Jan 31, 2020

EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1985)


Let me set the scene for you.

It’s night. It’s summertime (I guess). The moon is full and high in the sky. Cicadas sing their songs, unseen in the tall wheatgrass.

A handsome young couple begins to softly nuzzle in the woods near a calm lake. They’ll be getting married soon. They’re in love. A big wedding is planned. She wants the big affair. He doesn’t; he wants to elope. Their disagreement threatens to ruin their calm romantic night out.

“Let’s not fight,” says the boy. “I’ve got a better idea: two lips…gathered as one.” A soft Billy Joel-ish ballad begins to play as the camera moves in close on his hand unzipping her pants. In slow motion.

It was during this moment when I realized: Evils of the Night is just the greatest.


Boy, there’s nothing like the perfect bad movie — especially when it’s horror. Blood Rage — a new favorite — comes instantly to mind. There’s also Vampire’s Kiss, Squirm, The House Where Evil Dwells, Troll 2, along with —

I’ve wasted my life.

Evils of the Night is rather simply plotted: teens at a lake become victims one-by-one to a pair of auto repair guys being paid in gold coins by humanoid aliens to kidnap people for their blood. Evils of the Night features a lot of teens. A lot. If you can keep up with all the young people who are introduced, I applaud you. And because we’ve all seen horror movies, we all know what teenagers like to do: kiss, pet, get high, and be naked. Evils of the Night, itself wanting to be different from its ilk, sets off for daring new territory. Now the teenagers, in their throes pf passion, lick each other. Constantly. They lick every part: the neck, the chest, the Adam’s apple, or nipple (man or woman’s). Sometimes they like to lick all around each other’s mouths while kissing; like an eager child learning to ride a bike for the first time, the enthusiasm is there, but the skill is yet to be honed.


This makes Evils of the Night supreme, along with sample dialogue amusingly taken out of context:
  • “Alright! Now we can get high!”
  • “You gonna tease me all night, or can I get a little action this time?”
  • “Where’s my surprise?” “First, let me clean the sand off.”
  • “I’ve got to go see a man about a dog!” “What?” “I’ve gotta go to the john!”
  • “No tongue, it makes me laugh.”
  • “Why are you touching my nipples like that?” (asks a dude.)
  • “Calm down — I’ll definitely call the police! Come on in.” ::a scream::
Even completely innocent lines of dialogue somehow become hilarious within the confines of this utter cinematic insanity:
  • “Do we have any Pepsi left, Eddie?”
If you were to tell your mother that you were about to watch a film starring Aldo Ray, Julie Newmar, Tina Louise, John Carradine, and Neville Brand, she would probably say, “Ooh, can I watch it with you?”

Don’t let her.


Because amidst all the scenes of blood theft, murders, and John Carradine expositing to the other aliens exactly what it is the aliens are doing, even though you’d think they should know by now, since they’re aliens (“Just think, Cora: without these platelets, your bones will eventually grow fragile and break within a hundred years, but WITH them, you could live 200 years or more”), Evils of the Night also features: hilarious doggy style, unwitting necrophilia, teenagers running around in their underwear, hospitals inexplicably taken over by an alien race that no one seems to notice, sexy alien orderlies threatening to seduce each other in the hallway because they’re in between utilitarian alien tasks, suggestive and unsubtle banana consumption, duel lesbian suntan-lotion-rubbing, and finally, a crop of dry blonde hair swirling about in the gentle surface of the lake as she services her man underwater.

But above all of this madness, and all the things that make Evils of the Night so deliciously and ironically transcendent — the budget Cyndee Lauper knockoff soundtrack that goes ♬ “Boys will be boys, they will always be that way, boys will be boys, they just wanna play!” ♬; and the multiple scenes of aliens firing alien lasers from their special alien rings directly into the writhing bodies of underwear-clad teens — there lies the glue that holds all of Evils of the Night together. She is the heart and soul. For every wide-eyed look of shock and surprise levied directly into the camera, or every line of dialogue intended for her cast-mates, but aimed at space itself, you will know you are witnessing something unique, rare, and defining.

She is beautiful. She is blonde. She is…Connie.


Essayed by professional actress G.T. Taylor, Connie is the horror heroine the genre had been looking for since 1978’s Laurie Strode. Someone cunning, intelligent, forthright, and brave. Someone willing to believe that mud and seaweed applied by two horny boys is great for the skin. Someone who daydreams about making love to Prince Andrew. Someone eager to host a hand-burning contest. Someone who shies at the mere idea of a penis.

