Five Favorite Things:: Monkey Shines (1988) By Unk

I Hate Meddlers!

MONKEY SHINES is about an easy on the eyes dude named Allan Mann who thanks to a barking dog, jogs into a truck and becomes paraplegic. He is given a monkey by a so-called friend to help him out and the two hit it off fantastically and it is such a beautiful and heartwarming thing (and reminds me of my relationship with my cats). Things aren’t quite as they seem though and soon people are coming out of the woodwork to destroy their cozy symbiotic love-fest. A movie about protecting your hearth from garbage people really appeals to me! Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a nesting homebody but I now understand that “Home ruining meddler” movies may be my personal horror sub-genre fetish. Movies like THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, BAD RONALD and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE always seem to scratch exactly where I I’m itching and MONKEY SHINES covertly walks a similar path (and of course sings similar tunes as WILLARD & BEN). It may always inevitably end in tragedy but there’s a bubble of snug contentment within these movies that I can’t resist.

No Monkeys Harmed!

MONKEY SHINES graciously delivers a statement before the movie begins to explain that although scenes may suggest monkeys were put through traumatic episodes; in reality, no dear monkey was harmed. I really appreciate this information before the movie rather than after so that I can better concentrate on the film and more easily lose myself within it. This would be a smart idea for any movie that has scenes depicting simulated cruelty to animals. It’s a great way to prevent (at least) me from prematurely pushing my “seat eject” button. Happily too, the effects in this movie rely heavily on less than convincing monkey dummies and puppets, so it’s easy to remember it’s all make believe in the more violent moments (particularly the climax). Director George A Romero (who adapted the screenplay from a novel by Michael Stewart) showcases a deft hand with material that could have been exploitative and uncomfortable in less sensitive hands. His straightforward, non-gimmicky approach helps the more fantastic elements register as believable.

Damn Fine Cast.

Whoever did the casting for MONKEY SHINES deserves a medal of some sort because there is not one single person present who isn’t perfect for their part. Jason Beghe is the quintessential grounded everyman who is able to reveal great levels of rage and still garner a hundred percent sympathy. Kate McNeil (who is also stellar in THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW) is as earthy and emotionally intelligent as they come (and in a perfect world would have played Amy Steel’s sister in something; preferably a F13 flick). Joyce Van Patten is almost too believable as a mother who seems to almost enjoy her son’s vulnerable state and frequent Romero cohort Christine Forrest is deliciously hate-able as a cranky nurse. Incredibly, three future legendary character actors are also on hand to play assholes of varying degrees, Stephen Root, John Pankow and Stanley Frickin’ Tucci! As far as the femme fatales go, Janine Turner is flawless as a garden- variety weasel who you’re likely to see next Tuesday and it’s impossible not to fall in love with Boo (the monkey) as adorable Ella (yes, I root for her to deliver well earned comeuppances). Wow, there are only two decent humans who don’t have ignoble agendas in this entire movie and so I’ll throw another laurel at it for accurately depicting humanity.

I Love Ella

Ella the monkey is not evil. She’s a neutral trickster who, for better or worse, falls in love with her human companion. Although she’s the ultimate threat that must be hurdled in our heroes’ journey, she in every way advances Allan to a superior position than the one she found him in. By connecting him with his rage she actually makes him a stronger person, one who is capable of taking back control of his life from those who exploit his condition. For me, Ella is of the hero of the story who can’t stay forever but improves the life of the human she adores. Aw, I wish I had a friend who would discreetly take care of the horrible instigators that kill my buzz so that I might keep my hands clean! I’m sure I could find a way for us to live happily ever after.

That Poster

C’mon, MONKEY SHINES had one of the coolest posters ever! What a piece of art! Sure, it has virtually nothing to do with the actual movie besides featuring a monkey but I sez I need it on a T-shirt yesterday!

Five Favorite Things:: Martin (1977) By Ghastly1

George Romero, or as I like to call him: “the people’s horror auteur” -insert clip of Rick from The Young Ones here- you’re a very cool, switched on, hepcat if you get that reference, daddy-o- great guy, right? we all love him, don’t we? Well, I am going to commit horror heresy here and state plainly that I don’t care for him nor do I like many of the films considered cornerstones in horror made by the man. I like some of his films purely as entertainment. Overall, I don’t think his oeuvre is deserving of the high regard and widespread lauding it receives; I believe that is a function of ideology, not merit. Gasp, shock and horror. 

I feel he is vastly overrated, and I give the examples of unwatchable crap like There’s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch, and nearly unwatchable crap like The Crazies, Bruiser and the later Dead films as evidence. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t; maybe you just need someone to say it for you. All that being said, there is one Romero film which does hold a great deal of interest for me and that film is, you guessed it, Martin.

Martin is a masterpiece of horror, not because it superficially treats of supernatural concepts like vampires or because it has murder sequences or what have you; all of that is incidental. It is a masterpiece because it is rooted in the fount from which springs horror, the true core of all horror, the horror of horrors; to put it in somewhat Lovecraftian terms, “the madness at the core of existence.”

1. Martin is an example of something pretty rare; a horror character study.

Character studies I feel are something largely missing from film in general and horror in particular. I like slower paced films which focus on one character whom we get to know and care about, despite their actions.

