May 31, 2013


Model for a “Creeping Baby Doll,” which was patented in 1871:

First of all, creeping is what they called crawling back then, and as recently as the early 19th century the question of whether babies should be allowed to crawl was still hotly debated. Crawling was what crazy people and animals did and as such was morally suspect, even “unnatural” for a sane human. By the mid-1800s, however, crawling was seen as a natural stage of childhood and the popularity of devices such as the standing stool began to wane. Meanwhile … Dollmaking was becoming the province of inventors and machinists, not just designers. After the Civil War, American dollmakers tried to get a piece of the action by upping the mechanization ante. The baby doll with a wax head and a crawling motion powered by an internal clockwork mechanism was an attempt to tap into this trend.

May it forever haunt your dreams.

May 30, 2013


"It's like he was a toy doll that those boys stole and didn't know what to do with, so they murdered my little baby. It's not right to let them go...just because they turned eighteen. 'Happy birthday, you're free to go.' Free to kill again, if you ask me."
From its very dark opening to its equally powerful closing, the newest film from David Schmoeller (interview with the filmmaker here) represents a drastic new side to the filmmaker for those only previously aware of his minor classics Puppet Master and Tourist Trap. Little Monsters, his first feature in thirteen years and based on a true story, is the sobering story of two murderers named James Landers and Carl Withers, charged with murdering a three-year-old boy named David McClendon. The awfulness of this act is then exacerbated by the notion that James Landers and Carl Withers are themselves only children - ten years old, to be specific. The boys are caught, charged, and sent to a juvenile detention center for eight years. Upon their eighteenth birthdays, they are released into a sort of witness protection program, with new identities in tow. One is released into the care of a parole officer and set up with a job at the law firm Slausen et al. (a nice nod to Tourist Trap), and the other is placed into foster care. Forbidden from contacting their family, friends, each other, or anyone from their past life, the two now-teenagers must find a way to continue some attempt at an existence while living with the fact that they, in a moment of foolishness, took the life of a child.

Earlier I said that Little Monsters (released on television as 2 Little Monsters) represented a new side to writer/director David Schmoeller. And that's because there is nothing quirky or cartoonish about his newest film. (If you were previously familiar with Schmoeller's filmography, then you know not to take offense.) There are no killer puppets or screaming mannequins here. There are no popcorn scares and set-pieces to make audience jumps and then smile in relief. And there is no Charles Band in sight. Instead, Little Monsters is about real-life horror. It is about tragedy, human relationships and behavior, and exploitation. It's about knowing how to recognize evil when it's staring you in the face, but then realizing to even try is futile.

During the boys' reentry into society, the film offers society's reaction their release - from parents of the victim, to parents of the murderers, to a conservative talk-show host and pair of slimy tabloid reporters. One murderer's mother yearns to hear from her son; the other tells her son she used to pray he would die in prison. Some members of society with no direct connection to the case want to see the boys punished, while others wish people would just let it lie. Smartly comprised of traditional narrative mixed with sit-down interviews featuring family members, law enforcement, and political officials, Little Monsters is presented as a docu-drama. And why shouldn't it be? The case on which the film is based is real. The kind of violence and psychosis the film depicts is real. The polarizing reactions society has about the death of one is real. We need look no further than the recent tragedy in Newtown to see that we, as people, will never be united behind any one cause, no matter how obvious it may look. Little Monsters is dark and bleak and fucking angry...but so is life.

Ryan Leboeuf as James and Charles Cantrell as Carl are tremendous in their entirely opposite roles. James (now Bob Fisher) is quiet, reserved, and struggling with the next phase of his life. He sneaks away to reference the notebooks that contain crib sheets on his new identity and shies away from the girl next door who shows him attention. Carl (now Joey Romer), however, makes it abundantly clear he is not ready to re-enter society. He is angry, but smiles his way through it, not caring if he's fooling those around him. And both young actors completely outshine their adult counterparts in every way. 

The script for Little Monsters is very smartly constructed, using the aforementioned narrative- vs. sit-down-interview juxtaposition to convey insights into our characters as well as subjective points of view from those removed from the case; you're essentially getting three stories in one: those who support the boys, those who want to see them punished...and the truth. Everybody is right and everybody is wrong all at once. Minor harm is done to the pacing of the film due to the various characters representing the media, but it isn't detrimental. Schmoeller could have easily "cheated" and kept his sit-down interviews in place without relying on talk-show hosts and tabloid reporters asking questions on the other side of the camera to justify this kind of exposition and insight (Linklater and Clooney do it), but their characters aren't entirely superfluous, either. They serve a purpose and represent different facets - a maddeningly realistic take on how the media responds in time of tragedy - but they could have been easily edited out and affected little.

A limited budget has resulted in limited flair, but the film is not without style. Schmoeller instead relies on tone, and in getting dangerously intimate with our two polar opposite characters. You become witness to their madness as well as their regret; you are forced to experience their crimes as well as their struggle to transcend their status as cold-blooded murderers and prove there's more to them than a wrong decision made by a ten-year-old's mind. But you're also forced to recognize that not everything is as it seems - that evil comes in many forms, and not all of them are obvious.

Little Monsters is currently doing the film festival thing and getting good marks wherever it travels. It is without distribution, but here's hoping that changes soon. It is a film that will challenge your idea of perception and force you to confront the power of denial.

More information can be found on David Schmoeller's website and Facebook.

May 29, 2013


"I think we should discuss Danny.
I think we should discuss what should be done with him.
What should be done with him?"
If we don't, remember me.

May 28, 2013


“It would perhaps not be amiss to point out that he had always tried to be a good dog. He had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor.” 

