Empire: the horror movie?

night of the unspeakable cover

The written description for urban horror Night of the Unspeakable sounds like Night of the Demons/Demons in a hip hop recording studio, even though the trailer is demon free and just shows people having sex, so I gave it a chance. Someone should seriously cut another trailer that looks less like a softcore porn than a horror film, because I don’t think the trailer does the movie justice.

I assume this is the directorial debut of Jamie Rhodes. There is a photo of the movie art on his imdb bio page, but there’s no listing for the movie itself as of this writing. It is most definitely a well-conceived, cohesive little indie film, but like many low budget indie horror films, it also shows why many enthusiastic directors end up with horror lite. Making horror that is genuinely effective is a lot fucking harder than even those who’ve been living and breathing horror their whole lives think. Plot. Special effects. Pacing. Camera work. Perspective. Music cues. Timing. Lighting. Sound effects. Setting. Atmosphere. Editing. Sets. Performances. And shit loads of other stuff I forgot to mention or don’t even know about.

night of the unspeakable girl group

I was worried when, within the first fifteen minutes of this 76-minute film, I had to sit through an entire performance by an R&B girl group and then an entire performance by an R&B male group as they “recorded” in the studio. On the bright side, the songs were actually good. In between, we meet a variety of characters, from the studio staff to the various musicians, and get some relationship drama. We also learn that one female character is into voodoo, which is all that really matters.

night of the unspeakable voodoo object

The script smartly sticks close to demon movie tradition—simple setup before getting right to the point. Point being, another chick messes with her voodoo stuff when she’s not around and unleashes a demon. And he’s sizzling hot.

night of the unspeakable demonhunk

Slowly but surely, he begins spreading his demon seed (can I get a super size order of that?). Similar to Night of the Demons, sexual situations and demon occurrences often collide, and the demons also have the ability to appear as normal humans again when necessary. There’s even a hint of creepy floating demon action and a girl-on-girl kiss. But Demons also seems to get a nod, for a chick with dreadlocks steals some scenes later on in what appears to be a nod to Geretta Geretta, although minus her level of gnarly, drooling, dripping demon brilliance.

night of the unspeakable dread demon

I definitely appreciate what Night of the Unspeakable was going for here, but it’s not as frightening or suspenseful as I’d hoped. Of course, budget constraints play a part. Makeup is pretty much just face paint, color contacts, some cool fangs, and sharp fingernails, and gore during a few flesh-eating moments consists mostly of the red stuff.

night of the unspeakable demon neck

There’s no attempt to mask any limitations in effects, because most of the film is shot in full light: no shadowy halls, no dark rooms, no studios lit by nothing but red EXIT signs. As a result, the film visually lacks horror atmosphere and tension – we don’t get that sense of fear that a demon could be lurking around any corner as in the films that seem to have inspired this one, although there are a few perfectly eerie moments, such as this scene…

night of the unspeakable hallCome to da-…I mean…EEK!

There just aren’t enough of them for my horror appetite. Having a small group of people trapped in such tight quarters practically guarantees continuous claustrophobic terror that doesn’t come through. The curious thing is, there are plenty of jump scares early on, but because they come before the demon is released, they are all the bogus variety reliant on musical stings—it’s always someone catching another person off guard, never an actual demon surprise!

night of the unspeakable door ritual

Unfortunately, demon confrontations are most often accompanied by…rock music! WHY??? I can’t get away from the worst of all horror scene music genre choices even in a fricking hip hop horror movie! And speaking of music, the film once again brings in an entire performance – by a band this time – at the 38-minute mark of the film (another good song), after the demons are already on the prowl. Unless something is going to happen to or involving the band to propel the action forward, you might as well just put a title card that reads “4-minute intermission” in the middle of your horror movie at this point.

night of the unspeakable band

As the film progresses, the survivors begin to battle the demons…in silence. There are absolutely no sound effects as body parts make contact, which paradoxically amplifies that the fight scenes are low budget – right at the film’s high point. I’m hoping director Jamie Rhodes can rake in a little more funding and also revisits other demon flicks to note the nuances that made them such classics so the Night of the Unspeakable 2 will be an epic urban demon movie. Oh, there’s definitely going to be a sequel, considering this one concludes with “To be continued…”

night of the unspeakable fight

However, I do wonder if perhaps the demon hunter/fantasy direction the film takes in the second half is where the story is headed and is indicative of why it doesn’t amp up the horror the director demonstrates he’s quite capable of delivering in probably more scenes than I actually realized. After all, I’m the type of guy who watched a scene of my hunky dreamboat demon devouring someone’s flesh, and my takeaway was this…

night of the unspeakable demonbut

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Holiday horror from 2005: The Toybox From Venus

These two films sound much better when you combine the titles. If you’re wondering how you missed a Halloween alien comedy and a Christmas slasher, don’t wonder, because these are pretty obscure films that don’t exactly do their holidays justice…or their horror, for that matter.

FROM VENUS (2005)

 from venus cover

This low budget film is so shrouded in mystery on the Internet even the official imdb description is just filler about it being a sci-fi horror spoof/tribute.

from venus pentagram

It’s on one of those really cheap 6-movie DVDs, and there are dozens of “reviews” of it on the imdb page – the only place anyone seems to have written about it. None of these reviewers manages to say anything about the plot either, but they all seem to draw two conclusions: a) this is the worst movie ever, and b) all the women are actually big, ugly drag queens.

