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 27, 2016

awesome movie poster friday - the VHS WEEK edition!

Well, friends, the long national nightmare known as VHS Week is finally over. Back to regular life as we know it. Back to movies (mostly) on disc or made out of pixels or whatever. Don't worry, I still have some tapes around here to watch and I'm sure I'll let you know when I do, even the garbage ones. What am I saying! I mean especially the garbage ones. For now, though, let's celebrate with some awesome movie posters from some of the awesome and not entirely awesome movies from VHS Week. You probably knew this was coming because of the post title, right? Good job, you, and thanks for reading!
























VHS Week Day 14: MARTIN (1977)


George A. Romero: he's more than just zombies. I know that you know that, you're savvy and learned. I'm simply pointing it out to the total horror noobs who only know Romero from his three (AND ONLY THREE) (okay, maybe Land of the Dead is kind of fun to watch once, but THAT'S IT) great zombie films: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Brunch Day of the Dead. Though the films are often overlooked, Romero has explored horror in ways far removed from those undead shuffling people-eaters. One such film is 1977's Martin.

Set amidst the depressed, crumbling landscape of fading steel town Braddock, PA, Martin tells the tale of...well, of Martin (John Amplas), who believes himself to be a vampire. His elderly cousin Cuda also believes that Martin is a vampire. It's been a family curse for generations, and while Cuda allows Martin to live with him, he also makes the young man a promise: "First I will save your soul...then I will destroy you." But is Martin actually a vampire? Or is he simply a kookadook?


Romero isn't interested in definitive answers as much as he is in deconstructing the vampire genre and deromanticizing the myths. Regardless of Martin's true nature, he's no gothic-flavored bloodsucker from a Hammer production; nor is he a terrifying, otherworldly creature à la Salem's Lot's Mr. Barlow. Garlic, crosses, and sunlight give Martin no pause. He's incapable of mesmerizing victims into submission, so he relies on drug injections to do it for him. He has no fangs, so he wields a razor blade. Martin's reality is completely unlike the bodice-rippers and monsters we're accustomed to calling "vampire."

Martin is rife with the same types of simple metaphors and symbolism that Romero incorporates into many of his films. It's an examination of sexual repression and insecurity as well as a swipe at religion, particularly the ways in which staunch religious beliefs can twist a person or a family. The "family curse"–what Cuda claims is the curse of Nosferatu–can be seen as any kind of "otherness" or perhaps it's merely hereditary mental illness.

Aside from all of this, Martin works fairly well as a straight-up horror movie. Because the attacks rarely go as smoothly as Martin plans, they're prolonged and all the more shocking as his victims fight back. While it's easy to feel sympathy for poor, confused Martin, there's no doubt that he is a monster. Whether he's of the mythical or the mundane variety, though, that's for you to decide.

May 26, 2016

VHS Week Day 13: THE ATTIC (1980)


A suicidal, depressed librarian. An abusive curmudgeon in a wheelchair. A chimpanzee in a sailor suit. YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

Ugh, stupid Final Girl...clickbait goes in the headline, not in the post itself. This will never go viral now!

Meet Louise (Carrie Snodgress), our suicidal, depressed librarian. She spends her days kind of hating her job–the books...they look at her sometimes and so she tries to burn the place down. She spends her nights crying over the man who left her at the altar years before and taking care of her father, Wendel (Ray Milland), our abusive curmudgeon in a wheelchair. Louise's life is a big, drab, sad mess, but that doesn't mean it's without some bright spots: alcohol, one night stands, and her coworker Emily. The women strike up a friendship that's equal parts support and pity; Emily feels sorry for Louise and tries to nudge her out of her drudgery, while Louise tries to save Emily from falling into the same. Louise buys Emily a one-way ticket to California so she can escape her domineering mother and marry her love, Emily buys Louise a chimpanzee. You know. Friendship!

Wendel loathes pretty much everything, but he loathes his daughter and her chimp most of all. Horror fans know this is all gonna come to a head at some point, right? Like, maybe Dickie the Chimp will attack Wendel and then, having acquired a taste for human flesh, he will totally flip out and eat everyone in Wichita, Kansas?

