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Pet Sematary (2019)

April 17th, 2019 · 6 Comments

I was walking home the other night and saw a cat in an alley that reminded me so much of my dear departed Figgy. It was so dark that I had to use the flashlight on my phone which allowed me to barely make out her form playfully rolling about on the cement in a come-hither way. I called to her but she wouldn’t budge and I couldn’t reach her myself because of a locked gate. I knew the gate on the other side of the block was open so I ran home, got some food and crept through the labyrinth of South Philly back yards to reach the cat only to find that she had disappeared. Then, as if cued by my disappointment, it started to rain. Of course, this cat wasn’t Figgy but why did she look and act so much like her and wait a minute, it was so dark, I’m not one hundred percent sure I didn’t hallucinate the whole thing. I’ve gone back to look for her several times and I’m leaving cat food in the back yard by the gate and yet I also know that what I’m really looking for I’ll never find again. Figgy still seems just slightly out of my view at all times. I’ve mistaken a boot on the floor for her for a fraction of a second and for a flash I saw her running down the street but nope, it was a black bag blowing in the wind. I feel haunted.

In my state, I should have been ripe for the picking as far as the retelling of STEPHEN KING’S PET SEMATARY goes. Alas, I wish could say I connected with it better than I ultimately did. It spoke to me for sure, and it easily made me weepy but something about it ended up feeling detached from the deep well of guilt and grief ingrained in KING’s tale. Jason Clarke is impeccable as Louis Creed so I’m certainly not blaming him. I pretty much hung on his every word and when he explains how death is a natural part of life to his dubious daughter Ellie (JETE LAURENCE), I was all ears wanting a fatherly figure to put my worries to rest as well. The most potent parts of KING’s take on THE MONKEY’S PAW are nearly impossible to muddle because they are in the very bones of the story itself and this movie does right by those themes for the most part. There are more than a few alterations here and there, all of which I found at least interesting. The direction and editing are clever too, I wouldn’t say the filmmakers (Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Wydmyer, the folks behind 2014’s impressive STARRY EYES) have anything to be embarrassed by here; it’s all reasonably sufficient and respectfully done. Yet it always feels like a product rather than a soulful exploration. It’s missing madness and mojo. It’s too restrained and in my opinion, not weird enough.

Frankly, I don’t get how you drop a ball like Zelda. I can understand the desire to streamline the story a bit (although discarding the suicidal neighbor and the disapproving in-laws evaporates a great deal of the depressive tone) but declawing Zelda and almost refusing to look at her makes no sense to me. Anyone who has seen MARY LAMBERT’s artful take on the material will remember Zelda (if they don’t have her image burned into the inside of their retinas forever). Rachel Creed’s sickly sister embodies the torturous guilt that frequently accompanies grief perhaps better than any other horror character I can think of.  She’s still very much present in this new telling, but she’s sidelined and out of focus and avoided in a way that’s almost cowardly. It’s as if her unseemliness was considered too gauche for this production and so she’s grounded and gifted a poorly executed dumbwaiter scare and let go. Maybe I just love Zelda too much. This is possible. I have a hard time letting things go.

I truly thought I was in the exact right mind space to appreciate every iota of PET SEMATARY but maybe the exact opposite was true. I will say I have no complaints about the cat(s) who portrayed Church and really how many horror films do you get that feature a feline character front and center? I just wish that they took it all a bit further, even the cemetery itself is lackluster and missing the shabby-chic, found object wonder of the previous telling (one positive thing this movie did do for me is that it made me appreciate LAMBERT’s trippy IVAN ALBRIGHT-esque colorfully cruddy visuals even more). I get the feeling that all involved believed that the new version was a more serious, grounded take and that to improve things they only needed to eliminate the broader, gaudier elements but in doing so, they also stripped out all of the effervescence.

Fittingly, PET SEMATARY may be back from the dead but this time it comes across like a lesser, blank-eyed facsimile. Maybe I was asking too much, maybe I was expecting this movie to replace the irreplaceable (not unlike that poor unreachable stray in the alley). To me, due to its subject matter, any version of KING”s PET SEMATARY is going to be fundamentally more interesting than the average studio movie coming down the pike but I’m pretty sure that the next time I want to revisit this painful tale, I’ll be seeking out the still vibrant earlier incarnation. Well-groomed as it is, this new take lacks bite.

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Tags: General Horror

Dead & Buried (1981)

April 4th, 2019 · 10 Comments

The other night I was struggling with the age-old question of what to watch when I suddenly realized I was in the exact perfect mood for Gary Sherman’s 1981 shocker DEAD & BURIED. This must have been the very first R-rated movie I had ever seen because once upon a time, nobody asked about your age when you were in the back seat of a crowded car at the drive-in. You’d think that over the decades I’d come to find this movie less frightening than the first time I saw it and you’d be partially correct but the truth is, it still leaves me thoroughly creeped out. Here are some of the reasons I still find this underrated and relentlessly bleak, paranoid classic uniquely disturbing.

THE OPENING SCENE. D&B opens with a photographer taking photos on a beach. He meets a beautiful young woman (Lisa Blount) who slyly seduces him and just when he’s about to seal the deal, he is instead beaten by random townspeople, tied to a poll with a fishing net and then set on fire while the mob encircling him smiles and take photos. No matter how many times I see this movie, this startling introduction never fails to alarm me. Perhaps even more unsettling than the brutal violence is the way the fish netting twists, distorts and mutates the victim’s face. I can’t think of a more distressing visage, it’s as if it foretells the burn scars he’s about to acquire. Somehow the poor dude lives and is taken to a hospital but his recovery is short lived. Completely vulnerable and covered head to toe in bandages, he is visited by the same treacherous young lady who instigated his assault. Dressed in nurses’ garb she presents the worst remedy ever conceived- a hypodermic needle administered straight through the eye! Imagine surviving so much only to endure a crueler fate when you’re in the most vulnerable state imaginable- it all still upsets me. 

