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Mickster’s Holiday Funhouse!

December 14th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 21 Comments

It’s that time of year again! Mickster is hosting the Funhouse! Hint: The theme today is Holiday Movie Remakes! Good luck! Mickster, take it away!

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Blu- Ray Review: Nightwing (1979) and Shadow of the Hawk (1976)

December 13th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · No Comments

I’ve got to send out some fresh positive psychic vibes to MILL CREEK who just released a favorite flick from my adolescence on Blu-ray. I’m talking about ARTHUR HILLER’s 1979 bonkers bat bonanza NIGHTWING! To make it even more irresistible it comes joined at the hip with the thematically similar SHADOW OF THE HAWK (1976). Both flicks are guilty of casting non-Native Americans as Native American leads but I’ll give them a pass because such were the times and at least both characters are portrayed as honorable heroes. I’ll vouch for these two flicks because they have their hearts in the right place and a healthy concern for the preservation of the environment and its animal inhabitants. Sure, NIGHTWING very wrongly asserts at times that bats are dangerous, even “Evil” (wha?) but the bigger message is about how mankind’s greed is destroying the planet (which is still true today). Sure, I may have to do some mental gymnastics to defend NIGHTWING but the thing is, even though it is questionable PR for the misunderstood creatures, it still ignited my ongoing love for them. Bats are beautiful even when they are starring in a horror movie. I can’t help it, the unintentionally adorable close-ups of the flapping critters in this movie still fill my heart with glee and affection. I even Googled “bats as pets” –turns out it’s not a great idea.

I’ve swooned over NIGHTWING before when it appeared in MILL CREEK’s earlier ANIMAL APOCALYPSE collection HERE. I was thrilled to view the movie in widescreen for the first time in a long while and take in its gorgeous cinematography. Of course, it’s even more impressive in rich and sharp HD. I know not everyone enjoys this movie as much as I do but in my head, it co-exists alongside two other post-JAWS flicks: THE ISLAND (1980) and PROPHECY (1979) as memorably epic early film-going experiences for me personally. The trio represents a specific period when my whole family was finally of the age to experience a horror flick together. These flicks stand in a little bubble of time before slasher movies completely took over my mind. Maybe I’m being slightly coerced by nostalgia but having watched the film again, I have to say I don’t get the shrug off it sometimes inspires in others. The movie is stunning to look at, I’m totally enthralled by the two main leads (NICK MANCUSO and THE SENDER’s KATHRYN HARROLD), the score by HENRY MANCINI is lovely and there are at least two highly thrilling bat attack set pieces. The campfire scene! Allow me to quote myself from an earlier review

“Right smack in the middle of the film, surrounded by all that ponderous dialogue is NIGHTWING‘s crown jewel, a campfire attack to end all campfire attacks. The special effects may be a tad crappy by today’s standards, but the set-up and surprisingly sadistic tone more than make up for it. Watching co-eds meet the business end of gardening equipment may be fun, but you have not lived until you have observed stuffy, prissy middle-agers running about pell-mell with bats chomping on them from head to foot. What’s remarkably hilarious is just how cowardly the male campers are (keep an eye peeled for CHARLES HALLAHAN whose head will later sprout spider legs in J.C’s THE THING), they leave one woman to fall into the actual fire pit and catch aflame, and the other one is refused access to the safety of a nearby van. When the poor woman seeks refuge under the vehicle, her husband nonchalantly drives over her head!”

Oddly, the review I snatched that paragraph from is a lot more critical then one I would write today. Ten years ago I was complaining that NIGHTWING was “fatally dry and about three times more talky then it needs to be.” Meanwhile, during my recent watch, I found its talkative nature a relief compared to overly busy modern fare. Either I’ve become less critical in my old age or I’ve learned to savor good old-fashioned quiet build-ups before a cinematic storm. That fondness for the less brash seventies came in handy while checking out the second feature on this disc, SHADOW OF THE HAWK. This movie sports a misleading mellow vibe that progressively turns downright eerie. A young JAN MICHAEL VINCENT stars as the grandson of a powerful shaman (CHIEF DAN GEORGE) who sees him as the heir to his mystical skills and enlists him to aid him in the destruction of evil forces. We’re again in the PG-rated zone but don’t worry, there’s something genuinely creepy going on here especially whenever a seriously alarming white-masked ghost demon materializes.

