Friday, October 28, 2011

21 Supernatural Films From Around The World (Featuring The Agitation of the Mind, The Celluloid Highway and Cool Ass Cinema!)


Well, here we are my friends and dear readers! Welcome to The Film Connoisseur’s Humongous Halloween MONSTER BLOG POST! This isnt your regular, itty bitty blog post, nope, this is a MONSTER BLOG POST! So anyhows, this time around I’ve managed to gather some of my friends and colleagues from around the blogosphere to collaborate on this magnanimous event. We got Neil Fulwood from The Agitation of the Mind, Shaun Anderson from The Celluloid Highway and Brain Bankston from Cool Ass Cinema, all awesome blogs you should go and visit as soon as possible if you haven’t done so already, these guys are the cream of the crop as far as film blogging goes, plus they are all swell dudes as well. 

So anyways, for this special event we’ve each concentrated on films of the supernatural from different countries and angles. I'm very happy with how this collaboration turned out because we've covered movies from all over the world and from varied decades going as far back as the early 1920's! Brian will be talking a bit about Supernatural films from Hong Kong and Japan, Shaun will be talking about British Supernatural Films, Neil mentions 5 American Supernatural Horror Films that are worth a damn, and I will be going on about Black and White/Silent films of the Supernatural. So waste no time and dig in my friends! This one has been a while in the making, and is all the more special for it. Hope you enjoy it! 

COOL ASS CINEMA’S 5 SUPERNATURAL FILMS FROM HONG KONG AND JAPAN

Tales of horror and the supernatural from Hong Kong and Japan provide some of the most bewildering and fascinatingly alluring examples of ancient folklore brought to spooky life. Populated by an assortment of friendly and not so friendly apparitions, ghouls and goblins, their sole purpose is to haunt, or seek retribution on those among the human world. These varied examples below cover the gamut from vengeful spirits, to sorcerer's spells and deadly curses, to angry gods and monsters of all shapes and sizes.


Title: GHOST OF YOTSUYA (1959)

Director: Nobuo Nakagawa

Comments: TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN is a famous, centuries old Japanese tale of terror that has been adapted for the silver screen a dozen or more times. One of the most famous versions was this one from director Nobuo Nakagawa, a filmmaker well versed in Nipponese horror cinema. This sordid story of betrayal, brutal murder and revenge concerns a savage, yet indolent man who murders his fiance's disapproving father, then later murders his wife when his boss makes him an offer he can't refuse. It isn't long before his deformed wife's ghost returns from the dead to exact bloody retribution. Stylishly directed and possessing strong production values, YOTSUYA stars Shigeru Amachi as the utterly despicable Iemon (like E-a-mon) whom you will quickly grow to hate. The supernatural elements dominate the last half as Iemon and his conspirators pay dearly for the tragedies they've wrought. Featuring several bonafide skin-crawling moments, this version of the famed tale is one of the most popular. Another version was made the same year in B/W from director Kenji Misumi. Tomisaburo Wakayama, well known internationally as Ito Ogami from the gore splattered LONE WOLF & CUB series acted in two different versions of the story--one in 1956 and the other in 1961 for Shin Toho and Toei respectively.


Title: DAIMAJIN series (1966) 

Directors: Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Kazuo Mori, Kenji Misumi

Comments: With the success of the GAMERA films and the booming Chambara genre, it was a natural that at some point, some studio would attempt to meld the two. The result was DAIMAJIN (1966), a trilogy of films about persecuted villagers who pray to their vengeful god to save them from assorted rampaging warlords. After numerous and torturously vicious incidents, Daimajin finally comes to life to deliver a dark vengeance upon the aggressors and desecrators of its shrine. Hidden within a mountain, a band of samurai attempt to destroy the idol after hammering a huge spike into its head. Thunder, lightning and earthquakes result in Daimajin awakening and uncovering its demonic visage. The towering stone statue proceeds to annihilate the oppressors and murderers of the innocent. Bearing supernatural overtones, it's an incredibly somber movie that borders on horror at times. Kimiyoshi Yasuda directed the first film in the series. No stranger to samurai or the supernatural, he helmed several of the ZATOICHI films as well as two of the three YOKAI pictures. DAIMAJIN is a powerful production benefiting from an amazingly ominous score by Akira Ifukube. The first sequel directed by LONE WOLF's Kenji Misumi, sees Daimajin--now residing within a cave--parting a lake to get at his enemies during the conclusion. The third was the most kid friendly of the trilogy finding the giant stone idol protecting a few children from yet another cruel warlord, but this time in a snow bound setting. Both follow ups were essentially the same movie, but with some tweaking done to the scripts. The first two films were released dubbed in America from AIP as MAJIN, MONSTER OF TERROR and RETURN OF MONSTER MAJIN.


Title: YOKAI trilogy (1968-1969) 

Directors: Yoshiyuki Kuroda, Kimiyoshi Yasuda 

Comments: Yokai are ancient Japanese mythological creatures of supernatural origin. These monsters range from the horrifying to the absolutely weird beyond description. They range from creatures of all shapes and sizes, shapeshifters, apparitions and even inanimate objects like umbrellas, lanterns and household items. In 1968, Daiei Studios produced the first of three Yokai movies. The first, YOKAI MONSTERS--SPOOK WARFARE, was the most accessible to children with its near constant barrage of monsters. It featured a thousand year old bloodsucking Babylonian beast awakened by some Arabic tomb raiders. The monster makes its way to Japan where it raises a lot of hell by draining the blood of the inhabitants of a Japanese township and taking over their bodies. The Yokai of this series are presented as heroic, even the more disturbing looking of these otherworldly denizens. The bulk of the film is a series of confrontations between the Yokai and the fanged, lizard like monstrosity. The second film--100 MONSTERS (1968)--is possibly the most popular. The kid friendly aura of the first film is a bit more grim the second time around as a deceitful businessman swindles property owners in a shantytown with plans of building a brothel and gambling den on their lands. From their, it's the Yokai to the rescue. Part three, JOURNEY WITH GHOSTS ALONG TOKAIDO ROAD (1969), has the least Yokai action, but is the most adult and spooky. A little girl carries with her an incriminating document against a murderous clan leader. Killers are sent after her till these evil men tread onto the cursed grounds of the Yokai who inact a brutal revenge on the villains. This last entry features GAMERA series star Kojiro Hongo and even implements some Chambara style swordplay action. The make up used here for some of the ghostly creatures is impressive.


Title: BLOODTHIRSTY trilogy (1970-1974) 

Director: Michio Yamamoto 

Comments: This rare and deliciously unusual trilogy of supernatural films from Toho are unique in that they wholeheartedly abandon the familiar tropes of Nipponese horror conventions. There's virtually nothing in these three films that is remotely Japanese aside from their casts. All three came to be known as 'The Bloodthirsty Trilogy'. The first film is possibly the best. Entitled THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970), it deals with a young lady searching for her brother who suddenly disappeared after visiting his future bride to be at an isolated country estate that happens to be harboring a dark secret. There's some fleeting imagery here that connects the film with traditional and popular Japanese folklore, but aside from that, this film more closely resembles Euro Gothics, or the 1960s haunted house horrors from Roger Corman. LAKE OF DRACULA followed and is hailed by many as the best of this series. It's certainly one of the most unique stories to deal with the famed blood drinker and even though this is a Japanese vampire, the scriptwriters find a way to link him to his more well known European counterpart. The third is another vampire picture. Entitled EVIL OF DRACULA, it's the weakest of the three, but amps up the gore and nudity in what amounts to a Japanese version of Hammer's inferior LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971). There were scant few other Japanese horror pictures that abandoned their country's own brand of spooky mythological folklore, but this series is well worth discovering for those looking for something decidedly different from the horror norm.


Title: SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS a.k.a. Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1981) 

Director: Sammo Hung 

Comments: During the 1970s, Shaw Brothers had cornered the market where down and dirty horror movies were concerned. It wasn't till the dawn of the 1980s that humor--which had infiltrated the kung fu genre in 1978--was seeping into the horror genre as well. Just as Liu Chia Liang's Shaw hit SPIRITUAL BOXER (1975) pioneered the kung fu comedy before it became de riguer, its inferior sequel, SPIRITUAL BOXER 2 (1979) also pioneered the comedic kung fu spookathon. This led to Golden Harvest scoring a kung fu-comedy-horror hit with Sammo Hung's SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS. The plot concerned a young, rotund man named Bold Cheung who discovers his wife cheating on him with a wealthy businessman named Tam. Fearing that his career is at stake should his fling be found out, Tam hires a Taoist sorcerer to eliminate Cheung. The alchemist's brother--who believes their magic should be used only for good--sides with Cheung and aids him in repelling the various spells and evil forces thrown at him. While this film lacks the seriously disturbing qualities of the Shaw's adult oriented horror films, SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS evades the jugular and heads straight for the funny bone. It was undeniably influential as such similar fare as KUNG FU ZOMBIE (1982), the Shaw Brothers production of THE FAKE GHOST CATCHERS (1982) and the wildly popular MR. VAMPIRE (1985) followed in its wake. Hung's trendsetting classic may have been eclipsed by Lam Ching Ying battling invincible hopping vampires, but it was the first such picture to successfully meld comedy, kung fu and horror with equal measure.


Title: HELL HAS NO BOUNDARY (1982) 

Director: Chuan Yang 

Comments: This obscure terror tale from 1982 diversifies itself from the popular BLACK MAGIC (1975) pack by focusing on a ghostly vengeance from beyond the grave when a young female police officer vacationing with her cop boyfriend becomes possessed by a malicious spirit. The movie manages to throw a lot of intriguing ideas at the viewer such as the "dangers of reincarnation" when past deeds aren't atoned for. Yang (SEEDING OF A GHOST) Chuan's nasty number is overly ridiculous much of the time, outright stupid in places and gruesomely sadistic in others. The cruelty reaches an apex during a flashback sequence where characters relive who they were during an unjust and savage moment in time. The vile treatment of an innocent little girl--both before and after death--casts a brutally grim shadow married to brief scenes of Japan's reprehensible behavior towards the Chinese during WW2. The films vengeful spirit uses her powers for good (such as causing bullets to go around corners to kill an attacker), but predominantly uses them against those who wronged her in her past life as well as anyone else who happens to get in the way. You'll never look at pretty and pouty Liu Hsueh Hua (THE LADY ASSASSIN) the same way again after witnessing her munch down on a handful of maggots, regurgitate a viscous green substance and in another instant she pukes in the toilet and then bathes in it!


THE CELLULOID HIGHWAY’S 5 BRITISH SUPERNATURAL FILMS 

Title: THE QUEEN OF SPADES (1949)

Director: Thorold Dickinson

Comments: The Queen of Spades is an exceptional work of cinematic art that belongs to a highly sensual and melodramatic tradition in British cinema that opposed the prevailing social realism of the day. The tale of human avarice punished by the forces of the supernatural was based on Russian writer Alexander Pushkin’s short story, which was published in 1833. The filmmakers gleefully recreate a wondrous and fantastical St. Petersburg replete with bawdy claustrophobic taverns, chilly snow swept cobbled streets, ornate gothic bedrooms, and a painterly landscape which feels as though it resides within an ornamental snow shaker. The filmmakers pay scant attention to historical accuracy, and instead concentrate on creating an atmosphere of slowly encroaching terror and subjective paranoia. Much of this is achieved by a simmering central performance from Anton Walbrook. Walbrook plays a lowly engineers captain in the Russian army and must contend with the mockery of his peers, who belong to an upper class he can only join of dreaming. The class commentary of the film is perhaps its only concession to prevailing attitudes in British cinema, generally speaking however the film has a much more universal message about the pitfalls of materialism and acquisitiveness. Walbrook brings a demonic intensity to his tortured and alienated character, and in the shape of the elderly and frail Countess Ranevskaya (Edith Evans) sees an opportunity to improve his lot. The Countess is a wily old bird who made a pact with the devil many years before for the secret to a card game, and the deprived soldier leaps at the chance to eliminate her and claim the secret. Part of the success of the film lies in the fact that the audience is never quite sure if the spectral visitations from the Countess are real, or simply a part of Suvorin’s fragmenting sanity. The ghostly presence is often indicated through subtle sound design (the swish of ethereal robes) or through delicate and nuanced lighting schemes. The expressionistic lighting techniques of Otto Heller is one of the films major technical triumphs. The director Thorold Dickinson only made nine feature films, and although he is best known for Gaslight (1940), it is the Faustian The Queen of Spades which remains his masterpiece.