Martin tells the story of a boy named Martin that has presumably been reared in an environment of utter insanity, to believe he is an 84-year-old vampire. Having been raised this way has not unsurprisingly resulted in pretty severe derangement on the part of Martin, who lacking fangs drugs women and slits their wrists in order to satisfy his sanguine addiction (pronounced in an exaggeratedly theatrical Peter Steele way- again if you know what I’m talking about, you’re pretty cool, let’s hang out).

2. Martin, ain’t we all. There but for the grace of God, go I.

Now comes the Sturm und Drang. My fondness for Martin stems primarily from recognizing in the character of Martin, states I have experienced personally and I suspect others have as well; namely extremely intense feelings of fear, loneliness, isolation, alienation, hopelessness, despair and dread, as well as suffering familial abandonment, abuse, and interpersonal social rejection.

In my weaker moments, I feel exactly like him, hopelessly confused and introverted; barely able to function. John Amplas gives one of the most authentic portrayals of a uniquely modern human type that I have come across and I have to wonder how much of it was actually acting.

3. Hit me in the feels. Much sad. J’ai une ame solitaire.

The film is relentlessly bleak and sad to me, even cruelly so. Cruelty gets to me and as such the hints of past cruelty in Martin’s life in little scenes and moments throughout, such as when Christina gets Martin the phone, are among the saddest and most effective that I have ever seen. The hopeful slightly confused and yet grateful look on his face at what is probably the first and only kindness ever shown to him on the part of another bring up things in me too terrible and wrenching to recall.

Christina leaving Martin alone in the house with Cuda is another because at that moment, Martin’s fate is sealed, things can only turn out one way. They leave a desolate, sinking feeling in my stomach which I have never been able to shake. It is the crushing knowledge that despite any hopeful outlook one may adopt toward a reformation of one’s life, however briefly, it is futile in the face of fate.

Martin is decidedly not a “happy film”, to my mind it is an example of what is sometimes termed “depressive realism” and perhaps only depressives will appreciate, understand and connect with it fully. In that regard it is a big middle finger to the Hollywood happy ending cliché. I believe a key to understanding the movie is, when he said “There’s no real magic…ever” he was talking more about happy endings than he was even supernatural powers.

4. Imagine a brotherhood of man… or some such happy horse shit.

It-rather unintentionally I feel- showcases the pernicious effects of the post-Vietnam, post-Great Society, Marxist “human love-in experiment” of the 1960’s. The film shows the fallout of a total breakdown of what were once considered normal human interactions and connections. Through a gradual but steady erosion and retrogression, interpersonal, familial, societal and kulchur bonds are shown to become utterly deranged.

The characters are all depressed, lonely and restless, conditions I dare say more people experience, than are willing to admit. Conditions which persist and have descended to an even more acute stage, today.

Shot in a gritty, quasi neo-realist style the film also puts the effects of the deindustrialization of the so-called “rustbelt” on show, the town of Braddock becomes another character in itself and is shown to be another victim, suffering death and decay complementary to its human inhabitants.   America is dead, folks…

… and

5. Oh, Tainted Love.

It inspired my favorite Soft Cell song.

Five Favorite Things:: James of LARPing Real Life on The Dark Half (1993)

The Dark Half (George A. Romero, 1993)

George A. Romero and Stephen King: two great tastes that taste great together. Sadly, Romero’s chocolate and King’s peanut butter didn’t get together as often as they could or should have. The number of projects the two men were to produce together that failed to come to fruition is pretty ludicrous.

I say that we should celebrate what we have instead of what we don’t. While Creepshow is the most famous Romero/King lovechild, I am here today to sing the praises of a film that doesn’t get enough respect: Romero’s 1993 adaptation of The Dark Half.

  1. Romeroland

If the small towns of New England make up Stephen King Country, then Western Pennsylvania is Romeroland. There is a certain look that all of Romero’s Pittsburgh-produced pictures have: their events seem to unfold in a perpetual autumn, and the way the Rust Belt surroundings are shot will have you wanting to get a tetanus shot booster after leaving the theater.

In The Dark Half, King Country and Romeroland perfectly overlay one another. Romero uses Edgewood Borough and Washington, PA, to stand in for Ludlow and Castle Rock, ME, to great effect. The bare trees filled with birds (both real and fake), the rolling hills with roads winding through them, and the great stone buildings on the campus of Washington & Jefferson College give the picture a Norman Rockwell meets Charles Addams vibe.

When we talk Romeroland, we don’t just mean places, we mean the people, too. The Dark Half was Romero’s last film made in Pittsburgh, and there are familiar folks in front of the camera as well as behind it. Romero’s second wife, Christine, was an executive producer as well as an actor in the film. David Early, who had taken part in Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders, Creepshow, and Monkey Shines, gets a cameo as an NYC cop. Cletus and Barbara Anderson returned to work their production design and costuming magic. The biggest Romeroland contributor, in my opinion, is editor Pasquale “Pat” Buba. Buba had a long relationship with Romero, going back to Romero’s foray into TV sports documentary with The Winners in the late-1970s. Buba understood Romero’s shooting style and editing needs, delivering a picture that feels the man himself cut it together.

