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Five Favorite Things:: Hell Night (1981) By Unk

June 25th, 2020 · 10 Comments

1: Theme Song/ Score

HELL NIGHT crashes open with a shrill scream followed by the rallying anthem ‘Theme from HELL NIGHT’ sung by Leza Miller. Leza has a chirpy, raspy voice which is perfect because you can easily imagine star LINDA BLAIR belting out the lyrics warning about a creature with “real sharp teeth and eyes that shine.” DAN WYMAN, who is responsible for the film’s underrated score, wrote the song and if you’re curious about his credentials, he helped out with the music for both HALLOWEEN and THE FOG. The more you watch the movie the more the persuasive score will get under your skin. One of my favorite moments involves a character dropping a gun that spins around followed by BLAIR turning her head toward it and the way the musical cues embellish that moment is pure joy. 

2: Garth Manor

That House! HELL NIGHT’s exteriors were filmed at the Kimberly Crest Mansion (which also shows up in FLEETWOOD MAC’s “Big Love” music video) in Redlands, California. It’s a majestic building with tons of personality that it seems to take on a life of its own thanks to the masterful way it’s lit and shot in the movie. Through a bunch of cinematic trickery, the mansion becomes even more daunting and expansive with the suggestion that there are hedge mazes in the front courtyard and a labyrinth of tunnels beneath (in actuality, only two tunnel sets were utilized and then repurposed again and again). Although we don’t see an exorbitant amount of the interiors (which were filmed elsewhere), director TOM DeSIMONE is able to convince the audience that the location is sprawling with hidden passageways, trapdoors and a treacherous roof. Every time I watch HELL NIGHT, I get the sense that I’m viewing new details and uncharted territory.

3: The Cast

I know it’s wrong to say but HELL NIGHT is my favorite LINDA BLAIR movie. I realize THE EXORCIST is far superior but I think we see a lot more of BLAIR’s charm and warmhearted personality in this movie (plus I get to avoid seeing her get a brain scan). Her character Marti is one of the great slasher heroines in my book as she doesn’t magically become competent or survive by luck alone, she actually earned her resourcefulness by working hard at her father’s auto shop for years. Mr. Incredible Jawline PETER BARTON (FRIDAY THE 13th PART 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER) is a fitting romantic and chivalrous match for Marti; even though they’re from different worlds, they click as twin outsiders who are not seen fully by their peers. SUKI GOODWIN is adorable as the frothy, good-natured party girl Denise and VINCENT VAN PATTON as surfer dude Seth is the secret fearless hero of the film. I love Seth! He escapes the horror-filled mansion only to be scoffed at by the police when he tries to get their help (typical) and so he steals a shotgun and returns to save his new friends! I want to build a statue for Seth. I dig also that all four of this dream team don variant classic party costumes that not only fit their personalities but go far to give the whole film a timeless quality that continues to this day.

4: Andrew Garth

HELL NIGHT’s main (but not lone) mayhem-causing killer has a rather pitiable past. Where Marti’s positive relationship with her father and working-class background allowed her to thrive, Andrew’s rich yet dysfunctional dad focused on his imperfections and forced him to watch the execution of his mentally and physically challenged siblings. It’s almost as if money can’t buy you happiness! I don’t want to excuse Andrew’s rude behavior (trying to murder everybody) but to be fair, they were invading his home and he’s had a tough life. I love that Andrew is kept well within the shadows as the film’s roller-coaster ride ascends and how his visage becomes horrifically ubiquitous as it descends. There’s very much a Frankenstein monster-like quality to poor Andrew (albeit a Frankenstein monster on speed) and I’ll always get a kick out of the way he enters a room via a trap door under a rug to stand ominously silent like a ghost (just like Michael Myers did before him). Andrew’s final demise is incredibly clever and well-orchestrated. I hate to see him go but at least he does so in style.

