Monday, October 31, 2022

"Absolute" October: 10 Seasonal, Classic Picks: Atmospheric, Uncanny & Re-watchable.

October - the time when the old classics should come out, and old horror fans like me dust off the gems that do it for us every year, the grand perennials, some since we were knee-high to Zuni Fetish doll. I've already written about mine in past Halloween lists, But there's always others. Always new ones. Some are great but don't have 'repeatability' - the layered gems you can watch over and over. For me it's important they have atmosphere! Gothic vapors! Scary synth music! Ghosts! Action! lots of wind and swirling mists. So if you're wondering what else is there besides AMC's same-old Halloween marathons and the same-old TCM classics (Kwaidan, Eyes Without a Face, etc.) If you got Prime, Shudder, Tubi, Arrow, whatever, let these be yours. (All the films listed are streaming on Prime and/or Tubi unless otherwise noted)

 1. BLACK SUNDAY
(1959) Dir. Mario Bava
streaming on Prime

The king of Italian horror, maybe even of horror, period, maybe even king of cinematographers his painterly warmth and lighting complexity making him kind of Italy's answer to Josef Von Sternberg) Mario Bava's films are almost all amazing but as far as spook show Gothic chills perfect for October, nothing can beat his directorial debut Black Sunday (except his later Black Sabbath, and Kill Baby Kill of course). Sunday not only introduced Bava (the film was an influential smash hit around the world, released by Roger Corman and AIP in the US) it introduced Barbara Steele to the world as the first bonafide female horror star, fit to join the ranks of Lugosi, Karloff, Lorre, and Price. She plays an evil witch, accidentally revived when a curious doctor's fight with a bat causes blood to fall into her eye-socket; and she plays that witch's 'good' descendant, destined to be possessed or whatnot --it's all lining up (shades of Jewel of the 7 Stars transplanted to the 1800s.. ) Lots of creepy castle tracking shots, with Lewton-like walks to the barn in the dead of night, undead rising from graves as wind blows ominous. In terms of sheer rewatchability it is so without peer one has to look all the way back to the 30s pre-code Universal horror films to find a worthy comparison and--truth be told--it's better than most of them. It basically ushered in a whole wave of European supernatural Gothic horror films, most starring Steele, a few of which were good, that reverberated well into the 70s. Get over the dubbing and occasionally schmaltzy score, just imagery, the pacing, the lurid touches, the thick delicious atmosphere, and the unique formula of sexy and terrifying that are the wide eyes and heaving chest of Barbara Steele; the nods to Val Lewton and James Whale. And Steele, and Steele again. Afterwards, forever transformed, you should immediately seek out Black Sabbath andKill Baby Kill.

2. NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF
(1981) Dir. Paul Naschy
streaming on Tubi

Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy recounts seeing Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man in a matinee as a small child and finding his life's purpose. And you can see he wasn't kidding with Night of the Werewolf, Not only does it pit classic monster against monster, he redressing many of the wrongs committed by Universal in that film (the title monster fight lasts barely 30 seconds before a flood ends the movie, hgere it goes on long enough you don't feel cheated, and it's with a woman!. This redresses the sexist wrongs of other Universal horrors, like Dracula (whatever happened to those three hot wives? They get only two brief scenes and no dialogue and are never seen again, ditto the Bride of Frankenstein).  Not so with the women in Naschy's Night of the Werewolf! Women vampires are all over the place and they're sexy, powerful, smart and strong, with great hair and skin. And instead of fighting with Lugosi's tired Frankenstein, he's fighting with a super-powerful undead Elizabeth Bathory and her assorted vamp and zombie underlings. 

In short, Paul Naschy, over the course of his countless "Valdemar" movies, became the werewolf we never really got from Lon Chaney Jr., who spent all of the sequels trying to die, chasing the scientists who bring 'the Monster' back, movie after movie, making us all wonder why he doesn't just jump into the nearest threshing machine instead of moping after Univerzal monster's equivalent to Dr. Kevorkian. Chaney's love interests tended towards hunchback servants and mopey gypsy girls who mooned after him; all of whom did nothing for him but provide victims for his full moon bloodbaths. Burly body-builder Naschy's squat, ruggedly handsome physique and even-keeled manner imbues Valdemar with a romantic nature that's inherently aristocratic and proletariat at the same time. He's the werewolf we always wanted, even if his make-up is nowhere near as elaborate. (though I've never been a fan of Chaney's wolf face - too pouffy and poodle-like; I much prefer the less extreme but scarier version in the underrated Werewolf of London.  

