Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Black Sabbath (1964, Mario Bava)


Years later I finally viewed this movie thanks to Shudder (I believe it was in 2018, maybe). Black Sabbath is probably Mario Bava’s best film although a few others do qualify, and this also inspired a certain famous rock band that I am a big fan of as well. Black Sabbath is easily one of the best anthologies ever made, and although one of the stories is weaker than the other ones all of them are still pretty great and make the film a quality viewing experience. Bava wisely sticks to only three stories, and has the legendary Boris Karloff narrate and star in the film as well. The title of the three tales are The Drop of Water, The Wurdulak, and The Telephone.

Maybe it’s the copy I viewed or the Wikipedia page is wrong (shocker!) yet the version I watched had The Drop of Water story first. This tale is utterly terrifying and has an marvelously creepy finale that works incredibly well. A woman foolishly steals a ring off of a dead woman’s finger and discovers too late that you should never rob from the dead. The dummy featured in this movie is pretty freaky looking, and this story is a great exercise in unbearable tension. I feel this one was the best of the bunch honestly, and shows that Bava was a master of the supernatural, a strong element of most of his movies.

The Wurdulak is Bava making a vampire story that is one of the best vampire stories ever put to film. Planet of the Vampires also shows that Bava has a knack for vampire films, and it’s a shame he didn’t make more of them. Karloff appears as the head of a family that has a serious and very unique vampire problem. There’s plenty of bite in this one hehe, not to mention those who end up becoming the undead turn on their own family members. Many consider this tale the best of the bunch, yet I feel it’s not as scary as Water is although the gore factor is certainly featured in this one pretty well.

Finally there is The Telephone, which although is the weakest of the bunch is still very suspenseful and well crafted. Michèle Mercier is a woman who is haunted by her former boyfriend, who she believes was in prison but has in fact broken out and is seeking revenge. It just occurred to me that each of the stories are very bottle episode in nature, as all of the characters are limited to one particular location. How this one concludes is rather bleak, although that can be said of all of the tales in this movie.

Although I’m not sure if Bava should have featured a wrap around story, I’m fine with how this works as a book style movie with different tales featuring new people each time. Black Sabbath is easily one of the best horror films of the 1960s, and is easily in my Top 100 horror movies.

Horrorfest 2021 Presents: Sting of Death (1966, William Grefé)


So yes I did a double bill of William Grefé, enabled by Tubi. I really need to get my hands on that Arrow Video boxset of his films, even though I’ve now seen two of them. However I liked Sting of Death, too so that bodes well. It’s a little less goofy than the Tartu flick, although it does have another wonderfully cheesy dance scene although this one makes sense. It happens at a pool party, after all.

A giant killer jellyfish man or creature is horribly murdering people in the Everglades. Two scientists try to figure out what is happening, and without saying more this movie ventures into mad scientist territory. While also being a slasher film of sorts, which is note worthy considering this movie was made in the 1960s.

There is a pool attack scene that is parts hilarious and actually neat at the same time. My favorite thing about this movie is that Grefé sticks to his guns and makes a flick born for the drive in movie viewing experience. Sometimes that’s enough as far as cinema is concerned. This movie also has one of the best boat massacres ever, right up there with the one from The Burning, in fact.

Horrorfest 2021 Presents: Death Curse of Tartu (1966, William Grefé)


One William Grefé decided to make low budget B style exploitation movies in Florida. Death Curse of Tartu is one of those, and despite it being really goofy I liked it. Is it a great flick? Nah, yet it is fun to watch. I mean a group of people wander into the Everglades and awaken the vengeful spirit of Tartu, who proceeds to murder all of them with nature.

Yep this is equal parts slasher movie, ancient evil movie, and later on action adventure. Is there dancing randomly at some point? Yes. Are the killer animal moments ridiculous yet entertaining? Absolutely. You either give into a movie like this one or you think it’s really stupid. I fall a little in-between, yet I still give this movie a favorable rating anyways.

Mr. Grefé would have been right at home with Hammer Studios, and he’s one of the many American directors I wish has been able to work for that studio. Also I’ll never been able to forget the name “Tartu,” ever.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: The College Girl Murders (1967, Alfred Vohrer)


Sure The College Girl Murders is really goofy and seems to combine a giallo with a spy mystery movie, yet I still enjoyed it regardless. Someone is using acid spewing guns to kill women on a college campus, and a red hooded figure lurks in the background. Are the two connected? Watch and find out. The main villain’s scheme is actually clever, using a man in prison to carry out his assassinations.