5: The General Vibe

HELL NIGHT is a fun movie. It’s my go-to comfort spook show that leaves zero bitter after taste. It respects all of its characters as more than just cannon fodder and presents a thrilling scenario without ever leaning even slightly toward sadism. It’s almost amusing that critics at the time were quick to dismiss it as a cynical dead teenager movie because it doesn’t have a bad bone in its body and is generally quaint compared to some of its slasher siblings. Its benign attempts at bawdiness, references to drug use, and low-key killings would hardly render it a PG-rated movie today. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete cuddle cartoon, although HELL NIGHT never dwells on its violence, I find a few of the characters so likable that their deaths truly do sting. Funny, when I was younger I certainly did wish it had some gory showcase kills like some of its cinematic brethren but I now I really enjoy that it’s got a voice and amiable disposition all its own. I’ll always appreciate a pitiless horror film that can drag me over hot coals kicking and screaming but sometimes it’s just nice to hang in a big old spooky house with LINDA BLAIR knowing the night will end with her walking away stunned but victorious.

BONUS: The Poster

HELL NIGHT’s poster/advertising art is way up there as one of my favorites in all of the early eighties slasher boom. Just looking at it puts me right in the mood and brings back many memories of being thrilled and stirred as a young horror fan. It’s a gorgeous work of art. I dig the blues and greens swimming around that offset BLAIR’s crimson gown and the gnarly hands rising from the bottom of the frame as if they’re twisting out of hell and meaning to drag her in. Check out that luminous moon! Look at that glowing window atop the mansion! The whole thing resembles the cover of a romantic gothic novel. “Pray for Day” is a killer, relatable tagline as well.

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Five Favorite Things:: Prince of Darkness (1987) By Chuckles

June 23rd, 2020 · 6 Comments

1: The Brotherhood of Sleep

Prince of Darkness gets far less respect than it deserves, in my humble opinion, but even its detractors own up to the spectacular creepiness of The Brotherhood of Sleep dream sequences. Years before the found footage craze, PoD showed just how scary shaky-cam video tape footage could be. Everything about the sequences is great – the garbled electronic plea for intervention, the daylight horror and of course the nightmare slowly, weirdly emerging from the church.

2: The Canister

PoD loses a lot of people when ultimate evil is shown to be in the form of an ancient canister of swirling green fluid. But I love it. First, the design of this prop is top-notch and it looks incredible on film, giving off this strange green light. Actually, the whole church basement set looks great. Second, the concept is too cool for school. PoD gives the Christian mythos a full-on cosmic horror treatment and as such, while Satan is powerful and evil, it is also an utterly alien being – so alien as to not have any real form.

3: The Carpenter Crew

While lead Jameson Parker does not do enough with his role, the cast is otherwise heavy with Carpenter alumni who do it right. Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China) and Donald Pleasence (Halloween(s), Escape from New York) memorably square off as Scientist vs. Priest. Dennis Dun (BTiLC) and Peter Jason (They Live, In the Mouth of Madness) provide some memorable comic relief. Dun has some of the best moments in the film as his character Walter understandably and utterly flips out when faced with supernatural horrors. Also, Lisa Blount (not a JC alum but notably in Dead and Buried) is just really easy on the eyes.

4: NERDS!

I love the fact that the heroes are a bunch of grad students. They are from all of these different disciplines (ancient languages, chemistry, physics, math), each discovering different alarming things about the canister and the history of the people that brought it into the church (The canister is possibly millions of years old, the texts are filled with advanced mathematical equations, etc.) You know they are all wondering if they can get a publication or two out of the ordeal.

They have no resources, being broke-ass grad students. They can’t fight, being nerds. But they are smart and get a far better handle on the situation than an equivalent bunch of typical film undergrads (“college kids”) ever could.

5: The Ultimate Horror

There is an apparently unstoppable, horrifying evil force that is attempting to bring something somehow infinitely worse into our world and humanity’s only defense is a bunch of unprepared grad students and some teetering old guys. But it gets worse!

