Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb

Dir: Dave Borthwick. 1993. Starring: Nick Upton, Deborah Collard. Cult Animation.

The Bolex Brothers production, The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, is a creepy, yet enchanting, twist on the classic fairytale. It conjures up all sorts of menacing, unnerving, and violent imagery—unlike that of the traditional tale. It's set in a seedy tenement building where an unsuspecting couple conceive a tiny baby—a child so small that they name him Tom Thumb. We quickly see that the world is a harsh place, as Tom's mother is slain and he is kidnapped by sinister men who want to use him for experimentation and genetic research. The plot unfolds around how this tiny creature, with the help of some very unusual friends and the love of his father, escapes the evil forces holding him hostage; the subtext revolving around how this amazing child remains innocent and caring in a world full of fear, reactionary hatred, and prejudice.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb uses stop-motion animation in ways that I have never seen before to create scenes of epic discomfort and fear. Live actors are combined in scenes with clay-mation figures, which causes an uncomfortable, almost anxiety driven performance by the actors, who move with a lurching stagger and speak with a mumbling coo. It took dozens of hours to animate the live actors for seconds of film—an amazing feat! But it's not just the way the live actors are animated that makes this a visual triumph. Every scene is covered in tiny animated insects, the walls seem to breathe, and the earth to shake. The sets are awe-inspiring, to say the least.

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Posted by:
Grace Bartlett
Nov 19, 2008 4:40pm

Sorority House Massacre

Dir: Carol Frank, 1986. Starring: Angela O'Neill, John C. Russell, Wendy Martel, Pamela Ross, Nicole Rio. Horror.

You've got your good slashers and you've got your bad ones, but when you really think about it, there is no such thing. It all boils down to a matter of taste. If you go to the movies for a good shock or scare, you probably think that movies like this are terrible. If you're going to see dimwitted or annoying people get killed and laugh at one-liners, then you'll love Sorority House Massacre. Before I mention the plot, if you know anything about this movie, you know that it has to do with a brother coming back to kill his sister after slaughtering the entire family. Many think of Halloween, just as you might have heard about its relation to dreams, which is linked with A Nightmare on Elm Street. If you've looked up this movie, or other slashers, only to find that people down it because it has elements of other horror movies, don't believe the hype. Every single genre in cinema will have elements of some other film, work of art, pop culture, you name it. Not that you shouldn’t praise what has been established as original, but don't get too hung up on it. This movie is terrible and it means to be. Everything is so over the top, particularly the fashion. The fact that nothing in the plot is believable and that there are so many pointless scenes only adds to how perfectly cheesy it is. The fact that the woman on the cover/posters is not even in the movie also adds to the cheese factor.

The plot is pretty straightforward: crazy older brother slaughters parents and three of his four sisters. Beth (Angela O'Neill), who was five years old at the time, escapes, is raised by others, forgets the incident, and joins a sorority in college. She does find a disturbing connection between her new sorority house and her childhood home where the murders happened. Of course, we discover that it's the same house. Meanwhile, her brother Bobby (John C. Russell) spends his time strapped to a bed in an institution. The center of the plot, besides people getting murdered, is her dreams. It is speculated earlier in the movie that brain waves can be transmitted through space just like waves of light and sound. Apparently her brother has got some pretty powerful brain waves and has filtered his way into her sleep. She begins to feel that he is after her and he eventually escapes - with stupendous ease - out of his mental institution. Thus, she and her sorority sisters are in for a big surprise when he comes home.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 19, 2010 4:38pm

The Addiction

Dir: Abel Ferrara, 1995. Writer: Nicholas St. John. Starring: Lily Taylor, Edie Falco, Christopher Walken. English. Horror/Drama.

From the deranged mind that brought you Bad Lieutenant, Ms. 45 and King of New York comes a horror tale involving drug addicts, graduate students and vampires.

Not particularly scary or even bulging with production value, the film is still great fun for any fan of the vampire sub genre.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Nov 17, 2007 5:27pm

The Blood Splattered Bride

Dir: Vincente Aranda, 1972. Starring: Simon Andreu, Maribel Martin, Alexandra Bastedo. Horror.

Feminist theory and the Sexual Revolution explode on screen for this fleshy and colorful vampire tale. It bends the rules quite a bit by allowing for vampires who roam around in daylight, as well as having a female lead and another who plays the vampire in erotic pursuit.