May 27, 2013


The video was uploaded to video sharing sites and then spread, not attracting much attention from more than local media - possibly due to the day it was submitted on and fears of having the hoaxer came forward.  But it seems the video did convince quite a few who saw it.  Among the voices of those who were demonstrably disturbed by the eerie sighting were maintenance workers who said they had never seen anything like it their whole careers, and others who said they would soon be having trouble sleeping at night after seeing the video.

The video shows a cable being pushed through a pipeline in a sewer and then in two other locations.  The first shows a long tunnel illuminated at the end by the camera's built in lamp.  As the camera starts moving forward, suddenly something shoots past the end of the tunnel and then disappears down the dark corridor.  The second video shows something similar - a blurry shape quickly disappears and goes out of view after being visible for only a few milliseconds.  And then there's the final footage.  In it, a creature with glowing yellow eyes can be seen peeking out from a brick wall at the end of the tunnel.  It looks out, then quickly ducks back out of view before getting curious and stepping out once again.  After a few seconds, the creature comes fully into view and the camera keeps rolling as it stands there with a strange eerie grey color.  Its frame looks completely different from any known creature, only vaguely resembling an ape in some ways.  Quickly it becomes startled and leaps away out of view as the camera then moves to chase it.

May 26, 2013


Finally debuting on DVD after its long (and probably unnoticed) absence, 1995's The Dark Dealer, the adult version of Nickelodeon's popular "Are You Afraid of the Dark?", is now here. Directed by Tom Alexander and Wyn Winberg, The Dark Dealer is an anthology horror featuring glowing orbs, bulky and suited monsters, and ghosts of very spiteful blues men. 

It all begins with a young teen running in terror from a large, flashing orb-thing straight from Spencer Gifts. The boy luckily dodges into a room and stumbles across a poker game filled with a shady cast of characters. The boy takes a seat and listens as each poker player unfolds his own story, laying down the events which led them to their seat at the table.

From two unlucky thieves using the wrong old man's apartment to hide from the law, to an overambitious entertainment lawyer stealing an old forgotten black musician's songs to hit it big, to the final and wraparound story featuring orbs, drugs, and crack dens, The Dark Dealer unfolds with the same kind of overly cheesy and EC-comic-book style as its source of inspiration, Creepshow. And since the film was made in 1995, there is no garish and boring CGI to offend the eye - it's all practical here, baby. Rubber faces, white face make-up, and all the screaming skeletons money can buy.

Quite obviously, The Dark Dealer is no Creepshow. It's not even Creepshow 2. If it was, you would've heard of it already. (It's way better than Creepshow 3, but, so is bloody stool.) That doesn't mean, however, that it's not watchable...because it is. Released during the height of the direct-to-video movement, The Dark Dealer encompasses all you would expect from that era: corny gore, sex for no reason, and awful humor.

Fans of quirky and low budget horror will find something to enjoy, even though each story unfolds with the kind of tedious inevitability, with the main character receiving his just desserts served with a dash of irony, that Tales from the Crypt made famous. But in the interim, bodies transform with rubber intensity and claymation demons faces scream RIGHT AT YOU.

It's all in good fun, and you'll likely enjoy yourself.

Buy the film here (and watch out for flying soup ladles).

May 23, 2013


Rosalia Lombardo was born in 1918 in Palermo, Sicily. She died of pneumonia on December 6, 1920. Rosalia's father was sorely grieved upon her death, so he approached Dr. Alfredo Salafia, a noted embalmer, to preserve her.  Her body was one of the last corpses to be admitted to the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo in Sicily.

Thanks to Dr. Salafia's embalming techniques, the body has been well-preserved. X-rays of the body show that the organs are remarkably intact. The child appears as if she were only sleeping, hence receiving the name "Sleeping Beauty," though due to the discoloration that has become more pronounced in the years following her preservation, it is quite obvious she is deceased.
Rosalia Lombardo's body is kept in a small chapel at the end of the catacomb's tour and is encased in a glass covered coffin, placed on a marble pedestal.

May 19, 2013


When I was about 4, I was sitting alone in the living room playing with marbles. One of them rolled under the couch, and I stuck my hand as far under as I could to find it. I couldn't find it, so I withdrew my hand... and a black, withered, feminine hand reached out from under the couch after me. I remember it clearly. I sat there, too young to really know how batshit insane this was, but I remember thinking to myself "this is not right." I sat there dumbfounded and watched it; it groped around, then withdrew. Then it emerged again, pushing some plastic wrappers at me, as if it was trying to give them to me. When I didn't take them, it withdrew again, taking the trash with it, and was gone.

I got up very calmly and walked to my mother in the kitchen, at the other side of the house, and told her, "Mommy, a hand just reached out from under the couch." She got an odd look on her face, of course, but I was a very quiet, obedient kid who did not tell stories. She told me that was impossible and walked back to the living room with me, and even reached her hands under the couch to show me there was nothing there. Later, my dad came home and lifted the couch, and all that was under there was my marbles, and some random trash.

For years, I discounted this as just a vivid dream I had had when I was a child; obviously I didn't believe it really happened. But years later, when I was like 18, I mentioned it to my mother in recollection. She surprised me by saying that, no, it actually happened; she remembered me coming to her that afternoon and telling her about the hand under the couch. She said it had disturbed her greatly, and was the reason they had thrown the couch out soon after, because she had bought the couch second hand, and the seller told her that an elderly black lady had died on it.

Story and image source unknown.

May 16, 2013


Being a night guard in a hospital is not so hard, except for the fact that sometimes you get so scared that you keep on imagining things. I tried to console myself that the weeping I heard was in my own head. 
But it wasn’t so easy.  
I finally got curious and went ahead to check. The weeping sound was increasing as I neared the operation theater. I went nearer, but didn’t find anything. I sighed and was about to retreat when I saw a small boy hiding behind a potted plant. He wasn’t wearing any clothes. I thought he was cold so I offered him my jacket. He took it.  
“What are you doing here at this hour? Did you get lost?”  
“I can't find my mother,” he said still crying.  
“Don’t cry,” I said and picked him up. “I will find you for her. Tell me the room number.”

