This year’s Christmas horror roundup continues

My early Christmas horror shopping started here, and only a few strays that I know of still remain to be seen after this batch I’m about to unwrap and add to my holiday horror page. But which ones are like unwrapping clothes on Christmas morning?

CHRISTMAS BLOOD (2017)

There is nothing to really dissect here…except bodies. This Spanish film takes classic 80s slasher tropes and makes a killer psycho Santa movie.

The opener sets us up for what we can expect—Christmas and horror atmosphere, a Santa with an axe, and brutal kills.

Crazy Santa guy is put away, crazy Santa guy escapes, group of friends goes to party at a house for the holiday, crazy Santa guy has a reason to target them.

Meanwhile, the detective on the case enlists the help of a reluctant detective who tracked down the killer the first time.

The gore is great, the chilly winter atmosphere is great, it’s creepy as hell when crazy Santa guy terrorizes his victims with a throaty “ho ho ho,” there are loads of victims, and there are plenty of WTF moments, like the arrival of some dudes from Tinder who add to the group’s troubles.

Most importantly, there are loads of chase scenes and some delicious twists at the end. This is definitely a must add to my holiday horror collection.

POOKA (2018)

First there was Halloween, then Thanksgiving. Now, the third installment of Hulu’s holiday horror series solidifies a pattern—all the movies in this series should have been short films (one of them originally was, which says it all).

Pooka drags an intriguing premise out into a repetitive cycle that gets the point across early and fails to add anything to the plot as it keeps coming. To make up for the lackluster forward progress, every scary scene uses loud noises and surprises to give the illusion that the movie is scary.

I can say right off that the film kind of reminds me of the awesome clown story from Scary or Die. A struggling actor lands a “role” playing Pooka, the hottest new toy of the Christmas season.

His odd but friendly neighbor (the crack whore from My Name is Earl) doesn’t hear or see the scary stuff going on in his apartment—the Pooka costume coming to life and losing its shit in a flood of 80s neon horror lighting!

This happens over and over again throughout the movie, never with any actual payoff.

Meanwhile, the main guy starts a relationship with a single mom. But Pooka keeps making him envision bad versions of the good things that are happening to him.

In its attempt to be deep and thought-provoking rather than the simpler and safer (and probably better) story of the guy “becoming” the Pooka character and killing everyone off, the film becomes a mess of confusing scenes that never clue you in as to whether they are actually happening or all in his mind. And the initially freaky Pooka loses his potency the more we see the main guy crack.

ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING (2018)

Adding to the small selection of Christmas horror anthologies out there, this little indie has an assortment of mostly campy, dark themed tales bookended by a strange wraparound that doesn’t deliver as much of a zinger ending as I’d anticipated. A couple goes to a tiny theater to watch a bizarre, live performance art show…which makes it seem that the three actors on stage are supposed to be acting out each tale? Not sure.

1st story – Eh. This takes place at a Christmas office party, and when it’s time to play a gift giving game, the group ends up in a bit of a Saw situation. It’s a tired plot that has been done more intensely in other full-length films.

2nd story – My favorite tale in the bunch. A guy locks his keys in his car and gets some help from two mysterious girls in a van. It’s the most genuinely horror feeling short here, with a Twilight Zone vibe.

3rd story – This one is a simple, campy modern day take on Scrooge when a guy clashes with his begging neighbor.

4th story – Another favorite, this one gives us a killer reindeer!

5th story – When a guy chains himself up during a full moon and is then surprised by a bunch of friends that show up to have a Christmas party, you think you know exactly where this one is going. It doesn’t go there. It should have.

SECRET SANTA (2018)

Not to be confused with this Secret Santa, this is more of a dark dysfunctional family comedy for most of its running time before it morphs oddly but thrillingly into a slasher late in the game.

There’s some fun, campy and snarky comedy as the family members take cruel jabs at each other and make perverse accusations.

Racism, homophobia, anti-semitism…you name it, the hypersensitive police would have a field day hating this one.

Now that’s my kind of Christmas sweater.

And I’m happy to say the absolute scene-stealing moments go to the stuttering gay guy. Priceless.

Then it breaks into an all-out bloodbath. And I’m not even talking about the classic slasher segment. That happens after the bloodbath…

And to make things even more interesting, it also has a bit of a classic infected/possessed at a cabin in the woods plot. You’ll just have to watch to see what I’m talking about.

SLAY BELLES (2018)

It’s one of those blind buys I kind of regret, even though it has its moments.

Those moments are the pretty cool Krampus monster, horror queen Kristina Klebe, Barry Bostwick, Richard Moll, and awesomely freaky Diane Salinger of Rest Stop and Dark House. Sadly, they’re all underutilized.

This feels like an hour long, low budget Christmas rock music video with hints of a horror comedy tagged on at the end. Kristina and her two friends travel to an abandoned Santa theme park, so a majority of the film features them goofing off in colorful neon costumes that will appeal to adolescent straight boys, I guess. I was reminded of the video game Lollipop Chainsaw…which is much funnier than anything that happens here.

Finally the girls see Krampus, Barry Bostwick warps in and claims to be Santa, there’s a lot more unfunny goofing off, and we at last get a short period of pretty good Krampus action. Considering this segment is its strong part, it’s a shame it didn’t take up the bulk of the movie.

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Candyman. Candyman. Candyman. Candyman…I can’t do it!

