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Blu-ray Review:: The Prey (1984)

October 2nd, 2019 · 6 Comments

Woodsy slasher flick THE PREY is finally on Blu-ray! I once caught this slippery fish on YouTube and reviewed it way back HERE. The gist of my take was that THE PREY is unquestionably lackadaisical in spots (it’s famous for an over-reliance on nature footage) but kind of charming and adorable anyway and I’d certainly give it another shot when a superior release was available. Well, I have to say, Arrow’s new release is all kinds of superior and THE PREY cleans up real good. Having only seen a hazy, washed-out, zillionth generation version before, my peepers were more than pleased to take in some bright rich colors. Sadly I have no means to screen-grab images from my Blu-ray player but check it out; the picture is so vibrant that I was able to directly take photos off the TV with my ancient phone! Picture quality can’t save all of THE PREY’s quirky issues but it certainly does help.

I know THE PREY isn’t up there with the higher lords of campfire terror like FRIDAY THE 13th and THE BURNING. It’s not even up there with middle level also-rans like THE FINAL TERROR. It’s more stuck in the trying–to-keep-up zone of THE FOREST and DON’T GO IN THE WOODS and that’s fine. In my opinion, all eighties-era wood-set slasher movies have value. I might even say that out of the many underachievers, THE PREY is the most fetching to me. Sure it tries your patience on many occasions but it’s not mean-spirited (if you skip over the implications of the dour denouement), it’s got a healthy respect for mother nature (it features more critters than a TALK TALK music video) and I’m basically going to love any movie with a park ranger who plays banjo and tells jokes to fawns (and if these scenes are improvised padding, I’m all for it).

Arrow Video’s snazzy new package includes three (!) versions of the movie; there’s the zippy (80 minutes that feel like 100) jam we all know and love, a European cut that includes a back story involving gypsies, and finally a go-for-broke integrated combination of the two. Now in most cases, you’d want to gravitate to the version that serves up the most meat but I wouldn’t say so here. Turns out the gypsy backstory version does not consist of scenes edited out for time that were part of the original vision but scenes directed by a gun-for-hire that were added in by a producer who thought the movie needed more boobs. It’s not so much a lost, Holy Grail complete version, as it is a bastardized alteration that the director didn’t approve of. I’m still grateful to have all three (the more the merrier) but I think I’ll be sticking with the O.G. for future watches.

Perhaps the greatest attribute of this release is that it sports a commentary from our old pal Amanda Reyes of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM fame (if you haven’t gotten her book ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? yet, I suggest buying as many copies as financially feasible because they make great Christmas gifts and the holidays are just around the corner!). Let me tell ya, I have experienced the joy of watching a movie with Amanda firsthand on several occasions and it’s always an unmitigated treat. I can’t think of anyone who is as knowledgeable and entertaining at the same time. Here’s she’s joined by fellow THE PREY super-fan Ewan Cant and their rallying adoration for the flick is infectious. You’ll also find some informative interviews with cast members and crew, a return visit to some of the locations and a slew of never-seen-before outtakes.

Since my first viewing, I took THE PREY to be sort of a lovable underdog but this package has kindled new respect in the movie for me. Even though it will forever suffer from amateurish editing and dubbing issues, it has a genial heart that many of its better-made cohorts lack. It’s really too bad this early to the gate (filming started in 1979!) slasher got tangled in distribution woes and didn’t hit the track until interest in what it offered was beginning to wane (1983). I’m guessing it’s more influential than its given credit for as WRONG TURN (2003) features a scene that seems lifted straight from it (although the concept of a deranged mutant cutting a climber’s rope so that they fall to their death was surely a cinematic inevitability). In any case, THE PREY will always be the one and only movie to feature my childhood heroes Shazam! (JACKSON BOSTWICK) and Uncle Fester (JACKIE COOGAN, in his last film) discussing the merits of cucumber sandwiches and for that alone, I must stand and give it some long-deserved applause.

