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U.S. House of Horrors
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EDITORIAL

U.S. House of Horrors

Spoof of a Halloween Haunted House advertisement showing Republican members of Congress as scary displays including Jim Jordan as the head of the Human Centipede, Paul Gosar as a hunch-backed toady, Lauren Boebert as Pinhead from Hellraiser, Louis Gohmert screaming, 'I see brown people!', Matt Gaitz as Dracula, Kevin McCarthy as a knife-wielding Michael Myers with dummy Charlie McCarthy on his back directing him, and Marjore Taylor-Greene as a Werewoman. The poster has the title House of Representative Horror.All Hallows Eve was fast approaching so we sat down at the séance table with Madame X to try and reach E. Basil St. Blaise, our Blithe Spirit of Spooky Cinema. After three knocks, two moans and an 'aw, shit', we established contact with the curmudgeonly critic somewhere in Hell. Michigan, that is. In his 'mobile HQ.'

We found him with a Great Beyond cocktail in his right hand ("After a couple of these, you can etch Rest in Peace on your head, stoned.") and his faithful Affenpinscher, Josef, tucked under his left arm. Josef, typically asquirm when in contact with another mammalian life form, was decked out in a Jigsaw mask shrunken down to fit his tiny cranium.*

If either lifted St. Blaise's spirits, you'd never know it from his darksome observations which follow.

"I read the editors' introduction and couldn't help but think of the British thriller Seance on a Wet Afternoon ((1964) –– Medium depth.), which always sounded a bit like a 70s porn film with supernatural overtones. And Madame X? I reviewed the 1966 version of that convoluted clinker starring no-neck gun moll Lana Turner well past whatever passed for her prime. My verdict on that absurd courtroom drama where unaware estranged son defends contrite murdering mom? "X marks the plot.' And no, I won't comment on the 2019 Madonna album of the same name even though she's now fully in her body horror phase. Think Eyes Without a Face ((1960) –– Nick and tuck.) Then again, why not expose my ugly pan? I referred to Madge's misguided mix as her 'X-mess.'

And I see that I've again been saddled with a 'political cartoon' as an illustration for my seasonal review of scary movies! I can't deny the ghastliness of those depicted, but I might've suggested a couple of apt alternate titles. Regardless of its overwhelming whiteness over the years, I often think of the Capitol building as The Old Dark House. Which was the title of the film director James Whale made in 1932, the year after Frankenstein ((1931) –– Shelley shocked), about travelers waylaid by a storm and forced to spend the night in an ancestral heap attended by Boris Karloff's homicidal butler, Morgan (the clear inspiration for Chas. Addams' Lurch.) Based on the mad family's name, it was a snap to sum it up as "Femm fatale." But the editor of Cinema Psychosis felt that a little too inside, so my poison capsule review in that fanzine tended towards the architectural and read, "Bad to the bones." Schlock-stuntmeister William Castle refurbished The Old Dark House in 1963 with his tongue more firmly in cheek, selling us "A total gutless job."

Speaking of Castle rot, another appropriate moniker for the above would be The House on Haunted Hill, his 1958 Vincent Price-starrer that sought to renovate the Damned Domicile sub-genre by putting an acid bath in the basement. Beats a hot tub anyday. Host Price put his invitees through the frightful paces of a belabored whodunit for the reward of $10,000. I commented 'Be my guessed.' An unnecessary remake of The House on Haunted Hill ((1999) –– Wears out its welcomed.) didn't get a rise out of me. They couldn't make a mountain of menace out of a moldy Hill.

Amicus, Brief

Two other notable purveyors of cinematic cheese were Americans Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg who ultimately plied their trade in England. They first produced the very foggy, in more ways than one, The City of the Dead which is a tale of a witches' coven in fictional Whitewood, MA. This consisted of a scattering of film set flats and cardboard grave markers that wouldn't qualify as a metropolis in an ant colony. This 1960 Christopher Lee-starrer was released in the U.S. the following year with an alternate and more apt title –– Horror Hotel –– a practice common in the day (y'know, translating English into American.) I adjudged that version, severely lacking in magic despite all the chanting and casting, a 'No-spell Hotel.'