“I don’t know the room, but I can show you where she is kept. Please take me.” 
He had stopped crying and I took him. He kept on giving me directions. I was amazed. He didn’t have a doubt where to go.  
We reached a room and he said that this was it. But to my surprise, it was the morgue.  
I took him in. I don’t know why, but the boy was so mesmerizing that I took him there without any second thoughts. 

He pointed towards a corpse cupboard numbered 453 and said, “please put me in there.” 
My mind was so numb I didn’t realize what I was doing. I pulled the cupboard. Inside it laid the beautiful, lifeless body of a woman. I put the boy in and closed the cupboard. 
"Thank you," he said.  
I was about to leave when I realized I had lost my mind. I quickly opened locker 453. But it was empty. No small boy, no female corpse. Only my jacket lay there. There was a patient profile beneath that. 
It read: 
Anna Adams: Died of heart attack when she heard the death of her son during operation. 
Below that was the picture of her son. Alex Adams.  
The same boy was smiling at me from the photo.

May 14, 2013


Jordan (Alix Elizabeth Gitter) is going through a rather bad patch. After the untimely death of her father, she finds herself living across the country with her older sister/new guardian Anne (Tara Westwood) and her sister's boyfriend, Kevin (Steve Bacic). Originally from Los Angeles, and now living in Silver Falls (exact location unknown), Jordan forces herself to move on and attempt to be a simple teenager, meaning she's off to parties filled with beer, pills, and fiery mannequins. While living in Silver Falls, she manages to attract the attention of two boys: Larry (James Calvo), a very hipstery non-cool kid who isn't cool because he wears your grandmother's glasses, and Robbie, (Tadgh Kelly), your resident cool kid who is cool because he has cool hair.

Jordan has also attracted the ghost of a young girl that seems to be haunting Silver Falls, thanks to a ring she found in the woods while evading the party-busting police. This ghost likes to scream at her using Halloween party store sound effects while wearing a heavy sheen of goo across her face. It even tries to drown her in the bathtub. 

Inspired by true events!

Day by day, Jordan begins to delve into the mystery behind this haunting figure, who won't stop following her and giving her the creepy creeps, determined to put the girl's tortured spirit to rest. 

Pretty unorthodox, if I must say!

A Haunting at Silver Falls is okay. The acting is sound, bolstered by the appearance of the always fun Erick Avari (The Mummy, Flight of the Living Dead) as Jordan's unlikable shrink, Dr. Parish. The events of the film, particularly the haunting of Jordan by "The Doll Twins," are approached in a somber and serious way, which is refreshing. The ghost themselves aren't always handled in the best way - budget constraints and an underwhelming make-up design can sometimes stunt the potential for genuine scares, but there are some nice "gotcha" moments scattered throughout. The ghost twins we repeatedly see don't look like ghosts so much as things supposed to look like ghosts, if that makes any sense. They're not entirely a success, but still occasionally creepy during specific scenes.

Oh...but that ending. God damn it. 

Endings can be described as unpredictable for two reasons: either because the filmmakers leading the charge have skillfully laid down the clues for you to pick up and foretell the twist to come, or because it's so completely out of left field that you don't feel stupid for not having seen it coming. An ending is everything, and a bad one can be detrimental...unless your movie was good enough from the start to trump said ending. I tend to use Haute Tension as the prime example in that regard - an absolute cheat of an ending, but not enough to ruin the ridiculous and over the top manner of the first two acts. (Don't read too much into the comparison - one's ending is not indicative of the other's.)

And that's the problem here. A Haunting at Silver Falls is okay, but not okay enough to overcome its silly and unnecessarily bleak ending.

Writer/director Brett Donowho shows skill behind the camera. He frames his shots and uses darkness like a person putting actual thought into his film. No shaking camera, no bogus and frantic editing. The story is old fashioned in its design - dead girls, a lost ring, a town secret. It's not the most original story you're apt to see in this genre, but it's still pure, and that's what matters. There's even an effort to develop nearly all the characters that appear on screen, including the character of Kevin, who in any other film would be a completely underutilized and superfluous trope - a walking meat suit that's eventually ghosted to death.

I like small town horror stories because these environments more effortlessly feel like home than any other setting. Cities are glamorous and all, and ripe for large scale destruction, but small towns are supposed to be comforting and wholesome. They'e not supposed to be the scene of vicious crimes and dark histories. But when they are, there's something disturbing about it all.

I could easily see other reviewers giving A Haunting at Silver Falls a tough time, calling it unoriginal and mundane. But when I watch films like this, and I can see an honest attempt to craft something beyond blood, guts, and fancy editing, I'm inclined to only show encouragement.

Weak ending aside, I still recommend A Haunting at Silver Falls. It's one of the better under-the-radar ghost flicks to come out in quite some time.

It hits video May 28th. Pre-order it.

May 13, 2013


During the war, a soldier faithfully wrote to his mother every week so she would know he was all right. One week she didn't get a letter and immediately began to worry. Within a couple of weeks she got a letter from the Army saying that her son had been captured and was being held in a Prisoner-of-War camp, and they assured her that they had no reason to believe the American prisoners were being mistreated in any way. 

A few weeks later, the woman finally received another letter from her son. 

It read: 
Dear Mom, 

Try not to worry about me, they are treating us well and I'll be released as soon as the war is over. 

Make sure that little Teddy gets the stamp for his collection. 

Love you,

The woman was overjoyed to hear the news, but was confused because she had no idea who "little Teddy" was. She decided to steam the stamp from the envelope and have a look. 

When she did, she saw something written on the back of the stamp: 

"They've cut off my legs."

