Planet of the Vampires (expiring 5/1)
Italian director Mario Bava began as a stylish cinematographer for sword-and-sandal flicks before embarking on a career directing mostly horror films. He developed a knack for using color in impressive, vibrant new ways, employing bold swatches and creepy shadows to suggest different emotional states. Planet of the Vampires (1965) tells the sci-fi story about a band of astronauts who land on an uncharted planet and mysteriously begin to attack each other. (Sorry... there aren't any vampires in this one.) Like most of Bava's films, the story is nonsensical, but the style more than makes up for it. Many have suggested that Ridley Scott was heavily influenced by this film during the creation of his Alien (1979).
Vampire Circus (expiring 5/1)
England's Hammer studio was known for re-inventing all the classic movie monsters in the 1950s and 1960s, with more blood and sex, but nothing it produced would prepare a viewer for Vampire Circus (1972). Set in the 17th century, the film is about a traveling circus that arrives in a small village. Purporting to entertain the plague-fearing masses, the circus folk are actually a batch of shape-shifting monsters, out for revenge. The movie features striking color cinematography and unforgettable surreal imagery, as well as a healthy dose of gore and nudity. Robert Young directed.
Dolls (expiring 5/1)
Director Stuart Gordon began his career in Chicago underground theater, and then directed two notable H.P. Lovecraft movies,Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). Dolls (1987) was his third feature, and though it has no Lovecraft origins, it's still just as perverse and bizarre. It begins with an ages-old setup: During a storm, several different travelers take cover in a mysterious old mansion. The residents are a kindly old couple who make extraordinary dolls. Among the visitors, only a little girl (the child of an anxious father and a vicious stepmother) and a sensitive young man who loves toys seem to be avoiding getting brutally murdered by mysterious, tiny, predators. Gordon infuses the gory attacks with his own infectious brand of nasty humor.
Monkey Shines (expiring 5/1)
Director George A. Romero may be primarily known for his zombie films, and for making horror movies in general, but his works always contain fascinating layers of social awareness. On the surface, Monkey Shines (1988) tells the story of a law student, Allan (Jason Beghe), who becomes a quadriplegic. A friend who has been experimenting with an intelligence drug on monkeys gives him the smartest of the batch, Ella, to help take care of him. Unfortunately, Allan and Ella start becoming attached in unhealthy ways, and people start dying. The movie doesn't really have any scares, and a silly epilogue lessens its impact, but otherwise, it's a smart, gripping thriller, and one of Romero's best. The promotional title on the poster was "Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear."
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