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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

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!

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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?).

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Tags: General Horror

Cult of Chucky (2017)

October 10th, 2017 · 6 Comments

I’m a huge fan of 2013’s CURSE OF CHUCKY. It reestablished my favorite killer doll’s innate creepiness, introduced me to the phenomenal FIONA DOURIF and works splendidly as a rainy night, old dark house flick. I’m pretty sure I’ve watched it every year since it came out because that’s how I do. One of the great things about the CHUCKY series is that it is both remarkably consistent (every installment is penned by original creator DON MANCINI) and wonderfully inconsistent (every installment past the original three changes the game in a creative way). I can’t say my love of newest stab — CULT OF CHUCKY — eclipses my love of cozy CURSE but it certainly delivers a bevy of its own horror delights. We get to reunite with Chucky’s now-grown original patsy Andy Barclay (ALEX VINCENT), spend some time in a surreally sterile mental hospital and most gratifyingly, we get more FIONA DOURIF as Nica Pierce. DOURIF makes it clear she’s every bit as talented as her legendary dad BRAD. She’s truly mesmerizing and reminds me a bit of JESSICA HARPER if JESSICA HARPER found herself frequently possessed by JUDY DAVIS. Plus you get more of the irascible Tiffany Valentine played to the hilt by JENNIFER TILY who has reached an almost CRUELLA de VIL level of hilariously flamboyant madness.

MANCINI has taken over the directing reigns for CHUCKY’s last three outings and I couldn’t be happier. He’s got a superb eye for visuals and he’s able to get great performances from his actors, both flesh and plastic. With CURSE he seemed to be taking some cues from Italian masters like ARGENTO and BAVA and now with CULT, his hat appears tipped to KUBRICK and De PALMA (complete with split- screens). There’s a kill in this movie involving shattering glass that is every bit as beautiful as it is ultimately gruesome. There are some lapses in logic, no mental hospital on Earth would run the way this one does, but the incongruities tend to add to the dreamy, hallucinatory atmosphere. Maybe it’s not a good idea in real life for a hospital to proudly have it’s own graveyard but it sure looks pretty as hell especially in the snow! Plus I’m OK with giving a possessed killer doll-flick a whole lot of leeway in the realism department. From it’s first sequel, the franchise has had the not always easy task of finding a balance between horror and its unavoidable humor and I think the last two installments have got the formula down pat and all thanks to FIONA DOURIF. No matter how off the wall, wacky or self-referential (Chucky laments the cancelation of HANNIBAL– a series MANCINI lent his writing talents to) Chucky behaves, DOURIF’s Nica is there to ground things with her convincing portrayal of a woman unable to convince others of her outlandish predicament.

I hope the series continues in this direction and CULT’s unpredictable ending certainly opens up a plethora of possibilities. It’s pretty darn cool to see a writer granted so much control over his creation, especially one who tends to steer toward uncharted territory rather than knee-jerk expectations. I doubt a big screen, big budget excursion would allow our favorite killer doll such ample room to play, so it feels like a blessing to see what the little guy can get up to unchained from the box office. If you want to check out the unrated version complete with an after credit cameo (which is worth its wait in gold as far as I’m concerned) you can order the Blu ray/DVD combo pack (which includes commentary by DON MANCINI, deleted scenes and bonus features) HERE. The rated version of CULT OF CHUCKY will be on Netflix soon followed by Halloween-timed multiple showings on AMC’s Fearfest. I’m guessing there are VOD and Redbox options as well. One thing’s for sure, a certain possessed killer doll is going to be hard to escape this October and I’m all for it. I’ll always have this troublemaker’s back for his non-conformist stance. Sure he’s evil but I empathize with his struggle to escape a brittle body built for smiling servitude. He reminds me of a time when horror icons were still rebellious and counter-culture rather than neutered to appeal to the largest possible audience. Chucky is my friend till the end and he’s a gift that keeps on giving (the finger).

