Leprechaun Returns (2019)

I just had to rent LEPRECHAUN RETURNS from my local Redbox. The pull was irresistible. This is just who I am. I can’t say no to a straight-to-video horror sequel no matter how unpromising it may look. I will watch any HOWLING, CHILDREN OF THE CORN or HELLRAISER that is thrown at me. I’ve also got a massive soft spot for irreverent cartoon villain horror flicks and feel a profound sadness that RUMPLESTILTSKIN, PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE and DOLLY DEAREST are one-offs. It’s in my video store blood. Something in my heart assures me that even if the movie is bad if I drink enough beer while watching it, I will feel one hundred percent safe from the horrors of the world. I know what I’m doing. I even told myself that if LEPRECHAUN RETURNS was horrible that I was not allowed to grumble while making the long walk back to the grocery store in the summer heat to return it because what the hell did I expect? Of course, it wasn’t going to be good. The reality is the idea of renting a LEPRECHAUN movie has always been a lot more fun than the actual watching of a LEPRECHAUN movie (except maybe Part 4 IN SPACE which is pretty darn hilarious). My expectations were low. All I wanted was a time killer and maybe the nostalgic rush of feeling like I was renting from a mom and pop video store circa 1996-ish. Here’s the twist…I kind of loved it. In fact, I think it’s the LEPRECHAUN sequel I’ve always wanted. It’s the best since the first (I realize that’s not saying much but I do enjoy the original, silly as it is).

Much like last year’s HALLOWEEN, LEPRECHAUN RETURNS wipes the sequel slate clean and is a direct continuation of the first film. It takes place in the same house (which is now home to a sorority), involves the daughter of the original’s heroine and even sports a twenty-five years older survivor (MARK HOLTON). The most profound alteration is the recasting of the titular menace but remarkably, newbie LINDEN PORCO does an exceptional turn in place of WARWICK DAVIS (and sorry, he might even be an improvement). Director STEVEN KOSTANSKI (THE VOID) got his start in make-up effects, which ensures that the diminutive demon looks more horrific than ever before. PORCO’s take is much more fairy tale cackling witch-like and he’s prone to ripping his face off revealing a grimacing skull for added terror. The effects across the board are consistently top-notch and the creative kills are timed perfectly following the old school slasher template. The cast is pretty great too. Lead TAYLOR SPREITLER as Lila is so down to earth normal and likable and she’s got wonderful comic timing. She kind of reminded me of a young LINDA BLAIR and I don’t say that lightly. As you’d expect, there’s a plethora of one-liners, sight gags, and double entendres; some definitely land better than others but it wouldn’t really be a leprechaun movie without a couple of dad-joke groaners. Most importantly, the movie is fun. It knows exactly what made flippant horror sequels such crowd pleasures back in the day and it delivers the goods.  

This isn’t prestige horror and that’s precisely the point. I can’t tell you it’s not goofy because it was built to be goofy but goofy is such a much-needed commodity these days. It brings me such joy. I know it’s lowbrow but it’s lowbrow in a way that high brow just can’t compete with- sorta like a hot dog. If you don’t like dopey movies feel free to skip right past this but if you enjoy, snickering gore, Mr. Roper-esque 4th wall destruction and MAD Magazine level wise cracks, you’re in for a pot of gold. Personally, I needed the guffaws and let me say there’s a celebrity impersonation within the movie that made me laugh out loud (it’s kinda brilliant). They really went out of their way to honor the first entry (awww, the little guy is still obsessed with organizing shoes!) and it did my heart good to see the OG respected in such a way.  The poor leprechaun has always been regulated to the second tier horror icon ghetto (with folks like WARLOCK and THE WISHMASTER) and perhaps rightly so considering how lackluster his continuing adventures have been. If the little guy got a follow up like this in the first place maybe that wouldn’t have been the case. As someone who had a blast seeing the original in the theater, I have to say this is the very first sequel that didn’t leave me with a feeling of disappointment. Some say the third times the charm but in this case it’s the seventh. Looks to me like this series luck has finally changed or maybe I’m just partial to redheads.