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Tags: Amanda By Night · Blu-ray Review · General Horror

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

September 25th, 2019 · 9 Comments

I was at the library the other day and I saw they had The Strangers: Prey at Night and good lord, I borrowed it again! What is going on with me? Why do I like this movie? It makes little sense because I’m not much of a fan of the first movie, I’m not impressed with the stale masks at all and I find the title itself sorta annoying. And yet, for some reason, I couldn’t wait to pop it back into my DVD player and watch it late at night as the world slept with the company of cats and cheap beer. I don’t even think I like the characters in this movie. They’re very frustrating. The father (Martin Henderson) fails his entire family by suggesting they split up, the mother (Christina Hendricks) lamely allows herself to be stabbed by someone half her size, the brother (Lewis Pullman) never demands that they all leave immediately after discovering their hosts have been murdered and I’m going to need a little more than a RAMONES T-shirt to convince me that the daughter (Bailee Madison) is a rebellious malcontent. This movie is begging me to dislike it but try as I might it looks like I can’t.

This is how we all find out what a shallow human being I am. There are two, count-em’ two elements that make this movie impossible to resist for me. First off, on a visual level, it looks fantastic. It takes place in the excellent location of a trailer park at night and a spookily lit fog cloaks all of the surroundings and it comes off like a half-remembered bad dream. Everything looks muddled and vague but then there are these blasts of super sharp neon as well. All the interiors are dunked in sleazy seventies brown and gold complete with burlap couches and wood paneling like that once hip Fiona Apple video “Criminal.” I’m such a sucker for that faux-sleaze aesthetic, I know it’s basic and mid-nineties of me to fall for such a thing and yet I do. It just works so well as an environment for horror and evil shenanigans. In addition, the fact that the abandoned grounds are empty gives off an alienating, end of the world vibe. It kind of reminds me of playing kick-the-can after dark when I was young and feeling like I could be engulfed by darkness at any minute. It also calls to mind how the dark, twisty labyrinth-like alleys and backyards of Haddonfield were so well utilized in the opening of HALLOWEEN II (1982).  

Speaking of CARPENTER-esque tonal touches, the score and soundtrack are my other soft spot. The repetitive theme by Adrian Johnston is either homage or a blatant rip-off of THE FOG’s and apparently my spine is going to tingle to it either way. I also adore director Johannes Roberts (47 METERS DOWN) ace idea to exploit some cold-ass synth-y new wave songs to embellish the kills. It’s almost as if the songs report on the atrocities like indifferent bystanders and it somehow accentuates the idea that the universe doesn’t care who lives or dies. Taking advantage of Kim Wilde’s “Cambodia” is a truly inspired, off the main road choice that I can’t help aplauding. What’s really surprising though, is how well low-hanging pop tuneage like Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Air Supply’s  “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” work (when paired with a brutal murder). Both songs were written by Jim Steinman and are known for their over the top theatrics but I’d assume they’d be too familiar and obvious to register much of an impact and apparently, I’d be super wrong. I have to say, this flick’s fluorescent pool confrontation is a symphony of exquisite horror-beauty that you don’t find many places outside’s Michele Soavi’s STAGE FRIGHT (1987) or maybe the signature stalk n’ skate set-piece from CURTAINS (1982).

I guess STRANGERS: PAN simply fulfills a nostalgic need for me; it reminds me of when I used to be able to watch a movie for payoff alone and with my critical mind fully gagged. The story is thinner than cellophane, the characters are not exceptionally interesting (I’ll root for them anyway just because they’re humans not looking for trouble) but there’s something about the freedom and danger of the night itself that it conveys that I find thrilling. As elementary as it all is, I’m kind of impressed that no kill is a throw-away and that each feels potently, almost romantically, fatalistic and tragic. And maybe the movie is a little deeper than I give it credit for; there’s something to be said about how the main character’s escalating fortitude coincides with the realization of how much she really does value her parents and sibling. And I think because the victims are a family unit rather than a gaggle of random teens, there’s something extra poignant about watching them die (see also THE HILLS HAVE EYES and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT). I dunno. I guess I just wanted to admit I’m a fan. This won’t be the first time I had a soft spot for a maligned sequel and it certainly won’t ne the last. I guess when it comes to slash-happy horror movies, I’m an old pro at making love out of nothing at all.

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Tags: General Horror

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018)

September 18th, 2019 · 5 Comments

Uh-oh, looks like somebody finally made a film adaptation of one of my all-time favorite books, Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE. I’m going to give all those involved a kudos for bravery right out of the gate because it couldn’t have been easy translating such an intimate character-driven piece to the screen. Plus I don’t envy anyone attempting to compete with the substantially personal world Jackson’s words created for her readers. No novel easily transfers to film but this is one of those magical books you simply live inside of as you read it and its fans are rarely casual about their appreciation. Anyway, I’m happy to report that for the most part I really enjoyed this take on the material, it’s a true visual stunner, the acting is uniformly intriguing and it represents a hoarding shut-in’s preoccupation surrounding heirlooms, found objects and memorabilia eloquently. On the minus side, I think some of the most dynamic plot points are too lightly touched upon and the climax, which should feel like a hammer falling, barely stings. Saddest of all, a rug-pull twist in the book limply plays out like a beyond obvious “ya think?” revelation here.

