SHUDDER AND SHRIEK: girls on the edge

My latest triple feature focuses on girls with traumatic pasts and troubled presents. Let’s see if any of them were worth a watch.

THE COMMUNION GIRL (2022)

I think as we get older we just reach a point when every horror movie is a “been there done that” situation. This Spanish film from the director of The Damned and Hellraiser: Revelations had me saying “why would they just steal blatantly from The Ring/Ringu and call it a new movie?” Well, maybe because Ringu came out like 25 years ago and many younger horror lovers probably don’t even know it exists.

Not to say that this isn’t fun. It’s definitely a templated throwback to all those PG-13 ghost girl movies of the early 2000s, so if you loved that era, The Communion Girl totally delivers on the retro comfort.

The film takes place in the 80s, but the only real sign of it being the 80s is a Bubble Bobble arcade game. Two teenage girls go out to party at a club, and on the way home they and the two guys that give them a ride see a girl in a white dress cross their path. When they get out to look for her, they find a hung dog (don’t know why this needed to be in the movie) and a doll.

The main girl brings the doll home, and soon she and her friends are being terrorized by a ghost girl corpse in white.

To keep the pace going, there are some cheap scary scenes (which I find to be a treat in a horror movie) as the friends do what they always do in these movies…start gathering clues to what has triggered this ghost to come for them.

Would you believe it all leads to a well? The final confrontation is straight out of The Ring. And would you believe it isn’t over after they do what needs to be done with the ghost girl in the well? That’s where this one really falls apart. The final scene is not one last return of the ghost girl. Instead, it’s the sudden appearance of a CGI ghoul that looks like something out of the Lord of the Rings movies, without any explanation as to what it is or why it shows up at the last moment. Sigh.

PERPETRATOR (2023)

Yet another reminder of why I should cancel Shudder. If it’s not an endless selection of trauma porn, it’s movies that are hardly horror.

I like a good feminist flick just as much as the next gay, but this one is loaded with menstrual and fingering imagery that overshadows the story of young women finding power to fight back against the threat of a male abductor. Which is a shame, because it starts with a girl being stalked on a nighttime street by mask eyehole POV. That left me wanting so much more. Unfortunately, there’s no more of that horror goodness to be had…

Instead we get a tale I didn’t understand. A teen comes to live with her mysterious aunt, played by Alicia Silverstone, and goes to a new all-girls school with a bizarre staff. Girls begin to go missing.

The main girl starts to show signs of having some sort of magic powers. She can see and feel what girls that have been kidnapped are going through. She hooks up with another girl. And eventually she and her friends try to figure out who is abducting their classmates.

Other than a scene of what happens to the girls in the kidnapper’s lair and a vengeful gore moment, this is just bland and boring.

THE PUPPETMAN (2023)

The horror genre is just dismal these days. Here is yet another derivative film that’s been done better before and offers absolutely no chills or thrills.

A young woman’s father is on death row for killing her mother. He claims “the puppetman” made him do it and he’s innocent.

Once the main girl’s friends learn about her family’s past, they begin dying off by killing themselves, but it’s clear someone is controlling their actions and making them do it.

The friends must work together to try to figure out what’s going on. The main girl thinks her own anger is causing their deaths. The friends think death row daddy is the problem.

Michael Pare of Eddie & The Cruisers fame is a detective on the case.

The final frame “twist” is as predictable as it gets.

That’s all I got.

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SHUDDER AND SHRIEK: something queer is going on

It’s a trio of films that veer away from the usual cis straight path. Let’s get right into them.

BAD THINGS (2023)

If you’re triggered by movies that make lesbians and trans women out to be a bunch of mentally unstable messes who do “bad things”, this might not be the movie for you…if any of what is happening is even real. I’ll give the movie this—it keeps you wondering and sets some sort of a tone. Nothing is concrete here, and by the end we don’t know if there are ghosts, if there’s a killer, if it’s all in the mind of the main girl, if it’s PTSD due to her mother neglecting her as a child, or if it’s all of the above.

A lesbian tramp brings her friends—all of whom she has basically fucked at one point or another—to an empty hotel she’s about to either inherit or sell. It’s just them and some dude who used to bang her mother (played by a mostly MIA Molly Ringwald, who shows up at the end…or does she?).

There are elements of The Shining here…if it took place in the kind of cheap hotel the hubby and I used to visit for 3 hours at a time when we had no place else to screw in our 20s. For instance, there’s snow outside, there are long, empty corridors, and one of the girls keeps seeing two women jogging in place and staring at her. Guess those twins from The Shining grew up and got physical.

There’s plenty of lesbian melodrama, lots of talk of ghosts, hallways with pink walls and baby blue floors (allusions to gender norms perhaps?), and what look like huge puddles of cum on the floors (more memories of my days in cheap hotels).

Suddenly, 55 minutes in, a killer in a hoodie and mask wielding a chainsaw appears.

Bad Things will keep you entertained, and it is refreshing to have an all queer cast of characters, but it won’t satisfy you if you’re hoping for a cohesive story.

SUITABLE FLESH (2023)

I love how this film captures the sexy sleazy vibe of 1980s Lovecraft adaptations like Re-Animator and From Beyond, which makes sense since it’s written by the same screenwriter of both of those films, which both starred Barbara Crampton, who is also in this film.

Crampton plays a doctor whose psychiatrist friend Heather Graham is now a patient in her institution. Heather begins to recount what led to her landing in the psych ward.

A young, paranoid man comes to Heather with a problem—it seems his dying father, played by Bruce Davison, is using magic to swap bodies with his son so that he can remain alive.

Heather gets sucked into the son’s story, and soon they’re having a sexual relationship…which is hard to fathom considering her husband Johnathon Schaech is waiting at home. Yummy.

Heather eventually discovers the sexual interludes allow the father to get inside her (in more ways than one). This leads to classic, trippy 80s Lovecraft adaptation situations.

It also becomes a very gender-bending scenario, with the father totally getting off on having a woman’s body and riding Schaech. And the exploration of sexuality and gender identity plays out right up to the end, when Crampton and Graham get into it. Awesome.

