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Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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11 April, 2009

Something Weird on the Screen: The Wild, Bizarre and Wacky World of Scare-Your-Children Movies, Exploitation Shorts and Stag Films

[Ed. Note] The Unimonster wishes to express his heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Bobbie Culbertson of www.junkyardfilms.com, without whose knowledge and assistance this article would not have been possible. As I stated many times during the writing of this piece… Thanks Bobbie, you’re the best!

As I may have mentioned a time or two (or forty…) in this column, I love cheesy movies… the cheesier, the better, especially if it cost less than the price of a new car to produce. Give me a movie that’s the celluloid counterpart of a twenty-pound block of Velveeta®, something that could put a deathgrip on King Kong’s colon, and was done on the cheap, and you have one happy Unimonster. And from THE BLOB to BUBBA HO-TEP, no type of film does low-budget cheese better than the Genre film—specifically the five associated genres of Horror, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Fantasy, and Exploitation.

Why is it that I enjoy these types of movies so much more than their mega-buck Hollywood blockbuster cousins? Well, one answer is lowered expectations. When a major studio pours $180 million into a picture, it had damn well better make me stand up and cheer; anything less is just a disappointment. Movies such as INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY, or THE DARK KNIGHT demand huge budgets, but the finished product is well worth the filmmakers’ investment. But when a big-budget film flops, it’s usually a disaster of biblical proportions, sometimes ending the careers of those involved. The best-known example of this was 1980’s HEAVEN’S GATE, the boring, bloated, Box-Office bomb that sank the career of heretofore-promising director Michael Cimino. With a budget that ballooned to five times the original estimate, and a running time that was north of three-and-a-half hours, it was Box-Office death, earning less than three-and-a-half million on a thirty-five million dollar investment. However, when no one expects anything from a movie, it’s hard to be disappointed.

And that brings me to another reason for my love of cheap movies… they’re so much more entertaining. Let’s face facts—most people go to the movies to be entertained. Not enlightened, not educated, not indoctrinated… simply to relax and have a good time. That’s hard to do when the director is trying to beat some socially relevant message into your head; even harder when the beating lasts for three or more hours. There are people who enjoy that sort of thing; there are also people who prefer tofu to rib-eye. I have little use for either sort of person.

I for one want entertainment from the movies I watch. If I want enlightenment, I play golf. If I want education, I read a book. And I scrupulously try to avoid indoctrination. All I seek from my hard-earned movie-buying dollar is a couple of hours of mindless entertainment… not a disguised thought exercise. I don’t think I differ greatly from the average movie fan in that regard, either. The average movie fan just wants a little something to take him or her out of their mundane, everyday existence—something that they can’t get in their normal lives. Sometimes that’s a thrilling adventure yarn, sometimes a historical drama, and sometimes, it’s something just a little further afield. Something strange, something unusual, something… weird.

For nearly two decades, there’s been a small company catering to those of us who share a love of the cinematic equivalent of a ripe wedge of Roquefort, movies that define the term, “So bad it’s good…” Something Weird Video is precisely that—something weird, indeed anything weird, that has been captured on film or video.

Say you have a fondness for 1950’s vintage High School hygiene films… SWV has you covered. You consider yourself a fan of the films of Harry Novak? They’ve got what you’re looking for. Need a Bettie Page or Tempest Storm stag reel for your next bachelor party? Something Weird is the place for that, and virtually every other type of low-brow, low-class, and low-budget film you can imagine.

Founded in 1990 by Mike Vraney, SWV has grown into a major distributor of classic, and unusual, genre films. They also specialize in the type of short films that collector’s love, but that every other distributor ignores. Industrial films, propaganda films, educational films—name an obscure form of video, and chances are they have it in stock. From a 1959 film produced by the Kansas State Board of Health on the dangers of Syphilis, to ‘60’s-vintage Police training films on how to spot signs of marijuana use, to a promotional film put out by Karo Syrup entitled THE ENCHANTED POT, virtually every taste and interest is catered to by the company. But by far, their stock in trade is the good, old-fashioned, Exploitation Film.

Precursor to both the Grindhouse films of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and the X-Rated adult features of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, Exploitations became big business as the silent era transitioned into sound. A small group of producer/distributors, part con-men, part Hollywood mogul, and with a stiff measure of carnival huckster thrown in, came to dominate the Exploitation circuits, playing in dingy downtown theaters and out-of-the-way rural Drive-Ins. Known collectively as “the Forty Thieves”, these showmen traveled the country exhibiting their films to curious crowds, always promising the raw, uncensored, unvarnished truth about a myriad of social ills, from child marriage to the dangers of sexual promiscuity and drug abuse… and delivering just enough to keep the rubes and yokels happy.

The Exploitations were the cinematic equivalent of a traveling sideshow; talk up the crowds, get them excited about whatever symptom of moral decay was the topic of that week’s film, get them to lay down their money for a ticket, and then give them pretty much what they were expecting—a little entertainment, a little skin, a little naughtiness, all wrapped up in a package that they could regard with a sense of moral outrage and indignation—while secretly wishing that they themselves could indulge in some of that naughtiness.

The kings of the Exploitation circuits made fortunes with these films, often recycling them over and over by splicing new title cards into the prints, or by trading them to other distributors in exchange for films that had already worn out their welcome on other circuits. Names like Kroger Babb, Dave Friedman, and Dan Sonney might mean little today, but in their era, and in their arena, they were as powerful and influential as Samuel Goldwyn, Darryl F. Zanuck, or Walt Disney. They were the moguls of Exploitation; the men who worked beyond Hollywood’s pale, creating films no “respectable” distributor would dare touch. In the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, they, and others like them, fought for an end to censorship of motion pictures and increased freedom for filmmakers, even if ‘mainstream’ filmmakers looked down their collective nose at them.

As the ‘50’s gave way to the ‘60’s, the Exploitations began to change. The moral message that had been such a prominent part of the “Road Show” era of Exploitation films fell by the wayside as the courts struck down, one by one, the draconian censorship laws on the motion picture industry. Without the need to justify their more salacious or risqué content, a new breed of filmmakers, people such as Harry Novak, Doris Wishman, and Mike and Roberta Findlay began producing a new breed of Exploitation film.

