In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Big Weekend!

Hey all. The Festival of Fear is upon us here in Hogtown, so you'll not be hearing from me until the smoke clears.

Have a great long weekend, and I'll see you next week.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trailer Tuesdays: The Kid's Table

On the heels of my thoughts on the book Kid Power! I decided to post a collection of trailers for some of my favourite kid-centric horror films. Enjoy!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Kid Power!

I've spent the last while digging through Kid Power!, the book I picked up at Fantasia last month.

Released by Canadian publisher Spectacular Optical, Kid Power! is a collection of essays on kid-centric cult classics lovingly assembled by cinephiles Paul Corupe & Kier-La Jannise.

I enjoyed this book immensely, but was also impressed by how wildly varied and diverse it was, as it features writers from around the world covering everything from the traditional to the darkest pits of the art house. While I was around when a lot of the stuff covered in this book was released (either on the big or small screen), I was surprised by how much of it was new to me. I found myself making a list while reading and definitely want to track down titles like Ken Loach's Kes and Ann Turner's Celia in the future.

The most comprehensive part of the book – and frankly, most impressive – was Kier-La Janisse deep exploration into the ABC Afterschool Special phenomenon of the seventies and eighties. I was absolutely shocked by how many now-famous actors got their start here – Jodie Foster, Jennifer Grey, Michelle Pfieffer, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rob Lowe & Amanda Plummer just to name a few.

The chapter that most appealed to me as a horror fan was the detailed rundown of actress Nicolette Elmi. A Euro-horror mainstay, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas & Craig Martin trace Elmi's career from her early uncredited roles like the one in Mario Bava's 1971 slasher Bay of Blood all the way up to her swan song as the usherette in Lamberto Bava's Demons in 1985.

The interview with Rock Demers about The Tales For All Collection was also a gleeful trip down memory lane, as stuff like The Dog Who Stopped The War and The Peanut Butter Solution got constant play at my house as a kid.

Nicolette Elmi in Dario Argento's Deep Red.

There were two points that were really hammered home to me while reading Kid Power! The first was how profoundly affecting a piece of media can be if it hits you at the right place and right time. It can be inspiring, comforting and/or completely change your outlook. I think this was best represented by Chris Alexander's recollection of Barry Morse's adaptation of Isaac Asimov's The Ugly Little Boy, where seeing it at the age of eight brought home the concept of death and loss, and Robin Bougie's experience watching Curtis Hanson's The Children of Times Square paralleled his own midnight excursions into the underbelly of New York City.

The other thing was just how much children's programming – and development in general – has changed over the last few decades. It is almost certain that the material meant for kids in this book would never be produced today. It appears there is a general attitude nowadays that children need to be, for lack of a better term, “handled with kid gloves”. As Janisse states during her interview with John & Paul Hough;

“When I was a kid, we went to school by ourselves, we just went out after school and had to be home by a certain time. Now I have a brother who has kids, and they're supervised all the time. Everything was so different then.”

The work of John Hough is perhaps the greatest example of this, as he worked on several films for Disney (like 1980's Watcher In The Woods) during their “dark” phase, releasing films that sought to scare the bejesus out of their best customers. Now, children's programming seems so incredibly sanitized, as if its only function is to preserve the innocence of youth for as long as possible.

Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis and Kyle Richards in Watcher In The Woods.

Unfortunately, keeping the darkness at bay may do more harm than good in the long run. What would childhood be without discovery? If you ask me, to be deprived some of the wonderfully colourful treasures found within the pages of Kid Power! seems like child cruelty.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

DKTM 234

Hello all. With the Festival of Fear and TIFF imminent, it's the calm before the storm around here, but below are some horror tidbits to keep you satiated until then.


A preview for an upcoming release from Freaktown Comics came across my email last week called Slashermania. Written by Russell Hillman with art by Ron Joseph, Harry Saxon & Jake Isenberg, here's the description;

“1983. Troubled teens from New York and Los Angeles are taken to a summer camp facility to be trained as counsellors and mix safely with other people their own age. Little do they know they are being watched by an audience hungry for sex and violence. They are the designated victims for a bizarre contest of murder and mayhem – WELCOME TO SLASHERMANIA!”

Click to enlarge.

This seems to combine ideas from three projects dear to my heart - Friday the 13th and the lesser known, Marc Evans' My Little Eye and Maurice Devereaux's $la$her$, so Slashermania definitely has my attention. No release date has been set, but you can keep up to date by following Freaktown Comics, here.

Alien Digested.

Here's a cool little link I found in my Facebook feed this week, courtesy Dion Conflict (organizer of the yearly Shock & Awe marathons). Before the advent of home video, it was possible to buy heavily abbreviated versions of theatrical films on Super 8 called “digests”. Here is one for the 1979 sci-fi classic Alien.

I'm always impressed by these things. It takes a lot of skill to cut a two-hour film down to under twenty minutes and still have it make sense narratively.

You Darn Kids!

I came across these awesome series of drawings from the artist IBTrav this week. You know how Scooby Doo & The Gang always came across all sorts of supposed ghosts and ghouls? Well, this guy had the brilliant idea to insert in more “familiar” frights.

You check out the rest of this series - plus IBTrav's many other projects - by going here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Twin Peaks, Atari Style.

So, I know I've been slacking off in the video games department, especially since the last few episodes of The Walking Dead still remain unplayed, but I found something so frickin' cool on Monday. A super awesome dude by the name of Jak Locke has created a retro Atari 2600 game based on the classic TV show Twin Peaks.

I realize it's been out for a while, but hey, it's new to me and hopefully some of you, as well. Entitled The Black Lodge, it recreates the last few moments of the unforgettable last episode where Agent Dale Cooper enters said place between worlds. There is a free download available for PC and Mac, and even comes with a beautiful retro style manual.

There's so much to love about this game. First, it seems like Locke has pulled actual sounds from vintage 2600 titles like Pitfall and Yar's Revenge, though that could just be my imagination. If you stand still at the beginning, you can also listen to a chip-tune rendition of Angelo Badalamenti's Under The Sycamore Trees.

The game is also rife with Easter eggs. If you survive long enough to get 5000 points, the Giant will appear with information (in his usual riddled prose) on how to beat the game. Along the way, you'll see iconic characters like The Man from Another Place, Laura & Leland Palmer and, of course, Killer BOB.

My current high score is 5650, so take a crack and see if can beat it. If you'd rather just sit back and watch someone else play, here's a YouTube walkthrough, although sadly without sound.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Trailer Tuesdays: The Faculty

Since we were in class yesterday (and Robert Rodriguez's latest flick Sin City 2 hits screens in a few), here's the trailer for The Faculty.

Ohhh nineties promos! Trailers just aren't the same now that Don LaFontaine isn't with us anymore.

Monday, August 18, 2014

School Of Shock.

Last Wednesday, I took in the latest lecture of The Black Museum at The Royal. This one was kind of special in that the presenter was writer, film programmer and cinephile Kier-La Janisse who, many years before, founded the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies; the model for which The Black Museum was based. This month's lecture was an exploration into the history of the classroom safety film.

With Janisse at the helm, this lecture felt different for two reasons. First, she had conducted this lecture many times before, so was completely off book and thus free to move about the stage. Not tethered to her desk, like many of the previous presenters, it made things much more stimulating visually. Second, School of Shock featured large chunks of video in between academia. Now, Janisse did point out that her full lecture on this subject is six hours long and what we were seeing was an abbreviated version, so I would imagine that one has a different balance between the visual and auditory.

Janisse began the lecture talking about the beginnings of educational films in Chicago circa 1912. Around 1923, there was a shift from 22mm to the more popular 16mm, as its portability enabled government programs and church groups to purchase films & equipment to tour around rural communities.

The film market wasn't initially brought into the classroom - it was generally regarded as a lazy way to teach - until the start of World War II. The army employed this method to not only bolster morale for the war effort, but also as quick and efficient visual technical manuals for training new recruits. After Pearl Harbour, Hollywood started helping out, lending many of their talents to the production of these films.

Kier-la Janisse talks classroom scare films.

Janisse focused her talk mainly on the time period from 1958-1985, which is known as The Golden Age of The Classroom Film. In 1957, the Russian launch of Sputnik (and subsequently Sputnik II) caused an uproar within America's scientific community. How is it that the Ruskies were able to get so far ahead of their Western counterparts? It was decided that to get ahead of their Cold War adversaries, the system needed an overhaul. Thus began a new era heralded by The National Defense of Education Act in 1958, followed by the Elementary & Secondary Educational Act in 1965.

There were many filmmakers who thrived in this climate. Quoting film archivist Geoff Alexander, Janisse summed up this era beautifully and led us into the next section of the lecture on child safety;

“...It was cinematic socialism thriving in a capitalist context, the money flow moving from the Federal government to the school districts, then to the film companies, and eventually into the pockets of the filmmakers. It was a great time to be a filmmaker, with ready-made audiences and an almost endless stream of funding.”

One such filmmaker was Sid Davis, whose name is most associated with sensationalist educational films. He made over a hundred films in his career, with colourful titles such as The Dangerous Stranger (1950), Rape and the Rapist (1978) and the flagrantly homophobic Boys Beware (1961).

