The Massacre: one theater (the Patio), twenty-four hours (October 17 and 18, noon to noon), about a dozen horror movies. I’ve attended seven of the last eight and this is the sixth I’ve written about. You know the format.
This year’s feature-length lineup:
- Dead of Night (1945): British anthology
- Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968): Christopher Lee
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990): More Christopher Lee
- Dawn of the Dead (1978): The essential zombie apocalypse
- Demons (1985): Lamberto Bava’s gore-splattered cult classic
- They Live (1988): John Carpenter’s prophetic social satire
- The Descent (2005): Monsters in caves
And the ones I missed:
- The Boogens (1981): I have never actually heard of this–apparently it’s monsters in coal mines or something
- Deadly Blessing (1981): An obscure Wes Craven effort; don’t confuse with Deadly Friend
- Vampyros Lesbos (1971): Jess Franco
- Blood and Black Lace (1964): Mario Bava
- Christine (1983): More John Carpenter
Short film block (Terror Treats)
The first short film block was called “Terror Treats.” There were two I only caught part of. One of them had something to do with a girl in a bed whose arm had been cut off, and the other was something about a dancing taco.
Friday the 13th: Death Waits for No One
Friday the 13th meets Monsters, Inc., or something like that. Jason Voorhees is a working stiff waiting for a young couple to get down the business of having sex so he can butcher them. Not really a fan of these sorts of things, but different strokes for different folks, I guess.
The Last Man After the War
There’s apparently been some sort of apocalyptic event, which this middle-aged couple survived by hiding out in a cabin in the woods (as opposed to a Cabin in the Woods, I guess). Everything seems going fine until a family of three wander into their territory and their patriarch gets suspicious as to what their guests are hiding. It wasn’t bad, I just wish there had been a bit more to it.
* * *
Silent film block
The Fall of the House of Usher (J.S. Watson, Jr. & Melville Webster, 1928)
Creepy, German-style expressionist imagery menaces an unstable pair of siblings. It’s actually really neat to watch, assuming you can get into the aesthetics and don’t really care that it doesn’t follow Poe’s original plot, or indeed any sort of plot at all.
The House of Ghosts (Segundo de Chomón, 1908)
Travelers take refuge in a haunted house in this Méliès-esque exercise in special effects. Probably a bit too silly, but it’s entertaining enough, and where else are you going to see a sausage slice itself?
* * *
Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, 1945)
Ealing Film Studios is probably the last production house of its era you’d expect to put out a horror-anthology film, but that’s what Dead of Night is. Most of the segments are slight but fun, with the weakest being a comedic story about the ghost of a golfer (directed by Charles Crichton, whose final directorial effort, over forty years later, would be his most celebrated: A Fish Called Wanda), and the strongest being an archetypal “evil ventriloquist’s dummy” story starring Michael Redgrave.
* * *
Guest: Deanna Dunagan (Nana, The Visit)
I haven’t seen The Visit yet, so I didn’t pay much attention to this one. But she seems nice enough, and she’s apparently a local stage actress.
* * *
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Freddie Francis, 1968)
Christopher Lee’s third outing as Dracula for Hammer. And it’s one of the better ones, despite Barry Andrews’s ridiculous Roger Daltrey hairstyle, the stupid theatrical release poster, and having a plot that’s pretty much identical to at least half of Hammer’s other vampire movies. Most of this is up to director Freddie Francis, who doesn’t have Terence Fisher’s sophistication but compensates for it with sheer audacity and luridness. Actually having Lee engaged with the material also helps.
* * *
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante, 1990)
I know Gremlins 2 has a bit of a cult following but I’ve never been able to get into it. Joe Dante just goes too far over the top here, and just too much of the film doesn’t work for me: Gizmo-goes-Rambo, the musical number and for that matter pretty much anything involving Female Gremlin, the cameos from Hulk Hogan, Leonard Maltin, and the Looney Tunes characters.
Granted, there is some comedy gold here, including all of the Brain Gremlin’s dialog (although I’m not entirely sold on Tony Randall’s performance); Robert Prosky’s wonderful Al Lewis impersonation; the brilliant scene with the Gremlin stockbrokers (“BUY! BUY! BUY! SELL! SELL! SELL!”). So it’s not a complete wash.
Also, I guess I would have liked it to go in a more scathing satirical direction. But then again, in the late ’80s we had no idea that Fox News was on the horizon and Donald Trump (the obvious inspiration for Daniel Clamp) would eventually become a monster.
