#294 Quatermass and the Pit

Watched: March 19 2021

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Starring: Andrew Keir, James Donald, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover

Year: 1967

Runtime: 1h 37min

Hobbs End: a lone bobby is walking along the wet London street, making this the most British opening scene ever. Then: Ape men! Buried in the underground! This is gonna be goooood.

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Along with the five million year old ape man remains, there’s some sort of a device found buried in the mud. And, since this is the cold war, the military jumps right on that in case it’s some sort of a bomb or missile. Or even better – something they can use to put Britain on the nuclear superpower-map along with the USA and Soviet. But doctor Roney (Donald), Barbara Judd (Shelley) and professor Quatermass (Keir) have other ideas.

“Sure, it could be the skull of an unfortunate German pilot left here to rot since the war. But what if, and bear with me here, it’s the only earthly remains of a humanoid ape race who secretly ruled the world five million years ago and who were controlled by extraterrestrial insects..? I believe that theory has just as much merit. “

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Quatermass is right. Naturally. The device is a martian space ship, piloted by large bugs who kidnapped apes from earth, did some selctive breeding, then returned them to earth to repopulate our planet with these martian-earthling-combo-creatures who are probably our ancestors. Yup. That would have been our first guess too.

Oh. Well, I’ll be damned… They were right all along.

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Further research shows that the fictional Hobbs End has been plagued by evil spirits and scary supernatural phenomena for centuries, specifically deformed ghosts walking through walls and strange aural disturbances. Can the extraterrestrial find and the spooky apparitions be related somehow?

Aliens and demons and devils, oh my!

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We love us some Hammer horror! Sure, Quatermass is from the same tradition as the original Doctor Who – the era when the educated, privileged, white, middle aged man was the only possible voice of reason… But despite that, we really enjoy the Quatermass movies, even though this one also tends to perpetuate the stereotype of women feeling and men thinking.

“Thank Jesus we had this emotional lady hanging around. Our logical man brains were way too rational to pick up the hive memory of our collective past and solve the mystery.”

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Does Quatermass and the Pit make sense? Not quite. But it is a great ride. There are clearly fake insect monsters, very cool poltergeist activity, panic on the streets of London, and extreme Britishness. It had humanity pegged too. We quote: “‘If we found out the world was doomed, say by climatic changes, what would we do?’ ‘Nothing. We’d just go on squabbling about it as usual.'” Yeah… Things haven’t changed much since 1967.

“You’re all doomed”

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What we learned: Satan’s just an oversized bug.

Next time: Robbery (1967)

#293 Privilege

Watched: March 18 2021

Director: Peter Watkins

Starring: Paul Jones, Jean Shrimpton, Mark London, William Job, Max Bacon, Jeremy Child, James Cossins

Year: 1967

Runtime: 1h 43min

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In the near future (counting from 1967, that is. So the distant past, we guess), Steven Shorter (Jones) is a pop sensation with a complete grip on the youth population of Britain. His stage shows are theatrical productions designed to manipulate the audience – mostly consisting of women. Thank God no one wants to take advantage of his position and influence to create a fascist regime!

“Hahaha! We wouldn’t dream of it…”

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Just kidding! That is exactly the plan, of course. You see, the youth of Britain refuse to conform and bow to traditional authorities such as the police, the government and the church. Rude! And naturally, we cannot have that. So why not take this pop star and make him the poster boy for former criminals who have seen the light and are now repenting Christians? It’s a sure fire plan to bring the youth of Britain back into the fold.

“For the stage show, we should go subtle with the symbolism, I think.” “Um… Yeah, sure. We’ll totally do that.”

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The only person on Steven’s side trying to steer him right is Vanessa (Shrimpton), an artist comissioned to paint his portrait. But how can the two of them stand up against the powerful machine of the establishment?

I know! That scourge of fascist regimes everywhere: sexual liberation!

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Well, this movie was oddly prescient… Made in 1967, but it might as well have been made today. We’ve now truly experienced how pop culture and social media fame can influence politics and how dangerous this can be.

