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Posts tagged “Halloween Movie Marathon

Fright Fest: Don’t Breathe (2016)

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When I went to watch Don’t Breathe, I went in blind. Do you see what I did there? That pun – fucking brilliant as it was…it wasn’t even intentional. That’s just the kind of genius I am and an early warning sign to the shite review you’re about to be hit with. Anyway – I went in not knowing much about the movie. In fact, all I knew were the following points:

  • It had a fit bird in it.
  • I knew these characters broke into a blind man’s house and he then set about fucking them up.

That was it. I knew nothing else.

If you plan on watching this film, I suggest you go in with that amount of knowledge too for you will find the film a lot more enjoyable. If you read too many reviews, little details will be given away which could take some of the enjoyment from the film. Not like this snippet of information I’m about to give you, though – this won’t ruin anything but…

The people breaking into the old man’s house are thieves. They’ve heard he has money and they see him as an easy target so, a decision made – rob the fucker. And here in lies the problem: How are you supposed to feel sorry for criminals? Yet that’s exactly what the filmmakers are asking of you, to feel sorry for these scumbags as they find themselves trapped in the blind man’s house and he is hunting them down, to kill them. So… I don’t feel sorry for the youths who’ve broken into his house and I don’t feel sorry for the blind man who is trying to kill them. Now I know they needed a reason to be in the house, I get that. But… How about this: They pass the house… He calls for help. They hear him and run into the house, the house goes into lockdown and he tries to kill them. Straight away I would feel sorry for the youths in the house. They had gone in there to try and help him and now their lives hang in the balance. And that’s without giving it much thought.

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Now I’m not saying Don’t Breathe isn’t a good film. It is a good film. Without going into details to spoil the film, I can say that it is very tense and there are some good twists along with some completely unnecessary ones. I don’t want to spoil the film for you so I can’t go into details but I’m sure you’ll see what I mean when you watch it. But some of the twists aren’t the only thing which damages the film. The ending is a let down too – in fact, it is such a let down that I watched the film two days ago and have already forgotten how it ended.

Straining my brain really hard, I just remembered and – yeah – it definitely is shit.

They could have ended the movie during one particular brutal twist scene. When you watch the movie – and it is worth a watch – you will sit up at one particular point and you will be on the edge of the seat. You might even mutter ‘WHAT THE FUCK’… Had they ended the film here, it would have been a much stronger movie and would leave people talking about it. It truly is a potentially nasty, nasty scene and yet, the film director (also wrote it) bottled it and made it go all Hollywood but then I should have expected something shit because this is the guy who right royally fucked up The Evil Dead remake. Seen it? Not a bad movie up until the end when The Evil Dead manifested itself as…. a girl. Fuck. Off. Let’s take a classic film which keeps the actual Evil hidden… And just try and make it gorier and turn the big bad beast into a pathetic little girl. No doubt the cunt watched The Ring or The Grudge and figured small girls are scary… Had he been sitting with me at the cinema, I would have tipped my popcorn on him. Let that be a lesson learned.

Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

Anyway, like I said, Don’t Breathe is hard to review because I don’t want to ruin the twists or give you too much information to ruin the story. It’s a tricky one but – know this – it is a good film. If I was rating out of ten, I’d give it a 6.5 or even a 7 but I’m not rating out of ten, so forget I said that. So what is so good about it? Well, there are some incredibly tense scenes (power cut to the house making the youths just as blind as the blind man being a standout moment). The acting is serviceable even if the blind man did have Batman’s voice mixed with Batman’s nemesis of Bane. But – with all of that – you have really effective music and, more importantly, lack of music. Why the lack of music? Well, the blind man relies on sound to hear people so… When the youths are creeping around being quiet – the music cuts out and we have nothing but silence and the little sounds they make… We hear what the blind man hears. It is also the quietest I have ever known a movie theater to be. So – kudos for that. The only thing which annoys me is… This film had the potential to be perfect but – like so many other horror films of late – it let itself down in a couple of places, most notably the final hurdle.

Still, it could have been worse… It could have another shitty remake…

Until next time, kiddies,

Matt, The.

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Matt Shaw is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us The Invisible Woman (1940) earlier this year. Besides being bothered by me to write reviews for my site, Mr. Shaw is also the published author of over 100 titles – all readily available on AMAZON. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading – and most prolific – horror authors, regularly breaking the top ten in the chart for Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Authors. Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), he has also dabbled in other genres with much success; including romance, thrillers, erotica, and dramas. Despite primarily being a horror author, Shaw is a huge fan of Roald Dahl – even having a tattoo of the man on his arm; something he looks to whenever he needs a kick up the bum or inspiration to continue working! As well as pushing to release a book a month, Shaw’s work is currently being translated for the Korean market and he is currently working hard to produce his own feature length film. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie. He used to live with Joey the Chinchilla and Larry the Bearded Dragon but they died. At least he hoped they did because he buried them. You can follow Mr. Shaw and delve into his work by following his site at www.mattshawpublications.co.uk AND on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/mattshawpublications.co.uk. You can read his review of the infamous Invisible Womanhere.

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Fright Fest: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (2015- )

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PREVIOUSLY, ON ASH VS EVIL DEAD… So last season, I wrote a review of Ash vs. Evil Dead for The Ginger Nuts of Horror, (mostly) singing its praises. My few criticisms of the first season were the Scully character (do we need one of these in every show with a slight whiff of paranormal? let’s just do without them from now on, please) who eventually evened out and became interesting (right before she was killed),and the sometimes jarring tonal shifts. (You can read said review here)

 

Spoilers ahead, though (duh) it’s a review. We should all be used to this by now.

The ending of last season polarized fans. Some thought it didn’t make sense for Ash to hand his quest to rid the world of Deadites over to Ruby, though perhaps those viewers hadn’t been watching the same series I was. It’s always been an inner struggle for Ash between being a hero and being a hard-partying slacker—the whole season hinged on that. That, in the end, he gives up the Necronomicon to spend the rest of his days drinking and womanizing in Jacksonville fits perfectly with Ash’s M.O. prior to meeting fellow “ghostbeaters” Kelly and Pablo. That he does it under the guise of “saving” his new friends gives the decision a bit of emotional weight. We feel that even though he’s regressed, he’s at least grown in that he no longer sees himself as a lone wolf.

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AND NOW, THE CONCLUSION

(Although not really. We’re only 5 episodes deep.)

