King Of The Zombies (1941)

KingoftheZombies

Finally a film from the 1940s! King of the Zombies tells the story of an unfortunate plane carrying Bill Summers (John Archer, Rodeo) and his manservant Jeff (Mantan Moreland, The Jade Mask) that has been blown off course by a storm. Luckily they follow a faint radio signal to a small Caribbean island. On the island they meet the eccentric Doctor Sangre, played by Henry Victor (Freaks, The Mummy) who lives on the island with his wife, who has seemingly had some sort of nervous breakdown and walks around in a trance, and her niece who clearly suspects the doctor of causing her Aunt’s condition. The film follows Summers and Jeff along with the pilot, James “Mac” McCarthy (Dick Purcell, Captain America – the original 1944 version) as they realise something is very wrong on the island only to discover that their only means of reaching the outside world – the plane’s radio – has been stolen. From the flirtatious kitchen maid we learn that the doctors uses zombies as servants (although for exactly what I’m not sure) which are reanimated corpses from voodoo magic. The maid, cook and butler seem completely nonplussed by the use of zombies, even preparing dinner to serve to them.

There is a lot of racial prejudice in the film that watching in today’s time is very uncomfortable. For example, when pouring brandy for his visitors when Jeff (the black manservant) reaches for a glass it is quickly removed. Whilst this is an obvious act there is a far more pervasive undercurrent of white supremacy running throughout the film which is often seen in other films, such as the startlingly similar White Zombie. Indeed, Jeff’s entire character would probably not be seen in modern films. Having mentioned the similarity to White Zombie, it is impossible not to compare Victor’s Dr Sangre to Lugosi’s Legendre nearly a decade before, indeed the part was originally written for Bela Lugosi. Unfortunately with this comparison Sangre appears a pale imitation, lacking the dramatic flair and overwhelming presence of Lugosi.

In my mind there are too many plot lines in King of the Zombies meaning that nothing really stands out. For example, the type of zombies in King of the Zombies is very confused. At first it is a simple voodoo-reanimated-corpse that slowly shuffles around and suddenly appears at the sound of a clap, however, as the film progresses the idea of hypnotism gets bandied about. It transpires that Dr Sangre has hypnotised his wife which explains her zombie-like state although she herself isn’t a zombie. The addition of the hypnosis storyline really confuses the voodoo aspect (to me at least). There is also an unspoken Nazi theme running through the film, Dr Sangre has a German accent and speaks German on his hidden radio, although again this is never fully explored which is a shame, possibly as it would make marketing and distributing the film much harder.

An interesting but slightly confused film to watch, at slightly over an hour long (67 minutes to be exact) King of the Zombies is a good watch for when you are in the mood to watch something short but don’t want all the baggage that comes along with a series.

Rating: 3/5

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Terror Tuesday is ONE YEAR OLD!

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It is officially one year (well Tuesday to Tuesday) since Terror Tuesday emerged from the primordial ooze that is my brain. Fifty three (52 weeks plus a Halloween special) later Terror Tuesday is going from strength to strength. Over the past year I’ve moved countries three times, graduated and started two new jobs and I am very pleased that I have managed to never miss a week in all that time! There were a couple of weeks (such as when I didn’t have the internet at my new flat) that I thought I wouldn’t make it but with the help of my wonderful guest reviewer, Jenny Mugridge (www.jennymugridge.com) it hasn’t failed!

There is no new review this week but a low-down of my favourite films from each decade.

1920s Häxan: Witchcraft through the ages (1922) This film is unique in the films I’ve reviewed so far in that it is a documentary rather than fiction. Häxan is split into seven chapters and recounts the history of witchcraft from ancient times through to the 1920s. The film consists of conventional documentary chapters complete with voiceover and pointy stick and short fictionalised stories.

Honourable mention: The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)

1930s White Zombie (1932) Starring Bela Lugosi as a voodoo master on a Caribbean island who has the ability to enslave people to his will creating an army of zombies. Lugosi’s talent is used by Beaumont, a wealthy plantation owner for nefarious reasons. One of the stars of White Zombie is undoubtedly Lugosi’s eyebrows.

Honourable mention: Vampyr (1932)

1940s N/A I haven’t reviewed any films from the 1940s – this is very remiss of me and I hope to rectify it soon!

