Movies Till Dawn: A Month of Monsters – Week 4

Midnight – “Nightmares” – Horror

product_images_modal_NightmaresCover72dpi__7Bc106a72c-93fb-4b56-8424-8499f8a32fef_7D(1983, Scream Factory) Universal developed this anthology feature as a pilot for NBC, but instead released it to theaters in the fall of 1983. The stories, penned by TV vets Jeffrey Bloom and co-producer Christopher Crowe, aim to deliver a modern take on “Twilight Zone’s” patented shock endings: “Terror in Topanga” draws on the “killer in the backseat” urban legend, with Cristina Raines terrorizes by an escaped psychopath (Fear’s Lee Ving), while “The Bishop of Battle” pits Emilio Estevez’s arcade skills against a sinister video game. “The Benediction” is a sort of short-form version of “The Car,” with a malevolent Chevy 4×4 pursuing a priest (Lance Henriksen), while Richard Masur and Veronica Cartwright find that their new home has a supernatural tenant in “The Night of the Rat.” Though director Joseph Sargent lends polish to the segments, the four stories’ small-screen origins are immediately evident by their derivative plots and low-wattage payoffs. But the cast, which includes an uncredited William Sanderson, Moon Unit Zappa and James Tolkan as the voice of the Bishop of Battle, does their best to sell the material, and the occasional flashes of humor – Raines risking her neck to satisfy her cigarette craving, and Albert Hague as the world’s only exterminator/folktale expert – help span the less inspired moments. Longtime L.A. residents may also appreciate filming locations at the now-defunct Sassony Arcade on South Broadway and the Fox Hills (now Westfield Culver City) mall. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray offers “Nightmares” in both widescreen and fullframe presentations, and includes a commentary track with Raines and executive producer Andrew Mirisch, who clears up a rumor about the stories and ABC’s short-lived “Darkroom” anthology series. The theatrical trailer and radio spots round out the disc.

1:30 a.m. – “Metamorphosis” – Horror/Science Fiction

product_images_modal_M-BDBRCover72dpi__7B979bb04c-4829-4798-8ad2-b8c835e6f615_7D(1990, Scream Factory) Ludicrous Italian-made carbon of “The Fly,” with the exceptionally wooden Gene Le Brock standing in for Jeff Goldblum as a college professor trying unlock the secrets of DNA with a serum that accelerates genetic activity. When the faculty threatens to cut off his funding, Le Brock takes a page from the Mad Scientist Handbook and injects himself (through his eye) with his serum to prove its efficacy. Tampering with God’s domain earns Le Brock a series of increasingly monstrous (and goopy) transformations before culminating in a form that suggests the finale of “Altered States” as conceived by Ray Harryhausen. Written and directed by prolific actor George Eastman (a.k.a. Luigi Montefiore), “Metamorphosis” seems custom-made for cult/badfilm devotees; its greatest non-virtue is a script stuffed to the gills with endless reams of scientific-sounding dialogue, which stops the picture dead while the cast struggles to spew out their lines (Le Brock’s solution is to deliver every line in a sullen, barely audible monotone). Be advised that when Le Brock’s final form makes its entrance, you should have no food or drink in your mouth or risk a spit take of epic proportions. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray partners “Metamorphosis” with “Beyond Darkness,” a hamfisted supernatural thriller from “Troll 2” director Claudio Fragasso that features the house from Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond” and another glum turn by Gene LeBrock. English-language trailers for both films are also included.

