Helloween Day Twenty-Four: REC

October 24, 2016 0

I heard about REC, a Spanish-language movie, when it first came out in 2007. There are zombie movies, and there are found-footage movies, but as far as I know REC is the first found-footage zombie movie (it’s that or Diary of the Dead, also released in 2007). Or are they zombies? Hmmm…Anyway, I borrowed REC through my local library.

The plot: Angela and Pablo are doing a feature on firemen for a show called While You’re Asleep. As one of the firemen says (paraphrasing), ‘if everyone’s sleeping who’s watching your show?’ They settle in for a long, dull night, and then the alarm goes off, and they’re racing to an apartment complex where an old lady is supposedly trapped in her apartment. The old lady is there, all right, screaming and covered in blood. She shows her gratitude at being rescued by biting one of the firemen.

Pretty soon the Barcelona authorities quarantine the building and nobody can leave. Not realizing they’re in a horror movie, the residents naturally want to know what’s going on. Besides Angela and Pablo, we have a fireman, a cop, a family of four, a bachelor, the super (they call him the intern) and a mom and little girl with tonsillitis. Or is it tonsillitis? The fact that she tries to bite her mother’s face off clues us in that maybe it’s not. Hmmm…

REC came out in 2007 when the zombie movie wave was starting to crest. Nothing much happens in the first forty-five minutes, and then things happen very quickly indeed. The virus – the movie calls it an enzyme, but that just might be the translation – messes up your eyes and makes you act like you have rabies. The disease seems to have started with a sick dog, so that makes sense.

As you don’t know (because I didn’t tell you), I waited until the final week of Helloween to watch the movies I thought would really scare me. REC didn’t. Maybe it’s because of the lack of scary music cues? This movie has a ton of jump scares, and some of the violence is really disturbing, but it’s not much more than your run-of-the-mill zombie movie. At this point the market’s oversaturated. The source of the ‘plague’ is original, but the movie never fully explores the idea it raises. Still: the ending is scary as hell, and I was entertained. I even shrieked!

Recommended, especially for found-footage fans and zombie lovers.

Helloween Day Twenty-Three: The Hunger

October 23, 2016 0

I was in high school when The Hunger (1983) came out. I never saw it. Maybe I was too young to see an R-rated movie? The first R-rated movie I saw in the theater was Excalibur, but that’s another story. Anyway, years later I took The Hunger out from my local library.

The plot: Miriam and her husband John spend their time going to discos, seducing young couples and bringing them back to their freakish mansion located in the heart of New York City. They kill them with little dagger Ankhs, drink their blood and then dispose of their remains in the crematorium in the basement. In their spare time the happy couple play classical music with a teenage girl.

It’s an idyllic existence until John starts showing his age. He visits Dr. Sarah Roberts, who is researching the aging process. The visit doesn’t much help John, but it does bring Sarah to Miriam’s attention. Miriam, who is immortal, keeps her ex-lovers in boxes in her attic. She seduces Sarah and gives her a love-nibble during their lovemaking. Pretty soon Sarah can’t eat or sleep. She starts experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms, and only Miriam can give her what she needs.

An art house horror movie thirty years before the term was coined, The Hunger has three obsessions: narcissism, power and addiction. Miriam is the ultimate narcissist. Unlike her husband John, she has no conscience. She keeps her old lovers in boxes because that is the ultimate expression of her power over them, and any tears she cries are for herself. The sex between Miriam and Sarah is consensual; Miriam infecting Sarah is not consensual. The vampiric ‘disease’ is blood borne, and this movie came out when awareness about the AIDS virus was just starting to spread.

The Hunger has problems. It’s about ten minutes too long and the ending makes no sense. The pacing is slow, and the movie shifts main characters halfway through. Tony Scott’s directorial style might have been innovative at the time, but now it looks like a MTV video run amok. Everyone is stylish and smokes, just like the 80’s I remember! Despite these flaws, The Hunger is a striking film and well-worth watching. Recommended.

