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.

Five Favorite Things:: The Fog (1980) By Vince Liaguno of Slasher Speak

On my last visit to the hallowed halls of Kindertrauma, I caused somewhat  of a stir with my admission that Curtains—and not the more widely-regarded and revered Halloween or Friday the 13th or any number of other better crafted films from the subgenre’s golden age—was my favorite slasher film. It was quite the scandal—pearls were clutched, jaws were left on the floor, and villagers of all ages fled the scene en masse, arms waving and voices shrieking in unison like Bodega Bay’s schoolchildren in The Birds. Well, get ready for yet another brouhaha on par with the horror of an acapella chorus of “Risseldy Rosseldy” on a looping reel because I’m about to do it again.

Halloween isn’t my favorite John Carpenter film.

I know, I know. But all the holy water and melodramatic exorcism rituals from every bad demonic possession movie combined can’t evict this demon of truth from my soul. Don’t get me wrong; I adore Carpenter’s Halloween—for both its merits as a classic horror film and its far-reaching genre influence. Plus, it gave me—er, I mean it gave the world—its preeminent scream queen, Jamie Lee Curtis. But as much as I love and appreciate the personification of evil in a mechanic’s jumpsuit and Shatner mask slashing his way through leaf-strewn suburbia on its titular holiday, it’s Carpenter’s next film that captured my horror heart and remains—to this day—not only the one film this scary movie enthusiast watches religiously every Halloween but also my favorite horror film of all-time. Quelle surprise!

By now, you know the drill: Five of my favorite things about The Fog that contribute to its lofty ranking in my personal pantheon of great horror movies:

1. Mr. Machen’s Fireside Ghost Story: The opening of The Fog is a masterclass in storytelling. From the random scenes of supernatural goings-on across the seaside town of Antonio Bay as the opening credits drift lazily in and out to the gathering of some of the town’s youth around old Mr. Machen and a roaring campfire on the beach at midnight, Carpenter sets up his tale of ghostly revenge beautifully. As the late John Houseman (as Machen) recites the 1880 events that led to the purposeful sinking of the Elizabeth Dane, a clipper ship filled with leprosy-stricken colonists looking for a place to settle, the mood and atmosphere of the film is expertly set. Houseman is cast brilliantly here, his distinct, unmistakable voice the perfect vehicle to eerily establish the film’s backstory. Even his nautical couture—bordering on a  caricature of the wizened sea captain—lends an added visual element of tonal consistency that serves to further foster a strong sense of mood. Adding to the spooky ambiance is Carpenter’s score—arguably, his best—that imbues these early scenes with a feeling of pure, inescapable dread that seems to communicate to the moviegoer, “Sorry, folks—the only out is through.” Fun fact: This scene wasn’t even included in Carpenter’s original shoot. It was added, later, after he and producing partner Debra Hill were dissatisfied with a rough cut of the film.

2. Sandy, the Sassy Sidekick: I know I’m not alone in lamenting the all-too-short acting career of Nancy Loomis. Whether by choice or circumstance, one wishes that her roles in a trio of Carpenter films—Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, and The Fog—would have been as strong a career springboard for her as roles in the latter two were for Jamie Lee Curtis. As Sandy Fadel, assistant to Janet Leigh’s Kathy Williams character, Loomis proved that she had a clear career path to becoming a memorable character actor. Crisp, efficient, and with a slight projection of boredom that manifested in brilliant moments of deadpan sarcasm, Sandy was the perfect assistant. Loomis plays the part to precision, keeping Sandy sassy enough without crossing the line into satirical stereotype. Her onscreen boss summed it up best: “Sandy, you’re the only person I know who can make ‘Yes, Ma’am’ sound like ‘screw you’.”

