Film Review: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Also known as: Corridors of Evil (reissue)
Release Date: June 1st, 1962 (San Diego)
Directed by: Herk Harvey
Written by: Herk Harvey, John Clifford
Music by: Gene Moore
Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison

Herts-Lion International Corp., 80 Minutes (theatrical), 84 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I don’t belong in the world.” – Mary Henry

Carnival of Souls was a film that I had heard others talk about for a long time but I never got to check it out until it started streaming on The Criterion Channel through FilmStruck. I had heard that it was a great inspiration to George A. Romero and David Lynch and after seeing it, it is hard not to see how it influenced them, as well as other directors.

It is sort of considered a zombie picture, even though it really isn’t. Ghoulish people do haunt Mary, the main character, throughout the film and a big horde of them chases her in the finale but they aren’t traditional zombies or what they would become a few years later with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These undead ghouls, however, certainly made a fine template to what Romero would give us.

Additionally, the look of realism, due to the use of guerrilla filmmaking tactics, would go on to inspire the look of Night of the Living Dead.

Carnival of Souls, despite its surrealism and fantastical elements, has a very real feeling to it. The camera is more fluid, there is a lot of movement and each shot isn’t over produced or the product of meticulous tweaking.

You can also see how the more surreal aspects of the film would inspire Lynch. At one point, in particular, when Mary is driving, a ghostly image is superimposed onto the passenger side window. There are also other surreal moments, many of which would feel at home in Lynch’s work.

The story follows Mary, the sole survivor of a car crash. Strange things happen to Mary as she moves on from the incident and tries to restart her life in a new location. There is a defunct carnival in the distance from her new home that calls to her. As the film moves on, we see strange characters appear to her. It all comes to a head when she can no longer outrun the strange happenings.

The film was shot in Kansas and in Utah, at the SaltAir Resort, which stood in for the carnival pavilion, the center of the story’s supernatural activity. The film was also made for just $33,000, which explains why the director had to go guerrilla to get some of his shots done. The financial limitations, however, are why this film looks so unique and would go on to show future indie filmmakers how to create a quality motion picture without using traditional means.

Carnival of Souls might not be a fully appreciated classic but it is a mother figure to many beloved directors’ early films and for opening the door to new techniques and a visual style that would be adopted by countless filmmakers after this picture’s release.

This is a film that displays an uncanny level of craftsmanship and raw talent on many levels. It is also better acted than a picture like this typically is. And ultimately, it is pretty damn significant when understanding what it paved the way for.

Video Game Review: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES)

Sometimes great things get a really bad rap. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest gets a horrendously bad rap and frankly, it’s a damn fine game!

Years ago, the Angry Nintendo Nerd, now better known as the Angry Video Game Nerd, trashed this epic classic in his first video. People took his video to heart and adopted his sentiment as their own. Then again, maybe video games are really hard for that guy and his viewers.

You see, the biggest criticism of this game is how hard it is. Honestly, it is difficult but it isn’t unbeatable. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun and a serious challenge, more so than any other Castlevania game I have played. That challenge is why I love it so much.

Another season I love the game is the freedom of it compared to Castlevania I and III. Those games made you follow a map, from level to level with a big baddie to fight at the end. I love those games too but Simon’s Quest allowed you to explore the world you were in. You could bounce around however you wanted, similar to how Zelda II was. Sure, you had to complete certain tasks and unlock new areas to explore but for the time, this was pure freedom.

People also criticize the controls. I never had a problem with them. The game is pretty straightforward and the controls of the highly acclaimed first game, were pretty clunky… let’s be honest.

Full disclosure, I didn’t beat Simon’s Quest way back in the day, as it was a massive game and took a lot of time. You didn’t have infinite opportunities to save your games on the NES like you have nowadays. However, as soon as this was playable on an emulator, I crushed it. It was more time consuming than difficult. But beating it gave me a real sense of accomplishment that I don’t get from most games. The thing is, games today are too easy. Simon’s Quest didn’t have a difficulty setting.

The hate for this game is unwarranted, in my opinion. It has always been one of my favorite classic NES titles to fire up and play. I enjoy the game to this day and recently played through it again, in an effort to talk about it before this review.

Simon’s Quest is pure satisfaction, as far as I’m concerned.

Film Review: Night of the Comet (1984)

Release Date: November 16th, 1984
Directed by: Thom Eberhardt
Written by: Thom Eberhardt
Music by: David Richard Campbell
Cast: Robert Beltran, Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Sharon Farrell, Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis

Thomas Coleman and Michael Rosenblatt Productions, Film Development Fund, Atlantic Releasing Corporation, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Come on Hector, the MAC-10 submachine gun was practically designed for housewives.” – Regina Belmont

Catherine Mary Stewart had a massive year in 1984, between this picture and The Last Starfighter. Granted, this became more of a cult classic once it hit video store shelves unlike Starfighter, which did well in the theater and on video. In any event, Stewart was front and center in two great sci-fi films form that great year in cinema. I loved 1984 and its place in movie history and this picture is just one of many reasons why.

