Vintage Horror

All posts in the Vintage Horror category

Mad Monster Party: The Best Halloween Ticket in Town

Published October 31, 2015 by vfdpixie

Mad Monster Party

Mad Monster Party (1967, 1 hr., 35 mins.)

 

After searching for a party to attend this Halloween, I finally found the ultimate shin-dig, but I’m going back, way back, to a classic movie that some of you may remember.

When I was a kid, for several years in a row, Mad Monster Party aired on Halloween night, and I would always watch it as I got ready for trick or treating. Putting on my costume, I would giggle as Baron Von Frankenstein held court with his monster dinner guests, ready to reveal his crazy plans.  Directed by the king of animated specials Jules Bass, this “Animagic” feat is a heap of silly but I still marveled at the skill needed to create this wacky stop-motion film.

Baron Boris von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) has completed his ultimate goal and is retiring. After mastering the secret to creation with his monster and his mate, he has now created a deadly elixir and would like to share the news with his monster colleagues and announce his successor.  He decides to throw a dinner party at his Isle of Evil where he’ll reveal his destructive formula and his human nephew, the allergy-ridden pharmacist Felix Flankin, as the new head of the World Wide Organization of Monsters.  Francesca (Gale Garnett) his secretary is not pleased with his choice, and when his ghoulish guests arrive, they are also upset a human will be taking over.  After a night of eating, dancing and rough-housing, everyone plots to get rid of Felix, and devilish double crossings throw all plans into chaos.

This is some silly fun that fills the nostalgia void. The characterizations of classic monsters such as Dracula, the Hunchback, and the Werewolf are beyond cute, and the relentless one-liners they spew are ridiculous.  Silly gag after silly gag, my favourite being the Baron’s assistant Yetch and his detachable head, make you chuckle, and the musical numbers are really clever, not to mention all the little horror details like the zombie bellhops and a skeleton band that pepper this old-school gem.

A cast of four was all it took to bring the monsters to life. Along with Boris Karloff, the always hilarious Phyllis Diller played the monster’s mate, Gale Garnett husky tones voiced the sultry Francesca, and veteran voice actor and impersonator Allen Swift mastered the rest of the characters, adding unique personalities such as Peter Lorre (Yetch), and Jimmy Stewart (Felix) to each horror icon.  Pay attention to the film’s theme sung by Ethel Ennis as well.  It’s a jazzy treat sung in a James Bond style.  This is entertainment through and through, and a must-have for any horror collector.

Mad Monster Party is a creature caper that will have you laughing in spite of yourself. It’s campy, sometimes sophisticated, but most importantly, a joy to watch every Halloween.

Have a safe and happy Halloween my creepy peeps!!

 

My favourite number in the movie.  The monsters are so cute!!

Pixie’s Walk Down Memory Lane and the 40th Anniversary of Black Christmas!

Published December 22, 2014 by vfdpixie

Black Christmas

Black Christmas (1974, 1 hr 38 mins)

My Christmas post for 2014 is about a Canadian classic.  Made in 1974 and said to be one of the first slasher films, Black Christmas has a special place in my heart.  It is not only one of my top 5 horror films, but also a favourite of my childhood friends.  As kids, we would discuss it at length and giggle at the scary parts. They have since moved out of town, but when we come across it on T.V. or pop it in the V.C.R. or D.V.D. player, we always text each other.

When I heard that Rue Morgue was putting on a 40th anniversary screening of the film at the Royal Cinema, I had to go.  Imagine seeing it on the big screen as it was intended with fellow fans as we walk down Memory Lane?  With one of the films stars in attendance?  And the option to purchase a limited edition poster?  Yes please!

The story, loosely based on real murders that happened in Montreal, is about a sorority house that is plagued with obscene calls made by a mysterious and murderous nut-job as he kills the girls off one by one.  It has become an iconic Christmas horror movie that, to the trained eye, uses some very familiar locations and is slice of Canadian history.  From the search party scene filmed in the neighbourhood that I grew up in at Grenadier Pond (the source of some historical myths), to University of Toronto where I pursued higher education, Black Christmas is a map of an old Toronto even though it is set in the fictional U.S. town of Bedford.

Starring Hollywood heavies such as John Saxon, Olivia Hussey, Andrea Martin and Margot Kidder, the organizers invited Art Hindle, who played the fur-clad Chris, to host the screening.  Hindle is a busy Canadian actor who has worked on shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and the award-winning Canadian series E.N.G.  He has a face that is easily recognizable, and it was great to see him in the flesh, wearing the actual fur coat monstrosity from the film that he kept after all these years as a souvenir.

wpid-20141220_1928322.jpg.jpeg

Art Hindle, second from the left, in his fur coat, with Rue Morgue’s Dave Alexander and Lee Howard with one of his Quiet Room Bears- The special edition Black Christmas Bear

young art

Art Hindle in 1974 as Chris in all his furry glory with Olivia Hussey as Jess in tow!

