Dec 23, 2013


Here's the thing: Modern-day Christmas is pretty weird already. It's a conglomeration of legends involving everything from a supernatural home invader with flying pack animals to a talking snowman. So when it comes time to make holiday decorations, the line between festive and nightmarish is razor thin. That's how we wound up with ... 

Text and images from Cracked.

See the rest.

Dec 22, 2013



In my youth, I would stare over and over at the horrifying pictures in two books that my parents happened to own: The first was A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, which featured ghastly photos of Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr./Sr. in their lurid make-ups, and the other, surprisingly, was an illustrated edition of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, one of the most famous ghost stories in literary history. (I wouldn't find this out until much later, but a ghost-centric Christmas story wasn't an anomaly during the era in which it was written: telling ghost stories at Christmastime was actually part of the yuletide tradition, and it's one I wish would make a reemergence. It'd be way better then debating politics with your drunken uncle.) If you're somehow unfamiliar with the story, an old curmudgeon named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four ghosts one Christmas Eve night to tell him he's been an asshole for his entire adult life and he needs to knock it off before he dies and people impugn his name for as long as anyone remembers him. Because of the ghostly element, the tale definitely lends itself to some frightful imagery particularly when it comes to the final ghost of the night but you might still find yourself taken aback when seeing the visual representations of this story brought to life by artist Roberto Innocenti. Even in the more "normal" acts of the story, illustrations of everyday people the children especially look just a little bit off.

Below are just a few scans of the eerie creations found below in the 1990 edition of the book, published by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, Ing./Creative Editions Inc.

Dec 19, 2013


Except to a cineaste, the musical score might be one of the most important aspects of film that is consistently taken for granted. Tasked with both complementing the action on-screen as well as manipulating your emotions, film scoring is essential to creating an effective tone and generating the appropriate response from its audience, whether that response is fear, melancholy, excitement, or jubilation. Regardless of the actual film’s quality – whether great or ghastly – the score is the only component of the film that will live on in perpetuity in a separate form. Some of these scores stand head and shoulders above others and deserve to be recognized. This is one of them. 

Ravenous is an interesting first choice for what I hope to be a reoccurring column, because its score flies in the face of perhaps the oldest and still ongoing of debates: Does a musical score exist only to serve the images flashing on the screen, or should this same musical score also serve its own function and be just as effective, entertaining, and well-constructed, while playing independently of that image? Meaning, the scores for films like There Will Be Blood and Sinister are incredible in the way that they make the on-screen images ten times more effective…but can you listen to them independent of their respective films and still find them to be just as effective? And should it even matter if they simply don’t work on their own, given they were never supposed to be anything other than a companion to their film?

Ravenous seems to be gunning for the latter – that this film score exists only to serve this story of soldiers falling victim to a maniacal cannibal in the dead of winter during the mid-1800s. The Mexican-American War is in full swing, and soldiers are stationed at Fort Spencer to be on hand should their services be required. They spend their days getting high, writing music, or screaming in rivers, and seem to be risking death via total boredom until a stranger named Colqhoun arrives near dead from exposure. Once cared for, warmed, and given proper nourishment (heh), he rattles off his terrifying tale of being trapped in the woods and being forced to rely on cannibalism to survive. Everyone hearing the tale seems to instantly believe the stranger except Boyd (Guy Pearce), who finds the stranger to be more than a little suspicious.

Then a bunch of dudes get eaten!

(For a more in-depth breakdown/examination of Ravenous, read its Unsung Horrors entry. Sadly, its director, Antonia Bird, left us this year.)

The score by composer Michael Nyman and singer/songwriter/record producer Damon Albarn is wonderfully eclectic and quirky, as well as traditional and fucking eerie. Nyman has been composing for over forty years, though his name might not sound familiar outside of cult-like film-score devotees. He rarely scores anything outright “Hollywood” and opts to work in more classical environments. So it’s only natural he would bring with him less traditional ideas – and it’s those unusual ideas that begin the official soundtrack release.

(Note that I’ll only be highlighting the tracks I consider to stand out from the rest.)

“Hail Columbia,” the first track, is based on a pre-existing arrangement, but one that Nyman re-orchestrated specifically for Foster's Social Orchestra. This is important to mention because this orchestra is comprised of non-musicians, meaning the music as played sounds mostly sure-footed, but shaky and awkward. It certainly doesn’t sound polished. This odd approach was also used for “Welcome to Fort Spencer,” probably the least confident and most shakily recorded track in the batch. It literally sounds as if a group of musicians two weeks into their instruments are assembling and playing in a group for the first time. You might wonder why one would bother with such an approach – why purposely include awkward or even terrible sounding music? Because there’s no better way than painting the military as clumsy and primitive; and the inhabitants of Fort Spencer fare even worse.  This track, filled with horn squeaks and screechy strings, make these men seem like miscreants, degenerates, and completely unrefined. Rather than having the men themselves do and act in a manner that screams “idiot,” instead let the music do that for them. “Noises Off” is the final track to take this approach – all the usual out-of-tune notes are in attendance, but also seems to have been recorded at far slower than was intended, making it seem even less confident.

