Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012: The End is Nigh

By Chris Dimick
The end has been prophesied by the ancient Mayans for centuries. In 2012, what was light will turn to dark, the final chapter read and closed, and the culmination of years of horror will cease.
That's right, 2012 will mark the end of the Rich-Dimick Horror Project.

We will enter the new year screening the final five films of the RDHP. When the credits roll on our last, 2011 year film, we will have viewed and blogged on 92 horror movies, one from each year between 1920 and 2011.

Below, we take a look at the last five films of the RDHP, and ask you to decide what our final film of the project will be.

Nick and I hope you have a great new year, and invite you to help us close out our horror project in style by watching these final films along with us.

Load up the Netflix with the below films, view, and then submit your comments on the blog. In a way, we will walk into the darkness together, hands held tight and blood-splattered faces held high.
Just like the Mayans would have wanted.

Final Five Films of the RDHP
Watch along as we come to the end of the project with these beauties.

Count Yorga, Vampire
Sixties couples Michael and Donna and Paul and Erica become involved with the intense Count Yorga at a Los Angeles séance, the Count once lover to Erica's just-dead mother. After taking the Count home, Paul and Erica are waylaid, and the next day a listless Erica is diagnosed by their doctor as having lost mucho of blood.

When she is later found feasting on the family cat, the doctor becomes convinced vampirism is at work and that Count Yorga and his large isolated house are just too suspicious to not be involved.

Cat blood, eh? Those LA health nuts will try anything!

Sunset Boulevard

Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this is not your typical horror film. But the tone, plot and setting of Sunset Boulevard garner more chills than many slashers.

The story, set in 1950s Hollywood, focuses on Norma Desmond, a silent-screen goddess whose pathetic belief in her own indestructibility has turned her into a demented recluse.
The crumbling Sunset Boulevard mansion where she lives with only her butler, Max, who was once her director and husband, has become her self-contained world.

Norma dreams of a comeback to pictures and begins a relationship with Joe Gillis, a small-time writer she thinks will take her to the top. The story ends with murder and total madness.

Some people will do anything to nurse a dying star... right Lindsey Lohan?

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter

Legendary outlaw of the Old West Jesse James, on the run from Marshal MacPhee, hides out in the castle of Baron Frankenstein's granddaughter Maria. But instead of playing nice, Maria proceeds to transform Jesse's slow-witted pal Hank into a bald zombie, which she names Igor and orders to do her bidding.

Oh jeez, that old Hollywood chestnut is being hauled out again? I've heard of the Jetsons meeting the Flintstones, but this is ridiculous.


When May was a child, she was a lonely girl with one lazy eye and no friends, unless you count a weird and ugly doll kept in a glass case given to her by her bizarre mother on her birthday.
May becomes a lonely weird young woman, working in an animal hospital and assisting the veterinary in surgeries.

It's psychological horror about a woman traumatized by a difficult childhood, and her increasingly desperate attempts to connect with the people around her.

Oh, come on. Lazy eyes are sexy!

Final Film: 2011
You Decide!
After counting the first round of reader votes, two films are tied for the win. Please cast your tie-breaking vote between:

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
A young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend discovers creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own.
You are saying that tween girls aren't ALREADY monsters?


Apollo 18
Decades-old found footage from NASA's abandoned Apollo 18 mission, where two American astronauts were sent on a secret expedition, reveals the reason the U.S. has never returned to the moon.
And that reason is: wars are more important to spend money on than science.



Thursday, December 22, 2011

There'll Be Scary Ghost Stories

By Chris Dimick

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
There'll be parties for hosting. Marshmallows for toasting and caroling out in the snow.
There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases, long, long ago.
Wait, back that thang up. Scary ghost stories? On Christmas?

No, Andy Williams wasn’t smoking reindeer chips. Yes, scary ghost stories are indeed a key part of the holidays, whether you celebrate Secular Christmas, Religious Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice or Unsolicited-Gift-Exchange-Day.

Need proof, just look at the abundant number of horror movies set on and around the holidays. Below is a list of some of the best of these holiday horror-shows. 
But first, just why is “Christmas” (which I’ll use as an umbrella term for the above listed holiday celebrations) such a ripe angle for horror? 
Why would “scary ghost stories” be told during what is supposed to be the most joyous and festive time of the year?

