Sunday, October 31, 2021

#2,654. WNUF Halloween Special (2013)


Directed by Chris LaMartina (with an assist from a handful of others), WNUF Halloween Special is a love letter to both VHS and late ‘80s local television.

Halloween night, 1987; reporter Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) of WNUF TV broadcasts live from inside the old Weber house, a supposedly haunted dwelling and a place where two grisly murders occurred twenty years earlier. Accompanied by paranormal experts Louis and Claire Berger (Brian St. August and Helenmary Ball) as well as a Catholic priest (Robert Long II), Stewart and his cameraman make their way through the Weber house in the hopes of capturing an entity for live television.

What they encounter instead will prove much more terrifying.

Designed to look as if it was recorded on VHS back in 1987, WNUF Halloween Special is a horror / comedy that has it all, from cheesy news broadcasts to zero-budget local commercials (I chuckled at damn near every one because I remember seeing similar ads back in the day). While it does feature a few creepy moments when the reporter and his team enter the house, WNUF Halloween Special is more effective as a tribute to a bygone era, and it’s because of this that I had so much fun watching the movie.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, October 30, 2021

#2,653. Hell House LLC (2015)


The brainchild of writer / director Stephen Cognetti, Hell House LLC - a found footage horror movie presented, at times, like a documentary - has moments that scared the bejesus out of me. 

It’s been five years since the tragedy at the Abaddon Hotel, where a team of haunted attraction creators from New York City, known as the Hell House Crew, had set up their latest “masterpiece”. After spending several months living in the abandoned hotel, the group, led by Alex (Danny Bellini), opened for business one October night, and it was during this premiere that several still-unexplained deaths and suicides occurred. 

Armed with never-before-seen footage captured by the Hell House team during their stay at the Abaddon, documentary filmmaker Diane Graves (Alice Bahlke) attempts to finally solve the mystery surrounding this terrible tragedy. 

Hell House LLC opens with news clips as well as talking-head interviews, featuring survivors of the ordeal and experts who have studied the case. There’s even a YouTube video captured by one of the patrons that fateful night, which reveals something terrible happened in the basement. All of this works to pull us into the story early on, so by the time we - like Diane Graves - get a look at the videos shot by the Hell House team themselves, we’re as eager as she is to find out what really happened. 

It’s when this footage is revealed, however, that we get a sense of the evil that resides in the Abaddon Hotel, and how it systematically worked on Paul (Gore Abrams), the group’s technical wizard. One scene in particular, when Paul, who is recording himself, wakes up in the middle of the night is absolutely terrifying. 

One issue I did have with Hell House LLC was the attraction that the Hell House team had set up. As seen in The Houses October Built, some Halloween haunts can be downright extreme, and by comparison the Hell House attraction looked kinda lame: hanging spiders, strobe lights, mannequin clowns, etc. But no matter; the hotel itself made up for their sub-par efforts. As locations go, the Abaddon is as eerie as they come (especially the basement). 

A fine example of the found footage subgenre, Hell House LLC is destined to become a Halloween tradition in my house. 
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, October 29, 2021

#2,652. Tales of Halloween (2015)


Like most horror anthologies, Tales of Halloween features a few stories that are stronger than the others, yet not a single one in this 2015 offering missed the mark completely. Containing ten segments (each by a different director) set on Halloween night, Tales of Halloween has it all; ghosts, witches, serial killers, aliens, and even a psychotic pumpkin!

Tying the various sequences together is the great Adrienne Barbeau, playing a radio DJ (an obvious tribute to Stevie Wayne, the character she portrayed in John Carpenter’s The Fog).

Among the more memorable segments are The Night Billy Raised Hell (with Barry Bostwick delivering a hilarious performance as a reclusive old man with a mean streak), The Weak and the Wicked (the most serious of the bunch, about a trio of bullies getting their just desserts), Friday the 31st (a satire of the Friday the 13th movies that takes things one step further), and Bad Seed (a killer pumpkin saga directed by Neil Marshall, who also helmed Dog Soldiers and The Descent).

Throw in a handful of fun cameos (Lin Shaye, Caroline Williams, Barbara Crampton, and director John Landis, just to name a few) and you have a horror / comedy you’ll be itching to watch every time October rolls around.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Thursday, October 28, 2021

#2,651. Jack-O (1995)


It’s easy to pick on a movie like Jack-O. It was made for around $13, which means the effects are bad, the performances (well, most of them) are worse, and there’s about 20 minutes’ worth of story stretched out to an hour and a half. Still, director Steve Latshaw and his crew clearly tried their damnedest to turn nothing into something, so to sit here and repeatedly poke this DOA film with a stick is going to make me feel like a heel.

But I have to do it anyway.

Eighty years ago, Arthur Kelly (Mike Conner) put an evil wizard (John Carradine) to death. Before he died, however, the wizard cursed the entire Kelly clan.

Jump forward to modern times: young Sean Kelly (Ryan Latshaw, the director’s son) is preparing for Halloween night, as are his parents (Gary Doles and Maddison K. Brown), who host an annual haunted attraction in their garage. Unfortunately for them, the Wizard’s curse, in the guise of the Pumpkin Man (Patrick Moran), is ready to exact some revenge!

While most of the actors are less than stellar, Jack-O does feature a few familiar names in the cast; aside from Carradine (in old footage; he died years earlier), there’s Linnea Quigley (as a babysitter), Brinke Stevens (as the star of a movie playing on TV), and Cameron Mitchell (as the horror host showcasing Brinke’s movie), all of whom do their best with what they’re given.

