Saturday, October 31, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Zombie

#11 (tie) - 11 votes

Before the month is over, I wanted to share this contribution from Vanessa Vinci on Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 (aka Zombie). Thanks, Vanessa!

Lucio Fulcis Zombi 2 (aka Zombie, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) is probably the most obscure late 70s Italian gorefest that everyones heard of and generates some fantastic Abbott and Costello-style descriptions of the movie itself:

If I havent seen Zombi 1 or 2, can I watch Zombi 3?

Zombi 2 is the first one, there is no Zombi 1.

So Zombi 3 is Zombi 2?

Zombi 2 is Zombi 2.
Then whats Zombi 1?
Dawn of the Dead.

Thanks to Italian copyright law, Lucio Fulcis Zombie, the first in the Zombie Flesh Eaters series, borrowed the popularity of Romeros cynical allegory and used it to return audiences to the voodoo-inspired roots of White Zombie or I Walked With a Zombie. After the chilling opening scene where a seemingly abandoned sailboat drifts into the Hudson (as perfect a horror opener as ever was and used in everything from Dracula to The Strain), the action shifts to the mysterious island where interloping doctors have been tampering with local superstition to find a scientific explanation for zombie-ism. Here, though, there is no witch doctor, no grand evil mastermind puppeteering the undead for a greater scheme; the dead are rising and both science and magic are equally useless at explaining or controlling the devastation.

Plot, acting, characterization and dialog arent the movies strong points. The characters are the kind of stock horror movie folk where the men stick around places that are clearly unsafe far longer than self-preservation would dictate while the women are prone to things like topless scuba-diving in shark ridden waters. The zombies dont move very fast, but with this crowd they dont have to.

Fulci keeps the stripped down storyline of Romeros Dead movies but without the better actors. What he does use well is atmosphere: like Night of the Living Deads secluded farmhouse and Dawns shopping mall, Zombie combines the sweltering tropical setting with the relentless drumming score to create a world where everything feels fetid. When his zombies start rising en masse from a cemetery with their worm-ridden orifices it makes total disgusting sense because of course anything buried in the dense island loam would show the worst kind of putrefaction.

In todays zombie-saturated pop culture Zombie still deserves credit for one of the most beautiful sequences in a zombie film and one of the most brutal. Eyeball torture is a universal fear and, unlike any comparable scene in a torture-porn flick, desensitization never enters the equation. Even Un Chien Andalou doesnt have those squishy sound effects to amp up the experience. And that zombie vs. shark sequence. What an awesome, almost balletic interaction between two apex predators, neither of whom knows what to make of the other or even how to experience the other except by taking a big olebite out of it. The scene is colorful, eerie and totally mesmerizing, like the all the best moments of the film.

U.S. Release Date: July 18, 1980 (Also released that week: Cheech and Chong's Next Movie, Honeysuckle Rose, The Little Dragons)

Friday, October 30, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Complete Results

Alas, I think it's time for me to admit defeat. I've been running month-long, Halloween-themed lists and such at Cinevistaramascope for a few years, and it's been a pleasure, especially with the polls I've run last and this year. But I have to be honest - it seems that, between writing for other sites and finishing and promoting the premiere of my movie, I've fallen way, way behind on the '70s poll this month. So, I'm faced with two options:

1. Write about 17 more movies in the next 24 hours or so and post a bunch of rushed, subpar writing.

2. Publish the full list now.

So, I've decided to breathe a little and publish the full list below. I'll still eventually write about the remaining movies, but I'll admit that allowing myself to do it at my own pace is a relief. I hope it's not too much of a disappointment for all of you. Also, I'll be running the one piece I received from a contributor later today. Hopefully I'll have the time and energy next Halloween to commit to a longer project, but as it is, being so busy with writing and making movies that I don't have much time to blog is a pretty good problem to have. Thanks again for your lists, and have a happy Halloween!

