Fright Club: Best of Charles Band

Legendary indie horror filmmaker Charles Band joins Fright Club this week to talk about his new book Confessions of a Puppet Master, Marilyn Monroe, spotting talent, and VHS art. He even gives us some advice on our first feature film.

5. Trancers (1984)

Directed by Charles Band, the film follows a hard-boiled Blade Runner style mercenary into the past. Jack Death (Tim Thomerson) must stop a villain from killing off the ancestors of those who keep him from ruling the world. If they’re never born, he will be unstoppable, thanks to his army of zombielike Trancers.

The point is, Helen Hunt. To say that she makes the most of this material is an understatement. She’s adorable, charming, and she carves a memorable character out of less-than-stellar written material. The rest is fun, cheesy scifi.

4. Troll (1986)

The 1986 original Troll boasts a surprising hodgepodge of names in the ensemble: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Moriarty, June Lockhart (the mom from the Lost in Space TV show), Sonny Bono, as well as a who’s who of “Hey, I got to get out of here in time to be on that Love Boat episode” stardom. It’s a grab at the burgeoning genre Joe Dante created in 1984 with Gremlins, comic stuff about a troll king turning San Francisco apartment dwellers into plants.

The other thing that stands out in this 1986 flick is that the protagonist (and his father, come to think) is named Harry Potter. There’s a witch, too. Coincidence?

A good mash-up of humor and gore highlighted by the young Louis-Dreyfus in a small but funny role, it’s the kind of movie that epitomizes what producer Charles Band (who has a cameo) did best.

3. Rawhead Rex (1986)

Clive Barker penned this one. No, he did not like the film it turned out to be, but you might. Band produced this Irish horror that sees a wildly unhappy couple, their doomed children, and a small town on the Emerald Isle accosted by a reincarnated demon with a face that looks like raw meat.

Another memorable VHS cover made this one of those movies you immediately associate with video stores, and though the acting is hardly top quality, the creature design is hideous and fun.

2. Puppet Master (1989)

If any movie capitalized on the VHS box, it was Puppet Master. The tag Evil comes in all sizes looms large above a theatrical trunk, wedged open to show a group of hideous little puppets. And the film didn’t disappoint, because those little evildoers get themselves into all manner of bloody, slug-spewing trouble.

The point-of-view camerawork, fun cameos and inspired creature designs make up for a lot of script and acting weaknesses and the film easily carries that Charles Brand stamp: low budget, funny, campy, gory fun.

1. Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator boasts a good mix of comedy and horror, some highly subversive ideas, and one really outstanding villain. Band knew a movie worthy of distribution when he saw one, and this film became a surprising theatrical hit for him.

Jeffrey Combs, with his intense gaze and pout, his ability to mix comic timing with epic self-righteousness without turning to caricature, carries the film beginning to end. His Dr. Herbert West has developed a day-glo serum that reanimates dead tissue, but a minor foul-up with his experimentations – some might call it murder – sees him taking his studies to the New England medical school Miskatonic University. There he rents a room and basement laboratory from handsome med student Dan Caine (Bruce Abbott).

They’re not just evil scientists. They’re also really bad doctors.

Fright Club: Bad Doctors in Horror

As we salute the tireless work of our great doctors and health care workers during this uneasy time, Fright Club looks at our favorite “bad doctors” in horror!

5. Herbert West, Re-Animator (1985)

Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator reinvigorated the Frankenstein storyline in a decade glutted with vampire films. Based, as so many fantasy/horror films are, on the work of H. P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator boasts a good mix of comedy and horror, some highly subversive ideas, and one really outstanding villain.

Jeffrey Combs, with his intense gaze and pout, his ability to mix comic timing with epic self righteousness without turning to caricature, carries the film beginning to end. His Dr. Herbert West has developed a day-glo serum that reanimates dead tissue, but a minor foul up with his experimentations – some might call it murder – sees him taking his studies to the New England medical school Miskatonic University. There he rents a room and basement laboratory from handsome med student Dan Caine (Bruce Abbott).

They’re not just evil scientists. They’re also really bad doctors.

