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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Four of the more obscure from 1989 – 1996

I dare to once again travel back to that awful transition period between the end of the awesome 80s horror era to the resurgence of good horror post-Scream. So let’s see how this smorgasbord of varying styles and subgenres holds up today. We carried none of these in the video store I worked at during this period of time, so I’ve never seen any of them before.

PAGANINI HORROR (1989)

The director of Demons 6 gives us what starts as a delicious 80s Euro horror mess but eventually fizzles out.

Paganini Horror, which has recently come to Blu-ray, begins with horrible electrocution effects (that make an encore appearance near the end), then we meet an all-girl band that sounds like it ripped off Bon Jovi’s biggest hit ever. The girls are are told the song sucks and they need a new one—how dare they give that rockin’ Bon Jovi song a bad name!

They end up buying a song from a mysterious and barely present Donald Pleasence (whose voice is also dubbed over like all the other actors).

Donald claims it’s a lost song of violinist Niccolò Paganini. Actually, it is literally a copycat of ELO’s overlooked kick ass song “Twilight”. I can’t imagine how the filmmakers got away with this.

 

 

Anyway, the girls decide they want to make a cool video for the song, even better than “Thriller”, so they hire a horror director and go to film in a creepy old house.

The genuine surreal Euro horror feel kicks in quickly (lighting, music, etc.), with characters going off on their own and being killed by a sort of Phantom of the Opera character playing a violin…with a built-in blade for slicing up victims.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough victims. Most of the movie has the girls running around the house acting scared, with very little else happening. What a letdown.

SCARY MOVIE (1991)

It’s Scary Movie, but it’s not one of the Scary Movie movies. Also recently released on Blu-ray, Scary Movie came ten years before the Wayans’ films. Made by a 19-year old director and released in 1991, it feels like a direct-to-video movie of the mid-80s, which is one of its strong points. In fact, the opening dream sequence is possibly the best scene in the film if you love that 80s vibe.

The geek having the dream is a mess and afraid of his own shadow. He goes to a local Halloween haunted attraction in his small town, gets cozy with a girl, gets pranked by a gang of dudes, and hears that a psycho is on the loose.

A chunk of the film features the main characters goofing around while going through the haunted attraction—a plot that wouldn’t become a trope for years. Unfortunately, this isn’t the most impressive attraction put to film.

The only thing that makes it interesting is that the geek becomes convinced the actual crazy killer is in the attraction, and his delusions—or are they real?—begin to escalate. He keeps seeing a phantom skeleton killer stalking him, but no one believes him. It’s kind of weird how long these kids just hang out in the attraction. In real life, that shit costs like 30 dollars, lasts about ten minutes, and you’re constantly being forced to keep moving towards the exit.

The cat and mouse is entertaining enough, but honestly, the trippy feel of it all pretty much tells you exactly what the outcome of the film is going to be.

THE SPIRIT GALLERY (1995)

The epitome of the low budget, shot-on-video horror that flooded the market in the 80s and 90s after the advent of VHS, this film, written, directed, and produced by John Strysik, has recently made its way to independent DVD release.

The story focuses on a young woman who takes a job for an art dealer because she is in pursuit of a mysterious artist who is MIA. Being a bit of a religious nut, she believes this artist’s work is heaven sent and she wants to be a part of it. Unfortunately for her, when she learns the truth of how he gets his inspiration for his works, it’s quite the opposite.

Heavy religious themes and imagery are juxtaposed against dark, nightmarish scenarios that the viewer may either consider unimpressive because of the lack of budget, or may find to be more realistic due to the home video feel of the presentation.

Unless you were around for the SOV era, you might not find this style of movie compelling. Lacking the usual chills and CGI kills, it borders on being an art film since it isn’t created with a checkbox of mainstream horror demands on hand. It’s more about the plot than cheap thrills, which inevitably causes it to run out of steam as it is stretched out for the duration of a full-length feature. As a novel writer, I always feel that these types of stories are probably more engrossing for readers. After all, when fiction like this is adapted into a movie, it’s often shredded by fans of the book.

Speaking of horror fiction, despite budget restrictions and film quality, The Sinister Gallery does have a notable Lovecraftian feel that was all the rage in that period of horror history. Most SOV horror tended to be exploitative to the point of disgusting with its presentation of gore and nudity back then, yet this film is surprisingly restrained for a majority of its running time.

