Saturday, October 28, 2006


It's St. George's Day again in medieval Moldavia, and time to do away with all of the satanic vampires dotting the landscape. Evil minion Javuto is already dead, all that remains is to burn the brand of evil into the back of his master, the vibrant young Asa. After being marked, she rants while they position the Mask of Satan (1960)* over her face. The iron mask has inward-pointing spikes, and when the witch has uttered her last words, it is pounded into her face by a priest with a wooden mallet. It is this image that first greets the viewers of Mario Bava's Italian masterpiece. The whole film seethes with an enriched, full-blooded gothic horror that transforms every frame into a stunning presentation of mood and menace, but it's this first thing that I find lingering in my head long after the movie has drawn to a close. With last night's movie, the After-Midnight October Movie-Thon also draws to a close after thirty movies in twenty-seven enjoyable days. For the rest of the month I will be away from the computer, celebrating Halloween and El Dia de los Muertos elsewhere. So the chairs will be on the tables here at the Update Sidebar for the next week or so. Those interested in revisiting the capsule reviews I've presented here can do so without picking back through a month of posts. They can be found collected, sometimes slightly expanded, into a three-part omnibus here, here and here. Be warned: some are less spoiler friendly in the omnibus. A reminder: set your clocks back on Sunday morning at two; the extra hour created is special. For the rest of our lives, the month of October will be one hour shorter than the Octobers we've grown up with. Happy Halloween! [Cavin]

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Last Thursday in October

I celebrate my birthday on the last Thursday in October. It's sort of a fifty-two week lunar month slash favorite day of the week thing I started fifteen years ago. If my childhood enemy, Thanksgiving, could be celebrated the same weekday every year, so could I. Anyway, Happy my Birthday to anyone reading this. One thing about last night's special birthday after-midnight October-thon movie, Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory (1962),* is that it's truly far better than one might suspect from its silly American title. A schoolgirl, night-clad in frilly negligee beneath a large trench coat, runs frantically from something she's seen in the dark woods. Wolves howl. Her pursuer, a terrifyingly fast, brutally violent werewolf, catches her just as she reaches the old stone bridge. She’s mauled and tossed into the creek. But there's lots more than just that going on around the reform school for wicked girls: one professor pays for moonlight affairs with the lovely inmates (the victim, for her part, was returning from one such rendezvous--after attempting blackmail), his jealous wife is tracking his girlfriends with a set of snarling Boxers. The school handyman is a lunatic henchman with a large German Shepherd named Wolf. For some reason, Wolf goes nuts whenever the new dog-obsessed anatomy professor comes to the school's iron gate. This new guy is a recently shamed medical doctor, decertified after the mysterious death of a young woman in the insane asylum where he was previously employed. And what's up with the seemingly nice headmaster? He's adamant the sullied doctor should work for him. Ah, life in the crazy world of juvenile delinquent-esses: can Pricilla solve this grizzly mystery? Even through the terrible Alpha Video picture quality and hysterical US drive-in dubbing, it's possible to tell this movie is awesome. [Cavin]

Thursday, October 26, 2006


In last night's after-midnight movie, El Venganza de la Momia, (the Mummy's Vengeance, 1971),* Mexican authorities have possibly uncovered the lost tomb of Opache king Nonoc deep in the forests of Nicaragua. At least I think so. The professor gathering the expedition gestures grandly at a map with no political borders: "it is here," he says. But first, there's a little matter of the two Italian warriors who are after our hero. They won't stop until pinned to the mat (best two out of three wins). The man to do it: El Santo! Since there are two Italians, Santo is saddled with a rookie that almost loses the match for him. Luckily, near the end of his endurance, Santo finds himself executing bone-shuddering double spinning headscissors on the Italians, and that's that. Later, Santo agrees to accompany the professor's expedition to the lost tomb as security guard. Soon a fourteen-strong safari is winding through the jungle, hiring guides in a secluded village, and making camp outside the lost tomb. This progression is rife with walking, but occasionally danger punctuates: Santo must wrestle a jaguar attacking the group; he defeats the giant black cat with a modified full nelson. Almost immediately, they stumble across the hidden tomb ("I think we are in the center of the mountain now," says Santo. "Let's break through this wall."), where they find the mummified remains of Price Nonoc and a number of ancient scrolls that translate into a warning: disturb the tomb of the wrongly-sacrificed mummy prince and perish by means of a spooky curse. Apparently, ancient Opaches were not too concerned with intellectual property rights. The rest plays out like normal: scientists are all very skeptical until a 2000-year-old mummy shoots them full of arrows, but by then it is too late. [Cavin]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


A man has died in rural Bavaria, his cooling body placed in the windowsill like a pie. When the body is snatched by a freelance henchman, a young girl raises the alarm. "What manner of evil is this?" says the parish priest, responding to the cries for help. Why, it's the Evil of Frankenstein (1964),* an after-midnight October-thon return to Hammer Films' shock Victoriana. The baron doctor is continuing his life's work nearby after having been run from his own home town. Working frantically over the credit sequence, he removes the snatched body's intact heart, attaches battery cables, and makes it live! But townies are already at the door to destroy his work and burn all his equipment. "Why do they destroy everything?" laments the baron doctor in frustration. Soon, Frankenstein and his assistant are on the road to the baron's forbidden chateau. Frankenstein is persona-non-grata in town, but they need the money they can make selling the old Castle Frankenstein finery. Of course, they discover the chateau ransacked, the Treasure Frankenstein relocated into the possession of the local Bürgermeister. Angered, Frankenstein reveals his presence in town, and so must hide from the police in the crowded local carnival fair, meeting a stage mentalist named Zoltan. Later, hiding in the local caves with his assistant and a deaf-mute, he discovers the body of his original monster frozen into a block of ice. There is no choice but to thaw him and return to the castle, where Frankenstein has the equipment to fix him--or does he? Soon he'll need the help of the evil mentalist to make contact with the monster using hypnotism. Zoltan has plans of his own. Peter Cushing is excellent as the titular type-A maniac, bounding between his humanism and his lunatic compulsions. Marvelous stuff. [Cavin]

