PRIME TIME: it’s all alien to me

I don’t often dabble in the alien realm, but when I do, it’s gotta be fun…or a totally unique take on aliens. These two films definitely kept me watching. Let’s find out why.

XENOPHOBIA (2019)

An indie film reminiscent of The Fourth Kind, this fun little midnight movie plays out like an anthology film as members of an alien abduction support group describe their experiences.

The special effects and monsters are mostly fantastic, with plenty of practical effects and just fleeting slips into SyFy style effects now and then, which made the hubby and me giggle. Yet even those added to the spirit of the film. now on to the stories.

First story has a kid sucked into a spaceship in the desert for some probing. This is the most traditional of the tales.

In the second story, a young woman and her husband have an alien encounter in the woods while camping. There’s an awesomely freaky, two-faced alien and a good gore moment at the end of this tale, which feels very old school 80s in tone and style.

For the third story, horror queen Brinke Stevens recounts her daughter’s disappearance while babysitting. It takes a while to get going, but this tale is a blast, with the young woman being chased around the house by a little octopus looking alien thing. It’s quite campy, and also reminiscent of that classic Trilogy of Terror tale.

The final story delivers some nasty torture porn as several women start mutilating a man they think is a rapist. When the alien shows up, it totally rox.

And finally, there’s the conclusion of the wraparound, which ties all their tales together. The film adds a unique and actually logical take on those that have experienced alien encounters, setting it apart from the usual.

ALIEN EXORCISM (2011)

If you’re really fascinated with alien theories, this is quite a unique little indie to check out. It’s deep, visually hallucinogenic, and quite complicated, with numerous elements in play.

The very first scene is like a disturbing acid trip, from the viewpoint between a woman’s legs as various aliens bicker over which one gets her. Eek. And Ick.

Then we meet a doctor who believes aliens actually fill our bodies as souls to live among us and is focusing on a troubled young woman. While he has her hypnotized, the alien takes over and won’t release her from her meditative state. It’s quite cool to see that she actually makes even a visual transformation.

So the doctor and his sidekicks take her to a priest that defected from the church, and they attempt…what else? An alien exorcism. As long as you’re not married to religion, the concepts presented here, blending the occult and extraterrestrials, are quite thought-provoking and mind-boggling. This isn’t a film for mere cheap thrill seekers.

Alien eroticism, possession, religion, spirituality, government conspiracies—it’s all here in this intriguing film. Hell, it even manages to make a rave a crucial plot point.

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It’s never too late…or early…for Halloween horror

Halloween is behind us and ahead of us, so it’s always the right time for a Halloween horror marathon. Meaning I’m totally presenting you with a trio of Halloween films I’m adding to the complete list of holiday horror movies.

BLACK PUMPKIN (2018)

Black Pumpkin is pure indie Halloween slasher bliss drenched in 80s retro vibes.

The opening kill, complete with a black pumpkin on a front step, clips of Night of the Living Dead on a TV (naturally), a wicked jump scare, and delicious gore, gets us in the mood. There are also clips of a TV show the main characters watch throughout the film featuring a creepy dude singing an 80s style, earworm of a Halloween song (which is included in full as a bonus video on the DVD).

The plot is as old as time. A teen is supposed to babysit her younger siblings on Halloween. Her friends would rather she go with them to the site of the Bloody Bobby legend. At the same time, her younger brother and his funny friend are making a video for the Internet about the Bloody Bobby legend.

And of course there’s a nut running around town trying to warn everyone to beware Bloody Bobby.

And for good reason. Bloody Bobby is a freak of Halloween nature! Like a more demonic version of Sam from Trick ‘r Treat, he dices and slices up the main girl’s friends in brutal ways.

It’s gory, suspenseful, the main characters are likable, the Halloween atmosphere rox, and the main girl’s boyfriend has BJ lips made in heaven.

If there’s any flaw here, it’s that it appears at least some of the actors may have had to re-dub their dialogue back in after filming was complete, because the audio feels and sounds somewhat off at times.

THE LEGEND OF FALL CREEK (2021)

I was quite excited to discover that only months after I bought Black Pumpkin on DVD, companion film The Legend of Fall Creek was announced. I think it may simply be a reworked, re-edited, reproduced, reshot, or all of the above version of a seemingly unreleased Bloody Bobby movie listed in IMDb by the same creators, so I assume Black Pumpkin is actually the sequel.

It doesn’t matter which order you watch the two films in, but I would suggest watching this one first to save the best for last. Fall Creek has more of a gritty, dark look and feel, setting it apart from Black Pumpkin nicely, however, the creators didn’t need to splash the definition of grindhouse across the screen as the film starts. We’re a horror audience; we know why it looks the way it does.

As the title implies, Legend of Bloody Bobby recounts the origins of Bloody Bobby. How does it do that? For starters, it explains it in a narrative accompanied by scrolling text at the very beginning. The film takes place 20 years after the incident, and simply has various characters tell the same exact story of what happened to Bobby on Halloween night in 1988. He disappeared after kids picked on him. That’s all we get. No nasty details at all. Not even a flashback.

The main guy comes back to town, and he is still traumatized by whatever it is that happened when they were all kids. He’s acting really weird as he connects with old friends again at a Halloween party, but at the same time, he’s kind of funny. Guess he uses humor as a coping mechanism.

