When I was a kid I didn’t have any question about whether God existed. We had a picture of him in our family photo album. It was a Polaroid of a large head in shadow looking downward through the camera directly at me. Like any decent religious artifact, it elicited equal parts fear and comfort. Eventually I grew older and my fluffy brain began to gel and harden. Caterpillars stopped being my friends, mice stopped operating my innards and the glowing bats that flew over my bed became reflections of car headlights driving by. Eventually the picture of God transformed into a picture of my Dad. What? Yes, the undeniable truth was that my father had simply held the camera below his head, looked down and took a picture of himself. I had misinterpreted the image on a grand scale; my dumb imagination made up the whole thing. My evidence of God was for shit.

I couldn’t help thinking of this disheartening incident while watching RIDLEY SCOTT’S PROMETHEUS. Partially because within the film there exists a giant head that vaguely resembles that old photo and also due to the fact that the movie involves a quest for solid answers that ends in disillusionment. If that were not enough, there are more daddy issues smuggled aboard this ship than a four-year subscription to “Modern Replicant” magazine. A robot is miffed to learn how arbitrary his existence is, one daughter dreams of her dead dad while another wills her pop to croak so she can take over his turf and a molten skinned oldster requests a bigger allowance from a parental being who’d rather deliver a mortal spanking. It’s Christmas day and on everybody’s wish list is something more substantial than blind faith. There may be answers in PROMETHEUS; they’re just unlikely to be the ones we yearn for. As in life, the more you try to focus, the less you see but at some point there is no denying the tentacles.

I saw PROMETHEUS the day it came out, so if this post is late to appear it’s only because I was left nearly speechless. Sure, I’ve talked about it with friends but the idea of cramming the experience into typed words felt untoward. This is a hyper-visual, painterly film and those who gravitate toward dissecting the script and focusing on the narrative alone are missing a great deal. It’s commonplace to accuse anything that is this gorgeous of being empty and relying on style over substance but in my mind, that’s an insult to the infinite power that an image alone can contain. To be honest I was far too immersed and mesmerized by what was before me to be effected by any of the alleged lapses that apparently yanked others out of the film. Maybe that’s just me though, if a character in a movie does something foolish my mind says, “Hey, buddy don’t do that, you’ll be sorry!” not “I wouldn’t do that so therefore this makes no sense.” Which isn’t to say I have not been highly entertained by the mostly intelligent criticism this movie has inspired, it’s just that if you’ve seen PROMETHEUES and you don’t believe that it’s destined for classic status all I can say is…that’s adorable.

Besides the jaw-droppy, awe inspiring overall design and the thought (and controversy) provoking, open to endless interpretation, storyline, we also get an undeniably for the ages performance by MICHAEL FASSBENDER, that is if you can take your eyes off CHARLIZE THERON for a moment which I admittedly had difficulty doing. Perhaps more importantly for our purposes here, I also can tell you that I found myself wincing my face in gleeful fear on at least two occasions and wading in dense dread on several more. Are there things I wish had been done differently? Yep, I’d say several but I wouldn’t trade that for a film created to charm the audience and be forgotten the next day. GUY PEARCE’s character reads (and looks) particularly slack in my opinion but I’ve chosen to play a tiny violin for myself and move on. In other words, count me out of the naysayers club. I’m not simply “choosing to believe” in RIDLEY, I’m choosing to believe that movies don’t have to be subservient to audience expectations to be significant. Those who need everything nailed down for them and desire art without blemishes can scamper to the side away from this rousingly erratic masterwork but I’m going to run straight on forward and happily allow it to fall right on top of me. Youch, that feels good!

The Cabin in the Woods

I got so busy this past weekend I forgot to tell you all about my successful, highly NON-disappointing excursion to see THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. I feel like it might almost be too late as you’ve probably heard the good news elsewhere but if I can convince one fence-sitter to go and check it out, then I’d like to give it a shot. Trouble is, if ever there was a movie you should know little or nothing about before seeing it, it’s this one. So how can I persuade you without wrecking the whole thing? I went twice. Does that work? As soon as the movie was over I checked when the next show time was and then I saw it again. Now, would I do that for a terrible movie? Frankly, yes I would, but you’re missing my point, I had to see THE CABIN IN THE WOODS twice because once was not enough to fully process its wonder. I can’t wait to own this movie because I need to pause it on a couple scenes and nibble every single pixel. I want to watch it with close captioning so that no word can elude me. AMY ACKER is in this. I love her.