As a former Pittsburgher (a “yinzer” to yinz in the know), all the above gives me the warm and fuzzies at the same time as sending chills up my spine.

  1. First Things First (which is 2nd on this list…go figure!)

A good horror movie needs a freaky set piece at its start to let the audience know what they are getting into. The Dark Half has got a doozy that never ceases to creep me out.

Poor, pre-teen Thad Beaumont just wants to be a writer. Unfortunately for him, he’s got more than stories about Miss Bird saying things brightly in his head. After suffering from headaches and then collapsing on his way to the school bus, the doctors crack open Thad’s skull like a nut and find the remnants of a twin peeking up at them.

When that eyeball in the middle of Thad’s brain opens up and takes a look around through the milky film of its cornea, I don’t blame that nurse from screaming and hightailing it out the operating room. Yuck!

  1. “It takes two to make a thing go right…”

Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock were right: it really does take two to make it outta sight.

I love movies about doppelgängers, evil twins, and split personalities. You know, pictures like Dead Ringers, Psycho, The Parent Trap. I especially love it when the same actor gets to play the two parts, because you just know there’s gonna be some tasty scenery-chewing.

Timothy Hutton was best known at the time for winning an Oscar for Ordinary People, but that had been nearly a dozen years in the past when The Dark Half began shooting. He was an “actor” (please do a Steven Toast impression when you say that word) who’d never done a horror movie before. He seems to relish the chance to get his Jekyll & Hyde on. As Thad Beaumont, he slowly loses his cool and his mind over the course of the picture. As George Stark, he lets it all hang out from the get-go. He’s fierce, nasty and, by the end of the movie, pretty gooey. During one scene, an apartment dweller sticks his nose out into the hallway and asks what all the hubbub’s about. Hutton as Stark turns to him and responds in a deadpan, Southern drawl, “Murder…want some?” You can tell Hutton had a good time slinging lines like that around.

  1. Creepy Oldies

One of the things I love about horror movies in the 1980s is the ironic use of those moldie, golden oldies of yesteryear. Maybe it’s the lyrics about obsessive love or the juxtaposition of voices happily singing in harmony while something horrifying happens on screen, but the songs of the 1950s and pre-Beatles 1960s are just inherently creepy to my ears. “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes in Halloween II is a good example. Sure, it only plays at the beginning and end of the movie, but it puts everything in between in a new, weird groove.

I know a lot of fans think heavy metal and horror are a match made in heaven (or hell, if ya know what I mean), but there’s nothing off-kilter or off-putting about an Alice Cooper or Dokken song playing over a murder scene. (It pained me to write that, because I love “Teenage Frankenstein” and “Dream Warriors” so much!) But if, as happens in The Dark Half, you play “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by Elvis Presley while blood squirts out of a turkey and Amy Madigan’s porcelain face shatters to reveal the skull beneath…well, then you’ve got something with a little frisson to it.

There’s another reason why I think the “King” works so well in The Dark Half: Elvis was a twin. Jesse Garon Presley was delivered stillborn half an hour before Elvis Aron Presley followed his older brother into the world. The movie doesn’t make anything about that fact, but knowing it adds another layer of weirdness to ol’ Thad and George’s sibling rivalry.

  1. Miriam’s Murder

This is a George Romero film. You expect the red stuff to flow, and I don’t mean Heinz ketchup. This is the man who pounded a stake into John Amplas’s chest in Martin, chewed Adrienne Barbeau’s face off in Creepshow, and tore Joe Pilato in half in Day of the Dead. The man knows gore.

The Dark Half was a Hollywood studio picture by a man who was one of the last of the independents. He may have been pressured to bring a more commercial film to studio execs, which may account for the lack of in-your-face blood-n-guts.

There is one moment, however, where Romero’s sensibility comes through loud and clear. It is the most disturbing scene in the picture – maybe one of the more terrifying I’ve ever seen: George Stark’s killing of Thad’s book publisher, Miriam.

The bulk of the credit for the power of this scene goes to actress Rutanya Alda. The noises she makes as she’s menaced by Stark are guttural and horrifying. When Stark “helps” her keep her happy thoughts by jamming his thumb into the wound in her face, her screams sound so real. When he zips his razor across her cheek, she sounds like she is actually losing her mind. The coup de grâce is delivered off-screen, but in a single take, which makes Stark’s smile at Miriam’s sudden silence all the more effective.

The scene creeped me out the first time I saw it in the 1990s on VHS, and it creeped me out just now as I re-watched it.

Honorable mention: Julie Harris as “Reggie,” Thad’s academic compatriot and enthusiastic research assistant. (Still…c’mon, Thad, you couldn’t get a grad student to do that?) She’s the funky, pipe-smoking, clunky wooden jewelry-wearing, VW Bug-driving, literature professor that you dream of encountering in college, and she steals every scene she’s in.

UNK SEZ: Thanks for sharing this stellar FFT, James! Folks, make sure you visit James at his home base LARPing Real Life HERE!

Five Favorite Things:: Electric Babysitter on Waxwork (1988)

It’s fair to say Waxwork is not a great movie. However, when it comes to Anthony Hickox’s resume, I’ll take Waxwork over a CD cenobite any day (I’m looking at you Hellraiser III)! Take a moment with me, won’t you? As I try to plead my case for this tonally awkward 80s oddball.