THE LOST FAMILY. Right smack in the middle of the film we
are unceremoniously introduced to a couple and their young son who are lost in
the remarkably foggy town. To avoid hitting a man that darts in front of their
car, they crash into a telephone pole. Although we’ll find out shortly the car
is quite operable, the beyond befuddled couple decides to venture into an
abandoned dilapidated house to search for ice for their child’s head (yes,
these people are insane). Making matters all the more surreal, the original
sound of this scene must have been lost because this entire portion of the film
is abysmally dubbed, resulting in tons of superfluous dialogue and general
awkwardness.

It seems every move and decision the trio makes is frustratingly ill-advised. At one point the mother even surmises that the owners of the (clearly abandoned) abode must be in the basement fixing the fuse box and suggests that her husband go down to verify her demented fantasy. It’s truly crazy-making watching this family stumble about while the shadows of maniacs wielding weapons loom just out of their view. Nonsensical and partially infuriating as this entire segment is, it’s also beautifully shot and genuinely unnerving to me. Eventually, crazy townsfolk are jumping out of every closed door and crevice like demented jack-in-the-box clowns engulfing the terrified trio. As the family somehow makes it back to their vehicle, the way the ravenous mob is presented as a mass of menacing silhouettes following them is stunningly nightmarish (and brings to my mind the finale of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST). It’s hard not to feel bad for the hapless child, who is dragged about like a suitcase throughout and has no say in the blundering decisions of his ineffectual guardians.

THE FOUND FOOTAGE. The entirety of D&B is filmed in a gloriously gauzy and grainy way that rather resembles peering through dusty cheesecloth. Remarkably the murky-visual-ante is upped even further when Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) develops a mysterious roll of film for his wife (Melody Anderson) and decides to check out its horrific contents. I won’t give away the devastating plot point he discovers but I will say it is presented in a POV semi-snuff looking way that leaves you with the unclean feeling of having witnessed something vile and atrocious. Years before THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, D&B presented this grittier than a Philly mascot slice of visual miasma and it still feels as disorienting and downright icky as ever. I don’t know if it’s the leering oldsters, the decrepit surroundings or Joe (CHILD’S PLAY) Renzetti’s persuasive score but combined with the clips sleazy revelation it really gets under my skin. I can almost smell the moldy dank air as I write this and I also get a poisonously putrid Lovecraftian vibe. 

Not everything in D&B makes sense but I believe that is part of the reason I find it so disturbing. Some folks are able to “fall out” of a movie when it presents something that is unlikely to occur but I sometimes find such lapses in logic remind me of the relentless way an inescapable nightmare works. I get the feeling that the writers didn’t fully lock down exactly what is going down in Potter’s Bluff, there are mentions of voodoo, witchcraft, and pseudo-science but when a definite explanation is teased by the central culprit it is soon nipped at the bud with, “I’ll take my secrets to the grave.” I’m fine with that. I find the horror in DEAD & BURIED especially potent because it is so darn amorphous and impossible to fully pin down. You get the sense that Potter’s Bluff is a town abandoned by light and rationality long ago and now it’s kind of stuck in an endless death spasm. I wish I could chalk up the way DEAD & BURIED hits me in my psychological Achilles’ heal to mere nostalgia. The truth is the inescapable mortality that engulfs the town like an impenetrable fog may be even more unnerving to me today than it was when I witnessed it in my youth.

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Tags: General Horror · Traumafessions · Uncategorized

Unk’s Year End Roundup! 2018!

January 1st, 2019 · 10 Comments

2018 was a damn great year for horror films. I don’t have the mental capacity to make a ranking list, so here are some of my favorite horror movie/TV memories of the past 365 days…

PYEWACKET

I can’t resist this simple, straightforward telling of the dire consequences of negative wish fulfillment. It plays out like the world’s darkest AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL. NICOLE MUNOZ stars as Leah, a broody goth-lite teen with some serious anger management issues. Both she and her mother (LAURIE HOLDEN) are struggling through the aftermath of the recent death of Leah’s father and neither is very adept at channeling their darker emotions regarding the loss. Mom’s solution is to move into an isolated house in the woods, which only makes Leah feel estranged from her friends and even less in control of her life. The two have an epic fight and an enraged Leah ends up performing a black magic ritual that promises to snuff out her mother’s existence. Shortly after, the two make amends but the conjured evil spirit (Pyewacket) happens to have an impeccable work ethic and is insistent on finishing the job. PYEWACKET won’t likely blow your mind and it has no interest in reinventing the wheel but what it lacks in innovation, it more than makes up for with sincerity and basic competence. It’s a classic story, as sturdy as a tree trunk, and the central characters are relatable enough to make it genuinely suspenseful.

CAM

This flick about an online sex worker battling wits with a malicious doppelganger left me itching for a more definitive conclusion. I’m giving it high props anyway for keeping me thoroughly entertained. I can’t pretend to understand exactly what transpires but the exploration of the loss of identity in the social media age is fascinating anyway. My absolute favorite element of this slightly aggravating head-scratcher is its phenomenal central performance by MADELINE BREWER who delivers a memorably effervescent star turn. I hope to see her in many more films in the future.

OVERLORD

I would not have minded if OVERLORD went a little more nuts in the monster department. This movie about a rag-tag team of American soldiers discovering a sinister Nazi plot didn’t quite have the gooey grand finale I was anticipating but it’s still tons of old-school fun. KURT RUSSELL’s son WYATT excels at just the type of rough-around-the-edges, reluctant hero character his father perfected back in the day. Something tells me this one is going to play better at home than in the theater and has a long life of cult fandom waiting ahead for it. There are more than a few highly impressive set pieces and I’m of the feeling that multiple viewings will only enhance them.

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

I’m not the biggest fan of the original THE STRANGERS (although I flip for its “Because you were home” scorpion tail sting) so I was surprised how much I dug this low investment, side-dish sequel. The novel trailer park as funhouse setting really worked for me and try as I might, I could not help loving its MTV-era reliance on ‘80s pop music. If you’re going to be murdered, it may as well be to the synth-stained vocal stylings of KIM WILDE.