Title: THE SKULL (1965)

Director: Freddie Francis

Comments: Although he will be forever associated with his novel Psycho (1960) and the ensuing influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Robert Bloch developed an equally important and influential relationship with Anglo-American production outfit Amicus in the 1960’s. In addition to the screenplay for The Skull, which was based on his short story The Skull of the Marquis De Sade, he provided screenplays for The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1967), Torture Garden (1967), The House that Dripped Blood (1971) and Asylum (1972). By virtue of some serendipitous force The Skull would be a watershed moment for Amicus. It is effortlessly the finest single narrative film produced by Amicus…perhaps only Scream and Scream Again (1970) can offer a challenge to it. It is also the finest directorial effort from Freddie Francis. It also features one of Peter Cushing’s finest performances, but Cushing can boast so many fine performances that it is impossible to pick just one. The Skull has an inbuilt appeal to horror fans because it is about collecting. Bloch clearly likes this theme because he virtually rewrote The Skull as The Man Who Collected Poe, and Peter Cushing can boast having both De Sade and Edgar Allen Poe in his collection! For those blessed or cursed (depending on your view) with the collecting bug the behaviour and motivations of Dr. Christopher Maitland will resonate, and much of the films success lies in the viewers attitude to the passions and obsessions of the avid collector. The hysteria begins to steadily build and director Freddie Francis embellishes every moment with intriguing camera angles and suitably stylish lighting set ups. That the excellent cast (which also includes Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee and Michael Gough) adopt a serious attitude to the patently ludicrous plot adds immeasurably to the impact. Francis is a director singularly lacking in pathos for the horror material he dealt with, but this works in The Skull’s favour. Francis uses a skeletal screenplay (largely absent of incident) to indulge in techniques which border on the avant-garde. The most famous of which is a point of view shot from the floating skull’s perspective! The final twenty minutes entirely excises dialogue as the haunted skull terrorises Maitland, and Francis shows no shortage of skill in directing a pure form of cinema in which the image is all important. The Skull remains one of the finest supernatural British horror films, and is made even better by the fact that marvelous results are achieved despite a gossamer thin plot.


Title: THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF (1970) 

Director: Basil Dearden 

Comments: The partnership of producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden were most associated with a series of social problem films made under the patronage of Ealing Studios. Films such as The Blue Lamp (1950), Pool of London (1951), and Sapphire (1959) explored such fiery issues as juvenile delinquency, organised criminality, and racial prejudice. Therefore they might not have seemed the most obvious candidates for a supernatural psychological horror film about a modern day doppelganger at work in London. Dearden however was not entirely without form in this area, his contribution to Ealing’s beautifully creepy portmanteau horror film Dead of Night (1945) included the memorable Hearse Driver tale. The source material was Anthony Armstrong’s story The Case of Mr. Pelham. This chilling tale had first seen the light of day as a sixty minute television play broadcast on the BBC in 1955. The same year a suitably impressed Alfred Hitchcock directed an adaptation for the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The screenplay by Relph and Dearden (and an uncredited contribution from Bryan Forbes) does an excellent job of stretching the slight premise to feature length. The lapses in pace which necessarily occur are compensated for by a remarkable central performance by Roger Moore. Moore excels and revels in the opportunity to play two diametrically opposed characters. Pelham #1 is a stuffy and conservative businessman, stiff and unemotional, bedecked in a bowler hat and pin stripe suit. He is the father of twins (the way in which doubling is extended beyond the two Pelham’s too become a formal strategy is cleverly done) and exists in a dry sexless message. Pelham #2 by contrast is a permissive cigar smoking playboy who frequents casinos and snooker halls, and blazes along the roads in a sleek sports car. One Pelham is outmoded, the other a symptom and reflection of the age of permissiveness. The outcome of the film tells you all you need to know about the filmmakers stance about modern society. How the doppelganger pops into existence is an absurdity, but moments in which the haunted Pelham tries to track down the impostor who wants ownership of his life make up for it. Moore is supported by Hildegard Neil, Thorley Walters, Anton Rodgers, and Freddie Jones and an excellent soundtrack courtesy of Michael J. Lewis.


Title: THE STONE TAPE (1972) 

Director: Peter Sasdy 

Comments: In the 1970’s some of the creepiest and affective departures into the supernatural occurred on British television. Perhaps it was the flat shot on video cinematography that helped to give a sensation of chilling verisimilitude, or perhaps it was the fact that shoestring budgets demanded that greater attention be placed on writing and performance. Whatever the reason British television in the 1970’s (and to some extent the 1960’s) achieved a level of quality that made British cinema seem like the poorer relative. Although Nigel Kneale is rightfully remembered for his quartet of science-fiction tales featuring the character of Professor Bernard Quatermass, I find his one off television plays (several of which were feature length) eminently more fascinating. The Stone Tape which was broadcast on BBC 2 on Christmas Day of 1972 exists in a long line of British supernatural films in which less turns out to be more. The films attitude to visual effects is sparse, and when Peter Day is called upon to provide them, they are generally unconvincing. But Kneale’s screenplay builds such a steady and consistent atmosphere of paranoia and hysteria that the concluding ghostly visitation, which is merely represented by a pair of floating red lights, becomes terrifying. Kneale deftly combines science-fiction and horror concepts, finds time to establish a truly novel explanation for haunted sites, and manages to link this to a discussion on issues of technological progress. In the best of Kneale’s work he offers an intriguing juxtaposition between science and superstition, and the concept of residual haunting feeds into this dichotomy beautifully in The Stone Tape. Much of the tension is generated by the sounds design of Desmond Briscoe and Tony Miller, working under the auspices of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The eerie electronic sounds offering both an ethereal chill and a reminder of the centrality of technology. The performances are somewhat divisive, with Jane Asher and Iain Cuthbertson emerging with credit, but Michael Bryant and the rest of the cast falling just shy of irritating due to exaggerated over acting. Nevertheless The Stone Tape remains a keynote work in the history of British supernatural culture, and is deserving of far greater visibility and recognition.