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Tags: General Horror

Terrifier (2017) (Via PUFF 2)

September 25th, 2017 · 1 Comment

If your first thought after seeing the recent hit IT was “Gee, I wish that evil clown savagely mutilated more people” then DAMIEN LEONE’s TERRIFIER may be right up your blood strewn alley. The killer clown in this movie truly isn’t playing around. In fact, I think I might have even been offended by a particular obscenity he orchestrated but luckily I don’t mind being offended too much. It’s kind of thrilling to take the less safe path with horror on occasion and to find yourself worrying that the film will push its violence across the border of your comfort zone. There are no subtle chills or elaborate backstories in TERRIFIER, this is a stripped down, back to the basics stalk and slash, heavy on the slash. Old school gorehounds willing to overlook the absence of good taste (or even much of a plot) for a down and dirty haunted attraction type crawl, chock full of sometimes alarmingly convincing practical make–up effects should be particularly satisfied. It doesn’t exactly break new ground but it certainly seethes with genuine menace. Sweetening the pot further, TERRIFIER takes place on Halloween night and even though it’s not able to muster the autumnal ambience of your average HALLOWEEN sequel, I’d still recommend it as premium party viewing for folks looking to celebrate OCT 31st.

TERRIFIER’s formidable killer “Art” may look familiar to some as he has ravaged through LEONE’s earlier anthology ALL HALLOWS EVE (2013), both in a segment and the wrap around tale. LEONE not only wrote and directed TERRIFIER but also supplied the impressive make-up effects, which may explain why they are exhibited with such gruesome reverence and twisted glee. I have to say this clown is pretty darn nightmarish. His silent sneer and uncanny movements rather remind me of “the gentlemen” in the classic BUFFY episode “Hush” and I have to tip my tiny hat to DAVID HOWARD THORTON for his wickedly ghoulish performance, I also rather enjoyed the film’s lead JENNA KANELL (THE BYE BYE MAN) because she looks like STACEY NELKIN in HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH but talks like MIRA SORVINO in ROMY AND MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION. She’s put through the wringer in this movie and she’s easy to root for but I should warn you that this isn’t the type of movie that cares about heroic redemption and untapped powers within. If it has any message it is that you should trust your instincts rather than your friends when you surmise the clown waving at you is a murderous maniac.

If you live in Philadelphia, TERRIFIER will be playing on Thursday, September 28th at 9:30PM as part of PUFF (THE PHILADELPHIA UNNAMED FILM FESTIVAL) at the one and only Drake Building (more details HERE). Seeing this untamed horror movie with a screaming and squirming audience is sure to be an excellent way to kick off your Halloween season. I know you might be thinking that you’ve been killer clowned to death this year but in the words of one Dr. Loomis, “You don’t know what death is!” (P.S. I’m also hearing very strong word of mouth about TRAGEDY GIRLS, which is being described as MEAN GIRLS meets SCREAM and will be playing on Friday, September 29th at 7PM and will incorporate a prom theme party with shots for anyone over 21- and that means me – be there or be square!).

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Tags: General Horror

For the Love of:: The Slayer (1982)

September 19th, 2017 · 1 Comment

ARROW VIDEO is really hitting them out of the park lately. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a release than their new 2-disc (one Blu, one DVD) offering of THE SLAYER, which until now has only been available on hard to find VHS. I have an extended history with this movie. It was one of my very first horror rentals (from a kiosk in the mall) and it both stuck in my head and seemed to disappear entirely. For decades, no other video store I visited (and there have been many) ever seemed to carry it. I finally did find it on a double feature, big box with SCALPS but I still yearned to unearth the original version with the cover that enthralled me featuring a demon silhouette in a doorway framed by fire. Over the years I’ve spotlighted on these pages the multiple times this movie has appeared on YouTube only to watch it disappear in a puff of smoke shortly thereafter. Well, all those days of THE SLAYER being a slippery fish are now over. I’m happy for myself and I’m happy for all the fortunate folks who can now add this unique film to their collections.

I attempted to share why I’ve been intrigued for so many years by THE SLAYER in this full review back HERE (short version: I admit it has its flaws but the atmosphere of constant dread is memorably powerful). Today I’m going to focus on this new slobber-worthy Blu-ray. Let me tell you, it’s quite the revelation seeing THE SLAYER suddenly not look like it was filmed through a screen door. This is the visual equivalent to slurping down an oyster; your peepers can practically taste the salty ocean air while you take it in. In my previous review, I mentioned that in my head I like to think of THE SLAYER as a seaside sibling to favorites TOWER OF EVIL, THE FOG and DEAD AND BURIED and never has that coastal connection been stronger; I may have even been left with sand in my shorts. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not militant when it comes to upgrading physical media but in this case, it’s an absolute no-brainer. The difference between THE SLAYER on VHS and on Blu-ray is substantial. I’ll spare you the technical specs and just say I can now finally determine that hapless victim Brooke spends her last hours on Earth reading a paperback of TOM ROBBIN’s EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES; a crucial detail sadly indecipherable on VHS. She’ll never know how it ends!