Meanwhile, people start getting killed off by someone in costume who doesn’t even vaguely live up to the creepiness of Bloody Bobby in Black Pumpkin. That version of the killer could so easily become iconic. Here he’s a letdown, especially since he’s cloaked constantly in quick edits with blurred focus. Bummer.

On top of that, not even a grindhouse filter can mask the detached narrative that loosely ties scenes together as we are presented with mostly forgettable, disposable characters. Plus, the slashing feels almost incidental rather than being the glue that holds the film together. That said, some of the kill sequences rock, especially when Bloody Bobby “trick or treats” at one woman’s house right before she takes a shower. There’s even a good old sex scene kill. Yay!

In the realm of why even bother including it in the film, there is some oddly forced, homophobic ranting in two scenes by different characters, but at least in both cases the phobes get theirs.

I will be adding this to my DVD collection when it’s released next month due to my completist compulsions, but I can definitely say you don’t need to see this film to enjoy Black Pumpkin, because they feel like they come from two different worlds.

SCARE ATTRACTION (2019)

Toss in elements of the most obvious fad movies of the last two decades and you get this generic, 72-minute film.

There are some Hellhouse LLC moments as a reality show host gives us a found footage style tour of his new Halloween scare location, while repeatedly referencing rooms inspired by the Saw movies.

The cast comes in, gets a tour of the scary attraction, and then gets trapped in what’s assumed to be an escape room.

Then they get gassed and wake up tied to chairs. A disembodied voice tells them they must solve riddles involving their most sinful acts or else they will die.

Sound familiar? If so and Saw is your thing, you may get some slight satisfaction from Scare Attraction. As a guy who was in it for a Halloween horror flick, I was left totally unsatisfied.

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Counts and Countesses at the beginning of the 1970s

This is it. I’ve at last reached the final four DVDs I inherited from my late brother, and they’re from 1970 and 1971, when I was barely into my terrible twos (I still am).

THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970)

Somehow I landed back in Hammer Films hell after I thought I’d gotten through all of them. Dang, my brother loved Hammer movies. I had high hopes for their take on vamps this time, because instead of once again retreading their Dracula movies, the focus is on a female vampire!

The opener delivers classic Hammer atmosphere as a vampire hunter waits by a cemetery for a creepy specter to rise from the ground. Great scene. I swear, the specter looks better in motion.

Then we get into the thick of the plot. Some woman keeps dropping her pretty daughter off with random families. Each time the daughter joins a household, a young woman in the family falls ill, dies, and is found to have two puncture wounds on her neck.

Good thing Peter Cushing is around. He and a group of guys that also lost women to this vampire chick go hunting her down, aaaaaaand…it becomes just another cookie cutter Hammer film. Well, I guess not totally, because this lady vamp seduces women. Eek! It’s lesbian Hammer horror!

COUNTESS DRACULA (1971)

This is poorly titled, because this is an Elizabeth Bathory concept, not vampire. A recently widowed countess learns she can remain youthful if she bathes in the blood of young women. So she gets her servants to help her kidnap and kill victims.

Things don’t go as planned. In between ridiculous soap opera bed-hopping nonsense, she starts looking worse!

Turns out she was supposed to be dipping only in virgin blood. So, the plan is altered to fit the new parameters.

Just boring. Not gory, not scary, just boring. I could barely find a single enticing still shot.

COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970)

Yorga most definitely steals a lot of Drac’s style, but maybe just because he isn’t named Dracula, I found him a bit more provocative.

He holds a séance for a woman who recently lost her mother, and after the woman freaks out during the séance, one couple at the gathering drives Yorga home. After dropping him off, they have sex in their van, which turns into a pretty dang good vampire POV scene.

That’s one of just several really effective horror elements here, the next being Yorga’s female victim getting caught feasting on a cat. Eek!

Tradition never goes out of style, so the count comes to her window at night (after she feels up her tits first), and then the men of the movie, including The Facts of Life headmaster Mr. Parker, start to realize she’s a victim of vampirism.

As the Count builds a little army of vamp babes, the men plot to take them all down by infiltrating his lair.

The final act is creepy vampire stuff for its time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if parts of this film were the inspiration for Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of Salem’s Lot.

THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)

Somehow the Santa Ana winds have brought Yorga back to life. What kind of Frosty the Snowman bullshit is that?

Also back is Mr. Parker, but playing a different character. See? Horror has been doing this kind of dumb crap for decades. And keep an eye out for a young Craig T. Nelson of Poltergeist fame.

This time around, the Count becomes obsessed with and abducts Mariette Hartley, who is a teacher at the orphanage. She remembers nothing, so he convinces her he took her in to take care of her after an accident

I prefer this sequel to the first film, because they’ve upped the creep factor in numerous scenes. For instance, the vamp ladies rise from the ground and chase a little boy in the woods, the count does some great slow mo chasing, Mariette is assaulted by a cacophony of creepy laughter while trapped in a room, and there’s a great scene of Yorga’s vamp ladies taking down a room full of shrieking people.

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PRIME TIME: demons and other creepy creatures

It’s a trio of indie films with varying degrees of chills, thrills, and kills. Let’s take a brief look at A Dark Path, The Evil Rises, and Demons Inside Me.

A DARK PATH (2020)

If you need a little backwoods creature feature fix, this one runs 74 minutes long, so it may just be what you’re looking for. However, it is a slow burn, with the first creature appearance not until about 54 minutes in.

