Saturday, April 29, 2017

PSYCHIC KILLER (1975)

A SURPRISING, ODDBALL & FUN PROTO-SLASHER.
 I forget how or why I stumbled upon PSYCHIC KILLER but I hadn't even known of its existence before last month; which is odd since it's the final film Jim Hutton made before his untimely death.  Hutton, probably best-known for his role as television's Ellery Queen and for being Timothy Hutton's daddy, stars as Arnold: a man wrongly convicted of murder and committed to a mental hospital.  While inside, he becomes friends with fellow inmate Emilio (Stack Pierce of CLEOPATRA JONES) and is befriended by staff psychiatrist Dr. Scott (no, not the ROCKY HORROR one but instead Julie Adams of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON).  Arnold is having headaches and strange nightmares which Dr. Scott is attempting to help him combat.  Emilio, inside for having killed his daughter (who had become a prostitute) makes a strange promise to Arnold:  the day before he dies Emilio will kill the pimp who turned his daughter into a hooker and the day AFTER he dies Emilio will help Arnold get revenge on those who caused the death of his ill mother.  It turns out Emilio is a practitioner of some form of magic.  
The next day in the exercise yard, Emilio climbs the barbed-wire fence and jumps several storeys to his death.  The next day, a prison guard brings Emilio's belongings to Arnold (which the dead man had bequeathed to him) and a letter to Emilio containing a newspaper clipping reporting the gruesome death of a pimp.  Hmmmm.  Inside Emilio's small cask are some books of magic and a medallion which give Arnold the power to psychically leave his body and kill those who've done him wrong.  Suddenly the real killer of the surgeon Arnold was convicted of murdering confesses and Arnold is a free man; he returns to his mother's dilapidated, cobweb-covered house and those people who mistreated his mother suddenly start meeting gruesome ends.

Jim Hutton, Julie Adams, Nehemiah Persoff and Paul Burke


PSYCHIC KILLER feels a lot like a 1970s supernatural TV movie (and that's a GOOD thing).  I mean, REALLY feels like a 1970s supernatural TV movie . . .until we see the nudity and surprising gore!  The film comes by this atmosphere honestly since director Ray Danton was mostly known as a TV director (aside from this film, Danton only directed the abyssmal HANNAH, QUEEN OF VAMPIRES and the Robert Quarry vehicle THE DEATHMASTER).  The cast is also stuffed with actors who, although movie actors as well, were known for doing a lot of television work in the 1970s.  
Also in the cast is Paul Burke (whose 70's supernatural TV movie Cv includes CROWHAVEN FARM) as the police detective determined to prove Arnold has something to do with these murders.  Veteran actor Nehemiah Persoff (memorable in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode "JUDGMENT NIGHT") appears halfway through the film as a parapsychologist.  The film is littered with great character actors from Aldo Ray (of the Hepburn-Tracy vehicle PAT AND MIKE, WE'RE NO ANGELS and THE MARRYING KIND), Whit Bissell (also from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON as well as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, SOYLENT GREEN, THE TIME MACHINE et. al.),  Neville Brand (of such classic noirs as D.O.A., WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL as well as THE NINTH CONFIGURATION and EATEN ALIVE), and singer/actor Della Reese (who appears in a terrific cameo role in one hilarious scene set in Neville Brand's butcher shop).  The scene is not there to serve the plot in any way but the verbal jousting match between Reese and Brand is priceless and probably my favourite scene in the film!  

While the nude shower scene may be the first clue the viewer has that they are not watching a TV movie, the appearance of some bloody gore effects will definitely shake you out of such complacency.  Bloody and gorey they may be but the effects are also intentionally hilarious as Jim Hutton, in a death-like trance back home in his easy chair, psychically stalks and kills his victims.  And this is where the term "proto-slasher" comes in.  In the history of films leading up to the creation of the slasher genre, everything from Hitchock's PSYCHO to the Italian giallo film pioneered by Mario Bava with THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and his body count classic BLOOD AND BLACK LACE through to Bob Clark's seminal BLACK CHRISTMAS (released a year before PSYCHIC KILLER), this film right here is very much in the same line.  After all, PSYCHIC KILLER features Jim Hutton as a wronged fella seeking revenge and picking off his victims one by one (body count style) in suitably bloody fashion.  That sounds like a slasher to me.  In actuality, there is more blood and gore in PSYCHIC KILLER than in John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN.  Is PSYCHIC KILLER as good or better than HALLOWEEN???  Certainly not.  Is it a fun and entertaining psychic proto-slasher well worth your time.  That's a big 10-4, good buddy!  And Vinegar Syndrome's superb edition is probably the best you'll ever see the film look!   Oh, and did I mention the ending?!?!?!?  I did NOT expect them to go THERE with the ending but it's superb!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

