Resident Evil 7 is fun, but it’s not Resident Evil at all anymore

Forget all the characters you knew, forget Umbrella, forget zombies, and forget the cool horror movie camera angles, because Capcom has. Resident Evil has not only gone FPS, but it’s pretty much a first person Silent Hill now. You’re a man looking for your wife while trapped in a hellish situation in creepy locations.

As you attempt to find all the right items to unlock doors to move on to new areas, you’re chased by scary monsters and scary people. You’re forced into stealth situations as you run in circles around a house trying to gather up items, which does at times feel a little like being chased by Nemesis in Resident Evil 3. The first part of the game is frightening and loaded with jump scares, but it turns more into action horror as it progresses.

Also similar to the original RE games is the save rooms. Yes! There’s even one in a trailer home, which brought out the white trash roots in me because I never wanted to leave once I was inside its safe walls.

Within the save rooms are good old item boxes, and now there are even birdcages that hold special items you can purchase if you find enough coins during the game. Sadly, the classic, comforting save room music of days gone by is missing, and the series has moved from old school typewriters to 1980s tape recorders.

Speaking of the 80s, there are even videotapes you can find then watch on VCRs in the save rooms. Doing so gets you pulled into flashbacks that are long missions in themselves—you actually PLAY what’s on the videotape. There’s even an escape room segment on video. In essence, finding and playing these tapes makes this a longer game.

Like most Resident Evil games, RE7 is designed so that you spend large chunks of time in one location before moving on to a new one. The game is linear, so the downside is the possibility of missing out on beneficial items and then not being able to go back to old areas for them later. For instance, there are a couple of repair kits that let you make better guns, but basically you’ll never find them without a walkthrough, which I only discovered after missing out on a few of them. Sigh.

Aside from finding items just lying around, there are crates you can bust open with your knife. Unfortunately, some of them are exploding crates! It’s so infuriating when all you want is a health, and you blow yourself up instead…which causes you to need a health. You can also find lockpicks to open boxes containing items, but if you don’t find the lockpicks in a section of the game before moving on to the next section, you never find out what items you missed in unopened boxes.

Item slots are limited, and because there are mixing options for making ammunition and health, you run out even faster if you can’t combine anything you have on hand and are nowhere near a save room. There is the option of dropping items, but it’s hard to relinquish your hold on anything when you know supplies are limited. Also, some of the better weapons, as in most RE games, take up two slots.

For convenience, there are quick weapon slots on the D-pad, but they mess you up when they get rearranged on their own and you’re used to hitting specific buttons for certain weapons. Also, it’s not easy to get to the section in the inventory that allows you to change what’s in your quick slots…especially since bringing up your inventory doesn’t stop the game. What makes this worse is that the only weapons you can actually select to use while playing are the ones in your quick slots! In other words, if all four quick slot weapons are out of ammo, you have to make sure you’re safe from monsters then go into your inventory to change the quick slot choices to another weapon in your inventory before you can use it.

The end of each section delivers a boss fight, but none of them are unreasonable or all that difficult. Hell, once you figure out what the frick you’re supposed to do, even the final boss is wickedly easy.

The only real stumbling block? The damn controls. They can be frustrating for a fairly universal reason across games…the press IN feature on the sticks (aka: L3/R3), which you do accidentally in the heat of a chaotic battle, drops you into crouch mode! Argh!

The plot is so Resident Evil cliché at this point; as you read through the files you find along the way you realize it’s the same story every time! Some mad scientist experimented on a little girl and unleashed a monster strain along with some serious family drama. There is a point in the game where you have to make a choice on how to proceed, and that apparently changes the ending, but that doesn’t change the redundant plot.

One final thing to note…there are many times throughout the game that you would have no idea what to do without reading a walkthrough. I guess that’s the ultimate nod to old school Resident Evil games.

THE DLC

There are quite a few DLC side games available for Resident Evil 7, but upon reading up on each, I opted to only play two. The other games either had time limits, escape room situations, or were merely replays of segments of the main game with items moved around to different locations. YAWN. “Not a Hero” and “End of Zoe” are unique and feel like extensions of the main game.

Not a Hero – While you play as Chris Redfield in this short side story, this is first person, so you can’t see yourself. Your goal is to chase down a member of the family from the original game. You work your way through a maze of dark and hazy underground tunnels fighting off numerous monsters until you finally take on a final boss.

You only have a handgun and a shotgun, but they’re enough when you tack on grenades you find along the way (at least when you play on easy). The game has plenty of frustrating moments, because you get blindsided by things you couldn’t have anticipated—a room suddenly begins sucking away your oxygen and you have to get out fast when you can barely see anything, you turn a corner and are suddenly blasted away by auto turrets you didn’t know where there, a monster you’re trying to blow away turns out to be invincible—so you will have to redo some parts. The good news is while there are official tape recorder save points, when you die, most of the time you can choose “retry” to pick up not very far from where you died.

The annoying aspects improve deeper into the game. A special gas mask you find prevents those oxygen losing moments, night vision goggles make it easier to see in dark areas, and special bullets finally allow you to kill those damn invincible monsters.

In classic Resident Evil style, most of the game involves exploring and backtracking to find items that help you advance, but since the game is so short, there’s not even much of that to do. So overall, this action-packed side story gives you something new to do if you are sad that you’ve already finished the main game.

End of Zoe – In this game you play a guy in the swamps trying to find the antidote to save your infected niece.

