PRIME TIME: taking a bite out of some zombie flicks

It felt like I hadn’t done a zombie marathon in a while, so I dug through my Prime list and plucked out all the zombie films to bring you a zomblog of five flicks to feast on. I even added one of them to my own horror film collection after watching it.

WORMWOOD’S END: DEAD LIFE (2021)

This film appears to have gone through title changes and perhaps different versions and been rereleased over the past decade, but this is the iteration in which I’ve seen it.

It’s a low budget, semi-comedy take on The Walking Dead zombie apocalypse plot, and while it’s fairly cliché and has its indie movie issues, there’s something oddly charming about it.

Specifically, the main characters work quite well off each other and are likable and funny.

The zombie makeup is silly fun. It’s perhaps a little over the top, in part because the film predominantly takes place in bright daylight, but the exaggerated hideousness of the faces works perfectly with the tone of the film.

The events that unfold are perhaps a little meandering, and there’s nothing suspenseful or frightening here. The three main characters are just trying to survive in the apocalypse when they are drawn into a less than moral group community.

They basically spend the film trying to figure out how to get away from the larger group while dealing with zombie encounters. The pacing plods along a bit, but the final act packs in plenty of action, gut-munching gore, and even a fisting scene!

THE DAY OF THE LIVING DEAD (2014)

This is such an odd and quirky little zombie indie, and I couldn’t get into the overarching plot, but I was totally into its unique aspects.

It takes place in 1957 Hollywood and is basically making a statement about the evils of capitalism. A bunch of employees from a big cigarette company get sick, get fired, and go missing…and so does the insurance investigator on the case.

Rather than making sense of the convoluted storytelling, it’s easier to see this as a series of really cool zombie vignettes showing us what happened to each of the players in the plot.

The scenes are presented in black and white to capture the spirit of old 1950s movies, but they switch to full color for the really gory moments, which is very cool.

The zombie makeup and gore use practical effects, there are several indie horror actors, including James Duval, Jeff Dylan Graham, and Fright Night‘s Stephen Geoffreys, and I found some of the short zombie segments to be deliciously creepy nods to the original Night of the Living Dead.

INMATE ZERO (2020)

This is the film in the bunch that immediately got added to my personal collection as soon as it ended, and even the hubby was totally into it.

I’ve seen my fair share of zombie prison outbreak films, but this is one of my faves so far…even though it takes place in a women’s prison. Heh heh.

The female inmate lead is fantastic, and the script manages to clearly define each character (inmates and prison staff) without trying too hard and without slowing down the pace.

Our main woman is offered the opportunity to escape death row if she agrees to permit herself to be used for medical experiments.

When she lands in the infirmary after a fight, it becomes clear pretty fast that it’s a good thing she didn’t agree to the offer.

A phenomenal first zombie scene sets a frightening tone, creates an unnerving, dark and shadowy atmosphere, and presents us with freaky zombies that jitter, shake, and contort. Eek!

The action kicks in immediately, forcing inmates and staff to team up to stay alive and find their way out of the prison. And don’t you know the most likable characters are the prisoners. There’s even a gay guy, which we know because he first appears wearing a wig and lipstick and he’s called a faggot by some prisoner dyke (hey, she started it by calling us faggot first). He lands this one on the does the gay guy die? page.

The performances are quite good, and there are plenty of great scenes, including one reminiscent of the nurses from Silent Hill and several involving an electric chair.

And you just know that all the characters that deserve payback are going to get it good. There is a surprising lull suddenly in the middle of the film, but it picks right back up for the final act.

REPUBLIC Z (2018)

The least run-of-the-mill thing about this zombie film is that it appears to be a Russian film starring Asian actors.

It has a cold, bleak color palette, and the settings are bland and rundown to give us the sense that it’s the zombie apocalypse. The zombies at first seem gruesome and gnarly, but that effect wears off when you soon realize they all kind of look alike because it appears that the makeup is mostly similar prosthetic masks.

We meet two dudes just trying to survive a zombie apocalypse by staying in cabins they come across. One guy is a bit of a geek and brings slapstick humor to the film, including some odd fart and shit sound humor early on. None of it seems to fit the overall tone of the film, which isn’t a zomcom.

Then a girl joins them, and pretty soon the three are on a journey to find a guy who supposedly has the vaccine. That’s pretty much it.

There are the usual zombie encounters, shootouts, people getting bitten, and the added element of zombies freezing temporarily in the cold weather, and it mostly takes place during the day.

There aren’t loads of zombies, so this is definitely a predictable and low key zombie excursion that you might watch just because you’ve seen all the other zombie flicks out there.

ZOMBLIES (2010)

This little bonus is just a zombie action quickie running 47 minutes long.

It’s a simple military rescue mission in the woods, so there’s a lot of running, shooting, and fast zombies that look pretty gnarly and make squealing noises.

It feels like watching a video game, so if you’re just in the mood for a brief zombie fix, this should do.

It has a gritty look and feel, some CGI blood splatter, a cool first-person POV zombie transformation, and a kick ass zombie chase scene on a motorcycle.

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Journeying through the 80s era…and stopping at a gay bar along the way

It’s a foursome of flicks I’ve just added to my collection from the best decade of my existence, and even includes some gay stuff, so let’s get into them.

NIGHT OF DEATH (1980)

It’s so odd to find movies still being released just on DVD, but this French film is one of them. Night of Death has a familiar plot—a young woman comes to work at an isolated house, in this case a retirement home. Everyone is weird, from employees to residents. And slowly but surely, our main girl uncovers the horrors that are really going on in the house.

The atmosphere is great, with moody, shadowy lighting, the horror score is great, with lilting female vocal tones and dramatic orchestral horror music, and the gore is great as well.

The problem with Night of Death is that there’s absolutely no mystery for the audience. We are shown early in the film exactly what is going on, and so we just sit around for most of the movie waiting for the main girl to catch up with us.

It’s all terrifying to her as it unfolds, but so much of the terror is simply robbed from us because we know too much.

That said, it still gets under your skin in the final act, and it’s a good one to watch if you are a fan of movies like Next of Kin, The Legacy, and Suspiria.

