What I Did With My Halloween: Pumpkinhead and Belphegor

I’m writing about the horror movies I watched last Friday in part because they provide an interesting study in contrasts and in part to avoid dwelling on the near-complete lack of trick-or-treaters this year. I’m only half joking when I tell people I save all my extroversion for October 31, and this time it had nowhere to go. (I am filled with the urge to do a loud musical number and then barely speak for a while, like an AU version of Michigan J. Frog who knows the lyrics to “Different Drum.”)

Anyway, on with the show!

Pumpkinhead has all the stereotypical marks of a certain kind of 1980s horror movie: group of psychologically varied young people takes a trip to hillbilly country, does something terrible, and is served with swift vengeance. The movie takes the unusual step, however, of making its characters fairly well developed and realistic—from genre giant Lance Henriksen as a man who loses his son and learns the lessons of revenge the (extremely) hard way to the group of outsiders, whose responses to the titular monster’s onslaught meet with varying degrees of success.

The friend with whom I watched the movie kept saying, “I don’t remember this from the last time,” as the plot unfolded, and I think that’s why Pumpkinhead doesn’t always get the credit it deserves: it’s an elevated slasher, but one that hits its beats so well as a slasher/monster-in-the-woods movie that sometimes that’s all people can remember about it.

Next up was Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre, a 2001 French horror film with Sophie Marceau and Julie Christie (and subtitles, if anyone is averse to such things) in which an ancient Egyptian spirit possesses a young woman in an attempt to cross over to its promised afterlife. I can’t really speak to whether it’s “good,” because frankly, my goodwill as a viewer can be almost completely bought with mummies. This is the second movie with French-speaking mummies that I have enjoyed this year—the other being The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec—and at some point one just has to admit to having a weakness other people don’t have.

The reviews of this I’ve found online haven’t been complimentary, and it is apparently a remake of an earlier film that people also disliked. Perhaps some of this stems from stereotyping, though: most American viewers expect a French film to be artsy, and horror-savvy viewers likely associate French film with Haute Tension and the like. For my part, I fully support the right of any nation to make slightly silly horror fare, and thieving mummy-spirits amok in the Louvre is a lot of fun indeed.


Next time: In which I am briefly twelve again.







Twofer The Horrorshow: A Personal Tour

When I had this post in mind, I thought I had five of those things: the bargain solution for entertainment that keeps my shelves from occasionally running red…er, black with horror DVDs. It turns out I never got around to buying the original  House of Wax on a twofer with the original Night of the Living Dead, because I hate Romero-style zombies and didn’t want it in my house—and if that meant pre-pseudonym Bronson had to stay out too, so be it.

Nonetheless, with Halloween drawing nigh, I’ve been thinking about these four a lot, each in a category all its own.

THE LITERARY: Tales of Terror/Twice-Told Tales


(Pardon my flash on the photo.)

Like most of the twofers, this stars the amazing and wonderful Vincent Price: in this case in two anthology movies, one with Poe stories and one with Hawthorne. The stories themselves are hit or miss (personally, I’d have preferred House of the Seven Gables to be as soapy when I read it in tenth grade as it is in this reincarnated-lovers-heavy adaptation), but with additional talent including Sebastian Cabot, Peter Lorre, Beverly Garland and Basil Rathbone, it’s a lot of fun.

THE ONE-SIDED—TO ME, ANYWAY: The Haunted Palace/Tower of London


More Price, this time in Corman’s Poe/Lovecraft unholy hybrid, The Haunted Palace, and as Richard III in Tower of London. I’ve owned this DVD for years, but since Haunted Palace is my favorite Vincent Price horror movie, every time I try to watch the other side, I just end up watching Haunted Palace again.

THE UNFORTUNATE: The Oblong Box/Scream and Scream Again


Did you know that Christopher Lee and Vincent Price cancel each other out? I didn’t when I bought this, but it soon became apparent. Possibly nothing could redeem the whacked-out Scream and Scream Again, a movie with serial killers and amputations and mad scientists and fascists in uniforms and lots of Mod clothing. (You will notice I didn’t mention a plot. When you find it, please let me know.) But The Oblong Box is a perfectly nice little voodoo/burial alive movie that should be great with those two stars in it, but isn’t. While I’m not about to throw away a Price/Lee twofer, I’m not about to watch it, either.

