DIRECT TO STREAMING: slashing and slaying with Louisa Warren

I’ve already covered several films from director Louisa Warren because I like her brand of low budget horror, which has a definite retro VHS days feel to it, but she’s so prolific that I suddenly had a bunch of catching up to do—5 films in total!

THE LEPRECHAUN’S GAME (2020)

If you need another movie about a killer leprechaun to fill up your St. Patrick’s Day, The Leprechaun’s Game clones the basics of the iconic series for this low budget slasher, so it lands on the holiday horror page.

Several people that really need money take a job from a rich guy who collects unusual things. This time around he wants a leprechaun’s gold.

Amazingly, the group finds it fairly quickly in the woods. They decide they’re better off keeping the gold than collecting a reward. Big mistake.

Here’s where things get disappointing. The leprechaun is a tall dude in a mask with a deep voice, so I don’t quite get a leprechaun vibe from him. You have to watch this more as a typical slasher film than a leprechaun film.

He systematically goes through the process of hunting down and killing the thieves in a variety of ways, often using magical powers presented with 1980s level computer special effects, so there’s that.

VIRTUAL DEATH MATCH (2020)

Movies in which a group of people is trapped in a controlled environment and has to take on a series of familiar psychos have become a subgenre of their own in the past decade or so, to the point that even Rob Zombie jumped on the bandwagon with his film 31.

This hack ‘n’ slash type horror is good for cheap thrills and delivers plenty of chaos, gore, and gritty grindhouse filters, but it’s just not one of my go-to subgenres because it simply doesn’t deliver on scares, atmosphere, or surprises.

Usually, there isn’t even much in the way of character development, but Louisa Warren tries to address that. This film is all about the characters—a group of individuals desperate for money for a variety of personal reasons. They are lured into a “virtual reality” horror game that turns out to not be virtual at all; die in the game and you die in real life. Delving into the feelings of each and every character actually makes the film too long, and it clocks in at about 110 minutes. Eek!

Even so, there is still plenty of running, screaming, and slashing, as the “players” face off against staples of the genre—scarecrow, evil nuns, clowns—and kudos to Warren for making one of the bad ass clowns a woman!

Much of the film takes place in daylight, and there’s a lot of CGI blood splash, but that tends to be standard for this type of film.

SCARECROW’S REVENGE (2019)

Despite already having a couple of modern day scarecrow films under her belt (Bride of Scarecrow, Curse of the Scarecrow), Warren decided to make another one with a title that sounds totally like a sequel for a movie that totally is not.

Scarecrow’s Revenge is a period piece—blech—about a man who does horrible things to a woman in a Viking town, is banished, then goes to a witch for help in seeking revenge. In exchange for his soul, she makes him into a killer scarecrow.

And so…this turns into a killer scarecrow slasher in a Viking town. That’s really all there is to it. If you like killer scarecrow movies and can cope with all the Viking drama, there’s a scarecrow and there are kills.

The film takes place entirely during daylight in the woods, so it’s not big on spooky atmosphere, and the witch is perhaps a little less witchy than I prefer, but she does ignite with some magical special effects right out of 80s horror.

THE MERMAID’S CURSE (2019)

Before going into this one, you have to come to terms with the fact that the title and promotional art are misleading. There are no mermaids. This is about sirens that roam the beach, singing their seductive songs to lure young men to their deaths.

For a low budget flick, it’s still pretty satisfying, with blood, plenty of kills, sex, and nudity. The opening kill even features a dude with a hot bod getting it.

The sirens have some gnarly face makeup, but they aren’t exceptionally creepy. However, they do essentially bite their victims like vampires.

The main character is a young man doing a story about the rash of male deaths on the beach. He comes upon a wounded siren, assumes she’s just an injured woman, and brings her home, inviting some major trouble into his life.

What was disappointing to me was that his relationship with his roommate is so intense that they really should have been gay together. That also would have given him more motivation for wanting to know why young men are being targeted and would have complicated matters for the siren.

A cool element of the film is that it gives a backstory to the existence of the sirens and ties it into women being accused of and treated as witches back in the day.

TOOTH FAIRY 2: THE ROOT OF EVIL (2020)

This sequel to Tooth Fairy takes place 15 years later.

The opening is a reminder of why I keep coming back for more Louisa Warren horror, with tight camera shots and eerie shadows and horror lighting as the tooth fairy makes her first appearance.

Then we meet our main guy, who was a kid in the first movie and now suffers some serious PTSD. He gets invited to a reunion with friends at a cabin in the woods, where he begins having flashbacks to the first movie and hears the tooth fairy calling to him.

Making matters worse, a couple of the guys really hate him, so they decide to fuck with him by having a séance to summon the tooth fairy. Needless to say…

The tooth fairy is back and just as creepy as the first time. But as the bodies pile up, the group begins to think their weird, delusional friend is behind the murders. It’s a pretty basic supernatural slasher that uses plenty of clichés, even moving much of the action to a cornfield, but as always, Warren makes the best of her limited budget and delivers on the retro vibes, so I had fun with this one.

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Time for a four course meal of my favorite comfort food…80s horror

I will devour 80s horror forever, but was this foursome filling enough? Let’s take a look.

