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THE NIGHT NO ONE COMES HOME: except to watch the big giveaway at 9

I will tell you this – HALLOWEEN III: Season of the Witch is one of my favorite bad movies. It has become a seasonal tradition with me. This year I did not need to rent the video, since AMC included it in its Horror Movie, Month-long Halloween Marathon. I caught about 80 percent of the movie the other night, which was enough of the movie. Heck, I probably missed that much in previous years changing and folding laundry while it was on.

This installment of the John Carpenter franchise is, by all rational accounts, a complete failure. Not only was it made on a shoestring budget, but it bombed at the box office. But the damage of that was all absorbed by Carpenter’s intention to forge the HALLOWEEN movies into yearly installments in an ongoing holiday-themed serial anthology, not Michael Myers bulging jumpsuit. Since the movie disappoints so many, they need to fill the void with trivia and quotes. So all the movie’s storied  apocrypha is well documented elsewhere.

However, I think the movie has some really effective aspects, the least of which picks up on the whole mean-spiritedness of trick or treating. This mean-spirit does not refer to childish pranks or other mischievousness, but rather the atmosphere of fear and sadism that settled around the holiday in the late 1970s. The prevalent fear that the trick or treat ritual hand delivered child victims to the doorsteps of depraved predatory adults. The whole razor blades in the apples fear, that compelled parents’ need to check for malicious tampering of all our candied loot.

The best theme of HALLOWEEN III has to be the very idea that the country’s most successful costume company was founded, only, to bring about some sort of pagan druid cult end of the world thing. The release of the old gods by crushing the heads of America’s children is a truly horrifying concept. Plus doing it through television and latex masks is just kinky.

The Halloween latex hood mask was made into a palpable horror fetish object by the first HALLOWEEN movie. The heavy breathing, as each measured breath is contained, built the suspense in a new way. The audience was inside with the killer, and all but smelled the atmosphere under Michael Myer’s mask – the claustrophobia builds as his foul breath mixes with the smell of chemical plastics, the sweat and rubbery-ness of the mask as it heats against the skin. Then there is the camera peeking out of the stiff eye slits. His vision distorted, confined, and razor-sighted straight ahead – the predator’s fixed vision, oblivious to what lurks behind and structurally unable to take in the useless periphery.

All those attributes ascribed by the point of view in the first HALLOWEEN movie come into play in the third movie. But the fetish of the mask is expanded upon as well. For instance, the danger (suffocation) of the latex mask is heightened, since these masks literally kill. Or how these masks subvert the purpose of transformation – the imaginative world of children’s pretend shifted over to the transubstantiation area of ritual sacrifice.

In other words, the playfulness by which the child imagines herself a skeleton when donning the mask becomes the weapon of actual mutilation by sacrificing the child who wears it. This sacrificial aspect of these masks is made implicit by the villain’s expository monologue before entrapping the hero in an easily escapable demise. Which, fittingly, is to strap Dr. Dan Challis (THE FOG’s Tom Atkins) to a chair and place a Silver Shamrock mask over his head while the tv flashes the pixilated Magic Pumpkin while blurting out the jingling kill music

This is his LAST HALLOWEEN! His last Halloween.

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The fact that the adult is able to escape his fate, extends the sacrificial implications – an adult is not innocent, pure, and his loss is not a suitable oblation. Contrast, Challis’ active resistance against Little Buddy’s rapt attention, for further proof. And what is Stonehenge but “…an ancient, sacrificial circle…”

This leads to some interesting things the movie seems to say about the emerging mediascape of modern childhood.

First, HALLOWEEN III is a pretty clear statement on the rotting effects television was supposedly having on children, most notably advertising that was directed at them. In 1982, when the movie was released the proliferation of commercials aimed specifically at children had begun to bloom into a clamor for federal deregulation of FCC rules governing what sorts of claims and products could be marketed to children.

