This series is going to look at the movies that are out there that don’t make everyone’s list every year and that some of you may have overlooked in the annual avalanche of horror DVDs on the market.
Today we look at Lake Mungo.
Lake Mungo is a wonderful little horror film that seems to have been overlooked by a lot of people out there. The film is an Australian production that was packaged and shown here in the states as a part of one of the annual After Dark Film Festivals.
The problem with that is that After Dark has acquired a rep with many horror fans of having a lot of films that fall somewhere between being sort of okay to being a really bad, Syfy original horror level films. The reason that this reputation is a problem is that a lot of people out there then tend to miss any roses growing among all of those weeds. Well, Lake Mungo ain’t no weed. It’s a certifiable rose and worth hunting down.
Lake Mungo isn’t a straightforward movie. It was shot as a fake documentary about the death of a young woman named Alice Palmer. Alice drowns while swimming during a family outing to Ararat, Australia. Once the grieving family comes home, strange things begin to happen.
Enter the documentary filmmaker, a psychic, and the meat of the film. The “documentary” uncovers signs of haunting, determining that Alice is apparently not at rest, and her spirit is now haunting the family home. The filmmakers give us a nice look at the family and the evidence of the haunting with a very leisurely paced approach. Some people might think that’s a bad thing, but they use that pace to create a very palpable feeling of unease in the viewer, building the tension so carefully you don’t initially realize that it’s affecting you.
If there’s one problem with the pace and the approach to the story, it’s that this film might actually be hurt by being seen at home on a TV versus being seen in a movie theater. It’s not that the film is a visual spectacle with FX work that benefits from the big screen experience; far from it actually. The reason is that this film jerks the viewers’ chains a bit.
For over the first half of the film, the fake documentary takes its own sweet time in giving you a look at the family, the tragedy around Alice’s death, and the haunting itself. It then takes an unexpected turn that I can’t tell you about here as it’s a major spoiler. But, suffice it to say, a lot of people might want to stop watching the film at that point.
Now, I didn’t stop watching. I wanted to, but someone I trust recommended the film to me while it was still streaming on Netflix, and they told me to watch it until the end no matter what I might otherwise want to do when I hit roughly the film’s midpoint. Good advice, as the twist comes off as a major WTF moment where you suddenly feel like the filmmakers have yanked the rug out from under you and wasted your time with an all too cutesy attempt to be too clever by half where no such stunt is needed or welcome.
My advice to you is the same as my friend’s was to me. Keep watching the thing when feel that you’ve hit that point.
As the revelation from the twist crashes down on the entire family and seemingly sets the film wildly off course, yet another revelation is discovered by the family in the fallout. The film, still in its fake documentary format, changes course to now focus on Alice’s secrets and the effect that those secrets have on her family.
Again, you get slowly drawn into the story with the feelings of unease and tensions grow within you more and more. Once they have you back on that hook, once they’ve taken you where they wanted you to be, the filmmakers drop the hammer on you. The final revelation of the film is so amazingly simple but so amazingly effective. One of the final images of the film, a picture of a smiling family juxtaposed against a recorded statement of Alice’s, has a powerful little kick to it as well.
I’ll be completely honest with you here despite the fact that many will find this hilariously wimpy of me. And I can be honest about this because (1) I still know can go toe to toe with just about anyone when it comes to watching extreme horror, and (2) I know I’m far from alone in having this reaction to the film.
I watched Lake Mungo at the recommendation of another officer after getting off shift one night, and I was home alone as the wife and kids had gone out of town for the weekend. I started the movie, I watched the movie, the credits rolled, the little Netflix screen popped back up on the TV, and I then did about a six episode bender of South Park with all the lights on as I could not fall asleep right after watching Lake Mungo to save my life. I then went into work the next day and threatened to beat senseless the guy who recommended that I watch the thing after work.
My coworker, a guy who watches some of the most extreme horror films out there, then told me that he had had the same reaction to the film that I did, and that the guy who recommended it to him admitted to him after he watched it to having the same reaction as well. I’ve recommended this film to a number of friends, family, and coworkers since then, and easily three or four out of every five of them has the same reaction.
Lake Mungo is not a gorefest of a film. Lake Mungo is not filled with action, slashing, blood, guts, multiple heavy FX (practical or CGI) shots every few minutes towards the climax of the film or any of the things you see in 90% of the horror films out there these days. What Lake Mungo does have is meticulously well crafted filmmaking designed to get under your skin and into your head in the most subtle ways. Then it just pops that tension it’s been building in you and leaves you a sitting there debating with yourself exactly how many lights you should leave on when you try to go to sleep that night. Lake Mungo is a horror film that disturbs you on levels well beyond the simple shock and gore levels, and it was designed to scare you in ways that are far more complicated and complex to pull off than just having someone suddenly jump into a shot and yell boo.