Traumafession:: Unk on Demon Seed (1977)

In my tiny head, I think I can divide the types of movie scares that hit me hardest into three major categories. The first type of scare is PHYSICAL and it covers the fear of injury, violence, body damage and mutation. The second is SPIRITUAL and includes ghosts, demons, the supernatural and the unknown. The third is MENTAL which covers the fear of insanity head-trip movies and anything that’s just so dang weird that it leans toward madness. DEMON SEED covers all three of those bases but for me, it especially hits that last category really hard. DEMON SEED (especially its bonkers climax) freaks me out basically just because it’s so insistently bizarre.

I recently re-watched DEMON SEED to confirm the recollections that my accosted brain failed to bury after catching it on a local channel afternoon broadcast in the early eighties. It seems I remembered the insanity accurately as this movie makes me feel like CHARLES GRODIN trying to decipher MARTIN SHORT’s infuriating oddness in CLIFFORD (“Can you act like a real human boy for one minute here?”) DEMON SEED, which is somehow about a computerized house deciding to rape a woman and force her to have its impossible baby contains crazy 2001-style psychedelic strobe effects, an abundance of nutzo slow-mo dissolves and a truly bizarre score that sounds like a robot being tortured in hell. On second thought this movie is one of those rare birds that is actually more disturbing than I remember it.

I hate to spoil the ending but the crazy computer’s plan to create a hybrid robot/human baby is shockingly successful. Trapped victim Susan (the superb JULIE CHRISTIE), who has really been put through the wringer at this point, is not keen on welcoming the abomination into the world and tries to pull the plug but ultimately fails. The “baby” emerges from the machine covered in goo and insect-like metallic scales and looks a hell of a lot like the mask in the MR. ROBOTO video by STYX (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an inspiration). But forget the molten lava Buddha bad looks- the awful screeching sounds it makes really get under the skin. I thought the robot’s nightmarish voice was bad enough but the newborn sounds like an animal getting run over by a car and I’m not here for it. Eventually, we’ll find that the monster has a kid under its shell that seems to be a perfectly engineered clone of the daughter poor Susan had lost but before you can get sentimental, it opens its mouth and starts talking like the computer! This leads to the camera going into a close-up of the child’s eye and more drugged-out strobe effects. It’s an ordeal, folks. DEMON SEED, I don’t need to watch you again for a couple more decades. We good. 

The Child (1977)

Although it comes off as almost ramshackle at times, 1977’s backyard terror-tyke/zombie fest THE CHILD has a strange, eerie magic that’s hard to dismiss. A spooky campfire story atmosphere radiates from out of the gate as howling winds, gnarly silhouettes of twisted trees and stock footage of lightening (that’s the same bolt that downed the S.S. Minnow!) converge to frame a lone traveler who has lost her way. LAUREL BARNETT stars as Alicianne Del Mar who has been recently hired to nanny young Rosalie Nordon (ROSALIE COLE), a girl who lost her parents, lives with her gramps and older brother Len and congregates in the local graveyard commiserating with ghouls. Rosalie is a charmless twelve-year-old who giggles at a story concerning poisoned Boy Scouts, feeds helpless kittens to the undead and tends to yell every line for a non-existent back row theater audience (“I don’t have to tell YOU anything!!!”). Although it’s never explained in the slightest, she also has telekinetic powers and uses said powers to orchestrate zombie mob raids against those that perturb her.

Director ROBERT VOSKANIAN does so much with an obviously minuscule budget. There’s a persuasive otherworldly tone throughout the film and almost every shot is creatively presented in a subtle off-kilter fashion. The entire movie is awkwardly dubbed and most of the dialogue is disjointed and askew but somehow what should be the film’s downfall ends up only adding to the overall hypnotic strangeness. There’s some kind of weird poetry going on in this grim grindhouse fairy tale that reminded me of LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF TERROR but with less likable characters and a somewhat irritating soundtrack. As much as there’s plenty to find fault with, I can’t possibly pretend I’m not down with a rough around the edges killer kid flick. THE CHILD gleefully rides the same short bus as CATHY’S CURSE (’77), DEVIL TIMES FIVE (’74) and even KISS DADDY GOODBYE (’81) and so resistance for me is as they say, futile. My biggest complaint would be the handling of the protagonist nanny who becomes instantly useless when the shit hits the fan. I’m not sure I’d be much help in a zombie fight either but I’d like to think I’d do more than cover my ears (?) and scream.