The performance — one seemingly laden with lithium, helium, and delirium all at once — is one that went on to define the genre. This cinematic portrayal of good, fighting against all this evil, was a butterfly effect with neutron bomb-sized ramifications which would transform the genre, the medium, even the world from thence on, elevating it into the next plateau of awakening. You see, Connie is us; we are Connie. She embodies us all at our most vulnerable, but also at our most resilient. She’s taught us everything we’ll ever need to know about each other, and ourselves. She’s taught us never to give in, never to surrender. We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Tonight we celebrate…Connie.

Please, before we go, let us take a brief detour to IMDB for actress G.T. Taylor’s official filmography:


Very impressive.
  
The day I saw Evils of the Night, my life changed forever.

Because I’d met Connie, the blond-haired, pin-striped, kewpie-doll-voiced angel who proved she’d fight to the death with a power drill to save her friends, all while fantasizing about wanting…you know…an O.

Evils of the Night is not just a gift from the bad movie gods, but it’s one of the nicest times I’ve ever had.

Jan 29, 2020

MICROWAVE MASSACRE (1983)


Have you seen Microwave Massacre?

Jesus. It's terrible, isn't it?

Cut from the same cloth as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but with far more classless humor and dialogue, Microwave Massacre is a 76-minute eternity crafted entirely of terrible one-liners and even more terrible special effects. Boasting a healthy 3.6 on IMDB and a too-high 33% on the usually less-forgiving Rotten Tomatoes, Microwave Massacre is one of those films commonly accepted as "the worst of all time." Watching it, it's easy to see why.


Obviously intended as a starring vehicle for Rodney Dangerfield, who wisely said "no" to this thing louder than someone eats popcorn at the movies, your lead maniac is instead played by Jackie Vernon, who apparently existed only to ape Dangerfield's one-liner style but with absolutely none of the pulse.

Within the first five minutes, we get a man unpacking a full, uncooked crab out of his lunch box, an extremely stereotypical gay construction worker, and bare breasts shoved through a hole in a wall (not counting the padded-out opening credits sequence also complemented by a close-up on swaying breasts). And if you think this is just the film finding its footing before embarking on a more traditional, less exploitative path, well brother, you ain't seen Microwave Massacre.


Microwave Massacre is 76 minutes of Jackie Vernon making awful one-liners to himself, with no one else around to hear them, all while wrapping up body parts with tin foil and shoving them into his refrigerator. You'd think I was just exaggerating, but no, that's really all this is. Sure, he kills the occasional girl while making extremely derogatory and misogynistic comments toward/about them, but that doesn't exactly make the film sound any more appetizing. If it does, you're an asshole, and Microwave Massacre was made for you.

For those who have never seen Microwave Massacre and are considering a blind-buy, holy shit, I have no idea how to guide you. Do you like Troma? The Sharknado films? Are you a fool? If so, then I dunno--you might still hate it. But it'll be a good conversation starter when someone begins looking through your collection and inevitably stops on the spine and inquires, "Is this for real?"

As a film, Microwave Massacre deserves an utter zero, but I gave it a half-point because I laughed exactly once (the punchline for the drive-thru gag) and I was feeling charitable. 

Microwave Massacre deserves to be beaten and left for dead in a hole, but fans of terrible humor, DIY gore gags, and hating themselves might find some enjoyment.



Jan 27, 2020

NIGHT SCHOOL (1981)


In spite of the very profitable ‘80s-era boom of the slasher film, Warner Bros. weren’t eager to get into the blood ‘n guts game. While Paramount owned the playing field with the Friday the 13th series, as well as one-offs like My Bloody Valentine and April Fools Day, and New Line Cinema was keeping up with their Nightmare on Elm Street series, Warner Bros. observed all this from afar and decided it just wasn’t their thing. From their point of view, how could the studio that released The Shining and The Exorcist consider greenlighting something like The Prowler or Blood Rage?

However, they would later acquire the home video rights for two notable exceptions — the first being Paramount’s 1980 slasher He Knows You’re Alone!*, which is notable only because it features a very early appearance by Tom Hanks, and the second being 1981’s Night School, originally bankrolled by MGM and United Artists. Both of these titles, ironically, have something very much in common: dullness. 