The List:

1. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) -26 votes

2 (tie). Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) - 25 votes

2 (tie). Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) - 25 votes

2 (tie). The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) - 25 votes

3. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978) - 24 votes

4. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) - 23 votes

5. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) - 20 votes

6. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) - 18 votes

7 (tie). Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) - 17 votes

7 (tie). The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) - 17 votes

8. House (Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, 1977) - 15 votes

9. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) - 14 votes

10. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979) - 13 votes

11 (tie). Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975) - 11 votes

11 (tie). Zombie (Lucio Fulci, 1979) - 11 votes

12 (tie). The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) - 10 votes

12 (tie). Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973) - 10 votes

12 (tie). Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1979) - 10 votes

13. Martin (George A. Romero, 1977) - 9 votes

14. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978) - 8 votes

15. Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog, 1979) - 7 votes

16. Messiah of Evil (Willard Huyck, 1973) - 6 votes

17 (tie). The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976) - 5 votes

18 (tie). The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976) - 5 votes

19 (tie). Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kumel, 1971) - 4 votes

19 (tie). Piranha (Joe Dante, 1978) - 4 votes

19 (tie). Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1973) - 4 votes

19 (tie). The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Sergio Martino, 1971) - 4 votes

19 (tie). Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) - 4 votes

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: The Devils

#12 (tie) - 10 votes

Some of you may have noticed that I've fallen a bit behind schedule this month. I do intend to finish this project by Saturday, even if it makes for a busy weekend. However, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't relieved when I remembered that I wrote about The Devils at length a few years ago for the White Elephant Blog-a-Thon, so go ahead and check out the review that prompted comments like "Such a wonderful blog i ever read. Please keep posting good blogs. Thank you very much..." (from reader "Stockmeds Viagra") and "I fully tie in with everything you have printed" (from ""). And while you're at it, check out the campaign to persuade Warner Bros. to give The Devils a long-overdue home video release!

U.S. Release Date: July 16, 1971 (Also released that week: The Hunting Party)

Monday, October 26, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Martin

#13 - 9 Votes

While George A. Romero is rightly celebrated for his iconic zombie movies and the influence they've had on the subgenre, an unfortunate result is that his non-zombie movies tend to be a bit overlooked. One of those is Martin, which he made just before Dawn of the Dead. The movie is anchored by John Amplas' peculiarly effective performance as the title character, a young man who believes himself to be a vampire. The twist is that there's no physical evidence that Martin is a supernatural being - he can go out during the day, isn't repelled by garlic or crucifixes and, without any fangs, relies on razorblades to bleed his (usually attractive female) victims. It's an unusually character-driven horror movie, as we follow Martin as he stalks his victims, gets involved in a sort of romance, confesses his crimes to a local talk radio show and, ultimately, is hunted by his elderly uncle, who shares his nephew's belief in vampires.

I had an opportunity, at a Q&A a few years ago, to ask Romero about the movie (if you ever have the chance to meet Romero, he loves being asked about his movies that don't have Dead in the title). I'll never forget when Romero said that "I never saw Martin as a vampire. I thought he was just a fucked-up kid." This sums up the movie's uniquely chilly atmosphere - it's an fascinatingly subtle counterpoint to the garish splatter he's better known for, with the dilapidated Pittsburgh locations contributing greatly to the film's sense of dread. And the makeup effects by Tom Savini, while not as gory as much of his later work, still have the ability to make me wince.

U.S. Release Date: July 7, 1978

Friday, October 23, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

#14 - 8 votes

Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn't usually listed among the decade's best paranoid thrillers, but it's as great as any of them. Transplanting the original's McCarthy-era paranoia to the Me Decade was an inspired move on the part of screenwriter W.D. Richter, as characters who suspect there's something not quite right with their friends and family members who have been replaced by pod people are instead encouraged to regard their suspicions as a projection of their own anxieties. As the city's population is quickly replaced, Kaufman does a masterful job of heightening the movie's own sense of anxiety by carefully including background actors behaving just a little strangely and other odd details at the margins of the frame, at first mostly unnoticed by the characters (Edgar Wright surely had the movie in mind when he made Shaun of the Dead). While it's less overtly political than The Conversation, The Parallax View or other celebrated '70s thrillers, it shares the same mounting sense of unease that, not only are sinister forces secretly running the show, but they're already winning.

