Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. October is my favorite month of the year and I couldn’t let it pass without some looks back at some obscure-ish horror. In the past I’ve done the Halloween version of my A Movie A Day run, but due to my world travels that wasn’t going to be possible this month.
However, I want to keep the horror AMAD spirit alive while also not letting this trip royally fuck up my Vault Dweller column, so I figured why not merge the two. After putting them into one telepod and throwing the switch I ended up with an inside out baboon. After some tinkering I tried again and have what you’ll see below. I call it Crypt Dweller, an all genre Vault Dweller.
In keeping with the AMAD tradition, aside from one previously seen Warner Archive title, everything below is new to me. Apologies to MGM Limited (I will return to you as soon as I get back from my adventure), but I got a stack of Warner Archive horror right before I left, so that’s what I had on me as I traveled deep into the Southern Hemisphere.
So, for your viewing pleasure on this Halloween, here is a rundown of some obscure horror flicks available from Warner Archive, including cheesy ‘80s horror, awesome ‘80s horror, Hammer flicks and even a brilliant semi-horror/mostly-crime silent film directed by the great Tod Browning.
In the first 10 minutes we get a movie-within-a-movie moment featuring an effeminate preacher at a funeral, a punk chick at a drive-in and an out of nowhere music video from a hair band intercut with a bunch of random gore. If the rest of the movie had been as fun as the opening this would be a hearty recommendation. As it is, it’s an interesting film for those that obsess over ‘80s horror, but one that is destined to remain obscure.
Paul Bartel makes an appearance, there’s an attempt to go for a horror/comedy vibe, some gratuitous college-prank nudity and a haunted sorority house. That’s all for the positive, but the scares aren’t… well, scary, the comedy isn’t all that funny and the last act feels like a straight up horror movie, so the whole thing is disjointed.
If you want a better college horror movie check out Hell Night with Linda Blair and if you want a creepier “holiday themed party in a haunted building” flick check out the original Night of the Demons.
Transfer: Better than this movie ever expected, I’m sure.
”Why should I get married? All men look the same in the dark.” – The blind girl to Jim Backus after boinking him (and getting pregnant, no less) in a flashback. What starts off well enough (opens with a child’s casket being stolen) quickly turns into a really crappy Scooby-Doo flick. William Castle directed it, but the fun of his best work is absent here, minus some unintentional bizarreness in casting Mr. Magoo as a womanizing local sheriff. The basic story is that an unpopular doctor in a small town is searching for his young daughter. A mysterious phone call comes in saying she’s been buried alive and he has to find her before the time runs out. In order to find her he has to solve the mystery of who hates him the most, which gives us a lot of flashbacks (deserving of their own Wayne’s World sound effects with each transition) of different people he’s fucked over.
It’s not a bad skeleton to hang a suspense story on, but it’s too cheap, the acting is way too silly and the writing is stiff. This is the kind of shit that should be remade.
Transfer: Remastered, solid as usual.
Like most TV movies of its time, The Phantom of Hollywood is really cheap, but there’s a little something to the story that should strike a chord with cinephiles. Instead of an old opera house, this Phantom resides in an old, run down studio backlot. A lot is made of the cultural significance of this backlot, the history that was made there even showing clips from dozens of old Hollywood films, starring Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, etc. Of course the greedy corporate owners want to sell the land off for development and The Phantom, clad in an almost Errol Flynn-esque cape and outfit, starts killing to protect his home.
At this point the Phantom story has been done so many times I’m getting a little tired of it, but I appreciate the angle of this one. If the ending hadn’t been so abrupt and the filmmaking a little stronger I would have loved this enthusiastically.
Transfer: Remaster, as good as a 1974 TV movie (in 4:3) can look, I’d wager.
This is a weird movie, man. It starts off fairly simple and then devolves into a somewhat confusing, but fascinating mess. Michael Gough (Alfred himself) stars as a small zoo owner who is particularly close to his animals. Basically Gough is part of a cult (calling themselves “True Believers” – no, I thas nothing to do with Stan Lee) that communes dangerous wild animals, apparently. He runs a zoo, and can command his giant cats and man-in-suit gorilla to kill at will. Got a nasty money-grubbing dude who threatens to close the zoo down? Well, why not show up to his house with a lion? Good-bye, money-grubbing dude! Hope you enjoy living in the King of the Jungle’s colon!
When the movie was about Gough using animals (real animals, I might add, not fake movie animals) to kill people who pissed him off I was 100% onboard, but then it takes a weird turn into cult territory and weird melodrama as Gough shows he’s not just a psychopathic murderer, but also a wife-beater.
The real animals used really make this movie stand-out, though. There are full scenes where Gough and the other actors (including great character actor Elisha Cook Jr.) are unmistakably in the same space as these really dangerous animals. Except for a man in a gorilla suit, everything else is real and that adds a weird level of tension in every scene, especially the violent ones. Ultimately this is a very flawed flick, but one that’s oddly compelling.
Transfer: Remastered Warner Archive. The 2.35:1 widescreen color pops!
