All the Colors of the Dark

They're coming to get you 4Just last night I had a pretty scary nightmare. Most people wouldn’t consider it a nightmare, but to me it was. I dreamt that I was back in college trying to find my dorm room and scared out of my mind that I wouldn’t fit in with the others on my floor. All the fears I had all those years ago going were suddenly feeling very real all over again. Compared to the nightmares the main character in today’s film has, mine are nothing. There are some sinister forces at play for sure in 1972’s All the Colors of the Dark, or as it is sometimes known: They’re Coming to Get You.

They're coming to get you 1The film starts with a very bizarre dream sequence featuring a mysterious blue-eyed man with a knife and a naked pregnant woman on a delivery table…feet in the stirrups and everything. These are the dreams of Jane Harrison (Edwige Fenech). These dreams have both her and her lover Richard (George Hilton) quite upset. Richard believes that the nightmares are stemming from that fact that Jane suffered a miscarriage do to a car accident they were both in. Richard is totally against seeing a psychiatrist however, though Jane’s sister Barbara (Susan Scott aka Nieves Navarro) works for a doctor who she thinks can help.

They're coming to get you 2Barbara soon agrees to see the doctor when she starts seeing the blue-eyed man when she’s not sleeping. At the same time, she also meets a new neighbor who lives downstairs named Mary (Marina Malfatti). She suggests that Jane meet with some people who had helped her out with some problems she suffered. The two head to a mysterious mansion and then we meet the other guests. They are led by a strange bearded man with long creepy fingernails (Julian Ugarte). Soon Jane’s clothes are off and they’re all drinking blood. What do you expect out a freaky cult?

Given Jane’s unstable mental state, however, she’s unsure as to whether what she has experienced is real. However, her nightmares seem to be getting better and she willingly goes back to the house. On her next visit, after some more naked ritual stuff, Jane is made to hold a knife while Mary falls on it. Turns out, Mary’s only way out of the cult was death, but first she needed to bring them a replacement…that’s Jane. When she learns she is now bound to the cult, Jane panics. She tries to escape, but now, wherever she turns to get away from the cult, others around her end up dead.

They're coming to get you 3All the Colors of the Dark is an Italian film with a story that takes place in England. The version I watched was dubbed into English. I have to say, I found this bizarre little film quite intriguing. The film starts with this totally whacked out psychedelic dream sequence that leaves you just a bit unsure of what you’ve gotten yourself into right from the beginning. The feel of the film does not stay as bizarre as that opening, though it does have a few more out there moments as things progress. The film also has fair degree of creativity when it comes to the shot composition that gives the whole thing a very unsettling atmosphere.

The evil cult aspect of the story is genuinely creepy. They’re part zombies, part vampires throwing their own little Eyes Wide Shut sort of party with their leader who looks a bit like Alan Rickman with long blue fingernails. That probably doesn’t sound all that intimidating but I found them to be an effective bunch of baddies.

They're coming to get you 6I’ve also got to give high marks to the very beautiful Edwige Fenech. She’s not just some ridiculous scream queen here. Her terror is very palpable. What her character is going through may be somewhat outlandish, but her performance has a certain realism to it. I think had her performance not been so strong, the material may have come off as much more cheesy.

Some viewers today may struggle a bit with the early 70’s feel of the film and the subject matter is certainly not for everyone. However, the film has some solid scares as well as a bizarre creativity that sets it apart from more standard horror offerings.

Return to Horror High

Return to Horror High 5High school was a common setting for movies in the late 80’s, which was perfect for me since I was in high school at the time. Of course, high school can be a scary place, so it figures that it would become the setting for an 80’s horror film. Nope, Ferris Bueller doesn’t wear a hockey mask and slash up the school, but we do get a film that tries to scare as well as spoof the horror films of the day. Have a number 2 pencil handy for 1987’s Return to Horror High.

