1970s

Shock (1977)

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Shock was initially released as Schock and later as Beyond the Door II and was director Mario Bava (A Bay of Blood)’s last film. The film follows Dora, played by Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red, Opera), who has just moved back into her old house following a mental breakdown and the mysterious death of her first husband. Together with Dora are her new husband Bruno (John Steiner, Tenebre), who is away a lot due to his job, and young son Marco (David Colin, Jr., Beyond the Door).

Upon moving in strange things start to happen to both Dora and Marco as they are visited by the ghost of Carlo (a.k.a. the dead husband/father). It is quite early on in the film that Marco becomes possessed by Carlo and starts to terrorise his mother in very adult ways. Along with Marco’s strange behaviour Dora starts to hallucinate and regain some memories about Carlo and the night he died and her part in it. Before being too harsh on Dora, it must be pointed out that Carlo was far from the model husband, rather he was an abusive drug addict.

The soundtrack to Schock is impressive and utilises several different techniques to build suspense including the ubiquitous violins but also syncopated off-kilter drumbeats. Although the plot of Schock is pretty simple it is extremely well done. There is an attempt at the old ‘is she going insane or is it supernatural’ troupe however I think it is clear from the scenes with Marco that it is of the supernatural persuasion.  It is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between Schock and The Exorcist – both being films made in the 1970s about child possession, however they are very different. What sets Schock apart from a lot of possession films is that it is a ‘human’ (albeit dead) that is possessing rather than an all-powerful demon or the devil.

Although Bava is well known for his Giallo genre films (hence the tag), I don’t know if I would consider Schock to be an example of that genre, if nothing else the title and plot are not convoluted enough to be classic Giallo. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend it, particularly if you don’t have much brain power to spend!

Rating: 4/5

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Fun Fact: The alternative title of Beyond the Door II was chosen to link to a previous film by Ovidio G. Assonitis with the spurious link that David Colin Jr. plays a possessed child in both films.

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The Exorcist (1973)

exorcist

This is my first review of such an iconic film and I am hesitant to write about such a well-known film. (I am doing so now because on my move to Sweden I didn’t pack many films, most of which turned out to be vampire films and I couldn’t justify three vampire reviews in a row to myself!) Most people have heard of The Exorcist and are aware of the now infamous pea-soup and 180⁰ head turning but The Exorcist has a lot more to offer. The film was adapted by William Blatty from his novel of the same name which was inspired by the true event that took place in the 1940s.

The film opens in Iraq following an archaeological dig run by an elderly catholic priest, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow, Minority Report) who discovers a series of unsettling omens including a demonic looking statue. What I particularly like about this sequence is that unlike many modern films the action actually takes place in the language of the country rather than English, although I don’t fully understand how the dig relates to the possession of a twelve year-old girl thousands of miles away. It is not until about fifteen minutes into the film that we meet the unfortunate Regan, a seemingly naïve girl on the cusp of adulthood, played by Linda Blair (Airport 1975) and her mother, Chris played by Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream) an actress currently working in Georgetown, Washington DC.

Director William Friedkin (The French Connection) spends just the right amount of time setting the scene and introducing the characters and their back stories, there is enough information to understand people’s motivation but not so much that the film drags. We see the deterioration in Regan as the demon takes hold and the battery of medical tests (that are traumatic in their own right), the doctor’s puzzlement and the clutching of straws that leads Chris to the Catholic Church to ask for an exorcism. Chris turns to Father Karras portrayed by Jason Miller (Rudy) currently in the midst of a crisis of faith who initially refuses to believe that possession even exists. However unnatural events including Regan speaking in several different languages and voices, telekinesis (moving objects with her mind) and finally a scar appearing on her stomach saying “help me” convinces Father Karras to seek permission to perform an exorcism. The eponymous exorcist is Father Merrin (who was introduced at the start of the film in Iraq) and has one of the most recognisable entrances in cinematic history. What unfolds when the exorcism takes place is cinematic history which keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.

One of the best things about The Exorcist is the amount of time and effort spent on the special effects. There are obvious parts where special effects have been used to great effect, such as the head turning but it is the subtle ones that make it a great film. For example, von Sydow was actually in his forties but was made to look thirty year’s older thanks to make-up and you can’t tell. Friedkin went to extreme lengths to create his vision including keeping the room refrigerated to get realistic cold breath during the exorcism and many of the reactions in the film are genuine.

The Exorcist is an iconic film for a reason, although some of the fame derives from associated intrigues, such as the alleged use of subliminal messages to scare the viewer, and nevertheless it is well worth watching in its entirety.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: As an example of the film’s success The Exorcist was the first horror film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award and when taking into account inflation is Warner Brother’s highest grossing film.

 

Black Christmas (1974)

black-christmas

As it is Christmas this week I thought I would review a suitably festive film and settled on Black Christmas. It opens at a very 70s Christmas party in a sorority house which handily introduces all the main characters of the film with the four sorority girls, various boyfriends and their house mother, all seen from the point of view of the killer who makes his (or her?) way up into the attic. Recently the girls have been receiving prank phone calls which escalate throughout the film, the main question I have is why haven’t they reported these phone calls before? Living in the sorority house over Christmas are Barb (Margot Kidder, Superman), a troubled girl with a drinking problem, Phyllis (Andrea Martin, SCTV), who apart from her frizzy hair and glasses is pretty non-descript, Jess (Olivia Hussey, It), the main character and Clare (Lynne Griffin, Dream House), a quiet ‘good’ girl who is the first victim. Along with the young women is Mrs. Mac, played by Marian Waldman (Phobia) the house mother who seems to permanently have a hat on and hides sherry around the house, including in the toilet cistern.

Whilst packing to go home, we see Clare suffocated from the point of view of the killer and her body hidden in the attic, but it takes over a day or so after her father turning up for people to realise that something is wrong. Despite organising a huge search party for Clare in the park nobody thinks to look in the attic, even though her body is put facing out the window! Black Christmas has all the clichés associated with slasher films including the jarring sound track, with the exception of the virgin dying first (see Scream for the serial killer “rules”).  None of the characters are particularly likeable and all react to things in really inexplicable ways, for example when worried about their friend Barb gives the telephone number of the house as beginning with the code FE for fellatio…

Disappointingly, Black Christmas is not very Christmassy, whilst it takes place at the start of the Christmas break, this seems coincidental, I was expecting with the title for Christmas to be integral, maybe the killer dressed as Santa or something. The resolution is both predictable and unsatisfactory and not worth the 90 minutes beforehand. Only watch if you are desperate for a (slightly) festive horror film.

Rating: 2/5

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With this slightly lack-lustre film I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

merry xmas

The Sinful Dwarf (1973)

the sinful dwarf

A warning to anyone intending to watch The Sinful Dwarf, it is essentially an excuse for soft-core pornography, which I didn’t realise until I started watching (luckily it was just my wife and I so it wasn’t too awkward!) and next time I will look at the IMDB tags before deciding what film to watch. The film opens with a ‘girl’ – a seventeen or so years’ old who is dressed as a nine year old and playing hop scotch (this was the first warning of the type of film) who gets picked up by Olaf, the eponymous sinful dwarf with the use of a toy squeaking dog. The film makes it seem particularly easy to pick up these naïve young women, they just casually follows a stranger back to the boarding house that his mother runs where (obviously) bad things happen to them.

The film centres on the boarding house owned and run by Olaf (Torben Bille) and his mother, Lila Lash, an ageing alcoholic singer and a young married couple, Peter (Tony Eades) and Mary (Anne Sparrow) who move into the attic room, which looks unnervingly like one of the B&Bs I stayed in. In order to finance their lifestyle in the otherwise unoccupied boarding house, Lila and Olaf abduct young women and drug them turning them into junkie prostitutes and unfortunately for Mary, it is her that Olaf and Lila have their eyes on for adding to their collection of whores. Alongside Olaf and Lila there is Santa Claus (Werner Hedmann) a toy shop owner come drug dealer who supplies the prostitutes drugs smuggled inside of teddy bears.

All the acting in this film is terrible and the dialogue is not much better with classic lines as “I’ll get some fruit to make it look homely” and bizarre musical interludes by Lila Lash singing ‘classic’ songs such as Cho-Cho Bamba complete with plastic fruit hat. There are no likeable characters in The Sinful Dwarf, apart from the obvious villains, Peter is misogynistic and rude, Mary is weak, whiney and nosey and the police inspector is brutish. The music is predictably cheesy and the main horror in this film is the lack of plot and the excuse for sex scenes and full frontal nudity.

