Greetings all, it’s Reaper Rick back at you again. Some of the movies in this issue were likely released before most of our readers were even born (at least one of them came out before I was born), but that does not mean they aren’t worth watching, even in this day and age.
We are going to use the Way Back Machine a bit this issue, and first of all I want to go back a full 80 years to 1932 (and yes, that is before I was born—but just barely) to discuss the movie, “White Zombie.” This horror classic starred Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, and Joseph Cawthorne.
A young couple travel to Haiti to be married, and are invited to have the ceremony performed at the home of a local land owner, but he has an ulterior motive for this seemingly kind gesture. He and the future bride were on the same ship from the United States to Haiti, and as he came to know her the land owner decided that he must possess her. Meanwhile, Bela is a mysterious and odd fellow (no surprise there) who runs a sugar cane mill staffed by workers who are all zombies.
Don’t forget that this is 1932, and these zombies are not the undead brain-eaters we recognize as zombies today. In fact, these zombies are not dead at all, but were merely under the mind control of Lugosi, who secretly fed his enemies—as well as some healthy workers for his mill—a special powder of his own design which puts them helplessly under Bela’s control.
Our land owner (not surprisingly) wants the future husband out of the way so the fair maiden might be his own, but doesn’t have the stomach to actually kill the young man, so goes to see Lugosi for a dose of his ‘special’ powder. Bela agrees to his request, but the evil mill owner has some ideas of his own for the young woman.
In 1932 ‘talking motion pictures’ had only been around for a few years, and many of the actors in the new ‘talkies’ got their start in silent films. Thus, many of the stars in early talking motion pictures still used exaggerated facial expressions and elaborate arm and hand motions to make their emotions more understandable to the audience. This was no longer really necessary, however, since dialog was introduced (even if the dialog was not all that well written), but I suppose some habits are hard to break. “White Zombie” is such a film, which makes this horror movie somewhat comical when watched today, but it is still worth a view. Bela Lugosi is at his best in this early classic, and I give “White Zombie” Three Howls of Pleasure .
Now we’re going to move forward in time some 25 years to 1959, and look at one of director Roger Corman’s early film efforts. “A Bucket of Blood” starred Dick Miller (his one and only leading role, but he went on to be a well-known character actor), Anthony Carbone, Ed Nelson, and John Brinkley. Actually, a number of the male actors in this movie went on to become recognized character actors in the 1960s and 1970s. And oddly enough, although the title would indicate a fair amount of blood-letting to be seen (like, maybe a whole ‘bucket’ full), there is nary a hint of blood, save for a smear of such on a pancake skillet.
Anyway, most of the action in this movie takes place in a beatnik coffee house called the Yellow Door. (The film is in black and white, however, so we never really know what color the door actually is). Within the Yellow Door poor excuses for poets spout their gibberish to guitar or bongo music, while drug addled adults (the precursors of the 1960 hippies) drink coffee, purchase and consume drugs, and reflect on how bad their lives are. And artists (who are also apparently drug addled) show their paintings and sculpture at the coffee house. Plus, there are a couple of Narcs at the Yellow Door, searching (while undercover as ‘real’ beatniks) for drug dealers.
Walter Paisley is a somewhat emotionally underdeveloped bus ‘guy’ at the coffee house, and he deeply admires all of the artists who slither their way through beatnik hangout.. Unfortunately for Walter, some of the patrons treat him as if he did not fit in with their pompous attitudes of themselves.
In order to fit in with his imagined friends, Walter tells everyone that he is going to create a ‘great’ sculpture, and goes home to his flea-bag hotel room and opens up a ten pound cube of soft clay. After he tries for several minutes to create a bust of a young lady he loves (from afar) at the Yellow Door, and fails miserably, he freaks out due to his artistic ineptitude and slams a knife through a paper-thin wall in his room. And how weird is this?—his landlady’s cat was trapped in the wall and Walter skewers the poor feline with his steak knife. Bummer.
Walter tears part of the wall down and removes the dead cat (which is now stiff as a board, even though it only died a few moments before), still with the knife sticking out of its side. He sets the furry corpse down on the table where the cube of clay still reposes, and has a masterful idea. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this movie (although perhaps unintentional) is more of a comedy than a horror flick.
So Walter covers the dead feline in wet clay and when it dries, he takes it down to the Yellow Door to show everyone his mastery of sculpting. Oddly enough (except in this movie) everyone loves his work and they want to see more. He allows this temporary success to go to his head and claims he has more sculpting projects in mind, but when his pseudo girlfriend wants to see what else he has, Walter again freaks out. There aren’t any more cats living in his building that he can kill and cover with clay, so he kills a female model and does the clay thing to her. Everyone is really impressed—she looks so lifelike. But now, in order to keep up the appearance that he is an actual sculptor, and to keep his new adoring fans appeased, Walter must keep killing people and covering them with clay.
Again, while this movie was originally presented as a horror flick, over several decades the poor dialog, rather stiff actors, and ridiculous situations seems to have turned it into a semi-cult classic of comedy/horror. This is a great popcorn flick and well worth a weekend rental for some good laughs. I give “A Bucket of Blood” Three Howls of Pleasure for gruesome humor .