1950s The Bat (1959) This is a quintessential 1950s murder mystery that takes place in a large mansion. The Bat has a bit of everything, a masked serial killer, a hidden fortune and a cast of suspicious characters. The film has a great cast including Vincent Price, who does an extremely good job as Doctor Malcolm Wells. The Bat keeps you guessing as to the identity of the killer until the very end and unlike several films from the same era gives the female characters backstories, brains and backbones.

Honourable mention: The Mole People (1956)

1960s 13 Ghosts (1960) One half of a double review looking at the original 1960’s version of 13 Ghosts and the 2001 remake (which is barely recognisable as the based on the same film).  It is directed by William Castle and contains one of his trademark publicity stunts, the use of Illusion-O glasses to view the ghosts. These work using either a red or blue filter to block or amplify the ghosts, an effect I replicated using old-style 3D glasses.

Honourable mention: The Witches (1966)

1970s The Exorcist (1973) The 1970s was a decade with a lot of great horror films (and also a lot of awful ones) so it was a hard choice to pick just one. In the end I had to go with possibly the most famous horror film of them all, The Exorcist. It tells the story of Regan, an unfortunate twelve year old girl who gets possessed and the attempts of two priests to expel the demon.

Honourable mentions: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) and Carrie (1976)

1980s An American Werewolf In London (1981) An American Werewolf in London is one of the best werewolf films made and one of the most well-known horror films from the eighties. An American tourist named David is comatose after being attacked by a werewolf. Upon waking in a London hospital, David is plagued by terrifying nightmares before undergoing an incredibly well realised transformation into a werewolf. The special effects in An American Werewolf in London are incredible especially for an era before CGI.

Honourable mention: Dead Kids aka Strange Behaviour (1981)

1990s Interview with the Vampire (1994) Another tough choice between Interview with the Vampire and Scream but I had to go with my personal preference. Whilst Scream arguably reinvigorated the horror industry, the opulence and prevailing despair throughout Interview coupled with the fact it is my favourite novel won the day. Interview with the Vampire does exactly what the title says, it is an interview with the vampire Louis who tells the tale of his life as a vampire from 18th century New Orleans through to modern day San Francisco.

Honourable mention: Scream (1996)

2000s Martyrs (2008) Martyrs is one of the most brutal films I’ve watched and one of the most gripping. Two young women seek break into a family home and slaughter the family in a seemingly misguided revenge attempt. It soon becomes clear that there is much more to this than first seen and the pair become embroiled in an attempt to understand martyrdom and what lies beyond life.

Honourable mention: Battle Royale (2000)

2010sThe Babadook (2014) The latest decade seems to be full of remakes and sequels and The Babadook is the only film featured on Terror Tuesday from this decade that has received a rating of 5/5. It was a guest post by Jenny Mugridge and I haven’t actually seen the film myself but she thoroughly enjoyed it.

Honourable mention: V/H/S (2012)

Hopefully Terror Tuesday will continue for another year! Next on my plan is a film from the pre-1950s (especially the 1940s – I have to fill that gap!) and hopefully some more guest reviews. I would love to include more non-English language films next year but sourcing them is harder (although living in Sweden should mean better access to Scandinavian films!)

Horrors Of The Red Planet (1965)

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This cover makes the film look A LOT scarier than it is.

 

Horrors Of The Red Planet was first released as The Wizard Of Mars which hints at the film’s take on The Wizard Of Oz and has also been released as Alien Massacre. When watching the film I completely missed this homage to L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s book but reflecting on it I don’t know how. Horrors Of The Red Planet even has a golden road!

Horrors Of The Red Planet tells the story of four astronauts who crash land on Mars with only enough oxygen to last for four days. Rather than wait for a rescue team that may or may not be coming, they decide to try and find the main stage of their rocket which was lost during the crash. The team consists of Dorothy (How did I not see this reference?!) played by Eve Bernhard, who seems to bring very little to the space mission except a pretty face (I guess it was the 1960s…); quick to anger Charlie (Jerry Rannow); Doc (Vic McGee) who is filled with some very spurious science; and the leader Steve (Roger Gentry) who is probably the most wooden of all the terrible acting.  The four head out to Mars taking little with them, a raft, a gun and some very flimsy looking spacesuits. It is a good thing that a) the gravity on Mars is the same as Earth’s, b) there is water on Mars for the raft and c) the Martian atmosphere, whilst thin, has enough oxygen to boost their limited supply and contains no poisonous chemicals.

