Thursday, October 29, 2015

'Halloween' 1978, still the best Halloween horror film

By Steve D. Stones

John Carpenter’s classic 1978 film – Halloween is the standard by which every schlocky slasher film that followed aspired to be but failed miserably. It manages to scare the pants right off you without showing one drop of blood. Author Stephen King once said that the best killers in horror are the ones who give us no explanation for their killing. Michael Meyers fits this description well. He is a killing machine who will stop at nothing to kill. The viewer is never given any specific reason for Meyers’ desire to kill, making him all the more effective and Halloween all the more scary.

Lori Strode, played by 19 year old Jamie Lee Curtis, is more interested in hitting the books after school than hitting on boys. Her friends tease her about studying too much and not chasing boys. Her friend Annie, played by Nancy Loomis, tries to set Lori up with a boy at school she has a crush on. Both girls are babysitting on Halloween night when a psychotic killer, Michael Meyers, escapes from an Illinois State mental institution and comes to their town. Meyers stabbed to death his teenage sister some fifteen years earlier in 1963. He returns to the scene of the crime in Haddonfield, Illinois on the night of Halloween 1978.

Carpenter successfully creates impending fear in the viewer by never fully showing Meyer’s face. He relies greatly on shots that show Meyer’s shoulder in the frame of a shot, or by showing his silhouette in dark, shadowy environments.  Other shots show Meyers stepping briefly into the shot, only to be quickly consumed by shadows in the background. This is effective and creepy film-making, worthy of techniques used in the silent German-Expressionist masterpiece – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

I respect the Rob Zombie 2007 remake-homage to Halloween, but it is not nearly the classic of Carpenter’s 1978 film. Zombie spends too much screen time giving us a back story of how Meyers evolved into a killer and his obsession with creating masks in his mental institution cell. Like many children in 1983 who saw Return of The Jedi, I was greatly disappointed to see the man behind Darth Vader’s mask at the end when Luke Skywalker reveals his identity. I feel the same with Michael Meyers. Meyers is much more evil and mysterious when the viewer is not aware of his past and what he looks like behind the mask. I really don’t care why he kills, or what motivates him to kill. The fear a viewer experiences in Halloween is better felt by not knowing his identity.

One ridiculous criticism that Halloween received when it premiered in 1978 is that Carpenter was trying to make a moral statement about pre-marital sex and teenagers, since some of the victims killed by Meyers are teenagers having sex on Halloween night. Lori Strode, the smart girl who avoids boys and refuses to engage in sex, is the person who survives Meyers’ attacks. Carpenter’s town of Haddonfield, Illinois is not a town like Andy of Mayberry. This critique is complete nonsense. Carpenter actually adds a great sense of realism to his film by showing teenagers being sexually active. Is it safe to say that many teenagers do get together on Halloween night and engage in sexual
activity? I think it is safe to say that they do, therefore Carpenter shows us a side of Middle America teens that is accurate.

Carpenter was smart not to get involved in any of the sequels to Halloween, at least in terms of directing them. Halloween II picks up where the first Halloween film ends, but it is a disappointing effort mostly because it takes place in a dimly lit hospital. Halloween III blacklists the Meyers character and instead concerns a plot to kill children with rigged Halloween masks.

This Halloween Season, enjoy a great classic by viewing John Carpenter’s 1978 classic – Halloween. You might get your pants scared off you, but you won’t be disappointed. Happy Viewing!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rob Zombie's take on 'Halloween'

By Steve D. Stones

John Carpenter’s classic film Halloween literally took the box office by storm in 1978. It was immediately hailed as “the new Psycho of the 1970s” and remained the highest grossing independent film for more than 20 years, despite a budget of only $320,000.

It ushered in the “slasher genre” of the 1980s, and remains a classic of the horror film. Its influence can still be seen in many horror films of today.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the film’s release. Rob Zombie’s 2007 reworking homage to Carpenter’s film is also a real treat for the horror film aficionado. Zombie concentrates on giving the audience the point of view of the Michael Meyers character, his childhood, and the transition he makes from a child’s clown mask to the iconic Michael Meyer’s mask that has become so familiar to moviegoers and horror fans.

