Sunday, March 22, 2015

Shock (1977) aka Beyond The Door II (1979)

Alternate titles turn me on. I love the way movies used to be re-released and retitled, as if changing what the movie's called suddenly made it a brand new property, like when "God Told Me To" was re-released to theaters as a film called "Demon". Movies like "Don't Look In The Basement!" and "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things" had two or three different titles, sometimes more. Then there were some foreign genre films that were released to theaters in the United States and marketed as fake sequels, like when Mario Bava's "Twitch of the Death Nerve" was released to American theaters as "Last House On The Left Part 2". The other Bava retitle I'm thinking of is my feature tonight, Bava's 1977 final theatrical film "Shock". It was issued in the US in 1979 as "Beyond the Door II", despite it not being a sequel to anything, but never mind--David Colin Jr., the youngest son from "Beyond The Door" plays the role of a different little boy in THIS movie, too, so there's that slim connection. It's extremely uneven, and suffers greatly from a poorly acted dub track, not that the dialogue we hear makes matters any better.

But Bava's films are visual experiences, and "Shock" is rewarding if you're willing to tolerate the parts of the film that are slow and talky--and one of the people you'd have to blame for that is the director's son, Lamberto Bava, who is credited as a screen writer. Italian horror icon Daria Nicolodi stars as Dora, a woman who returns to the house she once shared with her deceased heroin-junkie husband, who everyone thinks committed suicide simply because his boat was found adrift at sea. Seven years after his disappearance, and supposedly recovered from a mental breakdown, Dora returns to the same house with her new husband and her nine-year-old son Marco, with only dim memories of what actually happened following her husband's suicide. The kid starts to channel the dead father's ghost and Strange Things Start Happening. Or is she just cracking up again?

Although it's not Bava's best by any means, there are a few transcendent moments to hang onto, and you also have to admit that even Bava's trash is interesting to look at. His camera wizardry is in full effect in "Shock" and does not disappoint. The lighting, usually garish and oversaturated, is instead strategically subdued.  There are a few mind-bending shots in the film, such as one that seems to have been created by strapping poor Daria Nicolodi to a rig and filming her face as she was spun upside down.

Another brilliantly imaginative scene follows the progress of a ghostly image that prowls the walls of the house's basement, circling the walls. The camera pans back to reveal Marco, holding a family photograph with his stepfather cut out of it; the prowling "ghost" is the light of a bare bulb shining through the cut out photograph. The most terrifying image in "Shock" is one that was unforgivably revealed in the film's trailer, a breathtaking gut punch as the little boy rushes toward his mother from the other end of a hallway, morphing into the adult-size corpse of his father just as he reaches her. I was also really creeped out by a scene where Marco gets into bed with his mother and caresses her sleeping body in a way that seems to threaten sexual violence, his hand appearing as that of the dead husband.

The thing that probably will make or break "Shock" for you is how much Daria Nicolodi you can take. She's the focus of nearly every scene in the movie, and a lot of what's on screen is either something that's supposed to be going on in her mind, or lingering closeups of her face. You might think Marco would be the focus of the film, since he's a possessed little boy, but the movie treats Dora as if she's more important, with Marco reduced to nothing more than a lurking presence throughout most of it. Although a lot of the time Dora's on screen she is freaking out and frightened, there's one great camp moment when she's having a hard time stashing a dead body with a giant pick axe sticking out of it and a rat runs up her dress and starts biting her.

John Steiner also appears in the film as Dora's new husband, Bruno. Steiner's been in a lot of things you've probably seen, such as Argento's "Tenebre", Ruggero Deodato's films "Cut and Run" and "Body Count", and "I Don't Want To Be Born" with Joan Collins. The score is done by Goblin-associated act Libra, and is heavy on the prog-rock themes, but is also reminiscent of Stelvio Cipriani's score for "Twitch of the Death Nerve" with a heavy bongo vibe going on in a few scenes.