If “Hail Columbia” was the first of a three-part series featuring unsure players, “Stranger in the Window” would be the first of several tracks to drop the altogether dopy and amusing sound and instead go for one ominous and foreboding. The music up to this point has been either goofy or non-threatening. “Stranger in the Window” plays as Colqhoun makes his first appearance – right off you should know there’s something not right about him.

“Boyd’s Journey” and “Colqhoun’s Story” have been credited to Albarn without question. Here, and in some of his other contributions, the musician incorporates found audio, recordings from scratched vinyl records, and vintage field recordings into his original compositions. The latter track repeats one measure of what seems to be an old jaunty tune that likely sounded much more jolly in its original incarnation. Here, though, it provides the syncopation on which Albarn builds his ideas – none of them jolly. I love music that starts small with a simple pattern and builds, and continues to build, adding more instrumentation and ideas until it seems unrecognizable from when it first begin. “Colqhoun’s Story” delivers this in spades.

“Wendigo Myth” is one lone voice performing a Native American vocalization. I personally know nothing about this track or its lineage, but I’d love to know how it was captured. Was a vocalist brought in to record in a studio? Was it recorded in the field? The sound quality isn’t quite 100%, as it’s slightly echoey and tinny. I prefer to think this was recorded in the wild, but maybe because that’s the more interesting and romantic option. [Update: IMDB confirms: Milton 'Quiltman' Sahme's chant was recorded by Damon Albarn in Quiltman's living room on the reservation. Albarn was referred to Quiltman by Joseph Runningfox.]

Following “Trek to the Cave,” “He was Licking Me” will easily get under your skin. A more straightforward composition (by which composer I’m not sure), it’s likely the most brooding track. It’s something Wojciech Kilar would have composed for his take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  “The Cave” seems to be full on Albarn, utilizing repeating musical stings, unsure drum beats, a Glockenspiel (of all things), and something very non-instrumental also sounding off in the background. Soon these sounds fade into an elongated string punctuated every so often by a single piano key. It transforms very quickly from something unusual (while the soldiers are still outside the cave) to something incredibly suspenseful (after they enter), and into a full-on sprint (once Colqhoun enacts his savage plan). Running over seven minutes, “The Cave” transforms and mutates more than any other track, especially at 4:15 when those drums mercilessly kick in. It then becomes a whole other beast entirely. “The Cave,” to me, sums up Ravenous’ entire soundtrack: It’s a bevy of different ideas that one would think could never work, but somehow all comes together and provides something special and unforgettable.

“Run” is the only track which can boast that it sees to fruition the film’s sudden tonal shift from utter terror to (temporary) hillbilly humor. It’s at this moment when Colqhoun flicks his fingers at one of the surviving soldiers (not many are alive at this point) and tells him, simply, to run. Had this scene been scored by something terrifying filled with screeching strings, Colqhoun’s cat-and-mouse games would have seemed disturbing and psychotic. But instead, mixed with hillbilly hooting and fiddle, it actually becomes a little hilarious, and we realize that, for Colqhoun, this is nothing but a good time.

I love a good track that gets the adrenaline pumping, and “Let’s Go Kill That Bastard” kills it. The pounding drums and fiddle remain consistent, but the other instruments come and go, so the song is constantly changing its sound. If there were any track I would listen to on repeat, it’s this one (and I have).

“The Pit” at times seems like it should belong in a Disney film, not in an extremely bloody gore-fest black comedy about cannibals. Harps, swelling strings, and female ululations will make you wonder if Boyd, following his crushing plummet from the cliff, is actually dreaming. He’s not, though. Instead, he’s eating Neil McDonough.

If Ravenous were to have a “theme,” I suppose it would be “Manifest Destiny.” This track manages to encapsulate all the music we’ve heard – and well as the different interpretive approaches – while creating a new musical composition. Like in the earlier track I praised, the track starts off simply and then builds and builds.

“Saveoursoulissa” is the longest track – as well as the eeriest –in this whole thing: repeating discordant notes on a scratchy record, pounding drums, warbling electronic noises, moaning vocalizations. And that’s just the first two minutes. This track goes on for a staggering 8:43, and never sounds like anything other than a nightmare. If you’re a horror writer, play this track in the background during your next writing session. Your imagination will end up places you never thought you’d go.

