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Posts tagged “1974

Fright Fest: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)

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Which is better: walking zombies or running zombies? What about the 28 Units of Time series? Do you consider the monsters to be zombies or ragers? These are the two biggest arguments among horror folk about zombie flicks, but I would like to introduce another, for I am a rabble-rouser.

While George Romero invented the modern zombie film in 1968, he also reduced the genre down into a formula ten years later with Dawn of the Dead. The suburban apocalypse, leaving small pockets of survivors, some of whom retain their basic humanity while others revert to savagery and animalistic behaviors. Meanwhile, the rank and file of the undead grows with each passing moment, spreading through cities and towns. In one case, Lucio Fulci’s Zombi, the dead are seen walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, an obscene rag-tag army staggering their way through the five boroughs.  Continue Reading

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Fright Fest: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

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My review comes from two viewpoints: first, there is me—ten years old, watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the first time, and then there’s me—thirty-something years old, re-watching with a fresh pair of modern, adult eyes. I have no problem remembering the first time I saw this movie, even though it was a long time ago. If you waited until almost 2am then tiptoed upstairs, you could adjust the rabbit ears on my parents’ awesome 32-inch box TV, flip it to channel 6, and get a fuzzy view of the Showtime channel. The best part about sneaking TV at 2am on an “adult” channel, was that you never knew what you were going to get, like a prize at the bottom of a cereal box (only much, much better). At 3am (on a school night, mind you), following a bizarre clown movie called Blood Harvest, I was just drifting off to sleep when I heard and saw these words: “The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths…”

Immediately, I was glued to the screen, watching a movie called the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I wholeheartedly believed what I was watching was true. It didn’t help that the opening credits had these creepy flashes of what appeared to be crime scene photos, either. I watched the movie from beginning to end, not moving from my spot, and hiding my eyes at least a dozen times. I was HORRIFIED by it. Permanently scarred. And for the record, I don’t advocate watching this movie until you are at least a teen.

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After my first viewing of it, I secretly checked the TV guide in the newspaper every single Sunday to see if, and when, it was coming on again.

Anytime it was on, I would write down the time and date in my diary, then stay up as late as I had to on the designated day in order to watch it, even if it meant not sleeping at all before I caught the bus the next morning. And each time I watched it, I dared myself not to close my eyes. And here’s a funny side note—one day on the school bus I overheard some older kids talking about how it was “banned”, and for a while, I wondered if the police would bust in and steal my TV set. But I digress…

Now, fast forward twenty years…I’ve seen bits and pieces of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre since my childhood obsession, and I’ve seen the sequel and most of the modern reboot versions of it. But now I’m watching it with a critical eye, because I knew I had to write this, and just like old times, I’m sneaking around in the dark at 2am to do it, only, this time, I’m trying to hide my movie choice from my own kids.

I expected to be unimpressed this time. I expected to fall asleep. I expected to have some bad stuff to say about it…

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Instead, I’m shocked by how fabulous this movie still is. Unlike modern horror films with tons of bad language, impressive stunts, special effects, nudity, known actors, and lots of gore—this one is simply brilliant because all it does is scare the bejesus out of you. No tricks, no flashy stars…just pure terror.

The fact that it’s low budget and gritty lends to the scare factor and the whole “true story” facade, in my opinion. No wonder I believed it was real as a kid—some of the filming looks like a jerky, homemade movie. And the sound effects—random camera shutter sounds (you know what I’m talking about—that bizarre flash bulb sound that has been recreated in haunted houses everywhere) and the amateurish banging of cymbals or drums in a serene, calm section of the movie, are ridiculously effective, for some reason.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is loosely based on Ed Gein, who did, in fact, wear human skin on his face like Leatherface did in the movie. But that’s where most of the similarities end. The people were just actors, the details filled in…but the effect is still the same.