Like NIGHTWING, CURSE showcases incredibly alluring location photography. Take my word or it, cinematographer JOHN HOLBROOK (GHOSTKEEPER) takes full advantage of the majestic mountains and forests of British Columbia. This is mostly a laid-back affair but the characters are truly likable and it’s hard to not enjoy a movie that features a phantom black car, a man wrestling a bear and an exploding owl apparition. I only wish I had caught it on on TV back in the day, having no idea of just how deep into the trippy supernatural it ultimately ends up going. Having missed out on that, I can happily say it’s a great fit with good old NIGHTWING. Both of these movies deserve a lot more appreciation than they’ve received in the past and hopefully by joining forces on a double feature disc they will receive it. If NIGHTWING has taught me anything, it’s that there’s strength in numbers.

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Kindertrauma Funhouse

December 7th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 10 Comments

→ 10 CommentsTags: Kindertrauma Funhouse

Howl (2015)

December 6th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 2 Comments

It’s so sad; all my brick and mortar DVD shops have disappeared! First they came for Tower Records and I said nothing, then the came for FYE and I said, “Yikes!” and then they came and closed down CEX an South Street and I was left a mere shell of my former self, DVD-detoxing in an alley. I know I can order physical media online but it’s really about the joy of the hunt for me. I love to dig through piles of coal to discover a hidden gem (it provides a much stronger dopamine rush). It’s gotten so hopelessly dismal that I’ve turned to the mangy offerings at 7-11 and the budget trough at my local RITE AID! These are sad days indeed! But as I’ve always said, (and feel free to put this on my tombstone) “When life hands you lemons- eat them because they are delicious.” Recently at RITE AID I came across a movie called HOWL. How have I never heard of this bad boy before? It’s about werewolves on a train (!!!!) and was written by ALAN GINSBERG (last part, not true).

Folks, it would be impossible for me NOT to purchase a movie about werewolves on a train, especially when it’s only four bucks and boasts on the cover that it’s directed by the dude who did the special effects for THE DESCENT (PAUL HYETT). It truly shocks me that I have never heard of this movie before (perhaps ignoring every conceivable Horror news outlet has somehow left me out of the loop?). Was I simply not paying attention in 2015? It’s hard to believe that my ears wouldn’t instinctively perk up at the mere mention of WEREWOLVES on a TRAIN because I LOVE both werewolves and trains; they are a perfect combination! Like Ginger Rogers and Fred Flintstone! Geez, how has the long-winded THE HOWLING series never addressed such a hairy predicament before? It boggles the mind.

Anyway, HOWL concerns a put-upon, mild-mannered train guard named Joe (ED SPELEERS) whose night shift turns out to be a nightmare due to a scraggly slew of passengers ripped straight from an AGATHA CHRISTIE novel and a deer-caused derailment that strands the motley crew in lycanthrope-land. Like any sadsack worth his salt, Joe also must deal with a haranguing bully (ELLIOT COWAN) and an elusive love interest (HOLLY WESTON). A lot of tension comes from the passengers failing to consolidate against the surrounding threat once it rears its snarling head and turning on each other with dire results. For the most part, many of the characters are as dimensional as CLUE cards but they’re an entertaining bunch just the same. My lone gripe would be that an overweight character is too routinely presented as comic relief to the annoying point that he seems lifted from a lazy teen sex comedy from the early eighties.