In keeping with Warners’ then-general distaste for and avoidance of the subgenre, Night School doesn’t exactly play out like your more exploitative and silly slasher titles, such as Slaughter High or The Mutilator. While it certainly features a masked killer literally slashing at his victims until their heads fall off, Night School instead puts a much heavier emphasis on the police investigation aspect, which sees one Lt. Austin (Leonard Mann) chasing down leads and interviewing witnesses and potential suspects. It’s clear throughout that director Ken Hughes is trying to take a slasher script and turn it into an actual bonafide film, and of course that’s absolutely laudable, but when your tagline is “A is for Apple, B is for Bed, C is for Co-ed, D is for Dead, F is for Failing to Keep Your Head!,” well, your audience is going to be expecting something different.

On its surface, Night School should scratch that itch: it features the aforementioned masked killer, several graphic murder sequences, some flying or sinking heads, and a handful of (deeply unusual) sexual trysts, but they’re weaved throughout a too-normal and uninteresting detective mystery that detracts from the ideal slasher flick experience. Night School is a house divided amongst itself and it tries to be more than the sum of its parts (and other things I remember from elementary school), and for that it gets an F haha! No, I’m kidding — Night School was the cinematic version of me in high school: a solid C student. And like me, if you don’t expect too much, maybe you won’t be disappointed.



* Via Wiki: “The film marked the first movie appearance of actor Tom Hanks, who played a relatively small part. In fact, it was said that Hanks’ character was originally written to be killed off with Nancy’s character, but because the filmmakers liked him so much, they omitted filming his death scene for the film.” 

Even forty years ago, Tom Hanks was still too damn likable.

Jan 25, 2020

PSYCHOS IN LOVE (1987)


Right off the bat it’s clear that Psychos in Love is operating on a nearly non-existent budget. Somewhat shot to look like a documentary (sometimes, anyway – director Gorman Bechard seems to play fast and loose with this concept and what’s supposed to be documentary footage vs. narrative gets a little lost), Psychos in Love’s full-screen presentation with basement level audio (high-def presentation aside) complements the mostly true-life nature toward which its striving. Black and white interview segments with its lead psychos lend itself to this docudrama look very well, and also help to set the tone pretty quickly.

Psychos in Love begins on shaky ground as the audience has to take a step back and realize they’re not about to witness an A-list, even modestly budgeted genre flick. Everything is very raw, and there’s an obvious DIY aesthetic throughout, but the performances by our leads are very naturalistic. What might be most surprising about Psychos in Love is how often the comedy works, and that sounds like a dismissive thing to say about a film that bills itself as a horror-comedy, but so very often the words “low budget” and “horror-comedy” only lead to pain. As one might imagine, the comedy often lends itself to the dark and morbid, but sometimes the film takes a step back and rests on older, broader comedy. The marriage scene leans on Abbot and Costello’s most famous routine, but still manages to wrench some honest laughs out of it, and there’s an even better scene set at the bar where psycho Joe is having a duel conversation with both psycho Kate and a random Asian man in the back of the action – one of those “how long are they going to keep this bit going?” kind of things – and it left me pretty tickled.


Above all Psychos in Love does manage to be sweet on top of the murder and mutilations (and there are plenty of those), and leads Carmine Capobianco (also the film’s co-writer) and Debi Thibeault are easily likable, with Capobianco showing off a natural affability.

I have to admit, intriguing premise aside, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Psychos in Love as much as I did. I’m a self-admitted snoot, and I tend not to go out of my way to see this level of low budget horror — and one that’s billed as a horror/comedy, forget it. Time and time again I’m proven wrong for this when I cross paths with something surprisingly well made like Psychos in Love.

For those of you out there lucky enough to be paired up with a horror-loving partner, Psychos in Love makes for the ideal date-night movie. Just leave expectations for a glossy production at the door.

Jan 23, 2020

DEMON WIND (1989)


I have to wonder why films like Night of the Demons and House are so celebrated, but meanwhile, Demon Wind has remained so obscure. Every bit as silly, gory, teen-douched, and well-intended as those other titles, it should have been destined for the same kind of infamy and video store-stoked adoration. It scratched that VHS-era itch with all the usual stalwarts one would come to expect from the genre: ghastly effects, over-the-top gore, hapless teens in peril, a dash of nudity, and skeletons.

For fans with a love for Night of the Demons or Demons/Demons 2, Demon Wind could be the newest love of your life, thanks to its practical effects, rubber and foam monsters, and lots and lots of blood and goo.

Demon Wind is made with the same kind of authenticity as the original Evil Dead while also borrowing a little of its aesthetic. (And plot.) (And tone.) (And look.) To call it a bold-faced ripoff might be taking things a bit far, but I’d feel pretty confident in saying that Demon Wind probably wouldn’t exist without The Evil Dead. It balances the horror and the drama in the same way, striving to concoct legitimately eerie imagery without the foresight to know that while the filmmakers were hoping to create things from your deepest, darkest nightmares, they were instead creating something that’s going to look just a touch silly.


