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.

Five Favorite Things:: Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973) By Bill Van Ryn

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” is an ultra low budget fave from the early 70s that isn’t often discussed. Receiving only a very limited theatrical release (the earliest I could document is 1974), it vanished until its director, Christopher Speeth, resurrected it for a DVD release in 2003, and its later inclusion on the “American Horror Project: Volume 1” from Arrow finally brought the 1973 film out of the shadows in stunning quality. Here are five reasons I love it:

5: Carnivals are awesome.
I wish everybody had the chance to go to a real rundown traveling carnival back in the carefree days of yesteryear, where drifters, con artists and possible convicted felons assembled carnival rides that you gladly paid to climb into, possibly to be hurled to your screaming death. “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” teaches us that any reservations we may have had were completely justified. The carnival is run by a skeezy creep named Mr. Blood, who turns out to be a real live (?) vampire. It seems to be staffed by a few normals, several of whom are an undercover family searching for their missing son/brother, whose last known whereabouts were the carnival grounds. These scenes in the rundown amusement park are pure vintage carny pleasure, including a rickety old wooden rollercoaster, a ferris wheel, a few midway style games of skill, and an indoor boat ride “tunnel of love”.

4: It’s a camper movie.
Some movies I love for the furniture and vintage decor (I’m looking at you, “Eegah!” and “Track of the Moon Beast“), and “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” falls into a similar category for me: the camper/RV movie. “Race with the Devil” and “Just Before Dawn” are two more examples, but this movie actually positions the family inside their camper quite frequently, including a great scene where they’re shown cooking a delicious-looking fried chicken dinner on their tiny RV stove. Their sleeping arrangements are equally compact, sleeping three adults comfortably. It’s the tiny house obsession before there was HGTV.

3: Hervé Villechaize is in it.
His role on “Fantasy Island” cemented him for a time as a cultural meme (“Ze plaaaane! Ze plaaaaane!”), and this usually overshadows the fact that he had an actual career as an actor, and not only in “The Man with the Golden Gun“. His early role in “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” is absolutely demented as evil carnival barker Bobo, who speaks in rhymes and uses the perceptions of his victims against them. He gets a lot of the film’s best scenes, including one where he attacks a victim, loses the upper hand, and then disarms him again by comically pleading for his own life. The victim is murdered.

2: It’s got zombies.
Aside from the film’s willingness to go a little over the top with its gore, the “Night of the Living Dead” vibes are strong with this one. Underneath the carnival is a subterranean netherworld (total “Us” territory) full of tunnels lined with bubble wrap, inverted Volkswagens transformed into swinging hammocks, and a lagoon. The inhabitants of this secret underground space are a horde of zombies who shuffle around fighting with each other while watching silent horror movies projected on the wall. Dr. Blood and his employer, Malatesta, arrange for these zombies to have fresh victims to devour, preferably alive. One victim is somehow still moving after being skewered with a sharp implement by the park’s evil custodian; dragged into the underground lair, he’s still twitching when the zombies start eating him. Along with “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things“, this movie is one of the earliest to be directly influenced by Romero’s movie.

1: It loves the old Universal monster movies.
Even though it’s a small, independent production, this movie’s roots are in the classic Universal monster movies. The freaked out zombies are seen watching Lon Chaney in “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in their underground theater, posters are glimpsed for the original Universal “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” movies, and the whole film is really a monster rally like “House of Frankenstein“. We get a vampire, zombies, some mad scientist elements, and the devil himself. The last segment of the movie really reminds me of Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses“, except on a bubble wrap budget.

The movie is currently streaming for free on Tubi.

Bill Van Ryn is the editor of fanzine Drive-In Asylum and writer of film blog/Facebook page Groovy Doom. Buy the new issue of Drive-In Asylum HERE, or visit Forbidden Planet in NYC.

Five Favorite Things:: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) By Doc of Camera Viscera

Nothing gets me in the mood for the spooky season like popping in my VHS of Halloween 4 and hearing the VCR hum to life. Even just typing that made me want to light some pumpkin spice candles and crawl under a blanket on the couch. Now, there is no doubt that the original Halloween is one of the greatest horror films ever made and—for obvious reasons—the film most closely associated with the holiday that shares its name. But, for me, it’s Halloween 4 that really sets the mood for all of October.

And since Halloween (the holiday) is on everyone’s mind currently, I thought I’d revisit one of my favorite sequels of the Halloween franchise. Here are my Five Favorite Things about Halloween 4.