Reason One:
Christmas Horror is Counterintuitive.
If you haven’t picked up on how you are supposed to feel right now from the last two months of TV commercials, songs and decorations being shoved down your throat, I’ll offer this summary: 
This is the time of year you will feel clinically happy, surrounded by free gifts, warm loved ones, and endless sugary treats to fuel the insanity.

Christmas is a time of safety, of comfort, of joy. Your guard is down and your optimism is up. This makes it the perfect time to set a horror story. What better way to jangle people’s bells than to depict horrific circumstances of blood, spooks and terror in a situation that is supposed to be clean, safe and happy. 
It might a cheap trick, but it works.

Reason Two:
Winter was Once Terrifying.
What is the worst that can happen to modern man during winter, with his raging furnaces, grocery stores stocked with globally-grown food, and gasoline-fueled transportation? For most people who are not homeless, winter is just that season where they feel a bit chilly walking from their house to their car. 

But not that long ago the winter season brought with it the prospect of death and misery for several reasons. Can’t collect enough firewood, you’ll freeze. Didn’t grow enough crops to last till spring, you’ll starve. Three feet of snow trap you in your home, you’ll go insane. Winter was a mean son-of-a-nutcracker.
"Christmas" is a celebration of winter, and of the changing year. But it is also a celebration that winter isn’t permanent, that the terror will soon subside. At its core, it is a distraction from the hard times that lie ahead. 

We bring evergreens into our homes this time of year to remind us that greenery and life will return come spring. We eat, drink, and be merry so our minds don’t turn to the looming dread behind each ever darkening, sunless day.   

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, but from a glass half full standpoint it is also the turning point of the dying day. “Yeah, the sun is barely coming up anymore and the hardest period of the year has just begun… but at least after today it will stick around a little bit longer each sunrise!” people used to remind themselves.Or at least party to try and forget.

The terror of winter has become sterilized out of our hearts and culture thanks to modern conveniences and technology. But it is still a powerful menace ready to strike, and subconsciously a point of free for humans. This makes it ripe for horror. 

If you don’t believe it, just talk to those people stranded on Lake Shore Drive during February’s Chicago Snowmageddon (above) that dumped three feet of snow in mere hours. People stranded on a CTA bus. For 14 hours. With strangers. Some who smelled.

Reason Three: Horror is Festive.
The above line from Andy Williams’ classic holiday song makes some people puzzle and puzz, till their puzzlers are sore. Just who sits around and tells scary ghost stories on Christmas?

Charles Dickens does, for one. Old-timey time people did, for two. And my family definitely does, for three.
Dickens’ oft remade classic A Christmas Carol is the most famous scary ghost story for Christmas. 

And yes, it is a horror story, play and movie. Jacob Marley returns from the depths of hell to warn his former partner and general asshole Scrooge that he better change his ways and be kind to people, or he will meet the same fate.

Scrooge is visited by three ghosts, who show him in his past, present and future how his evil ways affected his loved ones and his life path. By the end Scrooge is so scared shitless and moved by the ghosts that he repents, changes, and becomes a jolly Christmassy Santa-worshiper. Now that is a ghost story if I ever heard one.

I have to image that scary ghost stories were also a favorite for people to tell each other during Christmas back before the days of television, movies and radio, when all you had to do each night during the holidays was listen to the fire logs crackle and stare at each other.

Back then for entertainment people would play games, sing songs, and, yes, tell stories. There are only so many Christmas based stories you could hear before wanting to discuss something more interesting. You got the entire family assembled, sitting in the candle light around the fire with the terrifying winter blaring outside… no better time to spin a scary yarn or two! 
And people did, inspiring Williams’ oft-misunderstood line in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

But that is not a tradition that died with the Victorian Era. At least in my family’s house. The Dimick's are group who love to tell stories, both of times long ago and fictional experiences. 
Christmas is one of the only times all year that all five siblings, their spouses and children and our parents are together in the same place. 
This festive atmosphere leads to all sorts of “merry-making,” including the telling of lurid, funny and scary tales.

I’ve written before that a very popular, and hilarious, topic of conversation and storytelling around Christmas at my parents’ home involves Krampus – an old mythical German figure who would accompany Santa Claus during his rounds, beating and stealing bad children while Santa showered gifts on the good. 
A scary story indeed, but a fun one at that. Read all about Krampus in my previous 2010 Xmas blog here.

We talk about nice, Christmassy things too. 
But mixed in are always a few fact and fiction horror tales: like the story of “Teacup Head,” the premature baby stored in a cigar box behind the stove (for warmth) who had magic fingernails and a head so small it could fit in a teacup. 
I’m sure we’ll get a few lumps of coal in our stockings for that little ditty!

