Digging into my Stephen King movie collection part 6

Sometimes I come back to bring my series of Stephen King posts to a close, and this is one of those sometimes, so let’s get right into three from the 2000s.

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS (2001)

Hearts in Atlantis combines King’s nostalgia narrative style with his penchant for characters with psychic powers, and in its film form it is a relatively mellow experience.

A widowed woman rents a room to an older man, played by Anthony Hopkins. Soon her young son builds a strong bond with Hopkins. They spend a lot of time together, and Hopkins admits to the boy that men in dark clothes and hats are hunting for him.

Meanwhile, the mother is constantly suspicious that Hopkins might be looking to go pedo on her son. Not the case. The boy is actually falling for his little female friend and Hopkins is nurturing that relationship.

Amazing how straight tweens always fall madly in love in Stephen King novels, yet you don’t see crazy conservatives banning this type of grooming material from libraries…

The film is fairly disappointing. The men coming for Hopkins barely pose any threat or add any suspense to the story. Hopkins rarely uses his mind-reading powers. And when he does, it’s to shame the main kid’s bully, who regularly hurls gay slurs at the kid.

Hopkins calls him out on it because he can see that the bully likes to go home and dress in his mother’s clothes. This weird sort of defense against a homophobic riddled attack by use of another anti-gay attack is basically revisited later when the main kid gets his revenge on the bully, who we now know is queer, by beating him with a baseball bat. WTF?

Anyway, the film tries to go into heartstring pulling territory, with Hopkins unjustly being ripped from the boy’s life, but I wasn’t filled with emotion when all was said and done. I just think these kinds of films worked best in the 1980s…when Spielberg made them…and John Williams orchestrated…

FIRESTARTER 2: REKINDLED (2002)

This made-for-TV sequel that King had nothing to do with was a miniseries, so it suffers from the usual problem…too drawn out into 3 hours when 2 hours would have been fine.

The first half of the film is heavily filled with flashbacks retelling and often rewriting the events of the first movie with different actors. These are presented mostly as dreams that haunt Charlie (no longer played by Drew Barrymore).

Cutie Danny Nucci plays a worker at a research firm who is unknowingly hunting down Charlie for the character Rainbird, originally played by George C. Scott, but now portrayed by Malcom McDowell.

Unknowingly, while doing his job and getting closer to Charlie (so close that we get to see him shirtless and get a glimpse of his upper butt), Nucci is actually leading Rainbird right to her.

Meanwhile, Rainbird is gathering together a bunch of little boys who also have a variety of unique powers.

Seriously, the fun doesn’t begin until halfway into the film when Charlie has her first battle of the psychic powers with these boys.

After that, Dennis Hopper also joins the cast as someone from her dad’s past—a pretty unnecessary inclusion that is also one of the alterations in the plot from the first movie. There are plenty of chase scenes and also plenty of chat scenes (yawn), but the final battle, when both the boys and Charlie pretty much wipe out an entire town, is good cheap sequel fun.

DOLAN’S CADILLAC (2009)

This movie is based on a story from the King collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and it’s quite clear this should have been a short film in an anthology and not a movie. It was agonizing to sit through.

Wes Bentley is a teacher married to horror veteran Emmanuelle Vaugier. While out horseback riding, she witnesses sleazoid Christian Slater kill drivers of a truck transporting immigrant refugee women.

While those women are sold into sex trafficking by Slater, he also has Vaugier hunted down, despite she and Wes being put into witness protection. The only horror moment comes when they find a corpse in their house.

Vaugier is killed and then Wes decides he must get revenge. This is where it’s all downhill. First of all, I have no idea how he figures out Slater’s identity or how to track him, but he begins following him. He gets a gun. He becomes a construction worker. And it’s all part of his plan of vengeance.

Nothing happens beyond one encounter between Slater and Wes in a public restroom, which makes it confusing that they suddenly seem like lifelong enemies in the final act. At this point Wes creates a huge booby trap in a desert road. Once Slater and his car are both in it, they spend a chunk of time in a verbal battle that makes you question why they were ever considered A-list actors. The performances are eye-rolling, and there’s no good reason for Wes to keep Slater alive for so long when the ultimate torture (and the plan) is to just bury him alive…. An awful execution of a typical revenge flick plot.

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Gay horror: a psychosexual short and a religious extremist slasher

Yay! It’s a gay horror double feature from two directors I cover as quickly as they release new material, and two more to add to the homo horror movies page. So let’s get right into them.

BLEEP: A SERIAL KILLER’S DOG

Pete Jacelone is known for making morbid homoerotic horror flicks, and this short film sticks to the trend somewhat. However, it also explores a familiar horror theme through a queer lens: loneliness.

Our narrating killer reveals the details of just one of the many murders he’s committed.

What unravels is an often uncomfortable and icky presentation of his deep love affair with a slowly rotting corpse. It’s also tragically sad if you can look past the more perverse details.

The dog angle, which is ultimately the most unique aspect of the story, is perhaps relegated to the background too much considering it gives the film its name and adds an incredibly complex layer to the plot.

The killer has a beloved dog to keep him company (as lonely people often do). Bleep is there every step of the way. Bleep gets a hint of attention from the young man the killer brings home. Bleep barks with anxiety when the killer commits his crime. And Bleep snuggles in bed right alongside the killer and the corpse.

