Sunday, June 2, 2019

CATHY'S CURSE

Directed by Eddy Matalon
Continental Video VHS

THE FILM
“You and I both know that I’ve had a nervous breakdown.”

Cathy’s Curse is all about a little girl and her dad dying in a car crash during some very slippery synth-filled opening credits. The girl’s brother (now grown and working for someone-or-other doing some-such-thing) returns, years later, to the family home with his wife and daughter, Cathy. Cathy finds a doll belonging to the little girl and becomes possessed. Havoc is wrecked and dirty language stays well within the barriers of good taste.

My favorite Exorcist-homage (as it were) is The Possessed. The best! Where is the DVD uncut and letterboxed? I don’t know. I’ll ask my man on the street.

Well, I asked him. He yelled something about snakes in the garbage cans and tried to run me over with his shopping cart. Target is not getting that cart back anytime soon.

Why mention The Possessed in a review for Cathy’s Curse? Frankly, I don’t remember. I like it though. And, I like Cathy’s Curse. Most of it. At least, I remember liking it. I could be thinking of something else. This film is very Canadian. If you’ve seen Ghostkeeper or Rock ‘N’ Roll Nightmare, you’ve been wrapped up in the Canadian thing. They feel a bit like other horror films you might have seen, but do their own thing. Cathy’s Curse feels a bit like The Exorcist but it feels more like The Exorcist if, before you watch it, someone says, “Oh, this is an Exorcist knock-off.” Little girl swearing. Yep. Killing people. Sure. Strange make-up on her face. Eventually. Odd voices. Why not? But, somewhere in the mix things went a little goofy. The film brews its own rhythm, atmosphere and structure.*

Unfortunately, “goofy” is a two-way street. “You whore! You big, fat whore!” That’s awesome. The amusement on the faces of the little girl yelling it and the old, drunk guy with the big beard makes for a good time. On the other hand, the lack of any kind of pacing, well…It just means that the viewer relies on set pieces rather than momentum and story. And, some of the set pieces are a little on the bland side. Especially when I started to think, “How come the dad can’t piece together the fact that his daughter’s acting goofy, his wife is going mental and people keep dying?” It’s as odd as the house in Pet Sematary with the busy road in front of it. Oh, it worked in the book. In the movie, I can’t imagine why a sane person would move there with a child. And the thing here is that I rarely think of this kind of stuff during a movie. Usually, I let the movie carry me along. If I am thinking it, it’s really blatantly coming across.

I like Canada. I grew up near Niagara Falls. There’s a picture of me being menaced by the Frankenstein’s Monster while in a backpack on my Dad’s back that is awesome. (I was a baby. This wasn’t last year.) Things go kind of odd when they go north or south of the U.S. border. The Canadian oddness is subtler than the Mexican oddness but don’t let the lack of wrestlers put you off. Again, I was making a point about the movie and my mind drifted away. Suffice it to say, Cathy’s Curse is not something I’ll go back to, most likely. But, I might. The setting and some of the individual moments are nice. It’s a movie that was more fun to watch than to think about.**

So, maybe that means you should watch it once and go from there.

AUDIO AND VIDEO
Cathy’s Curse works best on video. The Continental tape looks all muddy and worn, just as a VHS should.

Boy, that Chilling Classics 50 DVD Pack really craps out with this one. The film has all sorts of digital video hoohah going on. People keep breaking up into their constituent digital parts. It’s a touch distracting. I think, at one moment, Dad became a series of ambulatory ones and zeroes. The VHS would be a better choice.

(By the way, the Blu-Ray is brilliant.)

EXTRAS
An upgrade from “whore” to “big fat whore” is an extra in my book.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Cathy’s possessed. And, it ain’t half bad. A double feature with Ruby would be ideal.

*I have seen one review that said this was an “Omen rip-off”. I don’t think it’s apocalyptic enough. Audrey Rose rip-off, maybe. But, then that sort of ties back to The Exorcist anyway so I’m standing my ground.

**Here’s something I noticed on a proof read: The opening quote about the breakdown is a bit of blatant exposition from the mother to the father. I had been planning on mentioning it in the review. But, my mind just strolled away and I left the quote up there. Why? I think it’s there to amuse me as I wrote. The movie will not stick to my ribs, as it were.
05/11/06

CARNIVAL OF BLOOD

Directed by Leonard Kirtman
Something Weird DVD

THE FILMS
Nothing feels like those “First Half of the 70s” American Horror films. With no formula in place, they did whatever they thought would scare people. And, that involved actual scare tactics, lots of gore, sleaziness, downbeat endings and anything else they could think of. Oh, throw big sloppy synths in there, too.

