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DVD Review:: Water Monsters (Featuring She Creature!)

July 9th, 2015 · 8 Comments

Remember back in the good old days (three months ago) when I was all inordinately excited about a cheap-o DVD set that included the sadly underappreciated killer bat flick NIGHTWING? Those were good times. Who can blame me for trying to recapture that feeling of fleeting contentment by snagging yet another modestly priced four-movie collection from the fine folks at MILL CREEK entertainment called WATER MONSTERS!?

Yay WATER MONSTERS! It’s not news that I love monsters and don’t even get me started on water! I don’t mean to go overboard but I sometimes think I couldn’t live without that stuff! Let’s say we take a closer look at this gift from God that you can probably find at your local Best Buy or Target or K-Mart or what have you. Maybe even Caldor? Does Caldor still exist? Come to think of it, one of the reasons I like these sets is that they remind me of the bins of mass-produced VHS tapes that they used to have at the center city Woolworths here in Philly back in the early nineties. That probably shouldn’t be a fond memory on account of that is how I was exposed to the abominations NUKIE and BOOGEYMAN 2 but fond it is.

Let’s talk picture quality. All four movies in this set are on one disc. They all look fine for casual viewing. If you pause them you’ll notice some sketchiness but it’s not all that bad. I’ll be honest with you; I’m not the biggest stickler about such things. In fact, I ended up not being very interested in Blu-rays at all. I figure as long as I have visual masterpieces like BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN, THE THING and maybe THE FUNHOUSE on Blu that’s enough. In all other cases, my Playstation 3 upconverts garden variety DVDs just fine for me. Also, and I may be insane here, but HD has a glassy, synthetic quality to it that reads a bit sickly to me whereas your standard DVD is all warm and toasty and snuggly like a carpeted den. I don’t know, maybe I’m bonkers. In any case, I’m more about filling the holes in my DVD collection than needlessly upgrading that which I already own. I guess I’ve got agreeable peepers is all (I also ate a filet-o-fish sandwich today so maybe I’m just hopelessly lowbrow). Moving on…

ANACONDA (1997)

Aw, look the first movie is ANACONDA! Cool! You know, some people like to dismiss this flick because it’s called ANACAONDA and it concerns at least one ANACONDA but I’ve always enjoyed it and back in 1997, it was a wonderful B-movie throwback when there weren’t that many to be found. It really owes a lot to those beloved seventies-era disaster flicks with its extensive multigenerational cast and deliberate build-up. It’s got an agreeable epic journey vibe and I have to say the jungle location is actually convincingly oppressive. Yeah, yeah the CGI is dated but they don’t really take on anything too complicated and there’s a fair share of practical effects too. It’s simply a fun movie and JON VOIGHT’s off-the-rails performance alone makes it worthwhile. The weird thing is how likable and down to Earth JENNIFER LOPEZ is. This movie is so old it’s from before she became a phony-baloney media gadfly.

BLACK WATER (2007)

I just realized I’m senile and the undeniable proof is that this movie that came out eight years ago, is in my mind, a recent release. Oh well, I certainly don’t mind having a hard copy of this effective Australian killer croc picture one bit. I’m not quite in the mood for a re-watch just yet, but the urge is bound to strike me one day in my limited future. Check me out unabashedly batting my eyelashes at this unassuming gem in a full review way back HERE.

RED WATER (2003)

This, I’d say is the lone dud of the pack. There isn’t a whole lot to differentiate it from any other made for TV shark movie you might bump into. On the plus side, LOU DIAMOND PHILIPS and KRISTY SWANSON are present, so that might be fun if you don’t get depressed thinking about how likely they’re wishing they were anywhere else. I guess this one is good for people who don’t get the SyFy channel and want to pretend they do for an hour and a half.

SHE CREATURE (2001)

This is the one that sealed the deal for me. SHE CREATURE (listed on IMDb as MERMAID CHRONICLES PART 1: SHE CREATURE) was the first (and as I recall, the best and possibly the only worthwhile installment) of a CINEMAX series known as CREATURE FEATURES which consisted of original films inspired by preexisting AIP (American International Pictures) movie titles. It stars RUFUS SEWELL and CARLA “The lone member of TROOP BEVERLY HILLS who starred in a #1 movie the summer of 2015” GUGINO as an easy to look at carnie couple who kidnap and plan to exploit a mermaid who is far more formidable (and sympathetic) than she originally appears.

The late great STAN WINSTON supplies the flick’s super slick monster effects and the whole deal seeps with a dank, waterlogged atmosphere. In fact, in my mind this is a suitable companion piece to the brilliantly briny DAGON of the same year. Everything about it is enjoyably old school right down to a Matte painting establishing shot of a seaside mansion (that I’m guessing was lifted from a classic AIP flick. Does anybody recognize it above?). Did I mention it takes place for the most part on a boat? Who in the world can resist boat horror? Oh, and the multitalented COLLEEN CAMP is a producer! I have to give COLLEEN a high five…

So there you have it. What a deal! This cornucopia of slippery sharp-toothed water mongrels can be yours for cheaper than a bottle of Perrier. Moreover, and I swear I do not work for MILL CREEK, I just found out they have a new batch of affordable sets including a HAMMER FILMS COLLECTION featuring the used to be impossible to score SCREAM OF FEAR (!!!) and a WILLIAM CASTLE COLLECTION with HOMICIDAL, and even the elusive THE OLD DARK HOUSE remake among other classics! That’s some slobber worthy cinema that won’t leave your poor wallet feeling defiled!

