Finally! Friday: Night of the Demon/Curse of the Demon (1957)

Why Finally? I’ve known for a while that Dana Andrews, an excellent actor who played the guy standing next to Vincent Price hero in the classic noir Laura, starred in an adaptation of M.R. James’s story “Casting the Runes.” While it isn’t my favorite James story , it’s pretty close.

Curse of the Demon and Night of the Demon, which I believe are the UK and US versions respectively, are available on one DVD.

The Premise (original story): When Mr. Dunning gives Mr. Karswell’s alchemy book a bad review, he has no idea the author already tried out all the spells; he soon finds himself under a death curse. Dunning must join forces with the bereaved brother of a previous scathing reviewer, Harrington, in order to return Karswell’s all-too-practical magic to sender.

The Premise (movie version): American John Holden (Andrews in an updated version of the Dunning role) arrives at a convention in time to learn of the death of Harrington, who played a part in bringing down sorcerer Karswell’s notorious cult. When he crosses paths with Karswell and begins to feel strangely hunted, Holden teams up with Harrington’s niece to defeat this oddly jolly evil wizard who lives with his mother.

Also, if anybody saw Laura and wanted a shower scene, this movie has you covered.

What kind of convention is this, anyway?

Night/Curse of the Demon was directed by master of film mood Jacques Tourneur, and it shows in the spooky landscapes and shadows that seem alive as Karswell’s curse draws closer to fruition. The real treat, as far as I’m concerned, is the character of Karswell: he lurks on the fringes of the James story, but here he’s front and center, with a tantalizing library and an engaging habit of doing magic shows for the children of the village while in clown makeup, all while plotting your death.

Like most older horror films, Night/Curse of the Demon does suffer a bit in the effects department, in a way I found very rewarding. (SPOILER: the titular monster appears in the second shot below, so if you don’t want to see it, scroll quickly after the leopard attack.)

 

Until I saw this, I’d never realized how remiss James was in not putting a magic leopard attack in the source material.
It’s sort of a bat/cat/Muppet hybrid.

The Verdict: From the portentous prologue against a shot of Stonehenge to the final demon action, I really enjoyed Night of the Demon. Though it’s by no means a slavish adaptation. Night/Curse of the Demon uses a more nuanced, pervasive Karswell and his cult (which is not in the James story) to create a tense, updated variation on “Casting the Runes.” Very worth watching.

(The trailer gives too much away, as usual.)

 

Might go well with: Comfort food, a glass of port, and the double episode of A Podcast to the Curious dedicated to the original story, which is where I first found out about Night of the Demon.

 

Next time: We finish up “The Dreadful Doll” so the Quest family can move on to something with an even more embarrassing title.

 

 

 

Very, Very Late Finally! Friday Halloween: The Conjuring

Why Finally? My attraction to spooky stuff has existed as long as I have; that’s why, at the age of eight or nine, I was already familiar with the work of psychic investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, on whose real-life adventures The Conjuring movies are based. (A bigger mystery is how I made it through seven years of Baptist school pursuing this stuff without being burned as a witch or, more prosaically, getting booted for Satanism.) Perhaps that seems too scary for a kid, but it was comforting, as I lay in bed at night playing the popular game “Dad Snoring? Or Bloodthirsty Demon-Thing Growling?” to know the boogeymen had opponents and the living had defenders.

On the other hand, I am also a big fat coward, so I suspected The Conjuring might be something of an endurance test.

Hey, look, an opening shot of the fractured eyeball of Annabelle, The Possessed Doll Of Evil! Maybe I’m clairvoyant too!

[shudders]
No: I mean “why,” when you said it would be done for Halloween, are we “finally” getting The Conjuring sometime after Thanksgiving Christmas Valentine’s Day St. Patrick’s Day Easter Memorial Day the NEXT Halloween?

Among other, more personal reasons, I didn’t want to screenshot the damned doll. Happy?

The Premise: Famed psychic investigators/demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are called upon to help the Perron family with their newly acquired haunted house.

I’m more cynical about the Warrens as an adult, but must admit I enjoyed seeing two of my childhood heroes depicted in a movie.

