Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Comb your goddamn hair.

It was Saturday October 19th and I was at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles for the 2019 All-Night Horror Show and I was worried that all the good seats would be taken by the time I got in. But considering that tickets to this event sold out in mere seconds, I thought to myself "Hey, at least I have a ticket, good seat or not".

I define a good seat as one with quick access to the aisle, that way I wouldn't have to inconvenience my fellow moviegoers by doing the whole "excuse me pardon me sorry excuse me pardon me" thing all night every time I needed to go to the restroom to snort a line or two. Luckily, I found a good seat despite having a guy with bedhead sit in front of me, which meant that every once in a while he would sit up straight, his wayward strands sticking up through the bottom of the screen every which way but loose, resulting in me watching the films as if I were viewing them through a creepy cornfield -- which kinda added to the whole Halloween vibe, he said while trying to make a positive out of the overwhelmingly negative.

The night began with an intro by host/programmers Brian Quinn and Phil Blankenship; they gave us a quick rundown of what to expect: six horror films -- all secret surprise picks of which we would not know until they played -- and as is the custom with the All-Night Horror Show, the movies would not be old or new favorites that are often seen around this time of year, they would all be films that were rarely screened in this neck of the woods, that is, if they were ever screened at all. Brian credited Phil for doing ninety percent of the work for the last couple All Nighters; Phil then said to us that if we loved any of the films shown tonight, they were his choices, if we hated any of the films, it was all Brian.

The lights went down, and we were treated to a Mighty Mouse cartoon called "The Witch's Cat", about a witch flying around town on a broomstick, looking for mice to feed to her cat, who is also along for the ride. They find a group of Halloween-celebrating mice, and the chase begins. Now it's been nearly a month, so my memory is kinda hazy, but I think that at some point Mighty Mouse eventually came in to save the day.

Following that, we watched a trailer reel that included the films Meat Cleaver Massacre, Deadly Games, He Knows You're Alone, Silent Scream, and The Final Terror.

The first film turned out to be 1988's Edge of the Axe directed by Joseph Braunstein, which is a funny way to spell Jose Ramon Larraz. Senor Braunstein helms this movie about a mask-wearing axe murderer going around axe-murdering all the ladies in a small woodsy town somewhere up there in the mountains -- and good luck convincing the sheriff about these murders, by the way. He's more concerned about keeping the pristine reputation of his town, so if, let's say, a woman's rotting corpse is discovered hanging upside down from the attic of a bar, well, that there is clean-cut case of suicide. Say, wasn't that part-time hooker found dead near the train tracks with multiple wounds that look to have been done with an axe? Nope, that there is just another everyday case of someone walking onto the tracks and getting hit by a train.

But I can't blame the sheriff. I can only blame the people who go along and enable his bullshit, like the owner of said bar and the conductor of said train and the deputy who picks up evidence with his bare hands before taking it to get dusted for fingerprints. Most of all, I blame the people who voted for this man to become sheriff in the first place. They should've seen this coming, but no, they liked him because to quote one of these assholes in an anecdote I just made up, "He speaks just like I speak".

If you like giallo-ish movies that make little to no sense and feature laughable dialogue and performances, then give Edge of the Axe a try. It was a hit with the crowd, getting big reactions from scenes like the one where the hero's love interest tries out his fancy computer -- a computer that has the ability to speak in an echo-y voice that sounds like a bored narrator -- and she types in a question. The hero asks her what question did she ask the computer, and she replies "I asked it if you were gay."

A fair question to ask, because considering how shitty the women get treated in this film, all the men in this town must either be super gay or ultra hetero -- that's right, kids, here no penis resides in the middle.

The answer the computer gives to the love interest's gay question, by the way, is "Data incomplete", and that's why I miss the 1980s. Because nowadays you don't even have to ask your computer, it's already volunteering those answers to you whether you want to know or not.

After a trailer reel that included Dracula: Prince of Darkness, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, The Gorgon, Night of the Blood Monster, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Mummy's Shroud, Twins of Evil, and Hands of the Ripper, the second film turned out to be a rare Technicolor print of the 1967 Hammer production, Quatermass and the Pit (or as it was known in the United States, Five Million Years to Earth), which takes place in the land of free healthcare and bad teeth and evidently worse public transportation, because a bunch of these Brits have to deal with the temporary closure of one of their subways.

You know how it is, it's the same everywhere; every year these different city departments want to ensure they get the same (if not more) amount in their yearly budget, and if they haven't spent it all, they won't get it. So down they go, tearing up perfectly fine places while leaving the areas in need of fixing alone. Well, these clowns are in for a surprise, because they end up finding the skeletal remains of, get this, ape-men.

