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: Ganja & Hess, Fright Night, The House on Skull Mountain

ganjaandhessposterGanja & Hess (1973)
AKA
Blood Couple, Double Possession, Black Evil, Blackout: The Moment of Terror, Vampires of Harlem, Black Vampire

Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon, Leonard Jackson, Candece Tarpley, Richard Harrow, John Hoffmeister
Directed by Bill Gunn

Tasked with creating a Blacula-type blaxploitation vampire movie, director Bill Gunn instead made an allegorical arthouse film that’s about as far from blaxploitation as possible; a bold move you just have to respect (although one look at those alternate titles above will show that the distributors definitely did not). But while I respect the balls that a move like that took, I can’t say that I liked Ganja & Hess much. It’s got an interesting vibe, and there are some real standout scenes (the ones featuring Bill Gunn himself in a supporting role, for instance), but for the most part I was bored. To be fair, though, I generally have this kind of reaction to arthouse movies, so I think it’s more my fault than Gunn’s. This is why I can’t bring myself to rate Ganja & Hess. Even though I didn’t really like it at all, it’s an incredible achievement of black cinema for the time. I simultaneously felt both impressed and bored. In this circumstance it would be wrong to assign a rating based on either of these feelings, and some arbitrary concoction of the two would only further obfuscate matters. So it’s just the kind of movie you’ll have to see on your own and decide for yourself. Just make sure you like arthouse-style movies. Oh, for those who care: Spike Lee’s Kickstarter film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, is a remake of this.

fright_nightFright Night (1985)
fourstar

Starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art Evans
Directed by Tom Holland

Four stars, you say? Yeah, maybe I’m overrating it but — aw hell, no I’m not! Fright Night is the type of ’80s horror blast to the brain you crave if you’re one of those people, like myself, who’s lamented the painful death of the horror movie over the last 25 years. Hell, it’s such a great example of an ’80s horror movie that modern directors should examine it and learn the great and simple truths contained within. It’s rare that a film can effectively convey multiple tones, but Fright Night manages to be a truly funny comedy that builds from the ’50s paranoia genre format (while also parodying them), that then morphs as the film progresses into one hell of a gory and tense thrill ride. The FX work is exceptional, with Richard Edlund, fresh off of Ghostbusters, bringing out all the stops. Fright Night is an intensely fun vampire movie. I haven’t seen it since I was about seven or eight years old, and a movie this great really should be seen more than once every 25 years or so. Highly recommended.

houseonskullmountainThe House on Skull Mountain (1974)
threestar

Starring Victor French, Janee Michelle, Jean Durand, Mike Evans, Xernona Clayton, Lloyd Nelson, Ella Woods, Mary J. Todd McKenzie
Directed by Ron Honthaner

I sought out The House on Skull Mountain after I saw it on a blaxploitation horror list, but it’s not really a blaxploitation movie at all. Unless a predominant black cast and a production year in the ’70s is all that defines a blaxploitation movie. This movie actually had black characters from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, and the jive talkin’ guy is clearly the butt of the joke, not the ass-kickin’ hero. Anyway, The House on Skull Mountain is a fun “people going to an old house for the reading of a will” movie mixed with a lot of voodoo and dope African drums. Since I’m such a fan of black magic films, I suppose it stands to reason that I’d also greatly enjoy a good voodoo movie! It will definitely be too dated for some, but I was suitably unsettled by many of its tricks and treats. Unfortunately, the intriguing mystery it sets up never pays off in any satisfying way, but it’s far too enjoyable a film for even something like this to diminish the fun.

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