Why tell these tales? Why watch horror Christmas movies? Why mix in some dark during days of bright?
Because horror is fun. Horror is festive. Horror is Christmas.

These films put the ho-ho-ho in horror. Beware... he sees you when your sleeping.

Treevenge (2008)
You’ll never look at your tree the same. Christmas trees ripped out of their forest plan revenge against people enjoying the holidays. One of the most creative holiday horrors in the last 30 years.

Gremlins (1984)
Talk about a gift gone awry! A boy inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new Christmas pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.

A Christmas Carol (1984) / Scrooged (1988)
You know this one. There are an endless number of versions of Charles Dickens’ holiday tale, but most agree the George C. Scott version is the best classic rendition. 
As for the modern update of the story, which has also been done to death, the best is the Bill Murray-lead Scrooged. It'll scare the Dickens out of you.

The Children (2008)
Where’s Krampus when you need him! A relaxing Christmas vacation turns into a terrifying fight for survival as the children begin to turn on and creatively murder their parents.

Santa’s Slay (2005)
Don’t sit on this Santa’s lap. Santa Claus is actually a demon who lost a bet with an Angel, so he becomes the giver of toys and happiness. But when the bet is off, he returns to his evil ways.

P2 (2007)
A businesswoman is pursued by a psychopath after being locked in a parking garage on Christmas Eve. 
Serves you right for working on a holiday. Haven’t you ever heard of work-life balance!?

Tales from the Crypt (1972)
The first of the five tales in this vignette film features a wicked Xmas story. Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) murders her husband on Christmas Eve for his life insurance only to be attacked by a psychopathic killer dressed as Father Christmas. 
Her daughter, charmed by Saint Nick, lets him into the house. Didn’t she ever learn about taking cane canes from strangers?

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Leave it to Tim Burton to create the perfect meld of Christmas and Horror.
Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. 
One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween. But they just don’t get it.

Black Christmas (1974)
“A Christmas Story” wasn’t the only holiday movie made by director Bob Clark. But, this film features more horrific things than sticking your tongue to a flagpole and confronting the school bully.
A sorority house is terrorized by a stranger who makes frightening phone calls and then murders the sorority sisters during Christmas break. Geez, why do people get so stabby around the holidays?



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Film #87: You'll Find Out (1940)

Kay Kyser has a face for radio.
He also has a body for science (post-mortem) and a personality for a 16-year-old slumber party (spastic and sassy).
But boy can his band blow!
It is one of the few redeeming qualities for radio host and band leader Kyser, which explains why music is a focal point of this week’s Kyser-lead Kookfest, “You’ll Find Out.”

Kyser is just minding his own business producing, directing and starring in his hit radio show “Kollege of Musical Knowledge” when he is approached by trust-fund heiress Janis Bellacrest to perform at her 21st birthday party. 

Seems like an easy gig at first, a private party for a beautiful girl and her equally stunning friends, free booze and a nights stay in a mansion. What could go wrong!?

Seems Janis forgets to tell Kyser that she is a marked woman. Over the past few days there have been no less than three attempts on Janis’ life, and it’s likely another attempt will come during her party. Oh, and she also forgot to mention the party will take place on a spooky private island with only one entrance and exit… a mansion that also happens to be haunted by the spirits of her safari-loving uncle and the cannibal natives who killed him!
Cue thunder, lightning, bladder leaking!

Unfortunately for Kay and his goofy band mates, they find out this information too late – arriving for their gig with glee. While on the island, a "huge storm" knocks out the escape bridge. Spooks, murders, and soggy drawers or not, the band is stuck there and decides to go on with the show.

But how do they know the house is haunted by the dead uncle hunter? Why Janis’s wide-eyed eccentric Aunt Margo Bellacrest is a fan of the paranormal, and has shacked up with a bonafide medium named Prince Saliano (Bela Lugosi) to help her with her hobby.

Janis smells a rat (must be the Hungarian food), and asks her aunt’s lawyer Judge Spencer Mainwaring (Boris Karloff) if he is suspicious of Saliano’s intentions. Is he just using her old bag of bones aunt to get some scratchola?
Mainwaring doesn’t think so, but Janis orders him to bring in renowned psychic fraud investigator Professor Karl Fenninger (Peter Lorre) to prove her right.

