Horror 365, Movie 149: Berserk!

How many of you out there like (or even remember) Circus Peanuts? You know–those big ol’ orange marshmallow monstrosities that don’t taste like marshmallow. Or orange. Or any other flavor of any living thing that grows naturally on this green Earth. Well they sell ’em at a local hardware store, so every now and again when I go in looking for implements of “persuasion” tools n’ such, I’ll grab a bag. Nostalgia you might say–at least until I taste one and remember why I don’t buy them. Still, this puts me in mind of the ol’ big top itself which is weird since I’ve never really liked the circus either.

For one thing, clowns. For another, people. But worst of all, it’s the plight of the animals. From my first trip to the circus as a wee lad, the circus always made me sad for all the furry critters. Even if they were treated splendidly (which has been demonstrated time and again to absolutely not be the case), it’s still a shitty life of confinement and exploitation.

Ironically, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, I love circus movies. No no I don’t mean Dumbo or The Greatest Showman. Sheesh. No I mean stuff like Freaks, Circus Of Fear, Funhouse, Circus Of Horrors. That’s probably why my favorite season of American Horror Story is Freakshow (well, that and Jessica Lange singing “Life On Mars” with that Joel Gray German Cabaret accent).

And speaking of AHS Season 4, I thought we might have a look at possibly its biggest influence after Freaks, and that’s Berserk! First, let’s talk about directors. I always think Berserk! is a William Castle movie. I’m not sure why. Maybe the fact that there’s a Blu-ray double feature release with this and Strait-Jacket.

At any rate, Berserk! is a fun watch despite the, oh let’s call it sober directing by Jim O’Connolly. Castle would have gone crazy-eight bonkers with this and would no doubt have promoted it with some kind of circus-themed gimmick. Maybe glow-in-the-dark circular saw blades or something.

You’ll see why. Stay with me.

Crawford is still every bit in total command at a svelte 63. Hell the movie was even changed from Circus Of Blood (in truth a better title) to Berserk! at her insistence. And her character, ringmistress Monica Rivers, rules the big tent with an iron fist while still reeling in the hunky new tightrope walker.

Why a new tightrope walker? Well (spoilers comin’) the previous one kinda dies, and it’s discovered that the accident weren’t very, uh, accidental. Much to the distaste of her business partner, Monica sees this as an opportunity. No publicity is bad publicity right? They argue about this and, wouldn’t y’know it, he ends up becoming the ultimate silent partner. In the midst of all this comes Monica’s daughter Angela (pixie-ish Judy Geeson). She’s decided to reconnect with her mother and join her show (conveniently after being dismissed from her upscale boarding school).

As whodunnits go, this one ain’t super-difficult to figure out. Murder and mayhem continue with suspicion being so constantly cast on Monica that there’s no way she can possibly be the killer. It’s still a good time, however, and wears some giallo and noir qualities on its sleeve quite nicely. For example, pretty much all these characters are despicable human beings, and all we really care about is who’s next in line to be sent off for a dirt nap by the unseen killer.

What does this have to do with AHS 4 you ask. Obviously it makes dozens of references to Freaks, but there’s a number of callbacks to other circus movies as well. There is of course the knife-throwing “accident” from Circus Of Horrors. But there’s also the venal, cavalier attitude displayed by both Joan Crawford and Jessica Lange. They’re both cold and calculating, and crossing them is definitely at one’s peril.

Also, both women are very concerned about drawing crowds and the finances of their attractions. To that end, they’re not at all above exploiting accidents and scandal to bring in the titillated patrons–bums on seats as the saying goes. They both have vulnerable sides as well and are not without certain fond attachments. Clearly though one of the big set pieces in Berserk! as well as well as one of the highlights of AHS 4 is the Sawed In Half trick that in both cases (though for different reasons) goes terribly, gloriously wrong. See? Circular saw blades. That’s what I’d hand out before showtime.

And so, members of the audience, children of all ages, kindly direct your attention high above the center ring…


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BODIES- 5 onscreen
For rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Prime, Vudu, YouTube

Yummo

Horror 365, Movie(s) 148: Remakes

After a weekend of spellcasting, bloodshed, and mayhem, it’s always nice to come home and kick back in the welcoming familiarity that comprises the cold, dark confines of Castle Blogferatu. That said, it’s getting on toward the latter portion of the evening, so I suppose one more wee list is in order. That way we can start things back up right and proper on Monday.

Anyway, one list that’s been simmering for a good minute has to do with remakes–not just remakes in general, or even remakes that were pretty good. No, I’m talking about Worst To Best: 10 Ranked Remakes.

#10 The Cabinet Of Caligari (Roger Kay, 1962)

I mean, I guess this is a remake? Apparently Samuel Goldwyn had acquired remake rights and brought Roger Kay on board to direct. He had at one time directed some Grand Guignol in Paris as well as New York, not that you’d know that from the contents of The Cabinet Of Caligari. There is very little tying to two films together aside from possibly the twist at the end which may have worked in 1962 but is pretty threadbare now. Robert Bloch did the screenplay, so I suppose there’s that. Wasn’t enough to keep the movie from getting on the train to Boring Town. There’s also Glynis Johns who’d show up a couple years later as Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins.

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#9 Psycho (Gus Van Sant, 1998)

To quote Roger Ebert, one of my critic heroes, “I hated hated hated this movie.” It was a tough call whether to put this at the absolute bottom or not. I suppose the only reason I didn’t is because at least Gus Van Sant tried to remain faithful to the source material. The question is why. What exactly do you think you’re gonna do to improve on Hitchcock? There’s a Frontline documentary about advertising called The Persuaders. In one segment, Douglas Rushkoff talks to an airline exec about improvements his company was making to a plane. He said once the changes are made, they can be copied by other airlines, but if you don’t know why we did what we did, you won’t get it right. I feel like that about this remake. Plus, Van Sant pretty much replicated everything shot for shot. Why?

