Halloween Horror Fest on Wheels

Well that’s it, it’s November – and my month of watching spooky movies for Halloween Horror Fest 2020 is at an end. Yet don’t be distraught, dear reader – here are the mini reviews of the movies I’ve watched, but not written up till now. Starting with something truly shocking…

Poltergeist (1982)

Shockingly bad, that is. I remember seeing this film in my teens, it scared the crap out of me. I was looking forward to revisiting Poltergeist, widely regarded as a classic horror film – but it was absolutely terrible.

The story centres on a pleasant, well-off family living in a new Californian housing development. It’s all lovely and cutesy-pie until the youngest child starts communicating with ghosts through the TV screen. Then it’s unbelievable jeopardy time, as the little girl is kidnapped by the spirits and taken away to ghost land.

Poltergeist starts well, with some interesting supernatural phenomena in the first 20 minutes. But it quickly abandons any subtlety in favour of big, dumb Hollywood spectacle: and the sheer ridiculousness of it renders the film not scary at all. In fact, I was bored 45 minutes in. A couple of jumpy moments, but very silly and very disappointing.

Compare Poltergeist to The Exorcist, and the latter film – though employing some shock tactics – is far more believable: it seems more real. The Exorcist is still a damn scary movie, and Poltergeist just isn’t.

All very strange, you may think, knowing that Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper, who made the genuinely terrifying Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unfortunately, someone Spielberged all over this film, leaving a twee load of nonsense and small town USA schmaltz. Old Stevie was involved as writer, producer, possibly even director and tea lady – and his influence shows.

You’d be better off watching the old BBC gem Ghost Watch, that’s far better.

4/10

The Howling (1981)

Another early 80’s horror – and although this one is also somewhat dated, The Howling is actually a pretty cool film.

Karen White (Dee Wallace) is a news reporter, who has a too-close for comfort encounter with a serial killer she’s investigating. To aid her recovery from the trauma, Karen’s therapist Dr Waggner (Patrick Macnee) recommends she recuperates at the The Colony, a remote health resort. Little does Karen realise that the other residents are hiding a secret…

Directed by Joe Dante, The Howling is a very entertaining film. Despite the werewolf transformation scenes now looking a little dated, the overall design and atmosphere are excellent. It also has some humour, a bit of raunch, and plenty of tension to keep everything rolling along quickly.

Released the same year as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is sadly nowhere near as good as the John Landis classic. American Werewolf is still more terrifying by far. But The Howling is a great popcorn horror for a Halloween evening.

8.5/10

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

More lycanthropic fun next, with this uber cult horror movie that does exactly what it says on the blood stained tin. Seriously, do I need to summarise the plot for this one?

Here goes: a gang of rowdy bikers – The Devil’s Advocates, no less – have a run in with a Satanic cult, which results in one of them becoming a werewolf. Much bloody carnage ensues. And that’s it.

Cheap and cheesy, this grindhouse exploitation flick is one of my recently discovered favourites. Like a horror version of Easy Rider, it’s certainly a product of it’s time – don’t watch this if high production values and modern Hollywood set pieces are your thing. Tom Cruise fans, walk away now.

The soundtrack is absolutely brilliant however, and the satanic ritual looks pretty grim. If you can forgive the atrocious wolfman make-up, you’ll find a lot to love here. Werewolves on Wheels is a low quality B-movie genre mash up that’s a work of art for any freaks like me.

9/10

And there you go, horror fans – another batch of movies with bite for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest! I’ll be back next October, so long as this pandemic doesn’t blossom into a full-on zombie apocalypse. See you then!

Little Shop of Halloween Horror Fests

Halloween may be over, but as usual, I’ve still got a few left over Halloween Horror Fest reviews to write.  So don’t get too comfortable, you’re not safe just yet…

The Wolf Man (1941)

Yes!  This is what it’s all about – classic Universal Monsters!  The Wolf Man is one of my favourite movies of this type.  It’s massively influential – most of the folklore we know about werewolves was actually created for this film – and it’s great fun for Halloween.

