A Vintage Horror Trio
by Kristin Battestella
Step back in time to the retro decades of yore for this classic trio of steamy slashers, epidemics run amok, and high school old school horrors.
Peeping Tom – Director Michael Powell's (The Red Shoes) initially colorful, pleasant mid century movie soon switches to reel perspectives, stocking seams, and ladies of the night for a 1960 two quid bargain. The camera cuts away from the unseen weapon only for our voyeur to replay the black and white action – creating a snuff film meets noir mood as our unassuming photographer Carl Boehm (Sissi) films police at the crime scene and claims to be from The Observer Newspaper. He moves closer rather than zooming in and wipes the sweat from his brow as he watches. His materials are hidden in his secret dark room, but the seedy fishnets, corsets, near nudity peeks, and cheeky dialogue are risque for the time without really showing the audience anything super saucy. Retro film sounds, old fashioned cameras, picture plates, clapper boards, large spotlights, and red lighting emphasis the illusion as our polite killer offers a guest milk before filming her watching his childhood movies – bizarre pictures made by his extreme scientist father in a study of fear. He describes his constant reliving of past trauma as sequences, successors, out of focus, and for the camera in meta before meta was Inception parallels as the audience tries to separate the repeated outtakes, set within a set, and redhead lookalikes. Coaxed stand ins doing an audition become photographing you photographing me ruses, with the orchestrated life imitating art captured on camera as simmering murder pieces wink at the nature of cinema itself. The orchestrated impalements and elaborate trickery, however, are not without dark humor, as newsstand pornography schemes and bodies on set add to the morbid fascination – our stalker knows he's being tailed by police who know they are being watched. This topsy turvy mirroring, layered voyeurism psychology, and potential therapy cures bridge the horror genre between Psycho and Mario Bava's giallo flair. The stylish suggestion remains sophisticated, and that may seem ironically tame in our era of scandal as status quo. We live in an open curtain social media glass house for all the world to view how we turn the lens on ourselves, but this is just a film isn't it? This unobjective camera making his masterpiece and our subjective interpretation of seeing that fear accomplished is worthy of repeated viewings and carefully study indeed.
Prom Night – Talk about kids being cruel! Morbid child's play leads to deadly chases in this 1980 slasher – complete with one brat making the others swear to never tell, pathetic still seventies dudes, ugly vans a rockin', station wagons, transistor radios, drive-ins, and obscene phone calls. Remember those? Although a few silly voiceovers could just be said out loud and some of the intercut flashes dump information in a quick reset, we know who is who for this eponymous anniversary vengeance. Six years later the killer has the names on his list and he's checking them twice amid whispers of neighborhood sex offenders, creepy janitors, and mirrored innuendo. There's terrible matching stripes, flared bell bottoms, knee socks, feathered hair, and side ponytails, too – not to mention escaped mental patients and a fatherly cop not telling the locals what's afoot. This all must seem like Halloween deja vu for twenty-two year old high schooler Jamie Lee Curtis! Disco ball glows and red lights add flair, and there's a sardonic humor with principal dad Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun) so awkward on the lit up floor before the big dance off, oh yeah. If there was going to be a Saturday Night Fever nod, they could have at least sprung for Bee Gees music instead of generic disco that's honestly a little late. The prom king and queen ruses are i.e. Carrie as well, however these snob teens deserve what's coming to them. How can a guy say he loves a girl when he helped kill her sister? We may laugh at some of the sagging datedness or bemusingly preposterous – violence in the gym showers and nobody in the school gives a hoot? However, a lot of horror movies and teen flicks are still using these borrowed staples. There's a sense of small town swept under the rug paralleling the prom and sex calm as the ominous school hallways escalate to bloodied virgins in white dresses, lengthy slice and dice chases, rolling heads, light show disasters, and fiery vehicle attacks. This isn't super gory and there's no groundbreaking horror effects, but the well filmed checklist vignettes and shrewd cut corners editing build suspense alongside the red herrings and obvious killer guessing game. This isn't super intellectual on the mentality of the killer or the full psychology of the crimes, either, but the misunderstood whys and psychosis seeds suggested continue the conversation long after everything plays out right on the dance floor with a power ballad topper.
Rabid – Vintage motorcycles, wild car crashes, and explosive accidents open this 1977 outbreaker written and directed by David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises). Good thing that radical plastic surgery clinic is nearby with its old school ambulance, retro medical equipment, and rotary phones! Life saving surgery is the perfect opportunity for experimental skin graphs, morphing tissues, and prophetic talk of neutral cells as in the embryo here at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Gore, striking reds, and blood against clean white mar the vain facade of cosmetic bandages, white gloves, mirror obsessions, and beautiful patients. Of course, there's nudity – it wouldn't be a Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door) movie if there weren't boobs. Unfortunately, the naked woman is after the warm man for sinister reasons, escaping in the rainy night for some animal horrors and icky vomiting. This unnerving experiment was done to our Rose, making her sympathetically trapped by her condition and aware she is becoming a seductive predator attacking her men and women prey be it in the hot tub or at the adult theater. She does indeed have a new vaginal like orifice in her armpit with a phallic looking thorn, and there are consequences to this reverse woman queen bee with a penetrating stinger and the appetite to use it. The doctors think this is nothing that can't be fixed, but the titular anarchy and on the road ghoulish quickly spreads – reminding us why the term “viral” really isn't a good thing. Quarantines and pursuing authorities can't keep track of the infected on the loose expanding to the big city and congested subways. The zombie twists move fast without major spectacle for a surprisingly realistic turn of events with martial law, failed vaccinations, I.D. badges as proof of health, babies in danger, and hazard crews on the streets like regular trash trucks. Mall shootouts at Christmas, ineffectual medicine protocol, and governments desperately trying to keep control add to the jaded irony for today's viewer. We know this won't end well, and that's the most frightening thing of all.