Friday, June 29, 2012


I don't know who made this, but I got THIS link from Matt. Awesome.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The shiny and wet looking art of Dieter Van der Ougstraete.

Monster Brains just published a wondertastic gallery of art by Dieter Van der Ougstraete.  I love the almost sexual, almost gory, nature of his work.

The gallery is HERE.

ALIEN body moving.

This video is too cool. It's been around for a few months, but I just found it.
Here's the description on YouTube:
Bolaji Badejo played the Alien in Ridley Scott's 1979 horror masterpiece, ALIEN. Here, he practises the Alien's movements with a mock-up head in the corridors of the Nostromo.
[Music is from Legacy of Kain].

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Andrew Sarris - Critic in Focus.

Film critic Andrew Sarris passed away earlier this month. My old buddy Casimir Nozkowski interviewed Sarris last year and just released this fine mini-documentary.

Casimir wrote:

I read Andrew Sarris's film reviews all my life. I discovered many filmmakers I love today by reading his writing and seeing every movie on his classic end of the year top ten lists.
I had the good fortune to meet him and film an interview with him last year. He was great. His health was in poor shape but he talked to us for hours about movies, how his tastes had changed, his history as a writer... it was incredible.
From that experience, I made an 11 minute dreamy documentary that I've finally uploaded to youtube and I'd like to share it with you...
Directed and edited by me. Shot by Pete Fonda. Original Music by Alexander Strung. Sound Mix by Tod Chapman.

It premiered at Telluride last year and we showed it at Andrew's retirement party at Columbia. He seemed very pleased with it.

He passed away last week but I feel really lucky I got to know him. He's got a bunch of books in print that I highly recommend and check out this website that's collected all his top ten lists:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Daily Poster: The Thing.

The Thing.

Happy 30th birthday to The Thing. The film opened on June 27, 1982 in the U.S.

I love this poster. The creature oozing out the crack almost has two eyes looking at us... almost. That is one of the joys of The Thing, the creature is an abstract of horror. It creates imitations of life forms but the original is lost and unknown.

For me, John Carpenter's The Thing ranks up there in the small pantheon of films that are perfect. I would not change a single frame of the film. The film did disappointing numbers at the box office when it was released. The chameleon powers and terrifying strength of The Thing was no match for the glowing finger of Steven Spielberg's puketastically lame E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, which opened a couple of weeks earlier. Ugh. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner also opened on the same day as The Thing.

Most say that the film developed a "cult" following on VHS and DVD, but I think this is ridiculous. The film is a major success. There is no "cult." If you like horror films, chances are you will like this film. If you do not like horror films, you've probably never seen it. "Cult film" status is an insult in this case.

The story is based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. which was first published in the pulp, Astounding Science-Fiction in August, 1938. The film's scripts is also, sometimes compared to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (originally titled Ten Little Niggers and then Ten Little Indians. Damn, these publishers knew how to offend).

In the film, a team of scientists stationed in a remote base in Antarctica discovers an alien frozen in ice. The alien wakes up. The team discovers that the alien can replicate other living creatures early on. They go after the creature.  Where is the creature? Who is the creature? Can you spot the creature? The men are picked off one-by-one. Sure it's a cliche now, but in 1982 it was freshly horrifying. It is the one-by-one nature of the creature's attacks that Carpenter borrowed from Christie's, And Then There Were None.

Kurt Russell plays MacReady in the film. I love the description of McReady in the novella. Super duper pulpy.
McReady was a figure from some forgotten myth, a looming, bronze statue that held life, and walked. Six-feet-four inches he stood as he halted beside the table, and, with a characteristic glance upward to assure himself of room under the low ceiling beams, straightened. His rough, clashingly orange windproof jacket he still had on, yet with his huge frame it did not seem misplaced. Even here, four feet beneath the drift-wind that droned across the Antarctic waste above the ceiling, the cold of the frozen continent leaked in, and gave meaning to the harshness of the man. And he was bronze- his great red-bronze beard, the heavy hair that matched it. The gnarled, corded hands gripping, relaxing, gripping and relaxing on the table planks were bronze. Even the deep-sunken eyes beneath heavy brows were bronzed.
Subtlety of character did not exist so much in 1938 pulps. Compare that glistening portrait to screenwriter Bill Lancaster's description for the 1982 film.

Thirty-five. Helicopter pilot. Likes chess. Hates the cold. The pay is good.
HA! Carpenter and actor, Kurt Russell did work out a filecard for the character's background, but the difference here is pretty sharp.

The other characters are a perfect mix of conflict. Blue collars clash with white collars. Old men and young men, introverts and extraverts, all sharing the same small space for months on end. None of the characters are particularly happy but the way they move and talk around each other is realistic and individual. They have become unlikely brothers. This is complicated, but we get it. They care what happens to each other. They're not going to hug and cry and talk about feelings, but they are a brotherhood, a basic all-male sub-group, core to male primate instincts. 

MacReady is more a testy, loner than a bronze superman. The only shot in the film that bugs me, and when I say "bugs" I mean that it is in an ant crawling on a fence across the yard from me, is when MacReady suffers a loss against an electronic Chess Wizard game, he destroys the game. I get tired of people in the film world acting rash like that. Close the door; don't throw the money in the air, you're losing some of it; don't just throw that across the room and leave, pick it up. Drives me crazy. I asked my friend and The Thing expert, Matt Widener to write a little something regarding the film's score. See below, for his analysis, but Matt couldn't contain himself. Here are his thoughts on the chess scene, "The survival against the Thing becomes one big chess match of logic and strategy, Mac against the Thing. But Mac doesn't play by the rules. He's willing to destroy the game itself, breaking the chess computer. And later, burning down the camp (the board). This is important, this is why he wins. That scene where he breaks his chess computer is one of my favorites."

