31 Days Of Horror: Psycho

It’s the thirty-first and last day of the horrorthon – Hallowe’en itself – and so I’m finishing with the grandfather of slasher horror, the original Psycho (1960).

Classic imagery!

After the awesomely Herrmann-scored opening credits, we get a rather specific caption reading ‘Phoenix, Arizona, Friday December 11, 2:43pm’, which places the setting as 1959 rather than the release year of 1960.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her boyfriend Sam Loomis (he who Dr Sam Loomis from Halloween was named after!) are meeting for an illicit ‘lunch’ in a hotel.  Marion is done with being secretive, but the relationship is difficult, seemingly because of Sam’s ex-wife and money issues.

Marion goes back to work to find that her boss is making a good deal today – a client is buying a house as a wedding present for his daughter, paying with $40,000 in cash.  ‘He was flirting with you!  I guess he must have noticed my wedding ring,’ says the other secretary when the men go to the back room for a meeting.  Marion’s boss asks her to put the money in the safe deposit box at the bank, ’cause he’s nervous about keeping it in the office over the weekend.  Marion says she has a headache, and gets permission to go home after putting the money in the bank.

Marion doesn’t put the money in the bank.  Instead, she takes it home and packs a suitcase instead, seemingly deciding to steal the money and travel to Sam’s office in California.  As she drives out of town, her boss sees her in her car.

In the morning, a policeman bangs on the window of Marion’s car, where she’s been sleeping.  She’s nervous while being questioned, which arouses suspicion in the policeman, and when she goes to trade in her car for a new one in order to cover her tracks, she sees the policeman watching her.  She insists on rushing the purchase, much to the car salesman’s confusion, and just about escapes before the policeman catches up with her.

I like the mechanic of Marion imagining what people will say about the situation as she drives!  It’s really nicely done.  At this point, the rain gets too heavy for the windscreen wipers and Marion pulls into the Bates Motel.

The proprietor, Norman, says they’ve lost a lot of business since the highway moved away.  He comes across as really normal and a bit dorky – he invites Marion to eat with him, and goes to prepare a meal.  While Marion sorts stuff out in her room and hides the cash in a newspaper she bought earlier, she overhears a loud argument up at the house between Norman and his mother – the mother is very old-fashioned/unpleasant and doesn’t want Norman consorting in any way with women.

Norman returns, and they eat in the office to avoid his mother.  He takes Marion into a creepy parlour full of stuffed birds, and starts to reveal his weirdness.  ‘You eat like a bird,’ he says, but then immediately imparts the random factoid about birds that they actually eat quite a lot.  However, he says he’s not an expert on birds – taxidermy is his hobby.

The conversation turns to Norman’s mother and the fact he doesn’t have any friends.  ‘A boy’s best friend is his mother,’ he says, which should ring instant alarm bells.  He explains that his mother is mentally ill, but gets upset and mad-looking when Marion suggests putting her in an institution.  He says she’s harmless, just a bit mad, and ‘we all go a little mad sometimes’.

Marion has decided to go back to Phoenix and try to make things right.  As she says goodnight to Norman, she tells him her name’s Miss Crane, contradicting the guest signatory book where she signed her name as ‘Marie Samuels’.

After spying on Marion getting changed through a creepy peephole that he’s set up in the office, Norman goes back to the house.  Marion does her sums, working out on paper how much she’ll have to make to pay back the $40,000 in full, then rips up the paper and flushes it down the toilet.  She then gets ready for a shower, and we all know where this is going.

There’s not much to say about the infamous shower scene that’s not been said before, but I do like the fact that when Janet Leigh screams she looks just like her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis.

‘Mother, oh god, mother, blood, blood!’  Norman finds Marion’s body and immediately sets about covering up the murder.  He puts Marion’s body and possessions in her car – including the money in the newspaper, which he thinks is just a newspaper – and pushes the car into a nearby swamp.

Cut to Sam at his shop in Fairvale, California, where he’s writing a letter to Marion.  Marion’s sister Lila arrives looking for him, along with the private investigator Arbogast, who has been put on the case because Marion’s boss doesn’t want to involve the police – he just wants the money back.  Arbogast is convinced she’s in Fairvale and that Sam knows where she is.  He proceeds to ask around at every hotel and boarding house in town.

Two days later, Arbogast arrives at the Bates Motel, which is apparently near Fairvale – this was not really made clear earlier, and I hadn’t realised Marion had got so close to her destination.  Norman claims there’s been nobody staying there for two weeks, but quickly gets caught out by contradicting himself – he’s not a very good liar.  Arbogast is good at baiting people, causing Norman to burst out at one point, ‘She didn’t fool my mother!’, meaning Arbogast naturally wants to talk to the mother.  Norman won’t let him, and Arbogast leaves, saying he’ll go and get a warrant.

Arbogast calls Lila to tell her about the Bates Motel.  He tells her he’s going back to see if he can talk to the mother, and will join them in about an hour.  He’s now sure that Sam didn’t know Marion was in town.  Returning to the motel, Arbogast finds that Norman’s not around.  He goes up the stairs in the house, but immediately gets attacked and killed by Mrs Bates.

Three hours later, Lila and Sam are getting worried.  Sam goes alone to check out the motel, telling Lila to wait in the shop.  Norman hears Sam calling for Arbogast, but doesn’t approach him.  Sam returns to Lila without having found anyone, and suggests they speak to Al Chambers, the local deputy sheriff.

Chambers thinks that Arbogast must have got a lead and gone after the $40,000 without telling them.  He also tells them that Mrs Bates has been dead for ten years – she killed her lover and herself in a murder-suicide.  Meanwhile, at the Bates house, Norman insists on moving his mother down to the fruit cellar, despite her angry protests.

The next day, at church, Lila and Sam bump into Chambers and his wife again.  They say they’ve been over to the motel, searched the whole place and the house, and found nothing – no mother.  Once they’ve gone, Lila insists to Sam that they go to the motel again.  She suspects Norman murdered Marion to steal the $40,000.

Checking into the hotel as a married couple, Lila and Sam search the room where Marion stayed.  Lila finds Marion’s sums in the toilet, but it’s not enough evidence.  She’s sure there’s more to find, though, and they decide that Sam will distract Norman while Lila goes looking for the old woman in the house.  Lila finds nobody in Mrs Bates’ room, but does find a fetching array of old lady dressing gowns and the impression of a body on the bed.

Norman is not at all forthcoming in his conversation with Sam, in contrast to his previous chatty self when he was with Marion, and gets annoyed at Sam’s suggestion that he would move the motel to a more profitable location if he could.  Sam starts accusing Norman, which is a pretty daft idea when Lila’s in a vulnerable position.  Norman whacks Sam with a vase and goes to find Lila, causing her to hide in the fruit cellar and find Mrs Bates, who turns out to be a decomposed skeleton in a great reveal that has been often copied but never equalled!  Norman comes in with a mad face and a knife, dressed as his mother, and nearly kills Lila, but Sam shows up and overpowers him.

At the police station, the resident psychiatrist has got the whole story from ‘Mrs Bates’, who has completely taken over Norman’s mind.  This means that the psychiatrist can spend about ten minutes explaining the whole plot to everyone, like at the end of a Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie story!

Finally, we get a creepy scene with the possessed Norman, who, as his mother, believes the authorities will never think the murders were committed by a defenceless old woman.  ‘Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly!’  Roll credits.

Great film, great HD Blu-ray transfer, great way to end the horrorthon.  I’ll be watching some more horror films next year!

31 Days Of Horror: My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine (1981) was a favourite of mine in my teens.  It’s one of the many examples of the ‘holiday-themed slasher’ craze that took off in the early ’80s after the Halloween and Friday the 13th series started to get big.  It’s also much, much better than Valentine from twenty years later, although I do have a soft spot for that one as well.

My Bloody Valentine
The DVD cover of my copy is mostly in French and Dutch, especially the blurbs, but the actual DVD’s still auto-set to English when you get into the menu.

This film’s Canadian – most people will probably be able to tell that from the accents, but I’m terrible at discerning between American and Canadian accents (you’d think I’d be better at that now that I have a Canadian sister-in-law, but no!), so it’s other little details that give the film its Canadian charm for me.

We start off with a couple of miners exploring a mine.  Oh, hang on, they turn out not to be miners but a couple looking for a secluded location for getting it on.  The lady seems to have a miner mask fetish, and also has a tacky heart tattoo above her left breast (I love this detail ’cause you hardly ever see women with tattoos in ’80s media!).  The dude turns out to be the killer and she gets pickaxed fairly quickly.

A caption reads ‘Thursday, February 12th’ (placing the film in its year of release, 1981), and we see a group of miners finishing work and getting showered – the focus is on a guy called TJ, who has apparently only recently returned to town, and whose ex-girlfriend Sarah is now going out with another guy called Axel.  We get some redneck banjo music as they all drive off, similar to the music that annoyed me in Friday the 13th when Jack, Marcie, and Ned were driving to camp.  The small town where the film is set is called Valentine Bluffs (‘The Little Town With The Big Heart!’), and a Valentine’s Day dance is being advertised everywhere.

The miners go in to meet the town girls who are setting up the hall for the dance.  An older lady, Mabel, is in charge of decorating, and is very excited about the ‘first Valentine dance in twenty years’.  The town mayor, Hanniger, asks her not to emphasise the fact.  ‘Let’s put all that other business to rest,’ he says, although the younger residents are clearly not on the same page – Howard, this film’s prankster and hence someone who probably won’t survive very long, scares Mabel in the usual fake-blood-and-screaming way that people prank each other in horror films.

Mayor Hanniger is soon joined by the police chief, Jake Newby.  They seem a bit cautious about the dance, presumably due to whatever happened before.  TJ leaves grumpily after getting fed up at the sight of Sarah with Axel, and Mayor Hanniger dumps some backstory about TJ, who’s his son.  TJ apparently failed to make a life for himself ‘out west’, which is why he’s come home.  Mayor Hanniger owns the mine, in addition to being mayor, and so has sent TJ back down the mine, which is where seemingly every other young guy in town also works.

A box of Valentine chocolates arrives for Mayor Hanniger, which he’s very happy about – apparently Mrs Hanniger has him on a diet – but when he opens it in Chief Newby’s car, it turns out to be a human heart in the box.  Horrified, he realises that what happened twenty years ago is happening again.

At the Cage, which is a daft redneck bar where all the young people in town go (the younger characters in this film are constantly referred to as ‘kids’ by the older characters, but the dialogue puts them at about twenty-five and some of them look closer to forty, so I’m not going to use that term!), Axel and Hollis (who’s overweight and has a giant moustache but is somehow dating Patty, the hottest girl in town) are playing five-finger fillet, and the barman is doommongering.  ‘This town is accursed!’  I love a doommongering old man character.

Thanks to the barman, we get a narrated flashback to what happened before, complete with really well-done 1960-1961 fashions!  In 1960, two mine supervisors were impatient to get to the Valentine dance and so failed to check that all men were safely out of the mine.  Five men were buried alive as a result.  After six weeks, the townspeople were only able to rescue one of them, Harry Warden, who had gone mad by that point.  The barman was the one who found Harry.  Harry spent a year in a mental insitution, then escaped and returned to get his revenge by murdering the two supervisors on Valentine’s Day 1961, twenty years before the events of the film.  There’s not been a Valentine dance since, because of the fear that Harry might return.

The young people laugh at the barman’s story (a good sign that they won’t survive!) and get on with singing a bawdy song about Harriet, the barmaid.  TJ is clearly not over Sarah no matter what he says, and is grumpily playing pool shots by himself.

Chief Newby calls the head nurse at Eastfield sanatorium, where Harry was committed, but she doesn’t know offhand whether Harry is there.  The coroner tells him that the heart in the chocolate box is that of a thirty-year-old woman (presumably the woman in the intro sequence, although she looked a lot older than thirty!) and that it’s been cut out of the body without any skill.  ‘Looks like Harry Warden’s back in town.’

At the launderette where she works, Mabel is sorting stuff out for the dance.  (There’s a Moosehead beer crate on the table, which is a Canadian touch I really appreciate!)  She comes out of the back room to find a chocolate box with an ominous rhyme inside:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
One is dead
And so are you

As promised, the killer soon takes care of Mabel.

