Tom: I wanted to see Jaws in the summer of 1975 partly because I’d read the book. The hype must have helped. So my mother took me one day. She was concerned that I might be scared during the movie, so she reassured me that it was just a trained shark. It would take some time before all the lore about Bruce the mechanical shark filtered into popular consciousness. We stood in line. While waiting outside the theatre, I thought of the people inside the theater, getting to see Jaws right now, at that very instant. I occasionally speculated to my mother what part of the story was actually happening at any given point.
I don’t know how I made it past the emergence of Ben Gardner’s severed head on that day. But I vividly remember the shark lunging out of the water at Brody while he’s flinging chum. It terrified me. I hid my eyes. I kept them closed until the end of the movie, pressing my hands into my face just to be sure. I periodically asked my mother what was happening. I particularly remember Quint’s screams. “What’s happening now?” I asked, terrified.
After the jump, I was nine years old. Continue reading →
Tom: This artless trash has paved the way for hundreds, maybe thousands, of copycat movies about the slaughter and occasional torture of vapid teenagers. There’s no one to care about, no one to root for, no one even remotely interesting. It’s not funny, it’s not effective, and it’s certainly not scary. It’s like the clown at a birthday party that no one wants. Smell his flower. Go ahead. Smell it.
Chris: I was prepared, I thought. From the goofy title card that starts this movie to the opening half hour, I am buying into what I think this movie is selling. It’s grindhouse that wants to be arthouse, and I get it and I dig it because perhaps it has authentic 1974 ambitions to be what a guy like Quentin Tarantino’s been doing for 20 years. There are pieces here that feel as if they may have influenced Quentin, too. Abstract, odd dialogue. Some weirdness for weirdness sake with those gross, articulated carcass sculptures in the cemetery, for instance. A beautiful long shot of the van pulling over to pick up a hitchhiker. There are things to like here, perhaps.
After the jump, hacked to pieces Continue reading →
Chris: If you ask people to describe the most iconic scenes from The Exorcist, you’ll hear about pea soup, twisting heads, skin writing, and levitation. Those bits are all fine for what they are, and some of them are terrifying. Nothing in the movie though — not one thing — is as scary to me as one little line, uttered by the demon who’s possessed poor little Regan: “Father, could you help an old altar boy?”
We’re still fairly early in the possession at the point of this line. Doctors and specialists have tried to convince Chris MacNeil that her daughter’s problems are medical in nature. We’ve seen evidence to the contrary, but maybe we’re still sort of giving that some thin amount of credence. Even if we do think that there’s something supernatural afoot, maybe we’re trying to bargain that down. It’s the house. It’s the Ouija board. Something. That line — which Father Karras has already heard on a subway platform from a homeless man and uttered in the old man’s voice — turns any mitigation we might try to make of the demonic presence upside down. It suggests and omnipresence or at least omniscience on the part of the entity; it knows what we do and what we say and what we think. The implication of that line is terrifying.
After the jump, far too vulgar a display of power Continue reading →
Tom: I have such a soft spot for this goofy little made-for-ABC-TV movie for a few reason. Partly because I remember being freaked out by these made-for-ABC-TV movies as a kid. There was one about killer ants, where the survivors have to hole up in the attic while ants work their way up from the ground floor. There was another one about the crew of a Coast Guard helicopter who finds a bunch of dead bodies on sailboat adrift in the Bermuda Triangle. Of course, there was Trilogy of Terror, with Karen Black and the Zuni doll. But this is the one I remember most.
After the jump, don’t be afraid of the things you were afraid of when you were a kid? Continue reading →
Chris: Sometimes movies get lumped into the horror bin but fall short of meeting requirements of the genre. We’ve reviewed a few of those already. Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is a film that fits the mold, but also has ambition to push past those confines. It wants to be about sorrow and loss, it wants to be a murder mystery, and it never seems to want us to figure out quite exactly which of those things it is.
After the jump, I see red people. Continue reading →
Tom: This weird little forgettable anthology feels like it was made for English TV. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I can think of a couple of made-for-English-TV presentations that still hold up today: Ghostwatch and the original Woman In Black. But this thing? It just goes to show that even though we’re out of the age of grampa movies, we’ve got a whole new style of clunky to contend with.
After the jump, don’t mess with Peter Cushing Continue reading →
Chris: Jessica swims toward the middle of a placid little pond. The sky seems overcast, as if it could rain. The camera hovers just above her looking down, and we see it. Something’s slowly emerging from the depths. It comes into focus and we realize it’s a body. Jessica screams…and the clip suddenly cuts to a card with the lurid title of the movie, urging viewers to tune in after the late local news and the nightly 11 pm twin bill of MASH reruns.
When I was a child, that teaser clip was just about the scariest thing on TV, and for whatever reason Let’s Scare Jessica To Death seemed to air almost monthly on local stations that weren’t lucky enough to have Johnny Carson after the late news. The thing was ubiquitous, and fueled more than a few bad dreams. When I was old enough to stay up late to see it, I always missed it. When I was even older, I’d moved on to more recent films. Setting off on this tour seemed like the perfect time for me to finally see if there was anything to the film that gave me so many childhood nightmares.
