Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Devlin's Domain - 31 Days of Horror 2017

This year I decided to cram a bunch of horror movies in honor of the only holiday that I come close to caring about. I watched a movie a day for 31 days, counting down to Halloween. I expected this to be a simple task, but was surprised how difficult it was to carve out 2 hours a day for a horror movie. Some days were easy, but others were a real chore. I still got the job done though and have documented that endeavor with some mini reviews for each one. Hopefully this list will expose you to movies you may not have been aware of. Let's count down the 31 Days Of Horror...

Day 1
Warlock Moon is an oddball horror film from 1975. The title and poster art have little to do with the film itself. It's about a pair of college students who stumble across an abandoned health spa in the country that's inhabited by a strange old woman. There's a blood cult of cannibalistic witches, ghosts, and axe wielding madmen. Its not great but has just enough bizarre story elements to keep me interested.
Score: 6/10 

Day 2
A Quiet Place In The Country is an Italian psychological thriller/horror film from 1968. It stars Franco Nero as a popular painter, plagued by nightmares that he and his lover/sales agent (Vanessa Redgrave) are engaging in bizarre, ritualistic, sadistic sexual acts, seeks to escape the city and rent a house in the country. The painter descends further into madness when he is haunted by the ghost of a young girl in the house. A unique horror film that shares similarities with films like The Shining. It was certainly ahead of its time.
Score: 7/10
Day 3
The Slayer is a lesser known slasher film from 1982 that was filmed on Tybee Island, GA . It introduced audiences to the idea of a nightmare killer before Nightmare on Elm St. It tells the story of 2 couples on an island vacation. The female lead is plagued with nightmares that start turning into a reality. Every time she dreams of someone dying, they die in real life. She's also been dreaming of her own death at the hands of a hideous monster. It has some pretty cool kills, but the story was lacking in my opinion. A valiant effort to do an original slasher, but some scenes left me rolling my eyes or scratching my head. An enjoyable watch, but nothing mind blowing.
Score: 6/10

Day 4
The Dead Next Door  is a low budget zombie film that was made in 1989 and shot on Super-8. It plays in the world that George Romero created with his Living Dead Trilogy. In this film the government has enlisted soldiers into a "Zombie Squad" to deal with a growing epidemic of zombies, while scientists work towards a cure for the virus that creates them. The squad must also fight against a religious cult which wishes to protect and enable the zombies, believing them to be a punishment ordained by God. Sam Raimi served as executive producer on the film and Bruce Campbell lent his voice to characters in the film. J.R. Bookwalter wrote and directed The Dead Next Door when he was only 19 years old. It's basically an epic home movie. The acting is bad, the budget is low, but it's ambitious as hell and filled with zombies and gore.
Score: 6.5/10
Day 5
The Dick Maas film, Amsterdamned, was released in 1988. The film is set in Amsterdam, obviously, where a mysterious scuba diver hiding in the canal system goes on a murderous rampage. The city is on edge as the bodies start to pile up. An investigator is hot on the trail of the murderer, but finds out his girlfriend may be the next victim. A great little murder mystery with an awesome speed boat chase through the canals.
Score: 7.5/10
Day 6
The Incredible Melting Man is a schlocky, sci-fi, horror film from 1977. A sad tale of an astronaut who is mutilated by radiation on a trip to Jupiter. He is rescued and returned to Earth, but after waking in a hospital to the horror of his deformity, he goes on a homicidal rampage. Along the trail of corpses is a trail of gooey flesh from his rapidly melting body. The great, yet nauseating, special effects in this one from Rick Baker mostly makes up for the bad acting and dialogue. May not be everyone's cup of gelatinous mass, but I really liked it.
Score: 7/10
Day 7
The Velvet Vampire  is a sexy vampire film from 1971. A woman meets a couple at an art show and invites them to her desert mansion. They both start having vivid dreams of sexual encounters with the woman. They are totally unaware that they are being seduced by a vampire. The film is erotic and has a very psychedelic and dream-like style. Reminded me a lot of Vampyros Lesbos and I really enjoyed it.
Score: 7.5/10
Day 8
Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis deliver incredible performances in Burnt Offerings. A different take on a haunted house film, which has a family rent a country mansion over the summer. The dream home slowly starts to turn into a nightmare when a malevolent force takes it's toll on the family's sanity. Great buildup, atmosphere, and ending.
Score: 8.5/10 

