Magdalena: Possessed by the Devil (’74) By Michael Campochiaro of Starfire Lounge

I was feeling under the weather recently so I did what any normal human being would do: I curled up in bed to watch a 1970s West German Devil-possession flick dubbed into English on YouTube. What, you don’t do that when you’re sick?

Truth be told, neither do I but sweet Satan am I glad I did this time. I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon Magdalena: Possessed by the Devil (1974); I probably have some lunatic on the internet to thank. And of course I have William Blatty’s The Exorcist to thank because that little book you may have heard of set off a possession frenzy in the 1970s that produced not only William Friedkin’s smash hit film adaptation, but also any number of movies and TV clones. It wasn’t just in the United States either. Those crazy Italians and the almost-as-crazy Spaniards made a bunch of knockoffs. Then the Germans said—Ha! Okay fine, hold my Hofbräu—and made the truly insane Magdalena (known stateside as Beyond the Darkness).

I don’t even know how to describe this movie…take The Exorcist, strip away any semblance of seriousness, age up the lead actress to a teenager, add in staggering amounts of nudity and vulgarity, and just let the madness flow like draught beer during Oktoberfest. The story is simple: an orphaned teen (Dagmar Hedrich) begins writhing around like she’s having sex with the air, telling every man in site to “stick it in her”, and generally behaving in all sorts of ways not typically condoned in polite society. When possessed, she relishes antagonizing a series of truly stupid and horny men. Eventually she’s in the care of two doctors who begin to realize there’s more to this than medical science will ever be able to explain.…much more!

Hedrich is to be commended for her performance. She absolutely commits to the madness. I swear she’s naked for half the film, at least, and not just naked but naked while running, rolling, fighting, and cackling her way through the story. Pardon the pun but she’s like a woman possessed.

Basically Magaldena is a German sexploitation film that happens to have satanic possession in it. After watching this crackerjack I felt less under the weather, and in fact, much better. Look, sometimes satanic possession is just what the doctor ordered.

Note: Make sure to visit MC at his home joint HERE!

The Fury (1978) By Michael Campochiaro of Starfire Lounge

Let’s get this out of the way at the start: I’m a Brian De Palma fanatic. Of the New Hollywood directors who got their starts in the 1960s and 1970s, many are certified legends with their own signature styles, but none of them can touch De Palma’s purely batshit crazy resume, especially during the 1970s. And during those years none of them worked as consistently within the milieu of horror as De Palma, either. From harrowing, Siamese-twin shocker Sisters (1973) to demented rock opera Phantom of the Paradise (1974) to telekinetic teen terror Carrie (1976) and beyond, De Palma crafted some of the most bizarre and memorable films of the decade.

Carrie is as close to a perfect movie as one can get. It’s quite possibly De Palma’s best, in my estimation—technical prowess, emotional impact, and excellent performances meld into something truly transcendent. That might be why the film he followed it with in 1978, The Fury—also about telekinetic teens—was practically doomed to second fiddle status from the start. That’s a shame because, while The Fury is far from perfect, it’s as compellingly strange as anything De Palma has ever made.

Part supernatural horror, part espionage thriller, with even some comic interludes that seem ported over from another movie, The Fury is the sort of movie that makes me feel confident to declare it unlike any other movie ever made. I like this strange mixture quite a bit, although the script is kind of a mess and inexplicably convoluted. It stars Kirk Douglas as a man on a mission, trying to rescue his supernaturally gifted son from a shady government organization intent on using him and other special kids as weapons in warfare. Douglas might seem an odd fit for this movie, but the man brings it! Whether he’s surviving speed boat explosions, leaping out of buildings in his boxer shorts, or applying shoe polish to his hair while munching on bacon (don’t ask), I’m just happy to go along for the ride with him. Ethereal Amy Irving (hot off her fantastic performance as Sue Snell in Carrie) as a telekinetic teen with extra-sensory perception is—you guessed it—ethereal. And like Carrie White, her character Gillian also kicks major ass in the end, and it’s glorious. John Cassavetes is deliciously dastardly and Andrew Stevens’ performance is intense—he’s really good at nose flaring. The death scenes are insanely gruesome and bloody in the grand De Palma tradition.