Susan (Maribel Marti­n) and her husband (Simon Andreu) are two newlyweds who decide to skip a hotel and take their honeymoon at his family's estate. Susan quickly becomes an admirer of his home and family until she realizes their attitude toward women. After noticing that the walls containing portraits of his ancestors only have paintings of men, she discovers that all the ones of the women in the family are hidden in the cellar. One in particular sparks her interest—the portrait of Mircalla Kerstein, a young bride with a blood-stained pearl dagger and a missing face, who murdered her husband on their wedding night, claiming that he requested she do despicable things.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 28, 2010 5:23pm

The Hand

Dir: Oliver Stone, 1981. Starring: Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, Annie McEnroe, Bruce McGill. Horror.

A half decade before his breakthrough films Salvador and Platoon would make Oliver Stone a major director with a political conscience, The Hand proves to be an odd film for Stoneaphiles. It’s his second following his unwatchable low budget horror flick, Seizure, and it works well as a suspenseful psychological horror thriller, but more importantly it proves that no matter how ridiculous the material Michael Caine makes anything worth watching.

Caine plays a successful comic book artist in Vermont. He and his younger wife (Andrea Marcovicci) are having marital problems - his wife wants to go to New York City to study at a groovy yoga center, he just wants to be left alone. He loses his hand in a freak car accident, which is the worst thing that can happen to an artist. The hand is never found. He is forced to get a mechanical prosthetic glove. After his wife leaves him, he takes a job teaching at a central California college. He begins an affair with a student (Annie McEnroe) and gets a yahoo drinking buddy (Bruce McGill, D-Day in Animal House and later a respected character actor in films like The Insider). Suddenly people around him start to turn up dead (including director Stone playing a wino). They are murdered on screen by a walking hand, but it may all be in Caine’s head. Is he actually doing the killing?

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Feb 18, 2011 6:19pm

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Dir: Wallace Worsley. 1923. Starring: Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller. Silent/Horror.

A true ‘must-see’ of silent cinematic majesty, Hunchback stars the unbelievably talented Lon Chaney, an innovator of pantomime and makeup artistry. The film is based on the Victor Hugo novel about Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer who falls in love with Esmeralda, a gypsy girl.

It is a classic story that is further accentuated by enormous sets, complex lighting and Chaney’s amazing ability to express suffering, humiliation,and desire for the understanding of a kindred soul. It should be noted that Chaney’s great skill at displaying identifiable human emotions under grotesque disguises can be partly attributed to the need to communicate with his deaf-mute parents. His body language and gestures are the center of this movie. He demonstrated his prowess at making us FEEL the character’s emotions in film after film until his death in 1930 after his final appearance in his only sound film The Unholy Three,a remake of an earlier silent film that he starred in. Anybody even remotely interested in the movies before they spoke should see this.

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Posted by:
Amoebite
Mar 31, 2008 5:29pm

The Innocents

Dir: Jack Clayton, 1961. Starring: Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins. Horror.

Were you to ask me to recommend you a good horror film at Amoeba I would invariably direct you to the Val Lewton section and I would try explaining why the films that he did for RKO in the 1940s are some of the most astonishingly sophisticated and genuinely haunting movies ever made. The reason I would rely on Lewton’s films for a good horror recommendation is twofold—they’re really that good and I haven’t seen that many horror films because I think a lot of them look really gross. Psychological thrillers are the tops but when a film involves the removal of intestines and the liquefying of brain matter - and worse when it takes place in the 1970s (I hate those even more for some reason, I think because of all the excess body hair) - I know that a film is not for me. Suffice to say the oeuvre of Rob Zombie is pretty much off my radar. I can’t help it! But sometimes I come across a horror film with real emotional depth and a captivating escalation of dread and tension and I remember how excellent a horror film can be if it meets my weird aesthetic criteria. The Innocents is the kind of film I’m talking about. It’s one of the most unsettling films ever made. The horror is there but it exists in such an ambiguous, queasy realm of anxiety and when it’s over you will question what you really saw, but you will not stop thinking about the film for a long time.

The Innocents is an adaptation of Henry James’s novel, The Turn of the Screw, though apparently the movie adheres closer to the play that was spun off of the book (also called The Innocents). It’s interesting to note that Harold Pinter was one of the authors who worked on the screenplay. It’s an English gothic horror story set at a country estate, but while the repressive atmosphere of a Victorian setting is ever present the shades of nuance in the psychology of the film is startling even for the early 1960s. It’s hard to imagine the same film being made in the United States. Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, a governess hired to look after the orphaned niece and nephew of a London playboy who has no intention of living with them in the country. She is our guide as we descend into a very weird state of affairs at the house.

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Posted by:
Jed Leland
Jul 23, 2010 5:36pm

The Midnight Meat Train

Dir: Ryuhei Kitamura, 2008. Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones, Brooke Shields. Horror/Thriller

The only thing more frightening about Midnight Meat Train the film, is the way the film itself was treated by the powers that be. Apparently, the ‘train’ came to a screeching halt when Joe Drake (President of Lions Gate) forced a poor turnout to this film by way of limiting the release to roughly 100 budget theatres in order to draw attention to schlock garbage like The Strangers, which could be seen in multiplexes across the country. In my humble opinion, if properly marketed, Midnight Meat Train could’ve sparked the next huge horror franchise. But then again, I like my horror films dirty, dark and dreadful. Not the kind of things that shiny studio films are made of.

Midnight Meat Train opens with a disturbing encounter on an anonymous subway in an anonymous city, which we’re made to believe is New York. This is where we meet our big bad villain superbly played by ex-footballer, Vinnie Jones. And thus begins our train ride into the dark annals of the human mind… led by your conductor, Mr. Clive Barker.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Feb 1, 2009 3:26pm

The People Under the Stairs

Dir: Wes Craven, 1991. Starring: Brandon Quintin Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J. Langer, Ving Rhames. Horror.

The People Under the Stairs is absolutely bonkers. It's as if David Lynch and Wes Craven took a field trip to the ghetto and came away with an outrageous idea for a thriller/horror movie. Everett McGill and Wendy Robie of Twin Peaks take on another strange domestic role as a brother and sister who never seemed to grow out of playing house and who like to steal children. The movie shares the same violent color schemes and unsettling (yet somehow humorous) dialogue that you find in practically every Lynch film.

Following the newly 13-year-old Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Quintin Adams), the story opens up with a tarot reading from his older sister Ruby that warns of a year filled with death and ignorance. The two siblings are struggling to make ends meet as their mother is slowly dying of cancer. They're the only tenants remaining in a building that their landlord wishes to tear down in order to make room for condos and tenants who aren't predominately black. Ruby's boyfriend Leroy (Ving Rhames) is a petty criminal who's tired of seeing families thrown to the streets and offers Fool an alternative in making the payments they need to stay there. He's come across a map of the landlord's home and plans to rob it. Rumor has spread across generations that the steep rent and poor conditions of the ghetto has led to a ton of profits for the landlord. This money, thought to be a mass hoard of gold coins, is said to be inside and Leroy wants to get his hands on it.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Apr 18, 2011 12:34pm

The Sentinel

Dir: Michael Winner, 1977. Starring: C. Raines, C. Sarandon, A. Gardner, J. Carradine, B. Meredith, S. Miles, B. D'Angelo. Horror.

Philosophy, justice, and Catholic theology are blended to a pulp in this breathtaking example of 1970s horror. By the time the '80s rolled around, cinematic exploration with special effects was at its peak in terms of prosthetics and make-up. Several masters - mainly in Italy, America, and Japan - had reached new heights and dug up several techniques from the past that were introduced as early as the silent era. The Sentinel impressed me with both its story and its remarkable efforts to pull off a complicated film. It is an adaptation of Jeffrey Konvitz's novel, and during a Q&A he expressed some issues with it, as I'm sure is natural for a writer in his position. He did have a lot to do with the production and even co-wrote the script. Aside from certain things being changed for the film, it's safe to say that the other large issue he had was with the film's production, claiming that he would have wanted a different director and a slightly different cast. I'll get to why I disagree shortly.

I'm going to attempt to play down all the action in the plot because there is so much of it and to explain it all would be to give away the best parts. In the film we find Alison (Cristina Raines), a model who wants some space from her boyfriend Michael (Chris Sarandon) and seeks an apartment of her own. She finds a number of places and eventually settles on a well-furnished and roomy place in an old building. The landlady (Ava Gardner) seems more than eager to get her to move in, dropping the price from $600 to $400 in order to seal the deal. On top of the fact that she is not willing to settle, she has other troubles on her mind when she hears the news of her father's death. Her feelings for him are cold due to a shocking revelation about his character that caused her to practically denounce her Catholic faith as a teenager and led to her first attempt to commit suicide. In her building she finds two people who sort of symbolize other father figures. Seen facing from the highest window of the complex is Father Halliran (John Carradine), a blind, reclusive priest. The other is Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith), an overbearing old man who invites himself in on occasion and talks to his animals as if they were people.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 26, 2010 4:09pm
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