The performances of the actresses are the icing on the cake in this old school occult tale that delivers on the sex and gore as if it’s 1985 all over again.

BAD GIRL BOOGEY (2022)

Although it could be labeled as an all-encompassing queer horror, this one deserves credit for essentially being a trans horror flick. There are a lot of theys and thems being thrown around, but little in the way of he/she or gay/lesbian.

These kids even show the killer’s pronouns respect, correcting themselves whenever they refer to the killer as a he (although they do settle on calling the killer “it” rather than they). That being said, you have to wonder why such a they-positive flick would specifically call itself Bad GIRL Boogey.

On the surface, this is a slasher in which a killer targets queer kids. Intentional or not, it borrows from the classic Demons—anyone who puts on a possessed mask goes on a killing spree. However, if you look deeper, this isn’t just another masked boogeyman movie. It’s a story about how queer kids are treated—they are misunderstood, they are bullied, the adults around them ignore what they are going through when not rejecting them, and most tragically, they are being murdered by hate.

It is the queer concept—which might make straight and cis viewers groan and cry “woke”—that elevates the typical slasher aspects, which aren’t half bad on their own. The film is quirky and has a distinct visual style, with lots of choppy editing and neon lighting set to alternative music, making it feel like an artsy music video at times. Plus there are some good practical gore effects.

Also of note is that it is very clearly stated that the events are taking place on Halloween, yet there’s little in the way of Halloween atmosphere. You’d think a bunch of queer kids would make Halloween something extra special. Either way, it earns a spot on the complete holiday horror page.

And finally, although some might find the low budget indie vibe not to their liking in these days of sleek CGI horror flicks, I think this will be a pretty cathartic film for some queer kids.

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Holiday horror, from Halloween to St. Paddy’s Day

It’s a load of new movies to add to the holiday horror page, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and St. Patrick’s Day flicks. Let’s get right into them.

PROJECT EERIE (2023)

Only the wraparound of this 75-minute movie takes place on Halloween, and it’s just some kids stealing pumpkins from neighborhood houses…until they sneak into an abandoned building and find secret government documents and a Blu-ray. So much more modern than V/H/S.

So the boys take the disc home to watch it. Despite the three tales not taking place on Halloween, they all definitely deliver enough chills and thrills to make a Halloween night movie marathon scary. Exemplary found footage shorts, they do just what they need to do—put people with cameras in terrifying, inexplicable situations.

The only downside for me was the fact that the audio mixing is absolutely terrible. Only some of the dialogue comes through at full volume. I had to watch the movie with subtitles to know what was going on.

Here are the tales you can expect:

1st story – A man takes his young daughter to a park in an RV for a camping trip, ignores a “beach off limits” sign, and ends up being terrorized by a creepy park ranger. Eek! The very found footage ending is nightmarish.

2nd story – This one goes crazy in a good way. Two hunters see a suspected murderer wandering through the forest on their deer cams. Hillbilly pervs! Anyway, this one turns into a freaky flick that might be an alien/zombie hybrid story, but we’ll never know what truth is out there…

3rd story – The anthology ends strong with a haunted house tale. Two dudes with a paranormal show go to research a haunting at an Amish dude’s house, and things get terrifying.

The odd thing is that in between each story there’s brief footage from a camera on a porch, and the final one is a scene of someone hidden by an umbrella coming to the door with a knife. No idea what it’s supposed to mean.

The wraparound conclusion is also a little disappointing. The boys with the Blu-ray are terrified by “Men in Black”…with COVID masks on.

DIE’CED (2023)

I have to give this short film (only 50 minutes long minus the closing credits) props for capturing the spirit of 80s slashers and delivering on the Halloween atmosphere, beginning with an opening sequence of jack-o’-lanterns as an 80s synth score plays.

There’s nothing unique here, but the fact that the slasher tone is spot on helps make it an enjoyable and quick slasher fix for the Halloween season.

A deranged killer is accidentally released from a mental institution, immediately sneaks into someone’s house and kills him violently, and then dresses up like a scarecrow—actually, very much like The Wizard of Oz scarecrow.

We meet a teen brother and sister and their father, still reeling from the disappearance of the mother. But that doesn’t stop the main girl from going to a Halloween party.

There are several gory kills along the way, all leading up to the main girl getting a chase scene with the killer at the end, which actually drags a bit. The movie had an opportunity to deliver a high body count at the party, but it doesn’t.

The big twist isn’t much of a twist considering numerous movies with a similar theme came before this one. It’s so obvious you can’t help wonder why a filmmaker would bother going for something so cliché instead of coming up with something new.

THANKSGIVING (2023)

I haven’t enjoyed a mainstream, old school slasher as much as Thanksgiving in a long time. A departure from the late 70s/early 80s tone of the faux trailer that was inserted between Death Proof and Planet Terror in theaters years ago, the full-length feature instead goes mostly for the sleek, stylish feel of post-Scream slashers of the late 90s/early 2000s. However, it effortlessly pays homage to slashers from both eras.

Serving as a commentary on the negative impact capitalism has had on the American family and human behavior in recent years, the film begins with an unintended massacre at a department store when it kicks off Black Friday on Thanksgiving night. This unforgettable opener features gore, violence, and dark humor galore. And my guess would be that this scene is intended to serve as a mirror to the January 6th insurrection.

A year later, the small town is still reeling from the incident, but Thanksgiving must go on. However, a group of friends that snuck into the department store the previous year is soon not so cordially invited to attend a holiday gathering hosted by a killer in a pilgrim costume.

Jam-packed with brutal and bloody kills that are perfect for a watch party with friends, this thrilling holiday slasher is fast-paced, structured as a whodunit in the style of Scream, and is loaded with nods to classics like Halloween (opening POV scene), Prom Night (Wendy’s chase scene), Happy Birthday to Me (dinner party of death), I Know What You Did Last Summer (killer hunt during parade), and Cutting Class (trampoline kill scene).

Plus, the small town slasher vibe centered around a major holiday event is reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, and the mere presence of Patrick Dempsey as the sheriff brings memories of Scream 3 flooding back.

