The House That Dripped Blood

House That Dripped Blood

The House That Dripped Blood is one of those movies that sits around on your watch-list forever. You keep meaning to watch it, but never do. Well, I finally watched it yesterday! This 70’s British horror anthology comes from Amicus, not Hammer, but stars a number of Hammer stalwarts such as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt. Written by Robert Bloch, The House That Dripped Blood’s frame story is about an inspector investigating the latest in a series of bizarre happenings at a house.

There are four tales. In the first, a horror writer and his wife rent a house in the countryside. He’s writing a potboiler about a strangler terrifying the countryside and needs inspiration; pretty soon he has all the inspiration he can handle. The second story is about a retired bachelor (Peter Cushing) who wanders into a Wax Museum of Horrors, where he sees a waxwork figure who is the spitting image of his dead lover.

The third yarn concerns a widower (Christopher Lee), his young daughter and the woman he hires as a nanny. Mr. Lee displays a strange aversion towards his own child, even throwing her doll into the fire, an act he later lives to regret. The fourth story is my favorite. An over-the-hill horror actor (played by a scenery-chewing Jon Pertwee) is on the prowl for a decent cape. He finds the perfect cape, which – unfortunately for him – belonged to a real vampire.

I’m sure The House That Dripped Blood didn’t cost a lot of money. I liked it, though! The stories are decent and all contain Twilight Zone twists, but believe me when I say you’ve seen it before. I do like the fact that Mr. Bloch doesn’t try to convey any sort of moral message. Be warned that some of the outfits the stars wear might give you sun glare.

 

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The Living Dead Girl

Living Dead Girl

Living Dead Girl is a return to form for director Jean Rollin. After viewing the disappointing Iron Rose months ago, I worried that the master was losing his touch. I needn’t have fretted; Living Dead Girl is vintage Eurotrash, chockful of sex, violence, gore and nudity.

Three movers haul barrels of toxic waste into a chateau’s crypt. They are in the process of robbing the dead people in said crypt when an earthquake smashes the barrels, releasing toxic fumes into the air. Catherine, who has been dead for two years but still looks great, revives and manages to kill the movers in the bloodiest way possible (poking out eyes, fingers through the throat) without staining her white dress.

Cut to a pair of American tourists. We know they’re Americans because they’re loud assholes who speak English. What else could they be? They’re in a field arguing when the wife snaps a picture of Catherine, who is staggering around in a daze. At this point I was wondering what the hell the plot was going to be, but I needn’t have worried. Many of Mr. Rollin’s movies begin with the characters running/staggering about.

Catherine ends up back in her chateau. She’s wearing white and the walls are deep red, so the symbolism isn’t exactly subtle. The next victims are the chateau’s realtor and her boyfriend, who decide to spend a dirty weekend at the chateau. They get naked in record time, but their lovely moment is interrupted by a ravenous Catherine, who kills and eats them.

A side note: I’m not sure if Catherine is a vampire, a zombie or the Toxic Avenger’s little sister. I’d say a zombie except we see a bat during one of her kill sequences, which makes me think vampire. Anyway, Catherine snaps out of her funk when she hears the voice of Helene – her friend/lover – on the phone. Mr. Rollin is uncharacteristically coy about the particulars of their relationship, but it must have been intense, because Helene is the engine that drives the plot.

Helene rushes to the chateau. Instead of taking Catherine to a hospital or calling the police, she lovingly washes the blood off her friend’s naked body and then hides the bodies of her victims in the crypt. When Catherine gets hungry Helene goes in search of food. Unfortunately, Catherine eats people.

Living Dead Girl is one of the better Jean Rollin movies I’ve seen this year; it ranks up there with Fascination and The Grapes of Death. The sets and scenery are lovely, interspersed with short bursts of over-the-top gore that would make a giallo director proud. Yes, Living Dead Girl is skimpy on plot, but that’s okay. If you like Eurotrash, it doesn’t get much better than this.

 

The Mothman of Point Pleasant

Point Pleasant, West Virginia. From November 1966 to December 1967 hundreds of people saw a flying creature with a pair of red glowing eyes and a wingspan of over ten feet. The Mothman of Point Pleasant does not tell us who dubbed this creature the Mothman. I am assuming it was an enterprising reporter or perhaps John Keel, who wrote a book called The Mothman Prophecies.

The sightings quickly escalated, with the Mothman chasing teens in their cars, the Mothman hanging out at the abandoned TNT factory, the Mothman peering through windows. The filmmakers give us footage of a number of credulous-sounding locals describing their close encounters with the Mothman. One man saw the Mothman by the side of his bed, and when he thought of the blood of Christ the Mothman went away.