  1. The Cast

A lot of the performances in this movie are ahem not necessarily the best, but let’s give a participation award! Zach Galligan, Billy Peltzer himself…Gizmo would be proud! Dana Ashbrook aka Bobby Briggs (Twin Peaks forever!) And most importantly, Deborah Foreman…because it’s probably time for you to rewatch April Fool’s Day for the 100th time.

  1. The Anthology Vibe

Even though this movie is technically not an anthology, each time a character enters a waxwork, we’re introduced to a new story and characters. Each new set piece is like a mini horror movie!

  1. The Special Effects/Gore

This movie has some impressive make-up and gore! In fact Bob Keen, who also worked on Hellraiser and Candyman, helped to design the werewolf in the Dana Ashbrook segment.

  1. (To piggyback off #3) China and Count Dracula

Arguably the best and most memorable segment is when China (Michelle Johnson) meets Count Dracula. There’s copious amounts of gore and great lines like, “Ah yes, steak tartare.” Plus major fashion moment, because her dress is gorgeous…y’know before it gets all blood soaked.

  1. (And to piggyback off #4) Miles O’Keeffe

How much Keeffe is in this movie anyway? MILES O’KEEFFE! (MSTies where ya at?)

You can watch Waxwork on Tubi now! After that, (whorish self-promotion), check out Electric Babysitter HERE and Electric Babysitter on IG! Hope you have a wonderful day!

Five Favorite Things:: The Psychopath (1966) By Unk

Director Freddie Francis’ 1966 Robert Bloch (PSYCHO) penned murder mystery THE PSYCHOPATH is so up my alley, I feel almost sad that I did not encounter it earlier in life. Sure, now as an adult I can appreciate it on a multitude of levels I may have missed before but this is the type of flick I wish I could have stumbled across late at night on TV in my impressionable (and easily freaked-out) youth. Alas, this movie successfully avoided me for decades and we bumped heads only a handful of years ago. Still, it’s found a permanent place in my heart so here are five reasons I dig it so…

THEM DAMN DOLLS. Yikes. Every time some poor soul gets murdered in this movie, the killer leaves a doll that looks like the victim next to their corpse. If that doesn’t unnerve you enough, meet Mrs. Von Sturm (Margaret Johnston) the fishy-acting suspect whose entire house is overrun by dollies of all varieties, some that inexplicably rock and move and a few who seem to look directly through the camera at the viewer.

MRS. VON STURM. BURN, WITCH, BURN (aka NIGHT OF THE EAGLE)’s Margaret Johnston portrays Mrs. Von Sturm, a German, wheelchair utilizing doll fanatic with scores to settle and a harpy-esque disposition. It doesn’t matter if she’s a red haring or fully responsible for the death and mayhem; in either case she steals the entire movie with her campy hysterics, questionable decorating skills, and bizarre inanimate brood.

THE CINEMATOGRAPHY. What a gorgeous, colorful, eye–pleasing flick this is thanks to frequent Freddie Francis (say that 3 times fast) collaborator John Wilcox (NIGHTMARE, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE SKULL). Apparently, THE PSYCHOPATH was a huge hit in Italy in particular which makes a hell of a lot of sense, as it appears cut from the same vibrant cloth as the painterly works of Mario Bava.

MADDENING MUSIC BOX TUNES. Speaking of Italian cinema, nobody can tell me Dario Argento wasn’t somewhat inspired by THE PSYCHOPATH (especially in the case of DEEP RED). There’s this crazy-making music chime refrain that returns over and over again and its blood-curdling creepiness would fit so snuggly and at home within the master’s bag of tricks.

CREEPMASTER ROBERT BLOCH. Y’all know I’m loath to spoil a film’s ending, so I’ll keep my lips as tight as possible. Let’s just say the author of PSYCHO delivers a revelation by the film’s closing that’s slow burn shocking and spine-chilling (in more ways than one). In fact, the more you think about exactly what is implied and what one character nearly endures, it’s sicker than any occurrences at the Bates Hotel. That’s it. I’ll say no more. Just count me in as significantly and happily disturbed.

Five Favorite Things:: The Boogey Man (1980) By Unk

It’s legit creepy. I suppose there’s plenty to pick apart when it comes to THE BOOGEY MAN, director Ulli Lommel’s somewhat brazen, knee-jerk reaction to John Carpenter’s mega-successful HALLOWEEN but I don’t think anyone can pretend it doesn’t maintain a consistently creepy vibe. Its opening scene is tailor-made to echo its inspiration’s haunting prelude while doubling down (and then some) on all things sleazy and distasteful. Yep, it’s pure kindertrauma as young brother and sister Lacey and Willy are subjected to their mother’s kinky drunken liaison with a horrifying dude in a stocking mask and it all ends up tied (literally) to nightmarish abuse and ultimately murder. The ugly incidents are presented in fluorescent hues and witnessed by fluffy toy animals and a queasy tone is set that is never quite shaken off for the rest of the film’s runtime.

