Tag Archives: movie reviews

Carpe Scream: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Poe

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Edgar Allen Poe has always been a Halloween staple for us. Among us Americans especially, we bear a sense of pride in our nation’s black sheep writer of the macabre and phantastic. Not surprisingly, his works have inspired many fascinating movies like “The Masque of the Red Death,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “House of Usher.” Heck we’ll even count Corman’s “The Raven” as an adaptation, even though it only followed the loosest adherence to the plot. But when horror needs to find an audience, sometimes Hollywood needs to slip one past us. Slapping Edgar Allan Poe’s name, or the title of one of his stories onto a movie used to be a surefire way for a Horror movie to find a built-in audience (albeit a very disappointed one). Such a movie was the 1934 production:

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The Black Cat

If you look closely at the title scroll in the opening credits  you see something like THIS.

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Yep. “Suggested” by. I’ve seen “based on” and “inspired by” in movie title credits, but this was the first one that seemed to shy away from it’s forced association with Edgar Allen Poe. Like, it was almost hang-dog ashamed of what it’s trying to pull.  Nothing else succeeds in screaming so accurately, “this movie is absolutely nothing like Poe’s story, The Black Cat.”

Okay, so that aside, this was actually a very fun movie. It follows a pair of newlyweds who are traveling through Hungary when they get sidetracked by a car accident and are rescued by their tragic traveling companion, Dr. Vitus (Bela Lugosi), who takes them to an acquaintance’s house nearby. Bela departs from his usual monster role and plays a haunted, lovable, character with a heavy burden. I loved seeing Bela as such a sweet character, he was very endearing. His acquaintance, Poelzig, played by Karloff, was a swanning dramatic scenery chewer who was a delight to behold. It felt like I was watching Karloff trying to out-Bela Bela in his role as charming psychopath.

Oh, and Bela’s character has ailuraphobia (fear of cats). That’s it. That’s the cat. They try to make a big deal about it and cats and spirituality, but that’s it. The writing was snappy and fun, the honeymooning couple were a delightful dose of humor and were great tour guides through this dangerous war-torn country. I highly recommend this movie. Please see it on TCM streaming while it’s available. Just be prepared for a very good story that’s nothing to do with a drunken man murdering his wife and walling her body up with a cat.

But, wait. Haven’t we covered something like this on Carpe Scream before? Where Poe’s name was used on something that wasn’t Poe?

Yes, indeed we have, in Corman’s 1963 “The Haunted Palace” with Vincent Price. Years later, Hollywood convinced Corman that doing “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by magazine writer, H.P. Lovecraft would be too obscure to bring in an audience.

It was released under the title of a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Haunted Palace.” They even stuck a verse of it at the end of the movie, just to drive home that this was totally “suggested” by Poe.

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We all know how much Poe liked his references to the Necronomicon and Cthulhu.

I also like The Haunted Palace a lot. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one of my favorite stories and I loved seeing it brought to light. Just don’t expect any real Poe story in it. You’d be better off looking for The Raven in a wacky magical romp about two wizards fighting over a woman.

Sweet screams, everyone.

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CARPE SCREAM IS BACK!!

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IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN FOLKS! Welcome to this year’s Carpe Scream!

What is Carpe Scream?
Carpe Scream is a self-inflicted movie challenge in which I watch one horror movie for every day in October and post my thoughts on it on my blog. That’s 31 movies in all.

Why are you doing this?In 2014, I had a strange revelation: I write and draw for a horror comic, but I hate horror movies. I had at that point only seen a few horror movies, and most of those were of the cheesey B-movie genre that weren’t very scary. That year, ever since, I’ve pushed myself to explore more deeply the artform that is the horror movie. I’ve seen about 100 horror movies (some repeats), some good, some bad, some now in my yearly favorites, and I think it’s helped me appreciate the craft and the genius behind GOOD horror.

Any Changes this year?
This year, I’m going to try to post where I viewed the movie so that others can check them out with me. I’m also going to include links to wikipedia pages for people who (like me) might want to know more about the making of the films. As always, please feel free to post in the comments.

You get a two-fer for today, since yesterday was Sunday, here we go!

PUMPKINHEAD!

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Pumpkin Head, 1988  (Photo Property of MGM/UA)


At last! At last! Pumpkin-head was on streaming this year! It’s so rare that I get to see the first movie in a series listed. This guy was on Amazon Prime Streaming, so I dove in while the getting was good.

Pumpkinhead is the directorial Debut of Special Effects wizard Stan Winston (the guy behind Edward Scissorhands, Batman 1&2, Predator, and Terminator2). I was already a huge fan, having followed the Stan Winston School on Facebook and drooling at all the courses I wish I could take.  And, I mean, you can tell. Just check that monster out: GORGEOUS.

This movie deals with a theme, which is very much a REAL fear of mine, which is the loss of a child. That’s one that always punches me in the gut, as a parent, and is ten times more terrifying than zombies or werewolves. Pet Sematary is on my list for that reason too. (shudder).

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And just look at this little Lipnicky-lookin’ guy! (photo property of MGM/UA)

So the whole thing kicks off when Big Daddy Ed loses his little guy, only reminder of his wife, etc. Who’s to blame? GEN-EXERS. So death to them. He seeks out the help of a witch named Haggis. I’M NOT KIDDING.

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“They Call me Haggis because I was MISS HAGGIS of the Glasgow Sheep Festival in ’23!” (photo property of United Artists/MGM

Haggis helps him summon the demon of vengeance named “Pumpkinhead” to kill everyone who was within spitting distance of his son when ONE GUY ran him over on a dirt bike. Yeah, I’d be that mad too. Anyway, things go about as you’d expect. Overall it was a lovely bit of dark fantasy, with a familiar ring of the old fairytales of dark magic and evil servants whose help comes with a price. I was blown away by Winston’s special effects and makeup. Nothing like a Monster they actually SHOW you in glorious detail so you can marvel at the sculpt every time he’s on screen. Just wow.

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Photo property of Stan Winston

 

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON

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(Image property of Universal Pictures)

From one special effects wizard to another, this one is the special effects playground of my secret idol, Rick Baker! his teamup with comedy legend John Landis makes this whole movie a delight.

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PLUS RICK BAKER

I’ll be honest, it took me a while to work up my nerve for this one. I remember as a kid trying several times to watch this film (BECAUSE RICK BAKER) and failing. The gore makeup on Griffin Dunne (seen above) was incredibly realistic and it’s only taken over 100 movies for me to innoculate myself against squicking out and shutting off the telly.

This film follows your classic werewolf story, and even pays homage to the Lon Chaney Jr’s film. but with the added fun of the werewolf being haunted by his victims urging him to kill himself. Dark dark stuff, but with a peppy, iconic moon-related soundtrack, and Landis’ golden touch of irreverence and comedy.

But all of that takes a backseat to one of the most fantastic transformation sequences ever choreographed. I held my breath the whole time, marveling at how seamless and truly magical this sequence was. This was practical effects, by the way. All of this was painstakingly painted latex, and bladders, and rigs, and hair application.

 

TRULY ASTOUNDING. This movie won an Oscar for best makeup, by the way.

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Rick Baker, (image via @TheRickBaker on Twitter)

Rick Baker is currently a judge on SyFy’s Face Off spin-off, “Game Face” on at 9pm EST on SyFy. I was in no way paid to say that, I’m just a huge fan. An America Werewolf is now streaming on Hulu.

So that’s today’s post and the first Carpe Scream. Also stay tuned this month for my Inktober posts, where I post a new ink drawing every day. Hope you enjoy getting spooky with me this month. Ta!