Title: TERROR (1978) 

Director: Norman J. Warren 

Comments: Terror isn’t a particularly good film, but one has to admire the bravery of the filmmakers attempts to recreate the hyper-stylised excessiveness of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) on a miniscule budget. The director Norman J. Warren had just come off the surprisingly effective (and wonderfully titled) Satan’s Slave (1976) and shows a certain aptitude for surreal set pieces imbued with an overload of style. The screenplay was provided by David McGillivray who did have considerable previous experience in the genre, thanks to his collaborations with Pete Walker. Terror is ostensibly a tale of modern day witchcraft, with a terrible curse handed down over the centuries, wreaking havoc amongst a film crew. It doesn’t make much sense at all from a narrative perspective, and has a number of gaping plot holes, but these lapses in logic and continuity only add to the hallucinatory and feverish climate. The film within a film is a novel opening touch, and the omniscience of the supernatural and its relationship to the illusions and dreams of cinema is intriguingly developed. Film itself becomes a deadly weapon in one particularly memorable scene in which the metres of celluloid becomes possessed of the supernatural. Further interest is maintained by a series of graphic and imaginative decapitations with a variety of mediaeval weapons. Unfortunately where the film falls down is in the wooden performances. The acting is fairly amateurish and the illusion is often shattered the moment an actor opens his/her mouth to deliver the shabby dialogue. Despite the best efforts of the filmmakers to enthuse the atmosphere with grandiose colour, a loud soundtrack, and robust camera angles, ultimately Terror is unable to hide the fact that it’s cut rate Argento. But I like the fact that they had a go, and the result is a cheap and cheerful tale of the supernatural that lacks the pomposity and art house pretensions of Suspiria.


THE AGITATION OF THE MIND’S 5 AMERICAN SUPERNATURAL FILMS


Title: THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009)

Director: Peter Cornwell

Comments: Although internet resources are sketchy, and Ray Garton’s book on the case long out of print, this is what I’ve been able to piece together as regards the “true” story behind ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’: In 1986 Allen and Carmen Snedeker rented a house in Southington, Connecticut so they could be closer to the hospital where their son Philip, the eldest of four children, was receiving treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They claimed to be unaware, on moving in, that the property was formerly a funeral home, only making the discovery when Carmen found mortuary equipment in the basement. This seemed to be the catalyst for a string of occurrences running a gamut from putrid stenches infusing the house to various family members being groped by invisible hands and supernaturally sodomized.

The Snedekers turned to self-styled paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren, after a blessing and a Catholic mass had failed, arranged for the house to be exorcised. The Warrens then hired horror writer Ray Garton to document the events in the book ‘In a Dark Place’. This led to a Discovery Channel special, ‘A Haunting in Connecticut’ and the subsequent feature film. The Warrens’ involvement generated scepticism. They had played a high profile part in the investigation surrounding the Amityville haunting and their reputation had suffered when the story was essentially discredited. Garton later went on record that, tied into a contract that essentially had him working for the Warrens, he approached them with concerns that the Snedekers seemed unable to keep their stories straight; he reports being curtly instructed to make the story up and keep it scary.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Peter Cornwell’s 2009 film ‘The Haunting in Connecticut, for all its “based on a true story” credit, is a fictionalized account of a series of events that was highly questionable in the first place. Nonetheless, it’s a notable example of a horror movie – specifically a movie dealing with supernatural events – defined by a sense of place. Cornwell changes the protagonists’ names: the family are now the Campbells – Sara (Virginia Madsen), Peter (Martin Donovan), their desperately ill son Matt (Kyle Gallner), their other children Billy (Ty Wood) and Mary (Sophi Knight) and Matt’s carer Wendy (Amanda Crew). Many of the reported events are retained, but mercifully the paranormal buggery is omitted. The backstory regarding the funeral home is heavily fictionalized in order to establish a provenance for the hauntings: it’s a hefty slab of melodrama involving séances, unnatural deaths and a young boy – a vessel for the spirit world – spewing CGI ectoplasm like it’s going out of style. ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’ has a similar vibe to the original ‘Amityville Horror’, its escalating series of strange occurrences resolving in a frenetic set piece in which the house is all but destroyed. In its favour, ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’ is decently paced and benefits from good acting performances, with particular kudos to Madsen and Gallner.


Title: AN AMERICAN HAUNTING (2005)

Director: Courtney Solomon

Comments: Courtney Solomon’s ‘An American Haunting’ (2005) is also ostensibly based on actual facts, in this case the legend of the Bell Witch. Briefly, a landowner named John Bell Snr and his family were terrorized by inexplicable events between 1817 and Bell’s death in 1820. His daughter Betsy seemed to get the worst of it, claiming that she’d been physically assaulted by a supernatural force. Much of what happened conformed to the archetype of poltergeist activity. The spirit was even said to have conversed with the Bells, identifying itself as Kate Batts, a neighbour with whom Bell had crossed swords. Although various non-fiction accounts of the haunting exist (arguably the definitive text being Martin van Buren Ingram’s ‘An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch of Tennessee’), Solomon’s film takes its cues from a fictional treatment of the material: Brent Monahan’s novel ‘The Bell Witch: An American Haunting’. Events adhere more or less to the historically recorded chronology, except with the addition of a contemporarily-set framing device with mother (Susan Almgren) discovering a journal detailing the Bell Witch case, the implications of which give her an insight into the trauma her daughter (Isabelle Almgren-Dore) is suffering. The film’s extended flashback has Donald Sutherland as John Bell, Sissy Spacek as his wife Lucy and Rachel Hurd-Wood as their precocious daughter Betsy. Hurd-Wood’s fragile beauty lends an ethereal air to what could have been a fairly boilerplate set of horror movie tropes. Essentially, there’s nothing in ‘An American Haunting’, from the unexplained noises that waken the household to Betsy levitating during the attacks on her, that hasn’t been done in ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Poltergeist’ or any number of others, except for the period costume and set design. Where Solomon deviates from the story as recorded is the suggestion of child abuse, the psychological trauma of which unleashes the phenomena. It’s an interesting approach, but broached a little too late in the film’s already scant running time to allow for any real examination of the subject and as a result it leaves the narrative tone a little off kilter. The segue back into the contemporary sequence feels rushed and somewhat exploitative rather than punchy and thought-provoking as the filmmakers obviously intended.


