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Mama (2013)

November 26th, 2013 · 12 Comments

Is it too late to write a review of MAMA? That movie is ancient. I missed it in the theater because who knows why, waited for it to appear on Netflix streaming, which it never did and then watched its price as a used DVD go from 15 dollars to 10 to 6 to 4. I finally had to buy the decrepit thing before it turned into a fossil! When I opened the DVD case the disc inside had a long grey beard growing on it! This movie is positively geriatric! Oh wait, IMDb says it was released less than a year ago. Hey don’t blame me, blame our disposable culture! This is BLOCKBUSTER’s fault even though they are dead! If it was up to me, you’d all be waiting three years for movies to come out on VHS and when they did, they’d cost a hundred clams to purchase and you’d rent them for 5 bucks a pop and if you were late returning them, you’d be fined up the wazoo! That is the natural order of things!

MAMA! Back to MAMA! Love that title! Why didn’t I like this movie so much? The premise is fantastic not to mention kindertrauma-riffic. Two poor, pitiful little girls are left in an abandoned cabin in the woods by their insane, gone postal father. Instead of starving and freezing to death, they are cared for by a motherly spook who, like Charo, goes by one name only “Mama” (okay, “cared for” might be a bit of a stretch.) We come to learn that Mama is a ghost that can physically engage in the world and move objects about with ease, so I’m wondering why the hell she didn’t pick up the cabin a bit, do some laundry and maybe comb the poor kid’s hair! Get it together Mama! You so lazy!

Five years later (really? It took five years for someone to look in the cabin next to the crashed car?), the now feral kids are discovered and taken in by their not insane uncle and his borderline sociopathic “rocker” girl friend Annabel (JESSICA CHASTAIN in a Cousin April wig). I say she’s borderline sociopathic because the card that informs us that Annabel is struggling with her maternal instincts is so overplayed that it appears as if she has never encountered a child before and has the patience of a spider monkey. To be fair, there are several later scenes of her connecting with the kids that are less ham-fisted and do really work. In fact, there are many elements in this movie that hint at a much better film just begging to happen. The kids are fantastic and the Mama entity, when not shoved down our throats, can be pretty spooky. Unfortunately every thing from a meddling Aunt to Mama’s backstory is painted in such broad strokes that it feels like a fairy tale performed on a Colorforms set. I have two major gripes…

Now, you know I love a “research” scene, they crack me up for being so cliché but I also love them as mid-film markers that declare that the mystery portion of our story is over and things are about to come to a head. MAMA’s “research” scene happens super early and it goes on and on and on. It’s like a big gelatinous mound of nothing in the center of the picture, a cinder block tied to a kite. We get the library, the wise oldster, a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK storage unit, maps upon maps, news clippings, psychic dreams with characters pointing towards things, street signs, BIG close ups of news clippings, more maps, more sign posts and it all just amounts to redundant filler. Really all the information could just be stuffed inside one of the psychic dreams but instead we have to laboriously follow a boring psychiatrist around when we should be at home with the kids. The kid’s story is interesting! It’s heartbreaking when the older sister is ready to move away from Mama and the younger one is not. The story is in the house between these characters but we keep getting pushed past the good stuff! Nothing to see here folks! Let’s catch up with our throwaway character’s attempts to learn what we all already know! (On the other hand, Dr. Boring’s cabin encounter with Mama might be the strongest scare in the film. )

Then there’s the whole look of Mama. Sometimes Mama looks cool and I dig her underwater hair-do and sometimes Mama looks terrible as in, “Did they model her facial expression from Beaker from the Muppet Show?” At this point, I don’t care if the effect is CGI or practical or stop-motion marionette, what matters is what’s on the screen and what’s on the screen is a problem for me. I think it was a fine idea to put Mama front and center at the climax. I’m not saying less is more and they showed too much and the audience needs to use its imagination because what’s in your head is scarier than anything they could show you and all that junk. It’s just that, as WHAM once said, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” If you want to display Mama in all her glory make sure I’m in awe instead of catching myself wondering if DARKNESS FALLS is underrated. I don’t think MAMA is terrible, it’s just one of those movies that frustrates because you know it could have been way better. It’s not a good sign when your “Sorry I adopted you only to make you feel unwelcome in my home.” redemptive resolution was better handled in POLTERGEIST 3.

Like I said, I think it’s a great premise and I’ll even add that when MAMA is good, it feels like something from Disney’s early eighties dark fantasy period like WATCHER IN THE WOODS or SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (I wouldn’t be surprised to receive traumafessions on it in the future either). It’s also clear that the filmmakers at least tried to do something of substance even though they got sidetracked along the way. Ultimately for me though, it comes off kind of shrill and cloying and I think the material deserved a more subtle approach and more of a focus on the characters, particularly the relationship of the little sisters. MAMA is based on a short film and that makes perfect sense. If you edited out all of the subterfuge, stalling and brownnosing jump scares, you probably would have one very good short film. There are some priceless heirlooms in this dumpster (a tug of war with a blanket and an unseen Mama comes to mind) but boy do you have to dig! Now I’m sad. I wanted to like this more because it reminded me of my adopted cats. On the bright side, it was totally worth the four dollars for the snow scenes.

CORRECTIONS: The above review incorrectly claims that CHARO has only one name. That is not the case as is revealed in the clip below…

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Tags: General Horror · Trauma-Mommas · Traumatots · Tykes in Trouble

Movie Review Headcheese:: Insidious: Chapter 2, You’re Next, Stoker, Passion, Curse of Chucky, etc.

November 15th, 2013 · 16 Comments

Every once in a while the inside of my head turns into styrofoam. It’s some kind of merciful curse that insures I remain ambivalent enough not to jump off a bridge. The down side is a cluttered desktop! How is one supposed to finish a movie review when they can’t even a finish a…what are those long snake-like things that swallow words called again?…sentence! Usually I’d just sweep these dead leaves into a pile and light the delete button but today I’m making movie review headcheese! Yummy! It tastes like lethargy!

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2

I can’t believe I almost didn’t see INSIDIOUS 2. What a dope I almost was. It’s just that I had warm fuzzy feelings about JAMES WAN’s last two flicks that I wanted to protect and scuttlebutt on the street was that it was shrug-worthy. Not that I ever read reviews for a film before I see it but it’s hard with the Internet not to glean the general consensus through the fine art of skimming out of the corner of your eye. Luckily I remembered that folks are harsh on horror in general and sequels in particular. Besides, WAN had only months previously ridden a wave of approval thanks to THE CONJURING and critics would likely be itching to rain on that parade as soon as possible. So I went, thinking if it did stink, what the hell, at least I’d get to hang out in a dark theater for a while.

