FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 23, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE BLOODY BROOD (1959)

Because I am a simple creature, when I saw that today's Chilling Classic was called "The Bloody Brood" I thought "Oh, well, Bloody Birthday was about killer children and The Brood was sort of about killer children. So it only makes sense that The Bloody Brood is also about killer children, hooray!" 

If you're thinking "That's not how things work, dumbass," well, congratulations to you for being so smart and worldly wise because no, The Bloody Brood isn't about killer children. It's about killer adults! One of whom is a young Peter Falk, which is really as good as like four killer children combined, so.

Yes, straight outta Toronto, Canada comes a cautionary tale of gangsters, beatniks, and other assorted ne'er-do-wells ne'er doing well. Falk, in only his second film role, stars as Nico, a small-time wannabe mobster and current psychopath, whose charisma has the whole bongo madness crowd hanging on his every word.

When a nameless local geezer keels over of a heart attack in the bar one night, Nico has an epiphany. "Did her die," he asks, "Or was he murdered by life?" He then suggests to his sidekick Francis (Ron Hartmann) that they go out and kill someone. It's a natural progression! You see, dying from a heart attack is pointless and random. But dying from murder, now that's really something, a real intellectual kick. And Nico makes it a point that he doesn't just talk his kicks, he does 'em, see? 

Side note: please don't so a shot every time someone says "kick." You will die within five minutes.

Other side note: shout-out to the nameless old geezer, who is a total drama queen when dying of a heart attack. For a moment I had visions of sugarplums Paul Reubens in Buffy the Vampire Slayer dancing in my head as he made the most of it.

When a messenger boy shows up at their beatnik house party, Nico and Francis see a perfect opportunity to get their murder on and they feed the young man a hamburger filled with ground glass. That is hardcore! Nico and Francis are now bound by their secret crime, like Leopold and Loeb but no homo. No homo, honest! Okay, Francis at least seemed quite a bit yes homo for Nico to me, but don't take my word on it. There's probably someone out there whose word you can take on it, though.

The young man's brother Cliff (prolific character actor and spaghetti western vet Jack Betts, in his film debut) is convinced the glassburger was no accident. The police aren't much help, so Jack takes matters into his own hands and investigates, eventually diving into the seedy beatnik underbelly to find out what happened. But Cliff's a real square, see, and he may end up getting a glassburger of his own--or worse.

Incidentally, A Glassburger of One's Own is my favorite work by Virginia Woolf.

With its scant 68-minute runtime, its no-nonsense flatfoots, and its squares-vs-deviants story, The Bloody Brood feels like an extended episode of Dragnet. Now maybe you're a deviant, a hippie, or a weirdo out there doing heaven knows what to get your kicks and "an extended episode of Dragnet" sounds like a one-way ticket to Dullsville. Well, if the promise of bongos-a-go-go isn't enough for you, there's the whole this is Peter Falk in only his second film thing, which, be ye a daddy-o or otherwise, should have you buying not only that one-way ticket but the whole damn train to Dullsville. You dig? Yes, that sentence was tortured, but there's a case for The Bloody Brood as a time capsule curio that starts with some discount Saul Bass opening credits, segues into ahhh it's Peter Falk, and ends with this guy, just a pure beatnik right outta central casting:

Funny, isn't it, how variations on "is the square life really the only life?" emerges like a cicada into the conversations and movements of all generations of post-WWII American youths? Sure, it manifests in different ways, from tuning in, turning on, dropping out, and rolling around in the mud at Woodstock to "no one wants to work anymore." (Gen X is perhaps the outlier, taking on a depressive/detached sort of "it sucks, but it is what it is" slant.) Nico and his friends sitting around opining about life on "the treadmill" and how The Man will make you go to the dentist for your own good and then send you to war wouldn't be an unfamiliar scene amongst the kids today...I mean, on their tiktoks or whatever it is they do. 

It's interesting to see the cultural responses to this, both satirical and sincere. It's the stuff of media theses, I suppose. But films like The Bloody Brood seem to be squarely on the side of...the square. There's little difference to be found between the amoral Nico and the random gal at the bar who just wants to dance (and who makes uncomfortable 4th wall-breaking eye contact with us throughout her whirling dervish bit).

