90s Horror Movies

Exploring horror's overlooked decade

Friday Fangs: Night Hunter

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I still have not learned my lesson when it comes to Don “The Dragon” Wilson movies, apparently, because tonight’s Friday Fangs movie has him fighting vampires in the 1996 action horror Night Hunter. Hell, Night Hunter isn’t even the first Wilson movie I watched this week, the other being Terminal Rush, but at least for that one I have the excuse that Rowdy Roddy Piper is in it. Night Hunter I watched just for the blog content. I found Night Hunter on VHS in a box behind my couch this afternoon, and I was going to blame my movie hoarding husband, but he says we actually have two copies of this sucker. So that probably means I’m the one responsible, since I tend to go into a frenzy when I start grabbing cheap VHS off the shelf at the secondhand store. Just yesterday I accidentally bought two copies of the same Michael Dudikoff movie. So I have no one to blame for owning Night Hunter but myself, but let’s go ahead and blame “The Dragon” as well, since he was one of the producers on this crap.

The film begins with a flashback, like all good ones do. In 1968 Jack Cutter was a mere child living in the middle of nowhere with his parents, who are vampire hunters. Night is coming, and so are the vampires. Mom and Dad ask their little partner to hide in the cabinet and hold onto an old book they own. The book is essentially a vampire yellow pages directory, with a list of all the vampire families on earth. Cutter had two things to do in this opening sequence: stay in the cabinet, and hold onto the vampire phone book. But just to prove that he can fuck things up, he does neither of those things, although Dad does manage to get the book back and send it out of the house, along with a gun, in the hands of his feeble son. His father’s last words to him: “Never Trust Anyone.” As the child escapes through a window only to stand awkwardly behind a mound of dirt in the front yard, the vicious vampires don’t even bother to go after him….

And suddenly, it’s the 90s! The same vampires who killed Cutter’s parents are having dinner in a human restaurant, the kind where someone walks around with a Polaroid camera selling pictures. So when Cutter comes in and shoots them all, the photographer manages to get his picture for the cops. I know what you’re thinking: you can’t kill a vampire with a gun! Hold on. In the universe where Night Hunter exists, you can slow them down with a shotgun blast, and then kill them by breaking their necks or backs. Of course, when the cops get there, they’re confused too, because there’s blood everywhere, but the gunshot wounds all appear to be about a month old because vampires heal so fast. Regardless, they have the picture, and the “people” are dead. So now the cops and the king of the world of the vampires, Christopher Guest’s better looking but less talented brother Nicholas, are after Cutter’s ass. Can Cutter kill all the vampires and avoid all the cops with the help of a beautiful tabloid reporter? I don’t know, because I fell asleep halfway through the movie!

I get tired of having to explain the B movie handicap, because if you’re reading an article that was published on a less-than-popular niche blog, written about a Don “The Dragon” Wilson movie, you know that there are these movies in the world that are cheap but have otherworldly qualities that make them more entertaining than ten Arnie movies kicking the asses of ten Steven Segal movies in a roadhouse in Bulgaria. Except that Night Hunter isn’t entertaining, it’s just cheap.

Night Hunter did have potential. It just fucked it up as badly as that kid fucked up hiding in a cabinet holding a book. The Dragon’s no actor, but damn, that sonofabitch can fight. So let’s have him do as little of that as possible. The idea of having the cops find a bunch of bodies with blood all over them and mysterious healed up woulds could have been intriguing as hell, if not for the fact that the movie was already weighed down by the stupid prologue. These vampires use their fangs mostly for chewing the scenery, and alas, poor viewer, they do that well. We didn’t need the dumb Vlad the Impaler as Gary Oldman as Nicholas Guest reincarnation subplot. Also, this was produced by Roger Corman’s New Horizons company. If anyone can make trash interesting, it’s that man. Unfortunately, Night Hunter fails on all counts other than that there are some good looking actresses.  I would say that you should never trust Don “The Dragon” Wilson, but Bloodfist is awesome. So although I’m on a quest to see every horror movie of the 90s, starting with the vampire movies, I’ll probably watch Bloodfist and even Bloodfist 2 several more times before I ever finish this piece of hemoglobin.

Ringu (David edition)

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My ten year old son and I were staying at a vacation condo last week that has no internet and poor TV reception, so we decided to watch a movie I had on my laptop. He chose to watch Ringu because he was interested in seeing what was on the cursed VHS. Here is his review of this 90s horror classic. RINGU!!!

(Spoilers ahead, of both Ringu and Hausu.)

