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CHUD Challenge: The Last Tycoon (2012)

The Last Tycoon (2012) dir. Jing Wong

Back in the 1910s, when Chen Daqi (Chow-Yun Fat) was just a grocer's assistant, he fell in love with aspiring actress Ye Zhiqiu (Quan Yuan). After Daqi was framed for murder, he had to flee to Shanghai, while Zhiqiu went to Beijing to join the Opera. Daqi was able to get a position with Hong Shou Ting (Sammo Hung), crime lord of Shanghai, and quickly rose in the ranks. Although he did finally come to Beijing to be with Zhiqiu, she proved unable to handle his new violent lifestyle and they wound up marrying other people.

Now it is 1937, and Chen Daqi is on top of the world. He's got wealth, power, connections and a wife who is both hot and loyal. Except that this is 1937 in Shanghai, and the Japanese Army is about to attack. Oh, and Ye Zhiqiu is in town with her husband, who is an intellectual and secretly working for a certain revolutionary group. Daqi's old "friend" General Mao Zai wants a list of the members of the group Zhiqiu's husband supposedly has and pressures Daqi into making a connection. Plus General Nishino pf the Japanese Army would like Daqi's help in subduing anti-Japanese resistance. Now would be a bad time for Daqi's old enemies to resurface.

So naturally they do. Treachery and violence ensues.

This Hong Kong movie is very loosely based on events in the life of real world Shanghai gangster Du Yuesheng. As is common in gangster movies, Chen Daqi is turned into the stereotype of the "honorable" gangster whose illegal activities are confined to fighting and killing other, worse, gangsters. He specifically eschews certain less honorable criminal enterprises his inspiration is known to have heavily indulged in. And once Daqi does move against the Japanese, it's a much more heroic endeavor than the real gangster ever pulled off.

Okay, whitewashing aside, how's the movie? There's some fine acting by Chow-Yun Fat and Sammo Hung, plenty of well-shot violence, and the music's good (one song won Best Original song at the Hong Kong Film Awards.)

I especially liked Hu Gao as Lin Huai, a rival of Chen Daqui that becomes his bodyguard, and explains that his name is written with the characters for "villain." He's a fun person.

Content notes: Implied rape, off-camera torture.

Recommended to Chow-Yun Fat fans who aren't too picky about historical realism.

CHUD Challenge: The Kennel Murder Case

The Kennel Murder Case (1933) dir. Michael Curtiz

With October over, let's take a look at a non-horror film!

Among amateur detective Philo Vance's (William Powell) many interests is his Scottie terrier, Captain. He's entered the purebred canine in the Long Island Kennel Club's dog show. Captain fails to make it into the finals. Vance is philosophical about this, but wealthy boor Archer Coe is disappointed. He'd hoped to lord it over Vance in competition. Archer is much less pleased to be competing against the dog of Sir Thomas MacDonald, love interest of his niece Hilda Lake (Mary Astor). If Hilda gets married, Archer will have to relinquish control of her considerable estate.

But these aren't the only people with a grudge against Archer Coe. His brother Brisbane also hated him for...reasons that are never specified but certainly could turn fratricidal. Archer's Chinese cook Liang is actually an expert on Chinese porcelain, and had helped Archer assemble one of the world's finest collections of that art form through means less than honorable. Liang was angered to learn that Archer planned to sell said collection to a museum in Milan. Eduardo Grassi, the museum's agent, was infuriated when Archer suddenly backed out of the deal because Grassi had been sparking Doris Delafield, Archer's next door neighbor and mistress, who was also dumped. Raymond Wrede, Archer's secretary, also wants to marry Hilda but Archer did not approve, and butler Gamble has a criminal past that Archer might have been blackmailing him over.

So it's no surprise to the audience when bodies start piling up; first Sir Thomas' terrier, then Archer Coe. Archer is found dead in a room locked from the inside, a pistol in his hand. It sure looks like suicide...until Philo Vance suggests the coroner look a little closer. Some alibis are disproven, but the pieces of the puzzle don't seem to fit together until the very end of the film. (And one question is never answered.)

