Tag Archives: B-movies

A vampiric weekend

‘Twas the weekend that the fearsome Classic Horror Campaign descended upon Manchester, to defile the sainted Lass O’Gowrie with ancient evils and wyckd talessss…

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to horror, chiefly because I don’t actually enjoy being scared; those old dark houses are a comfort zone nowadays, and that’s where I spent Saturday and Sunday evening, with vintage double bills from RKO and Hammer. Here’s how they stacked up:

Saturday

NIGHT OF THE DEMON (Jacques Tourneur, 1957). Fear from a more civilized age, as when Niall MacGinnis’s avuncular villain finds our cursed hero (Dana Andrews) breaking and entering his mansion, expresses no surprise, and calmly watches him leave by the same window he came in. Call the police? What a vulgar thought. As for the demon itself, well, fine – laugh it up, futureboy. No, it probably didn’t give Kong nightmares even at the time, and there’s an argument that it should’ve remained unseen throughout, thereby preserving the ambiguity of the story as well as its fear-of-the-unseen suspense. But me, well, I said I wasn’t here to be scared, and there’s a genuine savage beauty, somewhere outside of realism, to the stop-motion creature whose two appearances bookend the film.

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (Robert Young, 1971). Fear from a kinkier age, what with its floggings, dwarf abuse and sexy Drac-analog Count, staked in the prologue by nineteenth-century villagers, ripe for resurrection by the titular circus that visits the now plague-quarantined burgh fifteen years later. As in Tod Browning’s decades-earlier Freaks, decent God-fearing citizens’ indulgence of a good show can turn swiftly to violence when these disreputable carnies appear to be up to no good, with no apologies forthcoming when mitigating evidence comes to light. (Well, sure, they ultimately were up to no good. But you didn’t know that, peasants! What we have here’s a chicken-or-egg question, and don’t anybody ask Olga Baclanova.) If you’ve ever been lured by the elegant carnality of vampirism, then like the village’s more nubile inhabitants, you’re willing this circus to run away with you.

Interlude I had the pleasure of conversing with our host, the estimable Mr Cyberschizoid, between screenings. The aforementioned Classic Horror Campaign was his brainchild, and this primarily London and Brighton-based operation’s Manchester visit, with (I think) mention of a Birmingham trip in the pipeline, prompted my half-jest that it might yet become the real-life vampire circus. So keep an eye out for these fiends if they do invade your town, and do please sign their petition to reinstate vintage frightflix to the BBC. I mean, what’ve I been talking about lately? Heritage, people. Buried treasure! With a multitude of digital and online options available, there’s no excuse for fobbing us off with wall-to-wall Geordie Shore, right? Now, on with the show.

Sunday

CAT PEOPLE (Jacques Tourneur, 1942). Back in civilization again, but that was always a facade for horror to lurk behind. And not just horror; Cat People, being the drama of an unconsummated marriage as much as (or indeed inasmuch as) it is the vengeful panther inside Simone Simon, sprays psychoerotic tension around like the perfume she’s so fond of. While keeping a wary eye on that fancy shrink, of course; as with the Rhesus-negative ringmistress we heard from earlier, horror so often defines itself when play-fighting with its own baser impulses. It’s all about sex with you people, isn’t it?

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (Gordon Hessler, 1970). A gloriously improbable bringing together of three seemingly unrelated story threads (yep, it’s Hammer’s own Magnolia). A heart-attack victim wakes up in what appears to be a hospital bed, but the uncommunicative nurse leaves him none the wiser as to why it was necessary to amputate his leg… Cutbacks to his predicament form the missing link between Kafka and a sketch show – every time he wakes up, another limb gone. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard are hunting an apparently superhuman serial killer. And meanwhile, somewhere in the Soviet Union, a rogue Comrade climbs the promotion ladder by subjecting every interfering superior to what a layman like me is happy to be corrected for describing as a Vulcan death grip. Within its own deranged parameters, all eventually becomes clear.