The focus isn't on Naschy here though, but on three super gorgeous tourists coming to a remote tomb on a holiday, wanting, for some reason, to revive,Elisabeth Bathory (we see her and her minions put to death in the Middle Ages opening, as was the style of the time. The one gurk us totally evil while the other two girls seem rather naive but one admires their brazen self-assurance, plunging fearlessly into a vast cave network to find the tomb and revive Bathory, becoming her vampire handmaidens. The 'good' one amongst them falls for Vlademamir but will she be able to kill him when the time comes. It's another interesting echo of FVTWM that Valdemar has a deformed servant in love with him, though in her case she's quite hot even with half her face burned into monstrousness. Her hair is great. In fact all their hair is great, the same color, long brown and more or less straight. Clearly Naschy has a type. It's OK though as all these women are strong and self-reliant (there are way more in the cast than men, making itreminiscent of the films of Luigi Cozzi! And Jack Hill!)

In other words, Night of the Werewolf is revisionist classic Euro-horror heaven and the cinematography--thanks to a wondrous recent restoration, glows with lots of candle and torchlight golds, deep inviting shadows and swirling luminous fog. It's lovely to look at, and aside from the sex and gore is good for the whole family

Note - Tubi just got a whole swath of HD-spiffed Naschy numbers that look gorgeous. If you want to compare them, just look at Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women (a much more accurate title for this) also on Tubi. OMG it looks bad. Stick with Night, and you'll never want to watch anything else. 

3. THE CHILD 
(1977) Dir. Robert Voskanian

A once nearly-forgotten cracked emerald in the American rough, recently given a fancy upgrade by the folks at Arrow, The Child may be set in some remote 30s-40s corner of woodsy mountainous American folk nowhere, but its real location is the dream nebula where childhood nightmares rattle bedroom shutters in the still of the October night in the land of super quiet, super black nights only cloudy country nights provide (that kind of darkness and dead silence are why I live in the city and sleep with a white noise machine) and unearthly squawking moans seem to come from the air itself. Shoehorning themes and moods from Night of the Living Dead and The Omen in amidst its folk horror ominousness, The Child tells the story of a strange but sweet young woman, with period length long straight black hair and strange silver eyes, who arrives to nanny a bratty 11-year old sociopath named Rosalie (Rosalie Norton) after the apparent death of her (bi-polar necromancer) mom. Rosalie's dad is only a shades less demented than the dad in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Luckily, the adult son is tall, chill, and sane, thank God, and there's not much to do there in the dark at night, so they just may hook up, or he might turn into a scarecrow while she dances through the misty front lawn dream on Halloween night after freaking out at the sight of a jack-o-lantern seemingly moving on its own.

There's a masterful use of real darkness here that's rare in horror films (that jack-o-lantern seems to come out of nowhere). Yessir, The Child radiates a real country dark, the kind that seem to swallow the world around you, so that someone could be standing mere feet away from you and you'd never see them, so you strain to hear any sound of breathing in the silence, the kind of dark of where only candles and oil lamps make little bubble sancturaries of warmth and light in the surrounding inky opaque emptiness,. (1)

Then there's that score! Splitting the difference between avant-garde dissonance and soap opera style angst, Robe Wallace's score pushes the sound effects and echo-canned dialogue out in front of what sounds like a grand piano being pushed down a hill. Do the characters hear those strange echo-drenched honks ever in the distance/foreground). The post-dubbed voices of the actors seem as if they could be part of the score too--unheard of by each other, pushing the foggy-wind leaf blow folk horror imagery into the uncanny world between waking and sleeping, that zone when half-heard sounds are freed from signification and even innocuous objects create deep uncanny chills. 

And like all the best uncanny folk horror-style films (the film it probably resembles the closest is Lemora; A Child's Tale of the Supernatural) it's both warmly familiar, genuinely disturbing, relentlessly surprising and super strange. No matter where you think The Child is headed, it's never goes there, not until the last act, in which it suddenly drops everything and bolts out the door in one long careening climax of zombie horror, It's as if the truck that rescued creaming Marilyn Burns at the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre crashed into a Night of the Living Dead construction site run by a Rhoda Penmark/Murder Legendre hybrid. In short, God--or something far more ancient--bless The Child! 