Naturally two detectives are on the case, and they dig up a bunch of suspects. This being a slasher film of sorts plenty of people die, and the film has a rather high body count for being a 1960s movie. Some argue this is one of the earlier influences on later slasher films, and they may have a point. I overlooked some bad acting and simply went along for the ride, which includes some good set pieces and a cool ending.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: The Masque of the Red Death (1964, Roger Corman)


Throughout my years of horror watching, I have marveled at the fact that there are 1960s movies that can disturb and even scare me. You would think that movies way older than me wouldn’t have that effect, yet the decade gave us many a good chiller picture. Well The Masque of the Red Death is easily one that left me uneasy very much, and made my skin crawl. This is a film depicting evil of all kinds, and it almost seems to revel in the cruelty of mankind. I’m glad my dad didn’t let me watch this on AMC when I was a kid-it would have given me nightmares.

It doesn’t help that we are currently in a pandemic that has swept the land. Just like the red death that has taken over the land ruled over by devil worshiper Prince Prospero, played with evil relish by Vincent Price. This might be his best role, or at least his most unforgiving one. Price takes the part and dials it up to 100, resulting a role that is both memorizing and very creepy. Jane Asher is also great as Francesca, the ginger peasant girl he forces to be a part of his court.

This film also has Hazel Court, Nigel Green, and Patrick Magee, all playing different roles of good and evil. The cinematography is marvelous yet it is the film’s gorgeous set design that really caught my eye. The film uses colors like any good or great horror film, and this is easily going into my Top 100 Horror films list when I’m done with October. I don’t know if I have the stomach to view it again though, and I thank Shudder for gathering a nice batch of Vincent Price films to watch in time for Halloween.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Son of Godzilla (1967, Jun Fukuda)


At this point the Godzilla franchise decides to aim for little kids and fully embrace pure camp. Thus we get Son of Godzilla, a fun movie about how Godzilla embraces a little kid and adapts him as his son. Godzilla is now a dad, and he tries to instruct his new off spring in the ways of being Godzilla. All while fighting off insect monsters.

Plus there are scientists on the island and a reporter who falls in love with the survivor of a past expedition. Or something, it is not important. Minilla is ridiculously adorable, and Godzilla is both a good and bad dad all at the same time. I liked the insect monsters, they were a nice touch and clearly were the inspiration for the monsters in the last couple American Godzilla flicks. My favorite part is the snow fight near the end, which is something the series could have done more often. Check it out.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966, Jun Fukuda)


That is a really long title for a Godzilla movie: Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. Ebirah happens to be a giant lobster that Godzilla ends up fighting later on in the movie. First though a group of people end up on an island controlled by a terrorist military group that even has airplanes and a nuclear reactor. Boy does this series really dial up the camp factor by this point, and people just went along with it. No matter because I really liked this movie: it’s fun, and wacky.

Plus fun for the whole family, really, as this entry is one that the kids could watch too. I liked how the heroes kept having to play hide and seek with the bad guys. They are forced to awaken Godzilla, who of course does underwater combat with Ebirah. Too bad Godzilla didn’t fight more underwater monsters in the series. Oh and Mothra pops up later on to help out, which makes sense considering she is the real hero of these movies.

Maybe one day I’ll finally tire of viewing Godzilla movies, and perhaps they’ll even stop making them. Yet I doubt either of that happens. Give me movies with huge monsters fighting each other while the humans run for cover. Sometimes cinema should be a blast, reveling in pomp and circumstances. If one can’t enjoy a movie with a killer lobster and a giant lizard sleeping off a bender, can one truly enjoy movies? Probably not.

Horrorfest 2019 Presents: City of the Dead (1960, John Llewellyn Moxey)


Sure City of the Dead has other names, yet I really like that title. It fits the movie really well, and this flick is one of those hidden gems I always seem to find every time I binge horror movies in October. Christopher Lee is the major star in this film and he isn’t even one of the main characters. Perhaps he made City of the Dead inbetween Hammer Studios movies. Oh and Rob Zombie used this movie in one of his songs and it had to have influenced his modern day flick The Lords of Salem-a film I love a lot. Witches seem to pop up quite a bit in horror cinema, only in this case they operate as if fueled by urban legend.

Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) under the guidence of her professor (Lee) decides to investigate a small New England town where witchcraft happened centuries ago. This mission ends up dragging in her boyfriend and her brother, and leads to one Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel in a fine performance). Despite being not very quickly paced at times, City of the Dead works as a good slow burn with some very wicked atmosphere and a good closing act.

If anything this film reminds me of Stephen King and I wonder if he saw it as well. The idea of small ancient towns hidding dreadful secrets appeals to me for some reason. I guess I have always wondered if some legends are true, and that maybe I am too afraid or smart to find out. Horror movies have taught me that it is best to leave the searching to others.

Ten Years Dead: Night of the Living Dead Essay (Warning: Spoilers)


From 2005, no less. Whoa that’s 10 years since I wrote about George A. Romero’s masterpiece Night of the Living Dead (1968). Unfortunately I was unable to discuss the film in full detail without using spoilers and mentioning key plot points, although at this point if you haven’t seen George A. Romero’s classic film then you should go fix that ASAP.

