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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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10 September, 2011

Cambot's Voice by S. J. Martiene: EXPERIMENT 6: TORMENTED

Cambot’s Voice by S. J. Martiene


Ah…September, candy corn has hit the stores, summer is stubbornly giving way to autumn, and I start to turn my attention and unrelenting focus to Halloween.  This is the time of the year where I barrel through ALL my scary movies—both good and bad.  Fortunately for this movie-lover, there is PLENTY of bad to go around.  One of the Kings of making “movies-so-bad-they’re-good” is none other than Bert I. Gordon.    In fact, EIGHT of Gordon’s movies were the targeted experiments through the show’s run.   TORMENTED’s story circles around a love triangle, a lighthouse, and a ghost that haunts the “hero”, Tom Stewart.  Now, unlike many of the actors in the MSTied movies, the lead actor (Richard Carlson) was in an Oscar-nominated movie.  He was a supporting actor in William Wyler’s THE LITTLE FOXES (1941) starring Bette Davis and Herbert Marshall.  He was actually quite good as the young journalist, David Hewitt.  He also starred in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.  Both movies are Sci-Fi favorites in our household.  His supporting cast includes a bit of nepotism from the Gordon household.  Susan Gordon is the daughter of the infamous B.I.G.  Eleven year-old Susan plays nine-year old Sandy. 
Please join me as we are TORMENTED!

Cast (in credits order)
Sandy Hubbard
Meg Hubbard
Vi Mason
Nick, The Blackmailer
Mrs. Ellis
Mr. Nelson, lunch stand operator
Mrs. Hubbard (as Vera Marsh)
Frank Hubbard

The bots have set up housekeeping in one of the SOL’s air ducts.  Joel is frantically sweeping up everything as it is being dropped from above because the bots are making such a mess.  “Joel, we LIKE you; we just can’t live with you.” (Crow).  Servo has to “go” and subsequently falls from the duct.  At this moment, Joel hears Gypsy’s voice above him….Gypsy, being a…..shall we say, PLUS-size robot has NO business being in the frail construction of an air duct.  Crow and Gypsy come crashing down. 
We switch over to Dr. Forrester and he is in a GOOD mood.  This mood is attributed to TV’s Frank taking a nasty fall, and a drapery-cleaning coupon in the mail.  Oh, and the fact that the Mariner’s won.
The invention exchange begins with Joel and the bots showing and telling about the FAMILY REUNION SEE & SAY.  Pull the string and it will land on any dysfunctional relative present at many family reunions.  This one is a fun one to pull out even at the holidays.  Dr. F.’s exchange (Frank is a model) is called THE DRINKING JACKET with large pockets to “hide the booze”.  It comes complete with the DT’s.  Joel proclaimed it as the “sickest thing they have ever done.”

 Opening scene gets the Gilligan’s Island tag music over the Richard Carlson monologue.  We meet jazz musician Tom Stewart (Carlson) in a lighthouse trying to break up with his blousy EX-girlfriend, Vi (or “SIX” as Joel called her).  Tom is going to marry someone else and Vi is not pleased.  As Tom says “good-bye”, she warns him that she still has his “letters” and will let the NEW girlfriend know about them.  We hear very little detail about these letters; and can only assume that they enclosed the rest of the alpha characters to finish her name.  She does snidely remark about showing the letters to a lawyer.  “Oh, like there’s never been a sex scandal in jazz before” (Servo).  Vi leans back on the rickety lighthouse rails and the junk in her trunk overwhelms it.  She pleads for Tom to save her…but he doesn’t.  “Miss Johnson, send in another fiancĂ©” (Crow).  Next, we see Tom scanning the beach with binoculars.  “ooh gee, she really came apart on the rocks” (Joel).  He spots something and swims out to it.  He brings back what appears to be Vi’s lifeless body.  “Catch a wave, and you’re sittin’ on top of a girl” (Trio).  Immediately she is covered in seaweed.  “EWWW, she’s turning into a Caesar’s salad!”  (Joel).  Next, runs in our Child Irritant of the movie, Susan Gordon as the perky little Sandy.  She squeeks a bunch of annoying questions, and finds a watch in the ocean.  It’s Vi’s.   “And it’s still ticking!  I’m John Cameron Swayze for Timex” (Crow).    Tom takes it from her and rationalizes his actions.  “It’s her OWN fault she died” (Servo).  He decides to re-enter the lighthouse.  “Honey, I’m ho----oh yeah, you’re dead.”  (Crow).   He begins rationalizing more and throws the watch off the top.  He hears footsteps and new girlfriend, Meg, walks up.  Meg suddenly smells perfume…let the haunting begin! 
As the two leave the lighthouse and walk along the beach, the trio begins a running bit of record collections very prominent in the 1970’s.  The commercials would feature many of the Top 40 hits of the day, released under the “Sessions” compilation.  During the movie, they begin with “Sessions Presents” and quickly sing many of the top songs of the day.  This is particularly hilarious to me, as I think I have one or two of those compilation albums in my collection. 
As the two stroll, another set of footsteps follows them and only Tom sees them.   Tom and Meg have a spat.  Tom and Sandy have another irritating scene where Sandy proclaims Tom could marry her if her sister, Meg is still angry.  Tom calls her the “other” woman.  Put her down Jerry Lee.”  (Joel) 

