Unhinged (’82)

I should probably be trying to keep up with all of the new horror movies that have been released this year but I can’t seem to stop returning to my familiar haunting grounds, the eighties. Real world chaos has got me yearning for comfort horror and it’s well recorded that I have a soft spot for slow burn, storm strewn, mansion set, hand wringing horror that preferably features a spinster of sorts and ideally was made in the greatest decade known to man (think THE NESTING, THE HEARSE, THE UNSEEN, SILENT SCREAM, et al.) Don Gronquist’s UNHINGED is just such a film and although it’s widely remembered as an especially non-gory and uneventful video nasty, I personally see it as a go-to easy fix for anything that might ail me. The acting ranks from monotone to cringey, the writing is bizarrely repetitive and needlessly mannered, there are long stretches where characters basically do nothing and yet, I can’t help yearning to bask in its creepy, quiet weirdness from time to time.

Three young, pretty gal pals (Laurel Munson, Sara Ansley, Barbara Lusch) embark on a car trip to a music festival, their journey amplified by bright fall leaves and an ambitious (especially for a 100k film) aerial view that apes THE SHINING. After the car radio alerts them to a recent spat of missing girls, their vehicle inconveniently crashes into a ditch and all goes black (which happens a lot in this movie). The trio finds themselves in a giant spooky mansion having been saved by a likable enough handyman named Norman Barnes (John Morrison) and an uptight shut-in named Marion Penrose (Janet Penner). The PSYCHO references don’t end with those names, Marion’s mother (Virginia Settle) is a paranoid bellowing crone, fixated on sex, who belts out commands and accusations at regular intervals. As accommodating as the Penrose family initially seems, the girls slowly learn that they might be prisoners more than guests as they are stalked by a mysterious mouth-breather and their numbers quickly dwindle.

With all its faults, UNHINGED has tons of character and there’s something about its classic rainy, travelers trapped in an old dark house vibe that I find irresistible. Gorehounds may be let down by the lack of blood but the few killings that do occur are notably vicious and there’s a jar full of eyeballs thrown in as a consolation prize. UNHINGED does indeed take its sweet old time swinging into action but viewers who stick with it throughout its slender eighty minute runtime will be rewarded with a (at least for me) jaw-dropping twist ending that fits all the puzzle pieces together tightly (and perhaps problematically by modern standards). It’s a memorable denouement that cleverly underlines the films assertion that repression is a ticking time bomb. I’d guess the biggest culprit of the film’s less than stellar reputation is the questionable local acting talent who are forced to speak globs of stilted dialogue that often goes in circles but I’m of the thinking it adds to the flick’s charming peculiarity.

UNHINGED may not be the murder by scythe slaughter-fest its poster art implies but its eccentric odd ball nature, objectively creepy atmosphere and beguiling synth score will always keep me coming back to the Penrose estate (Oregon’s Pittock Mansion, an operating museum at the time of filming) for more.

Traumafession:: Unk on The Exorcist (’73)

There’s not much that can be said about William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s brilliant novel THE EXORCIST that hasn’t been said before but I’ll give it a shot. Although I recently watched the film for the umpteenth time, I can tell you that there were many years in which I absolutely wouldn’t dare do so. I thought of it as akin to courting the devil and I guess my ultimate fear was that by watching it, I might become possessed myself. Looking back, I guess there was a lot of magical thinking and supernatural paranoia occupying my head as a kid. As much as I enjoyed watching babysitters and camp counselors get killed in creative ways as a budding horror fan, my bravery evaporated when it came to anything religious or especially, anything dealing with the devil. I believed in that Satan guy until one day I miraculously didn’t and what a relief it was.I still consider myself spiritual to a degree but these days I take everything I absorbed as a child from Sunday school with a hearty pinch of salt. Still, my mind remains open a wee crack, there are no atheists in foxholes after all and who knows what the future will bring. Anyway, when my abject fear of religion hit the high road so did my overwhelming terror of the demonic force in THE EXORCIST. That said, I highly doubt there will ever come a time when I don’t squirm like a worm on a hook during the medical procedures endured by Regan (Linda Blair. Those scenes always make me wince and stand to prove that there are some kindertraumas that you never grow out of.