Look, I'm not going to spoil the end of this movie, even though it's like 70 years old, but I will let you know that Dickie the Chimp does not flip out, so don't get your hopes up. But don't worry! The ending still packs a serious wallop. A seriously depressing wallop. We've all seen some depressing endings before (even during this never-ending VHS Week!), but lawd-a-mighty, The Attic might just take the cake. And then it throws the cake into the void of existential despair, and then you jump in after it not only because you can't bear to see a cake go to waste, but also because everything is terrible and life is cruel and what does anything even matter.


Don't get me wrong–it's not just the ending. The entire GD movie is depressing! Loneliness, alienation, lives spent lost and adrift...this is by no means a light watch, even if the film's incongruous musical cues and bizarre jokes sometimes give it the feel of one. A better life for Louise seems to be just out of reach, and you desperately hope she'll get there, but this is a horror film, not a life-affirming yogurt love journey movie.

From time to time, though, you might find yourself wondering if The Attic really is a horror movie. It's not so much a "slow burn" as it is a "slow drama/character piece with some horror elements crammed into the last seven minutes." Those seven minutes are worth it, mind, I just want you to know what you're in store for if you're fixin' to check this one out. Then again, The Attic boasts a scene where a showercap-wearing Ray Milland sits in a bathtub with a Reader's Digest propped in front of him and a bowl of spiced gum drops at his side. That's what really makes watching it worth your time as far as I'm concerned.

May 23, 2016

VHS Week Day 12: THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971)


I knew nothing about The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave going into it, but I certainly had some expectations thanks to the awful label on this VHS edition. Every single thing about it screams EXPLOITATION WITH TEN EXCLAMATION MARKS. It's distributed by Something Weird Video, purveyors of cult garbage; it's endorsed (somehow? I guess?) by Frank Henenlotter, writer/director of cult garbage (Frankenhooker, Basket Case); it's a SEXY SHOCKER for ADULTS ONLY. I found myself anticipating something along the lines of Nude for Satan: crazy sexy EuroSleaze. But my friends, Evelyn is not that. I have been misled! Which is a shame, because my brain spent too long going "Where is the crazy sexy EuroSleaze?" before realizing that the videotape lied. Ah, horror movie advertising, messing things up again. ("PREACH!" - Crimson Peak "I FEEL YOU, GURL!" - Bug '06)

Side note one: please know that when I say "cult garbage" it is not disparaging, but rather meant with all the love my cold, black heart can muster.

Side note two: "Crazy Sexy EuroSleaze" is my favorite TLC album.

The Night Evelyn Really Needed Some Moisturizer But Her Hair Looked Pretty Good All Things Considered

Lord Alan Cunningham is a wealthy playboy with a bit of a problem: he just can't stop murdering redheaded prostitutes! They remind him of his dead wife Evelyn, you see, who cheated on him and died in childbirth. He's tried just about everything to cure himself, from psychiatry to séances, but nothing works. As a last resort, he marries a woman with blonde hair. That should work, right? Never mind that they will be living in the castle he shared with Evelyn, that Evelyn's brother still lives there too, and that there is a big portrait of Evelyn in the master bedroom. The new wife is blonde! Evelyn will be forgotten in no time.

Evelyn, however, is done with all that going quietly into that good night shit. She's, you know, come out of the grave to drive Alan mad and to kill kill KILL!

Maybe. The story twists and turns and we're kept guessing if Evelyn is really back, if she's Alan's guilt made real or imagined, or if she's something else entirely. "People who are supposed to be dead may not be dead" and "let's scare the protagonist to death" are two of my favorite horror subgenres, and Evelyn wraps 'em up in a stylish gothic giallo package.

There is a hint of EuroSleaze: some delightfully weird strip numbers, plenty of bare breasts, the kind of sex scene where naked people just roll around together, and a little whipping in Alan's Torture Dungeon for Prostitutes. But "SEXY SHOCKER" and "ADULTS ONLY" are pure hyperbole, for it's all quite tame, sort of PG-with-boobs. Not that this is a problem, since I wasn't really in the mood for "man explicitly beats and murders hookers." Not that I'm ever really in the mood for that, but you know what I'm saying. Ultimately Evelyn is a very late night horror movie/drive-in feeling flick that boasts more than a few memorable moments. It's worth a look, especially if you know what you'll be lookin' at.

May 18, 2016

VHS Week Day 11: THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (1977)


It is quite fitting that The Haunting of Julia is better known as Full Circle because friends, my brain with regards to Final Girl is coming full circle. Or, okay, not quite full circle. More like my brain and this blog are forming something that is sort of like a möbius strip slowly sinking into quicksand. Time is folding in on itself and tearing apart. This has all happened before and it will all happen again. Up is down, dogs and cats are getting married, and, as usual, I can't find my pants.

Look, what I'm trying to say is that I've already reviewed this movie here! It was even a gotdanged Film Club choice! I knew I'd seen it–several times, in fact. I'm not that crazy. But as I never added The Haunting of Julia to the looonnng list of review links when we talked about it 3+ years ago, I plumb forgot I wrote about it. I watched it again for VHS Week, wrote down a bunch of notes...and then found the old review, which touches on basically everything I wrote down in my notes. I've talked about a lot of movies here and this blog is over ten years old and I am over 81 years old so give me a break.

So you know what? I'm not gonna try to come up with new ways to say the same things, nor am I going to make you click something and go to another page. That's right–I'm cuttin' and pastin' and no one can stop me. The old review is in between the pics.


You know what I love about Mia Farrow? It's the way she appears so vulnerable and fragile–what with her slight frame and her look of bewilderment and her delicate features–but she's got such a goddamn spine to her. I find myself wanting to protect her (or, I suppose I should say, characters she portrays, like Rosemary Woodhouse and Julia Lofting), but when push comes to shove she proves she won't be pushed or shoved.

And so after the tragic death of her young daughter and a breakdown, Julia ups and abandons her husband Magnus (Keir Dullea) on the spur of the moment as she leaves the hospital. Before long, Julia is...wait for it...haunted. But by what? The spirit of her daughter? Her own guilt? The spirit of the house's former resident? Unlike nearly every other supernatural flick on the market, The Haunting of Julia keeps all the goings-on vague and subtle, so much so that we're hard-pressed to discern whether or not there's any haunting going on at all. There aren't any Poltergeist-style furniture-flying-around-on-its-own theatrics to be found; sure, there's some bloodshed and casualties, but it's more about atmosphere or, as Julia puts it, the "feeling of hate" that engulfs her home.

Still, what's a good ghost story without some sort of mystery to be solved (not to mention that since it's a 70s film, there's a good old fashioned séance to boot)? And boy, Julia uncovers a good one–a downright chilling one, with a ghost that could give The Ring's Samara a lesson or two in evil. A note to wayward ghosts everywhere: I'm not fucking helping you, you're on your own.

The Haunting of Julia is a quiet film that will get under your skin more that it will outright scare you, and if quiet-n-subdued ain't your bag, it will undoubtedly get on your nerves more than it will get under your skin. But if you're in the mood for some precious blonde daughter dies early on and does she come back as a ghost or is her mother just mad with guilt? horror (that's totally a subgenre, you know), pair this up with Don't Look Now and go nuts!


As I said, there are no spook house histrionics to be found. There is grief so intense that it presses down upon you. There is a subtle unease throughout and by the time we get to the ending–and what an ending it is–the cumulative effect of this sad, chilling tale is incredibly powerful. But there are no easy answers, which may prove frustrating if you don't fall under Julia's spell.

There are plenty of similar films from the era that fans love to talk about: Don't Look Now, The Changeling, Burnt Offerings...films that have shocking, memorable moments worth recounting. The Haunting of Julia isn't "iconic" in that way (no red balls bouncing down the stairs, no homicidal dwarves), but it's absolutely worth adding to the pantheon. It's got a devoted following even as it's been completely neglected since the days of VHS. What I wouldn't give for a restored version, one that wasn't overly dark at times, one that doesn't snap and crackle, one that doesn't sound like there's a generator running just offscreen the entire time. Should it ever finally get the home release love it deserves, I'm sure I'll review it again, having forgotten all about the time I spent writing this post. No offense or anything, you're great. It's not you, it's me.

Wait, what was I talking about?

May 17, 2016

VHS Week Day 10: DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! (1965)


Although it comprises but a handful of films and didn't last a decade, Grande Dame Guignol is one of my favorite genres. A woman's mental health deteriorates to the point of flip-out, or maybe she's been wackadoo since birth; either way, she spends her golden years a-tormentin' and a-killin' anyone who gets her dander up. It's entertaining and inspirational!

