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Friday, October 25, 2019

Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan: The Threequel, Pt. 2

by Zachary T. Owen

Missed part one? Check it out here!

No Telling (1991)

Here's one from film maverick Larry Fessenden, the head of Glass Eye Pix, a horror distribution company who's given us I Sell The Dead, The Roost, and Late Phases, among others. Fessenden's feature debut is a film so individual in approach it truly treads its own path. The plot, as taken from IMDB: “In the name of medical research, a man experiments on animals. His relationship with his wife becomes stressed when she becomes inquisitive about his work.” The horror in No Telling is really about the harm that comes to animals because of the relationship humans have with them. The very first scene Fessenden shot involved an uncooperative calf being lead by a rope. Realizing the cruel hypocrisy of this, he vowed to do better and henceforth used only props to depict any form of animal suffering. The climax of No Telling is perplexing and almost too outlandish for a film otherwise grounded in realism, yet somehow completely in line with the soul of the story (especially when you discover the alternative title the movie had). Fessenden went on to direct more traditional horror fare after this, but No Telling remains his most polarizing film—it's a movie I suspect many viewers won't care for, but one that offers a very specific perspective, which, at its heart, is capable of sparking some very interesting discussions about horror and the world we live in.

Highway to Hell (1991)

A rip-roaring, pedal-to-the-metal odyssey through that ever popular netherworld, Highway to Hell is as much an action and fantasy film as it is a horror film. Here is a movie that would fit right alongside stuff like Army of Darkness. The plot revolves around a man who must rescue his girlfriend from a hell cop (yes, that's right, a hell cop) and face off against the likes of Satan and his demon hordes. Some pretty decent practical effects and a sense of real fun help Highway to Hell overcome some of its shortcomings. The cameos of most of the Stiller family–Ben Stiller, Jerry Stiller, and Amy Stiller – don't hurt, either.

Class of 1999 (1990)

In the future, juvenile kids must be disciplined by terminator-like android teachers in a high school wasteland. Of course, the machines have a military background and go off-the-rails and start slaughtering students instead of merely doling out punishment. The teachers are played with glee by Pam Grier, John P. Ryan, and Patrick Kilpatrick, plus we also get Malcolm McDowell in a supporting role. This is one of those ridiculous action flicks that feels like it came from another universe. It's a spiritual successor to another film, Class of 1984, which also isn't too shabby. Class of 1999 gets some horror bonus points for uncredited screenplay work by splatterpunk novelists John Skipp and Craig Spector.

The Borrower (1989)

This '89 flick (or 1991, depending on where you're looking) is a big departure from John McNaughton's first flick, the famously bleak Henry: Potrait of a Serial Killer. That's probably why nobody talks about it. But you know what? It's a lively horror film that I found incredibly entertaining. The Borrower follows Rae Dawn Chong as a tough cop on the tail of an intergalactic serial killer who can body hop. It's a familiar plot, but it works here. Memorable moments include a cameo by Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks), Tom Towles (Henry) as the alien's initial host body, a scene in which The Borrower morphs into a dog-headed man, a punk band singing the inane lyrics “Oedipus my wrecks! Oedipus my wrecks!” and, most inexplicably, recurring scenes of two parents watching The Garbage Pail Kids movie in their bedroom...with headphones on!

Grandmother's House (1988)

Grandmother's House is the sort of movie that gives me nostalgia even though I only saw it recently– it's exactly the sort of film I could have seen myself liking if I'd rented it from a video store in my youth, the kind of unsung gem you tell your horror buddies about. It's a nicely done exploitation thriller with some beautiful shots, including a pool scene in which the camera is submerged beneath the swimmers and a car chase through a vibrant orange grove. Brinke Stevens shows up in what might be one of her better roles and the whole thing has that sort of off feel that certain low budget 80s movies have. Like anything from the era, some of it is dated, but it's a diverting and accessible effort.