Lake Mungo is a horror film. Lake Mungo is a horror film in the truest sense of the word. It’s also a film that, if you’ve not seen it, is worth tracking down and seeing in place one of your well-worn, regularly watched horror movies.
Lake Mungo can be found for sale and rent through the usual websites and dealers.
In this hyper-political age we’ve seen what seems to be an almost unending debate among the political class of this land over the highly charged topic of immigration reform. Countless hours are spent arguing whether this person or that person should be allowed citizenship for this country, whether still others should even be allowed into the country at all, and of course whether or not we’re giving some “a free pass” to citizenship. But what we have not seen, my friends, is the much more important question addressed. Should these people be able to bring their monsters with them?
Because, let’s face it, until this is addressed they will continue to come, and eventually you will be faced with a kill or be killed situation with a creature that doesn’t follow the rules as you know them. Since we can’t count on legislation, we’ll have to turn to education. To that end, this series will give you the basics on the monsters that you only think you know but in fact play by other cultural rules.
Today’s monster is the The Isitwalangcengce.
Okay, now that you all have done the “gazuntight” joke and gotten that out of the way…
The Isitwalangcengce is a Zulu spirit that calls Southern Africa its home. It walks this world in the form of a large hyena with a big, broad, basket shaped head. The shape of its head and how it uses that head has earned the spirit the much easier to pronounce moniker of The Basket Bearer.
These spirit-creatures tended to patiently wait in the shadows and the bushes near homes, waiting for women and children to return home from the local markets with meat. When its unsuspecting victims would pass close enough to its hiding place, it would launch its attack. Typically this attack consisted of stealing the meat from the adult woman and flipping any small child up into its basket shaped head before fleeing into the jungle. The Isitwalangcengce, you see, has a taste for human brains.After consuming the stolen meat it would throw its victims into rocks, breaking their skulls open. It would then feast on the human brain, lapping it up off of the rocks with its large tongue, leaving the rest of the body for the jungle scavengers.
The Isitwalangcengce’s appearance and hunting habits give it a better than average ability to become a perfect invasive paranormal species in a land full of people who are unaware of just exactly what they’re dealing with. It’s a giant dog, and it hangs out where people live. Simply put, you would likely drive right past the Isitwalangcengce on your way to or from your home without ever giving it more than a second’s glance. It would be just one more stray that someone carelessly let out of their yard or dumped because it grew too big and/or too expensive for them to take care of properly. They could easily hide in plain sight, and you would be none the wiser as they set about finding their victims in a neighborhood near you.
So how do you ward one of them off? What charms, incantations, powders or symbols are used to create barriers to protect your home, your neighborhood or your loved ones from them? According to the Zulu lore, there are none. The problem you face with dealing with a spirit like the Isitwalangcengce is that it’s become more animal than spirit; more material than ethereal. As such, it is not as bothered by the things that commonly drive out other spirits. However, it’s just supernatural enough that most forms of physical attack will not kill it.
So how exactly would one protect one’s self from these creatures? Just be smarter than the average five-year-old.
No, seriously, that’s it. I kid you not. On the K9 comparison scale, these things really do make Wile E. Coyote look like a super genius. One of the classic Zulu tales about the Isitwalangcengce is about how one was easily fooled by a plan that the kids at my local pre-school could have come up with.
As the story goes, the Isitwalangcengce was hungry enough to be a little bolder than usual. It used its sharp senses to find a home where the occupant was sleeping before slipping quietly inside. It found the man asleep in his room and quickly flipped him up into his basket shaped head before running quickly out of the house.
The man started to awaken and asked where the spirit was taking him. The Isitwalangcengce replied that he was taking the man to the place of the rocks by the river so that he could smash the man’s head upon them so that he could then lap up his brains.
Because they were traveling through thick jungle, the man reasoned that he could fill the basket shaped head with sticks, twigs and leaves pulled from bushes and trees as they passed under and by them. The man believed that if he could fill the head with enough brush, the increased weight would cover his escape. As they continued along the path, the man packed what he pulled from the bushes and the trees underneath him so that he could sit up higher. Once he was sure that the weight of the brush was great enough to hide his departure, he reached up into a tree and pulled himself up and away from the spirit.
The Isitwalangcengce continued on his way without noticing that his intended meal was no longer with him. Once he reached the river, he jerked his head towards the rocks and was angered to find nothing but jungle debris falling out. Enraged and determined to reclaim its escaped meal, the Isitwalangcengce charged back up the path towards the village. Once at the edge of the tiny village, he spied a small girl playing. He charged the girl, flipped her up into his head, and quickly disappeared back into the jungle.
