SEIZURE (1974)

SEIZURE! (1974)

Director: Oliver Stone

Starring: Jonathan Frid, Martine Beswick, Mary Woronov, Hervé Villechaize, Joseph Sirola, Christina Pickles, Troy Donahue, Richard Cox, Henry Baker, Anne Meacham

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“Don’t ask us who we are, or where we come from. We are without beginning or end, and our purpose, our only purpose, is death.” – The Queen

The poster for this was so promising: a hooded man with an axe, a scantily dressed woman, and a bearded dwarf with a dagger, along with the tag line, “You cannot run from them… You cannot hide from them… Their only purpose is the breath-stopping panic of Seizure!” I was expecting something violent and possibly strange, but then I discovered this is a PG rate film, but had to keep hope alive, as this was made in 1974, and standards were a bit different back then: tougher, less concerned about who was offended. But nope, this is a definite PG movie, almost safe for prime time movie of the week.

Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows) is Edmund Blackstone, horror writer who has reoccurring nightmares that are weighing heavy on him, and effecting his family life, compounded by the difficulty of finding an ending to the novel he’s working on. He and his wife, Nicole (Christina Pickles) are also having a few absolutely unlikable friends over for the weekend.

As the night comes on three uninvited guests begin making their presence known, The Spider (Herve Villechaize), The Queen (Martine Beswick), and Jackal (Henry Baker). These three (as seen on the ever so promising poster) start picking off the friends, and bringing (much deserved) hell into their lives. Villechaize steals the movie as The Spider. When he’s on screen everyone else tends to disappear, or get in the way. The Spider is cold and remorseless, carrying out orders from The Queen without hesitation,and almost with glee. It’s as though his whole reason of existence is to cause suffering for others. When he leaps through the window into the Blackstone home he is clearly in charge of the moment.  Even The Queen, who is running the show is nowhere near as interesting as The Spider, and Jackal is nothing more than a strong man who lumbers through the scenes killing and crushing when told to.

The guests are forced to participate in various contests (foot race, knife fight, etc) with each other, loser getting killed, and this is where the PG rating really hurts the movie. All kills are off camera, and quickly cut to another scene. Even if they just showed it going down in shadows, or had the sounds of struggle it would have ratcheted things up with a needed intensity to make the viewer uncomfortable. You sometimes see the aftermath, but baby, I wanted to see more. Even the knife fight between Jonathan Frid and Mary Woronov could have been golden, but alas, it was not meant to be. The best is when one guest has their head crushed. Though you don’t see it happening, you do see the gruel in the aftermath. But again, it could have been so much better.

Seizure is not a terrible movie, but the poster is far more interesting than the actual film, and had this been decidedly aimed at an exploitation audience it could have been pretty damn awesome. There’s some good ideas that could have been expanded on, such as Eunice (Anne Meacham) communicating with her dead husband through The Spider, and willing the three killers to the house, and maybe have gone down that storyline instead of the one Stone ultimately chose, as it was more sinister and creepier seeming.  But as it is, it’s nothing that I would say you must see, and no wonder that Oliver Stone reportedly wants to pretend like it was never made. (MA)

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NW: Nate Wilson    DC: Devon Cahill   HR: Heath Row   MA: Matt Average

ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)

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Tribute to Verna Bloom: Animal House at the Aero April 4, 2019. Photo: Matt Average

ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)

Director: John Landis

Starring: John Belushi, John Vernon, Tom Hulce, Verna Bloom, Martha Smith, Kevin Bacon, Mark Metcalf, Tim Matheson, Karen Allen, Stephen Furst, Mary Louise Weller, Donald Sutherland, James Daughton

Still one of the absolute best comedies ever. Even better when seen with an audience. Even better when director John Landis and Martha Smith (Babs Jansen) are there to talk about the movie. 

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Martha Smith, and John Landis at the Aero, April 4, 2019. Photograph: Matt Average

THE DEVASTATOR (1988)

THE DEVASTATOR (aka Hostile Takeover, aka Office Party) (1988)

Canada

Director: George Mihalka

Starring: David Warner (Eugene Bracken), Michael Ironside (Larry Gaylord), Kate

Vernon (Sally), Will Lyman (Smolen), John Vernon (Mayor)

Music: Billy Bryans, Aaron Davis

Viewed: Streaming Amazon Prime

Transfer quality: Bad

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A man takes three co-workers hostage while working overtime on Thanksgiving weekend. He has no demands. –IMDB

This short description should have come with a spoiler alert, because that was pretty much it.