BERNI WRIGHTSON: MASTER OF THE MACABRE (1948-2017)

THE KING OF COMIC BOOK HORROR IS GONE.
 The legendary Berni Wrightson lost his battle with brain cancer on March 18th.  As one of my favourite artists of all-time, Berni Wrightson not only co-created Swamp Thing but also was the heir apparent to classic (and equally legendary) E.C. Comics horror-meister "Ghastly" Graham Ingels.  For pretty much my entire life, Wrightson has represented the best in comix horror from his first comic book HOUSE OF MYSTERY #179 to his latest illustrative work (epitomized by his justly-celebrated illustrations for Mary Shelley's novel FRANKENSTEIN).  

Born in Baltimore on the 27th of October (obviously infusing him with the spirit of Halloween), "Bernie" Wrightson showed his work to DC Comics editor Dick Giordano who hired him to do freelance work for the company.  At the tender age of 19, Wrightson got his first story published in HOUSE OF MYSTERY #179 in 1968; he dropped the "e" from "Bernie" to distinguish himself from an Olympic diver with the same name and became Berni Wrightson professionally (he would restore the "e" to his name years later).  In DC's HOUSE OF SECRETS, he would co-create the character Swamp Thing with Len Wein; the short story was so popular DC would spin it into it's own critically-acclaimed series.
 Leaving DC in 1974 for Warren Publications, Berni would illustrate many horror stories for their B&W mags CREEPY, EERIE and COMIX INTERNATIONAL including many adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.  Wrightson took seven years to craft the incredibly detailed line drawings to illustrate the novel FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley which remains a benchmark of his career and his most personal work.  Collaborations with another horror guy by the name of Stephen King resulted in CREEPSHOW and CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF among others and his "Captain Sternn" segment of the cult film HEAVY METAL is also a fan favourite.  In more recent years, Berni's classic horror story "JENIFER" was adapted into a superb episode of Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR series directed by Dario Argento.  

Berni Wrightson represents to me, at least, the very essence of comic book horror for the last half century.  His loss is a great one to me and to all his fans.  My condolences go out to Liz, John, Jeffrey and Thomas.  As my woefully inadequate tribute, I thought I'd provide just a taste of some favourites from the Master of the Macabre.  




































Masters of the Comic Book Art 4/6

Saturday, March 18, 2017

HAYRIDE (2012)

TERRON R. PARSONS' KICKSTARTER-FUNDED HORROR MOVIE "HAYRIDE" IS A LOVABLE YET FLAWED FILM.  
The movie was made for under $60,000 and the low budget really doesn't show at all.  That's no small accomplishment!  Mr. Parsons wrote a pretty good script and directed it credibly if not outstandingly.  The plot concerns college boy Steven (Jeremy Ivy) returning to his boyhood Alabama home in the country with his girlfriend Amanda (Sherri Eakin) in tow.  He was raised by his Uncle Morgan (Richard Tyson) who goes all-out for Halloween by staging his own "Haunted Hayride" and haunted house attraction for the locals.  The star attraction of the haunted hayride is local legend "Pitchfork" who was based on a true story of an overprotective father who went bananas after his daughter ran away with a boy; so "Pitchfork" went on a killing spree and was never caught.  The character of Pitchfork (guess what he kills with) is re-enacted each year for the hayride by somebody dressing up with a burlap sack over his head.  This is all fine until a real-life serial killer  named Guffin (Shannon Box) is captured one town over and escapes during transfer.  His first priority is to get out of his "prison orange" and the first person he encounters and kills just happens to be the guy who will be playing "Pitchfork" in the hayride.  Guffin steals the "Pitchfork" costume, acquires some farm equipment for himself, and the movie is underway.