So yeah, I may have a bit of a raging predisposition for CABIN too. The sad truth is that for years, while secretly mocking the world’s religions, I have also been hypocritically praying in the temple of JOSS WHEDON. I try to keep a lid on it. I know how it must sound but in the wee hours of the night when nobody’s around, I’m watching a BUFFY episode for the gazillionth time and experiencing euphoric highs while weeping and speaking in tongues. JOSS WHEDON’s face once appeared to me on an Eggo waffle. Ok that’s not true but it’s sort of basically true-ish. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, which WHEDON co-wrote with director DREW GODDARD (who also penned some of my favorite BUFFY episodes), justifies my reverence and is an accumulation of the type of genre smudging and creative cajoles that ignited my zealotry. This sermon is only an hour and a half rather than seven years so jump on the express train to glory my brothers and sisters. Halleluiah!

Also while you are in church shut up. You’re there to listen and observe not to try to figure it out before other people do or ponder the differences between what you thought it might be and what it is. Every horror fan should see this but those who bemoan sequels and remakes and wail for originality should be forced to see it at gunpoint. Be glad I’m not in charge because each ticket would also come with a mandatory ball gag. As a courtesy, I will soften expectations by saying this is not the type of thing you endure and then boast to your friends that it didn’t faze you because you’re so cool. It’s not trying to impress you with hackneyed depravity; it’s more of a boundary butcher that gets off on how limitlessly imaginative the genre could be if we stopped giving people what they want and start giving them what they need. CABIN is no way the be-all end-all. I enjoy many flavors to choose from and I’m not convinced that the rules and tropes it subverts need be fully abandoned. Still, in my eyes, this movie craftily climbs to a peak position where it can both revel in where horror has been and scout out the infinite possibilities ahead. Every New Testament should be this much fun.

Vigilante (1983)

I was going to kick myself for not watching WILLIAM (MANIAC) LUSTIG’s VIGILANTE (1983) sooner but I decided to thank the universe for waiting for the exact perfect circumstances to lift the curtain on this prize instead. Don’t sweat the plot- it’s about a guy who believes in the law until justice flips him the bird after his life is demolished, who then decides to take matters into his own hands. Things explode and bad, bad people die in ways they really deserve. See, this is why I can’t get worked up about remakes and sequels; multiple interpretations of the same potent theme are the lifeblood of genre filmmaking. You know this place even if you haven’t been here before.

Two major factors catapult VIGILANTE over its peers. It’s got a fantastic cast, ROBERT FORSTER, CAROL LYNLEY, FRED WILLIAMSON, JOE SPINELL and RUTANYA ALDA (she of AMITYVILLE II and no relation to ALAN-drats!) and a super talented sinfully underrated director. LUSTIG may have a habit of delivering semi-unsatisfactory climaxes but the road to that minor disappointment is paved with major brilliance. He certainly knows how to engage the audience with his characters and he excels at keeping you on edge worried about how far he’ll go next. What’s more, I have to hand it to LUSTIG for his striking and yet never overpowering visual sense. Is it just me? I love his use of color and his penchant for finding strange fluorescent beauty in the blandest of areas. It can’t be accidental, amidst jaw-dropping violence there’s something about VIGILANTE (and MANIAC) that feels like unearthing stray blazing rubies in piles of grey gravel. I’ll throw down some images below but I think that analogy applies to how LUSTIG’s films operate as a whole too. The world may be hopeless, grim and falling apart but if you look close there’s always something shining in the wreckage.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

I need to start watching more animation. Movies in general are stellar transportation out of my dilapidated noggin but it seems animated movies have the power to drop me off at a bus stop happily even farther away from my home. Was I just hanging out with a bunch of talking animals? I could get used to that. Inspired by a reader’s comment in one of our posts (Thanks Drew Bludd!), I jumped into THE SECRET OF NIMH, a film I caught back in the day on cable that I didn’t recall too much about. Now, I think anybody at any age should be able to enjoy SECRET but I don’t think I made the best audience at whatever age I encountered it the first time. Back then I was probably thinking animation suited a younger crowd while still being too immature to appreciate the incredible level of artistry present. Currently I’m flattened and floored by the accomplishment that is THE SECRET OF NIMH. What a beautiful thing. Everybody who works in animation out there who keeps the tradition alive, my grateful eyeballs salute you. (You won’t catch me disparaging computer animation though on account of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON alone validates its existence.)

I can’t comment on how good an adaptation SECRET is of the book it’s based on because I have not read it (yet!) but I can say that if I would drink all the colors in this movie if I could. There may be some flaws in that certain story elements are fuzzier than necessary and things are a bit too conveniently mended by magic in the end but I’m starting to believe that flaws are what keep art from becoming stagnant and dull. SECRET is perhaps dark but it’s a beautiful kind of dark and darkness here only serves to brighten the positive light that it frames.

I’m sure some kids could easily get wigged out by the hideous monster spider that appears but without said spider, how could we fully marvel at the bravery of heroine Mrs. Brisby? Brisby is my favorite type of hero. She’s not looking for trouble and she’s in no way on an ego trip trying to prove her pluck. She simply does what must be done. The dilemma here is that there’s a tractor coming that will flatten her house but she can’t move her youngest kid because he’s sick as a dog; harrowing scene after harrowing scene ensue. I’m telling ya, watching Brisby face an assortment of intimidating obstacles to reach her goal makes for some surprisingly suspenseful fare. If it wasn’t for Jonsey, I think Brisby and ALIEN’s Lt. Ripley would make great pals.

