Entries from June 2024 ↓

Chilling Classics Cthursday: HAUNTS (1976)

I'm thanking my big bowl of lucky stars that it took me until this very week to get around to the 1976 film Haunts, because I'm sure I wouldn't have given it a fair shake. Given it's a film from Herb Freed and Anne Marisse (the husband-and-wife duo behind Graduation Day, the masterpiece featuring the football-with-a-sword-attached and the mostly-rollerskateless roller skating party) and pitched as something of a slasher flick featuring a maniac-with-scissors-attached scissor-wielding maniac, well, that's what I would have hunkered down to see. Instead, Haunts is an unabashed women's (horror) picture that's all about loneliness, isolation, and unchecked trauma. (Apparently they made horror movies about that stuff before A24 came along...? Weird.) I stand (well, truth be told I am sitting) before you today to spread my Haunts agenda. "Criminally underseen" may be an overstatement--though really, how could it not be underseen when it's pretty much only available as a Chilling Classic with potato-levels of picture quality? But the right audience for this film is out there, and that audience needs to get eyeballs on this one.

The rape and murder of a young woman sets a small, rural California-that-feels-like-Pennsylvania town on edge. The amount of  prurient gossip ("They found one arm clear down by the lake!") is exceeded only by the number of suspects, as the town is full of a veritable Rogue's Gallery of men. From the leering rockabilly bad boy grocery clerk Frankie (William Gray Espy) to new nerd in town Bill Spry (Robert Hippard), nearly anyone could be the scissor-wielding killer. 

The Sheriff (an understated Aldo Ray)--who also seems to be the town drunk--is in way over his head with the investigation, as evidenced by the fact that said investigation seems to consist solely of asking a few people "Have you seen anything strange lately?"

In the midst of all of this is Ingrid (May Britt), a quiet, church-going woman living an unassuming life on a farm with her reclusive uncle Carl (50-Pack King Cameron Mitchell), coping as best she can with hazy intrusive thoughts about childhood traumas. Though she tries to suppress her memories, her lingering doubts and fears about men prove true, but she gets no support from law enforcement, her fellow townsfolk, or even her church elders. "Continue to pray" is about all anyone can offer her.

Things twist and turn as Haunts plays out at a leisurely pace. That may scare some of you away, but I was luxuriating in the sad small-town drama of it all. Everyone knows everyone there, but nobody really knows anybody. Ingrid deals with the violence she's faced by not dealing with it, leaving her healing in the Lord's hands. Local gossip/barfly Nel (Susan Nohr) laments the lack of "classy" men in town, all while having too many drinks and settling for anyone who pays her some attention. 

As she endures and endures, Ingrid unravels more and more, increasingly isolating herself even as she tries to figure out who's behind the murders. Like the Sheriff, you may find yourself unsure of what to believe, or maybe not. Haunts is compelling, in part, not simply because of its reveals, but when those reveals happen, and the fact that it leaves many dots for the viewer to connect.

It's no surprise that Haunts is informed by films like Repulsion and Carnival of Souls and, like those films, it's anchored by a terrific central performance. Ingrid is a woman on the outside of her community, even if she's always been there. She's marked as different in many ways, whether it's the traces of her Swedish accent, her piousness, or her reticence to mingle with friends or potential romantic partners. It's hard to resist thinking of the parallels between the character and the actress who came out of retirement to portray her, as Britt herself was no stranger to outsider status thanks to her 1960 marriage to Sammy Davis, Jr. At the time, interracial marriage was illegal in more than half of the country, and the controversy their pairing stirred up caused the Kennedy administration to revoke Davis's invitation to sing at JFK's inauguration. (It's insane to think it was ever illegal, but even insane-ier that it was still illegal in many states when the Supreme Court finally ruled laws disallowing it as unconstitutional in 19fucking67. 1967!) 

Whatever her reasons were for signing onto Haunts, Britt scuttled back into retirement after Haunts, emerging only once again for one episode of, oddly enough, the 80s sci-fi show Probe.

Again, I'm spreading my Haunts agenda because hot dang, it deserves more love. It's got a score from Pino Donaggio, who rose to even greater heights later in 1976 with his work on Carrie. After loving Graduation Day and the (wonderfully) cheesy Lynda Day George-led possession flick Beyond Evil, I never expected this kind of film from Herb Freed, but I'm sure glad I got it.