.. 4. THE BEYOND
(1981) Dir. Lucio Fulci
streaming Prime, Tubi

It took me a long time to warm up to this weird gem, being too cool for what I believed was misogynist gore as a teenager, but after catching the other films in Fulci's undead trilogy, City of the Living Dead (1980) and House by the Cemetery (1981) on TCM, I knew I was wrong. There was so much more here than that. And so much less. Now, thanks to the miracle of streaming, a beautiful HD remastering is ours for the clicking. Sure, it defies narrative cohesiveness and seems to exult in gore for gore's sake, but it's so atmospheric! It's what Fulci meant by an 'absolute' film. A pumpin' Fabio Frizzi synth and pianocore, a script that's just cohesive enough to make the weirdness continually 'dream logical,' ambiguous expressions that seem to imply pages of strange suspicion never written. It's so 'in the moment' it forgets all about the future, leaving us constantly on our guard. Everything is just off. There is 'normal' moment we expect having seen hundreds of horror movies, the foreshadowing is its own uncanny effect with no pay-off, and vice versa. The result is that even minor details seem that's not imbued with the uncanny. From the start with a period prologue of Shrike the warlock painter's torture crucifixion (nailed to a wall, doused in lye, flogged with chains (we never learn why) and walled up in the basement of the "7 Doors Hotel" thus opening one of the seven doors to Hell), all the way to contemporary times, as Liza (the perfectly-cast, instantly iconic Catriona MacColl) inherits the crumbling edifice and sends Joe the plumber down to the vast, flooded basement to stop the leak. The painting the warlock was working on when he died is gathering dust on the ground floor, a strange hellscape that looks like the surface of some macabre moon, dotted with corpses covered in dust. Workmen fall off the roof, Joe busts through a crumbling wall allowing the warlock's decaying hand reaches from the crumbling wall to crush his face. Joe has a funeral minutes later. There is never a police investigation nor a single cop in the whole movie; we never see anyone even find Joe's eyeless body - it just shows up in the morgue. Shrike's eerie painting is hung in the foyer where its strange power seems to take over those who look at it. At one point it bleeds. For some reason the intern in the space age morgue puts an EKG meter on Shrike's long dead corpse which is now laid out next to Joe's; again no explanation - none needed. Shrike waits til he's alone to activate the EKG. Oh, he's in there, all right. To have some tired rationale would lessen its majesty. Hell-that's all you need to know, a hell where the undead shamble through hospitals with their heads down, shambling slow, like the workers in Metropolis after a long shift. 

Liza scoffs at the idea of the hotel leading to Hell, even though the service buzzer mysteriously sounds for the warlock's old room at odd times and she almost literally runs into a willowy blind blonde psychic Emily (Cinzia Monreale) with greyed over eyes and a seeing eye dog standing in the middle of straight bridge the goes on for miles over the swamps. Emily plays the ominous theme song on the piano, while regaling Liza with the story of the seven doors (which we never really hear or need to) we move onto other things and then come back. We never quite do find our way back anywhere, except this one time. When Liza arrives back at the hotel dimwitted handyman and his mom get the hotel almost ready to open. The painting is still there leaning against the wall. There is no 'normal' to ground us, yet nothing seems weird for weird's sake like so many 80s horror and sci-fi films. Instead 'the frame of things disjoint' (to quote Shakespeare. The doctor (David Warbeck) alone is the sole voice of patriarchal head-shaking; he worries Liza is losing her mind, or a witch, but not for long. The book shows up in a bookstore then disappears. Tarantulas take about a real time hour to eat a guy's face. The lady housekeeper has her head forced onto one of those Shrike nails by the handyman who arises from the muddy water in the bathtub. Space collapses. Nothing is the same or ever really was. 

Don't ask. Don't tell. Just dig the unforgettable shots: Emily standing with her dog and white eyes; the blasted surface of the Sea of Darkness; that strange all-white morgue; the masterfully creepy zombies shattering a opaque glass wall; the strange glances, the gore, the guts, the gusts and the gusto; the crisp atmospheric photography of Sergio Salvati (perfectly brought out by the HD remastering), and Fabio Frizzi's eerie synth music and strange piano refrains. Let it swirl together like a film that's spun off its reel and is wrapping itself around your neck, dragging your eye closer... closer to the hot light inside the proector. Allow it to sync up with your unconscious rather than your conscious expectations and it will all make perfect non-nonsense. You'll either want to vomit and gouge your eyes out or immediately cue up Fulci's other films. There is no middle ground. All hail the... whatever. 