Man, this was a long slog. I had to pause this more than once to check that I was watching the right movie.

There’s a moment towards the middle of this where I got excited that I would get to see “The Devastator,” when Police Chief Smolen (Will Lyman) rues the Mayor’s (John Vernon, Animal House, Savage Streets) decision to bring in the SWAT team for assistance and refers to SWAT commander Garlas (Anthony Sherwood, Terror Train, Heartbreak High) as “Robocop.” I actually woke up and sat up in my chair a bit, hopeful that this shallow attempt at a “deep” philosophical movie was going to ride off the rails into something amazing. I was sadly mistaken, however, as Garlas turned out to be just a cut-rate Billy Dee Williams trying, very unconvincingly I might add, to out strut Chief Smolen. So no Devastator, terrible soundtrack, and an atrocious transfer…seriously, the only redeeming value of this film is that it gives you the ability to link Scanners to Animal House in a game of 7 degrees of Kevin Bacon.

I suppose rebranding this film as “The Devastator” achieved its goal of suckering me into wasting an hour and a half of my movie watching time, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’m not even convinced this is a legit title, as IMDB lists the possible titles as Hostile Takeover and Office Party. Screw you, Amazon. (DC)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Heath Row: HR  Matt Average: MR

 

JOHNNY ORO (1966)

JOHNNY ORO (aka Ringo and His Golden Pistol) (1966)

Directed: Sergio Corbucci

Starring: Mark Damon, Valeria Fabrizi, Franco De Rosa, Giulia Rubini

Viewed on Amazon Prime

Transfer quality: Bad

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I was excited to watch this movie because its directed by Sergio Corbucci and I just really loved watching Navajo Joe, and The Great Silence.  This though… not good in my opinion, don’t waste your time. The action sucked, the story was boring, the heroes were shitty, and the villain was not scary.  Oh, and the theme song was just not catchy at all.  We all know that a good Western always needs a great theme song.  Sergio blew it on this one.  I watched it on Prime… another bad transfer with terrible dubs.   (NW)

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Nate Wilson: NW  DC: Devon Cahill  HR: Heath Row   MA: Matt Average

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1965)

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (aka I lunghi capelli della morte) (1965)

Director: Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson)

Starring: Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska, and Giuliano Raffaelli (as Jean Rafferty)

Viewed: Streaming via Kanopy

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Near the end of the 15th century in a “vaguely German Medieval world,” a woman (Zalewska) who spurned the affections of Count Humboldt (Raffaelli) is accused of killing the count’s brother and put on trial by fire as a witch. Just before she is dramatically engulfed in flames, clinging to a cross made of rough wood—her younger daughter Lisabeth Karnstein watching—she curses the count and foretells that a plague will descend. (The riveting opening scenes hark back to the 1949 Carmine Gallone melodrama Il Trovatore, based on Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 opera. The movie, however, was reportedly based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla.) Meanwhile, the count forces himself on her older daughter Mary Karnstein (Steele), who came out of hiding to plead her mother’s case—and then pushes Mary to her death from the top of a waterfall to keep the secret of his infidelity safe. Lisabeth’s nursemaid surreptitiously buries the ashes of the mother with Mary’s body so Lisabeth can grow up knowing where her family’s remains lie.

Fade to the turn of the century and the onset of a plague—as predicted!—and the orphaned Lisabeth has indeed grown up, now mature and the very likeness of her mother (played by the same actress, Zalewska, even). She unwillingly draws the attentions and affections of Baron Kurt Humboldt (Ardisson), who manipulates her into marriage and proceeds to abuse her emotionally and physically. His father, the count, has become elderly and is now fearful of his impending curse, and ailing—more so once he learns that his son, the baron, not the “witch,” actually killed his brother (because he was going to be disowned). During an intense thunderstorm, lightning strikes the secret grave, and the older sister Mary comes back to life in a wonderful special effects sequence. “I lunghi capelli della morte… explored a murderous past that stalks a present,” wrote Andrew Mangravite in Film Comment. “Italy is, after all, a very old country, with ghosts to spare.”

Taken in by the castle occupants to escape the storm and plague, the lightning-raised Mary adopts the persona of a traveler, attracting the lusts of the baron (now married to her younger sister Lisabeth, remember). “A typical situation of the Gothic filone requires that a living person fall in love with a dead one, or vice versa,” wrote Roberto Curti. A love scene between the baron and Steele’s vengeful traveler from beyond the grave includes moments of partial nudity; however, a body double took Steele’s place for that scene. The lovers conspire to suffocate Mary (shades of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado) so the baron is free to remarry—infidelity is a sin—but things don’t go quite as planned. Nevertheless, after various machinations and some increasingly fevered acting by Ardisson, Mary’s family retribution goes exactly as planned—and as predicted by her mother.

The Long Hair of Death—Margheriti’s third gothic, and his second movie with Steele—is subtle and slowly paced, perfectly suiting the gothic storyline and setting. The movie was filmed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, as well as Castle Massimo in Arsoli in a span of three weeks. “[F]or Margheriti and cameraman Riccardo Pallotini to conjure up 1499 as a carnival of plague-stricken beggars, corpses ‘animated’ by their resident mice, and grotesque burning effigies … was a feat,” Mangravite wrote. “Margheriti’s gothics were atmospheric triumphs in black and white.”

The film, then, aims for moody suspense and guilt-ridden terror rather than overt shocks or gore, accentuated by minimal yet excellent special effects (the witch’s burning, Mary’s supernatural reconstitution, the movements of a corpse, and Mary’s spectral comings and goings in the tombs of the castle). There are secret doors within fireplaces, hidden stairways, underground crypts and skeletons, a box of poisonous powder, and plenty of dark, foreboding ambience. The women do have long hair. And Death walks among them.  (HR)

 

Note: At one time the most rare Steele movie in America, the film was previously only available on a Sinister Cinema video tape. The movie is now available on a Raro Video DVD and Blu-Ray. Sinister still offers an English-dubbed version with English opening titles on DVD and VHS. Several double-feature DVDs are also available, with An Angel for Satan (Midnight Choir), with Fangs of the Living Dead (Alpha Video), and with Terror Creatures from the Grave (East West Entertainment). Carlo Rustichelli’s original soundtrack is also available on CD and LP.

 

Sources

Blumenstock, Peter, “Margheriti: The Wild, Wild Interview, Video Watchdog #28, 1995: 42-61.

“Carlo Rustichelli: I Lunghi Capelli Della Morte LP,” Two Headed Dog, Two Headed Dog, https://www.twoheadeddog.com/carlo-rustichelli-i-lunghi-capelli-della-morte-lp/, accessed March 22, 2019.

Curti, Roberto. Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2015.

Ellinger, Kat, “The Long Hair of Death, aka I lunghi capelli della morte (US Blu-Ray Review),” Diabolique Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, https://diaboliquemagazine.com/long-hair-death-aka-lunghi-capelli-della-morte-us-blu-ray-review/, accessed March 22, 2019.

Hardy, Phil, ed., The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror, Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 1995.

“I Lunghi Capelli Della Morte,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2ucUujc, accessed March 22, 2019.

Stanley, John, John Stanley’s Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again, Pacifica, California: Creatures at Large Press, 1994.

“The Long Hair of Death,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2CqCF4I, accessed March 22, 2019.

“The Long Hair of Death,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2Cq56Q6, accessed March 22, 2019.

“The Long Hair of Death,” IMDb, IMDb.com Inc., https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058307/, accessed March 22, 2019.

“The Long Hair of Death,” IMDbPro, IMDb.com Inc., https://pro.imdb.com/title/tt0058307/, accessed March 22, 2019.

“The Long Hair of Death,” SinisterCinema.com, Sinister Cinema, http://www.sinistercinema.com/product.asp?specific=32274, accessed March 22, 2019.

“The Long Hair of Death / An Angel For Satan,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2CoZyW4, accessed March 22, 2019.

“The Long Hair of Death / Fangs of the Living Dead,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2TWLNI5, accessed March 22, 2019.

“The Long Hair of Death / Terror Creatures from the Grave,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2FdhnYW, accessed March 22, 2019.

Mangravite, Andrew, “Once Upon a Time in the Crypt,” Film Comment, January 1993: 50-52, 59-60.

O’Neill, James, Terror on Tape, New York City: Billboard Books, 1994.

Weldon, Michael J., The Psychotronic Video Guide, New York City: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996.

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NW: Nate Wilson  DC: Devon Cahill   HR: Heath Row   MA: Matt Average