Madhouse

This 1974 film is on the flip slide of the Theatre of Blood DVD. If not for that, I don’t suppose I would’ve known about it or been able to watch it repeatedly. I’m certain I never saw it when I watched these kinds of movies on late-night TV in the 1970s and ‘80s. It’s an AIP/Amicus collaboration, featuring one major horror-film icon from each studio: Vincent Price and Peter Cushing.

Dr. DeathWe start with a scene set 12 years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Hollywood, although it doesn’t look much like the early ‘60s. Horror-film star Paul Toombes (Price) is showing the latest film from his wildly successful series of Dr. Death movies.

AIP’s contribution to this film wasn’t just Vincent Price for the current project, but Price’s earlier work. The clips from the Dr. Death movies that we’ll see throughout Madhouse are actually from Roger Corman’s mostly Poe-based AIP films. These were the movies I did watch on late-night TV in my youth, so part of the fun in watching this is being able to identify them.

The film shown here is the ending of that Poe’d-up adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Haunted Palace (which I really am going to review one of these days; I’ve been saying so for years). It’s been edited to dub in a line or two about Dr. Death and to insert shots of Price in his distinctive Dr. Death makeup.

After the film is over, Paul announces his engagement to Ellen, an actress much younger than himself. Among the people there to congratulate the couple is an old acquaintance of the prospective bride, Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry); he’s is a slimy producer who makes adult films, and he immediately spoils things by cheerfully informing Paul that Ellen began her career by working for him in nudie movies. Paul is horrified and takes this to mean that she’s “on the make” and only marrying him for his money. The engagement is off, which puts a damper on the party.

Paul goes off to sulk and Ellen goes upstairs to cry and powder her nose at a fancy and well-lit vanity table—and then get murdered by someone dressed in the Dr. Death cloak, fedora, and black gloves, wearing a skull-mask.

Dead Ellen

After the opening credits, Paul realizes that his fiancée’s early career has nothing to do with her feelings for him and goes to apologize to her for being an ass. He finds her sitting at the vanity table just at the stroke of midnight, but when he touches her, her head falls off.

This beheading has left surprisingly little blood on the fluffy white carpet or furniture.

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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2016

There are a lot of subtitles on this batch of best short films from the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival–nearly half of the selected films were foreign languages. This gives me a chance to keep up with the French I learned in highschool eons ago.

It’s hard to pick out a favorite from this batch. There are three I like very much, and others are pretty good.

Something unseen calls me...Before we get to the films, there’s a bonus music video of a song titled “The Calling,” from a band named Infinite Spectrum; it’s part of a thematically connected series of songs that musically retell Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark.

“The Calling” is about Blake’s search for the church on Federal Hill. A sample of the lyrics:

The distant view I spied for months.
No landmarks can I find.
Like in a dream, but stranger still.
Were they figments of my mind?

I ask a merchant about the church
Of Gothic stone and tall dark spire.
He makes the cross and turns away.
My query draws his ire.

Through a maze of alleyways,
And streets of cobblestone,
A test of my endurance,
To find the church of stone.

Since I’ve watched this DVD several times recently, this song has gotten into my head and I go around the house singing the chorus.

The last verse ends when Blake finds the church. “God heard my prayer.” Um, not quite.

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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2017

The second batch of best short films presented by the Lovecraft Film Festival. I saw most of these at the NecronomiCon in 2017, but didn’t know which ones would be selected as “best.”

I’m surprised that a couple of those I found most memorable didn’t show up on this DVD–in particular, a modern adaptation of The Picture in the House where a woman living in an apartment building meets her neighbor during a city-wide blackout. For me, the most important criteria for judging horror films (even very short ones), is how they affect me afterwards. Do they stick in my mind long after I’ve seen them? Do they make me reluctant to turn out the lights or leave the closet door ajar?

Anyway, here are the Film Festival’s choices:

There Is No Door

This isn’t one I’ve seen before, but it’s my favorite of this DVD because it features one of my favorite horror themes–the history of the bad place repeats itself over and over again with variations. I can’t connect it to any particular Lovecraft story, but it is unsettling because what happens in the house is never fully explained.

There is no door

This is the story of a girl named Sam, played by four different actors in different stages of her life as she witnesses inexplicable events in her family home.

In the first scene, Sam is about 9 or 10. Crouched on the stairs, she listens to her Uncle Rob talking to her mother; Mom pleads with him, “You don’t have to do this,” but he insists, “It’s time.”