Whilst on the hunt for the rest of their rocket the team encounter various trials, which I’m assuming are the ‘horrors’ mentioned in the title. Such horrors include large leech-like amphibians more akin to Pokémon than monsters and the inside of a volcano. The team make it safely through the volcano only to discover that the signal the were receiving was emitted by an older unmanned probe. After giving up hope, a storm uncovers the ‘golden road’ which leads them to an ancient and uninhabited city, presumably a version of the Emerald City.

Up until this point the film was pretty enjoyable with very dubious science and only slightly better special effects. The special effects featured the budget director’s methods of choice including blatant cutaways to stock footage and poorly applied overlays, especially for the volcano. Unlike The Deadly Bees though, there was some attempt at consistency, for example the sky on Mars always appearing red (although an obviously painted landscape). This may also have been a reason why so much of the film takes place either in a cave or in a city without windows. The second part of the film however is less good and is taken up primarily by John Carradine (The Grapes Of Wrath) as “The Wizard of Mars” doing a very boring monologue to camera whilst superimposed on a picture of a galaxy. What follows this is clearly a rush job in which director David Hewitt running out of time and having no ruby slippers as in the original tale as well as taking advantage of giving the only well-known actor (Carradine) as much screen time as possible.

This is pretty much the last 20 minutes or so of the film.

This is pretty much the last 20 minutes or so of the film.

It is no surprise that Horrors Of The Red Planet was first released as a TV movie. The first half is pretty enjoyable with the poor special effects and bad science, it is definitely not a movie to take seriously nor would I recommend it for realism. However the poor second half really lets it down, so if you are going to watch it I would stop at the appearance of Carradine’s large translucent head.

Rating: 2/5

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Ravenous (1999)

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I picked Ravenous to review based on three facts, 1 – the cover of the dvd, 2 – the decade it was made, I have done several post-millennial films recently (although as it was released in 1999 it only just fell into the category) and 3 – I hadn’t done a film about cannibals since Cannibal Holocaust back in July. Given these reasons for choosing it, it is needless to say that I didn’t really know anything about the film or what to expect before viewing.

Ravenous is set in California in the mid nineteenth century following Captain John Boyd, played by a rather stoic Guy Pearce (Momento, The Hurt Locker) on his new post at Fort Spencer, a remote outpost in the mountains. The film opens at Captain Boyd’s promotion ceremony where he has gained his promotion due to singlehandedly capturing a Mexican command camp in the Mexican-American war. However, in a series of flashbacks, we learn that Boyd managed to survive the massacre of his entire regiment by pretending to be dead. This act of cowardice is known by the General and hence his promotion has also earned him a ticket to the most remote outpost, the aforementioned Fort Spencer. As a portent of what is to come, the new Captain is served a very undercooked steak for lunch which along with the memories of the act that earned him the promotion, causes him to rapidly lose his lunch.

On arrival in Fort Spencer, Boyd meets an assortment of outcasts including affable but inept Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones, Sleepy Hollow), drunkard Major Knox (Stephen Spinella, Milk), a collection of Privates each more hopeless than the last and two Native Americans who lived there when the fort was founded.  Shortly after Boyd’s arrival at the fort they find a half-dead man outside the walls. It turns out that the stranger is a man named Colqhoun, played by Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later) who was on his way through the mountains with a wagon train that got snowed in after trying a short cut. In the three months that they were trapped, Colqhoun and the others in the wagon train were forced to eat whatever was available, starting with the horse and oxen and culminating in human flesh. The story Colqhoun tells is a chilling one that really could have occurred in those times. It transpires that, through an act of cowardice of his own, Colqhoun has left the only woman in the party (50% of the female characters in the film) alone with the maniacal Colonel Ives. It is the duty of the soldiers at the fort to head into the mountains to rescue the lost travellers.

On arriving at the cave where the unfortunate travellers sought shelter it transpires that Colqhoun is in fact Ives and has lured them up there to replenish his supply of human meat. In the ensuing fight, Colqhoun manages to overpower and kill the soldiers except for Boyd who jumps off a cliff, landing in a ditch with a broken leg. Although Colqhoun searches for Boyd he is unable to find him and Boyd survives by eating the flesh of his dead comrade. The plot thickens as upon returning to the camp after an undisclosed period of time the replacement for Colonel Hart arrives and it is none other than Ives, a.k.a. the cannibalistic Colqhoun! Only Boyd knows this (as the others did not meet Ives in his previous incarnation) and things go steadily downhill for the Boyd and the fort. Will Boyd succumb to the flesh hunger or will he stop Ives before he destroys the whole fort?