Return to Horror High 2Our film takes place at Crippen High School where five years ago several grisly murders took place. Now, the abandoned school is being used as the set for a slasher film based on the actual events. The cheap producer of the film, Harry Sleerik (Alex Rocco), even has the cast and crew staying in the old classrooms to save on hotel charges. The film is a troubled production right from the start. In fact, one of the film’s leading men, Oliver (George Clooney…yes THE George Clooney) has decided to leave the production due to being offered a role on a TV series. As he tries to leave the set, he wanders into a dark hallway where he ends up meeting his end, complete with a big pool of blood to drive home the point.

Return to Horror High 6The cast and crew, however, have no idea. Harry still needs to find a new actor, though. He ends up hiring local cop Steven Blake (Brendan Hughes), who had been on set as a technical advisor, to play the part. Steven also happened to have been a student at the school at the time of the massacre. Steven ends up fitting in on the set, especially with young actress Callie Cassidy (Lori Lethen). Callie is struggling with Harry’s insistence that she show more skin in the movie and the challenges of playing three different parts in the film. Remember, it’s a low-budget movie

Meanwhile, more cast and crew members start disappearing which the others say is what happens all the time on low-budget productions such as this. Little do they know they are being sliced up by a cloaked figure in a white mask. Soon, Steven and Callie begin to investigate and find that the killer from years ago is back in action.

Return to Horror High 7Return to Horror High has what seems like a pretty simple premise, but the film actually gets quite complicated. First of all, the movie is told in flashback as a couple of cops, one of whom is Marcia Brady herself Maureen McCormick, investigate the aftermath of the movie shoot turned blood bath. The film also takes great joy in playing tricks on the audience. There are times we are watching what we think is the story unfolding, or a flashback to the actual murders, and then it turns out to be scenes being shot for the movie within a movie. Other moments turn out to be dream sequences. As things progress, we are left wondering what is and isn’t real, and I gotta say it worked quite well.

The filmmakers also have a lot of fun playing with the various clichés and tropes of 80’s slasher films. In some ways, the film has some of the same sensibilities as Scream, but coming several years earlier and with tongue planted a bit more firmly in cheek. The movie seems to recognize some of the sillier aspects of the slasher genre in the 80’s and pulls off a pretty effective parody while still maintaining a level of scares and blood that will please most horror fans.

Return to Horror High 8There’s nothing terribly extraordinary about the cast, but they do a pretty decent job. I especially enjoyed Lori Lethen who has a cuteness and spunk that helps carry the audience through. It was fun to see Maureen McCormick in a strange little role, as well as Phillip McKeon (of TV’s Alice) playing an annoying football player in the movie within a movie. Of course, it’s an absolute riot to see George Clooney in a film like this, not so much because of his performance here (it’s a very small part) but because of what he became later.

I wasn’t expecting much going into this film, but Return to Horror High was a pleasant surprise. It works as both a parody of 80’s horror while still managing to be a fairly interesting entry in the slasher genre itself.

Frightday the 13th

Frightday the 13th 4Though I’m primarily focusing on horror films throughout October, occasionally I like to take a moment to focus on some films that, while not scary, certainly tie in to Halloween. So I thought it was about time for a visit from the world’s friendliest ghost…Casper. His films are often forgotten today, but I have fond memories of watching them as a kid. Though the main character is a ghost, his films often went more for cute than creepy. Such is certainly the case in 1953’s Frightday the 13th.

The film opens as the morning paper arrives at the haunted house where Casper lives with his ghostly pals. They are all excited to see the date on paper…Friday the 13th. That means lots of opportunities to go out and scare people. However, Casper has no interest in that. He just wants to go out and make friends.

Frightday the 13th 2Casper first tries to be friends with a mama robin and her chicks, but they fly off terrified. Soon, though, he meets someone just as feared as he is…a black cat. Casper decides to name the cat Lucky and the two head off to find a good luck charm for the feline. First they look for a four-leaf clover, but the leads to trouble with a gopher. Next they try a lucky horseshoe which causes problems when it clunks an angry bulldog on the head. Last they follow rabbit tracks so they can rub a rabbit’s foot. Lucky, however, follows the wrong tracks and has a run-in with a bear.

