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!

Dec 15, 2023

Arise, fair Esther

2023 is winding down and I say good riddance! Sure sure, there were plenty of creamy middles and even some delicious highs. But we cannot ignore low lows from the past year either, including but not limited to The Exorcist: Believer existing, a Blu-ray release of Stay Alive still not existing, and Screaming Females existing and then not existing any longer, which means that the February show--where they were to play with Team fucking Dresch!!--I had tickets for was cancelled. With Persephone firmly tucked away in the underworld for the next li'l bit (stay strong, girl) and the sun setting at, like, 3:30 in the afternoon, the dark vibes seem perfectly fitting as 2023 withers to its end at last. 

But, soft! What choker through yonder window breaks? It is Esther's, and she is the goddamned sun! She has come to save us all with the news that Orphan 3 is in active development.

Perhaps you already know this, but regardless let me state it plain: I am such an Orphan fan. It is the goodest of good times. I never dared to wish for more, particularly as star Isabelle Fuhrman aged out of the role. But somehow, against all odds and the laws of nature alike, that not-wish was answered last year with Orphan: First Kill, yet another goodest of good times, which made me feel like a dope for thinking that Isabelle Fuhrman would ever age out of this role. Mind you, more than a decade had passed since the first film, and Fuhrman looks like a 23-year-old playing a 31-year-old playing a 9-year-old. Go figure! There are camera tricks and apple boxes galore, and we are never fooled for an instant into thinking anyone would assume she's a regular ol' child! The filmmakers also know this. None of us care. Orphan:First Kill is glorious. It's a film that probably shouldn't be at all but there it is and we as a species are better for it. 

"But no, that has to be the last? No, right?" Again, I daren't dream for more. But madlad William Brent Bell saw the love that lurks in my heart, and will deliver unto us more-phan. When will we see it? Who knows. It doesn't matter. Just knowing that Esther is out there in the ether is enough for me. I'm already writing letters to the Oscars, telling them to get ready to hand out all of their trophies to Orphan 3.  

Okay, in this one that choker is gonna be removed and her head will fall off at last, I just knows it!

Oct 31, 2023

Day 31 - "It's Halloween. Everyone's entitled to one good scare."

Here we are, at the end of all things SHOCKtober 2023! My, how time flies when you're having horror movies. It's been a terrific time for me, giving a few films a second chance, revisiting some old faves, and watching many more that were entirely new to me--a couple of which have become new faves. But what to choose for the last movie of the month? After much consideration and poring over the list of your favorites until my eyes fell out (it's 951 movies, after all), I said you know what, let me put on some Uggs™, take a sip of my pumpkin spice coffee (my supply is dwindling, by the way), and be a basic bitch: It's time for la raison de la saison. It's time for Halloween (1978).

I actually don't make it mandatory viewing every year, opting instead for anything that feels atmospherically-appropriate because I've seen Halloween so many goddamn times that I could probably do a 99% accurate one-woman show of the entire thing, music cues included. But something about this year, it just felt right. It felt...not fresh, exactly, because that's impossible. It's not as if it would hold any surprises for me, but I was excited all the same. It's like I was the third kid trailing behind Laurie in the pumpkin parade, going "ooooOOOOoooooo."

In the 2010 and 2017 lists of readers' favorite horror films, Halloween ranked #1. In 2020, it dropped to #4, with Suspiria (2018) taking the top spot. I'd be surprised if Suspiria held the top spot next time around--yes, I think that's a perfect film and it certainly ranks as one of my favorites, but it's possible there was some recency bias (or perhaps Gaylords of Darkness listener bias) happening. I could be wrong! We shall see. But I'd be equally surprised to see Halloween regain the top spot. Do the kids jive with it anymore? It feels like no.

Of course, I am generalizing, and there are always going to be those who like to put the stab-stab to horror's sacred cows, calling them "boring" or "not scary" or "not actually that good" or whatever. Scream, it seems, has taken over as the slasher top dog. It's got a healthy, vocal contingent that came of horror age with it, and the newer installations bring back legacy characters while still centering a young demographic. Essentially, Scream keeps on Screamin' in a way that brings together multiple generations of horror fans. It works in a way that Halloween does not and never has, with its offshoots, multiple reboots, explanations, and timelines. 

Even though I take a year off from it here and there, though, I'll always love this movie with my whole heart. It's too ingrained. It terrified me too much during the entirety of my youth: That shot of Michael sitting up and turning to look at Laurie was (and honestly, still sort of is) the stuff of nightmares. For a long time of my horror-loving life, I could not envision anything scarier than Michael Myers. Except maybe Pazuzu. 

As for Laurie Strode, I think I've been too hard on her in recent years and the fact that it's ultimately Dr Loomis who saves the day, even if the respite is only temporary. I can't help but be dazzled by more proactive gals like your Chris Higgins, or the gals who really fucking went through it like Sally Hardesty. But really, every Final Girl really fucking went through it, yeah? Why am I making this some kind of Final Girl Oppression and Going Through It Olympics? 

Girl Scout Laurie goes from watching a monster movies with the two kids in her charge to finding the dead bodies of literally all of her friends in the blink of an eye. She's relentlessly pursued by a maniac--a smooth-walking maniac, but a maniac nonetheless. She runs, she fends him off and fights back on more than one occasion, and she still has the wherewithal to take care of those kids. She's fucking great, and I take back every single moment I cared that Loomis SHOT HIM SIX TIMES.

Speaking of Loomis, I know--I KNOW!--that he's essential for making Michael Myers something more than a mere weirdo. Without Loomis, there is no Shape. But my gawd, Loomis. His diagnosis of Michael, which is that the man is an "it" who is "evil," is based on ~*~vibes~*~. Yes, Michael stabbed his sister to death. There's clearly something going on! But otherwise, we are told that he simply stares at walls. He doesn't hurt anyone in the hospital. He doesn't say a word or make a threatening gensture. But Doctor (DOCTOR!!!) Loomis looks in his eyes and knows he is evil. What fucking Sally Struthers correspondence course did he take to earn his degree certificate? 

That said, of course he was right, so thank goodness he didn't opt for Air Conditioner Repair or TV/VCR Repair, amirite?

I had such a great time revisiting this movie. The music still hits. Nick Castle's physicality is oddly underrated when we're talking about great horror performances. I still adore the girls (Annie is forever my sarcastic queen). It's still crazy how quick the sex is between Judith Myers and her boyfriend. I still wonder who was going to look at the Myers house? Like, who was the prospective buyer for whom Laurie Strode had to drop off keys?

So I don't know, if you're anything like me in that you've seen Halloween so many times that you love it but you also you've wrung every last possible drop of in-the-moment enjoyment from it...maybe you haven't. Maybe you'll find yourself wishing you had it all alone...just the two of you. What I'm really talking about here is FATE.

I guess that's a wrap on it! Thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting and the such, it's been a hoot indeed. If you want to keep up with Final Girl updates (I'VE GOT PLANS), you can sign up over at Avenue X (it's free!) and get Final Girl posts and whatever other writing I do over there right in the ol' email inbox. Or you can keep checking here, that's your business. I've also been guesting a lot recently on the Evolution of Horror podcast--many of my episodes are on the Patreon, but there are free ones, too. I also still have my column in every issue of Rue Morgue magazine--I've usually got a few reviews in there as well, and the occasional feature. Just throwing that all out there.

So I'll be around a few places and back here soon. Until then, as always, make every tober a SHOCKtober

Oct 30, 2023

Day 30 - "Sometimes you can get very weird. And you're getting worse lately."

The movie I'm writing about here today is not the movie I'd originally intended to write about her today. I had the other movie all picked out, the DVD in my hand. But as I was about to open the case, it was like something came over me. I entered a weird fugue state, or maybe I was momentarily possessed, I don't know. Whatever happened to me physically or metaphysically compelled me to watch Girls Nite Out (1982), a slasher movie that I absolutely hated the first (and only!) time I saw it, way back in 2005, during the very first SHOCKtober here at Final Girl.

At the time, I found it to be not only dull and plodding, but also insanely misogynist. It's strange to me that I would willingly revisit it at all, but I think that subconsciously the spirit of SHOCKtober (her name is SHOCKtobra, obviously) was speaking to me...or maybe through me?...and saying "It was called a favorite film by one reader in 2020. Why not revisit it? What's the harm?"

There was a part of me that was vehemently against the idea. Why waste time on garbage, especially on garbage I'd already seen, hated, and called misogynist?

But another part of me, the cool mom part, said "Lighten up, narc, you can burn your bras some other time! This is SHOCKtober, baby! Get it while you can"

Let me say it right up front: I guess all sides of me are now cool mom because I actually...loved it this time. What a world!

I look for and respond to most horror movies much differently than I did in 2005, and Girls Nite Out is a great example. I appreciate random elements that either breezed right by me or didn't fit within the parameters of what constituted "a good slasher" to me. Maybe I've just seen a lot of movies that are more extreme or more hateful since then--movies that both predate this one, and movies that were produced long after. Maybe I'm just tuckered out by outrage, as public discourse about every single thing has become an endless series of Two Minutes Hates. We had a pandemic! That I guess is over? I just kind of feel like...I got that worked up because the killer in Girls Nite Out calls the victims "whore" or "slut" before they're killed? I get it, I suppose, but nevertheless, I don't feel like persisting. This movie is pretty fucking harmless in the scheme of things and of all the words I'd use to describe it, at this point "misogynist" is pretty far down the list. I'm going to turn in the Susan B Anthony award (for baby feminism) I won in 6th grade the next time I pass by my elementary school.