Mention Halloween 4 to any fan of the film and the first thing they’ll bring up are the opening credits. And it’s true: they’re great. Just a few shots of a barren field and some weathered halloween decorations under an overcast sky—boom, that’s all that’s needed to set the tone for the entire movie. Simple, but incredibly effective.

But it’s not just the opening credits that create that sort of atmosphere; the whole movies feels like it’s actually October in a small Midwestern town. The streets are perpetually wet and dappled with fallen leaves. A foggy haze hangs low over the backyards at night. Our protagonist, little Jamie Lloyd, buys her Halloween costume from a local drugstore (employed with teens who all know each other). The town watering hole is a total dive filled with hicks with shotguns. It’s just feels so real.

Part of the reason why Halloween 4 got the seasonal look so right was because it was shot in Salt Lake City, Utah at the beginning of April, when it’s incredibly wet and dreary, with temperatures barely rising above 60. (Halloween, on the other hand, was shot in and around Los Angeles in May, when temps are already in the high 70s—if not higher.) Pop Halloween 4 in on an overcast fall day and I’m sure you’ll agree!

When creating a fictional town like Haddonfield, the best way to make it feel real is to fill it with real characters. The original Halloween introduced us to some local teens and the police department. Halloween II did an even better job, inserting other neighborhood residents, news crews, more police, and an entire hospital staff. Halloween 4 raises the bar even higher.

The gruff Dr. Hoffman; the stoic Deputy Logan; the prophetic Rev. Jackson P. Sayer; lame-o Wade; stocky and standoffish Bucky. It’s been said “there are no small parts, only small actors”, and that feels particularly true with Halloween 4. Every character, no matter how brief their screen-time, fleshes out the world of Haddonfield that much more.

Halloween II did a great job of this when Nurse Janet tells Bud and Jimmy an anecdotal story about Michael Myers, in the breakroom of the hospital: “Julie saw him, you know—you know the Shop and Bag out by the mall? She stopped at the light and saw him walking in that field behind the Lost River Drive-In. Julie said he was so creepy.” We never see the drive-in she describes, or the Shop and Bag; we never see or hear anymore about this Julie character. But it builds a world.

Same thing for Halloween 4. At one point, a fired-up group of hillbillies accidentally gun down an innocent local kid (again, mirroring Ben Tramer from Halloween II); “Shit, Earl. It’s Ted Hollister.” says one of the good ol’ boys. Who’s Ted Hollister? Doesn’t matter. It’s just world-building, and it works.

I like when horror sequels are able to find a balance between “paying homage to the original” and “elevating the original idea”. You don’t gotta send your villain to space to keep me interested. Just find that happy cozy medium between the original and somewhere slightly beyond.

During the climax of Halloween, Laurie strode is running around her post-trick-or-treated neighborhood, desperate to find some help and/or shelter from her pursuant killer, Michael Myers. But no matter where she goes, the porch lights are off and the doors are locked.

How does Halloween 4 elevate that? It knocks out the power in the entire town and kills off the entire police force. It’s great! No one is able to call anyone for help—everyone is on their own! In another mirror of the original: Michael was chasing the babysitter in ’78, with the kids as collateral. In the ’88 sequel, he’s chasing the kid with the babysitter as collateral. God, this movie is good.

Much like almost the entirety of Halloween II, Halloween 4 finds the beginning of its third act taking place in a single location. H2 had the hospital and its labyrinthine bowels, H4 has a two-story Victorian that’s been dead-bolted and is inescapable.

“We’re trapped in this house,” explains Brady to the terrified Rachel and Jamie. Again, upping the ante: imagine being unable to escape the house while Michael Myers is locked inside with you! Adding to the scare factor: Michael is able to snuff people out within the darkened house (remember, he knocked out the power in the entire town) without anyone else in the house even noticing at first.

The scene culminates on top of the house, with Michael slashing at both Rachel and Jamie as they slide down—and eventually fall off—the roof. In the original story, the house was supposed to be on fire while all of this was happening, but budget and time constraints nixed that. While a burning rooftop chase would have been an awesome sight, the whole climax as it stands is incredibly exciting.

Michael Myers is genuinely scary in Halloween 4. Dare I say, maybe the last time he was scary? (Though, I will concede, he had his moments in Halloween 6 and Halloween (2018).)