Another thing that makes Mrs. Brisby a special rodent is the fact that she is voiced by ELIZABETH HARTMAN and it’s the last film credit of her career. HARTMAN was nominated for an Oscar for her film debut in A PATCH OF BLUE and at the time, she was the youngest person ever to be nominated. I’m most familiar with her due to her work in that exceptional CLINT EASTWOOD flick THE BEGUILED and for the NIGHT GALLERY episode she appears in called “The Dark Boy.” Sadly, mental health issues hounded this great actress and while her popularity declined, she became a recluse and eventually took her own life by jumping out a fifth story window. How’s that for depressing? Other folks that lend their voice talents are DOM DeLUISE as a bumbling crow and JOHN CARADINE as threatening but knowledgeable owl. SECRET is also the first film credit for both SHANNEN DOHERTY and WIL WEATON. Yep, it’s true that this movie is heavier than the usual kid friendly fare but therein lies its power.

I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m all for more challenging, less candy-coated fare for children and it’s not because of a secret self-serving plan to harvest more traumafessions in the future, I swear! Fact is, the world can be a rather horrible place and as much as it would be nice to keep children in the dark about that fact as long as possible, allowing them to safely process that idea before it becomes obvious, I believe, buffers the jolt. I’m no parent but I can readily recall what it was like to be a kid and thank God I had the darker side of cinema to let me know that what darkness was in my life was not exclusively attached to me.

The important thing here is not the level of threat that confronts Brisby but the level of courage and determination she exudes while confronting those threats. Maybe that seems like no big deal but considering the fate of the troubled woman who voiced her, it’s important to remember that the difference between plowing forward regardless of what ugliness appears and giving up is in fact, gargantuan.

Maniac (1980)

The other day I came across an article in which the author was wondering if there might be anything to gain from watching a movie more than once. I would have read it but I had better things to do, like watch a movie that I had seen before. I’ve viewed MANIAC (1980) way more than three times over the years but here is a list of three significantly different experiences that I’ve had with the exact same WILLIAM LUSTIG film.

ONCE (1981-ish)

This movie is horrifying. It’s like watching a catastrophe unfold while laying helplessly in a coma. Is it X-rated? Are there brakes on this VHS player? MANIAC is basically steamrolling over me. I’m no stranger to slasher flicks but this is something different. There is a wild seedy energy and seemingly no moral code. How can things go back to normal in this MANIAC universe when they were so fucked up and feral to begin with? There is no sweet final girl to chill with. CAROLINE MUNRO’s character Anna has come to the party tardy and it’s too late- I’m already trapped within crazy Frank Zito’s twisted, unpredictable brain…I was later to see things differently but I remember being completely repulsed by JOE SPINELL when I first took in MANIAC. He was like an unhinged, quivering mass of whiney, sweaty corruption. I wasn’t such a wilting flower that I could not see that the special effects were incredibly awesome (I rewound SAVINI blowing his own brains out a few times) buy the overall undiluted sleaze on display turned my stomach. I was never going to live in the city…ever! People must be nuts to live there! I decided to hang the poster on my wall just to let people know that I walked through this perverted subway tunnel and made it out alive. Boy, did I think Zito’s living space was creepy.

THEN (1994-ish)

My best friend got a laserdisc player! He also bought a laserdisc of MANIAC! You don’t understand, the picture and sound quality is way better than VHS and it’s even in its proper aspect ratio! It’s like seeing it in the theater and for the first time! Wow, I totally recognize that porn star! “Going to a Showdown” has got to be the best song ever! Haha. This is so retro eighties. I should move to New York. I’ve always wanted to live there! At this point MANIAC is the ultimate midnight cult movie, so much decadent fun. Did I just laugh my way through a film that once pummeled me in the face? I was later to see things differently but I remember thinking JOE SPINELL was some kind of clown genius. He was so charming with his funny voices and suddenly it wasn’t so crazy to me that CAROLINE MUNRO would go on a date with him. Who wouldn’t, he’s a card! I thought I’d buy a MANIAC t-shirt so folks understood how edgy I am. This movie is a hoot! Rewind that head explosion again! Awesome moustache SAVINI! Boy did I think Zito’s living space was cool.