Make no mistake, Cliff is the real hero of this show, extolling True American Values like getting a good job and living that white picket life. He wins over Ellie, a young woman who hung out with beatniks  because she wanted more from life than simply becoming her (perfectly fine) parents. They're smooching each other by the end of this show, while Nico and friends decidedly are not. (Sorry, Francis!)

Ultimately, The Bloody Brood isn't more than the sum of its parts, but the parts are so notable that it doesn't matter. I mean, it's got Peter Falk enjoying some spontaneous beat poetry, what more do you need?

Hmm, I wonder what surprise the 50-pack will puke up for me next week. You know, Nico once said that "death is the last great challenge to the creative mind" but I'm pretty sure that by "death" he meant "Mill Creek's Chilling Classics."

May 20, 2024

Logs, pies, etc

Hello! I thought I would send up a flare about a new podcast endeavor I've got going on with Mike Muncer of The Evolution of Horror:

It's a weekly show that'll have us running through the entirety of Twin Peaks, episode by episode (and, you know, a movie when appropriate). The introductory episode is available now, wherever the finest podcasts are...available. Or you can listen right on the Evolution of Horror website

Mike is a bonafide Twin Peaks lover and I am a bonafide Twin Peaks total newbie, so I'm excited to see where this journey takes us. I've been a frequent guest on EoH, both the main series and through the Patreon, and it's always a grand ol' time podcasting with Mike. So whether you are a Peaks fan or, like me, you've never seen it, I hope you'll dig the show. Grab your logs, subscribe, and join us as we...I don't know, walk across the weird zigzag floor? 

See, I don't know this show. BUT I WILL. Huzzah!

May 16, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: VIRUS (1980)

I tells ya, grabbing the ol' 50-pack every week for Chilling Classics Cthursday is a bit of a thrill. The anticipation as I dig through the box-o-movies! The moment of truth when RNGesus's selection is revealed! It feels like coming down the stairs on Christmas morning as a yoot, or reaching into the bowl at a Saturday night neighborhood key party as an elder. The movie itself may be garbage or it may be gold, of course. It might even be gold-garbage or garbage-gold. But no matter; I make high-pressure executive decisions about what to watch or not watch six days out of the week, so my seventh day of rest is appreciated. And I doubly--nay, triply--appreciate that this whole endeavor puts movies in front of my eyeballs that I may otherwise have never encountered. 

Like this week's movie, Virus (1980)...although it's strange this was not on my radar because on paper, at least, it seems like it was absolutely made just for me. So much so, in fact, that I'm pretty sure you could play Final Girl Mad Libs at a key party (that's what you do at key parties, right?) and easily end up with Virus's story and cast. 

Over in East Germany, some shady types abscond with a vial of MM88, a virus so virulent and deadly that it freaks out the scientists behind it. Unfortunately for...well, the world, the shady types crash their getaway plane and MM88 art loosed. Dubbed the "Italian Flu," the virus wipes out millions and millions of people all over the globe, including US President Glenn Ford and Senator Robert Vaughn!

Researchers at all the international antarctic research stations are safe, not only because of their isolation, but because the virus becomes dormant in below-zero temperatures. As if figuring out what the hell they're going to do as the presumed last survivors wasn't enough, they also must contend with another terrifying development: one of the scientists predicts that an earthquake is about to fuck shit up back in Washington, DC, which will surely trigger the automated nuclear response system that was armed by a hotheaded US general before he croaked. It's got to be deactivated before there's global nuclear armageddon, which means a likely one-way trip into VirusLand for some someones.

Virus is a curiosity, indeed: a Japanese disaster movie with an all-star, mostly English-speaking cast, directed by Kinji Fukasaku of Battle GD Royale fame. At the time of its production, it was reportedly the most expensive Japanese film ever made, one that producers hoped would break through in the western market. Instead, it flopped both at home and abroad, where its 156-minute runtime was chopped down to 108 minutes, its widescreen visuals were chopped down to pan-and-scan, and it was chopped plopped down into the public domain, where it landed in cheapie releases like Mill Creek's Chilling Classics. According to the legends, the full version of the film is only available in a random Sonny Chiba 3-pack (Chiba appears in the western cut for all of maybe five minutes). Essentially, they excised as much of the Japanese content as possible for the truncated cut, including the collapse of Tokyo in the wake of the virus, whole-ass backstories for major characters, and a denouement that is perhaps a bit less bleak than the one we get. They even cut the subtitles for the handful of Japanese scenes that remain. Madness. 

