STREAM QUEEN: the horrors of gay boys existing in an intolerant society

It’s not every day that I find two gay horror films available for streaming. Turns out both of these take a seemingly default approach to gay horror – the main characters are fragile, tortured souls suffering from hate and rejection in an unaccepting world. So how do things turn out for the victims…I mean…gay guys this time?

THE BLUE HOUR (2015)

 blue hour cover copy

This supernatural film from Thailand is a slow burn that’s much more about the relationship between two gay teens than it is about the ghostly occurrences. In fact, I was not even sure if there really were any ghosts when all was said and done.

blue hour romance

The Blue Hour is an emotionally charged art piece about two young teens that meet at an old, abandoned swimming pool facility and immediately become romantically bonded. One boy is bullied and abused by his family, the other is homeless. As their relationship grows, the homeless boy reveals stories of murder and supernatural hauntings at the pool, and eventually takes the abused boy to a dumping ground where there also appears to be a history of murder.

blue hour duml

Meanwhile, there are some heartbreaking scenes between the abused boy and his concerned mother that provide some important depth to her feelings about him as well as delving into how the boy copes with the hatred aimed at him by his father and brother.

blue hour flashlight

Eventually, the film takes a dark turn to explore the supernatural themes.

blue hour silhouette

Creepy outlines of humans begin appearing on the walls of the pool, the abused boy discovers a corpse in the dumping ground, and before long, someone is killed and the boys have to hide the body…and then another body…and another….

blue hour bodies

That’s when The Blue Hour lost me. There are some chilling moments as the scares and suspense begin to escalate, but then we are bombarded by a streak of fractured, surreal scenes that never come together.

blue hour hands

The “supernatural” aspects never pan out, and the conclusion of the film demands that viewers come up with their own interpretation of what exactly was going on. Was one or both of the boys a ghost all along? Was one or both of the boys a killer? Were there any ghosts at all? Was either boy a killer? Don’t ask me.

DEVIANCE (2016)

deviance cover

I must say, Deviance is a highly entertaining gay indie horror flick that’s a good combination of sexy, gory, cheesy fun, well-crafted, cliché, and deliciously original by the end. And it’s perfectly paced as it builds to its violent, unique finale.

deviance weirdo dad

Writer/director James Hennigan plays a nervous but determined young man living in a trailer home with his white trash dad and supportive sister.

deviance weirdo family

Actor Tim Torre plays the high school weirdo, living with his fanatical religious parents while lusting after the hot straight jock.

deviance hot crush

A series of events leads to each young man being outed to his parents, with explosive results in both cases. The boys are thrust out into the world on their own, doing what they need to survive, at which point the film explores just how differently each is pushed to the edge by hate.

deviance trick

They end up becoming very different kinds of murderers—an accidental killer and a psycho killer that revels in the act—but the common ground eventually brings them together, leading to even more violence and brutality.

deviance choke

Deviance is one dark, vicious little flick, and doesn’t rely on a softcore gay porn approach to horror to draw its audience, which is a refreshing change of pace.

deviance weirdo bloody

It also strikes a great balance in telling two separate stories before they finally converge.

deviance body bag

To top it all off, Hennigan doesn’t wimp out when it comes to kill scenes.

deviance cage

deviance gore

And Hennigan amplified the horror of those scenes by casting Tim Torre as the weirdo turned killer.

deviance lick

Torre absolutely nails it. Or should I say, drills it. And not in the good way…

deviance drill

 

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The newest iconic masked killer should be playing with dolls

Actually, my favorite new masked killer doesn’t really play with dolls, which makes me wish the Playing with Dolls franchise went by a different name. However, the title could be metaphorical, so who am I to tell a writer/director what to name his movie?

playing with dolls bloodlust killer weapon

I became hooked on this series by inadvertently watching the second film first. Playing With Dolls: Bloodlust was available on Amazon Prime and made no mention of being a sequel, so I dived in. I had no problem following it, because it works completely as a standalone slasher…until it becomes hard to follow right before ending up demanding a sequel (we’ll get to that).

It was when I was looking to see if another film is in the works that I learned of the first Playing with Dolls and immediately had to hunt it down.

PLAYING WITH DOLLS (aka: Cinderella – Playing with Dolls) (2015)

playing with dolls cover

Watching the first film after seeing the second, a few things jumped out at me. For starters, they are sort of the same movie with just alterations in the details. This film feels like a warm up to the sequel—there are hints of the style director Rene Perez lays on thick in Bloodlust, which is what got me hooked, so I’m glad I saw it first. I also get the sense that Perez planned this as a series from the start, because while the plot fills in some backstory missing from the sequel, it’s just as open-ended, leaving us with more questions than answers.

playing with dolls tyson

Veteran horror actor Richard Tyson (Big Bad Wolf, Flight of the Living Dead, The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond, Hayride, Hayride 2, Ghost of Goodnight Lane) is still as hot as he was as the bully back in the 1983 teen classic Three O’Clock High. Here, he plays a psycho who gets off on watching people being slaughtered, so he breaks a serial killer out of prison to do the dirty work while he watches.

