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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan, Part II

By Zachary T. Owen

(Part I here)

Most horror and cult fans have seen just about everything—we tend to exhaust our favorite genre. But there is always something out there we might have missed. The following is a list of movies I believe to be underseen, forgotten, or if nothing else, underrated. If you’ve seen them all, congratulations, you are a warrior. Not all of these are what you’d call masterpieces, but each is unique in its own way. Some of them will appeal to the open-minded movie watcher, while others can only be enjoyed by devoted lovers of schlock and cult cinema. So, this October, when you’re aching for something different, something neglected, or just want a few yuks, consider this list. Without further ado—Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan, part II:
TerrorVision (1986)

I can't express how much I love TerrorVision. The awesome title theme, the fantastic, slimy effects, the incredible sets, the completely absurd monster, the self-referential humor and ridiculous 80s stereotypes of punks, metal heads, swingers, and cops. It's a 1950s style B movie with 80s sensibilities. And when Ted Nicolaou directed it, he knew exactly what he was doing. The trailer does it no justice, you just have to see it. (Trailer)

Spookies (1986)

Spookies is an awful, awful movie. But it’s a fascinating failure. One of the uncommon horror films directed by a woman, Spookies was plagued with production trouble. Mainly: scenes added from a completely different, unfinished movie called Twisted Souls (there’s probably a reason it was never finished). As a result, it’s completely baffling—the separate plotlines do not feel cohesive to each other in any capacity. The protagonists of the more heavily featured (and better) storyline don’t even get a resolution—you literally see them about to meet their fate only for the film to cut away to another scene, never to return to them. Think you’ve seen a lot of horror movies which don’t make sense? They’ve got nothing on Spookies. But the real reason to watch this head-scratcher of a cult movie is the variety of totally bizarre monsters, including a giant spider woman, a cat-man, and farting zombies. (Trailer)

Without Warning (1980)

It’s hard to believe this movie played in theaters in 1980 and then escaped any form of home video release until last year, courtesy of Shout! Factory—especially considering it stars Jack Palance, genre favorite Cameron Mitchell, and a young David Caruso (wearing the shortest shorts in five galaxies).  The premise is familiar: alien comes to earth and hunts humans. But the movie is rounded out with kooky characters, including an insane Vietnam veteran who is as much a villain as the alien. Oh, and the alien kills people by throwing fleshy flying discs that suction themselves onto victims like leeches. Aside from some slow pacing in the second half, this is a pretty stellar 80s gem and it’s good to know it finally found a home on blu-ray.  (Trailer)

Someone's Watching Me (1978)

John Carpenter himself referred to this film as “an unknown” entry in his filmography. This made-for-TV Hitchcockian thriller is about a woman receiving strange phone calls from a man who lives across from her high rise apartment. Someone’s Watching Me features stand-out performances from Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau (John’s future wife, here seen as a positively portrayed lesbian character—not common at the time). The characters are expertly written, funny, smart, and a pleasure to watch. If nobody told you this was a small screen shocker, you’d never notice—it feels like a theatrical film. The cinematography and editing are unbelievable. It’s too bad Someone’s Watching Me isn’t more popular—when compared to Carpenter’s other early horror and suspense titles, it holds its own quite well.  (Trailer)

Blue Sunshine (1978)

Jeff Lieberman, famed cult director, is usually talked about in regards to his films Just Before Dawn and Squirm (which was lambasted in an episode of MST3K), but I’ve always thought Blue Sunshine was his best. It’s surreal, eerie, and completely nutso, a sort of anti-drug horror film about the repercussions of an LSD known as Blue Sunshine. The titular acid causes its users to go bald ten years after use…and turn into psychotic killing machines. Unfortunately, Lieberman ran out of money while making Blue Sunshine, so it concludes without a real ending. An unsung 70s classic.  (Trailer)

Dead of Night (1977)

Not to be confused with an earlier anthology movie with the same title, Dan Curtis’ Dead of Night is his second made-for-TV anthology. The first story, starring Ed Begley Jr., is more of a sci-fi flavored tale about time-travel. The second is a vampire yarn with a good bit part for our favorite old coot, Elisha Cook Jr. whereas the final segment of Trilogy of Terror featured the psychotic Zuni fetish doll, He Who Kills—this one’s got a strange child come back from the dead to torment his poor mother. It really doesn’t hurt that Richard Matheson did the script for Dead of Night. Curtis and Matheson collaborations are frequently top notch.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1968)

This is another Dan Curtis flick—his first movie, in fact. While he only produced, his influence is strong. For my money, this is the best adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale. Whereas other versions make it apparent how evil Hyde is in comparison to Jekyll, Curtis’ Jekyll and Hyde goes a different route. To paraphrase an Amazon reviewer, because I couldn’t say it better:
“This movie was the first movie version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde that did not make me feel sorry for Dr. Jekyll at the end. The storytelling and acting helped to bring forth the director's vision in showing the progression of Dr. Jekyll slowly becoming Mr. Hyde to the point where the only difference between one or the other is the face they wear.”
And, making his second appearance on this list, I have to compliment Jack Palance for his absolute powerhouse performance as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (Scene)

Edison's Frankenstein (1910)

This short silent film predated the more famous Karloff/Whale adaptation. Unlike its successor, the creature is approached as more of a supernatural entity than one of science. The design for monster is the polar opposite of the Karloff version—sort of loud and disgruntled looking, a strange, more haphazard beast. Edison’s Frankenstein makes for a great companion piece to the Whale film—even better if you have a Frankenstein marathon and add Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein into the mix. (Full Film)

The Haunted Castle (1896)

I don’t have much to say about this classic silent film, other than this: The Haunted Castle is the first horror movie ever made. It’s a scant three minutes and a far cry from what we could call horror today, or even what they would have called horror in the 20s and 30s. But hey, it was the first—the originator of the movie genre we know and love. For that alone, it deserves more celebration. Watch it here.

Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. You can find him on Twitter and other internet vacuums. His books can be found here.

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