Eli Roth may have taken the movie version of his faux trailer in a slightly different direction, but he definitely made an instant classic that is sure to be an annual holiday watch for years to come. I just wish the original faux trailer had been included as an extra on the Blu-ray.

GUESS WHO (2024)

A cool and unique Christmas slasher concept gets slammed over the head by a racial/socioeconomic commentary that might bog the final act down a bit, but is definitely a refreshing take on the themes.

A Black straight couple is headed to the man’s mixed race family home…in a trailer park. This sign is scarier than the Silent Hill welcome sign could ever be.

In a frightening suspense scene, the woman is attacked by someone in a sack mask during a restroom pit stop. Things are just as weird when they arrive at the mostly white trash trailer park. Everyone participates in this Christmas game called mummering, in which people in masks visit a neighbor and tell them a riddle, after which the neighbor has to guess who the riddler is.

And that awesome game is used as the victim selection tool of the killer, who gets a few pretty intense death scenes.

The thick of the horror centers around a big Christmas masquerade party, so it feels more like Halloween than Christmas. And as great as the slasher elements are, the film takes itself very seriously, with lots of character development and tension between family members.

It all results in a very complicated denouement that briefly feels like it’s delving into (trailer) home invasion territory then pretty much squelches the slasher fun in order to deliver its social message.

PATRICK’S DAY: THE SLUAGH AWAKENS (2022)

 

I’m a fan of indie horror director Eddie Lengyel’s movies, and I’m always happy to have another St. Patrick’s Day horror movie to add to the limited selection of flicks out there, so I was psyched to see this one hit VOD. It even stars scream queer Roger Conners—I’ve covered pretty much all his films on my site, but I think this might be his best, most relaxed and natural performance yet, which is funny, because he’s playing a straight male lead this time!

Roger and his wife come to a small town to celebrate a windfall. An Irish bartender warns them to go back to the city and talks about encountering a creature on the trails. Wouldn’t you know, Roger and wife soon encounter that very creature, which is a classic looking demon thing. It’s also a deadly killer, so the luck of the Irish totally fails Roger’s wife.

Legend has it the creature only appears every seven years, which is when Roger returns to the town to find that creature and get his revenge.

The Irish bartender happens to be the uncle of a couple of teenage girls, who are planning a night of St. Paddy’s partying and Leprechaun hunting with their friends.

They get much more than they expected when they encounter a whole horde of demonic creatures in the woods. However, the pacing is somewhat off, with not much happening for a good chunk of the film.

The St. Paddy’s demons don’t show up until about 50 minutes in. The horror action is fun once it hits and was a great reminder of why I like Lenyel’s films—they have that gritty, low budget indie feel of the late 70s/early 80s. It sort of like a mix between Evil Dead creatures and a zombie flick as a variety of demons come creeping out of the woods. They are, however, a mixed bag. Some have cool, monstrous costume designs, while others just look like plain old goth people wearing cheap makeup for Halloween (or all year long).

The finale delivers something a little different, with a sort of demonic ritual around a campfire. I can’t say I totally understood the plot—I’m not even sure why the legend of one creature turned into a gaggle of ghouls—but like I said, I just love the indie vibe Lenyel delivers.

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A possessed kid, a shark, and a horror hunk walk into my watchlists

It’s a mish-mosh of movies in my latest marathon, but one is a definite winner for me. Let’s find out which one.

OF THE DEVIL (2022)

I have to give this low budget possession flick credit for having a few standout moments that could have enhanced a better film, but overall it’s a rather messy, disjointed story plagued by endless moments of a couple reacting unrealistically to the situation their young son is in.

Let’s start off by noting that the hot husband is reason enough to watch the film. His performance is also one of the better ones here.

So the son is out playing in the yard with the neighbor’s dog when a CGI butterfly flutters by and apparently possesses him. The couple soon thinks they’re dealing with a son with a brain tumor, but instead of going the traditional route to treat it, they end up taking him to a witch doctor in Mexico.

We kind of end up with a Pet Sematary possession film. The son dies and then appears back in their yard playing with the neighbor’s dog, and the couple just goes on with life. Of course it soon becomes clear something is very wrong, and eerie occurrences begin plaguing the couple, their son, and the husband’s invalid mother. The son also seems to be having Sixth Sense episodes in which he sees spooky dead people roaming around the house (one of the highlights of the horror).

The unrealistic reactions to everything happening is the biggest problem here, and along with that, the narrative simply doesn’t have a clear path to travel on its way to a final, low key exorcism scene.

Having said that, there are several highlights—a zombie-like Jesus appearing in a hall (I would have taken him as the main threat over the other dead people), the son’s response when his mother tells him to go change his clothes, a creature appearing behind the invalid mother’s caretaker, and the last minute appearance of the Devil at the exorcism.

Oh, and there’s one unexpected surprise…a brief cameo by Vicky of The Real Housewives of Orange County.

Plus, Eileen Dietz, whose claim to fame was playing the stand-in for Linda Blair in The Exorcist, plays the neighbor, and not coincidentally, a statue of Pazuzu makes an appearance.

DEEP FEAR (2023)

A new shark movie popped up on Netflix and I was all excited…especially since I expected absolutely nothing from it but some cheap thrills.

A professional diver is out on a boat alone and about to get involved in a dangerous situation all on her own. And yet the film soon frames her existence in terms of her relationship to men—her love interest, her father.

Anyway, she saves a couple stranded in the water because their boat sunk. They say a family member is still trapped down there, so she offers to go save him.

Several jump scares are delivered thanks to other people who were on the boat and are now dead. There’s also a brief shark attack and chase.

Things take a sudden turn when the main woman finds herself at the mercy of criminals that want her to dive down and rescue bags of cocaine. Bags of cocaine that glitter bomb the shark, which had me expecting a Cocaine Shark movie.

I don’t know if the shark got high from the stuff, but it’s pretty low energy until the last 10 minutes of the film, when it leaps out of the water for a delicious attack scene. That is literally the highlight of the movie. Oh. And wouldn’t you know the main woman’s love interest has to show up to help save her.