Good: William Powell puts in a fine performance as Philo Vance, thankfully toned down a bit from the books. The mystery is a fun little puzzle box. Etienne Girardot is a delight as the irascible coroner Dr. Doremus, who like Dr. McCoy of Star Trek likes to remind people "I'm a doctor, not a fill in the blank." The cast as a whole is good, and the adorable Captain is kept to a few key scenes.

Less good: Like many series with an amateur detective, the police and district attorney are incompetents who would never be able to solve a mystery without Philo Vance holding their hand the entire time.

Content notes: Violence against dogs. Archer Coe turns out to be one of those people who might admire Chinese art, but is ethnically prejudiced against actual Chinese people who he no longer needs. (James Lee's portrayal of Liang is relatively nuanced for the time period of the movie.)

Overall, this is a fun old movie that I'd recommend to mystery buffs who enjoy cultured amateur detectives.

CHUD Challenge List: November 2019

This is a list of movies I've had lying around for ages and never got around to watching, so I am participating in the CHUD Challenge. A member of the CHUD Buddies community will be picking four of these movies for me to watch during November, and post reviews of same.

The 13th Warrior (1999) dir. John McTiernan
20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End (2008) dir. Yukihiko Tsutsumi
20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope (2009) dir. Yukihiko Tsutsumi
20th Century Boys 3: Redemption (2009) dir. Yukihiko Tsutsumi

Absolution (1978) dir. Anthony Page
Adventures of Gallant Bess (1948) dir. Lew Landers
The Adventures of Rex and Rinty (1935) dir. Ford Beebe
Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls (2008) dir. Mark Atkins
All-Star Superman (2011) dir. Sam Liu
The Amazing Mr. X (1948) Bernard Vorhaus
The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) dir. Edgar G. Ulmer
Angel and the Badman (1947) dir. James Edward Grant
Anna Karenina (1948) dir. Julien Duvivier
The Ape (1940) dir. William Nigh
Apocalypse (1997) dir. Hubert de la Bouillerie
The Armour of God (1986) dir. Jackie Chan
Assassin of Youth (1938) dir. Elmer Clifton
Atom Age Vampire (1960) dir. Anton Giuilo Majano
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) dir. Bernard L. Kowalski
Attack of the Moon Zombies (2011) dir. Christopher R. Mihm
The Avenging Eagle (1978) dir. Chung Sun
Azumi 2 (2005) dir. Shusuke Kaneko

Bangkok Haunted (2001) dir. Oxide Chun Pang
The Bat (1926) dir. Roland West
Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) dir. Rick Morales
Beast from Haunted Cave (1959) dir. Monte Hellman
Beauty and the Beast (1991) dir. Gary Trousdale
The Big Boss (1971) dir. Wei Lo
Black Jack: The Movie (1996) dir. Osamu Dezaki
The Black Room (1935) dir. Roy William Neill
Blood Brothers (?) dir. Chang Cheh
The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962) dir. Joseph Green
Braveheart (1995) dir. Mel Gibson
Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937) dir. James P. Hogan

Captain Kidd (1945) dir. Rowland V. Lee
The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) dir. Jesus Franco
Celtic Thunder: It's Entertainment (2010) dir. Michael Watt
Chained for Life (1951) dir. Harry L. Fraser
Champagne (1928) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) dir. Phil Rosen
Child Bride (1938) dir. Harry Revier
Chocolate (2008) dir. Prachya Pinkaew
Creature (1985) dir. William Malone
Crypt of the Vampire (1964) dir. Camillo Mastrocinque

The Dead Matter (2010) dir. Edward Douglas
Death Wish (1974) dir. Michael Winner
Dementia 13 (1963) dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Devil Girl from Mars (1954) dir. David MacDonald
Diamonds Are Forever (1971) dir. Guy Hamilton
Doctor Strange (2007) dir. Patrick Archibald
Dragon Ball Z: Cooler's Revenge (1991) dir. Mitsuo Hashimoto
Drunken Monkey (2003) dir. Chia-Liang Liu

Earthquake (1974) dir. Mark Robson
Easy Virtue (1926) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
The Egg and I (1947) Chester Erskine
Existenz (1999) dir. David Cronenburg

Father's Little Dividend (1951) dir. Vincente Minelli
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) dir. Hironobu Sakaguchi
Fist of Fury (1972) dir. Wei Lo
Five Deadly Venoms (1978) dir. Cheh Chang
Flash Gordon: Rocketship (1936) dir. Ford Beebe
The Flying Deuces (1939) dir. A. Edward Sutherland
The Flying Scotsman (1929) dir. Castleton Knight
Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974) dir. Dick Randall

