Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Unlikely Source


I grew up loving the old school horror classics of yesteryear, when make-up was painful to the actor, castles were models and you could see the strings on the bats. Universal, Hammer and Roger Corman were the obvious favorites but I'd watch anything from those periods, no matter who made them. Once my cinephilia took hold in my early teens I temporarily put them aside for the classics of Hollywood and the French New Wave. Italian Neo-Realism and the New German Cinema weren't far behind. As a result, I can say I've seen many of the foreign language pillars of the pantheon but sadly, I honestly can't remember most of them now. I almost hate having to engage in a conversation on Ozu or Fellini or Fassbinder because it's been so damn long since I took them all in I can barely remember basic plot points now. I feel that if someone asks, "Have you seen Ali: Fear Eats the Soul?" I should just say "No" even though I have, but so much has fled the inner recesses of my memory banks that saying "Yes" feels like the real lie. I'm slowly re-acquainting myself with them one DVD or AFI theatre trip at a time. It's a slow process but ultimately rewarding.

But that's neither here nor there, just an example of how one of my favorite genres (the other being Sci-Fi) got pushed aside for a period while I immersed myself in self-education on film history. When I returned to Horror movies, I found I didn't like them anymore. Not the classics I grew up with but the new product. This was at a time when horror meant slasher flicks and nothing else. I had to satisfy myself with meager offerings like The Lady in White or Ghost Story because they were the only movies that even made an attempt to get past the mad killer routine and offer a haunting tale for their viewers to take in. Horror made its way back into my fold once the obsession with psycho-killers died down but what kept me going until then came from a very unlikely source: Computer games.

Now I'm not a PC Game kind of a guy. I've never had any interest in them and the thought of spending hours in front of a pc or television screen shooting things makes me want run screaming for my life. But in the early nineties when CD-Roms were just starting up (before the internet made them virtually obsolete) most of the games released were under the category now described as Adventure Games. If you talk to someone who is into PC games you will find Adventure Games derided in every way possible. Adventure Games take a story and the player, using clues and inventory items (a schemata adopted by most other games now) works his or her way through it. And for whatever reason, in the early to mid-nineties, most of those games were in the Horror genre. And of the kind they just don't make anymore.

Back then, they actually filmed actors in front of a bluescreen performing multiple line-readings and scenes that would then be inserted over a computer generated backdrop for the user to manipulate throughout the game. The games I bought were The Seventh Guest, Phantasmagoria, The Beast Within, Sanitarium and Ghosts.

The acting in these games range from bad to outright atrocious but I lay no blame on the actors. The dialogue they are given is horrendous and I assume the rehearsal times were somewhere in the area of about three minutes prior to filming. Still, I played them. I didn't care about the game part, I just wanted to "watch" the interactive movie, as some of them were called, and see how it played out because all of them took an old-fashioned approach to horror: Haunted houses, possession by evil spirits, and werewolves. Something I wasn't getting from the movies.

Phantasmagoria tells the story of a young couple purchasing an old mansion in New England at the start of their marriage. She writes horror fiction and he's a photographer. She starts exploring the house (which has four stories, multiple hidden passages, a hidden crypt and, from what I could tell, one bathroom), asking townspeople about former residents (one of the townspeople played by Stella Stevens) and learning the history of its murderous first owner, a magician whose five wives all died under mysterious circumstances. She unknowingly releases a demon spirit (I'll spare you the details) that inhabits her husband and soon he begins acting like that crazy magician from days gone by. A not too bad movie could be made from it I'm sure.

The Beast Within told a tale of lycanthropy in modern day Germany, The Seventh Guest a kind of House on Haunted Hill take-off, and Sanitarium a tale of a scientist nearly killed then locked away in a mental hospital because he discovered that a medicine his company was profiting from was actually killing children. The last one in the collection, Ghosts, isn't a game at all but an informational CD-Rom, hosted by Christopher Lee, and yes, that's where all those ridiculous Christopher Lee video clips are coming from. Lee takes you through an old mansion where you get to click on paintings and cabinets and diaries to hear stories or read haunted tales or see "experts", aka paranormal nutjobs or skeptics like Susan Blackmore who gets about 90 percent less "screen time" than the nutjobs (it's not exactly fair and balanced) , talk about one spooky experience after another. And of course, you get six ghost stories told by Lee, one of which, The Silent Pool, went up here this past Saturday.