playing with dolls first movie beard bad guy

Tyson has land around a remote vacation home cordoned off and guarded by (sexy) militant guys who are oblivious to what is going on inside the perimeter. Tyson lets the serial killer run free in the woods wielding a sharp weapon and wearing a gruesome mask (step aside Voorhees), and then lures down-on-their-luck victims to the house with various promises of fortunes. Essentially, he creates a slasher scenario with one difference…he has cameras set up all over the place so he can watch the action as it unfolds.

playing with dolls first girl

After an intro scene that has the killer doing something awful to a female victim tied to a tree, the movie focuses on a young woman who has no money and is being evicted. Just in time, she is offered a job caring for an old man in a house in the middle of nowhere. When she arrives, it turns out the old man is away on business, so she has the whole place to herself.

playing with dolls main girl

Playing with Dolls plays out more like a home invasion film than a slasher, because there really are no victims. The main girl revels in living in luxury (she even gets a dance montage), unaware that the masked killer is roaming the halls of the lodge-like house, hiding in shadows watching her, and fighting the urge to kill her as per Tyson’s instructions.

playing with dolls killer on closet

Director Rene Perez creates fantastic atmosphere and delivers a few instances of perfect jump scares that become much more prevalent in the sequel, but this film is more about sustained suspense than action. There’s no body count for a majority of the film because there’s only one victim, but the setup is so intriguing that you get sucked in, wondering what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. Even the main girl seems ridiculously oblivious to the fact that she’s not alone despite some odd situations occurring, like a slaughtered animal turning up on her doorstep and dolls just appearing around the house out of nowhere.

playing with dolls detective

The action does suddenly amp up near the end, when a cute detective arrives, warning the main girl of the killer on the loose. Tyson’s military men are sent in to dispose of the meddling detective, and all hell breaks loose. With Tyson distracted, the killer ceases the opportunity to pursue the main girl, giving us the chase scene we’ve been waiting for…and an ending that leaves us wanting more….

PLAYING WITH DOLLS: BLOODLUST (2016)

playing with dolls bloodlust cover

Bloodlust is where it’s at. Perez intensifies the entire experience with this awesome sequel, which opens with a grindhouse look and feel, and the killer demonstrating just how fantastically gory this one is going to be. He has a whole new weapon this time around, and it does some brutal damage.

playing with dolls bloodlust spine

This time, Richard Tyson has four people believing they are heading into the woods to appear on a live reality show in which they have to survive a slasher scenario. Awesome.

playing with dolls bloodlust tyson

Our contestants include a desperate single mom, a hot daddy struggling to pay child support to his ex, a totally gay dude wearing a pink sweater around his neck who is actually not gay because he’s hot for the final contestant, a bubbly, busty woman.

playing with dolls bloodlust cast

playing with dolls bloodlust pair

The film unfolds at a quick pace, and you begin to wish there had been at least one or two more contestants, because this is such a kick ass slasher you want it to last.

playing with dolls bloodlust killer lair

The jump scares are out of control (I nearly pissed myself a few times), the gore is horrific, we get to see the killer’s gnarly shrine of body parts out in the woods, and things unfold in ways you wouldn’t exactly expect. There’s even a moment with what appears to be a zombie woman tied to a tree…or is that just a really fucked up previous victim? It’s never explained.

playing with dolls bloodlust zombie

More militant guards appear on the scene for the final act, which is where the movie starts to falter as a standalone film. And when the surviving characters begin the last battle with the killer…the credits role! I’m not kidding.

playing with dolls bloodlust killer in window

Bloodlust just stops mid-final scene. Talk about a cliffhanger! Sure, it could totally turn viewers off, but Perez brought me the kind of gore, jump scares, slasher setup, and freaky killer I can’t get enough of, so I can’t wait to see what the next film has in store for us.

There better fucking be another film. If Perez can find the time to make a film like The Burning Dead – about zombies that shoot from a volcano, he should find time to continue the story of his masterpiece. I’m devastated to report that as of this writing, neither Playing with Dolls film is available on DVD or Blu-ray in the U.S.

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STREAM QUEEN: a double dose of exploitation slashers

I use the term slasher in the most general sense because in each case, there’s a killer and a body count. But really, Phantom of the Grindhouse and The Greasy Strangler are purely trash cinema.

PHANTOM OF THE GRINDHOUSE (2013)

phantom of the grindhouse cover

Running only 60 minutes long, Phantom of the Grindhouse has its strongest moments at the beginning – 8 minutes of mock horror film trailers. Director Chris Seaver demonstrates that he could really make some effective throwback grindhouse horror flicks that are both creepy and campy if he set his mind to it. Maybe he has, because he’s done a lot of films, I just haven’t seen any of them.

phantom of the grindhouse trailer

The remaining 45 minutes become a low budget, amateur production with a lot of spirit but not even a hint of grindhouse filter over the camera lens. It looks straight up shot-on-video.

