March 25th, 2009

DEAD OF NIGHT (1946) ** ½

Dead of Night was one of the first horror anthologies and is considered by many to be one of the best of the genre.  I wouldn't go that far, but it was highly influential (the killer ventriloquist dummy has been used countless times since) and certainly has its moments.  What's kind of odd about this flick is that there's more of an emphasis on the wraparound segments than on the stories themselves.  The whole anthology format was still pretty new back in '46, so I guess they hadn't worked all the bugs out of the formula yet.

 

The first story, Hearse Driver (**) is about a race car driver who begins having visions of a phantom hearse after surviving a near fatal car crash.  The set-up sounds promising but nothing is ever really done with it.  It's also way too short and ended so abruptly that I didn't even realize the story was over.  Next comes Christmas Story (**) and it's not about a BB gun.  No, it's all about a young girl who plays hide-and-seek with a little boy who turns out to be a ghost at Christmas.  Like most of the stories in the film, it's watchable, but it's much too quaint and slight to be considered "scary".  The next story, The Haunted Mirror (** 1/2) concerns a woman who buys a possessed mirror for her husband that almost drives him to murder.  This story kicks things up a notch by having a concise beginning, middle and end, yet it never really plays out the material's supernatural angle to it's fullest potential.  Golfing Story (***), based on a short story by H.G. Wells is more of a light-hearted horror-comedy as two rival golfers play a game of golf for the affections of a woman.  When one guy loses, he drowns himself in the water hazard.  Later, we learn that the other guy cheated, so the other dude haunts him on the golf course by moving his ball around.  Even though this story is really goofy and tries too hard to be funny, I still enjoyed it.  If anything, it sets the table for The Ventriloquist's Dummy (***), which is by far the darkest and spookiest of the lot.  Yeah, it's another one of those Dummy-Is-Controlling-The-Ventriloquist deals, and although it's pretty uneven, it's a lot of fun.  The wraparound segments take up so much screen time that I feel like I should rate them too (** 1/2).  The early scenes are pretty dull as it's mostly a bunch of stuffy Brits hanging around in a sitting room talking about their dreams.  Luckily near the end, things go bat shit insane when all of the ghosts, villains, and creeps from the various stories attack our hero in a nightmarish sequence.  Try not to get freaked out when Hugo, the dummy starts walking around all by himself.

 

Most anthology horror movies are spotty at best and Dead of Night is no exception.  Two good stories out of five is about par for the course (golfing pun not intended) for this sort of thing.  Then again, I'm a sucker for anthologies, so it was easy for me to look over the flick's more lackluster moments and enjoy the good stuff.

 

The ghost in the Golfing Story gets the best line in the flick when he says, "May the Lord have mercy on your handicap!"

TORTURE GARDEN (1968) **

Amicus Films' Dr. Terror's House of Horrors was such a big success that they followed up it up with another horror anthology.  This one centers around a carnival barker named Dr. Diablo (Burgess Meredith) who invites four curious strangers to have their fortunes told; all of whom meet grim ends.  The first story Enoch (** 1/2) centers around a would-be murderer who is stalked by a vengeful cat that drives him to chop people's heads off.  This story has the benefit of a really cool idea, except it's nowhere near as explicit and gory as it should've been.  Terror Over Hollywood (**) is about an aspiring actress who falls in love with a seemingly ageless matinee idol.  As it turns out, he's a robot duplicate made to ensure continued box office success.  This one is a little on the hokey side and the story's sci-fi bent doesn't really jibe with the rest of the tales.  Mr. Steinway (* 1/2) comes next and is about a concert pianist who falls in love with a reporter.  Unfortunately for him, his piano gets hella jealous and murders his beloved.  Yes, you heard me correctly folks; a killer piano.  A KILLER FUCKING PIANO!  I've seen some stupid shit in my time but this hunk of insanity takes the fucking taco.  The Man Who Collected Poe (***) rounds out the tales, and they saved the best for last.  Jack Palance stars as an obsessive Edgar Allan Poe collector who wants to get his hands on an unpublished Poe work.  It sucks for him because the rightful owner, Peter Cushing won't give it up, so Jack's got to kill him.  But he learns too late that old Pete collects Poe LITERALLY.

 

All of the tales were penned by Robert Bloch, the man who wrote Psycho.  You'd think the guy who came up with that brilliant shit could concoct some better stories than this (A FUCKING KILLER PIANO!?!), but I guess not.  Only the final story really delivers a good twist ending, which is crucial in order for these anthologies to work.  Also, the blood and gore is left to a minimum (nice pitchfork death and headless bodies in the first story though), which is a little disheartening.  (Not to mention the fact that there is no torture and very little gardening.)

 

The Man Who Collected Poe almost singlehandedly saves this mishmash.  Almost.  Palance and Cushing are excellent together and have a great repartee with one another, making you wish they made more movies together.  If the other stories had featured actors half this good, Torture Garden might've been worthwhile.  At least we get to see Burgess Meredith hamming it up nicely during the wraparound segments though.  Burgess also gets the best line when he encourages people to "Look deeply into the Shears of Fate!"

 

Bloch later wrote the infinitely better The House That Dripped Blood for Amicus two years later.

THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1968) * ½

Gig Young and Carol Lynley star in this lethargic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation as a couple who inherit a rundown mill in a small coastal town.  They go to check it out with the intention of turning it into a summer home.  Once they get to the town, they are almost immediately harassed by the scuzzy locals (led by Oliver Reed) who want to get into poor Carol's pants.  Carol's got bigger fish to fry as there is a mysterious person/thing in the titular room who's crazier than an outhouse rat that can't wait to do some damage to the unfortunate pair.

 

As low budget Lovecraft adaptations from the 60's go, this ain't no Dunwich Horror.  Lovecraft was a master at stringing his readers along until the shit hit the primordial fan.   What's pretty infuriating about this movie is that it strings us along for so long that when it finally goes to deliver the goods, it completely drops the ball.  The "explanation" of what is actually in the shuttered room is terminally lame and is pretty stupid to boot.  (The dopey ending will especially put a sour taste in your mouth if you are a die hard Lovecraft fan.) 

 

Lynley is thoroughly bland in the lead and Gig is painfully miscast as the upstanding husband.  I did get a kick out of seeing Reed overacting to the hilt as the lecherous local though.  I just wished that him and his crew of miscreants (who play a demented variation on water skiing, except they use a pickup truck) were a little more crazier.  As it is, the flick just feels like a PG version of Straw Dogs with the crazy lady from Pet Semetary tossed in there for no good reason.

 

AKA:  Blood Island.

PRIMEVAL (2007) *

I remember when the previews for this flick started coming out back in '06 hyping it up to be "Based on the True Story About Africa's Worst Serial Killer".  As it turns out, it's really all about a killer crocodile.  HUH!?!  Who was the rocket scientist who came up with THAT idea?  "Hey let's market our killer crocodile movie as a serial killer flick to lure in the Seven crowd!"  Jesus.  Sometimes I REALLY hate Hollywood.  

 

Anyway, Primeval is about (if you can't already tell) a killer crocodile that's on the loose in Africa.  The morose motherfucker from Prison Break plays this CNN (not the REAL CNN, but the fake kind that makes you think it's CNN) producer who goes to Africa to do a story on the killer croc.  The croc's name is Gustave by the way.  (Seriously, what kind of Ellen DeGeneres name is that for a KILLER crocodile?)  Orlando Jones (WHERE THE FUCK HAS THAT DUDE BEEN?) is the jive-talking cameraman and Jurgen (House of the Dead) Prochnow is the great white hunter dude.  Mostly though, they just sit around and mope, talking about How Bad Africa Is and Why Genocidal Civil War Sucks instead of hunting the goddamn crocodile. 

 

Primeval was released around the same time as Rogue, another killer croc movie.  You know how Hollywood is.  One movie isn't enough.  They got to make these fucking flicks in pairs.  Why have one volcano movie when you can have two?  Why stop at one movie about Wyatt Earp when you can make two?  Since Primeval was written by the guys who concocted Terminator 3, I expected it to be at least halfway decent.  I was wrong.  (Of course, these guys also wrote Catwoman, The Net, and Mindwarp, so what the Hell was I thinking?)  This one is their worst one yet.  There is one good scene in which the crocodile bites an African soldier in half when he's in the midst of trying to rape a white woman.  That shit was priceless.  Too bad the movie didn't have any more of these I Spit on Your Croc moments.

 

This flick is dumber than a burlap sack filled with your grandmother's toenail clippings.  Seriously, at one point Orlando Jones turns to the African natives and asks them, "Did you ever see Jaws?"  Oh yeah, Orlando I'm sure they got that shit on DVD and watch it on their 42 inch plasma screen that hangs in their fucking tent right above their prized pile of dried animal hides and bone necklaces.  Fucking douche bag.  He also says stuff like, "This croc is like O.J. Simpson.  He messed up when he killed that white woman!"  Dear God, do you believe this shit was written down on paper then recited aloud in public while someone filmed it?

 

That's not all that sucks about this movie.  The cinematography wouldn't cut it on Nat Geo, the gore is weak, and the CGI was shitty.  (Although it's Regular Movie shitty and not Sci-Fi Channel Movie shitty.)  Setting the movie in Africa doesn't do the flick any favors either.  Truth is, Africa isn't a fun place to set a movie.  It sure isn't the mean streets of New York or Tatooine, I'll tell you that.  To me, people who WILLINGLY travel to Africa to see a mammoth killer crocodile deserve what they get.  If I want to watch a bad ass movie that takes place in Africa, I'll watch Shaft in Africa, thank you very much.  Hey, remember when I was talking about the previews that made it look like this movie was about an African serial killer?  Well... maybe THAT'S what the flick should've been about. 

 

Prison Break dude gets the best line of the flick when he asks his wormy boss, "You want to show the world who has the biggest croc?"