5. PHANTASM
(1978) Dir. Don Coscarelli
streaming Prime, Tubi


When hack directors rushed to imitate Halloween, ushering in the slasher boom at the end of the 70s, only one or two filmmakers looked carefully at the structure of the shots Carpenter used, paid attention to the tick-tockality of the time frame, really listened to find what was so effective about the score, instead of just thinking "guys in masks stabbing teenagers, got it."  and going off to make bland copies of content rather than form. Coscarelli didn't need the content, as he got the music right, the vibe, the use of cloaking darkness and the power of twisting old trees and drive-ways. Then Coscarelli went on did his own, highly original film. His previous works had all been children's films (another seldom-written about genre for 70s independents) and it pays off here as he treats the kids with respect and compassion (more Over the Edge than E.T.) Centered around a young lad terrified his brother will leave him behind when he takes off after their parent's funeral, Phantasm ushers in what I call 'older brother' films, all but forgotten these days, but in the 70s cool kids like Jackie Earle Haley played kids with older brother figures who let them sip their beer, smoke a cigarette, shoot guns, ("No warning shots. Warning shots are bullshit."), carry knives, drive before they were legal, and generally do their own thing. The kid here gets to do most of that and at one point throws the kid the keys to his gorgeous Plymouth Barracuda at one point. Gotta love a kid who has his own dirt bike and knife, knows how to shoot real guns, and isn't afraid to go out to investigate a funeral parlor in the dead of night with nothing but a knife taped to his leg. No wonder this movie has become a classic. When your older brother tells you, we "We gotta snag that tall, dude and we got to kick the shit out of him," It's like paradise for any red-blooded 70s American boy of the era. Every time Mark leans out of the speeding Barracuda to fire a shotgun at the tall man's hearse while Mike drives, I'm enthralled like a ten year-old hanging out with my best friend's cool older brother all over again. It goes deep into the archetypal masculine oomph. Oh there's also a girl, whose blind grandmother is a psychic and who runs an antique shop with her older sister, a scene I wish went on forever. 

What a movie - a genuinely original dark fairy tale plot hinging on a totally original metaphysical / ancient alien theory, a boy's fantastical perception of the strangeness of graveyards and mausoleums, the line between dreams and reality, and the way living in central-Portland is like living inside an abandoned tomb gone ruined with old growth and sinister shadows, enhanced by that familiar (1) but super creepy synth music, Plus the plot tweaks Plan Nine, to be about our worst fear -our dead parents coming back as crushed dwarfs trying to kills us and that we die will be crushed stuffed into big beer kegs and launched through a tuning fork gateway to another dimension. It could still happen!

6. NEXT OF KIN 
(1982) Dir. Tony Williams 
Streaming on Prime, Tubi

This 1982 Aussie thriller has been seldom seen or mentioned until recently  Perhaps its bland poster and generic title is to blame? It's got a unique plot, friendly characters, vivid deep dusky cinematography, very cool wallpaper, and a sublime Klaus "Tangerine Dream" Schulze score adding the perfect mix of otherworldly eeriness to the homey surroundings. The sliding camera and dark furnishings keep us always on guard, even when things are all in order and sweet. 

Jacki Karin stars and brings a mix of steely energy and frazzled nerves to the role of Linda, a woman who inherits her recently deceased mom's old folk's home somewhere in Australia's vast outback, so drives in to both take over and figure out what's going on with all the deaths. Reading mum's journals she can't decide if the mom is insane or covering up or trying to solve a decade's long murder spree. At night the camera prowls the dark moody hallways, as Linda has pull-focus slow motion POV memories of being a traumatized child. What horrifying thing did she see in the steamy bathroom? 

With Schulze percolating his eerie but synth drum-inundated score as the wallpaper and lighting making it all feel like some splendid hybrid between Kubrick's Shining and Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives. The strange goings on get stranger. Good thing her old friend and ex-lover Barney (John 'Wolf Creek' Jarrat!) is around to keep her grounded! To say much more about it would be doing you a disservice but suffice it to say this film evokes a kind of warm-blooded Shining if it was an active old folks home about to collides nto a kind of four alarm Chainsaw-ish whirlwind of strange and ingenious moments, captured with beautiful dusky cinematography. See it with the lights off, dead sober, alone, your nerves dilated and screaming with alcoholic withdrawal. You will be changed. 



11. THE IRON ROSE
"La Rose de Fer" 
(1972) Dir Jean Rollin
Streaming on Arrow

The French love their poets the way Americans love TV actors. Poetry for the French is normal and respectable, not something for your girlfriend's parents to passively sneer at when you tell them your post-graduate plans. They French love Romantic proto-punk French poets like Baudelaire, and that luminous centerpiece the Symbolist 'dead before 30' dozen, Brittany's own Tristan Corbière. To say this, is to say too that they love those who can locate the beauty buried deep in in the ruins of death, and, too, the macabre ruins of death at the core of youthful beauty. They don't need Halloween there, as far as I know, for they have Corbiere, and they have Jean Rollin.  

I'm not sure which part of Françoise Pascal's final monologue/ voiceover during her climactic nude cross-bearing is from him, but I do value that it's hard to tell since all Rollin's best death-poetry-drenched classics reek of his spirit. This is maybe the most reeky of all, rank yet sweet with the fragrance of autumnal wet graveyard bouquets and freshly upturned earth. I also value the ominously mist-wreathed black train parked in the weeds in some overgrown train depot (when the couple stand atop the engine, with its painted black former iron flag trimming it evokes the angel of death looming behind them like some doting father). I value also the dilapidated look of the small town; the opening working class wedding feast (at which both characters seem to clearly not belong --as if already ghosts). Mostly I value that the film takes place over one late afternoon-into-dawn. Slowly, in real time, their Rohmer-esque idyll turns darker, moving from unease after hooking up too long in an open crypt, coming up to find the gates locked not knowing the way out, running through the graveyard in a slowly mounting surreal escape nightmare. Suddenly the distracting noises and peering eyes they were escaping down there are gone. It's as if they climb out into a whole different dimension. Dark falls fast in autumn.And the cinematography doesn't rely on noticeable artificial light, allowing this fascinating, huge, old, creepy, sad and beautiful graveyard to become a character in itself. Thanks to the beautiful Redemption label restoration, you can see their figures, (the red and yellow sweaters were a good idea, providing haunting contrast against the dark olive greens and withering old marble stones) even as darkness chokes the corners of the frame like its slowly blacking out from asphyxiation; the graveyard seem to be closing in around them, choked in vines and meandering fences, twisted vines and crumbling crypts. There's no glaring spotlights or day-for-night nonsense, making Jean-Jacques Renon's photography all the richer for being so dark without going completely murky or artificial. 

Then, when the sun finally comes up and the the conqueror worm's snacktime looms you can feel your pupils contracting yet this does nothing to dispel the Corbière-sy darkness, even as it illuminates the dank far corners and cobwebbed shadows of eternity like a thousand watt bulb in your grandparent's attic.  

Finally, a few seconds before you're even starting to get irritated, it becomes a surreal mournful cry for death; it becomes a love song, a longing for the loving embrace of la mortalité, finalité et l'éternité.  One of them survives, and returns to that old familiar Rollin rocky beach his fans know and love like their own backyardMore poetry?! Please, monsieur. Then it's over - barely 70 minutes long, yet feels like forever. 

Q -is there any image more quietly under-the-skin creepy than this? A- Non.



8. THE UNDEAD
(1957) Dir. Roger Corman
streaming Prime, Tubi

My favorite Corman movie, this loopy black and white tale of reincarnation, hypnotism, knights, witches both good and bad, devils and Satanic graveyard dancers zips by in an hour and leaves my jaw agape every year or more, since it finally showed up on streaming (it was MIA for an eternity). I love everything about it. Charles B. Griffith's and Marc Hana's droll script, and Corman's speedball econo direction, the array of sexy, over-the-top, or otherwise awesome performances, the feeling of flowing poetic weirdness that it can only come from being shot in sequence over one long night in an empty supermarket full of black toxic mist to disguise the lack of backgrounds and of course the perfect pair of 'dueling witches' the shazam-smokin' Alison Hayes in the sexiest dress of her career, and Dorothy Neumann as the bent and hook-nosed good witch (don't be fooled by appearances! In this Middle Ages Oz only bad witches are lovely).