Title: SESSION 9 (2001)

Director: Brad Anderson

Comments: ‘Session 9’, Brad Anderson’s 2001 breakthrough, underpins its supernatural elements with revelations of emotional instability and schizophrenia. A company specializing in stripping old buildings of asbestos tenders a cut-rate bid to win a contract which means the difference between solvency and bankruptcy. Expatriate Scots owner Gorden (Peter Mullen) is going through some marital problems with his wife and isn’t adjusting well to being a new father. His right-hand man Phil (David Caruso) is still smarting from his girlfriend dumping him for cocky co-worker Hank (Josh Lucas). Rounding out the workforce are law school drop-out Mike (Stephen Gevedon, who co-wrote the script with Anderson) and Gordon’s eager-to-please nephew Jeff (Brendan Sexton III). They win the contract and start work at a long-abandoned insane asylum. Tensions flare up almost immediately. Phil is using drugs despite Gordon’s cardinal rule that everyone on his team is clean. A laceration on Gordon’s leg, which he doesn’t account for to the others, causes him increasing discomfort. Hank relentlessly baits Phil. Mike, meanwhile, discovers some old tapes of psychiatric sessions and becomes obsessed with a case of multiple personality and homicide. Just as ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’ and ‘An American Haunting’ are defined by the funeral home and the Bells’ homestead respectively, the dark corridors and gloomy interiors of the asylum dominate ‘Session 9’. The building becomes a character in its own right, in the same way that the Overlook does in ‘The Shining’ or the Bates Motel in ‘Psycho’. But whereas ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’ and ‘An American Haunting’ are also defined by their wider geographical perameters – Connecticut and Tennessee respectively – ‘Session 9’ comes to be dominated more by the internal landscapes of its protagonists’ psyches.


Title: IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994)

Director: John Carpenter

Comments: Internal and external (albeit fictive) landscapes combine in John Carpenter’s ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ (1994) which begins with insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) being tasked to investigate the disappearance of bestselling horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow). His paymasters are Cane’s publishers who are not so much interested in the writer’s well-being as the recovery of his latest manuscript, the last instalment in a popular sequence. Trent’s briefing is interrupted by the arrival of Cane’s agent, deranged and psychotic, who tries to dismember him with an axe. Essentially an homage to two literary giants – H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King – the film combines King’s evocation of small town paranoia and his predilection for the novelist as protagonist (although here Cane is more the “absent father” figure in whose name Trent undertakes his journey into weirdness) with the fictional Hobb’s End locale of Lovecraft’s inimitable stories. (It’s worth noting that King paid explicit tribute to Lovecraft with his short story ‘Crouch End’, anthologized in the ‘Nightmares and Dreamscapes’ collection.) As Trent familiarizes himself with Cane’s work, to the cost of his peace of mind (his sleep is ravaged by nightmares of monsters and violent death), he realizes that a recurring but seemingly random pattern on the covers of Cane’s books builds into a map when the volumes are arrayed in chronological order. Trent, working with Cane’s editor Linda (Julie Carmen) follow the map only to find themselves in a place that exists – or should exist – only in Cane’s imagination. ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ doesn’t conform to the ghost stories in the traditional manner espoused by ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’, ‘An American Haunting’ and ‘Session 9’. Instead, it shifts the perameters of audience perception. Are Trent and Linda experiencing manifestations of Cane’s imagination/paranoia/delusions [delete as applicable]? Or has Trent been driven mad by exposure to Cane’s work (as, it is suggested, his agent had)? Or is Trent himself a figment of Cane’s imagination, a recalcitrant character fighting back against the egomaniac conjurations of his author?


Title: THE SKELETON KEY (2005)

Director: Ian Softley

Comments: At its most reductive, ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ functions as a ghost story where there’s either no ghost, or two (Trent and/or Cane). Iain Softley’s ‘The Skeleton Key’ (2005) doesn’t hardwire the viewer into such multi-layered schematics of meta-fiction – in fact, it’s old-school good vs evil considerations are almost clinically delineated – but it draws on a wider cultural/geographical history of the supernatural then Cane’s disturbing portrayal of Hobb’s End. More so, arguably, than the real-life geographical perameters of ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’ or ‘An American Haunting’. ‘The Skeleton Key’ is a dark little fable born out of the superstitions of New Orleans. Like ‘In the Mouth of Madness’, it is at base level the story of a sceptic coming to believe in the unthinkable after they accept a seemingly ordinary job. Here we have carer Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) who takes the position of private nurse to the stroke-ridden Benjamin Devereaux (John Hurt), patriarch – until his affliction, at least – of a moneyed Louisiana family. His wife Violet (Gena Rowlands) is hostile towards Caroline, but the Devereaux’s well-mannered lawyer Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard) persuades her to stay on. Despite his incapacity, Caroline grows close to Devereaux and attempts to communicate with him. Gradually, she becomes fearful for his safety. The discovery of voodoo dolls (although, it should be noted, the film utilizes the lore of hoodoo – a quite different practice), potions and a book of spells leads Caroline to investigate the history of the Devereaux house and the nature of hoodoo itself. The more she learns, the more she is forced to accept the truth of the old superstitions. The old saying applies: ignorance is bliss. With belief comes vulnerability and Caroline finds herself fighting not just for Devereaux’s life but her own when the elliptical pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place and the motives of her unexpected antagonists are revealed. Keeping the supernatural elements free of the effects-heavy histrionics that typify the set-pieces of ‘The Haunting in Connecticut’ or ‘An American Haunting’, Softley keeps ‘The Skeleton Key’ at a constant slow-boil, ratcheting up the tension until her delivers the plot’s final reveal like a sucker punch. The comparison is more akin to ‘Session 9’, where location, character and pacing are all important.


