Bought on Blu and DVD: six degrees of recycled sex and scares heading into the 90s

There’s a reason why I added each of the three films in this post to my media library, so let’s find out why…

DANCE WITH DEATH (1992)

The director of Demon Wind brings us what is considered a remake of erotic thriller Stripped to Kill from just five years before, which is about a detective that goes undercover at a strip club to investigate a series of murders of dancers. But believe me, even if you’re a fan of Stripped to Kill, Dance With Death is altered enough to make it worth a watch—and worth it for me to have on Blu-ray to complete my Stripped to Kill franchise collection.

There also happen to be some awesome people in the cast. Martin Mull plays the club owner during the era that he was a regular on Roseanne. Just two years before she’d find fame on Friends, Lisa Kudrow plays the friend of the main female character, who is a reporter this time instead of a detective.

And Maxwell Caulfield, with Grease 2 ten years behind him, plays the detective that teams up with the reporter to solve the case.

The reporter wants to get the story and solve the case, so she takes a job as a stripper at the club. There’s plenty of T&A during the dancing scenes, but we only get to see a few death scenes. However, one in a phone booth is particularly disturbing and violent.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of red herring so we don’t guess the killer too soon, and there’s even a lesbian plot line (makes sense the year Basic Instinct struck it big as an erotic thriller).

Most importantly, the old school final chase scene is fricking fantastic. It’s a long, suspenseful chase with a masked killer that just won’t seem to die. The finale alone had me thinking I might like this film better than the original.

TO SLEEP WITH A VAMPIRE (1992)

I added this DVD to my movie library because I needed to complete my collection of every horror movie starring Mallory’s boyfriend Nick from Family Ties, so I deserve what I get.

To Sleep With a Vampire is a perfect example of the kind of soulless direct-to-video/direct-to-cable crap that was being pumped out as the 80s morphed into the 90s.

This is a gothic erotic vampire romance that falls flat on all counts. Scott Valentine plays a lifeless (no pun intended) vampire that goes to a strip club (obligatory in movies during this era), lures a suicidal stripper home, and then tells her he’s going to suck the life out of her before the morning comes. First, he insists she tell him all about the joys of being mortal.

Cringe.

The best part of all the poor attempts at thought-provoking dialogue is when the stripper asks the vampire if he’s sucked on guys. He doesn’t answer.

Right from the start, their interactions are volatile, violent, and filled with sexual tension. The eroticism includes some tits and Scott in a leopard print Speedo.

As far as vampire lore is concerned, he can’t be in the sunlight, but he does have a reflection.

And while a slimy taxi driver who thinks he’s funny chauffeurs them around town, and Scott uses his long fingernails to climb the side of a house to get inside a window, at one point Scott simply beams himself and the main girl off the beach in a sparkle of light when the police show up. So apparently he has the ability to teleport… but opts to do things the hard way?

As mortal and vampire begin to bond, the big question we don’t even feel like sticking around to get the answer to is…will they live eternally ever after or is someone going to die?

DANCE OF THE DAMNED (1989)

Here’s the big six degrees moment of this post, which is also why Dance of the Damned was a must-have for my completist obsession. Dance of the Damned comes from the director of Stripped to Kill, and To Sleep With a Vampire is a remake of Dance of the Damned! What the hell? Why was everyone unofficially making sequels to director Katt Shea’s movies a few years after she made them?

I can safely say To Sleep With a Vampire is virtually an exact duplicate of this movie, with very minor details altered and a slight difference in tone.

The vampire is played by the dude from Porky’s who played a sort of asshole because he had an abusive father. I much prefer him in the role of the vampire over Nick from Family Ties. He also has an amazing mullet from hell that would make Billy Ray Cyrus feel inadequate.

This vampire gives off a sexier and more dangerous yet likable vibe, so it’s easier to imagine him glamming the stripper into coming with him for the night. He shows off his long fingernails earlier, he has monster-blue eyes, and he has a very 1980s, mono-colored monster POV.

The few differences include a reference to lesbians being the best tippers at the strip club in place of her teasing the vampire about sucking off guys, weak synthpop music during dance scenes that tells you it simply has to be the end of the 80s, a more gruesome response from the vampire when a couple of thugs harasses him and the girl, and the taxi driver who picks them up being less sleazy and not offering hints of comic relief as he does in the remake.

There’s also a great erotic horror scene of the stripper licking the vampire’s canines while they make out, and the final battle has a much better supernatural tone. It’s much more compelling than the hokey feel of the chase in the remake.

And finally, when they climb the side of a building to enter a house through a window, I’m almost positive it’s the same window that the Glick boy floats outside of in Salem’s Lot, if not an intentional facsimile.

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3 flicks with poster art that uses the same color palette

Yep. The similarities in the poster designs are the only reason I lumped these three together.

DEEP HATRED (2022)

This is like a supernatural backwoods slasher that forgets the slashing.

After an opening scene of a man being tossed in a lake, we meet our main girl, who is joined by her friends when visiting her family home after the passing of her father.

The neighbors are friendly but odd, and there are scarecrows meant for keeping away spirits around the property. As the foursome of young people deals with relationship drama and lounges around the pool, the main girl’s man starts to experience weird shit, like droplets and puddles of water in odd places.

Strange occurrences continue, including flashes of a mummy-like creep, leading to the kids trying to delve into the main girl’s family history and determine what became of the father. Personally, my concern would be why all the horror is happening to my boyfriend when it’s my damn family curse.

Deep Hatred is not particularly compelling as a supernatural mystery, and the “slasher” elements begin when there are only 15 minutes remaining. They are also not very compelling. The movie just feels underdeveloped all around, but I did like the atmosphere in the final act with the killer.

HABITUAL (2022)

This film explores the intersection between psychiatric drugs and mental illness…by putting us through a psychotropic experience at a rave.