Also madness: that so many of the obscure Chilling Classics Cthursday messterpieces (like Drive-In Massacre, say) have received the fancy Blu-ray treatment while something like Virus, with its stacked crew and cast, is crying out for one.

Because honey when I say stacked cast, I mean a DISASTER MOVIE STACKED CAST that would make Irwin Allen proud. At the risk of sounding like imdb, can I just say:

  • Glenn Ford
  • Robert Vaughn
  • Sonny Chiba
  • Henry Silva
  • Edward James Olmos
  • Chuck Connors
  • Bo Svenson
  • Janis Ian provides the end credits song??
I am telling you, the hits just kept coming and coming. I was that Leonardo DiCaprio meme, pointing at the screen every time a beloved and familiar face appeared.

The best part, perhaps, about this insane cast is that Fukasaku did not give one flying fig about accents, or the lack thereof. Olivia Hussey is Norwegian, but just talks like Olivia Hussey (yes, it is like cashmere for your earholes). And really, what could be better than Chuck Connors as a British submarine captain saying "You chaps alright?" in his regular Chuck Connors voice? Nothing could, that's what.

"Pip pip, fellas"

Virus gets to it quickly and goes hard as MM88 wipes out humanity. Fukasaku makes liberal (and sometimes distressing) use of stock footage as the world collapses into riots and chaos. Things slow down considerably when the story shifts to Antartica, as a whole Benetton's worth of global representatives try assess, plan, and survive. Surprisingly, they only have one or two flare-ups before settling into the "let's all work together" vibe the movie seems to put out. 

It's that vibe, however, that leads to an issue I found so off-putting that it almost completely derailed the I Love Virus Express. At the combined international research bases, there are 855 men, and 8 women. Sure enough, this red flag of a demographic disparity quickly becomes a central issue when one of the women is sexually assaulted. A French scientist responds with, essentially, "Iz zis not zee way of man? Iz man not an animal?" 

The men decide that the only answer is for the women to learn "a new morality," wherein they must forget about 1:1 relationships and "accommodate more than one man." Mind you, this is not about survivors feeling tasked with repopulating the planet. It's strictly about 8 women servicing 855 men, whenever the men feel like it, through "appointments." 

This struck me as fairly appalling and completely egregious, particularly in a Japanese film given the country's dark history concerning the hundreds of thousands of women (overwhelmingly, Korean women) forced into sexual slavery as "comfort women" during World War II. It's a history that Japan has downplayed, inaccurately recorded, and even outright denied and tried to erase. Since 1992, there has been a weekly protest at the Japanese embassy in Seoul by some of the few remaining survivors and those in solidarity to receive some justice, particularly a satisfactory return of dignity to the women by means of a sincere acknowledgment and apology. 

So to watch the 8 women in Virus be told they just have to suck it up and "be accommodating" was, in a word, "not it." The icing on this repellant cake is that the women served no other purpose in the film. None. It was 1980 so surely they couldn't even be scientists at the research stations, they served as secretaries. Virus easily could have gone full The Thing and done away with female characters altogether, they mattered so little. (Honestly, I'm still mad about it as I sit here typing this!)

If there were no women in the movie, however, then you wouldn't have the limp love story between Olivia Hussey's character Marit (she's Norwegian!) and Masao Kusakari's Dr. Shûzô Yoshizumi. It may be expanded on in the Japanese cut, but here they just kind of look at each other a few times and have, like, one conversation. I get it, though, they're the two biggest babes in Antarctica and literally the hottest people left alive. Might as well fall in love! (Though Marit still has to keep all of her "appointments" with other men. New morality, remember.)

Sigh. That whole angle was a real buzzkill for me, like my bra immediately went up in flames, you know? Otherwise, though, Virus has so much going for it and is worth a view (if not some kind of reassessment) even in the heavily-edited state. The acting is largely as ham-and-cheesy as you might expect from that cast list (and from a disaster movie), but it works. The film predicts the Cold War nuclear scare downer films that would soon come along to traumatize audiences, such as The Day After (1983) and Threads (1984). It's interesting that America quickly assumes the leadership position amongst the survivors, yet America is also responsible for the virus and the nuclear threat. We're portrayed as trigger-happy, gung-ho for war, and a country that denounces the Soviet Union while also engaging in Soviet tactics like developing biological weapons and erasing whistleblowers. That sounds...well, completely accurate, really.

Although now that I think about it, maybe they weren't all following "America" so much as they were just following George Kennedy. Now that's an idea I can get behind.

May 9, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: METAMORPHOSIS (1990)

I will admit, when I saw the little (1990) on the cardboard sleeve holding this week's Chilling Classic Metamorphosis, I flinched so hard that I got cramps in places I didn't even know I had. Yeah, there's, like, The Exorcist III, but horror-ly speaking, there ain't much from that year to get excited about. But! When a credit for Joe D'Amato's production/distribution company FILMIRAGE appeared alongside writing and directing credits for George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiori), I was cramping anew, but with curiosity. After all, Eastman co-wrote the 1987 giallo/slasher StageFright and co-wrote and starred in D'Amato's cannibal...err, classic?...Anthropophagus. Ah, so Metamorphosis is an Italian joint from these folks? Well, said I, this film should be a weirdo, perhaps gory, perhaps sleazy journey.

Spoiler alert: IT'S NOT. 

Dr. Peter Houseman (Gene LeBrock) is a brilliant, hot professor and genetic scientist who wears an obligatory 1990 mock turtleneck and is working on some top-secret project having to do with eradicating aging, disease, and death. 

It's always that with these geneticists, isn't it? Immortality! Who needs it, I say. Certainly no one in horror movies, because it never goes well.

And it's not going well for Peter, that's for sure. Not only does he keep killing his test subject monkeys (their alpha and beta waves go nuts after he injects too much glucose!), there's a suit from New York on the scene, as the folks in charge want to know where all the grant money Peter's department gets is going. Accountability! Who needs it, I say. On the bright side, the suit in question isn't "some hysterical old maid in menopause" as Peter fears, but rather a hot woman named Sally who makes eyes at him and is 29 years old. Or so she claims!

I know that style can affect someone's perceived age and there's that weird phenomenon where People Who Came Before You always seem older than they were Back Then. But 29? To that I say: hmm. One thing is for certain, though, and that's that Sally is a fucking drip. But that's okay, so is Peter! They are a couple of absolute drips who are part of the reason why Metamorphosis ends up being a near-total slog, so of course they fall in love. They even get a blue-lit, saxophone-filled 1990 sex scene that our more puritanical audiences of today would find "unnecessary" as it "doesn't move the plot forward." 

I find the whole conversation that's happening around cinematic sex scenes interesting, honestly. I can see why actors might say "no more sex scenes, please and thank you." I think intimacy coordinators are a good thing. It's awfully weird to think that sex scenes have historically been quasi-obligatory, especially in certain dramas, and we all just...accepted that. You paid your dues with surprise sex scenes when watching movies with your parents, either going to get a snack or suddenly paying a lot of attention to the family pet or simply sitting in the silent, mortifying awkwardness. It is rare, I think, for anyone to find these scenes "turn-ons" or even interesting--like I don't know who is getting off to these two loaves of crustless white bread having a go at it in Metamorphosis, but I'd like to meet them, theoretically. But I don't know, sex scenes were accepted like a new skin tag, maybe. You're not really a fan of it, it's not worth creating a fuss or going to the doctor over, but keep an eye on it. I'm not sure if that makes sense. 

It's the "not essential to the plot" aspect of the no sex scenes, please argument from audiences that bugs me because a movie filled with only scenes or interactions that are "essential" and "move the plot forward" sounds positively dreadful. (And really, even films where you could (should?) claim that the sex scenes are essential to the plot, such as Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden, are still denigrated so is that even really the argument?) 


At risk of losing his funding and his laboratory, Peter takes drastic measures and decides to dose himself with his serum, which requires an injection in the eye!  

Let me tell you, by this point in the proceedings I had a feeling that Metamorphosis was going to be a stinker, but that injection machine briefly raised my hopes that I would at least get to experience a truly squirm-inducing moment. Surprisingly, however, Eastman stops short of going there, cutting the shot juuuuust as the needle is about to go in. Injectus interruptus! I was left imagining what barf-inducing injectinanigans someone like Lucio Fulci might have brought to the moment. Hmm, maybe there's a more explicit cut of Metamorphosis out there...? I don't care enough to find out, but maybe you do.