And eventually, for a fleeting instant, we see how Bleep’s interest in the corpse is in danger of changing dramatically. Jacelone, who is not one to pull any punches, totally does here. I was rather surprised Bleep’s hunger for the corpse wasn’t used as the reason the killer has to keep killing—imagine if just when he’s beginning to nest with his corpse boyfriend, it starts turning into a tasty treat for Bleep, so the killer is forced to dispose of the body and start the process all over, hence becoming a serial killer so his dog doesn’t become a mannibal (you know…a man eating dog). Now that’s a plot that could have been extended into a full-length film, and perhaps Pete Jacelone will expand on this one later on down the line.

To learn more about Bleep: A Serial Killer’s Dog and Pete Jacelone’s other movies, take a look at his site.

CHILDREN OF SIN (2022)

This one comes from Chris Moore, a prolific indie director and one of my social media horror buddies. You could consider it a slasher, but it’s important to note that it’s a good while before we get to the bulk of the slashing. The beginning and end feel like two different movies.

For starters, it’s a heavy-handed film about how religious extremist parents can negatively affect their children. A mother of two teens has entered a relationship ship with a God-loving nut…just the kind of man you don’t want co-parenting a sexually active daughter and a gay son.

To make them pay for their sins, he has the siblings sent to a religious retreat where the woman calling the shots is a total psycho!

I’ll say right up front that Chris doesn’t go for a campy or exploitative approach to the subject matter this time around, and for me personally, this kind of material is not my thing. It’s important to recognize that awful things go on at these religious camps, but I’m not compelled to wallow in the misery of their existence when I’m indulging in horror. In particular, as much as I always appreciate gay themes in horror, I am not particularly drawn to plots with gays being victimized by religious nuts. I prefer positive gay horror…the very reason the horny, happy gay guys in my Comfort Cove fiction series fight ghosts, demons, and monsters in between all their orgies and gang bangs.

Naturally, the darker subject matter presented here may appeal to some gay fans, but it could also be traumatizing for those who are sensitive to such material. However, here is where the big surprise comes in.

In the last 20 minutes, Children of Sin morphs into a fast-paced slasher, and it’s a fricking blast, with the loony lady brutally unleashing her insanity on all the kids she’s trying to “help”.

I personally ate up the final act because the film puts a pause on the gloom and doom reality of religious camps. It’s more in keeping with Chris Moore’s slasher Triggered, which still carries some social significance but is more gay positive and fun.

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PRIME TIME: it’s slasher time again!

I’m never one to turn down the promise of some slashing fun, so I checked out a trio that spans the past decade on my Prime watchlist. Was there fun to be had? Let’s find out.

MUNGER ROAD (2011)

Thanks to IMDb, I went into this one aware that it had a “to be continued” ending and the sequel was never made, so I was prepared for loose ends. Unfortunately, everything about this movie is loose…beginning, middle, and end.

The numerous reviews on IMDb claiming it’s a great slasher filled with jump scares that is just missing a tidy ending are all clearly bogus. There wasn’t a single jump scare, and there weren’t any kills—a few may have been implied in the last fifteen minutes, but we are not sure if those people actually died because they screamed off-screen.

It’s also hugely disappointing that the premise has a small town supposedly preparing for a fall festival when an imprisoned lunatic escapes…yet we never even get to the day of the festival. WTF?

Somehow Bruce Davison ended up in the film as the sheriff. As always, the mayor doesn’t want to stop the money-making event because of the possible threat. So Bruce and his deputy spend the night patrolling the town. Every scene is too dark, I never had any idea where they were in the town or what really led them there, and they do nothing but talk out loud to each other about the nonexistent mystery they’re trying to solve.

Meanwhile, two straight couples head to Munger Road to see if there’s any truth to a legend that says if you park on the train tracks, the ghosts of kids who died in a bus accident will push your car off the tracks. The film fails to make even that interesting or suspenseful…and also keeps it all too dark for us to see anything.

Then the kids head home, their car breaks down, and they slowly split up and disappear. Finally, Bruce and his deputy find one of the kids in a house, turn on a video camera the kids had with them, and we get the dreaded “to be continued” that never happened. As disappointing as this film is, it’s made even worse by the fact that there was no sequel to at least tie any of the plot points together. And considering mostly nothing happens, I can’t fathom why the filmmaker didn’t just edit the script for this film and the sequel into one faster-paced, more interesting movie with an actual ending.

SHHHH (2014)

This slasher gives off a very indie vibe, and even taps into that low budget 80s slasher feel a bit, which was the aspect I enjoyed the most. I was expecting it to be more of a horror comedy based on the artwork, the plot description, and the title. Instead, it seems to take itself kind of seriously. Either that or the tone is just not quite hitting the mark.

The basic premise is that this wannabe filmmaker nerd can’t stand all the different types of people that make distracting noises at movie theaters. It seems those deplorables are the ones that start getting killed off, but the death scenes don’t take place inside the theater, which kind of makes the whole point of the plot fall apart.

So there are kills, the main guy starts dating a pretty girl who is also an aspiring filmmaker, and he tries to juggle dating her and nurturing his relationship with his loving mother.

Meanwhile, there are two cops trying to solve the case of the mounting body count. Their scenes really kill the pacing and add nothing to the movie. I wasn’t exactly drawn in by any sort of whodunit angle—it was more like a “who are all these random people they’re talking to and why are they dressed like frat boys?” angle.