HERE FOR BLOOD (2022)

Probably best known for playing Wesker in the Resident Evil franchise, horror hunk Shawn Roberts has been doing horror flicks for 3 decades now, but he’s never been beefier than in this horror comedy.

It’s great to see him as the kick ass hero in a lighter role that plays to his charisma. It’s also great to see him shirtless.

In fact, this one is filled with beefcake in leather and shirtless, reminding us there’s a fine line between a wrestling ring and a gay bar. It definitely earns a spot on the stud stalking page.

See, Shawn plays a pro-wrestler who isn’t making any money, so he takes a babysitting job at an isolated house. The little girl he’s caring for is perfectly cast, and their charming chemistry sets the tone for the night they have ahead of them.

The film starts as a home invasion flick when several masked figures infiltrate the house. One is a hunk who looks like a cross between KISS and The Crow, and another looks quite freaky wearing a mask upside down.

This quickly turns into a quirky, comical splatterfest as Shawn puts his wrestling moves to good use taking down home invaders.

And then…we go into Evil Dead territory with a dash of The Little Shop of Horrors thrown in for good measure.

Not to mention…a beefcake final boss…

Here for Blood is a blast, ideal for a movie watching party, and better fricking come out on disc so I can add it to my movie collection.

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Drama and romance in this trio of slashers

It’s one from 1990 and two modern slashers, all of which deliver some slasher fun and plenty of theatrics, while falling short in the end.

BLOODMOON (1990)

With this one hitting Blu-ray, I was so psyched to once again get a physical release of a flick I had never seen from the end of the glory days of slashers. Unfortunately, the slasher elements of this 100-minute movie are overshadowed by the tacky love story of the main couple.

There’s a girls school and a boys school, and in between them is a plot of forest where students hook up. It’s like…a straight Meat Rack!

The slasher aspect of the film is awesome—someone uses barbed wire (which was giving me Crown of Thorns religious vibes) to strangle horny kids to death. The kills are always at night in misty woods, and the victims are always kids having sex. Boobs abound, there’s female bush in a locker, and we even get a man butt moment.

The heavy-handed motivation is clearly about the moral issue of sex—just like in real life today, the adults in this movie are disturbingly obsessed with what teens are doing with their bodies.

There are also plenty of red herring. Anyone could be the killer, including school staff, students, parents, and even a nun! Notable is a chilling voice calling the name of the first victim as she’s chased in the woods. This could have been the unique angle of this slasher, but it never happens again.

Unfortunately, the film drags, with the hokey romance between the leads killing the tone in between death scenes. There is, however, a mandatory school dance scene with a glam band playing pop rock that sounds more like it’s from 1985 than 1990. Awesome.

Finally at the 65-minute mark there’s a great fight and chase scene with the killer…who does not wear a mask. Therefore, the killer identity is known to us for the final 35 minutes! Yet despite that, all the action is packed into the final act and relieves us of the boredom we were feeling for the first 65 minutes.

THE FINALE (2023)

As is often the case, the weakness in this slasher is its running length…112 minutes long. Argh! If it had been shaved down to about 90 minutes, the numerous highlights would have made this one a total winner.

The story revolves around a theater group participating in a theater camp. And where there are drama geeks, there’s loads of drama…and several queens. In fact, I was convinced the love interest of the main girl was gay until he became her love interest.

The phenomenal killer costume alone had me invested, not to mention the great chase and death scenes.

The film is even pretentious at times, with classical music, singing segments, dancing segments—but damn if it isn’t all lovely and artistic. There’s just something haunting about a theater setting for a horror movie.

The gory and violent kills are very reminiscent of giallo style, and adding to that feel is the presence of two detectives investigating as the theater geeks begin disappearing. The detective duo even adds a little humor to the mix, but their side story is one of the main reasons the pacing slows down.

The final act definitely delivers some great chaos, so the movie ends on a high note for sure, but I did find the Scream-esque motivation monologue a bit much. I was way more enthralled by the death scenes and atmosphere than I was with the plot.

DEPARTING SENIORS (2024)

This one is getting added to the homo horror movies page, because the whole plot centers around an openly gay, bullied teenager who scores a kiss from not one, but two guys by the time the film is done.

And despite being bullied, he’s not a helpless victim, making him perhaps one of my favorite gay horror movie characters yet.

In fact, most of the characters are likable, the teen horror vibe is on point, and there’s some good humor, but the film is lacking in a body count. If you don’t count the opening death scene, there are only two kills in the whole movie! This is because there are very few characters. Essentially we have our gay main kid, his best female friend, another gay guy who is interested in the main kid, and three bullies–a bitchy girl, her football player boyfriend, and his best friend.

The basic premise is that the main kid gets into an accident that leads to him gaining a psychic ability—when he touches people or their possessions, he can see their murders. Ironic considering he sees way more visions than there are actual kills. And that’s where the film loses steam. It’s so focused on his visions that the kills are virtually an afterthought. Not to mention we get to see them before they happen, so there are no surprises or scares when they actually happen.

The film gets a major high score for its gay content, but as a slasher it’s a huge letdown. There’s even a missed opportunity for a great chase scene and one more kill during the climax that would have left the last deserving character dead and given us one final jolt of thrills. It’s quite a weird missed opportunity, because the series of events unfold as if they are intended specifically for the chase scene to happen.

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Some humorous vampire flicks to sink your teeth into

It feels like ages since I watched any vampire films, so this trio was a treat. They were all pretty lighthearted and enjoyable for the most part, so let’s get into them.

A VAMPIRE IN THE FAMILY (2023)

Harkening back to all the My (Human Relation) is a (Monster) movies from the 80s, this dubbed Brazilian horror comedy has the distinction of featuring a bearish daddy as the family member that begins to suspect his relative is a vampire.

Due to the dubbing, the dialogue delivery feels a little hokey, but it still works based on the type of movie this is. And there are moments that made me laugh out loud.

The main man invites his brother-in-law into his house, and pretty soon he begins to see classic signs that his in-law is cursed with vampirism. He then has to convince his family that they need to go vampire hunting.

