aka Zombie: Dawn of the Dead
Written and directed by George A. Romero
Starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, and Tom Savini
George A. Romero emerged from the legal disputes over the rights to Night of the Living Dead being allowed to make sequels but unable to use the phrase “Living Dead” in titles. That must have been especially galling, as it had been an oversight during renaming for distribution that had stripped the film of its copyright. When Romero decided at last to make a sequel, he struck a deal with his friend Dario Argento. Romero would write and direct the movie, and Argento would raise the funding in exchange for the overseas distribution. In America, the movie was released as Dawn of the Dead. Argento re-edited the film and released it as Zombi.
Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)
aka Yôkai daisensô (Big Monster War)
Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda
Written by Tetsurô Yoshida
Starring Yoshihiko Aoyama, Hideki Hanamura, Chikara Hashimoto, Hiromi Inoue, Akane Kawasaki, and Gen Kuroki
Yôkai is one of the Japanese terms for monsters, particularly ghosts or apparitions. Some were drawn from genuine folklore, but many sprang from the imagination of artists. Whatever their origins they’re the inspiration for a lot of modern Japanese entertainment, particularly comics and animation. The best-known designs for some of them are based on the suits created for Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare.
Directed by Yôhei Fukuda
Written by Mari Asato and Yôichi Minamikawa based on the novel X gêmu by Yûsuke Yamaha
Starring Kazuyuki Aijima, Hirofumi Araki, Shôta Chiyo, Meguru Katô, and Ayaka Kikuchi
The title of the Japanese movie X-Game (originally X gêmu) may need some explanation. There’s a sort of tradition on comedic shows of the loser of a competition having to then accept a punishment. This is something mildly unpleasant that’s played up for laughs. It’s called the batsu game, and the character used to write it means ‘X’ (i.e., “incorrect”) as well as “penalty”. Fans of anime might have seen references to “penalty game” in shows like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, where Suzumiya subjects her brigade members to penalty games for things like being late. It’s well-known enough that it wouldn’t be surprising if school-kids played punishment games just for the heck of it.
And we all know that children are cruel.
Warning Shadows (1923)
aka Schatten — Eine nächtliche Halluzination
Directed by Arthur Robison
Written by Arthur Robison and Rudolph Schneider
Starring Alexander Granach, Fritz Kortner, Ruth Weyher, and Gustav von Wangenheim
A lot of amazing stuff was going on in cinema during the 1920s. Feature films became predominant, telling longer and more complex stories to audiences willing to invest time in them. Movie palaces, seating a thousand and more patrons, became a part of the American cityscape. The advent of synchronized sound in 1927 remained the biggest game-changer until movies could be shot in color. In this climate of popularity and growth, some filmmakers were inclined to be more adventurous in their efforts. Such a director was Arthur Robinson, who decided to make his film Warning Shadows even more silent than the medium required.
The Uninvited (1944)
Directed by Lewis Allen
Written by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos
Based on the novel Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle
Starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Alan Napier, and Gail Russell
In 1961 Disney released 101 Dalmatians, creating yet another beloved classic. What does the animated tale of the world’s largest litter of puppies have to do with a gothic romantic comedy from 17 years earlier? The answer is simple on the surface, but the further I dug into it the more convinced I became that it would end in tears and Kevin Bacon. I forced myself to stop pursuing connections before I went looking for a power drill to open my mind. I will share just a bit of what I found, but be warned that you should probably avoid power tools for a while.
Directed by Sergio Martino
Written by Sergio Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi
Starring Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, and John Richardson
I’m a fan of giallo, the Italian mystery genre known for gloved killers, sometimes beautiful set pieces, and increasingly bizarre plots. So when something like Torso becomes available in a nice, restored reissue it’s not hard to guess where my paycheck’s going. After all, it’s infamous for having been censored in its English-language release. That must’ve been some great footage, right? Well, no. Not really. As it turns out, the best parts don’t contain very much gore or nudity.
Return From Witch Mountain (1978)
Directed by John Hough
Written by Malcolm Marmorstein
Characters by Alexander Key
Starring Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Jack Soo, and Anthony
Tia and Tony are back in human civilization for an unsupervised visit, which turns out to be exactly as bad of an idea as it sounds. Having avoided the Trump-like clutches of Aristotle Bolt in Escape to Witch Mountain, you’d like to think that the space children had learned to keep their mental powers secret. Yet within moments of screen time after leaving Uncle Bene, Tony saves a falling man in as noticeable a way as he can manage and is kidnapped by Doctor Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee) and his patron Letha Wedge (Bette Davis). It’s up to Tia and the four kids of the Earthquake Gang to save Tony and Los Angeles.
Queen of Blood (1966)
Written and directed by Curtis Harrington
Based on footage from Mechte navstrechu by Mikhail Karzhukov and Otar Koberidze
Starring John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, Judi Meredith, Dennis Hopper, and Florence Marly
Queen of Blood is a patchwork movie, built around footage from at least two Russian films: Mechte navstrechu and Nebo zovyot. Roger Corman snapped up the U.S. rights to the films and gutted them to use for his own features. Nebo zovyot was mostly turned into Battle Beyond the Sun, while Mechte navstrechu became the basis for this one. Given this origin, it’s remarkable that the film actually works.
Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals (1978)
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Written by Roberto Gandus and Renzo Maietto
Starring Melissa Chimenti, Sirpa Lane, Maurice Poli, and Dakar
To me, Joe D’Amato (the main pseudonym of Aristide Massaccesi) is the schlocky director of the barbarian adventure Ator, the Fighting Eagle and the cannibalism horror Anthropophagous. I dearly love these movies, while admitting that they’re fairly terrible. What I knew about but had never sampled was his extensive pornographic catalog. I have now filled that hole in my viewing.
Out of the Dark (2014)
Directed by Lluís Quílez
Written by Javier Gullón, David Pastor, and Àlex Pastor
Starring Julia Stiles, Scott Speedman, Stephen Rea, Vanesa Tamayo, and Pixie Davies
We’ve somehow gotten to a place where we expect ghosts to be justified in their actions. There has to be a sympathetic reason that they cause havoc, especially if they kill people. One of the things I love so much about The Legend of Hell House is that the entire motivation for the ghost’s actions is that he was a vicious bastard in life. You can’t reason with sheer malice. That’s not the case in the more standard supernatural thriller Out of the Dark, which features not one but two groups of dead children.