Halloween Horror Marathon: Deathgasm

poster - deathgasm We were supposed to review Spookies today, but two things conspired against that happening: 1) The copy we were able to get our hands on had audio, but not video and 2) We got a screener of Deathgasm in preparation for an upcoming From & Inspired By podcast. So, given the chance to watch this movie we've been jonesing to see for AGES, we lept at the chance. There's an album by Ghoul called Splatterthrash, and I can't help but feel that portmanteau is what most pefectly sums up the spirit of this New Zealand movie. Sure, there's been "splatstick" forever, going back to the early work of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, and director Jason Lei Howden owes more than a nod or two to those directors (especially to something like Jackson's Dead Alive), but while the gore is definitely played for fun, the main metalhead characters of Brodie and Zakk are rather deadly serious. You've comedic foils in Dion and Giles, but this isn't so much a horror comedy as a horror dramady. You've essentially taken your usual high school drama-comedy, wherein your lead character is an outcast with a small group of loyal friends who must overcome in order to secure their place in the social order, as well as winning the boy or girl -- i.e., every John Hughes film set in Shermer, Illinois. In this case, there's a lot more corpse paint and bullet belts, to say nothing of gallons upon gallons of stage blood, but the basic premise is the same. The soundtrack rips (especially the titular theme by Bulletbelt, which you can hear below). Mondo/Death Waltz is releasing a soundtrack for it soon, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. It's fully death metal in terms of the music, which is refreshing -- it's nice to have a niche represented in a way that demonstrates that this music means something to some people, and isn't just noise. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdSebJy_ERw[/embed] And, honestly -- it's fun. There's something heartwarming in the sense of a group of outcasts banding together against first, the forces of assholery in their town and second, the forces of evil which could potentially destroy the world. They treat each other like shit -- or, rather, Zakk's a screaming dickhole whom my wife repeatedly wished horribly, screaming death upom at multimple times during the movie -- but, that's sort of standard teenage behavior, and the ending sort of wraps all of that up nicely. deathgasm brothers in steel The gore is exceedingly wonderful. It's a mix between practical effects and CGI, and works best when the CGI is used to augment the insanely violent deaths suffered by the various demon-infested townspeople. The practical always looks far more realistic than the CGI, with blood splatter never looking quite as effective when rendered by an algorithm, as opposed to the random spray of pumping corn syrup. It's another excellent release from Dark Sky Films, who in the last year have released this, We Are Still Here, and Starry Eyes, which is an amazing run all on its own, to say nothing of House of the Devil, the Hatchet franchise, or Willow Creek. So, yes: Deathgasm is fun as hell, and you should totally go see it. See this with friends, though -- it'll be a blast. It opens this weekend in Kansas City at the Screenland Armour, where it runs Friday, October 9, through Thursday, October 14. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6H3smk5sqc[/embed]

Halloween Horror Marathon: It Follows

poster - it follows Each week, Halloween Horror Marathon does some themed posts. We go back to work on Mondays with a recent release. We call it New Movie Mondays. What nobody ever mentions about It Follows -- except, evidently, me when incessantly and effusively praising this movie after I finally saw it -- is the constant movement. Watching the film, I never felt scared, per se, but definitely felt a sense of tension. It Follows is a movie whose tautness is its real weapon, and it comes from that constant movement. Said movement could be the characters in a scene: either talking, fiddling with their hands, swimming, or otherwise involved in an activity. However, it could just as likely be the movement of the camera: zooming in, pulling back, panning, or following the characters as they sit. It's that incessant motion which gives It Follows the unyielding anxiety that makes it so very watchable. The Disasterpeace score places further strain upon the viewer, as well. It's the sort of music which has melody to hook you, only to disintegrate into digital noise at the end of each section. It's beautiful and haunting in its more lovely moments, but absolutely intimidating when it wants to menace. What's great about the motion of the camera or the characters onscreen is that it's entirely at odds with the pace of the plot itself. It unfolds at a relatively slow pace -- some would say glacial -- similar to the likes of '70s or early '80s films like Zombie Flesh Eaters or The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, wherein you spend time living with the characters in between moments of supreme violence. It's not rapid-fire hit, hit, hit in terms of violence. It builds and builds and builds between each instance. if_01 And, of course, the open interpretation of so much of It Follows is what really allows for repeated viewings. Are we going to consider the religious imagery this time, or possibly the mutable timeframe in which the movie takes place? Every instance adds a different perspective , and you could easily waste an entire afternoon reading the various think pieces. Add in the female lead of Jay, as portrayed by Maika Monroe, with demonstrable agency of her own, and you've a modern horror film that manages to still seem timeless. For sheer entertainment value, as well as repeated, multi-faceted perspectives, It Follows is definitely my favorite movie this year, and possibly in the last five. I can't think of another film which not only lived up to the hype which preceded it, but also surpassed it to such an extent. It Follows is available on Blu-ray and DVD, but I suggest getting the Blu, because goddamn, it looks amazing. We also suggest snagging Disasterpeace's score on vinyl, as released by Milan Records. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX38jXwnRAM[/embed]