You pretty much know the caliber of acting you’re going to get with a production of this size (read: not big) and the sub-genre in which Demon Wind exists (read: rubber monsters), but again, this only adds to the flavor of the film’s overall experience. Your lead hero, Cory (Eric Larson), looks uncannily like Emilio Estevez and coincidentally brings about the same kind of sincerity, even doing better here than Bruce Campbell did during his own maiden descent into demonic territory. Everyone after that exists on a sliding scale, with some performances ranking very below average.

Amusingly, Demon Wind just keeps introducing teen characters to the conflict, and after having digested enough of these kinds of films from this era, you can’t help but smile because you know every single one of these kids are going to die gloriously. Even as Demon Wind begins to run out of demon fodder halfway through, it introduces two more characters who were “late” following Cory’s initial invitation and who don’t last for too long once they get out of the car. (Also look for an early-career appearance from Lou Diamond Phillips as one of the many demons.)

If you’re the kind of person who used to wander up and down the horror aisle of the video store during the golden VHS era but Demon Wind has somehow evaded you all these years (as it did me), rectify that. It’s the kind of silly but imaginative (and gory) horror flick you would have stayed up late to watch with friends once your parents had gone to bed. One could never reasonably call Demon Wind good but it is fun, and when you’re dealing with a horde of zombies and animated cow skulls and succubi that leave nothing to the imagination, that’s all you could ever ask for.


Jan 21, 2020

SHOCKER (1989)


It's been just under five years since Wes Craven's death and it still feels very surreal and wrong that he's gone. On that sad evening in August, the news of his death began circulating throughout the web, especially on social media, and people were sharing their surprise and dismay that the man who had created so many nightmares (literally and figuratively) for legions of moviegoers was gone. Memorials and tributes began cropping up all over the place to examine the man's legacy, his fingerprints on the horror genre, and the films he left behind.

It's a strange, strange feeling to have experienced such a loss for someone many mourners never knew personally, but yet at the same time felt like family. How is that even possible? How can a perfect stranger, who did nothing more than create a handful of boogeyman and rob us from a few nights of sleep, leave a friend- or family-sized hole behind in the wake of his death? Because, for the horror genre, he's been an ever-constant presence in our homes. It was through his sensibilities as captured on film with A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Hills Have Eyes, or any number of documentary-driven examinations on horror in which he eagerly took part, that he became so well known to us all. There was no mistaking that soft-spoken voice, that kind and somewhat shy smile, and his incredibly nuanced and levelheaded approach to the genre, and why it was important.


In the fantastic horror documentary The American Nightmare, Craven had said:
“[Horror films are] boot camps for the psyche. It’s strengthening [kids’] egos and strengthening their fortitude… That’s something the parents never seem to think about… Even if [the films] are giving them nightmares, there’s something there that’s needed.”
In a really strange way, Craven became a father to us all - concocting on paper and then on film an array of boogeymen to scare us to our wit's end, not just so we could leave the theater laughing at the rush only a horror film can bring, but to prepare us for the real world...where things are much scarier, and much more dangerous.

In the days following his death, there was an appropriate amount of people who openly mourned, but there were also a faction of those who stated, unromantically, "Wes Craven actually made a lot of bad movies." And maybe that's true. Maybe many, or most, of Craven's films never managed to reach the scare-tinged heights of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the clever ingenuity of Scream, or the naked and honest brutality of The Last House on the Left, but no director on earth - living nor dead - is free of their own collection of mediocrity. One of the most celebrated genre directors ever to have lived, a man named Hitchcock, was not even free of such infallibility, and when he died, no Internet armchair critic was opining about all the bad films he made.

Which leads us, perhaps unceremoniously, to Shocker.


To call Horace Pinker a cheap Freddy Krueger re-appropriation wouldn't be a slight against the departed Craven, who has freely admitted over the years that his signing away of all rights to A Nightmare on Elm Street (which, in case you didn't know, generated enough money, along with its subsequent sequels, to establish the studio that would then go on to produce the Lord of the Rings trilogy) directly led to Shocker, in hopes that Craven could shape a new movie maniac with enough familiarity that it would create its own franchise which he could then control (and profit from).

That did not happen.

Man who comes out of your TV was no match for man who comes out of your nightmares.

