B-Horror Dates To Dismember
by Magister Matt G. Paradise

• The Golden Age
by Jason Quinn

Rosemary Revisited: A Satanic Look at One
of the Scariest Movies of All Time

by Magister Matt G. Paradise

Satan On Celluloid: The Dark Force In Film
by Magister Matt G. Paradise

The Golden Age
by Jason Quinn

(originally printed in Not Like Most #14)

“Long-neglected, overlooked marvels of the silver screen are being unearthed and appreciated by audiences starved for content and evocation.”

-Blanche Barton,
The Church of Satan

A trip down memory lane.

One of the first films I can remember seeing was a cheap Japanese King Kong knock-off that had Kong struggling with this giant robot and pulling it off a tower. I’ve no bloody idea why my Dad took me to see this but I guess it was just one way to keep me entertained on a Saturday afternoon. Maybe that’s what started it all.

I think that a viewing of a so-called “great” film will often transcend the watching of the film itself. One will often remember the many great feelings associated with that film and mistakenly label the film “great.” This is apt to provide many bittersweet bouts with nostalgia in later years. Many years after that, upon more “ma-teur” viewings and experiences, the film might reveal itself to be an actual lobster – without any redeeming feature, the kind that might embarrass you after you’ve spent years telling your friends how amazing it is and then watching their faces as they see the so-called “amazing” scenes.

It was my Uncle who first introduced me to a TV Ontario show called "Magic Shadows" because he knew the host, Elwie Yost, would sometimes show features like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or “Mighty Joe Young” and I’d be overcome watching these, transfixed. I vividly remember seeing Howard Hawks’s “The Thing” and being a little disappointed that the creature was only spotted for a few seconds. John Carpenter would make up for that with his seminal remake but, at that age, I had no patience for subtlety or atmosphere. I wanted to see the red stuff. Back then, gore equaled horror.

I had a lot to go through before I realized that this wasn’t necessarily the case.

My Father once told me about this "scary" movie he remembered. It was called “The Blob” and it scared the hell out of him when he was my age. I needed to see this movie. He told me that if it ever came on cable we’d sit down and watch it, so I pestered him until he showed me how to look things up in the TV guide section of our newspaper.

Soon I discovered the "Entertainment" section and would scan to see what movies were playing. I also discovered that there were only certain films that I was allowed to watch, so of course anything with "Restricted" under it became the ones I most wanted to see. An early example of the Law of the Forbidden?

I remember being jealous as hell when my father took two kids from the neighborhood to see the hold-over showing of “Jaws” while telling me I couldn’t come along because it was restricted. I don’t know, perhaps it was a good thing because it instilled in me a growing desire to see things I wasn’t supposed to see.

Ads for “Halloween”, “Prom Night”, “Alien”, “Dawn of The Dead” and a whole slew of others are all very vividly remembered. My imagination would run with these ads and I’d hang out with the older kids in the neighborhood getting them to tell me the details of these movies over and over again. Seemed like I’d never get tired of hearing about “Friday The 13th” or “The Amityville Horror.” I used to go to the local corner store and buy all the new issues of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and read through them with my friend, Mark. We’d tell each other stories based on the photos and speculate on what actually happened in the movies for hours.

One afternoon, my Father announced that “The Blob” was on the Late Show and that if I went to bed early, he’d wake me up to watch it. I was so excited I could barely get to sleep. In fact, I think I probably just tossed and turned until he came and got me.

I couldn't sit still. My Dad made popcorn, turned all the lights off and sat me in front of the TV. I was a bit dizzy with all of the excitement and being up so late that it was difficult to concentrate. And then the movie started.

“Genre film-making is filled with unusually enthusiastic, positive, life-affirming talents who know how to have fun with their work and their lives.”

- Chas. Balun, Horror Holocaust

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the original “Blob” but there’s a part near the beginning when this old hobo sees a comet crash and goes to investigate. He discovers this glowing goop and pokes a stick into it for a better look. The blob sort of crawls/drips down the stick and onto the hobo’s hand and as soon as it contacts him, begins to eat his flesh. The hobo starts shrieking and moaning as the alien begins to dissolve him alive.

