It’s All Connected: Necromancy (1972), Satan’s School For Girls (1973) & The Night Walker (1964)

I’m at the end of this year’s It’s All Connected as far as watching goes and I’ve got to admit, I haven’t exactly been hitting it out of the park. Totally changing my plan and watching Food Of The Gods after Frogs might have been fun in the moment, but it sure added a lot of steps that might be more accurately labeled as missteps. Find out more when you hit the jump!

Enter, if you dare…

Halloween Scene: 13 Ghosts (1960)

13 ghosts poster

Every time we visit my inlaws’ house, I enjoy going through their On Demand horror offerings. I was pretty excited to realize they had several different William Castle movies available to watch for free. I had big plans for gorging on these offerings, but wound up only getting through one, 13 Ghosts. I don’t have a lot of experience with Castle, a director and producer who tried to add extra elements to his films to make the movie-going experience all the more engrossing and terrifying, but I absolutely adore his House On Haunted Hill and was pleasantly surprised by the madcap haunting-comedy The Spirit Is Willing.

13 Ghosts finds a down-on-his-luck professor Cyrus Zorba and his family moving into his dead uncle Plato Zorba’s house, which is great because they were looking for a new place to live after pops forgot to pay the rent. Ol’ Plato was a scientist who built glasses that allowed him to see ghosts. As it turned out, seeing them also somehow binds a ghost to the viewer so he effectively collected spirits and brought them back to his house where they now haunt Cyrus’ family. Oh, also, there’s the matter of the money that Plato hid somewhere in the house that even his pals Ben, a lawyer, and the housekeeper Elaine, don’t know the location of. Elaine is played by Margaret Hamilton, best known as the Wicked Witch Of The West from The Wizard Of Oz, something I didn’t notice until I read it on IMDb.

Castle’s gimmick this time around is achieved with the use of Illusion-O viewers. When prompted in the film to do so, you hold up a card and look through either the blue strip of plastic or the red strip. When the ghosts appear in the film, the screen goes mostly blue, but the ghosts appear in red, so if you’re looking through red, you won’t see them. Seeing this on TV, I could see the outlines of the ghosts and some faint details, but I’m not sure if having the red tinted glasses would have made things clearer. Still, they were effective ghosts that looked pretty creepy thanks to both the ethereal nature of their appearance on screen and the make-up or mask work.

Even without the gimmick, though, I thought this was a pretty effective haunting flick. Like I said, the ghosts looked great and there were a few other elements that are spoilery that I’ll skip over. There was also a lot of great work done with sound. This flick features some of the creepiest ghost moans I’ve ever heard. Still, the movie never slips into true terror or fear territory. A lot of that comes from Cyrus’ son Buck, who just kind of runs around the house and has a great time with all this insanity. Maybe it’s me looking at this movie through the glasses of my era, but there’s a lot going on in this movie that would not fly whatsoever these days.

Like a lot of folks my age, I first heard about this movie thanks to the remake annoyingly titled Thir13en Ghosts from 2001. Oddly, I’ve seen a lot of that movie, but never the whole thing all at once. It’s the kind of flick I see on TV and will watch a chunk of. One of these days I’ll get around to watching it all together. To Netflix!

Swinging 60s Summer Shenanigans: Beach Party (1963) & The Spirit Is Willing (1967)

beach party

Like most folks, I’m a creature of habit. As it turns out, I’ve got a pretty set habit of watching certain kinds of movies at certain times. Horror movies in the fall give way to Christmas movies which eventually give way to action movies and the occasional drama and then, when spring and summer hit, I want to watch a combination of 80s comedies, all-time favorites and — the latest entry in the equation — fun flicks from the 60s. Last year I watched a good deal of the Frankie and Annette beach movies including Bikini Beach, Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine, Pajama Party and Ski Party. I also watched Beach Party, but never got around to watching it, so in the spirit of the season and as a way of paying tribute to Annette Funicello who recently passed away, I figured I’d give it another view. 

This is actually the very first in a series of teen beach films put out by a company called AIP that all featured teens usually during summer vacation operating in remote locations on their own with little-to-know parental or adult supervision. While never overtly so, the films play with and talk about sexuality in tongue in cheek ways. Beach Party finds Annette and Frankie (Avalon) heading to the beach to spend the summer in a beach house. Turns out, though, that Annette wasn’t super excited about spending all that time with just Frankie, so she invited their whole crew along.

As dudes in movies did back then — and still do in real life today — Frankie takes his anger at this situation and directs it in a negative fashion by flirting with other girls. That makes Annette angry, so she winds up fancying an older anthropologist who’s in the area to study the mating habits of the modern American teenager who he often compares to tribes from other continents.

