The Professor’s Fall Journal: October Week 3

 

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October 15th:  Back in the summer of 2003, Freddy vs. Jason hit the screens and I went to see it along with my friend and then roommate Dr. Kimenstein.  In the process I learned that Kimenstein had never seen either a Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street film, and we decided he should see all 10 Fridays before October 31st.  Thus “Slasherthon“, an annual tradition, was born.  In 2004 we went through every Halloween film (I’d introduced Kimenstein to the original movie two years earlier but he’d never seen any other entry). 2005 was Maniac Cop (why? I have NO idea), 2006 was a series of single entry slasher films, and in 2007 we finally tackled the Nightmare on Elm Street series.  If Slasherthons got complicated when we stopped living in the same apartment, they got even more so when I moved into a different region of the state.  We did single night double or quadruple features a few times and we’ve done some via Skype, most of which had no theme, including just watching the slasher TV mini-series Harper’s Island, which was fantastic.  The last three years we’ve managed one Slasherthon with a real theme-Slasherthon XI: Maximum Anthologize, which was all horror anthologies.  WE did do a theme last year: Slasherthon XII: ADA Compliant, which featured Hush and The Spiral Staircase, but we ran out of time before we could really get into the list of films we had going to think about.  So far Slasherthon XIII appears to be themed “More Sci-Fi Than Horror” given that it has only featured two films: Under the Skin and The Endless, and it’s unlikely to have more unless we extend things to the end of the year (which is not unheard of).

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Under the Skin came first-Kimenstein suggested The Endless, I parried with some other suggestions that were undoubtedly for movies older than we are. In the end we brought in another old friend, The Snork Maiden, and through complex negotiations that may or may not have involved her being a giant scaredy-cat and my allergy to watching TV shows over Skype, we arrived at sort-of horror, mostly science fiction and very much cerebral Under the SkinUnder the Skin is the best mash-up of A Taste of Cherry (the inclusion of real men on the street who didn’t realize they were being filmed put into a culturally charged situation), The Man Who Fell to Earth (the gradual acclimation of an alien to Earth and the encounter ending poorly) and folk stories about men encountering beautiful supernatural creatures and following them to their doom you’re likely to encounter (Monstrous Industries most important PSA should cover this one).  I quite enjoyed it even if what it says about the men and women and humans isn’t as deep as it thinks it is and the opaque nature of the tale doesn’t quite work-what is here is intriguing enough that it’s worth a look for fans of science fiction.

October 16th:  I continued to mine my memories of old Disney and Warner Brothers Halloween specials that simply cobbled together old shorts with new linking segments and showed the kids The Old Mill The Old Mill is most interesting as a precursor to both Fantasia (in that Disney was seeking to marry music to images to produce moods at a higher level than simply cute cartoons) and Legend of Sleepy Hollow and other animated “frightening moments” which take images directly from it.

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After they went to bed I drifted in and out of paying attention to Voodoo Man, a 1944 William Beaudine Poverty Row thriller that casts Bela Lugosi as a man who attempts to use voodoo to restore  his dead wife to life…at a cost to the women he abducted.  The women briefly switch places with his wife, putting them into a state of suspended animation and briefly reviving her, but in the end Lugosi has wound up with a small harem of women in suspended animation a la Karloff’s wife in The Black Cat. He’s helped along by George Zucco, who is sort of playing the original gas station owner from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in that he sets up the abductions of women who stop at his place for gas, and John Carradine, playing one of Lugosi’s servants who gets a little too interested in the comatose women.  Between the way he’s dressed and acts, how he calls Lugosi Master and his conflict with Lugosi over “his” women, (not to mention Lugosi’s academic robes emblazoned with various occult symbols including a pair of hands) one wonders if the filmmakers behind ‘Manos’: The Hands of Fate didn’t have Voodoo Man in mind when they made their film.  Certainly both feature women abducted off a rural road and forced to don diaphanous gowns and join a group of women chained to the fate of a man with occult powers.  I was shocked (and amused) when I discovered one of the only other people claiming the two were connected in any way was my old friend (and fellow 30s and 40s B-movie aficionado) El Santo of 1,000 Misspent Hours and Counting.