I’ve heard tale that some folks find THE SLAYER’s pace a bit too leisurely but I disagree, especially now that I’ve seen it in its full glory. The devil is in the details and the more you re-watch this well-crafted flick, the more you realize that it’s consistently dropping clues, foreshadowing future events and messing with your head with subtle shadows and meaningful cutaways. It’s like a puzzle that falls apart every time you’re just about to snap in the last piece. Furthermore, I think the film’s slinking patience only adds to its throttling final moments. It’s gear shifting personality makes it stand like a bridge linking grounded n’ gritty late seventies horror to surreal n’ unreal eighties fare.

Nearly as essential as the film itself is a brand new documentary entitled NIGHTMARE ISLAND: THE MAKING OF THE SLAYER. This documentary provides a treasure trove of trivia (as does the new commentary by director J. S. CARDONE, actress CAROL KOTTENBROOK and executive in charge of production ERIC WESTON). There’s been scant information available on THE SLAYER for decades and ARROW’s determination to fix that is downright heroic. Poor SLAYER was really handed a random and undeserved raw deal that so many less interesting horror films were able to avoid. It never got a proper distribution on screen or on home video and it does my heart good to witness that corrected. If you are familiar with the film you know that some of its most memorable scenes take place in a dilapidated theater. Happily that same theater has since been renovated and better still, was able to proudly host a screening of the film. How cool is that? Imagine watching a movie in the theater it was filmed in! ARROW not only gave this fine flick a leg up, it also saved a piece of this town’s history. What a noble deed especially considering the film’s modest (for now) fan base. Other supplements include a fun commentary with THE HYSTERIA CONTINUES, additional documentary shorts, trailers, stills, liner notes by the always insightful LEE GAMBIN and a reversible sleeve with classic and newly commissioned (and very cool) artwork. Geez, BLOOD RAGE, THE MUTILATOR and now THE SLAYER; I genuinely want to give the folks at ARROW a round of applause for going far beyond the standard catalog title puppy mill and kindly rescuing and nurturing such lovable and deserving strays. Bravo!

Recently I found out fellow SLAYER fan AMANDA REYES was able to get to see our beloved pet flick on the big screen! In order to do something constructive with my abject jealousy –I asked her if she’d be so kind as to report back on the experience and she sweetly obliged! Take it away, AMANDA

The Slayer on the Big Screen (Amanda Reyes)

I first discovered The Slayer sometime back in the early 1990s when I rented the infamous Continental Video double feature VHS, which featured this oddball flick alongside that other quirky slasher, Scalps. While I enjoyed both, there was something so nightmarish about The Slayer, and it quickly became one of my favorite horror films.

It may be important to serve up those original memories with a bit of context. Continental’s version of The Slayer didn’t have proper credits, nor did the film itself actually feature any recognizable actors. Because there was nothing particularly identifiable about anyone involved, it morphed into something akin to a supernatural snuff film in my fairly impressionable brain. I’ll admit it is almost a disappointment when I watch the film now and see that it was indeed made by real filmmakers! Almost. But that’s merely a quibble, as The Slayer has yet to lose its luster with me, and has aged quite well.

Since that first viewing, I’ve seen The Slayer in all kinds of incarnations, with credits, and without as I mentioned, but I never thought I’d have a chance to see it on the big screen. This past year, Arrow got together with Texas Frightmare for a once in a lifetime screening of the film. It was the first thing I marked off on my program for the weekend. I was excited to see what kind of remaster trickery Arrow did with this mythical terror tale, and I was thrilled that horror fans were given a chance to check it out in a far larger scope than we’d probably ever had the chance to experience before.

But that experience proved to be bittersweet. The Pros: The work Arrow did was amazing. No complaints. The film looks more gorgeous than ever, and while I love the graininess of my old VHS (which certainly added to the fear factor for me), I was finally able to see the real artistry that went into putting The Slayer together. Directed with a sure hand by J.S. Cardone (who would go on to make both good and not so good horror films throughout his career), the film has a real lushness to it that was lost in its original home video release. It’s colorful and drab, if you can imagine that, with exquisite sets, and a few absolutely unsettling set-pieces.

It is also competently acted by a small but interesting cast of unknowns. It’s one of the few slashers from the heyday of the genre that features mature characters with grown up careers and adult problems. There’s an actress, a commercial director, a doctor, and an artist. They look to be somewhere in their early thirties, and I appreciate being able to see a slasher film now where I can see myself (which only ups the terror in some ways). The protagonist, Kay (Sarah Kendall) suffers from an instability that comes from life long woes, and not just teen angst, playing heavily into what I find so timeless about her horrifying ordeal.