Arriving to the party just before the bridge goes out, Fenninger is ready to defraud Saliano. But he’ll need Kay Kyser and his band of merry men to help. 
The group hatches a plan to rile up Saliano into performing one of his séances for the group… an act that will allow Fenninger to prove he is a fake once and for all.

But is that really a good idea to tamper with the spirits? What if Saliano is for real!
Meanwhile, the attempts on Janis’s life continue at the house. Just who is trying to off lil’ Janis, Aunt Bellacrest’s sole heir to her vast fortune, before her 21st birthday?
Is Saliano employing sorcery to off his accuser? Or perhaps one of the other guests are in for the kill.
Want to know if Saliano is a fraud, if the house is haunted, and just who is trying to kill Janis?
You’ll Find Out in this 1940 musical caper.

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 2.5
Chris Dimick finds out:
“Musical horror is a hard thing to do right. 
Signing and terrorizing just don’t seem to want to go together, unless you are watching A Clockwork Orange’s Signing in the Rain sequences. You’ll Find Out attempts to mix the spook with the song, but falls back on an old standby when the tune starts to go flat… the laugh.

This film is a musical comedy horror, and in that order. The centerpiece is Kay Kyser and his “Kollege of Musical Knowledge” band playing Spike Jones-type songs about the “Bad Humor Man” (versus the ice cream pedaling Good Humor Man) and ripping off one liners and physical comedy bits.

The movie is really a showpiece for the Kyser group, which actually did have a radio show in 1940 (a fact I know thanks to loyal RDHP reader Jim).
Because of this, some of the point was missed on Nick and I. It would be like watching Garrison Keillor’s 2006 film “A Prairie Home Companion” without ever having heard the NPR radio show the film is based on.

That said this movie was still fun to take in, especially given the all-star team filling the film’s creeper roles; Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and a surprisingly svelte Peter Lorre. I’d watch those three guys paint a fence, or cut their nails, or do their taxes, or mow the grass, or sit in a dentist waiting room, or… sorry, my brain got stuck.

I’m guessing there were three reasons these fine horror-star gentlemen decided to act in this film:
1.      It was an easy paycheck.
2.      The film counted toward a studio contract fulfillment and/or favor to a friend.
3.      They were fans of the Kay Kyser show.

Still, let’s give the bad-boys some credit. For a musical comedy horror, there were a few hair raising scenes in this flick. 
For instance, the first séance sequence featured musical instruments floating crazily about the room, eerie piano music that ran down the spine, and best of all specters entering the room and giving chilling warnings delivered in one of the spookiest voice modulations Nick and I have ever heard. 
It was as if a demon was screaming directly down the tunnel of Joan River’s ass. The horror!

Or, for a better description, it sounded like one of those voice boxes throat cancer victims use to talk, only filtered through a wind tunnel playing amped up electric guitar feedback.

You’ll come for the horror icons, stay for the funny songs, and leave after the credits.
That is to say, you WON’T be disappointed… but You Will Find Out!

N-Rating: 3.0
Nick Rich finds out:
“Thinking about this film makes me feel like scatting:

What can I say? Kay and his band of merry men sent my toes a'tappin and my kness a'slappin! See what he did to me? He's even effecting my speech three days later! Is it any wonder I wanted him to get aced while watching this film? KAY KYSER AND HIS INFECTIOUS BEATS MUST BE STOPPED!!!

'Opps! Did I infect your brain with old timey radio tunes? Tee-hee!'

But what is horror if not that which, uninvited, infiltrates our minds? What is it also, if not that which is familiar enough to relate to, yet twisted in some horrific way to bend our minds toward the macabre? Oddly enough, in my case, You'll Find Out ended up employing both of these horror elements...

You see, I grew up visiting my grandparents quite often. Better, salt-of-the-Earth types you will not find and as it turns out my grandfather loved the Lawrence Welk show. He watched it every week. For 50 years.
When having Sunday dinner the evening would be dictated, naturally, by when Lawrence was set to come one (7pm for those of you who aren't in 'the know'). 'Hey grandpa, want to play cards?' 'Maybe later Nick, Lawrence Welk is on!'
Needless to say, I grew up watching a lot of floating bubbles, singing siblings and big band renditions (which, for the record, I would say made me all the richer).

"And a 1, and a 2, and a 3!"

So I have Welk firmly ingrained in my psyche... which added an entirely different dimension to being exposed to Kay Kyser and his particular 'style'. Welk was calm, monotone and amiable, whereas Kyser behaves like a goofy teenage girl on crack. Naturally I found this persona to be alarming when tested against the warm memories of Welk and the Sunday evenings of my youth.