Despite the snubbing the horror movie genre receives from many critics, there are actually a good many horror films that have received substantial praise from both critics and fans. One such film is original Night of the Living Dead, made in 1968 by the famous and renowned director George A. Romero. I’ve heard it referred to as the Citizen Kane of horror movies, and while I haven’t seen enough to agree with that statement, Night is indeed a landmark in the history of horror movies, and in cinema.

Before I begin my attempt to discuss the film’s plot, stars, and the finer points of human flesh, I feel the need to say how I discovered this film in the first place. It was back in the fall of 2001, when I was a sophomore at my local high school. Being that it was Halloween, we decided to rent a couple of horror movies, thus continuing a tradition of sorts that we’ve done every year since the 8th Grade.

After walking through the door and being greeted by one of the store clerks wearing some freaky mask, we wandered into the video store aisle marked “Horror.” While my friend picked Scream 3, which was a fairly new release, I noticed a VHS cover, which I think had a zombie on it (my memory is kind of fuzzy). I read the back of the movie, which said it was about some people getting attacked by zombies, and I thought it would be gory fun. Get this: there were two copies of Night of the Living Dead, both the original and the remake. I thought I was getting the remake. But no, when my friend and I popped the tape in back at his house, I discovered to my surprise that it was an old black and white film instead.

Being young and wanting quick scares, my friend didn’t like the film and I found it to be alright at best, with the ending quite shocking and the famous “girl zombie” scene to be gruesome. Turning to the fun of Scream 3, which I found scary at the time (I only saw the rest of the trilogy two Halloweens ago), we both forgot about the other film. That was roughly four years and four viewings ago. Multiple viewings quickly changed my thoughts and views on the flick, but one could say that about a number of movies. I could go on all about me, but I’d rather focus on the film itself.

As the movie opens, we see Johnny boy and his sister Barbara on their way to place flowers on some dead person’s grave. Who that person is isn’t relevant to the story, but instead it serves as an ample plot device, since Johnny is reminded of how he used to scare Barbra, going on to say “They coming to get you Barbara,” with a stupid look on his face. He should have kept his mouth shut, because one of them comes alright. He’s defiantly not human, looks like Lurch’s long lost cousin, and he proceeds to bash Johnny’s head into a tomb stone. Lurch attempts to grab Barbara, but she ditches her car (“Johnny has the keys” is what she says later on), and runs like hell, finally reaching an abandoned farmhouse. This scene marks the change in the movie from quiet and relaxed to a freaky, heavy sense of dread, and I find the zombie attack to be somewhat surreal and almost out of place, which is why it works. Rising from the grave, clearly awakened by gongs being banged by crazed Buddhist monks, dozens of zombies slowly converge upon the farmhouse. All hope seems lost for poor Barbara, who by this point has become a buddle of fried nerves, scared out of her bloody mind, and clearly in no shape to battle the undead hordes.

That’s when the protagonist of our film comes in out of nowhere, riding in an old broke down car and wielding what looks like a tire iron. His name is Ben, and he is her knight in shinning armor, or, in actual reality, an African-American male completely surrounded by whitey. Seriously, Ben is the only black man we see in the entire flick-even the zombies are white! While Romero claims that his decision to cast Duane Jones in the role wasn’t motivated by race, the film’s events (which I will get to later) make me wonder. Completely unfazed by the fact that he’s surrounded by flesh eaters, he walks out on the front porch and sets some of the creatures on fire, and also quickly boards up the house. The guy even finds a lever action shotgun, and starts loading the weapon; Ben is a man of action, and here we witness what has become a common cliché in many movies: the quick thinking man of action, who stays calm, knows what to do, and isn’t afraid to act.

The movie wouldn’t be complete without some drama within the house itself, and this is supplied by Harry, a racist, his wife and child, and the young couple Tom and Judy. Harry doesn’t trust Ben’s decisions and wants to be in charge, providing the film with an added and interesting dimension: Harry feels that he is the bigger man, that he’s right, that he has to be the alpha male of the group. It’s not just a matter of race, but also a matter of serious pride; this pride ends up leading to the destruction of the group, and a bitter irony: that Harry was right about the basement of the house being the safest place to hide. Well at least in the end for the most part; although at the same time staying up in the main house, where there are multiple escape routes makes sense too.

