What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Tourist Trap (1978)

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For those Fright Fans familiar with my viewing habits this time of the year, you know I’m neck-deep in three different viewing challenges over on Letterboxd, most notably the fifth annual HoopTober horror viewing challenge. But this viewing is related to the Horror x52 challenge (52 horror movies in 52 weeks) that I’ve been working on since the summer.

In comparison to the other films I’ve viewed and reviewed so far in my “What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” series, 1978’s Tourist Trap is probably the most known of these random cult classics. This was my very first viewing of it, and I felt it had enough oddballness (is that a word?) going for it that it fit with the spirit of why I started writing these posts. So let’s dive into this 40-year-old film, shall we?

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The Rifleman has a rifle!

The story centers around a group of guys and girls out on a random road trip when one of the cars gets a flat. We open on Woody rolling the tire to whatever gas station he might find along this back road that saw better days before the highway came through and diverted traffic. Within the first five minutes, we witness Woody getting whacked by either a poltergeist or a telekinetic attack after getting trapped in the remote gas station! Gotta love it when a film hits the ground running, right?

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Woody, we hardly knew ya . . . .

Well, of course the rest of the gang (featuring a young and brunette Tanya Roberts) goes looking for Woody and have their own car troubles out of nowhere. It just so happens that the breakdown is on the property of Mr. Slausen, played by the legendary Chuck Connors! Friendly Mr. Slausen runs a waxworks museum that saw better days and better business before the highway came along, too. In his efforts to help the remaining four protagonists, things get more and more creepy when he talks of his brother who made the wax figures but went to the city. About this time is when we start seeing someone wearing various masks and wigs, stalking the quartet.

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Anyone else getting a Leatherface vibe here?

I don’t want to say much more about the story because there is a plot twist (which most of you will see coming) and various plot points that make this film unique and interesting enough to stand out as an early slasher that more horror fans should make an effort to see. The final 5 minutes or so had some nice “Wait. What?” moments to make you glad you took this journey to it’s totally messed up ending.

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As Al Snow use to ask: “What does everybody want?!?”

Another reason to watch this is to pick out the influences behind it and the influence it may have had on some classics that came after it in the 80’s. Beyond the obvious House Of Wax inspiration there is a strong Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe throughout this, and that’s probably due to the co-writer of the screenplay having been the editor for TCM. Tourist Trap also uses the same effects crew as TCM. The telekinetic part may have been a note from Carrie, and one of the jump scares is a straight up homage to Psycho. For the films that came after, I have a feeling that Motel Hell was heavily influenced by this. The level of dark humor, the remote roadside setting, and the use of an aged-but-known actor in the lead can’t help but make me come to that conclusion.

I must note at this time that there is essentially a remake of this film that was an utter waste of my viewing time: 2005’s House Of Wax. Yes, they try to claim it was a remake/reboot of the 1953 classic, but come on! The 2005 film has far more in common storywise with Tourist Trap than with the true House Of Wax with Vincent Price. I mean, the only good things about the 2005 film is seeing Jared Padalecki pre-Supernatural and that Paris Hilton gets killed. Seriously.

Anywho, if you want to watch this, I strongly suggest watching it how I did. Watch it on Shudder with the “Last Drive-In” commentary from the legendary Joe Bob Briggs. The nuggets of truth and trivia and just plain ol’ fun he drops elevates any movie.

Now to get back to my movie challenges . . . . .

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Keep watching, Fright Fans!!!

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Belladonna Of Sadness (1973)

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A couple of years back, I started doing the “HoopTober Challenge” created by user Cinemonster over on Letterboxd because I love horror (obviously), making film lists, and being challenged to watch new stuff. During that time, there was one film that popped up on numerous lists in the category of “Films From Another Country”: 1973’s Belladonna Of Sadness. Given the fact that I’m also doing the “Horror x52 Challenge” and the “Birth Year Challenge”, both created by user kynky, waiting until now to watch it helped me kill two birds with one screening.

Belladonna Of Sadness (aka Kanashimi no Belladonna; La Sorciere, Tragedy of Belladonna, or Belladonna) is an animated Japanese production written by Yoshiyuki Fukuda and
Eiichi Yamamoto, and directed by Yamamoto, based on Satanism and Witchcraft by Jules Michelet. It tells the tale of young Jeanne and Jean, lovers preparing to wed in medieval France. Seeking the approval of the local Baron on their wedding night, the Baron instead demands a tax from Jean that he knows cannot be paid. Going beyond claiming “prima nocta”, the Baroness encourages her husband to share Jeanne with the entire court.

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Follow this, Jeanne vows her revenge, and in doing so sows the seeds to allow the devil in. Jeanne rises within stature and wealth within the village only to be struck down by the envious villagers and the wicked Baroness. When she has hit rock bottom after being cast out of the village, the devil manifests in his full power and seals the pact with Jeanne that brings her into her full powers as well.

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For the rest of the story, I encourage you to go watch this for yourselves, Fright Fans. This film is visually stunning and quite beautiful at times with the primary use of water colors for the animation. Most of the animation is actually camera pans across still paintings, but you let that go as the story draws you in as you cheer for Jeanne to gain her vengeance. The score by Masahiko Satoh is dead-on jazzy 70’s but not to the point of being obnoxious and fits perfectly.

The obscurity of this film is one of the reasons I picked it for this post, but there are some definite WTF?!? moments within it as well, dear readers. The animation depicting Jeanne’s rape is visually shocking in the way that it combines symbolism with the literalness of this violent assault. There is also nudity and fairly graphic sex many times throughout the film, including the devil looking (and acting) very phallic whenever he appears, growing larger with each appearance. And at about the 19 minute mark, I think I witnessed the birth of tentacle hentai when Jeanne’s torn dress kind comes to life.