Gaslight (1940) dir. Thorold Dickinson
The General (1936) dir. Clyde Bruckman (1)
The Giant of Marathon (1959) dir. Jacques Tourneur
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) dir. Mamoru Hosoda
Goldfinger (1964) dir. Guy Hamilton
Great American West (1973) dir. Denis Sanders
The Great Escape (1963) dir. John Sturges
Green Lantern: First Flight (2009) Dir. Lauren Montgomery

Hanna (2011) dir. Joe Wright
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) dir. Chris Columbus
The Hasty Heart (1949) dir. Vincent Sherman
Hollywood Safari (1997) dir. Henri Charr
Horror Hotel (1960) dir. John Llewellyn Moxey

The Incredibles (2004) dir. Brad Bird
Inuyasha the Movie 2: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass (2002) dir. Toshiya Shinohara

The Jade Mask (1945) dir. Phil Rosen
Jailhouse Rock (1957) dir. Richard Thorpe
Jaws (1975) dir. Steven Spielberg
Jodhaa Akbar (2008) dir. Ashutosh Gowariker
Juggernaut (1936) dir. Henry Edwards
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010) dir. Sam Liu
Justice League Doom (2012) dir. Lauren Montgomery
Justice League vs. the Fatal Five (2019) dir. Wes Gleason

Key Largo (1948) dir. John Huston
Kitaro (2007) dir. Katsuhide Motoki
Kunpan: Legend of the Warlord (2002) dir. Tanit Jitnukul

The Land that Time Forgot (2009) dir. C. Thomas Howell
The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) dir. Richard Brooks
Law of the Wild (1934) dir. B. Reeves Eason
Legend of the Red Dragon (1994) dir. Jing Wong
Let the Right One In (2008) dir. Tomas Alfredson (2)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) dir. Peter Jackson
Lost Canyon (1942) dir. Lesley Selander

Ma and Pa Kettle (1949) dir. Charles Lamont
Mad Ron's Prevues from Hell (1987) dir. Jim Monaco
Mamma Mia! The Movie (2008) dir. Phyllida Lloyd
The Man They Could Not Hang (1939) dir. Nick Grinde
The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) dir. RZA
Martial Angels (2001) dir. Clarence Ford
Maze (1996) dir. Atsushi Aono
Meera (1992) dir. P.C. Sreeram
Meeting at Midnight (1944) dir. Phil Rosen
Metropolis (1927) dir. Fritz Lang
Metropolis (2001) dir. Rintaro
Militant Eagle (1978) dir. Chia Chih Li
The Milky Way (1936) dir. Leo McCarey
Monster from Green Hell (1957) dir. Kenneth G. Crane
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) dir. Terry Gilliam

Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (2004) dir. Tensai Okamura
Naruto the Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom (2006) dir. Toshiyuki Tsuru

One-Eyed Jacks (1961) dir. Marlon Brando
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003) dir. Prachya Pinkaew
Outlaws of the Desert (1941) dir. Howard Bretherton
The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969) dir. Jean Yarbrough

Paradise Canyon (1935) dir. Carl Pierson
The Plague of the Zombies (1966) dir. John Gilling
Pokemon: Mewtwo Returns (2000) dir. Matsamitsu Hidaka
Ponyo (2008) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Princess Mononoke (1997) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Prodigal Boxer (?) dir. Unknown, stars Fei Meng
Project A (1983) dir. Jackie Chan

Rage at Dawn (1955) dir. Tim Whelan
Ready Player One (2018) dir. Steven Spielberg
Return of the Evil Fox (1991) dir. George Leung
The Return of the Five Deadly Venoms (1978) dir. Cheh Chang
Return of the Fly (1959) dir. Edward Bernds

