STREAM QUEEN: what to watch, which to skip

It was time for a slasher break, so I dug through my watchlists and here’s what I came up with—a blend of trashy, cheap, commercial, and kind of creepy films.

SLAUGHTER STUDIOS (2002)

It’s always fun to indulge in one of these post-Scream, direct-to-video slashers.

Nothing new here, right from the basic setup—film crew is using a haunted attraction for a location shoot. They immediately make the mistake of accidentally summoning something….

The characters are caricatures and mostly annoying (bimbos mostly—movie is clearly made for straight guys), and most of the movie features them just wandering through the maze-like haunted attraction to set the tone.

Even so, the film delivers on two of the most important aspects of a slasher: lots of sexual situations and eventually lots of kills (it takes a while). There are ridiculous amounts of asses and boobs getting right in the camera, and the kills are generally nice and hardcore for a low budget slasher. There’s even a surprise in store at the end.

LOVELAND (2019)

I know this is like a no budget film, but when a 67-minute movie is predominantly padded with road trip preparation montages and a loooooooong hangout session at a campfire, you probably should have just made a short film.

A group of diverse friends—white and straight, lesbian, black guy—goes camping to a location with a reputation for having been the site of a killer.

The main lesbian girl is on meds and keeps seeing flashes of a masked killer, even before they know anything about the trip or murders. In this day and age, that leaves us with two predictable endings—she’s actually the killer or we’re being led to believe she’s the killer.

To make things interesting between the filler, the lesbian has visions of killing all her friends and hooking up with one of the girls in the shower.

Right near the end, someone realty starts killing the friends off quickly in uninspired, low budget death scenes, and then we find out if the druggy lesbian actually did it.

For me, the best part is a completely out of place, humorous moment involving a woman sheriff.

THE JACK IN THE BOX (2019)

The Jack in the Box follows the template of new millennium supernatural slasher movies like Darkness Falls, Boogeyman, and Lights Out.

There’s an awesome opener of the oversized jack-in-the-box claiming a victim, showing us exactly what we’re in for.

We then meet our main guy 12 years later, a cutie working at a museum. He scores a large, intriguing jack-in-the-box, and you know what that means.

There are various kills along the way, with people dying in different ways. Sometimes a hand comes out of the box and just drags them into it, and other times the clownish looking Jack comes out of the box and stalks and kills them.

Meanwhile, our main guy figures out people are disappearing, becomes convinced Jack is doing it, and starts his own little investigation tracking the box’s history and origin.

It’s simple and predictable in its scares, but they work, and Jack is a freaky good killer that should definitely appeal to fans of creepy clowns.

THE CLEANING LADY (2018)

The Cleaning Lady takes the general concept of obsession thrillers from the 1990s and injects a more intense dose of gruesome! It may be a bit predictable in general, but there are plenty of gnarly and disturbing elements to better satisfy horror fans.

A pretty woman in therapy for love addiction offers a repair woman with bad burn scars on her face a job cleaning her apartment. It becomes clear quickly that the cleaning lady is drawn to the pretty woman, who is warm and welcoming to her and even tries to build her confidence.

But this cleaning lady’s scars run deep. Flashbacks reveal her fucked up past, she has crazy shit going on at her home now, and even has a mother who looks like the doppelganger of Kate Pierson of The B-52s.

When the cleaning lady begins to do freaky stuff to her employer without her knowledge…Eek! It’s a perfectly slow burn at first, and we’re sucked in as we wait for the cleaning lady to snap and see just how far she’ll go. The final act is pretty damn twisted and goes to places you’d not fully expect for a change—most of all leaving the scene of most of the action and taking us on a bit of a journey.

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Horror of the 1980s: beginning, middle, and end

Reveling in some new acquisitions to my DVD and Blu-ray collection, I knew it was once again time to blog about the 1980s. So here’s a selection of flicks I haven’t yet covered spanning from 1980 to 1989.

CONTAMINATION (1980)

I can never get enough badly dubbed, gory, synth-drenched Euro horror of the 80s in my collection, and Contamination delivers in that way. However, it’s not a very entertaining movie and in no way scary.

It’s often accused of being an Alien rip-off because a small group of scientists is investigating slimy eggs found on an abandoned ship in New York. If you ask me, it’s actually Scanners on antacid.

See, these eggs never hatch into facehuggers or anything like that. They simply burst, covering people in green slime that within seconds causes the victim’s belly to absolutely explode!

There are plenty of exploding belly scenes, but other than that, the small group of heroes does a lot of talking as they travel from one location to another trying to uncover the truth about the origin of the eggs. They find it eventually in the form of a goofy one-eyed alien in a scene that goes on way too long to be thrilling.

DEVIL FISH (aka: Monster Shark) (1984)

Lamberto Bava directs this silly but fun movie that is better titled Devil Fish than Monster Shark, because it looks like a mutant fish with tentacles, not a shark. It almost seems like the movie Beneath borrowed the look of this fish monster’s face.

