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Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week Nine: Serial Killers

One of the key elements established by the modern horror film is that you don't necessarily need monsters to generate terror. Rather, very often, as the old cliche goes, the worst monsters of all are ourselves. In other words, the real-life evils of the human mind can be far more terrifying than any make-believe supernatural entity. Perhaps that's why the serial killer sub-genre has proliferated so much in recent decades.

This week in The Lucky 13, both here and at Brutal as Hell, we pick our very favorite serial killer movies--and I think you're going to find some of the most eclectic choices selected thus far in our little ongoing group project. For example, on our side here at the VoH, who would've thought that this particular sub-genre would feature not one, but two Vincent Price movies? And oh yeah, that Lecter guy shows up, too...

B-Sol on Theater of Blood

Just when I thought it wasn't possible for me to love Vincent Price more than I already did, along came this absolute gem of a movie into my world. As an English major with a concentration in Shakespeare, and an unabashed horror fanatic, this film was literally tailor-made for me. The film revolves around a series of brilliant murder set-pieces. And Price is utterly remarkable throughout each, playing the part of the vengeful Lionheart with such gusto that one can't help but be completely enraptured by him. My particular favorite is the fencing scene, in which Price reenacts the duel from Romeo & Juliet, his face a gleaming mask of self-satisfied, evil glee as he spouts purple prose to no end.

Theater of Blood is an exceptionally dark and vicious comedy. While unceasingly funny, it is also surprisingly bloody, featuring fairly graphic scenes of organ removal, electrocution, beheading and more. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a gorier Vincent Price flick at the moment. To watch Price chew up the scenery, letting Shakespearean soliloquies fly left and right, it's almost impossible to describe my elation. You can tell he's really enjoying himself here, and that carries across to the viewer. He also gets the chance to appear in a series of fairly ludicrous disguises, adding another level of delicious camp to his performance.

Theater of Blood proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Vincent Price was a national treasure, and it is truly sad that he is no longer with us. Yet with thoroughly enjoyable films like this left behind, it's assured that he will never, ever be forgotten.

Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on The Silence of the Lambs

On my list of top movie villains of all-time, Hannibal Lecter occupies the second spot (number one, with a bullet, is Darth Vader). He has killed as many as 30 people. He manipulates. He terrorizes. He eats their corpses. Hannibal Lecter is an unstoppable killing machine, a brilliant mind and the face of unblinking, primal evil. With only 15 minutes of screen time and uncanny chemistry with Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter became a household name and a pop-cultural icon of horror. Any character that evil and despicable that can win your heart, even after he chews a cop's face off, is a very special thing.

The Silence of the Lambs is an anomaly in horror. Most horror flicks tend to blow out the legend of the American serial killer to cartoony proportions. The killers are these menacing, raving lunatics who live to kill and spend all their time murdering, plotting and terrorizing their victims, but The Silence of the Lambs approached horror and serial murder with a true-crime novel sensibility. It reels in the natural Hollywood tendency to go balls to the wall for scares and instead opts for a slow burner that creeps up on you. In this context, Lecter is a bit excessive but he's also not the star of the show. Agent Clarice Starling is searching for Buffalo Bill, a composite of Ed Gein and Ted Bundy, played to maximum creep-factor by Ted freakin' Levine. Levine in his role as the gender-confused murderer gave us the sort of scenes that stay with people forever. Since 1991, "I'd fuck me" and "PUT THE FUCKING LOTION IN THE BASKET!!!" have achieved the sort of quotability afforded only The Simpsons in the past. That's not to discount the amazing lines given to Anthony Hopkins. The bite mask and fava beans still resonate to this day in our culture.