But hey, who cares about characterization when the majority of the cast is going to end up either howling at the moon or ripped to shreds? The werewolves in this movie are pretty awesome and duly threatening. Up close they’re like furry, roiding RAWHEAD REX sized mutants with few, if any, canine characteristics. From a distance, weaving through the dark forest is when they are at their most haunting and daunting. They’re often presented as shadowy silhouettes with glowing eyes, not unlike the ghostly beings in THE FOG and it’s damn striking. Actually, the whole look of the film is rather slick and stylish. I read some complaints online about the handling of the train itself, that the effect looks like a toy model but I have to say, I really dug that aspect of it. I think it gives the picture an unreal/dream quality and reads like an apathetic God’s view looking down upon the tiny tragedy below.

All in all, HOWL is a blast of old school fun and probably the most enjoyable werewolf movie I’ve seen in a dog’s age. It’s perfect late night fare with its claustrophobic setting and its “who will be infected next?” paranoid vibe. I found myself worrying for the few passengers that weren’t obnoxious and looking forward to the demises of the ones who got on my nerves and that’s just what I signed up for (besides werewolves and trains). The end comeuppance for the film’s main antagonist is especially gratifying. If you should stumble across HOWL hanging out in your local bargain bin I suggest you snatch it up right quick. I’m hoping and guessing as word gets out it will gain in popularity and cult approval over the years but in the meantime, it’ll fit quite nicely on my DVD shelf somewhere between THE HOWLING and TERROR TRAIN.

→ 2 CommentsTags: General Horror

Blu-ray Review: Cathy’s Curse

December 4th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 2 Comments

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the CATHY’S CURSE Blu-ray;
I am taking all my older copies and throwing them away (not really)
I am marching down the hall to hand a drink to good ol’ Paul:
Her curse is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, Glory, Cathy’s Blu-ray!
Glory, Glory, Cathy’s Blu-ray!
Glory, Glory, Cathy’s Blu-ray!
Her curse is marching on.

Forgive me. I got a little excited there. It’s just that I was kind of on the fence about upgrading my CATHY’S CURSE based on the fact that I’ve already watched it a hundred times and I was thinking my moola might be better spent on something new- wrong! Excuse the cliché but it’s an absolute revelation. I’m not even talking about the visual details that miraculously surface or the vibrantly blasting seventies flavored hues (has yellow wallpaper ever been more maddening?) that this remarkable upgrade allows. This blessed Blu-ray features a director’s cut that is nine minutes longer than the U.S. version! Because I know every inch of this movie by heart, being exposed to new scenes is semi mind-blowing. Now I know what it must feel like to have repressed childhood memories recovered. This is my home but I’ve never seen it like this before. Doors open into rooms that I had no idea existed. I better lie down and put a cold washcloth on my head. Where am I?

I previously spoke of my CATHY’S CURSE obsession HERE and we were honored to interview CATHY’S CURSE star RANDI ALLEN over HERE but the news of the day is that suddenly this movie is starting to make sense to me (and that can’t be good). In this longer version, we learn from the get-go a piece of knowledge denied in the U.S cut, that the Gimbal family had just recently suffered the death of Cathy’s newborn sibling (!!!) It’s one sentence spoken by the housekeeper but it makes mother Beverly’s erratic behavior borderline understandable. Another unearthed tidbit involves father George Gimble and a statue that was meaningful to him in his youth. He picks it up to appreciate it only to have it break in his hands and much is made of him mending it with glue (only to have Cathy smash it to smithereens during a fit). I don’t know why this new information is important to me, it just is…

God help me for cramming meaning into this nonsensical movie but to me, CATHY’S CURSE is suddenly about accepting the things you can’t fix and becoming aware of the things you can. The film’s most notoriously bonkers scene- involving the housekeeper cleaning up a broken plate (that Cathy has thrown to the floor) by picking up a single shard among many and proclaiming “There, all done” perfectly illustrates the household’s dependency on blind denial. In a similar vein, mother Beverly loses her bearings and is sent to the hospital for a couple of days and then “There, all done” she’s meant to be cured of the grief of losing a child. Throughout the movie everything seems to be breaking: pictures, mirrors, bottles and light fixtures shatter all over the place. The curse is only broken when Beverly opens the doll’s sewn shut eyes and realizes that she is repeating the house’s tragic history by abandoning one child in favor of the other. It’s as if she finally accepts that she can’t change what happened to her baby so she should focus on aiding her troubled first born. Help! This movie makes sense!