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Last night's after midnight October movie was Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen's legendary Häxan (1922),* a quasi-documentary, or maybe dramatic reenactment, of certain aspects of witchcraft throughout the ages. It begins with a fairly direct collage presentation of various medieval concepts of evil and hell. Laid-back, casually conversational intertitles are punctuated by devilish woodcuts, intricately designed orreries explain the positions of good and evil. Next, dramatic vignettes are used to illustrate typical understandings about witches and their ways. An old woman enters a barn carrying a dead thief bundled in sticks. Someone drops frogs and snakes into a pot. A customer orders a potion guaranteed to capture the affections of her round little clergyman. Throughout, the Horned Beast stalks the souls of the tainted. The movie then settles into a multi-chapter look at the horrors of inquisition: a young hausfrau distrusts the look of a passing beggar and reports her. She has evil eyes! The old woman is then subjected to the tortures that will condemn her by coercing an account of midnight broom flights, profane kisses, and dancing skyclad while fauns play little horns. Her testimony must also out the rest of her coven, women who are, in turn, coerced into naming new names. The accuser attempts to recant her cruel epidemic, but the authorities have proven the beggar a witch already. So the hausfrau's new tune rings conspiratorial, and she is also burned at the stake. Häxan is stunning for its frank and moody imagery: cackling crones swooping over village houses, writhing bacchanals amid sulfurous mists, dancing nuns encircling a leering, horned Satan. While its revelations are fairly predictable today, it is impossible to overvalue this film's visual punch. Banned for years, truncated, re-edited and re-titled, Häxan's triumphant realization of all those Goya paintings is something extraordinary. [Cavin]

Monday, October 23, 2006


Before midnight last night we watched Cat People (1942),* the first two-person October Marathon screening. Irena has recently moved to a large American metropolis from her mountain village in Serbia, and she spends her afternoons working up sketches of local fauna for a fashion magazine. In this case, the beasts drawing her turn out to be the caged zoo leopards around the corner from her house. She is a self-sufficient, sociable young woman, but she carries a strange burden: her people are descended from witch stock driven into hiding during the middle ages. She's pretty sure that, were she to let her emotions take control, enjoy even a single euphemistic kiss, she would become a panther and wreak helpless, fatal havoc. Her new husband doesn't agree, and neither does his smarmy psychologist: both selflessly volunteer to prove her wrong. Beautiful direction by Jacques Tourneur plays up the shadows of animals in everyday life. Later, after midnight, I rounded off this Saturday's double-feature with Isle of the Dead (1945).* Pherides is a cagey, if rather severe, Greek general on the front lines during the Balkan Revolution. During an interview with an American reporter, he waxes nostalgic about his late wife, and their happier days together. She happens to be buried on an ancient island nearby, so they cross the battlefield to make a midnight visit. Along the way the general narrates the future WWI backdrops: war, famine, death, and etc.--there have been cases of septicemic plague in the trenches. After finding their way to the cemetery island they discover all the tombs have been robbed, so they knock on the door of the local Swiss archeologist's house searching for answers. What they find is more plague, ancient superstition, and maddening quarantine with a motley cast of strange bedfellows. [Cavin]

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Today's the local Big Chili Cookoff, but I've decided to skip it. Two hours of defending my vegetarianism seems tedious. It's 70 degrees and sunny out, and I've come to think of this as chilly, too. Ah, fall: when the outside's the same temperature I keep the AC. Last night, after midnight, I watched The Comedy of Terrors (1964),* featuring a roll-call of movie legends: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, and Rhubarb the cat. Price plays Trumbull, a despicable drunkard who endures a loveless marriage just so he can wrest control of a small-town New England funeral home from the ageing Mr. Hinchley, who he attempts to poison daily. The Hinchley and Trumbull undertaking is proving less lucrative lately (due to mismanagement, of course), and so they've engaged in a number of shady practices: Trumbull routinely reuses their lone coffin, dumping the deceased out into the grave once the mourners have gone home for the day. Also, they have taken to midnight rides into the countryside, drumming up business by killing themselves a few new customers and conveniently returning to collect them the next morning. But a year's worth of back rent is due, and they must step up their efforts; they choose as their next future client the attorney who is to serve their eviction notice. Once they return to the mortuary with the lawyer in the prized casket, however, the comedy is on them: the man is a cataleptic and will not stay dead. Stagy and often very funny, this movie offers an array of swanning virtuosity from its charming cast. They cleverly chew through scene after scene of nicely-textured environmental mood provided by master director Jacques Tourneur. Price is excellent, waxing petulantly florid as the outlandish malefactor Trumbull. Just good, wicked fun. [Cavin]