Monday, 14 October 2013

5 Horror Movies involving Native American Ghosts, Demons or Monsters, oh my!

 **Please note that there may be spoilers throughout the blog**

I love the darker sides of religious culture, finding interesting boogeymen and women from around the world, and this week I thought I'd stay closer to home and venture into the ghosts, demons and monsters that haunt the Native American myths.  Spirits like the Wendigo, which could possess or take form of a person and had cannibalistic tendencies or Skinwalkers, who were like shape shifters and could change themselves into animals, are part of these fantastic legends that could be built onto make great horror movies.
So, here are 5 Horror Movies involving Native American Ghosts, Demons or Monsters

5. Eyes of Fire (1983) - It's 1750 and there's a mob of colonial Americans out to hang preacher, Will Smythe on the grounds of adultery and polygamy.  He is accused of sleeping with trapper, Marion Dalton's wife, Eloise and living with an insane woman, Leah.  Just has Smythe drops in the makeshift gallow, Leah saves the preacher with magical powers, and a group of "believers" tie the mob up in the barn.  Will, Marion and the "believers" then rob the town, WTF and get away on a raft.  On the river, they are attack and they end up losing one of the "believers".  They land the raft and start searching for a new place to live in the forest.
  Coincidently, Marion Dalton finally arrives home from many years of trapping and is told about his wife, the preacher and all the hoopla.  He packs his horse and heads out to find his wife and rescue his daughter, Fanny.  Being a bush man, he quickly tracks them down and saves them from being killed by some bandits.  Also, some members of the Shawnee tribe arrive to help and let Marion know that there is a village in a valley that they should avoid because it's haunted.  Marion thanks them and Shawnee head out.  The group then awkwardly moves on following Will Smythe.
  Eventually, they come across an abandon village and Smythe decides to set up shop there.  Marion warns him about what the Shawnee tribes men told him to be wary of this village but Smythe doesn't care.  Even Smythe's witch friend Leah doesn't like the juju going on there but Smythe tells them that god as sent them there for a reason.  Maybe to die.  Shortly after arriving, things go to hell and people start dying and others are seeing ghosts and there is a tree creature that eats people.  Can this group of "Christians" survive this valley or will the disappear into the ground like so many others before them.   
  This film was a little bit all over the place and terribly dull.  I think the script had too many magic things going on and it got annoying because none of them did anything.  The spirit in the tree, somehow captured people, there were ghosts that nobody saw, a possessed Indian girl that never did anything and the person who was going to save them all from these things was an insane witch, who didn't talk and was feral?  It was such a waste.  The trapper should have collected his daughter, when he got there and left.  The acting was terrible and the special effect were just as bad.  The only thing that was half decent was the make up for the tree demon witch.  The ending was forgettable and impossible because it was being narrated by a survivor who wasn't there when those things were happening.  This one needs to be thrown in the fire if you want a real gleam in your eye.

4. Scalps (1983) - Professor Machen is pretty jazzed because he is getting out of his stuffy office at the college and is going to spend the weekend with 6 students digging up Indian artifacts out in the desert.  Unfortunately on the way out, he is stopped by a secretary that reminds him that it is illegal to dig up artifacts on the reservation that he is going to and he has a tremendous amount of paperwork that needs to be done by Tuesday.  Dammit it!  Broken hearted, he goes downstairs and tells his crew of students that he will meet up with them in a couple of days and sends them to their death, I mean on their way to dig up them bones.
  The students head out to the desert with the secret map that Professor Machen gave them but on the way, the radiator over heats and they have to stop at a gas station.  While they wait, they run into a old native man, Billy Ironwing, who warns them about that area and tells them to stay away from the black trees because they have evil spirits surrounding them.  The gang thanks him for his advice and get back on the road.  They decide that the should find these black trees and dig there because everybody else is afraid too dig there and some awesome artifacts should be waiting for them. Good thinking!
  They find the black trees and start digging, but the hippie girl, D.J. suddenly realizes that not only what their doing is wrong but decides that archeology is evil and her whole major in college is a waste of time.  Luckily, Randy the jock, finds a medallion while D.J. has this moment of clarity and the group focuses on the great find.  Unfortunately, the medallion unleashes a Indian demon, called Black Claw, that we don't hear about until maybe 20 minutes before the end of the movie.  Anyway, Black Claw takes over Randy's body and starts killing people in the group.  Can the rest of the gang survive or are they doomed to be artifacts when Professor Machen arrives?
  This is one title that makes it clear why director Fred Olen Ray (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Hybrid) was called the "Ed Wood Jr. of the 80's".  Although, there isn't as many day for night shots, you can tell right away that this was shot on a very low budget.  The acting is bad and the music is thrown into scenes that don't groove with what's going on.  Nothing really scary happens in the story until the end of the movie with the exception of a hideous ghost face flashy around.  However, there is a few unintentional laughs that give this film a bit of charm and there are some bloody scenes at the end, if you can get there without turning the movie off.  All around, it isn't the worst movie but it may be better left buried in the plains.