THE CHILD is currently looking bright and crisp on Blu-ray as part of Arrow Video’s AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT VOL 2 alongside fellow independent obscurities DARK AUGUST and DREAM NO EVIL (reviews pending). It comes boasting a plethora of great bonus features curated by Stephen Thrower, author of the fantastic tome NIGHTMARE USA: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE EXPLOITATION INDEPENDENTS. Thrower really knows what he’s talking about and is an enthusiastic, long-time champion of THE CHILD. I’m not sure everybody is going to feel the same way about this strange little movie but if you have a taste for homemade oddities, this is quite the semi-gory charmer. It truly does emit a bizarre frequency all its own and watching it is like being transported to a seventies-era drive-in. Sure, it requires that you forgive more than a few blemishes (most of them budget-related) but in exchange, you get an eerie killer kid movie wrapped in a zesty zombie flick and in my book, that’s two great tastes that taste great together. Come for the brat, stay for the undead!


Hey, just last week I was saying that I dug the low challenge comfort horror of a certain cursed doll movie and stated I was fine getting my nerves rattled elsewhere. Well, leave it to ARI ASTER the director of the soul-curdling HEREDITARY to take me up on the offer and deliver a giant slice of uncomfortable dread cake covered in the most colorful sprinkles human eyeballs can endure. Love it or lump it, MIDSOMMAR is quite the cinematic experience. It’s visually stunning, emotionally ravaging, weirdly funny and surprisingly satisfying as a covert revenge flick. Much like his previous trepidation fueled puzzle box, MIDSOMMAR is constructed with great precision and you’re sure to find yourself connecting dots hours after you leave the theater. There are so many secondary subliminal images that you may start to doubt your own perception. As someone who is terrified of travel and the prospect of hallucinating, this flick didn’t have a hard time getting under my skin. Have you ever played a video game so long that the images and colors get grafted on the inside of your eyelids and then you’re cursed to see them even when your eyes are closed? This movie did that to me. I feel like got a tattoo in my head.

FLORENCE PUGH is impeccably authentic as Dani, a young woman who is suffering after an unspeakable family tragedy. Afraid to be alone with her torturous feelings she tags along with her increasingly insensitive boyfriend Christian (JACK REYNOR) to Sweden to attend a cult-like commune’s celebration with his shady bros. Once there, the too trusting group (who clearly have never seen THE WICKER MAN) are exposed to various hallucinogens, lovely folk art, assisted (with a mallet) suicide, an inbred oracle, bear abuse, a plethora of impressive flower arrangements and one of the most uncomfortable sex acts ever committed to film (leave the kids at home). It’s really a whole hell of a lot to take in and it’s quite the ordeal at times but somehow Dani’s psychological baggage gets intertwined with the festivities and it’s kind of rewarding to see her work through her pain. Sure, she’s surrounded by lunatics but they’re some of the most empathetic lunatics you could ever meet! It’s also very safe to say that Dani learns that she doesn’t really need her boyfriend Christian as much as she thought she did. It’s a real Oprah “ah-ha” moment except with multiple casualties.

ARI ASTER clearly has a talent for making his audience squirm but what I find so fascinating about him is how adept he is at characters. By the end of the movie, I felt like I had actually met new people and spent real time with them. There’s an incredible exchange early on in which Dani confronts Christian about not being fully honest with her in regards to the impending trip and he so smoothly manipulates her that she ends up apologizing for even asking. Rather than present Christian as a cartoon douchebag begging for a comeuppance, it’s easy to believe that even he’s not aware of how low key toxic their relationship has become. Something tells me that even if this couple decided to stay home something equally horrifying would have found its way to them.