The miners have moved out to the bar’s car park – some to get late-night food, some to brood about stuff.  Axel is playing harmonica.  TJ wants a word with him and so joins in with the harmonica playing (I guess everyone has one in their pocket in Valentine Bluffs).  They soon get into an argument about Sarah – Axel feels that she was fair game given that TJ left town – and Axel storms off.  Hollis comes over to calm TJ down, and TJ says he doesn’t blame Axel – he just doesn’t know what to do.  This whole love triangle subplot is kind of uncomfortable, because neither of them ever seem to care about Sarah’s wishes at all.

The next day, Chief Newby is still finding it difficult to get answers from Eastfield sanatorium.  The nurse tells him that they’ve got no file on Harry, so he must have either transferred, been released, or died, but the records don’t go back that far – she’d have to check the microfiche, and that will take days.  Chief Newby tells her to get on it fast.

Sarah and Patty are shopping in town.  Sarah feels down about the TJ/Axel situation and doesn’t want to go to the dance, but Patty insists she comes and has a good time.  ‘Besides, you gotta see the dress I got – cut down to here, slit up to there, I may not make it out alive!’ she says, with a nice frisson of foreboding for the audience.  Meanwhile, in the launderette, Chief Newby finds that all the heart decorations have been turned upside down, and that Mabel’s dead body is in one of the driers.

The miners are down the mine again for the day’s work, and Axel is giving TJ a hard time because of the Sarah situation.  Their supervisor breaks the fight up and sends TJ for an early shower.

Chief Newby and Mayor Hanniger decide to cover up the fact that Mabel was murdered, ’cause they don’t want to cause panic.  They put out the word that she died of a heart attack instead.  Is this actually legal?  Mabel’s heart is found inside another chocolate box with another cheery rhyme:

It happened once
It happened twice
Cancel the dance
Or it’ll happen thrice

Mayor Hanniger tells Chief Newby to cancel the dance and lock up Union Hall, where the dance was due to take place, much to the disappointment of the girls who have come to make final preparations.  Meanwhile, TJ, taking advantage of his early shower to avoid another fight with Axel, leaves work, picks up Sarah, and takes her for a drive to their previous favourite romantic spot in order to apologise.  She kisses him, but is clearly still torn between the two boys.  As such, while TJ joins the others at the Cage, Sarah walks home alone, ruminating.

She then bumps into Chief Newby in a total copy of the Sheriff Brackett ‘I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare’ scene from Halloween, complete with similar dialogue and everything!

At the Cage, the barman suspects what really happened to Mabel, and is telling everyone she was murdered.  The young people aren’t listening, and TJ suggests using the recreation room of the mine for a Valentine party – because it’s his dad’s mine, he has access to the keys.

The barman is fed up of nobody listening to him, and breaks into the mine to prepare a fake scare with a pickaxe for the partygoers, so that when they open the door to the recreation room, they’ll think Harry Warden is attacking them.  He’s far more amused than he should be by his own prank, so he keeps opening the door to give himself a laugh.  Of course, the fourth time, it’s a real killer with a real pickaxe, who quickly finishes him off!

The next day, Chief Newby is pensively standing at the door of the police station, with ominous Valentine streamers blowing everywhere.  Meanwhile, the young people go into the recreation room to start setting up for the party.  One of the partygoers, Dave, goes to get sausages from the kitchen and immediately gets murdered-by-boiling-water.

Chief Newby receives a chocolate box, and steels himself to find another heart, but it turns out to be an actual chocolate box, sent by Mabel before she died.  He has a bad feeling about the mine, though, and decides to go and check it out.  On the pavement outside, some stray dogs are nibbling at another heart in a chocolate box.  You didn’t stop the party! says the note, and frankly, I’m a bit disappointed in the killer for giving up on his poetry attempts.

After Patty building up the sexiness of her dress earlier, it isn’t that exciting.  It’s a perfectly nice timeless red shift, though, and I’d probably buy it if I saw it at a vintage fair.  There’s another showdown between TJ and Axel, but Hollis breaks up the fight and sends Axel outside.

Meanwhile, a couple from the party, John and Sylvia, have gone off to make out in the changing room.  I love Sylvia’s outfit – her boots and jumper are soooo 1981!  Before they get down to business, she decides they need beer, so John heads to the kitchen to collect some.  As he passes a couple of girls who are helping themselves to sausages, one of them shrieks slightly – she’s found Dave’s cooked heart in the pot, but doesn’t know what it is.  Because of this distraction, John doesn’t notice Dave’s body in the fridge as he takes out the beer.

In the changing room, Sylvia hears strange noises, and notices the showers being turned on.  Escaping from a maze of mining clothes falling on top of her, she meets up with the killer.  John returns, and gets excited when he thinks Sylvia’s in the shower room.  She is, but she’s dead.

Chief Newby arrives at the mine, but before he can go in, he immediately has to turn around due to getting a report from the station about Eastfield sanatorium calling back.  Patty wants to cheer Sarah up, so she persuades Hollis to take some of the partygoers down into the mine.  TJ’s not happy about it, but Hollis says they’ll be quick, and gets the lift down with Patty, Sarah, Howard, Mike, and Harriet.

They end up staying in the mine for longer than Hollis intended, mainly because Patty and Harriet want to explore the abandoned part of the mine.  Howard hears a noise, but it’s dismissed as rats, and Mike and Harriet decide to split off from the party so they can have some alone time (which is always such a great idea!).

Upstairs, the partygoers have realised that Dave and Sylvia are dead.  TJ takes charge, and sends the others off to call the police.  He and Axel bury their differences and go down to rescue the mine party.  Howard is still pulling pranks, dropping down from the roof to scare the girls when Hollis tells them the story about Harry Warden.

At the police station, the fleeing partygoers tell Chief Newby about what’s happening at the mine.  He immediately heads over, calling the reinforcements in as he drives.

TJ finds the group in the mine and tells them what’s going on, and he and Hollis go off to find Mike and Harriet, leaving Howard to look after the girls.  Hollis finds Mike and Harriet dead, and is fatally wounded himself, but makes it back before succumbing to his injuries.  Patty becomes hysterical as a result, meaning she won’t leave Hollis’ body, and Howard runs off without waiting for the girls (cowardly behaviour, which is another sure indication of a character not surviving!).

Axel finds the girls instead, and takes them towards the lift, where they meet up with TJ.  The control panel for the lift has been sabotaged, so they have to climb up the ladder instead, including the girls in their heels (love those 1981 heels! they’re actually quite practical for ladder-climbing, not like today’s five-inch stilettos).  Sarah yells for Axel not to go too fast, as Patty is a slow climber due to fear of heights (or something – she’s turned into a total useless muppet after witnessing Hollis’ death!).

Unfortunately, Howard’s corpse drops past them, spattering everyone with blood, and they realise the killer must be at the top of the ladder.  They climb back down and head to the railcarts instead.  In order to start the carts, Axel tells TJ to take the girls over and yell when they’re across.  However, they soon hear the sound of a groan and a splash, so they assume Axel’s been killed and thrown into the water.

TJ sends the girls ahead along the tunnel while he goes to start the cart.  There’s a loud crash from his direction, however, and so the girls run back.  This was not a good idea, as the killer suddenly swings around the corner and kills Patty.

Meanwhile, the police reinforcements are arriving, and Mayor Hanniger and Chief Newby lead them down the mine tunnel.  TJ finds Sarah, but the killer arrives just as he starts the cart.  There’s then a great chase sequence along the cart, followed by a fight between TJ and the killer next to the track.

Backing the killer into a side room, Sarah pulls his mask off, revealing Axel’s face.  ‘Axel!  Why?’ gasps TJ.  The question is answered by a daft flashback to Axel as a small boy witnessing the murder of his father, who was one of the negligent mine supervisors.  Surely this is the kind of thing that should have been seeded already – why would the other young people in the town act so cavalier and jokey about the Harry Warden story if they knew that their friend had witnessed the brutal murder of his father at the hands of Warden?  (In fact, thinking about it, it’s kind of odd that the young people dismiss the whole thing as a ‘legend’ before it starts happening again.  They’re all in their early-to-mid-twenties, so the Warden murders happened within their lifetime – and in a small town like that, the events should have cast a huge shadow when they were growing up, with everyone knowing exactly what happened.)

The police arrive as the room collapses, TJ and Sarah only barely escaping the collapse, and Chief Newby explains that he took the call from Eastfield – they confirmed that Harry Warden died five years ago.  TJ tells him that it was Axel, and Chief Newby and Mayor Hanniger are both like ‘of course! the witnessing-his-father’s-murder thing!’ like they should have known it all along.

‘He’s alive!’ yells someone, and Sarah runs back to the collapsed room, followed by TJ.  Axel is crawling away through the wreckage, having gone totally mad, and is spouting mad pronouncements.  Among them is the best attempt at Valentine poetry he’s made throughout the whole film:

Harry, Harry, I’m coming!
This whole f***ing town is going to die!
We’re coming back, you bastards!
Sarah, be my bloody Valentine.

(The word ‘bloody’ is probably not used in the mild British expletive sense, but I’m going to pretend that it is, because it makes the poem EVEN BETTER.)

There’s then a very silly folk-rock song over the end credits, which I’d totally forgotten about!

I really enjoy this film.  Won’t wait so long before watching it again!

A real classic for the final entry of the month tomorrow.

31 Days Of Horror: The Shining

The Shining (1980) is one I’ve not watched for ages.  Definitely due a rewatch!

The Shining
I don’t know why they spoil the most scary moment of the film on the DVD cover! I suppose you’d have to live under a rock not to know about it though.

I love the pretty scenery in the opening.  I’ll have to put Montana on my list of places to visit someday!  The helicopter footage is kind of stomach-turning though.

After the credits, Jack Torrance arrives at the Overlook Hotel for an interview with the proprietor, Stuart Ullman.  The hotel seems so nice and normal during the on-season!

Back at home in Denver, Jack’s son Danny is sceptical about living in a hotel for the winter, but says he doesn’t have any friends in Denver anyway.  His only friend appears to be an imaginary one called Tony.

In the interview, Jack explains to Ullman that he wants five months of peace for his new writing project, and loves solitude.  Ullman mentions a tragedy that happened in 1970 – a man called Delbert Grady came to act as caretaker and went mad, killing his family with an axe then shooting himself.  Jack’s not bothered – he says his wife Wendy loves ghost stories and horror films (though we never see any evidence of this in the film!)

Danny is shown talking to Tony.  Tony knows Jack got the job and is about to call Wendy, and indeed the phone immediately rings – Tony is basically Danny’s psychic side and knows there’s something bad about the hotel, showing him a vision of blood flooding a foyer and some creepy-looking twin girls.

(Apparently in the original cut, there’s an explanatory scene here where Wendy explains to a doctor that Jack gave up drinking because he accidentally hurt Danny’s shoulder when drunk, but this has been removed from the European cut.  It would have helped things make a bit more sense later in the film!)

When the family arrive at the hotel, Danny sees the twins again.  Ullman explains that the hotel was built on the site of an Indian burial ground!  Clearly, this place was cursed from the start.

Wendy and Danny are being introduced to Mr Hallorann, the hotel chef, who is clearly also psychic as he calls Danny by his nickname of ‘Doc’ without anyone telling him the nickname.  The storeroom is full of Heinz cans – I love how they’ve not changed in design since 1980!  Hallorann psychically talks to Danny, letting him know he’s psychic too.

Hallorann explains to Danny about ‘the shining’ – at first, Danny doesn’t want to talk about it because Tony won’t allow it.  Hallorann says that ‘when something happens, it can leave a trace of itself behind’, explaining why Danny is having visions of what happened in 1970.  Apparently, only people with the shining can see it.  ‘What about room 237?’ asks Danny.  Hallorann says there’s nothing there, but tells him to stay out of the room.

A month later, Danny is riding his toy car around the hotel, while Wendy brings Jack his breakfast.  Jack is only waking up at half past eleven at the moment, and hasn’t been getting any writing done (I know that feeling).  He turns down Wendy’s offer of a walk outside, as he really needs to start work.  Wendy is giving the kind of irritating writing advice that non-writers always give writers about how it’s just a case of getting in the habit every day, which nobody wants to hear if they’ve got writer’s block!  Wendy and Danny go out to explore the giant maze outside, while Jack studies the model version of the maze instead of getting on with his writing.

