The Strange World of Planet X (1958)

Directed by Gilbert Gunn [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve seen this British science-fiction/horror movie once before, and as it turns out, I remembered it a bit more fondly than it really deserves. The movie’s not bad, but it does drag quite a bit at the beginning, and save for one scene of note, the special effects were poor (especially coming out four years after Them!), and there wasn’t really enough meat to really keep me occupied.

Sometimes known under the title Cosmic Monsters (as the poster above attests to), The Strange World of Planet X had potential that the film didn’t really reach. Many of the performances were decent (including, in no particular order, Wyndham Goldie, Martin Benson, Alec Mango, Geoffrey Chater, and Forrest Tucker), but the only one that I really loved was that of Mango’s mad scientist.

The story, too, was decently solid, but in a movie that’s barely over an hour and ten minutes, having the first real action start up forty minutes in seems an unwise choice. Additionally, throwing in a more science-fiction subplot didn’t bother me that much, but it was just a bit corny.

When the action does start, we’re treated to mostly unspectacular effects. Insects increase in size, and by that, they’re enlarged image is superimposed over the screen, so about none of the insects look particularly convincing (though the millipedes got the closest). One highlight of the film, though, was what looked like a cricket chewing on a man’s face. It wasn’t really bloody (this is black-and-white, be reasonable), but it was a tad more violent than I’d have otherwise expected.

The Strange World of Planet X is worth at least a single watch if you’re a fan of giant bug movies, but it really doesn’t compare with other classics such as Them! or Earth vs the Spider (which I know is almost universally bashed, but I enjoyed it). Still, this British addition to the genre is watchable, and occasionally enjoyable, though I do wish they sped up a bit to the action.

7/10

The Haunting (1963)

Directed by Robert Wise [Other horror films: The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Audrey Rose (1977)]

This is a classic I’ve seen only once before, and while I appreciated it, I didn’t particularly love it, and the same can be said with a rewatch.

What the movies does well is instill a strong feeling of paranoia into the viewer, and some of the camera views match the atmosphere with a very frantic style. Related, the atmosphere here is solidly dense, and especially toward the end, things get ratcheted up and the spiral staircase sequence – talk about intense.

My issue is that, as the movie’s almost two hours long, and much of the first hour-and-a-half is composed of character-building and somewhat annoying arguments between the women, I find myself somewhat disengaged. The story’s great, and the opening’s amazing (‘Whatever walked in Hill House, walked alone,’ followed by a charming history of the domicile), but the movie as a whole? It doesn’t cut it for me.

This shouldn’t take away anything from Julie Harris’ performance, which is fantastic, and toward the end, she really comes across as unhinged, so kudos there. I do think that some of her first-person narration got a bit hokey, but I suppose that’s part of the charm. Claire Bloom’s character started out decent, but boy, does her personality really grate on me at times. Also, and this may just be me, but I was getting somewhat lesbian vibes from her, which, if intended, adds a somewhat cool little subplot and extra reason for her character’s annoyance at Richard Johnson (who was decent, but not a stand-out).

As decent as parts of this movie are, it’s not a movie I could see myself watching that many times in a given five-year range. Once is probably enough, and while it’s possible that my appreciation of this one will grow with my age, for the time being, I’d still call it a classic, and a good movie, but not really a great one.

7/10

The Children (2008)

Directed by Tom Shankland [Other horror films: w Delta z (2007)]

I forget exactly when I first saw this British addition to the killer kid sub-genre, but I suspect it was during an October sometime between four to seven years ago. From my vague recollection, I didn’t much care for this one, and seeing it again with fresh eyes, I hate to agree with that earlier assessment. The Children may not be a bad film, but it’s certainly not as good as many seem to think, and I genuinely find the movie unremarkable with a hint of frustration.

Make that a lot of frustration, actually. Maybe this is simply because I’m not a parent, but if someone is trying to stab you, you have every right to defend yourself, no matter if the assailant is a kid or not. Yet the parents here wore blinders when it came to the fact that their children weren’t just a little dangerous, but fatally so. It took a teenage girl (played fantastically by Hannah Tointon) to do most of the work, and what does she get out of it? Nothing but hatred and physical pain from the others.

She’s not entirely the perfect character though, either, especially toward the end. I’ll just say this so I don’t give too much away: STAY THE HELL IN THE CAR AND DRIVE BY, YOU IDIOT!!

Now that I have that out of my system, I can briefly try to explain why I didn’t care for this one. Partially, it has to do with the fact that both times I’ve seen The Children, I can never tell the children apart, and thus, I don’t know who’s who’s kid, and it just loses me with names of kids that I sure as hell aren’t going to remember. In all fairness, it was better this time around, but still, I didn’t love any of the characters aside from the teen played by Tointon, which hurt.