THE MEG

I do wish Meg ate more people but this movie starred JASON STATHAM and therefore it rocks.

TERRIFIER

The plot is nothing to write home about but boy is Art the clown scary as hell. DAVID HOWARD THORTON has such an expressive mug and he delivers one of the best make-up heavy horror performances since ROBERT ENGLUND portrayed you know who. Ultimately the movie itself didn’t quite grab me but its nightmarish centerpiece miscreant certainly did.

THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW

Writer/director ANDY MITTON (YELLOWBRICKROAD, WE GO ON) has tacitly become a tremendously reliable horror auteur. His light poetic touch gives his modern horror tales an uncanny vibe that makes them feel like classic psychological ghost stories. As superbly crafted as the supernatural element of this tale is, it also earnestly relays a rocky yet moving relationship between a father and his son. If you are a fan of haunted house movies, this is a must.

SATAN’S SLAVES

I have not seen the original 1980 Indonesian Horror film of the same name that this film is a loose prequel/sequel to but if it’s anywhere near as creepy as this flick, I certainly want to. Writer/director JOKO ANWAR does an incredible job juggling a multitude of characters in this family haunting tale, each of which is as vital as the other. There’s a strong autobiographical element that brings a sense of natural realism and it makes the horror scenes that much more credible and terrifying.

A QUIET PLACE

I can’t think of any other movie going experience in which the premise of the film (sound =death) took such hold of an audience; so many glaring eyes at anyone who dared rustle in their seats or chew popcorn! I’m a sucker for a movie with a big heart (the father/daughter reconciliation left me misty-eyed) that can also scare your socks off. PG-13 or not, this monster thriller had moments of squirm-inducing anxiety that brought me back to my first viewing of ALIEN.

BIRD BOX

Speaking of confronting the downfall of society with more than one hand tied behind your back, BIRD BOX (based on a book written before A QUIET PLACE) is another compelling take on an apocalypse (I grew up entranced by THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? so Hollywood, feel free to make more). This Netflix nugget dropped instantly inspiring a million memes and an inevitable backlash but I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t keep me perpetually captivated. I so relate to any material that focuses on the terror of being responsible for another life because I have nightmares about my cats getting lost every night. Plus nobody can get me to say a bad word about SANDY B.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

I was more than a little miffed when I learned writer/director MIKE FLANAGAN had the audacity to perform a major renovation on SHIRLEY JACKSON’s exquisite tale. I decided to hate-watch it anyway and sure as hell, my hate turned to love at record speed. Lo and behold FLANAGAN, against all odds, delivered a JOHN IRVING goes to hell masterpiece of family dysfunction. The neat as a bow ending felt like a bit of a betrayal but I’ll never curse a hearty four-course horror meal over a too sweet dessert.

THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA

This here is my jam. I’m never more happy then when I can escape into a horror series that clicks in all the right places with charming characters and an excellently decorated home base. I miss BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER so much in these dark times and the wonderfully dark SABRINA eased my longing and then some. I could have used a little more of Salem the cat but cousin Ambrose (CHANCE PERDOMO) provides a reasonable stopgap and MICHELLE GOMEZ as Mrs. Wardwell is the best mischievous frenemy since Dr. Smith rattled the Robinsons in LOST IN SPACE.

CASTLE ROCK “The Queen”

Oh boy. I dug this entire (sometimes uneven) series but the seventh episode appropriately titled “The Queen” rocked my heart into oblivion. Horror royalty SISSY SPACEK delivers a performance for the ages as Ruth, a woman crashing through eventful periods of her life under the spell of dementia. It’s an hour of soul-shattering television and just when I thought it couldn’t get more pitch-perfect they went and played the most appropriate song in the universe, NANCY SINATRA’s “Time”. Bravo.

MANDY

Aw, when NICOLAS CAGE gets the right material he can bring something that exactly no other man can. I haven’t enjoyed him this much since he went full on bonkers in VAMPIRE’S KISS. Speaking of material, someone please buy a fruit basket for costume designer ALICE EYASSARTIER for me. All I want is a baseball jersey with either a number 44 on it or a roaring tiger face. Wow, 2018 sure was the year for the mind-f*ck movie, eh?

ANNIHILATION

My eyes really couldn’t get enough of this movie. It’s like watching a heady sci-fi epic while flipping through an artsy coffee table book at the same time. ALEX GARLAND finds this incredible middle ground where the beautiful and the grotesque collide and many times it’s hard to decipher whether you should “aw!” or “ew!” (many times, both at the same time is appropriate). The final act flew a couple hundred miles over my head but I adore the mystery of it anyway. I know it is impossible but there’s also a creature attack scene in this movie that has me fantasizing about GARLAND remaking 1979’s PROPHECY about twenty-four hours a day. My dreams are too big for this world.

THE RITUAL

It’s a rare and beautiful thing when a film adaptation lives up to its source material and this flick does just that with remarkable craftiness and gusto. I’m a big fan of ADAM NEVILL’s novel of the same name and I’m so impressed with how this film prunes out elements that might not have worked on screen and more impressively, added layers that miraculously deepen the tale. The premise is familiar survival horror territory but in a genius stroke, the main character is tasked with battling guilt and grief just as much as he must lock horns with an unimaginable backwoods monster. This movie towers in my head because I first watched it with my Mother and brother after my father had died and it somehow struck me as an anthem saluting perseverance when facing the unfixable.

HEREDITARY

Ugh. I know this movie is difficult. I think it goes about a mile too far into the WTF?-zone in the last lap too- but it unnerved me soooo good in places that I felt near crazy at times. I was honestly so discombobulated by the nefarious sound design that at one point, I thought that a wounded stray dog had come into the theater and was barking for help. I found myself in a semi-dream state where I wouldn’t be surprised if I started to hallucinate. Whatever its faults, it brought a tangible waking-nightmare feeling that I have to give mad props to. Much has been said (deservingly so) about TONI COLLETTE’s performance but I also have to throw mad laurels at ALEX WOLFF (who is also great in MY FRIEND DAHMER) who played the son. He killed me. After THE MOST HORRIFYING OCCURRENCE, his reaction is to go to bed! The dude goes to sleep! Finally, I feel like I’ve been represented on screen!