After this process, which is supposed to rewrite his genetic sequence or something, Peter sweats and gnashes his teeth sometimes, and has blackouts during which he goes out, beats up, and, it is implied, sexually assaults women. This was a groan-worthy development, but thankfully Eastman is restrained here as well and we don't see much. 

It's noteworthy, perhaps, that one of Peter's victims, a woman named, uh, "Prostitute," is played by frequent D'Amato/Eastman/Bruno Mattei collaborator/exploitation star Laura Gemser of the Black Emanuelle series in one of her final roles. More noteworthy, perhaps, is that she was also the film's costume designer, credited as Laurette Gemser. She moved away from acting, as she couldn't get any roles outside of exploitation pictures, and transitioned towards costume design in the late 80s before retiring from the public eye altogether in the early 90s. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is that she also designed the costumes for Troll 2. Oh my gooooooooood!

Peter finally begins an actual, you know, metamorphosis, but into what? At first, it involves some contact lenses and one scene of him writhing on the floor.

He soon starts turning into a reverse Benjamin Buttons, which is to say that he gets really old and thinks he's dying. Hmm now that I think about it, aren't we all reverse Benjamin Buttons? I've never seen the movie so I could be wrong, but who cares when it feels right!

Peter gets kind of gross but we can't really see it, and Sally is worried. He breaks out of the hospital and kills a few people but we don't really see that either--just some brief shots of the bloody aftermath. Now look, I'm not a gorehound by any means but sometimes gore is what a movie needs. And let me tell you, Metamorphosis needed gore! This is as gross as it gets, and it's not nearly gross enough to liven up the joint:

Eventually Peter makes his way back to his laboratory with the cops in hot pursuit. (Note: temper your expectations about the word "hot." And the word "pursuit," really, as the cops are just sort of at the lab all of a sudden.) Peter busts down a door from the inside, and we get the big reveal that we've been waiting for for 90 excruciating minutes.

A kind of t-rex? It's a pretty fun and decidedly unexpected moment no doubt. It immediately instills one--or me, anyway--with so much anticipation. Imagine a rampage by a man who is now a kind of t-rex and it's obviously a rubber kind of t-rex outfit! Heaven, right? Well, we don't get that because yet again,  Eastman plays it safe. Peter-rex stands there in the doorway, flailing his arms a little and going RARR while the cops shoot him a hundred times. Then we see a puddle of goo on the floor that we are to infer are the remains of Peter. I do not have the words to describe what a let down this is!

The whole damn thing was a let down of astronomical proportions. 

Okay, that might be an exaggeration. But Metamorphosis is a let down nonetheless, no matter how hard the score from PAHAMANIAN tries to add some pizazz. It's not good enough to be good, and it's not bad enough to be good. It's just sort of there, which is really the worst thing any movie can be. It was such a slog and a drag that I will say something I never imagined I would say: A close-enough version of this same story was told more entertainingly in another Chilling Classic...Track of the Moon Beast! At least that movie has Professor Johnny Longbow's quasi-recipe for Professor Johnny Longbow's chicken and corn stew, as well as Frank Larrabee's "California Lady." 

Oh well, next week we'll be on to another Tale from the 50-Pack and when asked about the lousy Metamorphosis, I'll describe it the way some guy in the movie described Peter-rex: "It was a nightmare...from the past."

May 2, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: MESSIAH OF EVIL (1974)

On the one hand, I say that Mill Creek Entertainment should be immediately arrested because they have no business being within a country mile of Messiah of Evil. As you might expect, the Chilling Classics version of this beautiful and perfect dream of a movie is cropped and smushed and yellow-tinted and inexplicably begins with a frigging ballad wherein a woman croons "hold onnnnn to looooove" over the entirety of the (what should be) eerie opening scene. It's insane, and like I said, it should be an actual crime.

Guess which version is the Chilling Classic!

On the other hand, I say that Mill Creek Entertainment should be immediately presented with all of the Nobel Prizes because regardless of the quality, this here 50-pack was my intro to a movie that has since become one of my very favorites. Sure, that was in large part thanks to the Code Red DVD, which was so gorgeous that it was like seeing the movie with, like, a baby's brand-new eyeballs or something. But still, at least Mill Creek put this movie in front of me in some form.

I've written about and talked about this film many a time, so much that you likely know how I feel about it by now--and you likely also know how hard I recommend it. (If you don't know, the answers to both "how I feel" and "how hard I recommend" are "a fuck ton" and "very.") It's so cool that this cult classique is really getting out there, what with last year's fancy-ass Blu-ray from Radiance Films and its occasional appearance on streaming services and whatnot. It's accessible! The love is spreading, like the weirdos from Point Dume (or maybe Point Dune) who are peering around buildings at night and waiting. Waiting for you! And they'll take you one by one and no one will hear you scream. No one will hear you--well, you know.

There are times that I wonder whether or not I should go door to door and ask people if they've heard the good word about Messiah of Evil. That's how much I love it! But I'm also lazy, so please consider this blog to be my missionary work, and tell me:

Have you heard the good word about Messiah of Evil?

Apr 25, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE GHOST (1963)

From its basic-ass title to its basic-ass plot, the 1963 Italian gothic horror film The Ghost (aka Lo spettro) ain't much we ain't seen many times before. But that's okay! After all, something about the journey being the destination and that's just super, you know? It's doubly super since this journey features Barbara Steele. Like would you care if a movie's plot was "ten years after a prank gone wrong leaves one of their friends dead, eight youths head to the woods for a weekend of partying before all but one are stalked and killed by a mask-wearing, knife-wielding maniac" if it starred Barbara Steele? No, you would not care. In fact, you would probably be psyched! Especially if she were playing the maniac. Or one of the youths. Or even the very woods themselves. 

And so it is with The Ghost. It's a tale as old as What Beckoning Ghost?, a song as old as EC Comics. (But) Barbara and the Steele.

And honestly, I was rather glad the story of The Ghost was so by-the-numbers, because I saw the name "Carol Bennet" in the opening credits, misread it as "Carol Burnett," and so long marveling, wondering, and questioning why and how Carol Burnett was in an Italian gothic horror film from 1963 that I am sure I burnt out a few synapses in my brain. I would not have been able to handle anything that made me think. I'm not even going to attempt another Mulholland Dr rewatch for 4-6 weeks.

Picture it...Scotland, 1910. Dr Hichcock (Elio Jotta) is wheelchair-bound but slowly regaining mobility thanks to the treatment he's come up with, which is a nice injection of two poisons followed by a swig of the antidote. If you ask me it sounds like perfectly good science, kind of like something a certain former President would have suggested as a cure for COVID.

Anyway, these treatments are administered by his friend and doctor, Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin), who is secretly--or maybe not-so-secretly--having an affair with Hichcock's wife Margaret (Steele). Margaret acts like a doting spouse, but she secretly--or maybe not-so-secretly--hates her husband. She convinces her lover to kill him, promising they'll inherit all the monies and be together forever. Besides, Hichcock isn't all that happy to be alive, and he hosts regular séances (with his trusty governess Catherine acting as a medium) so he can get a sneak peak at the other side. Would it really be so bad to just...not give him the antidote after a poison injection?

They go through with the plan, but there's no happily ever after for Charles and Margaret. The assumed riches never materialize, but Hichcock's ghost does. Or maybe he's not dead? Surely he's dead!

As the random blood drips appear and ghostly voices call out, the lovers begin to distrust each other. Their decline from bliss reflected in the undo of Margaret's updo.

As I said, The Ghost doesn't really tread float over any new ground, but it does boast a fairly violent and bloody climax, a lot of delicious double-crossing, and more skulls than I could count (again, me brain hurt). While the dubbing isn't great, Steele sure is. By turns scared, sexy, evil, mad and more, (Chaka Khan voice) (or Whitney Houston voice, if it pleases you) she's every woman, they are all in her. Hichcock's house is home not only to the occasional spooky vibe, but also to more crap and clutter than like 50 TGI Fridays combined. It's so full of gewgaws and stuff and linens and things, it makes Hill House look positively minimalist.  

A few scenes are a bit painstakingly slow and it's maybe 25 minutes of story rolling around in a generous 95 minutes, especially considering we know where this is all going. Like, you can't fool us by calling yourself The Ghost, movie, we've seen Dominique and Diabolique and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotteique. We know there's no ghost! But again, who cares. WHO CARES I SAY.

For those of you who read "Dr Hichcock" and got to wondering, yes, The Ghost is indeed related to the 1962 Italian horror film The Horrible Dr Hichcock in all ways and in no ways. While the movies really have nothing to do with one another, each film was directed by Riccardo Freda, stars Barbara Steele as women married to a Dr Hichcock, Harriet Medin as a housekeeper/governess, and characters named Margaret and Margaretha. 

So all that and they also both have "not featuring Carol Burnett" in common. And yet The Ghost isn't considered a sequel? Why, that's the most surprising thing about it!

Apr 18, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE ALPHA INCIDENT (1978)

At last! This week brings us the first of several Chilling Classics from the multi-pack auteur himself, Wisconsin's own Bill Rebane. To call Rebane an acquired taste is...well, I cannot decide if that's an oversell or an undersell. Let's just call it a sell, shall we? The films of Bill Rebane are, in a word, weird. They're often dull affairs only sporadically livened up by some left-field choices that can only be explained with a "Forget it, Jake. It's Rebane-town (Wisconsin)." The more bonkers moments of his films remind me of William Girdler's The Manitou, but with 98% less budget and 100% more crew members with the last name "Rebane." (Seriously, don't make a drinking game out of this, do not do a shot every time a Rebane family member pops up in the end credits, you will die long before they are over.) To the more--or the way less, I suppose--discerning among us, these movies are home-grown, home-cooked charmers. I'm a big fan of another Chilling Classic that'll be covered whenever RNGesus makes it so, but today's flick, The Alpha Incident, was new to me and reader, it did not disappoint! Except in all the ways it's disappointing. But hey, that's Rebane-town, baby!

A space probe returns from Mars, arriving with a guest: a "disease organism" that leaves scientists baffled but yours truly delighted as this laboratory uses hamsters for some reason? I don't understand the science of this decision but I do understand the cuteness of it.

As they try to figure out what they've got on their hands, vials of the stuff are put on a train bound for Colorado. When the government agent assigned to escort the package (Stafford Morgan) decides to take a nap, a nosy train worker (George "Buck" Flower, last seen in Chilling Classics Cthursday's Drive-In Massacre) messes with a vial and drops it.  He cuts his hand on broken glass and unknowingly gets infected with a mystery...well, no one knows yet.

 George "Buck" Flower, seen here with his frequent co-star Booze

The train stops at a small station in Moose Point to switch engines. The agent and George "Buck" Flower, apparently the only two people on a whole long-ass train, disembark to wait. The agent finds out what George "Buck" Flower done did, and they, along with three train office employees, end up quarantined at the station as the scientists at the lab race to find a "counter-agent." Eventually the survivors are told one thing only: don't fall asleep under any circumstances because...something bad will happen.

Side note, about 25 minutes into the picture, a buzzing began, so loud that it drowned out the dialogue. For a moment I thought it might be a new addition to the film's Casio-flavored sci-fi "soundtrack," but then I realized that it was the disc and that the buzzing may never end so, full disclosure: I watched the rest of it on Tubi. On the downside, I had to suffer through some commercials for diapers and psoriasis medication. On the upside, Tubi has what I assume is the transfer from the Arrow Blu-ray release (can you believe it??), so I got to see it in its correct aspect ratio and in colors that Mill Creek would never allow me to dream up. I felt like Dorothy stepping into Oz when I got a load of the pinks and blues and a whole Skittles' worth of rainbow in the laboratory and the office of Lieutenant General Poor Man's Raymond Burr in Rear Window! (Please note that his official name is "The Official.")

I would also accept "Lieutenant General Poor Man's Roger Ebert"

Now, a movie full of people sitting around talking doesn't sound very exciting, I'll admit ("Unless it's written by Aaron Sorkin!!" -- you, probably haha lmaoooo). But the dialogue, courtesy of screenwriter Ingrid Neumayer, is rife with that patented Bill Rebane weirdness that had me invested in the small-town drama of Moose Point, as centered on its train station office. Give me a Moose Point night soap stat!

The drama centers around a woman named Jenny (Carol Irene Newell) who comes in to "do the books" at the station every Friday. Yes, it is truly a cosmic joke that she is there today of all days, the day when the train full of space stuff is due. 

After she arrives, her co-worker Charlie (Ralph Meeker) watches her pour herself some coffee and we get this shot, accompanied by what can only be described as "floozy music." Not raucous burlesque or nudie film-esque music. Floozy music. It's...quaint. Which is fitting, in my opinion.

I'm not sure if this is "Bill Rebane film" lascivious or strictly "Moose Point" lascivious, mind. But either way, it introduced what would become the true saga of The Alpha Incident; no, it's not about any "disease organism"s from Mars. It's about the sexual politics and love games of the Moose Point Train Station, which I have yet to figure out, quite frankly. I doubt I ever will. 

By the way, Ralph Meeker, who is ostensibly the closest thing The Alpha Incident has to a "name" actor, isn't given much to do or more than a handful of lines of dialogue until the final ten minutes of this thing, when it all goes off the rails (get it?). We'll get to that, of course. The important thing to note now is that through the whole movie he reminded me of Wilford Brimley as Blair in John Carpenter's The Thing.

Okay, but hear me out: Charlie's co-quarantined co-worker Jack is played by John F. Goff, who was Al Williams (aka Mr Janet Leigh) in The Fog. George "Buck" Flower was also in The Fog. Clearly John Carpenter is a fan of The Alpha Incident and did, in fact, model Blair after Ralph Meeker. Right? RIGHT?! 

In further red string conspiracy board news, John F. Goff was also in Drive-In Massacre AND John Carpenter's They Live, both alongside George "Buck" Flower. Maybe it's not so much that John Carpenter is a fan of The Alpha Incident as he is a fan of The Chilling Classics 12-DVD Collection 50 Movie Pack from Mill Creek Entertainment. Right? Or maybe...maybe...I'm John Carpenter? Hmm, I sure do love video games...the evidence grows and grows.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Moose Point After Dark.

So we've got Charlie ogling Jenny's gams--which go all the way up to here her tasteful knee-length hemline, and Jack incessantly making lewd comments at her. Sometimes she tells him to knock it off, other times she drapes herself all over him. But she insists she's not interested, as she has a big weekend date with Ted Sheffield, a man whom she's been seeing on-and-off. Jack is unbothered and continues to hit on her relentlessly.

For her part, Jenny takes an interest in the government agent, Sorensen, who does not take an interest in her. Not even when she decides to change her clothes and put on makeup! The nerve. The space infection that may or may not be coursing through her veins is bad enough, imagine getting rejected by the man who has been in town for five minutes and is also infected and Jenny, please remember that you are all quarantined and maybe dying?

In light of all of this, she decides to go have sex with Jack in an empty train car. What! It seems that Jenny's phone number is 867-53-OH NO amirite?

She immediately regrets the decision to sleep with Jack, but don't worry, it's not because she feels bad about maybe-cheating on Ted Sheffield. She later reveals that Ted Sheffield doesn't even exist?? He's like a George Glass...? Again I say: WHAT.

See, the Jenny storyline is just part of where the Bill Rebane weirdness comes in.

The quarantined group must stay awake, right? That's part of the whole space infection deal. Well, they can barely pull one single all-nighter before they start coming apart at the seams and Jenny has--or tries to--have sex with most of the men. But no worries: the government very helpfully air drops some amphetamines to them, along with some Slim Jims and plastic bags to poop in. (We don't want the infection seeping into the environment, do we?) It all leads to those final ten minutes I mentioned earlier, ten minutes which are kicked off by poor Charlie starting to doze and...well, let's just say that it's too bad Nancy Thompson hadn't been invented yet, for perhaps she could have reminded him: Don't. Fall. Asleep.

Oh man, that last screenshot really sends me! It's not the end of the sequence, mind you. Trust me when I say that it gets way grosser, but no more realistic. The "Wait...what?" that starts running through your mind won't stop until the whole thing ends on a lousy freeze frame ten minutes later. 

To those of you who are not partial to the character actor-laden cast list or the task of parsing Jenny's sad, small-town love (?) story or Bill Rebane in general, I don't know if those final ten minutes would make sitting through all of The Alpha Incident worth it.  

But as for me, John Carpenter, well. Maybe it's just the "disease organism" talking but I loved it? I can't wait until the next time we get to partake in some Wisconsin weirdness on a Cthursday. I'm a bona fide Rebane-iac and proud of it!