BEYOND DREAMS DOOR (1989)

Clearly inspired by the huge popularity of the Elm Street series, this low budget direct-to-video movie is mostly a nonstop chain of bad dreams.

A college professor and her teacher’s assistant, who looks like he should be the teacher, try to help one of their students, a guy having recurring nightmares about being attacked by a hideous red monster.

That’s pretty much it—suburban nightmare horror taken to the extreme.

The main characters just weave in and out of trippy dream sequences drenched in 80s horror lighting for the entire film, often encountering the monster, and eventually ending up in…you’re never going to believe this…a boiler room.

BEYOND TERROR (1980)

The title Beyond Terror works in a weird way, because there’s absolutely no terror to be had here. This is like the worst of Euro horror of this era.

A small group of thieves on motorcycles robs a diner, shoots mostly everyone in it, and takes one couple hostage to make their escape.

They end up at a house with an old lady and a kid in it, rough up the old lady, kill her dog (not a pleasant scene), then burn the house down.

Next, they move to some sort of abandoned church.

The abducted woman has sex with one of the thieves

Another thief masturbates while mocking God. What a turn on.

Then they go to some little building.

Then they go back to the church.

Everyone keeps calling each other faggot.

This movie sucks.

Every once in a while they see the dog or kid that they killed back at the first house.

75 minutes into the movie, some skeletal corpses in a basement come to life for a few seconds. Also, one character’s head blows up when the old lady appears. That’s about all the horror you get in this shitty waste of time.

GRAVE SECRETS (1989)

For those of us who grew up on HBO in the 80s, actor Paul Le Mat is one of the staples of that horror era, appearing in Strange Invaders, Death Valley, Puppet Master, an episode of the HBO anthology series The Hitchhiker, and this one.

Grave Secrets begins with Amityville style theme music with children’s voices. Talk about high hopes.

Paul plays a college professor who covers supernatural phenomena. A woman comes to him for help because her B&B is haunted, so he goes to stay there.

For the first hour, the scariest things that happen are…an egg levitates and an axe goes kamikaze. Finally, a medium, played by David Warner, another 80s HBO horror king (Time After Time, The Company of Wolves, Waxwork, My Best Friend is a Vampire) shows up to hold a séance.

So does the college professor’s bubbly, totally 80s assistant, who should have been in the whole movie because she saves it temporarily.

The séance unleashes a ghost, momentary possession of the medium, and a silly apparition re-enactment of why the B&B is haunted, complete with a ghoulish corpse that should have joined the bubbly assistant in saving the film much earlier.

TRANSMUTATIONS (aka: Underworld) (1985)

This film was released to video under the title Transmutations during my days working at the video store in the 80s, but it’s also known as Underworld. Like Rawhead Rex, it’s another film by director George Pavlou with a screenplay by Clive Barker…that turned out to be a movie Barker hated.

Unlike Rawhead Rex, which is an 80s fave for me, I couldn’t even remember anything about this one, and now I see why. It really is horribly boring, a poor excuse for a horror movie, and is sort of like Barker dabbling in his own Nightbreed concept.

A crazy doctor has created a drug that turns humans into humanoids that now live underground. Turns out the key to reversing the damage lies with a hooker, so she’s kidnapped by the mutants.

Her ex-boyfriend is hired to rescue her and spends most of the movie trying to track her down while drenched in 80s horror lighting.

My favorite part is the sort of queer new wave dance number in a club.

The mutants are mostly as goofy as the ones in Nightbreed—but if you think that movie is a masterpiece like many do, you might just like this one.

The final sign for me that this is a pitiful excuse for a horror movie is the major gun battle at the end. Yawn.

 

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STREAM QUEEN: laughs, gore, and more in these four

Vampires, demons, exploding heads, and a cult with the hots for a pretty boy in the latest foursome of films I checked out. Let’s see what makes each one worth a watch.

BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL (2020)

I always find it weird when a movie is entertaining and fun, with playful humor, some scares, cool monster makeup, a dose of blood, likable characters…and yet is also a little boring. That’s the case with Irish film Boys From County Hell.

This charming vampire comedy has plenty of great moments, but it is really slow in its delivery following an intriguing opening scene.

The focus is on a group of friends living in a town known for its history with Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. They hang out at a bar named after the writer, and in a field nearby there’s a pile of stones that is believed to mark the burial plot of a legendary vampire.

Wouldn’t you know the friends are doing a construction job that involves knocking down the stack of stones?

The events that unfold leading up to that moment are notably somber and serious, so for a while I was thinking this film was either mismarketed as a horror comedy or was going to suddenly make a not so smooth transition, which is exactly what happened. As soon as the demolition takes place, the film totally shifts tone, the comedy kicks in, and the group suddenly faces the realization that they’ve brought the fictional concept of vampirism to…um…life. Not only do they have to fend off bloodthirsty versions of those they know and love, but they also have to take on the freaky master vampire they dug up.

Despite its slow pacing issues between the thrilling sequences, the film is still a satisfying horror comedy that it dares to add some unique concepts to the mix instead of relying solely on the traditional rules of vampirism. In a way, the final act sort of reminded me of the final act of the equally cool film The Shed.