I’ll start by saying this. We live in a world in which Ed Wood and John Waters films are considered cult classics, so we as a society don’t deserve the privilege of calling anything “the worst movie ever.” I’ll also say that the losers who’ve seen this movie (all the losers other than this loser) have clearly never seen a drag queen before…or a woman. The women in this movie are women. Big, blonde, buxom women. Geez. You need a fag to tell you that?

from venus women

From Venus doesn’t try to pretend it’s not a z-grade movie. An intro calls out that the special effects we’re about to see are 80s awesome/awful. Turns out, so is the plot. It’s definitely a little confusing, but basically a dude reading a scary comic book on Halloween night serves as the wraparound for our main story…

from venus halloween comic

The main movie is about two butch army guys that come to a small town in search of the missing niece of one of the guys.

from venus military guys

These two come across as a quirky gay couple, and they even turn down numerous advances of the dominatrix cult that has the town under its spell.

from venus SandM and her bitch

Basically, that’s the plot. A cult of dominatrix aliens is overrunning the town and seducing and killing the men.

from venus bondage

With a budget this low, it should be much funnier, sexier, and campier than it is. And shorter, of course. MUCH shorter. It’s 87 minutes long! And there’s NO nudity! On the bright side, our two heroes show off the beefcake.

from venus strip tease

But honestly, they should have been revealed to be a gay couple when all was said and done. From Venus simply doesn’t take any edgy, comic risks despite its plot.

from venus zap

Interestingly enough, the wraparound shows a few signs of establishing real Halloween horror atmosphere! We return to it every now and then, and the dude reading the comic becomes increasingly paranoid because he’s getting spooked by the story (even though it’s not at all scary…and doesn’t take place on Halloween).

THE TOYBOX (2005)

toybox cover

This is definitely an odd film, but it may be just a little more complex than I was prepared for. The opening scene has a brother and sister playing a very bizarre game with a pet mouse/hamster.

toybox opening kids

When it doesn’t go well, the sister seems to use magic to make it all better.

Years later, the sister brings her hot boyfriend to spend Christmas with her family.

toybox hot boyfriend

But soon after they arrive, the boyfriend wants to leave. It doesn’t exactly feel much like Christmas. A festive tree in the corner of the living room is overshadowed by things like a mannequin that just stands in the middle of a hall, a freaky toy box in the room in which he’s staying, and an unexplained guy posed silently as a clown in another room.

toybox closet clown

Plus, the boyfriend has a bloody premonition about something awful happening in the house.

toybox bloody neck

Not to mention, the family is fricking weird. In fact, a majority of the film is not horror, but merely about just how fucked up the family is. The brother is jealous of the boyfriend and still thinks the sister has magic powers.

toybox cast

The sister humors him and delves into folklore beliefs with him (complete with animated sequences). Flashbacks further make it appear she really does have magic powers. Oh my aching head.

toybox tree

The parents are neurotic, no one seems to have a loving relationship in the family, a porn past is exposed, and a really icky sexual encounter takes place (but I’m not sure if it actually happened or if it was a dream). It’s all trippy and weird, but it’s kind of like a whole family of red herring (or school of them) considering no one is getting killed.

toybox hook

Eventually, someone goes around hacking up family members with a hook. It’s an enjoyable “slasher” segment while it lasts, but clearly the intention here wasn’t to make a slasher.

toybox choke

The Toybox is definitely a curiosity, but not exactly your usual holiday horror classic. I’d need to watch it again from a more sophisticated perspective. If I ever become sophisticated, I will (the folklore is probably where this shit lost me).

 

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Horrors from the water, the sky, and…the vents?

This trio of films offers some familiar (and some cute) faces and favorite subgenres, but is that enough to make them worth a watch?

DARK HOUSE (2014)

dark house 2014

Had this one on my “must-see” list for a while because a) delicious Zack Ward is in it and b) it has the same title as this 2009 film, and I have a weird obsession with seeing movies with the same title. Well, as I started to write this blog and was looking up some details on imdb, I discovered this Dark House is directed by Jeepers Creepers pedophile Victor Salva. It’s astounding to me that not only does he still have a directing career, but that well-known people actually appear in his movies.

Nov 9,2011 Scenes in Warfield Park Greenville Mississippi, Wed. Nov. 9 2011. Haunted a feature film by Director Victor Salva and produced by Charles Agron, Michael Agron, Victor Salva, Don FauntLeRoy and staring Lesley Ann Downs, Tobin Bell, Luke Kleintank. Story by Charles Agron written by Salva and Charles Agron with Don FauntLeRoy as director of photography. Photo © Suzi Altman.com

For someone who usually makes pretty straightforward films, the pedophile was all over the place with this one.

After his mom burns to death in a loony bin, a young guy who can see how people are going to die by touching them inherits a house that he never knew existed but has been drawing since he was a kid. So he takes his buddy and a girl he meets in a bar and knocks up to go check the place out.

They stop at a diner and meet the lady from Jeepers Creepers and a couple of locals who tell them the place was washed away in a flood. Zack Ward is one of a trio of land surveyors that help them find it in the middle of the woods.

dark house tobin

Jigsaw himself Tobin Bell comes out and warns them to leave, then a stampede of creepy as hell hunched over guys with long hair, long coats, and axes come running after them.

dark house baddies

The axe freaks are the scariest part of the film and are completely underutilized as the plot takes off into a whole realm of confusing backstory and subplots. The group goes for help but the town appears empty to them—even though the people in town are actually there and can see them. The group tries to leave the town but ends up right back at the house. There’s something in the walls.

dark house baddies at night

Those axe freaks don’t move if you don’t open the door to the basement, so there’s a segment that rips off the nurse scene from Silent Hill. The main guy’s dead dad talks to him through a vent in the house. The main guy’s dead dad talks to numerous people through various vents in various buildings in various locations all over during the course of the film.

dark house 2014 vent

I’m not sure what was spinning faster—the plot as it spiraled out of control, or my eyes as they rolled continuously at the absurdity of it all. I did appreciate a couple of the twists at the end, but honestly, I couldn’t get past the fact that this was a movie about an evil vent ghost dad.

CREATURE LAKE (2015)

 creature lake cover

Movies should really come with an “FF” warning label on them: found footage. I was prepared for a cheesy piece of SyFy CGI crap based on the title. So imagine my surprise when I’m stuck staring at the ground and leaves as guys walk through the woods. FUCK ME.

