Irish Horror Films To Enjoy On St. Patrick’s Day

By Joe Meyers

If you’re looking for some Irish horror films to watch as part of your St. Paddy’s Day celebration, I’ve got eight personal favorites to share as recommendations. While some have folklore, plot details, and/or monsters in common they’re all unique in their own way and showcase how great Irish horror is and can be.

Byzantium (2012) / Directed by Neil Jordan / Written by Moira Buffini

This vampire film drips with atmosphere and great cinematography. As the movie unfolds you get the tale of a mother, Clara Webb (Gemma Arterton), and daughter, Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan), who are vampires hiding out from others of their kind. We get just enough lore in this exceptional tale that I’ve always wanted a sequel that further explores the world.

Citadel (2012) / Written and Directed by Ciaran Foy

Foy used his own real life trauma as inspiration for this physiological horror movie about a widower attempting to raise a child after the murder of his wife. When the same gang of teens that killed her kidnaps his daughter, Elsa, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) battles grief, despair, and an extreme case of agoraphobia to get her back. Citadel is a tense character study, and exploration of trauma’s effect on the human psyche, with a stellar performance from Barnard.

From the Dark (2014) / Written and Directed by Conor McMahon

When Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) get their car stuck in the mud while driving through the Irish countryside the couple finds getting their vehicle back on the road is the least of their worries. This is the second vampire movie on my list, but McMahon skips the “can pass for human” variety for a nocturnal beast, creature-feature version. This is a low-budget gem of a horror film that plays to its strengths, and manages to bring its own flair to vampire mythology.

Grabbers (2012) / Directed by Jon Wright / Written by Kevin Lehane

Part sci-fi/horror, part comedy/satire, part alien creature-feature, and ALL fun! Newly partnered Gardas Ciaran O’Shea (Richard Coyle), an alcoholic, and Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley), a workaholic ladder climber, have to put aside their “odd couple” differences when the Irish island they’re bound to protect falls under an alien invasion. Fans of Tremors should **LOVE** this movie.

The Hallow (2015) / Directed by Corin Hardy / Written by Corin Hardy and Felipe Marino

I’m a sucker for horror films dealing with deep, dark forests and The Hallow delivers in a big bad way, while showcasing Irish folklore at the same time. Adam (Joseph Mawle), Claire (Bojana Novakovic), and their baby Finn relocate to a remote Irish village on the outskirts of a massive forest due to Adam’s work as a plant and fungal life conservationist. The family quickly realizes they aren’t wanted by the locals (or the forest and the things that live there), but they aren’t prepared to battle the creatures of the forest that begin to attack them…and have an apparent fascination with baby Finn. This is a total love letter to Irish legend and folklore, and a fantastic horror film.

The Hole in the Ground (2019) / Directed by Lee Cronin / Written by Lee Cronin and Stephen Shields

Recently separated from her husband, Sarah O’Neill (Seana Kerslake) and her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey), have started a new life in the Irish countryside. After an altercation, Chris runs away from his mother and into the forest next to their home (like I said, I’m a sucker for horror films with forests). Sarah is unable to catch him and loses Chris from a time before discovering a large sinkhole. She panics, thinking Chris has fallen into it but is quickly relieved when Chris appears behind her…or is that Chris? Odd events begin to transpire, and Sarah becomes more and more convinced that what returned from the forest with her wasn’t her son. This is another great movie, and a love letter to Irish folklore, anchored by solid writing, sharp directing, and wonderful performances.

Sea Fever (2019) / Written and Directed by Neasa Hardiman

A marine-biology student, Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) books passage on a fishing trawler, owned and operated by Gerard (Dougray Scott), Freya (Connie Nielsen), and their crew, to conduct research into deep sea faunal behavioral patterns. The couple’s fishing business has been down on its luck, so it’s decided an off limits, exclusion zone just may have all the fish they need to make some money. The ship gets bogged down and stopped due to running into an unknown, aquatic organism. This newly discovered life form begins to infect them, and tension rises, tempers flare, and paranoia explodes as the group tries to figure out their next steps…quarantine before heading home so nobody else gets infected, or head back to shore right away to find help. A timely story, as many of us are still dealing with COVID-19, wrapped up in aquatic horror goodness.