Halloween Horror Marathon: The Dead Next Door

the dead next door header Each week, Halloween Horror Marathon does some themed posts. We sleep in on Sundays, then watch a zombie flick. We call it Resurrection Sundays. The Dead Next Door has always been one of those zombie movies which popped up on lists of lesser-known cult flicks, but never really ever came up as a best-ever. When I watched it the first time, it obviously didn't make much of an impression, because I couldn't remember much before this viewing other than "I know I've seen The Dead Next Door before." Within five minutes, it all came rushing back, and I remembered that this is what I want every zombie action movie to be! It's late '80s vintage, but this scrappy little Ohio movie readily predicted quite a bit of the modern zombie Rennaissance. There are elements of The Walking Dead (except it's not boring), World War Z (book, not movie), and lifts from the finest pieces of Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. I really hope the cult leader's look is supposed to be a Deathdream homage, too. The Dead Next Door is b-movie sci-fi horror all the way through. There's a level of science that seeks to cure the zombies, or allow them to speak, but never actually goes so far as to actually explain any part of the contagion. In addition to being a delightfully weird zombie flick, it works as an action movie, too. Think 28 Days Later -- but fun, instead of nihilistic killjoy boring. Once you learn that Sam Raimi worked as a secret producer, The Dead Next Door's tone makes a lot more sense. dead next door screencap The tone's not quite splatstick, because rarely is there a wink or nod to the camera. It's played fairly straight, but then again, every bit of dialogue being looped in post helps keep it from being something you'd take too terribly seriously. Still: it's got a sense of internal logic, there's a definite scruffy style to the whole affair, and it's not just a mish-mash amalgamation of disparate pieces. It's a ridiculous movie, yes -- much like Night of the Creeps, characters are named after famous horror directors -- but it's way more entertaining than most films at ten times the budget. It kind of peters out at the end, but I enjoyed the hell out of myself, and given the enthusiastic devotion to the bizarre plot, you'd think this would be way higher on the list of must-see zombie flicks. It looks like Tempe Video will release a definitive Blu-ray / DVD combo later this month, which also includes the soundtrack on CD. They still have a few copies of the 2005 DVD release, as well. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRpPDGHeFqs[/embed]

Halloween Horror Marathon: Psycho

poster - psycho Each week, Halloween Horror Marathon does some themed posts. We kick off the weekend by seeing a movie in the theater. We call it Cinematic Saturdays. We were supposed to see Eli Roth’s new cannibal flick, The Green Inferno, with our brother, but he’s in Wichita watching a couple exchange tungsten rings for a wedding. Rather than sit by ourselves and feel grossed out, we’re going to talk an upcoming cinematic screening. I've had the experience of watching Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in a variety of situations. I'm pretty sure the first time I saw it as a kid, I already knew the basic premise, but the film is so well done, it really didn't matter -- and, honestly, the real kicker is that even if you know the shower scene is coming, nothing really prepares you for its rapid and confusing savagery. Then, after said big to-do, there's still an awful lot of creepy, disconcerting film to come, made all the more odd by the fact that you'd become quite invested in Marion Crane as a viewer. Now what? Everyone knows the first part of the film, but while that's a bit of a crime caper, the vast majority is a typically taut and engaging Hitchcockian thriller. Calling Psycho a horror film is pushing the boundaries of the genre somewhat, but I feel that, as giallo and other psychological thrillers like Eyes of a Stranger have horrific elements to them, it's a valid inclusion. As a matter of fact, I saw the movie in not one, but two classes in college. The latter was a class called "Pop Culture of the 1960s," which makes perfect sense, but the first class was entitled "Literature of the Gothic." Psycho as Gothic seems almost more absurd than outright horror, until you consider Gothic's tropes. psycho house There's the uncanny, which is there in spades. There's what's referred to as "a pleasing sort of terror," meaning that you're frightened, but pleasantly so. And obviously, the double, as well as the idea of the architectural setting of the story reflecting the characters of the story. Given that the rather more modern Bates Motel sits below what is essentially a Second Empire home, there's a mirroring of modernity and the past. Add into that the fact that the interstate left the hotel on what is now a rarely-used side roaad, and there's another layer. Psycho is a film that offers up new things every time one sees it, and even though the basic plot points mean that seeing the big setpieces will no longer surprise even the youngest and most naive viewer, it's a gorgeous piece of economical filmmaking. Hitchcock's use of his television crew means that he gets the most out of a lean budget, squeezing every scene for the maximum allotment of discomfort. This is all a roundabout way of saying Lawrence's Liberty Hall will screen Psycho on the big screen tomorrow, Sunday, October 4, at 7:00pm. Tickets are $8.00, and more information is available here. It's also available as a quite-affordable, very loaded, extremely gorgeous Blu-ray, which you can purchase right here. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps8H3rg5GfM[/embed]