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If you haven’t seen it (first of all: what’s wrong with you?) here is the general gist:

Five hippie teens are driving in rural Texas in the seventies. They like to smoke pot and talk about astrology. Their goal? To check on some family property after Sally and her disabled brother, Franklin, find out that their grandfather’s gravesite may have been desecrated. The whole purpose of the trip is a little vague and turns out to be of little importance once they get there, honestly. Things get creepy when they pass by a slaughterhouse, have a discussion about the delectability of “head cheese”, and then pick up a psycho hitchhiker. The guy has a knife and is bat shit crazy, and they finally throw him out of the van. Sally, Franklin, and three of Sally’s friends (I say SALLY’s friends because although they seem to tolerate Franklin, they don’t seem to like him much), make their way to the family’s homestead, low on gas and supplies. The relationship between Sally and Franklin is strange. When she’s around her boyfriend or friends, she’s a total jerk to him. But she seems to soften when they are alone, and it’s obvious that he thinks of her as a mother figure.

I can remember the first time I watched this movie, thinking that Franklin was whiny and obnoxious, but I felt sorry for him this time. The property isn’t wheelchair friendly, and while all the attractive, self-absorbed teens race up and down the stairs, and talk about going for a midday swim, he’s stuck downstairs all alone, panting as he tries to finagle his wheelchair around. This time around, I was totally rooting for the guy to be the sole survivor of what’s to come.

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Franklin also seems to be the only one with any sense—while the other teens treat the visit as a fun retreat, he’s the only one still worried about the psycho hitchhiker and what happened near his grandfather’s gravesite.

Now enter a family of cannibals next door, and a creepy guy with jacked up teeth and a creepy skin mask, and oh yeah—he’s wielding a chainsaw. And beauty is made!

The sheer sound of the chainsaw and the first scene when Leatherface comes running out of the room in that initially quiet scene was just as shocking as the first time I saw it.

I didn’t know it the first time I saw this, but this film cost almost nothing to make and these actors were inexperienced. Maybe it is for that exact reason that the movie seems so terrifying. It looks and feels like something that could happen in your own backyard to everyday-looking people. Plus, living in a small town myself…crazy killers in a seemingly quiet, rural setting using everyday power tools to kill people makes it that much more shocking. And the kids on the bus were right about one thing—the movie was initially banned in countless theaters.

Surprisingly, the acting is pretty good, in my opinion. Their fear and shock seemed genuine, the scenes unrehearsed and random.

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This movie is brilliant and the things that happen to the teens are so unexpected and horrifying that this movie will never lose its horror appeal in my opinion. If anything, its age just makes it that much creepier now.

This movie is a cult classic and inspired a new breed of slasher films, and horror as a genre in general. Let’s face it—everybody knows that the haunted houses without chainsaws in them suck. And most bad guys in books and movies will always be second best to the chainsaw wielding psycho we know and love.

To this day, I run in the house when I hear a neighbor start up a chainsaw. The sound itself triggers an uncontrollable fear reaction from me, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Unfortunately, seeing it at a young age sort of dulled my senses and ruined subsequent movies that I normally would have found frightening. While I’m at it, I also blame the movie for my crazy horror obsessions AND my chronic insomnia that started at an early age.

But one thing is certain…it was all worth it. And watching it again just confirmed what I already knew—this movie is the gold standard of horror and slasher flicks. And critics can say all they want about it—it’s untouchable in terms of criticism, in my book.

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Carissa Ann Lynch is the author of the Flocksdale Files trilogy, Horror High series, Grayson’s Ridge, This Is Not About Love, 13: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction, and Dark Legends: A Collection of 20 Paranormal and Urban Fantasy Novels. She resides in Floyds Knobs, Indiana with her husband and three children. Besides her family, her greatest love in life is books. Reading them, writing them, smelling them…well, you get the idea. 

