Vintage Horror

All posts in the Vintage Horror category

Thirsty Peelers, Frat Boys, and Grace Jones

Published November 26, 2013 by vfdpixie

vamp

Vamp (1986, 1 hr 33 mins)

I’ve been sick for far too long.  Hacking, coughing, and low-grade fevers have me yearning for perfect health like, say….a Vamp?   Is there any other way to make myself feel better than a dose of immortality a la Grace Jones?  I vaguely remember this movie when it was first run in 1986, but when my good friend “T-Bone” loaned me her copy a while ago, I had to get my own.  I mean, Grace Jones as a vampire?!  Too good to pass up!  Well before From Dusk Till DawnVamp‘s menacing stripper vampires serves up a large helping of classic ’80’s horror fare with a side of cheese.

This ridiculous story starts with 2 frat house pledges, Keith (Chris Makepeace) and A. J. (Robert Rusler) as they swindle themselves out of a botched pledging ceremony by offering to throw their future brothers a party they would never forget.  That would of course involve a stripper, and after striking out with gals in A.J.’s black book, the guys enlist rich dork Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) and his car to go on a stripper quest.

They end up on the wrong side of town that gets suspiciously quiet after dark.  Unless you are a gang of intimidating albinos lead by Snow (Billy Drago), or some loser regulars at the aptly named After Dark Club, which is where the boys intend to enlist one of the nubile ladies for their party.  They get eyefuls of lady parts, and are virtually mesmerized by Katrina (Grace Jones), the star performer.  A. J. feels this is their woman, and goes off for a private meeting to charm her into coming back to the frat house party.  Keith meets a girl called Amaretto/Allison (Deedee Pfeiffer) from his past, but is preoccupied when A. J. goes missing, and becomes suspicious when sinister goings-on reveal the true intentions of the club and its bloodthirsty staff.

Sorry man, but I’m biased.  I loved this movie.  Yes, there were a few problems, like a couple overly long scenes and some lame jokes, but this movie took me back to my teen years.  First, I must mention Grace Jones’ bizarre stripper routine.  She sported incredible kabuki-esque makeup, a red wig, and writhed on a man-throne creation by legendary ’80’s artist Keith Haring, who also did her body makeup.  I feel like this scene alone was iconic as she was lithe, stunning and terrifying all at once.  Her only utterances were maniacal laughter or demonic growls throughout the entire movie.  Definitely one of the best vamps ever.  Her seduction scene with A. J. was one of the hottest, cringe-worthy moments as well.   I also loved the music, ’cause it doesn’t get more ’80’s than this!  And with an orginial song “Vamp” sung by Jones herself, it’s just one more treat for us.

When watching the credits roll, I almost fell over!  It read like a who’s who of the era.  Along with Haring, Jones’ costumes were made by Azzedine Alaïa and Issey Miyake.  Oh yes, and ANDY WARHOL as a contributing artist?!  Did I read that right? Wow!!  I shouldn’t be surprised, as Miss Jones was, and still, is a muse and friend to many artists and fashion designers around the world.  Try to look around Katrina’s dressing room to catch glimpses of not only Warhol’s art, but sketches from fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and Richard Bernstein’s iconic image of Jones.  I would bet good money that all the artwork came from her personal collection, and that she has the Keith Haring man-throne in her living room to this day.

Another honorable mention goes to Vic, played by Sandy Baron.  This veteran actor, who played Jack Klompus on Seinfeld, really brought out the creepy as the club manager and Katrina’s faithful lackey.  I loved his crusty, Brooklyn accent and  yearning to get to Vegas (I mean, who doesn’t want to go to Vegas?), where there was sure to be fresh blood.  He had the perfect blend of menace and comedy in his toothy grin.  One of my favourite ’80’s actors, Gedde Watanabe as the nerdy Duncan was great too.  Although the character was rich and Asian, at least he didn’t have a heavy stereotypical accent.  Duncan was a dude who just wanted to hang out with the guys.  Of course Chris Makepeace was a treat to see as well.  He represents the era for me to a T.  Eternally fresh-faced, our unlikely hero ran through sewers, fought albinos, and rescued his friends, all in one night.

O.k., so here is a list of the mild annoyances I found in this film.  The weird neon lighting started to wear on me.  Pink, red, green, and a combination of all three in literally every scene.  Of course the film was set in a bad part of town, at night, in a strip club, but I felt the lighting was overkill.  Dedee Pfeiffer’s character Allison, was annoying.  Bubbly and shrill all at once, her mysterious ditzyiness was too transparent of a ruse for me.  But I wanted her zebra print coat.  I could totally rock that.  Also, even though the cast was richly multicultural, they were, in the end, a bunch of strippers.  Jones’ character did have a position of power as an Egyptian Queen of the Vampires, and their role was to lure their literal meal tickets the easiest way they could.  So if you can get past the objectification of women, which wasn’t overly offensive, and take it for the classic ’80’s romp it is, then you’ll be o.k.  Lastly, I’m not sure what purpose the albino gang had.  Did we really need two antagonists?  Although I loved seeing Billy Drago in that weird get-up, their scenes seemed drawn out.  And speaking of drawn out scenes, the final confrontation between Keith and Katrina the Vampire Queen will elicit a loud groan at the cheap 80’s humour.