Season Two starts out with the pedal to the metal. No setup required. We already know Ash is partying hard in Jacksonville, and we could already guess Kelly and Pablo would be growing bored and restless, tagging along, likely waiting for Ash to come to his senses. What we probably didn’t guess is that Ash is a popular attraction. Everyone seems to love him. At first, I thought Jacksonville might be some sort of parallel dimension, but I suppose everyone is just drunk enough to find him and his chainsaw entertaining. When Ruby realizes she can’t fight the demon Baal on her own—she finds a picture of Ash in the Necronomicon—she then reneges on her part of the bargain, drawing Ash back to Elk Grove, where he grew up. (I suppose they changed his hometown from Dearborn, Michigan to Elk Grove for the same reason they changed S-Mart to Value Stop, due to a rights issue.) Everyone in Elk Grove knows him as “Ashy Slashy,” the crazy man who violently murdered his friends and sister in a cabin in the woods. It’s his biggest shame and plays into his hero/guilt complex brilliantly.

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The gang meets Ash’s dad, Brock Williams, who Ash told them was dead. (Ash’s dad told people Ash was dead, turnabout being fair play.) He’s played brilliantly by Lee Majors, a hard-drinking, hard-partying perv just like Ash. He doesn’t believe Ash’s story about the Necronomicon, and Ash is tired of trying. Or at least, he pretends he is. Their rivalry alone makes the first four episodes worth watching if nothing else. Though there is a lot to love in Season Two.

Firstly, it ups the ante with wild scenes of gore and brutal deaths. You’ve probably seen the NSFW clip that’s been making the rounds, and if not I won’t spoil it here. (You can watch the clip here if you’re really interested: http://bloody-disgusting.com/tv/3410013/nsfw-ash-vs-evil-dead-clip-everyones-talking. Or you can just watch the series, and you really should be watching it if you can.) It’s this kind of over-the-top stuff that makes the second season really shine. You can’t find anything else like it on TV, mostly because of a thing called Standards and Practices.

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 2016

Two, the jokes and interplay between characters are still on-point. There’s a scene where they’re discussing why Ruby is unable to find the Necronomicon and Ash “can’t fart without tripping over it”–it works so well because of the characters’ reactions, and Bruce Campbell’s gleefully stupid portrayal of Ash. I’ve watched it about a dozen times, and it makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time.

Third, Pablo and Kelly have their own storylines. Pablo, after having had his face torn off to adorn the cover of the Necronomicon, has now been seeing visions of possible futures. The book also calls to him, and he’s more susceptible to its allure. And Kelly is recruited by Ruby to find and kill her “spawn,” which she hopes will make it easier to send Baal back to Hell. Kelly is eager to prove herself, especially once Pablo reminds her of how much she doesn’t care that her life sucks.

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And lastly, Ash vs. Evil Dead burns through plotlines as quickly as Ash burns through beers. The second a new thread is introduced, the one leading up to it is burned (usually violently). Nothing grinds my gears more than a series that hinges on one minor plot point for an entire season, or half of one. It’s lazy writing and makes for damn boring TV.

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season Two keeps the twists coming fast and ferociously. So far, it’s better than the first season in almost every way, and I can’t wait for more.

DuncanR

Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Ontario. As a “grown up,” Duncan lives with his girlfriend and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, the anthologies EASTER EGGS & BUNNY BOILERS, WHAT GOES AROUND, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, FLASH FEAR, and the charity anthologies BURGER VAN and THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS Vol. 1, he is the author of the novel, SALVAGE, and the novellas EVERY PART OF THE ANIMAL and WOOM, an extreme horror Black Cover book from Matt Shaw Publications. You can read Duncan’s work on the altar of Amazon b(u)y following this link here.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on new reviews and articles but also a free anthology of dark fiction. And don’t worry, this is a spam free newsletter with well over 200 happy subscribers! 

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Fright Fest: Squirm (1976)

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Jeff Leiberman’s killer worm movie from the Seventies, Squirm, is more than your basic eco-horror film. It’s a taut Southern gothic tale, filled with sexual tension and bizarre symbolism, making it more than worth your time to watch. Squirm isn’t really a “nature gone mad” flick. It’s more like a “nature extremely irritated” movie. When a tremendous storm hits the isolated rural town of Fly Creek, GA, downed power lines send bazillions of volts of electricity into the ground. This shocking turn of events takes its toll on the underground population of bloodworms, a grosser-than-normal kind of tubular critter that has the ability to bite. Nobody is safe from the killer nightcrawlers, but the biting bait functions more as a symbol than a mindless mass of slimy flesh-eaters. Yeah, it’s disgusting, and there are a couple of scenes in this movie that will give you bad dreams. It’s legitimately scary, but underneath the millions of worms lies a story of repressed passions and unfulfilled promise.

 

Our heroine, Geri (Patricia Pearcy), has invited her friend Mick (Don Scardino) down from New York City to stay the weekend. Geri lives with her sister and her widowed mother. Since the power is off, the whole place is hotter and moister than usual. The entrance of Mick into this situation sets strange events in motion.

Mama hasn’t had a man since Big Daddy died and having Mick roam around the house shirtless activates her nethers in a way she hasn’t known for decades. The same things are happening to young Geri, who follows Mick around like that old cartoon character with red pigtails and a gingham dress, eyes bulging out and steam flying out of her ears, screaming “A MAY-UNNN!”

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Mick’s arrival also sets off the competitive nature in local man Roger (R. A. Dow), the simpleton son of a worm farmer who has his eye on Geri. To be fair, Geri does use her feminine wiles to get Roger to do things for her. Let me borrow your truck, Roger. Bait my fishing hook, Roger. He’s just a poor puppy dog, hoping to get his belly scratched. This does not happen.

There’s so much pining in this movie, it may as well have been filmed in the fjords.

And where do the worms come in? Besides being naturally phallic-shaped, embodying all the slippery sexual tension in the family, they also represent what’s been called the New South. This is a South that has gotten past the Civil War, embraced the Industrial Revolution and tries to fit in with the rest of the country without a chip on its shoulder. Mama represents the Old South, especially as far as etiquette goes. She hates Mick for disrupting her small matriarchy with the threat of Penis, his sexuality being another form of Northern aggression, and yet she can’t help but stare at him longingly. Her eyes travel him up and down in a delightful reverse of the male gaze. She can’t admit it, but Mama is ready to fraternize with the enemy.

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The worms, as the New South, attack from all sides. They rise up from the ground, like the ghosts of Confederate soldiers. They devour the citizens. They invade the homes. Eventually, they destroy Mama’s house with her in it. She has no choice but to succumb. It’s no coincidence that much like Atlanta after Sherman’s March, they’re going to have to rebuild.

