Horror


SHORTS: Larson, Carroll, St. George, Yang

SHORTS: The annual Halloween edition. Our horror-themed column this week, reviewing some recent online short fiction works, features demon babies, slasher film heroines, ghosts and more.

“Growing and Growing” by Rich Larson (2019, free at Nightmare Magazine)

Ignacio and Hector are on their way home after a night of drinking when they find a baby crying in the middle of the road. Ignacio decides to bring it home for the night so he can take it to the hospital in the morning. But on the way home, the friends begin to realize that something about this abandoned baby is not quite right…

“Growing and Growing” is a very short (12 minute) creepy tale that works great in the audio format performed by Stefan Rudnicki, one of my f... Read More

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

If ghosts exist, we don’t know why, but ghost stories exist because the living make them up; and the living make them up because we need them. Colin Dickey’s book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (2016) explores the US’s social conflicts and hidden histories as they play out in places that are publicly advertised as “haunted.” In the first chapter, Dickey says, “If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Look for the darkened graveyards, the derelict hotels, the empty and decaying old hospitals.”

That passage is also something of a roadmap to the book, which comprises a collection of Dickey’s essays. The chapters are divided by category: haunted houses; h... Read More

The Monster and the Girl: A flabbergasting mix of film genres

Happy Halloween!

The Monster and the Girl directed by Stuart Heisler

I suppose that I owe director John Landis a huge debt of thanks, as he was the one who first introduced me to the movie in question, The Monster and the Girl ... a film that I may very well have never heard of, without his knowledgeable guidance. As the TCM guest programmer one evening recently, Landis — himself the director of one of the truly great modern-day horror films, An American Werewolf in London — told host Ben Mankiewicz that he had selected the 1941 film because he found it to be totally unique, and indeed, a viewing of the picture will surely leave the viewer thinking that this highly effective little "B picture" really is a sui generis experience. Conflating as it does the gangster film, the courtroom drama, and the mad scientist movie, The Monster and the Girl manages to surprise at every turn, and as Mankiewicz noted, the ac... Read More

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton: A masterful collection of chillers

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton

Perhaps because she is one of the most esteemed writers of the 20th century, Edith Wharton may not be immediately associated with the genre of horror. Today, she is probably best remembered for her novels The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920), which latter book copped her the Pulitzer Prize, as well as for her classic novella from 1911, Ethan Frome, a staple reading assignment for all English majors. In novel after novel, Wharton examined the members of the upper crust in turn-of-the-century NYC, a society and a town that she knew well by experience. But as she would reveal in her autobiography A Backward Glance, the author was a big fan of the ghost story as well, a shivery pot in which she would ultimately dip her quill on any number of occasions. After ... Read More

Monster of Venice: Alla Salute!

Monster of Venice directed by Dino Tavella

Pop quiz: Can you name a film in which a serial killer stalks the byways and canals of Venice? If your answer is Nicolas Roeg's 1973 film Don't Look Now, a glass of Chianti for you! If you came up with the more obscure film Who Saw Her Die?, a giallo picture directed by Aldo Lado in 1972, well, you've just earned yourself two glasses of Marchesi Antinori! And if your response was the extremely obscure Monster of Venice, a B&W thriller directed by Dino Tavella in 1965, well, YOU deserve an entire bottle of Nero d'Avola! In this one, the titular madman's MO is to put on scuba gear and either abduct his teenage female prey right off their gondolas or as they're walking near the canals. When he isn't busy actually snatching his pretties, he can be found in his underground catacomb lair, injecting his latest catch with embalming fluid (the film's American title IS The Embalmer... Read More

Tomb of Torture: Anna-phylactic shock

Tomb of Torture directed by Antonio Boccaci

1963 was a very good year for the Italian horror film. In February, cinematographer-turned-director Mario Bava started the giallo ball rolling with the release of his seminal The Girl Who Knew Too Much, and he would follow up that August with back-to-back releases of two of his most beloved films, Black Sabbath and The Whip and the Body. Riccardo Freda's The Ghost, starring Barbara Steele, came out in late March, Alberto de Martino's The Blancheville Monster in June, and Antonio Margheriti's Horror Castle, featuring Christopher Lee, also in August. Lost in the shuffle, apparently, was the late March release of Tomb of Torture, a little-known horror outing that is certainly a lesser affair than those others, but yet one that has much to offer for the modern-day fan of Gothic Eurohorror. Originally released with the title Read More