Alas, that’s all I can say in favor of Jack-O. I’ll give Latshaw and producer Fred Olen Ray a B+ for effort, but as a horror flick, Jack-O packs no punch, so it gets a failing grade.
Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

#2,650. The Houses October Built (2014)


A week before Halloween, five friends ( Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Brandy Schaefer, Mikey Roe, and Jeff Larson) pile into an RV and head south, in the hopes of finding the most extreme haunted attraction.

Each night, they visit a new haunt, all the while searching for the “Blue Skeleton”, rumored to be the all-time scariest Halloween attraction.

But as the days wear on, the pals begin to suspect that they are being stalked, and wonder if it’s simply part of the overall experience, or something else entirely.

The Houses October Built is a found-footage style horror film (to document their quest, each of the friends operates one of the many cameras they brought along), and the cast does a fine job making the trip and what they encounter feel 100% genuine.

In addition, the haunts they visit are pretty insane (some of them would definitely scare the hell out of me), yet nothing can match the horror these five experience after the haunts, the terror that strikes while they’re relaxing or sitting around discussing the day’s events. Performers from one attraction re-appear outside their RV the next night, hundreds of miles from where the gang left them (one particular run-in, with a girl in a porcelain dolls mask, will send a shiver up your spine), and sometimes they hear what sounds like a person walking on the roof.

Of course, this is all just a precursor for what’s to come, and trust me, you won’t want to miss where this film ultimately goes!

Spooky and effective, The Houses October Built is a movie you should definitely add to your Halloween watch list.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

#2,649. Z (2019)


This movie is creepy as hell!

Beth Parsons (Keegan Connor Tracy) is concerned about her 8-year-old son Josh (Jett Klyne), who has an imaginary friend he calls “Z”. Beth’s husband Kevin (Sean Rogerson) tells her to relax, that Z is just a phase, and child psychologist Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie) believes Josh will eventually grow out of it.

Over time, Josh’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, forcing Beth to take drastic measures to prove once and for all that Z does not exist. But as she’ll soon discover, there’s more to Josh’s new pal than meets the eye.

Directed by Brandon Christensen (who co-wrote the screenplay with Colin Minihan), Z relies more on atmosphere than it does special effects or jump scares to deliver the thrills. And even at 83 minutes, the film takes its time, slowly developing the characters and their story while also clueing us in on the fact that all is not right in this world (one scene in particular, where Josh has a play date at a friend’s house, is as intense as they come).

Things did get a bit crazy in the final act (and jarringly so), but even these late scenes, as batshit as they were, had their moments.

If you’re in the mood for a unique horror experience, look no further than Z.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Monday, October 25, 2021

#2,648. Crawl (2019)


Director Alexander Aja’s Crawl is a high-octane, action-infused thrill ride, filled with gnarly beasts that generate tension to spare. But unlike other movies of this ilk, Crawl never loses sight of its characters, and their plight is what gives this rollicking creature feature its center, as well as its heart.

College athlete Haley (Kaya Scodelario) drives straight into a Category five hurricane to search for her estranged father (Barry Pepper), who isn’t answering his cell phone. Making her way to the family’s former home in the everglades, she finds her dad - injured and unconscious - lying in a a crawlspace underneath the house.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone; two enormous alligators have also moved in, trapping father and daughter, who now must find a way to escape before the hurricane unleashes its fury.

The gators in Crawl are positively terrifying, made doubly so by the fact the main characters (and we the audience) seldom know where they are, or when they will strike. Haley’s initial encounter with the gators results in several effective jump scares. Toss in a category five hurricane, with raging winds and torrential rains, and you have a situation that grows more desperate by the minute.

Yet what makes the thrills and screams in Crawl so effective are the lead characters, played superbly by Scodelario and Pepper. We immediately sense the tension between the two; Haley remembers all too well how her father pushed her to become a champion swimmer, and resents the fact that he and her mother divorced a few years back. Yet we also see the strong bond they share, as well as their determination to survive, regardless of how dire things seem.

The creature effects in Crawl are outstanding, as are the scenes when the gators attack. One particularly gruesome sequence, involving a family looting an abandoned gas station, is executed to perfection. Yet all of this would have been for naught without strong central characters, and thanks to Scodelario and Pepper, Crawl features two of the strongest in recent memory.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Sunday, October 24, 2021

#2,647. Idle Hands (1999)


A stoner horror / comedy directed by Rodman Flender, Idle Hands is chock full of ideas, and, happily, most of them worked for me.

Anton (Devon Sawa) is a slacker who spends his days getting high and watching TV with good friends Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Hensen). His life takes a turn for the worse, however, when he loses control of his right hand.

Anton’s hand (which has been possessed by an evil entity) is so far gone, in fact, that it has actually started killing people! Can he stop his murderous appendage before it turns on his new girlfriend Molly (Jessica Alba), or will Anton’s hand continue to have a mind of its own?

As you might expect, a lot of the comedy in Idle Hands is of the slapstick variety; Sawa delivers a strong physical performance as Anton (the scenes in which his character battles his own hand are a lot of fun). Yet as good as he is, it’s Green and Hensen (as Anton’s loyal - and eventually undead – pals) who get the most laughs.

