Archive for the 'Halloween' Category

23
Oct
09

Horror Movies on DVD Review: Burnt Offerings

burnt_offerings

 

Thank God it’s ‘only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…’

Starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, and Burgess Meredith. Directed by Dan Curtis. Based on the novel by Robert Marasco.

The DVD should be a ‘burnt offering.’

The Rolf Residence (Ben, Marian, and Davey) are looking for a place to hang out for the summer. Answering a classified ad they happen upon a large mansion in the countryside watched over by an old woman (Eileen Heckart) and her wheelchair-bound brother (Burgess Meredith). The propose renting the house for the summer for $900 (price not adjusted for inflation since 1976). The Rolfs take a day to think it over and –what the heck- they return. The sister tells Marian (Black) that an older sister lives upstairs and needs to be fed three times a day. This older sister mainly sleeps all day, doesn’t want to be disturbed, and she can leave the tray of food out for her. Those are the only conditions.

The Bro and Sis leave and the Rolfs move in, quickly finding out that while the interior does have its antiques and a large photo collection, the fridge and icebox are fully stocked. A bargain if they ever knew one. Along with them is Aunt Elizabeth (Davis), a happy old woman wanting to kick back, do some painting, and smoke. None of them know or realize the terror that ploddingly awaits them.

The unknown, unspeakable terror residing in the house (where most terrors of the kind do) begins affecting Ben (Reed). He begins having dreams about a creepy chauffeur (Anthony James) at a funeral he attended as a boy. When his son Davey (Lee Montgomery) decides to go for a swim in the pool, he begins playing around with him only to constantly dunk him to the point of drowning. This drives him to smoke, keep his distance, and begin questioning staying at the house.

Marian begins acting strange as well. She spends more time caring for an old woman that no one gets to see (not even the audience) than about what’s going on with her family. Ben tries to get romantic in the pool with her and she pushes away. When they try to “do the do” on the front lawn she sees a light coming from the old woman’s room and freaks out. As the song says, “no sugar tonight.”

Aunt Elizabeth isn’t holding up too well, either. A tiff develops between her and Marian. She goes from “smoking and carefree” to “tired and lethargic” finally settling on “back broken and rendered immobile by an unseen force.” Ben has decided that the family’s gotta get gone.

Which is easier thought than done. While they did make a trip away from the house for Aunt Elizabeth’s funeral, Marian isn’t 100% sure that the house is the malevolent force behind everything. Then again, dressing as a turn-of-the-century woman, Marian isn’t 100% there to begin with. Ben wants to leave, Davey wants to make sure mom’s coming along, and Marian wants to stay. What follows isn’t so much terror as just a long way to go to wrap up a story.

In my version of Hell, I’m pretty sure this is playing and I have to be locked-down like Alex in “Clockwork Orange,” forced to watch. As far as the “evil spirits in house” movies go, there are a lot better ones (as of this writing, “Paranormal Activities”). The movie is slow, plodding, and severely uneven. Davey can’t decide which parent he’s for or against in any one scene. Marian, at the end of the movie, looks and acts like Marian at the beginning of the movie. The circa-Seventies cream-colored filters don’t help anything out. Did I already mention it was slow?

My grade: D

Hor-O-Meter Level: -2 (there is no obligatory quote for negative numbers)

07
Oct
08

Where’d HE come from? Dracula

You know the rules: sleep during the day. Come out at night. You can’t see your reflection in a mirror. You’re allergic to garlic. And, you’re undead death will come from a stake to the heart, unless you’re trapped in the sunlight first. But, how did we get here?

 

Vampire myths disappear and reappear having existed for ages, much like their main proponent Dracula. Since ancient Persia, there have been characters throughout time that drank the blood of men (and babies) and often were members of the undead. They would evolve to be called Witches, Demons, and Vampires. Over the ages vampires became the “mythic reasoning” behind such events as the bubonic plague.