Joe Don Baker stars in this ‘70s nature-strikes-back tale about a roving pack of abandoned pets that terrorize any man, woman child or domesticated dog on a small vacation island. Joe Don Baker is a widowed marine biologist (?!?) who becomes the de facto leader of the island’s residents as they try to survive the three or four days it’ll take for the ferry to return to the island.
The danger with a film like this is you’re kind of on the monster’s side the whole time. The backstory for the pack of vicious dogs is that they were abandoned in the woods by their asshole tourist owners and have banded together to survive. And kill blind old men wielding shotguns. And jump through windows. And snarl menacingly. I love that it’s household pets that are the threat here, that the pack includes little dogs and dalmations and collies, but even if they’re being shot to death whilst trying to maul children they still make that horrible hurt dog sound and suddenly I hate the people who are supposed to be the good guys.
The writing of this film is pretty terrible, including a bar scene where one character literally explains who everybody is in the movie and what their character histories are, but it’s still fun despite its flaws. I may be partial to the look of films from this era, granted. This kind of exploitation film feels a bit like a warm blanket to me. Plus Joe Don Baker is always worth watching.
Transfer: Remastered Warner Archive.
Hysteria is an obscure Hitchockian effort from Hammer Films, a black and white mystery tale about madness, murder and the macabre. The whole flick feels a bit like a long Twilight Zone episode as an American wakes up in England post car crash with no memory of who he is or the circumstances of the crash. As he starts pulling at the string of mystery the whole world unravels. It starts with an investigation of who is secretly paying his hospital bills and ends with a body in his shower.
Written by Hammer regular Jimmy Sangster and directed by Hammer vet Freddie Francis this film is lesser Hammer, but interesting nonetheless. The main issue here is the awkwardly inserted character backstory we get, which kills most of the mystery that made the first act so compelling. This would make an interesting double bill with Memento in a neo-noir fucked up memory night, but play this one first or you’re going to witness a dip in quality in your viewing adventure.
Transfer: Remastered title. The widescreen black and white looks great.
While it starts off dully, I’m happy to say this Hammer/WB co-production picks up speed to an ending that is simultaneously kick-ass and “fucking really?”. In other words, it’s a slow burn that has a lot of things to like about it, but isn’t the best flick in the world.
It’s basically about a young woman who moves into the estate of a dead composer, his effects looked after by his older wife and their crippled son. The girl wants to write about the work of this master pianist and is granted exclusive access to his papers, notes and recordings, but there may be an ulterior motive to their hospitality. Sexy naked French girls, the bad guy from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (Joss Ackland), creepy mannequins, stale direction, an oddly stage-bound set and a lazy pace are all included in this obscure little package. Not wholly successful, but worth a watch, especially for the Hammer completist.
Transfer: I watched this on my portable DVD player, which isn’t a massive screen, but the color was strong and I didn’t notice there being anything glaringly horrible about the transfer.
I think I knew I was going to love this movie when, about five minutes in, a midget kicks a little boy in the face and bloodies his nose. This is a bizarre, bizarre movie directed by the infamous Tod Browning about three vaudeville/circus performers who join forces to be jewel thieves. A midget named Tweedledee (Harry Earles), a strongman (played by the great Victor McLaglen of The Quiet Man fame) and a ventriloquist named Echo (Lon Chaney Sr.) cook up an elaborate plan to rob rich people by setting up a bird store, selling parrots that don’t really talk (but they do in the store thanks to Echo’s ability to throw his voice) and then checking out the homes of the rich people who buy them when called in to fix the no-talking bird problem.
Yeah, I know… really complicated plan, especially when you consider that Chaney dresses himself up as an old woman in order to pull this off… and the midget dresses up like a baby, which is kind of genius because these rich dudes might not be wary of opening up a safe in front of a baby.
The horror part comes in when Earles and McLaglen go out and finish a big job together and end up murdering the rich dude… and there’s a giant ape that Chaney inexplicably uses as muscle later in the picture.
If the Coen Bros remade this it’d be a new cult favorite. It’s a fantastic film with a bit of an unfulfilling ending, even if it’s emotionally resonant.
Chaney did star in a talkie remake of this picture five years later (this is a silent film), which I haven’t seen, but I’d like to see it and find out if it’s half as bugnuts weird as the original. In its way it’d be a great double feature with Bad Santa.
Transfer was great, especially considering it’s an 86 year old film!
This isn’t one of the newer Warner Archive titles, but I felt compelled to include it since it’s one of the better genre movies they have in their catelogue. And it’s about a killer pig. Nay! A GIANT killer pig in the Australian outback. Directed by the guy who directed HIGHLANDER. It’s full of gore and has that great early ‘80s exploitation grainy look that I associate with my fondest horror memories. And more than that it’s just fun. So much fun. Watch. This. Movie.
Transfer: In need of a remaster, but the transfer is so much better than it had ever been available on before.
There you have it! Not a massive column, but not too bad considering how crazy busy I am out here.
Happy Halloween everybody!