The Church once drew maps of the world that placed Jerusalem at the center of a round disc – the world. Then Science came along and showed that the world was a sphere with no geographical center. Then the Church placed the spherical Earth at the center of the solar system. Science then showed that Earth was just one of many planets revolving around the Sun. Then, before the Church could even get another iteration out putting the solar system at the center of something, Science revealed that our solar system is a tiny speck in a nondescript part of a massive galaxy in a universe of massive galaxies.

PoD takes it one step further – a step intended to horrify the religious person and scientist alike. Not only is our world a tiny speck in the middle of nowhere in particular – our entire universe is merely the bright positive mirror image of the “intended” universe of darkness and evil. Per the PoD mythos, the good Christian God does not even exist – the Creator of all things is actually the evil Anti-God of the Dark universe and we live in what is merely the unintended or perhaps unavoidable consequence of that dark creation!

That is some heavy stuff. Actually, our heroes could get like at least three publications out of it if they chopped it up right.

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Five Favorite Things: Dead and Buried (1981) By Unk

June 18th, 2020 · 10 Comments

1: The Opening Scene

DEAD AND BURIED has the most horrific opening scene I’ve ever experienced and it still haunts me to this day. It seems no matter how familiar I become with this scenario it never fails to unnerve me. It’s pretty simple; a photographer on a beach bumps into a pretty girl and she offers to pose for him in increasingly seductive ways. Just as he’s thinking he’s gotten lucky, a mob of random townsfolk beat the living daylights out of him, wrap him in a net, and set him on fire. So many things disturb me here; the betrayal, the trickery, the cruelty, the horror of being outnumbered, the way his face is monstrously distorted beneath the netting, the chilly calmness of the attackers, my Frankenstein-like general fear of fire and just the simple nightmare of going from contentment to pure horror so swiftly. Yikes.

2: The Cast

Vastly underrated JAMES FARENTINO (THE POSSESSED,1977) portrays everyman Sheriff Dan Gillis and he sturdily grounds the entire film. I’d put his journey of existential self-discovery on par with the protagonists of BLADE RUNNER (1982) and ANGEL HEART (1987). MELODY ANDERSON is equally well cast as his sometimes doting, sometimes darkly mysterious wife Janet who can change shades from kewpie doll cute to Noir dame sultry at the drop of a hat. JACK ALBERTSON (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) is as quirky as he is sinister and DEAD AND BURIED boasts his final cinematic performance. Horror fans will surely be happy to see ROBERT ENGLUND in one of his early pre-Freddy roles and LISA BLOUNT (PRINCE OF DARKNESS) is the ultimate ice queen.

3: The Cinematography

Thanks to cinematographer Steven Poster (who was also DONNIE DARKO’s director of Photography), DEAD AND BURIED has a distinct look all its own. It’s gauzy, foggy, murky and I’d bet, completely immune to being sharpened by a high definition upgrade. It’s almost like an amorphous dream, soft around the edges, where you can’t quite clearly get a visual handle upon everything. If the overall gritty rawness weren’t enough the story allows a further visual deconstruction via out of focus, BLAIR WITCH-style homemade snuff films that eventually weave their way into the gruesome proceedings as well.

4: The Town

You can almost smell the saltwater when you visit DEAD AND BURIED’s little town of Potter’s Bluff. There are many visual references to coastal life and franchise stores are nowhere to be found, every joint is a mom-and-pop shop. The entire place feels lost in time and you’re more likely to see a 1950’s hairdo than anything resembling then current eighties fashion. Director GARY SHERMAN (RAW MEAT, 1972) wanted the kill scenes to pop and therefore regulated that the color red (even car lights were changed to purple) would not be visible unless it was due to the sight of blood. This consistency of the muted hues makes the film’s setting (in my eyes) resemble decades away video games like RESIDENT EVIL or SILENT HILL more than its fellow eighties horror films.