I should acknowledge that even though this movie has nothing to do with "Beyond The Door", "Shock" still has one big thing going for it, and that's the artistry of Mario Bava. Both movies share the weird, disjointed atmosphere and claustrophobic sound design that movies get when they are dubbed, but there's a certain visual aspect too that links the two films. Bava's shots seem more artfully composed, but both movies feature typical "Exorcist" tropes such as furniture flying around by itself, doors and drawers flapping open, and moments with a very loud audio mix. Most importantly, even though "Shock" doesn't show quite as much influence from "The Exorcist", it is a freak show just like "Beyond The Door" was. If it had just been a little bit crazier, it might have made a bigger impression.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Kyra Schon -- iconic Living Dead Girl -- talks about why her character just won't stay dead.

The cultural phenomenon that is the 1968 horror film "Night of the Living Dead" has long been promoted using the countenance of one of its more noteworthy ghouls: poor little nine-year-old Karen Cooper, who found out the hard way that when you get bitten by a zombie, that means you're already well on your way to becoming one.

The actress who played her is Kyra Schon. Her father, Karl Hardman, was one of the producers of "Night of the Living Dead", and also starred in the film as the antagonistic blowhard Harry Cooper. Nine years old at the time of the movie's filming, Kyra was a natural choice to play Harry's young daughter Karen, and although she only has one speaking line in the film (feverish from a zombie bite, she moans "I hurt!"), she features strongly in the film's shocking climax: presumably having died from her ghoul-inflicted wound, Karen becomes a ghoul herself and cannibalizes her father's remains, then viciously stabs her mother to death with a cement trowel.

Karen Cooper may have been a little anti-social, but Kyra herself is well loved by "NOTLD" fans, who greet her at horror conventions and frequently display tattoos of her ghoulish character proudly engraved on their bodies. We sat down so I could ask her some questions about what the experience of making the film was like for her, as well as what it means to the people for whom the classic film holds an eternally morbid fascination.


Groovy Doom: Fans of the movie, and I'm sure those who were traumatized by it, all seem to be able to talk about the first time they ever saw "Night of the Living Dead". Everybody remembers that, it was sort of ground zero...

Kyra Schon: Where were you when Kennedy was shot?

GD: ...exactly! I want to go even further back though, when was the first time you became aware of the project and the creation of the film?

KS: It was early in 1967, I think. My mom woke me up for school one morning, and she said "Honey, you're going to're going to be in a movie." (laughs) And I said, "What?" And she said "Dad is co-producing this new movie and he's going to talk to you about it, and he wants you to be in it."

So instantly, you know, life changes. I guess I saw him later that day or the next day, and he explained it was a horror movie and I was going to be playing this little monster, creature, thing....I don't remember exactly what he told me about her, but I remember just being beside myself like, oh my god, my fondest wish had come true. I was watching horror movies from the time I was four years old on "Chiller Theater" [a wildly popular weekly Pittsburgh horror host show whose host, Bill Cardille, also appears in "Night of the Living Dead" as a TV reporter]. At that time, "Chiller Theater" was on Saturday afternoon, and it was accessible to me. My best friend just up the street and I used to watch it, every Saturday afternoon we'd curl up in the same chair and watch these schlocky movies and be thrilled and terrified and amused. It was so vastly entertaining for us, and so I thought wow, I can be one of those monsters, that's great.

GD: Did you know what the movie was about?

KS: I don't know if I knew at that time. He told me that I was gonna stab Marilyn, and that I was gonna eat his arm. I don't remember what my reaction was, I guess I was just like "OK yeah, whatever, that's fine."

GD: Who explained to you what cannibalism was?

KS: (laughs) Well, that would have been my dad.

GD: You were young!

KS: Yeah, I was 9. I think maybe kids are more accepting of things because they don't have anything to compare it to. I didn't realize that we were breaking new ground because I didn't know everything that came before. I had seen "Frankenstein" and "The Mummy" and "The Wolf Man", "Little Shop of Horrors", those kinds of things. In that repertoire, there was nothing at all like what we were doing, but I didn't know that it was new.

GD: Cannibalism really freaks people out, at least it did when "Night of the Living Dead" was made.

KS: Well you know, it's not really cannibalism when you're a zombie. You're kind of not the same species anymore.

GD: What do you remember about being on the set?

KS: My scenes weren't very interesting because until I met Duane on the first floor, there was nobody in the scenes with me. I was lying on the table, I said "I hurt", and that was all. When I stabbed Marilyn, she wasn't even in the room with me, I was stabbing into a pillow. So there was no real interaction. There was no sound, that was looped in later, and I asked my dad "How long should I be doing this?" and he said "Keep going, keep going, keep going..." I've been told it was 14, and I've since counted and I stabbed the pillow 14 times.

A lot of it was really kind of boring. The scene where Harry and Helen are arguing in the basement, that whole "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" vibe, it was so miserable because it was much longer. It was so much longer! And I think they had written their own dialogue, which was....(dramatic eye roll) was brutal. And I'm lying there on the table thinking "I wonder if anybody has ever died of boredom? I am so bored!" And then they cut all of that, thank god. That's why that weird jump cut is in there, if you know it's in there you'll know to look for it.

My dad and Marilyn were doing the makeup, and they were doing wounds on some of the ghouls with mortician's wax, and it looked really cool, and I wanted one. I said "Can I get a wound, too?" and my dad said "No. It just doesn't go with the story." I just had a bandage covering...nothing! I got really good at doing those wounds after the movie, on my friends and on myself!

GD: Did George Romero give you direction, or was it your dad?

KS: My dad gave me direction. George probably figured I would take direction more readily from my dad than from a stranger. George couldn't have been nicer, though, there is nothing intimidating about him at all.  He's just a big friendly teddy bear of a man, and I liked him a lot. He's just a great guy.

GD: Why do you think it is that your character is so well known and iconic, what is it that makes her fascinating to fans of the film?

KS: I think because she was the first of her kind, she was the first kid zombie. She killed her mother, which is a taboo, so is eating her father's arm which is really kind of gross. I think that's why she became so iconic, because she blew people's minds. She was not a little girl full of sugar and spice...well, maybe she started out that way, but suddenly we couldn't relate to this thing she became, she still looked like a little girl but now she wanted to eat you.

GD: Your image is so closely associated with the film, too.

KS: It certainly is, it's everywhere. When I go to conventions and I see it, I'm used to seeing it. I see people's tattoos and it gives me a thrill, it's amazing that someone tattooed my face on their body. But when I'm not at a convention and I see it, I just want to jump up and down and go "Look, it's me!" Out here in the world, it's really weird to see it.

When I went to see "28 Days Later", I went with a friend of mine and we were standing in line, and there was a guy in front of us wearing a leather jacket with my face painted on the back. My friend nudged me and said "Are you gonna tell him?" But I didn't because, why would he believe me? (laughs) He would have been like, "Sure!"

GD: Do you remember the first film that terrified you?

KS: I've tried to remember, and I just don't know. But the one that sticks with me the most is "The Crawling Eye", aka "The Trollenberg Terror". It's still one of my favorite movies of all time, I love it. I don't know what it was about that movie, but it really stuck with me. I still do weird little sculptures and jewelry pieces with that motif. It's awesome and it's held up pretty well. When I watch it now, I try to watch it objectively, and it's a good movie.

And of course I love "The Wasp Woman". I loved "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman", that was great. The silent version of "Phantom of the Opera" really scared me, and "The Mummy" scared me a lot. "Frankenstein" didn't scare me, I felt sorry for him. "The Wolf Man" I felt sorry for, because he was like a dog. He was kind of a victim, I thought I could get along with him, he was cool. "Dracula" didn't scare me either, because Bela Lugosi's accent was a lot like my grandfather's accent, and that wasn't scary. I wasn't ever really afraid of vampires or werewolves, but the Mummy was the one that you really couldn't reason with. He was just sort of singularly focused on a task and no matter what got in his way, he was going to accomplish that.

GD: Do you still have any memorabilia from the film, like your costume?

KS: No, the costume was really my own dress, and that was given away to the Salvation Army after I outgrew it. The fishnet stockings I don't have anymore, either, those were mine. I was wearing off-white fishnet stockings. It's pretty funny, with that baby doll dress...I was quite the trendsetter.

GD: Someone out there got a priceless piece of movie memorabilia, and they didn't even know it.

KS: I sold the invitation to the premiere, and the bandage, a couple years ago, but some friends of mine have that stuff, so I can go visit if I feel the need. I still have the music box that you hear in the film. The box in the movie that actually spun around, that didn't have any sound, so they used my grandmother's music box for the sound. It was the stunt music box! It's broken, I have to get it repaired. I think I still have some of the makeup, too.