To save the local movie theater – owned by a post-op transgender woman – movie geeks decide to have a 24-hour horror movie marathon. But the phantom of the theater, a pervert who has an obsession with Prince and Michael Jackson, begins killing them off one by one. Unfortunately, not during the movie marathon. Sadly, we never get that far in the plot.

phantom of the grindhouse kill

The cast is fully into it, so the film has its charms, but it is pretty much just a bunch of nonsense that will give you a chuckle now and then simply because it’s so silly. There’s adolescent body function and sex humor (but it’s pretty tame), the kills are as no budget as it gets, there are plenty of references to horror movies (including classic posters on walls), there’s a mock Donald Pleasence “Dr. Loomis” character, there’s a musical number in a bowling alley, and 80s kids will appreciate the MJ and Prince references. The Phantom and the final girl even duet on ”When Doves Cry,” and the final girl has some sweet pipes.

phantom of the grindhouse leads

Having said all that, I’m in no way suggesting you should ever put an hour aside to watch the film. I already took this one for the team.

THE GREASY STRANGLER (2016)

greasy strangler cover

I KNEW I was going to hate this overhyped piece of exploitation schlock trash cinema. I barely allowed it to remain on my radar, let alone put it on my concrete list of “horror movies to see” (I seriously have one). Then…it hit Prime. I reluctantly added it to my watchlist, where it sat festering until my list dwindled to nothing.

There’s one thing I like about this film. A disgustingly sleazy father and son team runs an unofficial disco tour, so the father is constantly referencing classic disco acts.

greasy strangler dad and son

What I hate about this film is everything else. I don’t even really want to discuss it much. If you are a diehard fan of the early John Waters films, I imagine you’ll love it. I was subjected to one of John’s pre-Hairspray movies once at a gay gathering and found it as “not my thing” as I’d suspected his films would be. The Greasy Strangler fits the “not my thing” mold perfectly.

The old man and son are usually in their skeevy skivvies. The dad’s undies are usually crotchless, so he has this big nasty uncut dick swinging from a scraggy crotch afro. The son is dating a skanky girl who loves sex so much she starts fucking the dad as well.

greasy strangler dad and girl

There are constant farting and shit references (even during the sex scenes), including the naked dad simply kicking his legs over his head and ripping one. The dad needs everything he eats to be drowned in buckets of grease. The dad IS the greasy strangler.

greasy strangler kill

Over and over and over again, he strangles his victims while naked and dripping in grease (he looks like a melting candle), goes through a car wash to clean it all off, then goes home to make his son’s life miserable. That’s it. That’s the movie. Any hints of humor are lost in a sea of repulsive situations.

Like I said, John Waters fans have at it. I personally prefer to spend 90-minute chunks of time enjoying horror movies.

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STREAM QUEEN: They Nest vs. Insecticidal!

The nightmare of bugs crawling into our most private orifices to incubate comes to life with killer insect horror of the 2000s! And these two flix make the perfect double feature.

THEY NEST (2000)

 they nest cover

After spending the 90s as Dr. Michael Mancini on Melrose Place, cutie Thomas Calabro took a creepy crawly comic turn in They Nest as…a doctor. This squirm inducing midnight movie with plenty of dry humor comes from director Ellory Elkayem, who went on to bring us Eight Legged Freaks and both Return of the Living Dead Necropolis and Rave to the Grave.

they nest bugs on car

Calabro plays a stressed surgeon taking some time off in his house on a small Maine island when a dead body floats up on the shore…and unleashes bugs that have been nesting inside it.

they nest horse head

They Nest definitely takes a while to find its stride. It only becomes clear this is a comedy when Calabro has a playful, farcical encounter with a few of the bugs in his house.

they nest fork

When he’s suspected of killing the local jerk, who has been harassing him, he offers to examine the body to find the real cause of death…and discovers the gross truth.

they nest queen bug

They Nest picks up in pace as it progresses, morphing into a load of nauseating bug fun. Bugs crawl in mouths. Bugs crawl out of mouths. Stomachs burst open to reveal bug cities inside. Swarms of bugs are everywhere, trying to get inside anyone they can. It’s slimy. It’s gooey. It’s icky. It’s just gory enough so that you don’t puke up your popcorn.

INSECTICIDAL (2005)

Insecticidal cover

This one is an unapologetic giant bug sex comedy from director Jeffery Scott Lando (Suspension, Haunted High, Goblin, House Of Bones).

insecticidal spray

A science nerd is distraught when her bitchy sorority sister kills all her creepy crawlies with an insecticide after one of them gets out of its tank and disrupts her sex session.

insecticidal dude

Before long, the critters come back to life, mutated into giant CGI animated bugs—most of which are not technically insects.

insecticidal scorpion

There are girl boobs. There are lipstick lesbians.  There are college boy butts.

insecticidal boybutt

There’s gross out humor…like a guy going under the sheets to lick some labia, but chowing down on giant leech instead. Yes indeed, it’s that kind of movie.

insecticidal leech

Even so, Insecticidal takes a while to pick up speed. It’s not until 45 minutes in that the campy sorority sisters vs. giant bugs fun really begins.

insecticidal cast

The silly, slapstick shenanigans as the sorority sisters band together to battle the bugs is cheesetastic, and the bad CGI bugs are perfectly cast.

insecticidal mantisinsecticidal beetle

As if that’s not enough bang for your bug, the bitchy sorority sister, begins to suffer from a…um…stomach bug and eventually becomes queen of the pesks.

insecticidal bad girl

Actress Rhonda Dent totally steals the show in the role. She seriously needs to do more horror comedy, because she rules.

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STREAM QUEEN: Field Freak vs. The Monster!

