Sunday, October 30, 2016

For Halloween -- Scariest scenes from Steve Stones

Editor's note: This week, in honor of Halloween, Plan9Crunch bloggers Steve D. Stones and Doug Gibson will share what they both see as the five scariest minutes in film. 
1). Night of The Living Dead (1968) – After witnessing her brother being attacked by a zombie in a Pennsylvania graveyard, Barbara (Judith O’Dea) runs to a nearby farmhouse to hide. She walks up stairs with a horrified look on her face and a kitchen knife in hand. The shadows of the banister cast across her face as the camera quickly zooms in closely to reveal a rotting corpse lying on the floor at the top of the stairs.

2). Poltergeist (1982). – A paranormal researcher investigating reports of ghosts in the suburban home of a young family goes to the kitchen to find something to eat.  He places a raw piece of meat from the refrigerator on the kitchen counter while eating a chicken leg. The meat suddenly starts to crawl slowly across the counter and the piece of chicken in his mouth spits out maggots. He runs to the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. While looking in the mirror, he starts to pull the flesh off his face as chunks fall into the sink and blood drips everywhere.

3). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – After being terrorized by an inbred family of cannibals, including Leatherface – a chainsaw carrying psycho wearing a human skin mask, Sally (Marilyn Burns) is gagged and bound to a chair made of human arms. The grandpa of the family drinks Sally’s blood and attempts to knock her out with a hammer, but is too weak. This scene is so grueling that the sweat pouring from the faces of the actors involved heightens the uncomfortable, uneasy feeling the viewer experiences while the scene unfolds.  Sally eventually gets free and jumps out the window as Leatherface chases her once again down with a chainsaw – the most famous scene of the film.

4). Nosferatu (1922) – In this German Expressionist masterpiece of the silent era, Hutter – a real estate agent, is trapped inside the castle of Count Orlock. Hutter discovers the crypt where Orlock sleeps at night. Peeking through the crack of a stone coffin lid, Hutter can see the count lying in the coffin. He quickly pushes the stone lid off the coffin as the count stares directly at the camera in a frozen glance. This scene will chill your blood.

5). Jaws (1975) – Police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) are onboard a boat called the Orca to hunt down a giant shark terrorizing the sunbathers and swimmers of the ocean town of Amity. Brody leans over the boat to throw a “chum line” of fish guts into the water to attract the shark.  A giant shark raises its head from the water as Brody throws the line into the water. He immediately stands upright and walks backward with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and quietly says the most famous line in the film to Captain Quint – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

Happy Halloween!

Steve D. Stones

For Halloween -- My five scariest scenes in film

By Doug Gibson

The late-great Alfred Hitchcock was fond of saying, “People pay money to be scared.” In honor of this Halloween season I offer my take on the five scariest scenes in film history. If you want more commentary on scary movies scenes, read my blog colleague Steve D. Stones, art professor at Weber State University, offer his five most chilling scenes here.

Without procrastination, let’s get to scariest movie scene 1: It’s the final 10 minutes of “Suspiria,” a 1977 Italian horror flick directed by Dario Argento. It stars Jessica Harper as a U.S. dance student who discovers her European dance academy is run by a coven of witches. The final ultimate scary scene involves a possessed colleague of young Ms Harper who goes on the attack at the film’s climax. Argento’s skills have deteriorated in recent decades but “Suspiria” remains a contender for the scariest film ever made.

To read the rest of this "scariest movie scenes column, go to the Standard-Examiner newspaper site, where I also published this. You can keep on reading here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Vampire is a nice matinee type of Halloween chiller

Review by Doug Gibson

If you can get past the typical white bread, horror comes to Pleasant-town feel of 1957's "The Vampire," it's not a bad little G-rated chiller that probably scared its fair share of children at matinees.

Like, "Earth Versus the Spider," "Return of Dracula," "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," and others, dastardly deeds and horrific images are infecting themselves in suburbia with mostly non-threatening parents, loyal women and kids with straight teeth.

Veteran actor John Beal plays a small-town doctor who comes across an eccentric colleague who dies of a heart attack. This late doctor had been doing experiments into adrenaline, the release of inhibitions and blood depletion. Apparently, it kills every animal except vampire bats. Before this doctor dies, he provides pills he'd been taking.

In a pretty clever twist, the good small town doctor's cute as a button daughter accidentally gives dad one of the experimental pills when he asks her for his migraine pills. Zammo, he's infected and his patients start turning up dead, often with little bite marks on their necks.

I digress to let the reader know that Vampire in the title is kind of tease. Other than the prick marks, this is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of movie, with Beal's character turning into a Mr. Hyde more grotesque than Fredric March's interpretation. Under the influence, he loses all inhibitions and wants to kill.