These were truly exploitative films, lacking any pretense of cultural or educational value. From Wishman’s ‘Nudie Cuties’ to Herschell G. Lewis’ gore-filled horrors, the early ‘60’s were an explosion of new trends in movies, and those on the leading edge of those trends were the Exploitation filmmakers. The same year that audiences were shocked by the sight of Janet Leigh dressed only in her undergarments following an afternoon tryst in PSYCHO, moviegoers in New York City’s 42nd Street grindhouses were watching Wishman’s NUDE ON THE MOON, a Sci-Fi “epic” filmed at a Florida nudist colony. Three years before Peter Fonda starred in the landmark film EASY RIDER, he starred in a not-so-vaguely similar movie, THE WILD ANGELS, directed by Roger Corman for American-International Pictures.

But the Exploitations would go where Hollywood dared not follow, and do so in ways that the major studios wouldn’t think of emulating. At a time when Hollywood was still struggling to come to terms with homosexuality, racism, drug abuse, and a rapidly changing cultural landscape, the Exploitations were treating all of these topics in an open, frank manner… even if that treatment was less than honest—or flattering. These were key themes for the “grindhouse” cinema, the infamous strip of theaters along 42nd Street in Manhattan. A few blocks away might be the bright lights of Broadway, but here all was darkness and shadow, and it was populated by those who shunned the light. The grindhouses of “The Deuce”, as the strip was christened by authors Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford in their book, Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square, were where the Exploitation film reached it’s zenith. There you could find an endless variety of perversion and prurient delights… if you were willing to risk your wallet, or perhaps your life, for the experience.

While those who frequented the theaters that made up the “Deuce” profess fond memories of the experience, the truth is slightly different. The grindhouse area was, in fact, a filthy, crime-ridden, two-by-eight block section of the city that was a breeding ground for prostitution, assault, robbery, and disease. The only reason fans of these movies traveled to such a blighted zone was because that was the only place that you could see these films… and despite their low-quality and frequently tasteless subject matter, many of these films were worth seeking out.

New York City’s efforts to remake it’s public image led to the end of the “Deuce”, as theater after theater was razed upon the altar of ‘urban renewal’. For the most part the fans of Exploitations weren’t displeased… with the growth of Home Video and the newfound freedom to watch whatever you might choose in the privacy of your own home, why brave the dimly-lit alleyways of 42nd Street? And as Hollywood’s standards changed, the line between what was “mainstream” and what wasn’t began, first to blur, then to vanish altogether. This began as early as 1969 when an X-Rated film, John Schlesinger’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY, won the Oscar® for Best Picture. Ironically, this film examined the lives of two Times Square hustlers played by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, and their struggle to survive as denizens of the “Deuce”. This led to a spate of semi-respectable adult films—DEEP THROAT and BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR were two notable titles—that were shown in first-run theaters. With Hollywood now free to explore many of the topics that were previously the sole province of the Exploitation filmmakers, many of them moved into the final stage in the life cycle of the Exploitation filmmaker—hardcore pornography—and the true Exploitation film died a slow, lingering death.

But the movies that made up the more than five decades of the Exploitation period haven’t died, though it was only the efforts of a dedicated few who kept the memory of these films alive, people like Mike Vraney, Bill Landis, Michelle Clifford, Dave Friedman, Harry Novak, and others who have worked to preserve these films, and history of the Exploitation Cinema.

While it’s easy to dismiss these movies as trashy, lewd, and without redeeming value, I believe that is far too harsh a judgment. Yes, these films were trashy, designed primarily to titillate and tease their audiences… and to that, I say, “So what?” Could not the same be said for most of the motion picture industry? The goal of producers and distributors hasn’t changed since Edison screened his GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY in the 1890’s—to put asses in seats—at whatever ticket price the market would bear. If the Exploitation filmmakers hadn’t given the movie-going public what they wanted, then they wouldn’t have accomplished this. And if they hadn’t accomplished the task of selling tickets, then they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they did. Trashy—yes. Lewd, lascivious, exploitive, prurient, pandering, coarse, vulgar, bawdy… yes, they were all of the above.

But they were also entertaining. Sometimes that’s good enough. Sometimes, that’s just what you’re in the mood for. And thanks to Mike Vraney and his Something Weird Video, we can indulge that mood whenever it strikes. And not in some run-down, flea-ridden, rat-infested den of iniquity with a movie screen, but in the comfort of our own homes.

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DVD Review: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT Unrated Collector’s Edition

Title: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT Unrated Collector’s Edition

Year of Release—Film: 1972

Year of Release—DVD: 2008

DVD Label: M-G-M / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Recently, critics have been guilty of overusing the term “Grindhouse”, referencing any film about which they wish to convey a sense of excessive gore or violence. In the 1960’s and ‘70’s, however, there were films that earned that appellation honestly; indeed films that made the Grindhouse theaters a necessity. Perhaps the most famous such film was Wes Craven’s 1972 thriller THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Filmed on the cheap by Craven and friend Sean Cunningham, their stated goal was to shock the audience with over-the-top gore and violence, as realistically as possible. They accomplished that goal.

Though not as relentlessly abusive to the viewer as Meir Zarchi’s similar-themed I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), it’s far from a pleasant film to watch. The plot is simple: A group of criminals, led by Krug Stillo, (David Hess) takes two young girls captive and heads out into the woods. Their car breaks down, and they decide it’s a good spot to finish off their hostages and dump the bodies. After the girls are tortured, raped and murdered, the killers seek shelter at the home of the Collingwoods, the only house in the area. What the Stillo gang doesn’t know, to their detriment, is that it’s the home of Mari, one of the young girls they just viciously slaughtered. When the parents of the murdered girl discover what has happened, and who was responsible, they go on a rampage of violence, one that makes the murder of the two girls pale in comparison.

Given the meager budget Craven was working with, and the absolute lack of name talent associated with the film, the accomplishment is notable. The story is direct, engaging, and original… at least, it was when Ingmar Bergman filmed THE VIRGIN SPRING in 1959. Craven lifted the bones of the plot from the far more literate and artistic Swedish film, gave them an update, and tossed in a full measure of ultra-realistic violence and a few quarts of fake blood. The result was a qualified success. It certainly met Craven’s goal of a film that would shock audiences, though that task was demonstrably easier in 1972. Where Craven failed, though perhaps that’s too strong a word, is in creating a film that works as entertainment. The film is too graphic, too gritty, and has far too much of a Cinema Verite feel to be truly entertaining. But it is skillfully constructed; even at this early date, Craven’s potential is obvious. The only note that rings false is the comedy relief Sheriff and Deputy. Comic relief has no place in a film of this type; either remain true to the darkness of the film’s subject, or lighten it up overall.