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#8 Cabin Fever (Travis Z, 2016)

I’m not saying Eli Roth’s 2002 movie is on par with Psycho, but his original is a blast, and clearly Roth was having a great time with it. Like Van Sant’s Psycho, though, the question again is “Why?” Why remake something less than 20 years later? Why bother if you’re not in some way adding to, expanding, changing, or commenting on the original? And fer fuck’s sakes why take yourself so damn seriously? The fact that Roth produced it makes my inner cynic suspect a cash grab.

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#7 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (any)

I have yet to see any remake, reboot, reworking, sequel, ripoff, etc. that can hold a candle to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original. I’m not saying some of them aren’t fun in their own right but, at least for me, there is no comparing or recreating the sense of dread I get from every minute of the source material. That thing I said about The Persuaders? Same here.
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#6 Halloween II (Rob Zombie, 2009)

I’ve been a huge Rob Zombie fan for a good long time, and I thoroughly enjoyed his take on the first two installments of the Michael Myers saga. Of the two, I found this one somewhat less effective than the first, but it still had plenty of enjoyable highlights.

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#5 Evil Dead (Fede Álvarez, 2013)

Okay, now we’re turnin’ the corner into the ones I enjoyed significantly. Technically, Evil Dead II might be considered a reboot/remake of sorts, but that’s not the I’m talking about here. No I mean the 2013 remake. It certainly ups the gore factor and severely downplays Raimi’s silliness. But as a horror movie it’s still a pretty fun watch. I like it just fine.

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#4 Halloween (Rob Zombie, 2007)

I liked this a whole helluvalot and think it got unreasonably thrashed. To me, the appeal of a remake is to try to bring something new or fun or fresh or different to the story. It doesn’t necessarily mean it works out or fires on all cylinders, but if it comes across to me as a legit attempt, I’m pretty much here for it. I liked the Michael Myers backstory.

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#3 The Blob (Chuck Russell, 1988)

Despite the impossibility of buying Steve McQueen as a teenager, I still like the original a bunch. But the remake is just So. Much. Fun! Russell turns up the grossness factor by an order of magnitude that makes my heart sing. Or would. If I had one. And if it were inclined to sing, like ever. But back to The Blob. I mean come on, a guy gets sucked into a sink drain. Plus that tragically 80s Eddie Money style ‘do and actin’ chops of Matt Dillon’s younger brother Kevin.

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#2 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)

It’s hard to believe that the director of such heady, artistic films as Henry & June, Quills, and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being also directed Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Not only does this version eclipse the original, it also stands, to me anyway, as the definitive version of a movie which has been done to absolute death more times than are worth mentioning. I even have an enamel pin of Donald Sutherland doing the point & scream thing at the end.

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#1 The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

If I’m honest, my favorite movie on this list is actually Invasion Of The Body Snatchers so again I was torn in terms of list position. But seriously. In terms of remakes overshadowing the original to become the iconic version, nothing beats The Thing. Its status by now is legendary, the tension and confinement combine flawlessly, and the practical effects hold up surprisingly well after nearly 40 years.

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Okay, last of this weekend’s lists. What remakes do you cherish or despise? As always, throw ’em in the Comments.

Horror 365, Movie(ish) 147: D&D Monsters

It’s been a joyous couple days of gaming. My one-shot adventure seemed to be a rousing good time for the 5th-level party that undertook it. Zombies killed, pits fallen into, limbs severed, curses activated, bandits destroyed and routed–fun had by all. At the time of this writing, I’m still deeply into the Dungeons & Dragons mindset, but I still plan to maintain my current bloggin’ streak. So in the interest of time and in keeping with this weekend’s theme, here’s a short list of 7 D&D Monsters That Have “Appeared” In Movies.

#7 Fungi

William Hope Hodgson wrote a story called “A Voice In The Night” that was first published in 1907. In it, a man and wife stranded on an island become overcome by a fungus growing on the island. Later this was made into the movie Matango (aka Attack Of The Mushroom People). Well D& D is full of fungi that are more than they seem on the surface. They shriek, they lash out, and they often try to consume anything that comes within range.

#6 Flameskull

These nasty suckers are made from dead wizards and are unpleasant surprises in any dungeon. They guard stuff, cast spells, and generally make life difficult for adventurers. All ya gotta do is put one of these suckers on a motorcyclist right where his head used to was, and you’ve got Ghost Rider.

#5 Mephit

 

These are mean little elemental imp-like critters that love playing tricks on people. There are Dust, Ice, Magma, Mud, Smoke, and Steam mephits. Mostly this is based entirely on resemblance, but Mephits look an awful, awful lot like Panic from Hercules.

#4 Shambling Mound

 

Basically sentient vegetation that can destroy and/or devour you. What is that besides Man-Thing?

#3 Thri-kreen

 

Sentient insects that are able to use tools and weapons. Hello District 9.

#2 Oozes And Slimes

 

In D&D these take the forms of Grey Oozes, Black Puddings, Gelatinous Cubes, Green Slimes, and some others. What is The Blob but one of these that has come from space?

#1 Beholder

 

After the classic red dragon, this is possibly one of the most iconic images from all of D&D. Each eye causes a different kind of damage, from sleep to petrification to disentegration and lotsa nasty stuff in between. The thing next to it isn’t from a sword and sorcery movie like Krull or Beastmaster, but from Big Trouble In Little China of all places.

And now, time to go roll for initiative.