In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Horror Movie Guide: The Body Snatcher

As it turns out, I was unable to track down the 1972 version of Bluebeard so I'll have to circle back to that at a later date. In its stead, I moved onto Robert Wise's 1945 film The Body Snatcher. I'd never heard of it before reading of it in the Guide, but I had a good feeling.


In 1830's Edinburgh, a doctor (Henry Daniell) and his new assistant (Russell Wade) look to shady cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff) to supply them with increasingly fresh cadavers for their medical experiments.

Yeah, The Body Snatcher was a delight. I'm surprised people don't talk about this one more, because it is a literal Venn diagram of silver screen horror movie greats. Wise, directing Karloff and Bela Lugosi in a Val Lewton-produced RKO picture based on Robert Louis Stephenson? I mean, come on!

As I've said before, Karloff's filmography features large in The Guide and it seems with each title I say 'oh was my fave Boris performance!'. Well, again I say, THIS one was tops. He's so deliciously evil as John Gray. I was sad to see Lugosi in a smaller part (apparently due to his health) but the scene him and Karloff last share together was a great one. 

Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi in The Body Snatcher

I was initially disappointed that Lugosi didn't play the doctor, until I saw Daniell in action. He's terrific and his theatrical training comes out right away. And then there's Wade, who's striking resemblance to Judge Reinhold was almost distracting..

In addition to the strong cast, the atmosphere is on point. Using sets from RKO's production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wise employs shadow as well as he ever did (wow, just realizing how long and storied a career Wise actually had) and that prolonged shot in the fog that ends with the street urchin's voice being cut off was *chef's kiss*. 


Though they naturally don't show anything onscreen and the fight scenes are rudimentary, Wise doesn't give a fuck, he'll off anyone or anything. Oh, and I loved that Val was still up to his old tricks, swapping out Cat People's Lewton Bus, for a Lewton Horse


The Body Snatcher was a joy throughout, and may even best Bedlam (another Val Lewton RKO picture) in the B&W horrors I've experienced while going through the Guide. Naturally, they agreed with me, maybe the first four star they've awarded so far.


Friday, February 23, 2024

Caaaaayseeeeeee.


Today's VHS is another Vestron title, this one from 1990, called simply, Fear. No, not the one where Marky Mark fingers Reese Witherspoon, or the one with the tree dude, but one I do recall from my video store days. I never partook, likely because it looked like a slew of other titles that were released around this time, but more on that later...


Psychic Cayce (Ally Sheedy) uses her powers to help track down violent criminals, but things get dangerous when she crosses paths with a serial killer with the same gifts.

Like last week's title Hider in the House, this movie was also a casualty of Vestron's bankruptcy in the late eighties. Denied a theatrical release, it found a home on Showtime and was then unceremoniously dumped on video two years later when distributors were filling shelves with anything that remotely resembled The Silence of the Lambs.


Having said that though, this was a fun one. There have been tons of movies where characters see through a killer's eyes, but I can't recall one exactly like this, where they are communicating, even taunting, the person receiving the visions. Fear is not just a title, but refers to the killer getting off on the fear of his victims, and also Cayce's as she witnesses his misdeeds. Director Rockne S. O' Bannon's (no relation to Dan) confident filmmaking is helped along by a Henry Mancini score that really slaps.


Sheedy had to do all of the heavy lifting here and performs admirably, even through the more ridiculous situations she is put in and her almost Final Girl-like shift from victim to aggressor during the carnival set piece felt organic and bad-ass. And I admit I let out a little cheer when the killer, who'd been previously only referred to as Shadow Man, was revealed to be the King of all shifty-eyed psychos, Pruitt Taylor Vince!


I found Cayce's eagerness to be out in the public eye, writing books about the killers she'd collared, a little bold. Like, wouldn't having a crime crystal ball make you a target? And the rules of her powers were a little muddy and seemed to extend beyond her explanation of them at the hop, but hey! It's a 90s movie-of-the-week, who am I to judge? 

I should look further into the demise of Vestron because, at least from my small sample size, it appears they were still cranking out entertaining product at the end. Maybe they threw all their money in a Superman IV-sized hole like Cannon did? Quick everyone, to the 'Pedia!

Friday, February 16, 2024

Busey's Gonna Busey.


The next VHS on my pile was the 1989 thriller Hider in the House. I hadn't seen this movie, but I certainly remember it at my video store with that coverbox that SCREAMS late 80s/early 90s.


Julie (Mimi Rogers) and her family move into their newly renovated dream home, not realizing that a recently released mental patient (Gary Busey) has built himself a secret room in the attic.

I was pleasantly surprised by Hider in the House. It was very similar to a lot of movies that came out around that time, which is why I found its release year of 1989 (before the floodgates opened in the 90s) confounding. Due to Vestron going tits up, it never got its planned theatrical release so it's not like this was widely seen. HITH is like a reverse The Hand That Rocks the Cradle where an outside party works their way into the family in order to take what they feel is owed. You know what's really crazy though? I thought for sure Mimi's pottery hobby was a reaction to Ghost's popularity, but nope, that doesn't line up either. 


The performances, especially Rogers, were above board and grounded me enough to overlook the overall implausibility of the situation. For instance, I had no idea that loony bins had construction and electrical classes to facilitate their denizens building themselves accommodations upon release. Also, I assume most wives know what their husband's handwriting looks like? And that neighbour? He's always peeping on Julie, but somehow missed Busey climbing all over the roof and burying multiple bodies in the yard? That last one would have made sense if he got murdered for being a wtiness, but he didn't? How does a character who was even creepier than the antagonist survive?? Anyway, I digress.