Blood Diner (1987)

Now here's a flick packed to the gills with gags and gross-outs. Jackie Kong's Blood Diner is a late 80s oddity, originally intended to as a sequel to Blood Feast, which itself had a true sequel in the early 2000s. Even if you haven't seen Herschell Gordon Lewis' schlock masterpiece, Blood Diner is worth your time, especially if you're a fan of trashy, completely gonzo cinema. The plot centers on two brothers doing the bidding of their dead uncle's talking brain—a very condescending brain who wants to resurrect the goddess Sheetar via cannibal feast. Along the way are several ridiculous detours, including a subplot about one of the brothers entering the wrestling ring to take on a menacing figure called Jimmy Hitler. Outrageous gore gags, projectile vomit, a talking dummy, and sheer lunacy abound. Oh, and the trailer is a ton of fun too, more of a short film than a standard advertisement. Ms. Kong definitely knocked it out of the park.

The Neon Maniacs (1986)

Good to see a little more love for The Neon Maniacs, as of late. This creature feature is about strange, mutant-like creatures who live beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and only come out at night to stalk their prey. We're first introduced to them in a scene in which a character finds trading cards of them near the bridge (really weird, right?). The creature designs are great, and as others before me have noted, the monsters kind of seem like evil Village People (you've got a cop maniac, a biker maniac, a military maniac, etc.) My favorite monster is a cute little biped cyclops monster. The heroes in Neon Maniacs are actually likable characters, particularly a horror geek teen girl. Neon Maniacs can never quite pin down a tone; early on we see a woman get decapitated while giving a blowjob, but other moments feel innocent enough to come straight from a kids movie. We never learn where the monsters really come from and who they really are, but I enjoy the mystery. It ends rather abruptly due to budgetary problems, though just as easily the whole thing could have ended after a high school siege during a battle of the bands. Check this one out, it's a blast!

The Pit (1981)

Here's an odd one, folks. It concerns a little boy who discovers a pit full of ghoulish little trolls with creepy glowing eyes. Before long, he begins feeding them his bullies, along with anybody else he can find. Oh...and he owns a teddy bear which talks to him and is a regular peeping tom. It's unclear whether the plush perv is truly alive or simply some embodiment of a part of himself, but it certainly makes things more interesting. The Pit is one of those movies that could only exist in the 80s.

Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Encounters of the Spooky Kind is totally nuts in the best way. It's a hybrid martial arts and horror film and has some of the craziest set-pieces I've seen in a movie in ages. The stunts are incredible and some of the demonic forces are quite unnerving. Much of the film is highly comedic, including an ending that is uproariously funny in a somewhat inappropriate way. I'm not sure how to sell this one, so I'll let Axelle Carolyn do it for me in the video above. As a side note, Trailers From Hell is worth checking out. Lots of genre people giving commentary for their favorite movies during the trailers. *I must caution viewers about this one, as there is a chicken decapitation in Encounters of the Spooky Kind which is graphic. I think the context of time period and culture are important to keep in mind here, but wouldn't begrudge anybody for wanting to pass on the movie for this reason, though if you can cover your eyes and wait it out, the rest of the movie is so good I think it is nearly perfect.

The Blood of Jesus (1941)

Many consider The Blood of Jesus to be the first Black horror film, making it a historically important entry in the horror canon. Spencer William's film is mild yet haunting in its own right. It has an enchanting and ethereal quality that doesn't feel like the other genre movies from the same period. The plot concerns one woman's journey through purgatory, at the crossroads of heaven and hell, where the devil himself tries to tempt her with vanity and lure her away from paradise. The Blood Of Jesus has a mostly amateur cast which helps it feel even more surreal, along with curiously beautiful and fleeting scenes of both heaven's gates and a man climbing a ladder to heaven. The Blood of Jesus is something that transcends easy categorization. It's part drama, fantasy, Christian folk tale, and horror. More than anything, though, it's art. Watch the whole movie above.

The Man With Nine Lives (1940)

And here we have the incomparable Boris Karloff doing what he does best, acting his ass off. In this case his performance helps sell a movie that might have otherwise floundered. The Man With Nine Lives is part of the whole poverty row thing, which for the uninitiated basically means a movie made on a shoestring budget in an assembly line fashion. Usually they're very straight forward flicks with no frills and a short running time. This one does a lot with a little. It's essentially a tale of early cryogenics, in which Karloff plays a mad scientist attempting to cure cancer by freezing his patients. Of course, the viewer suspects he is going to get a little too wild about his experiments and start throwing morality to the wind. Indeed, that's what happens and Karloff gives us some gripping drama. This is a modest yet thrilling little piece of cinema, and short enough that you may be tempted to cram it into the line-up of one of those all day horror marathons.

Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. His books can be found here

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