May 12, 2013


"I want to confess as best I can, but my heart is void. The void is a mirror. I see my face and feel loathing and horror. My indifference to men has shut me out. I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams."
If we don't, remember me. 

May 11, 2013


She was nervous and excited as she approached the psychic's store. Normally, she didn't go in for fortune telling. But her best friend had visited the psychic a few months ago, and everything the woman had predicted came true. Everything! The new boyfriend, the new job, the marriage proposal, a small win in the local lottery. Obviously, the psychic was a genius! 
The room she entered was surprisingly open and pleasant. She smelled coffee in the air, and fresh flowers were on a stand by the window. She smiled to herself. Somehow, she had pictured an old gypsy caravan and a dark-haired woman in flowing robes. But the pert, crisp woman approaching her did not look psychic at all. 
They sat down at the table, and the woman did a reading of her palm. The psychic frowned a bit in concentration. Then the psychic asked if she would like a Tarot card reading too -- free of charge. That was different from what had happened to her best friend. For a moment she felt a trace of unease. Then she shrugged and said okay. 
The psychic studied the cards carefully. Then she looked at her palm one more time. Finally, the psychic looked up into her eyes, realized that she was feeling nervous, and said soothingly: "Your future is very clear, my dear. I've recently changed my policies, and now put my predictions in a sealed envelope for my customers to read in the privacy of their homes. It is to show customers my credibility in the psychic arts -- that I am not 'reading their expressions,' but have truly seen something in the palm and cards." 
She blinked a bit, but was impressed. It made sense, after a fashion. The psychic had asked her no questions at all, just read her palm and the cards. So any prediction she put in the envelope would be proof of her powers. The psychic hurried into a back room, where she could hear the faint sound of pen and paper. Then the woman returned with an envelope. 
"Thank you," she said to the psychic, and shook her hand. Then she hurried out to the car, eager to get home and read the predictions in the envelope. What would they be? A rich husband? A career change? Travel to exotic places? 
She had just pulled out into the fast lane on the highway when a semi-truck swerved to miss a careless sedan that pulled into the lane right in front of it. She had a single glimpse of a massive shape coming toward her when the truck slammed into her car, crushing it completely against the cement divider. 
When the girl's body was removed from the wreckage, the envelope was found lying beside her. It was presented to her grieving parents, who opened it. The note inside contained four words: "You have no future."

May 10, 2013


Once upon a time, in February of 1942, aliens came and hovered over Los Angeles. They hung around a bit, didn't too much, and then left. Or so UFO conspiracy theorists like to claim. I can't say for sure what happened because I wasn't there. But this incident, much like the alleged crash landing of another UFO in Roswell, New Mexico, has kept the idea of aliens and alien visitation alive for decades.

In 2005, it inspired a pretty okay movie called Battle: Los Angeles, starring Aaron Eckhart and directed by Jonathan Liebsman. 

Battle Earth writer/director Aaron Kurmey kinda hopes you don't remember that, or else his film about the US (er, sorry, Canadian) military fighting off a ground invasion by alien forces might seem more than a little familiar, as will its news footage declaring "EARTH UNDER ATTACK!!" and the streaming bright-white meteors hurtling toward our planet. Even the handheld "right up in there" way of filming the action is ever in place. But as I've often said, while concepts can become exhausted, a filmmaker with a bit of know-how can overcome this over-saturation so long as they offer something new and/or intelligent. (I also don't blame the filmmakers for the title, as research indicates the film was originally called The Medic.)

It is six months into the initial invasion. The Canadian military is actively trying to quell and neutralize the attack with the use of helicopter and ground troops. Among one of these troops is Greg Baker (Kevin Johnson), who enlists in the fight after seeing the invasion unfold on his television. After their helicopter is shot down, Baker and his platoon find themselves in enemy territory and in possession of a mysterious package covered in bio-hazard symbols. As time goes on, it becomes more and more evident there's something pretty important inside that package...and it's going to change Baker's entire perception of who is the real enemy.

Battle Earth, and movies like it, are perfectly destined for Red Box or digital download. It is a satisfying way to spend 90 minutes without ever feeling like your time has ultimately been wasted. But you'll never feel compelled to watch it ever again. The acting is just fine, though it varies in quality; luckily our lead is more than competent. Johnson isn't your typical generic and handsome lead; he's just an everyman who saw the carnage on his television and did the right thing in volunteering for the fight. He's got some domestic baggage weighing him down, and it causes him to have nightmares in which he stumbles across his wife/girlfriend, Tracy, fucking some random dude in the middle of the same wilderness where the soldiers are engaging the enemy.

Speaking of the enemy...oh boy, these aliens. They don't look great. And I suppose that's why the filmmakers don't really go out of their way to show them off. If you've seen the great District 9, picture if you can those aliens having been dudes in costumes as opposed to CGI. (I'll certainly give them points for trying it old school, however; I'll take crummy costumes over crummy CGI any day of the week.) That's the enemy we're dealing with in Battle Earth...and they also wear clothes. Except for E.T., that might just be a first in this subgenre. Also a first: Canadians saying things like "fuck" and "sucking dicks." I had no idea Canadians cursed! It's weird!

Refreshingly, the visual effects present here are pretty competent and effective, and Kurmey's skill behind the camera works well in tandem alongside them - one notable sequence has a still night invaded by flashing lights across the far mountainous horizon, and the glare of this light show reflects across the soldiers' awed faces. Small moments like this - and the very unusual opening utilizing a recreated relaxation tape meshed with a soldier dispatching enemy combatants - help elevate Battle Earth above the usual direct to video level.

Unfortunately, the film falls victim in the same way other films containing groups of soldiers: characterization falls by the wayside, and instead the men are given differing personalities (the funny guy! the somber guy! the foreigner!) to help the audience discern who is who. Not helping is the single location in which the film takes place, which after a while makes the film a little stagnate. Odd, seeing as how the majority of this film has soldiers shooting assault weapons at the enemy.

