Witchhammer, American Werewolves, The Changeling, and The Flesh and the Fiends
Weekly Horror Bulletin Newsletter 175
We’ve got our usual collection of four horror films and a short film for you this week. We'll hunt for some witches with "Witchhammer" from 1970, and then go dig some graves with 1960's "The Flesh and the Fiends." Moving ahead to 1980, we'll stop in and figure out what happened with "The Changeling," and lastly go hunting for some "American Werewolves" in 2022.
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“In the Mouth of Madness” from 1994
She-Gods of Shark Reef from 1958
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American Werewolves (2022)
Directed by Seth Breedlove
Written by Seth Breedlove
Run Time: 1 Hour, 20 Minutes
American Werewolves debuts on major streaming platforms on July 5th, from 1091 Pictures, including iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and FandangoNOW. This horrifying new entry into the Small Town Monsters canon is directed by Seth Breedlove and produced by Heather Moser.
It's very well put together. Long on very convincing eyewitness accounts and secondhand stories, but short on physical evidence or actual photos. Skeptic or believer, it's up to the viewer to decide.
We are told that “While many theorize that the dog man is some sort of unspecified species of animal, many believe that what they were confronted by was something else. Something more.”
A man describes a man-shaped thing, 7 or 8 feet tall with a doglike face. A woman describes hearing bipedal shuffling on the gravel. Others describe encountering an intelligent, dog-like man. Credits roll.
When we finish credits, we get the definition and history of the word “lycanthrope.”
Bucyris is a small town in Ohio. They have a legend about the “Bo Bo,” and another “Rawhead and Bloody Bones.” A woman named Diane is also from Ohio, and she tells the story about seeing what she thought was an animal up in the trees; it wasn’t in the trees, it was just really tall. Shane recalls a similar story about a creature in a cornfield.
Then we move to Kentucky, with more interviews and stories, this time with some actual fatalities. Was there a police coverup, or is al this just an urban legend?
Overall, there are about a dozen interviews, all with interesting stories of werewolves or some kind of dog-man.
The majority of the film is interviews with eyewitnesses and experts with a lot of talking heads, interspersed with reconstruction scenes. The werewolf footage is well done for this kind of film- it wouldn’t hold up in a horror film, but it’s pretty creepy for a documentary.
I’m not really a big believer in cryptids, but I would be seriously creeped out by this as a kid. If you have kids that are preparing for a camping trip, I strongly recommend you show them this film first!
The Changeling (1980)
Directed by Peter Medak
Written by Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Stars George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh
Run Time: 1 Hour, 47 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This one is a bit of a mystery figuring out what's going on as things unfold. Great house, great cast, and an excellent script. There's plenty of tension and creepiness as it goes along. It's a really a good one worth checking out that has held up well for being 40 plus years old.
On November 27th, John Russell and his family go on vacation, but their car breaks down on the road. They push the car off to the side. He goes into the phone booth to call for a tow and ends up watching his wife and daughter get run over by a snowplow truck. As credits roll, we see that John goes home to the big city and his very nearly-empty apartment; he’s moving to Seattle to teach music.
He rents a huge old mansion that’s been empty for twelve years. Before he even moves in, the piano plays a note all by itself.
John goes to a fundraiser for the symphony and hears Senator Carmichael giving a speech; Claire says that the old Senator is the main source of funds for their symphony.
The next morning, John is rudely awakened by loud knocking coming from somewhere upstairs. Later, he starts working on some music and turns on his recorder. Claire brings by some old photos of the house’s previous occupants. The two of them go riding together, which brings up bad memories for John.
The following morning at six a.m., there’s more of that loud knocking. The handyman, Mr. Tuttle, can’t find anything wrong with the pipes. Still, John knows there’s something going on with the water in the house; he follows sounds up to the third floor bathroom, where the water has been left running. He sees something strange in the water and goes back downstairs.
He goes to see Claire at the Historical Society and asks about ghosts and if anyone else has seen anything. Ms. Huxley, the creepy lady who works with Claire, says the house doesn’t want people; it’s not fit to have people living in it. When he goes home, he finds a boarded-up, padlocked door on the third floor. Inside is a dust-covered room with a wheelchair and children’s furniture. He finds a notebook labeled, ”C.S.B. January 1909.” He finds a music box that plays the same song that John had recorded a few days ago - he thought he'd made it up himself.
