Shadows of the Mind (1980)

Hey, I just figured out that I can watch YouTube videos on my big TV thanks to my friendly best buddy PS3! This opens up so many wonderful opportunities for yours truly! Lately, due to events completely out of my control, I have caught some pretty decent movies. Enough is enough. I need something terrible! Luckily, every request my mind ever makes is always promptly fulfilled by the universe! That is how SHADOWS OF THE MIND (1980) waltzed into my life! This movie nearly knocked CATHY’S CURSE off its perch as my number one most-beloved, maddening atrocity! Of course SHADOWS has no evil doll in it so there was never any real threat of that happening but still, that previously unthinkable thought did cross my mind! Will a normal human be able to watch this movie for five minutes without shutting it off? Who knows and who cares! I wish I knew how to properly describe this awkward oddity. It’s sort of like being stuck on a bus for hours sitting next to a rambling nutcase and it’s sort of like if ANDREA MARTIN starred in a movie based on the comic strip ZIGGY except somebody gets stabbed in the eye with a corkscrew. This is one of those movies that is often hilarious in its ineptness and yet is so persistently peculiar that it ends up being creepier than you’d expect.

SHADOWS is the story of slack-jawed, sad sack Elise (MARION JOYCE) who is set free from the funny farm after spending the last 12 years learning to say goodbye to the trauma of witnessing her father’s tragic boating death and hello to a seriously unhealthy attachment to her psychiatrist. With the best of intentions she moves back to her stately family home, only to be tormented by her snarky stepbrother and stalked by a shifty groundskeeper. Soon folks are being murdered and we’re lead to wonder if Elise is being framed or if she’s lost her marbles again. It’s kind of like PSYCHO 2 without the burden of quality. The most fascinating thing here is the fact that the screenplay was written by lead actress JOYCE. This adds a weirdly personal, almost confessional vibe and it compounds the discomfort when other characters must duly remark how vibrant and beautiful the (sorry) borderline hunchback Elise is. Director ROGER WATKINS (who is also responsible for the more notorious THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD STREET) has a way of making 80 minutes seem like 180 but the film’s campy, parlor room hysterics and through the roof nutso payoff are easily worth the sluggish haul, at least, to me. Make no mistake this movie is not good in the traditional sense but I loved it in ways I could never love a good movie. It certainly didn’t successfully convince me of everything it set out to but in the case of its depiction of mental illness I stand absolutely sold.

How Unk Got His Christmas Groove Back

I’ve got to snap out of it and get my groove back. There I was happily riding the horror Christmas train when suddenly, absolute derailment. What the hell is wrong with people? If horrendous tragedy wasn’t enough to sap my spirit, here comes everybody with their too late answers for everything. In my opinion, if your solution doesn’t put the value of human life above all else then it already blows. Whatever you do, don’t even try to place blame on movies and video games, they happen to be exactly what I’m going to use to springboard out of this funk. I want to thank INFAMOUS 2 for providing a place for me to hide ‘til the coast was clear and now I’m going to make a ten-ingredient movie cocktail to obliterate this malaise. I’m not saying these movies (not in any order) will work for you, but I know through experience that they work for me. If you have your own secret weapon stuper-smasher please share it in the comments section!


Let’s get the tough love out of the way . I know this movie has the saddest scene ever but I’m going to stick it up here anyway as a crystal clear mission statement. Don’t let the swamp of sadness get to you Artax! Also, if you can watch the scene below without crying, you are most likely a sociopath… so please get help.


They may have complimentary singing voices but in the end murderous charlatan Harry Powell (ROBERT MITCHUM) is no match for unsung saint Rachel Cooper (LILLIAN GISH). “I’m a strong tree with branches for many birds. I’m good for somethin’ in this old world, and I know it too.”


Ignore the cellophane “S” and let’s hear it for the citizens of Metropolis! After Zod and his cohorts have apparently killed Superman, bystanders are so outraged; they band together and selflessly throw their own safety to the wind. “They killed Superman!” one screams; “Let’s go get’em!” yells another. This always makes me happy. The fun’s not over yet, I could watch Lois clock Ursa (“You know something? You’re a real pain in the neck!”) all day.

