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