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...:::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

Leprechaun Returns (2019)

July 31st, 2019 · 4 Comments

I just had to rent LEPRECHAUN RETURNS from my local Redbox. The pull was irresistible. This is just who I am. I can’t say no to a straight-to-video horror sequel no matter how unpromising it may look. I will watch any HOWLING, CHILDREN OF THE CORN or HELLRAISER that is thrown at me. I’ve also got a massive soft spot for irreverent cartoon villain horror flicks and feel a profound sadness that RUMPLESTILTSKIN, PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE and DOLLY DEAREST are one-offs. It’s in my video store blood. Something in my heart assures me that even if the movie is bad if I drink enough beer while watching it, I will feel one hundred percent safe from the horrors of the world. I know what I’m doing. I even told myself that if LEPRECHAUN RETURNS was horrible that I was not allowed to grumble while making the long walk back to the grocery store in the summer heat to return it because what the hell did I expect? Of course, it wasn’t going to be good. The reality is the idea of renting a LEPRECHAUN movie has always been a lot more fun than the actual watching of a LEPRECHAUN movie (except maybe Part 4 IN SPACE which is pretty darn hilarious). My expectations were low. All I wanted was a time killer and maybe the nostalgic rush of feeling like I was renting from a mom and pop video store circa 1996-ish. Here’s the twist…I kind of loved it. In fact, I think it’s the LEPRECHAUN sequel I’ve always wanted. It’s the best since the first (I realize that’s not saying much but I do enjoy the original, silly as it is).

Much like last year’s HALLOWEEN, LEPRECHAUN RETURNS wipes the sequel slate clean and is a direct continuation of the first film. It takes place in the same house (which is now home to a sorority), involves the daughter of the original’s heroine and even sports a twenty-five years older survivor (MARK HOLTON). The most profound alteration is the recasting of the titular menace but remarkably, newbie LINDEN PORCO does an exceptional turn in place of WARWICK DAVIS (and sorry, he might even be an improvement). Director STEVEN KOSTANSKI (THE VOID) got his start in make-up effects, which ensures that the diminutive demon looks more horrific than ever before. PORCO’s take is much more fairy tale cackling witch-like and he’s prone to ripping his face off revealing a grimacing skull for added terror. The effects across the board are consistently top-notch and the creative kills are timed perfectly following the old school slasher template. The cast is pretty great too. Lead TAYLOR SPREITLER as Lila is so down to earth normal and likable and she’s got wonderful comic timing. She kind of reminded me of a young LINDA BLAIR and I don’t say that lightly. As you’d expect, there’s a plethora of one-liners, sight gags, and double entendres; some definitely land better than others but it wouldn’t really be a leprechaun movie without a couple of dad-joke groaners. Most importantly, the movie is fun. It knows exactly what made flippant horror sequels such crowd pleasures back in the day and it delivers the goods.  

This isn’t prestige horror and that’s precisely the point. I can’t tell you it’s not goofy because it was built to be goofy but goofy is such a much-needed commodity these days. It brings me such joy. I know it’s lowbrow but it’s lowbrow in a way that high brow just can’t compete with- sorta like a hot dog. If you don’t like dopey movies feel free to skip right past this but if you enjoy, snickering gore, Mr. Roper-esque 4th wall destruction and MAD Magazine level wise cracks, you’re in for a pot of gold. Personally, I needed the guffaws and let me say there’s a celebrity impersonation within the movie that made me laugh out loud (it’s kinda brilliant). They really went out of their way to honor the first entry (awww, the little guy is still obsessed with organizing shoes!) and it did my heart good to see the OG respected in such a way.  The poor leprechaun has always been regulated to the second tier horror icon ghetto (with folks like WARLOCK and THE WISHMASTER) and perhaps rightly so considering how lackluster his continuing adventures have been. If the little guy got a follow up like this in the first place maybe that wouldn’t have been the case. As someone who had a blast seeing the original in the theater, I have to say this is the very first sequel that didn’t leave me with a feeling of disappointment. Some say the third times the charm but in this case it’s the seventh. Looks to me like this series luck has finally changed or maybe I’m just partial to redheads.