I picked these two newer titles off Amazon Prime for a creature double feature with no knowledge of what I was getting myself into beyond the brief descriptions of each movie. It was luck of the draw this time, because Field Freak and The Monster are very different, but both managed to entertain.

THE MONSTER (2016)

monster 2016 cover

Bryan Bertino, director of The Strangers and Mockingbird, brings us this film of a mother and daughter who become stranded on a dark, desolate road and are then trapped in their car by a hellish creature that comes out of the woods.

monster 2016 behind girl

Bertino’s style definitely comes through here, as the film is paced much like The Strangers. Before the horror, it starts slow to establish the conflicts between the main characters, with the mom and daughter on a road trip to drop the daughter off to stay with her father.

monster 2016 mother

This major white trash pair is like something from a Where Are They Now: Teen Mom Edition. The mother looks like the daughter’s older sister, and they fight like sisters, too. There are also flashbacks revealing their dysfunctional family situation. By the time the dark creature starts terrorizing them, you’re pretty much an amateur if you haven’t already guessed what the monster represents.

monster 2016 attack

So, yeah, this is a deep, smart, thinker’s horror film. But at least it’s still entertaining, sort of like Cujo with an actual (metaphorical) monster. Mom and daughter crash on a road during a rainstorm at night, call a tow truck, and…you know the rest.

monster 2016 under car

They must try to stay alive inside the car until someone manages to come rescue them without getting eaten by the monster.

monster 2016 windshield smash

The creature is wicked cool looking, plus we get some gore, jump scares, and suspense. All the ingredients needed for a quick horror fix…which you’ll pretty much forget exists a month from now.

FIELD FREAK (2016)

field freak cover

This is one of the most refreshing horror comedies I’ve seen in a while. The casually comic performances of the cast are a unique contrast to the “monster” terrorizing them, which is presented entirely as a real threat, complete with all the “scary” bells and whistles.

field freak family

I really had no idea what I was in for when I started Field Freak, but I was charmed into it within a matter of minutes. A family staying at a house in the woods begins hearing animal sounds at night and stepping in piles of poo in the morning. They think they have a pest problem, but the audience is clued in pretty quickly that there’s actually a Bigfoot roaming the woods!

field freak exterminator

The quirky cast of unknowns delivers quick, dry humor that had me laughing out loud.

field freak gun owner

The family alone is a hoot, but there are also a bunch of local hicks added to the mix, including an exterminator, a one-legged root beer maker, and a gun store owner.

field freak crutches

 The comedy blends perfectly with campy moments of suspense and gore, and the Bigfoot is (smartly) not a high-quality horror creation, which wouldn’t quite fit the tone of the film.

field freak legs

However, even though it’s just a guy in a suit, it’s an impressively designed Bigfoot suit. Any drawbacks are hidden by creative filming that is both eye-opening yet fleeting enough to mask detail. Essentially, it’s just like all the mysterious footage we’ve seen over the decades that purports to be video of actual Bigfoot sightings.

field freak bigfoot

This is the most fun I’ve had with a family and the Foot since Harry and the Hendersons.

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A horror hospital, a cabin in the woods, and a bloody haunted attraction

Sometimes, you’re better off alone, as demonstrated by three films from the 2000s that show what can happen when pretty people hang out in groups…

CANDY STRIPERS (2006)

candy stripers cover

This is the kind of flick that makes me nostalgic for teen horror of the new millennium. Candy Stripers delivers pretty people, sex, gore, and midnight movie camp, all wrapped up in a basic “body snatchers” premise.

candy stripers stripers

Actually, it’s pretty much a mashup of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Slither, and The Faculty. After a school bus blowjob and a brawl in the school gym, a high school basketball team is brought to a hospital that is unknowingly spreading an infection…in the form of big slugs that pass from one candy striper’s mouth to another.

candy stripers slug

Oh yes. Plenty of lipstick lesbian face-sucking in this one. The candy stripers seduce all the male patients and male doctors while letting out inhuman screams.

candy stripers shirtless

candy stripers shirtless 3

The candy stripers binge on sweets. The male victims end up trapped in cocoons.

candy stripers claw

There’s a fertilization factory forming in the basement. And it’s up to the teenagers to save the day.

candy stripers leads

It’s pure, simple horror fun, and there’s even crotch chomp gore.

candy stripers crotch

DEAD MARY (2007)

dead mary cover

Late 90s flash in the pan Dominique Swain (Devour) breaks up with her boyfriend as they’re driving up to a cabin in the woods to join their friends on a weekend getaway.

dead mary gathering

After girl talk and boy talk, the group comes together to tell scary tales of night terrors and…Dead Mary! They scoff at the idea of Bloody Mary, because Dead Mary is the real deal. So of course…one of the guys heads into the bathroom with a candle to say her name in the mirror three times.

Things quickly get out of hand. A member of the group is mutilated in the woods. The friends begin accusing each other of doing it. The corpse comes back to life and acts all deadite before the group kills it again, then burns and buries it.

dead mary boy demon

Like that will stop it.

dead mary cast

I wish I could say this plays out like an Evil Dead rip-off, but other than one chick getting demon teeth while looking for a weapon in a shed, the members of the group that get possessed (full disclosure – there is no Dead Mary) pretty much just look like themselves and do nothing more than taunt the other members of the group about how they fucked their partners.

dead mary demon woman

So everyone turns on each other and begins killing each other. This shit falls apart big time, and has a horribly abrupt and absurd ending after Swain delivers her final line.

dead mary swain

FRIGHTWORLD (2006)

frightworld cover

FrightWorld, the most indie film in this trio, has a gritty, grisly grindhouse look and feel, but also suffers from some of the pitfalls of indie film-making.