STARMAN (1984)

A list is not a list without JOHN CARPENTER. If you want to convince me that an alien would be even remotely impressed with humanity, it’s a good idea to get an actor like JEFF BRIDGES to play said alien and KAREN ALLEN to represent humanity. “You’re at your very best when things are at their worst” Not always true but when it is…wow.


The theme song alone is enough to make me euphoric but what I find most life affirming is when Dr. Zarkov explains how he avoided being brainwashed by thinking of the works of Einstein, Shakespeare and the Beatles. That must be one hell of a planet he comes from! As Flash would say, “Not too bad.”


You didn’t think I’d neglect to put a horror film up in here did you? CANDYMAN is stuffed with stinging bees and violence but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got anything positive to relay. I love that our hero Helen sacrifices herself to save a baby and I love even more that she is recognized and mourned by the residents of Cabrini-Green for her deed. They don’t even know a fraction of what she’s been through but they know enough.


I can’t choose between these two and so I won’t.


I don’t always watch musicals but when I do they include songs about murder and dentistry (LITTLE SHOP) or sex education and bowling (GREASE 2).

HOLIDAY (1938)

Johnny Case (CARY GRANT) must choose between shallow dud Julia and her freethinking down to earth sister Linda who just happens to be KATHARINE HEPBURN. I won’t tell you how it ends but summersaults and the world’s greatest rumpus room are involved.


You’ve seen this right? You know how it ends. Once upon a time way back in 1988 I went to see SCROOGED in the theater and I’ll never forget it. After BILL MURRAY has his epiphany he breaks the 4th wall and invites the audience to sing along with the closing song “Put a Little Love In Your Heart.” I don’t know what was going on with the packed Center City Philadelphia audience I saw this with but they really got into it. At first it was embarrassing and then it became mandatory. You had to sing and clap along. When MURRAY told one side of the theater to sing they did and when he told the other (my side) we did too. It was amazing and I’m not exaggerating and if you think it sounds lame that means you weren’t there. Hey, isn’t that Harry Powell (ROBERT MITCHUM) singing along too? I forgot that he was in it. How perfect. Yes, the world really sucks sometimes but if you’re one of the many people not adding to the grief, you should make sure you enjoy yourself this season. You deserve it.

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings

As someone who was not a big fan of WRONG TURN 3, I have absolutely no business watching WRONG TURN 4: BLOODY BEGINNINGS and yet I broke down and did just that. I can resist a snowbound horror flick for only so long. Even knowing that Part 4 was directed by the same person who delivered Part 3 could not deter me from plowing ahead. Sure it took me over a year to finally succumb but the only person I was fooling by staying away was myself. I jumped in with the lowest expectations to insure the lowest level of aggravation and my only humble request from this direct-to-DVD sequel was that it delivered snow and people being murdered horribly in said snow. It gave me that.

The best part of WRONG TURN 4 is the opening prologue that depicts the psychotic, inbred troika of hillbillies as young-ins rampaging through a sanatorium. It’s kind of like the MUPPET BABIES version of WRONG TURN, and how often do you get to see mutant killers in the halcyon days of their youth? This part of the movie brought back fond memories of THE DEVIL TIMES FIVE, as the trio take down their adult opponents with somewhat hilarious sadistic glee. If only the movie had continued with the killers at this age it might have ended up as something special. Instead we jump into the future and things slide quickly downhill.

Here’s where I cast blame on the casting. This has been on my mind a lot lately and probably due to the wonderful people that starred in THE PACT. As much as I can enjoy hating on folks and delighting in their demises, I do have to find them at least somewhat bearable in order to properly get into a film. They can’t all be relentless ciphers, which is the case here. I hope it’s not because I’m curmudgeonly and resent whippersnappers. I think I just have a problem with a certain level of douch-iness. WRONG TURN 4‘s douche level is off the charts. I’m not kidding when I say the “monsters” are far easier to relate to than their prey. I found a scene where one of the cannibals is quickly aided by his siblings when he starts choking on a piece of flesh, much more affective then any of the exchanges between the potential victims. Then again, I do favor freaks and the make-up work here is pretty sweet. Perhaps the casting of ONE grounding human presence would have helped but maybe I’m missing the point.