We only get glimpses of this fish monster—mostly its mouth and tentacles—for most of the film, but there are plenty of gory shots of bodies being pulled out of the water along the way.

After the attacks begin and drive the dolphins at the marina nuts (very Jaws 3D), the researchers there go out on a boat to hunt down whatever is making blips on their underwater radar (very Jaws The Revenge, although this came first).

Occasional random kills keep us entertained, as do the hilarious lines that are made even funnier due to the dubbing. For instance, a baddie that wants to kill all the researchers before they can discover the fish monster chokes a woman to death while growling, “Croak! Croak!”

The score is Euro horror cheesy at its best, there’s a classic video game moment, and the fish is eventually lured to…a river? The tight, swamp-like setting of the final act at night is a blast, with plenty of man munching and fish monster footage.

There are a couple of men I’d like to munch in the movie as well.

I’m not sure what, but something compelled me to grab this particular still shot…

DEAD RINGERS (1988)

David Cronenberg delves into the horrors of gynecology enough to make women cross their legs while watching and men to feel sympathy pains, but this isn’t one of his most exciting weird films.

Jeremy Irons plays twin brother gynecologists, one an alpha the other a passive man who eats up his brother’s sloppy seconds when it comes to women. Catch is they never tell the women they’ve been handed off to a twin.

However, the latest victim of their game, a patient with fertility issues and a twisted sexual appetite, discovers there are two of them and becomes involved in a complex, voluntary swap once she meets them both.

The passive brother gets the girl and starts to lose his mind. This psychological thriller has him believing women have mutant genitalia and special ordering nasty surgical tools to fix them. If only it were all as visually gruesome as you’d expect from a Cronenberg film.

Instead, Dead Ringers is more like an acid trip drug addiction story, and that’s just so not my thing.

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1989)

Edgar Allan Poe gets loosely adapted into a cheesy late 80s slasher that will catapult you right back to the era if you’ve never seen it.

With its polished “old” castle setting and vibrant colors, this feels like a Charles Band film of the early 90s. A photographer sneaks into an exclusive party to get some juicy photos, and someone in a red cape and mask begins killing people. Get it? Rather than the figurative masked red death of a plague from the original story, this one is literal.

There are numerous awesome music video performances by a totally 80s pop rock band.

Frank Stallone has a role in the film, but he doesn’t get any songs on the soundtrack like he did when his brother directed Staying Alive. His career wasn’t that far from over by the time this movie came out…

A bunch of quirky characters is at each other’s throats so that we have no idea who the killer could be. There’s also a court jester stalking the photographer, and he’s actually creepier than the killer!

But the real highlight of the film (aside from the pop rock band) is the death scenes. As hokey as this is, the kills often feel as extravagant, grisly, and odd as the kill sequences in an Argento movie! It’s an unexpected touch in such a silly movie.

And the movie doesn’t forget how silly it is in the end. The hubby and I were laughing out loud as the final battle played out between the main girl and the killer.

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STREAM QUEEN: the woods just keep calling me back

You never know what you’ll find when you watch a movie about people heading into the wilderness. So which of these four films were worth the trip?

(THE DEVIL’S FOREST TO) WOOD WITCH: THE AWAKENING (2020)

So much of this found footage film is filler of The Blair Witch Project variety. Two couples heading to the woods for a weekends excursion hear about a legend of a witch in the woods that was turned into a tree.

They ask around, get enough information to locate the tree, and explore the woods for a while.

When they find the tree, they read a spell to release the witch…and the film suddenly cuts to them running around the woods in terror. I was so annoyed that after all that foolish footage, we weren’t going to even see anything!

But the film saves itself and becomes a fun, cheesy SyFy style horror, with the tree witch coming to life, chasing after them, and shooting green laser magic at them.

The final girl even delivers some funny lines as she battles the witch tree while rockin’ music serves as the soundtrack. There’s even a promise of a sequel.

BEYOND THE WOODS (2018)

When a group of friends gathers at an isolated vacation home, talk turns immediately to a dark legend of a nearby sinkhole.

Although we never see the sinkhole, it works in the film’s favor. We feel the presence of the sinkhole—or perhaps something that came out of it. This director clearly studied old school cabin in the woods horror films, because we always sense something is out there just waiting to strike.

There also seems to be something inside the house. The film relies mostly on building tension and suspense, uses one unnecessary dream sequence (considering we see what was in the dream minutes later in reality), and even got me with the most obvious jump scare ever.

While there’s some slowdown in the middle of the movie, I like that it is like an odd mashup of Evil Dead and Friday the 13th. The final act has people getting possessed and a fricking killer with an axe! Awesome. A double dose of throwbacks in one entertaining flick.

30 MILES FROM NOWHERE (2018)

You know a cabin in the woods movie means business when it begins with an overhead view of a car on a road winding through the woods to its destination. At least it should mean business, but I can’t even believe what transpires (or doesn’t) after that opening.

