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PopGap Diary: Octoblur 2022

PopGap Diary: Octoblur 2022

Written by dorrk
27 September 2022

Mother of mercy, is it Octoblur time again? The time of year when I let loose on all of the horror movies I've resisted watching during the other 11 months of the year?

Not that I've been fasting: 2022 has been a great year for new horror, with theatrical releases like X and Pearl (the latter of which features one of the best horror performances in decades), the popular Barbarian and Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, and the batshit effects of Alex Garland's Men. (My favorite theatrical release of the year so far is not horror, but shares some of the same Venn diagram real estate, Robert Eggers' The Northman.) There have also been fantastic streaming options, such as the ruminative Macedonian movie You Won't Be Alone, the brooding mystery Broadcast Signal Intrusion, and the devastating Danish production Speak No Evil (now playing on Shudder). Not too shabby! But even though I hungrily partook in these disturbing delights, I do not watch nearly as much horror as I want to throughout the ye/ar, because I hoard all manner of unseemly trash for the month of October, whereupon I binge it until I burst, or it becomes a blur. Or both.

In the past year, I went down some movie rabbit holes about cults and conspiracies, mostly of the political or criminal variety. I intentionally saved the horror-ific flavors of that genus for this Octoblur: cults, occult conspiracies, murderous hippie sects, killer kids, weird religious deviants... all the folks that make for the liveliest Halloween parties. Hopefully, I'll encounter some of each. In movies, not at Halloween parties.

Now, my methods aren't exact — I try not to know too much about most movies before I watch them — so some may not fit the bill exactly or even remotely. I am also not exclusive, and plan to cheat on this main theme of Octoblur 2022 with the usual flirty consorts: foreign horrors, slasher movies, Hall-O-Ween-themed exploits, some Hall-O-Fame revisits, and miscellaneous odds-and-ends that caught my eye in obscure movie corners of the internet or my ear on podcasts like All the Colors of the Dark or Pure Cinema.

Once again, I doubt this year's Octoblur exploits will live up to past binges. Who has the fricking time to watch (and review) 40+ horror movies in one month? Yes, I usually end up answering that question at the end of each Octoblur with a "Me, I guess." But it has to stop somewhere. Will I exhibit an unusual measure of sanity in Octoblur 2022, or is the lunatic running the asylum horror movie festival?

Octoblur 2022 Horror Movie Reviews

Octoblur 2022 #71. Satan's Little Helper (2004)

#71. Satan's Little Helper (2004)

Directed by Jeff Lieberman

Ranked 60.90% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/31
I can be a real snob about cheaply produced movies. I am actually quite fond of cheap film productions, but spendthrift producers started opting to shoot on high-grade video formats in the late 1980s, and I can be very resistant to anything that looks like it cut that particular corner. Satan's Little Helper (2004) tripped that alarm immediately. It looks like low-grade TV movie crap, and sounds like it, too. This made my heart sink, as I had heard positive buzz about it. And that positive buzz is well-deserved: Satan's Little Helper is a lot of fun, with a wicked premise — a kid obsessed with a childlike notion of Satan attaches himself to a silent demon-masked serial killer on Halloween. If you can get past the overall HDCAM aesthetic and the overemphatic acting (and the lack of production design, art direction, sound mixing, etc.) that seems to go hand-in-hand with it, Satan's Little Helper is full of laughs, including some bracing transgressions, before it plunges hilt-deep into the chilling implications of its offbeat premise. During the final act it piles on a little too much story, overstaying its welcome by about 20 minutes, but if you can put away my video snobbery, this is well-worth Halloween party viewing. Hopefully the cost of licensing that Bob Dylan song on the soundtrack isn't why this looks so crummy. Directed by Jeff Lieberman, who was something of a cult sensation in the 1970s and 1980s.
Octoblur 2022 #70. Trick or Treat (1986)

#70. Trick or Treat (1986)

Directed by Charles Martin Smith

Ranked 62.20% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/31
Like the several other horror movies from the 1980s that exploited hysteria over the evil influence of Heavy Metal music, Trick or Treat (1986) mocks rock's critics while indulging in the very dark fantasies that concern them. Trick or Treat (1986) stars Marc Price — who was known at the time as a recurring lovesick nerd character on the popular TV sitcom Family Ties — against type as a beleaguered teen metalhead who unleashes the demonic spirit of his recently deceased favorite rock star. The directorial debut of actor Charles Martin Smith, Trick or Treat handles teen bullying and depression with surprising sensitivity, effectively grounding the movie in a recognizable reality and genuine emotion that make its fun and sometimes stilly supernatural events more potent. In addition to its popular soundtrack album, the film bolsters its metal pedigree by featuring Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne in fun bit parts. Cinematography by Robert Elswit, who would later win the Oscar for There Will Be Blood (2007).
Octoblur 2022 #69. May (2002)

#69. May (2002)

Directed by Lucky McKee

Ranked 80.62% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/31
I hadn't watched Lucky McKee's May (2002) in almost 20 years and had it marked for a re-watch. The Halloween setting of its finale was the deciding factor to include it in this year's final night of Octoblur programming. The Halloween setting is worthy only of minor note, actually, the premise of a nice but throwaway gag; even without it, May stands as a pretty impressive full directorial debut for Lucky McKee and a fantastic calling card for star Angela Bettis. Bettis stars as the title character, an awkward and dark young woman psychologically damaged by eccentric parenting. As she faces a string of social disappointments, she turns to her mother's advice: If you don't have any friends, make one for yourself. Bettis deftly glides from sweet to creepy to wounded to very creepy and back again, and McKee nails his difficult darkly tragiocomic tone better here than in his later cult hit The Woman (2011). There are some contrivances in the late-second and early-third acts of May that disrupt the emotional flow, and Anna Faris' character seems like an improbable fantasy that snuck in from a different script, but overall it's a very impressive and grisly horror-tinged drama.
Octoblur 2022 #68. Hellions (2015)

#68. Hellions (2015)

Directed by Bruce McDonald

Ranked 16.86% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/30
When looking for movies set on Halloween, Bruce McDonald's Hellions (2015) caught my eye... and so did its terrible ratings on Letterboxd and IMDb. McDonald's unusual riff on zombies, Pontypool (2008), often makes lists of the best underseen horror movies of the last few decades, and I was also familiar with his decent punk rock mockumentary Hard Core Logo (1996), so my curiousity was piqued: What is so bad about Hellions? For the first 20 minutes, nothing. I was actually mildly delighted by McDonald's generous Halloween production design — at times, it's like a perfect Autumn screensaver — and star Chloe Rose is just appealling enough as a troubled teen to make for an effective hook into the horrors to come. There are maybe some early hints that Hellions is going to be heavily derivative of better horror movies — Halloween (1978) and Trick 'r Treat (2007) are both echoed in key early moments — but there are no indications that everything is about to hopelessly and carelessly fall apart, as it does. Once the title creeps begin to attack the teen heroine, McDonald shifts from a nice naturalistic autumnal flavor to a blanched day-for-night effect that makes it one of the ugliest movies I've watched this month. There are other color tone shifts that happen that not only clash unpleasantly with each other but which lack coherent aesthetic meaning, as if a salesman for color timing software used random scenes from McDonald's movie as a demo. And while the supernatural situation is explained, there's never any logic to the action or plot points. The saddest part is, the idea behind Hellions is not half-bad, and if it merely followed straight through from beginning to end, might make for an OK thriller with a solid Halloween-setting. But it's just a mess, like everyone gave up mid-production followed by a half-hearted attempt to save it in post.
Octoblur 2022 #67. Uzumaki (2000)

#67. Uzumaki (2000)

Directed by Higuchinsky

Ranked 52.21% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/30
My Japanese horror pick this year is Uzumaki (2000), a movie that's been on my Octoblur shortlist for years, but has remained a bridesmaid until now. Based on a manga by cult favorite Junji Ito, Uzumaki is a compelling mystery about a small town gripped by a hysteric obsession with spirals. Some denizens are entranced by spirals and seek them out; some are horrified by spirals and cut off their fingerprints; others transform into human-sized snails... If it sounds a bit wacky, director Higuchinsky takes the opposite approach, treating his story with great delicacy, as it's experienced by a contemplative teenage girl. This tonal counterpoint works well and mutes the showiness of Higuchinsky's frequent editing tricks and (not always great) special effects. Compared to other J-Horror from its era, Uzumaki is pretty mild, but it has style and takes chances, and it's too bad that Higuchinsky didn't make more than a handful of movies during his career.
Octoblur 2022: 66. Society (1989)

Octoblur 2022: 66. Society (1989)

Directed by Brian Yuzna

Ranked 60.94% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/30

I watched Society (1989) last year as part of Octoblur 2021, but brought it out again this year to show to some friends.

Here's my review from last year, which still holds, although I now feel less derisive toward the narrative:

Some horror movies are all about their special effects, and if any movie deserves to perch triumphantly from atop a gooey, rubbery mountain of oozing ersatz flesh, it’s Brian Yuzna’s wackadoo Society (1989). And it’s a good thing that Society's climactic make-up effects orgy (literally) is so impressive because the rest of it barely qualifies as a passable first-draft screenplay. Bizarrely named Billy Warlock — an unholy mash-up of Charlie Sheen and Michael J. Fox— stars as an unimpressive character who takes close to 80 minutes to uncover the secret transhuman nature of his small town’s elite society, and if there’s a purpose to any of it beyond vague satire Yuzna never lets on. However, that late scene where high society lets loose with its excessive appetite for carnal consumption — courtesy of latex wizard Screaming Mad George  — is something to see and makes the aimless narrative and non-existent characterizations seem incidental.