The voice of the destroyed chess game was the only female in the film. This was a fantastic choice. Hollywood horror films have a way of tacking on female characters as something pretty to look at, but have the ultimate duty of dying gloriously; especially horror films in the early 1980s. Carpenter did away with this tripe by shooting an all-male horror film. Carpenter said, "The original story did not have any women, and we just went back to that, thinking it was more realistic. It was more like a Peckinpah choice—you don't throw love interest into The Wild Bunch, so we figured we were going to keep pure in this case."

This gives the film an authentic, dirty smell. While also mixing up the standard horror film themes into something fresh. Gone are the bad girls, doing drugs, having wanton sex, and dying at the hands of a male-force, who is then brought down by an honorable female. This varied group of unhappy men find someThing out of their control and, through no fault of their own, are murdered by said Thing. Who the men are, how they die, what is The Thing, can it be destroyed?

How The Thing kills is a big part of the delicious fun of the film. Carpenter rides the line between goofy and horrible deftly. Describe one of the death scenes to someone who has not seen the movie. An upside down spider head with alien antennae. A flower of tongues. An open chest cavity with fangs. These effects sound ridiculous. But watch the film and they are the ingredients for a lifetime of nightmares.

The effects were created by Rob Bottin. They are messy and chaotic. These aren't quick slasher kills. They are tortured, wet, and inhuman. You can tell when a death scene is coming up on my VHS copy of the film. Artifacts sprinkle across the screen as the penned dogs begin cowering. These spots have been rewound over and over and over, the tape has been permanently damaged. Those artifacts are the 80's merit badge of totally rad special effects.

We never see or learn what the Thing is. We only know what it does and can only see its horrible mockery of flesh as it attempts to copy and assimilate us. The practical, real world, latex and Karo syrup nightmares don't need to be programmed with the laws of physics. They are there with the actors, they can exist. They do exist. I can think of no other film which rivals the imaginative, visceral, technical, gore effects of The Thing.

The Thing itself is also a creative and tactically sound antagonist. Just as we never see the Thing's original body, we are mostly in the dark regarding its replication abilities. Mostly. What the Thing does show us is what a crafty bastard it can be. It destroys the blood supply for the base, effectively separates the group, and even feigns a heart attack in order to situate an attack. This is not some mindless parasite, this Thing's got plans.

Dean Cundey was the director of photography on the film. He had worked with John Carpenter on three films and the two rose to prominence together with the success of Halloween. The story I have heard from people close to Mr. Cundey is that he was a make-up artist for years and then decided to switch gears and bought some of his own equipment and started shooting small projects. He eventually had enough equipment to fill up a van. He was hired for Halloween partly because he had a decent reel, but more because he had his movie van filled with gear. In 2001 I worked on a film called Lloyd the Ugly Kid and I got to drive Dean Cundey's movie van. A real thrill.

Cundey's work on The Thing is top rate. The first act of the film is shot like a real mystery, but when The Thing hits the fan, the lighting reveals more. The monster is not hidden in shadows or creeping in the unusually framed shot behind the actors. The blackness of night is replaced with cool blue. There is nothing hiding there. The lighting is basic (I hate using that word) and creates a normal environment, everything is fine, then something completely xeno and unreal happens before our eyes. This is the shock and horror of The Thing. The world is normal, Cundey and Carpenter let the abnormal events blow our minds. A wonderful choice.

Cundey also uses the cold to great effect. The actors' breath and physical reactions to the freezing weather act as a filter, always reminding us that the characters are trapped. Isolation creates horror. Beyond these thin walls is white, icy death. Every frozen breath is evidence of the failure of the walls to keep these guys safe.

In a strange move, Carpenter stepped aside for the scoring of The Thing's soundtrack. He had created some of the most iconic horror soundtrack music in film history, but handed the staff paper to Ennio Morricone. Morricone hit the ball out of the symphony hall. The music is truly haunting and like the film, perfect. My friend, Matt Widener, loves the hell out of this soundtrack more than anyone I know. He says:

"John Carpenter was a huge fan of Ennio Morricone. Not only was Morricone a gifted composer, but he was into experimentation, using electronic sources, strange vocals and instruments, whips, that sort of thing. Carpenter wanted a more European orchestral score, something cold and minimal to match the landscape of the film. Morricone said in his score for The Thing that he wanted to deny resolution, to create an  entirely restless movement without purpose. After he submitted the music, which was mostly orchestral and shied away from rhythm, Carpenter asked for something electronic and rhythmic he could use in key moments of the film, something propulsive and menacing. Morricone then composed some electronic cues, one of them a synth theme—the electronic pulse heard near the beginning of the film during the wolf hunt, and many times thereafter. 

The theme (titled “Humanity, Part II”) starts with a single synth heartbeat, but soon after a second beat—with slightly different, hollow timbre—slips out from behind the main pulse almost like an arrhythmia. It takes on a different pattern, as a fetus does in sonogram against a mother’s. It’s hypnotic and subversive, and it musically models the changing, hidden Thing. A synth pad develops over this, a C - C# two-note hook (root and minor second) whose interval features in several other tracks, most notably “Humanity, Part I.” This is the other major cue Morricone wrote, which Carpenter freely cut up and inserted into different scenes (MacReady and Copper flying out to the Norwegian base is the first appearance). Carpenter considered this the frail and desperate human reaction to the Thing. The G - G# string melody expands throughout the woodwinds, piano and harp plucking a delicate ascending ostinato of half steps. Again, this minor second interval figures in other tracks, like “Wait,” and “Solitude.” 