If you buy the dvd, the extras are well worth a watch.  There is a really fun and silly short film Dracula Bites the Big Apple by director Richard Wenk which was the inspiration for Vamp, bloopers, and weird rehearsal footage that showed Grace Jones and Wenk going over the seduction/feeding scene.  Let me tell you, I don’t know who was having more fun, Jones attacking Wenk, or Wenk being gnawed on by Jones!

If you were an ’80’s nerd like me, and still are, like me, I highly recommend a trip down memory lane with Vamp to watch pop icon Grace Jones do her thing as one of the best vampires out there!

The Pyx: An Eerie Postcard From The Past

Published July 19, 2013 by vfdpixie

 

the pyx

The Pyx (1973, 1 hr 48 mins)

After a brief and tipsy jaunt in Montreal, I thought it only fitting that I write about a 1973 classic that I stumble upon at Suspect Video.  Filmed in Montreal, and based on a novel by John Buell, The Pyx is a trippy, time jumping story that showcases a very young Christopher Plummer and the striking Karen Black in some lesser known roles.

Elizabeth Lucy (Karen Black) falls to her death from the penthouse of a posh apartment complex, adorned with an inverted crucifix and a pyx (a vessel used to transport the Catholic Host outside the church).  Detective Jim Henderson (Christopher Plummer) is assigned to the case; a sarcastic, hard-nosed but thoughtful cop who’s been around the block.  His partner, Detective Pierre Paquette (Donald Pilon) realizes that she was a prostitute, and piece by piece, Henderson uncovers a mysterious plot where no one is as they seem, and fear and the occult fuels everyone’s motives.

The story is revealed through two parallel timelines:  Henderson’s present investigation, and events in the past that lead up to Elizabeth’s death.  In my opinion, it is actually two films; a complex weaving of both characters’ race against time.  I found the film to be good, but I would have liked to have seen Henderson’s character expanded just a touch more.  We get to see Karen Black’s great performance of Elizabeth as a world-weary addict/sacrificial lamb (literally), but just a glimpse of Christopher Plummer’s brilliance as the tough cop with a haunting secret.  And when he spoke French in that pseudo-French/British accent, I fell in love with him all over again!  A nod also goes to Jean-Louis Roux, who played Elizabeth’s mysterious client Keerson.  He had very little screen time, but was effectively creepy!

I loved the religious aspect of the film.  It is so fitting since, as I learned on my double-decker bus tour, Montreal has churches all over the place.  Like everywhere.  Made my weird phobia of churches and religious statues more evident, by the way.  Hence the tipsiness, but I digress. The director, Harvey Hart, had his pick of gothic looking churches to convey Elizabeth’s personal conflict with her faith and profession.  And the anticipation of finding the villain, supernatural or otherwise, created a decent amount of suspense.  Just to throw in a quick note, another film that comes to mind is the more recent Kill List (2011).  Check it out for a similar feel. I think it’s an homage to the horror films of the 1970’s.

As a good ’70’s supernatural thriller, The Pyx fits the bill.  Weird, and intricate, it’s definitely worth a watch to see Montreal in the old days, the beautiful Karen Black and her folk singing skills, and a debonair Christopher Plummer rocking some sweet ’70’s suits.

Most Memorable Line:  When Henderson investigates the penthouse Elizabeth fell from, he is challenged by the superintendent. “Are you a superintendent or a lawyer?”, he asks.  The super replies, “I’m the superintendent of this building.”  Henderson then quips, “Then be a good superintendent and stay right there, and shut up.”  Said with such a condescending tone.  Taking notes for the next time I’m challenged…

Favourite Scene:  Instead of a chalk outline, Elizabeth’s body is marked by a string, which is then pulled up and used as a skipping rope by the neighbourhood kids as the camera pans upwards. All to the soundtrack of one of the eerie folk songs written and sung by Karen Black herself for the film.  Talk about ’70’s trippyness!!

Karen Black is currently battling cancer.  If you are interested in her progress, there is a crowd funding site that gives official updates on her condition.  Here is the link. Along with all of her fans, I truly wish her all the best.