Wide-eyed and lumbering, Taissa Farmiga delivers a compelling performance as Merricat Blackwood, an 18-year-old outsider living with her serene older sister Constance (Alexandra Daddario of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3-D) and their semi-delusional Uncle Julian (the ALWAYS excellent Crispen Glover). The three live ostracized from their community and holed up in their splendiferous mansion ever since Constance was accused of being responsible for their parent’s poisoning death years prior. Much like THE FOX (‘67), THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (‘76) PREY (‘77) and even JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (‘82), this is the tale of a blissfully cozy, harmonious existence that is turned upside down as soon as an untrustworthy dog shows up. In this case, the dog is a long lost (but not lost long enough) cousin named Charles (Sebastian Stan) who vaguely seduces Constance, threatens to hospitalize Julian and harangues Merricat for burying valuable treasures he clearly has his eyes on.

Thumbs up to all humans involved for their generally compelling work (although it could be said that Farmiga is a tad too oafish, Daddario is a smidge too simple, Stan is a bit too conspicuous and Glover could possibly let his freak flag fly higher) but one of CASTLE’s greatest characters, Merricat’s ebony feline Jonas, is sinfully underrepresented and it’s probably my biggest qualm. People are able to make houses and cities into characters in movies but somehow a cat character is a reach? Really all they’d have to do is show him more and speak his name more often for him to stick but for some reason, he’s treated as one of the home’s tchotchkes instead. That cool dude should be present and accounted for in every single scene where Merricat is casting and conjuring in her garden alcove.

Appalling cat representation failures aside, much like Sheena Easton in a Prince video, this movie has got “the look.” Poor me went to grab a few screenshots to illustrate this post and ended up with about fifty (truly, you could make a coffee table book out of nearly every frame). Director Stacie Passon, cinematographer Piers McGrail, production designer Anna Rackard and art director Louise Mathews all deserve kudos for this handsome devil of a flick. Even if it doesn’t quite hit all the emotional notes of the book (and really, how could it?), I think I can appreciate it as a visual companion piece of sorts. The near-constant blue/green color palette alone puts me where I want to be but I also can’t help but dig the fetishistic attention to detail regarding the hoarded bobbles and scattered random ephemera the dollhouse-like manor is nested with.

Overall, I’d say this a respectable salute that should appeal to patient viewers who are attracted to light Goth and the darker side of Martha Stewart. I know I wouldn’t mind watching it again in the future but I’m guessing I’ll always lament that Merricat’s relationship with her beloved bestie Jonas was so foolishly neglected. Cat erasure is a crime and the punishment is your movie is not as good as it so easily could have been.

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Tags: General Horror

It: Chapter Two (2019)

September 9th, 2019 · 12 Comments

Since the release of the first segment of Stephen King’s IT in 2017, horror fans have been pretty much spoiled with back to back better than average genre fare. The crop has been so high caliber it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when weeks and weeks would go by without any worthwhile releases. We’ve had it so good lately that a movie that emotionally resonates and is chuck full of visionary images of horror can somehow be shrugged off and deemed simply passable or even disappointing. I don’t get it. I loved the ever so epic IT: Chapter 2 and can’t imagine the source material being handled much better. Yeah, I guess it is a little long with its somewhat flabby and redundant midway section but you know the tome it’s based on weighs twenty pounds and features a giant space turtle right? I think director Andy Muschietti has accomplished the nearly impossible and then some. Really, the fact that another interpretation of Pennywise the clown can exist in the same universe as Tim Curry’s beyond iconic take is a feat in itself. Sorry, I’m just feeling kind of grateful that this two-part horror bonanza occurred in my lifetime and that it blessedly takes place in a time frame perfect for me to relate to. I do wish Chapter 2 was wise enough to take advantage of another song by The Cure but whatayagonnado? I can’t pretend I don’t love Cameo’s “Word Up” too.