Kyser's speech and antics in the first 3 minutes of the film actually made me hope he would be one of the first victim's of the film (this was before I realized that he was the main character and the film was a vehicle for him and his band). Drats! Death was no release in this instance!

Sometimes they come back...

But as I found out, it's ok Kyser didn't die in this film. While he was overwhelming in the first bit of the movie, he actually tones it down and the remainder of the film is really quite enjoyable. The performances of Boris, Bella and Lorre alone are worth a viewing and the smooth tunes and period feel of this flick make it a fun 'romp'. There were some slow scenes towards the middle, but overall I enjoyed this feel-good musical comedy horror. In fact, I'd say it's a great flick to watch around Christmas... it's lite, happy and has familiar faces you actually love to see... and isn't that what we all want out of a Christmas gathering?

Two things scared me in this flick: Kay Kyser's stage persona
and Ginny Simms cemented upper lip.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you've ever wondered what goes on behind the microphone of your favorite NPR show... or if you want to experience a horror BLT (aka Boris, Bella & Lorre).”

Things We Learned from You’ll Find Out:
-One becomes rich by being an ass.
-According to the 1940s, when dames talk they are either dramatic or hysterical.
-Chris head-bangs to all forms of music.
-“Off with your thinking caps and on with your shoes that tap” is just an awesome thing to hear.
- One can graduate from the Kollege of Musical Knowledge.
-There is a difference between a weasel, a measle and an easel.
-The only thing old fashioned in radio is the comedian’s joke.
-Nick wants Kay Kyser to die. He got his wish in 1985.
-For those who scoff at their existence, the spirits have no tolerance.
-Big band was once considered “modern trash.”
-It was once fine for strange grown straight men to share a small bed.
-Mel’s due date is 13 days away.
-Peter Lorre is the golden age’s Steve Buscemi:

Quote of the Viewing:
[Kay Kyser and his band introduce themselves to Janis’ mystic Aunt Margo by mentioning she may have heard their music on the radio]
Margo: “I’ve heard your music before, but it wasn’t on the radio. It was… [Eyes drift off into space] from another place…
Chris: [In haunting Margo voice] “… the TV!”

RDHP Presents:
Awesome Voice Club
This week’s film features three of the most distinctive actors in horror. But equally as famous as their acting is their trademark voice! Boris’s smooth speech is like warm velvet on our ears. Bela’s ethnic pratt rings of romance and pain. And Peter Lorre’s nasally whine sounds manic and perverse. But these horror icons are not the only ones famous for their speech. Below, we nominate other members for the RDHP’s Awesome Voice Club.

Morgan Freedman
Only a calming voice like Morgan’s could convince someone to watch a show called “Through the Wormhole” and not snicker like a 13-year-old.

Baby Voiced Girls
These gals, like Marilyn Monroe or Betty Boop or the girl in the above 30 Rock episode, love to put on the baby girl routine complete with soft squeaky voice and eye lash batting. 
Drives both guys and gals insane, one with lust/rage and the other just with rage.

Bobcat Godthwait
His voice is like audible crack and speed mixed with meth. Looking for a softer side of Bob, check out his performance in the Xmas Bill Murray classic Scrooged. Do it… I’m sure it’s on right now somewhere.

Vincent Price
He has the velvet pipes of Boris Karloff with just a touch more mischief. Try and hold a frown when Vinny starts a purrin’!

Christopher Walken/William Shatner
Both of their voices are like audible heart attacks. So much. Stopping and… starting!

Fran Drescher
What the hell. The Nanny? What year is this list being complied in?

Tom Brokaw
I’m. Tom Brooooookaw. And. I’m. Hoooonored. Toooo. Be. Ooooon. This. List.


If you thought Fran Drescher was annoying (and an outdated reference), try listening to this green goblin yack while balancing heavy objects on your mind. I’m surprised Luke didn’t lightsaber a brother with all that screeching and backwards talking.

Hank Azaria
If Lon Chaney was the Man of a Thousand Faces, Azaria would be his vocal equivalent. On the Simpsons alone Azaria provides the voice for Moe Szyslak, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Chief
Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, Carl Carlson and many more. Best. Voice Over. Artist. Ever.

Samuel L. Jackson
So many mutherf$%king swears come from of his mutherf$%king voice!

Stephen Hawking
Congrats, Stevie, your voice proves you are the first true cyborg.