Short of Rawhead Rex, which I love but author Clive Barker apparently hated, Candyman for me is the ultimate movie based on his work. In 1992 it was surrounded mostly by desperate attempts to keep 80s franchises alive as well as a new breed of “slashers” that weren’t going for scares, but instead looking to create charismatic, humorous, celebrity killers that could be milked into long-running franchises. Blech.

The original Candyman explores everything from slavery and systematic oppression in the modern day to the chronic case of white privilege that permeates the existence of everyone in society to this day. And it taps into the power of urban legends six years before Urban Legend.

Seriously, it pretty much begins with a scene in an urban legend class (the teacher here uses alligators in the sewers as an example). That might explain why Natalie and Brenda have a “mirror moment” in Urban Legend—a sort of nod to this film having touched upon the subject first.

What’s interesting is that while the urban killer victimizing people in the projects in this fictional tale was actually a victim of the white man—we learn Candyman existed just post-slavery and was lynched by a white mob—there was a real-life “Candy Man” killer who doesn’t get the attention of Dahmer or Gacy, but whose crimes were just as heinous. Yes indeed, he was the monster walking among us, but no one knew because he was a well-respected, mild-mannered white man.

Back in fictional Candyman land, Virginia Madsen is doing a thesis on urban legends and narrows it down to the legend of Candyman, who terrorizes people of color in the projects. You have to wonder why a black man killed by white men would target his own people, but it sure does make for a chilling journey to the side of town no white people ever want to go.

Honestly, the look at the experience of living in the cold, stark Chicago projects—which barely scratches the surface—sets an absolutely chilling tone for this film. I love that our first introduction to the city comes from a perspective above it and looking down on it—just as at the beginning of West Side Story, another film about culture, race, and socioeconomic clashes.

It’s the complexities of how “the bad side of town” infiltrates and destroys the charmed life of an educated white girl that make this a much deeper film if you care to look beyond the terrifying presence of Tony Todd as Candyman. The moment he first appears to Madsen in a parking garage is a scene that has stuck with me ever since the first time I saw the film back in the day, and the scene still holds up big time.

While much of Candyman’s pursuit of Madsen is reminiscent of the dream state in which Freddy Krueger torments his main girls, Candyman doesn’t want to kill her, he wants to tear her world apart. There’s also an Elm Street 2 “kill for me” concept, however this isn’t a body count movie.

Candyman kills some black people along the way, but ultimately his vengeful goal is to get at the heart of what makes the white man tick—the beautiful, blue-eyed blonde woman he not only covets but who also gives him life to begin with. There’s a whole lot to unpack there in terms of racial history. Of course the sequels feel the need to spell it out…

CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (1995)

Directed by Bill Condon, whose next film would be Gods and Monsters, this one definitely suffers from some sequelitis and isn’t nearly as effective as the first film because it starts to deconstruct the creepy mystique of the antagonist. Even so, it does stay true to the themes of the original.

The obligatory “catch up” comes from an author at an event discussing the legend of Candyman and how people all over the country have been killing in his name. For continuity, he references Virginia Madsen’s character as a prime example. Then, to entertain his audience, he uses the conveniently reflective jacket of his book to say Candyman 5 times (which really feels like excessive repetition considering Bloody Mary only needs to hear her name three times to be summoned).

A brief appearance by an author as the reason Candyman is unleashed upon the blonde white main girl is definitely one of the absurd sequelitis moments.

Conveniently, the main girl has a direct connection to the story of what was done to Candyman. The plot has moved from Chicago to New Orleans to delve into Candyman’s past as the son of a slave. Our main girl, an art teacher whose mother is played by Veronica Cartwright, learns her family’s old plantation is directly linked to Candyman’s horrible murder, which makes her of great interest to him now.

Art depicting Candyman plays a part in all three films, each blonde lead has a black girlfriend, a young child of color comes into play in all three films, swarms of bees are a staple of the series, and Candyman has the same plan for each girl—kill those she loves and destroy her.

The mesmerizing and haunting score from the first film is reused here, but that doesn’t help this one any, because it simply isn’t frightening like the first movie. The main girl runs all over town trying to learn the truth while being stalked by the killer. You know things are getting a little off track when the final act includes the main girl going into underground caverns on a hunt for a hand mirror. Ugh.

That ridiculous new aspect of Candyman’s story aside, Farewell to the Flesh does a really good job of presenting to us the horrible things Candyman endured at the hands of white people. We also find out interracial relations played a part in the animosity toward him. Scandalous.

CANDYMAN: DAY OF THE DEAD (1999)

Normally I would bash this type of sequel, especially considering it comes in the wake of the great slasher resurgence kicked off in 1996 by Scream.

Hell, this film begins with Donna D’Errico of Baywatch running around in a tight T-shirt and panties in a dream sequence, followed by a sort of trip hop theme over the opening credits. Candyman definitely has changed, which could be explained by the fact that this one comes to us from the writer/director of 1995 popcorn flick Sleepstalker.

Day of the Dead feels more like a hokey horror film from the early 90s than the late 90s, relegating Candyman to a mere slasher killer, but damn does it do it in a fun, brutally gory way. It most definitely delivers in the kill zone in a way the first two films didn’t, and even throws in the obligatory T&A.

Donna plays a distant relative of Candyman, and I would have guessed that she’s supposed to be the daughter of the main girl from the previous film, but I’m not quite sure if that’s the case.

Either way, Donna is an artist who wants to expose the truth about Candyman the man, not Candyman the monster, through the use of her art.