The sightings went on for months, evolving from Mothmen to UFO sightings, Grinning Man encounters and culminating in the city of Point Pleasant being invaded by the Men in Black. The sightings ended after the Silver Bridge collapsed ten days before Christmas 1967, resulting in the deaths of 46 people. Unfortunately, some have tried to link the Mothman to this horrible tragedy; fortunately, the filmmakers do not make this connection.

If – like me – you don’t know much about the Mothman, The Mothman of Point Pleasant is informative and entertaining. It’s obvious the filmmakers are true believers, so keep that in mind. They speculate about mutant birds and the Indian chief who was murdered by the white settlers and supposedly cursed Point Pleasant, and gloss over the fact that there were hundreds of eyewitness sightings and nobody ever managed to snap a picture. Many eyewitnesses state that the Mothman looked like a big bird, with a few insisting that it was a barn owl. I tend to think that’s the most likely explanation, but realize that people are going to believe what they want to believe.

What was the Mothman? A barn owl? An extraterrestrial? A demon from Hell? A case of mass hysteria? We will never know. But there is now a Mothman Museum and a Mothman Festival, which takes place every year on the third weekend of September. So the Mothman lives on…

 

Varan the Unbelievable

VARAN

Varan the Unbelievable is a Japanese rubber-suit monster movie made in 1958. The version I saw was the chopped-up American remake (1962), ala Raymond Burr’s Godzilla. Interestingly the monster’s name seems to be Obaki, not Varan the Unbelievable, but whatever.

Commander James Bradley sets up base at an isolated Japanese island. He wants to do experiments on the isle’s saltwater lake, using a chemical to convert saline to fresh water. Even though everyone in the movie thinks this is a bad idea the tests still go on. At his wife’s urging, the Commander decides not to evacuate the villagers who, you know, live there. The American version portrays the Commander sympathetically; apparently the Commander doesn’t even appear in the Japanese version, which seems to have a different plot.

The villagers believe a monster lives in the lake. In a plot twist everyone sees coming, said monster lurches out of the lake when the chemical sinks in. Varan has spikes running down his back and looks like a cross between Godzilla and Anguirus. Sometimes the Unbelievable One walks on four legs, sometimes on two. He destroys the village and then heads for a larger city – in the American version it’s Oneida – to demolish, because that’s what monsters do.

The Commander and his wife get stuck in a Jeep, and spend the final act of the movie trying to radio the city and tell them about the magic chemical that can kill Varan. Varan attacks the city, but flees when the magic chemical is detonated in his face. The Commander and his wife leave for Southern California, leaving the villagers to rebuild their shattered lives.

The best part of Varan the Unbelievable is Varan, who is freaky-looking. There’s a sequence in the 1958 version where the Unbelievable One flies or glides through the air like an enormous squirrel. That was cut in the American version (even though it appears in the trailer), which is only 67 minutes. Some of the movie’s other cuts don’t make sense (who was the guy driving the truck?), but this version of the movie is a cheapo so it doesn’t really matter.

Bottom-line: I enjoyed Varan the Unbelievable, but it’s for connoisseurs of Japanese monster movies only.

Helloween Day One: Nightmare City

Do you crave bad zombie movies? If so, Nightmare City qualifies! Be warned, though: this movie is bad. If you were to get really, really drunk at a party you might like it. Say you ate a bunch of Oreo cookies while watching it, and then vomited them up before blacking out on the bathroom floor. That’s the kind of drunk Nightmare City requires.

Dean Miller is a reporter. His assignment: interview an important nuclear scientist. Miller goes to the airport, where an airplane full of zombies lands. The zombies kill everyone. Miller rushes to his news station, interrupting footage of a bunch of women in tights doing aerobics (this was the early 80’s!) to try to warn the public of the danger. Soon afterwards the zombies storm the news station and kill everyone. I’m sensing a pattern here.

Miller rushes to the hospital, where his wife works as a doctor. They get out just before the zombies storm the joint and – you guessed it – kill everyone. These zombies are badasses! Instead of shuffling, they sprint around like cheetahs chasing down frightened gazelle. They wield knives and axes and even guns. At one point they are referred to as vampires, but that’s a dubbing error. Trust me, these are zombies.

The best part of Nightmare City is the climax, which takes place in an amusement park and reminded me of Zombieland. Maybe the scene in Zombieland is a homage. Who knows? The last two minutes of Nightmare City contains a twist that anyone who’s ever seen a Twilight Zone episode knows is coming.