I love the casual way the good witch Meg Maud (Neumann) asks the stranger at her door "Are you from this era or from a time yet to be?" as if hypnotists from the future were not uncommon. Or her explanation of how she got her powers from the same evil place Livia did, but managed to keep her soul at the expense of her looks, and how Livia and Meg Maud size each other up and admiringly realize "you will make a good opponent" in a wager for the life of Helene and love of Pendragon (Richard Garland), Helene's super-boring handsome idiot knight.

I saw UNDEAD when very young on TV and the scene were Duncan seeks shelter at the witch's house is to me the eternally definitive Halloween moment, it's archetypal in the best of ways, for I fell instantly in love with the whole shebang, a monster movie fan from then on. ) and dimwitted lover).Meant to tie in to the then-craze for reincarnation (set in motion by the popularity of the Bridey Murphy story) the story quickly throws logic and even metaphysics to the wind, and ends up derailing the 'Grand Scheme of Things' when Lorna Love is able to whisper survival tips to her about-to-be-beheaded for witchcraft Middle Ages incarnation, Helene. Whoa! That's not how hypnosis works, but hey -- go for it! It's very clear throughout that Corman had his mind blown by Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL. The idea that archetypes like Death, the Devil, the inght and the Witch could be directly represented as if straight out of a woodcut, this redefined 'so old it's new' and it fit Corman's loose ballsy style like a glove. Besides, what else is intuition and spirt guidance if not hypnotized selves of the future shooting us tips and cautions from their future psychiatrist's space couch? And what else are the voices one hears in one's head that-- if you answer --either means your schizophrenic or a witch depending on the century? 


9. INFERNO
(1980) Dir. Dario Argento
Streaming on Tubi, Prime


 Submitted for your aghast confusion, Dario Argento's Inferno, i.e. Suspiria's imperfect but still essential sequel. It is, as Lucio Fulci would say, "an absolute film," i.e. a piece of textural 4D art that defies the parameters of conventional narrative to move into a world of image, sound, and sensation, wherein dream logic, surreal color-drenched atmosphere and nerve-piercing intensity need serve only themselves and our own semiotic grasp of cinematic codes is used against us--there is no need for dream sequences because reality and nightmare have bled inextricable ; where wherein close scrutiny yields no insight, but where you come in halfway through, aren't sure what film it is you'r watching, or finally get back from the snack bar, you don't need to know what you missed. Start anywhere, it's all going the same direction. The end credits scroll have to bring you back from the abyss and tell you "you have been watching INFERNO" since by then it's impossible to tell.



The story is straight out of a dark fairy tale, wherein a curious resident of a Satanic old building in NYC finds a book about her building and learns of 'the three mothers' (mysterious old witches whose power and malice know no bounds). One supposedly lives there "under the soles (souls?) of your shoes" The building is full of secrete entrances and crawlspace, holes in attic roofs where the rain gets in and floods ballrooms seemingly under the basement. When the exploring sister drops her keys down into the flooded hole and--in prime dream/fairy tale fearlessness--jumps in to retrieve them, you know you're not awake. Later she sends her brother a letter about the mothers and her suspicions and, for some weird reason, the mothers are determined to stop him from reading it or learning about them.

But whither Goblin? Dove sono i Goblin?

Rather than the mean old "Goblins", the score is instead a distracting, very un-scary melange of Switched-off Humperdinck tuning his baby grand, "Switched-on Verdi" at Chipmunk speed, cliche'd orchestral suspense cues, all of it scary only in their ability to make us lose our faith in Argento's artistic judgment. Was he blinded (or deafened) by his love for ELP?




Luckily, even when making strange ill-advised steps, the overall mise-en-scene plunges so far into occult symbolism and strange fascinations it makes up for it with brilliantly and somewhat intentionally abstract 30s pulp cover compositions, as if a tripping Edward Hopper was painting Raymond Chandler book covers in early two-strip Technicolor. Inside the frames lurks un unpredictable web of archaic symbology and (possibly kinky) obsession: broken glass door-knobs, elemental magic (fire, water, and air especially), arcane tarot and elemental symbolism, bibliophilia ("our lives are governed by the words of... dead people" intones the Satanically eyebrowed archaic bookseller) grisly killing (of course), and secret rooms and floors that seem to be like black box gallery spaces for contemporary art impressions of broken support beams and attic storage; a surreal visit to an old Roman library late in the rainy dark (the cab interior at night, cocooned in color-drenched pouring rain) and its secret basement re-binding room, demonic hands stirring the glue pot; an enigmatic young witch (Ana Peroni) showing up in a music lecture to stare at Mark (Leigh McCloskey) chanting under her breath words he can't hear because he's got headphones on; Mark meeting neighbor Dario Nicolodi whose whispers he can hear inside the walls; a creepy butler shooting her up with he pre-bath opiates, using a special thermometer to get the water just right inside her undeniably strange blue/red-lit apartment (I can't tell if living there would be a dream or nightmare come true); inevitable hands covered in hair with a knife to cut the suffering short when the animals fail the coup de grace. On and on....

