Archives for posts with tag: Poltergeist

Cat Creature

The Cat Creature (1973) ****

A suspenseful TV movie with a solid genre pedigree, The Cat Creature was written by Psycho novelist Robert Bloch and directed by Curtis Harrington, whose previous forays into horror included the Shelley Winters classics What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972). The Cat Creature‘s hokey but involving story melds elements from old standards Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), and Cat People (1942), for a film that reverentially prowls familiar territory, but also marks it with a distinctive musk.

A young Meredith Baxter stars as Rena, a shy woman who takes a job working for sinister Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard) in her occult curiosity shop in Hollywood, catering to dykes, eccentrics, and satanic dilettantes. Things seem to be going well for her until a police detective (Stuart Whitman) comes to question her about a missing Egyptian amulet and drops the bombshell that her predecessor jumped to her death from a balcony.

People have been succumbing to strange, cat-related deaths ever since a “part-time handyman, full-time wino”, and burglar (Kung Fu‘s Keye Luke) stole the amulet from a mummy’s coffin. Meanwhile, the police have brought in a charming archaeologist (David Hedison), who hopes to put the moves on Rena while also solving the mystery of the amulet and all the horrible catty crimes associated with its discovery. Will the professor be able to figure it all out before more are murdered and Rena falls prey to an ancient and evil Egyptian agenda?

The Cat Creature is a relatively classy (albeit low-budget) affair until a high-camp climactic twist knocks it straight into the gonzosphere. Laughable ending notwithstanding, the film has enough going for it to warrant horror aficionados’ attention. The future hippie mother of Alex P. Keaton looks sweet and innocent enough to munch, while Whitman lends the film some weight with his usual air of cool, haggard authority and experience. John Carradine also has a cameo appearing alongside a drunk midget whore.

4 out of 5 stars.

Manhattan Baby poster

Manhattan Baby (1982) ***1/2

This Poltergeist-inspired spaghetti chiller has a reputation as something of a bastard stepchild among the works of gore specialist Lucio Fulci. This is unsurprising, considering that most of the movie is bloodless and comes up short in the scares department. However, for those who appreciate the director more for his stylistic tendencies – his unsubtle closeups, languid pacing, tedium punctuated with shrill hysterics, and spacy evocations of vague sensations and dreamlike states of being – Manhattan Baby finds the master mining the mother lode. Great gore there is, though, particularly toward the end, when a flock of taxidermied birds spring to life and swoop into ravenous action, pecking and ripping some sad Italian greaseball to shreds.

What plot there is concerns an archaeologist (Christopher Connelly) whose daughter becomes possessed by something evil in Egypt after receiving an amulet from a blind beggar woman in a desolate square; but Manhattan Baby is less concerned with plot points or logic than with atmospherics and strange set pieces, sometimes seeming less like a narrative feature than a series of otherworldly, disconnected episodes. Certainly, this one is going to be a difficult sell to anyone other than devoted Lucio Fulci fans and hardcore Italo-horror buffs, who will also enjoy the sight of familiar faces like Connelly (Raiders of Atlantis), child actor Giovanni Frezza (The House by the Cemetery), and Fulci himself in a cameo. Anybody who does have a taste for such fare, however, really does need to see the aforementioned scene of the man-eating birds.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. (Only earning a solid three stars, Manhattan Baby receives an extra charity half-star for featuring blue 80s lasers that zap Christopher Connelly in the eyes.)

gut poster

Gut is a study of two friends, nondescript Tom (Jason Vail) and nerdy Dan (Nicholas Wilder), who have known each other from adolescence and now work together in stultifying office jobs.  Tom has graduated to conventional domesticity, with an attractive wife (Sarah Schoofs) and child, while Dan appears to be charmingly stuck in goofy immaturity, more interested in consuming horror movies and junk food than in making anything identifiably adult out of his life.  When Tom develops an enigmatic case of ennui that threatens to drive a further wedge between the two men, who have clearly lost a previous closeness, Dan makes the seemingly harmless but actually momentous suggestion that Tom should visit his home to watch an unusual DVD he has received in the mail.

Is the content of the disc, with what appears to be footage of an actual murder, real or merely a simulated snuff film?  Whatever its source, the (disturbingly graphic) imagery haunts and fascinates Tom, who has nightmares and is uncomfortable with what he and Dan have discovered, both on the internet and in themselves as more films arrive in the mail.  The stakes and danger, furthermore, are more than simply psychological when it becomes apparent that the party responsible for the snuff DVDs is active where they live.  Gut is not torture porn itself, but ponders the genre’s sources and ramifications; squeamish viewers are, however, advised to approach Gut with extreme caution.

Gut demonstrates an intimate knowledge of cubicle-bound despair and succeeds in giving the horror genre its Office Space, with perhaps a bitter tincture of In the Company of Men.  As is true of the music for the latter, Chvad SB’s minimalist score for Gut, which builds from subtle, bare, and repetitive to unnervingly abrasive as the film progresses, forms a compelling and integral component of Gut‘s personality and is indispensible to its storytelling.  The story told, tastefully if tenebrously lensed, is not an uplifting one, and if Gut can be called a horror film, it is, like last year’s Sinister, something of an odd, self-loathing example, with horror and porn the gateway drugs that lead to other, darker preoccupations and initiations.

Gut earns 4.5 stars and is highly recommended, with Nicholas Wilder one of the year’s most interesting faces and “Elias” a definite directorial talent to watch.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that this film is:

3. Un-p.c./state-skeptical.  Dan claims his regular mail carrier has been replaced by a mentally retarded man – affirmative action gone postal and run utterly amuck!

2. Family/marriage-ambivalent.  With emotional and genetic investment in humanity comes not just affection, but responsibility, insecurity, boredom, and, for men, diminished home entertainment sovereignty.

1. Effectively anti-feminist.  Tom and especially Dan are representative of the catastrophe wrought in American society by women’s liberation.  Dan personifies the national epidemic of unmanned men more interested in pop culture distraction, nostalgia, and mischievous male camaraderie than in honest work or mature relationships with women.  He finds, therefore, a less grim sociological cousin in Ed, Nick Frost’s character in Shaun of the Dead.

Dan dwells on the drawbacks of Tom’s family life and calls him a “pussy-whipped motherfucker”.  Lending potential credence to this assessment and to his characterization of Tom’s balls as AWOL is a scene of an inwardly smoldering Tom doing the woman’s work of washing dishes.  Tom approvingly describes his wife as “old-fashioned”; but later, when he becomes rough with her, she straddles and slaps him until he relents and apologizes to her, indicating that their relationship is not as “old-fashioned” as he has perhaps convinced himself.  Earlier, he is irritated when his wife takes the sexual initiative.  “So, what, I’m supposed to flip whenever you want me to?” he objects.  Television, as in Poltergeist, serves as an occasional babysitter.

Torture porn appears to be Dan’s principal sexual outlet.  The snuff films that captivate him are meaningfully misogynistic, with women’s bellies – the center of traditional womanhood in its reproductive capacity – targeted for mutilation and vivisection.  Motherhood is incompatible with women’s chosen roles as professionals and/or shamelessly pierced and tattooed fornicators.  Although a friendly waitress, Sally (Angie Bullaro), obviously likes him, a brief exchange with a chilly coworker suggests how women are probably more likely to respond to Dan.  The typical unavailability of the women he desires has fostered in him a deep resentment that sublimates as horror fandom but finds a more direct expression in his enjoyment of torture porn and snuff films.

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