31 Days of Horror Movie Reviews, Vol. 5
Today we travel into Michael Mann’s dark past, get up close and not-quite-personal with Bigfoot, investigate some strange teenage behavior, witness Bela Lugosi’s most popular film before Dracula and Christopher Lee’s first time as Dracula. Lastly, our dreams are interrupted once more by The Tall Man.
The Keep (1983)
In addition to keeping an ancient evil that scares even the Nazis, this film keeps another secret: that Scott Glenn used to be a sex symbol, or at least a romantic lead in movies. He’s apparently looked like a sinewy skeleton for 40 years now. The world is a mysterious and magical place, and Scott Glenn is my hero.
A shame that here he’s a flat hero character part of a much-too-easy love story in a film that didn’t quite Keep all the enthusiasm that I had going into it.
Because there’s a lot to be enthused about: in addition to sexy Scott Glenn, this is Michael Mann’s second film. My favorite band Tangerine Dream does the score! Gabriel Byrne plays a Nazi. Ian McKellen plays an old, paraplegic Holocaust survivor. Apparently, Ian McKellen has been playing old men for 40 years.
None of them quite disappoint — McKellen is especially/unsurprisingly great as a man tempted by said ancient evil to eradicate the evil that has haunted his people. There’s a great Faustian story there, but I’m not quite sure this is it.
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)
“Foulke is a right pleasant place to live until the sun goes down.”
This 70s regional docuhorror film from Charles B. Pierce is like A Christmas Story for the Bigfoot mythology, complete with a grown man narrating his nostalgic childhood exploits in small-town middle America with the quirky hunters, fishermen and of course, the Boggy Creek monster.
It has a quaint, genteel afternoon vibe, a perfect rainy day accompaniment to drawing, lounging and imagining up your own urban legend.
Strange Behavior (1981)
Perfect premise for horror fodder: college kids in need of cash take part in an experiment and get injected with drugs that inspire the titular strange behavior.
Unfortunately, the behavior wasn’t strange enough to keep my attention (though looking at that above photo, I’m a bit worried about my psyche).
It took me around five different sittings to finish. The end credits were my favorite part, which I mean genuinely and not as an insult, but it’s still obviously not the kind of praise a movie wants to receive.
I sought this out (finding it on the great Raygun app) because it comes with a Tangerine Dream score, but unfortunately, it was almost nonexistent in the movie itself. Listening to the score on Spotify is the better call, even if it’s fun to see Michael Murphy and the late Louise Fletcher.
White Zombie (1932)
What I love about 30s horror is that the scariest thing they could think of was: eye contact! And it works– every time we freeze on Bela Lugosi’s eyes, and that happens a lot in this and Dracula, it’s mesmerizing.
Not much else about the movie is. There’s the cultural appropriation of voodoo with the Haitian locals being relegated to extras in their own country. The whole plot hinges on a guy who can’t handle that the woman he hardly knows but has the hots for is getting married to someone else, so he goes to (the not Haitian) Bela Lugosi to voodoo control the woman into being with him. It’s only after Bela kills her that he draws the line, though her zombified corpse placates him somewhat.
The Tomb of Dracula (1958)
It’s a treat to see Cushing and Lee in their most iconic roles, and Michael Gough as a whiny Harker, but the biggest takeaway is how poorly the Harker family listens to Dr. Helsing’s directions.
It pains me to say it, but this movie doesn’t do a whole lot for me beyond the sumptuous atmosphere. If you don’t have Shudder, hammer horror reliably acts like a ghoul log for the season, a comforting 50s ghoultide ambience.
The first time I watched Don Coscarelli’s love letter to Dune I announced (to myself) that this franchise was going to be MY personal favorite in the horror genre. Forget Jason, Chucky or Freddy, the Tall Man was where it’s at.
Since then I’ve acquired the Mondo vinyl and… haven’t watched any of the sequels. Like with many things I take seriously, I build it up and wait for some mythical perfect time to enjoy it, rather than just… enjoying it. Phantasm II through V are the Christmas presents under the tree I’m waiting to open and have been for several years now. But whenever I want to reach for the sequel, I feel like I need to rewatch the original first.
I’ve now watched the original four or five times yet almost immediately after seeing it, I have only a vague recollection of its powers. Its dreamy, foggy narrative begs for the “I don’t want to go to sleep!” time slot of the night when your body is ready for sleep but your mind wants to keep going. Sleep means tomorrow and I’m enjoying tonight: I don’t want to have to start the Sisyphean climb every morning brings with it.
This stubbornness lasts all of about 23 minutes when the head-nodding to Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave’s classic score becomes merely the harbinger of sleep.
All of this is to say: BOYYY was I was overjoyed to be welcomed back to Shudder Show for the second week in a row to discuss Phantasm lore, jawas, J.J. Abrams and Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man.
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