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.

 

 

 

The Quest For Monday! Part 60: The Hunt For Just Some Goober

(Episode: “The Dreadful Doll”)

Synopsis: The Quests are diverted from marine biology,  first by the appearance of a spy sub, then by villagers with a voodoo problem. The voodoo is a smokescreen…er, zombie-drug-screen…to hide the construction of an undersea base, and the situation escalates faster than you can say “Wade Davis.” Highlights of this episode include turbanless Hadji and Bannon beefcake, because the dreadful doll is a doggone distraction.

Tip 60: There are subs, and then there are subs.

Always be clear what you mean, campers: This “sub,” for example, is a secret evil construction project built under cover of voodoo.

 

Call it the Blue November.

Meanwhile, the voodoo guy himself is called upon as a sub: a substitute for a decent guard.

Poor guy. At least Barney Fife got pants.

Clarity (with no small help from any children who may come to your aid in time of need) will see you through.

 

Next time: To hell with “based on a true story”; Night of the Demon is based on a good story, and I’ve finally watched it!

Next time on TQfM!: Another rescue, the ghost of Sigmund Freud has a laugh, and the episode ends.

(Sort-Of) Found-Again Friday: Slasher Season 2

Why Finally? Readers of this site—if any are left after my absence—may have noticed my preference for supernatural horror over slasher/torture films (given Freddy, Jason and Michael, slashers aren’t exactly supernatural-free, but never mind). This is partly my own squeamishness and partly some ingrained impulse: asked to choose between “movie in which a live guy kills a bunch of people” and “movie in which a dead guy kills a bunch of people,” I’ll pick the cranky spirit every time.

So it was surprising last year that I enjoyed the first season of Canada’s Slasher series on Netflix. From its Halloween-massacre beginning to its maybe-supernatural coda, I was fascinated by the web of small-town intrigue, revenge,  and (very) bloody murder, and I highly recommend it even to people who will have to cover their eyes. I hadn’t realized the show was coming back, but the second season teased an unrelated story of concealed murder at a summer camp (subtitled Guilty Party)—what could be more classic?

Foreshadowing? You bet. Although watermelon tee-ball does look fun.

The Premise: When a revenge scheme gets out of hand and a girl dies, a group of camp counselors forges a pact of silence. Five years later, they come together to move the body before the commune that now owns the property expands its facilities to the burial site. Before the guilty parties (ha!) can even get unpacked, their only transportation out of the wilderness has an abrupt meeting with a chainsaw. The conspirators are trapped with the commune members in a snowy mountain retreat with a vengeful killer on the loose.

Being staked out in the snow is the nicest thing that happens to anybody in this whole series… and it doesn’t last.

That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And if I said that everyone in that cabin is hiding something terrible, even the vegan yogis, it would sound even better. Yet this story disappoints: things you think are red herrings become things you hope are red herrings, then pretty clearly become exactly what’s going on. Watching the commune members descend from hippy-dippy camaraderie to paranoia and violence is a large part of the seven episodes, but any psychological interest to be had from this can’t make up for the other deficiencies.

The Verdict: Despite good pacing—especially when unfolding the camp story—and enough character development that I was rooting for very different people at the end of the series than at the beginning, the second season of Slasher just didn’t quite achieve the heights of the first. Add to that a sense that some events are there purely for shock value (above and beyond the usual creative kills, I mean) and while I’ll likely check out any third season, this iteration of the series let me down.

Might go well with: The first Slasher season. The first Friday the 13th. And I ought to warn readers that there’s a whole plot about meat vs. vegetarianism, with somewhat predictable results, so choose your food with care.

 

You can find the trailer here.

 

Next time: I get to spend my weekend gearing up to resume The Quest For Monday. Race Bannon’s the nerdy redhead, right?

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.

The Quest For Monday! Part 59: Unity And Variety

(Episode: “The Dreadful Doll”)

Synopsis: The Quests are diverted from marine biology,  first by the appearance of a spy sub, then by villagers with a voodoo problem. The voodoo is a smokescreen…er, zombie-drug-screen…to hide the construction of an undersea base, and the situation escalates faster than you can say “Wade Davis.” Highlights of this episode include turbanless Hadji and Bannon beefcake, because the dreadful doll is a doggone distraction.

Tip 59: It’s hard to look at a familiar problem with fresh eyes.

When you’ve recently waltzed around a secret nerve-gas factory, etc.,  it can be easy to forget that sometimes infiltrations don’t go so well.

Being reminded doesn’t seem great, either.

Instead, look for ways to liven up ordinary tasks and keep them exciting.

For example, Korbay the would-be voodoo priest lifehacked (sorry) this skull into a two-way radio.

 

Next time: I’m going to take a run at finishing my long-neglected post on The Conjuring.

Next time on TQfM!: Rescue.

F…Just Friday: Rise of the Gargoyles (2009)

Why… well, just why? I never found it until this week, and it’s sure not “finally!” watched, but this one made it into my Netflix queue for three reasons:

  1. I like gargoyles.
  2. Eric Balfour, who plays this movie’s hero,  was one of my favorite things about Haven.
  3.  I have a very high tolerance for bad effects. (I own The Shining miniseries: enough said.)
Unbelievably, that blazer survives unscathed through the entire movie.