Milt and Max formed a partnership with a name better suited to a law firm, Amicus Productions. It cried out for an LTD to indicate the company's ambitions. They specialized in omnibus features stringing together several spooky stories, often with interstitial segments with a narrator who tended to be less unreliable than homicidal. Theoretically, the portmanteau approach would provide a wider variety of shocks for the fright flick fan from slew to nuts. In practice it tended to range from bad to worse.

From Beyond the Grave (1974) –– Digs up dirt.
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) –– Eaves of destruction.
The House That Dripped Blood (1971) –– Shudder proof.
Torture Garden (1967) –– Limitless dead sticks.
Asylum (1972) –– Resident eval.

British funnyman Steve Coogan offered up a short-lived (soon-dead?) send-up of the Amicus-style on the Beeb Deux in 2001. I wrote Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible went up like a "A spoof of smoke."

Amicus consulted their abacus and scared up some bucks to license some of the classic EC comics material for two of their better offerings.

Tales From the Crypt (1972) –– EC pickings.
The Vault of Horror (1973) –– Locks of luck.

Then laid the concept to rest.

From Beyond the Grave (1974) –– A con of worms.
The Monster Club (1980) –– Dues and don’ts.

That last feature was produced by Subotsky independently after what one would hope was an Amicusable divorce from Rosenberg.

Pin Cushing

Amicus' output was often mistaken for that of the more successful Hammer Films –– even though that B-Movie plateau was as unattainable for them as bagging The Abominable Snowman (1958) –– Flow and Yeti.) in a blizzard. However, they did share many artistes in the limited, but deep pool of British film-making talent with that studio. Among the most adept was the gaunt and grave Peter Cushing, whose razor cheekbones and aquiline nose made his very face seem a deadly weapon.

Hammer made its bones (bags of 'em) by revivifying the 'classic monsters' from the Universal catalogue. Copyright restrictions didn't seriously effect the look of a Count Dracula or the Mummy, but the makeup department was utterly flummoxed in trying to create a non-silly Frankensteinian Creature, beginning with the white pizza face (it looks like melted mozzarella) of Christopher Lee. The following dissections of the Frankenstein legend were generally performed with all the precision of Jack the Ripper wielding a letter opener, but Cushing's portrayal of Victor Frankenstein is a wholly successful experiment. He's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad Scientist to end them all.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) –– Bloody hell!
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) –– When a body beats a body.
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) –– Regress to the mean.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) –– Boo who?
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) –– Dismembers only.

Cushing demurred for the Horror, dealing with genuine, pers0nal grief, so His Royal Smarm, Ralph Bates, donned the bloody lab coat for a virtual remake of the Curse. It was cursed.

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) –– Barren Frankenstein.
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974) –– Corpus crusty.

So Happy Halloween from Josef and me. May your tricks be as nasty as your treats are tasty."

* "I suppose the editors thought I'd ignore their jibe about Josef –– is it his fault he weighs 8 lbs. and has a head the circumference of a Spaldeen ball? I can't have him go as Harry the Hunter from Beetlejuice ((1988) –– Spirit gump.) every year. And, just for that, I will share my Saw reviews –– at least, as many as I can bear to recall:
Saw (2004) –– Sore.
Saw II (2005) –– Never saw 1.
Saw III –– Saw VI (2006-2009) –– Toothless.
Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010) –– Saw dust.

I know there's a Jigsaw (2017) and a Spiral (2021) (what's next –– Circular, Miter, Hack?) –– you can find those reviews in the Critic's Corner. Now I'm sick of even thinking about those dispiriting gore fests –– give me some good old-fashioned thrills. Paging Dr. X ((1932) –– X = Why?) !

Listen to E. Basil St. Blaise on his Critic's Corner Podcast.

10/29/22