Octoblur 2022 #65. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

#65. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Directed by Fritz Lang

Ranked 12.27% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/29
Have I complained yet about movies incorrectly tagged as "horror?" (Answer: Yes, I have.) One of my goals this Octoblur was to knock at least two of the three remaining horror movies in Flickchart's top 1000 movies off of my "unwatched" list. Häxan was one of them, along with Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933). To prep for this eventuality, last month I watched all 4+ hours of Lang's silent crime epic Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922). It had its moments, but it was about three hours too long, and I wondered how the sequel to this crime epic might zag into horror. Answer: It doesn't; not remotely. In fact, it barely qualifies as anything. It's a mystery with no mystery, and thriller with no thrills, and a Mabuse movie with barely any Mabuse! As I learned throughout the 260 minutes of the previous film, Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is a master criminal who uses hypnosis and other psychological manipulations to pull off astounding heists, evade capture and toy with his adversaries. At the end of the first film, he is incarcerated in an insane asylum. In this sequel, he continues to run his crime organization from his cell, despite the outward appearance of a nearly catatonic state. How he does it turns out to be completely uninteresting! Lang was one of the giants of early German cinema, responsible for bonafide masterpieces like Metropolis (1927) and M (1931), but this is not in that company. The silent Dr. Mabuse the Gambler was at times visually dazzling; this follow-up is visually bland, and badly misses the wild intensity of Klein-Rogge, whose re-appearance as Mabuse is limited here to a few minutes at most. In rare moments, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse reveals its influence on future pop culture: Mabuse is essentially The Joker, an agent provocateur who revels in sowing chaos and madness; and, in the one striking visual moment in the entire film, wherein a ghastly specter of Mabuse is superimposed over something, he looks eerily like Yoda. But that's it. Otherwise, this is a startling dud. And it's not horror.
Octoblur 2022 #64. Devil Fetus (1983)

#64. Devil Fetus (1983)

Directed by Hung-Chuen Lau

Ranked 46.84% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/29
For crazy Hong Kong horror, this year I selected Devil Fetus (1983), hoping that it would satisfy one or another of my "Satanic Cults" theme and/or my love for goopy deformed baby puppets. Sadly, it didn't push either button (one second of goopy baby puppet doesn't cut it), but it does still deliver a modest amount of the wacky thrills one has come to expect from Hong Kong horror from this era. After a whirlwind beginning — a woman has sex with a demonic jade vase, her husband's face becomes covered in warts, he jumps out a window, she dies shortly thereafter — the long-term effects of that vase-humping come to fruition years later in the form of a possessed dog with an interest in human females, leading to a crazy wire-fu exorcism scene utilizing eagle's blood (animal lovers should skip this one), and a finale that tops it all. When I say this is "modest," it's only because other regional "black magic" movies tend to be much wilder. This movie is still available only in low-quality dubs, and it badly needs a nice restoration.
Octoblur 2022 #63. Terrifier (2016)

#63. Terrifier (2016)

Directed by Damien Leone

Ranked 31.87% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/28
As the buzz for the new release Terrifier 2 (2022) grows and grows, with trusted sources like Elric Kane singing its praises despite a lack of fondness for earlier Art the Clown vehicles, I felt inspired to push ahead into Damien Leone's 2016 feature Terrifier (2016). On Halloween night, pantomime ghoul Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) terrorizes two drunk party girls (Jenna Kanell and Catherine Corcoran) and anyone unfortunate enough to enter their orbit. This is a gore movie. It contains scenes of extremely grisly violence, some of it sexual. The only thing that separates it from bottom-dwelling DIY gross-out splatter like August Underground or Bill Zebub is Leone's talent and ambition. He knows what he's doing technically and is half-decent at casting, and competence in those two fields goes a long way in this subgenre. That's not to say that Terrifier looks good; it's ugly with processed bleached colors. As for Art the Clown, he isn't an ingenious creation, but he is an extremely well-realized version of an idea that has occurred to thousands of hacks. Thornton's performance is both funny and chilling: if you think Art is scary when flashing a fake smile, wait until he loses his facade, as he does for one moment in Terrifier, and regards his bloody work as the soulless toil that it is. It's a blink and you'll miss it moment, but it almost transforms Terrifier. At least, it makes one ponder, what is Leone's point-of-view on this? Is he more than a gifted gorehound? Is he self-aware of the nihilism on display? I did not enjoy spending 83 minutes with Terrifier, and am not looking forward to another 134 minutes with its sequel (which may have to wait until next year), but I respect it. And I will probably find myself lured to TERRIFIER 2 out of curiousity or compulsion sooner than I'd like.
Octoblur 2022 #62. Murder Rock (1984)

#62. Murder Rock (1984)

Directed by Lucio Fulci

Ranked 31.86% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/28
As I do with Dario Argento, I also try to fit into every Octoblur a new-to-me movie by Italian director Lucio Fulci. Fulci is by most standards worse at everything than Argento, but I think he generally owns it better, and he gives over more easily to his wilder side, making for some truly out-there gore and sleaze. My Fulci choice for this year is Murder Rock: Dancing Death (1984), which seems to be inspired heavily by Flashdance (1983), a mammoth box office hit from the previous year. For Fulci this means a lot of leering close-ups of sweaty tights-clad young women who will shortly be murdered. Unfortunately, Fulci seems to have been infected by Argento syndrome here, and spends far too much time on incoherent mystery plotting, which brings the movie's lurid energy to a halt for long stretches. But when he indulges in the dancing or the attacks — a serial killer stabs women in the boob with a hatpin — Murder Rock (1984) is the kind of stylish fun that makes you feel bad about yourself for enjoying it, which is Fulci's great gift. Stars Olga Karlatos alongisde a group of very appealling young women whose movie careers seemed to go nowhere fast.
Octoblur 2022 #61. The Ogre (1988)

#61. The Ogre (1988)

Directed by Lamberto Bava

Ranked 29.23% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/28
The Italian horror movies made for the U.S. video market in the late 1980s were increasingly low-rent but many still had a fun charm about them. Lamberto Bava directed this little monster movie about a successful American horror novelist (Virginia Bryant) who discovers in a rural Italian villa the monster who has haunted her nightmares since she was a child. The Ogre (1988) is full of that goofy inattention to detail (plus a Poltergeist (1982) rip-off scene) that defines this era in Italian horror. It moves a bit too slowly between scares and has a terrible ending, but the obnoxiously awful husband character who can always be counted on to say or do something howlingly tone-deaf keeps things lively. A special nod goes to costumer Valentina Di Palma, who puts Bryant in an eye-catching "Cinerama Palace" nightshirt and the Ogre in a fine Italian Rennaisance cassock, making him the best-dressed character in the movie.
Octoblur 2022 #60. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

#60. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Directed by Dario Argento

Ranked 31.85% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/28
I try to fit a Dario Argento movie into every Octoblur, which is beginning to look like madness, as I like so few of them. Suspiria (1977) is close to a masterpiece and Phenomena (1985) isn't far off, but those are looking like the exceptions to the rule. What it comes down to, I think, is that Argento is a fantastically gifted stylist and stager of shocking set-pieces, but what he really wants to be is a top-class mystery writer, and his writing is downright terrible. When his movies skimp on story and pile on the crazy shocks with dazzling colors and music, they are breathtaking — this movie might feature one of the most gorgeous car crashes ever filmed — but most of them spend far too much time on deadwood characters sorting out the dull minutiae of inane narratives. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), one of three early gialli that put Argento on the map, has a couple of striking attack scenes — and introduces in the last 15 minutes a completely bonkers premise that deserves its own feature-length exploration — and then fills the inbetween spaces with a lot of nothing. It helps a lot that that nothing is accompanied here by a truly fantastic Ennio Morricone score that is more rock-driven than usual. There's also an unusually tender love scene that adds some dimension, and a few injections of wacky humor that are nearly as clumsy as Argento's narrative plotting. A mixed bag, which makes it one of Argento's better mid-tier efforts.
Octoblur 2022 #59. This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967)

#59. This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967)

Directed by José Mojica Marins

Ranked 42.05% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/27
The second film in José Mojica Marins' "Coffin Joe" series, This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967) carries on the dread-infused tone of the first movie, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964; reviewed during Octoblur 2017), with gorgeous, stark black and white cinematography from Giorgio Attili. Despite the tragic events of the first film, Brazil's favorite nihilistic egoist creep (Marins) is still adamant about siring a son who, with the right mother, will evince the desired superhuman lack of cowardice, ignorance, and superstition. Naturally, this leads Zé do Caixão to abduct several women from a village that already fears him as a demon (with good reason) and murder the ones that fail his test of maintaining stoicism while spiders crawl their half-naked bodies. When Joe finally finds the perfect mate, the villagers have had enough of his wickedness and set out with their torches to bring him to justice. "Coffin Joe" is a once-in-a-lifetime indelible horror character, and Marins directs with such cold stillness that the atmosphere is just as chilling as his persona. This second chapter, however, gets bogged down in too many subplots and loses momentum, feeling about a half-hour too long at 108 minutes. Nevertheless, there is a dynamite color Hell-set nightmare sequence that is as creepy as anything else Marins has done and which should play in an eternal loop on video kiosks wherever horror is required.
Octoblur 2022 #58. Grave Robbers (1989)

#58. Grave Robbers (1989)

Directed by Rubén Galindo Jr.

Ranked 12.32% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/26
I had a lot of fun last Octoblur with Rubén Galindo Jr.’s bonkers horrorpalooza Don’t Panic (1989), so I was looking forward to checking out his subsequent effort, Grave Robbers (1989). Well, whatever he was on that made Don’t Panic so wild and random, he must have sobered up from it. Grave Robbers has so few ideas at play that it’s just an average lousy shlock effort rather than a spectacular lousy shlock effort. A bunch of young thieves who loot graves for buried riches stumble upon the crypt of a centuries-dead Satanist, who only needs a little prodding to revive his nefarious practices. Aside from one scene — in which a hand protrudes from an unfortunate young man’s torso — the gore is uninventive, and the overall tone is fairly conservative, as if Galindo saw this as an opportunity to eschew his wild ways and make a serious, respectable movie. He’s much better at the other kind.
Octoblur 2022 #57. All Hallows' Eve (2013)

#57. All Hallows' Eve (2013)

Directed by Damien Leone

Ranked 34.36% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/25
With all of the "Art the Clown" excitement surrounding the current release of Terrifer 2 (2022), I thought I owed it to myself to see what the hype was all about. Stuff like Terrifier and director Damian Leone's original feature, All Hallow's Eve (2013) isn't my preferred strain of horror. It's on the most-competent edge of that underground DIY horror scene that seems to consist mostly of movies full of excessive gore and cast almost exclusively with strippers. There's a meanness to them that excludes the innocence I like in even the more cynical 1970s-80s horror. It's an ugly world full of nasty people and nothing to hope for. That said, I can see why this franchise and Art the Clown specifically have struck a chord. There's nothing original in All Hallow's Eve, but it is well-constructed and Art is a fun evil presence even if it seems like the "Scary Clowns" meme has gotten tired. Katie Maguire is a bright presence as a babysitter of two tween kids who reluctantly allows them to watch an unmarked VHS tape found inside a bag of Halloween night candy. As one might expect, the tape features vignettes of Art and assorted other ghouls doing very ghoulish things, and eventually, the clear lines between the video and reality begin to dissolve. All Hallows' Eve is far too long at 84 minutes, with one long vignette that is almost a complete waste of time. But the other bits have their moments, and Leone shows some skill as a stager of action and as an editor. It all looks pretty ugly, though, with overprocessed contrast and that dumb digital addition of artifacts to make the film appear old and worn. Better than I expected, but not quite good.
Octoblur 2022 #56. The Legacy (1978)

#56. The Legacy (1978)

Directed by Richard Marquand

Ranked 31.80% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/24
For all the accusations aimed toward it for its hedonistic ways, Hollywood has little to no idea how to deal with Satanism (obvious exceptions excluded). The Legacy (1978) is a case-in-point: this big-budget attempt to make an occult thriller is so squeamish about owning its subject matter — literally, a bunch of bigwigs jockeying for Satanic power — that, for the first half, it plays like light whimsy, and at the end waves away the implications of everything that preceded, lest it mar the previously sympathetic heroine (Katherine Ross). Middling stuff like this just makes Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), and The Omen (1976) more impressive, for both escaping the studio process intact and for taking seriously their own premises. The Legacy is a nice-looking production, with a cast that includes Sam Elliot naked, The Who's Roger Daltrey, and Bond villain Charles Gray (who was also the Satanic cult leader in The Devil Rides Out (1968) from earlier this month). Written by former Hammer Films mainstay Jimmy Sangster and directed, poorly, by Richard Marquand, who within four years would helm The Return of the Jedi (1982).
Octoblur 2022 #55. The Ninth Gate (1999)

#55. The Ninth Gate (1999)