Crow and Servo are talking politics while Joel is cleaning the air duct and removing the Crunch Berries.  Joel falls and pleads for the bots to help him.  The bots negotiate terms.  The bots are hungry and leave Joel hanging.

Tom Stewart is practicing at the piano.  Suddenly one of Vi’s records, the aptly named TORMENTED, starts playing.  After picking up and moving it from the record player, it begins playing again.  “Alright, Allen Funt, where are you?”  (Joel).  Enter the blind landlady, Mrs. Ellis.  She spins tales of other haunting.  “Their dog piddled on the carpet and I evicted them.”  (Servo).  Mrs. Ellis knows something is bothering Tom.  That night, Tom is restless and has nightmares.  “I pledge allegiance to the flag, hallowed be thy name” (Crow).  Vi’s ghost appears...and is TORMENTING him.    “I’ve got a headache this big and it’s got Bert I. Gordon written all over it” (Joel).  Tom wakes up.  “Damn!  I’m STILL a crappy musician” (Servo).  Tom runs out to the lighthouse.  Loud jazzy, orchestra music plays.  “Nelson Riddle, keep it DOWN!”  (Servo).  Tom recites his “I’m-not-scared-of-you” speech.  He makes his way to the piano again.  “Of all the lighthouses in the world, she had to fall off of mine” (Crow as Bogart).  Sandy enters his apartment, Tom promptly offers Coke in the fridge.  “And there’s a mirror on the table” (Servo).  Tom Stewart wants Sandy to help mend things with Meg.  Sandy plays “Chopsticks” and proclaims she’d get married tomorrow if she could meet someone like Tom.  Vi’s HAND floats through the air.  “The ghost of Senor Wencis.”  (Servo).   Tom freaks out and sends Sandy on her way.
Tom and Meg make up.  This scene is so long, the trio could rip about a half-dozen songs into the segment.  Meg makes post-wedding plans but she wants Tom to see her wedding gown.

The trio decides to plummet singers to their death by dropping them off the top of a lighthouse:  Kenny Rogers, Loggins & Messina, Dr. Hook, Jonathon Edwards, Michael Bolton, The Manhattan Transfer, Starland Vocal Band, Anne Murray are all victims. 

