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Screen capture from Bong-Ho’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Parasite”

by Sam Juliano

I want to thank all those who have sent on heartfelt condolences on the loss of my Dad, they are appreciated more than you know.  A special shout out to my longtime friend Tony D’Ambra of Sydney, Australia for his exceedingly kind words via private message.  But so many have expressed themselves in a manner I won’t ever forget.  Thank you to Jamie Uhler for his generous gift and to the many who sent on mass cards and/or flowers.  The Wonders in the Dark community in general has gone above and beyond in every conceivable manner.

Jamie Uhler’s extraordinary Horror Fest 2019 series highlight the 1973 genre masterpiece The Exorcist:

The Exorcist (W. Friedkin… 1973)
Today, I provide capsule of a rewatch that is long overdue, a negligence that led me to often slag this film off, probably unfairly*. It was somewhat understandable, I’d first seen The Exorcist as a pre-teen on vacation in New Jersey at my Aunt and Uncle’s home on an evening where they succumbed to my badgering and pleading to rent some Horror videos on a day where rain unexpectedly kept us indoors. We met somewhere in the middle of a compromise; my Uncle letting the youngsters pick one and he pick the other, which led to me being more scared of our trashy, childish excursion (the original Child’s Play) than his, the titanic film in question today. It wasn’t hard to see why I’d pass it by then, I was much too young for its themes, instead giggling in glee at split pea soup projectiles, spinning heads and little else. I’d catch up with it again freshman year at Kent State, but, though it was the recently released 2000 edition that had that extended crab walk in reverse down stairs, the sequence I always recalled most vividly, it was a time in my life where a (free to students) university theater was regularly blowing my mind with the first genuine Art films I’d ever seen. Next to Jean-Luc Godard, who I had never even heard of, a film as blasé as a 10-time Oscar nominee seemed immensely lame. It’s the ignorance of youth of course, a trait matched only by youthful hubris, but that’s more or less how my opinion shuffled the Exorcist. Until now. 
Its story is iconic, so we need only paint the barest of outlines; when a young girl Regan (Linda Blair in a breakout role she’d never have the opportunity of matching) begins exhibiting surreal symptoms her actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn, who is tremendous as the grief stricken, desperate single mother) begins seeking prognosis. Eventually, a full team of Georgetown doctors (where the film takes place, the campus looking forebodingly colonial) are stumped, finally turning to exorcism as a last gasp attempt. Father Damien Karras is asked to perform the ritual, a task he does so with the help of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow, in makeup to age him 40 years), eventually casting the devil aside, but giving up his life to do so. In-between all this the movie is constructed in both quiet and incredibly incendiary moments; Karras’ guilt-stricken mourning over the recent passing of his mother forms the shell over the movie, a moving plot line you could miss (I certainly did as a younger man) amidst the pyrotechnics of Regan who shouts profanities, performs head-turning hysterics and spews chartreuse colored vomit at anyone who challenges the demonic forces that have taken up inside her (I never realized Mercedes McCambridge voiced the demon, which I found incredible hilarious—being the Johnny Guitar fan that I am). The film follows this idea in its construction too—Karras scenes are allowed to breath and become contemplative, while Regan’s ride is often cut off before scenes even resolve themselves, adding alarming unease whenever we return to the home returned to a state of relative normalcy (‘relative normalcy’ is a strange way to put it I understand, but when a scene cuts as a hall tree, that is under the control of the Devil, is rapidly approaching Chris, who sits shaken on the floor bleeding, we don’t know how it ends. It can’t end well? But the next time we see the house, Chris is fine, and the room is in the most orderly state we could expect given the circumstances).
The film is revered, and I understand why now. For maybe the first time fully, I see how it’s said that it did for Horror what 2001: A Space Odyssey did for science fiction. Taking the earlier, monumental works like Psycho, that blazed Horror into the modern world even farther. Others had done it sure, but virtual none of those had the ability to latch so deeply into the mainstream. It’s as if the earlier, deeply psychological work on Pinter’s The Birthday Party matched with the filmmaking chops exhibited on The French Connection two years prior gave Friedkin his see-saw aesthetic, his last real gasp into masterful filmmaking. He’d touch it here and there afterwards (To Live and Die in LA, about half of the trash classic Jade) but he was over almost as soon as he’d arrived. You can call is a shame, but it hardly matters, as for more than 2 hours he masterfully remained in the air, performing a high-wire act for all times. 