However, if you can hang in their long enough, the budget seems to be saved up for the ultimate money shot, when the artist and his model finally do…um…come together. Not going to spoil it with a still shot, but this fantastic horror moment alone is perhaps indicative of the kind of horror John Strysik and his makeup effect artist could have brought us if he’d had the backing and wasn’t trying to bring horror to the screen during the black hole of horror that was the mid-90s.

KILLERS (1996)

Because I’m a fan of Mike Mendez horror flicks post-2000 (The Convent, The Gravedancers, Don’t Kill It, Big Ass Spider!, The Last Heist), I had to go check out his earlier film Killers from 1996. And it is sooooooo 1996. I’m glad he found his own voice in the new millennium, because here he’s jumping on the Tarantino bandwagon.

As Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida” plays, two brothers with faces painted like skeletons do a Ronald DeFeo on their parents on Christmas.

Next, we meet a family—dad, mom, two daughters—hanging out at home watching the news story about the two brothers having escaped from prison. Guess who shows up at their door…

The meta movie and pop culture dialogue Tarantino made so famous in the biggest decade of his career is hammered into our heads as the brothers speak all pretentiously to the family to show just how much cinema means to them.

It turns out the older daughter is a big fan of the brothers, so while she’s busy getting busy with one of them, the mom cozies up to the other. It’s really not all that interesting until the movie suddenly pulls a From Dusk Till Dawn and turns horror.

Cannibal creeps to be exact. One of them is apparently even gay and takes a shine to one brother. That was about as interesting as this got, and it didn’t even go very far. Although, when it turns into a gunfight, there are a couple of kills worthy of 90s exploitation.

I just wish the gay cannibal love story had been exploited a bit more, because Killers really is just a poor man’s Tarantino flick when all is said and done. I’ll stick with The Convent.

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It’s the horror of playing Q-bert Rebooted

80s video games will always get attention in my world, so I had to dip into Q-bert Rebooted, yet another update of the arcade classic. Not surprisingly, when you boot the game up, you can choose between the new version or the original.

Here’s the deal with Q-bert Rebooted. I began the game on PS4, then after getting frustrated with it, I moved over to PS3 for reasons I’ll explain below (when you buy the PS4 version, you get the PS3 version free), then moved back to the PS4 version and found there are actually different aspects to the game in each version. It’s possible that maybe there was an update for the PS4 version that changed things players were complaining about. Not sure.

Here’s a major point about the difference in the controls for both versions. On the PS4, you have to hold down the X button to jump, and on the PS3 you simply move the directional controls. Initially, this made me lean toward playing the PS3 version, because it didn’t seem to make any sense on the PS4. However, after playing both versions for a while, I discovered an advantage to the PS4 button-pushing method…

The huge problem with the controls ruins this game, not helped by the fact that now Q-bert can jump straight up and down on cubes within the pyramid as well as in the four standard angles.

The fluid rounding movement of the thumbstick doesn’t allow for precise up/down OR angled jumps. And the d-pad is a mess—trying to time hitting two directional buttons at once to jump at an angle is not the right design for the fast-paced play of classic arcade games. And honestly, there were times when I would press DOWN on the stick only to have Q-bert jump UP. And I wasn’t imagining it. I’ve seen others complain about the same exact issue—there should have been a patch fix for this.

After fighting with the game for a while and getting stuck at level 6, I began the game again on the PS3, not only so I didn’t have to press the X button each time I jumped, but also because I have an actual arcade joystick for PS3. Unfortunately, the precision is just as lacking. They simply don’t make joysticks like they used to in 1981 (aka: the Atari 2600 joystick). So…I continued on the PS3 with the regular controller.

You can mostly get by the first 5 levels without a problem, because even if your jump is read wrong by the controller, as long as you’re not on an edge of the pyramid, you’re basically safe even though you’ve jumped in an unintended direction. But once level 6 and beyond start chipping away at blocks and leaving tons of open spaces you have to maneuver around as the gameplay and enemies are getting faster, you don’t stand a chance.

Now, here’s what I discovered when I went back to the PS4 version. The advantage to having to press the X button to jump is…you can actually CHANGE the direction Q-bert is facing while you’re not holding the X button so you’re sure you are pointed the way you intend to go. While this demands a little more time and hinders your ability to move fast, it does often save you the frustration of going in the wrong direction, yet not even that much. Because once you point Q-bert in the right direction, you have to make sure that when you hit the X button, you hold the thumbstick or D-pad in the intended direction or you will end up jumping the wrong direction anyway. It happens less often than on the PS3 version, but it still happens. Even so, I fared much better on the PS4 version.