But, fortunately for the girl, the man had made it back to the village before the Isitwalangcengce had returned. He called for the village to gather around him, telling all who gathered around him of the tale of being taken by the spirit and of how he escaped it. The girl, like every other person in the village, paid close attention to the man’s warning of the spirit’s presence around their village. As a result, the girl rather quickly escaped and returned home, leaving the Isitwalangcengce to once again find nothing but sticks, twigs, and leaves coming out of its basket shaped head. After a few more unsuccessful attempts at securing a meal, the Isitwalangcengce finally gave up on hunting for prey in that village and moved on to seek better fortunes elsewhere.
So there you go. The Isitwalangcengce is a big, viscous, strong, fast, and dumb as a brick spirit that looks like a big dog with a goofy shaped head, and it has a taste for human brains. There are no charms or spells that will ward it off, but the secret to keeping your brains in your head is just staying calm and actually using the brains in your head. Now go off and teach your children well so that they too will be forewarned and forearmed.
And, lastly, despite the popularity of the tale, there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that an Isitwalangcengce has in fact already been found dead, starved to death, on U.S soil, its famine ravaged body removed from the Congressional floor of the U.S. Capitol Building. It was only really, really weak when found, and thus easily handled at that point.
Hidden away in the tiny little Southern hamlet known as Atlanta, Georgia (you may even have heard of it) there is small group of people tirelessly plugging away at making an old art form new and enjoyable again. This group, the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, written as ARTC (and pronounced “Artsy”) from here on out, specialize in doing new old-style radio entertainment, and they like to point out that there is adventure in sound when performing or promoting their stories. But simply saying “adventure” is shortchanging their library a bit.
Gifted artists one and all, they are equally adept at performing both adaptations of preexisting properties and their own original works covering science fiction, fantasy, comedy, historical reenactment drama, Steampunk, romance, noir, horror and any other genre you can think of plus any multi-genre combination you’d care to put together. A non horror piece, but one I still enjoy a great deal that’s also a particular favorite of my wife, is their adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! as found on their YouTube page.
Now, while I dearly love all of their works (except the romance stuff that my wife buys from them) and will listening to them whenever the opportunity arises, my aim here is to focus mostly on their horror output, and I can honestly say without fear of contradiction that ARTC does horror amazingly well.
As a matter of fact, my first exposure to ARTC involved one of their horror works done at 2006’s Dragon*Con where they performed an “episode” of their popular science fiction comedy, Rory Rammer, Space Marshal, followed by an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space. I liked the Rory Rammer story. I was a little lost going in as I knew nothing of the characters and the pre-existing interactions that they had had, but I laughed where I was supposed to laugh and generally enjoyed it. As an aside, the Rory Rammer series is now a favorite of mine. If they would only release a zombie episode one day I could finally be a happy man.
After Rory Rammer, the music from the stage became a little darker and a little creepier as they launched into the opening moments of their adaptation of The Color Out of Space and the sounds of the meteor crashing down onto old Nahum Gardner’s land. The performances were more than convincing and full of emotion, the SFX were deftly handled on the stage in front of a live audience, and the original music used in the performance was perfectly matched to the story. By the time the actor on stage had read his last line, I was hooked on their ability to perform audio horror.
I made a quick run to their merchandise table and snatched up CD copies of The Shadow Over Innsmouth and At the Mountains of Madness. Once home and fully recovered from that year’s Dragon*Con, I put both CDs into the living room stereo and enjoyed what were not just stage performances, but, in the case of Innsmouth, a full studio performance with all the fine tuning and production values that come along with it. Mountains also contained a bonus original story, Hour of the Wolf: An adventure with Dr Geoffry Stanhope, Investigator of Occult Phenomena. It was a short, pleasantly comedic piece dealing with werewolves. By the year’s end I had acquired a few more CDs by being annoyingly vocal about what I wanted for Christmas that year, and I had also discovered two rather wonderful bits of information.
Pay attention. You’ll like this. It involves one of the best price points on the market.
ARTC had a streaming podcast site. They were also on iTunes with both studio works and podcasts. What were the various costs of the content on their streaming podcast site or the podcasts on iTunes? Why, you had to pony-up absolutely nothing to stream or download these fine works. That’s right, you can listen to numerous stories, both long and short, from live performances on your laptop, iPod or other mobile device for free. The studio stuff is going to cost you, but the prices are more than reasonable, and the range of free material they offer covers just about every genre that you might want to listen to.
But what you and I want to focus one here is their horror output and they do some very good horror. Here are a few quick highlights.
They do a fair amount of H.P. Lovecraft, and they do it very well. Lovecraft is an annoyingly easy storyteller to mess up when it comes to doing adaptations since the style in which he wrote his dark tales was often more of a narrative about the feelings and sensations of the storyteller within the story than standard descriptions of actions and activities. Sometimes it seemed like he would write about nothing at all actually happening, and the nothing in question would still take up to a page and a half of internal dialogue to describe. Well, they’ve managed to get the essence of Lovecraft right, and their takes on his stories are every bit as enjoyable as his actual writings.
