kindertrauma random header image

...:::General Horror:::...

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!

[Read more →]

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.

[Read more →]

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.

[Read more →]

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.

[Read more →]

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.

[Read more →]

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.

[Read more →]

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!

[Read more →]

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.”

[Read more →]

Tags: General Horror

Goodbye, 2017!

January 11th, 2018 · 12 Comments

I can’t say I was a big fan of life in general circa 2017 but mercifully, it was a gonzo year in horror entertainment. It’s like the old saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, sell those lemons and use the cash to buy a movie ticket.” The list below represents my favorite horror offerings from an otherwise odious year. Whether they’re “good” or “bad’ is somebody else’s burden to decide, these babies kept my paper boat afloat either way. (In no particular order….)

IT. Yep, some of these picks are going to be obvious no-brainers. How could I not dig one of the most kindertrauma-iest movies ever made? I loved the characters, the town and even the clown and at least two scenes freaked me to the core. I’ll be looking forward to returning to this one again and again.

GET OUT. This flick is fascinating on too many levels to count and who would of thunk a scene involving someone simply searching for keys could be so damn suspenseful? Taking paranoid cues from ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE STEPFORD WIVES, this scorching social critique is in a league of its own.

SPLIT. Don’t call it a comeback, M. NIGHT’s momma said knock you out. I don’t see how anyone could not be thoroughly entertained by this darkly humorous, twist-infested thriller. It’s like a long lost Di PALMA film complete with a side dish of BETTY BUCKLEY. My hometown of Philadelphia has never looked better on screen and JAMES McAVOY is non-stop mesmerizing.

ANNABELLE: CREATION. Forget it’s a prequel and part of a franchise; this creepy flick can stand on its own. You could replace the titular doll with any raggedy moppet and it’d work just as well. The camerawork and cinematography are surprisingly exquisite and I love the time period detail and the moving way loss and loyalty are represented. This is a keeper in my book.

THE SHAPE OF WATER. 2017 was not only the year of astounding commercial success for horror films; it was host to some the genre’s greatest critical glory as well. GUILLERMO DEL TORO’s poetic fairy tale clarifies that there are infinite uncharted depths for monster movies to explore.

THE EVIL WITHIN. I’m not sure if this counts because it was made 15 years ago but 2017 saw its unlikely release (two years after its creator’s death) and so here we are. This movie is disturbingly bonkers but it’s also a one of a kind personal vision and I’ve got to throw laurels upon it for originality alone. Batty as it may be, the bizarre effects are eye-popping and the dank, morbid dread it conjures is surprisingly potent.

TRAGEDY GIRLS. Sadly, I don’t get to see more independent horror in these parts and even sadder, I’ve been burned by so many bad independent horror films that I’m not crying too many tears over that fact. Thankfully PUFF (The Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival) knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff and I got to see this HEATHERS-esque dark teen comedy. This flick might have sunk like a stone with lesser casting but its two leads are charismatic as hell. Don’t be surprised if this one quietly becomes a cult classic.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND. Is it kosher if I add a movie simply because I’m in love with its lead? Good, because I love King Kong! He’s awesome and he really knows how to throw a helicopter and clearly has a taste for seafood grander than my own (he eats an octopus). I felt like a kid watching this movie and that’s gold.

TERRIFIER. Speaking of feeling like a kid, this movie brought me back to that unsafe space of watching sleazy VHS tapes as a teen and giddily fearing what obscenity could happen next. I can’t recommend the plot too much (besides the fact that it’s set on Halloween) but killer clown “Art” genuinely had me shaking in my shoes and the almost too realistic gore scenes are horrifically impressive.

CULT OF CHUCKY. Long running horror franchises take note — a great way to revitalize a sagging storyline may be to add an interesting new character. I’m sure I’d watch any movie featuring my friend ‘til the end Chucky but the addition of FIONA DOURIFF to the last two CHILD’S PLAY installments has greatly sharpened the killer toy’s blade. DON MANCINI deserves mucho credit for pushing the mayhem into less familiar zones and for keeping fans on their toes.

LOGAN. I know this isn’t considered a horror movie but my library only had the B&W “noir” version to borrow and it ended up tasting like a late night horror classic to me. I mean, essentially, it’s really about people perceived as “monsters” being chased cross-country by an ignorant torch-carrying mob. Furthermore it’s got a killer kid in it so that even further justifies its inclusion here. In any case, I’m sticking with the B&W version and hope to never see it in color.

BETTER WATCH OUT. This movie shocked the hell out of me and I thought I’d seen everything. The premise is as hoary as the hills, involving a babysitter besieged by intruders during the holidays but before you know it, the old grey mare is flipped on its head. It also happens to feature my hero for life, CANDYMAN’s VIRGINIA MADSEN. Do you have a library card? If so, you can watch this FOR FREE on HOOPLA right now. If you don’t have a library card, all I can do is shake my head.

SUPER DARK TIMES. Imagine A SIMPLE PLAN but instead of finding money, a trio of teens accidentally kill a (rather obnoxious) peer. What follows is a haunting nosedive into regret that crashes into true horror. There’s something slightly heartbreaking about this movie and its exploration of the limits of social connection. It’s beautifully shot too, full of memorably moody images and the performances are so real you almost feel like an accomplice.