These five films draw their combined cornucopia of horrors from a variety of dark places – past crimes, present fears, folklore and superstition, the demons of the mind – but they are all defined by a sense of location. If, as they say, home is where the heart is, then the immediate community, the small town, the isolated tract of swampy backwoods, the parish or state of America itself … these are the places where the dark heart is buried, still beating and determined to have release.

THE FILM CONNOISSEUR’S 5 BLACK AND WHITE/SILENT SUPERNATURAL FILMS

Watching old horror films is an important part in the progression from horror neophyte to becoming a true horror connoisseur. Watching these old horror films helps us see where the horror films of today come from, plus, let’s face it, there’s a certain kind of charm in watching these old black and white and silent films. I find it amazing how after all these years; some of them still retain their spook factor pretty well. Some of the films I will be mentioning below were even considered lost for many years and were saved somehow by lovers of film. Take out your notebooks and write these important films down, I’m sure if you haven’t seen them already, you’ll have yourself a spooky good time.   

Title: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Director: Herk Harvey

Comments: Carnival of Souls is an interesting film because even though it’s not a perfect film by any means it still manages to be extremely watchable and memorable. Carnival of Souls is a film that has many technical difficulties, many of which have to do with the  sound being completely awful at certain points and the dialog being dubbed in a terrible manner for some versions available out there. But the thing that makes Carnival of Souls a memorable film even with all its imperfections is how completely eerie and effective it is as a psychological/horror film. Considering the film was made for something like 30,000.00 I’d say they got away with a great film, and one that has survived through the years because of it’s virtues. Carnival of Souls tells the story of a girl who has a car accident when she drives her car off a cliff and into a river. After she emerges from said accident, she just isnt the same girl anymore. Now she is being followed by a mysterious looking character, and sometimes, for whatever the reason, people won’t even notice her anymore. Could the answers to all her questions lie in the eerie abandoned pavilion in the outskirts of the town? Where this movie succeeds is in conjuring up some really haunting imagery. The black and white photography makes it all the more effective. The main character is a strong female lead, very sure of herself, very headstrong, until she starts experiencing things that break that confidence. Also, she’s an unbeliever. And same as in many films about the supernatural, the unbeliever is taught a lesson! Carnival of Souls is an extremely effective ghost movie that should be watched in spite of its imperfections. A great example of just how great independent filmmaking can be.


Title: White Zombie (1932)

Director: Victor Halperin

Comments: White Zombie is considered by many to be the first true zombie film. Some schools of thought will try and tell you that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) is really the first zombie film, but I have to disagree with that idea because ‘The Somnabulist’ in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari isn’t a zombie, but a mental patient who is psychologically manipulated, not a zombie. There is a difference between a person who cant sleep, and a the living dead. So in my book, White Zombie is the true first. This one tells the story of a rich man called Charles Beaumont who falls madly in love for a woman who is to be married to another man. So what does he do? He invites the lady and her fiancé to his mansion in Haiti, and then employs the help of a man called Legendre (Bela Lugosi) to turn her into a more controllable creature. You see, Legendre is a man known for enslaving people and turning them into zombies slaves so they can run his sugar mill. So Beaumont wants Legendre to turn the girl into a zombie, so he can control her. U But the question soon arises: after she is zombified, will she be the same girl he fell in love with? Will it be worth it? I love this movie because it’s so old school. Since this is one of the first few zombie movies ever made, it plays with the premise that many zombie movies played with before Romero presented us with flesh eating zombies: the idea that zombies were controlled through voodoo and used as slaves. This idea was presented many times over in films like Plague of the Zombies (1966), the one and only Hammer zombie film. White Zombie has cemeteries, full moon, wolves howling in the middle of the night, castles by the sea, zombies, voodoo…it’s old school scary to the max. Filled to the brim with every horror movie clichés imaginable. Well, they are clichés now, back then they were things that would compose a scary movie. This is one of Bela Lugosi’s most recognized roles, and the guy only got paid 800$ to be on this one! Still, for 800 bucks, he was immortalized in one of his most iconic roles. That stare! Those hand gestures! An awesome character no doubt. White Zombie was at one point considered a lost film, so it’s a miracle we can even watch it today. Most copies are grainy and old looking, but I think that adds too its spooky charm. Don’t hesitate to check out this spooky classic.


Title: Faust (1926)

Director: F. W. Murnau

Comments: German director F. W. Murnau was always attracted to themes of the supernatural, for example he was the director behind Nosferatu (1922), which he made a few years before Faust, and with far less money. Faust wasn’t the only film Murnau made that dealt with this subject manner, but it is his most perfectly supernatural film ever. “No director has ever succeeded in conjuring up the supernatural as masterfully as this” is a quote that has been used to describe this film. And I agree, there are some moments in Faust that are sublimely supernatural. Take for example the first few scenes, where we see Mephisto leering over the town with his black wings spread out over it like some evil god. Or the images that we see when Faust, in desperation summons Mephisto so he can sell his soul to him. Awesome imagery right there, so powerful that it’s influenced many directors over the years. A director that was influenced by Faust was Francis Ford Coppola in his Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). In that film Wynona Ryder’s character conjures up magical rings of power that come out of the earth in the same manner that Faust does in Murnau’s film. Yes, this is a silent film, and watching a silent film demands a certain type of mindset, but trust me when I say this that the images will haunt you and grab you to the very end. And this film was so ahead of its time! It is so artful! Just consider this: the first frames of film start out with the four horsemen of the apocalypse riding through the skies, followed by Mephisto talking to an angel, arranging a wager over Faust’s soul. There is this amazing sequence in which Faust flies through the skies on a magic carpet with Mephisto, overseeing the land. On their flight they see dragons sweeping through the skies, the film is just filled with some awesome imagery. An amazing film that broke boundaries when it was first made. This is a must see not only for horror fans, but also for film lovers alike. A true landmark of a film not to be missed. 


