So, over on our 13 O’Clock YouTube channel, the God of Hellfire and I have started a fun new offshoot series, in which we yammer endlessly about some of our favorite horror and scifi movies old and new. Right here is our first installment, discussing our impressions and personal stories about one of our favorite classic films, The Thing. Enjoy!
Ever since Mars was first observed through a telescope in the 17th century, there has been rampant speculation that the mysterious Red Planet could harbor life. Once the stuff of sci-fi stories, Mars exploration is now a reality, and scientists theorize that there could indeed have once been primitive life on Mars, and even that Martian microbes might have even seeded the early Earth. Further out on the fringe are those wacky conspiracy theorists, some of whom believe that everything from snakes to primates to child slaves to entire civilizations now live or once lived on Mars and that NASA is covering it up. On episode 46, Tom and Jenny delve into the fascinating world of life on Mars, from the earliest speculations to the most recent scientific discoveries to the craziest conspiracies. Fire up your Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator and listen in as 13 O’Clock goes searching for Martians.
Download the audio file from Project Entertainment Network here, or watch the YouTube version here. Also, don’t forget to follow the 13 O’Clock Podcast blog, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.
Long time no review, Goddess fans! As usual, I’m having to open this post by apologizing for my woeful lack of recent long-form film reviews on this blog. But as most of you will have surmised, I’ve been up to my forked tail in other projects, including promoting my latest book The Unseen Hand, working on my upcoming true crime book The Faceless Villain, and recording and promoting the 13 O’Clock Podcast, as well as trying to establish a new offshoot channel called 13 O’Clock In Minutes, which will, when it goes online, serve as a more bite-sized version of the show as well as a promotional vehicle for the main podcast.
So as you can imagine, I unfortunately haven’t had much time to sit down to watch and analyze some of the underrated horror flicks I adore so much. But today, a Saturday, fate intervened: the God of Hellfire and I had actually planned a small party this afternoon, but as it happened, when we awoke this fine morning, we discovered that our air conditioning had crapped out yet again (we just had it fixed two weeks ago, but Florida is nothing if not murder on air conditioning units), so we had to call off the get-together so our friends wouldn’t have to spend their Saturday sweating their asses off in our eighty-degree foyer.
Therefore, left at sixes and sevens with no plans, and confined to the bedroom where the emergency window unit is at least keeping the small area around the bed comfortable until the repair guy can come out several days from now, I decided I might as well put my sudden free time to use by watching some horror flicks and writing about ‘em. So after that enormous and probably unnecessary introduction (but hey, I’m the queen of too much information), let’s get to the actual movies!
I decided to return not only to my favorite decade for horror movies, but also to my favorite horror subgenre for this post. In short, I’m reviewing two haunted house films from the 1970s, both of which have made numerous appearances on various “underrated” lists around the internet, and both of which happen to have been made for television.
First up is 1972’s Something Evil, a TV movie directed by none other than Steven Spielberg (and airing not long after his much-better-known, classic made-for-television film Duel) and starring a bunch of familiar 1970s faces, such as Darren McGavin (of Kolchak fame, among many other things), Sandy Dennis (who was also in God Told Me To, which I wrote about here), and famously ginger-haired “Family Affair” kid Johnny Whitaker.
The story is a fairly standard haunted-house-slash-possession yarn, concerning a city slicker ad exec, his hippie-esque artist wife, and their two children moving from New York City out to a “charming” rural house in Pennsylvania Dutch country which turns out to be infested with demons.
While Something Evil, due to its subject matter, bears some superficial resemblance to other devil-possession films of the period, such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, I found myself comparing it more to other rural or folk horror stories from the 60s and 70s, such as The Other, The Wicker Man, Burnt Offerings, or Harvest Home.
After a cold open which sees an old man (presumably the home’s former owner) being pursued through a hex-symbol-adorned barn by an invisible force and then falling to his death from the hayloft, the Worden family purchases the property after wife Marjorie falls in love with the place while they’re on vacation. Not long afterward, things start to go south, though it isn’t clear at first whether something is wrong with the house itself or with the flaky and seemingly unstable Marjorie.
Despite the movie’s short runtime, clocking in at only 73 minutes, it’s still a pretty effective slow burn, and does a lot with its simple story. At first, there are just minor hints that something is amiss; for example, locals tell the family that something is odd about the place, and the townsfolk all seem to sincerely believe that devils are real. Additionally, the Wordens’ neighbor seems to make a point of ritualistically killing chickens in the yard and flinging their blood around, which disturbs Marjorie greatly, as it would.