Here’s the catch. NO WEAPONS! It’s all fist fighting against the same giant monsters from the original game. But if I can do it, so can you. I actually ignored the suggestions about targeting baddies in the head and simply crouched, went right up to them, and pummeled away at their knees until they went down. Seriously, they were never able to get a hit on me when I was down there. The only catch is that sometimes you come up against more than one monster. There are also low crawling spider-like monsters that stoop to your level when you’re crouching.

The game teaches you to do some combo attacks, and they’re not that hard to remember, but it’s mostly just button mashing to throw left and right hooks. There’s a block move I never used, and a stealth crouch move that lets you sneak up on monsters for a one-hit kill.

You eat bugs as health (gross), and they can be mixed with chem fluid you find to make med kits. There are also spears you can pick up and throw, but the aiming is a little off—I had to aim a little high to hit my targets. Also, there are little voodoo doll “effigies.” Pick up the regular ones and keep them in your inventory to add 1% power to your fighting abilities. Find the rare super effigies and it’s 5%.

Just like the regular game, there are tape recorders for saving and an item box you really don’t need because there are plenty of slots for the minimal number of items you’ll pick up.

For me the alligators were the most nightmarish part of the game. Yes, you have to wade hip deep through swamp water. You need to kill the gators with spears to get by, and most of the time the spears are nearby or can be constructed of scrap metal and tree branches you find along the way. There was just one hellish section of raised platforms and huts over water infested with alligators. Many of the platform boards are broken, forcing you to do a balancing act to proceed. Yes, I did fall in the water a few times. Yes, I did get bitten several times while trying to get back up ladders. And no, there are absolutely not enough spears to kill all the alligators down below.

 

 

 

 

 

And of course there is a boss, but he wasn’t that hard to beat. At least, not on easy. In fact, I didn’t die once in this entire game.

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CLOWN vs. BIG TOP EVIL

Clowns are one of the latest overkill killers of the horror genre. At one point I made a huge blog about clown movies, so why not take on yet another two?

CLOWN (2019)


Clown starts off in 1994 with some sort of mass clown slaughter at a desert carnival. I was all excited about a retro 90s movie rather than an 80s throwback for a change, but alas, this one jumps right to the modern day after the opener.

We meet a group of friends checking out the now abandoned carnival. The fun house is still fully functioning, so they enter it. It’s really just a roughly made maze constructed of slat boards, but it is drenched in red and blue horror light, so the atmosphere is pretty dang good for an indie.

There are some minor teases of the killer clown, and cheap jump scares before he finally starts terrorizing the group, so it definitely gets you in the mood. The guy playing the clown is great, and the film is fast-paced, but it becomes extremely repetitive.

There’s a long sequence of the gang being taunted and chased by the clown before the action at last breaks off into something different, including a scary doll room and a few other fun kill concepts as the group is divided and conquered.

However, the film falls back into the taunt and chase cycle as it comes to a close!

Some other details detract from the film as well. First, one of the guys is really annoying and whiny. Then again, one of the guys gives us some beefcake.

Sound effects from the Atari 2600 Pac Man are used as background noise, and anyone who grew up in the 80s knows how damn annoying those sounds are. And finally, while the kids are running through the maze in terror trying to figure a way out, it’s impossible to suspend disbelief when it’s so obvious they could easily just smash through the cheap wood slat walls from which daylight and freedom are pouring through at all times.

BIG TOP EVIL (2019)


Argh. While cannibal clowns flick Big Top Evil does a much better job of mimicking grindhouse horror of the 1970s than most indies that try these days, it can’t keep the narrative arc together at all and is a jumbled mess right up until the end.

If some of the POV in the retelling by the main character in High Tension bothered you, Big Top Evil will drive you nuts. The movie is framed by one of the guys from our main group of friends recounting what happened when they went on a road trip. Problem is, much of what happens has nothing to do with him or his friends, and they wouldn’t have been present for much of what we’re seeing. Not to mention, it feels like every time things are just getting good, the film cuts back to him telling the story.

The friends are heading to a location infamous for its slasher past, but make various stops along the way. Most of the guys are quite cute, and they just might know it…

Yet once again we have one guy who is fucking annoying. What are the chances that would happen in a back-to-back clown horrorthon?

A girl obviously modeled after Sheri Moon’s Baby from the Rob Zombie films invites the friends to a gypsy circus, where Bill Moseley is the ringmaster. So basically the film isn’t actually mimicking 1970s grindhouse horror…it’s mimicking 2000s grindhouse horror that mimicked 1970s grindhouse horror. That’s how damn old I am.

To keep us occupied until the plot focuses on the group of friends encountering the clowns in the last 25 minutes, there’s a subplot about a gang of thieves terrorizing various shops, as well as another about the bad behavior of the crazy gypsy circus people.

Ooh. How much for the pit licking booth?

Clips of the cannibal clowns feedings are also randomly interspersed to make things even more convoluted and out of context with the plot trajectory.

The group of friends finally being terrorized by the clowns is such a good final act it’s a shame the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a way to fill the first hour with the best they had to offer. The clowns are freaky with some great makeup, and the traps the main characters fall into and the kills are a treat, but most of the gore comes in the form of cutaway kills. With practical gore effects and gross cannibal clown feasting, it’s a bummer that we don’t see enough kills depicted on screen.

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STREAM QUEEN: a home invasion, ghosts, and a backwoods slasher with back door boys

My latest selections come from Hulu, Netflix, and Prime respectively, definitely making for a better triple feature than my last one. And there’s even a gay couple as a major focus in one of the films.