“Take the shackles off my hands so I can…manipulate you all to blindly follow my crazy cult of complete conformity and conservative Christianity. And also dance.”

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Are Paul Jones and Jean Shrimpton amazing actors? Well, no. But their apathetic approach sort of works anyway. Privilege is a very compelling pseudo-documentary and one which is very much relevant to this day and we loved it. For an interesting (and depressing) double feature, try pairing it with Framing Britney Spears. Or the Cheeto’s political career… Whatever bites your apple.

“Biting will cost you extra…”

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What we learned: Do not worship celebrities… Or probably anything, really.

Next time: Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

#275 Kill, Baby… Kill!/Operazione paura

Watched: August 20 2016

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali, Piero Lulli, Luciano Catenacci/Max Lawrence

Year: 1966

Runtime: 1h 26min

August, 2016. Two Norwegian sisters drunkenly come up with the idea to skip ahead a bit on the list they recently started. A die is cast. The fates have decided. The choice is Mario Bava’s 1966 horror Kill, Baby… Kill!

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Four years later, the same sisters dig out their notes from that fateful day, ready to write an insightful and witty blog entry based on the impeccable and detailed notes they always keep. However, what they find proves not to be decipherable by the sober mind. Thus, we present them here in their entirety, paired with pictures that may or may not refer to the notes.

“Good dress.”

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Picture this, but in tartan.

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“Dracula, carriage, inn, suspicious locals”

“Remember: suspicious death of good-dress-girl”

“Pronunciation of autopsy

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It’s an autopsy-turvy world!

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“Burgermeister [sic] + witch = plot thickens. Love us some witches.”

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Magica De Spell never seemed to get the love spells quite right

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“Yul Brynner. He dead.”

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Ok, we admit that referring to this guy as Yul Brynner might make us a bit baldist… We’re sorry…

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“Good colours”

“#Creepydoll”

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We have no idea which one we’re referring to…

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“Twin Peaks dude”

“Set in past but 60s pointy boobs”

“So much cobweb! Nothing changed for 20 years.”

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Terrors of the Carpathian Mountains. A list: 1. Dracula. 2. Mutant spiders. 3. Ghostly girls. 4. Endless rooms. 5. Evil doppelgangers.

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“Love the mad woman.”

“Cool shots. Spiral staircase.”

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Wow. That is cool! Well spotted, drunk us!

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Perhaps astute readers will make sense of our ramblings. Or the notes could be the basis for a new, fun drinking game. The possibilities are endless!

What we learned: Who knows? We enjoyed it immensely though.

Next time: Persona (1966)

#269 Batman

Watched: May 27 2020

Director: Leslie H. Martinson

Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp

Year: 1966

Runtime: 1h 45min

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Today we bring you the peak of cinematic history: 1966’s Batman. It’s the perfect movie and we defy you to find anything better. Bruce Wayne (West) and his youthful ward Dick Grayson (Ward) live double lives as caped crusaders Batman and Robin in Gotham city. But their daily crime fighting routine is disrupted when their main enemies band together to kidnap the United World’s Security Council by dehydrating them.

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Holy Convoluted Plot, Batman!

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The Joker (Romero), Catwoman (Meriwether), The Riddler (Gorshin) and The Penguin (Meredith) have kidnapped an inventor and stolen his dehydrator. With it, they can reduce people to a fine powder and then bring them back by adding water. Science!

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Holy Evil Science School, Batman!

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However, The Caped Crusader and The Boy Wonder will not let them get away with their nefarious plans! They will POW! BLURP! THWACK! BIFF! and SPLA-AT! the council members to freedom and the villains to their doom.

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Holy KAPOW! Batman!

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You have probably gathered how we feel about this movie from the opening line. It’s been a favourite ever since we used to watch the TV-show as kids, and it has aged oh so well. It may not be the most sophisticated piece of cinematic history, but it’s silly, campy fun which works for all ages.

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Holy Sardine, Batman!