Taken on its own merit, Shocker is very okay, if at times a little too silly, with an electric! (ugh) performance from Mitch Pileggi. Craven has always tried to mix humor into his horror films, and while this has often worked (Scream), other times the two very conflicting tones just don't work well together (Last House). For something like Shocker, in which a discorporated serial killer can travel through electrical circuits and end up on television shows, yeah, humor was to be expected. A silly movie would look even sillier if there wasn't a sly sense of humor throughout the whole thing.

Though you may not be able to tell by the finished product, Shocker was based on several distinct inspirations, from other films to Craven's own personal life. The construct of the film was inspired by a combination of 1951's The Thing From Another World and 1987's The Hidden, directed by Jack Sholder...who, quite ironically, had directed 1985's Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Personally, Craven has previously noted the tense relationship he had with his father, whom he described as "angry," and how the making of Shocker was an exorcism of sorts for his feelings toward him. Of the scene where Michael Murphy's recently possessed character tries to convince his son (Peter Berg) that he's fine, and that he's taken control, only to reveal that it was Pinker all along, Craven chuckled and observed, "I dunno, I guess I have trust issues."


The most striking thing about Shocker is how very similar it all plays out to A Nightmare on Elm Street - so much that Craven, while viewing the film for the first time since its post-production, admitted to being taken aback by all the similarities.

Shocker isn't a "great" addition to Craven's filmography, but in an odd way, it is essential viewing, if only to see a filmmaker retreading familiar ground in a different environment simply because that's where his sensibilities led him. However you may feel about Shocker, it's a pure, unfiltered Wes Craven film. And it's worth seeing for that alone.

Celebrate the catalogs of those filmmakers you revere. Lesser entries still have a lot of merit, and much to offer to completist viewers. Though it will never be spoken about with as much reverence as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Shocker very much contains Craven's aesthetic and sensibilities in every frame - not just in the usage of the dream relationships and walking premonitions, but in the power of the youth who are unable to depend on the nearest adult and have no choice but to take care of it themselves.

Father to us all, indeed.

Rest easy, Professor Craven. You are still very missed.


Jan 19, 2020

LEATHERFACE (1990)


Like a few other horror franchises, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series keeps on truckin’; a new entry is released every few years, with the most recent being 2018's Leatherface (confused yet?). Following the wonderful and visceral original, subsequent entries were all over the place in terms of quality. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1982) and Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1994) were completely insane. 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake returned things to respectability, insofar as a Chainsaw movie could be, but the entries that followed, again, got worse and worse.

And meanwhile, sitting quietly in the corner, is 1990’s Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, the most middle-of-the-road film in the series, and the first to be released by a major studio...so you know what that means: studio interference and MPAA ball-breaking. Video editions of the sequel sport the “unrated” cut, restoring some of the grue and gore that was originally shot by director Jeff Burr that was then removed following a battle with the MPAA, although awkward edits that cut away from the violence suggest an even more violent version that has yet to the light of day. Famously, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III features Viggo Mortensen in one of his earliest roles, and he's spoken candidly in the past about his work on the movie as well as its final iteration seen by audiences:
“[Shooting that movie] was fun. I don’t know how many times they sent that to the censors … They kept getting X’s and so they cut so much out that I think the movie is only like 70 minutes long. Unfortunately most of the really funny jokes were associated with gruesome bloodletting of some kind or another.” (Source: Carpe Noctem Magazine). “The movie company got cold feet and cut away the most terrifying and gruesome scenes, and it ended up being a rather incoherent movie.” (Source: M/S Magazine).
Despite Mortensen’s misgivings, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, in its "unrated" form, is a perfectly acceptable entry in the chainsaw-wielding series, though except for adding a pint-sized kid to the Sawyer clan and a survivalist into the mix, it doesn’t try anything new. Burr, however, definitely gets points for casting horror-friendly actors, including William Butler and Jennifer Banko from Friday the 13th: Part VII — The New Blood, Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead, and Mortensen, who at that point had done Renny Harlin’s Prison and the thriller Tripwire. Adding to that, Burr’s level of mayhem and bloody violence is admirable and appreciated, as is the blackest of black humor lifted from the original (and skipped by its sequel in favor of broader stupidity). Where Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III lacks is through its somewhat meandering pace (a LOT of time is spent with our characters wandering around the Texas woods) as well as its closeness to the original’s plot, which prevents it from establishing more of an identity.