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Tags: DVD Review · General Horror

The Runestone (1991)

June 24th, 2015 · 4 Comments

I stumbled across the strangest movie. It’s my most favorite view since THE MEDUSA TOUCH and it flew into my hands in much the same way. I was at an indoor flea market and this guy had a giant grey plastic tub of used VHS that he was selling three for five bucks. I found two that I wanted and had to take a gamble on a third. I was pretty sure I had seen 1991’s THE RUNESTONE before, as I had a vague negative feeling toward it, but I figured I’d give it a second chance because at least it looked semi-horror related. I didn’t already own it and it was in very good condition (the tape inside was tightly wound, laying flat and mold free! You gotta check for mold, I tells ya! It’s an epidemic!!) Anyway, after watching it, I doubted there was any way I had seen it before, as I would surely have remembered something so idiosyncratic. I guess, due to the cover art so proudly boasting the presence of the late ALEXANDER GODUNOV, I was unfairly associating it with WAXWORK 2? On the other hand it’s not impossible that exactly what makes THE RUNESTONE charming now made it forgettable back in its day. Some films need to sit and ferment.

I’m going to reference a ton of titles now as a kind of shorthand, so stand warned. RUNESTONE starts off as some sort of archeological adventure like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and there’s an all-consuming myth-dipped puzzle vibe that sorta reminded me of INFERNO. But then it gets to be so very much like THE RELIC except instead of a larger than life, difficult to register creature to deal with, there’s an old-fashioned, in-your-face dude in a rubber suit deal (think PUMPKINHEAD or RAWHEAD REX or especially HUMANOIDS OF THE DEEP). Jumping back even further, the soundtrack does its best to ape the sweeping, over the top dramatics of B-movie horror films from the fifties like THE CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON.

I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that it’s like watching THE DAVINCI CODE do the cha-cha with SPAWN OF THE SLITHIS (1978) and I say that having never actually finished watching either of those. I should also mention it’s got a too big for its britches, would–be epic if not for its staggering lack of plausibility quality as per 1979’s THE DARK or the same year’s batty THE VISITOR. What’s it about? Let’s just say some jealous guy finds a rock in Pennsylvania and it brings out his worst.

Writer/director WILLARD CARROLL based his screenplay on a novel by MARK E. ROGERS but the entire affair has an intoxicating lunatic auteur feel to it, as if everything was obsessed over in some seriously unhealthy way. In fact, the concentrated visuals and often clunky dialogue reminded me of FRANK De FILITTA’s adorably self-indulgent insanity dispenser SCISSORS of the same year (and I mean that as a compliment). What’s extra odd is that RUNESTONE has its heart set on being funny, so you have to endure lead balloon joke after lead balloon joke until finally you begin to look forward to them. Weirder still, it actually is funny on at least two occasions.

You’ll never catch me saying, “It’s so bad, it’s good” but I have no issue saying it’s so awkward, it’s stimulating. I can’t help feel a tinge of exhilarating embarrassment for THE RUNESTONE. It’s goofily earnest and it knows no shame and it’s willing to throw anything against the wall in the hopes that it’ll stick and somehow, against all odds, some things do. For example the line, “Where am I when I need me the most?” is shoehorned into a scene for no good reason and now I can’t get it out of my head and there’s an extended bit that skewers a New York art gallery that somehow ends with the creature in question sporting a police hat that I won’t forget too soon. (Don’t get me started on the sex scene involving an impossible moon, and the battling silhouettes of a woman in the throws of passion and a swiping monster claw. It has to be seen to be believed).

Anyway, I know a keeper when I see one, there’s never something not going on, the misses are as fascinating as the hits and there’s no doubt you’ll see different things popping out upon multiple visits. I wish I could entice you better with the cast but that’s not going to work unless you are a big fan of PETER (ANIMAL HOUSE) RIEGERT, JOAN (BLACK SCORPION) SEVERANCE or the guy who looks exactly like the guy who was on that early FOX sitcom DUETS but is not that guy on account of he’s his twin brother (MITCHELL (not MATTHEW) LAURANCE).

What I CAN do (and what may be my sole purpose for being born), is to reiterate, highlight and underline that THE RUNESTONE is a MONSTER movie! To me, that is crucial, game-changing information previously neglected to be declared properly in the movie’s advertising art. In my book, monster movies are allotted a certain amount (acres and acres) of extra leeway to be somewhat off the wall. I’m not saying it’s part of their appeal, I’m just saying I’ll happily overlook a few zillion questionable choices to see a guy in a rubber suit rip some other guy’s arm off. I can’t help it.

So there my job is done. THE RUNESTONE is available to watch on YouTube. The picture quality is not the best (I can tell right away by how off the red hue is in the opening credits) but it’s not available on DVD or Blu-ray, so what are you going to do? Personally, I’d order a VHS from Amazon while supplies last. This is a cult hit waiting to happen and all it needs is somebody with more clout than me to say so.

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Tags: General Horror · Stream Warriors · Streaming Alert!

Cousin Wil’s Top Ten Tear Jerking Horror Scenes

June 3rd, 2015 · 7 Comments

1. Monster Squad (1987) Frankenstein Gets Sucked Into Vortex

Watching Phoebe’s feeble attempt to hold on to Frankenstein as he is being sucked into a vortex was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my childhood.

2. Godzilla aka Gojira (1954) Daisuke Serizawa Sacrifices Himself to Save Mankind

This is actually the movie that gave me the idea for this list. Serizawa’s sacrifice at the end of the original Godzilla film is not only sad but it is mostly forgotten by horror fans, which is even sadder.

3. Splice (2009) Dren Realizes She Doesn’t Look Like Other Girls

If the Barbie doll scene in Splice doesn’t make you cry then you’re even less human than Dren.

