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: The Beyond, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Fright Night Part 2

beyondThe Beyond […E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà] (1981)
AKA Seven Doors of Death
twohalfstar

Starring Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees, Giovanni De Nava
Directed by Lucio Fulci

I’m starting to think I’ll never completely warm up to Italian horror movies. They very rarely capture my attention fully, although when they’re good they are really good (like Suspiria). So I guess I’m trying to say that I’m gonna stick with ’em because I know — or at least hope — that there are gems to find. I definitely liked The Beyond more than City of the Living Dead, but it was still fairly uninteresting and slow for the most part. After hearing about this movie for years, it’s a little hard to understand that this is what all the hype was over. The gore, though, holy hell, so much to love there. I have to attribute the film’s reputation almost completely to the gore, because it’s pretty much worth seeing the movie just to see the nasty bits. Italian filmmakers definitely had a different approach to gore, and it often comes off as much more stomach-churning and revolting than in the films of their American counterparts.

invasionofthebodysnatchers1978Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
threehalfstar

Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle, Lelia Goldoni
Directed by Philip Kaufman

Fantastic remake that’s nearly as good as the original. I wish all remakes were like this, in that it felt sincere, artistic & in complete understanding of what made the original film so great. It’s a remake that diverges from the original plot in ways that perfectly update the film to the ’70s, while still retaining the pervasive ’50s paranoia of “the other” that made the original film pop. A lot of times remakes change things and people like me wonder why they had to change it. In this film it all clicks, in such good fashion that the film almost exists as a separate entity to the original film. In some ways you could even say that it’s a sequel to the ’50s film, and this ambiguity also helps the film succeed. The whole cast is exceptionally good, with the main four of Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright raising the movie to heights that genre films rarely reach. Sutherland is really becoming a favorite of mine, too, and for whatever reason he reminded me a lot of Clive Owen here (specifically Owen in The Knick).

frightnight2_posterFright Night Part 2 (1988)
threestar

Starring Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, Traci Lind, Julie Carmen, Jon Gries, Russell Clark, Brian Thompson, Merritt Butrick, Ernie Sabella, Matt Landers, Josh Richman, Karen Anders
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

The original Fright Night was about as fun as an ’80s vampire movie can get, so when I heard there was a sequel I was both jazzed and sure it was doomed to let me down. But no! Fright Night 2 is super fun and surprisingly solid. It builds its story on the same basic framework as the original, except they sometimes shift the genders of characters who filled the various roles originally. This gives Fright Night 2 a distinct feel that is its own, while also feeling very familiar and comfortable. To be more specific, this mostly manifests itself as Charley’s new girlfriend, Alex (Traci Lind), having a much more active role in the plot than Amanda Bearse did in the original. The vampires are multiple, too, and they’re all very different and fun. Fantastic FX work, too. There’s a body melting that’s just incredible! If you enjoyed the first one definitely seek out Fright Night 2!

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.

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