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Don’t Look Now (1973)

February 12th, 2016 · 2 Comments

I’m so glad I don’t have kids. People who have kids (with all due respect) are insane. It’s like multiplying your potential for an emotional Armageddon by a quadrillion percent. Maybe I’m just a worrywart; I don’t understand how you’d ever let a kid out of your sight in the super deadly, arbitrary, calamity-baiting obstacle course that is our world. I have enough on my plate fretting about the fates of my felines. And I’m not talking about legitimate concerns like kitty cancer and urinary tract infections; I’m talking about if they sit in the window facing the street I fear somebody is going to throw a Molotov cocktail at them or maybe some teen rapscallions will shoot them with a BB gun or hit’em with a machete or… a flamethrower. Everybody who has seen THE EXTERMINATOR can back me up, flamethrowers are dangerous.

Even more troubling is the vague idea that somewhere under the sweet icing concern for the well being of my beloved fur babies hides the darker worry that if something should happened to them, I wouldn’t be able to handle it and I would completely LOSE MY MIND… forever and ever and ever. That may sound overly dramatic but I’ve dealt with death before and I can tell you, that bitch is a bionic grizzly bear from the basement of hell. I don’t remember fully and I don’t want to. All I know is the whole universe cankers and everything wilts and then some callous, miasmic Demon masquerading as God snickers while cramming the entire planet into a cosmic trash bag for a couple dozen months. It’s a bummer.

DON’T LOOK NOW is a masterpiece and don’t even bother with it if you’re the type that thinks that horror movies are all about finding your inner strength and foiling murderers with booby traps and karate chops. This flick is seeping in grief and its got real, legitimate death floating around in it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the best movies are not movies at all, they are spells and this particular spell is a doozy. If you’re ever of the mind to publicly accuse a person of witchcraft, let that person be NICOLAS ROEG (not that DAPHNE DU MAURIER’s hands are zestfully clean). I swear a billow of smoke appears in this film and it’s all that billow of smoke can do to not morph into a screaming skull. I know it wants to, it knows that I know it wants to… and thank all that is holy that the scene ends before it does.

DON’T LOOK NOW features two acting greats, both of whom deliver career high performances. DONALD SUTHERLAND and JULIE CHRISTIE are John and Laura Baxter, distraught parents processing the recent death of their young daughter Christine. The couple’s differing methods of dealing with the tragic loss slowly creates a chasm between them. The two travel to Venice for John’s work and as Laura finds solace in two strange, questionable sisters (one of whom claims to be receiving assuring psychic messages from Christine), John’s repairing of a church mirrors his frustrating attempts to piece back together his faith. It’s as if Laura’s embracing of the unknown allows her to move on and John’s inability to accept the unexplainable tethers him to the ground. Laura is not exactly religious (She offers, “I’m kind to children and animals” as an apology to a priest) but she finds a way to allow hope back into her life. John’s stagnation (not to mention his outright rejection of his own warning intuition) seems to only invite more of the darkness we all try to avoid.

Because yep, DEATH does indeed return as if responding to an engraved invitation, as if John’s spiritual wavering is the ultimate red carpet. DEATH (I won’t be too spoiler-y ) pretty much shakes its head at how very, very off base John’s been for at least as long as the run of the film. And yeah, the end of DON’T LOOK NOW still to this day, gives me an ice wedgie, gives me a doom noogie, gives me an existential purple nurple. ROEG’s devious shuffling of time and his abandonment of the linear evokes an infinite bad dream concoction that leaves you thinking that the adage “In the midst of life we are in death” may be a gross understatement. Do our lives flash before our eyes when we die or are our lives ONLY a flash before our eyes as we die? I don’t even know what I just said but I do know that I don’t like the sound of it. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a flashback montage.

Clearly this flick is crazy making. I better snap out of this solemn swamp mood before I attract a hooded ghoulie. Maybe it’ll help if I focus on ROEG’s brilliantly subtle gaslighting skills or how lovely it is just to take in CHRISTIE’s elated face exclaiming, “Christine is still with us!” after Laura’s fainting spell or the exquisite cinematography that makes the entire city of Venice look like a haunted house or the fact that this monumental movie marks the great PINO DONAGGIO’s very first feature length film score! Ha, take that death troll!! Can you believe that the first time I tried to watch this baby as a dumb teen I fell asleep? I blame it on the rain. Anyway, if you’ve given this one a chance before and it didn’t float your gondola don’t sweat it. I promise you it will come back to finish the job later. In the words of Wednesday Addams when asked why she dressed like somebody died, “Wait.”

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1982)

February 5th, 2016 · 3 Comments

All I wanted for Christmas this year was the DVD of BUTCHER, BAKER NIGHTMARE MAKER (1982) and I’m happy to report that tiny lil’ dream became a reality. Now that the pined for item is captured and shelved, one of the many nagging voices in my head can finally shut up. Once upon a time, wrongly thinking the flick’s DVD debut was imminent, I allowed my VHS tape (under the title NIGHT WARNING) to fall into the wrong hands and wouldn’t you know it, the cursed thing stood me up like a bucked-tooth prom date. Worse still, when it finally was released, the universe began a cruel campaign of placing obstacle after excruciating obstacle between me and my coveted prize! It’s over now. I shouldn’t salt the gaping wounds. I just mean to point out that there are movies you casually collect for a rainy day and there are those that feel like appendages that somebody ripped off your body that you have track down and sew back on or risk dying from infection.

I think the problem is that I remember my life through movies. I have no idea how I’d recall anything if movies didn’t exist because they provide pretty much the only structure in my foggy head. Things were easier when I worked in a video store and I could look on the wall and see by numbers on stickers on plastic boxes where I had been… now everything is all jumbled up and out of order.