While it does feature a few tense moments as well as a gory scene or two (one poor bastard gets his scalp ripped off), it’s the comedy that makes Idle Hands such an entertaining watch.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Saturday, October 23, 2021

#2,646. When Animals Dream (2014)


Marie (Sonia Suhi), a shy teenager, lives in a small fishing village with her father Thor (Lars Mikklesen) and wheelchair-bound mother (Sonja Richter).

The recent discovery of a rash on Marie’s chest coincides with several unexplained murders, and it soon becomes obvious that Thor is hiding a dark secret, one that might explain why Marie’s mother is catatonic and why Marie herself is undergoing a very frightening change.

We realize early on in When Animals Dream that Thor knows more than he’s letting on about Marie’s “condition”, but what’s even more interesting is that the entire town also seems to be in on it; there are arguments between Thor and angry locals, whose “concerns” seem to center on Marie’s mother (a woman so far gone at this point that she can’t even feed herself anymore).

Director Jonas Alexander Arnby drops hints throughout When Animals Dream that Marie is changing, transforming from a meek girl into an aggressive young woman, and the film’s remote setting works to the story’s advantage, enhancing its lead character’s sense of isolation.

When Animals Dream is a slow burn horror movie for most of its runtime (centering more on the mystery surrounding Marie’s family), but takes off in the final act, culminating in a sequence set aboard a fishing boat that you won’t soon forget.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Friday, October 22, 2021

#2,645. Demonic (2015)


Detective Mark Lewis (Frank Grillo) responds to a call at a derelict old mansion, where a possible murder has taken place. When he arrives, he finds that four college-aged kids (all paranormal researchers) have been hacked to death with an ax. In addition, two more (played by Cody Horn and Scott Mechlowicz) are missing, and another, named John (Dustin Milligan), is alive but in a state of shock.

Aided by psychologist Elizabeth Kline (Maria Bello), Lewis hopes that John will be able to shed some light on this very bizarre homicide, including why he and his friends decided to hold a séance in a house where, 20 years earlier, a similar murder took place.

Directed by Will Canon, Demonic is a horror / mystery that doubles as a pretty effective haunted house movie; the mansion that serves as the main set is uber-creepy (props to Production Designer Deborah Riley and Set decorator Ryan Martin Dwyer), and throughout the movie we’re treated to flashbacks of John and the doomed researchers as they prepare for their séance, scenes in which Canon utilizes a number of successful - though not totally original – jump scares.

An above-average horror film that’s an even better mystery, Demonic will keep you guessing right up to the end.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Thursday, October 21, 2021

#2,644. Nightmare (1981)


Writer / director Romano Scavolini’s 1981 horror film Nightmare is one nasty little slasher!

George Tatum (Baird Stafford), a diagnosed schizophrenic committed to a psychiatric ward for mutilating a Brooklyn family, has been the subject of an experiment designed to curb - and eventually eliminate – his violent tendencies.

Convinced the treatment was a success, the hospital discharges George, who, soon after his release, steals a car and drives from New York to Florida so he can stalk single mom Susan (Sharon Smith) and her three kids.

Even by ‘80s standards, Nightmare is a brutal picture; before arriving in Florida, George makes a pit stop in South Carolina, where he murders waitress Barbara (Kathleen Ferguson), first slashing her throat (not the greatest effect, but good enough to make you cringe) and then stabbing her repeatedly. Scavolini doesn’t shy away from nudity either; at one point George takes a nighttime stroll down New York’s infamous 42nd Street, where he visits a porn theater and watches a live sex show.

Overall, Nightmare is an effective slasher, with some strong gore scenes (though I don’t believe for a minute the producer’s claim that Tom Savini handled the effects; the quality is nowhere near his standard), and fans of ‘80s horror will probably enjoy it as much as I did.

But go in knowing that Nightmare is not for the squeamish. Unlike other films, this movie deserved its spot on the UK’s Video Nasties list!
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

#2,643. Lake Michigan Monster (2018)


A 2018 comedy / horror / fantasy, Lake Michigan Monster follows the exploits of the very strange Captain Seafield (writer / director Ryland Tews), who assembles a team of so-called “experts” (Erick West, Beulah Peters, Daniel Long) and sets up his HQ on the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Seifield’s goal: to hunt down and destroy the lake’s dreaded sea monster, which, he alleges, killed his father.

The laughs come fast and furious in Lake Michigan Monster; it’s an assault on the senses, a low-budget black and white joke fest with bargain-basement CGI / special effects that only add to the enjoyment of it all. You’re not meant to take a single moment seriously, and with a running time of just under 80 minutes, the film maintains an impressive pace, never losing an ounce of energy along the way (Tews even throws in a couple of catchy musical numbers, just to mix things up a bit).

Lake Michigan Monster is Airplane-style lunacy, and I’m betting you’ll have as much fun as I did watching it.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

#2,642. Mimic (1997)


Director Guillermo Del Toro’s visual proficiency and love of monsters gets a full work-out in his 1997 sci-fi / horror film Mimic (which he co-wrote with Matthew Robbins).

A plague, carried by cockroaches, is wiping out the children of New York City. In an effort to extinguish the bugs (and thus end the disease), Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) and Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) “create” a genetically enhanced insect species - a “superbug” if you will - which, because it is sterile, will die out itself within six months of destroying the infected cockroaches.