Day 9
Satan's Blade  is a rarely seen, low budget, slasher film from 1984. A group of college girls and two married couples check in to a ski lodge for a weekend getaway. They are informed that a double murder happened the night before, which was connected to a bank robbery. Locals think there's more to the story and believe that the legend of a killer mountain man is to blame. The guests hesitantly decide to stay, but live just long enough to regret it. I have conflicting opinions on this one. There were aspects of the film that I thought were entertaining, original, and at times artistic. The acting is atrocious though. The death scenes are laughable and the dialogue is uninspired. I did like it quite a bit, even though some have said it is painful to watch.
Score: 6/10
Day 10
Ghostkeeper  is a Canadian horror film from 1981. It's set in the Canadian Rockies where a couple and their friend are on a snowmobiling trip. They end up getting lost and stranded in the woods, but come across a seemingly abandoned lodge. They take refuge there for the night, but find that it is inhabited by a looney old woman. She ends up welcoming them, but there are secrets within the lodge she is hiding. The film delivers in terms of creepiness and atmosphere. There are some solid performances that kept me engaged. The plot is where this one goes downhill. The second half of the film is a mess and leaves some unanswered questions. The director/writer claims they started running out of money halfway into filming and ended up scrapping the script and making it up as they went along. It had potential, but ultimately failed at telling a good story.
Score: 6/10
Day 11
Pulse aka Kairo is a Japanese horror film from 2001. When one of their friends commits suicide, a group of young Tokyo residents start to have strange experiences. One sees apparitions of his friend in the shadows and ghostly images appear on computer screens. They theorize that spirits are invading their world through their technology. While people all around them start mysteriously disappearing, they try to find the cause before they're next. Despite being made in 2001, the technology seems incredibly antiquated. It's a slow paced and bleak film that drips atmosphere and dread. There are themes of isolation, depression, and communication throughout that cast a prophetic warning about the digital age. It excels in many areas, but has weak and awkward dialogue that brings it down a bit. It's sure as hell creepy though and I love the ghost in this one. It is one of my all time favorite J-horror films.
Score: 8/10

Day 12
The Power is a possession themed horror movie from 1984. An ancient Aztec idol contains the soul of something sinister that has telekinetic powers. It ends up in the hands of some high school kids who are experimenting with occult ritual. When they witness it's power they turn it over to a pair of investigative reporters. The idol possesses one of them and it's deadly power is unleashed through him. It's a pretty original premise, with decent acting, and a great score. The story is a bit weak and it's uneventful for the most part. It's saved by some gruesome special effects and a nice ending.
Score: 6/10
Day 13
Eaten Alive was directed by Tobe Hooper in 1976 and was his first film after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film is set in the Louisiana bayou where several people meet unfortunate ends at a dilapidated, swamp hotel. The owner of the Starlight Hotel is a mentally disturbed older man suffering from sexual frustrations. He's got a hot temper, wields a scythe, and has a pet alligator that'll eat anything. Really liked the style of the film and shades of Texas Chainsaw Massacre can be seen, despite being drastically different. The budget is bigger, the picture is clearer, and there's more blood, but it's not quite as good. It's still a great watch and Neville Brand's performance as the hotel owner is excellent. It's loosely based on the life of a serial killer named Joe Ball.
Score: 7.5/10
Day 14
Jack Frost is a comedic horror film from 1997. A police transport has an accident while taking a psychotic convict to his execution. Murderer, Jack Frost, escapes the vehicle but is doused with an experimental liquid from a wrecked chemical truck. It causes his body to melt and bond with the snow beneath him, turning him into a killer snowman. I honestly had low expectations for this one. It ended up being more entertaining than I expected. It had some really brutal, yet hilarious, kills throughout the film. The movie obviously isn't meant to be taken seriously, so if you're the type that can laugh out loud to a child being decapitated by a snowman, then this may be for you. There's not a lot of recognizable stars in this, but it does feature Shannon Elizabeth when she was still relevant from American Pie.
Score: 6/10