At this time, you can only find At the Mountains of Madness, The Dunwich Horror, and The Rats in the Walls as either CDs in their webstore or as digital downloads, but they have a nice selection of Lovecraft in their podcasts as well. The Color Out of Space, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth are each represented there with The Color Out of Space being the actual Dragon*Con performance I first heard.
One of their podcasts is an original story written to feel like a Lovecraftian tale if H.P. had set his stories in the southern settings around old Atlanta. The result, The Dancer in the Dark, is a beautifully crafted tale that feels like it should have been one of Lovecraft’s works. It has the same kind of vibe that one would expect from Lovecraft, but it also manages to successfully inject small moments of humor throughout the story. The podcast of the live performance of The Dancer in the Dark is so well done that I will without any hesitation whatsoever tell people that it is my favorite of their works, and I often recommend it to others, particularly to the horror fans, as a first sampling choice. They’ve also released an extended studio version of the story on 3 CDs that creeps its way a little deeper into having a Lovecraftian vibe to it. If you like the podcast version it’s also well worth checking out.
In the studio CD offering Special Order, they tell the tale of what might happen if a bookseller were to be asked to track down a copy of the Necronomicon and just how dangerously wrong everything can go if the bookseller decides that he wants the fabled book for himself.
In The Last Dragon to Avondale, found as both a studio performance and a podcast, a young woman alone in the MARTA station late one night discovers that dragons may not just be a thing of ancient myths and legends while learning the dangers in delving into some mysteries a little too deeply.
The studio performance of All Hollow’s Moon tells the story of a group of people waiting the night out in an Old West saloon when a storm brings the unexpected arrival of a girl who might or might not be from Boston, a gun fighter who might or might not be dead, and a gambler who might or might not be the Devil.
In the podcast performance of Can You Hear Me? they tell us the tale of a woman who discovers that the faint voices we sometimes hear on the phone, and how listening to them just might be more dangerous than she otherwise believed.
In the podcast ARTC Show 10 Post Halloween Extravaganza, two research librarians find a book written by an ineptly bad writer, enjoying a laugh at her expense. Then they discover that the book is haunted by the writer’s twisted spirit and read on in terror as the book’s new storyline is about the terrible and inescapable fate that awaits them.
For all of you horror/comedy fans out there, their free podcasts offer Horror at Camp Healthy Springs, a nice parody of the slasher concept, and a hilarious send up of reality show ghost hunting with Haunter Hunters.
If you’d like a taste of what modern radio horror is like across the country, ARTC sells an MP3 CD, Sleepy Hollow: The Ride Across America, with almost 4 hours of takes on the Sleepy Hallow legend featuring content from the Post-Meridian Radio Players, the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, the Ancient Radio Players, and the Seattle Radio Theater.
And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg, and, again, a lot of that iceberg is free.
ARTC’s horror offerings are truly top notch stuff and the horror that they excel in is one of the best and most intimate kinds of horror. They use words and sounds to reach into your mind and paint pictures that no filmmaker could ever match.
Their old standalone podcasting page has now been done away with and they now have a podcasting page incorporated into their newly revamped main website. That website can be found here. Another development in their decades long evolution has been their just recent achievement of a longtime goal with the building of their own studio. This means that their studio CD productions can now be released on a more regular basis.
Check them out. Give their podcasts a listen. Enjoy the horror (and everything else) that they have to offer. It won’t cost you a thing to just give them a try and even if they hook you the digital downloads and CDs are all, as noted above, more than reasonably priced.
You know, one of the staples of much of the 70’s and 80’s entertainment industry, be it in books, television, or movies, was showcasing the rampant drug culture of the time. One of the subjects that the entertainment industry liked to showcase from time to time as suffering from these insane levels of drug and alcohol abuse was in fact the entertainment industry itself. You would get depictions of everyone from the lowliest starlet wannabe to the most powerful Hollywood exec drunkenly snorting enough cocaine to kill anyone not named Hunter S. Thompson.
Sometimes they really overdid it. You would look in utter disbelief at the TV screen or the pages of your book while thinking that it was insane how much they were overplaying it. There was just no way that the drug and alcohol use was that bad in Hollywood, you would think to yourself, as there would simply have been no way that the place could have functioned if it had been that badly screwed up. Then, occasionally, you come across a product from that era of Hollywood’s history where you find yourself thinking that they might have just been underplaying exactly how insanely coked out of their minds everybody really was. The Keep is one of those films.
The Keep started its cinematic life in the way that many other films have. Someone somewhere in the studio power structure read a book that they thought was just amazing. In this case, that book was F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep. So enamored with the book was this someone somewhere in Hollywood that they convinced others to follow the tried and true Hollywood path of spending gobs of money on securing the rights for the book for big screen adaptation. They then set about deciding that they could rewrite the thing better than the author wrote it.