Somehow, director Johnathan Demme managed to crawl out of his off-beat hole, previously having directed bizarro comedies, The Talking Heads tourfilm and sleazy women in prison flicks, to craft one of the most morbid, oppressive horror films of the 20th century. This was the '90s answer to Hitchcock's Psycho, and a worthy successor at that. The Silence of the Lambs came to define the very essence of the police procedural movie and set the bar high for competing pictures. All the pieces to the puzzle fit snugly, an amazing cast meshed perfectly with Ted Tally's tight script, leaving us with one of the most effectively unsettling horror movies of all time. If you need further proof that Roger Corman is one of the most important figures in American filmmaking, this is it. Demme is yet another extremely talented filmmaker to emerge from Corman's class. Corman even has a cameo as an FBI director (George Romero also pops up quickly toward the end). Now if you'll excuse me, I must return to my dinner. I'm having liver with fava beans and a nice chianti.

From Beyond Depraved's Joe Monster on The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Thirty-three years before a pessimistic bloke named Jigsaw made his way on to the horror scene with face traps and other insidious devices, Vincent Price was busy exacting his own unique brand of justice upon those whom his character viewed as immoral. The said character went by the name of Dr. Anton Phibes, a musical genius who studied extensively in theology and who spent his spare time viciously murdering people. One does not need a brooding atmosphere of dread and bleak performances to create a solid serial killer film. If anything, The Abominable Dr. Phibes shows that a movie can showcase the mad workings of a systematic assassin and have a fun time while doing it.

This is Vincent Price at one of his finest hours, in the type of role that those who know him could instantly picture him in upon hearing his name. Here he plays a tragic anti-hero seeking vengeance against a medical team that he believes was responsible for the premature death of his beloved wife. He carries this out by executing his targets in the same fashion as the Biblical Ten Plagues of Egypt. Bloodthirsty bats and vermin, impalement by unicorn statuettes, and achingly slow death by blood draining and hypothermia all play out to the pounding blasts of organ and sweet melodies of violin. Even under a restrictive cast of his own likeness, Price manages to display a full range of powerful emotions solely through his ever-staring eyes and body gestures. It is a role that proudly displays Price’s great strength and versatility as a master thespian and King of Terror.

The film is also immensely impressive from a technical standpoint as well. Director Robert Fuest (who helmed many episodes of The Avengers) pulls off numerous intricate and visually compelling shots with his camera. The cinematography lends a whole other layer of vitality to the film, each color seemingly bursting from the screen and painting all the gory proceedings in a beautiful and lavish manner. The art deco sets are another highlight to watch out for, Joseph Cotten’s home and Phibes’ diabolical lair prime examples of this supreme craftsmanship. The humor in the film is spot-on, each actor delivering their lines in a perfectly snappy fashion. The movie has an air of the theater, each bit part and minor character fully realized and played to the hilt for the biggest laughs. The feeling of eccentricity compliments all the ghoulish goings-on in a way that has to be seen to be appreciated.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes should be in the “must watch” list of every horror fan, whether they be budding enthusiasts or seasoned veterans of the genre. It is a movie that will remind you of what fun it is to be in love with horror. If you’ve already had the insidious pleasure of viewing this film, then you know full-well of the feel-goodness this brings on in its audience. If you haven’t though, be sure to amend your terrible sins as quickly as you can and do just as the doctor prescribes.

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Head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Week 1: Grindhouse & Exploitation
Week 2: Creature Features & Monster Movies
Week 3: Demons, Witches & The Devil
Week 4: Gore!
Week 5: Horror Comedies
Week 6: Vampires
Week 7: Psychological Horror
Week 8: Werewolves

Join us next week, when we delve into the domain of ghosts, haunted houses and psychic phenomena!


KT Grant said...

Sometimes I'll burst out and say, "it puts the lotion in the basket." One of the best lines of any film.

B-Sol said...

I actually have a T-shirt that says that. But that's just me...

Unknown said...

Dr. Phibes looks so crazy looking. The trailer reminds me of this movie I saw the other day called The Tomb. It's actually not a comedy, but some of the content appears to be the same. I can't wait to get my hands on it in 2 days @ Blockbuster.

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