The Fury also contains plenty of the director’s signature style with some extraordinary shots, including a wonderful, lengthy, slow-motion sequence that is absolutely mesmerizing. I hadn’t seen the film in decades, but its slow charms are intoxicating, to the point that I can’t stop thinking about it since a recent rewatch. In that way, it’s the sort of movie that works its way into your heart and stays there forever.

Note: Make sure to visit MC at his home base HERE!

Carnival of Souls (’62) By Michael Campochiaro of Starfire Lounge

The first time you see Carnival of Souls you’re pretty sure you’ve seen it before. That’s because any number of horror films in the nearly sixty years since its release have cribbed liberally off its look, feel, and twist ending. It’s possible many of those filmmakers did so unknowingly—that’s how much Carnival of Souls is woven into the fabric of cinematic horror.

If I’m making it sound like Carnival of Souls is as well-known as descendants like Night of the Living Dead or The Sixth Sense, well, no, it’s not. No one saw Carnival of Souls when it came out in 1962. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but hardly anyone did. It took decades before art houses began screening it for Halloween showings, introducing it to a new generation that embraced it and made it one of the ultimate cult classics. But even now it’s still relatively obscure outside of film critic and cinephile circles.

A quick synopsis of the plot goes like this: a woman named Mary (Candace Hilligoss, whose expressive and truly stunning face was tailor-made for this movie) is the sole survivor in a car full of women that crashes spectacularly while drag racing some cool cat daddy-os. Soon after she feels a wanderlust overtake her. She dramatically quits her job as a church organist—“I am never coming back”—and leaves Kansas behind before landing in Utah. What follows is a series of strange encounters where Mary begins to feel increasingly isolated and invisible, even in the company of others. Oh, and she also keeps seeing a ghoulish stalker (played rather ghoulishly by the film’s director Herk Harvey), who scares her silly. Then there’s the sprawling old abandoned carnival on the outskirts of town. Mary is mysteriously drawn to it. Eventually we discover why, in one of cinema’s most haunting endings.

The story behind the film is almost as intriguing as the film itself. Former industrial filmmaker (think human resources training films for fast food employees) Herk Harvey made Carnival of Souls on the cheap as a labor love for somewhere around $30,000 in two decidedly un-Hollywood locales: Lawrence, Kansas and the Salt Lake City area in Utah. Hilligoss was the only cast member with any acting training. She’s possibly the only person associated with the film who ever made more features, and even she only appeared in a handful. Harvey never made another film again, unless you count the countless industrial videos he made for Centron Productions before and after Carnival of Souls.

That a film this low budget, made by a group of filmmakers existing about as far outside the mainstream of moviemaking as possible, could become such an influence on future filmmakers is astonishing. It’s also a testament to a film’s ability to find its audience over time. Like Mary drawn to the carnival, horror nerds and filmmakers alike have been drawn to Carnival of Souls over the last several decades. Why? Because for all its cheapness, it remains a truly great horror film.

Unk Sez: Check out more of Michael’s work at his home base STARFIRE LOUNGE!

Last Night in Soho (2021)

Edgar Wright’s LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is so enrapturing to the eyes and ears that it’s a shock to the system when the film ends and you have to return to gray, blaring reality. Thomasin McKenzie plays Eloise, a sixties-obsessed, aspiring young fashion designer who leaves behind cozy country life to study in the exciting yet treacherous city of London. Instantly pegged as prissy by her more sophisticated roommate, she escapes ridicule by renting a room (from Dame Diana Rigg, no less) that better suits her offbeat personality. Soon her dreams, personality and mental landscape are meshing with those of a charismatic previous occupant of the room named Sandie (effortlessly ethereal Anya Taylor-Joy). Unfortunately, what begins as a joyous, romantic fantasy begins to curdle into a mystery-ridden, time warp nightmare.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is sort of like BLACK SWAN dipped in SUSPIRIA sauce but for all the many films and genres it may touch base with, it’s always an impressively singular vision. Really, there’s nothing quite like it and it sports a few moments that are absolutely spellbinding. Incredibly (for me), it may be least potent when it leans into pure horror, as some of poor Eloise’s waking visions of phantoms from the past become redundant near the end. It’s possible 20 minutes of this film could be shaved off to tighten up the story but on the other hand, a part of me wanted to stay in the universe it offered forever. Luckily, I don’t mind wading through a few ineffective boo-scares for a film kind enough to play Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House” at a Halloween party for me. It’s not like a got a more stimulating place to go.