The indie feel comes in the way of various exploitative moments, like a pregnant woman being gutted and strangled with her baby’s umbilical cord, a long and loud blow job scene, and a scene of a guy on the crapper with plenty of explosive poop noises, of course. I’ll never comprehend how filmmakers become convinced their movie can only get better if they add a shit scene, as if that’s where all the movie magic is.

On top of that, we get flashbacks of the main guy’s troubled childhood, which is intended to make us believe this momma’s boy is the killer, but it’s not very convincing.

The bizarre series of events at the end aren’t all that bizarre if you grew up on tons of 80s slashers and Euro horror, but they definitely feel disjointed from what comes before them. I think Shhhh loses its way simply because it doesn’t remain within the confines of the theater.

VENOM COAST (2021)

What we have here is basically Texas Chainsaw Massacre (and other similar backwoods family movies) on a boat. It’s all been done before (although not on a boat), however one thing that stands out is that this family isn’t comprised of your usual religious extremist hillbilly nuts. They’re more like left wing hillbilly nuts that want to take down the 1%. Awesome.

A group of pretty young white people (I guess that automatically makes them the 1%) is invited to come party on some clean-cut dude’s boat. Little do they know he’s a psycho killer.

Once on board, they are soon falling victim to the crazy family, which includes the matriarch, a hippy looking grandpa, a burnout dude, and a big Leatherface clone in a dress they keep chained up way too long, because he would have rocked as the main killer. Instead, he’s introduced nearly an hour in.

The film had potential to be suspenseful, scary, and gory, and does include some pretty whacky scenes, with our baddies presenting themselves in a variety of bizarre costumes.

Unfortunately, in order to up the body count, the coast guard boards the ship and is basically like a fully-armed military. It just really spoils any sense of urgency.

There’s also a totally odd epilogue that feels too detached from the thick of the movie’s story arc.

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Some late 80s additions to my Blu-ray collection

The 80s really is the decade that just keeps giving and giving, so I was psyched to add three more titles to my always growing library. This trio takes us from 1985 to 1990.

HARD ROCK ZOMBIES (1985)

This crazy little film doesn’t even wait to go off the rails. It’s as messy as 80s horror gets.

It starts with a young woman luring a young man into some skinny-dipping while a short dude, a wolf man, and a tall man with a camera spectate.

Then we meet a “hard rock band”…that plays some of the best power pop new wave that should have been hits in the 80s. Only once at the end of the film is there a montage with a song that actually resembles hard rock. Hell, in one of the many montages in this film, these guys with long hair even dance. That was a total taboo for hard rock guys with long hair back in the 80s.

Anyway, this weird film has the faux hard rock guys come to a bizarre town. One guy falls for the skinny-dipping girl, there are werewolf people, there’s Hitler and Nazis, and 45 minutes into the movie it gets to the point—the townsfolk kill the band members and then resurrect them as zombies.

The zombies then go on a rampage turning the Nazis into zombies.

I don’t know what the hell I was watching, but the movie rocked (or new waved) in a totally retro 80s way.

The musical highlight is a montage featuring a power ballad with a girl’s name as the title. Ah, the 80s. Rosanna, Carrie, Gloria, Sherrie, Veronica, Jenny Jenny, Amanda, Eileen, Billie Jean, Elvira, Baby Jane, Nikki, Joanna, and thanks to this movie…Cassie…

THE AMERICAN SCREAM (1988)

80s horror doesn’t get any more WTF? than this. It feels like no one involved in The American Scream had a plan going into it. I guess the best way to describe it is as Children of the Corn with the protagonists and antagonists flipped…and a bunch of nonsense tossed in to fill the time due to a non-existent script(?).

A family wins a trip to a resort. It might be Christmas because there are hints of the season once they get to the resort, but nothing substantial.

The gang consists of a mother and father (the mother played by Oscar Goldman’s secretary Peggy from The Bionic Woman), a totally 80s cute son and his buddy, and a daughter and her friend. The mother and father seem like they’re not normal, almost as if they’re living in another world. The son’s buddy seems like he’s psychotic right from the start. This all just complicates matters when the resort town is inhabited by adults only and they all act openly crazy.

Even worse, no one in the family seems to think they need to get the fuck out. This dilemma starts during the ride there, when all four kids are in the back of a station wagon, see a couple in the car behind them beat a baby to a bloody pulp on the dashboard…and then just go on about their business of going to the resort.

It’s that bad. Even worse, there are barely any kills, and when there are, the film is edited in such a way that you have no idea what is going on.

There’s a lot of time spent at a polka dance party, then late in the game some mysterious dude all in black comes across as the leader of the crazy adults. At that point, the kids decide the only way to survive is to dress up as adults. Huh? Instead of looking like adults, they look like kids playing adults in really bad costumes in a high school play.

There’s a message here about adults being afraid of youth bringing change to society, but it’s buried in a mess of a movie.

NIGHT ANGEL (1990)

The director of Halloween 5 and Omen IV proves that sometimes you’re much better off making your own movie than hopping on a cash cow to make a name for yourself. Night Angel rocks!

A she demon crawls up from the ground and transforms into a sexual seductress. She gets work at a fashion magazine run by Karen Black and begins banging her way through the men there, often killing them, while making Karen her demon bitch.

The main guy is dating Karen’s sister and gets sucked into the demon’s web.