Uncle Rob, teary-eyed but not answering her questions, speaks briefly to little Sam when he sees her, then disappears when she turns away from him (we just see him duck down as she turns to go upstairs). When Sam asks her mother where Uncle Rob went, Mom doesn’t answer either, but she’s burning a photo of her brother that had been on the living-room mantelpiece; she drops the ashes into a little urn that sits there among the family photos.
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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2018

The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival is an annual event that’s held in alternate years in Portland, Oregon, and in Providence, Rhode Island. I haven’t been to the Festival, but the couple who organize it come to the NecronomiCon to show  what they consider the best short films for that year. These films are based on Lovecraft’s stories or those of other macabre writers, or may just be Lovecraftian in subject or tone.

On my  recent trip to Providence, not only watched the latest batch, but  bought DVDs of the best short films from earlier years. I’d seen some of them during my previous visit in 2017 and hadn’t forgotten them.

I’m going to look at the most recent set first, and go back from there.

Echoes in the Ice

The plot of this first short Canadian film recalls The Thing. A group of scientists in the Arctic arrives at an abandoned research station (the name of which appears to be Pickman-Derby) to find out what happened. The researchers who were working there have all disappeared. The power is off and the rooms are freezing.

Exploring the station for clues, the group discovers a door that’s been chained shut on the lowest level. StatueWhen they break the lock to get inside they find a monstrous statue that looks vaguely Cthulhu-esque but without the face-tentacles. It’s sitting in the middle of what they call a “well” but looks more like a fountain pool to me. The statue and well appear to have been here for a very long time, and are perhaps the reason this base was built up around them.

The water in the well has glistening fragments floating on the surface that respond by forming into new patterns when one of the men reaches out toward them. The water is strangely, almost hypnotically, attractive, and he almost touches the surface before one of others stops him.

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DART Review: Mad Science

Last Saturday evening at the NecronomiCon in Providence, I enjoyed a live performance of this brand new Dark Adventure Radio Theatre episode–so new that I hadn’t yet received the CD I pre-ordered. I was hoping that it would be waiting for me when I came home, but it only arrived in the mail the night before last. I’ve listened to it once.

Andrew Leman, Kevin Stidham, and Sean Branney.

It was exciting to see the live version first, and especially entertaining because this was a scaled-down production. Instead of bringing the entire cast, Sean Branney, Andrew Leman, and Kevin Stidham did all the characters — which sometimes meant there was one man talking to himself in two different voices.

Apart from the pre-recorded Dark Adventure intro theme, they also did their own “music,” humming a few notes of a traditional ominous tune to indicate scene transitions. Special effect noises were produced by two guys brought up from the audience, and the rest of us in the audience provided crowd sounds and jungle noises when prompted. As live theater, it was a great experience and a lot of fun.

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DART Review: The White Tree

A Tale of Inspector Legrasse

This episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre is an original story, a sort of sequel to Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu that continues the adventures of Inspector Legrasse as he investigates a report of a strange murder deep in Louisiana’s bayou. The inspector faces another cult and encounters not only a Lovecraftian horror, but an insidious evil that was quite real in the 1920s and unfortunately remains with us now.

Props for The White Tree

The White Tree begins with the now-retired New Orleans police inspector, John Legrasse (Sean Branney this time) in conversation with his grandson; the young man is keen on following in his grandfather’s footsteps and joining the police force. Grandpa wants him to go to college and take up a profession like architecture. He thinks the boy has an idealized image of the kind of work he used to do and of police officers in general.

“There’s good ones, there’s brave ones,” Legrasse tells the boy, “and there’s ones that aren’t so good and aren’t so brave…. It’s true, on the good days you get excitement. You work with good, brave men. You deliver justice. But Claude, they ain’t all good days.”

As an example, he tells the story of something that occurred in the summer of 1922, shortly before his retirement.

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Cool Air

Cool Air machine

Not to be confused with the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre version of this same HP Lovecraft story that I reviewed last year.

This is a 1999 short film by Bryan Moore (who also stars in it), about the tragic Dr. Muñoz, who suffers from a peculiar medical condition that requires him to exist in an extremely cold room to survive.

First, a somewhat amusing story. I hadn’t seen the movie before I bought it. When the DVD arrived a few weeks ago, I popped it into the player and selected the “Duo-Chrome” option over the black-and-white version and started watching. There was no spoken dialog. Was this a silent film, like the excellent Call of Cthulhu? If so, then it was strange that there were no title cards or musical score; if you’re going to reproduce the feeling of a 1920s period film, you definitely need these elements, not just have no sound.

