Horror 365, Movie(s) 54: Down With Hyperbole

I once heard Kevin Roberts, an advertising executive, talk about how brands rely on “ER words: whiter, brighter, cleaner, stronger, fitter. Watch any commercials on American TV and you’ll see these words come up in the first three seconds, hammered remorselessly into your brain.” The man makes a good point.

I’ve seen a proverbial shit-ton of movies because they were called the scariest, the most terrifying, the best since some classic or other.

I should know better. I should be too cynical for such optimism, too smart for such Barnum-esque huckstery. No dice.

To be just and equitable, I enjoy the overwhelming majority of horror movies I see. From Ed Wood Jr. to Hitchcock, enjoyment ain’t the issue. But if I allow myself the folly of hoping this will be the movie to deliver the psychological damage I crave, I end up disappointed. Bitterly.

Indeed, a recap is in order, a brief, dissatisfying stroll through a movie decade spanning 2005 to 2015 (it’s only January 28, 2021–gimme a minute to process the last five years). Also, no Skulls this time around since these aren’t reviews so much as observations.

The Descent (2005)
Mutant humanoid creatures stalk a dysfunctional band of protagonists. Not much new there. Generally I respect and trust Fangoria but don’t buy Tony Timpone’s praise of The Descent as “The scariest horror movie in years.” I’m leery of blanket phrases like “in years.” They offhandedly disregard too much, like The Devil’s Backbone, Saw, Devil’s Rejects, and High Tension.

host
It’s kind of adorable

The Host (2006)
This is one of my favorite movies ever. Same apparently for Harry Knowles at Ain’t It Cool News (dig those guys too). On the other hand, The Host just isn’t “the best full on monster movie since Jaws.” Bruce is a tough bar to clear, and while this critter is just too cool for words, I have one difficulty. I want one. I don’t want a Bruce. Or an Alien. Or The Thing.

30 Days Of Night (2007)
I hold Dread Central in the same regard as Fangoria, but I think Andrew Kasch misses the mark with “The most terrifying vampire movie ever made.” The folks at Hammer may differ. Clearly I think Nosferatu is one of the most terrifying movies ever made. I’d also throw Vampire Circus into the mix.

The Strangers (2008)
If you like this, I urge you to check out Funny Games and Ils. Same idea executed an order of magnitude better. That said, I like The Strangers just fine. The tension ratchets up well. The male killer watching Liv Tyler in the kitchen? Far better just some jumpscare. Sadly for Mark Peikert at New York Press, The Strangers didn’t quite prevent me “from ever going home again.”

The Uninvited (2009)
“A truly frightening movie experience with a shocker of an ending.” Is it possible that Hollywood.com’s Pete Hammond managed to miss Session 9? And The Machinist? And Fight Club? And Shutter Island? And The Other?

Insidious (2010)
I can’t stress enough that I love most of these movies as movies, just not as “mosts” or “ests.” Insidious is a massive steaming pile of exception. The kid is annoying, the parents relentlessly dim, and the ending so predictable a lobotomy can’t make it surprising. WCBS Radio’s Steve O’Brien called it “the most terrifying movie since The Exorcist” which I’m forced to conclude O’Brien has never seen.

Hostel III (2011)
Another go-to for me is Brad Miska at Bloody Disgusting. He had some great insights, for example, about April Fool’s Day, May, and Slither. For this one, he suggests, “Sin City just got a whole lot darker.” Perhaps not. A whole lot more predictable? Yes. You can call it torture porn if you like, but Hostel is survival horror at a Deliverance or Rituals level. Tough genre to break new ground in, but Hostel did. That ground broken, it’s even tougher to sustain. We generally know what to expect. Switching genders and locations isn’t quite enough. There’s also audience involvement wickedly close to (and used better by) Cabin In The Woods and Running Man.

The Innkeepers (2012)
Ironic mentioning Hostel III. I do love me some Eli Roth: Cabin Fever, Hostel, Green Inferno. Don’t always agree with him. Like now. “One of the best, smartest, scariest indie horror films I’ve seen in a long time.” I was so sure I missed something I just had to watch it again. How did Roth and I see the same movie? I hate Insidious, true, but it wasn’t boring. Huh. Maybe the coma The Innkeepers put me in would have kept me from seeing Insidious’s ending coming like a freight train.