It was at that point that someone in Hollywood, likely drunk and coked out of their minds, decided that this intense horror novel should be turned over to Miami Vice’s Michael Mann. Yes, someone looked at the flashy Miami Vice visuals, fast cuts, and MTV style editing and said that they needed to have that look for their horror movie. Oh, and Mann was going to get to write the screenplay as well.
Anyone not under the influence of seriously mind altering substances should have been able to see that this formula was a disaster waiting to happen. Oddly, even as it made The Keep a spectacular failure with regards to being a “horror” film, it also somehow managed to make it interestingly viewable.
The Keep opens in 1941 Romania. A German battalion rolls into a small town and up to a strange looking fortress-like structure. Visually you immediately realize that something isn’t quite right about this place. It’s very obviously designed less to keep others out and more to keep something in. Inside of this fortress is a local villager who acts as the caretaker of the place. He warns the Nazi intruders, led by Captain Klaus Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow), that they should not stay in this place, and that they should leave the crosses embedded in the walls alone.
Okay… They’re Germans. More to the point, they’re Nazis. This is a horror film. A really creepy old guy has just spelled out to them what they’re absolutely not supposed to do in the opening act of the film. Anyone care to take a guess at what they in fact decide to do?
So, after the Nazis set up shop there, things start to go wrong. With flashy, crisp, MTV era music video-like visuals, the mood starts to get very dream-like and very dark. It is in fact these visuals that are one of the elements that make the film an amazingly watchable entry in the so-bad-it’s-good category of filmmaking. This is a visually gorgeous film that looks incredible on the small screen, and it likely looked just north of amazing on the big screen. Michael Mann may have missed the boat on giving the movie the mood and atmosphere of a true horror film, but he absolutely created a dream-like darkness in the film that is just beautiful to behold. It may often fail to make even a lick of sense, but it’s stunningly gorgeous to look at while it’s failing to make a lick of sense.
One of the things that go disastrously wrong for the Nazis is the discovery by two soldiers on guard duty that the nickel crosses in the walls are in fact silver crosses. So, on top of having decided to stay where they aren’t supposed to stay, these two compound matters by touching the crosses. Actually, they go beyond just touching by deciding to go and dig one out of the wall. They dance around in the fog in a really cool, slow motion visual style, they find a big cavern behind the cross, and then they die hideously.
Enter Molasar. Molasar is the big bad that the place was constructed to keep safely locked away from the outside world. Fortunately for the outside world, the crosses are not the only thing preventing him from strolling out into a war-torn country and really going to town on it. For now, Molasar has to be content with just killing Nazis inside of the keep.
By the way, Molasar is without a doubt, when not looking like a swirly, cloudy thing, the best live-action onscreen version of DC Comics’ Darkseid we’ll likely ever see at this point. I fully expect him to start kicking Superman’s ass at any moment here.
Woermann starts to worry about what’s happening since his men are suddenly getting killed all around him and he can’t figure out how or by whom. His requests for help are answered in the form of an S.S. attachment led by Gabriel Byrne. Major Kaempffer of the S.S. looks at the problem, finds what is, to his way of thinking, an eminently logical solution, and decides to start shooting groups of villagers.
Oh, yeah. Elsewhere in the world, a mystical Scott Glenn suddenly sits bolt upright in his bed. We know his character, Glaeken Trismegestus, is probably supposed to be the good guy here since he seems to be responding to the fact that the big bad is now breaking free. Oh, yeah, and his eyes occasionally glow green in contrasts to the evil Molasar’s glowing red eyes. If they ever do a remake, Sam Jackson will get the role of Glaeken and insist that his eyes glow purple instead for no apparent reason that anyone can fathom.
From here the film begins to get on with it at a slightly faster pace. There’s more death, more dream-like moments, more flashy cuts, and a few moments of lens flare that probably gave a young J.J. Abrams a smile that had to be chiseled off of his face brings us to the discovery of mysterious writings in the keep.
This brings the need for an expert on such matters and, since apparently Nazis can only be soldiers and mad scientists, they bring in an old Jewish professor and his daughter. And who did they turn to 50 years ago when they needed to cast a convincing old man character in a film filled with Nazis, dark fantasy elements, and striking visuals? Why, Ian McKellen of course.
So Dr. Theodore Cuza arrives at the keep, and this causes things to go even more wrong. Because Nazis on film apparently make it a full twenty minutes without raping women, the Nazis try to rape Cuza’s daughter Eva. This does not go as pleasantly for them as they had hoped as Molasar shows up and rips them to shreds. He then uses this act, along with curing Cuza of the illness crippling him and making him young again, to convince Dr. Cuza that he is in fact a trapped golem who could be a really great help to the fight against the Nazi evil if only he could leave the place. Eva isn’t quite as trusting of Molasar as her father is, but her father’s need for revenge both clouds his judgment and feeds Molasar.
That’s actually one of the things that survived from the original story but didn’t get very much explaining in the film. Molasar tends to feed off of the base natures of man. He feeds on and is strengthened by Cuza’s hate and need for revenge just as he feeds on the perversions in Kaempffer’s nature. It’s also not really followed up on other than just enough to make it a little more clear to the viewer that, yeah, he’s definitely the bad guy here.
Glaeken arrives in town, meets Eva Cruz, and has a quick chat with her that leads to the two of them rolling around naked in bed together. No, I’m not leaving anything out of their onscreen relationship here. Mann does try to use the moment in bed to foreshadow one of the things Glaeken will do later in the film, so good for him on that. Of course, being Michael Mann in the 1980s, he also loses a few points for doing it with all the subtlety of a giant, flashing neon sign with “FORESHADING MOMENT” spelled out in all caps.
From there on things race to their rather strange, laser lightshow filled battle to the end. People die, people find out just who and what they’re dealing with, some people come to their senses, other people don’t come to their senses, and good faces off against evil to save the world. And when it’s all said and done, you won’t have the first damned clue as to what the hell it was that you just watched.
The Keep is, storyline-wise, a complete and total mess. Things feel jumbled about while the plot seems to just push forward with what feels like a narrative that had great gaping chunks of it lost somewhere along the way. Molasar, the big bad of the film, only has his name mentioned once in the entire film. Dialogue in the film occasionally makes no sense, and more than a few times sounds like it was poorly dubbed into the film after the fact. This may feel this way because The Keep is in fact missing great chunks of story, shots were moved around a bit, and some dialogue was deleted and replaced with clumsily dubbed dialogue in some scenes in the last stages of the post production process.
Michael Mann intended this film to be an epic masterpiece. His original first cut for the film is said to have clocked in at around three-and-a-half hours in length. By the time the studio was done with it, the print that was released was a lean 93 minutes long. Think about that. That means that basically two hours of footage was excised from the film, and scenes were dubbed so that dialogue no longer referenced the plot points or the scenes removed from the final cut. The result is that you end up with moments like Eva seemingly leaping into bed after knowing Glaeken less time than it takes to drink a cup of coffee, conversations take place that feel like they belong somewhere else in the film, and somewhat important questions about Glaeken, Molasar, the keep, and the general storyline of the film are never ultimately answered by the time the end credits roll. But, amazingly, the film is still watchable. You just won’t really have any clue what the hell it was that you’ve just watched.
The visuals are hypnotic in and of themselves, but the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream combined with the visuals makes it an almost dream-like experience. It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. It’s dark. It’s ugly. It’s beautiful again. And then, when it’s over, you shake your head, blink a bit, and you find yourself feeling like you can’t quite recall everything about what was you just experienced. You think you should like it, you almost feel like you know you should like it, but you can’t quite put your finger on why you should like it.
You watch it with this odd feeling that there was indeed a masterpiece buried in there, but you can’t quite figure out where it went. By the time you turn it off, you either walk away from it vowing never to return, or you find yourself oddly attracted to it and returning for viewings once every few years in a futile attempt to figure out what it is that you just watched. It almost becomes like that dream that you keep trying to have so that you can finally remember it. But, like that one strange, recurring dream that we all have that we try but fail to remember at last, you just wake up from The Keep with a slightly confused, incomplete memory of it. But despite that description of it, The Keep is one of those films that you have to experience at least once. It is a horror film so amazingly bad while so visually stunning that it really is a so-bad-it’s-good masterpiece in and of itself.
The Keep has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray. It has however shown up on Netflix and Amazon streaming services with some regularity over the last couple of years. It also has a rabid cult following determined to share it, so there are also usually several complete uploads of the film on YouTube at any given time that are occasionally of high visual quality.
This series is going to look at the movies that are out there that don’t make everyone’s list every year and that some of you may have overlooked in the annual avalanche of horror DVDs on the market.
Today we look at The Flesh Eaters.
Yeah, I know. Some of you are wondering if you opened the wrong column or not and maybe you’ve hit my “They’re Not Bad…” column by mistake. Well, you didn’t click the wrong link. This movie is an old one with a number of elements in the film that are showing their age badly and you have some wild overacting by some of the actors portraying main characters. But I just can’t put this one on that list. For one thing, this movie pretty much came out the way it was supposed to. This is what it was intended to be. Also, it’s not a “so bad they’re good” type of film because it’s not really bad at all. If anything, The Flesh Eaters is a very enjoyable classic from the era of the mad scientist films.
