Creature-Feature Conversations: Phenomena

Creature-Feature Conversations is a series of informal discussions about obscure, unique, or cult horror films, primarily from the 80s and 90s.

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters, movies, and especially monster movies. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. From 2011 until 2016 he wrote a monthly column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press that has now been collected into Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at orringrey.com.

Jonathan Raab is the author of The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, and Flight of the Blue Falcon. His novella Cold Call is featured in Turn to Ash’s Open Lines anthology. You can read his short story “The Secret Goatman Spookshow” in the Lovecraft eZine.

Phenomena (aka Creepers) (dir. Dario Argento, 1985)

OG: The first time I saw Phenomena—years ago, now—not only had I never seen a Dario Argento movie before, I didn’t even know the word giallo yet. So, needless to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and didn’t really know what to make of the experience when I was done. I still kinda liked it, even then, but it was a lot better revisiting it now that I’m at least a little more familiar with both Argento and gialli. Continue reading “Creature-Feature Conversations: Phenomena”

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Honey, I’m in our home: A review of Astron-6’s The Editor

Directed by Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy
From Astron-6

Marketed as a horror-comedy send up of the films of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and other Italian horror and suspense filmmakers, The Editor from Astron-6 ends up being something a bit more complex. Can you lovingly mock and mimic a type of movie so well that you end up making the very thing you set out to spoof?

On the surface, the premise is simple. In consciously meta fashion, a Giallo-style, black-gloved, knife-wielding psychopath is offing the cast and crew of an in-production 70s/80s Giallo flick. All of the victims have some of their fingers sliced off, which levels suspicion at the film’s troubled editor Rey Ciso, who mangled his own hand during a past mental breakdown. Incompetent police, deviant sexual affairs, petty jealousy, infidelity, mental illness, and the occult all come together to form a nonsensical murder mystery in typical Giallo fashion.

The plot is incidental—more of an excuse to reference and replicate the best and worst of Italian horror cinema. The pacing, dialogue, sound design, music, camera work, acting style, and ridiculous plot are all played up for laughs, but also perfectly capture the ridiculous nature of Italian and exploitation horror films of previous decades. Even though this is nominally a comedy, I couldn’t help but wonder if, had this film been released in 1983, would anyone have realized it was supposed to be a spoof?

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That is not to say that the film isn’t funny, because it absolutely is. There aren’t many jokes per se, but the gore effects, overacting, absurdist dialogue, decidedly non-PC humor, and running gags had me barking out laughter more times than I can count. The humor isn’t just for those familiar with the source material—although that helps—anyone who is a fan of absurdist, over the top, and crude humor alike will find plenty to laugh at. This is one of the funniest—and most disturbing—movies I have seen in a long time.

So yes, the film succeeds as a comedy. But it also succeeds at replicating the atmosphere, tropes, and techniques of horror cinema’s foreign heyday. The choppy camera work, amazing practical gore effects, dream-like action and characterization, and spooky soundtrack make it fit comfortably next to the likes of Suspiria, Deep Red, Opera, Demons, or The Beyond. Much like those movies, looking for logic in the plot is pointless. I found myself swept up by the gorgeous cinematography, nightmare imagery, and stilted, offensive, and absurdist dialogue. Even though The Editor lovingly mocks some of my favorite foreign horror films, I  found myself enjoying it in the same vein.

The film isn’t without its issues. It runs a tad too long, and the humor can sometimes be take-it-or-leave-it. If you’re easily offended by violence, sexism, violent sexism, gore, graphic nudity, etc., then don’t bother. It doesn’t matter if the intent is to be ironic or not—this is an exploitation film, through and through. Comedy, yes, but Cabin in the Woods this ain’t.

I’ve spent the last couple of years dipping into Italian and foreign horror, and get many (although not all!) of the references, understand the techniques and conventions employed, and appreciate the true-to-form replication of the style. I am not sure how someone unfamiliar with Argento, Fulci, and the Bavas would react to the film. Would the humor and filmmakers’ skill be enough to win over such a viewer?

Well, the movie is so good—on a number of levels—that I think it’d be worth a try. I’ll be adding this one to my collection.