Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Let’s Scare Jeff… to Death.” I’m still workshopping the name. It’s better than my previous idea of “Jeff Watches Horror Movies!” In case you hadn’t guessed, in October I watch a LOT of horror movies, so I figured this year I would keep a digest. I’m probably scraping the bottom of the barrel for the most part, but there are still some classics I haven’t seen!
Graveyard Shift (1990) was not one of them. It’s in the bottom tier of the Stephen King theatrical adaptations I’ve seen — which, admittedly, isn’t that many. The Shining, Dead Zone, It (2017), Christine, Carrie, The Running Man, Stand by Me, Shawshank Redemption, Silver Bullet, Secret Window, 1408. Never mind, that’s a lot. About half of them are good. Not too bad a record, I suppose. Still, while not really worth going out of your way for, Graveyard Shift has a suitably bonkers performance from Brad Dourif (right before the underrated Exorcist III!) and Stephen Macht doing a real thick Mainer accent and tearing the chunks out of the scenery that the giant rat-bat didn’t get to first. Some gnarly (gnaw-rly?) gore as well. Main character is a soggy piece of pasteboard with a mullet. Bonus Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster)!
Bad Moon (1996) could’ve been retitled Werewolf vs. Dog. PLACE YOUR BETS. Clocking in at a lean 80 minutes and dumped into theaters unceremoniously the day after Halloween, it’s actually a solid creature feature. The weird thing? The dog is the main character! The weirder thing? It’s basically a “boy and his dog” kid’s movie with an explicit sex scene (thankfully not between the boy and dog), lots of gore, and a terrifying werewolf. Still, slide those toggles a different way and it’s a kid’s movie. The weirdest thing? They don’t use the song “Bad Moon Rising!”
Color Out of Space (2020) will draw a lot of comparisons to Mandy, but sir, let me tell you: it’s no Mandy. Really effective atmosphere, great Colin Stetson score, great Nicolas Cage performance, a few really unsettling scenes — but man, why did Richard Stanley have to use fuckin’ Burzum on the soundtrack? It was clearly a deliberate choice. Maybe he likes the song, maybe he likes Varg Vikernes’ occult sensibilities, but that’s still no excuse to give a racist convicted murderer royalties. Left a bad taste in my mouth. If you can get past that (or don’t care), it’s one of the better Lovecraft adaptations. Maybe the best not directed by Stuart Gordon or John Carpenter.
The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) has Vincent Price, so that’s worth at least three stars right there. Turns out Roger Corman could actually direct when he gave a damn (and had a budget and time). Moody, effective adaptation of the Poe story with some really cool paintings by the late Burt Schoenberg. Not quite as good as Masque of the Red Death (the high point of the Corman/Price Poe collaborations), but still very much worth your time.
Nomads (1986) stars Pierce Brosnan (ALL of Pierce Brosnan) with a French accent, Adam Ant, Mary Woronov, and features a soundtrack by Bill “Rocky” Conti with guest guitar by Ted “not quite as repellent a human being as Varg (but only because he didn’t actually murder anyone)” Nugent. Also, it’s the first feature from John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator, Hunt for Red October), and he’s in full Michael Mann mode here. Despite its flaws (the plot could best be described as “impressionistic”), it has a very cool concept for the supernatural stuff, a great ending, and a mastery of tension so impressive that Arnold picked McTiernan to direct Predator based on this. I just wish they didn’t make poor Remington Steele struggle through that French accent.
Day of the Dead (1985) RULED. I’m not sure why I put off watching it for so long. I’d always heard it was the weakest entry of the original Dead trilogy. Turns out that that’s true, but only because Night of the Living and Dawn of are two of the greatest horror flicks ever made. I’ve read reviews criticizing the cast for overacting, but I see it as a deliberate choice — they’re all stressed and going mad, of course they’re yelling! Plus Romero was an old hippy, he wasn’t gonna go for much nuance in his portrayal of the military guys. Otherwise, I’m glad he wasn’t able to make the bigger movie he wanted to make. I thought the contained cast and setting led to a real ratcheting of tension. It’s not wall-to-wall gore or zombie action, but we’ve seen so much of that stuff by now that who cares? I’d rather see a good movie. This is that. Plus the gore is some of Tom Savini’s best work. Highly recommended.
Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) is a giallo. It’s fine. People online seem to like it, but if you’ve seen any of Dario Argento or Mario Bava’s similar murder mysteries, they beat the shit out of this one. A young Giancarlo Giannini and a decent twist make it worth watching if you’re hard up for Italo schlock. More of a suspense thriller than a horror movie, but not very memorable even as a thriller. Basically the 70s Italian equivalent of Kiss the Girls or something.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974) comes from the mind of Brian Clemens, one of the principal writers behind The Avengers (the “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed” one, not the “We have a Hulk” one), one of my all-time favorite TV shows. While Horst Janson certainly cuts a dashing figure as the titular captain, his hunchbacked assistant Grost (John Cater) probably couldn’t rock a catsuit as fetchingly as Diana Rigg. Despite feeling like an extended TV episode sometimes (fitting, considering the source), this swashbuckling entry into the annals of vampire fighting never feels dull. Clemens’ off-beat humor and witty repartee makes the final entry in the Hammer House of Horror a memorable one.