Frightday the 13th 3The Casper films had a very different approach than what many of the other studios were putting out at this time. Take the Looney Tunes, for example. Sure, when I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s we thought of them as kids cartoons because they aired on Saturday morning TV. But they were actually produced for adult theatrical audiences. Casper shorts were also produced for theaters but they always seemed to be produced with young children in mind. While I enjoy them on a certain level as an adult, I’m definitely not the target audience anymore. The gags in this film are mildly amusing, but not laugh-out-loud funny in the way that a Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck film is.

Frightday the 13th 1Still, the animation is very very good. There isn’t as much in the way of extreme expressions or wild movements like you might see in a Looney Tunes short, but what we do have is still skillfully done. The majority of the film is Casper and the cat, but I find myself being most intrigued by the animation of the other ghosts in the opening sequence of the film. There’s a wonderful fluidness to their movements that just works so well.

Frightday the 13th is a solid entry in the Casper series. Yes it’s a bit too cutesy and not terribly funny, but it features some fine artistry none-the-less. You certainly won’t be scared, but Casper wouldn’t have wanted it that way anyhow.

Mad Doctor of Blood Island

Mad Doctor of Blood Island 7The world of horror movies is filled with mad doctors. From Dr. Frankenstein on down, you just can’t trust those scientists. It makes sense, after all they’re always hanging out in creepy castles and surrounding themselves with hunchbacked weirdos. They may be brilliant but there’s a few screws loose as well. As for the doctor in today’s film, you’ve got to figure that nothing good will come of things when he happens to take up residence in a place with such a grisly name. Prepare for 1969’s Mad Doctor of Blood Island.

Mad Doctor of Blood Island 1Our story begins with three people making their way to the island by boat. Sheila (Angelique Pettyjohn) is looking for her father, Carlos (Ronaldo Valdez) is going to bring his mother back to the mainland, and Dr. Bill Foster (John Ashley) is going to investigate some strange goings on involving a dead body with green blood. Carlos soon finds that his mother is the main squeeze of the mysterious Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy).

Things are not well on Blood Island, however. No brainer there, I mean it is called BLOOD Island. Anyhow, there have been several murders at the hands of a strange green creature. Sheila experiences the creature herself soon enough. As Carlos and Dr. Foster investigate they are let to the grave of Carlos’ father. It turns out that the grave is empty. It seems that dear old dad, who was dying of leukemia, ended up as Dr. Lorca’s tests case to experiment a treatment created with chlorophyll. Yep, he’s a plant zombie…but can he be stopped?

Mad Doctor of Blood Island 4Mad Doctor of Blood of Island is a film that will make you want to puke. It’s not because of anything graphic or gory, this film is neither of those things. Where you will get woozy is whenever the creature attacks. The filmmakers decided that if would be good to zoom the camera in and out quickly, over and over again, throughout every sequence when monster is terrorizing someone. It’s right up there with the Bourne films on the movie seasickness scale. The jumpy editing doesn’t help matters either.

Mad Doctor of Blood Island 5The whole film is just kind of out there. The story is half-baked and seems to take its basic idea by twisting around some concepts from HG Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. The cast is a strange mixture of a few Americans with a cast of mostly Filipino locals. John Ashley, a regular of AIP’s beach party films, just doesn’t quite fit as a scientist/tough guy. Angelique Pettyjohn certainly looks good here but isn’t given anything to do other than run and scream. The so-called mad doctor doesn’t get all that much opportunity to be “mad,” either. He doesn’t have any big plans of taking over the world with plant zombies, he’s just a laid back guy. The creature is pretty weak as well, sporting one of the worst makeup effects ever. He kind of looks like a guy with lime Jello smeared on his face.

I guess there’s just not enough madness in Mad Doctor of Blood Island. Fans of cheapo monster films will enjoy it on a certain level. Those prone to motion sickness, however, stay away or pack and air sick bag.