If you want anything resembling artistry, look elsewhere but if you like snow, decapitations and are somewhat soothed by that which is aggressively disposable, here ya go. There are no bragging rights if you hate it. Asking a movie like WRONG TURN 4 to be a good movie is like asking your cat to drive you to the airport. If you happen to be a Cylon and are prone to wanting to erase humanity from existence, this cast will only exasperate those feelings. BUT yes, you do get some cool looking mutants, yes, they do really sick things to the boring people and, yes, they do it in an isolated snow framed setting. Granted the locale could have easily been used to better effect but hey, it’s serviceable.

I take full responsibility for my actions. I do not regret watching this cruddy movie nor do I desire those 87 minutes of my life back. I can think of far more horrible fates than sitting on my beloved couch covered in a blanket drinking some something and watching this half-assed sequel that worked my last nerve but at least didn’t shy away from being depraved. In a way it was exactly what I needed; something merely watchable as a palate-cleansing break from the films that I care about. Is that wrong? I say trash makes the gold shine brighter! In any case, I liked it better than Part 3. At least it had snow and I’m now confident that I can easily avoid Part 5. Or can I?

The Beast Within (1982)

I’ve tried hard over the years to better understand THE BEAST WITHIN (1982). Heck, I even coerced myself recently to read the same-titled novel it’s loosely based on thinking that might help me fathom it further. (It’s by Edward Levy and I secretly loved it.) Both the book and the movie involve a man who is chained in a cellar and subjected to a tortuous existence, feeding on rats and human flesh. His ordeal is such that he physically converts into a subhuman beast who eventually escapes, rapes a woman and passes his acquired depravity onto the resulting offspring. The child is seemingly fine for a while but eventually the inherited malevolence breaks through. In the book, the transformation involves traditional werewolf or demonic possession motifs and in the movie, the poor guy turns into a cicada. Don’t laugh! I think that’s well, original and the cicada’s 17-year stagnation period fits in nicely with parents and teenagers’ anxiety about the changes that come with adulthood, you know, the natural morphing of sweet obedient children into those terrible creatures with their own ideas! Plus, cicadas are gross, shed skeletal husks and chirp that terrible tune! They certainly do deserve an invite to the horror table.

Only it doesn’t really work. It’s a big jump going from a man turning into a feral brute and a man transforming into an ugly loudmouth grasshopper and THE BEAST WITHIN doesn’t quite have the springboard legs to achieve the leap. I’d blame the script but how can I when it’s from the pen of TOM HOLLAND of PYSCHO II, FRIGHT NIGHT and CHILD’S PLAY fame? I have to assume something larger went haywire during production although I guess talent has been known to hibernate on occasion too. One rumor I came across stated that about a half hour of filming was lost and that they had to move ahead regardless which would explain much but not everything. Besides the movie mumbling and muttering its way past the dubious cicada issue (if you listen closely black magic band-aids are placed over the hole), there’s still the frustrating problem of having barrels of exposition and little of it useful. And then there’s the beast itself who, when caught at the wrong angle, looks less like an insect and more like drunk E.T.

Don’t get me wrong I fucking adore the special effects in this movie. They are over-the-top outlandish, freakiskly fantastic and deliciously squishing, especially in the traffic-stopping transformation scene. It’s just that the monster in its fully evolved form is a bug-eyed goon in a wobbly rubber suit…not that he doesn’t give good decapitations. So why do I keep returning to this flick when I’m fully aware of its limitations and why would a rational person expect it to be anything other than its crazy self knowing that it’s directed by the same dude (PHILIPPE MORA) who dosed the world with THE HOWLING 2 & 3 and my personal favorite brain-exploder COMMUNION?

