Saturday, October 21, 2006


Last night's October Movie after Midnight was Hammer Film's Night Creatures (1962).* Peter Cushing plays the nimble parish priest in a small English seaside village notorious for its position along international liquor-smuggling routes. Near the beginning of the movie, the His Majesty's Navy sneaks into town, marching through the surrounding bog to surprise the townies. Their mission is to investigate for illicit barrels of French brandy. If only they'd seen the pre-credit sequence: Captain Clegg was once a ruthless pirate who'd just as soon slit your ears and tongue than let you attack his wife. We see him condemning a recently crippled shipmate in the movie's first moments. Shortly after, we discover that the bad Captain has finally come to rest six feet below Cushing's parish church, leaving the nearby swamps haunted by ghostly skeletal pirate, um, horsemen. Those who poke their noses into town secrets can expect a fatal visit from these devilish wraiths. The movie plays as a melodramatic version of a keystone skit: the scurvy band of smugglers dodge in and out of the town's subterranean tunnel system with coffins full of liquor, all the king's men in hapless hot pursuit. Oh, a detail: the naval contingent in the town has brought along that pirate cripple from the movie's first minutes, rescued from his marooning to act as booze-sniffing hound for British customs. He also serves as company entertainment, since the sailors make him sing tonguelessly for his meals. Even though the movie's leaden foreshadowing gives the secrets of the plot away too soon, the majority of the movie is a fun romp, with a great performance by Cushing and creepy Halloween visuals whenever the glow-in-the-dark ghost riders make an appearance. Ultimately, the movie is unsatisfying, though, playing fast and loose with its own facts. [Cavin]

Friday, October 20, 2006


Last night's international October marathon movie was Curse of the Devil (1973),* also known as El Retorno de Walpurgis, starring Paul Naschy, a prolific star of Spanish creature features. Like any good Mediterranean gothic pop, the movie opens back in the middle ages when the clan Daninsky has grown tired of clan Bathory's satanic ways. In a fight so underwhelming they've slapped the credit sequence over it, Daninsky beheads Bathory, initiating a moral cleansing that doesn't end until the Satanic Germanic Catholic holiday of Walpurgisnacht, when the last of the Bathory women have been hanged or burned. Of course, one witch manages to curse the victorious family with a penultimate breath (ultimate breath? "Take me, Satan, take me"), dooming future Daninsky sons. Fast-forward to imperial Romania where the latest Daninsky boy Waldemar is hunting a wolf that looks like a German Shepard (and which is identified in the dubbing as a wolverine). After randomly selecting a silver bullet, he shoots--but the body that turns up in the underbrush is that of a man! He is upset; but the body's local gypsy kin are positively vengeful. Thus begins the modern instigation of the original witch's curse: the gypsies send a woman to seduce Waldemar and then stab him in the chest with the teeth of a magic wolf skull. The rest of the film follows the standard good-man-gone-tragic werewolf formula, complicated by a couple of cute Hungarian sisters and one psycho running around the woods with an axe. Authorities are quick to blame the resulting moonlit murders on the madman, but the villagers suspect folklore. Naschy makes an energetic monster due to his many years as a competitive weightlifter. Though much of this movie feels muted by the inadequate US drive-in print, its cleverness peeks through the murk. [Cavin]

Thursday, October 19, 2006


For the October Movie Marathon last night I watched José Mojica Marins' Awakening of the Beast (1970),* concluding my Brazilian festival-within-a-festival of the last three nights. The film is introduced the usual way in a pre-credit philosophical assault by Brazilian boogeyman Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe), addressing us directly from spooky limbo. And then we watch a woman inject some clear hallucinogen into her own foot, and strip before a bleary-eyed audience. And then a teenager is taken to a drug-fueled beatster shindig where she engages in her own consensual sexual fatality. There are many more "and thens" to follow, all the extreme anecdotes of a psychologist illustrating his observations of modern narcotic turpitude. Among his unconvinced audience is this movie's director, Mr. Mojica, who is unsure why he's been invited. "These stories could come from the depraved mind of Coffin Joe," says one detractor. "I left Coffin Joe in the graveyard," says Mr. Mojica, rolling his eyes and examining his four-inch fingernails. There's a lot of deviance anthologized throughout this movie, and most include a miniskirt fetish and rapt fascination with undergarments: frilly unmentionables pile-up by the fistful. After watching Coffin Joe on TV, the psychiatrist explains, he imagined an experiment: give addicts LSD and monitor their crazy reactions while they are stimulated by an image of the controversial villain. Never much more than a stream-of-consciousness onslaught of garish vignettes, the movie seeks successfully to seize-up the viewer's mind. Part Reefer Madness and part creepy voyeur, this biting little art movie is one of Mojica's most ambitious, banned for decades in Brazil. It culminates in a bloody kaleidoscopically psychedelic climax. Are drugs creating a depravity problem, or vice-versa? Is presenting deviance an art? Well, is Coffin Joe art? These are the questions the movie asks of us. [Cavin]

