Monday, October 31, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY THIRTY-ONE: PHANTASM (EMBASSY HOME ENTERTAINMENT - 1979)

This movie is pretty much the ultimate male fantasy. Think about it. Your parents die and leave you a house full of guns. Nobody's around to nag you, so you don't have to go to school or work. All there is to do is just drink beer and work on your Hemicuda all day until Reggie the ice cream man shows up with his guitar so you can sing sweet jams on your porch. Fucking A.

I will be watching this one tonight while giving children cavities.



VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY THIRTY: CEMETERY MAN (FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT - 1994)

I don't know how the hell I managed this, but I still own the shitty VHS dub of this movie some dude in Chicago made for me off the Japanese LaserDisc release.

I remember when I first received this tape in the mail I was pretty reluctant to give it a chance. The guy who'd sent it to me was huge into spaghetti horror, much of which I have an aversion toward. Argento in particular is a guy I just don't really care for. That's a sin in certain circles, I know. I like SOME of his films, but the majority of them just don't seem very well thought out in terms of their script or plot. A movie like "Inferno" for instance is a complete visual feast. It's beautifully photographed and the production design is incredible. But other than that, what the fuck is going on? They look neat, but for the most part a lot of his films just bore the shit out of me. So, when my friend raved about any new Italian junk, I usually just humored him without actually checking the film out. I think the only reason I even bothered to give this one a chance was that I had seen Michele Soavi's previous effort "The Church," which I thought was impressive.

Within the first few minutes of "Dellamorte Dellamore," I realized what I was seeing was a very different sort of film. Sure, it was beautifully photographed, the production design looked great, and the effects were cool, but the film's overall attitude seemed a lot more ambitious than simply making the viewer nervous or queasy. This movie explores an entirely different kind of anxiety.

The story's central character, Franceso Dellamorte, is a complex one. Working as the caretaker of a small town cemetery, Dellamorte has found himself in the midst of an apparent epidemic of walking dead. However, this element of the story is played for satire as Dellamorte struggles with bureaucratic red tape when reporting the zombies. While it's often labeled a zombie film, the actual zombie component is more like a background wraparound segment for an anthology of stories about Dellamorte's struggles to maintain normal relationships while also growing increasingly dissatisfied with his lot in life. While this is more of an angsty human drama about our own insignificance in the scheme of things, there's still more than enough grim imagery, big fake titties, and bloody action to keep the average horror fan entertained. If Russ Meyer had done a zombie film, this might be what it would have been like in terms of substance. Totally jaded yet erotic.

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-NINE: POSSESSION (VESTRON VIDEO - 1989)

Obscure at this point, but once seen it's not easy to forget. A genuinely unsettling and unconventional horror film that everyone needs to experience at some point. SEE IT!

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-EIGHT: WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (COLUMBIA TRISTAR HOME VIDEO - 1979)

The first twenty minutes of this film are so powerful that the rest of the film is almost negligible by comparison. I've shown this film to numerous people over the years, and they almost always sort of lose interest after the prologue with Carol Kane as the babysitter in peril. Still, "When A Stranger Calls" is still a decent movie as a whole, but the height of tension we experience initially never quite peaks again, leaving the affair feeling kind of lopsided.

The infamous re-enactment of the urban myth which features a babysitter being harassed by eerie phone calls was initially shot as a stand-alone short film. Director Fred Walton received such positive responses for it that he decided to use the short to secure financing for the feature. What you see at the beginning is essentially the original short, with everything else just sort of tacked on. Still, the evolution of the Jill character as a woman who becomes stronger after her terrifying experience was refreshing even by today's standards.

Here's a teaser - format look familiar to you?


There was a sequel, "When A Stranger Calls Back," once again reuniting director Walton with Charles Durning and Carol Kane, but there's no moment that holds the same effectiveness as anything we see in the original film unfortunately. Still, it's enjoyable on some level to watch the John Clifford and Jill Johnson characters up against another adversary who recalls the bad guy from the original to some extent. That's probably the sequel's biggest set back. He's also a ventriloquist and performance artist who manipulates the senses of his victims, which is far more corny than it is actually frightening. It's better than your average straight-to-cable thriller from that period and worth seeing if you're a fan of the original film.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-SEVEN: STREET TRASH (LIGHTNING VIDEO - 1986)

So, yeah, I'm a few days behind. This should be entry 27, and I'm only making it on the 30th of October. I have long stood firm by my credo, "fuck salad," and my latest absence completely supports my previous beliefs. Earlier this week, I decided to start eating healthier in anticipation of rich bounty of holiday gluttony on the horizon. So, I went to the store, picked up some lettuce, and made myself a salad. Three days and twelve pounds later, I find out HEB (our regional grocery story here in Central Texas) had their lettuce recalled due to a salmonella outbreak. That's what I get for trying to be sensible. Anyway, I'll do my best to catch up.

Somewhat inspired by the struggle with my own violent bodily functions over, today's selection is the phenomenal "Street Trash." Zack Carlson, author of "Destroy All Movies," has aptly described this as being the ultimate Troma movie if Troma actually had their shit together. It's chaotic and huge but without ever calling itself out on its own cheapness. A lot of attempts at camp generally turn into a celebration of ineptitude, where the makers not only point out the figurative wires holding up the UFO but go out of their way to make SURE you see them. This film doesn't celebrate its own cheapness at all. While believably made for very little, it goes out of its way to stretch the parameters of its own womb without either snapping it or making visible protest about the narrow constraints.

The film's central characters are a bunch of foul urchins, or street trash, who've taken up residence in a junkyard. One adolescent bum seems to be developing a romance with the wrecking yard's bleeding heart secretary, which is really the closest thing to a true plot this thing has. The weirdest element is the prominent subplot involving a lethal brand of liquor called Viper which turns hobo bowels inside out in spectacular fashion. It's definitely the most memorable part of the movie, but does virtually nothing to really move the story forward, nor does it really impact any of the characters who matter. It's always outside of our periphery as a threat, though.

Director J. Michael Muro basically does here what a lot of total miscreant losers wish they could with their hyper-violent gross-out affairs, in that he manages to be as wretched as humanly possible without making a film that will make you sick. What you see is repulsive, though it rarely repulses you or makes you want to turn away. After all, if a tree falls in the woods and no one's around to hear it, then who gives a fuck, really? Here, Muro goes for the gullet but without ever crossing the edge that might turn people off or away. He uses both restraint as well as humor at inopportune points to create the most watchable fucked up movie ever made. It's also probably the dirtiest looking movie since the likes of "Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-SIX: THE FIRST POWER/SHOCKER (1990/1989)

Today I've selected two films with remarkably similar themes. Nutso serial killer gets apprehended, executed, and comes back more powerful than ever before thanks to a Satanic pact.

I saw "The First Power" during its original theatrical run and I absolutely loved it. I won't test any limbs by calling it amazing or anything, but it's definitely likable and merits repeated drunken viewings. The plot is pretty simple: Lou Diamond Phillips nabs a psychotic Night Stalker-style serial murderer who exits the gas chamber in a far more powerful form. The extent of the killer's powers are never fully revealed or explained, but it's fun watching La Bamba chase a super human satanist around LA. Fine-ass Tracy Griffith also plays Phillips' psychic side kick during the second half of the film. The next year Phillips followed up with a very underrated psychological horror film, "Ambition" - a must-see for fans of Clancy Brown. I recommend the two as a double feature.