John tells Claire that everything that happened was designed to get him into that attic room. None of this is an accident. John goes to the library and researches the house back in 1909. They find a little girl, Cora Bernard, who was killed in a street accident in 1909; the parents sold the house afterwards. The accident is similar to the one that claimed John’s daughter.
More weirdness goes on involving his daughter’s toy ball. He goes to see a parapsychologist at the university who suggests bringing in a medium. The medium, Leah Harmon, says it’s a child who cannot rest. They do a seance, and the ghost says it’s not Cora, it’s Joseph, and he wants John’s help. Not much else happens until John plays back the recording of the tape. John gets a vision/flashback of Joseph Carmichael being drowned in the bathtub by his father.
John tells all this to Claire, who freaks out. John starts suspecting old Senator Joseph Carmichael. Mrs. Huxley from the Historic Society calls Carmichael to warn him about John’s research. Claire finds out that Young Joseph had been ill as a child and sent overseas to a sanatorium.
John figures out the real Joseph was murdered by his father. A child from the nearby orphanage was sent overseas to grow up and return after the war as a healthy adult. No one would know the difference. His father controlled a vast sum of inherited money that would be lost if the son died before reaching the age of 21, and the real Joseph was very sickly. The father didn't want to take the chance.
In his researches, John discovers a well on the property that was sold and built over many years ago. There’s a subdivision house there now. John and Claire talk to the woman who owns that house, and she’s pretty understanding. John gets a man to cut through the floor, and they do find the old well— with the skeleton of a small boy inside. The coroner says the bones may have been down there for fifty years or more. John doesn’t reveal anything to the police.
After the police leave, John goes back inside and digs some more. He doesn’t find anything until a necklace crawls up out of the ground in front of him. The medallion has Joseph’s name on it; that was definitely him. John confronts the Senator, who flies away and calls the police Captain. We see that he has a medallion just like the one John found.
John, on the other hand, doesn’t know what to do next. Police Captain Dewitt shows up, and he knows about the seance and the bones in the well. Dewitt thinks this is all a blackmail scheme. Dewitt and Carmichael want the medallion back. Claire is fired and John’s lease has been cancelled. After leaving, Dewitt is killed in a car accident.
Carmichael returns to town and hears about Dewitt. He calls John to set up a meeting. John tells him what has transpired and what Carmichael’s father did. The boy from the orphanage grew up and eventually became the Senator— he is a “Changeling.” The Senator must have suspected the truth, but he obviously wasn’t involved with the murder. The Senator threatens John, but John’s said all he came for and leaves.
Meanwhile, Claire goes back to the house and she’s chased by the wheelchair. John shows up and tells her to wait in the car. He goes up to the third floor and falls over the railing as the house catches fire. Elsewhere, the Senator gets his own experience and shows up at the house as well. In spirit form? He's actually in his office frozen like he's having a vision. He goes up the burning staircase and is trapped up there. The Senator dies of a heart attack in his office as the house burns down.
That is a mighty fine house. I’d live there, haunted or otherwise.
The story unfolds slowly, but it never even hints at being boring. The mystery is an extremely complicated one, but it’s all explained and exposed clearly and makes perfect sense. The performances are all excellent, and the casting is pretty perfect as well.
It’s one of the best haunted house movies out there, absolutely worth watching today.
Short Film: DRIP (2021)
Directed by Sidney Fenton
Written by Sidney Fenton
Stars Elle Harris, Yulia Napier
Run Time: 8:35
A woman answers the phone; she has cancelled her plans as it's been a hard day moving into the new place and wants to stay home alone.
She finds drops of blood on the side of her bathtub. She goes to bed, but can't sleep because of an annoying dripping sound. The sound won't go away, so she plugs up the faucet. Then the tub turns on all by itself. Things go downhill from there...
I was expecting more from the drops of blood, but it doesn't go that route. There's only one character, and she looks suitably terrified throughout. The set, lighting, cinematography, and music are all excellent. Big thumbs up. Definitely worth a watch!
Directed by Otakar Vavra
Written by Václav Kaplický, Otakar Vávra, Ester Krumbachová
Stars Vladimir Smiral, Elo Romancik, Josef Kemr
Run Time: 1 Hour, 46 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s a low-action visual feast. Well-acted, great cinematography, impressive costumes and sets. A little long after a while, but a fascinating watch.