NOW– (2012ish)

MANIAC is so deep. How sad it all is. I should probably spring for the Blu-ray. My old DVD looks better in the PS3 than that slightly more bleached out version on Netflix Streaming. Did people really think MANIAC was misogynistic? Get a grip. This poor guy is sick. He needs help. His mother abused him and he can’t get over the feeling of abandonment spurred by her death. He wants to freeze time so things don’t change. He thinks by killing these women he can somehow keep them with him forever. There really are serial killers like that! MANIAC is smart and serious. Look at New York; I’m so glad I never moved there. I think I could marry JOE SPINELL. He may not be the best actor in the world, but he’s so committed and sincere. It’s so sad he’s dead and that he never got to do the MANIAC sequel he wanted to. I’m totally ordering THE LAST HORROR SHOW from Amazon; I have not seen that in a while and I love it. They’re going to do a remake of MANIAC? How are they going to do that? You know what? I think JOE would really like that idea. They probably would have invited him to the premiere and he would have been so proud. Man, it’s so depressing how things change and time moves on but I guess you gotta go with the flow. That’s really what MANIAC is about after all. It’s not just some gross decadent special effects showcase; it’s not some nostalgic freak show to watch while drunk. People think they can buy the poster or the T-shirt of this movie and that means that they “get it” but they don’t, not really. It’s really very poignant. Boy does Zito’s living space look like my own.

OK maybe I was exaggerating for effect and poking fun at myself in that last one but you get the idea. I guess what I’m saying to the guy whose article I was too busy to read is, YES you should watch a movie more than once! You’re sure to pick up stuff you missed and perhaps larger themes will become apparent. More importantly the movie may not change but YOU sure as hell will. Truth is, young me was right, MANIAC is frickin’ scary and not so young me was right, it is oddly funny and poor now me is right too- it is tragic and melancholy too. I look forward to finding out what older me thinks. Movies can capture a certain time or place but they are never truly frozen because each time we visit them, they come alive again and take different forms. If they were mannequins, they’d be the kind that come alive and throttle you… even if only in your head.

Frank Zito: People die. But in a picture or painting, they’re yours forever.

Anna D’Antoni: There’s no way you can possess someone forever. Even in a photograph, there’s no way.

Hell Night (1981)

HELL NIGHT (1981) is shamefully underrated and I wonder what kind of drugs you’d have to be on to not see how superior it is to the films it’s usually lumped with. It’s often painted as a HALLOWEEN also-ran but it does so much to distinguish itself from the fly by nights of its day that it should be considered a classic in its own right. The set –up is certainly simple but the execution is remarkable. It has a structure all its own and the cinematography, the direction and the score severely surpass what it’s given credit for. I can understand that its lack of T&A and gore could have left young audiences back in ‘81 feeling disgruntled, but its multitude of other attributes should be crystal clear by now.

I’ve written about HELL NIGHT a couple times before; once over at Retro Slashers and once for the book “Butcher Knives and Body Counts” (which is really good even if I’m in it!) Because of that I thought I might skip this FINAL GIRL FILM CLUB selection but wait, I still have more to say about HELL NIGHT. There’s still so much I love about it that I have yet to mention. Every time I take a trip to Garth Manor, I find a different room.

HELL NIGHT is about four pledges who spend the night in a mansion as part of an initiation. The place is rumored to be haunted thanks to a dark history. A father so sickened by his children who were all born with deformities killed his entire family there save for one, whom he forced to witness the act. Not all of the bodies were recovered and legend has it that the surviving son still lurks about. The pledges are locked on the property behind a massive razor sharp gate and pranks are planned to make their stay as uncomfortable as possible. The house itself is goth –glorious both inside and out; trap doors, secret passages, underground tunnels, a garden maze; it’s all there. Everything is filmed in deep rich tones framed by inky shadows and broken up by glowing candlelight. The pledge kids are dressed in classical costumes from variant eras. Everything adds up to a horror lovers dream come true.

The four pledges form one of the most endearing casts you’ll find in any slasher. LINDA BLAIR as Marti Gaines is impossibly adorable with her chirpy voice and before she discovers her true mettle, she is refreshingly freaked. PETER BARTON, as potential beau Jeff Reed, is relatively dull but his misbegotten old school chivalry makes up for it. Marti and Jeff’s budding relationship is unusual in how sweetly romantic it is. We’re invested in these characters not simply because we get to know them but because we’re allowed to witness the fortuitousness of them getting to know each other. A wonderful scene occurs between the two as they connect by trading childhood traumas. As a kid Marti believes she encountered a witch and in turn Jeff recalls chancing upon an elf. The two decide that their joint histories dealing with unreal beings make them both weirdoes and that as such, they should stick together. Forget every bullshit thing you ever heard about virgins surviving in slasher films. It’s the outsider who lives. The one who sees more.

VINCENT VAN PATTEN as Seth and SUKI GOODWIN as Denise are meant to illustrate a more carnal side of the same romantic coin but they are both so goofy and good-natured that they only read as charming free spirits. Their “sex” scene is nothing more than a cartoon pantomime that ends in a giggle fit. As rowdy as HELL NIGHT might try to present itself in its opening scenes, there’s no mistaking the fact that its heart beats to a corny, old-fashioned drum that was atypical of its time. It’s almost like a film from the fifties dressed up like a film from the eighties. In fact, HELL NIGHT with its characters playing house within an empty mansion and its themes of breaking away from parental expectation could be said to strongly shadow REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.