Annabelle, the most horrific thing in the film by a large margin, is a mere side plot as she breaks out of the Warrens’ Friday the 13th: The Series-like storeroom and menaces their daughter. The outline of the main story will be familiar to anyone who ever caught The Amityville Horror on cable: the fixer-upper that turns into the fixer of little red wagons. And like those other movies, it’s easy to see how, given a sufficiently large space and a large family, communication breakdown can delay seeking assistance for even the most aggressive haunting.

Kids can be creepy even without haunted sleepwalking, but it certainly helps.

Eventually, the family’s matriarch Carolyn becomes the focus of the activity, and as you might imagine, things get worse before they get better.

The Verdict: Mixed. As a haunted-house movie, The Conjuring is effective to the point of creeping dread, even when characters are just walking between rooms. The casting is also superb: in addition to great performances by Wilson and Farmiga, Lili Taylor is perfect as Carolyn, the terrorized wife and mother who eventually takes on the darkness. My only objection is to the ultimate source of the haunting, which struck me as a tad goofy. Given that the movie is (depending how one feels about the Warrens) based on a true story/”based” on a “true” “story,” that may have been unavoidable. Certainly it’s not enough to stop me from checking out the sequel, and maybe even the Annabelle movies. No later than 3 p.m. and in strong daylight, of course.

Might go well with: Anything you can nibble without taking your eyes off the screen, House Hunters, NO DOLLS.

 

Next time: The recent second season of  a Netflix series. Nope, not that one.

Finally! Friday: Streets Of Fire (1984)

Honestly, this one’s pretty hard to write up.

Why Finally? “You’ve never seen this movie?!” someone with a wide-ranging Apple movie collection said—and off we went.

People, I had barely heard of Streets of Fire. Movie-wise, I spent 1984 watching The Secret of NIMH repeatedly on cable (while begging to be allowed to watch Flashdance), getting the bejeezus scared out of me at Gremlins, laughing at Ghostbusters and, sadly, not watching The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.
(In that last case, as the man in a later movie said, I chose… poorly.)

Here is what I knew about Streets of Fire before last weekend:

This video. That’s it.

The Premise: When hometown girl turned rock star Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is kidnapped from the stage by weird bikers (led by Willem Dafoe as “Raven”), old flame/current mercenary Tom Cody (Michael Paré) is called upon to rescue her. Which he does in spectacular fashion—for the ’80s, that is,  back when less stuff exploded—thanks to the help of a fellow ex-soldier (Amy Madigan in what may be my favorite role in the film).  Also along for the ride is Ellen’s current squeeze, music manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis).

Streets of Fire calls itself a “rock ‘n’ roll fable,” which is a nice clue that things aren’t always going to make sense. The setting, for example, seems to be simultaneously the 1950s and the 1980s, with spandex pants and punky makeup for performers, but greasers all over the place like it’s set in a Stephen King town. I recall a lot of people in the ’80s complaining that TV and movies were becoming like music videos, and I bet this was held up (down?) as an early example. The story itself is about an inch deep, but evokes so many of the Classic Plots that it has the appeal of a fairy tale.

The Verdict: On one hand, I used the word “delightful” about five times during viewing, and I really enjoyed Streets of Fire. That may be less about the movie itself, though, and more about its resemblance to other works of its time. It has an underdog-mercenary plot like Extreme Prejudice or The A-Team, the random serendipity of the Buckaroo Banzai movie, a neo-retro underbelly like Blue Velvet (and two years before Blue Velvet came out, too), and, heaven help me, the good-will-prevail attitude that is the only thing I like about classic clunker Megaforce.

It also has, at most, 1.5 actual streets of fire.

Even though I found it delightful, I can imagine the film having a lot of haters: the loner-with-a-heart-of-gold hero, for one thing,  is a trope that should be using a rollator to get around by now. Had Streets of Fire been one whit more realistic, I think it would have sunk like a stone.

Might go well with:  I mentioned so many movies above that I’ve got nothing but popcorn for this one.

 

Next time: In the Quest For Monday, Race tours the facilities.

 

Apropos Of Fridays In December: Theme Month!