“Sin entered the world through women. Woman is sin. A woman’s womb is the gateway to Hell.” We see scenes of groups of naked women bathing, laughing, and getting massages. We then cut to a choir singing in church. They all stop and do Communion. An old woman slips in at the end of the line, wanting to partake as well, but she spits the wafer into a napkin and takes it away. An old man spots her and pulls her aside. She begs forgiveness because her cow has run dry. The priest calls for the sheriff.
She’s just part of a whole coven of witches, as the priest reveals to the Countess and the town leaders. They bring the old woman in to explain herself. They needed the sacred wafer for her neighbor’s cow, which had stopped giving milk. The old lady accidentally incriminates her friend, an herbalist and healer. The town elders debate whether this is just superstition or a serious case of Satanism. They decide to call for Boblig, a retired inquisitor, to get to the truth of the matter.
Boblig goes to see the Countess and he talks about the requirements of an inquisition. It’s quite an expensive production. He soon sets to work inquisiting. Boblig soon reports that there are several witches on the Countess’s estate, which upsets her. He dilutes his wine with hot water. Boblig goes to see Lautner, and there’s a disagreement with Lautner’s cook.
Meanwhile, they start torturing the accused witches in the dungeon. The old woman from earlier just says exactly what they prompt her to say, which is bad for all the others. Under torture, they all confess to whatever they’re told to confess to. When one of them accuses Boblig of being with them, he has the guard strangle her. Boblig blames it on the devil.
The priest starts talking to the town elders against Boblig. As is always the case, the accusations of witchery get out of control. Three women are burned at the stake. The women scream that they were tortured into confessing, and the priest really questions what they are doing. Although the priest asks for Boblig to stop the trials, more women are rounded up. Boblig starts plotting to have Deacon Lautner arrested. Lautner goes to see the bishop to complain, but the bishop already knows about the complaints against Lautner’s cook, so he’s a suspect as well.
More arrests are made, including the deacon’s cook. Paranoia sets in all over town. Even the sheriff and members of the tribunal are arrested. Business owners are arrested. It starts getting very political. The cook is tortured and confesses, and Lautner is arrested. Lautner’s trial goes on for a while, and he continues to deny everything.
The bishop himself asks the tribunal about Lautner. Thirty-Six witnesses testified that he was there during the witch meetings. The bishop finally decides to allow Lautner to be tortured. One of the tribunal members resigns rather than judge Lautner. Eventually he confesses as well but refuses to implicate anyone else.
Boblig revels in his power and watches Lautner burn. We read that Boblig lived to a ripe old age.
This is black and white, but it looks like it was an expensive production with a large cast. The cinematography and casting are excellent, as is the scale of the whole thing. It’s well acted, the story is logical, and it’s all very well done. It’s a bit long, but that just heightens the suspense. There’s no evidence of witchcraft or real witches in this, but the torture scenes are pretty detailed and brutal.
The crazy man talking about the evils of women between the various scenes is really creepy, but in a cool way. I kept noticing how he looked like Willem Dafoe crossed with Marty Feldman.
It’s something like “The Crucible” as the witches start to accuse each other and incriminate other women. Apparently, it was so similar to Stalinism that it wasn’t allowed to be shown in the Eastern Bloc until 1989. Supposedly, much of the testimony is taken from actual historical records, but it’s hard to know how much of this is a true story.
On the other hand, it’s really long, it feels really long, and there’s nothing we haven’t seen in other films. It’s historically important, but definitely doesn’t hold up very well today.
The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)
Directed by John Gilling
Written by John Gilling, Leon Griffiths
Stars Peter Cushing, June Laverick, Donald Pleasance
Run Time: 1 Hour, 34 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Inspired by true events, which makes it even more horrifying. The monsters in this one are real people. It's got a strong cast, great sets, and a story that moves fairly well. All in all, a good watch.
“This is the story of lost men and lost souls. It is a story of vice and murder. We make no apologies to the dead. It is all true.”
We open on a cemetery as grave robbers set about their nightly work. Credits roll.
Meanwhile, at the Academy of Doctor Knox in Edinburgh, Martha, Dr. Knox’s niece, arrives a week early and greets Dr. Mitchell. Dr. Knox is busy giving a lecture on the miracle of medicine. He’s giving a congratulatory speech to the about-to-graduate doctors. Two men arrive with a delivery for Dr. Knox. It’s “a stiff,” he’s told. The academy can’t be assigned corpses by the government, so they have to deal with the black market.
