Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Farewell, Ingrid

Ingrid Pitt, November 21, 1937 - November 23, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Child (1977): She'll hurt you bad!

Tonight's movie is "The Child" (1977), an obscure cheapie from exploitation sleazemaster Harry Novak that attempts to merge elements of "Night of the Living Dead" and "Carrie". When I first saw it, I was a little surprised by the fact that a movie that features zombies doesn't spend most of its time dealing with zombies; maybe I was still bitter about the fact that I hated "The Beyond", a non-zombie zombie movie that every horror geek in the whole world except me seems to worship. I simply had to bury my expectations, though. "The Child" is too weird to be called a zombie film, even though it features killer corpses.

"I think I saw the script headed up that way...but you'll never catch up to it now, dear."

Young Alicianne, pretty and vulnerable in the way that any respectable 70s horror heroine should be, arrives to fulfill her new position as the governess of a little girl who has recently lost her mother. Rosalie Nordon lives with her father and older brother in a rambling country home situated next to a forest. A cemetery is also located nearby, the very one in which her mother has been buried, and Rosalie has been making strange nocturnal visits to the graveyard. Alicianne--the way that any respectable 70s horror heroine should--fails to acknowledge that there's something critically loopy about this family. One night at dinner, Mr. Nordon tells a story about how a local pack of boy scouts accidentally used the stem of a poisonous plant to stir their stew and died as a result, laughing about the incident as he imagines the little kids all dead. Rosalie thinks it's pretty funny, too, while older brother Len just looks embarassed and apparently schemes about how he can get Alicianne away from Rosalie for a little "horseback riding". Mmmm hmmm. Rosalie hates everyone, and plots their deaths, usually at the hands of her "friends": zombies that prowl the local woods, and that she has somehow befriended by bringing them kittens to eat. She apparently wants to kill everyone who was at her mother's funeral, since she has a 'hit list' sketch she made of the service and places an X over everyone's face when she kills them. Despite this, the makers of "The Child" have never sued Quentin Tarantino, as far as I know.

But ...but she's got the face of an angel!

The meager scope of "The Child" allows for Rosalie to torment Mrs. Whitfield, after which the zombies rip off the old lady's face. Then Rosalie uses her Carrie-like powers to animate a shotgun and kill the gardner, a seriously underdeveloped character who you will most likely notice for the first time when it's time for him to die. Rosalie also kills her dad, and then sends the zombies after the escaping Alicianne & Len. A final confrontation occurs in an old wooden mill, where Alicianne loses any shred of spunk she ever had and simply stands by screaming uselessly while Len vainly tries to hold off the living dead. She doesn't even try and help when the zombies come for Len, but it's only when her own ass is on the line that she's finally able to pick up an axe and land a death blow right in the middle of Rosalie's head. The breathtaking rampage has finally come to an end!

Maybe this would be a good time to mention how utterly bargain basement this movie is. To say that "The Child" has no budget to speak of would be a serious understatement, and it appears to have been photographed on film stock that the filmmakers found unspooled and buried under a pile of gravel in a supermarket dumpster. Still, many movies manage to be interesting and even glorious in their cheapness. "The Child" seems to have been shot silent and then dubbed in post-production, which could be the main problem with the acting. Especially bad is an old lady character named Mrs. Whitfield who seems to be reading her lines phonetically off of cue cards through a haze of senility.

The biggest thing pulling it in the wrong direction is Rosalie herself. Meant to be evil, her presence in the movie is simply annoying. She scowls, she sneers, she glowers, she shrieks her lines. One of the movie's most memorable moments is when Alicianne promises to teach Rosalie how to make doughnuts, to which Rosalie sneers in a disgusted way, "DOUGH nuts???" Tatum O'Neal she's not. But just try not to smile when Rosalie threatens her father with a zombie attack: "My friends are gonna come and hurt you BOTH! Hurt you BAD!"

Even so, "The Child" is eerie and effective. The low budget ambiance in this film is breathtaking at times, and if it wasn't for the awkward performances, "The Child" would be damn near perfect. The movie creates a bizarre and otherworldly atmosphere. The action takes places in isolated rural locations, especially two large rambling houses. In one of my favorite spooky scenes, Mrs. Whitfield has her dog tied outside at night and it's barking at something. She goes outside to see what's the matter and sees the dog's leash lying there, empty, and suddenly it howls horribly off-camera.