SIEGE (1983)

Sort of like a rape/revenge exploitation flick without the rape or the victim getting revenge, Siege is shockingly ahead of its time in taking on gay subject matter while sending a bunch of mixed signals at the same time.

After being introduced to a handful of straight people, we are suddenly thrust into a gay bar where everyone is impressively coupled up, yet they all look like a bunch of weirdos. Of course that could just be because they’re 80s clubbers…

We don’t get to know any of the gay characters, for seconds later a bunch of thugs comes in with weapons to terrorize them. Here’s the eerie part. Aside from the usual derogatory terms and predictable anti-gay comments, these bashers call themselves the “new order”, claim that while everyone else these days (1983) feels they have to sound liberal (I was there, no they didn’t), they have the guts to say what no one else will…queers are not normal, against the laws of nature, intent on corrupting people, etc., and the new order won’t just sit by and let it happen.

And then…the bartender pulls out a gun and calls the new order a bunch of fascists! Holy shit this movie feels like it was scripted in 2020.

Awesomely, the queers all cheer for the bartender to shoot the new order. Annoyingly, none of them seems to notice the bad guy so obviously about to knock the gun from his hand. Naturally there’s a moment that has the new order intending to sodomize a queer, but this film doesn’t go there. Instead, the new order quickly executes everyone in the bar.

But one gay gets away. Yay! There’s a chase scene, and eventually the gay guy begs for help at the apartment of the straight people we met at the beginning. The group ends up trapped in the apartment fighting back against the new order in basic action/thriller home invasion style with a whole variety of weapons and explosives.

So here’s the thing. At first the people in the apartment question whether they should even help the gay guy or kick him out. Surprisingly, they quickly determine they have to help him, which is very cool. Unfortunately, this makes it sort of like the gay guy brought all his troubles into the normal everyday life of innocent straight people.

And what’s worse is the gay guy fucking hides for the whole movie while they do all the fighting and dying, and only comes out near the end and apologizes, saying he was scared. Ugh.

THE BRIDE (1985)

As both an 80s whore and horror whore, I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just added The Bride to my movie collection now. It was one of those films I just could never get into when it was on cable back in the day despite the allure of Sting, Jennifer Beals, and a monster.

Of course, it doesn’t take place in the 1980s, so there was that…

However, revisiting it as an adult over 30 years later I can see why I didn’t appreciate it then. It’s more a gothic romance than a horror film. And I can appreciate it much more now for a variety of reasons.

The opening scene fantastically jumps right into the doctor’s lab, which is stunningly brought to life on this film’s set, especially in high definition. And it’s hard not to read some submissive sexual dungeon vibes into the way the bride is first presented, entirely bound in bandages and strung up spread eagle in the air.

It was always an eye roller for me that the monster looks like a monster, but when the doctor unwraps the bride, she is virtually a model before even taking a comb to her high, wild hair (the most anachronistic 80s thing about the film other than Sting and Jennifer Beals).

But in actuality, her being flawless makes sense because a) the doctor has better perfected his skills after creating one human, and b) naturally he’s going to be shallow about the physical appearance of his female creation and pick hotter body parts (ew). And it’s even more important in this film considering he is immediately enthralled by her beauty and casts out the monster so it won’t be able to have her.

That’s where this film splits in two, and as a guy who loathes the excessive forcing of gay interpretations onto every damn horror movie that ever existed these days, even I’m shocked this one hasn’t been given any analysis (stress on the anal), because it’s kinda gay.

On the one hand we have Sting falling in love with Jennifer Beals as he grooms her and makes her into a high society woman. There’s one scene in which she slips and acts slightly monstrous, but that’s it. Otherwise, she’s just lovely and demure and longs to know who she is and where she came from, and he tries his best to keep the truth from her.

On the other hand, the monster, played by horror veteran Clancy Brown, teams up with a little man to run away. These two traveling “misfits” grow incredibly close, with the monster always carrying the little man on his shoulder, and they eventually take a job performing as a pair of “fools” in a circus. Many of their scenes capture that tone, bringing a light, humorous charm to their chemistry. Seriously, their relationship is more loving than that of Sting and Jennifer. I mean, just look where the monster has his hand as they walk past this shirtless juggler…

In the end, a male/male relationship simply cannot be, and the monster must come home to battle the doctor for his bride (bah!), and there’s something curiously symbolic about this scene…

The one plot point that seems to get dropped after it is barely presented is a telepathic link between the monster and the bride. There’s a blatant moment when the monster experiences the same exact thing the bride is from far away, but the concept is never revisited, which is sort of a huge plot hole.

LUCIFER (aka: Goodnight God Bless) (1987)

Released on DVD as Goodnight God Bless, Lucifer is a totally lost film for me. I’d never seen it, making it so satisfying because it really hit my 80s spot good. This is one I would have watched numerous times on cable had it been on HBO in heavy rotation back then.

The opening is a haunting look at our future as a mysterious figure in black approaches a playground…and goes on a shooting rampage, killing one kid after another. The only thing we can determine is that the killer is a priest. (Un)holy shit!

The detective on the case meets with a surviving girl and her mother, and then becomes involved with them. In the meantime, the priest continues his murder spree, switching his weapon to a carving knife. How very 80s.

Each time he approaches a victim (we never see him) he drops his rosary at their feet before killing them.

There are some cheap but surprisingly effective jump scares (I’m embarrassed to admit they totally worked on me even though I could see them coming from a mile away), some excellent suspense moments, and a great body reveal sequence at the end.

There’s also a totally uncool dog kill (says the guy who was virtually cheering when the priest was shooting children).

This is actually a supernatural, satanic slasher as made evident by the spoiler movie art, yet we don’t get the visual payoff until the final frame! This was my favorite addition to my collection of this four, and I wish it would have gotten a Blu-ray release.

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Another round of slashers…sort of…

Each of the films in my latest marathon of movies has some slasher elements, but they don’t follow the most obvious formula. Let’s take a look.

FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 (2021)

The trilogy comes to a close with the longest film in the bunch, which is also partially a period piece, so I assumed on two counts that I was going to like it the least. This fricking installment ended up being my favorite because unlike the first two, it remained focused on the plot.

