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February 19, 2011

FMWL 2010 - The Year That Was (THE FINAL CHAPTER) - The Midnight Movies The Mike Fell in Love With in 2010

(Yes, this is a weeeee bit late.  I wanted to make sure it was awesome, OK?  And yes, I get to be Ron Silver, the movies get to be Jamie Lee.  That's how The Mike rolls.)

A wise man once said that "anything less than the best is a felony".  As a fan of genre cinema, I have to admit that this is not an opinion I often share.  From my perspective, it seems like I've already found a lot of the "best" that horror and sci-fi cinema has to offer.  But, while I'm trying to avoid the films that are killin' your brain like a poisonous mushroom, there are the rare moments when I find an older film that I haven't seen or maybe an older film that I dismissed when I was younger - and I actually kind of love it.

So, let's take a quick look at sixteen lovely genre flicks - all released before 2010, and presented in no particular order - that I found (or re-found) hidden in cinema's couch cushions last year.

The Silent Scream (1980, Dir. by Denny Harris.)

I guess you could call this a slasher film, but it's got more in common with Psycho and other '60s chillers -  there's even a hint of William Castle, I think - than other mindless flicks of the '80s.  A lot of the horror charm comes from the big creepy seaside house setting, and the trio of Yvonne De Carlo, Brad Rearden, and horror legend Barbara Steele play a family with too many dark secrets well.  The leads could be a little more interesting - though Rebecca Balding is adequate in the lead - but The Silent Scream still sticks as one of the more fun early '80s horrors I've seen in some time.

The Pit (1981, Dir. by Lew Lehman.)

I've already covered this one as a Midnight Movie of the Week here at FMWL, but it bears repeating that this quirky horror tale has quickly become a favorite of mine.  With a memorable performance by young Sammy Snyders and a plot that seems to be all over the horror map, The Pit matches its playful charm with an incredibly unique set of twists.  I'm not sure if there's another horror flick quite like it out there.

Starcrash (1979, Dir. by Luigi Cozzi.)

I've also covered this one, but any time I have the chance to bring up Caroline Munro, I do it.  If you're a fan of Ms. Munro like I am, this is your Citizen Kane.  And it's the perfect thing to add to the mix with Flash Gordon and episodes of Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century when you want to see what our future in space really SHOULD look like.

The Initiation of Sarah (1978, Dir. by Robert Day.)

Coming our way via the Final Girl Film Club in late November, The Initiation of Sarah is another unique horror from the late '70s/early '80s. (Considering how original a lot of these films are, don't you kind of wish the slasher hadn't come along and dumbed down the genre? Just something to ponder.)  Featuring a who's who of TV stars, including the delicious Morgan Brittany, this mixture of sorority bitchiness and dark magic goes down like steak and potatoes.  It's also available on Instant Netflix for your viewing pleasure.

The Stuff (1985, Dir. by Larry Cohen.)

There was no good reason for me to avoid a blobby film, but that's exactly what happened for most of my life.  When i finally did meet with Larry Cohen's The Stuff, I found a delightful piece of satire that takes aim at advertising, the hive mind of American society, and the people who profit from our weaknesses.  Oh, and there's Stuff that kind of acts like a Blob.  That's awesome.  Previously reviewed HERE.

Humanoids from the Deep (1980, Dir. by Barbara Peeters.)

I'd seen this one years ago, but the proper blu-ray treatment from Shout Factory and their Roger Corman's Cult Classics series brought out so much I didn't take from the film the first time.  A vile mess of a movie that seems to want to capitalize on the success of both Jaws and Alien before it, Humanoids from the Deep features some gruesome effects from the legendary Rob Bottin and a boatload of silly, mindless horror fun.  Should be a great pick for a splattery evening with friends.

The Believers (1987, Dir. by John Schlesinger.)

Another film I'd not quite appreciated when I was younger.  Schlesinger brings voodoo to New York City with impressive results, and there are some genuinely creepy scenes.  Martin Sheen gets top billing as the father trying to unravel a mystery, but the stars might be Jimmy Smits in a small and doomed role and Harris Yulin as a member of the vicious cult.  The ending is a little off, I think, but I still admire the dark and serious tone of the film.

(Oh, and Robert Loggia's in it.  Consider this an intermission....)

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970, Dir. by Dario Argento.)

You'd probably smack me if you knew how few Dario Argento films I've seen.  But I've always loved his style, and was proud to find myself enjoying his debut feature completely.  The film sets the tone for his entire career as a filmmaker, but there are very few growing pains on display in this good looking and suspenseful giallo.  The sequence with the young woman facing a seemingly normal staircase is textbook Argento.

The Roost & Trigger Man (2005 & 2007, Dir. by Ti West.)

He made a name at the end of 2009 with The House of the Devil, which has quickly become one of my favorite modern horrors, and watching Ti West's first two features goes a long way to show how he pulled off that shocker.  Both films are slow burning tales of characters that are secluded from any help and have to fight to survive, and both films feature abrupt yet fascinating endings.