On Tuesday (the caption doesn’t make it clear how many days later this is), Danny is riding his toy car again, and passes room 237 – it’s locked.  Jack is working late on his typewriter, and is very grouchy and irritable with Wendy – he tells her not to interrupt him and sends her away.  The next day, Wendy and Danny go out to play in the snow that has fallen overnight, while Jack stares vacantly into mid-air – he’s clearly already going mad.

On Saturday, Jack is still typing away.  Wendy can’t get through to anyone on the phone and radios the local police – they reckon the phone lines are down because of the storm and that they won’t be fixed until the spring.  Danny is on his toy car and runs into the twins again.  ‘Hello, Danny, come and play with us!’  The vision is interspersed with their axe-murdered bodies, but they’re so creepy when alive that I’m not sure which is worse!

On Monday, Jack asks Danny to come to him for a hug, which is a really creepy scene due to Jack Nicholson brilliantly playing his onset of madness.  Danny asks if Jack would ever hurt him and Wendy.  Jack is sure that Wendy must have put the idea in his head.

On Wednesday, Danny is playing with miniature cars, and a ball rolls to him from somewhere – room 237 is now open, and he goes to investigate.  Wendy, meanwhile, is working on the boiler downstairs, but hears a scream.  Jack is having nightmares while sleeping at his desk, until Wendy wakes him.  He says he dreamt that he killed Wendy and Danny, and seems to be having brief flashes of sanity – ‘I must be losing my mind’.

Danny comes in and won’t listen to Wendy’s exhortations to leave.  His jumper is ripped and he has bruises at the neck, but won’t tell Wendy what happened.  Wendy accuses Jack of being responsible, which would make a lot more sense if they’d left the scene with the doctor in this cut of the film!

Jack goes to the Gold Room bar and has a conversation with the not-really-there bartender Lloyd, complaining that Wendy won’t forgive him for accidentally hurting Danny three years previously.  Wendy arrives in the bar in a panic – Danny has told her he was hurt by a crazy woman in room 237.

Meanwhile, Hallorann is watching TV in his room in Florida.  I always love the discotastic nudes he has on his wall!  He gets a psychic message from Danny about what’s happening.

Jack goes to visit the crazy woman in the bathtub in room 237.  She’s naked and beautiful, so he kisses her, and the whole thing’s just weird – she turns into a decomposing corpse, laughing away.  Meanwhile, Hallorann finds he’s unable to get through to the hotel by phone.

Jack is still able to come across as sane to Wendy – he suggests Danny caused the bruises to himself.  Danny, meanwhile, is having visions of the word ‘redrum’ written on a door, and Jack goes totally mad at Wendy’s suggestion that they leave the hotel.  Halloran gets the police to radio the hotel to make sure everything is all right.

Jack goes back to the Gold Room bar, and now sees it as totally full of people dressed up in ’20s fashions.  He tries to pay Lloyd for his drink, but Lloyd says, ‘Your money’s no good here – orders from the house.’  It’s not really clear what this is about, so I’m going to assume that it’s because Jack’s ten-dollar bills are ’70s in design and thus unusable in the ’20s.

There’s then a strange bit of business with Delbert Grady, here acting as a waiter, cleaning Jack’s jacket in the bathroom after accidentally spilling advocaat on it.  Grady claims never to have been the caretaker of the hotel, but does have a wife and two daughters.  Jack tries to get Grady to recall the murder of his wife and children, but Grady insists Jack is the caretaker and always has been – ‘I should know, sir, I’ve always been here.’

Grady somehow knows about Danny calling Hallorann.  Both he and Jack rather unpleasantly use the n-word to describe him, and I’m not sure what this is meant to prove.  Grady seems to represent whatever weird supernatural power is sending Jack mad.

Jack intercepts the radio call from the police by breaking the radio, but Hallorann is already on a flight, and then drives through the snow towards the hotel.  Meanwhile, Wendy, armed with a baseball bat and calling for Jack, finds that every sheet of the play Jack has been writing is just ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ typed over and over again.  Jack startles her by arriving in the room, and is now clearly mad.

Danny is multitasking on the psychic stuff, listening to his parents’ conversation while having visions of the flood of blood and the ‘redrum’ writing.  Wendy eventually whacks Jack with the baseball bat and puts him in the storeroom, locking it and grabbing a knife.  However, she and Danny can’t leave the hotel, because Jack has sabotaged the snowmobile.

At 4pm, Jack wakes up in the storeroom due to hearing a knock on the door.  It’s Grady, come to complain about Jack not having killed his family yet.  When Jack promises that he’s not having second thoughts, Grady somehow unlocks the storeroom door.  Meanwhile, Hallorann makes his way to the hotel in another snowmobile.

‘Redrum’, Danny keeps saying, having picked up a knife and lipstick, and writes the word on the door.  Wendy wakes up just in time, as Jack is hacking his way through the door with an axe.  She sees the reflected ‘redrum’ phrase ‘ – ‘murder’ – in the mirror, and tries to get the bathroom window open.  She manages to send Danny through the window, but the gap is too small for her.  Jack smashes through the bathroom door in the infamous ‘Here’s Johnny!’ scene, but Wendy stabs him in the hand, and then they both hear Hallorann’s vehicle arriving outside.

Danny runs through the kitchen and hides in one of the cupboards.  Hallorann, meanwhile, has had a wasted journey, ’cause he immediately gets killed by Jack, causing Danny to scream and reveal his location.  Danny escapes from the cupboard and runs outside.  Wendy, meanwhile, has a weird vision of a man in a bear costume and another man in normal clothes in one of the bedrooms.  I have no idea what this has to do with anything else at all.

Jack turns on the outdoor lights to try and find Danny, who runs into the maze.  Jack follows his trail of footprints.  Wendy finds Hallorann’s body, then has a vision of a party guest with a bloody head (again, I’m not sure why Wendy is suddenly seeing all these things!).  Danny cleverly retraces his exact footprints and hides, in order to throw Jack off the trail.

Wendy has another vision – this time of the flood of blood that Danny has been seeing for the whole film.  Danny escapes the way he came, leaving Jack in the maze, and finds Wendy; both of them escape in Hallorann’s vehicle.  Jack collapses in the maze and freezes to death.

For the final scene, in the gold room, Jack is shown in a 1921 photo.  This doesn’t really make any sense – does he transfer to another world in the past or something?  Also, the image has to be super zoomed-in-on so that audiences watching on 1980 projection screens could actually see it!

Back to the slashers tomorrow.

31 Days Of Horror: The Woman In Black

The Woman In Black (2012) is another one I’ve not seen before.  I’ve not been fully keeping up with horror films this century because it’s mostly been really bad remakes and over-the-top gorefests.  This looks like a nice sedate ghost story, so I decided to give it a go.

The Woman In Black
Boring title screen, but it suits the look of the film.

It was made by Hammer!  I had no idea they were still making films!

It’s a Victorian setting, and we open with three creepy little girls playing with dolls.  Some unseen force compels them to jump out of the window, and we hear screaming from below.  Roll opening credits.

The lead in this is Daniel Radcliffe, in probably one of the biggest roles he’s done since Harry Potter.  Arthur Kipps is a young widower who has to go away a lot, so his son is mainly cared for by the nanny.  He’s a lawyer, but hasn’t been on form since his wife’s death; his boss at the law firm is giving him one final chance to prove himself by asking him to sort out the paperwork for the house of Alice Drablow, a woman who’s recently died.

On the train out to the village where the house is, Arthur has a flashback to his wife’s death in childbirth.  Waking up, he meets local resident Samuel Daily, who owns one of these newfangled car things and can give Arthur a lift.  The landlord clearly doesn’t want Arthur to stay, claiming the inn is full, but the landlady takes pity on him and gives him the attic room.  The attic has a creepy picture of the girls from the start of the film – it’s the room that they jumped from, which is presumably why the inn owners don’t usually put people up in there.

It’s a really creepy small English village, with everyone staring at Arthur as he goes past.  The exact year of the setting, at this point, is unclear – there are early cars and telephones (both only owned by Samuel Daily, mind), so coupled with the costumes, I’m guessing it’s meant to be the 1890s-1900s.  The film’s Wikipedia entry claims it’s actually 1910, but I don’t think this is clarified in the film.

Arthur meets up with Mr Jerome, the local solicitor, who is desperate to get rid of him and has already paid a guy with a horse and cart to take Arthur back to the train station!  Arthur knows he’ll get fired if he doesn’t get the job done, though, and pays over the odds for the coachman to take him to Eel Marsh House instead.

At the house, Arthur starts to go through the paperwork.  He finds a death certificate for Alice’s son, Nathaniel, who died age seven – he drowned in marshland and his body was never recovered.  Hearing screaming in the woods, Arthur goes outside and runs around in the mist, thinking he sees images of a woman’s face.  The coach driver comes back for him at that point.

While Arthur is at the police station attempting to report what he saw, three children arrive.  The young girl has drunk lye and dies in Arthur’s arms before anyone can help her.  Back at the inn, the landlady begs Arthur to go home to his son.

Arthur meets up with Samuel Daily again, as he needs somewhere to stay seeing as the inn could only put him up for one night.  Samuel asks Arthur not to mention the young girl’s death to his wife, Elisabeth, as she is still affected by the loss of their son.  Elisabeth is shown to be an eccentric who dotes on her dogs, but things take a sinister turn when she becomes possessed by her son while at dinner.  Samuel thinks it’s all in her mind.

The next morning, Arthur and Samuel go looking for Jerome, as Arthur could use his help with the paperwork.  He’s not in his home – although Arthur does think he sees a girl locked in the cellar – but they soon find him with the rest of the superstitious townsfolk, who are blocking the road to Eel Marsh House.  Samuel forces them into letting them through by driving through anyway.  He says he’ll pick Arthur up later, but Arthur wants to work through the night.  Samuel leaves his dog with Arthur for company.

During his exploration of the house, Arthur comes across lots of old photos, hears lots of spooky noises, and finds some violently scribbled correspondence full of medieval images and captions like ‘go to hell you harlot’ and ‘God protects me’.  The dog starts barking about something outside, and Arthur finds a grave marker outside reading 1882-1889, which is presumably for Nathaniel, as well as one for a woman called Jennet, who also died in 1889.  He then sees the figure of a woman in the window.

Arthur reads more of the correspondence, and it becomes clear that Jennet was the real mother of Nathaniel, who was forcibly adopted away by Alice, her sister, due to Jennet’s mental issues.  Jennet believed that her sister didn’t try hard enough to save Nathaniel from the marsh, and wrote that she would never forgive her.  Jennet’s death certificate says she hanged herself in Eel Marsh House later in 1889.

Arthur has fallen asleep in his chair, but the dog starts barking at a presence again, and Arthur finds that the faces of Alice and her husband have been scratched out on the photo in front of him.  There’s then a long sequence with lots of spooky ghost stuff happening, like a rocking chair rocking invisibly, a carved inscription found behind wallpaper, a storm starting up outside (these are always so conveniently timed in horror movies!), a figure in black walking towards the house, and a doorknob rattling without anyone there to rattle it.  Eventually, when Arthur goes outside to investigate, he sees a group of dead children staring at him, and runs back inside.  There’s more scares in the house, including a creepy-sounding music box playing, the toys in Nathaniel’s old room moving by themselves, and a vine-esque thing rising from a sheet.

Samuel picks Arthur up the next day.  The scene here is odd, because the car is really badly and obviously superimposed against the moving background.  I also noticed this poor effect in The Wolf Man the other day, but I can forgive it in a film released in 1941 – not so much one released in 2012!

Back at the village, they find Jerome’s house aflame.  Arthur tries to rescue the girl in the cellar, but she sets herself alight.  Arthur realises that Jerome and his wife had hidden her in the cellar to try and protect her.

In the graveyard, Arthur meets up with Elisabeth by the grave of her son Nicholas.  She explains about sightings of the woman in black resulting in the deaths of children; possessed by Nicholas, she explains, ‘She makes us do it.’  Elisabeth then draws the same picture that Arthur’s son, Joseph, had drawn and shown to Arthur at the start of the film.

