Movie Reviews - The Black Raven, Black Sabbath, A Blade in the Dark, The Blair Witch Project, The Blanchville Monster, Blank Generation

The Black Raven (B&W, 1943)
Cheapo PRC old-dark-house mystery with always-sinister George Zucco as a criminal called the Black Raven who runs an inn which is also called The Black Raven. During a bad storm, several people get stranded there, including an eloping couple, the bride-to-be's shady-politician father, a bank embezzler, an escaped con with a vendetta against Zucco, and Zucco's brother, Glen Strange (who was also with Zucco in The Mad Monster). When one of them gets murdered, everyone's suspect, and there's also a hunt going on for some supposedly-hidden gold. This results in more killing. Very cheap and creaky, but keeps moving. -zwolf

Black Sabbath (C, 1963)
Mario Bava's favorite among his films is a trio of horror stories based (supposedly - and minutely at best) on works by Chekov, Tolstoy, and Maupassant. The order they're in depends on if you're seeing a reworked American print (A Drop of Water, The Telephone, The Wurdilak) or the original Italian version (The Telephone, The Wurdilak, A Drop of Water), which is on DVD. "The Telephone" is a somewhat-familiar (nowadays - it was novel in '63) tale of a woman being threatened by a psycho who keeps calling her and who seems to know everything she's doing. "The Wurdilak" stars Boris Karloff as a Russian vampire who preys on those he loves most. And "A Drop of Water" is about a woman who steals a ring from the ghastly-looking corpse of a medium, who returns to get it back... None of the stories are especially surprising or brilliant, but the stylishness of Bava's direction is, and it makes this movie a horror powerhouse that's essential viewing. This is one of Bava's best, and that's 'bout as big a recommendation as any film will ever get. -zwolf

A Blade in the Dark (C, 1983) AKA La Casa con la Scala nel Buio, House of the Dark Stairway
What a cool pre-credit sequence! A kid ("Bob" from House by the Cemetery - he's in every Italian horror movie somewhere) is dared by two other kids to go into a dark basement in pursuit of a ball... You can tell that director Lamberto Bava learned a lot from his father Mario, as well as Dario Argento. And, as shown by his influence on his father's film Shock, he has a thing for Exacto knives. A composer who does scores for horror films moves into a creepy villa to get inspired for his work, but may get more inspiration than he bargained for. Soon after he moves in a woman is slashed to death through a chickenwire fence, and he notices weird whisperings in the music he's been recording. Later another woman is killed (pretty disturbing - not so much because of the gore, though it's strong, but because of the killer's crazy reaction to the event). The composer begins to suspect that killing are going on - he keeps finding evidence - but before he unravels it, he may become a victim. The dubbed dialogue is bad, with bad vocal choices - one woman has sinus problems and the killer sounds like Mickey Mouse - and the pacing isn't so hot (too much time spent watching this guy mix tapes), and the ending is just tossed-off and predictable, but there are still some strong shock scenes and an overall creepiness, perhaps more reminiscent of Dario than of Mario... -zwolf

Blair Witch Project (C, 1999)
Hey, you really can make a good movie in your backyard! The Most Profitable Movie of All Time (cost like $30 grand to make and grossed hundreds 'n' hundreds o' millions... that's a return-on-investment of... let's see... a real whole bunch!), and you probably already know as much about it as me and I've seen it a dozen times. Basically, it's one of the most original horror movies in years (although the "found footage" concept has been used - anybody remember Cannibal Holocaust? And did anybody watch the even cheaper $900 feature, The Last Broadcast?) and it may save the sagging horror genre 'cuz (A) it's actually scary, not funny, and (B) there are no special effects at all. Unless stick figures and piles of rocks are special to you. Plot is simple: three college kids go out into the woods to research the legend of a witch, and they get lost and stalked by something unseen, and end up... well, let's just say they're never seen again and all they find is the footage they shot, which makes up the entire movie. But, on this one ya can't really stop with just the movie. There's a cool website for info on the legend, a comic book recounting the history of the Blair Witch, a book detailing the search for the missing students, and even a "soundtrack" CD with the goth songs that were on the tape left in Josh's car. (The CD has some extra footage you can watch on a computer - just in case you don't have one, it's just Josh wanting to try to signal planes, and Heather and Mike telling him he's nuts). There was also an "In Search Of"-style mockumentary that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel and another short film called Burkittsville 7 that aired on a cable service (that one's mostly about Rustin Parr). This doesn't quite live up to the hype, but the hype was so heavy that nothing could. And, even though the movie does get a little tiresome with all the "oh damn we're lost in the woods" stuff and only really gets tense in the last ten minutes, this one is a definite must-see. The unsteady camera work caused some sensitive members of the audience to puke, and the intensity of the film caused one girl in the theater I was in to start crying... that's so cool! -zwolf

The Blanchville Monster (B&W, 1963) AKA Horror
A young lady returns to an old gothic castle to find that the father she though had died in an abbey fire is actually alive, but horribly scarred, insane, and out to kill her because he believes an ancient family prophecy that their lineage will end if she reaches the age of 21. He sneaks around at night, hypnotizing her into walking around the grounds, trying to lead her to a tomb and trying to convince her that she's dead. He puts her into a death-like state in hopes that she'll be buried alive, which was enough to get this marketed as being based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe. The pace is a bit too slow, but this Italian/Spanish co-production does manage a lot of gloomy, morbid atmosphere. -zwolf

Blank Generation (C, 1979)
A birth-of-a-rock-star movie about punk (or New Wave, really - Richard Hell ain't all that punk) is kind of a weird concept, given punk's no-rock-stars philosophy, but that's what we've got here. Punk also-ran Richard Hell stars (backed by the Voidoids) as Billy, a down-and-coming punker getting a record contract and rising on the 1979 NYC punk scene while trying to maintain his relationship with waaaaaaay-too-goddamn-pretty-for-him French girlfriend Carole Bouquet. This isn't easy since her temper explodes over absolutely nothing on a regular basis. Both of their careers suffer; he's distracted by being dissatisfied with getting what he wanted, and she's distracted by being too pretty for him, I guess. They break up and she goes on to conduct astoundingly pretentious interviews about cinema, and Richard keeps playing the same three or four punk songs over and over. The film meanders along until it finally gets so pointless that Andy Warhol shows up for a couple of minutes (mainly to just sit there and pretend he's *not* there - how brilliantly artistic of him!), and Richard and his girlfriend make up beause... why not? Directed by Ulli Lommel (The Boogeyman) and not really about much of anything. There's no real story and nothing really happens but I suppose that's the point. Not badly made, though, and the musical numbers are decent. -zwolf

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