Saturday, October 30, 2010


All the elements of reality have once again pulled a train on me this month. I only mention this because I feel terribly guilty for avoiding this blog during one of its most relevant months. Halloween is without a doubt my favorite holiday, mostly because television programming takes a vacation from sucking shit. Even if AMC does decide to show the crappiest “Friday the 13th” sequel on repeat, I still appreciate the fact that they're trying. But there's a lot more to my affinity toward the holiday than morbid TV.

A good friend of mine recently vocalized his excitement over the approaching Christmas holiday, an awareness which seems to shift closer inward every year, like a goddamn polar ice cap. Stores seem to bring out the fake trees and lights a little earlier than they did previously. I don't mind Christmas. I admit to my inherently materialistic nature, and I certainly don't mind celebrating it. I like “things” and “stuff.”

I come from a scattered family, and every member keeps their distance from behind Berlin-style walls of violent dysfunction. But over the years, various charitable souls have invited me into their Christmas gatherings out of pity, providing me with up-close observations of how somewhat normal families operate during the holiday. My general experience has been that most people are absolutely miserable during the Christmas holiday.

So many people drive themselves to the brink of breakdown trying to color inside the lines in order to live up to some Rockwellian standard of what that holiday is supposed to be about. It's a bunch of assholes forced together by the thinnest of all bonds – blood – who can't stand each other the rest of the year. The company of family is a hollow token you're forced to insult your so-called loved ones with out of tradition. Genetics is a poor basis for a bond. Most anyone given the option of hanging out with friends versus family will go with their buddies without a second thought. Phoniness is a pivotal ingredient in making Christmas SEEM great. It is a holiday which requires costumes of its own, only these facades are transparent and therefore far less interesting than what you see during Halloween.

I always thought Halloween belonged to people who had nothing, because it requires little more than ingenuity to celebrate. It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like because everyone is hidden beneath some gruesome mantle and, regardless of nationality or relation, we're all roving the streets together in a gleeful mass while strangers actually hand out gratuities.

Christmas, on the other hand, forces people to cloister themselves away from their real friendships and relationships to spend time with people they're bound to by genetics. Then you have a suicide rate bolstered by poor work-a-day saps who can't provide the extravagant holiday image that media outlets mash everyone's face into. It is a tooth-nashing reminder to the have-nots as to who exactly they are and what they don't have. And then there's the music. Fuck, that ear-gougingly awful fucking music that could turn any poor retail clerk into a Manchurian Candidate-style maniac. You can write the most mediocre gobbledegook ever, and insert something about the three wise men or Santa Clause fucking your mom, and it will be transformed into a sacred cow . Who doesn't want to dawn a Santa suit, grab a fucking fire axe, and head on down to the orphanage after hearing some fat bitch sing about how she wants Santa to bring her a boyfriend for the holiday for the three-hundreth-and-sixty-eighth fucking time. The only people who sing during Halloween are hatchet-faced pagan broads with shitty Celtic tattoos and saggy nudity, and they usually do that out in the woods, far away from me.

I enjoyed Halloween during childhood and adolescence, but as adulthood has crept in, there have been fewer opportunities to indulge in holiday activities. In fact, I've worked every Hallow's Eve for the last eight years. Most people don't want to work on Halloween, and so I'm the guy who shells the grenade so to speak. It will probably stay that way until I have a child to live vicariously through. In fact, one of my main ambitions in life is to sire a child whom I can take trick or treating. I can come off as gruff, sure, but I romanticize as much as I hate. After recently writing a review for the 1986 film “The Quest,” I kept thinking ahead to a time when I might have a kid, and what I would expose them to during this season. While I might have been watching shit like “Caligula” and “The Beyond” at age ten, I certainly wouldn't subject my child to that stuff. In fact, I arrived upon the conclusion that I'd probably guard what my kid saw like any real parent should.