Directed by Roman Polanski

Ranked 72.14% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/23
Back when The Ninth Gate (1999) was released on DVD, I wrote a strongly dismissive review of it. While I understand some of my complaints from two decades ago, I was wrong: This is a solid if slightly under-ambitious occult thriller. Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, a rare books specialist hired by a rich benefactor to hunt down the two other copies of a book he owns that can supposedly summon the Devil himself. Everything in The Ninth Gate is slightly undercooked. The mystery is too easy to solve, and while bodies pile up along Corso’s investigative trail, there don’t seem to be repercussions for him or anyone else. Additionally, at the very end, it’s not really clear what any of it means, for Corso or for mankind. Still, it’s easy to watch, and Depp is at his least mannered/annoying. He still fails to dig deep enough into his character for Corso to matter to the audience… It sounds like I’m panning The Ninth Gate all over again, but I enjoyed it, mildly. Director Roman Polanski knows how to add an eerie off-kilter tone, and the supporting cast of Lena Olin, Frank Langella, and Emmanuele Seigner, add malevolent spice. Solid Q-Anon fuel.
Octoblur 2022 #54. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

#54. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Directed by Erle C. Kenton

Ranked 81.07% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/23
I previously reviewed Island of Lost Souls (1932) in the form of a Twitter thread during Octoblur2017. Upon rewatching it this year while introducing some friends to early sound horror, Charles Laughton impressed everyone. He finds a careful balance between the hamminess of pulp filmmaking and the subtlety of good character work. At only 70 minutes, this adaptation of HG Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau moves swiftly and builds tension, but could’ve used a bigger finale with more mayhem and danger. Bela Lugosi’s role is also too limited, but what's there is dynamite. The 1977 version with Burt Lancaster sorts the storytelling into better shape, but this one still holds a lot of raw power.
Octoblur 2022 #53. Frankenstein (1931)

#53. Frankenstein (1931)

Directed by James Whale

Ranked 88.10% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/23
At its best, this classic of the Universal monster movies is sublime, with both Colin Clive, as the zealous Dr. Henry Frankenstein, and Boris Karloff, as his volatile creation, giving magnetic performances that command the screen. However, there are another 40 minutes or so of this 70-minute movie that are spent with wooden actors playing a consortium of terribly written characters who either blandly recite exposition about the doctor and his over-the-edge experiments or just talk random garbage (looking at you, Frederick Kerr as Baron Frankenstein). It doesn’t so much matter that director James Whale embraces the staginess of theatrical adaptations of Mary Shelley’s famous novel — the production design of Frankenstein (1931) is gorgeous even when unavoidably artificial — but this staginess brings everything to a halt when the scenes involve neither Clive nor Karloff. Still, the iconic scenes contain a lot of power, and the importance of this movie to horror and movies in general can't be understated.
Octoblur 2022 #52. The Wicker Man (1973)

#52. The Wicker Man (1973)

Directed by Robin Hardy

Ranked 93.64% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/22
I couldn't let a theme of "cults" pass this month without revisiting the cultiest of all cult movies, The Wicker Man (1973), which I haven't watched in over 15 years. It's so deceptive at first, with its stiff style and TV-like framing of scenes — director Robin Hardy's background was TV commercials and informational short subjects — but as it starts to sneak in subversive sexuality and paranoid hints that things aren't as they seem, a sensitive viewer might unravel in tandem with Edward Woodward's prudish police officer. Woodward is magnificent in a role that could easily resort to knowing mockery, but his distress is both genuine and warranted; it's an emotionally powerful performance. Christopher Lee's casual malevolence is controlled even if his hair becomes wilder as the film progresses. From the slow burn of its introduction through its bracing ending, The Wicker Man is deservedly the iconic representative of British folk horror.
Octoblur 2022 #51. Halloween Ends (2022)

#51. Halloween Ends (2022)

Directed by David Gordon Green

Ranked 35.88% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/22
I haven't been a fan of the first two chapters of David Gordon Green's canon-reinventing trilogy of Halloween movies. He's focused too much on indulgent melodramatic psychoanalysis and extreme gore, and the extended, precious focus on the character of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been a crushing bore. I'm dispositionally opposed to slasher movies that follow recurring victims anyway, so these recent Halloweens have been fighting an uphill battle with me. In this "final" film (of this stage of the franchise, at least), Green thankfully takes a different approach, and even though it's borderline absurd, I like this idea a lot more than anything else he or the many other post-Halloween 4 directors have tried. Rohan Campbell stars as Corey, a normal kid whose life takes a dark wrong turn in a Halloween night accident. Years later, he stumbles into a sewer pipe and has some Evil Eye Intercourse with Michael Myers, who has become like the Grandpa in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): too old to do much of anything, until the natural Viagra of good old bloodlust puts some life back into his stabbing arm. This romantic moment between Corey and Michael brings out the evil in Corey, which makes him a Strode-magnet, attracting Laurie's orphaned granddaughter (Andi Matichak). This ridiculous series of events calls back to the wild, desperate story ideas that made the slasher franchises of the 1980s so much fun. Fuck social commentary and attempts at serious (and often seriously bad) probing of the emotional horrors of trauma victims: use a questionable premise to launch a series of creatively staged murders. I wouldn't mind an entire series of movies about losers who lock eyes with Michael Myers and suddenly get stabby. I think Green tries to depict Haddonfield as something like Stephen King's Derry: a town so affected by evil, that it's turned almost everyone into an antagonistic shithead. It's a fair premise, but it mars the experience of watching Halloween Ends (2022), as the quality of the first movie was grounded in the idea that the normal kids of "Anytown U.S.A." could be rocked by senseless death. It's almost hilarious how many people in Haddonfield blame Laurie — who is unrecognisably well-adjusted this time around — for Myers' murders. Everything featuring Curtis is weak, drenched in sanctimoniousness. It would be a better movie if it were about Corey alone, although Matichak has a good presence. Green also adds a nice vibe with some synth music and well-shot locations, none of which evoke John Carpenter's Halloween, but work well on their own. Easily my favorite of this trilogy, which isn't saying much, but still.
Octoblur 2022 #50. The Night Stalker (1972)

#50. The Night Stalker (1972)

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey

Ranked 74.56% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/22
This made-for-TV movie was a massive hit that eventually spawned a series, and it's of such high quality I wonder if the same script could have just as much success today. Darren McGavin (best known as the dad in A Christmas Story (1983)) stars as Kolchak, an investigative reporter with a reputation for annoying editors and local authorities wherever he is temporarily employed. During a stint in Las Vegas, his irritating habits are amplified when he suspects that a serial killer might be "a real-life vampire!" McGavin is great, oozing rascally charm, and the cast of hard-ass stalwarts who suffer him — Claude Akins, Ralph Meeker, Simon Oakland — is just as good. The weak spots are some selective screenwriting — early on, it's suggested the vampire can fly, but he never uses this power when it would come in helpful; and why is Kolchak surprised that a gun doesn't stop the vampire, when he pressed that same point in an earlier scene? — and the character of Kolchak's girlfriend (Carol Lynley), who is given nothing to do. Modern audiences might also be let down by the no-frills, direct depiction of a vampire (Barry Atwater), but I find the lack of gratuitous reinvention refreshing. Sometimes a vampire is just a ghoul who wants to suck blood, and that's danger enough. Directed with an eye for pacing and tension by John Llewellyn Moxey.
Octoblur 2022 #49. Sheitan (2006)

#49. Sheitan (2006)

Directed by Kim Chapiron

Ranked 47.14% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/21
I've had Sheitan (2006) on my watchlist for years, but held off expecting something truly transgressive. I don't know whether I'm relieved or disappointed that it's actually kind of mild — or, at least, it balks at several nasty opportunities. It still gets pretty gross and has a simmering menace that is effective. A group of shithead young people meets an attractive girl at a nightclub and, with one or more of the guys hoping to have sex with her, take up her offer to spend Christmas on her family farm in rural France. Hillbillies be weird and scary, though. If you stop to think about it, there's a kind of subversive conservative message to Sheitan — the young city people are complete assholes who either believe in nothing or are abject hypocrites. The inbred hillbillies, however, really care about their family. Really care. The cast features hip, edgy French actors Vincent Cassel and Roxane Mesquida (Cassell's then-wife, Monica Bellucci, also shows up in a cameo, buried under heavy makeup), and Cassell gives a fun, hammy performance. The biggest problem with Sheitan is that comes from a nihilistic period in horror wherein every character is horrible and it wouldn't be sad if everyone met some kind of horrific end. As a satirical point, that's fine, but it's not the kind of horror I prefer. This may really thrill, however, fans of other "extreme" horror from the early 2000s.
Octoblur 2022 #48. Bloody Sect (1982)

#48. Bloody Sect (1982)

Directed by Ignacio F. Iquino

Ranked 34.38% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/21
It's hard to tell if director Ignacio F. Iquino was in on the joke in this utterly wacko cheapskate production, or if he thought no one would notice the shambolic special effects — including the final shot, which has to be seen to be believed. Is it chutzpah, self-delusion, or did no one care? As a narrative, Bloody Sect (1982) is just as bonkers, starting with — this is the opening act — a man who is attacked and blinded by a stalker, is then revealed to be congenitally sterile, and whose wife is then inseminated by a Satanic Cult. If the plot seems somewhat random, the character choices are worse, negligent even. There's a stalker living in the attic? Deal with it tomorrow. Have a natal Antichrist to shepherd? Hire surly incompetents who will make the process miserable and chaotic and bring unwanted attention via wanton murder. This is 500% "Bad Movie Party"-approved, but it's a little dull when giving it full attention.
Octoblur 2022 #47. Satan's Slave (1982)

#47. Satan's Slave (1982)

Directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra

Ranked 49.18% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/21

This low-budget Indonesian cult classic was given a loving remake a few years ago by Joko Anwar (as Satan's Slaves (2017), reviewed during Octoblur 2018), and it's easy to see how, despite its limitations, it fueled the nightmares of a future horror director. Director Sisworo Gautama Putra applies a dreamlike quality to this story of a wealthy family whose secular ways have made them vulnerable to evil following the death of their matriarch, and that creepy atmosphere — hints of Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot (1979), aided by some subtly odd production design — compensates for the iffy special effects and poor staging during key moments. If there's a critical flaw to Satan's Slave (1982), it's that its scares don't mount and build exponentially but rather exist separate enough from each other to make its climax less impactful than desired. Especially compared to the crazy horror coming out of other Asian countries during the same time period, this is pretty mild, slow and anti-climactic. And, although it's what one might expect from a horror movie from a country with strict religious practices, the didactic epilogue is a snooze. Putra seems to try and counteract that with a shocking revelation of some kind, but I have no idea what the final shot is supposed to suggest.

Octoblur 2022 #46. Satan's Slave (1976)

#46. Satan's Slave (1976)

Directed by Norman J. Warren

Ranked 65.82% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/20
It's always a bit jarring when a British production filmed on a grand estate and full of cultured actors speaking in refined accents gets sleazy and nasty, but Satan's Slave (1976) wastes no time, jumping right in with ritual human sacrifice followed by some very nasty sex dysfunction (that will likely lose it some viewers) and murder. The very appealing Candace Glendenning stars as Catherine, a young woman who is waylaid at her distant uncle's estate following a shocking family tragedy. Catherine appears to have no radar for danger, as she quickly falls for her sicko cousin (Martin Potter), while Uncle Alexander plots a diabolical surprise for her 20th birthday. Norman J. Warren had a reputation for upping the ante on sex and depravity in British horror, and it's in full view here. But he's not just a perv: Satan's Slave is tightly directed and the cast is fantastic, selling every gnarly scene with full commitment. It also has that great hazy, grainy Fall glow that I love from genre movies of this era. Very good all around, for anyone who can stomach its nasty second scene.
Octoblur 2022 #45. The Devil's Hand (1962)

#45. The Devil's Hand (1962)

Directed by William J. Hole Jr.