TRESPASSERS (2018)

Tightly made Trespassers is never predictable merely because it’s constantly bouncing between subgenres before finally ending as a home invasion film.

However, what is cliché is the variety of relationship issues the two main couples have, along with the secrets they harbor. Damn. Heterosexuals problems sure are predictable.

The couples are staying at a house in the desert, and after their soap opera is presented, The Craft queen Fairuza Balk rings the doorbell. She’s as weird as always, but things don’t totally go as we might expect, and pretty soon the two couples are clashing.

When the home invaders at last strike they bring on the suspense, gore, and chase scenes, with techno music and Argento lighting really kicking the suspense up a notch.

The home invaders also subject the main characters to some torture porn.

Unfortunately, this entire final sequence is disappointingly rushed, causing the climax to feel anti-climactic.

ELI (2019)

The director of Sinister 2 brings us what mostly seems like just another Hollywood ghost girl movie, but with a unique premise.

A young boy with a disease that makes him “allergic” to air is brought by his parents to an isolated house where Lili Taylor, who plays a scientist, will subject him to an experimental treatment to cure him.

Her facility is specially equipped to allow him to walk around freely without his hazmat suit. But there’s one door that is off limits to him…

Would you believe he begins being terrorized by ghostly apparitions?

It’s essentially The Boy in The Plastic Bubble with ghosts—and without John Travolta. The scares and atmosphere are effective if you haven’t seen every Hollywood ghost film made in the past decade. What really blew my mind was that this well-polished film dared to steal a classic element from the low budget 80s slashers Splatter University.

However, Eli goes to a place that totally redeems it. The final act is absolutely delicious, for as predictable as I thought it was all going to continue to be right up until the end, there’s a rockin’ surprise in store.

WARNINGS (2019)

Warnings is a less than average slasher that barely manages to present the point of its plot and has very few victims. However, where it stands out is in its cast. Of the five main characters that head to a house in the woods—three guys, two girls—a majority of them are black or Latino, and the whitest dude in the bunch is gay. And one of the other guys is his boyfriend. And their relationship gets the most focus, landing this one on my die, gay guy die! page.

The beauty of this diverse group is that it triggered some asshole to attack the film for these very reasons on Amazon.

Now, how about the horror? Much of the film is conversation between the characters, with one girl suffering from dreams about ghosts.

Eventually there’s a kill, then the focus becomes on the group looking for the missing friend. This is where the film works in terms of standard slasher expectations yet fails terribly in that the whole plot seems to be crammed into the last half hour and rushed.

Someone enters the picture to suddenly lay a backstory on the group that is supposed to explain to the audience who the killer is. The killer is revealed once the killing starts, but his weird “red neck wearing face clay” look is never explained, and we are left to surmise that the girl’s dream ghosts were trying to warn her of the threat, hence the title of the film. I just find it bewildering that the screenplay didn’t bother to create a steady buildup to both the killer and the ghosts throughout the course of the film.

 

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STREAM QUEEN: not one of my better triple feature selections

As I wait for Amazon Prime to add a bunch of new crap horror movies for me to watch and love, I was forced to look elsewhere for horror entertainment. I’ll make my thoughts on this trio of films short to save you the time I sacrificed watching and writing about them.

HEAD COUNT (2018)

This is why we need to stop buying into those social media headlines that read, “People are saying this movie on Netflix is the scariest film they’ve ever seen.” It has never been true for any of the films I’ve watched that are place in forced viral mode, and in the case of Head Count, it was an agonizing time-waster.

A group of friends hangs out in the desert for the weekend, one guy finds a satanic ritual symbol on a wall, and for a majority of the film, we are assaulted by tension-building music cues that lead to…nothing but a cut to a completely unrelated scene.

This is mostly a film about the friends disagreeing on who is and isn’t actually present at any given time. I guess they’re being possessed or something? You mostly wouldn’t know by looking at any of them.

Personally, I don’t think it’s worth sitting through Head Count to see a glimpse of a skeletal alien looking thing that just stands there near the end of the film.

1ST SUMMONING (2018)

Having grown up on every cliché slasher there was in the 80s, I get that people will devour anything in their favorite subgenres and enjoy it. So I suggest 1st Summoning, which I caught on Netflix, to those who love found footage films, because this is a rubber stamp experience for the rest of us.

Student filmmakers interview locals in a town with an abandoned warehouse believed to have been the site of occult activity.

They explore a cemetery. They try to do a ritual that is supposed to grant wishes. One of them begins to act weird. They head on into the warehouse with flashlights.

The screen goes haywire whenever they are experiencing something scary…which means we’re not experiencing anything scary. They are chased by masked cult members.

They run. They scream. They hide in the dark. They see flashes of cult members in the camera lens and change course. They trip with the camera. They are dragged out of frame.

YAWN.

PLAY OR DIE (2019)

This film, which I watched on Showtime On Demand, could have been a direct-to-video sequel to Escape Room (you know they’re coming).

A couple going through a rocky time decides being trapped in a room together will be good for their relationship. Actually, they go to an escape room game in an old hospital.

For a while they do various tasks to avoid death traps while drenched in Argento reds and blues.

37 minutes in they enter an autopsy room and finally realize it’s not a game. It’s also not really the escape room that is responsible for people dying. The various contestants the couple met when they first arrived are being tortured and killed off by someone. There’s everything from gruesome tooth torture to sadistic electrocutions. It’s a torture porn slasher.

The film gets better as it progresses. The kills, the choices the couple is forced to make, and the unexpected ending redeem the bland first half of the movie. So I can say Play or Die is probably the one I liked most of these three.

