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Sinister 2 and Summer Wrap Up

August 27th, 2015 · No Comments

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first SINISTER. I thought it had a few creepy moments and I dug the music but it failed in convincing me of its own reality and I’m a pretty easy mark. Still, I was open to a sequel because I figured all the new installment had to do was have a little more respect toward the audience and maybe not require them to leave every shred of their common sense at the door. Well, jokes on me. Not only does SINISTER 2 double down on the rejection of the laws of the physical world and basic human nature, it abandons what worked in the first installment by jettisoning nearly all traces of artistry, nuance or anything that could be perceived as remotely scary. How did this come from the same guy who did 2012’s nightmarish CITADEL (CIARON FOY)? Was he forced to direct hanging upside down from a tree with a bag on his head? I guess there’s not much you can do with a confused and uninspired script but even on a visual level, nearly every frame is loudly lackluster.

The sad thing is I really liked the two charismatic adult leads (SHANNYN SOSSAMON and a returning JAMES RANSONE). I even found myself wishing they were in a romantic comedy or Lifetime Channel domestic abuse drama or just about anything that didn’t involve wet blanket baddie “Bughuul.” Rather than revving up the fear factor, the films signature demon drags everything down whenever he shows up with his senseless home movies that are less unnerving (or believable) than your average Woody Woodpecker short. Seriously, you could throw a stick at a pile of straight-to-video CHILDREN OF THE CORN sequels and be confident in hitting a smarter, scarier flick than this. On the other hand, if you love a bad movie; SINISTER 2 is in a way, more fun than the original but only because it’s laughably dopey and replaces a morose ETHAN HAWKE with burrowing rats, cartoon alligators and the use of the word “rutabaga” in an unprecedentedly dramatic manner.

Sorry, this is why I don’t write reviews anymore. I don’t want to sound like a stick in the mud. I just can’t help thinking that I might have pursued a career in screenwriting if I had known all you had to do was fill pages with whatever came to your head and none of it had to make any coherent sense. If you can’t believably explain how a small child lynches multiple adults just skip over it! If anyone dares inquire further just shrug and inform them it’s a “supernatural thing.” To be fair, I know I must be a fan of at least a couple horror movies that are less credible than SINISTER 2 (Something Italian? I know, how about the end of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME? I love that movie and that ending is stupefying) so how come I can buy crap in one movie and not the other? For me, the whole “home movie” element demands a certain amount of base realism. In my mind it’s pretty much the point and if you want to take advantage of that highway you have to pay that toll. Even if you reject being grounded in such a way then at least be creative. SINISTER 2 even drops the ball with a Christmas set massacre. How is that even possible?

Hey, as long as the gloves are off let’s say we take a look at some of the other flicks that came out this summer, that way I can get all my disgruntlement out in one fell swoop! Don’t mind my grouchiness. I promise I’ll write an underrated list in the near future as penance and restore positive karma to the land…