Now then, if you're still here, what exactly do I like so much about a shitty slasher movie that I am willing to surrender prestigious (AND WELL-EARNED OKAY) awards over it? 

I love the story we can infer by the casting of Hal Holbrook and his son David. By 1982, the elder Holbrook was already a revered actor, beloved for his Tony-winning one-man show about Mark Twain and his Emmy-nominated performance in ABC Movie of the Week That Certain Summer. His star was still on the rise, really, and he had no business being in a low-budget horror movie about a wackadoo who dons a mascot costume and goes around killing college girls during a midnight scavenger hunt. But when you see "Introducing David Holbrook" in the opening credits, you know what's up: Hal is here so his son would be cast in the movie. And every time Hal Holbrook appears on the screen in Girls Nite Out, you can see another little chunk of his soul leave his body and flutter away, never to return.

Was it worth it? Well, David Holbrook has maybe five minutes of screen time total. Girls Nite Out has a fairly large cast, and he's the worst actor of the bunch by an Antonio Bay mile. But my goodness, he acts so hard. He is doing a lot of acting. He gets to work with Lauren Marie-Taylor of Friday the 13th Part 2, and he gets to deliver the best speech in the film, which I did not acknowledge as such in 2005:
You little bitch! You just take what you can get. All of you--you're nothing but a bunch of whores! I won't forget this.

So again, I ask: was it worth it?

Fuck yeah it was! Thank you for your service and sacrifice, Pater Holbrook. 

I love all the characters in this movie. While there is one that is clearly designated "the nerd," every single character in Girls Nite Out is a nerd. The "cool" college radio station DJ who plays nothing but the Lovin' Spoonful? Nerd.

The two star jocks of the team and who share a nice bromance? Nerds.


They're all nerds. Many of them are charming as hell, and I was even a titch bummed when a few girls (who reminded me of the queens in Killer Party) got killed. 

What else do I love? Hmm. Well, I love that it emerged during the slasher heyday and plays with tropes juuuust enough to not have your typical "Final Girl vs the Killer" ending. I'm not even sure if the final girl would qualify as a "Final Girl" here. But she is played by Julia Montgomery, who looks like a 1982 Mena Suvari in this and would go on to star in all the Revenge of the Nerd movies, so who cares about narrowly-defined archetypes! 

I love Detective Nikola Tesla.

Once upon a time, I did not at all appreciate the killer's signature weapon, which was a "bear claw" fashioned out of steak knives. Now upon a time, I say "Freddy Krueger WHO?"

With visions of misogynistplums dancing in my head all these years, I was surprised to see on this revisit that the body count, while nearly all women, is shockingly low, and the violence is not at all brutal or sadistic or explicit. Though these are a bunch of ostensibly horny college students, there's no sex and no nudity. It's really tame as far as these things go, and much of the runtime is spent (deep breath) getting to know the characters. They are even afforded opportunities to react to and grieve for their friends' deaths. That's such a rare thing in slasher movies, where bodies are usually only there to add to the count.

Of course, it's not trying to be anything other than a slasher flick. The killer's costume is goofy as all hell. The ending is completely silly and bonkers and I was so into it. 

If rewatching Girls Nite Out at all was shocking to me, well, enjoying it as much as I did makes me question every opinion I've ever had about anything. What would happen if I, say, ate a circus peanut? Would I love that, too? Who even am I anymore? What other changed opinions about horror movies are waiting in the wings of my brain manor? Can I trust myself? Should I have ever trusted myself? Sigh. I feel untethered! There's only one thing I can still be sure of:

You're nothing but a bunch of whores! ❤

Oct 29, 2023

Day 29 - "There's nothing unnatural here! Or supernatural!"

If you've been hanging around these parts for more than...oh, let's say three minutes, then you know I've always got a hankerin' for some made-for-TV horror. It's great that it seems like no matter how many I've seen, there's another ol' new-to-me flick waiting in the wings, such as today's one vote wonder, A Cold Night's Death (1973). I tells ya, I hope I never run out of made-for-TV horror!