The locations in the film are always interesting, even though they often suffer from a lack of establishing shots. For instance, both of the big houses are filmed from low angles in order to disguise any neighboring homes and add to the sense of isolation. It's actually a good thing in this case, as the houses seem more alien and disconnected because of it. There are also some great sequences where the characters walk through the woods, surrounded by strange landscapes. The claustrophobic quality of having the entire soundtrack dubbed enhances the movie's strong dreamlike effect, particularly in a scene where Alicianne follows Rosalie on one of her nocturnal visits to the cemetery. The scene is shot day-for-night, and not only is it daytime, it was apparently one of the sunniest days in the history of the region. We're never quite sure if this scene is real or simply a dream, but the foggy outdoor set and the swirling camera are very unsettling.

Underdeveloped in the film is the fact that Rosalie is supposed to be telekinetic. The scene where Alicianne meets her for the first time is an awkward attempt to demonstrate it: as Alicianne approaches the sleeping Rosalie's bed, her bedside jack-in-the-box ejects itself unexpectedly--a subtle touch, but so subtle that it slips right by you on first viewing and leaves you confused. Another scene, one of the better ones in the film, has Rosalie tormenting Alicianne with a jack-o-lantern on Halloween, the candle relighting itself in a dark room and following Alicianne all over in the darkness. It's a deliciously spooky thing that you don't usually find in horror movies where peoples faces are hideously mangled. An animated scarecrow is also a freaky touch.

Wow, Rosalie's got some skills in art class, doesn't she?

The presence of zombies in "The Child" seems almost last-minute, like the movie was supposed to be a "Carrie" ripoff and was hastily rewritten with a zombie motif. No matter, the ghouls in the film are actually extremely well-done and the makeup is awesome. They also mean business, causing a few startling mutilations. It's a humble body count, but the gore is nasty and effective. The director fills the movie with fleeting glimpses of the zombies, lurking around trees and lumbering just out of frame in some cases. During the final confrontation, you finally get a good look at them and it was worth the wait.

The ultra-cheap look of the film may turn off a lot of viewers who will see the movie as junk, and that's pretty fair. The music and sound effects are on the level of a Halloween haunted house sound effects album, which you'll either adore or despise. Also a problem is the fact that the movie is supposed to be set in the 1930s; the characters drive some awesome old cars, but the rest of the sets feature a number of anachronisms that you can't help but notice, especially the clothing the characters wear.

"The Child" sure is memorable, considering how obscure it seems to be, and it has more than a few morbid touches that lift it far above other Harry Novak films I've seen. I really dig it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brides of Blood (1968): A tree's gotta eat.

There's something compelling about a man-eating tree. How do they hunt for food? How do they digest their prey? How did they evolve into meat eaters, since they'd have to be pretty good at catching large mammals? Who will prune the damn thing, and what will be left of them? I first saw "Brides of Blood" under the title "The Island of Living Horror" on WOR-TV's weekend "Fright Night" program. It promised man-eating plants, and not only did it deliver big time in that regard, it also provided a killer moth, a monster roach, and the granddaddy of all of them, a man who transforms into a giant rubber tiki monster.

Our adventure begins on a charter boat bound for Blood Island. Now who in the world would want to go to a place called Blood Island? Well, our three adventurers, that's who. Jim Farrell, who is headed there to help the natives learn basic concepts like irrigation and torch-throwing (more on this later). Dr. Paul Henderson, the prerequisite scientist who intends to investigate the effects of atomic radiation on the island; reports of strange mutations have reached the civilized world, but apparently they aren't enough to warrant more than this single man's investigative powers. Mrs. Carla Henderson is also along, apparently only for the ride, because all she does is maintain her elaborate hairstyle and try to bed every man who gets within spitting distance. It seems that Mrs. Henderson is beyond nymphomania and has now created her own special breed of sexual compulsive. Even on the boat ride there, Carla gets all sassy and is happily manhandled by a deck hand. Carla's M.O. seems to be this: #1, act like a royal bitch. #2, fix hair and makeup. #3, men will want to have intercourse with you.