And hip-hip halleluiah, Chapter 2 has the admirable audacity to jump right into the deep end opening its curtains to the deadly homophobic hate crime that haunted the hell out of me when I first read the book. I don’t care what anyone says, this scene (which is based on a real incident that took place in Bangor, Maine in 1984, two years before IT was published) is crucial to me; it sets the tone of the entire tale and pretty succinctly tells you everything thing you need to know about the not as friendly as it looks town of Derry (I’m sure they thought of including the incident in the 1990 miniseries for exactly zero point zero seconds). There’s admittedly a bit of a risk that such a realistic act of violence would feel abruptly out of place opening what is essentially a horror fantasy but the way it bookends with a revelation concerning Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) balances things out quite well. I’m sure Richie’s newfound direction is not going to go over well with everyone but I think it fits in as snuggly as a missing puzzle piece and besides, King himself has granted his seal of approval. (That reminds me- King has a cameo in this movie as a shopkeeper and it’s by far my favorite he’s ever done as he blasts authors who aren’t particularly good at providing satisfying conclusions to their books, it’s mucho hilarious).

Some folks will tell you IT Chapter 2 goes a little overboard with the CGI and borderline cartoonish special effects and I guess that’s just a matter of personal taste. I personally appreciate that you never know when a rubbery looking, eight-foot-tall funhouse denizen is going to jump out of nowhere and chase someone with arms flailing about and slimy drool pouring from its lips. If there is a reason such an abomination might vomit all over a character to the tune of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning,” I have no idea what it is, but it certainly adds unpredictability to the bonkers phantasmagorical swirling smorgasbord, which is right in line with King’s hallucinatory original intentions. Yep, there’s an absolutely shameless tribute to JOHN CARPENTER’s THE THING plopped down in the middle of this flick and it’s almost way too on the nose and yet, King himself referenced Universal horror icons (Wolf Man, Mummy, Gill-Man) of the original time period in the book so I guess it’s fair game. It’s a little gimmicky, a little cheap but what the hell kind of horror fan is going to complain about such a thing? Pennywise’s ultimate boss battle form saves his big expressive head and tacks it onto some kind of part scorpion/part spider/part Beetlejuice creature that’s a little trying on my too-slow peepers but hey, I’m old enough to remember when rendering such a monstrosity would be impossible so I’m here to happily digest it. It probably all looks a little too visually similar to the climax of the first film (maybe a contrasting color scheme may have helped?) but I still think it looks better than any attempt to faithfully create how things go down in the book ever would. Thankfully Muschietti seems to understand what’s translatable and what’s not and his shorthand saves the day. There are a couple cringe moments I guess, I found lil’ Georgie’s “You lied and I died” mantra tired at best but since it leads to Bill (JAMES McAVOY)’s realization that self-forgiveness is the key to moving forward, I’m more than happy to let it slide.

It’s not often we get a horror movie with such a vibrant romantic element either. I know I’m a sucker but I’m still shocked this movie was able to get me to ship a Beverly (JESSICA CHASTAIN) and Ben (JAY RYAN) union so hard. Which brings me to another strong element- if ever there was ever an Oscar award given out for casting this baby would be a shoe-in. Many times the blending of the character traits and features is damn eerie. Muschietti even goes so far at one point as to superimpose young and older Eddie’s (JACK DYLAN GRAZER, JAMES RANSOME respectively) faces on top of each other and uncanny doesn’t even begin to cover it. I guess at the end of the day, much like KING’s book, what really matters is how much you connect with the characters. I love all of these guys and somehow that even includes the returning bullies (though one of them is now just a rotting corpse). Mileage may vary but I think it’s likely to vary based on how much empathy you have toward those on screen. IT’s red balloon is always going to float higher for those of us who have experienced bullying, smothering parents, domestic abuse, gay-bashing, psychosomatic asthma, speech impediments, alienating birthmarks, familial deaths, advanced leprosy, horrible customer service at the pharmacy, etc., etc., etc.. Truly, if you’ve ever been chased down the street by a murderous, twenty-foot tall lumberjack this is basically the ONLY movie that understands your pain. I may be biased though, if there’s a story that better illustrated the importance of calling out and facing childhood traumas rather than running from and repressing them, I just don’t know what IT is.

