by Kristin Battestella
Vehicles, machinery, movie making behind the scenes, and scientific horrors fill these thrillers, documentaries, and throwbacks with horror intrigue, real world fantastics, and the bemusing importance of mechanical safety.
Berberian Sound Studio – Typewriters, dials, rotary phones, and vintage spotlights spice up the unseen horrors and claustrophobic sense of tightly wound tweed for solitary sound engineer Toby Jones (Infamous) in this 2013 thinking person's thriller where visuals amplify sounds – yet we never see the film receiving the Foley. Silenzio red signs, cramped sound booths, and itemizing receipts add to the tense watermelon sloshing, splatting squash, stabbing cabbage, and ripping radishes used for the gory sound effects of the film onscreen. It's said to be trash but the touchy director objects to calling the Malleus Maleficarum, organ music, witches' spells, eerie moaning, or satanic chanting therein horror. Tape recorder pause, playback, and rewind repeat the screams as the sound sheet calls for footsteps, ticking clocks, hoof beats, and blenders standing in for chainsaws. Boiling food with the mike beside the pot for drowning witches and sizzling frying pans hear said to be a hot poker in the vagina horrors become too much for our increasingly strung out engineer torn between his quaint letters from home and the uncomfortable studio with a chilling vocal specialist doing some intense cackling in the sound booth. The director intends to show the gruesome no matter how difficult to watch – using dialogue and audio to build the internal movie that we never see despite the Latin prayers, whooshing sounds, and increasing decibels escalating the eerie. The screen goes black when the jumping reels run out, mirroring power outages and film within a film parallels as our only anchor is more and more disturbed by the testy crew, mistreated actresses, and turnabout projector revelations. Our small sound booth world grows darker amid rattling doors, revenge curses, damaged gear, and threats on tape. Upsetting letters from home force the repression out amid waxing on witches versus God and suggestive innuendo as everything we see and hear becomes suspect. The audience can't rely on visuals we know nor familiar sounds and information we thought to be true, and the final half hour will have many scratching their heads over the silent attacks, revisited scenes, re-records, and tormenting of new actresses to get that perfect scream. However, we're seeing an internal reaction to simulated stimuli – is that not the voyeurism of film in itself? Viewers can't expect a by the numbers slasher in this meta within meta versus madness or even giallo violence despite the genre homage, but this is an ingenious concept in an era where cinema over-emphasizes bombastic effects and forgets the other senses.
The Car – Empty desert roads, dusty wakes, mountain tunnels, dangerous bends, and perilous bridges spell doom for run over bicyclists in this 1977 ride accented by Utah scenery, vehicular point of views, and demonic orange lighting. Regular rumbling motors, honking horns, and squealing tires are devilishly amplified as this cruiser uses everything at its disposal to tease its prey while up close grills and red headlights create personality. No one is safe from this Lincoln's wrath! Rugged, oft shirtless single dad deputy James Brolin (The Amityville Horror) takes his daughters to school on a motorcycle, insisting they wear helmets because of course he can't or it would hide that suave seventies coif and handlebar mustache. The hitchhiker musician hippie moments are dumb, however roadside folks don't live long and witnesses aren't helpful on plates, make, or model when people are getting run over on Main Street. What brought on this evil? Suggestions on the small town past with alcohol, domestic violence, and religious undercurrents go undeveloped alongside brief suspects, red herrings, and personal demons. Despite Native American slurs, it's nice to see Navajo police officers and foreboding tribe superstitions as the phantom winds, cemetery safe havens, terrified horses, and school parades reveal there's no driver in the car. Giant headsets, operators plugging in the phone lines, retro vehicles, and yellow seventies décor add to the sirens, decoys, roadblocks, radio chatter, and sparkling reflections from distant car mirrors as the real and fantastic merge thanks to this tricked out, mystically bulletproof, unnatural, and evil classic roaming about the rocky landscape. Although the editing between the unknown killer menace and asking why public fear is well filmed tense with foreground and background camera perspectives setting off turns around the bend or approaching headlights; some of the video is over cranked, ridiculously sped up action. It's an inadvertently humorous high speed effect amid the otherwise ominous idling, slow pushes off high cliffs, and fiery crashes – our titular swanky flips but remains unscathed and it doesn't even have door handles! Rather than embrace its horror potential or call the army and get some tanks or tractor trailers with passenger priests on this thing that no garage can contain, our police go it alone with a lot of dynamite for a hellish finale against the preposterous road rage. If you expect something serious you'll surely be disappointed, but this can be an entertaining shout at the television good time. Besides, no matter how stinky, today you know we'd be on The Car: Part 12 with a different hunk per sequel battling the star Lincoln.