Yeah, right. I don't know about you, I didn't come from some ape. I came from the first two humans placed here on this planet by God -- and their names were Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! Yeah, that's right, I heard about you. I asked the computer and it told me everything I needed to know.

You know who would probably agree with me? (About the ape-men, not your sexual preference.), Professor Quatermass, who is pretty sure these supposed ape-men are actually aliens from five million years ago, and he's probably right on account of the giant metallic vessel they end up digging up. Gradually, weird and crazy stuff happens, and at one point -- if this is a spoiler, then you have clearly discovered the time travel and you need to go back 52 years to when this movie was new -- Martians get mixed up in the plot, and when you see them during a sequence that involves recording someone's deeply hidden psychic thoughts, well, it's not quite the video log from the Event Horizon. Based on some audience members reactions, I wasn't alone in thinking, how, uh, quaint these Martians looked.

OK, fine, they look like grasshoppers. I don't mean the drink, either, I mean like the insect Johnny 5's stupid ass crushed before realizing he couldn't reassemble it. Hey, I mentioned the drink just a sentence ago and speaking of drinks, there's a part where one dude working at the pit starts losing his shit, and so this lady pulls a flask out of her bag to give this guy a shot of Calm The Hell Down. I want to party with this chick, who's more down with the spirits than Quatermass, who prefers not to drink before noon; he sounds like a man who's never had the pleasure of a 7am beer, if you ask me. Ah, there's nothing like a 7am beer -- except a 7am beer while taking a shower ohhhhh

I had never seen the BBC serial this all originated from, but I have seen the previous Quatermass films, The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II: Electric Boogaloo, and I got a kick out of them.  They're all so properly British while everything around them gets increasingly nutty. I liked this film the most, and if you like ultra-serious, deliberately paced sci-fi films with touches of horror here and there, you might dig this too. Or check out the 1985 Tobe Hooper movie Lifeforce, which I see as an unofficial Quatermass film that's doped up on cocaine, mescaline, and Ecstasy.

Before the third film, we were treated to an episode of The Beatles television cartoon series from the 1960s, which included a story about a mad scientist who tries to force Paul to marry a vampire bat woman, and another story where the Fab Four are messing around in a wax museum. I didn't even know The Beatles had a television series, and I wish I could tell you that it was good, but aside from the use of actual Beatles songs on the soundtrack, it was really nothing to scream about, not unless you were a teenage girl in the 60s who would scream for anything Beatles related.

That was followed by a trailer reel that included The Beast with Five Fingers, Attack of the Giant Leeches, I Was A Teenage Werewolf, the original Little Shop of Horrors, The Thing from Another World, and White Zombie.

After the trailers, we watched a short subject titled "Intimate Interviews", about a lady by the name of Dorothy West -- not to be confused with the Harlem Renaissance writer of the same name -- who goes to interview Bela Lugosi in his back yard. They discuss his Hungarian background, his study of American slang, and other things, before Bela suddenly stares off at the middle distance and says "I'm coming", which creeps Miss West out and she runs away.

We all had a good laugh with that one, before settling in for 1943's The Mad Ghoul, about a college professor named Morris who in between teaching pre-med students and future Big Pharma types about chemicals and their chemistry, likes to do things like kill innocent monkeys with nerve gas. This asshole didn't even come up with the recipe for this gassy concoction himself, he took it from the ancient Mayans -- as opposed to the modern Mayans -- who would use the gas to kill their sacrificial victims, before taking the sacrificial victims' heart out as part of some dumb ritual that is supposed to appease their stupid gods.

So Morris ends up using the gas on his big strapping lad of a student, Ted, on account of the good doctor having a thing for Ted's girlfriend, Isabel. The way it works is, he gassed this dude, effectively killing him. But then he juices him up with fluid from the hearts of the recently deceased, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make yourself a mindless zombie who will do your bidding. By day, Ted -- more like Dead, am I right, people? -- is pretty much in regular person mode, still trying to work things out with Isabel, and by night, he is the titular Mad Ghoul, going on a killing tour with Dr. Morris, who instructs him to murder various people in order to continue with his experiments.

When he's in Mad Ghoul mode, Ted reminded me of the mind controlled assassins from the first Naked Gun film; I know they were referencing The Manchurian Candidate with that movie, but I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there wasn't a little subconscious pull from this movie as well? Or did the filmmakers behind The Manchurian Candidate take from The Mad Ghoul? Or maybe they didn't see The Mad Ghoul, but maybe Richard Condon, the author of the novel "The Manchurian Candidate", maybe he saw this film and stole from it, in between stealing from the Robert Graves novel "I, Claudius"? Or maybe I should just move on?

