Thursday, November 4, 2010

Top 13 Contest Winning Lost Gems of Horror Films

list provided courtesy of Bill Breedlove

Once again, thanks to Mr. Breedlove for winning The Black Glove's 1st Top 13 Lost Gems of Horror Film. As advised by our contest winner, these are not in any particular order, but they are, one and all, great choices. So, in no particular order than how they struck our contest winner, The Black Glove is proud to present Bill Breedlove's Top 13 lost Gems of Horror Film...

1. HANGOVER SQUARE (20th Century Fox, 1947). A composer who is under tremendous pressure to finish his magnum opus symphony in 19th century London develops a condition where a certain sound will send him into a hypnotic, murderous state that, once he awakens, he has no recollection of at all. Quite atmospheric and strange, with great music and the very interesting premise that the viewing audience knows exactly what the insane protagonist is doing, even while he doesn't. Laird Creger and Geogre Sanders star, with Alan Napier--"Alfred the Butler" from the Adam West BATMAN TV series--on hand as well.

(Sorry, but as we often find with our more obscure titles on these Lost Gems lists, this movie has no current trailer/preview/scene video links available online)

2. THE PROJECTED MAN (Universal, 1966). Sort of a offshoot of THE FLY, but without a fly. Scientists working on teleportation have their work sabotaged by the douchebag they were supposed to be working for, and following the standard humiliation and "we're shutting you down" scenes, one of them decides to teleport himself to prove he is right, and then the shit hits the fan. Not only is he somewhat scrambled upon arriving back from this teleportation, he also has a sizzling electric touch that kills (ala Boris Karloff in THE INVISIBLE RAY). Since there are no shortage of folks he has grievances with, lotsa people get toasted before he decides to go to a power station to "recharge," and you can imagine how that turns out for everyone.

(The entire movie seems to be available online at YouTube. Unfortunately, it also happens to one of the many wrongly picked upon movies by the funny guys over at MST3K. But if you can deal with the talking robots at the bottom of the screen, it's worth watching. It really is a decently made film. Really.)

3. THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (Universal 1957). This is one wildly unique idea for a movie, especially given when it was made. Some geologists out goofing around in the desert find a mysterious black rock. One of them takes it back to his stock 1950s movie science laboratory, when some water gets spilled on it and it starts to bubble and hiss. The next day, the unfortunate scientist is found completely petrified(!) (not "petrified" as in "frightened" but "petrified" as in "turned-to-effing-stone!") Eventually the scientists deduce that the mysterious black rock is from a meteor, and contact with water causes it to suck up all the silicon from anything it touches as it grows. That's pretty bad, but then an unexpected monsoon-like rainstorm hits the desert, and the heretofore little mysterious black rocks become giant spire black rocks, which grow skyscraper-size, then fall and crash into thousands of shards, of which each one of those shards starts growing, etc. etc. Also, don't forget that anything they touch--cows, people, etc.--is also turned to stone. With the rocks rising and falling and either crushing or petrifying everything in their path like an advancing army, it looks grim as they come to the end of the desert where the REAL rainfall can be expected. Will humanity and the earth survive? Gives a whole new perspective on "Magic Rocks."

(Again, this entire film seems to be available online at YouTube, and is one of this editor's favorite Saturday matinee weirdo flicks from the old days. Watch it, if you get a chance. It's a strangely disturbing movie in its own way.)

4. HORROR HOTEL (Amicus 1960). A pretty young college student is urged by her professor to do some research in a town that was supposedly a haven for witches back in the day. Since the aforementioned professor is played by Christopher Lee, you can imagine it's going to end badly for her. Turns out the witches aren't quite as long gone as advertised, with not only a murderous coven but a still-living "superwitch" kicking up her heels. About 1/3 of the way through, there is a screaming bombshell that completely resets the entire experience. Released in the UK as CITY OF THE DEAD.

(Guess what? Yeah, this entire movie is public domain and available for viewing on YouTube.)

