Acid Baby Jesus' last proper full-length, 2011's LP was kind of a hodgepodge of '60s rock tropes. There were sludgy stompers, flower-power psych jams, and jangly bouncy things. It was fun, but never quite got into regular rotation the way their "Hospitals" single had originally hooked us. In the meantime, they did a teamup with Hellshovel for the Voyager 8 EP, which was fun, but never really gelled the way I wanted it to. The two bands seemed to be doing their own things simultaneously, rather than finding a joint sound together, which really kept otherwise-agreeable numbers like "I Went Down" from clicking. So, why should you listen to their upcoming full-length, Selected Recordings, out November 17 from Slovenly Recordings? Because it's amazing! It's been a solid two years since the band's released anything of note (not counting the "Vegetable" single they released in advance of this back in September), and they've changed, but in a good way. The whole psychedelic rock thing is 100% in the forefront. The album manages to remain thematically and tonally coherent, while also playing around with tempos and textures. A big part of the problem with LP was that it sounded like a collection of singles, but Selected Recordings sounds like an album (although the names seem to suggest otherwise -- weird). Acid Baby Jesus remains the band they once were. You can hear echoes of LP in this new album -- "I'm Becoming a Man" rocks that dirty fuzz the same way "Tomboy" did, and "Row By Row" echoes the stomp and freakout of "Tyrannosaurus Rex." Also, in addition to just being recorded more coherently, Selected Recordings is sequenced in such a way that the album flows, rather than jumping from B to X to G to V to Z. By the end, you feel like you've journeyed down the river of Lethe, and things are groovy and all right. [embed]https://soundcloud.com/slovenly/acid-baby-jesus-selected-4[/embed]
It's especially interesting to think 1960's The Amazing Transparent Man came out the same year as Psycho. The two films couldn't be more different, despite both being black and white, low budget scare pictures. Psycho essentially redefined the thriller picture for the next -- well, forever, really -- and managed to achieve a massive level of discomfort and fear, while not really showing much of anything. In its most famous scene, Hitchcock let the mind create the actual horrific stabbing, while cutting away at the last minute. Despite showing you where things disappear, and revealing everything in excruciating detail as it goes along, The Amazing Transparent Man might as well have been made two decades prior, given its smashed-up plot, which combines radioactive sci-fi mumbo-jumbo and gangster pictures. It has more in common with something like The Man They Could Not Hang than it does with anything that would come in the '60s. It's really sort of a dying breed of picture that would soon vanish from the landscape. It's not terrible, by any means: the snappy banter's cute and clever, and there are about two or three double-cross attempts, none of which amount to much. Plus, watching characters get knocked around by the unseen gangster Joey Faust (clever!) is uproarious fun. The actors are wonderfully acrobatic in their miming, and seeing a guard take an imaginary beating is delightful. Given scenes like that, it should come as no surprise that The Amazing Transparent Man's scored like a Looney Tune. The plot's completely spelled out by the accompanying strings, making all of the movie a bit cartoonish, with things like pizzicato notes accompanying the invisible Faust as he's walking to offer some sense of what's going on, since even his clothes disappear after being zapped with the ray. It might as well have been Carl Stalling conducting things for all the subtlety the music offers. When all is said and done, The Amazing Transparent Manis only an hour long, and seems more like a lengthy Twilight Zone episode without a moral or twist. It's a weird little thing, and worth checking out if you've the time. As a matter of fact, you can watch it below via YouTube. It was riffed in episode 623 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I think I'll have to dig through my stack of booted MST3K eps and see if I can't revisit it. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO-fYCWctBA[/embed] Disclaimer: For whatever reason, I'd thought this was way creepier than it ended up being, hence its inclusion as part of the marathon. There's kind of one every year. This is it. Whoops.