Without Name (2016) / Directed by Lorcan Finnegan / Written by Garret Shanley

Eric (Alan McKenna) is dispatched by his boss to conduct a land survey of a forest. He jumps at the chance as an affair with his with his student-assistant, Olivia (Niamh Algar, making this her second film on this list), has caused strife in his family life. The more time Eric spends in the forest, the more and more his mind begins to unravel. Out of all of the movies I’ve listed this is by far the biggest slow-burn that won’t be for everyone. However, if it is in your wheelhouse you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous looking psychological horror.

I told you all that I was a sucker for horror films that have deep, dark forests. Thankfully I’ve found that’s a major, reoccurring setting in Irish horror. Please share your thoughts if you check any of these films out for the first time, your opinions on them if you’ve seen any already, and give me any of your favorites I’ve failed to mention here. Enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day and, as always, don’t be afraid of the dark…be afraid of what’s in it.

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1974)

With the range of topics we cover on the podcast, I can travel down some rabbit trails that find the oddities that end up being perfect fodder for this (oft neglected) blog series. May I present to you “Exhibit A”, a film I stumbled into while trying to create a starting list of Satan and satanic cult films for our “Desert Island Picks” episode of them. Though it didn’t even come close to making my list then, it hung out on my Amazon Prime queue anyway.

Devil Times Five also caught my eye for one cast member in particular, and that’s ’70s child star, Leif Garrett. As a child of the ’70s myself, I remember having one of his albums on 8-track (or one of my siblings did) that had his smash disco hit “I Was Made For Dancin'” that came out about 4 years after this film. It also includes his sister, Dawn Lyn, who would appear as his sister again in a couple other productions. So with that twinkle of nostalgia in my eye, I figured why not give it a go.

Turns out that Devil Times Five isn’t even the original title for this! On it’s initial release in 1974, it was titled PeopleToys or People Toys. On re-release in 1976, it was changed to Devil Times Five in the US and UK, and then even changed again to Tantrums for a home video release in UK. And that’s the least confusing or convoluted thing about the film and its production.

Strap in for this ride, Fright Fans.

The quick and dirty synopsis of this delight is that a van loaded with what turns out to be five kids from a pediatric sanitarium crashes in the remote and soon to be snowbound woods. Not everything is revealed about the kids from the start, but you learn right off the bat that Brian (Tierre Turner) has a delusion of being a military commander and can’t actually tell when people are dead. Seriously, he says, “They’re all dead,” to Moe (Dawn Lyn), Susan (Tia Thompson), and “Sister Hannah” (Gail Smale), only to have David (Leif Garrett) stumble out without a mark on him two minutes later. The doctor who was driving comes crawling out of the wreckage not long after the kids have fled.

As for the victims, I mean other cast of characters, Rick (Taylor Lacher) is a doctor and the boyfriend of Julie (Joan McCall), the daughter of “Papa Doc”(Gene Evans), a gruff asshole who owns several medical facilities, including a new sanitarium that Rick is aiming for the director position of. But Rick has competition from Harvey Beckman (Sorrell Booke), who has a hard time standing up for himself, especially when he keeps getting savagely cut off at the knees by his perpetually drunk wife, Ruth (Shelley Morrison). Pour another glass for Lovely (Carolyn Stellar), Papa Doc’s gold-digging wife, as she spreads her own discontent about the scene as well. The six of them are spending a weekend at Papa Doc’s winter lodge, along with the mentally challenged caretaker, Ralph (John Durren). Ralph even talks to his small herd of rabbits.

Yes. … They went there.

The kids find the lodge and break into the wine cellar. Following their trail through the snow, the doctor finds them, only to be dispatched in a gratuitous slow motion, sepia-toned scene of slaughter that drags out for over 2 minutes. Meanwhile, around that same time, Lovely is trying to bed Ralph, who misses every single hint, no matter how blunt. But when Julie walks in on this stunted attempt at seduction, she and Lovely have an argument that quickly devolves into one of the tamest “cat fights” to come out of ’70s cinema.

