Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Warlock Moon (1973)

"Warlock Moon" is one of those rare surprises, a fantastic obscure flick from 1973 that I never ran across until a few days ago, when it burst into my life and demanded that I start adoring it immediately. It's one of those cheap films with that special inventiveness the best low budget movies from the 70s possess, with a crew of interesting actors, a sinister premise, and the perfect filming location at a rundown abandoned resort. Of all the recurring themes that were usually present in 70s horror and fantasy films, "Warlock Moon" manages to combine the growing fascination with cannibalism and psycho killers with the oh-so-70s fear of Satanism and cults. The film shares more than a few similarities to another favorite, "The Folks At Red Wolf Inn" (1972), as it also concerns a young female college student who is lured into a trap by a creepy group of cannibals, and both films reveal an America in the aftermath of the Manson murders, where the naive outlook of the contemporary youth left them vulnerable to exploitation and victimization by evil people doing their best to seem harmless. Unlike more realistic exploitation like "Last House On The Left", "Warlock Moon" includes elements of the occult.

Laurie Walters (best known for TV's "Eight Is Enough") is wonderful as college student Jenny, who is minding her own business one day on campus when she's approached by an eccentric, childlike young man named John (Joe Spano from "Hill Street Blues"). John pesters her for a date by inviting her on a picnic, driving her to a rural area where they find an eerie old rundown resort. They decide to explore it, and are surprised to find an old woman named Mrs. Abercrombi (Edna MacAfee) living there. She invites the young couple to visit, but when Jenny drinks the tea Mrs. Abercrombi gives her, she starts to feel a little woozy. When John and the old lady leave her alone for a few minutes, Jenny goes rummaging through Mrs. Abercrombi's drawers, where she finds some strange, out of place medical equipment designed to give injections. She also glimpses an unidentified, ghostly woman in a wedding gown.

Ghost Bride, just doin' her thing.

No!! Not the dreaded circle of the flared pants!

Despite the strange experience, Jenny agrees to meet John there another day, so that he can interview Mrs. Abercrombi for an article about the resort he'd like to pitch to the school newspaper. On this second visit, Jenny arrives before John and discovers that there is no sign of Mrs. Abercrombi or any of her belongings. It appears as if nobody has lived there for a long time. She is startled to meet a kindly old man hunting in the woods who tells her that the resort used to be a health spa that was closed down in the 1930s after the owners hosted a ball for their newly married daughter, who went missing just before the party. Proceeding without her, the guests later discovered that the bride had been murdered by the cook, who served her as the meal they had just eaten. The hunter also casually mentions that this cannibalistic cook was supposedly a woman (hmmmm...), but he considers the story simply folklore. When Jenny hears John's car horn honking for her, she leaves the hunter alone, who then promptly gets axe murdered by one of the crazy looking men we've seen lurking in the area.

Hey fellas, you each have a mighty fine ax.

"You crazy young people today, with your Led Zeppelin and your Charles Manson!"
When John appears, Jenny discovers that Mrs. Abercrombi and all her belongings have also returned, but John doesn't believe Jenny's story about the place being deserted moments before. After drinking some more of Mrs. Abercrombi's tea, Jenny feels woozy again (hmmmmm.....), then does some more unwise exploring. The voice of the ghostly bride leads her to a room where she finds what appears to be some kind of ritual altar. She is then confronted by the axe-murdering man (who now has a presumably axe-murdering companion with him). After a short chase through the spooky house, Jenny collapses and Mrs. Abercrombi and John find her. There are of course no signs of the men, but Mrs. Abercrombi says Jenny is not well and insists on them staying for dinner and, apparently, overnight. Things naturally go from bad to worse, as Mrs. Abercrombi and her accomplices have something planned for Jenny that will bring her studies at Berkley to an abrupt end.