Most of the elements found in the latter AIP films can be found here. There’s the rocky relationship (that’s not really that rocky) between Frankie and Annette, lots of surfing, spontaneous dance scenes complete with hot musical acts (this one has Dick Dale and the Del Tones), a biker gang lead by Eric Von Zipper, a few cool adults and healthy doses of innuendo. I like this movie for the same reason I liked all the others: in addition to being a fun and entertaining movie on its own, it also acts as interesting time capsule from an era where teenagers were becoming a whole new demographic, one that was looking to live a completely different way than their parents before them, something that hadn’t really happened much up til that time. Sure, this is a Hollywood cash grab to try and co-opt that, but at the same time, these movies must have had a huge influence on the kids and young adults they were marketed to. It’s like when I was a kid watching Saved By The Bell, that was an interpretation and sanitization of youth as seen by TV execs and writers who were much older than their subjects. And yet, kids like me watched that and internalized it into reality. Fun stuff to think about!

the Spirit is willing

After watching Beach Party, Netflix suggested I watch The Spirit Is Willing. I was completely unfamiliar with this film but become wildly intrigued the more I looked into it. First off, it’s directed by William Castle who directed an all-time favorite of mine The House On Haunted Hill. He also did 13 Ghosts and The Tingler, movies that all took advantage of gimmicks to give theatergoers extra thrills. What intrigued me was the fact that this guy who was so known for straight up horror movies decided to try his hand at comedies. This particular comedy stars legendary comic Sid Caesar and Vera Miles of Psycho fame as the parents of Barry Gordon (the original voice of Donatello on TMNT!). Sid and Vera have decided to rent a house in New England seems nice, but is actually haunted by a psychotic woman who killed her new husband on their honeymoon as well as the maid she found him kissing. She wound up dying too in the craziness.

What you get with the film is a young man who seems to rub his parents the wrong way at every turn in the unfortunate situation of trying to convince his parents that the house his haunted. Things get more complicated from there as the rich uncle comes to visit and gets involved, the dad starts to believe after talking to the town’s local librarian, the mom thinks that dad is having an affair, the uncle thinks the boy is a crossdresser because he’s buying all these different items for an older woman in an effort to get one of the ghosts to show up at a naval themed costume party. Catch all that?

What’s great about this film is that it works on several different levels. Even though I marked it as a horror film over in the categories, it’s about 95% a comedy and 5% a horror film (if that). In fact, the only reason I’m giving it that large of a percentage is that it plays on one of my big fears: knowing that something strange and possibly deadly is going on but not being able to convince anyone else. Plus, you’ve got giant knives of various kinds flying around at people, the near hanging of one of the characters and plenty of ghostly shenanigans that practically destroy the house and this family (the ghosts here have no trouble interacting with the physical world, but can’t talk to the living). As a comedy, it works on several levels. You’ve got the cartoonish slapstick that comes from the ghosts trying to constantly kill each other and anyone they come across. At the same time, the script has plenty of hilarious bits from Caesar (as you’d expect) and young Master Gordon who mixes snotty 60s teenager with Borscht Belt stand-up.

I feel like there’s also other levels that the movie works on. There’s a larger metaphor going on here about how younger and older generations have trouble dealing with one another. That’s the central conflict at the heart of the movie, but I’m not sure if it’s trying to say much more than what it says or if there’s a deeper meaning. It doesn’t really matter if there is or not, though, if you can read into it, it’s there in some way. Anyway, this is less of a focus, but I get the idea that there’s an aspect of “normal life is the real hell” because of how Caesar’s character suffers through the film. There’s a very real and heartfelt moment early on after the kid’s first interaction with a ghost and Sid says something like, “We’re living with a stranger.” As the movie progresses, you can tell he’s got a really heavy heart because of the loss of relationship with his son. We also eventually learn that Casear — an editor — is in danger of losing his job. For some reason he also seems wildly distracted to the point that he dodges the obvious advances of his Vera Miles which is the hardest thing to believe in this ghost tale.

As I said above, the end of the movie gets somewhat complicated as all kinds of subplots come home to roost, but I was impressed and surprised with how the film ended as it was a cross of happy and sad-but-still-kinda-happy. So, let’s call this SPOILER TERRITORY for a nearly 50 year old movie, but there you go. At the end of the film, the snooty, jerky uncle winds up getting straight up murdered by the jilted lady ghost. This allows her to haunt him for all eternity and supposedly leave her husband and the maid to chase after each other on their own. This not only ends her reign of terror, but, unbeknownst to them, alleviates Sid and Vera’s money woes because they’re his only relative and they’ll get all his cash. It was cool implying this at the end of the movie without directly stating it. I also enjoyed that the parents decided to take it a little easier on their kid, even if he was kind of a snotty jerk before the ghosts started wrecking havoc with his life.

While these films aren’t really all that related aside from being comedies from the same decade, I still give each of them a big ol’ thumbs up and recommend anyone check them out.

Halloween Scene: Dawn Of The Dead (1978) & House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Dawn Of The Dead is one of my absolute favorite movies, not even just horror. There’s something about it that used to draw me to it constantly in college. I bought a VHS of it on accident, thinking it was Day Of The Dead on a trip to a going out of business video store in my college town and watched it over and over. Eventually, I found the four disc set with the theatrical, extended and European versions of the movie as well as a whole disc of extra features. I used to even put the movie on when I was sleepy because there’s all that rad action in the beginning and then it cools down for a little while in the middle. That mix of action, horror, comedy and honest human reactions to extraordinary events make this, in my mind, one of the best all around movies, specifically because it hits all those bases. I love Usual Suspects for a lot of the same reasons, but it doesn’t have heads getting chopped off, now does it?