SMILEY FACE KILLERS (2020)

Don’t go into Smiley Face Killers expecting a typical teen slasher, especially considering it’s written by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, and the chip that’s been steadily growing on his shoulder over the decades would never let him stoop to my level of 80s horror entertainment.

Instead, he gives us a “based on a true story” tale of…a gang of occult creeps in robes driving around in a white van with an erotic hard-on for a college pretty boy?

The general info we are given at the beginning is that there was a rash of drownings of young men across college campuses, and in each case, a smiley face marking was drawn nearby. This fictionalized movie appears to be based on a questionable theory crafted by two detectives that looked into the cases. Rather than being “based” on a true story, I get the sense it was is inspired by unfounded claims by some hacks.

Most of the movie comes across like a David DeCoteau film, with the camera making love to our main specimen as he swims, bike rides, hangs with friends, showers, has sex with his girlfriend, strips down to his tighty-whities, strips down to nothing, etc. So this one does land on the stud stalking page.

We learn he’s been on medication and seeing a therapist but is resistant to both. We also see someone stalking him and often watching him from his closet. Is this stalker living in there? I don’t know. Are we supposed to think he’s delusional because there’s a weak seed planted in our head that he’s messed in the head?

He believes someone is fucking with him, but that concept doesn’t quite translate to the most suspenseful slow burn. To keep us interested, there’s a gory kill at 53 minutes in, and then the final act delivers all the crazy cult shit, which is homoerotic, gory, and a rather disturbing, total fabrication not based on any evidence as far as I can tell. However, it does definitely give the film some horror cred at last.

BEAST MODE (2020)

This silly indie has plenty of bright spots, but it is often unfocused with way too many characters, so sticking with it for the good parts is a bit of a challenge.

The cast is loaded with horror veterans in both major roles and cameos, including Thomas Downey, Leslie Easterbrook, Ray Wise, and James Hong.

C. Thomas Howell is the leading man, a Hollywood agent who accidentally kills his big star, played by indie fave James Duval. Conveniently, Howell scores a special potion that will bring Duval back to life.

But there’s a side effect. The potion also turns those who consume it into demons. And Howell makes the mistake of leaving it somewhere accessible.

Considering the fun premise, it’s a bit of a disappointment that there aren’t more people in rubber demon masks running around throughout the course of the film. However, the demon moments we get are a lot of fun, and C. Thomas Howell reminds us why he was so popular in the 80s, because he is still quite charismatic and funny.

The cameos are fun, some of them are unnecessary and forced, and I was distracted by all the excess nonsense going on and taking us away from the main plot. If you’re going to toss loads of irrelevant characters at us, the point should be to kill them off and raise the body count, and that just doesn’t happen here. But the final act kind of makes up for it.

SPONTANEOUS (2020)

In the dark teen comedy tradition of edgy films like Heathers and Jawbreaker, Spontaneous is a story of a teen girl and boy finding love when their high school is struck by a bizarre epidemic…students are randomly exploding in a burst of blood and gore.

At times a lot of gooey fun, at other times this quirky film is a little too soft and romantic, and also tries way too hard to be what it’s going for–“philosophical”. It often gets too heavy and literal instead of getting its points across smartly through its twisted subject matter.

As a result, the film does drag at times while we wait for the next juicy explosion. The cast of kids is mostly likable and funny, but we only really get to know a few of them, namely the main girl, her best friend, and her boyfriend, which is unfortunate, because there are some other interesting characters teased, including a funny girl who will pretty much bang anyone and a gay guy we don’t even find out is gay until he’s dead. Sigh.

The main problem for me was that this was in large part a romance, and I simply wasn’t into the couple as a couple. I found their connection bland, and quite honestly, thought the guy was just boring. Sweet and pleasant just wasn’t cutting it, and he looked like a reject from 90s teen band Hanson. Not even his various references to the 80s, including dancing to the 1985 hit “And We Danced” by The Hooters with her in a barn, could win me over.

While the explosions are at first mostly off screen, that changes as the film progresses, and we get plenty of Scanners style gore and a couple of awesome death sequences, leading up to an ultimate, mind-blowing massacre in school that clearly gives some nods to Carrie.

The down side is that it isn’t the big climax, and the film keeps going after that for another fricking 40 minutes, offering very little beyond loads of “deep thought” in the form of dialogue. Blech.

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HULU HORRORS: four from 2020

I use the term Hulu Horror loosely in reference to most of the films in this bunch, but I sat through them, so now I shall share my thought about them. So let’s get into it.

SPREE (2020)

How far will kids go these days to be viral internet sensations? Kurt has been trying since he was a little kid, but his channel just isn’t getting the hits.

Then he comes up with an idea. He’s a rideshare driver, so he sets up cameras in his car and begins killing customers while filming.

There’s plenty of political and social commentary as he takes down certain types, like a white supremacist douche, womanizing douche, and a trio of shallow urbanites (Ariana Grande’s brother Frankie, Lala from Vanderpump Rules, and Mischa Barton). There are also some satisfyingly gruesome kills conceptually, but the death scenes are mostly implied with minimal gore.

Despite its dark, nihilistic perspective on social media and lust for fame, I felt the film just didn’t go edgy or shocking enough. Like this could have been 90s Tarantino violent but it wasn’t, and only a few scenes really stood out for me. On the bright side, that includes the final scene, which turns into a battle between Kurt and a passenger that turns out to be the final girl.