Larry Talbot (the legendary Lon Chaney Jr) returns to his ancestral home (actually set in Wales, fact fiends!).  He reconciles with his father (an excellent Claude Rains), and tries to find his place in the community.

When defending a friend from a wolf attack, Larry is bitten by the creature.  Of course, there’s no prizes for guessing that the beast was a werewolf (human alter ego played by another horror legend, Bela Lugosi).  Larry is condemned to become a werewolf too, as his life takes a tragic turn.

The Wolf Man boasts great performances, a fantastic score and a story that is pretty much definitive in the realm of cinematic lycanthropes.  Larry Talbot’s story is both thrilling yet sadly ill-fated.  Iconic make-up effects from Jack Pierce also help to create an unforgettable monster movie that’s amongst the best from Universal.  And it’s set in Wales.

9/10

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Geeky plant shop worker Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is downtrodden, unsuccessful – and has a crush on his colleague Audrey (Ellen Greene).  Seymour discovers a strange plant which he names Audrey II.  The mysterious plant has an appetite for blood, and flourishes when it feeds on Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend.  Soon the amazing Audrey II becomes a sensation, bringing fame and fortune to Seymour – but at what cost?

Now I’m no fan of musicals, but I’ll make an exception for Little Shop of Horrors.  It has a fun story, some great songs and a quality cast  – including cameos from some comedy greats.  Frank Oz directs, and the whole movie is a gruesome treat from start to finish.  A different, but wholly appropriate, Halloween movie.

8/10

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

The final film for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest is another from my beloved Hammer Films.  Lust for a Vampire forms part of an unofficial trilogy, sandwiched between The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil, being loosely based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”.

Beautiful Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard) arrives at a girl’s finishing school, situated somewhere vaguely Eastern European.  However, Mircalla is actually a reincarnation of  Carmilla – one of the evil, vampiric Karnstein clan.

The school headmaster (Ralph Bates) pledges his unholy allegiance to Mircalla and visiting author turned school teacher Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson) falls in love with her.  But pupils and local villagers start to die off – and soon suspicion falls on the Karnstein’s and their demonic resurrection.

In Lust for a Vampire, Hammer plunge into more sexually explicit themes, resulting in cheap titillation and camp silliness.  This approach has caused the film it’s fair share of harsh criticism over the years.  Indeed, the story is a little cheesy and predictable, but the boobs’n’blood approach has never been an issue for me, unsurprisingly.

In fact, I found that there’s plenty to enjoy in this movie: terrific gothic sets and atmosphere – always the hallmark of Hammer – are really effective here.  It lacks a Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, yet the cast have a decent stab at creating a novel tale.

Any cringe worthiness generated by Lust for a Vampire can just as easily be enjoyed as “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” 70’s kitsch.  An entertaining film that whilst not a major shining jewel in Hammer’s crown, is still pretty much unmissable.

8/10

The Curse of Halloween Horror Fest 2019

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Hammer’s only venture into lycanthrope-based horror in the movies, The Curse of the Werewolf is a great example of the studio doing what they do best.  There’s no Pete or Chris, but we do get an early chance for Oliver Reed to demonstrate his talent.

Apparently the movie was based on a book called “The Werewolf of Paris”; the location shifted to Spain when a planned film about the Spanish Inquisition had to be abandoned – and the Spanish sets were forced onto this production.

Reed plays Leon, who the audience learns has had a troubled upbringing.  Born on Christmas Day and conceived from a rape, Leon is cursed to become a werewolf.  With love and comfort, his curse is kept under control.  He falls for his employers daughter, who is engaged to another man – and soon Leon’s hidden wolf is out of control.

The Curse of the Werewolf is something of a gem in Hammer’s crown.  The story has tension and drama courtesy of Director, Terence Fisher – and the special effects are adequate for the time.  Reed is engaging as Leon, inviting our sympathy though the audience realises he is doomed.

The result is a monster movie that’s both entertaining and moving, with a depth not often witnessed in a Hammer horror.

8/10

Misery (1990)

You can’t beat a bit of Stephen King, and Misery is one of his best – the book is great, the film is a masterful adaptation.

Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a best selling novelist, who crashes his car on a snowy Colorado road.  He’s rescued and nursed by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be Paul’s number one fan.  But Wilkes discovers that Sheldon has killed off her beloved character, Misery, and his experience goes downhill faster than his car did.

Trapped in Annie’s house and confined to a wheelchair, how will Paul escape before Annie’s descent into murderous madness is complete?

Directed by Rob Reiner, Misery has tension and pace enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seat.  Caan is excellent; Bates is on Oscar winning form as the disturbed woman switching from kindly to evil in a heartbeat.

There’s nothing supernatural in Misery, but this story is certainly horrific.

9/10

Halloween Horror Fest

Yes, it’s October – which means it’s time once again for Halloween Horror Fest!  Throughout the month on the run up to Halloween, Mrs Platinum Al and I watch some of the horror movies from our creepy collection, and I write a brief review of each for your evil entertainment.

It’s always out and out horror – so long as there’s a general spooky or paranormal element – or monsters! – then the movie is up for consideration.

This is the fifth year running we have attempted this mammoth task.  To keep everyone up to speed, here’s a list of the films that have been viewed over the last few years.

All are listed in alphabetical order.

28 Days Later
28 Weeks Later
30 Days of Night
The Addams Family
Alien
An American Werewolf in London
Big Tits Zombie
Bigfoot Wars
Blacula
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb
Blood on Satan’s Claw
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter
Carrie
Carry on Screaming
Company of Wolves
The Corpse Bride
Countess Dracula
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Dark Shadows
Day of the Dead
Dead Snow
Dead Snow 2
The Devil Rides Out
Dracula AD 1972
Dracula Prince of Darkness
Ed Wood
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
Evil Dead
The Fog
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman
Friday the 13th
From Dusk Till Dawn
From Hell
Ghost Ship
Ghostbusters
Halloween
The House That Dripped Blood
Lost Boys
Night Watch
Oupost
Para Norman
Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Xperience
Pet Sematary
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
The Raven
Rocky Horror Picture Show
Scream
Shadow of the Vampire
Shaun of the Dead
Silence of the Lambs
Sleepy Hollow
Taste the Blood of Dracula
Theatre of Blood
The Thing (1982)
Vampire Circus
The Vampire Lovers
The Wicker Man
The Wolfman (2010)
The Woman in Black
Zombie Strippers

Halloween Horror Fest of the Dead

The Wolfman (2010)

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his ancestral home of Blackmoor in order to investigate the disappearance of his brother.  Reunited with this estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), it soon becomes apparent that something wild is stalking with the full moon.  When Lawrence is attacked by the werewolf, he too falls victim to the curse – destined to become the Wolfman when the moon is full… wolfman2

This remake of the classic Universal monster movie is something of an under rated treasure.  It was never going to have the charm of the Lon Chaney Jr original, but there’s a lot of craft and reverence gone into this movie.  The Gothic atmosphere is absolutely top notch and there’s enough blood and shocks to aid the spectacle.  It takes a while for our hero to get to his transformation, but it’s worth the wait.

My only criticism really is the werewolf versus werewolf showdown at the end.  Silly and unnecessary, at least this scene isn’t dragged out too long.

Otherwise The Wolfman is a great horror film in the classic tradition.  It really should have been much more successful.  The film is a much better revisit to the Universal vaults than the disastrous Van Helsing.  The only things they got wrong with this movie was not setting it in Wales, unlike the original.  Especially when you have the magnificent Anthony Hopkins in the cast!

8/10  

Universal Monsters – Action Figures

Back in the late 1990’s, a series of action figures based on the classic Universal monsters was released by Burger King.  That is, they were give aways with the kids’ meals.  As I love both action figures and classic monsters, I collected the set.