Dark Shadows and How to Name a Pixie

Published May 25, 2013 by vfdpixie

house of dark shadows      night of dark shadows

House of Dark Shadows                                Night of Dark Shadows

(1970 1 hr, 37 mins)                                       (1971 1 hr, 35 mins)

My mom was such a huge fan of the gothic ABC T.V. soap Dark Shadows that she named me after one of the characters.  This is original pixie lore, and I wear it like a badge of honour.  How cool/crazy do you have to be to name your wee pixie child after the daughter of a gothic and ghostly dynasty?  My mom really dug all things supernatural, and she has passed this penchant down to me.  I miss her dearly and I feel that today, on my birthday, it is only fitting that I watch House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows as my birthday double feature.

In House of Dark Shadows, governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) looks for her charge, David Collins (David Henesy).  They play a cat and mouse game, while creepy handyman Willie Loomis (John Karlen) who is supposed to help look for David too, decides to instead look for some hidden treasure on the Collins Estate, and gets himself into a spot of trouble as he awakens Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), a vampire and ancient ancestor, and becomes his servant.  Barnabas introduces himself to the Collins clan, Elizabeth (Joan Bennett), Roger (Louis Edmonds), Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) and David, as a distant cousin who just happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to a portrait of Barnabas from the 1700’s.  During a fancy dress ball, Barnabas becomes smitten with Maggie, who looks like his long-lost love Josette.  He is determined to make her his bride, despite Maggie’s attachment to her boyfriend Jeff (Roger Davis).  In the meantime, Barnabas feeds on unsuspecting women, one of them being his cousin Carolyn.  She joins him as an undead and becomes a tad jealous when he reveals that he intends to marry Maggie.  She gets vampy crazy and threatens to reveal Barnabas’ vampire secret.  He confines Carolyn to her crypt, but she escapes and tries to turn her boyfriend Todd (Donald Briscoe).  Sadly, she gets staked.  There is also Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall), who learns of Barnabas’ vampire secret, and she too becomes smitten by his vampire charm.  She creates a cure for him, and he is determined to marry Maggie as he becomes more human-like.  This plan becomes botched by the jealous Dr. Julia, and Maggie’s boyfriend Jeff and creepy Willie have to save the day, but not before Barnabas flits away as a bat.

In the second film, Night of Dark Shadows, we meet artist Quentin Collins (David Selby) and his wife Tracy ( played by the stunning Kate Jackson in her first feature film), who have inherited the Collinwood Estate. It is run by creepy housekeeper Carlotta Drake (Grayson Hall) and Gerrard (James Storm) the stable hand. Quentin is haunted by dream memories of an Angelique Collins (Lara Parker), a woman who was accused, tried and hanged as a witch. She was also having an affair with her husband’s brother, Charles Collins.  Carlotta reveals to Quentin that he is the reincarnated Charles and he must get rid of his wife for the spirit of Angelique, who vowed to return one day.  Quentin becomes lured by the spell of Angelique and the influence of Carlotta.  He also becomes more and more like Charles, Angelique’s lover and more contemptuous towards his wife Tracy.  Their worried friends, Alex (John Karlen) and Claire (Nancy Barrett), intervene when Quentin becomes violent.  Apparently, director Dan Curtis had to edit out several minutes from the film, so it lost some coherency towards the end.  The plot quickly dissolves into Team Carlotta vs. Team Tracy, then Team Quentin & Tracy vs. Team Carlotta & Gerard, and some crazy bongo punctuated fights.

Both films were a lot of campy gothic fun for me.  If I had to pick a favourite though, it would have to be House of Dark Shadows, simply because of my huge inflated ego.  Yes folks, pixie was named after Carolyn Stoddard.  It’s not often these days that I hear a man sigh “Ohhh, Carolyn!!” as he is being fed on by a vampire, or scream, “Carolyn!!” in a vampiric, fevered trance.  Hey, I’ll take what I can get (and no, I’m not skipping back to those scenes continually just to hear my name…I’m not!…really!).  The groovy camera angles and blurred kill shots are things of beauty, as well as the delicious, bright red ’70’s blood.  It’s interesting to see that some of the actors in the first film played completely different characters in the second film, a practice that is most currently seen in American Horror Story.  In the original Dark Shadows T.V. series, there were several story arcs that got a tad confusing as parallel times and storylines occurred with different outcomes.  Check out http://www.collinwood.net/ for detailed episode synopsis and great information on the series, cast and crew.

I was excited to see the 2012 remake by Tim Burton.  I’m a huge fan of his, and couldn’t wait to see what he would bring.  He combined storylines from the 2 films to create campy visual eye candy.  I loved the sets and costuming, and Johnny Depp brought his own unique interpretation of Barnabas.  Helena Bonham Carter was perfectly cast as Dr. Julia Hoffman,  but I was disappointed with the liberties taken with Carolyn’s character.  He stayed true to her being a teen in the original series, but a werewolf?  That blended part of Quentin’s lineage put me off, but then again, the Collins lineage itself is quite a trip.