Tom and Meg see all the wedding gifts.  Vi comes a haunting.  Crow begins a Sandy tantrum.  The grown-ups drink.  MEG SCREAMS as her dress is covered in seaweed.  Next day, Mrs. Ellis brings Tom honey “OR it might be motor oil” (Crow).  Tom begins to partially tell his story.  SANDY INTERRUPTS AGAIN...  Mrs.  Ellis leaves.  “Ann B. Davis as Mrs. Longstreet” (Joel).  Mrs. Ellis decides to go into the lighthouse and begins conversing with Vi.  “Better unpack another body bag” (Joel).  She pleads with Vi to leave Tom alone.  Vi is having none of it.  This place sounds real nice; I love what I think you’ve done with it” (Crow).  Mrs. Ellis has a near tragedy at the top of the lighthouse.  “Yeah the dog is downstairs checking the want ads” (Joel). 
Meg’s father comes home.  He starts ragging on Tom.  Next scene has Sandy squeaking for Tom at the lighthouse.  “She sounds like a baby seal” (Joel) “It’s the Gorton’s Fisherman's babies” (Servo).  Sandy is interrupted by the boat captain (aka Nick, the Blackmailer) that brought Vi over.  He begins interrogating him about Tom.  “MMMM...my memory is a little fuzzy; grease my palm with a sawbuck.”  (Crow).
Nick finds Tom and begins his beatnik blackmail routine.  Tom pleads ignorance.  He wants his bread.  For those of you born after 1980, that means “money”.  Tom pays him off to get him to leave.
Mrs.  Ellis heads to an outdoor restaurant and Sandy is there.  Mrs. Ellis orders egg salad but says there are no eggs because the hen stopped lying.  That happened the last time someone died.   “PLOT POINT PLOT POINT PLOT POINT” (Trio).  They begin talking about the wedding and Nick shows up.  He crashes the rehearsal and demands more money.  “Seems like a really nice guy, just wish he wasn’t blackmailing me” (Joel).
The next scene brings us to the pre-wedding party.  Vi haunts this too.  He sees Sandy wearing Vi’s watch; Tom gets paranoid.  A photographer begins taking pictures.  Vi’s head shows up in one of them.  Tom freaks out.  “Well the camera DOES add ten pounds” (Servo).  Meg wants to see the picture; Vi has disappeared.  After the party Meg and Sandy engage in sister talk.  “He imagines things that are not so.”  “Oh like Macbeth” (Servo).
Next day, To m is at the piano.  “I write the songs that make the something-something” (Servo).  Vi comes to visit.  Well, her head anyway.  “Wow you’ve lost a lot of weight” (Servo).  She starts guilt talk about her death.  “Well, they have nice hairstylists in the after-life” (Servo).  Vi chants the tag line and stinger for the movie:

Tom wraps her head in a towel and goes outside.  He drops it down the outer steps and it rolls to Nick’s feet.

Tom and Crow’s heads are on the counter.  Gypsy screams.  The bots chant, “JOEL ROBINSON KILLED US!”  The bots claim they are dead, but Joel is having none of it.  Joel takes their bodies offstage, and Crow and Servo bicker amongst themselves. 

Joel reassembles the bots and they re-enter the theater.  The blackmailing scheme is still going.  “Welcome to dialogue dumping ground” (Crow).    Meg sees them walking to the lighthouse.  Nick wants “FIVE THOU”.  “-sand dollars” (Joel).  Vi tells Tom to kill Nick.   “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks.  I do, I do, I do.”  (Servo).  Tom says he will not pay him…then Tom hits Nick over the head.  “Either this guy is dead or my watch has stopped” (Servo).   Tom did not know his “little conscience” (Sandy) was at the top of the lighthouse stairs and knows everything.  “Jim Henson’s Witness Babies” (Joel).
Sandy is moping while everyone is getting ready for the nuptials.  We switch to the church and Tom is in a tempered freakout mode as Sandy walks in.  “You can buy my silence, Tom” (Crow).  Organ music commences.  “And once again, there is NO SMOKING in your Metrodome” (Crow).  The minister (played by MSTie favorite, Merritt Stone) is padding his part.  Vi enters with a vengeance; flowers die.  “EWW, B.O.”  (Joel)  “Whew I would hate to have to sit down next to that ghost” (Crow).  Tom heads back to the lighthouse.  “Open the door for your Mystery Date” (Servo).  Sandy follows him and accuses him.  “I’m wearing a wire, Tom” (Crow).  “You’re gonna fry Stewart, and I’m going to be there to flip the switch” (Crow).  “Sandy, how would you like to bungee jump without the bungee” (Crow).  “Look, Tom, I’ve gotta friend in the D.A.’s office.  If I don’t show up, they check the lunchbox” (Crow).
Meg’s family decides that the missing Sandy must’ve gone to the lighthouse.  Tom escorts Sandy up the lighthouse stairs.  “Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO babies” (Servo).  “Look, if I disappear, there’s a crayon drawing going to my lawyer” (Crow).  Vi is lurking and scares Tom off the rails.  Sandy screams.  “Sessions Presents FACES of DEATH” (Servo).  Both bodies wash up.  The END.  “OR IS IT” (Joel).

The trio recites, “It’s only a movie”…and start crying over how bad the movie was.  They start thinking of good things, especially Lysol.  They start singing a “happy song”.  TV’s Frank starts singing the happy song as well, but he’s singing about Dr. F.’s death and how he will be friends with the bots.  Dr. Forrester drops a grenade.  “POOPIE” (Frank).  Explosion.