Re-Animator is fresh. It’s funny and shocking, and though most performances are flat at best, those that are strong more than make up for it. First-time director Gordon’s effort is superb. He glories in the macabre fun of his scenes, pushing envelopes and dumping gallons of blood and gore. He balances anxiety with comedy, mines scenes for all they have to give, and takes you places you haven’t been.

4. Beverly and Elliot Mantle, Dead Ringers, (1988)

This film is about separation anxiety, with the effortlessly melancholy Jeremy Irons playing a set of gynecologist twins on a downward spiral. Writer/director David Cronenberg doesn’t consider this a horror film at all. Truth is, because the twin brothers facing emotional and mental collapse are gynecologists, Cronenberg is wrong.

Take, for instance, the scene with the middle aged woman in stirrups, camera on her face, which is distorted with discomfort. Irons’s back is to the screen, her bare foot to his left side. Clicking noises distract you as the doctor works away. We pan right to a tray displaying the now-clearly-unstable doctor’s set of hand-fashioned medical instruments. Yikes.

Irons is brilliant, bringing such flair and, eventually, childlike charm to the performances you feel almost grateful. The film’s pace is slow and its horror subtle, but the uncomfortable moments are peculiarly, artfully Cronenberg.

2. Dr. Heiter, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)

After a handful of middling Dutch comedies, Tom Six stumbled upon inspiration – 100% medically accurate inspiration. Yes, we mean the Human Centipede. Just the First Sequence makes the list, though.

For a lot of viewers, the Human Centipede films are needlessly gory and over-the-top with no real merit. But for some, Six is onto something. His first effort uses a very traditional horror storyline – two pretty American girls have a vehicular break down and find peril – and takes that plot in an unusual direction. But where most horror filmmakers would finish their work as the victims wake up and find themselves sewn together, mouth to anus, this is actually where Six almost begins.

Although the film mines something primal about being helpless in the hands of surgeons and doctors, it’s Dieter Laser and his committed, insane performance that elevates this film. That and your own unholy desire to see what happens to the newly conjoined tourists.

2. Dr. Genessier, Eyes Without a Face (1960)

The formula behind this film has been stolen and reformulated for dozens of lurid, low-brow exploitation films since 1960. In each, there is a mad doctor who sees his experiments as being of a higher order than the lowly lives they ruin; the doctor is assisted by a loyal, often non-traditionally attractive (some might say handsome) nurse; there are nubile young women who will soon be victimized, as well as a cellar full of the already victimized. But somehow, in this originator of that particular line of horror, the plot works seamlessly.

An awful lot of that success lies in the remarkable performances. Pierre Brasseur, as the stoic surgeon torn by guilt and weighed down by insecurities about his particular genius, brings a believable, subtle egomania to the part seldom seen in a mad scientist role.

Still, the power in the film is in the striking visuals that are the trademark of giant French filmmaker Georges Franju. His particular genius in this film gave us the elegantly haunting image of Dr. Genessier’s daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). Her graceful, waiflike presence haunts the entire film and elevates those final scenes to something wickedly sublime.

1. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Who else but Hannibal the Cannibal?

Anthony Hopkins’s eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends. He’s toying with you. You’re a fly in his web – and what he will do to you hits at our most primal fear, because we are, after all, all part of a food chain.

Fright Club: What’s On the Slab

Come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab.

The cold, sterile morgue. That basement examination room with those drawers that should really never open on their own. Those rows of tables with sheets that should not just blow around. It’s a quiet, peaceful place where, in horror movies, attractive naked women lay prone and yet onscreen without a line of dialog for 90 minute stretches.

That’s not to say that they do nothing. Sometimes they talk. Sometimes they even bite.

Thanks to Jenny from Cali for the topic idea.

Here are our favorite autopsy/morgue horror movies.

5. Re-Animator (1985)

Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator reinvigorated the Frankenstein storyline in a decade glutted with vampire films. Based, as so many fantasy/horror films are, on the work of H. P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator boasts a good mix of comedy and horror, some highly subversive ideas, and one really outstanding villain.

Jeffrey Combs, with his intense gaze and pout, his ability to mix comic timing with epic self-righteousness without turning to caricature, carries the film beginning to end. His Dr. Herbert West has developed a day-glo serum that reanimates dead tissue, but a minor foul up with his experimentations – some might call it murder – sees him taking his studies to the New England medical school Miskatonic University. There he rents a room and basement laboratory from handsome med student Dan Caine (Bruce Abbott).

