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Month of Horror 2014: The Compilation Edition

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments likely to be forgotten quickly and not meant as a proper feature. They have been preserved as they were.

Started my annual month of horror where I watch at least one horror film I have never seen before each day of October. Here’s what I’ve seen so far…

10/1 Jaws 3

Jaws the original is in my opinion one of the 5 greatest horror films of all time. It is a masterpiece of suspense and perhaps the best example of how to develop characters in a horror film. Jaws 2 is none of these things but it at least had Roy Scheider and is watchable. Jaws 3 is just bad. I can’t even say it was laughably bad, just dull. The special effects are unsurprisingly terrible and acting befitting the second sequel of a horror movie and there is nothing to recommend outside of the chance to see Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr. together in a movie pre-Enemy Mine (which I’m sure is an incredibly compelling reason…) and to see SeaWorld portrayed in an
extremely poor light.

10/2 Jaws: The Revenge

Ahh, much better. Not in quality of film, because it is an even worse movie than 3, but in actual enjoyment level. This was much closer to what I was expecting when I decided to watch two likely shitty Jaws sequels. The story was still incredibly stupid but at least it went for the utterly ridiculous revenge story. We get to see a shark roar, a shark gets speared by a ship(!), a shark travel to waters it can’t live at a ridiculous speed, and a shark attack an airplane. I would hardly call it a great bad film, but at least there is some enjoyment to be had at the expense of the film. Plus it built a rather nice house for Michael Caine.

10/3 Carrie (2002)

Good god, what an awful movie. The Brian de Palma original had its issues namely some of its acting (namely Nancy Allen and John Travolta) and at times dated and very cheesy cinematography, but it is still a fantastic movie and in my opinion de Palma’s best. This version, however, managed to be significantly worse in every respect.

The cinematography is horrific, jittery, and looks like something made by an amateur filmmaker character in a 90s movie. The acting is uniformly dreadful even with a fairly quality cast including Patricia Clarkson and Katherine Isabelle. The special effects somehow manage to be much worse than the original despite being made 24 years later. The wrap around plot structured around interviews (a storytelling choice which is almost always terrible) drags the films pacing down even further and the decision to let almost every character (including SPOILERS Carrie) robs the story of much of its power and all of its tragedy and what was once a fantastic ending, becomes a dud which goes on at least 20 minutes too long. I have seen some bad horror remakes and this may be the worst and least essential of them all.

10/4 Salem’s Lot (1979)

This two part miniseries is basically a 3 hour movie split in half and the second adaptation of a Stephen King work (after the original Carrie). The first half is a bit slow and is mostly place setting, but the second half really picks up as it dives into the subject of vampires. It may be a TV miniseries/movie and it shows visually and in pacing, but it is a much better execution of the form than most (including solid King adaptations IT and Storm of the Century). Tobe Hooper’s direction particularly in the second half is very good, the special effects are surprisingly effective, and the cast (including Mrs. McClane and Fred Willard in support) is above average. It may not be as good as Texas Chainsaw Massacre (another of the greatest horror movies of all time) or Poltergeist, but it is still a rather good series/film and easily the first of these movies this month I can actually recommend.

Continued my annual month of horror where I watch at least one horror film I have never seen before each day of October (see last week’s AVQ&A for 10/1-10/4). Also a special fuck you to AMC for televising edited versions of a bunch of horror films I would like to see instead of shipping them to their unedited sister channel IFC.

10/5 Dreamcatcher

Seriously what the hell. This is one gigantic mess of a movie and I have no idea how it ever got made. I don’t even know how to describe it with such goofy scenes ( SPOILERS ) as the funniest person being struck by car scene since Meet Joe Black, Jason Lee trying to keep an alien from escaping a toilet only for it to get out and bite his fingers off, an alien slug thing attempting to bite Raylan Givens’ dick off, Damian “Brody” Lewis having an argument with himself on a snowmobile (in alternating shot angles and accents), a giant alien spaceship exploding into some weird red dust bloom, and Donnie Wahlberg. This movie continued the theme this month of Stephen King adaptations and great actors popping up in terrible movies with perhaps the single most bizarre Morgan Freeman appearance as an insane Colonel. The movie had potential in the beginning with some nice cinematography and a story promising childhood friends dealing with their psychopathic powers while dealing with concept of storing memories, but it decided to ditch all of that for a tangentially related alien invasion plot that is equal parts derivative and completely nuts. The craziness and stupidity of all it makes for a fairly enjoyable experience, but this is a terrible movie that makes Kasdan’s earlier mess Grand Canyon look well put together.

