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Shudder

The Amusement Park is a lost-but-now-found early film by George Romero, best known for Night of the Living Dead and its zombified sequels. I’m a moderate fan of Romero, and The Amusement Park sounded interesting, but the only legal place to watch it is Shudder, a streaming channel that specializes in horror movies.

I don't particularly like horror movies, though. I can enjoy a well-made thriller, but there aren’t many, and I’m not interested in most modern ‘horror’ movies where people line up to get stabbed while fiddles play on the soundtrack.

Shudder is only $6 p/month, so I signed up for a short stay. They have hundreds of streaming movies, some original material and series, and that the business seems to be run by people who love horror movies. It’s a bargain if you’re a fan of the genre, and even cheaper if you purchase a year all at once. An even bigger bargain — you get a one-week free trial.

I had Shudder for a week and a half, and paid, and it was worth it, but now I’ve cancelled my subscription. Here’s what I saw while I was there:

♦  The Amusement Park (1973) — This is what I came for, and I was not disappointed. It’s basically a public service announcement ("Be kind to senior citizens"), sponsored by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania. It begins and ends with an actor addressing the camera, first to explain what you’re about to see, and then, after you’ve seen it, to explain what you just saw — and nobody needs that. In between the intro and epilogue, though, the same actor plays an old man visiting an amusement park (an allegory for the world at large), which develops into an original Romero nightmare that's well worth seeing.

♦  Black Sunday (1960) — “The most terrifying motion picture you’ll ever see,” says the preview. Well, no, it’s certainly not, but I’ve heard of this movie since forever, everyone says it’s great, and it is quite effective. It’s old-style gothic horror, akin to the classic Frankenstein and Dracula movies from the 1930s. If you’re willing to turn down the lights, let the movie absorb you, and watch it with no interruptions or distractions, you'll be scared. But relax, “They cannot win against the symbol of Christ” … Or can they? 

♦  Castle Freak (1995) — Some American schlub unexpectedly inherits an ancient Italian castle, and much mayhem ensues. It’s from the director of Re-Animator, with two of the same stars. I respect the work, but it’s too bloody for my taste, and I was mostly surfing the net during the second half of the movie.

♦  Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988) — After World War III, Roddy Piper is one of the few men alive who’s not sterile, so the government claims ownership of his groin to spawn the next generation of soldiers and keep the war going. The concept has great potential, but the execution is relentlessly sexist and occasionally rapey, and the only backstory we're given about Piper's character is that he was "recently arrested for sexual assault." Maybe the movie is fun if you can get past that, and there were some laughs, but I bailed halfway through, when Rowdy Roddy sold the blonde lady in chains at the bar.

♦  Leap of Faith (2020) — This is a documentary, in which William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, talks about the making and meaning of that movie. Friedkin tells all, and there are many clips, and I learned a few fascinating facts about The Exorcist and the movie business. There’s no humility or humor, though, and Friedkin wants you to know that he knew what he was doing, he knows all about art and cinema, and he understood the original novel The Excorcist better than its author did. Friedkin takes himself and his art so damned seriously that my biggest takeaway from this documentary is that I don’t like William Friedkin.

♦  Little Shop of Horrors (1960) — This is the original science fiction/comedy from Roger Corman, famously written, filmed, and finished in two days. It’s clever and funny, with Dick Miller literally chewing the scenery, and baby-faced Jack Nicholson as a masochist at the dentist’s office. I’ve seen the musical remake (1986) so many times that I wanted to hear the songs, but the original rocks in its own way, without any tunes. I wish someone like Corman was making interesting movies like this on a tiny budget, today, and sending something creative to the cinemas.

♦  The McPherson Tape (1989) — Ten years before The Blair Witch Project, this extremely low-budget found-footage flick was better, and gets better as it goes. A little kid’s birthday party is being videotaped by her family, when there’s a flash of light — space aliens have landed, and it’s all caught on blurry VHS. The family’s reactions are stupid, but realistically stupid, as everyone’s saying exactly the dumb things your brother-in-law would say. “Shit, the alien is loose in the house!” Also: “Put that god damn camera down, or I’m gonna wrap it around your neck!” It’s effective, almost believable, and it ends with a solid surprise that I replayed and re-enjoyed several times.

♦  Pieces (1982) — Someone is chainsawing young women because they’re young women. That’s the plot. I'm an old fashioned guy, and opposed on principle to chainsawing young women, whether in life or in movies. I watched though to the end, though, fascinated, because this movie is aggressively anti-competent in every way. There’s dubbed vocals, ridiculous dialogue, bad kung fu outta nowhere, and every stupid character reacts stupidly to every stupid circumstance. Midway through it, I knew I’d be letting my Shudder subscription lapse.

♦  Re-Animator (1985) — I saw this movie when it first came out, and thought it was impressive. It’s still impressive. It’s a low-budget labor of Lovecraft, with Jeffrey Combs as the mad scientist who’s messing with things that shouldn't be messed with, and Bruce Abbott as the hapless schmuck who’s always telling Combs he’s insane, but also always helping him. This is the pinnacle artistic achievement of the gore genre, recommended unless you know you’d be repulsed. The music is marvelous, too — well-suited to the insanity on screen, though mostly swiped from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho.

♦  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is famed for its gruesomeness, so I didn’t watch it so much as listen and occasionally glance at it, while I was reading a book. It also helps that this was the Joe-Bob Briggs version, where he pops in for wisecracks and philosophy and trivia several times during the movie. If you can endure the gruesomeness, TTCM is inarguably well-made, with great pacing as the situation builds. Once the story is underway, it gets (you guessed it) gruesome (even without looking at the screen very often). It may or may not have redeeming social value, and the last few minutes were not what I expected. Recommended, if you like gruesome movies, but if you like gruesome movies you’ve certainly seen it already.

Thanks, Shudder, and adios.

I wish there was a similar streaming service for my preferred movie genres — science fiction or film noir — with the same obvious love Shudder shows for horror. But I’ve looked around, and sadly, there’s not.

 7/11/2021

itsdougholland.com 

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8 comments:

  1. Captain HampocketsJuly 11, 2021 at 7:44 AM

    >Re-Animator (1985) — I saw this movie when it first came out, and thought it was impressive. It’s still impressive.

    I'm happy to know this. I saw it on VHS back in the late 80s. I LOVED it, and it inspired me to read Lovecraft (not the best decision I've ever made). But I'm glad the movie holds up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Holds up fabulous. I might watch it again before my Shudder subscription expires.

      Delete
  2. Captain HampocketsJuly 11, 2021 at 7:46 AM

    >I’ve seen the musical remake (1986) so many times that I wanted to hear the songs

    Fun fact : The Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack was the first CD I ever bought, after I got a CD player that Christmas or birthday. First cassete tape was "Dare to be Stupid" by Weird Al when I was 12.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you still have the CDs? Still listen? All mine are long gone, same as all the vinyl, cassettes, and eight-tracks.

      Delete
    2. Captain HampocketsJuly 12, 2021 at 7:56 AM

      I own no physical music media anymore, and I don't even think I'd have a way to play it. My car MIGHT have a CD player, but I usually just plug in my phone and listen to podcasts when I drive, very occasionally Spotify for music.

      Delete
  3. > opposed on principle to chainsawing young women

    So you're a radical feminist socialist, huh?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am a fat lazy threat to all that is decent in America.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm sorry but almost all these sound awful, even the ones you say aren't awful.

    ReplyDelete

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