I should thank all the braying naysayers because with my expectations in check I enjoyed every minute of it. INSIDIOUS 2 turned out to be one of the better sequels I’ve ever seen. I say that because instead of diluting the occurrences in the first film, INSIDIOUS 2 only enhances them. Both films compliment each other and yet stand on their own. I think you could even watch them in reverse if you wanted. Also whoever decided to cast HOUSE OF THE DEVIL’s JOCELIN DONAHUE as the younger version of BARBARA HERSHEY’s character deserves a meatball hoagie of some sort. Really if you liked the first film, I have no idea why you wouldn’t like the second unless you just hate the number 2. Most importantly, one scene really took me off guard and scared the crap out of me. As I look over at ROTTEN TOMATOES now, I see that although the critics kept their arms crossed, audiences responded mostly favorably so maybe it’s not just me…or maybe it is….

YOU’RE NEXT

Again, I didn’t read any reviews for this but I kept seeing high grades in magazines and hearing from folks that it was “real horror” and so original and what a tragedy that it didn’t do better at the box office and horror fans need to support scrappy films like this, etc. Basically I was guilt tripped into seeing this movie but it had to be good if my comrades were so passionate about it…right?

I didn’t get it. Was I tired that day? Was I dreaming of meatball hoagies like I sometimes do? I see there’s no number 2 in the title but how is this movie getting praise for being original? They could have called it THE STRANGERS 2 and I sure wouldn’t have noticed. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but were people receiving fruit baskets for every rube they convinced into seeing this movie? Please be honest if you’ve received a fruit basket and don’t read anymore if you don’t like spoilers…

I’m most confused by why I was repeatedly told by people that they could not explain why this movie was so incredible because that would give away its mindboggling twist… but now that I’ve seen it, I have to ask… what the hell is the twist? That the boyfriend is in on it? That’s the hoariest trick in the book. Was the twist that the female character knew how to fight? Really? Are we all still collectively pretending that is an anomaly in horror films? Ugh. Why does a genre capable of exploring the enormity of existence itself keep getting mesmerized into monotony by a subject as mundane as gender? I’m not saying “move on” I’m just asking can I play Candy Crush while everybody rates a female character’s worth based solely on how well she handles herself when being attacked? People can cry about remakes and sequels all they want but if you ask me, what’s really hobbling the genre is the insistence on stuffing it with action movie tropes and audience pandering power fantasies. A large part of my fear while watching a horror movie is derived from my concern for the character’s safety. When you take that away and make everyone a secret ninja, I’ve got nothing.

It’s possible my experience suffered from the corrosive effects of overpraise. Might I have enjoyed YOU’RE NEXT if I had stumbled across it on cable? One thing’s for sure, presented as horror’s great white hope or a bastion of innovation for me, it just doesn’t fly. Furthermore, I don’t think audiences should feel too guilty about not wanting to trudge out and spend 16 bucks to see what basically amounts to a semi more violent, semi less funny version of CLUE: THE MOVIE.

STOKER

Do you know what I find infinitely more interesting than a gal with secret ninja skills? A character with something provocative going on between their ears. Here’s a movie I wouldn’t mind rallying behind, STOKER, CHAN-WOOK PARK’s phantasmagorical spin on HITCHCOCK’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT. It’s so damn beautiful folks are bound to call it pretentious which is a fancy way to say artsy-fartsy. Go ahead and sue me but it’s been a long time since an image on the screen was enough to make my jaw drop and STOKER delivers more than a few. I didn’t make the connection with HITCH’s flick ‘til well towards the end and even then I swear there was never a moment when I felt I knew what was going to happen next. Powerfully ominous and sinisterly swoony, STOKER left me in a weird gothic trance with a sudden urge to read Victorian poetry and befriend spiders. Wrap it up, I’ll take it. It’s glorious to catch a director so obviously at the peak of his powers.

PASSION

Aw! Do you know who’s not at the peak of his powers? My beloved BRIAN DE PALMA! That’s O.K. Even B.D.’s less successful work is fascinating to me! This one is a doozie and do bring along your sense of humor or be prepared to bang your head against a wall. Essentially I believe this is the story of two non-ninja but still powerful women fighting over who gets to take the credit for inventing “the butt-cam” and of course such a dispute can only end in murder! All of you who have griped about DE PALMA emulating HITHCOCK can stop now- he’s moved on to ZALMAN KING. This movie is supposed to be based on some French flick but I swear it’s an episode of THE RED SHOE DIARIES. Although if you want to talk about the look of the movie, I’d guess 1984’s never ending venetian blind commercial THIEF OF HEARTS might have been a big inspiration.

It sounds like I’m making fun but I am fine with all of the above and God strike me dead if I ever am such a turd as to not appreciate anything that comes down the pike holding hands with a PINO DONAGGIO score. All of the film’s tone-deaf dialogue and slick artifice is okay in my book too. That’s just my buddy DE-DE doing DE-DE. The real problem is the story is bonkers and nearly every set up is a let down. Also I feel I have to implore DE PALMA’s friends and family- You people need to get together and have a “dream sequence” intervention for the guy. He’s obviously out of control and needs help. I’m not in the position to lend aid, otherwise I would.

Still, I say to love cinema is to love DE PALMA. Even when dancing backwards with a lampshade on his head, it’s clear his romance with the medium is true blue. The PASSION experience is sort of like when you go see a band you loved in college and they sound awesome and you’re having a great time and you applaud for an encore and then they come out and say those dreaded words “This is from our new album!” and everyone starts sliding ever so discretely toward the bar or the bathroom. But it’s DE PALMA and so I’m going to give it a few years. If somebody puts a montage on YouTube of every time one of the two brilliantly game leads (RACHEL McADAMS & NOOMI RAPACE) laughs like a deranged maniac within the film, PASSIONS could easily gather some camp/cult traction.

CURSE OF CHUCKY

As long as DON MANCINI is writing and directing you can just keep the CHUCKY movies coming as far as I’m concerned. I say that even while the man has made it abundantly clear he will never accept my friendship on Facebook. He’s like a hero of mine because he’s written every installment and has pushed the series into directions that go against the grain. I’m sure he’s lost a few fans by challenging their expectations and that just makes me respect him more. If you weren’t down with SEED O’ CHUCKY’s meta cartoon take on the material (I was) take heart as instead of inflating things further to the breaking point, MANCINI has done a full U-turn and made CURSE a tighter more intimately grounded affair. The guy does a beautiful job with the atmosphere and rather than the usual carnival tone, half the time I felt I was watching some early eighties Italian psychological thriller like LAMBERTA BAVA’S A BLADE IN THE DARK.

Not only is this box office bypassing sequel visually dark and broody, gone for the most part our Chucky’s trademark winky quips and in their place are uncomfortable existential bon mots like “There is no God” and “Life’s a bitch and then you die bleeding like a stuck pig.” FIONA DOURIF (daughter of the series’ spine BRAD DOURIF) is a natural and a welcome breath of fresh air as Nica, a heroine with a (SCREAM OF FEAR inspired?) physical hurdle (she requires a wheelchair) but more than enough mental determination to become one of Chuck’s most formidable adversaries. I must admit I wasn’t fully satisfied with every revelation uncovered, but for the most part, it’s obvious that an effort was made to reward those who have been loyal to the series total (i.e. stay through the closing credits). I think this release is a hopeful sign of the future for straight-to-home releases. If bypassing box office approval and some advertising costs means directors can have more control over the finished product then that can only be a good thing in my book.

