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April 10 – May 30, 2015

Ben Rivers' Midnite Movies: The Witching Hour Part 3, "Because You've Never Known Fear Until it Stabs You in the Eye with a Rusty Nail"

"And you will face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored."
The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

This is a very personal selection of films that came to me at an impressionable moment in my life, and in many ways marked the course of what followed. I grew up in a small village in Somerset, UK, with very little in the way of culture to hand—what we did have was a video shop in the basement of the Methodist Church, run by a man who whatever time of year wore a big sheepskin coat and stood by a gas heater, the basement being so chilly. Clearly not a religious man, he encouraged my friends and I, when we were roughly between ten and thirteen years old, to watch the latest crazed sci-fi or video nasty horror, which he had somehow managed to procure an often pirated copy of. He also pushed on us some of what he clearly thought of as classics—some of which were mind-blowing, like Argento, and others, especially when it came to Jean Rollin, were completely baffling.

I have always liked, and perhaps made, films whose concern for plot and character development is less important than other kinds of pure cinematic experience, and horror planted that seed. These films are predominantly ones of visceral experience. They are about atmospheres, sound and image combined to create extremely unnerving spaces based around ingenuity and the flimsiest storylines. Try to even understand the plot of The Beyond, The Visitor, Messiah of Evil or Split of the Spirit—it doesn’t matter, because the films transcend well-worn conventions in favor of gloriously fragmented experiments in terror.

It’s interesting that this season coincides at the HFA with the amazing Furious Cinema season—because I think the films are another response to this time of reinvention. Most of the films I have chosen followed this period in Hollywood where anything seemed possible in film. This had to crash and burn at some point, which it did in a fairly spectacular way, to be followed by much more sporadic greatness. What possibly happened was that some of the inventiveness of these earlier films, particularly in the US, was then pushed to the lower end of budgets, cheap genre movies that had less at stake at the box-office, and also had the burgeoning benefits of VHS rental.

Many of these films I’ve never seen other than on TV, so the season is mainly a selfish one: I can finally see them in glorious 35mm. There will also be some added extras in the shape of original trailers and short films. – Ben Rivers

An acclaimed filmmaker who frequently shows new work at the Harvard Film Archive, Ben Rivers is currently a fellow at Radcliffe and the Film Study Center, Harvard.


Friday April 10 at 10pm

Messiah of Evil

Directed by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. With Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang
US 1973, 35mm, color, 90 min

“They're coming here. They're waiting at the edge of the city. They're peering around buildings at night, and they're waiting. They’re waiting for you! And they'll take you one by one and no one will hear you scream. No one will hear you SCREEEAAM!”

Messiah of Evil marks the unsettling directorial debut by husband and wife team Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who were later to become screenwriting collaborators on American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, among other films. When a woman arrives at a small seaside town to visit her artist father, all she finds is an empty house and his bizarre journal entries of warnings. As she searches for him in vain, she encounters an interesting trio researching an old legend about a “Blood Moon.” They soon learn the secret of the town, one that has turned the local dead into eye-bleeding, flesh-eating zombies who terrorize all in this slow-paced, peculiarly moody classic of low-budget American independent filmmaking.

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Saturday April 11 at 10pm

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Directed by George Miller. With Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston
US 1981, 35mm, color, 94 min

“My life fades, the vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos, ruined dreams, this wasted land. But most of all, I remember the road warrior, the man we called Max.”

Filmed in the desolate deserts of Australia as the perfect backdrop to the ultimate post apocalyptic road film, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior takes place in a crumbled world where “the cities have exploded." A cool drifter comes to the aid of a community of settlers ravaged by bandits, as they battle for gasoline and survival in epic, wildly choreographed chase scenes complete with punk-rock-biker style and relentless action in this highly visionary work—somewhat eclipsing the preceding installment which had not been widely released in the US—and setting the stage for a whole new world of comic-book dystopian films to come.

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Friday April 24 at 10pm

Split of the Spirit (Li gui chan shen)

Directed by Fred Tan. With Lap Ban Chan, Ai-Li Chou, Shu-Yuan Hsu
Taiwan 1987, 16mm, color, 89 min. Taiwanese with English subtitles

A dancer walking through an airport mistakenly collides with another woman, shattering a jar of ashes and spilling it on herself. Unleashing the curse of a recently murdered female spirit, she becomes possessed and seeks revenge through bizarre and macabre means. This was the only horror film by Fred Tan—once an assistant director for King Hu and a founder of the Taiwan Director’s Guild—who left behind three features focusing on female repression before his untimely death at age thirty-five.