 

Helloween Day Twenty Two: Cronos

October 22, 2016 0

Released in 1993, Cronos is Guillermo del Toro’s debut film. The way I chose this flick is sort of funny. Instead of watching one of the big stack of horror DVDs on my coffee table I found Cronos browsing Hulu Plus. Besides the movie itself, there are also interviews with the director and actors. Informative!

The plot: kindly antiques dealer Jesus Gris finds what looks like a golden bug hidden inside a Madonna icon. He gives the statue to dying industrialist de la Guardia, whose room is full of bagged Madonnas, but keeps the bug for himself. De la Guardia sends his nephew Angel, a leg breaker who has plastic surgery every time his nose gets broken, to collect the Madonna. When Jesus winds up the golden amulet it sprouts legs. It also has a stinger – which Jesus learns the hard way.

To the amazement of his wife and granddaughter, Jesus seems to grow twenty years younger overnight. It turns out the beetle, made by an alchemist, has a literal bug inside it that can grant immortality. Of course there’s always a cost, as Jesus learns when the hunger pangs kick in. After awhile using the amulet’s not good enough and Jesus craves more. Of course, anyone who’s seen more than one horror movie knows what that is.

Despite my initial misgivings, Cronos is a horror movie. The word ‘vampire’ is never mentioned, but there are lots of bugs and bug imagery. When Jesus’ face starts to rot off it’s not the end of the world; insects shed their carapaces all the time. In an interview, del Toro called Cronos his ‘lapsed Catholic’ movie, and the movie is crammed full of religious imagery. He also said that Jesus is the saddest vampire ever, also true. When Jesus is alive he’s an old, out-of-shape antique dealer; after his death and resurrection…he’s still an old, out-of-shape antique dealer.

Cronos wasn’t made on a big budget, but it features striking visuals, sympathetic characters and a well-written screenplay featuring a slightly off-kilter take on the vampire legend. Addiction and family values are big themes, here. Ron Perlman is great as leg buster Angel, the gum-chewing thug. He’s a bastard, yeah, but he’s charming and we can’t help but like him. Cronos is a great movie. Highly recommended.

 

Helloween Day Twenty-One: Sleepaway Camp

October 21, 2016 0

Sleepaway Camp (1983) is another of those movies I saw in the horror section of my now defunct video store and never rented, maybe because it reminded me of a low-rent Friday the 13th. While we’re on the subject of video stores, can anyone tell me why they always smelled? Anyway: I watched Sleepaway Camp on my new Shudder subscription ($4.99 per month, cheap!) that I forgot to cancel (as predicted last week).

The plot: a horrific boating accident ravages a family frolicking in a lake. Eight years later sole survivor Angela (now a teenager) and her cousin Ricky go to Camp Arawak. The scenes at Camp Arawak are the most realistic part of this movie. I went to Buck & Beaver Camp as a youth, and I can tell you the behavior of the kids is so spot-on it’s amazing. It all came back to me, the cursing, the short-shorts, the dumb pranks, the sheer bile of youth. Unlike Friday the 13th, where everyone’s a sex maniac, the kids in Sleepaway Camp are nasty, stupid and foul-mouthed. I am willing to bet the writer and/or director of this movie hails from the Tri-State area, if not the Garden State.

Anyway, Angela doesn’t speak, which of course makes her the object of bullies. To his credit, her cousin defends her. Pretty soon the murders start. The first few are almost goofy, with the victims being assholes and worse. One of the fascinating things about Sleepaway Camp is how the tone of the movie changes, from a schlocky Friday the 13th remake to something truly nasty.

Sleepaway Camp is a disturbing movie, and the creepiest things about it aren’t the murders. This movie’s attitude towards certain social issues is very 1980’s, otherwise known as the Neolithic Age, so please be warned. I found parts of this flick to be very offensive. Finally, Sleepaway Camp has a twist ending that is truly shocking. This is an effective horror movie, but not in the way the filmmakers intended. Not recommended.

Helloween Day Nineteen: The Brood

October 19, 2016 0

 

Directed by David Cronenberg, The Brood is a 1979 Canadian horror movie. Back when video stores still existed, I saw this movie whenever I browsed the horror section but never rented it. I’m still not sure why. Maybe the cover freaked me out? Anyway, I finally watched The Brood on Hulu Streaming.