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Tags: General Horror

The Child (1977)

July 23rd, 2019 · 6 Comments

Although it comes off as almost ramshackle at times, 1977’s backyard terror-tyke/zombie fest THE CHILD has a strange, eerie magic that’s hard to dismiss. A spooky campfire story atmosphere radiates from out of the gate as howling winds, gnarly silhouettes of twisted trees and stock footage of lightening (that’s the same bolt that downed the S.S. Minnow!) converge to frame a lone traveler who has lost her way. LAUREL BARNETT stars as Alicianne Del Mar who has been recently hired to nanny young Rosalie Nordon (ROSALIE COLE), a girl who lost her parents, lives with her gramps and older brother Len and congregates in the local graveyard commiserating with ghouls. Rosalie is a charmless twelve-year-old who giggles at a story concerning poisoned Boy Scouts, feeds helpless kittens to the undead and tends to yell every line for a non-existent back row theater audience (“I don’t have to tell YOU anything!!!”). Although it’s never explained in the slightest, she also has telekinetic powers and uses said powers to orchestrate zombie mob raids against those that perturb her.

Director ROBERT VOSKANIAN does so much with an obviously minuscule budget. There’s a persuasive otherworldly tone throughout the film and almost every shot is creatively presented in a subtle off-kilter fashion. The entire movie is awkwardly dubbed and most of the dialogue is disjointed and askew but somehow what should be the film’s downfall ends up only adding to the overall hypnotic strangeness. There’s some kind of weird poetry going on in this grim grindhouse fairy tale that reminded me of LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF TERROR but with less likable characters and a somewhat irritating soundtrack. As much as there’s plenty to find fault with, I can’t possibly pretend I’m not down with a rough around the edges killer kid flick. THE CHILD gleefully rides the same short bus as CATHY’S CURSE (’77), DEVIL TIMES FIVE (’74) and even KISS DADDY GOODBYE (’81) and so resistance for me is as they say, futile. My biggest complaint would be the handling of the protagonist nanny who becomes instantly useless when the shit hits the fan. I’m not sure I’d be much help in a zombie fight either but I’d like to think I’d do more than cover my ears (?) and scream.

THE CHILD is currently looking bright and crisp on Blu-ray as part of Arrow Video’s AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT VOL 2 alongside fellow independent obscurities DARK AUGUST and DREAM NO EVIL (reviews pending). It comes boasting a plethora of great bonus features curated by Stephen Thrower, author of the fantastic tome NIGHTMARE USA: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE EXPLOITATION INDEPENDENTS. Thrower really knows what he’s talking about and is an enthusiastic, long-time champion of THE CHILD. I’m not sure everybody is going to feel the same way about this strange little movie but if you have a taste for homemade oddities, this is quite the semi-gory charmer. It truly does emit a bizarre frequency all its own and watching it is like being transported to a seventies-era drive-in. Sure, it requires that you forgive more than a few blemishes (most of them budget-related) but in exchange, you get an eerie killer kid movie wrapped in a zesty zombie flick and in my book, that’s two great tastes that taste great together. Come for the brat, stay for the undead!

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Tags: General Horror · Kids Who Kill

Annabelle Comes Home

July 3rd, 2019 · 2 Comments

ANNABELLE COMES HOME is some healing, good-natured horror comfort food. It delivers in the spooky scares department and harbors a potent enough current of demonic chaos yet still plays as mellow as a seventies-era pop song. You wouldn’t think a movie about a cursed doll that acts as a magnet for evil entities would be the feel-good, positive energy spouting flick of the summer but for me it is. Heck, even the simple act of offering a portal into a time when cell phones didn’t exist, grocery store prices were reasonable, board games were abundant and shag carpets covered every inch of the floor was chicken soup for my horror soul. I guess it’s overall rather tame (why in the world is it rated R? It should be mandatory slumber party viewing) but I can have my nerves challenged elsewhere; it’s kind of a nice summer respite just seeing decent people doing decent things every once in a while. This movie is old school fun. It’s sort of like THE GATE (teens battle the supernatural while parents are away CAT IN THE HAT-style), 13 GHOSTS (a menagerie of baddies crash the party) and maybe a little bit of FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES (please respect the cursed objects!). It’s also so much about dealing with grief and loss and residual guilt and it’s all handled sharply.