5. CHAMBER OF HORRORS (Warner Bros. 1966). Folks may remember this one, if at all, more for the cheesedog "FEAR FLASHER" and "HORROR HORN" that "alerted" the more squeamish viewers that a "scene of particular terror" was about to occur. If you can get past that nonsense, this one is a lot of fun. Patrick O'Neil is one total nutjob who is carving up prostitutes after he forces them to "marry" him because of some serious issues. Due to the efforts of the police and the stalwart guys who run the local wax museum (I am not making this up), he is captured, tried, and sentenced to death. Of course, he vows to get vengeance on all who crossed him. On the train to his execution, he is handcuffed to the giant wheel that one turns to separate or lock together the train cars. As the train goes over a trestle high above the water, he unscrews the heavy wheel, grabs a fire axe and jumps into the water. The weight of the wheel is dragging him to the bottom, so--cue the FEAR FLASHER AND HORROR HORN!--he gets busy with the axe on his own wrist. When they dredge the water and find only a hand, he is assumed dead, from either the fall, drowning or losing his hand. In a surprising turn of events, a one-handed gentleman shows up, purchasing a whole case full of various hand-improvement implements: razor hook, cleaver, squiggly knife blade. Once armed (sorry) with those, the FEAR FLASHER and HORROR HORN! get a pretty lively workout as he mows down those he holds a grudge against. The poetic justice served at the end is a nice touch, and this a really entertaining and breezy flick. Supposedly a pilot for a TV series that never came to fruition, which is odd, since I would've guessed the 1960s public would have been quite interested in a TV series about Baltimore wax museum proprietors who solve mass murders in their spare time. Who knew?

(YouTube happens to have the entire film online for your viewing pleasure. Above is the first part of seven parts available. Be prepared for the dreaded "FEAR FLASHER" and "THE HORROR HORN"!)

6. DARK INTRUDER (Universal, 1965). When I checked this on WIki, I found it was compared to CHAMBER OF HORRORS (see above). Apparently they were both failed TV pilots. This film is much slower paced than CHAMBER OF HORRORS, but also much creepier. A killer is on the loose, and it's up to a very young Leslie Nielsen to catch him...or "it." Why Leslie Nielsen? Who is his character? If you've seen the Robert Downey Jr. version of Tony Stark in the IRON MAN films, this is the prototype, just swap out the military weapons of Stark for "objets d'occult" for Nielsen's character. Basically, they're both obnoxious, boozy playboys who suddenly find themselves in a bit deeper than expected. This picture also features one of the earliest uses of the old "deformed Siamese-twin-long-thought-dead-but-now-on-the-loose" gag, which would be later used in films like SISTERS, THE DARK HALF and--of course--BASKET CASE. Just wondering, but if a bunch of doctors and nurses go to all the trouble of removing a deformed Siamese twin, doesn't anybody bother to make sure it is disposed of properly? What, they just lop it off and toss it in the Dumpster? Anyway, I digress. DARK INTRUDER is actually a pretty well-made thriller, even though it's scarcely an hour long from credits to credits. And, yes, as has been mentioned before in other reviews, the scriptwriter did manage to sneak in some Lovecraftian references.

(Sorry, no trailers available for this one, either, Horrorheads.)

7. INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS (1972). This one has long been infamous as a Z-movie with bad acting, bad directing and no continuity. I'm not going to argue those points. However, let's look at the good points: Druids? Check. Immortal Druids? Check. Cult of Immortal Druids Posing as Farmers While Giving Blood Transfusions to Their Not-Quite-So-Immortal Queen? A blood-removing pump operated by a gas generator in a barn? A (un)dead Druid Queen named "Onhorrid?" (Again, I am not making this up) Check, check and check! IOTBF may be the first instance in cinema history of the "menacing bib-overall wearing cannibals/mass murders/Immortal Druids" appearing. OK, so they didn't have a big budget. They got some bib overalls, some Amish hats that would later pop up in WITNESS, a few gallons of stage blood and the gas generator and got to it. And you know what? For a no-budget movie made in the 70s, it's pretty good. Compared to, say, EQUINOX, or IT'S ALIVE (not the Larry Cohen killer-mutant baby by Rick Baker one, but the unwatchable "monster with ping-pong ball eyes and felt ears in a warehouse room that is supposed to be a cave in the Ozarks one), this is a friggin' masterpiece. The ideas are pretty interesting, and the lurid "cinematography" only adds to the original grindhouse appeal. Bonus fact: The hyphenate auteur behind this production, Ed Adlum, (as well as most of the people involved with the film) would go on to make the equally infamous you-must-see-to-believe SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED.