So, several times over the past few weeks, I've found myself pouring over my shelves, looking for titles that I thought might be appropriate viewing for kids, and I've compiled a list of family-safe Halloween features. None of these films contains moments that might be mutually awkward for child and parent to sit through together. They're also not child-proofed, either. There's a lot of entertainment geared toward children which relies on in-your-face bells and whistles designed only to engage by virtue of distraction. These films are actually smart enough to engage not only a kid, but also keep the parent entertained. I'm sure some parent out there might actually appreciate this effort. These follow in no particular order of value, and some of them also have nostalgic value to them. And if you have any titles you think ought to be included, feel free mention them in the comment section.

THE 'BURBS (1988)

Most would probably argue against me when I say that this is easily Joe Dante's finest film. For me, "Gremlins" can't touch this movie's hem. This is one of those films where nearly every element of production clicks into place to assemble what I personally feel is a paramount success in terms of cinema.

This is basically a story about the mental illness complacency begets. Over the course of Ray Petersen's (Tom Hanks) stay-at-home vacation, he slowly begins to buy into his neighbors' paranoia that new arrivals The Klopeks are up to something sinister in that basement of theirs. He struggles to rationalize the things he sees and hears, but ultimately winds up joining a crusade to expose the new neighbors as bomb building commie ghouls. The movie culminates in frantic finale worthy of Peter Sellers.

Right off the bat, this film automatically benefits from being shot on Universal Studios' back lot. The houses and streets you see in this film have been utilized so frequently over the years, from "The Munsters" to "Psycho," that they're almost always instantly recognizable. The location smacks of nostalgic vibe. Other than that, Dante takes ample opportunity to pay tribute to the horror genre and some of his favorite directors. Sergio Leone is paid a heavy homage, as Dante reenacts famous shots from "Once Upon A Time In The West," which are compounded by a Morricone-themed score.

The chemistry between the cast, particularly between Dern, Ducommun, Hanks, and Carrie Fisher crackles pretty viciously any time a combination of the four is on screen. Ultimately, the timing and flow of their interactions is what really sells this movie.


In full-on Fife mode, Don Knotts plays Luther Heggs, an overly ambitious low-man on the totem pole of a local news paper office. Eager to get into the reporting game, Heggs reluctantly accepts an assignment to spend the night in the old Simmins mansion, where twenty years before a gruesome murder occurred. Rumor has it that the joint is haunted, and it quickly lives up to its reputation once Luther sets up camp. Naturally hilarity ensues, and Knotts is absolutely amazing to watch as he reacts like a flesh cartoon to bleeding paintings and phantom organ playing.

Heggs emerges a hero to the local town's people, but when he's sued for libel by the owners of the estate, he can't quite seem to get the ghosts he saw earlier to show up on command. With a little tenacity and romantic motivation, Luther digs deeper and unravels the mysteries of the Simmins mansion.

Knotts is obviously king here, but you'll also find more rich atmosphere courtesy once again of the Universal Studios backlot.


This well-done eighties thriller has probably gone unsung due to the fact that it's subject was ahead of its time. Anna Hart struggles against her nasty nature while never questioning her talents until an uncanny doppelganger pops up on a news report about a plane crash. Soon, Anna and her brother, played by Mark Patton, begin to question Anna's exact origins, which leads them to uncover a clone experiment, which also involves a new mysterious neighbor, with whom Anna has friction. The basic feel is along the lines of Disney's Watcher In The Woods,” but it's basically “The Boys From Brazil” for teenage girls. This flick is packed with a creepy, tense atmosphere which is only heightened by a current of incestuous energy between the sibling characters, which was probably unintentional.

I could only find some crappy fan made trailer for the film online, so instead I'm just gonna post the odd-ball opening credits to the film featuring the wonderful "Anna's Reverie."


A fantastic accomplishment in the realm of horror cinema, “The Changeling,” stars George C. Scott, who dominate any "mentally anguished father" roles that at this point with all the ferocity of the Normandy invasion. This film manages to achieve an unnerving atmosphere without ever giving you much more than noise. Following freakish tragedy, composer John Russell (Scott) rents an isolated, palatial mansion where he is to accomplish some work. He soon finds that he is not the sole occupant, though. Compelled by the seemingly supernatural circumstances of his new living situation, Russell pries into the history of the house, and unearths skeletons which threaten to shatter the reality of the estate's politically prominent owner. Truly one of the greatest supernatural thrillers of all time, accomplishing strides in terms of atmosphere with little more than simple sound and excellent camera work.