There’s not much of a story here. If I was following right, a group of self-involved kids goes to a rave after killing a man (in an opening series of events that stars C.T. from MTV’s The Challenge).

Meanwhile, a crazy dude connected to them by six degrees of separation escapes an asylum.

The rave happens to be at an abandoned asylum.

The main characters stray from the main rave room and explore the derelict building. It’s hard to tell if they’re dealing reality or a drug trip as they experience gruesome situations.

Eventually a killer known as “Blight” violently murders them all. But it’s not like a stalking, chase-filled slasher movie. Everyone just seems to walk right into his trap. But damn, the gore is juicy, and the killer is nasty.

In the end, it seems like the whole point of the movie is revenge by someone who doesn’t want to take responsibility for their own actions and needs to blame their drug problem on their drug dealers.

THE TOYBOX (2018)

When I saw that The Toybox stars Mischa Barton and Denise Richards, I figured how good could it be? That’s why I simply had to watch it.

Sometimes a movie is just so asinine and takes such ridiculous risks that it becomes the epitome of so bad it’s fucking awesome, and this is one of those movies. The Toybox don’t give a fuck what your opinion is—it’s going to be as weird as hell every step of the way and not give a shit if you go on the internet to say it’s the worst movie ever.

A father gathers his grown children and their families on an RV for a road trip. Along the way, they come across Mischa Barton and her brother stuck on a desert road, give them a lift, and then…

…the audience gets hit with the crazy truth—the RV is haunted, has a mind of its own, causes a crash that leaves the family stranded, and then begins killing them off one by one in between haunting individual members with sightings of mutilated ghosts.

Side note: Ever notice how every time a child gets hit by a moving vehicle in a movie, somehow they lose a sneaker and it’s the only thing left behind?

This movie revels in being bizarre, and there’s even a psycho killer on board by the end with some sort of supernatural link to the very physicality of the RV.

Really, you have to see this movie to believe it.

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STREAM QUEEN: all kinds of hungry creatures and killers

It’s sharks, werewolves, killer comedians, and crazy rednecks in this foursome of flicks I checked out over the weekend.

WEREWOLF CABAL (2022)

This 110-minute indie horror comedy doesn’t offer enough comedy or plot to warrant the runtime. While the werewolf action was horror comfort food for me when it finally arrived, the amount of pointless, dull dialogue is staggering, and the delivery is so deliberate and slow that it drags the pace down even more.

The plot is about a cute young horror author who inherits his deceased mother’s house. When he moves in, a young woman is already living there and informs him that his stepbrother has also passed.

However, there’s more to it than that. There’s a nefarious cult—or cabal, if you will—keeping a werewolf captive in the church.

After an early werewolf attack, it’s literally an hour before the werewolf finally escapes the church. Even then, the werewolf attacks are few and far between for a while.

The cheesy werewolf mask and inexplicable red and blue horror lighting that appears in every indoor location whenever he shows up totally rock.

If this film had been edited down to 80 minutes without removing any of the werewolf scenes, I would recommend it for the nostalgic 80s horror vibes during the werewolf segments, but it’s a chore to sit through the long stretches of everything else here.

TWO HEADS CREEK (2019)

This predominantly action-free backwoods cannibal horror comedy waits until the very end to deliver all the humorous hack ‘n’ slash fun. The last fifteen minutes are a blast and save the movie.

After the death of the woman who adopted them, a brother and sister pair heads to Australia in search of their biological mother.

This lands them in the small rural town of Two Heads Creek, where everyone is really weird and quirky. The siblings also learn their mother has died recently, but something seems very fishy about that story.

Unfortunately, the first 50 minutes of the film don’t do enough to make us fear for the fate of our two leads. The horror elements and a body count are non-existent, the mystery angle isn’t strong enough to keep us guessing, and the humor isn’t consistent enough to keep us fully engaged, despite the cast doing a good job with the material.

Then comes the twist, which has a bit of a conspiracy theory angle (definitely a sign of the times), and it’s a goodie. The movie hits its stride as the truth is revealed. There’s even a playful musical performance at a party…the locals doing a glammed up performance of The Skyhooks Halloween playlist favorite “Horror Movie”.

 

Once the siblings fight back, this becomes a glorious slice ‘n’ dice party movie for fifteen minutes.

If only the battle had started about halfway through the film, this would have been loads of fun.

TOO LATE (2021)

Three horror comedies in a row, all with the same problem…where’s the horror and humor? Too Late is perhaps the worst offender considering it even takes place in a comedy club!

There’s a whole metaphor here for how the comedy and entertainment worlds swallow you whole…scratch that. It’s barely a metaphor. It’s pretty much hammered home. The horror feels more like the metaphor because it’s virtually non-existent.

The story involves a young assistant to a popular comedian/monster that needs to feed on humans in order to survive. The assistant’s job is to get him new acts for the show so that he can feed. Let the Right Comedian In? How damn desperate is this woman to be successful?

The sad thing is that this sets up the possibility of numerous comedian encounters with the ravenous boss.

It. Never. Happens.

Instead, there are clips of stand-up comedians (one of them being a trans character with trans jokes, which is cool), and our main girl beginning to fall for a comedian she then has to protect from her boss.

The boss does finally show more of his monster side near the end (sort of looks like a zombie), but by the time we watch him eat his one and only victim of the film (in shadow puppet style), Too Late is too little too late to satisfy horror fans.

BLOOD IN THE WATER (2022)

I simply had to watch a bad b-movie self-described as Saw meets Jaws. Personally, with the state of the Saw series being a joke at this point, this basically should have just been a direct-to-streaming sequel called Saws! Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Play A Game in the Water.

The plot is as simple as it gets. A handful of people awake chained to the edge of a pool. A Jigsaw type voice keeps coming over a loudspeaker insisting they admit to their sins. One by one they get yanked into the pool, the lighting in the room turns red, and a huge shark comes in and gobbles them down.

You just watch Blood in the Water for the gobbling scenes, which are quite satisfying. You do have to wonder how hungry this shark is, because no stray body parts ever rise to the surface. Neither does any blood for that matter.

We don’t even really care what the characters did wrong, but there is some obligatory dialogue as well as flashbacks letting us know. Worst of all, the final survivor gets an apology monologue right up to the final frame. Yawn. Just feed that bitch to the shark and be done with it.

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I got Carriered away on Dreamcast

Much like Resident Evil 2, Carrier offers two scenarios, first with a character named Jack then another with a character named Jessifer. The big difference is that you’re on a carrier ship on the seas after a previous search team stopped responding to communications. As with most horror games, something is turning people into mutated monsters.

Just like every other survival horror game that takes place on a boat or spaceship, everything starts to look alike, so without a walkthrough you can easily find yourself running in circles. Also of note is a weird quirk in the ship layout—there are certain decks that are sort of multilevel—you can climb up and down ladders and still be on the same deck. This multilayered design is not reflected on the map, making it even easier to get lost when trying to get back to a specific location because you actually have to go up or down a ladder to reach it. For instance, you’ll look at the map, which shows you’re standing directly in front of a door, yet you’re staring at a blank wall. That’s because you have to find the ladder to go up or down to get to the actual wall that holds that door. Argh!

The funny thing is I played this game almost 20 years ago, so when I loaded my old completed game save I was treated to a bonus feature—after playing through once, Jack gets sexier, wearing a chest-revealing V-neck shirt. Don’t get too excited; these are blocky, solid color Dreamcast graphics.

Speaking of visuals, this game is really dark. You can’t even see enemies walking towards you in hallways unless you turn up the brightness in the game options and set it to the max on your television as well.

You do get night vision goggles you can use to see in dark areas, and they also tell you if people you meet are infected. If they’re not infected you can talk to them and they become a survivor. But honestly I never checked anyone I ran into and no one turned monster. In fact, I didn’t use the night vision goggles at all. They are first person POV, and you can’t move or shoot while wearing them, so essentially they’re pointless. Not to mention, when you try to turn them on they take precious seconds to focus, and something could be on you before it even shows in the lens.

The controls are pretty smooth, but not without some issues. These are tank controls, but there is a quick turn button, however it tends to get “triggered” when you’re in the heat of battle due to the button combo being close to the combo for aiming downward at crawling enemies! Argh. As far as aiming goes, you do get targets when you are locked on to an enemy, and there is supposedly a way to adjust your aim to different parts of an enemy’s body, but I didn’t quite get the hang of it. I think the goal is to hold the trigger button, shift the stick to align it with the target you’re aiming for, and then just leave it there and shoot. Don’t actively try to aim constantly with the stick.

Weapons include a pistol, a sort of electric bolt gun with unlimited ammo, a machine gun, and even a rocket launcher for the last boss. Ammo supply will become an issue, because some enemies take a lot of hits to go down. Also, if you pick up all the ammo you find as Jack, it won’t be there for Jessifer, so you have to really think about leaving supplies behind. Ugh! Good thing for the unlimited electric bolt gun.

Another destructive item at your disposal is bombs; boxes in certain save rooms have unlimited supplies of them. Generally they are used for very specific reasons—like blowing up patches of giant poisonous mushrooms. Setting them off is not handy for regular combat. You have to place them down, trigger them, and then run away from them in like 5 seconds or you blow yourself up. Also, you have to equip them before using them, and you usually forget to equip your gun again right after you use a bomb, so the next time you face an enemy you find yourself planting a bomb instead of shooting a gun. Argh!

Enemies vary as the game progresses. One of the main enemies looks like the flower face zombies from Resident Evil 4 years before that game existed. Some enemies are like fast zombies. Some nail you with spikes that burst from their chests when they’re near you. Other enemies spawn from the plants growing over hall walls and ceilings. A big hanging enemy drops to the floor when you shoot it and then gets up and looks like a big praying mantis. Eek! Big bugs hop along the floor and swarm you. Plus, there are various invisible enemies. I guess you could waste time looking for them through your special goggles, but I would just blindly shoot, which would cause them to become visible temporarily, and then I would keep shooting once I was locked on them. The enemies seem to get more aggressive, take more bullets to kill, and come in small groups in tight areas late in the game, making it harder to see and fight them and get away from them. At times they’re also right on top of you when you enter a room…even obscuring your view of anything else now and then.

There are a variety of bosses along the way. You have to aim specifically up at one boss while spikes are chasing you around the floor. There’s a giant, indestructible slug you have too just avoid as you run in circles around a section of hallways in order to press certain buttons in a specific order to open a door.

An infuriating fish man boss is fought in waist high water…which slows you down! Argh! You have to drop bombs to blow him up, but you also have to wade (not run) away from the bombs in five seconds or you blow up, too. The timing to get him close enough to you to drop the bomb, not get hit by him, and get away from the bomb is difficult as fuck.

And the final boss? After another total avoidance segment involving pushing buttons to open a door as he pursues you, you have to fight him on a platform elevator. You first have to run in circles and shoot him four times with the rocket launcher, after which you then have to just run away from him until the elevator stops and a cut scene takes over. You’d never realize you just have to run not shoot for the second half of the battle unless you read a walkthrough.

And there lies one of the major faults of the game. It is not generous with save stations before or after bosses. For instance, the chain of tasks you have to do before confronting the final boss three times in a row is so far removed from the last save room (which you won’t know to stop in if you don’t read a walkthrough) that you’re going to want to cry if you die while fighting the boss.