But let’s get to the bittersweet part. The Cons: Living in a post-MS3K universe has its disadvantages. All movies are up for so-bad-it’s-good-grabs, but that doesn’t mean that every film, even those released in such a maligned genre, are ripe for picking on. The Slayer is certainly humorless, and looks like it was made sometime in the late 70s – early 80s, complete with the requisite fashion and moustaches, but does that make something funny? If you have to think about that answer, then you may need to check your misplaced sarcasm at the door if you are going to truly get something out of this wonderfully creepy film.

The audience at the screening was, frankly, abhorrent. They laughed at unfunny moments, and acted like they were smarter than the film (the guy in front of me kept cartoonishly shrugging his shoulders and pointing to the screen in case we didn’t get that point). Other people were eating loudly and talking through its entirety, laughing whenever the audience keyed them in on some joke that wasn’t actually there. Afterwards, I got on the elevator and a woman said to her friend, “That’s a movie I don’t mind talking through because no one liked it.”

Ex-squeeze me?

This is all to say, yes, not every film is going to work the same way for everybody. Personally, that’s something I love about horror… it’s so subjective. My Slayer is your Frankenstein, and that’s cool. But, there should be some modicum of respect for those around you because you know, that person next to you might actually be enjoying the film. In the end though, the screening only served to make me love the film more. Both Arrow and Vinegar Syndrome, who aided in the remastering had tables at the convention, and were truly ecstatic that I enjoyed the hard work they put into making this the best release The Slayer has ever seen.

We live in a time where the word on the street proclaims that physical media is dying, yet, we’ve got great little companies putting heart and soul into their DVD and Blu-Ray releases. And I’m tickled that we can see these movies outside of the pan and scan treachery that had previously kept them from joining the classic status they so richly deserve. The Slayer is certainly a so-good-its-great movie, and should be embraced by any self-respecting slasher fanatic! Yeah, says me!

Thanks Amanda, you’re the best! Speaking of lovingly celebrating worthy titles deserving of a bigger audience, SCREAM FACTORY just released a Blu-ray of the fantastic TV movie THE SPELL (1977) starring LEE GRANT! Even cooler, they got Amanda to lend her unrivaled TV movie expertise for an exclusive commentary! You can get yourself a copy of THE SPELL HERE and don’t forget to make an appointment with THE SLAYER HERE!

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Tags: General Horror

IT (2017)

September 9th, 2017 · 8 Comments

IT (2017) is a blast from its first moments to its last. It’s as moving as it is freakishly frightening and thanks to a multitude of outstanding performances and consistently keen direction, I’m comfortable calling it an instant classic. I don’t want to spoil the experience by dissecting it too much, so I’m just going to use this space to celebrate a few of my favorite things about the film. I don’t think I need to hard sell this movie to you guys; anyone who enjoys these trauma-filled pages is likely to be already raring to see it. And really, has there ever been a better time for a movie about fighting an obnoxious clown who uses fear to divide and conquer the downtrodden?

THE PERFORMANCES. Nobody could ever eclipse TIM CURRY in my heart as Pennywise but BILL SKARSGARD certainly brings something of equal value to the table and there’s no law that says I can’t love both interpretations (torn between two killer clowns, feeling like a fool, loving both of you is breaking all the rules). SKARSGARD’s Pennywise has got a slippery, slobbering serpentine streak and he’s interestingly more child-like which makes him connect to and interact with the kids (and the bullies he mirrors) in new ways. All of the kids, parents and bullies are perfectly cast. In fact, I’d like to thank the casting director for somehow finding out what my bullies looked like and scouring the country for their exact doppelgangers-well done! I have to especially spotlight SOPHIA LILLIS as Beverly Marsh because she is phenomenal and apparently incapable of even one false note. Her Beverly is truly the heart and glue of the Losers Club just as she should be.

THE SCARES. I’ll never forget walking home from our local theater (at the Valley Forge Sheraton) after seeing THE THING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and feeling like I had to push my eyeballs back into my head. IT brought back that great feeling. I thought I knew exactly where each scare was going to end and kept consistently finding out I was dead wrong. It’s like putting a quarter in a gumball machine, expecting a lone gumball and watching the entire machine pour into your hand (and then, just when you think it’s over, your hand falls off). It’s really an eye-popping spectacle at times and many of the surreal goings-on have an off-kilter and uncanny edge to them almost like a hypnotic optical illusion. It brought me back to the early days of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series when you couldn’t trust anything that was happening and your sense of reality would actually be slightly weakened by the time you left the theater. No matter how familiar you are with STEPHEN KING’s novel or the previous miniseries, this IT knows how to pull the rug out from under you even if you are standing on wall-to-wall carpet.