But, hey. The guys sing the Musical Youth classic “Pass the Dutchie,” swim in their undies, and show some butt, so already this movie blows away The Blair Witch Project. And I do get my cheesy CGI. Eventually.

creature lake butt

But first, the guys act like guys. They’re going to a piece of property one of them inherited. Some Native Americans at a pit stop warn them to stay away, and naturally, their response is very Trumpian. Once they reach their destination, they sleep in sleeping bags outside a tiny little cabin structure. They set up “camp cams,” because you never know when your life might be turning into a found footage film.

creature lake outdoor cam

They do make fun of the tent scene from Blair Witch, which gives this film more bonus points, but then they sit around the campfire being dickish about women, sexuality, and race, as well as exposing their machismo, fighting, farting, and all around reminding me why I’m so glad I’m gay. Then they hear horrible monster sounds in the woods…and DON’T LOCK THEMSELVES IN THAT LITTLE CABIN THING!

creature lake demon woman

The guys have run-ins with the kind of CGI demon face women you see in every low budget found footage film (oh…), then all of a sudden they’re being chased by normal looking dudes with weapons, and it’s like the supernatural shit never happened. Plus, the acting surprisingly takes a sudden total nosedive.

creature lake washed up

Eventually there’s a CGI monster, but overall, the combination of low budget and found footage clichés just doesn’t impress.

THIRST (2015)

thirst 2015 movie

Bland title included, there isn’t a single thing about this creature feature that isn’t derivative, which is pretty much what makes it so watchable. That and the fact that it plays out like a SyFy movie with a slightly better budget…and a sizzling hot leading man.

thirst hunk 2

In the middle of a desert wilderness, a woman, a man, and his studly nephew run a little camping rehab group for juvenile delinquents. As they head out for a hike with a fresh pack of teen assholes, little do they know a comet has crashed to earth with an alien inside.

thirst creature face

This awesome looking alien is all metallic, so bullets don’t hurt it, and it has this long tentacle that latches onto your body and sucks the life out of you, so the first part of the film is pretty suspenseful, even if the characters are absurdly one-dimensional and their plot lines are poorly developed.

thirst hunk

But all that doesn’t really matter, because eventually, the film shifts into cheesy Starship Troopers territory as the survivors become our heroes and devise a plan to fight the big bad beast from beyond the stars.

thirst 2015 creature attack

Sure it’s goofy, but the monster looks cool, the effects are way better than the majority of SyFy crap I devour daily, and…did I mention the leading man is sizzling hot?

thirst hottie crotch

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Makeup man making movies in the new millennium

With a massive horror makeup effects career dating all the way back to 80s classics like Night of the Creeps, Evil Dead II, The Hidden, Phantasm II, 976-EVIL, Halloween 5, Bride of Re-Animator, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, Robert Kurtzman stepped behind the camera to direct for the first time in the late 90s.

After bringing us Wishmaster, which I just blogged about here, he didn’t direct again for an entire decade. It’s not surprising that since his two comeback films feature kids being ripped to pieces by an axe-wielding crazy and zombies, I’d have them both in my collection. And so…it’s Robert Kurtzman double feature time!  

BURIED ALIVE (2007)

buried alive 2007 cover

Things starts off with cutie Steve Sandvoss of gay film Latter Days showing off his abs and ass for a bathtub scene.

buried alive 2007 cutie

After all, some sorority sisters and their boyfriends bring a few pledges to a house in the woods for some hazing fun.

buried alive 2007 cast

This is a rather oddly paced film that uses a supernatural slasher angle to throw in some early appearances of the killer—as well as some cheap scares by the caretaker, played by Tobin “Jigsaw” Bell.

buried alive 2007 tobin bell

There’s one early kill—and it’s a delicious split down the middle—before the kids spend a lot of time hanging around the house, having sex, partaking in some naked initiations, exploring the house, and unraveling a tale of a wife murdered in the house then coming back from the grave for revenge. Uh-oh.

buried alive 2007 killer

Seriously, it’s not until only 12 minutes remain in the film that the freaky killer corpse lady with the axe truly kicks into high slashing gear and chases the majority of victims around.

buried alive 2007 split

It’s fun while it lasts, I just wish it had lasted longer, because she’s a bad ass bitch.

THE RAGE (2007)

rage 2007

The Wishmaster is back! Andrew Divoff plays a mad scientist injecting humans with a rage infection and turning them into monstrous mutant zombies! The first few minutes in his lab are super gory (the benefits of having a makeup master as director).

rage 2007 divoff

After an awesome zombie attack on a couple having sex in a car following an outdoor rock concert, the movie takes an immediate turn into horror la la land. The zombies drop dead…and get devoured by vultures…that then become infected.

rage 2007 zombie

This is a flick about a group of kids in an RV trying to escape mutant zombies and mutant zombie vultures.

rage 2007 leech

There’s gore galore, a fall in a pond of huge leeches, a chase through a cornfield, a cameo by Reggie Bannister, and cheesy good vulture action.

rage 2007 vulture

And just when you think things can’t get any weirder, the kids end up in Divoff’s lab and it starts to feel like a part Texas Chainsaw/part House of 1,000 Corpses backwoods horror flick, complete with a dungeon of horrors and a handful of freaks as Divoff’s assistants, including one referred to as a “transvestite freak.”

rage 2007 tran freak

One girl ends up stealing the show when she takes on the freaks, hanging a little person freak on a hook and beating it like a piñata and giving another a rectal with a machete.

The only unnecessary part of the film to me is Divoff’s long monologue, complete with flashbacks, in which he describes the reasoning behind his evil plot. Who cares, Wishmaster? You granted us fricking mutant zombies, mutant zombie vultures, and mutant zombie freaks. Those are the best three things we could have wished for.

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Wishmaster wishes he had been as iconic as his predecessors

Not a year after Scream reinvigorated the horror and slasher scene at the end of the 1990s, Wishmaster came along and…well, it kind of treaded the same ground 90s horror had been walking all along, with just some spit shine that makes it feel a bit more like it came after Scream.