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Circus of Horrors (1960)

by Jamie Uher
Spookies (B. Faulkner/T. Doran/E. Joseph… 1986)
I sometimes can’t believe how the trashy Horror of my adolescence has grow into a cottage industry as I approach 40. Most readily, I occasionally see the exorbitant prices VHS tapes go for, tapes that a half decade ago I unloaded for free to clear up space in rental units I suddenly found myself sharing. Suddenly fetching 20 to 80 dollars on mere kitsch value, buyers never realizing that often times the films sat in better DVD releases. But that wasn’t the point they (and me, only years before) would argue, that the blown out analog tape was the whole point, damn the film! At some point, the actual film became the whole point to me, and if I watched it once, or even twice, and its charm gone, the VHS, no matter how much hipsters deemed it worth, didn’t matter to me. That so many of the films were outright bad to unwatchable, only made me realize that I was decidedly in the right.
Spookies would have been one such film. I’d seen it arrive onto my radar this year when a site that releases 80’s Horror soundtracks on vinyl—that have never seen release previously on any form!—released its soundtrack. I’d never heard of it (or so I thought, upon finishing it, the ending recalled something I might have seen decades ago), but the description seemed interesting enough. But can you imagine an economy for such an item? Made even more insane when the film is actually put on, the images and soundtrack experienced for yourself. It’s the tale of two carloads of dickheads (male and female) being marooned near a large white estate that we quickly learn is inhabited by a ghastly collection of Horror cliches. The film, cheaply made but fun in bargain special effect, nonetheless only has enough plot for about 20 or 25 minutes, but we instead strain our eyes through dimly lit, barely distinguishable action for another 75 (for a total runtime eclipsing 85 minutes). It’s a cult movie now, for a cult who’s brains are about as dead as the zombies we see aping Night of the Living Dead at the films close.
It took me several pauses and attempts to get through this, a very short film by most standards. People love it, but those people are not me. Pass.

Horrors of the Black Museum (A. Crabtree… 1959)
Circus of Horrors (S. Hayers… 1960)

Anglo-Amalgamated Productions, the great rival to Hammer in late 50’s/early 60’s British genre cinema, has largely been absent from discussion when great works of the period are debated. Hammer had the heavies in front of the camera (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Oliver Reed) as well as behind it (Freddie Francis, Terence Fisher, Jimmy Sangster) and, in the subsequent years, lucrative home video distribution deals, always insuring that their films were easily available in VHS or DVD packages across region. I wondered if that was why Hammer has so lapped AAP in genre fans opinions, as outside the two Corman UK Poe films made with AAP (Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia) you don’t often hear the films uttered positively with the greats. Perhaps when you look through their catalogue you begin to see why: nearly half are Carry On films, the British version of National Lampoon; cheeky humor, often made solely to cash in on poking fun at prevailing popular movements and genres elsewhere (akin to ‘spoof’ movies). Then there are all the dramas: kitchen sink/angry young man films that they made about about a dozen of, many of which are masterpieces of their type, but decidedly not Horror. Criterion’s release of Peeping Tom (1960) more than a decade ago helped expose it to many American fans, myself included, but it was often stated on the back of Michael Powell’s shoulders, and not anything to do with AAP’s assistance. Taken all together, it’s not hard to see why they’ve lagged against Hammer then, Hammer was committed to one type of film and they poured out variations, some having more gore than others, all having a baseline in quality insuring they were the high-water mark (still) for British Horror. But AAP, at the dawn of the 60’s, managed three films in stark relief to Hammer’s supernatural hysterics and spooky period films. There’s the earlier mentioned Peeping Tom, one of Horror’s darkly subversive and perverse masterworks, and then there’s the two being considered today. Taken as a trio, remarkably, they’re nearly able to challenge the first wave of Hammer films that grossly outnumbered them.

It’s because they’re that different. Hammer initially made inroads by remaking the Universal Monsters canon, while AAP attempted lurid, pulp modernity. Horrors of the Black Museum, the tale of a horror writer and yellow journalist who, in so being enthralled with death and mayhem, begins committing murders on his own and with his understudy accomplice (who he’s drugged to become a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-type fiend) so that he can have fodder for his weekly crime columns. Similarly, Circus of Horrors posits a brilliant facial plastic surgeon who sees a case go bad and, in fleeing arrest must live undercover (via a facial reconstruction) as a circus promoter outside Britain on mainland Europe, stocking his show with single women who have no ties, but are suddenly made beautiful after his scalpel has done its brilliance. Both stories are fronted by British gentlemen of impeccable taste—Black Museum sees Michael Gough limp around as the astute Edmond Bancroft while Circus of Horrors has Anton Diffring’s debonaire Dr. Rossitor/Dr. Schuler—but who are also very clearly deranged psychopaths living both on the margins of perverted sensibility just as they travel freely amidst the wealthy caste elite. They’re modern monsters, and the violence both films illicit is at time nightmarishly brutal (certainly for its time) and sexually titillating in equal measure. Here is truly British giallo, but a decade before the party started in earnest a few thousand kilometers away in Italy.