Their plan proves successful, and while some, including Susan’s colleague Dr. Gates (F. Murray Abraham), criticize their methods, New York hails Drs. Tyler and Mann as heroes.

Three years later, Peter and Susan - now happily married to one another - find themselves facing an entirely new problem: an undocumented species of giant insect is terrorizing both the city’s subway and sewer systems, and upon closer examination, Susan is horrified to discover that this new man-eating insect is actually a mutation of the superbug she herself engineered!

With the help of angry policeman Leonard Norton (Charles S. Dutton), a shoe-shiner named Manny (Giancarlo Gianni) and Manny’s autistic son (Alexander Goodwin), Peter and Susan search for answers, only to discover their superbug has mutated in ways they never thought possible.

The creatures themselves are definitely one of the film’s strong points; they walk upright, are as big as full-grown humans, and can even fly (which they do several times in the movie’s final act, resulting in some gnarly kills). In fact, these bugs have evolved to the point that, from a distance, they actually look human (Susan herself, caught off-guard, is attacked by one in the subway).

In addition, the underground set pieces that Del Toro and team created for Mimic work wonders, conjuring up a creepy atmosphere; at one point, Peter, Leonard, and Peter’s assistant Josh (played by Josh Brolin) find themselves in a long-abandoned underground station, complete with a decaying subway car (which proves useful once the bugs track them down).

Featuring a fair number of suspenseful sequences and even some nasty gore, Mimic is a superior creature feature, made by a director who, in the years to follow, would become a master of that particular subgenre.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Monday, October 18, 2021

#2,641. Bordello of Blood (1996)


A movie every bit as entertaining as the Tales from the Crypt TV series that inspired it.

When her brother Caleb (Corey Feldman) disappears, Catherine (Erica Eleniak) hires private investigator Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller) to track him down.

As it turns out, the last time anyone saw Caleb, he was on his way to a brothel situated in the basement of a local mortuary. But this is no ordinary whorehouse: the proprietor is a busty redhead named Lilith (Angie Everhart), who is actually an ancient vampire! And if he doesn’t play his cards right, Guttman himself may become Lilith’s next victim.

Hosted, much like the TV show, by the Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir), Bordello of Blood is a bloody good time, a comedy-fueled vampire movie with plenty of laughs and more than its share of gore. Everhart is drop-dead sexy as the all-powerful Lilith, and Chris Sarandon is also strong as a televangelist in league with the devil. Yet it’s Dennis Miller’s wise-ass private investigator who steals the show (his one-liners are priceless).

And like any good Tales from the Crypt episode, the horror elements in Bordello of Blood are as potent as the guffaws. Before finishing their “customers” off, Lilith and her vampiric whores snatch their hearts right out of their chests. Fans of the TV series won’t want to miss this movie!
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Sunday, October 17, 2021

#2,640. Open 24 Hours (2018)


Recently released from prison, where she served time for setting her serial killer boyfriend on fire, Mary (Vanessa Grasse) is trying to put her life back together.

With the help of her parole officer (Daniel O’Meara), she lands a job as the overnight cashier at a remote gas station. But Mary’s past refuses to let go; along with experiencing hallucinations (a form of PTSD), she is repeatedly hounded by the family members of those her boyfriend James (Cole Vigue) murdered over the years, many of whom blame her for not stopping him sooner.

And during her first shift at the gas station, Mary’s demons will come back to haunt her in a way she never anticipated.

A shockingly violent horror / thriller, writer / director Padraig Reynolds’ Open 24 Hours features some very effective scenes, including a few that will surely make the gore hounds happy.

If the movie has a downside, it’s the way it handles Mary’s (many) hallucinations, undermining their effectiveness by dipping its bucket into that well far too often (before she even starts at the gas station, Mary experiences at least a half dozen horrific visions).

I still happily recommend Open 24 Hours; Grasse is superb as the troubled lead, and there are some tense scenes scattered throughout. I only wish Reynolds had pulled the reins in a bit with regards to showcasing Mary’s PTSD; less would have definitely been better.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, October 16, 2021

#2,639. Daybreakers (2009)


What an awesome premise!

The year is 2019, and the world is controlled by vampires. Humans are the food supply, but unfortunately, mankind is on the verge of extinction. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a scientist, is working on a “blood substitute”, which, if he’s successful, will ensure the survival of the new vampire species.

But Edward is one of the few undead who regrets what’s being done to the human population. When he meets Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willen Dafoe), a former vampire who, following a freak accident, found himself human again, Edward decides that, instead of a food substitute, he’d much rather devote his time to curing vampirism!

Like I said, it’s a great premise, and fortunately, Daybreakers lives up to its potential. Set primarily at night (because we all know what happens to vampires in the sunlight), the movie is undeniably dark (in both presentation and subject matter), and some of the subplots are just as intriguing as the main story.

For example, there's Edward’s boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), a shady big-time executive who sees a chance to make a boatload of money with the blood substitute. Alas, Bromley’s daughter Alison (Isabel Lucas), ran away ten years ago, soon after her father turned, and she is now in hiding. Though content with his new “life”, Bromley would like nothing more than to have his daughter back.

Directors / brothers Michael and Peter Spierig do a fine job balancing the film’s various storylines, and while Daybreakers does occasionally tread into familiar territory (there are a few standard chase scenes), it’s unique enough to warrant serious attention.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Friday, October 15, 2021

#2,638. The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)


Matt Cimber’s The Witch Who Came from the Sea features a storyline so unsettling that it earned the film a place on the UK’s video nasties list.