This time we see a more human side to the Meyers character and less of the supernatural characteristic that defines Meyers in the Carpenter film. The Meyers family can be defined as the typical dysfunctional, middle-American family, with a divorced mother, Deborah Meyers, who works as a stripper, played by the director’s wife Sherrie Moon Zombie, and her deadbeat lazy boyfriend who constantly argues with Judith and avoids the children.

The Meyers home is in constant chaos, which drives Michael to trapping and killing animals in the home bathroom while wearing his clown mask. Zombie makes many of the same references that Carpenter makes in his film, such as a scene of Howard Hawks’ 1951 film The Thing playing on the television, and the music of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Young Michael Meyer’s even wears a KISS T-shirt to school.

The one reference that got my attention immediately is a scene of a young couple having sex in the Meyer’s rundown house while they play the punk rock song “Halloween” by The Misfits, which is sung in Latin. Zombie has also kept the eerie Carpenter score from the original film intact. Zombie spends more time showing the audience the interaction that takes place between Dr. Samuel Loomis, played by Malcolm McDowell, and Michael Meyers as a child. Dr. Loomis records his thoughts into a tape recorder while videotaping young Meyers in his handmade masks.

Meyers spends his time at the sanitarium making paper mache masks. His obsession grows to a room full of masks covering every inch of wall space in his cell. Another major difference between the two films is that the Lori Strode character in the Carpenter film is a virginal, bookworm babysitter who avoids boys out of complete shyness. Lori Strode in the Zombie film is at times a very sexual, nasty teenager who isn’t afraid to use foul language and talk about boys. She appears to be more confident about herself, and enjoys participating in the normal behaviors of a teenage girl.

From a complete visual standpoint, I found this film to be very well made, with genuine scares that kept me on the edge of my seat. Zombie manages to make horror films that combine bizarre visuals and rapid montages that work well with his choice of sound and music. Like his music and live performances, you will walk away from Halloween feeling very entertained and genuinely frightened.

I highly recommend this film to any horror film buff and fan of Zombie’s music. Two thumbs way up on this one!!!!!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Plan9Crunch podcast -- Two Thousand Maniacs

Today, in our second podcast, Plan9Crunch cult movies expert Steve D. Stones tells us all about the wonderfully gory, deliciously comedic "Two Thousand Maniacs," Herschell Gordon Lewis' classic follow-up to "Blood Feast." The movie was made in 1964 and produced by David Friedman. Listen below:

DVD Review: 'The Mishaps of Musty Suffer': Why is Harry Watson, Jr. so unknown?

For this post, we thank Joe Gandelman and hi wonderful blog, The Moderate Voice, for this review of classic, silent comedy. "The Mishaps of Musty Suffer" is cross-posted here. We urge readers to check out Joe's blog.