The kids are found (or reveal themselves) to the other occupants of the lodge, with most of them taking pity on their plight. From here, it’s a steady progression of the kids getting creepier and the adults getting deader, so I won’t go into those details because I don’t want to spoil some of the better parts of this good-bad film.

But what I will go into is some of the batshit craziness that happened behind the camera! Such as rumors that director Sean MacGregor was having a relationship with under-aged actress Gail Smale during the production, and that the reason her character was dressed as a nun was to conceal her albinism. From there, we have tales of MacGregor and producer Michael Blowitz getting physical with each other. MacGregor reportedly punched Blowitz in the face, and Blowitz threw MacGregor through a plate glass window in reply. Add to that that MacGregor was pulled from the film 2/3 of the way in because his work was deemed unusable, and David Sheldon was brought on to finish the film. To cap off MacGregor’s saga, it’s also reported he was admitted to an actual psychiatric hospital shortly after he left the production.

As for other endearing errors within the film itself, play a drinking game for each time Leif wears a wig because he had had his hair cut short for another film he started working on when he was brought back for reshoots. I would say you could do a drinking game around how often night immediately turns to day (or vice versa) or when the snow levels change outside, but I respect your respective livers far too much to abuse you like that.

**WARNING** This trailer gives away over half the kills in the movie.

Did You Miss Us?

Hey there, Fright Fans! Our holiday hiatus has ended, and we are returning to your ears shortly. The good news for you? We already have a packed line-up of episodes planned for the remainder of January, starting this Sunday with our next installment in the “Desert Island Picks” series. It’s Jenny’s pick for this month, and she choice movie sequels. Be on the look out for that one to drop on Sunday night or early Monday morning (depending on where you are) next week.

As for the rest of the month, we will be bringing current recommendations for Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, and Shudder with “Streaming Screams”, a Drive-In Double Feature (also Jenny’s pick), and then wrapping things up with our recap of the best of 2020, including our personal top ten horror film picks.

Thanks again for listening, and be sure to check out the “Podcast Macabre 2021 Horror Challenge” over on Letterboxd that is now underway!

Letterboxd Challenge Link: https://boxd.it/94YJU

Friday Night At The Video Store: HEAVY METAL (1981)

“They’re totally naked! You can see everything!!!”

Yes. To a pubescent boy (that boy being me), this movie was a holy grail back in the video era. You heard about it from older guys or siblings. You saw the magazine up on the top shelf in the supermarket, next to the tattoo periodicals and “naughty” books. And those rumors, suggestions, and even possible exaggerations (who cared!) lead me and my buddies to hunt this film down.

Following its theatrical release in 1981, Heavy Metal was only available on cable channels, once in a blue moon. It was usually HBO or Cinemax that would have it, and we would scour the monthly program guide when it arrived to see if it was in the rotation. Thing was, I did not grow up with cable. I lived in the rural area just outside of town, and this was also a few years before my grandfather got an 8 foot parabolic satellite dish that opened up sooooo many worlds for me. So it fell upon one of my best friends, Doug, who had cable, to help plan for the right night for a sleepover at his place so we could view this elusive creature at last.

By now, it’s at least two to three years since Heavy Metal was in theaters, and it was steadily gaining cult notoriety and might be found on a low quality bootleg as the home VHS market was starting. The soundtrack was released on LP and cassette in 1981, and even that was a hard find. But Doug and I finally found a night to catch this unicorn on late night Cinemax. Cue us staying up until 1:30 AM, sitting close to the TV with the volume down, as the epic opening segment “Soft Landing” begins. . . . Then cue us falling asleep before the end of “Den”.

I know, a less than epic conclusion to that chapter, right?

Now fast forward to 1996. Legal issues with rights holders for the music in the film bogged down any plans for re-releasing anything related to the film in the new media formats of CDs and VHS. But by luck, perseverance, and the work of Kevin Eastman (aka the co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), the soundtrack was released on CD in 1995 and the film officially on VHS in 1996. And you know damn well I got a copy as soon as they hit the stores.