Combining the best of two worlds of classic cinema scores, the Night Terrors' Pavor Nocturnus is an absolute blast. Working in tandem as it does with sci-fi theremin and a huge pipe organ, all of this album sounds akin to modern rescore of something like Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires -- horror in space, essentially. Recorded on the largest pipe organ in the western hemisphere, which stands an astonishing 32 feet high and uses two motors to power the whole thing, one at 15 horsepower, and the other at 20. The sound this thing is far more powerful than any synthesizer could ever hope to be. There's just a deep resonance to Pavor Nocturnus I've not heard in a recording before. The grandiosity of the pipe organ actually allows for quite a study in contrasts. A very good case in point is "Megafauna," which has synths and the organ playing counterpoint melodies, and the difference in the thinness of the synths contrasting with rich fullness of the pipe organ really makes for a sonically dynamic track. "Blue Black" is the most masterful use of a theremin I think I've ever heard -- it took a solid minute of the song before I figured out it wasn't some oddly-modified violin. It's nicely complimented by the beats and drumming on "Gravissima," and that's what makes the Night Terrors so interesting on this album: there's a basic theme from which they work, but they diversify so much from that point, that you can't help but want to know what they'll come up with next. Frankly, the entirety of Pavor Nocturnus is that it almost out-Goblins Goblin. The Night Terrors work in that same sort of progressive rock meets abject fear vein, and their first two albums, Back to Zero and Spiral Vortex, I'd not really been able to get into, despite quite a bit of acclaim on the second. There's something about the addition of this pipe organ that lends the band a bit more gravitas than they'd previously been able to drum up, and makes their sound far more unique than the previous idol worship. This is the first release on Twisted Nerve, the new music imprint from Australia reissue label Dual Planet and Finder Keepers. I'm happy to see so many of these reissue labels branch out into releasing new music, and this is a very exciting start to Twisted Nerve. I can't wait to hear what comes next. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ijvq2xVbjIk[/embed] More details on the Melbourne Town Hall pipe organ, where the album was recorded, can be found here. For more information on the Night Terrors' Pavor Nocturnus, or to purchase the album when it comes out on Halloween, you can visit the Dual Planet website.
A pretty lo-fi little flick, Among Friends has a nice little grit to it that reminds me of '80s movies like Happy Birthday to Me or April Fool's Day. You get a bunch of friends gathered together for a celebration, then shit goes awry. A standard plot, with plenty of opportunity for mistaken identity and jump scare surprises. The '80s vibe is augmented with it being a costume bash with crimped hair and pastel tuxes, along with a soundtrack that vibes super new wave. There's a character named Blane. Kane Hodder plays the limo driver. And, much like the previous movie, 100 Bloody Acres, we have a character tripping -- this time, mushrooms. There's also some other drugs, but to share them would spoil the fun. "Whodunit, prom night 1984" is the theme ... and, of course, while playing a game to discover a killer, shit goes terribly askew, but not in the way you think it's going to. If you've seen Would You Rather, you've a pretty good idea of what Among Friends has to offer. It's a little less gleefully clever, and far more gorily visceral. It's not as much fun as I'd expected. Billing this as a horror comedy is stretching the limits of what exactly can be defined as hilarity. It gets a little too torture-y for it to be any fun after a while, even given the off-kilter, unhinged mania of the revenge. You'd think the fact that the craziness keeps ratcheting up would result in a gleeful sense of "holy shit!" Not so: it's just steadily more fucked-up and unpleasant. And, really, that gets repetitive and boring. Fucking, yelling, stabbing / gouging / cutting, repeat. It just happens over and over, to the point where you just hope everyone would just fucking die. There's not a likeable character in the bunch. Even the most victimized character, and the one for whom we should feel the most sympathy and end up rooting for, manages to be an irritating pain. Skip it. Go watch any of the other films I mentioned, and you'll end up having a far more entertaining hour and a half. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_RBN-ozihk[/embed]