Before the movie started, Hindle answered some questions about his experience being in the film.  He said that he took the role of Chris to make money, plain and simple, because he had to support his family.  A chat with Margot Kidder convinced him to go to Los Angeles to find more work because Toronto at the time was not booming in the entertainment industry.  He also raved about late director Bob Clark’s “consummate craft of filmmaking”.  Hindle felt Clark was a genius and cited the classic teen sex comedy Porky’s as a technically advanced film, despite its subject matter; in fact, Hindle pointed out that the crew would often consult Clark beyond his directorial skills because he was so technically well-rounded.

As I watched the film on the big screen, I realized my favourite aspect of Black Christmas was the deliciously slow camera shots that either panned across rooms or came in for close-ups-the epitome of building tension-as well as the killer’s point of view camera work, which was apparently mounted on camera man Bert Dunk’s shoulder.  Along with the tension came the jarring score by Carl Zittrer.  Christmas carols surrounded by jangling discordant notes, eerie wind mixed with moans, and heavy breathing, all culminating when Jess’s high-strung boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) blows a gasket and destroys a perfectly good grand piano.  Those angry sounds resonated throughout the film as things got worse.

Another key element was the well-placed comedy.  Writer Roy Moore, along with script revisions from Clark, incorporated dark humour that punctuated the action so cleverly.  Among the most memorable moments were Kidder’s dry portrayal of the perpetually drunk Barb and the fellatio phone number scene, and Sergeant Nash’s (Doug McGrath) general oblivion.  Add the foreboding old school telephone ring which was central to the film and the truly creepy, rambling phone calls, and you have all the ingredients for an entertaining and well-crafted horror movie that has become a cornerstone of the horror genre.

To mark the anniversary, a limited edition poster was created.  Toronto based artist Ghoulish Gary Pullin, who has had a multitude of clients such as Rue Morgue Magazine, Dread Central, and Anchor Bay Entertainment just to name a few, and won for best movie poster for the documentary Why Horror? at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, was invited to reinterpret the look of the Black Christmas movie poster.  I am not normally a poster type gal, but when I saw it, I needed to have one. Silk-screened and featuring metallic silver inks, it is truly a thing of beauty.  Pullin was actually on site to personally hand out prints and say hello!  He said he was humbled when he was asked to do the poster and was a genuinely nice guy and obviously extremely talented.

garypullin

The limited edition poster by Ghoulish Gary Pullin

My first experience with Black Christmas will always be remembered as a popcorn and pyjama movie with close friends, but I had a lot of fun seeing it loud and proud on its historic 40th anniversary.  It was great to sit with an audience as we laughed and shrieked at some old school horror.  Who knew a little film about a crank caller and murdered sorority girls would be such an industry trailblazer!  So glad I made it out to revisit the mystery of Billy, Agnes and the baby!

Merry Christmas, dear reader!

*I would like to dedicate this post to my childhood friends who loved this film as much as I did, and to their loved ones who recently left us.  Terry and Sharon lost their father Desmond on September 3rd, and Tessa and Suzette, Desmond’s nieces, lost their beloved friend Danny December 11th.  May they find solace in the memories and the good times with their friends and family, and here’s to a happier new year for us all.  

Hellmouth TADFF 2014

Published October 27, 2014 by vfdpixie

hellmouth

Hellmouth (2014, 1 hr 35 mins)

 

The trailer for Hellmouth was exciting.  It had a definite retro feel, and there was a campiness that lead me to believe that there were some laughs to be had.  What I came to realize is that it is an unexpectedly beautiful surrealist horror; a swirling combination of both modern and classic influences.

Charlie Baker is retiring.  After many years of working as a grave-digger and tending to a bleak, solitary environment, he is going to pack up his bags and head to Miami where he can actually talk to people, and not be tormented by the local kids.  He is also ill, a husk of a man, battling an episodic brain disorder that will eventually kill him.  Definitely time served, but an unexpected visit from Mr. Whinny (Boyd Banks), his supervisor, presents a 6 month, non-negotiable extension that crushes Charlie to the core.  He must travel to the Forks of Heaven Cemetery, possibly the creepiest final resting place ever, where his grave tending duties take a nightmarish turn.  His journey becomes one of life-changing proportions, and with the help of a mysterious woman Fay, he will battle demons, beasties, convicts and his own limitations to save himself and the woman he grows to love.

I was completely drawn in by the visuals of this film.  The effects created by Nick Flook were really beautiful; black and white with pops of colour that to me, indicated glimmers of hope in such a bleak world.  During the Q & A after the film, director John Geddes was asked about whether Sin City was an influence.  He definitely acknowledged the influence, but wanted Hellmouth to have more of an Ed Wood feel.  I saw the obvious similarities with the Frank Miller film, but you will quickly realize that aside from being technically and visually similar, this film’s story makes you forget any Sin City reference.  Other references you may notice are of course Dante’s Inferno as well as a touch of Samuel Beckett’s absurdism and Lynchian surrealism that created a great visual and cerebral package.