My pre-teen quest was finally finished in my mid-twenties. I had on my shelf the film of my hormonal desires at last. And a part of me is actually glad it took me that long to see it because it gave me time and life experience to appreciate the film for what it is and who helped create it versus just thinking “Boobs!”

The opening segment of “Soft Landing” was based on a comic written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Return of The Living Dead, Dead & Buried). Featuring songs from The Riggs and Sammy Hagar, it was the perfect set up for the feast of hard rock and animation that would continue throughout. The mix of rotoscope style animation and traditional styles came about from hiring the work out to multiple studios to expedite production.

That opener flows seamlessly into “Grimaldi,” the wrap-around tale that introduces us to the unnamed daughter of the astronaut and the McGuffin of the film, The Loc-Nar, voiced by the legendary Percy Rodriguez (think of any film trailer from the 70s and early 80s, and you know his voice).

The first tale the Loc-Nar tells of those who seek its power is “Harry Canyon,” written by Daniel Goldberg and Len Blum, based off The Long Tomorrow by Moebius. In this wonderful future-noir tale, the animators do a fine job of mimicking Moebius’s style. Whenever I here Journey’s “Open Arms,” this segment always pops into my head.

The tales shift from noir to now (or 1981 now) as we meet “Den,” the titular tennage nerd (David Ellis Norman) from Richard Corben’s comic. In a freak storm that involves the Loc-Nar, Den is zapped from our world into another dimension and becomes older and buff as hell in the process while still being voiced by John Candy. This one was hilarious, gory, and just fun in so many ways.

Continuing in the vein of dark humor, we return to space and arrive at the trial of “Captain Strenn.” Loving all things Bernie Wrightson, I’ve always had a lot of love for this one since the character of Captain Lincoln F. Strenn is his creation, and, again, the animators do a decent job of striving towards his style. When Sternn’s chief “character witness” of Hannover Fiste takes the stand, all hell (and the space station) breaks loose. Legend Eugene Levy voices Strenn, and Rodger Bumpass (the voice of Squidward!) is Fiste. Adding Cheap Trick’s “Reach Out and Take It” is just a cherry on the sundae.

Hands down, “B-17” is the best blend of the animation, the story, and the music in the film for me. Maybe I’m just biased because I love World War II stuff, I like reanimated corpses, and Don Felder’s “Take A Ride (Heavy Metal)” is just a damn good song. You be the judge.

“So Beautiful, So Deadly” makes me laugh every time and makes me think they raided the SCTV cast for half of the voice talent in this. John Candy, Eugene Levy, and Harold Ramis all show up in this one. Just remember: Always go for broke with the nyborg, man.

Last but far from least, we are given the the longest segment of the film, “Taarna.” Featuring the last of the Taarakians, Taarna is seen in all her powerful glory on the poster. The sole survivor of a warrior race, she is summoned by an elaborate ritual to help a city under siege, only to find the enter city has been slaughtered by a band of raiders that were empowered and resurrected from a lava flow created by the Loc-Nar. Epic battles and epic tunes ensue (including “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” by Blue Oyster Cult), bringing the saga to a conclusion. . . . Or does it?

Surprises await the viewer and the Loc-Nar in the closing segment of the wrap around, and we exit on a happier, hopeful note.

Is there a film you searched for in your youth? Something you saw on the store shelf but missed out on? Just remember, Fright Fans: Never give up the hunt. Because when you finally find it, and night can be your Friday night at the video store.

THE RECKONING [Beyond Fest Film Review]

Neil (DOG SOLDIERS, THE DESCENT) Marshall’s latest film is set in 1665 England. The plague is still active, as are Withcfinder Generals, and witch trials. Grace (Charlotte Kirk) and Joseph (Joe Anderson) have a newborn and work the land they lease. Joseph takes a trip into town for work, and drops by the local pub for a quick ale afterwards. This decision sees him infected with the plague and, to save Grace and their child from the same fate, he hangs himself outside the family home.

With Joseph gone, the Landlord calls upon Grace to let her know he still expects the full rent on time. When he later returns he’s shocked to see her give her her late husband’s wedding ring as three months worth of rent. When he balks she attempts to give him her wedding ring to cover her for a total of six months. This leads to the Landlord deciding he’s rather “take the rent in trade”, and he begins to assault her. Grace fights back, and the Landlord is sent packing while warning her she’s not heard the last about this.