So, you hear Isabel sing a couple times during the film, and it reminded me of how lame music used to be until they invented black people. Don't get me wrong, her singing is pretty, I'm just saying it's the kind of singing that goes well with mayonnaise and watercress, washed down with a weak cup of tea. Is this the time period certain people refer to as to when America was Great? If so, are these the same people who talk about "taco trucks on every corner" as if that were a bad thing? Because that would make sense, I mean, what I'm saying is, I can see those same people growing up in New Hampshire or wherever the fuck they all come from, these Dartmouth attending fucks -- the men in plaid suits and straw boater hats, the women in tennis dresses and saddle shoes -- and they're all strolling down the streets snacking on toasted cheese sandwiches while snapping their fingers because everything is Mighty Fine?  Is that what we are supposed to want to come back to?

I don't know, man. I don't even like watercress.

While no unforgettable classic, The Mad Ghoul is an entertaining "programmer" -- to use the parlance of the times -- and it's good times in a second-half-of-a-double feature sort-of-way, and if you're the kind of person who has Turner Classic Movies on all day in the background, you'll probably like this movie. I am that kind of person, and so I did.

During the intro to the next film, Phil told us that with only three movies left, we would be watching the three best Ghoulies films, he then told us, all kidding aside, that the film we were about to watch would also be first ever repertory screening, and that it took some legal wrangling in order to pull it off. We watched a trailer reel featuring Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Disturbing Behavior, Urban Legends: Final Cut, and Don't Say a Word, followed by a U.K. print of the fourth feature of the night: The 2000 film Cherry Falls, and this is where I give out a long sigh because this stars the late Brittany Murphy, who honestly should still be here with us being goofy and adorable and talented as hell and all that, but she isn't, what are you gonna do? Well, for starters you can remember her by watching some of the better movies she was in, such as this one. Murphy plays Jody, your typical small town teenager living your typical teenager small town life, except things are getting decidedly non-typical when someone starts murdering her fellow typical teens for the sin of not sinning. What I mean is that this wacko is killing virgins.

It's such an inspired premise; usually these slashers are about the punishment of deviants who lay down with the demons of drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex, but in this film, it's the chaste who are getting chased and once the town sheriff played by Michael Biehn discovers this, he's faced with quite the conundrum. I mean, how does one tell the entire town that a serial killer is targeting virgins, and if so, will you even get taken seriously, and if one is taken seriously, what then? Will this mean all the non-experienced are gonna running out the door in some kind of wanna-bang frenzy? You'll have to watch the movie to find out.

Personally, I think you'd have to tell everybody this, not just to save lives but because as someone who owns stock in both Durex and Trojan, I would appreciate all the extra money I would make off of all these kids. In fact, I think if I had the wherewithal to do this, I'd fund some tactical assassinations in small towns all over this great country of ours. You'd find the virgins through Reddit and 4Chan and trick them into thinking they're gonna get some, then you'd give 'em all Colombian neckties, and spraypaint the word VIRGIN on their chests so there'd be no mistake. No one would miss those kids except their fellow miscreants and maybe their parents. And how the money would flow.

As the trailers that preceded this alluded to us, Cherry Falls is very much of-and-from the glut of teen slashers that came out post-Scream in the late 90s to early 2000s, but it's also one of the better post-Scream-ers. It's closer to that Wes Craven joint in tone, in that there's just as many laughs as there are scares. But while it's very much a smart-ass satire at times, there are also very strong and sincere dramatic moments that might catch you off guard; for me, it was specifically an exceptionally acted scene between Murphy and Candy Clark taking place in a library that reminded me: Oh yeah, this is from the director of Romper Stomper.

But by the time of the -- ahem -- climax, the film pulls out all the stops and based on the reactions from the audience, they were digging it as much as I was digging it. It certainly seemed to wake them up from what I could sense was a bit of slumber time with the last couple deliberately paced films. I realized how lucky we were to get to see Cherry Falls in a movie theater, considering that it didn't even get a theatrical release in the United States, where instead it premiered in an edited-for-television version on the basic cable USA network; reportedly, it was a toxic combination of a change of distributors plus the United States Senate shining an unwanted post-Columbine spotlight on teen violence in movies that sinked it. That's too bad, because I think among all the Scream wannabes out there making tidy profits, Cherry Falls coulda been a contender.