Night of the Comet also reunites Robert Beltran and Mary Woronov, who were two parts of the great trio from the cult classic comedy, Eating Raoul.

This is a zombie movie but it is also a teen comedy. Teen comedies were the best in the 1980s and the decade also gave us some real zombie classics. This was kind of like a perfect marriage of two genres that don’t traditionally go together. At least not back in 1984. In fact, this film would go on to inspire Joss Whedon in his creation of his most iconic character, Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame.

Catherine Mary Stewart and her onscreen sister, played by Kelli Maroney, were an awesome duo that kicked ass, carried machine guns and didn’t take any shit from anyone. Even when confronted by zombie stock boys in the mall, they never backed down. Granted, they got in over their heads, from time to time, but they survived to the end and even took out a crooked government agency in the process.

Robert Beltran was really good in this. He wasn’t the astute actor that he would become later but he was charismatic and kept the film moving forward in a lighthearted and witty way. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his contribution to this film, as most people love the two tough sisters that dominate the story.

This is a fun zombie movie and it shows a post-apocalyptic world as seen through the eyes of two teenage California girls. They compete for boys, go on shopping sprees and just want to have a good time even if 99 percent of the people around them have turned into red powder.

I love Night of the Comet. It has reached cult status but it still doesn’t get the overall recognition it deserves. It’s a film that is better than you’d expect it to be and there isn’t a whole lot one can pick apart.

Film Review: The Cabin In the Woods (2012)

Release Date: March 9th, 2012 (SXSW)
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Written by: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Music by: David Julyan
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver

Mutant Enemy Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, Lionsgate, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Look, you guys just stay in the Rambler. I’ll get help. If I wipe out, I’ll fucking limp for help. But I’m coming back here. I’m coming back with cops and choppers and large fucking guns, and those things are going to pay… For Jules.” – Curt

I went into this picture blindly, which is definitely the best way to experience it. This is a movie that throws a hell of a lot of curveballs in the most awesome way possible. The less you know about it, the better. And to be completely honest, I am not a Joss Whedon fan but this was damn good and probably the best thing he’s ever done. Suck it, Firefly.

So what can I say about this film? I’d rather not spoil it for people, as I’m not that guy. Just know that it is never quite what you expect it to be and that it hits you with surprises, again and again.

The most notable actors in it are Chris Hemsworth a.k.a. Thor, Sigourney Weaver for a bit and Bradley Whitford, a favorite of mine since the 80s, alongside Richard Jenkins. I shouldn’t even get into what their roles are.

The film is not just Joss Whedon’s creation, it was co-written and directed by Drew Goddard. He’s been a busy guy with Marvel’s Daredevil series, as of late. He was also the director of the original Cloverfield and a major contributor to the TV series LostAliasBuffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He even had a hand in The Martian and World War Z.

The Cabin In the Woods is a horror film that literally has everything in it. And I don’t say that using the words “literally” and “everything” lightly.

The only downside to this film is rewatching it. Now it is still good but you can only be caught off guard once and you already know what tricks are up Whedon’s and Goddard’s sleeves after the first viewing. Still, it is entertaining and a really cool and fresh take on a really tired formula.

In a lot of ways, The Cabin In the Woods kind of rewrote the book on “cabin in the woods” movies the same way Scream rewrote the book on slasher pictures.

This isn’t a great film by any means but it is a hell of a lot of fun and if you go into it knowing as little as possible, you’ll probably leave the experience very satisfied.

The trailer is below, as I always post a trailer. However, watching it may spoil too much. You have been warned.

Film Review: The ‘Blind Dead’ Film Series (1972-1975)

Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead tetralogy is a pretty unique take on the zombie movie formula. In his stories, the undead are actually members of the Knights Templar. Each film begins with a flashback of the knights doing some sort of heinous act, usually torturing young naked women. This is to foreshadow that they are evil and into Satanic rituals… or they just party a little too hard.

Each movie is pretty much the same with just a few minor changes to differentiate each chapter. Ultimately, the Knights Templar do some messed up shit, the people fight back, the knights claim they are immortal, generations later they wake up from a dead slumber because some hottie decided to sleep in their tomb (or meddle around their ghost ship).

So I figured that since these films are really just rehashes of the same thing, it would make more sense to review them together.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972):

Also known as: La noche del terror ciego, lit. The Night of the Blind Terror (Spain), Crypt of the Blind Dead, Night of the Blind Dead, Legend of the Blind Dead, Tombs of the Evil Dead, Revenge From Planet Ape
Release Date: April 10th, 1972 (Spain)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Lone Fleming, César Burner

Interfilme, Plata Films S.A., 101 Minutes

Review:

Tombs of the Blind Dead kicked off the tetralogy. It is also the best story of the bunch but I do prefer the second film a hair bit more.

There is a train that happens to roll through the Portuguese countryside near a haunted tomb of the long dead Templar knights. The main girl in the film jumps off of the train because she’s nuts and doesn’t do anything logical throughout the entire film. She spends the night in this tomb, which wakes up the warrior Catholic zombies. She dies. Her friends that were initially on the train with her, go back to investigate. They obviously discover the cause of her death, a hoard of white robed, sword-wielding zombies that are too slow to properly swashbuckle.

The film isn’t well shot and it is poorly lit, as darkness takes over the screen and obscures too much of the picture. Regardless, these are still some of the coolest zombies in cinema history.

One cool thing about the undead in this film is that they have horses. They are slow like zombies but their steeds of death can outrun any human trying to hightail it away from the site of the haunted tomb. I thought it was weird that their horses were just hanging out for centuries and that they don’t freak the hell out from the zombie state of their masters but it is revealed in the second film that the horses are undead too. That wasn’t so clear in this movie.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is entertaining enough to kill ninety minutes or so. It is not a great zombie picture but very few of them are.

Return of the Blind Dead (1973):

Also known as: El ataque de los muertos sin ojos, lit. Attack of the Blind Dead (Spain), Return of the Evil Dead, Mark of the Devil 5: Night of the Blind Terror
Release Date: September 14th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho, Esperanza Roy, Lone Fleming, Frank Braña, Luis Barboo

Ancla Century Films, Belén Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

This chapter in the series is my favorite, overall.

I’d say that the first chapter is a better movie, as the ideas and the concepts are still new but I liked this one for the fact that the undead knights take on a whole village and that it was action heavy and flew by pretty quickly, until the last act of the film, which then slowed everything to a halt.

The people in this chapter are at least not as stupid as the people from the first movie. They’re still idiots but at least there is a couple and a young girl that survive this time. Plus, that finale was pretty good and suspenseful.

The highlight of this film is when the village folk are burning effigies of the evil Knights Templar and then the undead knights show up to spoil the party, putting their swords through all the villagers, trapped within the stone walls of the small town.

Return of the Blind Dead, from a narrative standpoint, is the most fluid picture. It is also the least hokey out of the tetralogy.

The Ghost Galleon (1974):

Also known as: El buque maldito, lit. The Damned Ship (Spain), Horror of the Zombies, Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead, Horror of the Evil Dead, Ship of Zombies, The Blind Dead 3, Zombie Flesh Eater
Release Date: June 28th, 1974 (West Germany)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Barbara Rey

Ancla Century Films, Belén Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

The Ghost Galleon is where the series took a big shit on itself. Although, it did introduce some cool elements to the mythos and it has the best sequence out of all the films. Unfortunately, most of this is a big piss sandwich.

In this chapter, a couple hotties on a tiny boat get lost in a fog. They then get hit by a large wooden ship. The women, at different times, decide to explore this pirate looking vessel. Both of them end up having a really bad time and we are treated to one of the most bloodcurdling zombie kills ever captured on celluloid. Not because it is violent and awesome but because the damn girl literally screams for like five minutes and it is the most annoying scream I’ve ever heard. I can’t necessarily blame the filmmakers, as the scream came to me courtesy of the English dub track. But man, I really wanted to punch my TV because that bitch wouldn’t friggin’ die.

I do like the pirate ship and the swashbuckling aesthetic of this chapter but the story isn’t exciting and the film, overall, is boring as hell.

But we do get rewarded for sitting through this drab movie, as the final sequence is the best in the series. It shows our two heroes escape the wrath of the Knights Templar, as they reach the beach after drifting on a piece of wood all night. Once they collapse in the sand, the living dead, in their robes, rise one-by-one out of the water and slowly walk up onto the beach, surrounding the exhausted heroes, who open their eyes to see their doom finally huddling over them.

Also, the glowing demon skull in the film was a nice touch.

Night of the Seagulls (1975):

Also known as: La noche de las gaviotas (Spain), Don’t Go Out at Night, Night of the Blood Cult, Night of the Death Cult, Terror Beach, Night of the Evil Dead, The Blind Dead 4, Zombi 8, The Bloodfeast of the Blind Dead
Release Date: August 11th, 1975 (Spain)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Victor Petit, Maria Kosti, Sandra Mozarowsky

Ancla Century Films, Profilmes, Pérez Pareja, M. Flor, 89 Minutes

Review:

Night of the Seagulls is better than The Ghost Galleon but not by much.

