Some of Balladeer’s Blog’s readers have let me know that they feel I did not do as many blog posts about horror as I usually do during October. I’m all about you readers, so here’s a horror film review to help make up for it.
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994) – Directed by John Carpenter and written by Michael De Luca, this movie was an unabashed valentine to H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King’s imitations of Lovecraft, and The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers. The King in Yellow, of course, is the 1895 book previously reviewed here at Balladeer’s Blog, and which Lovecraft admitted was an influence on his own works.
The story is about the title “king”, or more precisely about a stage play about that monarch. Everyone who reads the play The King in Yellow goes insane, causing worldwide chaos. Some of the King’s minions enter into our dimension to do his evil bidding, but unlike Lovecraft’s tentacled, enormous Old Ones, the monstrous servitors of the King in Yellow are humanoid in size and form.
That out of the way, let’s take it from the top. My LEAST favorite element of this otherwise excellent movie is the way it opens up. We are shown a crazed John Trent (Sam Neill) being committed to an insane asylum. Dialogue makes it clear that he’s just one of many people going mad in a worldwide epidemic of violent insanity. Even some of the staff at the insane asylum seem like they’re not all there anymore.
Soon, Trent is visited in his padded cell, where he has used a black crayon to cover his body and the padded walls with crucifixes for protection. His visitor is Dr Wrenn, played by David Warner, the panicked, crucifix-surrounded man from The Omen, now talking to the panicked, crucifix-surrounded Sam Neill in this film. (I admit that’s a sly touch in keeping with the style of the movie. It even has echoes of the victim in Equinox fixating on his protective crucifix.) Continue reading
THE GHOST PIRATES (1909) – HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Balladeer’s Blog wraps up another Halloween Month with a look at this novella written by William Hope Hodgson. Just a few years ago my review of Hodgson’s 1908 The House on the Borderland closed out October here. That excellent novel was a forerunner of Lovecraftian cosmic horror combined with traditional haunted house elements.
The Ghost Pirates, published a year later, combined haunted ship tales with ghost stories and themes of the living dead emerging from the sea to swell their own ranks with more doomed men. In addition there is some nice theorizing about the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead.
The story begins in turn of the century San Francisco, as a seasoned sailor named Jessop signs onto an outgoing ship called the Mortzestus. When it had arrived in San Francisco all but one member of the officers and crew fled the vessel, refusing to return and even forsaking the pay they would have received for sailing the ship back to its home port in Great Britain.
That sole member of the original crew, Williams, tells Jessop and other new crew members about the ship being haunted and worse, but Jessop, like the other replacement hires, dismisses such claims. Williams seems a bit unnerved and maybe even unhinged by whatever happened on the original journey to San Francisco. He is bitterly obsessed with completing the round trip and collecting his pay despite horrific incidents that he is obviously hiding. Continue reading
Halloween month continues at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at two dozen of my favorite silent horror films.
THE CRIMSON STAIN MYSTERY (1916) – This was a 16 chapter silent serial that contained multiple horrific elements. The fact that it is so little remembered these days makes it perfect for this list, given Balladeer’s Blog’s overall theme. A mad scientist calling himself the Crimson Stain experiments on human guinea pigs in an attempt to create an intellectually superior race. His experiments all fail, producing hideous, mutated monsters. The Crimson Stain organizes his misbegotten menagerie into a villainous organization and wages a campaign of terror on the world at large. A heroic detective leads the opposition against them and tries to learn the identity of the Crimson Stain. Chapters in this serial boasted wonderfully campy titles like The Brand of Satan, The Devil’s Symphony, Despoiling Brutes and The Human Tiger.
THE MAN WITHOUT A SOUL (1916) – A man returns from the dead bereft of any trace of morality or humanity. He now views the people around him as victims and prey.
THE GOLEM AND THE DANCER (1917) – In the very first known horror movie sequel Paul Wegener starred and directed himself once again as the clay monster called the Golem. In this enjoyably “meta” production decades before Scream or The Human Caterpillar II, Wegener played himself. Continue reading
Halloween Month is racing toward its end so here’s another seasonal post. It’s a review of the first three volumes of Graveyard Shift, the “monsters as superheroes” series by Jon Malin, Mark Poulton and Aaron Alfeche.
GRAVEYARD SHIFT Volume 1 (2019)
Professor Blood, the Monster, the Bride, Monster Girl, Sea Urchin and Ghost in the Machine. I’d call this team the greatest heroes alive … except they’re all dead. This initial Graveyard Shift installment was a critical and financial triumph, blending horror, science fiction, superheroics and OUTSTANDING artwork into one of the most acclaimed independent comics ever. (Yes, these sequential art visionaries left the creative suffocation at the Big Two publishers to pursue their own projects.)
Each volume is the length of almost 3 regular comic books. The unfolding story in Graveyard Shift also pays homage to many horror classics through the names of several characters and organizations.
Atlantis Corporation, a subaquatic base for scientific research run by a man named Abraham Van Helsing is pursuing many projects for its charming but nefarious founder. One of those projects is an enormous spaceship that is being readied to transport thousands of scientists and colonists into space to explore distant planets.