Also keep an eye out for David Arquette as his dad.

THE OWNERS (2020)

I don’t know what it is lately, but everything is feeling so derivative to me, and not even in the sense that at least they’re doing cliché good enough to give me familiar, satisfying thrills.

The Owners is about a bunch of kids breaking into a house to rob an old couple. They explore the house, ransack it a bit, and then the old couple comes home.

The kids tie up the old couple and then begin fighting over what to do with them. When things escalate badly, the kids have to turn to the old man for help because he’s a doctor.

And of course the couple seems a little off…

We get the sense they’re hiding something, it seems they’re hiding something in the basement, eventually we find out the truth, and when we do, it’s just dumbfounding that the whole movie was leading up to this. Seriously, this is as anticlimactic as this type of movie gets.

SAVE YOURSELVES! (2020)

Save Yourselves! seemed like a cute and funny play on Critters that I could watch with the hubby, and I even showed him the trailer first to get his approval…after which I warned him it looked like it would have some fun and funny moments but could definitely be a bit slow. I wasn’t wrong.

There is fun to be had for sure, however, the film is virtually carried by the male and female lead, who spend most of the time alone at a cabin in the woods after they decide they need a break from city and cyber life.

They’re charming together, with him delivering the goofy, geeky comedy while she provides the dry humor. But since this doesn’t have a massive budget, there aren’t hordes of the critters. Actually, there is only one scene in which there are several on screen at once. Other than that, there’s just one at a time.

The funniest part of this creature feature comedy is that the couple calls the little furballs poofs. No matter how many times they said it, the hubby and I laughed. Maybe it’s a gay thing.

The film is slow getting to the first poof attack, and once the poofs do attack, the poofs don’t have faces. The poofs are just furballs that move around by shooting a stick tentacle out of their poof bodies to attach to things.

Things pick up most in the final act when the couple tries to escape the cabin, leading to a curiously bizarre and trippy ending that allows you to draw your own conclusions.

ANTEBELLUM (2020)

This film started with some major slavery shit, with Janelle Monáe being abused by a white master. I was ready to turn it off, because I’m so not up for watching Black people being tortured (especially having just forced myself to sit through the entire Them show on Prime), but a friend told me the film wasn’t just 105 minutes of that, so I stuck with it.

Basically, Janelle seems to be living two existences, teleporting through time as a slave in the past and as an author in the present, and a cell phone appears to be the key to her jumps back and forth.

**SORT OF SPOILER** Honestly, this really is not a horror or sci-fi film. Instead, it uses a very cheap tactic to create a sense of mystery even though this isn’t even a mystery, which you only learn when the truth of what’s going on is revealed at the very end. The surprise twist is cool only because the film manipulated the context of the story completely to make it a twist, and that just pisses me off. It also creates a bizarre plot hole involving the appearance of what your made to believe is a ghost girl…which I now think wasn’t a ghost at all and therefore not a plot hole. Sigh.

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SHUDDER AND SHRIEK: witches, ghosts, a serial killer, and a home invader

It’s another movie marathon of horror flicks on Shudder, and for me, they’re all a matter of been there done that. But keep in mind that I’ve been watching horror flicks for five decades, so everything old is new again…except me.

THE PALE DOOR (2020)

Why even bother trying to make a movie about a bunch of robbers that become entangled with a coven of witches when the movie Witching & Bitching already exists? Especially if you’re going to make it so damn boring.

Even worse, it’s a period piece with cowboys. Ugh.

The concept of criminals on the run stumbling upon a house full of some sort of horrific threat isn’t a new one, and I actually really liked the general concept here—gang of robbers ends up at a whorehouse after a robbery attempt goes wrong, and soon finds out the whores are actually burned witches in disguise. Awesome.

Problem is there isn’t enough of the barbecued witch action, which doesn’t even begin until 50 minutes into the movie. And even while these Wild West witches are cool, the film lacks any suspense or scares.

The focus is on the relationship between the two brothers that run the gang. Ugh. Period piece character study.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020)

The director of The Strangers, Mockingbird, and The Monster makes a movie that proves he can set up some really creepy scenes…and then insult our horror senses over and over for 90 minutes with one bogus scare after another.

Seriously, what the fuck with this movie? This is the kind of shit meant to get little tween girls at slumber parties squealing and giggling all night.

A family is gathered at an old farmhouse as the elder patriarch lies in bed dying. There are lots of atmospheric shots of farm animals, dark and moody setup shots of people being pensive, and a slow burn of a couple unraveling hints of religious paranoia by the matriarch of the family.

And then, there are the nonstop, sudden appearances of supernatural entities to give us a jump scare, only to be gone in the blink of an eye because they’re not really there. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. I could keep going, or you could just watch the movie for the same annoying as fuck effect.

OPEN 24 HOURS (2018)

The director of Rites of Spring and The Devil’s Dolls always manages to entertain and deliver on the horror, while bringing longtime fans of the genre back to familiar territory. For instance, Open 24 Hours reminds me of a cross between the first story in the anthology film Body Bags and the film Rest Stop.

