70s horror

All posts tagged 70s horror

DAY 23 OF 31: THE BROOD (1979)

Published October 23, 2019 by Philip Ivory

THE BROOD is an early directorial effort by Canadian master of the clinically creepy, David Cronenburg, and remains one of his most striking and original films, as well as an early excursion into what is known today as “body horror.”

Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) is the creator of a new therapeutic technique called “psychoplasmics,” carried out in secret upon resident patients at his private facility.

Oliver Reed, right, is an unconventional therapist.

One such resident is Nola (Samantha Eggar), dealing with extreme anger issues over her divorce from her husband Frank (Art Hindle) and the custody battle over their daughter, Candace (Cindy Hind).

All isn’t well with Raglan’s prize patient, Nola (Samantha Eggar.)

As Nola is subjected to Raglan’s unconventional methods to express her anger, something very strange begins to happen.

Child-size assassins with blank eyes and frightening impish countenances seek out and kill people who are the targets of Nola’s simmering resentment, including each of her parents and one of Candace’s teachers, who Nola suspects is having an affair with Frank.

Don’t be fooled by their size. These somatic projections of Nola’s rage will kill you double quick.

On first viewing, we’re so startled by our first glimpses of these tot-sized killers decked out in children’s snowsuits that we can barely be sure of what we’re seeing. These sudden, savage attacks provide some of the most frightening scenes in Cronenberg’s whole unsettling oeuvre.

It turns out that these child-sized monsters are somatic outgrowths of Lola’s rage, physically birthed from her body and liberated to carry out her unconscious wishes.

Candace (Cindy Hind) becomes subject her mother’s rage in the form of the Brood.

It will be up to Frank, with the help of Raglan who comes to regret his role in creating this horror, to stop the killings and save Candace before she too becomes a target of her mother’s rage.

With Eggar’s portrayal of a deeply disturbed woman willfully giving birth to murderous monsters that are unleashed on those closest to her, it’s hard to think of THE BROOD as a feminist fable. Unless you see it as a feminist revenge fantasy. The best horror films are complicated beasts, hard to pin down to once definitive meaning.

THE BROOD will leave you with plenty to ponder, and shiver about.

INTERESTING FACTS:

  • Cronenberg would go on to direct such genre favorites as SCANNERS, THE DEAD ZONE and the remark of THE FLY.
  • Howard Shore, who served for several years as bandleader for Saturday Night Live, provides the film’s score, one of his first soundtracks. He would go on to provide scores for many important films, including Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT films.
  • Oliver Reed earned his horror film cred playing the young lycanthrope in Hammer Films’ CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

 

UP NEXT:

“How’d you like some ice cream, doc?”

 

 

 

DAY 22 OF 31: HALLOWEEN (1978)

Published October 22, 2019 by Philip Ivory

“The Night He Came Home” was the sell line for 1978’s HALLOWEEN, directed by John Carpenter. The “he” was Michael Myers, seen in an effectively eerie subjective camera prologue sequence at age 6 slaughtering his sister with a knife on Halloween night for no discernible reason. (Well, except for one, which we’ll discuss later.)

Six-year-old Michael Myers has killed his own sister.

Fifteen years later, Michael escapes from his asylum to return home on Halloween to stalk babysitting teen girls and their friends, foremost among them Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of PSYCHO star Janet Leigh.)

The adult Michael is a looming, ominously silent figure carrying a knife, wearing a blank-faced mask that makes him the repository of all our primal fears.

Psychological horror? Not so much, since we’re given no past trauma, no motivation whatsoever to justify Michael’s murderous behavior. Is the devil or some other supernatural agency behind it all? We’re given no such indication, although Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) describes the boy Michael as having had “the blackest eyes, the devil’s eyes.”

HALLOWEEN dares to present us with a figure who represents pure evil, a malevolent force that is neither explained or justified.

Jamie Lee Curtis, P. J. Soles and Nancy Loomis.

Part of the pleasure of the film is Carpenter’s depiction of the naturalistic interplay between Laurie and her two friends, Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P. J. Soles). (Lynda, for instance, adds “totally” to almost every sentence.) They surreptitiously smoke pot and tease each other about boyfriends, and seem like real friends.