Two girls head for the airport after a party in Europe. Their car doesn’t have GPS, they end up on a desolate road at night, the car breaks down, and then they proceed to do every stupid thing you possibly can. Look, I really liked these two characters, but how the hell do you end up getting separated when there are only two of you lost in the woods in a car at night?

Stay.In.The.Fucking.Car.

The girl who didn’t disappear (according to the perspective the movie forces us into) goes out with her handy video camera to look for the other girl. It’s not totally a found footage film, but there is some camera POV, especially once the monster finally appears.

Characters continue to do stupid things, but the creature moments are pretty thrilling. However, unless there’s a sequel, the ending will piss you off.

THE EVIL RISES (2018)

I liked the basic cheesy, low budget aspects of this film, but what didn’t work for me is the film’s attempt to tackle a larger demon legend/mythos that really would have needed a bigger budget to pull off convincingly.

A group of friends partying on the beach finds a mysterious old statue in the sand, and within minutes it’s causing them to turn on each other like ravenous zombies.

A hologram of some dime store demon appears and tells them they shall be his minions and harvest blood for him.

Sooooo…the group throws a party where they lure guests in and then kill them in bloody ways. At the same time, a detective, a priest, and a pizza boy are out to stop them.

This is the premise I could work with. It’s all the backstory about the demon that dragged it down for me.

DEMONS INSIDE ME (2019)

A short film running about 75 minutes long, this one has a lot going for it, but be warned—it keeps your head swirling with a non-chronological presentation of events, like starting at the end, a narrative approach I don’t love due to its spoiler elements.

There are also a myriad of unlikable characters discussing disjointed issues, but I’m not complaining about all the shirtless dudes that weren’t required to have flawless physiques.

A young woman is dumped by a douchebag while they’re hanging out with a bunch of other douchebags at a pool in Costa Rica. She has no means of transportation, so she’s stuck there while everyone else at the party begins getting dragged into the jungle by humanoid creatures that often look like possessed, tribal natives in natural camouflage.

The title is another spoiler, because the point of the film seems to be that the main girl’s inner demons have manifested as real to get revenge while she’s chilling in a bathtub tripping on acid and speaking to someone who isn’t really there.

Is everything she’s witnessing all in her head? Is she actually the killer? We’ll never know, but if you like loopy, psychological horror narrative arcs like this (think High Tension), you may really enjoy this one. After all, there are plenty of kills, freaks in the jungle, gory effects, chase scenes, jump scares, and some good suspense.

 

 

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Amityville…the horrors continue

I’ve covered plenty of Amityville films before, both in a mega blog and in a look at the Amityville II remake. Now, it’s time for another mega blog about Amityville and bogus Amityville films, going all the way back to the sequels that followed the original trilogy at the end of the 80s.

AMITYVILLE: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1989)

This starts what was supposed to be a series of movies based on a book of the same name that focused on items from the Amityville house that landed in new hands, bringing supernatural forces along with them. I recently took a look at all my Amityville books, including this one, in a video.

 

In a way, there have been quite a few unrelated films based on the concept of this book, even more recently. As for The Evil Escapes, it’s a made-for-TV movie starring Patty Duke as a struggling mom that comes with her three children to live with her mother.

Grandma has recently been gifted a creepy as hell lamp her sister bought at a garage sale in Amityville. As was the case with most little girls in 80s horror movies, Patty Duke’s youngest daughter is a creepy kid even before she becomes obsessed with the lamp, through which she believes she can speak to her dead father.

Weird shit happens around the house, and grandma wants so badly to blame her brat grandchildren. But as the troubles escalate and become dangerous, Patty tries to convince her it’s the crazy damn lamp.

Meanwhile, a priest that was attacked by the lamp while trying to exorcise the Amityville house at the beginning of the film is making his way to save them from the lamp.

It’s bad. Really bad. And it tries more and more to rehash scenes from the original film from a decade before, including a babysitter locked in a closet, static when the priest tries to call Patty on the phone, and shit oozing out of walls.

THE AMITYVILLE CURSE (1990)

Based on an equally horrible book, this installment features a couple buying an old church to use as their new home…and having another couple and a single dude come live with them.

The old church leftovers are in the basement, including a confessional in which a priest was shot. Weird shit happens in the house—a spider on a guy’s chest (Brady Bunch much?), a tub full of blood, and a young man and a dog lurking around outside are just some of the underwhelming situations.

The only good part of this film is the final act, and it’s pretty good.

As we learn the truth of the confessional killing through flashbacks, one character becomes possessed and chases another through the house. It saves the whole film.

AMITYVILLE 1992: IT’S ABOUT TIME (1992)

It’s like the title of this film timestamps why it’s so bad. Ugh. 1992. I was still working part time at the video store, and our horror section was going to shit due to so many direct-to-video horror films like this destroying the genre.

In yet another “Evil Escapes” installment, an architect brings home a clock from the demolition site of the Amityville house. For whatever reason, his ex-girlfriend has been staying with his fully grown son and daughter while he was gone…and continues to stay after a neighbor’s dog mauls him. Or did it?

The clock brings with it an evil that has absolutely no rhyme or reason…aka: it’s a 90s horror film. A fake version of the dog is the mauling culprit. A swastika is painted on the neighbor’s house. The room the clock is in turns into a torture chamber when the lights are turned off. There’s slime in the ex’s bed, there’s slime in her new boyfriend’s tub.

A zombie man pops out of the tub. The daughter turns into a slutty vixen and seduces a guy into being sucked down a drain.


