Hell Will Hold No Surprises for You

A quick trip down the highway to hell today with three infernal flicks I’ve caught in the past week or so…

It had been years since I last saw Ken Russell’s The Devils and in the interim I had forgotten what an eyefuck it is. Even beyond Vanessa Redgrave’s madcap turn as a randy nun with a repulsive prosthetic hunchback and Oliver Reed’s sinful-as-a-chocolate-éclair handlebar mustache, the film is just one scene after another of effulgent, gratuitous genius. While most folks would cite Tommy and Women in Love as better films, for my money this movie is Russell’s finest moment.

Oh, sure, the movie’s narrative is a bit of a mess, but given the subject matter, I think it works in Russell’s favor. While every character and their mother is going on about decadence and wickedness, it’s Russell himself that’s committing the real transgression here; from the first frame to the last, The Devils is full-on, joyously blasphemous film-making.


Speaking of blasphemy, I also had opportunity last week to revisit one my favorite horror comedies. Álex de la Iglesia’s El día de la Bestia (“Day of the Beast”) isn’t as over-the-top as Dead Alive or Evil Dead II and it lacks the lyrical poeticism of Dellamorte Dellamore, but it certainly belongs in that hallowed company for its masterful balance of laughs and horror. There are realtively few ‘shocks’ in El día de la Bestia, but the apocolyptic tone of the film is pervasive and persuasive.  While the genuinely likable characters and performances make this one a delight to watch, its de la Iglesia’s portrait of mid-90’s Madrid as a filthy garbage heap quickly sliding into the incinerator that lingers with me.

The supernatural elements are fun, but it’s that moment when our protagonist, Father Ángel Berriartúa (Álex Angulo), is sitting at a bus stop and he sees a group of men get out of a car across the street and set a homeless man on fire that pushes El día de la Bestia into a whole different weight class. Love this one.


Of the films I caught lately, though, the real sin against man is  L’ Occhio del male (“Manhattan Baby”), quite easily the single worst Lucio Fulci film I’ve ever slept through.

If you’ve ever seen Fulci’s transcendentally terrible The House By The Cemetery, than maybe you are under the delusion you’ve seen the man’s worst horror film, but rest assured you don’t know the dregs of Fulci’s 80’s output until you’ve watched ineffectual archaeologist Christopher Connelly stumble around with his eyes bandaged under his glasses after getting his corneas zapped by blue laser beams fired out of an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph. I know that does indeed sound awesome in a MST3K-sorta way, but trust me, you’ll be the one wishing your eyes had been disintegrated after 10 minutes with one. I spared myself some of the torment by falling asleep 30 minutes in and scanning over what I had missed at 4X when I woke. Even that felt like an eternity spent in some previously unpostulated level of Hell reserved for Fulci apologists, and this is coming from a guy who owns both City of the Living Dead and The Beyond on DVD.


31 Days of Knife: One, Two, Freddy’s Comin’ For You

I’m going to make some people very happy – I’m going to praise Wes Craven for a moment. I ripped the guy pretty mercilessly when I looked at Last House on The Left. I stand by that rebuke because I don’t think Craven has the stomach for making a great exploitation movie, i.e. one that really challenges its audience’s sense of decency. I also believe he’s a film maker who is better at capturing specific moments of horror with clarity and acuity, but that generally his narrative chops are weak.

Interestingly, I think of the three big filmmakers we looked at from the exploitation era of the 70’s – Craven, Hooper, and Carpenter – Craven is stylistically the weakest of the bunch, yet both Hooper and Carpenter’s careers fizzled in the late 80’s. In contrast, Craven’s career has gone through highs and lows but it presents an interesting case study – Craven has been present at the birth of the Slasher film (Last House), the end of the Slasher film (Nightmare on Elm Street), and the re-birth of the Slasher film (Scream).

Now, you may be asking yourself, “How was ‘Nightmare’ the end of the Slasher film?”

Continue reading

31 Days of Knife: He wasn’t a very good swimmer

Pamela Voorhees: Did you know a young boy drowned the year before those two others were killed? The counselors weren’t paying any attention… They were making love while that young boy drowned. His name was Jason.

Netflix had the Friday the 13th series streaming for the month of September and I thought it might be fun to catch up with a series that made up a big chunk of my teenage cable viewing habits.

Continue reading

31 Days of Knife: Day 4 – The Grand Guignol

“Contact headquarters and let ’em know the killer is no more. He died a fitting death. Like the garbage he was.”  –  Frank, The Police Captain

Let’s go back to the early 1960’s, to a time when American drive-ins were getting suffocated with B-movies of every conceivable flavor. If you wanted to make it in the business, a snazzy title alone wasn’t enough to set yourself apart from the crowd; you had to deliver something folks had never seen before – something weird, somthing shocking.

Enter Herschell Gordon Lewis and his 1963 gore classic Blood Feast.

Continue reading

31 Days of Knife: Day 3 – Roundtable

Today I’m featuring a roundtable discussion between four guys who share a love of horror movies. Joining me today are Peter Gallegos – photographer, artist, and all-around swell guy, Joey LaBartunek – comic artist and VFX post-production guy for Spike’s Deadliest Warrior, and A J Herrera – co-founder of Forbidden Panel and co-creator of the comic Zombie Kill Squad.

Continue reading

31 Days of Knife: Day 1 – Introduction

“All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.” – Nietzsche

The slasher film has been around for well over thirty years now, but there’s still a pretty fair contingent of sophisticates who have qualms about letting it keep company with the likes of The Exorcist and The Shining. I don’t how these lines get drawn, but perhaps it’s because these turtle-neck wearin’, pipe-smokin’ eggheads believe The Exorcist is actually about something. “Why, any fool can see that whole demonic possession business is really just a metaphor for American society’s dread and uncertainty in response to the youth culture’s sexual emancipation.”

Because academically minded film critics make their living breaking movies down and figuring out what they’re “saying,” it can be all-too tempting to see a movie that lends itself to a meaty metatextual interpretation as more legitimate than one that (on the surface anyway) simply exploits trends to sell tickets. And in the world of serious film studies, legitimacy equals class, old boy. That makes Dawn of the Dead the dinner for two at Masa of horror films, while something like Don’t Go In The Woods is more like the little bits of burnt French fries they dump out with the grease at the end of the night at Burger King.

Continue reading