Sittin' in a native hut, all alone and blue...

Upon disembarking, the trio immediately comes upon a funeral procession being conducted by the natives. They realize in horror that the two bodies being carried for burial at sea are completely dismembered; a severed arm falls out, causing Carla to scream in terror. After the ceremony, the Americans are greeted by Arcadio, the tribe's elder, and his granddaughter Alma. Carla immediately senses an attraction between the lovely Alma and the handsome Jim, and she very aggressively attempts to embarass everyone by remarking on it. Arcadio welcomes them to the island, but both he and Alma seem terrified of something, and he openly admits that he wishes he would have warned them to stay away before the boat left. When questioned about the deaths of the two women that were being buried, he claims the cause was an accident, but he makes the vague statement that his people are "ashamed" of returning to the "old ways".

And behold, the Rubber Tiki Monster accepted the sacrifice and was pleased...

"The old ways" apparently involved holding a lottery, tying the unlucky winners to bamboo posts, and leaving them to be violated and dismembered by the resident mutated monster that runs amok on a seemingly nightly basis. Never mind that this practice (which dictates that TWO girls be part of the sacrifice!) would decimate the island's young maiden population in a matter of months, if not weeks. The island is also now populated by common trees and plants that have mutated into grasping predators that reach out for anything that moves...to what purpose I'm not sure, since the plants don't seem to have mouths or digestive systems. Henderson discovers mutated land crabs and roaches, which seem to change back and forth from normal to monstrous at random times. Seemingly oblivious to all of this is the island's resident wealthy recluse, Esteban Powers. Powers lives on a private hacienda with a crew of pygmies as servants and a goon named Goro who sports a nasty scar on his face. Powers sends Goro after the Americans to invite them to dinner, and he asks them to room at his large island paradise. Carla happily convinces her husband to accept, but Farrell claims he wants to live among the people--I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Alma happens to be next door to his hut.

An errant root attacks Carla, not of the variety to which she is accustomed.

The marauding monster itself is a man in a rubber suit, and it doesn't take long to figure out who it is (hint: Esteban Powers suffers from migraine headaches during which he blacks out). It isn't long before Farrell is in love with Alma, and Alma is chosen to be part of the next ritual. Farrell kidnaps her from the altar and escapes to Powers' hacienda, but of course this lands them right in harm's way. Carla can't leave well enough alone and follows Esteban out into the dark jungle, where he transforms into the Sta-Puft Marshmallow man's ugly cousin and rips her apart. Farrell and Alma trek through the jungle with the monster in hot pursuit, but when they get back to the village, everyone wants to kill them for pissing off the local monster-god. Instead, Farrell manages to convince them to throw torches at it, and they burn it alive. Easy enough, right? Why didn't THEY think of that?? The village celebrates by having a fertility dance, after which couples retreat into the jungle to make love five feet from one another. It's a kinky island.

I have such a soft spot for this stupid movie that I can't stop watching it. Although it's dumb to the third power, it's got a strange atmosphere all its own. I first saw it on late night TV under the title "Island of Living Horror". The title card for "Brides of Blood" seems to not really belong on the print, which means "Brides of Blood" was not the original title, either. The special effects are very cheap, especially a killer butterfly (yes, I just said "killer butterfly") that buzzes our heroes and bites one on the hand.

The film seems meant to convince only children, yet there's also a very strong sense of eroticism running through it, too. In one scene, Carla tries to seduce her sleeping husband, who refuses to wake up. Frustrated, she sneaks through the dark mansion until she finds monster-man's bedroom. Boldly going inside, she find him writhing on his bed, seemingly naked and covered only in a strategically placed sheet. He seems to be in the hold of an erotic dream, although we know he's simply on the verge of transformation. Carla is oblivious and tries to get in bed with him, but she is suddenly accosted by Goro, who appears and banishes her from the bedroom like a jealous lover.