It is pleasing to this reviewer that the distributors used a very nice looking print for this release. Those who are familiar with this film primarily from aging VHS tapes will appreciate the improved quality. Still, when you begin with what is essentially a no-budget student film, no amount of restoration will transform it into a thing of beauty. The biggest improvement over the VHS release, at least, the copy in the Unimonster’s collection, is the sound. Muddy and distorted on VHS, it’s actually understandable on this DVD.

Included on this release are several special features worth noting. Extra footage has been included in the film itself, which is the reason for the “Unrated” status. Nothing that really alters the film, just serves to lengthen and intensify the violence… as though it needed that. Two features that are needed, and are very interesting, are a pair of documentaries featuring director Wes Craven. Craven, who in the decades following the release of LAST HOUSE… has become the most influential horror director extant, discusses both the making of the original and the 2009 remake, directed by Dennis Iliadis. Also included is an unfinished short film by Craven, TALES THAT WILL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT.

While this will never be the first film I’ll take off the shelf for a relaxing evening’s viewing, it is an important film that every Horror fan should be familiar with, and every Craven fan should own. I suggest a definite rental if you’re the former; a buy if the latter.

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04 April, 2009

The Most Frightening Urban Legends: A Look at Several of the Most Popular, Most Terrifying Tales from American Folklore

We’re all familiar with them—we all know someone, who knows someone, who’s brother, or cousin, once knew a girl, who got these phone calls while babysitting, or who’s boyfriend once picked up a hitch-hiker who disappeared, or a couple who was parked by the lake one night and… well, you know what I’m talking about. What you might not know is that these aren’t true events, but Urban Legends. What are “Urban Legends”? Urban Legends are the modern day equivalent of folk-tales, the mostly unwritten oral traditions and histories of a region or a people, usually cautionary in nature, that serve to pass on a culture’s knowledge from one generation to the next. They’ve been in use since the ancient Norse sagas, through the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, down to the familiar stories we hear today.

Compared to ghost stories or local historical legends, Urban Legends have a few things that set them apart. They have a commonality that allows them to apply to virtually any setting; the tale is always related as factual; the central characters are usually referred to as someone who’s distantly acquainted, usually a ‘friend of a friend’; and the tales almost always have a moral, a cautionary aspect that’s intended to teach the young what, or rather what not, to do.
The following are some of the most popular Urban Legends around, but more importantly, they’re some of the most frightening. No spider eggs in Bubble-Yum®, no poodles in microwaves, no Walt Disney’s body on ice underneath the Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland. Just terrifying, shocking, horrific tales intended to alarm and frighten the reader.

And remember, they all really happened. You see, this girl I used to date knew this guy, whose brother…

1.) The Vanishing Hitchhiker: This is one of the most common Urban Legends, with reports of occurrences from every region of the United States, as well as Great Britain and France. While they vary in detail, they are remarkably consistent in the core of the legends, and several cases have been documented that appear to be true hauntings, most notably that of Resurrection Mary, who haunts a Chicago cemetery. Typically, the pattern is as follows:

It was growing dark as Joe left work. It was late October, the first October after the end of the Second World War, and the sunsets were coming earlier as the days wore on, which meant that most of his long drive home now took place after nightfall. Though not a nervous man by nature, and a veteran of the Pacific campaigns with the Marines, the long drive from Trenton to his home in Rancocas was along a winding, wooded country road, in these days before the spread of Interstate highways. Often, his was the only car to be seen for several miles, and he was always fatigued by the time he saw the familiar lights of his hometown.

This night seemed darker and colder than normal, as he headed south from the city. He came to the top of a small hill, and was surprised to see, walking alongside the road at the bottom of the hill, a young woman. He was struck by the oddity of her manner of dress; a long, flowing, pale green dress, something similar to the formal dresses his older sisters had worn for school dances, with bare shoulders and low-cut bodice. Decidedly not the standard uniform for evening walks in the country, especially in the chill of a New Jersey autumn. He pulled over beside her, and, opening his door, called out to her.

At first she continued walking slowly along, as though she had not heard his call. He ran to catch up to her, calling out again. This time, she turned, and Joe was struck by her beauty; her blonde hair and pale skin seeming to glow in the rising moonlight. The only imperfection in her features were her eyes; not in form, but in the intense sadness visible within. They reminded Joe of eyes that had seen far too much in too short a time, the “thousand-yard stare” so common to soldiers who had been on the line for too long. He asked if he could help her, and, for a moment, he thought she was indeed unable to hear, but then she nodded, and in a voice scarcely louder than the wind, whispered “Can you give me a ride, please?”

He wrapped his jacket around her shoulders, and guided her to his car, noting how cold she felt. He got in, turning the car’s heater up as high as it would go, but his Chrysler was eight years old, and its seams were hardly tight against the autumn cold. As he drove on, in fact, he could swear it was getting colder, not warmer, inside the car.

“Where can I take you, Miss…?” Joe asked, hoping to get her name. Though her demeanor was unquestionably odd, she was just as unquestionably lovely, and he was a young man just home from war. Again, her response was slow in coming. “Do you know Bordentown?”

“Sure I do. Just about a mile ahead and to the east of here. Where in Bordentown?”

“Six Fifty-Nine West Church Street.”

“Ok. I’ll have you home in ten minutes. Excuse me, Miss, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Joe Th—“

“Can you hurry, please? My father gets upset if I’m late.”

Joe had been shot down often enough to know when to call it quits, and turned his attention back to his driving. They soon reached the turn-off to Bordentown, and within minutes were entering the outskirts of town. As he turned off Farnsworth Avenue onto Church, he saw a small, Catholic church and cemetery on the right. As the Chrysler passed the churchyard, he heard a soft moan come from his passenger, and turned to see if she was all right. To his astonishment, the passenger seat was empty.

Quickly, he slammed on his brakes, and jumped out. He could see the length of the street; it was utterly deserted. It was a quiet, residential neighborhood, no stores or shops open late, no place for the girl to go.

Just the graveyard.

He got back in the car, dazed, not sure what to do. Indeed, Joe wasn’t quite sure what had happened. He knew that the door hadn’t opened. For one, there was no way he could’ve missed that, and besides, he had been doing nearly thirty. He couldn’t believe that any girl wearing a formal gown would be jumping from a moving auto at thirty miles per hour. Finally, he decided to follow the only logical course he could see. He drove another two blocks, to 659 West Church.
The house was typical of its neighbors; small, trim, neatly kept. The front window was lit, so he walked up the step and rang the bell. After a brief wait, the porchlight came on, and the door opened on a tall, spare old man. He looked to be in his seventies, but Joe guessed that he was closer to sixty; years weren’t the only thing that could age a man. He looked Joe over coldly, and looked past him to the car idling on the street in front of his home. When he spoke, it was with a voice tinged with sadness, resentment, and understanding. “She’s not here, son. Please go, it’s late.”