Following time in prison for torching her serial killer boyfriend, a young woman takes a job covering the night shift at an isolated gas station convenience store. Suffering PTSD, she has paranoid delusions of being visited by him and his dead victims. Which begs the question—are the horrors she begins experiencing while working all alone real or imagined?

As various visitors to the store meet violent fates, the truth of what transpired between her and her boyfriend is revealed, and some twists and turns add some surprises to the plot.

The kills are juicy gory and the suspense is good, plus there’s a nice long cat and mouse chase in the final act, but the pacing does feel a little off for some inexplicable reason, and by the time things really pick up, it seems like it’s starting to drag on a little too long. However, overall it’s a satisfying watch.

LUCKY (2020)

Slightly similar to Happy Death Day in that a young woman has to keep facing off against the same masked killer, Lucky has a bit of a quirky tone, but isn’t as much of a comedy. It also reminds me of the indie film Salvage, which I find far superior.

This is essentially a movie about a young woman dealing with all life’s misogyny—from both men and women—in between being visited every night by a psycho in a mask.

Each time he invades her house, she’s better prepared for him and fights back even stronger, and their battles become more and more violent.

There’s really not much else to it beyond that. The pacing is good enough, the main girl is likable, there are some funny moments, and things change enough each time to keep you interested, but the premise began to grow stale for me personally as the movie progressed.

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It’s a reunion from hell for a group of LGBTQ+ folk

At a time when there’s a hunger for queer horror, many queer horror fans long to fulfill their lifelong dreams of being the final girl like the scream queens they worshipped growing up. And in this day and age of online crowdfunding to make a movie idea a reality, many aspiring creators are doing just that.

Therefore, as with most low budget indie horror films, don’t expect sleek style, high production value, or Hollywood caliber performances from the queer slasher Reunion from Hell. This is a passion project intended to bring more queer representation to the horror genre.

The opener delivers a well-crafted, low budget emulation of the first kill scenes from movies of the 1990s slasher revival. As is common with throwback indie slashers these days, the theme music during the intro credits is an homage to Carpenter’s Halloween theme, but smartly, just when it’s becoming too much of clone, it takes on a retro 80s life of its own and I was totally feeling it. It would be a perfect track to add to your Halloween party playlist.

This isn’t a high school reunion slasher as the title might lead you to believe. The film focuses on the main character, played by co-director/co-writer Hayden Newman, returning home after a tragedy and reconnecting with old friends and family members. Amazingly, Hayden’s mom is played by Cathy Podewell, main girl Judy in the original Night of the Demons. Awesome.

Notably, this film is as LGBTQ+ as it gets rather than pandering to a pretty boy crowd; these are supposed to be everyday people of varying orientations and gender identities from a small town, not gym bunnies from a fashion-forward metropolis. And Hayden takes full advantage of the narcissistic possibilities of playing the starring role in your own movie, portraying a character that is an absolute mess—smokes, pops pills, drinks, has panic attacks, is in therapy—yet is basically the center of every other character’s world. Heh heh.

As is often the case with these types of homebrewed indies, the film falters most in the way the plot unfolds. Rather than utilizing a variety of techniques or different approaches to the narrative to keep up the momentum and build suspense, the story is almost exclusively presented through weighted, dry dialogue delivered by characters sitting around a house talking. Taking even more of a toll on the pacing is the fact that there aren’t any traditional slasher elements to break things up: no sex scenes, no red herring to keep us guessing, no near encounters with the killer, no killer POV, no body reveals, no humorous moments, no particularly memorable characters to root for…although I’ll never forget the hot daddy sheriff and would totally have rooted for him if he’d gotten more screen time…

There are also very few kills during the course of the film—they are predominantly saved for a chaotic climax loaded with everyone running, screaming, and dying. It’s definitely the payoff we’ve been waiting for.

The killer’s mask is a goodie, the kills are impressively violent, and the gore is handled with practical effects, not CGI. And most importantly, it’s all about queer people and another movie to add to the complete homo horror movies page!

Follow the film on Facebook and Twitter to keep up on the latest news about when and where you can see it.

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3 flicks about teens in trouble, but were they terrifying?

I’m really itching for some satisfying teen horror flicks, but it’s starting to feel like those are becoming a thing of decades past. I dug up three newer titles between Netflix and Hulu, but were any of them worth the watch?

WHAT LIES BELOW (2020)

I’m always okay with a derivative horror thriller about a teenager that knows mom is dating a less than human hunk, and What Lies Below starts off fine. But just when the shit hits the fan—the part we’ve been waiting for—the movie falls apart.

Mena Suvari plays the mother of a teenage daughter, which is a harsh reminder that I’m old. She has a surprise for the daughter when they arrive at their summer house…a hot stud in a Speedo strutting out of the lake.

Yep, mom has a new boyfriend, and he’s not only as boring and weird as Denise Richards’s husband on the Beverly Hills Housewives, he’s also a dead ringer for just about every privileged white gay out there. So it’s hard to buy that both mom and daughter are getting all wet for him. And yet, his creepy performance proves to be the best part of the film (well, that and the Speedo).

Things get really fucking weird between him and the daughter and she quickly gets her hormones in check. There’s something seriously wrong with this freak, who is obsessed with the nastiest life forms the lake has to offer. Mom and daughter are about to get wetter than they could have imagined.