 

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PRIME TIME: monsters, mad men…and shirtless men!

I guess I should be upfront and admit that I added most of these films to my watchlist not just because there was blood in the trailers…but there were also shirtless men in them. However, I was happy to find that each film delivers something more than just men.

PLEDGES (2018)

A bunch of sorority and fraternity pledges is dumped in the woods for some hazing. But the group is not alone and begins getting picked off one by one…eventually.

Offering an eighties vibe (including short shorts), Pledges is not exactly as straightforward and fast-paced as it should be for a movie about sexy people being killed in the woods. For starters, they spend much too much time on their hazing challenges before anything really thrilling happens. Well not totally true. The guys in their undies are pretty thrilling.

While there is some “killer POV”, it’s never quite clear what is actually doing the killing. When horror things finally begin happening (much too late for a 75-minute movie), some people get sucked into a swirl of black smoke, there’s a random blue ghost face girl encounter, someone seems possessed, and best of all, there’s a big black, slimy monster.

None of it really makes sense, and most of it isn’t necessary. All we needed was pretty people having sex and getting killed off by the slime monster. Still, it’s short, has some sex and gore (much of which is bad CGI), and the cute shirtless guys and the underutilized monster kept me entertained.

MASKED MUTILATOR (2019)

I don’t know enough about wrestling to know if they were ever famous, but the director/star of this film and his costars were all wrestlers in the 90s when this film was made.

Until I read the movie’s trivia section on IMDb, I also didn’t know most of it was filmed in 1994, which is when it takes place. My snobby east coast mentality just assumed those involved were all friends from some small Midwestern town where everyone still wears 1990s fashions. And that opinion hasn’t even changed.

The new footage that creates a launching point for the plot has a radio host interviewing survivors of a massacre at a home for wayward kids. The place is run by an ex-wrestler whose career ended when he accidentally killed a guy in the ring.

It might be low budget, but because Masked Mutilator is a genuine 1994 indie, it gave me the nostalgic feels, plus it’s as simple as slashers get—kids have sex, kids get killed. And you won’t hear me criticizing camerawork that captures moments like this…

It takes a while, but once the murders start, a big guy in a wrestler’s mask brutally kills victims using practical fake blood. There are also boobs and wrestler beefcake. Best of all, these guys are serious wrestlers, and show off their skills in an epic wrestling battle at the end. And it all happens in only 75 minutes!

Masked Mutilator is old school horror cheese straight out of the 90s, so expect some disparaging gay and lesbian terms. And keep an eye out for a young James DeBello from Cabin Fever in a flashback scene.

OVERLORD (2018)

JJ Abrams produces this one, so it’s quite epic…yet it still makes the mistake of running too long at 110 minutes. It starts to drag on its way to the good stuff, especially since it combines two things I really have limited patience for in horror: it’s a period piece that focuses on the military.

Even so, Overlord turns into a gory good infected creature feature film.

A team of U.S. military men bails from a plane during a battle over enemy territory, making for one wild parachuting scene.

The guys hide from the Nazis is a French woman’s house. That doesn’t stop them from ending up in a laboratory where heinous experiments are being performed on people.

The plot is nothing new, but the infected people, the gore, and the action kick ass. If you’re a fan of survival horror video games, you are guaranteed to feel like you’re in the middle of one right down to the mutating final boss.

THE RAKE (2018)


This indie feature is a tight and sleek creature feature that starts off strong, with a nasty little murder/suicide scene during a very festive Christmas celebration.

Years later, a couple is having a gathering on a happy occasion, and the brother and sister whose parents were murdered years before are in attendance. The sister is a total mess suffering from freaky visions. She believes there was a creature in the house the night their parents died, and that it is coming for them.

It does. But first there’s a whole lot of talk and arguing among the guests. None of it was of much interest to me, but this film redeems itself in the final act when the friends start getting impaled on the huge claw hand of a creepy creature.

There’s a basement drenched in red light, the kills are gory good, and the monster money shot at the end is awesome.

CELL COUNT (2012)


This is rare for an indie film; Cell Count takes itself seriously and really focuses on characters and relationships before getting to the good stuff.

This is an emotional depiction of a couple that decides to become part of an experimental treatment that can save the dying wife. They are contained in a medical facility with several other sick patients, where things are very Big Brother.

A great deal of time is spent getting to know the characters, with only a few hints that something very wrong might be going on. But it’s clear it’s very, very wrong.

When we finally learn exactly how the people are being treated (think parasite), the action and horror build as the patients try to cope with the awful truth of what’s happening to them. This gruesome segment is the best part of the movie.

Unfortunately, it all falls apart at the last moment when Daniel Baldwin comes to rescue the patients…and the film ends as if it’s going to need a sequel that picks up right where it leaves off.

It’s seven years later, and the sequel is listed as “in development” on IMDb.

THE MERMAID: LAKE OF THE DEAD (2019)

Not your typical killer mermaid movie (not that there are many of them), this film’s mermaid is definitely an obsessed, vindictive lady of the lake who lures a man to be her lover…but she doesn’t have fins. As a result, this visually arresting, polished film will probably be more impressive to horror fans that haven’t seen every ghost girl movie released in the past two decades since The Ring made them trendy.

The film focuses on a couple about to get married. He goes to a bachelor party at his family’s summer home and decides to take a swim in the lake at night. Considering I wouldn’t even take a swim in a natural body of water in daylight, I’ll never understand how people in these movies do it at night.