SUSPIRIA

I can’t believe I was warned NOT to see this movie by a “friend”! Are you kidding me? Some people say this movie is “too long” to which I say, “Boo-hoo, pack a lunch and settle in.” Yes, I loved every minute of it. It’s the female peacock version of ARGENTO’s masterpiece, generally the same worthy bird, just with a more subdued color palette. TILDA SWINTON has never been more TILDA (even when she’s not TILDA) and DAKOTA JOHNSON brings it in ways I never would have guessed she was capable of. I also dug the lovely cameo from OG witch-bait JESSICA HARPER and the trifling stand out presence of RENEE SOUTENDIJK (EVE OF DESTRUCTION). Director LUCA GUADAGNINO impeccably nests the supernatural crisis in real-world events to ground them and then swings the pendulum into surreal otherworldliness just when you’ve gotten your sea legs. Haunting, brutal and trippy as all get out, I didn’t want to leave this witch school, I was begging for tenure.

HALLOWEEN

My list is not in any order but I’ve saved my personal favorite for last anyway. This blessed return to Haddonfield, Illinois may not be the most original or artistic of the year but it filled my heart with the most horror-infused joy anyway. I’m just so damn grateful to spend quality time with my favorite horror character again- and I’m talking about Laurie not Mike. I am truly in worship of this incarnation of my hero. It may have been more comforting to see Laurie as the fully functioning yet hyper-neurotic, Type A personality in 1998’s H2O but in this alternate timeline, JAMIE LEE CURTIS brings back Laurie’s square peg outsider quality which I think is crucial. (even if it’s not as snugly satisfying). It’s a subtle, fascinating performance that I only wanted to see more of. The movie is best when it’s keeping itself as sharp, clean and streamlined as a butcher knife and only stumbles when it needlessly complicates things (or neglects to kill off deserving characters). Sure, I would much rather have learned the fates of Tommy and Lindsey (or even Ben Tramer) over Lonnie but there’s so much obvious Easter egg love for the fans that it feels gluttonous to complain (Laurie still has her ENDSOR portrait!). And then there’s that score! Just the luxury of getting wrapped up in that JOHN CARPENTER synth-quilt again feels like a glorious windfall.

All in all, it’s a modern slasher masterpiece in my book; the characters are strong, the atmosphere is intoxicating and the kills feel consequential. This is the one movie that I’ve seen this year that I’m sure to return to again and again. The original HALLOWEEN is THE ground zero for my unabashed horror fandom and (although I highly value ROB ZOMBIE’s personal interpretations as well) this truly felt like going home again.

That’s it! I didn’t like everything, I swear. I just decided to leave the movies that I was less enthused by out in the cold where they belong. I also sure as hell didn’t see everything so if there are any titles I forgot to mention that you enjoyed, let us all know in the comments! Happy New Year!

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Tags: General Horror

Blu- Ray Review: Nightwing (1979) and Shadow of the Hawk (1976)

December 13th, 2018 · No Comments

I’ve got to send out some fresh positive psychic vibes to MILL CREEK who just released a favorite flick from my adolescence on Blu-ray. I’m talking about ARTHUR HILLER’s 1979 bonkers bat bonanza NIGHTWING! To make it even more irresistible it comes joined at the hip with the thematically similar SHADOW OF THE HAWK (1976). Both flicks are guilty of casting non-Native Americans as Native American leads but I’ll give them a pass because such were the times and at least both characters are portrayed as honorable heroes. I’ll vouch for these two flicks because they have their hearts in the right place and a healthy concern for the preservation of the environment and its animal inhabitants. Sure, NIGHTWING very wrongly asserts at times that bats are dangerous, even “Evil” (wha?) but the bigger message is about how mankind’s greed is destroying the planet (which is still true today). Sure, I may have to do some mental gymnastics to defend NIGHTWING but the thing is, even though it is questionable PR for the misunderstood creatures, it still ignited my ongoing love for them. Bats are beautiful even when they are starring in a horror movie. I can’t help it, the unintentionally adorable close-ups of the flapping critters in this movie still fill my heart with glee and affection. I even Googled “bats as pets” –turns out it’s not a great idea.

I’ve swooned over NIGHTWING before when it appeared in MILL CREEK’s earlier ANIMAL APOCALYPSE collection HERE. I was thrilled to view the movie in widescreen for the first time in a long while and take in its gorgeous cinematography. Of course, it’s even more impressive in rich and sharp HD. I know not everyone enjoys this movie as much as I do but in my head, it co-exists alongside two other post-JAWS flicks: THE ISLAND (1980) and PROPHECY (1979) as memorably epic early film-going experiences for me personally. The trio represents a specific period when my whole family was finally of the age to experience a horror flick together. These flicks stand in a little bubble of time before slasher movies completely took over my mind. Maybe I’m being slightly coerced by nostalgia but having watched the film again, I have to say I don’t get the shrug off it sometimes inspires in others. The movie is stunning to look at, I’m totally enthralled by the two main leads (NICK MANCUSO and THE SENDER’s KATHRYN HARROLD), the score by HENRY MANCINI is lovely and there are at least two highly thrilling bat attack set pieces. The campfire scene! Allow me to quote myself from an earlier review

“Right smack in the middle of the film, surrounded by all that ponderous dialogue is NIGHTWING‘s crown jewel, a campfire attack to end all campfire attacks. The special effects may be a tad crappy by today’s standards, but the set-up and surprisingly sadistic tone more than make up for it. Watching co-eds meet the business end of gardening equipment may be fun, but you have not lived until you have observed stuffy, prissy middle-agers running about pell-mell with bats chomping on them from head to foot. What’s remarkably hilarious is just how cowardly the male campers are (keep an eye peeled for CHARLES HALLAHAN whose head will later sprout spider legs in J.C’s THE THING), they leave one woman to fall into the actual fire pit and catch aflame, and the other one is refused access to the safety of a nearby van. When the poor woman seeks refuge under the vehicle, her husband nonchalantly drives over her head!”