Okay. I think I’ve said everything I had to about the controls. Now onto the levels. Sadly, unlike the Q-bert remake from the PS1 days, this isn’t a journey through varying “worlds” with uniquely shaped boards. It is straight-up classic Q-bert pyramid boards over and over and over—approximately 120 boards by the time all is said and done.

Each level has three separate stages plus a bonus board that lets you collect gems (you simply don’t have enough time to ever get them all).

These gems can be used to buy other characters, however, doing so is pointless since they don’t have any different abilities to help you through harder levels.

On the PS3 version, you open each level up to level 6 just by playing all 3 stages of a level, but after that, you have to go back and replay levels to get gold stars on specific goals—as in, finishing stages within a certain amount of time. Very annoying. When I went back to playing the PS4 version and got past level 6, it turns out that wasn’t the case until much later stages, perhaps because it was easier to accomplish timed goals earlier in the game with better controls, allowing me to rack up the stars needed to open new levels.

Enemies are familiar—the red ball, the purple ball that turns into a bouncing snake you can get rid of by luring him off the board when you jump on a spinning rainbow disc, and the green guy with the spiky hair and sunglasses that turns blocks you’ve already changed back to the original color and can only be stopped if you stomp him out. In later levels, you are faced with the double whammy; you have to change each square TWICE to get to the desired color. Oh how I hated that complication back in the day. As in—I still do.

New enemies include a yellow guy (I’m not sure that he’s anything other than a regular enemy that kills you if you come in contact with him), and a POW guy with a huge bubble around him that knocks you over a few blocks (often right off the board). One time he actually bounced me onto the very last cube I needed to change to clear the board! He goes straight up and down, so you really have to work around him, and in higher levels there are more than one of him. I discovered that you can somehow get inside the bubble and move with it, but I can’t figure out how because it was an accident every time.

Ironically, as you reach higher levels, for a while it gets easier because the board becomes virtually square, so you have more places to run from the baddies. This is also the point when treasure chests start bouncing around the board, and you can grab them for more gems.

Next, the levels become “dimensional”. The outer frame of platforms is higher than those down within. This is about the best update to the whole dang game, actually making it feel like a modern “3D” game.

Eventually the amount of green guys gets out of control, especially when they just keep coming and you need to change squares twice AND there are other enemies on screen. Each level gives you 4 lives to clear all three boards, so it’s smart to try to manage how and when you die, because on harder boards you might want to sacrifice a life so that the board will just clear of too many enemies, allowing you to then quickly reset to the top with no enemies to finish the level easily!

Unfortunately, the very last few levels of the game become unbelievably hard—and by that I mean as soon as I reached the first such level and looked up how you could possibly beat it, everyone online was saying the levels are infuriating. I felt completely satisfied with calling it quits with only about 3 levels remaining. Not totally true—OCD will leave a nagging in the back of my head for the rest of my life knowing the game will be residing incomplete on my PS4. It’s a bummer, because although it’s not as good as the 3D journey remake from 20 years ago, it’s still always fun to play a new variation on Q-bert.

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From the creators of Until Dawn comes…Man of Medan

The immersive, choose your own horror adventure gameplay style of horror fan favorite Until Dawn is back in action. The first in a series of such games that are being released entitled The Dark Picture, Man of Medan is familiar territory for those who loved Until Dawn. I’ve seen it get bashed for being too short, and it astounds me how people in modern day society can’t comprehend simple facts: a) it is part of an anthology of games, essentially chapters in a series, and b) it’s less money than a full priced game. You are literally getting what you were clearly told you are paying for.

As for the game, after a brief “training” session that takes place back in the old days and fails to train you at much of anything, we get into the meat of the game—a group of kids heading out on a boat. Yes! And just like Until Dawn, which starred Hayden Panettiere, the cast in Man of Medan includes the voices and likenesses of several faces you may have seen on TV and in movies, most notably, Shawn Ashmore of horror movies like Culture Shock, Mother’s Day remake, and The Ruins.

After some time on the boat getting to know the characters, all my nightmares came true when two of them decide to go diving…after we are clued in then there’s a shark in the water.