He has some wild nightmares and visits a hellish sex club of the deformed, tortured, and mutilated.

It felt like something out of a Clive Barker movie adaptation, and it freaking rocks the horrific imagery.

We even have a young Doug Jones, who went on to become a horror icon, as one of the demon’s bitches. He even does a funky dance with her early on.

Finally, the main guy and his girlfriend take on the demon with the help of the typical wise old mystic lady.

When we get to see the demon in her real form, she is horror perfection.

Night Angel is a feast for the eyes for lovers of practical effects.

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Digging into my Stephen King movie collection part 5

Actually, I’m digging into Stephen King adaptations for television this time around, including two miniseries and a short-lived anthology series.

ROSE RED (2002)

Legend has it that Stephen King wanted to team up with Steven Spielberg to create the most terrifying haunted house movie ever, but they just couldn’t agree on the direction it should take, so they went their separate ways and King came up with this.

He should have stuck with Spielberg.

The miniseries takes the Shirley Jackson classic The Haunting of Hill House and manages to make it even duller and more convoluted. That’s right, I said it. Her novel, the movie adaptations, the Netflix series, the rip-off movie The Legend of Hell House—they’re all one more agonizingly boring than the other. But Red Rose takes the cake.

Probably the biggest problem is that King wrote a screenplay like he was writing a novel. There’s so much bland exposition that goes on and on and does nothing to develop the scares or the characters in film format. All it succeeded in doing was dragging this shit out for three nights.

A teacher gathers together a bunch of psychics to go to an abandoned mansion ripe with a tragic history of murder and mayhem. Her young lover is about to inherit the place, so he comes along.

Aside from loads of standing around and talking for the hours and hours this movie runs, there are some cheesy effects, people running and screaming at the sight of things we never see, and everyone tossing their psychic powers around to confuse the haunting aspects even more. Oh…and the house keeps changing its architecture as in the 13 Ghosts remake. And just to be clear on the effort put into ramping up the fear factor…there’s a cheap rat scare in the final act.

Do yourself a favor if you want chills, thrills, and popcorn movie fun—skip anything based on The Haunting of Hill House and go straight to Vincent Price in The House on Haunted Hill.

NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES (2006)

This one-season series featured one-hour episodes based on tales from King’s short story collections. Here’s what you get, and unless otherwise noted, the stories come from the fiction collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes:

1st episode – In a tale from Night Shift that plays out entirely with no dialogue, William Hurt is an assassin who kills a toymaker and is then terrorized by toy army soldiers in his apartment. This one is a nonstop action thrill ride.

2nd episode – This is a tale of a husband and wife that get sucked into a monstrous dimension while on their way to a prospective employer’s home for dinner—even after a cab driver warns them not to go there (at which point the husband’s racism shows). I was reminded of a Twilight Zone episode in which a couple spends the episode running around a deserted town, only this one features much more chaos and very 2006 CGI monsters.

3rd episode – This one has a campy 1930s charm, as a private detective discovers he is merely the womanizing fictional character of a successful author that wants to swap places with him (William H. Macy in a dual role). It feels like an episode of Spielberg’s 1980s show Amazing Stories, with a cutesy retro tone that wears thin fast.

4th episode – a documentary filmmaker trying to cope with the horrors of the world looks back at how his brother discovered a town that was totally crime-free then attempted to replicate that magic worldwide. Boring episode, but it was fun to hear Texas name-dropped as the state with the most violent crimes.

5th episode – in this tale from the collection Everything’s Eventual, Tom Berenger plays a famous author who gets bad news during a colonoscopy. He buys a painting at an estate sale of an evil man in a car, and then finds himself being stalked. The painting is hella creepy and so is the driver.

6th episode – Jeremy Sisto is released from prison on probation and swears he’s going to clean up his act. But then he learns his ex-prison mate has spread pieces of a map out to various guys Sisto has to hunt down to score a treasure.

7th episode – this is another story from Everything’s Eventual. Richard Thomas finds himself in a body bag in a morgue after a golf game and totally experiencing everything that’s happening to his body (including an anal probe). He starts to piece together in his mind what actually happened to him…by gasping his thoughts out loud in a stream of conscience narrative for an hour.

8th episode – another story that feels right out of Amazing Stories, this one stars Steven Weber. While he and his wife are on a road trip, they stop in a small town that seems to be rock and roll heaven, for all the most famous deceased rock stars live there.

BAG OF BONES (2011)

Now this is how you do a Stephen King miniseries. It also helps that it was only two parts when aired, so without commercials it clocks in at under three hours, making it more concise than that Red Rose mess.

It also has that classic King narrative style, bringing to mind plot techniques of many of his best storytelling from his earlier period of writing, including everything from The Shining to Pet Sematary.

Pierce Brosnan is excellent as an author who loses his wife in a tragic accident then escapes to their summer house by a lake to try to grieve.

He immediately begins receiving signs that his wife is attempting to communicate with him. He’s also victimized by some very unhappy ghostly apparitions. On top of that, he’s drawn into a residual haunting by an alluring Black female singer of the past.

Meanwhile, in the real world he becomes implicated in a custody battle involving horror veteran Melissa George and her nasty old wealthy father-in-law, whose female assistant is deliciously evil.

The film moves at an excellent pace for a miniseries, with clear character development that doesn’t overdue it, as well as a slowly unfolding supernatural mystery that keeps you engrossed. And I’ll be damned if there aren’t quite a few highly effective jump scares the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a Stephen King miniseries since Salem’s Lot and It.

