Horror 365, Movie 57: Ghost Story

Earlier this week I rewatched Ghost Story which I’d seen on a big ol’ multiplex screen a couple times when it first came out in 1981. Normally I wouldn’t so much as bat an eye over this, but recently I read a fine review of The Fog over at Film Miasma. It started off with the following: “There’s always something fun about watching something you haven’t seen in 40 years.”

True enough but damn. Hadn’t really considered that.

To add a little more perspective, 40 years before 1981 would obviously have been 1941, the year of Citizen Kane, The Black Cat, The Maltese Falcon, and The Wolf Man just to name a few highlights. My point is, in 1981, I thought all those movies were ollllllld. Now here I am, writing about a movie that’s just as old now as those were then.

Damn. Hadn’t really considered that either.

My point, I guess, is that I really liked Ghost Story back then. Still do. It holds up tolerably. Admittedly the 16-year-old me was far more affected by a naked Alice Krige than is the current me. I also read the novel shortly after that, but can’t remember which was better (leading me to believe that the movie must have been, or the book would have stood out).

The story involves four old white dudes who get together to share horror stories. They call themselves The Chowder Society, a veritable who’s who of old Hollywood: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman. The group has been getting together for a good long time, basically ever since their college days.

Things get complicated pretty quickly (spoilers are nigh). Ned Wanderly (Fairbanks) is mourning the death of his son, David, supposedly dead by suicide (we already know differently). At their father’s behest, David’s brother, Don, has returned to his hometown of Milburn. Both brothers are played by Craig Wasson whom I generally like although he always strikes me as a generic knockoff version of John Savage. I’ve also been told some folk liken him to Bill Maher.

And now The Chowder Society gets picked off one by one. Ned sees his dead son in town, follows him, runs into a ghost, and falls off said bridge. Dr. Jaffrey (Douglas) sees the ghost and has a heart attack. That leaves Sear James (Houseman) and Ricky Hawthorne (interesting name choice for a ghost story and played by Astaire). The two remaining Chowderheads finally reveal the truth about the ghost to Don.

It turns out that as young men, all four lads fell in love with the same woman, Eva Galli. I’ll skip most of the details, but will point out that they sort of accidentally murder Eva. Watch the movie. You’ll see why it’s sort of accidental. The upshot of all this is that it’s Eva has returned as a ghost seeking vengeance. It’s not clear why now particularly, nor what it is that has brought her back. I guess I’ll have to revisit the book.

It’s also worth pointing out the white dudeness of the plot. At the time of the murder, these were college boys with their whole lives ahead of them. Aww, poor things. Rather than face any consequences, they try the ol’ tried and true coverup. Oops. Truth is, if they’d confessed, they’d probably have gotten a slap on the wrist. Y’know, just like rapist scumbag Brock Turner did back in 2016. Ultimately, I harbor the same contempt and loathing for these sleazy little misogynists and their futures as I do for Turner and his.

Well. Seems I had something to get off my chest. Moving on.

By far the most interesting part of the movie is Alice Krige. She’s not just attractive, but striking, and yet there is something indescribably off about Eva. Some of it might be projected by viewers who know the story, but it’s more than just that. Somehow she just infuses her every scene with tension and unease. She’s fascinating and unnerving, like a dangerous snake.

It’s also well worth mentioning that for 1981, there are some damn fine practical effects, likely due to the participation of Rick Baker. Don’s final vision of Eva as well as her “emergence” from a watery grave stand up to time remarkably well.

Roger Ebert liked this movie–much more, apparently, than what he called Straub’s “unspeakable prose.” I can only imagine what ol’ Rog would have to say about Lovecraft. I don’t remember it being that bad. Then again, I don’t really remember the book at all. Guess I better go dig up a copy.


SKULLS
10
BODIES
7 onscreen

Available to rent on Prime and Vudu

Horror 365, Movie(s) 56: Top Ten Vampires (Kinda)

Vampires. Possibly my biggest love/hate relationship (as alluded to in my review of Near Dark). So it seemed fitting to stake (heh) my claim on a kind of Top Ten Vampire List.