The person who fights hardest against the invading worms is poor dumb Roger, who works on a worm farm! He’s been raising these things, and they turn against him in the most horrific of ways, like ungrateful children. Imagine being a die-hard Yellow Dog Democrat all your life, then finding out your kids voted for the godforsaken, quasi-Communist Green Party. Betrayal! Obi-Wan and Anakin level betrayal!

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They used to call stories like this “pot-boilers,” simmering with sex and heat and passions that must not be spoken aloud. This one also happens to have killer bloodworms that scream like sodomized baboons. Believe me, if you want the gross-out factor, it’s here. Just the shot of worms oozing their way out of a showerhead is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies from hell to breakfast.

But Squirm is a great example of horror being the genre where you can explore anything. You can’t explore the lingering effects of the aftermath of the Civil War and misplaced, toxic sexual desire and repression in a romantic comedy. How would the audience react to Christina Applegate getting the meat stripped off her bones by thousands of insane electrified bloodworms after her first awkward date with Paul Rudd?

Squirm is a B-movie treasure, loaded with winning performances and subtext out the O-ring. Not only is it a tremendous movie, it’s a great film deserving of greater appreciation.

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Jeffery X. Martin is no stranger to Machine Mean. After reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941) and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) and Revenge of the Creature (1955), Mr. X has brought us to a new level of terror with Squirm. When he isn’t being pestered by me to write movie reviews, he also writes books and is an avid podcaster. Mr. X has published several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elder’s Keep universe and Tarotsphere. He also has a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 1. His latest novel, Hunting Witches, is now available on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. You can find his work on Amazon. When Mr. X is not writing creep mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and blogs, including, but not limited to, Pop Shiftier and Kiss the Goat. You can read his previous review on Wolf Man here.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our author mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below to not only receive updates on sales and new releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Fright Fest: The Howling (1981)

 

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First things first, The Howling is my favorite werewolf movie. It’s creepy, it’s sometimes bizarre, it’s sexy, and it’s violent. From the tension-filled opening with Karen White and Eddie Quist to the burning –down-the-house attempt to destroy the fine people of The Colony, and the final change before a live televised audience, The Howling brings it. Released back in 1981, The Howling is based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner released in 1977 (the year I was born).

“We should never try to deny the best, the animal within us…”

While there are plenty of similarities between the novel and the film, the final screenplay turned in for the movie decided to take the film adaptation in its own direction. The book starts out with the main character getting raped in her apartment and features a similar “cabin in the woods” setting for her and her husband to go to recover and heal. The husband is also pursued and seduced by the local shopkeep/temptress. For the adaptation, screenwriter, John Sayles, a psychology major in college, decided to lean heavily on the psychological angle. In the book,  the town, Drago, just so happens to be a town filled with werewolves, whereas the screenplay has it all set up by the doctor (Dr. Waggner). Sayles did something I believe all good writers do when treading familiar ground—borrow what you like and make up the rest!  For werewolf folklore, he chose to go with silver bullets and fire to kill his beasts, as well as a bite to pass the curse along but threw out the full moon cycle of the werewolf. Instead, he chose to go shapeshifter with the creatures being able to shift at will, day or night.

“You can’t be afraid of dreams…Turn around, Karen…”

From the psychological standpoint, we get to see Dee Wallace deliver an excellent performance as Karen White. After being attacked by and catching a glimpse of Eddie in his werewolf form, she is sent to The Colony, a “place to recharge her batteries” and run by Dr. George Waggner. The Colony is a place where everyone is known to howl at the moon. It’s there that Karen and her husband, Bill, meet Marsha Quist and a number of others.  Karen battles her nightmares of Eddie, reliving the moments with her stalker in her dreams and during her sessions with Dr. Waggner at The Colony.

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Her husband, Bill, tries to wait for her to let him touch her again without reliving her attack. Marsha sees her opportunity and sets her sights on him. It doesn’t take long for her “animal magnetism” to lure Bill in. One bite and Bill is all hers. This leads to one hell of a sex scene in the woods between the two.  I mentioned the sexy thing in my introduction, right? Well, that is definitely brought on by Elisabeth Brooks in her role as Marsha, aka Marsha the Man-Eater. Her wild mane, perfect body, and relentless sex appeal speak to the beast in us all.

“Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives becomes a werewolf himself.”

The true highlights of the film are the spectacular transformations. Watching the werewolves come to life without the help of today’s special effects crutch (CGI) is a fantastic thing to behold.  After killing off Karen’s friend, Eddie comes face-to-face with the object of his desire and we bear witness to the change of all changes as Eddie goes from man to beast before the screen. Watching his eyes alone is amazing. Add that to the work and hours it must have taken to get the snout just right, that’s the good stuff. I can’t imagine how amazing this must have been to see for the first time in 1981.  Those of us who were spoiled by the effects of the ‘90’s and the 2000’s have earned a new appreciation for moments in the film like Eddie’s transformation.  I think of movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing, And John Landi’s American Werewolf in London (which was also released in 1981), and even Michael Jacksons’s “Thiller” video (also directed by Landis), or even Jeff Goldblum’s wicked evolution from man-to-fly in The Fly. It must have been a thousand times better for actors to stand in front of a tangible creation rather than whatever stand-ins they use today for the CGI monsters.

“You can’t tame what’s meant to be wild…”

The Howling, along with Silver Bullet, forged an unforgettable bond in my mind between me and the werewolf. For older folks, it was probably The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney, for younger kids maybe it’s something like Dog Soldiers (2002) or the Underworld films (hopefully not Twilight!). In the eighties, my older brother shared these films with me and it was for this reason I dedicated my werewolf novel, Blood, and Rain, to him.

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It should also be mentioned that director, Joe Dante, was at the helm of a number of great films that followed, namely, The ‘Burbs (1989) with Tom Hanks, and Gremlins (1984). While both The ‘Burbs and Gremlins contain plenty of humor to go along with the horror, The Howling, for the most part, maintained its dark edge. Although, if you look close enough, you can find spots of Dante’s appreciation for humor between the lines of the film, as well. Next time you watch it, keep your eyes on the televisions in any given scene.

To this day, The Howling remains my favorite werewolf film. The dark, sleazy, psychological aspects in the opening remind me of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1971). It maintains that psychological thriller tone (presented magnificently by screenwriter Sayles) throughout which makes the horror that much deeper. You combine the writing with the special effects, the visual beasts, great direction, and a superb cast of actors and you get the equivalent to a great novel—a full, well-rounded story and presentation.