5: Stan Winston’s Special Effects


STAN WINSTON is a veritable genius and DEAD AND BURIED lets him show off his talents frequently (he’s not responsible for a lesser effect shoehorned into the film’s climax by producers). The one effect I do want to specifically point out involves a victim bandaged head to toe who comes to a bad end thanks to a hypodermic needle being shoved into his lone exposed eye (!). Here’s the thing; rather than an actor being wrapped in bandages, WINSTON created an entire mechanical body beneath to squirm and react to the horrific fate! I would never have known that based on the film itself. It’s an incredible, seamless effect.

BONUS: Favorite Line:

My favorite line is the last one delivered just before the credits roll but I won’t share that here in fear of ruining the ending for a first-time watcher. Suffice to say it is spoken ALBERTSON’s character, Dobbs the elderly local coroner/mortician and it hits like a casket slamming shut.

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The Visitor :: Five Favorite Things

February 8th, 2011 · 7 Comments

The OVIDIO G. ASSONITIS (TENTACLES, MADHOUSE, BEYOND THE DOOR)-produced THE VISITOR from 1979 is just too much for your Unk to handle all his own, so I have elicited the help of both AUNT JOHN and our good pal AMANDA BY NIGHT of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM. As far as I’m concerned, the movie is spectacularly daffy enough to be absolutely critic proof so the question I posed before them and myself was simply, “What are your five favorite things about THE VISITOR?” All three of our answers are below…

First up, AMANDA BY NIGHT‘s FIVE VISITOR FAVES:

1. JOANNE NAIL – this enticing actress’ portrayal of the put-upon mother with the crazy ass womb is one of sympathy and grace. And her wardrobe is simply to die for. When you think about it (I mean, really think about it), has anyone else made being thrust through glass look so elegant? I could say the same about her chain swinging badassary in SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, but alas I shall save that for another day!

2. Ice Skating as the Deadliest Sport in the World – In a movie almost all about whacky set-pieces, one of the most fantastic scenes features our creepy little traumatot Katy luring some slightly older boys into a game of survival of the fittest. They fail on every possible level but it’s so much fun to watch!

3. Crazy Cameos – From GLEN FORD to SAM PECKINPAH, someone had the goods on a few of the more prominent people of Hollywood society. Also, there hasn’t been a pairing as cool as JOHN HUSTON and SHELLEY WINTERS since, well, since they were first featured together in TENTACLES just two years before! Wow, were those guys an item?

4. The Power of Pong – Not only is the game shown often, it’s used as a device to create suspense… and it works! All of this terror is brought to us via the crazy 1979 version of awesome home theater. Remember those curved large screen TVs which flooded images with the help of those giant red, green and blue lights coming from something called “front projection.” Yeah, 1979 ruled! You had to sit in just the right spot to actually see anything, but it reminds me of the first high-tech store my childhood town had. It was called Video Concepts (which was eventually bought by Radio Shack and closed down… lame) and this odd, curvy TV was all the rage. They make good use of it in THE VISITOR and it brought back every single little kid mall memory I ever had… now that’s scary!

5. THE VISITOR as a symbol for the chaotic incoherence of life – No, I am not joking. Is THE VISITOR in any way reminiscent of real life? Even ’70s high-tech real life? Nope. But I think sometimes confusion in films works because confusion has to work in our everyday lives. I mean, we’ve got a little girl who is driving her mom nuts and hates her babysitters. Sound familiar? I guess that’s the core of this movie and through the warped bewilderment of film as a mirror of our lives, we also get straight up escapism. I guess if you needed to write an academic paper on THE VISITOR, you could pull all kinds of crap out of it (especially with that ending!), but you can also completely shut down and watch the pretty lights. It’s nice.

Now let’s talk to AUNT JOHN:

1. THE HAWK
What was it about the ‘70s and the falconry fad? It seemed like everyone and the their mother had one of those padded leather hand mitts and a scary bird to match, but in THE VISITOR, Squeaky the hawk (or was it a falcon?) had free range to fly all over the place. Who in their right mind let’s their child keep one of these things in the house?