* * *
Short film block (Multiple Maniacs)
There was no fake trailer contest this year, and I kind of missed it, but let’s be honest: fake trailer contests just aren’t the same without Zoran. We did get a second short film block called “Multiple Maniacs” and it had a few things that felt like fake trailers, though.
I made notes of actually having seen all of the following but don’t have a lot of concrete memories of a lot of them, and in most cases the internet has been staggeringly unhelpful.
This is a teaser, and possibly an actual trailer, for a CGI-heavy comedic space opera that may still be in production. Basically, a lot of ridiculous costumes and Flash Gordon-type stuff played overtly for laughs.
This looks like it might have been a fake trailer. A scientist tries to save his wife’s life after she gets hurt in an accident, but ends up turning her into a hideous human/plant hybrid. Actually pretty funny.
They All Die Screaming
This also seemed to be a trailer, although I don’t know if it was a real or fake one. Kind of giallo-style. A woman in a mask kills a bunch of people. It amused me.
I don’t actually remember this at all other than that it started with the captions “Ghost Gang” and “Clear Toxic.” I also remember not liking it, but not why. When I googled “ghost gang clear toxic” I found out that Ghost Gang was a band and one of its members directed a short film called Clear Toxic so I assume this is it.
Out There in Mind
I don’t remember much about this one either, other than that I really liked the music, which was this sort of post-rock piece.
I think this is supposed to be a music video for a song by someone named Professor Kliq (the video below comes from the director’s YouTube page, but is named “Professor Kliq – Murder”). The song is pretty good, the actual video didn’t do much for me.
This was definitely a music video for a song by a band called Pink Frost. It was pretty bizarre and grotesquely enjoyable, but I could have done without the shots of the guy eating baked beans out of his own navel. It was directed by Von Bilka, who’s shown up on Movieside short film programs and blocks in the past.
A Short Little Campfire Story
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Not particularly substantial or memorable.
Not a biopic of the Gorillaz guitarist but a surreal trip in which a guy sits in a bathtub full of noodles. Seemed amusing at the time.
Between the Eyes
This was a video for an Indiegogo campaign, but I can’t find anything on the project (“between the eyes indiegogo” turns up nothing helpful). Apparently it’s an adaptation of a short story not named “Between the Eyes.” I don’t remember anything else.
Satanic Sounds of the 70s
This one was directed by David Schmidt, another fixture of past Movieside events. Like most of the rest of the program, it’s pretty slight; it’s a fake commercial for a “K-HEL Records” compilation of “Satanic songs” which are basically just themes from ’70s horror movies (“The Regan MacNeil Singers” set to “Tubular Bells,” “The Tanzacademie Tabernacle Choir” set to the Suspiria theme, etc.). I thought the joke wore thin pretty quickly.
* * *
Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978)
I think my original review of Dawn of the Dead pretty much said everything I have to say about it. So go read that instead.
Or, better yet, actually watch Dawn of the Dead.
Incidentally, I have now seen every Romero zombie movie on a big screen: Night several times, Day at a Terror in the Aisles in 2010, and Land, Diary, and Survival during their original theatrical runs.
Guest: Scott Reineger (Roger)
Seemed like a nice guy, but most of his behind-the-scenes remarks were things I knew already. Here’s a piece of trivia I didn’t know: only one of the four leads had any familiarity with guns before being cast. It wasn’t Reineger or Ken Foree, who played the SWAT team members. It was David Emge (a Vietnam vet), aka Flyboy the Fumbling Idiot.
* * *
Looney Tunes: Broom-Stick Bunny (Chuck Jones, 1956)
There were two unannounced Looney Tunes cartoons on the program, both horror-themed, presumably because of Gremlins 2. This is the one where Bugs Bunny meets a genuine witch while trick-or-treating. A Chuck Jones classic, although the ending wouldn’t fly today.
* * *
Demons (Lamberto Bava, 1985)
I’m just gonna admit this up front: I don’t get Demons and I’m never going to get Demons.
The plot and characterization are practically nonexistent, the dialog is terrible, and the film itself is visually incoherent. Basically, it’s fifteen minutes of setup, an hour-plus of stupid people running around, shouting at each other, and getting killed, and then a cheap gotcha ending the film didn’t really earn. The best character is the racial-stereotype pimp, and the second-best character is the guy in the metal mask who appears in all of three scenes and has no lines.
That being said, the design is pretty, when you can actually see what’s going on, which after a certain point isn’t very often. The creature effects are kind of cool. But otherwise Demons is the textbook example of why I don’t go for Euro-gore: it’s all style and no substance. Brian Yuzna’s body of work is hardly unimpeachable, but he occasionally made movies that were about something; Argento and Bava only seem interested in coating a movie set with green puke. I have a lot more tolerance for it than I did when I first saw it four years ago, but it still gets tiresome after a while.
Apropos of nothing, the opening theme–presumably Claudio Simonetti’s entry in the “aging prog-rocker following trends and trying to stay relevant by buying a Fairlight CMS” canon–sounds like Goblin remixed by Crackdown-era Cabaret Voltaire. It gets funnier every time I hear it.
Guest: Geretta Geretta (Rosemary)
Geretta is the one who tries the demon mask on in the lobby before the picture starts, which means she’s the first one to go all red-eyed and snaggletoothed, drooling You Can’t Do That on Television green slime all over the place. She has a lot of fond memories of the filming and of working with Argento and Bava, whom she still keeps in touch with.
Amazingly, Argento and Bava spent two years working out the rules governing the demons (I say “amazingly” because I can’t work out any rules other than “if they draw blood or puke green slime on you, you turn into a demon”). There are also three “types” of demons: type 1 demons are the ones in the movie-within-a-movie; type 2 demons are the ones in the theater. The type 3s are the ones who infect the outside world. According to Geretta, they “evolve” from two type 2s who escape the theater (I think they escape when the joyriders enter). Apparently they’re what cause the helicopter to go down. The more you know!
* * *
Looney Tunes: Hyde and Hare (Friz Freleng, 1955)
This is the one where Bugs gets adopted by Dr. Jekyll. You know, I never realized how much influence Jamie Hewlett took from Friz Freleng. Mr. Hyde looks like he should be playing bass for Gorillaz.
* * *
They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)
I’ve always had mixed feelings about They Live. On the one hand, it’s probably the last John Carpenter film that contains moments of genuine brilliance. Indeed, it’s his only post-Thing film that has anything resembling the potential to stand amongst his best work. The “awake” world, the one we see through the magic sunglasses, is the last instance of true visual inventiveness he’d offer us.
For the most part, I like In the Mouth of Madness, Village of the Damned, Vampires and even Escape from L.A. but this the last game of an incredible winning streak that began with Assault on Precinct 13 (give or take a Starman). Moreover, it’s prophetic: Carpenter is observing something in progress, something that it would take the rest of us much, much longer to figure out.
Paradoxically, it’s as locked in its era as it is prophetic, and while it’s gradually creeped out from under the shadow of Carpenter’s later, lesser work to gain its own following, its essential ’80s-ness undercuts its prescience. The central image of this year’s Massacre might have been Mitch O’Connell’s rendition of Donald Trump as a They Live alien, but I don’t think the film would have made it to this year’s program had it not been for Roddy Piper passing away.
The inconsistency of tone that would plague Carpenter’s later films starts to develop here. John Nada needs to be something of an Everyman (an idealized one, to be sure, along the lines of Die Hard’s John McClane), but while Piper possesses a refreshing lack of affectation, when he says “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass” he becomes the quintessential action numbskull, nowhere near as relatable as he needs to be; Carpenter never lets us forget he’s a wrestling star.
Jim Cameron and John McTiernan knew how to subvert action cliché. Carpenter really doesn’t, he mostly parodies instead, and the problem with action cliché in the late ’80s is that it’s so over-the-top it serves as its own parody.
And yet, let’s be honest, a more tonally consistent version of They Live might have been more effective and better than what we got, but it was its outsized ’80s action-movie moments that kept it in our memories while the world waited for us to catch up to its message. Life’s like that, sometimes.
* * *
The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)
I love The Descent; it’s one of my favorite horror movies of the ’00s as a decade. But I had started to fade during They Live and about halfway through The Descent, I realized I had forgotten there were six characters, not five, and I kept thinking Natalie Mendoza and Alex Reid were the same character. Which explains why Juno kept dropping her accent and the color of her helmet changed from scene to scene. This was the point at which I realized it was time to go.
I didn’t even make it to 3 in the morning. This might be the earliest I’ve left a Massacre since a kidney stone forced me to bail before midnight back in 2010.
I don’t think one of the late-night/early-morning time slots really worked for it. I think the schedule would have worked better if They Live/The Descent had been swapped with Dawn/Demons, but that couldn’t happen, for obvious reasons of logistics; you’re not going to bring the guests on after midnight (or get them wet…or am I confusing guests with Gremlins?).
* * *
And that’s it for this year’s Massacre. Seeya later!