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Final note: Gary Brandner’s novel, The Howling, is also terrific. In fact, film sequel, The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), is a more faithful adaptation of the original novel. It is easily my second favorite of the movies that followed in the series.  For werewolf flicks that I also love, check out American Werewolf in London, Silver Bullet, Wolf (1994), The Wolfman (2010), and Wolfen (1981).  You can go ahead and add Teen Wolf (1985), as well.

Whatever your horror flavor, I hope you’ll make some time for one or more of these excellent films this Halloween season.

Aaarrrrroooooooo!

glenn

Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter and all around fun loving guy from the haunted woods of New England. He has studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland and many others. He and his wife, Meghan, have three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness. He is the author of Blood and Rain, The Haunted Halls, Chasing Ghosts, Boom Town, Abram’s Bridge, Things We Fear, and the collections, Out if Range, Slush, and Where Nightmares Begin. You can get your paws on Glenn’s work on Amazon.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Fright Fest: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

 

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[WARNING: EXTREME DIGRESSIONS, LATERAL ASSOCIATIONS, AND UNSOLICITED MUSINGS FOLLOW] To start, a confession—as much as I enjoy Italian horror (and horror in general), I’m not sure if I’d ever seen one of Mario Bava’s films in its entirety [preemptive update: since choosing this film for review and watching it through a couple times, I coincidentally had the pleasure of finally watching Blood and Black Lace at a good friend’s birthday movie party]. I’d seen a few of his son Lamberto’s, but looking over the Elder Bava’s filmography I couldn’t honestly say I could attach a title listed to a film I could clearly remember. My early days of watching Giallo and other types of Italian horror coincided with attending art/film school in San Francisco, so you’ll have to forgive my own uncertainty—as I wasn’t always completely sober while viewing a great deal of the offerings from “Le Video” and other VHS-lined halls of magical filmic goodness. I’m much clearer on the Argento, Soavi, and Fulci (my personal favorite) films I devoured at the time, but there were others that, for whatever reason, remain a vague blur.

So, why did I choose this film of all films? Second confession—if you know me this won’t come as too big a shock, but I’m borderline obsessive about the Alien film franchise. It is taking a considerable effort to not expand upon that statement with the finer distinctions I make between the different film entries, EU comics, novels, games, etc. and their varying levels of individual quality. You’re welcome (just trust me… you’re welcome). Simple version—I like Alien-related things that are good.
Okay, I’ll just cut to it—I chose Planet of the Vampires for review because Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive) said this recently while introducing a new 4k print of Planet at Cannes as a “Cannes Classic”:

“Planet of the Vampires” is the film that Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon stole from to make ‘Alien.’ We found the elements, we have the evidence tonight. This is the origin!”

Could it be that a film I hold so close to my heart could have pilfered from another film openly, or at least been heavily influenced? I was torn by this… so this review will be a bit torn. I’m going to abandon the regular review what-I-liked/didn’t-like format I would do and try something different. I ended up watching the film twice, with two mindsets—first, looking for connections to Alien. Then, as its own film (which would’ve been impossible for me the first time, feverishly Alien-crazed as my feeble mind tends to be).

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And so…

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES AS POSSIBLE ALIEN INSPIRATION/SOURCE MATERIAL:

I’d heard in the past that Alien strongly resembled another film, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, but still haven’t watched that due to stumbling onto some images of the creature in the film—it… didn’t do much for me. That’s unfair, I know, but it’s hard when you’ve been spoiled (and scarred) by the diseased mind of a brilliant Swiss dark surrealist like Giger. Planet of the Vampires intrigued me for different reasons.

The Wikipedia article for Planet’s “Influence” page states that Ridley Scott (director of Alien) and Dan O’Bannon (main writer of Alien; co-written with Ronald Shusett, then revised heavily by Walter Hill and David Giler before being rolled back some), had stated they’d never seen Planet before making Alien. From what I know of Scott, that wouldn’t surprise me. After some snooping, though, I discovered some different things about O’Bannon’s history with it.

O’Bannon is quoted as saying he was ‘aware’ of Planet but didn’t feel like he’d ever watched all of it. He also says that he thought about Forbidden Planet (a classic I’m more familiar with) way more than It! while writing Alien. His approach seemed to be to make the ultimate scary-monster-on-a-ship movie, pulling from a lifetime of Sci-Fi film watching—something crystallized in this quote: “I didn’t steal from anybody—I stole from everybody!

So, where does this Planet/Alien comparison—that I’ve now stumbled onto many times while researching this review—come from?
Planet of the Vampires
starts with two ships (Argos and Galliot) in space near a planet. They discuss a signal they’ve been monitoring from an unknown origin somewhere down on the surface. A powerful force grabs their ships and exerts an incredible force on them, pulling them down into the planet’s atmosphere. They are set down in a strangely gentle fashion after such powerful artificial force. Upon touching down all but the captain of the Argos go mad, immediately attacking him and each other. He’s able to smack sense into most of them, and then he and a crew member chase the still-crazed doctor out onto the spooky planet surface. After he is released from whatever mysterious power had hold of him, the captain sends him back inside.

So far we have a mysterious planet (large moon in Alien, but close enough), a signal of unknown origin, and a rocky, dark planet surface. Okay, I see that. This is followed by a dangerous trip across the spooky, dark planet’s surface to investigate the fate of the Galliott. The Galliott’s crew are mostly dead, with a few missing.

There’s a decent chunk here with nothing comparable, then they find a third ship near the Argos while doing a survey, and a few of them go to investigate. So we also have space-suited ship crew investigating a planet’s surface, only to find a… “alien” ship. Not only that but the remains of said alien crew are skeletons of humanoids of great size—possibly up to three times that of an average human.

I see where this is going… These basic elements (and that they later take off, with malicious stowaways aboard) are similar between the two films, and from what I’ve come across the imagery of the skeletal alien crew is one of the strongest “gotcha!” things for those who feel Alien was directly influenced by Planet, due to the similarity to the former film’s “Space Jockey”/ “Pilot” scene.

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But Planet was not the only film about a crew touching down on a spooky planet, finding weird things, and leaving with something that wasn’t exactly pleasant in their ship. Other than It! The Terror From Beyond Space, the director of another Sci-Fi movie called Queen of Blood, Curtis Harrington, is quoted as saying he felt the makers of Alien most likely had been heavily inspired by his film—due to it also having that same rough barebones plot. I’m no expert, but I’m sure there are at least a few other Sci-Fi films from before Alien’s late 1970s writing and production that could be boiled down to the same basic structure.