WHITE NOISE 2

Speaking of straight-to-video sequels, has anyone seen this one? I barely remember the first film it’s barely based on, but I found it for $1.50 in a used bin and took a chance because it had (sci-fi dream couple) NATHAN FILLION and KATEE SACKHOFF in it and was directed by MY BLOODY VALENTINE (2009)’s PATRICK LUSSIER. It could have just as easily have been released as a (far less bloody) FINAL DESTINATION installment and even though I’m convinced my mom would have liked it even more than me, I must say I enjoyed it. In fact, I’m know I’m going to watch it again. I definitely liked it better than the first flick and those charismatic leads should be cast together more often.

KISS OF THE DAMNED

Hey, check it out! Apparently there is no end to JOHN CASSAVETES & GENA ROWLAND’s contribution to film. Who knew they also kindly gifted us with talented daughter XAN CASSAVETES and she’s just getting started! KISS is XAN’s first feature film and yay, it is chuck full of vampires! XAN doesn’t seem too interested in taking the undead down the bigger, louder, faster road to nowhere. This lyrical flick pays homage to a time when people had attention spans and vampire movies didn’t…(you know it’s going to happen)…suck. Are you a fan of DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)? Where you noticeably the only person not bored by VAMPYRES (1974) when you watched it at a group sleepover? Would you push your grandmother into traffic for saying an unkind word about THE HUNGER (1983)? This movie is for you (and me)! It’s got lovely cinematography and a gets-under-your-skin score and if there’s absolutely nothing warm beneath its polished surface, welcome to the world of vampires. Sure I’m sad that if it cunningly builds up to what might be a magnificent showdown only to peter out with a whimper! Then again, what better way to salute the artsy fartsy European fang flicks of yesterday?

GHOULIES 3 and 4

I watched and was entertained by GHOULIES 3 and 4 recently so take that into consideration when reading anything I might say. These movies are of course terrible and I have no excuse except that I can’t resist the enjoyable VHS flavored bubble they are able to trap me in (even though I watched them on cheap DVD compilations). I have nothing much to say about either except, the cast for part 3 is astounding (JASON SCOTT LEE, MATHEW LILLARD, DOLLSSTEPHEN LEE, SUMMER SCHOOL’s PATRICK LABYORTEAUX, APRIL FOOL’S DAY’s GRIFFIN O’NEAL, KEVIN McCARTHY, MARCIA (R.I.P.) WALLACE!!!) and that notably in part 4 the Ghoulies cease being puppets and start being costumed dwarves (TONY COX!!). Also part 4 was directed by the guy who did CHOPPING MALL and both films have the power to change lives. Hey, Judgey Mcjudgeystein, I can’t always find something agreeable on Netflix Streaming…

MANIAC

Thank God I didn’t break down and rent MANIAC on demand because lo and behold it finally did appear on Netflix! I almost passed it by because the image they are using to represent it looks surprisingly bland compared to all of the cool poster art I’ve seen floating around. As I expressed HERE I’ve had a long and varied history with WILLIAM LUSTIG’s original. My first viewing left me shell-shocked and that feeling over the years somehow transformed into the type of adoring affection usually reserved for kittens. I’m also on record HERE for supporting remakes and their potential to be worthwhile every now and then. While this particular effort is never going to push the original off the throne in my heart, it did at least capture’s the original’s sense of impending dread. For all its questionable moves, I did find myself properly agitated and worried about how far into the abyss it might go.

My first takeaway is the idea that it’s too bad that ELIJAH WOOD was not old enough to play Norman Bates in the PSYCHO remake as it would have certainly have been less of a disaster. He’s very good in this, even while some of his performance is buried beneath the movie’s too gimmicky POV stance. The POV thing works fine enough and I understand the detached coldness that results was probably what the director was going for but I would have rather it had been used more sparingly as it got in the way of me connecting with the characters. Ultimately this is a no foul, no harm tribute that has a few worthwhile ideas of its own. Plus I have to give points for the retro synth score, hipster baiting though it may be at times. On the other hand, the use of SILENCE OF THE LAMB’s “Goodbye Horses” was just a little too obvious and heavy handed for my taste. Which brings me to…

THE CALL

I laughed at the trailer for this one when I first saw it but when I learned it was directed by SESSION 9’s BRAD ANDERSON I had to give a shot. Guess who had the last laugh? HALLE BERRY of course! THE CALL is a mostly straightforward, surprisingly suspenseful throw back to seventies-era woman in peril thrillers. Its tone and barebones structure make it feel like a TV movie and yeah, that’s a compliment. I think what may have ruined the film for some is that it goes ridiculously off the rails in the third act, BUT I embraced the lunacy and let it flow.

BERRY plays a 911 operator with a history of screwing things up who gets a chance to redeem herself when she gets a call from a girl trapped in the trunk of a car. Eventually, due to the police being incompetent, she must go to the crazy killer’s underground lair(!) to rescue the poor girl herself. Yeah, it’s a little over the top. But I’ll give it this; when the scalping killer begins to go about his torturous business in this movie, he doesn’t play the obvious “Goodbye Horses” instead his tuneage of choice is CULTURE CLUB’s KARMA CHAMELEON. I decree this is a stroke of genius.

I can’t stop thinking about it. On one level, it’s simply funny in an ironic way as the song is about as happy, toe-tappy and benign as they come. Underneath that candy coating though the frightening truth is that KARMA CHAMELEON is also maddeningly nonsensical and ruthlessly repetitive. It is a trickster anthem sung by a Pan-possessed rag doll! Look behind its false mirth camouflage and you will find a chilling condemnation and a call for moral anarchy! Its catchy earworm powers are so evil that they register at levels usually reserved for commercial jingles. Folks of a certain age have had this chant that mocks all that is sane engrained into the deepest level of their psyches where only sleeper agent instructions are meant to be stored. As soon as you hear the first familiar beat from that song it becomes all too hideously clear that all matter of hell is about to break loose!

So now I have a final question for you guys. I babbled on so much today that there’s no way I’m preparing a funhouse so instead, I’ll introduce a new interactive feature entitle The KINDERTRAUMA QUESTIONNAIRE!!!! (Trumpets)

KINDERTRAUMA QUESTIONNAIRE QUESTION #1: What 3 songs would you least like to hear a murderer play while he or she is killing you?

My Answers are…

3. Ce’st La Vie” by Robbie Nevil- because that’s just rude to play that. I wouldn’t want somebody so insensitive to my feelings taking my life.

2. “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride” by Mathew Wilder. I wouldn’t like to hear this song while I was being murdered because I think I’d read the killer’s selection of it as a reflection of his or her alarming determination to accomplish their goals.