Oddly, the review I snatched that paragraph from is a lot more critical then one I would write today. Ten years ago I was complaining that NIGHTWING was “fatally dry and about three times more talky then it needs to be.” Meanwhile, during my recent watch, I found its talkative nature a relief compared to overly busy modern fare. Either I’ve become less critical in my old age or I’ve learned to savor good old-fashioned quiet build-ups before a cinematic storm. That fondness for the less brash seventies came in handy while checking out the second feature on this disc, SHADOW OF THE HAWK. This movie sports a misleading mellow vibe that progressively turns downright eerie. A young JAN MICHAEL VINCENT stars as the grandson of a powerful shaman (CHIEF DAN GEORGE) who sees him as the heir to his mystical skills and enlists him to aid him in the destruction of evil forces. We’re again in the PG-rated zone but don’t worry, there’s something genuinely creepy going on here especially whenever a seriously alarming white-masked ghost demon materializes.

Like NIGHTWING, CURSE showcases incredibly alluring location photography. Take my word or it, cinematographer JOHN HOLBROOK (GHOSTKEEPER) takes full advantage of the majestic mountains and forests of British Columbia. This is mostly a laid-back affair but the characters are truly likable and it’s hard to not enjoy a movie that features a phantom black car, a man wrestling a bear and an exploding owl apparition. I only wish I had caught it on on TV back in the day, having no idea of just how deep into the trippy supernatural it ultimately ends up going. Having missed out on that, I can happily say it’s a great fit with good old NIGHTWING. Both of these movies deserve a lot more appreciation than they’ve received in the past and hopefully by joining forces on a double feature disc they will receive it. If NIGHTWING has taught me anything, it’s that there’s strength in numbers.

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Tags: General Horror

Howl (2015)

December 6th, 2018 · 2 Comments

It’s so sad; all my brick and mortar DVD shops have disappeared! First they came for Tower Records and I said nothing, then the came for FYE and I said, “Yikes!” and then they came and closed down CEX an South Street and I was left a mere shell of my former self, DVD-detoxing in an alley. I know I can order physical media online but it’s really about the joy of the hunt for me. I love to dig through piles of coal to discover a hidden gem (it provides a much stronger dopamine rush). It’s gotten so hopelessly dismal that I’ve turned to the mangy offerings at 7-11 and the budget trough at my local RITE AID! These are sad days indeed! But as I’ve always said, (and feel free to put this on my tombstone) “When life hands you lemons- eat them because they are delicious.” Recently at RITE AID I came across a movie called HOWL. How have I never heard of this bad boy before? It’s about werewolves on a train (!!!!) and was written by ALAN GINSBERG (last part, not true).

Folks, it would be impossible for me NOT to purchase a movie about werewolves on a train, especially when it’s only four bucks and boasts on the cover that it’s directed by the dude who did the special effects for THE DESCENT (PAUL HYETT). It truly shocks me that I have never heard of this movie before (perhaps ignoring every conceivable Horror news outlet has somehow left me out of the loop?). Was I simply not paying attention in 2015? It’s hard to believe that my ears wouldn’t instinctively perk up at the mere mention of WEREWOLVES on a TRAIN because I LOVE both werewolves and trains; they are a perfect combination! Like Ginger Rogers and Fred Flintstone! Geez, how has the long-winded THE HOWLING series never addressed such a hairy predicament before? It boggles the mind.

Anyway, HOWL concerns a put-upon, mild-mannered train guard named Joe (ED SPELEERS) whose night shift turns out to be a nightmare due to a scraggly slew of passengers ripped straight from an AGATHA CHRISTIE novel and a deer-caused derailment that strands the motley crew in lycanthrope-land. Like any sadsack worth his salt, Joe also must deal with a haranguing bully (ELLIOT COWAN) and an elusive love interest (HOLLY WESTON). A lot of tension comes from the passengers failing to consolidate against the surrounding threat once it rears its snarling head and turning on each other with dire results. For the most part, many of the characters are as dimensional as CLUE cards but they’re an entertaining bunch just the same. My lone gripe would be that an overweight character is too routinely presented as comic relief to the annoying point that he seems lifted from a lazy teen sex comedy from the early eighties.

But hey, who cares about characterization when the majority of the cast is going to end up either howling at the moon or ripped to shreds? The werewolves in this movie are pretty awesome and duly threatening. Up close they’re like furry, roiding RAWHEAD REX sized mutants with few, if any, canine characteristics. From a distance, weaving through the dark forest is when they are at their most haunting and daunting. They’re often presented as shadowy silhouettes with glowing eyes, not unlike the ghostly beings in THE FOG and it’s damn striking. Actually, the whole look of the film is rather slick and stylish. I read some complaints online about the handling of the train itself, that the effect looks like a toy model but I have to say, I really dug that aspect of it. I think it gives the picture an unreal/dream quality and reads like an apathetic God’s view looking down upon the tiny tragedy below.

All in all, HOWL is a blast of old school fun and probably the most enjoyable werewolf movie I’ve seen in a dog’s age. It’s perfect late night fare with its claustrophobic setting and its “who will be infected next?” paranoid vibe. I found myself worrying for the few passengers that weren’t obnoxious and looking forward to the demises of the ones who got on my nerves and that’s just what I signed up for (besides werewolves and trains). The end comeuppance for the film’s main antagonist is especially gratifying. If you should stumble across HOWL hanging out in your local bargain bin I suggest you snatch it up right quick. I’m hoping and guessing as word gets out it will gain in popularity and cult approval over the years but in the meantime, it’ll fit quite nicely on my DVD shelf somewhere between THE HOWLING and TERROR TRAIN.