You have seen better films than Battle Earth, but you have seen way worse, too. It won't be your new favorite film, but it might make you say, "that was worth the $1.20, but we have to return this by 9:00 or they'll charge us for another night."

Battle Earth hits DVD on May 28. Buy it here.

May 9, 2013


An alien is left behind by his spaceship and is adopted by Elliot and his family.
With his cuteness he’ll soon be able to enter their heart…

In “Roman Holiday,” Freddie Krueger is a reporter who offers to help a young
Princess visiting the most beautiful city in the world. Will she be charmed by his
kind and gentle manners?

In the musical “The Sound Of Music,” remarkable Pennywise gives another example
of his acting versatility.

May 8, 2013


There's not much to it, and it's clearly Ronald McDonald, but still...something about it...

May 7, 2013


Throughout the past 100 years, the myths surrounding John 'Babbacombe' Lee's story have taken on a life of their own.

Urban legends, ghostly sightings and tales of supernatural intervention have grown far beyond what anybody in 19th century South Devon could have imagined for the lowly manservant.

Lee, nicknamed The Man They Could Not Hang, came to prominence when he was convicted of murdering his employer, Emma Keyse, and setting fire to her Babbacombe home, called The Glen.

Mike Holgate, of Torquay, an expert on John Lee, said: 
During his trial, the prosecution portrayed Lee as a depraved lunatic capable of smashing an old lady's head with an axe, then slashing her throat with a knife. 
The judge, in passing sentence of death, remarked how calm Lee's demeanor had been throughout the trial. 
Lee is said to have leaned forward in the dock and replied firmly: "The reason why I am so calm is that I trust in the Lord, and He knows I am innocent." 
In the days leading up to the date of execution, Lee read the Bible prodigiously and proclaimed his innocence. 
It is said he told the prison chaplain the real culprit was the lover of his half-sister, Elizabeth Harris, who was cook at The Glen and expecting a child which was later delivered out of wedlock in Newton Abbot Workhouse.
The prison governor's logbook states on the morning of the execution, as Lee approached the gallows trapdoor, he told two prison guards he had dreamt "three times the bolt was drawn, and three times the bolt failed to act."

Lee was a lonely figure on the gallows — but each time an attempt was made to open the trapdoor, it stuck. After each failed attempt the trapdoor was tested and it opened normally, but when Lee stood on it again the door would not open. Three times this happened, each with the same outcome. It is rumoured that throughout the ordeal on the scaffold, a white dove perched on the gallows until the condemned man was led safely back to his prison cell.

The Home Secretary told Parliament he could not expect a man to "twice face the pangs of imminent death." Lee began a 23-year prison sentence in Exeter, and from that day the myths about his life spread across the world. Witchcraft and devilish incantations were often talked of when people tried to reason Lee's escape from death. Friends of Lee claimed they had paid a white witch handsomely to save him from the noose.

Other people told stories of how Lee's mother had visited the church graveyard near her home at Abbotskerswell, recited the Lord's Prayer backwards and summoned the Devil to save her son. Also, an old woman called Granny Lee, from Ogwell, is said to have told locals 'they shall not hang him' as she walked to Exeter on the morning of the execution and cast a spell on the gallows from a spot overlooking the prison.

May 6, 2013


Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre. 

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. David Schmoeller
Compass International Pictures
United States

For this edition of Unsung Horrors, we have a very different beast. Being a genre aficionado, I like my horror in all sizes, shapes, and colors - but I generally prefer a serious tone. I prefer feeling unnerved, and I enjoy the feeling of being in the presence of a filmmaker whom I don't entirely trust - not in the sense that I feel the filmmaker is not up to the snuff of delivering a good fright, but in the sense that said filmmaker might just be a; perhaps eccentric, or even insane, to have delivered such a god damned strange, indecipherable, and flat-out bizarre little picture like the one we'll be celebrating today. To watch Tourist Trap is to wonder if the film had been accidentally made by an escapee from an insane asylum after he had held a mini-studio hostage so that his film may be realized. And when I insinuate the filmmaker was approaching this in as unconventional manner as possible, I don't allude to such high-brow works of art like E. Elias Merhige's Begotten or even Buñuel & Dalí's Un Chien Andalou, which are artistic to the extreme of defying convention. No, Tourist Trap is a different kind of insane - one that sports a straight-forward concept that became rather go-to in the late '70s and early 80s thanks to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: a group of kids getting lost in an unknown territory and falling victim one by one to a madman. On its surface, one would assume that's all it would seem to entail. But oh, how wrong one would be to assume such a thing. (That filmmaker, by the way, is David Schmoeller: read my interview with him here.)

Have you ever heard the expression "a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma?" Tourist Trap is that movie, in spades, but with mannequins. It, truly, is the most bizarre film I’ve ever seen - one that at some points is deeply unsettling, and at others completely ridiculous, whimsical, and odd. It’s almost as if two directors, whose styles completely contradicted each other, directed different portions. Picture an unhappy studio executive screening the latest film from David Lynch, then picking up a phone and requesting an immediate meeting with the guys who made Airplane.

The beginning of Tourist Trap introduces us to a group of young teens as they are temporarily stalled by a flat tire on their way cross-country. One of the unlucky boys, who is the spitting image of the late Steve Irwin but sans accent, rolls the flat to the nearest service station for help. Upon getting there, the boy is haunted by weird, ethereal, slightly erotic moaning emanating from an unseen source. The boy locates the source: a blanket-covered woman lying on a cot in the back of the service station. The boy approaches gingerly, asking the woman if she needs help. Suddenly, she springs forward, laughing in vicious glee, revealing herself to be...a mannequin.

Your mind barely has time to process what appears to be the film's first major development before all hell breaks loose in this little room. The mannequin continues to laugh, its plastic jaw clomping wildly in glee. The boy, understandably freaked, tries to escape the room, but windows close and lock themselves as doors slam themselves shut.

Another mannequin, this one headless, smashes through the outside window. The boy is then assaulted by yet another mannequin, bursting forth from the closet and laughing more creepily than the previous dummy. As the boy backs up in fear, he kicks a small mannequin head that lies on the ground. He looks on in fear as the head slowly turns and opens its mouth wide.

And your reviewer is utterly disturbed.

The room begins going insane as cabinets open and close and objects are mysteriously hurled at the boy as he tries to escape, and all during this fiasco the mannequins continue to laugh.

My God, is this what it's like inside Gary Busey’s head?

A metal pipe is suddenly hurled through the boy, killing him instantly, and the commotion comes to an end. We then pan around the room, taking in the sudden serenity, as if the mannequin-screaming, object-hurtling, window-and-door-slamming shitstorm of a fucked up Quaalude hallucination never took place.

This is certainly not a case of establishing something insane for the purposes of securing a massively crazy opener, but failing to live up to that insanity for the remainder of the film. Rather, Tourist Trap wants to hit the ground running. It wastes no time in easing the viewer into the insanity that is soon to unfurl. "We've only got 90 minutes here, people," the film is saying, "so strap in for the worst nightmare you've ever had while wide awake."

The dead boy's friends, among them Molly (Jocelyn Jones),  the "final girl," come looking for him, and this is when they meet Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors), owner of Slausen’s Lost Oasis, who approaches them with a large shotgun and cowboy hat. Soft guitar music plays as Slausen lays down his airing of grievances he has with the local town bureaucrats as the girls, having previously stripped down and leaped into a nearby watering hole and are now naked as they day they were born, cover their dirty pillows and stare at him with a mixture of fear and confusion.

Despite the fact that he is clearly the last person anyone with half-a-brain would want to be around, they accept his offer of a lift back to his house under the guise of getting some tools to help fix their car. But don't worry, these kids aren't going anywhere. Both the audience and Mr. Slausen want to see these kids get haunted and slaughtered by sighing mannequins. And boy, will they.

To attempt to explain or make sense of what's soon to unfold is a fool's errand. To date, I have seen Tourist Trap three times, and I am completely unable to decipher anything that occurs. A rather simple-minded premise about mannequins with a life of their own soon morphs into a story featuring quirky and potentially dangerous twin brothers, split personalities, telekinesis, necromancy(?), and even heartbreak.

All of this, on the surface, feels easy to mock, and I fully admit the first draft of this column was written to be included as the newest edition to Shitty Flicks. But my latest viewing of this flick confirmed I could not in good conscience do so. Low brow concept it may have been, and populated with not-so-great teen actors as was often the case for low-budget horror, writer/director David Schmoeller knew exactly what he was doing behind the camera. Without hyperbole, every single solitary shot of a mannequin, or doll, or masked madman, is eerie, or disturbing, even deeply unsettling. Because nothing makes sense. And no explanations are provided. If you're looking for the James Bond villain-esque explanation at the end where the antagonist lays it all out on the table - "here's how I bring the mannequins to life / here's how I learned to move objects with my mind / here is how I resurrect the dead" - forget it. You're barking up the wrong tree here, and you're way way way in the wrong film. I've long said that gaps in logic can be detrimental to a screenplay unless you are in a filmmaker's such capable hands that you not only forgive those gaps, but actually respect them and allow them to enhance your reaction to the story. It gets to be that you want to ignore these gaps, because to do otherwise would result in over-thinking and ruining the experience for yourself.

Each insane development occurs with no for warning, because Schmoeller wants you to feel just as broad-sided as his characters. "Wait a minute, since when can this guy move shit with his mind?", etc. He wants every new occurrence of supernatural territory to slap you across the face. He wants you to feel uneven and on edge, honestly believing anything could happen at any moment. At one point someone could have opened their chest to reveal they were a robot the entire time and it would have felt right at home. (Not to mention something like that kinda-sorta happens.)

Schmoeller is also wise to exploit the hordes of mannequins found everywhere in Slausen's Lost Oasis to immense satisfaction and disturbance. At one point the killer is chasing one of our victims and holds out, at arm's length, a severed mannequin's head.

“See my friend?” the killer grumbles, as the mouth on the mannequin head opens widely and screams.

At this point we have seen enough insanity and unexplained activity that we know this is not a simple case of ventriloquism: This head is somehow alive, and it's screaming at our victim like it is being brutally murdered. This is later confirmed when the killer heaves the screaming head at her as she turns and flees. The head, landing on the ground in front of her, promptly turns by itself and yells at her again.

Adding to this insanity are the occasional bouts of humor. Not unintentional humor, mind you, but honest-to-gosh scenes in which Schmoeller forgot he was making a haunted mannequin, masked-killer movie and was perhaps instead directing a vaudevillian stage play featuring Abbot and Costello.

That decision results in the following scene in which our killer enters a room wearing a mask and sits down next to a mannequin. For no reason whatsoever, after the killer places a bowl of soup in front of the slumped-over mannequin, the dummy suddenly springs to life:

Killer: Eat your soup. It’s nice and hot.
Mannequin: Let’s eat.
Killer: That’s what I said, let’s eat. Is it good?
Mannequin: Yes, it’s very good.
Killer: Want some crackers?
Mannequin: I’d like some more crackers, please.
Killer: That’s what I said.
Mannequin: Yes, the crackers are very good.
Killer: Aren’t da crackas good??

