Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Five Random Horror Movies from the Paramount Vault

A quick and dirty overview of five horror movies you can watch for free (and totally legally!) on YouTube right freaking now...

By: Jimbo X

Every year, we here at The Internet Is In America has gleefully directed readers towards a handful of Halloween-tinged genre offerings they could watch on the YouTubes, both for free and without having to worry about violating any D.M.C.A. regulations. Rather interestingly, Paramount over the last year has made the super-awesome decision to stream dozens of their less-heralded films on the website totally gratis, and of course, that includes quite a few horror flicks of note. 

While you would expect the quality of the films posted online to be, well, rather suspect, at best, Paramount actually did us a kindness and threw up some genre flicks that, rather surprisingly, are actually half way worth a damn. Granted, you won't be seeing any of the real heavy hitters from the Paramount archives streaming for free (so that means no freebie Friday the 13th flicks, unfortunately) but you nonetheless get a pretty solid mixture of old school horror, 1980s high-end exploitation and a ton of post-George W. neo-gore-a-thons. Although a paltry 10 selections, the Paramount Vault horror cavalcade (which, at one point, included Jacob's Ladder, which appears to have been yanked from the free-to-view rotation for some indeterminable reason) nonetheless features more good than bad, including quite a few hidden gems that all dyed-in-the-wool genre loyalists should probably take a gander at. So without further adieu, let's hop head first into some extremely cost-efficient Halloween viewin', why don't we? 

Shanks (1974)
Director: William Castle

William Castle was the undisputed king of gimmick movies. While everybody remembers him for his cockamamie in-theater ploys (i.e., the special glasses that allowed you to see "invisible" beings in 13 Ghosts and the infamous The Tingler contraption that literally shocked moviegoers throughout the feature presentation), a lot of people, unfortunately, discount the legitimate greatness of his work. Lest we forget, this was the same man who gave us genuinely great genre films like House on Haunted Hill and Macabre, in addition to more scintillating, sensational fare a'la Homicidal and Mr. Sardonicus. Shanks was the last film Castle helmed before his death in 1977, and I'd consider it a pretty solid, middle-of-the-road entry in his filmography. Eschewing any formal theatrical tomfoolery, the film is a rather vanilla narrative starring the iconic French mime Marcel Marceau as puppeteer who accidentally uncovers a mad scientist's scheme to re-animate the dead using some sort of weird looking jelly and an Atari 2600 control pad. Of course, it's only a matter of time until Marceau starts using the contraption to exact revenge on all the people in town who make fun of him, but for the most part, we're dealing with fairly innocuous, slapstick hi-jinks, like a scene where Marceau takes his living dead puppets into a grocery store to pick up some picnic supplies. The film ultimately dives into traditional horror territory in the third act, when a bunch of no-good bikers decide to break into Marcel's mansion and rip shit up - with results that, well, should be pretty obvious from several hundred miles away. As far as content, it's a fairly subdued film (just overlook the profanity and exposed female flesh towards the end of the flick), with most of the violence limited to goofy physical comedy. It's never really played as a straight horror flick, so there isn't much atmosphere, even when it comes time for the bikers to receive their comeuppance. The cinematography, however, is very nice, and it's certainly a nice change of pace from your usual supernatural hokum and paint-by-number slasher opus. Your mileage may vary, but overall, I thought this was a fairly fun little diversion.