Just as it’s time to face off against the hunk to find out what he really is, the film gets drenched in Argento colors. But that can’t camouflage the absolute mess the final act becomes.

Despite sort of piecing it together, both the hubby and I had no fricking idea what was happening by the end thanks to a series of events that suffered from continuity and editing issues, such as a suddenly odd number of new, seemingly unspecified locations (for instance, there seemed to be several basements), the main girl’s friend just disappearing without any explanation (she walked upstairs, never to be seen or mentioned again), and an edit that made both the hubby and I laugh out loud in which it comes across as if the daughter just tosses the mother on the floor.

SEVEN IN HEAVEN (2018)

I avoided a load of Blumhouse movies that hit Prime when the pandemic first hit because friends warned me they weren’t really horror films. I didn’t realize Seven In Heaven on Netflix was a Blumhouse film until I began watching it. It also is not much of a horror movie, and by the end it’s just a confusing knot of alternate realities.

A kid goes to a house party of a friend whose family is about to move. In a mostly empty room there’s an empty closet and a deck of cards with images of sexy ladies on them. Soon, several kids are in the room playing a card game that leads to the main guy and the wickedly bad girl from the Hulu show Light as a Feather having to go into the closet for seven minutes.

When they come out, they are not exactly on the same plane of existence. A bunch of kids start violently beating up the main guy, his best friend is dead, his dead dad is alive, and one of his teachers is hunting him down in a car.

He and the girl have to try to get back to the closet and return to their original, more pleasant reality. If only the plot were that simple, because that’s about when this shit started making no sense. And considering it doesn’t deliver anything horror related beyond a darker existence for these two, those looking strictly for horror might not find it worth sitting through this one to try to decipher it.

SUPER DARK TIMES (2017)

Super Dark Times is a moody blend of various subgenres, and it even scores a spot on the holiday horror page because it takes place at Christmastime despite no one making any reference whatsoever to the holiday.

Focusing on two geeky teens that are best of friends and enjoy their bond and time together in a small town despite a lack of popularity, it immediately has the nostalgic throwback feel to simpler times that you get from the likes of Stranger Things and Super 8. However, based on some of the references, I think it’s supposed to take place in the 90s, not the 80s.

It’s when the boys are goofing off with a couple of other friends that there’s a terrible and fatal accident. It’s one of those setups that has been used in horror movies for years (kids do something awful, cover it up, and vow never to speak of it again), but because this isn’t a polished, mainstream movie starring the pretty people of the moment, there’s something disturbingly real about the way it plays out. You can truly feel how these innocent kids are suddenly thrust into a situation that changes their lives and relationships in an instant.

However, the horror here is in how one of the boys is haunted by what they did and the fear of the truth catching up with him (think Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”). He has frightening nightmares of the dead returning, hears voices, and eventually discovers the experience has affected his friend much worse.

This is not a conventional “I know what you did last Christmas” horror movie plot, but the gritty, raw feel really kept my interest.

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A trio of flicks starring horror cutie Dave Sheridan

Ever since playing Doofy in Scary Movie over two decades ago, funny man Dave Sheridan has packed his resume with horror comedies. I first really became a fan when he did this in the film The Walking Deceased

…and I’ve been watching every movie he’s been in since hoping he’ll do something like it again (I’m actually hoping he’ll just do gay porn).

Anyway, here’s a look at the three most recent flicks he’s been in that I hadn’t yet seen, and one of them is a nasty blend of sex and horror. However, it’s not Dave up to his old tricks…it’s another horror cutie.

SCREAM TEST (2020)

The description for this film starring Dave and Felissa Rose of Sleepaway Camp fame sounded like a lot of fun, so I can’t even fathom how it could fail as both a horror film and a comedy.

The opener sets a great, campy tone, with Felissa in a black and white scene featuring a big baby man monster with his nipple hanging out. But when Felissa’s character opens her mouth to scream…nothing comes out.

Felissa plays a scream queen who loses her voice! She is sent to mend on a resort island, where she meets a handful of other people with their own issues.

The idea is supposed to be that people start dying off in ways that victims have been killed in Felissa’s films. Unfortunately, we see like two bodies…and absolutely no murders.

The characters just sit around and talk for most of the movie. And nothing they say or do is humorous or entertaining. What a missed opportunity.

As for Dave, he plays a detective who starts a romantic relationship with Felissa and then has to try to figure out whodunit when everyone begins suspecting the scream queen.

CAMP TWILIGHT (2020)

Yet another movie that finds an excuse to send Felissa Rose to a sleepaway camp situation because of her iconic horror past.

Unfortunately, this is a boring slasher that lacks a cohesive plot, tacks together a bunch of pointless, talky scenes with irrelevant characters, and doesn’t delivery in any way on atmosphere, kill scenes, gore, pacing, or scares.

The killer’s appearance is also not ominous or unique at all, and there’s an awkwardly drawn out killer motivation denouement. And while it appears this is supposed to also be a comedy, none of the actors can make the weak material work, not even Dave, who plays a goofy (not Doofy) park ranger.

There are a couple of hot guy bods, appearances by some familiar horror faces, and there is at last a burst of concentrated killer action all of a sudden in the final act, but none of it can save this one.