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What’s not to love? The opening credits, the narrator, the bat gadgets (batgets..?), the quintessential Batmusic, the riddle solving and jumping to conclusions, the insane dedication to putting batwings on stuff, and the superhero physique we can all aspire to and actually achieve (I think we can all agree that this is more within our reach than becoming Chris Hemsworth) – they’re all brilliant and very cartoony.

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Holy Marathon, Batman!

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Our favourites are the Shark Repellent Bat Spray and Robin’s endless supply of holiness. But the cheap costumes and the fact that Romero couldn’t even be bothered to shave off his mustache for the role are also part of what makes this movie special. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour asap.

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Holy Complete Television Show, Batman!

What we learned: Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.

Next time: Blow-Up (1966)

Bonus: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

Watched: May 25 2019

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone,  John Hoyt, Don Rickles, Dick Miller

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 19min

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Doctor James Xavier (Milland) is getting an eye exam in anticipation of doing some sort of experiment on himself. His mission, should he choose to accept it (which he probably will as he is the one who came up with it in the first place), is to attempt to expand the spectrum of human vision.

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In other words: he wants to be able to see through people’s clothes at parties

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After a fatal test run on a monkey, he goes straight to a human test subject: himself. Which seems a bit presumptive given the fatality of the first test, but hubris has always been a great blinder. As are, it turns out, the eye drops he uses to change his own vision.

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“It’s so weird how the same eye drops that killed the monkey have some averse effect on human beings too! As a scientist, I never could have anticipated that.”

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Sure, at first the main effect of the drops is a new ability to check people for diseases, broken bones, internal injuries and unflattering underwear, but Xavier soon grows addicted to the drops, and his vision changes for each new dose. How far is he willing to go?

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Creepy, shiny, slightly cross-eyed contacts-far? Or even further?

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X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is just the right amount of fun, silly, schlocky and overly dramatic to appeal to our sensibilities. Add to that a wonderful cameo by Dick Miller, eating as per usual, and Ray Milland as the eccentric genius and we’re completely sold.

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We also enjoyed the effect created by the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-3D “Spectarama”

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X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes reminded us quite a bit of The Invisible Man, although the main character is slightly less crazy. Slightly. We loved the circus act, the amazing dancing at the party, the creepy contacts, and the drama of it all. This may no longer be on the list, but we’re not ones to turn down a Roger Corman movie if we have an excuse for one. A good choice if you’re looking for something a bit silly for a lost weekend. (See what we did there?)

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This is a man who has survived a Roger Corman movie marathon

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What we learned: The main character is called Dr Xavier and can see what others cannot, similarly to Professor Xavier from X-Men. This movie was released in September 1963, just like the first X-Men comic which featured Professor Xavier. Mind. Blown.

Next time: A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

#223 Black Sabbath/I tre volti della paura/The Three Faces of Terror

Watched: February 12 2019

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Michèle Mercier, Boris Karloff, Lidia Alfonsi, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi, Rika Dialyna, Glauco Onorato, Jacqueline Pierreux, Milly

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 32min

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After a two week hiatus (been busy being fabulous in New York!), we’re finally back with Mario Bava’s fantastic horror anthology Black Sabbath.

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We’re so excited right now!

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Black Sabbath consists of three separate stories, all tied together by host Boris Karloff, which are freely adapted from classic tales by Tolstoy, Maupassant and Chekhov. The order they appear in depends on which version of the movie you watch (there are at least two), so we will present them according to the version we watched.

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We’re currently working on a plan on how to manage to live in all houses featured in this gorgeous movie

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The first story, “The Drop of Water,” is by Anton Chekhov. An elderly medium has died while in a trance during a seance, and when preparing her body for burial, nurse Helen Chester (Pierreux) steals a ring from the deceased. Big mistake.

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Given the scepticism with which she views the dead woman, we suspect she knew she would be haunted anyway so she just went for it.

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Guy de Maupassant’s contribution is “The Telephone” (or is it? There is some debate as to whether Maupassant ever wrote anything like this). Rosy (Mercier) is at home in her apartment (another place we’re moving into as soon as the payment goes through) when she starts receiving strange phone calls from her former pimp. Instead of calling the police (who she probably doesn’t trust given her profession), she calls old friend Mary (Alfonsi) for help. Big mistake.