My dad had a lot of that stuff, and I don't know where it went after he passed away. A lot of it belonged to him originally, like the coat tree was his. So was the tire iron that went into the ghoul's head, the one played by John Russo. The radio was originally his parents, they bought it in new in 1937 or something.

GD: When did you first see the film, at the premiere?

KS: Yeah, but when I saw it none of it surprised me, so maybe I'd seen bits and pieces of the film before that. I was allowed to invite a couple of my friends to it who were close to me in age, it was just a few days before my 11th birthday. I spent most of the movie watching their reactions to the various scenes, because they were shrieking and jumping out of their seats, which I thought was hilarious. But none of it scared me. The only thing I didn't like when I saw it was seeing my dad get shot. It was uncomfortable, I didn't like that, even though I was there for the filming of it and it was actually really funny. When he was doing his death scene, he clutched the coat tree, and each time he would try and fall down the steps he'd get tangled in the coat tree and it would follow him down the steps. Everybody was laughing so hard they were in tears, they'd done it so many times, but then seeing it afterwards, it still bothered me.

GD: What did your friends tell you about the movie after they'd seen it?

KS: They loved it, they were scared! They thought it was pretty cool that they got to see it.

GD: I'm sure they loved your big moment with the cement trowel.

KS: (laughs) Yes, they did!

GD: To me, that's the most nightmarish moment in the film. That's what takes it way over the line from just being a horror movie into something truly subversive, this little kid murdering her own mother in a creepy basement. It was so shocking and dark.

KS: I think that's kind of why people were walking out feeling shell shocked afterwards, because they didn't expect to see something like that. But I still think that it's not as disturbing as "The Bad Seed", which was a decade before, because she knew exactly what she was doing.

GD: Absolutely, she liked it.

KS: For her, it was murder. For Karen Cooper, who had become a ghoul, it was just a biological imperative, rather than just living out her sociopathic dreams! But it's pretty gruesome, anyway. People have asked me, why did she pick up the trowel and then kill her mother and walk away? Why didn't she eat her? Presumably, ghouls want to kill you because they want to eat you, but she didn't want to eat her, she just wanted to kill her. So what was that about? Maybe there was a little "Bad Seed" in her, too.


Here's a link to Kyra's personal website,, where you can browse some of the merchandise and memorabilia she offers, items related to "Night of the Living Dead" as well as her own fantastic handcrafted jewelry. You can also find this at her Etsy shop, StoneHouseArts.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015

Shriek Of The Mutilated (1974)

Alright, I have to get something off my chest. I hate when people say a movie is "so bad it's good." If you enjoyed a movie for any reason, then mission accomplished, you were entertained. And seriously, don't ever say to anybody "The ONLY way to see this film is on Mystery Science Theater 3000." It only makes you look bad that you can't watch a movie like "Eegah!" without someone spoon-feeding you what's amusing about it. A bad movie is no fun. Films with very low budgets and non-actors are entertaining if the story is interesting enough and those performers are game.

I had that feeling while watching "Shriek Of The Mutilated", which truly defies description in a lot of ways. I will talk about it here, but I could never really explain what it's like, you must seek out and view this film for yourself. And don't just watch it half-assed in a browser while you're doing something else, put it on your TV if at all possible, and allow yourself to get drawn into its bizarre artificial world.

Yeah man, it's the 70s, dig?
Cannibalism seems to be a theme lately on the blog--is it ever far from our minds?--so here's another fantastic people-eating movie that just may be one of the best movies in the universe. Previously it was lodged in the back of my mind because I must have read about it someplace as "that bigfoot movie where it's not really bigfoot" and I thought I had seen it for sure. When I started watching it though, I quickly realized I had never actually seen this movie at all. And I was stunned.

"Shriek Of The Mutilated" takes place in that alternate universe known as the early 1970s, in a dimension somewhere between a porno film, an early daytime TV soap opera, and a nightmare. Four college students named Keith, Karen, Tom and Lynn are listening to professor Ernst Prell lecture them about the Yeti, a mythological creature that Prell has devoted his life to studying and tracking. He intends to take the four to his associate Karl Werner's remote country estate on Boot Island, because Werner claims a Yeti has been lurking in the wilderness around his estate.
Yeti vision!