The Hanging Woman: Igor vs. Gotho

The Hanging Woman directed by Jose Luis Merino

Paul Naschy, the so-called "Boris Karloff of Spain," was apparently very proud of the work he turned in for Jose Luis Merino's 1973 cult favorite The Hanging Woman. In an interview taped for the Troma DVD release, shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer in 2009, Naschy revealed that he initially turned the part down, only accepting after Merino allowed him to add some "dimensionality" to the small role of Igor, a grave digger who is murdered shortly after the film's midpoint. Naschy rewrote the part, making Igor a necrophilic grave digger (has there EVER been a "normal" character named Igor in the history of the horror film?) who still has a maximum of a dozen lines in the picture. Rather, The Hanging Woman centers around the character of Serge Chekhov (an unappealing performance by Stelvio Rosi), who comes to what I inferred to be an early 20th century Alpine village (although the IMDb say... Read More

The Blancheville Monster: “Everything seems morose and deathlike…”

The Blancheville Monster directed by Alberto de Martino

The shadow cast by Mario Bava's seminal 1960 film Black Sunday was indeed a long one on the Italian horror industry. Three years later, in Alberto de Martino's The Blancheville Monster, we find its cousin, a Gothic-tinged, B&W horror outing with a familiar tone but nowhere near as much artful impact.

In the film, beautiful Emily de Blancheville (Ombrella Colli) returns to her ancestral castle, in Brittany in the year 1884, after finishing her years in college. She is accompanied by her American school friend Alice (Iran Eory) and Alice's brother John (hunky Vanni Materassi), her soon-to-be fiancé. But it is a tough homecoming for Emily, as it turns out. Her brother Rodrigue (Gerard Tichy) is now in charge, following their father's disfiguring injuries in a recent abbey fire; two new presences in the castle, Dr. Lerouge (Leo Anchoriz) and the housekeeper, Miss E... Read More

The Last Town: … or this could be hell

The Last Town by Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch wraps up the WAYWARD PINES trilogy in The Last Town (2014). If you haven’t read the prior two books, Pines and Wayward, be warned that here there be spoilers, as well as monsters and a bloodbath.

David Pilcher was a visionary man, convinced that the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho would be a new Eden, a place where people could start over again. The sign outside of town even proclaims “WELCOME TO WAYWARD PINES — WHERE PARADISE IS HOME”! Though Pilcher was right in many ways, life there was far more difficult and dangerous than he foresaw. Between that and Pilcher’s mania for control, Wayward Pines has been more of a prison for its inhabi... Read More

The Wild, Wild Planet: Colorato e fantasioso

The Wild, Wild Planet directed by Antonio Margheriti

The mid-1960s was a very interesting time for Italian sci-fi on the big screen. In September '65, future giallo legend Mario Bava gave the world the artfully done Planet of the Vampires, a film whose set design, it has been suggested, very possibly influenced the look of the movie Alien over a decade later. In December '65, director Elio Petri delivered the film that is, for this viewer, the best of the Italian sci-fi bunch to this date, The 10th Victim, based on the short story "Seventh Victim" by Robert Sheckley. Starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress, the film remains a knockout more than half a century later. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, director Antonio Margheriti, once again working under his alias of Anthony Dawson, was working on a string of relatively low-budget fi... Read More

Bloodsuckers: When Peter Met Patrick

Bloodsuckers directed by Robert Hartford-Davis

Perhaps I should state at the outset that my only reason for renting out the 1970 British film Bloodsuckers is that it stars two of my very favorite English actors, Peter Cushing and The Avengers's Patrick Macnee, appearing in a theatrical picture together for the first and only time. Well, I suppose that helps to explain my double disappointment with this film, a horror outing without a single shiver, and moreover, one in which Cushing and Macnee share not a single scene together. A fairly incomprehensible, ineptly put-together goulash of a film, Bloodsuckers (aka Doctors Wear Scarlet and the title under which I saw it in its current Something Weird DVD presentation, Freedom Seeker, as well as Incense for the Damned) turns out to be som... Read More

The Lost Continent: Serendipity

The Lost Continent directed by Michael Carreras

There is a word, "serendipity," that Webster's defines as "an instance of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for," and I suppose that this would be the precise word to describe my experience with the 1968 film The Lost Continent. I had set my DVR at home to record a film that I thought to be the old Cesar Romero film from 1951, Lost Continent, a childhood favorite, and wound up getting this one instead. I was very disappointed when I discovered my error, but decided not to immediately delete what I'd recorded, and instead kept it in digital storage for a year or so. But when I finally sat down to watch The Lost Continent the other night, what a nice surprise it turned out to be! And no wonder! The film is a product of the always reliable Hammer Studios, featuring fine acting support, pleasing if cheezy special effects, and an action-packed story line. Hammer initiall... Read More

