Hammering Home More Vampire Tales

Universal Studios is credited with bringing horror to the big screen with their stable of monsters that ruled the box office from 1925 into the early 1940s. Hammer Studios revived Universal’s stable of Gothic nightmares from the late 1950s through the early 1970s. Christopher Lee wasn’t the only vampire roaming the countryside in Hammer’s tales. From Baron Meinster to Countess Elisabeth, Hammer kept the undead alive for a quarter century.

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1971

Are you sensing a theme for today yet? More Hammer Horror. Twins of Evil does have Peter Cushing, but not in a role you’d expect. He plays a religious zealot convinced that witchcraft is the scourge of his community. When his voluptuous twin nieces come to live with him, they fall prey to a vampire.

Played by the Collinson twins (Mary and Madeleine), Frieda and Maria are of two minds when it comes to Count Karnstein. You would think that blood was thicker than water when it came to the twins, but you’d be wrong.

This is an interesting role for Cushing and he plays it well. The Collinson twins were Playmates of the Month for October 1970. John Hough directed and Tudor Gates penned the screenplay.

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1973

Hammer got the band back together for a few more Dracula films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Cushing plays a descendant of Van Helsing and he now has not match wits with the immortal bloodsucker. Joanna Lumley stars as Jessica Van Helsing. Quite a few horror pictures in the late 1960s – early 1970s focused on Satanism and devil worship.

This one brings Dracula into the modern era as Scotland Yard gets involved in the fight against the legendary and infamous vampire who now finally appears to have some kind of end game.

Many vampire films up to this point, regardless of studio, were period pieces set in Victorian times. The fight between good and evil is brought into the bright lights of modern London in this one as the Lee/Cushing franchise winds down.

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1966

Two married couples on vacation get adventurous and end up at Castle Dracula. Christopher Lee, who doesn’t deliver one line of dialog in the entire movie, needs to be reconstituted by his servant, Klove. How does he do this you ask? With the blood of one of the travelers of course.

Lee is particularly menacing as Dracula in this because of the lack of dialog. He uses his eyes and facial expressions to convey his malevolent message. Suzan Farmer and Barbara Shelley star as Dracula’s female victims.

The story takes place in a vacuum despite the appearance of Father Sandor who chastises the townsfolk for continuing to believe in the local superstitions after Dracula’s supposed demise.

An Homage to the Great Ingrid Pitt and a Forgotten Hammer Classic

I owe a lot of my taste in (for what it’s worth) and knowledge of horror films thanks to Chiller Theater on Rochester, New York’s late night TV on Friday nights. It was a far cry from WOKR’s Chiller Theater of the 1960s that was before my time. Instead of a schlock program hosted by a cheesy personality, it was just spooky graphics with a voice over announcer introducing that night’s scary movie. The other was Commander USA’s Groovie Movies on the USA Network. Just about every Saturday afternoon, Commander USA would introduce that day’s fare. Movies like tonight’s selections were common and had a profound effect on me.

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1971

Another Hammer film of this era with “Dracula” in the title that was sans Dracula. Many people now believe that the legend of the infamous Countess Bathory inspired Bram Stoker when he wrote Dracula.

Horror queen Ingrid Pitt stars as Countess Eilsabeth, a crone who can make herself young by bathing in the blood of the local maidens. Very much based on Elisabeth Bathory, who allegedly killed or had killed more than 600 young girls for this very purpose.

Pitt is fantastic in this role. Her sensuality mixed with the pathos of the character almost makes her sympathetic. But her double-crossing, bloodthirsty nature wins out and she gets what she deserves in the end.

This is another lush, colorful Hammer Horror production and Pitt definitely makes it go. Directed by Peter Sasdy and written by Jeremy Paul, this is a very different kind of vampire film.

MV5BMTcyOTMwNjkwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTc1Nzg0NQ@@._V1_72. The Vampire Lovers
1970

A year before Countess Dracula, Ingrid Pitt starred in The Vampire Lovers. One of the vampire stories that has influenced me is Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. Hammer Films created a story arc based on Le Fanu’s novella. The Vampire Lovers is the best of the Karnstein bunch, mainly because of Pitt.

Pitt plays Carmilla/Mircalla, Marcilla, (it’s always an anagram for Carmilla), a vampire who terrorizes the local populace, usually young girls. Peter Cushing stars as a, you guessed it, vampire hunter. Okay, that’s a stretch. That’s not what he starts out as, but that is what he becomes along the way.

As much as I love Hammer’s Dracula films with Christopher Lee, I did enjoy it when they went off the rails a bit and used other source material or came up with original ideas.

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1974

This was another one of those movies I saw on a Saturday afternoon thanks to Commander USA’s Groovy Movies on USA Network. Horst Janson stars in the title role. His swashbuckling vampire slaying runs him afoul of Karnstein descendants.

Caroline Munro also stars in this rollicking adventure. I bet you didn’t know she starred in Adam Ant’s video for Goody Two Shoes. More than one vampire meets their demise at the pointy end of Kronos’ sword. Another example of an original concept, Kronos would go on to influence numerous other films, such as Van Helsing, helmed by Stephen Sommers. Kronos was refreshing after years of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Not that Cushing was bad, quite the contrary, it was simply a case of needing fresh ideas … fresh blood if you will.

I recently rediscovered this movie and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. Munro, who also went on to become a Bond girl and then later star in the disastrous Starcrash, was a treat in this one as Kronos’ love interest.

Werewolf! Where Wolf? There – Wolf!

Werewolf films seem to get a bad rap. Perhaps the reason is that there doesn’t seem to be that many good ones in the genre. A few good horror films like Underworld incorporate werewolves into the narrative, but I wouldn’t call that a true werewolf film. Since it is werewolf Wednesday, I’ll give you a three-pack of pretty good ones with the best two ever made to come later in the countdown. For all the good ones, there are just so many bad werewolf films.

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1981

Dee Wallace has to be the most underrated Scream Queen in the history of cinema. From Cujo to ET The Extraterrestrial, she has been screaming her way through blockbusters and horror films. She also starred in the original The Hills Have Eyes and of course, The Howling.

The Howling features an all-star cast with Patrick Macnee, John Carradine and Slim Pickens. Wallace’s TV reporter character uncovers a pack of werewolves and does her best to expose their evil to the world. In the process, she transforms into the cutest pomeranian werewolf on live television.

Directed by the great Joe Dante, the effects and werewolf creatures are different and I give this movie a lot of credit for that.

This film spawned a full catalog of bad sequels. Stick to the original here.

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A very underrated werewolf film with an all-star cast, this movie is different, entertaining and unique in the genre. Calvin Lockhart, who would go on to play King Willie in Predator 2, plays a wealthy man who likes to hunt dangerous prey. He believes that a werewolf is the ultimate game and that he may have one in his midst. He invites a group of possible lycanthropes to his estate for a weekend getaway and a werewolf hunt. This is one of those Saturday afternoon favorites.

Peter Cushing, Charles Gray (Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Michael Gambon (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) also star. For some reason, this film is polarizing. Some love it and some hate it.

This movie comes from Hammer Films’ primary competitor in British horror, Amicus Productions.

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2000

Sometimes the horror genre puts forth an unexpected offering that becomes a cult favorite or, dare I say, a cult classic. This one may or may not be destined for that status, but it was definitely unexpected.

Katharine Isabelle is wonderful as Ginger who is bitten by and becomes a werewolf. Her transformation from a shy outcast to oversexed predator is fun to watch. Emily Perkins, who happens to play the young Beverly Marsh in 1990’s IT from Stephen King, plays Ginger’s sister Brigitte. Their bond is unbreakable even as Ginger “snaps.” Mimi Rogers stars as their mom.

There is a sequel Ginger Snaps 2, and a bit of a prequel, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning. I didn’t care for the sequel, but the “prequel,” if that’s what you want to call it, is pretty good.

Unique Vampires and the Devil in a Can

I do love vampire films, books, and TV shows. Two of the three films submitted for your approval tonight are of the blood-sucking variety. The third is a highly-underrated John Carpenter film that gets overlooked.