WISHMASTER (1997)

Wishmaster cover

After making this film, director Robert Kurtzman wouldn’t get behind the camera again for another decade, when he returned with Buried Alive and The Rage. Kind of surprising, because Wishmaster is one of the stronger derivative horror films that came out in the 1990s.

For starters, it’s loaded with horror faces: Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Kenny O’Hara, Reggie Bannister, Ted Raimi. It’s also loaded with some late 90s horror staples: cheesy humor and horror references, cheesy jump scares, and cheesy late 90s alternative music. Plus, Andrew Divoff rocks as the Wishmaster.

wishmaster divoff englund

That’s the good stuff. The downside—which isn’t that much of a downside if you lived through 90s horror—is that this is basically just like all the other supernatural monster slashers of the 90s. Hellraiser III  comes to mind immediately. Wishmaster is a supernatural creature known as a Djinn, which—oh fuck it. He’s a fricking genie, okay? He grants wishes.

wishmaster slime

After an uber cool gory opening scene in ancient times, Wishmaster is unleashed from a gem at an auction house by a chick who works there in modern times. Wishmaster starts out all slimy, morphs into this demon creature by granting wishes to people (that always ends in them dying) and before long, he morphs into Andrew Divoff. Divoff’s goal for the whole movie is to find the auction worker chick who released him.

wishmater gem

To do so, he goes around very loosely interpreting anything anyone says to him as a wish that involves a torturous death. Honestly, the tongue-in-cheek of it is kind of absurd.

wishmaster wishmaster

When he finally tracks down the main girl, he returns to his much cooler demon form (no offense, Divoff), takes her to a hellish dimension, and slaughters a party full of people (so Hellraiser III) before the main girl finally figures out a way to use his wish-granting against him.

WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES (1999)

wishmaster 2

This time, the directing is taken over by a seasoned horror director—Jack Sholder (Alone in the Dark 1982, A Nightmare On Elm Street 2, The Hidden). Yet, this sequel is virtually the same film.

wishmaster 2 slime

During an art gallery robbery, the gem is once again broken open and Wishmaster is unleashed in all his slimy glory. A female thief gets away, and Wishmaster turns into Andrew Divoff to hunt her down while killing anyone who gets in his way, like a cop who tells him to “Freeze!,” which Wishmaster of course takes as a wish to be frozen. Gag. Bad gag. Funny thing is, whenever it’s time for him to specifically ask the main girl in each movie what her wish is, when she quite clearly tells him her wish, he always double checks that he heard her right. “Are you sure that’s what you want?” Fucking screenwriters.

wishmaster 2 main girl

There aren’t any stunt horror cameos in the sequel, but I like it better simply because of the amped up kills. For instance, while Wishmaster is in prison (yes, Wishmaster goes to prison), one inmate makes the mistake of wishing he could just “walk right through those prison bars.” I drooled almost as much as Wishmaster when those words were spoken, and my eyebrows even did the evil V thing his do.

wishmaster 2 prison

Another inmate says he wishes his lawyer would go fuck himself. No surprise at the scene that follows when you consider this movie is by the director of Elm Street 2.

wishmaster 2 selffuck

Plus, the orgy massacre is better in this one—takes place at a casino this time. And of course, Wishmaster takes the main girl to hell before she uses his wish granting against him. Like I said, pretty much the same movie.

WISHMASTER 3: BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL (2001)

wishmaster 3 cover

For the last two films, Chris Angel takes over directing duties. He was responsible for The Fear: Halloween Night, sequel to the 1995 film The Fear. The good news is, it has that late 90s/early 2000s teen horror college campus vibe and stars A.J. Cook (Tru Calling, Wer, Ripper, Final Destination 2) as the main girl, adorable Tobias Mehler (Disturbing Behavior, Carrie TV remake) as her boyfriend, and Emmanuelle Vaugier (The Fear: Halloween Night, Ripper, Saw II, House of the Dead 2, Unearthed). Bad news is, Andrew Divoff doesn’t return as Wishmaster.

The other bad news is – this movie is terrible. It feels like a direct-to-video sequel to a dying franchise. AJ opens up a box her college professor receives in the mail, and inside is the red gem. As usual, when Wishmaster is released, she’s already gone. Sadly, Wishmaster doesn’t start out like a nasty slime creature this time. He just sort of floats in as Wishmaster. And he basically looks like some average Joe did a pretty good job of dressing as Wishmaster for a Halloween party.

wishmaster 3 wishmaster

The first wish he grants is for the college professor, and it’s filled with sex, nudity, and gore. Hey, desperate franchise times call for desperate measures.

wishmaster 3 sex

He borrows the professor’s face so he can go around campus incognito searching for the girl who released him. Now if he could have disguised himself as Andrew Divoff, I would have been really impressed.

wishmaster 3 horned

It gets so bad. The college professor chases AJ and her friends around campus. He teaches a class like a real professional college professor…even though he’s actually a fucking ancient supernatural Djinn. He kills random people in inventive ways with little regard for that whole wish concept. He can regenerate. And then AJ uses a wish to summon an angel to fight Wishmaster.

wishmaster 3 boyfriend

The Angel possesses her boyfriend, a sword materializes in his hand, and there’s a good old fashioned battle…until they take it onto a moving car. If you think it can’t get any worse, there’s still another movie….

WISHMASTER 4: THE PROPHECY FULFILLED (2002)

wishmaster 4 cover

According to imdb, these two films were shot back-to-back, a week apart, but they must have used most of their budget—and talent—on part 3 and tossed the scraps to this disaster, which looks and feels like a cheesy direct-to-video film from 1991.

wishmaster 4 couple

Intro scene: a couple moves into a house and has sex.

Three years later.

Stop right there. Some producer read a script that starts with “Couple having sex” and then cuts to “Three years later” and said, “AWESOME WRITING! Film that script!”?