From the opening sequence, which follows microscopic alien organisms travelling across the universe to our planet and slowly, almost imperceptibly replicating harmless-looking flowers, it's the rare movie about aliens that feels truly otherworldly. Cinematographer Michael Chapman favors naturalistic, largely practical lighting towards the beginning, only to include more expressionistic use of light and shadow as the characters realize what's going on. Along with Douglas Stewart's jagged, disorienting editing, Ben Burtt's sound design and Danny Zeitlin's unique electronic score, the movie creates an atmosphere of subtle but insidious and growing dread that still feels not quite like any other science fiction movies, then or now. The cast also deserves a great deal of credit for the movie's success - star Donald Sutherland (the most underrated actor of his generation?) and a great supporting cast including Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy keep their characters' anxieties frighteningly grounded and credible. 

The first time I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers was late at night on TV-38's Movie Loft when I was eight or nine years old; it was the perfect way to experience the movie, as the movie's peculiar atmosphere did a number on my sleepy brain until I was suddenly jolted awake by moments like the fate of the banjo player and his dog or, especially, the final scene, one of the all-time best. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is fairly well-known today, but it doesn't seem to be as much of a Halloween mainstay as a lot of late-'70s horror classics, and it deserves to be.

U.S. Release Date: December 20, 1978 (Also released that week: Every Which Way But Loose, King of the Gypsies, The Last Wave)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Nosferatu the Vampyre

#15 - 7 votes

Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, titled Nosferatu the Vampyre in the U.S. and Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht in Europe, is one of the handful of remakes I prefer to the original. Measuring a silent film against a movie made five decades later is unfair, and Murnau's original is a great film that remains creepily effective nearly a century later. But while Herzog intended to honor Murnau and his film with his own, recreating iconic images from the original, his Nosferatu stands on its own as a uniquely poetic and haunting experience.

Klaus Kinski's performance as the cursed Count Dracula - unlike Murnau's film, Herzog was free to use the character names from Bram Stoker's novel - is my favorite of his and Herzog's legendary five-film collaboration. His Dracula is neither as purely monstrous as Max Schreck's Count Orlok nor the tragic, sexy version played by Frank Langella in the big-budget production of Dracula that was also released in 1979. Kinski's count is truly alien, an otherworldly presence that inspires our pity if not empathy. In his scenes with the perfectly cast Isabella Adjani - the movie would be the ideal center of an Adjani triple feature bookended by The Story of Adele H. and Possession - Kinski is less menacing than chilling, as Herzog is less interested in the romantic readings of the story than in what would be the pitiful reality of a vampire's existence.

Like the ghoul in Fuseli's The Nightmare, the vampire bound to destroy any object of his affections and literally bring death wherever he goes. As in Murnau's version, Dracula spreads a literal plague, which gives Herzog the opportunity to stage an eerily silent apocalypse that ends on a more unsettling note than the original. Along with the movie's hallucinatory images of bats filmed in slow motion, real, rotting mummies and other characteristically Herzogian images of nature as threatening and ominous, Nosferatu is subtly but thoroughly frightening. Herzog isn't interested in big scares, and I know this one makes some horror fans sleepy, but viewed in the right frame of mind, Nosferatu is quite freaky in its own peculiar way.

U.S. Release Date: October 5, 1979 (Also released that week: 10, Starting Over)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Messiah of Evil

#16 - 6 votes

At first glance, Messiah of Evil could be mistaken for one of the many forgettable, generic horror movies that played at grindhouses and drive-ins before fading into obscurity and an afterlife spent as a public domain DVD on dollar store shelves. If one were to just describe its murky narrative - about a young woman searching for her father who ends up in a town full of possessed, vampire-like townsfolk controlled by a mysterious character known as "the dark stranger" - it doesn't sound like anything special. And yet, like Carnival of Souls before it, Messiah of Evil is a case where a simple story is elevated by the movie's surreal unsettling atmosphere, which is equal parts Lovecraft and post-'60s psychedelia. As lead character Arletty (Marianna Hill) and the group of unafflicted people she meets in the town are preyed upon by the stranger and his minions, the movie delivers a couple of spectacularly frightening setpieces, and director Willard Huyck sustains the movie's nightmarish tone through its eerily unresolved ending.

