December 11, 2018

TV Ads for Aging Monsters: Hammer Films Edition

In my last post I admitted to being hooked on retro-TV channels like Me-TV and Decades. But watching those channels is also a humbling experience, as the ads uniformly remind you that you're not getting any younger, your body is breaking down, and you need a lot of stuff to keep going.

Being eternally curious, I wondered what these sorts of ad campaigns would look like if they were aimed at the old, classic monsters -- monsters, after all, have needs too. The Universal monsters obligingly helped with the fantasy campaigns. So, at the risk of overdoing an already lame exercise, I thought I would give Hammer Films equal time. Without further ado, and in living-dead technicolor, here are TV ads aimed at aging Hammer monsters.

MonsterCare Advantage Plans

Still from Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969
Are you sure you're fully covered for your next brain transplant or other infernal procedure that goes against the laws of God and man? Our Advantage Plans cover many expenses that traditional MonsterCare does not, including body parts, sutures, electrode implants, cryogenic tanks, and much more! And with most plans, you get to keep your mad doctor!*
*Out-of-network mad doctors are under no obligation to treat plan members except in emergencies.

Touch of Grave Hair Color for Wolf Men

Curse of the Werewolf, 1961
It's a wolf eat dog world out there, and lycanthropes need every advantage they can get as they go marauding through the countryside. Feel 20 years younger with an application of Touch of Grave hair color, exclusively for werewolves. It takes out most of the dull wolf grey and leaves just a touch for that distinguished look as you stalk your prey.

Zombie Exploitation Class Action Lawsuit

The Plague of the Zombies, 1966
If diabolical, wealthy elites have turned you into a moldering zombie in order to put you to unpaid work, you may be entitled to significant compensation! The law firm of Keys, Gilling, Bryan and Ashton* has extensive experience in Zombie law and has recovered millions in compensation for victims just like you! Schedule an appointment today!
*Not licensed to practice in Cornwall, UK.

Join AARP* Today!

The Reptile, 1966
The *American Association for Reptilian People is the premier organization dedicated to improving the lives of aging reptilians everywhere. With a membership, you can get discounted tickets to major movies like Venom, save hundreds on Snake Oil and other potions, and download free guides to shedding your skin and looking years younger! Plus, we advocate for your interests with the Reptilian Overlords who run the world from Washington D.C. We speak with a forked tongue, just like they (and you) do!

Dr. Frankenstein's CruelSculpting® Way to Reduce Fat

Mashup: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, 1974 and Curse of the Werewolf, 1961
Take pounds off your body and years off your appearance with Dr. Frankenstein's patented CruelSculpting® method. This miracle technology doesn't use diet pills, liposuction, or freezing -- just a good old-fashioned scalpel and the doctor's steady hand! Sign up today, and in no time you will be the envy of your dungeon mates!

November 19, 2018

TV Ads for Aging Monsters

The classic Universal monsters we all know and love are getting up there in age: Dracula and Frankenstein are 87, the Wolf Man is 77, and the youngest of the litter, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, almost qualifies for Medicare at 64.

Thanks to DVD, Blu-ray and retro shows like Me-TV’s Svengoolie, there’s some life in the old monsters yet. Speaking of retro TV, I’m fortunate to live in a large enough metro area that I pull in quite a few channels through the digital antenna (yes, I cut the cable cord a few years ago): Me-TV, Movies!, Grit, Decades, Comet, This-TV and several more. For someone of my age and tastes, it’s a cornucopia. The downside has been having to train myself not to DVR everything in sight. Even in retirement, there are just so many hours in the day, and old men cannot live by old movies alone.

And if you believe the commercials that air on those retro channels, it’s hard for old men (or women) to live at all -- at least not without a lot of help from vultures companies specializing in scams products and services aimed at the elderly. The profile of the average retro TV viewer is not a pretty one: (S)he is decrepit, arthritic, wears adult diapers, takes a variety of expensive meds, needs a scooter to go more than few yards, is contemplating a reverse mortgage, can’t get up once (s)he’s prone on the floor, and is constantly worried how loved ones will cover funeral expenses when (s)he goes.

This got me to thinking -- now that the classic monsters are firmly in this age category, what would ads aimed specifically at their needs look like? Here’s my take on the Mad Men’s ad campaigns for aging monsters.

New and Improved! Ultra-adjustable Laboratory Table!

No mad doctor's laboratory should be without one! With just one touch of your cold, dead finger, adjust your table from horizontal to 90o in seconds! Order today and get two tables for the price of one, complete with premium gold-buckled restraining straps!*
*Pay separate shipping and handling

Hair Club for Wolf-Men

There's nothing like a full head of hair to restore confidence and bring out a new, better you! We don't use implants, weaves or wigs -- just pure, natural moonlight. Make an appointment today and we'll cover your whole body with luxurious hair at no extra charge!

