The Night Visitor (1971) and You'll Like My Mother (1972) Two Scandinavian winter thrillers. The Night Visitor follows the nocturnal exploits of a Nordic mental patient played by Max Von Sydow, seeking revenge on his family and others who railroaded him for murder and subsequently had him institutionalized. You'll Like My Mother, stars Patty Duke as a pregnant widow travelling out the family estate of her former husband in the wilds of Minnesota (Minnesota is basically Scandinavia, isn't it?) during a snowstorm for some warmth and kindness from the family she's never met. She soon discovers things are seriously amiss in this isolated and claustrophobic setting, everyone might not be whom they appear to be and there may be another seriously dangerous presence in the house.
Night Must Fall (1964) and Torment (1990)
Two films about psychotic killers set in English country homes. Night Must Fall is a remake of a 1937 film, which itself is a film adaptation of a 1935 play about a superficially charming young man who is really a psychotic axe murderer, played by Albert Finney who weasels his way into the home of a wealthy dowager. Torment is an under-seen film about a pop singer who retires to the country because she's burned out and seeking inspiration for her next big hit. She passes her time by employing a handyman who becomes her lover and enduring the company of her overbearing sister and choreographer. Turns out that lover boy is actually a psycho killer; though she's not the type to let that ruin things, as we come to find there might not be that much difference between them, after all.
Cold Steel (1987) and Ricochet (1991)
Two films about criminals seeking revenge on a cop who crossed them. Cold Steel is a Christmas themed action crime thriller in which a detective (Brad Davis) seeks to avenge the murder of his father who was killed by a psycho named Isaac (Jonathan Banks in an outstanding performance) as revenge for the incident which left him crippled as well as untangle the mystery surrounding a woman named Kathy (Sharon Stone) who may have her own agenda. Ricochet is another action crime thriller whose plot revolves around a psychotic hitman (John Lithgow) exacting brutal revenge on the district attorney and former cop (Denzel Washington) who arrested him. John Lithgow is really great in this and it goes to show years before he became the Trinity Killer, Dick Solomon was already very pissed.
Fear in the Night (1972) and Night Watch (1973) Two films featuring women recovering from nervous breakdowns. Fear in the Night tells the story of a woman and her teacher husband relocating to a creepy, secluded school where strange and frightening things are happening to her. Night Watch is an excellent twisty-turny film about a woman convinced she has seen a murder in the house next door, but she can't convince anyone else, we aren't sure ourselves, until the surprise ending.
A Reflection of Fear (1972) and Wicked (1998) Two films with serious daddy issues. These are two excellent and discomfiting films about extremely psychologically unstable young people (Sondra Locke and Julia Stiles) whose relationships with their fathers are shall we say "unconventional" and which feature great twists.
Torture Garden (1967) and The House of the Dead (1978) Two top notch, atmospheric anthology films, which deal with fate. The first is set at a carnival sideshow where Dr. Diablo (Burgess Meredith) reveals to a group of wary customers their fates and features stories by Robert Bloch. The second is about an adulterer who takes refuge from a rainstorm in the residence of a mortician who recounts the circumstances which led to the corpses in his parlor coming into his possession.
Hollow Gate (1988) and Moon Stalker (1989) Two excellent low budget slashers which are well paced and very entertaining. Hollow Gate follows a group of friends on their way to a Halloween party being sidetracked into delivering costumes to a homicidal lunatic who proceeds to hunt them down while changing costumes in between each kill. Moon Stalker has a group of people attending a wilderness training program being pursued by a nutjob who starts off in a hooded straightjacket.
If you happen to be a slasher fan (and if you follow these pages, you know I’m a die hard), I highly recommend treading outdoors to catch Eli Roth’s on-point tribute to early eighties slice and dicers, aptly titled THANKSGIVING. I know Roth’s track record is a bit splotchy at best but he wisely does not try to reinvent the wheel here and utilizes his sincere fandom to deliver the gory goods. Based on his infamous and genuinely hilarious faux trailer featured in 2007’s GRINDHOUSE, this thankfully straight forward tribute/parody operates as an earnest love letter to the post HALLOWEEN slasher boom that spurned many a lifelong horror fan like myself. It’s basically forty years in the making and happily Roth is committed to coloring within the lines in his template coloring book, garnishing the tried and true with only welcome advancements in gore effects and a few well earned digs towards the unnerving rise of social media and big box stores. The result is like the holiday itself, unlikely to stun but cozy as hell. In fact, I believe it’s destined to be the first Eli Roth movie I watch more than once (and likely annually).