There’s just something very ghostly and ethereal about Michael in H4—it’s like he’s haunting Haddonfield. From the creepy shots of him appearing (and disappearing) in Jamie’s mirror to him being discovered hanging out in the diner kitchen by Dr. Loomis to him loitering in foggy backyards at night, his presence in H4 just feels otherworldly. Halloween 4 employs many of the great things that makes the character so scary, like having his mask just barely visible in certain shots, and including the classic POV shots that the original did so well.

And the mask—the mask gets a lot of criticism from fans, but I always liked it. It has an incredibly blank expression—more so than the original, I think—and it looks kind of sad to me, which actually ups the creep factor. The combo of the forlorn expression while he’s murdering people—chilling!

When I think of the later sequels, Michael just doesn’t seem that scary. Sure, he’s threatening. Sometimes he’s big and bulky; other times he’s excessively violent. But are those things necessarily scary? As scary as a guy who tracks down his 7-year-old niece to murder her, while bearing a face that says “I don’t even know why I’m doing this”? I think not!

Note: Visit Doc at his awesome home joint Camera Viscera HERE!

Five Favorite Things:: My Bloody Valentine (1981) By Matty F.

Hello wonderful, awesome people of Kindertrauma!

I’m Matt. Like many people here, I grew up on scary movie video rentals, along with USA’s Up All Night and Saturday Nightmares, and have a special place in my heart for those films to this day. In the hopes that my other 728 favorite horror films will forgive me for not picking them, 1981’s underrated slasher classic My Bloody Valentine deserves some love. It never reached the mass audience or popularity that the movies of my pals Jason, Freddy, Michael, and Leatherface did, but it’s a terrific, fun, creepy film that’s worth your time. Why should we believe you, internet stranger? you may ask. Well, I rocked hats and vests every day in high school like my teen hero Debbie Gibson. If that doesn’t prove that I’m trustworthy, nothing does. Major plot and characters spoilers ahead!

1: The setting. The movie takes place in a small-town mining community. Director George Mihalka does an excellent job of showing the geography of the town. Everyone knows everybody. The people who live there have lived there forever.

But the real star is the dark, spooky, claustrophobic mine where the horror takes place. It’s gloomy, sparsely lit, and easy to get lost in. The walls feel as if they could close in on you at any second. You never know who it is coming down the tracks at any moment, hidden amongst the shadows. You’re trapped beneath the earth above you, with no cell phone or fancy electronics to call for help. (Ah, the 80s, when scary movies were much scarier because no characters had to pointedly say that there is no cell phone reception where they are.)

In the film’s creepiest scene, Harry Warden methodically smashes the mine’s only sources of light, far enough away from our protagonists so as not to be seen, but close enough for them to hear the shattering glass and realize something is off. The only person scarier to be stuck in a mine with would be Jon Gosselin or the Jersey Shore kids (shudder).

2: Harry Warden. Like a way crazier, scarier, more violent version of Scooby-Doo, Where are You!’s Miner 49er, Harry Warden is a rage-filled, intimidating psychopathic killer dressed in mining gear, complete with a gas mask and pick-axe. Harry warned the townspeople not to hold another Valentine’s Day dance after what happened last time, but apparently everyone in Valentine Bluffs just loves Valentine’s Day so much that they had to have one.

It’s not that Harry hates disco music or Moosehead Beer. (It was filmed in Canada after all.) Twenty years ago, on the night of the Valentine’s dance, there was a methane gas explosion in the mines that trapped several miners beneath the ground. By the time the rescue squad came to save the miners, only Harry was left – and he survived by eating his coworkers then killed the supervisors who were responsible for the accident.

It’s easy to see why he went crazy. I was stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes once and I started sizing up who I would eat first if no help came. I get you, Harry, even though you’re terrifying and I hope we never meet.

3: The characters (and actors). The characters feel like friends who have known each other forever. They’re likable and relatable. They care about each other even before the blood starts flowing and have to save themselves.

The performances all feel genuine and authentic. Sarah, T.J., Axel, Hollis, Howard, Patty, John, Sylvia, Mike, Harriet, queen laundress Mabel, the whole gang – I love them all. They’re real people with their own backstories, quirks, and feelings. Hollis looks like he’d be a great hugger. T.J. unironically sports an amazing bandana and makes it look good, something today’s manly men should try more often.  