Beal carries the film with his performance. He's generally crushed by what's happened to him and wants to stop his nocturnal changes ... but not enough to take the sensible step of turning himself in and insisting he be jailed, both to prove his malady and protect others.

His co-stars do a good job in workmanlike roles. Coleen Gray is the loyal nurse saved at the end by the good sheriff, Kenneth Tobey. In small roles are capable vets Herb Vigran as a cop and Hallene Hill as an elderly victim.

The excellent character actor Dabbs Greer has a strong role as an academic friend of Beal's who has been overseeing the research that killed the first doctor. He and Beal are supposed to be friends. I like Greer but he's a little miscast here, seeming more like a small time dentist than a major scientist. He's also vapid as heck, not believing Beal's very credible claims that he turns into a homicidal maniac until it's tool late.

Paul Landres does a capable job directing this lean film with more than a few sanitized shocks. If you haven't seen it you can watch it above. It's a worthy choice for this Halloween season.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special - 1976

Watch the Paul Lynde Halloween Special at Amazon Prime.

By Steve D. Stones

This fun 1976 TV episode of the Paul Lynde Show is like a pairing of the 80s TV show Solid Gold meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). The three musical performances by the rock icons KISS is obviously staged and lip-synced. KISS perform their super hits - Detroit Rock City, Beth and King of The Night Time World, all from their Destroyer album. Florence Henderson gets into the lip-syncing act by singing That Old Black Magic in a black dress.

The funniest skit of the show is Lynde playing a truck driver named "Big Red" the Rhinestone Trucker, which is an obvious parody of Rhinestone Cowboy. Rhinestone Trucker wants to marry a sexy waitress named "Kinky Pinky" at Big-D's diner, played by Roz "Pinky Tuscadero" Kelly.

Comedian Tim Conway creates a love triangle by rushing to the diner in an attempt to marry Kelly on the same night at midnight.  Lynde crashes the wedding by driving his semi-truck into the diner. Lynde eventually gets the girl and gives her a lug-nut wedding ring from his truck tire.

Lynde begins the episode by dressing as Santa Claus and making us believe that it is Christmas instead of Halloween. His housekeeper, Margaret Hamilton, reminds him that it is not Christmas. He then switches to Easter, then Valentine's Day, and finally realizes it is Halloween season. Hamilton repises her wicked witch of the west role from The Wizard of Oz (1939) by dressing in a black witch's costume with green make-up.

The entire episode is filled with pop-culture references. Don't miss the young Donnie and Marie Osmond shoving Lynde into a garbage can in an early musical number in the episode. Betty White also makes an appearance.

This episode of The Paul Lynde Show only aired once on October 29th, 1976, and was thought to have been lost forever. It's fortunate that the episode was found through one of the producers of the TV show and put out on DVD a few years ago. For fans of KISS, this is a must have in their collection. Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Street Corner - Premarital Sex Gone Wrong

By Steve D. Stones

The title of this 1948 exploitation classic is a bit misleading. The title itself and the artwork on the DVD cover of a girl leaning against a street corner pole leads the viewer to believe that it is a film about female prostitution.  It's really more of a morality tale mixed with sex education clips.

Kroger Babb produced a film in 1945 - Mom and Dad, which showed a graphic depiction of child birth on the screen. Street Corner was made just a few years after Mom and Dad, and may have tried to top Babb's film by showing several child birth sequences, including a caesarean birth sequence that is not for the squeamish or those with a weak stomach.  This sequence was difficult for me to sit through. It makes the viewer sympathize with what a woman goes through to give birth, which is likely the point of the sequence.

Teenager Lois March and her boyfriend Bob Mason are two naive lovers who want to get married on prom night. Mason is leaving for college soon, and the two decide to put off marriage for a short while. Mason feels it is important to at least start college before diving into marriage.

While in a local diner, Lois hears on the radio that Bob has been killed in a car accident. Knowing that she is pregnant with Bob's child, she becomes ashamed and hopeless after his death. She decides to visit an abortion clinic to terminate the life of the child. She feels she cannot face her family and friends with the news that she is pregnant out of wedlock.

Street Corner ends with a very lurid sex education segment hosted by a medical doctor, played by Joseph Crehan. Here the viewer is subjected to a series of films showing natural child birth. The most graphic of the films included shows a C-section (caesarean) procedure that is difficult to sit through. It would likely only appeal to medical students, and not viewers of 1940s exploitation films. Other sequences show close up views of a vagina and penis with syphilis and gonorrhea.