Nothing in "Brides of Blood" makes sense, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying it. It's a mondo exotica horror picture that's worlds better than the other "Blood Island" horror pics. It also may be the best man-eating tree movie ever made.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Halloween II (1981)

Having recently discussed "Howling 2: Your Sister Is A Werewolf Trapped In A Very Bad Movie", and with The Big Day just around the corner, maybe this is a good time to chew on another early 80s sequel that is nearly always hailed as a bad "part 2". I'm talking about "Halloween II: Your Sister Is In the Hospital". Well OK, it wasn't really subtitled that, but it did have its own dorky subtitles like "Halloween II: The Nightmare Isn't Over!" and "Halloween II: The Horror Continues". Let it be known from the get-go that I love, love, LOVE "Halloween II", in all its tacky, cheap, cash-in glory. While it is all those things, it's also scary and very fun, and it's filmed with a lot of interesting references to other horror films. In other words, an orgasmathon for a horror geek.

You can see through "Halloween II" like it was a cheap shower curtain. It's a rather obvious attempt to cash in on a hot property even when the filmmakers seemed to have no idea what they wanted. There is no real story here, and it seems that all anybody really knew was they needed a movie called "Halloween II" to release to theaters. There's something compelling to me about filmmakers making their own cheap ripoff movie. Here was John Carpenter's name (as producer and screenwriter), and Debra Hill as well, and Dean Cundey filming it. Jamie Lee was back, and so was Donald Pleasance, and Charles Cyphers. Nancy Loomis even made a cameo as Annie's corpse, as well as a voice on the phone.

In a bold move, "Halloween II" kicks right in with the final scene of the previous movie. I'm sure there have been other films like this, like a couple of the early Frankenstein films, but I'm at a loss to come up with any other examples. It's an honest approach though, since second-parters often pretend they've got something new to say, when really it's a retread of the first film that everyone is after. "Halloween II" knows this already, and it turns up the volume so loud that you can almost hear the script meetings. There are more murders, and they're all much more gruesome than the first film. In the first ten minutes, there's already more blood than the entire first film. An ambulance comes to take Laurie away from the scene of the crime and whisks her off to the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital (or Haddonfield Memorial Clinic, the film can't make up its mind). Nobody ever stops to think that she was the near-victim of an escaped maniac, and that he might actually continue stalking her, not even Dr. Loomis, who goes berserkers. At one point he chases a boy wearing a white mask out into traffic, where the boy is hit by a car and then fried alive in a collision, but nobody seems to be concerned with that after the initial shock wears off.

Michael Myers, aka The Shape, walks through Haddonfield like a zombie, spooking Mrs. Elrod (Lucille Benson from Paul Bartel's "Private Parts"), who only wants to make her husband Harold a sandwich. He also attacks some random girl named Alice and carves a jack-o-lantern out of her neck. Poor Alice! Not too long after that, we say goodbye to Sheriff Brackett, the first wakeup call that this is NOT "Halloween" after all. He identifies Annie's body and then disappears forever, leaving Hunter von Leer to take over as the resident overacting lawman.

"Do you feel like someone's watching us, Mrs. Alves?"
"It's just that rep from the HMO again. Don't look at him."

Then the movie brings on a small group of nurses, orderlies and doctors for Michael to slash. Nurse Karen seems like a nice girl, but proves she's dumb as a box of rocks by not only arriving 15 minutes late for work, but allowing her EMT boyfriend to convince her to screw him in the whirlpool therapy tub. When a mother brings her young son into the ER with a blood-gushing wound in his mouth from a still-embedded razorblade, Nurse Jill tells her calmly that the doctor can't see her son right now and tells them to wait in another room. Another hospital drone can't even figure out how to use a walkie talkie. Poor Laurie is all but forgotten after a drunken doctor gives her a sedative and stitches up her shoulder. After enough people are skewered, scalded, strangled, and struck over the head, Laurie finally gets to snap out of her drugged haze and try and recreate some of the chase scenes from the first film. It's not exactly a breakthrough idea.

