Horror Anthology Mashup Super-Special

Dead of Night (1977) - "Bobby"

This is a less-known television anthology than Trilogy of Terror (1975) made by the same folks: writer Richard Matheson and director Dan Curtis. But like that film, it's the last of the three stories that's the most memorable by far. This segment was remade in Trilogy of Terror II (1996), with greater production values but far less creep-factor. It starts scary enough, then patiently turns the screw for half an hour.

The Offspring (1987) - "Swamp Renewal"

A chapter with some nice atmosphere and tight story in an otherwise lackluster anthology film. Start at 34:00.

Body Bags (1993) - "Eye"

The possessed organ transplant is a cliche that dates at least back to the silent era, and this follows the formula pretty closely, but it's still effective. Starring Mark Hamill. He's married to Twiggy. His doctors are Roger Corman and John Agar, and his boss is Charles Napier. It's a star-studded spectacular. Start at 53:00.


The Lucio Fulci Appreciation Post

Over the last couple weeks I've revisited Fulci's four most famous films: Zombi 2 (1979) City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and House by the Cemetery (1981). I'd seen them all before, by my late 20's, beginning with a midnight screening of The Beyond when Tarantino distributed it to theaters in '98.

Not so much a narrative as a series of virtually disconnected set pieces, each more shocking and outrageous than the preceding one, I was immediately enraptured.  I thought it was tasteless, scary, and completely absurd all at once, yet with some beautifully composed widescreen compositions and music. In the theater, the crowd was shouting, laughing and applauding at the end of nearly every scene. The response was phenomenal.

It inspired me to rent every Fulci film I could find, and I found another masterpiece with City of the Living Dead. Unlike The Beyond, which keeps changing gears, it establishes a consistent, moody atmosphere of doom and dread throughout. 

There are many H.P. Lovecraft references, but there's also a premature burial sequence that's straight out of Poe, and a graphic murder of an innocent teenage boy by an ordinary guy that is so unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot that it becomes all the more disturbing and indelible.

It's these excruciatingly torturous scenes that Fulci is known for, but I believe they're rooted not so much in the 80's splatter genre as they are in the Surrealist movement. As Wikipedia says, 

Fulci explored metaphysical concepts — in particular, the ways in which the realms of both the living and the dead might bleed into each other, and wanted to pay homage to his idol, the French playwright Antonin Artaud, who envisioned theatre being less about linear plot and more about "cruel" imagery and symbolism that could shock its audience into action.

He's often compared to Herschell Gordon Lewis, but by my estimation, all Lewis did was try to make the audience vomit. I think a more apt comparison would be Cronenberg, or even Buñuel and his show-stopping opening scene from Un Chien Andalou; using corporeal and upsetting imagery to stun the audience into a new frame of existential reference. A standard of surrealism.

His execution is often bafflingly shambolic. In The Beyond, while being chased by zombies, the two heroes run into an elevator. As the doors close, you can easily see one of them putting bullets down the barrel of his prop gun and the other one starting to laugh. Was Fulci even watching when he directed this? Did he not do a second take? Couldn't he at least have cut the shot early in post?  

Another example, from House by the Cemetery: it's morning, and the house's owner walks into the kitchen, where someone was stabbed to death the night before. She looks down at the pool of blood on the floor, being cleaned up by the babysitter, and asks, "what are you doing?" The babysitter says, "I made coffee", then they talk about something else. It's a universe devoid of logic, but that's what makes it work in its own unique way. 

And it's House by the Cemetery that now stands out as my favorite Fulci movie. The plot is simple and straightforward, especially by his standards, and straight from a 1950's comic book: a monster is living in the cellar, and only the kid knows about it. It's violent and sick and mean-spirited and incredibly pessimistic, but it's also very stylish and super-scary.

The camera movements, lighting, musical score and sound design all combine to set us on edge. There's no explanation as to why we hear a crying child on the soundtrack whenever the creature appears, but the effect is undeniably chilling. And that slow, low camera that tracks from outside the house, in through the door, down the cellar stairs, panning across the doctor's lab… holy smokes. It's a very well-realized film. Also, Brother Theodore narrates the trailer:

Zombi 2 is okay. Saw it too many times in high school, maybe. It was the only Fulci film that was a hit in the U.S., and easily available at video rental stores, with an unforgettable cover.