10/6 Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

The original Little Shop of Horrors is a small enjoyable little Roger Corman most notable for a small over the top scene featuring an early Jack Nicholson performance. This was made into an Off-Broadway musical and then into this film by Frank Oz (his first director gig away from Jim Henson). For the most part I do not care for musicals for music related reasons, though there are a number of exceptions. While the music segments in this are enjoyable thanks to the performances, I just find it hard to get into the music itself. On the other hand, the cast and puppetry are fantastic. Steve Martin and Bill Murray devour the scenery in supporting roles and a perfectly cast Rick Moranis as the lead. The rest of the cast is also great including Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Christopher Guest, John Candy, and in a tiny role Cat from Red Dwarf bringing real energy that keeps the film from dragging (regrettably the wrong Belushi also makes an appearance). The puppetry, particularly for Audrey II is perhaps the best I have ever seen. I may understand how they did it, but it is almost impossible to believe while watching. Overall, it is a great film that kept a smile on my face throughout.

10/7 Excision

Excision is broken into three major interspersed types of scenes. One of these is a fairly standard but well-acted coming of age drama, another is scenes involving our protagonist talking to God, and a third is dream scenes highly stylized much in the way of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. The switches between these three tones can often be jarring but I really enjoyed them for the most part. The basic coming of age story was oddly straightforward (well till the end) but AnnaLynne McCord did a unexpectedly good job creating a believably weird and oddly relatable high schooler and the standard tropes of a bad relationship with a controlling mom, father who tries not to get involved, and a sick sister was unique enough that it still feels fresh enough. The supporting cast is a great mix of cult and character actors such as Traci Lords, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, Marlee Matlin, John Waters, Roger Bart and strangest of them all Ariel Winter (Modern Family). While the scenes involving McCord snarking to God were a mix bag, the rather bloody and nudity filled dream scenes scratched a stylized itch for me even if at times they felt a bit tacked on. As a whole, the film is surprisingly well-shot especially for a modern low budget horror film by a first-time director. The film isn’t perfect and I imagine there is a substantial contingent who will be (probably understandably) turned off by the film’s often scattered tone, but I enjoyed the heck out of it.

10/8 Madhouse

Watching a series of horror movies just wouldn’t be the same without at least one Vincent Price (or Peter Cushing for that matter) movie. Price is an actor who makes every film he appears him worthwhile just by his presence and consistently entertaining performances. Price and Cushing are great as always, there is some good dark humor, and a great ending, but the movie itself doesn’t stand out too much from Price’s later work. The plot of the cast and crew being killed in ways similar to his prior films bears a good deal of similarity to the fantastic Theatre of Blood from the previous year (also with Price) but was nowhere near as entertaining. Overall an enjoyable movie worth seeing for Price and Cushing alone and the novelty of seeing extended clips from old Price (and Price/Cushing) movies worked into the movie itself. All of those movies are great and worth seeing on their own.

10/9 Scared to Death

While I have never thought of Bela Lugosi as good the other icons of horror (such as Price and Cushing), a Lugosi film is another essential to any horror marathon. This movie is one of Bela Lugosi’s last movies before working with Ed Wood. While not Ed Wood bad, this film is rather bad on its own merits. I will admit it was not the best print of a movie (which lets the ugly color cinematography off the hook) but everything about this movie from acting, to direction, to the script was a failure. The movie was difficult to follow, the attempts at comic relief were painful, and the horror was nonexistent. The sound design was hilariously terrible with the soundtrack cutting out at random points for a quick bit of narration and an awful score used to over emphasize certain “dramatic” points to the point where I was unsure if it was a parody of itself. Even watching this film as a so bad its good movie or as an intentional comedy (which would be giving it way more credit than it deserves), it comes up short and there is nothing here to recommend.