Stopping at the pub to “lick his wounds” he begins to spout falsehoods about Grace, and question what really happened to Joseph. If he truly had the plague both Grace and the child should have perished. If Joseph didn’t have the sickness, maybe Grace bewitched him into the noose that took his life. After reminding most everyone in the pub that he’s their landlord the group begin to drum up false accusations against grace.

These accusations see Grace attacked, taken into custody along with her baby, and brings Withcfinder General Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) to town to find the “truth” about Joseph’s demise and Grace. From here the film turns into part torture-porn, and part revenge-porn. These are two horror sub-genres I don’t care for, so THE RECKONING was a struggle for me to endure.

I can say that Sean Pertwee was chewing scenery, in the best way possible, as Moorcroft. However, there’s not much else that I can praise the film for. At nearly 2 hours it was far too long, and the script (co written by Edward Evers-Swindell, Charlotte Kirk, and Neil Marshall) didn’t bring anything new to the witch/witch trials sub-genre. If you don’t have the same opinion on torture-porn or revenge-porn as I do, this movie could possibly work for you. For me…I can’t recommend the film, and it’s not one I’ll look to revisit.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED [Beyond Fest Film Review]

By: Joe Meyers 8/7/20

Writer/Director Bryan (THE STRANGERS, THE MONSTER) Bertino is back with a film about siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbot Jr.) returning to the family farm for the week to help their Mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) with their terminally ill Father (Michael Zagst). It becomes quickly, and abundantly, clear the kids don’t return home very often and that their mother doesn’t want them there.

Bryan Bertino wastes no time dropping us into the thick of things. A horrible incident with Mother leads to the kids finding her diary. In it they find page after page of her taking about something evil out there coming for their Father. His nurse (Lynn Andrews) tells Louise her Mother had changed recently, began sitting next to her Father and talking, but it was as if she was speaking to someone else and not him. Louise becomes convinced their Mother kept telling them not to come so she could save them from the clutches of whatever she was talking to.

Louise and Michael both begin to see and hear things, and this is where Bryan’s script really grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. The sense of dread that falls over the farm is palpable. It is in fact, dark, wicked, and unrelenting as each new night raises the stakes until the kids decide they should have their Father transported to a hospital, so they could leave the farm. The evil entity haunting the farm, of course, has other plans for the siblings and those around them. 

The performances, especially by Marin Ireland, are impressive and gut-wrenching. Xander Berkeley as a Priest has a small but extremely memorable role as well. Bryan Bertino’s script is viciously efficient and cuts right to the bone. His directing masterfully places you in the middle of the horrendous events, won’t let you go, and forces you to watch the unspeakable events that unfold. This movie is bleak with a capital B, and it so very in my wheelhouse. I rarely have nightmares after watching horror films, and I have to admit I bolted out of sleep a little past 3:00 a.m. this morning because of the movie.

With THE STRANGERS it was all about “What happens if the evil gets inside?” Here the question is “What happens if the evil is already inside?” THE DARK AND THE WICKED will be available via VOD as of 11/6/2020, and I can’t wait to own it, and watch again. I have a good feeling I’ll be talking much more about this film when we do our top horror films of 2020 in a few months.

BAD HAIR [Beyond Fest 2020 Film Review]

By: Joe Meyers 10/6/20

Writer/Director Justin Simien brings us the story of an ambitious assistant, Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine), at a music television station in 1989 doing everything it takes to get ahead when her job is in jeopardy. This desire to move up the corporate ladder leads her to get a weave when her new boss, Zora (Vanessa Williams), tells Anna her look isn’t up to par for the music channels new “brand.” Zora gives her a card to the place she uses for her hair, and Anna eventually visits to get a weave. Unknown to her, the hair used for these weaves are “special” and just may have a mind of its own…as well as a taste for blood.