Of course these two vintage horror films are part of my collection, courtesy of Suspect Video.  So glad I have them as I feel they are a part of my crazy, personal history. Happy Birthday to me!!

Favourite Scenes:  Anything with Barnabas Collins.  Jonathan Frid’s face was so interesting and charismatic, despite not being conventionally handsome.  The same goes for David Selby as Quentin Collins.  I also loved the scene in House of Dark Shadows when the vampire cure goes wrong. The close-ups were kind of revolting and actually scary. Oh, and the slo-mo staking.  Just has to be seen.

Most Memorable Lines:  when Carolyn says to Barnabas, “There’s so much about you that I’m dying to know.”  Um, yeah, you bet sister!

Half Man + Half Ape= All Trog!

Published May 2, 2013 by vfdpixie

Trog

Trog  (1970, 1hr 33 mins.)

This film was Joan Crawford’s last before she disappeared into a reclusive life.  From what I know, this famous actress had quite a turbulent life, and was said to be a bit of a pill, seasoned with good old-fashioned booze.  I’m not here to judge the lady, since life can be a shit show a lot of the time, but for her last film, Trog is definitely going into this pixie’s lovablely stinky files.

Crawford plays the verbose Dr. Brockton, a learned anthropologist who is tending to a hiker that has been traumatized.  You see, Cliff (John Hamill) had been exploring a cave with his two colleagues and happened upon a caveman.  A real live caveman who beats the living crap out of one hiker and scares the bejesus out of Cliff.  The good doctor is intrigued by what terrified Cliff, and wants to get the jump on the local police to find this animal, this thing that had “That face…those eyes!”  When she does find her troglodyte or trog, she is determined to study him for the good of all mankind.  It just takes like, three shots from a tranquilizer gun to nab Trog (Joe Cornelius) after he kicks the crap out of a film crew documenting the discovery and surrounding officials.  Clearly, Trog just wants to be left alone in his dark, damp cave.  Don’t we all?  But despite major opposition from the police, a local rabble-rouser named Murdock (Michael Gough) and her disgruntled colleague Dr. Selbourne (Jack May), Dr. Brockton carries on her research.  She teaches Trog how to be a kinder, gentler caveman by playing with dolls and learning colours, fueled by a strict diet of “fish and lizards”, which incidentally, will the be name of my psychedelic 70’s rock band.  She makes some decent headway with Trog, as he undergoes surgery to help him talk.  He also trips out with some solid dinosaur memories that I will describe later in the Favourite Scene section.

Unfortunately, the rabble-rouser Murdock feels differently and still thinks Trog is a murderer.  He sets Trog free, and provokes him to go berserk; undoing all of Dr. Brockton’s hard work.   He is the only Trog in the village, so it’s easy to figure out who opens a can of caveman whoop-ass by throwing the green grocer through his shop window and hanging the butcher on his own meat hook.  Then he takes a kid, who he thinks is a doll.  From here on in, things don’t bode well for our caveman friend, and well, you can probably guess the outcome.

So, a few things come to mind after watching Trog.  First off, just wondering if the makers of this film had heard of editing.  The opening scene of the cave exploring hikers was painfully long.  And remember when I described Dr. Brockton as verbose?  I wasn’t kidding.  I totally see the point of the film with the whole science vs. nature vs. ignorant townsfolk and society at large, but the speechifying was a bit much.  “Blah, blah, blah,…blah, blah, blah…the missing link!”  How about editing the script too?  Joan Crawford gave a decent, if somewhat hammy performance, but Cornelius who played Trog, really trogged out man.  What a blast to run around in furry shoes and a loincloth grunting and kicking ass!!  Where do I sign up?!!

I am certainly not going to hate too hard on this cheesy, melodramatic sci-fi gem, and I’m glad I was able to get it through the folks at Suspect Video.  It was a tad too long, but definitely worth a watch, if only for Trog beating everyone to a pulp and his trip down memory lane.

Most Memorable Line and Favourite Scene:  This, for me, is the surgery/memory jogging scene.  Trog is being microchipped and while he is still groggy, the scientists do some weird surgery to help him talk.  First off, they all don these Marilyn Manson worthy rubber face masks that look like fetish wear.  Bet they regret eating onions for lunch that day.  Trog is shown some slides of dinosaur skeletons that triggers a blue swirly and a crazy sequence that was part of a 1956 film called The Animal World.  With stop-motion animation done by my fave Ray Harryhausen, it shows how dinosaurs fought, hatched from eggs, and ran from hot poopy looking lava.  Of course these are all misty memories for Trog.  And then…he speaks! When Dr. Brockton’s assistant and daughter Anne (Kim Braden) looks into Trog’s caveman eyes, he utters, “Anne…Red…Green…Blue…Anne.” definitely my favourite line amidst all the talking!

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