HIDDEN HORROR – A Cat in the Brain

Cat in the BrainSometimes a director’s body of work can have that one title that fans of the director’s work will constantly try to decipher what the meaning of the film or what the director’s vision behind the film was, long after the director himself as past on. Such was and is still the case with the late Italian master of splatter Lucio Fulci and one of his later films. “A Cat in the Brain” is an early 90s Italian splatter film that sadly goes unnoticed by casual horror fans and is only really discussed by fans of Lucio Fulci and those insatiable gore hounds.

Here Lucio Fulci plays himself! An italian director of extremely gory horror films who is in the midst of making yet another gory horror film, just like any other day in his blood soaked career, but after the camera stops rolling his life is far more out of his control than he would like. He is plagued by visions of bloody horror day after day and fears he is losing his mind due to all the nightmares he makes on screen. Lucio Fulci begins to see a psychiatrist for help, but the shrink has bigger plans. The psychiatrist moonlights as a serial killer and begins using Lucio Fucli’s Nightmarish visions for brutal murder in real life, meanwhile trying to convince Fulci that he is responsible for the murders.

Now to even a slightly seasoned horror fan there is no denying that Lucio Fulci is one of the greats of Italian horror and of excessive gore in the horror genre too with his “golden age” films like Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, House by the Cemetery, and New York Ripper. Sadly Lucio Fulci’s later films did not have a same impact as his earlier work and were quite sub-par. That is until his very meta gore-soaked nightmare film “Cat in the Brain” came out and though it suffered from some of the same sub-par qualities as the rest of his work from the time it offered fans a quite questioning look into the psych of Lucio Fulci himself… Maybe.

Now before I get into the more meta aspects of the film i would just like to wet the appetite of all the gore hounds and say that Lucio fulci’s A CAT IN THE BRAIN does indeed wet gorehounds appetite by the buckets and there is a good reason for that, in the film poor Lucio Fulci’s visions subject him to closeups of chainsawed limbs, cannibalism, tongues ripped out, brutal stabbings and slashings, bodies ran over to a pulp with his car, face ripping, decapitations, faces mutilated with shards of glass, plenty of eyeball mutilations, A raunchy Nazi orgy and finally a vision of a little boy getting decapitated with a chainsaw all the while the serial killer psychiatrist is killing women with fish hooks to the guts with close ups to the innards spilling out and more decapitations via hatchets and finally a closeup shot of a cat (being a bad cat puppet) literally eating a brain.

Now Cat in the Brain isnt without its faults, like many of Lucio Fulci’s later horror films it suffers from bad acting, banal dialogue, bad music and half of the gore scenes though they are quite extreme can be considered cheesy looking, Though perhaps Lucio fulci wanted the gore to be cheesy maybe to say how unreal all his visions truly are in the film. perhaps. Though the film suffers a few faults it makes up for it in the plot itself and instead of some actor playing Lucio Fulci losing his mind due to all the horror movies he has been constantly shooting, Lucio Fulci plays himself. a Decision that has been making fans wonder what Lucio Fulci is trying to say with the film. when one watches the film they are left to wonder is Lucio Fulci himself showing his audience his real fears and what making one gory horror film after another has done to his psyche and were witnessing an aging horror film directors real fears on screen blending life and art into one nightmarishly gory vision after another Or maybe…just maybe the whole film is Lucio Fulci on a giant self-ironic self-deprecating Joke on his own career as a horror film Director. For me I believe it is a little of both.

I believe Lucio Fulci made A Cat in the Brain to make just a little fun of his own career as a horror film director but also to give a cautionary tale to young horror film directors as to what shooting one too many kill scenes can do to you. I make short bloody horror films myself and I always tend to question what too much of that can do whenever i watch Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain, hell i can remember showing my older brother the film and he turned to me and said “i hope that never happens to you” And perhaps that is the goal of the film, what Lucio Fulci wanted us to think when watching his film, to question what he was thinking when making this film whether or not the real life Lucio Fulci is going crazy or he is simply making fun of himself but also for other horror filmmakers to take some advice from an aging horror director. One cant really put there finger on it all the way. and that in lies the beauty of the mans bloody soaked nightmarish vision.

– James J. Coker

Hidden Horror- “Mantango: Attack of the Mushroom People”

Matango_1963_posterWhen it comes to legendary Japanese movie company Toho your mind instantly goes to Godzilla, however Toho made several other great films that are often overlooked. “Mantango Attack of the Mushroom People” is the perfect example, gaining a reputation and became a cult classic, though nowhere as popular as the Godzilla franchise.

The film opens on a guy going to a mental hospital to see a psychiatrist who may be crazy, but his story is even crazier. The psychiatrist tells the man what happened to him and it plays out on screen. Some people aboard a yacht run into a bad storm. The storm ends eventually and the people aboard it venture onto an island that seems to have no inhabitants. Their ship is damaged from the storm so they have no choice but to look on the island to search for some food. They discover a huge forest full of large mushrooms. They decide not to eat them as they may be poisonous, although they have no other source of food. They also find that no animals are on the island at all either. And to make matters worse they find the remains of another ship that appears to have crashed there. Eventually the people aboard the ship give into starvation and begin eating the mushrooms and the results are hideous…

Despite the weird title and concept this film is a great flick. Even if the plot sounds kind if campy, it is not as if this film isn’t a dark movie with a serious tone. It is also directed by legendary Toho monster/ Godzilla director Ishiro Honda and it features special effects by Eiji Tsubraya, who was behind all the visual effects of Toho’s classic films from the mid ’50s to late ’60s.

This film is an adaption of a story called “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hogdson. The story has been adapted a few times and this film is by far the best adaption of it. This film gets pretty tense at some moments as the characters begin to get paranoid and angry at each other, and they eventually break down as the film progresses and give into the temptation of the mushrooms.

Lately this film has became hard to find at a reasonable price, but if you do buy this film it is worth the price. It is not very often a film can take a campy/cheesy sounding subject matter like mushroom people and make it a dark and serious film. And this film is just a pretty unique and cool movie. If you want an outside of the box horror film this is for you, or if you love Toho or Godzilla films you will defines love this film.

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR and TERROR TV: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

Don't_Be_Afraid_of_the_Dark_VHSIn the 70s several made-for-TV horror films came along, such as “How Awful About Allan,” “Trilogy of Terror,” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is from 1973 so obviously it is dated. However this film has a cult following from all the children (now grown adults) who saw it in the 70s and love it for its nostalgia.

The film revolves around a woman named Sally (Kim Darby) and her husband who have inherited a creepy old mansion. While they are having a handy man remodel the home, they come across a sealed brick fireplace. Sally wants the handyman to open it but he refuses to, not giving a reason why. Later Sally opens it for herself and unleashes an evil army of little creatures that intend to transform her into one of them and convince her to “not be afraid of the dark”.

I’ll be honest this film isn’t cutting edge effects-wise. The creatures are made with stop-motion animation like those in Ray Harryhausen films. However the advantages of this film are that it has solid atmosphere, great acting, and a great soundtrack to go along with it. The atmosphere of the old, dark, and serious house is the perfect horror film atmosphere and when it’s accompanied by the perfect movie soundtrack it makes up for the convincing effects film lacks. The creatures in this film are sinister and actually murder a few people. Their whispering of “Sally… Sally…” is memorable too and scared a bunch of kids back in the day when they heard it.

This film has been remade, but fuck the remake watch the original. While the remake has cutting edge effects it does not have the creativity or nostalgia that this film has. There are a lot of horror fans that saw this when they were children and remember it scaring the shit out of them. If you love old school horror: “The Twilight Zone”, “Night Gallery” or any of the made for television horror then you will love this film. This film has also inspired several of the popular modern horror film directors out there today.

-Dakota Bailey

HIDDEN HORROR – Cherry Falls

Cherry FallsAs most horror fans remember, the late 90s slasher movie revival caused by the popularity of “SCREAM” was a bit of a double edged sword. Though Slasher movies were popular again and new ones hitting theaters one after another the slasher films themselves were practically just clones of Scream minus the clever humor, cliche twists and a really lack of sex and gore in it and focused more on the hot young “WB” style actors and actresses instead of the killer, gore, kills, twists or even genuine suspense. for me the most overrated pieces of shit from the 90s were “I know what you did last Summer” and “Urban legends” but little do alot of horror fans know that during that rather bad slasher boom there was a little slasher film that came out that indeed tried to be gory, had a sexual tone, did not focus solely on the hot “WB” actresses and actually tried to be clever by taking a very VERY tired slasher movie cliche and completely flipping it on its year, that little slasher film is CHERRY FALLS

