Monday, February 15, 2016

Inugami no tatari (1977)

... aka: Curse of Dog God
... aka: Curse of the Dog God
... aka: Curse of the Inugami

Directed by:
Shunya Itô

I've seen my fair share of Japanese Ghost-Cat / Bakeneko movies by now, but I believe this is my first ever Dog God / Inugami flick. Three men from a mining company are sent out into the country to the small village of Kagamura to look for “the gold of the atomic age” (uranium). After spying on a couple of pretty girls swimming naked in a pond, they drive off and accidentally run over and destroy a small shrine by the side of the road. To add insult to injury, immediately after they run over a dog named Taro (“It's just a dog... It's disgusting!”), leaving the dog's young owner Isamu (Junya Kato) behind crying and scowling at them. However, the men do find that the mountain they're exploring is filled with uranium. Six months pass and the main mining scout, engineer Ryûji Kanô (Shin'ya Ohwada), is rich because of his valuable discovery. He decides to marry one of the swimming girls, Reiko (Jun Izumi), because her father owns the land where all the uranium is and has worked out a deal with the mining company. However, Isamu still holds a grudge about his dog and disrupts the wedding ceremony with his slingshot, which prompts Reiko's family to forbid Isamu's big sister and Reiko's best friend Kaori (Emiko Yamauchi) from attending the ceremony. And things spiral out of control from there...

Not long after the wedding, both of Ryuji's co-workers who were involved in the doggie hit n' run meet grisly fates, with Nishioka (Shinya Ono) losing it at the wedding ceremony and taking a leap off the roof of a skyscraper and Yasui (Takeshige Hatanaka) getting ripped apart by dozens of rabid dogs in an alleyway. And then, of course, the dog god spirit decides to destroy Ryûji's life. It does this by taking possession of Reiko, causing her to shriek, stab paper, crochet a dog sweater and go hysterical to the point of having to be put into a mental hospital for a spell. A strange letter she receives from former best bud Kaori convinces her that she not only has something to do with the curse and the recent deaths but also that she's also jealous of her marriage and wants her man.

Ryûji eventually checks Reiko out and the two return to the village where all of the problems seem to stem from. They go to an exorcist for an unintentionally hilarious scene where the evil spirit speaks through an old woman, prompting some men to rub balls made out of red beans and rice (!!) all over Reiko's body, including her bare breasts. That's followed by the main exorcist beating her with what looks like a pom pom attached to the end of a stick. Reiko flips out some more, sticks her tongue in her husband's mouth, crackles and then a whole mini army of men beat her some more with sticks. None of it is to any avail as Reiko wanders outside and dies in the snow. Looking for answers, Ryûji goes to visit Kaori and learns she and her family are completely innocent of any wrongdoing but have been ostracized by the entire superstitious village anyway. The Dog God is actually more pissed off about the desecration of the mountain.

As the miner's work on getting the uranium out, accidents plague the site like a large electric drill going haywire and killing two men. In order to make it safer for the crew, they decide to use sulfuric acid to get the uranium out, which ends up polluting the village's ground water in the process. Dog God is not happy and a local festival held by villagers complete with song, parade and men in dog masks dancing around to appease him doesn't seem to help matters. Ryûji, on the other hand, finds a second chance at love with Kaori after he rescues her from the rapids after she's forced to leap off the top of a waterfall to avoid getting gang raped by five bikers wearing dog masks (!)  Ryûji must also help Kaori's family when angry villagers show up there and pelt their home with feces and cause other even worse problems.

One thing leads to another until Kaori's father Kôsaku (Hideo Murota) is finally pushed over the edge and performs a strange ritual that involves burying a dog up to its neck in the ground, depriving it for food for days and then decapitating it with a samurai sword. Said head flies up into the air and chews through his throat, which then unleashes the full fury of the Dog God. The mine caves in and blows up,  lots of people die and there are acrobatic ghosts (that do the usual tall leaps, flips and cackling), a deep-voiced possession of Reiko's younger sister Mako (Masami Hasegawa), a revelation about a pale retarded son kept hidden from the village and lots of other such nonsense.

This Toei production is from the same guy who made the Female Prisoner Scorpion movies. While that exploitation series has a deserved cult following, this is a bizarre misfire that I don't see ever gaining much traction. It's very well-produced at least, with great sets, impressive widescreen photography, expressive use of color and some breathtaking outdoor locations. The director certainly knows how to frame shots (through cherry blossom trees and such) and shoot landscapes, but he's also to blame for the mess that is the screenplay. While the is sometimes pleasingly unpredictable, the plot is annoyingly, unnecessarily busy and the constant shifts in tone and content are jarring and ensure we never feel fully engaged in what's going on. There are too many underdeveloped side characters to keep track of, the dramatic components are hokey and the whole thing just comes off as unfocused. Can't say that I was bored while watching this, but I didn't really feel much of anything by the end of it either.