A familial bond. Real-life siblings Suzanna and Nicholas Love portray Lacey and Willy as damaged adults years later and although their performances are not exactly award-worthy, the two are naturally likable and charismatic and their emotional link feels effortlessly authentic. These are characters you can’t help feeling sympathy for even at moments in which Willy himself seems poised to be the film’s monster. Suzanna and director Lommel were married at the time of filming and it’s clear she was somewhat of a muse for him and his affection comes across on screen. It’s pretty cool she had a hand in writing the screenplay too.

Covertly innovative. THE BOOGEY MAN is often rightfully called out for its crystal clear debt to HALLOWEEN, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and THE EXCORCIST but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have several of its own creative cards up its sleeve. Several of its murders have an “inescapable curse” quality that could be said to pave the way for the FINAL DESTINATION series and its invisible stalker with a shredding fetish foreshadows child-murdering dream demon Freddy Krueger. The concept of a mirror capturing a murderous spirit and then each piece of said mirror becoming a conduit for evil once it’s shattered sounds pretty original to me. The movie’s ending is a perfect set-up for a series that could have gone in many a creative direction- unfortunately, the sequels dropped the ball as hard as they could (to put it lightly).

That eighties-era synth score. Sure, Tim Krog’s repetitive blippy score is obviously influenced heavily by Carpenter’s legendary HALLOWEEN theme but let’s face it, audiences were heavily craving exactly such a facsimile at the time. And really, it wisely guesstimates the electronic direction Carpenter was bound to lean towards years later with HALLOWEEN II. In any case, it perfectly captures an early synth- eighties vibe and puts the viewer in the proper apprehensive mood immediately.

That poster! I’ve been bewitched by THE BOOGEY MAN poster since I first stumbled across it in my youth. It does an outstanding job of delivering on pure atmosphere. It’s almost as if the viewer is the boogey man himself gazing upon an unsuspecting victim cautiously looking out a window on a dark windy night. I feel like I can almost see the shadows and curtains quietly twist and shift. Plus it pulsates with a kind of electricity thanks to its brilliant juxtaposition of purple and yellow hues. How do I not own this poster and why is it not hanging on my wall? This lovely piece of advertising art succinctly relays the idea that what will be delivered is some kind of spiritual sequel to HALLOWEEN and although audiences would grow exhausted by such a proposition a few years down the road, in 1980 it was an offer no horror fan could refuse. “The most terrifying nightmare of childhood is about to return” — sign me up.

Eventually Director Ulli Lommel would be responsible for some of the most hilariously half-hearted genre endeavors ever to take up space in in a video store but I’ll always have a soft spot for his interesting early work. I can’t help it, I still believe in THE BOOGEY MAN.

Five Favorite Things:: Night of the Demons 2 (1994) By Unk

1: Perfect for Halloween.

The original NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is a well-acknowledged perennial Halloween-set horror favorite but somehow its nearly equal sequel gets somewhat shafted. NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 kindly treats viewers to plenty of spooky season eye candy including but not limited to a plethora of costumes and decorations at an All Hallow’s Eve bash. Sure the trees are tellingly green but the film’s climax features a hefty load of crunchy leaves framing a courtyard fight for life. Beyond the visual array, the film’s consistent commitment to mischief, hijinks and mayhem is the perfect fit for a Halloween night.

2: Solid Sequel.

NOTD2 does everything a sequel should do and it does it right. It expands from the original film without stepping on its toes, it takes it in new directions while still being faithful and it winks toward the previous film whilst offering the unexpected and new. It’s actually such an airtight, well constructed ship that I’d say it can stand completely on its own and familiarity with its source material is beneficial but certainly not required.

3: The Humor.

Combining humor with horror can be a treacherous affair and the road to hell is paved with failed attempts. As silly and over the top as NOTD2 is willing to go (this is the type of film to shamelessly utilize the old holy water in a super soaker gag) it’s able to keep the threat level high enough that the chuckles never sink the ship. A kick-ass nun with Ninja skills may elicit eye rolls on paper but the miraculous way it is pulled off here creates a memorable heroine for the ages. Sick, dark, bawdy and maybe a slash corny this movie is consistent giddy fun.

4: The Special Effects.

NOTD2 may be a mid-nineties horror film but the squishy brazen gore and twisted monster effects may have you convinced it was born a good decade earlier. Perhaps because it avoided theaters and was released straight to video, NOTD2 clearly has no qualms showing the good stuff and there is some real eye-popping artistry on display if you’re so inclined. Be prepared for a horrific mouth injury, breasts that transform into grabbing hands, one of the better decapitations I’ve ever witnessed and a final-boss snake-beast that puts most big studio horror pictures to shame.

5: The Cast.

Returning Amelia Kinkade’s demonic Angela is still the star of the show but just as in the original, she’s surrounded by many a scene-stealer. Merle Kennedy (MAY) is highly sympathetic as Angela’s estranged sister Melissa who is better known as “Mouse”, Cristi Harris (NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW) shines as Mouse’s only ally, Zoe Trilling (DR. GIGGLES) is the ultimate bad girl and Christine Taylor (THE CRAFT, CAMPFIRE) is her usual brilliant self as snarky but ultimately likable brat Terri. For my money, Jennifer Rhodes performance as Sister Gloria is the jewel on the film’s crown. At first, she is presented as the typical nightmare scold but by the end of the movie, her character keenly destroys all cliché expectations. On her Imdb page, Rhodes says she’s best known for a horror film she doesn’t wish to discuss but since she was in SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE 2 as well, I’m going to assume that’s that one she is referring to. Surely, she can only be proud of NOTD2; a fun, frightening foray perfect for Halloween viewing.

