Movies Till Dawn: A Month of Monsters, Week 1

12 a.m. – “Blood and Lace” – Horror/Thriller

product_images_modal_BALCover72dpi__7B7d8763a5-20b6-40e5-b654-f0b12b405bf7_7D(1971, Shout Factory) Pity poor Melody Patterson (“F Troop”): an orphaned emotional wreck after the brutal murder of her prostitute mother, she’s shipped off to a group home, where her situation turns from bad to worse. The proprietors (noir favorite Gloria Grahame and Len Lesser, “Seinfeld’s” Uncle Leo) are sadists who favor murder as a solution to behavioral problems, and her recurring nightmares about a masked figure – who might be her mother’s killer – appear to be taking root in reality. This rarely seen proto-slasher balances the seedy mechanics of its grindhouse requirements – considerable but not graphic mayhem involving hammers, cleavers and walk-in freezers – with a surprising degree of suspense and polish. The established cast members also strike the right note of unpredictable menace, with Grahame offering a truly nasty turn and Vic Tayback’s cop – ostensibly Patterson’s protector – barely hiding his prurient interest in her; the younger players, which include Dennis Christopher, are appropriately hapless. The casual cruelty displayed by Grahame, Lesser and Milton Selzer (as Patterson’s social worker) towards the group home residents, and Patterson’s dawning realization of her fate, is perhaps the most unsettling aspect of “Blood and Lace”; the picture is suffused by a pervasive atmosphere of futility and misery that at times, rivals the obsessive nihilism of Staten Island trashfilm director Andy Milligan, though without his technical ineptitude and endless ranting dialogue. No doubt audiences who attended the film on the basis of its PG rating felt clobbered by its viciousness; its status as a must-see for hardcore horror devotees has been hindered only by its absence on the home video scene (though a battered print made the rounds on late night TV in the ‘90s). Shout Factory’s Blu-ray/DVD combo presentation corrects the situation with a remastered widescreen presentation that includes the American International Pictures theatrical trailer; Movie Morlocks’ Richard Harland Smith also contributes a well-informed commentary track, touching on (among other things) the film’s alternate titles (the onscreen title for the SF disc is “The Blood Secret”), supporting player Terri Messina’s turbulent relationship with the Byrds’ Gene Clark and the possibility that director Philip Gilbert was, in fact, a pseudonym for another unnamed filmmaker.

1:30 a.m. – “The Car” – Horror

product_images_modal_TheCarCover72dpi__7B5064dac3-912d-4e27-ad42-57d37c68373d_7D(1977, Shout Factory) Ridiculous yet junk-food satisfying mash-up of “Jaws,” “Duel” and “The Exorcist” about a huge black sedan, seemingly fueled by demonic forces, terrorizing the population of a small Southwestern town. James Brolin and Ronny Cox (“Deliverance”) are the lawmen that oppose the vehicle, which seeks to mow down an eclectic supporting cast that includes John Marley, R.G. Armstrong, and Kim and Kyle Richards in their post-Disney, pre-reality TV days. Veteran TV director Elliot Silverstein, who scored a huge theatrical hit seven years prior with “A Man Called Horse” (and later helmed the creepy “Nightmare Honeymoon”) pulls off a minor miracle by making the car (a Lincoln Continental Mark III customized by Dennis Braid for George Barris) seem menacing, and when all else fails, lets it run down a few bit players, smash a small fleet of police squad cars and, in one jaw-dropping scene, plow right through an entire house to get at Lloyd. Pilloried at the time of its release, “The Car” enjoys an enthusiastic cult following among the late-night/drive-in faithful for its mix of camp, car wrecks and its unique spin on the devil-done-it subgenre of the ‘70s (Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey is credited as “Technical Advisor”); fans should be pleased with Shout Factory’s Blu-ray presentation, which includes an interview with Silverstein, who offers a polite if slightly embarrassed assessment of his efforts, and shorter talks with cast members Melody Thomas Scott and Geraldine Keams. The ballyhoo-heavy theatrical trailer, as well as radio and TV spots, round out the disc.

