NETFLIX AND CHILLS: a trio of Asian horror flicks

Creepy women and evil curses. What more could you ask for from your Asian horror?

UMMA (2022)

I only have myself to blame for watching this knowing it was going to be exactly what I expected it to be, but at least it was only 82 minutes long and it starred Sandra Oh and Dermot Mulroney.

Umma feels like one of the many supernatural tween scare movies that came in the wake of The Grudge and The Ring back in the early 2000s. In particular it reminds me in some ways of Mama.

In other words, it’s a movie loaded with scenes that are way too dark as Sandra constantly walks around her farmhouse at night experiencing quick edit shocks that we can’t even really see and that just stop short as if they were only illusions.

Ugh.

Sandra learns her mother died. She acquires something of her mothers. She begins to experience supernatural occurrences. The backstory of what transpired between her and her mother unfolds.

She eventually tries to rid herself of her mother once and for all for closure, but of course the dead mother has other plans that involve Sandra’s teen daughter, too.

It’s just sooooooo generic.

INCANTATION (2022)

Another film about a mother trying to save her daughter from a curse, this one is a hybrid of Asian horror and found footage that features familiar, satisfying elements of both subgenres. Problem is the decision to present a nonlinear story, as is almost always the case, adds nothing to the film beyond making it a confusing mess.

I’ll just give a brief chronological overview. A young woman did a ghostbusting show with her boyfriend and classmates in which they filmed themselves proving various myths and superstitions false. They went to a village and broke the rules of a ritual that is important to the locals and things went horribly wrong (the found footage segments were the best part for me in terms of delivering scares).

She then goes for some mental rehab for a while, during which she places her daughter in foster care. When she comes out and gets her daughter back, strange occurrences around her home and her daughter speaking about seeing “baddies” lead her to believe that her daughter is now cursed. So she asks her viewers online to participate in prayers with her that will help her break the curse.

It’s a fairly basic plot for a movie that runs almost 2 hours long, but it definitely has some creepy moments. And while the curse plot is reminiscent of the old Sadako/Samara curse from the Ringu/Ring movies, there are elements of the details of this curse that give the rehashed concept a bit of a fresh angle. And speaking of fresh angles, props to this film for giving us this angle after a car crash scene…

THE BRIDGE CURSE (2020)

It’s back to that throwback Ring/Grudge vibe, but this one totally goes for it without any meaningful mom shit to get in the way. It’s a pure girl ghost coming back for revenge flick. Wahoo!

The Bridge Curse is the one to watch if you truly miss early 2000s Asian horror. It’s about a girl at a college who was wronged by a boy and then jumped off a campus bridge into a lake. Now there’s an urban legend about crossing the bridge—if you dare to look back while doing so, the ghost will get you.

Naturally, kids feel the need to test the legend by doing “bravery initiations”.

Much like The Grudge movies, this one jumps between stories of kids who have died after doing the initiation in the past as a young woman in the present day investigates the deaths of more students.

It’s everything you could want in this kind of Asian horror flick, with a creepy-crawly ghost girl pursuing them around campus and delivering some eerie atmosphere. As derivative as it is, there are some fun surprise twists concerning the curse during the denouement. I’m also convinced one scene is inspired by that true story about the young Asian woman who was found dead in a hotel water tower after acting very strange on elevator security camera footage.

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PRIME TIME: werewolves, a shadowman, and a humorous anthology

I was satisfied with two out of three with this selection from my Prime watchlist, so let’s find out which ones.

WEREWOLF CASTLE (2021)

I’m always there when director Charlie Steeds makes a new horror flick, and considering I purchased his last flick, A Werewolf in England, on DVD, I was psyched to discover his latest is another werewolf film.

Werewolf Castle is more of a medieval action horror flick, with a young man becoming the unlikely hero when his village is attacked by a pack of werewolves.

No CGI here—these are awesome, old school werewolf costumes and bloody effects. And there’s no cloaking these werewolves in shadows or dark; many of the action scenes take place in broad daylight.

After a village massacre, a team is sent on a journey to the castle of the king to ask for help in taking down the beasts. The cute leading boy, who was busy having sex in a barn during the attack (and showing off his booty), offers to be the navigator.

His worth is questioned by his peers, but as their adventure continues, he proves to be a major asset and steps up to take on the vicious werewolves each time they attack.

It all leads to a final battle that is not only bloody and violent…it’s darkly sexy.

AWAKEN THE SHADOWMAN (2017)

Eh. I don’t even know why I bother to watch these supernatural specter movies. They’re all the same—countless moments of the apparition appearing in the background with a stinger sound to deliver a jump scare that is followed up with absolutely no action. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it…by about the fourth time this happens in these movies, the supernatural entity has lost all its potency and you no longer feel a hint of fear.

Anyway, a dude is called to his mother’s home by the brother he’s been estranged from because the brother sort of stole his ex.

He now has his own woman and a baby, but the tension is still there.