Five Favorite Things:: Humanoids From The Deep (1980) By Unk

1: Pure Nostalgia

I often notice people speaking about nostalgia like it’s a bad thing and I just don’t agree with that at all. Nostalgia is a wonderful harmless drug and I enjoy partaking as frequently as needed. My father took my brothers and I when we were young to see HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. I’m assuming the idea was that because it involved the ocean it would be akin to one of our favorite flicks, JAWS. Well, HUMANOIDS is nothing like JAWS. No matter how wacky this movie may be, I really cannot watch it without viewing it through a child’s eyes. It catapults me backward to a time when movies still seemed completely uncontrollable and dangerous to me. I feel an unexplainable primal energy from every late-night forest stalking scene and every twig snapping under the foot of an ambiguous intruder still gives me a thrill. I feel really lucky that I can even now tap into my younger self’s excitement all of these years later. Unlike me, this movie never gets old.

2: It’s goofy

I really hate to see animals killed in movies and I also have an aversion to onscreen rape. In fact, the same year HUMANOIDS was released (1980) my brother (who worked in a movie theater) snuck me in to see MOTHER’S DAY and I simply could not handle it and ended up fleeing profoundly disturbed. HUMANOIDS involves many dead dogs (!) followed by a lot of fish creatures prone to rape and yet I give it a pass because ultimately the film is good-natured and goofy. It’s sort of like a 1950’s beach monster movie dipped in eighties-era inhibition. Sure, an obvious obsession with T&A abounds but it also makes a point of presenting one hell of a powerful and intelligent female lead (Ann Turkel as Dr. Susan Drake who takes zero guff from anyone). Word has it that Director Barbara Peeters delivered a far less exploitive film to producer Roger Corman who unsatisfied, forced additional re-shoots of more explicit scenes. Maybe it’s because I grew up with this movie (it was rented on multiple occasions and became a family favorite of sorts) but I’ve never found the end result particularly offensive even though its premise of aquatic monsters impregnating women against their will might be a little iffy to modern tastes (HUMANOIDS was remade for cable television in 1996 with its levels of sex/violence toned down). I mean, this is the type of movie in which a ventriloquist dummy inexplicable becomes sentient to witness a double homicide and it’s presented as the most natural of occurrences. It’s difficult to take too seriously.

3: Vic Morrow

I dig Doug McClure and Ann Turkel as the film’s intrepid leads but Vic Morrow playing hateful racist asshole Hank Slattery is pure gold! Nobody does bad guys as convincingly as Morrow and I’m forever sorry he and his young costars in THE TWILIGHT ZONE MOVIE (1983) received such tragic (and avoidable) fates (Pssst, while we’re on the subject: HUMANOIDS handles the same anti-racist theme as Morrow’s TWILIGHT ZONE segment and in a less ham-handed way. Also, this flick’s got you covered on the anti-greed, pro-environmental issues too! It’s pretty sneakily progressive for a monster fish movie, I’d say).

4: Those Monsters!

As much as I love eighties era slashers, there’s something special about the monster movies that were able to creep their way out of the floorboards at that extraordinary time (I’m winking at you, THE BOOGENS). The monsters that inhabit HUMANOIDS have a bit of a throwback feel to them (they’re unavoidably linked at the fin to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) but they’re also innovative and impressively daunting. How can they not be cool when the legendary Rob Bottin (THE THING) had a hand in their creation? I wish I could share a proper centerfold of these equally humorous and disgusting creatures. Their brains seem to be half exposed, their arms are unnaturally long, they seem to be covered with slime, kelp and gooey debris and the mean, green dudes stand about seven feet tall! What’s not to love and furthermore, where is the action figure I deserve?

5. The Salmon Festival Massacre!!!

Like most young folk I had a soft spot in my heart for destruction. Movies like EARTHQUAKE, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO all brought me great joy (I especially dug the opening of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA which involved multiple planets being mercilessly annihilated). Right up there with the best scenes of chaos of my youth is the remarkable Salmon Festival fiasco of HUMANOIDS. There are sea creatures popping out of seemingly everywhere (impressive as only three monster suits were created), frenzied beauty pageant contestants fighting for their lives and innocent townspeople running about pell-mell. At this point, the mystery is over and the frightful fish folk couldn’t be more up close and in your face. It’s a lot of fun and provides an incredibly satisfying payoff to the film. HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP taught me at a young age that horror movies could be as joyful as they are scary and for that I will always have affection for this somewhat silly, yet unquestionably awesome film.

Five Favorite Things:: Killer Party (1986) By Matty F.

Hello terrific and magnificent Kindertrauma readers!

