To assist my fellow Chewers in preparing their upcoming
Halloween festivities I’m listing some particularly interesting horror films
that have been overlooked by even hardened horror fans may have missed, or not
even known existed in the first place.



 

6 Films to Keep You Awake: The Christmas Tale (aka: Cuento de
navidad):

A group of children find a woman dressed as Santa Claus who
has fallen to the bottom of a well in the middle of the woods. After some
armature detective work the kids discover their new friend is a thief on the
run with a substantial haul. The kids make the trapped thief an offer—her
freedom for the money.

 

Lionsgate released Spanish television’s answer to America’s
Masters of Horror series with little fanfare, and the box art did everything it
could to disguise the fact that the films were Spanish in origin. The series as
a whole is a rousing success, but director Paco Plaza
and writer Luis Berdejo’s The Christmas Tale is the clear front-runner, and a
film that deserves more standalone respect. The film respectfully pays homage
to ‘80s ‘gang of kids’ flicks like The Goonies or Monster Squad (along with other
film and television favorites of those of us that grew up in the era), and ups
the anti on the R-rated action. Plaza captures the essence of childhood
shenanigans more honestly then Donner ever did, embracing a lack of naiveté and
innocence, and stopping just short of crafting his characters into genuinely
hateful. Pan’s Labyrinth star Ivana Baquero is featured in the capable kiddie
cast.


6 Films to Keep You Awake Trailer



 

Beyond the Darkness (aka: Buried Alive, Buio Omega):

Italian director Aristide Massaccesi, usually known as Joe
D’Amato by horror fans, was one of the most unabashedly sleazy filmmakers in
exploitation history. Most of his catalogue is made up of faceless hardcore and
softcore porn, but he was a successful producer, and went were the money was.
His most ‘fondly’ remembered for his work with horror including some of the
most sexual and violently graphic films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, such
as Anthropophagus the Beast, Emmanuel in America, and Porno Holocaust. Most of
these films are terrible, but like fellow porn/horror sleaze merchant Jesus
Franco, D’Amato was a talented artiste that usually didn’t care enough to try,
and occasionally a good film escaped his apathy.

 

Beyond the Darkness features a weak script, corny dialogue,
and some overripe acting, but it’s brimming with mildew-caked atmosphere,
D’Amato’s photography is solid, and those overripe actors really give it their
all. The narrative runs on an almost plotless series of events encapsulating
all means of murder and mutilation, not to mention necrophilia and incest. The
basic premises of each scene are captured in a disturbingly voyeuristic
fashion, and the special effects are upsettingly realistic. The gruesome gore is
the show stopper, and so extreme that Beyond the Darkness remains one of three
movies in my collection that still makes me sick to my stomach, even though I understand
the simple illusion. The unease peters off a bit after the centerpiece
embalming scene, but strong constitution still apply.


Beyond the Darkness Trailer




The Black Room:

Long before the Tweens stole vampires in the ‘00s, the
teenagers had their way with them in the ‘80s. To the chagrin of many friends I
am personally not a fan of this era in more than a passing nostalgia capacity.
Released early among the throwaway pack was Elly Kenner and Norman Thaddeus
Vane’s The Black Room, which only really fits into the mold because of its sexy
take on blood-suckers. Taking themes from George Romero’s masterful Martin,
Black Room tells the story of a brother and sister that rent a room to
swingers, who they proceed to kill for possibly unnecessary blood transfusions.
The whole thing is frightfully dated (and likely was even in 1984, as it
appears to have been actually made in the ‘70s), but the performances rise
above the less than impressive dialogue, and the editing is occasionally
brilliant. Unfortunately Black Room hasn’t been released on DVD in any region
yet, so genuinely interested parties might have to take less than ‘reputable’
measures to get their hands on it. I’m thinking it’s worth the possible repercussions.




Curse II: The Bite:

Now all these movies aren’t exactly what one would call
‘good’ under strict definitions, but for lovers of monsters and transformation
make-up effects it doesn’t get much better than Curse II: The Bite, which has absolutely
nothing to do with the first Curse (a so-so adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s
‘Colour of Outer Space’). A young couple on a cross country trip takes a short
cut even after being distinctly told to not, and find themselves driving through
a sea of radioactive snakes. One of the slithery creatures ends up hitching a
ride, and bites the dude half of the couple. His hand quickly turns into a
snake head, and he grows a little peckish. Later he mutates more (thanks to some
brilliantly gooey Screaming Mad George effects), and ends the film chasing his
girlfriend through a construction site, vomiting snakes. A generally
melodramatic and (boringly) tragic love story is spiked with an amusing
side-plot concerning Jamie Fann as a travelling salesman that fancies himself a
doctor. After supplying the bitten boy with anti-venom (anti-venom he just
happens to carry), Fann realizes he might have made a mistake, and he chases
the couple down for fear of lawsuit, rather than fear for the boy’s well-being.
The star attraction is clearly the effects, however, and the US DVD release is
cut to an R-rating, which actually makes a difference in this case. It’s also
full-frame. There is an official Region 2 DVD, but those without region free players
might want to explore those less reputable measures again.


Snake hand eating nurse scene.




Dolls:

I’ve slowly grown into a die-hard fan of director Stewart
Gordon, and would heartily recommend almost everything in his oeuvre. I’m
guessing we’ve all seen The Re-Animator and From Beyond, and narrowing it down
to what I don’t recommend would be a little easier (coughDreamsInTheWitchHousecough),
but Dolls is a personal favorite that proves an easy viewing, and I’m guessing
most horror fans have overlooked it. Gordon foregoes his Lovecraft and Poe
obsessions in favor of an old fashion E.C. Comic morality tale, and keeps the
violence pretty minimal, but the film still clearly bares his signature. Dolls
is colorful, funny, occasionally genuinely creepy, and most notably, it
features a handful of fantastic performances. Some of the cast is delightfully
hammy, while others are pitch-perfectly tempered, especially a wonderfully
natural little actress named Carrie Lorraine
as the lead, and Gordon favorite Stephen Lee as a good natured man-child. In
all it’s kind of like the best episode of Goosebumps never made.


Dolls trailer



 

Horrors of Malformed Men:

For the required Asian entry I submit Teruo Ishii’s vastly
under-seen Edogawa Rampo adaptation Horrors of Malformed Men. Besides simply featuring
one of the best titles in known movie history (which is also one of the best
last act spoilers in known movie history), Horrors of Malformed Men is a macabre
rollercoaster of comedy and terror, featuring saturated colors that would make
Dario Argento adjust his television set, and more perversion than you can shake
a webbed mutant hand at. Ishii expertly crams gooey handfuls of dozens of genre
clichés into a stew clearly inspired by both his countryman’s literature (Rampo
has been compared to Poe), and the best of the horror film world. Synapse’s DVD
was released more than two years ago, and it still stands as one of the biggest
and most exciting surprises I’ve ever had in my DVD reviewing life. See it!


Horrors of Malformed Men trailer



 

The Hunchback of Rue Morgue (aka: El jorobado de la Morgue):

Those curious about the cinema of Spanish man of a thousand
faces Paul Naschy (aka: Jacinto Molina) will probably want to start with some
of the more readily available El Hombre Lobo flicks, but once they get the hang
of the man’s Universal meets Hammer in Spain style they’ll want to seek out
Hunchback of Rue Morgue – the star’s best film. Featuring the best mix of
violence, schlock, gothic imagery, and melodrama, Rue Morgue is surprisingly
poignant, and perfectly atmospheric. The plot is wacky, and the bizarre
production design features a literal stew of body parts, an acid bath, and a
man in a monster suit. What else do you need? News of an official Region 1
release was looking bad when BCI Eclipse went under, but recent news states
that the relatively new Mya Communications is releasing a DVD on November 24th.




The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (aka: Let Sleeping
Corpses Lie, Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti, Breakfast at the
Manchester Morgue, and Don’t Open the Window):

Hopefully this classic zombie film, one of the best and most
important to be released between Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of
the Dead
, has been available on DVD long enough that my recommendation here is
moot. First released under the title Let Sleeping Corpses Lie by Anchor Bay and
Blue Underground, then re-released as The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue by
Blue Underground, Jorge Grau’s gruesome and moody movie is a little dated, and
it lacks the visceral impact of Fulci’s post-Dawn of the Dead films, but it
features more likeable characters and a more involved narrative than most
non-Romero flesh-eater opuses. This Tuesday Blue Underground re-released the
film on Blu-ray, and the transfer is a knock out. There aren’t many classic
cult horror flicks in hi-def yet, and this is a good start.


Don’t Open the Window trailer (a major inspiration on Edgar Wright’s Grindhouse fake trailer Don’t)



 

Lisa and the Devil (aka: Lisa e il diavolo, The Devil and
the Dead):

Though it might be easier to simply demand everyone that
labels themselves a connoisseur of horror sees every one of Mario Bava’s films
(myself included, as there are some that still aren’t available on DVD), I’d
like to aim special consideration towards one of the maestro’s most overlooked
films. Lisa and the Devil isn’t as perfectly gorgeous as Black Sunday, or as
entertaining as Bay of Blood (Twitch of the Death Nerve), but it’s likely Bava’s
most mature film, and deserves a place among art house ‘horror’ preferences
like Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf and Virgin Spring, or Herk Harvey’s Carnival of
Souls
(it’s certainly better than the bafflingly acclaimed Spirits of the Dead,
directed by Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim).

 

The plotting is loose at best, secondary to the haunting,
hallucinatory imagery. There are few films that so perfectly evoke the feeling
of a dream state, and even fewer that remain largely accessible. The majority
of the cast, including the beautiful lead Elke Sommer, blends into the imagery,
but the always enigmatic Telly Savalas is riveting as one of cinema’s most
memorable satanic avatars. When the film was first completed producer Alfredo
Leone was unhappy with Bava’s more cerebral turn, and personally recut the film
with scenes of Sommer doing her best Linda Blair impression, and the whole mess
was retitled House of Exorcism in an effort to cash-in on William Friedkin’s
hit. Though it features a little more sex and violence, this version is not
recommended.


Unused Lisa and the Devil trailer.




Razorback:

Toted as ‘Jaws on Trotters’ by its producers, this
flamboyant Australian mixed genre gem from music video wonder child Russell
Mulcahy (who would go on to direct the cult favorite Highlander) has finally
seen a minor Region 1 DVD release thanks to the Warner Bros. vault program. The
extra packed Aussie disc is the preferred way to see the film (it features the
cut for an R violence), but 2.35:1 widescreen is good enough, especially for
those that haven’t had the chance to see the film before. Razorback is very
much a child of the ‘80s, but like Richard Stanley’s genre work, it embraces
these stylistic flourishes without all the campy comedy of the most popular American
horror of the era. Though lacking in compelling plot, or lead characters, the
film succeeds through sheer will of logically challenged and colorful images,
not to mention a few memorable supporting roles, specifically David Argue as a
deranged poacher. The whole exercise isn’t exactly thought provoking, but the
action and suspense elements are unmistakably well executed, the monster pig
looks cool, and the colors are pretty stunning.


Razorback trailer

 


“But I don’t have access to Netflix, and my legs are broken,
or I’ve been snowed in, and the only thing I have is my computer”, you say?
Well here are a couple treasures I’ve found across the web’s various free
streaming sites:

 

Scarecrows (unrated zombie scarecrows vs. bank robbers): HULU
LINK

 

Mario Bava’s Black Sunday:
HULU
LINK

 

Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath:
HULU LINK

 

I’ve done this kind of thing before for DVDActive.com too
(though not specific to horror), so if you like what I’m laying down here feel
free to give me some hits HERE
and HERE.


Thanks for reading, and Happy Halloween!