White Zombie (1932)

wzcover0120 horror movies for $5; what could possibly go wrong?  Part IV.

This is not part of the Universal Classic Monsters box set.  I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt and say that is only because it is not a Universal picture.

Betrothed couple Madeline & Neil are being taken by horse-drawn carriage to the plantation of Charles Beaumont, when they encounter a funeral taking place in the road.  The driver explains that burials are made there to protect the dead — body-snatchers do not want any witnesses; also probably not too interested in being trampled to death by horses-drawn carriages, so a win-win.

wzbela03The driver later needs directions and for reasons unknown, Bela Lugosi happens to be standing by the side of the road.  The driver, to the shame of men everywhere, pulls over and asks for directions.  Lugosi ignores the driver and approaches the passenger compartment.  Silently, he stares at the couple, placing his hand on the door, and on Madeline’s scarf.  The driver sees Lugosi’s zombie entourage shambling up and gets the carriage moving again.  Lugosi is left with a handful of Madeline’s scarf, which luckily was not too tightly knotted around her neck.

Only 4 minutes in, but I was surprised that I was finding this movie to be pretty effective for an unremastered public domain joint.  The drums and the native chanting create a chilling atmosphere.  The drive-by funeral and scene with Lugosi already provided some iconic visuals.

At their Haitian plantation destination, Neil asks the driver why he was so reckless in driving away.  He explains that “they were not men, they were dead bodies, zombies, the living dead, corpses taken from their graves, made to work in the sugar mills and fields at night”.

Neil & Madeline meet local missionary Bruner at the Beaumont estate.  Madeline says she just met Beaumont on the boat from New York, coming to marry Neil in Port-au-Prince.  The missionary says that Beaumont doesn’t usually take an interest in people like this.  Beaumont has also offered to make Neil his agent in New York despite his obvious inability to put 2 and 2 together.

Beaumont looks a little like Liberace, but even that does not make him the creepiest resident of the estate.  His butler Silver is not one of the living dead, but the cadaverous servant could be one of the dead living.  Some clunky dialogue mixed with some missing footage make this an awkward, choppy scene.  Somehow, even its imperfections worked for me.  It is 80 years old, after all.

After greeting Neil, Madeline and Bruner, Beaumont boards a coach driven by a zombie.  Again, the atmosphere is well set with the deafening croaking of tree frogs, and the blank-faced zombie driver.

wzmill01Beaumont arrives at the mill of Murder Legendre (Lugosi).  In yet another iconic scene, we see Zombies Local 102 mindlessly carrying in baskets of sugar cane and dumping them into a thresher.  Other zombies are slowly turning a big wheel, grinding the cane.  When one of the zombies falls into the thresher, there is no move to save him, or stop the grinding.  None of them misses a step.  For the love of God, where is the shop steward?

Beaumont has the hots for Madeline, and has come to Legendre for help.  Legendre is the proverbial hammer-wielder who sees every problem as a nail, ergo his solution is to make her a zombie.  Really, what did Beaumont expect?  You’re taking love advice from a guy named Murder, dude.

To his credit, Beaumont thinks that might be a tad extreme.  Not so much out of concern for Madeline, but because he would have to live with this dead-eyed thing.  Even while escorting Madeline to the altar, he is still hitting on her.  Thank God his brother George wasn’t there to see it.

Ever the romantic, Legendre still wants to get these crazy kids together.  He wraps her purloined scarf around a candle, and lights it from a lamp to induce a trance.  At the reception, looking into a cup of tea, she sees Legendre’s piercing eyes and collapses.  There is a hokie but great shot as Legendre walks to the camera.wzzombie01a

Madeline is buried in a huge, easy-access, handi-capable crypt, where Beaumont, Legendre and the zombie crew retrieve her while still fresh.

After a night of drinking, making a stumbling fool of himself, Neil goes to visit Madeline’s grave.  Discovering it is deficient in bodies to the tune of one, he consults Bruner.  The missionary tells him that either the body was stolen to use her bones in a ceremony, or she is not dead.

Legendre has reanimated Madeline, but Beaumont can see there is no light in her eyes, she has no soul.  Strangely, however, she is able to play the piano, which should have appealed to this Liberace doppelganger.  He asks Legendre to restore her, but there is no way; well, not one that Legendre cares to reveal.  But Legendre does the next best thing and zombifies Beaumont, clearly thinking that the 1930’s were not ready for a mixed marriage.