Exactly what kind of tasks do you have to do? It’s very typical survival horror stuff: find key cards, find memos with codes to enter into computers, talk to survivors you run into to direct them to safety, and my least favorite…a mission on a two-minute timer. Although it involves simply running from one room to another nearby room to turn off three computer terminals, every single hall and room you pass through has multiple invisible enemies, including the room with the computers!

Now aside from the enemies and tasks, other aspects of the game to watch out for are temperamental, typical horror game fixed camera angles that make it hard to see what danger is right in front of you, little red arrows that point to things you can pick up, and save terminals that can be ridiculously hard to line up with. Thankfully the inventory system is simple. You don’t seem to have any limitations as to how much you can carry, you never have to enter inventory to access items for unlocking doors (plus they’re automatically discarded when you don’t need them anymore), and entering the inventory screen pauses the game, so you don’t have to worry about getting attacked while you’re healing yourself. Ugh. Healing. It’s highly advised that you try to get hit by enemies as little as possible, because they take good chunks out of your health bar fast, and you can’t see your health bar on the regular screen, only in the inventory screen. In contrast, there is a fast button for cycling through your weapons without entering inventory, which is convenient, and you don’t have to reload—the guns seem to reload automatically.

Finally, the maps to different areas are supplied to you along the way, and there’s a quick button to check the map at any time as long as you don’t want to check different decks of the ship, in which case you’ll have to access the map through the inventory screen. The map offers the names of rooms, your location, which way you’re pointed, and which doors are locked or unlocked.

PLAYING AS JESSIFER

Jessifer’s game is a fraction of the length of Jack’s game. Essentially it’s just another chapter. There’s nothing new to experience beyond the final boss…the only boss. That’s right. This is a very easy mission, and it’s all running, fetching, and fighting the same enemies again in the same locations.

The cool thing about Jessifer’s final boss is that you fight him outside on the deck of the ship. However, it’s not much of a fight. As soon as it starts, he’s in front of you. Just shoot him four times with your grenade launcher and he dies. He never even has a chance to move from his starting point.

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Watch your backs, ladies

An innocent little girl, a young influencer, and a career girl walk into a horror movie, and the results are mixed. Let’s get right into these three.

SISSY (2022)

Single White Female meets Sleepaway Camp 2 and Sleepaway Camp 3 in the age of online influencers under the delusion that social media adoration means anything.

Cecilia, played perfectly by actress Aisha Dee, is an influencer ecstatic that she’s reaching 200,000 followers. Just when she thinks life can’t get any better, she runs into her childhood bestie Emma. Emma is having a celebration preceding her marriage to another woman and invites Cecilia to join in.

At first Cecilia is thrilled to be part of a real group of friends—a deliciously diverse group that will drive the woke haters nuts, including Asian, queer, Black, and disabled kids.

But things go downhill fast when Cecilia joins them at a home in the woods only to find that the bully that took Emma from her as a child is one of the guests.

Old emotional wounds are open as the bully goes right back to tormenting Cecilia. Eventually tensions boil over, the truth of the past comes out, and this turns into a nasty, violent, gory, campy little slasher.

I’m telling you, if you loved the Sleepaway Camp sequels, you’re going to love Sissy.

HUNTING SOULS (2022)

If it weren’t for loads of demon action in the last 30 minutes, Hunting Souls would have been a total dud.

The story is about a couple that begins to experience mysterious occurrences around their house after their daughter has an episode that lands her in the hospital.

Unfortunately, the mysterious occurrences the movie goes for include every cheap tween scream trick in the book. It’s an endless assault of the types of manipulative scare devices used in movies like The Conjuring. There are loads of scenes that go something like this—the wife acts like she senses or hears something in the house, and then the husband conveniently appears and makes her jump. It’s just constant buildups with weak scare payoffs.

Meanwhile, the husband keeps dragging us into nightmare sequences to pad the film with even more bogus scares.

Finally, the demon is revealed (good scene), and pretty soon it’s a battle to the death with this creepy creature as it tries to claim the daughter’s soul. I must admit, there’s something titillating about the moment when the father does the old “take me instead!” routine…

Despite the predictability and the average horror movie vibe, the finale is kind of sad.

RUN SWEETHEART RUN (2020)

This movie switches subgenres about three times before it reaches a conclusion. After checking it out, I noticed a review on IMDb bashing its feminist themes and claiming it portrays all men as the purveyors of evil throughout time. It’s amazing that men are so fragile they can’t handle the truth—the very reason they are cheering on the fascist move by Republican governors across the country to further whitewash history in schools. Seriously, if learning about the horrible way America has treated minorities makes you feel guilty, it says a lot about you and your attitudes towards minorities.

The film begins with a young woman being coerced into entertaining one of her boss’s clients. The evening starts out great but ends with her being assaulted (not presented on screen) and then pursued relentlessly by her assailant.

Initially the film is hard to watch simply because it explores the reality of women being victimized and then victimized again by authorities, as well as the notion that the average woman can have her life ruined by men in positions of power. I’m actually surprised that the hater reviews on IMDb didn’t also point out that it’s white men who are the root of all evil, because this film most definitely embeds themes of racial divides and white privilege into the plot as well.

Also making the first act hard for me to get through is a major focus on the main girl going through her period. It feels like one long PSA for being sure you always have an extra tampon on hand.

The odd amplification of the menstrual situation proves to be for a very good reason, which becomes clear as the flip is switched on the second act. This turns into a supernatural force horror film. Awesome. It’s my favorite segment of the movie, especially since it moves away from the disturbingly real horrors of what rape and assault victims go through.