Burr follows the “if it ain’t broke” mentality, but by doing so, he’s only further welcoming comparison to Hooper’s seminal original, at which point Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III doesn’t stand a chance. This isn’t necessarily his fault, as original distributor New Line Cinema had acquired the Chainsaw rights from Cannon Films in hopes of softly rebooting the series and creating a new direction where Leatherface would be its prominent boogeyman, similar to their very successful Nightmare on Elm Street series (hence the titular madman being called out in the title). That at least explains why Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III feels like a loose remake, although the dismal box office return put New Line’s plans on the back burner for several years. It’s also a little odd that New Line’s desired to make Leatherface more prominent a la Freddy Krueger, being that he has no more or less screen time here than he did in the original film. By comparison, Mortensen’s “Tex” gets way more to do. (I’m also trying to figure out where all these additional family members keep coming from. Are they actually related to Leatherface, or just a bunch of random Texan psychopaths who somehow found each other in the age before Craigslist? If they’re actual relations, where the hell were they during Dennis Hopper’s duel-chainsaw smackdown at the end of the previous sequel? Were they on vacation, or at mass? How do they multiply? Are they the products of inbreeding? What the hell goes on in the backwoods of Texas, anyway?) (I have to sit down.)

Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, despite the obviously tacked on ending, and that its “unrated” form still seems toothless at times, is a decent sequel and worthy of appreciation...only when looking at the other sequels. After seeing how off the rails the series eventually goes, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III might even now be considered a high point — depending on who’s looking.

Jan 17, 2020

HELL NIGHT (1981)


Hell Night has long been one of those beloved cult horror titles that doesn’t have a lot of recognition value within the realm of mainstream audiences. It’s always existed just below the surface, and only dedicated horror fans seem to both know of its existence and bestow upon it a lot of love and praise. It was so nearly close to earning classic status.

And that’s pretty much how I’d sum it up.

Hell Night drifts in and out of engagement with the audience, easily capturing their attention with the intrigue of Garth Manor and the handful of fairly grisly murder sequences, but the action in between these moments can stretch on for a bit too long. Even the intent for characterization is appreciated, and it helps to elevate Hell Night above its slasher brethren. There’s just something keeping it from being truly great.


Hell Night also gets points for trying to do something a little different. On its surface it looks like your typical ‘80s slasher flick, but it’s told as a both a haunted house movie and somewhat of a monster movie. This balance actually works in its favor. Personally, I prefer the slasher flicks vying for sincerity where the killer reveal isn’t someone’s spurned friend or lover or long-lost parent. I prefer mythology and legend coming to life over, “Oh, it’s Gary.” Hell Night satisfies that, actually following through on all the creepy lore recounted at the film’s opening before our doomed characters enter Garth Manor where they will spend their Halloween night.

Hell Night is notable because it was produced by Irwin Yablans, who had previously produced John Carpenter’s Halloween and, as we all know, found great success with it.  (It was also at his insistence that the now-famous moniker be used over the original choice of "The Babysitter Murders," which ended up being a very wise choice. Could you imagine "The Babysitter Murders: BM20"?) He’s somewhat of an unsung hero in the horror world; granted, though he didn’t leave behind a breadth of work, he kept things short and sweet, producing titles that went on to find adoration from the fan community, with such titles as Halloween 2, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, Tourist Trap, and later on, Renny Harlin’s Prison.


Hell Night is an admirable effort, and it’s easy to see why it’s so beloved (beyond how good Suki Goodwin looks in garters), but it too often fluctuates between tension and calm. A tighter edit would have resulted in a more streamlined experience where the tension doesn’t have the time to subside in between the bursts of terror.

However, it’s still one of the better titles from the ‘80s slasher movement and brings something a bit more to the table other than a masked maniac and ironic usage of a holiday.


Jan 15, 2020

SLAUGHTERHOUSE (1987)


For all of the ‘80s and slightly into the ‘90s, John Carpenter’s Halloween was the basis/inspiration for many imitator slasher films. Every holiday not yet exploited at that time soon became so. Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Day, Christmas (again and again), exam time, graduation time, spring break time, leprechaun time. If it had a date on the calendar, something horrific would take place and so many heads would bounce down the stairs.

However, what makes 1987’s Slaughterhouse a somewhat refreshing take on the teens-in-peril craze was its willingness to look to Tobe Hooper’s best film, the Ed-Gein-inspired tale of murder and macabre The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, for its inspiration. (Going a bit full circle, Slaughterhouse also seems to have directly inspired the ending for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). Hitting much of the same beats, a mentally rattled slaughterhouse owner and his mongoloid psychotic and mute son prone to wearing masks take their revenge on what they perceive to be the bureaucrats of their town who forcefully evict them from their home following their failing business’s inability to pay their taxes.

