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Cheap, Raw Kitschfests of Yesteryear Spearhead Halloween Retro

Scary? The season's preeminent all-hallow'd series returns with another cache of obscure, semi-forgotten, and all-too-familiar genre hellgrammites, many of them more seductive for their low-budget rawness and kitsch rating than any hair-raising properties. Hence, there's the very best of Roger Corman's crude but stylish Poe adaptations—The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1965)—and a slew of Brit gothics, Hammer and otherwise. The Devil Rides Out (1967) possesses a reputation far beyond its modest satanic-cult plot and tame graphics, but its sense of conviction (embodied by Christopher Lee as the heroic occultist) is startling. Blood on Satan's Claw (1970) is an atmospheric 17th-century town-gone-mad thriller that has a tinge of Rod Serling at its nervous center, and Demons of the Mind (1972) plunges into a we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle family twisted by delusion, incest, and murder, while José Ramón Larraz's Vampyres (1974) centers on a contemporary pair of lesbian bloodsuckers (one of them a certified Playmate) lounging around and luring victims into an abandoned country estate. The payoff here is the genuine sense of foggy landscape, antique locale, and historical frisson you get from cut-rate matinee Euro-trips that cannot afford to fake very much—in this universe, bad lighting only ramps up the moodiness.

The hunger: Lesbian Vampyres
photo: Photofest/FSLC
The hunger: Lesbian Vampyres

Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) and John Carpenter's Halloween (1979) are knee-jerk perennials, and revisiting Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) and Robert Mulligan's summertime hyperventilation The Other (1972) can never be a bad thing. But outside of Curtis Harrington's newish and rather placid, personal Poe film Usher (2002), the movie in need of wide-eyed attention is Sidney J. Furie's The Entity (1982). Based on a "true" story about a working single mom (Barbara Hershey) repeatedly raped by an invisible force, it's a thundering, irrational, thoroughly discombobulating nightmare, fueled by a nerve-mangling soundtrack and, naturally, a metaphoric torque that smokes all other attempts at feminist pulp. Too vicious and harrowing by half, The Entity was largely unseen the same year Spielberg's Poltergeist made suburbia safe for paranormal assault. Someday, it'll be recognized.

 
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