Chilling Classics Cthursday: NAKED MASSACRE (1976)

Sigh. Honestly, when I read the synopsis on the sleeve of this week's Chilling Classic, I should have said "no thank you, taking the week off, everyone!" 

In Belfast, a group of eight nurses share a home while working at various hospitals and clinics throughout the city. Entering into their lives is a crazed Vietnam veteran with a hatred for women who decides to take out his hatred on them. Stalking them one by one, the killer terrorizes and tortures the women while the authorities attempt to track him down.

If you said "Oh, so it's Richard Speck? But Belfast and Vietnam?" you get some kind of prize because you're right on the money! Except this movie--also known as Born for Hell because the killer has a "Born for Hell" tattoo, you know, kinda like Speck's "Born to Raise Hell" tattoo--features more sexual assault than Speck's 1966 spree. 

But I though, this is the covenant I entered with Mill Creek Entertainment and a horror blog, so buck up, girlie, and do your duty.

I didn't make it, sorry.

To tell the truth, Naked Massacre (sigh part deux) begins as something that almost wants to be interesting, or at least it wants us to think it does. A Vietnam vet on his way home after scamming his way out of service winds up in Belfast during "The Troubles," as Protestants and Catholics and the IRA and British forces clash in the streets. A bomb goes off in a church, children "play" by reenacting firing squad executions, and our nurses get their first taste of death. The vet makes a point about how he "swapped one Hell for another" and while that's not exactly a profound point, I felt for a second like maybe I'd end up surprised that the synopsis wasn't giving the movie proper credit. You know, something about governent-sanctioned violence and so on.

It got even more interesting when the vet formed a quasi-friendship with his fellow flophouse denizen, a fey Viet refugee, who seemed to clock the vet as perhaps a kindred spirit, or perhaps just a woman-hater.

But any potential Somethings to Say flew out the window when he arrived at the house and the film heads into exploitation territory, its true destination all along. Armed with a large switchblade, and sets about terrorizing, raping, and murdering the young women, and that was where I bid the film a middle-fingered adieu

I decided to read some other reviews and thoughts, though; I had no intention of going back to finish the movie (life is short, I could be watching...anything else), but maybe there would be some attempt at a point to all of it. Doesn't seem so, and if you'd like to read the descriptions of what the girls are forced to endure, then you are welcome to go find it as I'm not going to waste the energy typing all that abhorrent shit out.

But there were also comments I saw from exploitation fans who were bummed the movie didn't go far enough, that the "naked chicks" were the best part of it and that, as one hilariously-phrased gripe put it, there were better movies to watch if you wanted to watch "people/women" be terrorized. 

No one ever comes here looking for hot exploitation tips (or if they do, they must leave quickly) as it's not my purview nor my bag. I dabble on the rare occasion (a girl sometimes has cannibal feelings, okay), but I'll never see the point in sexual assault as titillation fare ever. But hey, this movie is another in the Mill Creek to Fancy Blu-ray pipeline, so.

There sure are all kinds of horror fans around.

She’s dead! Wrapped in plastic!

Thought I'd open the drapes (and close them) (and open them again) (and close them) (and...oh, you've probably watched Twin Peaks, right? you get it) to remind you (or inform you, if you had no idea...I don't know your life!) that The Detective and the Log Lady, the weekly Twin Peaks (re)watch podcast I'm doing with Mike Muncer of The Evolution of Horror launches in earnest today with a discussion about the 90-minute pilot episode. Huzzah! And phew! That was a long sentence.

You can of course find the show wherever you getcher podcasts--your Apples and your...I don't know, Podplops or whatever--or you can listen right on the Evolution of Horror website.

From now on there will be a new episode every Monday. I doubt I will post reminders here every week, that seems like a lot if you ask me. I'm not sure why I feel so weird about possibly over-promoting my work on my own website, but hey, what's a little complex between friends, amirite. The point is, if you like the show, subscribe somewhere.

I love the weekly one-episode format, which is preventing me from any binge-watch urges and also makes the experience feel a bit retro. And I think it's cool as heck that there are listeners diving into the show for the first time, just like moi. Not sure why it took me so long to get to this show, but now that I'm here I'm excited to finally get invited to all the parties!