Unfortunately, the guy who owns the art gallery wants to exploit the killer’s dark side. So they compromise…and she ends up doing the old mirror trick during her art show to prove she doesn’t believe he was evil. Sigh.

Interestingly, this final sequel takes the focus off black identity and shifts minorities to focus on the Latin community. Donna befriends the incredibly handsome Rod from A Nightmare on Elm Street, who tries to help her when Candyman starts coming for her by introducing her to his spiritual healer grandmother.

The plot basically plays out like a rehash of the first film with a fun slasher edge to it. The kills rock, there are some good jump scares, and Candyman’s first appearance to Donna in a rundown subway station is nearly as effective as the parking garage scene in the first film.

Not surprisingly, like most cheesy slashers of the 90s, the ending goes a little overboard, even throwing in unnecessary, obnoxious characters just to raise the body count.

Day of the Dead seems to at last get to the root of why art plays a part in all three films, but on the other hand, I was disappointed when it presents flashbacks to what originally happened to Candyman…because there’s no continuity with how it went down in the first two films! In those he was tied down in a field during the day and left to die. In this film he’s strung up crucifixion style at night! Come on! Details matter to franchise lovers, so there was no need to offer this brief, totally inaccurate flashback in the film that killed the franchise.

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Zombies, serial killers, and demons—which ones kept me most entertained?

This triple feature of films spanning different horror subgenres was culled from various mediums—cable, a Blu-ray, and streaming. Only one really paid off for me. Let’s take a look at which one.

THE CURED (2017)

While it’s thrilling to see Ellen Page in a zombie film since she kind of already did enter the zombie realm when her likeness was ripped off for the video game The Last of Us, it is mind boggling to me that a movie would so blatantly “borrow” from the plot to the TV show In the Flesh…right down to what appears to be a gay relationship, even if this movie does wimp out, leaving it as the love that dare not speak its name.

If you were a fan of In the Flesh, you basically know the plot. There was a zombie outbreak. A cure was discovered. Those who were cured are still treated like they’re sick and remain outcasts.

As a segment of society plots to kill the former zombies, believing they will turn again, the zombies form a resistance. They strike before their enemies can…by using their memories of what they did as zombies to do it to their enemies.

So, they are…post-zombie cannibals. It’s a drama, it’s a downer, and it just doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s hard to be moved by the depth of a movie when all that meaning has been done before.

DEATH HOUSE (2017)

This project from director B. Harrison Smith (Camp Dread, Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard) has been touted as The Expendables of horror ever since its inception. So it’s with great disappointment that I must say that this film is virtually unwatchable. Worse? I had blind faith and bought it on Blu-ray.

I can’t even process how excruciating this was. Maybe it sounded much better on paper. The fact that it is weighed down by exposition in the form of endless dialogue should’ve at least tipped off the writers (the late Gunnar Hansen and director Smith), and filming one flat scene of dialogue after another should have raised a huge red flag.

The story focuses (and focuses, and focuses) on an underground government facility running a secret operation to rid the world of evil. To do so, scientists have captured and are reprogramming crazed killers to eliminate their evil urges.

That’s the simple plot, and it should have remained that simple. Instead, the scientists endlessly supply more and more complex details of the operation to two “agents” that have arrived at the facility.

None. Of. It. Matters. All that should have mattered is that the killers resist the reprogramming, escape their cells, and go on a killing spree. Death House could have been packed with action, suspense, and gore, especially considering the title. It isn’t. I don’t understand it. I can’t comprehend it. It just isn’t. Instead, we’re bombarded with scientific and historical mumbo jumbo (virtual reality, Nazis etc.).

The cast of horror veterans—Tony Todd, Bill Oberst Jr., Dee Wallace, Barbara Crampton, Sid Haig, Danny Trejo, Felissa Rose, Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, etc.—can’t save it or make the material they’re given to work with interesting or cohesive. Most of them basically just stroll on screen for a moment (sometimes unrecognizable in costume) so the film can brag about its amazing cast.

This skinless people scene, which gave me hope way too far into the film, can’t save it.

Even the hot male agent doesn’t get the opportunity to be the studly hero, which would have at least stimulated my senses enough to keep me focused.

The Expendables of horror should be total midnight movie splatterhouse madness filled with thrills, chills, and campy horror fun. So what are the chances someone will be able to assemble all these people again to actually make that movie?

MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU (2018)

It’s Ringu meets Evil Dead with a lead girl who could be the sister of Tara from The Walking Dead. It’s everything that is so familiar about Indonesian film May The Devil Take You that makes it so easy to watch. This is the straight up midnight movie fun I needed in my life.


You know those fucking eyes are going to pop open any moment.

A young woman’s father is dying in the hospital…thanks to attacks by a Ring girl, killer hair and all.

But the shit really hits the fan when the main girl goes to stay with her wicked stepmother. After the contentious relationship is out on display, the stepfamily decides to break open the basement door the father has kept locked up tight. For the record, I will never break open any mysteriously locked door or vent I stumble upon.

Needless to say, something is released and everyone starts turning into creepy crawly evil Deadite Ring girls. Who even cares about the plot when there’s this much freaky demon face action?

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Lost in the 80s: killer kids, another teen wolf, and a guy who can’t get a date

Basically my whole life is in shambles because two out of these three forgotten films of the 80s aren’t available on disc to add to my collection. Take note, kiddies. THAT is white privilege on full display.