The film begins in the 1600s to give us the witch backstory, with many of the actors from the first two installments in roles in the past. Take my opinion about horror movies from where it’s coming—I’ve been watching this shit for five decades, so the fact that this segment borrows generously from The Crucible and the actual witch hysteria in Salem in 1692 adds to the been there done that feeling I was getting.

However, the plot shines when it takes on its own twist as the 1600s plot concludes in order to take us back to 1994. At last, the kids in the 1990s have a grasp on what they need to do, making for a fantastic final act with the kids and the killers in the mall. And the nod to Fear Street books at the end totally rocks.

Not to mention, it becomes clear this funny dude should have had a larger role in the first film…

As I could have predicted from the very first film when we were introduced in flashes to various killers from over the years, I do feel the trilogy blew a golden opportunity to make the first two installments slasher anthologies instead of excessively long single story slashers. Considering each killer seems so cool, I want to know more about their backstories (think the Thir13en Ghosts remake). I would have loved to have had part 1 and part 2 each feature three short tales focusing on one of the killer’s stories and time period in a trajectory that takes us from 1666 to 1994. Especially since I personally found the other killers much more compelling than the two generic killers we contended with for nearly two hours each. Come on. A skeleton mask and yet another sack head killer? Really?

Like I said, five decades…

THE EMPTY MAN (2020)

When The Empty Man showed up on HBO, I didn’t even know it existed, so I was all excited to have a surprise horror flick tossed my way on a Saturday night. I was, however, horrified that it was 2 hours and 20 minutes long.

The intro sequence is totally awesome, but honestly, after 140 minutes, I have no idea how it was supposed to relate in any way to the rest of the film. It involves a handful of young people mountain climbing, finding an empty house for shelter after one of them is hurt, and then experiencing some really creepy supernatural shit.

Then we meet our main man, a sexy ex-detective turned security salesman. There are signs he is grieving from a loss, and he has a special relationship with a woman and her teenage daughter. Then the daughter goes missing and a message from The Empty Man is left behind…

The main man begins an investigation into The Empty Man legend, and for a while this feels like an early 2000s supernatural slasher, with a group of kids finding a bottle on a bridge (that I’m pretty sure is the same bridge the kid gets chased on in My Soul to Take), blowing on it, and then summoning The Empty Man. Wouldn’t it be easier to just look in a mirror and call Bloody Mary or Candyman instead? Plus, who the fuck wants to get COVID from blowing into a used bottle right before The Empty Man gets them?

Sure, the kids die off, but this isn’t about them. It’s about the main man’s investigation, and the way it unfolds reminds me very much of The Ring. However, in that film we’re drawn into layers of Samara’s backstory as Naomi Watts investigates, but The Empty Man details just don’t come as fast nor are they as intriguing for a majority of this film.

That being said, what does work here are the suspense and scare scenes. In between the uninspired investigation, there are some fantastically eerie and atmospheric horror sequences the main man gets drawn into. If there had only been a way to tighten up all those failed exposition scenes, this would have been a total winner. There are definitely shadows of other films sprinkled throughout, but none are glaring enough to make this feel like a copycat of any one movie, and the conclusion definitely breaks from typical expectations. That’s a nice surprise for sure, but it leaves us with more questions than answers.

BLOOD PI (2020)

Blood Pi is the low budget slasher of this bunch, and it grabbed my attention because the description references it taking place at Halloween. I’ll give it a spot on the holiday horror page since the plot has college kids going from one costume party to another during football season with orange lights strung around, but the holiday doesn’t get any kind of recognition or love here, and there isn’t a pumpkin in sight.

After an opening kill scene, we meet our main college girls and their gay BFF—who in his initial appearance seems like an extreme caricature.

This isn’t your usual slasher, for we know who the killer is all along—a redhead girl at odds with the popular sorority while also Single White Femaling a nerdy girl.

She’s a damn psycho who indiscriminately starts killing people as she hits up one party after another like everyone else, and the actress rules in the role.

The first part of the film has plenty of your standard cheesy partying, socializing, and dancing scenes as the conflicts of the main characters are established, but later on, the psycho girl gets things going with some nice and gory kills, teaching sleazy guys some serious lessons.

She really amps things up with an axe in the final act, and the gay guy comes back on the scene in a major way and vindicates himself with some quite humorous moments.

Naturally, that lands this one on the does the gay guy die? page.

THE DARK MILITARY (2019)

It’s another Halloween horror movie without a pumpkin in sight. This one is about a group that calls themselves “the dark military”, and they’re doing a live streaming show on Halloween in which the contestants think they are just contestants…

I was so feeling the beginning of the movie as a group of fun-loving, likable characters is introduced, waiting to get on a bus to be whisked a way to an undisclosed location. It had a total late 90s/early 2000s teen horror vibe.

Once they’re dropped off in a field, guys and a few women dressed in black and wearing black masks start hacking and slashing! The contestants run into the woods and the chase is on. At the same time, scenes of viewers and the cops watching the footage are interspersed, and even grown up Andy from the Child’s Play series has a cameo.

The film repeatedly sets up scenes promising torture and gore, but is surprisingly tame, and most of the masked baddies aren’t all that menacing, because they tend to get into wars of words with the feisty contestants. There are some funny moments, but nothing is particularly suspenseful or frightening here. And in the end, it turns into a death match as the baddies and the contestants get into a melee battle.

It had its moments, but The Dark Military isn’t thrilling enough to stand out from similar films. It also makes the massive mistake of lapsing into a moment of anti-gay shit. The baddies catch a couple, their leader calls the guy a faggot, one of the female baddies lures the girl into kissing her with the promise of sparing her (of course the guys take a break from killing to watch), and then the female baddie starts beating her to a pulp while furiously calling her a dyke. When are filmmakers going to learn that this stupidity can isolate a segment of the horror audience? Sure it can be argued that these types of immoral people would say shit like that in real life, but a) if these types of people would say shit like this about gay people, chances are they would also make racist remarks towards the non-white contestants, and that doesn’t happen, and b) when making art, you can either lead the conversation or follow—you don’t have to put anti-gay shit in your movie at all. It does nothing to further your plot.

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Masked killers, retro vibes, 2 kinds of camp, and a double dose of gays

I’m always up for a slasher fix, and this foursome delivered in a variety of ways, so let’s take a look.