But I love this movie anyway. Although I couldn't express it at such a young age, I related to the film immediately when I saw it in 1981 as an 11-year-old horror geek. It was intended to make money, and it did so by aiming squarely at the fanboy element and giving us the chance to pretend the first film never ended. Watching "Halloween II" today, I am struck by mainly two things: the music and the inventive camera work. The overall silliness is hard to overcome, especially the increasingly outrageous climax, but "Halloween II" is best as a visual experience. The movie has a very sinister look to it, with deep, blue-black colors and nighttime dread. There are a number of shots shamelessly recycled from the original, but they still work, including one where The Shape is glimpsed through several panes of glass behind two unsuspecting characters. I also live for the brief, creepy moment where The Shape is standing right behind Mrs. Elrod in her kitchen and she doesn't even know it.

The way the frames are so carefully imagined has a lot to do with the film's success, too. One creepy death scene has the young EMT Jimmy wandering the halls looking for any signs of life when he stands outside a dimly lit operating theater; you can just barely see the hint of something white lit up inside, thru the small viewing window in the door. When he closes the distance, he finds the body of Mrs. Alves in seemingly peaceful repose, all of her blood drained out thru an IV tube. The color composition is amazing; the hint of the white uniform leading to the discovery of the body, glowing brightly in a dark room, leading to a huge puddle of bright red blood on a black tile floor.

The movie has a much more cruel edge to it than the previous film; it's not only gory, but downright brutal, such as one moment where The Shape grabs a young assistant from behind, inserts a hypodermic needle all the way into her temple and injects air into her brain, killing her. The pointless, 80s-slasher murder at the very beginning also is a sign of the times. Many of the film's best sequences, and perhaps the entire film itself, would not work at all without the familiar score by John Carpenter. The themes are all the same as the original movie, except they travel through the looking glass and are rendered in an eerie synth format that really gets under my skin.

Constant references to Italian directors like Argento and Bava keep things lively, too. The bright colored lighting recalls "Suspiria" in a number of scenes; Loomis and Marion have a conversation in the back of the Marshal's car, their faces illuminated like Suzy Banyon's when she took her cab ride to the Tanz Akademie. Laurie has to shimmy through a small indoor window near the ceiling, and encounters a hospital basement that's as improbably garish as the weird attic that Sarah found herself trapped in. Most of this is stuff Carpenter did already, but there's a distinctly European feel to "Halloween II", which has a lot of giallo-esque scenes where you see the action from the active point of view of the killer. It's got a life of its own, and it's a lot more dark than the original film, which had a number of daylit scenes. Not so with "Halloween II"; by the time you see the gray light of morning, it's all over. The final image of Laurie alone in the back of the ambulance is terrifyingly bleak.

"Halloween II" gets a bad rap, because yeah...it's a step down from "Halloween". But it's a curiosity, an anomaly, a forced continuation of a previously self-contained story that ended right about the time the first movie ended. It starts off similar to the first film and then derails until it's a jagged, reckless juggernaut coming straight for you. The fact that the movie never quite gels into something as effective as the original "Halloween" doesn't matter to me so much. Once you can accept that it's not the original film, "Halloween II" has a lot to offer on its own terms, both as a bizarre imitation and its own cruel beast.

Because, even if the temperature SHOULDN'T go up over 100 degrees, you still have to create the mechanism so that it's possible to turn it up so high it will peel flesh from your body. RIGHT?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Contamination (1980): Contaminate me

These are the things you need to know about "Contamination": 1) It involves a conspiracy to take over the Earth by making everybody explode by way of green avocado-like eggs. 2) The purveyor of this invasion by egg is a giant one-eyed creature who lives on a coffee plantation. 3) People explode in it. That's all you need to know, really. If you are in the mood for a true gorefest, this is not it, because aside from a few exploding body scenes, the majority of this movie's action scenes involve people talking, taking showers, and shooting at one another on a coffee plantation. Do not expect space shenanigans either, because aside from a brief scene shot inside a cave (standing in for the planet Mars), none of the action takes place in space. There's half of an enjoyable schlocky movie here, and half of an utter bore, but it's worth seeing at least once just to take in the sheer absurdity of the whole thing.

"Pardon me while I turn this very important knob." 
(This is what high-tech control panels built by the government look like.)

The movie opens when an unmanned boat drifts into New York Harbor. "But wait," I can hear you saying. "You're talking about Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2, right?" Well no, "Contamination" opens the same way, disbelievers. Authorities board the boat and discover that it contains a bunch of dead bodies that look like they've been run over a few times with a lawn mower. Men in hazmat suits board and find...crates of coffee! But unfortunately, the coffee is simply hiding the true contents of the crates: a horde of green football-sized eggs that look like giant avocados. They make strange humming noises and, when touched, explode in a shower of green goo. But the worst is yet to come. The green goo causes any living material that it touches to explode! So your Contamination 101 lesson for today, class: first you touch the egg. Then the egg explodes. Then YOU explode. Multiply this by every living person and thing on the planet, and...well you would need a lot of eggs for this. Not only that, you'd think that by the time ordinary people on the street started exploding due to the green eggs, the word would get around pretty fast and nobody would touch the strange, green eggs they might find in unexpected places. Now I know what you're thinking, Ripley...who's laying these eggs? Nobody. They're being grown on a coffee plantation in South America. Didn't you ever read Chariots of the Gods?

So there are these two dimwits who will be the driving force of our movie. One of them is a military bigwig named Stella Holmes. If she were somehow related to JOHN Holmes, it would explain why she's so oogy looking, but it does not explain how she made it so far up in the ranks of the military without being able to handle herself in moments of mild peril. She becomes embroiled in this egg scheme and is forced into the unwelcome company of one Ian Hubbard, a former astronaut who's now a full time alcoholic slob. Hubbard has been tippin' the bottle ever since he was on a bad mission to Mars, where he and his astronaut buddy went into a cave and encountered...something, the details are fuzzy. Hubbard made it back. The buddy didn't.

Well, that's what THEY think, anyway. The buddy is Hamilton, who now lives on a coffee plantation, just like Jim Seals from Seals & Crofts! Except, unlike Jim Seals, Hamilton had his mind erased by an alien cyclops (I suspect Jim Seals had his mind erased by other means). The alien cyclops lived in that cave, and saw those two jokers in their space suits and thought "YES! Here is my ticket out of this dump!" It somehow hitched a ride back to Earth with Hamilton, who is now its hypnotically-enslaved stooge. The alien cyclops looks strangely like the queen mother in "Aliens", which gives "Contamination" the dubious honor of having inadvertently ripped off both the original 1979 "ALIEN" AND its sequel--six years before that sequel was made!

Hmmm...do you think it's possible the makers of this film have seen "ALIEN"?

Now, I know the plot I just related to you may sound out of control wacky and all that, but what I've really done is skip over a lot of boring stuff, mostly because I do not remember it and you probably will not, either. I aint' tryin to tell you how to live or anything, but I'm just sayin'. There's a lot of sneaking around and spying, because "Contamination" wants to be a James Bond movie, too. One crucial scene takes place when Stella, doing some rather clumsy spying on the coffee plantation, decides she wants to take a shower and when she emerges from the shower, there's an egg in the bathroom with her! Some unscrupulous person that wants Stella d-e-a-d must have put it in there while she was blissfully shampooing with Clairol Herbal Essence. It's making that weird humming sound so she knows it's about to explode, so what does she do? Does she rip down the vinyl shower curtain and try and cover the damn thing so it doesn't splatter her? Does she shatter the window and climb out, naked and bleeding but otherwise alive? No. She decides to just bang on the door and scream one of the movie's best lines: "Help! There's an egg!"

Help! There's a slimy green prop! HELP!

Of course she survives her near-death-by-egg experience, because I'll let you in on a dirty little secret: "Contamination" really does not want to show you people exploding. In the beginning of the movie, we see a bunch of men in hazmat suits "explode", and of course a hazmat suit is big and clunky, perfect for hiding a bunch of blood tubes and bladders full of fake red stuff. The other exploding characters in the film who are not covered by clunky suits are rather clumsily realized. This was one of the infamous "Video Nasties" banned in the UK when it appeared on VHS, but honestly you might wonder why anybody bothered, since the gore in it is very brief and mostly unrealistic. Still, it's not often that you see components like coffee, alien eggs, cyclops monsters, and espionage so closely linked in a film. "Contamination" has its charms, but there was something seriously wrong behind the scenes here, with all that stupid spy stuff that seems so out of place. A minor trash classic was narrowly avoided here.

The latex thing with a headlight in it's head cyclops

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bingeing on Bava

I've been bingeing on Mario Bava films lately, possibly spurred on by my rediscovery of "Twitch of the Death Nerve". I've always loved Bava's films and his camerawork, but I've never watched so many of them close together. I'm already familiar with Bava's "Lisa and the Devil", "Blood and Black Lace", and "Kill Baby Kill". I'd seen "Death Nerve" (under the title "Bay of Blood") once before, but I recently dug it out of my old VHS collection and gave it a rewatch, and this time I was really taken by it.

"Twitch of the Death Nerve" is a brilliant forerunner to the mad slasher "body count" movies. While Bava was clearly riffing on the Giallo style that was so popular at the time, what he was actually doing in "Twitch of the Death Nerve" was closer to what developed in 80s films, starting with "Friday the 13th", which was heavily influenced by it. Even more so the sequel, "Friday the 13th Part 2", which took several murder sequences directly from "Death Nerve". But in Bava's film, the bizarre murders are simply part of the morbid fabric of his atmosphere, which was lush with color, texture, and retro chic. The setting of a wooded bay appears green and almost tropical through Bava's lens, even though in reality it was filmed in an area with very few trees. The film contains more unsettling images within its reels than most: a man gets his face bisected by a machete. The bloated face of a corpse is lovingly caressed by the arms of an octopus that seems to be feeding on it. A writhing beetle is shown impaled alive on a pin. Bava also avoids the typical mad slasher format by filling his flick with multiple killers, all motivated by the potential to acquire a large inheritance.

"Schock", aka "Beyond the Door Part II", is Bava's final film, and is a mixed bag. Although it contains enough of Bava's touch to be interesting, it ultimately fails as a film due to a number of wandering passages and a lack of suspense. Daria Nicolodi plays a woman terrorized by the ghost of her dead husband, which possesses their seven year old son. Bava had riffed on "The Exorcist" before, with the dreadful but amusing possession scenes he filmed with Elke Sommer to create "The House of Exorcism" (itself a re-edited version of an older, eons-better film "Lisa and the Devil"). But in "Schock", the possession element takes a back seat to the film's true haunted house soul. There are a few startling, mind-bending shots in the film, such as when the little boy reaches out to caress his sleeping mother's throat in an erotic manner, his hand appearing as the hand of a corpse. Another brilliantly imaginative scene follows the progress of a ghostly image that prowls the walls of the house's basement, circling the perimeter. It is very clearly a cutout image and at first we think the director intends for us to believe it is a ghost, but then the camera pans back to reveal the little boy, holding a family photograph with his new father 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 "Schock" 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.

An older film of Bava's, "Hatchet for the Honeymoon", made the rounds on late-night television with "Lisa and the Devil". I saw it as a kid and was totally uninvolved with it, although it plays much better now that I can appreciate Bava's art. You don't usually watch them for the literal stories, it's all about the visual narrative. "Hatchet" reminds me of staying up too late to watch movies on our local affiliate; it was a difficult movie to stay awake through back then. The very bizarre plot inverts the typical giallo structure by revealing the serial killer as the film's protagonist right away, a disturbed Bates Motel type who harbors mother issues and works them out by murdering brides with a meat cleaver. Although the setup is unremarkable, Bava fills in the blank spots by setting the story in a classically gothic environment; his killer inhabits an old-money style mansion with miles of intricate woodwork and ornate protrusions. The murders are disappointingly bloodless, somewhat confusingly so since they're carried out with a meat cleaver. But just try not to be impressed when Bava's villain/hero tries to throw off the cops by explaining that the screaming they heard coming from his house was actually coming from his TV set, which happens to be playing a clip from Bava's own "Black Sabbath".

Props have got to be given for the music Bava includes in these films, too. "Death Nerve" features a score by Stelvio Cipriani that mimics the exotica style of Les Baxter and Martin Denny. "Schock" is scored by Goblin, working under the name Libra, and although they seem to have saved their best stuff for Argento, they reveal some of the same magic. "Hatchet" doesn't have such a memorable score, although it's punctuated by eerie touches like a music box theme that plays during a crucial death sequence.