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by Sam Juliano

Our 89 year-old Dad was laid to rest Friday morning amidst pomp and pageantry, taps, nearly 2000 visitors to Macagna’s Funeral Home, a staggering number of floral arrangements, a massive contingent of motorcycle escorts from around the state, visits from Governor Murphy and his wife, Attorney General Grewal, State Democratic Chairman John Curry and in the church former Governor Richard Cody, a devout Catholic. I was deeply honored and heartbroken to deliver the church eulogy at Our Lady of Grace which ran nearly 20 minutes. Ironically, unlike our Mom, our Dad was always mortified at attention throughout his life as he was mainly reserved, quiet and gentle. The Rev. Peter Sticco’s beautiful mass was witnessed by a fully packed house, the Madonna Mausoleum was overflowing and the repast at Villa Amalfi yielded an unusually formidable gathering. What we always knew about our Dad through his long life was confirmed in the most spectacular of terms. I will now evoke our Dad’s favorite movie of all-time, John Ford’s 1941 How Green Was My Valley, specifically the ultimate death-defying tribute by young Hew Morgan: “Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still -real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever.” (from my church eulogy)

I want to thank the many, many people who have expressed condolences in the most heartfelt terms on FB, those who registered, likes, loves and broken heart icons, those who sent flowers and mass cards, those who attended mass at Our Lady of Grace, those who waited over an hour on lines into the funeral home (I was overwhelmed to see my beloved high school English teacher and mentor Patrick Shelley who drove down from northern Connecticut to attend, and was deeply moved to see our old dear friend Patty Albino who defied her own health issues to brave the long lines. But there are so so many more too numerous to mention.

I am suspending movie reports and all other arts-related news, but will post Jamie Uhler’s horror fest capsules of this week on a separate post on Wednesday or Thursday.

My daughter Melanie’s extraordinarily beautiful and deeply moving four-and-a-half minute video, which ran continuously on the back wall of the funeral home room where my father was waked is posted above.  It is set to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

 

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by Sam Juliano

My 89 year-old Dad remains in Holy Name Hospital with a “weak” heart that nearly resulted in him being placed in hospice care.  But our family ultimately rejected that proposition in view of his ability to rebound and stabilize.  He is alert, eating well and in a fighting mood, so we have some measure of optimism even while realizing that the situation could change at any time.  A planned procedure to replace a heart valve however has been been deemed useless by the attending cardiologist who feels the entire heart mussel is weak.  I want to thank all our friends who have expressed deep concern and for the prayers and well wishes.

Last night in the Walter Reade Theater at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center our short film “The Thing That Kills Me the Most” directed by the brilliant Jay Giampietro and featuring our entire family and close friends as the actors in footage shot around 18 years ago in our home was screened as part of the New York Stories shorts section of the same ultra- prestigious New York Film Festival where “The Irishman” screened last week. We are enormously proud of this achievement and posed in front of the festival boards last night: Lucille, audio narrator of the film Dennis Polifroni, Director Giampietro, Yours Truly, good friends Bill Kamberger (up from Baltimore) and good old Broadway Bob Eagleson (standing). Jeremy, Danny Juliano and Samuel Juliano are kneeling in front. Giampietro spearheaded a superlative Q & A afterwards. (main photo at top of post)

Saturday was the biggest children’s book festival day of the entire year, one where two major events were staged. The first was the inaugural “First Annual” Children’s Book Festival on the Borough Hall lawn in neighboring Glen Rock, New Jersey (Bergen County) where some heavy hitters in the field appeared. Lucille, Jeremy, Sammy IV and I attended from about 11:00 AM till noon, and left to travel up to Chappaqua, New York for the massive annual book festival in that Westchester County bastion of affluence. In Glen Rock, we again met good friends and distinguished author-artists Sergio Ruzzier (Good Boy); Beth Ferry (The Scarecrow); two-time Caldecott Medal-winning Sophie Blackall (Hello Lighthouse); Caldecott winner Brian Floca (Locomotive) and Rowboat Watkins (Most Marshmallows) Jeremy is pictured with each artist. (Glen Rock Children’s Book Festival Post #1)