Caveat lector. No iterations of Dracula here. I fairly loathe Stoker, never regarded Dracula as Browning or Lugosi’s best work (Coppola or Roth’s either for that matter), and wasn’t even a fan of Hammer’s efforts despite top shelf contributions from Christopher Lee.

I’m focusing on movies (mostly) and/or story arcs with a primary individual rather than with a group of people versus a group of vampires. So as much as I love ’em, I’m not dealing with From Dusk Til Dawn, Lost Boys, Near Dark, 30 Days Of Night, Vampire Circus, etc.

Here then are my five least favorite and five favorite vampires.

Least Favorites

Angel

angel

I was a Buffy follower for a short long while. Angel, however, was one of its weak points. He was, for me, one of those nauseatingly Boy Scout do-gooders who gets on my last nerve in much the same way Captain America and Superman always do. Okay, he had an impressively dark start. I’ll give him that. Sadly, as Hades said in Hercules, he “had to go all noble.”

Blade

blade

I know, actual vampire status is debatable. I loved the comics. Couldn’t stand the movie. Admittedly that has a great deal to do with Wesley Snipes. With the exception of struggling through Blade (then ignoring the sequels), I have yet make it all the way through any Wesley Snipes movie.

Edward

Deep and all-encompassing is my apathy for the atrociously written, troublingly Mormon Twilight series and all things associated with it. Whether on page or screen, I can’t even describe it as loathing. I simply refuse to care, so much so that Eddie’s not even getting a pitcture. Nor did I want to give him the distinction being first on the list, or coming in dead (or undead?) last. No. He gets buried (heh heh) in the middle like a boring news story.

Blacula

blacula

I wasn’t sure whether he counted as an iteration of Dracula or not. I decided he didn’t since he was created by Dracula. I don’t mind the concept, but the movie? Sorry, it’s just bad. The teeth, the cape, those mutton chops, and more stereotypes than you can wave a crucifix at. I know. 1972. First black vampire on film. But still. Sigh, if only Ganja & Hess had come out first.

Dishonorable Mentions
Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp version), Count Chocula, every vampire in the Twilight series

Louis

louis

Ugh. Gah. Blech. Start with the existential, questioning nature of Frankenstein’s creature. Dumb that down to the point where, oh I dunno, a college administrator can understand it. Now make it whiny as all hell. You still won’t end up with a character as annoying as Louis. The irony is that everything Lestat loved so dearly about Louis is everything I find profoundly irritating. I love the fact that after the first novel, he essentially disappears from the storyline for a good long while. Harken to the words of the Brat Prince. “Have you heard enough? I’ve had to listen to that for centuries.”

Favorites

Vampirella

vampirella

One of two non-movie picks. I can hear some of you saying, “Hey there’s the 1996 direct-to-video flick.” Uh, no. Anyway, Vampirella. Yes she’s scantily clad. Yes she’s a posterchild for all that was/is wrong with depictions of women in comics. It’s still a great story, and she’s still a major badass.

vampirella
See?

And she’s from planet Drakulon for Vlad’s sake! What’s not to love?

Count Orlock

orlock

I mean, come on. Between the name of this blog and having a tattoo of the guy, Nosferatu had to show up on here. Moody and atmospheric doesn’t even begin to cover it. Max Schreck rising straight up out of the coffin ranks as one of the all-time creepiest moments ever.

Barnabas Collins

barnabas

Nearly every drop (I’ll stop soon) of my horror nerdery can be traced back to my aunt, probably about as geeked out on horror as I am. As a kid, I spent a lot of time around her. She got me hooked on Dark Shadows, and I knew about Barnabas long before I discovered (and rejected) Dracula. In terms of production value, the show was not awesome, but to a little kid, it was terrifying. And somehow, without being the greatest looking dude, Jonathan Frid had some serious cool happening.

