This is off-topic but I've got to rant for a moment. Being a bicyclist in Los Angeles is a risky proposition. Today I got bitten by a stupid lady's stupid dog, and no fewer than three moronic motorists decided to hurl their three-ton hunks of metal in my path even when I had the right of way. But I digress.
On Saturday I 'll be at the New Beverly Cinema in Hollywood to see 1988's Night of the Demons (remade this year) and the Dario Argento-produced Demons (1986), both cheesy, gory fun. The New Beverly is the last surviving revival theater in Los Angeles. There used to be lots of them—the Fox Venice, the Tiffany, the Rialto, the Nuart (which is now a first-run arthouse)—but the home video revolution killed them all off. And even though it's easy to get these films on video, it's much more fun to watch them with an appreciative audience. For those of you who will be stuck at home handing out candy, here are my final picks for your Halloween enjoyment...
1. Who greenlighted this mess? Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).
Evidently Mom feels guilty about being away making movies all the time, so she has Regan under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Jean Tuskin (Fletcher). Hmmm...nothing says "I love you" than a visit to a shrink. Anyhow, Tuskin's office is located in what appears to be a combo mental health clinic and day care center. Along with the various patients suffering from various mental illnesses, there are also groups of carefree children laughing and playing. And did I mention the entire place is made of glass? All the offices, all the walls. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality. And I guess they took it on faith that one of their more troubled patients wouldn't pick up a chair and begin smashing down the walls one by one.
Enter Father Lamont, played by an extremely strange and sweaty Burton. He has been given the assignment of investigating the exorcism and Father Merrin's (Max Von Sydow) death from the first film. Barging into Dr. Jean's office, he insists upon interviewing Regan, but she refuses, claiming that the exorcism had done her more harm than good.
2. Ugly Stepchild—Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982).
Audiences expecting another installment of "the night HE came home" were disappointed by a '50s-style tale reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers but with modern gore. However, as with other films of the era, time has been kind to III. The atmosphere is nice, there are some grimace-inducing deaths, and Dan O'Herlihy, as Conal Cochran, the sinister owner of Silver Shamrock Novelties, has a field day chewing up the scenery.
Tom Atkins (The Howling) stars as Dr. Dan Challis, who is understandably miffed when a patient under his care, who had been discovered clutching a Silver Shamrock mask and feverishly muttering, "They're going to kill us all," is viciously murdered in his hospital bed. The man's daughter, Ellie (Stacy Nelkin) arrives and together they travel to the coastal town of Santa Mira to unravel the mystery. Impersonating store owners picking up an order of Silver Shamrock masks, they are given a VIP tour of the factory. But when Challis returns later and discovers Cochran's diabolical plot, it's a race against time to stop the cursed commercial from being broadcast.
Now, there are plot holes you could drive a truck through, to be sure. I mean, there are only three mask designs: a witch, a pumpkin and a skull. Even in 1982, why would this meager selection become the top-sellers in the country? How in the hell did Cochran manage to steal a whole block of Stonehenge and fly it to California? How did he become an all-powerful billionaire from selling Halloween masks? Why would Ellie, who is at least a decade younger than the frumpy-looking Challis, immediately want to jump his bones when they get into their motel room? And why did they include a shot of Tom Atkins' butt?
The Silver Shamrock jingle will haunt your nghtmares. Watch it if you dare. And it raises more questions: Would the kids in New York die three hours before the ones in Los Angeles? What about daylight savings time? And what if the commercial was pre-empted by a news event or the World Series going into extra innings? I'm just saying.
3. The classic: Last Man on Earth (1964).
When he meets Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia), she reveals to him that she is a member of a group of survivors who have been infected but are taking an experimental vaccine, allowing them to move about in the daylight when it is in their bloodstream but reverting to vampire form when it wears off. Their plan is to kill off the unsalvagables and rebuild society. Since some of the people that Morgan had killed as vampires were actually part of their group, Ruth had been sent to spy on him.
Clearly an inspiration for Romero's Night of the Living Dead and far superior to the Charlton Heston hamfest The Omega Man, Last Man delivers atmosphere and chills in spades. Price is wonderfully understated as the tormented Morgan, and even the Italian actors and scenery (when it is supposed to be American) doesn't prevent you from getting a good case of the goosebumps. Long in the public domain, this was only available as a washed-out bargain basement video, but the MGM DVD restores it to its monochrome widescreen glory on a double feature with the Ray Milland sci-fier Panic in the Year Zero. There's also a colorized version available, but I'd avoid it like...the plague!
This is one to start at 11:59 on Halloween night and watch it with all the lights off. If that doesn't get to you, nothing will.