“Excuse me, sir, but how do you know that I was looking for a girl if she’s not here? All due respect, sir, but she did give me this address.”

“I know that she did, lad, and I know that you found her alongside the main road. I know that she asked you for a ride, and I know that she asked you to bring her here. And I know that she just disappeared from your car, just as you passed the churchyard, aye?”

Joe was shocked at the old man’s knowledge. “Mister, how did you know all that? She must be here!”

“Nae, son, she isn’t. She hasn’t been here in nearly seven years now, though she still tries, God bless her poor spirit. That girl was me own daughter. She died where you found her tonight. She died seven years ago the night of the 31st. She was barely turned seventeen when she died.”

“No, that’s not possible! She was in my car not ten minutes ago. A beautiful, young, blonde haired girl. I didn’t imagine it!”

The old man sighed. “Son, her name was Mary Catherine, Mary Catherine Nichols. She was born twenty-four years ago this very night, October Twenty-First, Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-One. She died ten days after her seventeenth birthday, Nineteen Thirty-Eight. Do you really want proof?” The old man’s hard eyes looked Joe over again. “You gave her a jacket, a sweater, or some such, right?”

Joe numbed mind was on automatic, and he replied without thought. “She was cold, I, I put my coat on her.”

“Aye, I imagine she was. Wait here, lad.” The man closed the door leaving Joe shivering on the porch, whether from the cold or something else, he wasn’t sure. After what seemed like several minutes, the door opened, and the old man walked out. He had put on an overcoat and boots, and was carrying a large flashlight. “Ok, son, let’s go.”

“Yes sir. Where to, sir?” In a state of shock, Joe’s military training asserted itself, and he was simply following orders.

“To fetch your jacket, where else? And to get you your proof, for it’s sure you won’t rest easy without it. I’ll lay odds not much better with, but better than without. We’ll walk. You might as well turn your car off.”

They walked in silence down the quiet street. Occasionally a dog would bark, but otherwise no notice was taken of the pair. They entered the cemetery, the old man in the lead, walking with obvious familiarity through the rows of gravestones, heading unerringly for one particular stone.
At first, Joe thought that the stone had been broken off near the base, but as he drew closer, he could see that it was an illusion, caused by the fabric that had been draped over the stone.

It was a jacket. His jacket.

He pulled the coat off the monument, and read the inscription:

Mary Catherine
October 21st, 1921
October 31st, 1938

“Do you believe me now, son? Do you understand? Every year is the same. It starts on her birthday, and every night until the Thirty-First. Some young boyo shows up at the door, just like you.

“That’s how I knew what you wanted tonight. And they’ll be another tomorrow, and the next night, and the next. Me poor girl hasn’t given up yet.”

2.) The Babysitter and the Killer: A persistent Urban Legend, at least since the 1940’s-50’s. Many variants exist, though most have a few common touches: The babysitter, alone with her charges, is stalked by a killer that’s in the house with her. The basis of many Horror films through the years, (HALLOWEEN; WHEN A STRANGER CALLS; HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE) and still evolving. This is a very common variant:

Sheila liked babysitting for the Carters. They always paid her well, they kept cokes in the fridge for her, their two kids, Lyndsey and Tommy, were easy to handle, and, best of all, they actually had cable! They had been the first on the block to get it, and though several families had it now, Sheila’s Dad had just spent a hundred bucks on a new antenna, and said that it was plenty good enough.

The Carter’s had said they’d be home late, which was fine with Sheila. She always got extra if she had to stay past 11:00. It was just after 8:30, and the kids had had their baths and were in bed already. She popped some popcorn, and sat down to watch MTV, hoping to catch the latest Duran Duran video. Jessica had been telling her about it at school, and she was dying to see it for herself.

She hadn’t been watching long when the phone rang. She wasn’t expecting anyone to call her there, but Danny occasionally called when she babysat.

“Carter residence.”

Just silence answered her.

“Hello, Carter residence, Sheila speaking.”

More silence.

“Whoever’s on here, this isn’t funny. If you don’t say something, I’m going to hang up!” The silence continued. Sheila thought she could hear faint breathing on the line. “Ok, sicko, I’m hanging up.”

“Have you checked the children lately?” The voice was low, almost whispering.

“You’re just a sick freak, aren’t you? Don’t call back!” She slammed the phone down on it’s cradle. She checked the doors to make sure they were locked, and thought about going upstairs to check on the kids, but decided not to risk waking them up.

The ringing of the phone froze her in place, as a cold chill ran down her spine. She hesitantly answered the phone. “Carter residence.”

“Have you checked the children lately?”

“You’re a psycho!! Quit calling me!” Once again, she slammed the phone down, tears streaming down her cheeks. She had never had to deal with something like this, and was at a loss as to what to do. There was only one thing she knew she had to do now… climb those stairs and look in on Lyndsey and Tommy. She grabbed the only thing that looked like a weapon: an iron fireplace poker. Then she headed upstairs.

She quietly opened the door to Lyndsey’s room. She lay sleeping peacefully beneath her Cabbage Patch Kids sheets, her night-light faintly reflecting off the painted Mickey and Minnie on her bedroom walls. Sheila peeked in at Tommy, surrounded by football and baseball gear, toy cars and model airplanes. He too was fast asleep, and Sheila headed back down to figure out her next move.

If her parents had been home, she would’ve called her Dad. They lived only five houses down, and he could be there in a few minutes. When Mr. Sicko called back, he could talk to her Dad, and then see what happened. But they went to the same party as the Carter’s had gone to, and it was all the way across town. Only one thing made sense to her, and that was to call the police.
“Plainsville Police department, Sgt. Hansen speaking. Can I help you?”

“Hi, my name is Sheila Lofton. I’m baby-sitting for Dr. and Mrs. Carter. I keep getting obscene phone calls.”

“Ok, Sheila, we can help you. Just what is this person saying to you?”

“He keeps asking if I’ve checked on the children.”

“Do you recognize the voice?”

“No. It’s real deep, real quiet… like he’s whispering.”

“Ok Sheila, you’re doing great with this. How old are you?”

“I’m fifteen. My birthday’s in five weeks.”

“Well, you’re doing fine. What’s the address you’re calling from?”

“1205 East Bay Street.”

“And the phone number there?”

She read the phone number off the dial; her anxiety had caused her to forget it.

“Now tell me, Sheila, have you done what the voice said?”