The Disembodied: See it for Allison

The Disembodied directed by Walter Grauman

Sometimes, all it takes is one decent, interesting and/or sexy performance to salvage an otherwise lackluster film from complete uselessness. To demonstrate the veracity of this statement, I give you The Disembodied, a rather silly and borderline confusing voodoo film that is of interest today solely for the performance of its leading lady, Allison Hayes. When The Disembodied was first released in August 1957, it was part of a double bill, playing alongside the now legendary From Hell It Came, now regarded as one of the worst films of all time, its walking tree monster Tabanga a source of jokes and derision for over 60 years now. In retrospect, though, From Hell It Came is a fun albeit campy experience, and one that this viewer enjoyed a lot more than he thought he would. It is surely the superior film as compare... Read More

Satan’s Blood: Earning its “S”

Satan’s Blood directed by Carlos Puerto

The death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in November 1975 meant not only the end of a 39-year repressive regime for the people of Spain, and the ushering in of democracy, but the dawn of a new freedom in the cinematic arts, as well. With the effective ending, in 1977, of the strict censorship laws that had hamstrung filmmakers for decades, a new looseness was engendered. Films could now be released that contained nudity, sexual themes, and violent and horrific elements ... provided, of course, that the film was tagged with the "Clasificada S" label, that "S," of course, standing for "sex." Released in 1978, Escalofrio (which opened in the U.S. with the title Satan's Blood) was one of the first pictures out of the gate to take advantage of the new freedoms.

In the film, the viewer makes the acquaintance of two couples. Couple A, Andres and Ana (a lawyer with his four-months-pregnant wif... Read More

Last Ones Left Alive: Bleak and painful

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Orpen is a young woman who lives with her mother and Maeve, her mother’s partner, on an island off the coast of Ireland. As she is growing up, as far as Orpen knows, they are the only humans left alive. Orpen wants to go to the mainland to see if she can find any other people, and to search for the legendary female paramilitary force that is rumored to be fighting the skrake, vicious zombie-like creatures that hunt and kill humans. Her mother and Maeve warn her against this, but finally Orpen finds the opportunity to set out on her quest. She will need all of the survival and fighting skills that her two mothers taught her.

As Orpen journeys through a bleak and desolate (but sometimes beautiful) landscape, she uses flashbacks to very gradually enlighten us about the world and why she began her quest. We also gradually become aware of the horrible origins of the skrake. We witness Orpen’... Read More

The Twilight People: Kalahati Tao, Kalahati Hayop

The Twilight People directed by Eddie Romero

The 1959 film Terror Is a Man was the very first horror picture to be made in the country of the Philippines. A very well done but uncredited reiteration of H. G. Wells' classic 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, the film was gorgeously shot in B&W, featured stylish direction by Geraldo de Leon and (again, an uncredited) Eddie Romero, as well as an intelligent script that was punctuated by interesting speculations on the nature of man and beast. Over the next 10 years, Romero worked at a fairly furious pace, eventually carving out for himself a place in the world's pantheon of great horror directors by coming out with his legendary Blood Island trilogy: Read More

La Nuit de la Morte (Night of Death): French toast

La Nuit de la Morte (Night of Death) directed by Raphael Delpard

OK, I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and make the assumption that any person who might be interested in reading a review of the 1980 French film La Nuit de la Morte! (Night of Death!) is already aware that it is very much a horror picture (as if that morbid title, capped with its exclamation mark, could possibly leave any doubt). And that's important, because any discussion of this seldom-mentioned rarity is almost impossible without divulging at least one key plot twist, which transpires around 20 minutes in. I was first alerted to the very existence of this Gallic obscurity by the excellent reference volume DVD Delirium 4, which describes the picture as "good, disreputable, down-and-dirty splatter with a unique French twist," and indeed, the film really might be a pleasant surprise for the jaded horror fan who is seeking out something different... Read More

The Night Digger: A stroke of very bad luck

The Night Digger directed by Alastair Reid

Not precisely a horror movie, a murder mystery, a slasher film, OR a domestic tragedy, The Night Digger, a British film that was initially released in May 1971, yet combines elements of all those genres into one truly sui generis experience. A largely forgotten film, The Night Digger (or, as it was originally released in the U.K., The Road Builder … an inferior title, as it turns out) is perhaps best known today — for those who know of it at all, that is — for its leading-role performance by the great Kentucky-born actress Patricia Neal, as well as for the contributions of screenwriter Roald Dahl and composer Bernard Herrmann. As the story goes, Neal, after suffering from a series of debilitating strokes, while pregnant, and following her appearance in 1965's In Harm's Way, was nursed back ... Read More

Blood Thirst: Maganda!