At its core, Night of the Living Dead is many things. It’s clear that the movie is a horror version of those old westerns where the cowboys are holed up in a small cabin or fort, with the savage Indians attacking it, trying to break in and scalp everyone inside. Of course the Indians never ate the cowboys (last time I checked), but that seems to be the main reason why most of the movie takes place inside an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. The claustrophobic feeling of the house has a clear effect upon the inhabitants, and this only ups the film’s slowly building sense of tension. I also feel that the movie in a way mirrors the social and political upheavals that were taking place at that time in America. Ben and Harry’s struggles for control certainly reflect upon the racial conflicts that had exploded in many American cities, along with the film’s ending, which caught me completely off guard. Also, the movie’s few extremely violent scenes are perhaps references to the Vietnam War; in that American troops mowed down countless, nameless Vietnamese communists-only replace the communists with flesh eating zombies. I also have to note that many of the zombies had the look of dirty, druggy hippies, which makes me wonder if Romero was commenting on the country’s counterculture as well.

A final theme I think the movie touches on is the horrifying thought that mankind at its worst reverts to its most primitive, primal and gruesome instincts, and I think the zombies reflect this. That at any time, any place, and your loved one may go berserk and decide to either gnaw on your flesh, or stab you to death with a garden trowel. They are no longer human, and reasoning with them won’t save you. Which is to me a very scary thought indeed.

“Night,” like most horror movies isn’t well known for its actors, or good acting in general. That seems to be an extra bonus, especially if you take a look at the slasher films of the 1980s. But even on a shoe string budget Romero manages to get some pretty good acting out of some of the movie’s cast, especially Duane Jones. Jones as Ben is really the film’s strongest character, and while it’s not an entirely fleshed out role, Jones does a wonderful job portraying a man surrounded by what one could call a surrealistic nightmare. What makes Ben so damn cool is that he takes no prisoners, refuses to surrender, uses everything at his disposal to kill the zombies, and until the second half of the film, he has a plan. What also makes his character so fascinating is how Ben slowly comes to realize that even he is human, and that despite all his planning everything goes terribly wrong. This feeling is further explored in a scene where Ben is trapped in the basement, haunted by the fact that he is now all alone, and that the bastard hippie people eaters have finally broken into the house. Ben has been defeated, and he knows it.

As for the other actors, Karl Hardman as Harry, we see a man who is the complete opposite of Ben. Harry seems to be nervous, racist, (one could say that Ben was racists at times also), and paranoid. His struggles with Ben and the distrust that exists between them do indeed add the needed dynamic to the film, and his demise is equal parts gory, tragic, and horrifying, and showcase’s the film’s third theme about lack of true humanity. Judith O’Dea, who as Barbara is stuck in the role of the woman in need of rescue, is the film’s truly realistic side, in that she’s scared out of her mind. While most of us think that we’d act like Ben in such a situation, more than likely many of us would be frightened, and wondering whether or not we would survive. Oh, and what happens to poor Barb is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and is horribly ironic.

The film in itself has plenty of irony, some people who get their just deserts, and others who were unlucky enough to be caught of the middle of two angry men and the horde of the undead. Romero by the way smartly only has a few scenes of gore, and so their shock value and the effect of disgust they aim to project are seared onto the audience’s mind; this is in sharp contrast to the rest of his zombie series. Although the part where the zombie girl stabs her mother to death with a garden tool is a clear homage (or rip off if that’s your opinion) of the famous shower scene in “Psycho,” with the blood splattering, the screams of the dying, and the sharp musical notes in the background. That scene gets me every time, simply because the image of a woman’s spawn butchering her is to me quite cringe worthy, and somewhat shocking.

Stamped with Romero’s unique vision, driven by tension, gore, a cast of realistic characters, and a thoughtful commentary on humanity that may or may not have been intentional, Night of the Living Dead is a movie experience every horror fan should have. The movie proves that not all horror films are mindless, gory thrill machines, and that the genre has contributed more to the world of cinema than is generally acknowledge.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962, Robert Aldrich)


Have you ever been jealous of someone? We all have at one point or another. Completely envious and filled with hate towards a person experiencing success. In the case of Baby Jane her time in the spotlight is long gone, her fame eclipsed by her sister Blanche, who was forced to retire after an accident Jane was blamed for. This is the genesis of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? from 1962, a famous horror classic.

Jane begins a descent into madness, subjecting her sister to torments and driving her into a state of fear. What begins as simple jealousy turns into something darker and nasty. Monsters are far scarier when they are real people, capable of horrific acts of violence. Blanche witnesses depravity that is fairly stark for an older Hollywood film. Especially since there is no escape for Blanche due to her being in a wheelchair. Things only get even worse from their as Jane continues to lose touch with reality.

Shot in glorious black and white thus film maintains its heavy claustrophobic atmosphere throughout, never stopping to give the audience a chance to breathe. The last act is also tragic and haunting, giving the movie a lasting resonance. I will never hear the line “Am I still pretty?” the same way again. Its funny that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford gave us one of their best films despite not liking each other. Maybe that dislike was properly channeled into a masterful film. Art sometimes reflect reality.

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