In a move that 90210’s Kelly Taylor would make famous years later, Sarah chooses herself over her love triangle with T.J. and Axel. Kelly owes a debt to Sarah’s second-wave feminism. Sarah isn’t afraid to fight back either; in the grand tradition of slasher movie final girls, she isn’t going to put up with Harry’s deadly shenanigans. Kelly had a scary psycho that she had to confront as well, the waify loony Tara. Is there some cosmic link between Kelly Taylor and Sarah Mercer? You heard it here first.

Side note: Years ago, I contacted Paul Kelman (T.J.) and Thomas Kovacs (Mike) on Facebook, and they could not have been nicer or more willing to discuss the movie.

4: The nine minutes of cut gore. This movie’s gorier scenes had been excised prior to release by the Puritans over at the MPAA. Thanks to the modern era of restoration and appreciation for this movie, nine minutes of grisly footage was added back into the film. The practical special effects for this film are nothing short of amazing and a testament to the hard work by the make-up effects artists, who made FX magic for little money before movie bloodshed was created by computers.

The death set-pieces are scary and inventive. The murders are graphic, unsettling, and nothing is played for laughs. I’ve seen Showgirls and Howard the Duck multiple times; I know terror.

5: The end credits song. “The Ballad of Harry Warden” is a sad, spine-chilling folk song that plays over the ending credits of the movie. Harry Warden has his own song! How many movie villains get their own ditty? Bughuul doesn’t have one. Neither does The Babadook. Nor Ted Cruz. Paul Zaza’s score and the song he wrote for Harry are memorable and haunting. The song caps off the movie perfectly.

Are you still with me? There are many more things I could say about this fantastic flick. Kindertrauma, I visit your site daily and always look forward to whatever magical words you will write about so many of my favorite movies. Thank you for reading!

Five Favorite Things:: Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) By Chris Moore

For those unfamiliar, Alice, Sweet Alice is the story of a young girl named Alice (Paula Sheppard) who everyone thinks killed her little sister, Karen (a very young Brooke Shields), at her first communion because she was jealous of her getting more attention than her. As the story unfolds and becomes even more twisted and bizarre than we’d initially expected, the audience is constantly being thrown for a loop which brings me to my 1st favorite thing about the film…

The Unpredictability – Ask a newbie to watch the first 15 minutes of Alice, Sweet Alice and then ask them to predict how the movie is going to end. They’re not going to get it right. Like many films from the 70’s, there’s a distinct aura of “anything goes” throughout Alice, Sweet Alice. Any film that has to guts to make its first victim a child isn’t playing around and it’s not interested in being nice. It wants to disturb you and rattle you to your core. You’re never sure who’s going to live and who’s going to die and when the killer is going to leap out. The best horror movies make you feel like you’re in the hands of a filmmaker who’s a little bit dangerous and this one definitely does that.

The colorful cast – Alice, Sweet Alice is stuffed with unique and odd character actors who all seem like they might feel more at home than on stage which gives the whole film a vibe it wouldn’t have if every performance was perfectly modulated and subdued. It appears as if everyone in the film is 4 seconds away from having a hair-pulling, face-scratching nervous breakdown and it puts you further on edge. Where else would you see a character like the wicked Aunt Annie who hates her niece to a disturbing degree or the odious morbidly obese pedophile landlord Mr. Alfonso who lives in squalor with his cats and his sweat and food-stained tank top and pants that look like he just urinated in them?

The cinematography – Alice, Sweet Alice drips with mood in every shot and, while its look owes a great deal to the Italian horror films of the 60’s and 70’s and Don’t Look Now, it still doesn’t emulate them exactly. Alice, Sweet Alice doesn’t really look like any other movie and no other movie looks like Alice, Sweet Alice either. It makes great use of the Patterson, New Jersey locations and milks all the production value out of every set up it can. That’s just smart low budget filmmaking.

The music score – Composer Stephen Lawrence created one of the most haunting scores in all of horror history that’s a far cry from his child-friendly favorites such as “Free To Be You And Me.” Spooky female voices sing and wail throughout as creepy pianos tinkle and it’s another part of the film that knows how to put the viewer on edge. He even said the score was supposed to act as a black cloud that had descended on the entire town and you can hear and feel that throughout.

The ambiguous ending – What does the ending of Alice, Sweet Alice mean? Even though it’s a movie that’s over 40 years old, I still don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that things aren’t tied up as neatly as some might have liked. What does the future have in store for Alice after everything she’s been through? There are many theories and that’s what makes it fascinating, because everyone will have a different interpretation.