For many reasons BUTCHER, BAKER towers as a monumental marker through the mist behind me. It casts a deeper shadow than most because it had such an impact on me during my teen years. I came across the movie tie-in paperback years before I would encounter the movie itself and its content provided me with one of my earliest encounters with the subject of homosexuality (at least within a story that I could relate to rather than a horrifying news item or a pitying sitcom platitude). Its significance was boosted further by the fact that the novel was confiscated from me in junior high as if it were some kind of illegal contraband and my fear of its verboten themes being discovered were great. See, things were very different for a gay teen in 1982 and in so many subtle stabbing ways that it’s impossible to fully convey. You know that part in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS when the characters had to hide any and all emotions or traces of humanity to avoid being pounced upon by the screeching, pointing, empty hearted hive mob? I feel like that reflects my personal high school experience better than say, SIXTEEN CANDLES.

BUTCHER, BAKER doesn’t exactly present the idea of being gay in a Pollyanna positive light but therein held its particular power for me because its crassness allowed me to better digest it. At that point in my existence the idea of being validated or approved of wasn’t even on the table but the knowledge of not being alone in the universe left enough air out of my about-to-explode alienation balloon that it was the difference between life and death. There’s a shitload of acrimony offered many discriminated against groups in the world but I think LGBT teens take on a singular burden of having to face those thrown stones alone…at least for a while. Sorry, that’s kinda heavy but that’s how important seeing myself at least partially reflected was. And really, that’s how important movies and books are.

Anyway, BUTCHER stars JIMMY McNICHOL as Billy Lynch who is getting ready to go off to college and sparking abandonment drama from his twitchy guardian Aunt Cheryl (SUSAN TYRELL). Billy comes home from school one day to find his Aunt has killed a man (who she claims tried to rape her) but when the victim is discovered to be gay, a homophobic detective (BO SVENSON) becomes obsessed with pinning the murder on Billy. Now, a little while’s back I was gabbing it up about another fine flick that features TYRELL called ANGEL (1984). ANGEL presents two all accepting counter culture fantasy parents in the characters of Solly (TYRELL) and Mae (DICK SHAWN.) In contrast, BUTCHER, BAKER offers a dark flip side and features two soul dousing monster parent figures. First we have Aunt Cheryl who is a controlling, jealous, trapped in the past, sexually inappropriate loon and symbolically subbing for Billy’s dead father is SVENSON’ s Det. Carlson who is a berating browbeater who elbows out Billy’s one positive adult figure, his happens-to-be gay basketball coach Tom Landers (STEVE EASTIN who would fittingly go on to appear as a policeman in another gay-centric horror flick A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE).

I should clarify that there’s nothing within the framework of BUTCHER to indicate that Billy is gay. Whether he is or he isn’t doesn’t change what he endures or how we understand him but I point it out because it deepens the detective’s level of… instead of “homophobia” let’s go with misguided witch burning hysteria and projected sexual insecurities. Like life though, BUTCHER is about much more than folks grappling with sexual orientation, it earns serious points from me for focusing on that critical moment that many of us must plow through when we shed the limiting, spirit-confining ideas we were raised with and begin to walk on shaky legs toward our own self-realization. Billy has to destroy his monstrous parental figures to move forward because they stand as the bars of his cage.

Due to its teen heroes (Billy’s loyal and bunny-nose cute girlfriend Julia is played by a young JULIA DUFFY) and the year of its release, BUTCHER is often lumped in with the slasher clique but it has more in common with psycho-biddy grande dame Guignol flicks like WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? than its more popular body count contemporaries. Tonally I think it pairs up swell with the following year’s excellent PSYCHO II or maybe even 1980’s underrated THE ATTIC. In fact, BUTCHER could have saved itself a bunch of heartache by calling itself simply THE CELLAR as some of its more important revelations are made in just that locale. In any case, the streamlined alternate title NIGHT WARNING is of no help at all.

We’re not offered any huge mystery to solve, the audience knows very well which chocolates in the box contain the nuts, the tension comes from wondering just how hard the shit is going to hit the fan and when. It’s too bad director WILLIAM ASHER did not continue down the horror/ thriller path because he definitely brings something cyclonic and sweeping to the film’s storm set climax. It’s impressively uncanny compared to the rest of the movie and I can’t help worrying that both Julia the character and JULIA the DUFFY are truly getting the tar beaten out of both of them right there on screen.

Let’s be realistic, this movie is OWNED by TYRELL and I only wish I could type OWNED in neon and make it flash forever and with an accompanying siren sound. It’s really one of the greatest performances in all of horror and frankly it’s a disgrace that it’s not more widely seen and appreciated. If NICHOLSON or WALKEN delivered this performance they’d be forever ducking from all the laurels chucked at them. From the DVD’s (much appreciated) extras it doesn’t appear TYRELL herself thought too much of the role but the truth is on the screen and, no matter how scampy she sometimes riffs it, there are clear-cut moments where she’s delicately skating on the sharp thin line of true madness and it’s a freaking glorious thing to behold.

In closing, this is a take it to the grave movie for me as you can probably tell. I’ll be watching it when my hair is gray and my eyes have been removed to make way for tiny TV sets. Revisiting it once again I’m glad that times have changed and at the same time I don’t know why they haven’t changed more or even why they were so screwy in the first place. I’ll never be grateful for the crap I personally had to endure but if it curbed me from becoming your standard douche-y bro dude it was very much worth it. Most of all it’s fun to revisit through cinema a time in my life when I related more to buoyant Billy than I did to shattered Aunt Cheryl because great googly moogly, lord knows that’s no longer the case. Ha ha. Just kidding (no, I’m not).