 

Vampires would soon have an identity in three crucial tyrants, the first of which was Gilles de Rais. Gilles was a Frenchman who searched for “the Philosopher’s Stone,” and had help from the blood of 200-300 children to do his experiments. Around the same time Vlad Tepes Dracula, Prince of Wallacia, came into power. When you have a name of Tepes (“Impaler”) and Dracula (devil or dragon, it was his dad’s name) ya gotta live up to expectations; he liberated the land from Ottoman invaders and then ordered thousands impaled for his pleasure.

 

The last of the three arrived in 1611 as Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Bathory’s husband was always at war, so her spare time was spent dabbling in black magic and the thought that the blood of the innocent (young girls) would keep her young and youthful. She was found out and her life spared, but was thrown in the tower.

 

The vampire mythos came back in the 1800’s through poetry, novels, and stage productions. “Vampyre” by John Polidori (1819) was the first vampire story written in English. Supposedly this came about the same night Mary Shelley concocted “Frankenstein.”

 

Not too far after came “Varney (Feast of Blood)” (1845) a full-fledged novel based off collected “penny dreadfuls,” inexpensive pulp pamphlets that used vivid imagery to describe Varney’s exploits. Varney influenced current vampire culture with the addition of fangs, leaving two puncture wounds in the neck, having hypnotic powers, and superhuman strength. However, Varney was immune to sunlight and wasn’t allergic to garlic.

 

“Carmilla” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1872) introduced the world to a female vampire. Laura, the protagonist of the story, is a young girl who has a dream in which she’s bitten by a figure who disappears. Fast forward and she becomes friends with a girl named Carmilla. After a series of incidents Carmilla is found not only to be a vampire, but Laura’s ancestor. She has to be killed by exhuming her body and destroying it by cutting off the head. This story was also the beginning of lesbian sexuality in vampire stories.

 

Taking 8 years, Bram Stoker delivered the eponymous epistolary novel, “Dracula,” in 1897. Taking ideas from previous novels (especially “Carmilla” and “Varney”) as well as the life and times of Vlad the Impaler, Stoker wove a story about Johnathan Harker, a real estate solicitor who travels to a remote castle in the Carpathian Mountains to do business with one Count Dracula. He barely gets out alive. Meanwhile, Dracula decides to do London hitting on Harker’s fiancée, Mina. When Mina’s friend Lucy begins looking pallid, Professor Abraham Van Helsing is called in. Van Helsing figures out what’s going on and is hot on Dracula’s trail. Dracula packs his bags and heads back to his castle but not before the Van Helsing faction traps and kills him.

 

With the advent of the motion picture in the latter portion of the 19th century, Dracula and other vampyric kin had a new world to conquer. Filmmaker Gustave Le Rouge made two movies about bat-winged, blood-drinking creatures on Mars in 1908 and 1909. Dracula himself first appeared on screen in 1922’s “Nosferatu.” German director F.W. Marnau asked permission from the Stoker estate. The Stoker estate said, “No,” and Marnau did it anyway. Changing the names of the characters, eliminating secondary players, and using a bona-fide weirdo named Max von Schreck to play Count Orlok, this film is the seminal “Dracula” movie, inspiring take-offs and even a remake in the Seventies. Of note, the Stoker estate filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won, sinking the newly-founded Prana production company.

 

“Children of the night… what beautiful music they make.” The infamous Bela Lugosi “Dracula” movie was released in 1931. Now a staple of American cinematic mythos, “Dracula” cast a hypnotic spell over audiences, leading to sequels and remakes. Lugosi, a Hungarian stage actor who played Dracula in the theatrical production, was spot-on with his film delivery of the character. Of note a Spanish version was shot at the same time using the same sets.

 

There’s still probably the lingering question of: what about not being able to see his reflection in the mirror? Or a stake through the heart? Or being afraid of religious symbols? These ideas came mainly from various filmmakers, TV directors, and authors who would pick and choose what traits a vampire would have in regards to the story.

 

“Children of the night, shut up!” –“Dracula: Dead and Loving It”