Alice, Sweet Alice was never a movie that was hard to find considering there were seemingly dozens of releases from lousy budget VHS companies. It was, however, very hard to find with a cleaned up, decent looking print. Arrow Video just recently gave the film the royal treatment it deserves on Blu-Ray and seeing it looking like a million bucks is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. If you’ve never seen it, pick up that release and, even if you have seen it, this release will make you think you’re seeing it for the first time.

Note: Chris Moore’s excellent film TRIGGERED is free to view on Tubi HERE!

Five Favorite Things:: The Legacy (1978) By Kathryngrace

The Legacy (1978) has been one of my favorite films since I first saw it almost 20 years ago. It’s of a particular era and style that I really like. The Legacy is a combination satanic thriller and creepy old house film of the same vein as The Sentinel (1977) and Superstition (1982), two other personal favorites. The plot concerns Maggie and Pete, played by Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott, a couple visiting England on a working vacation, when a road accident leaves them stranded at the estate of the mysterious Jason Mountolive (John Standing, The Psychopath). Other guests (including Roger Daltry as Clive, a music manager, and Charles Gray as Karl, a former Nazi) soon arrive, but just as quickly start dying, and the American couple begin to expect that black magic is at work.

Here are my five favorite things about the movie:

1: The setting. Mountolive’s estate, where most of the action takes place, is as sinister as it is elegant, as claustrophobic as it is sprawling. It’s a haunted house without a haunting. Pools freeze over, fireplaces erupt with balls of fire, etc. These don’t occur at the house’s will, but at its master’s. The filming location, Loseley Park in Surrey, England, exudes gothic atmosphere and is completely believable as a home to nefarious deeds and deaths.

2:Nurse Adams. I love cats. My partner and I share our home with several feline companions, and they’re like children to me. And the next cat I get, I’m naming Nurse Adams. Nurse Adams spends part of the movie as Mountolive’s caregiver and head of household and part of the film as his familiar, a pretty white cat with one yellow eye and one blue. (Side note: Growing up I had a cat that looked just like this one, right down to the differently colored eyes.) Nurse Adams acts as both protector of Mountolive’s legacy and as a harbinger of doom to those fated to die before the weekend is out. She is the most interesting character in a film full of interesting characters.

3: The deaths. Specifically the death of Maria Gabrieli (Marianne Broome), an accomplished swimmer who drowns when the top of the swimming pool turns to glass, and she is trapped underneath the water. This is a visually stunning sequence, with shots from both outside the glass as Maria desperately bangs her fists on it and shots from within the pool as she runs out of breath and sinks to the bottom. Clive’s death is also impressive, with Daltry really giving the scene is all as he chokes on a chicken bone, even though, as Karl reminds Maggie later, he’d been eating ham.

4:Maggie and Pete. I just discovered that Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross are married in real life. They met on the set of this film and fell in love. And you know what, I can see it. Elliott and Ross have excellent chemistry, and when watching the movie, you can easily tell how deeply the characters care for each other. Sure, Elliott’s Pete is grumpy and spends the whole film being very, well, somewhat stereotypically American, and Ross’s Maggie occasionally descends into nervous panic. But at the end of the day, these characters have each other’s backs. Pete fights for Maggie when he believes she’s in danger, but when she accepts her fate as the inheritor of Mountolive’s satanic legacy, he’s willing to share her happiness with her. Which brings to me to my final favorite thing:

5: The happy ending. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Satanic horror film end on such a positive note. Upon first watching this film, you really fear for Maggie and Pete’s safety. You cheer for them as they try to escape the sinister Mountolive estate and worry for their lives as the other guests begin dying. But once you’ve seen the film once and know its ending, upon rewatching it, it seems like a different kind of movie. It almost seems like a fairytale, a Cinderella story even. Maggie, knowing nothing of her family’s heritage, comes to England where she discovers herself and her history and inherits wealth and power beyond her wildest imagining. In the closing lines of the film, Pete asks Maggie what she’s going to do with all her newfound power, to which Maggie replies, “Anything I want,” as they stroll arm in arm across her new estate. It’s an empowering ending unlike any other film of its kind. Satanism here is not Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, but her fairy godmother, enabling her to actually live happily ever after.

Note: Visit Kathryngrace at Final Women for more of her perspective!