The DVD of Street Corner put out by Video also includes a short 1943 film - Easy To Get. This is another sex education film, but aimed at servicemen in the military. This is a venereal disease prevention film that warns servicemen of the dangers of picking up women at clubs, bars, restaurants and dance halls. The film also includes graphic close up shots of the penis in various stages of gonorhea. The narrator also emphasizes the importance of using a condom.

Watch a clip from Street Corner here. Happy viewing!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films: A review

Review by Doug Gibson

"The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films: 1931 to 1936," by Jon Towlson, McFarland ( (800-253-2187), has a provocative thesis. Towlson differs with other scholars that early sound horror films were tamer than the so-called torture porn today. I was skeptical of that claim. I abhor garbage such as the "Saw" and "Hostel" films; conversely, I love the early- to mid-1930s cycle of horrors. However, I must confess that Towlson makes a pretty good case.

While we watch these old movies, with nary a cuss word and the obligatory "good" ending, often with a heterosexual couple embracing, it's easy to forgot what we've seen on the screen is pretty darn gruesome and sadistic. An iconic reminder of such can be glanced above at the book's cover, with Bela Lugosi, as Dr. Mirakle, torturing to death the prostitute played by Arlene Francis in "Murders In the Rue Morgue." She's on a cross, looking a lot like a female Christ.

But work the brain to think of the other classic oldies. The "Frankenstein" monster tossing a child to drown. "Dracula" killing a young flower girl. "Dr. X"'s face melting. The deranged doctor in "Mad Love" played by Peter Lorre seems to achieve orgasm as he watches a faux torture scene in the Grand Guignol. Or a mad wax sculpture artist in "Mystery of the Wax Museum," with tender voice, leading a young lovely to have hot wax poured on her. Or the nymphomaniac daughter and sadistic father in "The Mask of Fu Manchu." Or the "Freaks" turning Cleopatra into a bird. Or implied necrophilia and overt Satanism ("The Black Cat"). Or finally, the scene that sticks with me: the unlucky admirer of a sadist's wife who gets his lips sown together because he kissed the said sadist's wife; such occurs in"Murders In the Zoo." And what about the implicit bestiality in "Island of Lost Souls?"

These are grisly images, and just because they are not as explicit as what we see today doesn't lessen their shock value. It may even enhance it, as Towlson explains, with the use of shadows, sound, symbols, and the force of these things, which can play on the viewers' imagination. As the author notes, many of these films were either locked away for decades or played in heavily censored .versions until only a generation ago.

"Five reels of transgression followed by one reel of retribution" is a quote from the Nation magazine. It's the title of the longest chapter, the one that provides overviews of the films discussed. That phrase probably captures the heart of the book. Towlson claims that having a happy ending, or a side plot with goofy guests or wisecrack reporters, allowed the early horror filmmakers to get a lot of the horror, with sadism and shocks into the films. Is there a 1930's horror film from a major company without a "good" ending? Even "Freaks" has a tacked-on scene with a guilty Hans being consoled after the shocking scene of Cleopatra post-torture.

The book details the many battles, and concessions made with censors, to get the films completed and into theaters. There's a lot of tantalizing what ifs. What if "The Bride of Frankenstein," a superb film, had followed its earlier "Return of Frankenstein" plot where the monster kills his creator and his wife, but still, a character with pathos, draws to his knees imploring a kind word from God. At that point, a bolt of lightning kills the monster. That's a pretty cool ending; I'm sure James Whale would have loved it.

Or what of "Dracula's Daughter," still a fine film -- with pretty overt lesbianism that the prudish censors missed -- which was intended to have a prologue with Dracula and friends both ravishing and consuming captive young women. In fact, screenwriter John Balderston, Towlson tells us, was urging that the film push the boundaries of horror to more shocking levels. Alas, "Dracula's Daughter" was filmed in that mid-30s when the censors were putting more muscle on the horror filmmakers. It's one of the last of the pre-code horrors.

If you don't believe that the earlier films pushed more buttons than the later ones through the 40s, take the test. Watch "Dr. X" and then watch "The Return of Dr. X"; watch the Frederic March "Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde," with an erotic scene between the good doctor and a prostitute (Miriam Hopkins) and watch later adaptations. Watch "Dracula" and compare it to "Son of Dracula." Or "Bride of Frankenstein" and then "Son of Frankenstein." Although still-excellent films, much of the sadism, the lust, the sheer enjoyment of wallowing in wickedness was taken away after 1936.

Towlson devotes chapters to how the filmmakers managed to get around the censors -- it was always a chess game -- with the cheesy endings of love and kisses. MGM in particular would have wisecracking reporters suddenly announce marriage at the end. Universal would have cast members in films such as "The Raven" and "The Black Cat" make wisecracks very soon after experiencing, and surviving, intense horror. Towlson surmises that the these were subtle protests of the directors who wanted to make their "happy endings" as unrealistic as possible. Maybe, but I think that during the Great Depression, weary movie-goers wanted scares that came with happy endings. Real life wasn't ending so well.