Clearly he got the part because he’s got the part…

And before all is said and done, the entire house turns into the clock.

This is a nightmare, and not in a good way.

AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993)

Even the likes of horror veterans such as David Naughton, Lin Shaye, Terry Quinn, and Robert Rusler can’t save yet another “The Evil Escapes” plot.

This time a homeless man gives an aspiring photographer a mirror, which he keeps in storage in his warehouse apartment building. Anyone who stumbles upon it sees vision of their own death and then proceeds to kill themselves in that way right on the spot. That’s how we sadly lose some of the most familiar horror faces in the film too soon.

As with most nineties horror flicks that don’t want to just follow one logical trajectory, our cute main guy with fabulous hair learns the shocking truth about how he is linked to the original murders in the Amityville house, after which he begins having nightmares about being the gunman (not named Ronald DeFeo in this film).

The movie’s climax takes place at an art show in the apartment building, and I can safely say I had no fucking idea what was going on. Pretty much the story of every 90s horror movie pre-Scream.

AMITYVILLE: DOLLHOUSE (1996)

The final installment of Amityville movies before the remake almost a decade later, this one is just as much of a mess as the other 90s installments, but it has its nasty charms and plenty going on.

Some dude has a house built for his blended family. When they arrive, he finds a replica dollhouse of the Amityville house in the shed and gives it to his daughter as a gift. Don’t ask me why he doesn’t question that there’s a dollhouse in the shed of the house he built. Also, no one ever seems to realize it’s the Amityville house, for Amityville is never mentioned.

Like the wild ride of a Euro horror film from the 80s, this nonsensical flick has a killer fireplace, a corpse dad inexplicably returning from the dead to tempt one stepson into turning against his new family, an occult savvy aunt and uncle who sense the dollhouse is evil, a big killer fly (wink wink to the original film’s flies), a stepmom who has masturbatory fantasies about her hot stepson, and even some cool demons in the end that, according to IMDb, were recycled from other movies to save on money. They sure look familiar.

Surprisingly, the little girl who gets the dollhouse isn’t creepy for a change. She’s actually the first one to insist her new dollhouse is evil.

The end clarifies nothing. There’s a portal in the fireplace, which was supposedly already there, so the father built the entire new house around it. So if the fireplace is the root of the evil, why are they required to burn the Amityville dollhouse to destroy the house and its evil?

And I ask once again…why was there an Amityville dollhouse in the shed?

AMITYVILLE: THE FINAL CHAPTER (2015)

I thought I was getting another Amityville movie I hadn’t seen with this one, but it turns out this was originally a movie called Sickle, which I’ve already blogged about here. I can’t even explain how it got renamed Amityville: The Final Chapter, especially since it was anything but the final chapter. So on to the next non-Amityville Amityville movie.

AMITYVILLE: MT. MISERY ROAD (2018)

A film that later had Amityville slapped onto the beginning of its title, this one at least takes place in Huntington, which is basically a few miles north of Amityville on Long Island.

Running only 75 minutes long, this no budget film is written by, directed by, and stars an actual couple…and based on their looks, this native Long Islander wouldn’t be surprised if they’re actually from Long Island.

They seem to be truly enjoying themselves as they look up scary haunting legends like the Mothman on the internet, so the film feels oddly genuine.

They then go to a bar, where she shakes her ass to a shake your ass song before they sit down with some guy who gives them an oral history of the supernatural phenomena on Mt. Misery Road. Legends include lights in the sky, a hell hound, an asylum built on the hill, an inmate named Mary who torched the place, the place being rebuilt, and then burned down again. That’s a whole lot of things we never ever see in the film.

Once the couple heads into the forest to look for the remains of the asylum, things turn found footage and get as tediously Blair Witch as can be…meaning, they walk around the woods, we watch leaves pass by on the ground, we see rocks on the ground, one of the characters disappears, and then something happens to the other one and the camera hits the ground. The end…after a desperate attempt at a final frame jump scare.

AMITYVILLE CLOWNHOUSE (2020)

I’ll start off by saying that the audio is so inconsistent in this film, leaning towards predominantly horrible, that I had to turn on subtitles on Prime to know what characters were saying.

I give props to director Dustin Ferguson for dedicating his indie horror career to keeping the legacy of old horror films alive (check out his IMDb filmography and you’ll see what I mean). He also made The Amityville Legacy, the only Amityville film to prominently feature gay characters (covered in my original Amityville mega blog). That film was renamed Amityville Toybox, and Amityville Clownhouse is a sequel to that film…and has been renamed from the title Amityville: Evil Never Dies.

Clownhouse is an absolute mess, and I can only guess it is simply slapped together from a variety of different film ideas that didn’t pan out.

The opening scene has a man dressed as a clown shooting his family and himself during a birthday party. Next, a bunch of thieves breaks into the abandoned house to steal a clown painting and ends up encountering the clown’s ghost. That’s all the clown you get, so the title of the film really should have been changed.

Jumping to a completely different story, a couple scores the toy cymbal monkey from The Amityville Legacy at a store called Jessie’s Junk, run by…Mark Patton of Elm Street 2. Get it?

The wife hears noises in the attic, the husband screws around behind her back, acts weird, and then beats her because she believes the monkey is haunting the house. She researches the history of the toy…which leads her to a mental institution where one of the survivors of the previous film tells her what went down.