Having said that, Busey actually showed restraint in this role, initially coming off as someone who really wanted to get better. In fact, his presence at the start was almost helpful. He prevented the daughter from drowning in the pool, taught the son how to defend himself against the school bully and shielded Julie from the aforementioned neighbour's advances. If he hadn't already murdered the family dog and an unfortunate exterminator by this point, I might have said this unknown tenant was almost a positive. However, it is also quite possible he was driven over the edge by the incessant chirping of that cricket that was stuck in there with him.


In addition to the usual shits and gigs you get from a man-in-the-walls movie, there were also a few other intriguing things going on. I noticed there was a shift where Busey's character went from looking at Julie as a mother figure to wanting to become the husband. I'm not sure if that was triggered by witnessing anti-social behaviour (like pyromania) in the son and wanting to help, but it offered more depth than I was expecting. 

Overall, this was quite entertaining and even if it did play out rather predictability (minus the almost Black Christmas-like nod at the end) there's some good stuff in here.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Horror Movie Guide: Bluebeard (1944)

As promised last week, it's time to get back to working my way through the Horror Movie Guide. I left off midway through the B's so now we're onto another oldie, Edgar G. Ulmer's 1944 film Bluebeard. This was one I had no previous knowledge of due to its absence from my local video stores, but it's now on the chopping block so let's dive in

The citizens of Paris live in fear of Bluebeard, a seemingly uncatchable strangler of young women. How long before he strikes again?

I found this one was a bit of a bore, though I admit it was pretty cool to see John Carradine, not only when he was young, but also in a leading role. You know, it would be funny to count up how many movies in this Guide that Carradine is actually in. I feel like I've already covered half a dozen two letters in. He's definitely one of those guys where you think, "was he ever young?" so it was good to see some proof. He's rather dapper and solid in this one, but doesn't get to do as much as I'd like.

I'm assuming that the Hays Code was weighing on this production heavily because you never get to see anything remotely graphic onscreen here. You'll get the close-ups of Carradine's eyes after the first few frames of a strangle and then a shot of the victim on the ground. 


They also do that thing where someone gets hit on the head and then freezes in tableau for a few moments before keeling over. Oh, and this actress clearly failed dead body school.


I guess I was also distracted by the story which seemed to have more in common with Jack the Ripper than Bluebeard. Wasn't Bluey the one that hid all his dead wives in a locked room? Carradine's character Gaston is a starving artist bachelor in this tale, and most of this movie is spent talking about art dealing, painting and puppetry.

While I did fall asleep during my first attempt to watch this, I did find it more interesting in the third act. The police sting sequence and the last chase across the Parisian rooftops were somewhat exciting even if they both ended rather clumsily. Speaking of the latter, the most positive attribute I would say about Bluebeard is the set design which was almost certainly influenced by the Expressionism movement of the 20s.


This is another one to file under glad I watched it, but it's not really the best is it? It's surely no Bedlam. What's surprising to me is that the Guide highly praised this picture.


To each their own I guess. Next up is the 1972 version of Bluebeard with Richard Burton and Raquel Welsh... if I can find it. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Dudes and Nudes.


Ok, time to get back on the horse and fire up some languishing features here at THS. You can expect regular VHS posts on Fridays and also the continuation of the Horror Movie Guide log on Mondays going forward. Let's kick things off with a title that is a long time coming in Jon Irvin's go at gothic, 1981's Ghost Story.


Don (Craig Wasson) returns to his hometown for his twin brother's funeral and gets pulled into a mystery involving the elder statesmen of the village.

I gotta admit, this is totally not what I expected. I thought Ghost Story was going to be about moldy geriatrics sitting around a fire swapping stories - and to be fair, to a point, it is. The four old timers - who adorably call themselves The Chowder Society - do wax scary tales for a time, but then it goes off the chain in all kinds of fun ways. Before I knew it I'm seeing the face of a rotting corpse that I have a vague recollection of peeping on a Fangoria cover as well as some flying Wasson-peen. Okay, you have my attention.


There is a good collection of character actors here. Wasson no doubt carried this character's constant bewilderment with him into Body Double three years later and Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Melvyn Douglas match up well with John Houseman, who was already well versed at telling spooky stories from his stint in The Fog one year prior. I think the real heart of the picture of Fred Astaire as Ricky Hawthorne though. Alice Krige is great as the icy femme fatale and provides 100% more nudity than I was anticipating. This is not your mother's ghost story, folks.


In addition to the aforementioned, there are a few more gore gags that are pretty badass, especially that creep above that looks like something out of Creepshow. Oh, and also Moosehead sighting!


Man, they were really pushing their brand in the early eighties. Love to see it! Ghost Story feels like it is of two minds, as you have the fairly standard gothic haunt with a DePalma-like trashiness leaking through the cracks. I wager it's that mix that sets it apart from other haunting yarns of the time.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Good Morgan To You!

As I await the release of StopmotionRobert Morgan has released a new short online called Ray Incident. Check it out below.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Jan 24th Horror Trivia Screening List

To all those who came here from the event or Storm Crow's FB page, welcome! I am Jay, one half of the horror trivia quizmasters and this is my humble blog. Here's the selected list of titles mentioned at the last event. Click on the titles to be redirected to their Imdb listing.

Horror Trivia Night happens at Storm Crow Manor in Toronto. If you're in the area, come on down! Register here. If you're not local, we do occasionally stream the event on @ruemorguemag Instagram.

Abigail (2024)
Pieces (1982)
Spree (2020)
Fall (2022)
Becky (2020)
Hellworld (2005)

Rabid (1977)
Tusk (2014)
Idle Hands (1999)