It’s hard to fault a flick so earnestly entranced with its subject matter and the possibilities of film.  There are so many innovative things going on visually from clever mirror tricks to psychedelic lighting, to the detailed accuracy of replicated sixties-era London. The mix of eye candy imagery with stellar music selections can be absolutely intoxicating at times. Best of all, I can say I was genuinely surprised when the final puzzle piece was put in place. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO may require a bit of patience when it plays the same card a few too many times but the benefits of being so fully transported are absolutely worth it.

Halloween Kills (2021)

I was fascinated by horror at an early age but it was the viewing of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (’78) on TV one fateful night (while babysitting the night before the holiday) that spurred my lifelong obsession with the genre. The universe depicted in the Halloween franchise (regardless of timelines) will always be my home away from home. Just as so many of my generation gladly lose themselves in THE HOBBIT’s Middle Earth or STAR WARS’ galaxy far, far away, I’ve found my happy place roaming the back alleys of Haddonfield.

Love it or lump it, HALLOWEEN KILLS offers an express ticket to exactly where I personally want to be and it allows me to visit with characters I want to learn more about. Yes, I really do care what happened to Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace (well played here by (new to the role) Anthony Michael Hall and (a returning) Kyle Richards)! In fact, it turns out I also care about what happened to the original film’s bully Lonnie Elam (now portrayed by Robert Longstreet). Lonnie, Tommy and Lindsey are friends now and it warms my heart. Some call this fan service and well, I’m a fan and I appreciate the service! For better or worse, it’s my ambrosia. These places, people and events provided me with distractions from harsh reality all my life and I’m nothing if not loyal. I’m saying I loved this movie and I can’t wait to go back.

HK takes place the same night as 2018’s HALLOWEEN but first we’re treated to a variety of spellbinding fresh scenes that occur the night of the 1978 original. We even get a view of killer Michael Myer’s eventual arrest complete with a remarkably staged revisit with Dr. Loomis that shouldn’t work at all, but does and exceptionally well (truly, it’s the type of uncanny that delivers goosebumps). Soon we’re rocketing all over town, spending time with firefighters, cops, medical workers, mobs and almost anyone who had the misfortune of crossing paths with the dreaded MM. This movie goes far out of its way to lean away from the slasher trope that the drama and trauma is all about one lone special “final girl” and it’s refreshing as hell. It may sting for some that Laurie (the always compelling Jamie Lee Curtis) takes a backseat and has no cathartic battle with the beast, but I think it’s high time we acknowledge that death concerns everyone (and frankly, she deserves that weight taken off her back).

Characters that were mere blips in the previous movie get hearty vignettes in this one and the attention to detail and the enthusiasm for callbacks is rich and rewarding. My favorite new addition is an older gay couple named Big John and Little John (the hilarious Michael McDonald and Scott MacArthur) who have moved into the Myers house, are tormented by pre-teens and are NOT spared the wrath of Michael. Not gonna lie, I saw myself and Aunt John in these two (hanging out, listening to records and watching movies; I can relate. Though, another victim’s choice of viewing THE FUNHOUSE suits me better than MINNIE & MOSKOWITZ on All Hallow’s Eve). You know if Michael came to town I’d appreciate being treated just like everybody else (I’d even fight with Aunt John for the on-screen kill). Probably won’t matter to most people that after all these films we finally got a duo like this represented but I sure dug it. Sure, Laurie does have to step aside to allow it to happen but I’m glad she did. Some might say the structure is loose and/or wayward in this flick but that’s kinda the point; HALLOWEEN KILLS opens the window and lets the long in the tooth slasher format breath a little.