Naturally, this leads to violent murder and smashed heads.


Slaughterhouse bills itself as a comedy first and horror next (and I hate '80s horror-comedies), but except for a handful of characters’ none-too-subtle names-- the murderers are surnamed Bacon, while the heroine is named Lizzy Borden -- and one bizarre scene where the murderous Buddy plays dress-up and goes joyriding in a police car, there’s nothing on screen that’s played for obvious comedy. The teens mostly die bloody without much irony.  (Going a bit full circle, Slaughterhouse also seems to have directly inspired the ending for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). However, had Slaughterhouse been a throwback experiment made in modern times which was a satire on ‘80s culture, including the horror film, than it would be unfettered brilliance. Slaughterhouse is as a ‘80s as you can get, from the pop music, to the open-top jeep, and to the montage of smiling teens shopping in a drug store trying on gigantic sunglasses and smiling at themselves in the mirror.

Lots of slasher films, in part, come together as a whole to represent what one’s perception of an ‘80s horror film should be. Slaughterhouse takes care of that all by itself. It’s got: not-great acting, frisky teens dying gory deaths, a maniacal murder with a slight back story, hilarious fashions, a slight dependence on winking/nudging humor, terrible pop tunes, a kick-ass synth score, and just the tiniest bit of ingenuity (having teens be the ones to wear masks only to die bloodily was a nice touch). The only segment of the film where it’s entirely unwatchable would be the opening credits, during which cameras were allowed inside a functioning slaughterhouse to film a swine of pigs being slaughtered for real. Unfortunately the end of this chapter stop doesn’t coincide with the end of this sequence, so fast-forwarding (as I did) is your only recuse.


Considering its obvious lineage, it’s something of an honor that Slaughterhouse manages to outdo pretty much every film in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre series not including the original and its remake, but definitely including Hooper’s oddly celebrated sequel. If you’re a fan of the ‘80s slasher, Slaughterhouse is a slice of dumb, easily watchable fun. Blood flies, limbs roll, and Buddy Bacon enjoys every minute. I know I did.

Slaughterhouse is what it is, which is fun, bloody, none-too-serious, and somewhat unoriginal. However, its palpable ‘80s construction and it’s engaging-enough plot make it an easier watch to come out of the slasher craze. Buddy Bacon never earned the franchise that director Roessler had been hoping for, but his one-off is entertaining enough to have deserved it. Don’t miss it, or Buddy Bacon will have an ax to grind haw haw!


Jan 13, 2020

SCARECROWS (1988)


How many films must be made within the killer scarecrow pantheon before it can become fairly labeled a sub-genre? Or is it less about quantity and more about quality? 1981's Dark Night of the Scarecrow will always reign supreme as not just the best of this so-called sub-genre, but severely underrated title deserving of classic status. While the next step down is a large one, this video oddity from 1988 has the most to offer while still existing in the shadow of its predecessor. 

One of the review blurbs on the back of the case for Scarecrows has one critic calling it "goofy," but a better way to describe this mega-cheap production would be "quirky." A cast of unknown actors, working with a crew of unknowns (including co-writer/director William Wesley) in the middle of a Florida nowhere, running from a slowly resurrecting trio of killer, bloodthirsty corn sacks filled with straw, and being decimated one by one - that's Scarecrows. Nearly ten years later, Robert Rodriguez would attempt the same bait-and-switch in his super indulgent From Dusk Till Dawn that Scarecrows manages to do far better and with a fraction of the budget. By presenting what at first appears to be a straightforward action film featuring a band of mercenaries on the run from their multi-million dollar heist and hunting down one of their numbers who appears to have gone rogue, but soon turning the tables on its unsuspecting audience. The abandoned farmhouse at which their pursuit of their treasonous member has unfolded, and in the cornfields surrounding it, eventually become a battleground of wits against the supernatural force that's inexplicably come alive to cleanse the land of this motley crew of trespassers.


Scarecrows' tiny budget shows - from the still photos used for establishing shots of the moon to the insert shots that have been obviously slowed down in post-production for whatever reason - but as other low-budget films have shown before, where the filmmakers lacked in funding they more than made up for with ingenuity. To say the plot is in-depth and multi-layered would be disingenuous, and to suggest the acting is across-the-board great would be even more so, but what Scarecrows does accomplish is enough to make it an entertaining romp through the cornfield and a worthy addition to the sub-genre. Dark Night of the Scarecrow it ain't, but it's certainly no Scarecrows Gone Wild, and that's a blessing.