This movie is for everyone:  horror movie fan, love story fan, music fan, beach fan.  This is one of the BEST bad movies you will ever see….OR NOT.  This movie is available through Netflix Instant stream and mailer.  Gather friends and be TORMENTed together.

Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: THE NANNY


Year of Release—Film:  1965

There is something wrong in the Fane household.  The family consists of "Virgie" Fane (Wendy Craig), the mother, Bill Fane (James Villiers), the father, with Joey Fane (William Dix) as their 11-year-old son and Suzy (Angharad Aubrey) as the drowned baby sister.  Oh, and we mustn't forget one other "family member,” longtime Nanny (Bette Davis).  Little Joey has just returned home from confinement in a treatment center for the criminally insane where he was sent two years previously, when he was charged in the bathtub drowning of his little sister.  However, Joey insists it was not he who drowned Suzy but Nanny.  However his weak-willed and infantile mother refuses to believe him, insisting that their loyal Nanny couldn’t be the villain when she's been lovingly taking care of the Fane family for years.  The emotionally devoid Bill Fane, a Queen's Messenger, can't be bothered to sort all this out, as his mind is on business alone.  And, Nanny, quietly and efficiently goes about the business of running the Fane household, even fixing up the spare bedroom for young Master Joey's return.  However, Joey refuses to sleep there, insisting on taking the smaller bedroom.  The one with locks on the door and a window fire escape.  And, as it turns out, he may have had a good reason to fear Nanny.
Joey meets a teenage girl, nymphet Bobbie (Pamela Franklin), who lives one floor up in the apartment building and he tries to convince her that Nanny is trying to kill him.  At first, she doesn't believe him but later, when Joey shows up wet and wrapped only in a bath towel and tells her Nanny tried to drown him, she begins to believe his stories.  One evening, while the father is out of town on business, Virgie is poisoned by Nanny's cooking and hospitalized.  Nanny insists it was Joey who poisoned the food.  After all, wasn't Joey the one who stole Nanny's pills!?!  Enter earthy but ill Aunt Pen (Jill Bennett), whose rheumatic heart condition cannot tolerate any excitement.  Surely, she will believe Joey's claims that Nanny is evil and must be stopped!  While Aunt Pen is certainly no fan of Nanny, she, along with Virgie, was raised by her and knows that Nanny would never hurt the family.  Or would she?

Callous Joey is a very antisocial boy, always skulking about and threatening to "do something" if he cannot have his way.  His favorite hobby and only talent is tying a hangman's noose.  He refuses to eat anything Nanny has prepared, fearing she may poison him.  Now, with the father and mother both absent from the house and Joey and Nanny both convinced that the other one is the killer, the final and possibly fatal face-off begins.

THE NANNY was Bette Davis' first film after the successful HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), which garnered $7 million at the box office.  However, unlike her insane shrieking as the title character in HUSH HUSH, Bette's performance in THE NANNY is clinical and efficient as she almost robotically goes about her chores.  Bette is restrained in her role as the emotionally vacant Nanny, at times letting her eyes do the acting rather than through dialogue.  She and young William Dix as Joey play off each other effectively well.  Empathizing classic mystery and suspense over cheap gore, THE NANNY director Seth Holt slowly and steadily filled viewers with growing tension by utilizing low-angle camera shots in ever-so-slightly distorted angles.  The musical score by Richard Rodney Bennett is kept to a minimum except during times of extreme action and/ or suspense.  The pacing felt more stacked than blended, a feeling that no doubt had something to do with director Holt's editing skills.

William Dix comes across as cold and detached rather than just bratty and the viewer feels his fear.  Tiny moppet Angharad Aubrey is adorable as Suzy in the flashback scenes!  I'm surprised that this is her only movie!  Jill Bennett was highly convincing as Aunt Pen, coming across as more well grounded in reality than both the father and mother.  Her death scene was brilliantly acted and convincing!  The one weak performance was by Wendy Craig as Virgie.  She comes across as hysterical and profoundly helpless, lying about in bed, drenched in tears 90% of the time.  James Villiers comes across as a cipher.  But, it is Bette who OWNS this movie!  After witnessing the cold, unfeeling machinations of this Nanny, you'll forget the warm fuzzies of MARY POPPINS and MRS. DOUBTFIRE and purchase a teddy-cam for your nursery!

[Jimmy Sangster, who produced THE NANNY and wrote the screenplay for it, died 19 August at age 83.  He was one of the founding fathers, along with men like Terence Fisher, Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds, Jack Asher, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee, of the famed Hammer ‘House of Horror’.  Among his later works are Circle of Fear (1973 TV series) and movies WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO (1972/ TV), SCREAM PRETTY PEGGY (1973/ TV) and THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970).  He will be missed.]

Enjoy!  Or not!


Bobbie's Movies to Look For: TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL

Title:  TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL

Year of Release—Film:  2010

Two hillbilly rednecks, best friends Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) finally realize their life-long dream of owning a summer cabin up in the woods where they can drink beer and fish to their heart's content.  Stopping at a local gas station/general store, Tucker buys hardware and tools (ax, nail gun and nails, a scythe, hammers, chainsaw etc) while Dale spots a lovely collage girl who, along with her uppity college friends, are planning a weekend get-away in the very same woods.  Terrified of girls but encouraged by Tucker, Dale makes the worst first impression ever, causing the spooked collage kids to flee.  Unperturbed, Tucker and Dale continue on to their cabin.  Declaring the decrepit fixer-upper shack to be "Perfect!  Just needs a little dusting,” Tucker and Dale decide to do some night fishing.  Meanwhile, the snooty college kids decide to go skinny-dipping.  As the lovely college girl, Allison (Katrina Bowden) strips, she sees Tucker and Dale who are spying on her and she falls into the water, knocking herself unconscious.  Dale jumps in after her and, as Tucker pulls them both back into the boat, he yells "We got your friend" to her startled friends, who skedaddle in terror.  Murderous hillbillies have our friend!  What should we do!?!  Obnoxious, preppy Chad (Jesse Moss), who wants the lovely but dismissive Allison all to himself, decides they must rescue her at all costs.  Sending one of them back to town to get the sheriff (Phillip Granger), Chad attempts to organize the rest in an onslaught to save Allison.
By now, all of you hillbilly horror fans are thinking "Yeah, nothing we haven't seen before" and rolling your eyes.  Murderous hillbillies have been standard horror fare since the last dying banjo notes of DELIVERANCE (1972).  Mutant hillbillies in THE HILLS HAVE EYES.  Inbred hillbillies who live off the forest and the occasional and unlucky traveler in WRONG TURN.  The tribe of wild men living in the woods who take exception to intruders by slaughtering them in RITUALS.  But, with TUCKER AND DALE vs. EVIL, you'd be wrong.  Dead wrong.  Allow me to continue!

Bandaged Allison wakes up the next morning to see an ugly dog staring up at her and yawning.  Suddenly, the bedroom door opens and in walks Dale, carrying a breakfast tray.  Allison begins screaming, startling Dale who says "It's the pancakes!  She doesn't like pancakes!" and he leaves, slamming the door behind him.  A few minutes later, he returns with bacon and eggs.  Allison asks why she's here and Dale explains and they make each other acquaintance while playing a game of Trivial Pursuit, during which Dale shows surprising intellect and knowledge.  Meanwhile, outside the cabin, Tucker goes about his clean up by chainsawing into some fallen logs, one of which contains a beehive.  Unknown to Tucker, one of the college boys trying to rescue Allison is sneaking up behind him.  Badly bee-stung, Tucker, chainsaw still in hand, begins yelling and running.  The boy likewise begins yelling and running, thinking Tucker is out to do a Leatherface number on him.  He's wrong.  Dead wrong.

And so the deadly dance begins.  The college kids have the preconceived notion that all hillbillies must be ignorant, deadly backwoods killers bent on protecting their land from intruders.  And while Tucker and Dale aren't the sharpest tools in the shed, they come to the realization that the college kids have joined a suicide pact and that this must be the reason that they are killing themselves all over their new summer vacation home property!  The most hilarious part is there is no "bad thing" here.  The kids all off themselves through either their own stupidity or miscommunication.  All the gore that follows during that one bloody night is brought on by the notion that they must rescue Allison from the "bad guys.”  When in fact, Tucker and Dale are pleasant and polite, if not very smart, men who just want to go fishing and drink PBR.  But, frat-brat Chad is determined rescue Allie even if he has to kill her doing it.