2. THE HOUSE
From its railing-less, open back stairs to the strangely ornate cement work surrounding its pool, the Collins’ house is truly something to behold. Bonus points for the incongruous 7-Up Tiffany style light fixture hanging in the kitchen.

3. THE HOUSEKEEPER
SHELLEY, SHELLEY, SHELLEY! She is in maybe three scenes, and she steals everyone last one of them because who can really compete with the force of nature that is WINTERS? Was it W.C. FIELDS who said he would never work with kids or animals? Well, kids and animals should probably never work with SHELLEY WINTERS based on the masterful bitch slapping she delivered to PAIGE CONNER.

4. THE HUSTON
Throughout the film, it looked to me like JOHN HUSTON knew less about what was going on than I did, but there is one scene towards the end where he makes the strangest face after conducting an impromptu light show on the top of a skyscraper. The eye roll says it all.

5. THE HOTTIES
Bald is beautiful and the brigade of follicly challenged bruisers were like a big bag of confusing eye-candy. Apparently they are angels but you would have never known it from the menacing looks on some of their faces.

Last up UNK:

1. THOSE GLASSES!

I’m not one to be too observant when it comes to fashion but these are some spectacular spectacles and if I understand the movie correctly, they have the power to manipulate basketball players like KAREEM ABDUL-JABAR by remote control. O.K. I admit it, I did not understand the movie correctly.

2. LANCE HENRIKSEN

HENRIKSEN followed up roles in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and DAMIEN: OMEN 2 with his part in THE VISITOR which is kind of like starring in peanut butter and then starring in jelly and then starring in GOOBER GRAPE. It’s always nice to see early HENRIKSEN and note how even at a young age, he stood out of the pack as an offbeat presence. If I were speaking of any other movie besides THE VISITOR I would be able to say that he was the most otherworldly effect in the entire film, but this is a movie that throws a blonde wig on aquamarine-eyed FRANCO (DJANGO) NERO and sells him as Jesus Christ.

3. AHEAD OF THEIR TIME VISUALS

I realize now that logic and sense can go peddle its papers elsewhere for all I care if a movie can stun me enough with its visuals. THE VISITOR’s arresting surrealism not only looks cool but also foretells the direction that movies will steer towards once music videos become popular in the early eighties. The bit on the rooftop with the nonsensical shadow hands flapping behind sheets seems ripped right out of a MTV mainstay years away from THE VISTOR’s 1979 release. Let’s hear it for proper presentation too, this title may have seemed like a throwaway on VHS but given the space to reveal all of its charms on DVD it transforms into a keeper. Strangely enough THE VISITOR’s director GIULIO PARADISI was the assistant director on FELLINI’s 8 1/2 !

4. THE SCORE

Holy crap FRANCO MICALIZZI’s score is utterly fantastic and better than Earth deserves. It’s epic and galaxy dwarfing and in complete denial about the nonsense unfolding on screen.

5. PAIGE CONNER

Little PAIGE may have been in over her head starring in this insanity but she fares no lesser than the seasoned professionals that surround her. Foul-mouthed tots are a post EXORCIST horror staple, yet CONNER’s Georgian accent adds an extra kick to her profanities. CODE RED’s recent DVD provides an interview with PAIGE today. She’s looking damn good and shares that STRASBERG-trained SHELLEY WINTERS didn’t hold back when slapping her across the face within the movie. Why does that not surprise me? PAIGE may not have gotten laurels thrown at her at the time of this film’s release but all I know is that when she reacts to accidently shooting her own mother in the movie with a shrug and a “shit happens” grimace, I totally believed her.

Thanks to AUNT JOHN and AMANDA REYES of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM for helping a rendered nearly speechless bro-ogger out! THE VISITOR, you really are something else.

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