Monday, October 27, 2008

The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)

Every so often, I will come across a film by accident that will completely take me by surprise. Sometimes I'll pick up a film just for the cover art, or I'll pick it up because I've heard about the film, and other times, as in this case, I'm purchasing a film which has another attached to it. Every Halloween, I'll make a round through all the local retail stores and see who has cheap horror films for sale to celebrate the season.

 Every so often, I'll find a good deal on a DVD that I already have on VHS cheap, or something will catch my eye. This year, I got to see a slew of compilations put out by TGG Direct - with some gruesome Rob Zombie-esque cover art - for the nice price of $5. Most of the films they were showcasing were ones I already had in my collection but I picked up one particular set because it had Pieces and I don't have that one on DVD format. At the end of the compilation's second disc was this film, nice and tucked away. I'd never heard of it so I thought I'd give it a try and all I can say is that I was really surprised.

The film opens up with a beautifully sequenced, or should I say, choreographed scene of three motorcycles in the night doing circles on a city street. Three motorcycles head off to a small apartment on the other side of town and end up killing a beautiful girl and hacking her to pieces. Her name? Sally Lamb. There's a reason I mention her name but I'll get to that shortly. Cut to a small funeral home where an undertaker with no name - played by Ray Dannie - is performing the funeral service for poor Sally. The murder is then investigated by a handsome private eye with a beautiful secretary who's trying to get him to marry her. Deciding to talk about it over lunch, they go to a small diner and what do you know? The chef's special is Lamb's Leg. Oh yes, I went there. The diner is owned by two low lives who are trying to strum business by getting the undertaker to supply the meat for the restaurant. Get the idea now? This movie must have caused a sir back in the late sixties. Gore, trash, sleaze, it's all there and yours for the taking. I don't want to give much of the plot away but this was probably one of the funniest slasher films I've ever seen. This was probably the predecessor to future classics such as Blood Feast and Motel Hell as the tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with blood and gore are enough to please. The film has a very dark tone but you don't really don't feel it, mainly because you actually get familiar with the characters and start liking them for the sheer comic value of their personalities. The movie is a laugh riot and before I knew it, I was really into the film and wondered to myself just how many people this film grossed out back in its drive-in heyday.

This took me by complete surprise and it's now in my top list of funny horror films, beating out Motel Hell by a long shot. If you can be patient - even with its very short 63 minute running time - and give this a chance, you'll end up loving it and wonder where it'd been hidden for so long. The best part of this whole film is the treat the producers give you at the end: when all the dead victims 'come back from the dead' to give one last bow and smile to the cameras. I apologize that this review is really short, but seriously, if you've seen the other two films I mentioned, you're already familiar with this type of plot. I've seen this on many of those 'multi-film' compilations and just last week I saw this one alone selling for about $2 in the bargain bin. If you see it, grab it, it's worth the price and worth investing your time in. You'll be laughing at the camp silliness - seriously, some of these scenes are a total laugh and a half - and paradoxical gross out factor - there are some genuine slasher scenes - that this has to offer. Look for this one. You will be smiling at the end during the closing credits and you'll want to see it again, just for the comedic value and you'll sit there wondering just how director T.L.P Spicewood got the nerve to not only write this film, but helm it as well.
Have fun with the trailer!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Other (1972)

In the horror genre, there are films that each have a goal in mind: Some scare you, some shock you. Some gross you out and some make you cringe in your seat. Then, there are those rare few that make you think long after the ending credits have rolled. This is one of them.

The Other is a 70's film that I read a little about back in the late 90's. The plot didn't seem to interest me much then for some reason and I skipped it. Now, this was before I was a more mature horror viewer, when all I wanted to see was how creative slashings and murders could be without ever taking tone, setting and atmosphere into consideration. Many years late, I've learned to appreciate little things in a horror film - or any film for that matter. The combinations of set pieces, locale, music, symbolism all combined to make a film what it is. I didn't get to actually see this film until just this year, which was fantastic because I was able to take this in as a whole and not pass it off as just another suspense film. I unexpectedly found this DVD in the used horror bin at Rasputin's and was immediately furious because the core of the plot - and its famous twist - can all be found on the back of the DVD's cover. Shame on you, 20th Century Fox! But I digress.

The story revolves around a small town in Connecticut and twin brothers, Niles and Holland (played by Chris and Marin Udvarnoky, respectively) who hang around each other and get into trouble. Niles, the good boy has to take the rap for the bad things his brother Holland does and nobody understands why bad things are happening. Niles seeks advice and comfort of his friend Ada (Uta Hagen) whom has taught him to play "the game", a euphemism for psychic telekinesis, in which Niles can become an object, for example, a bird, and become it for a brief moment and experience everything it feels and does. Luckily only they know about "the game".

The basis of the story revolves around a ring that was given to Holland when their beloved father passed away after an accident on their farm. Only the eldest child is allowed to have it, but Holland passes it on to his brother who keeps it in a small tobacco tin and guards it with his life, with another item wrapped in cloth. But, why does Niles have the ring when Holland is the eldest child? And why does Holland keep getting Niles into trouble?

The story is presented well and the acting is by far some of the best I've ever seen. Maybe that's thanks to legendary acting coach, Uta Hagen, who possible lent out her knowledge and skills because everyone just oozes superb acting, even the always wonderful and beautiful John Ritter shines in his minimal role as Rider. The film becomes more than just a suspense film, it becomes a study of a child who has refused to let go of the one thing that meant most to him in the world: his brother. There have been studies conducted across the ages of the mystical bond that unite twins and this film explores that bond and gets the viewer to understand how Niles and Holland are still connected, even though Holland is dead. Niles can still see him. Niles can still hear him. And Niles is the only one that can stop the reign of accidents that have been happening across the farm. But can he betray his brother? Can he use his gift of "the game" to finally put Holland to rest before the worst happens?

The strong point of the film is when the other item Niles has been keeping in his tobacco tin is finally revealed. He keeps a decomposed finger, which the ring he bears was attached to, safely put away in hiding. But where did this finger come from and who does it belong to? How did Niles get the ring from Holland if he died before he was able to pass it on to his brother? That answer will make your jaw drop if you're ever able to see this film. Then, Rider's wife finally has the baby she's been carrying. One night, the baby disappears while sleeping in Niles' room and the entire family, along with the town, goes on a manhunt to find the missing child. Niles has a feeling who's behind it and calls out his brother to return the child. The first time you hear Niles whisper, "Holland, where is the baby?" will give you the eeriest chill to ever run down your spine. You know who has the baby. And you know that nothing good can come out of this. It's even more heartbreaking when an innocent man is taken off to jail whom is suspected of killing the baby by drowning it in a pickle barrel. But who really killed the poor child?

The climax of the film will have you thinking for days. The who, the what, and the why will be constantly running through your mind and when you come to the conclusion of just what happened, you'll close your eyes and smile and wonder why films like this aren't made anymore. Sometimes, it isn't about how much blood can be shed on screen, but what kind of real scares you can give your viewers with the least amount of dialogue and just enough atmosphere to make your skin crawl. While the VHS of this film is long out of print, get the DVD while you can. This is a remarkable piece of film making that shouldn't be skipped or overlooked. And I'd never heard of Uta Hagen until her name was referenced in a Will & Grace episode, which is sad, because she truly made her mark with this film. If you can get your hands on this one, do so.

Here is the trailer so you can see what I'm talking about: