Halloween Horror: Black Sunday

black-sunday-movie-poster-55x71-cm-1961I thought I was getting witches, but I got vampires instead. That’s not a complaint, but the teaser blurb for Black Sunday (AKA The Mask of Satan) made it sound like a witch revenge movie. However, we’re more than three lines into the narrator’s introduction before the “V word” gets dropped and then its off the races.

Black Sunday tells the tale of two demoniac lovers condemned to death for black magic, Satanic pacts, and vampirism, executed via having a gruesome mask lined with spikes hammered onto their faces. Circumstances prevent the bodies from being properly destroyed and vengeance from beyond the grave is vowed. Three hundred years later, a pair of traveling doctors/professors/scientists take a pit stop at the cemetery containing the “dead” witch vampire, and mistakes are made. Next thing you know, the two vampires are back in action and taking necessary steps to end the noble line that brought about their demise.

The film marks Mario Bava’s credited debut as a feature director and it’s a solid one. Bava would of course go on to direct a slew of Italian horror flicks of varying quailty, including Black Sabbath and Planet of the Vampires, but also MST3k favorites Danger:Diabolik and Hercules in the Haunted World. Black Sunday is a moody film, shot in rich black and white and filled with gothic tropes bound to satisfy anyone looking for a decent classical vampire tale. The film’s cemetery set was the direct inspiration of the one in The Omen, so horror fans will enjoy the familiar depiction of evil’s resting place. The execution masks are a little goofy (they have a bit of a Sleestak vibe going on), but the method of death is gruesome and worth lifting for a horror RPG. I give Black Sunday two-and-a-half skulls out of four.

Halloween Horror: Hagazussa

hagazussaThis is a gorgeous film. From winter forests, to soaring mountain peaks under azure skies, to wide-open vistas where one can see for miles, it is a beautiful piece of cinematography.

It is also a deeply disturbing film. Hagazussa deals with some intense subject matter and may not be for everyone. It’s rare that a horror film can touch a naked nerve in me, but this one did. I believe the experience would have been ever more unsettling if I was a woman, coming into the movie with the gender-specific events and conflicts a woman accumulates throughout her life. Motherhood, mother-daughter relationships, insincere friendships, violence, ostracism, and other subjects are themes that wind through the film, and while I can sympathize with many of them, I cannot empathize with them on a level many women can.

Hagazussa is billed as a “gothic fairy tale,” but it’s much more a folk horror story. Albrun is our protagonist, first introduced as a young girl living alone with her mother in an isolated cabin. It is clear from the start that she and her mother are outcasts, considered witches by the local villagers, and treated with scorn rather than fear. The first act builds our sympathy for Albrun, an investment which pays off in ways we may not like later in the film.

The rest of the film concerns an older Albrun as she tries to keep her sanity as an outcast. She does not have it easy, struggling to raise an infant daughter of her own, much like her mother did. Hints of witchcraft appear, but never manifest, leaving the audience to wonder how much is truth and how much is either Albrun’s or our own interpretations of events.

Hagazussa is a horrific movie, but not what many would consider a horror movie. If you’re looking for bloody corpses and monsters in the dark, you’re in for a disappointment. However, if you desire an even deeper psychological examination of isolation (physical and emotional) and its effects of our humanity than found in The Witch, Hagazussa is for you.

The film is a powerful one, but not a movie I’m likely to rewatch again for sometime. It’s power is insidious, and not an experience I’m eager to repeat. Nevertheless, I give the movie a well-deserved three skulls out of four.

Halloween Horror: Scars of Dracula

scarsDracula pops out of the coffin for Hammer’s fifth film in its series about the Count (although this is only fourth one he actually appears in) with Scars of Dracula. I’m certain this title was one by committee, as there is a distinct lack of scars in the movie. Maybe it refers to the lash marks on Dracula’s servant’s back? Title-wise, it ranks up there with Scream, Blackula, Scream! from truth in advertising, butI digress before I even get to the review.

Scars of Dracula sees the Count back at his castle in GermHungavanian or whichever country most of the Hammer Dracula films are set in after having been rendered into blood dust in England at the climax of Taste the Blood of Dracula. We’re not given an explanation of how the red Folger’s crystals of Dracula and his cape made it home, but there’s partial nudity and poorly-designed bats awaiting us, so we press on. Dracula gets burned out of house and home in short order, but you can’t keep the Count down. Before long, the castle is back in serviceable condition and Dracula begins his reign of occasional terror. Mostly by waiting for people to wander close enough to his castle to send his servant out to collect them, or to simply hope that people knock on his door looking for a place to stay. I’d venture that Dracula really needs to get more proactive, but he’s a couple centuries old so I’ll forgive him for his hunting lassitude. Luckily, he also has bats.

This is the first Hammer film that demonstrates Dracula’s command over the lesser beasts, and it would be much more effective if we weren’t dealing with 1970s film bat technology–black felt on a coconut and held aloft by two pieces of fishing line, or so I’d venture. If you can get past the bats’ goofiness, however, the Count dispatching them to, well, dispatch, the town’s women, children, and elderly huddled for safety in the church while the menfolk burn down his castle is pretty hardcore.

Scars of Dracula originates during Hammer’s decline, shot with a reduced budget and distribution. Nevertheless, I never get tired of seeing Christopher Lee strap on the cape and the bloodshot contact lenses for another go around as the Count. While not the best of the Hammer Draculas, it’s still good enough to rate two-and-a-half skulls out of four on the horror-meter.