The Premise: Scholar Jack Randall (Balfour, with a very good adventure-hero moniker) once wrote a book about cryptids at the instigation of his girlfriend Carol, and it almost destroyed him professionally. After another rejection for Jack’s latest manuscript, Carol talks him into exploring an old church scheduled for demolition. While in the catacombs, she pockets a strange rock—which is so obviously a gargoyle egg that you’ll be yelling at your TV—and loses her life as a result. Slowly Jack begins to put the pieces together (no pun intended), and with the help of a pair of tabloid TV reporters and an insane priest (Nick Mancuso!), Jack sets out to exterminate the murderous creature.

I sometimes feel as though movies I’m ambivalent about are trying to win me over, like when the Carpenters’ “Superstar” kept turning up in 2007’s Ghost Rider. That’s the case here, too. Rise of the Gargoyles  is uniquely suited to my interests, with Balfour in a tweed jacket as an amalgam of Indiana Jones, Rupert Giles and Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon. There’s mention of that other, more NSFW stone creature, the sheela-na-gig—pretty impressive folklore knowledge for a monster movie. And just like in Belphegor, we have a creature terrorizing Paris, albeit with a lot more blood. This movie should be awesome, for that value of awesome that is “puts a manic grin on my face at the prospect of maybe seeing a baby gargoyle.” (Spoiler alert: there’s a reason the phrase isn’t “Chekhov’s Baby Gargoyle.” Maybe the budget wasn’t there.)

The Verdict: For the second week in a row, what should have been a really enjoyable monster flick fails to fully deliver. Rise of the Gargoyles never quite clicks: the characters don’t seem to relate to each other, the idea that Jack is suspected of Carol’s murder—with one swipe of his pointed academic bona fides, presumably—is ridiculous, and even a few horror moments reminiscent of Preston and Child’s excellent The Relic couldn’t get the movie where it needed to go. It’s not bad (and Mancuso declaiming about the devil is not to be missed), but it is kind of a long 94 minutes.

Even So: There’s something endearing about a movie where people in trouble call the police, bring extra flashlight batteries on their trip to the old crypt, and so on. Rise of the Gargoyles has a practical-minded streak that I appreciated.

Fun Trivia Fact: If a gargoyle stops acting as a waterspout—say, by coming to life and decapitating a bunch of people—it is technically a grotesque in every possible sense.

Might go well with: Croissants, as long as they aren’t actually monster eggs; The Relic; Haven.

 

Next time: Dr. Quest’s Mini-Me.

 

The Quest For Monday! Part 57: The Right Tool For The Right Job

(Episode: “The Dreadful Doll”)

Synopsis: The Quests are diverted from fun fish-identifying business: first by the appearance of a spy sub, then by villagers with a voodoo problem. The voodoo is a smokescreen…er, zombie-drug-screen…to hide the construction of an undersea base, and the situation escalates faster than you can say “Wade Davis.” Highlights of this episode include turbanless Hadji and Bannon beefcake, because the dreadful doll is a doggone distraction.

 

Tip 57: Sometimes old movie quotes say it all.

You know how to make it seem like you can turn people into zombies via magic, don’t you?

It’s true: you just put your lips together and blow.

 

Next time: I wish I knew…

Next time on TQfM!: We finally see the darned doll.

Found-Again Friday: Dracula A.D. 1972

“Dig the music, kids!” —Johnny Alucard

Why Found-Again? At the end of my last post, I mentioned the Five Film Fang Fest, a Hammer Dracula mini-marathon that aired on TBS in October in the late ’80s. That’s where I first saw my favorite (Taste the Blood of Dracula) and least favorite (The Satanic Rites of Dracula, or as I like to call it, Dracula vs. the Shrubbery, With Surprising Results) of Christopher Lee’s outings as the titular count. It’s also where I watched Dracula A.D. 1972, but other than the kind of “hip” counterculture stuff the Austin Powers movies mined for laughs, I don’t remember much about it.

The Premise: After his demise in the 19th century (impaled on a wagon wheel! must’ve been made of hawthorn), Dracula’s signet ring and ashes are stolen away by some young spark.

….in other words.

Later, in swingin’ 1972 London, we see a very familiar young-sparky face at a party/orgy. Johnny Alucard (I don’t write it, I just report it) convinces a bunch of hippies to do a black mass, resurrecting You-Know-Who. Sadly for Dracula, one of the hippies (Stephanie “Sister Kate” Beacham) is a van Helsing, with a grandfather played by Peter Cushing. This has predictable results.

Alucard.
The other one.

In some ways, this is a rehash of Taste the Blood of Dracula, in which Dracula is raised by a young nihilist who forms an ad hoc Hellfire Club. Cults were back in the news in the ’70s, and it shows in the police investigation that leads the cops to the vampire hunter who can help them. The attempt to drag Dracula into modernity—hiding vampires at a Chelsea nightclub, pairing him with a guy who strongly recalls Alex from A Clockwork Orange—is imperfectly executed but interesting, and the movie seems to sense this, since it regularly returns to the traditional creaky old church setting. There also seem to be a few scattered visual jokes: a shot of empty milk bottles on a sidewalk after Dracula attacks a victim, Peter Cushing racing to save his granddaughter through a service entrance marked “Goods.”