Samurai Princess (2009) dir. Kengo Kaji
Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) dir. Allan Dwan
The Scarlet Clue (1945) dir. Phil Rosen
Secret of the Andes (1998) dir. Alejandro Azzano
Serenity (2005) dir. Joss Whedon
The Seven Samurai (1954) dir. Akira Kurosawa
Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990) dir. Michael Herz
The Shanghai Cobra (1945) dir. Phil Karlson
Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962) dir. Terence Fisher
The Shooting (1966) dir. Monte Hellman
Snake Girl and the Silver Haired Witch (1968) dir. Noriaki Yuasa
The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) dir. Henry King
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) dir. William Cottrell
Spy Smasher (1942) dir. William Witney
Summer Wars (2009) dir. Mamoru Hosoda
Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) dir. Terence Fisher

Tales from the East (unknown) dir. Manfred Wong
Tales of Terror (1962) dir. Roger Corman (3)
Tarzan and the Trappers (1958) dir. Charles F. Haas
Tears of the Black Tiger (2000) dir. Wisit Sasanatieng
Terror by Night (1946) dir. Roy William Neill
Tulsa (1949) dir. Stuart Heisler

Volcano High (2001) dir. Tae-gyun Kim
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) dir. Peter Bogdanovich

The War of the Worlds (1953) dir. Byron Haskin
Weird Woman (1944) dir. Reginald Le Borg
When Worlds Collide (1951) dir. Rudolph Mate
White Comanche (1967) dir. Gilbert Kay
Wildfire (1945) dir. Robert Emmett Tansey
Winds of the Wasteland (1936) dir. Mack Wright
Wonder Woman (2009) dir. Lauren Montgomery
Zebraman (2009) dir. Takashi Miike

Why, yes, most of these are from discount bins, why do you ask?

Previous Challenge movies:
Big Trouble in Little China (1986) dir. John Carpenter
Blackmail (1929) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Carnival of Souls (1962) dir. Herk Harvey
Chamber of Horrors (1940) dir. Norman Lee
The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (2006) dir. Russell Mulcahy
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) dir. Robert Wise
Dead-Alive (1992) dir. Peter Jackson
Electric Dragon 80,000 V (2001) dir. Gakuryu Ishii
Excalibur (1981) dir. John Boorman
The Fly (1958) dir. Kurt Neumann
House on Haunted Hill (1959) dir. William Castle
The Kennel Murder Case (1933) dir. Michael Curtiz
The Last Man on Earth (1960) dir. Sidney Saikow
The Last Tycoon (2012) dir. Jing Wong
Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983) dir. Kinji Fukasaku

Night of the Living Dead (1968) dir. George A. Romero
Operation Condor (1991) dir. Jackie Chan
Star Trek (2009) dir. J.J. Abrams
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) dir. Isao Takahata
Tales from Earthsea (2006) dir. Goro Miyazaki
Tarzan the Fearless (1933) dir. Robert F. Hill
Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) dir. Hideo Gosha
Twice-Told Tales (1963) dir. Sidney Salkow
White Zombie (1932) dir. Victor Halperin

CHUD Challenge: White Zombie

White Zombie (1932) dir. by Victor Halperin

Madeleine Short has come to Haiti to join her fiance Neil Parker. On the ship over, she met plantation owner Charles Beaumont, who shortly became her very good friend. Mr. Beaumont offers his fancy mansion as the site of the young couple's wedding, and is so taken with Neil that he offers to appoint the young man as his agent in New York City. What a nice man! Of course, if you've seen any of the advertising for this film, you know it's a horror movie so something must be wrong.

Neil hasn't been at his bank job in Port au Prince very long, so he's not conversant with the native customs. He and Madeleine are baffled when their coach has to stop for a burial ceremony being performed in the middle of the road. A bit later, the driver stops to ask directions of a man with intense eyes (Bela Lugosi), who grasps Madeleine's scarf. When the driver sees who's with the man, he immediately starts the coach rolling again. He warns the young couple of the living dead. "Zombies!" The driver dumps them at the Beaumont plantation entrance.

The couple are startled by a figure coming out of the dark, but it is only Dr. Bruner, a local missionary who's been summoned to perform the wedding ceremony. Dr. Bruner may be a little scatter-brained, but he knows Beaumont is not the type to be so generous to strangers, and wonders what the catch is.

The catch is that Charles Beaumont has fallen in love with Madeleine himself, and is determined to have her. Thus he is willing to make a cruel bargain with "Murder" Legendre, the man with the intense eyes and owner of the local sugar mill. Beaumont's initial plan is to turn Neil over to Legendre to make vanish, on the assumption that he will then be able to seduce Madeleine. Legendre, who claims the ability to read people's minds by looking in their eyes, assures Beaumont that this plan will not work. He counter-proposes turning Madeleine into an obedient zombie who will possess all her beauty but none of that pesky free will.