Day 15
Dark Water is a Japanese horror film from the director of Ringu, Hideo Nakata. A single mother and her daughter move into a cheap, rundown apartment with a leaking ceiling. They experience several strange occurrences in the apartment that seem to be supernatural in nature. As the mother is driven mad by these occurrences, the father attempts to take custody of the child. It's starts to become apparent that the occurrences are being caused by the spirit of a missing young girl who had lived above them. Great atmosphere and storytelling in this film. It's a less is more approach and doesn't rely on startling the audience, but makes them uncomfortable instead. It's a feeling of dread that Japanese horror delivers so well. Another great entry in the J-horror library that was remade for US audiences. Can't comment on whether that one was good or not.
Score: 8/10
Day 16
Sole Survivor from 1983 predates the Final Destination franchise with a similar theme. A psychic has a vision of a female colleague surviving a plane crash. Soon after, the plane crash happens with that woman being the sole survivor. She feels a bit out of a place afterward and the doctor is convinced it's survivor's guilt. She experiences strange occurrences and warnings from the psychic. Eventually the minions of death come to claim her. The film is like a cross between Final Destination and Carnival of Souls. It's got a slow pace, but stays interesting despite the lack of violence and gore. I really like the premise, but found the way death carried out it's mission to be illogical. Perhaps I shouldn't be looking for logic in horror, but it bugged me. I also found the performance of the lead actress to be a little weak. A good movie that's hurt by a few flaws.
Score: 6.5/10

Day 17
The First Power from 1990 combines horror with crime/action. It stars Lou Diamond Phillips as a homicide detective in pursuit of the "Pentagram Killer". He gets an assist from an anonymous psychic, played by Tracy Griffith, and brings the killer in. She warns him not to push for the death sentence, but he ignores her. After the execution the detective starts having visions of the killer and soon realizes he's dealing with the supernatural. The killer has the ability to possess other people's bodies and the detective must find a way to defeat something that won't die. This was an okay film that had some decent action sequences. It kept a brisk pace and had some interesting occult imagery and atmosphere. Lou Diamond Phillips seemed a bit young for the role he was in, but Jeff Kober did a great job as the demonic villain. The film was very similar to Fallen which starred Denzel Washington. I'm curious if Fallen was intentionally borrowing ideas from this. This one had an interesting premise, but an average delivery.
Score: 6/10

Day 18
The House By The Cemetery from 1981 was directed by Italian shock master Lucio Fulci. A professor moves with his wife and son into a gothic style house with a bloody past. Gruesome murders happened there before and continue to happen, unknown to them. The mystery lies behind the basement door, which had been sealed shut when they moved in. What evil lurks beneath t...heir feet? This was another great contribution to horror by Lucio Fulci. The gore effects are practical, plentiful, and absolutely insane. He really knew how to create a rich, gothic atmosphere. The dubbing for Bob, the son, is cringeworthy and had me begging for his demise. There were a few things that didn't make sense, but I found them easy to overlook. Overall an awesome film.
Score: 8/10

Day 19
Slugs from 1988 was directed by Spanish director, Juan Piquer Simón. Slimey cadavers start popping up across a small town. It's soon discovered that there is an outbreak of giant, mutated slugs. The town's sewer system has made a perfect breeding ground for the carnivorous slugs and they start traveling through the water system. I enjoyed the film, but enjoyed other critter flicks (Squirm, Kingdom of the Spiders) more. This one didn't seem to have the best storytelling and the characters were uninteresting. I could care less if anyone in this lived or died. Where this one excels over the others is the gore effects. There were some really gruesome scenes with baby slugs bursting out of chests or eye sockets. The brutal deaths really brought a smile to my face. Then there was the sound of hundreds of slugs on top of each other. It was like stirring a big bowl of Mac and cheese. Loved it.
Score: 7/10

Day 20
Willard is a 1971 horror film starring Bruce Davison. Willard is a depressed, isolated, misfit who is being driven to the edge by his mother, his coworkers, and his boss. Lacking any real friends, he befriends a couple of rats who will do anything he commands. The rats, Ben and Socrates, start making friends of their own and the rat community starts to multiply. Willard decides to use them to take revenge on those who have wronged him. I think I would've appreciated it more had I not seen the remake first. I definitely prefer Crispin Glover's 2003 performance, but Bruce Davison really brings it towards the end of this film. There were great performances throughout the film, but the tone was lighter than I had expected. The rat choreography was done well, but had some laughable moments where someone is obviously throwing fake rats from behind the camera. Really good movie that I'm sure wowed audiences in the 70s, but may have trouble connecting with younger audiences today due to it's slow pace.
Score: 7/10

