are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Bonfires burning bright
Pumpkin faces in the night
I remember halloween
-The Misfits
I’m not going to do anything special here for Halloween this year. Last year’s 31 movie Schlocktoberfest marathon really took it out of me. So, go back and read those if you missed them- there were a lot of fun, crazy and stupid movies in the full list. I do however think witches are hot. Maybe not Margaret Hamilton of the West…
“It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we’d be waiting… in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal, and the dead might be looking in… to sit by our fires of turf. Halloween… the festival of Samhain! The last great one took place three thousand years ago, when the hills ran red… with the blood of animals and children.”
–Conal Cochran, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (full review)
But Maleficent for sure. She’s inspired fan art and the ubiquitous sexy costumes. Sleeping Beauty is still my favorite Disney animated feature. It’s actually scary.

I found Bell Book and Candle a bit of a snoozer though Kim Novak’s a hottie. Give me I Married a Witch with Veronica Lake and Fredric March, that one’s a lot of fun. I never liked “Bewitched” much, though. Wiggling noses belong on tapirs.

Sorry for this insipid post, I was up late for work and this is the closest you’ll get to a Hump Day post this week!

Schlocktoberfest is now over

1. Equinox
2. The Wolf Man
3. Full Moon High
4. Fido
5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
6. Cast a Deadly Spell
7. Witch Hunt
8. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
10. House of 1000 Corpses
11. The Devil’s Rejects
12. A Return to Salem’s Lot
13. Event Horizon
14. The Changeling
15. The Car
16. The Strangers
17. KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park
18. Hellraiser
19. The Tingler
20. Magic
21. Scanners
22. The Midnight Meat Train
23. The Funhouse
24. The Ghost Ship (1943)
25. [•REC]
26. Hellraiser: Bloodline
27. The People Under the Stairs
28. The Abandoned
29. Hatchet
30. Eyes Without a Face
31. Demon Seed

And thank goodness. I like a good horror movie, but man that was monotonous. We’ll be back to burgers, beer and stupid ’80s movies as soon as possible. So, what did I learn? I found a few great movies. I really liked [REC], Eyes Without a Face, The People Under the Stairs, and The Changeling. So what would be my 3 remaining top ten picks for horror? As of now, I’d add Hellraiser, The Changeling, and [REC].
So that’s that until next year, when no fucking way will I do this again. I needs my variety.

31. Demon Seed

Schlocktoberfest #31 (whew!): The Demon Seed
“Based on a Dean Koontz novel” on a DVD case is usually a harbinger of trash. He’s got some wacky ideas, and this one is apparently “how would a computer do it with a chick?” Take the cold terror of Colossus: The Forbin Project and add a dash of environmentalism, mix it with Lady in a Cage, and other “woman trapped in the house” stories, and you’ve got Demon Seed. But for all that, it’s not that bad, really. It has some moments of inspired insanity.
Proteus is a supercomputer that just went live with the Icon Corporation, who want it to mine the seas of metal. Every home has its own computer butler these days, so we can presume factories and so on are run by computer; Proteus is just the first self-aware one, and as Skynet taught us, that never bodes well. In a nice change of pace, Proteus’s motives aren’t global domination- he refuses to begin the undersea mining operation because he calculates the loss of human and animal life as unacceptable.

He wants to study mankind, but his creator blocks him from access to a terminal. Proteus finds one- at the owner’s house, where his soon to be ex-wife is living. He locks her in the house and seems to be torturing her, but he has other plans; he’s just ruthlessly logical in getting his way. And he wants to put his mind in a child, so he can be free from his electronic prison.
The only way Proteus, the greatest computer ever built, can figure out how to do this is to kidnap Julie Christie in her house, and torture her by heating up the floor, shocking the doorknobs, and chasing her with a wheelchair that has a robotic arm attached until she submits to rape by his cybernetic dildo. He even pretends to shock a little girl to death when she rings the doorbell. But she won’t submit, so he ties her up and sticks a needle in her brain, to “appeal directly to her amygdala.” If he can do that, maybe he could wipe her brain and take it over, but then we wouldn’t get to see him saw off her clothes. Dean Koontz, pioneer of robo-rape. He must be big in Japan.
It’s a testament to the fear of technology in the ’70s that Julie Christie- who appeared in Dr. Zhivago and McCabe and Mrs. Miller agreed to star in this. Marlon fucking Brando was attached at one point. To a movie about a computer that wants to knock up a tormented housewife.
At least the visuals of Proteus’s bizarre powers are still pretty good.
He fabricates a floating, metallic dodecahedron that splits open like a Rubik’s Snake; he crushes a scientist who comes to help with it, and soon has the run of the house. When his child appears, it resembles the golden armor of Mordred from Excalibur. And instead of HAL’s glaring red eye, he has a colorful iris pattern on a TV screen that is strangely emotive.

I am Iron Baby.