“End Titles” is a reprise rendition of “Boyd’s Journey,” which is fitting, being that since Boyd is currently pinned to Colqhoun in a bear trap and is slowly bleeding to death, he’s about to begin a new journey: either to death, or to his rebirth, as he ponders Colqhoun’s final words: “If you die first, I’m definitely going to eat you. But the question is…if I die first, are you going to eat me?”

So…having said all of that, what’s the verdict for Ravenous? Is it something only to be appreciated alongside the film, or can it be enjoyed solo? The answer is: both. At least it is for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Ravenous countless times and count it among one of my favorites, so some images that certain portions of score are married to are fresh in my head. Yeah, I might skip the Foster's Social Orchestra tracks, but the rest of this stuff is bloody good.

Dec 18, 2013


"The winters can be fantastically cruel. And the basic idea is to cope with the very costly damage and depreciation which can occur. And this consists mainly of running the boiler, heating different parts of the hotel on a daily, rotating basis, repair damage as it occurs, and doing repairs so that the elements can't get a foothold. Physically, it's not a very demanding job. The only thing that can get a bit trying up here during the winter is, uh, a tremendous sense of isolation...for some people, solitude and isolation can, of itself become a problem."

If we don't, remember me.

Dec 17, 2013


When I was 9 years old I had a favorite TV series. It had human actors and actors in animal suits and funny and educational clips in between. I don’t want to name it because it was a really good show and this story is not at all a fault of the show. I will just call it “The M Show.”

The M Show was running for years and I had been watching it for as long as I can remember. I always sat down, straight after school with my older sister Scarlett and my best friend Brandi, who lived next door.

It was our ritual, every day the three of us sat together – with sweets, if our moms allowed it, or else with apples or grapes – and in the breaks of the show we talked and gossiped about all those important issues in our lives.

Then, I remember it was a warm summer Friday, Scarlett found a prize competition in one of her girl magazines. It asked questions about the show and first prize was a travel with your parents to Disney World. But even better, everybody who sent in the correct answers would become a member of The M Show Club, a fan club for the show. The same day, after watching the M Show, the three of us huddled together on the couch to answer the quiz.

The questions were very hard; they asked details about old episodes of the show. Without Scarlett, Brandi and I would never have managed to answer all the questions.

Scarlett begged our mom for stamps and envelopes and we filled the three envelopes each with a paper with our names and contact details and the answers to the questions. Scarlett even told us to vary our answers slightly so that we wouldn’t be called out for cheating.

The letters were sent off and every day we all rushed to the mailbox to get our The M Show Club badges. When the first snow began to fall we stopped checking the mailbox. Brandi was still passionate about the show and watched it every day, but Scarlett lost interest. When Scarlett stopped watching I too began to skip the show. Brandi still came over, but she was the only one watching. I sat next to her while working my way through Scarlett’s old girl magazines.

It was early spring. I remember there were tulips in our garden and my mom reprimanded me for plucking two to decorate the kitchen table. But right after her lecture she handed me a small square letter with my name printed on it. The back said “Welcome to The M Show Fan Club.”

There was not much in the envelope – only a short leaflet that welcomed me to the club and a small ID card with my name on it, a big logo of the show and in black letters “The M Show Fan Club,” and in the line below, in big black letters, the word “Member.”

Brandi got her envelope the same day. She was glowing with happiness. Scarlett was jealous at first, but two days later she got her envelope too.

From then on, every Friday, each of us received a leaflet about the show with photos and anecdotes and background information on the characters. Occasionally the leaflets also called on the club members to promote the show and to watch out for “The M Show Tour.”

Either way, it worked: We loved the show afterwards. I think from that day on, after I proudly stuffed the membership card in my bag, I didn’t miss a single episode.

Then, in mid-June, we all got two leaflets. The first was the usual one with facts and photos. But the second was an ad:

“The tour bus is in town – this is your chance to become an ‘Elite Member’!”

The bus was coming the next Sunday to our town. We were all allowed to go. We were beyond excited.

The leaflet didn’t have much information and that was before we had a computer at home. The tour bus would arrive at 1pm and the main characters of the show would be there to welcome everybody and play games with us. Those that participated in at least four games would be upgraded to “Elite Member”-status and receive a new, golden membership card.

Those nine days of waiting for “The M Show Tour” were some of the longest in my life. Brandi and Scarlett and I planned every day how we would take photos with each of the characters and then play games with them. I secretly dreamed of beating Scarlett at the “knowledge game,” where our knowledge about the show would be tested.

On Saturday Scarlett went to a birthday-sleepover at one of her friends’ houses. The parents were supposed to bring Scarlett back by 12 on Sunday.