30 Miles From Nowhere is painful to watch if you’re expecting either a cabin in the woods horror film or a horror comedy, as this film is labeled. Most of what passes for comedy here is the constant campy scream reactions to faux scares, and that kind of humor only works a few times before it needs some backup comedy.

The plot finds a group of college friends “reuniting” due to a funeral. Despite their loss, they immediately start taking jabs at each other’s lives, so I felt no love for any of them. But I continued watching.

When they arrive at the house in the woods and someone references The Big Chill, it’s more a warning than a meta joke, because most of this film plays out like that film rather than delivering any actual horror or suspense. Any scary moments are not clearly defined as real or imagined, on top of which they aren’t even related, so there’s no telling what is actually going on or what we might possibly need to be afraid of.

In the end it’s all about the group discovering the truth of exactly how their friend died. Carrie Preston of True Blood steals the show with her weird performance, and when she gets a monologue that’s about fifteen minutes long, it’s almost as if she’s saying, “I spent years blending into the background as a waitress in a bar on a hit show, so step aside bitches, because I’m about to eat the scenery.”

BARRICADE (2012)

The director of zomcom Fido goes in a completely different direction with this film…and steers right into a snow mound. 

Eric McCormack stars as a man who brings his daughter and son to a cabin in the woods for Christmas a year after the loss of his wife.

Immediate faux tension builds (the son is missing! Oh…he’s in the shed) and flashbacks of the wife’s death paralleling every move McCormack makes in the present are red flags about just how uninspired the film is going to be.

Shadows, knocking, the kids panicking, the dad seeming to suffer from hallucinations…it seems like either a lifeless ghost story or a case of grief sparking deadly delusions movie. But don’t expect to find out which, because the film keeps negating the truth it reveals right up to the bitter end.

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Getting Bit By Day’s End will send you into a Spiral of queer horror

It’s unusual for me to find a handful of gay male horror all at once to blog about, yet alone a more diverse selection that includes gay male, lesbian, and trans horror and gives me something new to add to the complete homo horror movies page. This trio of films worked on all counts, so let’s get right into Spiral, By Day’s End, and Bit.

SPIRAL (2019)

Shudder film Spiral does a pretty damn good job of giving us a gay film in the style of timely and socially aware horror that is reinvigorating the genre these days thanks in large part to Jordan Peele. This film even approaches its gay theme with an interracial relationship.

Before I get into why this film is so good, here are just a few aspects I feel the need to call out so that I don’t seem to be overpraising it simply because of its niche importance.

  1. a) Some viewers may find certain parts a little preachy due to the activist mindset of the characters experiencing oppression. It should be recognized, however, that it is included to present a case of understanding to straight audiences, because otherwise this film is just preaching to the gay choir.

 

  1. b) On a similar note, because it has a social messaging purpose, this isn’t a “gay horror film” for everyone. For instance, if the opening gay bashing in It Chapter Two triggered you, there are plenty of scenes here that will probably do the same. This isn’t simply a horror movie with gay leads encountering the same sinister threats as straight people do in horror movies; their gay identity is the springboard for the whole plot, with evil heterosexuality as the big looming threat.

  1. c) There are some blatantly stereotypical aspects to the gay characters that might annoy some viewers who prefer homogeneous humans that just “happen to be gay”. However, stereotypical or not, they’re realistic and help define the time from which these characters come (the movie takes place in 1995, when major strides were being made by a vocal queer community).

 

  1. d) There’s actually a little too much going on here. In an undeniably successful effort to keep the pace going, the film throws numerous horror tropes at us, yet most of them are just touched upon and don’t actually come together to create a cohesive, significant plot thread. I’m talking to you, ghost girl returning her video tapes way late.

The story focuses on a gay couple moving into a new home: a Black man and his white partner, who has a teenage daughter from a previous marriage to a woman.

The proud gay Black guy suffers from PTSD due to a bashing incident when he was younger. Therefore, he’s very suspect of everyone around them, including their new neighbors.

When he begins to experience frightening situations in the new home, we are put in the position of wondering if it’s really happening or if it’s all due to his mental state. He’s quite sensitive to everything to the point of paranoia, but it sure does suck us in.

A good part of the film feels like one of those classic 1990s thrillers about suspicious behaving neighbors, with the main character doing the kinds of dumb, risky things while investigating that make you shout in frustration at the screen.

As the story unfolds, it incorporates some random supernatural aspects, but it does deliver a few surprises at the end that are dark, ominous, and horrortastic and also frighteningly address the current state of our nation.

BY DAY’S END (2020)

Amazon Prime selection By Day’s End makes the most of a low budget, minimal cast and single setting, and even navigates found footage better than many of the excessive indies that attempt the subgenre. All this while serving up unnervingly cognizant zombies and an intimate lesbian love story.

We’re dropped right into the middle of a rough patch for a lesbian couple. Rina has lost her job as an attorney and has emotional issues, and Carly is estranged from her family and has an interest in getting into photography and filmography. They’ve temporarily moved into a motel until they can get back on their feet.

We meet a couple of neighboring motel guests, including a woman and her under the weather husband, and a quirky survivalist who has been following a story of a mysterious outbreak in Europe. Uh-oh.

The story is told through Carly’s videos and security camera footage. The fixed camera POV and very limited number of zombies roaming the property really create an isolated atmosphere, so we’re always anticipating what’s around every corner. I dare to say it reminded me of the vibe I got the first time I played the original Resident Evil: Nemesis.

There are a variety of creepy, random zombie encounters, including a cameo by horror queen Maria Olsen, who wonderfully hogs the screen as a freaky zombie. Plus, you feel like you’re in the lowbrow, sleazy motel with them due to tight shots in confined spaces like the balcony walkway and the couple’s room.

But most important is how perfectly the film weaves in the troubled yet genuine relationship between Carly and Rina, even touching upon the issues that seem glossed over earlier before the zombie action begins. By the time things gets really bad at the end, the dilemmas they’re going through become very real and heartbreaking.

BIT (2019)

Bit can be rented on Prime, but is also currently available to watch free on Tubi. Be warned, Tubi is owned by big conservative media, so they run anti-Democrat political attack ads. Ironic, considering the film is about a clan of queer feminist vampire women that targets conservative men.

It’s labeled as a horror comedy on iMDB, but while it’s quirky and edgy due to its content and focus on a bunch of trendy teens, it’s not a humorous film at all to me. In fact, despite its hip chicks, cool and contemporary soundtrack, and smoky club settings, this is the preachiest film in this trio.

The catch—the preachy subject matter is the feminism, not the trans issue. This film makes the main character’s queer identity incidental. In fact, it’s never implicitly stated that she’s trans, so you have to pay attention to the dialogue. How that sits with you depends on how you feel about trans visibility in movies. Important to note is that Nicole Maines, the actress playing the lead, is trans (she’s already made her mark playing trans superhero Dreamer on Supergirl).

She goes to visit her brother in LA for the summer and becomes drawn in by the nightlife of these night creatures. Now she must navigate her new identity as a vampire that must focus her feeding on killing scummy men. Awesome.

There is a fun queer vampire clan story here, and the girls, including their fierce leader, do some good gory damage to their victims. Even the dialogue provides some smart social commentary, however the talking becomes a bit excessive to the point of slowing the pace down.

I enjoyed the film, but I was initially a bit disappointed that a heavy-handed vampire film about identity with a trans lead focused more on feminism than her gender identity. Then again, that is perhaps the whole point of the film…she is a woman, so feminism is a major part of her identity. Pretty sneaky, sis!

 

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Another zomblog—four times the gut-munching fun

If you’re craving some zombie flicks you haven’t seen yet, here are four options I indulged in. Let’s find out which are the best of the bunch.

DEAD IN THE WATER (2006)

Running a short 75 minutes long, Dead in the Water combines cabin in the woods horror with a Night of the Living Dead siege story…but then muddies the waters, so to speak, by trying to be more than Night of the Living Dead at a cabin in the woods. Grrr…argh.

The first kill encompasses all the backstory we need…a Christian summer camp closed down after a boat capsized and dozens of bodies were never recovered from the water.

Next, two sisters and their male friends come to stay at a cabin in the woods. They quickly make a gruesome discovery in the water, but they’re kind of stranded.

When one guy says, “Looks like we’re stuck in here for a night of horror and mayhem”, my immediate thought was that no one says things like that. My second thought was that it is exactly what I would say, although my delivery would have been dripping with gay melodrama.

This Randy of the movie makes meta references galore and tries to warn them of the impending zombie threat, but no one believes him. He’s also the best actor in the bunch, so for me he carried and saved the movie.

There are some classic zombie situations and the atmosphere is quite good, with much of the movie shot at night. But like I said, there’s a whole expansion of the backstory right near the end that I didn’t find necessary.

THEATRE OF THE DEAD (2013)

Theatre of the Dead is a good way to get a satisfying zombie fix if you just need some cool gore and freaky looking zombies. Using a virtually paint-by-numbers, classic zombie movie formula, this is Night of the Living Dead in a theater.

After a fun dance number during a rehearsal, the theater group calls it a night. Things go bad in the alley behind the theater right away, and the group becomes trapped inside…with some of their people already bitten.

There’s infighting as they consider pulling a Cabin Fever on their infected friends, the theater director is an embarrassing caricature whose only concern is his show being derailed, news reports on television tell them how to deal with the zombies, and there are numerous zombie encounters as the cast is whittled down to nothing.

There’s definitely entertaining zombie action and good practical effects, plus the film goes for realism by ensuring there are gay characters, but the already derivative situations become repetitive to the point of getting a little boring and causing some slowdown before the big final chase at the end.

THE HIDEOUT (2014)

I have to give props to directors that just want to make a zombie film, no matter how derivative, how little money they have, and how lacking it is in zombie makeup.