Anyway, the mermaid seduces him, and then he and his fiancée spend the rest of the movie being terrorized by visions of her face and hands popping out from every side of the screen. You know the kind of cheap scares I’m talking about—the ones used in every ghost girl movie trailer…which turn out to be the scariest scenes in the entire film.

The film is drenched in the same eerie, dreary green tint as The Ring, and the mermaid’s hair ends up playing a major role in the story. And quite reminiscent of the various encounters with Samara in the water down in the well, the basement of the summer home is flooded, and something lurks just under the surface of the water.

While it’s all very predictable, when the mermaid finally shows her true form, she’s pretty dang freaky, and that was enough to satisfy me.

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PRIME TIME: Wait for it…

Here’s a foursome of horror flicks I watched on Amazon Prime that seriously tested my ADHD, because the final acts were the best part. Here’s what you can expect before and when you get to the good parts!

CROWBAR: THE KILLINGS OF WENDELL GRAVES (2010)

   

Scott Phillips, the director of Gimme Skelter and The Stink of Flesh gives us a highly stylized horror film that is a unique combination of haunted house movie and slasher. I personally found it quite engrossing and enjoyable to watch.

An interracial couple moves into a new home, meets some very odd neighbors, and in a totally unexpected quick turn of events, is plunged into a nightmare involving murders in their basement.

The murders are handled quite oddly by locals and law enforcement, and the couple is unable to leave town. So they board up the basement door and set off on an investigation to uncover the history of their house.

The film is quite atmospheric with lingering camerawork reminiscent of 80s Euro horror. Hell, I think there was even a moment with the main girl and the killer that was an homage to a scene from Cujo!

Crowbar is perhaps a bit too long at 105 minutes (that lingering camerawork will do that to a movie), but you do get drawn in by the rather bizarre people and unfolding of events. And when you suddenly feel like you’ve been dragged into a slasher with a crowbar killer chasing one lone couple, you simply have to keep watching.

For me, the only major cliché here is the “zinger” ending that has a new couple coming to live in the house. This passing of the torch foreshadowing is so overused that it just falls flat every time.

AXECALIBUR (aka: The Legend of the Mad Axeman) (2017)


Axecalibur is a movie that doesn’t seem to known what to do for the first hour before becoming a cheesy, campy slasher in the final ten minutes.

It shows a whole lot of 80s throwback promise, with a man telling kids an urban legend about an axe killer around a campfire. The John Carpenter style synth music is perfect…until it keeps playing virtually non-stop throughout the movie, even when nothing scary is happening. I would think Filmmaking 101 would cover how music is used to help tell your story, not tell a story that is not actually happening.

For an hour, an author convinced the legendary axe murderer is real investigates, eventually teaming up with a young woman who needs his help to stop all her friends from getting slaughtered in the woods.

Too late. For about eight minutes, the axeman takes them out in a hurry, delivering one-liners as heads fly. A gory good time with practical effects, this sequence is so much fun it’s a shame everything leading up to it wasn’t.

HOMECOMING (2019)


Having never seen the original 100-minute cut of Homecoming, I watched the 124-minute “special edition” Amazon offers on Prime. I don’t know where the added 24 minutes land in the film, but if they were all in the first 90 minutes, they shouldn’t have been added.

Over two hours is simply too long for a movie that ends up essentially being a slasher—and a nicely polished one at that. The plot could have been streamlined as well; there’s a lot going on and it’s rather convoluted after a while, especially if you’re like me and wading through 90 minutes to get to the good stuff is taxing on your very soul! I’m glad I stuck around though, because although I couldn’t totally follow what was going on, visually it was an arresting horror experience.

The opener is tight—kids play hide and seek, one kid meets a brutal fate in a basement. Then we meet our main girl, who returns to her home years later and must confront that dark experience from her past.

The padding at the beginning has typical “homecoming” horror clichés. She has a history with a guy who is now in local law enforcement. There’s a creepy handyman, played by the hunk who also played a handyman in the final season of Kate & Allie. And damn, he looks just as hunky thirty years later in basically the same uniform.

But honestly, he and some other random characters are introduced just to be red herring that don’t last very long since they’re doubling as disposable victims to keep our horror interest between all the talking—and the first kill still doesn’t even come until 50 minutes in!

The main girl has a party at the house with all her friends. They eventually get as bored as we are and delve into hypnotism. They each are drawn into black and white remembrances of their childhood traumas.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on here, and not all of it is necessary considering it’s simply leading us up to the satisfying slasher segment in the final chapter. I would like to see the original cut of the film now to know whether it is a tighter film that gets to the point faster.

THE NIGHTMARE GALLERY (2019)

Willow’s girlfriend Tara from Buffy plays a teacher obsessed with finding a student that went missing while in possession of some ancient texts. Tara is also a lesbian with a wife in this film (the second in this bunch featuring an interracial couple), and even runs into some very vampire/demon creatures that look like they just strolled right off the set of Buffy.

 

However, she first spends a lot of time investigating, teaming up with another student while shutting out her wife and having “episodes” or nightmares that have some effective atmosphere but aren’t out to scare us as much as they seem to be scaring her.

An hour into the film she has the pseudo Buffy monsters reunion as she finally enters a “museum” in an alternate reality and continues her hunt for her missing student.

It’s definitely the best part of the film, but this is a dialogue heavy movie more than a horror thrill ride, so make sure you’re in the right mood before you watch.