The guy playing the vampire is a hottie and gets a tight bathing suit scene, and he’s not the only vampire, so vamp clan action ramps up as the movie progresses. And best of all, the final battle comes during a Halloween party, complete with a little dance montage.

The vampire makeup is cool and perhaps a little scary for kids, but the movie definitely has a PG-13 vibe in general, with no nudity and not much in the way of cursing. And it wouldn’t be this type of movie without an animated sequence during the credits.

Count Dracula himself makes an appearance, and he has some awesome henchman modeled after the original Nosferatu/Salem’s Lot vampire design. Plus the final act totally rocks, with a cool final boss. Plus, there’s an opening for a sequel , and I’m totally there for it.

THE VAMPIRE NEXT DOOR (2024)

This light vampire teen dramedy is like Fright Night meets Let The Right One In. I was so pumped when it began—our geeky leading man is cute and likable, the hot girl he’s loved all through school is likable, and the seductive vampiress that moves in next door gives off a Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body vibe.

The vampire was the last thing our main guy needed. He’s still harassed by his high school bully, his dad is pressuring him to do something with his life, he hates his job, and he’s trying to hatch a plan to win the girl he loves by using his best friend for a mind game.

But once the vampire makes her presence known to him, it isn’t long before she makes him her driver, chauffeuring him around so she can claim victims on her hit list.

If only the film was shorter. It runs 110 minutes long, and while the frequent conversations help us connect with the characters, the sexy teen horror comedy feel is never fully realized.

There are just minor moments of vamp action and sexy action, so the film falls a bit flat, offering only hints of the kinds of 80s teen movies it’s emulating. Even the inevitable final battle is very low energy. Bummer.

VAMPIRE CLEANUP DEPARTMENT (2017)

It’s always fascinating how a certain subgenre of Asian horror can be gory with gnarly monsters yet also romantic and cutesy, which is exactly what Vampire Cleanup Department is. It kind of reminded me a little of Cemetery Man if it was a morbid teen romance rather than a sleazy, macabre, adult sex romp.

A young man gets bit by a vampire but is not affected, which makes his uncle realize he’d be perfect for a secret, family-run vampire hunting service.

On his first hunt, the young man has a freaky encounter in a lake. I don’t know exactly why the corpse in the water returns to its normal, cute young girl form—was it the cellphone she accidentally eats or a lip-lock with the main boy? Either way, she becomes mostly human again, just without the ability to speak.

So begins a slow bonding between the young man and the revived corpse, complete with whimsical music and humor. Does it get a little too sappy after a while? Yes.

However, hanging like a dark cloud over the romanticizing is the coming of an intense boss vampire that terrorizes the town and eventually does battle with the vampire cleanup team.

I’d say the final act saves the film from being nothing more than a cheesy tween vampire romance.

 

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You’ll have to pry the PS2 controller from my cold, dead hands

It’s a double feature video game marathon of survival horror titles for PS2 that take place in the snow. Brrrrr! Was revisiting these games fun for me?

EXTERMINATION

Bringing the survival horror genre into the bitter, snowy cold before the video game adaptation of The Thing, Extermination is a great looking game for the PS2 that really makes you shiver as you run through icy terrain and frigid hallways in a large, empty facility. If only the game wasn’t a pain in the ass to play. There are so many aspects that make it way too hard, with no difficulty options available.

For starters, since it’s just as much an action game as it is survival horror, it completely drops the puzzle solving tropes of Resident Evil. It also does away with tank controls, which should be advantageous, but instead causes major character control issues. Moving with the thumbstick lacks any kind of precision, leading to out of control running and wonky camera work. Right from the start this is a problem because…brace yourself…there are fricking platforming elements. Yep, jumps over cavernous pits are required to move through the game, but trying to neatly make an accurate jump from one platform to the other becomes a terrifying task when your straight run suddenly veers to the side mid-jump. Argh. And these inconvenient leaps usually occur when there hasn’t been a save room in ages. It’s enough to make you want to throw your controller at the television, but TVs now cost 1000 bux or more, so that would be the worst possible response. The ultra-sensitive controls also cause issues when trying to walk across narrow pipes to get to the other side of caverns. Your character simply won’t walk in a straight line! There are also times when you can shimmy across pipes along the wall to get from one place to another, but the camera angle is locked, so you can’t actually see when it’s safe to let go and drop onto floor beneath you instead of down a hole. You also get hurt if you drop from too high onto solid ground. There’s even a part where you slide down into a plane to get a bomb you need, only to find the only way back up is to jump across suspended crates, using crappy angles and overly sensitive movement that either sends you off to the side of the crate you’re aiming for or right over it! The most streamlined travel is through vents (ugh!), but even then, when you reach the end of a vent it cuts to you dangling from the edge of the vent into a new space, and the camera angle doesn’t let you see what you’re jumping down into. Eek!

There are some bright sides to the controls. You can press a button to reset the camera over your shoulder, but that only helps so much. Also, the mapped controls are basic and intuitive for the most part.

You have only one gun, but if you find the right parts as you explore, it is customizable to be a shotgun, grenade launcher, flamethrower, and more (which means having to switch parts to use different weapons). You also get a sniper scope, but I rarely used it because it is very disorienting and makes you vulnerable to attack. You can also hook a flashlight up to the gun for dark zones, but here’s the catch. When you use the flashlight, you can’t walk! So you have to stand still, check the space ahead with your flashlight, then turn it off and move forward a bit after shooting blindly and hopefully clearing out enemies in the dark before turning on the flashlight again to check ahead a little farther. Ugh.

Inventory is basically unlimited—which would be even better if ammo pickups weren’t so scarce. There are however, a few unlimited ammo depots to replenish your stock throughout the facility. Items you can pick up are clear as day, so you won’t miss anything you come across—although you might miss entire tucked away sections if you don’t use a walkthrough to thoroughly cover all ground.

There’s also a battery aspect. You need the battery to open certain locks and to save! Argh! There are some battery rechargers around, and you do upgrade how many battery units you can store as the game progresses, but it’s fucking devastating if you get to a save only to discover you don’t have any battery units left. Because recharge stations and ammo depots are few and far between, there’s a lot of running back and forth to stay fully stocked.