Also, It! The Terror From Beyond Space is the closer film to the follow-through of Alien by default—Planet doesn’t have what you would call a “creature” per se. There is a zombie- or revenant-like reanimation and possession that takes place, followed by more insidious mimicry of human behavior. I’d go so far as to say Planet’s last act more closely resembles John Carpenter’s The Thing in its emphasis on paranoia and mimics trying to use their human hosts’ technology to their advantage—that is if The Thing was also missing its well-loved practical creature effects. Giger’s nightmarish creations were undoubtedly a huge part of Alien’s power and success as a film. There is nothing like that in Planet of the Vampires.

To sum up my thoughts, I feel like it’s a little unfair to say Alien stole from anyone Sci-Fi film—it appears to have been more of a loving potpourri of elements from many earlier Sci-Fi films with attempts of their own at claustrophobia and scares. The setup of Alien is not its greatest strength and is its least original aspect. Thankfully, it more than makes up for that in the realms of atmosphere, design, special effects, acting, genuine fear, and well-earned and -executed scares.

Valaquen at Strange Shapes, a favorite blog of mine as an Alien series fan, puts it best I feel with this line: “The story of the Nostromo could easily be that of the Demeter, the ship that Dracula stowed upon on his way to London.”

It’s not the bare-bones plot, but what they did with it that made Alien groundbreaking and frightening.

Whereas the legacy of Planet of the Vampires is cheapened by it being treated as a footnote in the history of Alien. I honestly wish I’d heard of it in a different context. Which leads me to…

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES AS A FILM ON ITS OWN TERMS:

As stated above, the film begins with two ships in space. Well, it starts with a title sequence with some pleasant spacy shots. Then, we see the two ships. Right off the bat, it’s clear we’re in for a B-movie affair of some kind, as the model work for the ships and space background is done well enough, but leaning toward cheap and a bit cheesy. This isn’t a strike against the film coming from me, for the record. A shot focused on a bright section of one ship model dissolves into a shot of space out through a circular ship bridge area, the camera tilting down to show more examples of what I’ve learned Bava was known for—getting the most out of low-budget production values. Large banks of glowing, pulsing readouts and other kinds of equipment are seemingly lit in such way as to make it less clear how much empty space the set actually has. This could also have been a stylistic choice, but I have a feeling I’m not entirely wrong either way.

Then we are treated to one of my favorite things about this film—the costuming. The crew spacesuits are dark, form-fitting, and sleek, with bright orange trim. One has to imagine that—and this is really the last Alien-ish part, I swear—whether or not Ridley Scott had ever seen Planet before making Alien, he’s seen it since, and wanted to either poke some fun at that or make a genuine homage.

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My only complaint is they only wear their snazzy bright yellow helmets in the scene I mentioned earlier where the captain and a crewman chase the doctor out onto the planet surface after they touch down. They make great paperweights for the rest of the film, sitting on flat surfaces all over the Argos and Galliot just looking cool and not helping the space adventurers breathe safely.

The sets are also really well done. The interiors are deliberately minimal and have glowing and blinking machines placed strategically. But where the sets really impress is the exterior planet shots. A thick ankle-deep fog blankets the planet surface, swirling around at every step that breaks it. Rocky outcroppings, spires, and crags on the planet surface look suitably natural and menacing. Lava patches are well-executed with superimposition and matting.  The ships’ implied sizes are reinforced by landing supports and airlock set constructions. The airlock hatch mechanics are smooth and believable. There’s a weight to their use that feels right as if they’re part of a large vessel and not a cheap suggestion of one.

Also, the use of the different sets and camera tricks gives the planet a good sense of size. They have to travel good distances between ships and don’t just jump around through editing.

Photographic effects bring the sets together and make the planet surface feel dangerous and foreboding, and this otherworldly feel is consistent. Optical printer post-production slo-mo is used to give the rising of a few dead Galliott crew members a strange and menacing feel.

The atmosphere, in general, is fantastic. The planet is mysterious and spooky, even before they find the remnants of the alien presence. The open interiors of the ships go from comforting chambers of safety to increasingly empty areas hiding possible terrors around every corner.

A lot of the heavy lifting for the atmosphere is the lighting. Having now seen Blood and Black Lace since deciding on Planet for this review, I can definitely express with confidence that Bava’s lighting is my favorite thing about his films (so far; I have much more to watch). Those two films have different cinematographers, but Bava seemed to have a strong enough sense of light and color that it was dictated at a directorial level. His bold, almost garish color choices are toned down some in Planet, going for darker, cooler colors than the bold reds and violets he plays off the darkness in Blood. There is some of that in Planet, though, when the reluctant planet explorers are traversing the surface and having to climb over and around lava flows.

He also uses a nice trick, backlighting the rocky set pieces from a distance, suggesting either light poking in through the thick atmosphere or unseen moons or other celestial bodies throwing light from afar. But the surface areas are dark, mostly lit up by lava or eerie, dim fill lighting. These two things contrast nicely.

The performances are pretty good too. According to Wikipedia (don’t hate), Barry Sullivan was the only actor speaking English, Norma Bengell (a Brazilian) spoke Portuguese, and the rest of the international cast spoke their own languages—not understanding each other as they performed.

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I knew that most of the voices were dubbed, but wouldn’t have guessed they were so disconnected. They all perform well together. There are some “scream queen” worthy moments and some pleasantly hammy, scenery-chewing moments (unintentionally amplified by the dubbing, I’d say).

There’s even a twist ending. I won’t spoil the specifics, but whether you end up unsure if it was tacked on or not (as I still am), it gives the whole thing a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits outro feel.

CONCLUSION

As I expressed above in detail, I doubt this film was a huge influence on Alien directly. On its own merits, I really enjoyed it. It’s a straight-faced sci-fi/horror piece with great use of budget and plenty entertainment value. Or as the original trailer dubs it…

 

I’ll give Planet of the Vampires…………….7/10.

 

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PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, The Sirens Call Ezine by Sirens Call Publications, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in early 2017 by April Moon Books.  Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog [under construction]: https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Fright Fest: The Final Girls (2015)

 

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We find comfort in the predictability of 80’s slasher flicks. We know as the blonde runs into the house, she’ll head toward the inescapable attic or head to a basement filled with body parts and chainsaws. Before global conspiracies or villains looking to end the human race, Jason, Leatherface, Mike Meyers, and even Freddy had one goal in mind, kill the group of people trespassing on their turf. While these movies remain classics, we the viewers have grown up and now mock the victims, fueled by the knowledge that if it were us, we would make it out alive. Or would we?