Unfortunately, the final act falls apart for me. It’s sending a message of female empowerment, but there’s nothing allegorical about it. It’s a trip back to the 80s as this turns into The Next Karate Kid, complete with a bandanna and jean jacket. I really couldn’t take it seriously by that point, but at least it’s a much more uplifting conclusion than the first act would have us expect.

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Beware the Sick Smile in the House of Darkness

It’s a trio of higher profile titles I checked out over the weekend, and two out of three were fun fun fun.

SICK (2022)

There was loads of excitement surrounding this new film co-written by Kevin Williamson of Scream fame. However, this is not a slasher. It’s a home invasion film that starts off fairly generic until it takes a detour.

Some people on both side of the COVID aisle might hate the film. A COVID satire that could be misread as taking itself seriously, it’s set in 2020 during the height of the epidemic, so expect to have some dark flashbacks to how we were living three years ago. Sure, we’ve come a long way since then, but what’s interesting is that back then when we were wearing masks and social distancing, we weren’t hearing much about people we personally knew actually having COVID. It wasn’t until people started going out again and mask mandates were dropped that more people we knew started getting it or dying from it, and chances are we got it ourselves. But…you know…masks didn’t work.

The film opens with a fantastic chase and kill scene that has classic Kevin Williamson written all over it. The difference is there’s something incredibly realistic about the way the sequence is crafted and executed.

Anyway, two girls decide to go to a family home in the woods to quarantine…and that’s mostly it for the cast of could-be victims. That’s why I say this is not a slasher, just a home invasion film. One of the girls is Gideon Adlon of The Craft: Legacy and Witch Hunt. She’s slowly building a scream queen resume, and she’s a great main girl in this film.

While this does feel predictable at first, once the action kicks in it is fast and furious, and the very Kevin Williamson twist that comes about halfway through the film re-energizes it completely. Sick proves to be a great cat and mouse suspense flick.

Just be warned…the COVID angle might really cause you to roll your eyes unless you appreciate the ways in which it’s applied here as a metaphor for distrust, self-centered behavior, self-preservation…and the Black Death standing right outside your door.

HOUSE OF DARKNESS (2022)

I think House of Darkness would work better as a 30-minute episode of Tales From The Crypt. Virtually the entire runtime is carried by a game of vocal cat and mouse. Ugh.

Justin Long drives Kate Bosworth home after meeting her at a bar. She invites him in and they have a lot of tension-filled, cold war conversation as they compete to be the one calling the shots when it comes to how the night will unfold.

Occasionally, Justin thinks he hears something or someone else in the house so that the audience will be manipulated into being on edge. About halfway through the movie, the writer seemed to realize how dull this script is, so a dream sequence is thrown in to give us momentary hope that Justin has finally landed in a scary situation.

Instead, he wakes up and the dialogue continues. Ghost stories become the topic of conversation until about five minutes before the end of the film, when Justin finally learns what Kate’s ulterior motive is. There are even some fairy tale themes thrown into the mix to remind us how most of them have very dark endings.

I would suggest you just watch Barbarian again.

SMILE (2022)

Smile has a pass-it-on curse plot like The Ring. While it’s a very mainstream horror film with some cheap jump scares (including one that scared the shit out of me), it also incorporates the idea that the mentally ill are treated like they have a contagious disease, as well as the notion that suicidal people keep their pain hidden behind a pasted-on smile.

The film also shares plot points with It Follows, but it opts not to exploit that relentless chase concept as much—in fact, several scenes of our main girl being pursued by a scary smiling person were cut from the movie and appear in the deleted scenes on the disc.

The basic premise is that a therapist at a hospital witnesses a patient kill herself after claiming that she’s being terrorized by a “person” that changes faces and always smiles while warning of terrible things to come. After this interaction, the therapist finds herself experiencing exactly what the patient described. As she tries to figure out what is happening to her with a full-fledged investigation like Naomi Watts in The Ring, everyone around her begins to believe she’s going insane.

Despite being 2 hours long (and despite cutting out some of those thrilling encounters with scary smiling people), the film definitely keeps the pace going. The highlight for me was a fantastic use of unnerving sound effects for ambience rather than a traditional music score; it was giving me flashbacks to visiting the hospital in the Silent Hill games.

There are several fantastically creepy sequences, those fun jump scares, and a freaky “final boss” battle at the end, but just be aware that this is not a body count movie.

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What happens in Amityville rarely happens in Amityville…

Every time a new “Amityville” movie comes out, I just have to know how far it strays from the original premise of a haunted house in Amityville. Therefore, it’s time for six more movies…

AMITYVILLE KAREN (2022)

Directed by indie horror king Shawn C. Phillips, this is a simple, silly possession film.

Our Karen sits around whining and bitching, harasses businesses, and wields her power as a compliance officer. She takes Amityville wine from indie actor James Duval’s winery and hits the bottle.

Karen goes all Karen on a demon woman who comes out of her closet, but this demon woman isn’t having it. Rather than filming Karen and posting the video to social media to ruin Karen’s life, the demon possesses her.

Meanwhile, the staff at a business Karen has been trying to destroy throws a party, and Karen crashes it to start killing everyone off…and to grab a bite to eat.

So it’s sort of supernatural slasher, with sleazy sexual situations and fart and shit humor thrown in for good measure.

Basically, the Amityville name goes Troma. Do with that comparison what you will before considering checking this one out.

AMITYVILLE SCARECROW 2 (2022)

I barely have anything to say about this sequel. The first film, despite its weak attempt to link itself in any way to Amityville, proved to be a fairly decent killer scarecrow movie.

This disaster brings new victims to the same summer camp location. They sit around the campfire discussing the dark history and supernatural legend of the location, they go off to have sex, and they get killed by a hokey scarecrow that looks nothing like the creepy scarecrow in the first film.

A shirtless hunk is the highlight.

