Betsy’s Black and White Horror Show

The other night like many horror fans I’m sure, I went to sleep watching BETSY’S WEDDING (1990). Don’t judge, I’ve got a giant stock of sleepy time VHS and I know what I’m doing. Anyway, BETSY’S WEDDING was kinda rubbing me the wrong way with its ambivalent, leaning towards garish visuals and so I decided to tone that shit down by removing all the color via my remote and switching my TV to black and white. Then, who would have thunk it, but BETSY’S WEDDING transformed into some lost, mid-level WOODY ALLEN jaunt and I found myself engrossed with the courtship of ALLY SHEEDY and ANTHONY LaPAGLIA (who incidentally steals the film entire).

I still fell asleep before it was over but the black and white switcheroo was a success. I should not have been surprised at all really, because I had already learned this lesson with THE MIST and GHOST STORY (thanks to Fascination with Fear!) Anyway, I decided to leave my TV black and white for a while and watch some horror movies and see what this homegrown gimmick works with. I wouldn’t even try it with something like SUSPIRIA in which color plays such an important role in the film but I’ve got a feeling that some films might only be complimented by the new garb. Here’s what I tried…

HELL NIGHT (1980)

The frat party beginning is a toss up but Garth Manor and black and white work wonders together. Suddenly we could be just down the road from THE HAUNTING.

GHOSTKEEPER (1981)

Holy crap this movie just gets better each time I watch it and you know the snow graduates to a whole other level of engulfing in B&W. How will I ever repay Amanda by Night for turning me on to this fine film? A fruit basket is in order.

THE DEAD ZONE (1983)

Speaking of snow, Geez, isn’t THE DEAD ZONE beautiful? I Love me all types of CRONENBERG but on a visual level I think it’s my favorite of his. Black and white really brings out the beaten down and past its prime small town atmosphere and the gazebo scene somehow becomes an even bigger knock out (if that’s possible). I feel about THE DEAD ZONE in black and white, the way the lady below feels about a certain curtain store….

ALIEN (1979)

Dare I? I’m so far gone at this point I went one even better and watched ALIEN not only in B&W but on a VHS tape so old, it has the nerve to boast about being in HI-FI stereo on the cover! Dead media and backwards technology makes me giddy. I feel like lil’ COREY FELDMAN in FRIDAY THE 13TH: Part 4 when he discovers the view from his new bedroom window.

FIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

I might as well at this point! I did just happen to pick up a used copy of the original on VHS this year just so that I could hold it in my hand again. I gotta say, this always-reliable classic worked a far sight better than I imagined it would. Color is not a very significant factor in F13th, in fact, it rarely comes into play but the black and white sure does a lot to deepen the woods and sense of isolation and it sure makes my pal Mrs. Voorhees lovely white sweater pop out against the night sky! That reminds me, me and your Aunt John were at a bar the other day (actually, right after my first draft of this) and they had a TV set to an obscure Game Show channel featuring a game show in B&W and guess who was a panelist? BETSY PALMER, the patron saint of broken cars and serendipitous career opportunities!! Of course I took a picture for you….

Done. Now I’m going to play Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” in an effort to alienate any stragglers who didn’t stop reading at the mere mention of BETSY’S WEDDING. Am I the only one not buying GEORGE WENDT as Mac’s dad? I totally get TESS (AMITYVILLE 3-D) HARPER as his mom though: they’ve both got that that Midwich Cuckoo look. Let me know if you guys have any other ideas as to what color horror films might work well in B&W!I’m on a roll so far and open to suggestions.

Five Underrated Flicks Labor Day Weekend Special!

Hey look, I went and did a Five Underrated List just like I said I might! Sorry we’re going to skip the FUNHOUSE today because I got all wrapped up in this thing! All you kids are invited to do a list too so feel free to send one in! As always don’t do it for me, don’t do it for you, do it for all those nice movies that never hurt anybody. Let’s get started!

THE THING (2011)

Let’s get my most shameful offense out of the way first. My name is Unkle Lancifer and I’m a fan of that THE THING movie from 2011. I don’t mean I enjoyed it enough to write this mostly positive review back HERE, I mean I’ve watched it about six or seven times in the last couple years. This may make some folks begin to doubt my commitment to Sparkle Motion or at least JOHN CARPENTER’s 1982 take on JOHN W. CAPBELL, Jr.’s “Who Goes There?” but I swear you can enjoy both!! Is this coming from the same guy who was foaming at the mouth about the POLTERGEIST re-do on account of it failing to capture the proper tone? Yep, that’s just it, 2011’s THE THING does a pretty admirable job of convincing it is at least aware of what made its predecessor great. It’s not always successful but I appreciate the effort. The ending battle is a bit wonky (so is 1982’s) and some of the special effects are off (so are some of 1982’s- I can’t be the only one who finds the “Blair spreads Garry’s face apart with his hand” effect a dud) but the location feels pretty spot on or maybe (probably) I’m just a sucker for shape-shifters in the snow movies. Trust me, I’m not trying to convince you that it can hold a candle (or a lighted flare?) to CARPENTER’s classic (who expected it to?) I just think it’s a reasonable tribute that’s highly watchable despite its flaws that got a super raw deal thanks to a confused marketing campaign. Well, I enjoy it anyway and like I said…snow.

THEY (2002)

Who should ever listen to my opinion when I somehow like the horribly reviewed THEY? Maybe I should watch this one again before I stand up for it. Then again, is it any surprise that I should fall for a movie involving childhood trauma, nightmare creatures that could be cousins to THE BOOGENS (or DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK’s “walnut-heads” or those crazy flying spines in 1993’s NECRONOMICON), and features some waif-y FARROW-esque neurotic who at least in one version gets trapped in an alternative hell dimension? Plus BUFFY alumni! Hey, at the time I was itching for something outside the teens being chased by a psycho routine and this one fit the bill and gave me some creeps. Does it make sense? Does it hold up to any scrutiny whatsoever? I dunno, I saw this before I pretended to care about such things. Thanks to reader johnnyblackout for reminding me about this one!