I also dug this movie because it gave me the opportunity to vicariously experience the wonder of having VERA FARMIGA and PATRICK WILSON as parents. We’re back in THE CONJURING universe and the aforementioned are of course (super generously) portraying paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (the film is actually dedicated to Lorraine who recently passed away). The two are leaving their young daughter alone for the night with a babysitter and what could go wrong as long as nobody goes into the room filled with the cursed objects from hell? Daughter Judy (I just heard the theme song to the THE JETSONS in my head) is played by McKENNA GRACE who is the heir apparent to the child star throne recently vacated by DAKOTA FANNING and previously occupied by JODIE FOSTER (If you’ve seen MIKE FLANAGAN’s HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE you know how talented she is). MADISON ISEMAN is the refreshingly humble and likable blonde babysitter Mary Ellen and KATIE SARIFE is her troublemaking best bud Daniela who surprisingly shifts gears to become the heart of the film. I won’t reveal all of the SCOOBY DOO-like supernatural no-good nicks who materialize but I will say I want to know more about the wind-up monkey with the cymbals.

All in all, this is a well-done side mission in JAMES WAN’s CONJURING world. It brings a flavor all of its own by adding more humor and letting things become more surreal and dream-like and less grounded in reality. In that way, it also brought to my mind STUART GORDON’s DOLLS with its use of a limited setting and its taking place in one evening “the longest night in the world”. Although mostly beautifully handled, I will say that some of the cinematography comes across a little too dark and murky but it’s kind of a nice contrast when the spell has been lifted and everything begins to glow with the brightness of a brand new demon-free day. I found the ending rather moving as the characters have all grown to trust each other and Judy who has been ostracized by her peers (for her parents dabbling in the occult) is ultimately embraced and celebrated. It’s all very corny but that’s what I needed (a tender moment of guidance between Lorraine and repentant Daniela really got to me too).


If you like haunted house flicks, writer GARY (IT, THE NUN, the two previous ANNABELLE flicks) DAUBERMAN’s directorial debut is a fun stand-alone, low investment, cozy as hell, nostalgic spook dispenser that’s perfect for the heart of summer. As with the doll’s sophomore outing ANABELLE: CREATION, I ultimately found the bizarre looking toy to be the least interesting thing inside the much more enthralling canvas that surrounds it but I guess that’s how the little dickens operates. The titular character may not amount to too much but she sure keeps great company. This is certainly not the most satisfying flick in the CONJURING canon but it may be the best suited for many a casual re-watch at home (especially when babysitting).

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Tags: General Horror

Child’s Play (2019)

June 26th, 2019 · 3 Comments

I’ve got a bunch of conflicting feelings about the new reimagining of CHILD’S PLAY. I loved the beginning of the movie, hated the middle and then somehow regained my original affection for the film’s gleefully bonkers ending. My most positive endorsements would be for BEAR McCREARY’s absolutely phenomenal score  (he’s batting a thousand after wowing recently with GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS) and MARK HAMILL’s wonderfully acute voiceover work as the killer doll. When these two combine their talents for a theme song, which plays over the closing credits, it’s truly sublime (I find myself longing for the soundtrack no matter my overall mixed feelings). In general the movie looks great too and the crisp, colorful cinematography does a persuasive job of harkening back to many a fright flick from the late eighties. I found myself sitting so securely on this summer coaster throughout its first half but damn, I really did fall out of the cart during a too long bubble of time at the midpoint and really had to scramble to climb back on board.

What most differentiates this take from the original mold is that Chucky the killer doll is no longer nuts due to a voodoo possession and is now a robot who was purposely programmed to cause havoc thanks to a disgruntled (and suicidal) factory worker.  This allows the story to stoke fears of technology out of control and taking over our daily lives but it also strangely adds a level of sympathy for the faulty doll. I haven’t felt so bad for a robot since HALEY JOEL OSMENT was abandoned in the forest by his mother in A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELIGENCE (2001). I really loved getting to know this new childlike version of Chucky and found myself relating to him when his glitchy brain would confuse a roll of toilet paper for a science book. The poor guy is like a malfunctioning Casper the friendly ghost and I cared more about that than any of the film’s BLACK MIRROR-esque future fretting. I kept thinking about how Chucky was like an animal taken in and loved by new owners who can’t stop misbehaving due to no fault of its own (sort of like KRISTY McNICHOL’s wrenching dilemma in WHITE DOG). I also have to say Chucky’s eerie uncanny valley visual overhaul worked well with drumming up my sympathies.