Rating: 1/5

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Carrie (1976, 2002 and 2013)

Carrie

Three takes on Stephen King’s first novel centred around the eponymous Carrie White, played by Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom, The Help), Angela Bettis (Perfume) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In) in the 1976, 2002 and 2013 movies respectively, a shy, unpopular high school student who discovers she has telekinetic powers. All three give interesting portrayals of the troubled teen, each very different both in looks and attitude, including how easily they discover and practice their new found powers. Spacek’s Carrie seems almost unaware of the powers until towards the climax of the film, with the emerging powers starting subtly, whereas in both the later films Carrie practices the powers in her room. In the 2002 movie we see that Carrie has had these powers for a long time, including a very strange and unrealistic scene in which she causes a meteor shower, however the ability to move things with her mind does not come easily, looking more like a fit than anything voluntary. Moretz’s Carrie, however is less downtrodden, which is particularly evident in her relationship with her extremely Christian mother, Margaret White played by Julieanne Moore (Magnolia, The Big Lebowski). In the 2013 film, Mrs White is portrayed as much more mentally unstable than the earlier films, with an emphasis on self-harm which was not present in the other films.

The first key scene in all three films is Carrie getting her period in the locker room and freaking out, leading to her classmates bullying her with tampons and in all three the PE teacher, (Betty Buckley 1978, Rena Sofer 2002 and Judy Greer 2013) to have to slap her out of it, which to me seems very unrealistic, especially in this day and age. Sue Snell, one of the perpetrators then feels guilty and convinces her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to the prom in apology. Sue’s motives are best expressed in the 2013 film, with her decision to ask Tommy in the oldest film never really explained. At the prom, one of horror cinema’s most famous scenes takes place.

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In which a bucket of pigs blood is dumped over her head, finally tipping Carrie over the edge, releasing her pent up rage on her classmates and teachers at the prom. The ensuing disaster portrayed very differently in all three, with the apparently high death toll not apparent in the 1976 film as in the later films and the special effects in the 2002 film giving it an air of being in a video game. Unlike both the 1976 and 2002 films, in the latest film, directed by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), Carrie is fully aware and in control of the events, a feature I find does not fit with the feel of the film.

 

 

 

 

 

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The three films share many scenes in common (unlike Thirteen Ghosts), although updated to the era the film was made in, right down to the exact same dialogue, indeed most of the 1976 film (bar the ending) is replicated in the 2002 TV film, with a few added scenes accounting for the 34 minutes longer run time, however, saying this, the films have different endings with the 2002 departing completely from the book and the other films.

All three films have strong points and weak points, and any of the three is an enjoyable watch, I particularly like the 2002’s take on a film through police interviews and Bettis’s portrayal of Carrie however it lacks the polish of the other films, probably due to the much smaller budget of the TV movie. The 1976 film directed by Brian De Palma (Scarface) I feel has the best musical score by far but lacks the impact and full effect of the disaster that hits the town, which is best realised in the 2013 version.

I am not generally a fan of Steven King and Carrie does not sway me otherwise, I think the plot is thin and one dimensional and all the characters lack any nuances, because of this Carrie is a film you do not need your brain to be engaged with in order to understand what is going on. There is nothing to gain by watching all three films and unless you are a huge King fan I would recommend sticking to the original 70s version.

I Spit on your Grave aka Day of the Woman (1978)

i spit on your grave

I Spit On Your Grave opens with the arrival of a young New Yorker, Jennifer played by Camille Keaton (Tragic Ceremony) and coincidently the writer and director, Meir Zarchi’s wife and Buster Keaton’s granddaughter, in a small Connecticut town. Jennifer has moved from the Big Apple in order to write her first novel but instead meets a very grizzly fate at the hands of four local men. At the start, whilst it seems like an idyllic summer retreat for Jennifer, the viewer is treated to a slightly less picturesque insight into the local community including the slow grocery delivery man Matthew (Richard Pace) and two unemployed layabouts Stanley (Anthony Nichols) and Andy (Gunter Kleemann). Indeed, our introduction to Stanley and Andy hints at their unsavoury nature with them throwing around a knife at the local gas station whilst leering at the newly arrived woman.