This movie makes the subtle claim, through the repeated and ubiquitous viewing – it’s on every tv screen in the movie – of the Silver Shamrock Halloween mask commercial. Added to this over-saturation critique is the marketing strategy of a competition (the big drawing at nine!) which incentivizes the masks. These masks and the commercials that compel you to buy them, ultimately, turn your brain to mush.

Second, it was brought up, once, that the major problem with HALLOWEEN III’s plot is that there is no way kids would all want to be the same thing for tricks or treats. Even though there are three glow in the dark options, it is still hard to believe that the kids in America would be content to limit their costume choices like this. Sure, there are cut away scenes to kids who are wearing the masks with their clown, ghosts, and princess costumes, but still, it does stretch the limits of credulity.

Unless the movie is making a further point about the growing conformity of children based on their exposure and consumption of media, most notably tv ads. The uniformity of the masks does harken back to various consumer fads – like the pet rock. And in the post STAR WARS era of merchandizing every single frame of film, does such a satiric element seem that farfetched? Not really.

This movie is clearly Anti-Kid

The last thing, I will say about this fantastic movie is about the slightly anti-corporate sentiments aimed at the Silver Shamrock Co. While this company is downright mom and pop compared to the mega-corporations that will close out the 80s – think Cyberdyne Systems Corporation or Omni Consumer Products or the Nakatomi Corporation. I mean they still deal with independent sales people!

Yet Silver Shamrock is distinctive in several ways. For instance, the whole company and the whole town are just an empty shell, a front, hiding the nefarious goings on in the factory warehouse. The loud speakers announcing curfew and the lingering shots of the empty factory yards really do manage to create a creepy mood.

Or what about the fact that Silver Shamrock’s entire operation is run by androids – ROBOTS!! The great Reagan Era fear of factory line obsolescence, the auto worker being kicked off the assembly line to be replaced by a tireless, errorless big yellow robotic arm, comes to its absurd conclusion at Silver Shamrock.

While the movie fails on quite a number of levels, like the acting and effects, the general idea is solid. In fact, I think it fits perfectly into the B-Movie cannon alongside the other horror movies that attempted complex decoding of social philosophy and political trends through the gore splattered screens of splattered brains and oozing toxic goop.

Who are you to kill my mom?

Dario Argento returns to the murderous nature of art and music in SLEEPLESS where a haunted musical instrument serial killer returns after years of silence. Max von Sydow shuffles through his scenes with an over-aged bumble. While excellently filling out the faulty memory of the retired inspector who first tracked the case, he has little to do and the pain of his affliction is inconsistently displayed. He remembers, then he doesn’t, its a flaw in the scripting more than anything else.

The Dwarf Killer is on the loose again, killing with cut out farm animals and using silly contrapasso means of dispatch. There are some fairly effective scenes of tension and gruesomeness, but the gore is fairly light. Plus the sheer meanness of the killer is not as pronounced. Which might have something to do with the fact that Asia Argento is played by  Chiara Caselli, in this one.

The lighting is not as richly artificial as other, more effectively disconcerting, Argento pictures. Nor are there many of the off-putting out of reality rooms or other spaces that establish so much of the nightmare dread. SLEEPLESS happens too much in the real world, which makes the problems with the plot and time line all the more glaring.  Still, the loose ends and red herrings aside, we have seen this solution a few other times in giallos, but it is a pretty good reveal in this one too.

Overall, I would recommend this a a fine giallo, but a mediocre Argento, easily skipped over.

Remember your table manners.

Another one of the film that is clipped into CAT ON THE BRAIN. This is the nazi movie that Fulci is working on that causes the German press to burst into an all out orgy or something.

Basically, the plot of this one is that a ruined villa in France is haunted by a reel of film. The film was shot by a young Nazi during a horribly unsexy orgy. There are hints of all sorts of depravity, fetish play, and drug use. And terrible dancing. Oh, the dancing. The Villa is bombed shortly after the orgy. Maybe the same time it is going on, the next morning, something. It doesn’t matter.

When the compact European car full of twenty somethings buzzes on-screen, it is only a matter of time before these nitwits prove themselves to be honry dorks I could not wait to see killed by ghost Nazis or whatever.