THE BONE GARDEN (2016)

The Bone Garden is a novelty horror flick that goes for the meta vibes with all the characters named after those in 80s horror movies. On top of that, it brings together original actors from several of the Friday the 13th movies, most notably the leading couple, played by Tracie Savage and Norman Hardy of Friday the 13th Part 3. Norman is a daddy now, but he’s still rockin’ the bod enough to get a shirtless workout montage. Nice.

Anyway, this film has a Rear Window plot. Tracie and Norman are married, but their relationship is on shaky ground. He’s a two-timer, she’s bored. That is until she spies her new neighbor carrying what looks like a body and dropping it into the lake.

She decides to investigate on her own with a little help from her best friend…who is a hoot and totally steals the show.

It’s an okay thriller for a low budget film, and Tracie even starts cozying up to a hottie she meets while walking her dog.

Thing is, the plot mostly feels cliché…until the final act, which is the part it seems that most reviewers on Amazon Prime criticize.

I, on the other hand, think the movie is given new, wacky life once it seems Tracie is near to cracking the case. In fact, this is the part when the movie really turns into a horror movie, complete with gore, body reveals, and a seemingly manic indecision by the writer on how to end the film. Awesome.

DREAMCATCHER (2021)

Remember when there were a whole bunch of sleek, really bad slashers coming out for a decade following the Scream craze at the turn of the millennium? Dreamcatcher feels like it came right from that era. It mostly reminds me of the weak Prom Night remake, with a touch of David DeCoteau’s stabs at the genre, like Final Stab and The Frightening.

Two newly reconnected sisters go to a club with their friends to see a sizzling hot DJ spin.

When a tragic event occurs (after various drug trips that deliver an attempt at artsy visuals—and yes, a dreamcatcher does come into play), the friends get an offer they can’t refuse from the DJ’s agent…who makes plenty of snide remarks with a political bent, including a goodie about Mitch McConnell.

Anyway, the friends begin getting killed off brutally by someone in the same mask the DJ wears. I thought maybe it was Marshmello, pissed the movie was stealing his shtick.

I guess the kills are okay, but this film just lags and goes on and on. There are no likable characters and their numerous side stories do nothing to hold the viewers interest since most of these kids are assholes.

There are a couple of hot boy bods (yay) and a gay reveal with a promise of a gay kiss…that cuts away to another scene. WTF? Anyway, it still lands a spot on the does the gay guy die? page.

As the film finally crawls into its final act, it becomes one of those headache inducing denouements with too many talking points and characters just going off the rails in order to convince us there are multiples twists.

And if you stick around until after the credits begin to roll, you’ll get to see an unnecessary reminder that the gay guy doesn’t stand a chance in a horror movie…even if it means bringing him back after the credits start rolling…

FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978 (2021)

Part 2 picks up right where part 1 left off (in 1994) with the surviving friends determined to figure out how to stop the witch from turning others into killers.

So they track down a survivor of the 1978 massacre to ask for help, and she tells them what happened at summer camp in 1978…

As a result, the movie is loaded with music from the 1970s, such as:

Captain & Tennille “Love Will Keep Us Together”

The Runaways “Cherry Bomb”

Cat Stevens “The First Cut is the Deepest”

Blue Oyster Cult ” Don’t Fear the Reaper”

Kansas “Carry On My Wayward Son”

Buzzcocks “Ever Fallen in Love”

Thelma Houston “Don’t Leave Me This Way”

So yay! It’s a summer camp slasher. But first we establish who the bullies are at the camp, who their victims are, and how they use their belief in the witch against each other. When someone at camp goes a little too psycho, the kids start poking into the witch legend, find an underground lair in the woods, and unleash another killer…

This film starts off so much more streamlined than the first messy plot, and when the kills start, they totally rock the gore. And then…

…because the film is 110 minutes long it does exactly what the first film did; it becomes chaotic, with too many characters and unnecessary side stories to fill the time. I can’t fathom why they would want to keep drawing us away from the core witch story and slasher structure, but that’s what we get once again. Good news is there are sex scenes that include some man butt, and the death scenes really do rock.

The bad news—at least for me—is that the third installment is going to be a period piece (blech) that takes place in the 1600s.

SLASHENING: THE FINAL BEGINNING (2021)

As a huge fan of director Brandon Bassham’s slasher comedy The Slashening, I was ecstatic when the sequel came my way. Now that I’ve seen it, I simply must have a hard copy for my collection, so I hope it gets a disc release.

As much a spoof as it is slasher (poking fun at the cat scare, mask POV, dumb victim, etc.), the sequel begins with a group of friends gathered in a house discussing the events of the first movie, and then getting hilariously killed off within the first ten minutes while going off to have sex. Wahoo!

Even better…one couple is two gay guys, and let’s just say the scene is a funny delight that involves a sex act that pretty much never even gets any recognition in gay porn.

Next, we meet a support group in which there is a character that makes for one of the best links ever created for a sequel—it’s the daughter of a man who couldn’t live with himself due to his part in a running joke from the first movie.

The film is smartly a short and streamlined 80 minutes long, the performances of the quirky members of the support group bring on the humor, there’s some gross out humor (and it involves a guy who has, um, performance issues), the killer is campy, and the main girl is a blast…especially when she fights real dirty at the end.

This is most definitely the winner for me in this bunch. It’s hitting film festivals at the moment, but let’s hope it get distribution soon.

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PRIME TIME: there’s something alien in the air

It started with an accidental alien addition to my watchlist that just seemed like a good sci-fi movie to watch with the hubby but ended up having a whole lot of horror in it. It only grew from there as I took Amazon recommendations for other films like that first flick. So which were the best in this bunch?

BREACH (2020)

If you miss the days of cable and video store Alien rip-off movies of the late 80s and early 90s, Breach will make you feel all kinds of nostalgic.

A space ship is carrying a team of people to a new planet to colonize it. As is always the case with these movies, we meet them all as they’re eating in the slop hall and exchanging jabs.

There’s a cute stowaway who reminded me of a young Treat Williams. Thomas Jane is the admiral of the ship. Bruce Willis is fucking awful as one of the team members—why he doesn’t just retire since he can’t seem to be bothered to act anymore is beyond me. And finally, horror hottie Johnny Messner is another team member.