Where the movie fails for me is on the script level in the human character department. GABRIEL BATEMAN is fine as Andy and has got an Elliot in E.T. thing going for him but I found all his friends annoying and AUBREY PLAZA (who rules in INGRID GOES WEST) comes off more like a sarcastic babysitter than a believable maternal figure (Maybe I’m just showing my age here though and that I should get used to adults acting like snarky teens). There’s a bit where Andy must hide a grisly trophy that Chucky has gifted him that zapped me out of the entire move. It’s played like a THREE’s COMPANY mix-up and it still irks my head to think about it because it could have been so much better simplified. The entire segment feels forced, and first draft clunky. I’ve also found out that for some reason I’m highly bothered by the juxtaposition of Christmas lights and watermelons (who knew?). After much thought, though I have to admit that my sudden distaste for the movie occurred directly after Chucky kills a cat so maybe on a subconscious level I was kicking back at that peeve for a spell and you might want to take my disdain with a grain of salt.

.Even though I’m also not a huge fan of drones being shoe-horned into modern remakes (see also POLTERGEIST), I did end up coming around to enjoy the gleeful mayhem in the film’s chaotic climax. I’m going to thank a fuzzy bear-like version of the killer doll who shows up for talking me down off the ledge with his mere presence. I really wish that I was able to have as much fun with this movie as others seem to be experiencing but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for me. It does seem to be the type of thing I’ll give another chance in the future when I’m not so sensitive (truly, I recently watched INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and the constant cat peril within made it more nerve-rattling than SILENCE OF THE LAMBS for me). Full disclosure, I may have also been swayed by a pang of free-floating guilt for disloyally crossing original creator DON MANCINI’s invisible picket line even though I justified the act by using my REGAL ticket earnings to see it for free (I didn’t give them a cent, DON! I swear!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t listen to me because I have too many issues to count so maybe go and decide for yourself. On some level I almost believe that it’s worth it for the score alone; just don’t tell my cats (or DON MANCINI) I said that.

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Tags: General Horror

Ma (2019)

June 20th, 2019 · No Comments

The latest Blumhouse offering MA is a bit of an emotional pinball machine. It delivers some smart suspense, some genuine creeps and still finds time to be regularly hilarious (if you have a dark sense of humor) and strangely sad. I’m a big fan of horror character studies, revenge flicks and “person from hell” movies (FATAL ATTRACTION, THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE) and MA fits the bill on all accounts. It’s kind of like a multi-generational version of LUCKY McKEE’s MAY albeit more grounded and less stylized. By the end of the movie not every puzzle piece fits into place as tightly as I wanted them to but it’s a thoroughly entertaining ride nonetheless. I found it hard not to empathize with the title character even as she was wreaking havoc upon innocent people. There’s just something so cathartic about watching a person go full blown psycho about past grievances and both dreading and sadistically looking forward to the results (De PALMA’s CARRIE still stands as the greatest example of this). As much of this cinematic mousetrap is traceable and familiar, I’m happy to say MA brings a fair share of fresh themes and a uniquely uncomfortable tone to the table as well.

OCTAVIA SPENCER excels as Sue Ann/Ma, a role that seems tailor made for her. She’s subtle, straightforward and never over the top as a mature woman who is coaxed by an amiable group of underage teens to buy them alcohol. When Sue Ann recognizes one of the young folk as the child of her unrequited/abusive high school crush she offers up her basement as a safe place to party and casually integrates into an integral part of the gang’s clandestine activities. On the surface, her character’s increasingly demented behavior appears spurred by a cruel prank from her youth but on another level I think it’s much bigger than that. I almost get the sense that Sue Ann is raging against youth itself or at least the youth that she had lost to being an awkward outsider that never fit in. Witnessing a group of people getting along and having fun reminds her of the carefree life she was denied whether it was because of her gawkiness or because she was the lone black student in her school.