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2003

Ah, the film that launched Kate Beckinsale’s career and a movie franchise. Beckinsale stars as Selene, a vampire “death dealer,” a soldier in a trumped up war against werewolves (lycans). Bill Nighy, Scott Speedman and Michael Sheen star. This atmospheric film has its issues. You have no idea exactly where the movie is set, somewhere in the Czech Republic if I had to hazard a guess. The genre rules get bent a bit, but director Len Wiseman makes it all work somehow as he creates a mythos that really doesn’t go sideways until the most recent films.

I don’t know if I would so much call this a horror film as some kind of supernatural thriller. There are vampires and werewolves, so I suppose it qualifies. There is plenty of murder and mayhem and betrayal and blood.

The sequels are hit or miss. They aim to tell a complete story arc of the origin of the two species and the war between them and carry that into the future. You would be fine if you quit after Rise of the Lycans. Shane Brolly’s horrible overacting as Kraven damn near derails this movie. But it has plenty of redeeming qualities.

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1985

Another from the 1980s, Fright Night is an iconic and well-loved vampire film starring William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon and Amanda Bearse. Lest we forget the great Roddy McDowell. Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge moves in next door to Charlie (Ragsdale) and his family, and Charlie immediately begins to witness strange goings on leading him to believe that Dandridge is a vampire. “A vampire named Jerry?” Charlie enlists the aid of McDowell’s late night horror movie host, Peter Vincent, to vanquish the bloodsucker next door.

Full of 1980s cheese, comic relief and memorable performances, Fright Night is one of those right of passage horror films. If someone tells you they love horror movies and they haven’t seen Fright Night, just walk away.

Sarandon is wonderful as Dandridge – handsome, charismatic and downright sadistic. McDowell is well, Roddy freaking McDowell. The remake with Colin Farrell was abysmal. Again, this is another case of leaving well enough alone. I recently tried to watch Fright Night II. Skip that too.

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1987

Do you have Satan in a can? Well, you better let him out. Har-dee-har-har. Devil concentrate is what we have here in this Donald Pleasence vehicle written and directed by John Carpenter.  A group of researchers investigate a mysterious canister that just happens to contain … Satan? Sorry, I couldn’t resist a Church Lady reference.

It may sound like a ludicrous premise, but the mix of science and religion and strong performances from Pleasence (as usual), Victor Wong, Dirk Blocker (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Lisa Blount, plus a cast of deranged, possessed vagrants led by Alice Cooper of all people, makes this a thoroughly creepy, watchable movie. It is a bit of a slow burn, but it’s worth it.

If you like John Carpenter and 1980s horror, this one is definitely worth your time.

Sometimes They Come Back – From the Dead That Is

Some of these films have slid down in the countdown because I am making room for a few new ones. That doesn’t mean I like these any less. Until we get into the Top 30, many of these movies are presented in almost no particular order. Much of the horror genre involves the supernatural, the after-life and the underground. Tonight’s films fit that criteria.

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1989

The late 1980s – early 1990s was a great time for a wide variety of horror films. Another Stephen King adaptation, this one reinforces the notion that maybe, just maybe, sometimes dead is better.

Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Fred Gwynne (The Munsters, My Cousin Vinny) star in this tale of tragedy and demonic resurrection. After a couple’s young son is killed in a tragic accident, the husband and father finds a way to bring his boy back via the nearby native American burial ground. As you can imagine, this does not go well.

The movie begs the question, how far would you go to bring a deceased loved one back from the dead? Gwynne delivers an underrated performance as the next-door-neighbor who is all-to-willing to educate Midkiff’s character on the local folklore and the possibilities. King based the novel on a real-life experience where his own son was almost hit by a truck. Avoid the remake. As much as the filmmakers tried to put their own spin on the story. Sometimes, original is better.

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1990

I love Clive Barker. He’s one of my favorite authors. I recently read The Scarlet Gospels. This won’t be the last of his work that appears on this countdown. This one seems to be a favorite among Barker devotees, and not many others. Written and directed by Barker, Craig Sheffer and David Cronenberg star in this creature feature (there are a lot of creatures), in which the humans are actually worse than the “monsters.” Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues fame also stars.

Based on the 1988 novella, Cabal, Barker weaves a tale of an underground society of monsters and their attempt to stay hidden from the world of men. In the end, it is the men who come for the monsters. This is one film I will make an exception for when it comes to empathy for the oppressed and persecuted creatures of the night.

One of my favorite scenes involves a porcupine hybrid woman who is both tantalizing and deadly.

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1980

John Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote and Carpenter directed this terrifying film starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau. I make it a habit not to give too many spoilers away in these capsules and I don’t intend to with this. There is a real feeling of foreboding and dread as the fog rolls in. Barbeau’s local radio DJ character Stevie Wayne gives a harrowing play-by-play account of the otherworldly phenomenon. Before long, it becomes apparent something(s) malevolent has/have arrived with the cloud.

If you like Carpenter and his aesthetic, and his do-it-all-himself manner of film making, this is a must-watch. Two years removed from Halloween, and two years away from The Thing, Carpenter is really stretching his legs as a storyteller during this part of his prolific career.

What I will say, is avoid the 2005 remake. For the life of me, I don’t understand why filmmakers try to make the monsters sympathetic. They’re monsters for crying out loud. Tragic backstory be damned. Why do we have to feel sympathy for the ghosts/goblins/vampires/ghouls/science experiments gone wrong when they start killing the local populace? I don’t give a damn why the sailors in The Fog have come back. I don’t feel sorry for them. Karma is a bitch, let’s just leave it at that. Watch the original, leave the remake in the fog where it belongs.

 

Three Films that Get Better Each Time You View Them

Sometimes you have to watch a movie more than once to either get it or appreciate it. The three films featured tonight fit that category. Two I saw in the theater when they came out, one of those two I anticipated greatly and was disappointed. I have watched these three multiple times and I now like them enough to include them in this countdown.

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2000

This is the movie that introduced Vin Diesel as an action star to be reckoned with. This is a film I had to watch more than once before it really hooked me. I saw it in the theater when it came out. Diesel is excellent as Riddick, Cole Hauser turns in his best performance as a bounty hunter, and Radha Mitchell makes her mark. Keith David also stars.

A spaceship crashes on a remote planet inhabited by light-sensitive baddies created by creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos (Godzilla 1998). The planet is plunged into darkness because of a lengthy total eclipse and the survivors of the crash have to band together as the indigenous flying monsters are unleashed.

This film was to launch the Riddick franchise of science fiction adventure films. This is the best of the three. I like this one because of the unique creatures and the human conflict among the people who find themselves relying on a career criminal and murderer for their very survival.

MV5BMTkwNDU0NTE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzAzNzQyMTI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_84. Jeepers Creepers
2001

Justin Long and Gina Philips star in another horror film that dares to be different. They play brother and sister who run afoul of a hungry demon on the back roads. Written and directed by Victor Salva, this film launched a bit of a franchise that explores “The Creeper’s” mythology. It follows a similar pattern of hibernation as Stephen King’s Pennywise from IT.

There are plenty of tense moments as Long and Philips try to both solve the mystery of The Creeper and try to stay out of his clutches. His? It is a a “he,” no? Eileen Brennan’s cameo as a crazy cat lady is almost wasted in this film.

The second movie in the series is watchable, but doesn’t have the, dare I say, charm of the first. I have yet to see the third film in the franchise. Jeepers Creepers is an acquired taste, much like the taste for certain body parts The Creeper acquires along the way.

This is one that gets better the more you watch it.

MV5BMTUyNzkwMzAxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc1OTk1NjE@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_83. The Witch, or The VVitch: A New England Folktale
2015

I really wanted to love this movie when I saw it in the theater. Hell, I struggled to like it as first. I had to watch it more than once. I watched again recently and I finally got it and understood it all the way through. That’s why it keeps movie up the list.

This was on my radar early on. A24 studios is really trying to carve out a niche and this was almost a case of the trailer being better than the movie. Set in the 1600s, the dialogue is thick and hard to navigate, as is the plot at times. It is beautifully shot if you enjoy deep dark woods, ominous gray skies and relentless drizzle.

The pace is what killed me. It is a slow burn, and I mean a slooooooooow burn. Anya Taylor-Joy, Morgan and Split, plays what ends up becoming the main character. She does a wonderful job portraying a fall from grace and innocence, purity and piety into desire, temptation, sin, and evil. However, there is a little too much telling and not enough showing during key moments.

I do love the setting, the atmosphere, the aesthetic. It is a dark and gritty film and I love all the things that it is trying to be. Ralph Ineson’s gravelly voice and dogged determination to maintain his attempt at period-accurate dialogue is painful to understand at times. But there are witches and there is plenty of witchery afoot. If you want something different, this might be the film for you.

Three Very Different Monsters

There are too many monsters in horror to count. From vampires, werewolves and mummies to giant bugs, invaders from outer space, zombies, slashers, rogue fish, and God knows what else, hundreds if not thousands of oogedy-boogedies have sprang forth from filmmakers’ imaginations to terrorize us. Tonight’s triple feature examines films about three very different monsters.

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1997

We all believe that a genie is a good thing that grants wishes after you free him/her from his/her lamp. Blame I Dream of Jeannie and Aladdin. This is one where the folklore, history and mythology is horribly under served. We know more about how to resurrect a mummy than we do the history of genies. Wishmaster taps into the dark side of that history and mythology.

Andrew Divoff tries his best to create an iconic bad guy as the Djinn, a truly evil genie from whom you really don’t want wishes granted. There’s always a catch and it usually costs you your soul. His chilling voice delivers the command that almost makes the movie, “Make your wishes.”

The sequels are hit or miss, but the first film is an interesting entry in the horror movie catalog thanks to Divoff’s performance. Tammy Lauren stars as the protagonist who matches wits with the Djinn.

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1997

Horror was trying to find its way in the late 1990s in the wake of movies like Scream. Another science-gone-wrong film, Mimic involves altruistic scientists trying to solve a child-killing plague and accidentally create six-foot-tall killer cockroaches in the process.

An ensemble cast including Mira Sorvino, Josh Brolin, Charles S. Dutton, Jeremy Northam, Giancarlo Giannini, and F. Murray Abraham pace this dark, gritty creature feature.

Of course, there are sequels and they are not very good. Stick with the original. It’s plenty gory and gooey.

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1997

Another from 1997, and instead of Mira Sorvino, it’s Penelope Ann Miller this time. Science mixes with lost jungle tribe folklore and mythology as an ancient creature is unleashed on unsuspecting museum-goers in Chicago. Potions and elixirs concocted from native plants take center stage as Miller and Tom Sizemore’s characters try to solve the mystery and slay the beast.

Now, I really like Tom Sizemore. It’s too bad that his personal life has been such a mess over the years. I think he is at his best in roles like this, a cop or a government agent, skeptical, wisecracking, but ultimately heroic. Miller has appeared in all kinds of productions throughout her career, and this appears to be the only horror film she’s done.

Linda Hunt and James Whitmore also star in yet another underrated horror movie.

 

Night Terrors, Science Gone Wrong and Bloody Revenge

As you can see already from my first nine films, my tastes in horror films are eclectic. I have actually decided to reclassify a couple of my favorite movies of all-time as horror movies. You’ll see those when we get closer to Halloween. I’ve got a triple-feature of, shall we say, different films for you on this Friday night, the first Friday of October.

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2002

I don’t know why exactly Wes Craven’s name is attached to this highly underrated film. Night terrors come to life in this Laura Regan vehicle directed by Robert Harmon. A group of kids are marked as youngsters by boogeymen. Those boogeymen, who were dismissed as night terrors, come to claim the kids when they reach adulthood.

Another film that aims to be different, overacting by Marc Blucas as Regan’s character Julia’s boyfriend damn near ruins the movie, but Regan is a delight as the main character. One of my favorite short stories, The Great God Pan by M. John Harrison (inspired by Arthur Machen’s groundbreaking novella of the same name), involves a group of friends who pulled back the veil, and brought something back. This has a similar feel.

We’ve established I like different and this one is good different.

MV5BMTczMDI5MzM3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTcxODgyMQ@@._V1_90. Mansquito or Mosquito Man
2005

Okay, so SyFy channel has produced some clunkers over the years. Ice Spiders (okay, maybe not Ice Spiders, I like that one), Python, Python II, and a whole host of Crockzilla vs Dinocroc Debbie Gibson/Tiffany mash-ups. The idea is science gone wrong. After Gothic Horror and dark science fiction, science gone wrong is right up there for me.

Corin Nemec, who never met a role he didn’t like, stars in probably the best feature film SyFy has ever produced. That’s not saying much but the title tells you all you need to know. Matt Jordon’s character is exposed to some experimental whatevers and becomes a, you guessed it, man-sized mosquito.

Look, a good horror film doesn’t need to have a big theatrical release or even a cult following to be a bloody good gore fest. Mansquito certainly qualifies.

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1988

I just watched this one again the other night. I love this movie. Longtime movie veteran Lance Henriksen stars as Ed Harley, a simple single country dad who lives in Appalachia. When his young son is killed in a tragic accident by “city folk,” Harley seeks country vengeance and visits the local crone. Of course he does. But at what cost? The death of Harley’s son is particularly gut-wrenching and you can certainly see why he does what he does.

What Harley unleashes is truly the stuff of nightmares. Special effects and creature designer, the legendary Stan Winston, actually directed this one. The 1980s were full of slasher films and franchise players like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, along with a host of other knife-wielding spree killers. The title monster is otherworldly, large, terrifying and impossible to stop. The sound design for the film alone will give you night terrors.

Henriksen has appeared in dozens of films, including installments in the Alien franchise, and aside from Bishop in Aliens, this might be his best role. Underrated and terrifying, this is a must-watch for any horror fan. I bet you didn’t know that The Big Bang Theory and Blossom star Mayim Bialik plays one of the dirt-poor Wallace kids. Now there’s a thing you know.

Demons and Boogeymen

The countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films continues with a three-pack of movies that aim to be a bit, well, different.

MV5BMjI5MTg1Njg0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzg2Mjc4Nw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_94. Sinister
2012

I have never liked Ethan Hawke. Ever since Reality Bites, I don’t like him. I don’t know what it is, I can’t put my finger on it. But when I saw the trailer for Sinister, I really didn’t care who was in it, I was going to see the movie. And Hawke is good in this. Sinister reminded me of why I don’t go see scary movies by myself. Yes, it is a touch predictable, and it leaves you wondering what the hell has happened to Vincent D’Onofrio, but what I like about it is its attempt at being something different. There is a confusing plot point at the end but don’t let that get in the way of you enjoying this well-made film.

Hawke plays a true crime writer who moves his family into the murder house on which he is basing his new book. Obviously, this doesn’t sit none too well with the missus because he doesn’t bother to tell her. Before long, the family falls victim to a demon.

There are some unique elements to this one. I like the use of home movies as an inter-dimensional vehicle for the demon. There are plenty of jump scares to go along with true moments of horrific suspense. The late Fred Thompson makes one of his last screen appearances as the local sheriff. Just don’t watch this one alone. Do yourself a favor, skip the sequel.

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1995

If you are anything like me then you used to watch Tales from the Crypt. I loved that show, along with Amazing Stories and Tales From the Darkside. I have always been a fan of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and Tales from the Crypt was the horror version of those great sci-fi suspense classics.

I like Billy Zane, I really do, but his shot as The Phantom didn’t play well, and in Titanic, well, let’s just say he was a dick. He gets a chance to shine in Demon Knight. A great ensemble cast opposes “The Collector.” William Sadler, CCH Pounder, Brenda Bakke, Thomas Haden Church and Jada Pinkett Smith all have prominent roles.

The opening credits feature one of my favorite songs of all-time, Hey Man Nice Shot by Filter. It is wonderfully shot and it sets the stage for the entire film. I didn’t care much for Tales From the Crypt’s other feature film entry, Bordello of Blood, despite Angie Everhart, Erika Eleniak, Dennis Miller and Corey Feldman’s best efforts. And I use that term loosely. I do like a good deadtime story.

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2016

The Void, originally available on Amazon Prime and later Netflix, apparently was released in theaters but I don’t remember it at my local cineplex. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski wrote and directed this film that reminds me of movies like Lord of Illusions. There is a cult, mysterious blood-soaked victims and unspeakable evil.

The Lovecraftian overtones and themes are palpable and the film has the look and feel of something from the 1980s like From Beyond. Another film that dares to be different in an era of sparkly vamps and Paranormal Activity schlock, this taut fright fest channels the true tenets of good horror film making. Darkness, violence, mysterious figures with unknown motives, and hidden evil waiting just on other side.

 

Folk Horror, Giant Snakes and a Young, Witchy Kelly Preston

Last night’s blog took the first bite out of my countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films. I gladly present the next three selections.

MV5BMjAzMzAyMDI4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODMwOTY2NDM@._V1_97. The Ritual
2017

I have an affinity for horror films that focus on village superstition, folklore and folk horror, and I am not talking about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village either. The Old Ones, the Old Gods, ancient, prehistoric gods and monsters almost forgotten, make for great nightmare fuel.

Every once in awhile, a film comes along that really surprises you. It’s better than you thought it was going to be, it flew under the radar, it was a Netflix release (good ones are rare) … something … else. The Ritual is one of those movies. A group of friends take a trip to the forest to memorialize a pal killed during a convenience store robbery only to find something is stalking them, something inconceivable. That something is worshiped and tended to by a cult of true believers.

This film is well-acted, well-written and beautifully shot. Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, David Bruckner directed. I have become a big fan of Rafe Spall. He is an underrated actor and he is excellent in this.

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1988

The second film on the list that bends the vampire genre, much like Sleepwalkers, is The Lair of the White Worm, which is loosely based on a Bram Stoker novel.

Perhaps no other film I’ve seen plays on genre-bending concepts of the vampire mythos like Wasp Woman and The Reptile quite like The Lair of the White Worm. Universal Studios’ The Mummy is in effect a version of the 1931 Dracula, but more on that on another night. Virginal sacrifices, a giant snake, flashbacks to Roman debauchery, a young Hugh Grant, an emerging Sammi Davis, and Amanda Donohoe (with whom I happen to share a birthday) in all her pre-LA Law glory as a snake-like vampire creature. Donohoe really “vamps” it up while preying on and “enchanting” the populace of a small burg.

The plot involves a local legend, an archaeological discovery and small town folklore with Grant playing the role of the lord of the manor whose ancestor tangled with a predecessor of the title’s D’Ampton worm. Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor Who by the way, plays the archaeologist who discovers the fossilized skull of a previous D’Ampton worm. His cousin Lewis is a pop singer of some renown.

I personally find a lot of charm in this film. The pub band and song that tells the legend of the D’Ampton worm over the closing credits is one of the best parts of the movie. I’ll share it here.

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1988

I love telling the story of how I discovered this movie.

This film is one of the most pleasant surprises on this list. It flies so far below the radar and it is so good. Tim Daly (WingsStorm of the Century), Kelly Preston and Rick Rossovich star in this tale of witches, covens and devil worship.

I saw this when I was in the Navy after working hours during a detachment to Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, in the TV lounge in the barracks and I was stunned. I had never seen anything like it. Daly and Rossovich play friends who come across a young woman (Preston) as she is being assaulted by her boyfriend. Daly’s character intervenes and before long is romantically involved with the young woman. However, nothing is as it seems.

Now, I hate Top Gun, but Rossovich redeems himself in this, never mind his guest spot on International House Hunters several years ago.

This one is hard because I don’t want to give any spoilers away. Janet Greek directed and Tracy Tormé penned the screenplay. Three’s Company’s Mrs. Roper Audra Lindley also co-stars.