Messiah of Evil is also notable for being one of those low-budget movies from the period that would prove to be a nexus of important figures in '70s American film. Huyck and his co-writer, producer and wife Gloria Katz would go on to co-write American Graffiti (released the same year), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and, er, the Huyck-directed Howard the Duck. Walter Hill appears in the movie's opening scene, and one of the production designers was Jack Fisk, whose subsequent credits include Mulholland Drive, There Will Be Blood and all of Terrence Malick's films. Fisk and Joan Marcoe's contributions to Messiah of Evil are key to the movie's success; the giant, trippy, vaguely threatening murals contribute greatly to the movie's atmosphere. Cinematographer Stephen Katz also deserves a lot of credit, particularly for the movie's best-known scene, as he uses the harsh flourescent lighting of a supermarket to turn the familiar suddenly threatening. The best compliment I can give Messiah of Evil is that I watched a fullscreen version of the movie with washed-out colors to write this, and yet its images got under my skin anyway; I'm looking forward to eventually checking out Code Red's widescreen release of the movie, as I suspect I'll grow to love it.

U.S. Release Date: May 2, 1973

Friday, October 16, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: The Tenant

#17 (tie) - 5 votes

The first time I saw Roman Polanski's The Tenant, I didn't care for it at all. I watched it with a friend who'd heard that it was an inspiration for Fight Club, only to find out that the connection between the two films was very specific and limited. Going into it, though, with "Rosemary's Baby meets Fight Club" in mind, I was disappointed to discover it's actually a slow burn starring Polanski as Trelkovsky, a meek guy who moves into an apartment previously occupied by a woman who attempted suicide by jumping out the window. The movie hints at a supernatural conspiracy among Trelkovsky's neighbors, but it gradually becomes apparent that the truth is much less frightening (to my 19-year-old self, at least), and I could only shrug at the movie's ironic ending.

I've seen it a few more times since then, and I enjoy it, especially, as a black comedy, especially the absurd final minutes. The Tenant has been interpreted as being about the dissolution of the self, or as a metaphor for the horrors of the Third Reich. Those things are almost certainly in there, but I enjoy it most as a more literal cautionary tale about the horrors of apartment dwelling, only taken to an absurd degree. Trelkovsky tries harder and harder to accommodate his neighbors, even as their complaints become increasingly unreasonable; I'd be lying if I said I didn't get the lengths he goes to in order to avoid confrontation, and my laughter at the consequences this has for Trelkovsky is very much the laughter of recognition.

U.S. Release Date: June 11, 1976 (Also released that week: The Cars That Ate ParisDeep Red)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: The Omen

#17 (tie) - 5 votes

When The Omen is mentioned, the first things most people probably remember are Gregory Peck's performance as the adoptive father of the Antichrist or Jerry Goldsmith's haunting, Oscar-winning score. Personally, I always think of what is my all-time favorite decapitation scene - I won't spoil it here, but anyone who has seen the movie knows what I'm talking about (and not just because it's the only decapitation in the film). Released a few years after The Exorcist, The Omen was clearly greenlit in the wake of the earlier movie's massive success, as both movies are rare A-list horror productions with sizable budgets, casts of well-respected actors, and serious-minded approaches to their supernatural subject matter. But while The Exorcist works so brilliantly because its story of demonic possession is grounded by William Friedkin's frighteningly credible, "realistic" approach to the material, the balance between verisimilitude and "Boo!" moments in The Omen is uneasy. With its long, portentous, dialogue-heavy stretches suddenly punctuated by moments of graphic gore that wouldn't be out of place in an exploitation movie, The Omen has actually proven to be a far bigger influence on subsequent demonic possession/apocalypse movies than The Exorcist.

When I first saw The Omen as a kid, my family attended a church that was pretty big on Revelations and such. After the movie left me feeling pretty anxious, I asked one of the Bible studies teachers if the end times would be like the movie and was assured that, yes, the Antichrist's return will be much like that. Now, I'm pretty sure that, if Satan were to return, it'd probably be less pulpy. Not that I'm knocking the movie - I actually enjoy it most when it's at its most disreputable, especially the over-the-top death scenes and Billie Whitelaw's hilariously weird performance as Damian's nanny. I also have a soft spot for the more shameless trashiness of the sequels. While The Omen isn't a favorite of mine, it mostly holds up well as a reminder of the brief moment when horror movies flirted with respectability.

