Despite the fact that the phrase an "average Joe" remains in the lexicon of colloquialisms, in the last thirty years the name Joe has taken a drastic drop in popularity. It seems that the average on "Joe" just isn't what it used to be. Speaking of Joes that'd defy the average, there's one that I like who frequently has highs and lows above a median line, and that is Joe D'Amato. Born Aristide Massaccesi, the Italian exploitation master, who hid out under a number of Nom de plumes apart from his adopted moniker, made an incredible string of almost 200 films before he died in 1999 at the age of sixty-two. While most of them ranged from soft-core to hard-core to oh, my, is it okay to film that?, D'Amato is best known for his horror movies, specifically Antropohagus, Buio Omega, and Absurd, but there was one that has somehow flown under my radar. So join me as Joe takes us on a futuristic ride, which looks like the 80s despite being filmed in the 90s, this is Return from Death (Ritorno Dallas morte) a.k.a Frankenstein 2000.
While there's little better in life than movies from the past that take a shot of what life will be like in the future, there's really nothing better than when they get brazen enough to tack the futuristic year at the end of their title. This traps the movie or TV show into a path where it can't escape feeling dated, and, quite often, this leads future viewers to see the work as nothing more than a campy projection, like how incredibly behind the times Disney's "Futureworld" looks next to the ’80s era exhibits at Epcot center. Today's film definitely falls into that trap, unless there's been a catalog with home nuclear reactors available for purchase in the past forty three years. However, it does hit on some things that were surely 70s, interest in the occult, rampant narcissism, the dominance of TV, and the fact that no matter what era it is Boris Karloff is the man. Some twenty seven years after Karloff portrayed the monster in James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein, he returned to the laboratory, but not with a bolted neck. Instead, he portrayed a descendant of the creature's creator in the 1958 film that imagines mad science at work twenty two years into the future. This is Frankenstein 1970.
While yesterdays duo of “Don’t”s had the most ubiquitous message when they assured, somewhat misleadingly, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Today’s film, coming in at Number 2 on the countdown, comes from Italian horror master Lucio Fulci, and, in the inverse, it has an impenetrable title which only viewing the film will explain. Popularly known as Don’t Torture a Duckling, the original Italian title, Non si sevizia un paperino, actually translates more literally as Don’t Torture Donald Duck, but even in an age where Escape from Tomorrow is a film that gets released, it is hard to imagine the litigious House of Mouse letting that kind of title fly. Coming off three solid thrillers, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, One on Top of Another, and Beatrice Cenci, Don’t Torture a Duckling was the first of his films to really delve deep into a horror, albeit a human one. It also marks Fulci’s first real foray into gore while he was still at the top of his giallo game. Lucio reportedly named it as his favorite among his catalog, and I have to admit in advance that it ranks pretty high up there for me. I was actually surprised I had yet to review it as I've watched it a good half dozen times. So, I suppose do what you want to a calf, a kitten, a puppy, a chick, or a fawn, but whatever you do Don’t Torture a Duckling.
Perhaps the most universal of the "Don't" titles is the rather parental advice, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. At one time or another, in our childhood or a particularly vulnerable moment of our adult lives, we have all been afraid of the thing that goes bump in the night. No matter if we thought it was a burglar or the boogieman, it still sends the heart racing and the stress level up to feel at the mercy of something unexpected in the inky blackness. Perhaps that's what makes both versions of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark so effective that they come in at numbers four and three on the Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair Halloween countdown. The original, a made for TV film, and the remake, hewn under the watchful eye of Guillermo Del Toro, are similar films that execute the basic plot with near equal competence, but each delivers a unique satisfying experience for genre film fans. So today, it's all treats and no tricks when The Bugg turns the lights down low for a double feature of miniature terror, so come along, don't be afraid, and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
So far on the Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair Halloween countdown, we've been told to don't go in the woods (twice), don't scream, don't sleep, don't look in the basement or open the door, and now, worst of all, we can't even go in the house. At this time of year, when the nights get chilly, I know the place I want to be most is ensconced in my house with a warm mug of cider and a roaring fire in the fireplace. I never seem to have any cider and the Lair didn't come with a fire place, but it still sounds like a good idea to be inside curled up with a good movie. Coming in at number five on the countdown, Don't Go in the House, about a young man with aspirations to be the next H.H. Holmes crossed with Norman Bates and the bad guy from Backdraft, has the kind of horror heat to keep you toasty on these nippy nights.
As the ghosts and hobgoblins of the Halloween season draw ever closer, one might find it harder to bed down for the night. This could be out of superstitious fright or it could be because the wee small hours are the best occasion for watching scary movies. Likely, for most folks, the sleepless nights aren't caused by the specter of a deceased sibling who may have returned for diabolical purposes. However, that's just the issue in today's film, the 1982, star studded, made for TV creepfest, Don't Go to Sleep. I don't know what was in the water at the TV studios in the 70s and 80s, but, while today's TV films are either laughably bad (Lifetime, I'm looking at you.) or bloated messes ballooned out to a mini-series format, there was a magic to many of the old TV gems. In the case of Don't Go to Sleep, it was definitely a dark magic indeed.
When I think about the phrase "Don't Open the Door" usually Mormons spring to mind almost immediately, but, today, I'm not here to talk about the bad news that someone is trying to give you the good news. I'm here to talk about S.F. Brownrigg once again. Earlier today, I talked about his film Don't Look in the Basement, a film which came to prominence when it was paired with Wes Craven's Last House on the Leftas a double feature. Like any good exploitation opportunist, Brownrigg didn't let a good thing go to waste. So he returned with another "Don't" title leaving him in the unique position of being the only director to appear on this countdown twice. It can certainly be said that when opportunity knocked S.F. did open that door. So join me as I place my hand on the knob of exploitation cinema (there's a terrible phrase for my U.K based readers) and dare to disobey the titular directions, Don't Open the Door.
Unlike Number 12 on the countdown, Don't Scream, Doris Mays, I didn't have to resort to an alternate title to get this film on the list. Neatly, it did it for me. Made under the title The Forgotten, the film was retitled Don't Look in the Basement when it came to prominence paired with Last House on the Left as a drive-in double feature. It even shared the tag line "It's Only a Movie" on some iterations of the film's poster. The problem is looking in the basement is paired with looking like it was filmed and developed in a basement, but it also shares another quality with a subterranean layer. Quite often you find something interesting, odd and forgotten down there yearning to see the light of day. So join me for a stroll down the stairs of madness, when I throw caution to the wind and ignore all my instincts that tell me Don't Look in the Basement.
Welcome back to the Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair Halloween countdown. Today I'm talking about a "don't" that everyone is familiar with, Don't Answer the Phone. There's a myriad of reasons not to answer your phone, and nowadays in the cellular era, it's easier than ever to ignore calls from unwanted dialers, but when today's film was made , it was difficult to surmise who was on the other end of the landline. There are so many reasons one would want to skip on answering a call; bill collectors, ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, parents, work, telemarketers, and political parties all belong on the list. However, there's one reason I didn't mention, if your caller is a crazy psycho who likes to call and tell you about his crimes. That's not something that plagues most people, but for the main character in today's film, it is a concern that is foremost in her mind as she ignores the titular advice to Don't Answer the Phone.
Many of the features on this countdown will tell not to go in places, but only one of them will tell you not to even go near it. That film comes in at #10 on the Don’t Go in the Lightning Bug’s Lair and it wants you to know not to go near it. That’s right. You can’t even go near it, much less in it. How near is too near though? Can I go within a few feet of it or do I need to stay a few blocks back? Perhaps I need to stay a few miles away. It’s unclear. What is clear is that wherever there are ancient cave people trying to preserve their everlasting life, that might well be somewhere that you don’t want to go near. Worse yet, it’s a nice public space where you might want to go for a picnic or to walk your dog, but it’s probably best if you do what the movie title says and Don’t Go Near the Park.
After the travesty that was Don't Go in the Woods (2010), I was a little head shy, or should I say ear shy, after that musical horror mess, to press play on the first film entitled Don't Go in the Woods, albeit with the addition of the word "Alone" at the end. To me, that's some good advice, but I would take it a step further and say don't go in the woods at all. I'm not much of an outdoorsman unless there's some kind of movie screen under the stars, and as far as my personal experience goes and based on the experiences of watching tons of films where people do go in the woods, it just never works out quite right. I have friends who are hikers, and many of them expose the commendable belief in "leaving no trace" when they go out. I say there's an easier way than even that. Don't go at all and save your strength for trick or treating, and if you don't believe my advice, then just see what happens in Don't Go in the Woods...Alone.
Seeing as you've ignored the warning sign and come right on into the Lair, I guess it is only fair that I share with you the first entry in the Don't Go In The Lightning Bug's Lair Halloween countdown. Before I start talking about today's flick, the Vincent D'Onofrio helmed Don't Go in the Woods, let me remind you again that there was a "Don't" film that didn't make this countdown. When I first read about this film, the idea of a slasher musical intrigued me in the best way. I suppose I had visions of Brian De Palma's musical horror Phantom of the Paradise rumbling around in my head, but again, this was directed by D'Onofrio not De Palma and the songs, well, they could have used some serious help from Paul Williams. Unfortunately, when it comes to this slasher, the execution of the victims isn't done any better than the execution of the whole film. That is to say, it isn't done very well at all.
Turns out, there are 14, so somebody who put "Don't" at the beginning of their horror film title didn't make the cut (maybe I'll reveal that stinker somewhere along the line this month), but thirteen other films did. So every couple days this month, look out for another entry in the countdown as we approach Halloween. Of course, for those of you who follow me on Facebook and the Twitter, there will be more spooky shenanigans going on every day. So if you haven't followed me or liked me, take a second to do so.
You DON'T want to miss any of the Halloween festivities.
You DON'T want to let any of this month's reviews slide past you.
You DON'T want to hesitate in telling your friends about Don't Go In the Lightning Bug's Lair.
DON'T forget to spend your Halloween season with The Bugg.
(Back tomorrow with the first film!)