The Verdict: I wish I could say that Dracula A.D. 1972 won me over, but it’s just not quite…right. It has a lot going for it in its relatively balanced portrayal of the hippie kids, and Christopher Lee does a great job as always, but the old and new portions of the narrative never truly gel. (Honestly, the fact that there was a character named “Johnny Alucard”—and that van Helsing had to draw a diagram to work that one out—may have stuck a stake in this film as far as I’m concerned.) Given the goofy ways they kill off vampires in these Hammer movies, though, I am happy to report that Dracula ends up doused in holy water and speared on punji sticks. Van Helsing circa 1972 is not messing around.

Other random observations:

  • If you like ’70s music, this is kind of fun. The party that kicks off the 1972 timeline resembles some of the Incredible String Band’s album covers, and some of the incidental music sounds like long-lost James Bond.
  • Whoever gave Stephanie Beacham that haircut should be prosecuted.
  • Imagine those old houses where there always seems to be a print of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, only instead of the blue boy, it’s a scary woodcut of Christopher Lee.

Might go well with: Tomato juice, the music of Donovan.

Next time: Doing that voodoo that…that bald guy on Jonny Quest…does so well.

The Quest For Monday! Part 56: Putting The “Ick” In Ichthyology

(Episode: “The Dreadful Doll”)

Synopsis: The Quests are diverted from fun fish-identifying business: first by the appearance of a spy sub, then by villagers with a voodoo problem. The voodoo is a smokescreen…er, zombie-drug-screen…to hide the construction of an undersea base, and the situation escalates faster than you can say “Wade Davis.” Highlights of this episode include turbanless Hadji and Bannon beefcake, because the dreadful doll is a doggone distraction.

Only a spot of voodoo could interrupt Team Quest’s oceanic idyll… apparently.

Tip 56: It’s good to love your work, but maybe not too much.

Especially if your work shows signs of loving you back.
And the family’s not even that surprised.

 

Next time: Christopher Lee in a movie I haven’t seen since the days of TBS’s Five Film Fang Fest, which is to say a hell of a long time.

Next time on TQfM!:  Becoming a voodoo master the easy way.

Found-Again Friday: Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

It’s been a while since I rewatched a Jeff Goldblum movie for this site—well, he’s in The Sentinel for about a minute, like everyone else—and this was one of the first I ever saw.  It was 1986, and I was attempting to gear up for The Fly by watching everything the guy had ever done, including Death Wish and that disco movie.

Can you blame me?

Why Found-Again? That said, I’ve been putting this one off. I’ve seen a lot of Found-Again films at this point, and only a few have really disappointed me. I thought Transylvania 6-5000  was goofy fun when I was 12… but will a comedy broader than the ocean, and sporting an aesthetic best described as Monty Hall meets The Munsters meets Benny Hill meets Love Boat, really stand up to grown-up scrutiny?

The Premise: Instead of making things up like a normal tabloid, the paper Jack and Gil* (Goldblum and Ed Begley, Jr.) work for sends them to Transylvania after a tourist video seems to show the Frankenstein monster. They arrive to find a town bent on increasing tourism and showcasing its normalcy despite being populated by (among others) a goofy bellhop, a sort of Igor family, a shy but horny vampire, a werewolf, a mad scientist, and, yes, the F-Monster himself. Jack, who has an amazingly low tolerance for bullshit for a hero in a comedy, just wants to give up and romance a beautiful blonde; Gil, who makes up in go-getter spirit what he lacks in brains, stays on the case. And that’s how they stumble onto the real secret of the Transylvanian monsters.

It’s also how this happens. Ordinarily I wouldn’t include a groin-grab screenshot, but when I talk to other people who’ve seen the movie, this is invariably the thing they remember.

Like a lot of these goofy movies from the ’70s and ’80s, this has a pretty good cast; if you ever watch it, remember that only a few years later, Geena Davis took home the Oscar. John Byner and Carol Kane steal every scene they’re in, and Jeffrey Jones does well as, essentially, the Principal Rooney of a small town in the Carpathians. It also has a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards, if you’re into that. As for the plot, you know me–any mystery in a storm.

The Verdict: I don’t think I’d go so far as to recommend it for a movie night, but being trapped in a room with T-6-5000 could certainly be worse. And  I won’t lie: the “heartwarming” denouement, especially Lupi and Radu, at the end of this movie gets me every time, as stupid as that is. Transylvania 6-5000 is still best enjoyed by 12-year-olds, but what I’ve lost in tolerance for its obvious gags is made up for by… well, by a lot of the other movies I’ve watched for this site. It’s an Abbott and Costello flick for a new(er) age, made with obvious affection for the old monster movies that inspired it.

That said, it was a pretty long 94 minutes, and you can see why.

 

 

*Oh, hell. Is that a pun?

 

Next time: The Quest For Monday becomes The Quest For Voodoo! And for next Friday, by default, we have Dracula AD 1972.