1. “Somebody’s Knockin’” by Terri Gibbs. Holy shit, if somebody played this insanely scary song right before they murdered me I would never forgive them. I would damn them to hell forever for making my last moments on Earth such a miserable and harrowing experience! Who would do that? What kind of sick in the head monster plays Terri fucking Gibbs before they kill somebody? It’s like some twisted record executive said, “Can someone please make a song that’s scarier than WING’s “Let ‘em In?” and Terri was all like “Sure, I’ll do it!” and the record guy was like, “Wait, what are you a man or a woman? I can’t even tell.” And Terri was like “What?! What are you blind? I’m a woman you moron! Just for that I’m going to make the song ten times scarier!”

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

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History Of Friday The 13th

October 10th, 2013 · 9 Comments

If you called me on the horn recently and I didn’t pick up I’d like to apologize for that. Also, if you rang my doorbell and instead of answering the door, I poured a pot of boiling water on your head while bellowing in a demonic voice, “GO AWAY!” I’m sorry for that too. You’ll understand my behavior when I tell you that I was busy watching CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, the seven-hour strong docu-everything on the FRIDAY THE 13th series. It’s by the same should-be-sainted folks behind the dreamy NEVER SLEEP AGAIN docu-bonanza and it’s just as good…or maybe better… on account of I think I love FRIDAY ever so slightly more than ELM STREET. There, I said it. I can’t help it, the ELM STREET series may be more imaginative but FRIDAY is all kinds of rustic and I’m a rustic type of guy. I need to be in the woods not suburbia! If I’m going to drown, it’s going to be in a lake not a bathtub! You know, I’ve been trying to curb my nerd-thusiasm lately and now thanks to this, I’m so off the wagon.

Do you need to know anything more than the fact that CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES (which is based on the equally necessary book of the same name) features an interview with the banana-chomping hitchhiker from PART 4? Nor do I! But wait it gets better! Part 4’s Tommy Jarvis COREY FELDMAN narrates and appears in campfire set bookends! It’s true you’ll have to endure that dusty old chestnut about how HARRY MANFREDINI came up with the series’ trademark “ki-ki-ki- ma-ma-ma” musical cue but don’t worry; there are plenty of fresh anecdotes to keep things paddling forward. As someone who grew up in the stale era when you had only publicity shots to rely on, I really appreciate whoever they got to create Photoshop mock ups of Jason’s lost years. It’s clear that the filmmakers were well aware that fanatics have scoured this territory before (particularly if they’ve already read the book and have seen HIS NAME WAS JASON) so they really go out of their way to present novelty wherever they can and they do an admirable job of it.

If you grew up loving the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise this is a must see gift for you. It’s not all fun and games though as you may find yourself crying into your hands with every story about what might have been and the rampant disrespect and disregard delivered by the very suits that profited from the series. (I place a curse upon anyone responsible for destroying even a frame of FRIDAY THE 13th Part VII: THE NEW BLOOD!) For some of us, this series is more than just a cash cow. Personally, I see it as an unofficial map of my youth. Each film is like a time capsule signifying significant stages of my existence. My adolescence and teen years are submerged in Crystal Lake! The wide-eyed kid who saw PART 2 for the first time is not the same dude who smirked at PART 8. It’s amazing to think that once upon a time the distance between the original film and PART 4’s “final chapter” seemed vast. Even FREDDY VS JASON now reflects a crystal clear image of the time that it was made. I have watched as the parade of victims transitioned from much older than me to much younger than me. I must be dead because my life is flashing before my eyes. That’s what those who count the tickets will never appreciate and what makes fan-centric films like this so valuable. Wow, in some kind of strange slice of synchronicity, as I finish writing this, I find the Syfy Channel is showing a FRIDAY marathon. Looks like I’ll be dead to the world for a little longer. Don’t ring the doorbell!

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Tags: General Horror

Subway Horrors!

August 1st, 2013 · 10 Comments

Did I mention we moved? Poor me, I’m no longer a hop, skip and a unicycle ride from the places I need to be. That is why I have been forced by fate to acquaint myself with a place that smells an awful lot like pee…the subway. I know most of my (dwindling) friends who live in the city think nothing about jumping down some stairs and zooming underground to their destination but I’ve always made a point of walking everywhere I could. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve needed to use the subway over the last 20 or so years. The thing is; I’m really cheap! And I could use that money for Necco Wafers! Plus c’mon people! Public transportation is ripe for disaster and you know it! I don’t want anybody taking my Pelham 1, 2 or 3, thank you very much.

Actually the subway is not so bad. It’s convenient, it’s speedy and you can meet some really interesting people there (especially when you live close to a methadone clinic.) Take for example, the nice old man who chose to sit next to me the other day even though there were thousands of empty seats everywhere. Doing his best impersonation of Crazy Ralph from FRIDAY THE 13TH, he informed me that the previous day a woman came up to him, ripped off her face and revealed that she was a monster. “What is happening to us?” he asked me, switching his impersonation to a spot on KEVIN MCCARTHY in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, “We are ALL turning into monsters!” I didn’t exactly disagree with him and I admired his ability to cut to the chase but…Oh look, it’s my stop! As I exited, the kindly stranger said that he “hoped nobody ripped my face off” which is a nice sentiment if you think about it, although you’re unlikely to ever find it in a Hallmark card. Again, we were in agreement, I hoped nobody ripped my face off too! If I had to choose though, I’d prefer my mindset earlier in the day when it wasn’t on my list of things to concern myself with. My theory is that old guy was just me from the future screwing with me from the past so I tried not to let future-me see me sweat.

So anyway all this subway travel has gotten me thinking about all the movies I know that have subways in them. Here are some scary movie subways! Please enjoy and as always, I hope nobody rips your face off!

QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT (1967) AKA FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH

This movie freaks me out because I know in my heart of hearts that Martians really do look like grasshoppers! If you watch it back to back with LIFEFORCE (1985) you can witness the destruction of London twice!

RAW MEAT (1973) AKA DEATH LINE

Subway cannibals are the worst. I can’t decide what recommends this seventies gem better, the fact that Legends DONALD PLEASENCE and CHRISTOPHER LEE are in it or the fact that the movie shares the same father (GARY SHERMAN) as two of my favorite babies, DEAD & BURIED and the goofy/spectacular POLTERGEIST III!

MIMIC (1997)

Any bug that doesn’t fit under your shoe is a bad bug in my book! Alternate title: Romy and Roachy’s Subway Reunion! Note: Director GUILLERMO DEL TORO would later go on to use a subway platform as a place of peril for a box of kittens in HELLBOY (2004).

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

The tube chase scene in AAWIN might have been the scariest bit in the movie if the movie did not also feature Nazi werewolves machine gunning children while they watch THE MUPPET SHOW.

JACOB’S LADDER/GHOST (1990)

Writer BRUCE JOEL RUBIN clearly understands the scare-potential of subways. Both of these 1990 flicks he penned feature a pivotal and/or creepy scene in one!