THE CHILDREN (1980)

This is the one—the sole film in this triple feature that is available on disc. It has been on Troma DVD for years and now finally comes to Blu-ray thanks to Vinegar Syndrome.

Back in 1980 we were so busy obsessing over Prom Night, Friday the 13th, and the emerging slasher genre that a Village of the Damned/Night of the Living Dead mashup was easy to overlook. But in retrospect, despite some cheesy, dated aspects, this is one eerily little killer kids flick.

Classic setup…a pipe leaks at a nuclear power plant. A school bus full of kids drives through a strange cloud of smoke on a road. Pretty soon the kiddies are home from school, showing up with their arms extended, smiles on their faces, and saying “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” Fall for their trap and their mere touch turns you into a smoldering, crispy corpse! How awesome is that? Zombie kids that burn you to death.

The gore wastes no time in showing up in all its nasty glory, but it does tend to look at times like victims have plaster of paris strips glued to their faces.

Gotta love the fact that the first kill takes place in a cemetery even though these zombie kids don’t crawl from the ground.

The soundtrack is awesome because it sounds just like Friday the 13th. I looked it up and learned why: same composer, same year! And the main detective guy is John Travolta’s priest brother in Saturday Night Fever.

LONE WOLF (1988)

 

Lone Wolf is the 80s movie I need in my DVD collection…so let’s hope Vinegar Syndrome, Kino Lorber, Arrow, or another indie company works their magic. This flick is everything the 80s was. First of all, more than actors, it looks like they showed up at my class of 87 graduation and cast any boys who hated me because all my friends were girls, and all the girls who hated me because I wouldn’t give them the time of day. Yes, being gay does have its advantages.

This film essentially plays out as a cycle of kids getting gruesomely slaughtered in the snow, nestled between the other most important plot point…they’re all in a computer class together and DOS is everything.

Okay, there’s also a plot about one of the dudes being a moody, mysterious rock singer, so that makes for some rockin’ 80s band montages.

Plus the guy who plays the main detective’s sidekick clearly wanted to be a star, and probably should have because he’s quite a character.

My only real complaint about the film is that the very first kill shows way too much of the werewolf, yet after that we start seeing just flashes of werewolf claws and teeth during kills!

So, yeah, the werewolf is really a modern day (1988 modern day) Wolfman, but it’s still awesome, especially since it gives one character the chance to make a Michael J. Fox Teen Wolf reference!

Most amazingly, this forgotten indie has a pretty damn good imitation of The Howling/American Werewolf in London style of transformation.

MINDKILLER (1987)

Mindkiller is the only other film from the director of Night Vision—although he did write Lone Wolf and The Amityville Curse. That last one on his resume clearly was a curse, because it seems to have ended his horror career. Bummer.

Although it takes foreeeever to get to the totally 80s horror vibe, I do think Mindkiller is better than Night Vision. It shows immediate promise with thunder, lightning, a dingy lab, and flashes of a deformed dude who warns his mother not to come into his lab.

Which is why I can’t imagine how this film spends a majority of its run time going nowhere! It’s actually kind of goofy as it focuses on a librarian with a hot roommate who gets all the girls.

But that changes when the librarian finds a mysterious book filled with all the answers to his love disconnection. When he uses it as his self-help guide, he begins to acquire special powers that let him move things with his mind and control the behaviors of others.

That alone gives this movie so much opportunity. He could control women into twisted sexual situations and get horrific revenge on all the hot guys in the world. Instead, the worst we get is him bringing a paper cutter blade arm down on some guy’s fingers…and not even slicing all the way through. WTF?

There’s also a weird Zapped! moment in which he mind controls his boss into stripping down to his undies in the library. More of that, please.

FINALLY, his friends try to stop the madness using steps outlined in the book. It’s 20 minutes of HP Lovecraft-esque horror that fits right in with other movies of the era like From Beyond and Frankenhooker. There’s 80s neon light galore, chases through the library bookstacks, throbbing, oozing, deformed monster face, and an actual hellish creature.

If only the rest of the movie had lived up to the finale. But I can forgive, because after the horror is over, there’s a final scene in a club set to a totally 80s funky new wave track. Previously available as a bad DVD-R, this one could really use a better release.

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Horror anthologies then and now

Digging through my DVD collection and Amazon Prime, I made it a quadruple feature of anthology films. That adds up to a whole lot of tales, so there’s a good chance I’m going to find something to get under my skin.

BLACK SABBATH (1963)

While it really took hold in the 1980s, the horror anthology craze was ignited in the 1960s, and very often there was some serious horror power involved. Mario Bava directs this one and Boris Karloff hosts in dubbed Italian. He also stars in one.

1st story – this is a pretty good template for future stalker films to come, and it even dares to feature a nonconventional (for its time) relationship. A young woman is terrorized by a prank phone caller who seems to be watching every move she makes in her house.

2nd story – bad enough this is a period piece, but Boris Karloff just stands around posing with a “scary” face after kidnapping a child. This leads the whole family to eventually enter some sort of catacombs, where they encounter Karloff’s ghoul friends—who are much creeper than him.

3rd story – this is the one unforgettable aspect of this anthology—much like the Zuni doll story in Trilogy of Terror. A woman dressing a corpse steals its ring and is then terrorized by the freaky as fuck dead bitch.

To this day, I don’t know if it’s a corpse prop or an actual woman in makeup. And I don’t want to know, because that alone makes this damn bitch the stuff of nightmares.