30 seconds into WolfCop, and I desperately wish I'd bought the Shooting Guns score One Way Static put out for MondoCon. It's Sabbath-y blues rock, and it sets the scene for the movie absolutely perfectly. The music, much like the movie, is tongue-in-cheek over the top. It's a hell of a fun flick. WolfCop is silly enough to keep things light, but bloody enough to make the movie worthy of calling itself a horror film. The transformation our hero Lou Garou undergoes is fucking brutal in and of itself, to say nothing of the first few kills. There's something about WolfCop that's hard to put your finger on. Maybe it's the way it devotedly follows horror movie tropes -- especially those of the the werewolf variety -- while winkingly acknowledging them and tweaking them. There's some showing of the seams here and there -- Lou Garou's werewolf makeup is considerably less detailed for action scenes, and you only get one really great transformation scene, but that only adds to the charm, because once you've seen them, your imagination fills in the later gaps. The seams are obscured by the editing, which early on is could stand to be a lot less jump-cutty. Too many jittery zooms and weird pans during the standard scenes, but once it gets all bloody, it works. You could alos likely justift it as a way of implying Garou's constantly drunken state, but the connection's not made emphatically enough to make the point effective. The dialogue, though: ACES. It's the one-liners which make or break a good dumb movie, and goddamn me if WolfCop doesn't have them. The greatest work best in context, but the fact that it was desperately hard for me not to yell across my local library, "Hey! You got any books on Satanism?" the next time I was there is a pretty strong testament to how many quotable bits WolfCop brings to the table. The only real downside to the film, aside from the seam-showing, is that while WolfCop is a werewolf movie, it's also a cop movie, which means equally as many shootouts as maulings, and that's not what I signed up for. Werewolf means people torn limb from limb, not gunned down. On a positive note, shit gets super weird near the end, which certainly more than makes up for the dragging banality of the gunfights. Tracking this one down's a bit difficult, as WolfCop saw release on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK last Tuesday, but won't make it to disc stateside until March. It's making the festival rounds, though, so check the official wesbite for dates and details. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Spd_v-d5-xs[/embed]
Today's post features special guest commentary from Cinapse’s Liam O’Donnell. He and both do this "watch a shit-ton of horror in October and write about it" thing, and so we've decided to team up on a few films this month. His column his entitled "Journal of Fear," and you should totally read it. He also does a podcast called Cinepunx with Joshua Alvarez, and it’s super-fun. Go listen. On to the film ... Nick Spacek It takes a few moments for Nightmare City to get going. Ironically enough, the first five minutes or so are spent setting up the plot of a nuclear exposure, and a introducing the reporter covering the the story. Considering that the remainder of Nightmare City's running time gets spent making not one lick of sense at all, it seems like director Umberto Lenzi's looking to justify everything that will follow. There's been a bit of discussion regarding whether or not Lenzi meant this to be a commentary on the dangers of nuclear power and war. Given that the creatures are irradiated, I can somewhat see that point, but the war metaphor stands up far better to scrutiny: mindless creatures, killing effectively, and to really stop them, you have to destroy their brain. Something's definitely being said about the illogical nature of war. It's a point muddled by a disjointed film, but it's certainly there, if you're willing to look. Regarding the disjointed film: you're never quite certain as to what exactly these creatures are. Traditionally, zombies are either supernatural creatures or the result of some science gone sideways -- reanimated corpses or plague victims maddened by sickness, and rarely do the twain meet. In this case, Lenzi's given us radioactive victims who are out for blood, but also creatures who can spread their infection. It's like they're nuclear zombie vampires, and even more confusingly, while zombies are usually mindless, these creatures use guns, knives, chains, axes, spearguns, and all manner of weaponry with great skill, while also shambling silently. Again: no real logic. The plot's a mess, the makeup's pretty rough, the special effects are banal, and the dubbing's emotionally flat: these are all things I knew, having seen the film before. Then why the hell did I buy it? There's a strange sort of charm to Nightmare City. It throws all manner of apocalyptic tropes into a blender and flings them onto the screen with wild abandon, and that's really the appeal. Having no idea what to expect keeps you watching, and the complete lack of coherent narrative allows for all manner of interpretation with each successive viewing. Liam O'Donnell I can see what you mean as to the "mess" of Nightmare City. Sure, at the very least the internal logic of irradiated people who thus become bloodthirsty murderers is an odd set up to say the least. I loved this movie though. This was actually a first time watch for me, and once I accepted that there was no back story and just constant violence, I was sold on the film. Constant attacks, constant action, and a complete lack of sentimentality. I mean let me start at the beginning: I am possibly in love with Hugo Stiglitz. I fell in love thanks to Exhumed Films and their showing of the amazing Night of a Thousand Cats. Stiglitz is his usual amazing self in this, and by amazing I mean the embodiment of 70s manhood. Stiglitz is perhaps a little stiff in Nightmare City. His character is a little more respectable here and less over the top. No matter: he is exactly who I would want shepherding me through this irradiated wasteland of gooey faced murderers. Ok, now that I think about it, the things in this movie make no sense: they can fight like rational, decision-making creatures. They drive cars, use guns, but