SHOCKTOBER HORRORTHON films 16-18

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16. The Perverse Countess (1974, Jess Franco)

Uncle Jess, you’ve done it again!

By law, I have to tell you that this The Perverse Countess is a variation on the classic The Most Dangerous Game story, but with added cannibalism.

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It’s one of Jess Franco’s sunniest, most attractively shot films. I honestly can’t believe when people talk about how poor the cinematography in his movies is – he’s got an extraordinary eye for framing and composition, location and architecture, colour and movement.

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This film, like so many, was shot in the tiny Spanish town of Calpe, where the wonderful Xanadu complex is situated, a series of buildings designed by Ricardo Bofill. I had the pleasure of visiting these a few years ago, and it’s no wonder Jess came back here time and time again.

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There’s a lot going for this movie – even Franco detractors have to enjoy the 75 minute running time. There’s some gorgeous coastal photography – no one, not even Jean Rollin, shoots the seaside better than ol’ Jess.

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It’s also a terrific cast. Howard Vernon really camps it up in a snarling, sneering role as the cannibalistic aristocrat, and he even gets a fairly graphic sex scene, which I probably never needed to see.

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We also get two of Franco’s best leading ladies – the striking Alice Arno and everyone’s favourite exhibitionist, Lina Romay. Arno is unforgettable, striding around the beach naked and armed with a hunting bow, while Lina is Lina, perfect in whatever role Jess throws her way.

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In typical Franco fashion, the big action climax is the dullest part of the film, and no amount of thrilling psychedelic rock can make up for the fact it’s 10 minutes of two women wandering around a forest looking confused, even if they are both nude.

It’s not a great starting point for those new to the Franco phenomenon, but existing fans will welcome it with open arms.

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17. 10 to Midnight (1983, J Lee Thompson)

Standard Charles Bronson police procedural that strays into horror territory with its psycho killer who likes to strip nude and gut young women.

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The middle hour is taken up with Bronson’s inept police work, which inadvertently leads to another string of murders, before Bronson disappears completely for the last act, which seems inspired by the Richard Speck nurse murders of the 1960s.

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This finale should have been a classic exploitation scene, but the movie surprisingly bungles it, lacking in both showstopping gore and genuine suspense. If you want to see an action movie star face off against a slasher, try sticking with Chuck Norris’ Silent Rage or better yet, watch Arnie in Predator.

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18. Torso (1973, Sergio Martino)

Sergio Martino is surely the most underrated horror director in history. His string of gialli in the 70s is unparalleled, yes even by Dario Argento. The Strange Vice of Mrs Ward, All the Colours of the Dark, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key are all beautifully shot, thrilling mysteries deserving of the sort of mainstream recognition afforded to Argento’s Deep Red.

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Torso was Martino’s final straight giallo, though his Suspected Death of a Minor is part giallo, part cop thriller and part comedy. It’s also excellent, if not quite on a par with these five.

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Quite honestly, Torso feels more like a proto-slasher than a giallo. The kills are frequent and pretty random, but always atmospheric and savagely violent, though the effects work is some of the poorest I’ve seen in a while.

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So the first hour rolls by in a flurry of murders and lesbian sex, but so far it doesn’t feel quite on a par with Martino’s best work.

But then comes the third act, and fucking hell does Martino turn it on.

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The final half hour is an extraordinary, almost dialogue-free game of cat and mouse between Suzy Kendall and the killer in a clifftop mansion. The scene was freely ripped off by High Tension years later, and why not? If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.

I promised that I was going to watch only films I had never seen before for this year’s Horrothon, but I had an urge to watch Torso and, like the killer in a giallo, I acted upon that urge.

Won’t you join me?

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The Video Nasties #20 – Don’t Look in the Basement (1973, SF Brownrigg)

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‘Mrs Callingham…your tongue’s been cut out!’

What can one say about a film in which absolutely fucking nothing even happens until the last ten minutes or so?

Don’t Look In The Basement is a nightmare that seems unending, and for all the wrong reasons. I knew I was in for a rough ride when I first got bored and checked the time. I was 3:46 into the picture. I’ve never really enjoyed films set in insane asylums, because it usually means the bulk of the film is fish eye lens close-ups of people screaming and laughing and shoving their face into the camera. For fans of that kind of garbage, this film does not disappoint.

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Everything about Don’t Look In The Basement is poor. The script decides to ignore the old adage of ‘Show, don’t tell’ by including a very, very long scene in which the head nurse Dr Masters goes over the case history and backstory of EVERY. SINGLE. PATIENT. And this is shortly after a six-minute scene of the new nurse arriving at the clinic and trying to convince Masters that yes, she has been given a job here. There’s no drama, no interest, the pace is sluggish.