I suspect that Wes Craven's "Shocker" was likely spawned from the remnants of his "A Nightmare On Elm Street 4" script, which apparently contained a time traveling through dreams theme. Nightmare producer Robert Shaye rejected the concept because he thinks you and I are too stupid to grasp something so convoluted. That's not a lie, either. Shaye apparently considered his audience too low brow to really appreciate a sequel of actual substance. What a dick.

Here lovable mush mouth Peter Berg stars as Jonathan Parker, a man plagued by realistic dreams of a killer terrorizing his small town. When the killer finally strikes too close to home, Parker uses his dream power to nab killer Horace Pinker - a suitable villain in the Freddy mold, gleefully portrayed by the fantastic Mitch Pileggi.

Horace's execution by electric chair doesn't exactly go off without a hitch. In fact, shortly after his death, it would appear that Horace is back and leaping from body to body to carry on his murderous activities.

Not sure why we never got a sequel, as Horace is an absolutely entertaining character that I am sure many would have loved to have seen return. At any rate, this is a far better film than that candy colored "Nightmare 4" piece of crap that ultimately wound up getting made.

Check out the wicked MCA logo at the beginning of this trailer! It should have been permanent!

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-FIVE: THE UNHOLY (VESTRON VIDEO - 1988)

Not a widely revered film, but I remember going to see this several times during the course of its run because I was so impressed by both the ample doses of mood, gore, and eroticism. I was also a huge fan of Ben Cross, who starred in one of the first films I was ever taken to the theater to see, "Chariots of Fire." In fact, the cast is very solid, also featuring Ned Beatty, Hal Holbrook, and Trevor Howard. Not sure why this film has never found more of an audience, but it left a strong impact on me and is one of those movies that made the year 1988 such a strong one for horror.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-FOUR: BRAIN DAMAGE (PARAMOUNT - 1988)

There are many janky flicks that promise log jams down the soupy canals of psychedelia, but Frank Henenlotter's "Brain Damage" is one of the few that actually feels like it was conceived on drugs. Brian is your average, dead-end dope who routinely gets his nuts treated like a door mat by his bitch girlfriend. But all that changes when he shacks up with a parasitic creature known simply as Aylmer. Not that the reality of his situation changes, but rather Aylmer has something that just makes Brian's life easier. Both have needs, and together they fulfill them. Aylmer requires a steady diet of brains. Meanwhile, Brian's life is a total bummer and he is in desperate need of an escape. Naturally, Brian provides henchman like services so that Aylmer can feed. In return, Aylmer hooks Brian up with a sweet and highly addictive narcotic that makes all the bullshit not matter. Really, in much the same tradition of Henenlotter's fantastic "Basket Case," this is a buddy picture. In fact, the artistically versatile Kevin Van Hentenryck even makes a brief cameo as Duane Bradley at one point. Truly, this is a film for all holidays. See it. Study it. Obey it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-THREE: THE CAR (ANCHOR BAY - 1977)

I was up at the crack of dawn yesterday and didn't get home until past midnight, so technically I did miss a day. In my head, two posts in one day will be a sufficient act of contrition.

This movie has a lot of illogical and unintentionally hilarious moments, but "The Car" has haunted me since childhood, and I absolutely love it. I think it also probably planted the seed which spawned my mighty hatred for cyclists. Every time I see some Lance Armstrong dickhead riding in the middle of a lane, just struggling to keep up and creating a traffic jam, I hear the far off call of the Car's horn from this movie.

The plot is ridiculously simple: a car that is seemingly possessed terrorizes a town's roads by heroically running over losers. That's about it. Everything bends to suit the concept, so at times the movie feels dream like. There is one amazing sequence when the car is stalking a woman who runs into her house to dial the police. The car then RAMPS through her house, killing her, and bursts through the back, landing on another road... as if the house were somehow constructed in the middle of a highway or something. Completely bizarre and hilarious. But still, it's effective and really fun. Trespasses forgiven.

People always ask me if I could remake a movie, what would it be. The idea of remakes is always kind of pointless to me unless you're going to actually improve on something. While I think this movie works overall, I always say I would remake this movie simply so that I could film the book's finale as written in the movie's novelization.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-TWO: THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK

Super short on time today, so I'll have to keep this brief. I'm a big fan of Charles B. Pierce, and in fact I believe him to be one of the most distinct American directors of all time. I was probably five the first time I saw "The Legend of Boggy Creek," and I was genuinely creeped out by it at the time. Several decades later, and I still remain fond toward this little film even though I view it as being purely campy now. The film is sort of a pseudo-documentary about a Bigfoot-like creature in Fouke, Arkansas. Presenting its case for the existence of the monster through a mixture of documentary footage and dramatizations, this movie undoubtedly had a profound impact on television, and probably inspired the Leonard Nimoy narrated "In Search Of..." program as well as "Unsolved Mysteries."


Two crumby but fun sequels followed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY-ONE: 976-EVIL (RCA HOME VIDEO - 1988)

So, this is what Stephen Geoffreys did instead of reprising the beloved Evil Ed role for "Fright Night 2." Even though I really love this movie, I'm still not sure it was the right career decision. Some of you may or may not know that Geoffreys later went on to star in a number of gay pornographic films, and I've also heard numerous stories regarding drug problems which probably helped propel his downward spiral. I'm no authority on the guy's life, but part of me believes that the Ed character had become iconic enough even at that point to have sustained a legitimate career through a potential franchise. I also think that a lot of people really WANTED to see Ed come back for the sequel, and the majority of fans were put off by his lack of involvement. I can't for certain say what would have been, but I can't help but think that both the "Fright Night" sequel AND Stephen Geoffreys would have been better off together. Nevertheless, I really appreciate Geoffreys' desire to work with Robert Englund, who directed this film. Geoffreys has stated that this was his primary motivation for wanting to do this film. I often get the impression that very few actors who work within this genre are actually excited about it, so this is a refreshing piece of trivia that makes me love Geoffreys even more.

The film follows a bullied nerd Hoax (Geoffreys) who develops a Faustian relationship with a voice on the other end of a 976 number. Hoax's frustration builds as he's rejected by his cousin and idol Spike, embarrassed in front of his crush by the creeps who routinely shove his head in the toilet, and berated by his fundamentalist nut of a mother. Vulnerable and isolated, Hoax grows more dependent upon a 976 "horrorscope" number, which helps him enact his revenge against his abusers. But vengeance has a price, and soon Hoax finds himself a host to a higher power. The plot is similar in nature to the 1986 film "Trick Or Treat," except here our protagonist winds up too far down the rabbit hole to turn back.

Geoffreys is a genuinely unique actor and the real treat here. Not only is he legitimately funny at times, but he manages to seem both sympathetic and lovable while maintaining this weird brown bag pervert aura. He's creepy and yet completely lovable at the same time, and I honestly don't think any actor has ever been able to accomplish something like that. Even once he's made his transformation you still feel a certain sadness for the character. You want him to be okay even though he's made some horrible decisions and been totally corrupted by power. He still manages to let a little bit of the Hoax you love shine through the hideous cracks. Geoffreys is a one-of-a-kind who deserves praise for and recognition for his main stream work. It's a shame things didn't turn out differently.

Beyond several great performances, the overall mood, production design, and photography are distinctly strong for a film of this scale. This was an admirable directorial debut, and leaves me to wonder why Englund didn't do more, as he proved to be far more capable than many of the other directors he's worked with over the years.