THE SPECIAL (2020)

Movies by the director of Death House, Camp Dread, and Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard are hit or miss with me, so I didn’t know what to expect from The Special. I’m also not a huge fan of body horror, but it’s always satisfying to have one that focuses on a guy. The Special reminded me of the short film Bug Chaser, only with a straight guy instead of a gay guy, and focusing on dick instead of asshole.

Horror cutie Davy Raphaely believes his wife is cheating on him, so his buddy, played by Dave Sheridan, convinces him to cheat on her for revenge. Personally, I would have taken the movie in a totally different direction and moved into Dave-on-Dave action. But Sheridan takes Raphaely to a whorehouse and orders him “the special”.

“The special” turns out to be a box you stick your dick in that brings you pleasure beyond your wildest wet dreams.

Davy becomes addicted to putting his dick in the box. Davy will do whatever it takes to get that dick in that box.

Davy doesn’t use any protection when he puts his dick in that box, so things eventually get really disgusting.

Davy is sexy, the nastiness is gross, the pacing is excellent, and knowing it’s all leading up to finding out what’s in the box is well worth the price of admission. And there’s actually something subversively gay about the whole movie when you put it all together, so I’m going to add it to the does the gay guy die? page. But I’m not going to tell you why. You’ll just have to watch until the end. EEK! And…EW!

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PRIME TIME: a tar creature, an anthology, and home invasion horror

Eureka! I got at least some horror satisfaction out of each of these three during my latest marathon of films from my Prime list. Let’s dive into them.

TAR (2020)

Cutie Aaron Wolf co-writes, directs, and stars in this little indie creature feature. It definitely takes a while to get going, but once the horror action hits (about an hour in) it’s a tight monster movie production.

The plot is just a bit clunky, and the film seems to be going for a bit of a horror comedy vibe, but that just didn’t really click for me. Aaron is helping his father close the family business because they’re being evicted. There’ a tar pit across the street, and a homeless man outside the gates will tell scary stories about the history of the pit for a quarter.

While the main characters indulge in mostly fluff dialogue at the office, there are death scenes sprinkled throughout of random people (mostly construction workers) being killed by tar that comes up from the ground, making this feel like it’s going to be a modernized take on The Blob.

But once the lights go out in the office at night while the main characters are packing up, the creature feature fun begins, and they are hunted down by a tar monster! Yay!

There’s lots of darkness and bouncing flashlight beams, but we get to see plenty of tar monster and there are some gooey kills. Plus, Tiffany Shepis is one of the main characters for a change instead of just getting a two-minute cameo as she usually does these days.

THE SOURCE OF SHADOWS (2020)

As far as obscure anthologies on Prime go, The Source of Shadows manages to consist mostly of tales that appear to have higher production value than the usual indies. However, the budget limitations become apparent more in the lack of visual horror stimulation; much of the fear here is implied. And in most cases, it feels like the whole story is just set up for a zinger ending, which tends to lessen the sting.

There’s also no wraparound. This is simply a series of short films assembled together, but there does seem to be a good sense of commonality between them, and they feel like they all belong in the same film. Here’s a breakdown of the ten tales:

1st story – a blind boy’s mother leaves him tied to a rope to keep him from going into the woods because…there’s something out there.

2nd story – very brief and fun twist on the stalker peeping girl in house tale.

3rd story – a man in a cabin fears something creeping around outside in this short but eerily effective tale.

4th story – a man stranded in the middle of the ocean on a boat is being haunted.

5th story – a young woman hides from what I believe is a zombie that comes into her house. The zinger ending is great, but the reason for it is like the ultimate example of stupid things characters do in horror movies.

6th story – a guy is the hunter and the hunted in the woods…but we never see what the enemy is.

7th story – the classics never disappoint. A young girl believes something in the woods followed her home and is in her closet. Yikes!

8th story – a couple getting ready for bed is in for a surprise when it’s time to turn off the lights.

9th story – this is an animated story with no dialogue, which I find a jarring diversion.

10th story – a sex line operator faces off against a perv that knows way too much about her.

BLIND (2019)

This is sort of a home invasion film from the director of the Blood Feast remake. However, much of it is about the main girl’s struggle to come to terms with her life after she goes blind, so you have to hang in there to get to the good horror stuff.

She makes friends in a support group, including horror veteran Caroline Williams as another blind woman, and a young mute man she is attracted to but too insecure to open up to. There are a lot of introspective EMO music montages of her sitting around drowning in her sorrows.

Meanwhile, scenes of a creep in a very freaky human mask hanging out in a room glowing with neon lights are sprinkled throughout the film, but I never quite understood exactly what this place was or where it was in proximity to our main girl’s house. It kind of looks like a high school prom gone horribly wrong and the scenes that take place there are often surreal, including a couples dance montage set to an awesome now wave song called “Love is Blind” by Mikro Hirsch that I’m totally going to be playing on my Future Flashbacks show.

 

Finally at about 40 minutes in, things move into slasher territory for a while, with some cuties dropping by, including a food delivery guy and a hot cop.

These scenes quite effectively convey just how vulnerable being blind can leave a person.