The figures are all 3.75 inches – Star Wars figure size – and each was packaged with a free glow in the dark sticker.  All of the stickers are now on my fridge door.  I’ve dragged the figures out in to the light as Halloween decorations, and they’re pretty cool. P_20141030_135609

Dracula

Based on the Bela Lugosi Dracula from the 1931 film, this vampire comes complete with his own bright red coffin.  Twist the lever at the bottom, and the Count rises to terrorise the night.  It’s a very neat and authentic feature.  Although the likeness to Lugosi isn’t brilliant, it’s still a very impressive toy.

Frankenstein’s Monster

As you can tell from the photo, this monster’s head is translucent.  It’s designed to glow while placed on the accompanying operating table, which emits a light when a button is pressed.  Unfortunately the battery in mine stopped working a long time ago.  The likeness is based on the classic Boris Karloff look.  The translucent effect, whilst a cool play feature, means that the head sculpt can’t be seen that well.  This is a shame, as it’s possibly the best face of the set.

Wolfman

The Wolfman appears with a twist of the lever (like Dracula) from what appears to be a wooden freight box.  Also as with Drac, you can detach the figure from the accessory.  I’ve always been a big fan of the Wolfman, and I love this action figure.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Despite appearing a little chubby, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is very detailed.  He’s also designed to have a light up feature, by pressing his stomach the Creature’s torso glows.  Again, the batteries have long since drained away, and it looks extremely fiddly to replace.

A search on eBay will locate these figures if you’re interested, though you’ll pay a few quid to own the set mint.  Mine aren’t for sale.  I was 25 years old when these toys were released, and I was as excited as a tiny kid when I saw them.  They are monstrously cool!

Horror Top Trumps

Dracula vs Fu Manchu!  The Creature from the Black Lagoon vs Godzilla!  The Wolfman vs Man Eating Plant!  Just a few of the fun confrontations that can occur with this classic Horror Top Trumps game!

Top Trumps is a card game, where the statistics of one card are pitted against another.  Surely you’ve played it?  The most usual sets were cars, aeroplanes or football teams.  There were occasionally sets that were a little more unusual, such as these Horror themed cards.

There were two Horror packs to collect.  Each card featured a different monster and broke down their stats to Physical Strength, Fear Factor, Killing Power and Horror Rating.  All the legendary monsters were present, plus a few others that were more obscure.  So in addition to the characters mentioned above, there were also the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, King Kong, the Thing and more. P_20140505_185808

As a monster obsessed kid, it was a great way to feed my obsessive thirst for knowledge.  I didn’t just play these cards repeatedly, I also studied each one.  For the majority of monsters, I had no idea what film there were from.  Over the years, and thanks to some old horror books I’ve collected, I’ve recognised the characters from published film stills.

Interestingly, though, the character names are quite random.  For example, the card named “Phantom of the Opera” is actually a picture of Dr Phibes.  Similarly, “The Freak” is actually the Reptile from the Hammer movie of the same name.

The artwork on the cards was often quite gruesome also.  There was a rumour I heard for many years that the Horror cards were banned in the early 80’s due to the graphic images.  I doubt that was the case, though illustrations for cards such as The Fiend and Venusian Death Cell were quite bloody.

I’m lucky enough to have collected both Horror Top Trump packs when I was a kid, and I’ve still got them.  They’re not mint condition, and I only have the title card for the second pack.  Never the less, they’re still played with, and bring a gory thrill…

Hallowe’en Horror Fest of Wolves

Paranormal Xperience (2011)

A group of students travel to a deserted town to investigate the apparent paranormal activity witnessed there.  The story goes that the town doctor went mad, tortured and killed several inhabitants.  As the group conduct their exploration, the supernatural begins to manifest itself – but who is the focus?

This Spanish (subtitled) film offers a cliched cast of characters, and can’t decide if it wants to be a dramatised version of Most Haunted or Saw.  At first it’s a fairly clumsy mutation of the two, but stay with it and the actual story is worth experiencing.

Not essential viewing, but the twist is interesting (I didn’t see it coming, anyway).

7/10

The Company of Wolves (1984)

“Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.”