Back inside the Way Back Machine for a moment, we move forward a mere two years to 1961, and look at another Roger Corman film (this one quite a bit better than the last one of his movies I reviewed). This time Corman tackles Edgar Allen Poe’s classic story, “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and got author Richard Matheson to write the screenplay. This movie starred the great Vincent Price, along with John Kerr, Anthony Carbone (“A Bucket of Blood), and the scream queen of ‘B’ movies, Barbara Steele.
This movie takes place in 16th Century Spain, and Price plays Nicolas Medina, whose father Sebastian was a famous torturer for the Spanish Inquisition. Medina’s wife, Elizabeth, dies suddenly—supposedly from fright—after becoming fascinated with Sebastian’s torture chamber, deep within the bowels of the Medina castle. When Elizabeth’s brother arrives to find out how and why she died, he finds that Vincent is close to a mental breakdown, as he feels that he may have buried his wife alive. But did he?
As usual with Roger Corman and American International pictures, Corman uses a lot of stock outdoor footage of a dark castle on the edge of a towering cliff, along with crashing waves and lightening for an eerie effect, but if you can get past that, the overall scenic design is done very well.
This movie is an amazing look at a man’s slow descent into insanity, and no one is better than Vincent Price to show how it’s done. The one scene that depicts this descent graphically has Price moving slowly down a spiral stone staircase, as he attempts to locate his (dead?) wife. Before he starts down this staircase he is depressed, confused, and teeters on the edge of sanity, but as the viewer follows his progress down into the darkness, he changes, and literally spirals down into madness.
The ending is a surprise shocker—and, yes, we finally get to see the pit and the pendulum in action—and this movie is well worth a weekend rental. I feel Nicolas Medina is one of Price’s best horror roles, and I give “The Pit and the Pendulum” a full Four Howls of Pleasure .
Now, I am not a squeamish person. I have seen many people die—some of them quite horribly—I have witnessed a number of medical autopsies, and also spent a night in a well-known mortuary where I watched several bodies being embalmed. So movie effects and/or story plots rarely bother me, but this next movie was just over the line—at least in my opinion. I am sure many of you have heard of “The Human Centipede (First Sequence),” but have no idea how many have actually seen it. I did not view this movie until recently, mainly because the premise of the story did not appeal to me, but I finally gave in and sat through it. (Ah, the things I do for this job!). Released in 2009, it starred Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yenne, and Akihiro Kitamura.
First of all, I detest movies that start off with young people (two girls in this case) who are so obviously victims they should wear signs around their necks which state: ‘I am a victim—please kidnap, torture, and kill me.’ And, yes, these two girls—who are traveling through Germany—get lost in a dense forest late at night and then have a flat tire which they cannot fix; classic, useless victims. So, after they wander around the dark forest for an hour, they stumble upon a large house out in the middle of nowhere. Let’s see a show of hands—how many think the girls should try and get someone to open the door for them?
The owner of the isolated home is a former doctor who specialized in separating Siamese twins, and has a freaky fetish for creatures that are attached together. Dieter plays the doctor, and this guy is the most fracked-up freak I have seen on the screen in quite a while. At any rate, the doctor ends up connecting the two girls and a Japanese tourist together, mouth to anus, with the two girls hooked up behind the young Japanese man. That in itself is bad enough, many people may think, but I would gladly kill this freako for the mere fact that he first experimented on his personal pets—three Rottweiler dogs, also joined mouth to anus—which died shortly after the procedure, but he carries a photo of the three connected dogs around with him, and fondles the picture.
Not only is the idea of this film a seriously bad choice, but there are so many inconsistencies and just plain screw-ups in this movie, you want to laugh, but can’t because it is SO bad. First of all, about half of this flick is sub-titled because it uses three languages—English, German, and Japanese. Before Doctor Jackass bonds the three victims together, he slices their leg tendons at the knee so after the operation they cannot stand, but must crawl around on their knees. They can barely move, and yet, while the operation is performed in a basement (with an L-shaped set of open wooden stairs which leads upstairs), the trio is frequently seen outside and in a living/dining room area, where they are kept in a caged dog-run at night.
In one scene the attached trio is back downstairs on a long table, but they are never shown climbing onto the table, and in a later scene they are back on the floor, but again we do not get to see how they got down. We do finally see them climb the stairs, but it is such a traumatic and painful effort that many of their stitches rip open and there is blood all over the stairs, yet we are supposed to believe that they have climbed up and down these same stairs several times during the movie with no apparent damage to any of them.
When cops finally stop by to question the doctor regarding the missing girls, he acts like a douche and the cops are suspicious. They want a look at the basement (where our trio is still on the table) but Herr Doctor refuses, and then tries to give the cops knock-out drops in glasses of water. The conjoined trio attempts an escape while the doc is busy with the cops, but where are they going to go once they mysteriously manage to get down from the table, and how are they going to get anywhere?
This movie is so bad on so many levels I wish I could excise the memory of it from my mind. If you are into senseless torture and scat, you may somehow enjoy this movie, but I give “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” Three Hangman’s Nooses , because I thought it just plain sucked.
So, basically, you can have fun with at least three of these movies, and I do recommend them, but I need to wash my eyeballs with bleach after the centipede episode. And I guess that’s it for the Reaper this issue. Get out there and watch some Good movies.