Imhotep's Age-Denying Skin Cream

Use this revolutionary new product and erase 3,000 years of fine lines and wrinkles in no time! Compare with creams costing hundreds of goat skins more! Try it today -- you're worth it!

Allstake's Supplemental Death Insurance

There are more zealots with wooden stakes out there than ever. If you should get staked, are you sure your hypnotized flunkies will have the means to bury you in unhallowed ground? Allstake's insurance plan costs mere pennies a day, there are no Dr. Van Helsing exams to go through, and your premiums will never go up. Enroll today for those poor lost souls who've done so much for you -- after all, you didn't pick them because they were rich!

Monster Alert is On Call 24/7

"Help! I'm being chased by a monster, I've fallen, and I can't get up!"TM There's nothing more frightening than being sprawled on the ground, ready to be scooped up by a slavering monster. Now, B-movie victims have only to touch their Monster Alert pendant button,* and one of our trained staff members will alert the authorities 24/7, 365 days a year.**
* Also comes in a handy keychain!
** Response times and quality of first responders may vary

October 31, 2018

Haunted Halloween Nights, Part 3: Modern vs. Medieval

Poster - Night of the Devils (1972)
Now Playing: Night of the Devils (La notte dei diavoli; 1972)

Pros: Adds a new twist or two to the visitor-stranded-in-an-old-dark-house cliché.
Cons: Inconsistent gore effects and day-for-night cinematography undercut the eerie atmosphere.

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
  ― Robert Frost


...Unless you are a ravening creature of the undead, a vourdalak, in which case you might want to do everyone a favor and find a nearby Super8 motel to park your rotting carcass. Unfortunately for the eastern European family in Night of the Devils, what is usually considered a strength -- family loyalty -- contributes to their dreadful undoing.

The film opens with a man stumbling out of the woods. With his torn coat and long, bloody scratches running down his face, he looks like he’s about to join the ranks of the undead (or maybe just the plain old dead). He collapses by a picturesque stream.

Cut to the local hospital where the doctors have hooked up the semi-comatose man to a science-fictiony brain-scanning device. Still in a state of shock, he sees disturbing visions including a maggot-infested skull, a woman’s head being blasted down to the bone, and an operation conducted by two spooky, skull-faced figures who cut the still-beating heart out of a body.

Neither the doctors or the police inspector can get anything out of him, except to note that his expensive clothes indicate that he is a wealthy foreigner (the locality being 1972-era Yugoslavia). The main physician also comments to the inspector that the patient becomes quite agitated when it gets dark, and that every night he stands at the window “looking into the darkness like a scared, cornered animal.”

That night, an attractive young woman, Sdenka (Agostina Belli), shows up at the hospital claiming to know the mystery man. She identifies him as Nicola, a lumber importer. The doctor takes Sdenka to see him, but when Nicola catches sight of her, he tears himself away from the orderlies and flees in terror down the corridor.

Back in his bed and now wearing a straight-jacket, he starts to remember how he got into his predicament…

On a bright sunny day, Nicola (Gianni Garko) is driving along forlorn country back roads to his business appointment. In classic horror movie fashion, he becomes lost, takes a turn down an unpromising road, almost hits a mysterious woman in black, and disables his car running up an embankment. As he tramps through the lonely woods to find help, the sight of huge black boars rummaging through the brush and the sounds of strange cries and moans tells him he’s not in Kansas (or contemporary east Europe) anymore.

Gianni Garko as Nicola
Some days, it just doesn't pay to get lost in the
godforsaken wilderness of eastern Europe.
The help he manages to find is hardly reassuring. He discovers a ramshackle old house, home to the extended Ciuvelak clan, who are just coming back from burying the brother of the patriarch, Gorca Ciuvelak (William Vanders). When Nicola asks for a ride to the nearest village, the stern old man tells him it will have to wait until tomorrow, as night is approaching and the woods are not safe after dark.

Accepting Gorca’s offer to stay the night, Nicola finds himself in a kind of time warp, as the house, lit only by candles and gas lamps and heated by the fireplace, seems to be something out of the 19th century. And the family is definitely odd. They bar the doors and windows at night, yet insist that they’re the only people left in the god-forsaken place.

Gorca’s eldest son Jovan (Roberto Maldera) tells Nicola that he learned auto mechanics in the army, and that he can probably fix the car (although where he is going to get the parts is not made clear).

The next morning, as Jovan works on Nicola’s car, Gorca announces that he is setting out to hunt down and destroy the “living dead” witch who has seduced his brother, caused his death, and brought a curse down upon the family (and who incidentally caused Nicola to crash his car). Jovan solemnly informs his father that if he’s not back by sunset, he is “finished.”

Nicola becomes more unsettled as he learns from the little girl Irina, Gorca’s niece (Cinzia De Carolis), all about the witch’s doings and her uncle’s mission to destroy the woman, and the deadline that Jovan has set.

William Vanders as Gorca
"Why father, what a long face you have!"
Gorca arrives at the house just as the mantle clock finishes chiming 6 o’clock. There is doubt among the family members -- did he make the deadline or not? -- but it’s dispelled when he dumps the bloody hand of the witch he has killed on the table and announces that the curse has been lifted.

Later that night, Gorca’s lovely and innocent daughter Sdenka declares her love for Nicola, clearly hoping the handsome stranger will take her away from the mad household. He reciprocates her feelings and takes her to bed.

The respite from high strangeness doesn’t last very long, however, as within a few hours the family learns that Gorca has spirited his niece Irina away in the night, and turned her into a living dead revenant like himself. Nicola watches in horror as Jovan plunges a wooden stake through Gorka’s heart.

Little does he know that in short order, he will be battling a whole family of vourdalaks, and wondering if his beloved Sdenka has also become a monster.

Night of the Devils was the second film inspired by Aleksey Tolstoy’s novella The Family of the Vourdalak (1886), the first being the “I Wurdalak” segment of Mario Bava’s classic Black Sabbath (1963). Mario Bava’s version is set squarely in the 19th century, and not only features a truly creepy atmosphere decorated, lit and shot by a master film craftsman, but also boasts one of Boris Karloff’s most chilling performances.

Night is a longer treatment, and takes a different approach in framing the story of the doomed Ciuvelak clan with the very contemporary scenes of the hospital. Nicola becomes a man lost in space and time, an ordinary modern businessman encountering near-medieval strangeness. The framing/flashback device serves to accentuate the film’s dreamlike aspects.

Roberto Maldera as Jovan
There's nothing better than a good stake after
a hard day of vourdalak hunting.
Where the film excels is not so much the bloody action scenes but rather the quieter interludes between the blood and gore: Nicola’s first walk through the woods accompanied by strange cries and moans; the alarmed forest animals fleeing in the wake of the witch as she roams about; the menacing grimace of patriarch Gorca as he returns from his witch hunt; Nicola slowly backing away in fright and confusion from the lovely Sdenka, whom he now believes to be a vourdalak.

Typical of eurohorror of the period, there is the requisite blood and gore. Some of it works, some doesn’t. The camera lingers too long on Jovan’s staking of Gorca through the chest. Similarly, each time a vourdalak is dispatched, seconds tick by as we’re treated to an excruciating close-up of the creature’s face as blood pours from the eyes and its flesh dissolves.

One of the gorier scenes is the most effective. Upon returning to the house and finding that the entire clan has been turned into slavering vampires, Nicola tries to flee in his car. Irina’s mother Elena (Teresa Gimpera), now a hungry monster, grabs the driver’s side door before he can shut it. They play a desperate game of tug of war before Nicola manages to slam the door on her hand, severing most of her fingers. Undaunted, the vampire woman laughs maniacally as she stabs the car window repeatedly with the bloody stump of her hand.

The effects were the work of Carlo Rambaldi, who would later become famous for creating the far gentler E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982). Manuel Berenguer’s cinematography is generally competent, especially with the interior scenes, where he manages to create a creepy, shadowy atmosphere in the candle-lit old house. However, in many of the exterior scenes, the obvious day-for-night photography undercuts the supernatural ambience.

Teresa Gimpera as Elena
Elena is out for a late night snack

Director Giorgio Ferroni had done horror before, contributing something of a minor classic, the creepy and atmospheric Mill of the Stone Women (1960), to the Eurohorror canon. However, he was better known for the spate of sword and sandal and spaghetti western pictures he made in between the horror films. Similarly, up to that time Gianni Garko’s experience was in westerns and costume epics, with an occasional spy thriller thrown in the mix. Agostina Belli was a little more experienced in the horror genre, having recently appeared in Scream of the Demon Lover (1970) and the giallo The Fifth Cord (1971) leading up to her gig in Night of the Devils.

In Jonathan Rigby’s comprehensive treatment of European horror films, Euro Gothic: Classics of Continental Horror Cinema (Signum Books, 2016), the author offers a fairly lengthy analysis of Night of the Devils, and wraps it up with a compliment:
“Ferroni’s crescendo of paranoid horror is splendidly sustained, and the film itself -- bolstered by Giorgio Gaslini’s excellent score and Manuel Berenguer’s delicate Scope photography -- is ripe for reappraisal as a small classic of Italian horror.” (p.248)
Where to find it: Rent or buy from Amazon. It's also available through Kanopy - check your local library for availability.