No matter its disjointed nature, THE BEAST WITHIN has a weird, off-putting apprehensive vibe. Maybe that’s just residue from my own trepidation after succumbing to its effective “WE DARE YOU TO WATCH THIS!” advertising campaign thirty years ago or maybe it’s due to the swampy, sleazy, southern-fried insanity setting- I don’t know. It’s also got a great cast. RONNY COX and BIBI BESCH make nice, sympathetic parents and the rouges gallery of creepy local residents is gonzo strong with DON GORDON, LOGAN RAMSEY and JOHN DENNIS JOHNSTON. (If you don’t recognize their names, you’ll recognize their faces) An I WAS A TEENAGE CICADA movie would be bound to the ground without a decent actor playing the teenage cicada and PAUL CLEMENS does an admirable job and is remarkably adapt at melding himself with some seriously heavy make-up. Really, the way he contorts his face into unnerving expressions makes some of the lesser effect reliant scenes the strongest and I’d bet LON CHANEY would give him a thumbs up (after he threw-up).

I’ll always be a tad disappointed in this movie’s inability to state its case in a less jumbled manor but if you invite the right people to the right place, can’t you still have fun even if cohesiveness is a no show? I think we all know I can. THE BEAST WITHIN is a monster movie and monster movies can get away with dancing around with a lampshade on their head especially if that head is committed to expanding to ten times its size in the finale. That’s a party in my book and if I have to crawl around in the dark to get there so be it.

Jury Duty:: Psychophobia!

UNK SEZ: Can you believe I have to go to jury duty today? If you were an innocent person would you want me deciding your fate? If what I’ve learned from a zillion sitcoms is true, this could last all day. Worse yet, I have not finished any of the posts I was working on and now you dear reader are screwed and left empty handed. But wait! I wouldn’t do that to you! I’m going to leave you with the horrifying chiller PSYCHOPHOBIA! This movie has the worst (meaning best) dubbing you will ever hear and it is sure to make you as happy as a not very terrified clam! Take care, be good and jump over HERE!!

The Prey (1984)

Even though I’m programmed to blindly adore all killer-in-the-woods flicks, I too can decipher the difference between a competent movie and one held together by gum and prayers. THE PREY (1984) ever so slowly leans, if not loiters, towards the latter. Director EDWIN BROWN is clearly hell bent on shaking me off his trail but I won’t quit. I keep hanging on. Every time I find myself losing steam and ready to pull the plug he does something so perplexing I must stick around. This is what I love about unpolished, lowbrow movies. When somebody does not know what they are doing, they end up places nobody else would go. There’s a scene in which a handsome yet borderline imbecilic park ranger (played by SHAZAM!’s JACKSON BOSTWICK) comes across a corpse being devoured by vultures that just squeals lunacy. The camera shows the ranger, the corpse & the vultures in rotation with screeching blasts of music and it’s so puffed up and relentlessly overemphasized that it feels pulled from a comedy sketch. I wouldn’t want to miss something like that even though I did require toothpicks to hold my eyelids open by the time that particular bit dropped like a sack of wet laundry.

As adrift and lackadaisical as THE PREY may be, I have to be honest and admit that it also looks exactly like the inside of my mind. When things are peaceful, random furry animals appear and prance around and when things are bad, you get squirming centipedes and army ants eating worms to an alarming doorbell buzzer score. On the film’s behalf, around the time I had finished knitting a sleeping bag in my mind to count sheep in, a semi-worthy monster does indeed show up! Eureka! He’s played by CAREL STRUYCKEN, “Lurch” of THE ADAMS FAMILY (1991), which is fitting because JACKIE COOGAN, “Uncle Fester” from the original T.V. series can also be found in this movie reluctantly learning to love cucumber sandwiches. The monster’s oatmeal ugliness comes courtesy of JOHN CARL BUECHLER and who can resist a lumbering oaf with a giant bumpy head and choking paws? Is he enough to save the film?