The movie was about this cursed VHS tape that this mean, no I mean…I can’t even describe it, how bad she is. Also, there’s this one part in the movie where the main character and her old boyfriend go back in time and he’s not in the timeline at all, but somehow she is, and she gets burnt when they get back. Probably the evil girl. And of course, when they get back, I’m not sure if I’m right about this, but I think right then they go to the house where she was buried, where the girl from the beginning (the babysitter) watched the haunted VHS made by the girl. And this woman named Sadako who is also dead just like the girl is her mother. And the girl had more powers than her mother. Also, the kid that watched the movie about the end because the evil I mean the babysitter of the boy, the one that died in the beginning, and the main character’s old husband, had psychic powers, so the boy could see the babysitter that died in the beginning. The babysitter that died in the beginning told the psychic boy to watch the haunted VHS. And his mother got him off, but that was right after the haunted VHS ended.

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I don’t know anything else that I’ve actually seen like Ringu. I mean, nothing else. Besides stuff with ghosts. But not the actual topic. And I’ve also not seen any of the remakes or sequels to this movie. I want to see Ringu 2. I want to see the American remakes too. I liked too many things about it to say what I liked best. First of all, when the man died, well he seemed in a way actually mean, because why would they be divorced? Wait, why are they divorced? Another part is where, it’s basically the same thing where the mean girl comes out of the well then out of the TV. And also, the part where the main character thought she was going to die, but because of copying the video and showing it to her old boyfriend she didn’t die, but when they buried her in the burial ground they thought the curse was completely gone but no! He died. And that means the boy is going to die unless he copies the video and shows it to someone else. And I think in the next movie, I’ve heard that the psychic boy is going to make his grandfather watch the copy in Ringu 2.

The other Japanese horror movie I’ve seen is House (Hausu), I’d say that Ringu has a better ending than House. Because in House, everybody dies. The guy gets turned into bananas, and the girls get eaten except for the main girl, like all the other girls get eaten by the grandmother. And the main girl has this lipstick that she puts on purpose and gets possessed by the evil grandmother, or was it aunt? Anyway, the main girl gets possessed and the last girl that gets eaten thinks that she’s just comforting with the main girl, then turns into the grandmother and then she still comforts her and the girl that’s the last one, the scaredy one, asks her if this is all fake, like it’s not really true. And then she gets eaten.

Watching a movie with subtitles is OK. I’d rather have it translated than with subtitles. So yes, I would love to see more Japanese horror movies. Oh, and also some have American remakes, and I’d also like to see them. I was surprised to see that Ringu was distributed by Dreamworks, because they only do kids’ movies now.

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Now, I didn’t like (in Ringu) how at first in the well the evil girl looked normal because of the hair over her, then getting her up and she’s a skeleton, and when she sees the skull she feels sorry for her, but that’s not a good idea. Her powers are too strong!! That’s not what she needs. I don’t even know what she does need. I wasn’t scared very much, but there were highlights of scariness. I’m not sure about what parts. I recommend that other people watch Ringu as long as they’re not pregnant, because there’s a lot of movies where they say not to watch this if you’re pregnant or young. And this is scary enough to be not for the pregnant, but not scary enough to be not for kids.

I’ve really got nothing left about Ringu. Leave me a comment about other movies you think I should watch and review. Thank you for reading my first review on this blog. Bye!

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There Won’t Be Blood: Where is the red stuff in Lamberto Bava’s 1992 giallo Body Puzzle, and should we miss it?

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Body Puzzle comes from an era when the giallo had crossed the ocean and mated with 1940s noir to produce the “erotic thriller,” and this film has elements of all three while turning the giallo subgenre back on itself. We see the killer’s face in the very first scene, rather than seeing black gloves and hearing a menacing whisper on the phone. There’s police procedure, but there’s no civilian desperately trying to remember what he witnessed while running for his life to solve the crime. In fact, it’s the lead detective (Tomas Arana) who misinterprets what he sees in the beginning. The plot, like the plot of any giallo, is appropriately convoluted and goofy. We don’t know the killer’s name, or, since he’s insane like most giallo killers, what he thinks his name is, but we see his face and watch him kill a man in a chocolate shop in the first five minutes of the film. And while we know that he cuts off the guy’s ear and removes one of his internal organs, we don’t see the expected ocean of blood. Later we see a woman brutally attacked in a bathroom, and watch her severed hand fall into the toilet, but there is no blood to accompany it in the water. We see a man vigorously stabbed to death in a swimming pool, but again, no blood.

It’s not until a teacher of blind children is murdered in her classroom, in front of a roomful of students who can’t know what is happening, that we see a splash of blood: across the face of a confused child in the front row, in one of Italian horror’s famous scare closeups. (That’s how you know what’s important in these films, cause they’re not exactly subtle.) Keep in mind we’ve seen a ear wrapped in butcher paper retrieved from the refrigerator of a woman (Joanna Pacula) who is being taunted by the killer, and we’ve seen the teacher’s eyeballs lying on the floor, and several other grisly sights, but all of them have been virtually dry.