“Yes. I was scared, but I did check on the kids. They’re both sleeping good.”

“Very good. Now, I have a car near you right now. I’m going to have it drive by and check things out in the neighborhood, maybe have the officers come to the door and check on you. And if he calls back, try to talk to him for a while so we can trace the call. Think you can do that?”

“Yes, I think I can. Will the police stay here with me?”

“No Sheila, I’m sorry, but that’s the only car in that section of town. I need it to stay out on patrol. But it can be there in a matter of minutes if you need it. But there’s nothing to worry about, honey. This is just some weirdo who found an odd way of getting o—of getting his kicks. You’ll be fine. Now, I’m going to hang up. Remember, if he calls again, keep him talking as long as you can, ok?”

Sheila sat down, knowing that another call would come. She kept the poker next to her on the couch, and tried to watch TV, but Madonna and Michael Jackson just couldn’t hold her attention. The sudden ringing of the telephone nearly made her scream.

“Hell—Hello? Hello, Carter residence?”

“Have you checked the children lately?”

“Yes! Yes I did… please, please stop calling me!”

“But I like calling you.”
Sheila burst into tears. “Please stop. I’m so frightened… please quit calling!”

“I don’t think so. And I don’t think you checked on the children. I think you lied.”

“NO! I did check them! I didn’t lie about it!”

“You didn’t check on them, not really. You say you did, but I know better.”

She was sobbing loudly now. “I did, I really did… I did check them, I promise I did.”

“No you didn’t, Sheila… I had already killed them both.”

She screamed and slammed the phone down, snatching up the poker. The phone rang again. “Please stop calling me!!!!”

“Sheila, this is Sgt. Hansen… get out of the house, honey. Get out now!” She heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming down the stairs, and without thought ran for the door.

And straight into the arms of two Police officers.

Later, after Police had shot the psycho, and found the bodies of the children lying in their beds, their throats cut, Sheila asked them what had happened. How did the sergeant know he had gotten into the house? How had he gotten in there in the first place?

“It’s simple, Miss. When we traced the last call, we found out that he was calling from a second line, from inside the house.”

3.) Bloody Mary / The Face in the Mirror: One of the oldest and most enduring of Urban Legends is the story of the Face in the Mirror, more commonly known as “Bloody Mary”. Also inspiring several Horror Films, most notably the CANDYMAN series of movies, it’s also something of a personal challenge, perhaps originally meant as test of courage. The stories are all remarkably similar, and go like this:

The slumber party was going full blast, with nearly a dozen 12 and 13 year old girls crammed into the family room, fueled by cokes, chips, and pizza, talking about boys, and music, and whatever else girls of that age discuss. Gradually, the talk turned to ghost stories, scary tales best told with the lights down low, in hushed tones while huddled close to friends. Jamie, a natural story-teller and writer, and the oldest girl in the group, loved to tell scary stories, frightening the younger girls with graphic descriptions of severed heads, nightmarish creatures, walking corpses, and other grotesques that sprang forth from her fertile imagination. The others tried in vain to top her tales, or come up with something that would scare her the way she so easily scared them. Rebecca, one of the younger girls, was patiently waiting to tell her story. She knew that she had one that would just scare Jamie out of her mind.

“—and when they finally got the door to the room opened, the red-haired woman was gone, missing. There was no other exit from the room; the windows were sealed shut, the only door locked and chained from the inside. The hotel staff searched, the police searched, but no trace of the mysterious woman in Room 3 was ever found.

“None of them ever noticed that the old painting hanging above the bed, the one of the family that once owned the hotel back when it was the most beautiful Plantation Manor in the state, the painting that, only the day before, had shown five figures, now had a sixth. A beautiful woman now stood behind the family, off to the side.

“A woman with the loveliest, saddest eyes… and long, flowing red hair.”

The girls let out a collective sigh, then Rebecca said “My turn next! I’ve got a good one!”

Jamie handed her the flashlight; it was traditional that the one telling the story held it.

“Now this story is going to be the scariest you’ve ever heard, because it’s true. My brother Eddie heard it at college from a guy who actually did it. He only told me about it after I promised him I wouldn’t ever try it.”

“Once upon a time, long ago, there was a beautiful girl named Mary, with long blonde hair and bright hazel eyes. She was the prettiest girl in the country, and would sit in front of her mirror, hour after hour, brushing her golden curls and admiring herself.

“Many handsome men wanted to ask her out, and would ask her father for permission to date his daughter, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with them, she was so stuck on herself. Her dad begged her to consider at least one of them… he said that it wasn’t right that a girl her age should have no interest in boys. He told her that soon she’d need to marry, and she should at least know one man when that time came.

“She didn’t want her dad to be mad at her, so she started dating a couple of the boys who asked her out. But most didn’t ask her out again, because all she would do is stare into any mirror that was around. She even kept a pocket mirror, and would pull it out if there wasn’t a bigger mirror nearby.

“Finally, the boys just quit asking. Her dad was broken-hearted, because he was worried about who would take care of his daughter when he was gone, but she was just as happy as before, sitting and staring at the mirror all day.

“Months went past, and then years. Her dad had gotten older, and one day he realized that he was dying. He was worried about Mary, because there was no one to take care of her after he died. He figured that he needed to do something about her while he was still strong enough to.

“He got the hatchet from the wood pile, went to Mary’s room, and, as she sat there staring into the mirror, chopped it straight into her head. Blood sprayed out everywhere, and the last thing she saw reflected in her mirror was the blood pouring down over her face.”

The girls sat there in silence, but Jamie wasn’t satisfied. “That’s it? That’s all of it?”

“No, that’s not all…” Rebecca said, heatedly. “Because her ghost was trapped in the mirror. Now, she haunts all mirrors. Eddie said that, if you go into the bathroom, leave the lights off, face the mirror, and say ‘Bloody Mary’ out loud five times, her face appears in the mirror next to you.”

“Oh, that’s bull! Eddie’s just teasing you! How could she haunt every mirror in the world?”

“Eddie wasn’t teasing, he was serious. He made me promise never to try it. I think he did, and it scared him too bad.”

Jamie just shrugged and stood up. “Well, I never promised. I think I’ll try it.” Rebecca gasped, as a couple of the other girls giggled nervously. “NO! Jamie, please don’t. It is real… Eddie wouldn’t lie to me!”

“Becky, he didn’t lie to you. Not really. It’s just like the ghost stories I tell—they aren’t lies, just make-believe.”

“No Jamie, not this one. I’m not a baby, I can tell the difference between make-believe and real. This was real.”

Jamie said nothing else, just headed to the bathroom. All the girls followed her, Rebecca near tears. Jamie looked at Rebecca. “All I have to do it say her name five times with the lights off, right?”

The frightened girl just nodded, too scared to speak. The older girl closed the door, and the rest gathered close to the thin wood of the door. They listened close, and could clearly hear the first chant.

“Bloody Mary…” The girls started giggling.

“Bloody Mary…” More nervous titters, but not quite so amused now.

“Bloody Mary…” Mostly silence, with just a few whispered comments.

“Bloody Mary…” Absolute deadly quiet.

“Bloody Mary!” Not even the sound of breathing could be heard, as the girls clustered close to the bathroom door. Suddenly, a piercing scream tore through the silence, not a girlish scream of surprise, but a rough, wet scream that spoke of terror, of agony.

When the parents of the girl hosting the party managed to get the door open, they found Jamie’s crumpled body lying hard up against the door. The 13-year old had died… of fright.

4.) The Hook: One of the more overtly cautionary tales, intended to discourage teen sex in the days when parking by the lake and watching the “Submarine races” from the back seat was a typical Friday night ritual. This Urban Legend seems to date from the late ‘40’s-early ‘50’s, and has lost a little of its currency in today’s more permissive culture. Still, it’s one of the more frightening of the “Classic” Urban Legends, and goes something like this:

The three-quarter moon was rising in the night sky as Jerry’s Studebaker pulled into the grassy parking strip next to Spengler’s pond. In the summer it was a favorite picnic spot, but on Friday and Saturday nights it became the place for teen-agers, looking for a little privacy, an out of the way spot to park for a while. It was set more than a mile back from the main road; there were no houses around; and not even the county sheriff paid too much attention to what went on up there.

It was mid-October, and, in this part of eastern Wisconsin, already you could feel the sharp bite of the coming winter. Still, it was surprising to see that theirs was the only car parked up there that night. Even in winter, if the snow wasn’t too deep to get up the dirt road, it was uncommon to find it completely deserted on a Friday night. Jerry pulled up under a large elm, and turned the lights off, though he kept the motor running for the heat.

“Look at this, Terri. All alone out here. Guess I was the only guy could get a date tonight.”

“Keep dreaming. Still, it’s not bad, being out here by ourselves… is it?” She reached over and turned the radio on, trying to find a station with something good playing. “—that was the single topping the charts for the fourth week now, the new one from that musical tornado from Tupelo, Elvis Presley… Don’t Be Cruel! This is Screamin’ Jack Conners spinning the stacks of wax for you kittens and cats, on 1410 WRWC, pumping out 10,000 watts to Oshkosh, Appleton, and all of Winnebago County! And remember kids, on a more serious note, police are warning everyone to be watchful tonight, as there’s been an escape from St. Thomas’ Asylum on the north side of Oshkosh. One Charlie Hatcher, also known as ‘the Hook’, broke out late last night, and is still on the loose. Hatcher, who lost an arm in a childhood accident, was committed to St. Thomas’ four years ago, following the murders of his entire family. The weapon used was a steel hook that he fashioned himself, and fit on his artificial arm. It was never found following his arrest. Winnebago county Sheriff Edwa—”

“I don’t want to hear that!” Terri said, turning off the radio. “Maybe we should’ve gone to the movies. I don’t know if I want to be out here with a maniac on the loose.”

“C’mon, baby… I’m right here. You think I’m gonna let anything happen to my girl?”

“What can you do against some kind of crazy man? You… you don’t think he’s some kind of—‘sex fiend’, do you, Jerry?”

“Baby, I’m the only sex fiend you’re going to run into tonight. Forget ‘The Hook’. He’s gotta be a hundred miles from here by now.”

“How do you know? He could be right here… St. Thomas’ is only four miles away.”

“Yeah, but honey, why would he head this way? There’s nothing up here. I’d head towards Milwaukee or Chicago, not deeper into the sticks.”

“Well, maybe the maniac doesn’t think the way you do! I think we ought to go, Jerry. Let’s go to the diner… I’ll bet that’s where everyone’s hanging out tonight.”

“Which is exactly why we want to be here, Terri. C’mon, sweetheart, I’ve been real patient, haven’t I? Don’t I deserve to be alone with you for a little while?”

“Jerry, you’ve been great… you really have. And I really do want to, you know, be with you. But please, not tonight—not here.”

“Oh, Terri… how much longer do I have to wait? You know, we must be the last couple we know not to have ‘done it’. And we’ve been dating since last May!”

“And if you want to keep dating, you’ll take me to the diner… right now! Jerry, I’m sorry—but I really want to leave now. I promise, I will make it up to you. And soon. But not tonight!”

“Fine!” He slammed the transmission into gear and stomped on the gas, feeling the rear wheels spin for just a second before they got traction and the car leapt forward. As they left the pond behind them, Terri slid closer to him, and soon his anger and frustration was forgotten as Terri cooed tender thank-yous into his ear.

As they drove back north towards Appleton, Jerry began to notice a grinding sound coming from the right rear of the vehicle. His car was far from new, and he thought that it was probably time to replace the rear brakes. After a twenty-minute drive, they pulled into the parking lot at Chuck’s Diner. Jerry got out, and came around the front to open Terri’s door. He was puzzled by the long, deep gouge running down the side of his car, from the rear edge of the front passenger door on back. He knew that it hadn’t been on the car when he had picked her up, and he traced the gouge all the way back. His eyes widened in shock when they reached the rear bumper.

There, dragging from the bumper, was an artificial arm. Where the hand should be was a gleaming metal hook.

5.) People can Lick, Too: This is a more recent development, and is one of the more gruesome. Another of those tales that Hollywood has found a use for, it’s basic structure is almost identical from version to version, though the details are, of course, changeable. It generally goes as follows:

“Roscoe! Roscoe, come here!” Jenny called out for the dog again, wondering where he could have gotten too. It was late, and the darkness didn’t help her spot him. He shouldn’t have been able to leave the back yard, but it was a big yard, and it was possible that he had found a hole in the fence, or had dug his way out. The problem was that the yard was so overgrown with brush that he could hide anywhere; but the four girls who shared the house had little time, between college classes, jobs, and social lives, for yard work.

“Roscoe, COME HERE!! Roscoe, I’ve got steak!” With the utterance of that magic word, a pudgy English bulldog came trotting out from behind a particularly overgrown stand of brush, stub tail wagging, tongue hanging from the side of his mouth. That tongue was constantly in motion; Roscoe was a licker, he loved to show affection, especially by licking any hand that was within reach.