Anyway, these jerks get lost. Find the abandoned villa. Break in. Only to find the place strangely set up for occupation. The candles burn, the dining room is filled with piping hot food, the records still play. Then one of these euro-dweebs plays a film. The film. Next thing you know everyone is drunk, one of the girls is a lesbian, and chaos ensues as a man emerges from a mirror.

He is the young Nazi filmmaker and he has come to make your deepest fanaties come true. Or something. The plot is stupid. But the dubbing is marvelous. And by that I mean it is badly done to humorous effect. The nudity lopsided and the gore non-existent – save for the sloppy chest effect which is so bad it hurts.

I don’t know about this one, folks. Mainly because the ending is sooooo lame.

MANIAC

Back in the early 1980s when I was a reading STARLOG each month, I was fascinated by the full page movie soundtrack advertisement. The ad featured low budget and foreign horror/science fiction movies that had some of the best posters and covers. I am not sure why anyone would want the soundtrack to MANIAC, but it was there in all its disturbing glory. The poster tells one everything one would need to know about the movie.

MANIAC captures the seedy, uncurbed dog doo glory of the late 70s New York City. The City seems to smell even on film. The stains and dim lighting hint at the filthy creatures that scurried around the night. Other than the low budget reality of filming in sweaty, cramped closets and other living room pits from overpriced realty hell, this movie is a strange nightmare character study.

The night side of Frank, interestingly portrayed by Joe Spinell with an ugly physicality, is a heavy breathing, sniveling mess of damp and crusted sheets and the hunting habits of  Son Of Sam. Frank’s apartment is a truly scary place. In fact, it is the best part of the movie. That set with its shrines, looming crowd of mannequins, and cockroach squirming, is an unmatched scene of physiological madness. That room is the real scary monster in this movie, forget Frank’s serial scalping of his prostitute victims, that he then nails to the mannequin’s heads.

The daytime world of Frank does not make sense. He is still super-creepy, but somehow lands the affection and attention of the fantastic looking Caroline Munro. This whole part of the movie is pretty awful. And that is really saying something, because this is NOT a good movie.

I can say that I was somewhat disappointed. Serial killers have been so mainstreamed these days, that today’s TV police procedurals  have more disturbing portrayals of MANIACS. Still, given the time period it was made, I can see how the seediness really added to the movie’s panache and reputation as a disturbing expose of madness and a filthy exploitation of violent gore.

Kiss me you, serial killer, you!

What the hell? Serial killer cannibal gambler is undone by his own shadow? Stupid.

Lester likes to gamble. In order to fund his fun, he marries wealthy widows. Ends up poisoning them, or bonking them on their faces, or chainsawing them up into pieces. Lester, also, likes home cooked meals in front of the television. Lester has a tape recorder that tells him things. Stupid, meaningless things that make no sense for the plot. But these tape recorded discussions are necessary in order to make the idiotic ending not a complete nonsensical. Even if it ends up being completely unexplainable.

The movie starts out with a super gory premise that quickly becomes a double cross mystery? I guess. Halsey is pretty creepy though and his disgust is pretty over the top. The cadaver humor falls flat though. WEEKEND AT BERNIES pretty much proved that a corpse does not make for a great comedic prop, especially after it has been smashed and hammered and bashed in with bloody squirts and eye popping gore! Plus we need to forget that Lester has access to a pig farm and likes to eat his victims. Weird. But then it is Fulci, so I guess that explains it.

Other notables about this movie, other than it is horrible festering mess of unwatchability, is that this movie, itself, was cannibalized in CAT IN THE BRAIN. This stinker also stars Zora Kerova from CANNIBAL FEROX. Other than that, why watch it?

Canker upon canker upon one million tiny punctures

What starts out as a wonderful sister’s holiday, ends with a hotel held hostage to a sex manic pyschokiller!

Or something.