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Tags: General Horror

Ready or Not (2019)

September 5th, 2019 · 4 Comments

Believe it or not, READY OR NOT is about as satisfying as thrillers get. It’s all kinds of suspenseful, hits you with tasty blasts of true horror and the pitch-black humor that weaves throughout is exactly the right effortless tone that never ventures into the too broad and annoying zone. The unremarkable trailer misled me to believe I was in for the standard, been-there, done-that affair but R.O.N. cleverly plays against genre expectations, guides you into areas you’d never assume existed and ultimately pulls off a completely unexpected (literally) explosive conclusion. It’s kind of an irresistible combination of old school parlor room mind game mixed up with survival horror and smothered in satanic cynicism. Plus it all takes place in a sprawling mansion complete with secret doors, dumbwaiters and shadowy alcoves so even on the most basic level, it offers a cozy joint to wander around in for a while. Maybe I’m partial as I’m a giant fan of the board game CLUE which I have to assume was an inspiration even though nobody gets clobbered with a candlestick.

SAMARA WEAVING (THE BABYSITTER) portrays Grace, a woman about to dive into marriage who finds herself intimidated and weary of her fiancé’s aggressively off-putting and obnoxiously wealthy family. Soon after vows are exchanged her milquetoast hubby informs her that the clan has but one request and that is for her to indulge them in the family’s ritual of playing a picked at random game together. It might be checkers, it might be chess, it could be Ker-plunk or Don’t Break the Ice but as luck would have it, Grace picks “Hide and Seek” which amounts to her running for her life as everyone involved tries to kill her. As you can probably guess, Grace is a far greater opponent than anyone in the family is prepared for and soon it’s not quite clear exactly who might survive the night. As someone who finds themselves filled with a crimson rage every time they see a photo of a rich douchebag posing with an innocent dead animal they hunted for sport (steam is coming out of my ears as I type this), I deeply and cathartically relish every damn painful comeuppance Grace inflicts throughout this fine film. It’s the feel-good movie of the summer.   

WEAVING owns this movie (although I gotta give props to ANDIE MACDOWELL as the menacing matriarch as well). Grace is such an appealing and relatable horror heroine. She bumbles and fumbles and makes bad judgment calls and succumbs to her own vices and is, in general, a beautifully flawed, exquisite mess. She doesn’t secretly know karate or build elaborate Rube Goldberg booby traps on the fly either. What makes Grace even more relevant is her well-earned ferocious anger. It’s glorious. At some point, she’s just plain exhausted and royally pissed and so rightfully incredulous as she asks the sky, “What the fuck is wrong with rich people?” There’s something so authentic about the fury that WEAVING emboldens Grace with, her every scream, curse and frazzled wail rings true and feels legit. As the character enjoys a congratulatory exhale from a cigarette at the end of the film (which strongly echoes Veronica (WINONA RYDER)’s casual smoke at the end of HEATHERS) it’s almost difficult to believe she is the same character we started out with. The emotional journey she endures (through optimism, doubt, passivity, paranoia, anger, rage, profound exasperation and finally shrugging blasé victory) is one harrowing yet richly rewarding (and sometimes hilarious) haul.

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Tags: General Horror

News:: Anthony Michael Hall Cast as Tommy Doyle in Next Halloween Film!

August 27th, 2019 · No Comments

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Tags: General Horror · Kinder-News · Kinder-Topix

My Amityville Horror Playhouse

August 24th, 2019 · 3 Comments

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Tags: General Horror · I Have No Idea What This Is · The Seventies mushed my head

The Bermuda Triangle (1978)

August 21st, 2019 · 5 Comments


If you’re feeling spiritually under the weather or generally hopeless about human existence don’t make the mistake of watching 1978’s THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE (currently FREE on TubiTV). You may think that its sloppy ineptness, super lame dubbing and terrible acting will bring you laughter and joy (and maybe it will for a while) but eventually you’ll realize that this is a bad mojo movie and it’ll be too late to turn it off and you’ll be trapped into riding it out to its disheartening conclusion. Maybe I just have to finally realize that ALL Bermuda Triangle movies are cursed in some way and I should have learned this when, as a child, the made-for-TV movie SATAN’S TRIANGLE ran away with my sanity and soul. I guess all Bermuda Triangle flicks lure you in with the promise of fantastic answers to the mysteries of life only to dump a cold bucket of dejection and futility upon your innocent, baffled head. RENE CARDONA JR.’s take on the legendary enigmatic location dares to place the brunt of the blame on a malignant doll that demands to eat raw meat and impolitely reveals to stressed-out people how and when they are going to die and by rights, it should be hilarious. But no, instead it’s as depressing as a funeral dirge. Everybody puts up a good fight only to suffer helplessly and be lost to infinite time-mocking insanity and ricocheted transmissions of their own pathetic cries for help.