Now we get a recap of The Amityville Legacy in what I can only guess is unused footage from that film…including an ass shot of the hunky daddy.

The plot fizzles out to nothing after that. Ferguson should have just inserted the hunky daddy footage back into the previous film and not bothered allowing this weak entry to see the light of day.

AMITYVILLE WITCHES (2020)

About as far from Amityville as you can get (although the town is mentioned), this film is about women at an isolated academy that is home to a coven of witches planning to conjure a demon.

They find their key ingredient when a new girl with a special mark on her body arrives. After she is forced to watch them slit another girl’s throat, she is “rescued” by a second coven that needs her help to stop the first coven from releasing the demon.

A lot of witchy bickering ensues, and the magic effects whenever witches strike the classic witch vogue pose looks like something out of a cheesy SyFy television show from 20 years ago.

But hey, when you want to get your story across with a small budget, you do what you have to do.

The demon is initially trapped in a mirror and looks creepy. However, once it is drawn into the real world for the final battle, it’s not all that impressive.

Amityville Witches simply isn’t satisfying as an Amityville or witch movie.

AMITYVILLE HARVEST (2020)

One of the more lofty Amityville productions, this one takes place on Long Island and at least has the smarts to make a “welcome to Amityville” sign the final frame of the film.

However, Amityville Harvest is about…vampires! WTF? Honestly, this film could have stood on its own without the Amityville name, which totally causes the vampire angle to throw you for a loop, doing the film a huge disservice.

Notably, the film features a cameo by horror hunk Paul Logan as a deceased man in a coffin, horror veteran Eileen Dietz in a small role, and best of all, Sadie Katz, one of my favorite contemporary horror queens, in the lead.

She and her documentary crew come to an old manor to do a story featuring its handsome but clearly not fully living owner.

There’s a lot of talk, and there are also a couple of odd and violent encounters with various specters around the house. A sort of “surgeon” freak that walks jerkily and whacks victims with a hammer is my fave—but he’s also party to one of the most annoying scenes in the film. A guy is sitting talking to the main vampire, and a girl nearby keeps urgently saying to him “Let’s go!” instead of simply screaming, “There’s a freak with a hammer coming up behind you!” An absolutely ridiculous moment.

Reminiscent of 80s Euro horror, the film does escalate to some crazy horror chaos in the final act, which works quite effective as its own mini-horror movie, with plenty of vamp action and several creepy, gritty, and suspenseful scenes. It just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get to the good part.

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The compassionate side of witchery

My latest double feature viewing experience included two very different films that both, however, focus on the human experience with horror as the backdrop. Let’s get into The Craft: Legacy and His House.

THE CRAFT: LEGACY (2020)

 

Naturally, a new movie following in the shadows of a fan favorite’s title doesn’t stand a chance of being judged on its own merits. It’s safe to assume The Craft: Legacy will get nothing but hate for not being whatever it is fans of The Craft want…because a reboot/sequel/remake/reimagining that would work for them will simply never exist. Of course, what they want could also be nothing at all, but that has never stopped movie studios before.

To me, The Craft: Legacy is like the most recent Black Christmas movie in that it makes the smart move of not trying to be a complete rehash of its predecessor. Instead, This film is a sequel (very vaguely clarified as such eventually) that speaks directly to a young, contemporary audience that will most likely totally relate to its teen protagonists. It’s a culturally aware commentary on teens of today, as it should be….just as the original was back in 1996.

This isn’t a dark and cynical supernatural film like the first. The exploration of the characters is not about how their hunger for power pushes them to dark places, it’s about how their innocence leaves them vulnerable to losing control of power that is indeed bigger than them, and I find it to be a fresh approach. These are not resentful, jaded goth girls with a vendetta against all their hateful classmates. These four witches aren’t exactly embraced by their classmates, but they aren’t severely damaged as a result of any snubbing. They have their own damn clique and enjoy the hell out of it. They are young, curious, innocent girls who are absolutely giddy at the fact that they even have powers to begin with.

In a fairly odd setup, the main girl travels with her mother in their car (complete with a nod to the 90s as they belt out some Alanis Morissette) to the home of her mom’s boyfriend, played by the always hot David Duchovny. It’s unclear why the main girl seems to know little about the man her mother is dating and is just meeting his three sons, who she’s now going to live with, for the first time.

It’s not long before three fun girls (like Cyndi Lauper level fun girls who would probably be way popular in school) are pinpointing her as the fourth they need to ignite the abilities of their coven. These four are much more determined to respect the art of magic, even if they do give into the temptation to do some voodoo on the school asshole to make him a little less of a douche.

And that is where the major difference comes in. This film delves more into how the girls begin to realize the effect the consequences of their witchy games can have on others…and that people are more than just what they portray on the outside.

Though understated compared to the new Black Christmas, the themes of “woke” culture will most assuredly hit a nerve with the proudly insensitive crowd with a self-proclaimed strong backbone. Seriously, they lose their shit over social commentary in modern horror movies as if it hasn’t always been there, so the exploration of bisexual issues and female empowerment here should make them revolt.

I imagine the big disappointment for most fans of the original is the fact that this takes an empathetic approach to its witches. It’s not a slowly spiraling journey to darkness; the girls prove to be much more of the white witch variety. I’m reminded of the reboot of Charmed rather than the original The Craft, for the girls are forced to rise to the occasion when an outside threat that was bubbling under the surface suddenly rises to the top and leads to a somewhat underwhelming and almost goofy finale.