HELL NIGHT is directed by TOM DeSIMONE and his work is impressive throughout and simply brilliant on several occasions. Let me point out a couple scenes that I think deserve high praise.

GOODWIN’s Denise is sprawled out on a bed waiting for Seth to return. This shot is composed like a painting and you get lost in just how good she looks. You can’t help it. Then we get the most abrupt and terrifying pullback view of the monster standing over, dwarfing her while she still lays unaware. It’s such a strong bait and switch. There is no way to prepare. The viewer is sneakily lulled by one piece of the puzzle and then taken off guard by the bigger picture. Blink and you’ll miss it but it’s grand.

Marti and Jeff have found a safe zone. He’s got a pitch fork ready to do battle if need be and she’s taking a breather on the bed. They’re safe as houses and snug as bugs. Then we see what they do not. At first it makes no logical sense but the carpet is rising. Eventually we’ll discover that there is a trap door in the floor that the monster is (slowly!) making his way through but for those first moments it’s impossible to comprehend. Is it supernatural? Another prank? We don’t know but whatever sense of safety we might have had is completely shattered.

There is a sequence toward the climax that never fails to excite me. It’s as if all the fine elements that have been floating throughout the film collide in one second.VAN PATTEN’s Seth returns to Garth Manor convinced he has destroyed the terrorizing monster. In a flash he is yanked off screen. The shotgun he was yielding fires a shot offstage and then flies toward the front door. It lands, it spins on the floor and stalls perfectly aligned with a light shaft. BLAIR’s Marti, who had been hiding her face, nuzzled in BARTON’s side swiftly jerks her head to look in fear. The head turn is sublimely synchronized with a pitch perfect musical cue from composer DAN WYMAN and it’s a thing of perfection. Gold!

Oh there’s so much more; the rapping on the window that turns out to be a toy parrot, leaving a corpse behind that has the keys to the front gate, the twisting underground tunnels, the high stakes rooftop escape. It goes on and on. I admit there are some things that may come off more muddled then they should but they are easily cleared up if you watch close (and often) enough. Really this movie is such a rarity not only for its time, but for any time. It’s gorgeously shot and it has wonderful characters and if it should happen to be a bit far fetched sometimes well, welcome to the world of film. There are long moments of stillness in HELL NIGHT that probably come across as slow to some today but I love the patience shown and frankly when I’m in Garth Manor, I like to take my time and stay as long as possible.

Because HELL NIGHT borrows heartily from classic, old dark house flicks it’s often mistakenly seen as derivative. The past is not mere window dressing here though, bygone eras and ideas are the source of the horror. Much is made of both Marti and Jeff’s family backgrounds, each are quick to point out that their lineage does not define them. Garth Manor is a place where the inhabitants have failed to escape the family fold. The monsters Marti and Jeff must battle are creatures trapped inside the boundaries set by their parentage. It’s a conflict that many young people engage in on a smaller, less gruesome scale everyday. It’s fitting that in the end the greatest threat is destroyed by an iron fence that encircles the estate, a confining line drawn by its ancestry. When day comes, Marti has won more than just her life; she has won the right to any life she chooses regardless of her upbringing. She turns her back to outdated limitations and walks forward.

Maybe I’m imagining that last part but I’m not imaging this: Garth Manor later went on to star in the Fleetwood Mac video “Big Love.” Yay Garth Manor! You are hotter than any Robert Palmer chick! Dance, Garth Manor, dance!

Burial Ground (1981)

If you watch horror movies all year ‘round to begin with, how in the world do you amp up your Halloween viewing pleasure for the month of October? One way I kick things up a notch is by shamelessly watching movies that are extra goofy. BURIAL GROUND: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR is just such a movie. It really is relentlessly daffy and how evil am I for subjecting an unsuspecting Aunt John to it sans warning or explanation? Aunt John asked what year it was from and I guessed ‘73 (I was way off ‘81) not really my fault.

The plot is about as complex as a HENRY comic strip: a professor with a wise beard discovers how to raise the dead. He invites some friends to his cool mansion to talk about his find except he’s already been eaten by zombies and soon they will be too. The entire movie consists of his unfortunate guests failing miserably at escaping peril. Folks cannot even cut across the lawn without stepping in an inconceivably placed bear trap and the only thing missing really is the BENNY HILL theme song. It’s a bad day for the living and a good day for the stunningly resourceful dead. Normally a good zombie movie will make me morbidly depressed, but this one is like a semi-creepy day at the beach.