The opening scene and intro credits play out like a sadistic thrash metal gore video with Euro horror sensibilities. Flashing images and choppy editing reveal police raiding a crazed killer’s lair in a haunted attraction, where he tortures and mutilates young women.

frightworld killer

Combined with gruesome, gross horror scenarios during the intro credits, this is the best horror the movie has to offer for me…and it lasts 20 minutes!

frightworld intro demon

Immediately after, FrightWorld disappointingly turns into standard, low budget direct-to-video trash. A really hot guy (actor Andrew Roth, who has a long resume of indie horror films under his belt), brings his goth friends to an old horror attraction he just bought and plans to reopen.

frightworld cast

He gives them a tour of the creepy place and the horror props. The group parties, there are classic horror movie posters all over the walls, one chick masturbates to flashes of what is pretty much a Killer Klown from outer space, and there’s a montage of everyone splitting up to go have sex.

frightworld hottie

Andrew Roth got naked just in time to renew my interest in the film, because it isn’t until 54 minutes in that we get the first kill. Something bad is happening at the crotch of a goth boy…

frightworld boy kill

As late in the film as that seems for the first kill, there are still 50 minutes left, which is the first problem. The movie is way too long. The next problem, not surprisingly, is an overabundance of thrash metal music that totally ruins any atmosphere created by the impressive setting and horror effects. Why??? Why do indie directors always do it? Thrash metal is not scary. I don’t care how many pentagrams these bands put on their album covers. It’s NOT SCARY. For fuck’s sake, if you’re such a hardcore horror fan who wants to make a movie, go back and watch every horror flick that ever inspired you, and I’m sure you’ll find that a majority if not most of them feature eerie, ambient scores that make your skin crawl, NOT THRASH METAL.

frightworld guys

Beyond the music negating any valiant effort the director made to create an effective horror film, FrightWorld also becomes tedious to watch, with the actors running around the building arguing, and one of them occasionally getting killed off by an unseen killer. Is the crazy dude from the intro scene back from the dead? I really have no fricking idea.

frightworld end

He appears at the end, and there is apparently some sort of occult transference, but I guess my mind was too bogged down by the blaring thrash metal for me to comprehend what I was watching.

frightworld final girl

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STREAM QUEEN: revenge killer, supernatural killer, and a little of both

Expecting a trio of low budget slashers with my streaming picks this time around, I got three very different experiences with Elder Island, Phantom Of The Woods, and Ditch Day Massacre.

ELDER ISLAND (2016)

elder island cover

When an 80-minute movie – 75 without the end credits – makes me squirm with impatience, you know there’s trouble.

I honestly don’t know what the hell I watched here. Elder Island is apparently based on a true story about an island, 5 families, a dead reverend, a revenge curse…

elder island choke

What we get is a movie about a 3-person documentary crew visiting an island full of dysfunctional people, a supernatural killer reverend with an axe, and a crazy old dude who goes around raping and killing women…and yet it’s still boring as fuck.

The film drags as the film crew spends time encountering the various islanders, which seems to be an attempt to profile each one for us yet clarifies nothing. I’ll blame part of that on the fact that the audio mix is so bad that it virtually cuts out whenever anyone starts talking.

elder island flashback

There’s a cheesy period piece flashback showing us how the reverend was killed. There are a couple of random kills that lead to all the characters scattering in the woods, creating narrative chaos. And there’s such an abrupt end to the film that I couldn’t really comprehend what the storytelling goal was here.

I’m not even sure if the ghostly reverend with the axe was real, because I stopped trying to follow the plot, especially since he was barely in it.

elder island gore

Sad, considering his minimal appearances were the one highlight of the film, offering glimmers of good old cheesy slasher atmosphere and hacking. Also, the lead guy of the 3-person film crew is HOT and has a shirtless scene.

elder island hottie

PHANTOM OF THE WOODS (2013)

 phantom of the woods cover

Although it takes a while to get going, indie film Phantom of the Woods becomes incredibly engrossing and eerie once it starts moving. It’s a unique, much darker take on the familiar premise of an entity that feeds on victims’ fears.

At first it seems this is going to be a typical slasher about a bunch of trouble-making kids in a small town.

phantom of the woods butt

But when a guy loses his shit after being chased by a phantom form in the woods, all hell breaks loose. Locals begin to see disturbing visions of people from their past, which leads them to commit murder.

phantom of the woods phantom

Director Michael Storch uses the low budget to his advantage, delivering a horror experience that gets under your skin with a trippy, dark, 1970s horror feel and a creepy score. Things just keep getting more intense as the film progresses, until all the main characters end up in the woods for the final act, seeing things that aren’t really there.

phantom of the woods scarecrow

Each character’s delusional state adds some confusion to the mix, but it also creates a sense of dread as we are immersed in the fear of the unknown, much like the characters are experiencing. The supernatural tone is ominous and eerie, plus there’s plenty of tangible, horror, including gruesome murders, a freaky as hell scarecrow, and hints of re-animated corpses pursuing the main characters.

phantom of the woods corpse

Best of all, instead of the victims having the usual cliché fears – spiders, the dark, heights, etc. – the fears here are much deeper, psychological, and significant to the lives of each individual character. It’s not every day that you get a horror film that’s both smart and actually scary.