I see a lot of online vitriol for this movie and I’m baffled. Even if you don’t care for the highly repetitive dialog or the baby step forward in Laurie’s saga, director David Gordon Green delivers one of Michael’s most threatening romps yet. The kills here are off the hook and I don’t remember the last time I actually gasped out loud during a horror film death. Myers is absolutely ruthless in this film (although he is kind enough to pose a few corpses). Oh well, we all have different tastes. There’s a reason my brothers and I would trade candies back and forth after trick or treating. Some folks dig tried and true traditional chocolate bars, I’m more of a fan of the variety of Bottlecaps. BTW, why are Bottlecaps candies so tiny these days? No wonder I’m so damn nostalgic.

Three Non-Horror Movies For Horror Fans:: By Ghastly1

That Cold Day in the Park (1969). My favorite Robert Altman film -a distant second being Brewster McCloud– in which a lonely frigid spinster (Sandy Dennis) comes across a wet and shivering 19-year-old boy (Michael Burns) sitting on a park bench, who awakens long submerged and hopelessly deranged passions in her. One thing leads to another and much to his chagrin, the boy finds himself locked away in the apartment with a rapidly mentally deteriorating old maid. No Skin Off My Ass (1991) also drew from the source novel this film is based on. All I have to say is, Sandy Dennis can hold me hostage any time.

Sanctuary of Fear (1979). I admit that what initially drew me to this was the fact that I fell in love with Kay Lenz when I first saw her in one of my all-time favorite films, Breezy (1973). The fact Barnard Hughes of The Hospital (1971) and The Lost Boys (1987) fame plays Father Brown also certainly didn’t hurt matters. An actress witnesses several bizarre and frightening incidents but the police won’t believe her, luckily for her, Father Brown does. This is a pretty good thriller which was to be the pilot for a television series which unfortunately was never made.

Rubin and Ed (1991). Here’s a funny, thoroughly enjoyable film with great spirit which I cannot recommend enough. Rubin Farr (Crispin Glover) is an unsociable guy living with his mother who forces him to make friends against his will. Ed Tuttle (Howard Hesseman) is a would be, try hard businessman who is nonetheless unsuccessful and who falls for a pyramid scheme. They go on an adventure to bury Rubin’s dead frozen cat in the desert and become friends along the way. This film is both surreal in many respects and subtly subversive of the mainstream mindset afflicting most today. It is a contender in my book for one of the best movies about a relationship between a human and an animal (even if that animal has ceased to be). Also, if you have ever seen the famous clip of Crispin Glover seemingly drugged out of his mind, dressed strangely and nearly kicking David Letterman in the head and wondered to yourself, what the hell is that all about? this is the answer.

Nightbooks (2021)

I was feeling under the weather recently and wanted to watch a horror film but I wasn’t in the mood for anything that was going to bum me out or destroy my last shred of will to live (you know how it goes). Luckily I found the PG-13 dark fantasy/gateway horror flick NIGHTBOOKS hanging out on Netflix because it completely shifted my mood and delivered everything I could possibly ask for, especially during spooky season. It’s surprisingly dark and intense at times (I’m pretty sure it references SUSPIRIA) but there’s great humor too and the characters are super relatable and the message it delivers is something that’s useful no matter what your age. Based on a children’s book by J. A. White, it somehow successfully transported me back to the eighties and I was swearing I was watching a lost Joe Dante flick for much of the runtime.