10/10 Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan (The Ghost of Yotsuya)

About halfway through this film, I was convinced it was heading in the direction of many other older Japanese horror films which are more drama with very slight horror touches. It starts as an enjoyable enough story of a ronin (who thanks to poor font choice appears to hilariously carry the name Lemon) and the woman he runs off with, but at the midpoint there is an abrupt shift into horror. This is when the film really takes off with some great imagery and psychological thrills. The score was unexpectedly great and I was particularly impressed by the performances of the leads throughout. My only complaint is that TCM occasionally has a problems with poorly formatted subtitles and that popped up again here chopping off the bottom half of the second line on the subtitles. This was a great little film that I had never even heard of before and I highly recommend checking it out.

10/11 Re-Animator

I will admit I am ashamed it has taken me this long to see this movie, but Re-Animator’s status as a horror classic is well deserved. Jeffrey Combs turned in a fantastic and surprisingly underplayed performance as Herbert West. Most actors treat the part of mad scientist as a chance to go way over the top, but Combs gives a more believable and slyly humorous performance as man consumed with the pursuit of science. The film is filled with hilarious black humor reminding me of fellow bloody zombie classic Braindead (though Re-Animator preceded it). The special effects, particularly the gore, are wonderfully done especially those involving a reanimated severed head with serves as a major highlight of the film. The score is highly influenced by Bernard Herrmann even pulling famous cues and complements the movie perfectly. This is easily the best of the films I have seen so far this month and I loved every second of it.

Continued my annual month of horror where I watch at leastone horror film I have never seen before each day of October (see previous 2 weeks AVQ&A for 10/1 10/11).

10/12 Blacula

Based on the title, one would assume this would be a ridiculous, campy movie, but Blacula is pretty much a run of the mill Blaxploitation film mixed with a typical Dracula film. William Marshall does turn in a great performance as the lead and along with a quality score gives the film some value and keeps it from becoming too forgettable. The rest of the cast is fine and does nothing to stand out in either a good or bad way largely playing out there typical types. Overall, Blacula is not as bad as one would expect, but it is nothing more than a modestly entertaining experience.

10/13 Scream, Blacula, Scream

This sequel to Blacula is really much more of the same. While it starts by appearing to be heading in a more campy direction, the film settles down into another slow paced vampire film. There is a bit more silliness this time out including a man whose sole objection to being a vampire is not being able to see himself in a mirror. William Marshall returns and is still good in the title role while Pam Grier joins the franchise and is enjoyable as always. The rest of the cast gives rather stilted performances of a weak script and the film has that real cheap look of your run of the mill Blaxploitation pick. Like its predecessor, Scream, Blacula, Scream is certainly watchable but there is nothing really to recommend outside of the curiosity factor.

10/14 The Last Exorcism

There will certainly be people immediately turned off by the found footage mockumentary format, but for me films like [REC] have proven that the concept can be a viable option done right. Even beyond that exorcism films are understandably not exactly held in the highest regard for both moral and film quality reasons. The decision to cast a skeptic/lapsed Christian really helps keep my eyes from rolling out of my socket during the many discussions of exorcisms. The discussion of selling a certain brand of Christianity to poor southerners really brings to mind such films as Elmer Gantry and Salesman (a documentary about bible salesmen). The film is a rather slow burn, but for the most part, it really kept my attention while including enough traditional horror elements to keep the movie going. Ashley Bell’s performance at the center of the film is great and the clear star of the movie. I’m not willing to call the film a classic, but it is much better than I expected and a good enough film.

10/15 The Last Exorcism Part II

Let’s get this out of the way, The Last Exorcism Part II is a terrible title and there is no reason for the sequel to exist. If it wasn’t for the quality of the previous film I wouldn’t have even given this a chance. Part II drops the found footage aspect of the previous film (logically plot wise). While not as bad as I expected it to be based on its reputation, this film was pretty terrible. There were a couple nice moments but mostly the film was just a bunch of loosely connected set pieces with no real narrative push. The sequel takes a film which kept things fairly low key until the end and turns it into something ridiculous with masked secret societies and an awful second half. Ashley Bell is pretty great again but she doesn’t get any help from her costars or the script. The end, which I won’t spoil, was completely silly with some laughably bad CGI fire that would appear with perfect comedic timing. I get the desire to try and go big in the sequel, but by doing so, The Last Exorcism series lost all of its charm.