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“Darling! Calm your nerves with this drink I mixed you with my gloved hands, leave the phone off the hook and let’s pretend we never had a falling out in the past.”

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The third and final story, “The Wurdulak,” is credited to Aleksei Tolstoy (not Leo, mind you). In 19th century Russia, rider Vladimir D’Urfe (Damon) finds a backstabbed body on a horse. He brings him to the nearest house to find that the body belongs to a Turkish bandit believed to be a Wurdulak. A Wurdulak, the farmers explain, is a vampire who feeds on his or her loved ones.

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Farmer or not, Sdenka takes the time to put on a full face of make-up every day. You know, just in case a single nobleman happens to stop by the house with a body he found on the way, only to fall madly in love with her.

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The father of the family, Gorca (Karloff), has been in pursuit of the Wurdulak and has given strict orders not to let him in the house if he is gone for too long as he will have been turned. When he returns too late, with a significant personality change, the family naturally lock him out and take every precaution to stay safe while plotting how to kill him.

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“Leeet me iiiiiin”

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Just kidding! They let him in, let him play with his grandchild, follow his commands, go to bed without locking any doors and are then flabbergasted when it turns out he tries to drink their blood. Then again, this is a family who implicitly trusts an unknown Eastern European Count called Vlad while in the middle of a vampire crisis.

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Not to victim blame, but is it really a good idea to drink yourself to sleep in the living room when you suspect your dad, roaming the same house, is a vampire..?

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We’re suckers for horror anthologies and Mario Bava, so there’s really nothing here we didn’t love. The humour between segments is silly and fun, and the entire film is very aesthetically pleasing, as giallo movies tend to be. A lot of this also feels oddly modern, as if it could have been made today but by someone trying to make it look older (think Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace or “The Devil of Christmas” episode of Inside No. 9). We loved all the apartments (as stated, we’re moving into all of them), the colours, the creepy child and the ghost. Love, love, love this!

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Boris Karloff wants YOU to join us in celebrating Black Sabbath

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What we learned: Don’t steal from the dead. And don’t let your emotions make your decisions for you when you intellectually know better.

Next time: Charade (1963)

#212 Carnival of Souls

Watched: December 19 2018

Director: Herk Harvey

Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Art Ellison, Sidney Berger, Stan Levitt

Year: 1962

Runtime: 1h 22min

Carnival

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Three friends accept a challenge to a drag race (though not the fun one with RuPaul) and their car ends up in the river. Only Mary Henry (Hilligoss) comes out of the water, but soon after the accident she starts to experience strange things.

Carnival of Souls (1962)Directed by Herk Harvey Shown: Candace Hilligoss
“What is this thing?? How do you even drive a car?!? Who on earth placed me behind a stearing wheel?”

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Newly moved to Salt Lake City, Mary finds herself slightly obsessed with an abandoned pavilion formerly used as a carnival. Even worse, she is haunted by the creepiest neighbour in the state of Utah. Oh, and also by a ghostly visage which pops up in windows, visions and dreams. But the neighbour is almost creepier than the spectre.

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Let us lay some wisdom on you: if your neighbour gives you the willies worse than this guy, it’s time to move. We don’t care how low your rent is.

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While Stalky McCreeperson, real name John (Berger), next door continuously tries to get in her pants, Mary tries to stay sane and perform well at her job as an organist. But she is troubled by her hallucinations (or are they?) and some unusual episodes in which all sounds disappear and people seem unable to see her. What is really going on with our heroine?

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She is tormented by confusion. How can a man simultaneously look so frightening and so amiable?

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Honestly, we went into this not expecting much. It’s part of a DVD box set we own with 50 horror films, and most of them are sub-par to say the least (with some notable exceptions). But we were pleasantly surprised by this atmospheric and unsettling cult classic.