THE CURSE (1987)

I remember staring at the poster for this one in front of a long gone movie theater thinking because WIL WEATON was in it, it must be for kids and not a wise, mature adult like twenty-year-old me! Eventually I caught up to it on VHS and thought, “Oh this isn’t for kids, it’s for insane people.” Finally when it came out on DVD, THE CURSE and me understood each other! I think what happened was that over the years many an Italian movie taught me to appreciate the expressionistic side of horror and to stop being so literal all the time. As far as LOVECRAFT adaptions go (THE CURSE is based on “The Color Out of Space”), few films have captured that weird sense of existential nausea he conjures quite like this. There’s a rather convincing layer of queasy madness to this movie that I’ve got to tip my hat to and it doesn’t hurt that it features such TV luminaires as CLAUDE AKINS and JOHN SCHNEIDER. Additionally, I wouldn’t throw CURSE 2: THE BITE (which is included on the DVD) out of bed for eating crackers either. The story is unrelated but it stars JILL SCHOELEN and features SCREAMING MAD GEORGE special effects so it’s not unrelated in its underrated awesomeness, if that makes sense.

HELL NIGHT (1980)

Everybody loves HELL NIGHT, so why the hell am I wasting this slot to sing the praises of a movie that everybody already loves? Why, one would have to be a braying jackass of some sort not to like HELL NIGHT! Here’s my thing: I feel like some folks have an almost condescending, “Isn’t it adorable?” wink-wink, nudge-nudge, cutesy neon eighties let’s chuckle awhile, pat it on the head and send it on it’s way attitude toward HELL NIGHT (which is fine I guess) whereas I’m thinking it’s more of a sterling masterpiece that should be dipped in gold and sent to the Smithsonian type of thing. I don’t know if you have to watch it a million times for this effect, but THE MUSIC alone is so majestic (I can hear it right now) I can barely stand it. Better yet, no matter how many times I visit Garth Manor, it still remains mysterious to me. Even though I know they filmed in the same ten-foot cavern back and forth over and over again I’m still convinced there are miles of underground tunnels and hundreds of other rooms waiting to be explored. I understand there are more frightening, suspenseful and gory films out there but HELL NIGHT just hits the perfect pitch for me every time and I want to live inside it forever.

AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982)

Aw geez, my five picks are already up! There are so many more movies to choose from but this one has been on my mind lately (ever since we mentioned BURT YOUNG in BLOOD BEACH) and besides the voice in my Walkman is pretty much insisting upon me picking it. I feel like this movie is on a whole other plane than the rest of the AMITYVILLE series. It achieves something that feels so dark and much worse, authentically dark and there’s such a depressing tragic tone to it all. It’s a haunted house flick, a killer on the loose movie and a possession/exorcism movie all wrapped up in one. Most importantly, it’s its own beast through and through. I can’t think of any movie quite like it and I can guarantee you there will never be anything else like it again. I don’t think this movie could be made today.To save myself from repeating myself, I’ll direct you to a full review HERE and close out with ultimate selling point: DIANE FRANKLIN is in it.

THE RUINS (2008)

I’m going to cheat and squeeze this one in here because I’m starting to second guess my decision to allow the more talked about AMITYVILLE 2 have the last chair. BLOOD BEACH also had me thinking about killer plant movies and beyond the classic DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and the musical comedy LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS the best one I could think of was the more recent THE RUINS (2008). Wasn’t that a cool movie? It’s not as good as the book, of course, but considering how difficult it would be to make the subject matter work off the page it’s pretty impressive and around here we give big giant gold stars for originality and going against the grain. Beyond the killer shrubbery stuff, THE RUINS has a truly disturbing infection-paranoia angle that will really get under your skin (See also LEVIATHAN and even THE CURSE above).

SUPER SPECIAL LABOR DAY WEEKEND BONUS PICK: SERIAL MOM (1994)

Serial Mom should be watched by horror fans every Labor Day weekend if you ask me. Even if you are not a fan of JOHN WATERS’ humor (I guess there’s just two kinds of people …) you shouldn’t allow yourself to miss the many horror movie and video store references that are sprinkled throughout the film. It’s really a gold mine for the eyes if you dig spotting old VHS tapes and this is one of the very few films that I think might be worth seeking out in HD. Geez, how did I forget to mention it in that 40 NON-HORROR MOVIES FOR HORROR FANS list we did with The Meep? All right, I think my 5 underrated looks suspiciously like 7 underrated. I best split. Have a great Labor Day weekend folks and Summer, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Name That Trauma:: Catol on a Mannequin with Headphones PSA

I have grown up in the NYC area my whole life, but this was probably a nationwide PSA that I have only seen once and never again. Saw it before I turned 10.

I believe it was for some organization or institute: a featureless, unmoving mannequin head and neck in a dark room with faint lighting. In slow shots that faded from one scenario to the other there was the sound of some large noise (probably construction work); then a pair of headphones on the mannequin with audible music; then some other loud noise (probably trains in the subway).

The part that creeped me out was the final shot of the mannequin head, each ear having a glowing red spot and the shrill, deafening sound of what seems to be tinnitus from the exposure to all of those intense decibels. The high-pitched ringing seemed to go on forever but probably lasted for a few seconds at most. I do not recall if there was a narrator at any point in this, but I do believe this was from the late 80s.

I haven’t a clue where to begin my search! I know the Kindertrauma family are super spies and I just know it can be figured out. Even without an answer, I think you guys are great besides!

– Catol