Killer Party is one of those underrated, bizarre movie finds that doesn’t seem to get much credit or love from scary movie fans. As of right now, it only has a 5.1 on IMDb and rarely gets mentioned on horror websites, but that needs to change right now and I am leading the charge! I will host a fundraiser telethon on PBS if I have to in order to get the word out that this is must-see TV. Everyone should be having a Killer Party party! I want Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Adele to sing songs about it. I want Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Laura Linney, Ryan Reynolds, and Mark Ruffalo to do a Zoom script reading for it. Blimps should fly in the air with the movie poster on their sides. That’s how magical this movie is. Let’s face it, 2020 has been a rough year for a lot of us. We all need more Killer Party in our lives. To quote the amazing Kelly Clarkson, my life would suck without you. Here’s why you should give this one a chance (or a reassessment if you’ve already seen it).

Jennifer, Phoebe, and Vivia. Horror movies aren’t always known for giving the audience likable characters to root for (I’m looking at you, The Gallows, Grave Encounters 2, Unfriended, and especially you, creepy creeperton Paul from Hell House LLC). Killer Party gives us not one but three charming, well-acted leads with Jennifer (Joanna Johnson), Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes), and Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch). They’re relatable, thoughtful, quirky, capable, supportive of each other, and completely believable as best friends thanks to the phenomenal chemistry the actresses have together. Along with Blair, Tootie, Natalie, and Jo, this is the group of 1980s best buddies I’d most want to hang out with. Far removed from the cool-girl clique from Heathers, they’re the kind of friends who would have sleepover dance party singalongs to Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual and I want in on that invite list. If I had my way, Jennifer, Phoebe, and Vivia would have made several The Love Boat crossovers and had their own nighttime soap opera like Dallas or spy series like Alias. They’d certainly fit in as useful, eccentric additions to the Scooby Gang on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In having these three personable, affable women as leads, Killer Party stands out from the crowd of late-80s slasher fare. We should all be so lucky to have best buddies with such personality, character, and loyalty. Horror scriptwriters, take note and make your characters this engaging.

The bonkers opening. In the first ten minutes of the movie, we get a movie-within-a-music-video starring April, whose crimped hair is the crimpiest crimp ever put to film. The off-kilter, slightly humorous tone is set immediately, with a somber funeral starring a vengeful corpse, angry family member, bumbling priest, and distracted crematorium workers. But wait! It’s just April and her date Stosh watching a horror movie (not Cats) when they realize they’re trapped inside a rock music video starring Whitesnake’s second cousin White Sister. However, instead of Tawny Kitaen gyrating on top of shiny cars, April has to battle goopy, choreographed zombies who want to eat your brain but also want to dance like they’re on tour with Paula Abdul! The opening scene’s audience fake-out ends up being something Phoebe is watching on television as the main plotline begins. This creatively meta approach was way ahead of its time and not yet a popular trope in horror flicks of the 80s (with exceptions such as the great Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives), having come to prominence with 1996’s Scream.

The bananas ending. The finale goes all-out. Is it a slasher movie? Is it a haunted house movie? Is it a possession movie? Be like Wilson Phillips and hold on, because it’s all three. The supporting characters are dead and the party has cleared out, leaving Vivia and Phoebe to fend off their best friend Jennifer, who has been possessed by the angry spirit of Allan. It seems that Allan was the unfortunate victim of a fatal fraternity hazing 20 years prior at Pratt House, and Jennifer is the perfect person to use to carry out his vengeance. It’s an interesting twist, as Jennifer is set up as the main final girl from the beginning, even so far as to take a page from Crazy Ralph’s playbook and forewarn her friends that something is “wrong”. Usually the prescient, hyper-aware characters survive the carnage, but here she spends the movie’s conclusion destroying staircases, growling and snarling in a boogeyman baritone, climbing the walls and ceilings, and terrorizing her best friends. If only they had heeded her warnings. Vivia and Phoebe shine as final girls in these scenes, highlighting how resilient, smart, strong, brave, and resourceful they are; from the always-appreciated “find-the-bodies” slasher staple where they first discover the imminent danger to the realization that their beloved bestie is now a bloodthirsty maniac to their resolute determination to save each other. The final scenes of the movie are extra creepy fun as well, wherein Allan’s spirit overtakes Phoebe (“You raised a demon, Vivia,” she says in a spooky possessed voice) as the paramedics load Vivia and Phoebe into the same ambulance despite Vivia’s shrieking protests. No happy endings here (except in the fanfiction I wrote where they all make it out alive, finding happiness running a motel chain with the Rose family from Schitt’s Creek and making Moira their fourth BFF).

The killer’s costume. The movie was severely edited in order to receive an R-rating, leaving out almost all of the gore and bloodshed. These scenes have never been released uncut, though photos of the special effects were shown in old issues of Fangoria magazine. The more graphic footage was reworked to have all of the violence occur in a particular section of the film. Here is where the killer, dressed in a cumbersome, bulky diver’s suit shows up to quickly decimate the cast. Any killer that can wear 190 pounds of costume just to slaughter a bunch of partying college kids has serious dedication to their job. It’s an impractical yet visually arresting, unique, and memorable ensemble that is right at home with the weirdness of the movie. How do none of the victims hear him coming? How much Zumba did the killer have to do be in such good shape to choose that particular get-up? Where does one even find a trident to kill people with? How do you pronounce “gif”?  I have no answers. Like Jon Snow, I know nothing.