DITCH DAY MASSACRE (2016)

 ditch day massacre cover

If you just need a good fix of teens having sex and getting mutilated, regardless of how cliché the plot, Ditch Day Massacre is not to be missed.

Intro scene – a teen leaves a party and gets into a car accident.

Next – teen is still coping with the emotional scars of the accident, so when she’s left home alone, she skips school and has her friends over for sex and booze!

ditch day massacre killer

Little do they know that always-freaky Bill Oberst Jr. is coming after them with an axe…after a revealing naked workout session.

ditch day oberst butt

Meanwhile, always-daddy Brad Potts is a burly lawman, pursuing the killer on the loose.

ditch day potts

Ditch Day Massacre is undeniably entertaining in its simplicity. Horror icon Lynn Lowry has an absurd cameo as a neighbor who doesn’t hesitate to invite weirdo Oberst in for sex, leading to a gruesome little scene involving a fish tank.

ditch day lowry

A very cute boy hooks up with the freaky goth girl and barely puts up a fight when she whips out a vibrator for some pegging action—which becomes the cute boy’s biggest concern for the remainder of the film.

ditch day peg

Oberst does some seriously brutal ditch day massacring, a strong point of this slasher.

ditch day axe

Otherwise, it’s quite generic, right up to its big shocking twist, flashbacks to exactly why Oberst is hacking up teens, and vicious final act.

ditch day hand

As a bonus for those missing the days of horror nudity, there are boobs, and the peg boy in a towel.

ditch day pretty boy

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VHS era nostalgia isn’t enough to make these two winners

Just as the love of VHS horror will never die, it seems neither will the efforts of indie horror directors to replicate that feeling in their movies. In my efforts to forever find movies that actually do it right, I indulged in two films with plots dependent on the very decades they are trying to recapture – the 80s and the 90s.

BEYOND THE GATES (2016)

beyond the gates cover

The premise and the trailer for this one had me expecting a wickedly fun joyride of VHS nostalgia. Man, was I disappointed. This film just goes nowhere.

It opens in 1992, with a family opening a video store. Yay!

Flash to the present. The store owner has been mysteriously missing for quite some time, so his two sons come to close up shop. In his office, they find one of those old interactive VHS board games.

beyond the gates board

This is where you imagine the brothers will play the game and become immersed in a fun, fantastical horror romp for the remainder of the film.

beyond the gates gate

Well, forget that. This film drags on and on and on. I just couldn’t latch onto the plot. The brothers kind of research the game. One brother has nightmares – the film’s desperate attempt to deliver some horror and (good) gore to keep us engaged.

beyond the gates gore

A couple of horror situations arise in their real life, but I don’t really understand what connection they have to the game.

beyond the gates crampton

Finally, with like 20 minutes left in the movie, they dive into the game, which is hosted by horror icon Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, We Are Still Here, You’re Next). In the “dimension” beyond the gates, retro neon lights and fog machines abound, plus there’s some minor possession and encounters with a few demons.

beyond the gates dad

When all is said and done and we’re brought back through the gates to reality, one character pretty much sums up my feelings by asking, “Is that it?”

GETTING SCHOOLED (2017)

getting schooled cover

Considering how well put together Getting Schooled is, I was kind of shocked to discover it comes from the director of the painfully trashy film The Haunted Trailer starring Ron Jeremy (who has a cameo here as a school janitor).

getting schooled jeremy

It’s April 20, 1983, which happens to be the date of my 14th birthday. Ah…the days when I believed I had a future ahead of me. The opening scene is perhaps the highlight of this film, with a totally 80s girl dancing to faux, totally 80s synthpop in a school library before having a grisly run-in with a boombox.

getting schooled kids

The plot of Getting Schooled is simple. It’s The Breakfast Club vs. a crazed killer. Five kids – the bad boy, the jock, the popular girl, the geek girl, the plain (aka: main) girl – are stuck in detention. But they have a bigger problem; the teacher monitoring them all day is an ex-military man in a wheelchair who has picked my 14th birthday to snap and go on a killing spree.

getting schooled principal

Getting Schooled has its charms, particularly the attention to 80s details and references: lace gloves, leg warmers, “Mr. Roboto,” MTV, New Wave, etc. The performances are strong, there’s some playful humor, and the mock 80s soundtrack is dead on. Even the kills are fun and deliver some good practical effects gore.

getting schooled synth

The down side is that the film just isn’t very exciting. The kids lock themselves in the classroom for most of the film to go through their Breakfast Club soul searching, while the teacher gets in a few random kills on the outside.

getting schooled wheelchair fight

There are sporadic confrontations with the teacher that generally offer good cheap thrills, but overall, the film doesn’t deliver any sense of urgency, fear, or suspense. It feels like it just goes through the motions as it makes its way from one kill scene to the next. Even so, it’s definitely the winner of this nostalgic double feature for me.