4. The Prowler (1981) Final Girl Almost Saved by Mentally Handicapped Red Herring

It may be hard to remember this scene, but there is a brief beautiful moment between Pam and Otto right before the final kill of the movie.

5. Alien Resurrection (1997) Alien-human Hybrid Says “Mommy” Before Being Sucked into Space

This scene is like the ghost in Three Men and a Baby, it makes the movie better if you just choose to believe it is real.

6. Return of the Living Dead (1985) Frank Takes Off His Wedding Ring Before He Incinerates Himself.

When you think “tear jerking” Return of the Living Dead doesn’t come to mind, but the movie does take a break from all the silly zombie shenanigans to give Frank a tearful goodbye before the poop really hits the fan.

7. Prom Night (1980) Jamie Lee Curtis Realizes the Killer is Her Brother

I always like to think Joss Whedon got the idea for the Buffy episode “New Man” from this scene.

8. Let the Right One In (2008) The Entire Movie.

We all remember our first crush, but did they really want to be your friend or were they just grooming you to be their next Familiar? We may never know.

9. Congo (1995) Amy Realizes She’s Not Like the Other Apes

I guess I have a thing about feeling left out. Amy, the talking gorilla, has a Dren moment when another gorilla totally throws some shade because she’s not like him.

10. American Gothic (1988) Cynthia Joins the Family

I wanted to end the list with a story of acceptance since it is filled with so much rejection. It always warms my heart to know that Fanny found a new sister at the end of American Gothic, even though it doesn’t quite work out for her.

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Tags: General Horror

It Follows

April 15th, 2015 · 3 Comments

First of all, I’d like to thank any and all who recommended IT FOLLOWS to me and/or urged me to see it in the theater. You were not wrong to do so. It was really cool to see a small independent horror film featuring a singular personal vision in an actual theater again. It brought back a lot of good memories. Plus, I have to say one of my favorite parts of the film ended up being its pushy retro soundtrack and the theater I saw it in sported an impressive sound system and was able to highlight that aspect it in a way that would be impossible (for me) to duplicate at home.

My overall experience was enjoyable, it was money well spent and I shall forever be happy that I went. That said, I’ve gotta say… and don’t hate me…I’m not exactly over the moon for IT FOLLOWS. I was left in more of a C+ to B- zone. I thought it was interesting and fun to talk about later but it in no way bowled me over in the way that I would have liked it to. This isn’t like when I went to see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and left with the feeling that its supporters were rubes or like when I saw YOU’RE NEXT and couldn’t wait for it to be over; I can totally understand folks liking IT FOLLOWS. I get it. Just as I once got the general consensus that FARRAH was the most beautiful of CHARLIE’S ANGELS even though clearly that honor has always belonged to KATE JACKSON. What I’m trying to say is, here comes a mixed review…

Let’s get what I appreciated out of the way. IT FOLLOWS often plays like a soothing throwback and I dig its shameless, fetishistic reverence toward nostalgia. I can’t, in good conscience, join the chorus that commends it for its originality due to it brazenly lifting scenes from ubiquitous classics like HALLOWEEN and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET but I can give it props for being wise enough to pilfer beyond the surface and into the soul. What IT FOLLOWS has in spades (or at least foreboding Old Maid cards) is the understanding that the diabolizing of sex in horror films involving teens is more about expressing natural fears associated with leaving childhood behind then anything else. It’s a “mortal” issue rather than a moral issue and this film seriously seeps a sad melancholy “last days of our youth” vibe throughout. Yes, there’s a curse, a disease that one can catch by way of intercourse in IT FOLLOWS and that disease is adulthood. It does my Robert Smith loving original goth-ster heart good to witness teenagers waxing nostalgic for salad days as a once sanguine suburbia crumbles around them.

So yeah, tonally IT FOLLOWS works for me- my big issue, I’m thinking, is structural. I say this acknowledging that we’re all scared of different things and that scares are not necessarily the be all, end all when it comes to a successful horror film. I just found this movie inexcusably front heavy in the fright department to the point that it irked me. As you may know, the ambiguous threat in IT FOLLOWS can take the form of anyone living or dead and we’re told it has a tendency to mask itself as a loved one just to be extra sadistic. So in the first half of the film it appears as a decrepit, death-eyed crone (yikes), a hideous, toothless lady who urinates on the kitchen floor (zoinks) and a shadowy, too-tall dude who has to bend down to get through a doorway (check please!) and then for reasons I cannot fathom, the second half the film features the entity as a friend/invisible hair puller (meh), the bored looking original victim (snore), a naked man (day at the office) and the blasé absentee father of the protagonist (which may have the potential to be unnerving if it were only presented any other way than it is). Wouldn’t all of that work better in reverse? Maybe not, point is, for me, the movie becomes less and less scary as it goes on and that’s not my preferred scenario by a long shot.

And so I stand in the middle. As much as I’m grateful to see, after what seems like decades, non-model, normal looking humans on the big screen again, I find myself frustrated that so many confrontations and opportunities to add depth to the characters are shirked. As much as I was on board with the multitude of literary and cinematic referential nods, I couldn’t help feeling pulled out of the drama by all the winking, hipster aesthetic photo-bombing. I was more than happy to allow a parade of inconsistencies and un-knowables into the party in the name of surrealism and all forgiving “dream logic” but at some point, the smudgy lines started feeling more lazy than clever. In the end, my basic rule of thumb is that any movie that gets stuck in your craw to this degree is more than worthwhile and I plan to return to IT FOLLOWS somewhere in the future after the fawning has died. I’m very glad that it got a wide release and was able to play in the lone theater that is within walking distance of my home but if you asked me whether it deserved that privilege more than THE BABADOOK, HOUSEBOUND, STARRY EYES or THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, at this point, my answer would be (maybe) the first half did.