Your head is sure to ache aboard the boat BLACK WHALE III as you try to decipher the relationships between all aboard. JOHN HUSTON is apparently the father and not the grandfather of the Marvin clan who are searching for the lost city of Atlantis but stumble upon the infernal triangle instead. I can’t tell who is a mom and who is a daughter but there is a hell of a lot of drinking and bickering going on. Early on, a horrifying doll with a face only slightly younger than HUSTON’s is retrieved from the water and given to the youngest daughter and I’m guessing it’s definitely connected to the pissed off, old-timey kid who was lost at sea in the epilogue. I should be rooting for this kid and this raggedy doll to team up and kill everybody but when they show the doll’s face in close-up, they switch it to a real live child with dark circles under her eyes who looks miserable as hell and is (shoddy as it may be presented) genuinely disturbing to behold. There’s a black cook that the two immediately set their sights on because he knows off the bat that the two are of the devil and I don’t appreciate the racist way his voice is dubbed and how his being smart enough to know that evil is afoot is presented as comedy relief.

Everybody goes scuba diving and there’s some beautiful underwater photography and just as I was beginning to enjoy things, they obviously really kill two sharks that were only minding their own business. That’s not cool (what did I expect from the director of NIGHT OF 1,000 CATS?) I don’t see how this movie is worth the life of one shark, let alone two. Some giant pillars representing Atlantis (I think) begin to (endlessly) topple thanks to an undersea earthquake and crushes one of the daughters underneath. They’re able to get her back on the boat but her legs are royally mangled and they don’t get better and she mostly just wilts on a bed for the remainder of the movie while a drunken doctor wrestles with the benefits of amputation. From here things just get worse and worse as terrible storms pound away, people fall overboard, get chopped up in the propeller, randomly disappear or just fall down on shards of glass and die. All attempts to escape are absolute failures and it’s all ultimately profoundly frustrating. There’s one last moment of hope when some guys on the mainland finally receive their distress signal (spoiler alert) but that is crushed too when the person who receives the message explains that the BLACK WHALE III and the entire Marvin family were lost at sea ten years ago!!! Do you know who survives this nightmare? The doll. It’s sad, really. I almost like this movie for its relentlessly gloomy vibe. Almost.

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Tags: General Horror

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

August 19th, 2019 · 6 Comments

A bunch of years ago HarperCollins got the not so bright idea to release an updated version of Alvin Schwartz’s classic SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, replacing Stephen Gammell’s haunting illustrations with less disturbing imagery. To say it didn’t go over too well with fans of the book is putting it lightly. In some ways, the new movie based on the books can almost be taken as a vehement apology that anyone anywhere might underestimate the value of Gammell’s spooky work. Director Andre Ovredal and producer Guillermo del Toro wisely decide to employ Gammell’s unforgettable images as the main inspiration and they are lovingly recreated down to the last detail. In fact, it could be said that the powerful images outweigh the stories themselves at times but what SCARY STORIES may be missing in the characterization department it makes up for in sheer autumnal atmosphere. It seems any space left between Schwartz’s tales and Gammell’s art are plastered in by honoring the works of Ray Bradbury (THE HALLOWEEN TREE, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES). You can almost smell the burning leaves on a cooler breeze and that’s just what the doctor ordered in the dog days of summer.

SSTTITD invites us to the small town of Mill Valley circa 1968 and introduces us to Stella, Auggie and Chuck (ZOE MARGARET COLLETTI, GABRIEL RUSH and AUSTIN ZAJUR), a trio of believably nerdy misfits trying to avoid being beaten up by the local bullies. The outcasts seek refuge at the drive-in and befriend a runaway named Ramon (Michael Garza). Since it’s Halloween night the group dares themselves to push for more thrills by entering a nearby notorious haunted house. It’s there that they discover a book that appears to write itself and they quickly discover that the terrors it’s presenting are not content to stay on the page. Like ANNABELLE COMES HOME from earlier this summer, this movie’s not settling for a single boogey man and presents a swarm of threats instead, each one more freaky morbid than the last. You really get some bang for your buck with possessed scarecrows, corpses lamenting lost appendages, smiling zaftig demons and most impressively, someone called “The Jangly Man” who is basically a living dead contortionist. They’re all sufficiently grotesque but fall closer to eerie than nauseating.