One again the great writer Jamie Uhler has imparted his remarkable ability to probe beneath the surface of cinematic horror with two more stupendous capsule reviews in his 2019 horror series:

1990: The Bronx Warriors (E. Castellari… 1982)

It’s always been quite remarkable to me how fast the creatively fertile 1970s in Italian genre cinema turned into the barren 1980s. The 70’s burst forth with some of their very own genres they’d cultivated throughout the Swingin’ Sixties that would be highly influential in the decades to come. Plus, even when they attempted already established genres they provided a litany of wild, stylish forays as well (see the police crime procedurals and spaghetti westerns), often creating enough films for classification on their own. But, seemingly overnight many of these directors aged past their primes or died, or worse yet, turned to more lucrative works in decidedly less interesting genres (like the sex comedy for one). At the dawn of the 1980s, the next generation came and either had to make cheap video knockoffs of popular American (and sometimes foreign in the case of the classics) exploitation films or due slight variations of the great 70’s works with worse style and a crassness turned to 11. The former is the case with this one, an Italian cheapie made to resemble something like Escape from New York meets The Warriors, with a little Mad Max 2 thrown in for good measure. These are all good to even great movies though, with semblances of plot and subtexts, while 1990: The Bronx Warriors is only slightly worthwhile for its cheesy, camp values, no doubt ironically liked now mostly by hipsters (I’ve seen the music described as ‘trippy’ at least 6 times now this morning as I breeze past takes on it, which is quite an interesting description for somewhat funky basslines and minimal drum accompaniment played over much of the film). Meanwhile, anyone who likes the movies (especially low genre ones) has seen this stuff elsewhere, under much seedier contexts and with much wilder action. Thus, we sit watching a movie that sets up the world 8 years in the future as a hellscape, but not really, as the outside world seems more or less OK (albeit still controlled by arms dealing multi-nationals, which wasn’t that far off our reality 1982 either) and relegates the Bronx borough of New York as where death and mayhem rules the day. People seem to be able to come and go from the Bronx though, and no other such lawless area is hinted at, so we wonder, how bad a world is when it can be contained wholly within a few square miles. Anywho, the daughter of the largest arms dealing company in the world runs away and seeks hiding there, the only place such a powerful person could go slightly undetected. The powers that be come to get her—but not with a huge, full force but rather one guy who looks about 50 (Vic Morrow, veteran of such trash) who must get all the various gangs (who dress in garish, comic costumes much like those gangs in The Warriors did to distinguish themselves from one another) in-fighting so he can more easily pluck her. She’s fallen for Tiger Beat pinup Trash, the leader of a Hells Angels group who must also navigate a coup attempt from a member in a Nazi officers jacket. Who cares really, in the end mounted police on horse come baring flamethrowers and a bunch die in action sequences that resemble boys playing in the backyard with sticks. At only 88 minutes or so, this seems like an eternity. A classic of the VHS era is a big ol’ pass from me.
(this one was added to my list, you’ll recall, under the heading, ‘Horror Adjacent: Gangs and Cults (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood inspired)‘, so yeah, this may or may not be classified as straight Horror)

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Screen capture from 1997’s horror film “Wishmaster” reviewed this week by Jamie Uhler as part of continuing Horror Fest 2019.

by Sam Juliano

     The Halloween season has officially launched as we are a day away from the beginning of October, but summer weather is simply not letting up in the metropolitan area, with at least two days in the coming week promising 90 degrees.  This past week J.D. Lafrance published a splendid review on Allison Ander’s Grace of My Heart and this coming week James Clark will be posting his own latest comprehensive essay.  I would like to thank readers for responding enthusiastically to the first review in my annual Caldecott Medal Contender series (Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes).  The page views and comments were most impressive.

Non-Fiction Picture Book Bonanza at Books of Wonder in Manhattan

A fascinating panel presentation was staged at Books of Wonder yesterday afternoon. Lucille, Sammy IV, Jeremy and I attended and again got to chat with some of the industry’s most celebrated luminaries, friends who spoke about their new highly praised works. Barry Wittenstein and multiple Caldecott winner Jerry Pinkney (A Place to Land); Bryan Collier (Thurgood); John Parra (Little Libraries, Big Heroes); Gary Golio (Smile).