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989)

Aw, remember when Jason decided to take Manhattan? And by “take” I mean stroll through it for ten minutes, drink some toxic sewage and turn into child. Worst itinerary ever, at least stop for a knish!

MANIAC (1980)

JOE SPINELL is here to tell you that there is something scarier than a subway station at night and that is a public restroom in a subway station at night.

POSSESSION (1981)

I put this on here because I clearly remember ISABELLE ADJANI gorgeously loosing her mind (among other things) in a subway station. I didn’t realize somebody also stole her banana.

NEON MANIACS (1986)

Last thing I’d want to bump into on a subway is a neon maniac! Unless of course I had some water with me in which case I’d just throw water on them and they’d die. What more can I say about this incredible movie that I did not say HERE?

THE WIZ (1978)

So clearly there is no way to visit Oz without something totally traumatic happening. Oh God those horrible marionettes! More on this trauma-scene HERE.

THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008)

This one didn’t work for me as well as it should have and I think it’s because I somehow find BRADLEY COOPER more unnerving than VINNIE JONES.

FINAL DESTINATION 3 (2006)

Congratulations FINAL DESTINATION series! You systematically ruined every possible means of transportation besides jetpack for me.

CREEP (2004)

This feature debut from CHRISTOPHER SMITH (SEVERANCE, TRIANGLE, BLACK DEATH) is as underrated as he is versatile. My only complaint is that the same titled RADIOHEAD song doesn’t play over the closing credits. Run FRANKA run!

THE WARRIORS (1979)

Growing up a sheltered suburbanite, I was quit convinced that THE WARRIORS was an absolutely accurate depiction of life in the big city. What a disappointment! (Not that I would have joined “the warriors” anyway, I would have to go with the “punks” on account of the overalls.)

DRESSED TO KILL (1980)

I swear this list is not in any order but that doesn’t mean I didn’t save the best for last. It doesn’t matter how many times I see this movie, it seems to get more suspenseful with every view. In addition, this allows me to close on a positive note because if the subway is a place where you might bump into NANCY ALLEN than it must not be so bad after all.

UPDATE: Oh great! Where I used to find a soothing poster of IDRIS ELBA drinking gin (above), I know find this…

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Tags: General Horror · If Loving Nancy Allen is Wrong... I Don't Want to Be Right!

The Conjuring (2013)

July 22nd, 2013 · 17 Comments

ALAN MOORE once said “ Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images to achieve changes in consciousness.” I couldn’t agree more and have I got a spell for you. THE CONJURING is a scary, endearingly romanticized, elaboration of a some-say ‘true” haunting. I’ m not going to get wrapped up in the authenticity of the story because any tale, true or not, that inspires a movie as swell as this is all right by me. If things are grandly exaggerated, that’s fine. That’s what urban legends are fueled by, that’s what tall tales stand up on and that’s what fills every history book in every elementary school in America. Hyperbole is what storytelling is all about and we’re all guilty of tweaking the truth to make it shine a little brighter. If we can force ourselves to believe that Thanksgiving isn’t a shameful travesty then surely we can humor a harmless ghost story every once in a while too. Wow. Even in the heart of summer I hate on Thanksgiving!

JAMES WAN is a wonderful director. There I said it! I said the director of SAW is wonderful! He beat me down folks! I tried to resist but it’s over. INSIDIOUS was a left hook and THE CONJURING is a right hook and then some. I give up already! It’s not a fair fight when he has PATRICK WILSON on his side and I just have bitter, misplaced feelings of exclusion on mine. Anyway, our tale is about a nice family (The Perrons) who moves into a haunted-looking house and discover that it is indeed infested with invisible forces that yank them out of bed and according to at least one source, smell like farts. Who ya gonna call? Why notorious married supernatural specialists ED & LORRAINE WARREN (WILSON & VERA FARMIGA) of course! Now, I know there are some people who are not fans of the real life Warrens (Ed has passed away) and think of them as cons. I never met them so I can’t say. I just know they were really nice to the Smurl family in that excellent TV movie that scared the crap out me called THE HAUNTED (1991) so I’m going by that. Plus if WAN was of the mind to aggrandize the couple ,he sure casted well. On a side note, JAMES WAN, can you cover the Smurl haunting in the sequel pretty please? And can you release the movie on the same day as SMURFS 3 so that Box office Mojo is forced to write the headline SMURLS SMASH SMURFS!? Do it!

THE CONJURING is getting enthusiastic reviews, which is nice as most horror movies are pummeled for simply existing. I notice though that many critics feel the need to temper their kudos by saying it’s well done but a “typical” haunted house tale. Personally, I think it has a lot of merit outside of just being a well-oiled scare dispenser. The frights aren’t random jolts, they’re tethered to something solid and concrete. They’re not simply about being in dangerous situations with the unknowable they uniformly concern the worst fear of all, that harm might come to someone you care about and worse still, it may be your fault. Ed fears that Lorraine looses part of herself each time they involve themselves in such things, Lorraine frets that their daughter Judy is swinging between being neglected and endangered. The Father of the haunted family (RON LIVINGSTON) is anguished over putting his family in peril and the mother (LILI TAYLOR at her best) ends up personifying everybody’s worst fears by melding with a spirit who has killed her own offspring and has supernaturally strong-armed others to unthinkingly do the same.

I can totally relate. Let me tell you, for full horror pleasure it’s all about the empathy. People who don’t have it are missing a world of flavor! Sorry, I’m going to talk about myself again. But isn’t that the nice thing about blogs? You get that personal touch. Do you know what you get from magazines? Paper cuts! So as I was saying, we too recently moved into a haunted-looking house. When we got here I realized that the previous owners took all the screens from the windows. This freaked me out because we have five cats and I didn’t want them running away. They were all scared out of their minds and oh, God, what have I done to them? I started imaging the worst. The cats slipping between doors, getting hit by cars, freezing in the streets, lost. It got worse, I’d be hammering a nail and think, what if I dropped the hammer and it landed on a cat’s head? It got ridiculous. What if one crawled into the dryer? It got nuts. What if the cat choked on a discarded pistachio shell? My dreams were filled with drowning cats; cats on fire, cats crushed under poorly installed air conditioners. It was exhausting and I could not make it stop. The resolution of THE CONJURING that involves something as simple as recalling a moment of pure connection with those you care about resonated with me. Maybe focusing on that thought alone IS enough to expel the witch in my head.

Oh, I get it! I’m mentally ill! You know how folks with screws loose think the T.V. is talking to them? They see signs and coincidences everywhere and they get messages, lots and lots of messages? Well, that’s how I interact with movies. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid, the movies, especially the good ones, they tell me things! This one really went out of its way to whisper in my ear. The new house, the five kids, my favorite episode of THE BRADY BUNCH playing on the T.V., a ghost with the same name as my cat, a clown music box (mine plays “Send in the Clowns”), a porcelain lamb, a rooster painting, an embroidered owl, landscape T.V. trays folded against the wall- how is this not my home?

I found this movie frightening enough (WAN is gifted at sneaky distraction and leaving enough blank canvas for the viewer to paint themselves) but that really wasn’t the most important thing for me. For as much as THE CONJURING embellishes the dark it is depicting, it puts forth equal effort accentuating the light. Maybe that won’t please those who follow horror as an endurance sport but who cares about tourists? As corny as it may be, I love that this movie has a strong conscience. Remarkably it doesn’t stop at giving you distinct characters; it makes a point of concerning itself with the relationships between those characters. (Seriously, the sparkage between WILSON and FARMIGA is so dynamic somebody oughta shove them in a THE THIN MAN remake.) In real life, things did not end on such happy, tied in a bow terms. The Warrens were asked to leave the case and the house remained (and is said to still be) haunted. That’s the “true” story and who the hell needs it? I like this much better! Reality, take a lesson from fiction, ya lazy bore! I’ve never been one for happy endings in horror flicks but this one suited me just fine. I say sequel time! Send in the Smurls! Don’t bother…they’re here!

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Tags: General Horror · Trauma-Mommas · Tykes in Trouble

American Gothic (1988)

May 23rd, 2013 · 7 Comments

If anyone ever asks me to name an underrated horror heroine, remind me that I want to say Cynthia (SARAH TORGOV) from AMERICAN GOTHIC (1988). It’s not hard to guess why she’s never gained much traction with the horror crowd; she’s not butch, bookish or boob-centric. In fact, she starts out as kind of a drip. It’s not where you begin but where you are going that matters though and glum Cynthia is going to the best place of all…crazy town!

When we first meet her, she is being released from a mental hospital! Is there a better time to meet a person? It’s no wonder she’s a mess and a half, it turns out she’s committed the ultimate blunder! One day she was giving her baby a bath when the phone rang and she just left for a second and then…zoinks! That’s some pretty heavy baggage and that’s why I don’t give my cats baths. In the interest of taking it easy and getting her mind off the fact that she killed her baby so that she could answer a stupid telephone call, Cynthia jumps in a plane with a bunch of people she has no business being friends with and takes a trip! Only God must truly hate Cynthia because he places her plane down onto an island whose inhabitants are super counterproductive to her recovery.

Talk about your island of misfit toys. There’s fair weather religious nut Pa (a fire breathing ROD STEIGER), prudent Charleston fan Ma (a hard not to love YVONNE DeCARLO) and their three less than adorable moppets: Fanny, Woody and Teddy (JANET WRIGHT, the legendary MICHAEL J.POLLARD and WILLIAM HOOTKINS, respectively). The kids are pushing fifty but act like they are twelve and please remember this was released in 1988 way before Facebook made such behavior the norm. Cynthia’s pals make the deadly mistake of scoffing the backwards ways on display while I only wish I could book a weekend stay. No cars, no lights, no motorcars… not a single luxury, unless you consider having a giant swing next to a cliff so that can you push people to their doom a luxury, which I do. If Cynthia would open her eyes maybe she could learn something here. As somebody who is having trouble letting go of the past she might take note of how that same approach to life has hardly benefited her demented hosts. Are these frozen-in-time, perpetually stunted human defects her future if she doesn’t get a grip? Yes. In the meantime her snotty friends must die one by one in increasingly gratifying ways.

(Kinda spoiler-y) Perhaps the only reason that Cynthia survives longer than her buddies is that darling Fanny takes a liking to her. Cynthia’s emotional state so closely mirrors the family’s folie a cinq that she glides smoothly into ponytail-enhanced Stockholm syndrome. This is a great turn of events…for me! What nobody has bargained for is that Cynthia’s secret power is insanity and Fanny owns the exact key to click her switch to berserker mode…oh you know, you might have one around the house too… a dried up baby corpse! Cynthia’s resulting transformation is better than your average slasher-chick metamorphosis from dishrag to ShamWow. It’s as if a crazed understudy has pirated the part. It’s not the first or last time a horror character has switched sides mid-game but it’s one of the few times where it’s handled in a way where it makes absolute sense. Ultimately Cynthia is not playing on any team. What’s she’s raging against is the same thing Pa renounces when he’s presented with the death of his own offspring, the absence of a higher power who cares enough to stop such horrible things from happening.

Fittingly JOHN (INCUBUS) HOUGH’s AMERICAN GOTHIC borrows freely from the classic horrors that walked before it while indulging in whatever eighties excesses it cares to. Although it’s a kissing cousin to many films from PSYCHO to THE BABY to MOTEL HELL to maybe even JOHN WATER’S PINK FLAMINGOS, it probably shares its strongest kinship to WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? In both cases we’re dealing with eccentric outsider characters that are somewhat comical on the surface and downright tragic at their core. As amusing as AMERICAN GOTHIC’s billowing black comedy antics often are, it’s only one hopscotch jump away from hitting upon something deeper. When it’s not dealing with infant death and the questioning of God, it puts forth a generational clash between old and new ways that exaggerated though it may be, is recognizable as a true American constant. This movie has more than its share of mentally ill oddballs bouncing around yet in the end, it seems the big baddie looming in the shadows might be cruel, heartless time itself and the ambivalent way it tends to make mincemeat out of those who lag behind. It’s not the scariest movie in the world but this is one baby you should not throw out with the bathwater! I’m sorry; I just had to do that.

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Tags: General Horror · General Insanity · Trauma-Daddies · Trauma-Mommas

The Incubus (1982) He is the Destroyer!

May 11th, 2013 · 10 Comments

Once upon a time, one of my favorite video stores was closing and selling off its stock and so I went to feed upon its carcass like a slobbering vulture. I had a limited amount of funds and so many a Sophie-esque choice was made that day, one of which would come to haunt me in shameful, near psychotic ways. My haul was to be complete after one final DVD decision. I could either get AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (1973) or THE INCUBUS (1982). I had not seen the former and I owned the latter on VHS and so in the spirit of open mindedness and expanding my horizons, I left doe-eyed THE INCUBUS behind. What kind of a person does that? A fool.

As it turned out I had severely underestimated my love for THE INCUBUS and richly overestimated my giving a crap about AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS! In order to rectify the situation, I jumped over to Amazon to rescue my mistake only to find it out of print with its price tag soaring by the minute! To buy it at three or five times the amount that I had recently snubbed my nose at was impossible! I was an idiot and suddenly my life was incomplete. There was a hole in my heart that went all the way to China and that howling abyss could only be filled by one thing. It was as if I had lost a leg in a war and was now cursed with a phantom ghost leg except for the war and the leg part. (Please note that while all of this nonsense is going on there are actual real tragedies taking place all over the world.)

What was wrong with me? By my calculations this behavior was the exact opposite of Zen. I was acting like one of those horrible record troll people who hang off of cardboard boxes at garage sales with crazed looks in their eyes prepared to strangle anyone who gets in the way of their precious Gollum prize! I had to snap out it. I had to stop checking Amazon every week with the sole purpose of torturing myself! Why was my sense of well being tied to something so trivial and why did I feel like I had somehow betrayed a part of my youth? I’m not what I own and yet I can’t help thinking nobody deserves to have this DVD more than me! I might have just stopped the madness and bought it at any price but you know…you just know… as soon as I did that it would become available again and I’d be a chump again.