Basically no one is spared her wrath, not the man from her past that betrayed her, not the kids that symbolize all she missed out on and certainly not the boss that constantly berates her. We even come to find that she’s spitefully determined to make sure that her offspring is hammered into an equally unsatisfying existence. Ma is FOMO personified and brandishing very sharp teeth.

What saves Ma from being yet another obsessed stalker Lifetime movie is SCOTTY LANDES witty, aware script, TATE TAYLOR’s confident direction (he’s also great as the local cop) and most importantly, the cast. SPENCER, as mentioned, is gold in the title role but I can’t think of anyone in the cast who doesn’t deliver the goods and then some. JULIETTE LEWIS gets a surprisingly meaty part as a concerned mother and rather than being merely a scolding obstacle like in most teen movies, she’s the many shaded, grounding anchor of normalcy for the entire picture. ALLISON JANNEY and MISSI PYLE both play aggressively nightmarish people who practically beg to have horrible things happen to them and they both excel at their atrociousness. LUKE EVANS is impressive as well as the untrustworthy object of affection for Ma. Surprisingly I liked all the youngins too and each of them is given a chance to shine and have identifiable personalities of their own. I know folks usually don’t go to see horror movies for the acting but in this case it’s actually not a bad idea.

Although MA plays it mostly straight and its dark humor leans toward the situational, there’s an inescapable camp quality to it but I think you could say that about all of the loner revenge films mentioned previously as well. The film operates on several levels at once and can be taken in as seriously as the viewer desires. That said, the best way to view something like this is with a vocal audience in a movie theater or with intoxicated like-minded folks at home (don’t be surprised if you hear references to Ma’s line “Don’t make me drink alone” for the rest of your life).  Sure, I was left with a few questions and I desired one last twist that never came to fruition (and I could have used way more flashbacks to the eighties) but overall, I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in all the social disasters on display. As someone who’s roughly the same age as Ma it wasn’t hard to sympathize with her plight but I found it just as easy to feel akin to the group of teens looking for a safe place to congregate. Ultimately my favorite aspect of MA is that although it’s short lived, when things are going well, before the other shoe drops, it delivers the simple vicarious fun of partying and letting loose- at any age. MA has got her problems but who cares when she also knows the perfect time to break out “the robot” dance.

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Tags: General Horror

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

June 6th, 2019 · 4 Comments

Count me in as someone who loved GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. I’m so glad I went to see it on the big screen so I could fully get lost inside its whirlpool of mayhem.  There are images in this movie that are so beautiful as if they were religious paintings come to life, and there are moments of true awe that hit like (literal) lightning strikes. My peepers really got a workout and I left the theater feeling like I just experienced a heartwarming reunion with childhood friends. Man, I love them monsters! Godzilla is like a big misunderstood doggy, Ghidora is a devilish badass, Rodan is a mischievous opportunist and Mothra is the sweetest angel who ever lived. It’s as if the quirky denizens of Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood became quarrelsome giants who spit fire and topple buildings. The movie is over two hours long but I kind of wanted to stay forever (even if just to bask in BEAR McCREARY’s incredible score that weaves in past themes (especially good old Mothra’s signature tune) in a gorgeous way).

Of course you do have to suffer through a dozen or so human characters making plans and pointing at computer screens but I’m happy to say I found the normies reasonably compelling and sometimes moving too. I’d probably jump in front of a flying bullet for VERA FARMIGA at this point (she’s nearly up there in the JAMIE LEE CURTIS/SIGOURNEY WEAVER zone now). FARMIGA plays Dr. Emma Russell whose family is dealing with the loss of a child and while ex-hubby Mark (KYLE CHANDLER) and daughter, Madison (STRANGER THING’s MILLIE BOBBY BROWN in her big screen Kristy McNichol-esque debut) are grieving in constructive ways, Dr. Russell has taken the route of toxic self-destruction to a new, global level. There’s a scene of her speeding a vehicle forward with a snarling three-headed Ghidorah snipping at her heals that blew me away as an illustration of a wounded person desperately trying to outrace their inner demons. Her motives are completely insane and I so totally understood them.

