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October 8, 2009

Horror Quick Hits

Phantom of the Paradise
1974, Dir. by Brian De Palma.

Is that a Paul Williams PEZ Dispenser on the poster? It's a little old-fashioned if it is. *rimshot*

Anyway, Phantom of the Paradise has long been one of my favorite cult pleasures. You've got a master of uncomfortable cinema known as Brian De Palma directing a film that's 70's rock musical amalgamation of Faust and Phantom of the Opera. How the heck does that not rule?

What struck me again on this revisit of a film I've seen at least a half-dozen times is how...well, how good-looking Jessica Harper is. Wait, what? That wasn't it entirely. No, I meant to talk about this film's merits. Like how....good-looking Jessica Harper is.


Anyway, there are a lot of reasons I love this movie, from the music to the kills to the crazy performances of Paul Williams, William Finley, and (my personal favorite) Gerritt Graham as the unforgettable "BEEF". And of course, there's De Palma's wicked sense of style. But this time, I got nothin'. Because Jessica Harper is really good-looking.

(She sings well too. And the movie goes in The Mike's Legends Series.)

House on Haunted Hill
1958, Dir. by William Castle.

Here's another horror I've seen a few more times than I can remember, and one that's always brought a good time. There are few actors I admire as much as Vincent Price, and the odds are I'll check out anything that's got his name on the box. But the first thing that anyone interested in him needs to check out is this one.

From horror gimmick maestro William Castle, the original House on Haunted Hill is perhaps the definitive 1950s B horror film. It's a pretty simple strategy - a bunch of people get invited to big old house where a reclusive millionaire (that would be Price) has planned a party for his not-quite-loved wife. There are rumors of ghosts, locked doors, vats of acid...everything you're gonna need for a night of terror for five unsuspecting fools.

House on Haunted Hill is definitely among the corniest of horror films, but it does this as well as possible. The finale shows this a lot, and makes more sense when you know the gimmick Castle wanted to put with it in theaters, but it also wraps up the film's biggest asset - the story.

Most b-horror films have similar stories, as I mentioned above, but this one's put together greatly around Price's lead performance. There are a lot of questions asked and the characters' perceptions of reality play heavily into their fates. When it all comes together with a final explaination, the rest of the film gains added clarity.

Of course, I was was wrong when I called the story the film's biggest asset, for that is and always will be Price's honor. If you want to see the master of horror stars at work, this is the place to start. It's a Prime Choice.

The Beast Must Die
1974, Dir. by Paul Annett

Now this is a movie I'd love to write more about, but I don't dare want to spoil a minute of it for those of you out there. To put it simply The Beast Must Die is an Agatha Christie-esque mystery...but the killer's a werewolf.

Yeah, why didn't I think of that? It's bloody genius. (And it happened well before I was born.)

Calvin Lockhart stars as a survival obsessed rich man who invites six guests to his home where he intends to find out which one of them really is the moon beast that's been creating havoc across the land. The most famously cast guests include the great Peter Cushing, Bond baddie Charles Gray, and future Dumbledore Michael Gambon. The six join Lockhart's Tom and his wife Caroline for a weekend of terror.

Produced by the renowned Amicus studios that showed up to battle Hammer Films at the end of it's run, The Beast Must Die takes itself quite seriously, resulting in a pretty tense viewing experience. Lockhart is formidable in the lead, and I'm a little shocked I haven't seen him in more. Cushing stands out as usual, though he's less prominent than his picture on the DVD cover would lead you to believe. I also like the idea of the
"Werewolf Break" (an idea once used by William Castle, too), which gives the audience a chance to speculate as to who exactly our lupine killer is.

The Beast Must Die isn't necessarily a great movie, but it gains points all over the place for its ingenuity. Add in the great cast and the sharpness of the script, and you've definitely got a film that's a Prime Choice.

That's all for tonight, and I'm not sure I'll get to writing tomorrow. But a pair of hidden '80s cheeseballs are soon to hit the site, and I promise to have something good to say about them. Happy Haunting!

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