Something happened at that point, something snapped. I freaked out, crying, screaming along with the hobo and hiding my eyes. I carried on so much that my Dad ended up turning the TV off and putting me back to bed. I don’t remember falling asleep that night, I just remember hearing that hobo’s screams as the blob ate his flesh.

Dad had a long talk with me the next morning about reality vs. fiction. I wouldn’t get the chance to see “The Blob” until years later, once again on the Late Show watching it when my Father came back from a coroner’s call.

There were a few films that really stood out in those first years before VCRs. I remember seeing some Hammer films shown on Saturday afternoons. I used to watch all the horror films on “Magic Shadows” and sometimes, when I went home from school at lunch, there was this strange little soap opera called “Dark Shadows” which hooked me until it went off the air.

I used to watch “The Twilight Zone” and found it pretty creepy, too. The air outside seemed to change while that one was on. I still think that it was one of the best of its kind and easily one of the best series made for television. I also remember a BBC version of "Dracula" with Robert Jordan that blew me away. Everyone was talking about it the next day at school like it was some major cultural event. Maybe it was.

I was lucky because my friend Mark seemed to enjoy horror films as much as I did. Mark’s father was into them too and actually took us to see horror films that weren’t restricted. I have fond memories of seeing “The Changeling” and John Carpenter’s “The Fog” in those old theaters that you never seem to see anymore. It was comforting to know that I had a couple of people with whom to share these dark, offbeat enthusiasms.

And then one day my Aunt Claire told me about a new thing called a VCR and this changed everything.

"A complete education in Satanic philosophy is available at your local video store.”

-Blanche Barton, The Church of Satan

I couldn’t get over the fact that you could now see movies in your own home and didn’t have to wait until they came on the Late Late show. I still vividly remember my Aunt taking me to that first video store; before video stores became the conglomerated, florescent corporate stores. This was that golden age when they operated out of basements or even wooden sheds tacked onto the sides of people’s homes. I can remember gazing at video box covers on unfinished wooden shelves and my mind beginning to race.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Zoltan: Hound Of Hell”, “Wolfen”, “Night of The Living Dead”... the images on those video boxes worked the same way the ads in the Entertainment section did. My imagination was fired up and a whole New World opened.

“While it may be true that constant exposure to horror, suffering, and death could possibly demean or desensitize an individual, it is yet to be conclusively proven that watching a latex dummy get whacked to pieces with a machete causes any moral or psychological harm to a healthy individual.”

-Ibid, Chas. Balun

The only problem was that Mark and I were too young to rent this stuff on our own. We needed our parents to rent the stuff for us and I ask, “How are you going to rent something called ‘The Best of Sex and Violence’ with your Mom around?”

Luckily, we had Mark’s Dad on our side. He basically gave us carte blanche to pick out whatever we wanted and in fact liked videos so much that he left his carpeting business and opened a video store. This turned out to be a bad business move, but it was great for us; we were able to see the latest horror films released on VHS. Beta vs. VHS.

These were truly the days of wine and roses.

The coming of the video age really sank the hook. Mark would invite me over and we’d watch tons of movies. Hundreds of hours were spent in his living room watching everything: “Maniac”, “House On Sorority Row”, “The Boogey Man”, “The Howling”, “Prophecy”, “Hell Night”… The list could go on and on. And no matter how many utterly horrible ones we sat through, they all seemed like gold because we were watching stuff that had the power to stay with us long after the VCR was shut off. It touched off the darker side inside my head and probably did a lot to make me who I am today. The mixture of sexuality, violence, fear and teeth-grinding darkness hitting us during those years of adolescence couldn’t help but leave its mark on our sense of aesthetics.

This went on from grade school into the first couple years of high school. Mark and I gradually became separated by different interests, friends, etc, and gradually drifted apart. My love for videos didn’t, though, and some of my fondest memories of those high school years were walking home on Friday afternoons, going to the comic store and picking up the latest issue of "Fangoria" and then stopping by the video stores (which were becoming more processed-looking all the time -- gone were those unfinished wooden shelves and huge video box covers) and renting two or three movies for the weekend.