Failing to contact Joseph’s nanny in time to stop them arriving in the village, where they’re scheduled to be meeting Arthur, Arthur and Samuel go back to Eel Marsh House to try and reunite Jennet and Nathaniel by pulling the latter’s body out of the marsh using Samuel’s car.  Arthur knows they have to attract Jennet so she can find Nathaniel, so he goes back up to Nathaniel’s room and starts the music box.

There’s more spooky ghost stuff – Samuel sees the woman in black, follows her, and gets trapped in a room.  The rocking chair starts rocking again, the candles all extinguish themselves, and a scary face is shown – but then the house goes quiet.  ‘I think she’s gone,’ says Arthur to Samuel, and they bury Nathaniel’s body in the family grave with Jennet.

Joseph and his nanny arrive at the train station, and Arthur is there to greet them – he tells the nanny they’re going straight back to London, and sends her to buy tickets.  However, while Arthur is saying goodbye to Samuel, Joseph sees the woman in black, lets go of Arthur’s hand, and walks into the path of an oncoming train.  Arthur goes to grab him, but it’s too late – they’re both killed by the train.

Arthur and Joseph wake up in the ghost world and are reunited with Arthur’s wife.  The woman in black is shown watching them, so it’s not clear at all if the curse has actually been lifted or if the village is going to be left in peace.  Roll credits.

Apparently Jane Goldman wrote the screenplay!  Love her stuff.

I quite enjoyed this one, but I didn’t find it very scary, ’cause I’m not scared of ghosts and I don’t get affected by child characters dying.

Back to the ’80s tomorrow!

31 Days Of Horror: The Mummy

The Mummy (1932) is another old horror film where I’ve had the DVD for years but have never got round to watching it.  Time to put that right!

The Mummy
‘Karloff the Uncanny’

It’s another one I hadn’t realised was a Universal monster movie, complete with Boris Karloff in the title role.  His name is as big as the film title in all the promotion!

The music over the opening credits is Swan Lake AGAIN, just like they used for Dracula.  We then get a caption explaining the (fictional) ancient Egyptian ‘Scroll of Thoth’, which is about Isis and Osiris.  (A quick note: my degree was in Ancient History, so I’m likely to get annoyed about various historical inaccuracies in this film.)

The opening sequence is set in the Egyptian-archaelogy-crazed year of 1921, which was only eleven years in the past at this point!  A group of archaeologists, Sir Joseph Whemple, Dr Muller, and Ralph Norton, are excited about their new find – an intact mummy and a mysterious box.  The makeup on the mummy is great – even in corpse mode, you can instantly tell it’s Karloff, but it also looks really realistic.

Muller delivers a bunch of backstory by reading the hieroglyphics on the tomb, in which he’s apparently very fluent.  The mummy is of Imhotep, who was buried alive, as he was sentenced to death for sacrilege.  Norton makes a joke about Imhotep getting too cosy with the ‘vestal virgins’, which is a MASSIVE inaccuracy obvious to anyone who’s not completely ignorant about the ancient world.  Vestal virgins were a Roman thing – the ancient Egyptians had no social or spiritual values attached to virginity!

The box, meanwhile, is gold, and has an inscription on it.  ‘Death, eternal punishment, for anyone who opens this casket,’ translates Muller.  He’s the superstitious one, while the others are typical archaeologists of the period – eager to make scientific discoveries and sceptical of such ancient beliefs.  Sir Joseph and Muller go outside to argue about it some more.  They suspect it contains the legendary Scroll of Thoth.  Muller is adamant that it shouldn’t be opened, but Sir Joseph is determined to fulfil his scientific duty.

Norton, meanwhile, is so curious about the box that he can’t even wait for Sir Joseph to get back before opening the box.  There is indeed an ancient scroll inside, which Norton handles with absolutely no due diligence whatsoever!  He starts to translate the scroll, speaks the words it contains, and the mummy is shown to awaken.  Norton immediately goes mad at the sight of the moving mummy, which is how Sir Joseph finds him a couple of minutes later.

Cut to the contemporary year of 1932!  Two new archaeologists, Professor Pearson and Frank Whemple (the son of Sir Joseph), are disappointed about their lack of finds in Egypt so far.  Pearson delivers a quick bit of backstory about the previous events – Norton ‘died laughing…in a straitjacket’, and Sir Joseph swore never to come back to Egypt.

They’re interrupted by a visitor – it’s the revived mummy of Imhotep, who’s now passing as a normal person.  He introduces himself as ‘Ardath Bey’, gives them the gift of an artefact from a princess’s tomb, and tells them where the tomb can be found.  ‘We Egyptians are not permitted to dig up our ancient dead,’ he says, to explain why he can’t excavate the tomb himself.

Pearson and Frank set their gang of local workers to work digging up the area, with lots of Egyptian singing to set the mood.  There’s a now-uncomfortable detail where the British archaeologists just sit under a parasol relaxing while the Egyptian workers dig!  When they inevitably (and easily) find the tomb, they find it’s sealed with ‘the seal of the seven jackals’, unbroken for 3,700 years (dating the ancient Egyptian characters of this film to around 1800 BC).

We then get a classic early-20th-century-film newspaper clipping caption to explain what happens next in the story – Sir Joseph has decided to return to Cairo after all.  Cut to the Cairo Museum, where artefacts from the princess’s tomb are on display.  Imhotep is in the room, looking at the mummifed princess.

At a posh dance nearby, we’re introduced to a very glamorous-looking girl – Helen Grosvenor, talking to Muller, who’s currently acting as her guardian.  She doesn’t like the heat.  We find out some more details about both Helen and Muller through the plot mechanic of a very gossipy pair of guests at another table, who are talking about the two of them!  Helen apparently comes from a notable family, and her mother is Egyptian.

At the museum, Imhotep speaks to Sir Joseph.  Sir Joseph is very grateful to him for instigating the find, but his son Frank is not so happy, as it means that the artefacts have to be displayed in the Cairo Museum, rather than in London.

We then get a scene of Imhotep casting a spell over a silly-looking witch’s type cauldron/pool that allows him to spy on people.  This is juxtaposed with the dance, where Helen, caught by the spell, ditches the man she’s dancing with and leaves the venue, requesting the taxi driver take her to the museum.  She sits in the back of the car, reciting something in a strange language.  At the museum, failing to get in due to the locked door, she’s caught by Frank, and immediately faints (eyeroll – I would really like to see just one of these older films avoid the irritating cliche of young women fainting at the drop of a hat).

At the Whemple house, Sir Joseph speaks to Helen in ‘ancient Egyptian’.  How are these characters even supposed to know how Middle Egyptian (which was in its early stages in 1800 BC) was pronounced?  Is Sir Joseph fluent in the Coptic dialect of every single Egyptian period?  So many questions.  Meanwhile, there’s a kerfuffle in the museum, where Imhotep kills the guard on duty.

Muller arrives to see Sir Joseph, having tracked Helen to the Whemple house.  ‘Frank, will you make yourself agreeable?’ says Sir Joseph as he heads into the study for a private chat with Muller.  Frank takes this as an order to flirt brazenly with Helen, before excitedly telling her all about the moment when they explored the princess’s tomb.  Helen is shocked that he and Pearson unwrapped the princess’s bandages, which is kind of bizarre – it’s as if she thinks of the princess as a real live woman.  ‘Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?’ she asks.  Frank realises why he’s so drawn to Helen – she looks very like the princess.  Given that the princess is a dusty 3,700-year-old mummy, I wouldn’t say this is the greatest compliment of all time.

Muller is suspicious about ‘Ardath Bey’, although at this point there’s no real reason for this suspicion.  Sir Joseph receives a phone call about the dead guard, and he and Muller go to the museum to investigate.  Apparently the guard ‘died of shock’ and was found with the Scroll of Thoth.  Sir Joseph is shocked by the sight of it, which is a bit confusing – he never laid eyes on it in 1921 before it was taken out of the box by Norton and then immediately stolen by Imhotep.

Frank and Helen, who have progressed to making out on the sofa extremely quickly for characters in a film made in the ’30s, are walked in on by Sir Joseph and Muller, which is a very early example of an awkward parental walk-in moment.  The older men, however, don’t seem to care much, as they’re too busy discussing the scroll.  We’re reminded that Norton made a transcription of part of the scroll before he went mad.  Frank suggests burning it, and Muller agrees.  Sir Joseph has apparently always assumed that the mummy of Imhotep was stolen, despite the fact that nobody could have done it in the short time that he and Muller were standing outside the dig in 1921.

Imhotep arrives at the house and hypnotises Sir Joseph’s Nubian servant (again, all of these old British Empire details make the film an uncomfortable watch for modern eyes).  He approaches Helen, again introducing himself as ‘Ardath Bey’.  ‘Have we not met before, Miss Grosvenor?’ he asks.  It’s unclear whether this is because he’s not yet realised she looks like the princess (which is unlikely, given that he already deliberately spell-summoned her to the museum) or because he’s trying to stir her spell-memories (which is illogical, given that they’re in a house with people she knows and it would give Imhotep’s true nature away).

Sir Joseph and Muller are interrupted in their argument about burning the scroll (Sir Joseph still doesn’t want to, as it’s officially the property of the museum) by the realisation that ‘Ardath Bey’ has arrived.  Muller works out he must have come for the scroll, and tries to ask ‘Ardath’ about how he knew where the princess was buried.  Helen, meanwhile, refuses to go back to the hotel as commanded – she is captivated by Imhotep.  She’s eventually escorted away by Frank, with great reluctance.

Muller explains to ‘Ardath’ about the guard and the scroll, and shows him a photo of the Imhotep mummy, which is very obviously the same person.  ‘Why do you show all this to me?’ asks ‘Ardath’, but soon reveals himself as Imhotep when it becomes clear that Muller knows what’s going on.  Apparently, Imhotep can basically hypnotise anyone with Egyptian blood (this is a very silly detail), and smugly announces that the Nubian servant is under his control.

With Imhotep having left, Sir Joseph agrees to burn the scroll.  However, Imhotep is watching them through his witch’s cauldron and casts a spell to kill him.  This sequence is pretty daft – where has Muller gone?  Surely he would have stayed to watch Sir Joseph burn the scroll?  Anyway, the Nubian servant comes into the room, takes the scroll from the fire and replaces it with another bit of paper.

In the morning, this is at first enough to fool Muller.  ‘Your father destroyed the scroll knowing that it would cost him his life,’ he says to Frank (who, irritatingly, is more preoccupied with his infatuation with Helen than with mourning his father’s death).  However, Muller soon becomes suspicious, and while Frank is on the phone to Helen, he pulls the ashes of the paper out of the fire.

During a taxi journey, Muller’s suspicions are confirmed.  ‘Your father did not burn the Scroll of Thoth,’ he explains to Frank – the ashes in the paper were newspaper, not papyrus.  The previously-sceptical Frank is starting to believe Muller’s theories, at least enough to wear the protective amulet that the older man gives him.

Despite having been told to stay in the hotel by Frank, Helen goes out anyway, of course, with a previously-unmentioned dog for some reason.  When she arrives at the museum, the dog is sent away by Imhotep, because his cat companion doesn’t like it.  Imhotep shows Helen his memories of what happened in 1800 BC – he was in love with the princess, but she died, and he stole the Scroll of Thoth to bring her back to life.  However, before he could use it, he was caught and sentenced to be buried alive with the scroll, so that nobody else could ever attempt the same thing.  The live wrapping-and-burying scene is horrible if you’re claustrophobic!  The slaves who buried him were killed, then the soldiers who killed the slaves were killed themselves, so that nobody would ever know where Imhotep was buried.  This seems kind of overkill (no pun intended).

‘My love has lasted longer than the temples of our gods,’ Imhotep says to Helen, whom he obviously sees as the princess now.  The cat runs off, clearly knowing something is about to go down.  Imhotep vows to kill Frank, knowing Helen is falling in love with him.

Helen is irritable and confused when she returns to the hotel and encounters Frank, but somehow she knows the cat killed the dog, who is no longer with her.  ‘Don’t let me go again…I’ll try to get away but you mustn’t let me,’ she pleads, knowing there’s something else inside her mind.  ‘I’ll never leave you alone,’ Frank assures her, but of course he does.

A few days later, Helen’s nurse is far more sensible than Gerda from Horror Of Dracula and won’t listen to any of Helen’s implorations to let her sneak out, but her older servant is more softhearted and allows her to get dressed.  Helen is getting more and more ill, and Muller realises that she has to go to Imhotep or she’ll eventually die.  He and Frank plan to follow her and destroy Imhotep.

