You know what vampires really like? Making more vampires.
When it comes to Japanese film, we tend to stick to crime and pinku productions, but a change of pace is often nice. Chi o suu bara, which is known in English as Evil of Dracula, or sometimes Bloodsucking Rose, is straight horror about a teacher who takes a job at a women's school which he soon comes to suspect is plagued by a vampire. For those who like turn-of-the-millennium horror movies such as 2002's Ju-on or 1998's Ringu, this will seem like a precursor in terms of how the monster effects are achieved by using makeup and lighting. The movie is a bit funny at times, too, because these makeup effects are perfectly obvious to the viewer, but for the most part nobody within the film notices:
“Teacher, I would like to talk to you more seriously, but not in here. Please, will you follow me (into the creepy-ass woods that surround the school)?
“Sure (because I don't notice your ghastly blue face or the way you keep staring at my neck).”
But the movie is pretty good. Its weird, cyanotic vampires are menacing enough to put the mood across, and Shin Kishida as the main bloodsucker projects a physical power and savage hunger we totally bought. At one point the hero Toshio Kurosawa is asked, “Are you seriously expecting that people will believe such a lurid tale?” Well, vampire movies are all about building a framework of believability despite the subject matter's innate impossibility. Chi o suu bara might make you believe vampires can really fry. It premiered in Japan today in 1974.
Shit. I think I left my lesson plan at home. Oh well. Guess I'll just wing it.
Thanks to my rigorous teacher training I desire none of you nubile young women sexually.
This old thing? It's been out here for as long as I can remember. I've never once been curious what's in it.
Centuries of *grunt* consuming blood have done nothing *gurgle* good for your breath!
That's so rude! Just for that comment I'm gonna suck you extra slow!
Teacher, can I talk to you about my mid-term? You gave me an a-minus and I think I deserve an a-positive—er, I mean an a-plus.
Master, check out this mask I got. This Halloween I'm going out dressed as a vampire. Totally meta, right?
I think I lost him. That soulless demon. That total asshole.
The doctor is out—of his freaking mind.
Above, a poster for Arzt und Dämon, aka Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which premiered in West Germany today in 1949. The art here is by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm, whose most famous piece is the poster he designed for the expressionist sci-fi movie Metropolis. It once sold for $1.2 million, which made it the most valuable movie promo in existence at the time, but this Hyde effort shows Schulz-Neudamm's skills in a totally different light. We think it's top shelf work for a top shelf flick.
There's a severe Price to pay for being a bad wife.
This French poster was painted by Roger Soubie for the cheeseball horror flick La nuit de tous les mystères, which was better known as House on Haunted Hill. Basically, Vincent Price offers $10,000 to anyone who can spend the night in a scary house, but in the meantime he hopes to get rid of his not-so-loving wife Carol Ohmart. That's not a spoiler—in the first few minutes of the film he tells her he wants her dead. And she him. The question is will he do it? Will she kill him? Or will they kiss and make up? You could watch and learn the answers, but in our opinion, considering how much more sophisticated horror became, this one is little more than an amusing cinematic curiosity, not worth watching, though it's notable for its exteriors of the iconic Ennis House in Los Angeles (see below). House on Haunted Hill opened in the U.S. in 1960 and reached France today in 1961.
You might as well spawn with me. I'm going to tell all my friends we did anyway.
We just learned about French artist Constantin Belinsky, and here he's painted a promo for L'étrange créature du lac noir, better known as Creature from the Black Lagoon. This film is an all-time classic so you don't need us to tell you anything about it. It premiered in the U.S. in 1954 and swam into France today in 1955. See another poster for the film in the collection of aquatic monster promos we put together ten years ago. Yes, ten. Hard to believe. Look here.
The town's not big enough for the both of them.
We just wrote about a French werewolf novel—The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore—and now we've come across Les loups de la violence by Michael Shiofy. Some sources claim this was written by Belgian author Guy de Wargny under a pseudonym, but it's actually a 1966 reprint of a 1965 Italian novel called La dama dei lupi, which was written by Harry Small, a pseudonym used by Mario Penzauti. Yes, it's always complicated with these European books. It was published in France by Éditions Bel Air and was part of its Les Adventures de Dracula line, a twelve book series that featured all kinds of monsters, but not Dracula, strangely. However a vampire did star in entry nine, Frank Graegorius's Le vampire de la pleine lune, so that counts, we guess. We haven't read this. If it's as good as The Werewolf of Paris we'd be shocked. But the cover is comparable, we think. It was painted by James Hodges, whose artistic virtues we've extolled before. To see him at his best we suggest you check here and here.
Mercedes Molina bends over backward to please her daddy.
Thanks to The Exorcist a wave of possession films flooded cinemas during the mid-1970s. Above you see posters for one of them—Le notti di Satana, which was originally released in Spain as Exorcismo. Basically, it's about a young woman whose behavior radically changes, causing friends and family to conclude that she's possessed by the spirit of her recently dead father. But the priest knows better. It's just Satan, up to his usual tricks. Mercedes Molina stars as the possessed, performing under the name Grace Mills, for some reason, almost as if she didn't want to be associated with the movie. Though it isn't terrible. Just uninspired. Check this dialogue exchange:
At times I'm certain my sister is possessed.
Yes. How can I say it? Like something has taken possession of her.
That's bad. On the plus side, Molina/Mills manages some good contortions and screams, until the exorcism brings the expected climax. Also, the lovely Maria Perschy co-stars as Molina's flummoxed mother, so there's that. And there's some nude ceremonial cavorting that'll catch your eye, so there's that too. Otherwise, not a top effort. But all these posters are fun, if of varying quality. Only one is signed—the last one, by Italian artist Angelo Cesselon, whose work we've shown you here and here. We have a few screenshots below that capture the essence of the movie. Now you don't even have to watch it. Le notti di Satana premiered today in 1975.
“This place is amazing. Nice bay windows, original wood floors—” Booooo.... get ooout! “Too bad we can't stay.”
French illustrator Roger Soubie has a long and impressive résumé. He painted more than 2,000 posters during a career spanning four decades, and produced iconic promos such as those for Lolita and The Unholy Wife. The above effort is for The Haunting, called in France La Maison du diable. Based on Shirley Jackson's classic novel The Haunting of Hill House, it's about an anthropologist who rents a creepy old mansion in order to determine whether it's haunted. Of course it is—and it proceeds to seriously flip out the anthropologist and the witnesses he's brought along to verify his findings.
Jackson wrote her chiller in 1959, and it's considered by many to be the greatest haunted house tale of all time. Director Robert Wise uses zooms and odd angles to jar the audience but follows the novel's plot closely, which was a good decision. Today his movie is likewise considered to be one of the finest in the horror genre. Horror has really improved with time, but The Haunting holds up nicely. If you haven't seen it, know going in it's fueled by atmosphere rather than events, but we think it's worth a gander. After its 1963 Stateside premiere it opened in France today in 1964.
Spencer Tracy unleashes the beast on Bergman and Turner.
We don't feature a lot of material from Finland* but this poster for Tri Jekyll ja Mr. Hyde, aka Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, caught our eye. The movie was based on the gothic horror novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, and was the third attempt Hollywood had made at the story, this time with Spencer Tracy as Jekyll/Hyde and Ingrid Bergman as Ivy Peterson. We gather Tracy thought his performance had ruined his career. Talk about being hard on yourself. He's perfectly decent in the role, even if he's a bit unconvincing as an English gentleman, and doesn't even bother tackling the accent. Bergman is decent too, and she does wrestle the accent, and loses, but since she's Swedish you have to forgive her. She'd soon be acknowledged as one of the greatest actresses in cinema. The film also features a pre-superstardom Lana Turner. She would develop a tendency to chew the scenery after she became a global celebrity, but here, in a supporting role under established stars, she's good, and hot as hell to boot—not that Bergman is anything other than dreamy herself.
Do we digress? Not in the least. Their beauty is pivotal to the plot. The two sides of Tracy's personality, the loving and lustful sides, posited as good and evil, are preoccupied by these basically opposite women. This is demonstrated during a nightmare sequence in which Tracy uses a whip to drive a pair of horses, a dark one and a light one, that transform into Bergman and Turner, side by side, windblown, sweaty, and implied as nude. It's a surprising sequence, hotly erotic, and all too brief if you ask us. We could have watched those two all wet and thrashing for a long while. But maybe that's our own Mr. Hyde speaking. In any case, the sequence serves to demonstrate that Dr. Jekyll's beastly Hyde is loose and isn't going back in his cage anytime soon. A career ruining performance from Tracy? On the contrary. His star continued to shine brightly after this highly effective piece of gaslamp horror, and his co-stars' ascents were just beginning. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde premiered in the U.S. in 1941 and reached Finland today in, apparently, 1943. How that happened in the middle of World War II is a mystery to us, but maybe it just shows how pushy Mr. Hyde was.
*While the poster is supposed to be Finnish, it actually seems to contain both Finnish and Swedish lettering. For example "Tri" in Finnish means "doctor," but "Dr.," which is common in Swedish, appears too, Likewise the word "and" is repreated. In Swedish it's "och" but in Finnish it's "ja." We guess the poster was used in both countries.
In space there are no Happy Days.
The gap between the quality of a poster and the quality of the film it promotes is often large, but rarely so much as with the infamous sci-fi b-movie Planet des Schreckens, better known as Galaxy of Terror. We're showing you the West German poster because the movie premiered there today in 1982 after originally opening in 1981 in the U.S. The art is signed by Charo, not the hip shaking dancer-singer, but rather someone who we found no further info about online. This is a spectacular comic book style effort and a rarity that costs a hundred dollars or more to acquire. If you've seen the movie you know the art depicts the death of Taaffe O'Connell's character Damela, who's stripped naked and slimed by a giant maggot. Galaxy of Terror boasts b-movie stalwarts Robert Englund and Sid Haig, plus Erin Moran from television's Happy Days, who was really the entire reason the film was made, but O'Connell's slippery demise is the reason it's a cult classic. We recommend giving it a watch—not for O'Connell, but for its generally amusing nature. It's no Star Crash, but it's pretty close.
Eli Roth and AMC make History with a seven part look at horror cinema.
Those of you in the U.S. who appreciate horror cinema may want to carve out a little time Sunday night for the final episode of the retrospective Eli Roth's History of Horror. It's been airing weekly on the cable network American Movie Classics, aka AMC, since mid-October. Though the British network BBC broadcast a very good three part horror retrospective in 2010 (and it even had a similar title—A History of Horror), genre landscapes shift quickly. The Brit series was made before important films like Get Out, It, Let Me In, its remake Let the Right One In, et al hit cinemas. Eli Roth's History of Horror is a newer and deeper look at fright films. Each 60-minute episode focuses on a specific type of terror, such as vampires, monsters, demons, and slashers.
Overall the series is great. Roth discusses not just the movies, but horror's cultural impact, and weights those observations toward the last ten years. Because of the change that has occurred this decade those sections resonate nicely. Horror's ability to make social issues digestible as allegories is a key part of the form's worth. For instance, Get Out's idea of the sunken place, a metaphor for living (and dying) while black in America, would be rejected by many white filmgoers if it were in a standard narrative. But for us the social impact of horror movies is merely a bonus. We love them viscerally first, intellectually second. We lovethe tension that results from not knowing—usually, at least—which characters will survive. We love how the films' kinetic and often low budget natures lead to amazing little accidents, such as the bit in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Leatherface grabs Teri McMinn on the porch of his house and both the girl's sandals fly off. That sort of detail isn't in a script. It happens during the shoot, and the director thanks the filmic gods for the extra iota of serendipitous realism.
While very good, the series isn't perfect. In the episode on zombies, Roth discusses slow moving zombies for a while, then erroneously credits the arrival of speedy zombies to Danny Boyle 2002 hit 28 Days Later. But it was 1985's Return of the Living Dead that featured the first sprinting zombies in an American movie, and this was preceded by the 1980 Italian zombie epic Incubo sulla città contaminata, aka Nightmare City. We also were surprised Near Dark was ignored in the vampire episode. Timehas shown it to be better and more influential than The Lost Boys, which was discussed at length. If you doubt that, note that Near Dark's critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is 88%, while Lost Boys' is 27%. Critics are often wrong, especially when it comes to horror, but that level of variance is no fluke. And just to settle the argument, the audience rater on that website also prefers Near Dark. We suspect either box office receipts or Roth's personal preference played a role there, when quality should have been the deciding factor.
But we were gratified to see that many of our cherished beliefs were echoed by Roth and his co-hosts Rob Zombie and The Walking Dead producer Greg Nicotero. Yes, the towering werewolf from The Howling is the scariest ever put on screen. Beyond a doubt, John Carpenter's The Thing, which was close to universally panned upon release, is a top tier thriller. We're anticipating the segment on ghosts, the focus of Sunday night's series finale. We imagine these were saved for last because viewers are most interested in the subject, a curiosity that derives from the fact that many people actually believe ghosts exist. We expect the episode to discuss such old and new classics as The Haunting, The Shining, The Ring, and The Woman in Black. We'll see. But no spoilers, please. If you're in the States you can watch it before we do, whereas we'll have to (totally legally, we swear) download it the next day. But whenever you watch it, the show has been a nice treat for horror aficionados.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
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