3. The Lighthouse Setting: In The Fog, the climactic battle with the ghosts of the Elizabeth Dane takes place on two fronts—the old town church where most of the cast converge and the radio station where DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) forges her own solo battle against the risen seamen. Carpenter’s brilliance in setting the radio station within the backdrop of a lighthouse cannot be underscored enough. Using the real-life Point Reyes Lighthouse to film many of Barbeau’s scenes, the locale lends a genuine sense of isolation that adds to the escalating tension throughout the film. From high atop her vantage point, Stevie can see the titular menace rolling into Antonio Bay and is able to use her broadcasting ability to warn those on the ground. But when those misty tendrils slide over the rocks outside WKAB, spiraling upwards and engulfing the structure in gauzy whiteness that pulsates with the revolving lighthouse beacon, the audience knows that Stevie—physically cut off and alone—is in for the fight of her life. The lighthouse setting enables Carpenter to execute some of the film’s most excruciatingly tense and frightening set pieces, aided tremendously, of course, by Barbeau’s bravura performance. Ironically, the creative forces behind the ill-conceived 2005 remake of The Fog opted not to include the lighthouse locale—and that’s one of many reasons why that film failed so miserably in this jaded loyalist’s opinion.

4. Getting to the Church on Time: There is a sequence at the beginning of the film’s third act that is easily my favorite; I call it “The Foggy Roadway Shuffle.” As members of the ensemble begin to understand that something sinister is befalling Antonio Bay on its centennial anniversary, they tune into their car radios to find pre-climactic battle Stevie in full-tilt panic mode. She’s tracking and broadcasting the advance of the fog into Antonio Bay, and the audience is treated to expertly executed scenes where vehicles stop short and catch the beginning wisps of fog in their headlights as characters take note of street signs before jerking steering wheels hard left or right and tearing off in another direction at Stevie’s disembodied radio guidance:

“It’s moving faster now, up Regent Avenue, up to the end of Smallhouse Road. It’s just hitting the outskirts of town. Broad Street…Clay Street. It’s moving down Tenth Street. Get inside and lock your doors. Close your windows. There’s something in the fog! If you’re on the south side of town, go north. Stay away from the fog. Richardsville Pike up to Beacon Hill is the only clear road. Up to the church. If you can get out of town, get to the old church.”

Those scenes are fraught with tension that both escalates and palpates as Carpenter’s pounding score jolts with electronic urgency.

5. Convergence of the Ensemble: While poor Stevie Wayne is left to fend for herself high above Antonio Bay on the roof of her lighthouse radio station, the rest of the ensemble converge at “the old church.” It’s a marvelous sequence with Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis arriving right behind Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis, who have just rescued Stevie’s young son, Andy. (We won’t discuss the raw deal poor Mrs. Kobritz got.)

Leigh’s Kathy Williams, fretfully: “It cut us off!”

“Where is it?” asks Atkins’ Nick Castle.

“Right behind us…in the driveway.”

“Quick! Inside.”

Once inside, the requisite barricading of doors and windows begins, while Leigh strongarms Hal Holbrook’s inebriated Father Malone (a direct descendant of one of the original conspirators who doomed the Elizabeth Dane and her passengers to their watery grave) into reading from the journal he found at the outset of the film. Before you can say, “Hey, is that Captain Blake’s lost gold there in your walls?”, the church is surrounded by fog and besieged by the leprosy-ridden crew of the Elizabeth Dane. Some fantastic visuals here as gnarled, waterlogged hands break through backlit stained-glass windows. Lots of hair-grabbing and screaming cast members yanked backwards toward broken windows as Father Malone finally figures out the answer to their conundrum and makes haste to set the past straight. There’s a kinetic energy and choreography to these scenes that just adds crackle and momentum and ratchets up the suspense exponentially.

It is, of course, also a real treat to see Curtis and Leigh together in these penultimate scenes, the second of three onscreen appearances they’d make before Leigh’s passing in 2004. (The first was an episode of The Love Boat that aired in November of 1978; the third was Halloween: H2O in 1998.)

The Fog had a production budget of about $1 million, which included Carpenter’s wise choice to shoot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen to give the essentially low-budget production a big-budget feel. With reshoots and added footage, final production wrapped at around the $1.1 million mark. Someone behind the scenes had a lot riding on the success of Carpenter’s high-profile follow-up to Halloween. In an unprecedented move, Avco Embassy spent another $3 million (three times the film’s production budget for those keeping tally) exclusively on advertising—television and radio spots, print ads, and even the placement of fog machines in the lobbies of select theaters where the film was screening. The strategy worked. The Fog was released on February 8th, 1980 to mixed reviews but robust box office, eventually taking in a $21.3 million domestic haul.

