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You could have been one of us, you silly man. Now you’re going to burn!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the first 2009 Horror Movie A Day. [For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.] Well well well. Here we are again. Another October, another excuse to revel in horror movies. Last October I transformed my regular A Movie A Day column into A Horror Movie A Day. It proved to be popular and helped me personally really get into the Halloween spirit. Halloween’s always been my favorite holiday and it was really cool taking that festive spirit and spreading it over the entire month of October. I’ve compiled a very diverse list of horror films to wade through this month… everything from Troma to Ingmar Bergman. But what better way to start than with an obscure Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing flick? NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT (alias THE DEVIL’S UNDEAD, alias THE RESURRECTION SYNDICATE) is an early ‘70s Amicus-style horror film. The actual production company is Charlemagne Productions which only ever made one other film, 1976’s TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, also starring Christopher Lee. But the tone really is of the latter day Hammer and Amicus horror flicks with a surprising WICKER MAN element throw in.

Basically you have Christopher Lee as a Colonel investigating a rash of suicides. Now we know these suicides are not suicides at all thanks to an opening montage of these elderly people being murdered in ways that, on the surface, appear to be self-inflicted. And Lee suspects these suicides aren’t what they seem because one of their ranks was an old war buddy of his that wouldn’t take his own life in a million years. Lee calls upon his good friend Sir Mark Ashley, played by Peter Cushing. Ashley is a scientist and a very clinical man who is very reluctant to be drawn into this hypothetical tomfoolery. The facts are the facts are the facts in his eyes. Oddly enough neither one of these men are the main character… in fact, I’d be hard pressed to tell you just who the main character of this movie is. It’s one of those movies where the main character is the entire cast of supporting characters outside of one notable exception: a little girl called Mary Valley played by young Gwyneth Strong. We first meet Mary on a bus being driven by an annoyed man and carrying three members of the Van Traylen fund as well as a dozen orphans. We come to find out that the Van Traylen fund is the beneficiary of the wealth of those who were thought to have committed suicide. The main object of this fund is to run an Orphanage on an island off the coast of Scotland. The orphans are on a field trip to London when we meet Mary and this pissed off driver. He goes to light a cigarette and the flame shoots up into his face as Mary watches on. This causes an accident which puts Mary in the care of a London hospital and under the watchful eye of the caring Dr. Haynes (Keith Barron). For a bit it looks like Dr. Haynes is the main character as he investigates the accident and Mary Valley’s backstory. When unconscious she’s afraid, screaming about fire and generally upset. There’s something fishy going on with the super secret organization funding this orphanage and Dr. Haynes is worried about the girl. And why wouldn’t he be? She’s cute as a button, sweet as can be and incredibly sympathetic thanks to the great child performance given by Gwyneth Strong. Something is tormenting her, but her conscious mind doesn’t seem to be aware of it. When her mother comes barging into the hospital looking for her daughter things really start to spin in weird directions. Why do you think Mary was taken away from her mother? Was she abusive? Nope. Okay, drunk then? Nope. Did she murder two people in cold blood? Ding-ding-ding!

Diana Dors plays Mary’s mother and she’s a bit on the loony side. She served her time and apparently now collects psychic paraphernalia and sticks it in her car windows. I’m not kidding. She’s got tarot cards glued to her side windows. Dors becomes the threat after a certain point in the film, but is she a murderer hunting her child or is she a red herring? I think more experienced horror fans will spot which movie they’re getting pretty easily, but that doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. I was surprised to see it saddled with an abysmal 3.3/10 on IMDB. Look, I’ve seen some shitty horror movies, reallllllllllyyyyy shitty horror movies and in no way does this movie deserve Uwe Boll numbers. The mystery of this movie works, the tone works and the ending is actually pretty shocking. There’s a final horrible line that you’ll have to overlook (Somebody literally says “I curse your cruel God!”), but other than that the dialogue is pretty well written. There’s not a terrific pace to the movie, but it’s far from a drag. It’s also really fun to see Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing getting to play genuine friends that don’t have some sort of hidden secret or macabre obsession. They’re both humans and both on the side of light trying to solve a (then) modern day story of the occult. Final Thoughts: I can’t explain why the film has such a horrible rating other than maybe it has only been seen by people that can’t appreciate this type of filmmaking. I could see a horror fan who thinks the SAW films and Rob Zombie movies are the end all be all of horror unable to enjoy this flick, but anybody who likes this era of horror, especially British horror, should enjoy the movie. That is if they get a chance to see it. It’s not out on US DVD and you’d have to hunt through eBay to find a VHS. It’s not the kind of flick you’d see playing rep houses or included in retrospective screenings of Cushing or Lee’s career bests. In short, it seems to be a forgotten film and that’s a shame because it has a lot to offer and ending that should evoke a strong reaction.