Another undertaking (as it were) is Project Wormwood, which involves Regen Chambers to restore life to newly slain soldiers in order to form an unbeatable army, and Mind Wipe technology to reprogram the revived dead to know nothing but their new existence as servitors of whatever nation buys them (but really as servitors of Van Helsing himself). Continue reading
THE BLACK REAPER (1899) – By Bernard Capes. Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this neglected horror tale. The story takes place in 1665 in a secluded British farming town called Anathoth.
The Black Reaper of the title is an interesting humanoid monster. Religious superstition and human evil mingle in this tale, just like in so many other great horror stories. And it seems Stephen King must have been, uh … “inspired” by The Black Reaper.
The citizens of Anathoth are described in the narrative as the kind of religious people who merely pay lip service to their beliefs but don’t live by them. They even treated their previous Vicar like a joke.
Now the plague is once more at large in the land and a new fire-and- brimstone preacher has replaced the disrespected man in Anathoth. The new “holy” man frequently rails at the citizens, telling them that they are all horrible sinners and that God will one day mow them down like ripe corn.
All of them, that is, except the children. Continue reading
Halloween month rolls along with Balladeer’s Blog’s salute to Zuma, the king of Philippine horror movies, and his sequel film Daughter of Zuma.
ZUMA (1985) – Category: Enjoyably bad movie elevated by its obscurity value
There’s an old saying that goes “Once you have a big green bald guy with pythons growing out of his neck you never go back.” Or something to that effect. This monstrous figure is Zuma himself, the Freddy Krueger of the Philippines in the 1980s. Big, muscular and green like the Hulk, bald like Mr Clean and with pythons growing out of his neck like the late Michael Jackson. (Disclaimer: The preceding remark is probably not true)
Originally a comic book character in the Philippines, Zuma took the film industry of the islands by storm with his debut film in 1985 and a sequel in 1987. Copies of these films have been Continue reading
Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with two more overlooked tales.
YEGOR’S PORTRAIT (1897) – Written by George Hepworth. A well to do Russian named Yegor was killed in a horse riding accident. A portrait of the man haunts those who remember him. By night the Yegor of the portrait emerges from the work of art.
Stephan, Yegor’s cousin and closest friend in life befriends the apparition from the painting. As the pair spend a night drinking and gambling together, Yegor admits to Stephan that the reason his essence is bound to the material world is because he left behind him an illegitimate child with no financial support. Continue reading
THE NEST OF THE CUCKOO BIRDS (1965) – Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with a review of this low-budget, black & white bomb which played a few theaters in 1965 then was considered lost until 2017. Florida’s Bert Williams produced, wrote, directed and starred in this very strange film which strives for “Psycho Meets Tennessee Williams” levels but falls more into territory occupied by the likes of Spider Baby and Manos, The Hands of Fate.
Williams’ wife Peggy sang the title song, which inspired a later version by the Cramps, believe it or not. Peggy also sang the closing song Lisa.
Our auteur Bert Williams plays Johnson, a Liquor Control Department Agent aka “Revenuer” in the slang of deep south moonshiners. He is sent on an assignment into the Everglades to infiltrate and bring down a violent gang of moonshiners who make their own bootleg whiskey via their still on one of the scattered pieces of solid land found in the swamps of the Florida Everglades.
After an absurdly irrelevant recollection to his chief about a lost love of his from long ago, Agent Johnson departs on his mission.
Johnson’s cover is blown, and he flees into the swamplands to escape the bootleggers, who are led by their murderous boss called Doc. Half wading and half swimming, our exhausted protagonist arrives after dark at another isolated and uncharted little “island” amid the Everglades. He is nearly stabbed to death by a naked woman wearing a wig and a bizarre mask, a woman he at first mistakes for a statue.
The Revenue Agent manages to outfight and escape the woman in an utterly ridiculous fast-motion scene which could use the Benny Hill Theme as accompaniment. Johnson stumbles upon the tiny island’s lone structure – a dilapidated hotel called the Cuckoo Bird Inn, run by some of the strangest people this side of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Eaten Alive. Needless to say, the
hilarity horror is just beginning. Continue reading
As Halloween Month rolls along, Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at two horror stories written by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son, Julian.
THE UNSEEN MAN’S STORY (1893) – A needlessly neglected mummy tale. At age twenty-eight, a Frenchman named Carigliano arrives in Egypt on assignment from the French government. He has studied Egyptology and is thrilled with his placement.
Gradually, dreams and waking visions propel him to investigate around Thebes. Once there, he discovers the previously unviolated tomb of Queen Amunuhet. Throughout the tomb’s halls and chambers he encounters reanimated mummies which stalk him, intent on killing him. Continue reading
Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with this nostalgic look at the Big Five monster-themed cereals from General Mills.
In a world that has seen an Emoji movie I have no idea why there’s no animated monster rally movie featuring this quintet. Or at the very least maybe some new monster cereals like Vanilla Witch or Grape Goblin or something.
First Appearance: 1971
Voiced like Bela Lugosi, this cartoon vampire preferred his own chocolate-flavored, marshmallow-sprinkled cereal treat over sucking the blood of his victims. “I vunt to eat your cereal!” was, in fact, his tagline in contrast to the cliched vampire declaration “I vunt to suck your blood!”
Count Chocula cereal is still in stores seasonally – September and October.
The cartoon character’s imitation Bela Lugosi voice was a nice nostalgic nod to fans of classic horror films, especially in regard to the Count’s rivalry with another General Mills Monster Cereal Mascot. Continue reading