3 a.m. – “Curse of the Faceless Man” – Science Fiction

2977(1958, Kino Lorber) Jerome Bixby, who wrote for “Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek,” also penned an early draft for this endearingly shoddy spin on mummy pictures, with an Etruscan gladiator, turned to stone by the eruption at Pompeii, revived in modern-day Italy (the exterior of the Griffith Observatory stands in for a research museum) and running amok. Richard Anderson, a decade or so away from enduring fame as Oscar Goldman on “The Six Million Dollar Man,” visibly struggles to maintain interest in the gladiator’s rampage, while Elaine Edwards is the apparent reincarnation of the Faceless Man’s long-dead love, and handles the being-picked-up-and-carted-off portion of her role well. Produced by Robert Kent (“Twice Told Tales”) as the lower half of a double bill with “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” (1958) – which is often acknowledged as an inspiration for “Alien” – and also utilizing Bixby and director Edward L. Cahn, “Faceless Man” is textbook Saturday afternoon creature feature fare, dispensing with common sense (like how the gladiator, whose face is entirely covered in petrified ash, can see where he’s going) in favor of forward momentum, fueled by as much monster mayhem as the budget could allow (which in this case, isn’t much) before the movie reaches its oddly melancholy conclusion. Cahn, who helmed a vast number of low-budget horror, Western and crime films, covers the action with the least amount of frills. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray includes trailers for “Invisible Invaders,” another Cahn/Kent title in their library, as well as “The Monster that Challenged the World”; former “Fangoria” and “Delirium” editor Chris Alexander provides bemused commentary.

4:30 a.m. – “Hands of a Stranger” – Thriller

71DgpROE4zL._SL1000_(1962, Warner Archives) Fourth film adaptation of Maurice Renard’s novel “The Hands of Orlac” (1920) takes considerable liberties with the source material, which concerns a maimed concert pianist who comes to discover that his new hands, grafted from a murderer, may be compelling him to kill. Here, the supernatural angle is eliminated – the donor is an unknown man, gunned down in a surprisingly stylish prologue, and the pianist (James Stapleton) is motivated to murder largely because the operation, carried out by arrogant surgeon Paul Lukather, has ruined his career. Director Newt Arnold, who would go on to serve as assistant director on dozens of major Hollywood features, including “The Godfather Part II,” constructs some impressive set pieces, the best of which is a visit to a carnival, where every image seems to reflect – and mock – Stapleton’s lost limbs; the success of these scenes is undercut by his script (which does not credit the Renard novel), which is rife with pulpy, purple dialogue. While Stapleton and Lukather chew a lot of scenery between them, the supporting cast offers some interesting performers, including future documentarian Joan Harvey in her last screen role, as well as co-producer Michael Du Pont (of the Du Pont chemical family), brief appearances by Sally Kellerman and Barry Gordon, and a post- “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” Irish McCalla.

6 a.m. – “Extraordinary Tales” – Horror/Fantasy

81xy3l039oL._SL1500_(2013, Cinedigm) Impressive collection of five animated shorts, all based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Spanish filmmaker Raul Garcia, who has worked as an animator on numerous Disney features, employs a different look for each short, and the results are frequently impressive: “The Fall of the House of Usher” is depicted in moody papercut animation in the style of “Corpse Bride,” while “The Tell-Tale Heat” evokes the deep shadows and striking, high contrast black-and-white art of Uruguayan comic book artist Alberto Breccia. The shorts also benefit greatly from the participation of narrators like Sir Christopher Lee, Guillermo Del Toro (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), Roger Corman (who voices a few lines as Prince Prospero in “The Masque of the Red Death”), and a 1947 recording of Bela Lugosi reciting “The Tell-Tale Heart” with particular relish. There’s also a wrap-around segment, with a raven conversing with Death (voiced by German children’s author Cornelia Funke), is hit-or-miss, but it’s the artistry of the five segments that make the feature a worthy addition to any Poe aficionado’s library. The DVD/Blu-ray includes several making-of supplements in which the filmmakers discuss the various animation styles and production history, as well as commentary by Garcia, which details his personal interest in the stories. 

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.
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2 Responses to Movies Till Dawn: A Month of Monsters – Week 4

  1. I have almost all of these in my DVD collection. Good choices.I grew up with Curse Of The Faceless Man and other B shockers aimed at kids and teens that showed up on TV in the early 60’s so I have a soft spot for them.

    • Paul Gaita says:

      Thanks – high praise indeed. My whole “goal” with this column is to evoke the sort of late-night/early morning TV lineup that might showcase movies like these in the days before cable and DirecTV. I don’t know if that comes across, but I’m glad you’re liking the movies.

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