10/16 Cry_Wolf

The decision to watch Cry_Wolf is largely sentimental as it is one of those trailers I remember seeing many times when I was younger, but never saw the film itself (alongside such well-regarded masterpieces such as Swimfan and Feardotcom). Cry_Wolf may have been made in 2005 but it could have easily been one of the increasingly generic late 90s teen horror movies. The plot is highly reminiscent of prior films such as Urban Legend, House on Haunted Hill, and especially April Fool’s Day though it is significantly worse. Jon Bon Jovi plays a major supporting role and I think it says something that this film may be beneath him and I hope Gary Cole got paid well for his smaller part. The rest of the characters feel plucked out of every shitty horror movie of the era except unlike most of them SPOILERS we don’t even get to see them dispatched. They just stand around yelling at each other in scenes of increasing tediousness. The only real positive I can think of for this movie is that it makes Jeff Wadlow’s later film and hack job Kick-Ass 2 look good.

10/17 The Old Dark House (1963)

The Old Dark House is a remake of film by James Whale which I have not seen by William Castle, a man known primarily for his gimmicky films. Like most of his films, this was a horror-comedy and also like most of his films, it contained nothing really in the way of horror or comedy. Horror-comedy one of my favorite genres but it is so hard to nail down since the comedy often undercuts the horror. There is nothing much to say about this one though. It’s competently produced and the cast turns in a decent enough performance, but the script is lacking and the film is lacking in any suspense or really anything to hold the viewers’ interest. His films may not necessarily be the best but this lacks even the charms of his better works.

10/18 The Mummy’s Shroud

The Mummy’s Shroud is the 3rd movie in Hammer’s Mummy series. I found the first film to be alright (albeit inferior to the Karloff pseudo-original) and I did not care for the second film (The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb). This one is the weakest of them all. It is standard issue Hammer horror that merely recycles what came before it and adds nothing new to the series. While not exactly terrifying, Hammer films generally have plenty of atmosphere and this film lacked even that. The cast, including André Morell and in a small role the original Master (Roger Delgado), is woefully generic and fail to enliven this dull tale. The film is deadly serious which takes out any potential camp value and the only reason to see this film is for Hammer or Mummy series completists.

Continued my annual month of horror where I watch at least one horror film I have never seen before each day of October.

10/19 You’re Next

What an awesome, awesome movie. It may not have always been the most logical but it was entertaining enough that I did not care. The performances were solid, particularly that of the lead Sharni Vinson who sold the hell out of her role. The movie managed to combine plenty of inventive gore with a good sense of humor particularly once the second half gets going. The R-rated Home Alone style traps and mid movie inversion of the typical slasher and home invasion genres helped liven two genres not exactly known for their freshness. I also really enjoyed the cool electronic score the film had going which fit rather well and occasionally drove up the tension.

10/20 The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)

This film is a sequel to a remake which turned out to be surprisingly good. Gone is the film’s director Alexandre Aja (who also helmed the even better remake Piranha 3D) but in is the director and writer of the original (Wes Craven) acting as the co writer with his son. Also gone is the much more talented cast of the previous film. The new characters are unlikable idiots who cannot sell for shit that they are supposed to be National Guard members (even trainees). The film improves somewhat when it heads into the tunnels, but even then the film fails to manage anything resembling suspense and drags much more than an hour and a half movie should. This movie adds nothing to the series and is too much of a retread of things that the original handled in a far superior manner.

10/21 The Omen (2006)

While nowhere near as terrible or useless as the 2002 Carrie remake, this is a pointless remake of the very good original film. It is pretty much identical to the original without adding anything to distinguish itself. The movie, especially compared to many other bad horror movies, is competently made and would probably fare better in my head had I not seen the original first. The cast does a solid enough job but is still inferior to the original which contains the greats Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. I have already mentioned the original four times and it is perhaps unfair to this movie, but considering how frequently it draws attention to the most famous scenes and how close it hews to the original, it begs for this comparison and suffers for it.