then at key moments, they act exactly like mindless zombies. If I were concerned with some sort of world building or mythology, this film would bum me out. Why do I love it so much? My assumption is simply how ridiculously over the top it is. Every character can bite it at any time, and the story is really just a series of violent attacks. If I were to think about it too deeply, I could hate this movie. There is no reason to connect with or care about any of these characters. There is no sex appeal, lots of nudity post-murder, and no one is interesting at all. I didn't find myself bothered by any of that. I just went along for the ride, and all I could think was how much I would like to see this exact film but with better special effects and a slightly more kinetic director. Nick Strange question, but is there some sort of European rule that says there has to be some sort of dance sequence? It seems like Bava, Lenzi, and Argento all have to work in something involving dance. Maybe it's just an effective bit of shorthand for "beauty destroyed by ugliness." Either that, or spandex just makes a more effective reason for showing T&A. That said, there's something vaguely creepy about how many women get killed, then have their shirts torn open. Liam Yeah, I mean I get it. The plot moves at a pace that doesn't really allow room for things like sex scenes, or even a shower. This being a Euro horror flick, there needs to be nudity of some kind. So, murder nudity. Ok. Whatever. It freaked me out as well. At this point, watching Italian horror and worrying about gender issues is not something I can even imagine. Stiglitz has spent many of his films smacking various hysterical women, and that is something I have come to terms with. Nightmare City is no different. I agree about the dancing, but I wonder if this is a time and place thing. The 70's -- what is this, '79? The '70s in Europe were certainly well within the thrall of disco and all that entails. I am sure these dance sequences are entirely necessary for these directors to feel like they are making hip, relevant films. What I am utterly confused by is the following: is this in some sense a zombie film? You started off that way and I just accepted that as a marker by which to understand this movie. I think many would, including this movie within the realm of films like Zombi, and I mean, why is that? These things are certainly NOT zombies, right? It never claims they are. However, I have always thought of Nightmare City as a kind of zombie movie, and many have discussed it as such. Why do you think that is? I also think this movie in many ways is the movie World War Z wants to be, is that fair? Nick I think it's considered a zombie film, for lack of any other sort of descriptor. When you have mindless hordes in some form of decomposition, it's an easy term onto which you can latch. They're described by the military during that wonderfully expository sequence as radiation victims, so that's essentially what they are, but given that they display so many signs of autonomy and intelligence, one should probably call them something like mutants. Honestly, the next nearest analogue, when you really think about it, would be something like a C.H.U.D. What I'm seeing here is that both you and I agree that the movie's appealing because of its lack of explanation or exposition, and I'm curious as to whether you think that's part of the appeal of European horror movies of this era: is the emphasis on look, mood, and universally-understandable things like sex and violence what make them so appealing, even after so many years? Liam I mean look, sometimes a lack of exposition is an artistic decision to ignore things that would simply hold back an engaging atmospheric film. I recently made the claim that the most appealing part of It Follows was the refusal of the info dump, that is you know what is happening but the why, in the sense of back story, is considered superfluous. That is not what we mean here though, is it? Some of these European films have no back story and I think it is because they just didn't write one. Nightmare City has all the exposition it feels it needs: these are radiation victims who, for some insane reason, need blood. Now, what is crazy about this set up is that it is certainly enough info to decide the movie is dumb, but not enough to feel like you understand why anything is happening. You are right, this sort of film from this era has this happen often. Characters? Lets just settle for caricatures or stock folks. Plot? Look, there is danger, and now people are dying. I do think that is part of the appeal now, though. While we could attack these films for their lack of depth, they still are often made with more visual flare and directing talent than even some of the biggest films from the US. Do you think it is the artistic flare, the sort of visual intelligence of these films, that makes their fans so close to artistic film fans? I mean think about folks who love obscure art films and people who love obscure Euro horror films. They are not often the same exact fans, but there is often some cross over. Even when these movies are totally ridiculous, I don't often find myself laughing at them cause they still effect me. Is the visual strength of these movies why they sit with us and appeal to so many different people? Nick I think the visual intelligence of European horror films is what makes them so appealing to fans who don't even like horror. Actually, I've found that