For me, The Fog represented Carpenter’s vision and narrative mastery at its best. He would come close one other time in his impressive but modest career with another ensemble piece—1982’s The Thing—but his time spent in Antonio Bay was a pure love letter to the old-fashioned ghost story.

Vince Liaguno is an award-winning writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. Visit his official author website HERE or his Slasher Speak blog HERE.

Five Favorite Things:: Bad Dreams (1988) By Unk

BAD DREAMS gets a lot of flack for resembling a certain other eighties horror franchise but it offers many unique charms of its own. Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) survived a group cult suicide as a child (and a thirteen-year coma) only to wake and find the deceased cult leader (Richard Lynch) still has her number and plans to force all her pals to seemingly take their own lives unless she returns to him.

That Cast

Every Five Favorite Things post I contribute is likely to feature the actors or cast as a favorite feature and I’m fine with that. I can’t imagine loving a movie and not digging the people in it. Whoever did the casting for BAD DREAMS deserves an award for hitting the nail on the head with every part. We get the quintessential virtuoso villain Richard Lynch as the linchpin baddie, Jenifer Rubin who excels at being the likable scrappy outsider, E.G. Daily with her sympathetic sprite-like charm, Dean Cameron with his edgy humor sharpened to cut deep and Bruce Abbot as the soothing doctor with sweater weather vibes. And that’s not even half the players! You also get Susan Ruttan as a chain-smoking cynic and stuffy Harris Yulin as a conservative quack among others. It’s like the Avengers of awesome eighties- era actors and let me tell ya, they all deliver.

The Direction

First time director Andrew Fleming (who would go onto direct the classic THE CRAFT) shows much talent in the way he dispenses suspense and allows the multitude of characters to all shine individually. There are a few scenes that make me flinch no matter how many times I watch the film and there are a slew of stylistic choices that elevate the film above many of its contemporaries.

The Elevator Scene(s)

The first time we get a good gander at the film’s fried-faced offender is truly startling and expertly jarring. Deceased cult leader Harris suddenly appears behind Cynthia in an elevator and it’s impossible not to be stunned by the beautifully gruesome make up effects. Sure, he’s got a crispy skin condition like the more popular Freddy Krueger but it’s also more realistic, and tonally darker. In fact, his more aggressive, less jovial energy is not unlike Freddy’s revamped persona in WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE years later. One of the most effective elements of this scene is the use of epileptic seizure courting strobe lights along with incredibly compelling editing. It’s very disorienting and alarming. There’s also a tamer elevator scare later on in the film when one of Cynthia’s new found allies calmly enters the elevator and half of it is blocked from view thanks to a medical cart. An anonymous worker pushes the cart away, which instantly exposes the film’s phantom presence waving and smiling from behind her. It’s so simple and efficient and works better than most special effect laden set pieces.

The House/The Cult

Is there anything scarier than a cult? Cults freak me out — always have and always will. What could possibly make a person give up the reins to their own existence? And in the case of this film, how dumb do you have to be to allow someone who looks like Richard Lynch to pour gasoline on your head? It boggles the mind. I will say that the crazy cult people in this movie did indeed receive one good perk for their devotion and that is that they got to live in this really beautiful and cool looking house (before they burned alive inside it screaming for a chance to rethink their life choices). One of my favorite shots from the film is a sly but appropriate ode to Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting “Christina’s World.”

Forgivable Flaws & Excusable Derivatives

When I saw BAD DREAMS when it first came out, I mostly loved it but was disappointed by the ending reveal that seemed to render the best parts of the movie null and void. Over the years I just accepted the too rational (yet agreeable in its condemnation of the overuse of pharmaceuticals) climax as a bitter pill I had to swallow to enjoy it. The devastating part is that the DVD includes the original ending that fixes many a flaw by offering a supernatural compromise that allows for two sources of evil and the revelation that Harris is Cynthia’s father! Oh what could have been! Besides diluting the film’s denunciation of toxic families, removing the original ending sabotaged the likelihood of an interesting sequel/rematch! The studio even nixed the use of the band X’s “Burning House of Love” over the end credits in favor of Guns and Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine”– I take that somewhat personally.