Assuming the budget allowed for some good old 3M fake blood, the blood in this film had to be absent for a reason. We know that Italian horror often contains elements that subvert religion, and we all know that zombies can symbolize a perversion of the Resurrection, but did you know that blood can symbolize the Eucharist? One drinks the blood of Jesus at Communion, in the form of wine, to remember that we will have eternal life. And there’s plenty of blood drinking in tons of horror movies, giving a lot of people the wrong kind of eternal life, so it’s not at all a stretch to imagine a horror movie knocking the idea of Communion on its ass. But here there’s no blood to drink, because there isn’t any flowing. There are gross things to see, and graphic violence, but no blood.

Now, it’s important to note that this killer is taking body parts and organs to put together a person as a puzzle, to try to bring back someone who has died. But it’s obviously not going to work, not least of all because Body Puzzle isn’t a supernatural giallo. In the world of a straight murder mystery, the dead don’t regain life. That’s why there’s no blood, because the person the killer is avenging is going to stay dead.  There’s no blood and no Eucharist, and no eternal life for the person our killer desperately wants to bring back. That’s also why the blood falls on the child, because the children in the classroom don’t get killed. The murderer kills the teacher, but not the kids, because he doesn’t need to. They’re not witnesses, because they can’t see him carving out the teacher’s eyes and viscera, and they’re not meant to be part of the puzzle. In this case, the blood takes on yet another symbolic value, evoking an image of Passover. The blood that splashes on the child’s face marks the child as not-a-sacrifice. The children are allowed to live. All of which is to say, even in violent gore films, sometimes it’s still what you don’t see that is important.

And, of course, it’s possible that Mr. Bava just forgot to order a barrel of blood, and I’m talking out of the side of my neck.

If you haven’t seen Body Puzzle, but are a fan of Italian horror, you must see this for two reasons: Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Gianni Garko, as a flaming sassy guy and an angry police captain, respectively. They have all the good lines in the film, and both of them have scenes that are well worth the price of admission. And if you need further incentive, be advised that the pet dog, a St. Bernard, lives through the film.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 1992 Coppola edition

FANGSKeanu Reeves gets an invite from some weird guy to go to Transylvania to sell real estate in England, and doesn’t think anything is strange about that. The weird guy asks Keanu to stay a while, but it isn’t really a request as much as a demand, as Keanu soon finds out after he’s imprisoned in a sex dungeon with a bunch of bloodsucking freaks. Whoa. Then the weird guy turns into Gary Oldman and goes back to England to hit on Keanu’s girlfriend Winona Ryder, while banging her hot to trot friend on the side. In a fursuit. Can her friend’s three suitors and Hannibal Lecter stop a guy who already impaled everyone in Romania? bsd15 This sounds much more exciting than it actually is when I put it that way, doesn’t it? Oh, I’m sure this version of Dracula has its rabid fans, but I saw it in 1992 and didn’t see it again until last week, and the only thing I remembered from my first viewing was Sadie Frost writhing around on a bed all horny like. I mean, sure, that’s memorable and all, but when you consider that I also remember who I saw this with and the conversation we had while standing in line to get the tickets, and I remember the conversation better than I do the movie, that doesn’t make for a good recommendation. bsd1 Although, to be fair to Dracula, in 1992 I was still well within my phase of thinking horror movies were supposed to be scary, and this is not really even meant to be scary. Are vampire movies ever really scary? I will admit that if I came face to face with a vampire I would pee in my pants, but on screen, they’re more stylish at best. Sadie Frost crawling out of her coffin was the only moment that was impressively horrific. Gary Oldman’s shadow moving independently of him was cool, though, and Eiko Ishioka definitely deserved the Oscar for costume design. Hell, if they could’ve given her two just for this film I’d approve. Anthony Hopkins was hilarious as the blurting Van Helsing; can you imagine Peter Cushing saying “I just want to cut off her head and take out her heart,” and playing it for buffoonish laughs? Let’s not even mention Keanu’s English accent, though, because it’s not worth complaining about. ishioka-bsd Overall, I appreciate Dracula more than I did the first time I saw it, but I was ready for it to be over by the end. Maybe I’ll give in another shot in twenty years or so. My main hangup, even more now at age 39 than at 17, is that Coppola can do better than this. Yes, Dracula looks great in a candy-colored sort of way, it’s somewhat erotic, but it’s one of those movies that’s more like a ride at the Universal Studios theme park than an adaptation of a novel so amazing it’s never gone out of print. Plus, it’s about thirty minutes too long. And how many versions of Oldman as Dracula did we need? We had the guy in the Slim Goodbody armor, the old guy, the hip young Victorian guy, the wolf, and something that looked like Nosferatu. Give me a break. Honestly, the film looks like Coppola saw a couple of Tim Burton movies, got jealous of this new filmmaker, and decided to make one just like that. Too bad he didn’t cast Johnny Depp as Harker. See, we know Coppola can tell a good story, dammit. I am not as huge a fan of the Godfather movies as everyone else but I acknowledge them as classics, and The Conversation is one of my favorite movies of all time. But in a few weeks, I’ll have forgotten all about Dracula again, except to wonder why Sadie Frost and Richard E. Grant haven’t become bigger stars. Dracula: it’s beautiful at first glance, but ultimately shallow, sort of like Winona Ryder’s career. bsd3