This is the joy of horror movies, I suppose--we know there's trouble, and there seem to be flashing neon signs warning of trouble, yet the trusting young kids seem to ignore everything and just keep placing themselves in mortal danger. But "Warlock Moon" benefits from offbeat actors who make these characters interesting.  I was particularly excited about one scene between Joe Spano and Laurie Walters. While John and Jenny are exploring the resort some more, they find an empty swimming pool and walk down into it. John goes off on this wild tangent where he enacts a one-man scene from a horror movie where a monster threatens the heroine and is then killed by the hero, and the moment is playful and flirtatious, ending in a kiss between the two of them. After the kiss, John suddenly starts behaving in a menacing way toward Jenny, cornering her in the pool and making slashing movements at her with a large branch he's holding. Jenny is terrified until John breaks character and returns to his old self again. The camera operator is standing right there in the pool with a handheld camera, tracking the two actors in a series of lengthy shots, one of which carries on for at least a few minutes without a cut. It seems spontaneous and real, playing almost like live theater or improv.

"Dammit, this is the book with the hidden KEY. Where's the book with the hidden FLASK?"

"Wait, no, I asked if you had any eye drops..."
Another standout moment is a truly frightening scene where Jenny is chased by one of the axe-wielding villains. Finding the gun of the hunter she met earlier, she shoots him in self-defense inside the freezer, then crawls back out in shock. In a strange and eerie twist, she sees him crawling out after her before we do, cringing as he emerges slowly out of the dark room and latches onto her before dying. Director William Herbert shows great promise with this scene and so many others, it's a shame he never made another movie after this one. 

The similarities between this film and "The Folks At Red Wolf Inn" are perhaps unintentional, but notable just the same. Both involve a sweet, naive young woman lured into a threatening situation by people who want to kill her and eat her. Unlike later cannibalism efforts like "Texas Chain Saw Massacre", both movies place their heroines in harms way through elaborate subterfuge instead of just chance. In "Folks", protagonist Regina finds herself at an inn of cannibals because they've pretended she won a contest she never really entered. In "Warlock Moon", the cult tricks Jenny into coming to their reclusive location under the pretense of an idyllic date and a new romance, appealing to both her loneliness and her sense of adventure. Both movies also feature the obligatory "What's In The Big Freezer?" moment where the heroine discovers exactly what that delicious meat is she's been eating, and both position their cannibals as elderly people with a crew of varying ages helping them in this elaborate plot to acquire human victims--there's even a moment where the heroine realizes, belatedly, that the police are in on it, too.

But the scene that plays out with Laurie Walters and Joe Spano in the empty swimming pool is the one that stands out the most, similar in tone and design to the moment in "Folks" where John Neilson and Linda Gillen are sharing a romantic moment on the beach when all of a sudden madness intrudes and Neilson starts brutally beating a live shark against the beach while Gillen looks on, speechless and horrified. When Spano starts to go koo-koo, Laurie Walters reacts with similar confusion, panic and uncertainty--it's unsettling.

Also worth mentioning is Edna MacAfee, who plays Mrs. Abercrombi. She's not quite a non-actress like Edith Massey, or Rhea MacAdams from "Don't Look In The Basement", and she manages to appear both sweet and sinister, often in the same scene. There's a moment when Jenny spots her slipping drugs into her wine, and the way MacAfee reacts to being found out is priceless.

Whether intentional or otherwise, I spotted a few elements in "Warlock Moon" that seem to have inspired more contemporary directors as well. The overall concept, as well as the rhythm of the film's final act, is reminiscent of Ti West's "House Of The Devil", while the two glowering hillbilly axemen in the film seem like they walked straight out of a Rob Zombie movie.

Low budget movies were often made to fill the latter part of the bill at a theater or drive-in and they didn't really have to be any good, just as long as they were something that could be marketed and sold. Features like "Warlock Moon" and "Folks At Red Wolf Inn" are interesting because they clearly have a vision behind them. They aspire to a certain level of artistry that makes them appealing for more than just a few cheap shocks or scares, and both tell tales that are effective without any elaborate special effects. "Warlock Moon" is interesting because of the otherworldly atmosphere it contains, and how effective it is with telling its weird story about cannibal witches with axes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Drive-In Super Monster-Rama 2014 recap!