I had to get off the merry go round and so I gave up. The dust settled, the cuckoo went back in the clock… and soon, as predicted, THE INCUBUS was rereleased on DVD! See miracles really do happen when you set your sights low and happen to be the pettiest person on Earth! I even waited (the hubris!) for a used copy and got it super cheap! Victory was finally mine! It came in the mail and I welcomed it with open arms and I was contented for exactly one second! Hooray for me.

I really do like THE INCUBUS more than I lead on in THIS review. Now that we’ve been through the ringer together our relationship has grown even stronger. It’s got some hammy acting, at least one instance of truly horrendous dialogue (I don’t want tenderness!) and a less than stellar script (based upon a book that probably shouldn’t have been adapted in the first place) but Lord love a duck, the general vibe of it sings my wretched song. How are you are not going to love this perfect bubble of time when the eighties were becoming the eighties but were not all bright and wacky yet? Is there anything better than a movie that wants to be a slasher and a gothed-out supernatural tale at the same time? I want to be both those things too!

I know some folks find this movie super sleazy on account of all of the wall-to-wall demon rape going on. I guess it is but it’s all presented as so grim and depressing that it’s hard for me to see it as exploitive. Personally, I’m more interested in the oppressive wall of monstrous sexual angst I believe it shares with the same year’s AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION and THE BEAST WITHIN. Seriously, what is it with that year? Where the planets aligned in some specific way? Anyway, in my book, director JOHN HOUGH is criminally underappreciated. He’s done great stuff (TWINS OF EVIL, LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, the excellent AMERICAN GOTHIC), some noteworthy stuff (WATCHER IN THE WOODS, the WITCH MOUTAIN movies) and even a lovable stinker (HOWLING 4: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE). Really, what DVD collection is complete without all of his movies? Oh no.

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Tags: General Horror · General Insanity

The Lords of Salem (2013)

May 2nd, 2013 · 19 Comments

In THE LORDS OF SALEM, Heidi Hawthorne (SHERI MOON ZOMBIE), a radio disc jockey, receives a mysterious package with a record inside. A friend attempts to play the record for her but it merely skips until Heidi places the needle upon it herself. The disc produces a haunting wall of sound that puts Heidi in a sort of a Stendhal syndrome trance while her friend remains unmoved. For whatever reason, Heidi then chooses to share her unusual discovery by playing it on her radio show. As the recording howls and booms over the airwaves, we again observe that the music affects different people in vastly different ways, some scowl and shrug and some stop in their tracks mesmerized. The best way to describe ROB ZOMBIE’s THE LORDS OF SALEM is to say that it’s a movie that operates exactly like that record does. It’s a treasure trove for those that respond to visual and audio stimulation and a barren coffer for slaves of clarity and traditional storytelling. If you fall into the latter category, don’t ever see this movie! I beg you! That whole crossed arms, I just ate a lemon, indignant consumer routine you do; it’s not as cute as you think it is.

ROB ZOMBIE is one of the more significant horror directors working today not because he is the most commercially successful but because he has miraculously held on to and honed his own voice (against a tsunami of chattering teeth opponents, I might add). Love it or lump it, he’s now at the artistic level where accessibility is no longer a concern. Think of THE LORDS OF SALEM as his STARDUST MEMORIES, he’s point blank telling anyone still listening that he’s not truncating his journey just because you dig his “earlier, funnier movies.” That could very well irk folks who can’t seem to connect with his work but stand down horror fans; the genre deserves at least one modern director not slavishly beholden to the sensibilities of mall teens. If you don’t like it, good. Welcome to the world of art! Don’t frown; in this joint you can get just as much stimulation from the stuff you don’t like as the stuff you do! Remember, you must be this tall to enter, keep your hands inside the car and stand ready to see things done in ways that you might not have done them yourself! Here is a bullet to bite. I know it’s not what you want but trust me, it’s what you need…

To me, in one way or another, each ROB ZOMBIE movie has been more interesting than the one that came before it. I’m not saying “better,” I’m just saying more thought provoking. (Actually, I could almost say I like each one better than the last except THE LORDS OF SALEM is not dethroning H2 in my heart anytime soon.) Maybe I’m just a very visually oriented person but there are moments in THE LORDS OF SALEM that I think are more potent and valuable then many of ZOMBIE’s directing contemporaries entire output. I’m not kidding. If an alien came to earth and was like “I’m either going to obliterate from existence that frame from LORDS with the orange fur beast or everything that ADAM GREEN and ELI ROTH ever laid a hand on, I would take zero seconds to shamefully respond “Give me the orange fur beast.”

Not that I have anything against those other guys, it’s just that for my needs they’re comparatively disposable and more likely to indulge audiences rather than shepherd them anywhere new. If I ever missed HATCHET, I suppose I’d just watch MADMAN whereas I don’t think there’s anything I could trade ZOMBIE’s imagery for regardless of how much it might be inspired by existing material. He’s just a brilliant visualist, end of story and sorry, that means something to me.

“But Unkle Lancifer!” you might be saying while taking off your spectacles and cleaning them with an embroidered handkerchief, “I don’t care for his writing! His dialogue is trite and like many horror aficionados, I’m an absolute stickler for dialogue!” Here’s the thing, I think his writing is fine and moreover, hold onto your tea cup Oscar Wilde, when it comes to the expression of horror, I don’t think the written word is paramount. “Clay face man walks goat in graveyard” is not much on paper but trust me, visualized it’s a whole different crap-your-pants kettle of fish.

I promise you, I didn’t salute every flag ZOMBIE hoisted. Remember when I was talking about the EVIL DEAD remake and I was saying that it was well built but failed to conjure up a believable presence of malevolent mojo? LORDS is the flip side, its malevolent mojo is indisputable but its structure could stand a few more laps around the gym. I’m not buying the SHINING-style days of the week title cards as framework. As in my actual life, I don’t care what day of the week it is and it’s really no less corny than showing a clock spinning. If you are dubious about SHERI MOON ZOMBIE playing the lead, I’m not going to totally disagree. I think she’s wonderful, a one of a kind character actress, she made an indelible mark in DEVIL’S and she broke my heart in HALLOWEEN. Still, I feel like this movie needed somebody that you didn’t intuitively predict was scrappy enough to wiggle out of whatever. It’s noble to put forth a different type of protagonist but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think some of the film’s erosion themes aren’t blunted by that choice. Do you know who would have been perfect? FAIRUZA BALK! Think about it. Before you agree just know that my answer for every casting quandary is FAIRUZA BALK and I may be subconsciously judging SHERI MOON on her hair.