But like Jesus’s face appearing in a taco- chances are I’m simply attaching the message I desire to see upon this familiar, possibly arbitrary data. But that’s cool too! That’s what I love about movies and art in general. It’s like a dumb pop song suddenly becoming poignant because your heart just got clobbered. Maybe I am merely projecting my own baggage upon the screen, hearing a tune never intended by the filmmaker but isn’t that perfectly fine? Isn’t it cool that a film you’ve seen a million times, a film that’s known for its indecipherable randomness could still come out of nowhere and communicate some kind of wisdom? I think so! Hats off to SEVERIN FILMS for treating this too often ignored movie with the care and respect it deserves and for consequently improving my life forever. Thanks to SEVERIN, Cathy’s curse of a shabby image and a story incompletely told is now lifted (and there’s even a charming and highly informative interview with beloved RANDI ALLEN as a special feature and that’s worth the price alone). Take it from someone who’s usually somewhat apathetic about upgrading my films from DVD to Blu-ray, SEVERIN’s CATHY’S CURSE release is a marvel-worthy, non-stop treasure.

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Kindertrauma Funhouse:: Name That Tagline!

November 30th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 9 Comments

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Scalps (1983)

November 28th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 4 Comments

Something strange has happened! I have discovered that I have miraculously developed an appreciation for a film I previously balked at- FRED OLAN RAY’s ever-shoddy SCALPS (1983)! Who would have thunk? As a burgeoning horror freak in the early eighties, I first developed anticipation for this undercooked oddity via FANGORIA magazine. I can still remember the small image from the film on its cover that suggested impressive make up effects with the presentation of a snarling, demonic face (plus the title “SCALPS” was so threatening, how could I resist?) It was many years before I’d finally get my hands on the elusive film thanks to the infamous big box double-feature VHS tape that paired it up with one of my favorites, THE SLAYER. Unfortunately my first viewing only brought quick and staggering disappointment. It was all so amateurish and cheap and I couldn’t get beyond the vast difference between the devastating movie I had semi-conjured in my head and the goofy shoestring letdown that existed in reality. My skyscraper high anticipation provided a lethal plummet and the fact that SCALPS followed the equally low budget yet superbly crafted THE SLAYER didn’t help its cause.

Luckily fate wasn’t going to let me get away that easy. I recently stumbled into a DVD of SCALPS in a loose bin of unloved castaways at a killer garage sale (Thanks, South Street Cinema!) and I couldn’t resist it for two mere smackers. I was sure the movie would still underwhelm but I crushed on the vibrant and tacky cover art and I figured a person could never have too many movies from the early eighties in their collection. It had to be good for at least an inebriated mock-watch at least!? But then the unlikely occurred. I watched SCALPS super late at night while my brain was susceptible to abject weirdness and it put a peculiar spell on me. It’s still atrociously constructed and it remains an ineptly written ramshackle quilt of grainy, often unfocused images burdened by amateurish performances and cluttered audio… yet, by golly, it’s genuinely creepy at times and the random, minimalistic slithering synth score is borderline intoxicating. I guess I’ve been thirsting for a vaguely coherent, low-tech sleaze fest and didn’t even know it! When will I learn that untamed trashy cinema reaches me in places that slick modern fare never can?