THE SOUND. I don’t know much about the technical aspects of sound design but whoever is responsible for the evil children singing and laughing directly above my head and the music box chimes rising from the floorboards deserves either an award or a kick in the shins. Thank God I don’t partake in recreational drugs anymore. I feel like my movie theater was in cahoots! Before the movie even started they were flickering the lights and forced us to look at the flat image of an IT Snapchat ad for an ungodly amount of time and I’m pretty sure they were utilizing (highly illegal) subliminal messages to make me antsy and desire a Coke (maybe not). Anyway, the sound effects and score of this movie were ace and I’m thinking my theater is going to need an exorcism when this mad circus of a movie skips town.

THE SETTING. What a great job recreating the late eighties! Who do I kiss for not lazily placing a Rubik’s Cube on a coffee table and calling it a day? Who do I buy a beer for involving THE CULT, THE CURE and XTC in these twisted shenanigans? Who wants a hug for not overdoing it with wardrobe and dressing every bystander like CYNDI LAUPER? I really dig how the town of Derry is represented and how it feels lived in and real and like a place I’ve been to before. It really helps this movie feel like a full satisfying meal rather than the usual throwaway, fast food, horror stopgap.

THE VIBE. Early on, IT excellently establishes Derry’s dark and dirty undercurrent. As charming as the town may be on the surface, the anguish, alienation and dejection felt by its young residents feels thick as knee-high mud. Loved ones are lost without reason, parents are sleazy or overbearing monoliths, librarians are mean-spirited, pharmacists are shifty, cops are abusive, and I don’t even want to talk about the incomprehensibly grim things Mike (CHOSEN JACOBS) is expected to do to helpless sheep. Mike’s grandfather clarifies the horror of adulthood standing before these kids as they leave their childhood behind, it’s time to make a choice, are you going to be the butcher or the meat? Maybe you have to be a loser yourself to appreciate how on point IT’s depiction is of the pain and fear that comes with being an outsider and how accurately it displays the priceless joy of being an outsider who is lucky enough to meet kindred spirits. I am that loser! This movie reminds me so much of my (on-going) awkward years and yep, my eyes got misty on more than a few occasions. I could go on and on (and I’m sure I will in the years to come) about just how smitten I am with this film that juggles terrifying and touching with the greatest of ease but not today. It’s beautiful outside. I want to walk in the sun and I’ve got long-loved fellow weirdo friends I think I need to spend some time with.

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Tags: General Horror

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

August 12th, 2017 · No Comments

I thought the previous ANNABELLE (2014) movie was an entertaining enough diversion but I can’t say I remember much of it. I may have passed up its new prequel ANNABELLE: CREATION altogether but then I heard they were showing a 4-minute sneak peek of IT introduced by STEPHEN KING himself and that sealed the deal (btw, I was mesmerized by every frame of the IT preview). Did I just say I almost passed up ANNABELLE: CREATION? That’s a total lie. If someone makes a killer doll movie, I’m going to go see it. That is my duty and I will beg, borrow and steal to accomplish my goal. In any case, my expectations were not the highest but I ended up thoroughly pleased. I’m not saying you should grab your coat and keys right this second and run out the door to see it but if you are looking for solid late summer chills, it’s super generous in handing them out. There’s some seriously spooky business gong on in this movie and that freaky looking doll is only the tip of the iceberg. If you enjoy a good haunted house or possession film this baby delivers both. Not to spoil anything but they also throw in a damn animated scarecrow as if there weren’t enough satanic shenanigans going on. Really, it’s like watching five horror films at once and I’m completely down with that. It gets a little too chaotic for its own good at some points but I’m not one to look a demonic gift horse in the mouth.