All of these hold a special place in my heart because they brought back the old-school horror to me at a time when I desperately needed it. And before the Star Wars prequels and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy came along, they gave actors like Christopher Lee work, and I am thankful to them for that too. And I still have all of them today. Occasionally I pull them out for nostalgia sake just to take a look at some the treats inside or marvel at how bad the acting is. And to be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing more movies made in the same spirit of old time horror that these now antiquated PC games picked up when the Hollywood slash machine dropped the ball.

**********

And while we're on the subject, let's have Old Chris give us some more fascinating advice, although as far as these things go, this one seems pretty lazy ( a bad omen? That's the best you can give me?):


video

42 comments:

Fox said...

I love starting my morning with a great banner like that! Ha! Love the expressive mouth on Grandpa White. It's like utter astonishment that he put himself in the positition to be duped again. I bet some of his "buddies" invited him to a Local 282 meeting and asked him to speak.... AND THEN!

And on The Beast Within, it sounds like something different than the PC game you describe, but I caught the tail end of a movie by that title while I was at a friends house this weekend. It was an 80's horror film I'd never heard of, but it had LQ Jones in it so I kept watching. It got pretty freaky so I added it to Netflix to see the whole thing. Anybody know this movie??

bill r. said...

I don't know any of these games, but anything involving a murderous magician gets my vote.

I'm glad that you enjoyed them, but I'm sure you'll agree that it's sad that you had to turn to those games for your fix of that kind of horror film. The genre as a whole has been floundering for a long time, but because they've been raking in the cash they think they're successful. Somebody should write on their blog for an entire month about the horror fiction...

Fox, is the movie about werewolves, too? If so, I think I've seen it. If I'm thinking of the same movie, it's kind of a werewolf murder-mystery, where you don't know who the lyncanthrope is until the end. And towards the end, the films pauses to allow you to gather your evidence and make a guess. Seriously.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

I saw that on cable years ago (done by Tom Holland, or at least written by him I think, of Fright Night fame). It's not connected to the game in any way at all. The game concerns a modern day hunting club in Germany that is lead by a many hundreds year-old Baron (who appears to be only thirty or so to the outside world) who is also a werewolf. The young pup he took under his wing bores him now and he sees our hero, Gabriel Knight, who is investigating wolf-caused murders, as a new possibility. It's filled with history on Wagner, King Ludwig, Bavaria, Neuschwanstein and for good measure plenty of sexual repression and barely concealed homo-eroticism between the leader of the pack and our hero. All in all, quite a well told werewolf story.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

Bill, I don't remember the pause to gather evidence and guess but it's been a while.

Phantasmagoria is a game that I really would like to see a good movie made from. Not a quickie shitter like some Resident Evil movie but something with a good budget and actors where they present the story as is in the game. Because it's a pretty good story. There's flashbacks to each of the wives murders (it's somewhat graphic at times), secret passages discovered that unlock secrets of the past and even a 110 year-old local resident who worked with the magician as a kid. What could he know??? Oooooohhhhh...

Seriously, though, it's pretty good.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

Fox, thanks on the banner. I'm sure Arbo will be along soon to tell you what film it features.

bill r. said...

I could be thinking of a different movie, I suppose, but whatever movie I thinking of, werewolves and a break to allow the audience to discuss the clues are the only things I remember about it.

bill r. said...

Crap. That should have said "am thinking of..."

Fox said...

Bill. I only saw the last 1/4 of The Beast Within, but it had some scene of the kid turning into a alien/werewolf type thingy. As Lapper said, there's no connection to the movie, but I gotta see it now to finish my curiousity. I hope it doesn't suck after I got sucked in by it.

Johnathan-

Is the banner from an Italian horror film???

Fox said...

p.s. The main bad dude from Robocop was also in it.

L'uccello dalle piume di arbogast said...

The Beast Within is about a young man who returns to the place of his conception, where his mother had been raped by some cellar dweller who was connected (in some way that eludes me) to the cicadas. The whole town (Sheriff L. Q. Jones, judge Don Gordon, coroner Luke Askew) participated in a coverup and each of these men is murdered one by one by the boy-turned-externalized-beast-within. It's a great junk drawer of a movie, starring Paul Clemens (son of Eleanor Parker) in the title role.

This Beast Must Die is the werewolf movie you guys are thinking of, with the 10 Little Indians-style break to figure out who the killer is.

bill r. said...