Whenever she babysits her nephews Tadd (Jean Pierre Camps) and Tripoli (Mark Livingston), Molly (Millie Perkins) regales them with stories about her father, a sea captain, who she claims was lost at sea. But the truth of the matter is that - as a young girl - Molly was molested by her father on a regular basis.

Her current job, a waitress in a dingy bar, allows the alcoholic Molly to meet all kinds of men, some of whom she becomes romantically involved with, including Alexander McPeak (Stafford Morgan), the star of a popular television commercial.

Unfortunately, most of the guys Molly dates eventually turn up dead!

Millie Perkins delivers a stirring performance as the deeply troubled Molly, whose optimistic outlook on life masks a trauma that haunts her every waking moment. Though it features a handful of violent scenes (Molly’s weapon of choice is a razor blade), it’s the movie’s flashback sequences, when a young Molly (played by Verkina Flower) is raped by her father (John F. Gott), that will make your skin crawl.

Shot by Dean Cundey (who a few years later would lend his talents to John Carpenter’s Halloween), The Witch Who Came from the Sea is a visually exciting movie; the opening on the beach is unforgettable, as is Molly’s “date” with two football players (a sequence that has a dreamlike quality to it). But it’s Millie Perkins’ performance, coupled with the film’s dark, troubling depiction of a woman whose mind has turned against her, that makes The Witch Who Came from the Sea so unnerving.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Thursday, October 14, 2021

#2,637. The Wicker Man (1973) - Spotlight on England


It had been a while since I last watched The Wicker Man, and I’d forgotten how great it is. Combining elements of horror, mystery, even a musical, director Robin Hardy’s film (from a script by Anthony Shaffer) pulls you in with its story before knocking you out with one of the most chilling finales in cinematic history. 

Police officer Howie (Edward Woodward) visits the small Scottish Island of Summerisle to search for a missing girl named Rowan Morrison. 

During his investigation, the devoutly Christian Howie is shocked and appalled to discover that the residents of this small community, led by the charismatic Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), live a pagan lifestyle, worshiping sun and water Gods and engaging in all manner of “lewd” behavior. 

What’s more, not a single person on Summerisle, not the Librarian (Ingrid Pitt), the barmaid (Britt Eklund), or the missing girl’s supposed mother (Irene Sunters), claim to have any knowledge of Rowan Morrison, going so far as to say that nobody by that name has ever lived there! 

Woodward is at his absolute best as Howie, a self-righteous officer of the law whose personal beliefs give him the strength to carry on under trying circumstances, and Lee is equally superb as the friendly Lord Summerisle, a man with his own set of values of which he, too, feels strongly. Their scenes together are outstanding, and I enjoyed the film’s musical asides as well, my favorite being the bawdy number in the bar, where the male patrons sing about barmaid Britt Eklund’s promiscuous ways. 

It’s the final act, however, that makes The Wicker Man an unforgettable experience. Most of you know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t seen the movie, I advise you to go into it cold; don’t watch trailers or read anything that might spoil it. The ending of The Wicker Man is sure to shake you; I knew what was coming this time around, and it shook me all the same!
Rating: 10 out of 10

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

#2,636. Amulet (2020)


Writer / director Romola Garai’s Amulet is a slow-burn horror film that challenges our perceptions of good and evil, ultimately blurring the line between the two.

When we first meet former soldier Tomas (Alec Secareanu), he’s living on the streets of London. A kindly nun (Imelda Staunton) takes pity on him, and offers him a place to stay, the catch being that he will have to assist the house’s owner, Magda (Carla Juri), who spends her days in isolation caring for her dying mother (Anah Ruddin).

Occasionally, Magda’s mother, in a fit of rage, will beat her, and Tomas tells her Magda shouldn’t put up with such abuse. But over time, he realizes there’s more to this complex mother / daughter relationship than meets the eye.

Secareanu is quite good as the troubled Tomas, who seems like a decent man; there are flashbacks to his days in the military, when he helped a fleeing refugee (Angelika Papoulia) who was trying to reunite with her daughter.

But with its deliberate pacing, peppered with the odd disturbing sequence (there’s one involving a clogged toilet you won’t soon forget), Amulet reveals, ever so patiently, that it’s difficult to know what’s truly in a man’s heart, and it’s damn near impossible to outrun your past.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

#2,635. Strays (1991)


Personally, I wouldn’t have ranked house cats high on the list of effective movie monsters, but the 1991 made-for-TV film Strays has convinced me to reconsider.

Divorce lawyer Paul Jarrett (Timothy Busfield) and his wife Lindsey (Kathleen Quinlan) have just moved to a big house in the suburbs. Unfortunately, they aren’t alone; dozens of cats also consider the Jarrett’s spacious new abode their home, and led by a feral male, these strays are willing to fight - and kill - to protect what’s theirs.

Busfield and Quinlan are likable as the happy couple at the center of this nightmare, and Claudia Christian is also good as Lindsey’s flirty sister, Claire. And while most of the cats in Strays look normal enough, the feral male is a nasty little prick (a la Church, post-burial, in 1989’s Pet Sematary).

The cat attacks themselves are hit and miss; the first victim (played by Gary McGurk) worked for the phone company, and the sight of a cat leaping for his throat actually made me laugh (mostly because the effect was…, well, not effective). Later in the movie, though, when Lindsey and the couple’s young daughter Tessa (portrayed by twins Heather and Jessica Lilly) find themselves surrounded, I was on the edge of my seat.

Strays may not be the most terrifying cat-themed movie ever made (my vote goes to George Romero’s Cat from Hell segment in 1990’s Tales from the Darkside: The Movie), but it’s worth a watch nonetheless.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Monday, October 11, 2021

#2,634. Needful Things (1993)


Something sinister is stirring in Castle Rock, and at the center of it all is an antique store that recently opened for business.

Owned and operated by new arrival Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow), the shop - called Needful Things – has something for everyone: a Mickey Mantle baseball card for young Brian Rusk (Shane Meier), a rare figurine for Nettie Cobb (Amanda Plummer), and even a locket that Polly Chalmers (Bonnie Bedelia) wears to ease her arthritis.

Of course, these items aren’t free, and it will cost the good people of Castle Rock more than a few dollars to obtain them!

Based on the book by Stephen King, Needful Things is an occasionally humorous yet mostly chilling account of life turned upside-down in a small community. Von Sydow is pitch perfect as the sinister Gaunt, who stirs up trouble like nobody’s business, and Ed Harris delivers a predictably strong performance as the sheriff intent on stopping him.

Yet it’s the film’s depiction of small town America, a seemingly idyllic utopia where everyone has something to hide, that is truly unforgettable. Gaunt may, indeed, be the source of the evil that is slowly destroying the town, but only because the citizens of Castle Rock were willing to meet him halfway.

Directed by Fraser Heston, Needful Things is an underrated horror film, and along with Misery, It, and The Shawshank Redemption ranks as one of the best Stephen King adaptations to emerge from the 1990's.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Sunday, October 10, 2021

#2,633. Ghosts of War (2020)


With Ghosts of War, writer / director Eric Bress proves you don’t need an inflated budget to make a compelling war movie, and the fact that it also works as a horror film is just icing on the cake.

Occupied France, 1944; a squad of five soldiers, commanded by Chris (Brenton Thwaites), is ordered to defend a French castle that, until recently, was used as a headquarters by the Nazi high command.

This mission turns out to far more dangerous than they imagined, however, when the soldiers realize the mansion is haunted by some very pissed-off ghosts.&

First and foremost, the cast that Bress assembled for Ghosts of War is extraordinary; Thwaites is strong as the slightly confused, more-than-a-little frightened leader of this ragtag outfit, but it’s Kyle Gallner’s performance as the mentally disturbed sniper, Tappert, that stands out.

As for the horror, , definitely delivers the thrills and chills, and while Bress does occasionally rely a bit too heavily on jump scares, the scenes where the soldiers are touring the house, trying to find the source of mysterious noises, will have you on the edge of your seat.

The battle / war sequences may not be the most convincing (once again, the culprit is mediocre CGI), but they aren’t bad either, and the film even boasts a pretty cool mystery (the soldiers attempt to figure out why these ghosts aren’t at rest). All this and a surprising twist that comes right at the end adds up to one hell of a fun horror flick.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Saturday, October 9, 2021

#2,632. BloodRayne (2005)


I knew nothing about BloodRayne when I popped the DVD into my player, and as the opening credits rolled I marveled at the list of actors assembled for the movie. Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Udo Kier, Michelle Rodriguez, Geraldine Chaplin, rock star Meat Loaf… I mean, wow!

Then these same credits mentioned that BloodRayne was based on a video game, and suddenly the film lost a little of its appeal.

It wasn’t until I found out who directed it, though, that I let out a groan: Mr. Uwe Boll!

Prior to this, I’d only seen two Uwe Boll movies - House of the Dead and Seed - and couldn’t stand either of them. So, armed with the good as well as the bad, what was my reaction to this 2005 film?

Well, I’ll say this: it’s the best Uwe Boll movie I’ve watched thus far!

A dark fantasy, BloodRayne’s convoluted story centers on Rayne (Kristanna Loken), part-human and part-vampire, who wants to kill her vampire father Kagen (Kingsley). To this end, she teams up with Vladimir (Madsen), Katarin (Rodriguez), and Sebastian (Matthew Davis), all members of the Brimstone Society, an organization whose sole purpose is the destruction of every vampire.

There are subplots and tons of asides as well, including Katarin’s frequent correspondences with her father Elrich (played by Billy Zane), who is in league with Kagen, so things get a bit muddled as the movie progresses. Also, most of the CGI is crap, and Boll wouldn’t know how to shoot an action scene to save his life (his frequent cuts are beyond jarring).

So, bottom line: BloodRayne is a bad movie. But it’s not “Uwe Boll Bad”; I did enjoy a few scenes (including Chaplin’s brief appearance as a fortune teller and Kier’s as a Monk), and the gore effects weren’t terrible (the only bits of CGI that actually impressed me).

I can’t recommend it, but if you’ve suffered through other Uwe Boll pictures, BloodRayne might surprise you.
Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Friday, October 8, 2021

#2,631. Lair of the White Worm (1988)


Director Ken Russell brings his usual flash and flair to this 1988 horror comedy about a small English village and the giant, man-eating worm that may prove to be more than just a local legend.

When Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi), a Scottish archaeologist, unearths a dinosaur-like skull on the site of an ancient ruin, it kicks off a chain of events that pits two of the area’s most prominent citizens, Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) and Lord James D’Ampton (a young Hugh Grant), against one another in an epic struggle of good vs. evil.

