Haunted Tales (1980)

hauntedtales_2Haunted Tales [碟仙] (1980)

Starring Ching Li, Ling Yun, Lin Chen-Chi, Lau Luk-Wah, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Shen, Shum Lo, Liu Lai-Ling, Sa Sa, Lau Nga-Ying

Directed by Chor Yuen (The Ghost, Story #1) & Mou Tun-Fei (The Prize Winner, Story #2)

Expectations: The poster is great, so I have high hopes.

threestar


Haunted Tales is a two-film horror anthology from the Shaw Studio, but those expecting a common theme between the tales should seek such synchronicity elsewhere. The first story is a reserved, classically styled ghost story, and the second is a debaucherous, exploitative morality play that’s closer to something Kuei Chih-Hung would have made. But while the tales do not complement one another, they are both engaging and quite entertaining in their differing ways, so Haunted Tales comes out as a great Shaw Brothers take on the horror anthology.

My research on the film led me to this post on the wonderful and always informative Cool Ass Cinema website. I encourage you to read the post if you’re interested in this film, or just some behind-the-scenes ideas of how the Shaw studio was run, and while you’re there explore the site a bit. It’s full of great stuff! Anyway, the gist is that the first story (The Ghost) began life with Chor Yuen as Hellish Soul in 1975, but production shut down and a few years later Ho Meng-Hua was brought in to complete some re-shoots (which also resulted in an unfinished feature). The Prize Winner, Mou Tun-Fei’s short that closes the film, also began shooting as a feature. Instead of completing the features, they were salvaged and combined into Haunted Tales. That explains the differences in tone!

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The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 4 – 1980 Horror Movie Ramblegeddon!

cat_podcast

Episode 4! I don’t have any witty, self-deprecating exclamations this time!

Take a listen as I ramble my way through the most popular horror films of 1980 on Letterboxd! And other stuff, too!

Music Notes

Intro:

  • Wojciech Kilar – End Titles
  • MC5 – Back in the U.S.A.

Outro:

  • Naoki Kodaka – The Office Theme (Stage 1)
    • Soundtrack to the 1990 NES game Gremlins 2: The New Batch

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below, or you can email it to me via the contact page, and I’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using, such as iTunes.

Quick Takes: The Happiness of the Katakuris, The Babadook, Terror Train

katakurisThe Happiness of the Katakuris [カタクリ家の幸福] (2001)
threehalfstar

Starring Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki
Directed by Takashi Miike

It’s a stretch to call Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris a horror movie, but it does require being something of a horror fan to truly enjoy its multi-genre insanity. The premise is pretty standard horror movie fare, but don’t be fooled; this is anything but a standard film. The Katakuri family has opened a Bed & Breakfast in a remote part of Japan and are very happy when they receive their first guest. They are not so overjoyed when they discover he’s killed himself, which plays out on-screen in one of the finest moments of movie musical I think I’ve ever seen. Yes, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a warped, horror-ish musical comedy… and it’s a blast. According to the booklet included in Arrow’s wonderful Blu-Ray edition, there’s apparently a whole genre of films similar to this in Japan, but until I see definitive proof I’ll regard The Happiness of the Katakuris as a unique product. Besides, even if wacky Japanese musicals are a thing, I can’t imagine the whole genre is quite this inspired. It’s also worthwhile to note that Miike’s film is a remake of Kim Jee-Woon’s The Quiet Family, but I haven’t seen that one so I can’t offer any comparisons. If you’re into weird cinema that strays far, far off the beaten path, or you’re looking to completely baffle your conservative, mainstream friends and relatives, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a fantastic selection. Plus: Tetsuro Tamba (who I’m familiar with from his roles in Hong Kong films such as The Water Margin)!

babadookThe Babadook (2014)
fourstar

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Chloe Hurn, Jacquy Phillips, Bridget Walters
Directed by Jennifer Kent

In general, I’m one of those people saying that modern horror just isn’t up to snuff. But then something like The Babadook comes along and proves me completely wrong. Artfully well-crafted and featuring an exceptional pair of performances from its leads (Essie Davis & Noah Wiseman), The Babadook is gripping from start to finish. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll remain vague, but what set the movie apart is that it engages as both a visceral horror movie and as an intellectual piece. I spent the whole film in rapt attention, creeped out to the hilt and always questioning and deconstructing what the film was feeding me. It’s even more impressive to learn that this is the feature debut of director Jennifer Kent! Cross your fingers, say the name of your favorite horror film three times into the mirror, and wish upon a star that The Babadook is the beginning of a stellar career and not a lone spark in the darkness. Either way, The Babadook is fan-fucking-tastic, and you need to check it out.