The Ninth Gate

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Johnny Depp stars as a smarmy book dealer who practices situational ethics, to put it mildly. He is hired by Frank Langella to go to Europe in order to track down and authenticate two copies of an 18th century book that can be used in a ritual to summon the devil, although why you need to summon the devil when you already have 90s era Frank Langella on hand, I do not know. The book, a copy of which Frank already has, contains creepy engravings of horrific scenes that look a bit like tarot cards. Pretty soon people are turning up dead, murdered in ways depicted in the engravings and in other freestyle ways. Lena Olin shows up and fucks the shit out of Johnny, then hits him upside the head with a liquor bottle. Emmanuelle Seigner keeps floating in and out of the film, and we can’t be sure who she is working for, if anyone. Will Depp’s sleazy book detective live through one hell of a case?

I saw The Ninth Gate when it first came out on VHS, and I remembered two things about it before I watched it again this past weekend: first, Seigner looking all demonic on top of Johnny Depp, and second, that I hated the ending while simultaneously not being able to remember what exactly it was. Now, with some age and increased patience, and many many viewings of European horror films, I love The Ninth Gate. I’ve been thinking about it for the last two days, which is a sure sign to me that I’ve found a good movie.

That’s not to say that Polanski intended The Ninth Gate to be an homage to Euro horror, although if I was making such an homage, and I wanted a character to appear mid-film whose alignment was unknown, I would hire Jack Taylor (Pieces, The Ghost Galleon), to play that character. Since that’s what happens here, I marked out when he showed up. However, as I said, The Ninth Gate is not in fact an homage to Euro horror, but the ending is very European, being that it is more or less ambiguous.

If The Ninth Gate is a reference to anything, and all 90s horror movies are, it is a take off on American noir pictures of the 30s and 40s. Polanski plays with noir conventions, making Olin the dame, but not the dame Depp is working for. Depp is a sloppy, cynical detective, who gets into the mystery for the money, but then becomes emotionally involved, although not for love. Everything is played way over the top. There’s a lot of sly, intentional humor.

I can’t say enough about Depp’s acting skills, and the way that just through mannerisms he takes himself from a beautiful man to the essence of the kind of facially symmetrical but squirrely guy who works at Target, who smells like Marlboro Lights, who eats TV dinners, and who bums rides from women whose league he would be out of if not for the fact that he doesn’t have a driver’s license. But the performance, like the story, is compelling, even though style wins out over substance in the end.

I also loved the dramatic irony that allows the audience to understand more about Seigner’s character than Depp does, even though everything is not spelled out for us. The levitating and the baptism by blood are some big clues that the detective doesn’t seem to see! There are a dozen theories about her character on the internet, and I don’t really have one of my own, but everything here makes sense if you let it. If you squint a bit, and wait til you’re a little tired to watch.

The Ninth Gate is not Polanski’s masterpiece, that’s The Tenant, but I have to admit that I’m a bigger fan of Frantic than any of his big acclaimed ones anyway. That’s the one I seem to watch repeatedly. The Ninth Gate, I can tell, is going to be another. They don’t make movies like this one anymore folks, there are no more big budget A lister horror epics for grown ups, so enjoy it for what it is. And remember that I may have bad taste.

Also, I don’t care what you think of Roman Polanski personally (seriously, I don’t care, so don’t come over here and tell me about it, because I won’t respond) but I don’t think one can overstate the role of Charles Manson as the devil in Polanski’s life. The fact that this devil picture is played as humorous, smartass noir makes the film even sicker and crazier, and more watchable.

By the way, intentional use of cliches here includes an opening scene where a suicide by hanging sets everything in motion. I knew this was overused the moment I saw it, but the only films I can think of off the top of my head where this happens are Fulci’s The Gates of Hell and the 70s black comedy Harold and Maude; can you think of some others?

Finally, if I have to admit one gripe, it’s the use of a Dodge Viper as the “cool” chase car. If the devil had his choice of any car in all of Europe he would choose a Dodge? Ooookay.

 

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