The movie, of course, is not perfect though. Director George Romero claims he wanted a comic book feel to the movie, which explains the bright red blood and pastel-to-neon complexioned zombies. None of that bothers me. What DOES bother me, though, is the sound effects. When one of our heroes punches someone, it sounds like something out of a Streets of Rage game for Sega Genesis.

Aside from that though, I think I’m firmly in love with this movie. We could talk about different aspects that someone might not like (it’s long, it goes back to that whole “humans are the real bad guys” motif that Romero and other zombie movie makers seems obsessed with), but I don’t think anyone could sway my opinion and, if I’m being honest, I’d probably think a little less of you for not liking the movie.

Speaking of those two potentially negative aspects of the film. This is one of the few slow burn type movies I really like. All those scenes of them playing in the arcade and going through the bank could be cut as far as the action goes, but all those little moments help to tell the emotional story. These are people living in a world that’s completely flipped the script on them. The dead don’t stay dead anymore. Can you imagine how that would change the way you think? Roger tries to ignore it, letting his bravado get in the way of his safety and he pays for it. Francine lets it overwhelm her at times, but she’s also a planner who’s smart enough to learn how to defend herself and more importantly fly the helicopter out there. All of them finding a refuge inside a mall isolates them for the shit going on in the rest of the world and gives them a place they could theoretically stay until things get better, they die or someone comes to save them. Once save inside their cocoon, they try to live the lives they’ve always wanted to live with every material thing they could ever want just a short walk away. But they’re not really happy. Without getting into it too heavy handedly, Romero deals with isolation and–corny as it sounds–the idea that money and objects don’t really make you happy. There’s a lot more going on here than simply “man is the real evil!”

I could talk about this movie all day and considering I still need to write up the next movie, I should probably move on. Oh, one last thing, I think Roger might be one of the most tragic characters in horror. He’s got a Madam Bovary vibe to him, though he romanticizes heroics instead of, well, romance.

I believe that House On Haunted Hill was not only the first Vincent Price movie I ever watched, but also one of the first old horror movies. We weren’t exactly early adopters in my house growing up, so it took a little while for us to get a DVD player, but once we did, I hopped on eBay and spent some of that glorious teenaged disposable income on DVDs. I got a four pack that included two double sided discs. This one has Hill and Satan’s School For Girls, which isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds. I don’t remember what’s on the other disc because, for whatever reason, I left it at home when I consolidated my DVD collection into a binder before moving out to New York. I know there was some Christmas-themed movie with a bunch of people in a house being hunted by a deranged man on the holiday. I think he used to live there and escaped from an asylum.

Anyway, I really loved this movie the first time I saw it and still do. Price’s character is just so wonderfully manic and kind of an asshole. He’s in most of the scenes, which is exactly how I like my Vincent Price movies. The story behind the movie is basically the exact plot of every ghost investigations show: a bunch of people get locked inside a supposedly haunted house and get scared by things. In this case, however, the people have a chance to win some big money if they last the night. Oh, also, there’s a murder plot a foot.

The movie has lots of twists and turns and not a few still-good scares. The old woman popping up out of nowhere looking like Nosferatu’s uglier, older sister gets me every time. The skeleton rising up at the very end really stayed with me too, for some reason from my first viewing, though I guess that’s because I didn’t already know the story.

SPOILER TIME. The house isn’t really haunted, though it is pretty damn creepy. Most of the things we’ve seen that give us the willies are either staged acts (the hanged woman) or just strange occurrences (the creepy old lady, she’s just creepy, not a monster). I’m still not 100% on the plot because I was doing some work while watching today, but the murder plot as a double and then, I believe, triple cross in there with Price walking away on top in the end. I like this movie even in spite of it having two traits I don’t really like: the haunted house and the “everything you knew is wrong” themes. As it turns out the house isn’t haunted, but even if it was, they’re still trapped in a big old house and go through this stuff in a short period of time, so they’re not staying in a place they could easily leave for months on end (which is what I hate about modern haunted house movies). The “what you thought is wrong” aspect is done in more of a Usual Suspects way than a High Tension way, which means you didn’t just waste your time watching something that doesn’t matter, but that you were being tricked along with the people in the movie, which I actually think is pretty rad. I should give this one another view in the near future to see how it plays with the twists fresh in my head.

These two movies aren’t really related other than the fact that they’ve both been remade. I’ve definitely seen the Dawn remake and don’t really remember it much, but would definitely see it again (love zombies movies AND Zack Snyder). I don’t think I’ve seen the Hill remake, though I always get it confused with The Haunting which I believe is a remake of the very similar sounding The Haunting Of Hill House. The real reason I paired them together is that they’re favorite horror films of mine, though very different that I wanted to give another look at and write down some thoughts. Hope you guys enjoyed it and let me know what you think in the comments section.