Jamie Uhler’s fabulous Horror Fest series continues this week with a brilliant capsule review on 1997’s Wishmaster, which Uhler likens to glorious trash:

Wishmaster (R. Kurtzman… 1997)
A camp classic that had recently reentered my sights by a truly hilarious We Hate Movie podcast on it, that as I listened, slowly prompted me to the realization that I’d never fully seen it. It’s a rather glorious piece of hilarious trash, delivered as a loving homage of sorts to the more famous (and better) films of its creators—producer Wes Craven offers the dream state horror riffing of Nightmare on Elm Street complete with Robert Englund in a juicy role, while screenwriter Peter Atkins adds illusions to his work in the Hellraiser franchise. This is a nice way of saying the Djinn/titular Wishmaster is something of Freddy Kruger meets Pinhead as others have noted for decades, but where the film borrows, it also finds its greatest entertainment. The Hellraiser and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises are gory, often hilarious enterprises and here, Wishmaster seems to exist to lurch from inventive gore kill to inventive gore kill. In other words, the stuff that Horror hounds scour bins in search of. 
It’s a tale originating in ancient Persia, where our film opens. It’s mass chaos, with people being massacred and disemboweled in spectacular practical effect manner from special effects wizard Howard Berger (with the help of a crew of dozens from the KNB EFX Group). The best one—a skeleton rips itself from its fleshy home and once out, murders another—leads us into the Kings chambers where we learn the Djinn has tricked the leader into a Monkey’s Paw like premise where wishes lead to death, destruction and hell on earth. From here we get additional background via a series of title cards read from—here’s another iconic Horror homage, Angus Scrimm, popular Tall Man from the Phantasm series providing voice-over—takes us to modern day America (additional scenes later add even more backstory legend, which while nearly tiring are quick enough and no doubt what sustains the franchise across its several sequels). A jewel, now entrapping the Djinn, has traveled with a sculpture for purchase by wealthy art buyer Raymond Beaumont (played with clear glee by Robert Englund). The jewel is freed when a drunken mishap drops the sculpture during shipment on the docks setting in motion the eventual freeing of the Wishmaster in what appears to be Southern California. Here he begins taking souls by quickly tricking unsuspecting victims into making (often trite and purely hypothetical) wishes that nearly instantly lead to their deaths and giving himself additional power. Soon he’s taken human form (Andrew Divoff) as an arrogant playboy deadset to get Alexandra’s (Tammy Lauren) soul as legend dictates since she’d first glimpsed him within the jewel. To me it’s this game of cat-and-mouse that provides the movie’s most hilarious, non-gore laughs where the Djinn is consistently portrayed as a suave lothario when our very eyes plainly see him as a poor man’s Ray Liotta, complete with heavy pockmarked face. Eventually Alexandra is able to utilize her third wish to again enslave the Djinn into his jewel prison, but not before he creates a climax that thoroughly trashes Beaumont’s posh place and sees dozens murdered in ever escalatingly original ways. This sequence, it should be obvious by now, needed rewinding several times, and had the film barely heard over all four watching laughing so loudly. 
I had the pleasure of watching this piece of highly entertaining trash like I used to do these things in the old days. With two old friends joining me on my last night in town after spending the week with my father for our second annual British Car week(end), an event we decided to pursue shortly after my mother passed and my Dad was forlorn at the thought of not using a vintage 1966 MGB for the chief purpose of its purchaselong retirement jaunts with his lifelong spouse. We howled multiple times in the exact environment I cite these types of films with: beer and pizza flicks. High trash recommend.   –Jamie Uhler

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by Sam Juliano

We are approaching the Halloween season and with it here at Wonders in the Dark, our annual Horror Fest capsule reviews on some classic and contemporary works in the genre, courtesy of poll position horror expert Jamie Uhler, which I am thrilled to post here on the MMD.  This past week we featured two extraordinary reviews by our distinguished writing staff, one by James Clark on Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (as the latest entry in his continuing series on the director) and the other by J.D. Lafrance on the classic Jules Verne adaptation from 1954, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I myself am preparing to post the first review in my annual Caldecott Medal Contender series, perhaps as early as later this evening.  In any event Jamie reviewed three films, two of which he liked/loved to varying degrees and one a “howler” (1980’s Alligator) which he describes as “an enjoyable piece of trash”:

Hereditary (A. Aster… 2018)
Midsommar (A. Aster… 2019)
Aster’s first two films reveal a burgeoning master of modern horror, a sensibility finally tuned to the modern psychosis of crippling terror married with a visual sense straight from titans of European Horror cinema. His first and best film, Hereditary, is an intricately layered piece of family dynamics told via miniature diorama symbolism, that once stripped away, revealed a meditation on the immense power of grief. Similarly, Midsommar cloaks itself in the minutia exploration of the day to day workings of a Swedish cult, where we know that terror will befall all those that aren’t members if we correctly identify the tropes. It only misses being Hereditary’s masterpiece equal by echoing a few films it clearly loves a little too closely; the Wicker Man especially, with a dash of the Devil Rides Out for good measure. At the heart of both films is a terrific lead female performance; Hereditary sees the grieving Annie (Toni Collette), invite terror into her world and onto her family, just as we’re left partially wondering how much is it inside her troubled mind that she replicates in her masterful miniature sculptures. Midsommer has the ailing Dani (Florence Pugh in a breakout performance), who slowly realizes in her grief that boyfriend Jack has never been the soulmate she sought. 
Midsommar was initially rumored to be something of a sequel to Hereditary, and outside both films attention to cults, we’d need a third film to better connect the two films divergent stories. Aster hasn’t revealed where he’s going next, but given he’s a confessed Horror obsessive, we assume it’ll be another buzz Horror film, I can’t wait. 

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Melanie and Jillian at Renaissance Faire

by Sam Juliano

It’s that time of the year again, the ‘horrific’ lead-up to Halloween and our compatriot Jamie Uhler’s premium investigation into classic and contemporary horror in the cinema.  This year his debut selection is J. Irvin’s supernatural Ghost Story from 1981.  His brilliant capsule follows:

Ghost Story (J. Irvin… 1981) ghost/supernatural

Prompting this selected was an interview I saw with Peter Straub, the writer of the 1979 breakthrough book to which the film is based. In a roundtable discussion on conjuring frights on the page, several prominent scary scribes where on hand (including most famously Stephen King), but when Straub’s first answer explored the basic idea of just telling scary stories within a group, he and I had an idea to get this season’s watching underway.
His story (and thus film) opens like Octave Mirbeau’s masterfully righteous novel The Torture Garden, with several old, clearly successful men leisurely sitting around a fire lit den, brandies in hand, attempting to out-spook the other. It’s a clear anthology-like linking device, you could jump into many different stories this way, while always having a quick return out, but again, like Torture Garden, Irvin and Straub settle in for the long haul. We’re not entirely prompted to via a tale—that’s where we break from Mirbeau— and instead see our old friend’s conclude their night, clearly understanding it’s a ritual that has held together these incredibly long friendships, a ritual they’ve donned as ‘the Chowder Club’. The spooky entry makes a clear point, appearing at the height of the slasher era, here is an old fashioned chiller by all appearances, and if it wasn’t already crystal, the parade of former Hollywood heavies on hand only reinforces the idea; around the fire is none other than Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Edward), Fred Astaire (Ricky), John Houseman (Sears) and Melvyn Douglas (John) (who is partially reunited with Hud costar Patrica Neal [Stella], who plays Ricky’s wife), many appearing in their final films. A cut jumps us to New York City the next morning, where we see man (whom we in time learn is Edward’s son) murdered when his lover’s body suddenly turns to a corpse and scares him right through a large window where he falls dozens of stories to his death. The cut makes it seem like a vignette in a (previously mentioned) Horror Anthology, as we’re largely left piecing together character connections in subsequent scenes after first not understanding the sudden shift. When Edward’s other son returns home (both sons played by Body Double’s Craig Wasson) additional murders happen, the corpse girl either bringing about suicides or picking off Chowder Club members one by one, before the film’s second half pieces together two flashback ‘scary stories’ told by members of the group connecting the series of events going back some half a century. This interesting story-telling device, a near quasi-Anthology film that isn’t, is the most thought-provoking idea in the film, and perhaps handled slightly better, could make for masterpiece level stuff. As it is, it’s slightly stiff and short on scares, wasting what could have been thrilling stuff. I Know What You Did Last Summer tread similar water and was similarly a book and a film, and while that doesn’t have a genius like Jack Cardiff behind the camera, produces some actual scares, and is more than willing to acknowledge that killing off a cast one-by-one is Ten Little Indians slasher stuff, a trope Ghost Story appears to look down its nose at. Surprisingly it shouldn’t, as I Know What You Did Last Summer—while pure teenage trash for the most part—is able to better maneuver the ethical quandary where we’re supposed to hope characters live, but who we know actually probably deserve bloody retribution from a person whose life they ended, accidental or not, thus prompted the creation of a ghost in the first place. Oh well, not a terrible way to start. (more…)

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