In the small town of Cherry Falls a psycho killer that could be a man or even a woman is slaughtering the teens of the local high school. But instead of the usual horny dumb teens being targeted the killer instead targets Virgins teens instead! When the local high school kids find out the killer’s MO, they decide to throw a giant sex party to save there lives and along the way our main heroine played by the late brittany Murphy digs deep to find out a mystery about the killer that the town of Cherry falls has been trying to hide.

Now you have to give this slasher movie big credit for taking the very tired and expected cliche of “Sex equels death” and giving it a giant middle finger and flipping it on its ear, and DAMN do i give it big credit for it. Ive always thought that cliche of horror movies was overdone and sends a rather unrealistic, repressive and extremely puritanical message about human sexuality and i am glad that this film changed that and practically gives its victims a “FUCK OR DIE” message. its just a shame most horror fans dont know of this film because it was dismissed as another scream clone or has been forgotten by horror fans, so this definitely counts as a hidden horror.

Not only does Cherry Falls premise offer something new but the film itself is a decently made slasher film too. The killer is strangely eerie looking because your not sure whether its man or a woman at first but when the killer is revealed he/she is far more scarier and more psychotic then with a good motivation as to why he/she is killing off the town virgins and it certainly gives the film a more darker tone then before. Along with the killer the small town atmosphere is very well done and the teens and high school setting have a very strong late 90s teen movie feel to it (if you remember the 90s you know what im talking about) and yet unlike the teens found in alot of 80s slasher the teens here in Cherry falls feel rather realistic with reactions and feelings you would find from most teens who have found out there classmates are being murdered and the killer is targeting virgins. The film also addresses serious issues like teenage sexual activity, loss of virginity and peer pressure along with the adult characters hiding a past tragic event that the town sweeped under the rug that has a big connection to the killings.

Also noted is the acting by brittany murphy our main heroine in the middle of all the madness, Michael bein as the sheriff and father hiding a secret and Jay Mohr as the sensitive teacher are all rather well done performances particularly from Jay Mohr. Cherry falls also boast some tense Suspence and chase sequences particularly the last 20 minutes of the movie has a terrific chase scenes that ends in a sadly censored bloodbath. Now it pains me to get to this part of the review since i mentioned the word “censored” because the kills in the film were infact slashed to bits by the enemies of filmmakers known as the dreaded MPAA. As one watches Cherry falls you can definitely tell that the film was meant to be much more gorier then what was actually shown and you can definitely sense that most of the gore had to be left on the cutting room floor due to the MPAA. Supposedly the film was pretty damn gory but sadly had to be submitted to the MPAA 5 times before finally getting a rating, maybe someday well all finally get to see the true uncut gory version of Cherry falls but until then we just have the cut version, but you know what the film is still a well made and very different slasher movie even without the gore.

So if when you think about that late 90s slasher movie crazed started by scream and you get annoyed thinking about ” I know what you did last summer” or “Urban Legends” try seeking out Cherry falls to remind you that that craze wasnt all bad. With the films cliche defying premise, small town late 90s high school feel, a disturbed mean spirited killer, a Disturbing throughout and good acting, Cherry falls is the hidden gem in the pile of late 90s scream knockoffs. It would make a good double feature to watch Scream with Cherry falls right after to see two 90s slasher films that did something different with the slasher genre. – James J. Coker 

P.S. if youre wondering why i tagged both “00’s horror” and” 90’s horror” the reason why is though the movie came out in 2000, the film has such a late 90s high school teen that one could mistake that the film came out between 1997 to 1999. so Im counting it as both.

HIDDEN HORROR- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

cabinet-of-dr-caligari1-e1410222227649This film is one of the most important and influential titles ever made. Generations of filmmakers have been influenced by its content, as well as its unique art style. The horror and film noir genres can trace their roots back to this film. Not only is it extremely influential, but it remains a watchable and entertaining viewing experience. I am talking about “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” the 1920 silent German classic from director Robert Wiene. While film historians and critics have written endlessly about its influence on the horror genre, it tends to get overlooked by horror fans. Hence, making it a Hidden Horror.