No post concerning BURIAL GROUND would be complete without singling out scene-stealer extraordinaire PETER BARK. At roughly the age of 26, the diminutive BARK portrays a young child named Michael whose affection for his mother is disturbingly enthusiastic to say the least. The portrayal is lifted to the sublime with the aid of an absolutely unconvincing adult actor supplying his dubbed, puppet show voice. Even if you think you have no interest in seeing BURIAL GROUND, I assure you that once BARK enters the picture that there is no turning around. Even Aunt John rode the film out to its “Did that really just happen?” conclusion.

BURIAL GROUND is above (or below) understanding, speculation or critism. It only wants to bring you joy. It also showcases some of my favorite zombies of all time. The make-up person sort of went with the idea that if something is painted black, then it is invisible to the human eye (even in broad daylight) and I honor this delusion. (At least that’s why I think that some of our zombie pals have black make-up on their noses beneath their masks?)

In any case, I think this calls for a zombie beauty pageant! Check out these teeth that resemble no teeth that ever existed! Look at that crazy hair! How about those cutting edge burlap fashions? Vote for your favorite zombie below and check out this movie if you want to have fun. Trust me, its the only zombie movie in existence whose BARK is better than its bite!

Seven Unsung Vampire Flicks

UNK SEZ: Here’s a list of seven vampire flicks that I believe are underrated. You will not see great movies like NEAR DARK, THE HUNGER, VAMPIRE’S KISS or NOSFERATU here because I think people generally know those flicks are good. Beware because even though they are numbered, I put little or no thought toward their order!


You may have stumbled across this one on the SYFY Channel, thought it looked lame and skipped past it and, if so, you really missed out. This is great, goopy, gory escapist entertainment sporting highly likable (and easy on the peepers) characters that I only wish I got to see more of. It’s sorta the illegitimate child of BUFFY and FIREFLY coated in an almost FLASH GORDON-esque corny, cartoon candy shell. The first thing I thought after viewing it was, “This should be a series!” And how sad to find out that it actually is a pilot for a show that never got picked up. Ouch. That hurts considering the bonanza of crap SYFY chose to support instead. VAMPIRE WARS comes courtesy of MATTHEW HASTINGS who is responsible for the equally underrated DECOYS (2004), so maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked that I enjoy it as I do.


Of course this movie fell through the cracks, it’s based on a short story from some obscure writer named STEPHEN KING! Two tabloid journalists are tracking down a serial killer who uses a private plane to stalk his prey. Matters turn for the worse when the suspect is discovered to be a vampire with a pilot license. The always good MIGUEL FERRER gets a chance to tear things up in a rare lead role and director MARK PAVIA provides more than a few moments of true eeriness that are bound to stay with you. My only question is why we’ve never seen another picture directed by PAVIA. I hope he has a good excuse.

5. THE THIRST (1979)

Here is yet another example of great Australian cinema. THE THIRST is a remarkably original vampire movie both in its tone and with its progressive vision. Make sure you catch this one on DVD in widescreen and read our more extensive review HERE.

4. I, DESIRE (1982)

This one is probably going to be difficult to track down, but if you are a fan of eighties horror and are looking for a good DAVID NAUGHTON-starring companion piece for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, it’s worth the effort. If you’re a BRAD DOURIF fan, and you should be, then get on it quick. Check out our full review HERE and our pal AMANDA BY NIGHT‘s thoughts over at MADE FOR TV MAYHEM HERE.

3. VAMP (1986)

To be honest, VAMP is not such a good movie, the story is all over the place, some of the jokes leave a bitter, douche-y aftertaste and the scares are few and far between. Be that as it may, it’s a fluffy-fluorescent, neon noir knock out if you crave flawed eighties flicks. Moreover, the exceptionally charismatic cast makes it all worthwhile. GRACE JONES is oddly mesmerizing as a far too mute vampire goddess, CHRIS MAKEPEACE is a perfect clean-behind-the-ears everyman, DEDEE PFIEFFER is bug-in-a-rug adorable, and ROBERT (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2) RUSLER, as always, rules. (If someone could explain to me how RUSLER didn’t become a giant star in the ’80s while a traffic cone with teeth named TOM CRUISE did, I will bake them a cake.) Sure, VAMP is rarely successful at its clear intention of capturing the spirit of the previous year’s FRIGHT NIGHT, but as far as presenting characters we care about, it fares far better than that film’s recent remake does. Not a total success, but nostalgically entertaining nonetheless.

2. DRACULA (Spanish version 1931)

When it comes to classic UNIVERSAL-style horror, I’m enraptured by the FRANKENSTEIN series, severely dig THE WOLFMAN and quite shamefully feel unsatisfied and unmoved towards TOD BROWNING’s 1931 take on DRACULA. Aren’t I awful? You see, for me, BELA LUGOSI may be sufficiently creepy and weird and all, but when it comes to romantic magnetism, his pockets produce moths. The Spanish version of DRACULA, which was filmed at the same time and utilized the same sets as the better known classic, mows the lawn in spots that BROWNING’s version missed. It’s got a far sexier vibe, more vibrant violence and frankly shows, rather than meekly cuts away from, good old-fashioned bug chomping. It’s almost the exact same undead tale but the difference is, it pulsates with more gritty unapologetic life.