Morricone was versed in modernist classical techniques, the post-war type that had been slowly filtering into film scores in the previous decade, along with all the New Viennese 12-tone theory that had revolutionized modern classical. (The pointillist pizzicato we know from composers like Penderecki and Crumb and Xenakis is in “Contamination” during the showdown against the final creature.) So he came to the score with an emphasis on harmonic content and texture, a shifting, nearly dodecophonic smear of burbling chords—woodwinds and muted brass belying tonality beneath strings screeching in higher, more tense regions. We sometimes get angular melodic lines, something to hum, but always there is atonal counterpoint clouding any center or expectation. This was the “purposeless movement” he was after, and what I think makes the score for The Thing so effective. There’s no percussion. Percussion would give semblance of accomplishment or at least direction, and in The Thing there’s only futility. 

But it wasn’t quite enough for Carpenter. He hired his friend, who worked with him on Escape From New York, to compose some electronic cues, mostly drones and stingers. That’s the horrible sound you hear when the shadow passes in front of Fuchs (the sound haunted me as a kid). When they go out to MacReady’s shack, when they burn Bennings, in the title sequence, there are organ-like layered electronic drones, almost La Monte Young-ian. Much (too much) has been made of some comments that Morricone made, about being hired and told to compose in the style of Carpenter, then being replaced with Carpenter’s actual music. I can see how it would be insulting. But at the end of the day, they’re in the business of collaboration. Those droning electronic tracks are the glue of the movie, and I think Carpenter’s intuition was spot on for including them. 

It’s funny, I’ve listened to the soundtrack so much over the years, I forget that not all the tracks feature in the film. Morricone didn’t write to the actual scenes, as other composers do; instead he watched the film and used the inspiration to later write pieces that the director would then assign and edit. He composed without stricture to timestamp. In a way it's a higher art, similar to hearing Bartok and Ligeti and Penderecki in Kubrick's films. And he ended up composing way too much music for The Thing, which isn’t a bad thing at all. But not every track on the album is in the movie. And none of Carpenter’s music is on the album. You have to actively listen to the film, and somehow ignore the iconic dialogue, and remember to breathe during the suspenseful scenes, and after juggling all that, you end up forgetting to analyze the music and have to rewind. Which also isn't a bad thing. 

Ultimately, it was both of them, Morricone and Carpenter, that made the music so successful. The soundtrack is their misshapen little baby, born of strange duality. One man brought training and sophistication, the other intuitively knew what worked in his horror medium (and had the courage to tamper with his hero’s art). And somehow the orchestral textures fit neatly alongside the electronic elements—but maybe that’s because the film is science fiction and also horror, it’s about assimilation and nonsensical combinations. There seems to be room in it for different styles, for two composers."

Thanks to Matt for that wonderful analysis of the score. 

The ending of the film upset many fans at the time. There is no heroic 80s action ending. Like Carpenter's Halloween, The Thing ends with uncertainty. The whole film ramps up the paranoia and fear and then just when we break out the pom poms for a victory cheer, that damn music kicks in and we know. We just know, that we don't know. Carpenter said, "There was a great deal of pressure not to end the movie the way it ended. We tried a cut where MacReady blows up the creature and then just basically sits down by himself, and it didn't make a difference, the audience didn't care, so we went ahead and left my ending intact." 

I first saw the film at a birthday party in 1983. A bunch of sugar-fueled boys and annoying older sisters, that we all secretly wanted to kiss. My friend's dad was a Viet Nam vet and showed us his bullet scars. A wet dog ran through the room at some point. Not such a great environment to foster fear. The film has a chaotic spirit that feeds paranoia. I hate chaos and the film just soaks you in it. The gore in the film is sublime. I didn't know Rob Bottin's name at the time but grew to be a big fan of his work.

If you have not seen the film, you should feel ashamed and embarrassed. This is horror at its finest. The film is endlessly re-watchable. Like I said at the beginning of the post, The Thing is a perfect film.

"Man is the warmest place to hide." Here is a beautifully clean copy of the trailer.

Here is a fantastic intro to the film by John Carpenter. This was filmed for a 70mm showing of the film.

(Poster courtesy of Wrong Side of the Art. Stills from Beautiful Stills from Beautiful Films, an awesome site. I also learned about the incredible work, fans of the film are doing over on Outpost #31. I didn't get to look at the site before working on this post, unfortunately.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Black Dynamite, at last.

I believe this was announced last August, but Black Dynamite's animated series is finally taking off.
The show premieres on Sunday, July 15th on Adult Swim.

There is a pretty cool interview with Black Dynamite himself, Michael Jai White HERE.

Friday, June 15, 2012

40 more masterpieces from Mr. Rob Liefeld.

Sweet mother of pearl. A few years ago my buddy, Derrick, turned me onto the hilarious, The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings. I can now repay the kindness. Progressiveboink published 40 More Of The Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings, yesterday.

"This one has all the signature Liefeld touches:

1. Pouches worn around the thighs, even when you aren't wearing pants.
2. People who grow hair only on the very tops of their heads.
3. Guns that are literally bigger than people.
4. Women with waists the size of their wrists, standing like they're trying to take a shit on a swingset.
5. Hidden feet, because drawing is hard.
6. Characters standing on different levels of an unseen surface.

Seriously, unless Badrock is walking on Cotton Hill stumps his leg should go down another ten feet.

