Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is currently available on instant Netflix.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

“Ominous prophet Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing) informs five train passengers — including art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) and physician Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) — about the grisly details of their imminent deaths in this anthology of eerie vignettes. Schreck tells Marsh that he will be maimed; that Carroll’s new bride has a supernatural secret life; and that architect Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) will be attacked by a werewolf.”

“The more exact translation would be terror, an unfortunate misnomer for I am the mildest of men.”

Amicus Productions found a niche alongside better-known Hammer Films by setting most of their horror films in the modern era. Most of their horror films are of the portmanteau variety, telling a series of four or five stories in a framework linked by a mysterious character.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is the first horror movie from Amicus. The framing sequences work very well but the individual stories suffer a bit from being rather simplistic. This is evident in the names of the stories, “Werewolf”, “Creeping Vine”, “Voodoo”, “Disembodied Hand”, and “Vampire”. Later Amicus productions would improve screen time by limiting the stories to four.

All of the stories in this and Amicus’ other portmanteau films are horror but none of them are intended to be scary. Most are told in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion. I find all of the Amicus films to be entertaining but avoid them if you are looking for actual frights.

Another part of the Amicus formula would be to pack as many stars as possible into each film. Peter Cushing is a delight as the mysterious Dr. Schreck, who tells the fortunes that form the basis for each story. Christopher Lee is fun as an irascible art critic. Michael Gough appears as an artist in Lee’s segment. A very young Donald Sutherland anchors the vampire story. Look for Bernard Lee, ‘M’ in the James Bond series until Judi Dench took over, as Hopkins in the plant story.

Strangely, one of the reasons I most recommend this film is that it has never received a DVD or Blu-Ray release in the United States. This may be the only chance you get to see it. Unfortunately this is a pan and scan (not widescreen) transfer and is in relatively poor condition. It is better than VHS quality but not quite up to today’s standards.

People Watch: Isla Blair debuted here as ‘pretty girl’ in the ‘Disembodied Hand” storyline. She would go on to a long and distinguished career in British television (The Final Cut, A Touch of Frost, Fall of Eagles). She has been married for the last 44 years to actor Julian Glover and even played wife to his character in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Sequel-itis: Amicus, the studio behind Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, found that the multi-story horror format worked so well for them that they spent the next decade churning out portmanteau films. Dr. Terror was followed by Torture Garden (1967), The House that Dripped Blood (1971), Asylum (1972), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Vault of Horror (1973), From Beyond the Grave (1974) and finally The Monster Club (1980). All of them except Vault of Horror and The Monster Club starred Peter Cushing.

The Descent

The Descent is currently available on Amazon Prime.

The Descent (2005) – Rated R

“One year after a tragic accident, six girlfriends meet in a remote part of the Appalachians for their annual caving trip. Deep below the surface of the earth, disaster strikes when a rock falls and blocks their route back to the surface. The group splinters and each push on, praying for another exit. But there is something else lurking under the earth – a race of monstrous humanoid creatures that are adapted perfectly to life in the dark. As the friends realize they are now prey, they are forced to unleash their most primal instincts in an all-out war against an unspeakable horror – one that attacks without warning, again and again and again.”

“I’m an English teacher, not f#$%ing Tomb Raider. “

The Descent earns a no-brainer nod on any best horror movie list. When I was growing up, Night of the Living Dead scared me on late night television. As a teenager, Halloween and Alien scared me in the theater. After that no movie really scared me until The Descent. Now watching it on television is not likely to scare you but it is still a wonderful movie.

Neil Marshall burst on to the horror scene in 2002, writing, directing and editing the excellent, if overly British, werewolf saga Dog Soldiers. In 2005, he wrote and directed The Descent, a brilliant concept brilliantly executed. He had a misfire with the apocalyptic Doomsday (2008) but then made a fantastic adventure yarn, Centurion (2010), starring Michael Fassbender.

The story, as written by Neil Marshall, is powerful and, apart from a brief role, features only women. Thankfully it is not the generic women of the slasher genre but real complex characters with a range of emotions.