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe) returns as the monster of yesternight's Creepy October Fest-o-Rama title This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver, 1967),* the sequel to Monday's movie. Warning: because this film picks right up where the previous movie ended, there are unavoidable spoilers ahead. After replaying the final gory moments of the first film it's revealed that Zé still lives. Instead of killing him right there, menaced co-villagers inexplicably take him to the doctor, where he convalesces while the credit sequence previews the coming sadism in a charmingly punky, surfin’ sixties way. Healthy again, Zé's up to new tricks: he steals seven of the town's most beautiful heathens in an attempt to find the perfect mother for his coming son. The harem is then locked in the dungeon of Zé's, um, cemetery mansion, and tested with live spiders. Those who fail this bravery test are given to the humpback or trapped in the snake-pit below Zé's master bedroom. Otherwise, the movie presents a kinder, gentler Zé: while again murdering and torturing along his merry way--no victim escapes being riddled with philosophy--he now draws the line at rape, preferring to percolate an ideal, evil, ultimately consenting bedmate from the overall stock. He waxes poetic about the importance of children, the blood rather than the soul being his true route to immortality. The success of the Coffin Joe character is evident: this movie is larger and less set-bound, Zé's methods have grown rather more baroque: a cemetery laboratory deathtrap, a hanging rock deathtrap, and, by god, quicksand. The film stock is better, so the picture's less contrasty and more textured. The tone has grown more experimental, too: Zé's nightmare trip to hell in the fourth act is a stone psychedelic jaw-dropper. Recommended. [Cavin]

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


In last night's October-Fest movie, José Mojica Marins plays Zé du Caixão (Coffin Joe) in the character's harrowing debut feature At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964).* In a modern (sixties) Brazilian town the local caretaker is a monstrous boogeyman who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal of producing a son. The movie begins with Zé directly confronting the viewer with his evil philosophy: immortality through a continuing bloodline is life's only goal. After spooky credits lit by lightening and punctuated by the cackles of the insane, a skull-bearing witch tells the audience to go home, merely watching Zé will leave the viewer damned. Wearing a top hat, black suit, and little half-cape, Zé stalks the streets by day and night, delighting in his sadistic rampage and keeping the frightened populace cowering in his black shadow. Fearing his barren wife is an obstacle between him and his best friend's fertile fiancé, Zé ties her up and kills her with spiders. But what if the friend and fiancé are obstacles, too? Nothing will stand in his way. In this skin-crawling switcheroo, Zé is an evil atheist, cackling over his Good Friday feast of forbidden meat and laughing in the pious faces of those who pray for his moral comeuppance. Through the rest of the film, Zé pursues a pitched course to harm nearly everyone. But the local Day of he Dead approaches! Mojica Marins wrote, directed and starred in this wicked little classic that propelled the Undertaker Zé into Brazilian consciousness in much the way Dracula inhabits ours. In the movie, he is wearing his own clothes, hat, and long, curly thumbnails. He has since played Coffin Joe in numerous movies, television and radio shows, and the character has been featured in books, comic books, and advertising. [Cavin]

Monday, October 16, 2006


Last night's October-thon double-feature included two episodes of Showtime's spooky anthology series the Masters of Horror. In John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns,* Kirby is hired to locate the lost print of an infamous art movie, a shocking vision of the absolute end of the world. Thus he travels about the world interviewing people: a creepy European snuff filmmaker, a creepy European art dealer, and a creepy American protégé of Pauline Kael's who actually saw the film before going crazy. All these people warn Kirby off his quest, but does he listen? The title's cigarette burns refer to the image scoring used to denote reel changes in older theater projection systems--you know they will be popping-up in the visuals. Here Carpenter attempts horror without comedy with mixed success. The first half boils down to a series of conversations far more engrossing than they should be, and spots of realistic violence are more effective than the excesses in the story's climax. Last night's second feature, Lucky McKee's Sick Girl,* returns to the well-traveled mainstream of quirky horror. Poor Ida is having trouble with her girlfriends: every prospect seems to run away upon discovering she’s an entomologist. Advice from her frat boy coworker: get rid of the hundreds of exotic pet bugs at home. Ida is a wonderful, deeply strange, and rather nerdy young woman who babytalks her collection, so she can't do more than hide them in the bedroom during her next first date. To complicate matters, a nameless benefactor has mailed her an unknown specimen in a plain brown wrapper, a thorny-looking creature that immediately escapes its plastic cage and eats the landlord's dog. Things go downhill for Ida from here. Sick Girl is delightful, charming, and colored like a plastic toy. My favorite in the series so far. [Cavin]

Sunday, October 15, 2006


My one-man October Movie Marathon proceeded after midnight with the Last Man on Earth (1964),* the first of many adaptations of Richard Matheson's seminal vampire apocalypse yarn I Am Legend.* Vincent Price plays Robert, who has discovered the secret to post-epidemic survival: meticulous scheduling. Upon waking, he ticks-off his survival routine while wandering morosely though his house, coffee in hand. Mirrors on the doors, check. Fuel in the generator, the car, the gas cans. Check, check, check. His life is an endless list of melancholy tasks: make more wooden stakes on the lathe, repair the boards across the windows, haul the bodies strewn across the yard to the burning-pit. Go a little crazier, check. The day we meet him, he needs gas from the abandoned tanker and fresh garlic from the abandoned market. He needs to kill another square block's worth of sleeping vampires and tick them off the list. Throughout the movie he narrates a series of flashbacks. He was a scientist working on a cure for this plague. Then his family, friends, city, and the rest of the world all fell victim to this vampire disease which he has survived, persevering alone, for three years. When will it end? Price is solid in his mostly dialog-free role. The movie falters during underfed vampire confrontations that should have contrasted the film's post-domesticity with bursts of tense, desperate struggle. Matheson was disappointed with this adaptation, insisting on using a pseudonym as his screenplay credit. I don't see the big deal. While elements of his plot have been changed, the gestalt of the original vision remains: scientifically plausible vampires, a setting that is distinctly middle American, and an end of the world that is a boring, tedious place filled with monsters that familiarity will render more tiresome than scary. [Cavin]