In the film’s setting, Haddonfield, Illinois, Carpenter gives us a peaceful, almost idyllic looking suburban town, with fake leaves imported in during filming, which took play in May.

Michael Myers comes home.

That peace is violated by Michael’s rampage, which is rendered in a series of taut sequences in which characters go about their business unaware that Michael is stalking them. He may not be a supernatural figure, but he has an uncanny ability to fade almost invisibly into the background, and then pop up suddenly to deliver the killing blow. These scenes are staged with minimal blood but considerable Hitchcockian skill by Carpenter.

Are Laurie and Lynda targeted first because both like to get frisky with their boyfriends? That’s the same activity Michael’s teen sister was engaging in when something was triggered and Michael became a murderer for the first time.

Much has been made of this “sex equals death” idea, which was played out ad nauseum in the HALLOWEEN sequels, the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH films and other teen slasher movies of the 70s and 80s. (The more recent IT FOLLOWS riffs brilliantly on this familiar horror film trope.)

And yet if that’s the real reason, why does Michael’s primary target seem to be the more modest and chaste Laurie? Will the fact the Laurie is less sexually experienced than the others help assure her survival?

Carpenter himself never had much to say about these ideas, and perhaps to obsess on them is to miss the point. The point being that HALLOWEEN is full of wonderfully scary suspense sequences, punctuated by shocking but not over-the-top gory kill scenes.

The fact that we care about the characters helps give the scare scenes more weight. Curtis’ Laurie Strode is a likable, earnest character, and one who proves surprisingly resourceful and resilient during her final climactic sequence being pursued by Michael.

Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis.

Donald Pleasence is fun in a slightly loopy performance as Loomis, a man so intensely focused on killing Michael that he seems to have forgotten he is Michael’s physician. Lurking in the dark and making goo goo eyes, he’s given to such ripe pronouncements as “He’s gone from here! The evil is gone!”

Carpenter’s minimalist keyboard-based music score is an asset, and the three-note HALLOWEEN main theme is instantly recognizable to any classic horror fan.

Most of the sequels and the sleazy Rob Zombie remake can be safely avoided, although the sequels in which Jamie Lee Curtis returns as star are at least worth a look.

 

 

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DAY 21 OF 31: THE OMEN (1976)

Published October 21, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Building upon an interest in all things Satanic set in motion by films such as ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST, and drawing upon the biblical book of Revelations for inspiration, THE OMEN is a chronicle of the birth and early childhood of Damien Thorn.

He’s a chubby-cheeked tot, the doted-upon son of highly born parents, American Ambassador to the UK Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife, Katherine (Lee Remick). This child of privilege also happens to be the Anti-Christ.

Harvey Stephens as Damien, center, with Lee Remick and Gregory Peck.

Directed by Richard Donner, THE OMEN is slick, handsomely made, well-appointed with A-list stars and opulent sets. It’s most memorable for the shocking deaths that seem to be supernaturally visited upon anyone in the film who becomes too nosey about who Damien really is.

The story’s set in motion when Robert, wishing to spare Katherine sorrow because her pregnancy has resulted in a miscarriage, agrees to a deception suggested by a mysterious priest. A motherless baby will be substituted for the Thorns’ dead child, and Katherine will never be the wiser.

As the baby, Damien, grows into a seemingly happy and healthy child, bizarre deaths happen around him. Damien’s young nanny hangs herself during his fifth birthday party. A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), mysteriously appears to take her place.

“I am here to protect thee, little one,” says Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw).

An acolyte of Satan, she’s there to protect Damien so he can grow up and fulfill his destiny, which is outlined neatly in this poem:

When the Jews return to Zion

And a comet rips the sky

And the Holy Roman Empire rises

Then You and I must die.

From the eternal sea he rises,

Creating armies on either shore

Turning man against his brother

‘Til man exists no more.

This poem is recited to Robert by another priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), who was in on the conspiracy of Damien’s birth. He has repented and wishes to warn Robert. Pretty soon, during a freak storm, a bolt of lightning causes a church spire to fall, impaling Brennan.

An untimely end for Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton).

Photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) also tries to warn Robert, and travels with him to Italy to ferret out the truth about Damien’s unnatural birth.  (Hint: a jackal was involved.)