The film lacks suspense or scares, and it’s not even the supernatural scarecrow again—it’s an appropriating asshole in a mask. Yawn.

AMITYVILLE HEX (2022)

108 minutes of video chatting vloggers talking about an Amityville hex is what you can expect from this travesty that feels like a poor mashup of Unfriended and Paranormal Activity.

They each read the hex out loud live then slowly—very slowly—begin to feel weird.

If you stick around long enough you’ll see some low budget found footage POV carnage, including stabbings, shootings, and death by lawnmower.

And based on something that happens at the very end of the film, my guess would be that an “Amityville Zombies” movie is inevitable.

AMITYVILLE UPRISING (2022)

Holy crap, my guess was right. This is Amityville with zombies.

The opening clips of this little indie are officially filmed around town in Amityville, and the movie takes place in Amityville…in a police department to be exact.

A chemical explosion at the Amityville military base (fiction—there is no military base in Amityville) causes acid rain to fall. A group of people becomes trapped in the Amityville police department. There they have to contend with those who die from being out in the acid rain and come back as zombies. Eek!

There’s plenty of character drama at the station as the sky begins turning red (none of the drama of much interest), and 45-minutes into the film we get the first zombie attack.

There aren’t hordes of zombies here, but the few that do exist look pretty gnarly because the peeling skin effects are good, as are the flesh munching moments.

It’s zombie business as usual as the survivors battle the zombies, but this is most definitely one of the better low budget Amityville movies—okay, one of the better low budget zombie movies with Amityville in the title—that you’re going to come across.

There’s also a hot, tattooed daddy bear, a zombie girl that does the spider crawl, and a fatalistic ending.

THE AMITYVILLE MOON (2021)

The Amityville Moon comes from the director of Amityville Uprising (zombies) and Amityville Harvest (vampires). This time it’s an Amityville werewolf!

Actually it’s just a werewolf in a religious home for wayward girls. When a couple of girls go missing, a cute detective comes on the scene to investigate.

There’s a lot of talk between priests, nuns, and girls of the house as they work on the girls’ issues in group therapy. I ended up just biding my time waiting for werewolf attacks.

There are a few kills along the way, but most of the werewolf actions hits in the last twenty minutes. It is fun if you grew up on 80s werewolf movies featuring a person in a costume instead of CGI. There’s even a classic transformation scene.

But my favorite is a kill in which the werewolf slices off a victim’s face and she desperately tries to hold it in place. Brilliant and nasty!

AMITYVILLE IN SPACE (2022)

This is a Mark Polonia production, so that should tell you what you’re in for. So should the title Amityville In Space. But hey, at least it’s about the Amityville house.

A priest enters the house to perform an exorcism and inadvertently launches the Amityville house into space in the process.

Meanwhile, a team on a spaceship sees the Amityville house floating among the stars, so they send team members out to investigate it.

On board the house, they find the priest in suspended animation. They also encounter a disembodied corpse hand, an outer space pentagram, the infamous Amityville glowing pig eyes, and a demon in a rubber mask and a hoodie.

Eventually, the team uses the toy space gun props they’ve been carrying to battle a goofy multi-eyed monster that looks like a puppet in front of a green screen.

If you still check this one out, don’t say you didn’t make an informed decision.

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STREAM QUEEN: all kinds of creatures

It’s monster mania with a gay guy and a girl vs. a Velociraptor, a girl vs. a supernatural entity, and a cute cop vs. giant slugs.

CLAW (2021)

I did not expect Claw to be a horror comedy buddy movie in which one of the buddies is a gay guy and the “claw” is attached to a Velociraptor…but I’m so glad that’s what I got. This one lands a spot on the does the gay guy die? page.

Minus end credits, Claw runs about 66 minutes long. There’s no drawn out explanation as to why the dinosaur is running loose. We just get straight to the meat of the movie.

A stand-up comedian and her theatrical, campy, gay BFF are on a road trip on a desert road to L.A. when they get stuck in a ghost town. They meet up with an old guy who lives there, and soon the trio is playing a cat and mouse game with the Raptor.

Along with suspense and some good jump scares, the comedic interactions and reactions of the three characters are loads of fun. However, that means you don’t want any of them to die…while of course wanting someone to get eaten!

The Raptor is cool, but at times he does look like he’s nothing more than a cut and paste job from Jurassic Park.

There’s a brief explanation for the Raptor’s existence at the end, and a tease for a possible sequel.

TAKE BACK THE NIGHT (2022)

This refreshing take on the supernatural specter subgenre is a female-focused film that explores women watching out for other women…or not. Everyone in the main girl’s life—detective, lawyer, sibling, TV interviewer, etc.—is a female, and some do and don’t believe her story after she’s attacked by a shadowy presence.

In essence the film considers the repercussions of blaming and not believing the victim. Our main girl has a less than pure history, so when she’s attacked in an alley after a drunken and drugging night out, she’s basically on her own in proving that there is some sort of creature lying in wait in the darkest corners of that alley.

The film serves as a metaphor for rape, and both the creature attacks and what the woman must endure during the physical and psychological exams afterward highlight the invasive horrors rape victims experience multiple times.

Remember that when you see anti-woke douche bags whining about this being a “female empowerment” film. If you watch a horror movie that graphically and disturbingly delves into the horrors a rape victim faces and you’re more bothered by the fact that there are too many women and lesbians in it, that says a lot about what you think of women.

There is no body count here. It’s all about our main girl broadcasting herself over the Internet as she makes herself the bait again and again to try to get the creature to show itself. There are some damn good suspense scenes filled with tension and atmosphere, beginning with the unsettling alley attack and leading right up to the final chase, but the creature is never fully exploited visually—it’s left mostly to imagination as it is presented in a cloudy black form through quick edits. I really had fun watching this one.

THEY CRAWL BENEATH (2022)

An adorable leading man and cool slug monster effects are the highlights of this little indie that will most likely get compared to Tremors. However, while Tremors films include an ensemble cast, They Crawl Beneath is virtually a one-man show, so it begins to get repetitive after a while.

Our cute leading man is celebrating Thanksgiving with his uncle (played by Michael Pare), which lands this one on the holiday horror page.

But don’t expect anyone to sit down to a turkey dinner. The holiday is just referenced a few times before this becomes a story of one man trapped under a car in a garage as big slugs start coming out of the woodwork. They’re big, but nowhere near as big as Tremors.

Minor subplots include the leading man’s relationships with his ex-girlfriend and his mother, but the focus is on him fighting off slugs while trying to get out from under the car…and also experiencing hallucinations, which, in my opinion, pads the film with a little too many bogus horror moments.

Note that the first slug attack doesn’t hit until 42 minutes into the movie, but our leading cutie definitely carries the film by himself.

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STREAM QUEEN: are these three worth sinking your teeth into?

I checked out two vampire flicks and a zombie film on various streaming services, and when all was said and done I really only enjoyed one of them, so let’s find out which one and why.

THE INVITATION (2022)

Remember when Samara Weaving kicked ass after marrying into the wrong rich family in Ready Or Not, and then the trailer for this movie rolled around and you thought—this looks like Ready Or Not with vampires? It’s Ready Or Not with vampires.

The main girl is half Black and learns through DNA testing that she’s related to a rich white family. She meets her long lost cousin and he invites her to a wedding at a mansion in England. I guess she’s not Black enough to know that going to the mansion of rich white people is never a good idea…

Would you believe a checklist of predictable occurrences ensue at this gothic mansion?

She’s warned away from a certain room. The butler is mean. Her personal maid is secretive. The lord of the mansion is hot and begins to woo her.

The servants begin getting killed off by something sinister in scenes so dark we see none of what’s happening.

The film is entertaining enough, but the bulk of the horror hits about 65 minutes in. This film is more likely to appeal to fans of gothic romance than horror.

The reason our main girl has been lured by her new family to a vampire dinner party is interesting, and the final act when she fights back is vampire fun, but this isn’t compelling enough for me to want to watch it again.

BLOOD RELATIVES (2022)

This vampire film, written by, directed by, and starring horror king Noah Segan was just so not my thing.

I got the impression it was going to be a horror comedy about a Jewish vampire traveling across country with a teen vamp who claims she’s his daughter. Unfortunately, it leaves out the comedy and the horror and fills it with loads of dialogue.

It’s actually a moody and gloomy road trip movie that doesn’t go anywhere. The father/daughter head-butting as they cope with being related is uninspired and lacking enough depth or emotion, they don’t have much conflict with their vampirism, and they both simply express their unhappiness constantly.

On top of that, it’s like this is a movie about vampires trying to contain their vampirism. In other words, they don’t do much biting, and when they do, it’s off screen. And the whole Jewish vampire angle? Totally overlooked beyond the occasional “oy vey” slipped into conversation. So much missed opportunity.

The only bright side for me was a brief appearance by Tracie Thoms of Rent.

WRECKER (2022)

It’s a grindhouse-zomcom-crime lord-vigilante-action flick written by, directed by, and starring a mega hunk named Bryan Brooks.

Brooks plays a construction worker still struggling to come to terms with the recent kidnapping of his wife when an adorable detective enlists his help in taking down criminals…by simply leading him to them.

There’s not much more to the plot except the underplayed zombie plot. There’s a single zombie in an opening scene with the detective, and then…there isn’t another zombie situation until 90 minutes into the movie.

That’s because the movie is 126 minutes long. Argh! If the objective was to give us a From Dusk Till Dawn split-genre movie, perhaps not showing any zombie action in the beginning would have amplified the switch—but the film would need to get to that horror twist before the 90-minute mark.

This is the problem with first time writers/directors. They don’t quite know much about pacing, editing, and streamlining the script. Brooks is a super charismatic and funny guy (his character is in no way a perfect hero, and he plays the role like a pro), and the fight sequences are quite entertaining, if not a little lacking in polish, mostly due to editing and sound effect issues that make them feel like rehearsals for the fight scenes rather than the finished product.

However, there simply isn’t enough plot development, so we just get fight after fight with various criminals. As campy as some of the sequences are, they become repetitive, especially if you’re waiting for the return of even one zombie.

Also lacking is the development of the relationship between the vigilante and the detective. They’re both charming with great comic timing, but there simply aren’t enough “buddy movie” moments.

They almost always fight their own battles instead of working together (in part because the vigilante is anti-gun and the detective wants to come in with guns blazing). It’s just odd to have two talented guys in the same movie yet give them little chance to play off each other.

The fights take place in church, a strip club, an auto shop, a construction site, a junkyard–until the good guys are eventually abducted by a sleazy crime boss with a patch who has an evil master plan. Finally we get some zombies, and despite budget limitations, it’s good old undead action for the final third of the film. Yay! There’s also a sort of post-apocalyptic vibe, with baddies looking like something out of Mad Max and our two leading men eventually dressed in leather. Delicious.

I’m not going to lie. The hubby and I had a lot of fun with this one despite any flaws, and I will definitely add it to my collection if it gets a DVD release. And of course Bryan Brooks earns Wrecker a spot on the stud stalking page. Wrecker. Sounds like a really hot gay porno film.

 

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Sequels with a holiday twist

I decided to end the year with a triple feature of sequels that all happen to be worthy of a spot on the holiday horror page.

TERROR TRAIN 2 (2022)

Three months after Tubi premiered the Terror Train remake that switched the holiday from New Year’s Eve to Halloween, they’ve released a sequel that takes place on New Year’s Eve. As a typical slasher, Terror Train 2 delivers what we need…a masked killer with sharp weapons. As a sequel, this is a mess.