Few things are as exciting for me as the annual drive-in festivals hosted at the Riverside Drive-In. Considering I talk to people there who make the drive from as far away as Canada, I feel lucky I only have to drive about 45 minutes to see a late-night horror festival full of the kind of movies I grew up watching, and that just don't get made anymore. If you were there, then why did you not buy me something from the snack bar? And if you were not there, then here's a rundown of all the classic exploitation-schlock-adventure-horror-fantasy shenanigans!


Friday September 12th featured three films by Italian director Mario Bava, plus one classic "Exorcist" ripoff flick. The first movie to screen was "Kill Baby Kill" (1966), a definite high point in Bava's career. Full of signature Bava images, such as dramatic colored lighting effects and shadowy figures moving through brightly lit fog, "Kill Baby Kill" is a period piece set in a small Carpathian village haunted by the murderous ghost of a long-dead child. The gothic sets are stunning, especially a spooky villa inhabited by the dead child's grieving mother. At one point, the camera swirls round and round while characters are rushing up and down a spiral staircase, one of those beautiful and bizarre moments reminding you that you're watching a Bava movie.

"But I CAANT be your daughter, my name is Monica SHOOF-tun!"

Second was "Dr. Goldfoot on the Girl Bombs" (1966), a sequel to the previous year's "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine". Starring Vincent Price and Fabian, it's a spy caper spoof that makes "Get Smart" look like something meaningful and intelligent. Price's character is a villain who carries out a vengeful plot to murder a series of Generals by using a small army of "girl bombs"--beautiful female robots who explode when they are kissed and embraced. It is a pretty strange film, with Price constantly breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience, and...well, one of the sight gags in the movie is Price and his cronies escaping in a jet while the heroes chase him in a hot air balloon, which they use to fly up next to the plane, knock on the door, and gain entrance by pretending to be selling Fuller brushes. It was a strange choice for the Monster-Rama, but not entirely unwelcome, either. It was interesting the way Bava put his touch on the material, with a lot of cinematography that was immediately identifiable as his. Considering how different this film is compared to "Kill Baby Kill", it's curious that both were released the same year.

Probably the biggest deal for me on this particular program was "The House of Exorcism", a flick I've never seen on a big screen before. "Lisa and the Devil" is one of my favorite Bava films, a gorgeous nightmare of a movie, and "The House of Exorcism" is a garish splash of green bile all over Bava's Mona Lisa. Still, the film's strange history is interesting, and this cut of the film is definitely more appropriate for a drive-in festival than Bava's art house horror original. The barely-there plot introduces Lisa Reiner, a tourist whose body apparently becomes possessed, not by a demon but by a departed human spirit that trades places with her. It makes no sense, but it's a reason for Elke Sommer to spew green bile and swear words.

Finishing out Friday night was the original 1974 "Beyond the Door", directed by Ovidio Assonitis and his cinematographer, Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli. Originally, this slot was to be filled by Mario Bava's final 1977 film "Schock", which was released in the US and UK in 1979 as "Beyond the Door II", but a last minute change must have been necessary. "Beyond the Door" is a welcome addition to any drive-in festival though, a gloriously trashy example of exploitation filmmaking that kept the possession theme going for the evening. A blatant ripoff of "The Exorcist", "Beyond the Door" should really need no introduction to any fan of 70s horror--even if you've never seen it, you probably remember the pervasive spooky ad campaign with scary demon voices in it. Every time I watch "Beyond the Door", I wonder why Warner Brothers didn't sue its makers the way they sued the makers of "Abby", because even though the story isn't all that similar (and doesn't even feature an exorcism or an exorcist), it rips off the green bile, the rotating head, the levitation, the bedroom tantrums, all of it.