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Tags: General Horror

DVD Review:: Animal Apocalypse (Featuring Nightwing!)

April 7th, 2015 · 3 Comments

My dreaded birthday rolled around again a little while back and all I could think to want was some Amazon flavored credit to put to use filling the unsightly holes in my DVD collection. Imagine if you dare, an adult human in this day and age living without a physical copy of the 1992 LAMBERTA BAVA-directed JOANA PACULA thriller BODY PUZZLE; it’s enough to make your heart sob. OK, maybe that one is more gravy than essential but really all I’m asking for is a functioning video store within arms reach at all times- is that so wrong? Regardless, I am happy to say I was able to spackle a crack that has been bugging me for years with the acquisition of a 4-movie set horrendously titled ANIMAL APOCALPYSE! It’s one of those unimpressive looking bargain bin MILL CREEK numbers with zero frills, no bell in sight, an absence of whistles and an instantly dated cover but guess what? It’s secretly hiding a snappy and highly coveted by me, widescreen version of ARTHUR (LOVE STORY) HILLER’s 1979 killer bat opus NIGHTWING!!

Yay, I soooo need that! First of all, in my head, it’s the unofficial companion piece to my beloved PROPHECY and secondly I cherish and value it as an important stepping stone in my love of the genre- no matter how hard folks try to convince me it stinks (see also THE HEARSE). I wrote a review for it way back HERE and by reading it, you can see that I’m totally aware that NIGHTWING can be truly long winded and boring at times but is beautifully photographed, has an awesome score, features the irresistible duo of KATHRYN (THE SENDER) HARROLD and NICK (DEATH SHIP) MANCUSO and boasts at least one super exciting scene in which a man cowardly drives over his wife’s head in an effort to save himself. Plus it just takes me back; NIGHTWING will always be bigger in my head than it actually is in the real world and that’s fine by me because I live in my head and not the real world anyway.

Truth told, NIGHTWING has been available on Amazon as one of those made on demand DVD-R doohickeys but I gotta say I’m intuitively suspicious of those things. To be recordable, aren’t they missing some layer that makes them more permanent? I have no idea what I’m talking about and here I am spreading rumors. Oh well, suffice to say the DVD-R version is more expensive and has less content. ANIMAL APOCALPYSE comes with three other free movies and free is a good price for them because they’re not so hot. There’s BATS: HUMAN HARVEST the sequel nobody wanted to 1999’s BATS, FATAL CONTACT: BIRD FLU IN AMERICA an ABC TV movie that’s mostly just depressing and finally SyFy Channel’s KAW (2007). Hey, I actually kinda liked KAW, it has a decent cast with SEAN PATRICK FLANERY, STEPHEN McHATTIE and recently deceased, legendary THE BIRDS star ROD TAYLOR and I thought the effects were pretty cool.

I admit I’ve got a soft spot for cheap-o compilation sets in general but really this bundle is all about NIGHTWING. If you’re a fan too, this is an affordable and decent enough looking option. It’s not anywhere near the HD realm but it’s certainly way beyond crusty old VHS. Why, just check out these picture post card screen shots:

NOTE: And please remember that NIGHTWING, like all killer bat movies, is a goof. In real life bats are super nice and helpful and adorable. They do a zillion times infinity less damage to the world than humans do and are basically flying kittens. There’s a big stupid speech in NIGHTWING that tries to persuade you to think that bats are evil or something so don’t listen to it. Bats are the best and I’ll have you know that in any scenario that concerns bats vs. humans, I’ll be on team bat.

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Tags: DVD Review · General Horror · I Have No Idea What This Is

Sleepstalker (1995)

March 5th, 2015 · No Comments

I’m still trapped inside some kind of mid-nineties nostalgia spiral. When will it end? I’ve lost all respect for myself and that was probably the draw. My latest disgraceful conquest is 1995’s SLEEPSTALKER, a movie that I turned off after about 20 minutes when I first tried to watch it 20 years ago. SLEEPSTALKER is exactly the type of movie I rallied against back in the day, it’s yet another feeble attempt at a Freddy Krueger-type horror icon complete with magic comic book fantasy powers and a penchant for ham-handed, fey bon mots. You know the type. To add another layer of degradation to the affair, the flick is directed by TURI MEYER the unrepentant monster behind the cinematic slap-in-the-face known as CANDYMAN 3: THE DAY OF THE DEAD (another movie I could not sit through and yet own). Have I developed a taste for dishonoring my previous self? I can’t help it! It’s fun. Plus there’s always that chance that I’ll like something I used to hate. In any case, I’ve surely discovered that all decades are better once I’m no longer living in them.

Turns out, SLEEPSTALKER is still pretty lame but I won’t complain because I knew what I was signing up for. Instead, I’m going to talk about a few enjoyable things that made it worth a second view for me. First of all, it’s a full-bodied, stuffed to the gills nineties time capsule. For example, slackers are awkwardly crammed into conversation, the cast lives above a FRIENDS-inspired coffeehouse and our protagonist Griffin (THE BOY WHO COULD FLY’s JAY UNDERWOOD) sports a goatee, wears a vest and aspires to write an in-depth article regarding the leader of a street gang named “Dog.” We learn that Griffin’s parents were killed by a serial killer named “The Sandman” who is about to be executed and “executed” in a film like this means granted incredible posthumous powers thanks to stumbling, baby stage CGI. Of course with special powers come special loosely followed “rules”, the main one concerning Sandman’s logical yet hoary aversion to water. Eventually Sandman is offing Griffin’s pals and we come to find their connection is deeper than previously thought.