Released a mere year after NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS and featuring one of its stars along with a similarly complexion-challenged antagonist, BAD DREAMS rightfully was called out for its undeniable familiarity. In my book though it’s worth enduring some slings and arrows if it means we’re gifted another horror flick set in a psychiatric hospital (plus if it weren’t for cinematic opportunism, there’d be no PIRAHNA or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and is that the kind of world you want to live in?). All these years later the creative shortcut feels way less objectionable and I’d take BAD DREAMS over several of Freddy’s post DREAM WARRIORS output anyway (not naming names).

It’s routine in the genre that a hit film would produce wannabes and in this case a great deal of the similarities are on the surface rather than in spirit. Like its heroine, BAD DREAMS has a lot of baggage and is far from perfect but it never fails to hold my interest and I’ll always root for it to find the appreciation it deserves.

Five Favorite Things:: The Attic (1980) By Unk

I wrote about THE ATTIC a bunch of years ago HERE but I can never get enough of this movie so I thought it deserved a Five Favorite Things flavored tribute…

The Acting

Hey! Two of my favorite actors in one movie! Although I doubt Carrie Snodgress and Ray Milland would identify THE ATTIC as the highpoint of their respective careers, I can’t imagine anyone who could deliver as much to either role. At the time both actors were routinely pigeonholed into somewhat similar parts (Snodgress as a flighty loon, Milland as a cantankerous stick in the mud) and yet both here seem game as hell to present the apex of what they were often being typecast. Snodgress is wonderfully vulnerable yet marginally threatening as brokenhearted, semi-delusional spinster librarian Louise Elmore and Milland is effortlessly contemptible as her overbearing, sabotaging father Wendell. It’s almost like watching a virtuoso ping-pong tournament as these two legends spar against each other.

Monkeys, Chimps and Apes!

Our girl Louise is obsessed with monkeys. She collects them, they are her spirit animal and they give her much needed comfort against the realities she can’t accept. One day her only pal impulsively buys a real “monkey” (a chimp complete with accompanying circus music) for her to love from the pet store (as one does) and Louise brings it home to the great annoyance of her joyless father. I’m a simple man and nothing in the world is as amusing to me than an ornery old man being tormented by a mischievous chimp; it’s just a delightful scenario. Sadly, Louise’s bold move to follow her own wishes rather than her father’s begins a chain of events that are truly tragic (but not before Louise fantasizes that her chimp turns into a gorilla and gives her father a beat-down). I gotta say, Louise’s murderous revenge fantasies are often amusing but they also have a twisted off-kilter vibe that is keenly eerie.

The Songs

THE ATTIC was released in 1980 but you’d never know it by the oddly misplaced song inserts that seem plucked from a mellow-seventies 8-track tape. Come for the suicidal whimpering of “Who Cares”, stay for the rental bike excursion theme  “Come Love Me Again” which was written by the same lyricist (Ayn Robbins) who penned ROCKY’s “Gonna Fly Now”.

The Melodrama

I admit that when I first stumbled across THE ATTIC on television as a teen, I was a little disappointed in its lack of bloodshed or supernatural happenings. Louise is rather like a classic Tennessee Williams character who is trapped in a world of her own due to a hopeful moment in her past transforming into a tar pit of broken dreams and abandonment. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s kinda sappy at times but there remains a dark, slyly sharp gothic undercurrent that should satisfy those who enjoy subtler psychological horror. Snodgress was a mere 35 when the film was made but much of the familial betrayal themes present here echo those found in WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (62) Poor Louise may seem pathetic at times but she exerts a heroic effort to change course and a generosity of spirit that is truly admirable. Sadly she is ultimately thwarted by meddlers in her midst so in that respect I’d also liken this tale to other tragic character-driven horror faves like PSYCHO II (83) and MAY (2002).