Around 12:30 Brandi came running to our house. She knocked on the back door, like she always did, and I let her in. Brandi was beyond excited; her mom had volunteered to accompany the three of us and she wanted to go early so that we wouldn’t miss anything.

My mom called the house of Scarlett’s friend, but they didn’t pick up their phone. She said that Scarlett would be home soon – early enough to go on time.

At 12:45 Brandi’s mother came over to ask for us. She said that we would have to leave so that the queues wouldn’t be too long. My mom said we should wait for Scarlett, but Brandi threw a tantrum; she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to hug all the characters if we came late.

Brandi’s mom decided to drive. I wanted to come along – but my mother said that she would drive Scarlett and me. I felt like I was being punished for Scarlett’s being late. I begged. I cried.

Nothing helped; Brandi went alone.

Her friends’ parents dropped Scarlett off at 13:40. I was mad at her, but my mom said if I made a scene we wouldn’t go at all. I relented.

We arrived around twenty minutes later at the big parking lot where the bus was scheduled to stop. We saw the crowds from the distance, parked the car and walked over.

I asked my mom where the characters of the show were; she said that they were just behind the crowd.

They all held the “The M Show Tour” flyers, but it looked as if the crowd were mostly parents. They stood in a half-circle towards the edge of the parking lot. Some of them looked concerned, but most of them were laughing and talking.

My mom spotted Brandi’s mother at the other end of the half-circle; we walked over to her. Brandi’s mother was one of the worried ones.

She told us that the bus had been there, together with all the animal figures from “The M Show.” They had a large bus with the “The M Show” logo and they handed out sweets.

One of the animal figures had explained to the parents that they had built a set outside of town where we all could make our own short film with the characters of the show. They said they would drive everybody there.

They took the children first. They were all so excited that few parents objected. Still, three or four parents came along and that calmed the rest. The next bus was supposed to arrive within a few minutes, to bring everyone to the set.

When I heard that I was excited like never before.

I ran to the street to look around so I could be the first on the bus. Scarlett followed me.

I didn’t see the worried expression when Brandi’s mother talked to mine.

I didn’t understand why the police came not even an hour later.

In Monday’s episode of “The M Show” one of the characters came on stage and told us to call our parents to watch the show. Our mom was already sitting with Scarlett and me.

The character said that “The M Show” didn’t have a fan club.

That week Brandi’s parents cried a lot. I was still sure that Brandi was okay, I thought she just had so much fun that she didn’t want to come back.

She must have had a lot of fun; she never came back.

Brandi’s mother cried even more, that Friday, when the small parcel arrived.

There was a new “The M Show Fan Club” membership card for Brandi. It was golden and said “Elite Member” in big, bold letters.

The parcel also contained a video. It was only a minute long; a minute of Brandi at the set of “The M Show.” She was wearing the same dress as when she came over to our house that Sunday morning.

On the video she Brandi smiling; an actor in a big animal suit stood next to her, silently.

“Hi mom, I really like it here,” said Brandi. “I really wish you could be here.” Then she laughed.
“I’m sorry the others were late. I’m sure they would have loved it too.”

Story source unknown.

Dec 16, 2013


I received the following information and image from Ken Pfeifer. It was forwarded to Ken by one of his readers...then sent to me so it could be published:
Nov. 2012 - I was working the night shift on an x-ray crew at a material gas plant. This was around 3 am and there was only four of us in the plant at the time. I took this picture after seeing something swaying side to side out of the corner of my eye. I was in the basket of a man lift coming down when I took the picture. By the time I unhooked my harness to get out of the basket the creature was gone. The police were called and walked premises. The officer told me there were 26 UFO sighting calls throughout that night. If you zoom in you can see the silhouettes of eyes and elongated mouth. I have no doubt of what I believed I seen that night. The other person that saw it with me took off running for the truck.

Story and images source.

Dec 15, 2013



Lovers of the icky and depraved might want to take note of The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Spencer Black, an astounding (and first) novel by New Jersey native E.B. Hudspeth. A story about an anatomist named Spencer Black who, after growing frustrated with his inability to educate the modern world about natural deformities, plummets down a rabbit hole of animal experimentation - later becoming human experimentation - in an effort to create his own brand of mutation.

Presented as a fact-based account or dossier, Hudspeth fills in the reader on Black's history, his rise to fame and infamy, his increasing madness, and his mysterious disappearance. Accompanying this narrative is a book within the book, The Codex Extinct Animalia, Dr. Black's personally penned and self-described "Gray's Anatomy" for animal mutations. Page after page features beautiful illustrations of mythical creatures of which you're already like aware: the chimera, the minotaur, and even the mermaid. Each creature has pages and pages dedicated to their anatomical breakdown, and their every layer is sketched with artistic and scientific precision: the skeletal system, the muscular system, the epidermis, and the "final" presentation.