THE INEXPLICABLE: The Relic/Pet Sematary 2


It’s no exaggeration to say the only reason I own this is that its existence as a twofer baffles me: Who looks at a monster-in-a-museum movie (incidentally, a Pendergastless adaptation of Preston and Child’s first Agent Pendergast novel) and thinks, “You know what would go great with this? That movie where Edward Furlong is creepier than a devil dog and zombie Clancy Brown combined, even when he’s just standing there.” In fairness, both of these movies were better than I remembered when I rewatched them, but the combination remains bizarre.


Next time: “…when they met, it was murder.”

Found-Again Friday: Altered States

This week’s Found-Again Friday, like last week’s, is a cheat—though in the case of Altered States, the joke is on me. Twenty minutes into rewatch, I turned to my companion and said with dawning horror, “There’s no point in revisiting this! It’s a Ken Russell movie!”

Why Found-Again? Let me clarify: I have a strange affection for the movies of the late Ken Russell, a man who seemed to share a lot of my offbeat interests—poetry, Pre-Raphaelites, folklore, ballads—but who had a truly funhouse-mirror way of looking at all those things. In his case, I’m pretty sure “batshit” is the clinical term, and if you don’t believe me, revisit the dream sequences in Lair of the White Worm until you do. “Like” or “dislike” doesn’t really enter into it, so giving Altered States a second chance ends up being moot.

Nonetheless, rewatch it I did.

Premise: Academic who believes himself the center of the universe gets temporary endorsement from said universe.

William Hurt plays Eddie Jessup, who defies character-naming conventions by being a scientist rather than a Western henchman. He meets a fellow academic, marries, and has a family, all while chasing the ultimate nature of human consciousness. Will a series of sensory-deprivation experiments reveal what he’s looking for, or will they threaten to destroy his life while giving Ken Russell a chance to crank his Symbol-o-Matic up to 11?

I stand by my belief that there’s no point in judging Russell films by normal standards, but Altered States has always drawn my particular ire for having such a rich premise and then Not Living Up To Its Full Potential in a welter of psychedelic hooha. It’s a perfect role for William Hurt, and Blair Brown is excellent as his occasionally estranged wife. In short…

The Verdict? …it’s a perfect example of why the failure of a movie that could, should go right is a hundred times worse than that of one that just goes wrong.

Might go well with: Gothic, Jurassic Park, intoxicating beverages.


Next time: More Highlander. Yeah.

Found-Again Friday: Cast A Deadly Spell

Found-Again Friday is a feature for rediscovering things and, in many cases, giving another chance to movies/television/books I disliked the first time around. ‘Tis the season, however, so I’ll cheat a little and write about the 1991 HBO movie Cast A Deadly Spell, which I  hadn’t watched since my VHS tape stopped having a place to play.

Why Found-Again? It’s available on YouTube, the place I constantly forget to check for entire films. In that respect, it’s the media equivalent of the back seat of my car, which is the storing-things equivalent of Narnia.

Premise: Even living in an alternate universe where magic and the Necronomicon are real can’t stop the residents of 1948 Los Angeles from noiring up the place.

One of the problems with this movie is convincing other people to watch it, in part because the chief difference between fans and detractors talking about Cast A Deadly Spell is tone of voice. For example, try reading the following in tones of either joy or disgust:

“Fred Ward plays a detective named Lovecraft.”

“There’s an oatmeal demon!”

“And on a night when the stars are aligning…”

In other words, if you already love this movie, your best bet for convincing others to watch lies in heavy use of the phrase “early role for Julianne Moore.”


And I really do love this movie, which takes a number of things I like—noir, the Elder Gods, David Warner chewing scenery, torch songs, egregious literary riffs, villains played by Clancy Brown—and combines them into an interesting stew. I’ve spent the past year listening to a lot of old-time radio mystery podcasts, and hearing the source material has only given me more respect for Cast A Deadly Spell’s handling of noir tropes. (It also had me persistently hearing Ward’s lines in the voice of Pat Novak-era Jack Webb, but even that isn’t the deterrent you’d imagine.)

The Verdict? As I said, I’m cheating with this one. I’ve always loved this movie, though you do need a high tolerance for silliness. There will be gremlins.

Might go well with: The Haunted Palace; The Maltese Falcon; the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio or Mean Streets OTR podcasts.


Next Time: Down and dirty with a weirdly classic movie?