The denouement in the final act reveals a classic King backstory, and you should be warned there is rape and racism involved. You should also be warned that there are a few really hokey moments involving good ghosts. Let’s just say it’s the kind of stuff that works great in pulling the heartstrings in Ghost, but not in Stephen King.

 

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PRIME TIME: hungry zombies and some deep horror

I couldn’t find a third zombie flick to watch to make this a triple feature, so I just tossed in a random movie to cross off my way-too-long Prime list, and it sure was a different subgenre than zombie horror. Let’s get right to them.

DEADLOCKED (2020)

This is a short, low budget indie about a motley crew that gets trapped on an elevator during an unexplained zombie outbreak.

On board we have an arrogant actor, an introverted girl with asthma, a cute cop, a muscle hunk, and a smart, brave young woman. The elevator comes to a halt, and over time they slowly figure out the predicament they’re in.

The film really doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere for quite a while, and when they finally open the doors a crack between floors, we’re subjected to several predictable and repetitive jump scares of zombie faces poking in.

It’s when the brave young woman decides to climb out and get back to her apartment that things finally pick up. She has a camera attached to her so those in the elevator can view her progress, and the POV and action temporarily give off a Quarantine feel. Definitely the highlight of the film.

Eventually the whole group escapes and has to contend with a small onslaught of zombies, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Also, there’s not much in the way of zombie makeup, but their movement and some of the setup shots are quite effective.

THE CURSE OF HOBBES HOUSE (2020)

This is a fresh approach to the zombie genre that leads right to the classic zombie dilemma—how to escape a house that has been surrounded.

A young woman comes to the mansion of her deceased aunt for the reading of the will. Also present is her half-sister and the half-sister’s boyfriend, a woman overseeing the proceedings, and the aunt’s faithful servant.

It takes some time for this one to get going as the relationships are established, but when the first zombie appears, it’s a zinger that gave me a good jump scare and reminded me of a Deadite.

Also important to note is that these cool zombies are fast runners and make squealing noises, and they also have glowing eyes, which I saw people online criticize in Night of the Living Dead: Rebirth, but which I find to be pretty cool.

The action is fairly typical, but it’s the satisfying type of typical, so if you need a zombie fix, don’t hesitate to check this one out.

THE POND (2021)

The Pond is definitely not for me, but if you love elevated horror, this is probably one you shouldn’t miss. This shit goes deep. Translation: it felt like I was digging a six-foot deep grave I then couldn’t climb out of.

A super slow burn steeped in folk horror, religion, and philosophical perspectives on existence, it’s about an anthropology professor who gets canned from his job because his research seems too far-fetched.

He believes perhaps we aren’t even tapping into all the senses at our disposal and are therefore missing out on aspects of life that are there but we’re just not seeing. Meanwhile, his daughter is insisting that she literally keeps seeing a monster…yet he tells her it’s not real and just in her dreams. WTF? Hypocrite.

There are also several odd characters surrounding him in this rural area in which they’re living, and their presence adds to the mystery and confusion as to what exactly is really going on. Creepiest are a dude who seems like a lost soul with a screw loose and two young girls who subtly torment his daughter and seem like they would summon Slenderman, Candyman, and Bloody Mary at midnight on Halloween while standing on a serial killer’s grave just for the fun of it.

The film is visually arresting throughout, and there’s a spooky figure I like to call twig head.

However, this is in no way a boo! scare horror movie. A lot of patience and quite a bit of mind flexing are necessary to appreciate what this flick is going for.

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A killer octopus, a back baby, and a horror anthology

It’s a return to the late 1970s with this trio of flicks I just picked up on Blu-ray. I regret nothing, so let’s take a look.

TENTACLES (1977)

It’s yet another killer creature of the deep film that came out in the wake of the Jaws box office numbers. This one is an Italian film that somehow lined up the likes of Shelley Winters, Henry Fonda, Claude Akins, John Huston, and Bo Hopkins.

For starters, I’ll just say that the biggest failure of this octopus film is the horrible Euro horror music cues that, as usual, never fit the tone of what is actually happening on screen and make everything feel like a whimsical action sequence.

The only scene I remembered from this film, which I literally saw decades ago as a tween, turns out to be the opener, because it involves the murder of a baby. Yay! But seriously, it’s so ridiculous. A woman is with her baby in its stroller by a rocky edge of the shore that drops off into the water. A friend pulls up on the far side of a two lane street, so this fucking Karen leaves the baby to go say hi.

There are quickly a series of deaths to get us hooked, as well as a jump scare from hell. Then we meet all the famous people in the movie and get the basic plot–a tunnel is being built under the bay, and radio signals are causing the octopus to go nuts. Just the octopus? No other animal life at all? Weird.

There are plenty of underwater scenes, some funny octopus ink attacks, shots of the octo eye and octo legs, and even some awesome shots of the octopus sinking boats.

But in exchange there are loads of very long montages of a boating race set to that horrible Euro muzak.

And in the end, the solution to taking down the octopus is a couple of killer whales.

It cools that it’s an octopus flick instead of yet another shark film, but it’s no Jaws.

THE MANITOU (1978)

More than 40 years before Malignant, there was…The Manitou!