Another strong lineup featured on Saturday, starting with two Hammer Dracula films, 1970's "Taste the Blood of Dracula" and 1972's "Dracula A.D. 1972". Interestingly enough, these two seemingly different movies both had the same setup: some errant disciple of Dracula resurrects the Count via a Satanic ritual, which begs the question, why are people who worship Satan interested in Dracula? Isn't that kind of like saying Dracula is better? "Taste the Blood of Dracula" has the more fascinating story, with a group of three seemingly upstanding men meeting in secret to indulge in evil pastimes, apparently of the sex and booze variety. When they get bored with this and start looking for more excitement, they hook up with a man who talks them into resurrecting Dracula. One interesting moment has one of the men attempting to stake his vampirized daughter, only to have her awaken and drive the stake through his own heart, aided by Dracula and pals of course. Stake revenge! "Taste the Blood of Dracula" is one of the more fascinating Hammer Dracula films, with gorgeous period costumes and sets and a unique story. "Dracula A.D. 1972", on the other hand, seems to usually be regarded as one of Hammer's more ridiculous entries in the series. Played straight, it features another latter-day Dracula disciple who calls himself Johnny Alucard (hmmmm...) using a group of swinging London kids to bring Dracula back to life. Luckily, Peter Cushing is in this one as a descendant of Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing, and Dracula is out to wreck his life by turning his granddaughter Jessica into a vampire. There's lots of silly dialogue ("Ghastly, horrible, obscene murder!"), but it doesn't all seem to be unintentional, especially the scene where Van Helsing has to draw a diagram to figure out that "ALUCARD" is "DRACULA" spelled backwards. Geez, hasn't he ever seen "Son of Dracula"??

Third on the list was 1970's "Trog", Joan Crawford's notorious final feature film. A British production directed by Freddie Francis, "Trog" finds Crawford in the right place at the right time when spelunkers discover a hidden cave containing a living ape-man that Crawford immediately identifies as the missing link. But never mind that, not only is the world unimpressed with the fact that a real caveman has been found alive somewhere, but the locals want it destroyed because it killed one of the spelunkers. Additionally, no greater authority shows up to claim Trog, and Joan gets to keep him in a cage in her lab, where she teaches him to do things like throw a ball, catch a ball, and play with dolls. Eventually the obligatory rampage occurs, which features a few grisly moments like when a butcher winds up impaled through the head with a meat hook after getting on Trog's bad side. "Trog" borrows an ape suit from Kubrick's "2001", as well as recycled stop-motion dinosaur footage by Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien from Irwin Allen's 1956 film "The Animal World".

"Darling, when I say there should be Pepsi, I mean there should be Pepsi."

The fourth and final feature was "The House That Screamed" (1969), directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador ("Who Can Kill A Child"). Definitely a slow burn, the story concerns a school for wayward girls helmed by headmistress Fourneau (Lilli Palmer), who abuses the girls who gets on her nerves and tries to keep her own teenage son away from them at the same time. The problem is, the girls seem to keep "running away", which is to say some unseen character is murdering them, but WHO? The film's shadowy cinematography didn't translate well to the drive-in screen and some of the scenes were hard to make out, but the movie is full of spooky atmosphere and little touches that reminded me of later films like "Suspiria" and "Black Christmas".

The weather was appropriately chilly, with some great mist creeping in right around 3am Saturday night, just when "The House That Screamed" started to play. This was another great year for the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama. Many thanks to George Reis of DVD Drive-In, the Riverside Drive-In Theater, and everybody who made the journey to be part of the audience...hope to see you in April for April Ghouls!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Drive-In Super Monster-Rama 2014!

And oh yeah, this is tomorrow night.  Hope to see some of you there, say hi!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Boogey Man (1980) and Boogeyman II (1983): Death By Common Household Items.

In late 1980 came a piece of low-low-budget filmmaking called "The Boogey Man", directed by German director Ulli Lommel. Although technically the story bears only passing resemblance to John Carpenter's "Halloween", the ominous TV spots and trailers teased the film as being related to "Halloween" without ever really saying so, picking out the moments in the film that matched Carpenter's film visually and thematically (a child's hand wielding a kitchen knife, an ordinary looking house lit in a spooky nighttime blue, a young female protagonist being chased and pounding on the front door of a house to be let in) and repeatedly intoning "The Boogey Man!". The tag line also suggests that The Boogey Man has "returned", as if the movie is a continuation of something we're already familiar with.

A'la Rob Zombie, Lommel liked to make films featuring his wife, and "The Boogey Man" gives Suzanna Love a starring role. She plays Lacey, the primary chica-in-trouble who finds herself victimized by what appears to be a very pissed off Invisible Man. In the film's opening sequence, two young children (Lacey and her brother Willy) are traumatized when their mother allows her creepy boyfriend to tie Willy to the bed and torture him after the kids are busted peeking at them through a window. You know, while the couple is being all sexy together (and stuff). Their slutting around involves the boyfriend wearing a stocking over his head, making him extra creepy. Lacey goes and gets a large kitchen knife to cut the ropes binding her brother to the bed, and Willy uses the knife to stab the creepy boyfriend to death. Lacey witnesses the act in a mirror in their mother's bedroom.

Because it's hot to wear pantyhose over your head, right? It just is.
Stab stab stab stab stab!
Flash forward many years to when Lacey and Willy are adults living with their aunt and uncle on a farm. Lacey is now married to a slightly dim bulb named Jake, who decides that the thing to cure Lacey's persistent nightmares is to take her to the house where the murder took place years ago. When they get there, they discover that the current owners have it for sale, so they pretend they're house shopping in order to get a good look around. Despite the fact that the house has supposedly just gone on the market, the homeowners have gone out of town and left their teenage daughters and preteen son in charge of showing strangers around their home. Not exactly parents of the year, are they?

Lacey goes all mental when she enters the room where the murder happened. The mirror is still there, hanging on the wall in the exact location her mother had it, and Lacey sees the image of the creepy boyfriend lying on the bed looking at her. Despite the fact that she's in a stranger's home, she picks up a chair and smashes the mirror to pieces, causing everyone to come running. Her husband does the sensible thing, which is to pick up every single tiny shard of the mirror, put it in a bag, and bring it back to the aunt and uncle's farm, where he painstakingly reassembles it. Well OK actually that is not the sensible thing, nor is it what a normal person would do in a situation like that, but if it were not so, then there would be no movie. The broken mirror has released the murderous spirit of the dead lover, who is free to cause murder and mayhem anywhere a shard of the mirror exists. But uh oh, remember that teenage sister and her little brother back at the original house? A small forgotten mirror shard that Jake left behind begins to glow with a red light, and a telekinetic force animates a pair of scissors to slash the teenage girls to death and crush their little brother to death in a window. The Boogey Man is loose!

Death by window is so undignified.

Killer shard.

Yes, "The Boogey Man" is about an invisible killer causing harmful things to float through the air and go after the human beings in the movie. The fact that the Boogey Man is invisible never really seems to deter the script from trying for some elaborate set pieces, with no real villain to focus on. Each attack scene features an ominous heart beating and Michael Myers-style breathing, usually over a point-of-view shot. Other times we just see levitating objects, like knives and pitchforks, ready to stab somebody real good. The convenient placement of broken mirror shards allows the Boogey Man to do his thing, such as when Lacey takes her young son fishing and he unknowingly has a piece of the mirror stuck to the bottom of his shoe. The mirror reflects light across the lake to where two couples are having a beachfront weenie roast, and the Boogey Man stabs a guy through the back of the head. Or rather, a knife floats into the back of a guy's head while he's sitting in his car. In a moment of true inspiration, his girlfriend leans into the car, not realizing he's dead, and when she leans in for a kiss, she's invisibly shoved onto the knife blade too, which is now sticking out of his mouth. Unfortunately for the Boogey Man, the other couple leaves because they think their friends are sitting in the car making out.