Day 21
Ben from 1972 picks up directly where Willard left off. The final scene of Willard is replayed, followed by a police investigation. The lead rat, Ben, and his horde take to the streets in search of food. The police follow the trail of destruction as the rats attack people and swarm grocery stores for food. Ben eventually befriends a young boy with a heart condition who tries to protect them. The rats make a home in the sewers, but are eventually found out. Part of me actually likes this one better than Willard. There's a lot more rat carnage and you don't have to wait an hour to get to it. The final sequence is a lot more intense than the previous film as well. Willard was more of a character study though, and showed the journey of a weak man becoming a stronger man who let's power consume and corrupt him. Ben is just about a bunch of rats and a whiney little boy who is standing in for the Willard character. Ben may excel in certain areas, but Willard wins when it comes to performances and story.
Score: 6.5/10
Day 22
The Poughkeepsie Tapes  is a faux documentary from 2007 that recaps the investigation of a serial killer and the video tapes that he left behind. Interviews with FBI, police, and the families of victims are spliced with scenes from the notorious video tapes. The tapes are like snuff films where the killer records himself stalking, torturing, and killing his victims. A great concept for a film, but the performances aren't good enough to sell the "reality" of the documentary style. Man Bites Dog is a better faux serial killer documentary and August Underground Trilogy is better faux snuff. There was a lot of hype surrounding this one for years. It had gone unreleased and was only available to watch through nefarious means. I had heard it was "too shocking and controversial" for release. I'm not sure what the real reason behind the years long hold up for release, but it's given it a reputation that it doesn't live up to. It has entertaining elements and is worth a watch, but far from being a shocking masterpiece.
Score 6/10

Day 23
Rawhead Rex is a 1986 horror film based on a short story by Clive Barker. A couple and their children choose the wrong time to visit Ireland. A man removes a large stone monument and unleashes a demonic being that had been trapped beneath it for years. The history of the creature is chronicled on the local church's stained glass windows. The monster rages on a path of destruction, while the traveling couple tries to find a way to defeat the demon. I had low expectations for this one, which may explain why I liked it as much as I did. It's an objectively bad movie, which apparently missed key elements from the story it was adapting. The acting is passable, the plot is thin, and the monster looks like a character from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret of the Ooze. With all that said, I actually liked the mindless, unmotivated carnage and the look of the demon muppet man. The underlying meaning of the story didn't translate to this film, but having known Barker's intentions I was able to fill in the metaphorical blanks.
Score: 6/10

Day 24
Jackals is a 2017 independent horror film. A divorced couple coordinates with a cult deprogrammer to kidnap and rehabilitate their teenage son. The boy's brother and girlfriend, who he has a child with, also participate in the deprogramming process. The boy suffers from a deeper brainwashing than any of them expected. To make matters worse, the cult has come in the night to retrieve their captured "brother". The power is cut off to the home and the family is at the mercy of the masked cult members surrounding them. This one got a lot of negative reviews, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The characters are dumb, but I've come to expect that in these types of films. Most of the film is shot in the dark which makes for a great, ominous atmosphere and imagery. I really liked how they blended a cult story into a home invasion film. There were tense moments and even some gore. There were lots of complaints about the ending and the ambiguity of the antagonists, but I had no problem with either.
Score: 6.5/10
Day 25
In 1972's Don't Torture a Duckling, Lucio Fulci tackles the Italian giallo genre. As children start to suffer horrible fates in a small village, police and investigators search for the maniacal killer. Throughout the film there are several characters with possible motivations that keep the viewer guessing who is guilty. This was one of the more controversial giallo films due to the violence towards children and suggestions of pedophilia. Some hail it as Fulci's greatest film. I would say that it's a more coherent story than his films with supernatural elements. I do prefer the visual style of those supernatural films though. Don't Torture A Duckling is an amazing film with a dead serious tone that is nearly ruined by the final scene. The scene was more ambitious than they could afford and turned what was a great concept into a laughable visual. I found it to be completely ridiculous years ago, but it's not as bad watching it now. You have to realize what era this was made and that Fulci and his crew were pioneering these gore effects. The rest of the film is good enough to forgive that poorly executed scene.
Score: 8.5/10
Day 26
Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is a low budget horror/comedy from 1988. A private detective is hired to track down a teenage runaway. When he finds her, he also finds an Egyptian cult of chainsaw worshipping prostitutes. The original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, plays the master of the cult. He's accompanied by some of the most recognizable scream queens of the era, Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer. If you're into movies with flying body parts, buckets of blood, and lots of nudity, then this might be for you. Basically the whole movie is women sacrificing their victims with chainsaws in the nude. There's a film noir narration by the detective, which is kind of humorous. I found some of the attempts at comedy fell flat, but they hit here and there. The overall premise is hilarious and it had my expectations a little higher than they probably should have been. It's a fun movie that's good to watch with drinks and/or friends, but it ranks lower for me than it might for others.
Score: 6/10
Day 27
The Spell from 1977 was one of several Carrie ripoffs that came out around that time. In this story, an overweight teenage girl is teased regularly by her classmates. She's also "fat shamed" by her father and younger sister, played by Helen Hunt. Her only friends seem to be her mother and her gym teacher. As she's pushed closer to the edge, she starts to realize she has telekinetic powers and uses them to take revenge on those who have wronged her. This film lacks the tension, captivating story, and incredible performances that Carrie had. It's a low budget, made-for-tv movie, so they did have a disadvantage. I mostly found it uninteresting, but then it picked up some steam and delivered an unexpected ending that I rather liked. The clever ending saves it from having a lower score, but it's still not great.
Score: 6/10