I have to say the scene where Anna gets the weave put on at Virgie’s, by Virgie herself (Laverne Cox), is one of the most terrifying and intense moments of the film. The scene is shot as slasher, every move seems menacing, and every moment seems to be killing Anna. Armed with her new look Anna climbs out of being on thin ice with her job to becoming associate producer on the overhaul of the music channel.

Anna quickly discovers the weave is “alive”, through several horrible incidents. While this film is billed as a horror-comedy, it really leaned into horror most of the time. The more out of control her hair becomes, the more her life begins to spiral out of control. Searching for answers finds Anna researching the myth of the Moss Haired Lady with the help of her academic uncle (Blair Underwood).

I found BAD HAIR to be a Hell of a fun ride. The cast is great, there’s so many people who are in this I didn’t even get to mention, and the mythology used to explain the sentient, evil hair was interesting. I did a quick search to see if the myth of the Moss Haired Woman was some that already existed or if it was created by Justin Simien. So far, I’ve not found anything on the tale. While there were comedic moments, it wasn’t a packed with comedy as the premise may suggest. So, keep that in mind going in. This isn’t some silly, horror parody. I also would have liked a deeper dive into the social commentary of the beauty standards black women face in life and in the workforce (please seek out reviews and articles about this film written by black women for a far better perspective on the social commentary, and really real world implications they deal with on a daily basis, than I can provide as a cis, white male). While it’s touched upon here, it’s not explored much further once the bloodshed begins. BAD HAIR will debut on Hulu on 10/23/20, and I’ll be watching it again for certain.

What In The Hell Is Chris, I mean, Joe Watching Now? MANTANGO (aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE)

By Joe Meyers

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a mushroom trip…”

6AB5B35D-9574-4087-9A0E-10EA3E943959

A little over a year ago I was at a get-together with my girlfriend’s family, and found myself in a conversation with a lovely, horror loving couple, Ed and Toni. At some point Ed asked me if I’d ever seen ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE, and went on to say it was basically the horror version (possibly part inspiration?) of GILLIAN’S ISLAND. To say I was immediately curious about the film would be an understatement. I loved GILLIAN’S ISLAND as a kid, and I would often come up with horror scenarios for the characters after watching episodes.

It took me some time after my chat with Ed and Toni before seeing MANTANGO (aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE), but it was worth the wait. This 1963 film was written by Takeshi Kimura, directed by the legendary Ishirō Honda, and was loosely based on William H. Hodgson’s short story, “The Voice in the Night.” Starring Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, and Yoshio Tsuchiy the movie really is about a trip on a yacht that wrecks off the shore of a seemingly deserted island…and yes, the characters feature a skipper, his mate, a professor, a wealthy man, and a celebrity among others.

03EA29F1-9CA2-4459-B4A7-3D2A615A55F1

As the group makes their way across the island they discover vast growths of strange mushrooms, and eventually come across a shipwreck on the shore. Exploring this ship they find evidence that whoever had been onboard was likely conducting nuclear experiments, possibly the cause of the mutated mushrooms. The longer they’re on the island to more certain individuals begin to unravel. At first they all agree to not eat the mushrooms, but as food is in sort supply some fail to keep that promise. The result is distrust between the members of the group and, once the mushrooms begin to alter the mind and body, upgrades to terror and paranoia. Honda always said the film was about drug addiction, and how people can loose themselves in their addiction. That social commentary does come across in the script, however, the DOCTOR WHO-like make up effects for the Mushroom People has this film far more memorable as a 1960’s slow burn, monster movie to me.

8EEA1881-A4CF-4425-8D32-DE4926A78F4A

I enjoyed the movie, but I’d actually love to see an update of this plot idea. While MANTANGO is beyond tame by today’s standards, I think a reimagining/remake could really ratchet up the body horror. Using modern practical and visual effects, as the mutated ‘shrooms take over from the inside out, it could be as dramatic a difference as John Carpenter’s THE THING was from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. If you’d like to take the (longer than three hour) tour with these castaways over a 90 minute runtime as well, you can currently find the film listed as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE on Amazon Prime.