He was technically Jenny’s dog, though all four girls loved him, and spoiled him rotten. She reached down and gave him the small morsel of meat in her hand, receiving a sloppy wet lick for a thank you. She patted his side, and he followed her into the house, stub tail wagging happily.
The house was small, smaller than you would think judging from the size of the yard, with just two bedrooms, two girls sharing each one. Karen, Jenny’s roommate, was in her bed sound asleep already, and Jenny was anxious to get into hers as well; she had an early class in the morning, and would be working until late that night. She settled under the covers, as Roscoe lay down in his accustomed spot next to the head of her bed. Just before she drifted off, she reached down and scratched behind the bulldog’s ears, and he responded with a tired, reflexive lick of her hand.

Something woke her up. She wasn’t sure what, but in that half-sleeping, half-waking dream state, she was sure that it must have been Roscoe. She listened for a long moment, and could hear him grunting and rustling about beside her bed. “Roscoe!” she whispered. “Settle down! Go back to sleep.” She reached over and received an apologetic lick, and rapidly drifted back to sleep.

Her alarm clock started buzzing promptly at six. She sat up in bed, reached over to shut off the alarm, and stretched her arms out as she swung her legs off the bed. She sat there for a minute, fighting the urge to drift back to sleep, as well as the vague sense that something was wrong, something she couldn’t quite put a finger on. Then it hit her: Roscoe always, always, was waiting to give her bare feet a good morning lick as soon as they hit the floor. Ordinarily it annoyed her, but now it’s absence was troubling. “Roscoe? Roscoe, where are you?” No response. At this time of the year the room was still in full darkness, and she turned the light on.
“Karen, it’s time to wake up. C’mon lazy, you’ve got an 8:30 class, same as me. Roscoe, come here, boy.” She got up, heading to the bathroom. As she passed Karen’s bed, she grabbed the blanket to pull off her friend, and was shocked by the sodden feel of the dark material. She pulled the cover slowly down. And screamed.

Karen’s eyes stared lifelessly up at Jenny, her mouth gaping open in a silent scream, a second, mocking grin cut deeply through her throat. The mutilations continued down her body, and the once pale-yellow sheets were now a brownish-maroon color. Jenny dropped the dripping blanket, and ran from the room, still screaming.

She burst into the room of the other two girls, only to find another scene of horror. This time, the spectacle was laid out in full view, each roommate stretched out on her bed as if upon some unholy altar. Blood stained the beds, blood stained the floor, blood was even sprayed across the walls. In the center of the room, between the two beds, lay Roscoe, dead. On the far wall, in large, red letters, rapidly drying to black, was written one brief sentence.

“People can lick, too.”

6.) Chased by a Trucker: This very popular legend is another that has gotten co-opted by Hollywood, being a prominent feature of the movie URBAN LEGEND. First documented in the late 1960’s, this legend is still active in cyberspace, with new variations appearing every so often. Though there are differences among the iterations of it, the players in this drama are always the same: The lone motorist is a woman, while both the attacker and rescuer are men. This is a common variant:

Susan could feel herself getting sleepy; she had already been driving for nearly ten hours, and wanted nothing more than to sleep for the next ten. But she was less than a hundred miles from the college, and hated the thought of stopping off when she was this close. She glanced down at her gas gauge. She thought she had enough to reach her destination, but why chance it? She would pull in at the next pump and fill-up, and get herself a strong cup of coffee.

She hadn’t traveled much further when the welcoming lights of a gas station rose up over the horizon. With a grateful yawn, she pulled into the self-serve island and filled her tank.

The station looked deserted, except for the one old man working the counter inside. She poured the largest cup of coffee they had, loaded it up with sugar, and grabbed a bag of chips. Atkins be damned, she needed energy. She paid for her purchases, and headed back out to her car.

An 18-wheeler had pulled up to the diesel pumps on the other side of the station’s lot, and Susan could see the driver walking in her direction. Actually, he was walking rather briskly. In fact, you could say that he was practically running towards her. Startled, she dove into the driver’s seat of her car as quickly as possible, dropping the coffee and chips to the pavement. The truck driver reached her door just as she hit the lock button, and began to pound frantically on the windows. Screaming at him to leave her alone, she managed to get the key in the ignition and sped off. Terrified, she could see him in her rear-view, sprinting back to his truck. Seconds later, a fresh scream tore from her throat as the large headlights of the truck flashed from behind her. She grabbed her cell phone, but couldn’t get a signal.

Susan pushed the Bronco as hard as she could, but it was eight years old, and hardly built for speed. She had it edging up to ninety, but that was as much as it had, and the big rig was riding her rear bumper, blasting his horn and flashing his lights. Susan was near hysterics as she sped along the winding country road, pursued closely by the lunatic in the truck.

As she reached the crest of a large hill, she saw flashing lights ahead of her, and burst into tears. Several police cars were blocking the road, and she pulled up to them, jumping from the Bronco and running to the nearest officer. Susan noticed several others run past with weapons drawn, and turned to see them surround, not the 18-wheeler now parked behind her car, headlights blazing through her rear windowglass, but her own vehicle. Her surprise turned to shock and terror as they dragged a large, unshaven man from her rear seat. As a long, wicked-looking knife fell to the ground, she fainted.

When Susan regained consciousness, she was in the back of an ambulance, with medics and police officers around her. One asked if she felt up to meeting someone. When she asked who, the officer told her it was the trucker who saved her life. He had seen the escaped murderer climb into the back of her truck, and though she had sped off before he could get to her and warn her, he followed behind, flashing his lights and sounding his horn to keep the psycho in hiding, while using his CB radio to call for help.

7.) Scratching on the Roof: Dating back to the mid-1960’s, this tale, bearing a close resemblance to “The Hook”, is another of those cautionary tales that serve to keep our sons and daughters off of the lover’s lanes and out of the way parking spaces where they could engage in activities parents would rather they avoid. While there are versions of this tale that have been recorded as far away as Malaysia, the version most common in America is generally as follows:

It was a warm summer night, and Rick had the engine of his Dad’s brand-new ‘64 Bel Air purring as it roared along the country road that led to the lake. Debbie was leaning on his shoulder, feet up on the wide bench seat. They had gotten a later start than their friends, who had certainly gotten to the campsite by now. But they were getting close; less than two miles to go, and they’d be relaxing by a fire with the rest of the gang, listening to music, sneaking off for a few moments alone, enjoying each other’s company.

The engine started sputtering, and when Rick looked down at the instruments, he was shocked to see that the gas gauge was past the E mark. He managed to pull the car off the road, and park it underneath a large tree just as the engine died.