The masked creep does some killing and starts stalking our main girl. Little does she know he’s not only right outside her house, but eventually makes his way in and is only feet away from her at all times. It’s suspenseful at first, but then becomes repetitive. She never has any idea he’s there, so there’s never any cat and mouse game or chance for her to fight back.

The reason why becomes clear when the final scene plays out. It’s quite satisfying in terms of delivering a twist and a zinger, but it does end up feeling like the main character’s journey to the final moment could easily have been presented as a 30-minute tale in the new Creepshow series, perhaps, rather than stretched into a 90-minute movie.

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SHUDDER AND SHRIEK: killer pants, a killer game, a forbidden attic, and a soul collector

Shudder has consistently managed to bring new content to its service slowly but steadily throughout the pandemic, which sort of ensures that you’ll watch everything there is to offer since your aching for more each week. So how did these four turn out for me?

SLAXX (2020)

If you tell me there’s a movie about a pair of pants running around, the first thing I’m going to think of is the Dr. Seuss story “What Was I Scared Of?”, which totally failed to teach me not to be scared of disembodied pants, thankfully.

Running just 77 minutes long, Slaxx is a fun little indie horror comedy that entertains with some laughs, some camp, and some gore, but isn’t exactly wild enough to be a total blast.

It’s actually a bit understated considering its silly premise, and the commentary embedded in the overdrawn explanation as to why the pants have become murderous kind of kills the fun in the final act.

The story focuses on a clothes store that is about to announce the first gender inclusive jeans that form-fit to any body. I was really expecting a fun, “woke” killer plot line based on that introduction, but that specific detail becomes irrelevant, and the pants simply go on a killing spree.

The film really does walk a surprisingly straight line between standard “slasher” and over-the-top midnight movie rather than going, say, the Attack of the Killer Donuts route, which it easily could have done.

Most of the kills are relativity tame, with just a few really delivering on the buckets of blood. Hell, late in the film it’s even mentioned that basically everyone in the store was killed by the pants—off screen! I have to wonder why we weren’t treated to a bloody massacre in a denim dungeon of death?

STAY OUT OF THE FUCKING ATTIC (2020)

The title really says it all, and thankfully, the film delivers on what you’d expect. There’s something freaky in the attic. And also in the basement.

If you like this kind of movie, you’ll be very satisfied, because it’s done right, but it’s also as derivative as they get.

Three workers—all ex-cons trying to turn their lives around—come to a mansion to do a job for an eccentric old man. He gives them specific instructions not to go in the attic or the basement. Uh-oh.

They find signs of some strange stuff going on before even venturing that far, but they decide to stick with it. And then they find more evidence of troubling occurrences in the mansion.

Deformed humanoids, experiments, a Nazi past—you’ve seen it all before, but when it’s done effectively with good effects and atmosphere plus some surprises, it’s always enjoyable enough. I just have to wonder when the old Nazi experiments backstory is going to stop be phased out as a go-to trope.

GAME OF DEATH (2017)

A killer board game splatter flick, Game of Death is simply a stylish, exploitative, fun gore fest that isn’t trying to be suspenseful or scary.

The bizarre opening, featuring kids hanging by a pool, incorporates scenes of male masturbation, cunnilingus, and an old drag queen watering a lawn while simulating cunnilingus. If only all that sexual debauchery carried through the rest of the film.

The kids find an old board game with one simple rule—kill 24 people before the timer runs out or they will begin dying one by one.

They learn it’s more than just a game when someone’s head simply explodes. Ah. The kind of family fun Monopoly could never deliver.

And so comes a moral dilemma for each character as the kids go on a killing spree and some of them start to wimp out. That’s it. That’s the movie. There’s enough head exploding to make Scanners jealous, plus plenty of bloodshed that spares a head here and there, as well as some quirky animated sequences meant to appeal to the geek and video game crowds.

THE SOUL COLLECTOR (2019)

When you water it all down, The Soul Collector is basically a story of a white family being terrorized by a Black man. And it isn’t in a satisfying revenge way for something awful the whities did to him. He is really just victimizing them for his own personal gain. WTF?

Overall it’s a good horror plot, so I think it might have been better from a social awareness stance in these troubled times in which we live if the family he targeted had simply been a Black family, but it is what it is. So how’s the horror?

A man, his wife, and his daughter come to an old farmhouse he inherited from his late father. An older Black man who roams the woods shows up and says he used to work for the father, befriends the daughter, and is given a shed to stay in by the family. Little do they know he is in need of souls to pay back a supernatural debt.

Personally, this slow burn just didn’t give me any feeling of dread, and I didn’t find it frightening or suspenseful. The man carries around a sack with something in it, and naturally that something begins coming out.

I love the concept, but the something is not as creepy once it’s out of the bag. And since there are only three people in the family, this is one of those films loaded with faux promises of something about to happen before simply cutting to the next scene without delivering on anything because we need what few characters there are to stick around for a while. Which begs the question, if the man needs souls, why has he set his sights on a small family when there’s a whole village of his peers nearby getting all up in his business? Feed their meddling asses to the damn bag!

The film is padded with occult practices in the woods and plenty of exposition about the curse, and eventually the family is drawn into the rituals, but I didn’t find any of it compelling enough to keep up the momentum. Plus, it was pretty much all over for me when the daughter landed in another dimension.

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