As if that isn’t unsettling enough, Marjorie thinks she hears a baby crying out in the barn, but nothing is there when she goes to check. She also begins to grow increasingly interested in the occult and with the hex symbology prevalent in the area. Early on in the film, a couple attending the Wordens’ housewarming party is killed in a mysterious car accident on the way home, adding to Marjorie’s increasing paranoia that something evil has been unleashed in the house through her actions.
Naturally, Marjorie’s husband Paul thinks she is losing her mind, as he is often away at work and doesn’t see any of the phenomena that Marjorie claims is taking place. And indeed it does seem as though Marjorie herself is essentially the problem, as she grows depressed, suicidal, and even violent toward her children. It gets to the point where she paints a hex symbol on the floor as protection and keeps her children locked away from her, as she no longer trusts herself around them, sincerely believing that she has become possessed by demons. In a final twist, though, it comes to light that Marjorie is not the target of the demons’ evil at all, and in fact the only possessed person in the farmhouse is the couple’s son Stevie, whose demon-hosting status is revealed at the end in a well-staged scene complete with levitation and scary voices.
While the plot of Something Evil will be extremely familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of horror films from the era, Spielberg’s direction really elevates what could have been just a forgettable, throwaway 70s TV movie into something quite intriguing, using its presumably tiny budget to great effect. Everything is kept very understated, but slightly off-kilter, giving the film a pleasing sense of dread-laden believability. The ambiguity is also very well-done, and adds to the unnerving atmosphere. The movie additionally boasts some eerie, surreal touches, such as the creepy discovery of a mason jar full of red goo from which the ghostly baby crying apparently emanates, and the unexpected appearance of a pair of glowing red eyes in a photograph at Paul’s advertising agency. No rotating heads or pea soup vomit, sure, but the low-key effects work well within the movie’s framework.
I would unreservedly recommend Something Evil, not only to Spielberg fans curious about his early work, but also to connoisseurs of 70s horror in general. The film certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s still an enjoyable little occult thriller with some effectively haunting imagery. It’s just a shame it isn’t better known and more widely available.
Next on our double feature is a British teleplay from 1973 called The Stone Tape. Written by Nigel Kneale (probably most famous for writing the Quatermass series), the movie was broadcast on BBC 2 as a Christmas ghost story, though it’s actually more of a mashup between old-school Victorian ghost story and tech-driven sci-fi, somewhat similar in concept to The Legend of Hell House.
The tale concerns a gaggle of laddish, wisecracking scientists who are in the process of moving into their new research facility in a partially renovated and reputedly haunted mansion called Taskerlands. The scientists are apparently trying to develop a new recording medium to wrest the cutting edge away from their Japanese competitors. But the only female member of the team, a computer programmer named Jill who is also evidently somewhat psychic, almost immediately sees a ghost in the unrenovated portion of the mansion, and shortly afterward, the male members of the team all hear bloodcurdling screams emanating from the same area. It comes to light that the ghost is very likely that of a maid named Louisa who died by falling down the stairs many years before, and that the part of the house that’s home to the ghost is also exceedingly old, perhaps dating back to the era of the Saxons.
While the entire team is disturbed by the haunting, they’re also quite curious and keen to use their state-of-the-art research equipment to record and study the mysterious phenomena. After much theorizing and jiggery-pokery, they figure out that the stone walls of the old room are acting as some sort of crude recording device that takes impressions of extreme emotions that occurred in the room, but that instead of just recording like one of those newfangled magnetic tapes, the mechanism is actually dependent upon the sensitivities and emotional states of the living people present, i.e. that the humans witnessing the haunting are analogous to amplifiers for the titular “stone tape.”
The scientists are quite intrigued by this hypothesis, hoping that it might be a scientific breakthrough that can put them ahead of their technological rivals. But the more they try to get the phenomena to perform for their tests, the more frustrated they get, until at last it seems that they have accidentally erased the recording of Louisa’s death, and most of the team decide to abandon the project, since they believe the “haunting” is gone.
Jill, though, isn’t having it. Being more sensitive than the men, she feels there may be something deeper lurking at Taskerlands, hypothesizing that Louisa’s ghost might have been only the top layer of the recording, and that older recordings might have been overlaid by the most recent one. Bolstering her theory is a local priest, who informs her that an unsuccessful exorcism was performed on the land in 1760, before the house was even built, suggesting that the land has been haunted for far longer than anyone thought. She also has a frightening episode in which she hears and feels a malevolent presence, but no one else hears it.