Out of all of that, my favorite part of this is the lady aiming a gun (with a LASER SIGHT) at the ground while she looks over her shoulder. In an eye patch. And she's kind of a robot! Shouldn't that green line be going through Badrock's leg? Hey lady, you wouldn't have to wear pouch belts around your waist and leg if you put on a pair of pants."

Daily poster: Blood Junkie.

Blood Junkie.

Blood Junkie is a retro-80's slasher film from 2010. Like all good retro films it takes all the goodies of the genre and discards the crap. Everyone is dressed to the nines in 80's garb; the music is over the top synth; the pace of the film is grindingly 80's. It is a fantastic film if that is what you're looking for. There are a couple of spots that take you out of the rad 80's universe, but for the most part you could trick a ten year old, "This is how it was, dude."

The film has a strange guy aspect to it. It felt like a group of guys made the film and didn't really know the female leads. The pillow fight, rumpus, topless, pillow fight of the 80's slasher becomes a drunken homo-erotic, wrestlefest with the two lead males. It is funny. I laughed. But, imposing modern sensibilities can destroy a retro film. This teetered on the edge, but was saved by the fact that one of the leads may be secretly in love with the other. The shit hits the fan and survival mode kicks in before his feelings can be explored. I've always felt that most third acts are poisonous to the rest of the film. This third act is saved by some hilarious dialog and sudden transformation of the aforementioned lead into a wannabe 80's action hero.

The women are great. They just have the 80's down pat. The looks, the unrealistic, Hollywood horndog promiscuous sensibilities, and their acting is fine. The completely over the top use of body doubles for the nude scenes is funny, annoying, and goes to the theory that this was a group of guys that made the film. I could see them too afraid to ask the actress' before hand, to show some skin.

The gore is standard for the genre. The camerawork, color timing, and editing are fantastic. The pacing was slow and perfect. The killer has a great back story (I wish they would have shown more, with cutaways) and a great look. I felt like they showed the killer a bit too much. Three minutes of the killer carting a body around in a wheelbarrow could have been cut down a bit.

The ending is surprising, all together impossible, funny, and pitch perfect.

I liked the film a lot. I will watch this team's newer film, Billy Club. I love the wave of retro-80's horror films over the last few years.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

At home, I'm a tourist.

Selim Varol collects toys. Seriously. No, I'm serious.
He has been collecting toys since he was a child. His collection has grown to over 15,000 pieces. me Collectors Room in Berlin has put a few thousand of Varol's toys and art pieces on display.
This collection is just drool-worthy.

"The exhibition includes a total of 3,000 works by more than 200 artists & designers from over 20 countries.
Plans are under way to enable artists involved in the exhibition to paint or paste designated facades in the area around the venue.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive catalogue of the collection that will include texts by Jeffrey Deitch as well as Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley."

 Thanks to Nik for the heads up.
(via CoolHunting)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hunico talks mascaras.

WWE wrestler, Hunico, shows his collection of luchador masks.

I also collect lucha libre mascaras. Mine are all store bought, though. Hunico's got the real deal.

Lady Aiko lights it up.

Blue Q has released this dangerously cute lamp, designed by Lady Aiko. The Thinking of You lamp stands 20" tall and runs $34.99. Order HERE.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Witchfinder Cycle: Witchfinder films of the 60's and 70's.

I haven't seen too much written on the smattering of films I call The Witchfinder Cycle. During the late 1960's Satanism and demonism had a resurgence in popular culture. Most people were not flooding to worship the dark lord, but there was a rise in interest.

For one, The Church of Satan opened in San Francisco in April, 1966. The news media went crazy. My parents even posed for photographs for an article (pics HERE.) The UK had been shipping over a steady diet of Satanic cult movies since Mario Bava's Black Sunday was released in 1960. Vampirism got tangled with Satanism and the two were never unstuck.

The counter-culture movement was also a ripe target for any kind of parental, authority, or establishment fears. They'll take your kids? They'll subvert authority? They will destroy the establishment? Sprinkle lightly with the devil and you've got a book or film that will make a million dollars to a fearful population.

Witchcraft, The Witches, Night of the Eagle, The Naked Witch, The Witch's Mirror, there are about twenty more witchcraft themed films from the 1960's. Something was happening in culture. Youth was taking over. Adults were scared. Hollywood fed into that fear. Good stuff. The production of satanic and witchcraft themed films went into 666th gear in the early 1970's with close to a hundred films produced on the subject. The devil slowly lost his ground throughout the polyester decade. I remember seeing Satan terrorizing after school specials. Destroying a girl's chrystal pony collection. The Devil wouldn't get too much rest, though. While films eased up on the dark side, 70's music was turning BLACK. Black Sabbath picked the devil up out of the gutter, dusted him off and handed him over to their heavy metal disciples of the 1980's.

I consider the late 60's and early 70's the golden age of witchcraft movies. If you like road movies you can watch Werewolves on Wheels or Race With the Devil. Are you timid? You can watch the beautifully titled but Rated PG, Blood Orgy of the She Devils or the 1967 TV version of The Crucible. Oh, you're a Criterion Collection watching highbrow, then take Polanski's Rosemary's Baby or Friedkin's The Exorcist for a spin. Already seen them, try The Omen. Like the classics? Try any of Hammer's Dracula films of the 70's, Satan gets his dues. Where's William Shatner? In The Devil's Rain, of course. Want something raunchy? Well that list is endless.

"Raunchy" brings me to the point of all this devil-talk, The Witchfinder Cycle. Starting in 1968, with The Witchfinder General, a new sub-sub-genre of films began spurting onto screens. These films are all period pieces. They are all based on real history to one degree or another. Each film in the cycle concerns a witchfinder, searching the land for women (and some men) who have made a pact with the devil.