Beaumont tries one last time to change Madeleine's mind, but in the end feels he has to administer a drug that in combination with Legendre's voodoo powers will put her in a cataleptic trance. Once Neil is convinced his wife is dead, Legendre can raise the woman to be Beaumont's lover.

This was the first feature-length Hollywood zombie movie, loosely inspired by a 1929 book about Haiti's customs and superstitions. As such, it became influential in how Haiti, voodoo and zombies were depicted for years. Pity that it didn't try very hard for accuracy on that first one.

Good: Legendre gets just enough exploration that we can get a feel for where he's coming from without ever losing track of the fact that he's a villain. "Murder" is a man of humble origins who has used cleverness, treachery and uncanny abilities to turn his enemies into his slaves and assume a position of relative wealth and power. He enjoys humbling those who have looked down on him. Despite some handwaving about the drug used to induce catalepsy, it's clear that Legendre has actual supernatural powers of some sort, being able to open doors without touching them, and direct the zombies without verbal or physical commands.

By comparison, Beaumont is just a privileged white dude who thinks his wants are actual needs.

The most horrifying scene is early on, as one of the sugar mill workers stumbles into the grinder and is (offscreen) ground up, without a sound or reaction from any of the other workers, because they're all zombies.

Less good: The director wasn't used to the new sound era, and some of the cinematography shows this, with odd wipes and staging. And of course there's the whole thing with stereotyping Haitians. Some bits of the plot get a bit incoherent (like, how did the two maids get from Beaumont's house to Legendre's?)

Content notes: This is a pre-Code film, and there's a naughty shot of the bride to be in her lingerie. Also Beaumont is at one point reasonably willing to have non-consensual sex with Madeleine, but changes his mind after she's been zombified.

Overall: A bit creaky and showing its age, but a fine performance by Lugosi and at a little over an hour won't feel like a waste of time, excellent for double features!

CHUD Challenge: Tales of Terror (1962)

Tales of Terror (1962) dir. Roger Corman

This trilogy of scary stories was loosely adapted from the work of Edgar Allen Poe by Richard Matheson. By now, Roger Corman and Vincent Price were a practiced team at these adaptations.

In "Morella", Price plays "Locke", a widower who has spent the last 26 years obsessively mourning his wife Morella, even keeping her well-preserved corpse in their old bedroom. Their daughter Lorena (Maggie Smith) unexpectedly arrives to spend some time with her estranged father on the grounds that she's terminally ill.

It turns out that the birth went badly, injuring Morella. When she overexerted herself a few months later, Morella died cursing the child for doing this to her. Locke also blamed the baby, and had Lorena banished. But now that she's arrived, and time is running out, Locke realizes that his actions were unjust and decides to reconcile with his daughter.

Of course, this is a horror movie, so a happy ending isn't in the works.

"Black Cat" combines the Poe stories "The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado." Peter Lorre plays Montresor, an unemployed sot who bullies his wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson) for the few pennies she earns sewing so that he can spend all night drinking wine. He also hates her pet cat. One night, Montresor gets in a wine-tasting contest with connoisseur Fortunato (Price) and holds his own thanks to his practical experience despite his habit of drinking the entire glass rather than just tasting.

Fortunato assists Montresor home, and is introduced to the lovely Annabel and her darling black cat. After that, Montresor doesn't get arguments about the money he spends drinking as long as he goes out of the house to do it. But eventually, he catches on....

The wine-tasting scene is classic comedy, and there's some interesting camera tricks during Montresor's drunken hallucinations.

"The Case of M. Valdemar" rounds out the movie with Valdemar (Price) as an elderly man dying of a painful brain ailment. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) is a mesmerist who has had some success easing the pain through the use of hypnosis. Carmichael has gotten M. Valdemar's permission to hypnotize him at the very point of death, to see how long a person can be kept in an undying state. The answer is "a surprisingly long time." The film adds a more sinister ulterior motive to Carmichael's actions which makes for a more cinematic conclusion.

Mr. Price is also the narrator who links the stories.