After the jump, let’s scare Chris to death before he grows up Continue reading →
Tom: Here’s where it starts:
I can no longer associate myself
Rosemary sees that written on a page left out by the previous tenant, who has died. What does it mean? Why isn’t the line finished? This ominously incomplete thought isn’t just a bit of exposition about the old lady who used to live here and her local Satanic cult. It’s also a statement about pregnancy, when a woman’s body is taken over by another entity. I’ve never been pregnant, and neither has director Roman Polanski, or author Ira Levin. We can only imagine how frightening and confusing it might be. And wonderful, of course, but this is a horror movie.
After the jump, the beginning of an era Continue reading →
Chris: Witchfinder General is a sprawling, messy, clumsy, overreaching mess of a movie. In any conventional sense, it isn’t a horror film, either. I suspect that any moment Tom will be along to rip this odd, awkward movie to shreds, as he should. By empirical standards, this is a terrible movie. But I love it.
After the jump, you rang? Continue reading →
Tom: Although you can see kernels of zombie mythology in other sources, no single source is as influential as Night of the Living Dead. This is a movie that basically assembled an entire mythology. The shambling, the cannibalism, the undeath, the headshots, the child zombie, the confused newscasts, the asshole survivor undermining the group, the procedural elements of scavenging and barricading a house, the turning of infected victims, the relentless numbers, the misguided military response, the inevitable overrun, the merciless nihilism, the end of the world. It’s all here, fully formed, waiting to be aped. The only thing that never really caught on was flaming chairs kicked out of front doors as a tactic against besieging zombies.
But the beauty of Night of the Living Dead is that it’s not setting out for anything quite so grandiose as the foundation of a mythology. Instead, it’s mostly a parlor room drama, about the interaction of a handful of characters under duress. It could easily be a stage play.
After the jump, in the beginning, there was Night Continue reading →
Chris: Someone had to run the best stagecoach line before railroads. Someone made the best gas lamps before Edison. A similar sad fate belongs to Plague Of The Zombies, a decent enough picture from Hammer that’s more interesting for what came after than perhaps the actual film itself. There’s an important piece of zombie evolution present in this film. You could almost call it the zombie movie missing link, and for that alone it’s worth a look. Old school zombies to this point in time were of the deep trance, voodoo-created archetype. Plague’s zombies are voodo-created as well, but here you can see the kernel of some of the ideas Romero would establish with his zombie movies about zombies as mindless hungry shambling hordes.
Tom: I found the zombie element is the least interesting part of this movie. You’re right that Peter’s dream could easily be seen as an evolutionary link between traditional voodoo zombie movies and Romero’s zombie movies. But these zombies are just one piece of a larger puzzle, similar to the hounds in Hound of the Baskervilles. They’re a mystery to be solved. That’s why, for me, Plague of the Zombies works as an English mystery movie that happens to have zombies instead of a horror movie.
After the jump, elementary Continue reading →
Tom: Tomb of Ligeia stars the hardest working cat in show business. This movie can’t go five minutes without someone tossing the cat from offscreen. The big finale consists of about twenty cat tossings and then some cat wrestling. But even before then, the cat has to fight a whip. He also has to fight some sort of boat hook thing that will be used in fifteen years to stick the shark in Jaws to no effect. The cat gets mountain lion dialogue. He has to wear sunglasses. No joke. The cat is made to wear sunglasses. He’s sitting there sulking with the sunglasses on his face. “Not cool,” he seems to be saying.
After the jump, Vincent Price in a supporting role Continue reading →
Chris: In May and June of 1960, two of Britain’s most famous and respected directors released films that centered around the murderous exploits of psychotic, troubled young men. One of those films–Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho–is considered one of the great, classic horror films of all time; a movie with scenes that are an essential part of Western popular culture and characters and settings recognized around the world.
After the jump, the other film Continue reading →
Tom: This one was a triple heartbreaker for me. I quickly realized we weren’t watching that movie about the Goodyear Blimp ramming a football game. The second heartbreak came from my confusion that this was Black Sabbath, a horror anthology with one incredibly effective segment involving a nurse who has to sit up all night with the corpse of an old woman who’s just died. I rewatched that a few years ago and, oh boy, does it hold up! But this is not Black Sabbath. This is Black Sunday. And then my third heartbreak came after I called this up on Netflix and saw that I’d previously given it one star. You ever do that? Go to watch something on Netflix and see that you’ve already rated it and think to yourself, “I’ve seen this already?”
After the jump, I sure have. Continue reading →
Chris: The second film in our tour was fairly disappointing. Despite using the same production crew and lead actors as Curse Of Frankenstein, Hammer’s take on the legendary vampire hasn’t aged nearly as well.
After the jump, dead and hating it Continue reading →