The Sender (1982)
Director: Roger Christian

Now here's a film that I'd definitely consider a diamond in the rough. OK, so The Sender is not a great movie. Hell, it's probably not even a great genre movie, for that matter. Nonetheless, I found it to be an extremely entertaining little supernatural romp, which probably deserves designation as overachieving-mini-horror-guilty-pleasure-almost-cult-classic alongside other WAY better than they had any right to be '80s gems like Bloody Birthday and Night of the Demons. The plot concerns this one dude who looks just like that guy who shot up the church in South Carolina who tries to kill himself in a lake. Well, he wakes up in a mental institution (his compatriots include this one black dude that thinks Vietnam is still going on and a dude deathly afraid his head's going to roll of his shoulders) and slowly but surely he convinces the head shrink that maybe - just maybe - he really does have some sort of weird telekinetic power (which, for some reason, he can only harness while he's sleeping or knocked out or anesthetized.) This being one of those "twist ending" flicks, I really can't tell you too much about the rest of the plot, but rest assured this one has some downright fantastic scenes, including a part where a dude gets his noggin slapped clean off his neck and a downright beautiful sequence in which the doctors try to electro-shock the titular character and he makes everybody levitate in the air in slow-motion before throwing them around the room and through plate-glass windows like in that old Xbox game Psi-Ops. Great cinema, this may not be, but something tells me hardcore horror purists nonetheless ought to get a kick out of this one. Oh, and for the record? The same guy who directed this film would later go on to direct the epitome of the Hollywood cinematic disaster, 2000's much, much-maligned Battlefield Earth

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Director: Tobe Hooper

Even 30 years down the road, this remains a very polarizing movie. Released 13 years after the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which, to me, seemed like a pretty closed book), TCM 2 does that typical horror movie sequel thing where it doesn't directly follow the incidents that transpired in the first movie (so, that means no Marilyn Burns, no Gunnar Hansen and really, nobody that starred in the first movie reprising any of their roles.) Indeed, the iconic Sawyer clan is sort of a remix of the family in the first film, with everyone's personalities totally different (for example, the hippie dude that lit a photograph on fire in the first flick has been retconned into a Vietnam vet with a steel plate in his skull, while Leatherface has been turned into a less murderous retard that apparently has quite the libido.) Plot-wise, it's a pretty straight forward movie; these two yuppies on their way to a college football game piss off Leatherface and pals, and their grisly deaths are recorded live by a local radio station. Naturally, this piques the interest of rogue cop Dennis Hopper, who has been trying to track down the Lone Star State cannibals for at least a decade. This leads to the cannibal clan kidnapping the local radio DJ, with live-action Bowser himself coming in at the last minute to save her from having her skull bashed in by a dude who is at least 90 years old (but, uh, not before Hopper can run around an underground catacomb, swinging a chainsaw of his own like a madman for 20 minutes while singing "Bringing in the Sheep.") Needless to say, the film doesn't exactly have the guerrilla film-making, no-budget charm of the original, and the mixture of grisly, exploitation guts and gore with almost Eating Raoul-esque black comedy is uneasy at best. And at an hour and forty minutes, it does feel a bit overlong, and some fairly pointless scenes (like Dennis Hopper rummaging through the Sawyer's subterranean lair) just drag on forever (oh, and if you hate Southern accents, my god, will the voice of the "final girl" piss you off to high heavens.) Still, it has some pretty entertaining bits, the blood and gunk effects are very well done and although the flick stumbles here and there, it never becomes truly uninteresting or laborious. Like fellow unnecessary sequels Hellraiser II and Child's Play 3, you really can't call TCM 2 a "good movie," by any stretch. But considering all of the crazy shit going on, there's something else you definitely cannot call this flick, either - and that's "boring." 