In what plays out almost as a silent movie, Legendre compels Madeline to stab Neil, but she resists and runs away.  Neil is able to follow her out of the castle to an escarpment.  Legendre makes with the trance again and his zombie posse comes to his aid.

When Bruner knocks Legendre unconscious, the zombies become confused and began shambling off the side of the escarpment like lemmings.  Madeline comes to life for a moment, even able to smile.

As Legendre regains consciousness, she slips back under his control.  Beaumont, who had also experienced a brief moment of lucidity, comes down the stairs and tosses Legendre off the escarpment.

wzmad01Once Legendre is dead, his control over Madeline is broken and she awakens.  Great for her and Neil, but not so much for the poor saps who threw themselves off a cliff 30 seconds before their potential salvation.  And not to quibble, but she was dead-dead, not only mostly-dead.  I buy Legendre reanimating the dead as zombies, but this was a full-on resurrection.

On the Universal Classic Monsters scale, I give it a Wolf Man.  Shockingly, I have liked 4 of 4 from the $5 box set.

Post-Post Leftovers:

  • Considered to be the 1st feature-length zombie film.
  • White Zombie was released when genre master Charles Beaumont was 3 years old.  So, just coincidence.
  • Lest you think Mr. & Mrs. Legendre named their precious little bundle of joy Murder, the name is in quotes in the credits.  How he acquired this nickname is not addressed, but is surely a charming anecdote.
  • Although Neil’s drinking binge is terribly overacted, it is set to some great music, and features great silhouettes on the wall of dancers who are never seen.
  • The film quality is fairly poor with hazy visuals, bad background noise, music gaps and missing frames.  I watched the You-Tube version which was in better shape than the DVD version.  There is a remastered Blu-Ray version that I hope to watch someday.
  • Vanity Fair unfairly included it in an article called “the Worst Movie of 1932.”  Although, to VF’s credit, it did only award it 2nd-worst status for the year.  And have some sympathy for them; JFK was still just 15 so they couldn’t devote every other goddamn issue to that family yet.
  • I have no idea what a thresher actually is, but that sounds like a good name for that grinding machinery.
  • Crypt: A subterranean chamber or vault.  Tomb: An excavation for burial of a corpse; or mausoleum / burial chamber.  Grave: An excavation made in the earth to bury a dead body.  Just so we’ve got that straight.
  • Bruner needing a match has got to be the lamest character trait / comedy relief in movie history.

Outer Limits – Blood Brothers (S1E3)

olcms05There is a real X-Files vibe in the opening seconds of this episode.  The music and lab setting could easily have been from that series.  The sense of déjà vu was heightened when I saw Charles Martin Smith who had played a similar role (in profession and haz-mat bunny suit) in the F. Emasculata episode of The X-Files.

In the Outer Limits episode, he plays Dr. Spencer Deighton, a researcher who comes up with a cure-all wonder drug that could eradicate all disease. His brother Michael the CEO-wannabe and villain of the piece, actually has a legitimate point: what if this drug mutated into the rodent or insect population?  Even in the human population, with all those extra mouths to feed, it could result in the deaths of millions by starvation. Now, that would have been a great story, but maybe too big for a TV episode.

Unfortunately, Michael undermines his cogent points by stating that the drug could “cut the world death rate by 1000%“.  And this guy wants to be my CEO?  Not even my latex salesman.

olbbmichael02aThe acting-CEO agrees and Spencer’s research is shut down.  Lab assistant Carl disagrees and injects himself with the drug.  Unfortunately he is observed by Michael who runs a decontamination procedure which incinerates him.  Again, good call.  Are they sure this is the bad guy?

Finally we get to Michael’s dark side.  He is not against production of the wonder drug.  He just wants to restrict access to the super rich; and certain CEO-wannabees, given the way his hand is shaking.

It turns out that he has concealed the fact that he has inherited the Huntington’s disease that killed his mother.  He feels that the negative-nellies on the board might consider his imminent death a disqualifier for the CEO position.  Whereas his poor math skills and general douchebaggery will not be an issue.

He discovers that Carl leaked news of the drug to Spencer’s reporter girlfriend Tricia played by Ellen Tighe.  Michael pays her a visit and inexplicably douses her with the wonder drug.  He then takes a dose himself.  And sure enough, it makes his hand as steady as the Waco Kid’s (no, the other hand).