We were then told that there were free doughnuts outside the theater, and I decided not to partake as a way to demonstrate to myself that I did indeed have willpower and that I was indeed a man of strength. That, and I also didn't want to risk the sugar crash that would make it tougher to get through the night. It was a noble experiment that resulted in failure, when after holding out for the entire break, I went ahead and grabbed a delicious old fashioned before the next trailer reel began.

Before the lights dimmed, we were told by Brian and Phil that the last two films would play back to back, with no intermission between them, as there had been between the previous films. They then thanked the projection staff for keeping things running smoothly, as well as the audience for keeping up with all the craziness of the evening. Then we watched old previews for the films Mark of the Witch, The Witch's Curse, Simon King of the Witches, and The Exorcist, so it wasn't too hard to guess that the next movie was going to involve witches and devil shit.

Sure enough, the fifth film of the marathon, the 1975 Spanish production Demon Witch Child, also known as The Possessed or La Endemoniada, involved both subjects. Man, this movie does not mess around; it lets you know how hard it intends to play right from the very beginning, as we watch an old lady walk into a church and proceed to knock things over as if she were a common house cat, then she steals a chalice and walks over to a statue of the Archangel Michael slaying the Devil, where she leaves a candle next to the dark lord, as if he needed any more fire in his life.

See, this old lady is an evil Satan-worshipping witch who is getting all set up for a good ol' human sacrifice for her master, and she makes no bones about her intentions. The witch gets taken in by the police, they give her the third degree because said human sacrifice is a local baby she kidnapped! They even bring in the baby's mother to beg and plead for her son's return, and the witch calls her a bitch, straight out telling her that it ain't gonna happen, and that baby's as dead as my faith in humanity. And while the witch's faith in her master is strong, it's evidently not stronger than sodium pentathol, and upon finding out that the cops are gonna dope her up with truth serum in order to get the boy's location out of her, she exits stage right  -- right out the window and falls to her bloody death.

This news does not go well with the deceased's fellow witches at the coven; after the sacrificing the baby -- I told you this movie doesn't mess around -- they end up giving the police chief's daughter Susan a necklace that allows the spirit of the dead witch to possess her, leading Susan to raise proverbial havoc. First she starts off nice and slow by talking back to her family, then she moves on to playing some of The Exorcist's greatest hits like levitating and swearing up a storm -- she's particularly fond of using pejorative terms for people your computer would identify as gay -- then she moves up to expert level tricks like changing her appearance so instead of looking like the Spanish version of Young Briony Tallis from Atonement, she looks more like the ugly balding witch who resides within, before chopping a dude's penis off and sending it to his lady in a container.

There are a lot of surprisingly harsh moments in this film, and they all sound shocking when described, but the movie goes about them in such a goofy low-rent manner, I mostly laughed through all of it. On top of that, the English dubbing is just as goofy and low rent, and for all I know, watching it in the original language could improve the overall film. But really, I don't think it could improve it by that much. But the important thing is that it's never boring, and that's all you can ask for when watching anything, really. By this point in the marathon, there were quite a few snorers in the audience, so maybe it wasn't as entertaining for them as it was for me.

By the way: if you're predisposed to be snoring, how about you just leave? That's assuming you're by yourself at this marathon -- if you have a friend with you, and he or she is awake, then I'm even angrier that they didn't wake your loud ass up. I usually go to these things with a buddy who does snore, and I am so on top of that shit it's not even funny. I'll start with a nudge, then a shove, then I'll punch you in the arm if that's what it takes, because you are not going to intrude upon the audience's enjoyment -- or mine, for that matter. The rest of you solo snorers and snore-enablers, on the other hand, I'll punch in the fucking face if I had the money and the clout to get away with it.

That's why I have to give it up to the gentleman who sat a couple seats down from me; he started with that snoring during this film and despite being a stranger, I got up and nudged, then shoved him awake. He was up for a while, then he started nodding off -- but he caught himself. So he then got up and left for the rest of the film for what I can only assume was some fresh air, coffee, or a bump, because he came back before the next film and was back to being bright eyed & bushy tailed. At least until he nodded off again and then just took off for good. As he should.

After a sci-fi remake trailer reel that included John Carpenter's The Thing, David Cronenberg's The Fly, Jim Wynorski's Not of This Earth, and Chuck Russell's The Blob, the sixth and final film of the night turned out to be 1993's Body Snatchers, the third adaptation of Jack Finney's novel about humans being replaced with alien duplicates hatched from pods. This version of the story takes place in an Army base and focuses on teenage girl Marti (played by young adult Gabrielle Anwar), who along with her dad, her stepmom, and her half-brother, are new to the whole place.

While Dad's out literally testing the waters on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, Marti's doing the out-of-place youngster thing: not being cool with her stepmom (played by Meg Tilly), making friends with fellow teenage girl Jen and making googly eyes at dreamy helicopter pilot Tim, the entire time trying not to get too weirded out by the occasional odd sight and strange behavior among the soldiers. It's already a creepy enough place knowing that Forest Whitaker is stumbling around the place.

The audience applauded quite a bit during the opening credits, because plenty of genre favorites were involved in the making of the film: among the screenwriters you have B-movie legends Larry Cohen, Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli, and frequent Abel Ferrara collaborator Nicolas St. John, which makes sense because Abel Ferrara directed this film. What doesn't make sense is that Abel Ferrara directed this film.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Ferrara, he is definitely someone I feel comfortable calling an auteur, because his films are very much in a class of their own and they always leave you wanting to take a shower after watching them. He's probably best known for the 1992 film Bad Lieutenant and remains a legend in the independent filmmaking scene and so it's very interesting that Warner Brothers hired the guy to make this mainstream horror movie for them. Based on accounts by Mr. Ferrara, it went about as well as expected, which is to say, not well at all. And in the end, it got thrown away by the studio and remains, in my opinion anyway, criminally underseen.

Of its many qualities, I feel the look of the film is one of them. The cinematographer was Bojan Bazelli, who had shot Ferrara's previous films and this appears to have been their final collaboration, which is too bad because they made beautiful visual music together. It's all creepy shadows mixed with shafts of lights coming in through window blinds or cracks in doors, and the widescreen compositions have this way of making me feel claustrophobic, where even wide open spaces leave one feeling like there's nowhere to escape.

Which is the whole point, right? It's like one pod person says to some humans attempting to escape: "Go where?" Body Snatchers has such an overwhelming sense of doom to it, where perhaps the aliens have a point and they're not bullshitting when they tell you how screwed you are, because there's nowhere to go because it's happening everywhere, so why not just give up and let it happen, baby.

And the messed up part is, maybe they're right? I mean, look at us. Really, look at us. We fight over everything. We fight over politics, we fight over parking spaces, we're shooting each other at schools and stabbing each other for chicken sandwiches. Why not let the aliens take us over so we'll all finally be one happy family! Well, minus the "happy" part, because these pod people don't do emotions. But hey, I'm too emotional anyway, so let's pod me up so I can be rid of these pesky feelings!

The film is deliberately paced (in other words, slow) and I can see that being tough on a sleepy audience around six in the morning. But that's also kind of the fun part, trying not to fall asleep during a film where characters are warning others not to sleep, because that's when the pod people take you over. It's pretty much broken into two acts, with the first act being all creepy setup, then at the midpoint there's a real banger of a scene featuring Meg Tilly's character, and as that concluded, some of the audience couldn't help but applaud because the scene is that good and Tilly knocks it right out the park! From that point on, the second act is quite the ride and it's fun to watch what Ferrara is able to pull off with big studio money and big studio drugs.

I had seen this film once before on Cinemax back in '94 or '95, and I enjoyed it, but it was a lousy pan-and-scan transfer that really hurt the film, because a lot of the inherent creepiness of this movie comes from the way the shots are composed. Watching it in its full aspect ratio in a dark theatre during the transitional period between night and day, well, it really amped up the chills for me and it was like watching it for the first time, only better.

After the film, it was straight to a Disney cartoon short, "Trick or Treat", starring Donald Duck as a miserable asshole who pranks his trick-or-treating nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, rather than give them candy. I get it -- it's a choice, right? It's right there in the phrase, "trick or treat". But who actually goes with the "trick" option? Miserable assholes, that's who. Thankfully, there's a witch who witnesses all of this and she decides to help the three little ducks out in doling out some much needed payback to that son-of-a-bitch.

Because nothing makes one feel more patriotic about the United States than watching a piece of shit named Donald get a well-deserved punishment, the marathon then concluded with a film of "The Star Spangled Banner" that included on-screen lyrics.

Then the lights came up, and another All-Night Horror Show had come to an end. Before stepping outside to the bright morning light, we were each given a special drink coaster for making it through the night. I grabbed yet another doughnut for the ride home, a glazed. It was now about seven on a Sunday morning, which meant that there was only one thing left for a God-fearing man such as myself to do on a Sunday morning. 

It's the only thing a God-fearing man could do on a Sunday morning, and the only thing a God-fearing man should do on a Sunday morning: I went home and slept.