The plot: Frank Carveth notices bruises on his young daughter Candice’s back after a visit with her mother. Nola, Frank’s soon to be ex-wife, is in deep therapy with controversial psychiatrist Hal Ragan, the founder of Psychoplasmics. Psychoplasmics seems to be a form of therapy that involves the release of negative emotions, which manifest in physical symptoms such as hives, cancer and deformed dwarf-children. Hey, it was the 70’s. People believed all sorts of weird shit.

A deformed dwarf-child murders Candice’s grandmother; since we learn the old woman abused her daughter, it’s hard to feel sorry for her. The creature is asexual, feeds on the nutrients in the hump on its back and has no bellybutton. Pretty soon people Candice despise are popping up dead left and right, murdered by the Brood. Could Psychoplasmics be involved?

Yeah, I really dug The Brood. This movie is proof that you can make a horror flick without tons of makeup or special effects. The Brood look like kids wearing Halloween masks, but Cronenberg manages to make them creepy. Honorable mention goes to Oliver Reed, who is wonderful as therapist Hal Ragan. Be warned that the violence in this movie is unsettling. There’s a scene in a kindergarten class that’s extremely disturbing.

What I liked best about The Brood is the emotional rawness. A potential romantic interest of Frank’s drops him because she doesn’t want to deal with the shit he’s going through. Apparently Cronenberg was going through a nasty divorce when he directed The Brood, which doesn’t surprise me. This movie deals with primal emotions. Hatred is what gives the Brood life. Frank and Nola despise each other and Frank literally cannot hide his hatred, even to save his daughter’s life. Highly recommended!

Helloween Day Seventeen: Suspiria

October 17, 2016 0

Suspiria is a 1977 Italian horror movie directed by Dario Argento. I watched the English language version, which I’m guessing was dubbed. I’ve heard a lot about this movie over the years – it’s on a ton of best-of lists – but I’ve never seen it. To tell the truth, I wasn’t crazy about the Dario Argento movies I’d sampled, and certainly didn’t expect this one to knock me on my ass (spoiler: it did). I borrowed Suspiria from my local library, because I couldn’t find it streaming for free.

The plot: Suspiria doesn’t have a plot, but here goes. Suzy, a young dancer from America, joins a prestigious German dance academy. Suzy arrives during a downpour in the middle of the night and witnesses a fellow student fleeing into the forest. She never returns. The Tanz (which means Dance, no points for originality) Academy looks like the palace of an evil queen. Suzy’s fellow students are all right, but the instructors – led by Miss Tanner – are a bit off. We get the sense something’s wrong with them, although it’s hard to tell what. In fact, the plot revolves around the question ‘where do the instructors go at night?’

That’s the basic plot. What follows is a pastiche of vivid images, knives, pierced hearts, barbed wire, mad dogs, crazy bats, maggots, an undercurrent of Technicolor sadism surfacing suddenly and then slipping away. There are scenes of people flying…just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not real. With murders as finely choreographed as any ballet, Suspiria bursts with bright, pastel colors; the reds are so very red. The eerie soundtrack, composed by the rock band Goblin, heightens the effect.

Suspiria is an evil fairy tale. Perhaps ‘old school fairy tale’ would be the better way to put it. In the unexpurgated version of Little Red Riding Hood the wolf eats the girl. Much of this movie’s imagery reminded me of The Shining, which makes sense because both movies are obsessed with fairy tales. I was surprised by how much I liked Suspiria, even on a second viewing.

Highly recommended!

 

Helloween Day Sixteen: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

October 16, 2016 0

Billed as the first Iranian vampire Western, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a 2014 Persian-language flick shot in the USA. My first attempt at watching A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was at the IFC Theatre in New York City, where I left trembling with fear after ten minutes. This will be amusing to people who have seen the movie, because it’s not scary at all. I guess I have an overactive imagination. Anyway, I watched A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Netflix Streaming and managed to not bolt this time.