They’re not just evil scientists. They’re also really bad doctors.

First-time director Gordon’s effort is superb. He glories in the macabre fun of his scenes, pushing envelopes and dumping gallons of blood and gore. He balances anxiety with comedy, mines scenes for all they have to give, and takes you places you haven’t been.

4. Anatomy (2000)

Franka Potente leads a medical school mystery in Stefan Ruzowitzky’s film about Germany’s ugly history with medical experimentation and societal hierarchy.

Ruzowitzky would go on to direct the Oscar winning foreign language film The Counterfeiters in 2007, but back in 2000 he was still riding high on the surprise success of this mid-budget medical horror.

Potente is Paula. She’s new and maybe a little frigid for her prestigious medical school. In one of her classes she recognizes a corpse. Her curiosity piqued, what she stumbles into may look like a by-the-book slasher, but it digs into the scars of a generation whose beloved forebears were either implicit in heinous crimes against humanity, or who participated willingly.

3. The Corpse of Anna Fritz (2015)

Young hospital orderly Pau (Albert Carbo) attends the morgue, where the famous actress Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) awaits an autopsy come morning. He secretly texts a selfie with the body to two buddies.

Soon, three young men are alone with a beautiful, naked, dead woman with absolutely no chance of being interrupted for hours. If you’re a little concerned with where this may lead, well, you should be.

Sort of a cross between 2008’s irredeemable rape fantasy Deadgirl and Tarantino’s brilliant Kill Bill, Volume 1, The Corpse of Anna Fritz will take you places you’d rather not go.

As a comment on rape culture, the film is a pointed and singular horror.

And while contrivances pile up like cadavers in a morgue, each one poking a hole in the credibility of the narrative being built, The Corpse of Anna Fritz has a lot more to offer than you might expect – assuming you stick it out past the first reel.

2. I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

Billy O’Brien (Isolation) finds a new vision for the tired serial killer formula with his wry, understated indie horror I Am Not a Serial Killer.

An outsider in a small Minnesota town, John (Max Records) works in his mom’s morgue, writes all his school papers on serial killers, and generally creeps out the whole of his high school. But when townsfolk start turning up in gory pieces, John turns his keen insights on the case.

Records, who melted me as young Max in Spike Jonze’s 2009 masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are, serves up an extraordinarily confident, restrained performance. His onscreen chemistry with the nice old man across the street – Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd – generates thrills enough to offset the movie’s slow pace.

For his part, Lloyd is in turns tender, heartbreaking and terrifying.

Bursts of driest humor keep the film engaging as the story cleverly inverts the age-old “catch a killer” cliché and toys with your expectations as it does.

1. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2017)

Back in 2010, Andre Ovredal established himself as a filmmaker of unusual vision with his found footage style gem Trollhunter. His first English-language film takes him into the basement examination room of father and son coroners.

Both stars Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are underappreciated actors, and each one turns in a wonderfully familiar, tender performance. Their kinship and associated dysfunction are played with enough restraint to keep it from weighing down proceedings, instead creating a believably protective relationship that causes certain scenes to hurt.

As the two dig in to the mystery of their latest patient, an unidentified woman found underground in a nearby basement, an intimate and claustrophobic but always smart and creepy mystery starts to unveil itself. The result is a chilling and effective thriller.





Fright Club: Death + Sex

A few weeks ago we covered Sex and Death. That is, the act of sex leads directly to death. Sex kills you.

This week, as a kind of wrong-headed sibling, we talk with B Movie Bros about Death and Sex. Which is to say, the death part comes first. Either party can be dead, or both can. Reanimated corpses are fine, if that’s your thing. Just as long as at least one participant is dead.

5. Living Doll (1990)

Though few scenes go by that don’t showcase Katie Orgill’s bare breasts, this odd British import is just a sweet romance at its heart. It’s a romance between a young mortician/med student and the corpse of his unrequited love, which doesn’t sound that sweet, I’ll grant you, but between Mark Jax’s delusional naivete and the strangely tender script penned by director George Dugdale with Paul Hart-Wilden and Mark Ezra, the film may openly flirt with necromancy, but it courts true romance.