Grant is at his smarmy best as the oh-so-calm Lord whose ancestor supposedly saved the village centuries ago by slicing a giant snake in half, and the supporting cast, which includes Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis as two sisters who operate a nearby B&B, is also quite good.  But it’s Amanda Donohoe’s charismatic, oft-hilarious turn as Lady Marsh, a Pagan high priestess who has more than a little reptile in her, that steals the show.

As strong as the actors are, however, the real star of Lair of the White Worm is director Ken Russell, whose over-the-top special effects and visual panache perfectly complement the film’s crazy premise. A dream sequence - featuring an enormous white snake, a crucifix, and nuns being raped by Roman soldiers – is trippy as hell, and could have been lifted straight out of the drug-induced hallucination scene in Russell’s Altered States.

Though loosely based on Bram Stoker’s 1911 novel of the same name, Lair of the White Worm is 100% Ken Russell, and that alone is reason enough to see it.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Thursday, October 7, 2021

#2,630. Saturday Morning Mystery (2012)


The coolest thing about Saturday Morning Mystery, a dark comedy / horror film directed by Spencer Parsons, is that it spoofs one of the most beloved cartoons of all-time: Hanna Barbara’s Scooby Doo.

Ultra-intelligent Nancy (Ashley Rae Spillers) leads a team of paranormal investigators, the chief function of which is to debunk so-called hauntings, exposing them as frauds or, in some cases, fronts for criminal activities.

Joining Nancy on her adventures are her best friend Gwen (Josephine Decker); Gwen’s wealthy boyfriend Chad (Adam Tate); and stoner electronics whiz Floyd (Jonny Mars), whose dog Hamlet serves as the team’s unofficial mascot.

Hired by a bank to investigate the Kyser mansion, a vast estate rumored to have once been owned by Satan worshipers, Nancy and company prepare for what they believe will be yet another routine assignment. But as the evening wears on, they find themselves wondering if the stories surrounding the Kyser are merely legend, or if it’s the first genuinely haunted house they ever explored.

Fans of Scooby Doo will have no problem matching the characters in Saturday Morning Mystery with their animated alter-egos, and part of the fun is watching them (or, in this case, reasonable facsimiles of them) interact in a real-life setting.

Yet as entertaining as the premise is, and as shocking as a few later scenes are, Saturday Morning Mystery isn’t particularly well-structured, with the movie sometimes giving off a “we-made-it-up-as-we-went-along” vibe. Still, the horror-centric moments are effective, and there are a few twists and turns that may take viewers – even those familiar with Scooby Doo – by surprise.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

#2,629. The Dead Ones (2019)


With The Dead Ones, director Jeremy Katsen and writer Zack Chassler attempt something quite unique, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call the final result a rousing success, it is, at times, a fascinating horror film.

Four teenagers: Mouse (Sarah Rose Harper), Scottie (Brandon Thane Wilson), Emily (Katie Foster) and Louis (Torey Garza), are sentenced by teacher Ms. Persephone (Clare Kramer) to spend an entire night cleaning their high school. Soon after they arrive, however, several masked gunmen turn up, locking all the doors and trapping them inside the building.

While searching for a way out, the four friends come to realize there’s more to this tense standoff than meets the eye.

The opening scenes of The Dead Ones are a bit jarring; we the viewer are thrown into the story headfirst, knowing nothing about the characters or why they’re being punished. But Katsen does manage to drop a few hints as the movie unfolds, and the imagery is intriguing enough to keep us watching in the hope it will all eventually make sense.

And it does, but at a price; by the halfway point Katsen and Chassler had revealed one too many clues, and I figured out the film’s big twist a good 30 minutes before it was revealed.

Yet despite it’s obvious outcome, The Dead Ones features a few disturbing moments (especially what transpires when the gunmen get down to business) and one or two decent performances, led by Harper’s turn as the shy, introverted Mouse (the scene where Mouse tells a story about a former pet is actually kind of heartbreaking).

Even if it does come up short in the end, I give The Dead Ones credit for trying to do more than most.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

#2,628. End of Days (1999)


Schwarzenegger vs. Satan; if that match-up doesn’t excite you, nothing will!

In director Peter Hyams’ End of Days, Arnold plays Jericho, a former cop turned professional bodyguard who gets caught up in something he doesn’t understand.

Days away from the start of the new millennium, the Dark Prince himself has taken human form (Gabriel Byrne) in order to mate with the unsuspecting Christine (Robin Tunney), a 20-year-old brunette who happened to be born when the stars were in perfect alignment. According to the prophecy, if Satan and Christine do the dirty between the hours of 11 pm and midnight on New Years’ Eve, Christine will conceive and give birth to the Antichrist.

One thing Lucifer didn’t count on, though, was Jericho, who will stop at nothing to ensure the Devil never gets his due.

An action-packed supernatural thriller, End of Days is goofy fun; Schwarzenegger is convincing as the emotionally scarred Jericho (his wife and child were murdered some years back, and to ease the pain he drinks… a lot!), yet it’s Gabriel Byrne who steals the show (his first scene, inside a restaurant, is one you won’t soon forget).

Things do get a bit hokey at times; there’s a lot of talk about scripture, a couple of brief sequences with the Pope in Vatican City, and Rod Steiger as a priest who believes faith is all that’s needed to conquer pure evil. But if you can overlook its cornier moments, I guarantee you’ll have a great time watching End of Days.