After a few days of relative peace, Jennifer is surprised in her canoe by Stanley and Andy in their motorboat and then follows one of the longest (25 minutes) rape scenes in cinematic history in which the two men along with Matthew and Johnny (Eron Tabor), the gas station attendant.  Understandably this is an incredibly harrowing and upsetting to watch scene which culminates in her being left for dead, only alive on the mercy of Matthew who could not stomach killing her. The reason that the rape scene is so long is that there are periods where it seems like Jennifer is safe, having escaped her tormentors only to be caught and repeatedly violated. Life continues as normal for the four men with them complaining that ‘life is too boring now,’ until Jennifer, now unhinged after the attack stalks them and exacts her revenge in an equally graphic and brutal manner.

Unlike many films (think Psycho with its stabbing violins) there is a distinct lack of soundtrack lending a gritty and realistic quality to the film, making Keaton’s heart-wrenching screams more traumatic. Whilst some of the dialogue is stilted and Jennifer’s novel writing (she would use a lot of paper the way she writes!) is both unbelievable and a poor novel, the acting itself is (generally) good, especially considering the horrific nature of the film.

As with Cannibal Holocaust, this film is not one to watch lightly, however unlike Cannibal Holocaust, there seems to be very little plot and little reason for the traumatic violence beyond shocking the audience, although director Meir Zarchi’s preferred title, Day of the Woman, hints at women’s rights and struggles, I fail to see much evidence of this in the film. I Spit on your Grave has previously been named as one of the worst films ever made, although despite this a remake was produced in 2010, however after watching the original I am not keen to see the later version, nor could I recommend watching this film, except maybe as an earlier example of the ‘torture-porn’ or ‘gorno’ genre.

Fun Fact: All the actors performed their own stunts as the production couldn’t afford any stuntpeople.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Four Flies on Grey Velvet is the final in Dario Argento’s Animal trilogy, the previous two being The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’ Nine Tails. The film is named after the four flies imprinted in the retina of one of the victims. The film follows Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) a drummer in a rock band who, after being stalked by mysterious stranger accidently stabs and kills the man. Whilst this isn’t bad enough, the act is captured on camera by a second (masked) stranger. It soon becomes obvious that the masked man doesn’t want to take the incriminating photos to the police, rather torture and blackmail Roberto and his wife, Nina (Mimsy Farmer).

Roberto cannot turn to the police (after committing murder) and instead confides in God (short for Godfrey) played by Bud Spencer, a hermit-like figure who lives in a shack by the river with a parrot called Jerkoff and an eccentric  layabout referred to as ‘The Professor’ played by Oreste Lionello. On the recommendation of God, Roberto hires a private investigator, Gianni Arrosio (Jean Pierre Marielle) who has never yet solved a case. Unfortunately for Arrosio this case breaks his unlucky streak but the killer catches up with him before he can tell anyone. The film climaxes in Roberto confronting the killer after waiting for the killer in his darkened house, this scene is possibly the first instance of high-speed camera equipment being used to follow the trajectory of a bullet.

Everything in the film is used to increase the tension. There are long sequences where a camera follows a single character in silence, spinning and panning around them, disorientating the viewer. The film is full of disappearing crowds where one minute normal life is going on only to be deserted the next second creating an isolated and ominous feeling. Unlike many films when filming at night there is no extra ‘movie’ ambience light, leaving the viewer straining to see what is going on. In contrast to the dark night scenes are Roberto’s dream sequences which fill the screen with white light which gradually fades to reveal an execution.

Despite taking itself seriously there are a number of slightly bizarre scenes and touches, the aforementioned Jerkoff and a meeting between God, the Professor and Roberto in a funeral convention featuring a lot of very odd looking coffins. The lightness of these scenes serve to keep the film from becoming too bogged down.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet is a fine example of the Giallo genre, an Italian genre of suspense thriller/horror films from the 1960s and 70s. Despite the far-fetched science that lends the film its name, it is a blemish in a believable (if very 70s) film that keeps you on the edge of your seat and guessing until the very end. I would recommend this film to anyone and it has encouraged me to watch/re-watch more of both Argento’s films and films in the Giallo genre.