Pretty quickly things get gory, someone turns into an “infected”, there’s an autopsy scene, team members begin to fear each other…. Nothing new here, but it’s got some gore, and the infected are fast runners and jumpers.

In essence, it’s mostly a cheesy, fast zombies in space movie with a boss battle at the end (think the video game Dead Space). It’s a good popcorn movie (I literally decided to make popcorn while watching it), especially since some scenes were unintentionally laughable, like a sudden, all-out brawl between humans and infected.

The final scene, while not top notch Hollywood budget stuff, adds an unexpected surprise to the otherwise formulaic plot.

ENCOUNTER (2018)

Early on, this film reminds me of Altered, an indie alien fave of mine. Hemsworth brother Luke plays a dude in a wheelchair who is out in the woods with his buddies when they see something crash to earth. They investigate and find a little pod smoking in a hole. So…they bring it home to his garage.

The film starts off pretty exciting. A tentacle comes out of the pod when Hemsworth is alone, and soon his whole outlook on life is changing, so he feels the need to get everyone in his life to befriend the pod.

Meanwhile, his buddies go to ask an old college professor for help…horror icon Tom Atkins. And…the government is coming to look for the pod.

I wish the movie remained as good as it sounds. It falls into a cycle of Hemsworth convincing people to befriend the pod to see what he experienced and them all becoming fans. The pod and tentacle effects are cool, there some other effects that are not, and the conclusion is a little bizarre and open for interpretation if you’re into that sort of thing.

BEYOND THE SKY (2018)

I could see an alien movie blog post formulating as I found this one as a recommend on the page for Encounter, and when I saw Dee Wallace listed in the cast, I knew I had to add it to my watchlist immediately.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that Dee is only in it for about three minutes so we could all say, “Hey, it’s E.T.’s mom in an alien movie!”

Beyond the Sky kind of feels like someone watched all the classic alien abduction films (Communion, The Fourth Kind, Fire in the Sky, etc.) and hit all the same plot points, with the difference being the focus in this film is on a guy making a movie with his friend to prove alien abduction is fake.

They go to the Roswell area. They interview supposed abductees. They go to a support group for abductees. They go to a convention for believers, which is where they meet Dee. They team up with a girl to do their investigating.

And finally, they go into the desert at night and things start to get weird for them. Still, most of this film’s time is spent on inexplicable lost time (self-fulfilling anyone?).

Good news is there is an abduction, a trip to a spaceship, and an encounter with aliens before all is said and done. But oddly, it almost feels out of place considering the rest of the movie is so grounded in…well, what’s happening on the ground.

INTERPRETERS (2019)

How is this for dedication? I saw that the running time for this film was two hours and I still watched it. Of course that might be because it meant an unnecessary extra half hour of movie but a totally necessary 30 more minutes of horror hunk Ace Marrero.

Ace is a special agent that discovers a massacre of some military men while in the desert…and is then told by his leaders that he made the whole thing up. So he moves to a small town to get away from life…but murder follows him.

Interpreters plays out sort of like a slasher mystery, with a guy in black and what we at first assume is a creepy mask slowly killing off people in the community. The sheriff suspects Ace since he’s the new guy in town, so Ace has to do some investigating to find out the truth, all while experiencing weird visions or flashbacks.

There are signs that there’s something more sinister, more government conspiracy, and perhaps more alien than what’s happening on the surface. The problem is Interpreters has an interesting concept that simply isn’t presented concisely enough—everything drags on and just muddies the waters while filling in the time between the limited number of kills. Truly, the film would have benefited from some editing.

Not to mention, although the final act is a fun, chaotic gun battle out in the dark at night, basically the film does nothing to expose us enough to the whole rather cool point, which is simply explained by an “alien” within five minutes near the end. I say alien in quotes because we can only assume this is an alien situation because it’s never quite clearly defined as such. Honestly, I found this film very hard to follow.

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Big bugs, horny witches, and space ghosts

Since I’ve recently added them to my collection, it’s time to look at 3 that take us from the mid-90s to the turn of the millennium.

MOSQUITO (1994)

If you’re a fan of 1990s big bug film Ticks but haven’t seen 1990s big bug film Mosquito, what are you waiting for?

It’s pure big bug cheese, with real creature effects for the most part—and I wouldn’t even call the really bad graphic bug moments CGI. It practically looks like bad animation…and kind of reminded me of the locust scenes in the Exorcist II.

Anyway, after a hokey spaceship crash scene, the big mosquitos begin attacking…and the first victim is some redneck dude chased out of an outhouse with his bare ass bouncing in the breeze. Yay! There’s also a sex scene in a tent featuring boobs and some hints of man butt. Yay!

However, it’s this flannel and jeans daddy bear that was my eye candy throughout the film.

The kills are deliciously gory, and the mosquitos literally suck the life out of victims, so this is a visual horror treat.

The group of main characters that runs around the woods trying to get away from the mosquitos includes original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen.

There are major mosquito attacks as they try to escape in an RV and after they hole up in a house, so the pacing delivers on loads of mosquito action. And even the “high-def” Blu-ray of this film has a bit of a fuzzy VHS picture quality, so it’s a total nostalgia treat.

SORCERESS (1995)

After a series of classic 80s and 90s horror and cult films (Chopping Mall, Not of This Earth, Return of the Swamp Thing, Transylvania Twist, Sorority House Massacre II, 976-Evil 2), director Jim Wynorski began moving into skin flick territory, and this is somewhat of a gateway flick.

Julie Strain performs a ritual to kill Linda Blair’s husband, mostly letting her tits do the talking. She tries to shut them up by squeezing them with her fingers a lot, but that just seems to embolden them. Then Julie’s husband comes home and she accidentally gets killed, but swears vengeance for her death.

Linda’s husband ends up in wheelchair, Blacula is their lawyer friend who works at the same firm as him, and Julie’s husband also works there. Basically, this is a film in which Julie haunts her hubby from the grave as women throw themselves at him in between him having flashbacks to all the great sex he had with Julie, including a threesome with another woman.

Adorable leading man Larry Poindexter has amazing hair, a furry chest, and gets his ass kissed by one of his women, which is basically the highlight here. It’s just not fair when you realize the actress got paid for that opportunity.