As Mark says on the phone to his wet sister, "a lot's happened."

Watch it again, it's a different movie. I actually reviewed this already (as well as the following film) and forgot I did! That's how enigmatic and ever-shifting a perennial can be. Never the same film twice, never any better, never any worse. As haunting to superstitious minds... as a ghost.

10THE NIGHTMARE
(2015) Dir. Rodney Ascher 
Streaming on Prime

The director of Room 237 tackles another deep weirdness, this time it's sleep-paralysis. During interviews with a series of troubled but erudite sufferers, Asher gives us suuuuper creepy re-enactments of their sleep paralysis experiences. With the infamous shadow people (one of the strange common threads) rendered in inky with spooky HD blacks against blue/red color scheme evoking Argento, each sleep paralysis moment is so vividly recreated the film transcends mere 'documentary' to become something truly new, twisted, meta, and deeply illuminating. For me the creepy highlights are the alien figures composed of TV static, a subject's recollection of a night when his weird hippie girlfriend at the time conjured a blue lightbeing while on a hike (the actress playing the girl is truly uncanny), and a meta moment where we see  bedrooms of the interviewees all connected by a common interdimensional soundstage/sleep study, where the beings move between rooms, conjuring Monsters Inc., that "Girl in the Fireplace" Dr. Who episode and other things that cause a sudden jolt of uncanny epiphany. Have we seen this in-between place ourselves.... in dreams, or like secret passages in Argento movies? Either way, it's short, illuminating, creepy in the best and most Halloween of ways. 

(For more on sleep paralysis on Acidemic's sister site Divinorum Psychonauticus, see: Demon Sheets: Sleep Paralysis Theories)


Bonus. ZOMBI 4: AFTER DEATH
(1989) Dir. Claude Fragasso

Fairly terrible opening narration (mispronounces 'humanitarian') a but then there's a great 80s Italian faux-Journey song "The Wild Life" and I'm in. Sure, some snob zombie circles turn their noses at Zombi 4: After Death, but it's got everything I want in an Italian 80s faux-Fulci Zombi sequel: dark, moody cinematography (lots of deep greens and dusky reds and inky blacks); endless backlit fog through the old growth forest and expressionistic boards over holes and broken out windows, dusk-til-dawn timeline, vivd photography capturing the fine flicker of light in the darkness, cool characters who don't waste time with histrionics and sexist or class-conscious bickering and an apocalyptic ending. Fragasso made some turkeys in his day but this one starts strong, bouncing along on its feet, and it never slows down except to try and get some sleep in the wrecked makeshift missionary-run field hospital (i.e. shades of Fulci's indelible Zombi 2) while an armed and reliable mercenary stands watch. One weakness though, his undead buddies are out there, and they can talk, and still shoot their M-16s.

This time the outbreak is confined to a single remote jungle island--the result of a witch doctor's levied curse (left)-- Whatever, man, who needs a reason when there's a beautifully-lit cave with a doorway to hell and a woman with sandy blonde hair trying to stop the zombies by putting the medallion given to her by her missionary parents--in the center of a bunch of candles? 

Lastly, don't confuse Zombi 4: After Death with Hell of the Living Dead, AKA Virus AKA Zombie 4, though that movie is pretty good in its own right (see link below). Zombi 4: After Death--with its misty, chilling jungle atmosphere, steady propulsion, good dubbing and the typically dynamite 80s synth score by Goblin (lifted from earlier movies, but so what?)--is the one to see when you want to keep the vibe going after watching one of the established zombie classics but have just run through all the others in a zombie binge. Scripted by Rosella Drudi (Fragasso's wife and writer of the inoperable Troll 2), it's got some sensitivity in its female characters' dialogue and--as usual for Druidi's scripts--it's laden with deadpan absurdity that may or may not be intentional. May we never find out! (Tubi)

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