While making a list of things to watch during October, I noticed a certain… similarity about my choices. An actor who kept popping up again and again like a bad penny or a relentless supernatural killer.

Then I wondered if I’d have time to watch all this stuff by Halloween.

Then, like a certain other holiday figure, I got a wonderful, awful idea.

This December, I’m going to focus on putting the Chris Sarandon back in Christmas.

The Sentinel, Fright Night, Child’s Play, The Resurrected and Tales From the Crypt: Bordello of Blood are all coming at you this month. After all, red is a holiday color.

If you've ever secretly rooted for Humperdinck, have I got a month for you.
If you’ve ever secretly rooted for Humperdinck, have I got a month for you!

Finally! Friday: Moonlight (2007)

Why Finally? A few weeks ago, we covered a vampire detective I didn’t like—and I have to say I enjoy (for a given value of that word) watching Forever Knight far more now that I go into it knowing I’m going to mock it. A very silly weight has been lifted.

My hunt is still on for that TV equivalent of The Vampire Files’ Jack Fleming, though, so I thought I’d check out Moonlight, which ran for one season in 2007.

The Premise: Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) is a relatively recent vampire; he was a hard-boiled ’50s PI who fell in love and got vamped on his wedding night. This would make a great opportunity for a Moonlight/Highlander: End Game-based crossover where Mick and Duncan MacLeod’s ex bond in some kind of group therapy, but instead Mick is still being absurdly cute solving crimes.

Or, as in this scene, doing both.
Or, as in this scene, both.

One investigation brings him into contact with a reporter named Beth (Sophia Myles), whose life Mick saved from his ex when Beth was a child, and a relationship begins to bloom. Between fanged villains and Beth’s Lois Lane-like talent for finding trouble and running toward it at high speed, it’s a (un)life of adventure.

You know I love a good case-of-the-week show, but it turns out I still hate internecine vampire politics, so Moonlight occasionally became hard going. The series also plays around with the idea of a cure for vampirism, one of my pet peeves. (I don’t know why it should be, but from the Dark Shadows revival to the romance novels I read as a teenager, I’ve never really clicked with the concept.) Mick is a great character, but I didn’t really like Moonlight itself enough to stick with it.

The Verdict: I honestly wonder if this one might be me; perhaps I’m just in the wrong mood at this point in time. There were a lot of good moments in Moonlight, but they just didn’t add up quite right. I may revisit this in a year or two and see if I find it easier to get into.

Someday, though,  it’ll happen: the thing I’m looking for will get made—heck, maybe someone will put the actual Vampire Files on a screen of some size—and when it does, I’ll be nodding and grinning and thinking “Perfect. A little bit X-Files, a little bit Remington Steele, and a little bit Moonlight.” But this show by itself doesn’t seem to be it.

To put it in perspective with other recent reviews here at the Omelet, while Mick is no Mildred Heavewater, neither is he a Nick Knight (thank god).

Might go well with: A nice glass of whatever you like to drink. May want to err on the side of intoxicant.

(Note: some of the roles were recast after the pilot, so the trailer differs from the actual show. On the other hand, the “absurdly cute” quotient is strong.)

 

 

Finally! Friday: Murder With Monsters by K.T. Katzmann

(I’d like to say I’m kicking off a spooky theme for October, but this differs from my usual Friday how? Also, I’ve never reviewed anything by someone I follow on Twitter before, so I’m a bit nervous: this plays into my twin fears that 1) people will never read this site and 2) holy crap, people might be reading this site. Anyway…)

Why Finally? After lots of eager reading, a few years ago I found myself no longer enthused about paranormal books—and just when the genre and its assorted subsections really took off, too. Part of this might add up to some hipster suspicion of “things other people like,” but really, why did I stall out on the fifth book of  more than one series?

Eventually I decided it had to be the multiple mythical creatures. I’ve been reading books about only ghosts, only vampires, and the like since childhood and never getting tired of them, but when you have enough monsters running around that you need interspecies politics and logistics, my interest wanes like a werewolf’s light source. That makes sense, right? Question answered!