Winslow Fegley stars as Alex, a kid obsessed with horror movies (posters for THE THING, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, CANDYMAN and others align his bedroom wall) and writing scary stories. Feeling alienated by others for his interests, he swears to forever reject his passions and destroy all of his writings in his Brooklyn apartment building’s furnace. Before he can achieve his goal though, he is enticed into a neighboring apartment where he spies a TV playing THE LOST BOYS and a tempting slice of pumpkin pie. Suddenly he is trapped in a newfangled telling of Hansel and Gretel with a wonderfully sinister witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter who is aces and born for the part), her prisoner Yasmin (Lidya Jewett) and a trouble-making mystical cat (who I immediately fell in love with) named Lenore. To stay alive, Alex must rekindle his love of storytelling to entertain Natacha, and frankly, she’s a bit on the detail-oriented, critical side.

Our heroes may be trapped but their prison is a fantastic place to spend time for viewers. Natacha has an endlessly spiraling library, a neon garden full of truly threatening spider creatures and a menagerie of Hummel-like figures of her past victims. I don’t wish to spoil anything but what’s going on in her backyard is even more eye-popping, psychedelic and candy-coated Wonka glorious.

Eventually, strong bonds are formed, the mischievous cat reveals an appreciative heart and even Natasha inspires a tad of sympathy before her comeuppance. Most importantly, Alex learns that what makes him different is exactly what makes him special and I’m all for everybody getting down with that way of thinking. Do yourself the sweet favor of watching NIGHTBOOKS this Halloween season. It really is all any horror fan could wish for.

Malignant (2021)

There was a point while I was watching James Wan’s MALIGNANT when my eyeballs fell out of my head and rolled across the floor. I had to get down on my hands and knees, scoop them up and push the damn bastards back into my skull. It’s been far too long since a movie has surprised me to such a degree and I think I’d almost forgotten what a glorious experience that is. The brazen originality is even more astounding when you consider that the lion’s share of the film plays like a stroll through the horror section of a video store. It’s almost a Where’s Waldo? of horror homage; a colorful kaleidoscope spitting out splinters of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (’64), SUSPIRIA (’77), PHENOMENA (’85), NEXT OF KIN (’82), THE SENDER (’82), I MADMAN (89), DARKMAN (’90), BASKET CASE (’82), BRAIN DAMAGE (’88), SCISSORS (’91), HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(’99), GOTHICA (’03) and so many more. Personally it made me feel like a pig in slop as so much of the set-up felt like a big budget remake of my personal pet fave MADHOUSE (‘81). But then, just as you’re snuggling into the safety of the familiar parading by to the beat of one fantastic score, the entire highly stylized snow globe is turned on its head and shook ferociously and an incredibly novel and exciting new beast emerges.

Annabelle Wallis (who’s got a wonderful Juliette Binoche meets Mary Steenburgen in DEAD OF WINTER (’87) vibe going on) plays Madison Mitchell, a very troubled and very pregnant woman with an abusive husband and a repressed past (her younger self is played by the always excellent Mckenna Grace). One evening her home is invaded by a sinister, shadowy figure that leaves her with a mutilated hubby, a null and void pregnancy and a big giant bouquet of flashbacks to a traumatizing childhood and psychic visions of murders as they occur. Madison is my favorite type of horror heroine in that she is an unapologetic, freaked-out mess that everyone thinks is crazy until the inevitable moment they do some light research and find the files that explain everything…well, almost everything. Lots of folks are going to find the over-the-top acting style and sometimes comic book-like approach a little too hokey to handle but I honestly found it refreshing not to be weighed down with tired faux-gritty “realism”. This flick is a long way from SAW (’04) and the further away we get from SAW the happier I seem to be.

MALIGNANT needn’t worry about cynical audiences and lukewarm box-office. This bad boy is destined to be obsessed over endlessly. No, it’s not for everybody but thems the breaks when you draw outside the lines and stake new ground. I get the feeling Wan followed his heart and made exactly the film he wanted to and maybe he too was missing the broad colorful strokes and heights of fantasy horror achieved in less dour decades. In the end, it doesn’t matter what specific titles or sub-genres influenced Wan, by and large he clearly meant to remind of us of a time when movies were freer and more fun and that goal was exceedingly met. I for one can’t stop thinking about this wild, phantasmic explosion of dream-like insanity and I’m so grateful knowing that I can still find myself completely shell-shocked by a horror film.