HIS HOUSE (2020)

Because I’m mostly a pop horror film fan (fun and fast with cheap frights), the heavy-handed and complex story presented in His House would draw me in more as a novel. However, although I was challenged by my finicky attention span the whole time, this slow burn is a compelling story that tackles an important topic while veiling it with a supernatural tale.

While escaping an African war zone, a man and wife lose their daughter on their way to England. Indeed, this film sheds light on the horrors that refugees face. And since this is not about Mexicans escaping to the U.S., it may just be a little more digestible for the hypersensitive American segment of horror fans that fear the monster known as social awareness…or as they like to call it, the liberal agenda.

In order to stay in the county, the couple must follow strict rules, like not looking for employment and remaining in the housing they are given.

It’s a dive. It’s also haunted.

One of the major conflicts between the man and wife is their differing concepts of home. The man insists they assimilate to life in England, the wife fights it. He is determined to stay and fight for control of a house of his own, while she wants to leave because she believes they are being terrorized by a vengeful witch.

Question is, why? And that’s what kept me watching. The scares aren’t exactly haunting enough for my numbed senses, and they’re also too in the characters’ heads rather than tangible (visions, nightmares, etc.), which never works for me, but the witch thingy is definitely creepy.

Most importantly, the reveal of why the couple is in this predicament is quite tragic and another eye-opening look at what human instinct will push a person to do in order to survive the harshest realities.

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5 from the 1960s

Aliens, zombies, vampires, occultists, witches, grave robbers, killer plants…all jam-packed into only five movies. Does that work to their advantage? Let’s find out.

THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964)

What a delicious title, and the combination of sci-fi/horror concepts isn’t bad either…but one overpowers the other.

Running only 62 minutes long, this fun film gets right to the point, with an opening scene of earthlings dropping like flies after a mysterious gas attack consumes the planet.

A small group of survivors gathers in a house, and while they’re plotting what they should do in their new reality, robotic aliens start lurking around outside in broad daylight. EEK!

Turns out they kill instantly with just a touch. And then…the victims come back as zombies! None of it makes much sense, but the unnerving presentation of the zombies is definitely one that is still effective to this day in modern horror films.

From a horror history perspective, there’s also a glaring example of why horror from decades past missed golden opportunities to really get under your skin. In The Earth Dies Screaming, a frightening scene of a woman being chased by zombies has her react in melodramatic horror to a surprise approach of a zombie before we see it. It seemed few directors from back then dared have us experience the shock of a terrifying appearance along with the character back then…aka: the jump scare.

WITCHCRAFT (1964)

  

It’s Romeo and Juliet…with a witch.

Centuries ago, a woman from one family was buried alive after a rival family accused her of witchcraft.

In current times, a couple from the opposing families plan to get married, and the families aren’t happy. Neither is the witch, who is accidentally resurrected.

This is one creepy witch. She roams the house of the enemy family in her hooded robe, terrifying and killing off the inhabitants.

She’s also working with a cult of family members in a dark dungeon in the basement. Plus, Lon Chaney Jr. makes an appearance…and barely seems to be able to deliver his lines.

Not the most inspired plot, but the witch and the camera following her absolutely steal the show as she lurks around the shadowy house.

DEVILS OF DARKNESS (1965)

It’s beyond me why anyone would consider mimicking a Hammer film, but this movie did…and it’s even more boring than a Hammer film.

A group of friends travels through a town filled with gypsies…and an underground vampire cult. When all but one friend is murdered, the final guy takes an amulet from the scene of one of the crimes.

The vampire cult pursues him to get back the amulet, and there are red-robed cultists thrown in for good measure. None of it helps make this any less of a dialogue heavy bore with no scares, gore, suspense, atmosphere…or actual vampire action.

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965)

 

Such a great title for a relatively boring Boris Karloff movie.

A guy heads to the estate of his fiancée, but once he arrives in town he is denied a ride there by everyone he tries to hire.

Once he finally reaches his destination, he meets his future father-in-law, Boris Karloff. The wife is “sick” and stays in hiding. Karloff is a scientist secretly keeping a radioactive meteorite in his basement lab.

The main guy and his fiancée, who’s oddly oblivious to the horrors occurring in her own home, constantly hear screaming in the house and roam the halls trying to locate the source.

53 minutes in, they find deformed monstrosities in the green house. She gets attacked by a plant, and bats attack. Then they are chased by deformed humans. One’s face totally melts in stop motion like the face at the end of Evil Dead. The other looks like a silver-faced robot. What I’m saying is, the weird final 25 minutes of the film make up for how boring the rest of it is.

THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS (1966)

  

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—a restaurant’s success is due to the fact that the owners are using human meat. In this case, they’re in cahoots with an undertaker who disposes of the leftovers…

The Undertaker and His Pals is definitely an early adapter of this commonly used concept, however, it’s more blatantly a total knockoff off Herschell Gordon Lewis gorefests of the time. It’s super bloody, corny and almost darkly comic, has little in the way of character development, and has a weak plot designed simply to deliver more death and torture.

In other words, it’s a totally hip and cool slice of sixties exploitative trash.

The killers are quite melodramatic in their entrances, wearing masks, helmets, and goggles (they’re bikers) as they abduct their victims and brutally mutilate them. If you love HGL, definitely check this one out.