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STREAM QUEEN: undeniably compelling haunted attraction double feature

As bad as they can be, I’m a total sucker for low budget horror that pretty much looks like it was filmed over a weekend at some haunting attraction in the director’s hometown during the month of October. So I went into Blood Demon Rising and Carnivale Creepshow prepared for the usual Amazon Prime garbage. But these two films delivered experiences so different than the average crap that I couldn’t help but be drawn in.

BLOOD DEMON RISING (aka: Grimises Rising) (2012)

blood demon rising cover

The poster art for indie horror Blood Demon Rising features an image of one of its highlights, but the “shot on video” look of the still does not do the fresh, unique style of this quirky film justice  – not to mention, I also prefer the original title better. It’s almost like director Harry Tchinski made budget restraints his bitch and molded them into his own personal film making identity.

blood demon rising animation

Following a sleek and stylish animated intro accompanied by a genuine horror score, the film segues flawlessly into what essentially looks like a computer-animated background with actors performing in front of a green screen. Whatever technique was actually used, it’s a visually arresting, surreal look that creates an atmosphere all its own.

blood demon rising cult

This is a wonderfully trippy, often campy funhouse ride of classic horror conventions merged with contemporary originality. A cult in some sort of castle-like building unleashes a simultaneously fiendish and funny demon thirsty for blood.

blood demon rising demon

This charismatic creep orders the cult leader (a casually intimidating presence reminiscent of the Tall Man in Phantasm) to bring him two hot babes.

blood demon rising mouth blade

What better way to lure in innocent young women than to run a haunted attraction? Our four main characters – 2 girls and 2 guys – bring a sense of teen horror normalcy, with the girls being hesitant about going through the attraction and the guys being the comical, likeable jerks that pressure them into it. The guys are even wearing “Spaceship Terror Film Crew” shirts…Spaceship Terror being the director’s first movie.

blood demon rising cast

After the foursome gets separated, the girls are abducted by the creeps that dwell in the haunted attraction. The guys, a perfect comic duo, have to sneak back in after closing time to find them.

Meanwhile, a notably handsome priest has been sent on a mission to stop the demon.

blood demon rising priest

He is also lurking around the premises as we are treated to a variety of ghouls (including masked cult members and vampires), some nasty gore, and a plethora of titties.

blood demon rising bunny

However, the highlight is a little goth girl with a knife. She is absolutely fantastic in her role and makes the perfect foil for the goofy guys.

blood demon rising little girl

The only noticeable weakness in the movie is a couple of very brief flashes of awful CGI, which actually feel out of place in an otherwise finely crafted film.

blood demon rising guys

Blood Demon Rising is way more entertaining than expected and firmly carves itself out as a one-of-a-kind midnight movie. In this day and age, rarely does an independent horror movie flip a finger to production limitations to deliver this much straight up gothic fun.

CARNIVALE CREEPSHOW (2017)

carnivale creepshow cover

Here is a film that manages to be genuinely bizarre, visually disturbing, and old school gritty, yet gives us virtually no plot.

Things seem clear and predictable at first – friends on a road trip stop at a haunted attraction in a desolate area – but things quickly get weird. They pull up to this haunted…well…barn in daylight, but in an instant, it’s night as they go inside.

carnivale creepshow kids

We get some of the expected, atmospheric footage of the attraction as the kids head through, but pretty soon the backwoods psycho staff, dressed in horror costumes, abducts them….

carnivale creepshow pumpkin shirt

What follows is an onslaught of creepy crap, delivered wonderfully but with nothing holding it all together, and no main characters to connect with for a majority of the movie.

carnivale creepshow animation

There are even some animated sequences thrown in to mesmerize and confuse. The group of friends we barely got to know is held captive, tormented, and tortured, yet we’re spared most of the grisly details.

carnivale creepshow fingers

There’s a whole bunch of side stuff going on with the backwoods freaks, and some cute rednecks hanging around as well, but I really couldn’t make sense of any of it.

carnival creepshow rednecks

Good performances – that feel more like improv wackiness – add to the ominous lack of clarity, which somehow works to the film’s advantage. The bombardment of lunacy is reminiscent of House of 1000 Corpses, but even less structured.

carnivale creepshow nanna

For instance, the first group of friends is pretty much pushed aside for a second group of kids that comes on the scene! We get another tour of the haunted attraction before these new kids are given the privilege of chase scenes…through the woods.

carnivale creepshow chainsaw

Meanwhile, one boy from this second group saves a girl from the first group (finally a main couple).

carnivale creepshow bed

They look for a way to escape the haunted attraction until eventually they are confronted with…zombies! WTF in a totally AWESOME way.

carnivale creepshow zombies

Carnivale Creepshow masterfully creates a classic horror look and feel and tosses in a mish mosh of horror staples, yet offers very little in the way of tangible plot. If you check it out, prepare to appreciate its hypnotic sense of horror style…while overlooking its lack of substance.

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Underwhelmed in the second part of the 80s

Here are four examples of why the biggest mistake 80s horror made was in trying do something other than formulaic slashers.