Three words: fuck Tim Burton. This is an awesome family-oriented stop motion feature, "starring" a bevy of the familiar Universal Studios monsters. Dr. Frankenstein is ready to retire and intends on naming his successor, which prompts infamous associates to converge on his island, each with the hope that they'll be the lucky one. However, the doctor has a replacement in mind: a distant and mediocre relative, Felix Flankin. This, of course, creates an animosity between the Nerdtacular Felix and the other monsters, which leads to a finale of catastrophic proportion. Fabulous voice performances from the likes of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller put this thing over the top. This thing DRIPS total vibe.


Some people will tell you that this movie was never not considered high camp, but I know for a fact that a few theater seats were completely soaked in urine after the ground's keeper's wife makes her initial on-screen appearance. I'm not saying this is a legitimately frightening film by any means. In fact, it comes off as rather innocent, but it's still completely lovable and entertaining.

Vincent Price stars as Frederick Loren, a wealthy business man who gathers a handful of desperate individuals together for a ghost party lock-in. Anyone who manages to survive what the night brings will be ten thousand dollars richer by morning. Once locked in, Mr. Loren's money grubbing harlot wife is found hanged, and the fun really begins as unseen forces menace the party goers.

Directed by master of movie house gimmickry William Castle, this is probably not the best example of what he was capable of achieving as a film maker, but strangely it's still one of his best films because it's a shit ton of fun. This is also the first Castle movie I ever saw, so it has a prominent lot on my memory lane. As for personal favorites, it's a random toss-up between “Straight-Jacket,” “Homicidal,” “Macabre.” You really can't go wrong with a William Castle flick.


The next victim in the remake trend, this made for TV film is easily one of my most prized tapes. We're talking the big box USA Home Video release, here. The story is basic: young hot-shot couple inherit a Victorian mansion, move in, and start moving shit around, which naturally unearths some things best left covered up. The wife, who is often left her own designs by her workaholic husband, comes off as an attention starved nut when she starts seeing small demonic creatures scurrying throughout the house like common vermin. The ending is without a doubt one of the most memorable I have ever seen. Strangely, the seventies period of TV films yielded a series of highly effective horror outings which easily compete with what was showing on big screens at the time. In many instances, television horror was startlingly inventive and therefore refreshing.


"Gargoyles" is yet another badass TV movie with some great makeup and a genuinely eerie vibe. Cornel Wilde appears in this one, but really, Bernie Casey, who plays the chief gargoyle in this movie, is the true star here. Basically, more assholes start digging up shit they shouldn't be. In this case, a family of paleontologists are called into investigate some bizarre remains, and upon disturbing its resting place seem to invite the wrath of a hive of gargoyles.

I couldn't find a trailer, but you can watch the entire film on YouTube. Here's the first part of the film, which I'm sure should hold most anyone's interest.


I have a vague recollection of meeting director Frank LaLoggia at a Los Angeles Fangoria horror convention the year this film came out. He was promoting the film and signing posters at a table while a trailer for “Lady In White” looped on a nearby television. Even at ten, I KNEW who he was, as I was familiar with his coming of age Anti-Christ flick, “Fear No Evil.” He acknowledged me, but I remained shy. He signed a poster for me, and I learned there was a screening going on that night. And so I went. The film almost immediately became a favorite, and I would eagerly hoist it upon friends once it became available on tape.

In what is purported to be a somewhat autobiographical tale, “Lady In White” is a passionate celebration of childhood preoccupations, urban mythology, and home. It's obviously something that was shot from the heart, and LaLoggia did a fantastic job of creating a nostalgic atmosphere on a extremely low budget. This is a testament to a truly talented man, and the fact that he never found prominence as a mainstream director is just one of the scarlet letters on Hollywood's petticoat which ultimately helps spell out “condemned.”