U.S. Release Date: June 25, 1976 (Also released that week: Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson; Logan's Run; Murder by Death)

Monday, October 12, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Wake in Fright

#4 (tie) - 18 Votes

The 1971 Outback-set thriller Wake in Fright has had a peculiar history. After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival and playing theatrically in the U.S. and elsewhere, the movie disappeared from distribution, rarely showed up on TV and only received a home video release a few years ago after a restoration of the film premiered, again, at Cannes. Viewed today, it's an exciting lost gem, even as it's easy to see why it faded into obscurity - it's an unrelentingly tense film about a teacher, played by Gary Bond, who gets stuck in a remote mining town. Between the escalating, alcohol-fueled tension between Bond and the locals - especially Donald Pleasance as a very dubious "doctor" - and a disturbing, protracted sequence depicting a real kangaroo hunt, Wake in Fright is an often off-putting experience, but a powerful one for those who can stomach it. I'd love to see it and Cul-de-sac as a double feature of merciless attacks on conventional notions of masculinity featuring Pleasance.

Viewing the movie a few years ago, what stuck with me most strongly was its perversely unconventional structure. The clash between the "civilized" teacher and the boozing, brawling locals primes one to expect the movie to build towards a violent standoff akin to the same year's Straw Dogs. Without giving anything away, that's not what happens here, and what disturbed me most greatly about the movie is how director Ted Kotcheff (who'd go on to direct higher-profile movies like First Blood and Weekend at Bernie's) keeps the tensions on a constant simmer without letting it boil over, denying us the catharsis we've come to expect. There's truly no escape here, which is largely why the movie lingers uncomfortably in my memory. Wake in Fright isn't a "fun" horror movie, or even a horror movie in the conventional sense, but if you have a taste for the strong stuff, few movies are more deeply unnerving.

U.S. Release Date: October 13, 1971 (Also released that week: MacbethMurmur of the Heart, Shoot Out)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Sisters

#18 (tie) - 4 Votes

It's remarkable how, early in Brian De Palma's filmmaking career, the preoccupations, fetishes and visual trademarks that would run throughout his career were already fully formed. In the opening scene of Sisters, a blind woman in a dressing room disrobes in full view of a male customer; as the man watches her, we're also invited to gawk against the character's will. However, De Palma quickly reverses the situation, upending our expectations and making us feel a bit self-conscious about the act of watching the movie. It's the same trick De Palma would find countless, endlessly inventive ways to play on us throughout his career; as he's probably best known for paying homage to another filmmaker, it's worth noting that De Palma is a nakedly personal filmmaker, and possibly the most underrated of his generation.

I'll admit that, the first time I saw Sisters, I'd seen and loved a few De Palma movies, but the movie's many twists and turns lost me. The murder that happens about 30 minutes into the movie is a brilliant setpiece, employing what would soon become a signature De Palma device, the use of splitscreen to observe the action simultaneously from two perspectives. But from there, the story becomes increasingly convoluted, as the focus shifts from disturbed model Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) to investigative reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt). Grace's investigation expands to include not only Siamese twins but also multiple personalities, mind control and a mysterious mad doctor played by William Finley (a frequent De Palma collaborator and an incredibly underrated actor). By the time the movie arrives at its oddly anticlimactic, deadpan final shot, I was wondering if it was supposed to be funny.

Having seen most of De Palma's films, I feel confident that, in fact, it is supposed to be funny. De Palma would repeat this story structure several times, piling one increasingly absurd development on top of another. Quentin Tarantino once observed that Raising Cain was De Palma's admission that he could only get interested in making another thriller if he focused on amusing himself rather than playing to the audience's expectations. Sisters is clear evidence that De Palma has always done things that way - taken literally, it's a fun, weird, ultimately frustrating whodunit, but I realized that De Palma is having a laugh and letting us in on it, I found it perversely hilarious, especially as Salt (who currently writes for American Horror Story) makes for an entertainingly atypical thriller heroine. Though, in retrospect, Bernard Herrmann's gleefully bonkers score should have clued me in.

U.S. Release Date: March 27, 1973 (Also released that week: The Devil in Miss Jones)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Piranha

#18 (tie) - 4 Votes

Of the many Jaws ripoffs released in the years following Steven Spielberg's original classic, Piranha is by far the best. It's good enough, in fact, that Spielberg is a fan - Universal was attempting to block the movie's release the same summer as Jaws 2 until Spielberg saw the movie and persuaded them not to, later hiring Joe Dante to direct a segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie and the Amblin production Gremlins. I suspect that Spielberg enjoyed Piranha because, rather than overtly parodying Jaws, it's a genuinely witty horror-comedy that works better as a thematic sibling to Jaws than that movie's own sequels.