Halloween Horror: Night Tide

night-tideI stumbled upon a reference to this film while reading Sex and Rockets, a biography of rocket scientist and magician Jack Parsons. Parson’s “elemental,” the woman he claims to have conjured into his life via a magical rite, Marjorie Cameron, appears in the movie, thus earning its mention in Parson’s biography. Half-curious to know what an elemental looks like, I added it to the old watchlist when it became free on Prime. So after viewing it, I can  attest that an elemental looks pretty much like any other 40 year-old white woman in California. Mystery solved.

Night Tide features a very young Dennis Hopper as Johnny, a Navy recruit on furlough along the seedy amusement pier and boardwalk of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. There, he meets a Mora, a young woman who makes a living as a “mermaid” in one of the amusement pier’s sideshows. The two begin a relationship, but before too long, thanks to the mysterious presence of both Marjorie Cameron’s character (credited as “Water Witch”) and Mora’s guardian and employer, Captain Murdock, Johnny begins to suspect Mora may actually be a mermaid–a siren, actually, one of the sea people who lure sailors to their deaths.

The film is more thriller than horror, something you might see on an episode of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Shot in black-and-white and with a modest budget, Night Tide holds no true scares and only the occasional menace. It’s more a curiosity than a must-see, if only for Cameron’s presence and a very pre-Easy Rider Hopper. I’d normally give it a lower grade, but the movie has the only “Bongos by” credit I’ve ever seen in a motion picture (give it up for Chaino, ladies and gentlemen!). It would also make a pretty good Cthulhu Confidential investigation featuring a Deep One hybrid struggling to make sense of her condition and heritage along the beach of Los Angeles. Those two factors bump it up to an even two skulls out of four.

Halloween Horror: Bride of Re-Animator

reanimatorWe’ll kick of our 31 nights of horror movies with Bride of Re-Animator, a movie that’s been languishing on my watchlist for a few months. It’s sat there largely due to the general disinterest I’ve been feeling towards Lovecraft and the Mythos recently. This is a case of familiarity breeding contempt; with Cthulhu largely becoming a mainstream figure, I’m experiencing some very hipster-like feelings towards the Mythos’ increased market penetration.

Luckily, there’s no Cthulhu or Mythos anywhere in Bride of Re-Animator, which picks up eight months after the events of the first film. West and Cain continue their quest to perfect Herbert’s reagent (or is it re-agent to go along with the movie’s title convention?) in war-torn Central America, but before long they’re back at Miskatonic University Hospital for another round of horror and comedy straight out of the first movie’s playbook. The head of Dr. Hill makes a return and West’s experiments go beyond defeating death and begin to focus on creating life–albeit, in true Frankenstein fashion, from dead tissue.  Things unsurprisingly go awry, culminating in an ill-advised attempt to restore Meg, Cain’s dead fiancée from the first film, to life (in the guise of another actress).

Bride of Re-Animator doesn’t stray much from the formula Re-Animator followed, so if you’ve seen first film, you know precisely what you’re getting into. I did enjoy that the sequel has a few stronger call-outs to the short story it’s based upon (West and Cain conducting experiments in a war zone, their home/laboratory adjacent to the cemetery, and West’s final fate), which the original severely lacked.

I’m not certain how I never managed to see this movie despite viewing the original several times. I’m assuming it was a case of my local video store(s) never carrying it back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But now that omission has been rectified. It’s equal to its predecessor, earning Bride of Re-Animator two skulls out of four on my Halloween Horror scale of enjoyment.

 

Autumnal Stirrings

mansionI received an email recently from my webhost reminding me that this site’s annual fees would soon be due. “Ah, that’s right,” I thought, “I have a blog I’ve neglected. I should do something about that.”

In honestly, I haven’t forgotten about Shivers and Shudders. I’ve merely been focused on other work and real life concerns over the past several months. I’ve intended to get my groove back, but projects keep piling up, health issues develop (it’s as if middle age landed with a belly flop right atop me in 2019), and constantly shifting interests all undermine my plans. Since I’ve always intended to utilize this space as a place for my ramblings without a set schedule, I’m not too sorry for this, but I do want to make more out of it.

Tomorrow is October 1st, which is a favorite month of mine, that chronological antipode to the cruelest month according to Eliot. It’s not the autumn of my childhood (and likely will never be again), but the creeping chill mists and cool nights retain a vestige of the old magic of youth.

When I was still on social media, I had a not-altogether-unique tradition of watching 31 scary movies during October and offering short reviews as Facebook posts. Since this is the first year I’m not on social media, but still enjoy the tradition, I intend to carry it over here beginning tomorrow. For the next 31 days, I’ll posts quick reviews of a film watched in October. The rules are simple: I must watch 31 films, although not necessarily one per day, and they must be films I’ve never seen before. And they must of course be a technically in the horror genre.

I’ve a got a bunch of obscure ones lined up (thank you, Amazon Prime Video), and hope that the daily chronicling with get me used to blogging again. Maybe some other content will be sprinkled in among the reviews as well. Anything’s possible in the magical month of October.

From Boltguns to Bolt Action

tanks-infantry-700As someone who has a vested interest in historical miniatures wargaming, I found this latest article over at the Warlord Games website to be a godsend. Many wargamers from my generation and later were lured into the hobby’s vile clutches through the fiendish manipulations of Games Workshop. While I’m not bashing anyone preferred form of miniature recreation, I do hope that younger wargamers look outside the product lines of GW and discover there’s plenty of other options out there–many of which can be enjoyed for far less than the usual arm-and-a-leg Games Workshop products tend to command.

Miniature wargaming isn’t exactly a booming hobby, so anything that help grow the base is a good measure by my reckoning. If you’re cool, you might even earn an invite to Hoffcon one day…