Knox pays the two men, who go to the bar to celebrate. While they are there, Burke and Hare take notice and come to the conclusion that they could use a job like that. Knox’s assistant Chris gets mugged by the two men on the way out. Barmaid Mary helps Chris out, and she takes him upstairs to her room to fix up his wounds. She wants him to give her an anatomy lesson...
The next morning, the two young lovers go their separate ways and make plans for tomorrow night. Burke and Hare go home and Mrs. Burke explains that their lodger died last night without paying his board. Say— they could get six guineas for him up at the academy. They could become resurrectionists! Dr. Knox is pleased that the body is fresh.
Dr. Mitchell and Martha run into Chris and Mary at a picnic. At the pub later that night, Hare gets an old woman to drink too much and they carry her off to Dr. Knox’s place. She’s really fresh! We see that Mr. Hare is afraid of rats. They ask him if he’d like a regular supply of corpses, and he’s quite eager.
Angus, an old man comes to stay at Mrs. Burke’s boarding house; he just arrived in town a few minutes ago. Angus explains that he’s come to the capitol to end his days in peace. He does, very quickly. They take the body to the academy as usual, but this time run into Dr. Mitchell. Mitchell gives them a hard time, but then Knox comes in and smoothes the deal along. Mitchell smells a rat and confronts Knox. Knox only cares about educating his students to be good doctors.
Four of Edinborough’s leading surgeons come to call. Knox wrote an article about an incompetent mistake one of them made from not understanding anatomy well enough. He rants at them for a bit and then throws them all out. Mitchell warns Knox that those men would be happy to expose any of Knox’s weaknesses, such as that of employing Burke and Hare.
Chris catches Mary in the middle of a sort of orgy and doesn’t approve. She laughs at him and tells him that he’s boring. He gets mad and leaves, and she chases after him, but doesn’t find him. Burke and Hare, however, just happen to be passing by and they offer to buy her a few drinks... Maybe the good doctor should give them a bit more this time.
Chris is working at school when the new corpse comes in. She’s the best one they’ve had yet. When Chris takes a look, he immediately recognizes Mary. He runs off, and Mitchell recognizes Mary and explains the whole thing to Knox. Chris attacks Burke, and Hare stabs Chris in the back. “There’s one subject we won’t be selling to Dr. Knox,” Hare quips. They are spotted on the way out by the village idiot, Daft Jamie.
Knox is called in to identify Chris’s body at the morgue. Both he and Mitchell say they don’t know anyone who would want to kill Chis. Martha asks Mitchell about what the students have been saying about the source of the bodies.
Burke and Hare kill Daft Jamie. Mary’s friend Maggie watches them do it. She goes to Mitchell and reports the murder before going to the police. She tells the police to go to the academy and look there. Mitchell goes to Knox and tells him what happened.
The police arrive, and Knox explains that Burke and Hare just dropped him off. Knox looks at Jamie’s body and says he was murdered. The usual torch-and-pitchfork mob starts roaming the streets, looking for the two murderers. Burke is captured, but Hare runs away. They soon nab him as well.
The trial proceeds. Burke is found guilty, but Knox is not guilty. Class is not well-attended the next morning. Knox gives the morning lecture anyway. Hare is also released from jail, out the back door, where he’s ambushed and blinded.
Knox goes before the medical council. It’s not a trial, but they can ruin his career. Mitchell comes in and tells about the way they all acquire their cadavers. How can they be sure about the bodies they have used in the past? On the way home, Knox thinks hard about what he’s done; he admits that he knew some of those people had been murdered. Mitchell comes in and tells Knox that he’s been exonerated.
Knox goes back to the classroom to give his next lecture, even if the classroom is now empty. To his delight, it turns out that the classroom is packed and there are more students than ever. He starts off by discussing the Hippocratic Oath.
This is based on the true-life story of the murderers Burke and Hare, who sold corpses to the real life Dr. Knox. Their eventual trial and resulting publicity led to state-sponsored cadavers being officially supplied to medical schools legitimately. Donald Pleasance and George Rose are suitably creepy as the murderous pair. Peter Cushing, as Dr. Knox, plays his essentially like Dr. Frankenstein, cold and scientific until the end when he redeems himself. Only he’s got a weak left eye in this one, as the real Dr. Knox did.
I’m sure it’s fictionalized, but it really is based on true events. The pacing is good, there’s a good number of characters, all well acted. There’s nothing in the way of special effects or monster makeup, but it’s all done well.
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