1964’s The Flesh Eaters dives right into the horror and does so fairly effectively from the get-go. The movie opens with a young couple playing around on a boat out at sea. The couple are playing the types of games that one might expect a young couple to play when there are no other eyes around. These games would include the young not-so-much-a-gentleman ensuring that his girlfriend loses her top. No, you don’t get to actually see anything. This was a mainstream release for 1964 after all.
She dives into the warm waters to protect her modesty and joker boy dives in right along with her. As she splashes about demanding her top back, he disappears beneath the waters. She anxiously treads water waiting for whatever trick he’s about to play. And then… Nothing happens. She begins to look suddenly twist and turn in the water as she looks around her in hopes that he’ll pop back up above the waves and grows more and more nervous as he doesn’t appear. Moments pass without any sign of him and she begins to scream for him over and over again.
And then it happens. The waters around her begin to change color and grow darker and an ominous and unnatural sound fills the area. She brings her hands up out of the water and screams at the sight of the blood covering them. Her screams don’t last long however as she quickly sinks beneath the waves.
I’ve always felt that it was an amazingly effective opening for the film and one that actually works on a pure horror level better than anything else in the film. I really wouldn’t be at all surprised if that sequence did to some audience members in 1964 what the opening of Jaws did to so many more just a decade later.
Out of the horror and into the hard luck as we jump straight into meeting our main characters. Grant is a down on his luck pilot and times are apparently so tough that he’s not too far removed from losing the source of his livelihood; his beat up old seaplane. Enter Jan. She works for a drunken actress, Laura Winters, played by a wildly overacting Rita Morley in her fifth and apparently last credited role.
It seems that the tipsy thespian needs a plane to get her to her film shoot and she needs it now. Safety is no option as she doesn’t care about the massive storm heading in and money is no option as she throws triple Grant’s usually fee at him to get him to fly them to the location of her star turning role.
As our trio is zooming along to get Ms. Winter to her destination, the plane runs into complications mid-flight and Grant is forced to bring it down on a small, remote island. The three of them decide to see where they’ve landed when the ladies break out into a screaming contest thanks to the Creature from the Black Lagoon walking up out of the surf and straight towards them.
Well, actually it’s Professor Bartell in a really clunky wetsuit. He introduces himself and explains that he’s a marine biologist doing work on the island. He also sports a fairly noticeable accent of the German persuasion and chews the scenery like a starving animal chews on fresh meat, so you pretty much know that, given the era that this film came from, he’s not going to end up being one of the good guys when it’s all said and done.
We get another screaming contest, some human remains, one big storm, fish skeletons galore, deliberate sabotage to keep Grant and the ladies from leaving, and an additional castaway joining them and we get well into the realm of oddly glowing waters and suspenseful dangers. Oh, we also get to see our evil scientist trick someone into a death far worse looking than being eaten while in the water with the Flesh Eaters.
Bartell is revealed to be the scheming, insane German mad scientist that he is, but by the time our heroes work that bit out they’re already facing a bigger threat. Bartell, completely ignoring every story about every mad scientist creating monsters, has had a bit of an “oops” moment where his creation has managed to get way out of his control and well beyond his ability to handle it.
Our heroes and our scheming mad scientist must now work together, because we all know that always ends so well for everybody, to eliminate the threat that now not only traps them on the island but has found a way to threaten them on the island and not merely in the waters around it. From that point on we get the type of enjoyable race to the finish that movies of this era often delivered. Yes, there are a couple of aspects about the end of the movie that don’t work as well by today’s standards as they did in theaters back in 1964, but it’s not enough to derail the film by any means.
The Flesh Eaters is a wonderfully enjoyable classic from the era of paranoia, mad scientists and their killer creations that ultimately get the better of them. It’s also a film that has a few moments of beautifully constructed horror throughout the first three quarters of its run time. And if you’re willing to be forgiving about FX work that’s 50 years old, even the final battle for survival at the end of the film is enjoyable.
The Flesh Eaters is available on DVD everywhere DVDs are sold.
These are the movies that, while still kind of good in their own special way, didn’t quite live up to the expectations of the creators involved. As such, they might be best enjoyed only after copious amounts of your favorite adult beverage has been consumed. Yes, these are the films that are so bad that they’re good(ish) and enjoyable for how spectacularly they failed to live up to their potential.
Today we look at The Brainiac.
Oh calm down. It’s not that bad. Well, it’s not entirely that bad.
The Brainiac (El barón del terror) is a 1962 Mexican offering in the horror genre that was brought up to America by producer K. Gordon Murphy. Murphy was best known at the time for dubbing foreign fairy tale films for distribution to American audiences. It actually has a fairly solid concept and story idea behind it. Unfortunately (for our film) it also possesses acting worthy of an elementary school play, dubbing that is at times spectacularly hilarious, effects work not seen in most American films since the heyday of the Buck Rogers matinee serials, and a monster with a nose that a toucan would be envious of. He also has big pinchy claws and a large floppy tongue about which the less said the better. In short, if you’re looking for a film for your horror movie drinking game, this could be the film for you.