Let’s say it now: generations of film historians and the media OWE a too-belated apology to one Harry Watson, Jr., a comedy genius who starred in a 1916-1917 series of comedies way — and, oh, do I mean w-a-y – ahead of their time.
How many of you ever heard of him?
In the case of poor Fatty Arbuckle, Arbuckle was a huge (figuratively and literally) silent comedy star who most historians now agree was a)framed in massive scandal b)eventually exonerated by a jury c)made a political scapegoat by being blacklisted by an industry caving to government and public pressure to set an example to those rich, indulgent Hollywood entertainer types. His work was almost lost but some of it has been brilliantly reassembled, remastered and preserved so that fans of comedy, students of comedy, film historians, and aspiring comedians can “discover” his shamelessly suppressed genius. In other words: no matter what, many people have at least HEARD of him.
Which takes us back to Watson, Jr.
How you do you describe these comedies? The DVD’s website says:
The Mishaps of Musty Suffer is a cartoony and surreal silent comedy film series produced in 1916 and 1917. Wildly popular during its release it has been oddly overlooked and neglected ever since. Chronicling the misadventures of put-upon tramp Musty Suffer, who lives a slapstick version of the Story of Job in which he bears the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the series was an American descendant of the zany and anarchic early European comedies of Pathé and Gaumont. Its star is the equally forgotten Harry Watson, Jr., a very popular stage clown and who had graduated from vaudeville and Ringling Brothers’ Circus to become a headliner of the early Ziegfeld Follies, where he rubbed elbows with legends like Fanny Brice, Bert Williams and Leon Errol.
But that still doesn’t explain what you see.
You see impeccably restored copies, preserved by the Library of Congress, with utterly wonderful new piano scores by silent film accompanist Ben Model, painstakingly pegged to the action on the screen.
You see special effects including a foreshadowing of Mary Poppins’ magically putting all the toys away. You see dark humor: an arm getting cut off — even one comedy ending with the hero committing suicide.
It’s a foreshadowing of the zany Max Fleischer, Tex Avery and Warner Brothers animated cartoons that emerged during the sound era — and of late 20th century and early 21st century dark humor. You also see early silents that clearly relied at least partially on a script. Unlike the Mack Sennett comedies where the silent comedy master decreed lots of action action and action and ad libbing, many of the Musty Suffer comedies with their zany set of superb actors were clearly carefully thought out in terms of the gags and story line.
The fact these DVDs are being released is due to some highly dedicated folks. The website again: “The DVD was curated by Steve Massa and Ben Model, and was produced for video by Ben Model/Undercrank Productions. The project was funded by a Kickstarter campaign of 126 backers.”
Reviews on Amazon and other sites show people hugely impressed and surprised, who find these comedies hard to describe. No they aren’t. The humor is WAY ahead of most of what was produced in 1916-1917 in terms of scope, gags, scripting and special effects (realize they had severe limitations in that department). Watson, Jr. is an incredible role model for those interested in clowning, physical comedy, and how to communicate smoothly and visually.
Here’s the trailer for the release of this disgracefully unknown comedy genius’ work and the work of his extremely talented filmmakers:

And here’s one short from the DVD posted on You Tube from 1917:

Sadly, having worked in the media and being a vacuum cleaner of books on entertainment, I doubt if film historians and others will give Watson, Jr. the credit he deserves. Historians read other historians. And guess who isn’t mentioned in most of these accounts?
History often perpetuates the work of future historians — even incomplete history.
But make no mistake about it: many of the 8 shorts on this DVD (a total of 30 were produced) show someone who should have been mentioned along with the greats of his era.
Could film historians kindly now give Harry Watson, Jr. the respect he most assuredly deserved??
Available at Amazon here. And Volume 2 is here.

ALSO RECOMMENDED: The definitive Fatty Arbuckle collection. Since his films were left to rot, a major worldwide effort ended in this collection — finding bits and pieces from collectors, or restoring old prints. It starts with the chaotic Sennett comedies, then you see him develop in shorts with more plot and character. He brings in his protege Buster Keaton and the two became a superb, early film comedy team. Then, sadly, at the end, you see a film never released in the U.S due to the scandal — one that ran in Europe, which indicates he had nailed the concepts of character and pathos and could possibly have achieved his dream of being mentioned in the same breath as Charlie Chaplin: Buy here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Plan 9 Crunch podcast! The Raven and Bela Lugosi

 Today, Oct. 20, is Bela Lugosi's birthday. To honor the screen's "Dracula" we offer our first podcast, musing on one of Lugosi's greatest roles, the mad genius Dr. Vollin in "The Raven," from 1935, from Universal. Listen:

Monster From Green Hell - Nightmares In Central Africa

By Steve D. Stones

With the success of Them in 1954, it was inevitable that a series of giant bug movies would soon follow on the big screen. Most were inferior efforts in comparison to Them. Monster From Green Hell (1957) is one of those lesser-known efforts that caters to an age of atomic fears.

Dr. Quentin Brady, played by Jim Davis of TV's Dallas, is a scientist who sends animal and insect test subjects into space to study the effects of cosmic radiation. One of Brady's rockets with a wasp specimen crashes in Central Africa in a region known by natives as Green Hell. The natives soon report seeing strange giant monsters in the area, but never specifically state they are giant wasps. These claims are dismissed as native superstitions.