My God! What is that thing on your face!

My God! What is that thing on your face!

Back at the lab, the monkey that was was being used to test the wonder drug is in pretty bad shape.  Michael reveals to Spencer that he has taken the drug.  It also apparently fixed his eyesight as he is not wearing glasses.  Spencer will not join Michael, so it is time for another decontamination.

Spencer escapes and Michael quickly begins withering, begging to be killed.  Turns out the wonder drug burns out the host’s normal resistance and leaves them defenseless.  So in trying to cure his Huntington’s, Michael actually hastened its effects.  Oh the irony.

A fairly somber affair.  Well-performed, but not a lot else to recommend it.  I give it 5 out of 10 cc’s.

Post-Post Leftovers:

  • So Michael tries to kill Ellen Tighe by dousing her with a drug that causes immortality?  What am I missing here?  I appreciate that they take the time to explain why it did not kill her like it eventually kills Michael, but what was his goal?
  • OK, maybe it was the early-stage strain of the wonder drug.  But wasn’t all of that destroyed?  And it had an 80% mortality rate.  Maybe a tad high for public consumption, but not quite high enough to use as a murder weapon when you were face-to-face with your victim.
  • Probably it could be explained by reviewing the episode, but Hulu is absolutely fascist at making you rewatch commercials as you try to review the program.  And do they have to be the same commercials?  Although, that IHOP commercial does look pretty delicious.
  • And another thing: When they put up a 2 minute commercial, NEVER click the button that says “YES – this ad is relevant to me.”
  • Michael also was not wearing glasses in the opening nightmare that Spencer had. Premonition?  Maybe, but not really as Ellen Tighe wasn’t present in the nightmare.
  • Clearly it was not the good Huntington’s.

Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson (2011)

jobs01

NOTE: this is a palate cleanser after a month of daily genre postings.

I am not an Apple user.  I own no Apple products.  In fact, I think they are a little bit of a cult.  But I know a good story when I see one.

I picked up this book because Steve Jobs was such an interesting figure.  But what surprised me most about this book had nothing to do with Jobs — there won’t be too many revelations for anyone who has followed the computer industry at all.  I was impressed by how well the book was put together by Walter Isaacson.

I am immediately bored by biographies that start out at the big bang, and waste 100 pages getting to the subject.  Isaacson takes care of the preliminaries and gets to “Steve Jobs” the character in pretty short order.  Of course it helps that Jobs became pretty interesting at a young age.

The milestones, products and key people in his life are presented clearly and concisely — this book moves.  Isaacson has done a great job of sticking to the important topics and skimming quickly over most distractions.  The only time I got a little restless was toward the end.  I think that is probably true of any contemporary non-fiction book.  As events approach the current day, things just seem to get frayed and less important (other than his fate, of course).

I just deleted a few small complaints because 1) who am I to judge, and 2) this is a great book, and not just because of the subject.

Etc.

  • Holy cow, were there a lot of dudes crying in this book.
  • Walter Isaacson has also written biographies of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin which I now plan to read.  The one about Henry Kissinger, not so much.
  • This was the first time I ever got the sense of a Board of Directors actually doing something.  Normally all you ever hear is log-rolling: serving on each others boards, approving astronomical salaries, rubber-stamping proposals; or people being appointed purely because they are famous.  The Board here seemed engaged, which is even more amazing given who they were dealing with.  And that one of them was Al Gore.

How to be a Serial Killer (2008)

howtocover01This one sat in the streaming queue for a while.  First, I’m not usually that fond of horror comedy (although Tucker & Dale has warmed me up to it).  Second, I expected it to be another Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

BtM:TRoLV was good, but it always nagged at me that everyone did not take it seriously from the start that he was a serial killer.  I got that same vibe in the beginning here from the titular infomercial on how to be a serial killer.

It quickly won me over due to the great production of the infomercial, the strength of Dameon Clarke’s performance as Mike Wilson, and me realizing that the infomercial was just a Rupert Pupkin type fantasy playing out in his mind.

It starts off in a Rocket Video store where a rude customer is hassling the clerk.  Wilson spots the dweeby put-upon clerk as a potential protege.  Mullet – check, baseball cap – check, shirt buttoned to the very top – check, and his name is Bart.   Plus, working in a video rental store, he’s about to have a lot of free time.

They follow the customer to the back of the store and Mike kills him. A strong relationship is forged quickly as Bart immediately bonds with Wilson as the Yoda to his Luke Skywalker — if Yoda were a serial killer, and bore a close resemblance to John Cusack.

howtorules01Wilson shows him the ropes of the serial killing game (literally and figuratively), careful not to move too fast with his student.  He gives him weapons training, tells him who makes a good victim, etc.

This is interspersed with bullet points from Wilson’s fantasy infomercial on how to be a serial killer.  Don’t steal, don’t rape, respect women, don’t kill animals or children, help the homeless.  This guy is actually a better citizen than me; except for, you know, the murders.  He even suggests that SKs benefit society, and that maybe he would have even killed Hitler if he was around back then.

A pivotal event sends Wilson and Bart on the run for the last half of the movie.  This is a great turn as it prevents the infomercial / mentoring material from wearing out its welcome.  I appreciated the new direction and situations they got into.

I rate this a Season 4 of Dexter.

Post-Post Leftovers:

  • Just to be clear: you must respect women, but that doesn’t mean you can’t kill them.
  • The score is great, but you might want to turn down that sub-woofer; the bass is brutal.
  • Strange that Yoda passed the spell-check, but Skywalker did not.
  • I will assume it was intentional disrespect and not an error that the picture of Hitler was reversed in this shot.  That’ll teach’m!howtoswastika01

Tales from the Crypt – And All through the House (S1E2)

tftcchristmassanta01aI usually skip the Christmas episodes of TV shows.  They too frequently use the same old tropes of a miracle actually happening, or the most popular character really being the most lonely, or an outcast character getting all squishy only to be an asshole again next week, or just generally being a downer.

But only requiring a 20 minute investment after pruning out the odious Cryptkeeper intro and the closing credits, I decided to give it a shot.  And it was really good.  I guess the exception to my rule is: If you can get an axe in Santa’s hands, Ho, Ho, Ho!

The episode starts out as saccharine as usual with The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . . ), but it turns dark pretty quickly.  The step-father is established as an awful man certainly deserving to be murdered on Christmas Eve with about 2 lines of semi-cranky dialogue.

tftcchristmadad01aMom does the honors in what I must say say is a great performance.  First, giving him a nice whack to the noggin with a fireplace poker, then having trouble getting the poker out of said noggin.

When daughter Carrie comes downstairs thinking Santa has arrived, Mom hustles her back up to her bedroom, and fatefully opens the girl’s  window.

Now we enter the Weekend at Bernie’s portion of our program.  Mom puts plastic wrapping over Dad’s head, cheerfully tied off with a festive red bow to keep the blood contained.  She drags him outside into the snow as the radio warns of an escaped killer.  Her plan to toss him down the well is foiled when he suddenly reaches out to strangle her; after having had no oxygen for a several minutes.  Normally, I’d give this a pass, but if he had been breathing it would have been obvious from that balloon on his head.  After this brief surge, he just kind of poops out.

As she stops to take a breath, she turns to see axe-wielding Santa.  An icicle to the face and a swift kick to the Chestnuts enable her to run back into the house and called the police.  Remembering hubby lying outside in the snow, she hangs up on them.

It takes another attack by Santa to make Mom realize that she can pin Dad’s murder on Santa.  This is the kind of brainpower that lead her to think the well was a good place to dump a body.

In the meantime, Santa has crawled into Carrie’s open window.  The little girl is thrilled to see him even though he is the most disgusting Santa since Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places.

Seeing her little girl holding axe-wielding Santa’s hand, Mom gives an extended series of screams that, if they weren’t dubbed in from some horror scream library, one should be established in their honor.

tftcchristmamom01In all, another very well done episode.  I give it a 10 out of 12 days of Christmas.

Post-Post Leftovers:

  • Mary Ellen Trainor was in an incredible string of hits 1980 – 2000 when she was coincidentally married to director Robert Zemeckis.  Post-divorce, not so much.  However she got the gig, she was great in this episode.
  • Marshall Bell, who got about 2 lines here, played Kuato in Total Recall.  Or more accurately, his conjoined brother, and also the voice of Kuato.
  • The Cryptkeeper pulls a Hitchcock and assures us that Carrie was not killed.  No mention of her having to be institutionalized for life, though.