Stoker (2013)
“An adrenaline shot to the cerebral cortex,” Marshall Fine wrote for the preciously named Hollywoodandfine.com. Stoker was definitely not what I expected, but it’s good, good stuff nonetheless, specifically because it’s not an adrenaline shot. Rather, it’s an almost textbook slow burn.

Tusk (2014)
As stated in a previous post, I like to establish an arbitrary rule then disregard it. Nobody said Tusk was the scariest, spookiest, most terrifying movie since anything, but some dope at Variety called it “Kevin Smith’s very best work.” Sorry if I go all Breakfast Club for a second, but…Not. Even. Close. Bud! A) All you have to do is listen to Smith’s Smodcast segment in the special features to understand this was never a horror movie, and B) Red State.

And there’s my list.

Horror 365, Movie(s) 53: Maniac Cop Series

From time to time, circumstances dictate that I leave Castle Blogferatu in the family hearse in order to run a few errands–grocery store, hardware store, morgue, local necromancer. Y’know, run-of-the-mill kinda stuff. Every now and then, these excursions into the real world get me pulled over. Apparently not everyone thinks the hand hanging from the rear door is funny. Some people just can’t take a joke. I mean, really. It’s almost always fake.

In any case, my most recent of such run-ins put me in mind of the Maniac Cop series which, shockingly, I’ve never finished, so I figured, “Well why not?” Of course you’d think I’d have seen all of them over the course of a weekend a long time ago. You’d also think the whole series would be right up my alley. Sadly, you’d be wrong.

Mostly.

Maniac Cop

I recall really looking forward to this what with its cult status and all. I may have set the bar too high. The start of the franchise regrettably doesn’t have a hell of a lot going for it. The story bogs down in many places, the music is très 80s, and the make-up effects are clumsy. The credits list the “special” effects make-up by More Than Skin Deep. No. It wasn’t. To be fair, I realize this was low budget. In my defense, so was Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

One of the few bright spots (besides Bruce Campbell) is the premise. The rogue killer cop idea is far from new. Look at Magnum Force, for example. The twist on it is that he’s also dead. For that you have to go to The Hidden or westerns like Pale Rider or High Plains Drifter (in fact, Maniac Cop even uses a very familiar looking flashback/dream sequence to fill in some backstory).

On the other hand, he also might not be dead. On the other other hand, he might be. It’s never really clarified. Ugh. Nevermind. I would like to give a shout out to mhofmeyer at Movies, Films, And Flicks for his recent article “Analyzing The Foot Chase And Sheet Washing In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake.” I’d love for him to do the math on Cordell wiping out the entire police station near the end of this movie.


SKULLS- 7

Maniac Cop 2

By and large regarded as the pinnacle of the series. For the most part that’s true, but there’s a little damning with faint praise going on here. Sure, the budget is bigger, the make-up is better, the story has a faster pace, but Maniac Cop 2 doesn’t know what it wants to be: action, horror movie, or both.

Sadly, it doesn’t hold up spectacularly as any of those genres. That doesn’t mean it’s without its high points. Offing Bruce Campbell at the 19:07 mark is quite the surprise, as is a later victim dragged away hanging from a tow truck hook. Bonus points as well for some fiery Cordell vengeance.

There’s some star power to be had here too: Claudia Christian (who I loved as the alien serial killer possessed stripper in The Hidden), Robert Davi (who you’ve seen every damn where from 1977 to probably yesterday), hell even Michael Lerner.

Oh and make sure to look for a quick shot of Danny Trejo on a prison cot.


SKULLS- 8

Maniac Cop 3: Badge Of Silence

I’m always leery of sequels with a number, colon, and secondary title. The result is often (not always) disappointing. Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan on one end,  the criminally maligned Halloween III: Season Of The Witch on the other. At any rate, exonerated and buried with full honors at the end of Maniac Cop 2, Cordell still finds no rest.

Again. Or not again.

The series never establishes how dead Cordell actually was or wasn’t. Until now. This time a Santería priest (whose chant sounds unfortunately like Pig Latin) raises him from the dead. Why? No idea. It’s never revealed. The third installment is fairly well shot through (heh) with other problems too.