I think the only thing I do not like about The Descent is that it is set in my beloved Appalachians but not filmed here and it shows. That is such a minor quibble. The faux Appalachians are disposed of fairly quickly as most of the movie takes place underground.

The actresses are all impressive. Shauna MacDonald (Sam in M.I. 5) is our grieving Sarah that everyone would like to cheer up. Natalie Mendoza (China Doll in Moulin Rouge) is the adventurous Juno. Juno and Sarah’s complicated relationship is at the heart of The Descent and adds quite a bit of tension and resonance to their scenes.

The other four ladies are equally impressive and are also quite interconnected. Nora Jane Noone is Juno’s thrillseeking friend Holly. Alex Reid is Sarah’s other best friend, Beth. MyAnna Buring (Tanya in Breaking Dawn) plays Sam and Saskia Mulder plays Rebecca. Other than a brief scene at the beginning, that is the entire cast (not counting the actors playing creatures).

The focus in The Descent is entirely on the women. The creatures are quite well done as is the violence but, apart from a few shadowy scenes for the sharp-eyed, the creatures do not show up until the halfway point. Once they do, it is an exhausting rollercoaster ride straight through to the end.

Sequel-itis: In spite of the British and American versions having two completely different endings, The Descent spawned a sequel. Taken by itself the sequel is pretty entertaining but it pales in comparison to the original.

Evil Dead II

Evil Dead II is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Evil Dead 2 (1987) – Rated R

“Ash (Bruce Campbell), the sole survivor of THE EVIL DEAD, returns to the same cabin in the woods and again unleashes the forces of the dead. With his girlfriend possessed by the demons and his body parts running amok, Ash is forced to single- handedly battle the legions of the damned as the most lethal – and groovy – hero in horror movie history!”

“The first passage will allow the demon to manifest itself in the flesh.” – “Why the hell would we want to do that?”

If you cannot beat your weakness then find a way to turn it into a strength. That is exactly what Sam Raimi did with Evil Dead II. He did not have access to Evil Dead for flashbacks so he rewrote Evil Dead, compressed the events, and retold it in the first twenty minutes of Evil Dead II.

He wanted to film what would later become Army of Darkness but Dino De Laurentiis would only give him $3.5 million in funding so he essentially filmed the bridge between Evil Dead and Army of Darkness.

Raimi has a fun time with all the delirious camera shots. He loves pans and zooms but is especially enamored of long, fast dolly shots. He essentially pins Ash to the camera in an early scene that goes charging into the woods.

Of course the Evil Dead series would not have been nearly as good without the cheese-tastic performance of Bruce Campbell as Ash. While not as famous as the villains, Ash is one of the most iconic heroes in horror movies. They have even put his character in comics with Freddy and Jason.

The rest of the cast is adequate. Sarah Berry, who plays female lead Annie Knowby, would be an extra on one other film but then retire. Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Bobby Joe in the movie, is now a country western singer. Dan Hicks debuts here as Jake. The ever-amusing Ted Raimi pops up (literally) as Possessed Henrietta.

The violence and gore in Evil Dead II are incredibly over-the-top. People are thrown about like rag dolls, abducted by trees, possessed, stabbed, shot, chainsawed, dismembered and decapitated. Raimi makes the demon blood in various colors to enable the film to get an ‘R’ rating. Apparently it is okay to bleed black or green but only occasionally in red.

People Watch: Director Sam Raimi has a cameo as a medieval knight (the first one to raise his sword).

Sequel-itis: Evil Dead II would be followed in 1992 by Army of Darkness.

Remake-itis: Evil Dead is coming out in 2013. Obviously Sam Raimi is too big to direct such things so they have tapped a brand new director, Fede Alvarez.

Peter Jackson is Hobbit-Forming

Thankfully my flu had abated by this past weekend so I could go see The Hobbit. I still have the bronchial cough but I kept that at bay with a steady stream of Coca-Cola and throat lozenges. I’m regaining my strength and concentration slowly but the cough just won’t quit.