The plot is as simple and hoary as it gets: three couples travel to the middle of nowhere, ignore multiple warnings and thoughtlessly debase an Indian burial ground- ghostly retribution and well earned tragedy follows. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t rooting for the ancient entities to exact their revenge but I did feel a tinge of pity for most likely survivor D. J. (JO –ANN ROBINSON) who was at least mindful enough to predict the group’s inevitable doom (I guess I’ve been partial to stories concerning stumbled upon curses ever since THE BRADY BUNCH encountered that kooky Tiki idol in Hawaii). There’s a slippery semi-racist slope that SCALPS somewhat skirts by pointedly clarifying that Native Americans adapted the practice of scalping from trespassing white men committed to their people’s genocide. It’s not much but I’ll take what I can get. I should also warn there’s an uncomfortable rape scene that seems almost tacked on from another movie filmed on a somehow cheaper stock. I’d much prefer the scene was omitted entirely as it feels out of place, as if it’s only there to fill out an exploitation quota.

But really it’s all about the uncanny atmosphere, when night falls on the foolish campers, the outside world turns DOGVILLE-black and you only have the toy-like, almost cardboard cutout props of a tent and a car to keep you grounded on Earth. The patchwork quality of the film (which so irked me on first viewing) actually has a semi- dramatic, inadvertently artsy effect and the raw, out of focus inserts add to the general miasma. SCALPS even closes with a pretty potent “lost-soul” stinger in the tradition of TRILOGY OF TERROR’s epic final frame. And God help me, I take great comfort in the fact that no Blu-ray scrub job could ever alter this film’s filthy, gritty texture. Even after being cleaned up for DVD it still looks like it’s been tied to the back of a truck and dragged around town for hours. All that said, it’s not hard to understand why this flick hasn’t been better received over the years. I imagine the perplexing and periodical appearance of a borderline ridiculous lion-headed spirit with a mechanical BILLY IDOL sneer is an early deal breaker for many a viewer (even though it’s kind of adorable).

Come to think of it, my change of heart here reminds me a lot of my reconsideration of the crappy but strangely mesmerizing BLOOD SHACK. I certainly prefer movies that stimulate me due to the impressiveness of their craft but I guess there’s something to be said for oddities that accidently work as simply a rough around the edges mood-piece. The homemade, tacked together with Band-Aids and bubble gum, quality of SCALPS is actually its strongest asset. It’s a lacking film in every possible technical aspect but its brutishness has bite and I think if you catch it (or it catches you) at the right moment, it’s at least strangely eerie. I’d never guess that a film that starts with a wacky FORREST J. ACKERMAN cameo and a Saturday Morning television vibe could end on such a dire, futile note.

So I hope ramshackle, snaggle-toothed, terrible yet inimitable SCALPS will accept my apology for not looking past surface cosmetics on my inaugural viewing. It certainly does pale in comparison to much of its contemporaries but for all its faults it’s a least committed to riling the viewer rather than stroking their fur and its synth meets rattling bones score is genuinely boast-worthy. We’ll never be besties by any stretch but I’m glad I watched it again and who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy it even more in a couple years when the eighties are even smaller in my rearview mirror.

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Shadow Stalkers Collection

November 26th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 7 Comments

I’ve got a serious penchant for DVD movie compilations. I try to collect as many as possible because they take up so little room and tend to introduce me to titles I might not purchase on their own. Plus, I’m such an old school VHS –head that the idea of getting ten or so titles in one swoop still feels like a bonanza to me. Thankfully I can always count on MILL CREEK ENTERTAINMENT to periodically supply me with such a fix. Their latest all- horror offering is entitled SHADOW STALKERS and it could be my favorite pack that they have released thus far. Let’s take a look at what goodies are lurking within!

