The Corpse Grinders (1971)

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What’s it like working for the Lotus cat food company? If your experience is anything like Caleb’s, your shift starts at midnight and you’re expected to dig up graves and retrieve dead bodies. You’re also continually stiffed on your paycheck. Lotus will stop at nothing to save a buck, so be ready for when, rather than paying you, they attack you and try to shove your body in a big hopper which grinds your flesh into ground meat.

Caleb (Warren Ball) has got it rough. His wife Cleo (Ann Noble) is stingy with the beef jerky (“a man’s gotta have meat!”), and thinks a toy doll is her daughter. Cleo, while she feeds the doll soup, nags and nags Caleb about the money. Lotus is doing just fine. Why can’t they pay him?

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Lotus is doing just fine. Yeah. Its CEO, Mister Landau (Sanford Mitchell), is one shrewd guy. Who would’ve thunk human flesh made such great cat food? No one seems to read Consumer’s Digest, so the fact that their product turns cats into crazed killers isn’t slowing down sales any.  The FDA’s none the wiser: “According to FDA standards, there was nothing adulterous or hazardous about it.”

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I don’t think that’s real American Sign Language, by the way, that Landau is using to communicate with his hearing-impaired secretary, Tessie.

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Lotus might be getting away with grave robbing to cut down on material costs. Landau might have a giant meat grinder for people right next to his office, but Dr. Howard Glass (Sean Kenney) and his lovely assistant Angie (Monika Kelly) are suspicious. Dr. Glass is a jack of all trades. His hospital apparently specializes in humans as well as animals. He’ll examine a cat’s autopsy and remove a man’s gallbladder all in a day’s work. And Angie. She’s a regular gal. She’s just like anyone else. After a long day’s work, she likes to strip down to her bra and panties, crack a Budweiser, and watch some television. “Why would the cats suddenly turn into man eaters?” That is the question that plagues Dr. Glass and Angie. Do they actually resolve this question? That’s up to the viewer’s interpretation, I suppose.

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Yes, you better believe the crew of The Corpse Grinders breaks out the red and green tints for the human flesh meat hopper scenes. Other than that, the photography is minimalistic and economical: You only really need one shot of gross, light brown man burger coming out of a meat grinder. Reduce, reuse, recycle. The Corpse Grinders only has one weakness. There aren’t enough cat attack scenes. You’re left wanting more, more, more scenes of cats launching themselves onto people’s necks and red, lipstick-like blood appearing. Other than that, it’s just as good as Ted V. Mikels’s other flicks: The Astro Zombies, The Worm Eaters, The Doll Squad. Thanks for this, Mr. Mikels. Thank you.

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Watch the theatrical trailer right here! 

YET AGAIN, I FAILED THE OCTOBER CHALLENGE

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I don’t know what it takes to watch 31 horror movies during October, because I can’t do it. I tried last year. I tried years before that.

The October Challenge, which, I believe, originated on the Internet Movie Database’s Horror message boards, asks that you watch 31 horror movies in October. 16 must be first time views and the other 15 you will have seen before.

Here’s what I (pathetically) managed:

*=first time view

  1. The Birds (1963)

I feel safe declaring THE BIRDS to be Hitch’s most out there movie. Legions of birds are turning against humans. Why? No one knows. But my favorite scene is the one where everyone in the coast town’s bar and grill has their own explanation. Absolutely classic.

2. Tales From the Crypt (1972)*

Fantastic British horror anthology film based on the E.C. comics. It’s hard to pick a favorite segment, but the one with Patrick Magee, playing a blind man who leads an uprising against his home-for-the-blind overseer, is the most memorable. Ralph Richardson is wonderfully sinister as the Crypt Keeper. And this film’s twist ending is one of the best ever.

3. Arachnophobia (1990)

A good, creepy, and warm-hearted popcorn movie for all the nostalgic children of the ’90s.

4. 13 Ghosts (1960)*

Another gimmick fest from William Castle in which a family moves in to a creepy old house. The previous owner of the said house collected ghosts as a hobby. Really corny and unbelievable, as the family is so utterly nonplussed by the ghosts. “Golly gee, our house sure is haunted.” Worth it, maybe, for Margaret “Wicked Witch of the West” Hamilton’s performance.

5. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

This one is considered by many to be the best Jason movie. I probably agree. It’s all here in spades: the formula, the terrible dialogue, the gore, the gratuitous nudity. And Corey Feldman takes down Jason in an unforgettable manner.

6. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

So much for The Final Chapter being final. This one tries to break the formula by placing the hatchet fodder–I mean, characters–around a mental asylum. (Hey, kind of like the 3rd Nightmare on Elm Street flick.) The sad thing: this is by far the most formulaic of any of the sequels. Yawn.

7. Warlock (1989)*

Really dumb movie. But, I guess, really entertaining, too. It’s sort of like THE TERMINATOR, but the bad guy comes from the past and not the future and is, well, a warlock and not a cyborg.

8. The Mummy’s Hand (1940)*

A slightly less intelligent sequel to the 1932 original with a lot more archetypal monster movie content. You’ll inevitably shake your head at the casual racism of the day in a few scenes. Tom Tyler makes a great Kharis mummy–maybe even a better one than Lon Chaney Jr.

9. The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)*

Kharis is back, this time played by Lon Chaney. Not the best Mummy movie by any means.

10. Night of the Creeps (1986)

Right up there among the best cheesy horror-comedies of the ’80s. It’s hard not to love this one. Tom Atkins kicks so much ass as a grizzled police detective. “Zombies, exploding heads, creepy crawlies . . . and a date for the formal. This is classic, Spanky.”

11. Madhouse (1974)*

A decent Vincent Price vehicle in which Price plays Paul Toombes, a method actor and horror star who starts to take his roles a little too seriously.

12. 10 to Midnight (1983)*

This is one of the most unintentionally hilarious Golan-Globus-produced Cannon films of the ’80s. It’s a hybrid action/slasher film starring Charles Bronson. Bronson is on the case trying to catch a serial killer who doesn’t wear a mask–he doesn’t wear anything at all, in fact. He’s a birthday suit killer. And Bronson has to crank the DIRTY HARRY formula way up to stop him.

13. Manhunter (1986)

This wonderfully atmospheric adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel, RED DRAGON is, I think, Michael Mann’s finest hour. Its use of noir-like visuals are amazing, and it has perhaps the definitive ’80s horror synth soundtrack. Tom Noonan (ROBOCOP 2, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) is terrifying as the Red Dragon serial killer. You’ll never hear Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda da Vida” in the same way again.

14. Starry Eyes (2014)*

The slow burn with a throwback synth soundtrack is turning into a sub genre unto itself, but STARRY EYES, though very much following this trend, is an excellent victim film about the Los Angeles struggling actor scenario going horribly awry. Just when you think there won’t be any gore in this one, it gets piled on heavy.

15. Vampires (1996)

VAMPIRES is John Carpenter’s last totally kick ass movie, filled with gritty action, gore, and dumb one-liners.

16. Housebound (2014)*

This horror comedy from New Zealand follows a young woman on the wrong side of the law who is sentenced to house arrest at her mother’s home, which happens to be filled with baleful secrets. This movie crosses genres quite well, and is chock full of twists and turns.

17. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Craven’s most meta horror movie.

18. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1980)*

One of those made-for-TV-beyond-the-grave-vengeance flicks.

19. Zombie (1979)

This is, without a doubt, my favorite Lucio Fulci movie, maybe even my favorite zombie movie: melodramatic, corny, eye-poppingly gory, and apocalyptic.

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HONEYMOON (2014)

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HONEYMOON starts out and it’s almost disgusting how in love with each other Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) are. As the title would suggest, it’s their honeymoon. They’re newlyweds. They have no shortage of sex to have, of inside jokes and loving horseplay to make. They’re off to Bea’s family’s lakeside cabin to celebrate their new married lives together. At first, as they mosey around half-naked, cook pancakes, swim in the lake, etc., it seems like they’re enjoying pure connubial glory.

A David Cronenberg-esque downward spiral would have to ruin that, wouldn’t it?

Oh, yes.

There’s a white flash in the middle of the night. Some dark force seems to stalk the woods. There’s a childhood friend of Bea’s they run into who’s definitely, definitely not behaving normally. Neither is his girlfriend. Bea’s not known to sleepwalk, either. Well, she’s sleepwalking now. She’s wandering off deep into the woods, too.

When she starts forgetting who she is, when Paul catches her writing down mnemonic notes on her basic identity, it becomes clear: something is up. The slime on a variety of her possessions is strange, too.

Things escalate and escalate to some revolting body horror and Bea finding an eventual “new home” in the heart of the woods.

Like Ti West at his best in THE INNKEEPERS, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and THE SACRAMENT, HONEYMOON is an exercise in the building of tension. Nothing bad happens for so long . . . then . . . blecch. A sense of danger is created out of the initial glaring lack of danger.