Why is Christine (Orgill) buried naked? Why does everyone hide their British accents—and so poorly? Why clutter the film with so many atrocious actors? Why is Orgill so bad at holding her breath? Who knows or cares, when Eartha Kitt plays the landlady?

The film is weirdly memorable—equally grotesque and tender-hearted. You can’t exactly look past its snail’s pace or poor acting, but it works on you. There’s not much else like it.

4. The Corpse of Anna Fritz (2015)

Young hospital orderly Pau (Albert Carbo) attends the morgue, where the famous actress Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) awaits an autopsy come morning. He secretly texts a selfie with the body to two buddies. They show up to see the body.

Soon, three young men are alone with a beautiful, naked, dead woman with absolutely no chance of being interrupted for hours. If you’re a little concerned with where this may lead, well, you should be.

As a comment on rape culture, the film is a pointed and singular horror.

Sort of a cross between 2008’s irredeemable rape fantasy Deadgirl and Tarantino’s brilliant Kill Bill, The Corpse of Anna Fritz will take you places you’d rather not go.

And while contrivances pile up like cadavers in a morgue, each one poking a hole in the credibility of the narrative being built, The Corpse of Anna Fritz has a lot more to offer than you might expect—assuming you stick it out past the first reel.

3. The Neon Demon (2016)

“Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

So says an uncredited Alessandro Nivola, a fashion designer waxing philosophic in Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Bronson, Drive) nightmarish new film The Neon Demon.

The line, of course, is borrowed. Refn tweaks the familiar idea to suit his fluid, perfectly framed, cynical vision.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an underaged modeling hopeful recently relocated to a sketchy motel in Pasadena. Will she be swallowed whole by the darker, more monstrous elements of Hollywood?

Or is Ruby (Jena Malone) the godsend of a friend Jesse needs?

Nope. And she’s not to be trusted with the kind of beautiful corpses you might find in an LA mortuary, either.

2. We Are the Flesh (2016)

Are you squeamish?

First-time feature writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter announces his presence with authority—and a lot of body fluids—in this carnal horror show.

A hellish vision if ever there was one, the film opens on a filthy man with a lot of packing tape. He’s taking different types of nastiness, taping it inside a plastic drum to ferment, and eventually turning it into a drink or a drug. Hard to tell—loud drum banging follows, as well as hallucinations and really, really deep sleep.

During that sleep we meet two siblings, a teenaged brother and sister who’ve stumbled into the abandoned building where the hermit lives.

What happens next? What doesn’t?! Incest, cannibalism, a lot of shared body fluids of every manner, rape, necrophilia—a lot of stuff, none of it pleasant.

Minter has created a fever dream as close to hell as anything we’ve seen since last year’s Turkish nightmare Baskin.

There’s little chance you’ll watch this film in its entirety without diverting your eyes—whether your concern is the problematic sexuality or just the onslaught of viscous secretions, the screen is a slurry of shit you don’t really want to see.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnTY6q7bt78

1. Dead Alive (1992)

Rated R for “an abundance of outrageous gore,” Dead Alive is everything the young Peter Jackson did well. It’s a bright, silly, outrageously gory bloodbath.

Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) secretly loves shopkeeper Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Penalver).His overbearing sadist of a mother does not take well to her son’s new outside-the-home interests. Mum follows the lovebirds to a date at the zoo, where she’s bitten (pretty hilariously) by a Sumatran rat-monkey (do not mistake this dangerous creature for a rabid Muppet or misshapen lump of clay).

The bite kills her, but not before she can squeeze pus into some soup and wreak general havoc, which is nothing compared to the hell she raises once she comes back from the dead. Soon enough, Lionel has a houseful of reanimated corpses, some of them a bit randy.

You ever wonder where a zombie baby comes from?





Fright Club: Best Medical Horror

Where are you most vulnerable, if not in the hands of doctors? You don’t know what they’re doing. It’s likely to hurt. There are needles, saws maybe. Suturs. Staples. Blood. Is there more fertile, gory ground for horror? We say no, and today we celebrate the very best there is in medical horror.