No social clubs or groups for this cat. School dances didn’t interest me, horror movies did. I couldn’t get into all the gossip and melodramatics of high school but I damn well could dig watching a double feature of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” backed with Frank Henelotter’s “Basket Case.”

It became a ritual I’d look forward to every weekend. Soon, I had new friends who began watching these movies with me. These guys bought "Fangoria" and paid attention to the credits, too. We’d argue over what was "good" and what was "bad" but we all agreed that it was better to watch the worst horror dreck than to sit through yawn-fests like “A Passage to India” or “Room with A View.”

“The worst sin for an exploitation film is to be boring.”

-Ibid, Chas. Balun

During these high school video years, I discovered a writer who spun my head around. He’d done a few articles in "Fangoria" (although he seems to despise that magazine now, as evidenced from his comments in "Red Ink") but his real guts didn’t come out until you’d read one of his books. His name was Chas. Balun and his writing seemed to bring out everything I was thinking. He wrote about the genre like it was Rock ’n’ Roll which, in turn, made it come alive.

The first Balun book I read was called Horror Holocaust and I still consider it one of the best volumes ever written about the genre. I came across his video guide, The Gore Score, and used it as a reference guide Friday nights. Anything that Chas. Balun recommended, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, was going to be worth seeing. And he hasn’t let me down yet.

I challenge anyone to show me film as powerful or as disturbing as the stuff that came out in the mid-70s. There wasn’t anything with as much staying power as “Texas Chainsaw” or even “The Exorcist” in the entire ‘90s decade. Where is the new “Re-Animator”, the new “Suspiria”, the new “Black Sunday”, the new “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”? Does no one have the guts or inclination to make this type of movie anymore?

As much as I enjoyed “Scream” for what it was, I realize that it doesn’t have the type of power that “The Omen” had. Not even fucking close. Sure, “Seven” was okay but it looks like a bantam- weight compared to the ideas and dread expressed in “Videodrome.” I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that only a mere nine of Chas’s top fifty horror films are from the ‘90s (and of those nine, eight were made in the first half of that dry decade). Things aren’t very good in the genre these days. Do you think that Kevin Williamson is listening?

Basically I’m sick of apologizing for modern horror films. I’d rather go back and watch all the good stuff from the past than sit through the latest TV-Movie-of-the-Week-on-film. If this is the best the genre can produce then maybe it deserves to go the way of the western.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to Italian horror.

“They’re really sort of the ‘80s equivalent to the horde of drinking-fighting-fucking biker gang pictures that were successfully released stateside by American International in the ‘60s.”

-Ibid, Chas. Balun

During the ‘80s, when Italy was churning out some of its reddest, wettest fare, Balun was one of the only reviewers to bang the drum for these guys. It was through Balun that I learned the names: Bava, Argento, Lenzi, DeAnato, Franco, Fulci... These were the guys who carved out their own style and added to the genre I had come to consider one of my closest friends. In fact, one of the first times Mark and I saw videos it was a double bill that his father had rented: Alan Ormsby’s “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” (which had a killer box cover that had me really excited) and Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie” (which I had never heard of and didn’t much care about).

It turned out that “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” was a yawner that never lived up to the expectations created by its box cover, but “Zombie” was an experience that shook me to the core.

Mark and I were both disappointed in Ormsby’s lobster so the first scene of “Zombie” knocked the hell out of us. It was only a warm-up for what was to come. I can still remember the sunlight inching its way through the windows in Mark’s living room and his Mom asking if we could use some lunch -- she was making omelets, did we want any? I wasn’t too big on omelets then but Mark and his younger brother, Derek, who we’d occasionally let hang around with us, said "okay."

The pacing of "Zombie" is definitely Italian but after the Ormsby disappointment it seemed roadrunner quick. The gore scenes hit us with full impact and Fulci did something that Romero hadn’t even done; he put the flesh eaters back in their original place -- the Caribbean. In an exclusive interview with Chas. Balun in 1992, Fulci explained what he was attempting to do with his film. "I feel that Zombie is an authentic zombie film. I wanted to send them back to their origins; this is why we shot the film in Santo Domingo. My inspiration came from Jacques Tourneur, not from George Romero."