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Tags: General Horror

Blu-ray Review: Cathy’s Curse

December 4th, 2018 · 2 Comments

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the CATHY’S CURSE Blu-ray;
I am taking all my older copies and throwing them away (not really)
I am marching down the hall to hand a drink to good ol’ Paul:
Her curse is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, Glory, Cathy’s Blu-ray!
Glory, Glory, Cathy’s Blu-ray!
Glory, Glory, Cathy’s Blu-ray!
Her curse is marching on.

Forgive me. I got a little excited there. It’s just that I was kind of on the fence about upgrading my CATHY’S CURSE based on the fact that I’ve already watched it a hundred times and I was thinking my moola might be better spent on something new- wrong! Excuse the cliché but it’s an absolute revelation. I’m not even talking about the visual details that miraculously surface or the vibrantly blasting seventies flavored hues (has yellow wallpaper ever been more maddening?) that this remarkable upgrade allows. This blessed Blu-ray features a director’s cut that is nine minutes longer than the U.S. version! Because I know every inch of this movie by heart, being exposed to new scenes is semi mind-blowing. Now I know what it must feel like to have repressed childhood memories recovered. This is my home but I’ve never seen it like this before. Doors open into rooms that I had no idea existed. I better lie down and put a cold washcloth on my head. Where am I?

I previously spoke of my CATHY’S CURSE obsession HERE and we were honored to interview CATHY’S CURSE star RANDI ALLEN over HERE but the news of the day is that suddenly this movie is starting to make sense to me (and that can’t be good). In this longer version, we learn from the get-go a piece of knowledge denied in the U.S cut, that the Gimbal family had just recently suffered the death of Cathy’s newborn sibling (!!!) It’s one sentence spoken by the housekeeper but it makes mother Beverly’s erratic behavior borderline understandable. Another unearthed tidbit involves father George Gimble and a statue that was meaningful to him in his youth. He picks it up to appreciate it only to have it break in his hands and much is made of him mending it with glue (only to have Cathy smash it to smithereens during a fit). I don’t know why this new information is important to me, it just is…

God help me for cramming meaning into this nonsensical movie but to me, CATHY’S CURSE is suddenly about accepting the things you can’t fix and becoming aware of the things you can. The film’s most notoriously bonkers scene- involving the housekeeper cleaning up a broken plate (that Cathy has thrown to the floor) by picking up a single shard among many and proclaiming “There, all done” perfectly illustrates the household’s dependency on blind denial. In a similar vein, mother Beverly loses her bearings and is sent to the hospital for a couple of days and then “There, all done” she’s meant to be cured of the grief of losing a child. Throughout the movie everything seems to be breaking: pictures, mirrors, bottles and light fixtures shatter all over the place. The curse is only broken when Beverly opens the doll’s sewn shut eyes and realizes that she is repeating the house’s tragic history by abandoning one child in favor of the other. It’s as if she finally accepts that she can’t change what happened to her baby so she should focus on aiding her troubled first born. Help! This movie makes sense!

But like Jesus’s face appearing in a taco- chances are I’m simply attaching the message I desire to see upon this familiar, possibly arbitrary data. But that’s cool too! That’s what I love about movies and art in general. It’s like a dumb pop song suddenly becoming poignant because your heart just got clobbered. Maybe I am merely projecting my own baggage upon the screen, hearing a tune never intended by the filmmaker but isn’t that perfectly fine? Isn’t it cool that a film you’ve seen a million times, a film that’s known for its indecipherable randomness could still come out of nowhere and communicate some kind of wisdom? I think so! Hats off to SEVERIN FILMS for treating this too often ignored movie with the care and respect it deserves and for consequently improving my life forever. Thanks to SEVERIN, Cathy’s curse of a shabby image and a story incompletely told is now lifted (and there’s even a charming and highly informative interview with beloved RANDI ALLEN as a special feature and that’s worth the price alone). Take it from someone who’s usually somewhat apathetic about upgrading my films from DVD to Blu-ray, SEVERIN’s CATHY’S CURSE release is a marvel-worthy, non-stop treasure.

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Tags: General Horror

Scalps (1983)

November 28th, 2018 · 4 Comments

Something strange has happened! I have discovered that I have miraculously developed an appreciation for a film I previously balked at- FRED OLAN RAY’s ever-shoddy SCALPS (1983)! Who would have thunk? As a burgeoning horror freak in the early eighties, I first developed anticipation for this undercooked oddity via FANGORIA magazine. I can still remember the small image from the film on its cover that suggested impressive make up effects with the presentation of a snarling, demonic face (plus the title “SCALPS” was so threatening, how could I resist?) It was many years before I’d finally get my hands on the elusive film thanks to the infamous big box double-feature VHS tape that paired it up with one of my favorites, THE SLAYER. Unfortunately my first viewing only brought quick and staggering disappointment. It was all so amateurish and cheap and I couldn’t get beyond the vast difference between the devastating movie I had semi-conjured in my head and the goofy shoestring letdown that existed in reality. My skyscraper high anticipation provided a lethal plummet and the fact that SCALPS followed the equally low budget yet superbly crafted THE SLAYER didn’t help its cause.

Luckily fate wasn’t going to let me get away that easy. I recently stumbled into a DVD of SCALPS in a loose bin of unloved castaways at a killer garage sale (Thanks, South Street Cinema!) and I couldn’t resist it for two mere smackers. I was sure the movie would still underwhelm but I crushed on the vibrant and tacky cover art and I figured a person could never have too many movies from the early eighties in their collection. It had to be good for at least an inebriated mock-watch at least!? But then the unlikely occurred. I watched SCALPS super late at night while my brain was susceptible to abject weirdness and it put a peculiar spell on me. It’s still atrociously constructed and it remains an ineptly written ramshackle quilt of grainy, often unfocused images burdened by amateurish performances and cluttered audio… yet, by golly, it’s genuinely creepy at times and the random, minimalistic slithering synth score is borderline intoxicating. I guess I’ve been thirsting for a vaguely coherent, low-tech sleaze fest and didn’t even know it! When will I learn that untamed trashy cinema reaches me in places that slick modern fare never can?

The plot is as simple and hoary as it gets: three couples travel to the middle of nowhere, ignore multiple warnings and thoughtlessly debase an Indian burial ground- ghostly retribution and well earned tragedy follows. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t rooting for the ancient entities to exact their revenge but I did feel a tinge of pity for most likely survivor D. J. (JO –ANN ROBINSON) who was at least mindful enough to predict the group’s inevitable doom (I guess I’ve been partial to stories concerning stumbled upon curses ever since THE BRADY BUNCH encountered that kooky Tiki idol in Hawaii). There’s a slippery semi-racist slope that SCALPS somewhat skirts by pointedly clarifying that Native Americans adapted the practice of scalping from trespassing white men committed to their people’s genocide. It’s not much but I’ll take what I can get. I should also warn there’s an uncomfortable rape scene that seems almost tacked on from another movie filmed on a somehow cheaper stock. I’d much prefer the scene was omitted entirely as it feels out of place, as if it’s only there to fill out an exploitation quota.

But really it’s all about the uncanny atmosphere, when night falls on the foolish campers, the outside world turns DOGVILLE-black and you only have the toy-like, almost cardboard cutout props of a tent and a car to keep you grounded on Earth. The patchwork quality of the film (which so irked me on first viewing) actually has a semi- dramatic, inadvertently artsy effect and the raw, out of focus inserts add to the general miasma. SCALPS even closes with a pretty potent “lost-soul” stinger in the tradition of TRILOGY OF TERROR’s epic final frame. And God help me, I take great comfort in the fact that no Blu-ray scrub job could ever alter this film’s filthy, gritty texture. Even after being cleaned up for DVD it still looks like it’s been tied to the back of a truck and dragged around town for hours. All that said, it’s not hard to understand why this flick hasn’t been better received over the years. I imagine the perplexing and periodical appearance of a borderline ridiculous lion-headed spirit with a mechanical BILLY IDOL sneer is an early deal breaker for many a viewer (even though it’s kind of adorable).

Come to think of it, my change of heart here reminds me a lot of my reconsideration of the crappy but strangely mesmerizing BLOOD SHACK. I certainly prefer movies that stimulate me due to the impressiveness of their craft but I guess there’s something to be said for oddities that accidently work as simply a rough around the edges mood-piece. The homemade, tacked together with Band-Aids and bubble gum, quality of SCALPS is actually its strongest asset. It’s a lacking film in every possible technical aspect but its brutishness has bite and I think if you catch it (or it catches you) at the right moment, it’s at least strangely eerie. I’d never guess that a film that starts with a wacky FORREST J. ACKERMAN cameo and a Saturday Morning television vibe could end on such a dire, futile note.

So I hope ramshackle, snaggle-toothed, terrible yet inimitable SCALPS will accept my apology for not looking past surface cosmetics on my inaugural viewing. It certainly does pale in comparison to much of its contemporaries but for all its faults it’s a least committed to riling the viewer rather than stroking their fur and its synth meets rattling bones score is genuinely boast-worthy. We’ll never be besties by any stretch but I’m glad I watched it again and who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy it even more in a couple years when the eighties are even smaller in my rearview mirror.

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Tags: General Horror

Shadow Stalkers Collection

November 26th, 2018 · 7 Comments

I’ve got a serious penchant for DVD movie compilations. I try to collect as many as possible because they take up so little room and tend to introduce me to titles I might not purchase on their own. Plus, I’m such an old school VHS –head that the idea of getting ten or so titles in one swoop still feels like a bonanza to me. Thankfully I can always count on MILL CREEK ENTERTAINMENT to periodically supply me with such a fix. Their latest all- horror offering is entitled SHADOW STALKERS and it could be my favorite pack that they have released thus far. Let’s take a look at what goodies are lurking within!

OUT OF THE DARK (1988)
I had to get my hands on this collection for this movie alone. How has this campy, kooky cult-oddity evaded me all of these years? Somehow not one of the countless video stores I loitered in back in the day happened to carry it. Well, its days of avoiding me are now finally over. OUT OF THE DARK is about a very vocal murderer in a creepy clown mask who terrorizes the female employees of an L.A. phone sex line. Humor, sleaze and suspense collide as two cops try to crack the killer’s identity before he brutally claims his next victim. This is basically a can’t lose affair because the film’s most outlandish set pieces and cringe-worthy lines of dialogue only make it that much more entertaining. More importantly it has a to-die-for cast that includes: KAREN BLACK (TRILOGY OF TERROR) , GEOFFREY LEWIS (SALEM’S LOT), TRACEY WALTER (REPO MAN), BUD CORT (HAROLD AND MAUDE), PAUL BARTEL (EATING RAOL), TAB HUNTER (POLYESTER), LAINE KAZAN (LUST IN THE DUST) and the incomparable DIVINE as an overbearing, mustached cop in his very last film role. Overall it’s a howling good time and a deep dive into neon-soaked, vibrant eighties-flavored excess.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME
(1981)
I wrote about my unabashed love for this sterling early eighties slasher classic back HERE (as well as in the book BUTCHER KNIVES AND BODY COUNTS). It’s a favorite of mine that I return to on a nearly yearly basis. This flick is total comfort horror for me and always will be. If you happened to purchase the initial DVD release you may have been disappointed to find that it utilized a generic, temporary score rather than the underrated and poetic theatrical score by BO HOWARD (LOVE STREAMS) and LANCE RUBIN (MOTEL HELL). If so, this collection is an affordable way to remedy that situation. Even though I’ll always love my VHS tape, this is a film that really needs to be seen widescreen due to the way it plays with background and foreground imagery. If you want to go one even better, MILL CREEK has also released HBTM on Blu-ray in a nifty retro faux-aged VHS box art cover. I highly recommend that for the ultimate (as of now) presentation of the movie. Hey, you can’t have too many copies of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

THE EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978)
How incredible is it that this glamo-camp thriller starring the ferocious FAYE DUNAWAY was based on a screenplay by horror maestro JOHN CARPENTER? And how many movies involving a famous fashion photographer with the psychic power to foresee Giallo-esque murders can boast a haunting theme song from one BABS STREISAND? Not many, I’m guessing. This is rather an avalanche of awesome because besides DUNAWAY, you also get a young TOMMY LEE WALLACE (yes, he was young once) and a fantastically creepy performance from future CHUCKY inhabitant BRAD DOURIFF. If that weren’t enough, the late great RAUL JULIA is on board as well and directing honors go to IRVIN KERSHNER (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK). They really don’t make them like this anymore and that’s a shame. If you don’t already own a copy I can’t recommend this twisty, moody, nutso movie enough.