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STREAM QUEEN: creatures, backwoods freaks, slashers, demons, and Thanksgiving fun

It’s not often that five films in a row keep me fairly entertained, but this batch mostly worked for me—especially an all-in-one good Thanksgiving flick and memorable Into the Dark installment.

PILGRIM (2019)

The director of The Collector films delivers the second annual Thanksgiving installment of Hulu’s Into the Dark. Not only is it one of the best of the series so far, it’s one of the best of the limited number of Thanksgiving horror films to choose from (my full list on the holiday horror page).

The movie definitely has a weird premise—Kerr Smith (Final Destination, The Forsaken, My Bloody Valentine remake) and his family have pilgrim re-enacters come for Thanksgiving…to stay at the house! WTF?

Just overlook that bizarre premise, because it triggers the whole plot. The pilgrims are weird. They never break character. The film builds a slow sense of dread…but then comes what I’d say is its one weak spot. It suddenly feels like a whole chunk of the slow burn was just cut out and we are thrown into not only the midst of all hell breaking loose, but somewhat of a totally different movie with a different tone.

Pilgrim becomes a darkly comic, whacky gorefest, and I’m not complaining. The pilgrims don’t stick to history…meaning they don’t slaughter Native Americans. They go for Kerr and his interracial family, and it is a Thanksgiving dinner to remember, with torture, gruesome gross stuff, and even puking. Pass the gravy!

THE EVIL GENE (2015)


The Evil Gene isn’t groundbreaking, and unfortunately it isn’t even fully satisfying in the familiar horror it delivers. The atmosphere at a prison is pretty darn good, and there’s plenty of potential, but I personally think it just needed more scares and more guys with demon eyes.

An FBI agent goes to a prison to investigate after a doctor dies and begins having encounters with a dude with demon eyes and a bloody hole in the back of his head.

The FBI agent also hooks up with a pretty prison doctor, consults with a prison priest about demons, and pops pills, because apparently he has issues…

You really can see where this one is heading even if there are some twists. If only there were more demons and they were more terrifying I would be okay with that.

OUTCAST (2010)

Outcast is listed as horror, but when I began watching, it was immediately clear there was some sort of horror fantasy angle, so I turned it off and decided to make it one to watch with my hubba hubba.

Serious fantasy horror is not usually my type of film—there’s a family, the mother is a witch, and there’s a man (who gets hardcore tattoos nailed into his skin) hunting down a young man.

But damn, the side story about a monster stalking and killing women in the city is
deliciously dark.

The monster is freaky good, and there’s some gore, making this just as horrific as it is fantastic.

And of course the two stories collide. Definitely didn’t regret watching this one.

RED SUMMER (2017)

Red Summer is as derivative as it get, but considering there are very few missteps in its predictability, it fills the void if you’ve been itching for a backwoods family comfort flick.

A group of friends is on a road trip in a foreign country. They make a pit stop and the store
attendant is creepy. They almost hit someone lying hurt in the road. They end up in cages and are tortured and killed by the family: sleazy dad, grandpa in a wheelchair, a quiet son who seems to feel bad about what his relatives do, and a big guy in a pig mask who takes everyone to his lair for the slaughter.

You’ve seen it all before. The group of friends is small, so almost half of the film turns
into the final girl being chased. After dinner, of course, where the freaks at least serve fruit with her friends…

My only real gripes about the film: you could easily kick out cages made of chain link and chicken wire fence nailed into a wood frame; you can’t stick a cleaver directly into someone like it’s a knife; if one of your family characters is wearing a mask, it would be nice to know why or know what’s under the mask; if you are trying to escape a house of crazy people and keep coming upon each person sleeping, kill each of them in their sleep!

BLOODY MONSTER (2013)

This is the kind of low budget horror mess I can get into simply because it appeals to the most basic aspects of the genre—sex and blood. Adding to the cheap charm—it’s dubbed.

Bloody Monster combines a mad scientist plot with a simple backwoods slasher.

As if the first introduction of the killer chainsawing the fuck out of a dude wasn’t enough, cutting to our main man pumping iron shirtless with his pierced nipple quite prominent right after kept me watching.

Plot was mostly irrelevant to me. The lead hunk and his small crew heads into the woods hunting for the scientist, who is creating a mutant species.

While they’re busy doing that, groups of people are in the woods partying, having sex, and getting slaughtered, including rockers, lesbians, and more.

The difference in tone between the killer/slashers segment and all the bad low budget nonsense going on around it can be a bit distracting, and personally, I could have done
without the mad scientist plot, which is the cheapest feeling aspect of all. But I can’t deny I was entertained by this silly film.

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PRIME TIME: a 6-flick smorgasbord

As usual, my Prime list is replenishing faster than any of the other streaming services, because Prime really is the video store of the new millennium when it comes to horror movies. So I’m going to knock off a whole bunch of them with this one blog—a mixture of slashers, horror comedy, aliens, thrillers, and ghosts.

PANMAN (2011)

Slasher spoofs are not easy to pull off. A majority of the time the joke wears thin too fast to sustain a full-length feature, causing the movie to meander or spin out of control with stupidity.

And that’s how I shall introduce Panman, a movie that could have been a funny 20-minute short at most. Things start off strong, with Panman (who wears a pot for a mask) knocking the block off his victims using a pan as a bludgeoning weapon while making it pretty clear to females he encounters that all he really wants is a date.

Yes, the slasher segment is quickly replaced by Panman’s love life. That eventually segues into a story of cooking students and their teacher setting a trap to capture him but being hunted down by him instead.