Title: Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

Director: Benjamin Christensen

Comments: In Haxan, director Benjamin Christensen explores, as the title well puts it witchcraft through the ages. It focuses on how many women were burned at the stake not for being witches, but for simply defying men, or for having some form of physical deformity. And of course, whenever a woman would renounce the Catholic Church, she was instantly declared a witch and burned at the stake or tortured until she would accept Jesus. This documentary is interesting because it tells the history of witches in an informative manner, yet it also dramatizes many of its explorations of witchcraft and so, we are treated to scenes of witches being visited by Satan himself, witches gathering to celebrate their Witches Sabbath, hell we even see witches seducing priests in a church. Every possible situation that can be associated with witches is illustrated or dramatized on this film in some way or form. The imagery that director Benjamin Christensen conjures up for this film is pretty shocking at times, so much so that when this film was first released it was banned in many countries, including its own country of origin. Before the film could be released in its own country, many scenes had to be edited out including a scene in which a coven of witches tramples on the cross during the celebration of the Witches Sabbath. Some other scenes that needed to be cut out were the scenes involving the sacrifice of babies. Those scenes are pretty shocking even now! My favorite images in this film are those involving Satan visiting a woman in her bedroom in the middle of the night! The make up effects for these scenes were astounding even back in those days. Interesting tidbit of information: the director of the film Benjamin Christensen acted both as Satan and Jesus in this film, and he also appears as himself in the opening sequences of the documentary. This film serves as a fantastic exploration of religion and superstition. Why do we believe in certain things at one point, and then feel completely different about the same things a couple of hundred years later? Will things we consider holy now be nothing more than a joke a few years from now? Undoubtedly so, and this documentary helps us see just that.


Title: Vampyr (1932)

Director: Carl Theodore Dreyer

Comments: This old vampire film was director Carl Theodore Dreyer’s first film with dialog, before this all he made were silent films like Joan of Arc (1928) and Leaves ou of the Book of Satan (1921). But even though this isn’t a silent film, it was shot as if it was, with very little dialog. I guess it’s all part of that transition from silent to talkies, kind of like what Chaplin did with Modern Times (1936), a film that has sound and dialog, but was also shot as if it was a silent film, with very little dialog. On Vampyr we meet a young man who is obsessed with the supernatural. He has strange visions of an ominous figure with a scythe following him around, another of a man whose shadow has a life of its own. He even has a dream in which he witnesses his own funeral! But apart from all this, he also finds himself protecting two sisters from a vampire. The main character on this film is always on a journey, looking, searching, lost, as if in a labyrinth of horrors. This is a nightmarish, surrealistic film filled with many motifs and symbolisms, and not exactly the most linear of storylines, creating in this way a feeling of uncertainty. Of not having a full grasp of reality, in the end, this film feels very much like a dream. Dreyer funded this film privately because the Danish film industry was in ruins, so this is actually an independent feature film and its pretty obvious that the budget was minuscule. Sometimes, it’s a miracle that obscure horror films such as Vampyr survive through the ages. Often times, available copies of these films are compiled from different prints and edits of the film resulting in a muddled uneven viewing of the film. But in truth, Vampyr’s messy old look was part of Dreyer’s plan for the whole look of the film. He wanted the film to look old and warn, kind of like how many directors like their films to look scratched and worn nowadays. For some scenes, Dreyer actually put a drape over the camera lens so that the film would have a dream like look and feel. He achieved it, for the most part Vampyr feels like a nightmare about death. Vampyr isnt really a long film, it only lasts 75 minutes (in some cuts 83 minutes) so it goes by rather quickly, but it wont easily be forgotten once you check it out. This is a film filled with visual trickery and in my opinion, was way ahead of it's time, like a lot of films that form a part of the German expressionism era, to which Vampyr owes a lot to.


Title: Black Sunday (a.ka. The Mask of Satan) (1960)

Director: Mario Bava

Comments: One of Mario Bava’s many masterpieces, Black Sunday tells the story of an evil witch named Princess Asa Vajda, tortured and imprisoned for commuting with Satan himself. Black Sabbath isn’t one of these films where they burn an innocent woman who was never a witch, nope; the witch in Black Sunday is a true blue bonafide witch. Before she is burned at the stake she tells her executioners: “You will never escape my vengeance, or that of Satan’s! My revenge will seek you out, and with the blood of your sons and of their sons and of their sons I will continue to live forever! They will restore me to the life you now rob of me!” Then they slam an Iron Mask on her face and bury her in a special coffin designed to imprison her evil persona forever. This opening sequence is so freaking memorable! And so, as it usually happens in these kinds of films, many years into the future, the good guys unwillingly bring the evil witch back to life, doing every single thing needed for her resurrection. This movie is filled with many of the things that Mario Bava loved in his films, witches, the howling of the wind and Iron Maidens! Black Sunday has one of the most amazing resurrection sequences ever filmed! When Mario Bava set out to film Black Sunday, he was obviously influenced by Hollywood’s Universal Monster films, most notably Dracula (1931). But Black Sunday has more of an edge to it and is far scarier than any of the Universal films put together, but that’s to be expected since these films were made more than 30 years apart. Still, I highly recommend this film to lovers of old Universal Monster movies because it obviously emerges out of love for those old monster movies. Black Sunday was shot in black and white, so this movie is devoid of the beautiful colors that Bava is so well known for, but we gotta remember that this is how Bava started out, making black and white horror movies. And to be honest, this movie looks just as beautiful as anything Bava ever shot in color. Barbara Steele embodies the evil witch Asa Vajda in one of her most memorable roles. Highly recommend this awesome classic!



15 comments:

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Brian: Hey Bri, I remember seeing Takashi Miike's The Great Yokai War which is obviously the same kind of picture as these Yokai movies you've mentioned. The Japanese have such a strange notion of the supernatural! That Miike film is filled with some of the classic creatures seen on these old movies.