It’s crazy that a summer blockbuster stuffed to the gills with disaster and mass destruction could also shine with unabashed adoring love but thanks to director MICHAEL DOUGHERTY (he of the instant classics TRICK ‘R TREAT and KRAMPUS) here we are. There’s so much in this film about how humans interact with nature and creatures that we aren’t capable of fully understanding that really resonated with me. There are several moments when we get to finally feel for Godzilla in a way that I think has always eluded filmmakers before. In one instance returning character, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (KEN WATANABE) gets to look Godzilla straight in the eye and thank him for what he has meant to him and geez, it’s so lovely.

I’m a little stunned that GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS is getting mixed reviews as it offers more than a few sights, sounds and experiences that can not be experienced anywhere else. I’ve enjoyed the previous films in this current franchise (GODZILLA 2014, KONG: SKULL ISLAND) a great deal too but this is the first one that really hit me down deep in the heart. My only complaint is that after seeing the film the title smacks a little of moth erasure. Behind every good lizard is a great moth! Man, I’m so in love with Mothra that the next time I find a hole in my sweater I’m just going to shrug my shoulders and let it go.

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Tags: General Horror

Scared Stiff (1987)

May 30th, 2019 · 2 Comments

If you’re looking for a haunting, quiet, and subtle ghost story, 1987’s SCARED STIFF sure ain’t it because damn, this movie is bonkers. It’s tacky, garish, politically incorrect on multiple levels and somehow, against all odds, entertaining as hell. It’s hard to take seriously, with it’s over the top acting and scrambled script but there’s such a go for broke, throw anything at the wall and see what sticks enthusiasm that it’s hard (at least for me) not to enjoy its sloppy lunacy. As much as it borrows heavily from literally countless films that came before it, I can’t claim that it’s not unique as it’s the only movie I know of that involves a child who adores a pet appliance (an electric lamp with a racist American Indian face upon it) that inexplicably grows to a grotesque size and chases someone down a hallway. This movie is truly crazy.

Psychiatrist and electric shock enthusiast David Young (the always intense ANDREW STEVENS) moves his lover and ex-patient (!) Kate Christopher (MARY PAGE KELLER of the early FOX sitcom DUET) and her son Jason (JOSH SEGAL) into a mansion with a long history of slavery, murder and voodoo. Kate just happens to be a famous pop star (SHEENA EASTON wisely declined the role) which wonderfully allows for several scenes of her filming windy MTV-style videos while lip-syncing to original eighties-era soft pop tunes(!). It’s not long before the house is besieged with ominous pigeons, Kate is having sex with ghosts and David gets caught up in the kind of possession that makes his eyes glow and gives him the urge to kill those closest to him. Before anyone gets the idea to head for the hills, a handyman hangs himself, corpses are found in the attic, toys come to life and a home computer spits out a worrisome digital 3-D death mask. The film’s finale is remarkably even more nuts utilizing hallucinatory surrealism no doubt inspired by the then super popular ELM STREET series.

Believe it or not, SCARED STIFF is a based on an original script by MARK FROST of TWIN PEAKS fame. It’s safe to assume additional writers DANIEL F. BACANER and director RICHARD FRIEDMAN (who is responsible for the equally bizarre DOOM ASYLUM) crammed in all the added derangement. This isn’t a good film by any stretch my friends but it is wacky and nonsensical enough to always be interesting. STEVENS and KELLER make highly watchable leads even when trapped with daffy dialogue and you really get your money’s worth in the practical effects department (plus, I’m all kinds of partial to movies with multiple mental hospital scenes stocked with zealous background performers pretending to be crazy). I’m surprised SCARED STIFF (also known as THE MASTERSON CURSE) isn’t a bit more notorious as a cult flick but it sadly skipped a DVD release before finally winding up on Blu-ray and that probably explains its low profile. If you’re the type that would be interested in a low grade haunted house flick that apes better flicks like BURNT OFFERINGS and the HOUSE series, this could be right up your alley. If you’re not a bad movie lover then make like SHEENA EASTON and take the morning train far, far away!

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Tags: General Horror

Kindertrauma Toy Chest

May 22nd, 2019 · 4 Comments


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Tags: General Horror · General Insanity · Traum-mercial Break

Pet Sematary (2019)

April 17th, 2019 · 6 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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Tags: General Horror