Argh – character stupidity alert!  Frank idiotically puts the protective amulet on Helen’s doorknob instead of keeping it around his own neck as Muller instructed, then settles down on the sofa to spend the night guarding Helen’s room.  Of course, Imhotep is watching from his witch’s cauldron, and casts a spell on Frank to kill him.  Frank grabs the amulet as he falls, but it’s too late – he’s unconscious, meaning Helen can step over him and leave the building.

In the museum, Helen has mentally become the princess.  Imhotep plans to kill her, then cast a spell to turn her into an immortal mummy like him.  However, when the princess realises the extent of the plan, she refuses – the Helen part of her wants to live too.  She tries to run, but Imhotep hypnotises her.

Frank is still alive, just, and Muller wakes him up.  ‘Now I know his horrible plan,’ says Muller.  How?  It’s never explained how he’s worked it out!

Just as Imhotep is about to kill Helen/the princess, Frank and Muller arrive.  Imhotep tries to cast a spell on them, but the princess uses an Egyptian god statue to cast one back on him.  He withers and becomes dust again, and the scroll burns in the fire.

Frank cradles Helen, begging her to ‘come back’, but the credits roll before we find out if she actually does!

Overall, this was a great story.  I loved Zita Johann’s glam portrayal of Helen, who came across as far more alluring and beautiful than other Universal monster movie heroines (they’re usually blonde girls-next-door), and Boris Karloff had so much more to do here than he ever did as Frankenstein’s monster.

Something much more modern tomorrow!

31 Days Of Horror: Friday the 13th Part 2

When I first wanted to check out the Friday the 13th series in the early ’00s, the first film wasn’t available on DVD yet.  When I scoured the racks of the Edinburgh branch of HMV (online shopping wasn’t a big thing yet in those days!), I could only ever find Parts 2 and 3.  As such, it’s Part 2 that was the one I watched over and over in my late teens.

Friday the 13th Part 2
I always liked this ‘chalk outline’ motif.

We start with a kid splashing in puddles and singing Itsy Bitsy Spider horribly out of tune.  His mother calls him inside, hopefully to remove him from the public domain forever for offences to music.  The puddles are then splashed through by a grown man’s feet with some accompanying ominous music, so we assume this is Jason Voorhees (who’s the killer in this film – that’s not exactly a secret, so let’s go with it from the off).  He approaches a building with a lit window.

Inside, Alice from the first film is having flashbacks to the events of Part 1, meaning the filmmakers get to reuse a whole load of footage.  It’s mainly about Mrs Voorhees telling the story of Jason.  We also get a repeat of the Jason-out-of-the-water scare just to drive the point home.

Alice wakes up and the phone rings – it’s her mother trying to get her to move nearer home (presumably – we only hear Alice’s side of the conversation).  Alice is painting scary paintings, which is a nice callback to the hobby that was mentioned once and then forgotten about in Part 1.  She goes for a shower and there’s some ominous POV shots of someone stalking around the house.  The phone rings again, but the line goes dead as Alice answers.  We then get a tense sequence, with Alice realising someone is there and grabbing a knife, culminating in a classic cat-jumps-out moment.  Miaow!  Alice puts the knife down, which is a bad idea.  Deciding to feed the cat, she finds Mrs Voorhees’ head in the fridge and gets killed with the discarded knife.  The cat miaows again, still wanting food, because cats don’t care if you’ve got problems like being dead.  Jason, for some reason, then takes the boiling kettle off the hob (insert standard complaint about Americans ignoring the highly useful invention of the electric kettle – Wikipedia tells me this is due to voltage differences) to stop it whistling before leaving.  Roll opening credits!

There are loads of actors credited in this film – the Friday the 13th series became notorious for an increasingly high body count with every entry.

Starting the story proper, Jeff and Sandra are driving to the camp in an obnoxiously big truck – they’re sort of the Jack and Marcie of this entry (complete with a friend called Ted, rather than Ned), except they’re more idiotic, and neither of them are played by a future big star.  Crazy Ralph shows up while they’re on the phone to Ted and says they’re doomed – nice to see he’s still parroting the same stuff from the first film.  Ted pulls a prank by getting a friend to tow Jeff’s truck round the corner, which is not really relevant to anything else but is a nice character touch.  It’s shown to be a lovely enticing summer day as they drive to the camp – when they come across a fallen branch and have to get out of the truck to move it, Sandra says, ‘This place is spooky,’ but there’s nothing that really indicates that’s the case at this point.  However, exploring the roadside, she finds a sign for Camp Crystal Lake.  Ted, who knows all about the camp due to being an assistant for the project, says they don’t want to hear about ‘Camp Blood’.  As they drive off, we see Jason watching from the woods.

Cut to chief counselor Paul ringing a bell, and we see lots of counselors wandering up to the main cabin, telling the viewer who’s going to be flirting with whom.  This is apparently a counselor training camp – all the counselors have worked at camps before.  We see Crazy Ralph on his bike as a backfiring car goes past, driven by Ginny, who soon arrives at camp with her car still backfiring away.  Paul is angry about her being late, and there’s some really corny dialogue here (‘I promise I will never, ever be late for anything ever again’), which stands out in a film where the dialogue is generally written very well.  Ginny turns out to be Paul’s girlfriend as well as his assistant, ’cause that’s not a professional conflict of interest at all.  She’s also a graduate student doing child psychology, which is important later.

‘Put your car in the lot, okay?  This place is starting to look like a Burger King,’ says Paul to Ginny when they get back to the meeting.  ‘Where was I?’

‘You were about to give your “let’s keep our s**t together” speech,’ replies Ted, who’s probably one of the best characters in this film.  Paul’s speech includes the bear-avoiding advice that ‘if you’re a woman, don’t use perfume, and keep clean during your menstrual cycle,’ which I’ve always found as awkward as the female counselors listening to the speech obviously do.

That night, around the campfire, Paul tells a scary story about Jason Voorhees, complete with Ted jumping out in a mask to scare everyone at the end, in order to get it ‘out of our system’.  ‘The second act needs work,’ Ginny says to Paul.

Paul’s story reveals that this film is set five years after the first one, which leads to the same timeline problem as the five-year setting gap between the made-one-year-apart first and second Nightmare on Elm Street films.  Similarly to the way you can’t convince anyone who’s familiar with ’80s fashions and decor that films made in 1984 and 1985 with contemporary costuming and set design are actually set five years apart, you also can’t do this with films made in 1980 and 1981.  As I explained in my post on the first Friday the 13th, the date given onscreen confirmed it was set in 1980, meaning this one is supposed to be 1985, but as ever, nobody’s crystal ball is powerful enough to predict future fashions, so the clothes and hairstyles in this film are all emphatically 1981.

However, this story is much tighter than the first and zips along really nicely, so I think this is actually the better film story-wise.

After the campfire, there’s a good party atmosphere back at the main cabin, although Muffin the dog sees Jason out of the window and is not impressed.  Ginny beats Paul at chess and is so bored she decides to go to bed.  Meanwhile, Sandra, dancing with Jeff, tells him that she wants to sneak off to go and see ‘Camp Blood’.

While getting ready for bed, Ginny hears a noise outside her cabin, but it turns out to be Paul, wanting to join her.  Crazy Ralph is watching them creepily from beside a tree, but suddenly gets garrotted by Jason (which is a shame, as he could have livened up all the other parts of this franchise).

The next day, Mark, a wheelchair-using counselor, is making the most of not having to take part in the group run by criticising everybody else’s performance.  Muffin wanders off and bumps into Jason’s feet, which doesn’t seem to be a good sign.

At the lunchtime barbeque, Terry, Muffin’s owner, is wandering around looking around for her, but is easily distracted by Ted announcing that the food’s ready.  Poor Muffin deserves better!  There’s then an obligatory everyone-goes-swimming-and-sunbathing scene at the lake, but Sandra drags Jeff off to see ‘Camp Blood’.  Jason is wandering around in the same area, so you kind of expect them to get offed for being idiots at this point, but instead they find a dead animal, possibly a dog but it’s too mangled for them to be sure, and then get caught by a policeman.

Back at the camp, having delivered the hapless Jeff and Sandra, the policeman tells Paul he ‘should have located in the next county’, which to be fair is true, but Paul doesn’t take much notice.  On the drive back, the policeman sees Jason running across the road and chases him.  He finds a hut with something appalling in it, but gets immediately killed (we don’t see what he sees).

That night, most counselors go off on a final night on the town before the training starts properly, but a few stay behind to watch the camp (the partygoers only seem to have access to Ginny’s car and Jeff’s truck, so Paul says there’s not enough room for everyone to go).  There’s some tedious pairing-off stuff with Jeff and Sandra heading upstairs to work off their hard day of rules-disobeying and Mark playing some kind of primitive electronic game with fellow counselor Vickie.

Terry, while out looking for Muffin again, randomly decides to go skinny dipping.  Another counselor, Scott, is being a gross perv and steals her clothes while she’s in the water.  However, while running away, he gets caught in a classic rope trap and starts yelling for help.  ‘I ought to let you hang, you pervert,’ says Terry, but eventually agrees to go get a knife to cut him down.  However, Scott gets killed while hanging in the trap.  Terry finds him dead and starts screaming, but immediately seemingly meets up with Jason (her death’s not shown and we never see her corpse, so maybe she ran away and survived – who knows?)

Cut to the party bar in the nearby town, which is a real early ’80s small-town Americana bar with people in cowboy hats, a band playing in Hawaiian shirts, lots of beer bottles everywhere, and a drunk Ted hitting on the barmaid.  Ginny lowers the mood by speculating about the resident maniac.  ‘What if there is a Jason?’  She starts child psychoanalysing, but Paul and Ted just think she’s drunk.

‘I’ll be right back,’ says Vickie to Mark, breaking Scream‘s Rule 3, and goes to change into a highly seductive big ’80s jumper (those things are wonderful and cosy, but I would not describe them as sexy) and put on tons of perfume, contrary to Paul’s advice earlier about not attracting bears.  She then goes out to her car to look for something in her underwear, which is annoying for two reasons: (a) female characters in this series are always wandering outside in their underwear for no reason; and (b) the counselors did have access to at least one other car, so that excuse for not taking everyone along to the bar doesn’t fly!

A classic Friday the 13th thunderstorm starts up, and so Mark goes out to look for Vickie, presumably worried she’ll get soaked.  Unfortunately, he gets a machete to the face for his trouble.

Jason then picks up Ted’s spear from earlier.  Why on earth did Ted have a real spear?  It was only meant to be a joke prop to scare people at the campfire!  Anyway, it gives Jason a two-for-one spearing opportunity on the post-coital Sandra and Jeff.

Meanwhile, Ginny and Paul decide to go back to camp.  Ted asks some locals about after-hours places nearby, indicating that the rest of the counselors are going to be out all night.

Vickie comes looking for Mark, but only finds a bunch of corpses.  There’s then a really annoying scene where Jason approaches her with a knife and she doesn’t even try to run, just letting him kill her instead!  We do however get a good creepy dragging-the-body-down-the-stairs shot after this.

Ginny and Paul arrive back at camp and find it deserted.  ‘Paul, they wouldn’t have left the place like this,’ says Ginny, despite only having known the counselors for a day or so.  Paul has more pressing concerns.  ‘These kids smoke better dope than I do,’ he says, on finding someone’s discarded joint.

Upstairs, they find some blood-covered bedsheets, but Paul still thinks nothing out of the ordinary’s going on.  The power is out, but the rain’s stopping, so he suggests they go look for everyone else.  However, Ginny realises there’s someone else in the room, and Paul is attacked and knocked out.  Jason shows his not-super-scary pillowcase face, and Ginny runs away.

There’s then a very, very long chase sequence, a really classic ‘final girl’ example.  These long sequences are quite characteristic of Friday the 13th movies, where there’s often a good twenty minutes of the last surviving character trying to evade the killer.  We get all the cliches during this sequence – the killer suddenly smashing through a window, the victim playing find-the-body, a car that won’t start (although at least this plot point has been seeded properly in this film!), the killer attacking the victim in the car, and one of my favourites, a chainsaw that runs out of fuel before the person wielding it can properly kill the killer!