There are no ‘perfect’ characters or heroes in the film, which makes a refreshing change, Boyd is plagued by cowardice and the rest of the men at the fort from afflictions ranging from anger issues to alcoholism. There are a number of well-known actors in Ravenous, all of which do a good job portraying their various character and their flaws. I found Carlyle’s portrayal of both Colqhoun and Ives to be amongst the best with the slightly deranged look of a man on the edge in evidence in the lost traveller which turns to sociopathic egomania in Ives.

Ravenous is based on the Native American myth of the Wendigo, that if a man consumes another’s flesh he takes their strength but is cursed to hunger for human flesh. It is an interesting idea, normally cannibals are portrayed as less civilised, either a remote forest tribe (e.g. Cannibal Holocaust) or inbred hillbillies (e.g. The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn). I think the idea that anyone, through circumstances out of their control could become a cannibalistic monster is far more disturbing than less “developed” (for lack of a better word) cannibals.

I would recommend Ravenous to as a film for anyone to watch (as long as they aren’t too squeamish about cannibalism). The main downside to the film is the lack of female characters, there are only two in the whole film and they are in very, very minor roles.

Rating: 4/5 (It lost one mark due to the lack of female characters)

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The House On Haunted Hill (1959)

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The House On Haunted Hill is another 1950s low budget horror film from director William Castle (Thirteen Ghosts, The Tingler) which along with Thirteen Ghosts was remade into a film bearing little resemblance in the late 1990s/early 2000s. The House On Haunted Hill has a simple premise, five people are invited to spend the night in a haunted house for $10,000 (approximately $80,000 in today’s money) – if they stay there until the next morning. Whilst I have no problems with this as an idea, it doesn’t stack up with the fact that everyone is locked in the house at midnight meaning nobody can leave, the only way out is through a steel door and all the windows have maximum security bars on (Why? There are many such questions in this film, don’t look too closely at it). Why add the proviso that you have to stay until morning if there is no physical way to leave?

The five people invited to the house are all unknown to one another and vary from test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long, The Big Valley) through to psychiatrist David Trent (Alan Marshal, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) along with newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum, Hit and Run), Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig, Giant) who works for their host and the house’s owner (as in the film’s contemporary The Bat the hosts are merely renting the mansion), Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Rosemary’s Baby ) The party is hosted by Frederick Loren, played by Vincent Price (House of Wax and numerous other horror films in the 50s and 60s), although he keeps insisting that it is in fact his wife’s (Carol Ohmart, Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told), party. It soon becomes clear that there is a lot of bad feelings between the Lorens and it is a distinct possibility that Mrs Loren will meet a similar fate to Frederick’s previous three wives who mysteriously died.

Whilst the ghosts make an appearance at the start of the film with falling chandeliers and decapitated heads appearing then disappearing it is never quite explained if they are real ghosts or merely props in the web if deceit. I would guess at the latter for some are revealed to have human origins, such as the floating old woman who Nora meets in a pitch black room who turns out to be the elderly blind housekeeper (although why she seemingly glides across the floor rather than walks is again unexplained).

The House On Haunted Hill is undeniably sexist with much talk of ‘hysterical women’. Ignoring this fact the film doesn’t deliver what the title promises. There is only a slight nod towards the supernatural which is completely discarded by the end of the film. As previously mentioned, there are many inexplicable plot devices, such as the guests receiving a loaded revolver each to defend themselves from the ghosts. The worst and most grating feature, however, is the vat of acid strong enough to dissolve flesh in minutes in the basement revealed by a trapped door. The explanation of the vat is equally weak; it was a previous owner’s from experimenting on different types of wine (and coincidently where his wife died).

Unless you are a particular fan of 1950’s mystery thrillers or Vincent Price I wouldn’t recommend The House On Haunted Hill there are simply too many grating plot points.

Rating: 2/5

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Thale (2012)

Thale

Thale is based on the Scandinavian legend of the hulder. A huldra (the plural is hulder) is a female forest creature who has the ability to shift shape to lure young men into the forest (think a siren of the forest). Thale takes a slightly different approach to the usual “monster in the woods who eats people”.