people who are super-into American horror really despise Italian horror films, simply because they can't get a handle on what's going on. Personally, I've grown to love weird Slovenian art film, simply because you just watch and enjoy. You lose yourself in the visuals presented, and let them take you where they go, without worrying what it's all about. Given that the visuals of the film are so strong, you don't need a plot. Who cares why, when there's so much to look at? Honestly, what's absolutely great about these is the fact that you could turn off the sound, watch them almost silently, and still find something about which to enthuse. Liam I don't want to overstate my case here, these directors are not Felini or whatever. By the same token, Nightmare City is not The Beyond. Fulci had his own visual genius, and I think you can defend some of his most insane films regardless of how the plots may not always seem coherent. I will say though that American films do too often rely solely on story and dialogue in a medium that is very much a visual one. How many sick American films, horror or not, still look shoddy? How few capitalize not only on the strength of their story telling but also captivate their audience with gorgeous visuals? Like any art, Film has a visual vocabulary, and film makers should have a way to communicate with use beyond the words their characters say or the events they participate in. This is, of course, arguing way too much for a film like Nightmare City, which is in mnay ways a surprisingly compelling cash grab. Clearly, this movie exists because of the popularity of horror films LIKE this, and whatever it has to show us is simply that self serving capitalism and effective film making can coexist. However, it is still very Italian, and for me the Italians are more commonly visual directors, who realize that images can be as moving as ideas or story. Nightmare City is the least obvious example of this sort of film making, as I suspect it was an attempt at a more visceral action film, but even in its shallow depths manages some far more powerful images than comparable American films. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_oy0mhWFBQ[/embed]
Big ups to 100 Bloody Acres for starting in media res. You've no idea what this man's name is, much less why this selfsame man is pulling a body from a wrecked lorry. You'll eventual grow to like every character in this movie, though, whether or not they're a victim or victimizer, and it's a testament to directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes that they were able to make even backcountry madmen likeable. Additionally, the film manages to walk a very fine line between generating unease of a comedic sort, along with unease of the terrifying kind, a deft act which is a difficult thing to do. It's a natural inclination to giggle when you're scared, and 100 Bloody Acres milks that for all it's worth. Tucker & Dale did it, Shaun of the Dead did it ... and so many other films fail in that balance, so it was with some trepedation I pressed "play" on this movie. It kind of reminds me of The Cars That Ate Paris, in terms of backcountry Australians doing what they think's best, even if that means killing all kinds of people. Much like that film, it's all kinds of skewed weirdness. It's menacing and uncomfortable, but delightfully manic in its gore and violence. It's not overdone, but the killings which happen are unflinching. People getting pulped aren't pretty. The soundtrack of Australian pop hits of yesteryear lend the film a pastoral charm, as well. As my wife commented, "It's nice to see the United States don't have a monopoly on terrible music." The radio station allows for a cool connective thread, letting the viewer in on where everything's happening in space and time. Maybe I was way too jacked on generic NyQuil, but the scenes of tripping on acid while running through an abandoned kiddy park called Fairyland were the most hallucinogenic thing I've seen since A Field in England. The line, "He wants my potassium!" might be something I need to work into conversation far more often. I went into 100 Bloody Acres expecting a chuckle and a grin, but ended up getting a film that delighted me. It's not just a good comedy, nor horror, nor even horror comedy -- it's a good movie, period. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTk2khyu3LA[/embed]
Karloff! For all the schlock in which he appeared, Boris Karloff flicks are usually a safe bet for entertainment, unlike his peer Bela Lugosi. What seems like proof of said theory can be found in the opening shots of The Terror, with a trail of blood drops leading to a corpse in a closet. The Terror is, however, a ghost story. It's Poe-like in its mystery, and coming as it does from American International Pictures and using sets from past Roger Corman productions, along with the film's plot of a ghost wandering, with moldering castles and strange confusion, one can be forgiven for thinking that it's part of the parade of films AIP did with Vincent Price. Karloff is, unfortunately, no Price. He's far too stentorian, and his gravitas is nowhere near the campy, scenery-chewing fun of Price's work. Jack Nicholson, here in an early starring role as Lt. Duvalier, hasn't yet become The Jack Nicholson. While there are glimpses of the brilliance he'd soon show, the pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue that issues forth so effortlessly and authoritatively from Karloff comes out of