Then I had a look at the extra features. No sound on them either.

After some troubleshooting, I worked out that one of the ports for the audio connection on my TV was faulty and I plugged it into another one. Sound at last! At least I didn’t need to go out and get a new DVD player or television.

Now that I’ve viewed both versions, I do prefer the Duo-Chrome one. Colored tints on film is a special effect from the silent era. The sepia on the daylight scenes give this story an old-timey feel, but the dark blue tint on the scenes in the doctor’s cold, cold room may be my favorite thing about this film.

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DART Review: The Masks of Nyarlathotep: Part 6

Or, the Grand Finale.

Zeke and Hazel, and Cecil and Victoria are at last reunited, along with any surviving friends they’ve picked up during their respective adventures in Parts 4 and 5.

China

Props: Photo of boats, plan for a nuclear weapon, and some documents

Pieces of the incredibly ancient technology recovered from the equally ancient ruins in Australia were copied and shipped to the Penhew Foundation via Shanghai, a city which happens to be the home of a cult named the Order of the Bloated Woman. Given some of the things that have happened in the last two parts, this name is particularly disturbing.

Shanghai is also where Jack Brady was seen alive after his supposed death 5 years ago. Since he was the one member of the Carlyle Expedition who didn’t enter the Bent Pyramid, there’s a chance that he might not only have crucial information about how to thwart the cultists’ fiendish plans, but may be willing to help them.

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DART Review: The Masks of Nyarlathotep: Part 5

While Hazel and Zeke are occupied in Kenya with the events of Part 4, Victoria and Cecil travel to their next destination aboard the yacht of Victoria’s good friend, Cornelius Vanderbilt III.

“Neily” Vanderbilt sums up this phase of the investigation:

“Victoria’s cousin had a friend… who thought there was a cult in Australia… and apparently he was interested in rumors about a buried city somewhere out in the desert. And someone in Australia ships strange machines from Darwin to that company in England which makes new copies and ships them to China.”

So it’s off to Darwin we go.

Props: matchbook and a photo of ruins in Australia

Australia

At a dive bar in Darwin, Cecil chats with an aborigine, who tells him something about the Cult of the Sand Bat and the Buddai. The Buddai, he says, sleeps beneath an ancient city in the Great Sandy Desert “until he’s ready to wake up and devour the world.”

Victoria and Neily meet up with a cheerful young pair of Australians, Penny and Mark O’Brien. All the way back in Part 1, Hazel spoke with an archeologist at Miskatonic University about enormous and incredibly old stone blocks out in the desert; he has arranged for the O’Brien twins–his niece and nephew–to guide Hazel’s friends on a trek out into the desert, once they learn that that’s where the original versions of those “strange machines” that were shipped to the Penhew Foundation in the UK are coming from.

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DART Review: The Masks of Nyarlathotep: Part 4

At the beginning of this part, our band of adventurers breaks up into two groups, each following a separate line of investigation from the clues they’ve gathered so far. Time, they feel, is growing short.

Victoria Woodhull and Cecil Watson set sail for Australia on Cornelius Vanderbilt III’s yacht. “Neily” is another old friend of Victoria’s. Hazel Claflin and Zeke Ford head farther south into Africa, along with Dr. Ali Kafour of the Cairo Museum, an Egyptologist who aided them during their adventures in Egypt.

We follow the latter party first.

Kenya

Hazel, Zeke, and Dr. Kafour go to Nairobi. Zeke is still in a stunned and badly shaken state after his experiences at the end of Part 3.

Props: Map of Kenya, and other items

In Nairobi, they locate the guide who led Roger Carlyle’s sister to the site where he and his Expedition were killed, so she could bring the bodies back for burial. The guide, Sam Mariga, agrees to lead them to the place where the bodies were found.

They’re also going to a semi-mythical place known as the Mountain of the Black Wind which is said to be an “unclean place… of darkness” where a powerful witch lives.

Before they set out, Dr. Kafour talks to the doctor who examined the bodies–what was left of them. There wasn’t enough for proper, individual identification but, as the doctor concludes, who else could it have been?

Hazel flirts with a drunken former soldier in a bar who claims he met Jack Brady in Shanghai some years after the Carlyle Expedition was supposedly slaughtered, and who believes that the natives executed for the crime were innocent.

Are members of the Expedition still alive? If they are, what really happened to them? Hazel and her friends have heard several different versions of their fate so far, but now it’s time to find the truth.

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