Friday, October 13, 2017

Worth Mentioning - A Game of Hide the Soul

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.

Chucky, a monster mash, and stories from around the globe.

CHILD'S PLAY 2 (1990)

Killer doll Chucky was burnt to a crisp, lost some limbs, lost his head, and got shot through his human heart, his only weakness, at the end of Child's Play... but he was still able to come back for a sequel two years later. Ol' Chucky really lucked out here - in an effort to do some damage control, the Good Guy company the manufactured the doll manages to acquire Chucky's body and reconstruct it, cleaning him up, giving him new limbs, everything he needs to live again. The company intends to prove that there was nothing wrong that particular doll, that it's not a little murderer like young Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) and his mother claim it is.

Their plans don't pan out. As soon as the reconstruction is completed with the doll's eyeballs being inserted, it becomes clear that the evil soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray still inhabits its form. Supernatural energy and electricity come blasting out of Chucky's eye sockets, the electricity coursing along the machine that inserted the eyes and killing a Good Guys employee.

Chucky is back in action, with Brad Dourif returning to provide the doll's voice, and he immediately sets out to find Andy Barclay so he can transfer his soul into the kid's body. He has no other option, he has to possess the kid because Andy was the first person he revealed his true identity to. Those are the rules of voodoo. Chucky has to move quickly, because if he's in this new doll body too long it will start to become human, like it did in the first movie, and he'll be trapped in it for good. Voodoo is complicated.

With his mom under psychiatric observation for thinking her son's doll was a killer, Andy has now been placed in the care of foster parents Phil and Joanne Simpson (Gerrit Graham and Jenny Agutter), who also have teen rebel Kyle (Christine Elise) staying in their house. Kyle has a tough exterior, which she has built up because she has been in the foster system for a while and has never been in one place for longer than a month, but she takes a liking to Andy and becomes protective of him. She's really a great character, one of my favorite people in the Child's Play / Chucky franchise.

When Andy first arrives at the Simpson house, he's freaked out to find that they have a Good Guy in his bedroom closet, left behind by another foster kid. In an effort to face his fears, Andy decides to keep this doll, a regular Good Guy called Tommy. This makes it easy for Chucky to infiltrate his life again. He tracks Andy down, ditches Tommy, takes his place, and starts causing deadly trouble all over again.

Child's Play 2 was directed by John Lafia, who had contributed to the script for the first movie, from a screenplay by Don Mancini, who had written initial drafts of the Child's Play script, when it was called Batteries Not Included or Blood Buddy. The first movie's director, Tom Holland, had changed a lot of what Mancini had written - Mancini has estimated that only around 50% of the first movie was his material. Once Chucky reveals that he's alive, the film branched out into completely different territory. The voodoo stuff, that was all Holland's idea. In Mancini's script, there was no Charles Lee Ray, it wasn't a serial killer in the Chucky body, the doll was brought to life by Andy's own repressed emotions and killed people who had upset him. A babysitter, a teacher, etc. While the voodoo aspect remains in the sequel, Mancini was able to use some of his ideas that were dropped from the first movie.

Following Andy to school, Chucky kills a teacher (prolific character actress Beth Grant - that woman has more than 200 credits to her name!) who gives Andy detention. That night, Chucky returns to the Simpson home and kills Phil, who is a hot-headed disciplinarian. The sort of people you would be expecting him to kill if he were a manifestation of Andy's id... and characters you don't mind seeing exit the film anyway. Joanne is a more likeable character, but when she blames Andy for Phil's death and sends him away, you can see why she ends up dead, too.

It comes down to Andy and Kyle for the climax, with circumstances leading them right back to where Chucky began. The Good Guys doll factory. This is another part of the script that Mancini had written for the first movie, and it makes for an awesome sequence in the sequel as the youngsters are chased among the automated doll-making machines by the Good Guy gone bad.

Chucky got messed up at the end of the first movie, but you haven't really seen him messed up until you watch the end of this one. Chucky takes a hell of a beating, the least of which involves him losing his right hand. How does Chucky solve a problem like that? He pulls the handle off the knife and jams the blade into his wrist, wrapping it in place with some tape. For the final moments, Chucky has a knife for a hand. I became a fan of the first movie as soon as it hit video, so I was looking forward to this sequel big time, even though I was only six years old when it was coming out, and had a horror magazine with an article about the making of it. I still remember the picture of Chucky and his knife hand that was in that magazine. I was in awe of it, it looked so cool.

Child's Play 2 is a decent sequel without much substance to it. I just feels like an excuse to bring Chucky back and have him kill some more people in a script that is basically "the greatest hits of what we couldn't do last time". It's extremely simple and moves through its 84 minutes at lightning speed. It's not great, but its harmless and enjoyable enough that it's not a disappointment. It's fun, then it's done.