Just as thankfully, I had a surfeit of FREE tickets from World Market’s Black Friday promotion (first 100 customers on Black Friday, Saturday and Sunday got FREE movie tickets and a Life of Pi totebag). My wife and I went on Saturday and I took my daughter on Sunday.

My daughter was driving us in to my favorite theater, the Carolina, when my car broke down again (second time this month). After I arranged for a tow, my ever-patient wife took us all out to my favorite hamburger joint, French Fryz for lunch. Dining on a juicy cheeseburger and french fries and washing it down with a nice chocolate banana shake (my wife prefers the chocolate peanut butter), I counted my blessings.

After that she dropped us off at our local Epic theater. They had a nice hard plastic Hobbit cup with Thorin Oakenshield on one side and Gandalf on the other. Dropping six dollars to get one was almost a necessity as we have the same type of cups for Amazing Spider-Man, Ice Age, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Men in Black. They make great popcorn cups for the movie room.

The screens at our local Epic theater are newer and bigger than those at the Carolina but the Carolina has a great rewards program, FREE refills on soda, friendly staff, better food, etc. Actually Epic has no food – just candy and popcorn. Nothing like this delicious tray of mini-dogs.

I digress of course (this is a blog after all) but The Hobbit was quite wonderful. Yes, the story is very padded – the book would have more appropriately made two movies. I wonder how much extra padding there will be for the inevitable extended edition home release.

The actors are all wonderful. Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo. Richard Armitage has a lot of gravitas as Thorin, though they do try to make him too Aragorn-esque. Sylvester McCoy is fun as Radagast the Brown, tailor-made to appeal to a younger audience. Ian McKellan is marvelous as always though it should be noted that he plays the humorous Gandalf the Gray here and not the serious Gandalf the White.

The movie is filled with LOTR cameos – Christopher Lee as Saruman, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Andy Serkis as Gollum, and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel. They are worked in quite well but a prologue of sorts featuring old Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) is really shoehorned in.

The movie is not nearly as epic as the Lord of the Rings movies but neither is the source material. This is more in the vein of an adventure than an apocalyptic scenario. The sound design is amazing. Special effects are much better and far more prevalent – there are things to watch on the edge in almost every scene.

I did not get to sample the new 48 FPS rate because that is only in 3D and my prescription is bad enough that I can’t do 3D (at least on televisions). One of these days, I’ll have to splurge and try a 3D presentation in the theater but since 3D televisions don’t work for me, I’m reluctant to try the theater.


Still More December Madness

The Flu has come and gone but left me with Bronchitis. This December has been full of such wonderful presents. Still I need to update again as Netflix has added a ton of new material in the past couple days, mostly Charlie Brown and DC animation.

DC:Batman: Year One, Superman vs. The Elite, Justice League: Doom, and All-Star Superman.

Charlie Brown: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Mayflower Voyagers, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown, I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Valentine, Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales, and Happy New Year, Charlie Brown.

Comedy: Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments, The Babymakers, Debra DiGiovanni:Single Awkward Female, and Super Hero Party Clown.

Documentary: Lemon, The Highest Pass, Genetic Chile, Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony, Adventures in Plymptoons, Ecuador, and Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.

Drama: Run, Broken Yet Brave, The Player’s Manual, and Last Ride.

Family: Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Jack Frost (the family one not the horror one), Bah Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas, Power Rangers Super Samurai: Stuck on Christmas, Magic Gift of the Snowman, A Magical Cartoon Christmas, Laughing Pizza, Niko 2: Little Brother, Big Trouble, An Angel for Paradise,A Christmas Carol (animated), Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer, The Saddle Club: The Mane Event, The Saddle Club: Horse Crazy, Christmas Lodge, and A Christmas Kiss.

Foreign: Quick, The Assault, Legendary Amazons, and A Happy Event.

Horror: 7 Below and Hell.

TV: Video Game High School and Slide.