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Satuday April 25 at 10pm

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (4 mosche di velluto grigio)

Directed by Dario Argento. With Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle
Italy /France 1971, 35mm, color, 104 min. In English

“I would definitely describe it as an extreme case of homicidal mania.”

The third and final film in Dario Argento's unofficial "animal trilogy," Four Flies on Grey Velvet exhibits many of the daring visual techniques and attention to atmospheric details that would be explored and perfected by the director in future films. Even the initial labyrinthine story—a musician is stalked by an unknown killer who is blackmailing him for a supposed accidental killing of another stalker—is not what it appears to be. Amid dazzling sets and tour-de-force visuals, Argento forgoes plot accuracy and madly decorates his complex nightmare in experimental, countercultural drapery and over-the-top story devices like a police camera which can capture from corpses’ eyes the last image they have seen.

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Saturday May 9 at 10pm

The Beyond (…E tu vivrai nei terrore! L’aldilà)

Directed by Lucio Fulci. With Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale
Italy 1981, 35mm, color, 87 min. In English

“And you will face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored.”

The second film in Italian horror master Lucio Fulci’s Gates Of Hell trilogy, The Beyond tells of a young woman who inherits a hotel in Louisiana built directly on top of one of the seven gateways to hell. When she inadvertently opens the door, a gory array of demonic incidents are unleashed as cannibalistic zombies attack, people are eaten by tarantulas, and a woman’s face dissolves in a vat of acid, among other surreal episodes in Fulci’s colorfully eerie tale of terror. Print courtesy of Grindhouse Releasing

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Friday May 22 at 10pm

The Visitor

Directed by Michael J. Paradise. With Paige Connor, Joanne Nail, Lance Henriksen
US/Italy 1979, DCP, color, 108 min

“There’s something wrong inside, something terrible… she scares me, there’s something I don’t know… she’s my baby, my little girl… it’s not her fault”

Directed by Fellini’s assistant director on 8 1/2, Giulio Paradisi (in the guise of “Michael J. Paradise”), The Visitor boldly ventures forth into the somewhat psychedelic science-fiction-horror-fantasy genre. One of the many unusual features is its ensemble cast, including Glenn Ford, Mel Ferrer, Shelley Winters, Sam Peckinpah and Franco Nero. The legendary John Huston laconically fills the role of an interdimensional deity who attempts to save the world by fighting a Southern-accented, telekinetic, swearing eight-year-old girl and her pet hawk in late Seventies-early Eighties Atlanta. While the bad seed spends most of her time playing Pong in the living room, basketballs explode, children die via ice skating and avian warfare reigns supreme in this convoluted, bizarre and truly surprising battle for the survival of humanity.

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Saturday May 23 at 10pm

Re-Animator

Directed by Stuart Gordon. With Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton
US 1985, 35mm, color, 86 min

“You haven't done this on… people?”

Based on a series of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator achieves a perfect blend of gore and deadpan humor. When an odd medical student discovers a serum that brings the dead back to life, the results are messy and the special effects outrageous as the dead wreak havoc, and the mad scientist journeys further into madness and depravity. Winner of a special critics’ prize at Cannes, Re-Animator is a uniquely absurd masterpiece of camp horror.

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Friday May 29 at 10pm

Night of the Comet

Directed by Thom Eberhardt. With Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran
US 1984 35mm, color, 95 min

Regina: Do you have your MasterCard on you?
Samantha: No.
Regina: Good, because you don't need it. THE STORES ARE OPEN!

A rare example of an 1980s horror/fantasy film without a male lead—and without a portentous, brooding script—Night of the Comet is an irreverent, intelligent comedy/sci-fi hybrid about two Valley girls taking a fearless stand against a hungry population of killer zombies left behind by a passing comet. With the height of the action unfolding at the mall in the bright neon palette of the Eighties, Comet instantly obtained cult status upon its release.

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Saturday May 30 at 10pm

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Directed by Jorge Grau. With Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy.
Italy/Spain/UK 1975, 16mm, color, 95 min. In English.

Jorge Grau’s groundbreaking Spanish zombie gore fest Let Sleeping Corpses Lie features an eclectic international cast and a plethora of aliases, 15 in all, including most famously Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue. Set in the English countryside, the film follows a pair of attractive young Londoners who cross paths in the English countryside and ultimately wind up joining forces in an epic battle with the living dead who have been brought back to life by a government designed insect-killing machine. As the number of victims climbs, the two hippies find themselves on the run from both the zombies and the police. Although the zombie film was still evolving in the early 1970’s, Jorge Grau follows the lead of George Romero in using the genre as a vehicle for satirical political comment even as he ramps up the gore significantly.

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