SO…3 years later, the guy is in a wheelchair, they’re not having sex, their lawyer is trying to win them some money in court, and tries to score some action with the chick right after giving her a box with the red gem in it. She leaps back from his advance and the gem falls out of the box and breaks. She leaves, Wishmaster appears, lawyer’s face becomes Wishmaster’s new mask, etc.

wishmaster 4 romance

At least they tried something different here. The lawyer—I mean, Wishmaster—is trying to win the chick’s love. And she’s kind of going for it. The lawsuit is settled and her guy gets back his ability to walk overnight, and yet she starts hanging out with the lawyer on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Wishmaster does stupid shit like: makes a gun appear out of thin air so a guy can shoot himself (even though the guy didn’t make a wish to shoot himself); gets everyone in a restaurant to kiss a waitress (men and women); grants a woman’s wish for “killer sex,” which is apparently nothing more than floating up against a wall and gasping (some seriously disappointing killer sex); and grants a bartender at a strip club his wish to be the pimple on a pole dancer’s ass (completely implied…another disappointing scene).

wishmaster 4 wallgasm

Wishmaster talks to this little triumvirate of Djinn that warn him of some hunter coming for him…which turns out to be delicious, sword-wielding Victor Webster of numerous cheesy sci-fi shows of the 90s.

wishmaster 4 standoff

Which is exactly what this movie starts to feel like, right down to the romantic conflict/battle at the end. Now that’s how you annihilate a franchise.

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STREAM QUEEN: tell Creepy Campfire Stories, get No Sleep

This is a pretty straightforward double feature; two short horror anthologies!

NO SLEEP – ANTHOLOGY OF HORROR (2017)

no sleep cover

While this film is only 50 minutes long, because of the nature of the shorts included, even that is too long if you sit and watch it all in one sitting. Here’s why. Although each segment is very well done, with a good setup, great atmosphere, suspense, and a good jump scare or twist at the end, that’s all each segment is.

no sleep clown

These are mostly 30-second to 1-minute shorts (the longest runs maybe 4 minutes), and they all pretty much just have a person placed in an isolated setting before jolting the audience with the appearance of some sort of shocking killer, monster, or supernatural entity for the final frame.

no sleep closet ghoul

You know the kind of clip I’m talking about—the type your friend will send you in a YouTube link while you’re at work to give you a quick, cheap thrill. This is FIFTY minutes of those. They start to lose their effectiveness fast, even if many of them are very good. Some of them actually don’t make any sense at all – perhaps there was exposition left in the writer’s head that would have fixed those problems.

no sleep halloween

I counted almost 20 clips in total, and as is usually the case with these types of clips, the horrors are relatively familiar. There’s a guy in a bunny costume, a killer mime, a killer clown/Rear Window/found footage combo, a Ouija board/The Ring combo, a Halloween candy tale, etc.

no sleep bear

For me, some of the cheapest thrills were had from a kid hiding under a sheet at night, a bearded bear killer dining with one of his victims, a woman being chased by ghouls in a house she enters for no clear reason, a woman using a face swap app, and an FPS video game type clip with a gnarly looking female ghoul standing in a corner.

no sleep FPS

CREEPY CAMPFIRE STORIES (2015)

 creepy campfire stories cover

I learned about this Halloween horror anthology because the band Selebrities, whose music I’ve played on my modern new wave Internet radio show Future Flashbacks, does an awesome cover of “Monster Mash” that’s used in the film.

 

The soundtrack CD was originally available as a packaged deal with a DVD of the film directly from the filmmakers, so I was very glad to support indie horror and get the CD. But…um…things didn’t quite work out after I made my payment, so months after not receiving my DVD/CD combo, I had to file a claim through PayPal and ordered just the CD on its own through other channels, but I’m not letting that cloud my judgment of the film beyond being a bitch and making it the first thing I say about the movie in my blog.

creepy campfire stories fire

The wraparound takes place on Halloween, but that’s it, so don’t expect loads of Halloween atmosphere here. Kids sit around a campfire telling stories. You know, like the title says, and not unlike the anthology films Campfire Stories (2001) and Campfire Tales (1991)…and Campfire Tales (1997). The springboard is a call-in contest they are listening to on the radio for the best scary story. One of the prizes is a meet-n-greet with Elvira! She’s one of several horror references dropped for fans of the genre.

As for the tales told, none of them has anything to do with Halloween. Here is the breakdown:

1st story – This is kind of like a throwback to 90s sci-fi/slashers. A lonely computer geek’s experiment goes wrong, and he basically creates a modern Frankenstein’s monster.

creepy campfire stories brain

creepy campfire stories POV

2nd story – A couple moves into their new home at night (?) as images of corpses flash on the screen. If they’re supposed to suggest something happened in the house in the past, that’s never clarified. In fact, I totally didn’t understand the plot of this story. The couple experiences something supernatural, their story seems to conclude, and then a seemingly unrelated shooting takes place with no explanation as to who the unseen, unidentified participants are, and I was left scratching my head.

creepy campfire stories demon

3rd story – This is the most like a Tales from the Darkside type story. A young woman who wants to be a model gets invited to a photo shoot at a man’s gothic mansion. While the story is pretty creepy, the twist is spoiled by a major goof during the reveal—SPOILERS: as the girls is leaving the mansion at the end, a paperboy tells her that no one has lived there for 20 years…right after he tosses a newspaper on the front lawn.

creepy campfire stories vamp

Finally, the wraparound has its own little twist, but it’s been done before and you’ll probably see it coming.

While there aren’t any stories here that will stick with you, nothing that’s going to scare you, and nothing for gore hounds, the film is well made and well paced, with a short running time of 76 minutes. It’s also loaded with alternative and rock horror tracks perfect for your Halloween playlist (and all on that awesome soundtrack CD, of course). Interestingly, all the songs are in English, including the theme song, while the film itself is in German.