GERALD’S GAME and 1922. I hope it’s not rude to lump these two together but they’re both NETFLIX originals based on the work of by STEPHEN KING and they’re both exceptional works of psychological horror. In fact, they are rather like flip sides of the same coin. GERALD’S GAME explores the mind of an abuse survivor haunted by her past while 1922 rummages through the aftermath guilt of a man who chooses to murder his wife. I found GERALD’S GAME superior in the suspense department but I ultimately preferred 1922’s more consistent tone. The other thing these two films have in common is that they both feature absolutely stunning performances from their leads (CARLA GUGINO and THOMAS JANE, respectfully).

ONE DISAPPOINTMENT: ALIEN: COVENANT. I appreciate this film’s visual style and overall impressive artistry but egad, I’ve never liked an ALIEN movie less. I found myself so surprised by my aversion toward it that I gave it a second viewing hoping it would gel and it only left me feeling more slighted. Maybe movies are like people and there are just some that you can’t click with no matter the effort. On a bright note, it did make me reconsider 2017’s other Sci-Fi monster effort LIFE in a more favorable light. That movie at least closed with one truly mortifying scene that really stuck with me.

LOOKING FORWARD TO: WINCHESTER. Hey, my very own brother wrote the screenplay to this movie WINCHESTER and it’s opening February 2 in the US (and March 2 in the UK). It stars HELEN MIRREN (!!!) and it’s all about the fascinating Winchester house, which is said to be one of the most haunted places on Earth. You can read up on Winchester House HERE and watch the spooky, badass trailer below! Here’s to WINCHESTER starting off another epic year for the genre!

What were you favorite horror films of 2017 and which ones are you looking forward to in 2018? Leave us a comment and let us know!

[Read more →]

Tags: General Horror

Streaming Alert:: Amityville: The Awakening (2017)

October 23rd, 2017 · 6 Comments

I know it’s not easy to muster up enthusiasm for yet another Amityville sequel but this latest addition has at least two difficult to resist things going for it: it stars the always compelling JENNIFER JASON LIEGH and it’s currently absolutely FREE on GOOGLE PLAY. Another ace up its sleeve is that the action takes place at the legendary pumpkin-eyed house on 112 Ocean Avenue (or at least a faithful recreation of it) rather than following a cursed inanimate object that managed to escape from it. That may not seem like much. but I will forever be a little unnerved by the mere sight of that creepy Dutch Colonial and am so relieved not to have to follow a lamp, mirror, clock or dollhouse to another address. This new edition could surely use some major renovations (The lighting is often inadequate, there’s not enough JENNIFER JASON LEIGH and the editing makes you feel like it’s been pruned to the stem with a weed-whacker) but it manages to be fairly entertaining anyway. It’s nowhere near the high point of the franchise (that would be AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESION (1982), of course!) but it’s leaps beyond the franchise low point (I’ll never accept you as canon THE AMITYVILLE CURSE (1990)!) Oh and did I mention, it’s FREE?

AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING takes place in a wacky universe in which characters are able to watch the original 1979 film on TV (after referencing its sequel and rejecting its remake) that is somehow also a dimension where the house is super affordable and the famous “High Hopes” sign lingers unsold on ebay in the basement. I suppose it’s possible that Goth girl Belle (actress, singer, Cocoa Pebbles cover model BELLA THORNE) has never heard of the Amittyville legend before moving into her new home but it seems highly unlikely. How could anyone say “I’m moving to Amityville” without hearing “THE Amityville?” in response. I mean, can you even type “Amityville “ into your computer without be greeted by those wicked windows staring back at you (I just tried and the answer is no)? Anyway, the ”reality” we’re placed in is hard to swallow and even though it’s not a deal breaker, it tends to dismantle the film’s credibility. Where the film works best is in the family dysfunction department; Belle’s twin brother (CAMERON MONAGHAN) is lost in a coma that she feels personally responsible for and a rather convincing cloud of sickness, grief and existential dread hangs over the family. It’s this aspect of the film that makes it difficult to shrug off completely. LEIGH could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge if she wanted and I think if the film spent more time mining her emotional dilemma and less time courting the teen crowd, there would be a more effective result.

You know how AMITYVILLE 3-D (1983) is mostly balk-worthy lunacy but then there’s that super haunting scene where TESS HARPER encounters the soaked, blank-eyed ghost of her daughter LORI LOUGHLIN and her frenzied denial and grief is palpable afterwards? So goes AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING in a way. It’s mostly hoarding familiar creaky house, jolt scares but there’s a somewhat legit subterranean stream of pathos as well. When the Evil of the house begins to infest and rejuvenate Belle’s comatose brother, it’s easy to sympathies with the family’s reluctance to care that the divine intervention is coming from below rather than above. I also feel I should give this flick some props for at least alluding to my favorite underused Amityville character Jodie, by way of a startling pig mask (in a perfect world Jodie would have an entire spin off franchise of her own). Anyway, no matter how you slice this ham, there’s no denying it is worth the paltry price of FREE and even an only partially successful Amityville movie is a welcome Halloween treat to yours truly. Check it out HERE and my apologies in advance, you should know better than listen to someone who thinks AMITYVILLE 4: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1989) is the bee’s knees (or the fly’s thighs?).

[Read more →]

Tags: General Horror