Other: WWE: Rock vs. Cena, WWE: The Fifty Greatest Finishing Moves, and WWE: nWo The Revolution.


More Instant Netflix

A whole bunch of new titles have shown up on instant Netflix while I have been busy being sick.

FDR: American Badass has to be my favorite title of the bunch.

“After contracting polio from a werewolf bite, FDR won’t stop at single-handedly ending the Great Depression and prohibition. With the help of a team of historic figures, he must claim victory in World War II by defeating an army of Nazi werewolves.”

Unfortunately it will no doubt be terrible.

The slew of other titles now available include:

Action: Assassin’s Bullet and The Courier.

Comedy: Unicorn City, Roller Town, Nate & Margaret, The Perfect Family, Money Shot, and Losing Control.

Documentaries: Cleanflix, God Save my Shoes, The Queen of Versailles, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, After Porn Ends, Pina, Where Soldiers Come From, The Boy Mir, Farmageddon, and Billionaire.

Drama: 2 Days in New York, Maria My Love, Falling Overnight, Love, The Chicago 8, Going Down in La-la Land, 96 Minutes, eCupid, Comes a Bright Day, 360, A Necessary Death, and Battle B-Boy.

Family: The Greening of Whitney Brown, Dear Santa,The Reef 2: High Tide, Red Dog, The Adventures of Tintin, Thomas & Friends: A Very Thomas Christmas, Fireman Sam: Holiday Heroes, The Encounter: Paradise Lost, The Letter Writer, and Timmy Time: Timmy’s Christmas Surprise.

Foreign: The Kid with a Bike, Thaandavam, Beloved, The Dirty Picture, and Bollywood Fry.

Horror: The Fields, The Afflicted, and The Club.

Thriller: Scalene

TV: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Lost Girl, Moomins, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, and new episodes of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Bones, Transformers: Prime and some classic Doctor Who.

I’m About to Barf … Seriously!

WARNING: Today’s post may contain violent depictions of illness

Thank goodness I had written a few posts ahead. Last week I got the flu. Each day seems to present a new and wondrous symptom. It has been a week now and I don’t seem to be getting any better.

My precious granddaughter discovered the best symptom – projectile vomiting! Yes, currently if Miss D starts crying, everyone starts running. She hurled twice her body length in the living room the other day. Ditto the bedroom, playroom, and car seat.

(The Exorcist is currently available on Amazon Prime)

I am one of those ‘lucky’ individuals who doesn’t throw up. I still get just as nauseous but nothing comes out so the feeling doesn’t go away.

My current problem though is that this stupid flu seems to have once again activated my dormant bronchitis. If I am fortunate and have taken Nyquil and a lozenge, I can get an hour to an hour and a half of sleep. I repeat this sequence of events until dawn and then I give up.

Still I cannot complain. The folks in Outbreak (currently available on Amazon Prime) and The Andromeda Strain (instant Netflix) have it much worse. Hopefully this will pass soon and I can get enough concentration to write more betterer.



Still More Junk from the Netflix Trunk

Honestly, I’m going to start watching something besides horror soon. That said here’s what I’ve watched lately:

The Traveler (2010) – Rated R

“Val Kilmer stars in this creepy thriller as Mr. Nobody, a mysterious drifter who wanders into a small-town police station on Christmas Eve and confesses to a series of murders, none of which has occurred — yet.”

First off, this is nearly the exact same film as Inkubus. Traveler is a low, low-budget thriller that spent most of the budget hiring a somnambulic Val Kilmer. The movie starts with an interesting idea but handles it poorly. The ending features a couple of nice plot points but, again, they are not handled well. Everything in the middle is just an uninteresting mess. I’m not sure how two separate movies can take the same relatively promising premise and both completely blow it.

Sand Sharks (2012) – Rated R

“In this comedic thriller, an underwater earthquake cracks open a crater deep beneath the ocean’s surface, unleashing a prehistoric shark. The terrifying creature soon begins to prey on a group of unsuspecting teens partying at the beach.”