Luckily, you don’t have to be shaking in your shoes or freaking out in your footwear to enjoy THE EXORCIST. No matter your level of skepticism it’s still an expertly crafted masterwork with a hypnotic score, dynamic acting (the entire cast is impeccable) and an autumnal atmosphere that’s singularly seductive (that scene when Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) strolls through Georgetown sidewalks carpeted with fall leaves as trick or treaters pass to the tune of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” is one of my favorite moments in all of cinema). Even though the lightening quick flashes of Captain Howdy’s pale visage no longer have me hiding under the couch, I’m very far from the mentality of a semi-recent audience I viewed it with who chuckled at every curse word thrown (philistines!). Happily too, I can say that a part of me relates to young Regan’s plight now more than ever before. I don’t know what it’s like to have my head turn three hundred and sixty five degrees but due to recent disappointments, I do understand the urge to stay in bed, use foul language and throw furniture at anyone who dares enter my immediate space. Even if you strip away the film’s blaring religious garments, there still stands a universal clash between the powers of darkness and light, positivity and negativity, and optimism and hopelessness to consider. No one religion owns this eternal struggle that we all participate in every day whether we’re conscious of it or not and you certainly don’t have to be religious to have faith in the power of good and the value of life. In this area, Blatty’s profound, surprisingly sanguine book is more adamantly persuasive than the film in relaying the idea that for as much evil as there is in the world, there is also clear, identifiable goodness as well. I always try to keep that in mind when the pea soup begins to gurgle inside me, waiting to spring forth.

Traumafession:: E.G. on Open Season 2

First off: I am a very sensitive person, and this was especially true when I was a kid. Second: I do not enjoy animals being hurt for any reason. I worry constantly about the safety of my cats and dear god, if anything were to happen to them I’d lose my goddamn mind.So with that in mind, let’s get to the most unlikely source of nightmare fuel: Open Season 2!

I had no problem with the first one. But see, the second one introduces this evil poodle named Fifi who wants revenge on the wild animals…..because one made him back into an electric light that we see the effect of. At that time I had a dog who had all sorts of weird but benign bumps, so a doggie with a big bump wasn’t too big a deal. Then we get to the electrocution proper. So this poodle, who is clearly traumatized, gets zapped by an electric fence. I wish I could say it was a silly thing where his fur pooped up and he got ash all over his face. Just cartoon ridiculousness. It was NOT.

You can see this stuff that’s supposed to be fire but looks more like pink-orange acid blazing a hole in this poodle’s floofy head fur. I was legit concerned at the time that his brain would burn. The burning and the fear of brain roasting was bad enough. A few scenes later we see the effects of the damage…complete with a burn blister and scorched fur.

I very nearly died at seeing all that horror. It upset me so bad I had to finish my lunch later (this was at a school, and the movie was supposed to be a reward for the class-it was not for me!). Thankfully we never finished it, but I read on the internet that by the end of the movie, the poodle’s fur is all burned off. I wouldn’t have survived that, I just know I wouldn’t. This memory still causes me pain to this day and even writing a creepypasta about it didn’t help (though I did wind up with a YouTube reading my pasta, and that was super exciting!). Add in the fact that my best friend at this time had a very sweet bichon named Sugar, who of course was also a white fluffy dog, and this was the worst nightmare fuel I’ve ever had. I don’t know what poodle-hating psychopathic decided to inflict this on innocent kids, but I hope karma bites them right in the-well, you know.

I can’t escape this damn memory. I hope by the time you receive this, I’ll be doing something else and not thinking about this. I’m so sorry if any images accompany this post, folks. I’m so very, very sorry. But yeah, this is definitely trauma so I thought I’d share. I hope none of you have to go through what I did!-E.G.

High Rise Horror

EVIL DEAD RISE has gotten me thinking about all the great horror movies set in skyscrapers and buildings so it seemed like a good time to compile a good old fashioned horror list. These are the flicks that immediately sprung to my mind but as always I’m sure to have missed a few so please add any I missed in the comments section!

We may as well start off with one of the most famous filming locations in horror history, ROSEMARY’S BABY’s gothic ground zero New York’s Bramford building! I’m not above using the cliche that this oppressive structure operates as its own character in Roman Polanski’s satanic classic based on the equally stunning Ira Levin novel.

DEMONS 2 (1986)
A year earlier, Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS (1985) displayed the horrifying results of demonic entities infesting a cinema, this time out, the horde of possessed creatures take over an entire building and turn a birthday party into a living nightmare.

Billy (Zach Galligan) & Kate (Phoebe Cates) find employment working for corporate blowhard Daniel Clamp (frequent baddie John Glover) in a spectacular skyscraper in New York City. Fate insures they’re soon joined by their adorable pal Gizmo who inadvertently spawns trouble in a multitude of new ways.