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But the capper for the sex scenes? Well the orgiastic magical rites that Jeanne enacts with the villagers, of course. I’ve been mulling over how to best describe these scenes for the last day or so, and here’s the best I can come up with: Picture Yellow Submarine and The Electric Company (yes, the 70’s kids show with Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno) dropped acid with shrooms and formed the largest gang-bang daisy chain you’ve ever seen. … You want to go watch it now, don’tcha? Wait! I left out the bit that looked like someone giving a shocker to a greyhound. Don’t worry. You can’t miss it.

The witchcraft, possession, murder, and devils make this an amazing Asian art-house entry into the sub-genre of animated horror, and I highly recommend watching this wherever you can. It’s currently up on Shudder and has been played on Turner Classic Movies “Underground” block on Saturday nights in the past. Let me know what you think when you do. It does cast quite the spell on a viewer.

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[Film Review] Cold Skin

by Joe Meyers

COLD SKIN

Not Rated – 1 hour 48 minutes – Release Date: September 7, 2018 (USA)

Directed by: Xavier Gens

Written By: Jesús Olmo and Eron Sheean (screenplay)
Based on the novel, of the same name, by Albert Sánchez Piñol

Starring:
Ray Stevenson as Gruner
David Oakes as “Friend”
Aura Garrido as Aneris
In 1914, a man named “Friend” (David Oakes) arrives at a remote island in the Antarctic Circle to replace a meteorologist, who died of typhus. The only other person living on the island is Gruner (Ray Stevenson), the lighthouse caretaker. Friend’s first night on the island proves eventful, as he discovers typhus may not have been what killed his predecessor, Gruner is keeping secrets from him, and they’re not alone on the island. *Mild spoilers will be contained beyond this point*

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I actually saw COLD SKIN at Monsterpalooza back in April, but I wanted to hold off on writing a review until we got closer to its release date. I also wanted to have time to clarify my thoughts on the film. Some are comparing this film to Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar winning THE SHAPE OF WATER. I guess that makes sense in a “barely scratching the surface” sort of way. Both films do contain humanoid amphibious creatures, but they couldn’t be more different. The comparison really does a disservice to Xavier Gens’ COLD SKIN. If you’ve seen the same being said, don’t let it cloud your expectations for the film.

The story premise is great, and what I will say first and foremost about the film is that it made me want to read the novel, however I found the script to be lacking. It does start with a bang, and Friend’s first night on the island is tense and enthralling. We learn of the creatures’ existence as he does, so the viewer is caught up in his surprise, panic, and invested in his survival. I think that set up is what deflates the middle section of the film for me. Large parts of what comes after feels overly repetitive, and dull. That includes several scenes of the creatures trying to storm the lighthouse, which should be as terrifying as Friend’s first night. Sadly, they lacked the tension and sense of dread that was present for the initial attack Friend survived.

What this film does have going for it is Aura Garrido’s turn as the creature named Aneris. Her performance under makeup effects was memorizing, exceptional, and heartbreaking. The creature design by Arturo Balseiro and the makeup effects by Cesar Alonso were absolutely wonderful. Aneris looked amazing, and Garrido was able to convey emotion beautifully via expression through the makeup. David Oakes did a fine job for what he was given, but I thought Ray Stevenson was the most underserved by the script. I generally enjoy him in everything I see him in, but his character was flat and one-note for the majority of the movie.

While I found the middle of the film frustrating the ending was amazing. So, I can say it began and finished strongly. On top of that Cinematographer Daniel Aranyó turns in some haunting and dreary visuals. However, that isn’t enough for me to recommend this as a cinema viewing or even a V.O.D. option to a general audience. There is enough there to recommend a watch via streaming platform or cable, once it becomes available, if you’re looking for something a bit different. I respect what all involved attempted to do, but ultimately COLD SKIN didn’t come together as I had hoped it would.

 

[Film Review] The Night Eats The World (La nuit a dévoré le monde)

By: Joe Meyers

THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD

Not Rated – 1 hour and 33 Minutes – Release Date: July 13, 2018 (USA)

Directed by: Dominique Rocher

Written by: Jérémie Guez, Guillaume Lemans, and Dominique Rocher
Based on the novel, “La nuit a devore le monde”, by Pit Agarmen

Cast

Anders Danielsen Lie as Sam
Golshifteh Farahani as Sarah
Denis Lavant as Alfred
Sigrid Bouaziz as Fanny
David Kammenos as Mathieu

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THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD opens with Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) attempting to pick up his box of remaining belongings from his ex-girlfriend during a party at her place in Paris. He ends up locking himself in the study, and falls asleep while waiting on her to come talk to him. The next day Sam awakens to an empty, blood splattered apartment, and he quickly learns there’s been a zombie outbreak.

The rest of the film explores how Sam stays alive as the world around him seems dead and gone. This reminded me of a cross between CASTAWAY and IT COMES AT NIGHT. While there is a bit of action here and there, this entry into the zombie genre is way more concerned with delving into the human condition, and contemplating the meaning of life. To say it’s a slow burn is an understatement, but I found the movie fascinating and Anders Danielsen Lie’s performance kept my attention the whole way through. Dominique Rocher shows great promise based off his first effort directing a feature length film.

This won’t be for everyone (it’s currently at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, but only at 44% for the audience rating, and at 50% on Metacritic) like most recent, atmospheric and introspective horror films have been. I specifically mentioned IT COMES AT NIGHT earlier because this film has that same, plodding tone and feel. If that sounds like it would bore you to death, I’d advise you skip this movie for a ride on TRAIN TO BUSAN for your next zombie fix. If THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD sounds like it might been in your wheelhouse, I do recommend it for a viewing. It’s, without question, not your typical zombie fare and I appreciate that more than I can convey here.