The Black Sleep (1956)
If you’re a fan of classic horror, then this is a must-see. By the end, you’ve got a dungeon full of various weirdos and and monsters and, of course, they get loose. Can Dr. Gordon Ramsay(!) fight them all off and clear his name or will he join them in their revolt? Either way, it’s fun watching, almost like the sweaty, illustrated monsters of Cracked-era Dan Clowes come to life.
The idea is that a doctor has developed a drug that allows him to do specialized brain surgery. The problem is that he’s the only one doing this kind of surgery, so he’s using a lot of patients in order to map the areas of the brain. His hopes are to eventually operate on his wife who is in a coma.
Features Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff (in a role originally for Peter Lorre), Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, and Plan 9’s Tor Johnson.
The hair and costuming are fantastic, likely many of the clothes are just taken from the actors’ closets, but they are fabulous nonetheless. Or at least I was taken by 1974 British fashion-sense. As a horror movie, it’s pretty good, too. The story is a little convoluted and silly, but there is some surprising gore. Well-acted and fun for a classic horror movie night.
Bava’s last feature and it feels like it was not only co-written by son Lamberto, but also largely directed by him as well. I’ve been watching a lot of Bava lately and this was just ok, even a disappointment when one considers some of his other films. Felt more like bad Fulci, than great Bava.
Daria Nicolodi gets more to do than just play a victim and she may be one of the best things about the movie, although the dialogue and general story here aren’t top notch. Her ex is likely haunting her son or the house or a basement room or a fireplace or her dreams or a giant glass hand, or all or none of these.
Shock features one of the most bombastic, suspense-killing scores in Italian exploitation film history. That’s impressive.
Castle Freak (1995)
This reminded me of the times we used to drive across the bridge and go to some small, bizarre gas stations/video stores and grab horror films often based on giant VHS cover art alone. Okay, that “we” is really me and my stepdad because I wasn’t old enough to drive, and that last “us” is really me.
Anyhow, if you’re a fan of Stuart Gordon films like Re-Animator (1985) or From Beyond (1986), you’ll likely enjoy this one. I even like Dagon (2001). And I often half-remember Gordon as the director of the fantastic weirdo movie Society (1989), but it was directed by Re-Animator’s co-producer Brian Yuzna.
Castle Freak, while partially based on a Lovecraft story, feels more like a tribute to Argento, particularly Phenomena (1985). There’s even a bit of hand carnage that repeats and extends one of the gags in Argento’s film.
Barbara Crampton. Jeffrey Combs. ‘Nuff said.
Almost forgot: So Crampton and Combs inherit a castle. And it has a freak in the basement.
Finnish horror film that reminded me of Black Death (2010). Takes place during the late 1500s and Finland and Russia are settling borders after a war. The soldiers and diplomats sent to do this come upon a strange town with a strange sauna in a swamp.
Slow, moody, atmospheric–kind of if Bergman had gone full horror. Ville Vertanen seems to be partially channeling the Max von Sydow of The Seventh Seal (1957). Still thinking about this one. Not perfect, but it has kept me thinking.
The Theatre Bizarre (2011)
I like horror anthologies. They are often a hoot, but they are rarely perfect or even very good. This one is no exception. Tom Savini and Richard Stanley are here, but “The Accident” is probably my favorite, though it is far from straightforward horror and it definitely feels out-of-place.
If you’re a fan of horror anthologies then you’ll like this. There’s a whole slate of new ones I’ve missed, but I’ve always been partial to the Amicus ones like Asylum (1972) and Tales from the Crypt (1972). Other personal favorites are Black Sabbath (1963) and Creepshow (1982), which had effects by Savini. It captures creepiness and comedy in a style similar to the old EC comics in which it pays homage.
Penny Dreadful (2016)
I know it’s TV, but I’m counting it since I watched the whole final season and it’s more explicit than most of the things on this list.
I’m not really interested in the whole “Golden Age” of TV that’s often written about these days. I’m sure its demise has already been reported. I’m not a good TV watcher, not because I dislike it, I just try to spend time on other things. Growing up, I watched at least four hours of TV a day, if not more. Probably more. In fact, yeah, way more.
I have a huge list of shows I want to watch, but I prefer watching movies. While I like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, I can’t stomach the constant tension that those shows generate and have only made it through a few seasons of each.
With TV, I tend to watch comedy or food shows. Tim and Eric. Monty Python. Chef’s Table. Every now and then something speaks to me and I can get through it. I like the newish Sherlock Holmes series. I liked Black Mirror as an anthology show. Actually, it may rival Twilight Zone in quality and I love the Twilight Zone. I’ve been slowly re-watching Tales from the Crypt episodes and am in season three.
Likely, you will have heard that Penny Dreadful is great or that it is terrible. I love the influences the show plays with—Gothic literature, particularly of the 19th Century. I like most of the characters, even if I don’t like everyone’s story arc. The show is fun, especially if you know the sources and don’t read spoilers. There’s some great writing and unexpected twists, particularly for fans of the literature. The show knows and loves its sources.
Also, I’ve read lots of comparisons to “new television” to novels. I don’t really feel that at all. These shows generally work where there are multiple character arcs within an episode arc, within seasonal arcs, within the full series arc. I suppose there could be something Dickensian about this structure if one thinks of reading Dickens in the original installments. But I don’t feel TV really does what a Duras, Woolf, or Beckett novel is able to do.
It feels more like comic books to me. An episode is like an issue, a season like a trade collection, and a complete show like a compendium or omnibus.
If you made it through all that (Thanks!), go check out the Halloween series I’m working on with artist Reed Randolph. We’ll be updating through Halloween.
I like red peppers and Jan Švankmajer movies.
1. Current Listening: Lots of soul from Muscle Shoals
2. Current Viewing: A Hard Day's Night (1964).
3. Current Reading: H.G. Wells: In the Days of the Comet