More Horror and Macabre This Fall!
By Kristin Battestella
Turn the clocks back, rake the leaves, bake some apple pie, and carve the pumpkins! Oh, it isn’t really Fall? Who cares! We can make do with some good ole fashion scary movies!
The Dunwhich Horror – Producer Roger Corman (House of Usher), director Daniel Haller (Die, Monster, Die!), and Oscar winning writer Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) smartly build an H.P. Lovecraft inspired plot for the creepish Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap), innocent Sandra Dee (A Summer Place), and crusty old Best Supporting Actor Ed Begley (Sweet Bird of Youth) in this 1970 AIP oddity. Although the flashback exposition could have created a longer labor opening and it’s all more low budget looking than even more low budget AIP fair, the Necronomicon plot and ancient sinister feeling amid the then contemporary setting move swiftly for 90 minutes. The eerie town history, Corman-esque dreams and visions, assorted color slides, and jaded camera angles more than set the scene- letting the audience know that something Cthulhu is afoot. The suggestion and innuendo before full outright kinky are also pleasing, even if some sequences may seem hokey today or not as juicy as other seventies horror pictures. The viewer knows what virgin sacrifices and naughty rituals are brewing; we needn’t be inundated with the modern meaningless slice and dice. Perhaps it’s all too easy and a little predictable now, but this is an entertaining chase nonetheless.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell – Peter Cushing returns for this 1974 finale in the Hammer Frankenstein series along with Shane Briant (Captain Kronos- Vampire Hunter), Madeline Smith (The Vampire Lovers), David Prowse (Vader, people, Vader) and oft director Terence Fisher in his last helming hurrah. Though Smith’s role is diminished as the typical silent angel, Briant seems to be grooming for a seventies spinoff with a doe eyed look and shades of the young Cushing. However, the Baron is simply irreplaceable, entering amid a weird prison hose down with such horror class. And he does his own stunts! How does PC keep the glory thru all these crimes, aliases, and franchise inconsistencies? The burned hands are back, some plotlines feel like a bit of a retread, and man, that’s a bad wig. After six films, things play out as expected- minus a good, sinister build. Slow, step-by-step experiments take up too much time. Where’s the music or crackling mad scientist machinery and flair? The titular monster design is also iffy, though the overall décor looks the part. It’s colorful, with a creepy madhouse prison and some gore, but there’s less gothic ambiance compared to earlier entries. It’s all a step down to end the franchise, yes. However, Cushing completists and fans of the series can delight in the final act here. The Baron’s still twisted, dining and living without a care as to the brain nearby!
From a Whisper to a Scream – The great, freaky heartbeat intro and weird shower and bridal montage set the tone for this 1987 anthology, and a very creepy mood and spooky house establish the execution and evil town bookends well. Of course, there isn’t enough of horror host Vincent Price and he does look somewhat frail. Nonetheless, Big V’s delivery is still raspy robust, and he commands an element of uncanny class with his young reporter guest, the late Susan Tyrrell (Cry-Baby). Perhaps tame today, Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead) leads the sexy and gory first segment with kinks and twists. Tale Two offers greedy Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s) with a gruesome and bizarre backwater witchdoctor vibe, and the third story is a would be demented county fair with sexy sauce, voodoo dolls, plenty of blood, and lots of titular screaming. If anyone has ever thought about eating glass, this is a good deterrent! The final Civil War tale serves up some very disturbing little kids, and they’re not afraid to whack a soldier in the mouth with a femur-or worse. It sounds crazy, perhaps even stupid and ripped off from other cult children films, but Lordy! Besides the evil town implication, the stories here are a little uneven in theme and design with little cohesion. Each is slow to start with poor pacing until the kickers and the style is almost too eighties dated to enjoy the bloody- almost. Thankfully, the good scares and twists make this one worth a look.
Murders in the Rue Morgue – This 1971 AIP adaptation departs from the Edgar Allan Poe source with a Phantom of the Opera theatrical-before-horror spin, fun carnival music, bright outdoor scenery, and vaudeville color. Unfortunately, the French signals are mixed, the ape effects poor, and there isn’t a lot of gothic mood. Oscar winner Jason Robards (All the President’s Men and Julia) also feels too old for the role, with a dry, phoned in performance; and the can-can temptations are tame today. The 98 minute extended version also takes a little too long to find the meat of its tale and feels uneven with slow play within a play sequences. Thankfully, there are good looking ladies- Christine Kaufmann (The Last Days of Pompeii), Lili Palmer (But Not For Me), and Maria Perschy (Freud)- fine costumes, and lush Victorian décor. The frenetic intercutting of song and dance with crime works in tandem with first-rate dream sequences, eerie timing, and askew filming angles. The flashbacks create a murder mystery theme and kinship to the Poe inspirations, too. It’s not all as good as it should be, and outside of a few beheadings, it’s not that scary. Nevertheless, the joy here is in the period thriller rather than any expected gothic horror, and quiet horror viewers and turn of the century mystery audiences will delight.