Netflix Screaming Theatre Vol. 2

To lead us proper to the end of SHOCKTOBER, here’s another scary-go-round from the Netflix Streaming vaults. I’m happy to say that Netflix has definitely kicked up its genre heels, bringing in a coffin-load of cult and classic films for your home viewing terror. More importantly, many of these are titles from the 1960’s-80’s that have NEVER seen DVD release (among dozens of other incredibly rare films that will have me busy for about a month), so take cinematic advantage!

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) – Absolutely Roger Corman’s best AIP Edgar Allen Poe adaptation, bolstered by a literate Charles Beaumont script and Nicholas Roeg’s fantastic cinematography. Of course, Vincent Price is in top malevolent form as Prince Prospero, a cruel taskmaster who fiddle and abuses while his towns burn with plague. There are many striking images and scenes, particularly the multi-colored rooms of the castle and the fiery comeuppance of a sleazy nobel. Jane Asher makes a fetching innocent villager who Prospero attempts to corrupt among his vassals to the envy of Corman regular, Hazel Court. The most interesting subplot and character outside Prospero involves the dwarf Hop Toad and his lovely bride Esmeralda: Skip Martin’s dynamic portrayal of the proud, crafty minion and his well-deserved vengeance elevates the story’s pulp foundation as Martin almost steals the film from Vincent Price. I’ve always admired Corman’s rhythmic direction and widescreen framing, along with an always roving camera. A must see classic, especially with Netflix providing an excellent transfer.

THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) – This Hammer hit helped introduce the hitherto dormant Lesbian Vampire genre gene, courtesy of your friends at Hammer Studios, natch. Though somewhat genteel on the stone surface, Hammer did add a whole new realm to lovers of fantastic cinema, namely sex and violence. By the end of the decade, the films were dimming in popularity and they were running out of steam on their Dracula series, but there was still life in this old studio. Directed by the late Roy Ward Baker, starring Ingrid Pitt in a re-working of the famed “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu, Pitt was catapulted to global femme fatale status with her memorable performance as the deadly, empathetic vampire queen. The film is awash in gothic blood and bosoms, and though Baker wasn’t a fan of the film, he lends it a stately style. Peter Cushing was added at the last minute for the wonderfully garish finale. The uncut print looks great, likely taken from the MGM remastered DVD.

SUGAR HILL (1974) – Still yet to find DVD release, I’ve wanted to see this AIP voodoo-blaxploitation mashup ever since I first saw the review in “The Monster Times” — the poster and trailer promise you a soul feast of epic proportions: “Meet SUGAR HILL And Her Zombie Hit Men!” The story deals with the title character seeking vengeance on the gangsters, led by short-lived horror prince Robert Quarry, who killed her man. Sugar (the able Marki Bey) seeks out the help of her grandmother, the local voodoo priestess. She in turn summons the demonic Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) and his zombie cohorts, who rise from the grave in probably the most effective scene. Sadly, the film can’t live up to its wild premise, and Paul Maslansky’s direction would barely pass muster for a TV cheapie film with its abundance of low-angles. And no movie about Sugar Hill And Her Zombie Hit Men should be rated PG. Still, it’s definitely worth a roll of the bones.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) – You wanna see something really scary? Try to watch the Netflix Streaming transfer for one of the top tier Wolfman films in the canon — I’d place this in a tie with THE HOWLING (1980) and a notch below THE WOLFMAN (1941) and above CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) and THE MARK OF THE WOLFMAN (1968). If you don’t drool over the concept of our monstrous full-moon brethren, give up your horror card. John Landis understood, having written the script after working as an extra on KELLY’S HEROES (1970) in Yugoslavia. He wasn’t able to make this unusual horror-comedy until his huge success with KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977) and ANIMAL HOUSE (1978). The story of two amiable wayward Yanks who end up on the wrong side of the moors, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne prove a fine pair and have great chemistry. The opening credits over Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Moon” is one of my favorite in any genre, setting up the ominous comedic content of the film, adding to the undertone of tragedy inherent in the tale. Jenny Agutter is her usual sexy wonderful self and Rick Baker provided the awesome make-up effects, the first to be rewarded with an Academy Award. I particularly love Dunne’s rotting talking puppet corpse, featured in an unusual LIFE magazine spread among other bloody images that caused an uproar from the readers. Too bad the infamous cut “Hobo Attack” scene has been lost from the vaults. Unfortunately, this is a scary excuse for a screaming print, stick to the DVD/Blu-ray moors, my friend…

THE GHOST & MR. CHICKEN (1966) – What can one say about Don Knotts? An electronic folk hero via “The Andy Griffith Show” during his multiple Emmy-award winning stint as the bumbling cocksure Barney Fife, Knotts was adopted by Universal Studios for a string of five films of varying quality and success. The only consensus is that this is easily his best, most beloved movie and stands the test of time and generations. Knotts plays Luther Heggs, a small-town wannabe reporter who uncovers strange goings-on at a local haunted house (actually home to the “The Munsters”) and must prove his mettle by spending a night in the spooky haunt. The plot is as light as the scares, but the script is surprisingly funny and there are hilarious bits that sneak up on you. Knotts’s nervous speech to the town after he’s declared a local hero is probably the high point of his film career — along with the famous repeated shout-out, “Atta boy Luther!” Special mention must go to Vic Mizzy’s unforgettable organ theme which dominates the action and caps the film with a great goose-pimply final shot.

DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) – Like I admit, I have cine-gaps. This has been on my radar since it came out, though I stayed away from it for many years. I had read about its frightening nature but I managed to actually avoid reading any details about the plot or shocks — though I did know there was a famous love scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. I’m glad to have finally seen this Nicholas Roeg proto-giallo based on a Daphne De Maurier story and can report it is indeed an intense viewing experience, if not as scary as I had projected. The story of a couple who are haunted by the spectre of their drowned daughter — in apropos Venice — Roeg uses his patented time-shifts to create unease and obfuscation (along with the wonderful sex and post-sex scenes). Sutherland is quite good at his low-key height and his denial at the unfolding mystical events adds to the tension. If there were a few spectacular murder scenes and an Ennio Morricone score, this would be the greatest film Dario Argento never made.

FRIGHT NIGHT(1986) – I saw this opening weekend at a Saturday matinee, easily one of the best movie-going experiences of my life. This is probably my favorite vampire film and there’s a few good reasons for that. Writer/director Tom Holland knows his genre and you have to love a creature feature starring Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, a former vampire-killer movie hero turned fading TV horror host. Throw in a sincere teen hero who discovers his new neighbor is in fact a bloodsucker, played with icy, sardonic sensuality by the underused Chris Sarandon, and you have a minor 80’s classic. Directed with style and energy, Holland gives us a fun rollercoaster ride with plenty of visual viscera. McDowall gets the best role of his late career and his transformation from weak host to strong protector is the heart of FRIGHT NIGHT. The scene where he watches Evil Ed (the unique Stephen Geoffreys) writhe in pain as he transforms from wolf to boy is beautifully acted and realized. The whole thing has a wonderful old-school feel mixed with modern trappings, including the terrific make-up effects by Richard Edlund featuring the best movie vampire bat ever. I wish I could transmute my giddy pleasure in the theatre matinee at the film’s penultimate moment, when Jerry Dandridge steps out to the top of the gothic staircase, peeling the wood with a sharpened finger and then leans back to announce to the vampire hunters below, “Welcome to Fright Night…For real.”

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1967) – Is there something I could possibly add to the critical white noise surrounding George A. Romero’s masterpiece, one of the most influential films in any genre? I can only say I still consider NOTLD the scariest movie of all time and even the commercials terrified me as a child. Romero’s black and white documentary style adds to the unsettling nature; the fact that there are no stars, and by the end, no hope, only increases the horror. Culturally, NOTLD perfectly reflects the violent, paranoid landscape of 1968, the most turbulent year of the decade. The chilling end credits are pure pop-art nightmare, symbolic of a nation eating itself. As fer the Netflix Streaming, this is a true zombie print, worn and faded as befits its copyright-free origin. Yeah, it’s all messed up. Shoot it in the head and resurrect the superior Image DVD.

BLOOD AND ROSES (1960) – I must bow to Netflix for adding this and other long unavailable titles to the screaming queue. Another version of “Carmilla,” this time directed by Roger Vadim and starring Mel Ferrer, the story is set in jet-set France but moves to the gothic countryside to involve us in the vampiric tale. A more low-key and dreamy approach to the genre, Vadim shows more erotic style and restraint here than in his later films, with Claude Renoir providing the bright cinematography. The film’s highlight is a dreamy sequence reminiscent of Franju and Cocteau, with gray masked women in red gloves attending to a spread-eagle victim on an operating table. It’s hard to not see how Bava, Argento and others would have been influenced by this interesting film that might be Vadim’s best. This is certainly worth a look and hopefully will released in a proper re-mastered version from Paramount’s bulging vault…

RAW MEAT (1972) – Originally released under the more subtle and fitting DEATHLINE, this unusual, unnerving chiller deals with a cannibalistic human underground dweller left behind from World War II in the London tubes. Written and directed by Gary Sherman (the amazing VICE SQUAD), this is about another kind of descent into the bowels of the city. Starring Donald Pleasance in a lively role as a wry inspector searching for missing persons, and Christopher Lee in a droll cameo, the story intercuts between the police on the prowl, a pair of unlikeable leads, and our CHUD, well-played with sympathetic horror by Hugh Armstrong. This is a rather strange film, and the humor is as tart as the as shocks, of which there are a few. What makes the film just miss classic status is that there doesn’t seem to be a central metaphor for what the subway cannibal represents to the aboveground world outside of avarice. Nevertheless, this is a brisk, well-directed, thoughtful shocker of the period (with a funktastic title theme), and a stunning seven minute 360 degree tracking shot into the dank, bloody underground lair that would have made any director jealous. Edgar Wright even briefly tributes this film in his DON’T short for GRINDHOUSE. You figure out where, guv. Mind the doors.

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29 Responses to “Netflix Screaming Theatre Vol. 2”

  1. That’s some great list of flicks to net (hehe… couldn’t help myself), christian. I’ve yet to see SUGAR HILL or RAW MEAT, so I better get busy for the ‘Ween. AAWiL is one of my all-time favorite werewolf films, though. Great timing as I’m posting something about it tomorrow. Great minds… ;-).

    Thanks, my friend.

    p.s., tomorrow night I’ll be at The Aero once again checking out THE CHANGELING, with director Peter Medak discussing.

    • christian Says:

      Look forward to any AWIL post!

      And I totally left out THE CHANGELING as part of my screaming line-up tho i did indeed finally see it there recently…and I had sat next to Peter Medak at a theatre where he directed a beautiful opera my friend was in. He took off before I could hit him up about THE RULING CLASS…

  2. Hey, thanks for the suggestions! I haven’t seen most of these. Fright Night is a classic for sure and I haven’t seen Night Of The Living Dead or American Werewolf in a long time.

  3. Good call on FRIGHT NIGHT. I love this film also, for the reasons you so eloquently stated. And as you say, it has a fantastic old school vibe which works so well juxtaposed with ’80s decor, fashion, etc. The less said about the sequel (and upcoming remake) the better.

  4. I always loved FRIGHT NIGHT, and Chris Sarandon was just terrific in this as well, as he also was in CHILD’S PLAY (a Holland production too…if memory serves.)

    The Hop Toad sequence always registers strongly for me when I think of MASQUE, which I share your admiration for in general. I might have to do a little Hammer/Price-Poe switchhitting before going out to howl at the moon this weekend.

    AWIL is my favorite Landis picture period. His comedies actually mostly don’t do that much for me, as I think he’s much funnier when he’s making a horror picture. (I recall INNOCENT BLOOD fondly, but it’s been awhile…)

  5. It’s finally beginning to feel like SHOCKTOBER! I had the impression you just weren’t feeling it this year. Hope everything is okay.

    We happen to have MotRD at home right now. It’s doubled up with PREMATURE BURIAL. I haven’t seen it (MASQUE) in years, but I remember it looking wonderful and oozing atmosphere. And that was back in the video days — I’m sure it looks even better on DVD.

    So far for us: THE WOLF MAN, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, THE STEPFATHER, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, NOSFERATU (’22) DRACULA (’31) DRACULA (’79) DRACULA (spanish language version) DRACULA’S DAUGHTER…and if that just isn’t enough Drac for you, I have HORROR OF DRACULA and Coppola’s version on DVD and three more days. (I really need to own the Herzog version.)

    (Anybody seen Franco’s COUNT DRACULA? Is it worth buying?)

    Also PSYCHO 2 and the aforementioned Corman films still to be viewed. Never let it be said I’m not holding up my end.

    • christian Says:

      I thought I was knocking it out and I’m definitely feeling it tho yes, life has shifted in the past month. I wish I had time to watch all the films on my list and expand SHOCKTOBER….

      HORROR OF DRACULA is HD on Netflix and wow….