The soundtrack. We’ve already discussed White Sister’s contribution to the stellar soundtrack, but wait until you hear “These Are the Best Times”. This tune, which sounds like the best Bananarama or Spice Girls song that they never made, is sung by the three lead actresses and plays in both the beginning and over the end credits of the film. It is a jingle and a jam that you will never get out of your brain. Had this been officially released in any capacity, I would have requested the DJ to play it every time I went roller skating at Skatetown USA. If you haven’t heard this enchanting melody, you can find it on YouTube. You’ll want it to be your wedding song.

And random deep thoughts… There were a few extra things about the movie that I wanted to mention before I’m done convincing the world at large to watch it. The poster and VHS/DVD cover art is incredible and perfectly encapsulates that video store rental experience. The supporting characters are fun and enjoyable, beginning with Alicia Fleer as sorority mean girl Veronica, the Regina George of Briggs College. From her sneers and outfits alone, she is a memorably crotchety foil for Jennifer, Phoebe, and Vivia. The wonderful Paul Bartel shows up as the amusingly kooky Professor Zito. Just Before Dawn’s Ralph Seymour makes nerdy Martin more than a one-note caricature. Martin Hewitt takes his role of Blake, who could have been just a stereotypical jerk who listens to Jock Jams on repeat, and gives him some depth. The loopy Mrs. Henshaw (Pam Hyatt), while dispatched too early on, adds to the offbeat nature of the proceedings as she pleads at Allan’s gravestone for him to move on. Killer Party deserves more recognition because of Barney Cohen’s idiosyncratic script, solid direction from William Fruet (who directed several episodes of the awesome and underappreciated Friday the 13th: The Series), and the general peculiar proceedings that both adhere to and conversely stray from the conventional slasher movie. It’s a weird, wild, lively, amiable movie with no loftier goals than to be entertaining, and succeeds in a big way. Killer Party is a fun time that would make for a fantastic drive-in movie experience, night in on the couch and under a comforter with some Hot Pockets, or maybe someday, an uncut version on a big movie theater screen. I can dream! One final fun fact: the title of this movie was originally going to be “April Fool” but had to be changed because the April Fool’s-themed Slaughter High and the excellent April Fool’s Day were both in production. Thank you so much for reading! Be happy, safe, and healthy! Wear your mask!

Five Favorite Things:: The Sender (1982) By Unk

Everyone should know how great THE SENDER is by now and yet somehow they don’t. All these years later and I still rarely see it mentioned. Obviously it’s my duty to sing its praises yet again and so here we go…

1: The Tone

THE SENDER is one somber piece of work and it’s magnificently consistent. The colors are uniformly grey, bland or beige and its subdued rainy day mood refreshingly goes against the grain of most early eighties fare. There’s little if any levity and I think the only time we see the sun shining is during a suicide attempt. It’s like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET through the eyes of Ingmar Bergman. It’s probably not for everybody and its glum nature may explain its limited appeal but I LOVE it. It’s not too surprising that director Roger Christian was the art director for ALIEN and cinematographer Roger Pratt would go on to gift his talents to BRAZIL and 12 MONKEYS.

2:The Central Relationship/Actors

Intense Zeljko Ivanek portrays the wounded and confused “John Doe #83” who is sent to a mental clinic after trying to take his own life. The insanely underrated Kathryn Harrold is Gail Farmer, his concerned and intuitive therapist who takes him under her wing. The two are great together and it’s easy to root for their positive, nurturing relationship as it threatened by shock therapy enthusiast Dr. Denman (effortlessly unlikable Paul Freeman) and John’s unnerving and overtly religious mother (a quietly spooky Shirley Knight).

3: The Shock Therapy Scene

As it turns out John Doe#83 has quite a special talent and can “send” horrific nightmarish images and hallucinations into the minds of those around him- in some cases, triggering their deepest fears. It also turns out that when dealing with somebody with such ability that shock therapy is definitely not the way to go if you’re trying to quell the issue. We’re talking doctors and nurses flying about in slow motion through glass windows and fellow patients literally losing their heads. This scene is so beautifully done and continues to be a jaw-dropping sight no matter how many times I revisit the movie.

4:The Score

The great Trevor Jones (LABYRINTH, ANGEL HEART, DARK CITY) really gets behind the material and pushes everything to a higher level. Some of what he delivers is the saddest thing to ever hit your ears and then when needed, he brings on the bombast and creeping dread expertly.

5: The Visions

Rats crawling out of mouths, cockroaches swarming the fridge, decapitated heads flying about; what THE SENDER does not deliver in the body count department it certainly makes up for in the horrifying visual imagery arena. The line between reality and nightmare is cleverly blurred (and it should be noted, years before such a scenario was presented in the NOES series) and there’s a grounded, realistic quality to the happenings that make them that much more disturbing.

THE SENDER was way ahead of its time and it may still be. I guess it’ll never be an outright crowd-pleaser but it beats its own idiosyncratic drum in a way that has always impressed me. It’s a mature, thoughtful fright flick that stands on its own two feet and caters to no one and I’ll always be proud to champion it.