The chinese way of seeing the supernatural is also pretty weird, i remember seeing Spooky Encounters many years ago and thinking that it was such a strange film! That scene where Hong is going on a head to head supernatural battle against some other dude was awesome, I remember they had to drink lots of water while having the battle, because using all that supernatural enery apparently drains your body or something? Weird movie, but very entertaining!

I bet other cultures see the American notion of the Supernatural strange as well.

I still need to check out the Daimajin series of films, they seem to fall in the same category as Godziila films (Kaiju movies?) only without the ultra cheez factor from the Godzilla films.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Shaun: I have to admit Shaun, your choices have me intrigued! I have not seen any of them but will do so at the earliest possible convinience. I mean, THE SKULL sounds so awesome! Freddy Francis's finest day as a director?! Damn, that's saying a lot! They guy has directed some of the finest looking Hammer films ever, amongst my favorite is DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. I will be checking it out soon, the angle of 'the collector' brings to mind Polanski's THE NINTH GATE, where characters collect books dealing with the supernatural.

THE QUEEN OF SPADES sounds great, kind of like a classy ghost movie, bordering on high art? I need to see this one as soon as possible.

Your comparisons of THE TERROR with SUSPIRIA make me want to see it immediately!

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Neil: Hey Neil, it seems to me like the family behind A Haunting in Connecticut had a similar idea to the ones that the Lutz family had when they moved into the house in Amityville. The idea being: "Let's make some CASH!"

The only thing real beind The Amityville story are the killings that Roland DeFeo Jr. commited and that he went to court and blamed the whole thing no "voices" that told him to do it, only so he could shift the blame on something else other than himself.

Same probably goes for this Haunting in Connecticut story, in fact, the title alone let's you know they are ripping off Amityville Horror, they both mention the name of the town or state...

But still, they make for decent ghost movies, I love them anyways.

Session 9 I havent seen in years! I think last time I saw it was when it was last released, I do remember being spooked out by that scene of the lights going out in the hallway as the kid who is afraid of the dark runs away from the darkness which seems like it's coming for him. Awesome scene, I'd love to give that one a re-watch!

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

An excellent post, and one I was honoured to take part in. A wonderful selection of films, several of which (mostly Brian's selections) I had never heard of. To address your specific comments Franco;

THE SKULL is simply a brilliant film, and I gather it is now available on blu-ray. I'm not as generous as you about the directorial career of Freddie Francis. I don't think he had much pathos for the material he was directing. His best gothic horror film wasn't even made for Hammer in my view, it was Tigon's THE CREEPING FLESH. Yes I can see the link with THE NINTH GATE, although importantly THE SKULL lacks the element of detection that marks Polanski's stylish film.

THE QUEEN OF SPADES is a must see film, but one which might be tricky to get hold of in your part of the world. It was given a decent Region 2 DVD release from Optimum. I have to say though, of the films I discussed, THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF is far and away my favourite. TERROR is a load of rubbish, but I still admire the tenacity of the filmmakers.

odenat said...

you are so popular that we could not see the pictures anymore :)

venoms5 said...

Hi, Fran. I have a 2 disc set for Miike's YOKAI WAR I got in Chinatown a long time ago. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish it. For me it wasn't the same experience as the originals. Far too much CGI in the new one. I may go back to it one day, though!

Yeah, other cultures do think we have strange supernatural customs. The Chinese think our Dracula with the cape is stupid while the average American thinks vamps that hop is equally retarded.

There's another series from Yuen Woo Ping that features some of the most extreme magical craziness you've ever seen. The first film was called THE MIRACLE FIGHTERS (1982) and there was a string of others that came after it as well as some spin offs. These movies epitomized nuttiness.

The DAIMAJIN movies are exemplary in my opinion, at least the first two are, anyways. The third is good, but not the doom and gloom atmosphere of the first two. The Majin is really a pretty frightening creation. There was a recent Japanese modern day television series about the character that premiered a year or two ago.

And thanks again for asking me to participate, Fran. It was a lot of fun! Something's wrong on your site, at least on my end. Your images aren't viewable. Says too many views exceeds bandwith. I've been having computer issues the last few days, myself.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Shaun: As for Freddie Francis's films, what I liked most about his movies was the way the looked, the colors he infused into his visuals, that I thought he was always good at.

I'll definetly be checking out The Man Who Haunted Himself and Queen of Spades, I hope they are available on DVD.

Thanks for participating on the blog post Shaun, I had a bit of technical difficulties, what with the images going away for the weekend. I wasnt aware...what a deadly blow to this blog post. Im kind of pissed off right now finding out that the images werent up all weekend long!

Oh well, I hope readers will find the article in the next couple of days..

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Venom5: Hopping vampires are definetly weird, but to them thats what they do? Hey, at least we had hopping vampires on Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires! Remember that one? With the zombie vampire army coming out of their graves and hopping their way around?

The Miracle Fighters huh? I'll see what I can do about getting my hands on that one, I love those whacked out chinese movies about magic and the supernatural, I mean, Spooky Encounters was soooo out there for me. I bet for chinese it was just another ghost movie.

I'm checking out the Daimajin for sure, Im ultra curious about them!

Sorry about the technical difficulties, I wasnt aware of it but I had to make a payment to Photobucket so my images stayed up, and I didnt know it, hence we not having picks for our important halloween post for the whole freaking weekend. I am so upset about that! Here I thought it was up and running well all weekend. Sorry about the mega mistake, I hope readers will find the article in the next couple of days.

Kev D. said...

SICK LIST, DUDES!

White Zombie!!!!!!!!

Hell yes.

The Film Connoisseur said...

White Zombie is awesome in deed! So old school spooky!

venoms5 said...

The images showed up the first time I looked at it, Fran. But I have been having merciless amount of computer issues lately so I put off commenting till I got them somewhat resolved. When I went back, the images were gone. Now they're showing again so I see you got it squared away.

Bryce Wilson said...

Damn Guys my hats off to you for this mammoth hunk of excellence.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Bryce: Glad you liked it!

Nick said...

Awesome list. Just came across the blog and was wondering what the movies the images belonged to on the right side under "blog archives". Thank you,

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Nick: Glad you liked the blog post! The images are just memorable movie images, nothing more.

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