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Bay of the Living Dead: M. Night Shyamalan Gets His Groove Back And Other Scary Classics

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Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a twice a month column about the horror genre.

There was no column for the past month since I was dealing with some health issues, but like the zombies from George Romero’s Night of the Living DeadI have risen again!

The Philadelphia based auteur M. Night Shyamalan made quite a splash  around 20 years ago with his masterful supernatural chiller The Sixth Sense. That box office smash was followed by a number of films which disappointed audiences, most notably The Village (2004) and Lady in the Water (2006).

With Split (2016) the writer-director is back on track. There was in fact a bit of an Oscar buzz around James McAvoy’s sensational performance as a man who suffers from multiple personality disorder. Broadway superstar Betty Buckley co-stars as a psychiatrist who uncovers disturbing secrets about her patient and his many imaginary friends. For her work in Split Buckley has been nominated as Best Featured Actress at this year’s Saturn Awards, the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.

Split marks the second time Buckley has worked with Shyamalan–she had a small but splashy role in the director’s The Happening (2008), in which she enacted an unforgettably disconcerting death scene.

“I’m a huge Night fan,” Buckley tells us, speaking from her home in Texas. “He’s one of our great storytellers, I’ve seen every film he’s made. It’s so much fun to work with Night. It’s a very loving atmosphere.”

In the disturbing yet mesmerizing Split, Buckley plays Dr. Karen Fletcher. As she treats her patient (McAvoy) the doctor gradually comes to realize that several of his 23 personalities have imprisoned three teenage girls. Fletcher puts herself in harms way to try and get her patient under control just as a 24th personality called The Beast emerges. The Beast possesses terrifying superhuman strength.

Buckley was delighted to be told that Shyamalan had written Dr. Fletcher specifically for her. “It was awesome,” she said of making the film. “It was a thrill to work with Night again. James McAvoy should be remembered at Oscar time.”

Her work with Shyamalan was not her horror genre debut. Forty years ago Buckley was seen as Miss Collins, the ill fated gym teacher in Brian De Palma’s Carrie. 

“It’s a great film,” Buckley recalls. “It was an exciting time. For seven of us it was out film debuts. We all had a feeling we were working on something special–Brian De Palma is a great filmmaker.”

Though best know for her work in musical theater, Buckley embraces her status as a scream queen and the following she’s amassed from within the horror world. After nearly fifty years in show business, Betty Buckley goes wherever the work takes her.

“I’m just a working girl,” she said. “I’m happy to continue working with great people.”

On Tuesday May 16, Carrie will screen at Alamo Drafthouse’s New Mission Theater at 9:45pm.

Split is now available in a DVD/Blu Ray combo pack.

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Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan

98 minutes

Universal Home Entertainment

This prequel to 2014’s Ouija is an old fashioned spooky delight.

Elizabeth Reaser (Twilight) finally gets to appear in a decent horror movie. Reaser shines as Alice, a 30-ish widow with two daughters. The three of them are running a phony spirit medium racket out of their Los Angeles home, circa 1967. Its not what Alice wants to do–she’s actually a loving mom and a decent person, but she’s got to feed her kids and pay the mortgage.

Alice buys a Ouija board, thinking it will spice up the family act. She unwittingly releases angry spirits which take possession of her younger daughter (Lulu Wilson). There are bodies hidden in a secret room in the basement–the remains of the hapless souls who were subjected to the horrific experiments of a madman escapee from Nazi Germany who once lived in their house.

Henry Thomas, beloved as the cute kid in Steven Spelberg’s E.T., co-stars as a kindly priest who attempts to solve the mystery and save the family. Thomas, now 45 years old, gives a quiet and restrained performance as a lonely man, still mourning the death of his wife many years prior.

The family soon comes to realize that the spirits have been in the house all along, watching their every move. As the angry ghosts close in, the film builds to a terrifying climax. Ouija: Origin of Evil is one scary movie! It’s now available in a DVD/Blu Ray combo pack.

On Saturday May 13 at 9:30 AM you can see young Henry Thomas in Spelberg’s E.T. at Alamo Drafthouse’s New Mission Theater.

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Retro British Horror:

Kino Lorber, purveyors of cinema classics of DVD and Blu Ray, offer a pair of discs which will take viewers back to the glory days of British horror cinema.

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) is a slow and stately British costume drama. Set in 19th century Paris,  it’s long on dialogue. The film is a remake of The Man in Half Moon Street (1945),  a Hollywood film which is rarely shown and is unavailable for home viewing.

The Man Who Could Cheat Death stars Anton Diffring as Georges Bonnet, a 104 year old man who appears to be in his thirties. He’s achieved immortality by murdering women and using their glands to create an elixir of youth–but this is only a temporary fix. He needs a glandular operation immediately or he will rapidly revert to his true age.

Horror icon Sir Christopher Lee co-stars as a doctor who refuses to help Bonnet out of ethical concerns. With the clock ticking, our anti-hero is getting desperate…..

Diffring is quite effective in playing escalating layers of fear as Georges realizes his time is running out. Jimmy Sangster’s literate script also delves into the loneliness that an immortal man must live with–never being able to get close to anyone, never able to love, because the other person will grow old.

The Man Who Could Cheat Death is an intelligent film. It’s a beautifully shot production, offering lush period sets and elegant costumes. The film offers much eye candy, which is not unexpected since it was produced by the legendary and iconic horror studio Hammer Films. But as a film which plays out more like a drawing room drama than a horror film, The Man Who Could Cheat Death comes up a bit short in the scares department.

Kino Lorber also offers The Skull (1965) in a brand new Blu Ray. This film first came to cinemas courtesy of England’s Amicus Productions, a studio often looked down upon as Hammer’s poor relation. In truth, both studios produced classics and stinkers.

The Skull is one of Amicus’ best. Written by Robert Bloch, author of Hitchcock’s Psycho, the film stars horror superstar Peter Cushing as Christopher Maitland, a man with an obsessive interest in the supernatural–Christopher Lee also appears in a small role. Everything goes wrong after Maitland purchases the skull of the Marquis De Sade, a real life 18th century madman and BDSM connoisseur.

The titular skull slowly overtakes Maitland’s mind. The final third of the film features a wonderful extended sequence in which Maitland, alone in his spooky old house, fights for his life against the skull. Cushing, one of the finest actors the horror genre has ever seen, is marvelous as he desperately tries to save himself. It’s a pantomime performance–this epic battle is played out sans dialogue.

Kino Lorber offers pristine, fully restored prints of The Man Who Could Cheat Death and The SkullBoth Blu Rays feature sharp visuals, lush colors and superb sound. There are generous extras menus: interviews on both discs with film historians Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby, as well as commentary tracks. Original theatrical trailers are also included–you’ll never get all these extras by watching a film online.

BOO!

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David-Elijah Nahmod

David-Elijah Nahmod

I, David-Elijah Nahmod am a Queer, American/Israeli dual national of Syrian descent who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv.
Currently in San Francisco, my eclectic writing career includes LGBT publications (news and entertainment) and monster magazines. In 2012 I was voted Film Reviewer of the Year at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Awards.
Look for me in Bay Area Reporter, Hoodline.com, South Florida Gay News, Echo Magazine, Outfront, Scary Monsters Magazine, Videoscope, and, of course, Broke Ass Stuart, (I'm so broke it's SCARY!)
Now, let's watch a horror movie!