What really elevates this film from the standard franchise extension is its setting and characters and the obvious talents of its director DAVID F. SANDBERG (LIGHTS OUT) and cinematographer MAXIME ALEXANDRE (HIGH TENSION). Director SANDBERG really knows how to torture you with silent, empty spaces and ALEXANDRE makes half of this movie resemble a gorgeous painting. The heart of the film is a friendship between two young orphan girls (TALITHA BATEMAN and LULU WISON) and the actresses are both super effective at convincing you of their tight bond. There’s a scene in which the two trade dolls when they realize they will be separated and it’s really rather moving because the acting is so real and unaffected. Plus, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before here but I can really get into a horror house and this movie not only offers up a glorious, painstakingly detailed gothic wonder but also a miniaturized dollhouse version that likes to light up on its own from time to time. Before I make this all sound too precious, let me tell you there are some seriously alarming monsters roaming these halls. I’m talking clawed, glowing-eyed demons that shapeshift, melt into the darkness and burn into your noggin like the cover of an early eighties horror paperback. Even if you’re not a fan of ANNABELLE’s first outing this one is a pretty safe bet and if the lady who sat behind me screaming was here, I’m pretty sure she’d say the same.

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Tags: General Horror · Traumatots

Blu-ray Review:: Madhouse (1981) (Arrow Video)

August 2nd, 2017 · 3 Comments

I don’t always upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray but when I do, it’s for a movie that I especially enjoy on a visual level. MADHOUSE is just such a film. I’ve already fawned all over this underrated gem way back HERE so I’ll try not to repeat myself by focusing on this particular release from the always impressing folks at ARROW VIDEO. Not surprisingly, the movie (and its star TRISH EVERLY) looks more gorgeous than ever before thanks to a brand new restoration from the original camera negative (I usually don’t remark much on something as superficial as an actress’s looks but EVERLY is the most beautiful lady I ever did see and her character Julia should be sainted for the sweet way she delivers bad news to deaf children). My eyes can barely handle all of this candy: MADHOUSE’s nights are darker, its stain glass windows shine brighter and suddenly tiny details I’ve missed before are popping up like daisies.

All of this beauty comes to a head in the film’s final scene; the strings of glowing Christmas lights at Julia’s gruesome birthday party look positively stunning and suddenly I’m spying a shelf of creepy baby dolls that I’ve somehow never noticed before. This is why I love MADHOUSE so much; it really digs the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, the sacred and the profane, the cheery and the dismal. Plus I think it has something interesting to say about how organized religion may not always be rooting for the righteous team and how family ties can be excruciatingly difficult to sever. It rather neatly falls into the Kindertrauma spectrum since Julia was cruelly abused in her youth and no matter how she tries to spin a positive life for herself, that original bite continues to gnaw. I can almost see Julia’s plagued twin sister Mary as a less scary precursor to PET SEMATARY’s twisted Zelda as she is able to conjure up feelings of familial guilt and pity along with the terror.

Plus there’s a commentary from the THE HYSTERIA CONTINUES! I usually shy away from commentaries because I hate to demystify a favorite film but this particular commentary was more like watching the movie with fellow horror fan friends. Actually, I was left with a strong feeling of camaraderie because they went and mentioned our old pal Amanda (buy her book HERE!), referenced my current new wave obsession CHINA CRISIS and spent time discussing their distaste for onscreen violence towards animals and their relief that MADHOUSE’s dog death is clearly realized through puppetry. I’ve read they’ll also be providing the commentary for ARROW’s upcoming release of THE SLAYER and now I’m looking forward to that even more (if that’s possible).

There is also an anecdotal interview with charming character actress EDITH IVEY (who went on to work with DAVID FINCHER), cinematographer ROBERTO D’ETTORRE PIAZZOLI who delivered MADHOUSE’s sleek, glossy look and an informative short featuring producer/director OVIDIO G. ASSONTIS who reveals his three main inspirations were THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and THE SHINING. In addition, there’s an alternate opening sporting OVIDIO’s preferred title, THERE WAS A LITTLE GIRL. I do seem to appreciate this movie more than some of its creators (it’s certainly not PIAZZOLI’s cup of tea) but that’s what being a fanatic is all about.

And finally I have to give a special shout out to MARC SCHOENBACH’s fetching new cover artwork! It’s usually a fool’s errand to try to improve upon the classic eighties poster art that we’ve all grown fond of but somehow he did it. Am I just a sucker for dark silhouettes with glowing eyes? I love this illustration! It reminds me of the poster art for THE CHILD (1977) or CHILLERS (1987). If MADHOUSE had this artwork on its VHS sleeve, I’m sure it would have been difficult to keep on the video store shelves. It really does do a superior job of conveying the movie’s mood over previous attempts. I’m so glad I indulged myself with this ultimate upgrade. Now I can visit my lovely Southern Gothic MADHOUSE in its best possible condition whenever I like.

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Tags: Blu-ray Review · General Horror