terror-train-movie-poster-1980-1020541661Terror Train (1980)
threestar

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Derek McKinnon, Sandee Currie, Timothy Webber, Anthony Sherwood, Howard Busgang, Steve Michaels, Greg Swanson, Vanity
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

You can quickly describe Terror Train as “a slasher set aboard a train,” but to do so is to overlook the fun of the movie. It’s a slasher on a train! With crazy Halloween masks, Jamie Lee Curtis and magic courtesy of the one and only David Copperfield! But maybe that doesn’t do it for you; you’re more of a discerning cinephile type. Well, Terror Train marks the directorial debut of Roger Spottiswoode, director of such cinematic classics as Turner & Hooch, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and Tomorrow Never Dies! If that’s still not enough cred for you, Terror Train features cinematography by Oscar-winner John Alcott, who got his big break/promotion while working on something called 2001: A Space Odyssey and went on to shoot such classics as A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend! As you might have figured out by now, I don’t have much to say about Terror Train! Nonetheless, it was a fun ride, and fans of late ’70s / early ’80s horror will most likely have a good time with it, too.

Quick Takes: Nightmare City, Your Highness, The Foot Fist Way

nightmare-city-poster-161Nightmare City [Incubo Sulla Cittá Contaminata] (1980)
AKA City of the Walking Dead

fourstar

Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani, Eduardo Fajardo, Stefania D’Amario, Ugo Bologna
Directed by Umberto Lenzi

I’ve had Nightmare City on my radar for a while, but the arrival of Tom Savini’s crowdfunded remake-to-be gave me that extra little push in the right direction. Simply put, Nightmare City is a fuckin’ blast. I’ve always been a firm supporter of traditional, walking zombies, with the focus on the incessant nature of the never-tiring horde instead of the more immediate threat that running zombies deliver. But Nightmare City, the first film to use running zombies, proved to me that they can be just as fun, if not more. Director Umberto Lenzi crafts a film with scene after scene of pure balls-out madness, and the way it all bursts forth and inundates the unsuspecting viewer is incredible fun. One moment I was in tense apprehension for what might be behind that aircraft door, and then WHAM! A fucking horde of mud-faced, bloodthirsty fiends runs out, and the rest of the movie never lets up. The running zombies work here because Lenzi still embraces the overwhelming nature of the horde, while also delivering more fun than I think I’ve ever had with a zombie movie. It’s firmly a B-Movie, though, so many will scoff at its low-budget FX, but I say fuck all that and just have a good time with it!

yourhighness_1Your Highness (2011)
threestar

Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Rasmus Hardiker, Natalie Portman, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux, Zooey Deschanel, Charles Dance, Damian Lewis
Directed by David Gordon Green

Not sure how to review this one because it’s the kind of movie you pretty much know how you’ll feel about it before you watch it. If you liked Eastbound & Down and you’ve come on a quest for more Danny McBride to put in your head, Your Highness is a hoot. It helps if you also have an affinity for ’80s movies, specifically ’80s fantasy flicks like Beastmaster or Conan the Barbarian. If you’re not that person, I can’t imagine this being anything close to entertaining. But for me, I’m firmly in the first group, so I really enjoyed seeing Danny McBride in a fantasy setting. The ’80s-style CG lightning was also a quick way to my heart, but I think the perverted, Yoda-like Wise Wizard, brought to life by a puppet, really sealed the deal. Where a lot of ’80s throwbacks just feel like modern movies, Your Highness actually gets the spirit of ’80s sword-and-sorcery movies down pat, and it’s got more than its share of hilarity if you’re in the right frame of mind.

foot_fist_way_xlgThe Foot Fist Way (2006)
threestar

Starring Danny McBride, Mary Jane Bostic, Ben Best, Spencer Moreno, Carlos Lopez, Jody Hill, Ken Aguilar, Collette Wolfe
Directed by Jody Hill

Your Highness got me in the mood for some more Danny McBride, which naturally led me to The Foot Fist Way. McBride plays a Tae Kwon Do instructor that is every bit the foul-mouthed blowhard you’d expect him to be. The character is not as defined as McBride’s Kenny Powers role on Eastbound & Down, but you can clearly see the beginnings of that idea in The Foot Fist Way. Fans will definitely enjoy this one, but as this is the roughest of the McBride films, it’s not one to show everybody. Of course, I love me some martial arts, so the parody of that environment and the characters that inhabit it hit very solidly with me.

