Friday, October 19, 2012

Worth Mentioning - One Step Beyond Horror

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody has a Carlton J. Albright double feature of The Children and Luther the Geek.

I first heard of The Children in 1996, when I was in the midst of getting my brother and sister-in-law reacquainted with the horror movies of their youths. I would regularly spend the night at their place, taking a couple '80s horror movies with me every time - a Friday the 13th, a Nightmare on Elm Street, a Halloween, etc. In addition to all the watching, we would do a lot of talking about movies as well, and one night my sister-in-law brought up some memories of what was one of the creepiest movies she had ever seen. The Children. A movie that she had watched with her brother as a kid and had disturbed her enough that it stuck with her over the next fifteen years or so.

I couldn't let a movie like the one she described pass me by, so I took the soonest opportunity to look for it in a local video store, and found that they did indeed have the VHS in stock. I rented it and took it over to my brother and sister-in-law's place for one of our movie nights.
The film is set in Ravensback, Massachusetts and begins with a leak at a nearby nuclear power plant sending a yellow cloud of radiation drifting out across the countryside. The cloud drifts across a road just in time to envelop a schoolbus hauling five of the most pleasant children on the planet, so nice that they're singing a tribute song to the driver, "We love him by golly / Here is to the bus driver, the best of them all".

After passing through the radiation cloud, the children become very unpleasant. Their faces turn a deathly pale, their fingernails turn black, their vocabulary is reduced to just "Mommy" or "Daddy". They make their ways back home to their families, holding their arms out to get a hug from anyone they come across, but their touch cooks the flesh of everyone they embrace. They can't be stopped, they can't be reasoned with, it seems they can't be killed. Burning someone up does tucker them out for a little while, they have to rest to recharge, but soon they're back to full power, their fingernails turn black again, and they're ready to kill some more.

Eventually, it's discovered that the only way to stop the children is to sever their hands. The adults have to arm themselves with bladed weapons and set out to disarm, so to speak, these killer kids.

My sister-in-law was not impressed with the movie revisiting it as an adult, but she had introduced me to a movie that I quite like.

The Children has a great low budget drive-in movie feel to it, a quirky tone, and some unusual characters. There aren't many dull, run-of-the-mill people in Ravensback, over the course of the movie we meet a kickass sheriff, a deputy who's often distracted by his barely legal girlfriend, a blind girl, a couple good humored redneck brothers, a shotgun-toting old lady, a stressed out nine month pregnant woman who smokes a cigarette while apologizing to the baby inside her, a disco-loving hot shot with a chauffeur and a car phone, and a mother who sunbathes topless while her bodybuilder boyfriend works out beside her. When the sheriff gives her the news that the schoolbus has been found abandoned and her daughter is missing, the woman is excited by the idea that there might have been a kidnapping in their town. Plus, there's a heroic character who has a sword in his house.

The movie was shot in some wonderfully picturesque small town Massachusetts locations by director Max Kalmanowicz and cinematographer Barry Abrams, who would go from this movie to work on Sean Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), although this movie was released one month after F13, on Friday, June 13th, 1980. Another crew member who went on to F13 is composer Harry Manfredini, who provided this movie with that same distinctly Manfredini sound that the early Friday the 13th movies (and his other '80s work, like Swamp Thing) have.
The Children is available on DVD from Troma now. The print used was beat to hell, it looks like it played a drive-in or two in its day. It's all scratched up and even includes a big jump cut/missing scene at one point, when the sheriff walks into a store and the redneck brothers immediately rush out to set up a roadblock. The moment when the sheriff tells them what's going on got lost somewhere along the way. Some fans have complained about the quality of the DVD, but I don't mind the condition of the print, it adds to the movie for me.

Special features on the DVD include interviews with production manager David Platt (boom operator on Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2), actor Gil Rogers, supervisor Patricia Albright, and producer/co-writer/father of a couple of The Children Carlton J. Albright.