Made in 1980, directed by Umberto Lenzi, Nightmare City is subpar Eurotrash. The effects are dreadful, and I’m not saying that as someone spoiled by 21st century special effects. Believe me, these effects are dreadful. That said, there are some gruesome death scenes and also a few scenes where the zombies tear open their female victims’ shirts before stabbing them. If you want more of the latter watch Jean Rollins’ Grapes of Death, a vastly superior movie. If you still insist on seeing Nightmare City, it’s available on Shudder. The version I saw is both subbed and dubbed, and the sub and dub didn’t match up.

You’ve been warned.

Under the Shadow

Under the Shadow takes place in Tehran in the 1980’s during the Iraq/Iran war. Our main character, Shideh, is a housewife with a husband and young daughter. Shideh lives two lives, public and private. She exercises to Jane Fonda workout videos in her apartment, but must hide the VCR when outsiders come because VCRs are illegal. When she goes outside she has to cover her head.

After her mother’s death, Shideh tries to resume her medical studies. Her husband Iraj thinks she’s doing it because her mom wanted her to be a doctor. It’s a moot point because Shideh’s political activities in the 1970’s mean that no medical school will accept her. She’s pissed off about it, especially when Iraj tells her that maybe it’s for the best. Soon afterwards, Iraj is drafted to fight in the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq is bombing Tehran. Iraj wants Shideh and their daughter Dorsa to leave the city and live with his mother, but she won’t leave.

The djinn makes its entrance with a flair. A missile hits Shideh’s apartment complex but doesn’t explode and that’s when the weird shit starts. Dorsa’s doll vanishes. Shideh has bad dreams, and then starts seeing strange things out of the corners of her eyes. Under the Shadows has a slow build-up. The djinn takes its time revealing itself, but what’s scarier is the world Shideh lives in, where you can be flogged for not wearing a headscarf in public.

Under the Shadows has a few good jump scares, including one that made me shriek out loud. This is definitely an art house horror film. Shideh is human, and she is under an incredible amount of pressure. That said, not all the tension between mother and daughter is because of the djinn. This is a movie where the personal horror and the monster merge.

Under the Shadows is available on Netflix Streaming and is definitely worth a watch.

Ringu

Ringu.jpg

 Ringu is a hard film to watch, and I mean that literally. I saw The Ring, the American remake, a few months ago. But I couldn’t find Ringu streaming anywhere, ironic since this movie is about a piece of dead technology. I had to go through my library system to find it.

Ringu concerns a cursed videotape that kills you a week after watching it. The video contains a bunch of weird, almost Dadaist imagery, and ends with a shot of a well. Reiko, a reporter, gets her hands on a copy of the videotape and watches it. She knows the story of the curse when she does so. Spooked when she receives the obligatory phone call predicted by the urban legend afterwards, Reiko makes a copy of the videotape and shows it to her ex-husband.

This is something I don’t get about either version of the movie. If you found a cursed videotape that could kill people, why would you show it to anyone, especially if you started believing in the curse? The rest of Ringu is spent running around with Reiko and her ex trying to decipher the curse, which leads to an island, a girl with psychic powers and a well that isn’t empty.

Ringu isn’t scary. Looking back at my review of The Ring, I complained it wasn’t a scary movie. Ringu is even worse. There are almost no jump scares and we don’t see a lot of Sadako, the ghost girl. The climax is great, though. They wrote the subplot about psychic powers out of the remake, with good reason.

Reiko’s relationship with her ex-husband is strangely formal, and she doesn’t seem to feel bad about leaving her child home alone for hours at a time. I am not sure if the filmmakers are trying to make a moral statement, notorious in horror movies, but am guessing my confusion is due to me not understanding a different culture.

The best part of Ringu is the countdown to Reiko’s death. Her psychological journey from skepticism to total belief to existential dread is interesting to watch, but the movie’s plot isn’t dynamic enough to match her personal angst. Translation: not enough happens. I’d call Ringu a near miss. Dark Water, made by the same director, is a much better movie.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Dario Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage introduces us to Mr. Argento’s visually striking style and fascination with voyeurism. Stuck between two panes of glass like a trapped fly, Sam – an American writer in Italy – witnesses an attempted murder at an art gallery. Soon he’s pursued by the killer, as well as an Inspector Clouseau type cop, through a grimy-looking Italy.

Sam decides to play detective, enlisting the help of gal pal Julia (Suzy Kendall). I am not sure why anyone sane would do this, but people did all sorts of bizarre shit in the 70’s. Shrugging off the attempts on his life, Sam’s amateur investigation leads him to a ghoulish painting. His visit to the artist is one of the highlights of the movie. While Sam’s away, the black-glove-wearing serial killer decides to play, threatening Julia in a plot development anyone who’s ever watched a thriller can see coming. Speaking of which: a few of the plot developments are ridiculous, but who cares? This movie holds together very well.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is well-worth watching, if you can find it (I watched it through my Fandor subscription). Since this is a giallo, there is a whodunit? element and a fiendish plot twist at the end. Be warned that Mr. Argento’s Deep Red, a better movie, is almost a remake of this film.