With the movie's genetically engineered fish serving as a smaller-scale version of the Great White, much of Piranha feels like a knowingly miniaturized distillation of Jaws. The profit-minded business owners and politicians who allowed character, the owner of a kitschy water park, and screenwriter John Sayles (who'd soon go onto writing and directing more serious-minded fare) sneaks in some social commentary with the military scientists responsible for creating the weaponized fish and letting them escape. Producer Roger Corman famously let his directors do pretty much whatever they wanted provided the movie ran about ninety minutes and met his quota for bare breasts and gory death scenes, and Dante made the most of the opportunity - what could have been a generic knockoff has as much personality, dry wit and affection for B-movie stars like Miller and Kevin McCarthy as Dante's subsequent work.

Besides being quite funny, Piranha also works very well as a monster movie, making the most of its modest budget thanks to the early work of future effects legends like Rob Bottin, Chris Walas and Phil Tippett. While the movie's schools of tiny, razor-tooth villains aren't entirely convincing, the old-school practical effects work remains charming. Piranha delivers plenty of gross-out gags while still remaining safe for horror-loving kids to enjoy - it was one of the first movies I showed my son when he first started expressing an interest in the genre, and it's still one of his favorites. It also features a lot of welcome familiar faces from Corman's '70s repertory company (I especially enjoy Paul Bartel's performance as a prissy camp director). And the movie became something of a franchise in its own right, spawning a James Cameron-directed sequel and '90s TV remake (I've never seen either), an Alexandre Aja-directed remake that is the best 3D theatrical experience I've ever had, and a sequel to Aja's movie that should be avoided at all costs.

U.S. Release Date: August 3, 1978 (Also released that week: Eyes of Laura Mars, Interiors)

Monday, October 05, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Daughters of Darkness

#18 (Tie) - 4 Votes

No survey of '70s horror movies would be complete without a few lesbian vampires. While Dracula has been a perennial influence on the genre, the 1970s saw a wave of movies that drew inspiration Sheridan Le Fanu, whose short story Carmilla, about a young woman preyed upon by a female bloodsucker. Of all the movies of varying quality indebted to Carmilla and Le Fanu's real-life inspiration, 18th century serial killer Countess Elizabeth Báthory - whose beauty regime, it was rumored, included bathing in the blood of virgins - Daughters of Darkness is notable for actually featuring an immortal Báthory as its baddie. As played by Delphine Seyrig, Báthory arrives for a stay at a seaside resort in Belgium with her "secretary," Ilona (Andrea Rau), when she targets a newly married couple as her next prey. The Countess and her "secretary's" attempts to seduce and destroy the hip young marrieds almost plays as subversive - a queer triumph over bourgeois heteronormativity - though the movie's leering, porn-y vibe discourages that reading. Not that I'm complaining about the porniness, mind you.

I hadn't seen Daughters of Darkness before checking it out for this list, and my first impression is that it's a hysterical clash of the most highbrow and lowbrow trends in '70s cinema. The stylish art direction and costume design, evocative lighting, portentous dialogue and the casting of Delphine Seyrig - who'd worked with directors like Resnais, Buñuel and Truffaut - all suggest a horror movie that could have easily played in art houses. At the same time, the movie's frequent nudity and sex have a distinctly softcore Europorn vibe. The contrast between the high-minded approach to genre and gratuitous T&A are a reminder that flashes of nudity were one of the main selling points for European art house fare in the '60s, and that art films and smut weren't all that far apart.

In any case, as a vampire movie, Daughters of Darkness is a slow burn with a payoff that I found not entirely rewarding. As far as vampire movies with Sapphic overtones go, I remain partial to Hammer's Karnstein trilogy. Still, it's beautiful to look at, and I can see why director Harry Kumel's uniquely atmospheric approach to the genre has its fans. Also, cast members are naked and/or screwing around in full frontal, unshaven '70s glory every other scene, although, it must be noted, sex of the Sapphic variety is limited to a few tight-lipped kisses.

