My very first Hooptober has had its ups and downs, including some major disappointments as well as some astonishing viewing. I love the way Hooptober’s various categories are so diverse, not only in its countries of origin, but also its different eras, covering eight decades. The only thing I wish they would include is a made-for-TV horror movie. Maybe they’ve done that in the past.
So here are my reactions to the first 15 films I’ve seen so far.
The Beyond (1981) Lucio Fulci (Kanopy) Hooptober #1 - From 1981 (1 of 4)
Okay, this is my first time to participate in Hooptober and only my second Fulci film (after Zombie), so bear with me… In 1927 Louisiana, an artist puts the finishing touches on a painting the locals believe involves black magic. Dragging the man out of his room at the Seven Doors Hotel, the mob practices a little bit of mob justice, and the artist suffers a grisly end. At the same time, a woman is engrossed in an ancient volume that speaks of the future opening of one of the seven gates of hell. Jump ahead to 1981, with Liza (Catriona MacColl, here as Katherine MacColl) wanting to buy, refurbish, and reopen the hotel, despite warnings from a strange blind woman (Cinzia Monreale, here as Sarah Keller). Mayhem ensues with some really nasty killings and some fantastic practical effects. Much is unexplained, but the film’s frequent fever dream atmosphere and effects won me over. I’m not sure where Fulci experts would place this one on a list of his best work, but I enjoyed it.
Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974) Brian Clemens (Kanopy) Hooptober #2 - From the 1970s
Captain Kronos (Horst Janson) and his hunchback companion Professor Hieronymus Grost (John Cater) - professional vampire hunters - are summoned to a village to investigate a series of unexplained deaths. But this is not your typical vampire movie. What if vampires took something besides a victim’s blood? An interesting premise is strengthened by an equally interesting approach. Kronos is also a skilled swashbuckler, and the film gives him plenty of opportunities to prove it. The Hammer production is both unusual and satisfying. I hope more people will check it out. The film also stars Caroline Munro. Good stuff.
The Premature Burial (1962) Roger Corman (Tubi) Hooptober #3 - From the year you were born
Victorian era aristocrat Guy Carrell is crippled by the fear of being buried alive like his father. Guy suffers from catalepsy, and just knows he’s going to wake up in a pine box covered in earth. The atmosphere is good, but this one-note premise wears thin quickly. Costars Hazel Court, Alan Napier, and includes a cameo by Dick Miller.
Black Box (2020) Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Jr. (Amazon Prime) Hooptober #4 - a BIPOC as director or lead (1 of 3)
Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) loses both his wife and his memory in a car accident. After experiencing great confusion, he decides to undergo an experimental treatment from a neurologist (Phylicia Rashad), but those sessions begin to make Nolan doubt his own identity. I like the premise of the film, and the actors are compelling, but Black Box provides an example of one of the problems I have with horror films: showing the same scene(s) over and over, scenes that basically do the same thing. I suppose such repetition is meant to generate tension, or reveal something about character, or for the audience to convince the protagonist (as if we could) to “Do something different this time!” In Black Box, we see Nolan going through different experimental treatments, many of which repeat themselves with little or no development. Nolan does gain some eventual understanding, but most of his revelations are related to him outside the experience, usually articulated by another character. While I’m sure Osei-Kuffour wasn’t trying to make a “message” film, so many important themes could’ve been touched on more than they were. Black Box was enjoyable, but also disappointing.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) John Carpenter (Amazon Prime) Hooptober #5 - From the 1990s
I have embraced most of the John Carpenter movies I’ve seen (13 so far) and have a high respect for his storytelling, visual taste, vision, and more. In the Mouth of Madness finds insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) searching for the mysterious disappearance of bestselling horror writer Sutter Cane, whose novels appear to have fans literally losing control of themselves, committing strange and dangerous acts.
Clearly inspired by the work of H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, the film looks fantastic. Perhaps too fantastic. I wanted the film to be messier, grittier, and yes, even darker. The premise is superb, but it’s a premise I wish Carpenter had explored more. The film seems to always be in a hurry when I wanted it to slow down and take its time, building anxiety and unease instead of forcing it. Some of this stems from the fact that the film has so many different moving parts and characters, none of which we really get to know very well. It’s like vacationing in a large city and only having a few hours to see it all.
In the Mouth of Madness explains little, yet presents so many events and concepts that invite explanation: What convinces Trent to take the case? How did Cane get started with his writing? Does Hobb’s End really exist? What’s the significance of all the nightmare images? Why a frame story? There are many more.
The Vampire Bat (1933) Frank R. Strayer (Alpha Video DVD) Hooptober #6 - From the 1930s
Blood-drained corpses begin showing up in a small European village. The town leaders suspect a vampire, but local cop Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) scoffs at such talk. Yet Dr. Otto von Neismann thinks there’s something to all this vampire talk. Everyone suspects the village idiot (Dwight Frye), but there’s more going on here. A good cast (including Fay Wray) and castoff sets from bigger pictures (Frankenstein and The Old Dark House) help this Poverty Row picture come alive.