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Head splitting headbangers and paranormal punk rockers

The guts, guitars, ghosts, and even gays in this trio of indie films deliver a variety of subgenres, yet all three films offer a touch of nostalgia for the days of high hair and mosh pits.

HEAVY MENTAL (2009)

heavy mental cover 

Since this movie from the director of Chubbies is so 80s, it’s a perfect time for me to sound like a broken record. Therefore, I’ll begin by saying it should have been edited from a 100-minute movie to a 75-minute movie. For me, that would make it a perfect throwback to 80s no budget direct-to-video VHS horror trash.

Heavy Mental is probably one of the most watchable Troma releases I’ve seen in a while (yes, Lloyd Kaufman makes an appearance, but only briefly at the end of the film). It really looks and feels like it came straight from the 80s, beginning with the heavy metal horror music video that opens the film.

heavy mental video

Kudos to director Mike C. Hartman for giving the old school plot a modern touch. For his birthday, a cute rocker named Ace gets a guitar that once belonged to a heavy metal legend from his two dads, who own a heavy metal record store.

heavy mental son 2

I was surprised that while one dad looked like a middle-aged guy who grew up on heavy metal music, the other dad was prim and proper in appearance. Would have made more sense if they both had the metal head look.

heavy mental dads

The gay couple owes money to the local mob boss, an evil bitch with a bunch of skanky lesbian minions that go around town slaughtering anyone who doesn’t pay up. But the dead heavy metal star plans to put a stop to that.

heavy mental guitar

He communicates with Ace through the guitar, and then transforms Ace into a heavy metal demon so he can take down the mob boss and her minions before they put into action their plan to kill his dads and end heavy metal forever at a big “battle of the bands” contest.

heavy mental killer

If you grew up on 1980s Troma films and cheesy 80s heavy metal horror like Black Roses and Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare, this is the best/worst of both worlds. There are 80s music references, 80s-style low budget gore effects, a campy demon killer that spouts bad one-liners and makes the “bionic” sound effect during fights, some heavy metal jam sessions, and completely unnecessary, always unfunny fart humor and fart sound effects. Seriously, Troma. I barely found fart humor funny when I was like FIVE. You could’ve started the editing process on this film by cutting that cheese.

heavy mental mob boss

What’s surprisingly missing is sexual sleaze. There’s some lesbian stuff and a brief scene at a porn store, but sexually, this is generally quite tame by Troma standards.

DEATH ROT (2014)

deathrot cover

Going right for the retro 80s VHS feel, the Death Rot opening kill has a couple getting it while in their car at a drive-in theater. I was feeling it immediately.

deathrot stage

And considering I was watching a heavy metal horror film, as a thrash metal track blared throughout the very long opening credits, I just sopped up the blood pouring from my ears without complaining. But seriously, this is where I have to give major credit to director Dominic Wieneke. Sure, this is a horror film about a heavy metal band. However, heavy metal music is not used as the soundtrack for the horror scenes. There’s an actual effective horror score.

deathrot barn

In fact, Death Rot initially has some major potential to be an okay Texas Chainsaw/Blood Diner hybrid knockoff. When the tour bus breaks down and the band splits up to go explore the area—a barn, a house, the old drive-in—it temporarily looks and feels very much like classic Texas Chainsaw. The cute lead singer of the band even finds some film footage of a woman being sliced up in the woods. I was really getting into it now.

deathrot video

But then everyone is captured and horror atmosphere is snuffed in exchange for a dialogue-heavy middle segment.

deathrot rockerbinds

A “family” of average men has some sort of religious TV show, runs a human meat market, and interrogates the band members about their unholy song lyrics and stage antics for a majority of the film, which runs way too long at an hour and fifty minutes. What I’m saying is, nothing happens. Little gore, no scares, few kills, no deformed family members. Hell, not even torture. I’d take anything.

For a brief moment in the final act, some of the band members escape their captors for chase scenes that bring back more hints of gritty horror like those promised in the earlier part of the film, but it’s just too little too late.

deathrot surg

Death Rot feels like an idea that deserved more work before it was committed to celluloid.

TEENAGE GHOST PUNK (2014)

 teenage ghost punk cover

Teenage Ghost Punk is a family movie for GenXers with kids—and gay GenXers who won’t grow up. It’s a really cute concept with a charming cast. It just doesn’t exactly challenge the emotions at all.

teenage ghost punk cast

A Toni Collette looking single mother moves into a new house with her Jena Malone looking teenager daughter and her son. Mom constantly makes the kids listen to the music she listened to growing up—punk rock. Awesome. When her punk rock albums begin disappearing, she initially thinks the kids are playing games. But when other strange occurrences take place, they start to suspect they have a ghost.

teenage ghost punk gaycouple

The gay couple next door invites a psychic medium over to help. At the same time, the daughter welcomes the medium’s competition…a team of ghost-hunting hacks she found on the Internet.

teenage ghost punk hunters

But the ghost—a teen punk rocker who has a total 1980s Jon Cryer vibe—shows himself to her directly and they start a secret romance.

teenage ghost punk guitar

And that’s really all that happens. There’s just nothing in the way of conflict here. Not even the various ghost experts are around enough to threaten to spirit the ghost away from his new mortal girlfriend.

teenage ghost punk medium

For a movie about a punk rock ghost, the energy is way too chill. The ghost/girl couple spends most of the time talking about albums and punk rock, with a majority of the conversation focusing on The Clash.

What I expected to be a big denouement at the end, with the entire cast showing up at a Halloween party, is surprisingly anti-climactic.

teenage ghost punk party

Even the twist involving the ghost’s past is revealed at the last minute, and its impact on the girl is resolved within minutes. It’s such a major issue that had it been introduced earlier, it easily could have played a crucial role in the plot and caused much more conflict between the main characters. It definitely would have provided the touch of teen angst Teenage Punk Ghost lacks.