 

 

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Somehow, even after exposing The Baroness to 62 minutes of fitful Banner Productions creak, I determined she (and I) needed more terribleness, so I started, but did not  finish, Mr. Boogedy, which I somehow remembered fondly from seeing it as a kid on either the Disney Channel or possibly even on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.  Mr. Boogedy started life as an “Airplane! style” send-up of horror movies called Cheap Thrills that was pitched to Cheech and Chong and retooled.  What remains is a toothless parody of The Amityville Horror and horror films in general that I bailed out on even though it’s only 45 minutes long.  If you want to see Richard Masur, terribly unfunny gag salesman family man, or pre-fame Kristy Swanson and David Faustino I suppose you could do worse, but when both Saturday the 14th and Hysterical are more enjoyable than you are something has gone seriously wrong with your 80s horror movie parody.

Be sure to watch this intro, because holy crap is Disney trying to pass Michael Eisner off as a nice guy beleaguered by ghost special effects one of the most terrifying things I’ve seen this fall.

October 17th:  I continued to listen to Frankenstein, and, uh…Avengers: Infinity War had a sort of Aliens/genestealers from Warhammer 40,000 knock-off creature in it, right?  Suddenly stopping to exist is SCARY!  Terrible 90s nihilism comics being adapted for the MCU is scary!  Right? Guys?

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October 18th:  South Shore Movie Guild Shocktober Night III: 80s Foreign Film Spectacular

This week the Guild was at my house, and I had planned to make sure my movies were supplied either by library DVD/Blu-Ray and/or  library streaming services Hoopla or Kanopy, but in the end the we preferred the English-dubbed cut of Nightmare City to the one on Kanopy.  I somehow ended up deciding to pair 1982 Slasher film also ran Humongous and 1980 sort-of zombie movie Nightmare City together.  I tried pranking the guys by texting a reminder and indicating we’d be watching two classic early 1980s Foreign films, Mephisto and The Shadow Warrior (aka Kagemusha) but no one fell for my tricks.

At least until we started the movies.

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Nightmare City was up first, and it proved to be as entertaining as I hoped it would be from its reputation.  Italy’s genre film industry seized on sub-genre after sub-genre from the late 50s through the 80s before finally succumbing to changes in the market brought on by consolidation, home video, increasing size and power of Hollywood and changing viewing habits.  One of the phases was the zombie film, brought about largely by the enormous success of 1978’s Dawn of the Dead (known as Zombi in Europe) and many variations were tried to cash-in on that film.  In this case, Umberto Lenzi, who directed violent crime, World War Two and cannibal films as well as some 007 cash-ins, latched on to Dawn‘s narrative of the collapse of society and fitted it to something about mutations somewhere between cannibals and zombies.  Victims of a new kind of intense radiation land an unmarked plane in the middle of a major city’s airport and slaughter the police and military sent to greet them.  A reporter happens to be on the scene but is blocked at every turn from warning the population, and soon these blood drinking mutants are taking over the city.  Unlike most zombies, these guys not only run and drink blood (to restore blood destroyed by the radiation or something) they also can use weapons and work as a unit, and since they share many zombie formulations resistance to anything but head shots it’s not long before the unidentified city has completely collapsed.  My only real complaints about Nightmare City are the lack of care in the script and the decision to jam a lot of nudity in by having every other zombie attack start with the zombies tearing off women’s shirts (thanks 1970s/1980s genre film fascination with sexual violence!). Why bother showing the military commander ordering his men to shoot them zombies in the head if we never see a single cop or soldier do it, for example? They also spoil one hell of an ending so we can get a cheap “It’s all happening again!” right out of Invaders From Mars.  Despite these annoyances (and possibly a lack of energy in the whole affair thanks to the attempt to show multiple viewpoints on an unfolding tragedy that is a bit more ambitious than the budget and/or talent allowed) the film is an entertaining slice of Italian cash-in madness worth the time of fans of the same.