Dr. Prell takes Keith to dinner while Karen, Lynn and Tom attend a swingin' 70s college party. Almost as if on cue, former student Spencer St. Claire has an alcoholic breakdown after he discovers Prell is taking more students on a Yeti field trip. It seems Spencer also accompanied Dr. Prell seven years earlier, an episode that only he and Dr. Prell survived, and he stoically tells the room all about his experience, warning anybody who would dare go with Dr. Prell on his adventure. Meanwhile, Dr. Prell takes Keith to an exclusive restaurant where everyone gives each other a knowing look while they are eating a strange dinner called "gin sung". Although he doesn't name Spencer, Prell alludes to his unfortunate experience and tells Keith "I expect more from you." Yeah Spencer is a real nut case, and the first sign that "Shriek Of The Mutilated" is a work of sheer genius comes in a scene where Spencer and his wife return home from the party and spontaneously murder each other. She breaks his bottle of vodka, so he cuts her throat with an electric carving knife. But the onset of death turns her into a true ninja: when Spencer climbs into the bathtub (fully clothed) after attacking her, she drags her dying self into the bathroom along with a toaster, which she plugs into a handy socket and tosses into the bathtub with him.

Hey, no were NOT mutilated.
Despite the pathetically inebriated warnings Spencer gave before his untimely electrocution, the doomed college foursome go with Dr. Prell anyway to Dr. Werner's isolated estate, where Werner and his manservant Laughing Crow terrify them by talking in hushed tones about the Yeti that howls in the woods at night, and Dr. Werner himself swears he has had several near-encounters with it. Well, actually Dr. Werner does all the talking, Laughing Crow just glowers strangely at them and looks pissed off and confused at the same time. Maybe he's just annoyed that Werner refers to him as "his Indian."

"Listen, I forgot to tell you...don't say anything about the boots. OK?"
The Yeti has certain characteristics that they have been able to determine, most notably a strange offensive odor and a heartbeat that can be heard loudly wherever it goes. The characteristic you will notice right away about the Yeti is that it is clearly a human being wearing a costume that wouldn't frighten anything other than a children's birthday party. Eventually though, we learn that it looks like a costume because it really IS a costume: Prell and Werner have invented the Yeti because they are a part of a secret cult of cannibals who lure Prell's college students to their deaths so they can become dinner. The Yeti gives them a cover for the disappearances, and an excuse to isolate the kids before murdering them.
The fatally scratched faces of death.
The atmosphere in "Shriek of the Mutilated" can best be described as a horror kitsch cartoon come to life. In fact, it resembles a violent episode of "Scooby Doo" in a number of ways, including the fact that the Professor's van looks a hell of a lot like the Mystery Machine:

Not only that, but look at these two and just try and not see Daphne and Velma:

I'm sure she just forgot to take them off before she got in bed.
And what episode of "Scooby Doo" didn't end with the monster being revealed as a man in a mask? 

The visage of true terror, the beast itself confronts us!
But it isn't entirely kitschy. Although this movie is hopelessly dated and clearly not made by a film crew with a huge budget, "Shriek of the Mutilated" does have a strange effectiveness. It's quickly paced and never lets up, whether it's a horror sequence where the students are isolated and murdered, or one of the parts where the students shout histrionic lines of dialogue at one another. My favorite moment like this was the part where Keith and Karen allow Dr. Prell to convince them that, after both Tom and Lynn have been murdered by the "Yeti", the proper thing to do is to use pieces of Tom's body as bait to lure the Yeti into a trap. Karen finds herself the only person in the entire group who thinks the right thing to do is leave and find the police, and at one point she screams at Keith, "Stop treating me like a CHILD!" and he screams back at her "Well stop ACTING like one!" It's the line that should have been in "Mommie Dearest", but wasn't.
"What are you thinking, they told us to VIEW the scenery, not CHEW it."
The film's sets and sound design are gloriously cheap and alien. A swinging college party takes place in an apartment that doesn't look quite right, with strangely proportioned rooms and hanging lamps that one of the actors hits his head on as he walks down a hallway. The infamous double murder scene near the beginning of the film takes place in a claustrophobic apartment that could be part of either a dormitory or motel. The outdoor scenes at Dr. Prell's estate don't quite mesh with the large houses's interiors, which are best revealed in a set piece that is spellbinding in its strangeness: separated from Keith, Karen awakens from a dead faint to find herself alone in a room while the Yeti howls outside. She looks out the window and sees it running across the lawn toward the house. It then lunges at her through the window and drags itself inside, where it pursues her through the house in a dizzying chase.