Then there’s your health. Actually your health and your infection rate. I hate games that force you to monitor two different health issues. Your health bar is pretty basic, but just about every enemy in this game spits infectious acid at you, and as your infection rate goes up, your health goes down. Not only do you have to find health items to patch yourself up, you have to find antidotes for infections. But you can’t just take them on the spot. You have to make it to rejuvenation machines sprinkled throughout the facility to heal up, which means more running back and forth…while half dead and battling enemies, which even tend to respawn in most areas. WTF?

So about enemies. There are tons of them, and they take loads of ammo to kill. First there are these slugs that are everywhere, spit acid at you, fly, jump on you and fill you with infection as you button mash to shake them off, are hard to aim at, and even burst out of crates you can break with your knife in hopes of finding goodies inside. They are also generated by gooey globs on the floor that you can at least shoot and kill to stop some of the spawning of the slugs.

There are flying creatures that fuck you up when you’re trying to jump over caverns, shimmy across pipes, or climb ladders, and they are even harder to aim at and shoot. There are mutated dogs. There are giant monsters with vulnerable spots you have to aim for to kill them. They take tons of bullets before dying and they shoot back at you! Argh!

There are automatic sentry guns that shoot anything that’s moving…including you. You can deactivate them by cutting the cable under them with your knife. There are also trip wire bombs that you can supposedly deactivate with your knife, but every time I tried they blew up. There are fire patches that will fry you, and there are ground puddles that jab you with infected spikes whenever you run over them. Eventually, a big snake-like thing starts coming out of the puddles, too.

There are two encounters with semi-invisible lion creatures, and you have to use a flamethrower attachment to kill them. Chances are you won’t have enough fuel to accomplish that. The second time you fight them, it’s right after you’ve climbed an ice wall outside, and if they hit you, they can knock you all the way down the mountain and you have to climb back up to continue the fight.

With so much space between save points, unexpected elements of the game you couldn’t possibly prepare for without a walkthrough are infuriating. For instance, you see a button you can push, when you do, there’s a cutscene and then a train is barreling toward you. The only way to escape it is to run to a ladder behind you and climb up it or it’s instance death. Same thing happens later on when you blow up a tower that can then fall on you if you don’t hurriedly run away from it after the cutscene.

With a constant barrage of enemies to fight, boss battles are never welcome, but we get them. For starters, after a battle through a tunnel against those damn shooting monsters, you just stumble upon a boss battle when you innocently drop off a train platform into a pit. It’s a huge tentacle arm in the wall and takes forever to kill, even if you’ve collected enough grenades to use against it.

The next boss is in the center of an arena while you stand on a platform surrounding it, and you have to aim at his hot spots while it is constantly shooting at you. Good luck with that one.

And now we get to confession time. The final boss in Extermination is what led to me discovering the magic of Game Shark and Codebreaker when I first played the game back in 2001. I fought my way desperately through this game, and by the time I reached the final battle I barely had any health left, I was slightly infected, and I didn’t have anywhere near enough ammo to take on the giant boss. I was getting my ass destroyed during the battle and there was no way I was ever going to complete the game, so I searched for cheats online (we were asking Jeeves back then because there was no Google yet), and found codes for something called Codebreaker. It was only after buying a Codebreaker disc that I was able to complete the game.

So what’s so bad about the boss? First of all, without the 3 missile launcher parts to connect to your gun, you’d never beat this boss. And without a walkthrough, you’d never find the three missile launcher parts, which are hidden throughout the game. In fact, the final part is hidden in a room that requires 24 battery units to open…the exact amount of units you can hold at any given time, so you can forget about saving one more time if at all before the boss unless you track down one of those battery charging stations first.

You end up on a boat, and the boss is at first in the water, periodically jumping out on either side. I’ll admit it does look fricking awesome. There’s an army vehicle on the boat that you can climb on to use the turret on back…if you can pinpoint the leaping boss to shoot him. The gun moves slow, so just trying to locate him on one side or the other before targeting him and then shooting is going to be a chore. On top of that, he spits balls of infection at you that knock you out of the turret, requiring you to run back up to the compartment it’s in and pressing X to get back in and start all over. And you know what happens if you press X and you aren’t exactly lined up with the compartment door? You JUMP. You jump right off the boat and die. WTF? Oh, and when the boss’s infection balls hit, they explode and release loads of slugs, which now start attaching to you and spitting infection at you. And you have to hit the boss approximately 15 times while it’s in the water before you can even move on to the next part of the battle.

There is another option for fighting him while he’s in the water, but it’s just as bad. You have to climb a ladder to a higher level of the boat, grab a zip line to zip across to another platform, and then use a Gatling gun, which overheats after a short time, requiring you to wait for it to cool down before you can use it again. Fuck this game.

In its second form, the boss morphs into a giant land monster and climbs on the boat. There is nowhere for you to run because the arena is quite small, and he’s still dropping loads of slugs on the deck to spit at you. You have to nail the boss on the vulnerable spot on his chest numerous times to kill him. You’ll so want to use the few rockets you have to beat him faster, but that would be a mistake, because…

He morphs again, this time into a human size boss that you now have to hit in the chest numerous times to kill, all while he’s firing a machine gun at you incessantly and hurling more slugs your way. Fuck this game. I’m selling it on eBay if you want a copy.

THE THING

Ugh. This game tested my last nerve. Just like the movie, it requires you to keep your team working cooperatively so they don’t lose trust in you and assume you’re actually infected. How do you do this? You have to keep them supplied with precious weapons, ammo, and health. You can also find blood tests to take to prove to them you’re not sick. You can accidentally shoot them, which not only loses their trust but the trust of other nearby members. Argh. Worse part of this? In this game you don’t hold a shoulder button and then press the X button to shoot like in most games…you simply press X. You know, the button you instinctively press to do most actions or pick up items, neither of which is the function of the X button in this game. As a result, you will accidentally shoot your teammates numerous times, especially while panicking when little spider critters come crawling after you. And you know what happens if you just stand by and let your teammates shoot them so you won’t accidentally shoot your teammates? The teammates lose trust in you for not helping to fight! Argh! As a result, I often told my team to stay (you can tell them to stay or come in a squad menu), ran ahead and killed enemies while alone, then went back to pick up my team.