Well, no. But THE PREY does close on an effectively ghoulish note and has at least one worthwhile kill. Plus everybody knows this time of year is perfect for its man vs. nature (not to mention mutant wielding an axe) motif. In addition, there’s just no denying that it’s endearingly good-natured not counting the off-screen rape. For example, the park ranger who I should probably not have found as charismatic as I did, tells a really long, hopelessly unfunny joke to a baby deer in this. A baby deer! I had to watch THE PREY on YouTube so maybe the picture quality hampered my enjoyment a little. I can’t believe I’m typing this but I’d actually, God help me, love to try it again cleaned up on DVD if ever the opportunity arose. That makes me sound like a masochist but I’m not-ish. Really what’s a little torture in exchange for a few sparkling moments of distinct eccentricity? Lameness abounds but it’s so hot this summer that camping via YouTube is not such a bad idea at all. Maybe there’s a monster in these woods but at least you won’t die from heat stroke! Aw, look! There’s a little baby raccoon washing his hands! How cute is that?

The Dark (1979)

1979’s THE DARK is notoriously terrible and I guess it has a right to be. At some point midway through production the producers (one of whom was DICK CLARK) decided that the film’s central Earthly menace might attract science fiction fans if it came instead from outer space. I wish I could jump in a time machine and stop them. It’s not a good idea. You can’t shift gears like that. These things need to be decided before the filming starts! I know WOODY ALLEN completely overhauled ANNIE HALL from his original concept but he did not have DIANE KEATON shooting lasers beams out of her eyeballs and bookend the movie with a rambling narration that basically shrugs its shoulders and says, “I don’t know what’s going on either.” THE DARK really didn’t have a fair shot because of said tampering; most everything you learn in the first half is negated or contradicted by the second. It’s not completely without interest though, a few scenes do work nicely and even though it’s chock full of nonsense, its biggest sin is not that it is crazy, its biggest sin is that it is often blindly milling about and
verging on boring.

What’s left of the plot concerns a “mangler” who beheads anyone foolish enough to walk alone at night in the streets of LA. In fact he kills one person each and every night, which is somehow established night two. CASEY KASEM shows up to imply that the killer is some sort of zombie but as that was part of the original discarded plot I don’t think we should listen to Shaggy. WILLIAM DEVANE’s daughter (played by KIM & KYLE RICHARDS’ sis KATHY) was the killer’s first victim so he’s teamed up with plucky, but not plucky enough, newscaster CATHY LEE CROSBY to get to the bottom of things. The excessively random cast brings a great deal to the wobbly table. KEENAN WYNN is hilarious as CROSBY’s boss, RICHARD JAEKEL is equally so as a grisled cop and same goes double or triple for VIVIAN BLAINE as a kooky psychic. Cameos include the likes of a young PHILIP MICHAEL THOMAS as a guy named “Corn Rows.” When it’s in motion THE DARK is lovably bonkers in a similar vein to THE MANITOU or THE VISITOR but when it’s stagnant, it’s dishwater dull. It actually looks pretty amazing in all of its Panavision glory on DVD but there’s no escaping the frustrating, unfocused, half-hearted pace.

Most semi-rational adults will point the blame solely on THE DARK’s preposterous monster (Who is proceeded by whispered chants of “The dark, the dark!”) but frankly I kinda like the guy. He gets at least one exceptional decapitation under his belt and even the dumb laser eyes can’t hide the fact that he enlivens the proceedings whenever he appears. I can’t explain his gargantuan hobo wardrobe but I love how he smashes through walls and throws people around. If he was just allowed to be a mutant, I think he could have gone places. If you stick around for the film’s end you will rewarded with the wondrous sight of the creature taking out a bunch of cops in a ludicrous fashion but will undoubtedly be disappointed in the puff of smoke lame way he is conquered.

Bad movie fans will find a smorgasbord of seventies flavored insanity to chew on but those who don’t suffer fools easily should wait for the next train. In any case, I believe there are lessons to be learned here. Don’t second guess yourself and don’t bend your vision for the fads of the day. Every monster deserves a chance to live up to his full potential and what’s so bad about being from Earth anyway? I should add for those concerned that THE DARK’s director JOHN ‘BUD’ CARDOS (who replaced TOBE HOOPER who was ironically dropped for being too slow) has at least one worthwhile contribution to the world of horror on his resume as he previously helmed the equally nutso but at least never draggy kinderfave KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS.