Horror 365 Movie 27: Fear No Evil (Or Yay Dodgeball)

fear1981. A banner year for horror movies: Evil Dead, Friday The 13th Part II, Ghost Story, The Howling, Possession, Scanners. Okay, okay, it was also the year of, well, Evilspeak, Galaxy Of Terror, Inseminoid, and Piranha II: The Spawning (truth be told, I kinda love Galaxy Of Terror. And Evilspeak. But we’ll discuss that some other time).

Anyway, somewhere between the high-water mark that is, say, An American Werewolf In London and the stagnant bog that is Porno Holocaust sits Fear No Evil.

Possession/demons loosed from hell/human embodiment of Lucifer angles have never done a whole hell of a lot for me in general, but what sixteen-year-old nerd doesn’t relish a good tale of wreaking havoc on the student body?

Yes, I said “hell of a lot,” what of it?

There is, however, the occasional exception. Don’t get me wrong. I dug this in 1981. Still do. But plot holes, wooden acting, laughable special effects mean Fear No Evil is flawed. Deeply, troublingly flawed.

For example, it’s apparently really damn important that the archangels Raphael, Michael, and Gabriel all be “in body” to take on the embodiment of Lucifer. However, Tom, the priest serving as Raphael’s vessel, dies. He still communicates with the other two, and in the final scene, though not in body, somehow manages to reunite with them for The Big Showdown.

Ooookay.

The ending is, shall we say, abrupt. The only movie I can think of at the moment that comes to such a screeching halt is Beast From Haunted Cave.

dodge
Munch munch–mmm–scenery

And sure, drug use/teen sex/death comes pretty standard, but that doesn’t make Fear No Evil your run-of-the-mill slasher flick either. There are very bright spots. Zombies, for instance. Or the alpha male antagonist who suddenly finds himself with female breasts. And who doesn’t love a good death by dodgeball?

Stefan Argrim is an interesting teenage Lucifer. On one hand, he seems to have no qualms about using his power to his advantage. On the other, he’s your standard, awkward, angst-fueled high school senior. He seems both surprised and troubled, for instance, over the aforementioned dodge ball incident.

Andrew is also capable, it seems, of arousing the desire of the female lead, Julie (who doesn’t know she’s Gabriel yet) by “accidentally” touching her while handing her a book. Ironic that he never capitalizes on this ability with, I dunno, every girl in the school. I mean, Lucifer right?

Finally let’s have a look, or more to the point, a listen, to the true star of Fear No Evil: the soundtrack. Yes, on a timeline this is an 80s movie, but this is not an 80s soundtrack. It’s rife with tracks that came in at the very tail end of the 70s and were on their way to becoming cuh-lassics in their own right.

Here’s but a sample: B-52’s, Boomtown Rats, Richard Hell, Ramones, Patti Smith, Talking Heads.

I mean come on.

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More Baz Luhrmann than Kenneth Anger

At one point, Andrew/Lucifer stands on a stairwell looking down on the school parking lot while up swells the menthol-cool stylings of Johnny Rotten: “I am an anti-christ-ah! I am an anar-chist-ah! Don’t know what I want, but I know how to get it!”

Subtle? Not so much. Appealing? Of course. If you think about it, sums up our little Andrewcifer pretty nicely as well.

BODY COUNT
7 onscreen

Horror 365 Movie 26: Mark Of The Devil

markGather round kiddies as I weave you today’s tale of superstition, paranoia, extortion, sexual predation, torture, rape, and other old time traditional “values” that can only be Michael Armstrong’s Mark Of The Devil.

Premise: a town is at the mercy of a brutal, sadistic witchfinder (as opposed to, y’know, the kindly, gentle ones) named, strangely, Albino (Reggie Nalder). The witch hysteria has reached the point that the church decrees local witchfinders alone are no longer sufficient.

Enter Christian Von Meruh (of course his name is Christian) played by a very young and mind-numbingly emotionless Udo Kier. Christian has come to facilitate the arrival of his mentor, the church’s infamous witchfinder, Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom).

Christian asserts his position and the will of the church almost immediately. When Vanessa (Olivera), the raven-haired tavern keeper, defends herself from Albino’s molestations, she is accused of witchcraft.

Gosh. Didn’t see that coming.

Christian intervenes and saves her without so much as a-smudgin’ his kohl-rimmed eyes. Gosh. Didn’t see that coming either. Albino slinks away, tail between his legs. Gosh. He doesn’t look happy. I suspect reprisals.

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Well he looks pissed.

I have deep conflicts with this movie. On one hand, it’s not without its merits. Cumberland strangles Albino in front of Christian. Thus begins Christian’s crisis of faith and his service as, for a while anyway, a visual figure of Cumberland’s conscience.

He never denounces or even glowers at Cumberland in these scenes. That’s later. Kier’s astonishing lack of affect in this context serves him and the movie well. He becomes the silent, hovering specter of Cumberland’s guilt.

The heroine, Vanessa, is the only woman (in fact, one of the few characters in general) who has any sense of agency. She lashes out verbally and physically at those who would persecute her and, more importantly, gets away with it.

On the other hand, there were some bizarre choices made. Case in point, an opening chase scene that ends in the rape of two nuns by a band of thugs.

In the first three minutes.

The soundtrack for such brutality is lyrical and syrupy. As much as I want to believe this is ironic counterpoint, I can’t. The score is, well, just too weak to pull this off, and any attempt at irony has, in keeping with the movie’s them, all the subtlety of a beheading.

Another problem is with the accused witches, almost all young, attractive, blonde, pale, and of flawless dentition. While it’s true that being young and pretty was dangerous during the witch craze, being old and ugly had its perils as well. Oddly, nobody in this film is old. Nobody.

Let’s talk torture. This supposedly earned the film a so-called “V For Violence” rating and got it dubbed “the most horrifying film ever made.” Uh, no. Just in purely splatterific terms, I only need three words: Herschell. Gordon. Lewis.

But I digress.

To paraphrase Junot Díaz, Mark Of The Devil was Eli Roth before Eli Roth was Eli Roth. But so was A Taste Of Blood. And Color Me Blood Red. And Two Thousand Maniacs. And Blood Feast.

Still, Armstrong is certainly among those who at least toyed with the idea of trying to put the “porn,” or at least the nudity, in what would come to be called “torture porn.” Specifically, the overwhelming majority of the accused are women. Only two are men. Chalk one up for historical accuracy I suppose.

The only completely naked torture victim? Yep. Female. On the rack no less.

mark3And while I wholeheartedly applaud the pages torn from the William Castle playbook (namely handing out vomit bags), let’s not kid ourselves. I mean, “Guaranteed to upset your stomach?” Sorry, nary a hiccup. Is it just me maybe?

But let’s end on a quasi-positive.  One final thing I really enjoy about Mark Of The Devil: the ending. Pretty damn cynical. I’ll try not to divulge too much other than to say there is no reckoning, no redemption, and nobody learns a damn thing.

Gimme that old time religion.

BODY COUNT
3 onscreen
(that I can remember–gotta watch again)

Horror 365 Movie 25: Fade To Black

fade2For a somewhat obscure, criminally underappreciated bit of slasher fare, you could do far worse than Fade To Black. Now, I’ll be the first to admit it’s not the most awesomest slasher flick ever made, but in its defense, Fade To Black also suffered from some timing and, I’d speculate, financial issues.

Right between Carrie in 1976 and Halloween in 1978 was, obviously, 1977. What happened in 1977? I’ll tell you. Star Wars. Gah.

Everybody saw it. Most everybody loved it. But how many of us caught The Incredible Melting Man that same year?

Yeah, thought so. That’s what happens when the $250,000 budget runs up against $11-13 million.

Jump ahead to 1980, and something similar happens. Fade To Black runs smack up against movies trying to capitalize on the likes of Carrie and Michael Meyers, movies like Prom Night and Friday The 13th. Okay, there’s a little irony to be had. Friday The 13th had a budget anywhere from $550,000 to $700,000. It also thoroughly trounced the million+ budgeted Prom Night.

Both presented stiff competition for the quieter and in some ways more clever Fade To Black (which has become such a distant memory, I can’t even find its budget). All of which is a shame. As I said, not the greatest of its genre, but the acting is fine, and the beleaguered Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher, the bike-riding kid from Breaking Away) starts out as your stereotypically pathetic, likeable schlep. You feel sorry for him.

Of course.

You also know revenge is coming, and this is why it’s a shame Fade To Black got lost in the slasher shuffle. It has much less in common with the masked knife-wavers and much more in common with two much earlier movies, , Peeping Tom (1960) and Willard (1971).

Both Peeping Tom and Fade To Black are steeped in the cinema itself. Mark (Carl Boehm/Karlheinz Böhm) is part of a film crew and plans to be a filmmaker in his own right. Eric works in a film warehouse and is a devoted if not slightly obsessed cinephile.

Like Willard Stiles (Bruce “Senator Robert Kelly” Davison), Eric is reclusive and socially inept. Their lives are almost interchangeable. Both reach their tipping points because of domineering but physically frail maternal figures. They’re both bullied by boorish, insufferable bosses. Both their fates are tied to the very things that allow them to take revenge. I have to wonder how accidental it is that they even look similar.

fade willard

The MO of each character intertwined with his killing method. Mark uses a camera tripod modified to house a concealed blade. Willard uses his rats. Under the guises of his favorite characters, Eric uses his extensive movie knowledge to stage his kills like scenes from their movies, specifically Dracula, the Mummy, Hopalong Cassidy, and Cody Jarrett.

This is what keeps Fade To Black from being some formulaic knockoff as do several points where things take some unexpectedly dark turns. When Eric, made up as Dracula, kills a prostitute, he actually drinks some of her blood. There’s also a cringey scene involving a Marilyn Monroe poster.

That said, plenty of schlock to be had, including a silly, hamfisted attempt to parody Psycho and a fleeing victim who, despite adrenaline and utter panic, is incapable of mustering a stride longer than a foot and a half. Eric also does a number of impressions, most notably Cagney, that are frequent and awful.

So, 1980s, I’ll see your endless parade of Halloween knockoffs (some of the worst of which being its own sequels), and I’ll raise you Anguish, Psycho II, Sleepaway Camp, and Fade To Black.

Call.

BODY COUNT
6 onscreen