None of this is to say that Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield, Rachel Shelley, or Eva Birthistle put in bad performances, but I pretty much thought all of their characters, save Sheffield’s, were terrible. It’s probably a good performance that made me dislike their characters so, but either way, the only one here I really liked was Tointon’s character (who looked smoking in that unseasonably drafty short skirt, if I may say so).

This reminds me of one thing I did rather like about the movie, being it’s setting. It takes place in a decently-sized house in the country during winter, with a bit of snowfall toward the end, which looked pretty cool. It’s just a shame the story they came up with (and ‘twist’ to follow, if you want to call it that) wasn’t great.

Was the gore okay? Reasonably, when the movie deigned to go in that direction. At the same time, while it was nice finally seeing kids meet the grisly end they’re so often denied in horror films, I don’t know if anything here was particularly memorable, problematically. There was potential during a few scenes (the kids had plenty of sharp instruments at their disposal), but it never quite got there.

I can’t exactly pinpoint why I don’t like this one more. It’s not like I think the movie’s terrible, but I definitely find it underwhelming despite some decent tension of Tointon’s performance. When it comes to killer kid movies, I’d go as far as to recommend Peopletoys, also known as Devil Times Five or (get this atrocious reissue title) The Horrible House on the Hill over The Children, or even Mikey, or hell, even The Good Son. But this British movie isn’t one I enjoyed either time I’ve seen it, and though it really feels like it should be better, it’s a consistently disappointing film.

4/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Hannibal Rising (2007)

Directed by Peter Webber [Other horror films: N/A]

While this isn’t really a horror movie, it’s in a series I generally consider horror, so I’ll just throw this one in, which is unfortunate, as I had to watch this pile of trash.

I’m not exactly sure what my biggest problem with this was. Partially, I suspect, my disdain is due to the fact that an origin story was entirely unnecessary. What doesn’t help is the fact that I couldn’t even once see this character as Hannibal Lecter. So he accidentally eats his sister, and then decides to be a cannibal? Oh, and a samurai? Love it.

To be fair, this movie had a decent kill every now and again. One was even actually good, and potentially memorable. It’s a shame that the same can’t be said for any of the characters (be it the generic serial killer lead or the pointless detective on his trail) or the movie as a whole.

Gaspard Ulliel didn’t once remind me of Lecter, but I guess he was fine. Dominic West (The Wire) was pointless. I didn’t like Li Gong’s character whatsoever. And no one else was particularly memorable or good either.

A few good kills doesn’t make a movie good, especially when the movie is otherwise entirely generic and unnecessary. Truthfully, this was a struggle to get through, and I’d easily take Red Dragon or Hannibal twenty times over as opposed to ever having to watch this piece of trash again. I legitimately didn’t enjoy this. I did not have a good time. I was displeased.

3/10

Hannibal (2001)

Directed by Ridley Scott [Other horror films: Alien (1979), Alien: Covenant (2017)]

I can’t recall exactly how long it’s been since I’ve seen this movie in full, but I will say it’s been at least eight years. I remembered some of the scenes here, but not that many, so the film had a somewhat fresh feel to it. Also, it’s a decent amount more graphic than The Silence of the Lambs, which only works in it’s favor. Honestly, I enjoyed this one, and thought it a mostly fun romp.

The idea of a previous victim of Lecter’s seeking revenge against the good doctor is pretty fun, and it casts the victim, Verger, as both sympathetic, but also somewhat blood-thirsty (though certainly not without reason). Even before Lecter gets back to the USA, seeing him ingratiate himself in Italy is a lot of fun too, and in fact, the Italian portions of the film were perhaps the most interesting to me (it doesn’t hurt that the segment ended with a fantastic disembowelment).

Unlike some, I didn’t think Julianne Moore’s presence in lieu of Jodie Foster’s was that bad. Obviously, it would have been great to get Foster to reprise her role, but Moore did perfectly fine playing Clarice, and got on well with Sir Anthony Hopkins. Of course, Hopkins does fantastically as Lecter, and stole the show, especially in his Italian scenes, but really, throughout the film, he’s great. Gary Oldman, playing a rather disfigured victim of Lecter’s, does a great job, and his voice creeps me out as much today as it did when I was younger, watching the film. Other stand-outs include Giancarlo Giannini and Zeljko Ivanek. I didn’t particularly care for Ray Liotta’s performance, but that’s partially because his character was so over-the-top scummy that I didn’t have an ounce of sympathy for him at any point.