AND THE REST
The three titles above are indisputably the most valuable players rocking this set. All three are presented in widescreen and look slick, sharp and generally impressive. The seven remaining flicks are more of a gritty public domain affair of variant quality. I consider this group the freeby gravy; maybe not ideal but good to have on hand for a rainy day.

You get DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE! (1980) a sleazy, somewhat disturbing tale of a roving psychopath that works as an interesting time capsule of early eighties Los Angeles, NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1969) a semi-bland revenge/torture flick with a hammy performance by CAMERON MITCHELL, BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965) which features MARISKA HARGITAY’s bodybuilder father MICKEY in red tights abusing all those who trespass in his castle, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1973) the strangely lyrical holiday horror flick starring the hypnotic MARY WORONOV, FUNERAL HOME (1980) WILLIAM FRUET’s underrated Canadian slasher starring scream queen LESLEH DONALDSON, DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984) a lacking London set X-mas shocker in which a maniac’s preferred victims are all dressed as Santa and finally, DRIVE IN MASSACRE (1979) which may be slower than a drugged turtle but features a hard to resist setting for film lovers.

All in all it’s roughly 15 hours of entertainment and my only gripe would be that FUNERAL HOME’s presentation leaves a bit to be desired and is actually a downgrade from my trusty VHS tape. No worries though-OUT OF THE DARK, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and EYES OF LAURA MARS more than make up for that slight. My other DVD sets will be more than happy to welcome SHADOW STALKERS to my growing collection.

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Tags: General Horror

I Recommend…

February 7th, 2018 · 16 Comments

Dear kinder-kritters, I’m going to be going on a trip to visit family and my computer is not invited so the lights are going to be off in Kindertrauma Kastle for a spell. Normally I’d hire a sitter but since sitters attract home invasions and unwanted telephone solicitation, I have decided against it. I won’t be gone long and I plan to return with an extra spring in my step. Please help yourself to anything you find in the fridge and do wait a half hour after eating to swim in the moat!

While I’m gone let’s say we play a game of “I Recommend” in the comments section of this post! If you’ve recently seen a movie you enjoyed please tell your fellow Kindertrauma pals all about it. You can simply leave the title with zero explanation or expand upon your thoughts to your hearts content. Add as many as you like! If you can provide how you viewed your recommended title (via Netflix, Hulu, telepathy, osmosis, through the crack in a car trunk at the Drive-In etc.) that couldn’t hurt either (I’ll even start first). Have fun. Be safe. Don’t open the door for anyone!

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Tags: General Horror · General Insanity

Insidious: The Last Key

January 18th, 2018 · 4 Comments

Dagnabbit, the unthinkable has happened. They finally made an INSIDIOUS installment that yours truly has zero gumption to rally behind. We must be trapped in an alternate dimension because I had more fun watching a football game (Go Eagles!) this past weekend than a horror movie (a sign of the Apocalypse?). It’s not that the fourth horse in the INSIDIOUS parade is terrible or anything. It certainly has its heart in the right place but geez Louise, I found it dishwater dull. In fact, at some point in the middle, I got up to go to the restroom and instead of rushing in a frenzied panic, worried I’d miss an important beat; I found myself leisurely strolling knowing that it was unlikely. There are such long, drawn-out, static moments of non-consequence in this movie that I think I could have dropped by the concession stand as well. I’m all for quiet junctures in horror that build up the tension but I’m not down with empty stalling. I’d think I’d be the perfect audience for a film concerning a mature woman confronting a childhood of abuse in a dwelling chock full of demons but you have to throw me a semi-fresh bone to gnaw on periodically. This trudging rehash is creakier than the house it takes place in.

Things start out promising enough with the immensely likable and sympathetic psychic Elise Rainier (the blameless LIN SHAYE) experiencing a nightmare/flashback of her youth. It seems poor Elise is haunted by memories of her brutal father who tried to quell her clairvoyant talents by beating them out of her. After waking up she receives a phone call from a man looking for her assistance in ridding his home of malignant spirits only to find out the address in question is that of her childhood home. This is an intriguing premise and I’m all on board but as soon as she and her henchmen Specks and Tucker (LEIGH WHANNELL and ANGUS SAMPSON) arrive at the (barely changed in 60 years) haunted abode things begin to slide towards the mundane. Even worse, the characters of Specs and Tucker who have been consistent sources of amusement in the INSIDIOUS series are regulated to leering at Elise’s nieces and repeating painful dad jokes. The closing scene of INSIDIOUS 3, which involved the trio teaming up and facing a future of ghostbusting together was so promising, it seemed the sky was the limit as far as what they might encounter next. Disappointingly, even with Elise’s personal history attached, we still end up in the increasingly less interesting phantom zone “the further.”

I think INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY might do the trick as a rainy night time-killer. It’s a respectable enough attempt and a little SHAYE goes a long way. Still, it seems like there were more than a few potentially profound moments involving Elise’s reconciliation with her parents and her rejecting the urge to empower the evil with her rage that fall much flatter than they should. Maybe I’m experiencing INSIDIOUS fatigue or maybe it’s the fact that horror fans have been gifted much more lively and exciting fare to devour as of late. In any case, this movie has done well enough financially that a fifth installment is not unlikely. Here’s hoping that next time those in power are creative enough to take us someplace we don’t expect, someplace further than “the further.”

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Tags: General Horror