Warm and fuzzy nostalgia abounds but admirably this is not a movie that is afraid to show the darker underbelly of small town American life. Ramon faces multiple instances of ugly racism and we come to find that the catalyst behind the supernatural mayhem is an outspoken woman betrayed and silenced by her family for speaking out against corruption.

If I have any complaints it’s that things move along at too fast a clip and we’re never really allowed to learn too much about the character’s home life or everyday interactions. We tend to lose some sense of mystery as the trio catches on to what’s happening without a moment of logical skepticism. On the other hand, I have a feeling the pacing issue will only pose a problem for oldsters like me raised on seventies films and that the frenzied speed may be just fine for the central audience this PG-rated flick is courting. I should say too that the fate of one of the characters left a bad taste in my mouth but it’s kind of hard not to give this good-natured flick the benefit of the doubt. All in all, it’s a pretty neat trick to find a way to fuse a bunch of slight stories into a cohesive ode to everybody’s favorite season. If nothing else, SCARY STORIES stands as a harbinger that summer is nearly done and Halloween is right around the corner– that’s a message I’m not going to complain about.

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Tags: General Horror

Retribution (1987)

August 7th, 2019 · 5 Comments

I finally caught up with 1987’s RETRIBUTION after years of several folks urging me to check it out (thanks to Ghastly1 and Eric’s IAHTKY). Sadly, I was all set to give you guys a heads up that it was streaming for free on TubiTv but when I went back there recently to grab some screenshots, I found that it had up and disappeared without so much as saying goodbye! Drats and double drats! Oh well, I’m sure it will appear again soon on some streaming service or maybe you can track it down on its expensive, out of print DVD. It’s really worth your attention and I’m officially joining the chorus of those who believe it is a highly underrated, idiosyncratic gem that should have earned much more praise and notoriety by now. This is one colorful, eye-popping film that bursts with fluorescent hues and eighties flavored exuberance. It’s all around visually appealing, juxtaposing glowing neon candy colors right next to the inkiest of blacks. The movie is much more than a treat for the eyes though, your ears are bound to be equally satisfied as the score is by frequent CARPENTER cohort ALAN HOWARTH (HALLOWEEN 2 and 3, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, et al.) and it’s one pounding electronic doozey.

I wrongly assumed in my head that because RETRIBUTION is a card-carrying possession film that it would be super religious and take place in a bunch of dusty, boring old churches. Instead, it’s one of those wonderfully gritty L.A. movies with lots of punky new wave hookers leaning into cars. In fact, there’s exactly zero religion in this possession film and I find that to be a sweet relief. Instead, it’s more of a horror character study about a lonely oddball who very nearly finds fulfillment only to have it snatched away tragically (see THE ATTIC, FADE TO BLACK, WILLARD) and it’s even got a heart-warming love story between a rather mismatched pair that you can’t help routing for. Another selling point is that the action starts off on Halloween night and obviously the world can never have enough horror movies that take place on October 31st. The opening scene involving clusters of costumed monsters witnessing a tragic event had me pretty much sold at the get-go.

Fascinatingly fastidious DENNIS LIPSCOMB (EYES OF FIRE) stars as George Miller, a failed artist who decides to kill himself only to survive the fall and have his body go all FREAKY FRIDAY with a mobster who died at the same moment who happens to have a long list of enemies he’d like to eradicate. And eradicate them he does thanks to his newfound unexplained telekinetic powers that deliver sadistic set-piece takedowns that are as cathartic for the viewer as they are to him. LIPSCOMB can go a little overboard at times when he’s sniveling to his over-her-head psychiatrist (LESLIE WING) but it’s a highly memorable and fully earnest performance nonetheless. Equally compelling is the endearing SUZANNE SNYDER of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE fame as yet another underage prostitute with a heart of gold named Angel. This is one of those movies that I almost want to jump inside and permanently live in regardless of the horrible events it depicts. If you like quirky eighties horror and are looking for something truly unique, something that balances gore and characterization by delivering heaping double doses of both, don’t dilly-dally like I did, RETRIBUTION is a dish best served ASAP.

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Tags: General Horror