Every October, Jess & I stack the horror flicks at the top of the Netflix Q. Some newly scene, some revisited. Many of the latter, however, since I believe the modern horror film has become, well...just too modern. Too many of today's films rely on post-production & state-of-the-art gimmickry that usually turns the movie into an overblown, overcast, overproduced, overbudgeted pile of junk. It amazes me all of these remakes that keep getting shoved into our faces: The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen, The Fog, When a Stranger Calls, etc, etc. It's a shame that the majority of the present day movie viewers that these redo's are marketed toward can not appreciate the originals for what they were. Otherwise, why make them? Instead of the junk of today, give me some old school artistic vision, some craftiness with the camera, and a spooky musical score.
One note before we start, regarding an annoying trait of some horror film viewers. When I sit down in the big chair with popcorn & Jujyfruits in hand, I totally submerse myself into the movie (picking at the teeth, aside). I'm ready to be entertained, and in the case of this particular genre...scared, spooked, or just left feeling awkward and creeped out. If you're the type of person that comes out of a scary movie with a challenging attitude of "that didn't scare me" or "that couldn't happen," then you should probably skip these recommendations. You may simply find them "cheesy." Go watch some feel good Sandy Bullock dumb ass movie.
As mentioned, much of what you'll see here are older films, which are simply what I prefer when it comes to this genre. These films offer a certain aesthetic that you just can't find in today's horror. Right on time for Halloween weekend, here's a few of the best ones we've watched (of about 30) over the past month:
Suspiria (1977) - Frickin FANTASTIC film, and probably my favorite one directed by Italian horror master, Dario Argento. For those sub-title haters in the crowd...don't get yer panties in a bunch. It's all English speaking, although there are some dubbed voices in there. However, nothing to deter from how great this film is.
I believe the tagline on Suspiria was, "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes, are the first 92." Probably not the greatest tagline for those viewers (like me) who don't wish to know the length of a film before it starts, especially suspenseful thrillers. SPOILERS, PEOPLE!
I don't know anything about film making, but I'm told Argento's use of colors (is it the technicolor technique?) that's one of the enduring qualities that makes the images in Suspiria so unique. The murder sequences are simply horific, and the music to the film, performed by a band named "Goblin," ranks right up there with John Carpenter's original Halloween music...at least in my book.
Without giving away too much of the story, it's basically the best horror film you'll ever see about witches, co-written by Argento and his girlfriend at the time, Daria Nicolodi.
Recommendation: Serious Hi-Fives
Martin (1977) - George A. Romero's low budget film about a teenage kid, Martin (left), who believes he is a vampire. Don't expect Night of the Living Dead, or Dawn of the Dead here. It's a tad different from those zombie classics in that there's no classic monster images. I mean...Martin is a vampire (or is he? maybe he's not?), but there are no fangs piercing from his gums. He doesn't rise at night from a coffin and he doesn't get deterred by clumps of garlic.
On the contrary, Martin, played by John Amplas, stalks his prey in a more concise, practical way than your typical "nosferatu," which his uncle calls him throughout the film (which is pretty comical, actually). Martin's manuerisms and Romero's setting lend a realism to this film, whereas other vampire movies may lean towards more of a fantasy realm.
My fellow Pittsburgh posse will find it even more interesting in that it was filmed locally in Braddock, PA. As a special treatie for all my fellow RMU kids, you get to see former Robert Morris professor Tony Buba, who gets a little cameo role as a drug dealer at the end of the movie. This is also the first film that Romero had pal Buba do the sound for (the 2nd, I'm rather certain was Dawn of the Dead). Make sure you don't skip the extras of the DVD, which includes a short little 'making of Martin.' The house that Martin is shot in is actually Buba's former home in Braddock (you even get to see Mama Buba interviewed!). Great stuff.
confidential note to the RMU-ers: if anyone has the ability, please forward this to Tony. I would love to hear how he's doing. Word on the streets (translate: Nick), is that he's now working locally on a documentary, but you'd all know better than me. Selfishly speaking, I'd also like to know how in the world I can ever see 'Lightning Over Braddock: A Rustbowl Fantasy.'
For those not familiar with Buba, the documentary above was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at 1989's Sundance Film Fest. And for another little tidbit (straight from my personal Rain Man of film; translate again: Nick), legend has it that Mr. Buba actually shared a room at that Sundance with Mr. Steven Soderburgh, who happened to be premiering a little indie classic that year called, Sex, Lies & Videotape. Now that is some trivia bustin-out shits right there people...straight from your friends at 'Empties Crushed'.