 

 

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Digging through the DVR – 4 the fun of it

I DVR so much crap off the dozens of movie channels that it’s unusual to watch 4 in a row in one weekend that all give me a few cheap thrills—especially when at least half of them are mainstream horror. But that was the case here.

RITUAL (2012)

ritual cover

Ritual throws us right into the thick of the action with as little clue as to what’s actually going on as the protagonist. A man wakes up in the woods, buried just enough to be able to dig his way out. Problem is, he can’t remember anything. A videotape in a nearby cabin reveals the truth…someone has killed his wife and now he must find his two kids.

ritual tv

The first part of the film is quite atmospheric and suspenseful. It feels very much like playing a Silent Hill video game as the man explores dark cabins with nothing but a lantern. Someone is pursuing him, hiding in the shadows, trying to kill him.

ritual shot

As he comes closer to finding his kids, the film takes a surprising turn. The real twist comes when another family appears on the scene, but by then you’ll probably get a sense of what’s really going on.

ritual hand

You just need to pay close attention to what is unfolding or you will miss important, complex details that explain all.

ritual water

For a moment, I thought the other family was actually a bunch of cute gay guys and a fag hag…and that the main guy was washing off to join in on some fun…but sadly, it didn’t turn out that way.

HORNS (2013)

 horns cover

Anti-snob that I am (which kind of makes me a snob), I cringe at the thought of watching any artsy indie film Daniel Radcliffe has starred in since his Harry Potter days. Plus, just seeing an image of him with those horns made this look too fantasy for my tastes, so I never sought it out. But, since it was on cable, I figured I’d DVR it and then do something worthwhile as it played in the background.

With the need to shave 30 minutes off the 2-hour running time being a given, I have to say, Horns, directed by quite versatile horror director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes remake, Mirrors, Piranha 3D) and based on a novel by Joe Hill, was a pretty damn entertaining flick. It would be easy to compare the plot and Hill’s style of storytelling – small town faces supernatural dilemma that causes social rift between locals – to the works of Hill’s father Stephen King. However, I think the influence is bigger than that. Joe Hill is a product of the 1970s and 1980s, just like the rest of us GenXers who grew up on King, Spielberg, Tales from the Darkside, The Ray Bradbury Theater, etc. And it shows. Horns is part horror, part human.

Everyone in town believes Radcliffe’s character is guilty after his girlfriend is raped and murdered in the woods. It doesn’t help that he begins to grow those damn horns. He gains powers to see things and to get people to confess things and to do things (he even gets two cops to admit they are gay for each other and start going at it).

horns kiss

He has an attack snake that he sets loose on people. He seems like a pretty dark character, and yeah, there’s a good dose of religious symbolism mixed in there.

horns snake attack

But that’s what makes the film so intriguing. Because it’s up to Radcliffe to prove he didn’t do it and reveal who really did even though he is the one basically turning into the devil.

horns demon

The film is a bit slow and unfolds more as a mystery, with the horror elements saved for the final act. And it sure does get horrific all of a sudden, with some brief but wicked gore. Only thing that could have made it better were if it came thirty minutes sooner.

LIGHTS OUT (2016)

lights out cover

No idea what is with the guy on this unused poster art, but it’s much sexier than the final poster….

lights out cover light switch

Anyway, when short film Lights Out blew up the Internet a few years ago and it was then announced that it was being made into a full-length feature, it was pretty obvious that doing so would simply water down the effectiveness. So in watching this one, I just went with it and had more fun than I probably should admit to—although it’s not much of a surprise. This film isn’t much different than Darkness Falls, another film I like that most love to hate.

lights out original star

It gets bonus points immediately because the star of the original short virtually recreates her scene for the opener of this film—lights off, form of scary lady appears; lights on, it disappears. Each time it’s done, she moves closer. Eek!

For the movie, Lights Out Lady gets a backstory. A young woman tries to convince her little brother that their mother is just losing her shit and has an imaginary friend, but the boy believes the Lights Out Lady is really coming for him. Pretty soon, the sister briefly turns out a light and discovers he’s probably right.

Unlike Darkness Falls, this film makes the smart move of keeping most of the action contained to one house, although Lights Out Lady goes wherever the hell she wants at times. And even though she has a very particular motive involving the mother, it doesn’t stop her from killing anyone who turns off a light. Plus, she also seems to have the power to just turn lights off and on at will, giving her the upper hand. No fair!

I just had an epiphany as I was writing this. As far as PG-13 cheap scare tween flix about evil bitches in the dark go, I actually like this one better than Darkness Falls. Lights Out Lady looks much scarier, and she’s way scarier than the little bug-eyed girl with the big smile in the short film.

lights out monster

Plus, I kind of get a kick out of watching the boy being dragged all over the place by Lights Out Lady while clinging to his candle, yet the flame never goes out.

lights out candle

THE BOY (2016)

boy 2016 movie cover

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this cheesy film just to cleanse my palate of that horrendous The Boy flick that serves as a portrait of a little psycho bastard. No thanks.

This PG-13 Annabelle cash-in stars our beloved Maggie of The Walking Dead (aka: Lauren Cohan) and is directed by William Brent Bell (Wer, Stay Alive, The Devil Inside). The eye rolling starts right away. Maggie, having accepted a nanny job, gets to this big mansion in the middle of nowhere, is greeted by no one, and then meets the cute, 40 year old grocery boy.

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After they chat for some time, she meets the older couple she’ll be working for, who introduce her to their child—a doll. She laughs, they look hurt, she looks confused, and the entire audience thinks, why the fuck didn’t the grocery boy warn her? Which is the very thing she asks him the next time she’s alone with him.

boy 2016 parents

Anyway, things play out as predictably as possible as soon as she’s alone with the doll (the couple is going away for a few months), complete with cheap dream scares. We learn that as much as Maggie fears the doll is alive, living with it is better than going back to her abusive ex. We also learn that she should have listened to the couple when they told her to treat their “son” exactly as outlined in the list of rules they left for her.

boy 2016 doll wave

However, I must say, just when you start getting a case of the giggles because the doll is obscene phone calling Maggie (the call is coming from inside the dollhouse!), the film actually takes an unpredictable turn…onto a another well-worn route. Seriously, there’s nothing new here, and there are loads of plot holes when all is said and done, but at least the film bombards you with an assortment of clashing clichés to create the illusion of originality.