"Morella" requires a bit of thinking to understand why the climax turns out the way it does. "The Black Cat" is the strongest sequence on its own, but younger viewers might find the dream sequence special effects offputting. "M. Valdemar" has the best suspense.

The color is lush and allows the settings to pop (but it's very obvious they are sets.)

Recommended for horror fans who enjoy some humor with their scares, and fans of the various stars.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) dir. by George Romero

Daylight Savings Time can screw with your head. Here it is, already 8 P.M. and it's still daylight. Even so, this old graveyard in rural Pennsylvania (about 200 miles from Pittsburgh) is plenty spooky. Johnny teases his sister Barbra about her childhood fears that the dead would rise and attack her. "They're coming to get you, Barbraaa." Except that this time, "they" really are coming to get Barbra.

This was the directorial debut of George Romero, and is an excellent example of how to use a tiny budget to make an effective movie. Local actors, black and white film, limited locations, production crew also having bit parts, all contribute to a economical movie. And saving special effects for when they were absolutely needed made the story just that much scarier.

Johnny dies fighting off a shambling (but fast shambling) attacker to protect Barbra, who manages to get to the foot of the hill before crashing the car. From there, she manages to find an apparently abandoned farm house. Inside, she's repeatedly startled, including by the partially skeletonized corpse of the previous occupant. More of the "creatures" are outside, and only the appearance of Ben (Duane Jones) saves her from a grisly death for now. Ben's a man of action, and soon hatches the idea of barricading the farmhouse until rescue can arrive. The radio gives some clues to what's going on, but the newscasters just let our protagonists know the shambling murderers are a widespread phenomenon across the eastern third of the United States.

Once Barbra is safe from immediate attack, she suffers an emotional breakdown and is useless until near the end of the film. And as soon as Ben has done the major work of barricading the doors and windows, we learn that there have been five other people in the house all along! Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) convinced his wife Helen, injured daughter Karen and young couple Tom and Judy to stay silent in the cellar until all the noise upstairs stopped. Mr. Cooper is cautious with his own life and those of his family to a fault, and immediately clashes with Ben on the right method of dealing with their situation.

The farmhouse survivors manage to get a television working (the telephone is dead) and gather more information, including a new possible destination if they can only figure out a way to get there. So naturally that's when things start taking a turn for the even worse.

Good: This is absolutely a brilliant movie that deserves all those "Top Tens" you've seen it on. The suspense builds and you can see where Ben sincerely believes his poor decisions would have worked if he'd had a slightly more competent/cooperative group of survivors to help him. There's just enough not-really-explanation to be plausible in a horror setting, and no one breaks out the Z word. ("Zombies" wasn't attached to the flesh-eating undead until the sequels.) The flesh-eating creatures have just enough wit and tool-using capability to be a threat to the poorly-prepared protagonists, while no match for heavily armed and organized opponents.

Ben's race is never mentioned, nor is anyone else's, but casting a black man as the action lead in a movie in 1968 allows the audience to extract as much metaphor as they want from the things going on in the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War at the time. Especially given the ending. This is one time "we picked the actor with the best audition" really paid off.

Less good: All the female characters are pretty much useless except when they're an active threat to the group's survival. On the male side, even Mr. Cooper is a little help when he can be shamed into it.

Content notes: The vintage black and white might make you think this movie is going to be genteel about its violence, but it is actually shockingly gory past the 2/3rds point. Also, one of the creatures woke up naked and we see its butt a couple of times. Parents of sensitive children might want to pre-screen this movie.

Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain, so it's easy to find legal ways to watch it. Highly recommended to fans of flesh-eating undead people.

CHUD Challenge:Dead-Alive (1992)

Dead-Alive (1992) dir. Peter Jackson

Times have been tough on Skull Island since the colonialist exploiters stole the island's biggest attraction, King Kong, back in the 1930s. And now another colonialist has come for a specimen of the Sumatran Rat Monkey, which despite the name is found only on Skull Island. Explorer Stewart McAlden is determined to have one for the Wellington zoo in New Zealand. He even has a permit, though not from a government the Skull Island natives recognize. Knowing what the creature's bite does, they try to persuade the explorer not to take it, but to no avail. McAlden loses his head over the specimen, but the die is already cast. It's New Zealand's problem now.