 

“What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” – FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION Film Series

91ix8Wf-e5L._SL1500_

“Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

– “The Mourning Bride” by William Congreve (Act III Scene 2) (1697)

Revenge films are a sub-genre that dances along the edge of horror, but they can often be found diving fully into horror as well. Another sub-genre that is also known to do just that are the “women in prison” exploitation films. The film series I am going to discuss this time around brings all these together in Female Prisoner Scorpion franchise out of Japan.

The four films series from Toei Company ran from 1972 to 1973 with Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972), Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972), Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (1972), and Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song (1973). Actress Meiko Kaji played the lead role of Nami “Scorpion” Matsushima in all four films with Shunya Ito directing the first three and Yasuharu Hasebe directing the fourth. Based on the manga Scorpion by Toru Shinohara, the stories center around Nami who was wronged in the worst ways by her boyfriend, Sugimi, a corrupt narcotics detective. Set up and abused, Nami attempts to kill Sugimi in front of police headquarters and earns her trip to prison.

Female_Prisoner_701-Scorpion

In Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, Nami is subjected to brutal abuse from both the guards and her fellow inmates. But never does she break, because Nami is a bad ass, filled with rage and driven by vengeance. Fueled by this rage and through clever manipulations of her tormentors, things get bloody and gruesome, with many of those said tormentors meeting a nasty end. Outside of the “standard” tortures that Nami is put through, the set piece punishment in this installment was the digging and refilling and redigging of an exceptionally large hole in the prison yard. Events evolving from this led to a riot and escape, allowing Nami to finish her acts of vengeance.

Female_Convict_Scorpion_Jailhouse_41

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 opens to Nami having been returned to prison and bound up in solitary confinement. But she can still move her head, and she has been holding a spoon in her mouth and grinding it down on the concrete floor to make a shank! Told you she’s a bad ass. The prison riot kicks off early in this one, permitting a larger group to escape and going on the run during a transfer. This one dips into the spiritual and metaphysical a bit when the group of escapees comes across the hut of an old woman who essentially foretells what crimes they committed and how each will meet their end . . . except for Nami. There is still vengeance to be meted out as the warden from the first film survived and continues to torture and torment Nami whenever and however he can. As the road trip continues, it literally gets on the road with the hijacking of a tourist bus that leads to a standoff with the police. The ending takes a bit of a surreal twist, but it works.

Female_Convict_Scorpion-_Beast_Stable

Now third film, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable, goes off in an odd but effective direction and adds in a bit of gothic horror and supernatural happenings. Yet again, Nami has escaped custody and is on the run. The first person to spot her is a prostitute in a cemetery . . . where Nami is trying to chew through the severed hand of the police detective that is still cuffed to her wrist. And that’s not even the most cringeworthy moment in this one! I don’t want to say much more than that, because I feel this is one you just need to jump into and go with. Just be prepared for the occasional head scratching and the “WTF?!?” reactions now and then.

SONY DSC

The final film, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song, ended up being the weakest of the films for me, and I can chalk it up to a few reasons. The first being that while on the run (again!), Nami is found and aided by Kudo, a former student revolutionary who was tortured and maimed by the police. More than a third of the film focuses on him instead of on Nami, and it’s suppose to be her film. The second reason is the change in directors. Shunya Ito had a style in the first film that bordered on giallo to me, with his use of creative sets, bolded lighting, and quirky editing tricks. In each of the three films he directed, there was something technique-wise that caught my attention. Outside of one or two slightly trippy scenes in Grudge Song, Yasuharu Hasebe’s direction didn’t really do much for me. And a third thing! Even though Meiko Kaji could convey so much with a look that it allowed for keeping her dialogue to a minimum in the first three films, she had maybe four or five lines in the entirety of Grudge Song, and even those were used as internal monologue instead being spoken out loud.

Overall, it’s not a bad series of film if these are genres you like watching. If you are a fan of Japanese martial arts cinema of the early 1970s, you might recognize Meiko Kaji’s name from the legendary role she would go on to play shortly after this: Lady Snowblood. Like the theme from Lady Snowblood, theme song of this series will stick with you, too.