I want more. So do you. So sign the petition and let’s get haunted, ok? Tim Burton can’t do everything himself.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY (Scott Spiegel, 1998)

“Executive-produced by” Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, so downsize your expectations to accommodate a Scott Spiegel joint. His DTV sequel to Tarantiguez’s celebrated wam-vam-bam of two years earlier offers self-conscious margarine imitations of the Looney Tunes directorial pizzazz (keen on giving moving or rotating objects – table fan, safe dial, guy doing push-ups, etc – their own POV shots) and Quentin’s macho dialogue (discussing the importance of narrative in “fuck films”). Mostly undistinguished badasses-vs-vamps stuff, notable for pushing the fear-of-crosses thing to stupid extremes (bloodsuckers here can be warded off with an ambulance door), plus cameos from Bruce Campbell and Danny Trejo, and a reasonably lurid parody of Psycho’s shower scene.

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)

“I was born out of time.” Well, yes and no – it may wear its Hawks influence on its sleeve, but also appears itself to think no more of blowing away a small child than the hollow-eyed loon onscreen who carries out the deed. This film’s confidence that we can handle that locates it squarely in its own unrepeatable time (there was, predictably, no equivalent scene in the so-so 2005 remake); the 1970s were Hollywood auteurism’s own wild west.

The ersatz cowboyisms (“I believe in one man”, etc) and mannered performances could’ve made for a rather tacky homage, if Carpenter hadn’t pitched the whole thing just right; but the poker face barely containing its exuberance is genuinely Hawksian (as witness the priceless “potatoes” game). It’s a movie for all time, as good as the modern-day western ever got, and if the thought should occur that you could have literally hundreds of these for the price of one transformer – well, something don’t stand up like it used to.

BLACK COBRA (Stelvio Massi, 1987)

Of all the 1986 movies they could’ve done a blaxploitation riff on, they picked Stallone’s crappy Cobra? And blaxploitation’s not the only element placing this Fred-Williamson-meets-the-bikers dross a good ten years out of time; baldly plagiarizing the first and second Dirty Harry movies, plus a 50p production budget (mind you, that’s twice what they spent on the DVD transfer) make it hard to credit anyone being content with this in the year of Lethal Weapon and The Untouchables. Still, Fred Williamson.

FEAR CITY (Abel Ferrara, 1984)

One from Ferrara’s early grindhouse period, impressively top-heavy with future names – Tom Berenger, Melanie Griffith, Billy Dee Williams, Rae Dawn Chong, Maria Conchita Alonso – and quite happy to adhere to serial-killer-targeting-the-city’s-strippers convention (regular cutaways to strippers stripping, basically), rendered by the director and his regular screenwriter Nicholas St. John with their usual punchy vitality, while allowing a formative showcase for their Catholic-guilt tropes(Berenger’s improbably caring, paternal agent-to-the-strippers, also an ex-boxer since killing a guy in the ring, stopping by the confession booth to pray for pre-emptive absolution before opening a can of whup-ass on the psycho). It’s no Ms. 45, but as job-for-hires go, they make it their own.

BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRAVIXENS (Russ Meyer, 1979)

The 2D blogging superstar version of me would’ve considered pasta, supermarket Brut and a Russ Meyer film the perfect way to celebrate unemployment – and hey, I could’ve done worse as it is. But as much as I appreciate the unique sensibility behind this bawdy, unrestrained celebration of Smalltown USA’s horndog peculiarities, for all that it makes American Beauty look as redundant as it is, and right though William Goldman was (even if he thought he was being sarcastic) to label Meyer American cinema’s one true auteur, I’m resisting the temptation to pretend the film was more than moderately amusing.

Anyway, welcome to the blog. As billed, I’ll be capsule-reviewing what I watch when I’ve watched it – and posting on this or that other matter as I see fit. Will write precisely as much as I think is worth saying about any given topic, which may range from haiku to dissertation. And having now spent ten minutes staring at the above and struggling for an exit line, I think this first post is a wrap.