TORTURE GARDEN (1967)

Torture Garden was made by big time British horror production company Amicus, written by Robert Bloch of Psycho fame, and directed by horror veteran Freddie Francis.

It also features horror staple Burgess Meredith as the “carnival host” in the wraparound. He introduces a handful of people to a gypsy statue holding shears of fate. They look into them to learn their future.

1st story – greedy guy who wants his dying relative’s fortune stumbles on a cat that promises all he wishes for if he does its evil bidding. The gothic atmosphere is the best part of this one.

2nd story – a young woman hoping for fame gets mixed up with a sort of vampire acting cult, but this feels more like a bad mob movie.

3rd story – a woman’s new husband is a renowned pianist…and has a bizarre relationship with his grand piano, which seems to be haunted.

4th – Jack Palance is an Edgar Allan Poe fanatic who gets invited by Peter Cushing to stay at his home, which is basically a Poe museum.

Despite all the big horror talent involved, this is a really lame collection of stories. Only the piano tale came close to giving me the warm and fuzzy horror feels.

SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (2016)

Underground horror director Todd Sheets has been making horror films since the 80s. Great thing about that is, he doesn’t have to try to make movies look like they were made in the 80s. He just has to do what he’s been doing since the 80s and he nails it. That definitely makes this a fun watch for me…despite the 2-hour run time.

While the stories aren’t Halloween themed, the wraparound is. A young girl carves a pumpkin with her babysitter and tells scary stories.

1st story – my absolute favorite of the bunch, this one is like an homage to Night of the Demons. When kids go to spend the night at “He’ll House,” they are stalked by a masked killer…and all start turning into demons! It doesn’t need to make sense, because as with the rest of the film, the makeup and practical gore effects rule, there’s tons of neon light, and the score is totally 80s.

2nd story – eh. This is a kind of campy tale of a couple that can’t get anyone to stick around long enough to perform an exorcism.

3 – another pretty simple tale, this is about a player who drugs girls so he can easily get them to have sex on camera. But then he meets his match. No surprises in this one.

4 – Teleporting back to 1970s grindhouse flix, this one also has a jive couple teleporting back in time to take on zombies! The lead guy drops one-liners left and right in this goofy segment that actually has cool classic zombies.

5 – This one is just nasty good. A woman is already having a really bad day at work before a nasty slug thing crawls up her cootch in the restroom.

6 –This is a tale of a guy being chased while in his car on a dark, deserted road. I guess the zinger ending is the whole point, which explain why it’s such a short tale.

7 – a creep who kidnaps a girl from a park gets more than he bargained for. The guy’s icky performance sells this one.

Finally, the film ends on a fun note with a scary wraparound conclusion and twist.

WATCH IF YOU DARE (2018)

Cool title, but I think it does this anthology a bit of a disservice. These are essentially 4 gory body horror stories, and I think the title should have reflected that since it’s a fresh angle for an anthology.

Despite it being a practical effects gorefest, the film is also predominantly tongue-in-cheek, making most of the stories easy to watch.

1st story – how far would a girl to have hair as beautiful as that of another?

2nd story – this is straight up self-torture porn! A guy systematically mutilates himself. Made grisly good, but not my thing.

3rd story – I feel like I’ve seen this tale before, so maybe it was on the Internet as a standalone short at some point. A foodie is invited to a very secret, very underground restaurant. He’s warned not to tell anyone about it. He should have followed the rules…

4th story – this one gets right to the simple point, and it’s my kind of point. A guy whose brother was mutilated and had his penis removed returns to the scene of the crime to…um…find the penis.

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PRIME TIME: zombies, demons, and the fear of being a virgin

The best thing about being caught up on all my movie watching is that I get to dig deeper into some of the horror on Prime, which is like browsing the racks of unknown horrors in the video store back in the day; you’re bound to find the good, the bad, and the ugly…and devour all of it. This time around it’s a zombie flick, an indie demon action flick, and a teen comedy.

THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD (2018)

 

In the age of zomburnout, this one is derivative of many recent zombie films—man wakes up to find he must survive all alone in a zombie apocalypse. The fact that the guy here is stuck in an apartment building makes me immediately think of films like Rammbock and Darkest Day.

There are some zombie suspense/action scenes sprinkled throughout, but most of our time is killed watching the guy kill time while attempting to stay sane.

He jams on drums to thrash metal, he jogs around the building’s hallways, he talks to a zombie stuck in an elevator like it’s his buddy, he does target practice with zombies out a window, he has nightmares!

All these cliché situations bring nothing new to the table, but for me it was worth watching The Night Eats the World because of an awesome scene involving the zombies infiltrating the building, the main guy getting trapped on the elevator, and the crazy action he takes to get out of the building. If only everything that came before the end were as thrilling and unique.

DEMON MOTHER (aka The Shriven) (2010)

It’s low budget with flashy indie style and practical effects and makeup (yay!), so Demon Mother immediately gets bonus points with me.

It’s also melodramatic and cheesy with plenty of nudity and gore as various demons and demon hunters have a turf battle in an urban setting. Heap on more bonus points.

I was oddly entertained by this one because it really knows what it’s going for. I liked the initial premise. A guy having nightmares about turning into a monster and killing women during sex begins to suspect he’s responsible for a rash of murders around town.

Then he meets a seductive woman who lures him into the world of life as a demon. She’s a fricking awesome demon babe. As threats come at them from every angle (aka: every alley), the guy’s girlfriend vows to save him from the clutches of the demon underworld.