Way back in 2022, in the town on Plymouth, Massachusetts where historical landmarks and vowel mangling accents reign, a terrible tragedy occurred. A frenzied mob, high on the thought of free waffle irons, stampede the local RightMart store resulting in multiple casualties on Thanksgiving day. A year later, store owner Thomas Right (HOSTEL alumni Rick Hoffman) means to operate as if the incident never occurred but alas, a vengeful killer in a pilgrim outfit and a John Carver mask begins carving up locals connected to the incident in increasing bizarre ways. Naturally Right’s teenage daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque) and her hip circle of SCREAM-ready friends are prime suspects and potential victims. Can good-natured Sheriff Newton (Patrick Dempsey) rifle through the clues and red herrings (oh how love triangles complicate things) in time to catch the killer before every chair at the corpse occupied Thanksgiving table is occupied? Only time will tell as Roth dutifully high-fives nearly every memorably gruesome base (mascot decapitation at the Thanksgiving parade, ALONE IN THE DARK ('82) inspired trampoline kill) previewed in his 16-year-old mock trailer (!). Oh, you’ll guess who the psycho killer is from miles away but that’s how our forefathers would have wanted it.
THANKSGIVING is an unabashed magpie production constructed from a variety of sources but I especially appreciated its allegiance to duel Canadian slasher heavyweights (both from 1981 and produced by John Dunning and Andre Link): MY BLOODY VALENTINE (character actor infused small town with a regrettable past gets spanked for moving on) and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (smug who-done-it? victims awaiting a morbid corpse-ridden ceremony). Interestingly, THANKSGIVING was even filmed in Canada which adds even more spice to the primo-slasher feel. Sporting a creepy plastic mask that recalls every killer from HALLOWEEN to VALENTINE and beyond, the John Carver (couldn’t ask for a more fitting last name) killer is strikingly vicious (silently stalky yet stomp-y when necessary) but earns a thousand extra awe points from me for stopping to feed a scene-stealing house cat (apparently played by one of the same felines who portrayed Church in 2019’s PET SEMATARY). Roth’s THANKSGIVING may not fly and soars with the greats but it’s satisfying, flavorful and there’s nary a dawdling moment. Sure, I’m happily stuffed to the gills with favorite slasher films from yesteryear but I’m glad I saved a little room for THANKSGIVING.
Totally Killer (2023)
I was a bit skeptical concerning TOTALLY KILLER mostly out of loyalty to the fine film that is THE FINAL GIRLS (2015) which it seemed to be aping. In reality, it probably owes more to the HAPPY DEATH DAY flicks and I gotta say it eventually won me over due to its sense of humor and commitment to not caring if I bought its flimsy time travel logic or not. (Ultimately I preferred it to the more tedious HAPPY DEATH DAY films but it can never touch the magic of the aforementioned THE FINAL GIRLS). SABRINA’s forever teen Kiernan Shipka stars as Jamie Hughes, a gal who travels back to arguably the most eighties year in the eighties, 1987 with plans to thwart a slasher serial killer in a mask that resembles Max Headroom. Doing so will hopefully prevent the eventual Halloween night murder of her mother (Julie Bowen of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS ). Bloodshed ensues along with choice tunes by New Order & Bananarama. Much fun is had with Jaimie being consistently shocked by just how casually politically incorrect everyone was back in the day, particularly her beloved parents. Personally I wouldn’t have minded if this bubbly BACK TO THE FUTURE meets (pick an eighties slasher) lark had the gumption to explore darker territory (had more gruesome kills) but it’s got more than a couple twists that keep you guessing and the cast is obviously having a blast with the material. Plus, there can never be too many horror movies that take place on Halloween as far as I’m concerned so I’ll happily add this to my yearly October watch pile.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines (2023)