The Yeti has a sound that follows it wherever it goes. The characters call it a "howl", but really what it sounds like is a person imitating a snarling Chihuahua while going "Num num num nummy yyyum yummmmm." There's also that ominous heartbeat, which is later revealed to be Laughing Crow playing drums into a loudspeaker system. It's staggering to ponder if the filmmakers wanted us to believe in the Yeti, too...although it is treated seriously early in the movie, the film's poster itself reveals that the Yeti is fake and the film's true villains are cannibals. And when you see somebody running quickly in a monster suit, nothing is more obvious than the fact that it's someone running in a monster suit. I wouldn't call it scary, but the giddy energy of these scenes is infectious.
Laughing Crow wants to axe you a question about cultural sensitivity.
And then that ending. Like I said before, the film's twist is revealed on the poster, but I suspect it was hoped during the filming and scripting that the audience would be shocked by it. The most shocking thing is that somehow the cheapness of everything that has come before it actually lends some loony credibility to the final act. After we find out the Yeti was fake all along, the fakeness we ourselves have witnessed actually makes sense, although there's no explaining the histrionic dialogue. Keith discovers that the Yeti is a ruse and escapes to get help, but Prell and Werner manage to scare Karen to death. The ritualistic aspect of what they've done apparently demands that the victim they intend to eat must not be bruised or physically harmed in any way, she must have died of fright. Keith brings back the police (apparently he could only find a single officer) and in the tradition of these movies, he is one of them, and Dr. Prell makes him the same offer that he apparently made to Spencer years ago: join them and eat human flesh (his own girlfriend), or be killed and eaten by all of them. The ambiguous ending has Keith salivating over the offering of eating Karen's flesh. Will Keith become a true cannibal, or end up like Spencer, only left alive to carry back the legend of the Yeti so more victims can be lured into the trap? 

The gore effects are mostly of the "fake bloody limb" variety, and the Yeti mostly seems to kill its victims by scratching their faces to death, but the movie loves to show it over and over again. Lynn even gets a pound sign scratched into her face during her meet-the-Yeti moment, breaking the facial death wound mold of two or three parallel stripes. Although directed by notorious exploitation filmmaker Michael Findlay ("Snuff", "The Touch Of Her Flesh", and numerous early porn features), the movie doesn't really go too far over the top with the on-screen violence. Even the scene where Spencer supposedly cuts his wife's throat with a carving knife is bloody but not explicit.

The acting in the film is like an early John Waters film, with what appears to be a group of the filmmaker's friends portraying the characters. "Overacting" is putting it mildly. Indeed, for most of these actors, "Shriek of the Mutilated" is their only credit on IMDB. A few of them do appear in the same director's "Invasion of the Blood Farmers", and lead actress Jennifer Stock also appears in "Bloodsucking Freaks". She turns in one of those performances where she's supposed to be pushed to the limits of her endurance, like her best girlfriend Sally Hardesty, but unlike Sally Hardesty, she doesn't escape becoming a meal. Incidentally, although we know "gin sung" is a meal made from human flesh, it also appears to be an actual meal prepared by a presumably cannibal chef. When Karen's body is presented to the cult members to be consumed, it looks like they just wheeled her body out on a gurney and intended to eat it "tartare".

The SHOWER CURTAIN. OK? Just look at it.

How you like me now?

"Shriek of the Mutilated" is a rickety, lunatic ride that I urge you to take. If you have seen this and were hoping it would be a bigfoot movie, I feel for you, but you did get some bigfoot buttons pushed, right? Personally, I found one of the better horror sequences in the movie to be a well staged scene where the first student gets picked off by the Yeti when he foolishly wanders off alone and investigates a spooky barn lying in ruins. The Yeti is glimpsed through the crudely spaced planks of wood while stalking Tom from the roof, the ominous heartbeat combining with some disorienting camera angles to create a trippy atmosphere that will either annoy or thrill you. What can I say, I'm usually thrilled by these things.

I ask you, is this not the best title in the entire history of cinema?