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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Creature-Feature Conversations: The House by the Cemetery

Creature-Feature Conversations is an ongoing series of informal discussions about obscure, unique, or cult horror films.

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 Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre and Flight of the Blue Falcon. His novella Cold Call will be featured in Turn to Ash’s Open Lines anthology later this year, and his novella The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie will be available just in time for Halloween.

The House by the Cemetery (directed by Lucio Fulci, 1981)

FrostyJR: This is the second time I’ve seen this film all the way through. I watched it a couple of years ago when I first started getting into Italian horror, and I just bought a few Fulci films on a lark. Although I consider this one of the lesser films from Fulci’s catalog that I’ve seen, it’s still a solidly ridiculous but entertaining flick. How would you explain the plot to someone who’s never seen it?

Orrin Grey photoOG: Badly? Before I get to that, I just need to say that this is only the… let’s see, carry the nine… second Fulci film that I’ve ever seen, the first being probably his most famous, The Beyond, about which I remember almost nothing except that I’m pretty sure it had the same library in it as this movie. Honestly, if I were trying to explain House by the Cemetery to someone who hadn’t seen it, I probably wouldn’t even mention the plot, just tell them that it’s sort of an Italian mash-up of old dark house, giallo, and slasher films and let them draw their own conclusions. Continue reading “Creature-Feature Conversations: The House by the Cemetery”

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.

 

Book Review: Giallo Fantastique

Edited by Ross E. Lockhart

Published by Word Horde

Review by Mer Whinery

Picture it:

1984.

Three thirteen year-old boys in a shadowed living room, huddled around a flickering television set gorging themselves on block-cheese nachos, all hopped up on a case of Mountain Dew. On the screen, a beautiful young woman is admiring herself in a mirror. Suddenly, a wall of dissonant music overpowers the scene; a pair of demonic eyes appear outside her window. The stage is set for ultimate terror.

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This was my first exposure to the genre of film known as giallo. The movie was Dario Argento’s Suspiria. It was broadcast into my best friend’s living room courtesy of a hacked satellite dish.  For the uninitiated, “giallo” is the Italian word for yellow, and is a genre of film trapped somewhere between murder mystery and slasher horror, often served with a side helping of supernatural gravy and kinky sex. It eschews coherence and logical plot in favor of style and shock, leaning far into the realm of the surreal. Giallo often features storytelling through melodramatic music and overwrought imagery. After Suspiria came others. Argento’s Deep Red, Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve, Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling, and even films shot outside of Italy such as England’s Don’t Look Now, directed by Nicholas Roeg. These movies had a profound impact on me both as a writer and a lover of cinema.

Giallo Fantastique, the new collection of short fiction compiled and edited by Ross E. Lockhart, attempts to capture the feel and tone of those films and transfer them to the written word. However, this collection also seeks to marry the giallo with a French genre of fiction called fantastique. Fantastique is a variety of fiction with blatant supernatural overtones, more closely related to weird fiction than any other categorization. The results are mixed, but ultimately satisfying, with a few tales that skirt tantalizingly close to brilliance.

Most of the tales entombed within Giallo Fantastique lean more toward the fantastique than giallo. Mixing the two is not as easy as it sounds. Many of the stories get bogged down in shock for the sake of shock, and an over-reliance on the surreal, which is not uncommon for a giallo. However, since the goal of the collection is an attempt to merge the two genres together, a stronger balance needs to be struck. The majority of the stories are well written and a few are very clever, but only a handful really set themselves apart from the dark flock. But oh, what a handful of darkly delicious doozies are they!

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My favorite selection would have to be the enigmatic, and oh-so-gialloesquely named “The Strange Vice of ZLA-313” by MP Johnson. Johnson totally nails the spirit of the giallo but adds his own twist, setting the mayhem in the future. It’s fantastique, sci-fi, and horror all rolled into one delightful, sexy, and creepy chimichanga. Here is a writer who understands the genre and elevates it to new and exciting heights. I would have loved it to be longer.

“Sensoria” by Anya Martin is a little less far-reaching, but no less compelling. A cocktail of weird fiction ala Lovecraft and Argento-ish psychedelia, it sits with the reader long after the final page has turned. Out of all of the tales within Giallo Fantastique, “Sensoria” is the most cinematic, practically begging to be lensed by David Lynch.

High marks go to Michael Kazepis’s “Minerva,” a straight-up balls-to-the-wall giallo, and Orrin Grey’s “The Red Church,” a creepy little number which digs deep into the hallowed territory of Robert W. Chambers. Brian Keene’s “Exit Strategies” rounds out the collection as a chilling exposé of the secret occult history of the U.S. Transportation system that, honestly, doesn’t really lock into either the giallo or fantastique genre yet, somehow, fits perfectly into the collection. It’s a wonderful closing number.

Enough cannot be said about the excellent introduction by editor Ross E. Lockhart. The man knows his stuff, and his thoughtful and thankfully entertaining explanation of the entangled genres at play here makes sense of what is presented. Lockhart’s introduction makes the book much easier to digest and appreciate, especially for readers who may not be as familiar with Italian cinema.

4/5 Geysers of Fake-Looking Blood

Mer Whinery is the author of The Little Dixie Horror Show and  Phantasmagoria Blues, which is available for pre-order here. His short story “The Projectionist” also appears in our latest anthology, High Strange Horror, available now.