So along came K.T. Katzmann’s Murder With Monsters and its whole monster manual of characters to prove that, like that guy on Game of Thrones, I know nothing.

mwmcover

The Premise: Forever sixteen on the outside, vampire police detective Mildred Heavewater works in a very diverse section of the NYPD staffed by humans, Universal Studios refugees, and creatures you will have to look up. A new murder case seems to point to a golem as the culprit, but the Jewish Mildred can’t believe that: after all, they’re “programmed” not to hurt people. Assisted by her human partner and the cute new sasquatch M.E., it’s up to Mildred to investigate in the Orthodox area of Brooklyn while being very, very unkosher.

Know that I am waving my arms and yelling “THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD!”

“J.A.,” you are likely saying, “is this one of your silly things again?” It is! and thank you for noticing. But it’s not just a book that reads like Lovecraft wrote a season of Law & Order and the whole thing was sent up in a Kent Montana novel; there’s a lot of heart here, even if the protagonist’s generally refuses to beat. Watching Mildred navigate her cases, her friendships, and a personal life she doesn’t quite seem to feel the right to have, we get a sense of a complex character for whom too many things have been put on hold, and whose “girl detective” appearance is the final layer of awkwardness on top of her other problems. The supporting characters—which include a werewolf, a harpy, a shoggoth with an excellent phone manner,  and some ghosts— are also (pardon the pun) fleshed out, and I found the whodunit reveal genuinely shocking.

Me being me, the cameos by Isaac Asimov and Carl Kolchak didn’t hurt, either.

The Verdict: *waves arms and yells “THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD!!” again*

I am delighted to see that this is intended as the first of a series; there are so many characters to follow in Murder With Monsters, and I will be delighted to do so. Especially if the shoggoth gets her own story, but I’m weird like that.

Might go well with: Sushi.

 

Next time: An aeronut. That’s a pun, not a typo.

 

Finally! Friday: A View From A Hill

I decided to postpone the other stuff and stick with last week’s theme of British ghost story adaptations, so this Friday we turn to the BBC’s 2005  A View from A Hill.

Why Finally? Like “Mrs. Amworth” author E.F Benson, M.R. James was a British writer of classic ghost stories, the most well-known of which may be the gothic “Count Magnus.” (And like H.P. Lovecraft, James has inspired an excellent podcast. ) “A View from a Hill” is, hands down, my favorite James story… and, so far as I can tell,  pretty much no one else’s. So it’s easy to imagine how happy I was when I saw this adaptation available on Amazon Prime.

The Premise: Archaeologist Dr. Fanshawe travels to Squire Richards’s country estate. When Fanshawe sets out to tour his surroundings, he takes a pair of handmade binoculars the squire inherited from a strange and sinister antiquary named Baxter. It turns out Baxter’s glasses can see into the past, letting Fanshawe see intact buildings instead of the ruins that surround him—but he’s looking through dead men’s eyes, and it comes at a price.

Not this Price. A different one.
Not this Price. A different one.

I keep trying to articulate why this is my favorite James offering, and the closest I can come is that I sympathize with Fanshawe completely, unlike the legions of mad resurrectionists, seance-holders and ignorers of warning signs who usually populate ghost stories. The moment I read about those binoculars, I wanted them to be real, and mine, and damn the consequences. Quite aside from the spectral penalties for meddling in that which humankind was never etc., etc., this story has such a great main idea that I always get really excited about it. Necromantic augmented reality!

Like Pokemon Go, but for 16th-century English architecture.
Like Pokemon Go, but for 16th-century English architecture.

The biggest difference from the 1925 original is the way the TV production treats class issues—which is to say that it does so at all. In the James story, Dr. Fanshawe and Squire Richards are friends; in this version Fanshawe has been hired to appraise the squire’s possessions, so he’s a social inferior, even though the squire is being forced to sell things to keep up his estate. Richards’s failing finances are a good expansion on the idea of decay that drives Baxter to his historical meddling in the first place, and it all adds a new underlying tension to the story.