10/22 Body Snatchers

Following up two classic movies including one of the greatest horror remakes of all time is a difficult task. Body Snatchers doesn’t come anywhere near those heights but it is still an enjoyable movie. Unlike The Omen, there is a much more separating the film from its predecessors (though there still is a lot of elements which are held over). The basic idea of humans being replaced by duplicates with a radically different personality is good enough of a concept for multiple versions and the decision to move to a military base is a satisfactory change which allows for an updating of the theme of conformity to the very conformity obsessed military. The effects are solid and the cast does a decent job with what they are given. It may not be as good as Abel Ferrara’s previous works (King of New York and Bad Lieutenant) but it is well shot and manages to maintain a good amount of suspense throughout. I did have a few issues though with the story such as the multiple times ripping off the worms is able to completely stop the process and an ending which is done over a hilariously over the top montage and completely changed by a voiceover instead of actually depicting the final line being said. It faults do not prevent it from being an enjoyable watch and at the very least not an embarrassment to what came before.

10/23 Night of the Lepus

Night of the Lepus is utterly unwatchable unless you have previously seen Monty Python and The Holy Grail at which point the movie becomes only mostly unwatchable. It starts off in classic 50s style horrible exposition and stilted acting, the film never recovers. Yes I know, that the rabbits are just normal rabbits shot against miniatures using silly close ups or the occasional awful rabbit suit, that rabbits can’t really roar, and that blood and electricity don’t look anything like they do in the movie. Yet, I could probably accept the horrible special effects (or at least laugh at them) but the film is so dull, that any enjoyment to be had is sucked right out by the terrible script, acting and direction. My only explanation for Janet Leigh’s presence is some serious blackmail and poor Dr. McCoy has to suffer through it. It may be tempting based on the name and premise to at least give the movie a watch, but it is not even good for the laughs and a challenge to stay awake through. It is a truly awful film and maybe a half step up from the works of Coleman Francis.

10/24 The Uninvited (1944)

This movie may contain ghosts but I find it challenging to refer this as a horror movie. It is much more in line with a supernatural mystery but if Guillermo Del Toro and Martin Scorsese call it horror, who am I to argue. The story is a fairly standard ghost plot although this film can at least take credit of being the first (or one of the first) along these lines so it is hard to hold this against the film. All the standard tropes are here from the warnings of strange goings on at a house the leads are looking to purchase, a woman with an unusual attachment to the place, unusual chills, unexplained sobs, and a séance with the spirit possessing the woman. The real highlights here are the cast (including Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) and the beautiful cinematography. They draw you into the story and bring the characters to life. The movie may not stand out anymore, but it is still a pleasant enough experience that is still feels worthwhile.

10/25 The Innocents

The Innocents is the second ghost story in as many nights for me (third this month) and it is a genre I am not usually a huge fan of. Ghosts are hardly the most effective baddies and ghost films tend to come off as fairly dull and tedious instead of frightening. The Innocents on the other hand is fantastic. Based on the novella The Turn of the Screw, and reminiscent of The Others which was also inspired by the same novella, the film is genuinely suspenseful and creepy and kept me riveted throughout. The movie is wonderfully shot with impressive low light black and white cinematography and avoids jumps scares for an increasing amount of psychological horror as out lead mentally collapses towards a terrific conclusion. Deborah Kerr’s wonderfully deranged performance is played perfectly across from a pair of downright unsettlin’ child performances (including most notably Martin Stephens of Village of the Damned). Aside from a few over the top moments, the score is also fantastic, subtly playing up the action and intensifying the mood. The Innocents is probably one of the best horror movies I have ever seen and an obvious classic.

Finished my annual month of horror where I watch at least one horror film I have never seen before each day of October.