A Cold Night's Death originally aired on Tuesday, January 30, 1973 as ABC's Tuesday Movie of the Week. Movie of the Week ran from 1969 to 1975, each year comprising "seasons" that featured low budget films produced exclusively for ABC. All genres were dabbled in, and hot topic issues like feminism, racism, and homosexuality were often center focus. After a couple seasons, horror had proven to be one of the most popular genres; Some of ABC's titles would go on to become classics both mainstream and cult: Bad Ronald, Scream Pretty Peggy, Home for the Holidays, The Night StalkerDon't Be Afraid of the Dark, Trilogy of Terror, and Duel are but a few. Blumhouse fucking wishes.

No star was too big for the small screen, either. Milton Berle, Barbara Stanwyck, Olivia de Havilland, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Charles Nelson Reilly...a whole Hollywood Boulevard's worth of names appeared in one or more productions over the years. A Cold Night's Death is no different, giving us Robert Culp and Eli Wallach as two scientists stuck at a remote research station where they battle the elements, each other, and maybe...something else! oooOOOOOOoooooooooooo

Robert Jones and Frank Enari (Culp and Wallach) are helicoptered to Tower Mountain Research Station after base camp loses contact with the station's lone resident, Vogel, whose last radio messages had been increasingly delusional and erratic. After some searching through the trashed station, they find Vogel sitting at the radio, frozen solid. A nearby window was open. The door was unlocked. The station's primate test subjects are freezing and starving. 

This is all ominous to be sure, but after Vogel's body is helicoptered back down the mountain, Jones and Enari stay on to continue the research. Enari is excited about this venture and doesn't mind the isolation, as he's looking forward to digging into the facts and the data. He also has a nice rapport with control chimp Geronimo, and with all these monkeys and chimps and the such in this movie--and this movie being from 1973--well, I can't be the only one who's braced for the possibilities of animal abuse, right? My Food of the Gods PTSD is still fresh!

Jones, on the other hand, is immediately bored and depressed. He loves the exploration and mystery aspects of research, and there's not much fun for him noting temperature readings or whatever in a remote mountaintop lab buried in snow. Space travel is cool, but recording the effects of altitude in primates to aid space travel is uncool. Jones is bummed because he clearly subscribes to the ethos of Countess Luann de Lesseps of The Real Housewives of New York.

It's interesting to me that the men divide up the tasks at the station in a way that's...mmm, let's say it's along the lines of 1970s traditional gender roles: While Jones is to take care of all the mechanics and maintenance of the station, including shoveling vast amounts of snow to melt for water, Enari takes on the domestic chores. He ties on aprons, makes the beds, cooks, cleans, and at one point, he even worries about his figure. Now I'm not saying there's any notes of romance happening between these two men, because I don't think there is. I'm just saying that the coding is a thing that makes me go hmmm (CCMusicFactoryVEVO™).

It doesn't take long for things to start getting weird around the station. The monkeys start flipping the fuck out at night. Noises are heard. The window in the radio room is found open. The generator is turned off. Food is ruined. What's going on here?

Mystery-loving Jones thinks that Vogel's strange death is tied into it somehow. The men begin to accuse and distrust each other, turning into to The Thing Blairs in a pod. 

The big reveal is maybe some silly kind of EC Comics stuff, but it really doesn't matter. The real fun is in the getting there, the span of time where we know something is up with this place. The men know something is up with this place, even if they're sometimes reluctant to admit it. Heck, even the monkeys know. A Cold Night's Death is a suspenseful little yarn indeed. It all hinges on Culp and Wallach, who bicker their way through growing paranoia and mistrust whilst trapped in horrendous conditions. The scenes outside of the station look convincingly freezing: the snow is piled high, the wind and storms are relentless, and even in the heat of summer it'll likely have you reaching for your Snuggie. An effectively eerie, sci-fi tinged score from Gil MellĂ© keeps things moody and the atmosphere creepy. 

Yes, I was genuinely creeped out at times, despite the fact that I watched this on YouTube, where you can tell by the screencaps that the resolution is approximately 50p. It's well worth "suffering" through, though, as A Cold Night's Death is a terrific way to spend 75 or so minutes. I'm thankful that good folks have uploaded some titles already, but that shitty picture quality (and slightly out-of-sync sound) has me hoping that someone like Kino Lorber, who's done a wonderful job cleaning up several other ABC Movies of the Week (The VictimThe Screaming Woman, etc), will give it a proper release at some point. We deserve this. The legacies of Culp and Wallach deserve this. The legacy of my man Bert Remsen, who starred in Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo and acted as casting supervisor on this film, deserves this. Film history deserves this. Most of all, Geronimo and all the other monkeys and chimps deserve this. Can I get a (monkey voice) ooh ooh ooh AHH AHH (GeronimoVEVO™)?

Oct 28, 2023

Day 28 - "I do not like that thing, and I do not like your attitude in completely ignoring that fact."