We return to a beach setting in this one, as de Ossorio probably enjoyed the nautical theme of the previous chapter and its beach ending.

In this chapter, a doctor and his young wife move to a small coastal town. The locals don’t like them because locals of villages never like outsiders, especially in horror movies. The doctor and his wife are eventually confronted by the town’s dark secret; every seven years, the undead Knights Templar rise out of the sea and haunt the village for seven nights, demanding the the sacrifice of a young woman. It is up to the doctor and his wife to try and save one of the young girls from a horrible fate.

While this is a better movie than The Ghost Galleon, it is the least interesting. It’s as if de Ossorio ran out of good ideas and just threw together some lowest common denominator horror tropes. Maybe this was just an effort to capitalize on the success of the series but it was lazily crafted and didn’t open the door for any further sequels.

The undead Knights Templar would not rise again.

Film Review: The Fog (1980)

Release Date: February 1st, 1980
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers

Debra Hill Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.” – Stevie Wayne

I was never a huge fan of The Fog but for some reason, I like this film a lot more now. I did enjoy it when I was younger but it wasn’t something I felt the need to revisit as often as the typical slasher films of the day. This has slasher elements to it but it certainly is not a clone of HalloweenFriday the 13th or anything else similar.

This is a quintessential John Carpenter flick. It also stars just about all of his top dogs except Kurt Russell and Donald Pleasence. You do have Adrienne Barbeau, in what is my favorite role of hers, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins and Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis. The cast also boasts Hal Holbrook, who starred with Barbeau two years later in Creepshow. We also get to see Janet Leigh, Curtis’ real mother who is most remembered for Psycho.

The threat in this film is a mysterious fog that rolls into a small coastal California town. The fog carries some swashbuckling zombies that want their gold back. The nautical zombies don’t actually swashbuckle, instead they use their blades like a slasher would.

Barbeau plays a single mother who owns a lighthouse where she broadcasts over the radio. From atop the town, she can see the fog rolling in and tries to give the town a play-by-play on what is happening but ultimately, the ghosts come to haunt her as well.

I like this film a lot and I think it is underrated, even if it did get a crappy remake in 2005.

Unfortunately, the swashbuckling ghost zombies aren’t the most unsettling thing about the picture. Something about the Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis hookup was just bothersome to me. I like both actors but when this was made Curtis was 21 while Atkins was 44. As a 38 year-old man, I can’t even talk to a 25 year-old girl and find anything in common with her, just sayin’.

The Fog is a solid movie. It also has one of the best scores that John Carpenter has ever produced. It uses its fog and lighting effects perfectly and the monsters are damn cool.

Film Review: What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Written by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Music by: Plan 9
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford

Resnick Interactive Development, Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die, New Zealand Film Commission, Madman Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’.” – Viago

*written in 2014.

What We Do In the Shadows is a New Zealand horror comedy that I have wanted to see for quite some time. I saw the trailer over a year ago but the film had a hard time getting distribution in the United States, even though it stars Jemaine Clement from HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and is made by some of the same people. Since it is now on Amazon’s video on demand service, I purchased it.

The film is done as a mockumentary following four vampires who live together in a flat in urban New Zealand. It shows their lives, how they make it in the modern world, examines their long friendships with one another and how they view and interact with the rest of the world. What We Do In the Shadows not only gives us vampires but it showcases werewolves, zombies, witches and other paranormal entities and how they work through their issues in a world together.

The cast in this movie is phenomenal. Each character in any other film would be a spotlight stealer but in this movie, they all shine and they all grab onto the spotlight and don’t let go from the first frame until the last.

You have Vladislav, the vampire played by Jemaine Clement, who was once a master of supernatural seduction but lost his mojo after confronting “The Beast”. Viago is a vampire that was a Victorian dandy who still embraces that style and culture. Deacon is a vampire who believes himself to be the ultimate sex magnet while ignoring his share of the chores in the flat. The fourth vampire is Petyr who is a temperamental 8,000 year old vampire that looks like Count Orlock from Nosferatu. The cast is then rounded out by a few other great characters that challenge the vampires and their relationships with humans and other creatures.

To call this film “hilarious” is an understatement. There hasn’t been a horror comedy this good since Shaun of the Dead and to be honest, this movie may be a bit better. There isn’t a scene that goes by that doesn’t have you laughing out loud. The thing that makes it work so well, is the fact that you truly care about the characters and their struggles. No one is just fodder for comedy, they all serve a real purpose and feel like real characters despite the absurdity of their situations.

What We Do In the Shadows is a rare comedy masterpiece. I haven’t enjoyed any comedy this much in years. If you are a fan of horror that is funny, this should be right up your alley.