There’s also a horrible scene with Ginny having to avoid making any noise while hiding, even though some rats are scurrying right in front of her face!  I have an awful phobia of rodents, and I would probably have wet myself too.  Truth.  Unfortunately, Ginny’s fear puddle is noticed by Jason, so she’s not out of the woods yet (no pun intended).

Escaping through the woods, Ginny finds the hut where the policeman was killed earlier.  It’s a creepy shrine with Mrs Voorhees’ shrivelled head and old jumper, which Jason has presumably looted from her grave (or possibly grabbed five years ago before the authorities found the body).  Ginny uses her child psychology knowledge to pretend to be Mrs Voorhees, meaning we get Betsy Palmer playing the real Mrs Voorhees again as we’re shown what’s going on in Jason’s confused mind.  Unfortunately it only works for so long, as he sees his mother’s head behind Ginny before she can kill him, and stabs her in the leg.  However, Paul shows up and attacks Jason before he can kill Ginny.  Between the two of them, they seemingly manage to kill him (complete with a reprise of the Mrs Voorhees beheading music from Part 1), and Paul carries Ginny back to camp.

Back in Ginny’s cabin, there’s a scary noise at the door, but it turns out to be the not-dead-after-all Muffin in a very silly, cheesy scene that is only mitigated by Jason smashing through the window to grab Ginny in Part 2’s version of the Jason-out-of-the-water scare (pretty much all the entries in the series have a version of this scare, which obviously gets less and less effective as the series goes on).

The next morning, Ginny is driven off in an ambulance, but it’s not clear whether Paul or Muffin (or indeed Terry!) have survived.  Roll credits.

I still stand by this film being better than Part 1.  A tighter story, better characters, and Jason taking over as the killer.  I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the series sometime soon, as there are a couple of them I’ve not seen!

Back to the old stuff tomorrow.

31 Days Of Horror: A Nightmare On Elm Street 3

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 (1987) is one of the few films from the Nightmare series I’ve actually seen before.  It’s been a long time, though, so I don’t really remember what happens.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3
Freddy Krueger is more prominent in this film, and hence somewhat less scary.

The film starts, rather like the Rob Zombie Halloween films, with an only-semi-relevant quotation, in this case an Edgar Allan Poe quotation about sleep and death.  (This quotation turns out to be a fake – Poe never wrote anything of the sort!)

The font used in the titles is gloriously similar to Stranger Things, because, you know, that’s kind of the point of Stranger Things.

We start off with images of somebody making a papier mache house model.  This is Kristen, who’s trying not to fall asleep by playing loud music (I didn’t recognise the song, Into The Fire, and with good reason – the band, Dokken, was just a side project of the film composer).  Kristen is having bad dreams, but her mother doesn’t care, cause she’s got a new boyfriend to entertain (a classic Elm Street neglectful mother!  Great to see the usual themes coming out).

In Kristen’s dream, the creepy skipping girls singing the ‘Freddy’s coming for you’ rhyme are present and correct.  There’s then a fairly standard nightmare sequence involving a creepy little girl intoning ‘this is where he takes us’, the ground turning into tar, hanged corpses, Freddy skulking ominously in the background, etc.  Kristen wakes up – but it turns out to be a dream within a dream, which is not something we’ve seen in the Nightmare films so far, I don’t think.  In the still-a-dream bathroom, the sink tap grabs Kristen and the shower head turns into knives, cutting at her wrists.  When her mother wakes her up, Kristen’s holding a razor blade and looks like she’s done it to herself.

Because this is a horror film, Kristen immediately gets hospitalised in a teen sanatorium (although her awful mother thinks she’s just attention-seeking).  There’s an orderly working there called Max (played by a pre-fame Laurence Fishburne), whose theory is that all the kids there are having nightmares because their parents took LSD in the ’60s.  I love this gloriously dated detail!

The doctor in charge of the patients, Dr Neil Gordon, is worried about the arrival of a new graduate student doctor, as he thinks it’ll disturb the patients’ progress.  However, when Kristen has a panic attack and attacks the staff who are trying to sedate her, the new doctor turns out to be Nancy from the first film, who overhears Kristen reciting the ‘Freddy’s coming for you’ rhyme and realises what’s going on.

Neil goes for a walk with Nancy.  She drops her bag, and helping her pick up the contents, he notices she’s taking a drug called Hypnocil.  He’s then distracted by the sight of a nun who seems to be staring at him.

Nancy is introduced to a couple of the teenage patients – Philip, who calls the hospital the snakepit, and Kincaid, who can’t keep his temper and gets himself put in the ‘quiet room’ (i.e. the padded cell) a lot.  In the corridor, they pass another patient called Joey, who looks perturbed, although it’s not really explained why.

At Kristen’s house, Nancy doesn’t get any answers from Kristen’s mother, who still thinks her daughter is faking everything.  Upstairs, however, she finds the papier mache house, and instantly recognises it.  Meanwhile, Neil is finding out about Hypnocil on a computer database, which probably looked super up-to-the-minute in 1987.

Kristen is dreaming again.  She sees a child’s bike making blood trails, then finds herself back in the dream house.  There’s a nice visually impressive sequence where Freddy, in snake form, chews up the room that Kristen is standing in.  Somehow, Heather hears Kristen in her dream, and gets pulled into the dream to help her.  Freddy recognises Nancy, which is a nice ominous moment.  They wake up, and Nancy realises that Kristen has the power to pull people into her dreams.

At the next day’s group therapy session, Nancy meets the rest of the young patients.  Will attempted a daredevil jump that went wrong and ended up in a wheelchair as a result; Jennifer wants to be an actress; Joey doesn’t speak; and Taryn is just ‘going through some s**t’.  After the session, Will, Joey, and Taryn have a game of D&D (or similar), but Taryn’s not into it, and besides, Max the orderly says it’s time for bed.  Will and Joey turn out to be sleeping in shifts to try and protect themselves from Freddy.

At a local restaurant, Nancy explains to Neil that her mother passed away in her sleep (which sort-of-tallies with A Nightmare On Elm Street 2, where the story around town was that Nancy’s mother committed suicide and Nancy went crazy – you can kind of see how the actual events would have become exaggerated), then she became estranged from her dad.  She wants to give Hypnocil to the kids, but Neil refuses, saying it’s too experimental.

Philip, while asleep, has one of the puppets on his wall turn into Freddy, who then puppeteers Philip by ripping out his limb muscles (gross!).  Joey sees Philip about to fall from the roof of the next-door priory building outside and wakes up Will.  They alert the other patients and staff, but it’s too late – Freddy drops Philip from the roof while the other kids are watching.

At the next day’s session, Neil’s colleague Dr Simms is an absolute cow to the teenagers, refusing to listen to anything they have to say.  Neil finally agrees to Nancy’s Hypnocil request, but Dr Simms insists the patients’ rooms be locked overnight.  However, Max agrees to turn a blind eye in the case of Jennifer, who wants to keep herself awake by watching TV in the TV room.

There’s a random scene with another orderly, who hits on Taryn, trying to get her to do drugs with him.  This guy is the worst and should definitely have been killed off at some point, but strangely we never see him outside of this scene.  The only point of the scene is to tell the viewer that Taryn’s a recovering drug addict, and we could have learnt that elsewhere, without bringing in a whole extra random character.

Jennifer, meanwhile, is burning herself with cigarettes to try and stay awake.  It doesn’t work, as the interviewer on the chat show she’s watching (Dick Cavett playing himself) suddenly turns into Freddy and attacks the interviewee (Zsa Zsa Gabor, also playing herself).  In a fairly quick sequence (no chasing or anything, which is unusual), Freddy takes over the TV, head and robotic arms emerging from its frame (he’d never be able to do this with a flatscreen one today!), and smashes Jennifer’s head into it.

At Jennifer’s funeral, the nun from earlier speaks to Neil, introducing herself as Sister Mary Helen and revealing that she knows something about what’s going on.  ‘The unquiet spirit must be laid to rest,’ she says.  When Nancy asks Neil who he’s talking to, it becomes clear that only he can see the nun.

At an unofficial therapy session arranged without Dr Simms’ knowledge, Nancy explains to the patients that Freddy killed her friends, and that they’re ‘the last of the Elm Street kids’ – the children of the adults who took part in burning Freddy to death.  Neil hypnotises them all into sleep, but at first it looks as though it hasn’t worked.  Joey is beckoned out of the room by a pretty nurse in the corridor, but the others realise that they are in the dream world after all when objects start moving strangely.

The nurse decides to seduce Joey, quickly gets naked and then turns into Freddy, which is very unnerving!  He captures Joey and sends him down to hang above a pit of fire.  Meanwhile, the dream version of the session room starts burning down, but the occupants all wake up when Dr Simms enters the room.

Because Joey is now in a coma, Neil and Nancy are suspended from duty, leaving the awful Dr Simms in charge of the patients.  While packing his stuff into his car, Neil sees Sister Mary Helen in the upstairs window where Philip fell to his death, and goes up to speak to her.  ‘This is where it began,’ she says, and we learn that the priory building’s been closed for years, but it used to be a cruel sanatorium until the ’40s.  It was closed after the youngest nun, Amanda Krueger, accidentally got locked in the building without anyone noticing and as a result spent two weeks being tortured and raped by the inmates.  When she was found, she was half-dead and pregnant with Freddy, the ‘bastard son of a hundred maniacs’.  Sister Mary Helen also apparently knows how to stop Freddy.  ‘You must find the remains and bury him in hallowed ground,’ she tells Neil.

Nancy visits the comatose Joey.  ‘Let him go, you bastard,’ she says, addressing Freddy, and creepily, the words ‘come and get him, bitch’ appear in bloody cuts on Joey’s chest.

Kristen is having another panic attack, and Simms, being as much of a cow as ever, sends her to the ‘quiet room’.  ‘You stupid bitch, they’re killing us,’ screams Kristen as she’s dragged away, and for the second time in this film I really wish Freddy was less discerning about whom he goes after when they sleep.

Neil and Nancy visit a bar to find ‘the one person who knows’, according to Nancy, where Freddy’s remains are.  As such, we get a welcome return for John Saxon as Lt. Thompson, Nancy’s dad!  His uniform says ‘security’ now, and he’s drunk in a bar, so I’m assuming he’s no longer part of the police force.  Nancy begs him to tell her where the remains are, but he pretends not to know what she’s talking about.  Meanwhile, Taryn calls Neil – the kids are panicking because Kristen’s been locked in the quiet room.  Neil sends Nancy to the hospital, then goes badass on Thompson, telling him that if he doesn’t want Nancy to die, he’ll have to help.  The two of them drive to a local church, where Neil steals holy water and a crucifix.  There’s a slightly-out-of-place comedy moment where the priest catches him, but Neil leaves his driving licence with the priest as security for the items.  Thompson then directs Neil to the old car salvage yard where Freddy’s remains are hidden.

Meanwhile, Nancy sneaks into hospital and, failing to get into Kristen’s cell as Max is on guard, gets the other kids together for another unofficial session.  They manage to get into Kristen’s dream and join her in the dream version of the quiet room, but Freddy immediately starts ripping the room apart, and the occupants are separated.  Kristen finds herself back in the scene shown at the start of the film, with her mother coming in and turning her music off, but it soon turns out to be the nightmare version – the mother’s boyfriend turns into Freddy and beheads the mother, which doesn’t stop her yelling angrily at Kristen.

Taryn, who’s found herself in a dingy street outside a jazz bar (one of those ’80s Hollywood set streets that’s supposed to look rough ‘n’ ready but actually looks really enticing and cool) hears Kristen yelling from somewhere, but before she can find her, Freddy appears in the street and Taryn challenges him to a knife fight.  Unfortunately, Freddy’s fingerknives turn into syringes, which inject Taryn with a lethal dosage.

Will, meanwhile, who can walk again in his dreams, finds a spiky torture version of his wheelchair, with Freddy taunting him to sit down.  Despite Will turning into his D&D character, the Wizard Master, Freddy still manages to kill him.

Kristen finds Heather and Kincaid; the latter is fed up of waiting for Freddy to find them and starts shouting his name.  An ominous-looking door appears, leading down to the pit of fire.  Meanwhile, Neil and Thompson find the Cadillac in which Freddy’s remains were hidden.  Thompson wants to leave, but Neil says they have to bury the body.