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This single image will haunt our dreams for the rest of our lives. And now yours. You’re welcome. #sharethetrauma

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We loved the intense lighting and the reflections during Mary’s drive to Utah; the truly distressing ghosts; the main character (Mary is actually quite independent and don’t need no man!); the music; the make-up; and the dancing ghouls.

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This isn’t from the film, by the way. We just really wanted to share some pictures from our New Year’s party. ‘Twas a strange affair…

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Sadly, this was Herk Harvey’s only foray into the world of horror, although some of his other credits would suggest otherwise: “Dance, Little Children,” “To Touch a Child” and “Shake Hands with Danger” are all, unfortunately, enlightening and moralizing short films despite their evocative titles, and not the psychotic horror thrills we had envisioned. Our lack of research led to a very disappointing movie night indeed…

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All we’re saying is, when you settle in to watch a film called “Pork: The Meal with a Squeal” directed by this guy, you expect some Hannibal Lecter stuff.

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What we learned: We found 2019’s Halloween make-up. It’s a done deal now. Also, you should check out Herk Harvey’s credits as director. There are some real gems among these titles.

Next time: Jules et Jim (1962)

#188 Black Sunday

Watched: July 19 2018

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 27min

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In 17th century Moldavia, Princess Asa Vajda (Steele) is sentenced as a witch by her brother and executed after having the “mask of Satan” nailed to her face. But before she dies, she curses her brother and all his descendants.

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To be fair, if someone tried to nail this thing to our faces, we’d probably curse them too

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Fast forward 200 years and two travelling doctors stumble upon her grave. One of them, Kruvajan (Checchi), is attacked by a bat which he kills over Asa’s tomb smashing the cross guarding it in the process. He then proceeds to remove her mask and spill blood on her.

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“Let’s open this tomb with the strangely preserved corpse and drip some blood on it” – a man who has never seen a horror film

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Kruvajan and his young companion Andre Gorobec (Richardson) then run into a mysterious young woman who bears a striking resemblance to the dead witch, Katia (Steele again) and Andre is smitten.

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It’s hard to resist a woman with two massive dogs

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After the meddling with the dead witch’s grave, the surviving members of the Vajda family start to experience strange phenomena, and it becomes clear that Asa and her companion Javuto (Dominici) are back for revenge.

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“Grrr rawr, I’m coming to get you, Barbara!”

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We’re back in our favourite genre with this horror film, and we have a bit of a thing for Mario Bava (especially Sister the Oldest), so naturally we loved Black Sunday. It’s an unsettling and atmospheric Gothic horror with gorgeous lighting and some very good effects. We loved Asa’s resurrection and Katia’s transformation, Barbara Steele’s eyes (emphasized by intense make-up) and the creepy castle.

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Not what most people associate with a “come hither look,” but strangely effective nonetheless

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Sure, there are some issues with this movie, such as the slightly iffy dialogue and the fact that everyone keeps treating Katia like an idiot child (even with everything going on and several corpses piled up, the men don’t really believe her when she claims to have seen someone in her room), but we still love it.

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In the men’s defence, Katia does tend to act a bit like an idiot child, so they may be justified

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Absolutely a must-see if you’re into Italian cult horrors. Which of course is everyone’s favourite genre, so why wouldn’t you watch it?

What we learned: Don’t remove all protective elements and then spill blood on cursed graves. Just don’t.

Next time: Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960)

#174 A Bucket of Blood

Watched: April 6 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, Julian Burton

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 06min

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In a beatnik café, pretentious poet Maxwell H. Brock (Burton) is performing his latest work, to the fascination of busboy Walter Paisley (Miller). Inspired by the artists he surrounds himself with, and also driven by their ridicule of him, Walter decides to try his hand at sculpting.

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“So, how did we do this in Arts and Crafts again..? I just knead it for a while and then it turns out amazing? Can’t be more to it than that!”

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Realising that sculpting is harder than it looks, he takes a break to save his landlady’s cat who’s stuck inside the wall. However, stabbing through it, he accidentally stabs the poor cat. Naturally, he proceeds to cover the dead animal in sculpting clay and the next day he turns up to work with his new sculpture.