Douchebag Cousin Spike returns for a bullshit sequel that's hardly worth seeing. A lot of people who peruse my collection are often surprised to see this title and request to watch it out of an affinity toward the original. While I do possess this tape, I will never in good conscience allow it to be screened. Seriously, it would take a keg to impair my judgement on the matter.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWENTY: THE BROOD (NELSON ENTERTAINMENT - 1979)

I would lament to count the numerous occasions where some dipshit with an ironic mustache has ambled up to me at a bar and said, "so, I hear you like movies. I like Lynch and Cronenberg." And then when I ask if they've seen "The Brood" they furrow their brow and say, "no, who did that one?"

Cronenberg is a name that a lot of hipster cinema twerps have latched onto because it has cult value. Few of these people have actually seen anything he's done outside of "Videodrome," though, and they probably only saw that because James Woods name-dropped it on "Family Guy" or some bullshit. I can't stand these Romulan assholes.

I can't really go too in depth with respect to this film's plot without ruining it. This is a ride that unfolds as it goes along. I can tell you this much: like all good horror, it's powered by the vein of satire. Most likely conceived of at the height of new ageism and self help philosophy, the story focuses on the dangers of modern guru type characters and just how harmful their tampering can be. Basically, it's a big middle finger to that whole fad, portraying it as actually being unintentionally hilarious at times. The film stars Oliver Reed -- always the ear mark of quality and intensity.

My advice, see it, but go in fresh. Avoid reading anything extensive about it. The payoff will be well worth it. Truly a great horror film.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY NINETEEN: THE BEYOND (ANCHOR BAY - 1981)

People are generally surprised when I tell them that I am not a huge fan of gore. It's not that I'm squeamish, but typically the gratuity of the blood and guts you see in a lot of Italian horror bores the hell out of me. I've always preferred films that work hard to achieve an overall vibe over gross out moments. While Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond" has its fair share of visceral moments, it's absolutely one of the most outstanding mood pieces of all time. While some folks are timid about approaching Fulci's work out of consideration for their gag reflex, I will wholeheartedly recommend this experience. Gross at times, yes, but overall, this is a stunning movie.

Today's entry is by Matt Clark of Chicago indie label Tic Tac Totally records. We typically butt heads on what constitutes good, but this is one we can completely agree on.

There's good reason Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond" garners almost unanimous high praise. As an "Italian Horror" entry, it pretty much summarizes everything to be loved about this sub-genre. You have the trademark Fulci atmospheric tension, heavy-handed visuals and stylistic gore. But "The Beyond" moves… yes… beyond those wonderful but easy trappings. While Dario Argento (as much as I love him) was focusing pretty much solely on producing vivid color schemes and impressive set pieces for "Inferno," Fulci's 1981 masterpiece "The Beyond" conjures that same lucid delirium, that same atmospheric world that's so fucking thick you can drill into it, WITHOUT sacrificing a good story or character development. This is one of the keystone films in "Italian Horror" that encompasses the best of both schools. Standing on a set of legs owed to its "art film" looks, there is also an enveloping world within it which induces deep psychological terror and spiritual vertigo. Fulci's patent hell ultimately fries the mind's eye by blending time, space, the real, and the unreal together.

Fulci-fave Katherine MacColl stars in the female lead (which plays similarly to her role in Fulci's other supernatural thriller about a house, "The House By the Cemetery") as Liza Merril, who inherits a run down Louisiana hotel, which of course she aims to renovate. However, the hotel sits on one of the seven gates of hell (unbeknownst to Liza at this point). As she begins restoration on the property, an imminent crescendo of hauntings begin to swell from the simple, unexplained buzzer to full blown zombie infestation. All done with hardly a seam showing in it's fabric, and fully transferring you, as viewer, into Fulci's unreality. I'm telling you, the man is a fucking artist. This film in fact draws the best of all of Fulci's work together both stylistically and thematically. It's filled with the atmospheric tension and colored drama of "City of the Living Dead," it has the psychedelics of "Lizard In A Woman's Skin," and the surface of the story cops (but easily trumps!) "The House By the Cemetery." There are also wonderful bits of gore, and an interesting recurrence of the "salem witch revenge" theme, which was also explored in "City of the Living Dead" (film opens with townsfolk cornering and murdering a "warlock" who tries to warn them of the house's powers…of course things go south from there!).

Liza and Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck) ultimately end up thoroughly transplanted into an unknown world. The whole nightmarish opus unfolds like a Matryoshka doll. You can clearly see why he thought of this as an "art" film. He presents a microcosm that ultimately fucks up space, time, and everything else "motion pictures" are made of. The end of the film is often cited as typical Lucio Fulci confusion and/or a disjointed mess of an ending, but I would totally disagree. Its ending is embedded in it's beginning. It comes full circle, albeit in a fully unpleasant way! All in all, I think it's really a beautiful vision, and leaves you with a lot to think about. Certainly at the very least Fulci gives us an alternative vision of hell to ponder and draws on powerful and original imagery. Fully recommended viewing by almost anyone you'll encounter and one of the director's finest. If you haven't checked this out, you're missing a real ruby here. Get on it.

Trailer courtesy The Ramis.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY EIGHTEEN: THE MUMMY'S SHROUD (ANCHOR BAY - 1971)/FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (ANCHOR BAY - 1967)

Today's entry wipes out an entire nest with one stone. With both "The Mummy's Shroud" and "Frankenstein Created Woman" I get my Hammer flick out of the way, but I also get a mummy flick AND a Frankenstein flick in there, too.


"Frankenstein Created Woman" is one of the better sequels within the Hammer Frankenstein franchise. The doctor is once again up to his strange experimentation, and this time he's playing around with soul transference. I might be off on my recollection of the plot, but I remember Frankenstein's lab assistant being framed for a murder and then being executed. The disfigured daughter of the murder victim is also in love with the lab assistant, and winds up drowning herself out of grief. Frankenstein manages to bring her back to life, but additionally he fixes her face and puts her lover's soul in her body. So, once revived, not only if she fine as hell, but she has the raging soul of her boyfriend in her ribcage, and he's craving vengeance against the upper crust dickheads who got him beheaded.

Interestingly, I had read numerous times that Playboy Playmate Susan Denberg, the woman who plays this film's "monster," had committed suicide. Apparently this is only a myth. I don't mean to sound like a morbid prick, but the knowledge that Denberg would go on to kill herself after playing a character that took her own life always gave this film a much darker feel. From her IMDb page:

After becoming immersed in the 60s high life of drugs and sex, Denberg left show business and returned to Austria. News interviews at the time show a depressed Denberg in the company of her mother, at home in Klagenfurt. These news items, repeated in fan periodicals for years, gave the impression Denberg was suicidal or had already died. Actually, she is still alive.

Either way, bitch was fine in this movie. Most probably best remember her as one of Mudd's girls on the original Star Trek. As for "The Mummy's Shroud,"I've always been intrigued by the mummy concept, and I'm a little surprise no one's done an update outside of that recent awful Universal franchise. Now a days, zombies sprint like they got breaded in angel dust. Can't we get a pissed off Pharaoh with a spring in his step? The idea of a running mummy kind of scares the shit out of me. I don't have much else to say other than I always thought that the mummy design in this particular movie was awesome looking. Otherwise, it's pretty standard fair, but nevertheless done well.

Monday, October 17, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY SEVENTEEN: WARLOCK (VIDMARK - 1989)

I love this movie so much that I even shelled out a ridiculous amount of money for the horrible tie-in game for Sega Genesis. Bet ya didn't know there was a "Warlock" game for Genesis, did ya? Well, very few people did. But rest assured it wasn't very good.