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · DVD Review · General Horror

The Boy (2016)

January 24th, 2016 · 4 Comments

The best part of being woefully unhip and equally unsophisticated is that I get to enjoy the heck out of a movie like THE BOY. Yeah, I know it’s borderline preposterous, derivative as hell and ultimately inconsequential but to quote Julie Andrews in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, “Look at all the fucks I give.” In the grand tradition of such, only in my mind, classics as THE HEARSE and THE NESTING, THE BOY is all about a lady losing her marbles while wandering around an incredibly beautiful, big old house. In this type of film there are always dull stretches where the main character reveals a troubled past (usually involving the death of a child, an abusive partner or worst of all, writer’s block!) but that’s fine by me because that is the perfect time to marvel at the lovely décor. Generously THE BOY is not satisfied being only a lady vs. her house/head flick, it’s also a creepy doll movie and that just happens to be my other favorite type o’ jam! Why, the only thing that could make this ditty more up my alley would be if it turned into HELL NIGHT in the final stretch (slight spoiler alert: it does). Is it kosher to recommend a movie exclusively to myself? I dub this flick, my rainy day ambrosia; all other folks tread with caution.

THE WALKING DEAD’s LAUREN COHAN stars as Greta who has been hired by a couple of nutty oldsters to look after their “son” who turns out to be a creepy porcelain doll. It seems their real kid Brahms tragically died in a fire 20 years ago and to cope with their loss, the two mutually decided complete and utter denial was the best bet. Greta is freaked out at first but sympathetic and she slowly forms a bond of her own with the pint-sized (PIN-like) effigy. Sadly THE BOY will likely get zero credit for what an excellent job it does of getting the audience to connect with the doll as well… so much so that when it is eventually threatened to be damaged it feels like something very real and invaluable may be lost. Much of the thanks should go to COHAN’s likable and relatable Greta. I’d have preferred it if she spent more time reading in bed like TRISH VAN DEVERE and less time cleaning out rat traps but I gotta respect a gal who can wrap a towel about herself so snuggly that it appears to be molded in plaster. Greta rules. She looks like MARY TYLER MOORE. Another thing that THAT BOY does extremely well is deftly manage the impossible to avoid humor of the situation, you could pretty much watch the first half of the film as a comedy if you wanted. In fact on more than one occasion little Brahms’ cold poker face reminded me of MARTIN SHORT in CLIFFORD.

I guess my biggest complaint would be the flick’s regrettable lack of bloodshed. Now I have no problem with a PG-13 rating especially in a psychological spooker but there’s a point in THE BOY where there is a drastic shifting of gears and at that point, at the very least, a TV broadcast level of gore would have been extremely satisfying. Truth is, you’ll either love or hate the film’s big reveal, I personally loved it to the point where it left me writing fan fiction in my head. As overtly mild as it sometimes sadly is, there’s some real throwback charm to be found in THE BOY. I expect it will be spit on by those who wear their horror fandom as a badge to prove how “edgy” they are and it will probably be loathed by those allergic to hokum and cheese but for me, it entertained and made me feel as snug as a bug in a rug. I may have to thank the terrible TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D for opening my eyes to the worth of simple entertainment value over artistic merit and even common sense on some occasions. If a film tunes your fork and delivers your favorite flavors at regular intervals, who cares about anything else? I don’t. No, it’s in no way a sterling classic but to echo THE BOY’s opening premise, sometimes a place-holding facsimile will do when the real deal is currently out of reach.

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Tags: General Horror

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

January 12th, 2016 · 3 Comments

Wow, so that BONE TOMAHAWK movie is a keeper. I rented it from my local Red Box as I believed that to be my most practical (cheapest) option and I gotta say, it pained me to return the thing. Yes, it was with great sorrow and unfocused free-floating resentment that I slid that disc back into the slot of its soulless, mechanical crimson overlord but a deal’s a deal. Now, I totally understand if you are not exactly chomping at the bit to check out an olden-timey Western that appeared on one too many best of the year lists on one too many unreliable marketing tar pits masquerading as a horror websites. I get that. But BONE TOMAHAWK really does deserve a laurel avalanche because it features rarities like a, well-written script, stellar cinematography, assured direction and absolutely outstanding acting.

You know when it’s cold outside and you need to take a shower but you keep putting it off because history tells you that the first moment when the water hits your body is going to be awful? Then you step in the shower and after that first moment of shock it’s actually great and rejuvenating and you can’t believe that you didn’t jump in sooner because now you are all crispy clean and feeling awesome? That’s how I feel about westerns…

My eyes are always scared of how beige everything is going to be and my ears are worried that the dialogue is going to be gruff and dullsville and my soul is apprehensive because chances are a horse is going to be treated poorly. The first couple minutes are always difficult and I feel like a squirrel in a box looking for any possible escape but if I can just get past that initial hump, I usually enjoy myself. I’m not talking about dusty Grandpa flicks, I mean the likes of EL TOPO, TOMBSTONE, THE PROPOSITION and especially the Dalmatian-spotted McCABE and MRS. MILLER (if that counts). I’ll even happily gallop behind EASTWOOD but if I’m being honest I’m going to lean closer to THE BEGUILED than the DOLLARS TRILOGY. I guess I’m saying it’s not my go-to bag but it’s a pill I can swallow especially if said pill is coated with sweet delicious horror like BURROWERS (2008) or the title in question, BONE TOMAHAWK which feels like JACK KETCHUM meets TRUE GRIT.

What bridges the gap more than anything else, more than sleek visuals, more than clever lines of dialogue, more than snappy action scenes, more than sharp suspense (and BT’s level of suspense is downright painful at times) is characterization. And I’m not even being preachy here; it’s just the truth. I’m happy to report horror hall of famer KURT RUSSELL is everything you’d hope and expect him to be and he’s just the tip of the totem pole. Who can make you feel their anguish and inner (and outer) turmoil quite the way that PATRICK (INSIDIOUS,THE CONJURING) WILSON can? Seriously! That face! I want to make him pancakes! But do you want to know who the real stand out in this flick is besides the always-reliable RICHARD JENKINS? By Golly, it’s MATTHEW FOX. He’s so good and not in a flashy, look at me way either. He just disappears into his character and he’s impressive as hell.

SEE THIS MOVIE. It’s got characters you’ll remember, it will surprise you in ways I refuse to say and it will chill you right down to the bone-and then some. You’re going to enjoy it kids, Why, I’d bet the farm on it! NOTE: Extra sarsaparilla awarded for featuring the ever mesmerising SEAN YOUNG.

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Tags: General Horror

Krampus (2015)

December 5th, 2015 · 6 Comments

I’ve told you guys about my ongoing battle to retain my faith in the experience of leaving my home to watch a movie and how it is constantly threatened by my closest theater being too far away, skyrocketing ticket prices, the existence of bedbugs and my deep desire to avoid being involved in one of America’s daily mass shootings. But how in the world was I going to resist KRAMPUS when it sports the kindertraumiest character anyone has ever heard of? How could I say no to the too rare opportunity to see a Christmas-set horror movie on the big screen? Geez, when was the last time I had that privilege? I’d have to go all the way back to GREMLINS. That’s sort of fitting I guess because it turns out KRAMPUS is THE BEST Christmas-set horror movie since GREMLINS. But unlike GREMLINS, which was released in the heart of summer, KRAMPUS’ release is perfectly timed to get you in gear for the holiday season and if you are a horror fan, it’s very likely the best gift you’ll be getting this year (and better still, it’s sure to become a holiday staple).

Another hurdle I currently contend with is my ongoing battle to keep my hope in modern horror movies alive. At the risk of sounding crusty, my theory is this: once upon a time, there were a lot of great movies being made because a person would have to have a certain amount of talent to be handed the directing reins and basically the cream would rise to the top. These days it seems like opportunity is handed over to the shove-iest tool who yaps the loudest and the result is the avalanche of garbage we call modern culture. I bring this up because KRAMPUS was directed by MICHAEL DOUGHERTY, the whiz behind 2007’s TRICK R’ TREAT and let me tell you, it makes a profound difference when there’s somebody with a personal vision behind the wheel rather than your dime-a-dozen hipster-hack.

More good news is that much like the recent and surprisingly lovable FINAL GIRLS (wow, 2015 is shaping up in its last lap), KRAMPUS occupies its world with talented actors who bring idiosyncratic gifts to the table and generally know what they’re doing. Check it out, we’ve got ourselves the veritable virtuoso TONI COLLETTE, the sharp as a tack ADAM SCOTT, the legendary CONCHATA FERRELL, scene stealer DAVID KOECHNER (channeling some VACATION-era RANDY QUAID and my personal favorite, ALLISON TOLMAN fresh off her remarkable stint on the first season of FARGO. (Did I ever tell you that I’m enjoying the FARGO TV series immensely?) Much of the flick is carried on the shoulders of youngster EMJAY ANTHONY and he excels in the sensitivity department to the point where you might think STEVEN SPIELBERG created him in a lab. The flick has got serious soul and when it’s not pulling the rug out from under you, it’s tugging at your heartstrings…

Because KRAMPUS isn’t a horror movie about physical preservation and chronic worries about fatal flesh wounds, it’s a dark fantasy terror tale about the hell on Earth the world becomes when you stifle your spirit and your heart looses hope. That might sound corny but the way it is pulled off is fantastic. My favorite aspect of KRAMPUS is how incredibly other-worldy it becomes. It’s as if a curtain falls and suddenly the family home has landed on a far off and extremely hostile planet (I think there’s even an ALIEN reference as the out-of-town neighbors are the Lamberts and the Cartwrights). Suddenly anything can happen, any character can be swiped away, and any inanimate object can transform and bite back. There’s a willful breaking away from expectations and presumed safety zones and you’re likely to get a second hand high off the fumes of unbridled creativity born from the thrill of coloring outside the lines.

Beyond GREMLINS, you might get flashes of THE WIZARD OF OZ, TIME BANDITS, THE DARK CRSTAL and HOME ALONE but as KRAMPUS tips its horns to many a classic, it stands as much more than a patchwork quilt and always maintains a dominant sense of self. You could accuse it of being extremely unfaithful to the legend proper but personally I was having way too much fun to care about that. It’s safe to say that some horror fans won’t find it scary enough but I’m going to go out on a limb and chalk that up to something missing within themselves and the equivalent of a vampire blaming a mirror for its lack of reflection.

I can implore you to see this movie right? On account of I’ve never implored you to see anything before? It’s a great ride and the timing is so spot-on. It’s so much more than simply a Christmas-set horror film. It’s a sign post in a wasteland of ice reminding you of the importance of keeping your faith in the face of naysayers and what a great loss it is when out of exhaustion, we trash what we believe in (not to mention the timely reminder of how important it is to put aside differences in order to dispel a shared threat). I mean, it almost made me miss my family for a second. How gross is that!? Oh brother, under all this cross-armed cynicism, I’m really the corniest. Turns out the pessimistic way that kid in the movie was starting to feel about Christmas was pretty much aligned with how I was beginning to feel about horror movies. I’m thankful KRAMPUS showed us we were both wrong.

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Tags: General Horror

Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1989)

December 1st, 2015 · 3 Comments

My big plan for this past Black Friday was to quietly (if you don’t include multiple listens to DEBBIE GIBSON’S “Electric Youth”) stay indoors and spend exactly zero pennies virtually visiting the eighties shopping center that exists perfectly preserved within 1989’s PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’s REVENGE. Being so lazy as to avoid so much as getting up from my chair, I opted to look the flick up on YouTube rather than dig through my rat pile of VHS tapes. Some Earth angel had posted a high quality DVD rip and I heartily dug into it only to be abruptly taken aback by a scene I had no recollection of. Wait a minute, since when was titular Eric an accomplished gymnast before his fateful fiery accident? Something wasn’t ringing right as I had no memory of the awkward (not to mention ultimately pointless) pre-credits sequence I suddenly found myself confronted with.

Shortly thereafter I was doing something only a true film nerd would do, I was watching the VHS tape of PHANTOM OF THE MALL in unison with the DVD version available on YouTube. What I discovered is that the two versions are strikingly different! I’m sure that this information holds little value to anyone but I’m pasting it up here for posterity in case a visitor from another planet needs such knowledge for a book report on people with cinema-centric mental disorders…

Turns out the VHS version has all of the gore, including a delicious decapitated head sequence and that the DVD version is nearly bloodless and replaces much of the violence with a side story involving the love life of a character portrayed by PAULY SHORE. I guess it goes without saying which version I’m partial to. Even if I were to pretend to prefer character development to people’s skulls being crushed in trash compactors, the VHS also includes a segment not found in the DVD edit involving a piano player in a bathroom stall being bitten in the genital region by a king cobra snake. I’m still unclear whether the cobra was a trained minion set upon the piano man as a part of his master Eric’s revenge plan or if the sinister serpent was randomly operating on its own behalf but the fact remains that the version I shall henceforth refer to as the “cobra edit” of PHANTOM OF THE MALL provides the superior experience. Actually there is no reason that a talented and industrial editor could not compile the two versions into an ultimate edit unless the reason that nobody cares counts.

In closing, PHANTOM is tons of fun not due to quality so much as its unadulterated bizarreness. I mean, Eric the phantom utilizes PATRICK SWAYZE-esque roundhouse kicks when confronted! How is that not going to be awesome? Plus, the baddie adult who is responsible for disfiguring Eric, dampening his romantic life and building a mall on top of the wreckage of his home, is played by none other than JONATHAN GOLDSMITH who has since grown a beard and has become famous as the “most interesting man in the world” in those commercials for….. (Googling)…beer (Huh, they’re selling beer in those commercials?).

And here comes lovely MORGAN FAIRCHILD of THE INITIATION OF SARAH fame who portrays an opportunistic and super shady mayor! If visiting a universe in which MORGAN FAIRCHILD is mayor is not enough for you, there’s also some truly impressive stunt work involving people falling from great heights within the mall. Oh, and the great KEN FOREE as a security guard! I probably should have opened with that selling point.

The only real problem with PHANTOM, which was directed by the same guy who did DOOM ASYLUM (RICHARD FRIEDMAN) is that there are little scares and there is zero sense of suspense. I don’t know if it’s the unconvincing make-up or the fact that you can’t help but feel sympathy for poor Eric but there’s never even the mildest tang of menace (except for when that cobra is around of course). I shall leave you with the DVD rip from YouTube but really folks, if you truly want to enjoy PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’s REVENGE track down that VHS tape! It’s (decapitated) heads above the talky alternate jam.

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Tags: General Horror

Killer Double Feature: Screamers and Runaway

November 24th, 2015 · 3 Comments

Did everybody collectively decide behind my back to downplay and willfully underrate the cinematic output of PETER WELLER? Be honest. I’m seeing a pattern here. Every movie PETER WELLER is in is approximately twice as good as its reputation would suggest. BUCKAROO BANZAI is as quirkily hilarious as it is ahead of its time, LEVIATHON is supposed to be sub-ABYSS but it’s actually better at being what people wanted THE ABYSS to be than THE ABYSS ever was, OF UNKOWN ORGIN makes every other killer rat movie that sprung from the eighties smell cheesier and NAKED LUNCH is somehow a masterpiece even though its amorphous source material did everything in its power to stand obstinately un-filmable. And hey, what about ROBOCOP? At the end of the day didn’t ROBOCOP have so much more to say than THE TERMINATOR both literally and figuratively? I’d say so and if I’m wrong well, it’s also got NANCY ALLEN and is therefore unsurpassable. Anyway, you get the point. PETER WELLER movies are always better than people act like they there are and here comes another screeching example with SCREAMERS!

Mid-budgeted science fiction films are the best because they have enough money to not embarrass themselves but not so much that fall prey to that inhuman soulless vibe that follows TOM CRUISE around like an overbred puppy. SCREAMERS surely suffers from some endearing dated-ness from time to time but for the most part its worn just enough around the edges to be the right shade of dystopian. Written by the late great DAN O’BANNON (ALIEN, DEAD & BURIED, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) and based on a short story by BLADE RUNNER mastermind PHILIP K. DICK, SCREAMERS tends to be a little too detail oriented for my humble head so I’m just going to describe it as TREMORS with self upgrading robots that can sometimes pass for humans and leave it at that (also don’t watch the trailer cuz the trailer has a big mouth). Furthermore it features the criminally underrated JENNIFER RUBIN of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS fame! I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that RUBIN’s Taryn is my favorite of all the ELM STREET characters. Sorry, but Nancy gets on my nerves. I’ll close by adding that SCREAMERS only real misstep is making some of the deadly droids too adorable. I kind of want to own a few as pets and just cross my fingers that they don’t saw my arms off.

Speaking of my profound disappointment to find myself in the year 2015 without a robot to call my own, lets say we take a look at the fantastic, though sometimes shoddily designed semi-futuristic world of RUNAWAY. This 1984 production was written and directed by none other than MICHAEL CRICHTON. You may know CRICHTON as the dude behind JURASSIC PARK but I know him as the worship-worthy genius who created the stunningly insane thriller LOOKER (1981) and the esteemed gent who wed B-movie royalty ANNE-MARIE MARTIN of THE BOOGENS and PROM NIGHT (who, just when I thought I couldn’t love her more, makes an appearance in RUNAWAY as “hooker at bar”).

Swanky TOM SELLECK, at peak TOM SELLECK-ness, stars as cop Jack Ramsey who is really good at dismantling wayward rogue robots (called “runaways”) and really terrible at dealing with heights (which not surprisingly comes into heavy play during the films high altitude climax). Luckily Tom’s uniquely vulnerable (for an ‘80s movie) character has a strong support system that includes a robot maid named Louise and a new partner played by multitalented dancer extraordinaire CYNTHIA RHODES (DIRTY DANCING, STAYING ALIVE, FLASHDANCE). Oh, and he also has a sometimes trust worthy ally played by the sometimes worthy but mostly crusty KIRSTIE ALLEY.

Jack’s going to need all the help he can get because he’s facing off against an equally hirsute but way smarter madman named Luther (GENE SIMMONS of KISS sans make-up). Lethal Luther creates killer spider, jumping bean robots that inject acid into your neck before catching your ass on fire and is fond of a gun that shoots miniature heat seeking smart bullets and he really, really wants some kind of plans or floppy discs or circuits that he can use to make even more deadly devices. RUNAWAY is one of those movies that can just basically coast on how awesomely eighties it all is. There is some super sloppy editing here and there (one character’s death scene comes off as a footnote when it should have been a headline) but mostly its non-stop joy with a synth-tastic JERRY GOLDSMITH score. The shrugging humdrum future offered in RUNWAY that left audiences wanting more in 1984 ironically lends it a little extra credibility today. Do yourself a favor and grab some SCREAMERS, pair them up with them RUNWAY spider-bots and create a perfect homemade army of murderous albeit slightly clunky late night double feature entertainment.

Special Bonus: ROCKY IV’s Happy Birthday Paulie-bot

Since tomorrow sees the opening of CREED, the latest film in the ROCKY franchise which just happens to take place in Philly, the same beloved city that Kindertrauma Kastle calls home, lets take a moment to appreciate the peaceful robot that appeared in ROCKY IV, killed absolutely nobody and ultimately stole the hearts of millions…

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Tags: General Horror · Killer Double Feature

Killer Double Feature: Breakdown and Dying Room Only

November 19th, 2015 · 3 Comments

I can’t imagine a horror fan not enjoying 1997’s BREAKDOWN. Sure it’s more likely to be thrown into the action/thriller pile but it skillfully drives well past suspenseful and crashes into something scarier than your average fright flick. Not to mention this baby also stars two of horror fandom’s favorite folks, frequent JOHN CARPENTER cohort KURT RUSSELL and resplendent KATHLEEN QUINLAN of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, WARNING SIGN, EVENT HORIZON and THE HILL HAVE EYES (remake) fame. If you are not a KATHLEEN QUINLAN supporter then I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave these premises…shoo! I said good day sir!

What I can tell you without ruining the point of watching the movie is this: our chums KURT and KATHLEEN portray likable married couple Jeff and Amy Taylor who are relocating themselves to California and have to drive through that gross part of America where all the crazies live. Their car breaks down and Amy gets a lift from a trucker (the always dependable, exceptionally good and surprising menacing J.T. WALSH) to get to a nearby diner to call for assistance and maybe get an iced tea. Later when Jeff gets to the diner to meet up with his wife, she’s nowhere to be found and the trucker acts like he’s never seen him or her before! Yep, it’s a total nightmare and things just get worse and worse from there as justifiably paranoid Jeff does everything possible to find his wife while uncovering the evilest of peoples and the shadiest of happenings.

After you watch BREAKDOWN you must watch DYING ROOM ONLY or wait, maybe you should watch DYING ROOM ONLY first. Yeah, do that instead. It’s only fair because DYING is from 1973 and it came out first and it’s one of the best TV movies ever made and why wouldn’t it be when it was written by genre legend and a half RICHARD (too many stone cold classics to list) MATHESON? DYING ROOM ONLY concerns the slightly less affable married couple Bob and Jean Mitchell (my dream parents DABNEY COLEMAN and CLORIS LEACHMAN) who stop off at an out of the way diner in the middle of nowhere and live to fully regret it. When Jean returns from using the ladies room her husband is nowhere to be found and every creepy person in the diner starts acting like a cat that swallowed a DABNEY COLEMAN-flavored canary. Again, I’m not going to ruin anything but the more Jean investigates the more horrific and widespread the conspiracy appears to be and there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the evil those involved are capable of.

If you haven’t noticed yet BREAKDOWN and DYING ROOM ONLY mirror each other and are two peas in a pod especially if one of those peas has gone missing and the other has to search for it. Both flicks expertly rake similar fears involving mistrust of strangers (particularly in areas far from home) and the anxieties and frustrations that orbit our inability to fully insure the safety of our loved ones. I say get on these! Both are nail-biting essentials especially if you have control issues, chronic ruraphobia and a healthy and well-warranted mistrust of greasy spoons.

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Tags: General Horror · Killer Double Feature

Crimson Peak, The Pyramid, We Are Still Here and Ash vs The Evil Dead. Plus Stung, Kristy and The Last Shift.

November 13th, 2015 · 2 Comments

Don’t bury me I’m not dead! Sorry I have not been around lately but boy was I sick and not in the cute sniffles and terrycloth slippers way that allows for binging on KATE & ALLIE reruns either but in that way when you can’t even sleep because your body is a sack of stolen silverware and Satan is using your lungs for Jell-0 molds and you spend your time praying to the cenobites to maybe not be so stingy with the oblivion. Luckily I love the taste of medicine and can drink it all day and am actually now starting to fantasize about opening a bar that only serves shots of Robitussin and extra strength liquid Mucinex. Yum. Anyway, here’s some stuff I watched through queasy-colored glasses…

CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

If you can still catch this in the movie theater you should, even though I’m convinced that walking past the poster for JEM and the HOLOGRAMS is how I caught my death-flu. I may even be so bold as to say that CRIMSON might be my favorite Guillermo del Toro movie. I know it’s probably not as worthy as either PAN’S LABYRINTH or THE DEAVIL’S BACKBONE but it has much better re-watch value for me because it’s not emotionally taxing in any way. And let’s face it, I can be super shallow and sometimes I just want to gawk at a movie and bask in its visuals and bypass all the chin music. CRIMSON PEAK’s story is pretty frivolous and inconsequential and it almost got into trouble with me for having a helpful ghost at the end (luckily it didn’t physically interact with anything so I gave it a pass) but it’s an absolute stunner to look at overall (give or take a few gaudy effects) and the entire cast is mostly phenomenal (special shout out to SUPERNATURAL’s much missed JIM BEAVER!). CRIMSON may have stumbled at the box office but I’m here to tell you that once it finds its intended audience, it’s sure to become a cult classic. I want to own it and I want to watch it every time it snows for the rest of my life.

THE PYRAMID (2004)

What kind of person watches THE PYRAMID on HBO while chomping on CHEEZ-IT encrusted chicken fingers and left over Halloween candy? A garbage person and that’s me! Dudes, I was at the height of my hallucinating, barely coherent, flipping in and out of consciousness coupled with a ferocious fever/death-dream when I sort of viewed this bucket of why bother and it held my hand and walked me toward the light. Sure, it’s terrible but my brain could only handle soft food anyway. Did you know there is no mummy in this movie? Aren’t you happy to hear that? Instead it’s got BOOGENS-behavin’ CGI kitty cats and a jackal headed ALIEN-esque monster stomping around its halls! That’s not a spoiler, that’s a selling point! I would have seen this mess in the theater if the advertising told me as much! On the down side, PYRAMID is as stupid as a rock, looks like it was filmed in a left over SID & MARTY KROFT LAND OF THE LOST set and is crying like a baby for a more charismatic lead than whoever the hell that blonde lady was. God help me though, I did enjoy heckle-watching this flick and I want to thank it for kindly delivering on the gore and adorable monsters.

WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)

At this point nothing gives me more pause than an independent horror movie carting around a satchel of near unanimous positive reviews. Moreover, if it happens to sport a fawning blurb from one of the larger horror websites on its DVD cover I interpret that as more of a red flag warning than an endorsement. I know that’s cynical, I’m just telling you my truth, I almost skipped right on by WE ARE STILL HERE on account of all the moonie-flavored gushing surrounding it. Even more suspicious was the fact that the flick’s got LARRY FESSENDEN in it! I can’t trust reviewers to be clear-headed when he’s around. The guy is a hypnotist!

Anyway, eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I went against my jaded nature and gave it a twirl and guess what? I thought it deserved a pat on the back or maybe a high-five. How was I not going to dig charred gooby-ghoulies with glowing eyes that looked like they fell off THE FOG’s Elizabeth Dane? Plus the flick has got a strong sense of setting and there’s a nifty retro vibe and frankly, a supernatural stew of occult mumbo jumbo was exactly what the doctor ordered. I was also very much impressed with BARBARA CRAMPTON’s glum performance. The rest of the acting ranged from passable to cringe-worthy but I thought CRAMPTON was the bee’s depressed knees. Alright, I’m gonna smoosh a gold star sticker on this movie’s face for setting up a delightfully dismal mood and for delivering the gory goods instead of jerking everybody around but I’m also going to say it’s needlessly convoluted, there’s plenty o’ room for improvement in the dialogue department and (most damning) I could possibly live without owning the DVD. Maybe.

ASH vs EVIL DEAD (2015)

People like to call me on my landline and say “Hey! You’re too nostalgic! Why don’t you like modern stuff? You only like old junk! Get with it Pops!” which is obviously super annoying. I almost started believing those turds until I saw ASH vs EVIL DEAD and was reminded by its brilliant recapturing of the spirit of the original series that movies really were tons better in the eighties. Not my fault. This ASH show is funny, scary (sorry, those possessed deadites still get to me) and most of all, refreshingly buoyant and lively. And get this, I think Ash is even more Ash now that he’s hit curmudgeonly over-the-hill mode! It’s so perfect for him. Sadly I don’t have STARZ so I may have to wait to keep up to date but as for now, the first episode is available free online or as a special cable preview. Now THIS is a godsend folks. The more Ash the better I always say! Now I’m so glad I didn’t die this week!

Being not dead and sparked with new hope for the future thanks to my pal ASH, I decided it was time for me to crawl out of my cave and take a peek at what I was missing on the Internet. What I found was an avalanche of inanities concerning Christmas cups and a couple of dunderheads disrespecting the sad death of beloved horror icon GUNNAR HANSEN who famously portrayed the lucky person who got to kill Franklin Hardesty in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Something deep within my soul said; “Oh, hells no” and so I ran into the strong welcoming arms of NETFLIX streaming where I will always belong…

STUNG(2015)

Nothing can cheer a guy up more than watching a catered event destroyed by a swarm of killer wasps and STUNG is swell enough to overfill my plate by suggesting said wasps also grow to the size of Volkswagens and more than occasionally burst out of people’s skins. If you are a fan of slimy, over-the-top practical effects you’ve just hit pay dirt and then some but stand warned that the characters and story don’t gel any firmer than the rivers of goo. I dunno, I kept feeling like I had caught this flick in the middle even though I hadn’t and I guess I would have appreciated more time to establish things. Still, if you are a fan of say, 1993’s TICKS you are going to want to check this twisted sister out. There’s even a memorable weird-o performance by CLIFTON COLLINS JR. that struck me as possibly inspired by CLINT HOWARD’s turn in that flick. Nope, it’s not nearly as fun as TICKS but it comes a hell of a lot closer to crawling along side it than your standard CGI monster flick.

KRISTY (2014)

Whilst myself and Aunt John were wantonly watching THE UNAUTHORIZED MELROSE PLACE STORY on LIFETIME we were bombarded with ads claiming that a week later we could watch KRISTY, the story of a college lass who skips Thanksgiving break and is fittingly attacked by people wearing aluminum foil masks resembling angry, abandoned baked potatoes. Of course we showed up that very next week but where was KRISTY? She was a no-show and some dumb other thing was presented instead. I figured that was that and I’d never hear of KRISTY again but the fates had different plans and this chilly thriller that concerns itself with random acts of unkindness materialized on our buddy Netflix. The nice thing about KRISTY is that it is a patient movie and it takes it time and it builds some legitimate moments of suspense. The FINAL EXAM campus setting and autumnal atmosphere don’t hurt either. On the minus side, there’s a repetitiveness to the cat and mouse play and when it switches to ye old building weapons and booby traps HOME ALONE-mode, it’s basically paint by numbers. I applaud the build up simmer though and promise to buy it a Mountain Dew and a pumpkin pie for at least being original enough not to utilize tired old livestock masks.

LAST SHIFT (2014)

Wait a minute. This movie got to me. Something about working late at night, alone is so unnerving. LAST SHIFT concerns a lady cop on her first night of work having to hang out at a police station that’s preparing to close so it’s sort of like NIGHTWATCH mixed with ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 but with a hell’o bunch of super-yikes supernatural shenanigans going down. There’s one shot that I truly hated involving JACOB’S LADDER-style shaking figures that I felt was way too dated and obvious but otherwise LAST SHIFT is a surprisingly eerie effort and seriously supplies the mind-trippy spooks. The make up is amazing. There’s a demon face that appears in this flick that I felt compelled to turn away from that puts that Bugaboody dude from SINISTER to abject shame. Huh, so I guess as far as actually scaring me, this LAST SHIFT picture takes the prize. Who’d have thunk? Then again, I was watching some sitcom on TBS and they thought it might be a good idea to advertise an upcoming show about bugs by having a giant striped cockroach of some sort crawl over their logo on the corner of the TV screen and it almost made me simultaneously loose my lunch and my feeble sanity so maybe it’s just my state of mind. All right, I’m going back to bed.

EPILOGUE: G.I. JOE episode: There’s No Place Like Springfield

We received a traumafession years ago about this episode of the animated G.I. JOE series concerning sailor extraordinaire “Shipwreck” and his mental unraveling as he discovers he is living in false reality and witnesses trusted allies transforming into wailing blobs of molten gray sludge on several occasions. I’d like to know why it’s being shown at 5 in the morning when I can’t sleep. Why?

NOTE: The very top image is of a painting by artist HUEY CROWLEY and I had zero permission to hang it sideways.

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

The Final Girls (2015)

October 14th, 2015 · 1 Comment

There I was sitting on a curb waiting for a waaahhhm-bulance because it was almost mid-October and I had no reliable prospects as far as a new, decent horror movie went. CRIMSON PEAK looked splendid but it was yet to be released and the only horror representative playing in the theater was GREEN INFERNO which I’d heard was OK-ish but still looked about as appealing as a LIMP BIZKIT reunion to me. But then Mr. Aunt John suggested we watch THE FINAL GIRLS because, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, it was available on demand for way cheaper than any movie ticket and guess what?! It turned out to be better than so very much of the stuff I shelled out twice as much for and I didn’t even have to leave my house and court bedbugs! In fact, I just invited a chum over to watch it again before it expires!

I’ll be for real with y’all and admit that I’m not the biggest fan of reductive terms like “final girl” especially when attached to bogus slasher “rules” about characters needing to maintain their virginity in order to survive. I know it makes folks feel clever and academic to speak of such things but I’ve got shelves of movies that tell a different story. I’m putting that out there to let you know that I had that little hurdle to jump over before me and THE FINAL GIRLS got cozy. I suppose somebody was going to utilize the popular buzz term as a title eventually (2015 also saw the release of a non-plural FINAL GIRL movie with ABIGAIL BRESLIN) and it’s good news that this movie makes it such an easy pill to swallow by being so genuinely funny, heartfelt and all around affable (i.e. non-douchey).

As it turns out, THE FINAL GIRLS is far from your standard condescending mockery of the delicious slasher tropes some of us authentically adore. It does make light of several clichés but its main interest is affectionately pointing out how blurry the line between our lives and movies sometimes get. Anyone who has ever used a movie to escape from life’s darker realities is going to have zero problem connecting with this flick. It’s kind of THE WIZARD OF OZ of horror films and the way it speaks about relationships, loss and even the ability for people to break out of the limiting way they might view themselves is truly noteworthy. Gosh darn it, something got in my eye when I watched this and that’s my favorite thing in the world.

I do have two complaints though and I’m going to share them because it’s important to remember you don’t have to like every single thing about something in order to love it. Firstly, there was a giant missed opportunity here to get some laughs from over-the-top gore. Due to most of the action taking place in a false, dream-like reality I’d assume the movie could get away with more than most and I for one would have enjoyed that. Secondly, and I know I’m being persnickety here, but I really hated the killer’s mask! Is that too incidental to complain about? I dunno. The rest of the movie was so spot on visually that it was kind of a glaring lack of taste in my book. Making it worse, the killer carved the mask himself, which means the sky was the limit as far as what it looked like and it ended up looking like a froggy-tiki mask. Maybe it will grow on me. I plan to return to this jaunt many times in the future, so we’ll see.

Those little qualms aside, there’s not much to complain about here. The script by JOSHUA JOHN MILLER (Yay, TEEN WITCH!) and M.A. FORTIN is rather brilliant in the way it juggles the familiar while still bringing something uniquely its own to the table. TODD STRAUSS-SHULSON’s direction too is a breath of fresh air and it’s so nice to catch something in the genre that is so colorfully epic looking rather than relentlessly poseur gray.

Horror comedies are famously difficult to pull off, so in the future let’s say we all take a tip from THE FINAL GIRLS and cast people who are actually funny? ADAM (WORKAHOLICS) DeVINE, THOMAS (SILICON VALLEY) MIDDLEDITCH, ALIA (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) SHAWKAT and especially ANGELA (HALLOWEEN II) TRIMBUR basically hit everything thrown at them out of the park. AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s TAISSA FARMIGA is the real deal and somehow able to convincingly alter her age three years using little more than a pony tail and facial expressions and I gotta say the MVP award goes to MALIN ACKERMAN (who is also great in another comedy/horror, 2013’s COTTHAGE COUNTRY). She’s pretty much the heart and soul of the movie and like the movie itself, she’s hard not to love.

NOTE: YOU can see THE FINAL GIRLS! If it’s not at a theater near you or available on your cable service, it’s all over your computer on iTunes and Amazon and Google and such. Trust me, it’s the cure for whatever ails ya and the treat that horror fans deserve this Halloween.

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Tags: General Horror