Cue Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes and the opening sequence of Final Girls. The film stars Max (Taissa Farmiga) a young woman who lost her mom (Malin Akerman), the star of the cult classic Camp Bloodbath, in a tragic car accident. Now years later, Max still struggling the death, attends the anniversary screening of her mom’s slasher flick. When a fire breaks out in the theater, Max and entourage escape through the projection screen and find themselves trapped inside the movie.

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Your expectations of this unheard of the film are low, lower when you realize director Todd Strauss-Sculson is most well known for “A very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas.” I’ll admit, my knowledge of the movie was nil, and at the time hadn’t even heard of the concept of “the final girl.” I figured while being forced to watch this movie I could check my email, tag photos in Facebook, and aimlessly shop on Amazon. Opening Scene – nothing else but this movie mattered. I put my phone down for the entire movie and those Halloween themed PJ pants I so desperately needed to be remained in my cart.

The opening reveals the trailer for Camp Bloodbath being viewed on our protagonist’s phone while she waits for her mom to return from an audition. As they drive away, the majestic and experimental camera angles instantly tell you that this is going to be a movie filled with visual eye candy as complex and entertaining as the movie within a movie plotline. As the car is t-boned by a mac truck, we are left pondering the plot, the tone, and even the genre of the movie.

Is sarcastic horror satire a movie category? Cabin in the Woods taught us that horror with an underlying sense of humor blended with complex multilayered plots can create a success. I would say the creators made the movie for me. It held my #1 horror slot, but Final Girls with its dripping sarcasm, it will forever own a place in my heart.

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Through a series of events, Max and her friends (the fanboy, the secret crush, the best friend, and the mean girl) find themselves inside the movie itself. Caught within the opening scene, they are baffled, and every 92 minutes, the opening scene begins again. The fanboy decides they must partake in the plot if they’re going to make it out alive. Instead of having the “magical black man” reveal the key plot points, Duncan the fanboy (Thomas Middleditch) explains they will only make it out when the movie ends. This means Billy, the crazy killer needs to die at the hand of the Final Girl, a character in the movie.

When Duncan dies, they try to flee the movie, but find themselves constantly returning, “It’s the movie, the movie won’t let us leave.”

As they sit in a circle with the camp counselors the expressions say everything. The counselors sing Kumbaya in a loving fashion why Max and friends stare horrified. The movie’s Final Girl, Paula, appears. They think by staying with her, they have a chance of making it to the final scene and surviving the movie. As the plot begins to change from their meddling, Paula meets a tragic death, changing the ending of the movie.

While Max attempts to keep Nancy, the character played by her mother from having sex and getting herself killed, the ominous trademark sound “Chuh Chuh huh huh” alerts them Billy is nearby and death is imminent.

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At the mention of Billy’s name, Nancy begins to tell the legend of how little Billy Murphy died. Oozing fluid descends from the ceiling and Max and company find themselves in a flashback. “Why am I color blind, am I having a stroke?” “No, it’s a flashback.” They roll their eyes as the narrator of the legend talks and even the font denoting the year is stepped over in a big of outlandish ridiculousness.

As they emerge from the flashback, covered in blood, the counselors freak out. Those attempting to run die in an outlandish manner. It’s then Max reveals what is happening and that the characters in the movie aren’t real. The levels of meta run deep as the characters contemplate their existence. We watch the characters try to understand their role in the movie. The dumb slutty counselor has her clothes duct taped on with great lines like, “Why does he hate my boobies?”

The mean-girl, Vicki (Nina Dobrev) decides they need to formulate a plan and they elect the new Final Girl, Max. Using their knowledge of the movie, and drawing from every horror movie they’ve ever seen, they make a stand.

Their modern sensibilities are heightened as they talk to the male whore, eye roll at the slutty blonde, and fall in love with the token black man. The over-the-top characters of the slasher flick may be lost in or seen as goofy on their own, but Max and friends are us, and we mock the film in unison.

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They have more depth than one would expect. Characters explore their roles in the world, trying to grow in a plot where they’re reduced to nothing more than basic tropes. Max is forced to confront her mother and gain closure during a montage of characters arming and setting booby traps plays out. Even mean girl Vicki makes amends with the cast explaining why she pushed them away knowing she’ll eventually die. “I’m the mean girl in an 80’s horror movie and we’re past the midpoint, I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

The deaths are amazingly funny. We assume, knowing we’re in a horror movie we would make it out alive. Our smarts and our strength would keep us alive until the closing credits. Of course, most of us wouldn’t have luck unless it was bad luck. The irony is tragic and even the best-laid plans go wrong and in this case, it all goes horribly wrong.

The final scene leaves only Nancy and Max alive. Max tries to keep her mom alive, hoping she’ll come back with them when the movie ends. But without the powers of the final girl, the movie won’t end. In a sexy dance scene luring in Billy, Max’s mom sacrifices herself never quite understanding their bond. With that death, Max awakens with the power of the final girl. In their attempt to change the outcome of the movie, they have fallen victim to fixed rules of 80’s horror.

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Now we fight to the death.

The movie maintains levity throughout the entire thing. Even in moments of seriousness and character development (and there are many) you can’t help but sit back and laugh at the hilarity of the situation. The dialogue is top notch, mixing the classic bad 80’s horror scripts with the snappy comebacks from this day. It only gets funnier as each era of characters mocks the other group’s differences.

The movie is smart, and visually, it’s quite a sight to see. I would say it’s a classic 80’s horror flick re-envisioned through the eyes of an artistic director who wasn’t told no to any of his vision. Even as the after credit (to Camp Bloodbath) scene appears and they find themselves in the opening of the sequel, it leaves us hanging, wanting an actual sequel. Will we get it? Probably not, but we can hope that something this witty and sarcastic comes along and forces us to re-examine our passion of 80’s horror.