Ranked 46.03% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/20
This B-movie starts off with a fun (and, at times, needlessly convoluted) premise, as a man (Robert Alda) is lured into a cult that worships "Gamba, the Devil God of Evil" by a smitten witch (Linda Christian). Even though pledging loyalty to the cult brings him instant success and wealth, he feels kind of bad that his fiancee (Ariadna Welter) is stuck in the hospital with a voodoo pin stuck in the heart of a doll bearing her likeness. There isn't much to The Devil's Hand (1962) beyond the initial premise, but it's light and short, and it has a decent enough cast (Neil Hamilton, best known as Commissioner Gordon from the 1960s Batman TV series, plays the cult's "High Executioner"). There's a cool Duane Eddy-ish guitar riff in Allyn Ferguson's score and a overall faux-exotic vibe that is good enough for a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Octoblur 2022 #44. Häxan (1922)

#44. Häxan (1922)

Directed by Benjamin Christensen

Ranked 49.59% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/19
Häxan (1922) is a Swedish silent-era sort-of documentary, sort-of melodrama about the history of European witchcraft. Directory Benjamin Christensen crafts some majestically gruesome and iconic horror imagery, from rituals involving child sacrifice, to methods of torture, to the tongue-wagging Devil himself (played by Christensen). The art direction and photography (Johan Ankerstjerne) are truly fantastic. It's too bad Christensen's script is such a wet blanket. He obviously has a passion for visualizing occult folklore and superstition in minute and glorious detail, and then proceeds to condescendingly look down his nose at the poor dopes who believe in it and pity those whose mental health issues, he proposes, led them into such dark delusions. His thesis may well be true, but no one watching Häxan now or 100 years ago did so hoping for an earnest and sober accounting of the psychological complexes of the dark ages; they wanted to see some cool creepy shit. Imagine if Christensen had poured all of his effort and resources — this was the most expensive Scandinavian silent film production — into a genuine horror movie, or, maybe better, a faux documentary about how black magic and devil worship were real and coming for the children of the 1920s. Sure, Europe might have gone up in flames in reaction, but that would've been an act of radical punk bravado, and maybe the greatest horror movie ever made, and not this lethargic dry half-hump that is interesting more as an artifact of its time than as any kind of visceral experience. I appreciate Häxan visually, and to a great degree, but have no love for any other part of it.
Octoblur 2022 #43. Lucifer's Women (1974)

#43. Lucifer's Women (1974)

Directed by Paul Aratow

Ranked 47.05% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/17
Maybe I'm still reeling from the one-two punch of Doll of Satan (1969) and Satan's Baby Doll (1982), but, in comparison, Lucifer's Women (1974) wasn't half-bad. The great character actor Larry Hankin (maybe best known as Mr. Heckles from the sitcom Friends) stars as a Svengali-possessed novelist who is, for some reason, delivering prostitutes to a Satanic cult. The whys and whats of the plot aren't always clear, but Lucifer's Women is pretty well-acted for such a low-grade porn-adjacent project — Hankin would occassionally appear in porn in acting-only roles, and prolific porn star Paul Thomas has a prominent supporting role here as an aspiring pimp — and actually has some ideas at play between the stripping and (softcore) sex scenes. Director Paul Aratow, who was a literature professor at Berkeley prior to his career in film, seems to be interested in the paradox of liberation and subjugation in counter-cultural sexual exploitation, and there is a pretty chilling scene in which a prostitute accepts slavery to a cult master as a form of freedom. This isn't to say that Lucifer's Women is a thorough treatise on its subject matter, but ideas have been hard to find in some of this month's movies, and I appreciate the effort. Jane Brunel-Cohen, in one of only two acting roles, has a nice presence that goes a long way toward making this not only watchable but engaging. Hankin isn't the only one in this production who would go on to bigger things: cinematographer Robbie Greenberg would later work with directors Wes Craven (Swamp Thing (1982)) and Robert Redford (The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)), and future Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Webb Peoples (Unforgiven (1992)) gets the editor credit. This movie was later repurposed in Al Adamson's Doctor Dracula (1978).
Octoblur 2022 #42. Satan's Baby Doll (1982)

#42. Satan's Baby Doll (1982)

Directed by Mario Bianchi

Ranked 07.98% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/16
The second part in this misguided double-feature is Satan's Baby Doll (1982), directed by Mario Bianchi. Apparently, this is remake of Malabimba – The Malicious Whore (1979), which I watched over a decade ago and can still hear the relentless screams of that name — "Malambimba!!!! .... Malambiiiiiimba! ...." — ringing in my ears. There's nothing in this remake worth remembering 5 seconds after it happens. Following the death of her mother, Miria (Jaqueline Dupré, in her only screen credit) becomes host to her dearly departed's spirit and takes revenge on everyone for whatever reason. They're all assholes of some variety. Every scene goes on absurdly long (the movie only lasts 74 minutes, but contains barely 10 minutes of content), with lots of focus on female masturbation. Many shots are used more than once, in case their lack of meaning was misconstrued the first time around. Apparently, there's another version out there with an additional 14 minutes of hardcore sex. It's not going on my watchlist. Directed by Mario Bianchi, who co-wrote Tragic Ceremony (1972) from earlier this month, and directed Don't Be Afraid of Aunt Martha (1988), which was part of Octoblur 2020.
Octoblur 2022 #41. The Doll of Satan (1969)

#41. The Doll of Satan (1969)

Directed by Ferruccio Casapinta

Ranked 10.23% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/16
I thought it would be a great and fun idea to include in my "Satanic Cults" theme this month a double feature of The Doll of Satan (1969) and Satan's Baby Doll (1982). The fatal flaw in this idea is that both movies are boring trash. The Doll of Satan (1969) is the more respectable of the two, not nearly as sleazy as it sometimes teases. Erna Schürer stars as a young woman who has inherited a castle from her bachelor uncle, but spooky stories about its past and the presence of a historic torture chamber in its basement have her on edge. Aside from a couple of dark dream sequences, this is barely horror and Satan is nowhere to be found. Instead, we get what should be a 20-minute Scooby Doo episode stretched out to 90 minutes. There's some nice art direction and a wild fight scene (that doesn't matter), but it's mostly time-filler postponing the flaccid conclusion.
Octoblur 2022 #40. The Thing (1982)

#40. The Thing (1982)

Directed by John Carpenter

Ranked 99.33% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/16

Taken in tandem with An American Werewolf in London (1981) from the year before, John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) is the peak of practical special effects. So brilliantly gruesome and creative in design and execution. That alone is a thing of staggering beauty and, sadly, a relic of the past. The movie is also a brilliant study of paranoia, with indelible characters subtly portrayed by a stellar cast of actors. One of the titans of genre cinema. Any cinema, for that matter.

Octoblur 2022 #39. Satan's Blood (1978)

#39. Satan's Blood (1978)

Directed by Carlos Puerto

Ranked 31.46% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/15
Satan's Blood (1978) is a bit like both Black Candles (1982) -- just an excuse for ample nudity within a dark context -- and Tragic Ceremony (1972) -- peaks in the middle with a crazy ritual. It starts well, with a couple (Mariana Karr and José María Guillén), who are expecting their first child, looking for something fun, but not risky, to do for an evening. They run into another couple who invite them back to a secluded manor... If it sounds like you know where this going, you probably do, but not how it's going to get there. There is a crazy ritualistic group sex scene that is something to behold, and not referenced afterward, as if the characters are unaware that it happened (which they may be). Where is goes afterward, for the final 40 minutes, is so convoluted that it reeks of a runaway screenwriter hunting for a twist that way a vampire hunts for blood: anything will do. I kind of liked these actors and this set-up, and director Carlos Puerto's simple abandon of taste. A more coherent script might have resulted in a pretty good bit of Eurosleaze. Produced by Juan Piquer Simón (Pieces (1983)), who was also an uncredited co-director.
Octoblur 2022 #38. Enter the Devil (1972)

#38. Enter the Devil (1972)

Directed by Frank Q. Dobbs

Ranked 03.08% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/15
Enter the Devil (1972) is a dry police procedural about ritualistic murders in the desert near the Texas-Mexico border. Directed by Frank Q. Dobbs, it feels like a no-hoper TV pilot. There are no characters worth-watching, no memorable moments, nothing. Completely uninteresting.
Octoblur 2022 #37. Demons of the Mind (1972)

#37. Demons of the Mind (1972)

Directed by Peter Sykes

Ranked 18.56% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/15
Disappointing Hammer Films attempt at a psychosexual thriller has all the atmosphere and meaty acting one expects from the great British studio, but it never finds the right way to tell its story. Robert Hardy stars as the patriarch of a rich family with an equally rich history of incest and insanity. To keep his two ripe but imprisoned children from boinking each other, he enlists a mesmerist played by the everlastingly disturbing Patrick McGee. In addition to this main plotline, which starts with an escape attempt by the daughter (Gillian Hills) but doesn't stick to her sympathetic point-of-view, Demons of the Mind (1972) also features a young man attempting to rescue the girl and some kind of crazed man or demon murdering young women in the forest. None of these plotlines are adequately set up, explored, or resolved, but there are some nice images here and there.
Octoblur 2022 #36. Satan's Children (1975)

#36. Satan's Children (1975)

Directed by Joe Wiezycki

Ranked 47.10% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/15
Satan's Children (1975) starts with the promise of something truly evil. Its opening title card looks like something out of the Houghton-Mifflin educational film catalog, and the accompanying soundtrack of muffled chants, instrumentation, and noises is likely as chilling as anything I'll watch this month. Instead of building on that start immediately, writer-director Joe Wiezycki takes a slow approach, and in "After School Special"-style, depicts a teenager in crisis, Bobby (Stephen White), taunted by his mean stepfather and churlish stepsister. He runs away and is promptly gang-raped by homosexuals and left for dead in the park where the local hippie Satanist cult likes to play an indecipherable ball game (possibly "Smear the Queer," which was a game that existed in the 1970s). Things don't, as one might assume, go swimmingly in the cult, which is experiencing a power struggle in the temporary absence of its leader. In many ways, Satan's Children is exactly what I've been hoping for by picking a theme of "Cults, Satanic and Otherwise" this month: a mid-1970s low-budget indie that takes its subject seriously, tests the bounds of propriety, and isn't against mixing in some sleazy exploitation at the same time. The only thing wrong with Satan's Children is its second act, when it runs out of ideas and fills nearly 20 minutes with an asinine chase sequence through a swamp that includes that old pulp z-movie chestnut, quicksand. It's a mind-numbing diversion that is the result of Wiezycki not really having any interest in his characters beyond broad outlines and no interest in internal story logic, and it makes the movie pretty dull just when it should be at its most interesting. The end credits stretch on as least twice as long as they need to, just to let Ray Fletcher's pretty good and creepy score play out. And then it stops abruptly because that's how this movie seems to work.
Octoblur 2022 #35. Satan's Cheerleaders (1977)