The witchfinder cycle is interesting to me because of it's confused and disingenuous moral grounding. Witchfinder's torture women in order to find out if these women are disciples of Satan. Many of the films have a female protagonist in love with another male protagonist. The witchfinder is almost always a horny, sadistic, pervert, who falls in lust with the female and will end her torture for sexual favors. Real nice stuff, huh? Now, if the woman is really a disciple of Satan does this make the witchfinder's work justifiable? What if she thinks she's in a pact with the devil? What if the witchfinder actually loves the girl that is accused? A few of the films have British politics thrown in. That can get pretty confusing if you don't do a little Wikipedia reading beforehand. It definitely confuses the protagonist - antagonist relationship. The nuances of these films are what make them interesting to me.

Today, the Witchfinder or monster hunter always finds a witch or Warlock. The Witchfinder is a hero in the Solomon Kane, pulpy, model.

If you like seeing naked chicks get tortured, The Witchfinder Cycle is good for that too. In the old days, the witchfinder held the power to see naked ladies and to watch them be tortured. Today, that is all democratized. You, from the comfort of your couch, can feel the same thrills that the witchfinder's did 400 years ago.

Almost none of these damn films have happy endings. They are heavy, downtrodden, depressing films. If you're into modern torture porn, they won't have the visceral impact, but they will act as a devil's lotion and seep into your skin. They will turn your spirit dark. Humanity will feel that much more grotesque. And when you ponder that humans really did these things to each other and they still do all over the world, it just makes your chest hurt. My wife and I watched these films so you don't have to.

The commandments of The Witchfinder Cycle.
1. Must be a period piece.
2. Must have a witchfinder.
3. Must have been released in the 1960's or 1970's.

Here are the films. (psssst, let me know if you find one that I have not included.) Each write up is FULL of SPOILERS.

Maciste in Hell (1962)

 Maciste is a Hercules-like character in Italian cinema dating back to 1914. When the Peplum Hercules films became popular again in the early 1960's, Maciste was reborn as a box office rival to Hercules. In the U.S. many of Maciste's films were redubbed into Hercules, Goliath, and Samson films.

The film starts out with a bad ass witch burning scene in Scotland (see the first picture in this post.) This is a real witch, spitting revenge curses. A hundred years later, in 1550, a woman tries to hang herself and is cut down by villagers. The dead tree sprouts flowers. Two men argue about the curse put on the village by the old witch a century ago. A couple is married. This film moves at a good pace. It jumps around in all the right ways. The supernatural is real.

The recently married woman is somehow connected with the old witch. She is haunted and toyed with by dark forces. The villagers riot and put her on trial. She tries to touch a bible and it burns. The witchfinders think this is a sign of witchcraft. The woman is sentenced to die. Sounds like a standard witchfinder film so far, right? Well, then a twenty-something HUNK in a loin cloth shows up. It is Maciste! It is striking as all hell when Maciste shows up. Imagine a near naked Hercules walking onto the scene of a Shakespearean play.

Maciste agrees to take care of everything. He enters Hell and kicks the ass of demons and monsters in order to kill the witch and end the curse.

When Maciste enters Hell. The film turns pure Sword & Sandal. Maciste fights a lion, snakes, and the bird that feasts on Theseus' liver each day. The shots of the suffering dead are straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. There are some weird flashbacks, which I think are from other Maciste films. He fights a Cyclops; saves slave workers in Egypt, and adventures in China. Confusing.

There is a shocking scene where Maciste stops a stampede of a dozen oxen. He stops the onslaught by pushing the actual oxen down a ten foot cliff. It is a mess. If you have a soft spot in your heart for oxen, it could be heartbreaking.

Above ground, the accused witch is not tortured and the film plays out like a straight, but cheesy, drama.

The script and acting, both physical and the English dubbing, are extremely passionate (read, waaay over the top.) The Witchfinder is sort of a know nothing and he actually sits in a tall backed chair with a carved pentagram in a circle (see top picture.) Talk about mixed messages.

The film slows down when the witch disguises herself as a hottie and talks Maciste's ear off. Maciste eventually wises up and kicks witch ass and saves the day. The film is great fun, but hit the scan fast-forward button when she comes on the scene.

The film is a strange hybrid. It's really more Peplum than Witchfinder Cycle, but it meets the criteria.

 Witchfinder General (1968)

This is the grandaddy of The Witchfinder Cycle. The film was based on a 1966 novel by Ronald Bassett. The novel was based off of the real activities of Mathew Hopkins and John Stearne, self-proclaimed witchfinders in the 1640's. Hopkins was only a witchfinder for two to three years but is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of over three hundred people. Hopkins' book on the subject has been put online by the good folks at Project Gutenberg, HERE. The book is titled, The Discovery of Witches and is sort of an FAQ on the subject.

Director, Michael Reeves, had Donald Pleasance in mind to play Mathew Hopkins. The idea was that he would be a bungling, ne'er do well, but ultimately ineffective and loutish. When Vincent Price was hired for the role, the rewriting went into high gear. Hopkins was streamlined into a more fox-like, clever, and intelligent character. After a few battles with the British censor, the script was ready to be shot. Reeves was pissed about not getting Donald Pleasance and by most accounts treated Vincent Price poorly on the set.

A man and woman are in love. He is a soldier during the English Civil War in 1645. While he is away, the witchfinder, Mathew Hopkins, comes to town to string up the woman's uncle for consorting with the devil. The woman is raped, the uncle killed. When the soldier finds out, he swears an oath of revenge.

The film looks like a Merchant Ivory masterpiece compared with some of the other films in The Witchfinder Cycle. The sets and costumes are beautiful. The cinematography is top rate with lush colors. The acting is fine. Vincent Price considered his work here as the finest in his long career.

The film has horse chases and barroom brawls. It has a good pace. If you're into Hammer films, this fits in nicely. It gets a bit grim with the witchfinding tortures, but it is the mildest of the lot.

If you want to dip your finger into something without going full thumscrews, this is a good film to watch.

A major theme in these films is power. A good old fashioned, black and white, aristocracy over peasant, total and complete domination. To modern, democratic, eyes, it is a big part of that stifling, heartache, feeling. These people are just so dominated. The wealthy, the titled, the church, anyone with perceived title, have absolute power. The common person has nothing, least of all a voice. If you have any kind of sense of fair play, your guts will hurt.

Mark of the Devil (1970)

This is how badass Mark of the Devil is: The film was shot in the dungeon of a castle in Austria which was actually used by witchfinders. The instruments of torture in the film are real. They were used to torture good people. Vomit bags were handed out at the theaters it played. And if you really want a measure of badassery, Udo Kier is the handsome, protagonist, UDO KIER!

This is the low point (or is it high point?) of The Witchfinder Cycle. Brutal, misogynistic, and so downtrodden you may find it hard to breathe. The same, short, uplifting score is played throughout the film. It sounds happy but it is a liar's song. In a Pavlovian way your heart will skip a beat and you will throw up a little in your mouth when you hear it.

Albino, the local witchfinder feels the pressure when Lord Cumberland, a famous witchfinder played by Herbert Lom, comes to town.

Lord Cumberland's apprentice (Udo Kier) falls in love with a woman, played by Olivera Katarina, that the local witchfinder has declared a witch. The pressure builds.

Albino is played to perfection by Reggie Nalder. I guess Nalder was burned as a child and was left with this unforgettably fantastic mug. His voice is high pitched and condescending. He has this quality where even when he's losing it feels like he's winning. He is eminently hate-able.

Like most films in The Witchfinder Cycle, Mark of the Devil either wrestles or pretends to wrestle with its themes. Is this a comment on the horrible atrocities committed by religious furor or is this a straight up exploitation film? Is showing extreme amounts of violence a way to make the public understand how horrible violence is, or is it tossing Scooby Snacks to the bloodthirsty? A reflection or a guide?

The film is the symbol of what a good witchfinder film should be. It is horrible.

Witchhammer (1970)

Power corrupts.
In a Czech town an old woman squirrels away a holy communion wafer. She is seen and reported. She says it is for her friend's cow whose udders have gone dry. Perhaps God will help the cow. The town's leaders think they have a witch infestation on their hands. They recruit a witchfinder, Boblig to get to the bottom of their problem.

Boblig tortures the old woman and her friends into admitting guilt. The old ladies are forced to memorize specific blasphemous stories. A tribunal is formed and the women executed. Soon, other men and women are added to the list of accused witches. The tribunal members are disenpowered. Boblig steam rolls over the town's leaders. Soon they are all accused. Finally, the deacon of the town is accused and tortured. There is no one left.

The film is shot in black and white. The sets, costumes, and actors are all top notch. The old women are fantastic and look like they have stepped out of and old Flemish painting.

The film starts with a bathhouse full of naked ladies and has a very light tone. It almost feels like a dry comedy in the beginning. Everyone really knows that these old ladies are innocent, but no one has the spine to stand up. The theme is an old one, but very effective here. As people are accused, no one will stand against Boblig and his perceived power. The Witchfinder has no clothes, but no one will speak up.

What starts out as a light film ends up being one of the more dispiriting entries into The Witchfinder Cycle. 

The Bloody Judge (1970)

 Jess Franco directed this slow, political, period piece. Witchfinding takes a backseat to political dissent and revolution here.

Christopher Lee is the bloody judge of the title. A man intent on squashing political dissent in a time of revolution; he also has a witch or two executed. However, he never watches the dirty work. He presides and retires to his room for diary writing and plotting.

The film is pretty grand for Jess Franco. I have heard that Franco shot the battle scenes for Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight (which I have not seen) so he did have some experience directing large scale scenes.  Christopher Lee worked with Franco three times and put in a good effort here. His acting is fine, but the part of the bloody judge doesn't ask for much range. It is funny to hear Lee's voice while a feminine looking hand model commits some of the more lurid and Franco-like roughie scenes. The good Mr. Lee knew when to walk away from the set.

The score is by Spaghetti Western favorite, Bruno Nicolai. It is good. Sparse and downtrodden, but good.

The sex and violence is pretty tame for a Jess Franco film. Perhaps Christopher Lee and the seemingly higher budget quelled Franco's instincts with classiness.

The film is slow. There is not much witchhunting. The brute henchman, Satchel, will make you angry in a good way. A lot of politics. I didn't like it when I was watching it, but I'm softening to it.

Cry of the Banshee (1970)

 Vincent Price and Hilary Dwyer from Witchfinder General return. Directed by Gordon Hessler. The opening credits were created by Terry Gilliam, in the Monty Python style. Cry of the Banshee looks like a well made film. The cinematography is excellent. The camera moves. However, it is mired in a muddy story.

A witchfinder attempts to destroy a coven of witches. Their priestess, Oona, declares revenge and conjures a "banshee" to exact her revenge. The Banshee weasels his way into the witchfinder's home and attempts to crumble it from within.

Price's character is a short tempered, cruel man, but he is sold as some sort of protagonist. The film is just a mess.The banshee is not a banshee. No one acts as you would expect them to act in such circumstances. It's just a poorly constructed movie.

The Devils (1971)

The film is decadent, inspirational, and entirely too annoying for me. The Devils is directed by Ken Russell and is clearly an influence for filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and David Lynch. A section, or two, was directly swiped by William Friedkin for The Exorcist. The sets and costumes are bigger than life and entirely original. However, there is a certain, usually British, style of acting and directing where everyone is frantic and either screams their lines or whispers them; truly headache inducing.

I did not enjoy the film while watching it, but have been thinking a lot about it. That's a good thing.

The script is based off of the true story of Father Urbain Grandier. Grandier (played by Oliver Reed) was a popular Catholic priest that wanted the French crown to honor the sovereignty it had bestowed upon his home town. The town has a high, armored wall around it. The last town to have such walls. The Vatican, however, wanted all of the walls torn down out of fear of the spread of protestantism. Grandier is framed and tried as a witch.

The framing is the key of the film. A delusional Mother Superior (played by Vanessa Redgrave) is delusion-ally in love with Father Grandier. She finds out that he has secretly married and it sends her towards the edge. She writes to him, asking him to lead her convent. A different priest is sent instead. This sends her over the edge. She rants and raves and says that Grandier visits her at night and they fornicate. She says that Grandier has possessed her.

A hippie looking witchhunter is brought in. The Mother Superior is tortured. The rest of the nuns are convinced that they are all possessed and go crazy. Ripping off their clothes and rubbing up against everything and dancing and just going nuts.

In a fantastic scene. The King visits the convent. He has a solution. A small box. Within the box is a vial of the blood of Christ. As the box is passed around the room, the nuns, including the Mother Superior are all cured of the possession. They settled down. When the box is handed back to the King. He opens the box to reveal it is empty. The nuns go apeshit crazy again. He leaves knowing it is all a farce.

Nonetheless, Grandier stands in the way of the Vatican. He is tried, shaved, and burned at the stake. The Mother Superior masturbates with his burned leg bone. The witchfinder leaves. Grandier's wife leaves the town in a most dramatic fashion.

This is the highest budget and most "mainstream" film on the list. The Devils received an X rating in the U.S. and in the U.K. There are a ton of different edits out there, each one with different footage. I will watch this film again.

It must be mentioned that in 1961 a Polish film entitled Mother Joan of the Angels picked up the story where The Devils ends. It is a fictional but really well made film. Grandier has been killed and the nuns are still mad. A priest is sent in and loses his soul as he attempts to purge the evil from the convent. The film reminds me of Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal mixed with a tiny dash of William Friedkin's The Exorcist. It is quiet and subdued, a far cry from the wailing and melodrama of The Devils. Worth finding.

Twins of Evil (1972)

One of my favorite Hammer Films. Part of the Karnstein trilogy and one of the films that tangled Satanism with vampirism for a most unholy alliance.

Two twins go to live with their extremely pious uncle and his wife. One of the girls is lured into darkness by the local vampire.

Simple plot. The beauty of this film comes in the nuances. The twins are played by Mary and Madeleine Collinson (yes, they were in Playboy) and they are incredibly beautiful. The uncle is played by Peter Cushing and he is incredibly sallow and gaunt. His wife had died just before filming this picture and I think Cushing used those emotions to just ramp up his role; Gustav Weil, is the head of a witchfinder/vampire hunter group called The Brotherhood. They are vicious and unfair and cruel. It is easy to be turned off by religion living with Weil for an uncle. The girls begin looking for trouble. One with a boyfriend, one with a vampire.

Count Karnstein, is cool, affable, and as a local count, untouchable by the law. Weil knows Karnstein is a blood sucking freak but he cannot act, even as his own niece is succumbing to vampirism.

The film takes some very brutal turns near the end. Like most Hammer films of the time, the cinematography is good. Lush and colorful. Other than Peter Cushing, the acting is a bit hammy.

The film does not center on witchfinding per se. There is no torture of suspected witches. Not a lot of nudity (one of the twins takes off her top.) It fits the tenets of The Witchfinder Cycle but not entirely the spirit. Twins of Evil is often maligned by Hammer fans, but I think it is a fine film.

The Monk (1972)

 The film was co-written by film legend, Luis Bunuel, from a story by Matthew Lewis. The film was remade in 2011.

Franco Nero stars in this surrealistic, drama. The film smells like filmmaker Michael Haneke or another filmmaker who deals in stories one step away from reality. The Monk feels real. It could almost be a straight drama, but it's just that one step that bends the universe.

Franco Nero plays Ambrosio, a popular and inspirational monk in France. He is tempted by another monk, who, for some reason, no one other than Ambrosio can see is an extremely beautiful woman. Their sinful relationship completely unhinges Ambrosio. Step-by-step, he finds himself molesting children and murdering women. Meanwhile, the seductress woman dines with a local lord who shelters orphaned girls, kills them, and eats them.

Reality becomes foggy to Ambrosio and when the witchfinders come looking, he has no alternative but to sign a pact with the devil. With the signature, everyone essentially winks at each other. Ambrosio's fate is sealed. Ambrosio does not age and in the early 1970's he becomes the pope. WTF!

It's an extremely dark (VHS crap print) but fun film. Franco Nero is a bit over the top, but the guy goes through an extremely LONG fall in morality. It's a pretty artsy film. The first thirty minutes could have the dialog removed.

The film just barely claws its way into The Witchfinder Cycle. The witchfinder doesn't show up until an hour and sixteen minutes into the film, "Open the gate! It is the holy inquisition!" And he ends up being part of the Satanic plot.

If you like dark, artsy films. This is mindbendingly interesting. If you want naked ladies to get whipped, stay away.

Mark of the Devil II (1973)

This is not really a sequel. It is simply more of the same witchfinder-tainment for us sickos. The original title is Hexen geschändet und zu Tode gequält which translates to "Witches Violated And Tortured To Death." The film is about as original and creative as the title. I do love the poster, however. There is nothing likeable at all about it. It looks like the designer chose the worst possible pictures of the actors and spent ten minutes throwing it together. It pathetically reaches out to fans of The Exorcist, brags that it is in color (it's 1973 for crying out loud), and brags that it is "A Hallmark Production." Is this the same company that makes greeting cards?

Reggie Nalder is back as essentially the same character as the first Mark of the Devil. This time he is named Natas. With him, is the same scribe as the first film. The rest of the cast is ugly inside and out. No one is charismatic and you will care about no one. A bald nun is whipped and raped by her mother superior. The witchfinding tortures are over the top. Dipped in and out of ice. A woman is lowered onto a phallic wooden spike. Hot coals in one gent's shoes. Whipping, needle insertions, and beheadings. The film ranks up there as one of the sleaziest of The Witchfinder Cycle.

A woman's husband sees Natas at his dirty work. He kills one of the witchfinder's cronies and is assassinated by Natas as he is leaving. The woman complains. She and her young son are accused of witchcraft. Let the dirty work begin.

It is interesting to watch the little boy laugh and tease about the devil and witchcraft. Everyone else takes it so seriously and tries to shut him up. He just thinks it is funny and it gets him more attention so he continues. The ending of the film is actually upbeat.

The production almost seems like television quality. A lot of medium shots, flat lighting, and a slower pace. I'm not sure if there is a decent copy of this film available. Mine is from a crappy VHS copy. 

The Demons (1973)

Jess Franco's little softcore porn flick surprised the heck out of me. The story was solid and kept moving at a good pace.There is a ton of nudity and simulated sex in this film and the torture scenes are not extreme. Despite having no budget, Franco managed to find some huge and epic looking sets.

 A witch is burned at the stake. This is a three-mole, hissing, traditional witch.
Two sisters, Margaret and Kathleen live in a nunnery. They do not have a past. Kathleen is accused of being a witch by Lady de Winter, a witchfinder. The turn of having a female witchfinder is historically inaccurate to the extreme, but nonetheless interesting.
Before Kathleen is burned at the stake Lady de Winter's father, Lord Malcom de Winter frees her. De Winter is played by one of my favorite faces, Howard Vernon (see below.) Vernon also played the cowled torturer in The Bloody Judge.
Kathleen is on the run.
Margaret receives a message from the girls' mother, who ends up being the first witch burned at the stake. Margaret is then visited by a foppish looking Satan, who rapes her.

The plot moves fast and is actually quite interesting. Margaret becomes a powerful witch. Her kiss can turn a person into a skeleton. Kathleen, who was never really a witch, finds out and turns her sister over to the witchfinders. "She's a witch! A real witch!"
Lord Jeffries, the same character from The Bloody Judge, but sadly not played by Christopher Lee, skulks around issuing orders. In the end, Margaret is about to be burned at the stake. She asks Lord Jeffries for forgiveness and for one last kiss. She turns his ass into a skeleton and laughs as she burns.
Kathleen wanders through the forest and finds the blind old witch.

There is a super weak political undercurrent. Some whispers about an invasion.

If you're into softcore porn, this may be the witchfinder film for you. These sisters really get around. They even writhe around sexually when they sleep.

My wife and I were actually very surprised at how well the story held our attention. Franco's directing is clunky as always. Pay attention to his directing choices. Kathleen gets maybe one close up shot the entire film. You see her vagina more than you see her face. However, she is the "good" sister. Margaret gets close ups galore and she is the wicked sister. The morality gets really confusing in this film. Also, watch the physical actions of the actors. There are parts that are just maddeningly unrealistic.

Inquisition (1976)

I always try to hate Paul Naschy. Usually, I am successful. This time I was not. Inquisition is FULL-Naschy; he wrote, directed, and stars in this witchfinder film. I've watched the film twice and it has become my favorite of all The Witchfinder Cycle films.

A woman, Catherine, is haunted by the death of her husband. She begins dabbling in the dark arts as a trio of witchfinders comes into town, led by Grand Inquisitor Bernard de Fossey (Naschy.) de Fossey falls in love with Catherine. She falls deeper and deeper into her deal with Satan. Soon the murderer is revealed as de Fossey (Come on, it's not really a surprise.) Catherine seduces de Fossey to the dark side and in the end they are both burned.

One aspect that I really like about the film is that it is supernatural. There is a devil and he has powers. The end of the film offers a wonderful way out of this in a casual conversation between two townsfolk. But, we the audience, do see the devil.

The tortures are grisly and cringe-worthy. However, Naschy goes for quality over quantity and the film is not full of them. After watching and re-watching all of these films together, the sound of lady screaming just grates on me. The makeup effects are pretty well done. The Devil's makeup is sort of funny, not at all creepy, but mostly cool. The filmmaking is fine. The quality of the print I saw was excellent.

This is Naschy's first directorial effort and he does pretty well. The tone of the film goes up and down a bit between exploitative, titty, torture, and cruelty versus somber, dark arts, and drama. But really, that's me trying to find something to be critical of. If you like these movies, you'll like Inquisition.

If you want more information on The Witchfinder Cycle, you'll have to dig it up yourself. I have found no resources which talk about these films with any depth. If there is an old book or article out there please let me know.

P.S. I'm publishing this post on 6/6 at 6:00am just to enhance the EVIL.