They’re baaaack again. Little Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke) is ghosted by her parents and sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle (horror royalty Nancy Allen & Tom Skerritt) in a Chicago skyscraper (John Hancock center). Of course, the pre-teen brings heavy baggage in the form of vengeful spirit Reverend Kane and pint-sized well-meaning psychic Tangina (the great Zelda Rubinstein). What more could be said about this underrated sequel that wasn’t mentioned in THIS epic post from years ago?

SHIVERS (1975)
Starliner Towers is a luxury high-rise that has everything! I’m talking a restaurant, a variety store, an olympic-size swimming pool AND an outbreak of parasitic pickle-sized creatures that turn people into crazed orgy loving perverts with violent tendencies. This extravaganza of non-stop body horror could only be an early calling card from Canadian creep-meister David Cronenberg.

THE FACE OF FEAR (1990) I read the book this made for TV movie is based on as a teenager when it was credited to author Brian Coffey. Turns out Coffey was really Dean Koontz who went on to take credit for his work and even co-write the screenplay for this production. Get this: Lee Horsley plays a psychic, former mountain climber with a fear of heights who is stalked by a killer in a high rise with his fiancé Pam Dawber. Where is Mork from Ork when you need him?

CANDYMAN (1992) & (2021)
Supernatural revenge phantom Candyman (The great Tony Todd) is certainly scary but is he as terrifying as Chicago housing project Cabrini-Green? My love for this film is best expressed HERE but in the interest of saving space let’s just say if your bathroom mirror can be removed for access to the apartment next door it’s time to look for some new digs. Note: Don’t sleep on this flick’s impressive 2021 re-boot sequel which feature’s one of cinema’s greatest long shot into a building’s window death scenes.

Directed by horror legends Freddie Francis (THE SKULL, THE PSYCHOPATH, TORTURE GARDEN et. al.) & Ken Wiederhorn (SHOCK WAVES, EYES OF A STRANGER), 1987’s DARK TOWER has nothing to do with Stephen King and everything to do with a Building in Barcelona with a Bad attitude. As if window washing wasn’t a challenging enough job, this petulant premises promises to push you down to the pavement! Don’t believe me? Just ask Jenny Agutter (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), Larry Cohen muse Michael Moriarty ( Q, THE STUFF, IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE, RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT) or Anne Lockhart (John Carpenter’s first choice to play Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN)

Speaking of HALLOWEEN, this made for television thriller was written and directed by John Carpenter and filmed immediately prior to his trick or treat masterpiece. Originally titled HIGH RISE, this suspense tale features Lauren Hutton being terrorized by an unknown pursuer in her luxury LA apartment building. Playing a supportive co-worker and neighbor is future Carpenter wife, MAUDE alumni and irrefutable horror royalty, Adrienne Barbeau.

CANNIBAL MAN (1972) This surprisingly moving horror character study (and notorious video nasty) directed by Eloy de la Iglesis features zero cannibalism and is sometimes known as the more appropriate title APARTMENT ON THE 13TH FLOOR. Professional butcher Marcos (Vicente Parra) accidentally kills a taxi driver (it happens) and soon finds himself offing anyone who enters his orbit to cover his earlier crime. 

THE LIFT (1983) & THE SHAFT (aka DOWN, 2001)
Dick Maas is your go-to guy if you’re looking for a movie about an elevator who becomes sentient and decides to kill people. He directed both the 1983 Dutch science fiction horror film THE LIFT and its 2001 American remake starring Aussie THE RING survivor Naomi Watts!

DEVIL (2001)
Speaking of elevators on the fritz, how you like to be stuck in one (in Philadelphia no less) with infamous nogoodnik Satan himself? Would it make you even more unnerved to know what happens next is based on a story by renown brain-twister M. Night Shyamalan?

Well, the whole country has been overtaken by murderous corpses but don’t worry, the wealthy are living it up in a luxury high rise known as Fiddler’s Green. And who better to be in control of what’s left of society than wild-eyed live-wire Dennis Hopper? Comeuppance ensues.

CITADEL (2012)
This highly underrated psychological thriller taps into your every urban paranoia while also triggering the parental fear of protecting the vulnerable. Aneurin Barnard stars as agoraphobic Tommy who grieves his wife who died due to a violent gang assault and must protect his infant daughter from hoodie heathens that surround his rundown building. If you’ve ever been mugged this flick is an incessant fountain of nerve-jangling stress.

Monstrous aliens with super cool glowing teeth take on a gang of young street thugs (including John Boyega) in a Council estate in south London. There’s more action, humor and pure awesomeness on display here than you can shake a stick at!