Not to be upstaged in the horror genre by his wife and daughter, Tony Curtis jumped into the fray a few times, including here, where he plays a psychic who finds himself drawn into a very supernatural situation.

His woman has the demonic spirit of a Native American medicine man growing out of her back in fetus form. This is precisely why abortion needs to be legal.

There are some wild scenes, including one of Curtis’s clients floating down the hall of his building, and more importantly, the little man Native American demon that eventually emerges from the woman’s back.

There’s also a lot of filler as Curtis seeks out various means of help leading up to the wild final act when the birth occurs.

And then this shit totally jumps the shark, with a portal opened into another dimension that looks like outer space, the Native American little demon man floating around, and his involuntary mother floating around in her hospital bed shooting lasers out of her fingers. Sigh.

So, yeah…Malignant did it better.

SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT (1979)

Although this is an anthology film, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the wraparound inspired Raimi to make Evil Dead. It concerns a group of friends heading to a cabin in the woods. They stop at a gas station on the way and their gas is pumped by a young William Ragsdale of Fright Night fame.

When they arrive at the ramshackle cabin, one guy shows them a grave site and tells stories of a family believed to have been killed by a Native American spirit.

Finally, 25 minutes in, they gather in the cabin to tell stories. Adding to the fun, the same actors play the characters in the stories.

Adding even more to the fun, the Blu-ray includes the long version, which features a bonus tale cut from the original theatrical release. Here’s the breakdown:

1st story – this is a take on a classic urban legend we would see again in Urban Legend. A couple gets stuck on a road at night, he leaves to get gas, and something chases him in the woods. Back at the car a while later, she hears something scratching at the roof of the car….

2nd stort – guys sneak into a supposedly haunted building for a frat initiation, and when they go to investigate a noise, they split up. The short ends with a creepy and odd discovery by one of the guys. It’s the kind of final frame that would have been the stuff of nightmares when I was a kid.

3rd story – this is a tale of a witch buried outside the cemetery, and the stupid buddies who go to visit that cemetery. Eek!

4th story – this final tale shows you just what a problem horror has always had with chauvinism. A young woman goes on a date with a guy, he tries to rape her, and she kills him. So you’d think that would make her a man-hating killer, right? Nope. SPOILER: she ends up going to college, snaps, and kills her female roommate that borrowed her cardigan sweater without asking. WTF?

The wraparound delivers on the Evil Dead vibes right up to the conclusion, when the gang is finally targeted by the mysterious force believed to have killed that family in the woods.

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NETFLIX AND CHILLS: escaped psychos, ghost hunters, and a rookie exorcist

Once again I’m kicking myself for doing a marathon of Netflix horror movies. So it’s time for you to either suffer the way I did, or perhaps find one that sounds right up your alley.

THE TRIP (2021)

I don’t know. I guess this is a home invasion/almost gay rape-revenge flick. It’s nearly two hours long and that’s just one of the reasons it’s so not my thing.

A straight couple heads to a house in the woods, neither partner realizing the other partner has sinister plans for them.

While they’re both in the middle of solving their relationship problems in all the wrong ways, they get another unexpected surprise—three escaped psychos are hiding out in the house.

After a long scene of the male partner under the threat of being raped by one of the psychos, who’s gay (landing this on the does the gay guy die? page), the captured couple starts to fight back.

There’s loads of over-the-top violence, shit humor, the gay guy plucking a bullet out of another psycho’s ass, the type of out of sequence narration made famous by Taranatino films, and…well, that’s about it.

If you’re into all that, you should have a blast with this one. A bit of a slow start, but after about 25 minutes it’s a wild ride.

MALEVOLENT (2018)

Why do I keep doing this to myself and watching these ghost hunter movies?

This isn’t a found footage movie, but that doesn’t help. It takes place in the 1980s and even has a club scene featuring the dance hit “IOU” by Freeez, but that doesn’t help. Unless you just adore ghost hunter movies, there’s so much more you could do with this 90 minutes.

A brother and sister team does scam ghost hunts. But on their latest case the sister hears voices and is afraid she’s going nuts like her deceased mom did before committing suicide.

A woman asks them to chase away screaming girl ghosts in her home.

The home where she had fifteen foster girls. The home where simple research turns up the fact that her son was believed to have killed them all after sewing their mouths shut.

The story arc is obvious, the scares are lacking (unless little girl ghosts standing in the background still scare you). This movie simply did nothing for me.

THE SEVENTH DAY (2021)

This film almost had me, and it offers a couple of promising premises, but in the end the execution is just so generic it falls quite flat.

It begins with horror veteran Keith David as a priest doing an exorcism on a little kid with a rookie priest by his side.

We then meet the rookie years later, played by Guy Pearce, and he is now an unconventional mentor to another rookie exorcist on his first day. They go to perform an exorcism on a homeless person under on overpass, and this felt like it was going to be a different kind of buddy exorcist movie.

But that possibility fades fast.

The rookie becomes the focus as he takes on a case of a young boy who axed his family to death and is believed to be possessed and in need of an exorcism. The possession and exorcism elements are sooooo run-of-the-mill here, and even though there’s a good twist as to what the real problem is, it simply doesn’t manage to pack the punch it should. There is, however, some priest on priest action…

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Digging into my Stephen King movie collection part 4

Sometimes I ask myself why I keep coming back for more Stephen King movies not from the 1980s. I’m just a sucker for Stephen, and there’s at least  little enjoyment to be had with these three, so let’s find out where that horror happiness stems from.