Essentially it’s a remake of the remake. It takes place 15 months after the first movie—hey at least the dumb ass final girl didn’t go back on the party train 3 months after all her friends were murdered. But she’s still a dumb ass for deciding to do so 15 months later to “face her fear”. Especially when her fear is usually behind her…

The fricking party train is now rebranded the terror train—someone has made her tragedy into a business venture. Same train, same crew members, same masks, same magician, same friends who survived the first film. This movie is so damn stupid.

On the bright side, it will drive the anti-woke crowd crazy, with people of color, lesbians, gays, and even a character specifically referenced as they/them.

Aside from nice vicious kills, it’s all about a bunch of asshole kids that want to go viral on social media, so phone cameras are rolling every minute of the movie.

Not to mention, pretty much every character is a red herring. But the ending is silly fun, and I can’t deny I want this piece of crap and the first film released on Blu-ray so I can add them to my collection.

TERRIFIER 2 (2022)

This 2-hour and 18-minute long hit sequel is now out on 4K, so I finally indulged in the wackiness of it all. Nothing will ever beat Art the Clown as he first appeared in All Hallows’ Eve, but I actually had more fun with this sequel than the first Terrifier.

First I’ll get the hyped gore out of the way—the stuff that supposedly made people puke. Look, if you’ve been around the horror block, you’ve seen gore this nasty before in numerous movies (hell, if you’ve seen Gutterballs, you watched a transgender person’s penis get split in two in graphic detail). The Terrifier 2 gore is way over the top, and every time someone is mutilated they’re still alive, so it’s hard to take the gore more seriously than being silly horror party fun.

Next, there’s that infamous dream sequence. It happens within the first ten minutes of the movie, and I can’t fathom what they were thinking keeping this in. It runs too long, is irrelevant to the rest of the movie, and it is just too goofy to be entertaining for me personally.

The bright side is that while Art uses a gun to kill a bunch of people, it’s just in the dream. He doesn’t use a gun to actually shoot victims as he did in the first movie, which totally ruined that film for me.

Perhaps the biggest shock is that we get to see Art’s ass! What the hell?

Despite this installment running approximately 50 minutes longer than I can usually stand, there wasn’t a moment of boredom for me beyond the dream sequence (that seriously bored me, and annoyed me). I was getting total 80s retro vibes from the performances and the characters (the mother being one of my faves), the throwback synth score nails it, the Halloween atmosphere is perfect, and Art is at the top of his gleefully Sadistic game.

The plot has a single mother dealing with her teen daughter and younger geek son, who has an obsession with Art the Clown, the infamous killer from Halloween the year before. Art sets his sights on killing them with the help of a new little girl clown sidekick that seems to be a figment of his imagination.

The big issue for me was the lack of cohesion. It’s almost like the filmmaker is trying to create some sort of backstory that Art absolutely does not need because he’s freakier as a mystery. The script drops all these pieces of the puzzle along the way, then doesn’t bother to put the puzzle together. This might be the reason for both the main girl’s regressive dream sequence and Art’s imaginary friend. I don’t know if the plan is to iron out the details in a third film, but it felt like there was just too much disjointed storyline going on that didn’t add anything to this splatterfest. And the end kind of jumps the shark, flirting with a touch of sci-fi/fantasy.

Thankfully, after the credits start to roll another scene resets the tone by bringing us back to the horror. This bonus scene also isn’t logical, but it’s better than the Sword in the Stone type shit going on for a few minutes during the final battle.

Other things to look out for include appearances by Felissa Rose and Chris Jericho, and a few other black and white horror movies playing on televisions besides Night of The Living Dead, including Plan 9 From Outer Space and The House on Haunted Hill. There are also what seem to be some segments and setup shots that give nods to moments from the Halloween franchise.

SCARE PACKAGE II: RAD CHAD’S REVENGE (2022)

All the anti-woke white straight guys are on the Internet ragging on this movie for painting women as heroes and men as dumb idiots. These are the same types of douche bags who defend Dave Chappelle’s trans jokes as being “funny because they’re true”. Straight white men simply cannot handle being on the other side of the slander—they miss the days when only they were presented as all-powerful and punched down at everyone else in film and television.

The wraparound for Scare Package II continues one of the plots from the original movie, and I have to say I absolutely loathe it. It’s essentially a short film broken into parts between the other stories, and it is just an overblown and unfunny parody of Saw movies with some really absurd “traps”.

Meanwhile, two of the four stories here are holiday themed, and there are notable nods to other horror flicks, from Poltergeist to Black Christmas.

1st story – set on New Year’s Eve 1989, this is a rather clever nod to how the 90s would be the dawning of the age of slasher deconstruction thanks to Scream. Here we have two houses, one with the “final girls” and the other with the “sure to die girls”. Everything turns in on itself when the final girls discover their strict adherence to being good to stay alive is no longer paying off. There are also some “woke” pokes at the fragility of the very males that hate this movie for speaking truth: a) the laughable suggestion of a male being strong enough to be the sole survivor in a slasher, and b) mocking how slashers of the 80s sexualized and brutally killed women all for male enjoyment.

2nd story – this is another sequel to a story from the first movie, and has a couple going to a cabin in the woods on the Fourth of July and facing off against a killer that just won’t die.

3rd story – my favorite tale in the bunch, this is inspired by the urban legend about the ghost boy in Three Men and a Baby, and also flirts with aspects of The Ring.

4th story – a group of kids goes all Re-Animator by bringing a dude back to life.

The wraparound almost salvages itself by turning into a video store slasher in the closing segment. It’s also important to note that this film lands on the does the dead guy die? page thanks to a steamy kiss between two guys in love.

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