Everyone involved with The Hideout seems dedicated to telling this simple little story, which is smartly only about 75 minutes long.

A small band of thieves commits a robbery for a mob boss and is then forced to hide out in a cabin in the woods. What I really like here is that while they’re in the urban jungle, they’re so distracted doing their thing that they don’t notice hints of zombie trouble brewing around them.

Once the setting shifts to the woods, there are a few random campers attacked by zombies to keep our interest, and eventually the thieves are under siege in the cabin.

It’s a good thing the guys are cute, because there’s nothing new here at all, and one of the best scenes that builds tension for a jump scare just completely blows the jump scare. I was gobsmacked…but I’m also giddy that it gave me a reason to write gobsmacked.

There’s a little twist at the end that wasn’t totally clear to me and also wasn’t enough for me to argue that this is worth seeing, especially if you’ve pretty much seen it all when it comes to zombie films.

ALIVE (2020)

There is nothing much original about Alive, but that’s quite alright with me when there’s loads of suspenseful fun to be had.

A cute young man wakes up in his apartment to discover the world outside is overrun with fast-moving zombies, plenty of them quite freaky looking.

These zombies are also smart—to the point of ridiculous at times. They can open doors, track noises, climb on ropes, etc. Silly or not, it makes for some exciting action.

The young man soon connects with a young woman trapped in an apartment across the way.

All I’m going to say is that these two have better vision than any human I’ve ever known.

The goal becomes to stay alive and eventually to unite to survive, and it’s the perfect way for zombie lovers to get mostly all the zombie thrills they need with few surprises.

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The 80s obscurities keep on coming

The 80s never really end for me, so here’s yet another blog covering four more lost horror movies of the decade.

FIEND (1980)

Fiend comes from the director of Nightbeast, and to me it’s like unofficial Night of the Living Dead spin-off Flesh Eater meets Fright Night meets…Xanadu?

This is as low budget as they come and looks like it was filmed in a few houses and surrounding woods of a middle class cul-de-sac in 1980.

The opening scene is definitely inspired by NOTLD, with a couple getting attacked by a corpse in a cemetery. Difference is this corpse comes to life when an evil orange aura sweeps into the ground and possesses it. Have to believe we are magic.

What is a corpse to do? It moves into a vacant house and starts to live life. It regularly chokes women to death in the woods with its orange glowing hands to steal their life forces, which help make it look less dead.

Meanwhile, a next door neighbor becomes convinced the corpse guy is a murderer as the bodies begin piling up in the woods behind their houses. It’s only a matter of time before the two battle to the death…and re-death.

The low budget gives Fiend that gritty, direct-to-video feel we 80s horror kids love, which is good, because nostalgia is most of what it has going for it since the cheesy corpse makeup loses its impact rather fast and the kills are repetitive.

DEADLY LESSONS (1983)

There were some great made-for-TV horror films in the 1970s and 1980s, but Deadly Lessons is not one of them.

A bland thriller that pretends to be a slasher, it features 80s darling Diane Franklin coming to an all-girl private school, befriending the likes of Ally Sheedy and Nancy Cartwright of Bart Simpson fame, getting flirty with Bill Paxton…and finding dead bodies around every corner.

Sure, there are girls being stalked and killed on campus, but we never see any of that, and there’s no masked killer. The bodies just turn up. Yawn. Adding to the melodrama (including the bad made-for-TV score), Donna Reed is the headmaster having an affair with a staff member, while the CHiPs guy who isn’t Erik Estrada is the detective on the case.

At least the film delivers a few twists near the end.

Ally Sheedy suddenly seems to be the star instead of Franklin, but it’s Franklin who gets the chase scene at the end, delivering the best few moments of the movie.

RAZORBACK (1984)

Razorback is one of those creature feature goodies from back in the days when HBO played everything. And now that I finally scored a copy on Blu and can blog about it, I’m surprised to discover the director went on to direct episodes of Queer as Folk and Teen Wolf, plus an installment of Resident Evil.

This is one odd little film. Set in the Australian outback, it’s about a “town”(?) being terrorized by a giant monster boar! Awesome.

What makes the film so frightening is that right from the very first scene, this monster just plows through houses (shacks?) and tears people right out of their homes. There’s literally no place to hide. My worst nightmare (along with sinkholes, shark attacks, falling from a high place, admitting it’s not the 80s anymore, etc.).

After a few gory kills, always drenched in blue light at night, Gregory Harrison comes to town looking for his reporter wife, who went missing…while listening to “New Moon on Monday” by Duran Duran. Awesome.

Gregory has crazy encounters with pigs, some locals that think they’re in a Mad Max movie, and eventually a female researcher. He also has a dehydration hallucination session that’s freakier than the giant boar.

The denouement features a battle between Harrison and the boar in a factory, and Harrison is an absolutely beautiful bumbling hero.