I really don’t know what attracts me to watch these films. I think it arises from my childhood adoration of the Harryhausen films. Somehow I think that I’ll derive some entertainment from any movie with a monster in it..

Sand Sharks is terrible. I didn’t see the Asylum label but it might as well have been there. Sand Sharks is so bad that I turned it off after 15 minutes. Laughable CGI, poor dialogue, awful acting – Sand Sharks pegs the rotten meter.

Bereavement (2010) – Rated R

“When teen orphan Allison goes to live with relatives on their remote farm, she discovers that a twisted neighbor has been training 10-year-old Martin Bristol, a boy he kidnapped five years before, in the ways of serial murder.”

If you like to hear young ladies screaming while they are hung up and tortured in a dimly lit basement then this is the film for you. There are some third act developments that are too obvious to be called twists. Another film that was not worth my time.

Killing Them Softly

I go to the movies a lot – usually on some form of FREE ticket since I’m a cheapskate. This past weekend I took my wife to see Killing Them Softly.

Killing Them Softly (2012) – Rated R

“Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse. “

“America is not a country, it’s a business “

First, let me say that the trailer to Killing Them Softly is great. It highlights some nice lines of dialogue, gives you a glimpse of some good ideas, and shows a couple action scenes. The only thing bad about the trailer is it presents a deceptive idea of Killing Them Softly.

I’d like to talk about the acting first. Brad Pitt does his normal star turn with a nice delivery, not bad but no range required as the enforcer. I do feel the need to mention that he is only nominally the star here as he doesn’t show up until the second act.

James Gandolfini has a rather morose supporting role as another enforcer. If it were someone else I would say the acting was good but this is just recycling the self-pitying portions of Tony Soprano. Richard Jenkins turns in a nice supporting performance as always.

Ben Mendelsohn (Russell) and Scoot McNairy (Frankie) play two of the robbers as lowlifes and they are very convincing. Ray Liotta turns in a sad sack performance but could have been better. Sam Shepard obviously had his scenes hit the cutting room floor as we only see him for about thirty seconds.

The writing and direction, both by Andrew Dominik, are simply awful. The script is unbelievably misogynistic and there is a particular dialogue exchange that is very difficult to sit through.

Speaking of dialogue exchanges, that is pretty much all you get with Killing Them Softly. The movie is just an endless set of one-on-one dialogue exchanges. Some of them work, most of them do not. The film has a meager running time of an hour and thirty-seven minutes yet it feels over two hours. Much of the dialogue tries desperately to be raunchy and clever a la Tarantino but falls flat when it isn’t being actively offensive.

There are a few minor action sequences. There is an exceptionally brutal (and unnecessary) beating that serves a point but all I could think was that Dominik was trying to outdo the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. My delicate flower of a wife had to cover her ears during this sequence. There is a murder that seems to go on forever because Dominik thinks it is stylish. What starts quite well almost reaches the point of parody by the end. I did like that gunfire actually sounded realistic in the film.

The theme of the film is the economy. The script by itself would have been very heavy-handed in this regard but still not bad. Unfortunately when Dominik the director adapted Dominik the writer’s script, he chose to feature an endless series of voice-overs and news reports featuring George W. Bush and Barack Obama discussing the economy. Some of them even drown out the dialogue.

Avoid this movie.

New Documentaries on Netflix

Netflix sure has been opening the floodgates on streaming choices lately.

Documentaries got the brunt of the latest update: Craigslist Joe, ‘Angels, Aliens, & UFOs’, Always Whitney Houston, Such Great Heights, Head Games, Forks Over Knives: The Extended Interviews, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, and OC 87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie.

Other choices include: A Buddy Story, Heroine, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (yay!), Husbands in Goa, Sid vs. Varun, The Teacher, An Affirmative Act, O.B.A.M. Nude, Behind Mansion Walls, Blood Games, House of Boys, and Alps.

I omitted a Disney title yesterday: The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos. While this is a well-filmed documentary, we found it to be remarkably brutal. Please watch it prior to allowing your children to watch it.