With him doing the chasing, Panman should consider switching teams…

Occasionally you might laugh at a silly bit, but this mostly just drags on and on with unfunny dialogue and ridiculous plot points. A last second appearance by Kato Kaelin tells you everything you need to know.

PIGSTER (aka: Feast Of Fear) (2016)

The director of Blood Gnome and several Killjoy movies definitely thinks out of the box in putting together this trippy film, which is really just a slasher when you strip away all the bizarre stuff.

Pigster, who looks like a gory Gamorrean Guard from Return of the Jedi, runs a human slaughterhouse in a hellish dimension to feed humans to demons.

There are people in cages (the women naked, the men not), and one of the guys tells the story of how his friends at a party were chased down by Pigster. Pigster plays guitar in his spare time, and he also talks, but it’s really hard to ever understand what he’s saying.

Meanwhile, there’s some other narrator who cuts in periodically, Clint Howard makes a brief appearance as a homeless guy, and Robert Davi plays a guy who lures victims for the slaughter by promising to grant wishes on the internet.

The wishes play into the way victims are killed, but it wasn’t exactly a clearly defined plot device and wasn’t even necessary considering all the other craziness going on.

This sloppy supernatural slasher has cheap looking moments, some fun moments, icky gore, and a cute shirtless guy who it seems is gay, but you’ll miss that admission if you don’t pay careful attention to the dialogue.

DEVIL IN MY RIDE (2013)

This is how you do an indie horror comedy right. Pen something smart, funny, and fast-paced. Cast people who can actually act and have great comic timing. Make your horror icon’s gimmicky cameo something meaty and memorable despite the minimal screen time.

Devil in my Ride is about a loser, who looks and acts like My Name Is Earl, crashing his sister’s wedding. He gives her a gift that he got from a gypsy, and it causes her to become possessed and go Carrie on everyone at the wedding.

The brother and the groom tie her up, put her in the back of a van, and get some advice from Sid Haig—go to Las Vegas to a find a particular exorcist that can save her. Yep, it’s a road trip buddy movie with a demon bride along for the ride.

This is nonstop fun and notably funny thanks to the talents of the two main guys…and the fact that they were given clever comedy to work with. Not to mention, the bride is great in her role as their demonic foil. Just be warned, there’s a series of “chick with a dick” jokes that is sure to offend some viewers but is totally in keeping with the type of crass buddy comedy this is.

There’s also an entertaining exorcism scene complete with some fun special effects.

CROSSBREED (2019)

I thought a sci-fi spaceship alien on the loose movie with loads of hot guys would be a safe one to watch with the hubba hubba. Crossbreed is just the kind of bad SyFy original type of film I expected and also has enough man meat to land a spot on my sausage fest scares list.

My hubba hubba was the first to say out loud that it’s a retro “futuristic” movie. He’s getting good at this deconstruction perspective from listening to me think out loud while we watch horror flicks. The movie indeed captures the look and feel of how movies in the 80s envisioned future fashion and technology, with men all dressing like new wave and punk leather dudes at a gay bar.

Daniel Baldwin and Vivica A. Fox are the big names here, she being the president who needs a team of men to go to a space station to bring back an alien life form that has been stolen.

And it is these men, particularly the big beefy daddy lead, that are the highlight.

The alien is way cool, but the film gives us way too little men vs. alien action. It’s disappointingly slow with excessive chatter between the men. And not that it matters, but the story is a mess. More alien action could have fixed that issue…or the men could have taken off their shirts.

THE HAUNTING OF SORORITY ROW (2007)

I’m always up for a Leighton Meester horror movie, but this is a Lifetime TV movie from before her popularity in Gossip Girl…and apparently before she had money to get her hair done.

This horror-lite movie is “I Know What You Did On Sorority Row”. Yes, it’s the plot of two popular slashers mashed together into a supernatural thriller.

Leighton is pledging a sorority. She keeps having scary dreams and visions. She starts to suspect her sorority sisters did something bad. There’s some minor supernatural killing. Portraits hanging in the sorority house begin to be morph so they look like photos you take if you’ve been cursed in The Ring.

It is mostly lame and boring, but it actually gets a bit interesting when the group of friends begins unraveling the truth in the last 20 minutes.

ROOM FOR RENT (2019)

When Lin Shaye stars in a film it’s impossible not to take note. Yet I’ve seen vague whispering (that I ignored) about this film being bad…probably from people who just want to see Lin in another Insidious because it’s just like totally the scariest movie ever made…if you were born yesterday.

However, if you lived through the 90s era of obsession thrillers that were better than most horror movies of the same time period, you will be quite at home with Room for Rent, which uses the same cookie cutter template as classics like Single White Female, The Crush, Fear, and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

It might be cliché and totally predictable to those of us who where there in the 90s, but Lin Shaye’s performance escalates the film, making it worth a watch.

Lin plays a woman who has lost her husband and gotten stuck with his debt. So she rents out a room in the house to an aloof, attractive guy with big lips.

She’s a cat person, reads romances, and pens a romance of her own with this guy as her lover in letters she’s sending to a young woman she befriends early in the film.

As with all those classic 90s thrillers, you can’t fathom why it takes so many people so long to see that the crazy bitch is a crazy bitch…and why they keep falling for her BS sob stories then coming back for more of her crazy. But that is what makes these films as tense and suspenseful as they are. So basically, you either take it or leave it.

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Just when you though it was safe to go back near the water…

These two slasher parties from nearly a decade apart take place near water—one on a boat, one poolside. So which one would I rather attend?