It’s all pretty humdrum but occasionally the soundtrack hits you with worth your while lightening bolts like the track below…

There’s certain sloppiness to the storytelling and the plot feels caged into following a well-known pattern but I can’t say SLEEPSTALKER doesn’t hit some strange original tones at points. There’s an ethereal glow throughout much of the film and a few effectively off-putting moments. At various times we jump back to learn the killer’s origin story and it’s all kinds of Kindertraumatic. The poor guy was raised in what looks like the surreal set for an early music video, his lips were sewn shut and he was beaten nightly while a horribly creepy song played on a child’s record player. Worse still, much like your poor Unkle Lancifer, the young Sandman slept in a room with a hideous clown painting on the wall! Look at this painting! I don’t fully approve of this movie but I can’t deny the yikes of this…

And that song that the record plays! It’s repeated again over the closing credits and it is genuinely and inarguably freakishly haunting. So, in closing I can’t say I changed my mind about this one because “The Sandman” truly gets on my nerves whenever he slowly spews out word salad before a kill…BUT I am glad I checked this one out again for the weirdly twisted flashback sequences and the super awesome soundtrack, most particularly the insane song that’s apparently never going to stop slithering around my poor head…

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Tags: General Horror

Ghost Stories for Christmas!

December 24th, 2014 · 6 Comments

I’ll be watching both Black Christmases this holiday season along with assorted Silent Nights but I decided to take a break as far as posting about them. I feel that anyone who has done a “Help Mrs. Mac Find Her Hidden Hooch” puzzle has done their due. After seven years the idea of writing about the usual horror Christmas flicks made me want to hang myself like a stocking and that’s not very Christmas-y at all (unless you consider the statistics.) Unfortunately my new standpoint left me with nothing to talk about, until I fatefully heard, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year “ on the radio and the lyric “There will be scary ghost stories…” jumped out and reminded me that once upon a time, ghost stories were a big part of Christmas Eve.

This Ghost Story Christmas tradition still maintains a somewhat substantial hold in England but here in the States, we foolishly dropped it save for Dicken’s ubiquitous “A Christmas Carol.” That means that we collectively did the dumbest thing ever and jettisoned the one thing that could potentially make Christmas as cool as Halloween. Whose idea was this? I wasn’t consulted! I blame misguided, overly puritanical religious people because…because I blame them for everything (on account of the history of everything.) In any case, the idea that I could watch any ghost story I liked and still sorta be operating in the Christmas spirit really opened things up for me and added a slew of fresh flicks to my creepy Christmas cache!

As it turns out, if you look far back enough into history, Halloween and Christmas Eve are not that different at all; on both nights it was once believed that the wall between the living and the dead worlds become thin and easier to trespass through. Ghosts are scary, sure, but they also make us feel better because they imply a second act and what better gift to give the dead than the chance to moan and complain a little longer? So here are some ghost movies I suggest checking out this Christmas Eve. Some are more holiday-friendly than others but all suggest that perhaps death is not the final curtain call, an idea that surely lil’ baby Jesus can get behind!

WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU (1968)

Let’s get this 40-minute television production out of the way first. It’s the most traditional on my list as its based on a short story by M.R. JAMES and went on to inspire yearly BBC Christmas-timed adaptations of his work. It concerns a fussy professor who comes across a whistle in a graveyard, makes the grave mistake of playing it and then finds himself accosted by the supernatural forces he unwittingly beckoned. This is horror of the quiet and infesting variety and captures beautifully the type of dread that visits in the wee hours of the night.

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)

Is Amy’s new pal a ghost or a figment of her overactive imagination? Parents traditionally look down on imaginary friends but Amy’s pop Oliver (KENT SMITH) has an extra reason to be perturbed on account of his daughter’s invisible BFF sounds an awful lot like his deceased ex-wife who caused mucho drama with her habit of turning into a ferocious animal whenever she was feeling frisky. I’m not sure any film has ever captured both the wonder and terror of childhood in such a glorious way and it’s no slouch in depicting the magical quality of Christmas either.

THE UNINVITED (1944)

I should be embarrassed to say that the first time I watched THE UNINVITED I didn’t care for it that much. I think it was because someone suggested it to me based on my affection for THE HAUNTING (1963) and I originally watched it through a filter of expectation that it would strike me in the same way and of course it didn’t (and why should it?) Thankfully I bumped into it again on a classic movie channel a couple decades later and was able to take in its striking form outside of the pointless dysfunctional shadow of comparison and no bones about it, I loved it. I think what first threw me about the movie was its permeating sense of humor. How could I get scared when everybody kept speaking in quips all the time? The thing that my little head didn’t get was that joviality in the face of life’s darker elements was what this flick was all about. In fact, when the negative force that threatens to drag everybody down is vanquished in the end, our hero (charm machine RAY MILLAND) basically blasts it off by laughing in its face (before chucking a candelabra at its wispy, wet-blanket head.) If you can get the CRITERION COLLECTION version then do so. It features an informative and surprisingly moving video essay by filmmaker MICHAEL ALMERWYDA (NADJA, THE ETERNAL).

DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)

This classic anthology is all about the sharing of ghost stories and I know I’m not the only one who it still has the power to disturb. Incredibly the film’s hide and seek Christmas party segment was left out of its initial American release and I have to wonder what kind of dummy would allow that. Personally I believe the tale’s closing line “I’m not scared, I’m not scared…oh hold me tight!” is the unheralded inspiration for SAVED BY THE BELL”s classic Jessie Spano caffeine meltdown exclamation “I’m so excited, I’m so excited…I’m so scared!” I could be wrong.