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Deathdream (1974): in review

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There is something very intimate going on in Deathdream. Something very personal is being shown to us. Perhaps this feeling has to do with the film’s low quality, the early 70s B-movie vibe, and dang near grainy steady-cam picture, or maybe the intimacy in question has to do with the atmosphere, the utterly believable world we’re entering as the movie starts, as it is likewise chilling and raw, in which a part of you doesn’t want to exist, but it does. Just ask your parents or grandparents, or maybe you know something yourself of this era of fear. Mostly, the credit of the realism is thanks in part to the incredible cast of actors and actresses, all unknowns, taking on the role of characters that are mirror images of people walking the streets in small town America, a place that very well could exist, because it probably does, somewhere out there. And this is the vibe, the feeling we get as the reel begins to hum. This movie is real. This is real life. And when the supernatural takes hold, turning our blood to ice, we’re caught off guard. These things that transpire cannot happen. The dead stay dead, those are the rules. But for Andy Brooks, the protagonist (or is he the antagonist?) in this story, those rules no longer apply. Andy has come home. And I think this is the root of the intimacy. Andy, by all accounts of the rules of reality, should not have come home, because sometimes, given differing situations, we cannot come home. The life we lived or the life we’ve known can no longer exist because the other self, the past self no longer exists.

Okay…before we get anymore metaphysical, lets talk about the movie in question.

Here’s a synopsis in case you missed out on watching:

“A young man killed in Vietnam inexplicably returns home as a zombie.”

Boom…

Jeez, you gotta love those IMDb descriptions!

In a nut shell, yes. This is the movie. But, for clarification, I don’t think Andy is a zombie. He’s something…else.

Lets take a look.

As the movie opens, we’re shown a quick clip of Andy’s supposed death in Vietnam and then movie pans to the second most important scene, into the kitchen of the Brooks family. Mother. Father. Sister. Everyone is merry, or as much as they can be with a loved one deployed to Vietnam. They make small talk. They laugh. Everything will be okay, this scene tells us, so long as they remain strong, for Andy’s sake. And then someone knocks on the door. Who is it? They don’t know. It’s awfully late for a neighbor to stop by. The mood drops temperature. Two uniformed soldiers are standing at the door. It’s a telegram, the worst kind, the one no one at home wants to receive. “I’m sorry to inform you,” the Class-A dressed solider announces, “but your son is dead. Killed in action.” Shock. Cold pricking goosebumps. “My son? Dead?” Its laughable, how could their son, brother, Andy be dead? These things don’t happen to them, they happen to other people, people on the news, people far away from the safety of the dinner table. No, not Andy. Not their Andy.

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The grief here at the dinner table is very raw and heartfelt. The mother weeping. The sister in shock. The father…doesn’t want to accept the news. I’m not sure how you are taking this scene, for me, this moment in the movie is very real. After serving almost 7 years in the Army, and having deployed three times to Iraq, watching the Brooks family is how I might imagine my own family reacting to the news of my death. I believe this is what the director and screenwriter wanted. Hence the name, Deathdream. Yes. It’s a horror movie. A 70s horror movie at that. But it is more. It’s real. And director Bob Clark wanted you believe as much. He wanted you to become one of the Brooks family.

Now, what happens next is where things get a little odd. There’s a knock at the door. The family, just getting to bed after hearing the terrible news, tread the stairs thinking, “What now?” The father answers. There’s a buildup of suspense, as if something really horrifying is going to be at the door. It’s Andy. “It’s Andy!” they all shout. Everyone is overcome with joy. There must have been a mistake. “Can you believe, they actually told me my son was dead?” the father says. Everyone is happy, and rightly so, but there’s something…wrong with Andy. Something he’s not saying. He’s pale and stoic. He doesn’t want to be around crowds, not even friends or family. Again, they recall the evening’s event, nearly hysterical, “They sent a telegram telling us you were dead.” And Andy answers with, “I was.” And here we get a glimpse of the horror to come, the Brooks family doesn’t know how to react. Andy is different

As stated before, the above is the second most important scene in the movie. The strange homecoming. As the film progresses, we’re given other little snippets of post-war life. Andy, though we’re not too sure (we weren’t privy to his life before the war), but we’re given the impression had been at some point a very happy go-lucky sort of chap. All the neighborhood is abuzz with the news of Andy’s return, even the local kids want to stop by and say hello. But Andy isn’t the Andy they remember. He doesn’t want to play. He doesn’t want to interact. And everyone is taken aback. They don’t know what to make of this new Andy, in fact, they don’t even want to see Andy as being different. The father gets mad, retires to the local bar, and gets drunk. The mother, keeps vigil, maybe Andy will get better, she promises herself. The sister hides amongst her friends. And the neighborhood kids? Well, they all run away screaming.