The plot: Arash lives in Bad City. His father’s a drug addict, and dear old dad’s dealer Saeed the Pimp (that’s as he billed) takes the car Arash worked years to buy as partial payment for services rendered. It’s enough to make a young man turn to crime, which Arash does, although he’s a crappy criminal.

Billed as the Girl, the mysterious newcomer to Bad City likes pop music and jewelry but has never had her ears pierced. The Girl follows Saeed the Pimp back to his den, complete with animal heads on the walls, and rolls her eyes as he does lines of coke. It’s almost a relief when she kills him. Afterwards she steals a kid’s skateboard and spends her nights skateboarding and watching her fellow nightcrawlers, the prostitutes and thieves and junkies, mimicking and unnerving and occasionally feeding on them. Yes, you guessed it. The Girl is bored out of her mind. She runs into Arash, dressed as Count Dracula and stoned out of his gourd, and it becomes a case of kiss or kill.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night isn’t your standard horror movie. Filmed in black and white, it’s moody and bleak and even funny in parts. The performances are excellent. The Girl doesn’t talk much, but her body language speaks volumes. If you’re expecting lots of blood or violence, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night will bore you silly. The phrase ‘art house horror’ – which applies to this movie – has sparked a bit of controversy in the horror field. Be that as I may, I really enjoyed this. Recommended.

And Introducing… The Iron Maiden

October 16, 2016 0

Iron Maiden of Nuremberg

On August 14, 1515, a coin forger was stuffed inside a cabinet shaped like a ghoulish nesting doll and lined with spikes that “penetrated his arms, and his legs in several places, and his belly and chest, and his bladder and the root of his member, and his eyes, and his shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him; and so he remained making great cry and lament for two days, after which he died.”

At least, that was the story Johann Philipp Siebenkees told in a 1793 pamphlet describing the history of the fearsome medieval torture implement known as the iron maiden. There’s just one small problem with Herr Siebenkees’ story; it isn’t true. The first known references to the Maiden appear in the late 18th century—besides Siebenkees’ pamphlet, a 1784 guide to Nuremberg thrilled tourists with lurid tales of “the Iron Maiden, that abominable work of horror that goes back to the times of Frederick Barbarossa” (by which it meant the 12th century). More likely, the infamous Iron Maiden of Nuremberg dated all the way back to… the 18th century, and the fictions of Johann Philipp Siebenkees.

Wherever it came from, the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944. Copies of it live on—in 1890, the Earl of Shrewsbury took one of them on a world tour. It eventually found its way back to Germany, where it’s now on display at the das Kriminalmuseum in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. More modern replicas can be seen at Ripley’s Believe or Not and a variety of wax museums.

Style:
You never want to be the filling in a torture sandwich.

According to Wolfgang Schild, a law professor at the University of Bielefeld, the 18th- and 19th-century maidens were constructed out of medieval and Renaissance scraps and stories like these—bits and pieces from genuine torture chambers, combined with ancient descriptions of, shall we say, mechanically aided interrogations and liberal helpings of imagination.

Fraud or not, the iron maiden and its kin do have historical precedents. In 256 BCE, the Carthaginians captured a Roman consul, Marcus Atilius Regulus, and pressed him to death between spiked boards. In the Middle Ages, minor lawbreakers might be sentenced to wear the Cloak of Shame—a weighted wooden garment that made it difficult to flee, even while your friends and neighbors pelted you with rotten fruit and offal and insults.

And there has been at least one person in the modern era thought to have used an iron maiden for its intended, horrible purpose—Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, who had a penchant for torturing athletes who failed to live up to his expectations. In April 2003, several months before Uday’s death at the hands of a Special Forces Task Force, a group of looters at the Iraqi Olympic headquarters in Baghdad found a replica of the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg in a pile of leaves. They weren’t interested in it, but TIME was. It reported that the artifact was “clearly worn from use, the nails having lost some of their sharpness.”

ironmaiden0419
Uday Hussein’s iron maiden? Allegedly.

Note: This post originally appeared on the late, lamented, Popbunker.net. It has been cross-posted to Medium.

 

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