Around the age of 4, I was spending time at my Mamaw and Papaw's house which certainly wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Some of my happiest childhood memories took place inside their home and, usually, on the carpet in front of their RCA TV set or behind their recliners where they kept a handy dandy VHS rewinder so that they could always rewind the tapes before returning them to the video rental store. Yes, fine upstanding citizens, my grandparents. Beverly Sutphin approved! On this day, we were only stopping by for a few minutes and I headed into their wood-paneled TV room to see what they were watching. On screen, I saw a bespeckled man grabbing a late-night snack in a kitchen when his steak started moving across the counter with an icky squishing sound. Before long, the steak had erupted with all kinds of disgusting looking worms and guts and, to make matters worse, the chicken leg he'd dropped after seeing the shock of this spooky steak had maggots crawling all over it.
Thankfully, someone came in and changed the channel before I could see any more, but the damage was done and I was haunted. I figured I'd never be brave enough to watch this entire movie. Who could be? I couldn't even imagine how scary the rest of the movie had to be. It was several years before I got the courage to rent POLTERGEIST and watch it in its entirety and the rest of this scene, where this man rushes into the bathroom and starts pulling off chunks of his face, caused me to run out of the room with a shriek and come get my parents to take the tape out of the VCR for me, because I didn't even want to go back in that room. I was convinced the titular poltergeist had gotten out through the TV during that scene and was about to run amok in our home. Boy, was I glad I didn't see that full scene during my first encounter with the movie! As the years have gone on, I've certainly seen far more graphic films than POLTERGEIST, but I can't say that I don't always gulp and take a deep breath when I'm rewatching it and this scene's about to come on. Some of those early scares have a surprisingly long shelf life.
UNK SEZ: Thanks for the awesome and relatable traumafession, Chris! POLTERGEIST sure offered a plethora of indelible traumas! Folks, make sure you track down our pal Chris Moore’s latest film, the slash-tastic WHEN THE TRASH MAN KNOCKS! It’s currently stalking Amazon Prime and you can check out the menacing trailer HERE!
DeathDream (1974) and Fiend (1980)
Two movies that are almost the same movie. DeathDream is one of the few truly scary films ever made in my opinion. The plot revolves around a soldier killed in Vietnam returning home to his family but not as he was, no, now he is a sort of zombie-vampire hybrid in need of blood to stave off decomposition. It is oneiric, unsettling and genuinely creepy, as are all of Bob Clarks horror outings. Fiend concerns a supernatural entity which possesses the corpse of one, Mr. Longfellow, then proceeds to move into suburbia and begins murdering and eating its neighbors in order to forestall decomposition. The film creates an atmosphere, not wholly unlike Deathdream which I suspect it drew heavy inspiration from. Sure it has it's flaws, but damn it, I like it.
The Penthouse (1967) and The Swimmer (1968)
Two totally tripped out 60's films. The Penthouse sees an adulterous couple in being terrorized in the titular penthouse by a bizarre group of criminals named Tom, Dick and Harry. The Swimmer recounts the increasingly surreal metaphysical journey of Ned (Burt Lancaster) as he swims home through the pools of his friends and neighbors, or rather, who he thinks are his friends and neighbors and comes to realize home might not always be where the heart is, if you don't have one.
Twisted Nerve (1968) and Straight on Till Morning (1972)
Two films about deranged lovers. Twisted Nerve tells the story of a disturbed young man and the insane things he will do in order to woo the woman of his dreams. Straight on Till Morning flips the script a bit and shows the obsession women have with insane men and the lengths they will go in order to be with them.
Blink (1993) and Mute Witness (1995)
Two movies that show murderers don't discriminate against the handicapped. Blink tells the story of a blind musician who receives an operation to allow her to see, but what she sees she doesn't want to; the murder of her neighbor and that now she is being stalked by the killer. Mute Witness takes place in and around the set of a slasher film in Russia where a mute makeup artist is pursued by the makers of a snuff film she happened upon.
Blind Date (1984) and Nothing Underneath (1985)
Two movies about guys who witness murders. In Blind Date, we follow a blind guy as he tracks a serial killer in Greece by way of a tape player that allows him to see and Deanna Troi gets naked. Truly, what more do you need? In Nothing Underneath, an American forest ranger witnesses his model sister's murder in Milan.
A Shock to the System (1990) and American Psycho (2000)
Two horror comedies about killer yuppies. Following an electrocution and after being passed over for a promotion at the large advertising firm he works at for a younger rival and for which his wife berates him, Graham Marshall (Michael Caine) decides to set his life in order by removing from it, all those who have made it miserable, this film was surely an inspiration for the following. No introductions necessary…Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale- who coincidentally would work with Michael Caine on his Batman films- just wants to fit in and does so by being rich, powerful, physically perfect and sadistically killing people.
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).