Another chapter deals with the film censors, the Breen people, finally asserting their will and "cleaning" the movies up." As Towlson notes, this had an effect on new movies such as "The Walking Dead," "Devil Doll" and the aforementioned "Dracula's Daughter." It also helped bring in the horror ban that lasted a few years until the industry realized the public wanted more monsters, even if they were a little sanitized.

Towlson's book is a brainy one and it may take some careful reading. There's a section on how these films' critics of a couple of generations ago clash with more modern scholarship, and so on. But it's a rewarding read because it brings us to the table of the filmmakers, what they wanted to create, how far they wanted to go and were able to go. We're witnesses to the negotiations with the movie industry and state censors. I was surprised to learn that in the early 1930s, the film studios were often helped by industry censors who argued their cases with more restrictive state censors.

And, this is very important, watch the movies that are described in this book. It will make the viewing a more rewarding experience.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Unknown highlights Lon Chaney's intensity

By Doug Gibson

When I watch Tod Browning's 1927 silent masterpiece "The Unknown," and I've seen the film many times, for 50 minutes time ceases to exist. I'm lost in a film that is simply Lon Chaney's greatest performance, and yes that includes "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." "The Unknown" is the most intense performance Chaney had, and 90 percent of the effectiveness is in his facial expressions.

The film involves a small circus troupe, owned by a gypsy entrepreneur. Alonzo the Armless (Chaney) is the star attraction, a man without arms who can do amazing stunts, such as throw knives around the pretty torso of the circus owner's daughter, Nanon, played by a very young, barely clothed, and very gorgeous Joan Crawford. Another star performer is circus strongman, Malabar, played by Norman Kerry. Malabar loves Nanon, but she shrinks from him, telling Alonzo that she hates to have men's hands pawing her.

Alonzo is assisted by a little person, Cojo (John George). Cojo helps Alonzo conceal a secret -- that he really has arms. In fact, he has a hand with two thumbs. Alonzo, it's learned, is on the run the police, who are looking for a suspect with arms. All this is interesting but ultimately it is supporting material to the film's theme, which is Alonzo's desire to posses Nanon and gain her love. I hesitate to say that Alonzo is in love with Nanon. He equates love with possession, and ownership. Chaney's facial expressions when Alonzo is near Nanon are movie legend, combinations of pride, desire, lust, deformed love, coveting, desperation.

In the guise of being a friend, Chaney encourages Malabar to try to embrace and kiss Nanon, fully knowing that will repel the object of his desire. When Malabar is near, Alonzo's face often changes into a furious loathing individual, with envy, jealously and hate making his visage truly terrifying. One senses easily what a dangerous man Chaney's Alonzo really is when disturbed. Indeed, after being humiliated by Nanon's father, circus owner Antonio Zanzi (Nick De Rita) Alonzo swiftly finds him alone and kills him.

It's evident that if his possessive longing for Nanon -- one that Alonzo can only hide with great effort -- is not requited soon, mortal trouble may emerge soon. This leads Alonzo to engage in a macabre, desperate act that he hopes will win Nanon's love. When his ploy backfires, the minute or so where Chaney's countenance changes from hope, ecstasy, confusion, despair, anger and finally rage disguised as maniacal laughter is perhaps the strongest in silent films, and perhaps all films. The late Burt Lancaster cited the scene as the most compelling he ever witnessed in film. Alonzo's ensuing desperation leads to a climax that threatens Nanon, Malabar and himself.

Adding to the eccentricity and creepiness of this movie is its accurate descriptions of life in a small-town circus, a job that a younger Browning once had. Chaney was, as always, a perfectionist, and with Browning's direction gets excellent acting performances from Crawford, Kerry, and others. Although it looks on the screen as if Cheney is actually performing stunts, and everyday activities, with his feet, Browning used a an armless double, Paul Desmuke, to manipulate the toes. For a long time "The Unknown" was virtually a lost film, until a print was located in 1968 in Paris. The 50-minute version is missing a few unimportant scenes. The shorter version actually improves the film, making it leaner and more focused. Chaney's obsessive, jealous desire for Nanon is more focused, with fewer interruptions.

This film is shown several times a year on TCM, and is on in a few hours after this post, on Oct. 8, 2016, at 6:30 a.m. EST -- don't miss it the next time it airs. It's also on DVD and YouTube, with part one above. The film was released by MGM. Versions seen today have a suitable creepy, semi-synthetic score. Watch the trailer below!