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I won’t get into all the detail, you really ought to watch this film for yourself, but speaking personally, this scene, among others, also resonates with me. Am I the same Thomas Flowers that existed before the war? Not at all. I’m different, and through the years have come to learn how my experiences have changed me, and I’m still learning, every day. Andy doesn’t have that luxury. Andy isn’t your typical veteran. He’s a ghost. A memory of a shadow, made of stolen blood that somehow keeps him whole, walking amongst the living. His character isn’t going to learn anything or develop or change. There is only one progression for Andy, the ultimate progression you might say. And so, you might be asking, “What’s the point of the story?” Well, being careful not to take the movie out of context, this is a 1972 (74 maybe?) story. Being drafted into the Vietnam War is a huge fear in the minds of most American families, especially for those with sons, brothers, uncles, and husbands already deployed in combat. But, there is also an ambiguous question clawing its way out the grave. What is it, you ask? What is the question?

Let’s talk about another important scene, though certainly not the most important one. When Andy’s father seeks outside help to discover what is amiss with his son, Andy ends up following Dr. Allman, the gentleman who had been working with Andy’s father, trying to solve the proverbial mystery of what was “wrong with him.” Andy confronts the good Doc in his office, stating, before draining him of his blood, “I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favor…? You owe me…” And then, in a scene mimicking the escalation of drug abuse common among combat veterans, Andy “shoots up” the drained blood with a hypodermic needle. This scene, for obvious reasons, is full of dark ambiguous questions. But it’s not the most ambiguous scene. This scene simply lays on another series of questions.

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Here we are. Finally. The most important scene. Before we move on, I need to mention the ending. I know, spoilers and all, but I need to talk about what happened. Throughout the movie, Andy is slowly decaying. He’s becoming what he already is, dead. After a few murders, the truck driver and Doc Allman, and I think perhaps one more (I can’t quite remember), the cops are now on to him. Delirious, Andy’s mother agrees to take Andy away, but during the chase, Andy directs her to the town cemetery. Cemetery? Why there? The sirens are wailing. Tires screeching. Guns drawn. Will there be a final showdown, man verses monster? No. We are denied such luxuries of simplicity. In the final moments of screen time, Andy, nearly dissolved of energy and flesh, crawls to a grave he had prepared for himself sometime previously. He lowers himself, clawing the dark rich earth, covering his body. His mother watches, in tears, protesting, “Why? Why?” And Andy, unable to speak, gestures to his impromptu tombstone. “Andy Brooks, born 1952. Died 1972.” Slowly she realizes that her son is in fact dead, and helps cover his body. The cops arrive on scene shortly before the final act, pistols in hand, ready to slay the creature. But the creature is already dead. They’ve been robbed this battle of archaic man, of Stone Age man, but their faces are not disappointed, their faces are full of question. And this is why the final scene is the most important scene in the movie. Why? Because it deals with a mother and her son. It deals with our children, the future generations and the things we’ll ask them to do. No. Deathdream doesn’t answer any of these questions. The answers to all these ambiguous questions are up to the viewer. As witnesses, we will have to answer for ourselves.

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With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

“This is an intense book, and it definitely doesn’t pull any punches. This is Flowers’s first foray into extreme horror but I have to say that his lack of experience does not show in the least bit. He manages to bring an expert balance of extreme, and restraint. The challenging moments happen at the precise moments in the story where I thought they were called for. And there was no point where I felt he was being gratuitous. What gross and disturbing scenes were there felt like they were serving a purpose” -Confessions of a Reviewer.

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