The film follows Leo and Elvis played by Jon Sigve Skard (Hidden) and Erlend Nervold (Sirkel) respectively who are a cleaning company specialising in cleaning of crime scenes. Whilst Leo seems cut out for this life, a taciturn man who gets on with the job and does it well, Elvis is entirely unsuited for the gory work, when we first meet them cleaning up after a dead woman Elvis spends the entire time throwing up, adding to the mess rather than cleaning it. On their next job to tidy up after the death of an old man in the woods who has been dead for some time and partly eaten by wild animals the two discover a secret room. Leo, like a sensible person says they should wait for the authorities but Elvis has a different idea and not only goes down the stairs but through a series of underground rooms, touching things at will.

In the subterranean complex the two discover lots of out of date canned food before finding a more ominous room papered with pages from an encyclopaedia of human anatomy containing (amongst other things, a fridge, tape recorder and a bath filled with a milky liquid). It is from this bath that Thale rises from. Thale appears to be a very attractive, traumatised, mute young woman played by Silje Reinåmo (Patriot Act). It is clear from the start and her appearance from the milky bathtub that there is more to Thale than meets the eye but it is not until near the end of the film that the whole story becomes clear. Thale is a huldra of legend who was rescued by the deceased old man and hidden from the world in the remote underground rooms.

At 76 minutes long Thale is pretty short but it doesn’t feel rushed and being so compact doesn’t suffer from any dead or unnecessary scenes that can plague longer films. The whole film has a pared back feeling, with no accompanying soundtrack and a very small cast with only three main characters and maybe five or so supporting cast members meaning that the film is heavily reliant on the acting ability of three relatively unknown actors, which luckily is very good. Writer and director Aleksander Nordaas (Sirkel) does a marvellous job spreading the plot throughout the film, giving the audience just enough for them to guess what is happening without spoon feeding.

I would recommend Thale to both fans and non-fans of horror films as Nordaas’s eerie fairy tale stays with you for hours after watching.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: Director Nordaas has previously worked with both Skard and Nervold on several films including his first feature-length film, Sirkel which in English translates as ‘Circle’, a film I will be looking out for after watching Thale. Nordaas has also previously worked with Reinåmo on a short film called Bak lukkede dører (or ‘Behind Closed Doors’).

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

jennifers body

Jennifer’s Body is a dark horror comedy narrated by and starring Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Mamma Mia!) as Needy. When we first meet Needy she is locked in a high security mental institution and is clearly several sandwiches short of a picnic but on hearing how she landed in there her attitude is a lot easier to understand.

In the small US town of Devil’s Kettle (named after a waterfall with no bottom) Needy is a quiet nerdy teenage girl. Needy’s best friend is Jennifer, played by Megan Fox (Transformers) and she is the complete opposite, popular, outgoing and a cheerleader. It is very hard to see why the two are friends as they have very little in common and frankly Jennifer is a bitch, this sentiment is shared by Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons, The Perks of being a Wallflower) but being a bit wet himself he puts up with it.

Things start to go wrong for the girls when they go to see Low Shoulder play, a “city” indie band trying to make it big. A horrific fire breaks out in the bar killing several townspeople (there appears to be no fire safety measures like fire exits, alarms or extinguishers). The girls manage to escape unharmed but Jennifer leaves with the band who sacrifice her to the devil in order to get fame and fortune. Whilst the ritual goes as expected there is an unforeseen circumstance, because Jennifer was not a virgin she does not die but rather becomes a succubus, a woman who needs to consume human flesh to survive.

The characters in Jennifer’s Body are pretty one dimensional and mostly unlikeable, you don’t find yourself rooting either for or against Jennifer. The difference between Jennifer before and after her transformation isn’t obvious so it is easy to see how nobody but her best friend has noticed. What is less unclear is how she wasn’t caught after the first dead body turned up, surely there were enough DNA/finger prints/teeth impressions to point to her but nobody except Needy even suspects her.

Jennifer’s Body is a pretty entertaining film to watch, especially if you don’t want anything too taxing. The supernatural storyline sets it apart from the usual teen horror film which is inevitably a serial killer (e.g. Scream) but I feel director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) could have taken it up another level, especially with such a star-studded cast. A lot of the scenes have a really strong visual look, especially the finale in a derelict swimming pool but makes little sense (why is the pool still full of water and not properly decommissioned? How long has it been there is there are now plants growing in the pool?)

Rating: 3/5

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Fun Fact: If you do watch Jennifer’s Body don’t forget to watch the credits to see what happens to Low Shoulder after their foray into the occult…