Because there is clearly maybe a ghost story, a double cross drug plot, and  a romantic love triangle/story! All subplots that, ultimately, go no where. But the seaside hotel it all happens at provides some wonderful outdoor shots, especially when the wind kicks up and all the actors start to shiver.

THE SISTER OF URSULA is more soft core skin flix than a giallo gore. The killer, who disembowels the victims through their vaginas after she has paid to watch them all have various kinds of sex. Or skulked in the corners, voyeuristically shadow draped, with only the ominous giallo eyes revealed! The killer’s identity is never in question, really, and there are some rather laughable sex scenes – like the diddling with the gold chain – but then some other rather implied hardcore moves. The religious icon as murder weapon is not credible, considering the damage it was supposed to have inflicted.

This is some particularly horrible dialogue as the two sisters quibble over a dead father and absent mother, made all the more absurd by the nudity of D’Amario as they are arguing. Magnolfi plays the proto-goth with all the bed sheet grabbing angst of a spoiled loony. The scene in the stone side chapel where she caresses the carved Christ before fainting dead away must be seen to be believed. It is beyond campy. And do not get me started on the silver shimmer of a nightclub act, the dubbing of which made it look like a sketch from SCTV. Love it.

Still, the great locations, a drug narc subplot, and a lot nude females kinda make this clunker a watchable dud. Not to mention the fact that Stefania D’Amario, the titular Ursula, goes on to star in Fulci’s ZOMBI! As Barbara Magnolfi, with her dangerous puppy dog eyes, makes a fated appearance in Argento’s SUSPERIA.

I just want to make love.

This is a filthy little movie. Part naked lady soft core Eurotrash porno and part inexplicable giallo. The movie really reveals in the Freudian “hysterics of overly sexed ladies.” In fact, its whole conceit is based on it.

The movie begins after naked Mararet Lee is wracked in sex spasms of sleep, watched by the creepy shadow killer. Clearly, she has problems! Then we are cut to a frantic car ride where a blonde woman suddenly loses control of herself and attempt to steer the car into a terrible crash. Wanting to kill her husband is understandable, according to the dialogue, but killing herself, this does not make any sense. Thus the necessity of her going to treatment at the titular Hotel! Her psychopathic desires manifest so quickly, as she attempts to smack a doctor with a two by four. Great stuff.

By the time we are introduced to the other patients at the asylum, it is obvious that all of them are going to spend a lot of the movie scantily clad. There is the nymphomaniac played by Rosalba Neri, there are the lesbians (a morose Jane Garet and her nursey massage lover Monica Strabel), the wealthy heiress kept against her will, and the brilliantly posed Klaus Kinski, as some sort of revolutionary psychologist.

His methods are strange. They involve cold showers, getting high, nightly cocktail parties, chain smoking, seducing the patients, and croquet. And a lot of nudity. Oh so much nudity.

There is a lesbian massage and bath scene which culminates in the silliest dance scene this side of THE WICKER MAN. There is a lot of rolling around on beds with suggestions of masturbation.  And there is at least one sex scene in a green house, no gardener can resist the nudity of Neri!

The killer sulking around is rather stupid and almost inept. His heavy breathing prefigures Jason and the giallo dark mask and black gloves are in full plumage. Though, I suppose, it is rather apparent why the killer chose this asylum to  undertake his spree, the whole place is rife with medieval weaponry – even a working iron maiden!  There is a cross bow through the neck, there are stabbings, beheadings, broad swords, hatchets, and scythes.

The ending feels tacked on, as if when the production realized they ordered too much ketchup for the catering, someone came up with a bloodbath rampage. The unmasked killer rampages through the nurses dorm stabbing and hacking at a group of poor ladies huddled in the corner. Silly and surprisingly out of place.

Ultimately, this is a great Kinski piece of acting. His whole persona is a slightly fey brush of his hair as he smokes and poses in every scene. Basically, collecting a paycheck for his name and his reputation as a bad guy to throw a red herring into the mix. Because, he is not the killer. Unfortunately.

My idea of psychotherapy!