Once you wake from that nightmare, the game leads you to the true setting—an abandoned ghost ship! Eek! Let me tell you, there are some amazing jump scares in this game. I screamed at least half a dozen times! There are some ghostly apparitions, but the most horrific part for me was being chased by a bitch that looked like she just got out of the bath in The Shining.

As for game mechanics, to play through the adventure, you make decisions for your characters that in turn build their personalities, affect how they relate with other characters, and alter possible outcomes of certain situations. During conversations, you will be prompted to choose how to respond to things that are said to you. There are three options. One option is always “say nothing”, which I never chose. Between the other two, I’d say one is always the smart thing to do (especially if you’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of horror movies), and the other makes you a total dick. You can build stereotypical horror characters this way, which is a trap that is easy to fall into, but I chose to make all my characters pretty damn cool instead of cliché.

When a choice is presented, you are given very limited time to make a decision, and to do it you have to move the right stick, which is an unusual control to use for such things. Also important to note is that while there are also quick time events, most of those come near the end. A majority of the game consists only of choices. And as I continued to play, I got the sense that none of the decisions was actually bad, and would not kill off any characters. However, I can’t be sure, because periodically throughout the game, a sort of narrator dude interrupts to tell you how your decision-making is going. He mostly told me I was being pretty dang smart!

You also get to move pre-chosen characters around, but your actions are limited—mostly opening doors, interacting with items, or picking up notes and such to read. These are just pointless tasks, probably in place to make it feel more like you’re truly in control of the characters. There are also pictures on walls you come across that will show you a “premonition” if you click on them. These quick flashes of something to come later in the game are absolutely pointless, because they never give you insight into how you can actually change the vision from happening.

The goal is to try to keep as many of the kids alive as you can by the end of the game. I wanted so badly to keep Shawn alive. I failed miserably at like the last minute. Personally, I think there’s a good reason for that unfortunate loss—quick time events. Rather than being sprinkled throughout the game to give you time to learn how to do them before things get really hairy as in Until Dawn, this game suddenly starts throwing them at you non-stop in the very tail end of the game. I finally learned the right way to apply the controls to the quick time events just as we were about to escape the ship for good…right after I lost Shawn Ashmore, dammit.

Part of what makes the quick time events so challenging is that the time you’re given to hit a certain button before another pops up on the screen is so fleeting you can rarely get them—there’s no warning they’re coming as in some games. They just appear out of nowhere. There’s also the problem of conditioning. Throughout the game there are button reactions that require the mashing technique—hit one button as often and fast as you can to get the necessary result in time (pull a character from danger, hold a door closed, etc.). Unfortunately, when you finally start getting slammed with a series of button press quick times, the symbol presentation on screen looks the same as the mashing technique. So idiot that I am, I was repeatedly hitting the same button as usual, only to have another button symbol pop onto the screen and therefore register that I was pressing the wrong button, totally costing me precious chances to save a character.

And while I’m at it with the button pressing confusion, there are also “heartbeat” moments I never got right. You’ll suddenly hide and a heartbeat pattern will scroll across the screen. You’re supposed to hit the X button each time a squiggle crosses over the marked point to keep time with the rhythm, but the accuracy of button presses seemed delayed, so I fucked up every time on what should have been a simple challenge.

And lastly, there are the occasional “punch” targets. You’re supposed to drag a cursor to a target mark on screen then press X, but for some reason I instinctually tried to use the left stick to move the cursor every time…when I was supposed to use the right stick. Argh!

Basically what I’m saying is I would probably save more than two of the five characters on a second playthrough now that I know what I’m doing. Although, by the time I get around to playing again I will probably forget and make all the same mistakes.

This is NOT the ending I got…

Finally, considering how many scares there are in this game, it’s rather disappointing when the truth of what is going on comes out in the end. However, I’m willing to forgive considering the game since it’s so scary—and also does a fine job of presenting a video game dude in his undies for a while. Let’s hope there’s more of that to come in the next installment.

 

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What better than Pledge Night to kick off the gay 90s?

Pledge Night, which has just been released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, is about as bad as any other slasher that moved us away from the eighties and into the nineties back in the day. No atmosphere, no scares, no compelling score, weak attempts at a wise-cracking killer—it’s right up there with the tone of other post-awesome eighties era slashers like Slumber Party Massacre 2, Prom Night 2 and 3, and Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3. Yet…it’s not a crappy sequel. It’s just crap.