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STREAM QUEEN: killer clown on Halloween vs. scary bear in the woods

If it’s Prime time, it’s usually major indie time, as with these two films. Only thing they really have in common is that they each run about 70 minutes long. Are they worth a little more than an hour of your time?

CLEAVER: RISE OF THE KILLER CLOWN (2015)

cleaver rise of killer clown cover

This killer clown/Halloween slasher combo takes place in 1995. For me, the most effective scene is the opening kill involving a couple having sex, a life-size clown decoration, and the cleaver wielding clown, of course. It really captures the old school slasher style.

cleaver rise killer clown dummy

Overall, the retro look, feel, and score are the film’s strong points. It does a fine job of delivering holiday and horror atmosphere and visuals—it’s literally drenched in eerie orange, green, or red light at pretty much all times. It even seems to be about a babysitter on Halloween night.

cleaver rise killer clown street

But that babysitter plot is overshadowed by the focus on two local cops trying to figure out who the killer clown is after the first murder.

cleaver rise killer clown cops

Part of that investigation includes the clown’s backstory unfolding in flashbacks.

cleaver rise killer clown stalk

Occasionally, the clown pops out and kills a person around town, but this doesn’t feel like a slasher, especially since it doesn’t revolve around the “main girl” and her friends.

cleaver rise killer pumpkin

We return to her for the final battle and the big twist (essentially the only thing that keeps the general plot from being a Halloween rip-off), but because we haven’t been carried through the film with her, what should be a shocking turn of events loses its potency. Even so, I like the familiar throwback style of director MJ Dixon, who has done quite a few indie films, so I would definitely check out more of his films.

SCARE BEAR (2017)

scare bear cover

Love the title of this indie film, but it is a bit deceiving. Thankfully, it’s not yet another killer bear movie (they seem to be all over cable TV these days). It’s a psychological horror film that’s surreal and trippy in look, tone, and plot.

As I began watching it, within minutes I was thinking, “This feels just like a gay supernatural period piece I blogged about not too long ago.” Turns out that film, The Secret Path, about two young men being pursued by a creature through the woods, is by the same director, Richard Mansfield. The most notable difference is that this film is about a man by himself in the woods and is not a period piece, although the minimalistic setting creates a sense of being “lost in time.”

scare bear phone

While exploring the woods where his sister disappeared when they were children, never to be seen again, this man becomes convinced he is being pursued by a mysterious bear creature.

scare bear bear

This isn’t a straightforward “creature feature.” The “bear”—a person in a bear costume—is perhaps a figment of the man’s imagination, symbolic of something deeper as he journeys into his own psyche in an effort to work through his loss.

scare bear doll house

Scare Bear isn’t for everyone. You’ll know pretty quickly you’re not in Kansas anymore. This isn’t concrete horror, but a continuous hallucinatory state with lollipops on the forest floor, toys sprinkled about, telephones that ring in the middle of the woods and transmit calls from the dead, and a dollhouse in which a creepy as frick marionette puppet show is being performed.

scare bear puppet

Despite The Secret Path featuring cute guys and a steamy sex scene, I actually much prefer Scare Bear. Mansfield does a lot more from a horror perspective with the same general setup.

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When bad things happen to boys in their happy birthday suits

happy birthday cover

White boys are always going off to Mexico for women, booze, sex, and trouble, which is why Mexico should be building the wall and making Trump pay for it. But that’s another story. In 2016 flick Happy Birthday, Matt Bush of Piranha 3DD and Rob Zombie’s Halloween II heads to Mexico to celebrate his birthday with his best buddy. And as usual, when straight boys go on a road trip, bad things happen.

happy birthday bloody windshield

We’ll get to that. First, there’s an odd combination of anti-gay/anti-trans comments and admissions to and demonstrations of experiences in both realms. Anyway, the boys get their party on with some local “tour guides,” including cutie Erik Palladino of Dead & Breakfast.

happy birthday balls 1

Then they get together with two nice girls they meet, one of them played by Vanessa Lengies, who was on the kiddie horror show Are You Afraid of the Dark years ago and was more recently the rich chick who couldn’t sing on Glee.

happy birthday girls

Turns out these two nice girls aren’t so nice. The boys are drugged and when they come to, they’re in their underwear and tied to the beds, and the girls are throwing a party…for a bunch of big, burly, horny guys.

happy birthday big guys 1

Matt Bush’s back bush is in trouble when a black dildo appears on the scene and one of the guys begins to unzip…

happy birthday big guys 2

Before long, Matt is separated from his buddy and has to try to figure out a way to either escape or convince the girls to let him go. The movie has some suspenseful moments, but is notably tame despite the predicament in which Matt finds himself.

happy birthday escape

The gay and trans stories Matt and the girls share as he tries to befriend them are pretty much more shocking than anything that actually happens in the film. There’s also a rather odd shift in tone for a while near the end when Steven Tyler of Aerosmith shows up to add some humor to the mix.

happy birthday steve tyler

It’s entertaining for sure, but be warned—the plot takes a turn that might really piss you off…not to mention, it’s not anything you haven’t seen before. To make up for it, we do get to see Matt Bush run around in perfect fitting undies for a majority of the film.

happy birthday butt 1

Director/writer Casey Tebo has made a pretty tricky film here. It gay baits. It straight bates. It torture porn baits. It exploitation baits. It horror baits! But fuck if every single one of us baters isn’t going to take the bait and watch his movie, so he wins. And speaking of gay baiting directors, if you like your bears big and bushy, take a gander at Tebo.

happy birthday director casey tebo

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