With everyone and his brother running around trying to recreate the 70s-style horror movie - remaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cabin Fever, Wrong Turn, House Of 1000 Corpses - why not spend Halloween with the real thing?
Carpenter nails it
(Anchor Bay, 1978) D: John Carpenter, w/Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance.
PRINCE OF DARKNESS
(Universal, 1987) D: John Carpenter, w/ Donald Pleasance, Victor Wong.
The original dead babysitter movie - imitated more times than I can count - Halloween still retains an almost theoretical elegance in John Carpenter's widescreen compositions and free-floating moving camera. The story has a mythological simplicity - psycho returns to his hometown and starts killing babysitters, with Donald Pleasance's doctor in pursuit. Anchor Bay's two-DVD set includes a new making-of documentary, and they licensed the Carpenter/Curtis commentary from the old Criterion laserdisc. Universal has finally issued, on a bare-bones disc, Carpenter's extremely underrated Prince Of Darkness, wherein Donald Pleasance as an aging priest recruits a bunch of scientists to come to the old church where a large cylinder of fluid is coming to life to begin the rule of, oh, I don't know... SATAN! It's a silly premise, as horror movies often are, but delivered with a chilling style and conviction.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES
(Anchor Bay, 1977) D: Wes Craven, w/ James Whitworth, Dee Wallace.
Wes Craven's third film is a bit of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip - ordinary folks drive off the main road and discover that people are crazy out there. But what they also find is one of the great tropes of the 70s horror film, which is the horrific funhouse-mirror version of the American Family. Filmed in the Mojave Desert in the middle of the summer, this is a memorably nasty horror picture. What it lacks in budget it makes up for in savagery, and if it lacks the wit of Craven's masterpiece, A Nightmare On Elm Street, it is a movie that wants to steal your sleep. Excellent DVD from Anchor Bay includes a making-of, a Wes Craven commentary and the Craven episode of The Directors from the AFI.
GOD TOLD ME TO
(Blue Underground, 1976) D: Larry Cohen w/ Tony Lobianco, Deborah Raffin
THE WINGED SERPENT
(Blue Underground, 1982) D: Larry Cohen w/ Michael Moriarty, David Carradine.
Larry Cohen is a kind of exploitation genius savant. He got people to put money up for some of the strangest horror films of the 70s, and God Told Me To is one of the strangest. Tony Lobianco plays a New York City cop investigating a series of apparently random multiple homicides, only each of the killers gives as his motive, "God told me to." Well, he did, sort of, if the living god can be taken as the hermaphroditic offspring of a virgin birth caused by an alien abduction. Tremendously creepy, and until Blue Underground's recent DVD issue, extremely hard to see uncut. Cohen had a fondness for shooting hand-held and in the streets without permits, and thus gets a great New York mood. Take a look at Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure for evidence of its influence. In Cohen's other movie about gods, Q: The Winged Serpent, the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl - a giant winged serpent - takes up residence in the Chrysler Building. It's a bizarre conceit, but with Moriarty at his twitchiest and Carradine as a cop puzzled by inexplicable events, its also convincing. Really!
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD
(Lion's Gate, 1971) D: Peter Duffell, w/ Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing.
This is a different kind of 70s horror movie. It's really a 60s horror movie that was made in the 70s, a vignette compilation from stories by Robert Bloch (Psycho) from Amicus, the studio that looked like Hammer but wasn't - their casts were almost interchangeable with Hammer's, with Hammer babe Ingrid Pitt providing the cleavage in this one. These are strikingly atmospheric, four stories about strange doings in an English country house, all of them with essentially the same quest - a really annoying character gets his or her comeuppance - but it's worthwhile as an old-fashioned creepshow.
And speaking of Hammer and Pitt, you might look for the bargain-priced MGM double bill issue of Countess Dracula and Vampire Lovers, the first a sombre look at the life of Elizabeth Bathory, the latter an adaptation of Sheridan LeFanu's Camilla.
- JOHN HARKNESS