At two and a half hours, MIDSOMMAR is not exactly your Friday night multiplex barnburner and like ASTER’s previous film it’s sure to not be everybody’s cup of laced tea. Having said that, this is no way a retread of the director’s debut. Although it too is committed to dredging up levels of emotional suffering rarely exposed MIDSOMMAR, with its searing brightness, ethereal setting and fish out of water cultural ribbing, is unmistakably its own snarling beast. It’s a trip, in more ways than one, and like surviving a dysfunctional relationship like the one it cleverly dismantles, you might not be the same person when it’s over.

Annabelle Comes Home

ANNABELLE COMES HOME is some healing, good-natured horror comfort food. It delivers in the spooky scares department and harbors a potent enough current of demonic chaos yet still plays as mellow as a seventies-era pop song. You wouldn’t think a movie about a cursed doll that acts as a magnet for evil entities would be the feel-good, positive energy spouting flick of the summer but for me it is. Heck, even the simple act of offering a portal into a time when cell phones didn’t exist, grocery store prices were reasonable, board games were abundant and shag carpets covered every inch of the floor was chicken soup for my horror soul. I guess it’s overall rather tame (why in the world is it rated R? It should be mandatory slumber party viewing) but I can have my nerves challenged elsewhere; it’s kind of a nice summer respite just seeing decent people doing decent things every once in a while. This movie is old school fun. It’s sort of like THE GATE (teens battle the supernatural while parents are away CAT IN THE HAT-style), 13 GHOSTS (a menagerie of baddies crash the party) and maybe a little bit of FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES (please respect the cursed objects!). It’s also so much about dealing with grief and loss and residual guilt and it’s all handled sharply.

I also dug this movie because it gave me the opportunity to vicariously experience the wonder of having VERA FARMIGA and PATRICK WILSON as parents. We’re back in THE CONJURING universe and the aforementioned are of course (super generously) portraying paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (the film is actually dedicated to Lorraine who recently passed away). The two are leaving their young daughter alone for the night with a babysitter and what could go wrong as long as nobody goes into the room filled with the cursed objects from hell? Daughter Judy (I just heard the theme song to the THE JETSONS in my head) is played by McKENNA GRACE who is the heir apparent to the child star throne recently vacated by DAKOTA FANNING and previously occupied by JODIE FOSTER (If you’ve seen MIKE FLANAGAN’s HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE you know how talented she is). MADISON ISEMAN is the refreshingly humble and likable blonde babysitter Mary Ellen and KATIE SARIFE is her troublemaking best bud Daniela who surprisingly shifts gears to become the heart of the film. I won’t reveal all of the SCOOBY DOO-like supernatural no-good nicks who materialize but I will say I want to know more about the wind-up monkey with the cymbals.

All in all, this is a well-done side mission in JAMES WAN’s CONJURING world. It brings a flavor all of its own by adding more humor and letting things become more surreal and dream-like and less grounded in reality. In that way, it also brought to my mind STUART GORDON’s DOLLS with its use of a limited setting and its taking place in one evening “the longest night in the world”. Although mostly beautifully handled, I will say that some of the cinematography comes across a little too dark and murky but it’s kind of a nice contrast when the spell has been lifted and everything begins to glow with the brightness of a brand new demon-free day. I found the ending rather moving as the characters have all grown to trust each other and Judy who has been ostracized by her peers (for her parents dabbling in the occult) is ultimately embraced and celebrated. It’s all very corny but that’s what I needed (a tender moment of guidance between Lorraine and repentant Daniela really got to me too).

If you like haunted house flicks, writer GARY (IT, THE NUN, the two previous ANNABELLE flicks) DAUBERMAN’s directorial debut is a fun stand-alone, low investment, cozy as hell, nostalgic spook dispenser that’s perfect for the heart of summer. As with the doll’s sophomore outing ANABELLE: CREATION, I ultimately found the bizarre looking toy to be the least interesting thing inside the much more enthralling canvas that surrounds it but I guess that’s how the little dickens operates. The titular character may not amount to too much but she sure keeps great company. This is certainly not the most satisfying flick in the CONJURING canon but it may be the best suited for many a casual re-watch at home (especially when babysitting).