U.S. Release Date: May 28, 1971 (Also released that day: Big Jake, The Grissom Gang, Kuroneko)

Sunday, October 04, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

#18 (Tie) - 4 Votes

Hopefully the only "the dog ate my homework" post I'll have to share this month, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (AKA Blade of the Ripper, AKA Next!) is one of the movies on this list that I hadn't seen before. I found Sergio Martino's 1971 giallo on YouTube only to discover, as I sat down to watch it this week, that none of the uploads of the Italian-language movie that I could find featured subtitles. I watched anyway, relying on plot summaries of the film, so I'd have something to write about, but apologies in advance, as this will (hopefully) be the briefest entry I write this month.

Thankfully, there are two aspects of the movie I was able to enjoy that transcended the language barrier. The first was the lovely Edwige Fenech, who plays the unfaithful wife of a diplomat (I learned this from other reviews, though I ascertained that she's a jet-setter who likes to bang a lot) who finds herself targeted by a mysterious killer. Fenech appeared in several movies that showed up on people's ballots; she's a scream queen before the term had been coined, and for good reason. She's mesmerizing whenever she's onscreen, and while I can't speak to the quality of the script, her performance makes for a strong giallo counterpart to Susannah York in Robert Altman's Images, released the following year. She's both a great screen presence and, as the movie becomes more hallucinatory, manages to deliver a credible performance despite the kind of late-in-the-game plot convolutions (if I understood them correctly) that are as much a part of gialli as their stylish death scenes.

And as far as death scenes go, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh nails it. Unlike Argento's protracted, hyper-stylized setpieces, Martino's murder sequences are stylish but quick, gory and disturbingly economical. Coupled with the movie's blunt nudity, Martino's movie reminds of the influence gialli would have on slasher movies several years later. Martino, who would go on to direct Torso, 2019: After the Fall of New York, and Island of the Fishmen (re-titled Screamers when it was released, with a hilariously misleading trailer, by New World Pictures), among many others, seems less interested in aestheticizing violence than most of his peers, but having to rely entirely on the images to get through the movie, I can at least report that he has a great eye, and I'm looking forward to revisiting The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and more of his movies when I can know what the hell everyone is saying.

Sidenote: Nora Orlandi's haunting theme for the film, which has been stuck in my head for a couple of days, was used by Quentin Tarantino for the soundtrack to Kill Bill vol. 2.

U.S. Release Date: August 6, 1971 (Also released that day: The Brotherhood of Satan, The Horseman, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The Love Machine)

Friday, October 02, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Honorable Mentions

Unlike last year's '90s poll, which offered the deliberate challenge of coming up with ten genuinely worthy horror movies from a decade that was a mixed bag for the genre, the 1970s offers no shortage of genuine classics, underrated gems and interesting obscurities. Many thanks to all of the people who shared their top ten lists with me; as you can tell from the honorable mentions listed below, the results were wonderfully eclectic (this may be the only list where Cries and Whispers and Death Bed: The Bed That Eats are two slots apart).

I'll unveil the movies that got the most votes one day at a time, starting tomorrow. I should admit upfront that my schedule is busier (in a good way, mostly) than the past few Octobers, so I may not write at as much length about each movie as I have in the past or always manage to post one per day. However, I'll write at least a little bit about each (along with some guest writers who'll be contributing later in the month), and by Halloween, I'll have the entire list unveiled.

Movies that recieved one vote:

Airport 1975 (Jack Smight, 1974)
Alucarda (Juan López Moctezuma, 1977)
The Amazing Transplant - 1
The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenberg, 1979)
Arcana (Doris Wishman, 1970)
Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
The Baby (Ted Post, 1973)
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (Seth Holt, 1971)
The Blood on Satan's Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971)
Blue Movie (Alberto Cavallone, 1970)
The Cannibal Man (Eloy de la Iglesia, 1973)
Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (Brian Clemens, 1974)
Countess Dracula (Peter Sasdy, 1971)
The Creeping Flesh (Freddie Francis, 1973)
Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972)