This movie isn’t particularly violent, but like The Silence of the Lambs, there are a few good scenes here, ranging from a previously-mentioned disembowelment to some solid pig action (and I don’t mean in a Wedding Trough fashion). There’s nothing that seems over-the-top in Hannibal, and the ending, which leans more toward disturbing than it does violent, was pretty solid.

Really, Hannibal’s gotten a decent amount of flak, which is a shame, as I think it’s a solid follow-up to one of the most classic films of the 1990’s. Truth be told, while I do enjoy The Silence of the Lambs, I think I prefer Hannibal, and a large part of that might be because this has a little more of the horror feeling than it’s predecessor does. I’d give them roughly the same score, but Hannibal was one that, surprisingly, I found I really enjoyed after revisiting.

8.5/10

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith [Other horror films: Dead End Drive-In (1986), Out of the Body (1989), Night of the Demons 2 (1994), Leprechaun 3 (1995), Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996), Atomic Dog (1998), Sightings: Heartland Ghost (2002)]

This Australian action/horror mix is generally a lot of fun, sort of in The Most Dangerous Game vein, only gory, which brought quite a bit of additional enjoyment to the film.

Taking place in a fascist government’s ‘re-education camp’ led by, get this, a guy named Thatcher (played by Michael Craig), the camp’s motto is ‘Freedom is obedience, obedience is work, work is life.’ Anyone who disagrees with the far-right government is thrown into this camp, along with ‘deviants,’ such as homosexuals, the poor, and anyone else the far-right hates.

I don’t know anything about Australian politics, but the film certainly seems topical from an American point of view, given the wide swings we’ve taken to the right since the 1980’s onward. I always appreciate when horror films (or, partial horror films, as Turkey Shoot often feels far more action-orientated) tackle politics, and this one did it well.

Ignoring the fascist government, which punishes homosexuality by death yet allows rape by the prison camp’s guards, Turkey Shoot has a lot to offer in terms of excitement and gore. It takes about thirty minutes or so for things to really pick up, but once they do, there’s little breathing room past that point, which I rather enjoyed.

Plenty of gory scenes were to be seen here, such as a great dismemberment sequence, along with decent machete action, crossbow action, a guy getting cut in half with a bulldozer, a spike trap obliterating someone, and a solid scene in which someone’s set on fire. There’s no shortage of violence here, or potential violence (as the scene in which Olivia Hussey’s character is almost raped multiple times), and it’s definitely action-packed.

There were a few elements I didn’t care for, or felt out of place, such as a gorilla-type monster being used by one of the characters. The make-up was decent, but it just felt a bit too outlandish to me. That said, overall, the movie works, and a lot of that is due to the multiple solid performances.

Admittedly, I wasn’t overly excited with Olivia Hussey’s (perhaps best known as Audra from the 1990 television adaptation of Stephen King’s It) character for most of the film, but toward the end, she started becoming useful, and all worked out. Steve Railsback (who I saw just a few days ago in the 1985 Lifeforce) was a rather good leading character. Roger Ward and Michael Craig made a great pair of antagonists, Ward especially with his threatening appearance. Three others I liked include Bill Young, Michael Petrovitch, and Noel Ferrier.

I can imagine that some horror fans may be hard-pressed to consider this in the same genre as Halloween, but horror comes in many forms, and many people see different things as fitting into the genre. I don’t personally have a problem counting Turkey Shoot, or similar movies, such as The Most Dangerous Game or Battle Royale, as horror, but definitely don’t go into this one expecting something in the more traditional vein.

As Turkey Shoot stands, I think it’s a very solid Australian film, and it definitely exceeded my admittedly low expectations when it came to gore. With solid action and plenty of violence, Turkey Shoot was certainly worth watching, and I’d recommend it to fans of action-orientated horror flicks.

8.5/10

Lifeforce (1985)

Directed by Tobe Hooper [Other horror films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Eaten Alive (1976), The Dark (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Invaders from Mars (1986), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Spontaneous Combustion (1990), I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990), Night Terrors (1993), Body Bags (1993, segment ‘Eye’), The Mangler (1995), The Apartment Complex (1999), Crocodile (2000), Shadow Realm (2002), Toolbox Murders (2004), Mortuary (2005), Djinn (2013)]

Having seen this once before and enjoying the hell out of it, I’m disappointed to admit that, having seen it with fresh eyes, this mid-1980’s Tobe Hooper outing doesn’t really do that much for me.

The special effects are generally really solid, at least insofar as the draining of the bodies’ energy goes, along with a few great scenes of general massacre during the finale, where the whole of London is under attack by what basically amounts to zombies. Even when in space, things looked pretty decent, though it wasn’t near as mind-blowing as movies that came before, such as the classic Alien.