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Humungous is a film that I should have skipped. Intrigued by half-remembered readings of web reviews that praised it as an interesting early 80s slasher variant I ignored both an ancient warning from dead critics I stumbled upon and my own Brother Grimm.  Grimm wasn’t absolutely sure he had the right movie but warned me it started with an explicit rape sequence.  I assumed he was talking about The Beast Within, but it ended up that both films start that way (thanks 1970s/1980s genre film fascination with sexual violence!)  I’m not sure that the violence in either film is justified, but The Beast Within at least attempts to explore the impact of its monster rape on the victim, her relationships, and the offspring of the attack. Here’s it’s just a cheap set-up to give us a barely seen “beast” offspring of the attack that lives on after his mother has died. Which is unfortunate for one of the most irritating casts of characters in slasher film history (which is saying quite a bit).  Spending as much time as we do with the teens is unpleasant and adds up to a big nothing-this was the biggest dog of the whole Fall for me…avoid.

October 19th:  After the kids left with the Baroness for daycare I quickly packed, dug around the house fruitlessly looking for black shoes that I didn’t care about, and finally hit up Ocean State Job Lot for some giant think black socks to cover my shoes with. I then discovered I needed air in my tires and gas.  Why all the scrambling?  Well, Friday the 19th was the day I was meeting Brother Grimm and Sis Mortis down in Connecticut to first see Halloween (2018) in the theater and then spend my annual night helping them scare people at a haunted house.

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Halloween: The Year We Were Old

I made it down in time and the only way my companions to see Halloween (2018) would’ve been more perfect would be if my aunt and cousins I watched Halloween II and 4 with were also there.  As it was we had a great time with the movie. Although I have quite a few reservations about it, I feel comfortable damning it with the faint praise of “one of the top three Halloween sequels.”  I’m glad Jamie Lee Curtis got to play the part again and take it in a new direction (in fact I’d have preferred a lot more of that to the scenes with her granddaughter or, even better, the side plots about podcasters, the first cop to arrive on the scene in 1978, and Loomis’s protegé, especially that last one).  I do wish they’d toned down the reboot/remake elements and had just made a sequel but considering how dire most Halloween sequels are it’s not too bad.

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The haunt was The Trail of Terror, one of the top haunts in Connecticut.  We apparently had 2500-3000 people come through on

 

Friday night and I had a blast.  Dressed as a zombie, I teamed up mostly with Sis Mortis in a crypt set largely built by Brother Grimm, who does amazing work making styrofoam look like stone and brick.  My top scare of the night was probably the guy who thought he was going to scare his friend who was checking out my sister, but didn’t realize I was right behind him-it’s really something when you can get a guy who’s about 10″ taller than you are to run away.  I’m told management complimented our work so I’m looking forward to doing it again next year!

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October 20th:  After dropping by my mom’s house it was time to get back on the road so I could make a stop along the way to hang out with the Snork Maiden in person.  On my way I finished Frankenstein, which Snork had herself recently read and was doing a project with for a graphic design class.  Frankenstein was either a more rewarding listen than read, something I needed to read when I was middle-aged and not middle-school, or both, because this time around I really enjoyed it.  Yes, there are some intensely early 19th century things going on, and perhaps a bit of “I am a literary radical person raised by literary radical people and let’s talk philosophy through this genre I’m inventing” going on but it is still powerful in many points-and fascinating to observe just how many horror and sci-fi films it inspired.

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We ended up seeing Bad Times at the El Royale, which is more in the vein of the mystery thrillers I started my binge with than a horror film, but…it does feature a Charles Manson stand-in and some intense scenes, so…well, it counts a little bit.  I’m not sure I was sold on it, but there are absolutely funs to be had from watching the cast work (with an exception or two) and some satisfying times to be had unraveling the mystery and allowing yourself to be surprised what ultimately is revealed about some of the characters.

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After some minor shopping, I bid adieu and finished my drive home.  Along the way I was occasionally outraged listening to the opening “ranking” episode of the In Vorhees We Trust With Gorely and Rust podcast.  Once home I watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, with MicroMort and the Lil Baroness.  A great time was had by all.

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October 21st:  Kimenstein and I watched The Endless over Skype and I must say I was a more than a little disappointed with it.  There’s a great set up undone by a mixture of the weird way the script plays the story and the directors themselves, who chose to play the lead brother characters in a way that never takes the story very seriously.

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