Nicholson's mouth stilted and labored. And can someone please explain why it took goddamn decades to make a ghost story that was actually scary? It seems like so many films over the years featured nothing so much as following an actor into a room when, suddenly, they're gone from it! Repeat 10-15 times over the course of an hour and a half, and you've got the basis for most ghost stories -- the workaday ones, at least. The Haunting, The Innocents, most of Guillermo del Toro's early work: these all manage to avoid the tropes which trap ghost films into terribly-boring plot doldrums, but they're obviously the exception, rather than the rule. Given that The Terror is a pretty slow, pokey movie without much to recommend it visually in terms of panic or terror, the score is forced to do the heavy lifting. The strings in the score quickly overwhelm. They're rather powerful, and frequently threaten to overwhelm the dialogue and sound effects. Maybe there's theremin, or maybe the violins are just straining for that high C, but things are very nearly Bernard Herrmann level in terms of composition, here. Granted, they stay at such a high level of tension, it's only when the brass comes in that you know it's time to expect something really spooky. As per usual with these things, the last 15-20 minutes are all action and plot twists and special effects to pay off the viewer after a long slog through boredom, so I'd suggest giving The Terror a pass. Watch The Terror in full below, via YouTube. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f621dgikkf8[/embed]
Today's post features special guest commentary from Cinapse's Liam O'Donnell. He and both do this "watch a shit-ton of horror in October and write about it" thing, and so we've decided to team up on a few films this month. His column his entitled "Journal of Fear," and you should totally read it. He also does a podcast called Cinepunx with Joshua Alvarez, and it's super-fun. Go listen. On to the film ... Liam O'Donnell The Fall of the House of Usher is exactly the kind of gothic melodrama I usually attempt to avoid in my horror film watching, and yet it somehow manages to engage effectively in the third act of the film. In a rather ill advised attempt to add some emotional pathos to what is a rather detached tail. the film version of TFOHOU adds a love angle into the classic Poe tale, though otherwise it follows rather closely. The garish “period” dress and ridiculous score do nothing recreate the moody gothic anxiety that Poe's tale of morose fascination and mental illness calls up. The only thing that carries the film through its first few acts is the brilliant and always interesting Vincent Price. That is not to claim the Vincent Price guarantees quality, far from it. However, in many roles which fall far beyond his abilities, Price manages to bring a certain creepy engaged manner that interests me despite myself. Price here is playing his more affected, dandy persona, but he is playing it well and it fits the Usher character perfectly. The film ends up on a seriously creepy note, but this is not due to any innovation of the film makers. It is more that the idea of a woman, buried alive, hands destroyed from digging herself out of her own coffin, rampaging in madness is just inherently disturbing. Even when played with such theatrical abandon as to bridge upon farce, the idea unsettles me. The bloodied coffin top alone gives me pause. Yet, despite the strength of this third act, this film is yet another reminder as to why I do not get modern/classic horror, especially film representations of gothic pieces. This is a bit broad of a statement with some obvious exceptions, however post-modern horror (after Night of the Living Dead generally) just gets under my skin so much more. It is partly the artistry of it, which is lacking. There is inevitably a schlock, as if yelling or dramatic music will move the audience more, this fails with me. Yet it may also be what we are afraid of. TFOTHOU is a film that seems to play, to a large extent, off of a fear of fate. Usher is moved by a terrible destiny, one that he cannot help but literally make real himself. I have no fear of this, so that even if this film were done well by today's standards, could I even care? Nick Spacek Vincent Price's first Poe collaboration with director Roger Corman, House of Usher, is the most said -- and thus, the least interesting. For those such as myself who've watched them out of any sort of chronological order, it's kind of a shock to come from something like Tales of Terror or The Pit and the Pendulum to discover that, initially, Price and Corman were producing something more akin to Hammer horror than the usual AIP shockers to which we're accustomed. Granted, the third act is absolutely bananas -- Madeline returning from the grave, the house burning and then sinking into the swamp -- but the prior hour is stiflingly dull. It's like watching a Merchant and Ivory costume drama: everything's expository dialogue spoken by people in high collars. The sad part is that, for as little as you want to watch it, House of Usher looks amazing. The thing about all of Roger Corman's AIP pictures, and particularly his Poe pictures with Price, is that they're all a joy to simply look at. The Blu-ray of House of Usher absolutely pops visually, and while you might be otherwise be disinterested, be it due to plodding pace, poor plot, or hammy acting, you do get vibrant scenery with which to bathe your eyes. If you're