This is yet another fish-out-of-water horror flick, featuring a Warlock who barely escapes his public burning via time travel porthole which hurls him three hundred years into the future. Unfortunately, Redfern, the daring and gamy witch hunter, leaps into the mystical maelstrom after him. Once the Warlock lands in modern day Los Angeles, he receives orders from a possessed Mary Woronov to assemble the Devil's grimoire, which has been broken up into several individual pieces. The completed book contains the true name of god, and if uttered backward will undo all of god's creation. While this movie definitely rules, I always thought that was the dumbest shit ever, unless Satan himself is a suicidal numb skull who just wants to end it all. At any rate, modern girl Lori Singer (Footloose) winds up being hexed after a brush with the Warlock, which makes her age very quickly. The curse is called REALITY. This forces her to team up with Redfern to hunt down the Warlock so she can be restored.

Bottom line, this movie is all about Julian Sands. The guy is value added to whatever piece of shit he happens to be in. He doesn't always necessarily save the movies he's in, but anytime he's on screen it's always going to be automatically watchable. Sands is truly an underrated modern great. Someone needs to dust this guy off.


They made two sequels, both of which bummed me out.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY SIXTEEN: IT! (WARNER HOME VIDEO - 1966)

I'm actually there haven't been any recent films based on the Golem myth. Though now that I've said this I'm sure one will be announced any day now, because I am just that paranoid and arrogant. This particular movie was shot in 1966, and it makes the most of a contemporary setting. This is almost a fish-out-of-water horror flick, and there simply aren't enough genre films styled after "Encino Man" if you ask me. Seriously though, can't someone do a decent budget film where a Golem protects a deli from Neo Nazis in a shitty neighborhood?

In "It!," the irresistible Roddy McDowall plays the conflicted Arthur Pimm, who finds himself in control of an ancient, indestructible statue of mystical Jewish origin. Pimm is initially a somewhat awkward and likable character, but once bestowed with control over the incredibly powerful Golem he starts to lose it a little. This is a surprisingly well made film from Herbert Leder, the man behind such films as "The Frozen Dead," "The Candy Man," and the ball-crushingly terrible "Doomsday Machine." Not sure what happened here, but this is much better than any of his other efforts. This is a well-shot, character-driven British horror flick with ample mod flavor that compels from start to finish. Well worth your time.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY FIFTEEN: THE EXORCIST III (WARNER HOME VIDEO - 1990)

Not only is "The Exorcist III" one of my favorite horror films of all time, but I also happen to think it's far better than the original film. While it's not perfect, the moments that do work are so profoundly good that it's easy to forgive all the elements the studio stupidly shoe-horned into the final cut.

The story takes place many years after father Damien Karras took that fatal tumble down that iconic stairwell following the exorcism of Regan MacNeil. Karras's old friend Detective Kinderman, played by the phenomenal George C Scott, is the central character of this sequel. The basic plot follows Kinderman as he investigates a series of familiar serial murders which suggest that the Gemini Killer is back on the streets. However, Kinderman actually made sure the creep was dead seventeen years ago. At the same time, a patient at the local sanitarium has awoken from his vegetative state with details pertaining to the killings and demands to see Kinderman. Once in Patient X's company, the detective can't help but notice that he not only resembles the original Gemini Killer, but he also at times reminds him of his friend Father Karras.

It is no great secret that it is Brad Dourif who absolutely steals the show with his intense performance as Patient X, the man at the center of all the grizzly goings on. Initially, it was solely Brad Dourif in the role, but at the oppressive whim of the studio, scenes of Jason Miller as the Patient X character were shot in order to provide a more obvious connection to the original film. Given the actual story line and Patient X's true identity, it actually wasn't a bad idea. Unfortunately, a lot of the other changes didn't exactly help the film.

Primarily, Blatty wanted to use the "Legion" title for the film. He made many attempts to keep them from using the numeral III, mainly because he wanted to distance the picture from the abominable "Exorcist II." The studio was insistent upon the use of "Exorcist" in the title, which Blatty eventually had to relent on. Unfortunately, it provided one significant problem: the movie originally contained no exorcism. So, of course, the studio blew a bunch of money on additional scenes which built up to an exorcism. Strangely, the original story has Patient X simply dying in his sleep as I recall, which would seem anti climatic. However, I think the studio's fix is way more of a let down. It's a total crown of cheese atop an otherwise dignified brow. Beyond that, if you want to be anal about the argument, the movie was titled "The Exorcist," and considering the presence of the Karras character to some extent, they actually DID have an exorcist in the film.

Despite the tampering, this movie is otherwise brimming with atmosphere, snappy dialog, electrifying performances, and also features Patrick Ewing and Fabio as angels!

A bunch of stupid assholes have forbade embedding on their "Exorcist III" trailers on youtube, though they have no formal affiliation with the production. However, I did find this excellent teaser that was never used which features an awesome logo for the movie. Thanks to DarenDoc.

Friday, October 14, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY FOURTEEN: "THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE" TRILOGY (1982 - 1990)

Today's entry is going to have to be short and sweet. I got hit by a pile of work. To make up for it in my brain I figured I'd do a triple-shot on "The Slumber Party Massacre" trilogy.

The original "Slumber Party Massacre" is a lot more complex than most might give it credit for being. It was written as a total satire, but shot like a straight horror film. It has quite a few feminist nods throughout, and it's a funny film, but still a very effective mood piece at the same time. Altogether, it's a super fun movie that most people overlook as cliche'd drek. It's actually far better than most films of this nature though. Also has a GREAT score and Brinke Stevens!


Written and directed by Deborah Brock, "Slumber Party Massacre II" is a direct sequel to the original film, featuring the sibling of one of the first film's main characters. It's also completely fucking insane. It's hard to extract exactly what's going on here, but it's an incredibly fun ride. Some all-girl band gets together in a suburban house, with the sister of one of the survivors of the first film among them. Eventually, a leather-clad Ricky Nelson type killer toting a sick guitar with a drill bit powered by shredding emerges to terrorize and bump the girls off in typical slasher fashion. We sort of get the impression that the killer is a figment of the main character's imagination, and yet he seems to do real harm. It's utterly nonsensical, but completely unforgettable at the same time. The trailer makes the film seem much cornier than it actually is.


I own a copy of "Slumber Party Massacre III", though I have never actually seen it. Sacrilege, I know. This doesn't appear to have any formal connection to the other two films. In fact, it appears to be something of a remake of the first film. I've heard mostly positive things about this movie. One of the coolest things about this production is that it continues the trend of featuring script and direction by women.



Thursday, October 13, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY THIRTEEN: CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (VCI - 1973)

I once spent over two hours talking about this movie with Rob Zombie in a Los Angeles hotel when I was 15. True story.

If you're paying attention, you realize at this point that I will allow a great deal of amnesty toward a movie for low production value if they somehow manage to evoke an atmosphere with whatever ingredients they've been afforded. Bob Clark's "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things" was made for a meager 70k, which would prove an agonizing task for most. Part of me thinks if this film had any more money than it did though, it might not be what it is. Sometimes, I think cheapness lends a grit that can help movies of this nature feel more effective. They also tend to feel more spirited. I think it's mainly because the people involved sure as hell aren't there for the paycheck. They're doing it because they're passionate about the project, and that really shines through. It's what truly gives something a soul and probably explains why low budget films garner cult followers.