Now this is a fun (if maybe a little convenient) premise for a horror movie and I'm prepared to cut the film a lot of slack; not only because of the "DIY" independent nature of the production but also because of my fondness for Halloween Hayrides.  For several years in a row over a decade ago, it became a tradition between my best friend and I (and our significant others at the time) to seek out and go to all the Haunted Hayrides we could find every October.  And boy, did we have a blast!  The best time had to be when I swear we saw the "Miner 49er" from the Scooby-Doo cartoon driving the tractor!  So with all this said, I was really rooting for this movie to be fantastic.  While it does feature a great premise, a great horror villain, a great script and a pretty good cast, I felt it was a little let down by the direction.  Parsons directs the film with perfect competence but there is just something missing; there just isn't a feeling of suspense or peril conjured up in the viewer for a horror film.  This being said, the film is STILL a lot of fun and I would recommend it to anyone intrigued by the above synopsis.  And the film even manages a really nice twist at the end.  "Pitchfork" is a really good killer who I wouldn't mind seeing again (and I hear there is a HAYRIDE 2" out there I haven't yet seen).  Other than his eponymous pitchfork, "Pitchfork" wields a machete, a sledgehammer, an axe and (unfortunately) a chainsaw (which makes resemble too much another crazed horror movie killer you may have heard of); I do wish Parsons had foregone the use of the chainsaw but it doesn't harm the movie.  HAYRIDE is like the little movie that could and, hey, it's a WHOLE LOT BETTER than most of the Hollywood blockbusters coming out in the last several years.  So if you're at all intrigued, give HAYRIDE a look.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2016 PENGUIN AWARD WINNERS

BETTER LATE THEN DOO-DAD.  After due deliberation and no small amount of bribery, graft and corruption, we proudly present the winnahs of the 2016 Penguin Awards.

SONG OF THE YEAR

BLACKSTAR  -  David Bowie

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

BLACKSTAR  -  David Bowie

DUET OF THE YEAR

GOLD WATCH AND CHAIN  -  The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Kris Kristofferson


COVER SONG OF THE YEAR

WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS  -  Regina Spektor

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

MY MOVIE YEAR 2016

THE EXCEEDINGLY-ASTOUNDING MONDO-AWESOME FLICKERS PROJECT 2016 WENT EXCEEDINGLY WELL THIS YEAR.  My goal of watching over 1000 hours of movies was met and surpassed; as of Dec. 28th, I've watched over 685 films this year.  As you can see below, I started the year off with a rewatch of an old fave:  the celluloid adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book THE SHIPPING NEWS and it was all go from there.  



Compliments of the wonderful movie site letterboxd.com, I can see that the star I watched the most of in 2016 was Mantan Moreland (a total of 13 films) closely followed by Katharine Hepburn (with 11 films).  In third place, we have a three-way tie between dear Boris Karloff (a perennial favourite), Sterling Hayden (whose 100th birthday was this year) and Sidney Toler (testifying to the flurry of Charlie Chan movies making there way onto my watchlist).  The rest of my most-watched stars shakes out as follows:

As for my most-watched directors this year, the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock heads the list with a total of 11 films closely followed by John Carpenter and the trashy Charles Band.  Again, the rest of the most-watched directors shakes out as follows:



It was indeed a movie-watching year with more highs than lows . . . however there were some stinkers along the way.  Let's start first with the worst:

Poor Bela.  The snooze-fest that is MURDER BY TELEVISION features a murder mystery with a tiny bit of science-fiction added starring Bela Lugosi; sadly it seems MUCH longer than it's 53 minute running time.  Then there was the continued downward plummet that is SHERLOCK; this time the one-shot Victorian era THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE was lackluster and silly.  How can you go wrong with a Winston Churchill documentary???  Well, they did with WALKING WITH DESTINY:  an oddly worthless doc focusing on a limited time span that seems totally unnecessary.  There are MUCH better Churchill docs out there.  A waste of time.  And speaking of time-wasters, NAVY SECRETS stars Fay Wray & Grant Withers as two agents who fall in love while tracking down a spy ring.  The action is dull, the humour is flat, the romance is nearly non-existent and the film seems MUCH longer than its short running time.  And then there's SHARKNADO 3:  OH HELL NO!  OK, so I get the concept of the Sharknado movies:  they're over-the-top bonkers and silly and I liked the first two.  But for some reason it seems like the Asylum FORGOT the concept and this third entry is much less wacky and actually dull; it's almost like they're sorta taking themselves seriously in this one and it doesn't work.  TAKE THE STAND is an uninteresting "mystery" with Thelma Todd totally wasted in her role as a secretary.  SILENT HILL, a mess of incoherent nonsense, is one of the worst films I watched all year.  Oh, until I got to the 70's snore bore of MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE.  I've never seen any of the other Killjoy movies from Full Moon but KILLJOY GOES TO HELL was a complete plotless mess.  THE TOY BOX, a dull as dishwater horror "nudie cutie" was even worse than SCARE THE PANTS OFF YOU (which I watched last year) and had none of the wacky fun of, say, KISS ME QUICK.  MACBETH with Michael Fassbender, was a total botch of the Scottish play (and I write about it in more detail in an earlier post this year).  Italian horrors SOMETHING CREEPING IN THE DARK and Mario Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL were both incredibly dull affairs with basically nothing really happening until the final 10 minutes. Which I guess is more than you can say for THE PHAROAH'S CURSE in which I don't think ANYTHING happens at all.  Opportunities to watch an previously-unseen Vincent Price movie don't come around very often anymore -- unfortunately CRY OF THE BANSHEE also commits the sin of being incredibly boring.  Then we have a continuation of the inept DC film franchise with BATMAN V SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD.  The former had some good points:  Affleck is OK as Batman and Wonder Woman is the best part of the movie.  But then there's whatshisname as Superman who looks right but can't act his way out of the bottle city of Kandor.  A really dumb movie with some glaringly stupid things going on; I mean, Batman using a gun?!?!?!?!  Really, guys?!?!?!  SUICIDE SQUAD was pretty bad but I didn't hate it as much as the overwhelming wave of vitriol foisted onto this movie.  It was pretty bad though without any coherent plot.  Lastly there was Werner Herzog's oddly unfocused documentary on the internet LO AND BEHOLD which meanders in all directions at once without any apparent planning.  Individual segments of the film are interesting but it feels like a pile of unconnected chunks of film.  This feels like what my friend Peg always called "a lunchtime production"; that is, they had a lunch hour free so they made this movie.  Herzog is so much better a filmmaker than this!  

So now that we've gotten THAT out of the way, we can get the bad taste out of our mouths by considering some of the best films I watched for the very first time this year . . . and there are a LOT more of them than the dreck.  Consequently, I can't possibly talk about each one in depth of we'd be here til NEXT December.  But these are the best films I saw for the first time in 2016:


  • LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF  -  Quite simply one of the best documentaries on film I've ever seen!  There must be clips from hundreds of films in this one showing how the city of Los Angeles has been depicted in film throughout the years.
  • SONG OF THE SEA  -  Beautiful animated film about the Celtic legend of the seal child from the makers of the equally spellbinding BOOK OF KELLS
  • LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN  -  I've never been a particular fan of Joan Fontaine . . . UNTIL I saw this film!  Heartbreaking.
  • MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE  -  Lesser known but still brilliant W.C. Fields comedy.
  • HELLZAPOPPIN  -  Absolutely insane and anarchic Olsen & Johnson comedy that gives the Marx Brothers a run for their money.
  • JAPANESE GIRLS AT THE HARBOR  -  Hiroshi Shimizu's silent masterpiece about two best friends torn apart by jealousy and revenge.
  • THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS - Lars Van Trier puts another director through hell by imposing five limitations on Jorgen Leth as he tries to remake his earlier short film THE PERFECT HUMAN.
  • THE FORBIDDEN ROOM - Guy Maddin's cinematic insanity results in an endless stream of consciousness for film lovers.
  • ONLY YESTERDAY  -  The one Studio Ghibli film that hasn't been available in the U.S. masterfully depicts the wonder of growing up.
  • CHUNGKING EXPRESS - A can of pineapple and a spare set of keys.
  • THE HATEFUL 8  -  QT's eighth film is a surprisingly effective claustrophobic ensemble piece.
  • A SEPARATION - Everyone's favourite Iranian film of late showing the breakdown of marriage as well as a "did he or didn't he".
  • ROUNDHAY GARDEN SCENE - The earliest surviving film.  About 3 seconds from 1888 and it's spellbinding!
  • DEADPOOL  -  No one was more surprised than me how much I enjoyed this one.