Sure, they're melodramatic and corny. However, what takes every film in the genre from "must see" to "DID YOU HEAR ME I SAID 'MUST SEE'" are the Grande Dames themselves. The genre served to bolster the later careers of some of the greatest actresses in cinema history. You see, despite their talent, faded looks may have prevented them from landing leading roles...so they hagged themselves up with pancake makeup, aged themselves further, and went homicidal. It's depressing in a "women aren't allowed to age" way, but on the flip side of that, these women treat even the most B of B-grade material like it's their shot at an Oscar. In other words, they remain consummate professionals and they fucking act. Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Geraldine Page, Ruth Gordon, Olivia de Havilland–they truly elevate the material they're given into something more than mere camp. They class up the joint. And such is the case with the formidable Tallulah Bankhead, who stars as Mrs. Trefoile in Die! Die! My Darling!


Pat Carroll (Stefanie Powers) is in England with her fiancé Alan (Maurice Kaufmann) when she decides to pay a courtesy visit to Mrs. Trefoile. Pat dated Mrs. Trefoile's son before he met an untimely end, and wrapping things up with his mother is just a nice thing to do. Things start off a little weird, what with Mrs. Trefoile's insistence that Pat stay on over night, and Mrs. Trefoile's insistence on reading bible verse after bible verse, and Mrs. Trefoile's insistence that Pat wipe off her lipstick, and Mrs. Trefoile's insistence that no condiments are allowed in the house ("God's food should be eaten unadorned!")...yes, a little weird indeed. Mrs. Trefoile is so pious that I'm sure even Margaret White would be, like, "Hey there, easy on the Jeezy," you know? (It's worth noting that the casting of the notoriously hedonistic Bankhead as the notoriously devout Mrs. Trefoile is particularly delicious and inspired.)

Once Mrs. T finds out that Pat never intended to marry her son, she decides to hold the young woman captive and "cleanse her soul" before enforcing some kind of death-n-soul-marriage. It totally makes sense if you think about it.

Will Pat survive, and what will be left of her? Will one of Mrs. T's servants come to their senses and release her? Will Alan come and rescue her? One thing is for sure: Die! Die! My Darling! (known as Fanatic outside the US) was released in 1965, and thus Pat Carroll is no Final Girl. In other words, she doesn't much try to save herself, and when she makes a bit of effort she's easily thwarted. Look, I'm not blaming the victim here...but there comes a point when you want her to use her brain a bit.

At 97 minutes it's at least 10 minutes too long, but you still can't really go wrong with this film. It's a Hammer Production written by Richard Matheson. It features a young Donald Sutherland in an early role as a mentally impaired handyman. There are "cat fights" and a bit of blood here and there. Most of all, there's the gravel-voiced Tallulah Bankhead delivering sermons and spitting hellfire, playing it all straight. She's menacing, sympathetic, insane, and utterly delightful. They sure don't make 'em like this–or her–anymore, and I doubt they could if they wanted to.

May 13, 2016

Happy Friday the 13th!

Aw yeah, it's Friday the 13th. Make sure you avoid masked killers, tents, cabins in woods, boats headed for Manhattan, outer space, etc etc. If you are completely bored/have exhausted everything else on The Internet, check out my F13 archive tag. I don't remember everything that's in there, but I'm sure it's all 100% A++ quality! KI KI KI HA HA HA

Or if you're like "words are so over" then you can always peruse Death Count and pick out your favorite Friday victim. KI KI KI WOW WOW WOW

Whatever you do, enjoy your day...while it lasts.

That's not a threat or anything, it's just...well, today will end eventually. That's how time works. I thought you knew that.

And from the SHAMELESS PLUG department, here are some Friday-related things I have drawn, which you can get on a mug or a shirt or a tote bag or whatever. CLICK RIGHT HERE! There are other designs, too! And today there is FREE SHIPPING, huzzah. Every sale helps me survive, which I'm kind of into for the moment.

Sorry–KI KI KI HUZZAH HUZZAH HUZZAH



May 11, 2016

programming note

Dudes and y'alls, when I went and scheduled this here VHS Week I forgot that I have a thing.


It is the sort of thing that will have me away from the sweet warm embrace of my VCR for a few days, so I apologize I'm afraid we must press pause on the proceedings. VHS Week will resume on MONDAY. I know it will be a difficult time for all of us, but let's just think of this as an intermission. Stretch your legs, go buy a rectangle of pizza and some Sno Caps, and meet me back here and we'll finish this shit together. The lineup for the week will be:

Mon 5/16 - DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! (1965, Silvio Narizzano)
Tues 5/17 - THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (1977, Richard Loncraine)
Wed 5/18 - THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971, Emilio Miraglia)
Thur 5/19 - THE ATTIC (1980, George Edwards & Gary Graver)
Fri 5/20 - MARTIN (1977, George A. Romero)

Who knows, maybe I'll throw in some other surprises. Or not. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

By the way, The Thing? I have been to see it, I know what it is! It's in Arizona somewhere...it's a mummified mother and child, eww! But I guess it's a fake. It's in a glass (or plexiglass or whatever) coffin thing in a pre-fab building, and when I saw it the top of the glass was all covered in bird poop. They also had a car that Hitler supposedly rode in once. EERIE!

May 10, 2016

VHS Week Day 9: PARASITE (1982)


As I always suspected, the future looks mighty terrible. Gas is $41/gallon. Regular currency is worthless. Electricity only works sometimes. Everyone is grimy and hair is woefully unconditioned. People are tattooed and forced into labor camps. Yes, there are some genuine pew-pew laser guns around, but mostly everything is dirty and depressing and life can be summed up thusly:

"It's gettin' so a fella can't get away from the goddamned sickies no more."

Parasite is set six months after Donald Trump is sworn in as President in a post-nuclear 1992 world gone to heck. Paul Dean is a scientist harboring parasites in his stomach and in his future-thermos. He's pursued by a man in a suit who drives a future-car; it seems Paul absconded with these parasites when he found out that The Company had evil intentions for them, and now The Company wants them back. Paul tries to hide in the desert, but he runs afoul of a gang o' thugs that would be right at home in Friday the 13th Part 3. Demi Moore takes him to her lemon farm (not a euphemism) and he tries to solve this whole mess by doing some science. Can he destroy all the parasites before they kill him? Can he destroy the parasites before The Company reclaims them? Can he destroy the parasites before the parasites fart out a million spores that will turn into more parasites? You won't get any spoilers outta me, fool!

nom nom nom

This may prove a controversial stance, but I'm going to say it anyway: I don't much like parasites. I'm sure they serve some kind of purpose as a link in the grand cosmic food chain, but I say no thank you. I've read too many sensational news stories like "Parasite Swims Up Dude's Urethra" and "Parasite Lives in Some Lady's Brain for 15 Years" to think they're anything but a l'il tiny real bad time. I'd even go so far as to call them one of my least favorite things on Earth. When I saw that Paul was harboring the parasites in his stomach, I was like..."Paul, you crazy!" for that's how much I do not like them. Mind you, the parasites in Parasite–designed by the mighty Stan Winston!–aren't microscopic jerks, but rather they are approximately the size of a Corgi and they have a shit ton of teeth. They do kind of go into and burst out of people regardless of their enormousosity, so I guess they still count as parasites, although I can't say for sure as I am not a scienceologist.

And yeah, you read that correctly: Demi Moore's lemon farm. Parasite marks her first starring role and she's about as unremarkable as you might expect from someone in their first starring role. Not that she had a whole lot to work with here–I mean, it's a Charles Band film called Parasite–but still. I was way more excited when I saw Cherie Currie's name in the opening credits, but sadly she only has about two lines and then she gets infected and dies. Okay, that's a spoiler you'll get outta me. But that's it, no more!

This movie is small in scope and budget, so we've got limited locations and a steady rotation of three types of scenes: Paul sweats and frets, the thugs thug it up, and The Company dude looks for Paul. The action occurs mostly towards the end when the parasite goes nuts and infects several people, and I'm sure it would look great if I was watching this on anything besides an extremely dark and muddy VHS copy. I could kind of see slime? And blood sometimes.

It was also a hoot–well, that's overstating it...let's say it was a lite hoot–picking out all of the obvious 3D!!! moments in the film, as originally it was shown in three whole dimensions. Among the things that point at/travel towards the camera:
  • a pipe that juts from an abdomen
  • a hand that kind of points 
  • some goo that drips
  • parasites that fly toward you
I'm not sure whether or not you can tell by what I've written, but rest assured, Parasite is pure schlocky early-80s monster movie fun. And just think, I'm saying that even though much of the action was obscured by VHS darkness and I could barely see the parasites. Although considering my hatred of them, maybe that's for the best. 

May 9, 2016

VHS Week Day 8: THE GRANNY (1995)


Reader, I'm not gonna lie to you. I'm not here to lie. Out of the 750 movies comprising VHS Week, The Granny is the one I anticipated the least. In fact, I'm not entirely sure how it came to be in my possession in the first place. Did I buy it? Was it a gift? Is this some kind of Sadako nonsense and it simply appeared in my apartment one day? Does it really exist? Do I really exist? Does anything?

*disappears in a puff of ennui*

Anyway. The point is, somehow I have this film and I made it a part of VHS Week, but I was dreading it. I know it's not very horror fan or Final Girl of me, but my tolerance for "deliberate garbage" these days is super low. But the truth of it is, can you really have a two-week VHS Week without sampling some mid-90s straight-to-video trash? You could, but you and the world and certainly VHS Week would be lesser for it. And so it was with humanity's best interests at heart I got on with The Granny. And you know what? It's possible that I need to lighten up ("YA THINK?" - everyone) because The Granny and I had a grand ol' time.

Thanksgiving is a time for family, they say, even if everyone in the family hates each other–which is absolutely the case with Granny's family. She's cantankerous and loathes everyone but Kelly, who is totally unsightly and nerdy (she wears her hair up and sports glasses). Granny is convinced her relatives just want her vast fortune...and she's right. Everyone is tired of waiting for her to die, so this year they intend to pull the ol' "poison in the soup" gag. That one always kills! Ha ha! Get it? IT KILLS!

Granny has her own surprise in store, however–she's bought a special elixir that will grant her immortality. Like a Gremlin, the elixir comes with a list of DOs and DO NOT DOs that must be strictly adhered to for fear of grave consequences. The elixir and the imbiber must forever avoid direct sunlight, and the imbiber must undergo a "cleansing ritual." While Granny manages to perform the ritual, the elixir is almost immediately exposed to sunlight and therefore tainted. And thus Granny is infested with a demon, comes back from the dead, and gets her revenge on her greedy family.


Make no mistake, my friends, this movie is 100% stupid...but you see, it knows it's stupid. It's a horror-comedy, and while plenty of the jokes fall flat and you'll be ashamed of yourself for watching this/existing, there are also some–gasp!–genuine laughs. As Granny, Stella Stevens hams it up and has the time of her life, delivering lines like "You! You're a load I should've swallowed!" with gravel-voiced gusto. In spite of myself, I also delighted at the scene where a woman's neck is ripped open by reanimated fur stoles. The "cleansing ritual"–which simply consists of saying "I love everybody" out loud–may be my favorite thing of all time. And had I known beforehand that The Granny features a demonic/zombie Stella Stevens attacking $10,000 Pyramid mainstay Teresa Ganzel, well, let's just say I wouldn't have dreaded watching it. Let's just say the tape probably would have caught on fire from the blazing speed at which I put it in the VCR.

Even at a scant 82 minutes, The Granny does eventually wear out its welcome, but I'll be damned if it isn't a moronic good time. It's fairly raunchy, kinda purposefully funny, a bit gross, and a whole lotta dumb–in other words, it's just about the perfect background-at-a-party movie. It'd go great with Night of the Demons or something of that ilk, paired up like the finest cheese and wine more cheese. I don't think it's ever received the DVD treatment, and VHS copies are fairly hard/expensive to come by now...but hey, if my experience is any indication, take a look around: you probably acquired a copy at some point and it's sitting in your collection right now. Shockingly, as it turns out that's...not really a complaint. Long live VHS Week!

May 8, 2016

VHS Week Day 7: RABID (1977)


After a horrific motorcycle accident, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) is brought to a nearby plastic surgery clinic to treat her life-threatening wounds. As Rose is unconscious, doctors say "Eh, why the hell not?" and perform an experimental skin graft, treating her excised thigh tissue before transplanting it inside her abdomen. There's a chance for cancerous tumors to develop, but when the patient finally wakes a month later, the result is much worse: instead of sprouting tumors or rejecting the graft, Rose now has a sphincter (or a vagina, depending on the results of your Rorschach test) under her arm, from which a needle-tipped phallus occasionally protrudes. Human food no longer cuts it for Rose, so she goes around hugging people and poking them with her armpit-sphincter/vagina-needlepenis, which allows her to drink their blood for sweet sweet nourishment. If the victims don't die, they quickly become frothy and leaky and bitey and murder-y–"rabid," if you will. Before long, Montreal is collapsing in violent (and gross) chaos, while Rose, largely unaware of her condition even when she gets her hug o' death on, attempts to reunite with her boyfriend.

"I thought you said the results were worse than cancerous tumors," you say. "An armpit-sphincter/vagina-needlepenis sounds awesome and quite useful."

Touché!


I mean, I'm not really sure what else to call what's going on here besides armpit-sphincter/vagina-needlepenis

The good times can't last forever, though, and Rabid ultimately has one of the more depressing, nihilist, empty endings I've seen in a horror film. Gotta love that David Cronenberg and his love of humanity!

While Rabid may not rank with Cronenberg's best–it's a bit bloated in the midsection and hews a bit too closely to its predecessor Shivers–it's still got that delight(fully disgusting) sleazy/cerebral combination that only he can deliver.

While she wasn't the director's first choice for Rose (Cronenberg wanted Sissy Spacek but producers balked at her accent, of all things), the stunt casting of porn star Marilyn Chambers in her first leading mainstream role turned out to be a genius move if you want to give Rabid a feminist read: Rose dispatches plenty of men–who assume they have a right to her body–with something akin to passionless sex.

Spacek makes an appearance in the film regardless

Of course, you don't have to get all hoity-toity with it. Rabid is quite satisfactory as a straight-up virus/body horror film, no metaphors or analysis required! After all, if there's one thing I learned in Psych 101, it's that sometimes an armpit-sphincter/vagina-needlepenis is just an armpit-sphincter/vagina-needlepenis.

May 7, 2016

VHS Week Day 6: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)


If you were to make a list of the worst things that could drip from one's house, surely blood would rank near the top. I mean, the very notion of it is enough to induce heebies and jeebies–it's gross, unhygienic, and scary. A house that drips blood is not at all something you want in your life! The House that Dripped Blood, however, is another matter entirely. You definitely want it in your life, but only if any or all of the following appeal to you:
  • Peter Cushing
  • Christopher Lee
  • Amicus Productions
  • Robert Bloch
  • Ingrid Pitt
  • Anthology movies
All of those things appeal to you, right? You're not, like, some kind of lame or something, right? Right? I don't want any lames hanging out around here!

A cynical Scotland Yard detective is searching for a famous actor who's gone missing. The trail leads to a house the actor rented from an agent named Stoker (how scary!), who regales the detective (and us) with several tales from the house's history. Each tale centers around a renter who meets (or makes) a grisly end within its walls: a horror writer whose evil creation may have leapt from fiction to reality, a retiree who is drawn to a macabre wax museum, a father who frightens–and is frightened of–his young daughter, and finally, the famous actor himself, whose search for authenticity while making a vampire movie may not be the wisest career move.

Yes, indeed, this movie is as delightful as those bullet points up top would lead you to believe. Like most every other anthology film, it's campy at times, creepy at times, and rocks a decidedly EC Comics vibe with all of its twist endings and mad people. More than anything, though, it's a real celebration of "horror." Characters are tied to the genre in various ways, and there are shout outs to Poe, Hoffman, Universal monsters...there's even a sly wink at Christopher Lee's incarnation of Dracula. While it's a terrific Sunday afternoon kind of fright flick, it lacks the truly memorable stories and moments you'll find in other anthology films, such as "And All Through the House" (Tales from the Crypt) or basically any second of Creepshow. Still, any movie that has the good sense to cast Ingrid Pitt as a vampire is an automatic A++ movie, so there you go.


May 6, 2016

VHS Week Day 5: THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)


"Bring in the perverts."

Yes, that is obviously my everyday rallying cry, but it's also a line from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the auspicious directorial debut from the one and only Dario Argento. It bears many of the hallmarks of Argento's later, more famous works–the intermingling of sex, death, and art; the disconcerting camerawork–but it also proves what a boon restraint can be for an indulgent filmmaker.