One of these days I’ll write about this movie more in depth, but for now I’ll just say I love it. It’s one of my favorite vampire movies, favorite LILI TAYLOR movies and favorite ABEL FERRARA flicks too. I find it much more effective than the similarly black and white NADJA and much more involving than the similarly shoestring-budgeted and New York set THE HABIT (both of which came out around the same time.) Besides TAYLOR, the cast also includes ANNABELLA SCIORRA, EDIE FALCO and CHRISTOPHER WALKEN. I don’t think critics understood this one too much, chalking it up as a pretentious drug allegory when really it tackles much larger issues like humanity’s natural penchant towards causing cruelty and the contagious nature of evil. It’s as gloomy as a Ladder Day Saints commercial and yet its soundtrack features CYPRESS HILL and if that doesn’t tell you how singularly awesome it is, then I don’t know what will. This is yet another movie that never found its way to DVD but if you look around hard enough (namely HERE) you should be able to find it.

Crypt of Terror :: Horror From South of the Border Vol. 1

While searching for an image of a possessed doll for a Name That Trauma, I came across the Mexican horror film VACATION OF TERROR. Further investigation led me to Amazon where I was happy to discover that said film was available in a set called CRYPT OF TERROR: HORROR FROM SOUTH OF THE BORDER VOL 1. Although intrigued, I wisely decided that I should not gamble my meager clams on a film I’d never seen before and so I walked away from the computer sad but proud of my will power. Before I could congratulate myself too much, I received an email invoice thanking me for my purchase! What?! I was only window-shopping! I knew I could easily dispute the sale but I decided to just let it go. Fate was clearly at work and it was best not to push against it because that causes adult acne. I imagined that I was meant to see VACATION OF TERROR and it turned out that I imagined right. Let’s hear it for happy mistakes!


Lord do I love haunted house movies. VACATION begins with a witch being burned at the stake cursing revenge. We jump forward a couple hundred years and a family consisting of a ma and pa, two twin boys, a little girl, a babysitting teen niece and her affable beau (PEDRO FERNANDEZ) unleash the witch’s wrath when they seek R&R on her property and discover the doll she left behind in a well. The body count is zero but there is never a dull moment when the walls are bleeding, snakes and tarantulas are being hallucinated, refrigerators are teeming with rats, and folks start flying around and falling through mirrors. Rational sense is thrown to the birds and the special effects resemble a grade school play but, overall, I feel like I’m watching the Mexican version of CATHY’S CURSE and pigs only think they love slop when compared to the euphoria I find myself in. I never want to see a good move again; I know where I belong. V.O.T. is directed by RENE CARDONA III, the son of the guy who did 1978’s BERMUDA TRIANGLE and grandson of the guy who did NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES and ‘59s SANTA CLAUS. Talk about a dynasty! I sure hope there’s a RENE CARDONA IV.


Speaking of sequels, having enjoyed V.O.T. so much, I was beside myself with joy to see that my new DVD set came with its further installment. If it were half as good I’d be content enough, but my expectations were blown completely out of the water. Part 2 finds the niece’s boyfriend from the first film (PEDRO FERNANDEZ) off on his own adventure where he is again confronted by the dreaded witch doll! It gets better! The doll not only transforms from porcelain to felt muppet but it also splits at the seams and a giant lizard demon complete with tail pops out! Better still, the action takes place at a kids’ Halloween/ birthday party and our hero is joined by TATIANA, a Mexican pop star, who brings along her own TIFFANY-style musical number! Is this much fun legal? Lifting heavily from POLTERGEIST and ELM STREET, V.O.T.2 is non-stop, surreal lunacy with special effects that swing from awesome to infantile and back again and frankly, it’s a volcano of entertainment. Allow me to reiterate that it takes place on Halloween.


Satisfied as I was with the VACATION movies, I had no right to expect my winning streak to continue and then came CEMETERY OF TERROR. It too takes place on Halloween and it too rocked my world. A bunch of teenagers steal a corpse not realizing the body is that of Mexico’s answer to Michael Myers, a bearded goon named Devlon. He’s even got a Loomis type following him around (NIGHTMARE CITY’s HUGO STIGLITZ) and he kills folks to the synth-beats of a faux-HALLOWEEN score! Just when you think things can’t get any more wonderful, a group of children happen upon the cemetery where Devlon was resurrected and are confronted by an army of THRILLER zombies! (One of the kids is even wearing a MICHAEL JACKSON jacket!) Yes, I’ve watched this one twice already and will be spinning it again in October.