Director Eli Craig, whose only claim to fame up to this point is being the youngest son of actress Sally Field, get his directorial debut with this highly entertaining hillbilly movie that knocks the Hick genre film a full 180 degrees.  He, along with co-writer Morgan Jurgenson, employ many horror and thriller film references (FRIDAY THE 13th, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, FARGO) in this inventive script.  Labine and Tudyk are uproarishly hilarious as the bumbling country bumpkins.  Katrina Bowden as the lovely Allie, upon whom Dale has a serious crush, is compelling in her role as the sweet but at-first confused damsel in distress.  But it's not her distress but that of the preppy-turned-Rambo Chad that drives the bloody gore.  The rest of the cast were more or less disposable characters, as well they should be.  After all, aren't all college kids, bimbos and minorities disposable in the horror-gore genre?  Cinematographer David Geddes handles the tight interiors spaces of the shanty and the college kids van with inventive style and the exterior shots, supposedly set in West Virginia's Appalachians but actually filmed in Alberta, Canada, are skillfully done.
Set to be shown in limited theatrical locations beginning Sept 30 and currently available on Video on Demand, this comedy-horror film deserves an official DVD release.  And although I am including a youtube link to the official Redband trailer, I caution those who are planning on seeing TUCKER AND DALE vs. EVIL to refrain from clicking on it because the trailer shows most of the sight gags that make it work so well.  TUCKER AND DALE vs. EVIL will kill 'em with comedy!



What is our Continuing Fascination with 112 Ocean Avenue?

The facts in the case are well-known and deceptively simple:  On November 13th, 1974, a young man named Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. murdered his father, mother, two sisters, and two brothers in their sleep.  Whether or not he acted alone, whether or not there were demonic voices urging him to act, whether or not he was sane at the time, all are matters of conjecture and dispute.  What can’t be disputed is that these events led to something that has had a grip on the imagination of horror fans for over thirty years.  While the DeFeo name, or even the address of the home in which the family perished (112 Ocean Avenue) might not shed any light, the name of the small town in which they lived and died will instantly bring it into sharp focus:  Amityville, New York.

The transformation of the 1925 three-story Dutch Colonial house, from family home / crime scene, to one of the most recognizable “characters” in Horror, began in December, 1975, when George and Kathy Lutz, with their children, moved into the DeFeo home.  Within a month they had abandoned it, and two years later had written a book with Jay Anson purporting to recount their experiences in the home.

Though the book was later dismissed as an admitted hoax, it spawned a movie franchise that, to date, has given us more sequels than either Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers, and almost as many as Jason Voorhees.  THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, released in 1979 starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder as the Lutz’s, was enormously successful, ultimately earning over $86 Million at the box-office.

Three years later, AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION took a closer look at the DeFeo murders, though fictionalized to the point of being unrecognizable.  This was followed by a third theatrical release in 1983, and a string of forgettable, Straight-to-Video sequels that gave us everything from a demonic dollhouse to a possessed clock.  Finally, in 2005, the original was remade by Andrew Douglas, from an adaptation of the Anson novel by Scott Kosar.

Why are we still fascinated by this house and the fictional events associated with it, thirty-seven years after the far more shocking and horrifying murders that first brought it to national attention?  Why is the original still considered one of the most important Horror Films of the 1970’s?  And why, after nine separate film iterations of the basic Amityville story has the truly fascinating, truly frightening story of the DeFeo family received such short shrift?  I have no idea.

The 1979 original, directed by Stuart Rosenberg from a script by Sandor Stern, is an interesting look at the events that were later demonstrated to be a hoax, but as a Horror Film, it was weak and ineffective, totally failing to capture the psychological impact of Jay Anson’s book.  And as for the sequels, they deserve scant mention.  While “Two” wasn’t terrible, neither was it a good movie.  And the remainder of the series was execrable.  Possessed clocks, mirrors, and dollhouses were foisted on the movie-going (actually “-renting”…) public, all bearing no relation whatsoever to the original film, and even less to the truth behind Anson’s novel.

The true story of the DeFeo murders is a intriguing, disturbing look inside the All-American family, a family that, at it’s core, was in all probability deeply dysfunctional.  The events of the 13th of November, 1974 weren’t the beginning of the DeFeo family’s troubles; they couldn’t have been.  Rather, it was the end product of… something.  Just what is still a matter of debate, but it’s difficult to believe that any young man, even one addicted to drugs, would viciously slaughter his entire family without some prior history of abuse, without some motivation other than simply being “pissed off …”

Though several books, most recently Ric Osuna’s “The Night the DeFeos Died”, have put forth various theories about the murders, including Anson’s recounting of the “possession” defense used at Butch DeFeo’s trial, none are totally satisfactory, and all have holes that provide fuel to the growing controversy over the deaths.  In my opinion, this would be much more fertile ground for a movie than yet another AMITYVILLE sequel.  What would be next, AMITYVILLE 9:  SATAN’S MICROWAVE??