Jennings succeeds in convincing Robert that Damien is the Antichrist and must be destroyed, but Jennings’ reward is to suffer a horrific death involving a sheet of plate glass that decapitates him.

Robert Thorn is helped in his search for the truth about Damien by Jennings (David Warner.)

Even Damien’s mom, frightened of Damien and unable to love him as her own, comes under attack by the unseen forces that protect the boy, especially when she becomes pregnant with an actual child of Robert and Katherine.

Robert comes into possession of the seven sacred daggers of Meggido, the only weapons that can extinguish the life of the Antichrist. Will he have the nerve to use them? Or will Damien kill him first?

THE OMEN is intriguingly structured as a mystery, as Robert works to discover the truth about his adopted son. The mystery element is lost in the subsequent films, each of which stands as a tableau of unfolding elaborately staged deaths.

For this reason as well as for others, the original installment of THE OMEN remains the best, and well worth discovering.

 

UP NEXT:

“I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.

 

 

DAY 20 OF 31: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

Published October 20, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Attacked by many critics upon its release, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE has grown in stature since 1974, partially based upon recognition that there is considerable artistry to the film’s seemingly chaotic mix of mayhem and madness. It has been hailed by Rex Reed among others as the most terrifying film ever made.

I recall reading a review that said that even the soap bubbles on the van windshield in an early scene came across as ominous. The film builds, with quiet passages, but the sense of dread is omnipresent.

The in-your-face, over-the-top title and the full-throttle action that takes over in the second half of the film distract from the fact that there is careful mood building and even restraint at work, not to mention doses of bizarre humor that almost take the film into the realm of the surreal.

Violence there is, and blood, too, but the film is not quite as gruesome as the title would have us think. The killings are shocking more from their suddenness and bizarre nature than from an overindulgence in actual gore.

Marilyn Burns as Sally.

Directed on a low budget by Tobe Hooper and featuring a mostly unknown but game cast, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE follows a group of young people including Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain). They seek out the old Hardesty homestead but run out of gas along the way.

Seeking help at an isolated farmhouse which contains knick-knacks and furniture made of bones and human skin, the group ends up being attacked one by one by a family of psychopaths who used to be slaughterhouse workers until the old place went out of business. They now have to depend on passersby like the Hardestys to keep their old skills in practice.

Leatherface is an icon of 70s horror.

Most memorable of this crew of cannibalistic crazies is Leatherface, a heavy-built, seemingly retarded man who wears a face mask made of human skin.

Only Sally Hardesty survives the initial series of attacks, and the remainder of the film consists of Sally screaming, fighting, leaping out of windows, and doing everything possible to evade and elude her insane tormentors. She gives a remarkable performance, constantly on the edge of hysteria and sometimes beyond, in the tradition of the great Fay Wray of KING KONG fame.

Meet Leatherface, right, and his family, including comatose but not-completely-gone Grandpa at the head of the table.

Most bizarre is the family dinner scene, in which a seemingly mummified Grandpa is pulled out of mothballs, coming back to life as he is allowed to suck like some obscene infant on Sally’s bleeding finger. There is a kind of dark comedy at work, which only slightly relieves our unbridled horror at the depraved madness on display.

Sally earns our admiration as she continues to fight to survive. Incredibly, she gets away, but we’re left in doubt as to whether she has escaped with her sanity intact.

In an oddly poetic final image, Leatherface vents his frustration at her escape by twirling his chainsaw in the air in a defiant dance.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s a rewarding and unforgettable ride for committed horror fans and an absolute touchstone in 70s horror.

INTERESTING FACTS

  • The opening narration informing us that the events we are about to see really happened is read by actor John Larroquette of 80s sitcom fame.
  • That narration is an effective mood-setting device but a lie. The events didn’t really happen as shown. The story takes some loose inspiration from the case of infamous Wisconsin killer Ed Gein, whose exploits also helped inspire PSYCHO and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
  • In 1982, Tobe Hooper directed the Steven Spielberg-produced POLTERGEIST.

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UP NEXT:

“From the eternal sea he rises, creating armies on either shore,

turning man against his brother, ’til man exists no more.