Halloween Horror Marathon: Don’t Torture A Duckling

Dont Torture a Duckling poster Each week, Halloween Horror Marathon does some themed posts. We wrap up the work week with the films of Lucio Fulci. We call them Fulci Fridays, and for those, we team up with Liam O'Donnell of Cinepunx. This week, we look at Don't Torture A Duckling. Nick The real mark of a zonkers Italian flick is being able to watch it over and over, reveling in its strange visuals and plot twists, and having fun with the absurdity of the violence. The first time through, Don't Torture A Duckling is an enjoyable watch, but the second? Man, knowing the ending and all the twists just make for a slog. It's good, solid, filmmaking, but Fulci hadn't yet learned to be fun at this point. There are moments of ridiculousness, like a naked woman mocking a young boy, or repeated zooms on a Donald Duck toy, but nothing really goes into "nasty because we can" territory. I appreciate that, at heart, this is proto-Fulci. Notably, it’s the gore effects that you’d see in his later works. When the villagers corner the village witch, Maciara, and attack her, take a look at the way she’s beaten with the chain: seven years later, in The Beyond, it’s pretty much repeated when the villagers attack Schweick. You also have your woman with no agency until a man takes charge -- in this instance, Barbara Bouchet as Patrizia (you could also include Irene Papas as Dona Aurelia Avallone, the priest's mother). That's a pattern that repeats in each and every Gates of Hell movie, as well as the likes of The New York Ripper. It does get delightfully fucked-up in the middle, while the witch confesses and speaks, but it's otherwise a blip in the middle of an otherwise pretty bog-standard thriller. Once her very disturbing, and hallucinogenic death scene is over, it's back to boring until the end. For the five minutes it lasts, it's quietly disturbing violent intensity. The ending is great pay-off if you’ve been watching attentively, but if you’ve seen it once, that’s enough. don't torture a duckling screencap Is it giallo? There's a mystery, there's highly-stylized violence, very pointless nudity of very beautiful women, and strangely-framed shots. And, much like a giallo, the actual plot is pretty negligible -- but, in this case, not full enough of absurdly psychedelic imagery to make being able to ignore it a possibility. That's what separates this from Fulci's Gates of Hell trilogy: in the case of those films, you don't need to know what's going on to enjoy them. Don't Torture a Duckling is too much detective story to be able to just sit back and zone out on the oddity unfolding in front of you. But having watched it a second time, there is something a little more which can be sussed from the film, beyond the action highlights. For instance: is there something we're supposed to take from the opening scenes of the town witch, holding a child's skeleton in her hands, standing within view of the modern highway? Absolutely: the film's as much about the battle of a small town against encroaching modernity as it is a search for the killer of these young boys. If you really want to read into it, you can reduce the film to being about trying to freeze time in a specific mileau, be it the city trying to cope with modernity (even as they hide their own perversions or stone a witch) or the priest "saving" the boys from their own adolescence, or even when they intersect in the priest's lecture on the people who watch TV or read the news, and how "certain magazines" don't make it to town. There’s a line in this old Video Watchdog review that sums it up perfectly, saying that Don't Torture A Duckling "transcends glib finger-pointing to speak truth to a culture unbalanced by having one foot planted in an ancient world of saints and martyrs while the other is set in a modern age of lonely people without a vocabulary to express their sadness." Liam I am not gonna lie, this is one of those Fulci films which, for whatever reason, I entirely missed. I am not sure if it is the “giallo” nature of it, or perhaps the simple fact that it is an early movie which is more difficult to find. However, while I have seen the Gates of Hell trilogy so many times they feel like home, this film was not even on my radar to watch until you suggested it. Don’t Torture a Duckling is a real head scratcher when you consider the entire breadth of Fulci films, and I am not sure how I feel about it. I agree with your basic idea that, while this movie is well made, it lacks a lot of the ridiculous aspects of Fulci’s later work, the strange and cruel elements that make those movie so unavoidably entertaining. I think though, when it comes to questions I have about Fulci, this film is now at the top of my list of examples. In fact, if one is concerned about the ways Fulci depicts gender, and issue only further complicated by stories of his behavior on set, this film doesn’t help. I cannot think of another of his films I have seen in which women are so clearly objects of both fear and derision. Not to say that a film like New York Ripper does not have many of its own problems. What gets to me here though is how many varieties of stereotypical female characters are on display here, and how many of them are negative. From the loud and large prostitutes to the young drug addict, and of course the witch who is murdered so brutally, the film seems to have no little anxiety about women. don't torture a duckling screencap 01 This of course bleeds into a second aspect of the film, which is its anxieties around sex. Here though, I suspect your idea about the old/new dynamic, or rather the traditional smashing into the modern is really at play. Still, while Fulci wants to use sex in his film in the same entertaining and sultry manner of many giallo, this film drips with a certain awkward attitude about sex. The scene which really stuck with me was the one of the hip young women with the young man. Yes, there is more going on in this scene, but there was also some really strange sexual tensions in it. I was impressed by it in some ways, but taken as a whole I am not sure what to make of it. I was reminded again of New York Ripper in that it is the only other of Fulci’s films I could think of in which sex plays such an important role thematically. Yet, it was entirely different. Of course, I am reading far too deeply into this one, as is my tendency. Unfortunately, what Don’t Torture a Duckling suffers from, for me, is more plot turns and reveals than interest. Giallo are deliciously lurid, disturbingly violent, and stylistically masterful. For a director who, in many ways, is one of my favorites specifically in his stylistic mastery, I was disappointed at how bland the film is. The small bursts of gore are very satisfying, and the murder of the witch is as you described. A nightmare scenario hinting at some of the beautiful insanity that was to come later in Fulci’s career. The final reveal (spoiler: the priest!) speaks for me very much to this anxiety around the old Italy and the modern. In this I am not referencing the most recent scandals around the catholic priesthood, though this film may remind any of us of that for sure. No, but they are also not unrelated. In Italy, if not around the world, for many the priesthood represents some sort of hold over from another time. An entire class of people living off of superstitions that for many seem not only irrational, but archaic. The reveal of his murderous rampage is not entirely unsympathetic, but it does hint at this feeling, that old Italy must make way for the new. In this case, the old is literally killing the future, in the form of the very young men it was meant to protect and prepare for the future. There's a pretty great Don't Torture A Duckling DVD you can get from Blue Underground, while there's a discount version from Anchor Bay with lesser video quality, but it comes as a two-pack with City of the Living Dead. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_M3a3m6wOc[/embed]