This is probably one of my favorite zombie films, and in fact when I think of zombies, the image of lead corpse Orville is what comes to mind. The situation is familiar, but it is the characters - a bunch of eccentric college thespian types - who keep it fresh.

So, a bunch of pretentious theater assholes land on a rustic island replete with cemetery where they throw some Warholian rehearsal party, resulting in sacrilege and desecration. They also dig up a body, too. They tow the body back to the house where they're all staying, name it Orville, and proceed to have a party for it, which yields some pretty evocative imagery that should hang with you for a while. It's not so much gruesome as it is morbid. Eventually, the dead have had enough disgrace and rise from the earth to seek retribution against their trespassers.

It's pretty typical stuff, but like I said, the characters are fantastic and seldom likable, and the filmmakers manage to develop enough sympathy for Orville that you're really cheering for him once he's gunning for the living characters, who seem more like antagonists as they abuse and degrade the dead. In fact, they all pretty much have what's coming to them. Not in the sense that the characters are so one-dimensional and stupid that you want the guy with the axe to just get them off your screen. In fact, the characters are all very well written and acted, with one of the supreme highlights being Alan Ormsby's (also the film's writer) performance as the leader of the asshole pack. While this film has been routinely assailed for its bad acting and writing, these detractors are completely missing the satire of it all. The characters in this film aren't actually meant to be taken seriously as victims. In fact, they are a contemptuous skewering of the high brow "art fags" one routinely encounters in the world of art. These people take themselves way too seriously to respect anybody who isn't them, so there is definitely a great deal of satisfaction taken by the filmmakers in ripping them limb from limb.

The film was directed by Bob Clark, who also gave us "Black Christmas," the first two "Porky's," films, as well as "A Christmas Story." Check out the trailer, courtesy some asshole with no taste.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TWELVE: THOU SHALT NOT KILL... EXCEPT (STARMAKERS -1985)

I first learned about this movie while watching an episode of Jonathan Ross's "Incredibly Strange Film Show," which profiled the career of Sam Raimi. It's actually not a Raimi film, though he stars in it as the rotten toothed leader of a hippie death cult that's marauding a backwoods country side. It was years before I found a VHS copy of this movie, and a little longer before I watched it. Frankly, I only bought it because it had Raimi in the role of the villain. I was skeptical going in, but within mere minutes I was fuckin blown away. I'm not gonna lie to you good people, shoe string would be far too generous a descriptor when it comes to production value. But never mind the scant budget, "Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except" is a wildly entertaining film, and a testament to director Josh Becker's ingenuity. Filmmakers routinely fail in spite of having millions of dollars in their pockets on a regular basis. Still, to succeed with a remarkable budget has never impressed me as much as someone who succeeds with nothing. Becker has eternally earned my respect with this particular movie.

After Jack Stryker gets turned gimp by a Vietcong bullet, he returns to his rural home to resume his life and the romance he'd been drafted away from. In the background, the country side has been seized by a nihilistic, Manson-esque cult of hippies on a thrill kill spree. At the same time, Stryker's old army buddies are on their way for a surprise visit. Eventually, these extensions of the establishment collide with the counter culture spree killers in a wildly entertaining finale that truly explores the concept of insult to injury.

Stryker's war buddies and their relationships with one another are both dynamic and realistic for this type of film. In fact, they are not straight good guys, but rather shades of grey. The horrors of war have warped them into complete degenerates who could never possibly be model citizens. In fact, if this were a different sort of film they could very well wind up being the villains. However, Becker has actually given the returning heroes a real threat to dismember: flower children.

The characters, their relationships, and the politics of the situation elevate it beyond its budgetary constraints to make for a compelling film, intellectually. Yeah, I said it, this is actually a very smart film. Its wit is only augmented by the satisfying wave of violence it builds toward. As I said, this is really a study of insult to injury, and it's so gratifying. Not only do people get mauled, but each death is punctuated with a violent icing that's almost hilarious because it is so excessive. Seriously, I could probably write several chapters on how profound and amazing this movie is, but really, you just need to treat yourself to this viewing experience. Find a VHS copy, or order it directly from Becker's site. You'd probably be better just ordering the DVD unless you can find a Prism copy though, as the Starmakers release is pretty rough.

Trailer courtesy DeaditeVideos.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY ELEVEN: FRIGHT NIGHT (RCA HOME VIDEO - 1985)

Considering the phenomenal success of the "Twilight" franchise, I understand why this film got remade. In fact, the idea of a "Fright Night" remake had been floating around for some time. Several years ago, I groaned when I was told that the remake script had something to do with teens stranded in a carnival funhouse fighting vampires. Thank god that never came to fruition. There was even some rumbling that Sony was going to produce a "Fright Night" TV show closely patterned after the two original films. There was hope of striking gold with a "Buffy" for boys. But once again, there were some key elements in the way. And then the 2011 remake got off the ground. Like always, the people behind this "re-imagining" just didn't have a keen understanding of their source material's bones. While the original movie stands as an effective horror film, there are numerous tribunal nods which pay tribute to vampire cinema. It is a smart and well-studied homage. The film's antagonist Jerry Dandrige is shades of Barnabas Collins, having just recently surfaced in a run down Victorian home just next door. And much like Collins had a Cerberus-like familiar in Willie Loomis, Dandrige has Billy Cole. Then there is Peter Vincent, whose name and character are both an amalgam of horror stars Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Our hero, the horror film obsessed Charley Brewster, played by William Ragsdale, even bare resemblance to Roman Polanski's bumbling, love-struck Alfred from "The Fearless Vampire Killers." Brewster's best friend Evil Ed even falls into the Renfield role. There are numerous other references to the cinema of the blood sucker, which is a tremendous part of this movies appeal. Probably 98% of the original "Fright Night"'s purpose was lost on the producers of the remake, so what they wound up with was a very shallow and direct retelling of the original film with some pointless alterations that add nothing to the proceedings. They do go to the trouble of retaining the actual "Fright Night" title font, because they want to assure people that there is some connection to the original film. However, what Hollywood continually fails to realize is that the original film's cult following sees these re-imaginings as entirely blasphemous. The very concept of a remake alienates the core fanbase because it is seen as tampering with something that is nearly perfect to begin with. And if you're going to go to such extreme lengths to maintain the identity of the original films, why not just make a sequel? Seriously, they couldn't just trot out Ragsdale as a dad and pit his kid up against a similar threat?

At any rate, this film has actually aged remarkably well, though I have seen some people call it dated. Not exactly sure why or how. Some people say it's corny, but a lot of it is intended to be sort of campy as it is largely a tribute to an era of horror that was bygone at that point. Besides, it has Sparks on the soundtrack, so it automatically wins forever.


The plot: Charley Brewster suspects his neighbor Jerry Dandrige is up to no good when he recognizes the photo of a murdered prostitute on a local news report as the woman he saw next door. So, naturally Charley gets nosy and while spying discovers his neighbor is actually an unholy bloodsucker. Interestingly, Dandrige initially tries to reason with the teen, but Charley is far too terrified to consider his proposal. Naturally, this leaves Dandrige with only one choice: to silence Charley forever. The story's great twist occurs when Charley approaches Peter Vincent, a washed-up horror star who hosts the late night television show "Fright Night," which incidentally has just been canceled due to the declining interest in more traditional horror. Vincent utters a great line about how the new generation prefers killers in ski masks hacking up young virgins. But not Charley. Charley believes in vampires. In fact, there's one living next door to him, and he needs Vincent's help to kill him. Charley comes off as pretty delusional, which scares Vincent away. Charley's friends, Amy and Evil Ed grow more concerned that he's experiencing some sort of break down, and so they approach the destitute Vincent with cash and arrange a fake test where Vincent will prove that Dandrige is not a vampire in front of Charley. Unfortunately, things don't go quite like they planned, and soon Charley and his friends are running for their lives.