"Killer scarecrow" seems like a ripe idea for the genre to explore more often than it does, especially given that no one has ever before seen a scarecrow that even in real life didn't offer at least a modicum of heeby jeeby. The titles worth watching are very few and far between, but they all offer up their own take on how to bring a scarecrow to life and exploit that to maximum effect. Dark Night of the Scarecrow goes for subtle, off-screen, and painstaking tension. Night of the Scarecrow goes for vicious violence and seedy sexuality. Scarecrows goes for pure action, peppering its running time with hollowed-out men and flying limbs. It's never outright scary, but it's certainly creepy.


Jan 11, 2020

I, MADMAN (1989)


To throw an overused cliché your way, I, Madman is the kind of film no one makes anymore. Not a huge-budget project, not cast-driven, and not based on a franchise or pre-existing material (a big deal for an '80s horror film), I, Madman is, simply put, a movie. It's harmless, charming, inventive, clever, and quite silly, and it's the kind of film that horror audiences hardly ever get to see anymore. Though obviously a product of its times, its use of practical effects and even stop-motion animation, cheesy though they may look nearly thirty years later, pleasantly reek of that old-school filmmaker's mindset of how best to bring the story to life.


The idea of reality and fiction blurring in the eyes of the lead character has proven to service all kinds of genres: I, Madman for horror, The Purple Rose of Cairo for whimsical comedy, and Adaptation for abstract art. The idea of the art on which we depend for mini slices of escapism soon taking over and encompassing our reality not only makes for a clever conceptual hook, but it also satirizes the human experience, which every so often it desperately needs. The inclusion of a sequence in which Virginia is walking down Hollywood Boulevard - more specifically, down the Walk of Fame, housing the stars of many Hollywood elite - only to stop when she sees a newspaper headline about an actress being found murdered, was by purposeful design. It is reality slamming heads with fiction. What I, Madman posits is that, simply, it's okay to escape the mundanity of our lives every so often, but if we fail to confront our realities as presented to us, our fantasies will soon corrupt them, forcing us to act - AND run from claymation mutants.

Director Tibor Takacs is likely better known for the mid-'80s, Steven Dorf-having, backwards-demonic-record-spinning monster mash The Gate, which also featured a healthy dose of his fondness for extravagant practical effects and stop-motion animation. (He's also responsible for the too-weird sequel Gate 2: The Trespassers.) Having disclosed that, I, Madman is the filmmaker's superior effort. The script by David Chaskin (Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge) features reasonably believable characters, given the rather fantastic circumstances in which they exist, existing in their small and somewhat stunted lives. No one's a doctor or a lawyer or some high-falootin' big deal. The lead and the supporting characters are regular everydayers. Chaskin's small touches are the most appreciated, such as the night security guard of the piano repair shop across the street who plays melancholy melodies into the night. Such additions contribute to the uniqueness of our lead heroine's home, so when that home becomes slowly infected by the living nightmares of mysterious pulp writer Malcolm Brand, it allows alternate and unexpected means to make that infestation more disturbing. The fact that the man is a security guard is obviously representative of Virginia's life, which begins losing stability as her razor-wielding threat becomes more and more real. These are the kinds of inclusions that make the script stand out and reinforce the notion it was written with good and artistic intentions, rather than simply counting bodies to drop.


Jenny Wright (with whom many audience members, mostly male, fell in love following her role of Mae in Near Dark) plays a likable lead. Tasked with performing double duty as also playing Anna, the hunted "fictional" heroine of Brand's novels, she's equal parts frumpy and attractive, vulnerable and resourceful, helpless and strong. Alternately, William Randall Cook (also responsible for the film's visual effects) plays the creepy and unnerving antagonist Malcolm Brand. He scalps women, so you know he's a creep. Both actors play well off each other and preserve that essential horror dynamic of strong female versus maniacal male.

In keeping with certain horror expectations, I, Madman presents an engaging and sympathetic lead, an intriguing and psychotic antagonist, inventive special effects, and a healthy dose of the red stuff. Stylistically, it boasts somewhat of a giallo look, consisting of some pretty heavy and unsubtle primary colors, and the gothic and mood-setting score by Michael Hoenig (The Blob) is suitably rich and heavy. A film that manages to be fun, thrilling, philosophical, and creepy all at once, it's a wonder that I, Madman didn't land harder with audiences during its release in 1989.