Halloween Horror Marathon: Tourist Trap

tourist trap header We're not off to a good start with this year's Halloween Horror Marathon. I basically haven't been home any night this week before 6:00pm, and there's been something waiting for me every night. I barely watched Tourist Trap in order to get this written, and I feel like I'm basically trying to write about something only vaguely half-remembered. That said, I love this movie, and I need to watch it more often than I do. Why more often? Because I can't remember character names or any of the particulars right now, but suffice it to say, Tourist Trap is a movie that I both can't believe isn't bigger than it is, while also being confused that as many people know it as they do. It's a movie that is simultaneously '70s and '80s. The creepy weirdness of everything in Tourist Trap lines up perfectly with other movies of the era, especially the likes of Phantasm, which was released the same year. However, it also presages the sort of strange things director David Schmoeller would later to go on to do. Watch Tourist Trap, then consider Puppet Master. By no means will you be surprised that they're by the same man. It's just so fucking uncomfortable, while at the same time run through with a sense of levity that doesn't actually ever release any tension. While watching, you know that you're supposed to laugh at this, but you're just wondering whether or not the intention of all of this is deadly serious. The music in the film, especially the copious amount of slide whistle, really makes this seem like a funhouse gone wrong. The mannequins are obviously creepy, but the strange psychic powers (very '70s) are what really makes this flick bizarre. Things are never quite explained, and watching it, you're just left to assume that everyone has gone mad and just accepts that it's happened to them. People deal with crazy, horrific shit, and then move on by living with plaster versions of their loved ones. No bigs. I think it's particularly telling that Pino Donaggio did the score. He did movies that were just weird -- The Howling, The Barbarians, The Black Cat, and especially Crawlspace, amongst others -- and seeing his name after "Music By" usually means that you're in for something astonishingly uncomfortable. The score is on sale as of yesterday via Waxwork Records. You can snag the LP right from their shop on blood red with black marble vinyl. You can also grab the movie on Blu-ray for pretty cheap. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQGui4LUwDw[/embed]