I sure did!

Rating: 8 out of 10

Monday, October 4, 2021

#2,627. Spookies (1986)


The first time I saw the low-budget horror film Spookies, I knew nothing about its history, and I have to admit I thought it was a goddamn mess (though not a total failure).

Originally titled Twisted Souls, Spookies tells the story of Kreon (Felix Ward), a sorcerer who lures unsuspecting victims to his remote mansion so he can feed their souls to his beloved, Isabelle (Maria Pechukas), who has been in a coma… or suspended animation… or maybe even dead (it’s not really explained) for 70 years.

His latest targets are a group of friends, including Duke (Nick Gionta), Richie (Peter Iasillo Jr), Meegan (Kim Merrill), and Carol (Lisa Friede), who arrive at the mansion expecting to attend a wild party, but instead find themselves facing off against monsters, zombies, a Spider Woman (Soo Paek), and even the Grim Reaper (James M. Glenn).

Most of what works in Spookies, especially the make-up effects (the scene with the Spider Woman is impressive), was lifted from Twisted Souls. The brainchild of writers / co-directors Frank Farel, Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran, Twisted Souls centered on the friends and their misadventures inside the mansion. Unfortunately, legal troubles with the financiers arose during editing, and as a result, additional footage (the subplot involving Kreon and Isabelle) was shot (by a different crew), specific moments were lifted from Twisted Souls, and the two were spliced together.

Thus, Spookies was born

So what was the final result of all these backroom shenanigans? Well, to sum it up for you, the added scenes with Kreon and Isabelle are bizarre and nonsensical, while the Twisted Souls sequences are goofy, occasionally entertaining, and clearly devised by fans of the genre.

So, in the end,Spookies is only a half-decent horror flick, but that still makes it better than some.
Rating: 6 out of 10

Sunday, October 3, 2021

#2,626. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)


Dario Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was a box-office hit, and set the standard by which all future Giallos would be measured.

Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), an American writer living in Rome, witnesses the attempted murder of Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), wife of a well-known art dealer (Umberto Raho). Because this assault bears some similarities to a string of recent killings, police inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) questions Dalmas, whose memory of the event proves unreliable.

Yet Dalmas remains haunted by what he saw, and believes he holds the key to solving these horrific crimes, even if his continued involvement in the investigation means putting both his life and that of his British girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall) in the greatest of danger.

Along with featuring many of the tropes that helped define the Giallo (the killer wearing black gloves, erotic subtext, bloody kill scenes, etc), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is an incredibly stylish film; Argento wasn’t afraid to shoot in the dark (the nighttime chase scene, set in a bus depot, is intensely exciting), and there’s one shot towards the end of the movie - a fall out of a window - that’s flawlessly executed.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage may not be the first Giallo ever made (Bava’s Blood and Black Lace predates it by six years), but is, without question, one of the best.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Saturday, October 2, 2021

#2,625. Supernatural (1933)


A year after their independent hit White Zombie, brothers Victor and Edward Halperin once again returned to the horror genre with Supernatural, a pre-code quickie (it runs a little more than an hour) teeming with seedy characters and malevolent spirits.

As the film opens, murderer Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne) is on Death Row, awaiting execution for strangling three of her lovers. Fearing her “personality” may return and inhabit another body, Dr. Carl Houston (H.B. Warner) convinces Rogen to sign her remains over to him so he can conduct an experiment that, if successful, will keep her spirit at bay.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, heiress Roma Courtney (Carole Lombard) is mourning the sudden death of her twin brother John. Sensing an opportunity to make some cash, Paul Bavian (Alan Dinehart), a phony medium, contacts Roma and says her dead brother has reached out to him with an important message.

How these two stories interact is but one of the intriguing elements to be found in Supernatural, a movie with as many villains as heroes (only Roma, Dr. Houston, and Roma’s boyfriend Grant, played by Randolph Scott, come across as sympathetic). As portrayed by Osborne, Ruth Rogen is a maniacal, unrepentant killer who shows no remorse for her actions, while Paul Bavian is a crook and, as we discover in one very chilling scene, capable of violence himself.

With its great use of shadows and a few genuine ghostly thrills, Supernatural is an early horror film that deserves a much bigger audience.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Friday, October 1, 2021

#2,624. Devil (2010)


Based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan (who also acted as producer), Devil takes a basic premise - a group of strangers trapped inside an elevator - and turns it into an absolute nail-biter.

Five people: a security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a former Marine (Logan Marshall-Green), a young woman (Bojana Novakovic), and an elderly woman (Jenny O’Hara), step into an express elevator in a downtown Philadelphia high-rise. Unfortunately, the elevator stalls halfway up, stranding them.

The building’s maintenance crew tries its darnedest to correct the problem, and before long one of Philadelphia’s finest, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), is called in to assist, yet it soon becomes apparent that there’s more to this predicament than a simple malfunction.

Even taking into account its sparse 80-minute runtime, Devil is in no hurry to reveal its secrets, and every new wrinkle, every revelation, only adds to the intrigue. Along with its engaging story, Devil features a number of fine performances, with each actor doing their part to bring the tension to a boiling point.

As with most Shyamalan films, you can expect a twist, but knowing one’s coming won’t prepare you for when it finally arrives, and by the time Devil is over, you’ll think twice before getting on another elevator.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10