Some of these were like horror movies of old. Some of these were mysteries. Some of them followed psycho killers around. Some of them went there own way, into odd, odd places where boredom rode tandem with insanity.

Hi, Leonard Kirtman. Hello, Carnival Of Blood.

Coney Island. We’re at one of those games that involve throwing darts at balloons and winning stuffed animals that, frankly, look crappy but seem to be the height of Carnival Prize Junk. I suppose it’s not the prize itself; it’s the excitement involved in winning it. The thrill of the darts being thrown, the water being sprayed, things being tossed or what have you.

I love carnivals. I love to ride the slightly-scary rides. For some reason, I prefer to watch others play the games. I think if I had an endless supply of cash there would be games played all night long. But, I could feel the scam rising off of some of the games. And, I couldn’t allow myself to spend my money on something like that. I’d rather buy a Fat Pack of Fried Dough and a watery soft drink of some sort.

Tom and Gimpy run the stand in this movie. And, the people flood by and some stop and play. Some lose, some win. Some die. Well, it can’t all be pizza and Fried Oreos. Gimpy has a hunchback and gets angry. He seems very suspicious. Tom seems like a regular guy. Unless you start to talk to him, then he ends up seeming a little odd too. A local attorney is roping in his artiste girlfriend to help out investigating the murders. The whole thing doesn’t need to be a mystery. It could have been some random fella coming in and killing everyone. But, there is a bit of mystery here, which is not much of a mystery in the end.

The movie has a glorious cyclic structure to it. A couple (or, in once case, a woman) show up and argue or stumble around the carnival. They play the dart throwing game. They incur the wrath of Tom & Gimpy. They go to the fortune teller. The woman is horribly mutilated. The attorney talks to his girlfriend. They argue. Repeat.

The actors wander through the place passing by endless crowds of people. Many of them stare directly at the camera. Sometimes the boom is in shot. But, it’s so obviously in shot most of the time that it took me ages to realize that it was the boom. It’s like the sun. You don’t pay attention to it unless someone points it out.

Folk-type songs float across the soundtrack, including one about carnivals. Synths flap all over the soundtrack. They don’t seem to make music. They just make odd noises and set weird, weird moods. It matches the strange, red, wet blood that seems to flow into everything.

There’s something about a horror film (or any film, really) set in a certain place at a certain time. I’m pretty sure Coney Island doesn’t look like this anymore. So, to see everyone meander around it is a joy. It’s the exact opposite of timeless but it’s not dated. It’s right of that time. “Dated”, I think, implies that whatever it was is trying to be of its time. Carnival Of Blood is not of its nothing. Kirtman just took the cameras down there and shot. It’s all so off-the-cuff that the proprietors may not have even known that this movie was occurring. Wouldn’t that make it even more exciting?

The quality of the film is what it is. It’s poorly made. Poorly written (if, indeed, it was). And, the structure can put you right to sleep. But, if you watch the movie purely to see a horror film that is as slick as anything else, well, I don’t know why you’re reading this. Maltin still publishes a yearly thing, I believe. He’ll help you. There was a remake of Prom Night a few years ago. Check It Out!

Carnival Of Blood is an experience. It’s 88 minutes of oddballery. A strange burp of a film that sits in my mind long after I watch it. When it ends, I want to watch it again. And, I want to watch it’s co-feature Curse Of The Headless Horseman, of which more shortly.

AUDIO AND VIDEO
Very rough shape. The film is saturated with green emulsion lines, scratches, and general noise. In this case, the lower-than-normal quality of the print isn’t a big deal at all. The gritty aesthetic of Carnival seems tailor made for this kind of presentation.

EXTRAS
Not as many supplements as other Something Weird double features, but definitely some great stuff. Two TV spots for the features and several similarly-themed trailers are present, all of which make for a super fun watch. There’s also a gallery of horror poster and ad art, which carries over from several other SWV discs.