The 2015 Halloween Horror Marathon

T658363_03 The Halloween Horror Marathon returns to Rock Star Journalist, starting this Thursday. Once again, we're doing a weekly team-up with Liam O'Donnell of Cinepunx for his Journal of Fear. You can find the complete list after the jump. We're doing some thematic things this year: Resurrection Sundays, with zombie movies; New Movie Mondays, covering films that were released in the last year; Fulci Fridays, where we do a Lucio Fulci film with Liam; and Cinematic Saturdays, where we cover a film we saw in an actual movie theater the night before. GET HYPED. 1 Tourist Trap 2 Don't Torture A Duckling # 3 The Green Inferno ^ 4 The Dead Next Door + 5 It Follows * 6 Spookies 7 Witchboard 8 Slither 9 Zombie Flesh Eaters # 10 The Final Girls ^ 11 Living Dead Girl + 12 Housebound * 13 Dead & Buried 14 Frogs 15 Madman 16 Cat in the Brain # 17 Crimson Peak ^ 18 The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue + 19 Cooties * 20 Lurking Fear 21 Dead Pit 22 Dolls 23 The Black Cat # 24 The Last Witch Hunter ^ 25 Anthropophagus + 26 We Are Still Here * 27 Curtains 28 Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers 29 Eyes of a Stranger 30 A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin # 31 Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse ^ + Resurrection Sundays (zombie movies) * New Movie Mondays (recent releases) # Fulci Fridays (with Liam O'Donnell) ^ Cinema Saturdays (movies in an actual theater)

Halloween Horror Marathon: Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein

poster - Frankenstein (Boyle) A little something different for this second-to-last installment of the Halloween Horror Marathon. Last night, the wife and I took in a theatrical rebroadcast of the Nation Theatre's 2012 production of Frankenstein. Directed by Danny Boyle, this was a production starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, which repeatedly sold out its stagings. Part of that was due to the fact that, each night, Miller and Cumberbatch would switch the roles of the creature and the doctor. The version we saw last night featured Cumberbatch as the doctor and Miller and the creature. It was absolutely wonderful. It's not an easy watch, given that the creature raises horrible questions about the nature of man, given his immediate abandonment upon birth, followed by people treating him based on his looks, rather than the content of his character. The staging is a masterful use of spare sets whose skeletal aspects give you just enough idea of what's to be portrayed, while also allowing you to focus on the performances themselves. Miller and Cumberbatch are riveting, and you can't but marvel at the physicality of Miller's performance. The play is absolutely mesmerizing, and both Miller and Cumberbatch do exceptionally well in their performances. Despite the play's name, it's so much more about the creature and his attempt to join humanity, while all the while being rejected by it. The creature's part is far more meaty, and I'd be quite curious to see the other version, but, alas, I wasn't aware of the Monday screening until afterward, so missed that particular version. When the old man De Lacey spends a year teaching him, the creature grows in intellect and does good deeds for the man's son and daughter-in-law. They, upon seeing him, beat him and drive him off. He returns, and burns them alive in their shack. It's heartbreaking to see how the creature has been wronged, and to see kindness on both sides repaid with violence and cruelty. The creature learns all lessons taught him, it seems, and the ones taught most often are lies, cruelty, heartbreak, and deception. That particular portion of the play is the entire production of Frankenstein in microcosm: the monster learns a terrible lesson, gains hope, and then has his hopes dashed, and each time, becomes closer to being more like his creator than anyone could've ever expected. For as learned as both men are -- and they are, as the play repeatedly proves, equals -- the creature and the doctor are both flawed in ways that are not so obvious, and more alike than pure physicality would otherwise indicate. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lsu-gbgqPoE[/embed] If you get a chance to see this, please do. It's never going to be released on DVD, so these movie theatre screenings are the only way to see it, and that's really as it should be. Director Boyle and musical performers Underworld mean this is far more cinematic an experience than most nights at the play, and seeing it in an immersive, communal environment means that attention must be paid to what's going on. It's an uninterrupted arc, not something you can pause or look at your phone while experiencing.