HOLY CRAP, Nick! Six Degrees of Tony Buba! Starting with Robert Pollard (hint: use Soderburgh's Bubble). Or something like that.
OK, sorry for the sidetrack. Anyways...if you haven't yet seen Martin, it's well worth the spin.
Last House on the Left (1972) - to avoid fainting, keep repeating:
Included in the 'making' is David Hess (left, raping), the actor who plays Krug, the leader of this motley crue of thugery. Hess also does the original music for the film, a kind of goofy folk spin, which offers a stark, yet lighthearted contrast to the happenings on the screen. Not to say it's not effective. Quite the contrary, it adds a real-ness, everyday-ness kind of appeal that screams 'this crazy shit can really happen.'
It's amazing to compare this work from Craven, and say, The Hills Have Eyes (another creepy gem, imho) to a movie like Red Eye, which I thought was complete garbage (sorry, Wes). Hey, but those are the Hollywood blockbusters that pay the bills.
I won't spoil the rest of the Last House on the Left but let's just say that the violence bestowed upon the two original girlies is not the end the terror. So strap yourself in with this one, don't pee your pants (foreshadowing), and remember that it's only a movie.
Bruce Campbell would go on to define the genre, and for any fan of his, I would highly recommend seeing this one 1st and foremost.
I do, however, highly recommend checking it out from a simple nostalgic point of view. And I would dare say that Count Orlok (played by Max Schreck) is definitely one of the creepiest looking monsters of all time. Other film buffs will probably be able to tell you why it's such a great historical film, but I'll stay away from such conversation, and leave that to the more knowledgeable film peeps.
I simply enjoy the creepy images of Orlock and his castle, as well as the landscape shots of old Germany. There's a cool extra in the DVD that will show you comparison photos of both Bismarck, Germany then and now, and many of the buildings, while some are refurbished, still stand today. Call me a romantic turd, but I think that's well worth the rental.
At the very least, if the silent-ness of the film bores you (there is a score, at least), maybe Nosferatu can serve as a mood piece for some background fodder at your next Halloween clam bake. I guess that may come off as blasphemy to some folk.
Audition (2000) - now while Audition isn't silent, it is a Japanese film, so prep yourself for some sub-titles. I know that will have many of you running for the exits, but you'd be very remissed if you didn't give this one a shot. It's not really your prototypical horror film, but trust me...you will be horrified by the time it's over. And it's definitely a slow mover, but that's part of the greatness of Audition. Director Takashi Miike slowly builds the tension throughout, right up to one of the most memorable climatic scenes in any horror film, ever. Providing you can keep your eyes on the screen.
Please see this film. You will not be disappointed and you will most definitely be disturbed.
That's not to say Demons isn't a quality, fun-packed ride through the world of flesh eating ghouls. Corny 80's music aside, Demons is a lot of fun. So bottom line...don't expect Argento, but I'd recommend it nonetheless.
Shock Waves (1976) - as one of the quotes on the poster above claims, "the BEST of the Nazi Zombie horror movies." What it forgets to mention, they can also breath under water!
Actually, the only other Nazi zombie film I saw was Zombie Lake, which sucked.
But Shock Waves, on the other hand, is magnificent on every level (yes...I'm sticking by that statement). I love this film more and more each year. You can all poke fun at me all you want, but it's become an obsession. As Jess is my witness, an October can't go by without watching Shock Waves at least once.
It starts out with a still black & white photo of an actual group of Nazi SS troopers, with a narration that sounds like it's right out of In Search Of, minus the Leonard Nimoy voice. Legend has it that during WWII, some German Frankenstein-like doctors designed this indestructible soldier, trained in killing people with their bare hands (sounds like Bicks, actually). Oh, and they could breath under water. They called them...the "Death Corps."
Well, the Death Corps ship set sail for a 3 hour tour, during which, the war had ended. The ship turns into a ghost ship at some point because it gets lost and is never heard from again. Until now. Somewhere off the coast of Miami, some 40 years later, these crazy German bastards are up to no good.
Much of the film takes place on this tropical isle, during daylight hours as a group of vactioners are taking a little cruise in the Atlantic. It's this summer holiday setting, cast amidst the terror of the zombies, that gives Shock Waves a dichotemy of sorts that I'm pretty fond of.
Supporting roles by horror legends Peter Cushing and John Carradine lend a little credence to an otherwise unknown cast. A young Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Dead Zone) appears as the skimpy clothed whore. The best way I can say it:
Shock Waves is EVERYTHING!
Here's the original trailer, which I found from some dude on You Tube (it's somewhat soothing to the senses to know there are other Shock Waves fans out there):