Virtually everything about this movie continues to work. The script and direction by the uber-talented Tom Holland are top notch. The effects are strong. The photography in particular is beautiful. Each member of the cast is an absolute jewel to boot. Roddy McDowall as horror host Peter Vincent demonstrates a fairly wide range, from hilariously self-obsessed to terrified and eventually confident in his identity as a true vampire killer. Chris Sarandon is absolutely magnetic and likable as Dandrige. However, Stephen Geoffreys as the immortal Evil Ed might just turn in the most memorable performance of the lot.

Trailer courtesy FoundFootageHorror.

Monday, October 10, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY TEN: THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (VCI - 1978)

I first became aware of this film via an old copy of "Kingdom of the Spiders," which contained a slew of trailers after the credits. The preview for this is absolute gold, which actually made me a little wary of seeing it. So often, I'll find great trailers for obscure horror films, then go to the effort and much cost to track it down, and then I am ultimately let down because the preview just boiled it down to the finer parts. And while "The Toolbox Murders" trailer kicks massive amounts of ass and features ample nudity and violence, and I am happy to report that all you see here is merely the tip of a monstrous iceberg.

I've seen people say some really downright stupid things about this movie. Primarily, any allusion to the fact that this is your run-of-the-mill slasher is the most fucking retarded things you will ever be told about any movie. There is absolutely nothing common about the movie. In fact, this thing verges on high art. Sure, you have a masked killer with a gimmick bumping off broads, but the elements which surround the violence make for a downright bizarre collage. In particular, the editing and the music during the bath tub masturbation scene which prefaces one of the killings is absolutely stellar.

I actually try to show this movie to as many people as I can, an I'm often met with a complete lack of enthusiasm. Once it gets rolling however, people are absolutely riveted. One of the main reasons is the incredible performance by Cameron Mitchell. Anyone who sees this film will become acutely aware of this man as an intense force. In fact, after experiencing this movie I'd go out of my way to see anything the guy did, no matter how low budget the production. Mitchell was one of those guys who, no matter how shitty the movie he was in may have been, put 200% of himself forward. Nowhere is it more apparent than in this film.

They say this was based on a true story, and I really hope it was, but I've never been able to find any evidence of that being true. Nevertheless, the story and the motivations of the characters certainly smack of something that could have been true. In all, this movie is far from typical. Yes, it's sleazy, but the moments with the younger characters actually feel like something out of an episode of the Partridge family. Anything featuring "an innocent" feels completely white washed, and the contrast between those moments and the more gruesome scenes is enjoyably jarring. The acting itself is way above par for a film of this nature. In fact, EVERYBODY in this film turns in a solid performance. This is top-to-bottom entertaining and well worth seeking out.

Tobe Hooper remade this film several years ago, and though I have yet to see it, it doesn't seem to share many similarities with the original based on what I've read. It gets high marks, but I remain skeptical.

Like I said, the trailer has nudity, so don't watch it if you work around a bunch of uptight squares.


And yeah, I know, the box isn't VCI. Eat a dick, I'm tired.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY NINE: SSSSSSS (MCA UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO - 1973)

I think one of the things that made me a horror fan was being compelled to find a film that could actually truly frighten me. Very few people's egos will permit them to admit that they've been controlled by something as trivial as a film, particularly when it comes to horror. To say you've experienced a sense of dread or fear during a horror flick is to admit that you've been controlled and manipulated. No one wants to cop to the fact that they're powerless to something. Horror is incredibly pornographic in nature, in that it provokes a response from the viewer through intense and explicit imagery. In fact, that's precisely what pornography is. It does not strictly refer to graphic depictions of sexual acts. Anything that is of an extreme nature that provokes a physical response is pornographic. News footage of some idiot getting his head lopped off by middle Eastern zealots might make some folks sick, while secretly others might be titillated. Deep down, we're all fascinated by mortality, and so each and every one of us has some interest in morbid imagery or subject matter. On some level of consciousness, each and every one of us is interested in gruesome things because they are both possible and inevitable. Horror stimulates; it quickens pulses. A genuinely thrilling film can bring about a sense of euphoria afterward that can be addicting in much the same way thrill seekers are addicted to an adrenaline rush. There's absolutely nothing sick about it. In fact, these experiences are healthy. A great horror film plays on the audience's sense of empathy toward the characters getting run through a ringer on screen. Certainly there are movies that feed their shallow protagonists to villains like Christians to lions, but GOOD horror films invest in great characterization and give you the opportunity to empathize and even occasionally experience victory over the odds.

There are mountains of garbage horror movies made by low brow delinquent types who don't understand the psychology behind this genre or what makes these films work. In fact, very few writers or directors actually "get it," and even it's even more rare when you get a pairing of the two that both do. When those elements align, though, they can create a gratifying experience. Even if it's just one moment that bothers you or jolts you a little, it's a miraculous achievement on their part.

I've been rattled and creeped out by very few films throughout my life time, but when it happens, I'll commend the effort. One of the first movies to really shake the hell out of me was "Sssssss." Granted, I first experienced this movie as a little kid, but the experience was profound enough to haunt my memory for years to come. Overall, the movie effectively weaves a mood of its own, but what really scared the shit out of me was the imagery at the end of the film when they reveal the half-man half-snake hybrid. The first time I saw that I ran out of the room. After that, I was routinely teased by my family, who'd remind me of the Dirk Benedict snake man at really inopportune times. Decades later, the movie doesn't hold the same impact that it once did, but it's still a very entertaining and well-made film. In fact, it's relatively tame but still manages to be a strong little mood piece. For parents seeking films to watch with young ones around this time of year, I would whole heartedly recommend it.

The plot is simple, and leans more toward nuclear fifties sci-fi. Benedict plays David Blake, a student who gets a job at a serpentarium, assisting a doctor who's performing radical research on snakes. Blake eventually becomes a part of the doctor's experiments when he begins receiving dubious injections which lead to some pretty severe life changes. All this is complicated by a brewing romance between Blake and the doctor's daughter. It might not unnerve you, but it is at least a fun ride. Worth seeking out.

Trailer courtesy mgoddard23.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY EIGHT: I BURY THE LIVING (GOOD TIMES HOME VIDEO - 1957)

When I was a kid, the easiest way to get a hold of obscure bullshit movies that weren't on local video store shelves was through bootlegger catalogs. In the back of almost any horror magazine you could find ads for vendors who, for a few bucks and a self-addressed/stamped envelope, would open your mind up to some of the sleaziest and most obscure stuff imaginable. This was actually how I discovered Scorched Earth Production, who were responsible for films such as "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend" as well as "The Hitler Tapes." While torrents have long since replaced the whole tape trading phenomenon, not even its convenience touches what you used to be able to uncover out there. If anything, torrents really don't provide a home for obscure, depraved stuff. Very rarely will you find something amazing out there. And beyond that, there's a great deal to be said for what you derive from basic human interaction. I owe a huge part of my knowledge to the pen pals and video store jerks I associated with as a teenager. There is less a sense of community now amongst people who are into cult film than there was when I was a kid. Perhaps the internet has made people less friendly because they don't necessarily have to depend on other people to learn stuff. Now, you can do it quickly and anonymously. For instance, there are hordes of dudes doing blogs on cool, obscure film. However, there's not really a network or camaraderie between any of these people. Years ago, it seemed to me like people were more eager to know they weren't alone in their weirdo interests.