The mannequin’s head falls off directly into the soup, ruining the rest of the date. All of this in the midst of teens being killed and transformed into mannequin parts, one by one. All of this while mannequin heads scream and move on their own, while objects fly across the room without having been touched, while people whom we thought were perfectly real and alive are torn apart limb-from-limb, revealing they were actually mannequins.

Also adding to this insanity is the completely wacko score by Pino Donaggio, perhaps most famous for having scored the majority of Brian DePalma's earlier films like Carrie and Dressed to Kill. Much like Tourist Trap itself, the score alternates between chilling, with stabbing strings, and goofy, with clumsy xylophone hits. It's an awkward pastiche that at some points is trying to drive you mad with fear, but at others is trying to convince you you're in the presence of someone whimsical and eccentric and you should be having a really amusing fucking time.

The last shot shows our lone survivor driving down the street with mannequin versions of all her friends filling out the car that now suddenly works, as Pino Donaggios’s score assaults your every sense, slamming home the fact that, yes, what you just experienced was real, and no, you will never forget it.

Tourist Trap was unofficially remade in 2005 and dubbed House of Wax, as that was the title Warner Bros. happened to own. And yes, while it includes a killer who turned his victims into wax dummies, the similarities end there. But it would go onto lift, from Tourist Trap, the killer-brothers concept, the broken-down-car concept, the weirdo-attraction-in-the-middle-of-nowhere concept, and hordes of mannequins/dummies particularly placed and posed to give off the illusion of being real people.

David Schmoeller would go on to direct more straight-forward genre fare like Puppet Master and episodes of "Silk Stalkings," but Tourist Trap will always be remembered as the movie that made people say: “That was fucking weird. I don’t feel good…”

God bless you, David Schmoeller.

God bless you, Tourist Trap.

God bless us everyone.

I’m gonna go take a shower and hide under a blanket, because I feel really uncomfortable.

May 5, 2013



Please read this sentence aloud: 

"Hello, Molly." 

If you read it aloud as I instructed, you should be safe. 

If you read it in your head… 

Molly is now safe, too. 

Inside your head.

May 2, 2013


Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis. 

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.

If you can believe it, there was once a time when low budget shark movies were made simply because someone said, "You know what the world needs? Another killer shark movie." It wasn't due to stunt casting or a deliciously stupid gimmick (sharks with two heads, sharks with bombs inside them, sharks chasing after "Jersey Shore" knock-offs) that a killer shark movie was made. No, it was during this purer time when the Shark Attack trilogy thrived, and when it reached its peak of utter stupidity with this:

Shark Attack 3: Megalo-Fucking-Don, starring John Fucking Barrowman and directed by David Fucking Worth.

It begins, much like any other killer shark movie, with a bunch of divers looking for something uninteresting and being killed off-screen by some pretty gnarly Shark Week footage. The Bulgarians-Playing-Americans (Bulgmericans?) really don't like this, and they chomp cigars and scream "oh, jeeze, no!" right into our faces.

After this terror, we cut immediately to Big Grins Island, which, based on the music, must be in Mexico (Bulgaria). 

Oh, okay - someone just said "chica" - definitely Mexico. (Bulgaria. Bulxico?)

We meet some young studs who love to grin and smile, make some jokes, and then do some more grinning and smiling. I'm not sure what's so funny or fun, but my mood has already drastically improved.

These men, who are some sort of lifeguards, take time out to randomly say aloud what the other person should already know. This is called "exposition."

In Shark Attack 3: Megalo-Bitchin'-Don, it looks like this:

My thanks to Arbitrary Nonsense for the script grab.

Our men separate so that one may dive and the other may remain in a boat and say more Mexican things. "Asta la vista!" Or, you know, something else.

It's soon established one of these men - the one who speaks the best English - will be our lead. And why not? He's young, handsome, and a no-nonsense type of guy capable of showing off one simple emotion: smile.

And to mix things up:

Main Guy Diver swims along the bottom of the ocean and finds a shark tooth, confirming years of scientific theory: There are sharks in the ocean. Some Jaws rip-off music leads to a fake scare and the scene ends, and I have lost nearly ten years off my life from the white-knuckle tension David Fucking Worth has mastered.

This diver, who doesn't have a name yet, goes home and logs onto his Shark Fan Forum and posts this message (verbatim):

Found This Shark's Tooth ,
But Can't Determine Species.
Any Suggestions Anyone?

Then he sits back and anxiously awaits someone else to solve his problems for him.  

Meanwhile, in San Diego (another part of Bulgaria - Bulgiego?), we're introduced to our female marine biologist, who shares a brief conversation with perhaps the most incoherent security guard since someone hung a guard's uniform on a cactus and another person accidentally asked that cactus for directions to the gift shop. She goes into her office and logs onto Shark Fan Forum and sees the MYSTERY SHARK message. Her intrigue is palpable. 

Later we meet even more characters who struggle with English, one of whom looks uncannily like H.P. Lovecraft. They discuss how some of their underwater equipment is getting fucked up by sharks, and after a bit more unintelligible conversation, the nameless diver leaves. 

As we meet a couple fucking in the water, and as their passion is inter-cut with stock footage accidentally showing two different shark species (oops!), I'll take this time to share with you that the best film of this director's filmography is Kickboxer (yes, with Van Damme, and yes, from 24 years ago). 

And we have a name!

The San Diego-ahn (San Di-eh-gan?) marine biologist scours the beaches looking for one Ben Carpenter. "I saw your message on the Internet," she explains. "One time I saw sandwich at the food store," she might as well say. But Ben is tickled pink to see her. Speaking of tickling pink, Shark Attack 3: Megalo-Fucking-Don features perhaps the best improvised line of dialogue of all time. I'll share it with you a little later.

While our characters enjoy some bland conversation, allow me to point out the acting in this film is fucking abysmal. Normally that goes without saying, but I still feel the need to confirm it. If smiling was an emotion, some would call Ben Carpenter emotionally reckless. It's also painfully obvious everyone's dialogue has been ADRed, so it makes the already lifeless performances that much more awkward, as everyone inadvertently sounds like a 1930s hard-boiled detective.