3. The Cellar (1989) - A long time ago, during the battles against the white man, the Comanche Indians created an evil beast that was a mixture of a whole bunch of animals to help them defeat the white man. Unfortunately, the beast killed, instead of killing just white people, it  killed whatever was in it's path, so the Comanche trapped the beast in the ground and with a spear and magic locked the creature into the ground.  So time later, when a father and his young son move onto the land to dig for oil, the boy finds the spear and plays with it.  A native man retrieve the spear and places it back into the ground to contain the beast.  However, the boy has stolen a rabbits foot from the spear, unknowingly weakening the spell, I suppose and allowing the creature gain it's power (?).
  Cuz, let's say 50 years later, the boy, T.C. Van Houten is all grown up and is reluctantly selling the place because he knows it's evil to a family looking for a fresh start.  He meets with Mance (is that a name?) and his new wife, Emily and their baby daughter, April and they go over the evil place.  Of course, it has all the modern amenities like a pump handle water tap in the kitchen and a loud ominous raven squawk every time someone new comes inside, how could you not love it.  Emily convinces Mance to buy it and once they do, while renovating they find the door to the cellar behind an old china cabinet.  It's locked up tight and covered with Indian protective symbols and artifacts, which doesn't seem to concern Mance or Emily at all.
  Willie, Mance's first child comes to visit for the summer.  At first he loves the place but shortly after he notices some peculiar things, like a creature that is trying to break through the floorboards into his bedroom at night, something in the cellar ate his pet and the almost being eaten by a vicious creature at the old watering hole.  He tries to tell his dad but Mance thinks that it's just his imagination and gets very very angry at him.   The only people who believe him are the town drunk and former owner of his residence, T.C. Van Houten and local Comanche Chief, Sam John.  They explain the whole Comanche creature thing but sadly tell him that he's on his own.  Can ten year old Willie stop this evil spirit/creature that lives in his cellar or is he destined to be it's next meal?
  This movie is pretty ridiculous and I can understand why Mance's first wife left him.  He has to be the worst father of all time and Willie's step mom is no better.  There are scenes with Willie setting bear traps in the basement and another with Willie walking around with a flame thrower in the house.  Emily, Willie's step mom, is a stay at home mom, how can she not know what he's doing!  Also, at one point in the movie, Willie catches the creature in a bear trap and doesn't tell anybody.  WTF! It so course escapes and continues to eat people.  And this place must be sound proof as fuck or they're all deaf because nobody can here the shit going on downstairs in the cellar.
  The beast is alright looking but it looks more like the giant rat.  Also, why doesn't anyone talk to T.C. about the cellar?  He's still in town and is creepily spending alone time with your son, Mance.  He may have some insight to all the things going on.  Anyway, the end battle is alright and again Emily leaves the baby on the table while the fight ensues. This movie is so bad it's funny and had me laughing out loud once I focused on how bad a parent Mance was.  This is one title that director Kevin Tenney (Witchboard, Night of the Demons) should leave in the basement forever.

2. Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo (1995) - An old man narrates about how he battled the Wendigo and defeated him.  He explains how he buried the Wendigo and created a circle of skulls to keep the spirit of the Wendigo from escaping.  He explains that as long as he circle remains unbroken and he remains in the circle, the world will be safe from this demon. 
   Many many years later, Gary and his buddy are hunting, but mostly drinking and come across a Do Not Trespass sign on a fence.  Fuck that fence and they climb over and find a shitty cabin surrounded by skulls.  An old man comes out of the cabin and begs them to leave but Gary's drunk and starts shooting at the skulls and telling the old man that he's not the boss of him.  In the shooting melee, not only does Gary break the sacred skull circle, (remember above) but he also kills the old man.  Gary and his buddy bring the old man into the cabin but it's too late, he's dead and there is a ton of crazy supernatural shit going on, that ends up killing Gary's buddy.  Gary sobers up fast and gets the fuck out of dodge and high tails it into the woods.
  On the other side of this island, a group of friends are having a hunting party and are excited to get out in the woods tomorrow and do some shooting.  One of the guys puts on some chili but it becomes demon chili and attacks them!  Luckily, they have seen Evil Dead 2, cuz there's a poster on the wall and they know how to handle demons and they are able stop the chili demon for the moment.  Gary winds up a their cabin telling them the story of how he accidentally released the Wendigo.  Can this group of friends stop the power of the Wendigo before it gets too powerful or will this wind whispering beast destroy not only the island but the world?
  This movie was a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be.  Sure, the acting is terrible, sure the plot has more holes than Swiss cheese and fine, most of the film is shot in this one cabin location but... I think it accomplished what it intended to do.  Which was create a funny Evil Dead rip off.  For what the budget was for this, it's pretty awesome.  They have some incredible gory scenes, some pretty good stop animation  and their make department was pretty fantastic, again for the budget.    So, if you like low budget Troma film, with tons of blood and has Ron Asheton from the Stooges in it, then this one's for you.

1. The Manitou (1978) - Karen Tandy discovers that she has a fetus growing on her shoulder.  The best surgeons in America, Dr. Jack Hughes and Dr. McEvoy try and remove it but are thwarted by an evil spirit that wrecks the operating room and cuts Dr. Hughes hand.  The next day, Karen visits her old boyfriend, tarot card reader and all around charlatan, Harry Erskine and tries to get him to help her with this magical problem.  He tries to convince her that she is blowing this all out of proportion and everything will be fine and then they get reacquainted, if you know what I mean.  Unable to get her to leave afterwards, he hears her saying the words, Panawitchy Salatoo, while she is sleeping.  He thinks nothing of it, till the next day  when a elderly client of his goes into a trance for no reason and floats down the hall, then throws herself down a set of stairs.  This is more serious than Harry thought.
  Karen is now hospitalized because the growth is getting too big and they're going to try surgery again.  Meanwhile, Harry has visited more psychics friends that he knows and they have a seance, which invokes the spirit of a medicine man.  They search out medicine man information at the library and end up visiting an anthropologist named Dr. Snow, who tells them they either need to go see a psychiatrist or find their own medicine man to battle the one growing on the neck of Karen and wants to be reborn.
  The second surgery goes worse than the first and the medicine man reveals himself through Karen and threatens to kill anyone who tries to remove him from her.  Can Harry find a medicine man in time to save Karen or is she doomed to having two men inside of her?
  I don't even know where to begin with this movie.  The ending to this movie is insane!  It is not even crazy violence, it's like out of you mind, 70's Dr. Who, outer space weird.  The story is strange but acceptable, a 400 year old medicine man growing on the shoulder of a woman but I don't know if I really believe that the character Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot, The Defiant Ones) plays, Harry Erskine would care that much about a former assistant.  The guy rips off old people reading Tarot cards and doesn't believe in the supernatural, why would he believe this?  The most compelling character is Dr. Snow, played by Burgess Meredith in the best goatee/moustache combo ever, who thinks that Harry and his friends are crazy.
  When the medicine man is finally born, he does look pretty creepy and that's when the special effects budget nightmare begins!  Also, at the end of the film, using a slate they let you know a boy in Asia grew a fetus on his stomach, which then makes this movie all the more plausible and terrifying right. This isn't a good movie but like a car crash on the side of the highway, one cannot turn away.  If you like bizarre films than this is for you but you need the patience to get to the end.

Most of these films were fun but a little disappointing when looking for a good scare. Fortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg though and there are a number films with Native American Mythos attached to them that could be more terrifying.  Who knows maybe after smoking a peace pipe these films could seem a whole lot better.   

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