Aha, and the short subjects. Included here are The Hunchback Of Massapequa Park and Hands Of Justice, two teenaged Super 8 films from the 70s. This is the kind of stuff we love. Completely unknown and seemingly picked straight from an old attic somewhere, these two wonders flow with youthful good times. Hunchback runs six minutes and follows around a teenaged, fake-mustached hunchback as he terrorizes suburbia. In Hands Of Justice, our hero, Roy, daydreams about various gory revenge scenarios involving the thug that mugged him. If you enjoy this sort of thing, you must see them. Rounding out the shorts is an old soundie reel titled Carnival Show. It’s in great shape and contains a few singing and dancing bits with a carnival barker.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I don’t believe that Leonard Kirtman was a weird man. But, this film is sort of like, if you don’t, for example, cook and you sit down with a recipe or you’ve seen someone make something and you think “I can do that!”…And, you start to cook…maybe you follow the recipe or maybe you don’t. An hour later, you have created something that looks wrong, maybe tastes wrong or is so different from what you wanted to do that no one can figure out what the heck you’ve done.

This film is like that meal, with Burt Young as seasoning.
05/27/10

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Don't Squeeze The Quisenberry

Why dislike Byron Quisenberry’s The Outing aka Scream? It’s a modest, quiet horror film that seems to have one foot in the early 70s and the other firmly resting in the early 80s. It has a calm, steady rhythm broken up by loud moments and a climax that is suddenly there and gone. It has a rather cryptic explanation for why it’s doing what it’s doing, which has a strange sense of dread wrapped around it. And, every few minutes the camera goes off on odd tangents quite unlike anything else in American films at that time.

If you spend 82 minutes watching a slow film that doesn’t seem to really do much, I can understand the need for something (anything) to justify the end. The Outing presents it’s explanations very assuredly but there is something missing. And, it’s not the something missing of Final Exam and the motives of its killer, which is explained in a comment made by one of the characters in an off-handed manner. It’s not the “Who is that guy exactly?” of Don’t Go In The Woods. The Madman in that one is a Wildman raised in the woods (with a decent piece of real estate) who is protecting his home.
The Outing is different…But, before I discuss what the heck is going on in the film, I should probably give out a little plot. I don’t know how much of this is needed. A group of around 12 people (2 guides, 10 vacationers) are on some sort of canoe trip. They spend the night on an old Western ghost town street, which may be a real Old West street or an Old West Street movie set, long abandoned. They seem to be heading somewhere more important and just staying here for the night. Soon after darkness sets in someone/ something begins to kill them. The next morning, their canoes are gone and they have to stay in the town for another day. That night, the killing begins again but not before a strange visit from Woody Strode on a horse. He tells an odd tale about a Ship’s Captain and the troubles they had on the sea. Then, he goes. The killer makes an all-out attack on the group until Woody shoots it. The killer is never seen.

All of this is framed by an odd bit in a room (which I am convinced is somewhere in the ghost town) with a couple of paintings and a dresser with a clock and three figurines on it. The figurines are of the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. The opening is a shot of a painting of a ship on a windswept sea. Then, we see the figurines and then the clock, which strikes midnight. The sound of something being sliced through is heard and two things drop. We pan back and see the baker and candlestick maker have lost their heads. The eyes of the butcher turn, fast to the camera.

I know the rhyme. These three men were in a tub getting up to something. No one quite knows why they were there. Something dirty, something wicked. The butcher here seems to silence the other two. But, they’re not meant to be on a whaling type-ship, are they? They’re in a tub or a small rowboat. The ending moments don’t really help either.

We see that the clock is at midnight. The butcher loses his head. We pan up to see the portrait of an African American gentleman who I believe is the captain. The camera fades to the date in the corner: 1851. So, the killer is the ghost of the captain inhabiting the ghost town. It kills anyone who enters there. Woody Strode is his first mate. His rambling tale is an apology for the Captain’s behavior. And, in the end, he stops the killing and the butcher dies.
Does that sound right? Because that is not completely from the movie. I’m extrapolating a bit. I’m wondering if the killer is invisible. That would explain why we never ever see it but we see cleavers, scythes and axes lifted slowly off of walls. Maybe that’s how it is able to so easily get everywhere. People turn and see a cleaver floating through the air and then it whacks them! Who are the baker and the candlestick maker then? The Company Men? Is it a black revenging themselves on white thing? Why these people? What crime could Alvy Moore have committed? And, why is a Captain from the 1850s inhabiting an old ghost town street somewhere on the West Coast, nowhere near the ocean? Doesn’t it seem an odd spot? Shouldn’t he be haunting a wharf in New England?

I’ve watched this film about twenty times. Every time I do I get a little bit closer to what I think is going on but I never quite hit it. Sometimes when I get to the end of one viewing I forget what I learned the previous time. For me, that’s all part of the fun. But, there is more to the film’s appeal than unexplainable motives. There is the whole atmosphere, the style, the odd cast and the general overall creepiness of the whole affair.