Brady and his assistant Dan Morgan decide to track four hundred miles into Central Africa to investigate the claims. Along the way they encounter water shortage, dehydration, attacks from natives and a contaminated water hole. Soon they encounter a village wiped out by giant insects.

A lot of screen time is spent showing Brady, Morgan and their guides tracking through the African jungle. Although Brady and Morgan discover the source of the native's claims to be giant wasps, the creatures who appear on screen look nothing like wasps. They move very slowly and look more like a cross between a crab and a moth. The stop motion animation is a bit dated, but still makes the film fun to watch. One of the giant wasps even battles a giant snake towards the end of the film.

Brady and crew are eventually chased into a cave by one of the wasps. Dynamite is used to hold the wasps back from entering the cave, but instead traps the explorers in the cave. They find a way out just as a volcano in the area erupts and kills the nest of giant wasps.

Like the strange giant rat-bat-spider in Angry Red Planet (1960), the cult appeal of Monster From Green Hell may be in how the giant wasps are shown. They are not very convincing as wasps, but their strange appearance and slow stop motion animation adds to the appeal of the film.

The punk rock band The Misfits recorded a song entitled Green Hell in the early 1980s on their Earth A.D. album. The song was later covered as an homage by the Heavy Metal band Metallica in 1987. This song is likely inspired by Monster From Green Hell. Happy viewing.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bela Lugosi plays a fake bloodsucker in Mark of the Vampire

By Doug Gibson

MGM's 1935 thriller, Mark of the Vampire, directed by Tod Browning, is such a marvelous film for 50 minutes that you just want to scream at what Browning did to cheat viewers in the final 9 minutes. Yeah, I know it's a sort of remake of the 1927 London After Midnight, (now lost) and Browning stubbornly refused to mess with that plot. But nevertheless, it was a big mistake to turn this supernatural fantasy into a murder mystery. There's a reason Mark of the Vampire is not discussed in the same revered tones today as Dracula, Frankenstein, or even White Zombie ... it's because that cheat of an ending.

First, the plot: Sir Karell Borotyn, master of an estate in central Europe, is found dead, bloodless, one night in his reclusive castle. The villagers are sure it's the work of a vampire, but Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) scoffs at such a theory. And inquest declares the death from causes unknown. A planned wedding between the Sir Karrell's daughter, Irena, and a young man named Fedor Vicente, has been postponed. Baron Otto Von Zinden (Jean Hersholt) is handling the late man's estate.

Move forward nearly a year. The murder is unsolved. The castle is decaying, full of vermin and insects. Suddenly, two vampires are seen by villagers and other. They are described as the undead bodies of Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter, Luna (Carroll Borland). Fedor and Irina are both attacked, presumably by the vampires. The villages are in an uproar. The skeptical Inspector Neumann is joined by eccentric Professor Zelen, played by Lionel Barrymore in an outstanding performance of a very chewy, Van Helsing-like role. Zelen supports the vampire theory. Through further investigation, it is revealed that a personage who resembles the dead Borotyn has been seen roaming the castle and heard playing the organ. A visit to his crypt reveals an empty coffin. Baron Otto Von Zinden is getting very nervous.

The gothic, horror atmosphere in this film is superb. Lugosi is at his best. His vampire performance, short though it is, rivals his Dracula performance. The beautiful Borland radiates screen presence as Luna. Inexplicably, she had a very small film career but her image became iconic because of this role. A scene where she swoops down, in batlike fashion, to the castle's floor, is one of the finest scenes I have seen. The ghostly, filthy decay of the castle is better than Browning's depictions in Dracula. As mentioned, Barrymore is great with his dedicated persistence as the "vampire seeker."