THE HEARSE (1981)

THE HEARSE and I have a long, acrimonious history full of mistrust and unfulfilled longing yet I can’t deny there’s a secret fondness that keeps me returning to this ghost flick even though I know I’ll only feel disappointed again. I shall forever admonish THE HEARSE for dropping the ball at the worst time possible and for pushing the limits of lameness repeatedly and yet I’ll watch it again in a heartbeat because it’s for the most part, creepy–cozy. I’m sure nostalgia plays a big part in the relationship but I guess the larger truth is that the type of glee some folks feel when they see a car chase or a fiery explosion I can only feel when I see TRISH VAN DEVERE alone in bed in an old house reading.

A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN (1945)

An elderly couple moves into a mansion with a dark history and soon find that their skepticism of the supernatural is challenged on a daily basis. They invite a young woman to stay with them who confirms their concerns by becoming possessed. I’ll understand if some horror fans find this one a little too restrained and polite for their tastes but the acting (particularly by JAMES MASON who was only in his thirties at the time) and the story consistently intrigues and it sports a cool twist. This one I stumbled across on Netflix and I’m still stunned I hadn’t heard of it earlier.

HAUNTED (1995) & THE SKEPTIC (2009) & THE ECLIPSE (2009)

Skeptics really need to learn not to be so skeptical because clearly skepticism is like a magnet for ghosts and only gets them riled up! AIDAN QUINN in HAUNTED which is based on a book by JAMES HERBERT and TIM DALY in THE SKEPTIC, which I reviewed back HERE, both learn this obvious fact the hard way. Speaking of AIDAN QUINN, remember how he was in that other ghost flick we once talked about called THE ECLIPSE? Yikes, that movie had one of the scariest moments EVER.

GHOST SORY (1981)

Just as I had recently panicked that I might someday run out of Christmas holiday horror movies, this past Halloween I was worried that I might run out of beautiful black and white horror goodies. Then I remembered a post over at our pal Christine’s pad FASCINATION WITH FEAR that suggested many a horror flick could loose their color and be all the better for it. So I adjusted my TV to black and white and I watched GHOST STORY and it was all kinds of awesome. With its classic Hollywood cast, snow-filled settings and gorgeous ALBERT WHITLOCK matte paintings, GHOST STORY wore its new colorless suit like it was born in it. The spirit we’re looking for is all here, there’s scotch, fireplaces and ghostly tales to be told and if a rotted corpse shows up instead of Santa, well that’s fine too. Director JOHN IRVIN’s earlier effort 1974’s HAUNTED: THE FERRYMAN is another chiller worth seeking out.

So why not celebrate the Christmas ghost story tradition by watching one of these fine titles today or if you really want to go old school, you could make up your own ghost story and tell it to your perplexed pals as they look at their phones! You can even just jump on over to YouTube and make some unknown stranger read to you and you don’t even have to pay them for their time! Here’s some tireless lady reading HENRY JAMESTHE TURN OF THE SCREW in one sitting! Note how this famous story of a nameless governess begins as a tale told around a fire on Christmas Eve!

Even if you don’t follow my ghostly advice, I hope you all have the greatest holiday season! I should warn you that I may be making myself scarce for a little while as I need to spend some quality time with my family and friends…hahahhaha…just kidding. Actually I just got an early present in the form of the ALIEN ISOLATION game so I gotta hang out in space for a while. Wish me luck against those rascally Xenomorphes, and I’ll see ya sometime next year!

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Tags: General Horror · Holidays

The Babadook (2014)

December 19th, 2014 · 11 Comments

I apologize if you’re already tired of hearing about THE BABADOOK. Until recently I was tired of hearing about it myself. I was assuming people were only talking about it because the title is so enjoyable to say. I just found out though there’s a completely different reason this little flick has gotten tongues a’ wagging and that reason is the rarest of all- THE BABADOOK is actually really good! I know, I’m shocked too! I thought horror fans only rallied when they were instructed to by manipulative marketing campaigns but in this case, the enthusiasm is on the up and up. THE BABADOOK totally deserves the attention it has and will continue to receive, and that’s coming from someone to whom hype is a serious buzzkill. If you crave gore (who doesn’t?) or are frightened by jolty noises, cats being thrown in windows or killers suddenly appearing in medicine cabinet mirrors after they are closed, this may not suit your needs but if you dig the type of paranoid horror that burrows deep into your psyche and makes you squirm like a worm on a hook… then it’s a goldmine. THE BABADOOK left me with a fear I have not felt since I finished watching SESSION 9, which is a fear not of an evil outside myself but a fear of an evil covertly camped out in some dark corner of my own head. That’s good stuff!

Viewers may recognize the terrain but be warned that while you’re noting the nods to REPULSION and THE SHINING, writer/director JENNIFER KENT, aided by a knock out performance by actress ESSIE DAVIS, is cleverly crafting characters that you can’t help identify with and feel empathetic towards which brilliantly pays off in maximizing the stakes. It’s easier (and probably wiser) to sell this movie as a “kid’s imaginary friend turns out to be real” flick but it’s anything but. It’s much more concerned with how grief and depression can eventually eclipse everything when left unattended and how frightening it is to live in fear of your own rage. I never truly agreed with STEPHEN KING when he complained that JACK NICHOLSON was too crazy at the beginning of THE SHINING to make his psychological downfall dramatic enough but now thanks to DAVIS’ performance, I finally see his point. She’s really incredible in this and she reminded me how truly crap-your-pants terrifying it is when you are a kid and you witness a trusted adult’s face transform in fury.