THE GALLOWS is pretty much what you think it is (I’m still regretting not seeing JURASSIC WORLD instead). I can’t honestly say it’s any better than SINISTER 2 (it certainly has less likable characters) but it’s got at least one decent scare (the death of a surprisingly convincing CASSIDY GIFFORD) and I enjoyed that the ending leaned towards bonkers. I have to grant it some leniency for having far less resources at its disposal and not having the luxury of coasting on the good favor of a generally well-received movie that came before it. I guess I’m saying the cheap, home grown feel to it was actually a plus for me because it made me nostalgic for the days when you could randomly catch a shoestring budgeted flick at the cinema and I suppose undercooked tastes better to me than over-processed. It stinks but in an affable drive-in sort of way and I have my fingers crossed that the beyond bizarre denouement effects some poor kid the way the ending of SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT did me. I would have certainly preferred it to have not taken the tired found footage route but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I found the backstory and setting more interesting than that of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Yes, I still hate that movie.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3. Let’s face it, Part 3 is “do or die” time for a franchise. Part 3 is when Jason earned his iconic mask and it’s when Freddy became an unstoppable household name. Part 3 is when the makers of HALLOWEEN learned not to overestimate their audience and admit that a certain masked man buttered their pumpkin bread and part 3 is when the world told POLTERGEIST’s Carol Anne Freeling that they were willing to follow her to “the other side” but certainly not Chicago. Part 3, to steal a line from FAME is when you start paying…in sweat! So how did INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 do? It did pretty good considering it now must fight against not only the audience’s familiarity with the series itself but also fatigue from the multitude of other films that have attempted to adopt its style and tone.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 smartly switches its focus to a teen in a more urban setting, takes death relatively seriously and has at least one totally horrifying image in the form of a creepily waving silhouette but there is no denying the true ace up its sleeve is LIN SHAYE who is promoted to Captain of the ship. The noteworthy thing is that she is actually shown earning her footing. She starts out freaked, forges for fortitude and finally delivers a line of dialogue that went over so big in the theater I saw it in that it practically took the roof off. The flick has got some flaws and none of it as fresh as it once was but I left the theater satisfied and that makes for a good Part 3.

POLTERGEIST. Can this movie have another title, please? I don’t accept this as a POLTERGEIST movie. SAM ROCKWELL is extremely talented and can convince me of nearly anything and ROSEMARIE DeWITT is like the second coming of CHRISTINE LAHTI in my book but even they are powerless against the shadows of pointlessness that truly haunt this picture. It’s like they wanted to hook up with POLTERGEIST by impersonating INSIDIOUS and woke up sleeping next to AMITYVILLE 3-D instead.

The movie is far from worthless, it has more than a couple creative set pieces floating around, I admire that they made attempts to ground some of the supernatural occurrences and I’m just the type of shipper to appreciate a HAPPINESS (1998) reunion between JARED HARRIS and JANE ADAMS…and yet…there is zero joy (SOLONDZ pun noted) in this movie, zero wonder, zero awe, zero reverence for the mysteries of life and zero of the carbonation that made the original POLTERGEIST sparkle and bubble. It’s like skunked POLTERGEIST. I wish I could completely dismiss it or set it on fire like one of those failed Ellen Ripley clones in ALIEN RESURRECTION that whisper “kill me” but I can’t help remaining curious to see when the DVD comes out if any of the deleted scenes (the director’s cut was something like 8 minutes longer) give it more of a mutated leg to stand on. In any case it wasn’t a total loss for me because after it was done I needed to cleanse my mental palette and so I went to see….

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD! Yay! I had to see this one in the movie a second time and I can’t wait to watch it again and again because it gave me the feeling that I used to get as a teen leaving the movie theater. It made me feel like anything was possible and that the sky was the limit and there was more to creating than just constantly churning out derivative content to fill space. It reminded me that I could still be amazed and inspired and practically possessed by a movie. Sorry to say but for me, horror movies mostly disappointed this summer (at least the ones that made it to my neck of the woods) and I honestly don’t feel much like covering for their shortcomings anymore. FURY ROAD and pretty much FURY ROAD alone is what kept my faith in (going to) the movies properly kindled.

Truth is, my most fulfilling experience with the horror genre this summer came via the television. One fifty-six minute episode of PENNY DREADFUL entitled “The Nightcomers” pretty much eclipsed every horror film I saw in the theater combined. It was beautiful, scary, thought provoking, tragic, heartening, it had a point of view, it pushed forward rather than pandered and it took full advantage of the potential of the genre rather than taking the easy way out at every turn. So no, my love of horror is far from dead and I’m a full believer in the cyclical nature of things. I know that the perfect time to have your mind blown is exactly when things are at their most stagnant and bromidic. By the pricking of my thumbs…

The End. Thanks for letting me gripe and clean out the gutters. We now return you to your regularly scheduled, far less crabby program.

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Tags: General Horror

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...