HIGH RISE (2015)
It’s not exactly a horror movie but this opulent adaptation of the novel by J.G. Ballard novel sports a whirlwind DAY OF THE LOCUST scorched earth conclusion that distresses to the core. Featuring a stacked cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, Sienna Miller and directed by Ben Wheatley (KILL LIST), this visually stunning, seventies-set, apartment complex as ant farm look at society’s self destructive nature has one too many dog endangerment scenes to become a favorite but is a highly memorable experience all the same.

Evil Dead Rise (2023)

I’m not the type to look a gore strewn gift horse in the mouth and I eventually got on the same blood splattered page as EVIL DEAD RISE but it sure took a while. Maybe I was in a persnickety mood but I sure took my time buying what writer/director Lee Cronin was selling. Ya see, there’s this dilapidated apartment building that used to be a bank and one day an earthquake creates a hole in the parking lot/basement that leads to a forgotten vault. Foolishly a curious kid crawls through the opening and fortuitously comes across not only a cursed book of the dead but some jinxed vinyl recordings to boot. I guess that’s believable enough but the teens involved were also on a pizza run (to Henrietta’s Pizza Parlor, wink-wink) and they drop their pies on the ground during the quake and immediately declare them unsalvageable. Who does that? I don’t care how much a pizza is squashed, unless it’s covered in broken glass and gravel, you can still eat it! No soldier left behind! Even more awkward is that when the kids tell their mom that the pizza was destroyed during the devastating act of nature, she comforts them by telling them that they’re more important than pizza (which is not much of a compliment and somewhat debatable).

Yet, I’m willing to look past this film’s problematic view on pizza and it’s cringey use of an obligatory drone in the opening scene to establish how modern and contemporary it is. Turns out all I needed to get on board with this new take on THE EVIL DEAD was for the mother character to get possessed and literally shake me into submission. Alyssa Sutherland plays Ellie, a single mom of three (two teens and a moppet) who is the first to succumb to the diabolical evil and with her Jack o’-lantern smile (an unholy cross between The Joker and NEWHART’s Mary Frann) and eyes that could stare rust onto a can, she graciously takes command of the entire movie. Happily the monstrous mother has a worthy foe in her reluctantly heroic sibling Beth (Lily Sullivan) who smoothly grab’s Ash’s chainsaw baton and fittingly ends up redder than the devil on an Underwood ham can.

Is this the type of sequel I, an oldster, would personally envision for the beloved EVIL DEAD franchise? Nah, but that’s OK, I feel like the ASH VS EVIL DEAD series fulfilled me in that regard. I think it’s actually honorably bold to shoot off into semi- uncharted territory even if the end result seems more like a remake of DEMONS 2 (’86) than anything else. I’m a little disappointed that the infestation we endure here is limited to one single floor of the building but it does add a certain element of claustrophobia that might not exist otherwise (plus, I understand if it was simply more budget friendly). It’s possible the unhealthy family dynamics were not mined as deeply as they could have been but I have a feeling they’ll ampliphy upon repeat viewings. The important thing here is the refreshing, almost exhilarating level of gore and the two mesmerizing central performances. I do miss the utterly woebegone vibe of 2013’s installment but this newbie may delivers a more satisfying final boss battle in the end. Quibbles aside, it’s a satisfying excursion that’s sure to keep audiences floating on their toes.

My Kindertrauma:: Shock Waves (’77) By Unk

It’s somehow already time for my yearly ritual of shoving my air-conditioner back into my window and settling in for six months of sunless movie watching hibernation. I’ve never been a fan of summer and recall as a child much preferring the giant box TV in my family’s air-conditioned upstairs rec room (complete with olive green shag carpeting, bicentennial wallpaper and a ping pong table that could be covered in sheets and used as a fort) to playing whatever impossible sport my brothers might be up to outside under the unforgiving, freckle-inducing sun. It makes little sense but somehow back in the days when you only had six or seven channels to choose from, there seemed to be so much more to watch on television. I was game for whatever horror film might be showing on my favorite local channels (17, 29, 48) and one bright summer afternoon I was thoroughly creeped out by Ken (EYES OF A STRANGER (’81), THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II (’88)) Wiederhorn’s SHOCK WAVES. It may have been 100 degrees outside but where I sat watching this strange flick (which featured horror legends Peter Cushing & David Carradine) it was as cold and clammy as a tomb.