DESPERATION (2006)

When we think of fantastic performances in Stephen King adaptations, we think Kathy Bates in Misery, Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Dee Wallace in Cujo—but we should also take note of Ron Perlman in Desperation.

The tragedy is that he disappears midway through the movie due to the plot, at which point the entire film loses steam. If you ask me, King should have revised his story for the screenplay in order to keep Perlman as the antagonist.

Driving along a desert road, numerous people are stopped and arrested by a freaky sheriff, played by Perlman.

He tosses them all in prison cells in a ghost town to do what with them we don’t know.

Working as his minions are loads of nature’s creatures, including spiders, buzzards, snakes, a mountain lion, and wolves.

At some point, Perlman takes a woman from the prison to pass on to her a demon that has been possessing him, and then he’s gone. After that, this becomes a generic, totally forgettable, good vs. evil, made-for-TV movie with way too much talk about and metaphorical shit concerning God and Jesus. Cool cast though—Steven Weber, Tom Skerritt, Charles Durning, Henry Thomas…

And as a subliminal PSA, Skerritt wears protection when he comes upon a dangerous looking hole…

BIG DRIVER (2014)

This flick is based on a novella from the collection Full Dark, No Stars, and it just feels like King is at a loss for new ideas and resorting to giving basic old premises a King touch.

This is a rape/revenge story. How it differs from other similar stories is that the victim here is an author, and to get revenge, she relies on an “imaginary friend” in the form of a character from her novel…played by Olympia Dukakis. Weird.

This was originally a Lifetime Channel movie, yet the rape scene manages to be very disturbing.

The main character gets a flat on a deserted road, a huge guy in a pickup truck stops to help her, and he then assaults her.

Rather than reporting the incident, she starts an investigation to track him down. That’s about it until the big final battle.

The most interesting thing to come out of this is Joan Jett in a small role, but the final act is satisfying enough for a fairly generic rape/revenge flick.

1922 (2017)

At some point it has to be all right for someone to admit not everything King writes is great, and the stuff that isn’t good shouldn’t be made into bad movies.

Adapted from a novella in the book Full Dark, No Stars, this is basically Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, with the beating heart replaced by rats and mooing cows. I can’t. I just can’t.

And therefore, I barely will. Thomas Jane’s wife wants to sell their farm and move. He convinces his son to help him kill her. They dump her down a well. Rats start eating her.

They dump one of their cows in on top of her—alive (the theme of animal cruelty I’ve been noticing in this series of Stephen King posts persists). They fill the hole with dirt.

Thomas Jane is terrorized by rats and mooing for the rest of the movie.

The end.

 

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Halfway to Halloween with Scooby-Doo

Even though Scooby and the gang almost always yank off the mask at the end to reveal a boring old human behind the monster, no doubt the Scooby-Doo cartoons were a gateway for many a horror fan. Due to their weekly ghoulish encounters, the characters made for perfect Halloween costumes as well. In fact, they even dressed up like each other a few times over the decades during their own Halloween celebrations through numerous versions of the show. However, not every Scooby-Doo Halloween lives up to the holiday for me. So let’s get to breaking them down.

THE SCOOBY-DOO SHOW:
THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN OF HALLOWEEN (1976)

I was just a kiddie when this one first aired on a Saturday morning, and I have to say, it’s classic 1970s Scooby-Doo with comedic mayhem and a laugh track, but it’s a huge Halloween disappointment.

It starts off perfect. The gang—including sometimes cousin/sometimes brother Scooby-Dum—is at a Halloween party in Sleepy Hollow at the home of descendants of Ichabod Crane.

When apple bobbing goes wrong, they encounter the Headless Horseman. Eek!

But the Halloween spirit is out the window fast when the specter crashes the party.

All the guests leave, the Headless Horseman exchanges his jack-o’ lantern for a human head, and then it’s just like any ordinary Scooby-Doo episode.

THE SCOOBY-DOO SHOW:
TO SWITCH A WITCH (1978)

It begins with an old man digging a grave at night and a witch burned at the stake rising from her burial ground. Now that’s some serious Scooby-Doo Halloween setup.

The gang is visiting a friend in Salem who happens to be a descendant of that witch, so the town suddenly turns into a lynch mob that wants to burn her for being a witch!

While the gang is determined to investigate, Scooby and Shaggy still want to trick or treat, and Scooby happens to dress as a witch that looks just like the resurrected witch. You can imagine the shenanigans that ensue as a result. The mystery romp takes us through a pumpkin patch, to a witch museum, and back to the graveyard for the finale.

Plenty of witchy stuff for sure, but there isn’t exactly any major holiday celebration going on in this episode—a little disappointing considering it’s Halloween in Salem.

THE NEW SCOOBY AND SCRAPPY-DOO SHOW:
A HALLOWEEN HASSLE AT DRACULA’S CASTLE (1984)

This is the only Halloween episode to feature Scrappy. People fricking hate Scrappy, but I love me some puppies, so back in the early 80s when I was a tween, I was a fan.

We jump right into the Halloween spirit, with autumn leaves falling as the gang visits a costume store.

Little do they realize that the owner is Dracula when he invites them to a big Halloween party.

In fact, all the guests are actual classic monsters.

They sure do add to the Halloween vibe, but it’s kind of surprising to find Dracula’s castle doesn’t go all out with Halloween decorations. What a letdown.