8. EYE OF THE DEVIL (MGM 1967). Check out this cast: David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Donald Pleasance and Sharon Tate (among others). This is a very, very good creepy film, based upon the wonderful novel DAY OF THE ARROW by Philip Loraine. A wealthy man in Paris (Niven) lives in a fancy chateau with his pretty young wife (Kerr) and children. One evening, while they are hosting a swanky social gathering, a strange man shows up, and very quickly her husband leaves with him to the "ancestral family vineyards" located in the super creepy little town of Bellac. She unwisely decides to pack up the children and follow him. Once there, she discovers a little of everything: menacing hooded figures, a much-changed husband, a squirmy priest, and a brother and sister BDSM witch and warlock combo. Everything leads up to a sort of "yang" to the "ying" of THE WICKER MAN. WIth the moody B/W photography, the excellent score and an extremely kinky scene of David Niven whipping(!) a catsuited Sharon Tate, this is quite the strange and very effective little excursion into weirdness.

9. GORGO (MGM 1961). Perhaps the only English/Irish entry into the giant-monster-runs-amok-genre, GORGO is mainly notable for two things: (three if one counts the giant floppy ears on the monster). One, it was the first movie to use what is now the old chestnut where the heroes work to capture a monster, and finally do, but their victory is short-lived as it turns out the monster they captured is only a baby, and the momma is about 10x bigger and about 100x more pissed off and coming for her baby. And, secondly, this is one of the few giant monster films that ends with score Giant Monster 1, Humanity 0. The formula for these pictures tends to be pretty simple: people investigating strange happenings discover giant Monster X, people capture Monster X, people bring Monster X to the big city for either scientific observation or as a sideshow attraction, Monster X escapes and trashes the big city, Monster X gets killed by the military or whatever hero is handy. This dates from KING KONG through 20,000,000 MILLION MILES TO EARTH and even THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FANTHOMS, and about 500 other big monster flicks. In GORGO, they check off the plot points in a fairly standard manner--big monster observed, folks come, big monster captured, and, against the wishes of wiser heads, big monster shipped to London to sit in a pen in a circus. Needless to say, this is an extremely bad idea, as the monster's understandably upset mother shows up and ticks off a list of her own, knocking down London's most well-known landmarks one after another. Big Ben, goodbye. Houses of Parliment, so long! Tower Bridge, see ya!. The military tries everything they can think of, but the Mrs. Gorgo doesn't even bat an eye. She finds her little baby and together, they turn back to the sea leaving a totally flattened London behind. Who can't cheer for those big monsters who just want to be left alone? Go Gorgo!

10. THE BEGUILED (Universal 1971). A hothouse Southern Gothic period piece with...Clint Eastwood? ??? This is a very measured film, with a purposely slow pace. A Yankee solider who is badly wounded is discovered by a young girl who lives at a large Southern Plantation which is actually a secluded school for girls. He is brought there, nursed back to health and hidden from prying eyes. Soon, there is a whole lotta sneaking into bedrooms in the middle of the night going on, with Eastwood in the middle. However, since this is the South, he makes a rather large miscalculation about the seemingly quiet girls and their more-than-a-little-loopy headmistress. Partly a precursor to MISERY, and partly a comeuppance film, this was pretty heady stuff for its time. It is also notable for being made right when Eastwood was huge as a movie star of Westerns, and immediately after this film (which bombed at the box office) Eastwood and the director, Don Siegel, would team up again to shoot a little cop picture called DIRTY HARRY.

11. CHOSEN SURVIVORS (MGM 1974). This is one of those sad movies that is really too bad they didn't have a decent budget and time for maybe one or two more rewrites of the script. They have a killer idea (especially for the Bomb-obsessed 70s), with a story and screenplay by H.B. Ross. Here's the premise: a disparate group of folks are taken down thousands of feet underground (in a pretty dodgy elevator) to live in a special "Utopia" after the rest of the world has been destroyed by nuclear war. These people are the eponymous "chosen survivors" who will use their particular talents (and the 50%-50% male-female ratio) to repopulate the earth. So far, pretty interesting, as the various individuals have problems adjusting to a) TEOTWAWKI, b) the claustrophobia of being sequestered underground in a warren of small rooms (with super-cheesy "futuristic decor"), and c) the inevitable clashes that would occur between the apparently randomly picked survivors. In fact, this would be more than enough for a run-of-the-mill dystopian sci-fi flick, but then, the wildcard pops out of the deck, in the form of about a gazillion starving vampire bats. Actually, in all fairness, the movie would work a lot better if the bats came in gradually, but actually, the bats are revealed pretty early, then the standard-issue dystopian stuff gets explored in the long middle, and then right at the end, here come the bats again for the big finish. The idea is pure genius. Throw in the "shocking" conclusion, and this is a movie that should be updated and remade on somewhere like Scyfy and done right. The other fun part of this flick is looking at the cast that is like a B-movie version of a 70s disaster flick--Bradford Dillman (BUG), Jackie Cooper, and, the always great Richard Jaeckel who had already been victimized by THE GREEN SLIME, and would go on to get eaten by the titular GRIZZLY a few years later) and trying to figure out who is gonna be bat chow. Again, like many of the films on this list, lots of the plot points and the supposed "twist" reveal at the end, were actually pretty innovative for when done.

12. ISLAND OF TERROR (Planet Film Productions 1966). On an extremely remote island (the audience is reminded several times), a scientist doing some secret research has some unseen lab mishap that causes screaming of lab assistants, hideous bone-crunching sounds and Dr.Who-like sound effects. Cue several islander deaths and then a quick trip to the mainland to pick up some "experts" (including Peter Cushing). In no time at all, we find that the aforementioned scientist was trying to come up with a cancer cure but inadvertently instead created "Stilicates" which are monsters that look like giant tortoise shells with a long tentacle sticking out of the front. These creatures suck out all the bones of their victims through holes they make in the skin. Ewwww. Even worse, the Silicates reproduce by fission, dividing in half to double their population every six hours. What was that great Stephen King line from the short story "Gray Matter?"-- "I was up to 32,768 times two is the end of the human race..." At first, it seemed this film, like CHOSEN SURVIVORS, would be perfect for a high-tech update: cut some of the filler, tighten the narrative, and CGI the monsters to make them more realistic, etc., but on second thought, this film is more of a time and place that just won't exist again. And, part of what makes this movie work is the fact that ALL of the actors play it perfectly seriously, never once metaphorically winking at the camera or making a bad, self-referential joke to pull the audience out of the story. Could a modern-day reinterpretation resist those temptations? One would like to hope so, but it remains doubtful. As it stands right now, an awesome underrated mid-60s chiller.

13. RAW MEAT (MGM 1972). Truly, one of the most disturbing premises ever to get the greenlight, except, this time, unlike, say, CHOSEN SURVIVORS, this one is actually executed fairly well. We start with the standard opening of a solitary character who gets dragged into the darkness of a seedy British tube (subway) station. A total asshole of a police detective (played to perfection by Donald Pleasance) and some college kids who were the last to see the victim alive team up to find out what is going on in the spooky underground of London's railway system. The explanation is what really makes this film. Turns out, back in the late 1800s, a group of railway workers were trapped in a cave-in. However, the authorities decided to save the expense of looking for them and just let them be, figuring they'd probably die anyway, if not already dead. Well, of course, they weren't dead at all, and in fact, continued to survive as their own sub-human society, existing on eating garbage, rats and the occasional commuter. But, now they have all died out, and the lone remaining member of their tribe--sickly, old, covered in sores and filth--has decided that it's time to venture out and find a mate to bring back to his subterranean lair. Again, this works so well because it is presented completely seriously by all involved. In fact, the actor who plays the cannibal (referred to in the credits as "the man") is, as I looked up on imbd, one Hugh Armstrong, and he manages to pull off making the poor creature a sympathetic figure. One of the most bizarrely touching scenes ever occurs toward the end of the film, when "the man" has kidnapped the heroine and brought her underground and he attempts to communicate with her, using the only words he knows--"Mind the Doors," which he repeats in a increasingly creepy litany which suggests his frustration to express himself at all. It's precisely those kind of small moments that reward viewers of these largely-forgotten films.

--Bill Breedlove
(The Black Glove staff thanks our contest winner Bill Breedlove for his great Top 13 Lost Gems of Horror Films and send our heartfelt congrats!)