5. American Mary (2012)

Twin sisters, Canadians and badasses Jen and Sylvia Soska have written and directed a smart, twisted tale of cosmetic surgery – both elective and involuntary.

Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) stars as med student Mary Mason, a bright and eerily dedicated future surgeon who’s having some trouble paying the bills. She falls in with an unusual crowd, develops some skills, and becomes a person you want to keep on your good side.

Were it not for all those amputations and mutilations, this wouldn’t be a horror film at all. It’s a bit like a noir turned inside out, where we share the point of view of the raven haired dame who’s nothin’ but trouble. It’s a unique and refreshing approach that pays off.

4. Re-Animator (1986)

Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator reinvigorated the Frankenstein storyline in a decade glutted with vampire films. Based, as so many fantasy/horror films are, on the work of H. P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator boasts a good mix of comedy and horror, some highly subversive ideas, and one really outstanding villain.

Jeffrey Combs, with his intense gaze and pout, his ability to mix comic timing with epic self righteousness without turning to caricature, carries the film beginning to end. His Dr. Herbert West has developed a day-glo serum that reanimates dead tissue, but a minor foul up with his experimentations – some might call it murder – sees him taking his studies to the New England medical school Miskatonic University. There he rents a room and basement laboratory from handsome med student Dan Caine (Bruce Abbott).

They’re not just evil scientists. They’re also really bad doctors.

Re-Animator is fresh. It’s funny and shocking, and though most performances are flat at best, those that are strong more than make up for it. First-time director Gordon’s effort is superb. He glories in the macabre fun of his scenes, pushing envelopes and dumping gallons of blood and gore. He balances anxiety with comedy, mines scenes for all they have to give, and takes you places you haven’t been.

3. Dead Ringers (1988)

This film is about separation anxiety, with the effortlessly melancholy Jeremy Irons playing a set of gynecologist twins on a downward spiral. Writer/director David Cronenberg doesn’t consider this a horror film at all. Truth is, because the twin brothers facing emotional and mental collapse are gynecologists, Cronenberg is wrong.

Take, for instance, the scene with the middle aged woman in stirrups, camera on her face, which is distorted with discomfort. Irons’s back is to the screen, her bare foot to his left side. Clicking noises distract you as the doctor works away. We pan right to a tray displaying the now-clearly-unstable doctor’s set of hand-fashioned medical instruments. Yikes.

Irons is brilliant, bringing such flair and, eventually, childlike charm to the performances you feel almost grateful. The film’s pace is slow and its horror subtle, but the uncomfortable moments are peculiarly, artfully Cronenberg.

2. The Skin I Live In (2011)

In 2011, the great Pedro Almodovar created something like a cross between Eyes Without a Face and Lucky McGee’s The Woman, with all the breathtaking visual imagery and homosexual overtones you can expect from an Almodovar project.

The film begs for the least amount of summarization because every slow reveal is placed so perfectly within the film, and to share it in advance is to rob you of the joy of watching. Antonio Banderas gives a lovely, restrained performance as Dr. Robert Ledgard, and Elena Anaya and Marisa Paredes are spectacular.

Not a frame is wasted, not a single visual is placed unconsciously. Dripping with symbolism, the film takes a pulpy and ridiculous story line and twists it into something marvelous to behold. Don’t dismiss this as a medical horror film. Pay attention – not just to catch the clues as the story unfolds, but more importantly, to catch the bigger picture Almodovar is creating.

1. Frankenstein (1931)

Obviously, any exploration of medicine in horror cinema – no matter how amateurish that exploration – must begin with Frankenstein.

James Whale’s genius was in finding the monster fascinating, rather than the doctor. Nearly every other Frankenstein made before or since has been preoccupied with the doctor, but Whale understood that it was this unique beast, baby and man, evil and innocent, that should compel our interest. Who cares about one more doctor with a god complex?

Luckily for Whale, he had Boris Karloff. Karloff’s gift was in seeing the monster as a neglected child. His monster is sweet and tragic, characterized by the terrible freedom of a loosed child full of fear, unbridled excitement, and shame. Karloff nails this childlike energy and ignorance married to a grown man’s strength in a way that no other actor truly has.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McUce_xwxeA

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