The final 10 minutes reveal the whole affair to be an elaborate practical joke to enable the actual killer, Baron Otto Von Zindon, to recreate the murder on the actor playing Sir Karell. That's bad enough, but Browning also turns Lugosi and Borland into actors and provides silly dialogue at the end. One reason the film maintains such effective mood and atmosphere for so long is because Browning only revealed the trick ending near the end of shooting. Legend has it that most of the cast was furious. In his biography, "The Immortal Count," Lugosi's biographer, Arthur Lennig, mentions Lugosi suggested that the real actors for Mora and Luna arrive at the very end, apologizing for arriving late. That sounds like a great idea that would have retained more fame for this otherwise excellent film, but Browning, and MGM, said no.

The short running time, 59 minutes, was trimmed from an original 75-minute film (the excess is lost). Some say that village humor scenes were cut, Others claim that a subplot, where it's mentioned that Mora committed incest with his daughter Luna, and later killed her and himself, was taken out.It is ironic that Lugosi's Mora has a clear bullet wound on the left side of his forehead/temple. As mentioned, Mark of the Vampire is a remake of Browning's London After Midnight, in which the faux monster is played, with truly horrifying makeup, by Lon Chaney Sr. A 45-minute version of that lost film has been gathered into a movie comprised entirely of still shots. It has played on TCM and turns out to be much better than it would seem to be.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Buy the scary ghost tale 'Yehudi' on Kindle

At Plan9Crunch we are happy to offer via Kindle a short story, "Yehudi," that is a ghost tale set on Ogden, Utah's Historic 25th Street, a location that is rife with ghost legends. The story is penned by blogger Doug Gibson and offers cover art from co-blogger Steve D. Stones. It's only 99 cents, and we think you'll enjoy the read. To check it out, go here. (The original art that made the cover is below) Also, if you like my story, it's part of an anthology, "Tales From Two Bit Street and Beyond Part II," which can be purchased here.

Here is the pitch at the Kindle site: People usually take a chilly, adventurous delight in detailing the supernatural. They feel an icy breeze, see a ghostly white phantom sliding by, or sense a mostly tender touch. But it's different with Yehudi, the trickster of Ogden's Union Station. He makes a great first impression, until the face below the dark hat is revealed. It's then the terror starts.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Manster - He Has A Split Personality

By Steve D. Stones

The Manster (1958) is also known as The Split. On the surface, it is a retelling or homage to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.  The difference here is that Larry, played by Peter Dyneley, is experimented on without his consent or knowledge, which unleashes his evil, Mr. Hyde side.

Larry is an American journalist working in Japan who travels to a mountain top laboratory near a volcano to conduct an interview with Dr. Robert Suzuki, played by Satoshi Nakamura. Larry's newspaper is looking for an exciting news story to increase sales and make the newspaper more interesting. He conducts an interview with Suzuki about his lab experiments, all of which have gone terribly wrong. Larry's real motivation is to get back home to his wife in New York.

After the interview, Larry falls asleep in Suzuki's mountain cabin. Suzuki injects him in the right shoulder with a serum he uses on other lab subjects. He tells his beautiful assistant Tara that his choice to inject Larry is for science and human knowledge, despite her objections.

When Larry returns to Tokyo, his personality starts to change. He begins to drink heavily, mingle with Geisha girls, argue with his boss and cavort with Tara.  An eye starts to grow on his right shoulder and thick hair on his arm, which foreshadows the beast that soon develops in his body.

Eventually, a grotesque head grows out of Larry's right shoulder. He murders a priest at a Buddhist temple. His boss sends a psychiatrist to examine Larry, which he refuses to see. The Tokyo police suspect Larry of many recent murders.

The best scene is saved for the end when Larry returns to Suzuki's mountaintop laboratory to confront him for what he's done.  Suzuki injects him with another serum just before he literally splits in half, releasing his evil self from his good self.  He throws Tara into a volcano before the split.

Not only are there similarities to Stevenson's classic Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but another obvious similarity is The Wolf Man (1941). In fact, the Wolf Man's real life name is also Larry. Both Larrys are everyday, ordinary men who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and later pay a price by becoming evil.  Neither men wants to be evil, but become victims of circumstance. Happy viewing. Watch the infamous eyeball scene below. The entire film is here.