It is what it is, so either you just go with it and enjoy the cheap erotic action horror insanity, or you avoid it completely. Personally, it made me want to see more movies from director Max Dementor (as if his name alone isn’t reason enough).

TEEN LUST (2014)

If you visit Boys, Bears & Scares on a fairly regular basis, you know I’m a sucker for the teen sex & satan comedy genre (Killer Pad, Succubus: Hell-Bent, etc.).

If Jason Biggs fucked Once Bitten in its pie hole, the result would be Teen Lust. A high school virgin and his best buddy are part of a Satanic cult but decide to bail when they find out he’s about to be sacrificed to stop the second coming of Jesus!

Yep, it’s one of those “kids on the run from baddies” flix, with plenty of sexual hijinx along the way as the boys try to figure out how to pop the virgin’s cherry so he’ll be of no use to the cult.

It’s straightforward, silly fun with a totally likable cast of kids and some light humor, much of it raunchy. I would have welcomed even more raunch, because what’s it offers is right up my (back) alley. After all, nothing warms the heart more than a guy willing to serve up his ass to his buddy if that’s the only way to help him out of his predicament before it’s too late…

Yep, it’s definitely one for the die, gay guy, die! page.

Plus, the cast of adults is awesome, including cutie bear John Dore, horror queens Emmanuelle Vaugier (Charlie’s girl Mia on Two and a Half Men) and Kristin Bauer van Straten (vampire diva Pam on True Blood), and Cary Elwes of Saw.

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PRIME TIME: a triple feature of slashing oddities

I wouldn’t exactly call all three of these slashers, even though there’s hacking and slashing in each one. It’s everything else going on in between the kills that kept me watching: werewolves, witches, ghosts, gut aliens, violent new wave band members…

SLICE (2018)

When a horror comedy starring Chance the Rapper hits Prime, it’s added to my watchlist and watched the same day.

With a perfectly goofy premise, Slice had me expecting something better than I got. There are just minor blips of great humor, resulting in an uneven comedy that doesn’t sustain its entertainment value. The film also dances around its horror theme for a majority of the running time before at last delving into it during the final battle.

The opening scene stars the director as a heavy metal pizza delivery dude. Dare I say it’s a killer opening that segues right into my favorite type of intro credits—animation set to old school “spooky” horror music.

The odd plot involves a group of friends at the pizza parlor setting out to find out who killed the pizza guy. Thing is, in their town mortals and ghosts co-exist…so some of the friends are dead.

Meanwhile, cops on the case believe the killer is a werewolf that just rode into town on a motorcycle: Chance the Rapper.

There’s a whole lot of talk and very little humor that worked for me. My favorite parts are the ones in which Chance appears. He gets all the good scenes. If only there had been even more good material for him to deliver.

By the end, witches are thrown into the mix and there are even some cheesy fun supernatural battle effects right out of the 80s. Unfortunately, Chance’s transformation into a werewolf (finally) isn’t one of them.

HALLOWEEN MIND MASSACRE (2018)

This 64-minute movie is as home-brewed as it gets, with cheesy 80s special effects, loads of 80s lighting, an 80s style score, food coming to life in stop motion, and a totally bizarre storyline. What I’m saying is, I couldn’t help but watch.

A white trash hitman who seems to battle people that come back from the dead (yes, quite a bit of Evil Dead love here) gets taken over by a little alien slug creature that slips into him through his belly button. 

We get interior shots of the alien inside him as it tells him what to do…which is to go out and kill people on Halloween. We do get a brief but festive Halloween montage scene of trick or treaters.

Meanwhile, there’s another dude across town who performs an occult ritual and summons a demon. Pretty soon, the bizarre worlds of the two men will collide, and there’s even a mad scientist thrown in just for the fuck of it. 

It’s so oddly entertaining and I can’t help but admire the dedication of everyone involved in wanting to make a movie and just going for it. I’m not saying you should watch this film, but I couldn’t stop.

PSYCHOTIC! (2016)

A film about a bunch of potheads partying in an apartment while jamming and fighting over who gets to stay in their band, this bizarre slasher will make you feel like you’re stoned and hanging out with them.

The opening killer POV scene totally sets up not only an intriguing situation, but a vibe that is both 80s slasher and 80s Euro horror all at once.

While there’s a lot of disorienting filler here (it’s 42 minutes before the second kill after the opener), I just got completely sucked in by the vibe and the whole “what the fuck is going on” of it all.

The film is drenched in neon light, the score is perfectly 80s, the killer’s mask is freaky, the kills are brutal—and often reminiscent of Argento’s style—and the practical effects are gory good.

I’d definitely like to add this one to my collection if it hits DVD. My only complaint about the film is that one guy in the band wrote this kickass new wave song that gets sung by several different people in stoned stupors throughout the movie, and none of them can sing. I was really expecting the closing credits to have a studio version of the song being performed by an actual band, but it never happens. 

 

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STREAM QUEEN: three streams and a couple of queens

My latest triple viewing is a mixed bag of subgenres, and there’s nothing here worth adding to my movie collection, but I did find something to like about each of these films.

PYEWACKET (2017)

After seeing the trailer for Pyewacket when it was getting hyped a few months ago, I had so little interest in it that I didn’t even put it on my “to see” list. But when it showed up on Hulu there was no excuse not to check it out.

The boring as fuck trailer completely does the film justice.