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The characters are all ghastly stereotypes (nympho, burly simpleton, ex-army nut) and often times it’s hard to make out what people are saying. The cinematographer can’t seem to decide what’s more important, framing or focus, and decides on neither. The lighting consists of a single spotlight blasted straight onto the characters. The music alternates between a crappy sounding military drum roll and a sitar theme more suited to a Prince of Persia video game.

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It’s a waste of time, and if it’s not the worst Nasty, it’s surely the most boring.

Finally, at minute eighty, we get down into that damn basement. Things are finally happening, a few murders here, an obvious twist there, but by this point the film had lost me. I suppose the reason for the inclusion on the Nasties list comes down to the fairly violent death at the end of the film, but frankly I’m surprised anyone ever made it that far. If I wasn’t obliged to watch the whole film for this blog, then I would have switched off long before the climax. Please guys…don’t make the same mistake as me!

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SHOCKTOBER HORRORTHON films 13-15

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13. Hardcore (1979, Paul Schrader)

Though not strictly a horror film in the traditional sense, Hardcore is still pretty horrifying, so I’m saying it counts. Anyway, it’s my Horrorthon, not yours.

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George C Scott puts in a terrific performance as a highly religious man whose daughter disappears into the murky world of late 70s pornography. In an attempt to locate her he goes deep undercover, posing as a porn producer and eventually finding himself coming face to face with real-life snuff movies.

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It’s a lurid premise, but director Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver) never succumbs to his baser instincts. No doubt shocking in its day, the film seems tame now in an era where full frontal male nudity is de rigueur in every mainstream comedy.

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Still, there’s a real sleazy feel to Hardcore, similar to Friedkin’s extraordinary Cruising the following year, though not nearly as offensive.

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So if your idea of a good time is watching George C Scott parade around the porno stores of LA in a series of increasingly loud shirts, then pull up a chair and join me. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, and even when they do (Joel Schumacher’s 8mm), they don’t. You follow?

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14. Panic Beats (1983, Jacinto Molina [Paul Naschy])

Everyone loves a bit of ol’ Paul Naschy, and Panic Beats is the first of his 80s movies that I’ve seen. Surprisingly, despite a supernatural set up, it turned out to be more of a crime thriller than horror, with the old drive-the-lady-mad-to-get-the-inheritance plot. Not to fear though, there’s still plenty of spooky goings on and a full-blown horror climax to look forward to.

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Panic Beats (dig that senseless title!) opens with a naked lady being chased through the woods by a knight on horseback. He brutally murders her with a mace, and we cut to Paris, present day, where Naschy is advised by his wife’s doctor to take her to the country, or else SHE WILL DIE.

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He does this, though of course there’s a lot more to his plan than meets the eye, and if you can’t figure it out within the first five minutes, you’re a maniac.

Naschy is an odd character in the history of writer/directors, as he doesn’t mind writing himself the part of a real slimeball every now and then. In Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, he plays the nominal hero, a convicted rapist.

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Here, he’s a conniving scumbag who, true to form, has not one…

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not two…

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but three babes on the go at the same time. In the world of Paul Naschy, Paul Naschy is irresistible to women.

Go figure.

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There are double-crosses galore, and even a twist or two that I didn’t see coming. Naschy creates some pretty good atmosphere in the crumbling mansion in the hills, and there are some good creepy moments too, like the resurrection of a dead maid and the reappearance of some thugs in the bathroom, looking decidedly worse for wear.

There’s also a skeleton in a suit of armour, which is always good for a laugh.

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It’s a pretty fun, undemanding film that in some ways feels more like an Italian giallo with supernatural overtones, with its twisty plot and undressed Euro-starlets.

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Naschy is a bit of a horror blind spot for me, probably due to the lack of availability of his films when I was growing up. Out of his extensive filmography, I’ve only seen five or six of his movies, but I’ve enjoyed every single one of them, and Panic Beats is no exception.

Nice one, Paul.

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15. Leviathan (1989, George P Cosmatos)

There’s not a lot to say about Leviathan. From 1989, the year that was obsessed with aquatic horror (this, The Abyss, Deep Star Six), it’s a studio timewaster with a decent budget and better than average cast.

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Peter Weller, Ernie Hudson and Amanda Pays are all pretty good, though Daniel Stern’s character should probably be fired for sexual harassment. Still, it was the 80s, and so the film ends with the crowd-pleasing moment of Peter Weller punching a woman in the face and making a quip.

Oh dear.

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Leviathan desperately wants to be Alien or The Thing, but the last act is a bit of a washout and I found myself losing interest. Even the usually reliable Jerry Goldsmith seems to be phoning in his score.

Maybe I should give Deep Star Six a go?

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The Video Nasties #19 – Abducted (1973, Don Jones)

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‘That’s incest!’

‘I call it love.’

There must have been something in the water in the early 70s, because hot on the heels of Last House on the Left and Wrong Way we have another film in which young girls are abducted by some weirdos and subjected to sexual torture. Abducted falls somewhere in-between the two. It’s not the genre classic that Last House is, but there’s a lot more going on than in the filthy fumbling of Wrong Way, that’s for sure.

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The film gets underway with shots of creepy dolls, and we are treated to the musical, er, stylings of Josef Powell, who’s horribly off-key singing sets the tone for a strange, strange movie. Frank and Johnny are brothers who live under the tyrannical rule of their domineering mother. Johnny is a grown man with the mind of a child, and the brothers kidnap young girls to be Johnny’s playthings. And that is about all there is to the plot. A girl is kidnapped, plays a game with Johnny, tries to escape and gets killed. Repeat with a slight twist. The End.

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I’m unsure if watching this straight after Wrong Way has desensitized me or not, but Abducted is definitely not as exploitive as that movie. Sure, the female cast all get naked when Johnny plays ‘doctor’ with them, but it’s handled as tastefully as it can be in a movie that is also known as Schoolgirls in Chains.

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What truly sets it apart from Wrong Way is the number of offbeat choices that director Jones makes. There’s an escape attempt next to a moving train that is surprisingly thrilling, and minutes later an artful long shot of a dead body as the train goes past. The camera holds the shot for a long time, which reminds me of Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses thirty years later, which has a similar plot to this film. Another moment that crops up in both films is the unexpected appearance of someone in the back of a car, which happens twice in this film, the second time being a particularly effective shock moment.

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There’s also a bizarre bit where a woman knocks down a strange grey-skinned man, only to be kidnapped by the brothers. And oh my, the boys’ mother in the flashbacks is a wonderful character straight out of a John Waters movie. After revealing to Frank’s fianceé that she sleeps with her son, she says, ‘Come back anytime, we’ll let you watch!’.

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It’s not all good though. I ended up absolutely infuriated with the women in the dungeon. Surely the three of them could easily overpower Johnny and escape? Or at the end, when Johnny is out cold and Frank is chasing one of the women and the door to the dungeon is wide open and unguarded, why doesn’t Ginger or Stevie try to escape?

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But like the circle of life, we come back to the music. It’s one of the worst scores in any Nasty, and we all know how important music can be to a horror film. There’s a lot of easy listening trumpets at the start, and during the first chase scene, the score consists of several people chanting ‘RUN’, getting higher and higher pitched until your ears are begging for mercy. Later there’s a sexy saxophone solo over a rape scene for crying out loud, but the worst music comes during the scenes of Johnny playing doctor. It should be creepy and disturbing, with him making the girls strip naked and feeling them up before injecting them with a syringe to the butt. But it’s rendered comical by the renditions of Three Blind Mice and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that play in the background.

These sort of choices undermine the movie but don’t derail it, making Abducted a surprising little gem right up to the strangely moving final shot. And that is a sentence I did not expect to write!

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SHOCKTOBER HORRORTHON films 10-12

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10. The Whip and the Body (1963, Mario Bava)

If you’ve found this year’s Shocktober films to be a bit on the sleazy side, then fear not – The Whip and the Body is a classy offering from the renowned master of gothic terror, Mario Bava. The plot? Oh, something about Christopher Lee as a whip-wielding ghost, haunting his sadomasochistic ex-fianceé from beyond the grave, tearing her clothes off and flagellating her.

Like I said, classy.

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1960s Lee is impossibly handsome, but the real star of the show is, of course, Mario Bava. The Italian director is at his lush best here, and this film, along with Kill Baby, Kill and Black Sabbath make a good case for him being the director of the scariest films of the 1960s.

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The lighting and camerawork are beautiful, some of the finest of Bava’s distinguished career, while the film grapples with some surprisingly adult themes.

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It can be slow going at times, but if you’ve ever wanted to see what Christopher Lee would look like in a BDSM relationship, then wonder no more.

Funny thing is, this isn’t even anywhere near the best Bava movie!

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11. In the Folds of the Flesh (1970, Sergio Bergonzelli)

In the Folds of the Flesh has a reputation as being totally bananas, a psychedelic midnight movie masterpiece of trash filmmaking.

It’s not.

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Despite constantly threatening to become entertaining, the film is a pretty staid bore, with the occasional plot twist and Nazi concentration camp flashback. Rather than the giallo mystery I was hoping for, Folds feels more like a soap opera.

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The last half hour in particular will test your patience like no movie before, and if it wasn’t for the fabulous fashion on display I think I would have given up. Get a load of these natty duds.

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Only in 1970s Europe.

Still, I was promised psychedelia, and all I got were some ugly shirts. Chalk this one up as a major disappointment.

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12. Pet Sounds Sematary (1988, Mary Lambert)

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here. I’ve seen Pet Sematary numerous times, but never quite like this. The entire film has had the soundtrack replaced with The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, one of my all-time favourite records.

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This whole endeavor is part of a larger project by David Charles Plate, an experiment in synchronicity. You can find more info here – http://thesyncbook.com/network/?rtag=sync%20media%20research&id=301

Simply put, think stoners playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching Wizard of Oz, and you’ve pretty much got it.

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Pet Sounds Sematary is certainly not the ideal way to watch the film, but for adventurous viewers it’s a real trip. Opening with Wouldn’t It Be Nice over shots of the titular cemetery, the synchronicity begins almost immediately. ‘Good night, baby. Sleep Tight, baby,’ sing the Boys over a lingering close-up of a grave.

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Then, as little Gage runs away towards the 18 wheeler, the lyrics are, ‘I had to prove that I could make it alone now, but that’s not me. I wanted to show how independent I’d grown, but that’s not me.’

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It’s worth noting that the lack of dialogue greatly improves Dale Midkiff’s listless performance as Louis, as well as his wife and daughter, who are equally poor. That said, I do miss hearing Fred Gwynne.

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Other highlights include I’m Waiting For the Day over the jaunt to the Pet Sematary, the delightfully ironic juxtaposition of Sloop John B with Pascow’s death, and the way that God Only Knows becomes a plaintive love song between Louis and Pascow.

Like I said, not for first-time viewers, but a fun new way to watch an old fave.

 

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The Video Nasties #18 – Wrong Way (1972, Ray Williams)

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‘What a bummer.’

I was born in 1982, and if Wrong Way is any indication, I’m glad I missed out on the 1970s. The film begins with a group of sweaty bikers bemoaning the fact they’ve run out of pills and grass. ‘Bummer,’ says one of them as they wait for a different biker gang to show up and sell them some grass. They realize they’ve no beer (‘What a bummer,’ says a different guy) and two of them drive off to pick some up. Meanwhile, a pair of young girls taking a shortcut find that their car has broken down. ‘What a bummer!’ says one of the girls, in what initially appears to be the only line in the script. They decide to walk to the nearest town, and therefore change into ‘something lighter for hiking,’ despite already wearing the flimsiest little playsuits you’ve ever seen. They strip naked in the middle of the road and change, as anyone would.

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Back to the bikers.

The second biker gang arrives, soundtracked by a furious mixture of bongos and one-note fuzz guitar. One of them wears a bowler hat and a painful sunburn and sucks raw eggs. Every single one of them is grossly unattractive. I’ll tell you something, I hope we won’t be seeing any of these guys naked.

Just wait.

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‘What’s happening?’

‘Cool man, I’ve got the grass.’

‘Groovy, show it now, man.’

‘Right on. Let’s see the bread. The bread man, the bread.’

‘The grass, the grass.’

Did people really talk like that? Our lead biker takes a long toke and fantasises about winning a hand of poker, then imagines a nude cowgirl wearing a tinfoil sheriff’s badge over her left breast. She stands stock still for five uninterrupted minutes, squeezing her breasts and probably wondering what the hell she’s doing there and when she’s getting paid.

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Ah, the hopes and dreams of a biker gang! In retrospect, I wish the rest of the film had gone through the other bikers and shown their own weird pot fantasies, but instead, the girls from the start show up and the bikers rape them, over and over and over again. It’s a shocking scene, that goes on for most of the film, longer and more explicit than the equivalent scenes in Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. It’s quite extraordinary that this film was not singled out for inclusion with the Section 2 Nasties, as its forced lesbianism and scenes of naked girls being menaced with live snakes are phenomenally unpleasant to watch. Of course, the scene lacks the visceral power of the two aforementioned films, due to the lack of a good director. Ray Williams just points and shoots, with most of the nudity being supplied by those ghastly looking bikers, who run around with their limp dicks flapping in the wind below their beer bellies, slapping each other on their bare asses.

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Once or twice it almost achieved a Last House type maudlin effect of having mournful folk music play over the assault, but moments like that are, like the erections of the male cast members, fleeting.

Perhaps the most unbelievable moment in any Nasty occurs at the end of this scene. The bikers decide they’ve had their fun and drive away, and our two girls shout after them, ‘Don’t leave us here! Please come back!’ because apparently women are so helpless that they need men to take them to safety, even if those men have just gang-raped them.

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Soon our girls stumble upon a hippie commune, the members of whom, in a twist that only a film like this would dare try, decide to rape and murder our luckless leads. The film ends when the police intervene and rescue the girls in a gunfight, in a scene which is described to us over the radio but only shown in glimpses. It’s a pathetic, half-baked climax to a pathetic, half-baked movie that somehow has the gall to introduce a subplot about drug runners with 15 minutes left of the movie. As our faithful sheriff (the real one, not the naked cowgirl) says, ‘It’s been a day. Not good, but different.’

It’s hard to disagree.

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SHOCKTOBER HORRORTHON films 7-9

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Tracking (1986, Pierre B. Reinhard)

If ever an IMDB synopsis did not do a film justice, it’s this one.

‘Four teenage girls are terrorized by the ghost of a sex-mad American soldier who wants to rape them.’

It certainly is one way to read the film, but actually it’s a hell of a lot more powerful, poignant and provocative than that.

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Tracking is about three teenage girls staying alone in a country mansion, who begin to act out their fantasies, which may or may not be coming true. They all begin to think they’re being assaulted by a paratrooper…but are they really? Or are they all losing their minds, spiraling into some kind of group madness?

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Intense, perverse and thoroughly unpleasant to watch, Tracking feels very much like a Gaspar Noe movie, from its young French cast and prowling camerawork to its obsession with sexuality. Made by a porno director, the film transcends genre to become a truly twisted art-house horror, with an absolutely extraordinary synth score.

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Even after the girls have managed to rid themselves of their stalker through the power of feminist monologue, their (imaginary?) attacker rises from the dead, grabs a coffee from a Parisian street vendor, then chats with the owner until a woman walks past him and he begins to stalk her too, suggesting that the cycle of male-perpetrated sexual violence will never stop.

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It’s an unbelievably downbeat ending to a strange, surreal and distinctly European movie. Don’t be put off by that lurid synopsis – this beguiling movie will linger long in the memory.

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8. The Manson Family (2003, Jim Van Bebber)

I have very little interest in true crime stuff, be it books or movies. Bundy, Gacy and all that lot have never been my cup of tea. Maybe that’s why I’ve put off watching this film for so many years, despite being quite fond of Van Bebber’s previous work in the genre.

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Here, Van Bebber goes for broke with an all-out assault on the senses that should appeal to fans of Rob Zombie’s early films, a kind of 95 minute music video in that wonderful mid-1990s style of grainy 16mm photography, elliptical edits and shocking imagery.

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Charles Manson was more interesting as a subject than most famous serial killers, because he got others to do his dirty work. The Manson Family never really gives us a compelling reason as to why these lost souls would do his bidding, other than they were really high, all the time.

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But you didn’t come here for psychological insight, did you? Van Bebber is at his best when showing the unrelenting savagery of the family, with a blood-soaked orgy and insanely vicious murder scenes that push the envelope so far, it falls off the table into a pool of blood, and you have to get a new envelope and stamp.

Wait, what were we talking about again?

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Oh yeah. The Manson Family is clearly a labour of love, albeit the labour of love of a total asshole. There’s a modern day subplot that has no place in the movie, but forget about that and dig on the psychedelic imagery, wall to wall Phil Anselmo score and the sheer gonzo nutsiness of the violence.

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9. The Undertaker (1988, Franco Steffanino)

Joe Spinell is back in this, his final movie, in which he once again tries and fails to recapture the magic of that iconic performance.

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Unreleased for years, The Undertaker is, sadly, above average for a late 80s slasher movie. Spinell is okay in the title role, although he was clearly totally sozzled for the duration of the production.

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The plentiful gore and nudity is just enough to distract undiscerning viewers for about 45 minutes, but if you can manage to pay attention for the whole movie then congratulations, you win a coconut.

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You could do worse, but why not do better? You owe it to yourself.

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