 

Archivo 253

Archivo 253 is a movie that slavishly follows the found-footage formula. Group of paranormal hunters? Check. Group makeup: two or three guys and one woman? Check. Abandoned hospital/mental institute/house? Check. Demonic presence haunting the premises that we hardly see because no budget? Check. Lots of night-vision footage in that puke green light we’ve all come to know and love? Check!

Archivo 253 takes place in an abandoned lunatic asylum, just like Grave Encounters. Like most found-footage movies, the best part is the beginning as we watch interviews with people who bullshit about the legends behind the place that will soon kill our hapless heroes. An ex-patient mentions they used to hold exorcisms in the mental hospital, one of several interesting elements never followed up on.

Our amateur ghost hunters – three guys and a girl – break in. I think they are supposed to be students, but one of them is going bald. The place is falling apart, as usual. Our heroes wander around the premises in the dark (night vision footage, yay!) while we wait for something to happen, and that sums up the plot.

Archivo 253 looks like it was filmed on a micro-budget, so one expects the effects to be cruddy to nonexistent. Unfortunately, the writing is bad also. Nobody has a personality. I forgot everyone’s name but Diego, and the only reason I remembered his name is because the other characters spend the last twenty minutes of the movie screaming it.

On the plus side, Archivo 253 has a few good jump scares and one eye-opener when everyone’s sleeping. This movie also has the single greatest gadget in the history of found-footage films, beating out the lost map in The Blair Witch Project.

The Ghost Detector is a handheld device that looks like something you can buy at Radio Shack, which is probably where the filmmakers bought it. When ghosts are nearby, the Ghost Detector’s buttons flash. So our heroes get to say things like – ‘if you can see us flash two buttons.’ When you don’t have any money, creative touches like that go a long ways.

Unfortunately, even the Ghost Detector isn’t enough to save Archivo 253. This movie is for lovers of found-footage films only. Since I watch one of these movies every month, I guess I qualify…

The Iron Rose

The Iron Rose is the rare Jean Rollin movie that misses its mark, and I say this as a fan of his work. There are elements of an interesting movie here, but it’s way too slow. I don’t mind films with a leisurely build-up, but you can skip the first twenty minutes of this and not miss anything.

The Iron Rose follows the trials of a pair of adult lovers, labeled The Boy and The Girl. The Boy returns for a wedding, where he reads a bad poem to a room full of drunk people. For whatever reason, The Girl is impressed by the Boy’s literary efforts. They make a date to go bike riding and end up frolicking in the railroad station amongst the trains, he play-chasing her. Foreshadowing!

Afterwards, our lovers go on a bike ride and stop at the local cemetery, which is huge. One of this movie’s neat touches is that the tombs are better cared for than the city’s buildings, which are falling apart. After walking the grounds, they clamber into an underground tomb to rut. Cut to a clown entering the graveyard and leaving flowers. The Iron Rose’s symbolism isn’t exactly subtle, hitting you over the head like a sledgehammer. By the time The Boy and The Girl are done with sexy-time night has fallen and they can’t find their way out of the cemetery. And that’s your plot.

As someone who got lost once as a kid, I can tell you it’s no fun. Still, these are adults we are talking about and it’s only a graveyard. That’s the point. There is nothing there, just the lovers and a bunch of headstones and tombs. The dead don’t rise, but tempers sure do. Soon The Boy and The Girl are acting like frightened children.

The Iron Rose has an interesting premise, but it takes too long for anything to happen. That’s because Mr. Rollin has made an 85-minute movie out of 40-minutes of material. The acting is so-so and there are way too many close-ups of the characters’ faces. We also have a scene at the beach that will be familiar to watchers of Mr. Rollin’s movies, as that same stretch of beach shows up in many of his films. It’s his version of Roger Corman’s burning chicken coop.

The best thing about The Iron Rose is the setting, an enormous unkempt cemetery that feels like a city of the dead. Lest fans of Mr. Rollin worry that he’s turning into a highbrow indy director, this movie contains lots of sex and tasteless nudity. Unfortunately Mr. Rollin might not be the right person to handle this kind of material. He is a wonderful director, but he’s not subtle, and psychological nuance isn’t his thing. An interesting failure, The Iron Rose is for Jean Rollin fans only.