For me, the biggest problem is that it seemed to drag, and I’m not sure some of the plot points where explained all that well (such as the exact connection between the space woman vampire played by Mathilda May and Steve Railsback). Some sequences were really enjoyable, such as the break-out of May’s character from the facility, or the finale with the devastation in London (in fact, much of the finale really picked things up from a formerly sluggish pace), but overall, I found myself somewhat struggling.

The main cast is all decent with little to really complain or compliment about. I did sort of like seeing Patrick Stewart (for the screen-time he got), as he’s appeared in only a few other horror films (2015’s Green Room and 1985’s The Doctor and the Devils). That said, the whole sequence which Stewart was mostly featured in didn’t really do that much for me. Both Steve Railsback and Peter Firth did perfectly fine, as did Frank Finlay (though he’s another character I wish appeared more). Mathilda May was reasonably attractive, so the fact she walked around nude for the first 40 minutes of the film didn’t hurt matters.

I think, for me, the story just wasn’t as fully realized as perhaps I thought it was when I first saw Lifeforce. It certainly has some positive things going for it, but after this time around, I think that Tobe Hooper has definitely directed better things in his career, such as the obvious picks of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist, but also The Funhouse and perhaps even Toolbox Murders (2004), which was rather underwhelming itself. Maybe the next time I watch Lifeforce, I’ll get more from it, but as for now, I find the film below average, and while functional, not really that enjoyable

6/10

Devils of Darkness (1965)

Directed by Lance Comfort [Other horror films: Daughter of Darkness (1948)]

I went into this one pretty blind, not overly sure what to expect. Unfortunately, though this British vampire movie possesses some charm, overall, I struggle to believe that Devils of Darkness will end up being that memorable.

As such, the plot itself is somewhat decent and moderately intriguing, dealing with members of a vampire-led cult attempting to retrieve something of their masters’ from an unsuspecting man, and the mysterious deaths around the man are somewhat interesting. When Scotland Yard gets involved, things become even more interesting. But despite all of this, I don’t think the movie ends up being great.

There’s no doubt some cool things here, such as a somewhat suspenseful reflection-off-water scene near the beginning (and speaking of the beginning, I did appreciate how we got eight minutes of opening before the title and credits came up), along with blood coming from a portrait. A few red herrings around Tracy Reed’s character, too, come into play. But there wasn’t anywhere near enough to keep things moving along at a brisk enough pace.

As a leading character, William Sylvester does pretty good, and I sort of liked Hubert Noel’s vampire character. But other than Tracy Reed, who wasn’t necessarily great, most of the cast is pretty forgettable, which certainly doesn’t help matters any.

Ultimately, Devils of Darkness has the occasional atmosphere that you might be looking for from a 60’s vampire film, but it’s not done nearly as well as Hammer was able to, so why go for a cheap knock-off if you can pick up the real thing? Might be worth checking out a single time, but I wouldn’t really expect to fall in love with this one. At least the color looks moderately nice.

5.5/10

The City of the Dead (1960)

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey [Other horror films: Circus of Fear (1966), The House That Would Not Die (1970), A Taste of Evil (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), Home for the Holidays (1972), The Strange and Deadly Occurrence (1974), No Place to Hide (1981), I, Desire (1982), The Cradle Will Fall (1983)]

You want a movie with some atmosphere? The City of the Dead’s got it, in spades.

Using a Psycho-esque character switch that came as quite a surprise, The City of the Dead had a bit of bang for it’s buck. The plot is interesting enough, what with a young student going to study Satanism by traveling to the small town of Whitewood and taking a room at The Raven’s Inn, only to discover she bit off more than she can chew, but when something happens to our focal character, there’s a time-skip, and more horror ensues.

Of course, the idea of a small New England town being almost entirely dedicated to the dark side of Satanism (because of course, while this movie makes no mention of it, there’s plenty of perfectly good Satanists, more ratio-wise, I would bet, than Christians) was unique, and while I thought that many of the townspeople were being pretty obvious about their ill-intent, I guess that doesn’t bother those who wander into the town.

The cast here is superb. Related, this is a British production, but everyone spoke in American accents, so one might be fooled into thinking this an American-made picture. And speaking of which, while the original title is The City of the Dead, when released in the U.S.A., the title was changed to Horror Hotel (which, in my view, is quite a worse name), so there’s your random fact for the day.