#35. Satan's Cheerleaders (1977)

Directed by Greydon Clark

Ranked 37.63% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/15
The first half-hour of this teen-comedy-turned-horror is almost interminable. Director Greydon Clark was at this stage in his career — how do I say this politely? — nowhere near the refined sleaze auteur who six years later would give us the infamous arcade-set teen sex comedy Screwballs (1983). Even in the limited spectrum of its genre, Satan's Cheerleaders (1977) is low-grade and immature. Which is too bad, because the young actresses are not bad and are both cute and saucy in required measures. Jacqueline Cole, who plays the cheerleading team's coach, is worst-served by the lazy material, as she seems to have pretty good comic instincts but nothing worth plying them on. Once Satan's Cheerleaders moves into horror territory, however, the poor comedy is no longer as wearying — it no longer is required to carry 100% of the film — and the cast grows to include stalwart veterans like John Carradine, John Ireland, and Yvonne De Carlo, each of whom appears to be having fun rather than regretting their diminishing late-stage career options. Once the comedy is more spare, there are a few funny lines that survive the poor editing, and even though the horror elements are, themselves, not distinguished, the whole thing becomes just a little bit charming right in time for the climax.
Octoblur 2022 #34. The Sentinel (1977)

#34. The Sentinel (1977)

Directed by Michael Winner

Ranked 50.14% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/14
This is my second time watching The Sentinel (1977) in the last decade or so, and I mostly hated it the first time around. Since then, however, I've grown to be somewhat of a fan of director Michael Winner, and I thought this might fit into my "Satanic Cult" theme this month (it sort of does, and is also sort of the opposite of that). I had a better time with The Sentinel this time, but I'm still stuck on one major obstacle: I think star Cristina Raines was a terrible casting choice for this movie, with every vocal inflection and facial expression a wet blanket. In these kinds of paranoid "am I going crazy or is there a conspiracy against me" thrillers, the protagonist needs to be an empathy magnet, and while Raines is very easy to look at (and was very good the same year in a different type of role in Ridley Scott's The Duellist (1977)), her portrayal of Allison is too much of a "Debbie Downer." This problem is exacerbated by the presence of the underused Deborah Raffin as Allison's friend, an actress with the kind of bright effortless appeal that might have transformed the heroine into someone the audience cares about. Sure, Allison's depression is central to the plot, but finding the optimal degree of open fragility seems to be outside of Raines' skillset. That aside, this is an interesting chapter in the occult-obsessed Hollywood horror of the 1970s, about a fashion model who encounters many strange things in her new Brooklyn apartment, the least of which seems to be the blind priest (John Carradine) who everlastingly faces out from the top floor window. The cast is spectacular — Chris Sarandon, Martin Balsam, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, William Hickey, Beverly D'Angelo (who has a very strange scene-stealing moment), and early bit parts for Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, and Tom Berenger... Richard Dreyfuss even makes a cameo. Some viewers might be troubled by the use of people with real physical deformities during the climax, but it does add an unusual flavor.
Octoblur 2022 #33. Tragic Ceremony (1972)

#33. Tragic Ceremony (1972)

Directed by Riccardo Freda

Ranked 41.27% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/14
Sometimes a single scene or moment can elevate a horror movie from forgettable to something special. Tragic Ceremony (1972) stars Camille Keaton — who would in a few years gain infamy as the star of I Spit on Your Grave (1978) — as the one girl in a foursome of young people who, on the way home from a camping trip, stumble into a black mass ritual. There's an absolutely bonkers scene in the middle of Tragic Ceremony that would, in most horror films, be the exciting over-the-top climax complete with all-out low-budget gonzo gore — but it happens here with 40+ minutes to go. Unfortunately, what remains struggles to follow such a show-stopper, although credit to screenwriter Mario Bianchi for shoehorning in such an absurd and complicated concept into his final act that a doctor character is introduced to explain at-length what just happened, and begins by saying, "I'm aware that what I'm saying may sound illogical. Absurd even...." There's also a missed opportunity, I think, to have turned the final act into something more interesting, if the film had followed one throwaway line comparing a crime scene to the Manson Family murders. Instead, it follows a less provocative thread. Nevertheless, Tragic Ceremony starts well and has the great visual style common to so many European horror movies of its era, and that one scene in the middle makes this a must-see for fans of this little slice of time-and-place horror. Directed by Riccardo Freda.
Octoblur 2022 #32. Weird Woman (1944)

#32. Weird Woman (1944)

Directed by Reginald Le Borg

Ranked 57.95% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/14

This amiable B-movie is the first of three adaptations of the Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife — and is decidedly less artful than Burn, Witch, Burn (1962; aka Night of the Eagle), which I reviewed seven Octoblurs ago — and is hokey fun within its limitations. Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as a sociology professor — his domain is rationalism – who marries a young woman raised on island superstition. When he makes her throw away all of her voodoo-ish charms, his life quickly goes down the toilet. Although it misses the darker undercurrent of the 1962 version, the cast is strong (look for Elizabeth Russell, from Cat People (1942)) and the tone is light and bouncy (incongruously at times). The ending is its weakest point, an attempt to tuck away any residual darkness, but reflective of its era. One of a handful of attempts to parlay the popular Inner Sanctum radio program series into a franchise of movies starring Chaney.

Octoblur 2022 #31. Ring of Darkness (1979)

#31. Ring of Darkness (1979)

Directed by Pier Carpi

Ranked 24.19% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/12
This one is an oddity. After an opening credit sequence that might be described as a "New Wave Satanic Ballet," we get an occult version of The Bad Seed. A woman whose coven of witches mated with the Devil 14 years earlier is concerned that her teenage daughter (Lara Wendel) is becoming too much like her father. I'm not sure what she expected, but her attempts to thwart the malevolent will of her devilspawn are blocked at every turn, often by incomprehensible or ridiculous means. Ring of Darkness (1979) is iredeemable Eurosleaze, but its thorough ineptitude is sort of charming. Wendel's relentlessly one-note demonic performance is pretty fun — and so is the script's randomness, as she unleashes a non-sequitur tirade about people eating: "People having meals are like hyenas. Human beings ought to eat alone, in secret, as if they were afraid to eat, ashamed!" — and at least more interesting than the parade of robotic performances surrounding her. The other big factor that elevates Ring of Darkness above common trash is Stelvio  Cipriani's pulsating, almost non-stop synth score, which rarely seems to fit any scene but adds to the overall "Was this made by accident?" vibe. What's not accidental, surely, is the controversial nudity from Wendel, who made a career of controversial nudity. The second and last feature film from writer/director Pier Carpi.
Octoblur 2022 #30. Lisa and the Devil (1973)

#30. Lisa and the Devil (1973)

Directed by Mario Bava

Ranked 06.44% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/13
Every year I get excited to dip into some stylish 1970s Italian horror, and every year I get burned by something like Lisa and the Devil (1973). Yesterday, I complained that Black Candles (1982) was barely a movie, just a series of events to justify naked people doing creepy things. At least that was an idea! Lisa and the Devil spends all of its 90-ish minutes looking for an idea, toys with a couple of them, and then gives up. Director Mario Bava is renowned as a stylist, but he has no gift for — or, maybe, interest in — story. This one seems to have been "written" in the editing room (and was actually re-edited into an entirely different movie named The House of Exorcism (1975)). Lisa and the Devil starts with some lazy Alice in Wonderland references and then slips into a dream logic state wherein Lisa (Elke Sommer) becomes lost in a strange city, convinced that The Devil (Telly Savalas, complete with Kojak lollipop) is stalking her. Eventually, she joins a party of irritating characters who take refuge in a mansion with weird residents -- including Savalas again as a servant or something. Then nothing happens — or does, but it maybe isn't real? — for so long that I may have slipped into a dream state. There are gratuitous twist endings that are twists on nothing, just random surprises. As usual for a Bava movie, the colors looked nice, if you can keep your eyes open, and Carlo Savina provides a pleasant score, but neither made the experience of enduring this snoozefest any more tolerable.
Octoblur 2022 #29. Black Candles (1982)

#29. Black Candles (1982)

Directed by José Ramón Larraz

Ranked 12.64% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/12
It's not fair to rip on Black Candles (1982), a barely significant slice of sordid Eurosleaze from Spanish sleazemeister José Ramón Larraz (last Octoblur, I watched his slasher/giallo Edge of the Axe (1988)). Black Candles is barely a movie by conventional definitions. You could say that it has a coherent plot — a series of things happen — without having a narrative. What greater meaning or idea is at work behind this series of sequential events? The easy answer would be: to show naked people in and around spooky Satanic rituals. And at that it undoubtedly succeeds. It even throws in a goat, who gets some special attention from an actress with a very short career. It has to be said that a lot of Eurosleaze from the 1960s through the early 1980s was really well shot, and not only technically competent but sometimes even bracingly artistic. This one is just nice-looking (cinematographer Juan Mariné notably shot the bonkers cult splatter classic Pieces (1982) the same year, so maybe he was saving up all of his artistry for that one). On the relative scale of soft porn, by a lot of metrics Black Candles is actually pretty good. Some of the actresses are nice-looking and some can act within a limited range (act like you're French-kissing that other woman; act like you're lying naked on an altar, etc.). There's just not really anything happening that's very interesting. Except for that scene with the goat. And that's not going to earn it any stars. AKA Los ritos sexuales del diablo, and, as the version I watched was titled, Hot Fantasies (surely the goat's choice).
Octoblur 2022 #28. Eye of the Devil (1966)

#28. Eye of the Devil (1966)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson

Ranked 88.54% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/12
Over the past couple of years, J. Lee Thompson has become one of my favorite director discoveries, mostly for his late-career partnership with Charles Bronson. There's often a sense in Thompson's movies, which range from sublime to lousy, that he enjoys taking the most questionable idea as far as it will go. When I noticed a mid-1960s horror movie in his filmography, I assumed it must not be one of his better movies, as it had no reputation that I could discern. Now that I've watched Eye of the Devil (1966), I'm wondering why it doesn't have as fervent a cult following as The Wicker Man (1973). It's a pretty great earlier example of paranoid pagan folk horror. Deborah Kerr stars as the wife of a troubled aristocrat (David Niven) who follows him back to his ancestral home in rural France and tries to figure out just what exactly is causing his strange behavior. Thompson announces with his furious opening montage that he's not playing safe or easy on this one and teams up with cinematographer Erwin Hillier to get the most out of their rich, shadowy black-and-white palette. Their work is confident and chilling, equal to that of the more celebrated Deborah-Kerr-suspects-mischief-in-a-spooky-house thriller, The Innocents (1961). Aside from one forgivable child actor, the cast is stellar. Kerr does her usual impeccable work and Niven is surprisingly deep and subtle; what's more, Eye of the Devil also features Donald Pleasance as a priest (!!!) and David Hemmings and Sharon Tate as a wicked brother-sister pair. All are perfect — with special praise for Tate, as she nearly steals this with a forcefully malevolent performance. The story, based on the novel Day of the Arrow by Philip Loraine, never goes astray. This is a classy production that stays true to its dark notions, and turns out to be one of Thompson's sharpest movies all around.
Octoblur 2022 #27. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

#27. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

Directed by Alan Gibson

Ranked 82.87% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/11

This is an oddball final chapter in Christopher Lee's Dracula career. Alan Gibson once again directs from a script by Don Houghton, but this feels miles away from their previous collaboration on Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). This one feels less like a vampire movie than it does a James Bond-knock off. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is back, this time at the behest of a secret government agency that has infiltrated a Satanic cult of prominent politicians, scientists, and industry leaders. As they uncover a plot to release a new superstrain of Bubonic plague, Van Helsing traces it back to the CEO of a new multinational corporation... and the CEO is Dracula (Lee)! For a complete curveball, and with a Dracula that is nearly unrecognizable from the ineffectual goon of earlier franchise entries, The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) is still pretty fun as an unlikely genre mishmash, if a bit slow. It also isn't interested in the teasing glimpses of nudity offered by the previous couple of movies but commits boldly to the new era of gratuitous skin. Joanna Lumley appears in the role previously played by Stephanie Beacham and doesn't make much of an impression. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) ends like it doesn't know it's the last of its series, and maybe like it doesn't even know it's the end of a movie, which leaves a weird aftertaste, but otherwise, it's a nice swerve to finish off what turned out to be a generally high-quality horror franchise.