3 a.m. – “Tenderness of the Wolves” – Horror/Thriller

614x63L9YxL(1973, Arrow Video) Grisly German drama about the real-life crime spree of Fritz Haarman, a monstrous predator who murdered at least 24 young men in Hanover in the years between World War I and World War II. Set in an ambiguous time period in Germany’s past – somewhere between pre-Weimar Republic and the post-war occupation, the film stars the late Kurt Raab (who also wrote the screenplay) as Haarman, a conman and black market profiteer granted immunity by the police for informing on fellow criminals. That status, combined with a astonishing level of disinterest and ineptitude by both the police and American forces, allows him to lure children and young men to his apartment, where he silences them by biting their throats (thus earning his gruesome sobriquet, “The Vampire of Hanover”) and then strangling them. Per the legends about Haarman’s crimes, the film implies that what happened to his victims after death was even worse, but this element, along with most of the actual murders (save for two) are left largely to the viewer’s imagination, which makes them seem more monstrous than any special effect. Director Ulli Lommel, a creative collaborator of filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who produced “Wolves” and appears briefly as a fellow profiteer) draws on the cinematic history of his country throughout the film, referencing Fritz Lang’s “M” (which was also inspired in part by Haarman’s crimes) both visually (Haarman tempts a young boy with a ball much as Peter Lorre does with a girl) and thematically (criminal society vs. ineffectual police). The Expressionist horror films of the 1920s are also a source of inspiration; with his bald dome, shadowy presence and predilection for biting necks, Raab’s Haarman evokes the vampire in F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and Lorre’s Doctor Gogol in Karl Freund’s “Mad Love.” “Wolves” is a icy and bleak but compelling film that presages such cerebral serial killer dramas as “Silence of the Lambs” and David Fincher’s “Zodiac” with its blend of intimate focus, social commentary and startling violence. Arrow’s Blu-ray/DVD includes feisty but informative commentary by and an interview with Lommel, who discusses his thorny collaboration with Fassbinder on the picture (Fassbinder was reportedly the first choice to direct), while cameraman Jurgen Jurges and actor Rainer Will (who plays one of Haarman’s victims) discuss their participation. Author Stephen Thrower also offers some perspective on the film and Lommel’s career, which has spiraled into very confusing microbudget horror films over the past two decades.

4:30 a.m. – “Cooties” – Horror/Comedy

61uetCWwGIL(2015, Lionsgate) This gag-filled (in both senses of the word) comedy confirms what you always suspected about school cafeteria food: it really can kill you. Case in point: factory-processed chicken nuggets (arguably the most disgusting special effect in the film) sent to an elementary school turns the student body into flesh-eating zombies, forcing the faculty to band together and formulate an escape. The cast is remarkably game for the barrage of splatter-heavy setpieces, conceived by writers Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) and Ian Brennan (“Glee”) and exercised in broad manner by directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion; co-producer Elijah Wood, Alison Pill and Rainn Wilson are an amusingly absurd love triangle, while the supporting cast, which includes Jack McBrayer, Nasim Pedrad, Jorge Garcia (“Lost”) and Whannell and Brennan as, respectively, a sex-ed teacher and vice principal, endure the pint-sized apocalypse with appropriately cartoonish levels of disgust and horror. The loosey-goosey tone largely nullifies the taboo element of adults butchering mindless homicidal children, a notion explored in “Who Can Kill a Child?” and “The Children” (1980 and 2008), but “Cooties” is meant to be silly gross-out fun, and largely accomplishes as such. The Blu-ray includes an impressive amount of extras, including freewheeling commentary by the filmmakers and principal cast, a very dark alternate ending, a barrage of extended and deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette that follows the production’s path from serious horror to splatschtick.

6 a.m. – “The Bat” – Thriller

81oulvqUtxL._SL1500_(1959, Film Chest) Vincent Price enlivens this third film adaptation of the popular 1920 Broadway play (Roland West helmed the previous versions in 1926 and 1930) about a masked killer stalking the occupants of a country home. Price’s old Mercury Theater cohort Agnes Moorhead is top-billed as a mystery writer whose new summer home is also the site of several murders committed by the Bat, a faceless fiend with a penchant for tearing out the throats of his victims. There’s also a stolen stash of bank securities somewhere on the premises, which draws the attention of Price’s town doctor and Little Rascals alum Darla Hood in her final screen appearance as a bank cashier whose search for the loot puts her in the path of the Bat. Actor-turned-filmmaker Crane Wilbur, who wrote two of Price’s most popular horror vehicles – “House of Wax” and the bizarre “Mad Magician” – can’t do much to elevate the picture from the creaky confines of its stagebound plot, but he benefits from the presence of old pros Moorehead and Price, who swing for the fences with their performances; the Bat, too, with his faceless mask and steel claws, injects a note of pulp creepiness to the proceedings while also serving (in its original stage conception) as a template for generations of shadow-stalking killers, from “The Cat and the Canary” to the masked murderers in Italian giallo and the knife-fingered Freddy Krueger. Film Chest’s remastered Blu-ray improves greatly upon dozens of previous, grime-steeped public domain presentations; no extras are included.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
This entry was posted in DVDs, Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Movies Till Dawn: A Month of Monsters, Week 1

  1. Pingback: Movies Till Dawn: A Month of Monsters – Week 4 | The LA Beat

  2. Blood And Lace is a minor masterpiece. I saw it at a drive-in with a car full of pot addled teens such as I.Also on the bill was The Vampire Lovers and Cult Of The Damned (Angel Angel Down We Go,) We had three people in the front seat and three in back so not much room for smooching. One of the gals was not into horror films. Heavens knows why she was there but when Peter Cushing lops off Ingrid Pitts head with a sword she freaked out and grabbed fistfuls of hair from the guy sitting directly in front of her in the front seat and she did not let go. He was screaming.She was screaming and it seemed like a long time before we calmed her down enough to loosen her mitts.Afterwards I think we doubled over in stoner laughter.

Leave a Reply