Behold, John Carradine!
There's also some riffing on "The Amityville Horror", as Lacey's farm house home happens to have those weird Amityville attic windows that look like eyes, and there's also a Rod Steiger lookalike priest who tries to exorcise The Boogey Man with a big crucifix. John Carradine also makes an appearance as Lacey's shrink, confirming my lifelong suspicion that actors need money just like the rest of us. The whole thing is accompanied by a shrill, squelchy synth soundtrack that is reminiscent of John Carpenter's score to "Halloween III" (which actually came later than this). It makes the spooky atmosphere especially cheesy, but that's not really a bad thing in this movie. "The Boogey Man" is ultra low budget and sketchy, but it's an interesting idea for an exploitation flick.

Don't it make my shard eye blue?
It also made a lot of money. The movie cost an estimated $300,000 to make, and it grossed 4.5 million in the USA alone, with a worldwide take of about $35,000,000. Surely its status as a legendary banned Video Nasty in the UK only made people want to see the film more, and the lucrative business it did ensured that there would be a sequel.

"Boogeyman II", aka "Revenge of the Boogey Man", was filmed in 1981 but not released until 1983, and where the original film got away with some crazy shit, this sequel sinks faster than if they'd tied a cinderblock to its ankles and dumped it in the ocean. According to IMDB, Paramount was interested in making this sequel, but instead Ulli Lommel decided to film it independently at his own house. Suzanna Love plays Lacey again, because ya know, she's married to Ulli Lommel, and there's also a second writer/director in Bruce Pearn (aka Bruce Starr). Ulli Lommel himself co-stars in "Boogeyman II" as a sleazy Hollywood type who wants to make a movie about Lacey's experiences in the first film. How Lacey got hooked up with a sleazy Hollywood type in the first place isn't exactly clear, but the main concept is that she's visiting Hollywood to discuss the details of her paranormal slasher experiences.

She doesn't really want to be in this movie, you can just tell.
What I was not prepared for was the fact that almost two thirds of the running time of "Boogeyman II" consists of flashback footage to "The Boogey Man." And when I say two thirds, I really mean two thirds. It's possible that I nodded off into a hypnotic stupor, but I am pretty sure there was only about half an hour of original material in "Boogeyman II", and the rest of it was lengthy passages from the first film, so much so that you probably don't even have to watch the first film, you'd be better off watching "Boogeyman II" and then you'd get your double megadose of The Boogey Man all at once. Once the flashback footage is out of the way, there are some extraneous sleazy Hollywood types who are all are murdered by common objects floating through the air as if wielded by an invisible maniac. One death scene that got points at least for being ambitious is a set piece that takes place in a closed garage, where a man and woman are sitting in a car parked inside the garage. The man is killed when he hears a noise and stands up, his head and shoulders outside the open sun roof. He is yanked through the opening screaming, and the woman just sort of watches it and seems annoyed, then gets out of the car and starts calling for him inside the garage. While she's bent down looking for him under the car (?), a telekinetically-controlled ladder slaps her on the butt and knocks her forward so that her mouth is right on the tailpipe of the car. Death is instantaneous. Also make sure you don't miss the death by electric toothbrush and shaving cream.

Hey baby, don't bogart that tailpipe!
While it's nothing great, "The Boogey Man" is a notable drive-in exploitation flick and it has enough style and atmosphere that I would recommend it to anybody who's a fan of low budget horror films. There are a few gory shocks, including a character who is found impaled through the neck and pinned to the wall by a pitchfork. You know, something that we could KIND of relate to if we have a morbid imagination. "Boogeyman II" seems like an SCTV spoof with lengthy flashback scenes padding it out and halfheartedly tedious attempts at something original, and is only recommended if you have insomnia. Or possibly a shaving cream death wish.
"Godammit, why does everyone keep leaving their dirty dishes in the sink for me to do??!"

"But I don't FEEL sleazy...have you got any cocaine?"