I know I may stand alone here but this film still creeps me out. The slow pans through the ghost town at night give me a shaky feeling whenever I watch them. People don’t say much in this movie. And, many times, the camera floats off of them when they do. The dark buildings are scary. When the one man is yanked back into the building and the doorway slams in the camera’s face (lens), my skin crawls. Lou sleeping under the staircase and hearing something go up the steps sends me shivering. The way Alvy Moore seems to see something in one of the buildings and does a little spin makes me glad that Mr. Kimball never went on vacation. And, the few shock moments, the moments when the film bursts onto another level, are as effective as they are surprising. The two big moments I’m thinking of are when the motorcycle rider is tossed through the door and when the axe slams down on Andy’s neck. If you are caught in the rhythm of the film, these two moments can stop your heart for a second.

The whole thing moves at such a slow, deliberate pace but in a different way than other films of this nature. The camera is almost always moving here. There are no shortages of close-ups and coverage in the scenes. This isn’t a film where the camera sits on one end of the room and everyone acts and the next scene begins. The camera has a different set of motives from what we see on screen. And, it knows where the weapons are, which is always a plus.
The camera focuses on a person as they look around or say something. Then, the camera will slowly pan or track away as if it knows that we know what’s going on there but something else more interesting is occurring elsewhere. I don’t recall ever quite seeing anything like it in a film. Possibly in some Argento stuff, where something is occurring and the camera suddenly floats away to reveal something else to the left of the main characters. But, The Outing has less purpose than an Argento film. I always felt that an Argento tangent is very important to the film. It’s revealing information to us. Quisenberry pans or tracks away and seems to be exploring half the time. At first, it’s curious but, once the killings start, it’s just being mischievous by driving us towards the killer when it knows that you can’t kill the camera.

When the Final Girl is a pudgy guy somewhere in his thirties (LOU!) you know that something’s askew. The film feels a bit like a slasher but the ages of the cast (probably late twenties to one real old guy) belie that. I’m not sure what Quisenberry was keeping an eye on but it’s not the pulse of the nation at that time. There’s no nudity and very little gore. The characters are so vague that every time I watch it and see several women huddled together I always think “1…2…3? Where’d the other one come from?” Lou and the jerk are the only ones who stand out. But, neither of them really do much. Everyone is kind of awkward around each other once they realize that any of them could be the killer. So, there are lots of long silences. No one is witty, no one is a wiseass. They’re just normal people who get trapped in an odd, life-threatening situation. They become even less relevant as characters when you think that Woody Strode’s speech is purely for us. They can’t possibly benefit from it because they would need to see the room that we see in order for real sense to be made.

So, what do we have? A deliberate, creepy film that revels in its own low-key oddness. That, from a distance, like Final Exam and The Last Slumber Party seems to be a regular run-of-the-mill horror film that never seems to take off. It seems to want to be a part of the early 80′s slasher craze but doesn’t really know how. It seems classier. When Andy is thrown around the saloon, it seems rather violent until you think that Quisenberry is a stunt man so, naturally, any stunt work is going to be stellar. Why is there no blood? Because, it’s about the stunt, more than the blood. I wish there had been more moments like this but it’s not a problem. The Outing is a film that seems to very clearly say “Here’s what’s going on!” and then defiantly makes little sense. By that I mean, I think Byron knew what was going on but he can’t quite get it to work, to connect. People have to make too many suppositions based on vague information. It’s all of these elements that bring the film together for me and make it something that I enjoy returning to, once or twice a year.
It’s not a well-loved or even liked film. And, its pace can be a bit much. (I almost always drift off during Woody’s tale.) But, watch it with an open mind and just feel it…as it were…The film works. I’d love to see a nice, widescreen version of it. But, I don’t know about commentary and such. Once I find out what’s going on, it may lose some of the magic. I don’t remember Bergman saying exactly what The Silence was about. I’d hope that Mr. Quisenberry would be relatively calm about what he was up to. Keep the mystery.

We champion all kinds of odd stuff around here. For example, Frozen Scream. If you don’t like it, well, you don’t like it. But, if you’ve read some of my stuff and you have a vague idea of what I like, you may gauge why this film has such a special spot on my movie-watching list. Its singular, rather oddball vision makes it worth the time of anyone willing to sit still and absorb. And, one of the great things here is that I don’t think it was meant to be anything more than a slasher film like any other. It’s the gulf in between what I think it was supposed to be and what it is that makes it so interesting, so re-watchable.