KENT’s direction and storytelling is equally impressive as she insists the audience keep on their toes and never lets them rest with a black and white perception of the goings on. We look at things through the child’s eyes and the parent’s eyes and each take turns being either terrified or terrifying. At one point KENT utilizes a horrific image from the “Drop of Water” segment in MARIO BAVA’s BLACK SABBATH (1963) but I think it is his underrated last film, 1977’s SHOCK (aka BEYOND THE DOOR 2), with its precarious reality, ambiguous antagonist and distressing mother/son bond that BABADOOK is most indebted to. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t bring a casserole of its own to the picnic. If more horror films took half the time BABADOOK does in establishing its characters the world would be a sweeter and scarier place. It’s not a perfect film, I suppose the ending could have been stronger, but what it sets out to express it does wonderfully and it’s nice to see horror breaking bread with emotional depth rather than detached voyeurism and puerile power fantasies for a change. The fact that the titular boogey man is possibly the least interesting component is a marvel.

I tells ya, I’ve got this goofy clown doll on my desk which is sort of creepy but would never actually scare me and while I was watching BABADOOK, I looked up at it and the light hit it just right and it was like another doll altogether and I thought, “Why the hell do I own such a thing?!”And that’s what good horror does or good art in general does. It makes you look at your world through a different filter, if even for a brief moment. When you see something well done, you get to almost jump inside it for a while and if it’s really well done, it jumps inside of you.

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Tags: General Horror

The Horror of…The Spiral Staircase (1946)

October 28th, 2014 · 1 Comment

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE has always seemed much older than it actually is to me. I think that’s because my first viewing of it was on a particularly blanched-out VHS tape and because although it was made in the mid-forties it takes place about thirty years earlier. The irony is that this seasoned flick resembles and predicts, in various ways, many a beloved blood-soaked horror movie that hadn’t been born yet. Please grab a candle and follow me. Let’s investigate some of this groovy granny’s many instances of cinematic precognition!

Our movie opens with a bunch of folks watching another movie. This is clever because it creates a subconscious pecking order that insinuates that what we’re watching is more real than what they are watching. It’s almost meta, I’d say, and reminds me of other films that springboard from movies like HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE, ANGUISH and SCREAM 2.

Hey, the killer is hiding in the closet and it’s all BLACK CHRISTMAS-like! And here comes an intimate POV shot of the victim preparing for bed a’ la HALLOWEEN! We’re also privy to a patch of voyeuristic eyeball images that predate PEEPING TOM and PSYCHO. Shortly we’ll find out that our murderer only kills a specific type (those who have an “affliction” of some sort) and that’s kinda SILENCE OF THE LAMBS-ish and ahead of its time too.

Our sweet heroine is Helen (DOROTHY McGUIRE) and like so many future horror protagonists, she has not quite discovered her own power and (literally in this case) voice yet. She’s a humble outsider and she’s got a traumatic past that made her that way. We the audience know that there is more to Helen than she realizes and only the most wretched would not route for her. Helen is a nice name especially when you imagine it whispered by TONY TODD.

Here’s a rainy wooded stalking scene! Yay for rainy woods and let me cite FRIDAY THE 13th for frequently understanding the primordial power of them. The lurker is a giallo shadow puppet. He disappears into a tree like Freddy Krueger and all his slicker is missing is a hook to complete the I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER look that’s all the rage this fall.

Oh no, dropped keys! Laurie Strode can tell you how important keys are. I like that this key is a big old classic cartoon key like in HELL NIGHT.

Helen has a paranoid fantasy about her well-grounded love interest Dr. Parry (CAT PEOPLE’s KENT SMITH). In it, the two rejoice on their dreamy wedding day but when the time comes to exchange vows, Helen blows it while a critical crowd looks down their collective noses. Very CARRIE and very “They’re all going to laugh at you!” as the words “Say I do.” repeat over and over.

BLACK CHRISTMAS’s secret boozer Mrs. Mac has got nothing on SPIRAL’s Mrs. Oates who swipes hooch and drinks herself into a coma state. ELSA LANCHESTER who just ten years earlier played both Mary Shelly and the monster’s mate in “THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN” portrays Mrs. Oates.

Secretary Blanch (RHONDA FLEMING) knows when to ditch a bad scene. When she goes into the basement (!) to grab a suitcase she bumps into her final fate instead. As in the original FRIDAY THE 13th (when the series was still in the whodunit? mode) Blanch sees her attacker and we don’t. She’s scarred at first, recognizes her assailer and remarks, “Oh, it’s you! You scared the life out of me!” before she is horrifically slain. Aw, this bit also brings back fond memories of the weight-lifting kill from HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. It’s such a relief to be on friendly terms with your murderer.

Speaking of HBTM (not to mention many a giallo), check out these fashionable tight black murder gloves! So hip it hurts.

Sneaky shoes = DRESSED TO KILL.

As in many a slasher, in the end, it all comes down to a cat and mouse showdown between our honorable heroine and the emotionally vacant killer (whose identity I’m not revealing). In this suspense-filled scene Helen is oh so very close to getting much needed aid from a visiting constable. He’s so close and yet so far and the chance for rescue is frustratingly missed! This reminds me so much of my favorite moment in THE FUNHOUSE when Amy can see her parents just outside the window but her calls for help and recognition cannot be heard. Helen of course cannot scream at all. It’s so sad and tragic, like not being able to connect to a hand-wringing Aunty Em in a crystal ball.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I can’t bare to ruin any more than I already have. If you want to find out if our pal Helen survives, you’ll just have to WATCH IT. My lips are sealed.