So what’s the bright side of having a team? You need them. You can get the medic to heal members. You can get the engineer to fix junction boxes to open doors. And you can have all members help in those fights if you think you can avoid shooting them. You can go into first person mode for better aim, but you can’t move and shoot in that mode.

The health issue is a pain in the ass. Not only do you and your team lose health when you get hurt, but if you stay out in the cold too long, you and your members will start to lose health. Ugh. And when you’re running around in the windy snowy weather in the dark, it’s easy to lose your way and run in circles when you really need to just get inside. Aside from enemy danger, there’s also fire to watch out for (you can use a fire extinguisher to put out flames), as well as electrocuted fences to beware of.

The d-pad allows you to quick cycle through weapons or other items, but it’s not fast enough once you have to start shooting enemies until their life bars turn red and then switch to a flamethrower to burn them the rest of the way, which causes the little spider creatures to pop out of them, which then requires you to hastily switch back to a gun. Oh…and don’t expect any of your teammates to come out of these battles alive, because if the monsters don’t get them, your manic shooting just to survive will kill them. And you know what happens if you lose technicians you need to perform some sort of action to continue forward? It’s game over and you have to start again from your last save point.

Stretches get much longer where you need to keep technicians alive otherwise you die. They are needed to open doors right to the end of levels with more monsters and fricking men shooting at you. Argh!

The fact is that this is more an action game than survival horror…but lacks the ammo necessary to survive swarms of enemies. There are no puzzles here. It’s just running from one place to another to fetch keys or gather items for other team members. The game becomes incredibly repetitive.

The bosses generally all look and behave the same, but they do get progressively bigger and harder, and there are variations in how you defeat them. Visually, the final boss outside is pretty epic, and there’s a helicopter aspect thrown in just for fun.

There are also timed segments where you’ll press a button and then have to get to a certain door in a short period of time, otherwise, kaboom! And finally there’s the part that made me give up on the game this time around. I guess 20 years makes a difference in how sharp a shooter you are and how much patience you have for bullshit tasks. You have to zoom in with a sniper gun and shoot the bombs on planes in four different hangars outside. The catch is, you have to do it from windows in two different rooms, and…the hangar doors start closing after you blow out the first bomb. You have to shoot two bombs from one set of windows, run around this big console in the middle of the room, push through the door, run down the hall, push through another door into another room, run around another console, then aim at two more bombs from there. And if the doors to the hangars close, you die. Fuck this game. You can find it on sale as a bundle with Extermination on eBay.

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TUBI TERRORS: a demon house, found footage, and a horror anthology

Surprisingly, the longest of these three selections from my watchlist was the most interesting of the bunch. Let’s find out why.

SITE 13 (2023)

This film didn’t do it for me, but I respect the variations in plot points as the story unfolds.

A college professor studying supposed devil’s circle portals takes his students on a field trip…to a field.

Ten years later he awakes with no memory of what happened. The woman working his case begins watching (found) footage of the day all his students disappeared and he was discovered unconscious in the field.

We spend a good chunk of time just waiting to see what eventually happened to all the students, as is typical with found footage movies. The most exciting part for me was a dude with a big booty mooning the camera.

In between, the newly awakened professor begins acting possessed. I wasn’t enthralled, but it was nice to see the film attempt to go big with no budget.

For the grand finale, the patients in the hospital get “possessed” briefly, and a giant CGI portal eye floats around outside the hospital. Awesome.

NIGHT OF THE CAREGIVER (2023)

Another cliché film, this one offers a slow burn buildup and a fun demon in a creepy house, so I enjoyed it.

It pointlessly begins with a scene from later in the film in order to deliver immediate demon action.

It also starts with Eric Roberts in unneeded cameo—the whole purpose of his career at this point. He’s a parapsychologist who gives a tip to a detective chasing down an urban legend.

Next we meet our main girl, a lipstick lesbian who takes a one night caregiver job at an isolated house for an elderly woman. The woman is very sweet but also very elusive about the status of her health.

The main girl begins to see unusual things around the house and becomes convinced someone is there with them. Some suspense carries us through until the demon finally makes its presence known about 45 minutes in. This is the meat of the film, with all the fast-paced horror packed into the last half hour. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and you’ll most likely sense where it’s all going right from the start, but it’s still worth watching for the cheap thrills.

TWISTED FICTION (2023)

Although this anthology of three stories with no wraparound runs almost two hours long, each one was well made and intriguing enough to hold my attention….plus they all revolve around sex! Wahoo!

1st tale – this one becomes a total mind fuck, literally. A straight couple goes to a performance by a hypnotist who claims he can give people hypnorgasms. After the show, the guy in the couple becomes convinced his girlfriend is still under the hypnotist’s power. This shit enters weird 80s sci-fi horror territory and turns sexually depraved, demented, and gory.

2nd tale – this is a clever but slow-paced, dialogue-heavy story about a motel manager who collects souls of unfortunate people that indulge in debauchery in their rooms.

Not a scary tale, but definitely a good conclusion.

3rd tale – a film producer invites women to come audition at his home and then rapes them. Little does he know the latest actress he sexually assaults is a member of a vengeful witch coven. The revenge is quite satisfying and twisted, but this is an excessively long tale, so it takes a while to get there.

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TUBI TERRORS: three from 2023

It’s two supernatural/demon themed flicks and one slasher…and I had fun with two of the three.

THE HOLY TRINITY (2023)

This low budget attempt at an Evil Dead setup is cheesy with hokey 80s style and lightning bolt magic effects (not even SyFy original level), but I was totally charmed by the two cute male leads. And what’s great about them is that they are two completely different types—one lean and muscular, the other thick and beefy.

So the two guys and their girls go to a cabin in the woods with a medium friend and immediately have a séance. In doing so, they unleash a holy trinity of evil—three ancient women that plan to bring on the apocalypse. Lofty plot goals for a low budget flick.