After setting out into the deep blue for some recon, our marine biologist and her two stooge deckhands marvel at the grainy and cropped stock footage happening right next to their vessel.

"Whoa, look at it!" someone shouts, as I expect to hear Discovery Channel's Mike Rowe rattle off a random shark factoid and then make a wry comment.

The shark attacks, bites dumbly at nothing, and leaves behind a tooth. Our marine biologist, whose name I forgot to mention is Cat, confirms it's the same kind of tooth Ben earlier discovered, so she tags the shark with her tagger pole and celebrates with some unconvincing profanity.

Ben goes to tell Cat the shark has eaten another man when he discovers her terrible secret: she is actually a paleontologist. He does this by picking up her business card that says "paleontologist" on it (do paleontologists have business cards?). It seems obvious she had meant to keep this a secret from him, yet she still felt compelled to bring her business cards that say "paleontologist" to Mexico (Bulgaria) AND leave them scattered all over the table.

Ben runs off because he's really sensitive and the two later reconvene at the dock, where they share some awkward sexual tension. He lets her come aboard his boat, so long as she recognize he's in charge.

"At the first sign of trouble, I'm taking it out," Ben tells her as I laugh.

She agrees, they set out on their expedition, and they find the shark pretty quickly, considering the ocean is fucking gigantic.

"Full throttle, now!" demands Captain Ben, his hand hovering inches from his wang, ready to take it out at the first sign of trouble. They film the shark with their huge VHS camera as they see it approaching the shore.

They chase the shark for a bit and Ben shoots at it, but then they lose sight of it because, ya's a shark in the ocean. With horror they realize the shark is going after a group of drunk para-sailors (always a good idea), as the one in the chute bellows "yes, sir!" in her utter joy at defying gravity. She sees the shark and yells a lot, but her drunk boat captains just think that's just her fun-scream. Too bad for them, as one ends up in the water by accident.

"We're not gonna make it!" Cat screams.

"Sheeee-it!" Ben replies.

We then see stock footage of the shark eating giant chunks of pork, which we are to play along with and pretend to think it's a human body. Then the shark bite-grabs the tow line for the parachute and drags the girl beneath the water, where he feasts on her supple feminine body and growls like a tiger as he tears her apart.

Later, Cat is in bad shape, feeling immensely guilty for being unable to save the poor girl. "If only I hadn't lost my grip on the girl's wrist 37 times..." she wonders.  Ben cheers her up by taking her to meet his old man friend, who provides a theory on why the sharks are going crazy: electricity. He tells Cat he is going to "hack" some government files to see what he can discover.

They leave and Ben has an idea. He points to a church and says, "We're gonna need all the help we can get!" The two go inside and light some official God candles, and the choral music suggests everything is going to be just fine.

During this, the old man makes good on his promise to hack some government files. In case you're wondering, his idea of hacking is to look up in the air and wonder aloud, "Okay... what's... your... password?" Somehow, this works, and like every other movie about killer animals, he finds it's actually people to blame!!!!!!!

Our heroes set out to kill the shark... with a shotgun... and as you can assume, it doesn't work all that well. Instead, the shark bursts through the underbelly of the boat and attacks Cat, but luckily Ben is there to beat it with a stick and scream "DIE!" over and over.

Through some very poor luck, or perhaps bad circumstances, this tactic simply does not work. But it does allow Cat to grab the submerged shotgun, bellow "You're extinct, fucker!" at the shark (which is a great white, so, not extinct) and blow its shark brains off.

So all is well, right?

Of course, WRONG. This movie is called Megalodon, after all, and considering we've only seen normal-sized sharks, it was only a matter of time before the big bastard made an appearance.

With more glory than Jesus Christ himself, our filmmakers take footage of a real shark breaching the surface and chomping its jaws, and digitally insert boats or divers inside his mouth, making it appear as if they are being devoured by a gigantic shark.

It doesn't look at all good - especially when they use the same stock footage for different sharks - but my god do I love it.

Ben tells his Lovecraftian-looking boss about the megalodon and shows him a gigantic tooth, but in an effort to try something new, this time the government bureaucrat refuses to do anything about it. Ben says "then I will!" and then for some reason leaves behind the only proof they have.

Ben, Cat, and the old man all meet at the dock to discuss their next course of action. Then, the following exchange takes place:

Cat grins, and they do just that, set to the same Christ-like music we heard earlier, now complementing some glorious, Prism-era, slow-motion, soft-core action. Buttocks are squeezed, neck bones are licked, watches are checked (mine).

The next day, our heroes set off on Mission: Kill the Shark. They have everything they'll need: an arsenal of explosives, a vessel, and their bland white personalities.

Across the water, pretty much all the people we've been conditioned to severely dislike are on the same yacht for some kind of presentation about some pretty cutting-edge technology. Each jerk-off we don't like each has a hand in the presentation; watch as each actor struggles to remember their elongated dialogue, pausing for full stops to allow their brains to catch up.

The shark bumps the yacht and knocks all the rich people's diamonds and cash out of their clothes. Panic immediately ensues, and rich folk begin strapping on life jackets and throwing themselves overboard... right into the waiting jaws of some badly manipulated stock footage. Some of the jerk-offs throw grenades at the shark (which they have on board for some reason), which doesn't work.

Somewhere along the way, this happens:

And then this:

It is transcendent.

After a lot of fumbling around and light swearing, Ben and the old man manage to shoot a missile directly into the shark's big fucking mouth and blow it into Chicken of the Sea.

"Megala-WHO???" Ben jokes at the end, as the blood of the innocent fallen diffuses into the ocean tide around him. He also smiles.