Killdozer!– Embarrassingly splendid outer space effects, red fireballs, and glowing blue rocks establish this 1974 science fiction horror television movie. Lovely sunsets, oceans, and island construction are here too for seriously deep voiced and strong chinned Clint Walker (Cheyenne) and the baby faced Spenser for Higher Robert Urich – who have some terribly wooden dialogue and tough scene chewing at hand. Our metallic humming meteorite whooshes its life force into the titular machinery, making the controls work by themselves amid fun point of view shots as the blade's teeth inch closer to its target. Deathbed confessions are too fantastic to be believed when there's work to be done, and the nasty foreman never takes off his hard hat even after the latent BFF gets really into the sensitive subtext over his fallen friend and tells nostalgic stories of how they swam alone together at night. Big K.D., meanwhile, destroys the radio – plowing over camp regardless of the caterpillar's cut fuel line or some dynamite and fuel cans in its wake. But you could lose an eye on those huge ass walkie talkies with those dangerous antennas! Camera focuses on its little headlights a la eyes are also more humorous than menacing, and the puff puff choo choo out its smoke stack backtalk makes the supposedly evil facade more Little Engine that Could cute. Tight filming angles and fast editing belie the slow chases through the brush as everything is really happening at about ten miles an hour yet no one is able to outrun this thing, just crawl in front of it until crushed. Stereotypical Africa coastal comments, Irishman jokes, and a treated as inferior black worker always at the helm when something goes wrong also invoke a sense of white man imperialism getting what it deserves as they argue over on the job negligence and burying the bodies. Everybody's testy, nobody shares information, and there's an obligatory useless self sacrifice before the hard heads finally come together to destroy the indestructible with another rig, machino versus machino. Despite an occasionally menacing moment, this idiocy is more bemusing than fearful for an entertaining midnight movie laugh.
Vampire Skeletons – Recently discovered medieval skeletons in Ireland and across Europe reveal mysterious superstitions, burial practices, and fears of the undead in this 2011 forty-five minute documentary. The narration moves smoothly between on site experts and sit down conversations discussing these mutilated grave sites with crossed legs, bones bound postmortem, boulders pinning the bodies down, and stones wedged into the dead's mouth. Rather than the exception, entire ancient sites have been found with corpses pegged to the ground and staked through the heart. Did people centuries ago really fear the deceased enough to ensure these disturbing burial treatments? Certainly grave movement and decomposition damage explains innate disturbances – but what of the intentionally headless, those buried faced down, and turned away from the sun “deviant burials” that go against common medieval Christian burial practices? The scientific facts and revelations are well rounded with different voices, opinions, brief re-enactments, and vampire film footage amid up close visuals of bones and photographic evidence, establishing the field before seguing into the vampire possibilities, medieval lack of postmortem knowledge, and church instilled purgatory fears. Historical texts with undead tales were presented as factual revenants rather than eighth century penitence or twelfth century fiction, and stories of dead family members visiting before a plague were a common explanation for bringing the disease. Were epidemics and religious extremism responsible for digging up the dead, cutting out hearts, or even charging the deceased with crimes after they were dead? Some of these ancient practices morphed into eighteen century fiction, Victorian literature, and today's horror entertainment. However other folklore traditions linger in Central Europe where villagers leave food for the departed or destroy family graves to preserve the dead as needed. Are such burial disturbances a barbaric violation? Or are these fears and practices a positive way to ease the grief of the living while assuring the dead rest in peace? This fun mix of science and undeniable archaeological evidence combined with the spooky and morbid what if surmising isn't boo shock in your face sensationalism but instead inspires further research into these discoveries as well as the historical origins of our myths, monsters, and fears – even in death. Classrooms and sophisticated fans of the macabre can enjoy this informative piece during Halloween or any time of year.