I love the idea of a PET SEMATARY prequel that explores the town of Ludlow’ Maine’s past, the legend of deceased soldier Tim Baterman, the Native American origin of the cursed gravesite and the youth of cautioning oldster Judd Crandall. I’d certainly prefer it offshoot from Mary Lambert’s beloved take on the material rather than 2019’s misguided remake (I’ll never get over how they were somehow able to strip legendary traumatizer Zelda of her power to terrify) but I'm game to give it a shot. Unfortunately, PET SEMATARY: BLOODLINES frustratingly buries its endless potential along with its notable cast (David Duchovny, Henry Thomas, Pam Grier, Samantha Mathis and likable newcomer Jackson White) in muck both figuratively and literally (the climax degenerates to an underground mud wrestling match). Worse still, there’s an ever prevalent vacuum of actual horror; the undead look merely peeved, zombie cats are AWOL and the audience is inexcusably never assaulted by an actor attempting an irksome Maine accent. In fact, nothing new is offered besides the highly unwanted left field assertion that the reanimated will only die if you destroy their eyes. Lambert’s original take on King’s novel may have been off-kilter (and even courting campy) but at least it was colorful, unpredictable and unafraid to get weird, this true step backwards is just plain toothless.
Woodchipper Massacre (’88)
Here is a reminder that a movie doesn’t have to be technically brilliant to be entertaining. WOODCHIPPER MASSACRE cost a couple hundred bucks to make, was filmed on video in Connecticut in 1988 and is highly flawed (every hokey line is SCREAMED to assure it is recorded) and yet is a surprisingly fun black comedy. It’s sorta a cross between THE CAT IN THE HAT (kids getting into trouble while the authority figure is away) and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (inadvertent murderers make matters worse while attempting to hide their crime). Highly obnoxious Aunt Tess (Patricia McBride), a Halloween-wigged grating cross between “Billie” (Adrienne Barbeau) in CREEPSHOW and Momma (Anne Ramsey) in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, is tasked with caretaking her nephews (writer/director Jon McBride, pipsqueak Tom Casiello) and niece (eye-rolling sarcasm queen Denice Edeal) while their father is away on a nondescript business trip. Aunt Tess is a veritable harpy who when she attempts to confiscate young Tom’s recently acquired RAMBO-knife is accidentally stabbed and killed by it instead. Grim humor abounds as the three resourceful siblings eye the Woodchipper Pop rented out for the weekend to take care of any evidence and an unplanned visit from Tess’s psychotic son complicates matters further. I’m not going to lie, I snickered throughout this movie during a time that I really did not wish to snicker at anything and for that I’m forever in its debt. If you have a sick sense of humor and love to see awful people who beg for a comeuppance get the one they richly deserve, I highly suggest tracking this hilarious homemade treat down (look no further than Tubi).
Oy vey, the missteps, miscalculations and missed opportunities in THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER are legion. It would be nice if an, “Oh well, at least you tried” sentiment were applicable here but I’m not sure this movie even earns that much faith. No late in the game tacked on, finger waving speech about love, understanding and the power of community can diffuse the air of insincere opportunism that permeates throughout this picture. It looks and acts like a movie but it’s hard to see it as anything other than a device built to snatch money from the pockets of the converted with as little effort as humanly possible. I’m sure all involved are fans of the OG so why does this reboot feel like a creaky-wheeled medicine show cart rolling into town steered by a wax mustached charlatan barking, “Two for one sale on possessed girls, today!” The good news is that the blameless saintly duo of Ellen Burstyn & Linda Blair are guaranteed to selflessly hand over their paychecks to worthy causes.