After living and working in Italy for several weeks, American writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is set to return to his native land when he witnesses an attempted homicide through an art gallery window. Sam becomes embroiled in the investigation, first as a suspect, then as an amateur sleuth. Several young women throughout Rome have fallen victim to the same knife-wielding maniac from the gallery, and Sam is determined to suss out his memories from that fateful night. Of course, the knife-wielding maniac enjoys all the killin'...will Sam take a bite out of crime, or will it take a bite out of him (by stabbing him right to death)?


What we've got here, my friends–you guessed it–is a giallo. It's a mystery thriller! It's stylish! It's full of bizarre characters! It's got intense sequences! It's got some touches of black comedy and it's got black gloves! It's also shockingly subdued when you consider this is a Dario Argento film. Granted, it's his earliest work and after all, I did watch a VHS copy which may have been hacked up like one of the women in the film...but I'll be damned if the whole thing doesn't make sense. How unexpected! It's not just the storytelling that's restrained, however, as the murders are largely bloodless and decidedly untheatrical. You won't find the psychotropic, candy-colored wonderment of Suspiria here, but you will find coherence alongside the thrills. Surely that's some sort of a tradeoff?

May 5, 2016

VHS Week Day 4: ANGUISH (1987)


I am shocked–shocked, I tells ya–that it's taken me so long to see Anguish. Lo, it was a video store staple back in The Day. This GD cover haunted me from the shelves every time I went a-browsin', and my friends and I would rent anything remotely resembling a horror movie. Why oh why did I never take it home?


I kind of left it behind in the rental era; in recent years, whenever it'd enter my brain space, I'd think "Oh, I've seen that and I wasn't wild about it." However, that thought was actually regarding Monkey Shines–my brain done mixed up those striped monkey pants and the swirl over Zelda Rubenstein's face. Stupid brain! (side note: should I give Monkey Shines another chance?)


Anyway. Now, at long last, I have seen Anguish. To be honest, although the film had some surprises in store, my life pretty much feels the same as it used to.

Anguish starts out in Total Weirdsville as we meet Mother (Rubenstein) and John (Michael Lerner). They keep birds and snails in their cramped apartment. John eats his bananas-n-milk in a slurpy disgusting way...it's just one of those classic skeevy mommy and middle-aged son cinematic relationships. Things get weirder when mom busts out the hypnosis swirl and puts John in a bit of a trance, then sends him out to murder those who have slighted him in any way. He doesn't just murder them, though–he cuts out their eyeballs, rinses them off, and adds them to his collection.

We take a sharp turn into Oh That's Pretty Cooltown when it's revealed that we haven't been watching Anguish–we've been watching The Mommy alongside an audience. Yep, it's the ol' "movie within a movie" trick!


On-screen happenings bleed into real life as the hypnosis swirl induces nausea and odd behavior in viewers, and it's not long before an ardent Mommy fan begins killing off members the theater crowd. The two realities intertwine and we often can't tell if we're watching Anguish or The Mommy or both or neither. The obvious parallel to draw here is to Lamberto Bava's Demons; Anguish shares the nesting doll-style conceit and a similar feel, although it's more in the slasher vein than the supernatural. As viewers of The Mommy grew increasingly uncomfortable and cautiously looked around the dark theater in fear, it struck me that it must have been something to see Anguish on the big screen. All meta-like and shit, you know?

At times I hailed Anguish as a lost gem and lamented that it took me so long to discover it, particularly since I'd passed it over so many times when a-browsin'. It's got a creepy vibe, it's gross, it's a bitchin' idea...I was ready shout SEE ANGUISH NOW from the blogtops. By the time it was over, however, I was more than a bit fatigued. The film stagnates about 3/4 in as various bits are repeated and rehashed: one audience member cries and cries because The Mommy scares her so much, another one escapes and tries to convince a man to help her...these same few scenes play out again and again and you just want Anguish to get on with it already. So look, I'm not shouting "see Anguish now" but I will definitely say it. Although it may not be a lost gem, it's absolutely a lost novelty that deserves a look. And I had some seriously bloody dreamception dreams after watching it last night where I could no longer discern whether or not I was actually awake–maybe Zelda Rubenstein's hypnosis swirl worked on me after all!