familiar with Poe's story, then I heartily suggest you skip straight to the last thirty minutes or so, wherein Usher and Winthrop put Madeline in the crypt, then Winthrop goes mad trying to save her once he realizes she's been entombed alive. It's worth seeing, because it does a wonderful job of whetting one's appetite for what will come next -- namely, far-better combinations of Corman, Price, and Poe. Liam: Ok Nick, let me confess, this is the ONLY of these VP and Corman team-ups I have seen, and if you had asked where I thought this film came from, I would have pointed straight at Hammer. This has Hammer horror written all over it, from the ridiculous music cues to the over the top outfits. Not that I hate Hammer films, a few are very effective and even some of the least scary are still charming. There is also the idea of a Poe film itself, a kind of gothic, atmospheric horror that seems very suited to the Hammer aesthetic. Yet I am curious about a few things: how does this stack up to the other three? Do they feel more like Roger Corman joints? Do you think they needed sometime to get into their groove with these Poe films? Finally, why is the third act so interesting compared to the rest of the movie? I am not sure if it is a strength of the Poe story itself, or something Corman was able to pull of finally. Nick: Insofar as the rest of the Corman / Price team-ups, I think this is my least favorite. I'd actually not seen this one before, leaping into the Pit and the Pendulum, Masque of the Red Death, and others first. It's probably telling that, while this is included in the first Vincent Price collection that Shout Factory put out, I've never seen it in the Walmart five-dollar DVD bin at Halloween like I have with the others. Those other films are far more Corman films -- more blood, more ridiculousness, and Price getting to do far more of that emoting he does near the end. That's why I think the end is so effective -- it's the part of the film that takes the Poe story and exaggerates it to slightly over-the-top proportions. Seeing how much that stands out in regards to the rest of the film, I can't help but picture Corman seeing a screening of it somewhere and nodding his head, saying, “That's where we go next.” Knowing that, does it make you want to seek out the possible more Corman-flavored pictures that would come later? Liam: Yes, it certainly does. I am still amazed that Corman could turn out a picture that feels so, honestly, subdued compared to much of his other work. I do not wish to speak ill of the master, just surprised that so little of this film feels like him. Corman doing Poe is perhaps the sort of match up that just might work, even if this film felt a bit restrained. I had assumed prior to you filling me in on the other films that I might find a similar kind of movie with those others. Poe does not write the kind of story that leads to the sort of deep terror that I want from horror often. Yet, with the right kind of over the top, Poe inspired, exaggeration I could see those stories becoming interesting fare. The stories lend themselves to adding a bit of exploitation like spice. Corman is, if anything, a filmmaker of big expression. He makes movies that may not always work, but are always huge and ambitious. It is one of the things I admire about him. Does he lend that same expansive, intense quality to those stories? I am familiar with The Pit and The Pendulum but I have never read the Masque of the Red Death. How does his influence move those stories forward or expand them out? Am I being unfair to Poe when a film like The Fall of the House of Usher doesn't surprise me? I expect Poes work to be, stuffy maybe? Certainly lacking in tension. I often find myself simply not caring about the internal worlds and deep anxieties of his characters. Should I be giving Poe-inspired horror films another shot? Nick: Well, your points are absolutely spot-on. This film in particular is almost too reverent in terms of its adherence to Poe's original work. The true problem is that Poe didn't write novels: he wrote short stories, and when you take a 5-10 page story and stretch it into an hour and a half long film, it's going to need some padding and rejiggering. In the case of House of Usher, Corman stuck pretty much to the original plot, which means an awful lot of sitting around and talking. When he gets to the later films, he takes the root concept and expands upon it, such as the Pit and the Pendulum, which has the actual plot of the story confined to a few moments, and augmented with an awful lot more in terms of torture devices. However, he also takes three stories and presents them almost verbatim, in the instance of Tales of Terror, and they work out almost perfectly as short-form pieces. Poe is rather stuffy, and the problem with the gothic in its purest form is that you're already essentially working with something that is a formulaic parody of genre conventions in and of itself, so to play it straight -- well, that way lies madness. Liam: Well, despite some of the difficulty of this film, I am glad I caught it for two reasons. One is simply to find out from you that Corman Poe films are actually something worth watching. Corman and Price should likely have formed a convincing enough duo that I was on board, but alas I fear Poe set to the big screen and have stayed clear. The second reason is simply to catch another Vincent Price film. I love Price, but oddly I love this emotional dandy character of his even more than his more popular menacing creep. The menacing creep is often more dignified and perhaps lies closer to what I suspect Price might actually have been like, but this simply over wrought pathetic creature just always gets me, and I am glad to have caught it. In the end though, while I am stoked to see Corman take on more Poe material, will I ever truly love Gothic horror? I feel like this particular genre misses me, not simply because I am not as familiar with the conventions of which it parodies, though I am sure that is part of it. I simply know modern horror far more than I do classic stuff, sure. I just also worry when I read Poe though that he is bringing alive a real anxiety for people, something internal and unsettled. Poe seems afraid of interiors in a way that can only for me exist before we understood mental illness. Now, I fear a thing I DO have a name for, and perhaps I fear the cure that much more. What say you, was this worth your time? Should other take a chance on this particular Poe adventure? Nick: I'm glad I finally saw this, if for no other reason to see the well from which so much excellent material sprung. Will I watch it again? Likely not, and I'd really suggest that folks see this just to get an idea of what didn't work, as well as what would eventually become the hallmarks of the Corman / Price / Poe triumvirate. It's always worth knowing what came before, if for no other reason than to have some sense of perspective. That said, it's not one worth owning, and I'd much rather see something outside the whole Poe series such as Dr. Phibes or House of Wax than ever tackle the snoozefest that is the first hour of this picture. It's a very good example of how hard it is to effectively translate gothic literature to the screen, but I suppose that “how not to do something” isn't really an effective marketing device. For quality gothic on-screen fun, there's little to really recommend -- The Others did it so well, it's hard to think of anything else, really. I'm glad I watched it, and would recommend others do the same, but if you're not a fan of Turn of the Screw, you're probably not going to get much out of it. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QslKMIOeME8[/embed]
This week is really flying off the rails thematically, isn't it? Only ONE Vnicent Price movie in a week devoted to him? Fuck me. However, in addition to a billion other things, we totally forgot American Horror Story started its new season this week, so we absolutely had to watch the premiere of Freak Show on demand last night. Above and beyond everything in the debut double-length episode is the fact that it makes abundantly clear that, for all the talk of this being an "ensemble cast," this show has really become a showcase for Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange. Evan Peters and Frances Conroy have become the other two players to feature prominently in the other three series, but, honestly, it's all about Paulson and Lange. Given the number of scenes where the two actresses interact, and the telling lines regarding how Lange's Elsa Mars has brought in Paulson's Bette and Dot to get people to see her, rather than them ... I think this is going to play out in a battle of wills much like Asylum. Or, so I hope. Their interactions as Lana and Sister Jude in that series were some of the best interplay of the entire AHS franchise. But, the show: violent. Creepy. Kind of dirty. It's exactly what you'd expect, and given that Coven raised the bar on the sort of violent depravity the show would attempt, one would think a guy in a creepy clown costume stabbing people would hardly push the envelope. In Coven, Marie LaLaurie's actions alone, to say nothing of Zoe's chainsaw spree on the zombies, would be difficult to overcome -- but, holy fuck. The first appearance of Twisty the Clown hearkens back to the daylight stabbings in Fincher's Zodiac, and there's something about brightly-lit brutal murder that makes everything starkly terrible. The introduction of the rest of the characters is a bit mixed: Elsa Mars and Bette and Dot get plenty of screen time, but it seems like the show's creators are attempting to pack in too many characters at once. That was the big flaw of the first series -- aka Murder House -- and I hope that they don't go supporting-player crazy again. Still, you've got the basis for the possibility of a very unsettling season. They've promised to stay in this time period for the entire series, and the inclusion of Naomi Grossman's Pepper makes one intrigued to see how this might play out in terms of connection with Coven. Given that series' own masked serial killer, Bloody Face, and the inevitable revelation of a family propensity for murder in Coven's finale, might we see Twisty as Bloody Face's progenitor? We'll end at the beginning with the credits, which are stop-motion and incredibly unsettling. However, at the same time, I'd kill for miniatures of so many of the creatures shown within the minute-long sequence. What makes it unsettling is that the variation on the theme for this season emphasizes the "under the big top" aspect of Freak Show, recalling the creepier calliope aspects of John Morris' work on the score for David Lynch's The Elephant Man. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UZnYOvv1v4[/embed] For more information on that sequence, check out this informative interview with one of the folks behind it at AdWeek. American Horror Story: Freak Show airs Tuesdays on FX.