So, yes. You have the slow burn approach, which is becoming en vogue again (IT FOLLOWS). This approach works very well for HONEYMOON. Maybe the revelation of the danger at hand isn’t as shocking in this one as it is in the aforementioned West titles, but things still get damn creepy. Your jaw hangs open through the final act. Mine did, anyway. It’s a hell of a climax.

Did I mention it does wonders with its minimal budget? This couldn’t have appropriated funds in accordance with ambitions better.

But what’s great, chiefly, about HONEYMOON is how convincing Bea and Paul’s relationship is. They’re both quite eccentric and fun, and it’s tragic how, as Bea is slipping, part of her still—instinctually—wants to keep things normal, and so does Paul, as he tries to wrap his mind around what’s happening to his wife. They’re so trenchantly committed to each other throughout the film, which makes this a horror love tragedy: a unique take on the genre. The Autumnal vibe the cinematography gives off is excellent, too, as is the claustrophobic musical score and the grotesque—but sparing—makeup fx. (I mentioned David Cronenberg earlier, didn’t I?)

Overall, HONEYMOON is worth seeing for its fantastic sense of realism, its brilliant intimate performances, and the tragedy it injects into the genre. The directorial debut of Leigh Janiak, I can’t wait to see what else she has in store. This movie, for the most part, scared me shitless.

I FAILED THE OCTOBER CHALLENGE AGAIN.

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The Internet Movie Database’s horror message boards, every year, invite fans of the genre to participate in the “October Challenge.” To succeed, all you have to do is watch 31 horror movies during the month of October. 16 must be first time views. The other 15 you will have seen before. I’ve been trying to beat this thing for years. No avail. I watch tons of movies, but, like always, I got behind.

Here are the 27 I managed to see:

* = first time view

1. House of Usher (1960)

This is my all-time favorite Vincent Price movie. I also think it’s Roger Corman’s finest hour. Price is amazing as the raving, “afflicted” eponymous character, who says things like: “The history of the Ushers is a history of savage degradation.” HOUSE OF USHER is melodramatic and enthralling to the last second. Its great, literate screenplay was written by pulp author and regular TWILIGHT ZONE contributor Richard Matheson, and the music was composed by lounge lizard maestro Les Baxter, who enhances the movie’s crumbling Gothic vibe perfectly.

2. Private Parts (1972)*

I finally got to see the debut film of Paul Bartel, best known for EATING RAOUL. Ayn Ruyman (GO ASK ALICE) is alluring, naive, and–in fact–downright kinky as runaway Cheryl Stratton, who goes to stay at her aunt Martha’s divey L.A. hotel filled with lunatics, murderers, and perverts. This includes her aunt (Lucille Benson, in a role even nuttier than Bette Davis’s Baby Jane). There’s suspense, sexual perversion, and weirdness galore. This is a smart, hilarious black horror comedy which undeniably lives up to its cult classic status.

3. Cat People (1982)*

Roger Ebert described this one as “mythic.” Indeed it is–I think. It’s also as lurid as can be. Note the great Giorgio Morroder soundtrack, including one of David Bowie’s finest songs from the ’80’s. “And I’ve been putting out the fire … with GASOLINE!”

4. Trick r’ Treat (2007)*

A twisted, funhouse of a movie with cool makeup fx. It’s an anthology flick, but streamlines. I woke up a little disturbed in the middle of the night, thinking my laundry hamper was Sam, the monstrous trick or treater with a sack over his head.

5. Body Parts (1991)*

Jeff Fahey and Brad Douriff in the same movie? Bitchin’. This “modern” retelling of HANDS OF ORLOC is ridiculous, but fabulous acting, suspense, an incredible car chase sequence, and over-the-top gore make it memorable.

6. Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Yeeee-haw. 5 novel things about this bit of splatter hicksploitation: 1) Herschell Gordon Lewis based the story off the musical BRIGADOON. 2) Lewis, the “Godfather of Gore,” wrote, sang, and performed all the music, including the bluegrass numbers. 3) It was filmed in St. Cloud, Florida. Most of the town’s population is in it. 4) Its star and Lewis stock player, Connie Mason, was PLAYBOY’s June 1963 playmate of the month. 5) Lewis said, of his films, this was his favorite.

7. The Thing (1982)

What a flick. In my opinion, John Carpenter’s best work.

8. The Pact (2012)*

This one is terrifying. After her mother’s death, supernatural forces and an unimaginably frightening mystery emerge for Annie (Caity Lotz) in her deceased mother’s home. This movie is brilliantly plotted and paced with a harrowing level of suspense. It’s a victim movie par excellence, an underrated sleeper; I loved it.