Having been completely mentally destroyed by the TV movie SATAN’S TRIANGLE (‘75) years earlier, I was no doubt an easy mark for the maritime madness SHOCK WAVES had to offer. The film begins with an unhinged survivor named Rose (the always great BROOKE ADAMS) being found alone in a small boat who recounts the horrible events that led her to such a state. It seems she and a group of tourists (including FLIPPER’s pal Luke Halpin) were sailing along minding their own business, when unexplainable solar flare business occurred (shades of WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? (‘74) and their navigation system went on the fritz (like every freaky Bermuda Triangle tale that loitered in my brain throughout my youth). What’s more, late at night, their little S.S. Minnow-looking boat was sideswiped by an obviously haunted colossal Nazi cargo boat (that foreshadows DEATH SHIP (‘80)) and is left slowly sinking. The luckless group evacuate to a nearby island on a lifeboat and find shelter in a seemingly abandoned hotel, but wouldn’t you know it, they are followed by an undead Nazi death squad who walk flat on the ocean floor (!) while donning (admittedly fashionable) goggles. I shouldn’t have to say this but Nazis are never a good thing and soon they’re executing the ship’s sadsack “survivors” one by one!

I’m not sure why anyone would make a PG-rated Nazi zombie movie but here we are and frankly this outing proves without a shadow a doubt that you don’t need gore and violence when you’re sporting eerie heebie-jeebies up the wazoo. Remarkably, most of the deaths are by drowning and many occur off screen. Someone might be walking about when a Nazi corpse pops up behind them and the next thing you know, the poor victim is found crammed into an aquarium or floating in a pool. You’d think that slight of hand might curb the chaos but it only seems to add another level of futility to the character’s plight.

SHOCK WAVES runs on pure ambiance and atmosphere; the electronic score weaves its way into your psyche and the stark visuals are truly unsettling. These baddies are not your typical messy, uncouth evil dead, they’ve got some kind of epic stoicism about them so it’s almost like being stalked by a half dozen Michael Myers-type figures who can pop up anywhere and totally ignore the laws of the physical world. Whatever lapses in logic or potholes that may appear are quickly doused and muted by the overall inescapable fever dream energy. Half of my brain will always try to convince myself how silly SHOCK WAVES is (that zombie walking on the ocean floor is somehow both awkwardly cringey AND eerily stunning), but the other half will forever succumb to its forceful uncanny vibe.

Name That Trauma:: G. Trout on Black Eyed Fire Safety Children

I remember a PSA from the 70s which involved a woman presenting two children with a tray of matches, a silver platter as a matter of fact. The narration said something like ‘don’t leave matches where kids can find them , it’s like handing them to them on a platter’

The utterly creepy thing I remember is for some reason, I don’t know if it was the film stock or the poor photography but the two kids seemed to have black eyes liked the fabled black eye children. I also remember the source noise being particularly loud

I was sitting on the floor at a friends house with his parents in the basement on a weekend. Probably watching Hee Haw or something. When the ad concluded the room was stricken with dead silence. 

I’ve scoured YouTube and the like for this and was wondering if you or your evil minions have ever heard about this?

G. Trout

My Kindertrauma:: Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (’72) By Avayander

What happens when an impressionable child who has been fed a steady diet of divine wrath stumbles upon a simple 70s horror movie innocuous enough to be broadcast in its entirety on daytime television? Why Kindertrauma of course!!!

My Kindertrauma didn’t come from one of the brilliant horror movies of the 70s. There are a lot of elements to this story that make me cringe, but the fact that it only took a low budget shocker to fry my electronics is one of the biggest. It would make more sense if my meltdown came at the hands of The Exorcist. Instead I have to admit that I was wound up so tightly that it only took exposure to Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things to make me snap. I must have been a fun kid.

To understand how Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things kicked the box of bees in my brain I need to get into how the box got there in the first place. So if the subject of organized and disorganized religion makes you squeamish, best stop now. There’s no pro or con bullshit in here though, just an individual story of a kid muddling up cosmic concepts because his mind was better suited for Legos and breakfast cereal.

And muddle I did. By age eight I was already crammed with misunderstandings and contradictions that needed to be addressed, but Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things ensured I wouldn’t get to gradually sort through my metaphysical junk drawer at my own pace. That movie found me at just the right time to wreak the most havoc on my psyche and when it was done I was literally left standing in an empty field afraid of what was left of the universe. That last bit is going to require some explaining, so…Kindertrauma ahoy! -Avayander

UNK SEZ: Avayander sent us an awesome traumafession but it’s a bit long so we will continue it in the comment section! Come join us!