Octoblur 2022 #26. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

#26. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Directed by Alan Gibson

Ranked 71.23% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/11

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) ignores the previous movie and jumps right into some new action as Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) — He's back, having been MIA since Brides of Dracula (1960) — chases down Dracula (Christopher Lee) and impales him with a broken wagon wheel. A fun title screen jump skips 100 years, to Van Helsing's great granddaughter (Stephanie Beacham), who bops around swinging London with a "group" of friends including the occult-obsessed Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame). Johnny must have seen Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), because he tries to enact nearly the same ritual. Drac returns and fixates on taking long-desired revenge by preying on Van Helsing's lovely descendant, but must also deal with Van Helsing's son (also Cushing). Alan Gibson directs crisply and with style. Caroline Munro gets some nice crazy moments, and Lee is scarier than usual. The incongruous score, pairing jazzy disco with gothic horror, is a nice change of pace.

Octoblur 2022 #25. Scars of Dracula (1970)

#25. Scars of Dracula (1970)

Directed by Roy Ward Baker

Ranked 26.05% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/10
Despite veteran director Roy Ward Baker restoring some of the visual grandeur that was missing from Hammer’s intense earlier 1970 Dracula release, Scars of Dracula (1970) is otherwise a dud. Overly comic, wooden acting, and special effects that aren’t even trying. The first two minutes of the movie feature a puppet bat that is simply ridiculous. With the high point of this aimless mess — when Dracula punks a mob of irate villagers with a brutal twist on expectations — out of the way in the prologue, everything else is a slog. Watching actors fight — and lose to — a rubber bat is borderline humiliating, and it happens several times. Christopher Lee can’t even maintain his dignity as the title character in this one, and by the end looks like an ineffectual, fumbling tool rather than an imposing paragon of evil. Hopefully, this is the low point of the series.
Octoblur 2022 #24. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

#24. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

Directed by Peter Sasdy

Ranked 82.87% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/10
Hammer put out two new Dracula movies in 1970, which appears to have been one too many. This first one, released in May, seems to have had no budget and looks like a slightly ambitious TV production — which is a shame, because it’s, by far, the better of the two stories. Despite a too-comic opening scene that threatens to betray a franchise in self-parody mode (perhaps a premonition of the next Dracula film), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) settles into a devilish groove as the most subversive Dracula movie yet: conservative hypocrisy, occult rituals, teen rebellion, patricide… it’s quite the product of its time, and so compelling that director Peter Sasdy’s unimpressive visualization quickly recedes in importance. This movie must have raised quite a few eyebrows, including the introduction of just a little nudity into the Hammer mix. As usual with the best Hammer Draculas, the female lead — Linda Hayden — is bright, magnetic, and capable of switching from innocent naif to lustful creature of the night on a dime. Also as usual, confoundingly, Dracula is the weakest link, evincing lazily conceived motivations that misunderstand his character. Ralph Bates, as the Satanic edglelord who kickstarts this dark adventure, is such a more dynamic and interesting villain, that the movie loses a spark when he cedes his spot to the titular creep. It’s shame that Taste the Blood of Dracula shows none of the visual flair of the previous film, but it’s still one of the strongest entries yet.
Octoblur 2022 #23. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

#23. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

Directed by Freddie Francis

Ranked 81.52% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/09
When Terence Fisher became injured, Freddie Francis stepped in to direct this third Christopher Lee Dracula movie for Hammer Studios, and what a stroke of fortune. While Fisher’s movies were lean and hungry, Francis (an accomplished cinematographer) makes Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) into a shimmering spectacle, using colored filters that distinguish it as the most visually accomplished entry to date. Once again, Lee’s titular vampire has little to do or say (it’s very curious how uninterested in Dracula these Hanmer Dracula movies have been), but the living characters are engaging, raising the stakes of their encounters with the undead. Between Francis’ color scheme, Veronica Carlson’s eager surrenders to Dracula's thirst, and the late-1960s’ increased appetite for cleavage, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is downright sensual.
Octoblur 2022 #22. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

#22. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

Directed by Terence Fisher

Ranked 58.92% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/09
It took Hammer eight years to follow up their box office smash Horror of Dracula (1958) with a proper sequel, six years after the disappointing Dracula-free Brides of Dracula (1960). Lee returns after a delightfully goopy ritual reconstitutes the evil Count from his ashen remains, and he proceeds to stalk an unlucky foursome of travelers and terrorize a monastery. There’s no Van Helsing in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) but there is a Renfield-like Dracula toady to somewhat connect this to its source material. All-in-all, it’s an adequate continuation, and it’s nice to have Lee back, even if it takes an hour before his resurrection and he has no lines of dialog whatsoever. There is a decidedly unambitious feel to it, as if no one wanted to make it, but it still gets solid Hammer treatment. Suzan Farmer aptly continues the series' trademark of beguilingly ambivalent female victims. The finale is weak, with an especially anti-climactic climax, introducing a seldom-utilized vampire vulnerability that is underwhelming to behold. Not the brightest spot in the Dracula canon, but nowhere near the dimmest.
Octoblur 2022 #21. Horror of Dracula (1958)

#21. Horror of Dracula (1958)

Directed by Terence Fisher

Ranked 81.52% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/09
It’s been a while since I've watched Tod Browning's 1931 movie Dracula, but I’ve never been much of a fan. I do love some of the other Universal monster movies, especially the first two Frankensteins, but Dracula is comparatively stiff and Lugosi's performance is too reserved. The Hammer Studios version of Dracula has always been much more my style: at first glance, a respectable nobleman, but with bloodshot eyes, and more blood dripping from the corners of his mouth than is acceptible in most social situations... and when he gets hungry, it’s animal time. This introductory chapter in what would become an 8- or 9-part franchise (depending on if you count The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)) is not perfect — fidelity to Bram Stoker’s novel is fleeting, and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is a laughably ineffectual vampire hunter — but I love the gothic sets, I love James Bernard’s oppressive score, and I love how Jimmy Sangster’s script rushes through the plot with little relief. Christopher Lee, of course, cuts an imposing figure as Count Dracula, but he’s also sort of wounded, like a once-dignified aristocrat who's been turned into a groveling vermin, and he knows it, but he can’t help it. He lusts for his own debasement. Even more so than Lee, however, I love his female victims in Horror of Dracula, Valerie Gaunt and Carol Marsh. Director Terence Fisher stages their scenes as if being in thrall to Dracula is to have time slow to a crawl, during which every sensation is a new and painful and delicious experience. Marsh, in particular, is mesmerizing. This is a standard-setter.
Octoblur 2022 #20. Angel Heart (1987)

#20. Angel Heart (1987)

Directed by Alan Parker

Ranked 50.30% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/07
Angel Heart (1987) was a big deal when I was 15: my favorite actor, Robert DeNiro; dipping a toe in horror; Mickey Rourke at peak sleaze between 9½ Weeks (1986) and Barfly (1987); and a controversial bloody sex scene featuring wholesome teen TV star Lisa Bonet... And yet I can't help but feel that it underdelivers. Director Alan Parker and frequent collaborator Michael Seresin lay the mood on thick, and the way Seresin captures 1950s New York and New Orleans is vivid, but, as usual with Parker's movies, something is missing from the narrative or characters that makes it all feel inert. The nature of the story requires that we can't understand what motivates Rourke's private investigator, Harry Angel; and even though the missing singer at the center of the mystery seems to have been wrapped up in a web of voodoo, and gets described as "pure evil" by his own daugher, none of it feels like it matters or means anything. By the time Parker lays all of his cards on the table with a combo of one of the worst closing lines of dialog and worst special effects shots of the 1980s, there's a sense that no one really knew why they were making Angel Heart beyond hitting a few salacious keywords — sex, voodoo, Lucifer — and allowing Seresin to photograph some marvelous locations.
Octoblur 2022 #19. Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

#19. Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Ranked 41.03% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/07
I enjoyed director Scott Derrickson's The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), so even though I've been lukewarm on all of his other movies, I was curious about this mostly fictionalized "true story" about a NYC detective (Eric Bana) who claims to have faced off against supernatural evils during his career, which in this film are embodied by a demon-possessed Iraq war veteran (Sean Harris). As an episode of Law & Order: Possessed Victims Unit, Deliver Us from Evil (2014) is pretty much what you expect from a major Hollywood exercise in paranormal crime: slick, moody, charismatic performances, canned emotional beats, and little that ventures outside of established tropes (the nagging-cop's-wife and child-in-peril cliches are especially uninspired this time around). Even though Bana and Harris struggle at times to fully conceal their Aussie and Irish accents, they're perfect for adding just enough quality to roles written with such limited imagination, and Harris always makes for a classy creep. Weird to see Joel McHale in something this serious even though his character is allowed some rare levity.
Octoblur 2022 #18. I Drink Your Blood (1970)

#18. I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Directed by David E. Durston

Ranked 31.91% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/07
Even if I may not always enjoy watching it, I love that this movie exists. Its lurid title, its even more lurid poster, its low-grade aesthetic, its 1970s-anything-goes freedom, its reactionary cultural commentary, and its full commitment to being a piece of sleazy exploitation. I Drink Your Blood (1970) pits a Satanic hippie cult against a rural small town, wherein one enterprising young boy conspires to infect the malevolent hippies with rabies. As usual with this type of eager trash from this unconstrained era, the production is ramshackle and there’s little art at work between shocks, or even during shocks. But this movie is unapologetic about what it is, and it delivers on an over-the-top finale. It’s hard to be disappointed; unless, as director David E. Durston bemoans, you expect to see literally what the inapt title promises.
Octoblur 2022 #17. The Believers (1987)

#17. The Believers (1987)