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Tags: General Horror · The Horror of...

Happy Birthday Bad Ronald!

October 23rd, 2014 · 2 Comments

First off, allow me to thank our good pal Amanda of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM for being so kind as to alert me to BAD RONALD’s birthday. Please take a moment to jump on over to her pad’s tribute HERE.

It’s hard to believe that it was four decades ago on this very date (October 23rd) that the made-for-television classic BAD RONALD premiered. I have no idea exactly when I first encountered RONALD, it seems like it was always part of my family’s boob tube mythology. “The one with the guy in the wall” it was called until it materialized in the TV GUIDE and then we’d call it BAD RONALD for a while as we planned our viewing and then afterwards, at some point, it would always regress back to “The one with the guy in the wall” again. That literal alias actually came in handy years later when I worked in a video store because every once in a while a customer would inquire about “The one with the guy in the wall” and I’d have a pretty good guess as to what they were talking about. Eventually the Internet came around and spray-painted BAD RONALD’s tag all over cyberspace but for many years, like so many TV movies, this gem was as elusive as an oily eel. Not that there was ever any risk that BAD RONALD would disappear entirely, if you didn’t bump into it on late night TV or at the rare video store that stocked it, you could always count on someone (provided they were of a certain age) bringing it up whenever the conversation turned to freaky movies that camp out in the corners of your head.

In case any of you have been living in a bathroom that has been repurposed into well-camouflaged secret living quarters for the past forty years, I’ll draw a quick sketch of the plot. BAD RONALD concerns a young social pariah named Ronald Wilby who is played by the ever-sincere SCOTT JACOBY. Besides enduring the cruel rejection of his classmates, Ronald lives with the knowledge that when his parents divorced, his father made a deal with his mother to break off all ties in exchange for never having to pay child support (ouch). One day while fleeing a hater pool party, Ronald bumps into a shrewy twerp on a bike who makes the mistake of blasting his mom which causes him to go berserk. He grabs her by the freckled face and pushes her down to the ground and …oops, how come cinder blocks are never around when you need them and only show up at the wrong time to kill folks you only meant to stun? So annoying.

Rather than simply tip toeing away from the scene of the accident and forgetting about the whole mess with a toasted cheese sandwich like a normal person, Ronald does the dumbest thing ever and buries the body in a shallow grave condemning himself as the responsible party. After hearing of this gaff, Ronald’s sweet mother (KIM HUNTER) tsks-tsks his rookie mistake and comes up with an awesome plan to get him off the hook. With some help from the tool kit he just received for his birthday (finally a fortuitous break!), the two devise the ultimate secret fort by transforming a bathroom door into a wall and creating an undetectable living space in the heart of the house. When the police come looking for Ronald, Ma just says he split the scene! All’s well that ends well until mother goes to the hospital for a routine operation, kicks the bucket and eventually a new family lead by the one and only DABNEY COLEMAN moves in. Things get sticky when the increasingly unstable Ronald becomes obsessed with one of the new family’s daughters (CINDY EILBACHER, who you may recognize from CROWHAVEN FARM) though who can blame him, he has a lot of free time on his hands and this all takes place before the invention of the Playstation.

I’m going to be honest with y’all, BAD RONALD is creepy, tense and builds up to a fantastic climax but as a budding recluse, I never solely took it in for thrills, a part of me has always been attracted to it as a hermitic fantasy. I mean who needs Walden’s Pond when you’ve got art supplies, a working sink and apparently an endless stash of chocolate bars? I feel the same way about its unofficial sister flick THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (which also boasts an indelible outsider performance from JACOBY) in which, secret orphan Rynn Jacobs (JODIE FOSTER) hides away from the world drinking tea and reading books all day in hippie garb with a hamster named Gordon.

Rynn and Ronald may be ostensibly presented (at least as a selling point) as threats to normalcy but the engine in each flick is run by the fuel of the viewer routing for their success in protecting a small space to call their own and the right to decline participation in the nonsense of the world (see also: SHIRLEY JACKSON’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE and any album by THE SMITHS). In our current “If you don’t see me, I don’t exist” culture, it’s nearly a verboten idea but I think there’s something admirable about creating your own universe and carving out a sense of self autonomous from the observations and opinions of others.

It’s very likely I’m missing the whole tragic point of BAD RONALD and happily so. In any case the guy got loads of time to concentrate on his art (and his make-believe kingdom Atranta) rather than his rent and we can all agree there are worse fates than that. (According to the sequel that exists only in my head, Ronald, once discovered, is given a year or so of prison time, some therapy of sorts, a book deal and the level of notoriety to sell his artwork at exorbitant prices. He takes all of his millions, buys a mansion and then ends up living in just one small bathroom of the manor with the door nailed shut anyway- because that’s just who he is.)

There are TV movies and then there are TV movies and BAD RONALD is certainly up there with the very best of the best. Oh, and here’s another wonderful thing: If you buy a BAD RONALD DVD you will get a free bonus Kindertrauma blurb at no extra cost! It’s true! They actually quoted yours truly and slapped it right there on the back of the DVD for the world to see. That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal but to me it’s an honor to be shrink wrapped with a lifelong favorite. It’s also proof that even the twitchiest shut-ins don’t mind a little acknowledgment of their existence every once in a while. Now I’m hungry for a chocolate bar. Happy Birthday Prince Norbert! I’ll see you in Atranta.

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Tags: General Horror · Holidays