There are a few kills, mostly with gun, and Linda Blair dabbles in some ritual magic for a moment, but she’s really not the star here. The sex scenes are the star.

GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)

By 2001 it was like John Carpenter didn’t have anywhere left to go with horror…so he went to Mars in the future. Ugh.

In retrospect, the cast is pretty cool. Natasha Henstridge of Species stars, along with Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy, and Ice Cube, who, when we look back at his performance here, reminds us that the character he always plays is probably just Ice Cube.

The plot involves an intergalactic police crew sent to a mining operation on Mars to transport a prisoner. They explore the very red and abandoned location for a while, things seem off and creepy, and then they get attacked by what are basically Mad Max baddies on Mars with a Subspecies vampire clone as their leader.

Ghosts of an ancient civilization have possessed all the miners, creating a violent tribe of killers. If the police kill one of them, the ghost jumps out of the body and has to possess someone else. But there’s a mysterious drug that just might help the police escape the planet, as long as they team up with some criminals.

A painful mashup of various subgenres, the film lacks suspense, scares, likable characters, or gore, and even the action battles leave something to be desired. Ghosts of Mars feels more like a pre-Scream 1990s horror movie, when directors were trying to do any ridiculous thing they could think of to make a horror movie story that wasn’t a slasher. In other words, it might as well have been a bad direct-to-video movie from 1994.

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Back to the 90s and 80s with Fear Street 1994 and Vicious Fun

It’s hack ‘n’ slash time with some retro vibes in these two throwbacks to the final decades of the last millennium. Sounds like fun…right?

FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 (2021)

1994 is one of those instances in which for everything that the film has going for it, it also has something going against it. For instance, if a movie takes us back to the 90s with plenty of references and a total Scream opener homage…it has to live up to the reputation. In this case, the reputation is lived up to in the first ten minutes, but the rest of the movie and doesn’t quite go along for the ride.

While the B. Dalton bookstore setting at the beginning is 90s awesome, not only because bookstores were booming at the time but also because the Fear Street books were booming as well (I worked at a Barnes & Noble superstore through the 90s and it ruled), the rest of the film doesn’t try too hard to completely capture the feel of the decade. However, the soundtrack is perfect, including the likes of:

Nine Inch Nails “Closer”
Garbage “Only Happy When It Rains”
Sophie B. Hawkins “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover”
Cypress Hill “Insane in the Membrane”
Radiohead “Creep”
White Town “Your Woman”
Cowboy Junkies “Sweet Jane”

The group of kids is likable and includes our two main girls…a lesbian couple. Yay because it’s lesbians for a change instead of gay guys, and…boo because it’s lesbians instead of gay guys. Heh heh.

This isn’t your usual masked killer slasher. Yes, there’s a masked killer, but as high school peers begin getting sliced and diced, our main group suspects the murders are the work of an old witch ghost of town legend. Luckily, one of the boys is totally into serial killers, so we basically gets glimpses of what to expect from the stories in the next two films. I’ll just say those killers look like fun…

But back to this story. The plot is kind of a mess in an early 2000s supernatural horror slasher way. And by that I mean it’s like a series of disconnected scenes as the kids simply run from one location to another all over town being chased by an evil entity while they try to stop it. The only thing that saves this kind of chaotic structure for me is the delivery of brutal kills, and 1994 definitely delivers on that front. There’s even a sex break montage. Yay! But again…you know…lesbians, not gay guys.

As for the killer “identity”, that just adds to the chaotic plot thanks to the supernatural aspects, and it simply didn’t keep me totally enthralled. Not to mention, the film doesn’t carry the near 2-hour runtime the way, say, Scream did. For me, unless the next two films can better solidify the value of this film’s plot, this isn’t a slasher I simply must have in my personal film collection.

VICIOUS FUN (2020)

I feel like I could just copy and paste most of what I said above to hit the points on Vicious Fun, which takes place in 1983. For a short time early on there’s definitely a 1980s vibe, with plenty of neon light, some 80s horror movie references, faux synth instrumental music, and even use of the awesome Drab Majesty throwback track “Too Soon To Tell” at a bar. However, once the plot takes over, the 1980s aspect becomes irrelevant and ignored.

The opener scene is another killer, even if any veteran horror fan will see the “unexpected” part coming from a mile away.

Then we meet our main guy, a sort of geeky and awkward horror critic. He goes to a bar, gets drunk, and then accidentally walks in on a serial killer support group, which includes familiar faces such as David Koechner (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Krampus, Piranha 3DD, Final Destination 5), the creepy janitor from Urban Legend, horror hunk Robert Maillet (A Little a Bit Zombie, Septic Man, Monster Brawl), and young horror veteran Ari Millen (I’ll Take Your Dead, The Hexecutioners, Hellmouth, Exit Humanity). The performances of the psychos in the film help elevate what I otherwise found to be a really bland take on a cliché concept.

Our main boy is soon found out, and his only way of escaping the psychos that don their masks and makeup to hunt him down is the help of the one female killer in the group. But can he really trust her?

Considering the title of this film, I really expected some vicious fun. Instead, I thought the movie was slow, lacked solid humor, and even failed to impress with gore because the gore presented felt like default gore for gory movies. Does that make sense? We simply go from a long, drawn out cat and mouse at the support group meeting location to a long, drawn out cat and mouse at a police station over the course of 100 minutes (insert me saying this movie should have been edited down by at least ten minutes here).

And considering the main guy is supposed to be a horror lover, it just seems he should have been better equipped to handle his predicament. The main actor tries really hard to make himself appealing and charming as the simple dude thrown into a complicated situation with a crazy but possibly caring female, but he just wasn’t given much to work with. Although it’s not a horror movie, if you watch Gun Akimbo starring Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving, which is sort of similar in basic concept, you’ll experience a funny, gory, action-packed, fast-paced thriller with strong chemistry between the male and female leads. In other words, the movie that better deserved the title Vicious Fun.

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STREAM QUEEN: low-fi vs. hi-fi double creature feature

They are both streaming, but one should have been in theaters and the other on SyFy. So how did this creature double feature work out for the hubby and me?

LEGENDARY (2013)

I imagine this one may have been on SyFy back in its good bad days. I tossed it into my Prime watchlist because it had monsters and Dolph Lundgren, the perfect combination for intimate time with the hubby.