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Five from the early 1970s

They came from the same time period as The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but don’t expect them to live up to the two iconic films of the genre from that era.

THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970)

Based on a Lovecraft story before it became trendy in the 80s, this one stars Sandra Dee. I’ve been singing a song about her for over forty years, yet I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen one of her movies.

Sandra plays a college student given the fricking Necromonicon by her professor to return to the library. WTF?

Some dude with evil intentions picks her up, hypnotizes her into going home with him, and plans to use her for some sort of ritual to open a gate that allows a species from another dimension to enter earth because…why not?

It’s intangible and convoluted enough to make me dislike it as much as anything else by Lovecraft. Blech.

Worst of all, there’s a monster lurking around the dude’s house attacking people, but we never see it, just its POV, which is simply represented by the screen image flashing in solid blocks of color. It gave me flashbacks to colliding with death in every old Atari 2600 video game I ever played.

CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (1970)

As low budget as can be, this early entry in the slasher arena gets all its grit from the fact that it was filmed at the always decrepit and low-brow Coney Island, the perfect setting for a horror movie.

The almost non-existent plot leaves us with a repetitive series of events. Someone plays the dart game at the carnival, where they get into a verbal altercation with the two guys that run the booth. Then they go to a wacky fortune teller who, ironically, has a picture of Jesus in her den of the occult. After that, the person is killed. Rinse and repeat.

Stringing the kills together is a main character that convinces his girlfriend to hang around the carnival with him to investigate the murders.

Surprisingly, veteran actor Burt Young is one of the guys at the dart booth. As for the victims, it feels like they were people the filmmakers just approached at Coney Island while shooting and said, “Hey, wanna be in a movie?”

It’s that bad. However, there are a few gory kill scenes, like the killer pulling out one victim’s guts and digging out another’s eyeballs. Also, the death scenes are usually interspersed with clips of some freaky looking animatronic dummies in the fun house.

Notable is the oddly forced but very classic presentation of childhood trauma that apparently led to the psychotic killing spree.

TERROR AT RED WOLF INN (1972)

The director of Nightmare in Wax delivers a precursor to the many backwoods cannibal family movies that are still terrifying groups of kids heading into the woods to this day.

A college girl wins a trip to “Red Wolf Inn”. She’s picked up by a strange dude that she ends up falling for. He also happens to be the grandson of the quirky old couple that runs the inn.

At first there are several girls staying at the place, and they all feast on meaty meals each night. Uh-oh.

Not as gory as you might expect, this is a fairly tame take on cannibal crazies. Not a whole lot of gore or violence, and while the old couple is zany, it’s the grandson who is fricking insane a shark scene on the beach is particularly disturbing). But he may just be the main girl’s chance to escape being dinner.

Due to its trailblazing concept, I’m surprised it doesn’t get any recognition today, and it especially needs a Blu-ray release, because the crappy DVD releases look worse than a VHS tape and is also the edited version.

HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1974)

With all this one has going on, it should be a blast. There’s an African plantation, voodoo natives, and a deformed mad scientist performing experiments to keep the soul alive outside the body—first on animals, then on humans.

His brother brings his fiancée to live in the family home, where she is subjected to his crazy mother and bizarre occurrences.

Despite a Night of the Living Dead/House of the Dead mashup title, this isn’t a zombie film. There’s barely any horror at all as the fiancée’s fear simply spins out of control the more she learns about what’s really going on in the home.

Only the final act delivers a fast, psychotic amount of horror and some twists. It’s macabre, it’s gothic, and it’s an absolute raucous mess, but it’s better than anything else that happens during the movie.

CHOSEN SURVIVORS (1974)

This lost film of the 1970s is so unexpected in every way that I’m surprised it doesn’t get more recognition. Honestly, when I began playing the DVD, I was thinking it was going to suck, but it totally drew me in.

A small group of people is whisked away by a helicopter and brought to a minimalistic, desolate, futuristic looking underground facility. A woman on a large monitor tells them they have been chosen to continue the human race after a thermonuclear war has devastated the planet.

I expected long scenes of excessive character development, but instead it’s not long before we are exposed to the real horror of the movie—bats are somehow sneaking their way into the sealed up facility.

That’s right. This is a killer fricking bat movie! It’s sort of like The Birds underground…with bats. There are plenty of bat attacks, freakish close-ups of actual bats, some gore, tensions between the characters, and a desperate escape attempt to up the action in the final act.

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Back to the 80s: Silent Madness vs. Don’t Panic

The 80s really will never end, as even someone like myself, who worked in a mom and pop video store for years and had cable throughout the 80s, is still treated to obscure movies I’ve never seen as they are being released on Blu-ray. This time it’s thanks to the latest releases from Vinegar Syndrome. So let’s see if blind buys Don’t Panic and Silent Madness were worth adding to my movie collection (of course they were, since they’re from the eighties).

DON’T PANIC (1988)

This totally 80s movie comes from the director of Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers, and is basically a Euro horror rip-off of Witchboard.

A teen gets a Ouija board from his friends on his birthday. They use it, and he immediately begins having nightmares and daymares of bloody murder.

Then there’s a segment of him having a romance with a girl he likes, which really slows down the pacing.

Then things become disjointed. We start to assume that he is actually possessed and doing the killing (his eyes glow red constantly), but it seems to him that a zombie/demon version of his friend is actually the one going around town killing the people that are important to him.

There’s also a face that comes out of the white snow on his TV screen every once in a while to warn him of impending doom.