Although there are some independent filmmakers fighting the good fight to keep the horror genre alive in the country that gave us Coffin Joe, in general there's not a lot going on when it comes to homegrown Brazilian horror. With their film The Trace We Leave Behind (or O Rastro), director J.C. Feyer and producers Malu Miranda and André Pereira set out to prove that Brazil can do horror just as well as Hollywood.

Written by Pereira and Beatriz Manela, the film draws inspiration from the tumultuous political climate in Brazil and the fact that, despite spending billions to host the World Cup and the Olympics, the country is currently languishing in its worst recession in history. The economy is so bad that hospitals have been closing down due to lack of funds and equipment, and such an occurrence is at the heart of The Trace We Leave Behind.

Rafael Cardoso stars as João, a doctor who has been tasked with overseeing the transfer of the remaining patients in a closing hospital in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, the transfer does not go smoothly, and not just because of the protests. A patient gets lost along the way; a young orphan girl named Julia, the last patient to have been admitted at that hospital, who João had briefly spoken to one day. Although João's wife Leila (Leandra Leal) is pregnant with their first child, Julia commented that he doesn't look like a father because when you're scared you look at a father and know things will be okay. I think that comment spurs João along in his desperate search to find Julia, as he wants to prove that he can make things okay for her.

Concurrent to Julia's disappearance, João begins to experience very strange things in the old hospital. While he witnesses some intense evidence that the hospital may be haunted, and Feyer wrings every bit of creepiness he possibly can out of these haunting sequences, we also have to take into account that we're seeing things through the eyes of a man who is carrying a huge amount of stress and responsibility on his shoulders, and who is sleep deprived because of the terrible nightmares he's having. There's a chance that João's mind may be crumbling just as much as the walls and ceilings in the condemned hospital.

Cardoso delivers an incredible performance, really getting across his character's tortured emotional state as João gets more and more desperate and scared. The longer he searches for Julia, the more disturbing the situation becomes, and he ends up unearthing some very dark secrets. The Trace We Leave Behind is far from being a simple, straightforward story of a haunted hospital. The story takes twists and turns that I wasn't expecting at all, and by the conclusion we're in territory that I never would have imagined this film was going to take us into.

Leal also puts in some great work as Leila, who is dragged along on her husband's quest. She's the loving wife trying to keep their home life together for most of the film, but then the point comes when she has to follow João into the darkness. The film throws some heavy emotional content her way, and Leal capably handles it in a very impressive manner.

Well-made and polished, The Trace We Leave Behind is on a Hollywood level while being uniquely Brazilian. Aside from an egregious jump scare here and there, it doesn't fall into any Hollywood trappings - this is a story centered on adult characters, and it doesn't handle its horror with any sense of levity. This is a deadly serious situation that beats the characters into the ground, and Feyer means to take you along the ride with them. There is no relief, no break in the dark atmosphere. The film is relentless in its determination to scare and disturb.

Overall, I found it to be quite effective. The only nitpick I have in mind after watching the film is that, if we are truly to wonder if the horrific events are supernatural or psychological, then it seems like João goes off the deep end a little too quickly. The ending, while providing resolution and being a satisfying wrap-up, also left some questions, but they are mostly intentional.

The Trace We Leave Behind is probably the best possible attempt there could be to make Brazilian horror mainstream in its native country. We'll have to wait and see if the attempt was a successful one. I hope so, because I would love to see more horror like this coming out of Brazil.

The review of The Trace We Leave Behind originally appeared on


Although it's the second Paul Naschy / Waldemar Daninsky werewolf movie that fans have access to, Assignment Terror (which is also known as Dracula vs. Frankenstein) was actually the third Daninsky movie that went into production - any footage shot for the second film in the series was lost when director René Govar died in the midst of filming. So since that chapter in the Daninsky saga is missing, we have to look at this one as "part 2".

You may be surprised that there even is a second installment in the Daninsky series, since he was effectively killed off at the end of The Mark of the Wolfman, having been shot with a silver bullet fired by someone who loved him, the only thing that can really kill a werewolf. But a werewolf will only stay dead as long as aliens don't come along and resurrect them.

Yep, this is an alien invasion film, with aliens from the dying planet of Ummo coming to Earth with plans to dominate humans and take the place over. They walk among us by stealing the appearances of dead people, and since they need Earth intact and inhabitable after they conquer it they can't come in blasting with weaponry and setting off nukes. They have to be subtle and prey on people's emotions, which the inhabitants of Ummo don't have, and superstitions. They set out to brainwash beautiful women to become their soldiers, capable of manipulating high-ranking people, and scare the human race into submission by assembling an army of classic monsters.

The skeleton of a staked vampire is stolen from a sideshow, but don't let the alternate title fool you, this vampire isn't Dracula. He is Count Janos de Mialhoff, and that name briefly confused me because the male vampire in The Mark of the Wolfman was named Janos Mikhelov. I wasn't sure if this was supposed to be the same guy. But I guess writer/star Paul Naschy just liked writing vampires named Janos with M last names. When the stake is removed from the skeleton, Mialhoff is revived.

