Monday, October 31, 2011
For the past ten years, Dr. Montag, Kato the Black Hornet and I have been bringing you the best lineup of wild, crazy and scary shockers at our disposal on Remo D.’S Manor Of Mayhem. As Halloween approaches, I thought it would be fun to turn you on to a random sampling of ten terrific little thrillers that I don’t think you’ve seen (though I’d be delighted to be wrong). Some of these are genuinely frightening sleepers, some are just plain fun, and all of them, as I see it, are worth discovering. Some of these are easily available on DVD or Netflix, while some you’ll need to…look a little harder for. But I’ll leave the thrill of the hunt for you. Remember, these are only ten out of literally thousands, so no fair complaining that I left something out! Your suggestions are just as welcome!
THE MAD GHOUL (1943)
Here’s a terrific B-movie from Universal Studios—one of the best not to feature any of their beloved classic monsters. Jealous chemistry professor George Zucco uses an ancient Mayan discovery to enslave student David Bruce in a vain-hearted attempt to steal his girlfriend. Bruce is transformed into the ghoul of the title—doing his master’s bidding and only able to regain human guise with a formula distilled from the fresh human hearts he’s obliged to obtain. Evelyn Ankers (the original Wolf Man) and Robert Armstrong (the original King Kong) add to the fun.
BLACK SABBATH (1963)
Even if you think you’ve seen this trio of short horror stories hosted by Boris Karloff and directed by the great Mario Bava, my guess is that you have not seen the original Italian version The Three Faces of Fear (which is considerably different). Karloff’s performance as the vampiric “Wurdulak” is often cited as the highlight of the film (and that story was saved for the end in the American version), but The Drop of Water (originally saved for last) is even more terrifying. The films of Bava and fellow Italian shock-meister Dario Argento had a profound influence on contemporary director James Wan (Saw): if you’ve seen Wan’s ventriloquist dummy movie Dead Silence, you’ll certainly want to see one of his chief inspirations…
VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972)
Britain’s Hammer Films remain best known for immortalizing Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the roles of Baron Frankenstein and Count Dracula, respectively. This latter-day studio offering features none of the above, but it stands out as one of the most disturbingly creepy of the entire lineup. Taboos fall by the wayside as a gypsy circus entertains a plague-ridden Austrian village—while secretly carrying out a mission of vengeance for the dormant Count Mitterhaus (“And your children shall die… to give me back my life!”) Point of interest: most of you know that both Cushing and Lee went on to appear in the Star Wars series, but Vampire Circus features an early appearance by Darth Vader himself—that’s David Prowse as the strongman.
Here’s the best “gimmick murder” movie that Vincent Price never made. Stella Stevens contrives to marry a dead man in order to obtain his considerable estate. Ah, but the late Arnold (who lies in state in the living room in full view throughout, pursuant to his will) has made posthumous arrangements to deal with any and all greedy fortune seekers, as Elsa Lanchester, Roddy McDowall, Farley Granger and Jamie Farr (among others) are about to find out. Acid-laced cold cream and a shrinking suit are only two of the highlights along the way in this underrated comic thriller that came our way through Bing Crosby Productions!
A relentlessly downbeat and truly frightening update of the classic “Monkey’s Paw” theme has a grieving mother (Lynn Carlin) wish her son (a fresh casualty of war) back to life. As you might suspect, the resurrection comes with a terrible catch. It’s hard to believe that a film so grim could have come from the man who brought you both Porky’s and A Christmas Story, but when director Bob Clark went for the throat (his other shockers include Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Deranged and the original Black Christmas) he usually got it. Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) was also the first film to feature the gruesome special effects of Tom Savini (the original Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th).
Not to be confused with any other film by that title—this thriller from Japan’s Toho Studios remained unseen in the States for over thirty years. Unhappy with her pending domestic arrangement, a young schoolgirl invites a gaggle of friends on an impromptu trek to visit her “Auntie” while their heroic teacher struggles to catch up with them. But something’s up with Auntie… or is it her cat? …or does the house itself want to devour its guests? This House is a riotously colorful and inventive blend of music, comedy, eye-popping special effects…and yes, pure, ghoulish horror! You won’t forget this one any time soon!
It’s the old chestnut about the condemned witch who placed a curse on her destroyers and all who followed in their wake, but this independent effort from prolific future television director James W. Roberson works overtime to please its contemporary audience with its ferocious attempts to do away with pretty much the entire cast (coincidentally including Lynn Carlin from the aforementioned Deathdream). The first twenty minutes alone give you the head in the microwave and the rogue table saw blade that goes to work on Stacy Keach, Sr. (“Clarence Birdseye” himself!) and needless to say, things don’t stop there. This one never quite made it into the fan pantheon of 80s gore films, but that’s exactly why I’m including it on this list.
THE BLACK ROOM (1984)
No relation to the 1935 Boris Karloff vehicle. An L.A. “swingers” pad that seems too good to be true holds a very nasty (and literally bloody) little secret in this decidedly kinky outing from Norman Thaddeus Vane. Virtually ignored by critics (those who do remember it tend to recognize it as one of the first films to feature future “scream queen” Linnea Quigley and leave it at that) and scarcely a recipient of unanimous fan approval, there’s still something about this film that sticks with you even when you try to rinse it off… and the last fifteen minutes are undeniably intense. Give the children a book to read and don’t let them stay up for this one.
THE SPIDER LABYRINTH (1988)
The mid-1980s represented a non-stop cornucopia of over-the-top, surreal, gory and confrontational thrillers from Italy: films ranging from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie through Lamberto Bava’s Demons actually hit American theatres on a regular basis, usually in their uncut form. Little did we know that the well was about to run dry. This juicy item from debut director Gianfranco Giagni never did make it to America, and it’s a damn shame. Long story short: a curious professor makes a pilgrimage to Budapest—both to investigate a strangely powerful cult and to come to grips with a nightmarish childhood experience involving…spiders. Do you suppose there might be a connection? I’ll give you a hint: don’t expect anything like Arachnophobia.
ROJO SANGRE (2004)
The late, great Paul Naschy (real name: Jacinto Molina) will always be remembered as the frequent portrayer of the lycanthropic Waldemar Daninsky, but the actor/screenwriter/producer/director did so, so much more from the late 1960s onward, justly earning the reputation of the King of Spanish Horror. As his own career wound to a close, Naschy drew on the most bitter episodes in his personal experience to portray has-been actor Pablo Thevenet, who finds himself on the receiving end of a tempting offer… to not only regain his lost fame and fortune, but also to violently avenge himself on those who have wronged him in the past. The aging Naschy left the directorial reins in the capable hands of Christian Molina (no relation), but only one man could have written and starred in this incendiary (and hideously gruesome) tale. Trust me on this one.
With the constant help and support of producer Gregg Galdo and director Dave Deacon, writer Shane M. Dallmann has endeavored to keep the weekly “creature feature” alive and well in Monterey County and beyond with REMO D.’S MANOR OF MAYHEM, airing Fridays at 10PM Pacific and Saturdays at 5AM and 10PM Pacific on Access Monterey Peninsula (Monterey cable channel 24, also available streaming at www.ampmedia.org)