Kyôko Kishida (from the excellent Woman in the Dunes) has a small supporting role as Kaori's put-open mother. To my knowledge, this has never been released in the U.S. and isn't available legitimately with English subtitles. A DVD was released in Asia in 2007 and that's what I watched with accompanying fan-made subs.

The 2015 Orloks - 1981 Results

Started many moons ago by Prof-Hieronymos-Grost, the Orloks were a yearly poll on the IMDb horror boards where users submitted Top 5 lists of their favorite horror movies for each year. All of the results were then tabulated to come up with a definitive list of the year's most-liked genre offerings. Alas, when the good Professor decided to depart the boards years ago, the awards went with him... that is until now. IMDb-er seth_yeah - taking on responsibilities as both host and calculator - has decided to bring back this long-standing tradition in 2015, and now the awards will have a permanent place right here on this blog. Scoring is rather simple and done on a weighted system where first choice receives 5 points, second choice 4 points, etc., with a +1 bonus then awarded to the #1 selection on each list. IMDb release years are being used, but it is left up to voters to determine what they may or may not consider horror (which may be in conflict with IMDb's genre labeling system). If you'd like to participate, head on over to the IMDb HORROR BOARDS to vote! So without any further ado, the results...


Top 5
* * * * * * * * * *
1. The Evil Dead
USA / 74 points / Sam Raimi
* * * * * * * * * *
2. An American Werewolf in London
UKUSA / 61 points / John Landis
* * * * * * * * * *
3. Friday the 13th Part 2
USA / 30 points / Steve Miner
* * * * * * * * * *
4. ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà (The Beyond)
Italy / 29 points / Lucio Fulci
* * * * * * * * * *
5. The Howling
USA / 28 points / Joe Dante


Making the Top 10:

6. Scanners / Canada / 25 points / David Cronenberg
7. Possession / France, West Germany / 18 points / Andrzej Zulawski
8. Prowler, The / USA / 16 points / Joseph Zito
9. (tie) Burning, The / Canada, USA / 15 points / Tony Maylam
9. (tie) Dead & Buried / USA / 15 points / Gary Sherman
9. (tie) My Bloody Valentine / Canada / 15 points / George Mihalka
10. Halloween II / USA / 14 points / Rick Rosenthal


Others receiving votes:

- Dark Night of the Scarecrow / USA [TV] / Frank De Felitta
- Day of Judgment, A / USA / Christopher Reynolds
- Deadly Blessing / USA / Wes Craven
- Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (Doctor Jekyll and His Women) / France, West Germany / Walerian Borowczyk
- Don't Go in the Woods / USA / James Bryan
- Final Conflict, The (Omen III) / UK, USA / Graham Baker
- Gu (Bewitched) / Hong Kong / Chih-Hung Kuei
- Ghost Story / USA / John Irvin
- Gipeun bam gabjagi (Suddenly in Dark Night) / South Korea / Young Nam Ko
- Happy Birthday to Me / Canada / J. Lee Thompson
- Heavy Metal / Canada [animated feature] / Gerald Potterton
- Hell Night / USA / Tom DeSimone
- Inseminoid (Horror Planet) / UK / Norman J. Warren
- Just Before Dawn / USA / Jeff Lieberman
- Le notti del terrore (Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror) / Italy / Andrea Bianchi
- Ms. 45 / USA / Abel Ferrara
- Nightdreams / USA / Francis Delia
- Nightmare (Nightmare in a Damaged Brain) / Italy, USA / Romano Scavolini
- Pit, The / Canada / Lew Lehman
- Quella villa accanto al cimitero (The House by the Cemetery) / Italy / Lucio Fulci
- Ritam zlocina (Rhythm of a Crime) / Yugoslavia / Zoran Tadic
- Savage Harvest / USA / Robert L. Collins
- Tajemství hradu v Karpatech (The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians) / Czechoslovakia / Oldrich Lipský
- Wojna swiatów - nastepne stulecie (The War of the Worlds: Next Century) / Poland / Piotr Szulkin
- Wolfen / USA / Michael Wadleigh


Links here will be connected when the time comes.

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Macabre (1958)

Directed by:
William Castle

Though far from a masterpiece, this remains a very important title nonetheless. Not only was it the very first Castle horror offering of many, but also the first film employing Castle's now-legendary showmanship and gimmicks. The director / producer mortgaged his own Beverly Hills home in order to finance it and formed his own production company, Susina Productions (which would later be William Castle Productions), in the process. Macabre was then filmed in the summer of 1957. After selling the picture to Allied Artists, Castle went all out to sell it the following year. He went on a promotional tour (which would often see him emerging from a coffin), nurses were sometimes hired to stand around in the lobby, hearses and ambulances were parked outside of theaters and, most famously, theater patrons were handed 1,000 dollar life insurance policies from Lloyd's of London in case they'd happen to succumb to “death of fright” while watching it. That is, for everyone “Except people with a known heart or nervous condition.” These promotional gimmicks gave the film a certain notoriety, word of mouth quickly spread and it went on to gross an impressive 5 million dollars on a budget of just 90 thousand. Its success led to many other fun films (perhaps most notably the following year's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and The Tingler) and just as many memorable gimmicks, which smartly encouraged audience participation.

The first image in Macabre is of a clock as a narrator chimes in: “Ladies and gentlemen, for the next hour and fifteen minutes, you will be shown things so terrifying that the management of this theater is deeply concerned for your welfare. Therefore, we request that each of you assume the responsibility of taking care of your neighbor. If anyone near you becomes uncontrollably frightened, will you please notify the management so that medical attention can be rushed to their aid?” We're then whisked off to the small town of Thornton where strange and mysterious deaths and disappearances over the course of a few years have pitted many people against one another. Dr. Rodney Barrett (William Prince) has received a fair share of the blame considering he's failed to “save” anyone, including his own wife Alice (Dorothy Morris), who died giving birth while the good doctor was off having a glass of wine with young widow Sylvia Stevenson (Susan Morrow). Gossipers believe they were  having an affair and it certainly doesn't make either party look innocent since they're now set to be married.

Sylvia isn't the only one after the doctor as his loyal nurse Polly Baron (Jacqueline Scott) sometimes seems to forget she's just a nurse and has an obvious crush on him. Rodney's little girl Marge (Linda Guderman) even prefers Polly to her future stepmother. After work, Rodney and Polly plan to take Marge out to eat and return home only to find her nowhere to be found. While nanny Miss Kushins (Ellen Corby) stepped out a minute, someone came in and swiped the little girl. A creepy phone call follows from the abductor, who tells them Marge's funeral has just taken place and now she's with the dead. The man has buried her alive. He continues that they have about 4 to 5 hours max before she suffocates to death. This is all in line with funeral director Ed Quigley (Jonathan Kidd) reporting to the police earlier that someone had broken into his parlor and stolen a child's coffin.

Since local police chief Jim Tyloe (Jim Backus) hates Rodney for reasons we will later discover, Rodney figures he has to take matters into his own hands and sets about trying to locate his little girl before it's too late. The abductor leaves Marge's clay-covered teddy bear on the doorstep as a clue, so the doctor and Polly grab shovels and flashlights and head to a nearby graveyard looking for freshly-dug graves. They're able to locate a couple, but still no trace of the girl. Going off a tip off from the nanny, Rodney's father-in-law Jode Wetherby (Philip Tonge), who has a weak heart (uh oh), shows up there and we then learn a lot about many of the principles in a flashback that lasts seven minutes. A second later flashback reveals more information and the animosity between Jim and Rodney. Now get on those soap opera goggles, folks!

Jim loved Alice. Alice went on to marry Rodney instead. Then Jim fell for Jode's other daughter Nancy (Christine White) who, despite being blind, was something of a whore. Well, or a free spirit. Or an independent woman unashamedly taking control of her own sex life by 1950s standards. Either way, to her all men look the same in the dark and she's not interested in being a wife or a mother. She just wants to have fun... with Jim... and all the guys she met on her European vacation... and her studly chauffeur Nick (uncredited Robert Colbert)... and... Well, you get the idea. Nancy taunts Jim (“You're the last man in the world I'd marry because I don't want leftovers!”) but soon finds herself pregnant with no idea who the father is. After Rodney refuses to abort Nancy's baby, she's found dead. While it's never made quite clear how she died, one gets the impression she either offed herself or died with clothes hanger in hand.

While Macabre plays out more like a morbid mystery than an out-and-out horror flick, there's still plenty here to appeal to fans of classic horror. Clever ad campaign and amusing, partially animated closing credits aside, the movie itself isn't “fun” like many of Castle's later films. This is gloomy, serious stuff following shady and mostly unsympathetic characters around dreary locations like funeral parlors, dark forests and a foggy, rainy cemetery, where our protagonists climb in and out of graves and explore tombs. There's an expressive noir-ish / shadowy feel to Carl E. Guthrie's cinematography and a sparse score from Les Baxter

Robb White, who helped Castle form his company and wrote this and many of his subsequent films, based his screenplay on the novel The Marble Forest, which was authored by twelve different writers using one alias (“Theo Durrant.”) Personally, I found the mystery involving enough to easily keep my interest for 75 minutes and the final revelation surprising, so I ended up enjoying this overall. It was one of the hardest Castle horror films to find for a number of years but that all changed in 2010 when Warner finally released it on DVD.

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