Yep, that's it. I was just about to say I did a Google search and found that out. Okay, so I have to see The Beast Within.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

L'Uccello, that would be the Tom Holland movie I was referring to. I don't have premium cable anymore so I don't get to watch the same amount of junk I used to.

Fox, yes, it's an Italian movie but a western, not horror. Hey, as long as the banner's bloody and I can connect it in some way to horror for kill-fest month, I don't care what genre it's from.

October 15, 2008 12:18 PM

Fox said...

Is it The Four of the Apocalypse?

p.s. Don't reveal what it is if I'm wrong... I like the game.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

No it's not. I don't know if you know your jazz but if you do, The Modern Jazz Quartet would come in pretty handy about now. They were more famous for Milt Jackson's expert handling of the vibes but that didn't stop pianist John Lewis from crafting an homage to a highly regarded guitarist for the group to play.

bill r. said...

It's Django, isn't it?

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

Either you know your jazz or you just googled really fast. It's one of Djangos but there are several.

Fox said...

btw... I don't know my jazz.

I wish I did, I just haven't been able to connect with it yet. Maybe one day when I have more time to dive into it. Cuz, honestly, right now when I hear jazz, I just kinda of zone out. If I had an understanding of the form I think I would appreciate it more.

bill r. said...

I don't know much about jazz, but I know a bit about Django Reinhardt, and I know that the guy who made The Great Silence also made a movie called Django. So, is it that one?

bill r. said...

Fox, I like Louis Armstrong jazz. I've never been able to click with the Miles Davis style of it, though. From what little I've heard of his stuff, Django Reinhardt's style falls somewhere in the middle of those two (while being a rough contemporary of Armstrong).

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

My personal favorite jazz guitarist is Barney Kessel followed by Wes Montgomery. And I love jazz, primarily big band of the thirties, but not swing as much, and the cool jazz of the fifties and sixties, which is where the Modern Jazz Quartet comes in. It's brilliant playing and composition. Fox, do you play music? Not that it's necessary at all, I'm not saying that, but if you do then you really get a fuller appreciation for the mesmerizing chord, tempo and melodic shifts that the best jazz musicians go through when playing.

Anyway, it's Django Kill! If You Live, Shoot! from 1967, which has rarely been outdone in the title department since its inception.

Fox said...

No, I don't play anything, and I totally accept that as a reason for having temporary block to Jazz. It's like how people say fans of Richard Thompson are generally people who are musicians themselves.

My ears are probably more tuned to conventional song structures or off-shoots of that. (I wouldn't call some of the music I listen to convnentional, but they are still rooted in the old songbook structure).

I'd probably connect better with Free Jazz b/c I do like some noise rock artists/bands, though I know nothing of Free Jazz either. Are you guys into that too? I wouldn't even know of an artist to reference for that sub-genre.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

I never like Free Jazz myself. Oddly one of the most notable performers of it was John Coltrane, odd because he is one of the giants of the more formal cool jazz movement. I have two of Coltrane's free jazz albums and have never been able to make it through them. It takes dischordant far beyond what I want to listen to.

L'uccello dalle piume di arbogast said...

L'Uccello, that would be the Tom Holland movie I was referring to.

I haven't seen that since I caught it in the cinema back in '82 so I'd forgotten or maybe never knew that Tom Holland write that thing. I had occasion to sit down with Paul Clemens a couple of years ago and he told me how much fun they had making it (he got to play with a young Samantha Mathis, daughter of the late Bibi Besch, who played his mother in the movie) and how he couldn't stop laughing while filming the scene with Logan Ramsey (whose character is preparing perhaps the most unappetizing-looking meatloaf you've ever seen).

Montresor, we joke about being the same person but it's funny how similar our lives are in regards to an early embracing of the horror genre followed by a fallow or latency period where we branched out to foreign films... only to come back around to the spook genre later in life. But I find these things feed one another and it's cool to spot the killer from Peeping Tom in Fassbinder's Fox and His Friends.

bill r. said...

I went through a period where I tried to like the John Coltrane/Miles Davis kind of jazz, but it was hard work, so I quit ("What?" "Hard work made us quit."). It's just not my thing, I guess.

