Horrorfest 2022 Presents: The Fall of the House of Usher (1928, Jean Epstein)

Look at all that space!

The Fall of the House of Usher is on Roger Ebert’s Great Films List, and I can see why. I thought it was merely very good or near great, still it’s a fine channeling of the classic Edgar Allen Poe tale. I prefer it over the Roger Corman version as well, and I feel this silent era take on the story got it right. I’ve always enjoyed black and white cinematography, and Jean Epstein uses it to marvelous effect, with plenty of eerie shadows as well.

Everyone knows the story of course, although unlike myself not everyone has read it, although they should. The movie acknowledges this and goes head first into the tale, giving us plenty of moments of dread and some seriously dramatic forlonging. The sets are great in this movie as well, and although Epstein changed a few things the conclusion is close enough for my satisfaction. I watched this on YouTube and it’s old enough that I’m sure it is now public domain, so check it out.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Twixt (2011, Francis Ford Coppola)

Despite no longer being at the top of his game Francis Ford Coppola still manages to make films worth seeing. Twixt  despite its weak aspects is still watchable and not too bad, either. The cast helps, with Bruce Dern as a local sheriff, Val Kilmer as an alcoholic writer and Elle Fanning as a mysterious girl wandering around town.

Kilmer plays Hall Baltimore, a writer in town who with the help of the local sheriff uncovers material for a new book. He also derives inspiration from his weird dreams featuring the undead and Edgar Allen Poe. In a way Coppola is using this film to comment on authorship and trying to create new works, something that is difficult. Even so this doesn’t excuse the film’s uneven pacing and sketchy characters.

Although I was engaged at times the film doesn’t quite work and I’m reminded that sadly Coppola isn’t who he used to be as a director. Baltimore seems to be too much of an apt representation of Coppola, which is a shame because we all remember the man who give us masterworks in the 1970s. Perhaps it’s best for the legends to hang it up before they run the risk of fading away.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Body Bags (1993, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis)

Lately I’ve been viewing more anthologies and enjoying them, particularly horror film ones, simply because the horror genre is often at its best in the short form. Edgar Allen Poe certainly thought so and he gave us some of the best short horror fiction. Stephen King’s Night Shift and other anthologies he’s written over the years have been mined for full length horror films based off of his creepy, much shorter tales. Body Bags is such an anthology, however it was originally meant to be a TV series on Showtime-unfortunately for us all, that never happened and all we are left with is this film, which has a typical wrap around plot and of course three ghoulish tales of murder and mayhem. Overall this is a pretty good, enjoyable feature, and considering that it involved John Carpenter (also playing the sinister narrator) and Tobe Hooper, two horror movie legends, its a shame that we only have the three stories and the one film from the project.

Emerging from hiding in a morgue, the weird looking corner stops and notices us, the viewer. He then proceeds to find body bags, obviously, and uses them to spin tales. The first such one is called “The Gas Station,” and it is the best one of the bunch. Directed by John Carpenter as is the second tale, this one centers on poor Anne (Alex Datcher), a college student who takes a job at a gas station on a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere. With a killer on the loose, no less, which makes her the typical final girl/not particularly bright heroine found in so many horror movies. What really makes this tale eerie and suspenseful is the killer, who I will not reveal here because it is a delightful twist, one that turns this story into an urban legend of sorts. You have Robert Carradine being his usual cheerful self, Wes Craven acting all odd and frumpy, and Sam Raimi in a cameo that is well, rather shocking. Also Carpenter cannot resist throwing in a reference to his 1978 classic Halloween. See if you can find the reference.

Next up is the also Carpenter directed “Hair,” which I found to be the weakest of the bunch although still decent/solid overall. This one has the best cast, with Stacy Keach as a vain man desperate to grow hair so that he can please his long suffering girlfriend, played by Sheena Easton. David Warner and Deborah Harry show up as people who offer to help, and of course they are not who they seem. The twist ending is actually rather frightening, and as a man going bald I have to wonder if maybe losing my hair instead of becoming a slave to something alive is perhaps the wiser choice. Although I’m not sure how this one fits into what the Corner says before the story…

Finally you have “Eye,” which is a frightening and tragic episode, directed by Tobe Hooper and starring Mark Hamill as a baseball player who descends into madness after receiving an eye transplant. Although some objected to this episode’s religious overtones, I rather enjoyed “Eye,” finding it to be both rather freaky and also sad, especially with how it ends. Besides one can argue that the episode was not condemning religion, although I cannot go into this further without spoiling the conclusion. Oh and look for great cameos from famous icons John Agar and Roger Corman, who play the doctors that operate on Hamill. I guess I should have recognized Twiggy as Hamill’s poor wife, too, and for some reason I didn’t.

As for the wrap around story, I am amused by how it concludes, and what it really entails. Particularly since it stars Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper and has a really good singular joke. Body Bags may or may not have resulted in a decent TV show, but perhaps it works best as a singular anthology film. Many thanks goes to my local public library and Scream Factory for the DVD release I was able to get my hands on.

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