Can I even take anymore? A hulking Satanist is put to death during the inquisition and held quiet by a hatchet removed hundreds of years later by group of grave robbing teens. This one appears to be inspired heavily by THE EVIL DEAD and FRIDAY THE 13TH (particularly JASON LIVES) and it really delivers the gore. I’ve always wondered what happened to the spirit of American horror films in the late eighties and now I believe that it obviously just jumped on over to Mexico. GRAVE ROBBERS is directed by the same guy who did CEMETERY OF TERROR (RUBEN GALIDO JR.) and it not only makes for a perfect companion piece, but it also shares some of the same cast. The killer with his trademark axe and hooded robe is highly memorable and what a shame he was not awarded a sequel!


This time a group of kids venture into the woods to compete in a bear hunt but instead find themselves being hunted by a crazed Vietnam vet. I wasn’t sure if I was going to dig the less supernatural set up of this one, but I was appeased to see my pal PEDRO from the V.O.T. films playing the lead role. HELL’S TRAP borrows a bit from RAMBO and PREDATOR; however, the killer is certainly slasher-inspired with his Freddy-style knife glove and the pale expressionless HALLOWEEN mask covering his scarred face. When utilizing home made traps a’la THE FINAL TERROR fails, he’s not afraid of disposing of multiple characters via sub machine gun and hand grenade. I usually prefer my horror gun-free but having disposed of several characters with his Freddy glove, I guess this guy has earned the right to bare arms. This one is directed by PEDRO GALINA JR., the gentleman responsible for V.O.T.’s wild sequel.


This set may claim “3 Discs… Six films!” but it’s just being modest, there are actually 4 discs and 8 films. You also get DEMON RAT, which I’ll save for a rainy day, and two versions of DON’T PANIC which, for some strange reason, I didn’t care for but will give another try in the future. What a great find, especially if you can purchase them used. My beloved set cost me less than ten bucks!

If you believe enthusiasm trumps technique, if you don’t mind subtitles and can look past and/or adore makeshift effects and bombardments of hokiness, this is your dream ticket especially with Halloween fast approaching. If you are a fan of eighties horror, and feel as if you’ve been scrapping the barrel lately looking for new finds, it’s like striking oil and dancing under black rain.

Thank God I didn’t go back on this accidental purchase; oh what I would have missed.

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

I love when you finish a movie and the first thing you want to do is watch it again. FRANCESCO BARILLI‘s 1974 film THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK (available on Netflix Streaming) is so stinking gorgeous that I begged for it not to end. If anyone ever asks me to list the most grossly underrated horror film I can think of, I now have an answer. I wasn’t too far into it when I decided that no matter how the tale turned out, I would be a happy camper due to its lush, nonstop beauty and fantastic score but as it turned out, the slithery story it spun ended up being truly satisfying to me. If you venture in with expectations of a Giallo mystery with systematic kills, you’ll get lost in the wallpaper but if you’re looking for a dreamy psychological character study that refuses to nail things down, it’s bliss. Try to imagine POLANSKI’s THE TENANT told with SUSPIRA-style visuals with a lead character as stagnantly brittle as JULIANNE MOORE in SAFE. Now imagine the perfect shade of blue.

Wispy MIMSY FARMER plays Sylvia whose sheepish existence is crumbling beneath her. A family photo blasts her childhood traumas into her waking life and soon she is being tormented by her younger self, the mother she may have pushed off a building, ma’s beastly lascivious beau and pretty much every lover, friend, acquaintance and neighbor in her life. Just forget trying to interpret what is “real” and what is a projection of Sylvia’s psychosis, her demons have already won and “reality” is a sinking ship. Sylvia’s inability to stop her past from bleeding into her present transforms everyone into the enemy and all are unanimously bent on (literally) consuming her. The horror present is sometimes devastatingly impalpable. There are scenes where Sylvia just pauses, takes in the surroundings she is alienated from and stands eerily baffled. Some horror fans may find the timidity pesky but it all builds up to a climax with razor sharp claws.

The title, tone, lack of availability and its defiance of categorization all probably helped to conceal this film from a proper audience, but I think a generation now more accustomed to art house horror hybrids courtesy of folks like DAVID LYNCH and films like DON’T LOOK NOW, JACOB’S LADDER and BLACK SWAN won’t have too difficult a time swallowing this pill. PERFUME also cleverly references ALICE IN WONDERLAND which is a lovely touch. Sylvia’s mischievous and deadly (at least to cats!) awoken inner child not only resembles and reads from the book ALICE but she also leads Sylva through the looking glass and down a fathomless rabbit hole in her mind. Finally it is Sylvia who is serving rather than being served at a (real or not) gruesomely mad tea party. Anyway I cannot recommend it more highly. It’s one of the best Italian horror films I’ve ever seen and I would not only push horror fans toward it but also anyone who appreciates film. Its detractors can go ahead and claim it’s slow and confounding, personally I devoured every enigmatic second.