This slasher trash starts with 45 minutes of guys being perversely hazed—a delicious reminder of how simultaneously gay and homophobic frats (and horror movies) can be. These boys should have been made honorary members of an actual frat after this movie considering what they’re put through on camera. They get a paddle to the ass.

Unshaved ass gets branded.

The boys pick cherries off a block of ice with their asses while wearing jockstraps then eat them.

There’s even gross stuff like being forced to eat shit from a toilet bowl and being covered in bugs.

There’s also talk of how important it is to have one black guy and one Jew in the frat. The black dude is gorgeous, the Jewish guy is hot and hairy.

Most importantly, there’s a brief story of a kid drenched in acid as part of a hazing years before.

Finally, acid kid returns as some sort of biker hippie corpse to kill all the frat boys and their girls. He looks absolutely ridiculous, and his one-liners are no better.

And as with all these bad late 80s slashers, the plot is convoluted for no good reason. Before the supernatural killer takes full control of the situation, a psychotic pledge snaps and handles the initial dirty work for him. Weird.

The kills are over the top, including a toilet bowl kill and a cherry bomb up the ass—and yet the dude’s biggest concern when his pants are pulled down is that the killer is a homo.

Boobs and blood abound, the music is brought to us by Anthrax, a big sword comes into play to ensure the film is as absurd as a 1990 slasher should be, and what else do you need to hear before you take the plunge and add this shitty classic to your collection like I did?

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The only double feature I needed for Halloween 2019

Eureka! After blogging about a bunch of highly disappointing Halloween themed horror movies for 2019 (which have already been added to the complete holiday horror page), it’s the final two releases that are the winners and will definitely be making it into my movie collection. Here’s a quick look at what to expect from Trick and 10/31 Part 2.

TRICK (2019)

An opening massacre at a Halloween party seemed to promise a movie that would be too good to be true. It was really good, and that’s the truth. The director of My Bloody Valentine and Hulu’s Into the Dark installment Flesh & Blood doesn’t fuck around with Trick. It was all a treat for me.

HOLY SHIT! This is a non-stop slice and slash Halloween flick. Omar Epps plays a detective hunting down Trick, a seemingly supernatural killer who comes back every year to make mincemeat out of a new pile of people and becomes a man of mythological proportions on the Internet.

The action never ends as Trick taunts and terrorizes detectives in between hacking up victims each Halloween night, only to disappear for another year.

Trick is also a big fan of the holiday who delivers the seasonal spirit big time, plus there are plenty of suspenseful moments, but it’s not so much scary as it is a murder marathon.

Also in the film are Jamie Kennedy as a doctor…

…and Tom Atkins as an extraneous character who seems to be written into the movie just so they can have Tom Atkins in the movie acting very Tom Atkins. But he’s not too much of a distraction from the much more important focus of the movie.

While Trick may at first seem to be moving too fast and furious to have much of a story or character development, it actually comes together quite tightly with a really fresh, rockin’ twist at the end.

As a bonus, Trick introduced me to a new song for my Future Flashbacks modern wave show: “Lesson Learned” by Pale Honey.

 

10/31 Part 2 (2019)

The first 10/31 Halloween anthology was a blind buy for me, and I was quite satisfied. 10/31 Part 2 isn’t on physical media yet, so I had to rent the stream. While the completist in me demands that I own it if it does hit DVD or Blu, it’s definitely not as good as the first film, but it does have its moments, and sees the return of its horror hostess.

Here’s the breakdown of stories:

The faux trailers that open the film are super tight and nail the 80s with the style and type of synth score that made the first film so good. Honestly, most of them were more satisfying than a majority of the tales in this sequel. Now on to the stories.

1st story – Save the best for first. This one is so strong that all the others just can’t live up to it. A babysitter invites her heavy metal boyfriend over…and they discover something alive in the basement. Things get quite brutal and awesomely macabre.  There seems to be a perfect zinger moment for the story to end, but then it keeps going! It’s much more complicated than it needed to be, however, even the extended story is totally satisfying and freaky.

2nd story – This tale was agonizing. A guy picks up a hitchhiker on Halloween who isn’t quite right. It’s virtually entirely dialogue driven, and there’s way too much uninteresting exposition. It was like listening to an audiobook rather than watching a movie.