Quick Takes: The House by the Cemetery, Christmas Evil, Game Over

housebythecemeteryThe House by the Cemetery [Quella villa accanto al cimitero] (1981)
AKA The House Outside the Cemetery, Zombie Hell House

threestar

Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava
Directed by Lucio Fulci

My favorite and the most easily accessible of the three Fulci movies I watched recently (the others being City of the Living Dead & The Beyond). Like the others, the plot is a definite weak point, but the atmosphere and the gore make up for it immensely. The gore is also a lot less “fun” in this one, instead going for much more realistic, brutal violence with gallons of blood flowing. Well, it’s not all realistic, there’s a bat attack that’s hilariously wild and ridiculous, but that’s probably unintentional. And just make sure the bat scene is the height of absurd weirdness, the bat provides more squirting blood than virtually all the other scenes combined. This moment is insane in the best way possible, as are all the other horrific bits (although those are insane for the sheer audacity to even attempt to get something this brutal past the censors). Good stuff.

Christmas_EvilChristmas Evil (1980)
AKA You Better Watch Out, Terror in Toyland

threehalfstar

Starring Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville, Joe Jamrog, Wally Moran, Gus Salud
Directed by Lewis Jackson

Harry was never the same after he saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus! The event scarred him deeply, developing into a fixation on everything Christmas and Santa-related. Harry’s now in his 40s and working at Jolly Dreams, a toy manufacturer. Christmas Evil is a slow-burn horror movie that’s more character study than traditional horror movie. Yes, Santa murders people, but this isn’t a Santa slasher movie. We see Harry’s psychosis evolve from simply caring about making quality toys for the holidays, to being driven to the point of shoving a toy soldier’s sword through a dude’s eye. But because we see the whole run up to the murder spree, the victims are not faceless and nameless. They are enemies to the spirit of Christmas, so in a weird way Harry is a hero of sorts, in his own mind at least. This is brought home beautifully in the ending of the film, which is equal parts touching, joyous and symbolic. Director Lewis Jackson twists the knife of psychosis at will by utilizing well-known hallmarks of the season, be it Harry maniacally calling out reindeer names while he’s driving away from the scene of the crime, or a cassette tape of a Christmas song warping and distorting as we see the aftermath Harry leaves in his wake. With each reference, Harry seems to slip deeper into his twisted Santa persona, further subverting the Christmas music and general mythology. Christmas Evil may be a low-budget film, but it is very well-crafted and the lead performance by Brandon Maggart is fantastic.

3615codeperenoelGame Over [3615 code Père Noël] (1989)
AKA Deadly Games, Dial Code Santa Claus

twohalfstar

Starring Alain Lalanne, Patrick Floersheim, Louis Ducreux, Brigitte Fossey, François-Eric Gendron, Stéphane Legros
Directed by René Manzor

Game Over is the result when you combine the ’80s kids’ affinity for muscular, gun-laden action heroes, a psycho in a Santa suit, and Home Alone. It’s not as great as that might sound, but it delivers more than enough laughs and genuine peril to make for a fine experience. Our lead is Thomas, a computer whiz kid who questions the existence of Santa Claus. He sets up cameras to record Santa in the act (which he can watch via his forearm-sized TV/camera controller), but his mother warns that if Santa sees him watching, Santa will turn into an ogre. Thomas also decides instead of writing a letter to Santa this year, he’ll just use a computer program called “3615 code Père Noël” (also the original title of the film). There is a Santa on the other end, but it’s a crazed lunatic out for young blood! What struck me the most about this movie was how brutal it was at times, and how much different it felt from American films with kids in peril. Thomas is actually harmed, ending the film bloody, exhausted and shell-shocked (to the point of resembling a pint-sized John McClane). It’s a little crusty and slow moving in parts, but overall it’s a good watch if you can hunt it down.