What happened on that night, thirty-seven years ago?  What could drive Butch DeFeo to murder six people; not strangers, but his intimate family?  How could one individual shoot six people, in four separate bedrooms, with a high-powered rifle without any evidence that they were aware that they were being murdered?  I don’t know.  But I would very much like to.

I’d like to know just what occurred to push the home of an “All-American” family from obscurity into the national spotlight.  I’d like to know what made Butch decide that he had had enough of whatever dysfunction must have permeated that house.  I want to know why Ronald, Louise, Dawn, Allison, John, and Marc had to die.  Keep the haunted clocks and mirrors; the truth is far more frightening.



Year of Release—Film:  1981

Year of Release—DVD:  2004

DVD Label:  Universal Studios Home Entertainment

One of the best pure Ghost movies I’ve ever seen, perhaps the best ever next to THE SIXTH SENSE, John Irvin’s 1981 film GHOST STORY is a film that I keep returning to, time after time.  Working from a dark, suspenseful, truly frightening script (based on the novel by Peter Straub), and blessed with a cast composed of a Hollywood Who’s Who list, Irvin managed to construct a tale of supernatural revenge that holds up as well on it’s tenth viewing as on it’s first.

Starring four of the greatest performers of their generation—Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglas, and John Houseman—this is a story of four elderly men, and the secret that has tied them together for more than fifty years.  Referring to themselves as the “Chowder Society,” they meet regularly to tell each other ghost stories, each trying to top the others.  However, the sudden death of the son of one of the quartet begins an increasingly horrific descent into their own ghost story … one that they may not survive.

As I stated, this cast is composed of some of the greatest actors of their generation, and even if they were past their prime, they still had more talent at their command than half the films released last year—combined.  While Fred Astaire is remembered mainly for his musicals with dance partner Ginger Rogers, he was possessed of some serious acting chops as well.  His body of work included both dramatic and comedic roles, and this film gave him the opportunity to flex those dramatic muscles.  John Houseman’s performance is equally rich and layered, as Sears James, the de facto head of the Chowder Society.  His natural arrogance makes an excellent counterpoint to Astaire’s good-natured down-home character.  Fairbanks and Douglas are good in supporting roles, Fairbanks as the father of two sons, both portrayed by Craig Wassoon, both of whom fall under the spell of the beautiful Alma Mobley, played perfectly by Alice Krige.

John Irvin’s direction is competent and steady; not brilliant, but he patiently lets the suspense build throughout the film, never revealing too much.  The only letdown in the film is the climax, which in my opinion was a poor concept, poorly executed.  But any dissatisfaction I might have with the last three minutes of the film does nothing to change the film’s status as one of my favorite movies, nor should it keep you from enjoying it.

The disc is a fine example of the quality that Universal usually invests in it’s DVD releases.  The audio and video quality is superb, especially when compared to my antique VHS copy of the film.  Subtitles are, as always, a much-appreciated bonus for the Unimonster, and this disc is no exception.  Overall, it’s a wonderful presentation.

The only weakness of this DVD is the total lack of special features.  While that would be acceptable on an ordinary film’s DVD release, it simply is not on a film of this quality, with this much talent connected to it.  Not even a commentary track, when there are so many anecdotes that must exist regarding the four lead actors.  200+ years of acting experience; are you telling me no one’s still around who was impressed enough to have tales to tell?

While THE SIXTH SENSE is undoubtedly the best ghost film ever, at least on the first viewing, the fact that so much of it’s impact is predicated on the extraordinary twist ending does affect the subsequent viewing of the movie.  As someone who will watch a favored film repeatedly, I find that my opinion of it has altered somewhat.  GHOST STORY has no such inherent weakness; it’s as powerful on it’s fifth viewing as on it’s first.

This DVD is a bargain offering from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, with a list price of $14.98.  Still you can find it cheaper, particularly from DeepDiscount.com.  At any rate, you owe it to yourself to see this film, and you may find that it’s your favorite ghost film, too.