Debbie had dozed off, and looked up expecting to see their friends gathered around a cheery campfire. Instead, she saw only trees and the lonely, dark country road that they had been driving.

“What’s wrong?”

“You won’t believe this, but we’re out of gas.”

She sat straight up. “You’re joking!”

“’Fraid not, Honey. Guess I forgot to stop earlier.”

Debbie looked around, not certain where they were. “How far to the lake?”

“Not far… a couple of miles, that’s all. I can walk there in a jiffy, and have Bill or Freddie give me a ride back here with some gas.”

“And leave me here alone?”

“It won’t be more than a half-hour. Twenty minutes there, then just siphon a little gas and head back here. I’ll tell you what, as soon as I get there, I’ll send Freddie and Janet back after you. Ok?”

Debbie didn’t like the idea, but she knew that Rick was right. She could go with him, but he was on the track team at school; she’d just slow him down. As he started off down the road at a quick pace, she locked all the doors, and turned the radio up. Though it was a pleasant evening, it wasn’t overly warm, and she pulled a light blanket over her bare legs.

With a start, she realized that she had dozed off. She knew something had awakened her, but wasn’t sure just what. She glanced at her watch, and was shocked to see that more than an hour had passed since Rick had left to get help. She then heard a noise, faint but close, and realized what it was that had caused her to wake up… the soft, thumping scrape of something rubbing on the roof of the car.

Frightened by the knowledge that someone or something was right on top of her, she began to cry softly. She quickly double-checked the doors, and noticed something that sent chills down her spine: a thin line of dark fluid was dripping down the rear window, gathering in a thick, viscous pool on the trunk lid. It had to be, could only be, blood. She could picture in her mind the slavering jaws of some great beast, blood dripping from a fresh kill. Debbie’s head began to spin, and she passed out in shock.

She awoke to bright morning sunshine streaming in through the car’s windows, and realized with a start that someone was looking in at her, tapping on the glass. She screamed, before recognizing that the man was wearing the uniform of the county Sheriff’s office. She quickly unlocked the door, sobbing in relief that the ordeal of the previous night was over. The deputy reached in, helping her out as he pulled the blanket that had fallen to the floor boards over her head and shoulders. “Oh thank God… thank God you came. I’ve been praying someone would come. I was so frightened… my boyfriend went to get some gas, but he never came back, and I was so scared.”

“Ok honey, it’s ok. We’re just going to walk over to the car here, you’re just going to keep your head down, and we’re going to walk straight over to my car, ok?”

“But where’s my boyfriend? He never came back… he wouldn’t leave me here all night. He must be lost, or… or—” As she turned to argue with the officer, the blanket slipped from her head, and she caught sight of the car in which she had been confined.

Her eyes traced upward from the pool of congealed blood on the trunklid, up the dark rivulets that painted the rear windscreen, to an equally large pool on the roof of the car. A part of her mind realized what had been causing the scratching she had heard the night before, but she was already past caring about that. The screaming started as soon as she recognized Rick’s body, throat opened wide, suspended upside-down from the stout limb of the tall tree they were parked beside. As the breeze caused the limb to sway, Rick’s body did likewise, and his outstretched fingers scraped across the steel roof of the Chevy. Her mind slowly descended into madness, as she watched the dead fingers of her boyfriend dragging through a stagnant puddle of his own blood.

She was still screaming when the ambulance arrived.

So there you have them, the most frightening Urban Legends. More are out there, and will be added… but only when I’m satisfied that they are the best, most terrifying legends you’ve ever encountered. After all, I have a reputation to uphold.

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Year of Release—Film: 1971

Year of Release—DVD: 2006

DVD Label: Blue Underground

One of the greatest benefits of the DVD format over the Videotape is the greatly reduced cost of manufacture and distribution. This has enabled distributors to release films that were unobtainable on VHS simply because the limited demand for them would make the costs prohibitive. Several distributors have arisen whose specialty is dealing with these ‘niche’ movies, and one of the best is Blue Underground. Specializing in Eurohorrors and Grindhouse treasures, this company has been responsible for the release of many of my favorite films to DVD, including the spectacular BLIND DEAD Box Set from 2005.

In 2006, Blue Underground released one of the most critically acclaimed Italian mysteries known as Gialli to DVD—Paolo Cavara’s LA TARANTOLA DAL VENTRE NERO ~aka~ THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA. Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, and Catherine Bach, this 1971 murder mystery has all the classic elements of a Giallo… stylish art direction; a masked, mysterious killer; inventive death scenes; a net full of red herrings; a suspenseful climax; and beautiful women in various states of undress. LA TARANTOLA… rises above the average of this sub-genre in two important respects: The performances, especially of Giannini as the troubled Detective in charge of the case, and Stefania Sandrelli, as his lovely wife, are superb, far better than the norm for this type of production; and the incredible bevy of beauties present, including no fewer than three Bond Girls.

The plot for this film is good, nothing extremely original, but well thought-out and constructed. Assigned the investigation of the murder of a wealthy man’s estranged wife, Giannini, a rookie Homicide Detective, is drawn into an expanding web of intrigue that reaches even into his marriage. Other murders soon follow the first, as the police realize they’re dealing with a serial killer—one who has begun targeting them.

The Unimonster has long been a fan of the Giallo as a film genre, and LA TARANTOLA… is certainly no exception to the rule. It’s a well plotted, well made murder mystery, in the best tradition of the Italian cinema. There are some who would complain that such films are convoluted and hard to follow; those who are fans of the genre say rather that that’s part of the appeal of a mystery. The Gialli are similar in form and substance to the film noir of the ‘40’s, or Hitchcock’s stylish thrillers. The best of them, and LA TARANTOLA… must be considered in that company, are every bit as satisfying a mystery as THE MALTESE FALCON, and as effective a thriller as REAR WINDOW.

One caveat to the reader, though. Both the original, Italian release and the edited American release are included on the Blue Underground disc; avoid the American edit. I’ve always been a firm believer in seeing a movie in it’s original state—how it was first seen in theaters. Yes, that means dealing with subtitles in this case—get over it. I want to hear the actual performers act… not some stand-in reading a translated script. Also, the edited version is some nine minutes shorter than the original. Granted, you can pare a minute or two from almost any film… but nine minutes? Almost a tenth of the film, gone? Why not just enjoy the full-length feature the way it was intended to be seen… and heard? My recommendation is to do just that… I say it’s a buy, but whether you buy or rent, you should see LA TARANTOLA… You might find you’re a fan of Gialli as well.

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