Nancy, Kristen, and Kincaid find the tied-up Joey…and Freddy.  Nancy rescues Joey before he drops, but the others have trouble fighting Freddy – he apparently draws power from the screaming souls of his victims, whose faces are shown on his torso (ew).  However, as Neil finishes digging the grave, Freddy disappears from the dream world, apparently aware of what’s going on with his remains.  The old Cadillac starts making noise, and Freddy possesses his skeleton, killing Thompson and half burying Neil.

In the dream world, Freddy reappears in a hall of mirrors.  Joey finally finds his voice, and screams, breaking the mirrors and releasing the others from the trap.  Thompson appears, claiming to be delivering a message to Nancy before passing into the next world, but turns into Freddy and fatally stabs her.  Nancy, as her dying act, saves Kristen by stabbing Freddy with his own fingerknives.  In the salvage yard, Neil wakes up, climbs out of the grave, and throws holy water on Freddy’s bones, causing him to disappear from the dream world.

At Nancy’s funeral, Neil sees Sister Mary Helen again, but she disappears.  Looking at the gravestone where she was standing, Neil realises that she was the ghost of Amanda Krueger, who died in 1968 and used ‘Sister Mary Helen’ as her nun name.

In the last scene, the sleeping Neil is shown to have Nancy’s protective dream doll and Kristen’s papier mache house.   The latter starts to glow ominously.  Roll credits.

I quite enjoyed this entry, despite the frustration of unlikeable characters not getting their comeuppance.  Quite interested to watch the rest of the series now!

More ’80s sequel fun tomorrow.

31 Days Of Horror: Horror Of Dracula

Horror Of Dracula (1958) is the third version of Dracula I’m watching this month, after Nosferatu and Universal’s Dracula!  I should really watch the 1992 version as well, but I’m kind of done with the story now so I think I’ll save that for next year.

Nice spooky statue shot to set the atmosphere!

This is the first of the Hammer horror films, which is a series with which I’m not nearly familiar enough, and am looking forward to exploring more in the near future.

The opening is very British with all the castle buldings and gates, looking exactly as boring as they look in real life if you visit these things all the time!  We then get an ominous shot of Dracula’s coffin, with silly unrealistically-coloured blood (it looks more like paint) spattering on it.

The backstory is provided by Jonathan Harker narrating his diary, confirming that the setting is 1885, slightly earlier than in the novel (which came out in 1897 and was set in an unspecified year during the 1890s).  At first it seems to be truer to the novel than the Universal version, with Harker being the one to visit Castle Dracula rather than Renfield, but when a young woman comes to speak to Harker, he tells her he’s the ‘new librarian’, which is a departure from the standard estate agent story.

Dracula makes arrangements for Harker to be comfortable until he can meet with him, thus keeping up the pretence a bit better than in previous versions.  However, the young woman begs for help, insisting that she’s a prisoner of Dracula, and then runs when the Count appears.

Dracula (Christopher Lee in the role that he didn’t like being defined by) is very normal-seeming at first, displaying typical British politeness toward Harker.  The geographical setting of the film is quite confusing – all the characters act extremely British, and have the British names of the original novel characters, but all the action in the town (which has streets with Germanic-sounding names) takes place fairly close to the castle, probably no more than thirty miles away (as at one point, the characters are able to travel to the castle from the town by horse and cart in the space of a couple of hours).

Harker is engaged to Lucy in this version, as opposed to Mina, like in the original.  Dracula takes an unusual interest in the photograph Harker keeps of her, which is something that happens in most versions of the story.  At night, he finds himself locked in his room and starts diarising again – but the twist is that he turns out to know what Dracula is!  ‘I will forever end this man’s reign of terror.’

The door is later unlocked, and downstairs, Harker meets the young woman again, who won’t tell him why Dracula is keeping her prisoner.  She then tries to bite him, leading to an abrupt vampire fight between her and the suddenly-arrived Dracula.  Harker gets knocked out in the kerfuffle.  He wakes up back in his room, locked in again, and is distressed to find the vampire bite on his neck.  He starts writing his diary again, worried that he will become a vampire and hoping that someone will be able to take care of it if he does – he seems to know a lot about the mythology.

In the morning, Harker hides his diary by the nearby crossroads and goes off to try and find Dracula’s coffin.  When he does, he stakes the girl vampire, which wakes Dracula up, and the Count sneaks off.  Harker finds his coffin empty, but Dracula soon catches up with him.

Cut to the local tavern in the village of Klausenberg, where Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, who’s great in this film) is ordering a brandy.  Harker turns out to have been a friend of Van Helsing, but the tavern owner is scared of the vampire and won’t share information about Harker’s visit with the doctor.  However, the waitress secretly passes him Harker’s diary, which was found by locals at the crossroads.

Van Helsing arrives at the castle and searches for Harker, but finds his room ransacked and Lucy’s picture missing.  Down in the crypt, he finds his friend has been turned into a vampire, and is asleep in a coffin.  We fade to black here, but it’s assumed that Van Helsing stakes him.

Back in what I assumed was England but actually turns out to be somewhere else in Vaguely Eastern Europe-Ish, Lucy’s brother and sister-in-law, Arthur (Michael Gough, who this Doctor Who fan will always think of as the Celestial Toymaker) and Mina Holmwood (it’s very confusing that all these different versions keep switching the characters about in terms of who’s related to who!), are suspicious of Van Helsing’s account of Harker’s death, with good reason, as he won’t give them any details.  Lucy, who Arthur and Mina believe is ill, turns out to be already under the influence of Dracula, as once the others have bid her goodnight, she opens her balcony window and takes her cross necklace off, showing vampire bite marks on her neck.

Meanwhile, at what looks like a hotel, Van Helsing is listening to some phonograph recordings that he’s previously made about vampire mythology.  Van-Helsing-on-tape is explaining the power of garlic, which is the big anti-vampire plant in this film, in contrast to the wolfsbane of the Universal version.  When a hotel worker shows up and asks Van Helsing who he was talking to, the doctor claims to have been talking to himself, which seems a bit unnecessary – surely everyone understood how phonography worked by that point?  It wasn’t some kind of secret.

Back at the Holmwood house, Dr Seward shows up to treat Lucy for anaemia.  He’s out of ideas and advises Mina to get a second opinion, so she goes to visit Van Helsing and brings him to see Lucy.  Examining her, he sees the vampire bite on her neck.  He tells Mina to keep Lucy’s windows closed and surround her with garlic flowers, and is very ominous about it, but doesn’t explain anything else to Mina.

Of course, Lucy can’t stand the smell of the garlic, and begs the housemaid, Gerda, to remove the plants and open the windows, which she does.  At this point, I assumed Mina had just forgotten to tell Gerda about Van Helsing’s instructions, but in the morning when the doctors show up due to Lucy having inevitably died, it turns out Gerda did know the instructions but is just a bit thick/softhearted, depending on the viewer’s reading!

Van Helsing plays a blinder here – rather than pointlessly trying to convince Arthur and Mina of the existence of vampires, as would probably be attempted by 99% of other film characters, he just leaves them Harker’s diary, telling them that they will understand if they read it.

A young girl who lives in the Holmwood house, Tanya, goes wandering at night, and has bumped into ‘Aunt Lucy’.  (At this point, it’s not very clear who Tanya is, as she knows Mina and Arthur as Mr and Mrs Holmwood, so she can’t be a blood relation.)  Perturbed by this, Arthur goes to check Lucy’s coffin and finds it empty.  Tanya has gone off with ‘Aunt Lucy’ again, and when Arthur sees them near the crypt, he calls to Lucy.  This is exactly as bad an idea as you might expect, but luckily Van Helsing is around to ward Lucy off with a fancy-looking crucifix.

(Ah!   It’s revealed in dialogue here that Tanya is Gerda’s daughter.  That could have been made clearer earlier!)

Van Helsing wants to use Lucy to find Dracula, but Arthur can’t bear the idea.  Instead, they stake her to give her peace.  Arthur has heard that vampires can turn into bats and wolves, but that turns out to be a false myth in this version.

While Van Helsing and Arthur go to try and find shipping records for Dracula’s coffin (which Dracula has used to transport some of his burial earth so he can survive in the town), a shifty-sounding message (allegedly from Arthur, but that’s clearly not the case) arrives at the Holmwood house, telling Mina to go to some random address on Frederickstrasse.  Cut back to the shipping office, where it turns out the coffin was shipped to the exact same address, an undertaker’s business.

Because Mina doesn’t have much sense, she goes to the random address alone, and Dracula appears from the coffin.  Cut back to the house, where Van Helsing and Arthur (now the best of buddies – it’s amazing what a bit of vampire hunting can do) are debriefing.  There’s a minor panic when it seems Mina is missing, but she immediately reappears, obviously holding a stole round her neck and claiming to have gone for a midnight stroll.  Van Helsing and Arthur apparently don’t see anything strange about this, and head off to the undertaker’s on Frederickstrasse.

We get a slightly odd bit of comedy relief with the morbid undertaker cracking jokes about people falling down the stairs, but he’s soon stunned into seriousness by the fact that the coffin has disappeared.

Back at the house, Van Helsing and Arthur are making more plans for vampire-hunting.  While he’s away, Arthur wants Mina to wear a cross for protection.  She faints at its touch, and they find she’s being turned into a vampire.  Arthur blames himself for not taking Van Helsing’s advice earlier, and agrees to let Mina lead them to Dracula.

The two men watch Mina’s window while she sleeps, but inside, Mina leaves her room to find Dracula brazenly standing in the hallway.  He follows her into the bedroom to bite her (the portrayal of this process is getting more and more sexual as the 20th century goes on).

Van Helsing and Arthur find Mina bitten and immediately start a blood transfusion process to save her life, which is a nice lift from the original novel (where towards the end everybody was doing transfusions with each other!).  I’m very impressed with the way Van Helsing is shown to be following due aftercare process, right up until the point where he tells the post-transfusion Arthur to drink ‘plenty of fluid – tea, coffee, or better still wine’!

Gerda’s been acting thick again by following Mina’s orders no matter what, meaning that Dracula’s coffin has been hidden in the Holmwood cellar without anyone noticing.  When this is discovered, Dracula runs, taking Mina with him, and Van Helsing surmises that he will have to go back to the castle, because vampires always have to sleep in the earth in which they were buried.  They get on a horse-driven cart and give chase.

There’s a random comedy bit here with someone rebuilding a barrier after Dracula’s horses and cart have crashed through it, only for Van Helsing’s horses and cart to do the same thing.

Arriving at the castle as dawn is starting to break, Dracula tries to bury Mina in the earth, but runs into the building when spotted by Van Helsing and Arthur.  While Arthur goes to rescue Mina, there’s a great chase sequence through the castle between Van Helsing and Dracula, culminating in Dracula trying to strangle Van Helsing.  However, Van Helsing is able to throw open the curtains and use the sun as a weapon, as well as a makeshift candlestick cross, meaning that Dracula is soon nothing more than dust.

The cross scar on Mina’s hand disappears as she’s freed from the curse, and the film ends on a shot of Dracula’s ring, revealed as the dust blows away.  Roll credits!

I quite enjoyed this one, even though the story was probably even more of a departure from the novel than the Universal version.  I’m still hoping that one day the BBC will do a sumptuous twelve-episode TV series that’s totally faithful to the book (there’s currently talk of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat doing such an adaptation, so I remain hopeful).

An ’80s sequel tomorrow!

31 Days Of Horror: The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man (1933) is another film I’ve never seen, even though I’ve had the DVD sitting on my shelf for years.  This horrorthon’s been a good opportunity to sit down and watch all these neglected DVDs!

The Invisible Man
Love this old film poster they used on the DVD cover.

What I hadn’t realised was that this was a Universal monster film, although I don’t think the Invisible Man became involved in the glut of sequels and crossovers that went on during the ’30s and ’40s.

Bizarrely, the film has an NRA sponsor caption at the beginning!  ‘We Do Our Part’.

Claude Rains (eight years before playing Sir John in The Wolf Man) is the eponymous Invisible Man, as I’m sure everyone knows, and Gloria Stuart (best known to currently living generations as the older Rose in Titanic more than sixty years later) is his love interest.

The film’s set in England again, meaning we get more not-quite-right accents from the American members of the cast.