Godzilla Raids Again (1955) Motoyoshi Oda (Criterion Channel) Hooptober #7 - Kaiju or Kong Film
Godzilla Raids Again is a moderately successful sequel to the fantastic original Godzilla (1954) which finds two fishing scout pilots discovering not only a new Godzilla, but also another monster, Anguirus. The best part of the movie involves a gang of criminals who inadvertently make things worse, not only for themselves, but everyone.
Girl on the Third Floor (2019) Travis Stevens (Library DVD) Hooptober #8 - Haunted house film (1 of 2)
The more I think about this film, the less I like it. Pro wrestler Phil “CM Punk” Brooks stars as Don Koch, a guy as dumb as the floor. (Actually in this case, he’s far dumber than the floor, which, as part of the house, is pretty smart.) Don and his pregnant wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) have just purchased a fixer-upper house in the suburbs, which we know if haunted. That’s the plot. Don makes one bad decision after another, a few characters come and go, and we know exactly why they’re there and what they’re going to do. The house itself is the star of the movie, and the most exciting part of the whole journey is the history of the house, which I wish had been developed further.
Range Runners (2019) Philip S. Plowden (Amazon Prime) Hooptober #9 - a BIPOC as director or lead (2 of 3)
On an isolated trail, runner/hiker Mel (Celeste M Cooper) discovers two men who are ill-prepared for outdoor activity. It won’t be long before Mel regrets her decision to help these two, who aren’t in the woods to hike at all. Range Runners is an intense little movie you may not know about, but you should. It certainly has a few believability issues, but I enjoyed it. Thanks to my friend Davon for recommending this one.
Revenge of the Creature (1955) Jack Arnold (Universal Monsters Blu-ray) - Hooptober #10 - From the 1950s
Like Godzilla Raids Again, this sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) pales in comparison to the original. An expedition seeks to capture the creature in order to make him an aquarium attraction. Couldn’t these writers come up with a better story even in 1955? Everything about this film, including the cast (with the exception of Nestor Paiva as the boat captain, returning from the first film) is several notches below the original.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) Kim Jee-woon (Kanopy) Hooptober #11 - Asian horror films (1 of 3)
Now we’re talking! The first of two Korean films in this list, A Tale of Two Sisters is the powerful psychological horror tale of two sisters, Su-mi (Jum Jang-ah), returning from a mental hospital, and Su-yeon (Im Soo-jung). When the girls are reunited at their country home, they meet their father’s new wife, Eun-joo (Kim Kap-soo). This is far more than a wicked stepmother movie, although it is certainly that. This is a complex, but rewarding horror film, highly recommended.
The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920) Paul Wegener, Carl Boese (Kanopy) Hooptober #12 - From the 1920s
A rabbi (Albert Steinruck) in 16th century Prague reads the stars and determines that disaster is about to strike the city’s Jewish population. Sure enough, the emperor (Otto Gebühr) begins banning Jews the very next day. Yet the rabbi has built a statue called the Golem (Paul Wegener) he hopes to bring to life to protect the Jewish people. Many consider The Golem a precursor to the 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein. Regardless, it’s a terrific film.
The Wailing (2016) Na Hong-jin (Amazon Prime) Hooptober #13 - Folk horror (1 of 2), Asian horror (2 of 3)
This movie will mess you up. A series of brutal murders in a mountainous South Korean village is blamed on the arrival of a mysterious Japanese stranger (Kunimura Jun). Police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) investigates the case, finding it stranger and weirder as he learns more about the murders. I hesitate to tell you much more. This film has so many layers, tones, and incredible moments, all of which add up to an unsettling experience you won’t forget.
The Legend of Hell House (1973) John Hough (Shout Factory Blu-ray) - Hooptober #14 - Haunted house film (2 of 2)
Belasco House, the “Mount Everest of haunted houses” provides the setting for an investigation by professional paranormal experts to determine why only one man, Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall), a physical medium, survived the previous investigation 20 years earlier. The rest of the team includes a mental medium (Pamela Franklin), physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill), and his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt). Some fine atmosphere, but this is more in line with films like The Haunting (1963) rather than more traditional haunted house stories. The screenplay is by Richard Matheson, based on his novel Hell House.
Ganja and Hess (1973) Bill Gunn (Kanopy) - Hooptober #15 - a BIPOC as director or lead (3 of 3)
Ganja & Hess is one of the most fascinating concepts (and executions of said concept) I’ve seen so far during Hooptober 8.0. Duane Jones plays Dr. Hess Green, an anthropologist whose unstable assistant George (director Gunn) stabs Hess with an ancient African ceremonial dagger, then kills himself. Now eager for blood, Hess finds blood anywhere he can until George’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) comes to look for her missing husband. Highly experiment, but highly effective, Ganja & Hess takes the vampire tale in a different and amazing direction. Remade by Spike Lee in 2014 as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
That's it for now. I'm going to try to finish Hooptober before the beginning of Noir City DC, so stay tuned.