OUT OF THE DARK (1988)
I had to get my hands on this collection for this movie alone. How has this campy, kooky cult-oddity evaded me all of these years? Somehow not one of the countless video stores I loitered in back in the day happened to carry it. Well, its days of avoiding me are now finally over. OUT OF THE DARK is about a very vocal murderer in a creepy clown mask who terrorizes the female employees of an L.A. phone sex line. Humor, sleaze and suspense collide as two cops try to crack the killer’s identity before he brutally claims his next victim. This is basically a can’t lose affair because the film’s most outlandish set pieces and cringe-worthy lines of dialogue only make it that much more entertaining. More importantly it has a to-die-for cast that includes: KAREN BLACK (TRILOGY OF TERROR) , GEOFFREY LEWIS (SALEM’S LOT), TRACEY WALTER (REPO MAN), BUD CORT (HAROLD AND MAUDE), PAUL BARTEL (EATING RAOL), TAB HUNTER (POLYESTER), LAINE KAZAN (LUST IN THE DUST) and the incomparable DIVINE as an overbearing, mustached cop in his very last film role. Overall it’s a howling good time and a deep dive into neon-soaked, vibrant eighties-flavored excess.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME
(1981)
I wrote about my unabashed love for this sterling early eighties slasher classic back HERE (as well as in the book BUTCHER KNIVES AND BODY COUNTS). It’s a favorite of mine that I return to on a nearly yearly basis. This flick is total comfort horror for me and always will be. If you happened to purchase the initial DVD release you may have been disappointed to find that it utilized a generic, temporary score rather than the underrated and poetic theatrical score by BO HOWARD (LOVE STREAMS) and LANCE RUBIN (MOTEL HELL). If so, this collection is an affordable way to remedy that situation. Even though I’ll always love my VHS tape, this is a film that really needs to be seen widescreen due to the way it plays with background and foreground imagery. If you want to go one even better, MILL CREEK has also released HBTM on Blu-ray in a nifty retro faux-aged VHS box art cover. I highly recommend that for the ultimate (as of now) presentation of the movie. Hey, you can’t have too many copies of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

THE EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978)
How incredible is it that this glamo-camp thriller starring the ferocious FAYE DUNAWAY was based on a screenplay by horror maestro JOHN CARPENTER? And how many movies involving a famous fashion photographer with the psychic power to foresee Giallo-esque murders can boast a haunting theme song from one BABS STREISAND? Not many, I’m guessing. This is rather an avalanche of awesome because besides DUNAWAY, you also get a young TOMMY LEE WALLACE (yes, he was young once) and a fantastically creepy performance from future CHUCKY inhabitant BRAD DOURIFF. If that weren’t enough, the late great RAUL JULIA is on board as well and directing honors go to IRVIN KERSHNER (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK). They really don’t make them like this anymore and that’s a shame. If you don’t already own a copy I can’t recommend this twisty, moody, nutso movie enough.

AND THE REST
The three titles above are indisputably the most valuable players rocking this set. All three are presented in widescreen and look slick, sharp and generally impressive. The seven remaining flicks are more of a gritty public domain affair of variant quality. I consider this group the freeby gravy; maybe not ideal but good to have on hand for a rainy day.

You get DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE! (1980) a sleazy, somewhat disturbing tale of a roving psychopath that works as an interesting time capsule of early eighties Los Angeles, NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1969) a semi-bland revenge/torture flick with a hammy performance by CAMERON MITCHELL, BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965) which features MARISKA HARGITAY’s bodybuilder father MICKEY in red tights abusing all those who trespass in his castle, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1973) the strangely lyrical holiday horror flick starring the hypnotic MARY WORONOV, FUNERAL HOME (1980) WILLIAM FRUET’s underrated Canadian slasher starring scream queen LESLEH DONALDSON, DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984) a lacking London set X-mas shocker in which a maniac’s preferred victims are all dressed as Santa and finally, DRIVE IN MASSACRE (1979) which may be slower than a drugged turtle but features a hard to resist setting for film lovers.

All in all it’s roughly 15 hours of entertainment and my only gripe would be that FUNERAL HOME’s presentation leaves a bit to be desired and is actually a downgrade from my trusty VHS tape. No worries though-OUT OF THE DARK, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and EYES OF LAURA MARS more than make up for that slight. My other DVD sets will be more than happy to welcome SHADOW STALKERS to my growing collection.

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Kindertrauma Black Friday Funhouse

November 23rd, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 12 Comments

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Kindertrauma Funhouse

November 16th, 2018 by unkle lancifer · 12 Comments

→ 12 CommentsTags: Kindertrauma Funhouse