We open with a bandaged figure struggling through the snow.  He enters a pub, the Lion’s Head, which despite the English name comes across as a bit saloon-y with piano music and patrons who all fall silent when a stranger enters.

The bandaged man is very demanding of Jenny Hall, the pub landlady, and soon the patrons are gossiping away about how the man is clearly an escaped criminal.  When Mrs Hall enters the man’s room with the mustard she’s forgotten for his meal, she sees him hastily cover his invisible face, and he angrily sends her away.

We cut to a father and daughter, Dr Cranley and Flora, worrying about one of Dr Cranley’s assistants, a man called Dr Jack Griffin, who has gone away to finish an experiment (and is clearly the bandaged man we’ve already seen).  Dr Cranley’s other assistant, Dr Kemp, has feelings for Flora, but she only loves ‘Jack’.

Back at the pub, a few days later, Mrs Hall is fed up of the Invisible Man’s rudeness and failure to pay his bills, and sends her husband upstairs to get rid of him.  Mr Hall gets thrown down the stairs for his trouble, and the pub patrons send for the police.  When confronted, the Invisible Man reveals his invisibility, resulting in a daft farcical sequence with the police trying to catch him as he sheds his clothes.  He then causes chaos around town, smashing glasses in the pub and stealing hats from people in the street.  He’s clearly suffering from madness of some sort.

Seguing beautifully, Dr Cranley and Dr Kemp work out that Dr Griffin was experimenting with a dangerous drug, monocane, made from flowers in India.  Dr Cranley explains that an experiment with the drug on a dog turned it white and raving mad.

Back at Dr Kemp’s home, he hears a story on the radio story about the Invisible Man, but before he can react, the Invisible Man reveals himself to be in the room with him.  ‘Don’t be afraid, Kemp, it’s me,’ he says, but soon turns to violent threats.

Back at the pub again, the police chief shows up and doesn’t believe a word of what the villagers tell him about the Invisible Man.  The latter also returns to the pub with the unwilling Dr Kemp’s help, as he needs to recover his scientific notebooks.  After dropping them to Dr Kemp through the window, he causes more destruction in the pub, and kills the chief of police.

We then cut to some detectives, who are making a search plan.  A country-wide radio broadcast interrupts people’s evening activities (we get a lot of scenes of dances in community halls and men sitting smoking pipes in their parlours, which is a lovely reminder of the age of this film!), and everyone in the country locks their doors.

Once he’s sure the Invisible Man is asleep, Dr Kemp makes a phone call to Dr Cranley, who says he’ll come in the morning so as not to arouse suspicion.  Dr Cranley then idiotically tells Flora what’s going on, and she insists on going round to see ‘Jack’ right this minute.  Meanwhile, Dr Kemp calls the police, disregarding Dr Cranley’s advice to keep the fact of Dr Griffin being the Invisible Man to themselves (which is fair enough, as it’s bad advice).

The Invisible Man consents to seeing Flora alone, and tells her that he’s doing it all for her – he wants to achieve scientific greatness.  He’s obviously mad, and she does realise this, but also clearly still loves him.  Dr Cranley and Flora leave, and the Invisible Man, who has spotted the police, escapes from the house, but not before vowing to Dr Kemp that he will kill kim at 10pm the following night.

Next morning, Dr Cranley is still trying to shield Dr Griffin from the police for some reason, but Dr Kemp tells them the truth.  Meanwhile, the Invisible Man goes around the country on a killing spree, causing a train to crash and throwing people off cliffs.

There’s an interesting shot where the distraught Flora looks at a picture of ‘Jack’ – but even then, the viewer is not shown the picture, so we still don’t know what his face looks like.

The police detectives have a plan to use Dr Kemp as bait to catch the Invisible Man, but Dr Kemp is no Jamie Lloyd in Halloween 5, and flatly refuses, so they have to come up with another plan where Dr Kemp will escape in disguise as a policeman and drive as far away as possible.  Unfortunately, the Invisible Man is one step ahead of them – he hides in Dr Kemp’s car, ties him up behind the wheel and sends the car off a cliff.

A convenient country-wide snowstorm, however, provides aid to the police.  When a farmer finds the Invisible Man sleeping in his barn, they decide to set fire to it and smoke him out so that they can see him in the snowstorm.  In the process of trying to escape, the Invisible Man is shot, and collapses in the snow.

Dr Cranley and Flora are told that there’s nothing that can be done, as the Invisible Man has taken a bullet to the lungs, but ‘his body will become visible as life goes’.  As such, after he tells Flora that he knows his scientific meddling was wrong, the Invisible Man dies, and we finally see Claude Rains as Jack Griffin in the last shot, which is a really nice touch.

I’d quite like to investigate other versions of this story now – I’ll definitely read the book, but Geth tells me the more modern film (Hollow Man with Kevin Bacon) is terrible!

Something more mid-century tomorrow.

31 Days Of Horror: House

I’ve not watched House (1986) for a while, though I vaguely remember Geth thinking it was the worst film ever.  It was produced by Sean S. Cunningham (creator of Friday the 13th) and directed by Steve Miner (who later directed Halloween H20), which makes it a nice curiosity.

I love that daft tagline!

The opening is accompanied by some lovely ’80s spooky synth by Harry Manfredini.  Very nice!

We open with a grocery delivery kid coming into the eponymous house to deliver groceries to elderly Elizabeth Hooper.  He’s about to leave the groceries by the door, but decides to go upstairs to investigate a strange noise.  Just leave the groceries like you were about to do, FFS!  Upstairs, the kid finds Elizabeth’s body hanging from the ceiling, and is quickly outside and zooming off on his moped.

At the funeral, Elizabeth’s nephew Roger is being incompetently consoled by some other dude.  Roger is a horror author, and at a book signing, we get his backstory: he’s not released any books for a while and is under pressure from his agent and publisher; he’s trying to write a Vietnam War memoir; and he’s divorced from actress Sandy Sinclair.  At Roger’s home, we further find out that his son, Jimmy, has gone missing, and that he pretends to have friends over whenever Sandy calls.

After having a nightmare about Jimmy in a jungle, Roger goes to visit his aunt’s house.  While being shown around by the estate agent, he has a flashback to when Jimmy disappeared, which happened while the family was visiting the house.  There are lots of creepy paintings about, painted by Elizabeth, who believed the house was haunted.

As part of the flashback, we see Roger trying to explain to the police what happened.  The detective is played by the same actor (Ronn Carroll) as the policeman who speaks to Alice at the end of Friday the 13th, which is a nice touch!

Roger decides not to sell the house and moves in, settling down to write his Vietnam book.  Soon after arriving, he has a vision of Elizabeth, who says the house tricked her and that it ‘knows everything about you’.  In the morning, Roger meets the neighbours – a pretty girl jogs by, and next-door neighbour Harold turns out to be a big fan of Roger’s books, which, as we will see, is going to be a bit of a theme.

Roger has a lot of flashbacks to the Vietnam War while writing, as you might expect.  While serving, he was apparently friends with a nutter called ‘Big Ben’ who had no fear (and no brains, according to his fellow soldiers), and was constantly running into danger.

That night, at midnight, Roger encounters a monster in the cupboard.  Rather than freaking out, he gets the old military fatigues on, rigs up some recording equipment and sets up a rope to open the cupboard again the following night.  There’s no monster, but when the clock strikes midnight, he realises it’s time-sensitive, and prepares to open it again.  Unfortunately, Harold shows up at exactly the wrong moment, which is also a bit of a theme in this film.

Harold has brought a ‘midnight snack’ for Roger, and at first seems to be quite a good guy, but not a believer in ghosts and monsters.  He then steals Roger’s address book (so clearly not a good guy after all) and, rather interferingly, phones Sandy, claiming to be worried about Roger’s mental health.  Strangely, she doesn’t question being contacted by a stranger, and says she’ll come to see Roger when she can.

Back in the house, more strange things are happening, with a stuffed fish coming to life and various axes and other sharp tools being telekinetically moved around and thrown at Roger.  The next morning, ‘Sandy’ shows up, but turns out to be a monster in disguise, and Roger shoots her.  Harold, hearing the gunshot, calls the police and reports a suicide attempt (bit of a leap!).  When the sirens start wailing, Roger hides the monster-as-Sandy’s body and starts pretending to polish his shotgun on the porch – but he needn’t have worried, ’cause the cops also turn out to be big fans of his.  I think I have new #novelistgoals after watching this film.

Roger ends up having the cops and Harold in for coffee by accident, largely because Harold invites himself, but manages to avoid them finding ‘Sandy’.  After a fight sequence with the monster, we get some daft music choices, with a jaunty pop track playing while Roger prepares to bury the body.

The jogging girl from earlier is swimming in the house’s pool, and introduces herself as Tanya.  Apparently Elizabeth used to let Tanya swim in the pool whenever she wanted, so she’s just gone ahead and continued doing that without checking with the new owner.  Roger, who is distracted by trying not to let her notice the still-moving monster body at his feet, doesn’t seem particularly bothered.  Once Tanya’s gone, he dismembers the body and buries the various parts of the monster in different areas of the garden.

More upbeat ’60s pop, with Dedicated To The One I Love playing during the montage of Roger’s preparations for the night’s monster-hunting.  Unfortunately, said preparations are interrupted first by Harold’s dog digging up a monster hand from the garden, and then by Tanya showing up with her toddler son Robert, who (a) looks about eighteen months old and, as it’s mid-1986, is therefore the same age as me – high five, Robert, even though you’re clearly just a plot annoyance! – and (b) has the monster hand that the dog dug up attached to his back, leading to a daft farcical sequence where Roger has to chase Robert down, get the hand off him and flush it down the toilet, all without Tanya noticing.  Tanya then insists that Roger babysits Robert, despite Roger’s protests.  To keep Robert occupied, they watch Sandy’s show on TV, and Robert falls asleep on the sofa.  Next time Roger checks on him, though, he’s disappeared, which is probably why it’s not a good idea to leave a kid unguarded in a haunted house.

As expected, the monsters have come out to try and capture Robert, meaning Roger has to fight them off to get him back.  Robert seems remarkably unfazed by the whole thing, and eventually Tanya collects him without incident.  With the coast clear, Roger brings Harold over for a session of ‘raccoon hunting’.  Because the monster, when it appears, obviously doesn’t look anything like a raccoon, Harold is too freaked out to shoot straight with the harpoon Roger has given him.  Roger is dragged into the house’s other dimension, and comes across a Vietnam scene with Big Ben lying injured, revealing the source of Roger’s war PTSD – when Ben begged him to kill him to put him out of his misery, Roger couldn’t do it and instead went off to find help, resulting in Ben being captured by the enemy and tortured for weeks before he died.

Roger escapes the other dimension, helps Harold to a sofa where he can sleep, and finds a painting that Elizabeth made of the trapped Jimmy.  Realising that Jimmy is trapped somewhere in the other dimension, he smashes the bathroom mirror to find a way in, and uses a rope to lower himself down into the blackness, fighting the cupboard monster as he goes.  Eventually, the monster breaks the rope, and Roger lands in a pool of water below.  The music at this point is very reminiscent of Friday the 13th, which is understandable given that Harry Manfredini scored both films.

In an unexpectedly straightforward sequence, Roger finds Jimmy in a cage, unlocks it, and they both emerge in the swimming pool.  It turns out to have been a creepy skeleton version of Big Ben that took Jimmy in revenge for Roger leaving him to get captured (although given what the vision of Elizabeth said about how ‘the house knows everything about you’, I’m guessing this is just the form the house’s evil force has taken in order to inflict maximum distress on Roger).  After fighting Ben for a while, Roger throws him over a cliff that has appeared at the back of the house, but Ben reappears and catches Jimmy.  However, Roger realises, somehow, that Ben can’t hurt either him or Jimmy.  He grabs Jimmy and blows Ben up with a grenade, setting the house on fire.  Harold runs out of his own house (how did he get back there after falling asleep on Roger’s sofa?) and Sandy arrives in a taxi at the same time, both catching sight of the flaming house.  Of course, Roger and Jimmy soon emerge from the front door, and there’s a cheesy scene with Jimmy running into his mother’s arms and a freeze-frame on Roger with some ‘Vietnam war film’ victory music playing over the top.  Roll credits!

Not a hugely satisfying ending, but the film’s a lot better than I remembered!

Back to the old films tomorrow.