KILLER YACHT PARTY (2006)

What’s comforting about Killer Yacht Party is that it feels and looks like it came from the mid-00s, which means that it’s from any time that is not this miserable moment in history. What worried me at first, however, was the short Troma branding sequence that looks like it hasn’t been updated since like 1989. Thankfully, Troma must have just distributed this and not made it, so it’s not 90 minutes of absolutely laughless gross out humor.

As the title suggests, this is a slasher. Unfortunately, the slashing doesn’t start until 55 minutes in. Before that we get a whole lot of scenes of pretty people just talking and dancing with the usual stereotypes on hand—the good girl, the slutty friend, the bad boy, the black guy, etc.

It’s like a bad CW teen show on a yacht. A seed is planted about the yacht being haunted, but nothing much happens to convince us it’s true, especially since when people finally begin getting killed, it’s clearly by a human, although all we ever see is a hand holding various weapons.

If only this were a 30-minute movie it would have been an okay generic slasher of the post-Scream trilogy era.

Everyone starts having sex, there’s a hint of boy butt, the kills are okay if not very inventive, there are body reveals, and the final girl is a very traditional virginal type who is awkward with guys. Plus, the twist at the end is a fun one. Not that you haven’t seen it before, but it’s still fun.

POOL PARTY MASSACRE (2017)

Pool Party Massacre is a good old shallow, silly, bloody, sexual throwback to 80s VHS slashers with a basic setup—a girl’s parents go away, so she has female friends in bikinis over to hang by the pool.

They get bitchy with each other, then some boys show up, and they’re both dicks. Anyone but me remember when characters in slashers used to be likable?

Anyway, one of the guys is a muscle boy perv.

The other is a goofy perv all the girls find repulsive. As is usually the case, I’d hit the goof before the muscle boy.

The score, the killer POV, the watery blood gushing everywhere, the 8-bit graphics intro sequence, a cassette boombox, a couple of sets of big tits—it’s definitely mostly about the 80s vibe. I could, however, have done without the forced meta conversation about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That shit didn’t work when Tarantino made it trendy in the 90s, and it’s just as long and tedious now, with the actors appearing more focused on just getting the lines right than acting passionate about movies they’ve probably never even heard of.

Otherwise, the film is sleazy and funny—love the part when the girls mock male cum faces. And if you pay attention, you’ll realize the killer is systematically going through all the tools in the garage so that each kill scene gets its own unique weapon.

Even beartastic director Drew Marvick has a role in the film as the main girl’s annoying brother. What makes him even sexier is that he has one of the characters reference his amazing crotch mop…I mean…beard.

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The Christmas fun for 2019 begins with a double feature

An elf and an anthology. Which one got my mind off Halloween being over—and made me forget all about Thanksgiving even existing?

SHELVED (2016)

Like The Elf, this is another horror takeoff on the Elf On The Shelf phenomenon, only this is a really cheap “horror comedy” approach.

It looks like it’s shot on video and just isn’t funny or campy enough to keep up the pace.

A Cary Elwes looking dad gets an elf doll for his daughter despite the store clerk warning him not to buy it. This is one evil looking elf, so I don’t know why someone even had to warn this dumb dad…

Before long the elf is driving around in a Barbie car, cursing, drinking, listening to hip hop, shitting on holiday treats, and talking like Mr. Bill.

The kills? Goofy. The doll is obviously maneuvered by strings, and most of the time, rather than just hang the damn puppet off the victim, an animated version of the doll is used. Weird, but it does king of work with the vibe of the film.

Even so, I found it hard to focus on Shelved. The daughter is sent for therapy because of her talk about the doll, and a guy with a nice ass shows up at the house to make out with the babysitter and up the body count.

The wife’s religious freak mom comes to visit, some dude tells a tale of Santa’s elf operative going rogue, and they try an exorcism on the doll…

Personally, if I hadn’t already watched the film and knew what I was getting, I would have skipped it. Okay, that’s not totally true, since I simply have to watch every holiday horror flick in existence. And really, there is plenty of potential here if you’re in the mood for a dumbed down holiday horror spoof. The elf really just got on my nerves, probably because I never liked Mr. Bill either.

UNHOLY NIGHT (2019)

A good reminder that simple and fun is often best, especially for a horror anthology, Unholy Night is smartly playful and loaded with Christmas spirit. The filmmakers knew what they had to work with and created a damn enjoyable little Christmas horror movie.

The opener totally gets us in the holiday mood, especially when a little girl actress can’t help but smile with glee because she gets to wield a knife.

The wraparound involves a nurse working the hospital at Christmas and being told scary stories by a man in a wheelchair…

In between stories, the wraparound even has a Lights Out moment.

1st story – A girl brings her boyfriend home for the holidays, and he soon begins to have delusions in which her family is far worse than just eccentric.

2nd story – Three girls get together for the holidays and decide to make an audition video for a dating show because the guys are really cute.

But when they get drunk and play a Bloody Mary type game, a drunk girl ghost appears and brings on the Christmas kills. The story is presented in a well-balanced blend of standard and found footage format.

Just beware one of the most disgusting puke scenes I’ve seen on celluloid in a while.

3rd story – The film ends on a festive note by going campy in this final tale, which focuses on the wraparound girl. There’s a freaky mannequin elf, a bitch of a mother, an awesome blood splatter after a stabbing, and daughter and mom making Christmas feel like Carrie.

Definitely one for the more delightful and dastardly Christmas anthologies out there, and I hope it gets some attention.

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