9. Humanoids From the Deep (1980)*

Mutant fish monsters looking to mate with human women sure know how to crash a party.

10. Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Basil Rathbone, who played Sherlock Holmes over fourteen times, plays Baron Wolf Frankenstein. He moves to the village where his father made the monster and is greeted with scorn from locals. In effort to clear his family name he tries to make the monster good. Well … it backfires. This is one of the most visually striking FRANKENSTEIN movies with its dreamlike, asymmetrical sets and eerie use of shadows. Bela Lugosi plays a particularly evil Ygor, who survived a death sentence. Mel Brooks got a lot of mileage out of this one. It’s on equal footing with FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN–and marked Karloff’s last performance as the monster.

11. House of Frankenstein (1944)*

The second Universal Studios monster mash-up movie after FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN is corny and formulaic, but still pretty cool. Boris Karloff is great–not as the monster–but as mad scientist Dr. Niemann.

12. Lair of the White Worm (1988)

This is one of Ken Russell’s best films: trippy, offbeat, funny, and blasphemous.

13. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1970)

This team of nine surgeons picked the wrong accomplished organist’s wife’s surgery to botch. Doctor Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) exacts revenge on the surgeons, each of their slayings corresponding to a certain curse from the Old Testament. This is one inventive revenge story. It has great, weird sets, vibrant colors, and, in addition to Price, innumerable British character actors.

14. I Was a Teenage Zombie (1986)*

I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE has a distasteful cartoon logic similar to TOXIC AVENGER and STREET TRASH. Its soundtrack is also a repository for lots of cool ’80’s punk music.

15. The Nesting (1981)*

This is an atmospheric, but ultimately slow, rambling, and overlong haunted house flick. Not quite as boring as AMITYVILLE, but close.

16. Bride of Chucky (1998)*

Here I was, under the impression all the CHILD’S PLAY sequels sucked. BRIDE OF CHUCKY, albeit totally mindless, is a raunchy, self-aware, and hilarious movie. Jennifer Tilly is unforgettable, too.

17. The Invisible Man (1933)

Next to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, this is my favorite Universal monster movie. Invisibility corrupts, big time. Big time.

18. The Invisible Man Returns (1940) *

Invisibility corrupts again, and we get to see one of Vincent Price’s first villainous portrayals.

19. God Told Me To (1976)*

Of all the horror auteurs, Larry Cohen has always struck me as one of the best storytellers. His riffs on Christianity make for a crazy and fascinating film. Underrated.

20. The Beyond (1981)

That tarantula scene is simply revolting. Classic Fulci through and through. Yecch.

21. The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)*

Why–WHY–did I watch this? Its notoriety, I guess. Is it, like all those heavy duty horror freaks have been saying all these years, actually the sickest, most reprehensible piece of trash ever to have existed? I am inclined to say yes. Its minimal budget and overall amateurishness only add to how harrowing this little meditation on snuff films really is. Couple that with the totally drug-addled cast and crew, and, whoa, this is some nihilistic, awful stuff.

22.  Sisters (1973)

I love all the clever use of split-screen (split-personalities on a split-screen). Brilliant. And is Margot Kidder’s French-Canadian accent really that bad? I don’t think so. SISTERS is the ultimate De Palma experience: a Hitchcockian suspense flick with murder, gaslighting, spying, and insanity. All the while, the director wears his French New Wave influences on his sleeve.

23. Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (1974)*

You know what all these Frankenstein movies have been lacking? Cavemen and sexually perverted midgets.

24. The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)*

Like the Hammer film THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, this one is based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire story, “Carmilla.” It’s a smart, politically-charged film with anti-fascist, anti-patriarchical undertones. It’s hypnotic–part art house, part psychotronic–and has a brutal ending.

25. Phantasm (1979)

Morningside Cemetery has been invaded by some nasty inter-diminesional intruders. Watch out for their jawa-looking slaves and their flying metal ball which extracts all blood from your body. I love absolutely everything about PHANTASM, an offbeat horror classic and (unintentional) perfect distillation of the late 1970’s. Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man: it’s like Lugosi as Dracula, Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, Englund as Krueger.

26. City of the Living Dead (1980)

I feel sorry for Daniela Doria, who apparently had to puke up real sheep entrails in that car scene. Woof.

27. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Still, to this day, I think TCM is the scariest, most intense movie I’ve ever seen. Its “edge” persists with every re-watch.

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