Halloween Horror Marathon: Pumpkinhead

poster - PumpkinheadAn unjustly overlooked classic. A strange film that manages to be a creature feature, revenge flick, and supernatural horror picture all in one. My mom's favorite horror movie. These are all apt descriptions for Pumpkinhead, Stan Winston's 1988 movie starring Lance Henrickson. It's funny -- I know I saw this movie over and over when I was younger, but I might as well have never seen it, for as vague as the plot was in my memory. I don't remember it being as hallucinatory and freaky-looking as it is. There are angles and elements of Pumpkinhead's shooting that make it look like Sam Raimi had control of the camera. They contrast nicely with the almost pastoral scenes early on, before everything goes violent and revenge-y. In addition to the crazy camera movement and light streaming through backlit fog for its nighttime shots, Pumpkinhead looks like Texas Chainsaw Massacre during its daylight scenes. I watched this on a full-screen, untouched DVD from 2000, and it still managed to look frickin' great, despite the fact that Scream Factory put out a pretty excellent reissue of this on Blu-ray earlier this year. Honestly, though, the grainy, slightly blown-out look of the release I have only lent to the terrifying, awful aspect of everything. In terms of pacing, it's more early '70s than late '80s. You've got to be patient with this one. Pumpkinhead's slow build of southern gothic horror to an all out slaughter means that, while there's a good tease in the first scene to get your blood pumping, it's not until nearly halfway through that things get going. pumpkinhead This being a Stan Winston film, the creature effects are unsurprisingly amazing. It's a great looking film, even if it's pretty terribly acted, with the exception of Henrickson. Granted, he's just doing the quietly tough thing he does in everything, but it's especially suited to this picture. The creature is like a backwoods Giger creation. I can see how there were three sequels: the premise of Pumpkinhead as some kind of avenging reaver makes this an open-ended franchise of infinite possibilities. Why there were, however, I don't know. It's not particularly exciting unless you get an emotional resonance in the revenge, and killing a kid at the start of every picture will endear you to no-one. Still, despite all the striking parts about how it looks, and the delightful way in which the film brings a sort of pastoral British horror (a la The Wicker Man) to the American south, and the ways in which its pacing mirrors '70s horror, the plot's pure '80s horror, with the obnoxious young people in a convertible being punished. While being a fun romp, Pumpkinhead is ultimately just another movie which proves the horror movie rule: young city folk ought not be jerks in the country, or they will die terrible, violently bloody deaths. It's almost to the point nowadays that, should I see a nice sports car loaded with 20-somethings, I wonder who's going to be the first one to go, and how it'll happen. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXlcm1el1D0[/embed]

Halloween Horror Marathon: Bay of Blood (with special guest!)