That Strange Connection

I’ll always be fascinated by the fact that the characters of Louise Elmer and her wheelchair utilizing pop Wendell previously appeared portrayed by different actors in an earlier film. 1973’s Curtis Harrington helmed flick THE KILLING KIND was written by the same two writers (Tony Crechales & Gary Gravet) as THE ATTIC and apparently they became so curious about what these secondary, briefly-appearing, character’s backstories might be that they wrote them their own film. I’m eternally grateful they did. Otherwise, I’d never have gotten to see Ray Milland throttled by an ape.

Note: I’ve seen THE ATTIC so many times that I was able to write this without a re-viewing but I had to watch it again just in case I remembered anything wrong and because I couldn’t remember the monkey’s name (it was Dickie). And let me tell ya, it all hit me so much harder! The comedy seemed more explicit, the sorrow seemed infinitely deeper and I found myself newly enraged by the actions of Louise’s father. I’m just in awe of the way film can continuously gift new layers to a viewer each time they watch it and the older they get. The way Louise feels about monkeys is the way I feel about this movie.

Five Favorite Things:: Curtains (1983) By Vince Liaguno of Slasher Speak

It was June 2011. I was standing in front of a packed room in a Long Island hotel, leading a spirited panel on slasher films to celebrate the release of my then-latest anthology project Butcher Knives & Body Counts: Essays on the Formula, Frights, and Fun of the Slasher Film. Several of the book’s contributors were in attendance, including novelist Stephen Graham Jones, Halloween (the holiday, not the film) expert Lisa Morton, Fangoria’s Tony Timpone, and esteemed From Zombo’s Closet blogger John Cozzoli, among others.

Everything was going swimmingly—I was in my element among my people waxing philosophical about slasher films. Seriously, what could be better than to be standing before a crowd hanging on my every word about a genre I love? Then someone asked a pretty pedestrian question: “So, what’s your favorite slasher film?”

Everyone I’ve ever known expects me to say Halloween, largely because of my predilection for all things Jamie Lee Curtis. A few others might expect me to answer with Friday the 13th because that’s always been right up there in my personal rankings; honestly, they’re an interchangeable #1 and #2 depending upon my mood and the day—at least up to that point. And then I open my mouth.

Curtains,” I answer confidently and without hesitation.

Mouths in the audience hang agape at this stunning admission. I’m even a little stunned myself yet oddly relieved and even slightly empowered. I’ve just audaciously skipped perhaps the two most obvious and revered of the golden age slasher films—and at least a half dozen others infinitely more qualified—and picked one of the most overlooked, (technically) poorly made and edited messes of a box office bomb and proclaimed it my favorite.

In front of witnesses.

No one is more surprised as I am, but as I begin to speak in an attempt to elucidate just why this one-time slasher stinker has implausibly leaped over the handful of slashers that predictably land atop most film buffs’ listicles, I’ve even managed to convince myself of an improbable truth: Curtains is a damn good slasher film. Here are my five favorite things that make this my truth:

1: The Element of Mystery: I’ve long held that the best slasher films are the ones that incorporate an element of mystery. Although Michael Myers stalking the leaf-strewn streets of Haddonfield never fails to elicit goosebumps, there’s something to be said about not knowing who’s committing the camp counselor carnage of Friday the 13th until the film’s third act. Whodunit became as compelling a plot point as the method of execution in films like Happy Birthday to Me, Terror Train, Prom Night, Graduation Day, The Prowler, Urban Legend, and, of course, Scream. In Curtains, the set-up is pure Agatha Christie: Five actresses, all vying for the same coveted film role, converge at the remote home of the film’s esteemed (and very sleazy) director to audition. A sixth actress never even makes it to the house, failing her audition with a knife to the gut. Before the first act is over, the cast is snowbound and someone in a hideous hag mask begins to systematically dispatch with the competition in true slasher style. It’s tremendous fun trying to figure out who’s behind the hag mask—and the third act reveal doesn’t disappoint.

