Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Angel for Satan (1966), Starring Barbara Steele

Imagine being so taken by a lady's stunning beauty that you lose interest in everything else and become so detached from your regular life that you don’t even feel like yourself anymore. According to the film “AN ANGEL FOR SATAN”, finding yourself under the favorable attention of such a seductive presence could cause you to neglect things you used to hold dear and ultimately suffer tragic consequences. In this movie, actress and legendary horror queen, Barbara Steele, plays a character that maliciously uses her otherworldly beauty and womanly charm to seduce and get into the heads of villagers, both men and women, causing them to commit regrettable and woeful deeds. 
Set in the early 1900s in a superstitious backwater village, Camillo Mastrocinque’s AN ANGEL FOR SATAN is a compelling piece of Gothic horror, where atmosphere and mystery rule the day. Similar to some of her other movies, Steele plays a good and an evil role but this time as a single character with a dual personality. She spends the latter half of the film bouncing in and out of her evil side causing us to wonder if she is being possessed or just plain out of her mind. The reason behind the terror is ultimately explained in a fairly satisfying climax that I will in no way try to ruin.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dark Waters (1994), Lovecraftian Terror with Italian Horror Flair

I’m a sucker for a good atmospheric Lovecraftian horror film, and I’m even more thrilled when it happens to be an Italian horror film, because then you know it’s going to be overflowing with unique style and excess. Filmed in the Ukraine, director Mariano Baino’s “DARK WATERS” is a stellar example of the nightmarish gem that can result when Lovecraft and Italian horror are fused as one. Just like in Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece “THE BEYOND”, those grandiose and gory gross out death scenes are on full display, and the film contains characters whose eyes have gone white from being blinded after witnessing the threatening evil presence in all of its supernatural glory. There’s even a little bit of Dario Argento’s “SUSPIRIA” thrown in, with an unsuspecting main character arriving to stay at an architecture that is ruled by a threatening, all female, presence and a couple other moments characteristic of “SUSPIRIA, that fans will no doubt notice. As far as I could observe, the H.P. Lovecraft influence is mostly “THE CALL OF CTHULHU” with an ending climax that shares a resemblance to a plot device from “THE DUNWICH HORROR”. I didn’t notice the resemblance to “THE DUNWICH HORROR” the first time I viewed this film, but if you think about it, you’ll see it. I don’t want to give it away, so I’ll hint at it. It involves 2 offspring from some otherworldly creature, with one resembling the parent more than the other! 
Starting out strong with style and mysticism, the first part of the movie is presented in a dialogue-free fashion, amongst a sea side monastery, dark threatening waters, creepy religious imagery, and candle lit subterranean caverns. In fact, the beginning of the film happens to be the only part of the story that consists of an attack from actual dark waters, with the film’s monster not even coming from the sea, which is opposite of what I was led to believe given the movie’s title. Not a big deal at all though, because just like a movie called "TROLL 2" that has no Trolls in it, this movie is still great and is deserving of a new found popularity. That way, Mariano Baino can inflict many more films on us like he said he would do in the director’s introduction to the film (the release from No Shame).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Crocodile (1979)

Behold the power of exploitation movie poster art… I clearly recall stumbling across this one at the video rental store as a little kid during one of my many curious romps to the horror movie section. I was dually fascinated and terrified by the VHS box art of a crocodile, bigger than anything I had ever imagined, emerging from the waters with an explosion of destruction and carnage. The image had penetrated my subconscious, and for days I wondered what a movie that bared such menacing and awesome cover art could be like. After finally convincing my parents to rent it for me, I patiently waited for the household to fall asleep, in order to have the VCR and TV all to myself. Not surprisingly, the film ended up being nothing like I expected. The end result was a foreign, low budget, and awkwardly dubbed affair that didn’t leave me with a water phobia like JAWS did. However, it still managed to creep and gross me out with its eerie croc attacks and graphic under water carnage. For some reason, the movie really got under my skin, and to this day, its hold on me has never left. 

What unholy forces compel me to revisit this maddening tale of underwater terror? Is it a determination to confront and drive away an unsettling memory this film has procured in my mind, or is it to determine what has made it burrow its way deep into my sub-conscience and refuse to leave? It is also quite possible that I was just too young to recognize a lousy movie when I saw one. Well after viewing it again, I would have to say that I indeed was too young to notice the films flaws, and I’m glad that I was able to still put myself into a childlike mindset and still derive all of the feelings I experienced during my first viewing and more.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dario Argento's Phenomena (1984), or Connelly in Wonderland

All those times watching Labyrinth as a kid I was completely oblivious to the fact that Jennifer Connelly had previously starred in an even darker fairytale. Director Dario Argento’s “Phenomena” is like a film dressed up to resemble a childlike fairytale but is really a nightmarish journey through hell. Before seeing it, I recall being very intrigued from what I read on the Internet and from already being aware of the film's main musical theme from a rendition by metal band “Rhapsody of Fire” Link to Song (It seriously does make for great background music, while reading this review). The movie’s unique style of fantasy and horror had caught my attention so much that I was already a fan of the movie before I even saw it. I had to have it!! After ordering off for the DVD on Amazon and waiting for a month, that seemed to take forever, the movie finally showed up in the mail. What I was to see forever sealed my fandom for Dario Argento’s films.   
The movie opens abruptly in the Swiss Alps, where a Danish tourist (Dario Argento’s daughter, Fiore) misses the bus and is left stranded. During the opening credits, I was surprised to find out that the costumes were designed by Giorgio Armani (the same people that design Lady Gaga’s clothes!) and that among the soundtrack is “Iron Maiden” and “Motorhead”. Most criticize the use of metal in this movie because it deflates the suspense, but I for one enjoyed those moments where it all of a sudden feels like we’ve just wandered into a music video. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

My First Words and Upcoming Debut Reviews

Greetings readers and fellow bloggers! With this blog "At the Mansion of Madness", I wish to share my love and appreciation for a number of different Horror Cult Films to everyone. My main goal is to try and shed a positive light on movies that I believe to be sorely underrated and to try and contribute in any way possible to their survival and vitality. If just one person finds joy from a film they were guided to from one of my reviews then I will consider my decision to start this blog successful. I also aim to try and put those who are already familiar with a particular reviewed movie in the mood to re-watch it with greater fondness and enthusiasm. This isn’t to say that there won’t ever be any negative reviews either. So please comment and let me know what you think. Compliments and scrutiny are equally encouraged. In any case, come inside and stay for a while…I hope you enjoy your visit to this MANSION OF MADNESS.....

During the month of January, I will post my first ever movie reviews for this blog:

1) Dario Argento's Phenomena (1984)

2) Crocodile, 1979

3) Mariano Baino's Dark Waters 1994