poster - Twitch of the Death Nerve 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 ... bay of blood cleaver Nick Spacek When you watch a movie that has influenced so many other pictures, it's hard to separate what it was from what it now is. A Bay of Blood (aka Blood Bath, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) was Mario Bava taking the violence of giallo and making it the focus of a film, rather than yet another stylistic element. However, seeing how much of Bava's film would shape the next three decades of slasher pictures, one can't help but see how many tropes were lifted from A Bay of Blood, as if its plot was the Ten Commandments, written in stone for later directors to use: teenagers getting offed in a decrepit location, overly-complicated deaths, a creepy character in the background, and even the one kid who's super-awkward and weird around girls. Divesting one's self of the "oh, well, this has all been done before" attitude is paramount for enjoying A Bay of Blood, because in 1971, it hadn't. This was all new, and watching it through unfiltered eyes makes it pretty astonishing. While gore'd been done before -- Herschell Gordon Lewis' films certainly set the standard a decade before -- it'd never been done so realistically and so up-front. Bava set the stage with Blood and Black Lace, but that film's an emotional step away from A Bay of Blood, and is as prototypical a giallo as this is a slasher. It's a strange and powerful movie that Bava's crafted here, and the cross and double-cross plot keeps things moving along at a brisk clip, leaving you wondering who's going to die next and how. Any character's up for the killing, and the kills still shock. Bobby getting a cleaver to the face had me gasping aloud. A good portion of A Bay of Blood's shock potential has to do with the absolute contrast between the pastoral long shots and sweeping piano pieces which accompany them and the tight, up-close and personal attacks. The atmosphere is absolutely crafted, and while there are a few moments of levity early on with the teenagers and their frolics, it only serves to make the shocks which follow that much more intense. Liam O'Donnell I carry the great and unavoidable shame that I have not seen nearly as many Bava films as I should have. This is only my third, and yet even with that little experience with his work, this felt like an intense shift. The violence in Bay of Blood is quite pronounced. It is in these shocking scenes I guess the film had the most influence on the forthcoming slasher subgenre. Indeed, some films, like Friday the 13th Part II -- which I reviewed for this series -- borrowed quite obviously from these kills. Strange though, because while I noticed the violence as an intense shift, and I could see how the way it was portrayed was such an important part of the future of filmmaking, it was largely insignificant for me. You so astutely point out, Nick, how difficult it is to see a work which has been so influential for what it is rather than for what it would become reflected in other films. That is true of this movie, but for me perhaps it allowed me to see how unique Bava's film is compared to the horror films I am accustomed to. There is something I am having trouble describing about the film, in that I am not sure if it is something anarchic or something nihilistic. That is specifically the way there is no good or bad character in the film, but rather a great net of murder and selfishness which cover the whole. Yes, one could argue the young people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time represent "innocent victims," but do they really? It seems to me that Bava goes out of his way in this film to show something negative or grating or frustrating about most of the characters on the screen. More importantly, though the film plays at first as a giallo style mystery, it very quickly becomes a tale of murder which includes many many people. In spreading out the iconic role of "the killer" across so many, it is true that Bava creates some dynamic tension to a slightly over burdened script. No one could accuse Bay of Blood of being too kinetic, I don't think. However, he also takes apart the structure of these kinds of movies, intentionally or no, that does not translate to the slasher films he seems to have inspired. While classic slasher films do like to show us the moral failings of many of the victims of their insane murderers, they still maintain a classic good and bad structure. There is the killer and their are the killers victims. Perhaps we feel a certain sympathy or a certain disdain for the killer's various victims, but of course they are victims. I am being a bit too broad, as there are certainly exceptions to this idea, though those films usually spill over into revenge narratives or wish fulfillment narratives. The point is that not only do so many characters kill in this film, they do it for so little. There is not even the noble wronged person but, rather, awful people killing each other. This seems in one way anarchic. It overthrows, possibly, our assumptions about relationships of power and good. Yet, it is also nihilistic, as it seems to assume that almost every person, given enough reason, could decapitate someone or embed a machette in their skull. Of course, I am getting a bit too heady. At base, it seems that Bava was doing exactly as you suggested, that is highlighting the violence of the Giallo genre above all else. Do you think then there is more to the film then that? Should we thank him for the history of movies he spawned or regret his unintentional creation? poster - Bay of Blood (Gorgon).jpegNick: I think that the innumerable variations on the theme created by Bava demonstrate so very well the flexibility of what he created. Given that the slasher genre has been shown to take place in any locale, with any character, with any victim, and still manage to provide new and interesting twists over forty year on, I'm amazed that it took as long as it did for someone to combine the masked killer story with the Rube Goldberg deaths of b-movies. All the ingredients were there for decades, and yet, it took decades before someone thought to combine them. I think your point of nihilism isn't too heady at all. This film came at the very start of the ‘70s, and that was a decade of movies absolutely loaded with moral ambiguity. Be it Jake in Chinatown, almost any character in The Godfather, Travis Bickell in Taxi Driver, or even Han Solo in Star Wars, the decade became defined by characters who operated in moral gray areas. This was just a bit more black and white -- well, almost purely, darkly evil. Do you think this is due to an Italian way of thing, like Sergio Leone's pictures? Liam: Well, one thing that did not originally occur to me was humor. In other words, is it possible that this stunningly dark turn is not -- in some sense -- comic? Certainly, the film has some comic moments, and I don't think that would be outside of the Bava style. Then again, a darkly comic take on something so morally grey, or rather so intensely evil, would not be too far outside of Leone either. I can't help but wonder if, as an American, I am inclined perhaps to take the film too seriously, which is perhaps to take it not seriously enough. That is, am I not peering below the surface to how utterly comic it is to have a "murder mystery" where many of the supposed red herrings are still actually killers. There is just simply not one main killer, a sort of focus of our intention. Is Bay of Blood some sort of comic farce? Or is the film simply having fun with a genre Bava was, at this point, one of the pioneers of? Is it too simple, when it comes to these Italian films, to look for genre clarity at all? Nick: I'm astonished at how many layers this movie ends up having, when you take a look at it. I didn't even think about the humor. Upon further consideration, it really is almost a parody of giallo, if you really think about it. Rather than one killer, masked or otherwise hidden, you've multiple, all of whom are easily tied to the deaths they cause. The deaths aren't shown in artily-framed shots, lit like a dream (or nightmare, depending), but are instead presented in a stark manner. This is almost the lead-in for the cannibal films which would later follow, as well -- death as shock in and of itself, as opposed to some greater artistic statement. In this case, death is the statement, and it's blunt: "Here, this is what you seem to enjoy the most." And -- going back to the humor -- I don't think it's a coincidence that the future films which took this template and not only succeeded, but are still considered worth seeing, also have that strange sense of humor to them. Given that, is there a film that came later that you think a worthy heir to this progenitor? Liam: I am actually not sure. From one perspective there are many, be they the F13 series or The Burning, slasher films that take a lot from this movie. However, to focus on them as directly from Bay of Blood does exactly what seems to have not been the point. It almost seems that Bava made a film similar to Hanneke, in that it pointed a finger at its audience and asked what it was they wanted to see. It then played with the feeling of tension, the fear and drama of the piece, until it becomes farcical. It pushes the boundaries between what is the dramatic real that we can accept, and when the performance goes beyond that. Not that I think Bava is attempting to make so complicated a point, but it is still the direction the film seems to go. Then again, Bava also claimed this was his favorite of his films. Perhaps this tension, between what is plausible and not, and between what the audience wants or does not want to see is the point. In that way, I am reminded of, say, Funny Games or similar films. However, those movies are more literally "meta," in that this commentary on a genre or condition is the entire point and content. Bava has made a suitably horrifying giallo, certainly one that bends and even transcends the genre, but is still what it is. The question is, are there any films that seem to push so far, but are not clearly satirical. I am reminded of another unlikely film, Mothers Day, but this is also more clearly a satire. The question for me, and perhaps you can give your insight on this, is whether Bava is laughing with the audience or at them. If we are supposed to be in on the joke, so to speak, then I think Nightmare on Elm Street might be an interesting comparison. Not a comedy, but with some real humor injected. However, if he is laughing at the audience, something I think the ending suggests a bit, then I am at a loss as to what might be related. Do you think I am being too harsh on Bava? Is Bay of Blood a cynical commentary or simply a good time playing with gore and violence? If anything, does it say negative things about us that we enjoy the movie so much? I found it fun if a little confusing at times, and I am now wondering if I should have! poster - A Bay of BloodNick: I think it's meant to be fun. Given that everything else I've seen of Bava's -- Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, Kill Baby Kill, and Black Sabbath -- has some element of humor to it (especially Karloff's parched desert dryness of delivery in Black Sabbath), I can't but imagine that this is supposed to be the film that's an exercise in ridiculousness. Maybe Bava's laughing at you while you laugh at the film, because that ending is just over-the-top in terms of one last absurd plot twist. However, I think he's willing to let the viewer enjoy themselves, showing nudity, showing blood, and just generally amping up the ridiculousness inherent in giallo to an extent that he accidentally created a new genre along the way. Liam: I think you are right and perhaps that is what he also did, as far as innovation: commentary with humor. That is to say, it really feels like Bava is in some way satirizing the audience's desire for this violence, but I don't think he is judging it. The film is having so much fun with it's bevy of ridiculous villains, the various ridiculous character traits and odd ways they interact. In fact, even the kills are amazing, and done in such a way that I cannot believe Bava is not enjoying his art as much as we are in watching it. Yet that ending does seem to suggest to me some silly nod to his audience, he is not just performing at his art, which is creating this intense murder film. No, we are part of it, he acknowledges us, and thus implicates us in his fun I think. He is going over the top, to new heights of blood. Granted, here we are some 44 years later and it may not seem like much. It was a rough year for movies though. Bay of Blood was one of many to face backlash and censors for its extreme content. Bava, I think though, hints not just that he is pushing his art form to new extremes, but that this is where it is going. It is in many ways a watershed moment not only for film and the horror genre we both love, but for the culture as a whole. Bay of Blood is still powerful in it's intensity, and while it may not be as extreme as it seemed then, it is an incredibly well executed bit of brutal fun. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGSJCLWAL3Q[/embed] Christopher Brown's Video Nasties podcast did an excellent episode on the film, and you can listen to that here.