Even way back then I realized how different Fulci’s zombies were from Romero’s. The zombies in “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” just kind of resembled normal people turned pale or blue with a few scars and blank expressions; the zombies in Fulci’s films look like they’ve been dead and buried for awhile, lots of maggots and decomposition. I’m not criticizing Romero because I like his work a lot, but let’s give credit where it’s due. Romero has been hailed from here to forever and Fulci still isn’t very well known beyond us gorehounds.

My favorite memory of that first viewing of "Zombie" was the splinter scene. That was when Mark covered his mouth and sprinted to the bathroom. It was followed by the sounds of pure, heaving vomit splashing in the toilet. How many times have you seen a video make someone lose their lunch? I’ve only seen it that one time and I consider it to be pretty damn special.

I don’t think that Fulci’s other films have the same power as “Zombie”, but they are worth seeing. “The Beyond”, “House by The Cemetery”, “The Gates of Hell”, “Don’t Torture A Duckling”; they’ve all got scenes of extraordinary violence enveloped in a surreal, pot boiling pace. All the things that make Italian cinema worth watching.

Some other Italian directors to check out are:

Mario Bava: The Hitchcock of Italy, and truly the kingpin of Italian horror. It must be acknowledged that if his debut classic, “Black Sunday,” hadn’t been dogged by censorship or distribution hassles, Bava would’ve been recognized as the one who started the whole ball of wax instead of H. G. Lewis. And it also must be said that H.G. Lewis’s “Blood Feast” has absolutely none of Black Sunday’s atmosphere, production values or Barbara Steele.

Bava’s films are lush with atmosphere and mood. No matter how bad the story is, Bava always includes some great dialogue and scenery. “Black Sabbath” (which directly inspired Ozzy & the boys to change their name; also has some of the creepiest dead people in it I’ve ever seen), “Planet of the Vampires” (a direct influence on “Alien”), “Bay of Blood” (aka: “Twitch of The Death Nerve,” which was a direct inspiration for “Friday the 13th” and therefore, a direct inspiration of all those ‘80s slasher films that followed in its wake), “Blood & Black Lace” (which ought to give Freddy Krueger fans one helluva case of deja vu) and “Hatchet for The Honeymoon” (which has some great dialogue and remains watchable throughout its entire running time). I’d say that nearly anything with Mario Bava’s name attached to it is worth seeing. His influence stretches across the Hammer films of the ‘60s into the Splatter films of the ‘80s and even into contemporary Italian horror.

As Balun states: "In view of all the shit he had to put up with in the industry all through his career, not to mention the microscopic budgets, it’s a miracle that Bava ever made anything worth watching at all; yet he is, undoubtedly, the towering figure of Italian horror. More than that, he is, arguably the most influential horror director of them all. Period."

Dario Argento: Probably the biggest darling of the ‘80s Italian Horror Scene, Argento’s films have been lauded far and wide for his violence and surrealism. Balun has called him "the true inheritor of Bava’s gialli mantle, and nothing less than the genre’s Pagliacci..." He seems to place his emphasis on dynamic camera angles and sound so his work has an edge that puts him heads above all the other imitators. I personally feel that Argento has more misses than hits, but also think that anything he does is worth checking out nonetheless. Even though some of his films have next to no narrative (“Inferno” anyone?) he always manages to throw in something to keep your eyes glued to the set. His most famous stuff is: “Deep Red Hatchet Murders”, “Tenebrae”, “Opera,” and it must be noted that he co-produced what was to be Romero’s classic: “Dawn of The Dead.” Check out his original director's cuts because the U.S. censoring of his films makes them seem weak.

Ruggero Deodato: Father of the modern cannibal film, Deodato represents the "realist wing" of Italian horror. His name was solidified in the field with “Cannibal Holocaust,” one of the thirteen most disturbing films ever made. “Cannibal Holocaust” became the focus of a long running obscenity trial which may have given Deodato the jitters because he never made a film as disturbing as this one. The film was finally acquitted but many prints of the film were mysteriously burnt in a warehouse fire. I’ve got a copy of Cannibal Holocaust and it’s pretty strong stuff. Difficult to watch and some would feel, impossible to enjoy. I’ve cleared rooms at parties by putting this on.