Something similar is done with Daninsky. Decades after his death, his body is removed from his tomb and the silver bullet surgically extracted from his heart. The plans of the aliens from Ummo are endangered when Daninsky wolfs out and escapes into the countryside earlier than intended; they need to keep control of him. They're able to catch him, and after that they do quite a good job of keeping him under control. For most of the film Daninsky is their captive.

The aliens also gain control over the mummy Tao Tet, and locate a human-like creature that was created by a Dr. Farancksalan. It's Farancksalan's Monster. I'm not sure why they used that name instead of Frankenstein. So this definitely isn't Dracula vs. Frankenstein, they best you could get out of it is Mialhoff vs. Farancksalan.

This description is taking forever because the movie itself takes forever - I have watched Assignment Terror before, and my feeling was that it is "painfully dull". This most recent viewing wasn't painful, but this isn't exactly an exciting, thrill-a-minute film. It takes the aliens a long time to gather their monsters, which they plan to replicate a thousand times over, during which time the local police are shown investigating the deaths and disappearances in the area. More than half of the movie's 83 minutes have gone by before the aliens have all of the monsters in their possession... and before Daninsky has even spoken a line.

There is some indication that the aliens also intended to add a Golem, a giant made out of clay, to their army, and Naschy and director Tulio Demichelli were planning on including a Golem in the film, but the creature had to be dropped due to budgetary restrictions. It's just as well, because having it in there would have made the gathering of the monsters take up even more time.

Once all the monsters minus the Golem have been secured, the aliens' plans start to fall apart almost immediately, as human emotions begin to stir within the female aliens. One of them falls for Daninsky, another falls for Mialhoff, monsters are ordered to turn against monsters to try to keep things on track, the police find their way into the aliens' lair, and you can pretty much count this invasion as a failure already.

Aliens, a wolfman, a vampire, a mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, Assignment Terror had the elements right there to be such a fun movie, but somehow it just didn't add up. I thought it was a slog to sit through before, and even after The Mark of the Wolfman won me over and made me more interested in watching the Daninsky series it remains a slog for me. The presence of Naschy and Daninsky isn't enough to keep me interested in this one. It's not a bad movie, but it's a slow letdown.

If you want to check out Assignment Terror for yourself, it's not hard to find. The movie is public domain, so not only is it readily available on its own, it's also been featured on a lot of horror host shows.

The Dungeon of Dr. Dreck - SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962)

Released in the U.S. as Samon vs. the Vampire Women, this film was actually part of the Santo franchise, which consisted of (according to Wikipedia) 52 different movies, only 4 of which were dubbed into English. Masked Mexican wrestling superstar Santo stars as himself in the film, and you may be surprised to find out that the wrestler's personal life involved working as a spy/superhero.

The "vampire women" of the title are a clan of bloodsuckers (there are men among them, too) whose Queen Sorena has been woken from a 200 year slumber to pass her crown over to an unsuspecting young woman. At first, it seems like the scariest thing about these vampire women will be how much they can talk - the opening ceremony feels like it goes on and on, as it takes several minutes of talking to get Sorena out of her coffin and moving around. But rest assured, their ceremonies will also take up a good amount of time in virtual silence as well.

Santo, or Samson in the dubbed version, is called in to protect the girl that the vampires want to turn into their new Queen, and he does his best to do so. As you might expect, part of his protection effort includes a wrestling match with one of Sorena's male vampire servants.

Samson vs. the Vampire Women isn't quite as good or exciting as you might expect a movie about a masked wrestler/superhero taking on a clan of vampires would be, but the presence of Santo is a nice touch that spices up what otherwise might have been a rather dull and typical vampire film. There's nothing special about the scenes with the blood-loving undead... until you have Santo showing up to beat them down with wrestling moves.

I didn't just watch Samson vs. the Vampire Women on its own for this viewing, the movie was being shown on an episode of the horror host show The Dungeon of Dr. Dreck, hosted by the titular mad scientist and his zombie sidekick Moaner. Dreck and Moaner open the episode discussing Santo and the bad dubbing, giving each other the bad dubbing treatment in an amusing moment. Later on, there's a segment with the Space Rats, literally a pair of talking rats, who find that they enjoy eating Soylent Green. That's followed by a comedic promo for Dr. Dreck fan club buttons. In the segment that comes in at the middle of the movie, Dreck and Moaner are joined by a space rat who offers to add Spanish subtitles to the show. This is paid off at the end of the show, where we're taught that you shouldn't trust a space rat.

This was a good episode of Dr. Dreck, once which thankfully features more Dreck and Moaner than the episode I watched earlier this year did.

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