The Verdict: For obvious reasons, I love this, especially the scenes of Fanshawe at the abbey. I have a few minor quibbles about this production, but most are because I really like that break-it-down-in-the-drawing-room, expository style of old ghost stories; I can hardly fault a TV production for taking a more visual approach to the scary parts. If you love the story as much as I do—alas, you probably don’t—you’ll really enjoy this. If instead you’re meeting “A View from a Hill” for the first time, this is still a great, creepy dramatization.

Might go well with: Whiskey, a bracing cup of tea, your favorite period drama, and, if the thought of academics on bicycles warms your heart, H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House.” The central conceit also reminds me of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago books, so you might check those out as well.

 

Next time: We’re wrapping up “Double Danger” not with a bang, but with many bangs and a sort of trumpeting noise.

Finally! Friday: Mrs. Amworth (2007)

Why Finally? As I told someone when I put this adaptation of the E.F. Benson vampire story in my Netflix queue: “God, I hope this doesn’t suck, ’cause I’m gonna watch it anyway.”

(For fellow spook-story fiends, I also wanted to note the 1975 British adaptation with Glynis Johns as the titular lady. That one is very close to the original story, even down to making us watch bored villagers play cards.)

The Premise (Original Story): Friendly, larger-than-life widow Mrs. Amworth livens up the town she moves to after the death of her husband, though a plague of anemia sets in following her arrival. It seems there may be a case of vampirism afoot, and only the narrator’s crank of a brother-in-law can save the day. That makes it sound silly, but it has some genuinely creepy moments, including a floating-outside-the-window scene à la ‘Salem’s Lot.

The Premise (Movie I Am Actually Watching):  Elegant refugee from one of those fantastic ’20s-style Edward Gorey drawings Mrs. Claire Amworth moves to a small country village and falls in with the locals: washed-up photographer Jed, his reporter girlfriend Sarah, her editor Lee, and the town doctor. Oh, and the handyman Mrs. A. is draining of blood… From there, she cuts a bloody swath through a town which will surely soon be investing in a new “Population:____ ” sign.

Mrs Amworth ’07 is a little goofy, perhaps, but not unwatchably so. It suffers from the common ailments of low-budget horror: the video quality is a little off, the acting a little stiff, and the special effects not all they might be.  One of the biggest changes from the original (other than some gore) is the depiction of small-town life. The Benson story gave us tea and card games; this gives us a whiff of sexual intrigue that hints at a more Twin Peaks version of village social dynamics, and I don’t object to that. I’d rather watch people make out than play whist if those are my options.

The Verdict: Pretty good. While I do try to find the best in everything I write up for Fridays, I’m surprised how much I liked this movie. It differs from the source material, but in a way consistent with  updating an early 20th-century story into a horror film; I even enjoyed some of the soapier bits. And honestly, anyone who adapts a Benson story (or M.R. James or to some extent Lovecraft) gets 10 extra points of goodwill from me just for caring enough to do it.

Where this movie shines, though, is its heroine. This Mrs. Amworth takes Benson’s vampire, who was sort of a normal person plus 10% extra(vert) personality plus bloodlust, and adds to the character touches of the traditional movie vamp and callbacks to the time the original story is written. If your horror doesn’t have to be polished, there are worse ways to pass an afternoon.

 

Might go well with: Cheese and crackers; old British ghost stories. (If you’re very squeamish, you may want to do your eating in the first hour.)

Random Note: I love this movie for giving the world the line “What are you afraid of? Vampire fish?” Can a SyFy movie based on this be far behind?

 

Next time: Jade and the Quests are on the case.

Finally! Friday: Criminal Minds Seasons 1–4

Why Finally? Because this is the reason I’ve had trouble coming up with Friday posts lately. You’d think an ’80s kid like me would’ve seen enough After-School Specials to avoid these traps, but no: I am addicted to Criminal Minds.

The Premise: In no particular order: murder, kidnapping and murder, murder, murder, rape, rape + murder, child murder, murder, profiling. (More specifically:  a team of FBI profilers, led by expert Jason Gideon and later by David Rossi, travel the US to catch the perpetrators of all that violence aforementioned.)

Did you see how the word “murder” began to not even look like a real word up there? That’s sort of what it’s like to watch this show sometimes.

Given my fondness for mystery and cop series and this show’s decade on the air, it’s odd that I hadn’t given Criminal Minds a try before this year. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that when I tell people what I’m watching, they make this…throat-noise, as if I’d announced some personal tragedy.  I don’t blame them, either, at least for the first two seasons: the problem with Mandy Patinkin as Jason Gideon is that he’s way too good in the role.  You feel every iota of Gideon’s pain, frustration, and building mental collapse—so much so that I began to think people who make it through seasons 1 and 2 should get achievement certificates.

That's pretty much his happy face...one reason I took to calling Gideon "America's Most Haunted."
That’s pretty much his happy face…one reason I took to calling Gideon “America’s Most Haunted.”

Edged in black, of course.

Criminal Minds can be super depressing. It’ll make you afraid to own a home, have a routine, play a sport, or make contact with other humans in any way. Most episodes aren’t even really mysteries in the usual sense of the term: the first suspect is often the right one, and the mystery is how to get one step ahead and maybe save one of the (many, many…and sometimes even many-er than that) victims.

But something happened around the middle of season 3: the characters started to work better as a team, and the show began to let us see more of them personally. Instead of relying solely on a few minutes with hacker Penelope Garcia to lighten the mood from SadCon 1, Criminal Minds started to level out a bit. Perhaps the people responsible for the show realized that creeping dread wasn’t what an audience should feel when approaching their TVs; I don’t know, but I am grateful.

The Verdict: It’s kind of the same verdict as my old Beauty and the Beast review: I like it—to the point I am ignoring my blogly duties—but don’t necessarily enjoy liking it. Fainthearted viewers might want to skip the Gideon years; fainthearted viewers might also look through some of the other reviews I’ve written to get an idea about what “too murdery” could possibly mean in the context of the things I watch.

Might go well with: You’ll probably want something significantly lighter as a palate cleanser—I’ve been alternating this with Kolchak: The Night Stalker because I have a weird idea of “light.” And honestly, food is going to be hit or miss with this one.

 

Next time: A “Quest”ion of identity.

Finally(?)! Friday: Prince of Darkness

Why Finally? It’s been over a year since I reviewed anything from John Carpenter, who is right up there with Cronenberg for testing my commitment to watching a movie. (I’m not so squeamish that I faint at the sight of blood; in fact, that would probably be less irritating for anyone watching horror movies with me, given that unconscious people tend not to whimper and cover their eyes so much.)

The Premise: The Vatican has been keeping a secret for ages: there’s a big vat of glowing yuck in the basement of a California church, and it just may be the embodiment of Satan. A priest (Donald Pleasance) invites a physicist and his team of students to examine the vat and decipher the ancient book that goes along with it. He does this, as far as I can tell, either because he is a cockeyed optimist or because he really, really hates students, since the body count begins to mount almost at once and the evil liquid begins to possess its victims—literally, by squirting into their mouths like a malign Red Bull. Meanwhile, the entire group begins to have dreams of future evil.

I’ll skip straight to The Verdict this time and say right out that I liked Prince of Darkness (though I’m unsure how deeply), especially for a movie in which swarming bugs briefly animate a corpse.

After rewatching that scene, I find myself wondering if this is one of those movies that would collapse without its tense musical score.

I do enjoy stories that straddle the line between science and the supernatural (H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, the novels of Robert Holdstock), and this seems to be somewhat in that vein, with a passing resemblance to the technologically inclined ghosts of this century’s J-horror. That said, some of the mechanics of the…haunting?…aren’t quite clear: I loved Alice Cooper in his role as a homeless person, but were he and his cohorts zombified or “just” possessed or what? There also aren’t many moments that make us care about the characters, so that for all the (god)matter/anti(god)matter theorizing, Prince of Darkness is at its root a highfalutin slasher.

The real moral of the story: If Donald Pleasance can’t sort something out, for god’s heaven’s pete’s sake don’t go anywhere near it.

Might go well with: End of Days; as for food and drink, that all depends on how much you like bugs, I guess.

 

Next time: A (Benton) Quest for medicinal plants.