2: The Ice Skating Scene: Even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day, and that adage holds true with the infamous ice skating sequence in Curtains. Despite the film’s myriad flaws, horror buffs largely agree that Christie’s kill is one of the most beautifully filmed and executed in all of slasherdom. From my own Butcher Knives & Body Counts essay “Paging Miss Marple”:

“What makes the scene both audacious and unnerving for slasher fans is that it takes place in broad daylight, breaking long-standing slasher convention, and the killer comes after her on skates. Few diehard slasher films will argue that the sight of old hag face skating across the frozen pond in graceful strides toward an oblivious [Lesleh] Donaldson isn’t one of the most genuinely chilling cinematic moments ever. There is a pure poetry to the scene, with the curve of the scythe that slowly emerges from behind the killer’s back matching the artful curves of the skates as they cut through the ice towards Donaldson. The actress, who first blinks in confusion in the bright sunshine before that moment of amalgamated shock and terror, plays the scene to perfection.”

3: That Creepy Doll: Curtains is notable for its use of creepy imagery. Case in point, the recurring use of a grim-looking doll—raven-haired, sunken eyes, mouth downturned into a frown—that shows up at the most inopportune times and seems to be a harbinger of bad things to come throughout the film. There are two scenes, in particular, in which creepy dolly is used to particularly good effect. In the first, Amanda (Deborah Burgess) is making her way to the audition, heading up a curving roadway in a rainstorm. She slams on her brakes: ‘Ole creepy dolly is standing in the middle of the road, arms outstretched. When Amanda gets out of the car, using her audition script as an ineffective umbrella, and crouches down in front of the doll to investigate its incongruous appearance in the middle of the road, creepy dolly latches onto her arm and Amanda screams. It’s revealed to be nothing more than a nightmare, but the sequence is unnerving.

In the second scene, Christie finds creepy dolly buried in the snow at the side of the pond. She pulls it out and brushes the snow from its face. Even in broad daylight, the doll’s visage is unsettling. As the film’s hag-masked killer skates upon the ill-fated Christie, the ice-skating ingénue tries to block the killer’s attack by thrusting the doll out in front of her—and poor creepy dolly’s head gets lopped off with the killer’s scythe.

4: The Prop Closet Final Chase: At the beginning of the film’s third act, Tara (the late Sandee Currie)—after stumbling upon all the dead bodies in accordance with the slasher formula—finds herself in the enviable position of would-be final girl, which can only mean one thing: the protracted chase scene between her and the killer. Curtains makes champion use of its underlying thespian theme here by setting the climatic final chase in a theatrical prop closet. The setting is made creepier by its natural clutter—costume-clad mannequins, furniture, myriad stage props, eerily lit signage. It all serves alternately as camouflage for both hag-mask and Tara—well, at least until she climbs into that ventilation shaft…

5: Everything We Didn’t See: What makes Curtains the true masterpiece this longtime horror nerd has come to appreciate is largely what we don’t see on screen.


No, you heard me correctly. Curtains is remarkable for all its lost potential. Watching it, one is struck by all the things the filmmakers could have done—hell, may have done. Curtains was a notoriously troubled, protracted production, worsened by multiple script rewrites, reshoots, and recastings that spanned nearly three years. Prom Night producer Peter S. Simpson conceptualized the film as an “adult” slasher that could be marketed toward older audiences and, by all accounts, the film’s original director Richard Ciupka had begun to craft something of an arthouse thriller. But tensions between producer and director over the creative direction of the film led to the latter eventually detaching his name from the project—after only 45 minutes of footage had been completed. Simpson stepped in to complete the film, adding scenes, reshooting scenes, and excising some of Ciupka’s material. The end product is something of a cinematic mishmash, which is why you’ll note two separate sets of credits and a fictional director.

The lost Ciupka footage has become something of cinematic legend, with various cast and crew recollecting scenes that have never seen the light of day. In 2013, Synapse Films announced that it was planning on releasing Curtains on Blu-ray, with a new 2K transfer from the original prints, as well as a 5.1 surround sound audio remastering. Fans of the film began to buzz about the infamous Ciupka footage once again—but, alas, the fine gents at Synapse found none of the coveted footage when they received the original prints. Still, the remastered Curtains is a beauty to behold, with scenes previously unwatchable in their low-def blackness now popping with color and definition. The lost footage will remain the stuff of legend and speculation and the holy grail of slasher cinephiles, while Curtains, in all its glorious imperfection, will remain an unpolished gem in the canon of horror films.

Vince Liaguno is an award-winning writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. Visit his official author website HERE or his Slasher Speak blog HERE.