Leslie Odom Jr. plays Victor Fielding, a man who once had to choose between the life of his wife and unborn daughter during a bad-timing, pregnancy meets Haitian earthquake mishap. The ordeal, like many a Sophie’s choice, douses Victor’s belief in a higher power. Thirteen years later, his decision seems clear as he is now raising a spirited teen daughter named Angela (Lidya Jewett) who grieves her mother enough to try to contact her via seance with bestie Katherine (Olivia Neil). Depending on your outlook, the girls are either really good or really bad at communicating with the dead because they go missing for three days and are found in a barn suffering from every lazy writer’s favorite ailment, amnesia (depriving the audience of the film’s potentially most frightening scenes) and (too) slowly escalating demonic possession. Luckily (by the grace of God), Victor lives next door to critic-bait character actress Ann Dowd (whose character is also named Ann) who is not only a nurse at the local hospital but a lapsed would-be nun who eventually orchestrates a potluck-style exorcism that dominates the second half of the film. In order to (try to) insure proceedings are taken seriously, legacy character Chris MacNeil (the always welcome Burstyn) is dusted off for a Ted Talk about how possession and exorcisms are an important part of many religions (and a balanced breakfast) and by the way, Catholics don’t own the corner on them, thank ya much.
David Gordon Green’s scattered collage approach combined with cinematographer Michael Simmond’s makeshift homegrown honeycomb hideout aesthetic previously fit hand in glove with HALLOWEEN’s plucky indie roots (albeit to diminishing returns). The idea though that a monolithic religious epic like THE EXORCIST would work well shoved into the same grungy sausage wrapping is bizarre at best and just plain thoughtless at worst; the result resembles a soap box race car. The contraption is able to periodically stroke the universal fear of sickness befalling a loved one and the innate anxiety of guardianship but it feels more inadvertently dredged from the environment (forever yikes to hospitals) than truly earned. To be fair, every once in a while, a demonic image or two strikes a nerve but they are few and far between in the “see what sticks” barrage. Perhaps there is some campy fun to be had here but it’s the kind that comes almost automatically with a snarling possession film (I mean who doesn’t enjoy freaked-out mortals being roasted by a trolling demonic spirit who thinks it’s Don Rickles) and I'd like to think one of the very few critically lauded horror masterpieces deserves more (at least EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC had tap-dancing). It should go without saying that if you ever have the honor of working with Ellen Burstyn that the least you do, is not saddle her with cringey lines like, “In the name of my beloved daughter Regan…” or have her endure crucifixes being shoved into her eyes. The woman is a horror legend for God’s sake.
It’s October, the autumn air is turning cool and crisp, and I’m itching to watch as many horror movies as I can this month. Every year I make room in the Halloween watchlist for old favorites, but also for relatively new classics. One of those more recent classics is The Lords of Salem (2012). Written and directed by Rob Zombie, The Lords of Salem explores what happens when a Salem, Massachusetts disc jockey becomes dangerously entangled with an ancient coven of Satan-worshipping witches. Zombie’s wife and frequent collaborator Sheri Moon Zombie plays the hard rock DJ Heidi, while horror and cult movie veterans Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, and Ken Foree, among others, round out the cast.
In the decade since its release, The Lords of Salem has become a bit of a cult classic, at least among discerning horror fans who love a good, scary witch story. In my opinion, Zombie has never made a better film. His movies are often hit or miss for me, with House of 1,000 Corpses(2003) and Devil’s Rejects (2005) being major hits, while his two Halloween remakes and 31 (2016) were less impressive. As much as I love House of 1,000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects though, The Lords of Salem exists on a different level. It’s a haunting and impactful work of art, the sort of movie that sticks with you forever, giving you instant shivers any time you recall it’s finest, most disturbing moments.
Zombie establishes a thick, suffocating sense of dread from the start that never lets up. The film is drenched in chilling, autumnal atmospherics. Between cinematography, editing, score, and performances, all elements work in perfect harmony to create something altogether unsettling. There are several disturbing shots in the film that linger in the mind’s eye long after the end credits. Zombie was at his creative peak with The Lords of Salem, no doubt about it. It sure doesn’t hurt that he has legends like Meg Foster and Bruce Davison turning in stellar performances, or that the Salem, Massachusetts locations are obviously perfect for a horror story about witches.