Set amidst the 1960s climate of racial tension, the story follows young Frankie Scarlotti (Lukas Haas) as he attempts to free the spirit of a little girl who was murdered in the cloak room of the old school house years earlier.

After being locked in the cloak room overnight by a pair of precocious pranksters, Frankie witnesses the ghostly reenactment of a murder, and soon finds himself faced with the living killer. The murderer thrusts Frankie into the ether, where he once again meets the ghostly victim, who pleads with Frankie to help her find her mother. Frankie is revived from this near-death experience by his father, and soon finds himself bound to the spirit of the victim. Shortly after, a media blitz ensues when the school's black janitor is accused of attacking Frankie and for all the murders which have occurred at the school over the years. This suspect, however, is obviously an easy out for a stumped police department. As tensions boil, Frankie sets out to help the spirit he encountered in the cloak room, which not only leads him to the legendary lady in white, who haunts the town's cliffs, but also toward unmasking the killer's true identity.

The film does have a few flaws. It does borrow heavily, both cinematically and thematically from “To Kill A Mocking Bird,” and there are some painfully ill choices in terms of the film's score. However, LaLoggia weaves such an overpowerfing atmosphere that these things can easily be forgiven. Performances by a fantastic cast, a miraculous production design which captures the very essence of Normal Rockwell's Americana, and beautiful photography smother any other minor afflictions.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

THE QUEST (1986)

This Charter Entertainment release may be geared toward family audiences, but to any one of us who, as children, rode our bikes into the wild overgrowth behind our towns to investigate urban myths, this film will stoke a warm grin. In spite of flaws, "The Quest" does capture the wholesome spirit of and entrance into puberty, where we experience our first taste of independence, but haven’t quite abused it enough to diminish our innocence. There’s still wonder, curiosity, the suspicion that there might be something truly strange out there, waiting to grab us, and there is no disbelief to suspend.

I was introduced to this Aussie export via the Disney Channel as a kid. After seeing the ads, which featured "E.T.'s" Henry Thomas skulking around the outback on the heels of some unidentified aquatic creature, I bought a blank tape and sat in front of the VCR on premier night with my fingers on “record” and “play.” After that, "The Quest" became a preferred soundtrack for bed time for a lengthy period. It may seem odd that I’d select such a morbid topic to nod off to, but I’d spent the bulk of my young life forcing myself to sleep while listening to domestic squabbling, gang fights, and sirens. By contrast, anything of a fantastic nature was a welcome escape. Plus, at one point kids were encouraged to use their imagination to illustrate what might be lingering in the dark spaces under their beds and in their closets. Kids used to be fascinated by the possibility of monsters, ghosts, and aliens. These days, the kid who's in love with Frankenstein and the Wolf Man is considered unsophisticated. The modern child has been reprogrammed to become a more practical creature, surpassing the period of imagination, and passing directly into the realm of responsibility. Kids are pushed to grow too fast now, and concepts of play, which are integral with respect to healthy growth and development, have been replaced with concerns of stranger danger. Kids these days are far too paranoid to have fun. They don't take risks like they used to. Sometimes safe sucks, and this is a film that definitely celebrates an inquisitive spirit that our youth have abandoned. The bare bones of the story told here emphasizes the importance of exploration and simple curiosity. Something like this would never get made today, for fear that the influence would send kids diving to the bottom of their local watering hole with fish bowls on their heads. Sure, a few kids may drown in the process, but those would be acceptable losses when you consider what good, socially, comes from encouraging the latest generation to question all authority.

I’m always reluctant to revisit childhood favorites. Years later, the adult me is usually disappointed in the film and I wind up losing respect for my childhood self. This particular movie has faired a little better than most, though. While I sat through this film the other day, I continually imagined that if I had a child during this particular season, that I would definitely put them in front of this film, and hope I’d done a decent enough job as a parent that they’d appreciate something like this. I was sitting through much worse than this at a young age, but all the decapitation and bare breasts still didn’t diminish my appreciation for the concept. After all, it was the sort of adventure I was searching for after school every day. I can safely recommend this to parents looking for something on the spookier side for their children around Halloween. There may be an occasional “brown word,” but otherwise, you can feel at ease while watching this with your kids.