The Roost (also a former Midnight Movie of the Week pick) reminds us of survival horrors like The Birds and Night of the Living Dead, while Trigger Man is a more human tale of survival in the woods from an unseen gunman.  The average viewer could attest that very little actually happens in these 80 minute films - which has also been said about The House of the Devil - but to me the trilogy of films show that West is the rare director who can turn a quiet moment into a suspense with ease.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974, Dir. by Jorge Grau.)

Apparently, Sleeping Corpses can't handle the truth.  A rare Italian zombie film that BOTH makes sense and doesn't just decide to be violent for the sake of being violent, the film that's also known as The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue surprised me by being engaging on a visual and mental level.  Like many other horror fans, I'm pretty sick of zombies, but this film is one of the rare exceptions that I'd take with me on the horror ark.

The Being (1983, Dir. by Jackie Kong.)

This is certainly the worst film on this list, but it's a heck of a piece of trash.  Featuring great talents like Martin Landau and Jose Ferrer (plus The Town That Dreaded Sundown narrator Vern Steirman doing explanatory narration), the story puts a small Idaho town in danger from a mutant menace while a bearded detective (played by producer Bill Osco under the awesome pseudonym Rexx Coltrane) investigates.  Also, it features the best Easter Egg hunt in the history of Easter.  Check out the trailer below and tell me this doesn't look like awesome cheese....
And now....The Midnight Movies The Mike MOST Fell in Love with in 2010...

Yeah, I know I said no particular order, but the next four films need to be separated out from the rest.  Not that I don't love all these flicks, but these are the four that will truly stick with me as new favorites from 2010. 

Pieces (1982, Dir. by Juan Piquer Simon.)

I had seen Pieces - in fact, I had seen Pieces a couple of times - before 2010, but it wasn't until I got ahold of the updated/remastered DVD that I really realized what I had seen.  It's the king of bad slashers, bar none, from the ridiculous Bastard moment to the surprise ninjaness and the puzzling (har har!) ending.  I don't know what was wrong with me before, but I'm glad to now say that Pieces now finally makes sense to me in all its awful/awesome glory.

Inside & Martyrs (2007 & 2008, Dir. by Alexandre Bustillo/Julien Maury & Pascal Laugier.)

Yeah yeah yeah, I know. I'm racist and putting the French movies together.  So sue me. At least I'm not using Paint to draw berets on the posters and making jokes about them smelling funny.  (Just kidding! I love you Frogs!) 

Without a doubt, these are the two most brutal and draining horror films I saw for the first time in 2010.  First there was Inside, which is vicious enough to focus on terrorizing an expecting mother.  The film features some of the darkest and most ominous scenes I've seen in a long time, and Beatrice Dalle is nothing short of terrifying as the woman in black who haunts us with a pair of scissors at her disposal.  Blood flows in ways we rarely see, but the whole film stays memorable by keeping us involved with this poor mother and her plight.

On the other hand is Martyrs, which shows its teeth by putting young women in unimaginable torture situations.  There's a bit more light in this one than Inside, but the chills come just the same.  Both films begin with more violence than most horror fans are used to and still manage to escalate through their final acts, though I'd give Martyrs the edge as it reaches heights I never expected to see on screen and take seriously.  Both films have quickly become notorious - and it's easy to see why - but I was surprised to learn in 2010 that the reputations they've acquired in such a short amount of time are definitely well earned.  I must now give kudos to all you sick French people, because this stuff's better than croissants.

These Are the Damned (1963, Dir. by Joseph Losey.)

I covered this one during FMWL's Hammer Films Month in October, and - as much as I loved most of the things I watched that month - I can safely say it made the whole month worthwhile.  A one of a kind sci-fi flick about the dangers of radiation, These Are the Damned features amazing black & white photography and some A Clockwork Orange style gang violence at the hands of a young Oliver Reed.  It's a sci-fi flick that pushes the boundaries that American cinema of the same time period were saddled with, and does so with a chip on its shoulder (after all, director Losey was forced to leave the USA for possibly being subversive).  It's also got a lot of tension throughout, and several scenes remind us of the best horror films its era had to offer.  As I look back on 2010, there's not a film I'm more glad I got to see than These Are the Damned.

And with that said, let us prepare for whatever it is that 2011 will have up its sleeve!  To you, 2010, I must now say "Peace. I'm outta here".

Word to your mother. 


R.D. Penning said...

wow!!! martyrs is the only film on that list i have seen

Enbrethiliel said...


The Initiation of Sarah is great! I should try to review it for "Women in Horror" Month, too, because it's a great example of "Women's Horror" (assuming there is such a thing). The Horror goes hand in hand with the drama, character development, and ideals of sisterhood. This is one film that reminds me that you don't need fantastic special effects or buckets of gore to sell the scariness; you just need a truly creepy story, and the rest will follow.

PS--Italian Zombies rock! =P