  • THE HEIRESS -  Like I just said about her sister, I've never been that much a fan of Olivia DeHaviland . . . until I saw THIS film!
  • YI YI  - Wong Kar-Wai's family classic.
  • MEMORIES OF MURDER - Absolute masterpiece of a true crime drama and the perfect double feature with ZODIAC.
  • BALLAD OF A SOLDIER  -  This film is beloved in Russia and now it's beloved of me.  Soldier tries to make his way home from the front and falls in love.  A masterpiece.
  • STANDOFF - Terrific little suspense film in which a little girl witnesses a murder and is chased into a stranger's house who then has to defend them both against the killer.
  • SITA SINGS THE BLUES - Stunningly beautiful and funny animated version of the Ramayana . . . with Annette Hanshaw songs!
  • SANS SOLEIL - A visual essay that kicks keister!
  • LES RENDEZ-VOUS D'ANNA - Chantal Akerman's superb character study with Aurore Clement as a filmmaker traveling through Europe trying to get her film made.
  • THE WITCH - Atmosphere by the bucketful!
  • REPO MAN - Absolutely cracked movie about . . . well a repo man, I guess.
  • BLUE - The first in the "THREE COLORS" trilogy and a palpable depiction of grief.
  • NEWS FROM HOME - My new second-favourite Chantal Akerman film after JEANNE DIELMAN.  Akerman let's her camera roll in early 70's New York City while she reads her mother's letters.
  • GOOD MORNING - Yasujiro Ozu's wonderful and funny film about some kids who constantly pester their parents for a television.  Oh, and a lot of fart jokes!
  • LAST DAYS - Thinly-veiled riff on the last days of Kurt Cobain; I've rarely seen a truer-feeling depiction of depression on film.



  • CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR - A film which takes place somewhere between dreaming and waking.
  • STARRY EYES - I don't know what it is about this movie.  Horror in Hollywood.  Unsettling and creepy.
  • KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS - Quite possibly the best film of the year.
  • THE GREAT SILENCE - Odd and haunting western with an ending you don't expect.
  • THE AGE OF INNOCENCE - Scorsese's overlooked classic.
  • SUMMER WARS - Heir to Miyazaki's excellent animated film about an artificial intelligence taking over.
  • CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT - Finally we have a release of Orson Welles' Falstaffian epic.
  • THE END OF SUMMER - I just LOVE Ozu!
  • SONS OF THE DESERT - Hilarious Laurel & Hardy feature length film about the efforts of two nitwits to sneak off to a lodge convention without telling their wives.
  • ME AND MY PAL - Classic Laurel and Hardy short where the groom and his best pal can't seem to make it too his wedding due to a jigsaw puzzle.
  • 45 YEARS - Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay (where are their Oscars for this???) play a married couple whose anniversary plans are tested by the discovery of the husband's former lover discovered frozen in ice.
  • MUSEUM HOURS - A lonely woman and a museum guard strike up a friendship.
  • THE HOLLOW CROWN 2 - Actually 3 movies.  Like the previous HOLLOW CROWN series, 3 excellent adaptations of Shakespeare's HENRY VI PART ONE, HENRY VI PART TWO and RICHARD III.
  • VIVRE SA VIE - Anna Karina being mesmerizing.



  • IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE - Neighbours in an apartment building slowly discover their spouses are having an affair with each other.  Masterpiece.
  • SPOOKY BATS AND SCAREDY CATS - Wonderful claymation-style Halloween.
  • PAPRIKA - Trippy hijinx inside the mind of human and computer.
  • TURBO KID - Hilarious, dead one parody of post-apocalyptic 80's style sci-fi.
  • PHILOMENA - Dench and Coogan give great performances in this true story of a woman forced to give her child up for adoption and her attempt to now track him down.
  • TIMECRIMES - Timey-wimey time paradox movie which is both funny and disturbing.
  • THE IMPOSTER - Masterfully directed documentary the less you know about going into it the better.  A young boy is kidnapped.  Several years later, the family receives a phone call . . . can their boy have been found???
  • CHICAGO 10 - Another excellent documentary outside the norm as the story of "The Chicago 10" is told using archival footage, talking heads, animation and movie star voice acting.  It doesn't sound like it should work but it does.
  • IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY - Arresting depiction of mental breakdown . . . using basically stick figures.
  • AMERICAN BEAUTY - Best picture winner which, oddly, deserved to win.
  • DON'T BREATHE - Horror/suspense hit of the past year which amps up the nail-biting.
  • THE SNOWMAN - Who knows why it's taken me this long to see this short Christmas classic?!?!?!
  • MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW - Possible (indeed probable) inspiration for Ozu's TOKYO STORY.  As Orson Welles once said:  "That movie could make a stone cry!"