The mom (played by Jean Smart) has gone missing, and the brothers slowly begin to work together to figure out what became of her by talking to various weird members of the community.

The dark demon silhouette is creepy the first time, then it just gets thrown in now and then to keep reminding us this is a horror movie since nothing really intense happens for a majority of the film.

In the end this kind of gives off hints of Rosemary’s Baby.

A COMEDY OF HORRORS, VOLUME 1 (2021)

Boldly labeling itself as volume one, A Comedy of Horrors proves to be an anthology I would totally welcome a sequel to. It might be a little uneven, but overall it really captures the dark, semi-humorous tone of classic anthology flicks of the 80s.

The wraparound alone is a blast, with a wicked teacher sitting down to read her students some scary stories…

1st – a clown party turns into a massacre in 1988. That’s cool, but this story is just a little too silly for my tastes. In the present day, the town in which history begins to repeat itself is fully inhabited by clowns, including the two cops on the case. There are some funny moments and some slashing, but this is just bizarre overall.

2nd – this one reminded me of the movie Benny Loves You. A dude with a puppet has a date, and she’s obsessed with his puppet…which he tries to warn her is actually a monster. You can imagine where this is going.

3rd story – a campy bachelorette massacre tale, this one turns into a battle to the death as a group of girls gathers in a house to celebrate one girlfriend’s big day.

4th – this is my absolute favorite of the bunch. A movie actor finally scores a role as a superhero and goes to get fit for his costume. The special effects dude turns out to be a bit of a psycho who uses the molds he casts as voodoo dolls.

And finally, it’s back to the wraparound for the teacher to give her students a lesson they’ll never forget.

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BOUGHT ON BLU AND DVD: the 70s, 80s, and 90s

Made for television in the 70s, lost in the 80s, and the sixties sequelized in the 90s. Let’s take a look at three more I just added to my collection.

TERROR OUT OF THE SKY (1978)

This is actually a sequel to the 1976 made-for-TV movie The Savage Bees, which I probably saw on television when I was kid. I purchased Terror Out of the Sky for an anal, obsessive reason—it was the only horror movie in which Grizzly Adams starred that I didn’t yet have in my collection. Ah, Dan Haggerty, with that delicious beard and feathered 70s hair.

Anyway, now that I own and have watched this one, I feel no need to buy the first film. This isn’t even a direct continuation, features none of the same characters or actors, and is just total dullsville.

Scientists engineer evil queen bees and accidentally send a bunch of them out to beekeepers to add to their hives.

It’s up to Dan Haggerty, who plays a pilot, to fly the heroes of the film to various locations to retrieve the queens before it’s too late. There are a couple of bee attacks along the way, and a surprisingly gnarly shot of a post-attack victim’s face, but it is all just totally mundane.

The big climax has killer bees wreaking havoc on an outdoor family event, entrapping a bunch of kids in a school bus, and a mission that requires a beekeeper to be lowered down onto the bus from a helicopter to attract all the bees onto him so he can then transport them to an enclosed environment.

It’s all about as 1970s made-for-TV as it gets…except for that post-attack face. EEK.

THE KISS (1988)

I’ve waited so long for this one to get a Blu-ray release, but it just isn’t happening, so I finally picked up a Spanish DVD release…which means one of the boutique labels will probably announce a Blu-ray release any day.

The Kiss is one of a long line of movies about a distant relative or stranger that comes to live with a family and proves to be a witchy woman.

In this case, two sisters are separated as children. Years later, one sister gets a call from the other sister. Soon after she dies in an awesomely gruesome car accident, her sister shows for the funeral, and the husband invites her to stay with him and his teen daughter.

It’s a pretty basic plot. The mother’s sister seduces the husband. People close to the family start dying mysterious deaths. The daughter begins to figure out that her mother’s sister is some sort of witch.

But what sets this film apart is the hilariously cheesy and freaky stray cat minion that attacks the family any chance it gets.

It totally steals the show, along with the slug thing that slithers out of the witch’s mouth during the final battle to chase the daughter around the pool in the backyard.

The most laughable moment of all is when the family friend tries desperately but keeps failing to drag the daughter out of the pool as the slug gets closer and closer…when there’s literally a ladder the daughter could use to just climb out of the pool right next to her.

THE BIRDS II: LAND’S END (1994)

It’s astounding to see people still shitting all over this movie. I get that it’s a sequel to a Hitchcock classic, but let’s put things into perspective here. It came out over thirty years later, and it was made for TV, so why would you even watch this at all if you were expecting some sort of high-quality sequel? Then consider that it took only a little over a decade for us to get from the masterpiece Jaws to Jaws: The Revenge, which is the equivalent of The Birds 2. Then take into account that Jaws existing inevitably led us to six Sharknado movies, and people watched the fuck out of those.

In other words, The Birds 2 is exactly what you should expect. It comes to us from Rick Rosenthal, the director of Halloween II and Halloween: Resurrection, and it does just what it’s supposed to do—rehashes the original, throws in the crucial cameo, ups the gore, and leaves things open-ended for another bad sequel.

So a guy comes with his wife, daughters, and dog to an island for the summer. They’re still grieving the loss of their son. The wife starts getting too chummy with a photographer played by James Naughton. Tippi Hedren, the original queen of The Birds, has a small role as a woman who works at a general store.

And of course, the birds start acting weird. They land on swings and jungle gyms a lot. They seem determined to attack the main guy as much as possible. I can see why.

And they even seem to be smart enough to get revenge on anyone who knows too much about them and smart enough to cut phone lines when people try to call for help.

Yes, it’s all that bad.

Even worse? The family dog gets attacked and dies.

There’s none of the tension and mesmerizing camerawork from Hitchcock’s original, but the situations from 30 years before are mentioned, and the final act is a blast. Everyone on the island flocks to the docks to get away, and it becomes total chaos as the birds make a meal out of all of them. Plus, some dumb ass shoots a bird with a flare gun and causes a chain reaction of explosions in the process. Most unforgettable is when the family hides under a flipped boat; the screaming daughters are more irritating than the screeching birds pecking at it.

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BOUGHT ON BLU: killers and creatures of the 60s and 70s

This trio of flicks I added to my collection comes from 1969, 1976, and 1977, and includes a psycho killer, Bigfoot, and a melting man!

HORROR HOUSE (aka: The Haunted House of Horror) (1969)

I had to pick this one up because people online say it’s an early slasher, and, more importantly, it now ensures I have every horror movie in which Frankie Avalon stars (that would be this one and Blood Song).

The late sixties party vibe is groovy, and a bunch of kids take off to check out an old spooky house William Castle would envy, but I was a little disappointed in the lack of a body count.

These kids go on this excursion. Awesome. A creepy old dude is basically stalking one girl and follows her there. Cool. The kids split up using candles for light to explore the place. Yay. They decide to have a séance. Excellent.

Then, one guy gets slashed in a seriously stylized kill scene vibrant with bright red blood. Nice.

When the friends decide to get rid of the body for fear they’ll be accused of the murder and it will ruin their lives, I was so thinking I Know What You Did Last Summer.

But then they go on with their life and no one comes to kill them. WTF? One person gets murdered because they go back to the house, but everyone else is just paranoid since detectives start asking questions about their missing friend.

Eventually the final act saves the film. Three of the kids decide to return to the house to try to figure out who the killer is, the killer is revealed, the killer’s motivation is explained, and someone gets stabbed in the crotch!

But a crotch kill isn’t enough. I still wish there had been more bodies.

CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)

While all the other Bigfoot movies were taking themselves so seriously during the Sasquatch panic of the 1970s, Creature from Black Lake captured the same backwoods atmosphere while having fun with the concept instead.

It wouldn’t be a Bigfoot movie if it didn’t begin with a professor giving a lecture on the creature. After class, two college students decide to head off into the woods to research the creature.

There’s subtle humor along the way as they go on their adventure, which makes them all the more likable.

They spend much of the film meeting up with various rednecks, who give them eyewitness accounts of Bigfoot, which we see in flashbacks.

The cool thing about this movie is that there are plenty of teasing shots of Bigfoot, and most of them are during the day. However, there is never really any full Monty facial shot, so I did the best I could to grab a still from a fleeting moment…

The climactic hunt and battle with Bigfoot takes place in the final chapter, and that’s at night. It’s also a pretty exciting sequence for a low budget indie.

THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)

I’ve never seen a man melt so fast. Seriously, The Incredible Melting Man wastes little time in pushing its creep to skeletal levels of goo.

An astronaut returns from a space trip gone wrong, ends up in a hospital, wakes up, and then flips out and tears off all his bandages to reveal his melting condition.

This leads to a totally trippy, so 1970s horror scene of a nurse running and screaming in slow motion down a hall that looks like…a kennel?

Anyway, a scientist is assigned to find the missing melting man, who leaves a trail of drippings and dead bodies as he continues to ooze and kill random people until finally staking out the scientist’s house.

This is just icky, eerie fun as our melting man gets grosser and grosser while on the run. There’s simply not much more to this movie. It’s basically just a slasher with killer POV, stalking, gore, home invasions, and a melting killer. I couldn’t ask for more.

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I took a trip to the Fear Pharm…

…and then went back for more! After numerous marathons of “smart horror” in my Shudder watchlist, I seriously needed to actually get back to enjoying horror again with simple fun, and this double feature did the job. I’m definitely going to be adding these two films to my personal collection.

FEAR PHARM (2020)

Yay! A humorous indie throwback to early 2000s slashers that takes a basic premise (kids visit a haunted maze), gives us what we expect, and yet also throws in a few silly surprises to deliver pure fun. If I have one complaint it would be that despite the IMDb description describing Fear PHarm as a Halloween film, the holiday is never referenced in any way. Pumpkin and hay bale displays at the entrance to the corn maze are the most you get, so I’d say it’s a good fall season horror flick more than Halloween specific.

Things start off perfect, with a naked woman being chased by a bunch of masked killers and getting gruesomely hacked up.

15 years later, we jump right into some sexy times between two of our four attractive main kids.

Not only are they all likable, they decide quickly to head off to the haunted maze.

Next we meet the crazy family that owns and runs the place. Unlike the usual backwoods nuts, these are smart entrepreneurs.

While some of the family members always wear their haunter costumes (including a muscle hunk in a mask), the patriarch is a sexy daddy, and the “slutty” daughter is the “scientist” in the family.

After introductions are done, our four main kids learn they’ve earned a chance to win money if they get through one of several secret mazes. They decide they can quadruple their chances of winning…by splitting up!

As the sun starts to set, the cast is treated to some cheap scares before shit gets real. The bummer here is that there are only four kids and you really like them all and don’t get enough time with them, so you hate to see them die. But die they must.

Good chases, good gore, some tame but still nasty torture, plenty of understated humor,  a great assortment of psycho killers, an awesome final girl, and a campy, unique killer motivation make this one a blast, so naturally I had to check out the sequel.

FEAR PHARM 2 (2021)

Considering both films are less than 80 minutes long and this continues the story of the main girl from the first movie, it makes sense to just watch the first film and the sequel as one long movie.

As is often the case with sequels, this one gives us some backstory and more over-the-top plot points, offers a higher body count, brings different psycho members of the family to the forefront, amplifies the characteristics of each killer, and pumps up our main girl with even more fight.

There are some story elements involving the family’s business, but they’re not all that important.

The film is well aware of that and therefore doesn’t take long to just line up a whole new bunch of kids for the slaughter.

This time it’s a gaggle of girls running through the maze, and they ensure that there are plenty of chase scenes, fights scenes, death scenes, and gore.

Basically this sequel makes up for the shortcomings of the first film by giving us more of everything we couldn’t get enough of with only four main characters the first time around.

Fear Pharm 2 is fast-paced slasher action from start to finish, and the main girl rox once again.

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SHUDDER & SHRIEK: wiping out the watchlist

It’s the final purge for now, with the last three films I had in my Shudder watchlist at the moment, so let’s get right into them.

NIGHT’S END (2022)

Night’s End is one of those films with a story told predominantly through video chat. It also has a fantastically cheesy horror denouement that takes me back to horror of the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, you have to sit through 70 minutes of video chats to get to those awesome final ten minutes.

A reclusive dude who lives in a building that only has one other apartment, which is vacant, is trying to become an internet sensation in any way he can. I immediately became disconnected from this character because his hobby is collecting dead birds that he keeps in plastic bags in his freezer and displays all over his apartment. WTF?

And then…he starts freaking out when the dead birds start falling off the wall and appearing around his apartment. Insert palm to forehead emoji here…

His viewers begin to suggest maybe his apartment is haunted. There are knocks on the door, he hears the door opening and closing, and he sees weird stuff in the camera on his videos.

He turns to friends and strangers online as he researches the paranormal. He learns of an axe murderer that lived in his apartment. And eventually, a handful of the people he chats with throughout the film sign on all at once to talk him through a ritual to rid himself of his ghost, which is when all hell breaks loose.

If you’re in the mood for some cheap last minute thrills, there is some footage of the leading man shirtless in the middle of the movie to help kill the time it takes to get there.

ON THE 3RD DAY (2021)

It was only after skimming through this movie again as I grabbed screenshots for this post that I realized that while it’s such a disjointed mess the first time around, it can be appreciated a little more once you know what it was going for.

A woman has a car accident while driving with her young son at night, eventually wakes up in a hospital, and can’t remember what happened or where her son is. The film then takes us on an out of order journey revealing what happened.

Unfortunately, it tosses in scenes of the guy who was driving the car that hit her holding another woman hostage in a box.

To confuse matters more, it also throws in scenes of him having nightmares. Plus, there are what feel like fever dreams the main woman is having as she is hypnotized and recalls incidents leading up to her getting in the car with her son. Argh!

In the final chapter, the truth is revealed, and it involves a creepy cool version of a classic monster.

There’s also a twist that only has an impact if you go back and watch the movie again, because it’s simply lost in all the chaos of the way the narrative is handled here, which is a damn shame.

MOLOCH (2022)

Moloch is a bit too slow and low energy for my tastes, however, it has some tense moments and an unnerving tone and will most likely get under your skin if you’re into movies about local legends and curses.

A woman lives with her young daughter, her ill mother, and her father, who believes that something is inevitably coming to get them due to a family curse.

Following the death of a homeless man near their home, the family experiences a terrifying home invasion that triggers a series of mysterious situations.

The mystery of the curse plaguing them unfolds very slowly, so an intense escalation of cultish events in the final act when the truth comes out feels a bit jarring. It’s also the most thrilling part of the film other than that earlier home invasion.

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SHUDDER AND SHRIEK: a haunted house, vampire urges, and an eerie island

I guess the upside is that this wasn’t another marathon of grief porn like the last three Shudder horror flicks I posted about the other day. The films in this trio are at least distinctly different, so let’s get into them.

HOME WITH A VIEW OF THE MONSTER (2019)

This film is broken into chapters, but they shouldn’t have been labeled chronologically considering there’s a damn jumping timeline and you’re almost sure to not understand what’s going on if you’re not warned ahead of time. Even if you are warned going into it…well…good luck trying to figure everything out.

I’ll try to describe it as best as I can. A young straight couple buys a house really cheap because it’s haunted. The house starts to have a negative effect on their relationship. They decide to go on a vacation and rent the place out.

They rent it to a guy and girl who have just met and are kind of having a spur of the moment fling. It so happens that one of them is looking to commit murder, and the other is looking to commit suicide.

The two plots eventually come together when the couple that owns the house comes home early and meets one of the renters, who is wielding an axe and says there’s a dangerous force in their house.

It’s all mysterious and moody, but it’s also quite convoluted, so how much you enjoy it depends on your level of patience for this kind of attempt to break the storytelling mold.

DEAD & BEAUTIFUL (2021)

Another Shudder movie, another selection pushing me closer to cancelling the service. It seems like any movie Shudder has that’s actually horror was made before the year 2000, and I own every single one of them on disc. All their new stuff is either bland elevated horror or artsy films that barely resemble horror.

What can I say about Dead & Beautiful? I don’t intend to say much, so let’s start with this—it’s basically the Nicholas Cage film Vampire’s Kiss with a bunch of pretty rich kids thinking they’ve become vampires.

We get plenty of neon lights and stylish visuals, plus a sensual montage of shirtless guys dancing in slow motion.

Other than that it’s all talk for over 90 minutes as these richies try to embrace being vampires, which mostly consists of them not even having the actual desire to suck someone’s blood (which should tip them off that maybe they aren’t even vampires).

OFFSEASON (2021)

As I was watching Offseason, several movies kept coming to mind—Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Messiah of Evil, and Silent Hill. Actually, the Silent Hill movies and video games came to mind. This could easily have been marketed as Silent Hill 3.

A woman and her man are called to a small island by a cemetery caretaker who says her mother’s grave has been desecrated. Once they arrive, they find the cemetery, but not the caretaker.

The goal is to get off the island before a drawbridge goes up, but they miss their opportunity. They somehow get split up and she spends much of the movie alone, running through isolated, foggy locations and encountering creepy people.

The atmosphere is fantastic and there are some tense scenes, but it really is just a total clone of Silent Hill. The empty streets are ominously foggy. All the stores and building are vacant. The horn that blares through town is the warning that the drawbridge is going up, and the drawbridge replaces the fractured streets that keep you trapped in Silent Hill. The main girl even has to find a specific item to help her operate the panel that raises the drawbridge. Ah. Survival horror.

However, there’s one crucial aspect of Silent Hill missing—no freaky creatures. There are finally some suspenseful run-ins with supernatural beings, but they’re mostly crammed into the last half hour.

The highlight for me was the most intense, Silent Hill-esque moment of all; she’s trapped in a dark room with just a flashlight as something begins to morph into a monster in the corner. Eek!

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BOUGHT ON BLU AND DVD: like father like son

The time came to fill in gaps in my collection once again, and this time it was any titles I was missing from Mario Bava and his son Lamberto Bava. So let’s get into four from each.

LIKE FATHER

HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)

Hatchet for the Honeymoon shows a very restrained, overly artistic side of Mario Bava before he chose to go for the gruesome gusto a year later with A Bay of Blood (below). There’s definitely substance here, but it’s overshadowed by the style. However, I definitely see it foreshadowing films of the 80s slasher boom like Maniac (the perspective is from that of a crazed killer) and He Knows You’re Alone (the killer’s victims are brides to be).

Our strikingly handsome psycho runs a bridal business filled with creepy mannequins and hacks up clients with a sparkly cleaver because he believes doing so will help him recall childhood trauma he blocked out. Sadly, we never see any of the kills or gore because they’re always awash in a distorted reflection in the weapon’s blade.

He burns the bodies up in his own personal incinerator and then buries them in his greenhouse. Even the arrogant rich woman he’s married to ends up as fertilizer.

This is where the film goes from slasher to supernatural. His dead wife starts haunting him, but there’s a catch—he doesn’t see her, yet everyone around him sees her and thinks it’s just…her. They don’t realize it’s a ghost! Weird movie.

One of the most disappointing aspects for me (aside from the lack of death scenes) is that there’s an opportunity to be 1970s subversive, but the film opts not to, perhaps for fear of ripping off Psycho.

Our killer at one point chases around his victim while wearing a bridal veil, and the whole concept of his kills revolves around brides, so it would have been logical for him to always dress in bridal drag to kill his female victims, but the film simply refuses to go for it. Bummer.

A BAY OF BLOOD (1971)

The eloquent and creative first kill of a countess in a wheelchair at her house as piano music plays is doubled with a second murder that makes this one of few horror films I’ve ever seen that opens with a twist.

Next, teens break into the house to party. It’s a Friday the 13th precursor as a killer with a machete hacks them up.

In fact, a couple of these deaths were recreated in Friday the 13th Part 2, so keep an eye out for them. This section is the highlight of the movie and it’s quite gory.

As if beginning a different movie, the countess’s family then descends on the house and plot to kill each other to get the inheritance. It’s an asinine kill or be killed situation in which everyone is a murderer and everyone is a victim.

I haven’t seen shit this pointless since that dumb ass season of Slasher in which all those despicable rich people play death games knowing their own relatives are going to die, yet get all emotional when a killer starts picking them off one by one instead.

The only interesting elements of all this literal backstabbing is a witchy woman who lives next door, a nasty scene involving an octopus, and a body reveal moment featuring all the dead kids from the first part of the movie.

BARON BLOOD (1972)

This kind of feels like Mario Bava’s attempt to cash in on the success of all the Hammer Films. I didn’t hate it, although I could have done without the terrible seventies muzak that serves as the score.

A young man exploring his family roots comes to a castle that belonged to his sadistic Baron ancestor, who was cursed by a witch. The young man does an incantation that is supposed to resurrect the Baron, and it works!

The Baron crawls from his grave looking all decayed, and for a while this feels like a slasher. Yay! As for the lurking Baron, he kind of gives off a Mr. Hyde vibe.

Eventually it’s up to the young man to send him back to the grave. The final act definitely has that Hammer Films horror melodrama vibe, and there’s a twist concerning the Baron that is rather predictable. Ramping up the horror, some zombies are tossed in at the end.

LISA AND THE DEVIL (aka: House of Exorcism) (1974)

This is an intriguing case of a Mario Bava movie that was “revised” and retitled in the wake of the popularity of The Exorcist. If I’m reading the original cut right, it is essentially way ahead of its time, serving as a template for that streak of films like ten years ago that were all about groups of people unable to escape a location, not realizing they’re actually dead and trapped in hell or purgatory. Problem is this movie gets so lost in its twists and turns that the strength of the main premise is obliterated.

Lisa is touring Spain when she sees a mural of the devil…who looks exactly like Telly Savalas.

She then sees Telly buying a realistic looking male mannequin in a store. She then ends up staying the night at a house in which Telly Savalas is the butler.

The house is owned by a handsome man and his creepy mother. Lisa is haunted by a real version of Savalas’s mannequin, the son seems to speak to a ghost, and Lisa soon learns she looks just like his ex-girlfriend…

As things get increasingly weirder, there’s a chain of people killing each other, giving me flashbacks to the loathsome family in A Bay Of Blood. This kind of murder and mayhem plot does absolutely nothing for me. Give me one psycho killer in a mask and a whole bunch of victims and I’m good. It’s just no fun when everyone is bad.

Speaking of victims, at least this film has a good old body reveal party near the end. But I guess the most intriguing aspect is the purpose of Savalas’s mannequin and the way Lisa just can’t seem to escape it.

So how does the House of Exorcism cut from 1975 differ? It’s like they took two different movies and alternated back and forth in showing clips from each. In the process, they gutted so much of the plot of Lisa and the Devil that the scenes used make absolutely no sense.

The actress playing Lisa was simply called back to film a bunch of scenes of her lying in bed in possessed mode, cursing up a storm and spitting green pea soup at a priest. More than Linda Blair in The Exorcist, she reminds me of Juliet Mills in Beyond the Door. She does do some pretty wild physical work with her body that neither of her predecessors did, though. She also morphs into a naked woman the priest knew at some point in a poor effort to give him a backstory, and she seems to either eat or spit out frogs.

Anyway, after we meet Lisa in the opening scene and she runs into Savalas and his mannequin, she now passes out in the street, and her friend and a priest (both newly written into the movie) take her to a hospital. So begin all the exorcism scenes in between clips from the original movie, with the crazed, demonic Lisa supposedly still having the wherewithal to recount what she went through while staying at a house with a crazy dude, his mother, and Telly Savalas.

In the end, I have no idea what story she’s trying to tell or how it’s supposed to have led to her possession.

LIKE SON

MIDNIGHT KILLER (aka: You’ll Die at Midnight) (1986)

In between making Demons movies in the mid-80s, Lamberto Bava moved away from his gorefests and mostly towards Italian giallos/80s slasher hybrids.

Midnight Killer is a perfect example, with giallo sensibilities, from the stylish kill scenes to a detective on a complex case, and pacing and chase scenes that give off some exciting 80s slasher vibes.

After an officer of the law has a vicious fight with his wife and then she is brutally murdered in the shower, he becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders. However, his psychologist begins to suspect that the murderer is actually a deceased serial killer!

There are several alluring death scenes of women targeted in unique locations, like an abandoned amphitheater and a clothes store, and what’s really creepy is that the psychologist and some of the people she’s close to catch sight of the dead serial killer’s face. Eek!

There’s a totally 80s moment when a guy spies on a girl doing aerobics in her best 80s exercise attire, a bogus death sequence that turns out to be a dream (why not just actually kill another person?), and the highlight of the film, several girls getting trapped in an empty hotel as the killer hunts them down in the final act.

Best of all, this killer doesn’t do the slow walk…there’s some major running going on. Yikes!

Strike that. Actual best of all? The girl who takes on the killer with an electric mixer.

BODY PUZZLE (1992)

Movies about a killer gathering pieces of people to create a full body were all the rage in the 80s and early 90s. However, by adding a giallo vibe, which means numerous confusing twists along the way, Lamberto Bava definitely injects some intrigue into what would otherwise just be a basic slasher.

A mad pianist goes around killing people to harvest the transplants they’ve received so he can put back together the person from which the parts came. Fantastic.

Meanwhile, he’s terrifying a widow, played by Joanna Pacula (Virus, The Kiss). He digs up her husband’s grave and takes the remains. He sneaks into her home and leaves body parts. And in true giallo fashion, he peeps through windows as she walks around a mansion that looks like a work of modern art while wearing a flowing nightgown.

It being the early 90s, the detective on the case becomes romantically involved with the widow.

But let’s get to the good stuff. In the English dubbed version, the death scenes are set to the classical music piece “Night on Bald Mountain” (the ominous composition used during the Devil segment of Fantasia).

Stand out moments include a fucked up scene of a teacher being killed right in front of her class of blind students, a pool scene that feels like Jaws with a knife, an almost comical tug-of-war between the killer and the detective with a woman stuck on a gurney trapped in elevator doors, a body in a freezer scene with an illogical but awesome pay-off, and a hilariously sped up car chase.

The twists concerning the killer’s identity are what really make Body Puzzle stand out from the usual body part collector slasher, and there’s even a gay subplot!

THE TORTURER (2005)

This one gets written off as Lamberto Bava’s desperate attempt to keep up with the times by going the torture porn route.

It feels like two different movies melded together because the main storyline is interspersed with gratuitous torture scenes, totally done in that sea green Saw tint, showing graphic depictions of women being mutilated (there’s a particularly nasty nipple scene). Despite feeling cheap and low budget, it’s much nastier than sleek, polished, Hollywood torture horror of the time.

The plot concerns a young woman who goes on an audition for an underground director, sleeps with him, discovers her missing friend’s earring during that encounter, and decides to sneak back into his house to find out what’s really going on.

If you pay attention, this is actually a commentary on the entire torture porn subgenre, making a statement about what kind of person you have to be to go as far as some directors do in presenting torture in their films.

GHOST SON (2007)

While this is a tame take on horror for a Lamberto Bava film, it has one icky fricking plot.

A straight couple living in Africa has a wonderful, loving relationship. Then he dies in a car accident and for no apparent reason returns as a sadistic incubus who just wants to hurt his wife. It makes no sense.

But what makes this movie worse? The wife seems to get pregnant after a sex session with the ghost and gives birth to a baby, which appears to be possessed by her husband.

It’s like Rosemary’s Baby with a sex drive. I really was dumbfounded by what I was watching. The baby sucks viciously on its mom’s tit while feeding, drawing blood.

Every time the wife has an encounter with her husband after that, the sex partner appears first as the baby then morphs into the husband. This includes a sex scene in the shower that begins with the baby’s hand feeling up the mom’s tit. WTF?

All this weird sexualization of a baby aside, the only part that gave me a chuckle was when the baby went full Linda Blair and projectile vomited all over the mother.

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SHUDDER: the home of grief porn?

We’re in the heat of my favorite genre being overrun by “elevated horror” where the goal isn’t to scare us, gross us out, make us cringe, make us scream with glee, or cause us to throw our popcorn in the air with giggling nervousness. Instead, the objective is to establish that grief is a metaphor for horror…and I’m so damn over it.

Shudder is leading the charge in saturating the market with these types of movies that aren’t scary, just depressing. Hereditary did it. Hereditary did it best. Just watch Hereditary.

But if you simply live for the depths of darkness and despair in horror, here are the three latest films I checked out on Shudder that all revolve around grief.

WOE (2020)

Woe is me for sitting through so much grief porn when I could have been watching horror. I honestly can’t even tell you what the ultimate point of Woe is beyond it being a profile in grief.

A man dies. His son, daughter, and her husband come to the house afterward. The son spends all his time fixing things.

The daughter plans to sell the car in which the dad died without telling him.

The dad’s brother is somehow involved.

Eventually there’s a coffin in the woods and there’s a moment involving a scary face to let us know this was a horror movie.

MARTYRS LANE (2021)

It’s another movie Shudder presented as horror that’s actually about grief with some minor supernatural elements.

A little girl has a religious father, a mother that can barely function as she seems to be suffering from depression, and an older sister that tends to torment her.

She begins having encounters with a ghostly little girl who wears angel wings and regularly sends her on scavenger hunts to find a variety of objects hidden around her house.

The ghost girl gets progressively more aggressive and eventually malevolent.

The final confrontation with the ghost girl after the mother explains her issues is kind of sad and tragic, but at least the ghost girl is pissed and starts tossing shit around with her supernatural ghost powers.

AN UNQUIET GRAVE (2020)

Once again, there’s nothing scary here, although there is morbidity. Of these three films, this is my favorite in terms of the plot, however, it’s a tale that could have been told in 30 minutes as part of an anthology. Hell, most grief porn could be handled that way. Grief porn anthologies could be the next thing.

Anyway, a man grieving the loss of his wife convinces her twin sister to help him do a ritual to bring her back.

They go out to the grave at night to work their magic.

Once the wife is resurrected, she has to cope with being alive again and the sacrifice that was made in order for her to be there. Can her husband convince her to stay with him instead of going back to the grave?

It’s definitely a tale about grief and selfishness with a moral lesson, and there’s some “visiting a grave at night” atmosphere…just don’t expect anything frightening to happen.

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SHUDDER AND SHRIEK: a glory hole, wicked witches, and a horror anthology

It’s a variety of horror subgenres in this trio of films I knocked off my Shudder watchlist.

GLORIOUS (2022)

Turning True Blood pretty boy Jason Stackhouse and a glory hole plot into a talkfest is a waste of a concept. If you want a glory hole movie that delivers on being as nasty as the title promises, just watch Hole in the Wall.

I guess the goal of Glorious is to go for the Lovecraft setup—one lone man enters an unthinkable predicament that both terrifies him and challenges everything he knows about life as he confronts something otherworldly that threatens all of humanity.

Jason Stackhouse is having an emotional breakdown after a breakup and ends up in a bathroom at an isolated rest stop, which leads me to say right up front that the movie Rest Stop does a way better job of being a whole movie featuring someone stuck in a bathroom that actually keeps you engaged and on the edge of your seat.

So Jason Stackhouse pukes in a bathroom stall and then begins having a conversation with a man in the stall next to his through a glory hole that is surrounded by a painting that looks like The Deadly Spawn.

As we are bombarded by nonstop talk, the “being” in the next stall inevitably tells Jason Stackhouse he’s an unearthly life form that needs Jason Stackhouse’s help to save the world from destruction.

Jason Stackhouse can’t escape the restroom, and so the being has to coerce him into giving him what he wants through the glory hole. If only it were as pervy as it sounds. In fact, the absolute funniest and most entertaining moment comes when Jason Stackhouse tries to give the being exactly what he thinks it’s hungry for through the glory hole. But I’m pretty sure any gay guy who watches this is going to feel as I did—appropriation with no pay-off!

On the bright side, we do eventually see a very Lovecraftian, tentacled monster.

HELLBENDER (2021)

This is a moody, melancholy flick about a family of witchcraft addicts…that doesn’t have much of a plot.

It’s beautifully shot and notable for having been created by an actual family that stars and even plays their own original songs during some rocker girl band scenes, however it simply doesn’t go much of anywhere.

The focus is entirely on a mother who practices witchcraft in and around her house in the woods while trying to raise her teen daughter to be a good witch…yet seems to have fallen off the black magic wagon herself.

They eat weird things, sacrifice animals, revel in blood, and even kill men now and then.

Not much else happens beyond them bonding and her daughter losing her grip on her powers while they frolic in the woods together.

But like I said, it’s visually compelling and atmospheric, so if you’re into the dark witchcraft thing, you might really appreciate it.

ALLEGORIA (2022)

A cool concept for an anthology, this film is summed up in its title if you’re into art and literature.

Running only 70 minutes long, Allegoria jumps right into its tales with no wraparound. Every story is fun and spooky, but the bones of each story are essentially the same; a creative person unleashes evil through their craft.

–a drama teacher pushes his acting students to be as terrifying as possible

–a handsome artist unleashes the darkness in his paintings

–a writer’s killer character is manifested in reality

–featuring two familiar horror faces—Scout Taylor-Compton and the geek Warren from Buffy—this is a tale of a photographer looking for a new subject to shoot

–a rocker’s music is a gateway to evil

It’s short, to the point, and a bit repetitive, but taking each tale on its own, this one features some quality production and is one of the more entertaining anthologies I’ve seen in a while.

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