Games also coming out in the mid 90s. Of those four films, I think In the Mouth of Madness (1994) is the weakest.
What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) (Massimo Dallamano)
Murder mystery. According to wikipedia, has gained a reputation as one of the best giallo films of the early 1970s among fans of the genre. The police investigation is believable and suspenseful and I had no idea who the killer was until it was revealed. In other Italian giallos there are clues to the whodunit, I didn’t notice any red herrings, although there might have been. In this case it’s almost impossible to figure out, so I was just along for the ride.
I am used to bad dubbing, but here it warrants mentioning because the dialogue is at times inaudible, so a subtitled version is advised. I would be lying if I said the young women are not titillating, and the director would appear to enjoy them undressed, it’s quite sleazy as we often see them naked. The Italian couple who help with the investigation are going through some personal problems and their troubled relationship is handled so I cared about them. Good story, and worth checking out. Ennio Morricone provided the score.
Black Christmas (1974) (Bob Clark)
It’s weird how Bob Clark made the beloved family-friendly A Christmas Story (1983), yet even earlier made a horror with Christmas in the title.
Black Christmas is one of the earliest and most influential slashers. A murder mystery in which a community receive obscene phone calls, those calls still hold up as very creepy.
There’s drinking and drunkenness going on, likely because it’s the festive season, or maybe those women drink all the time, who knows? Amusingly, the old lady has bottles stashed away in hiding places in the house. In fact, most of the lighter moments are the results of alcohol, with the character played by Margot Kidder making inappropriate remarks.
The director has an eye for maintaining tension, for example a scene midway through the movie, when a lady screams and they go and look with terror in their eyes, yet the audience do not see what they are observing. Likewise the killer’s identity is not revealed.
The film does have its flaws, notably in how stupid people behave. I was not convinced by the police investigation. Surely a corpse in the house would not be overlooked for so long? And if she knows the killer is around she still wants to go up the stairs? It’s a film that has been copied so much over the years that plot elements feel formulaic in 2015, that’s not the fault of the movie, but a factor when discovering Black Christmas today. Even if it’s similar to other slasher movies, it is an effective horror, as long as you forget about how foolish the police and search party act. As another reviewer observed: “there’s enough that these characters register as people rather than slasher fodder”
Have you watched any of these films ? As always, comments are welcome.