I ended up tossing about a dozen other action movies featuring its sexy star Scott Adkins in my watchlist for us to fill our time later.

The horrible CGI bear battle at the beginning had us hooked. Basically, Scott Adkins and his team go around the world hunting and capturing wild creatures that are terrorizing communities. Dolph Lundgren goes around the world hunting the same wild creatures to kill them.

Both groups end up on a job in China. We very quickly get a fully Monty attack of the CGI lizard monster, which seriously looks like the Geico lizard.

The events that unfold as the two teams battle to handle the issue their way are as generic as it gets, but there are some fun monster attack moments along the way.

It all leads to a trip into the monster’s lair. Would you believe there are baby lizard monsters to contend with? Would you believe Dolph shows up to thwart Scott’s plan to capture the creature? Would you believe there’s a battle between humans at the same time as they’re all trying to avoid being torn apart by the monster? Would you believe the effects are as CGI and green screen bad as a SyFy flick?

THE TOMORROW WAR (2021)

This is the big budget alien creature feature that went to Prime instead of making it to the theaters. It’s definitely a fun action/monster popcorn movie. However, not even I can eat popcorn for 2 hours and 20 minutes, no matter how much cherry cola is at my disposal to wash it down with. Listen up, filmmakers. Drawing out the running time of your film doesn’t automatically make it epic, no matter what all the superhero films these days would have you believe.

The premise is not totally original, but it gets us where we need to go. An alien species is set to destroy the earth. The government is selecting involuntary volunteers to send into the future to try to fight these alien creatures. Chris Pratt gets selected. Establishing that plot point takes about 40 minutes.

Then shit gets good. The selected group is beamed into the future in a wild scene that goes horribly wrong, and pretty soon they are thrown into a major battle against awesome alien creatures in a dystopian city. This middle segment of the film is a blast, even if there are a whole lot of time travel issues that make the plot ridiculous.

Just when this action-packed monster movie riddled with stimulating visual effects is winding down…there are 30 more minutes to go. Ugh.

The tone shifts in the final act, moving into cutesy Spielberg 80s sci-fi alien movie territory as kids and one-liners are thrown into the mix for a new battle ignited in another country.

This really does feel sort of like three different movies as it progresses, but as long as you have the time to carve out to watch it, there are definitely plenty of thrills to be had.

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STREAM QUEEN: three oddities

I went a little off the beaten path with my latest selection of films, and honestly, I wasn’t all that into most of them.

BEAUTY QUEEN BUTCHER (1991)

Beauty Queen Butcher comes from the 90s, when many indie directors believed you could just score total cult camp cred by having a guy in drag playing a female character in your movie. The gimmick absolutely fails in this cheapo slasher comedy that runs way too long.

An overweight girl is tormented by all the mean girls in school, yet ends up in a beauty pageant with them…because they have a plan to humiliate her. This is the part where I would just advise you to re-watch Carrie instead.

This movie drags more than the guy in drag. Nothing funny or entertaining enough happens to fill the first 70 minutes before the first kill. The cliché characters aren’t that interesting mostly because they don’t have much in the way of humorous dialogue at all.

The girls torment the overweight girl and the pageant goes on forever and very little of it is even vaguely funny. It’s mostly just annoying and boring.

Finally, the overweight girl snaps and goes on a killing spree. All of a sudden, the tone, atmosphere, and even the score sound like total 80s slasher goodness. It all could have saved the film, but unfortunately, the girl is annoying as the killer, so it ruins even the “good part” of this 2-hour long film.

VAMPIRE DAD (2020)

This silly little vampire comedy has a pretty simple plot that lends itself to a low budget, and it also capture the spirit of more traditional horror fun perfectly, right down to the comic book art transitions.

It starts with dad getting bit by a vamp on Halloween, which had me excited, but sadly it doesn’t take place entirely during the holiday. It really would have added to the charm if the entire film had stuck with a Halloween night theme.

This is a throwback to the Leave It to Beaver/Father Knows Best days of television, focusing on an all-American family in the early 1960s.

It’s a comedy of errors as dad and mom try to keep dad’s bloody appetite a secret from their teenage daughter and the neighbors…while dad is tasked with being the therapist for other classic monsters. In essence it’s reminiscent of The Munsters.

There are cute, campy jokes, sizzling hot Jackson Hurst of Drop Dead Diva is adorable as the dad, the guy playing the mortician uncle who helps keep his secret is funny, and the vamptastic woman playing the goddess of the underworld also handles double duties as the horror hostess of the film.

The movie even has the perfect ending to summarize the tone; the cast dances and lip-syncs to “The Monster Mash”.

FRIED BARRY (2020)

This is a film that definitely appeals to a particular mindset. It’s visually artistic and flashy and trippy, and the content is sleazy with some nasty scenes. On top of that, it’s a spectacle that doesn’t concern itself too much with a flowing narrative. This is essentially a stream of thought film.

Barry is a druggy in the city, and he is one skanky looking dude played fantastically by lead actor Gary Green, who actually does very little speaking throughout the film. And that’s because…

Barry gets beamed up by a spaceship at the very beginning of the movie. This is by far my favorite scene in the film. It’s freaky and bizarre and visually arresting. Also, some awful probing is done to Barry, and I’m not just talking through the opening in his butt. Eek!

After that, he’s taken over by an alien, returns to Earth, and spends the movie just walking around touring the city and dealing with the slimiest characters cities have to offer…if it were like 1983.

Barry witnesses and then also experiences gay action in a bathroom stall. Barry gets high at a rave. Barry gets taken home by a few women, including a prostitute—who experiences one of life’s beautiful and nasty miracles. Barry witnesses a murder and responds oddly. Barry gets harassed by thugs. Barry gets abducted and tortured. Barry gets arrested. Barry gets thrown in a loony bin.

This is a movie that goes everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. For me personally, it wore thin after a while, and what makes it worse is that nothing else in the film lives up to the horrific promise of the alien abduction scene at the beginning. Alien Barry isn’t really an ominous threat to humans…he’s kind of like a stoner who has no idea what the fuck is going on for the whole film. It’s the humans that are the real problem.