Reader, I suggest you strap yourself in with like five seatbelts because I am about to tell you the very exciting saga of how I chose today's chosen.

So there I was, perusing the list of your favorite horror movies when my eyes fell upon something called Tales That Witness Madness, which earned a single vote in 2020. "That sounds like some Lovecraft something or other, I will pass," I thought. Then my eyes literally screeched to a halt (and I do mean literally--there was the noise and the blue smoke and everything) when I saw that it was directed by Freddie Francis. You mean Freddie Francis, director of Dr Terror's House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt, and Torture Garden Freddie Francis? Freddie Francis, Amicus anthology king Freddie Francis? 

"That sounds like it's probably not some Lovecraft something or other, I shall not pass," I thought. That last bit was thought in a Gandalf voice, obviously.

So then I watched it!

See, aren't you glad you had all those seatbelts on?

This is indeed an anthology film, and given the Freddie Francis of it all and the 1973 of it all, you would not be remiss to think that this is an Amicus production. But trust me, you will be availed of that idea fairly quickly. You'll see some blood splatter and think "That's surprising!" Then you'll see some bare breasts and you'll think "WOWZEE WOW! HONK HONK AWOOOGA! WHOA MAMA HUMINA HUMINA BOIYOIYOING!" Finally, you put your eyes back in your head and you remember that you didn't see the word "Amicus" over the delightfully groovy opening credits. You put all three things together and at last get it through your thick skull that this is not an Amicus anthology film!

I always have a good time with anthology horror flicks, and this was no exception, although it's decidedly on the "Huh?" end of the spectrum as far as these things go. But that's something I admire in bite-sized storytelling: the ability to answer " does this make sense...?" with "It doesn't, who cares?"

Even the framing narrative had me scratching my chin: Donald Pleasence is a doctor at a futuristic insane asylum (I say "futuristic" because doors open with buttons, Pleasence uses a chemistry set to make drinks, and the whole place looks like Upson Pratt's apartment in Creepshow) that houses four very special cases. Why they are famous or what the point is, I'm not really sure. He says he's "solved" the cases but they're all still patients...? Eh, who cares! The cases provide the stories, what else do you need to know?

In the first, "Mr Tiger," a young boy has a tiger for an imaginary friend. Only it's not really imaginary, I guess, because it shows up and kills the boy's asshole parents who do nothing but scream at each other. Then the tiger leaves. That's it!

I liked the close-ups of the tiger attack, because you could see that its "paws" were clearly just big gloves on a human.

The second story, "Penny Farthing," is about a young man who inherits some stuff from his dead aunt, including a penny farthing and a photo portrait of a man that's labeled "Uncle Albert." The portrait changes expression and can do some light telekinesis. It compels the young man to start pedaling the penny farthing, which takes him back in time. The young man is then a young Uncle Albert, but a gross zombie-looking old Uncle Albert is also there. The young man's girlfriend, who looks just like Uncle Albert's girlfriend in the past, ends up dead. That's it! 

The third story, "Mel," was the best, and I'm not just saying that because it's the one that starred Joan Collins (who famously worked with Francis in the Tales from the Crypt story "And All Through the House", though that's certainly a big part it. A man brings home a giant chunk of tree and plops it in his living room, perhaps as some sort of art. His wife doesn't like it. The tree, which is vaguely woman-shaped and has the initials MEL carved in it, doesn't like the wife. Things escalate!

"Mel" was so fucking weird and funny--how could anyone not love a story that has Joan Collins and a sequence wherein we get to watch a tree's murder fantasy? If Tales That Witness Madness was only this fifteen minutes, I would have been fine with it. "Mel" rules, and the rest of the movie is just an enjoyable bonus.

The last segment, "Luau," features a young man whose mother's dying wish is for her son to complete an elaborate ritual sacrifice so that she will go to Heaven (or some other nice afterlife place) and he will be granted supernatural powers. The young man stays at his agent's house and has designs--sacrificial designs--on the agent's daughter. It all comes to a head at a luau. It ends abruptly an it's never made clear if the man gains his supernatural powers...? Oh well. 

I'm sure the whole ceremony and all that is rather yikes, but it's 1973, so some yikes is not entirely unexpected in a story centered around a luau. What's more surprising is that Kim Novak came out of retirement for this shit! What's even more MORE surprising is that she replaced Rita Hayworth! Madness, indeed.