ETERNAL EVIL (aka: The Blue Man) (1985)

eternal evil cover

Four years after bringing us the holiday slasher classic My Bloody Valentine, director George Mihalka took a novel approach to bringing us a body count. BAD IDEA. Eternal Evil sux despite being from the 80s. Watching it again, I can see why I couldn’t remember a thing about it.

eternal evil body on slab

This guy who works on commercials is unhappy with his career, so he’s been taking astral projection lessons from Karen Black.

eternal evil lead and karen black

But now, it appears he’s killing people in his life while astral projecting. And based on their reactions to the flying first person perspective, they apparently see him coming. It’s so bad. And there’s not even any gore.

eternal evil karen scream

Meanwhile, his son is drawing pictures of “The Blue Man” (the original title of the film) and acting weird. That shit never pans out though. Some detective investigates the case. Karen Black engages in a totally 80s lesbian kiss at a club.

eternal evil karen kiss

It’s just boring as fuck. But during the pointless scenes that follow the climax of the film, a couple of dudes sport totally awesome 80s short shorts.

eternal evil shorts

WARNING SIGN (1985)

 warning sign cover

The horror of 1985 strikes again with another boring as fuck film. Warning Sign has Kathleen Quinlan (Nightmare in Blood, Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Hills Have Eyes remake) as a security guard at a chemical lab who must survive when a toxin is released, turning all the scientists into raging lunatics.

warning sign quinlan

Warning Sign has a great cast, including Sam Waterson (Law & Order), Yaphet Kotto (Alien, The Puppet Masters, Elm Street 6), GW Bailey (Police Academy franchise), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale of The Walking Dead), and 80s hottie Rick Rossovich (The Terminator, Roxanne, Spellbinder).

This screenshot was taken from http://www.tepg.se owned by Krister Nielsen (info@wonderworks.se)

But none of that helps the fact that nothing fricking happens! The movie focuses more on the “big men in power outside building try to figure out what went wrong” aspects than the “Kathleen Quinlan kicks ass when trapped inside building with infected people” possibilities.

warning sign mutated face

It’s not until 70 minutes into the film that the infected really come for Quinlan for a moment of good suspense. Before that, they’re kind of just a bunch of assholes with red fire axes.

warning sign axe

Seriously, I never saw so many red fire axes in one building. Yet you can forget that meaning there’s any gore. Like I said, nothing happens in this movie. YAWN.

ANGUISH (1987)

anguish cover

Anguish would be such a great film if the headache it causes by jumping all over the place didn’t far outweigh the highly effective moments of horror.

The opening title cards seem to promise a cinematic experience of William Castle caliber, warning of subliminal messages in the film and offering viewers an opportunity to leave before it’s too late.

anguish zelda

Next, we are introduced to a mother and son, played by little Zelda Rubinstein of Poltergeist 1982 fame and veteran actor Michael Lerner (Strange Invaders, Vibes, Maniac Cop 2, Omen IV, Tale of the Mummy). They have a creepy house that’s like a zoo for small animals (snails, birds, etc.), the son works as an eye doctor’s assistant and is going blind, and the mother has psychic powers, so she uses them to get the son to kill patients and bring her their eyes.

anguish eye killer

Sounds cool, right? Well forget that plot, because it gets lost in the movie’s gimmick. All of a sudden, we discover that their story is a movie being watched by a theater full of people. We finally meet our main girl, who is so scared by the mother/son movie she’s watching that when the son in the film sneaks into a movie theater to go on a killing spree (so much for that eye collecting plot), the main girl is convinced he’s actually in her theater.

anguish girls at theater

Anguish delivers creepy atmosphere and plenty of tension within its movie theater setting. The problem is, it so wants to play up the mind-warping effects of the film-within-a-film scenario that it becomes impossible to distinguish which movie we are in at any given moment, which would have been awesome if they did eventually meld. Instead, the main girl’s theater ends up having its own killer…a fricking mass shooter. I watch horror to escape from reality.

anguish gun killer

BAD DREAMS (1988)

bad dreams cover

Before doing gay/bi film Threesome and horror classic The Craft, director Andrew Fleming got his start in 80s horror with Bad Dreams.

bad dreams rubin

There’s no way to talk about this film without addressing the red and green striped elephant in the room. It stars Jennifer Rubin – who played a recovering drug addict in group therapy at a mental hospital, being terrified by dreams of a man with a burned face in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 – as a recovering cult member in group therapy at a mental hospital, being terrified by visions of a man with a burned face.

bad dreams gore face

So is there any value to this seeming rehash of a box office hit Rubin did a year before? For starters, it’s the best of the four films in this blog. It’s loaded with familiar 80s faces: Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator), EG Daily (Valley Girl, One Dark Night, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure), and Dean Cameron (horror-loving “Chainsaw” in Summer School).

bad dreams bruce abbott

bad dreams EG

Plus, ever-creepy horror actor Richard Lynch is the “killer” – the leader of the suicide cult Rubin survived. He now appears to her, beckoning her, often showing his true, burned face to terrify her, and systematically killing off all the members of her group. I know. It’s Elm Street 3.

bad dreams leader

Keep an ear out for a cool cover of Sinatra’s “My Way” by Mamby Pamby & The Smooth Putters during an awesome scene in which Dean Cameron steals the show.

bad dreams dean cameron

Plus, the closing credits are accompanied by “Sweet Child Of Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.

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