The first part of The Resurrectionist is less than a hundred pages, but an awful lot of gruesome details and events are packed into them. It ably paints a portrait of a man suffering from madness and delusions of grandeur over a specific time period, spurred by the untimely deaths of his children and the scientific community's constant dismissal of his theories and ideas. The text is comprised of historical accounts, snippets of correspondence, "reviews" of his work by his colleagues, and cleverly vintage advertisements in support of Dr. Black's later colorful career.

I am drawn to creations such as these that skew as closely to reality as possible while still being a work of complete fiction. Likely the same reason why I'm attracted to films of the found-footage/fake documentary format, or those likely bogus ghost-hunting shows that every network seems to have these days, I want to be fooled. Occasionally I want to realize what I've been reading or watching has made me take a step back to determine if it's possibly real. Even within the text of The Resurrectionist, Dr. Black is painted as a man clearly losing his grip with reality. By the end of Part One, you're ready to see the man committed and removed from society entirely. But then when you begin Part Two - The Codex Extinct Animalia - and you see him approaching these mythical beasts with a scientific and analytical mind, and you see all the fancy Latin terminology he's using to label each and every single appendage, you can't help but think, "Shit, maybe this guy wasn't so craze-balls."

That's when you know you've got a good book open in front of you.

To reiterate in complete amazement, this is E.B. Hudspeth's first book. I can't wait for the next.


Dec 10, 2013


"Come with me into the tormented, haunted, half-lit night of the insane. This is my world. Let me lead you into it. Let me take you into the mind of a woman who is mad. You may not recognize some things in this world, and the faces will look strange to you. For this is a place where there is no love, no the pulsing, throbbing world of the insane mind, where only nightmares are real..."

Dec 8, 2013


"You want to know who Fred Krueger was? He was a filthy child murderer who killed at least 20 kids in the neighborhood. Kids we all knew. It drove us crazy when we didn't know who it was, but it was even worse after they caught him. The lawyers got fat and the judge got famous, but somebody forgot to sign the search warrant in the right place and Krueger was free, just like that. A bunch of us parents got together and tracked him down. We found him in old abandoned boiler room, where he used to take his kids. We took gasoline and poured it all around the place and made a trail of it out the door. We lit the whole thing up and watched it burn. He's dead now. He's dead because Mommy killed him."

Dec 7, 2013


Before Michael Myers ran rampant on Halloween night, and before Billy began picking off sorority sisters one Christmas weekend, there was another slasher film unleashed upon the world in which a mysterious killer wreaked havoc one dark Christmas Eve. Though Silent Night, Deadly Night gets all the (undue) love, it was the similarly titled Silent Night, Bloody Night (aka the oddly spelled Deathouse) that beat all these folks to the punch. It's a title that for one reason or another has eluded me for all the years of my horror-lovin' life. In my youth, the obscurity of the actors involved likely turned me off, and as I approached my "adult" years, bad word of mouth/reputation likely continued my disinterest. 

So when I received this screener of Film Chest's upcoming restored edition of the film, I thought, "Yes, damn it - we're finally going to do this."

The film opens with a somewhat docudrama approach, complete with voice-over filling in the audience on the history of the Butler home. One Christmas Eve, an accidental (?) fire claims the life of Wilford Butler and the house is left silent and empty. Years later, the house is inherited by Wilford's grandson, Jeffrey, who is only interested in selling it. The townspeople aren't too keen with that, as they just know there's something not right about the old place, and they'd rather people just stay away. Jeffrey's lawyer takes up temporary residence in the house with his wife while he awaits the decision of the townspeople whether they want to outright buy the house to keep it unoccupied. And don't you know it? The house isn't as empty as everyone thought. And that's when the bodies start to drop.

Look out!

Though Silent Night, Bloody Night is, if we're being honest, rather poorly made from a technical standpoint, it does get points for endeavoring to create a creepy tone established on mood, the harsh wintry conditions, and a disturbing mythology. It's worth watching for that reason alone. And it's interesting to see infamous horror tropes show up in cinema history far earlier than expected. Halloween gets a lot of credit for showing the killer's point of view, though that was previously explored in Black Christmas...which created a lot of tension by utilizing mysterious made by a whispering caller...which earlier appeared in this, Silent Night, Blood Night.

But sadly the film falls victim to so many other low budget film-making pitfalls. This is the kind of film where the musical score cuts-out the same time that the scene ends; where the audio track doesn't always match the action on-screen; where the direction relies almost exclusively on point-and-shoot techniques; and whose own rickety and inconsistently colored picture suggests that this was a film that wasn't really worth treasuring.

Which is kind of a shame, because Silent Night, Deadly Night had potential. It satisfied my own personal requirements for a quality horror film: an isolated location, a moody atmosphere, an intriguing mythology, and a cast of (gasp) adults! There is a chilly Hammer-esque approach using darkness and shadow, and at times an unnerving feeling...there's just not enough of it.

As the ad above boasts, this version released by Film Chest was harvested from an original 35mm negative. I don't know the history of the different releases this film has seen, but being that I believe it's in the public domain, there have been dozens. This particular version, impressive picture or not (and it's merely okay), might be the first time ever the film is appearing in widescreen on a home video format. That, alone, should warrant a purchase from fans of the film. 

This Film Chest restored edition of Silent Night, Bloody Night streets December 10. Give it a whirl and see if I'm wrong.

Dec 5, 2013


One day, a young married couple went hiking in the mountains. As the sun began to set, they realized that they were lost. The wife was getting worried, but her husband tried to calm her down and assured her that they would eventually find their way back to their car. However, after walking for hours, they still had no idea where they were.

It was growing dark and the man and wife were getting desperate. They didn’t have a map or a compass with them and all of the trees looked the same. Just when they were about to give up hope, they came across an old cabin in a clearing.

The cabin looked as if it had seen better days. It was dilapidated and seemed like it hadn’t been used in a long time. Some of the windows were cracked and broken and a lot of the tiles had fallen off the roof. The husband knocked on the front door but there was no response. When he turned the handle, it slowly creaked open.

Inside, they found it was in a bad state of disrepair. There was very little furniture and the floor was covered in a thick layer of dust. As the couple cautiously looked around, they noticed a strange atmosphere and a peculiar musty smell.

The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with graffiti. Written in red paint, the words, “Death! Death! Death! Death! Death!” were repeated over and over again.

The man and woman were unnerved. With a shaking hand, the husband reached out to touch the wall. He was horrified to find that the paint was not yet dry.

The couple were very frightened, but they had nowhere else to go. They knew that the mountain was dangerous at night and there were lots of wild animals prowling the woods. Despite the creepy writing on the walls, they decided to stay the night.

Going upstairs, they found a moth-eaten mattress that was covered in stains. The husband and wife wrapped themselves in an old piece of carpet to keep warm and tried to make themselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. They lay down together on the mattress and eventually managed to fall asleep.

Sometime after midnight, the couple were awakened by a strange rustling noise. It sounded like someone or something was moving around outside the shack.

“Did you hear that?” asked his wife. “I think there’s somebody out there.”

Her husband listened for a while, but he didn’t hear anything. He got out of bed and walked over to the window. It was too dark outside to see anything. Opening the window, he stuck his head out.

“Who’s there?” he called nervously.

There was no answer.

He was about to go back to bed when his wife said, “Maybe it’s someone who can’t speak…”

The husband returned to the window and said, “Is there anybody out there? Clap once for YES and twice for NO.”

He strained his ears to listen. The stars twinkled in the night sky. The crickets were chirping loudly.

All of a sudden, he heard a loud CLAP!

The man turned to his wife and said in surprise, “You were right. There’s someone out there.”

He leaned out the window and his eyes scanned the darkness. he couldn’t make out anything in the pitch black.

“Are you the owner of this cabin?” he asked.


“Are you a man?”


“You’re a woman, then?”


“Are you human?”


A chill ran down his spine. He swallowed hard and croaked, “Did you come here alone?”


“How many are with you? Clap once for each person…”


Story source.

Dec 3, 2013


Tourist Trap (its Unsung Horrors entry here) is the most insane movie you likely haven't seen. I'd attempt to explain exactly what it's about, but I would become lost in the subplots and sub-sub-plots and I'd question if I were actually remembering everything significant to mention, and then I would likely wander away to satisfy my impulse to watch the film again. Simply, it is a 1979 oddity about a group of stranded kids, living mannequins, a man with telekinesis, and a lot of nightmarish imagery. It is terrifying and absurd and hilarious and disturbing somehow all at once. It is a mind-blowing film that offers dozens of questions with little answers. If there's one person who could shed light on this unheralded little beauty, it would be the film's director, David Schmoeller, returning again to The End of Summer for a frank discussion on the film's origins, a little about Puppetmaster, working with Charles Band, and the 1970s.

The End of Summer (TEOS): I think the best way to start off is for you to provide the genesis of Tourist Trap. This is a film that I saw for the first time several years ago and just did not know what to think. It was horrific and strange and alternately kind of hilarious. I've revisited it several times since then, and not only does it hold up, but it gets better – and I find more to appreciate about it – with each viewing. This isolated man's nightmarish house seems to exist in its own world and with its own rules, and nearly all of it defies explanation. How on earth did you come up with this concept?

David Schmoeller (DS): There is a “why” and a “how” aspect to this question. The “why” – why did I come up with this idea? The answer is a very practical one. I had just graduated from film school and was looking for a way to break into Hollywood as a feature director. When I was in grad school at the University of Texas at Austin shooting my thesis film, Tobe Hooper was in Austin shooting The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was a low-budget hit that launched his career. So, I decided to do a horror film in the same vein.

The “how?” My thesis film – The Spider Will Kill You – was a "Twilight Zone" short about a blind man and mannequins. I thought the aspect of mannequins coming alive – and their ability to scare you (or creep you out, at least) – was a good ingredient. So, I used some of the basic structure of Chainsaw (van full of young victims) and the lone madman who appears to be okay (Psycho).

TEOS: Tourist Trap exists in a very surreal and nightmarish landscape – if I had to compare it to another film, I would cite Phantasm, due to its dreamy tone and its lack of explanation in regards to the film's more oddball offerings. It's this kind of dreamy tone that makes Tourist Trap stand out from its other late-1970s counterparts. At what point in the production phase did you realize you wanted to push this kind of surreal and unusual approach?

DS: I think that dreamy quality was in the script, and also in previous short films I had made. (The Spider Will Kill You* and Lora Lee's Bedroom* – those are just two of my shorts that had the same quality.) And the tone of those short films probably came in part from my literature studies from my days living and studying in Mexico – the influence of magic realism. And of course, the main influence of The Spider Will Kill You was this bizarre line of mannequins I found in J.C. Penney’s that was so perversely surreal, it makes me laugh to this day (this was the late 1960s). The infant mannequins had some facial features – eyes, nose, mouth, ears – but parts were starting to disappear. As you went up the age-representation of the mannequins – say, the three-year-olds – they started losing whole features – maybe just a single eye. It was just smoothed over. As the mannequins aged, they lost more and more features – until you got to the adults, and all their features were just gone…all smoothed over…so that they almost looked alien. They were so highly stylized; they just didn’t seem to belong in a place like J.C. Penney’s – very surreal and very bizarre. That was when I came up with the story for The Spider Will Kill You.

TEOS: There is a wonderful juxtaposition of legitimate terror and strange, almost absurd humor. I'll cite the "dinner scene" – when Slausen and his "brother" share a meal of soup, which ends with the brother's head falling off – as an example. Noticeably, the film doesn't inject any humor until the kids are already in peril. Because of this, the humor seems to come out of nowhere and feels unexpected. Was this a conscious choice?

DS: Well, I certainly hope the humor was intentional. Although, at the first cast and crew screening in L.A., there was some unexpected laughter in places that surprised me – I remember asking the person next to me, “Why are they laughing?” It could have been nervous laughter – or they could have been laughing at the absurdity of it all. Or, maybe they just thought something or other was just so awful that it was laughable. L.A. cast and crew screenings are full of people who are very cynical – not at all like the cast and crew screenings in Las Vegas, which are nice love-fest screenings. In L.A., they have seen and worked on everything and they tend to judge film work much more harshly. It’s like: “Show me what you got, sucker. I am not very easily impressed.” By the way, that is not the brother in that surreal dinner scene – because he is dead. It is a figment of Slausen’s imagination – it is not real; it doesn’t really happen; it is a dream…it is Eileen, in fact, as far as Slausen is concerned.

TEOS: In a movie like Tourist Trap, especially after a point, I feel like anything could happen, and I stop questioning what I'm seeing and I just kind of hold on for the ride.  I guess that's the beauty of Tourist Trap. About that dinner scene, I need to know: How did you manage to concoct such a strange exchange between these characters? Were you channeling "Abbot and Costello" as you wrote that scene?

DS: This particular exchange just came out almost in whole – as is. Writing generally is very easy for me, but in this case, I think it can be explained this way: the scene is completely organic. Slausen is having a meal with Eileen, who is just a mannequin with Eileen’s face-mask, scarf, and clothes. Slausen has a conversation with her and she responds in Davey’s voice, which is just Slausen slipping deeper and deeper into the abyss of his madness. And at the very end, the lines get crossed (Eileen/Davey gets ahead of the question) and then her head snaps off. It was one of those scenes that came to me in its entirety, and I just had to type it out…the best kind of scene.

TEOS: The character of Slausen possesses incredible superpowers. He has the ability to move objects with his mind, and because of this can seemingly bring mannequins and dolls to life. Yet, there is absolutely no explanation for this. Why did you choose to leave his abilities vague and unexplained?