Carlton J. Albright co-wrote The Children with Edward Terry, who also appears in the film as one of the redneck brothers. The first time we see Terry's character, he's attempting to sell a chicken. That could now be taken as a bit of foreshadowing for the second horror film Albright and Terry made together, several years later...



Carlton J. Albright wrote and directed this film, which stars Edward Terry as the titular character.

The type of geek dealt with here isn't the type that would fit into Revenge of the Nerds, the geek this movie has in mind is an earlier definition, the carnival geeks, down on their luck men who would sometimes be paid only with alcohol or drugs to perform an opening act for the freak show exhibit. The geek's trick: biting the head off a live chicken.

When he was a child, Luther Watts saw a mob of jackasses taunt a geek into biting the head off a chicken, and the sight scarred him for life. At some point, Luther went crazy, and in his mind he became a hybrid of both the geek and the chicken. He replaced his teeth with metal dentures, which he files to keep sharp, and when he was a teenager he killed three people by ripping their throats out with his metal teeth.

Luther received three sentences of 100 to 200 years, but gets paroled twenty-five years after the murders when a board member champions him as a model prisoner who has been totally rehabilitated. Luther wants a chance to rejoin society and she feels he deserves it. This woman has interviewed Luther and how she got any impression that he was fit to go back out on the streets, or that he even wanted to, is a mystery. He doesn't speak. He thinks he's a chicken. He communicates only through strutting, bawking, clucking, and crowing.

Regardless, Luther is released and immediately starts breaking laws, stealing a chicken from a butcher shop, going to a grocery store and eating raw eggs straight from the carton. That's the geek side of him, he's a cannibal chicken. Exiting the store, he sits down on a bench beside an old lady and kindly offers her an egg... but when she drops the egg, in Luther's book that means she has to die. He rips her throat out. From what we see in the movie, this murder could've happened within an hour of his release from prison.

To avoid police, Luther hides in the backseat of a car in the store parking lot. The car belongs to a woman named Hilary, who doesn't notice the chicken man in her backseat when she gets in and drives home to the remote farmhouse where she lives alone these days.

The rest of the film plays out entirely on and around this farm property, which is an awesome place that IMDb tells me belonged to Albright's mother-in-law. The look and layout of the house is great and my favorite moment of the film is when the camera looks out the open kitchen door, through the screen door of the enclosed porch, to see Luther running toward the house from the barn. Luther's approach and entry is the creepiest part of the movie to me. Hilary notices his presence just as he reaches the screen door and tries to slam the kitchen door shut before he can make it across the porch... During my first viewing, it was that moment when the movie finally got me fully on board with it.

After Luther terrorizes Hilary a bit and ties her down to a bed, more potential victims for him show up in the form of Hilary's daughter Beth, who's returning home from college after four months away, and Beth's boyfriend Rob. Hilary doesn't seem to be home, so Beth and Rob quickly start fooling around. Reddi Wip is sprayed, they take a shower together, they get in bed... Beth is played by Stacy Haiduk, who at the time of this movie's release had a lead role as Lana Lang on the Superboy television series that ran from 1988 through 1992. That fact makes me think the movie was shot a couple years before its 1990 release, because it doesn't seem like something that she would've filmed during a hiatus. The shower/bed sequence is probably the most popular part of the movie, which is understandable because Stacy Haiduk is stunning in it.

Luther interrupts the couple by taking Rob's dirtbike for a ride, at which point Beth finally discovers her mother and realizes that there's something very wrong going on here. Luther commences to make the rest of this day a living hell for all three of them, and anyone else who might happen to show up.

Luther the Geek has its story and structure issues, but I love the look, tone, and setting of the film. The performances are actually pretty strong, with Joan Roth having some great moments as the terrorized Hilary and Edward Terry making his homicidal chicken man a very memorable character.

Like The Children, Luther the Geek is available on DVD from Troma, special features including interviews with Carlton J. Albright and his son William, who appears in the movie as young Luther, and outtakes. For fans of the shower scene, there's four and half minutes more of it in the outtakes.

Watching these two movies really makes me wish that Carlton J. Albright had produced some more genre films.

No comments:

Post a Comment