The film makes the most of its scenery, focusing so frequently on wild life and wind blown foliage that I forgot this was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, the man behind Ozploitation classic "Dead End Drive-In." The perspective seems so nature-obsessive that one would assume the director was completely alien to the country’s landscapes. Other than that, my embittered perspective still acknowledges that this is an effectively atmospheric production.

Equal parts Huck Finn and Hardy Boy, Cody (Thomas) is an American orphan adapting to life in a rural Australian town after his father’s best friend, Gaza (Tony Barry), has been awarded custody. Gaza, an eccentric mechanic, relates to the boy’s ingenuity, and takes a hands-off approach while rearing the boy, which leads to mechanically inclined misadventures which haven’t done much to endear Cody to the town elders.

One day, while exploring the wilds, Cody, along with friends Wendy and Jane, experience a disruption in the water, which leads to the discovery of a body. Town speculation runs wild as to what might have happened to the poor bloke out at the pond known as Devil’s Knobb, but only Cody seems interested in delving deeper. Despite the fact that his interests ruffle town folk feathers, our protagonist pursues the mystery and soon uncovers the truth behind the mysterious Aboriginal myth known as the Donkagine.

I couldn’t find a trailer, but you can check out the whole film on YouTube, in multiple parts, starting here:

The adult in me acknowledges that most of the performances are likable to great, and it’s well-shot, but there are a few problems. This film could have benefited tremendously by losing twenty minutes of utterly pointless bullshit. For instance, Cody takes a downstream excursion to visit the legendary Charlie Pride, an aborigines man who is closely tied to magic. The whole thing turns out to be a beautifully shot speed bump. We learn nothing about the Donkagine or anything else for that matter. It's a complete waste of time that doesn't do anything other than disrupt the story. But once we get past all that crap, it's smooth sailing toward a satisfying payoff. Unfortunately, the film doesn't end when it should, and we're treated to a final scene that almost ruins the whole movie.

SPOILER ahead for those who give a shit.

Basically, Cody winds up discovering that the Donkagine is actually an abandoned mining crane, and the granite at the Pond’s floor secretes a steady flow of oxygen, which creates an air pocket that sends the weed-covered machinery rearing toward the surface for several moments a day to create the illusion of a water beast. Cody's discovery is a triumph of the analytical, scientific mind over the hysteria of superstition. The final scene almost seems placed in the interest of political correctness, as aboriginal Charlie Pride appears over Devil’s Knobb and uses his black man’s magic to send all the surrounding man-made garbage to the murky depths of the pond. They couldn’t just let the story sit as a moral tale about questioning out-dated authority or putting your faith in logic and science. Instead, they had to tack some apologist epilogue onto the end, so no one could possibly extract the message that savages have ridiculous beliefs. It's totally fucking stupid. Other than that, though, "The Quest" is a useful family-safe thriller in the vein of stuff like "The Explorers" and "Anna to the Infinite Power."

Oh yeah, the Charter release also includes a trailer for the Raimi/Coen brothers collaboration, "Crimewave," which Bruce Campbell has lamented as his worst film to date. Not sure if he said that before or after “The Man with the Screaming Brain,” though.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


If you're strictly familiar with the Hammer Studios brand of horror, there’s enough common connective tissue between your average Hammer flick and this Tigon Pictures production to make you feel at home. "The Creeping Flesh" contains a familiar atmosphere, courtesy of Director Freddie Francis; that seemingly rich period decoration, which makes a Hammer film so warm, is stronger than ever; and certainly the presence of both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee really bridge the gap. More Victorian Sci-Fi with a primordial twist here, Cushing plays a paleontologist in possession of a monstrous skeleton that has potential relevance to the foundation of man… and evil! The thing gets wet and the flesh comes back and a lot of cool, bad shit happens. Great vibey Sci-Fi horror that’s beautifully shot by Francis, who is without a doubt one of the greatest DPs to ever set foot behind a camera. Francis would later go on to work for the likes of David Lynch on films like “The Elephant Man.” What makes films like these remarkable are that they were produced fairly quickly and with smaller budgets, and yet they look rather lavish. The modern film industry would benefit tremendously if they'd examine exactly how many of these studios functioned.