Of course a variety of cheap demons—one of which is quite freaky looking in a Halloween costume shop way—terrorizes the group at the cabin. The highlight for me was a demon face in a toilet bowl, but overall this is just silly and amateurish. But damn, the boys have charisma and kept me watching thanks to their dry delivery.

If you ask me, the film should have focused on the freaky Halloween mask demon and just exploited the fuck out of it to give us some genuine scares. Instead, we end up with a goofy battle in the woods during the day with three babes that look like Xena The Princess Warrior rejects.

What’s really odd is that there’s a “music video” at the end performed by the beefy guy, and it is a visual horror treat that is way more stimulating than anything that occurs in the movie.

THE NEW HANDS (2023)

Perhaps it’s because I’m in the midst of binge watching the entire Tales from the Crypt series for a “best episodes” post, but I feel like the almost tongue-in-cheek vibe of this movie would have made this a perfect 30-minute installment of an anthology series like that.

After a dude loses use of his hands in a tragic situation at a lab, he begins to believe he can get them back if he takes the hands of others.

He wraps himself up in bandages and goes on a killing spree at the lab, taking all the hands he can get his hands on (literally the type of puns used in the movie).

The death and chase scenes are pretty damn good, with some bloody moments. The main dude looks cool as a killer, but it’s not your standard slasher scenario since the movie is from his perspective, not that of his victims. The story of him spiraling out of control is okay, but nothing spectacular. And finally, Felissa Rose has a small role as his doctor.

THE DEVIL’S LEFT HAND (2023)

With a plot that takes place predominantly in one house, this 98-minute movie desperately needed to be trimmed by at least twenty minutes to save us from endless slow, dialogue-heavy scenes. For instance, the same exact backstory of how one main character saved his mother from his homicidal father by killing the father is retold no less than three times. Argh.

Anyway, a straight couple has a psychic medium at their party. Pretty soon they, their friends, the husband’s mother (who is in a mental institution), and the medium are all being haunted by bumps in the night.

For no apparent reason, a psychic partner is written into the story to help the medium try to cleanse the couple’s family of the demon that was unleashed by the séance. I guess his messed up eye was meant to add some horror intrigue…?

First, the entity appears as the husband’s dead father. It soon becomes clear that it can morph, for it shows up at the house as the mental mother. Eventually it takes on the form of a good old ghost girl. Cliché as it is, at least she starts killing people.

When all else fails, the medium whips out a Ouija board for the final battle. If you can still stick with this movie after that, more power to you. And if you do, I can guarantee the lackluster denouement will have you kicking yourself for watching all the way through.

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TUBI TERRORS: body snatchers, CHUD, and a slasher

There’s nothing original about the latest trio of films I checked out from various horror subgenres, but do they deliver and chills and thrills nonetheless?

THE CHANGED (2021)

I’m guessing a decision was made to distribute this movie only if the poster art made it appear that it is a zombie film—Tony Todd with zombie eyes, bluish hands reaching towards a main character. Nothing indicative of what occurs in the film.

This is more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets They Live…without the pods, the glasses, or the excitement. We are tossed right into the gist of the plot, with our main guy telling his neighbor (played by Tony Todd) that everyone everywhere has been acting weird lately, and he’s convinced it’s some government conspiracy. Tony Todd’s response is…weird.

Very quickly we learn that people are indeed “changing” after other people forcefully kiss them. There are definitely metaphors for sexual assault and STDs in there. Unfortunately we don’t get to see a man-on-man conversion, but we do almost get girl-on-girl kissing action, but there’s a cutaway before it can happen. Yay!

Anyway, after some fleeting glimpses of figures running by the camera, which sets this up to be scary, the entire movie becomes about our leading man, his wife, and their teen neighbor holding Tony Todd hostage in an effort to get him to confess why he and others are changing. I imagine the reason there are no special effect is because they had to pay Tony Todd most of their budget to get him to stay strapped to a chair for a whole movie.

Todd’s big monologue is straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers—just give in and you’ll never have to worry about feeling anything again. There are other “changed” people that lurk outside the house, but there’s simply no tension or suspense here. You’ve seen it all before, done better.

THE LURKING FEAR (2023)

This is an incredibly derivative film and has a slow start, but if you like these kinds of movies and haven’t seen one in a while, you might just find it satisfying.

So what kind of movie is it? It’s not found footage, but it is about a TV crew filming a documentary at an abandoned mental institution where a mad scientist experimented on patients. There are just a few flashback sequences to establish that backstory, then there’s a bunch of blah blah blah in the present day to cement the story. Highlight? The host dude is hot.

About 40 minutes into this 80-minute movie, we get to the point—there are slightly mutated human cannibals still living in the basement of the mental institution, and our main characters are trapped inside with them. CHUD!

There’s some suspense and plenty of gore and torture, but I’m just a bit too numbed to this subgenre to be impacted by any movie that doesn’t make things super terrifying. On top of that, I have to wonder if twists are really twists when you’ve seen those exact twists dozens of times before….

HAPPY BIRTHDAY (2023)

This film seems to be trying too hard to rise above the simplicity of slashers…by overthinking how to present the basics of slashers, resulting in totally diluting the slasher aspects. This could have been called Happy Birthday to Me (the killer literally writes that on a wall in blood), but that title is a staple of the slasher genre so they didn’t dare go there.

There are two stories going on here. One has a group of friends heading to a house in the woods for a birthday celebration.

The other story, presented sporadically in flashbacks with muted gray tones so we know it’s flashbacks, takes place in the same house, where the treatment by a sleazy stepdad causes a mentally ill teen to unravel when she comes home from a mental institution to celebrate her birthday.

In the present day we get some classic 80s slasher elements—couple goes off to have sex, killer tears off the main girl’s blouse so she’s running around in her bra, dude gets attacked while on the shitter.

The killer doesn’t wear a mask, however he did escape from a mental institution and uses sharp weapons to kill victims. The kills just aren’t very suspenseful. In fact, the absolute best death scene is when the crazy girl in the flashback finally snaps.

If there’s one unique element here, it’s that the killer didn’t escape the mental institution to start killing for his own selfish reasons. it’s a six degrees of slasher!

 

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