Definitely not the best of the 80s, but Don’t Panic has some blood, some sex, a cheesy 80s music score, and plenty of awesome 80s fashions, including tight guy jeans.

SILENT MADNESS (1984)

You would think this lost slasher of 1984 would be a total no budget affair with completely unknown faces, but it was not only originally released in 3-D and now released that way on Blu-ray, it also features the older woman from Creepshow and The Exorcist III as a sorority housemother, the short guy with glasses from The Unseen and Carrie as the sheriff, and the muscle guido from Sleepaway Camp as the first victim.

The 3-D is as goofy good as it gets from back then, with nice depth and various weapons being thrust right at the camera, and there are plenty of unique kills. The plot is as common as it gets from back then, but unfortunately the unfolding of events is horribly paced.

A psycho is accidentally released from a mental institution because his first and last names are the reverse of the dude they were supposed to set free. One female staff member decides to find him while the hospital tries to cover up the mistake.

Way too much time is focused on the leading lady hunting him down, but eventually she tracks him to…wouldn’t you know it…a sorority house.

It’s not until 65 minutes in that the kills really start coming on strong. This isn’t a masked psycho, but he does seem oddly invulnerable. For instance, at one point the leading lady electrocutes his ass good and he just keeps coming. I guess years of taking the cattle prod at the hospital built up his immunity.

Anyway, she gets a super long chase scene with plenty of body reveals, and there are even two crazy paramedics from the mental hospital chasing after her. The killer motivation is rather predictable at this point, but it sure is fun to experience an old 80s slasher for the first time. Even the Dragon’s Lair video game plays a role in one of the kills.

 

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GAY HORROR FICTION: two novels and an anthology to keep you reading

Get ready to read as I take on three queer horror fiction titles: Plank Children, Seasons Bleedings, and Darker than Night.

PLANK CHILDREN by Michael Schutz

Author Michael Schutz manages to give us a gay protagonist whose sexual identity isn’t the focal point of the story, yet does play subtlety crucial parts in his horrific predicament.

After the end of a relationship and the loss of his beloved nephew in an accident, Miles visits his drunken sister and her husband…who tell him that their son’s body was misidentified and he’s still alive.

Miles tracks his nephew down to a reformatory for boys that is run by a skeleton crew. His hopes of gathering his nephew and getting out of there are dashed when a snowstorm makes it impossible to leave.

So begins Miles’s decent into a hellish existence with the creepy staff, ghostly apparitions, and devilish young boys. The horrific behaviors and treatment he must endure as he tries to figure out a way to escape only turn more and more brutal when the “headmaster” of the reformatory learns of his attraction to men. It’s truly a classic tale of a main character being held against his will and experiencing terrifying events as the true history of his prison starts to unfold.

SEASON’S BLEEDINGS by Bryan Michael Ellis

This slasher novel follows the most traditional template of the slasher movie genre. This is not a whodunit—the killer is immediately identified in the opening then returns to the scene of the crime years later just for the fun of killing again.

In this case, the scene is a house now inhabited by a family loaded with dysfunction, which we learn character by character as family members arrive to spend the holidays together.

The reason for this season’s bleedings is to get your Christmas slasher fix with the added treat of having a gay final boy. Not everyone in the family is welcoming of the gay son and his boyfriend, yet they are the healthiest couple in the bunch. All the straighties are a hot mess…and the gays are the only ones that have hot sex. Twice!

Of course exploitative sex is just one of the ingredients we expect from our slashers, and the rest is added to the mix as well. The killer wears a creepy nutcracker mask and uses jingle bells as a calling card, plus there are plenty of gory holiday-themed kills, chases, and body reveals.

DARKER THAN NIGHT

This collection doesn’t specify on the jacket or interior that it’s an LGBTQ horror anthology, yet almost every story contains queer characters and themes. The collection also features stories by two of my fellow author friends, Eric Andrew-Katz and H.L. Sudler. Yay!

Here is a breakdown of the tales:

“The Hunt” by Caleb Howell
A young man is coerced to go hunting in the woods with his dad. When they become separated, the real hunt begins.

“When Gods Wept” by Eric Andrews-Katz
A priest’s witch hunt targeting beautiful men he considers tempters of sin backfires.

“The Townhouse” by David Helms
A man finds himself drawn into tragedy that took place at an infamous location he is touring.

“Mother Comes to Visit” by Danny Baird
A gay man’s nightmarish mother-in-law isn’t exactly a welcome guest.

“The Dark of Bryan Awel” by Rhidian Brenig Jones
One gay man comes to an old building to verify it’s not haunted…while another gay man comes to contact ghosts.

“Sandman” by H.L. Sudler
A single father’s young son draws shocking pictures in school that prove to be catastrophically more disturbing than could be imagined.

“Wedlock” by John Adams
A brief tale of a man who is drawn into a marriage with a man he doesn’t love.

“Danny Granger Enters Infinity” by James R. Lynch
A night at a bar becomes a journey into repressed memories for a man when he hooks up with a familiar yet mysterious hottie….

“An Exercise in Empathy” by Michelle D. Ring
A student doing an invasive sharing exercise with their classmate experiences the other student’s darkest fears.

“The Sunflowers” by Ollister Wade
A surreal exploration of lesbian love.

“To Stitch a Heart” by Andrew Phoenix
A kindly vampire is determined to heal a zombie boy’s heartache.

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