Day 28
The Resurrected is an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, directed by Dan O'Bannon. The wife of Charles Dexter Ward hires a private investigator to uncover his secret experiments. Her husband has secluded himself in an old house upon discovering a scientific diary from one of his ancestors. He picks up where the previous research left off and searches for the secret of immortality. It took me a while to really get into the film. The first half has a detective noir vibe, which is fine but didn't hook me. Once the investigation escalates and secrets are revealed it gets a lot more interesting. The reanimated cadavers were some of the nastiest I've seen in a film. They didn't  look all that threatening, just really gross. The ending was a big payoff. This is one of the better Lovecraft adaptations and is definitely worth a watch.
Score: 7.5/10
Day 29
The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a 1974 zombie film from Europe. A cop suspects 2 young hippies of being the perpetrators of a string of murders. While evading the law, the pair discovers what is really behind the murders. An experimental radiation emitter is being used to disrupt the nervous system of insects to keep them away from farm crops. The same radiation has jump started the nervous systems of the deceased. This is one of the better zombie films made throughout the years. It has a great, original take on what causes the zombie outbreak. It also delivers some tense and atmospheric sequences involving the zombies. The zombies are very peculiar in this one. They seem to be very capable and organized instead of being the mindless, staggering, meat sacks we're used to. They even have a "leader" of sorts who they rally behind in their own zombie way. It's unfortunate that this film isn't as well known, because it really is a great film.
Score: 8/10
Day 30
1978's The Fury is Brian De Palma's telekinetic followup to Carrie. Kirk Douglas stars as a government agent whose psychic son is kidnapped for experimentation by his colleague. While on the run from the secret government group, Douglas tries to rescue his son from an institution that is training people with psychic abilities to become killers to be used in war. This one didn't really feel like a horror film until the final act. It's a genre mishmash with equal parts action, drama, thriller, and horror. There are even small doses of comedy here and there. It's a really good film, like most of De Palma's works, but not all that effective as horror. They upped the ante by having more than one telekinetic character, but it didn't have the intensity that Carrie had. It does deliver an explosive ending though.
Score: 7.5/10

 Day 31
Santa Sangre from 1989 is a hallucinatory assault from one of my favorite directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky. The story revolves around a family of circus performers. A boy is sent to a mental hospital after being traumatized by the sight of his father committing suicide directly after cutting off his mother's arms. Once the boy is grown, his armless mother encourages his escape and he becomes her "arms". They bond mentally and emotionally and his arms become an extension of her body. Unfortunately this leads him to commit violent acts against his own will. I can tell you what the film is about, but there are things that must be seen. Jodorowsky is an incredible visual director and each scene is a work of art. This psychedelic and metaphorical take on horror may not be to everyone's taste, but it is definitely to mine. My favorite for the month, saved for last.
Score: 9/10
Yes, this is finally the end of the 31 Days of Horror. I hope you guys found something you might like. I may decide to do another round next year. Be sure to check out Devlin's Domain next month when I uncover another obscure, disturbing, piece of cinema.

About Me: I have a couple of different aliases, but for this column I will use my middle name. I am Devlin and I currently reside in Atlanta, GA. 33 years of age and still feeling immortal. Former Rockstar, current Pro Wrestler and hell, I'm still a Rockstar at heart. I got my first taste of obscure cinema when I was about 8 years old. My Dad would take us to the video store every weekend to stock up on classic horror films to watch on his projector. They were mostly harmless, PG-rated horror films like the great Universal monster movies. Then one night he rented a movie for himself to watch after we had gone to bed. I was so intrigued by this film that I wasn't allowed to see. I begged and begged and he eventually caved. That night I was exposed to a film unlike anything I had seen before. Ever since that night I wanted to find more films that gave me that same sensation. I wanted to feel shock and disgust. I found my place in the Horror aisle. The film I watched was Faces of Death. Thanks Dad.  

1 comment: