Halloween Horror Binge: Week One

Two years ago, I watched a cycle of horror films throughout October and I wanted to do that again this year. My first week’s viewing ended up surprisingly good. I enjoyed each film for what it was, and I didn’t feel like there was a clunker in the bunch.

Atomic Brain (aka Monstrosity) (1963)

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This sci-fi horror film, with heavy borrowings from Frankenstein, doesn’t seem to be well-liked. It’s low budget and if that’s not your thing as a viewer, you’re better off staying away from this one. I enjoyed it, but I have a high tolerance. Several from this week reminded me of staying up late as a child and watching Z-grade sci-fi and horror. Fond memories.

The basic plot is that Dr. Frank needs funding for all the science he does. Evidently a mean elderly lady is the only funding he can find. His experiments involve brain-swapping and she wants a young woman’s body. They hire three foreign women who seem to be in the US on work visas or something. One girl’s accent is English or Australian or Georgian, as in Savannah, Georgia.

I would actually like to see a better print of this. Despite trying everything to ineptly capture sound and image, the film manages some intriguing visuals.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

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I’ve said previously I won’t write about this one anymore, but the kids and I have watched it four times this week already.

Queen of Blood (1966)

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More sci-fi horror. This one and Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965) are said to have been influences on the makers of Alien (1979). Understandable, but neither film quite does what Alien does, but if I think of the ending when the alien becomes a dude-in-a-suit, maybe there’s very little difference besides tone.

This movie has John Saxon, who I will watch in anything, Basil Rathbone, Forrest J. Ackerman, who has no dialogue if I remember correctly, Dennis Hopper, and the voice of Frank Zappa.

Insane!

That cast list probably oversells it, but there’s some nice Bava-esque lighting, particularly the red/green contrast lighting, and some amazing footage that looks like a Space Age science textbook come to life. This is the footage that was originally shot for a couple of Russian sci-fi films that ended up here. It’s schlock, but sometimes gorgeous schlock.

The Corpse Grinders (1971)

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Z-grade gore, probably meant to rival Herschell Gordon Lewis. I found it hilariously fun. A couple of gents are turning people into cat food. The cats love it, but it’s making them violent. Awkward dialogue and acting, but perfect for this sort of low budget gem.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)

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Cult classic that I had missed. Hippie’s-not-welcome eco-horror. Fantastic. Mixes sci-fi elements, particularly The Department of Agriculture’s Experimental Unit’s radiation pest control, and zombies. Some of the film is beautifully shot.

Fear(s) of the Dark (2008)

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A decent animated horror anthology. Ultimately, I found the imagination and art more interesting and fulfilling than the stories.

Whistle and I’ll Come to You (2010)

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I like M.R. James’s stories and the 1968 BBC adaptation of “Whistle” is a classic. Beautifully filmed by Jonathan Miller and beautifully acted by Michael Hordern. Many modern horror fans might find both adaptations too slow, and even some may find them boring. I don’t.

I avoided the adaptation for a while because of how much I like the 1968 version, even though John Hurt takes the lead and I generally love his work.

There’s a lot to like. I like the slow pacing and the cinematography. Hurt is expectedly fantastic, and there is something about looking at his face and hands that express so much about the position of his character. Elderly. Retired. Sadness and guilt after leaving his wife, who seems to be lost  in a state of dementia, in a home.

That whole last part, which becomes the main thread of this adaptation, is not from the story or the earlier adaptation and that may not even bother a newcomer. As a fan of the original and the earlier adaptation it alters the character and motivation and really makes the heart of the story something different than originally intended and may be problematic for hardcore fans of James.

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