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Jeremy Flagg is a high school graphic design and marketing teacher, at a large suburban high school in Massachusetts. Working as a high school educator and observing the outlandish world of adolescence was the inspiration for his first young adult novel, “Suburban Zombie High.” His inspiration for writing stems from being a youth who struggled with reading in school. While he found school assigned novels incredibly difficult to digest, he devoured comics and later fantasy novels. Their influences can be seen in all of his work. Jeremy took the long route to becoming a writer. For a brief time, he majored in Creative Writing but exchanged one passion for another as he switched to  Art and Design. His passion for reading about superheroes, fantastical worlds, and panic-stricken situations would become the foundation of his writing career. Jeremy participated in his first NaNoWriMo in 2006. Now he is the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison to theMassachusetts Metrowest Region. Jeremy also belongs to a weekly writing group called the Metrowest Writers. You can check out Mr. Flagg’s impressive work on Amazon.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Fright Fest: The Thing (1982)

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HALLOWEEN is a great film, but THE THING has always been my favorite Carpenter film. It is one of the movies I first saw as a kid that turned me into such a big horror fan. It’s revolutionary special effects helped bring the horror/sci-fi genre into a new era and created a challenge for future filmmakers and art directors to surpass. It elevated the original, THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, ( Howard Hawks, 1951,) from a creature feature into something new and genuinely terrifying.

In preparing to write this review, I watched both THING films and the 2011 prequel. It is interesting to see the different approaches. The prequel is better than I thought it would be. It incorporates elements from the other two versions. I particularly loved the main character listening to Men At Work’s, “Who Can It Be Now?” I prefer Carpenter’s version, written by Bill Lancaster. The story is more fleshed out and it is stronger visually. Hawk’s film focused on the fear of what is beyond Earth. Carpenter’s film is about our fear of each other. It is a nightmare of an early 80’s world trapped in a stalemate of a Cold War and the threat of nuclear destruction.

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Special effects are not the only thing that makes this film stand out. Carpenter and cinematographer, Dean Cundey, create an atmosphere of isolation and paranoia from the start with opening scenes of an empty expanse of snow and mountains surrounding the small research base in Antartica. The crew is cut off. They lose their only means of transportation and have no communication with anyone outside the base. They turn on each other, not knowing who is human. Carpenter’s version is also reportedly closer to the original 1932 novella, “Who Goes There?, “ by John Wood Campbell, Jr.

In the film, helicopter pilot, MacReady (Kurt Russell,) and the rest of the crew are surprised when a Norwegian helicopter chases a dog into their camp. The pilot tries shooting the dog, accidently shooting one of the men, gets shot himself while the other passenger blows the copter up with a grenade. In an effort to understand what happened, the crew goes to the Norwegian camp only to find it destroyed. They discover that the crew had excavated a UFO in the ice and had found an alien body. They bring the mutated corpse back to their camp, unknowingly setting up their own destruction. They soon realize the alien can imitate anything it touches. It can be any one of them.

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THE THING is full of great scenes. The dog/thing mutation in the kennel was the work of Stan Winston, but he is uncredited because he didn’t want to take anything away from Special Effects Creator, Rob Bottin. The Thing creatures are extraordinary. A grotesque combination of alien insect-like tentacles and human body parts; each piece trying to break off and become it’s own creature. The scene I will always remember is when Copper (Richard Dysart,) is trying to save Norris. His hands break through Norris’s chest, which becomes a giant mouth with teeth, biting his arms off. Then Norris’s head breaks off and grows spider legs and antennae, skittering across the floor.

Again, it isn’t just the animatronic effects that make this a great film. It’s how the characters interact with each other, the uneasy camaraderie in the beginning that quickly deteriorates into mistrust and finger-pointing. No one knows who is the good guy. I like how the sense of entrapment is heightened by the storm and the constant howling of the wind, as well as the claustrophobic feel of the facility. The hallways are narrow, the rooms are small and cluttered; the characters spend the film almost on top of each other. Also, when the characters are bundled up outside, you can’t tell them apart.

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In the end, THE THING is more than horror or sci-fi. It becomes a mystery whodunnit as well. The film ends like a chess game with the remaining opponents waiting for each other out until one reveals himself or death takes them.

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Kim McDonald lives in Charleston and loves all things horror. especially foreign horror. She is a new reviewer here on Machine Mean, but she is not stranger to the art of movie reviews. Kim also does work for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrostpective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and many more. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Fright Fest: Clean, Shaven (1993)

 

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The trailer for Clean, Shaven is brilliant – clocking in at a little over a minute, only a fleeting few seconds are devoted to footage from the film (choosing an extremely powerful moment near the end). It’s built up to with a string of critical accolades (red font against a black background), while an unsettling score drones. It bears noting that the critics’ blurbs state nothing about the plot. In an era where movies are regularly spoiled by their trailers – this summer’s Don’t Breathe being a recent example – the curiosity sparked by Clean, Shaven’s is not only a testament to its craftiness but the ambiguous mystery lurking at the film’s core. It alludes to a cinematic experience that will force the viewer to consider things from a different perspective.

But to discuss the mystery would lead into spoiler territory. (I realize I sort of shot myself in the foot with this one.)

When Thomas put out the call for reviews for his October Fright Fest, a couple titles crossed my mind, but Clean, Shaven sprung to the forefront. It’s a film that uses subjectivity not only as a character perspective, but as one of its core themes, as it chronicles an institutionalized schizophrenic’s release into the outside world, and the search for his estranged daughter juxtaposed against a detective’s pursuit of a child killer.

It’s also a film that – despite its glowing critical appraisal and inclusion in the Criterion Collection – I feel many are unaware of.

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Writer-director Lodge Kerrigan approaches the story as subjectivity shaping structure, instead of relying on a three-act thriller formula. Clean, Shaven doesn’t engender “excitement” in the traditional escapist sense – the intersections of characters and events are almost dream-like in their logic (or lack thereof), and the film creates a mood that feels paradoxically detached from reality, while simultaneously feeling “real” in a manner that many films do not.

Huh?

Peter Winter (Peter Greene – Training Day) is first seen huddled in the corner of a concrete cell with a high ceiling, arms pressed against his head as the invasive, overwhelming crackle of power lines sizzle and pop nearby; when he is released from the institution (with no narrative explanation given), he is plagued by overtly hostile voices on the radio; the glares of passerby; and the persecuting eyes of reflective surfaces (which he covers in newspaper). He scrubs himself clean with steel wool, and the act of everyday grooming – shaving and cutting hair – is rendered unsettling due to the severity of Winter’s condition.

And perhaps that’s where the fear and horror of Clean, Shaven comes into play.

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In hewing as closely as possible to Peter’s perception, the machinations of the plot are left to speculation, and part of the dread comes from not knowing the outcome. This creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that stems from a very true-to-life place. That we have no choice but to engage with the character is an invitation to discomfort, but also revealing of glimmers of truth that most filmmakers try to obfuscate with sentimentality or uplifting music. Hollywood often focuses on the rehabilitation or martyrdom aspect of iconic figures with mental illness, and the fact that Peter is an Everyman following his own internal compass makes him deliberately difficult to connect with.