DS: The power of telekinesis was suggested by Charlie [Band, producer]. It was his only contribution to the script, which was complete when we submitted it to him. At first, I really didn’t like the idea, because the story was entirely psychological. Giving Slausen the power of telekinesis actually explained a lot of the occurrences – not directly, but just vaguely. The audience may assume that the mannequins move because Slausen is making them move with his T-powers. I thought I was already explaining too much, so I certainly didn’t want to explain how or why he had this power. The historical figures in his museum (Custer, Sitting Bull, et al.) are automatons; they are mechanical creations and move because of science. If [audiences] think they move because Slausen is making them move with his telekinetic powers, that’s okay with me.

TEOS: Tell me about the film's musical score.

DS: How Pino Donaggio became the composer was just a stroke of luck. I was asked to be an interpreter by Joe Dante, who had hired Pino Donaggio to score Piranha. Pino did not speak English, so Pino and I spoke Spanish. After we finished spotting the film I asked Pino if he would score Tourist Trap. We screened it for him and he agreed. Charlie Band had spent much of his childhood in Italy, so he was fluent in Italian and he and Pino hit it off immediately. Somehow Charlie came up with another $50,000 dollars for Pino’s fee and the entire orchestral score, which was recorded in Rome. The budget rose from $300,000 to $350,000. I learned so much about scoring a movie from Pino.

TEOS: Charles Band has a somewhat divisive reputation in the horror community. You collaborated with him on this and your 1989 film Puppetmaster. How would you describe your working relationship with him?

DS: For me, Charlie was a very good producer to work for, because he left you alone for the most part. And for most of my movies, we had enough money to make a reasonably good movie. He was not an on-set producer at all. He didn’t pay very much, and sometimes it was hard to get paid, but in my case, I always got paid – until I left his employment. He owes me money for Puppetmaster, and when I tried to collect it he took my name off the movie and put his name on it. (He took my "A Film By David Schmoeller" credit off, and put his name above the title: Charles Band’s Puppetmaster.) That’s a real shitty thing to do – and very petty and small-minded. He’s starting to get old and I think the business is more of a struggle for him, so he feels the need to crib credits. So be it.

TEOS: I don't suppose you're lucky enough to receive any royalties each time a new Puppetmaster film is made, are you? I believe the series is hovering somewhere around ten entries, now...  

DS: Yes, that’s the money he owes me – Puppetmaster residuals.

TEOS: One could argue that the 1970s produced some of the best genre films to date, and Tourist Trap was released at the end of its run in 1979. What was it about this ten-year period that resulted in films like The Exorcist, Halloween, Phantasm, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the many more?

DS: The '70s also produced some of the most original mainstream movies, too, so it wasn’t just genre films. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that filmmaking was considered more of a director’s domain, and the writers and directors were not interfered with as much as they were in later decades, when the cost of movies started to rise considerably. While The Exorcist was a big studio movie, William Friedkin was just coming off winning an Oscar for directing The French Connection, so he had almost complete control. There is a very funny story of how these three studio executives were assigned to The Exorcist and when Friedkin was way over schedule and way over budget, one of these executives finally had had enough. So he picked up the phone and called Friedkin on the set and said, “Billy, this has just got to stop, it has to stop. And if it doesn’t, well, I’m just going to have to pull the plug.” And Friedkin said, “Okay, go ahead – pull the plug.” And the executive quickly backtracked and said, “Well, Billy, I don’t mean I would REALLY pull the plug.” At which point, Friedkin hung up. Back at the executive’s office, when HE hung up, one of the other executives said, “That was the most expensive phone call you have ever made.”

Halloween was an auteur film, made by Carpenter with no interference from anyone. Same with Phantasm and Texas Chain Saw. The budget [of The Exorcist] greatly eclipsed the budgets of these other three films, but they were all directed by extremely talented filmmakers.

TEOS: Shout Factory is revisiting another of your earlier films, Crawlspace, for a special edition re-release. Has there been talk about seeing a similar release for Tourist Trap?

DS: Catacombs was released by Shout Factory in October with a new director commentary, and Crawlspace comes out on blu-ray in December with a director’s commentary. I was contacted by the person doing the new blu-ray of Tourist Trap to do a new commentary of the movie, but I haven’t heard back from him, so I suspect Charles Band killed the idea (even though I was perfectly happy to pay for the recording myself). It is supposed to come out in December.

TEOS: Now that Little Monsters*, your newest feature, is available on video, do you have anything next in the pipeline that fans can look forward to?  

DS: Yes, I am writing a new horror film called Dead Angels (from the children’s refrain: “When angels fail, they go to hell.”) It’s about dead people whose souls are stuck in the netherworld until they can track down and kill the person who killed them in the first place. It deals with who is really the living dead among us and how many times do you have to kill someone before they stay dead. It’s horror film noir.


* David Schmoeller's new film, Little Monsters, is currently available on DVD here, and the director's early short films are available on DVD directly from his official website

Follow David at his website and Facebook