I can’t even wrap my head around how what should have been a 30-minute horror short in an anthology at most was stretched into a 90-minute slow burn that burns until it just fizzles out.

There’s this teen who hangs out in the woods with her goth friends reading occult shit. Following her father’s death, she has a rocky relationship with her mother, played by Andrea from The Walking Dead.

So bad that the she goes into the woods during a moment of anger and wishes something awful on her mother.

The movie tries desperately for the rest of its runtime to convince us something terrifying is coming for her mother through the use of some encroaching camerawork and banging in the attic.

It. Just. Doesn’t. Work.

On the bright side, I found a couple of modern wave bands to play on my Future Flashbacks Show: Weeknight and Rey Pila.

 

 

GHOST STORIES (2017)

Ghost Stories is a movie about a skeptic who debunks supernatural scam artists. It plays out like a polished horror anthology, as he speaks to three different people who share their tales of terror…

1st story – we’ve seen this one numerous times before. A night security guard is terrorized by ghosts while on duty. He walks around with just a flashlight, and we see a freaky ghost child, but the story ends just when it seems like it’s about to deliver.

2nd story – this is my favorite in the bunch. A young man driving back from a party on a desolate road is terrorized by a satanic beast creature. In the age of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, this one nails the fun of the occult.

3rd story – I was really feeling this one at first, as it appears some dude is being haunted by a baby ghost in a playpen. I just don’t understand why it throws all that away to slap us with a cliché screaming ghost woman whose face is then treated to the demon app to add insult to injury. WTF?

As for the wraparound, there are some engrossing points to the main guy’s story, but an obvious makeup job spoils half the surprise, and the conclusion to his story is a twist we’ve seen before.

The bigger unexpected twist is that the closing credits roll to Bobby Boris Pickett’s Halloween classic “Monster Mash.”

THE KAOS BRIEF (2017)

The KAOS Brief is about as paint-by-numbers as a found footage film gets—with all the usual flaws and plot holes—so if you’re not tired of the genre yet, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Our notably attractive foursome features a gay vlogger who goes camping with his boyfriend, his sister, and her boyfriend.

While out in the woods, they experience a couple of creepy things that immediately scream, “ALIENS!”

But we don’t get stuck in the Blair Witch zone with aliens.

The kids actually leave the woods. It’s at the house of the brother and sister, whose parents are away, that all the terror begins. It’s Paranormal Activity with aliens…and men in black.

Seriously, it’s basically Men In Black if they were the bad guys in a found footage film. All you get to see of the actual alien threat is spaceship lights and a conveniently loaded and cued video tape the kids discover of a silhouette of an alien. Hey, it’s still more of a payoff than The Blair Witch Project.

The most significant part of this film for me is the fact that the gay characters are completely integrated into and integral to the plot…not just novelties.

And they even get a charming kiss scene. Considering the leading man is gay and half the cast is gay, I’m going to file this one with my homo horror movies instead of my die, gay guy, die! movies.

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5 new Christmas horror flicks for 2018

Another holiday season, another onslaught of Christmas horror coming our way for me to add to my complete list of holiday horror movies. My first marathon of season’s screamings even includes more than just slashers.

AMERICAN EXORCIST (2018)

Since this one comes from the directors of Alpha Girls, I had high hopes for it.

It starts off with an office Christmas party gone horribly wrong. This awesome scene is a reminder that mass shootings should only happen in movies.

Next, a tough chick and a goody-goody girl enter a house to perform an exorcism on a gnarly possessed girl. This duo and their demon friend promise one kick ass holiday exorcism movie.

But then…WTF? The movie becomes solely about the goody-goody girl, who is a paranormal skeptic. She goes into an office building at Christmas time to debunk all its tall tales of ghostly action. Bill Moseley has a brief role as a maintenance guy, but other than that it’s an entire movie about this girl exploring the building.

It’s agonizing. Every time she witnesses something scary, she’s temporarily shocked, and then makes a sort of “fake news!” face and just continues exploring. Another fake news dumb ass. And all this while an annoying, pulsing score plays incessantly.

She uses a Ouija board, she decorates a Christmas tree, there are a couple of demon attack scenes that never pan out, and there’s even an entire Lights Out hallway rip-off scene.

The directors really need to go back to the drawing board and make the movie about the two exorcist girls.

KRAMPUS ORIGINS (2018)

Hey, I’ve watched a lot of disappointing, low budget Krampus films (and even more Krampus films) over the last few Decembers, but this one, which is titled in a way that positions it to sneakily be misjudged as a prequel to any of them, is virtually void of any Christmas or any Krampus.

We get a brief prologue about military men finding an amulet during World War I.

Then we move to an orphanage run by nuns, and for an hour we are subjected to every typical situation you could imagine arising at an orphanage short of them bursting into “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” If only.

Finally the kids do a ritual that brings Krampus, who is virtually nothing more than a still shot for a majority of his short appearance in the film.

His robotic design also makes it look like this movie should perhaps be called Krampus in Space.

DEAD BY CHRISTMAS (2018)

Now onto the good stuff. Christmas slashers. Director Armand Petri, whose other films I cover here, brings us the first one, a short, 60-minute film.

This isn’t the usual killer Santa flick. It’s actually a killer in a Santa mask, yet the style in which the killer is presented makes it seem there’s a supernatural element to its existence. But that isn’t the case when all is said and done.