Locations that could be considered bland – a library; a cheap motel room; a blue-collar bar – are transformed into places of potential danger; seemingly innocuous pictures in books become the stuff of nightmares; and a child’s swingset draws up queasy connotations to backyard abductions (which also ties into a recurring motif of missing children on milk cartons). The editing is sometimes abrupt, but – as with everything else in Clean, Shaven – serves a function that is synchronous to Peter’s state of being. For example, a seemingly out-of-nowhere sequence has him speeding down a dirt road, police sirens trailing behind; a face full of dread as he looks out the rear windshield, all the viewer sees is a thick cloud of dust. Is the police siren a mere invention of his troubled mind, amplifying feelings of unarticulated guilt?

In a Noir context, an antihero’s first-person perspective can possess traits of both heroism and villainy, depending on the circumstances. With the introduction of detective Jack McNally (Robert Albert), Kerrigan creates a puzzling wrinkle in the plot; while determined, confident, and skilled in his work, McNally is also not beneath sleeping with the adoptive mother to Peter’s daughter, Nicole (Jennifer MacDonald). The question of whether this is malicious, sleazy, or containing ulterior motives is left as ambivalent as everything else in Clean, Shaven – as viewers, we are unable to “judge” based on the backgrounds and perspectives of the characters. That the individuals populating this world are so impenetrable speaks to the skill of Kerrigan’s script and direction.

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Greene deserves high praise for his immersive performance. An underrated character actor best known for playing heavies in a string of well-loved ‘90s films (Pulp Fiction; The Usual Suspects; The Mask), it’s a testament to his ability that he is able to imbue Peter with such a sense of authenticity. For those who only know him as the shady, scene-stealing criminal, his acting here mines for depth in a brilliantly intuitive way.

Clean, Shaven approaches a level of intensity that makes for an appropriately unsettling, sometimes horrifying experience. It doesn’t keep the viewer at arm’s-length; nor does it use a John Williams orchestral score to “lead” the viewer into a particular way of feeling. Kerrigan doesn’t politely invite us to visit the mind of a schizophrenic; he aggressively foists it upon us from the very start, in as much as film can capture such an internalized state of being.

8 out of 10 stars

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No stranger to Machine Mean, Jon Weidler (aka Jonny Numb) works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast by night. His reviews can also be found at Crash Palace Productions (crashpalaceproductions.com) and Loud Green Bird (loudgreenbird.com). Seek him on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd), if you dare. You can check out his previous review on Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) here.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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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. 

Connect with Carissa by following her and checking out her work on the following places:

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Fright Fest: Clown (2014)

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Over the last few weeks, the news has been inundated with reports of people dressed as clowns mysteriously appearing in communities across the globe. At first, their appearances were largely non-threatening, often loitering like a low rate Michael Myers but then elevated to wielding knives and armed robberies. This has been met with a mix of intrigue and derision, and the general public has been less than receptive to the idea of a creepy clown hanging around their property or stalking their family for nothing else but their own amusement. There is an inherent distrust of clowns for the most part, with Coulrophobia being the phobia of them, despite the fact that they are supposed to elicit humor and happiness.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that director Jon Watts project Clown began as something of a joke. Watts and Chris Ford, the screenwriter, made a now infamous fake trailer and even credited Eli Roth as a producer despite the fact he wasn’t associated with the project at all at that time. This ballsy move prompted many to believe that the film was a real thing, and convinced Roth himself to make the project a reality with Watts and Ford and it began shooting in 2012.

After languishing in the release date graveyard the film saw a staggered release across the globe that started in Italy 2014 and ended most recently with the USA in the summer of 2016.

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And it is with firm belief that I state Clown, in my opinion, is one of the best monster films in years that deliver an incredibly unique cinematic creature and slow burn body horror amidst the family drama.

The story tells the tale of Kent McCoy (Andy Powers), a generic everyman working as a real estate agent. While juggling the renovation of a new property and his child’s birthday party he uncovers a clown costume with the property’s basement. With the clown, he’d booked for his kid’s party needing replacing he thinks quick and dons the costume and pretends to be an entertainer. However, he soon realizes something is amiss when he is unable to remove the suit, and it is in fact possessed by an ancient demonic entity “The Cloyne” that acts like a parasite feeding off of its host, becoming one with them and making them yearn to eat the flesh of children.

At first, the set-up is darkly humorous with Kent’s fruitless attempts to remove the costume played with a wry smile but soon the comedy evaporates as each attempt leaves him more desperate, distraught and disfigured. His skin grows paler, his rubber nose turns into a redraw scab and his hands and feet distort with boney cracks and claws.

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In his desperate search for a cure, he encounters Herbert Karlsson (Peter Stormare), somebody who knows the secrets of “The Cloyne” after his own brother fell afoul of its curse. Karlsson breaks the news to McCoy that the curse is permanent and the only release for him is death.

Clown strikes the delicate balance between pitch-black humor and horror with masterful strokes, and despite the inherent absurdity of the concept it plays it straight-faced with one hundred percent commitment. It is this sincerity that elevates the film to something special for me. As a lifelong fan of cinematic monsters, Clown is a breath of fresh air in today’s extreme horror world. Its set-up is simple, its delivery elegant and its payoff brilliantly tragic. Most importantly at its heart a monster that is memorable and unique, something its concept could have easily fumbled but it introduces a legitimate and otherworldly threat with aplomb.

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I dare say this film is nostalgic at a time when horror films increasingly turn to shock tactics and gross out concepts to one-up each other. Fans who like simmering dread, iconic creatures and a story that’s not afraid to have the audience sympathize with the titular creature, as we watch a once good man slowly enveloped by a horrific curse and dares you to come along for the ride.

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Daniel Marc Chant – Is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us both The Mummy (1932) and The Creature Walks Among Us(1956) during our Universal Monsters in Review series.  Mr. Chant is also the published author of several terrifying tales, including Maldicion, Burning House,, Mr. Robespierre, Aimee Bancroft and The Singularity Storm, and his latest release with Into Fear. Daniel is also one of the founders of The Sinister Horror Company, the publishing team that brought us such frights as, The Black Room Manuscripts Vol. 1 and 2 and God Bomb!. You can follow Daniel on his blog, here. And you can read his review on The Mummyhere.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our author mailing list by clicking on the “FREE BOOK” image below to not only receive updates on sales and new releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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