The first catalog I ever got was from a guy in Chicago who mainly bootlegged stuff on VHS from laserdiscs and specialized in Hong Kong action, Hammer films, and fucked up Italian gore. I developed a friendship with the guy, and spoke with him regularly over the phone, and I got turned onto a lot of fantastic films thanks to him. I was regularly sending in my money in exchange for decent dubs, which quickly expanded my knowledge of cult and Asian film in particular. Anyway, it was through this guy that I discovered "I Bury The Living." I still have the dub this guy made me back in the early 90s, and surprisingly it's probably better looking than the official copy I have. Or maybe that's not so surprising, considering that my legit copy is from Good Times. I remember I'd seen this film mentioned in old reference books, and it was always regarded as a quaint though obscure gem with some solid performances. After I saw it, it became one of my favorite films to dub onto the tapes I was trading with friends, and the general consensus between my friends and I was that this was a fun little film that was oozing with atmosphere. Looking up movies I love before I posted them has become an unfortunate process. I'm always curious to read what people have to say, and as usual when I looked "I Bury the Living" I saw the usual absurd barrage of complaints regarding plot holes. Someone even called the film unrealistic. I think the concept of cinema as a form of escape is lost on so many people. If your goal is to actually find a movie that is true to the tone of your ordinary life, then why even bother? Why pay twenty bucks to endure something that strives to be mundane? I can go sit on my couch and talk to my roommate for free.

No, this film is not realistic, and yes it has some very obvious problems with the plot. However, for its time and budget, it manages to achieve a ridiculous amount of mood. This movie definitely haunted feel in spite of its flaws, which is something that you can't necessarily achieve even if you have a fool proof script or a larger budget. All criticisms of this charming little production must come from people without a soul, who are therefore illiterate when it comes to perceiving spirit.

The story revolves around Robert Kraft, who has been named the new director of a cemetery. The bulk of the story revolves around a detailed map of the grounds, with all of its plots. The occupied graves an crypts are marked by black pins, while the empty graves are marked with white pens. When Kraft accidentally marks a pre-bought plot with a black pen, the owners go from living to dead. But was this just a coincidence? Kraft, who is well-played by Richard Boone, is a completely fascinating character - a rational man perturbed by the scenario. Not inclined to believe in superstition, and if it isn't a coincidence, there becomes an issue of holding the power of life and death over the people who've pre-purchased their graves. There are a few twists and turns along the way, some of which don't make total sense, but the performances, the setting, and the production are all so charming that it makes these issues both minor and completely forgivable. Well worth seeking out on a dark and stormy night.

Trailer courtesy of GrindHouseFan.

Friday, October 7, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY SEVEN: IT'S ALIVE (WARNER HOME VIDEO - 1974)

Honestly, a large chunk of these thirty-one entries should probably be dedicated to the films of Larry Cohen. I'm always completely floored by so much of what this guy accomplished as a writer. Not only was he prolific, but he's one of the few guys who understood how to take a fantastic subject and make it feel plausible. The films for which he is known best for contain elements which when summarized sound almost too absurd to ever be taken seriously. However, he doesn't simply tell tales of the strange, but rather he writes about strange things that happen to very ordinary people. The envelopes which contain his odd ideas are completely acceptable because they are so normal looking. They are white, they are letter-sized, they are secure. You feel safe ripping into them. Most directors and writers don't even give you a set up or a vehicle for their intentions. They just drop it in your lap like some dumb animal presenting its master with a fresh kill. Cohen approach has less to do with convincing effects and more to do with adorning the story with nuances of ordinary realism. The more horrific parts of the story are always surrounded by moments that don't really feel like they're out of a horror film and instead seem like real life. A lot of directors fail at making horror films because they don't care about the characters or the situations which define them. Cohen's stories feature real people dealing with insane situations, whereas a majority of horror films only build to a scare or try to hard to feel "scary." Cohen didn't really straight horror films in the conventional films; he made weird dramas dripping with satire, which is why his films are superior to so many others.

Cohen's "It's Alive," the first in a trilogy, is undoubtedly the grand daddy of all killer baby films and also one of his finest. Another thing that makes a lot of his films so great is the casting. By today's shallow standards, a guy like the phenomenal John P Ryan wouldn't stand a chance in blue hell of landing a leading man role, because regardless of his skill as an actor isn't what most would consider to be beautiful. However, charisma has far less to do with beauty than most people might think, and Ryan is absolutely dripping with it. What's more he's a hell of an actor. I also think when a performer looks more ordinary it absolutely makes them more relateable to the ordinary men and women in the audience. The script and direction here are priceless, but the acting rather than in-your-face effects are what really sell the situations here.

Here, Ryan plays Frank Davis, whose wife gives birth to an evolved monstrosity that's more equipped to survive wild badlands rather than lay cooing in a suburban crib. During labor, the baby escapes but not before butchering the hospital staff. At large, Baby Davis creates a wake of panic as it must kill to survive, and the city soon mounts a campaign to hunt and kill the infant before claims anymore lives. The bulk of the story really focuses on the maternal bond between parent and child, regardless of what they are or have become. Davis initially resists his feelings, but once faced with his child he completely caves. Ryan absolutely destroys as the conflicted father during a finale which seems heavily inspired by the sci-fi flick "Them!"

Davis returned to the role of Frank Davis in the phenomenal "It Lives Again." Years later, other mutant infants have started popping up, and Frank Davis has become the figurehead of a sort of underground railroad which protects these children from a government which wishes only to see them exterminated. The third and final installment "It's Alive III: Island of the Alive" is also worth the time, though not nearly as strong as the original two films.

Trailer courtesy 2009Murph.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY SIX: SQUIRM (VESTRON VIDEO - 1976)

I honestly believe that back before TBS was wrenched from Ted Turner's bosom that the call letters stood for "The Beastmaster Station." It seemed they ran that movie multiple times every week, and back to back after their WCW show on Saturday. TBS was at one time one of the greatest and most entertaining basic cable networks ever. It was a man's station, glutted with the Stooges, "Gilligan's Island", Chuck Norris movies, and weirdo late night horror excursions. I used to imagine that Turner himself had a lot to do with the programming. I envisioned him sitting in his office late at night, drinking bourbon while watching TV. I could clearly picture him grabbing the red TBS phone on his desk and saying, "I wanna watch one of them 'Boggy Creek' movies. And start it five minutes late. I gotta take a crap." It was easy to imagine that the balls-out insane lineups of bizarre 70s horror, stupid sitcoms, and knuckle bruising macho action flicks were all piled together at the whim of some wasted eccentric millionaire who thought, "Nothing good is on TV! Fuck it, I'm starting a SUPER STATION!" I know that's what I'd do if I were rich. It would be "Duckman" for an hour followed by "Food of the Gods" and then "American Ninja" followed by four hours of the "The Munsters."