What isn’t a letdown is the twist. It’s up to the gang to save the monsters from the ghost of Van Helsing on Halloween!

Too cool. There’s even a Ghostbusters reference in an episode that originally aired the very year the film came out. Trippy.

A PUP NAMED SCOOBY-DOO:
GHOST WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1988)

This is from a series that featured the gang as kids.

They go trick or treating and learn the couple at one particular house is ready to sell because it’s being haunted by a pirate ghost. And this episode has not one, but two classic chase scene montages.

A couple of interesting things to note. First, the gang gets help solving the mystery from an actual little ghost named Mr. Boo.

Second, although nothing got accused of being “woke” back in the eighties when they dealt with societal truths (because there was no internet to amplify anger and hatred), this episode has a premise that would go over the heads of kids but is blatantly clear to an adult.

It’s an older Black couple that is being pushed out of their home so fat, wealthy white people can bulldoze their house to put up money-making restaurants. That shit isn’t fiction—it’s based totally on reality. And now the play on the title “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” all makes sense.

WHAT’S NEW, SCOOBY-DOO?
A SCOOBY-DOO HALLOWEEN (2003)

This is the gang’s first of two Halloween encounters with the band KISS. They travel to the home of Velma’s aunt and uncle, where KISS is headlining a festival for the holiday.

They soon learn of a local legend about a spirit that is going to return for revenge.

Sure there turns out to be a ghost, but better than the lame ghost are the evil scarecrows with sharp weapons. Awesome.

Not only do Scoob and Shag dress as each other for Halloween, but there’s also a fun in-joke for us genXers; a dude dressed as Hong Kong Phooey gets annoyed when a teenager doesn’t know who he’s supposed to be.

SCOOBY-DOO AND THE GOBLIN KING (2008)

The first major Halloween movie for the gang, this one really blows it except for one great scene that makes up for an earlier Halloween disaster.

It begins at a Halloween carnival, but the gang quickly gets kicked out after exposing a magician as a fraud.

From that point on, this Scooby-Doo movie goes on an acid trip.

The magician draws the magic from a fairy that looks like Tinker Bell dressed as Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi in order to steal powers from the goblin king of the underworld.

Scoob and Shag are sent by what is essentially the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland to cut him off at the pass.

In the underworld they encounter plenty of classic monsters, which leads to the highlight of the film—a kick-ass chase with the Headless Horseman, complete with the covered bridge. This totally makes up for that first ever Scooby Halloween disappointment.

Other notable aspects include Lauren Bacall voicing a witch and Tim Curry voicing the goblin king.

Unfortunately, this is so out of the realm of the silly reality in which regular Scooby-Doo mysteries are usually based that it doesn’t even feel like Scooby-Doo. However, we do get to see Scooby and Shaggy in Daphne and Velma drag.

SCOOBY-DOO! AND KISS:
ROCK AND ROLL MYSTERY (2015)

The Scooby gang once again meets KISS in a full-length feature that’s sort of like a sequel to the movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. And while it’s supposedly Halloween themed, there’s barely even any mention of the holiday, and not a decoration or pumpkin in sight. The whole point of the plot is to get rid of the baddie before a KISS Halloween concert even happens.

However, viewed as a “KISS meets the Scooby gang” movie, it totally rocks. The animated KISS action rules, especially Gene Simmons and his tongue.

The band has special powers, and they team up with the Scooby gang when a witch begins to terrorize their KISS amusement park.

Unfortunately, the witch kind of sucks. Rather than a traditional witch, she’s a futuristic sci-fi witch. I really wasn’t feeling the baddie at all.

Highlights include Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith doing the voices of two roller coaster workers at the beginning (not as Jay and Silent Bob), and music montages featuring KISS tracks like “Rock n Roll All Nite”, “Shout It Out Loud”, and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”.

BE COOL, SCOOBY-DOO!
HALLOWEEN (2017)

This basic 20-minute episode is full of Halloween fun and a classic witch enemy.

Hell, she even looks like she lives in the Evil Dead cabin.

In this tale, Velma is a stick in the mud who feels like Halloween is a mockery, Daphne, Scoob, and Shag are totally ready to party, and Fred is afraid to celebrate because things always go bad at Halloween.

Highlights include a montage of Fred remembering Halloweens past, and Shag and Scoob doing their classic shtick of throwing the baddie off her game with their crazy antics.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, SCOOBY-DOO! (2020)

This is the ultimate Scooby-Doo Halloween. It all starts with a Halloween theme song as Elvira hosts a parade and an evil scarecrow busts in to bring real terror to the haunted happenings.

Luckily the Scooby gang is well-equipped for such Halloween emergencies at this point (they’ve been doing this for 5 decades, after all).

I’m not a comic book guy, but apparently this scarecrow dude is a crossover from the Batman universe. However, he’s not the real threat.

In a total horror movie moment, Scoob and Shag go trick or treating and witness toxic waste leaking into a pumpkin patch, leading to the growth of a giant walking pumpkin and little pumpkin minions.

A good chunk of the film becomes a car chase scene, with Elvira in her hearse and the gang in a technologically advanced Mystery Machine with a Bill Nye hologram as their guide.

The Halloween spirit couldn’t be any better, and we even get to see Fred with his shirt off and dancing with a guy dressed in a Fred Flintstone costume at the end.

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