But before I get into it, let’s begin with the tasty holiday treats…

While the death scenes are big on Christmas horror spirit, the focus is more on the back story of the characters. A group of friends that grew up together in an orphanage returns for a reunion at the home of the nun that raised them (a more interesting orphanage than the one in Krampus Origins). They are still haunted by a dark secret from their childhood, so there’s a lot of dialogue to fill us in on the details, as well as numerous flashbacks.

Essentially, the slasher elements are a side story to the deeper plot. They’re visually striking and sometimes gory good, but they often feel somewhat rushed without enough suspenseful buildup before the killer strikes.

There are no chase scenes, and the final girl is never highlighted, so we don’t get a chance to become attached to her—she suddenly becomes the final girl simply because she’s the only one left.

ELVES (2018)

I’m not even sure if this odd film is a sequel to the movie The Elf that I blogged about last year, but it definitely stands on its own. It offers a unique premise rather than a predictable killer elf slasher.

A group of friends is basically cursed by an elf doll…as in, they each begin getting possessed by it and their faces morph into the elf!

Awesome. But  hell, I make that face all the time and I’m not even possessed.

The rule is that when the “elf” tells you what to do, you must do it or die.

But this totally confusing movie also features a killer in a Krampus mask, plus there are what seem like supernatural kills, like a guy being attacked by a string of Christmas lights.

And of course the elf doll keeps popping up, although it rarely does the dirty work itself.

In between the fun and sometimes brutal kills, the main characters basically just sit around trying to figure out who’s next and arguing over whether the elf is real. So I wouldn’t watch this one for the story, just the cool creeps and kills.

MRS. CLAUS (2018)

Indie director Troy Escamilla is carving a niche for himself in the low budget slasher genre. I’m a fan of his first film Party Night, which goes for that throwback video store rental vibe.

Mrs. Claus follows generally the same classic 80s slasher template: a bunch of friends gets together to party and have sex, and soon a masked killer starts hacking and slashing.

It’s a Christmas party at a sorority house where a hazing ended in tragedy years before. Christmas atmosphere abounds, there’s some T&A, and there’s even a gay character.

But the bigger standouts include the gory, practical effect kills and the creepy Mrs. Claus mask. It’s refreshing to have the Misses doing the naughty work for a change.

We also get horror queen Brinke Stevens as a cop who spends most of her camera time on the outskirts of the actual plot. It was sort of déjà vu for me, as her role was similar to the one she played in the film Axeman.

Stringing the plot along between kills is the usual melodrama between characters. It’s hard to make shallow character development interesting in slashers, so don’t expect anything all that engrossing on that front.

The basic motivation of the killer at the end is about as thin and simple as it gets, which is definitely a staple of many 80s slashers.


Just coincidence that the guy’s lips are built to take on a big black phallus? 

I like some of the edgier moments here (like an exploitative hazing scene), the vicious kills, and the holiday spirit, but I do think Party Night delivered a grittier, suspenseful experience overall with more old school horror atmosphere. The killer was more ominous, there were better scares, and the final girl took it up a notch. However, that film was left open-ended and the killer never unmasked.

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Holidays on Hulu: it happened before and after Christmas

My latest streaming double feature on Hulu was holiday themed—one Thanksgiving horror and one New Year’s horror. They made it to my holiday horror page by default, but did they make the season bright…I mean…dark?

INTO THE DARK: FLESH & BLOOD (2018)

This Thanksgiving installment of the holiday themed horror movie series on Hulu comes from the director of the My Bloody Valentine remake, of which I’m a big fan, so I was psyched going into it.

Damn! My hopes for a good Thanksgiving horror flick were dashed. For starters, while the film takes place on the holiday and the days after, don’t expect any celebration or even a turkey short of a brief flashback.

A teen girl who suffers from agoraphobia since the unsolved murder of her mother is trapped in her house with her father, played by Dermot Mulroney.

While he’s out one day, she may have forgotten to take her meds…and becomes convinced he not only killed her mother, but a whole bunch of other girls.

This makes for one of the most awkward family holiday conversations ever that doesn’t involve politics.

It’s dumbfounding to me that this dissolves into a completely templated thriller right out of the late 80s/early 90s. It’s virtually The Stepfather, hold the step. I’m convinced the script is attempting to make you think there’s going to be a really obvious twist…but then doesn’t deliver the obvious twist, instead sticking with the initial obvious plot as if that is supposed to be the twist.

MIDNIGHTERS (2017)

Midnighters is an apt name for this New Year’s Eve/Day movie, which turns out to be yet another holiday thriller, not a horror movie. This was a huge disappointment for me since it comes from IFC Midnight, and I usually really like their movies.

I’m not saying this is a bad film, it’s just not one I would have watched had I known what it was about. Once again, it’s essentially modeled after late 80s/early 90s thrillers, with some torture porn and home invasion elements thrown in to make it feel modern.

After leaving a New Year’s Eve party, a couple gets sexy while driving and accidentally makes roadkill out of someone. The surprising part is that they try to do the right thing and not just hide the body or cover up what happened, but eventually…they hide the body and cover up what happened.

They return to their house in the middle of nowhere, and pretty soon some new characters come into the picture. A tale of intrigue and deception is introduced, and one twist after another is thrown at us as everyone seems to be backstabbing the other.

There’s an endless loop of people getting knocked out, tied up with tape over their mouths, and tortured, then the tables getting turned as loyalties switch back and forth. So…we just wait to see who’s going to be the last person standing.

Eh.

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