Quick Takes: City of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons, Not of This Earth

gates_of_hell_xlgCity of the Living Dead [Paura nella città dei morti viventi] (1980)
AKA The Gates of Hell
twohalfstar

Starring Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine
Directed by Lucio Fulci

Take a moment to consider the film’s title along with its poster art. Zombies, right? Wrong. City of the Living Dead really isn’t much of a zombie movie. Not in the traditional sense anyway. I’m somewhat unsure what the actual plot was, but the gist is that a priest kills himself and becomes a zombie mage, which somehow also opens the gates of Hell. These gates being open doesn’t really lead to the zombie hijinks you might expect, though, as City of the Living Dead is dreamy, haunting and supernatural where other movies would just go for your standard horror shocks and zombie kills. The plot is so nonsensical and chaotic at times that it makes it hard to get through, but I still enjoyed it for the most part. By far my favorite aspect of the film is the incredible gore, which really must be seen to be believed. There’s not much of it overall, but boy do they make up for lost time! I don’t want to spoil anything, but I definitely won’t be hankering for any pig guts and organ meat any time soon!

nightofthedemonsNight of the Demons (1988)

Starring Cathy Podewell, Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Alvin Alexis, Allison Barron, Hal Havins, Billy Gallo, Lance Fenton, Philip Tanzini, Jill Terashita, Harold Ayer
Directed by Kevin S. Tenney

Despite its legacy and name recognition, I wasn’t really feeling this one until the 2nd half (which is pretty much non-stop entertainment). Demons in a haunted house chasing a girl dressed as Alice in Wonderland is as fun as it sounds. Dope Steve Johnson FX work too. The lack of any likeable characters is what made the first half kind of slow and boring, and I was surprised just how trashy a movie it was overall. If I didn’t know this came from the same director as Witchboard, I’d never have guessed it in a million years. Witchboard feels like solid, classic horror filmmaking, while Night of the Demons feels amateurish and naive in comparison. Two completely different types of movies, though. I really should hunt down some more of Tenney’s movies to see which style is the more prominent in his career.

not_of_this_earthNot of This Earth (1988)
onehalfstar

Starring Traci Lords, Arthur Roberts, Lenny Juliano, Ace Mask, Roger Lodge, Rebecca Perle, Michael DeLano, Becky LeBeau
Directed by Jim Wynorski

Man, Not of This Earth is some high level B-Movie shit. You need nerves of steel, forged through hundreds of horrendous B-movies, to make it through this one. Bad acting, bad writing, bad everything abounds, although Traci Lords — in her first “mainstream” acting role — is actually really good and easily the best actor in the film. There’s also some stock footage from other Roger Corman-produced films, and even though I haven’t seen the movies they came from, the sections stuck out as being completely unrelated to anything else in the movie. The behind-the-scenes story is great, and without a doubt more interesting than the movie itself. Notable low-budget director Jim Wynorski bet that he could remake Corman’s original 1957 film with the same budget (adjusted for inflation) and the same 12-day shooting schedule, and he did it (in 11 days)! As a low-budget experiment, it’s interesting, but as an actual movie it’s kinda boring. It’s not without its delights, though most of them come from Traci Lords and are prurient in nature. I also got a kick out of seeing Roger Lodge, the host of Blind Date, playing Lords’ love interest. Watching this makes me really curious to see the original, as this one is so trashy and ’80s that I have a hard time understanding what the ’50s movie must be like.

Hex vs. Witchcraft (1980)

HexVersusWitchcraft+1980-3-bHex vs. Witchcraft [邪鬥邪] (1980)
AKA Evil Fighting Evil (Literal Translation)

Starring James Yi Lui, Jenny Leung Jan-Lei, Booi Yue-Fa, Cheung Miu-Lin, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, To Siu-Ming, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Wang Lai, Chan Shen, Ng Hong-Sang, Yeung Hung, Fong Ping, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Lo Meng

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


The Hex series is an interesting one, mostly because it’s not really a series in the traditional sense. The tone in Hex is nothing but serious spooks and specters, so the shift to wacky ghost comedy in Hex vs. Witchcraft is a bit jarring and unexplained. And if my information is correct, the final film, Hex After Hex, is even more wacky (which means, based on Hex vs. Witchcraft, it’s going to be VERY WACKY). If this holds true, it seems the Hex series kinda resembles the Evil Dead series’ approach to tone, with the exception that only the second and third Hex films share actors or relate to one another in any way.

Hex vs. Witchcraft is set in modern Hong Kong and our “hero” is Cai Tou (James Yi Lui), a man as unlucky as they come. He’s a compulsive gambler, but like most movie gamblers that aren’t the God of Gamblers, Cai is in deep debt to the local gangster, Brother Nine (Chan Shen). Without going into detail, eventually Cai finds himself married to Liu Ah Cui, the dead daughter of an old man who came to his door after Cai found a bag of gold jewelry that also contained the woman’s spiritual tablet. If I didn’t cut to the chase a bit I’d have to use two or three paragraphs to have the story progression make sense, and that’s neither necessary or fun.

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