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Cheap thrills and kills from the 1950s through the 1990s

It’s a smorgasbord of oddities from a variety of decades dating all the way back to 1958, so let’s see if any of them had any memorable moments.

I BURY THE LIVING (1958)

Albert Band, director of the Prehysteria movies and Ghoulies II, and also the father of Full Moon Features founder Charles Band, began his horror career way back in 1958 with this film that should have been an episode of The Twilight Zone…and still would have been 20 minutes too long.

The concept is cool. A guy takes a job as a cemetery director and begins to notice that whenever he places black “occupied” pins on an empty plot on the cemetery map, the person who owns that plot dies.

He tries to tell numerous people of his odd power, and every time he does, they are skeptical and tell him to prove it. So he jabs another plot with a black pin and kills another person. WTF?

Problem is we don’t get to see people dying left and right. This shit all takes place in one office, making it as agonizingly boring as that Pontypool disaster that so many people inexplicably think is a masterpiece of terrifying horror.

Finally, it seems like the film will be saved. He wonders what will happen if he puts the white “empty” pins on the graves of the people he already killed. Will it bring them back to life?

If it does, we can only hope they return as zombies that come for him, but I won’t spoil it. However, I will tell you this. The truth of what is going on makes this movie even worse. I discovered this one because Stephen King mentions it as the inspiration for a story he wrote in a collection of his I just read…where he also warns readers that the ending sucks.

BERSERK! (1967)

As we all (hopefully) know, controversial and infamous Joan Crawford sold her soul to horror late in her career, and Berserk! was the only one I had yet to cover on my site. It is a pretty sleazy template for the slasher genre.

Joan owns a circus, and in the very first scene, her tightrope walker dies in front of a live audience. The notoriety brings detectives sniffing around…along with a whole new audience in it for the morbidity of visiting the scene of a death. And Joan is all about the money it’s making her.

Meanwhile, a handsome stud shows up to fill those tightrope-walking shoes. Every woman at the circus wants him, including Joan.

He takes his shirt off a lot, women catfight over him, and someone begins killing off circus folk. Specifically, men! Awesome.

There aren’t loads of kills, but they are nicely gruesome for the time period, and there’s a good stalking scene involving Joan. However, there are also way too many looooong scenes with complete circus performances. Ugh. Not to mention, the reveal of the killer at the end is really lame.

THE AMUSEMENT PARK (1973)

Look, obviously if there was a lost Romero film it had to be released. But does it need to be seen by horror fans? Probably, out of obligation. Will they like it? They might praise it as brilliant…out of obligation.

The Amusement Park is a 50-minute movie that looks like a film school project. Not only because of how shoddy it is visually, but because it literally hits you over the head with its points about how we treat the elderly. Romero might as well just have made a documentary instead. There’s nothing subtle here. It’s almost like another movie I saw once from the seventies with a social message that kept slapping me in the face. I think it was called…Dawn of the something or other.

Anyway, the film has an old man going through an amusement park experiencing all the horrible things we must endure when we grow old, including having our licenses taken away, food insecurity, housing insecurity, being considered creepy and perverted, being targeted physically because we’re vulnerable, and inevitably, being targeted because we’re old and need to die.

Most importantly, other than being about the horrors of being old, this isn’t a “horror” movie in any traditional sense.

SHANKS (1974)

Released in 1974 when he was well past his heyday, the final horror movie by legend William Castle really has him moving out of his classic horror comfort zone. The film is really odd, uses silent film title cards during scene changes, has a Punch and Judy vibe, and is scored with very whimsical music.

Shanks is a mute puppeteer who lives with his nasty sister and her husband. His only friend is a young blonde girl. He starts working for a mad scientist who figures out how to bring animals back to life.

Then the scientist dies, so Shanks uses his own experiments on him to bring his corpse back to life and control it like a puppet.

The human puppet starts to kill people. Then those dead people become Shanks’s puppets. Shanks uses them as servants to throw a party for the blonde girl.

And then a motorcycle gang just shows up out of nowhere and starts terrorizing them. WTF? Will the puppets save the day?

This is one weird movie, but in a weird way, it kind of seems like it may have been the inspiration for the film Dolls.

CALENDAR GIRL MURDERS (1984)

Vinegar Syndrome recently released Televised Terror Volume 1, a collection of three made-for-TV thrillers on Blu-ray. I blogged about Are You In The House Alone? a while back since I had the DVD, so I’ll take on the two other films in this blog.

Calendar Girl Murders is appealing simply because it’s so badly eighties that it’s awesome. It is the perfect example of mainstream television trying to cash in on how cool the year 1984 was by combining MTV flash with slasher thrills.

Robert Culp, fresh off his brief time on the TV show The Greatest American Hero, plays the man producing a sexy calendar. When the models start getting killed off by the month they are featured in the calendar, Tom Skerritt is the detective on the case, and Sharon Stone becomes the woman he focuses on protecting.

There are some bad eighties variety show dance numbers (a reminder of how androgynous we could be back then) set to cheesy electronic dance music, and even Rip Torn makes a cameo as a host.

There are a couple of tame kills with an 80s vibe, including killer POV and a shot of a knife, but as was usually the case with made-for-TV “slashers” back then, this turns into a bad detective story with very few death scenes. Honestly, it’s not worth the time.

CHILD IN THE NIGHT (1990)

A young Elijah Wood stars with some horror royalty in this silly slasher thriller from 1990, the third film from the Vinegar Syndrome Televised Terror Volume 1 collection.

It’s my kind of take your kid to work day. Elijah’s dad takes Elijah to his office at night, which is right next to the docks. Before long, Elijah witnesses his dad being hooked by what seems like an early template for the I Know What You Did Last Summer movie killer.

Tom Skerritt is once again the detective on the case, Darren McGavin is Elijah’s grandfather, and because little Elijah has blocked out any memory of what he saw, JoBeth Williams steps in as a psychologist to work with him.

The film focuses mostly on JoBeth dealing with her own past demons and using that to better connect with Elijah to get him to face his fear…which turns into him having visions of Captain Hook while under hypnosis.

Of course Skerritt and Williams get hot for each other, JoBeth gets a good body reveal scene, JoBeth gets a killer spotting, and JoBeth gets a cool chase. Indeed, JoBeth is a 40-year old final girl.

 

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