Tales That Witness Madness was written by actress Jennifer Jayne (under the pseudonym "Jay Fairbank"), who previously worked with Francis in Dr Terror's House of Horrors. In my mind, when she wrapped up her segment in that film ("Vampire"), she said to herself "Ooh, you know what, lemme write one of those" and then she did. She also penned another Freddie Francis film, the reportedly nutso (I have not seen it to attest!) Son of Dracula, a musical starring the likes of Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, and Peter Frampton. Clearly she just wrote whatever she wanted without a care in the world, and to this I say thank you, Jennifer Jayne. Does any of her work make sense? It doesn't, who cares?

Oct 27, 2023

Day 27 - "Death does not have the power to separate us."

Having emerged from The New York Ripper earlier this month with my faculties intact, I decided to play with fire and watch another movie from my "do not watch this, it will ruin you" list. That's right, I took Marbles Harsgrove's "Don't live your life by fear. Don't do that" advice to heart and planted myself in front of the one vote wonder that is...

Yes, I have now seen Joe D'Amato's infamous spaghetti splatter flick Beyond the Darkness (1979), aka Buio Omega despite my worries that it would have me puking up my innards like that lady in Fulci's City of the Living Dead.

Hmm. Well, maybe I puked up my innards a long time ago and never noticed. Or perhaps I never had any innards to begin with? Whatever the reason is, I came out the other side of this one with my gorge decidedly unrisen, which is perhaps the most shocking thing about this shocker.

Don't get me wrong, Beyond the Darkness is truly, truly, truly gross. TRULY. But with the exception of one gnarly scene (that did have me looking away, I admit), the grossness isn't tied to the violence, which made all the difference for me. I think I was expecting, I don't know, tongues ripped out and eyeballs stabbed and the like, so when it wasn't that--when it's just "oh, you're hacking up a dead body?"--it was more palatable...though not at all palatable, if you know what I mean. It definitely deserves to have caution tape wrapped around it to ward off the innocent, but I think that for me, the context of the gore put it in the "really gross" category when I thought it'd be in the "really gross and hateful" category. Never thought I'd be here all "oh it's not that bad, I think I might have even enjoyed it" about a movie chock full of splatter, cannibalism, and necrophilia. But then I also never thought I'd live in a world where I stopped buying Sleater-Kinney albums, but here I am! (#Justice4Janet)

Frank (Kieran Canter) is a very pretty (he really is) young taxidermist whose girlfriend Anna (Cinzia Monreale) is in the hospital for some reason. Frank's housekeeper Iris (Franca Stoppi) is jealous of Anna, and so she enlists the help of a Strega Nona-type to do some voodoo on Anna. The voodoo do work, and Anna dies. Frank is sad. Back home, Iris offers him some titty. I mean that literally. She breastfeeds Frank, and you say to yourself, "Oh, what have I done to myself by watching this movie?"

Anyway, Frank ain't a taxidermist for no reason! He absconds with Anna's body, then proceeds to preserve her--you know, taking out all of her insides, giving her glass eyes, taking a bite out of her heart, etc. As you do. It's gross!

Unfortunately for...well, all of us, in a way...a hitchhiker forced herself into Frank's van when he was on his way home with Anna's body. When she catches wind of what's going on, Frank kills her, but not before ripping out all of her fingernails with pliers. Please note, that was the scene where I had to look away. It's gross!

The ever-helpful Iris is right there to assist Frank with disposing of the hitchhiker's body. By "assist" I mean "do most of the work" as Iris chops up the dead young lass with a cleaver while Frank fills the tub with acid. I love that the acid was in green glass wrapped in a basket, like a giant bottle of the finest Ernest & Julio Gallo.

Several nauseating hacks later, the hitchhiker's body parts are chucked into the tub where they dissolve into a curdled froth. Iris scoops up wayward guts with a dustpan. It's gross!

In the next scene, D'Amato intercuts Iris really disgustingly eating stew (seriously, who eats like that?) with shots of hitchhiker stew, and Frank barfs. It's gross!

Frank meets a couple of other lovely young women--a jogger, a disco dancer--and they may or may not end up dead if they find out about the dead body in his bed. Frank almost maybe could be into these lovely young women, but he really only loves Anna still and he's sad. Iris offers him a handjob. Aww (?)

Iris grows increasingly jealous of Anna and insists that Frank dispose of her. To placate her, Frank agrees to marry her on the condition that Anna stays. But when Iris invites her family over to celebrate the engagement, Frank gets a gander at them and bolts. Yeah, they're kind of weird, but they seem nice, and Iris is heartbroken. I was surprised to find myself feeling bad for the psychotic housekeeper! (#Justice4Iris)

Eventually Anna's twin sister Elena (also Monreale) shows up, throwing several wrenches into all the works. Frank is like "Oh dip! She's just like Anna but she moves and blinks, what do I do?" Iris is like "Oh dip! She's just like Anna but she moves and blinks and Frank is going to love her, what do I do?"

Frank flees to dispose of Anna, and Iris cuts the lights in the house. As Elena wanders around wondering what the fuck is going on (much like we, the viewers), a ghostly voice calls to her, warning her to leave the house because it's cursed. Now look, I couldn't really tell if it was supposed to really be Anna speaking from beyond the grave or whether it was Iris pulling some Scooby-Doo kind of shit, but obviously I choose to believe the latter. That's too good! And it's a great way to get rid of unwanted company, so I'm filing it away for reference.

Elena wandering in the dark and Iris coming after her with a knife is the closest thing Beyond the Darkness has to an effectively tense scene, and thus it was my favorite. 

Iris and Frank end up duking it out. Cheeks are eaten, eyeballs are ripped out, groins are stabbed. It's gross! But honestly, it's far far from the grossest thing in the movie and at this point you're just like "okay, Buio Omega, what else you got for me?"

In a case of mixed-up corpses, Elena almost ends up buried alive. But then she doesn't! And actually, that might be the most shocking thing about this film. After all of the nastiness and nihilism, Beyond the Darkness ends on a silly, light note. 

I really do think I enjoyed this dumb movie. I say I "think" I enjoyed it because its only goal is to gross you out, and that's not usually my bag. The story is a simple one, and yet so many questions remain.

Has Frank always been a wackadoo, or did Anna's death break his brain and drive him insane? We know nothing of his personality before her death, so it's impossible to say. And as his one facial expression throughout the film is "being pretty" (he really is), we never really understand what his torment is all about. Is it just frustration that he and Anna never consummated their relationship? 

What's Iris's deal? Is she really in love with Frank, or does she just want his money? Has she always offered up some titty here, a handjob there? She is curious! She is a real weirdo and I am intrigued by her prison matron charms.

I suppose you could make some case for Beyond the Darkness as a film about grief and learning to let go of our loved ones when they're gone. But again, D'Amato's only aim is to induce nausea, so any greater meaning is likely happenstance. However, much as I choose to believe in Iris's Scooby-Doo antics, I also choose to believe that D'Amato was making a larger point. I'm putting that thesis out in the world if only to see Beyond the Darkness listed alongside Hereditary and The Babadook and Don't Look Now in listicles about horror movies that deal with grief.

Or maybe D'Amato is just saying "Hey, if your girlfriend looked like Cinzia Monreale and she died, you, too would consider keeping her around regardless," amirite? It's not like these kinds of things don't happen in real life.

As Anna, Monreale doesn't have much to do beyond, you know, playing dead, sometimes fully nude, sometimes clothed. She's great! When I was in college I had to play a dead body in a stage production; I was under a sheet and it was a struggle not to breathe in an obvious way. Meanwhile Monreale's out here not breathing, not moving, and not blinking, amazing. Between this and those chunky-ass contacts she wore in The Beyond, she has certainly suffered enough onscreen in some of horror's more insane outings.

While it took me forever to get to Beyond the Darkness--and I wasn't sure I'd ever get to it--I've had the Goblin (billed as "The Goblins" in the film) soundtrack forever because it's fuckin' wicked. While it could simply be a side effect of listening to an unmoored soundtrack for years, I was a bit surprised to come out of hearing it in situ feeling like it didn't really work. It doesn't organically mesh with what's happening onscreen. It's more sort of plonked in there with no real function. But hey, it's still fuckin' wicked, and I'm not entirely sure what an effective, integrated score would be for a gross out flick anyway. I am just saying.

It's a wonder I never saw Beyond the Darkness back in The Day™when my best friend and I would come home from the video store loaded down with every movie that promised to be the scariest and/or the grossest. Many horror-loving yoots go through that phase, yeah? Where mainlining Faces of Death I, II, and III seems like a great way to spend an evening. This film would have fit right in. Maybe that's why I find myself coming away from it bewildered by the fact that I may have enjoyed it: it took me right back to those kind of horror movie parties, where you (gasp) have fun and, when you're not gagging from the grue, you squeal and squirm with delight. I also spent much of the film marveling at D'Amato's cleverness with editing and camera angles; He makes such effective use of animal parts that audiences have often wondered if real human corpses were used. 

Beyond the Darkness is definitely not for the fait of heart, nor is it for the queasy of stomach. It's vile and repellant, I suppose, but ultimately it's a sad and silly film, not a mean one. So if, like me, you've been curious about it but hesitant to indulge, I say let go, let gore.

Oct 26, 2023

Day 26 - "They're waiting at the edge of the city."

Reader, I will not lie! Time and the such caught up with me yesterday, and as such I did not watch a horror movie last night. For shame, I know. "But," thought I, "I will just watch something suitable in the morning." Then the morning came and with it, news of a mass shooting that happened in a nearby town. Let's face it, it's a daily occurrence in this country, isn't it? This one was close enough that my city is a ghost town today. We're not on shelter-in-place or anything like that, but the airport, schools, and most stores are closed as at the time of writing this, there's an active shooter on the loose. I'm not scared, just more sad than anything. (Though my mom did text me to tell me to keep my doors locked, which is...a very sweet mom thing to do.)

So to be honest, I don't much feel like watching something new or reassessing something I've already seen and trying to come up with, you know, ~*~*~opinions~*~*~ and the such.

I think what I'll do instead is zone out with a movie I love so much, one I check out every couple of months or so because it rules so hard. I'm talking about the one and only Messiah of Evil.

The new fancy pants edition from Radiance Films arrived just the other day, and I'd been holding off on checking it out, saving it for Halloween night. But I think it's perfect for today, some weird, moody comfort food. And technically it still fits with this SHOCKtober's ethos, as it appeared on the 2020 list of reader faves at #135, having garnered seven votes. 

I've written about Messiah of Evil time and time and time again, but today I'm going to bask in the pleasure of watching it with no motivation beyond pure enjoyment. I always hoped but daren't have dreamed about this movie getting the royal restored treatment (beyond what Code Red had already done), so it's very exciting that it's here waiting...waiting for you! 

Watch something you love today! And if that something is Messiah of Evil, I understand. This movie is just the best.

Oct 25, 2023

Day 25 - "It's you!'re dead!"

While you are certainly welcome to partake in it any time you please, I tells ya: If there was ever a movie made for afternoon couch watchin', it's Theatre of Blood (1973). Perhaps the five people who voted for it in 2020 already knew that.

Vincent Price is Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who, with the help of his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), takes Shakespearean-flavored revenge on the critics who derided his abilities and gave him countless bad reviews.

Price remarked that out of his lengthy filmography, this was his favorite. It's easy to see why: As each murder is modeled after a death in the work of Shakespeare, Price gets to deliver some of the Bard's most famous lines--and he gets to wear all manner of wigs, makeup, and putty. What's not to love?

It's a trip to watch something like Theatre of Blood and see Lionheart rail against the critics who were so powerful, they could ruin lives with their influence and think about the state of popular criticism today. There is still thoughtful writing out there to be sure, but in the mainstream it's a single sentence on social media, a number on Rotten Tomatoes, drivel on a dire. 

I actually have a lot of thoughts about all of that, but that's all for another time. Or maybe for never, because who cares! 

Edward Lionheart is a fascinating character in that perhaps those critics were almost right about him. It's not that he's a "bad" actor per se. It's more that he was a man trapped in another era, given to over-the-top, melodramatic performances that had fallen out of favor decades before his time. He's a silent movie actor in the world of Talkies, you know? An Actor, a man who is nothing without the theatre, a man with enough ego to name his daughter after himself and mark the significant moments in his life (someone's death, his own...uh, suicide attempt) with Shakespearean monologues. He is the quintessential ham, and it's wonderful watching Price go full flourish, but also find small moments to imbue this character, for whom all the world is a stage, with some kind of real humanity.

It's also fitting that his daughter and cohort Edwina, who learned everything in life from her dear father, dons terrible drag throughout most of the movie. These two live in a fantasy world, fully dedicated to their dubious crafts. 

The murders are often exceedingly bloody and brutal, but completely fantastical, much like the grand guignol theatre of yesteryear. Lionheart must have spent a pretty penny on some of these elaborate set-ups, and I can only imagine what it was like trying to wrangle his troupe of vagrants, vagabonds, and vveirdos. It's Shakespeare by Jigsaw and it's quite a bit of fun, even if Theatre of Blood is a bit overlong at almost two hours. But there are far worse things you could do for that much time than watch Vincent Price in what is essentially a variety of roles, each one more outré than the last.

As Lionheart and his Shakespearean performances were holdovers from a bygone era, so too were Price and Theatre of Blood. By 1973, horror was truly entering a new phase: out were the likes of Vincent Price in his Corman-produced Edgar Allan Poe films, and in were the pea-soup antics of The Exorcist. The exceedingly white and demure houses of Hammer and Amicus were barely holding on, while Blaxploitation horror was thriving. Leatherface was just around the corner, revving up his chainsaw. Price would go on to focus more on his other interests, such as cooking and art, making occasional appearances in things like The Muppet Show or Michael Jackson's "Thriller," where he could bank on his well-earned legacy and simply be himself. Edward Lionheart wishes!