Here’s the thing though, the most important thing, after the movie was done I went to the restroom in the theater and something about the place felt wrong. The overhead fan was acting up, singing a crazy womp-womp LYNCH-ian dirge and the lights were blinking an indecipherable code. Half my head was still in the movie and that’s my idea of success. True, I missed the emotional punch of H2 (if you didn’t feel anything during Annie’s death scene, congratulations you’re a sociopath) and I admit that I prefer my ZOMBIE a little more stompy. And yet LORDS certainly constructed a hazy, mad malaise that wasn’t so easily wiped off my windshield. Those who get frothy at the mouth minimalizing ZOMBIE’s vision can sleep well, LORDS‘ adamant ambiguity gives you plenty of space to dig in your talons. All I know is that my trusty specter detector was reading some true, undiluted horror on the screen. And when I say “horror,” I don’t mean the pandering power fantasy kind, the giggly, popcorn sleepover kind or the logo strewn, fan bought collectible kind used to spackle over identity chasms and make one feel all safe and special. I mean the unpleasant, corruptive, soul-siphoning kind that has no interest in patting you on the back. No, LORDS doesn’t deliver the rousing cathartic thrills horror fans are looking for instead it offers something most horror fans have little taste for at all, actual horror.

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror · I Have No Idea What This Is · My own personal Jesus

Burned at the Stake (1981)

April 23rd, 2013 · 7 Comments

Approximately a trillion years ago, I came across a picture in a magazine (either Fangoria or Famous Monsters) of a weird priest with gross bubbly skin. It was for an upcoming horror film called THE COMING, which to my knowledge, ironically, never came out. The image made a strong impression on me, either due to my psychotic fear of acne or, simply because anything related to religion can’t help being creepy. That dusty memory sat in a shoebox at the very back of my mothball-riddled brain until the other day when I finally came across THE COMING on YouTube, hiding under the alias of BURNED AT THE STAKE! (sticklers who point out that nobody was ever burned at the stake in Salem as the film suggests should be burned at the stake themselves for bumming me out.) Lo and behold, it’s directed by the nice man (BERT I. GORDON) who gifted the world with ant-o-vision in EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and brought to life H.G. WELLs spectacular vision of a world gone mad thanks to giant chickens in FOOD OF THE GODS! This was too good to be true and so I pinched myself and, by pinched myself, I mean did a jig.

What a pleasant surprise this movie is! Maybe it’s not good in that useless, “It’s made well” sense but it’s certainly good in the more important, “I cannot wait to see what happens next” sense! How has this movie remained so far under the carpet for so long? I see that it involves a time traveling pilgrim so I’m going to blame him. It’s very difficult to pull off a time traveling pilgrim. BURNED AT THE STAKE stars the incomparable SUSAN SWIFT of AUDREY ROSE fame, who apparently was working on being type cast as a reincarnate. She plays a nice girl named Loreen, who was not such a nice girl a couple hundred years ago when she was known as Ann Putman and her hobbies included screaming her head off and randomly accusing people of being witches. Loreen is having flashbacks of her previous horrible self and to make matters worse, she’s being stalked by an adorable/scary black dog, the pizza-faced priest and the aforementioned time traveling pilgrim who is rightfully amazed by airplanes. Luckily there is a helpful witch on hand to explain the fuzzier parts of the plot when she’s not too busy having telepathic conversations with the dog. There’s a sweet redemption bit near the end that reminded me of THE SEVENTH SIGN (1988) and more than a few absolutely horrifying wax historical reenactment figures one of whom may or may not spring to life. Also, I dig this witch mobile…

OK, this movie is patently ridiculous but it’s way better than I ever dared hope. Plus, it’s all autumnal and takes place in beautiful Salem, Massachusetts! Fortuitously, I found it mere hours after having seen ROB ZOMBIE’S LORDS OF SALEM (review pending) and I decree that the two movies make an excellent wonder twin double feature! I think they might have even used the same graveyard! It’s probable! Kooky though it may be, BURNED has a semi-cruel dark streak as only a film that concerns itself with a five-year-old being burned alive can. SUSAN SWIFT‘s performance is seriously solid, regardless of the heaps of hokum thrown at her and frankly, I’d take this cockeyed lunacy over drippy AUDREY ROSE any day of the week! Somebody who cares about humankind should put this unfairly forgotten flick out on DVD and they should do it quickly! They should also put a blurb by me on the back that says, “ So bewitching, you won’t even care that it doesn’t involve giant chickens!”

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Tags: General Horror · Tykes in Trouble

Summer Girl (1983)

April 17th, 2013 · 4 Comments

For the last five or six years, on a roughly monthly basis, I’ve been checking YouTube for the appearance of the elusive 1983 TV movie SUMMER GIRL. My sad, faithful diligence has finally paid off! To the best of my memory, I haven’t laid eyes on this chestnut since the original night it aired. Not that my powers of recall can be trusted. My strongest recollection of SUMMER GIRL has always been of its startling final image, a dark silhouette standing on a cliff in some kind of ominous victorious pose. It stayed sharp in my mind even while the rest of the flick blurred…

…only I totally got that wrong. That scene happens in the middle of the movie with plenty of stuff still waiting to happen. It’s still awesome though! It’s not necessary to go into much detail about SUMMER GIRL’s plot. You are familiar with this tale in one form or another. It’s the same as THE BABYSITTER (1980) which came before it, and the same as any number of HAND THAT ROCKED THE CRADLE-molded films that came after it too. Take a happy family with an insecure wife (in this case our old pal KIM DARBY) and a husband with a roving eye (MEGAFORCE-of nature BARRY BOSTWICK) and then add a seemingly helpful innocent who is in actuality a cunning sociopath and stir. What makes this routine outing momentous is that the one and only DIANE FRANKLIN plays the requisite interloping usurper.

If MOLLY RINGWALD is the peachy pastel face of the eighties we choose to remember, DIANE FRANKLIN is like the darker, deeper, more complicated truth hiding behind that candy coated mask. Not to take anything away from the RINGWALD but while she was constructing happy endings reliant on the acceptance of others (see the classic JOHN HUGHES triptych), FRANKLIN was forging a fickle opportunist heartbreaker (THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN), a tragic incestuous victim of demonic sororicide (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR 2: THE POSSESSION), a fish out of water French exchange student in a suicide comedy (BETTER OFF DEAD) and a vapid video vixen who unsuccessfully battles a mutant from space (TERRORVISION). In her made for television efforts she has the rare distinction of playing both the honorable final girl (DEADLY LESSONS) and the evil menace that must be destroyed (SUMMER GIRL).

I can’t say SUMMER GIRL’s “Cinni” is my favorite FRANKLIN creation (that honor belongs to AMITYVILLE’s Patricia Montelli) but the mesmeric psycho with delusions of grandeur surely adds gravitas to FRANKLIN’s oeuvre and mystique. As it turns out, I’m not all that happy with my newfound knowledge that Cinni is ultimately foiled by party-pooping nonbelievers so I have decided to revert back to my false recollection and continue to see her as that dark goddess on a cliff looking down at us mere mortals triumphantly.

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Tags: General Horror · Telenasties · Tykes in Trouble