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“Dead Cat” is an instant success, admired by art lovers and drug enthusiasts alike

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Walter’s newfound success leads to admiration from his crush Carla (Morris) and other patrons of the café, and a lady gives him some heroin as a gift, as one does. This in turn leads to an attempted arrest as an undercover cop follows Walter home and tries to book him for drug possession. Afraid, Walter hits him over the head with a frying pan, killing the cop instantly.

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What do you do when you accidentally kill a cop? Why, cover the body in clay and pass it off as a life sized sculpture, of course!

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Walter gradually goes from underestimated and accident-prone simpleton to calculating killer who lets every small slight become justification for murder. He is, however, not smart enough to avoid killing people he knows and is known to dislike.

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“It is so sweet that you made a sculpture of a strangled woman who looks exactly like the one who spent last night insulting you very publicly. I simply must kiss you!”

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Leonard (Carbone), the owner of the café, is the only one to see through his newly discovered talent, but he is making money off of Walter’s work and has a vested interest in keeping up the illusion. But how long can this go on? And who is next on Walter’s kill radar?

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“This severed head has been bothering me all week, so I clayed it!”

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A Bucket of Blood is the farcical version of House of Wax. The concepts are similar, but this one is more comedic and strangely also more sinister in many ways. Walter is the epitome of the stereotypical “good guy” – he sees himself as sweet, kind, underestimated and misunderstood, but if he’s rejected by someone, or made fun of, he becomes violent and murderous while simultaneously justifying his actions in his head.

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“I’m a famous and celebrated sculptor now, so you must date me. Unless you’re just a bitch and a whore!”

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We loved his first attempt at sculpting Carla’s face, the extremely pretentious Maxwell and the morbidity of the whole film. We also understand perfectly why Roger Corman made so many films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe – it’s a match made in heaven! Or probably hell, to be quite frank.

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“If it’s hell, can I still be king..?” “Of course you can, Mr Futterman.”

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What we learned: It’s not easy being surrounded by (pretentious) artists if you’re not one yourself. And also a simpleton…

Next time: Ben-Hur (1959)

#147 Curse/Night of the Demon

Watched: November 29 2017

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 35min

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After Professor Harrington dies under mysterious circumstances, his niece Joanna Harrington (Cummins) teams up with the late professor’s colleague John Holden (Andrews) to find the truth. Joanna thinks her uncle’s death is related to a “satanic cult” he was investigating, and specifically the leader Dr Karswell (MacGinnis).

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“He’s not a satanic cult leader! He’s just a happy-go-lucky clown!”

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While Holden has made it his life’s mission to discredit occultism, Ms Harrington is a bit more open to the concept of her uncle’s death being supernatural in origin. But when Holden finds a mysterious paper in his belongings (after a chance encounter with Karswell in the British Library – the no. 1 hang-out place for academics and satanists) and his symptoms start resembling those of the dead man, he gradually starts to come around to Joanna’s way of thinking.

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If you’re chased through the woods by a strange smoke cloud, satanic forces is usually the first and only theory.

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Night of the Demon (or Curse, if you’re American) is less subtle than Tourneur’s earlier work (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie), where you’re never sure if something supernatural is happening or not. In this, the demon is shown on screen several times, although arguments could be made that they are only seen by the doomed men who believe a demon is out to get them.

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They both see the same, slightly cross-eyed demon though…

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Apparently, this was at the insistence of the producer rather than the vision of Tourneur, and it might have been a better movie without it. Despite the somewhat outdated special effects though, this is still a very enjoyable movie.

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Karswell is nice and sinister throughout, when he’s not in clown make-up that is

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We loved Karswell acting all serious in full-on clown mode; the seance with the singing; the scene on the train; and the general plot. It’s a fun, slightly camp, horror film which is slightly dated but still a good watch – especially if you’re a horror fanatic.

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Or if you’re really into huge, cross-eyed demons floating through dark woods. It’s a fetish, we’re sure.

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What we learned: Don’t mess with the occult. Or with dudes who like to dress up as clowns and live with their mothers.

Next time: Funny Face (1957)