The story itself is actually a pretty solid revenge based horror offering. If nothing else, this is the type of film that supports the argument that Hollywood should be looking to remake the failed and unknown films of the past and not the well-known classics as you could easily remake this today into at least a better than average Syfy original movie. Actually, it may already be better than your average Syfy original movie, but that’s a debate for another time.
Our story opens in 1661 Mexico where we find Baron Vitelius d’Estera being tried on charges of necromancy, witchcraft, and other dark arts. With only one man speaking up to defend him he is in rather short order found guilty and condemned to death by fire. This is also where we see one of the film’s first “WTF” moments as at this point the Baron makes his chains disappear, thus showing that he likely could have escaped at any time he so felt inclined to do so, and then rather quickly and willingly walks it to his own death.
As the not-so-good Baron is being burned alive he looks up and spies a comet burning its way across the sky. Well, it’s either that or a scrap of wobbling tissue paper on a string, but the film says it’s a comet so we’ll go along with it. At this point he swears out his curse, informing his gathered executioners that when this comet returns to the skies once more in 300 years it will return him to seek vengeance on the descendants of the Holy Inquisitors. He then snuffs it on the stake. One would think that a warlock capable of making big metal shackles disappear into thin air might be able to blow out a few flames, but apparently not.
Cut to three hundred years later and the return of the comet. The Baron returns and, after a brief monstrous appearance followed by a quick kill, he is looking very much the modern man. He immediately sets out on his quest for revenge, and, fortunately for him, almost all of the key players are easily spotted as the same actors that played the Inquisitors also play many of their descendants. This fact is driven home for us with the ever so subtle trick of having the good Baron glare at each actor in 1961 and then watching as a set of bad wigs and robes are stuck on them.
His quest for total revenge runs into a small snag however as the descendant of the one man who defended him back in the day has become the love interest of a young lady who is the descendant of one of the Holy Inquisitors. This doesn’t inconvenience the Baron for very long though as at the key moment later in the film he simply decides to just go for it and kill everybody anyhow. But it’s a nice moment of almost dramatic tension there for almost an entire a minute or two.
Anyhow… The Baron well and truly sets out on his killing spree, and we get to see “The Brainiac” emerge in all his glory. This is his monstrous alter ego, and it looks like a guy in a cheap suit wearing a bad Mardi Gras mask covered with a shag rug.
The viewer is clued in on the fact that he is about to transform from the Baron to the Brainiac and claim his victim thanks to someone off camera pointing a small flashlight at his face and repeatedly turning it on and off whenever the Baron is filled with murderous intent. His means of killing, removing the brains of his victims, is done with a long tongue that looks and acts not entirely unlike the paper whistle blow toys everyone plays with at birthday parties and on New Year’s Eve. There are also moments where it looks like someone is using a bicycle pump to inflate the monster’s rubber face and head in order to make it look more terrifying. This does not quite have the intended effect on the viewer that they had hoped for.
The acting is, to say the least, a bit stiff. How stiff? You know you’re well into making Spanish soap opera acting look good when this is what passes as a look of sheer and utter terror by your actors.
I’m not sure if he’s scared out of his mind here or if he has just discovered that his laxative kicked in at the wrong time.
The dubbing is in many moments throughout the film hilariously bad on multiple levels, the mood conveyed by the music is at times incredibly out of sync with the mood of the scene, special effects are less than special, and the monster’s general appearance is laughably bad. But, believe it or not, this film can be an enjoyable entry in the “So Bad It’s Good” genre; especially in a group environment where the viewers have had sufficient quantities of their favorite adult beverages and/or wish to engage in MST3K: The Home Version.
It also has, as I noted above, a pretty damned solid core concept for its story. It’s a film that you find yourself wishing was placed into better hands to be made by, because it could have been a great little horror gem of its time. The Brainiac can be found and purchased on DVD ranging in price from $1.99 to $24.99 depending on the print on various online sales sites.
In this hyper-political age we have what seems to be an almost unending debate among the political class of this land over the highly charged topic of immigration reform. Countless hours are spent arguing whether this person or that person should be allowed citizenship for this country, whether still others should even be allowed into the country at all, and of course whether or not we’re giving some “a free pass” to citizenship. But what we have not seen, my friends, is the far more important question being addressed. Should these people be able to bring their monsters with them?
Because, let’s face it, until this is addressed they will continue to come, and, eventually, you will be faced with a kill or be killed situation with a creature that simply refuses to follow the monster slaying rules as you know them. Since we can’t count on legislation, well, we’ll have to turn to education. To that end, seeking to save innocent lives, this series will give you the basics on the monsters that you only think you know but in fact play by other cultural rules.
Today’s monster is the Chinese vampire.