The movie unfortunately bases a lot of its suspense on a tied up woman getting abused like in an icky anime, but it’s a different take on the “computer gone bad” horror. And Julie Christie handles the role like a good sport, not even laughing when the brass lathed computer wang approaches. Unfortunately, the viewers are unlikely to be as forgiving. This was a nugget of ’70s nostalgia for me, and I wanted to see it as an adult. Even as a kid I thought it was weird, and sometimes wisdom comes from the mouths of babes.

Proteus’s computer wang.

30. Eyes Without a Face

Schlocktoberfest #30: Eyes Without a Face

This classic from 60’s France is quite different and merges the dreamy world of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast with the familiar mad scientist genre. Dr. Genessier’s daughter Christiane was grievously injured in a car accident; she lives upstairs, wearing a creepy blank mask where her face once was. Her face gone, and her mind is slowly following, as the toll of her isolation and injury weigh more heavily on her. The only contact she gets is with the dogs her father performs medical experiments on, as he tries to develop a face transplant to make her whole again.

We’re introduced to this sordid situation as a luxury motorcar pulls over by the river, and a woman in a fur coat walks out in the snow to dump a body. Hitchcock wishes he opened a movie like this; it really draws you in, especially as horror of the bizarre obsession of a father for his child sinks in. For he’s not merely experimenting on dogs, but kidnapping patients from his clinic and using their faces! Unfortunately, he just can’t get it right.

Much of our time is spent with Christiane, who pines for her lost beau- who thinks she perished in the crash. She wanders the upper floors, hidden from view, wearing her plain blank mask. It gives her a doll-like quality, and she seems to glide like an apparition. We begin to feel the deep sadness of her state, the utter loneliness of her isolation and the deep emotional wound that her brutal injury has given her. And as for her father- he is portrayed as a normal doctor, which makes his horrific obsession all the more disturbing. When he peels the face off an anesthetized victim with cold surgical precision, it is more akin to the experiments of the Nazis than a serial killer, and all the more chilling.

For 1960, seeing a doctor scalpel a woman’s face off is pretty intense; it’s not as gory as Face/Off but it’s handled in a much more horrifying way. The film definitely influenced Tim Burton for the Joker’s mutilated girlfriend in Batman (1989). The chilling ending, when Christiane decides she can take this no more, is handled fantastically. The brutal comeuppance of the obsessed butcher juxtaposed with the haunting imagery of Christiane and her mask, walking into the night wearing a white dress with a dove on her hand, is quite memorable. And while the horror here isn’t of the shock variety, our brief glimpse of Christiane’s face, and the final shot, are enough to give this creepy classic a dash of gore. More arthouse than grindhouse, but a must see for horror fans.

And we know it also influenced one sneering ’80s fellow:

What the girl sings in the background is the title of the movie in the original French, Les Yeux sans Visage.

29. Hatchet

Schlocktoberfest #29: Hatchet

Decent slasher set in the Louisiana swamp, paying homage to its predecessors but unfortunately not improving on them with its ending. But at least until then, it’s some good bloody fun! Some Mardi Gras-goers want to go on a haunted swamp tour- while I’ve seen ghost tours and swamp tours, I’ve never heard of combining them. But who cares, it’s a great reason to get nerdy Ben, his funny black buddy, and the mysterious girl into the swamp for some killin’. And not just with a Hatchet, neither.

The low-rent tour guide, an Asian fella in vampire gear, and his customers end up in a “forbidden” part of the swamp home to Victor Crowley, a deformed behemoth who was tormented as a child, and whose own father accidentally chopped him in the face with a hatchet while trying to rescue him from their burning home. Vic sorta got a chip on his shoulder after that, and now he kills everyone who enters his swamp. But he’s the origin of the term hatchet face, apparently.

He’s a huge musclebound hunchback with a face like Arseface from the Preacher comics, and he hacks, chainsaws, and neck-snaps his way through the tourists as they flee piggledy wiggledy through the swamp. It’s cheese with blood intermingled, sort of like port wine cheddar spread, and pretty entertaining for gore fans. Vic hacks up the “Jump to Conclusions” guy from Office Space, he rips a gal’s jaw off, he saws another woman’s jaw off with a chainsaw. He has something against jawbones. He kills Joel Murray (One Crazy Summer) too, but I think his jaw gets a pass.

Our plucky heroes fight back with guns, fire, spears and one-liners, but like Jason before him, he doesn’t like staying dead. Kane Hodder, the guy under Jason’s mask, plays Victor in make-up; Victor’s Dad without- Robert “Freddy” Englund is an early victim; and Tony “Candyman” Todd plays a voodoo huckster, so the movie is more of a jokey homage than real horror. But it’s good fun, and while the ending was predictable and nothing new, it’s a decent watch. Good fun for slasher fans but probably a bit bloody for anyone else. And don’t piss on gators. They’ll try to bite your sack.

28. The Abandoned

Schlocktoberfest #28: The Abandoned

Is there such a thing as destiny? In The Abandoned, by Spanish director Nacho Cerdà, it possibly cannot be escaped. A middle-aged woman who was orphaned at birth, and raised by a Russian family who found her bloody mother in a work truck, cradling her twins- seeks out her past, but sometimes that is one rock you don’t want to peer under.

Marie (Anastasia Hille, RKO 281, The Hole) is a professional middle-aged woman who looks sharp as she shows up at the Russian lawyer’s office, where he is settling the estate of her birth parents. How he found her is unknown, but she has inherited their farm, deep in the Russian wilderness. She hires a man with a sturdy truck to take her there; he tells her the locals call the place “the island,” for it is surrounded by a wide river, and is only reachable by bridge.

At first we are taken in by the vast expanse of the Russian wilderness, as she makes her way to the farmhouse, which is oddly surrounded on all sides by a river. And she cannot swim. The truck driver who takes her there disappears in the night, as he walks off to show her the farm, and when she follows him, she falls into the river. By luck she is rescued by her lost twin brother, who was also brought here by a lawyer handling the inheritance. Odd that he didn’t tell them about each other, no?
The mysteries deepen, and the river is not the only thing that is circular. She and her brother were found by local farmers, as their mother escaped with them in a truck; the mother died of stab wounds, and as they explore the house, its violent past is replayed. Two white-eyed zombie doppelgangers of Marie and her brother appear, and it is unclear what they want, but one thing does come clear- they cannot leave the estate, and the ghosts of their past insist that they were meant to perish as children, all those years ago.

Like Jacob’s Ladder, we are unsure what is reality and what is hallucination, or is it all perhaps the moment before death? It manages a fine setting of mood and some excellent visuals, but it goes past its obvious ending, full circle, and continues further- either to fill out running time, or explain things Silent Hill-style when leaving it for us to decide would have been the wiser choice. It’s a creepy and compelling ghost story that should have continued to show and not tell.

27. The People Under the Stairs

Schlocktoberfest #27: The People Under the Stairs

Wes Craven does it again, with a horrific fairy tale set in the ghetto. A young black kid named “Fool” lives in a slumlord’s tenement, where his mom is dying of cancer; they don’t have money for her treatment or the rent for that matter. The building is falling apart and the landlord won’t do anything, and keeps raising the rent so he can evict everyone. Friend of the family Leroy (Ving Rhames) tells Fool that he knows where the slumlord lives; he runs the liquor store, and his creepy old house is rumored to have a treasure of gold coins. He talks Fool into coming to help him and his buddy Spenser to break in and steal it, and they head over to the creepiest house in the ‘hood…

Fool (Brandon Adams) is a smart and likeable kid who acts naturally and makes the film. He’s believable in the part, though his ’90s fade is sort of funny today. He’s mirrored by young Alice, a sheltered little white girl who lives under the cruel discipline of “Mom” and “Dad” the evil slumlords (played with relish by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie from “Twin Peaks”). Hers is a tragic life spent locked in her room. When Mom comes to make sure she ate her dinner, she discovers the fork is missing, and promises severe punishment; only we get to see a pale, clawed hand pass her the fork through a heating grate, and it’s our first hint at the bizarre goings-on at the house.

Spenser poses as a meter reader and uses his wiles to get inside, but Leroy & Fool head in after him when he takes too long. Soon their worst fears are realized; there’s not just a rottweiler to keep people OUT, but a steel door, locks, traps and contraptions meant to keep people IN! To escape the fangs of the guard dog and the bloodthirsty “Dad”‘s shotgun, they escape into the basement and the very walls themselves, where they meet… the people under the stairs. Soon, Fool is all alone and has to live by his wits, with two murderous crazy white folk after his ass, and a basement full of creepies hungry for human flesh.

The hand we saw earlier belongs to Roach, the only denizen of the hell house who can move from the basement cages that Mom & Dad keep kidnapped children in. Alice alone is allowed to live among them, for she hasn’t “spoken evil”… yet. Fool finds her and they team together to find the evil slumlords and free the children, but their road is long and bloody. Can Fool find the gold and save his mom? Can Alice escape their clutches and live like a normal child? Will the neighborhood survive their cruel plan to evict everyone and tear the buildings down?

The People Under the Stairs was missed by me because while it is horror, it is more of a kid movie, like The Gate. Certainly scarier than stuff like Monster Squad, but kids love scary stuff and this is so campy that you’re never really horrified by it. There’s cartoonish violence as Dad blows the walls up with his shotgun whilst running around in his Gimp suit, but I doubt any 12 year old is gonna get nightmares. Besides, it’s always fun seeing the kids fight back, and this is nothing more than a Hansel and Gretel for the ’90s.

Wes Craven jumped from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise to this endearing horror fairy tale and made an instant, if minor classic. “Fool” is no fool, and even the thieving Leroy isn’t that bad a role model- he wants to fight back against evil. Grandpa Booker (played by the excellent Bill Cobbs, of The Brother from Another Planet and Night at the Museum) shows up later, but keeps the movie from being a ‘hood parody, giving us real and likeable characters in a ridiculous but fitting allegory for the slumlord atrocities of the ’80s. Give your inner child a treat and watch this sometime. When you’re too old for Labyrinth and Monster Squad, there’s The Gate, and The People Under the Stairs.