TBS introduced me to a lot of weird movies during its late night runs. In fact, I taped a lot of obscure horror and sci-fi off of both channels which wasn't available on ANY format at the time. Of all the movies that they would air on late night weekends, "Squirm" was without a doubt the most memorable. The plot is absolutely bat shit: after a hurricane hits a rural swampy town, downed power lines pump electricity into the muddy soil which drives the underground population of blood worms insane. City Boy Mick is fortunate enough to be visiting this hick town around the same time while visiting his girlfriend's family. While bumbling around town and getting bounced by envious locals, he stumbles across a few bodies, and eventually discovers that these night crawlers are stripping the flesh off the locals after dark.

The concept of killer worms infesting a town is insane, and I've seen the film described as tongue-in-cheek, but I think the only humor to the film is the odd-ball premise. Otherwise, director Jeff Leiberman (also responsible for "Blue Sunshine") conducts this in a pretty straight forward manner. The film is not without humor. It's definitely quirky, but for the most part, it's treated very seriously, and the imagery throughout the film of the worms invading ordinary situations is absolutely evocative. What makes this a great horror film is that it takes something that is completely absurd and makes it plausible through the quality of the surrounding characters and extraneous situations. By all right, the concept of killer night crawlers is bullshit. But the world within which this problem is set feels real enough to make it work. Absolutely recommended. Check out the trailer from the fantastic AussieRoadShow.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY FIVE: DEAD & BURIED (VESTRON VIDEO - 1981)

The production of Gary Sherman's "Dead & Buried" may have been fraught with conflict which resulted in all sorts of technical and continuity errors, but none of the resulting discrepancies can keep this film down. In fact, this is the best Stephen King story that Stephen King had nothing to do with.

For its time, this was far outside the "walking dead" norm that had been established by Romero and his Italian imitators by virtue of its traditional treatment of the zombie. The story occurs in a coastal Rhode Island town of Potter's Bluff, where an investigation into a handful of recent deaths reveal sadistic murder. The killings continue, and with each no body, pieces of a wide spread conspiracy float to the surface, suggesting that life in this New England town is not so much sleepy as it is just plain dead.

There are a ton of familiar faces here, including James Farentino and Robert Englund, but the MVP award goes to Jack Albertson ("Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory") as the town's eccentric mortician, William Dobbs. One of Dobbs' quirks is his affinity for big band and old jazz music, which he spins while restoring corpses for open casket affairs. This character detail is vintage writer Dan O'Bannon, and was recycled in "Return of the Living Dead" for Don Calfa's Ernie character. Sadly, this was Albertson's final feature film performance, as he passed away later that year.

The one negative thing I have to say about the film pertains to a wretched looking effect involving the death of the town doctor, where an artificial head is used for an acid injection. While Stan Winston provided the majority of the fantastic effects here, he was not responsible for this abortion. The acid head effect was actually tacked on by another team of FX guys at the request of producers, who wanted a more gore oriented flick. The final result is night and day compared to some of the other fantastic stuff Wintson provides. Otherwise, the film is fantastic. It brims with mood and strong performances from the actors. I wholeheartedly recommend this, but I would also urge you to avoid reading anything about it before hand. Go in fresh and you will be rewarded. Check out the trailer courtesy Deathdealeus1984.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY FOUR: 10 TO MIDNIGHT (MGM/UA HOME VIDEO - 1983)

Most of my favorite horror films usually aren't horror films in the conventional sense. For instance, you'll usually find "Deliverance" filed under drama, but at its core it's a very human horror story, even sharing some lightly diluted Poe-esque themes. It's impact on popular culture demonstrates its worth as a horror film. It is the innovator of campground anxiety. It preys on a common fear of isolation, the unknown, and ignorance itself. If you've ever been out in the wild with friends, either roughing it or rafting, you will inevitably hear someone in your party mimicking the "dueling banjos" theme through nervous laughter. And while the events which occur in "Deliverance" are pretty unlikely to happen to you, they're certainly more capable of happening than a marrow sucking beast roving the urban sewers.

Though outlandish at points, J. Lee Thompson's "10 to Mignight" has some basis in reality, borrowing from the real life horror of nurse slasher Richard Speck. It's not a pure horror film in the traditional sense, but that's what makes it so great. You could actually call this one a hybrid horror-action, throwing a conventional slasher into the center of an urban cop drama. The film's basic themes will ring familiar to any fan of Charles Bronson, who stars here as the film's hero, Detective Kessler. While common sense has pointed him in the proper direction of a senseless killer, a system which seems like it's practically been designed to protect the guilty prevents him from nailing the creep. Frustrated by the system, Kessler breaks his ethical code and fakes evidence to put the guilty party away, but when his manipulation of the circumstances comes to light, it sets the maniac free to kill again.

Bronson has some truly incredible moments here, such as his interrogation of the primary suspect where he holds up the fake vagina he found in his apartment and shouts damningly, "you know what this is Warren?! It's for JERKING OFF!" However it is Gene Davis ("The Hitcher," "Cruising") as naked serial killer Warren Stacy who really steals the show. The scenes where Warren stalks and stabs his victims while completely nude are pushes from strange into the realm of surreal by Thompson's choice to shoot them in a dream-like style. Where Davis really shines though is during his vengeful prank calls to Kessler's daughter, Laurie. Absolutely unforgettable!

The film is augmented by performances by Andrew Stevens, Wilford Brimley, and Geoffrey Lewis. Check out the trailer courtesy albadeimorti:

Monday, October 3, 2011

VHS HALLOWEEN - DAY THREE: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (CBS FOX VIDEO - 1973)

I've always thought the box art was deceptively horrible. I'm sure it dissuaded many renters back in the day, or perhaps even tricked some people into snagging it with the expectation that this film held something more of the same imagery in store.

There are quite a few invalid bullshit terms used by wannabe critics to disparage films. Sometimes they're even misused. Nothing pisses me off more than when someone sacks a movie because it looks or feels "dated." Granted, some films age better than others, but the value of a movie that strives to be contemporary to its respective period certainly isn't any lesser. Many have skewered "The Legend of Hell House" with the dated criticism, but when you strip all the mod fashions away you have some factors that transcend its time and are still incredibly effective by today's standards. While nowhere near as graphic as it could have been, its golden staple is its pervasive atmosphere. I've heard people call it unintentionally funny, and I think those people are confused. I've seldom been to a horror screening where the audience didn't laugh at some point that was not intended to be humorous. This is mainly a defense mechanism. Horror films give us the opportunity to confront very real fears in much the same way the plummet of a roller coaster reminds us of our own mortality. Laughter indicates that we have a level of comfort with a subject. Death bothers everyone at some point, and horror films are psychologically a healthy method of facing those fears. To laugh at something which frightens you robs it of its power over you. It's a very defiant and empowering act. That said, sure, people laugh at this film, but I certainly don't think it's because there's anything unintentionally funny about it. The topic of the paranormal is absurd to most people in general, and it handles the subject matter very well. In fact, "The Legend of Hell House" is one of the finest films of this sort.

The story follows a crack team of paranormal researchers, which consist of a spirit medium, a physical medium, and a scientist who believes he can purge the mount Everest of haunted houses of its sinister energies. All the performances are great, but the killer is Roddy McDowall as the apprehensive psychic Fischer, who's also the most complex character of the bunch. While the others are strangers to this house, Fischer was actually the lone survivor of a previous psychic investigation, which left all of his former colleagues either dead or insane. But Fischer's game when there's money involved, and so he once again enters the ominous-looking state where all manner of perversion have painted the walls in bad energy.

Give it the chance and the attention it deserves and be rewarded with a strong supernatural thriller with many very likable aspects. Check out the trailer courtesy OurManInHavana.