Onto the cast, it’s Christopher Lee who stands out the most as a professor of Satanic studies, and one who takes his research seriously (his argument with a science professor, played by Dennis Lotis, was somewhat interesting). Playing the interested student was Venetia Stevenson, who was quite good, and seemed a lot more self-possessed than many women in the genre at the time. Taking off to the town of Whitewood alone was a nice touch, though it didn’t end as well as she may have hoped. Lotis wasn’t in much else, but he does well here as Stevenson’s concerned brother, as does Tom Naylor, playing her fiancée.

Actually, that brings to mind one thing that rather annoyed me. After a long absence of communication to either her brother or fiancée, Stevenson’s character is presumed missing. Obviously, both men are concerned. And both go up to Whitewood to investigate. But do they share a ride and work together to discover her whereabouts? Of course not. It’s not clear why one or the other didn’t bring up ‘Hey, I’m going to Whitewood, want to tag along,’ but I’m guessing it has to do with foolish ideas of manliness. Either way, the fact that both went up separately just bothered me to no end.

The other two cast-members worth mentioning are Betta St. John and Norman MacOwan. St. John was sort of an interesting individual, as she took the role of the main female character after Stevenson exited stage right, and she worked well with Lotis’ character, all things considered. MacOwan played an elderly priest with no congregation (get better employment, brah, cause you suck at your current job), and he did decent, though the whole ‘Christianity is superior to other valid religions without good reason’ gets really old, not that this is the only movie in the horror genre that makes that antiqued claim. Still, MacOwan was pretty fun.

It’s true that the ending of this one is pretty much the most generic thing about the movie, but it still works out reasonably well, and the fact that the final scenes take place in an old graveyard certainly help with the atmosphere the movie worked so well with (the hotel scenes with Stevenson in the first half were solid enough, and this brings it into overdrive). Overall, I wouldn’t say that The City of the Dead is a perfect movie, but for fans of beautifully-done black-and-white 60’s horror, this one would very likely be well-received.

8/10

Wolfwood (2020)

Directed by Harry Boast [Other horror films: The Hollow World (2018)]

This British found footage film, alas, was a bit of a mess. And to be frank, probably a lot more than a bit.

About forty minutes in, something marginally interesting happens. Up to that point, we, the viewers, are watching along as there’s a lot of awkward attempts at conversation and remaining clueless as to what’s going on.

We know one of these guys (Harry Boast) knows the quiet woman (Rhian Williams), but we don’t really know how, and she doesn’t really seem that interested in interacting with him. Throw in the guy’s friends (James Bryant and Mandy Rose), who don’t know anything about Williams’ character, apparently, and it’s just awkward and boring.

Honestly, the most interesting thing about this film, and interesting is a strong word, is the fact it’s British. And sadly, that stands true as we finally learn a little more as to what’s going on. At the same time, though, while we do learn a few things, a lot of the information is jumbled and confusing.

These werewolves pop up, and I’m not sure if they’re the same thing as the aliens, and if that point of confusion befuddles you, just watch this and see what I mean.

Being a found footage film, a lot of the movie is a shaky camera being dragged along by a guy going through the woods with his increasingly annoying friends. Like, I get why Mandy Rose’s character would be a bit peeved, but she blames Williams’ character before Boast’s, which was just irritating. Also, she apparently trained as a nurse, but has no sympathy for those who self-harm, so that’s just grand.

It’s hard to fully explain how terrible a lot of this was. It wasn’t just that it was dull for a long period of time, or awkward (though it was both of these things) – I’m not one to get nauseated or disoriented during found footage movies, but damned if I wasn’t getting a headache watching this.

Guys, it’s not just one bloke and his camera – we get some cameras that were apparently in Williams’ house, Williams’ cell-phone camera, some highway camera footage (for god knows what reason – would that really be in the scope of a Freedom of Information request that apparently garnered this footage?), and all of this mixed in with a confusing story about werewolves, OCD people who don’t strike me as OCD whatsoever, aliens, and 28-year and 11-year schedules within schedules (dude, I was honestly lost during 90% of that explanation) made for a pretty terrible time.

I don’t place any of the blame on the actors – I think they all did what they could with what they had. Sure, Mandy Rose’s character irked me, and I thought that James Bryant’s character was an idiot for lugging that camera around everywhere (I love how every found footage character that’s a film student has to record everything), but none of that is on the actors or actresses.

Wolfwood had some potential given the British countryside and performances involved, but the story was just messy and confusing. Maybe I’m alone in thinking it felt off, even – certainly if more people see this one and end up liking it, I’ll be okay with admitting I missed something. For now, though, this was a very rough watch. The movie was only 73 minutes, but boy, what a tough 73 minutes that was.

2/10