Film opens on a young man named Francis (Friedrich Fehér), who is sitting on park bench next to an elderly man. As they are talking, a beautiful, young lady walks by. Francis tells the man she is Jane (Lil Dagover) his fiance, and he begins to tell him a story about a strange & traumatic event that happened to the both of them.

One day a carnival came to Francis’ home town of Holstenwall, and one of the many attractions was a showman named Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist (sleepwalker) Caesar. Francis and his friend Alex (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) go check out this attraction. Caligari tells the crowd that Ceasar can predict the future, and they can ask him any question they want. Alex asks him when he will die. Casear tells him he has until nightfall, and that prediction comes true. After the murder of his friend, and the attempted murder of Jane, Francis decides to investigate these events for himself and see if Caligari and Cesar are behind it. However, the truth is more strange and unexpected than Alex can believe.

It’s impossible to talk about “Dr. Caligari” without mentioning the art direction. As Roger Ebert said, it’s “the first thing everyone notices and best remembers” about the film. Here are some stills from the film to give you an idea of the art direction. To give you some cultural context: It’s a prime example of German Expression, an early 20th century art form that developed after the first World War.

There are bizarre angles, radical distortions, staircases at crazy angles, an emphasis on shadows, and painted backgrounds just to use a few adjectives. Film as an art form was in its infancy at this time, and many filmmakers tried to capture reality. Caligari, however set it self apart by creating a world with its own geometric logic. The Expressionists favored exaggerations and unrealism. The art direction has gone on to influence many a filmmaker.  One of my favorite films of all time, Richard Elfman’s bizzaro cult classic “Forbidden Zone,” has a Caligari-esque influence in places, particularly with the painted backgrounds. 

Many of Tim Burton’s films are very much influenced by Caligari’s style. Here is another example to give you an idea of how influential this style is. For the 2005 remake of “Dr. Caligari” several scenes from the original were superimposed behind the actors. The fact that they used old footage rather than use new sets says something, doesn’t it?

“Caligari” is also influential in another way; it’s considered to be the first film to introduce the twist ending. Not only did it introduce the twist ending, “Caligari’s” specific ending is still imitated to this day. I would give you an example of a recent film that uses the ending, but that would be a spoiler and I don’t want to ruin the film. In some films, this ending comes across as cliche. Just keep in mind, this film was the first one to do it. In addition, the ending works well in context of the story. Also worth noting that it is one of the first films to use the flashback as a form of narration. 

As I mentioned earlier, Roger Ebert described “Caligari” as the first true horror film. There are most certainty elements of Caligari that have bled over into the horror genre: killings, kidnappings, and a general emphasis on darkness. One of my favorite shots in the film is Alex’s murder. You see the struggle and the eventual stabbing through the characters’ shadows. However I wouldn’t call “Caligari” a straight up horror film. It definitely has more a thriller vibe to it. You can definitely see the influence this had on film noir.   Film critic Scott Weinberg called the film one of the great-grandfathers of the horror genre. I would say, in a general sense, it is one of the great-grandfathers of films dealing with darker subject matters.

Film critics have tried to ascribe some sort of deeper meaning to the film. German critic Siegfried Kracauer said in his 1947 book “From Caligari to Hitler” that Caligari was meant to represent Hitler and Ceasar is the general public that carries out his crimes. Other critics have made similar arguments about the film representing the darkness and desparity Germany felt Post World War I. Those arguments certainly can be made, and are valid in their right. However I feel the film is best enjoyed on a surface level.

For as influential a movie as Caligari is, some of you may be asking yourself, is the film still worth watching? Very much so. It’s a quick, breezy watch and is a very suspenseful and satisfying experience. If you love horror movies as much as I do, then you for sure will need to check out this film. Here is where you can see the makings the genre we know and love. If you love and appreciate silent films, then this one you need to see. If you like Tim Burton, this is worth checking out as you can see where he gets his influence. If you want to get into silent films, this might be a good place to start as it doesn’t feel very dated. Best way I can describe this film, it’s old school but not dated if that makes any sense. Watching this is like playing an old Atari 2600 game, there is a charm and an innocence that can be duplicated, but never imitated.

-Ryan Laskodi