Also keep an eye out for a major plumber crack moment…sadly, it’s not Harrison’s.

NIGHT TERROR (1989)

If ever a direct-to-video horror movie encapsulated the look and feel of the late 80s, Night Terror is it. It’s like watching three even lower budget episodes of Tales from the Darkside with a wraparound about a patient suffering from night terrors in a mental institution.

1st story – While pulling a Cyrano de Bergerac for his awkward buddy at work, a dude with an amazing 80s pornstache decides to steal the girl for himself.

After handing out some trick or treat candy (yes, it’s a Halloween tale and scores a spot on the holiday horror page), he goes to meet her for a date…at a weird, sexually charged party.

There’s fabulous 80s music and fashions, plus horny guests of all orientations, including a gay guy who comes on strong (landing this one on the does the gay guy die? page as well). But the faggot (that’s what pornstache guy calls him) is the least of pornstache guy’s worries once the horror starts…

2nd story – a powerful man preparing to tear down a beloved roller coaster to put up a mall is terrorized by a carnival barker.

3rd story – this is the same formula as the killer Native American statue story from Creepshow 2. After a trio of thugs causes chaos at a toy store, a Teddy bear comes to life to get revenge. This is the goriest installment in the film, and it’s just plain stupid midnight movie fun, and the perfect way to end this indie anthology strong.

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Indulging in four contemporary horror flicks

An Amityville remake, a new film from a director who always keeps me coming back for more, a sequel to a popular streaming horror comedy, and Danielle Harris at a killer camp. Let’s get into my thoughts on these four.

THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS (2018)

The director of The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson is making a career out of transforming true crime stories into horror movies, so it must have been a no-brainer to a) take on the infamous DeFeo family murders that triggered the Amityville craze, and b) in the process, essentially remake the original Amityville II movie, even going as far as to cast two of the same actors. Awesome.

The eldest sister in Amityville II, 80s sweetheart Diane Franklin is now the mother, while Burt Young, who played the father, now has a brief role as the grandfather, along with icon Lanie Kazan as the grandmother.

Completely immersed in the pop culture references of the 1970s, this version focuses on Ronald Jr., his sister, and their friends having a sort of séance in the red room down in the basement, which triggers the release of dark shadowy entities that begin tormenting Ronald.

The film also focuses heavily on what an abusive shit the father was, mostly to Ronald. He’s so hateful you can’t wait for Ronald to get the shotgun and blow his brains out.

This version skips the incest angle with the brother and sister, but there really are numerous scenes lifted right from Amityville II. The supernatural scenes are updated to be more in keeping with the shadowy flashes of specters in modern ghost films like The Conjuring (aka: it’s not nearly as effective as the 1982 film). The best sequence is the build-up to Ronald murdering everyone at the end. There’s even a nod to a Poltergeist just for fun.

As thunder crashes and lighting strobes in the dark house while Ronald goes from room to room, there’s only one CGI flash over his face implying he’s possessed as he chases his sister down.

Considering the film stuck with the supernatural angle rather than just serve as a docudrama, it definitely could have used more traditional haunting moments, like a fantastic opening scene that was cut and appears as a deleted scene in the extras on the Blu-ray. It’s a great introduction to the kids of the family and also a reminder of just how creepy the View Master 3D slideshow system for kids was back then.

THE DEAD ONES (2020)

As a huge fan of director Jeremy Kasten’s horror films (The Attic Expeditions, The Thirst, All Souls Day, The Wizard of Gore remake), I was thrilled when The Dead Ones landed in my mailbox.

As usual, Kasten doesn’t disappoint, delivering both traditional scares and a surreal and thought-provoking concept.

Things start off feeling like See No Evil mixed with a dash of The Strangers. Clare Kramer of Buffy fame is a teacher who drops delinquent students off at an old building to do the cleaning after the janitor is murdered.

Meanwhile, figures in black don creepy masks and begin infiltrating the building.

And that’s when the film deviates from the expected. This isn’t a simple building invasion slasher. These kids are forced to face their own demons—the very behaviors and troubled pasts that brought on their punishments to begin with.

There are creepy, supernatural style figures to contend with, but the film also delivers a disturbing look at the kind of school violence that has made headlines in the last few decades with chilling detail.

THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN (2020)

I’d suggest fans of the first film watch this one just to get it out of their system and then go watch the first one again to wash off the stink of this mess.

Bringing back the whole cast isn’t enough to elevate this sequel, which is so self-aware of its effort to be edgy, quirky, and meta that it eats itself alive.

The main kid is now a teen, it’s two years later, and he still has nightmares about the incident with the babysitter and friends.

So he gets together with his friends and…they get drawn into another occult ritual, which brings back all the kids from the first movie, most importantly the perpetually shirtless hunk.

In an effort to not just be a rehash, the sequel has the kids running all over the woods at night instead of around a house as they try to avoid being the new blood sacrifices.

Frenetic, shrill, and slapstick to the point of annoying, this one can’t even be saved by the buckets of blood and over the top kills.