Jill tries to tell the remainder of the team about her discovery, but no one wants to listen, and her friend and director of the project Peter Brock tells her to take a two-month leave because he thinks she’s losing her marbles. Before she leaves, though, she goes in the room one last time, and is summarily killed by the entity. The men find her later, her eyes frozen open in terror.
In a final little “fuck you,” Brock informs the authorities that Jill was emotionally unstable, and he shreds all the research she was doing that showed that the evil presence might have been there for seven thousand years. But Jill gets some small measure of revenge from beyond the grave when Brock goes into the haunted room at the end and is subjected to the most recent recording: Jill’s voice screaming his name before her death and begging for him to help her.
I have to admit, I didn’t like this one quite as much as Something Evil, but it was still an entertaining sci-fi ghost story that was a bit heavier on the sci-fi than the ghosts. The acting was a tad stagy, and the beginning of the film almost felt like a Vaudevillian routine, but that’s to be expected for a British teleplay of this era, and once it moved past that, it was a fairy effective scare-fest, though also like a lot of films of the time, it takes a while to get where it’s going, and the full impact of the story doesn’t come to fruition until the final couple of minutes.
If you liked The Legend of Hell House but thought it needed more focus on the haunting machine, then you’ll probably love this, as it’s a pretty similar concept, and in fact, the hypothesis that ghosts are simply recordings of past events that have somehow been captured by surrounding materials is still known in paranormal circles as the “stone tape theory.” I’d also recommend it if you liked the Quatermass movies or other 70s British sci-fi horrors, such as The Asphyx (which I wrote about here) or The Projected Man (which made a fantastic MST3K episode).
That’s all for now, minions! Keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the sci-fi genre or of horror/sci-fi crossovers. There are some exceptions, of course—the Alien franchise, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers—but on the whole, aliens are not really compelling baddies for me. So it was with some degree of meh-ness, on Halloween night, that I agreed to give a lesser-known British sci-fi horror flick from the 80s a whirl; the film was the God of Hellfire’s pick for the evening (our other two Halloween screenings included more traditional horrors, The Omen and The House That Dripped Blood, in case you wondered). Despite my initial trepidation, though, I have to say that I am now rather glad that the GoH exposed me to this hidden gem, because I would have likely never sought it out on my own, and it is deeply, intensely fucked up, but in the best possible way.
Released in 1983, the bewilderingly-titled Xtro was directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, and was presumably made to cash in on the wave of popular sci-fi films of the period, like E.T., Alien, and Videodrome. It was pretty resoundingly panned on its first release, but became something of a cult film in the ensuing years, spawning two sequels so far (though the sequels don’t have much of anything to do with the original movie). It’s not difficult to see why the film slowly found an audience, because there is some very, very strange shit going on in this thing, and though it’s a fairly low-budget affair, the special effects are actually quite good for the time, and some of the imagery is pretty disturbing.
Xtro tells the story of a boy named Tony (Simon Nash) who is playing with his dad Sam (Philip Sayer) in the yard of their farmhouse when suddenly an intense light blazes out of the sky and apparently drags Sam away with it. Cut to three years later. No one really knows what happened to Sam, but Tony and his mom Rachel (Bernice Stegers) have had to move on with their lives, and now live in London with Rachel’s new boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin) and a hot French nanny named Analise (Mariam d’Abo), who was presumably shoehorned into the film to provide the requisite titty shots.
Meanwhile, a light shines out in the woods again. Two people driving down a dark country road hit a freaky-looking creature with their car (in one of the movie’s creepier scenes, and in fact one that made the rounds on YouTube labeled as a “real” monster sighting), and stupidly go into the woods to try to find it. The creature kills the man, goes back to the car and takes care of the woman, then circles around to a house. It attacks the woman living within and impregnates her. Her belly swells to gargantuan proportions in minutes, and then a fully-grown, blood-slick Sam comes crawling out of her monumentally wrecked vagina. After heading back into the woods and stealing the clothes off the car-driving dude he killed, Sam heads to London to try and track down his family.
Here’s where the whole thing gets a little more bizarre. Sam picks up Tony from school, so when Rachel comes to get the boy, she is told that his father has already taken him. She chases them down, and sees that Sam has indeed returned. She’s glad to see him, but angry that he seemingly left them three years earlier with no explanation. He says that he doesn’t remember anything about what happened, so Rachel feels bad for him and takes him back home. Tony is overjoyed to have his father back, but naturally Joe, the new boyfriend, is far less enthused, especially when it becomes clear that Sam doesn’t really have any intention of leaving and Rachel doesn’t have the heart to tell him to take a hike. Joe eventually sort-of moves out, though he’s still sharing the photography studio where he and Rachel both work.
So it’s all a very awkward family drama into which more weirdness soon manifests itself. Tony wakes up in the middle of the night covered in blood that isn’t his. The next day he catches his father eating the eggs of his pet snake, has a freakout, and hauls ass out of the house. Sam chases after him, reassures him that everything is fine and that he just needed to eat those eggs because he’s different now, and wouldn’t Tony like to be different too? Tony seems to relent, because hey, that’s his long-lost dad, so Sam creepily puts his lips on the kid’s neck and either starts sucking blood from him or inserting something into the blister he makes there.
Later on, back at home, Sam tells his son that he has powers now, and can pretty much do anything he wishes to do, and that now Tony can too. Predictably, the first thing the kid uses his powers for is revenge: Tony’s pet snake escapes and turns up in the apartment of their busybody downstairs neighbor (played by Anna Wing), who chops the hapless reptile into pieces. Tony uses his newfound alien magic to animate a toy soldier and make it grow life-size, so that it can troop down to the busybody’s flat and poke her to death with a bayonet. It’s a weird, unsettling scene, not least because it doesn’t make much sense, and also because the actor playing the life-size toy soldier has some creepily inhuman movements to go with his plastic, unmoving face.
Tony also brings one of his clown dolls to life in the form of a sinister little person (Peter Mandell) who does his bidding. When Rachel decides to take Sam back to the farmhouse to see if he remembers anything about the night he disappeared, she leaves Tony in the care of the often-shirtless nanny. Analise wastes no time in inviting her boyfriend over for some afternoon delight, but Tony keeps pounding on the bedroom door, insisting she play hide and seek with him. Finally she agrees to a short game and begins searching the apartment for the boy, at which point Tony and his creepy clown henchman hit her on the head with a mallet and then drag her into the kitchen, where we later see that she has been attached to the wall in some sort of cocoon. Squishy eggs are squelching out of an ovipositor-type tube where the bottom half of her body was. The clown midget takes these eggs and places them lovingly in the refrigerator after coating the inside with some lumpy green goop. Analise’s boyfriend, by the way, is first chased and shot at by a toy tank, then attacked and eaten by a black panther that is inexplicably wandering the halls. Because aliens.
Back at the farmhouse, Rachel and Sam are going at it, but suddenly Rachel notices that Sam’s skin is starting to rot off. He takes off into the woods toward a bright light, and Rachel runs after him. Joe has brought Tony out to the farmhouse after he finds the kid running around outside the apartment alone and everybody else dead. Sam starts alien-ing like crazy, turning back into the creature we saw at the beginning. He makes a high-pitched shriek that apparently ruptures something in Joe’s brain, killing him. Then Sam gets to the light, and he has Tony with him, and Tony is starting to alien out too, hand in hand with his dad, and then they both disappear and Rachel is standing there in the field where the light just was, wondering what the fuck just happened. She doesn’t wonder long, though, because later on, she gets back to the apartment, finds the eggs in the upturned fridge, stupidly picks one up and stares at it until a little hand thing shoots out of it and attaches itself to her face and kills her.
So everybody dies, pretty much, except for Sam and Tony, who I guess live happily ever after on some alien planet far away, where they fill their days with telepathic toy control, big cat training regimens, and reptile-egg feasts. Did I mention this was a weird-ass movie? It’s kind of like a low-rent Cronenberg flick, what with all the goop and tentacles and vaginal imagery and creatures with backwards legs and what not, and even though the guy who played Joe kept reminding me of a lost member of the Romantics, I actually enjoyed the thing a great deal more than I thought I would. As I said, some of the images—the first sight of the creature scuttling across the dark road, the full-grown man emerging from the woman’s torn hoo-ha, the eerily grinning clown doll come to life—are really effective, and I quite liked the very downbeat, bleak drama of the whole family dynamic, which I guess is pretty typical of British films. It’s definitely an odd little film, but one that I’d recommend to fans of the genre. And with that, until next time, Goddess out.