Directed by Andrew Gaynord

Ranked 50.11% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/07
One of three major Hollywood production about voodoo within the span of one year — bookended by Alan Parker's Angel Heart (1987) and Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) — John Schlesinger's The Believers (1987) failed to find as much purchase as its more esteemed peers. Martin Sheen stars as a police psychiatrist whose family becomes wrapped up in a wave of Santaria-related crimes in New York City. The Believers (1987) is OK, with some potent scenes of voodoo-at-its-worst; but it takes so much time carefully establishing its mainstream studio drama bona fides that it's a bit of a drag between shocks, and there is a lot of space between shocks. Once Schlesinger and writer Mark Frost (who would co-create Twin Peaks with David Lynch a few years later) let the black magic fly, The Believers is wild, squirmy, and sometimes silly fun — and possibly fuel for a Q-Anon conspiracy theory. Shot by the famed cinematographer Robby Müller.
Octoblur 2022 #16. Robin Redbreast (1970)

#16. Robin Redbreast (1970)

Directed by James MacTaggart

Ranked 52.83% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/07
This made-for-TV slice of British "folk horror" — part of the first season of BBC's long-running "Play for Today" series — may seem a bit stiff and dry due to its format, but it develops into a tense, paranoid thriller not unlike Rosemary's Baby (1968). A "middle-aged" (remember when mid-30s was "old?") professional woman (Anna Cropper) from London, reeling from a break-up, relocates to a country cottage, and becomes convinced that the villagers are conspiring against her. As one might expect from the name of the series, there is some staginess to the writing and style of Robin Redbreast (1970), but the quality of acting is high, the nature of the characters is unnervingly rendered, and the situation develops convincingly under the direction of James MacTaggart. Does British reserve keep it from ending more powerfully? Perhaps. Still worth a lazy afternoon at a crisp 76 minutes.
Octoblur 2022 #15. White Zombie (1932)

#15. White Zombie (1932)

Directed by Victor Halperin

Ranked 28.30% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/07
Aside from Clarence Muse (who also featured in Black Moon (1934)) saying the word "zombie" for what might be the first time on-screen, Bela Lugosi's hypnotic stare, and one sequence using an early split-screen technique, this pre-code "island horror" is mostly a dud. A Haitian plantation owner (Robert W. Frazer) employs a voodoo master (Lugosi) to make him a love slave out of another man's new bride (Madge Bellamy), but when he realizes that a woman in a state of constant trance is no fun, the voodoo master turns against him, too. The acting in White Zombie is uniformly terrible, the script is lifeless, the score at times seems randomly selected, and the pacing suggests that the voodoo master may have also entranced the film's editor. To top it off, director Victor Halperin undermines one of the only semi-effective and only partially silly scenes — the finale — with such a stupid and irrelevant joke that it seems even he thinks this project was a stupid waste of time. If you must have some Lugosi "island horror" from 1932, please stick to the wonderful Island of Lost Souls.
Octoblur 2022 #14. Tone-Deaf (2019)

#14. Tone-Deaf (2019)

Directed by Richard Bates, Jr.

Ranked 53.60% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/06
Tone-Deaf (2019) is a weird one, and I'm not sure how much of what I liked it about it was intentional by writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. or if it's just reflective of the slapdash manner in which his mind spits out ideas. Amandra Crew (from HBO's Silicon Valley) stars as a woman in her mid-30s who is in something of a life crisis -- the least of her problems, but maybe the top of her mind, is that she's a self-loathing urban millenial — and decides to rent a house in the country to get away from her tired, messy life. Unfortunately, she rents the house from an angry boomer (Robert Patrick) who has decided to violently express his generational resentment on the first unlucky millenial to rent his house. So that all sounds very simple, but Bates is such a quirky writer and filmmaker that Tone-Deaf is full of oddball diversions and amusing bit characters and unexpected laugh-out-loud jokes. I'm not sure that he delivers his theme with anywhere near maximum precision or even baseline coherence, but the cast is having a lot of fun — this may be my favorite Patrick performance — and I enjoyed discovering all of the little bits that maybe made Tone-Deaf work less well as cohesive movie and yet distinguished it as something with a lot of pleasing personality.
Octoblur 2022 #13. Glorious (2022)

#13. Glorious (2022)

Directed by Rebekah McKendry

Ranked 47.03% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/06

Directed by Rebekah McKendry, co-host of the All the Colors of the Dark podcast, Glorious (2022) is a well-constructed little two-hander that relentlessly prods at one of my greatest fears: contact with public restroom surfaces. It's maybe not fair to her movie that this was my main pre-occupation while watching it, but she did set her movie inside a rest-stop bathroom, and star Ryan Kwanten starts by resting his face on a disgusting toilet seat (and later worries that he touched his face with hands that touched the seat... Dude!), and at one point curls up on the floor inside a stall. The floor inside a stall!

So, OK, there's a Lovecraftian demon (voiced by the unmistakable J.K. Simmons) in the next stall holding him prisoner, but that doesn't mean he needs to lay down where 100 other people splatter-pissed recently. I wasn't only distracted; the type of soul-searching dialog exchanged between Kwanten and the demon lurking behind the fancifully painted gloryhole isn't really my cup of tea, though it will appeal to others and is fairly well-done for a style of faux-insightful psychological introspection that I associate with middling off-off-off-Broadway playwriting. I also think that McKendry neuters her movie with a twist that turns it the whole narrative into a cheap trick rather than something probing some kind of truth, as it feigns doing for its agreeably short running time. If the twist's reveal had been known from the start, this had the potential to much more interesting. Good imagery, though.

Octoblur 2022 #12. All My Friends Hate Me (2021)

#12. All My Friends Hate Me (2021)

Directed by Andrew Gaynord

Ranked 53.49% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/06
Every Octoblur I get snowed by some movie that has been misdescribed as "horror," either by websites like Letterboxd and IMDb, or by marketers who either do not understand horror or are just looking for some kind of audience. Luckily, All My Friends Hate Me (2021) is a likable enough movie that I don't fully mind its misclassification. It does traffic in some tense paranoia, but it's best described as a "light psychological dramedy." It shares some features with one notable horror release, Alex Garland's Men (2022), both with an eerie English country setting populated with unsettling English locals. And it features Georgina Cambpell, who starred in last month's horror hit Barbarian (2022). But it's not horror, so that's all I have to say about it this month.
Octoblur 2022 #11. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008)

#11. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008)

Directed by John Erick Dowdle

Ranked 06.45% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/05
As I started watching The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008), I was surprised to see the MGM logo - I didn’t think would be a major studio release, but something grungier. I was even more surprised as the movie went along – It is grungy, and has a cynical indie spirit that I wouldn’t naturally associate with mainstream Hollywood. But you have to remember what was happening with horror in the 2000s: It was the decade of “torture porn” – movies that dwelled ad nauseum on the ugly moments that most low-rent 1980s slashers would gloss over. One of the biggest hits of the decade, after all, was Saw, which, combined with the grisly extreme horrors coming overseas from Japan and France, ushered in an era during which U.S. studios fumbled ineptly at working with the same grimy clay. And then something else happened: One year before The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008) was released, another low-budget horror movie created a box office sensation: Paranormal Activity (2007). Enter the cheap aesthetic of “found footage.” It was only natural that a major studio would attempt to meld the two trends, and that’s where The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008) comes in. A faux-documentary, The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008) relays the story of the “Water Street Butcher,” a prolific and elusive serial killer who left behind hundreds of videotapes of his crimes. If you are already mentally combining “found footage” and “torture porn,” you can imagine now how these manifest in this film to unsettling effect. The problem is that director John Erick Dowdle doesn’t bring a coherent point of view or any ideas which might contextualize or elevate such material beyond the most base reactions: it’s gross and disturbing and unpleasant and that’s it. At best, there seem to be moments in the style of acting and through the insertion of some quirky ideas where it appears Dowdle is attempting a satire or comedy… but of what? Of women trapped in a basement? Of child abduction? I consider myself weird enough to accept that it may be possible to satirize subjects this fraught and gruesome, but it would take a helluva lot more ingenuity that Dowdle’s lazy tonal smirking. The Poughkeepsie Tapes did provoke me to reflect on why I hold something superficially similar, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), in such high regard while mostly despising Dowdle’s attempt at joining the club. I think it’s all about the holistic vision: there is a pace and measured escalation to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that combine with a reflection on the fragility of order. When Sally Hardesty spends the final reel screaming in horrific disbelief, it is harrowing, and we are with Sally on her hellish journey. Even in escape, the brutal insanity of the broken world continues in confused animalistic anguish. It’s dark but beautiful. The Poughkeepsie Tapes, on the contrary, just likes to show people in fear for their lives and thinks it’s a little funny. Which is fucking gross. To MGM’s credit, they never released The Poughkeepsie Tapes theatrically, but dumped it briefly on VOD and then hid it for a decade, as it deserved.

(I didn’t mention the incessant, annoying, and absurdly aggressive video artifacts that Dowdle digitally added to “The Butcher’s” video footage, as if video tapes shifted tint every half-second. Calm down.)
Octoblur 2022 #10. The Innocents (2021)

#10. The Innocents (2021)

Directed by Eskil Vogt

Ranked 63.26% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/04
Writer Eskil Vogt is best known for his writing projects with fellow Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier — the team shared an Oscar nomination last year for Best Original Screenplay for The Worst Person in the World (2021) — and his second outing as a director could well exist in the same universe Thelma (2017), another one of their collaborations (and which made my Top Five Underseen Movies for that year). Like Thelma, The Innocents concerns young people who find expression for their potent emotions through paranormal phenomena. In The Innocents, the other-powered children are between the ages of 8-14 and struggling, as they deal with the difficulties of their lives, to find balance on the spectrum between empathic and sociopathic. The Innocents is both childlike and dark, like a spartan arthouse take on Stranger Things or Brightburn (2019). Vogt builds an ample sense of dread through common arthouse-style tropes — long silences, a slow-moving camera, unobtrusive capture of the mundane, a sensitivity to repressed — and the young performers are all up to the task. I'm not sure I was convinced by the narrative escalations or the ending, but it's a compelling mix of high-style and low-genre that should appeal to sci-fi and horror fans looking for something a bit more austere than mainstream exploitation.
Octoblur 2022 #09. Here Comes Hell (2019)

#09. Here Comes Hell (2019)

Directed by Jack McHenry

Ranked 50.21% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/03

A clever idea pulled off with far more panache than expected, Here Comes Hell (2019) attempts to merge the 1930s-style "old dark house" genre with the more contemporary mayhem of The Evil Dead (1981). A small cast of archetypal characters assembles in a decaying English manor for a night of revelry, but a misguided seance opens a gateway to hell. Gore ensues. Shot on video on an extremely low budget — reportedly less than $25,000 — Here Comes Hell surprisingly excels most during its dialog-heavy set-up. Director Jack McHenry gets sharp, measured performances from his cast, and the script co-written by Alice Sidgwick is witty and knowing about old-school drawing room comedies. This type of mannered homage is very easy to butcher, but as a unit, the cast and crew nail the style. Up through the seance, which is extremely effective thanks to more tight directing and a wonderful performance by veteran Maureen Bennett, Here Comes Hell seems like a real hidden gem. Once "Hell" breaks loose, however, so does McHenry's careful control, and some initially fun practical special effects give way to poor CGI in scenes that seem poorly devised. But just when Here Comes Hell seems like it's run out of original ideas or has gotten too sloppy, it manages to insert inspired moments of creativity that suggest a lot of promise for future movies from McHenry's Trashouse Productions. While not as holistically parodic as
Larry Blamire's wonderful The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), Here Comes Hell shares a lot of the same spirit and enough skill to earn that solid company. Jessica Webber makes for a very appealing heroine, so hopefully there's more to come from here. as well.

Octoblur 2022 #08. Fear No Evil (1981)

#08. Fear No Evil (1981)

Directed by Frank LaLoggia

Ranked 39.71% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/03

This unusual Devil-thriller seems like pieces of 4 or 5 different movies smashed into one, and I'm not sure it always picks the best pieces, but it sure is an interesting mess to behold. A trio of reincarnating holy warriors are on constant guard against the rebirth of Satan, who has returned this time in the form of teen weirdo Andrew (Stefan Arngrim) — a classmate of the latest reincarnation of Arcangel Hulle (Kathleen Rowe McAllen). After some gay panic between Andrew and a hoodlum — whose idea of bullying is to kiss other boys on the mouth while naked in the gym shower — Andrew finally gets around to raising the dead just in time to interrupt the town Passion Play. If that doesn't sound like a carefully crafted plot, you're right: writer-director Frank LaLoggia is all over the place in Fear No Evil (1981), jumping decades, flipping genders, and focusing on what seem to be non-sequitur subplots, instead of, you know, Satan himself gearing up for some mayhem. There is some elegant filmmaking and acting at times. As one of the angels, Elizabeth Hoffman is especially delicate, striving for a level of beatification that no movie like this deserves, and Arngrim is pretty good, too — when he wails, again and again, "I was promised!" his anguish is palpable, even if his meaning is up for grabs. At other times, Fear No Evil is full of exactly the kind of cheap ham-work you might expect from low-budget horror, and, despite some bonkers moments, seems to not know where its exploitation energies are best spent. During the finale, LaLoggia certainly attempts to pull off an extravaganza of dazzling special effects, and his ambition is admirable if his execution isn't. The movie is also somewhat renowned for its notable selection of post-punk and new wave songs — Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Ramones, etc. — that seem to have been randomly scattered on the soundtrack in uneven clumps. A real curiosity. Future "Coen Brother" Joel Coen is credited as an Assistant Editor, the same year that he earned a similar credit on another low-budget horror indie, The Evil Dead (1981).

Octoblur 2022 Interlude: My Favorite "Cult" Movies

Interlude: My Favorite "Cult" Movies

Before I forget,  here's a list of some of my favorite horror movies about cults, loosely defined:

  • Rosemary's Baby (1968); dir.: Roman Polanski
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); dir.: Philip Kaufman
  • Get Out (2017); dir.: Jordan Peele
  • Suicide Club (2001); dir.: Sion Sono
  • Freaks (1932); dir.: Tod Browning
  • The House of the Devil (2009); dir.: Ti West
  • The Wicker Man (1973); dir.: Robin Hardy
  • The Witch (2015); dir.: Robert Eggers
  • Midsommar (2019); dir.: Ari Aster
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956); dir.: Don Siegel
  • Suspiria (1977); dir.: Dario Argento
  • The Howling (1981); dir.: Joe Dante
  • Village of the Damned (1960); dir.: Wolf Rilla
  • Bone Tomahawk (2015); dir.: S. Craig Zahler
  • King Kong (1933); dir.: Merian C. Cooper
  • Race with the Devil (1975); dir.: Jack Starrett
  • Us (2019); dir.: Jordan Peele
  • Messiah of Evil (1973); dir.: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz
  • The Mephisto Waltz (1971); dir.: Paul Wendkos
  • I Walked with a Zombie (1943); dir.: Jacques Tourneur
  • Don't Deliver Us from Evil (1971); dir.: Joël Séria
  • A Dark Song (2016); dir.: Liam Gavin
  • Island of Lost Souls (1932); dir.: Erle C. Kenton
  • Starry Eyes (2014); dir.: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
  • The Devils (1971); dir.: Ken Russell
  • The City of the Dead (1960); dir.: John Llewellyn Moxey
  • Hereditary (2018); dir.: Ari Aster
  • Blood on Satan's Claw (1971); dir.: Piers Haggard
  • The Neon Demon (2016); dir.: Nicolas Winding Refn
  • Angel Heart (1987); dir.: Alan Parker
  • Alison's Birthday (1981); dir.: Ian Coughlan
  • Burn, Witch, Burn (1962); dir.: Sidney Hayers
  • The Children (1980); dir.: Max Kalmanowicz
  • Witchcraft (1964); dir.: Don Sharp
  • Society (1989); dir.: Brian Yuzna
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977); dir.: Don Taylor
  • Baskin (2015); dir.: Can Evrenol
  • Bloody Birthday (1981); dir.: Ed Hunt
Octoblur 2022 #07: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

#07: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Directed by Terence Fisher

Ranked 59.36% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/02

Another of my most-anticipated watches this month is Hammer Studio's occult thriller The Devil Rides Out (1968), directed by Terence Fisher, which fits perfectly with Octoblur 2022's main theme of cults, preferably Satanic. Christopher Lee stars as, surprisingly, the hero of this story, a Count who drops in unannounced on an old friend and suspects he has crashed a Satanist club. With the help of a dim-witted skeptic (Leon Greene), Lee conspires to subvert an upcoming Sabbath ritual and release two new initiates from the hypnotic grasp of malevolent leader Mocata (Charles Gray, who would play Bond villain Blofeld a few years later in Diamonds are Forever (1971)) and Satan himself. The Devil Rides Out moves swiftly from premise to action and gleefully mixes authentic Luciferian tropes (The Path of the Left Hand! The Goat of Mendes!) with more fantastical rituals and incantations. It's fun, even if it's never clear what if anything this cult has in store, or why a goat-headed Satan is making personal appearances at such modest shindigs. This is one of a few horror movies of the period that was bizarrely rated X in the UK and G in the U.S. Hopefully, I'll see more Lee and Fisher collabs later this month.

Octoblur 2022 #06: Eyes of Fire (1983)

#06: Eyes of Fire (1983)

Directed by Avery Crounse

Ranked 26.70% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/02

One of my most-anticipated movies this Octoblur has been Eyes of Fire (1983), directed by Avery Crounse. It's seen a big boost in its reputation since the release of last year's mammoth folk horror documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021) and a subsequent release on Blu-ray and streaming. Sadly, I found this ambitious frontier horror mostly impenetrable, due to incoherent storytelling. A group of English/Irish settlers face unknown horrors as they travel... somewhere? For some reason? While there are eerie images in Eyes of Fire (1983) — faces embedded in a tree trunk, naked mud people in random tableaux, some kind of bright-eyed hag who does...something? — Crounse seemed especially challenged in drawing characters, making sense of their actions, and connecting scenes to tell a story — it probably doesn't help that this particular story has two narrators, a complication that adds no value but doubles the confusion. Scenes begin with no context, end with no climax, and cut to seemingly unrelated other scenes. There is no anchor to which a viewer might moor itself, making all of the long moody spaces between eerie moments painfully uninteresting: Why am I watching these people? What am I supposed to glean from anything that is happening? — These types of foundational questions can kill the buzz of the coolest horror scenes, and, at best, Eyes of Fire's scenes were sort of neat but not all that special. Like the all-too-brief early appearance of iconic Christmas crazy Will Hare, greatly disappointing.

Octoblur 2022 #05: Viy (1967)

#05: Viy (1967)

Directed by Georgi Kropachyov, Konstantin Yershov

Ranked 76.61% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/02

I watched Viy (1967) as part of Octoblur 2015 and more than just its wild final 10 minutes has stuck with me since then. There's something about the color and setting of Viy that combine for an especially haunting ethereality. Khoma, a seminary student on vacation has an unfortunate encounter with a witch — she rides him like a pony and he beats her to death — and is then commanded by her rich family to pray over her corpse for three nights to release her soul from the evil spirit that possesses it. Khoma, however, is neither a good student nor a devout holy servant, and finds himself at battle with supernatural forces beyond his comprehension. Leonid Kuravlyov gives a nice comic performance as Khoma, and Natalya Varley is stunning as the possessed girl, but it's the look and feel of this Soviet-era period piece that makes it indelible. That this failed to parlay into a notable career for either director is a shame.

Octoblur 2022 #04: Black Moon (1934)

#04: Black Moon (1934)

Directed by Roy William Neill

Ranked 48.50% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/02

Classic "island horror" starring Dorothy Burgess as Juanita, a New York socialite who is mysteriously drawn back to the Carribean island where she was raised — against the urging of her uncle, who has noted increased intensity in the local voodoo rituals. If you can get over that this one of those movies where a character says, "The natives are restless!," as well as some less vague expressions of racial discontent , there are some potent thrills in Black Moon (1934) involving human sacrifice and child grooming, even if they may have been muted by production codes. stars Fay Wray, who would find herself in even deeper "island horror" a few year later in King Kong (1933).

Octoblur 2022 #03: Hell Fest (2018)

#03: Hell Fest (2018)

Directed by Gregory Plotkin

Ranked 59.35% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/01

One of the better recent slashers, I first watched Hell Fest (2018) a couple of Octoblurs ago, in 2019. It's lean and doesn't caught tangle itself up in the overwritten or self-aware garbage that makes too many post-Scream slashers a drag. It sticks to the classic formula, and does so in the neat setting of a horror theme park. Good stuff that deserves a bigger following.

Octoblur 2022 #02: Satan's School for Girls (1973)

#02: Satan's School for Girls (1973)

Directed by David Lowell Rich

Ranked 38.12% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/01

My second Made-for-TV movie of Octoblur 2022's opening night is the tantalizingly titled Satan's School for Girls (1973). Well, tantalizing and more than a little spoilery. Pamela Franklin (fresh off the great And Soon the Darkness (1970)) stars as a young woman who enrolls undercover in the private school that she holds responsible for her little sister's suicide. It turns out that her sister isn't the sole casualty, due to a secret... well, it's in the title, so it's not a secret. And there really isn't enough to it beyond the title's description, other than a pleasing 1970s vibe. If there's a plan of any kind beyond recruiting future Satanists, it's not clear, and Satan (who describes himself provocatively as "the hammer of witches") doesn't even seem that into it. Underwhelming now, but in its time maybe evoked the Manson girls with some potency. Co-stars Kate Jackson, Jo Van Fleet and Cheryl Ladd. An Aaron Spelling production.

Octoblur 2022 #01: Bay Coven (1987)

#01: Bay Coven (1987)

Directed by Carl Schenkel

Ranked 46.98% on Flickchart
Watched: 2022/10/01
The perfect movie for kicking off an October Horror Movie Marathon is the 1985 made-for-TV comedy The Midnight Hour. But, I did that last year. So I dipped into the same tub and bobbed for some similar apples, starting with two vintage TV movies from either end of the same era. The inaugural movie of Octoblur 2022 is Bay Coven (1987), about a yuppie couple who move from the city to a rural island steeped in the history of New England witchcraft. The cast is TV heaven: Pamela Sue Martin (a former Nancy Drew), Tim Matheson, Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver's iconic mother figure), Jeff Conaway, James B. Sikking, Inga Swenson (Krauss from Benson), and even an early Woody Harrelson appearance. The script moves along a fairly predictable path with few surprises, with plenty of diet Amityville Horror in the mix, but there are nice moments with creepy old people and creepy children alike. Nothing special, but a decent artifact of its time. A Jon Peters / Peter Guber production.