Maniac Cop 3 lacked its predecessor’s budget. Lustig left the film around the halfway point presumably over script and investor issues. Joel Soisson (whose film credits are primarily “producer” versus “director”) took over.

But again there are high points. The menthol cool, stone-faced Davi is back as the stone-faced, menthol cool Detective McKinney. There are fine deaths by defibrillator and X-ray machine. It also appears that Cohen, or Lustig, or someone has a thing about Cordell doing stuff whilst engulfed in flame.


SKULLS- 6

Overall I gotta say I found the series likeable enough but have no pressing need to see any of it again. Possibly a box I didn’t need to check off, but hey, that’s good to know too, right?

Horror 365, Movie 52: Lips Of Blood

lips2Most of the time, I really don’t like vampires. Yeah. I said what I said. I hope we can all adjust and move on.

To be specific, I don’t like what vampire film and literature have become.

Seriously. I’ve never liked any iteration of Dracula in print or on film. I never bought the alluring/sexy vampire as put forth by Christopher Lee. Or Frank Langella and John Badham. Or Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt (though, okay, as a movie I liked Interview With The Vampire). Or by anyone having anything to do with (gag, choke) Twilight.

There are, of course, notable exceptions. Nosferatu holds up well, largely because it has none of the problems I just mentioned. In terms of traditional folklore, vampires are not pleasant, and neither is Max Schreck’s Count Orlok. The novel version of Lestat, The Brat Prince, is charming enough. Though technically not an actual vampire, I always dug Michael Morbius (I have an eye of you, Jared Leto).

I also have a painfully low tolerance for the vast majority of love stories.

Naturally it was only a matter of time before I got around to Lips Of Blood (Lèvres De Sang), a vampire love story if ever there was one. Oh well. I do live for irony, and at least it’s Jean Rollin.

The premise is simple enough. As a boy, Frédéric (Jean-Loup Phillippe) falls in love with a young (?) vampire, Jennifer (Annie Belle). He is convinced by his mother it’s all a dream.

Later, the adult Frédéric (who looks startlingly like the love child of David Soul and Robert Carlyle) is at a party where his memory of Jennifer is awakened when he sees a picture of the ruins where he’d met her. When he seeks her out, his efforts are hindered by his mother, but her attempts prove futile.

soul robert

lips
Maybe it’s just me

There is a fair amount of disjointed, “I feel like I missed something; let me back up” storytelling here. It’s part of Rollin’s style and intended to create tension. In that respect, Lips Of Blood has more in common with giallo than with more traditional vampire fare.

On the other hand, Rollin doesn’t rein in this tangled plot as successfully as, say, Dario Argento or Mario Bava, or Rollin himself in several other films. In this case it becomes a klunky distraction. Atmospheric? Yes. Effective? Not so much (maybe it played better in 1975).

A couple of long stretches with no dialogue don’t help. At one point, the film goes six minutes without anyone uttering a single word. Thirty seconds later, nine and a half more minutes. In other words, fifteen minutes of film with only thirty seconds of dialogue roughly in the middle.

In Rollin’s defense, this might be explained in part by the fact that he made his films on a very low budget, kind of a French Roger Corman if you will. Still, a few shots just hang there for far too long. The would-be assassin at the Fountain Of Warsaw in the Jardins Du Trocadéro is a prime example.

Lips Of Blood isn’t without its high points, however. The ruins of Sauveterre Castle carry a vaguely Lovecraftian dread, and the mother’s story and the later hunt for four roaming vampire women has a similar vibe to the culty weirdness of the original Wicker Man.

It’s also worth mentioning that the female vampires are by no means sexualized temptresses despite two of them being covered only in sheer fabric. They are legitimate objects of fear, maintaining their steady, even pace as they trail their victims. It’s also interesting that one bite apparently kills any victim instantly.

Overall, if you like your vampire tales with a little less tradition, a little less sex, and a little more slow-building dread, you could do worse than Lips Of Blood. As vampire love stories go, I guess it doesn’t, y’know, suck.


SKULLS
6

BODIES
7 onscreen
1 offscreen

for rent on Amazon Prime
free on YouTube