Neil Jordan’s dreamlike film is often explained as an updating of the Little Red Riding Hood tale.  But there’s so much more to it than that.  coofwolves

Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) hears tales of strange men with eyebrows that meet in the middle from her grandmother (Angela Lansbury).  There are several elements of werewolf folklore, wrapped up in dreams and myths that provide a warning to young maidens – illustrating how people in years gone by were wary of the forest at night, the full moon and the howling wolves.

Although the effects are dated somewhat, the transformations from man into wolf are quite ingenious.  However this isn’t really a horror movie, it ‘s a film heavy with symbolism that explores the loss of innocence and the onset of sexual maturity.  There’s plenty to enjoy with the rich, surreal vision we are presented with, but far more to think about.

Great cameo by Terence Stamp, too.

8/10

Hallowe’en Playlist

All these posts about horror movies, it’s about time there was a post devoted to music for Hallowe’en!

I have a couple of Hallowe’en compilation CDs, this playlist puts together various songs not on those collections.  Some of the choices are obvious horror themes (“The Number of the Beast”, “Nasty”); others are more tenuous (“Devil in Disguise”, “Hotter Than Hell”).  Other selections are related, directly or not, to great scary movies: you know where “Bad Moon Rising” is from, right?

Either way, there’s a variety of styles here – suitable for (most) Hallowe’en gatherings…

  1. Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising”
  2. The Damned – “Nasty”
  3. Elvis Presley – “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise”
  4. Ramones – “Pet Semetary”
  5. Motorhead – “Hellraiser”
  6. Johnny Cash – “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”
  7. Iron Maiden – “The Number of the Beast”
  8. The Misfits – “Vampira”
  9. Kiss – “Hotter Than Hell”
  10. Rolling Stones – “Sympathy for the Devil”
  11. Zombina & The Skeletones – “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Dead)”
  12. Ozzy Osbourne – “Mr Crowley”
  13. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – “I Put a Spell on You”
  14. GBH – “Horror Story”
  15. Van Halen – “Runnin’ with the Devil”
  16. David Bowie – “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)”
  17. The Cult – “The Witch”
  18. Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
  19. Alice Cooper – “I Love the Dead”

The Curse of Hallowe’en Horror Fest

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

I first saw this film when I was about ten years old.  Or rather, I saw the first ten minutes.  When the initial attack occurs on the moors, my Mum switched it off.  And I’m not surprised.  Just those first few minutes were enough to make me shit my shoes off.  It would be many years later before I would actually watch the movie all the way through.

An American Werewolf in London begins with two backpacking young Americans finding their way to a mysterious village somewhere in Yorkshire.  They are attacked on the moors by a werewolf – one is killed and one survives, thus carrying on the werewolf’s curse.  Recovering in a London hospital, the survivor, David (David Naughton) is cared for by nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter).  His nightmares soon erupt into vicious attacks as he transforms, under the full moon, into a werewolf. american_werewolf_in_london_poster_04

This film is an absolute classic of the genre.  There are genuine jump-out-of-your-seat shocks, moments of bloody gore and a tragic love story that combine into a thrilling experience.  The special effects make-up (by Rick Baker) is still out standing today, particularly the transformation scene.

Often described as a “horror comedy”, there is a humorous tone in moments throughout the film which helps create the light and dark shades.  Director John Landis, however, has stated that An American Werewolf… is not a comedy, it just uses the lighter shades to create impact for the more horrible scenes.  Landis blends the moods superbly.  There are also numerous nods to the werewolf movies of the past; both verbally (The Wolfman and Curse of the Werewolf both get a nod) and in the structure of the film.

I’ve seen this film many, many times since Mum first switched channels after ten minutes. I’ve even seen it on the big screen, for a special late night showing a couple of years ago. The film’s ability to shock is now lost on me somewhat – I know when every scare is due to happen.  But I still enjoy watching this film and absorb every incredibly clever touch that Landis utilises.  It’s made a massive impression on me – I still remember the first time I was way down deep on the London underground, and gained an appreciation of the loneliness and isolation in one particular scene.

An American Werewolf In London: if you’ve not seen it, see it now.  But not in a dodgy theatre in Piccadilly Circus, obviously.

10/10