It's October, and you know what that means! Horror movies! Admittedly, not that different from most months for me, but more so. I'm starting off with Peter Jackson's third film, and the one that got him noticed in the U.S. (with a name change from BrainDead). It's an over the top horror comedy, which set records for the amount of fake blood and gore used.

The Sumatran Rat Monkey, poor creature, isn't in the zoo very long before it runs across Vera Cosgrove, who's there spying on her son Lionel's date with new sweetheart Paquita. Vera is a controlling woman who has been the sole target of Lionel's affection since the drowning of his father years ago. (Lionel still has traumatic flashbacks about the experience.) She gets too close to the monkey cage and it bites her. Vera promptly stomps it to death, but the damage is done.

Vera becomes Patient Zero of an infection that turns its carriers into rotting monstrosities that aggressively seek human flesh. The situation is not helped by Lionel's bumbling attempts to hide what's going on. He's soon hiding zombies in the basement, only to be discovered by Uncle Les, a venal man who only sees the creatures in their quiescent state and blackmails Lionel into letting him have the inherited money and being able to stay in the very nice house.

Uncle Les, not being good at keeping matters quiet, invites a bunch of his rowdy friends over for a loud party. When an attempt by Lionel and Paquita to finally end the creatures' wretched existence backfires, the stage is set for a massacre!

The 1957 New Zealand setting is nifty, though I am sure I am missing some cultural references that Kiwis find hilarious. There's some standout scenes, such as Father McGruder's brief moment of glory ("I kick arse for the Lord!"), Lionel chasing a baby creature around the park (specifically shot to use up the rest of the budget) and of course Lionel demonstrating his lawn care prowess. As a gorefest, don't get too attached to any of the minor characters.

I found some of the early cringe comedy stuff more unwatchable than the seriously gory moments, particularly when Lionel and his mother are trying to have a quiet dinner with important guests. Paquita is a love interest because "fate" (the plot) says so. And having Uncle Les be an attempted rapist in addition to his other dastardly qualities seemed a bit much.

Recommended for horror fans with strong stomachs, and Peter Jackson fans interested in his earlier work.

CHUD Challenge: Legend of Eight Samurai

Legend of Eight Samurai (1983) directed by Kinji Fukasaku

After a hundred years, the Hikita Clan is back from the dead to get their revenge on those who overthrew them. They've recaptured the family castle/shrine and wiped out all but one of the clan leaders descended from their enemies. Only Princess Shizu remains, but she is the most important. For there is a legend about eight warriors descended from a noble dog who will unite under the princess to end the Hikita Clan once and for all. Princess Shizu is now in search of those warriors. But wait--the ancient scroll shows three members of the Hikita Clan, but only two of their leaders have returned. Could this be important?

This blockbuster fantasy movie is based on an epic early Nineteenth Century Japanese novel Nanso Satomi Hakkenden by Kyokutei Bakin. The story runs to ten volumes in Japanese, so this 130 minute version cuts out a lot. Confusingly, the dub never makes mention of "samurai", repeatedly referring to our heroes as "ninja" and of course the closer translation would be "dog warriors."

The good: There's plenty of exciting fight scenes (especially the climax where the united warriors storm the enemy stronghold) and nifty special effects. The villain actors are having fun hamming it up as pure baddies.

There's an undercurrent of sadness as we learn that each of the warriors has had an unlucky life that leaves them free to support the princess when the fated time arrives, leaving them feeling cursed. Indeed, it threatens group cohesion by having them be enemies in the recent past. The most recognizable of the actors is Sonny Chiba as Dosetsu, who has a wasting disease that will kill him inside a month even if he survives the battle. Most of the screen time, though, goes to Hiroyuki Sanada as Shinbei, a scruffy scoundrel who initially is motivated by money before falling in love with Shizu.

Less good: Much less time is spent developing any of the other warriors, especially the two that are just found hanging out in a cave and whose personalities are "the big one" and "the small one." Some time probably could have been spared from the extended "music video" sequence where Shinbei and Shizu make out to an 80s pop ballad, but then they wouldn't have that for Japanese MTV.

The last bit of the ending feels tacked on, as though the test audiences didn't like the original ending and a couple of minutes were added afterwards to sweeten it.

And the less said about the dubbing, the better. Sadly, my copy did not come with a subtitled option.

Still, this is a blockbuster movie based on a classic novel, so I'd recommend it to epic fantasy fans, particularly if you can find it with the original voices.
House on Haunted Hill (1959) directed by William Castle

In its hundred years of history, the house has been host to seven brutal murders. It is said that their ghosts still haunt the place, ready to add more victims to their number. Tonight, five strangers have been invited to the house on Haunted Hill for a party hosted by eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and his fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmert). Test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), skeptical psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), gossip columnist with a gambling problem Julie Mitchum (Ruth Bridgers), pretty typist Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) and Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Jr.), technical owner of the house, who became an alcoholic after the murder of his brother from whom he inherited the place. Each of them could desperately use the $10,000 offered to anyone who survives the night.

This is a short, low-budget film from William Castle, who was very good at making these sort of thrillers. There's barely a wasted moment as the cast explores the inescapable house they've been locked in for the night. Early on, most of the spooky moments happen to Nora, who has the most sympathetic backstory. (She's supporting her disabled parents.) She quickly becomes frustrated when the scary things she sees either aren't seen by the others, or vanish by the time she gets someone to look.

Early on, we learn that Frederick and Annabelle are on bad terms; she was the one with the idea for a haunted house party, but he picked the guest list. Supposedly, none of the guests know each other or the Lorens, but then why were they hand-picked? Frederick's previous three wives died under suspicious circumstances, and he recently had a bout of arsenic poisoning he's pretty sure Annabelle arranged. Their venomous interplay is fascinating.

It doesn't help that the party favors are loaded guns!

For most of the film, we're left in suspense as to whether the house is truly haunted; yes, some of what's going on is clearly rigged, but other bits say otherwise. And the housekeeper is way too creepy to be fully human, probably.

There's much use of the gendered term "hysteria" (Dr. Trent is especially fond of it.) Thankfully, while Nora and Lance are clearly attracted to each other, the film doesn't try to cram in a romance subplot.

While the acid bath introduced early on is plenty gruesome in theory, the movie is fairly tasteful when it comes to gory details.

Recommended to fans of classic horror films.

CHUD Challenge: The Fly (1958)

The Fly (1958) directed by Kurt Neumann

Helene Delambre (Patricia Owens) has killed her husband Andre (David Hedison), crushing his head and arm in a hydraulic press at the electronics plant he co-owns with his brother Francois (Vincent Price). This comes as a great shock to everyone who knows the couple, as they seemed so happy together. Admittedly, no one had seen much of Andre in the last few months, but no one believes they quarreled. And they have a lovely son, Phillipe.

Helene collapses from nervous shock, and her doctor prescribes bed rest, so the police inspector has a police nurse look after her. Helene seems obsessed with capturing, not killing, any flies in the house. Does this have anything to do with the fly "with a white head" Phillipe reports seeing?

This film was adapted by James Clavell (of Shogun fame) from a short story by George Langelaan which originally appeared in the Playboy magazine. It's fairly faithful to the story, maintaining the "mystery" framework but shifting the action from Paris to Montreal to keep the French names but have everyone speak in English.

Eventually, there's a long flashback to the part that's famous, as Andre invents a teleportation device, tests it on himself, and makes a horrible blunder. This leads to both his death at the beginning of the movie, and another death at the end, in the most famous scene of the movie.

This was actually my first time seeing the full movie in color, as opposed to the TV cut on late-night black and white. Treating the transformation as a mystery allows the film to use the monster makeup sparingly, a good thing considering the limitations of 1958 special effects. The reveal is effective, and would definitely have been shocking to audiences of the time.

Vincent Price is understated in a role that started his transition from playing urbane, worldly supporting characters to being a horror movie star. Patricia Owens is the one who has to do most of the heavy emoting as Helene, especially after Andre becomes mute. The kid who plays Phillipe does the best he can with the material, and sets up the sequel hook well.

There's a bit of period sexism--Andre is able to devote himself to weeks in the lab inventing because he has a wife and housekeeper keeping everything else running smoothly. And he's clearly filled Phillipe's head with some dubious ideas about women.

Recommended for horror fans who like a slow burn. If you want to just get to the part where the main character gets fused with fly DNA, the David Cronenberg remake may be more your speed.

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