Last year I split HMAD between a movie I hadn’t seen a recommendation for a favorite horror movie of mine where I mentioned flicks like Night of the Creeps (which gets the DVD and Blu-Ray treatment this month, finally), Who Can Kill A Child?, In The Mouth of Madness and Sleepaway Camp. I liked how that worked out, so I’ll be doing that with each entry into HMAD this year. I’m going out of my way as I watch each movie to pair it with something that would make a good double-feature.

In my look at NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT I mentioned being surprised by a WICKER MAN-ish feel so why not pair this one with THE WICKER MAN, which Lee starred in the same year as NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT. Lee’s on the side of darkness in this one playing the iconic Lord Summerisle, a strange Pagan cult leader on a small island famous for its harvest of apples. A detective journeys to the island in search of a missing girl and gets swallowed up by early ‘70s naked, dancing British weirdness. Neil LaBute tried to remake this movie with Nicolas Cage and despite giving us a great youtubed all over the world nutty Cage cut scene involving bees in his eyes what we got was a wet fart. The original movie isn’t for everyone, I will say that right up front. It is kind of my ideal description of the term cult movie. The word “cult” can sometimes be overused. I’m guilty of doing that, but one thing I will never do is use the word “cult” in place of the word “shitty,” which is what I see many people doing. THE WICKER MAN is bizarre, somewhat experimental, but it is not shitty. In fact it’s quite a fascinating twisting of expectation. Edward Woodward seems to be on a fairly straight forward missing girl case that takes him into a world that every one of us secretly fears exists and one we might accidentally wander into some day. That’s a fairly common horror formula, but there’s something more real about this movie. There’s no zombies or vampires, but there are human beings that don’t think like the rest of us, their minds controlled by a religious idol in the form of Lord Summerisle. Lee gets a chance here to blend his charm and creepiness in a radically different way than his Dracula, which had that scale tilted way more in favor of his creepiness.

His scenes with Woodward comparing gods and Lee’s carefree dismissal, calling Woodward’s god dead (“can’t complain, had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it”) raise some really fascinating religious conversation, especially when you consider how similar Lee’s cult is to some extremist factions of mainstream religion. Woodward’s role isn’t as showy as Lee’s, but it’s more layered. Sgt. Howie starts the movie as a person of authority, invulnerable and untouchable in his own eyes, but bit by bit, scene by scene this is proven untrue until he’s reduced to a terrified, powerless being, begging for his god to help him. Dark, bizarre, sometimes inconsistent, but always fascinating THE WICKER MAN is something that everybody might not love, but everybody should see. Director Robin Hardy has completed photography on THE WICKER TREE (formerly titled COWBOYS FOR CHRIST) which I understand isn’t exactly a sequel or a remake of his original film, but we are supposedly getting Christopher Lee back as Lord Summerisle. An older Lee is fine, just don’t give me a new Britt Ekland naked dance scene. I’m perfectly fine with the one she gave the world in 1973…

Here are the next week’s worth of HMAD titles: Friday, October 2nd: BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY (1989)

Saturday, October 3rd: CAMERON’S CLOSET (1988)

Sunday, October 4th: AFRAID OF THE DARK (1991)

Monday, October 5th: THE PIT (1981)

Tuesday, October 6th: BRAIN DAMAGE (1988)

Wednesday, October 7th: BRAIN DEAD (1990)

Thursday, October 8th: VISITING HOURS (1982)

See you folks tomorrow for my thoughts on the Troma cheesefest BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY! -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

Click here for the full 215 movie run of A Movie A Day!

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