Rumpelstiltskin (1995)
Director: Mark Jones

The popularity of Freddy Krueger inspired a good 15 years' worth of imitators, and pun-spouting monster movie wannabes were a dime a dozen throughout the 1990s. I mean, who could ever forget such failed ventures as Sleepstalker: The Sandman's Last Rites, The Fear and my personal favorite, Jack Frost (the non-Michael Keaton one, obviously)? As far as Freddy rip-offs go, Rumpelstiltskin is certainly one of the better forays. Directed by the same guy who gave the world the gift that keeps on giving in the form of The Leprechaun franchise, Rumpelstiltskin concerns a woman whose husband is killed in the line of duty, who at her friend's request, waltzes on in to an antique shop and buys herself a jade gargoyle statue, because that's the best way to get over your husband's death sometimes. Of course, it's an evil statue, and she awakens the titular creature by weeping on it and making a wish simultaneously (somehow, this was a product defect the woman who runs the antique shop failed to mention.) For the next hour, the woman runs around trying to avoid the hunchbacked menace, who desperately wants to eat her baby because it will give him eternal life or super speed or some other bullshit. Along the way, however, she encounters a Morton Downey, Jr. analogue, who becomes the unexpected hero of the flick by engaging in go-kart versus semi-truck demolition derbies with Rumpy himself. Yeah, it's a bit predictable and some of the "catch as catch can" sequences drag on forever, but by and large, I rather enjoyed this one. It's got a lot of great gross-out effects, some hilarious cringe-worthy dialogue and even a scene were Rumpelstiltskin (played, by of all people, fucking Rom from Deep Space Nine) kills a biker and commands a hog to the tune of the absolute shittiest sounding knockoff of Sympathy for the Devil you've ever heard. Maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age or I'm really feeling the pangs of mid-90s trash culture nostalgia, but begrudgingly, I found this flick to be - oh, oh so shamefully - an absolute hoot and a half to trudge through. 

In Dreams (1999) 
Director: Neil Jordan

1999 was a pretty important year for Hollywood cinema. The Matrix, Fight Club, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, Being John Malkovich and Magnolia were among the highly influential flicks released that year, which - in many ways - are still shaping mainstream moviemaking to this day. Alas, In Dreams definitely isn't one of those industry-shifting seminal works - indeed, it's a very forgettable psychological drama with one of the most difficult to follow plots you'll ever see from a big budget, monolithic studio production. OK, so way back in the day, there was this town that was flooded. Got it? Good. So, Annette Benning starts having dreams about this local girl that's gone missing, but she also starts having hallucinations about the aforementioned flooded town, and then shit starts getting really out there, with her garbage disposal puking up 300 gallons of muddy water. Oh, and her husband is an airline pilot that's cheating on her. This causes her a lot of stress, so she spends about 20 minutes of the movie just sitting outside, smoking Marlboro after Marlboro. Now things are about to get migraine-inducing; as it turns out, the girl she keeps having dreams about isn't the girl who mysteriously vanished, it's her own daughter, who apparently, has been kidnapped and killed by ... somebody. Well, as it turns out, her killer was ROBERT DOWNEY, JR., back when he was still on drugs (probably), and he has a sweet mullet going on. So Benning starts experiencing Downey's dreams, which kind of gives her clues as to who he is going to kill next and when, but after she tells the police they say "this bitch is crazy" and throw her into a mental institution but apparently she can astral-project herself into other people's bodies so she takes over the body of this one nurse who wears a lot of red lipstick so she can seduce a fat cop and steal his squad car at a diner and then ... well, let's just say it ends with a million billion police everywhere and Iron Man threatening to gorilla press slam Kevin Spacey's wife in American Beauty off a bridge. This is pretty much the kind of movie that comes on TNT at 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon ... needless to say, you ain't missing much at all if you decide to skip this one

Talk about getting ... ahead ... of yourself! (Get it, because it's a severed head, you see.)

So there you have it kids - five totally free horror flicks, spanning three, almost four decades - you can hit up on the Interwebs at this very moment. Really, as long as you have diverse tastes as a horror aficionado, you really can't go wrong with either of the five freebies above (well, except for In Dreams ... that one sucks, no matter what your genre bread and butter may be.) Anyhoo, I just wanted to commend Paramount for having the foresight and decency to put up some horror flicks people actually would want to watch online for free. Of course, I'd love to see them open up their vaults and post more flicks, and hell, why aren't other big name studios like Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox doing the same thing? If there is anything running a semi-popular website for half a decade has taught me, it's that people will consume just about anything as long as you don't ask them to pay for it. And with that in mind, I conclude with a polite suggestion for film studios, across the globe: you want hits, and you want advertising revenue? Keep giving us free movies, and - counter-intuitively, I know - the money will roll right in, I promise you. 


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