Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Strange Door

"The Strange Door" (1951, Joseph Pevney, Universal Pictures] is a strange film, indeed. It is neither truly horror nor solely period drama. It's loosely based on a Robert Louis Stevenson short story and it hails from the post-horror period of Universal's history.

A nobleman called Alain (Charles Laughton) tricks a high-born, drunken good-for-nothing called Denis (Richard Stepley) to enter the only door to his miserable mansion with the intentions of marrying him to his neice, Blanche (Sally Forrest).

He hates his neice for he blames her for the death of her mother, his forbidden love, who died in childbirth. He also hates his brother, Blanche's father, (Paul Cavanagh) for he accuses him of stealing his 'true love' in the first place. And so, naturally, he's locked up his brother and told his neice that her father is dead... As you do.

His devious plan is foiled, however, when Denis turns out not be such a bad chap afterall, Blanche decides that marrying him would be OK with her and his manservant, Voltan (Boris Karloff), changes his allegiences and throws a man-shaped spanner in the works...

A strange movie, that doesn't feature much of its namesake strange door, the highlights are definitely the wicked and pompous brushness of Charles Laughton's character, some of the more flowery scripting which elevates the film to a more cerebral affair and, of course, the brief but important presence of the wonderful Boris Karloff, who could have definitely been given more to do.

The main drawbacks are that it's quite slow burning with very little action and too much dialogue, the Denis character has too much screentime and is of little interest when compared with his screenmates and, like some other latter Universal works, Karloff's character smacks of after-thought and comes across as a little forced.

By far it is not the best Universal movie, but it has its own charms.

[Image: Universal Pictures]

Friday, 24 April 2015

The House of the Devil

"The House of the Devil" (2009, Ti West, Constructovision, RingTheJig Entertainment, Glass Eye Pix,  MPI Media Group, Dark Sky Films) is a slasher film with elements of Satanic ritual and an exploitations feel to it.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is in need of some quick cash to help pay for her new student digs. So she answers an advertisement for a babysitter. When she gets there, the job turns out to be rather different to what she expected, however, the money is too good to pass up.

She soon regrets her decision, however, when the big creepy house begins to freak her out, her pizza tastes suspiciously drugged and she wakes up in the middle of a satanic ritual. Not a top notch day by anyone's standards.

Samantha is fun character. She is a typical student, she's a clutz, she likes music and she has a fabulous survival instinct that involves planning, running, stabbing and generally not being useless (unheard of in the horror genre, mostly).

Scream queen Dee Wallace makes a cameo appearance as the landlady!

The film effectively captures the 80s era that it's targeting, keeps it clean and manages to effectively build dread and a good horror atmosphere.

I really enjoyed this one.

[Image: Glass Eye Pix, et al]

Tuesday, 21 April 2015


"Mirrors" (2008, Alexandre Aja, Regency Enterprises, New Regency, 20th Century Fox) is a jump-scare horror about what lurks on the other side of the looking glass.

Ben (Kiefer Sutherland) becomes the new security guard at an old shutdown department store which had previously suffered a horrific fire. He's an ex-cop, ex-husband and father of one son called Mikey.

It doesn't take long for Ben to discover what his recently deceased predecessor had also known, there's something inside those suspiciously well polished mirrors within that abandoned, spooky, fire-gutted building. And whatever is in there wants him for something. Naturally, he does some digging and there's a perfectly logical and spooky reason behind it all.

Fun, gory and quite atmospheric, the OTT death scenes actually lend rather well to this otherwise creepy premise.

Despite obviously relying on jump scares, gory shock effects and people's irrational fears for cheap thrills, the film benefits from a good cast, clever effects and a chilling ending. The hand prints on the other side of the glass are truly freaky.

I really enjoyed it, and I have to admit I'd avoided this one for years thinking it to be yet another modern jump-scare romp! It's certainly worthy of a spin.

[Image: New Regency & 20th Century Fox]

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Cellar Dweller

"Cellar Dweller" (1988, John Carl Beuchler, Empire Pictures) is my kind of movie. B-movie, that is. Ah, 1988, a fabulous year: I was born and movies like this were being released!

In the '50s, a comic book (definitely not an EC Comic... no...) artist named Colin Childress (the fabulous Jeffrey Combs of "Re-Animator" fame) is brutally murdered when his iconic horror comic characters come to life in his basement studio thanks to his satanic demon A-Z book, and do what horror comic characters do best: violently assault everybody. Because that's not exactly an every day event, he is instead assumed to have committed suicide.

Fast forward 30 years to the '80s and his house is now being used as a retreat, studio and college for young aspiring artists. The college is run by Mrs Briggs (Lily Munster herself, Yvonne De Carlo), who takes an obvious dislike to our picture's heroine, Whitney (Debrah Farentino, then Debrah Mullowney). Whitney is an aspiring horror comic book artist herself with a great admiration for the work (and mysterious demise) of poor old Colin, and can't help herself as she makes all the trademark errors that he clearly had also. Poor Whitney doesn't realise the power of the pen until it is almost too late. But, by then has she gone too far to stop her creations from wreaking havoc?

A fun 80s B-movie that uses some very "Evil Dead" techniques in filming its stalking monster scenes and captures great imagination to work as a film with enough gore, body part munching, demon suits and nude showers thrown in to make it an ideal movie marathon candidate.

Whilst our artists are of a pretty questionable talent (seriously, someone should have told these kids that they were wasting their time and would be better looking for other forms of work!), the film is suitably hokey, funny and chalk-full of green zig zags (80s CGI).

The start credits do drag on for a good while though!

Definitely one for my B-movie vault!

[Image: Empire Pictures]


Wednesday, 8 April 2015


"Videodrome" (1983, Canadian Film Development Corporation, Famous Players, Filmplan International, David Cronenberg) explores porn and how we view life in our advancingly technology-dependent world in an excellently (Rick Baker) gore-soaked way.

Max Renn (James Woods) is a TV executive for a cable channel. It's the 80s, VHS and Betamax are still shiny new technologies, and he thinks he's found the most interesting thing ever to show on TV: foreign snuff porn of questionable quality! The underground programme is called "Videodrome" and Renn is determined to get to the bottom of it. He has become sinisterly obsessed.

As his life becomes more entwined into the cult-like Videodrome lifestyle, his view on life changes and he begins to see things that he is not sure are real or not... Is he losing his mind or is he becoming part of a new reality? His femme fatale friend, Nicki (Debbie Harry of Blondie), also gets herself involved as she and Renn fall into the Videodrome trap together.

His searchings lead him to the hub of the technological cult, but has he gone too far?

This film was a slighlty different step for Cronenberg at the time and hinted towards where he would take his movies next. Videodrome manages to balance slightly obnoxious cerebral plot with a message about society's obsession with technology, with the confusing, but gory action his audience had come to expect. He manages to make a social comment on video and technology while also exploiting just that as his platform to do so. The film remains ever relevant and the effects make for undated, uncomfortable viewing.

[Image: FilmPlan International, et al]