Here's a scene from the film. Had a trailer up for a while, but I'm pretty sure a litigious prick put the fear of good into some poor soul on YouTube for promoting their product. That'll show him.


Shades of Sean Cunningham's “The New Kids,” but with a Shakespearean twist, and directed by Paul Lynch, the man behind "Humongous" and "Prom Night." A family relocates to a rural town and must acclimate to the abuse of a villainous clan who push the whole town around. When the newcomers’ son gets romantically involved with the Podunk mafia’s little femme flower, shit gets ugly. Much like “The New Kids,” Lynch transplants the tension and brutality of a slasher flick into a social melodrama to create a unique mood. This is easily better than some of his other cinematic efforts. The direction isn’t simply competent – it’s admirable. Makes you wonder how this guy wound up contributing to colon spasms like “Robocop: The Series."

Friday, October 1, 2010


The will of the lord continued to bring me down the other week, when my AC unit flooded my den, which is also where I built my in-house video shop. I entered one morning to the awful sensation of icy, soggy carpeting squish up between my toes -- only slightly less unsettling than feeling warm animal barf under your foot pad. So, I immediately called maintenance over to deal with the problem after moving some furniture out of the way so they could rip up the carpeting. One of the main problem areas was a wall with built in book cases. Beneath these cases are built in cabinets, which I actually keep blocked off with a bar which houses all my glass ware, as I am a tremendous alcoholic. Anyway, I’ve never really paid much mind to the cabinet, but that day I had to move the bar and actually open the cabinet to clear some of the water out. And much to my surprise, the cabinet was not empty. In fact, I found a cluster of VHS tapes tucked away along the top shelf, safe from potential water damage. This was a bizarre batch of fortune.

The first tape in the batch was the Sinister Cinema copy of the incredibly luscious spaghetti nightmare “The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.” This thing drips morbid mood.

The next was a big box PRISM copy of “Girl in Room 2A,” which I have actually never seen before. The plot has something to do with a young girl on parole who moves into a house run by a murderous cult.

Yet another major surprise, a pretty sweet copy of New World’s “Reform School Girls,” starring Wendy O. Williams from the Plasmatics. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this movie uncut. However, the Unruly Gent recently stole this on DVD and seems to remember there being much more nudity.

I haven’t seen “Assault of the Killer Bimbos” in years, but I remember being pretty depressed by it. By the names and the packaging you think you're going to get a balanced ratio of tits, shitty jokes, and violence. Instead, you get a brain damaged "Thelma and Louise." The YouTube trailer contains a brilliant comment from user ctdsnark: “to all lovers of trash cinema: SKIP THIS – there’s no “assault” and they don’t “kill” anybody. There’s barely any nudity. The biggest disappointment since 'Nice Girls Don’t Explode.'" This is an insult to the year 1988, but I'll take it. But for some reason, some people will pay a lot of money for this piece of shit.

And lastly, I was most excited to find “The Baby,” a super fucking bizarre movie about a family that’s stunted the development of one of their members, thus keeping him in an infant state even though the dude is 21 fucking years old. Sounds crazy, sure, but shit like this actually occurs once in a while. In 1970, California authorities discovered a child known as Genie who’d been isolated for most of her 13 years. She was pretty much still in an infant stage of development when they found her. I always thought that Genie’s story had some influence on “The Baby.”

This movie does go out of its way to be sensitive, but it winds up making some really fucked up stuff more accessible. Usually, movies of this nature are poorly made, either by virtue of incompetence or because someone is rushing to complete the project. "The Baby" is probably one of the most technically sound fucked up movies I have seen. The film also features strong performances from its cast, most notably from Ruth Roman, who absolutely slays in the role of Baby's mother, Mrs. Wadsworth.

Check out this bizarre clip:

Truly an odd batch of films to find tucked away in some obscure part of my home, and also strangely relevant to me. I can almost forgive the previous tenant for leaving a giant turd in the toilet when they moved out.