Saturday, September 23, 2017

9/23/2017: Party for Satan

Black Roses (John Fasano, 1988)
I can't believe I never saw this as a kid. The VHS would have dropped during my seventh grade year. It's got heavy metal, demons, possession by rock music, gratuitous nudity, 30-year-olds playing teenagers, class discussions of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, a rare acting role from Lou Ferrigno's wife Carla, the drummer from Vanilla Fudge, and a guy yelling "What the fuck?" before being eaten by a demon emerging from a hi-fi speaker. What more do you need? (BTW, Vincent Pastore, famous for playing "Big Pussy" on The Sopranos, plays the guy who gets munched by the speaker-demon.)
Black Roses is about a metal band called, you guessed it, Black Roses, and all the teens in the sleepy little town of Mill Basin are shocked and stoked that the band is bringing its unremarkable but energetic blend of shredding and power balladry to the school auditorium for a week of warmup shows before its tour hits the big cities. Unfortunately for Mill Basin, the big-haired rockers are Satanic demons in disguise, and they only came to town to do two things: rock and possess every teenager. The Mill Valley moralists are up in arms over a metal band coming to town, but Black Roses win them over during the first night's performance with a Richard Marx-style soft rock ballad about pining for childhood days in the old hometown. Appeased, the adults leave, and Black Roses start rocking much harder and begin Operation: Possess Some Adult Teens. The only suspicious grownup is cool English teacher Mr. Moorhouse. You know he's cool because he has a mustache, wears blue jeans instead of dress slacks, and raps with the teens on their level about Whitman and Emerson. Can he save the day before the headbanging minions of Satan control every teen in the town?
Black Roses is silly, no great shakes visually, and 100% fun. I'm looking forward to checking out director Fasano's other metal-themed horror movie, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, starring novelty rocker/bodybuilder Jon Mikl Thor, frontman of Thor.

Seven Footprints to Satan (Benjamin Christensen, 1929)
Danish director Benjamin Christensen made the incredible early horror film Haxan, but I didn't know he also made a few horror films in Hollywood until watching this rare silent, thought lost for years until a print turned up in Italy. Seven Footprints to Satan adds more comedy and Hollywood razzmatazz and a silly happy ending to the proceedings, but fortunately it's perverse and weird, too. It doesn't come close to the magic that is Haxan, but few things do.
Creighton Hale plays James Kirkham, nephew of millionaire businessman Uncle Joe (DeWitt Jennings). James is a bit of a doofus, living off his uncle's fortune and planning an expedition to Africa to discover the world's first civilization even though, as his uncle puts it, he's never even explored the garden in his backyard. Joe and Eve (Thelma Todd), James' fiancee, want James to drop his foolish idea because he's a nerd who will probably get killed, but James is determined to become a famous explorer before marrying and settling down. Everyone's plans are pushed aside, however, when James and Eve are kidnapped during an antiquities auction at Eve's place and whisked away to a strange mansion full of weird and grotesque servants of Satan. James and Eve get into one bizarre situation after another attempting to escape until finally encountering Satan himself. Christensen's film starts with a fairly generic visual style and grows more expressive as the film continues, culminating in the seven footprints scene of the title. I've only been able to find this film on YouTube in a less than stellar print, but it's worth watching if you're interested in silent horror and/or Christensen.    

Saturday, August 26, 2017

8/26/2017: Bad Places

The Last Warning (Paul Leni, 1929)
The final film of Leni (The Man Who Laughs, Waxworks, The Cat and the Canary) before his untimely death that same year from blood poisoning, The Last Warning is a return to The Cat and the Canary's whodunit blend of horror and comedy amidst stylish visuals and animated intertitle experimentation. This time, the murder at the center of the mystery is of a Broadway actor, mysteriously killed mid-performance, and the cast, crew, and theater owners who are all suspects. When a mysterious new co-owner reopens the theater and reassembles the original cast and crew for a revival of the play, things get weird. This is Leni in master entertainer mode, and though the film is not a staggering work of art, it is a fun, playful, and exciting visual experience with an almost postmodern approach to film style. A worthy career finale for Leni. I suspect he would have been one of those directors to successfully transition to sound films, but, alas, we will never know.
BTW, the cast list for this movie reads more like a list of 1920s character names than a list of actors. Check some of these names out: Laura La Plante, Montagu Love, Roy D'Arcy, Burr McIntosh, Mack Swain, Slim Summerville.

Blood and Lace (Philip Gilbert, 1971)
I'm a fan of this bizarre psycho-sexual horror oddity with a delightfully offbeat cast and unusual screenplay. Blood and Lace is director Philip Gilbert's only movie (his only other directing credit is an episode of a British quiz show), and his visual style is pretty crude and pedestrian, but Gil Lasky's weirdo script and the actors bringing it to life are anything but pedestrian. Teenage girl Ellie Masters (F Troop's Melody Patterson) wakes up in a hospital after surviving the arson of her home and the murder-by-hammer of her sex worker mother and one of her mother's johns by a large man with a "horrible face." She is soon placed in a group home for orphans run by the very strange Mrs. Deere, played by Hollywood legend, and one of my favorite actors, Gloria Grahame, and her pervert alcoholic handyman Tom Kredge (Len Lesser, best known for playing Uncle Leo on Seinfeld). Meanwhile, a detective, Calvin Carruthers (Vic Tayback), thinks something is up at the Deere home and starts sniffing around, though his motives are suspect thanks to his unhealthy obsession with Ellie. A very young Dennis Christopher is also in this film as a teenager living in the group home.  The whole thing is a swirling mess of insanity, murder, hidden motives, sexual urges, manipulation, double- and triple-crosses, and deception (and that's before the hammer-wielding weirdo with the horrible face shows up again), and it's funny, weird, suspenseful, and wraps things up before it starts wearing out its welcome. Lead character Ellie Masters is a far cry from the usual young women horror film leads. She's smart, sophisticated, has everyone's number but is also full of secrets, manipulations, and hidden motives of her own. She's hardly the virginal goody-two-shoes who survives by hiding and screaming. This movie is weird and fun and manages to overcome its lack of visual elegance.