Cyclone (René Cardona Jr., 1978)
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (George Barry, 1977)
Deathdream (Bob Clark, 1974)
Delirium (Peter Maris, 1979)
Don't Deliver Us from Evil (Joël Séria, 1971)
Don't Look in the Basement (S.F. Brownrigg, 1973)
Doriana Gray (Jesús Franco, 1976)
Dracula (John Badham, 1979)
The Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, 1979)
Epileptic Seizure Comparison (Paul Sharits, 1976)
Exorcist II: The Heretic (John Boorman, 1977)
Flesh for Frankenstein (Paul Morrissey, 1973)
Footprints on the Moon (Luigi Bazzoni, 1975)
From Beyond the Grave (Kevin Connor, 1974)
God Told Me To (Larry Cohen, 1976)

Horror Express (Eugenio Martin, 1972)
House of Whipcord (Pete Walker, 1974)
The House that Dripped Blood (Peter Duffell, 1971)
The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)
I Drink Your Blood (David E. Durston, 1970)
I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, 1978)
The Iron Rose (Jean Rollin, 1973)
It's Alive (Larry Cohen, 1974)
The Last House on Dead End Street (Roger Watkins, 1977)
The Legend of Hell House (John Hough, 1973)
Lips of Blood (Jean Rollin, 1975)
Magic (Richard Attenborough, 1978)
Mandingo (Richard Fleischer, 1975)
Mumsy, Nanny, Sunny and Girly (Freddie Francis, 1970)
The Night Child (Massimo Dallamano, 1975)

The Night of the Seagulls (Amando de Ossorio, 1975)
Night Train Murders (Aldo Lado, 1975)
Phantom of the Paradise (Brian De Palma, 1974)
Phase IV (Saul Bass, 1974)
The Phone Box (Antonio Mercero, 1972)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975)
Private Parts (Paul Bartel, 1972)
Race with the Devil (Jack Starrett, 1975)
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Emilio Miraglia, 1972)
The Return of Count Yorga - (Bob Kelljan, 1971)
Rituals (Peter Carter, 1977)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975)
Salem's Lot (Tobe Hooper, 1979)
Satan's Triangle (Sutton Roley, 1975)
The Sentinel (Michael Winner, 1977)

The Shiver of the Vampires (Jean Rollin, 1971)
Shock Waves (Ken Wiederhorn, 1977)
The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
The Stone Tape (Peter Sasdy, 1972)
Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971)
Tales from the Crypt (Freddie Francis, 1972)
Thriller: A Cruel Picture (Bo Arne Vibenius, 1973)
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Charles B. Pierce, 1976)
The Track (Serge Leroy, 1975)
Trilogy of Terror (Dan Curtis, 1975)
Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (Masahiro Shinoda, 1975)

Vampyres (José Ramón Larraz, 1974)
Vampyros Lesbos (Jesús Franco, 1971)
A Virgin Among the Living Dead (Jesús Franco, 1973)
The Visitor (Giulio Paradisi, 1979)
Werewolf Woman (Rino Di Silvestro, 1976)
What Have You Done to Solange? (Massimo Dallamano, 1972)
The Witch who Came from the Sea (Matt Cimber, 1976)
The Woman who Powders Herself (Patrick Bokanowski, 1972)
Woods Are Wet (Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1973)
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Sergio Martino, 1972)

Movies that received two votes:

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest, 1971)
A Bay of Blood (Mario Bava, 1971)
The Blood Spattered Bride (Vincente Aranda, 1972)
Duel (Steven Spielberg, 1971)
Eaten Alive (Tobe Hooper, 1976)
Even Dwarfs Started Small (Werner Herzog, 1970)
The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977)
Let's Scare Jessica to Death (John Hancock, 1971)
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (Jorge Grau, 1974)
Psychomania (Don Sharp, 1973)
Salo (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
Shivers (David Cronenberg, 1975)
Tombs of the Blind Dead (Amando de Ossorio, 1972)
Torso (Sergio Martino, 1973)

Movies that received three votes:

Alice Sweet Alice (Alfred Sole, 1976)
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970)
Burnt Offerings (Dan Curtis, 1976)
Fascination (Jean Rollin, 1979)
Ganja and Hess (Bill Gunn, 1973)
The Grapes of Death (Jean Rollin, 1978)
The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972)
A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Lucio Fulci, 1971)
The Shout (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1978)
Theatre of Blood (Douglas Hickox, 1973)
Who Can Kill a Child? (Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, 1976)