3rd story – This campy throwaway backwoods slasher spoof is fun, short, and silly.

4th story – Another slasher spoof about killers on the prowl on Halloween night, this one takes a while to get to its point…and then its point takes a bit too long to make its point, causing much of the humor to overstay its welcome. Sure, it could have been tightened up a bit, but the concept of the twist is good stuff, there are loads of kills, and it’s all about the holiday. Two highlights for me were a guy in Daisy Dukes…

…and my Facebook buddy David E. McMahon in one of the lead roles!

5th story – The fifth story is very metaphorical with a hellbent religious angle. A young nun must face her demons after she gives in to sin. Some gory bits and a clever tie-in to the first and best story make this a strong way to bookend the movie.  

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Do famous horror faces make everything better?

Holiday Hell, Portal, and Devil’s Junction are three indie horror films featuring at least one horror icon in a fairly significant role for a change rather than just a cameo and top billing. Is more screen time for some of our faves all it takes to make these three worth a watch?

HOLIDAY HELL (2019)

Just like the anthology film Holidays, Holiday Hell features stories that revolve around holidays. But don’t expect a whole year’s worth of seasonal tales. There are only four here.

Jeffrey Combs owns a shop. A young woman comes in for a last minute Christmas gift. He gifts her with some horror stories instead…

1st story – On Valentine’s Day, a group of friends is terrorized and killed by someone in a doll mask. This is simple, low budget slasher fun. It’s dirty and gory with a creepy killer, and one of my favorites in the movie.

2nd story – It’s killer doll horror and babysitter horror all in one…with the doll being an evil Hanukkah rabbi doll. An okay doll slasher, but I still prefer the first tale.

3rd story – This one takes too long getting to its predictable point. Treated like crap by his wife, a guy eventually snaps and does what most guys dressed in Santa suits do in Christmas horror.

4th story – Although Christmas is mentioned, the winter solstice seems to be the calendar date celebrated in this tale. A young woman rents a room in a couple’s home, and soon things seem to be going on outside at night…and the locals are weird. This is as derivative as it gets.

The wraparound conclusion is much longer and complex than the quick zinger endings wraparounds usually get, probably because they wanted to make the most of Jeffrey Combs while they had him. And since the wraparound is substantial and takes place on Christmas, they could have skipped the tired killer Santa story and taken on a different holiday instead. For a film about holiday horror tales, Holiday Hell is disappointingly lacking in holidays. Even so, it still gets a spot on the full holiday horror page.

PORTAL (2019)

Portal is yet another horror film about a ghost hunter show, but it’s refreshing that it doesn’t trap us behind the camera lens the whole time. Not only is it not found footage, it also runs a gloriously short 75 minutes long.

The downside? It is quite generic. Only moments of humor sprinkled throughout and the always likable Ryan Merriman (Halloween Resurrection, Ring 2) as the lead make it somewhat entertaining until something finally happens.

Ryan and his ghost hunting crew steal a secret, forbidden, haunted location from their “supplier.”

As with most of these movies, there is way too much setup as the team roams around getting to know the location, with things occasionally moving in the background to let us know something more substantial will eventually happen.

The only highlight here is that Heather Langenkamp shows up to help them close the portal they accidentally opened, which caused them to release, well, nothing all that frightening at all.

The best parts for me include one of the girls going sort of demonic and chasing her friends, and Heather outshining everyone when she reminds us how horror screams are supposed to be done.

DEVIL’S JUNCTION: HANDY DANDY’S REVENGE (2019)

I know people hate Night of the Living Dead 3D, but the director of that film makes a killer puppet film that’s so messy I finally feel vindicated in thinking Night of the Living Dead 3D isn’t half bad.

Devil’s Junction could have been simple, stupid, killer puppet fun. A group of kids sneaks into an old abandoned TV studio, couples off to have sex, and encounters a bunch of creepy puppets from an old kids’ show.

If only it were that basic. Instead, the movie seems to want to be deeper and more complicated than just another throwaway killer puppet flick—which, let’s face it, is what most of us would actually prefer from our indie horror.

Bill Moseley and Bill Oberst Jr. are on the scene and bogged down by so much plodding exposition I was convinced they were as uninterested in every word they were speaking as I was. They do try to make the best out of what appear to be action moments that weren’t officially blocked, but when two horror actors of this caliber are in scenes together that come across as local community theater, it makes me kind of wish they had just been relegated to one-minute cameos and top billing.

Even the puppets fail to entertain. There are some cheesy one-liners from the leader of the puppet pack, but the puppets do barely any killing, get little screen time, and seem just as bored as the live action actors. Meanwhile, the group of kids spends most of the movie walking around the building looking for a way out. Unfortunately, they also can’t find any tension, atmosphere, or scares.

Just for the hell of it, there are masked figures thrown in. One eventually takes the mask off and is actually related to the story being told, but the opening scene has another masked guy who feels like he accidentally walked onto the wrong movie set for a moment and they just forgot to edit the footage out.

The nail in the coffin is the use of a pop metal song for the opening and closing credits. It is definitely catchy, but it totally kills the possibility of establishing a horror tone right from the start. And since the rest of the movie isn’t very focused, it’s not much of a surprise that a performance video by the band is thrown in during the closing credits.

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A trio of upcoming horror flix in a variety of subgenres

I made a triple feature weekend out of forthcoming horror films Devil’s Acid, D-Railed, and The 11th Patient, and I personally have a favorite of the three. Let’s see which one.

DEVIL’S ACID (2018)

Devil’s Acid is going for the whole sleazy, over-the-top, offensive, surreal drug trip vibe. I’ve been looking forward to checking it out for a while, and now that I have I can’t decide if the movie was trying too hard to be trashy…or if it didn’t try hard enough.

It’s presented as a “scary” story a dad is telling his two kids. Scenes of this trio reacting to the plot as it unfolds are injected periodically throughout the film. While they aim to be humorous, they just weren’t funny to me at all, and therefore added nothing.

The plot focuses on a total douche bag little guy. We first meet his caricature of a racist character as he belittles his help—all people of color.

Next, he throws a party/contest for a bunch of friends at an abandoned prison. The challenge: take his special brand of acid and then dare to stay in select parts of the prison overnight.

Once the group splits up, everyone starts tripping and having sex. There’s lesbianism, puking, human sacrifices, the devil taunting everyone and messing with their heads (he’s just a dude in a cape with little horns glued to his forehead), dildos thrown in just so the film can appear more whacky than it is, and my personal favorite horror scene involving a woman give birth.

It is all acid trippy for sure, but there was nothing here that I found fun, funny, or scary, no matter what kind of weirdness was thrown at me.

To further drag out my disappointment, one of the kids listening to the story keeps interrupting and offering his own thoughts on how the story should go, so we are also subjected to alternate scenes that the dad then rejects.

THE 11TH PATIENT (2018)

I would describe The 11th Patient as Silent Hill (the video game) meets The Cell (the movie). The unique approach definitely had me hooked for a while. A teenage boy is found in a coma in the woods, and a specialist with the ability to go into his dreams, well, goes into his dreams.

A majority of the film has no dialogue. We follow the kid through his nightmarish experiences as he moves from one location to another with a lantern in hand.

A masked figure is chasing him, and he also runs into various hellish baddies, which is super chilling…at first.

Unfortunately, that’s the extent of what happens. He’s never actually in danger, so he repeatedly sees something, is chased by it, and simply gets it off his tail by moving to a new location. He even reacts with dream-like disconnect, never seeming as terrified as one would be in his situation.

The music has that eerie Silent Hill (the video game) clang, the kid reminded me of Stephen Geoffreys of the original Fright Night, and with about 30 minutes left there’s finally a little dialogue and an attempt to go into the dream to rescue him. For me, it was a highly anti-climactic finale.

D-RAILED (2018)

The opening credits borrowing the underwater POV of Jaws was the first sign for me that I was going to like this one. D-Railed is so my kind of creature feature.

It starts on Halloween night with a group of people in costume getting on a murder mystery train. I was a little bummed that once we board it, Halloween is totally forgotten.

The murder mystery segment is a little longer than it needed to be, but then things go horribly wrong, the train crashes, and one group is stranded in the middle of the water in a runaway car.

Before long, they’re being torn apart by a slimy sea monster reminiscent of The Creature from the Black Lagoon! The monster rox, there’s good gore, and it’s the fricking women who won’t take any shit whenever the attacks come.

The only part of D-Railed that didn’t do much for me was the end. Wouldn’t you know Lance Henriksen shows up just in time to reveal the twist, and it’s about as cliché as having Lance Henriksen in your movie.

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