Let’s take a minute to praise Sheri Moon Zombie’s lead performance. Whatever you may think of Mrs. Zombie’s talents, she has earned her stripes in several of her husband’s flicks, during which she’s delivered what the roles demand. In House of 1,000 Corpses, she’s a demented loose cannon, cackling and strutting around the Firefly clan’s house of horrors. With The Lords of Salem, she’s called on to play it much more low key, even solemn at times, and she succeeds at matching the film’s excessively gloomy tone. In her hands, Heidi’s harrowing descent into the ancient coven’s grasp is sad to watch.
Once we realize why the witches want Heidi, it begins to feel like she’s practically helpless to defend herself. That’s a bold move by Zombie: as the movie progresses, any hopes for a happy ending feel increasingly unlikely. If this all sounds like a bummer, it is, but that’s why I love it so much! It commits to relentless tension building and doesn’t give us any easy outs. For me, that’s why The Lords of Salem is Rob Zombie’s masterwork, and the film of his that sits most comfortably alongside other excellent, slow-burn horror classics like Messiah of Evil (1973) and Next of Kin (1982). It’s a remarkable display of restraint from Zombie, a filmmaker more associated with frenzied chaos than with this film’s stark, autumnal horror. If you’re looking for a perfect Halloween season movie to watch on a chilly October evening this year, then turn the lights down low, fire up The Lords of Salem, and prepare to have trouble sleeping that night.
UNK SEZ: Make sure to visit our pal Mike at his home base HERE!
Your standard home invasion is frightening enough but what if you learned the “invasion” in question went far beyond your own home to include say, the entire planet? That’s basically the plight of poor Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever) who, when she’s not wrestling with progressively intimidating alien life forms, builds a scale model of the town that scorns her while mourning the loss of a childhood friend she accidentally killed.
This PG-rated sci-fi horror hybrid could easily crash and burn but thankfully it’s written and directed by our ever reliable buddy Brian Duffield who previously directed the outstanding SPONTANEOUS (2020) and penned such personal faves as LOVE AND MONSTERS (2020) and the highly underrated UNDERWATER (2020, I shall die on this submerged hill). Two standing ovation worthy choices were made by Duffield right from the starting gate. First of all, the aliens are blatant, upfront and in your face rather than stingily kept in the dark until the final curtain and secondly there is no dialogue (except perhaps a line at the beginning). As someone who easily tires of chin music, it’s a refreshing relief and I gotta say, it really works within the film to create an atmosphere of pure urgency. There’s not much else to do in Brynn’s unfortunate situation than shut up and run!
The title NO ONE CAN SAVE YOU works just as much as low key friendly advise as it does a gloomy observation. Brynn’s clearly battling her tragic past as much as the startlingly varied varmints that pursue her. Dever’s expressive mug and girl-next-door demeanor does much to ground the film’s more fantastic elements and make them as creepily believable as an extravagant nightmare. Few action stars endeavor as much as fast on her feet Brynn, and the I’m betting the sight of the imposing alien creatures alone would break the spirit of most. Although Brynn is of few words, while witnessing her ordeal I could not follow suit; I often muttered things like “Oh shit”, “no way” and of course a direct quote from John Carpenter’s THE THING (’82). “You gotta be fucking kidding.” My poor brain was trained to expect shy twiggy ectomorphs who sneak peaks from behind doors like in COMMUNION (’89) or those inquisitive surgery-happy abductors who are happy to ghost you post-examination like in the infamous traumafier FIRE IN THE SKY (’93). I wasn’t ready for giant spider-beings clawing over houses, parasitic throat-dwelling jellyfish and what can only be described as TIK-TOK-baiting intergalactic Vogue-ing.
As eye-popping and over the top as NOBODY IS GOING TO SAVE you is willing to go, it impressively remains a lean, clean, straight forward machine, an apocalyptic character study that expertly juggles both the personal and the infinite. Better still, unlike my own too numerous alien encounters, the events depicted here are memorable enough that I won’t have to resort to expensive hypnotherapy to tearfully recall them! What better praise is there than that? Bonus points are rewarded for the film’s ultimate conclusion that asserts that defiant denial in the face of horrific reality is the key to happiness. I couldn’t agree more.