Cine-Ween: UNDERRATED HORROR

October is my favorite month of the year. I know this is the case for lots of folks. It’s the one time of year that has remained fun as I’ve gotten older. Not that Christmas and Thanksgiving aren’t delightful, but I guess that Halloween has always been more my bag. It’s also been kinda neat to see people embrace the month and the spirit more and more seemingly each year. I was just commenting to my wife the other day that it seems like there are more and more cheap but cool Halloween decorations available every fall and that warms my heart deeply. And of course, the month is also obviously a great time for folks to cut loose and enjoy horror films more than they normally would. Instead of going back to the old standards (which are always a blast – don’t get me wrong), I decided to put together a list of movies for this time of year that I feel like don’t get mentioned as much as they should. Here are a bunch of them:

THE INCUBUS (1982; John Hough)
From the director of The Legend Of Hell House (and also Watcher In The Woods and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry) comes this very unsettling and disturbing film about a demon creature that rapes women in a small town. John Cassavetes plays the town doctor, and all the performances have this sort of “dead inside” quality that gives the movie this sense of fear and dread. Almost like the characters are from a slightly alternate dimension or something. Very effective horror. Some freaky stuff, and quite disturbing in spots for sure. Also has a killer ending that is one of my favorites from any horror movie. There’s a good Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray of this one that I highly recommend,

DEATH VALLEY (1982; Dick Richards)
I like to call this movie “The Hitcher Jr,” which I think sums it up pretty well for the most part. This was a very early film for the great Peter Billingsley, but anyone expecting a warm-hearted Christmas Story-type flick will be in for a rude awakening. This movie puts a kid in peril in a big way! Not that I am in favor of such things, but it is sad to me when we find ourselves in an era where certain films just wouldn’t get made, especially on a studio level. Well worth tracking down the Scream Factory Blu-ray on this one.

THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954; John Brahm)
If you don’t adore Vincent Price then I really just don’t know what to tell you. I used to not totally understand Tim Burton’s fascination with him, but as I’ve seen more and more of his work over the years, I’ve come to truly cherish him all-around. You’ll notice that this movie has a kinship with House Of Wax (which was released the year prior) when you see it. Some similarities along plot lines, and both films were exhibited in 3D. Apparently The Mad Magician was the first movie to be broadcast on TV in 3D. Why this film isn’t better known is a little baffling to me. The only DVD release it’s ever gotten is a Sony MOD. It deserves more. There’s some truly vintage Vincent Price here. Also, I wonder if Chris Nolan watched this before working on The Prestige, though admittedly the stories aren’t all that similar except for the idea of stealing magicians competing and stealing tricks from each other. Fun flick. Would make an interesting double with Confession Of An Opium Eater. While we’re on the subject of underrated Vincent Price movies, I have to recommend The Invisible Man Returns as well. Probably my 2nd favorite of the Invisible Man film after the definitive one with Claude Rains. It is quite solid and folks don’t talk about it nearly enough.

FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958; Arthur Crabtree)
Herbert J. Leder (the writer of this film) must have had a thing for brains. About 10 years after this film, he wrote and directed another brain-related movie called The Frozen Dead about Nazis being unfrozen after 20 years. That film is not nearly as interesting or successful as this one. When you hear about a movie with flying brains attacking people, you probably won’t think much of it beyond it being some kind of a joke movie. Brad Bird’s film The Iron Giant even features an old sci-fi movie about brains attacking people and it is understandably played very much for humor. That’s what I thought of when I first sat down to watch this movie, but it surprised me. It is very well made and has moments of genuine scariness that were a pleasant revelation. The brains themselves kill by wrapping their little tentacles around people’s throats and choking them. Oh, and the fact that they fly around is much freakier than some little crawling creature on the ground. I put this film right up there with the heavyweight sci-fi horror films of the 1950s like Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Blob and The Thing From Another World. Truly a good time.

WITCHTRAP (1989; Kevin Tenney)
A favorite of master film programmer Phil Blankenship, this movie from director Kevin Tenney (Witchboard, Night Of The Demons) had some unfortunate sound issues and had to be entirely re-dubbed after filming. As I’ve mentioned before, this kind of dubbing can give a film this quasi-other universe feeling that can sometimes play to it’s benefit. This film has screened once (thanks to Phil) in Los Angeles, which I’m sure was amazing as it has some outstanding crowd-pleasing moments and dialogue (sadly I could not make it). It’s basically the story of a team of paranormal investigators who go into a supposedly haunted house to try to figure out the deal there. Shit goes crazy basically and it’s a hoot of a good time to watch this movie. Was VHS only for a long time, but it is now another title that has a lovely Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray release.

MIDNIGHT OFFERINGS (1981; Rod Holcomb)
One of the better witch-related made-for-TV movies I’ve ever seen. Melissa Sue Anderson (of Little House on the Prairie) is a deadly evil bitch in this show (and a witch to boot). I was so used to her role on Little House that this caught me off guard. She’s really great. I was turned onto this one by Jeff Nelson over at Scream Factory. Hadn’t heard of it before he mentioned it. Can be found on YouTube.

THE CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND (1967; Alfred Vohrer)
Quentin Tarantino programmed this movie on the short-lived Trio Channel when they gave him carte blanche for a week some years ago. I wish someone would have hung onto his little intros and outros for each film because they were fascinating. All that I can vaguely recall from his intro for this film is some tidbit about him calling the director Alfred Vohrer the German Hitchcock or something. It’s kind of a mystery, creepy-house kind of movie with Klaus Kinski (more Klaus for my list!), but one I enjoyed a good deal.

BUG (1975; Jeannot Szwarc)
I think we can all agree that cockroaches are pretty gross and annoying. Well, they’re even more so when they are a foot long and can spontaneously start fires. That’s what Bradford Dillman (who I always refer to as the poor man’s Heston) has to contend with in this William Castle-produced nightmare (that uses the Brady house set as one of its locations). Directed by Jeannot “Jaws 2 & Supergirl” Szwarc.

OGROFF aka MAD MUTILATOR (1983; N.G. Mount)
One of the most hypnotic, mesmerizing pieces of horror what-the-fuckery I’ve seen in a long time. Sick, trashy killer-on-the-loose stuff. To reductively label it a ‘poorly made horror film’ does an injustice to not only the film, but to you the potential viewer. Another that has a version up on YouTube at the moment. Mind-bending weirdness.

SON OF BLOB aka BEWARE! THE BLOB (1972; Larry Hagman)
“The Blob is back in a horrifying new adventure!”
Cheesy, but not without some effective moments, this follow-up to the original 1958 classic is much lesser-known but still worth a look. I like that it brings the blob to early 70s and that it was directed by Larry Hagman himself. It was even sold as “The Movie that J.R. shot!” Hagman himself stars, as do Burgess Meredith, Robert Walker, Cindy Williams, Carol Lynley, Godfrey Cambridge and Dick Van Patten. Feels like a 70s disaster film meets a Blob film. Some may say this is terrible, but I think it’s enjoyable to watch during October.

FROM HELL IT CAME (1957; Dan Milner)
One of only a handful of ‘killer tree’ films out there. More silly than scary, but I put this in a class with something like The Giant Claw (which came out the same year) in terms of entertainment value. An early Warner Archive DVD release and one of the first ones I picked up from them years ago – they have since upgraded it to Blu-ray and it’s a must for fans of the Ed Wood school.

Brian Saur

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