Blood Thirst directed by Newt Arnold

For those connoisseurs of foreign horror films who are desirous of seeing the 1965 Filipino obscurity entitled Blood Thirst, their only recourse, it would seem, is the DVD currently available from those maniacs at Something Weird. The picture in question shares the disc with another relatively unknown film, the similarly titled Bloodsuckers, and it was to see this British product of 1970 that I initially rented out this DVD. But Bloodsuckers turns out to be a terrible mess of a film, despite the participation of Peter Cushing and Patrick Macnee; an ineptly put-together head scratcher that suffers even more in comparison to Blood Thirst, a surprisingly good, well-made little chiller that manages to satisfy on all levels. Released in America six years after its Filipino debut, the film features gorgeous B&... Read More

The Mighty Peking Man: Hong Kong King Kong, OR Kraft cheese

The Mighty Peking Man directed by Meng Hua Ho

Well, I suppose I didn't do adequate homework before venturing into Meng Hua Ho's 1977 camp classic The Mighty Peking Man. For some reason, I had thought the titular protagonist was a man-sized survivor of the Paleolithic Age; a caveman type; a troglodyte displaced in time. But as most psychotronic-film fans have long since discovered, this is hardly the case at all, and the film in question turns out to be nothing more than a cheesy Hong Kong rip-off of 1933's King Kong ... or, perhaps, more specifically, a cash-in "homage" to the Dino De Laurentiis travesty of the preceding year. A production of the Shaw Brothers, whose Infra-Man of 1975 had proved to be so memorably jaw dropping, the film is a goofy, fast-moving and wholly enjoyable experience, with better production values than you might be expecting, and lovably ersatz sp... Read More

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror: Bark just as bad as his bite

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror directed by Andrea Bianchi

The impact that George A. Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968) had on the future of the so-called "zombie film" was so enormous as to practically constitute a sea change. Up until then, in pictures such as White Zombie (1932), Revolt of the Zombies (1936), King of the Zombies (1941), I Walked With a Zombie (1943) and even as late as 1966's The Plague of the Zombies, these creatures had been presented as essentially harmless beings; hypnotized or drugged, living automatons who carried out the commands of their masters. The Romero film transformed the zombies into ravenous gut munchers; the revivified dead, hungry for human flesh. Since Night of the Living Dead, many films have played on this concept with varying success and degrees of imagination, the be... Read More

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Gothic horror at its best

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Despite being a slim novel of only ten chapters, this novel packs a punch. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is an unsettling, nerve-inducing exploration of what it is to give into your base desires, and the inability to escape them once you have succumbed.

The tale is largely narrated by Mr Utterson, a lawyer. His good friend Dr Jekyll has been acting strangely of late, and our story opens with Mr Utterson and his cousin Mr Enfield discussing the matter of their mutual acquaintance.

It transpires that a certain Mr Hyde has been terrorising the streets of London. Mr Enfield tells of how he saw the man trample a girl's head and has been seen causing mischief around the area of Dr Jekyll's residence. He later beats a man to death. Mr Utterson is horrified to discover that his friend, Dr Jeykll, has named Mr Hyd... Read More

Queen of Blood: A green-blooded gal on the Red Planet

Queen of Blood directed by Curtis Harrington

In November 1966, television audiences were introduced, via the two-part Star Trek episode entitled "The Menagerie," to a green-skinned, hypnotically beautiful alien woman, an Orion dancing girl played in an unforgettable manner by the great Susan Oliver; a character who made an indelible impression despite not having a single line of dialogue. (Indeed, the excellent, 2014 DVD biography of Oliver's life would be called The Green Girl, a tribute to one of her more fondly remembered roles.) But this was not the first such olive-toned alien siren to appear on screens that year! In March '66, in the Curtis Harrington-directed, AIP film Queen of Blood, audiences had been exposed to another such character, but this one was of a far, far more inimical variety. As the story goes, producer/director Roger Corman had acquired some footage from two earlier Russian sci-fi epics, 1959's Nebo Zovyot Read More

Let the Right One In: Bye, bye, Blackeberg

Let the Right One In directed by Tomas Alfredson

The winner of at least 50 international film awards and a popular and critical favorite, the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In is, as it turns out, highly deserving of all the many accolades it has received. Adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his best-selling novel of 2004, the film introduces us to a 12-year-old boy named Oskar, who lives with his mother in a suburb of Stockholm, and who is more than effectively played by newcomer Kare Hedebrant. Oskar's life as a friendless soul who is helplessly bullied at school takes a turn for the better when some new neighbors move into his apartment complex. Eli, who is apparently his age, initially tells Oskar "I can't be friends with you ... that's just how it is," but the two ultimately DO bond, although Eli later reveals that she has been 12 "for a long time." In point of... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to sno... Read More