Lestat

lestat

Oh, Brat Prince, how I wanted to be you. I rarely see movies on opening night. In fact, I make it a point not to. Too many people. Interview With The Vampire is one of the few exceptions. I still find it endlessly watchable. Not everyone agrees, but for me, Tom Cruise encapsulated everything I thought Lestat should be like, and did it beautifully. Especially in terms of the first two novels. His story arc in the novels is even better, and it astounds and appalls me that The Vampire Lestat never became a movie.

Honorable Mentions
Armand, Hannibal King (comic not movie), Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe in Shadow Of The Vampire), Spike, Vampire Hunter D

Morbius

morbius

This is my other non-movie pick. In my review of Near Dark, I referred to Michael Morbius as my favorite vampire. That’s not always completely accurate. On any given day, it’s a toss-up between Morbius and Lestat. One is always an extremely close second to the other. You might say they run neck and neck (last time, promise). For today, it’s Morbius, whom I like for much the same reason my buddy, Jorge, likes the Frankenstein monster. It was a result of science going too far and creating a creature who was then forced to deal with the results of its own existence. I have grave (I lied) concerns about Jared Leto, so we’ll see.

And those are my ten. Of course, I’d love to see some of yours in the Comments. Fangs (yeah, I suck–ooo I did it again) for reading.

Horror 365, Movie 55: The Brainiac

I’m keeping today’s commentary brief because, if you haven’t seen this movie, you must, and I don’t want to give away a single plot point.

It’s just too fabulous.

I found out about The Brainiac from Tim Cooper, the indefatigable chap what used to run Naro Expanded Video here in Norfolk. We were talking bad horror movies, and he asked if I remembered the name of the movie in which the antagonist eats people’s brains with a spoon. I had no idea what he was talking about which shocked us both mightily. I mean, how could I have possibly missed such a thing?

He soon remembered it was called The Brainiac (U.S. release. It was El Baron Del Terror in Mexico) and fetched it from the store’s Cult section. Clearly it was a professional obligation (if not a moral imperative) that I take it home and watch it. Which I did. Three times in a row.

Cuz damn.

Let me say first that the production value on Brainiac is, for the most part, surprisingly good–well lit, more than adequately shot, and not terribly acted. Even the premise, while not new, holds up just fine. In 1661, Baron Vitelius is condemned to death by The Inquisition and vows to come back 300 years later to get revenge on the descendants of the Inquisitors (nothing groundbreaking, but it’s serviceable, somewhat akin, in fact, to Barbara Steele in Black Sunday).

The things that are wrong with Brainiac, however, are also the things that are so very, very right about it.

Let’s start with the ending (okay, so perhaps there’s a wee spoiler after all, but indulge me). There are flamethrowers involved. Being that the Baron was burned at the stake, we’ve come full circle. What mystifies me is why someone who comes back from the dead after 300 years is so easily dispatched. Maybe it’s an Achilles Heel/Kryptonite kinda thing.

Let’s move on to the monster. Oh, ye gods, the monster.

First, Baron Vitelius has a hypnotic ability which freezes his victims in their tracks and forces them to act against their will. This is cleverly signaled by a pulsating light that illuminates the Baron’s eyes (more or less as if someone is standing behind the camera man, pointing a light at the Baron’s face, and turning it on and off).

The monster itself is basically a guy in a rubber demon mask. He also has weird “hands” that end in what look like suckers (which are not utilized in any meaningful fashion). The mask expands and contracts as if being inflated and deflated. My assumption is this is supposed to be breathing.

Okay.

Then there’s the tongue that lolls out of said mask. It’s established (well, kind of) that this tongue removes the victims’ brains. It turns out, however, that the antagonist has all these brains squirrelled away in a big ol’ soup tureen hidden on his grand estate. Every now and then, he avails himself of a spoonful or two of this, uh, delicacy, as if sampling a lovely between-course sherbet. Sort of a cranial, homicidal, vengeance-from-the-grave palate cleanser if you will.

Yummy.


SKULLS
12
BODIES
10 (including the same person twice)

Available free on Prime