10/26 Alien 3

Alien and Aliens are two of the greatest of sci-fi movies of all time and David Fincher is one of my favorite current directors (in particular Seven) The combination of the two entities should have made for a classic movie but studio interference, troubled production and the film being Fincher’s first really shows. Even getting past the terrible opening which kills ¾ of the survivors from Aliens, the film is a disappointment. The film is much more in line with the first bringing back more of a survival horror feel over the sci-fi/action of Aliens which it pulls off to mixed success. The film looks fine but the story drags in the middle where it struggles to maintain tension and instead spends its time killing off its idiotic redshirts almost as if it is just waiting for the final set piece. The new dog-like alien looks like shit and I initially confused it with bad CGI. Sigourney Weaver unsurprisingly does her thing as always and I enjoyed Charles Dance in a supporting role, but no one else really stands out. Despite all of this, the film is still somewhat enjoyable and still a solid film which suffers most in comparison to what came before.

10/27 Suspiria

This was much different than I expected. I went in expecting a very gory film but the gore was much more contained. The film however was great. It makes very little sense but the great direction from Dario Argento, cinematography, bright color pallete, and unusual score make for a great stylistic viewing experience. The acting and the story take a backseat to mood and I anticipate most viewers enjoyment will come down to how much they can tolerate the slow pacing and relative lack of big “scenes”, but I ate it up and loved the experience.

10/28 Night of Dark Shadows

There are few films as forgettable as this one. This sequel to House of Dark Shadows (which I did not care for) and extension of the Dark Shadows soap (have never seen) lost 35 minutes in post and as a result much of it coherence and still failing to gain my interest. I’d talk about it more but my mind basically purged the hour and a half I spent watching this.

10/29 The House That Dripped Blood

This anthology film from Amicus (makers of numerous other horror anthologies) and surprisingly not made by Hammer based on the actors and look of the film, features 4 stories with lead performances by Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee). Like basically all anthologies the stories are of mixed quality. The first, “Method For Murder”, and fourth, “The Cloak” (with Pertwee), both have their moments but are undone by some over the top, hilarious jump cuts and terrible special effects (particularly in the latter) although they at least provided a good deal of laughs. The second “Waxworks” (with Cushing) is forgettable but solid enough. The third, “Sweets to the Sweet” was easily my favorite with a reliably enjoyable performance out of Lee and well done creepy child plot line. Overall, the film was a pleasant, well-paced viewing experience even if it lacks in horror and essentialness.

10/30 Torture Garden

Another anthology film from Amicus with a Burgess Meredith led linking segments (with him inexplicably dressed fairly similarly to his version of the Penguin). This cast is less impressive with the exception of the final segment “The Man Who Collected Poe” with Cushing and Jack Palance. This segment is probably the most entertaining but I would struggle to call it any good with the segment getting by on Palance’s hilarious, manic scenery chewing. The third segment “Mr. Steinway” gives us a murderous and jealous piano which alone makes it worth seeing. The first two segments are disposable. They aren’t particularly bad, but there is nothing really memorable in either of them. The movie as a whole is pretty poor, but the silliness of it all kept the film moving throughout.

10/31 Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, Burnt Offerings, and Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb is easily the best of the Hammer mummy sequels although I am still going back and forth as to whether I actually think it is any good. This one actually contained some far more lively performances and an atmosphere much more in line with Hammer’s usual works in both tone and quality. At the very least it was a more enjoyable viewing experience than the prior two films and benefited from the decision to switch up the traditional male lead to that of a female lead.

Burnt Offerings on the other hand looks like shit and as if someone went and messed with the saturation and brightness settings on my TV until the film looked washed out and either over bright or dark depending on the scene. I’m not sure whether it is a bad print or how it was released but it was just plain ugly. It also had way too talented of a cast including Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, and Burgess Meredith for what turned out to be a rather generic and idiotic evil house movie (both in plot and characters).

The original Hellraiser was an awesome film that I enjoyed a great deal. Hellraiser II is a big step down but still enjoyable. The sequel recaps the first early on both in flashbacks and in quickly retelling a gender flipped version of the first movie before moving on to its own story. This story makes no sense whatsoever but Hellraiser II provides plenty of the gore and some impressive low budget visuals. These special effects cover up a lot of the deficiencies of the movie and keep it from falling apart or dragging too much.
While obviously post October, I took Saturday to watch a few more horror/horror adjacent movies from great (Eyes Without a Face) to bad (The Return of the Vampire) to everywhere in between (The Comedy of Terrors, Deep Blue Sea, Strait-Jacket).