CAMP COLD BROOK (2018)

The director of The Funhouse Massacre, Alien Strain, and Find Me brings us a movie that should be free on Prime, but like an idiot I paid to rent it because Danielle Harris is in it.

It’s a trip to cliché land as Chad Michael Murray, Danielle, and two other ghost hunters go to a summer camp where tragedy occurred, hoping to save their reality show, which is about to be cancelled by their boss—Courtney Gains of Children of the Corn fame.

As they arrive at the camp a girl runs across the road and disappears, and then…a whole lot of nothing happens for most of the movie. I don’t even understand how it got green lit. It doesn’t commit to being found footage because the group rarely has a camera rolling. Do they want to make a show to save or not?

It’s cool to see Danielle Harris as the scared girl for a change. There’s a story of a girl at the camp who used witchcraft to get all the other kids at camp to attack each other in a bloody massacre. That flashback is as exciting as this gets.

Each character walks around experiencing weak faux scares. With 15 minutes left, they finally encounter a few ghosts and we learn exactly what the ghosts want, and it’s as derivative as everything else in this borefest. At least I can say I once again have seen every single Danielle Harris horror movie ever. Yay me.

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Gay horror fantasy gets graphic in STITCH by Tommy Kovac

This dark little graphic novel is like a child’s nightmare scenario that tackles sexual orientation, gender identity, adolescent angst, and even fear of aging at the same time.

A young “boy” wakes up in a playroom with no idea how he got there, what his name is, or how he turned into a doll. However, he does reunite with his sister and cousins, who have also been transformed into dolls.

While his sister becomes obsessed with “making babies” (she crafts baby dolls), he becomes friends with a monkey puppet. He is also terrorized by a pair of gender-bending dolls that incessantly mock his sexuality, call him fancy boy, and threaten to abduct him and dress him in feminine clothing.

Meanwhile, his grandmother occasionally pops in to check on him and entertain him and his friends with stories of witches and dragons.

And most importantly, he starts to form a crush on another boy rag doll. As much as he wants to get out of the frightening playroom and back to reality to discover who he really is, he finds incredible comfort and safety with his rag doll friend.

Stitch comes to an oddly dark yet gay positive conclusion. It’s creepy and quirky and accompanied by excellent artwork. You can get a copy on Amazon.

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Dark, twisted, and goofy horror foursome

Vampires, serial killers, deadly fantasies, and even some gay guys, which lands them on my does the gay guy die? page. Let’s get into what you can expect from these four films.

FANTASY ISLAND (2020)

Much like the original series from the 1970s, Fantasy Island is essentially an anthology film with a wraparound about a handful of people that comes to the island to live out some wild or unthinkable fantasy. And just like the show, a majority of these stories are flat, and only one truly feels like horror.

Mr. Roarke welcomes them after they meet…a Black female Tattoo? Okay, she’s not named Tattoo, which will irk purists, but stick around until the end and you’ll get your Tattoo fix.

The stories include:

  • two brothers, one straight and white the other gay and Asian, who want to just “live the life”, partying in style with sexy women/hunky men, respectively

  • a woman who wants to go back and live the life she was meant to live with the man that got away

  • a dude who wants to play army
  • a young woman who wants to torture the girl that tormented her in high school

Most of the stories end up having a whole lot of gun shootouts, and only the bullied girl story turns into a scary psycho killer chase. The good news for the rest of the stories is that eventually they all overlap and everyone is chased by the psycho killer. There’s a sort of silly turn of events that ties all the tales together, but the merging of the stories definitely saves the whole viewing experience.

OTIS (2008)

Kind of weird to make a story about a pedophile/killer into a dark horror comedy, but that’s exactly what you get here, set to an awesome part 1960s psychedelic rock/part 1980s new wave soundtrack.

This big slovenly dude abducts teenage girls, chains them up in a bedroom, and then uses a webcam system to live out sexual fantasies with them from another room.

When he abducts a teen played by Ashley Johnson, who to me will always be DJ’s overbearing little girlfriend on an episode of Roseanne, she amuses him by acting out his fantasies, like the football player and cheerleader scenario and the high school prom date scenario.

Meanwhile, her parents and brother don’t feel like the police are doing enough to find her, so they take matters into their own hands…they plan to find him and get closure using any torture necessary.

It’s entertaining, with lots of gore and torture, plenty of quirky and edgy humor, and a great cast. Whether you’ll like it just depends on your feelings about the subject matter.

FANGED UP (2017)

I barely ever find movies I actually want to add to my collection these days after I see them, but I’m on a roll in the past few weeks. First The Wretched, then The Shed, and now Fanged Up.

This prison vampire comedy comes from Christian James, the director of Stalled and Freak Out, both of which I have in my collection, so apparently I’m a fan. And with this midnight movie I’d say he just keeps getting better.