Fox, I'm like you, in that many of the performers I like would not be considered mainstream, but among the various forms from which they built their styles is traditional songwriting. I like good traditional songwriting, and I like it when it's turned on its ear, too. My musical heroes are Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Randy Newman and Shane MacGowan. After that, I have several sub-deities, but those guys best represent what I like, and what I look for, in music.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

Montresor, we joke about being the same person but it's funny how similar our lives are in regards to an early embracing of the horror genre followed by a fallow or latency period where we branched out to foreign films...

And don't forget the Catholic first wives! And that we're both geniuses!

But it's true, I do love how one film genre connects you to another. Like my earlier last month mention of Claude Jade, first seeing Topaz then later in my foreign film heyday discovering her work with Truffaut. American actors don't seem to have that as much. There's the odd DeNiro or Lancaster or Sutherland appearance in a foreign work (sometimes all in one like 1900)but for the most part it's the European and Asian actors who make their way around the film globe more.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

My musical heroes are Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Randy Newman and Shane MacGowan.

I like all those too, especially Zevon, Newman and Waits (who has given me at least four post titles I think) and love so much of popular music. But not to sound like a fuddy duddy but with each passing year pop music takes more of a backseat to jazz and orchestral works, whether they be Baroque, Classical, Romantic or the dissonant strains of the Russians in the 20th century. It's just more my style, especially since I like to visualize film scenes of my own making and montages as I listen and they just work better for that than pop music does.

Fox said...

I should change my blog title to Fox and His Friends and start sporting a jacket like Fassbinder did in that movie. Plus, I'm gay.

Fox said...

The killer from Peeping Tom and daddy from Fox and his Friends also made an appearance on Arbo's blog last month in this picture.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

I probably didn't say it on Arbo's blog at the time, but what a great picture.

bill r. said...

Jonathan, I make up little scenes, or whatever, when I listen to music, too, but I do it with songs, and I find that easier than if I'm listening to classical (which I don't do as often as I should). I guess this has to do with watching a lot of Tarantino and Scorsese movies as a young man.

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

I find that easier than if I'm listening to classical (which I don't do as often as I should).

Nobody should listen if they don't want to, it's just a different style of music. More complex and involved yes, but in the end, just a different way of musically expressing something. People get too worried that they're not doing right by themselves by not listening to Classical but hey, it's not for everybody. I'm certainly no expert on it. I know Jazz much better than Classical and let's face it, we probably all know popular music better than anything else. How can we not? It's everywhere and in practically everything in the arts we've ever encountered.

bill r. said...

Yeah, but I do like classical music. But my attention span, when it comes to music at least, has been beaten down to practically nothing. What with these kids today and so forth.

When I listen to classical music, a piece that I know, I'm like Homer Simpson when he went to see BTO in concert, and not only wanted them to play "Takin' Care of Business" right after they'd just played it, but wanted them to skip right to the "workin' overtime" part.

L'uccello dalle piume di arbogast said...

I never knew what the hell Tractor Facts meant anyway.

Fox said...

I just found my Halloween costume

L'uccello dalle piume di arbogast said...

Isn't that Dr. Gogol from Mad Love?

Adam Ross Walks Among Us said...

These games were great, I remember "Phantasmagoria" in particular had a lot of acclaim, and quite a cult following. "The 7th Guest" was filmed in a small town in Oregon where I went to college, and many of the actors in it were from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I played it a few times, but couldn't figure out most of the puzzles (I'm better with hangman).

Montresor Herringbone Lapper said...

Adam, the Seventh Guest did have puzzles that were a tad on the difficult side no doubt. I never enjoyed that one as much as Phantasmagoria which had no puzzles at all, outside of things like figuring out where to find a key for a door or something like that. Otherwise, it was just a straight ahead haunting/possession story with a pretty effective ending.

The Tuscaloosa Strangler said...

Great post AND banner, Jonathan. I think the rotating head is one of the creepiest scenes in the movies.

And I'm with you ... I'm an old fashioned kind of horror guy, myself. The slasher horror gets old real quick, and to top themselves, the filmmakers are left escalating the sickness level of the whole enterprise.

I never played horror adventure games, though ...

The Tuscaloosa Strangler said...

By the way, have you seen The Seventh Seal?

Burke Dennings Lapper said...

Thanks Rick. Yes, I have seen The Seventh Seal, why do you ask?

The Tuscaloosa Strangler said...

It was supposed to play off of your "Have you seen 'Ali: Fear Eats the Soul?'" thing ... I wanted to see if you'd say "no."

bill r. said...

I've seen them both, so eat that, you sonsabitches!!