      Never seen Franco’s Drac pic, but he’s real hit or miss for me outside his general cool ouvre…

  6. i’m hugely ashamed, my shocktober has been abysmal in terms of horror viewing, perhaps the worst ever. it’s been a stressful time and i just haven’t had it in me, i have a lot of catching up to do and approximately 1.5 days to do it in, yay! i’m now skulking away in embarrassment.

    well after this anyway: i wish we had that netflix streaming thing, some great flicks on there (the first time i’ve seen all the selections mentioned i think). a few personal tidbits:

    ‘Mask of the red death’: one of the first horror movies i saw on TV, FANTASTIC. funnily enough, i saw it with the same best friend with whom i also saw ‘black christmas’, ‘halloween’ and ‘carrie’ when we were way too young and impressionable, two peas in a pod we were, without her i wouldn’t be the sick puppy i am today

    ‘american werewolf’: what can i say, stone cold genre-bending classic. i’ve said this before so if i’m repeating myself it’s only because i’m going senile and i don’t really care, but i refer to the brilliant sequence of david just stuffing around in alex’s flat for several minutes of film time while she’s off at work, this long, quiet lull that i can’t see having a snowball’s chance in hell of making into a mainstream film today in its entirety, but a great little injection of naturalism and subtle character development so often missing in movies today.

    ‘don’t look now’: one of the first movies i can remember seeing in this tinpot little cinema with fold-up type chairs, my god what happened to sutherland was so shocking to my little self it’s etched forever on my brain, WHY WAS I ALLOWED TO SEE THAT?!! fucking hell.

    ‘NOTLD’: the boy had some friends for a sleepover a while back and i gave them permission to watch some innocuous movie while they were all in their sleeping bags going to sleep; i came down to check on them only to find the little shits were about half way thru NOTLD. after much spluttering in disbelief at the sheer nerve, i decided to teach them a lesson and let them finish watching it (with me there). i have never seen a group of 12-13 yr old boys more shocked, horrified and saddened by the ending of a movie — i expected phone calls from disgruntled parents afterwards, dreading having to explain that i was trying to teach them a ‘parents-know-best-so-do-what-you’re-told!’ lesson, only to find out after a while that not a single one of them said anything about the movie to their olds. ha, i sure showed them!…..

    • That’s an eerie coincidence you should say that, leah. Click here for the reason I say that.

    • christian Says:

      I know Times R Hard and there’s a lot of real fear in the world, so just keep keepin’ on.

      AAWIL has a lot of great moments like David pacing. Landis really knocked it out of the park with his direction (his best IMHO) and little touches, undead Jack sniffing a rose as he follows David and Jack’s bugfuck screams as he’s attacked, very real.

      Had I seen DON’T LOOK NOW as a lad — I would have NEVER LOOKED AGAIN at a small child in a raincoat…

      Great story about The Boy And NOTLD – just watched it with some friends who clearly had no memory of it. They were shocked by the end too…they’ll never doubt you again!

  7. “this long, quiet lull that i can’t see having a snowball’s chance in hell of making into a mainstream film today in its entirety, but a great little injection of naturalism and subtle character development so often missing in movies today.”

    sorry, i should have said “so often missing in HORROR/GENRE movies today”, which is what i meant

  8. “I thought I was knocking it out and I’m definitely feeling it tho …”

    Didn’t mean to belittle your accomplishments, C. Perhaps we, the commenters, are to blame, then. It just seems to me like it hasn’t caught fire this time around, not like it did last year.

    Fortunately (or unfortunately) another year will have rolled around before you can say “plate of shrimp” or “my brother makes good head cheese” or “I never drink….wine” or “yeah, fuck you too!” Maybe someday we’ll all be in our eighties and still carrying on the conversation in virtual 3D smellernet.

    • christian Says:

      No offense taken. But you need to jump into the comments pool to keep me company (tho there be sharks…)

      And sad that SHOCKTOBER is winding down….

  9. frankenbooth Says:

    I don’t mind wrestling the beasties. I rather enjoy it, most of the time. But those who fight monsters should take care that they never become one, and certain types of tarbabies contaminate you the moment you touch them.

  10. frankenbooth Says:

    BTW, I also liked your piece, Le0pard. Nice job.

    I haven’t jumped into the AW discussion because I just don’t have much to add that I haven’t already said. Seen it many times, will see it many more.

    Streaming, huh? Hmmmm…

  11. […] the night in Hammer’s groundbreaking THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) and COUNTESS DRACULA (1971), about which I gush here, and she already established her badass credentials as the machine-gun totin’ double agent in […]

  12. […] late lamented Embassy Pictures. Written and directed by Gary Sherman, who made the unique, superior RAW MEAT (1972) about a cannibal dweller in London’s subway system (and features one of the best tracking […]

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