The performances were fantastic.  As you may know, I love Stephen McHattie.  He can do no wrong in my eyes.  His portrayal of a broken and weary Charlie was spot on; a perfect conduit for this character which was a custom fit.  I will echo the sentiment from the crew that without Mr. McHattie, there would be no film.  Siobhan Murphy was gorgeous as the mysterious femme fatale and guide for Charlie, and it was great to see Canadian indie directing great Bruce McDonald play a cameo role in what was probably my favourite part of the film in which creepy detective Cliff Ryan (Mark Gibson) recounts the fates of doomed cemetery staff before Charlie.

Writer Tony Burgess, who also wrote Pontypool and Septic Man, was also at the screening.  Always entertaining, he told the audience that he at first balked at the story Geddes brought to him.  The world as a cemetery?  He thought it was “bat shit crazy”, but committed to it anyway.  What looked crazy on paper ended up being a great story, examining one man’s relationship with his mortality and love to become an unlikely, but worthy hero.  This team of Geddes, Burgess, McHattie et al can stay together if they are going to bring us thoughtful and beautiful films like Hellmouth.  Treat yourself and go see this weird and exciting marriage of retro-stylized horror and technology.

Annabelle: Play Date From Hell

Published October 14, 2014 by vfdpixie

annabelle

Annabelle (2014, 1 hr, 38 mins)

Remember that creepy doll from The Conjuring?  The one based on the real Annabelle ragdoll paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren kept (and still keep) behind glass because she was so supernaturally dangerous?  Well her story is finally here, presented as a prequel to the wildly successful possession film about a family plagued by angry spirits.

Annabelle starts out with the seemingly normal life of a normal couple John (Ward Horton) and Mia Gordon (Annabelle Wallis) a year before the Perron family experience their nightmare.  Happy and expecting their first child, they are god-fearing, wholesome and sweet, and John has a bright if not stressful future as a doctor.  One evening, after a mild spat, John presents Mia with one of the ugliest and creepiest dolls you will ever see to complete her rare, ugly and creepy doll collection in their baby’s nursery.  After a home invasion where murderous cult members attack John and Mia, a series of chilling events escalate into a battle between good, evil and innocent souls.

I think I am the only person who enjoyed this movie.  After reading countless reviews slamming this film, I am going out on a limb to say that this is a solid prequel. The Conjuring is a hard act to follow, so to put that much expectation on a second film is a little unfair, especially when the writer, Gary Dauberman, is creating an entire background for the doll instead of picking and choosing from factual accounts found in The Conjuring.  I wonder if it’s younger reviewers who don’t like the old school references and low-fi horror?  Or maybe I am becoming senile?  I personally appreciated the nods to classic films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, from the protagonists names honouring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, to the somewhat gloomy apartment they move to, and the archetypical priest, but maybe I am too simple in my tastes?  Who knows.  You may also notice lead actress Wallis’ first name Annabelle is a weird coincidence, and her uncanny resemblance to Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski’s late wife who was tragically murdered by Charles Manson and his followers while she was pregnant.  It is a clever mix of casting, historical events, and writing that perpetuates a feel and style of vintage horror that doesn’t become campy or tongue-in-cheek.  This is due in part to the great sets and wardrobe, and minimal but seamless special effects to respect the classic forerunners.

Low tech doesn’t mean the film wasn’t scary though.  I enjoyed the jump scares and really dark, chilling scenes that will be nightmare fodder for years to come.  There are also a couple of old school household accidents involving a sewing machine and Jiffy Pop that I was constantly warned about as a kid.  And that doll?  Annabelle’s design, created by special fx artist Tony Rosen, was absolutely hair-raising.   As the evil grew within, her already disturbing face became more hideous in the most subtle but spine-tingling way.  Her lack of movement was also key in this film.  They didn’t cheapen the terror by making her walk around or move a limb.  It created a fantastically sickening anticipation and authentic fear.  I think a lot of people will wonder why these dolls in general were so ugly, but we have to remember the aesthetics of the time.  Creepy looking dolls were a thing back then.  I know because I had a 3 foot Wendy Walker doll that freaked me out a little as a child, in fact, I bet we all had that one doll or toy we had to turn away in order to fall asleep.

The performances were good and almost reminiscent of the vintage General Hospital episodes that Mia watched.  Again, not campy, but understated to mimic the wholesome values of the times, although the motherhood message was a little overdone.  I really enjoyed Evelyn, played by the ageless Alfre Woodard, the book store owner that befriends and eventually helps Mia.  I am so grateful that she wasn’t a stereotype of what Hollywood would paint an African-American woman to be in the late 60’s (whatever that is!).  Her character was a grieving mother who felt a kinship with Mia, and this role could have been played by anyone.  Kudos to the casting team and producers for choosing a woman of colour.  My only issue with the film is the introduction of some children in Mia’s building.  I wished they would have explored their characters.  Also look out for my favourite demon/composer Joseph Bishara, the go-to for the James Wan team of terror, who is always terrifying.

I will state again, at the risk of having popcorn or a shoe thrown at me, that I liked Annabelle.  I might be alone in my enjoyment, but I think it’s good for younger horror fans who haven’t experienced the classics yet, and great for us oldies who love a good throwback that pays homage to well-made vintage horror.

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