Jess Franco: The Spanish Roger Corman? Jess (aka: Jesus) Franco has made an insane number of low budget erotic horror films (apparently he made over 200 films between 1968 and 1981!) which range from the well-done to the downright pitiful. Franco is a self-confessed Dyanne Thorne fanatic and he seems to be trying to infuse many of his productions with the same sort of power and sadism of those Ilsa films. Sometimes he succeeds but when he fails, he fails miserably. I can’t even call him an "acquired taste" ‘cause he’s too "all-across-the-board" to be considered a singular taste. You’re really taking a chance if you pick up a film with his name on it. Hit or miss? Probably best watched while under the influence of something. Something strong.

Amando de Ossorio: Creator of the Blind Dead. Ossorio came up with this series of films about the Knights Templar returning to kill off those who’ve disturbed their tomb. The only problem is that before they were executed (way back in the Dark Ages), they had their eyes put out and now their corpses can only track their victims through sound and super hearing. Kind of a neat twist, no? I haven’t seen all of these films but I’ve enjoyed the ones I have seen. Check out: “Tombs of the Blind Dead”, “Return of the Evil Dead”, “Horror of The Zombies”, and “Night of the Seagulls” (???). All have similar plots so one is as good as any other but “Tombs” is the first.

Now would be the time to mention Mario Bava’s son, Lamberto Bava. You’ve got to be really careful when approaching the younger Bava’s oeuvre. Lamberto is closer to Fulci’s style but not nearly as good. The only film of Lamberto Bava’s that I’d recommend is “Demons” although even that isn’t too hot. It was okay despite itself. There’s lots of gore and a breakneck pace, but it doesn’t strike me as being that well put-together. I get the impression that Lamberto has slid into the "take-the-money-and-run" style and this is why most of his films yank. Check out “Demons” to see what you think but beware of his other stuff.

A new upcoming talent is a guy called Michele Soavis. He apprenticed under Argento and served as second unit director under Terry Gilliam. I remember when his film, “The Church” was released, there were many people who considered him the next big Italian import. He directed "Cemetery Man" and played a brief role in Fulci's "The Gates of Hell." It might be a bit on the late side to call him “upcoming” since he’s been working for more than a decade and a half, but he’s the most recent Italian director of power I can think of right now.

If the Italians were the red warriors of the ‘80s, then one ought to take a close look at Japan for a contemporary equivalent. There’s a guy named Takashi Miike (pronounced MEE-Kay, I believe) who has done some unbelievably severe stuff. Miike has made a number of strange yakuza films that push a level of comic book violence to over-the-top heights. I’d urge everyone to check out “Audition” for some dark psychological twistedness (but avoid reading the rental box as it might give away some really necessary plot twists) and “Ichi: the Killer” for some really underhanded vileness served up with party favors and buckets of blood.

Another Japanese director of interest is Shinya Tsukamoto. His work invades the realm of high weirdness and brings it straight through your brain. There’s a lot of humor behind his images so you can chuckle while watching the blood fly. Be sure to get ahold of “The Goblin”, “Tetsuo: the Iron Man”, “Tetsuo II: Body Hammer” and “Tokyo Fist.”

So from where I sit, that’s how things look. I’m continually going outside our North American boundaries to see anything worthwhile. Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and George Romero have all failed to deliver over the last few years so until they start producing something worthy, it’s time to turn our attentions elsewhere. Were all those films I grew up with really great, or did I just remember the cool experiences surrounding their viewing and mistakenly call them great? And does it even matter? If any film gives you any pleasure, then why bother questioning it at all?

I don’t know about any of that, but I can say that I won’t be feeling any nostalgia for the many great moments in all of those ‘90s films.

Because there just weren’t enough and I didn’t like them the first time around.

Needless to say, a big thank you and much of the credit for this article
goes out to Chas. Balun.