So, if my musings have piqued your interest, all four films are currently streaming on Shudder. What better way to pass the time in lock down than watching someone else in lock down?

jailhouse41-gif4

Friday the 13th: Forty Years of Sex, Betsy, and Bacon

By Jenny

doomed

Friday the 13th, the iconic godfather of the slasher film, turned forty this weekend. The fact that this movie is nearly as old as I am, and has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, is a big part of why I hold it so dearly. But this movie holds way more appeal to me than just the sentimental, so allow me to rhapsodize. This movie has it all-weed, snakes, sex, Kevin Bacon…what more can you ask for?

f13th counselors

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham, and made for a budget of $550,000, Friday the 13th was the 18th highest-grossing movie of 1980, and eventually went on to spawn one of the most iconic horror franchises in history. And while it was, and still is, beloved by horror fans, it had its detractors, including Gene Siskel, who loathed it so strongly that he spoiled the ending in his review, and the MPAA, who insisted the sequel have less gore, because they have no sense of adventure. It’s been said that the writer, Victor Miller, drew inspiration both from the stalwart Halloween and also the classic comedy Meatballs, which has a definite “two great tastes that taste great together!” vibe to it.

If you’ve never seen Friday the 13th (which, incidentally, is an issue you should remedy immediately, after reading and liking this post, of course), the movie starts with a serene night at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958, with songs being sung around the campfire. The children of the camp are sleeping in their cabins, which we know because we get an unsettling POV (and the first hint of Harry Manfredini’s deliciously minimalist score) of someone creeping through, watching them doze. Within minutes, the person has come upon a couple of counselors making out, and Willie Adams officially becomes the first victim in the franchise.

annie death

(Annie, we hardly knew ya!)

Then we come to Friday the 13th in “the present day”, where would-be camp cook Annie (Robbi Morgan)  is trying to find a ride to Camp Crystal Lake. She hitches a ride with Enos, who gives us some solid exposition on the dark history of “Camp Blood.” Annie is one of my favorite characters in the franchise, even though our time with her is short, and her sweetness and joie de vivre make her bloody, untimely death all the more shocking. We also meet the rest of the counselors: Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Jack (Kevin Bacon), Bill (Harry Crosby), Brenda (Laurie Bartram), Ned (Mark Nelson) and slightly creepy camp owner, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), who is infatuated by one of the most well-known final girls of all time, Alice (Adrienne King.) The Meatballs influence is clearly seen in the banter between the counselors, most notably so in the scene with Officer Dorf (Ron Millkie), who “ain’t gonna stand for no weirdness out here!”

creepy steve

(Told you Steve was creepy)

We also get to meet the predecessor to sooooooo many horror movie doomsayers, Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), who assures them that they’re all doomed, which they totally are. He appears earlier in the movie, but really cements his place in Friday history with his jump scare appearance in the pantry. From there, there are sexy times aplenty, but also murders aplenty, because vengeance is mine, sayeth the mom.

strip monoploy

(Take note-strip Monopoly leads to untimely death)

What’s interesting about this movie is that, while its OG slasher, Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) loses her head at the hands of Alice at the end, this little movie ended up spawning not only a prolific amount of sequels, it also led to the creation of one of the most well-known horror icons of all time, the one and only Jason Voorhees, who appears as the avenged child in this film. Luckily for all of us, Jason’s vengeful streak is as strong as his mother’s, but also has a tinge of the supernatural to keep it interesting, the precursor of which we see in his inexplicable appearance (and pee your pants moment) at the end of this film. He wasn’t a very good swimmer, but he seemed to have gotten the hang of it in the scene with Alice.

pamela

This is one of those rare movies that checks off all of the boxes for me, and always has. It’s got gore, it’s got a kickass score, it’s got sex, it’s got strong women, it’s got a creepy ghost/child, it’s got a plot twist-check, check check, check, check, check. I’ve seen it more times than I can count, yet I always get sucked into it, because it’s just such a fun ride. It’s also among the movies I consider “comfort food”-the movies I know so well and adore, and can throw on any time and end up in a better mood than when I started it.

So happy anniversary, Friday the 13th-you’ve slashed your way into our hearts and the public consciousness, and the world is a better, bloodier place for it!

friday-the-13th-movies-ranked-friday-the-13th