I do like how he did something different from Romero, and moved zombies back to the New World where they came from, allowing for his own social commentary in the process. But it largely exists to be a gore film, and doesn't have the same dreamlike horrific vibe of his Death Trilogy (also called his "Gates of Hell" Trilogy: City, Beyond and House, from 80-81).

City of the Living Dead is currently on youtube. You can find the others if you know where to look.


Zombi: Argento's Dawn of the Dead

You've certainly seen Dawn of the Dead already. But you might not have seen this version. There have been a few. To briefly recap what's been written in countless blogs already: the U.S. theatrical version is 126 minutes, identical to the one that went to home video. In the 90's more versions appeared on DVD: the 139-minute Director's Cut, an Ultimate Cut that's longer, and something called an Ultimate Final Cut that assembles all the footage Romero used in all the versions. That clocks in at 156 minutes. To add to the confusion, many of the more violent scenes were removed for distribution in multiple countries.

This is the original European cut, which Dario Argento put together for all non-English speaking European countries, as was the agreement he had with Romero when he helped finance the film. According to Wikipedia it's supposed to go for 119 minutes, but the one I'm embedding here is 105, still plenty long enough for a movie about zombies in a shopping mall. The editing is tighter all around (within the first 16 minutes we move from the newsroom to the tenement to the fuel station to the mall), and the music is all by Argento and Goblin (as opposed to Romero's edit, which uses a lot of library music). Most interestingly, Argento shot some additional footage and spliced it in.

Even if you've seen Romero's Dawn recently, this is worth watching. Especially so, actually, since it's interesting to see how editing and scoring choices can make such a different movie.


Saturday Night Special: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park

 Factoids pulled from IMDB and Wikipedia:

-For years after its airing, no one who worked for the group was permitted to mention the film in their presence.

-According to an interview with Paul Stanley, the film was described during the pitch to band members as A Hard Day's Night meets Star Wars.

-Prior to completing the script, (the) screenwriters spent time with each Kiss member, in an effort to get a feel for how they each acted and spoke. Frehley, known for his eccentric behavior, said little to the pair but "Ack!" As a result, Frehley was not originally given any lines, except to interject "Ack!" at various points…  upon learning of his lack of dialogue, Frehley threatened to leave the project — soon after, lines were written for him.

-Peter Criss was dubbed, because he wouldn't show up to do looping (re-recording lines in post-production). His voice was dubbed by voiceover artist Michael Bell, who did a lot of work for Hanna-Barbera.

-The international release played theaters, and featured a vastly different version of the film, with several scenes that did not appear in the original television airing added to the cut. It was variously translated as Attack of the Phantoms. In some countries, the film was simply titled Kiss Phantoms.

-When Gene sets the mummy on fire, the flames apparently spread much faster than intended. The stunt man playing the mummy says "Shit!" as he stumbles backwards. It's a made-for-TV movie aimed at children, so the language was not intentional.

-On a few occasions, Frehley left the set during filming due to arguments with the film's director. In one scene that Frehley abandoned, his African American stunt double can be clearly seen instead.


Movie of the Week: High School U.S.A.

This made-for-television movie from 1983 was a pilot for a series that didn't set sail. Perhaps it's for the best. There isn't much here that you won't find in any other TV fare of the era. But the real reason to watch this right now is for the cast.

 Who's in it? More like who's NOT in it. Crispin Glover steals the film, getting bottom billing, yet a surprising amount of screen time. Michael J. Fox plays a worthless idiot who's supposed to be likable, a lamentable and inexplicable 80's trope. The #2 nerd from Revenge of the Nerds is the Alpha Yuppie Stud of the school. He has a gang of lackeys wearing Ray-Bans, blond feathered hair and pink izods. There's Willis from Diff'rent Strokes ("NASA wants to send my robot to Mars…") and his stepsister Kimberley. And that girl from Facts of Life. And the cute nerdy girl from Gimmie a Break. Is that the lady from It's a Living? And look, Ozzie and Harriet and their son Ricky. Both June Cleaver and her Beaver. Eddie Haskell. Donna Reed's son. Gilligan and Mary Anne, Batman's Robin, Penny Robinson, Dobie Gillis…. has my collective memory of all the television I watched as a kid materialized itself into this one movie? I believe it has.

And the icing on the cake, dear reader, is this… the Futurechimp Movie-of-the-Week mainstay, King Vidiot, can be found here. Can you find King Vidiot in this film? I did, and it took me about half a second.