A bad boy is transported to a prison, is befriended by a big Russian inmate, also befriends a sweet Black inmate, and discovers that his ex-girlfriend is the in-house doctor!

They learn pretty soon that the prison is being overrun by vampires. It’s time to make a serious prison break…if they can survive the night.

This is pure campy fun, with plenty of humor, buckets of blood, a lovable gay character, and goofy cool vampires that are as wacky as Evil Ed from Fright Night—especially the big boss bitch in the final battle.

A SERIAL KILLER’S GUIDE TO LIFE (2019)

These “portrait of a serial killer” dark comedy movies just never work out for me, and I should really just stop watching them and blogging about them, because I’m obviously not the right audience.

Therefore, I’ll make this one short. A doormat woman goes to a life coach for help. They become close, they go on a nature therapy retreat, and eventually the doormat discovers the life coach is a serial killer.

So she starts helping with the murders…50 minutes into this 80-minute movie! Ugh. And if you don’t assume the killer eventually turns on her apprentice, then you need to watch more movies. I really did not find this one funny or entertaining at all.

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STREAM QUEEN: random acts of horror…and one that was definitely my fave

For my latest streaming binge, I turned to Hulu, Netflix, and Shudder, for some “refined” horror…which usually doesn’t work out for me. However, nearly half of these four films brought me some horror joy.

1BR (2019)

Blech. I’ll get 1BR out of the way first because I don’t even consider it a horror movie. It’s a brainwashing and torturing cult movie—a horrifying situation for sure, but not my idea of a good horror time. On the bright side, it’s shorter than Midsommar and isn’t just hours of people standing in a field.

A young woman lands herself in the middle of a mini-Scientology nightmare when she moves into a new complex loaded with seemingly nice neighbors.

Then she’s abducted and forced to endure cruel punishments to condition her to be a better human and better member of her community.

Obviously it’s all going to eventually lead to her making an escape attempt. If it weren’t for the chaos that ensues in the final few minutes, this movie would have been a total letdown.

SEA FEVER (2019)

Sea Fever is slooooooooow with little in the way of action, thrills, chills, gore, or scares.

It’s mostly just people sitting around on a boat talking for a majority of its run time. You know…like Alien on a boat.

Anyway, it turns out there’s a parasite in the water, one guy finger fucks the gooey thing through a hole in a wall at one point, there’s a dive underwater that reveals the parasites look like giant day glow sperm, and someone has a bunch of little parasites shoot out of their eyes.

Also, everyone starts distrusting everyone else like…sort of like The Thing on a boat.

That’s about it. Those are the highlights.

RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE (2020)

Jay Baruchel, known for his nerdy roles in early 2000s flicks and his friendship with Seth Rogen, brings us a road trip slasher that feels to me like a mashup of The Hitcher, Bloody Knuckles, and High Tension. Jay is also under attack on social because of some negative comments he made about the state of horror today, but I’m not going to jump on a “let’s destroy him!” bandwagon and trash his film, considering I make at least one negative comment about horror every time I post a blog. That doesn’t mean I don’t still love the shit I trash (see some examples above).

Anyway, always gorgeous Jesse Williams (Cabin in the Woods, Jacob’s Ladder remake) plays a creator of a gruesome comic book series about a highway serial killer.

When he needs inspiration, he hops in a vehicle with his girlfriend (Jordana Brewster, who wears distractingly geeky glasses), and another couple (Baruchel and Niamh Wilson, who appeared in the Saw series when she was younger).

As their journey progresses, they seem to be leaving behind a string of new murders exactly like the kill scenes in Jesse’s comic books. Would you believe the killer eventually targets them?

The horror tone and style are excellent here, the killer wearing a welding mask is plenty ominous, and the kills and the aftermath are brutal and gory, so it’s quite satisfying in terms of horror thrills. However, the story doesn’t offer anything new, which would be fine if it didn’t attempt to make itself more complicated than it needs to be, delving into Jesse’s psyche and how he may be contributing to violence in society (the comic book made me do it!) with convoluted flashbacks that distract and confuse. However, they do revolve around the Christmas holiday, so this one lands a spot on the holiday horror page.

THE SHED (2019)

Start a film with a Salem’s Lot style vampire attacking a guy in the woods and you’re going to grab my attention. And if the movie is The Shed, I’m going to order the Blu-ray before I’m even finished streaming it. I’d say this is the perfect double feature with The Wretched, which I just blogged about (then bought on Blu) the other day.

The film focuses on a troubled young man, living with his asshole grandfather, in and out of juvy, bullied at school—who discovers there’s something evil living in his shed. And despite his moral compass telling him not to feed his enemies to his hungry creature, everything and everyone seems to be working against his best efforts to do what’s right.

Fast-paced and suspenseful, The Shed isn’t as predictable as it at first seems. It’s quite a fun film that doesn’t get overburdened by its dark themes. If I have any minor complaint, it would be a few too many unnecessary dream sequence scares, but I’m all about the growing pains story enveloped in a vampire film.

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