To illustrate this section, Janisse screened Davis' 1951 film Live & Learn (which features his daughter Jill) and a few safety spots from the UK, including this amazing one narrated by Donald Pleasance.

Janisse then spoke of a man named John Krish. In 1977, this ex-British transport worker was commissioned to make a film about transit safety, specifically anti-vandalism. His employers told him not to include any actual vandalism, as to not incite the very activity they were trying to prevent, so Krish chose to employ a fantasy world context to get his point across. The resulting film The Finishing Line is so brilliantly shocking, it could've only been conceived in the seventies.

What is even crazier about this film is that Krish, seemingly not concerned with absolute safety on set, chose to shoot the film on a working railway line. Using local schoolchildren, they just filmed when the trains weren't going by! Not to mention all those jagged chain-link fences and steel tracks these kids seem to running toward full-tilt.

The next section of the lecture focused on the perils of drugs. Janisse, not surprisingly, began this section with the propaganda film Reefer Madness. Originally financed by a church group in 1936 under the name Tell Your Children, it was bought by producer Dwain Esper a few years later, recut and redistributed as its more commonly known title as an exploitation film. Its intended purpose is a shining example of how drug films generally skirt actual fact for fiction in order to deter youngsters who may not as yet begun to experiment in such things.

Moving on from marijuana to LSD, Janisse spoke of the government's experimentation and how its psychedelic nature made for some confusing PSA's that often seemed to blur the line between anti and pro.

If there was any doubt, Janisse then showed a clip of an interview with actor Richard Lynch were he describes how, while under the influence of LSD, set himself on fire in Central Park. She also showed a film called All My Tomorrows about the dangers of mixing alcohol with barbiturates.

The most disturbing film of this section was Dead Is Dead. In 1974, comedian Godfrey Cambridge felt that drug PSA's were being geared mostly toward middle-class white populations, so he took it upon himself to make his own about the heroin addiction running rampant in the more poverty-stricken communities.

Janisse said what made this film stand out was that it not only had Cambridge speaking directly to the audience, as opposed to the detached narration of similar films, but he also mentioned addiction as all encompassing and something that inflicted our entire society and not just the sections that are most often ignored. The above was just the trailer and does not include all the grim photos of dead junkies and the physical traumas of prolonged drug use. This movie was predominantly shown to elementary school students, so I can only imagine the reactions this must have garnered.

The next section, the most alarming by far, was the one on Driver's Education.

Janisse began this section at the end of the fourties, when the mass production of the rocket V8 engine had contributed to a twenty per cent increase in road fatalities in the United States. With the rise of street racing culture, it is not surprising a good number of those were teenage boys. Safety filmmakers were quick to combat this, and soon the term “Teenicide” was coined.

The word was first used in the 1949 film Last Date featuring pre-Bewitched actor Dick York, which then became the template for all the driver safety films of the time period.

As time went on, there was a shift to the more graphic and realistic. Slideshows with names like Suicide Club and Highways of Agony featuring pictures of real traffic accidents made the rounds, eventually evolving into film reels.

In 1959, a group of photographers, in co-operation with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, made the film Signal 30.

When I was a teenager about to take Driver's Ed, I heard stories that to get your license, you had to sit through hours of actual traffic accident carnage. I never ended up seeing any of that - maybe laws are different in Canada - so I always figured it was an urban legend. Nope, Signal 30 is that footage and it is exactly as advertised.

And if that wasn't enough to drive the point home, Janisse also introduced us to Australia's Transport Accident Commission. In the late eighties, drunk driving was becoming a real problem Down Under, so the TAC decided to roll up their sleeves and do something about it. The result was a slew of unrelentingly brutal ads that started airing at dinnertime. There was an immediate decline in impaired fatalities.

Below, is a campaign montage that was put together for the 20th anniversary. WARNING: These don't fuck around. I don't mind telling you that seeing this unrelenting video on the big screen left me a little shell-shocked. But hey, if it keeps one person from getting behind the wheel while drunk, it's worth it.

After we'd all had a moment to catch our breath, Janisse made an excellent point as to why the TAC spots were so effective over all that had come before them. Films like Last Date had characters that we could relate to, but weren't really graphic enough to really get the point across, and stuff like Signal 30 was so unflinchingly graphic that it eventually caused a disconnect with the viewer. The TAC videos use both in equal measure and thus accomplish what each by themselves could not.

The last section of the lecture was about workplace safety. Janisse told us about a company called Centron which produced hundreds of these films. One of the filmmakers on their payroll was none other than Herk Harvey of Carnival of Souls fame. It wasn't unusual for genre filmmakers to hone their skills making industrial films (George A. Romero and William Crain are two other examples) and the grim nature of the subject matter would certainly seem to fit with their sensibilities.

A well known construction site safety video by Herk Harvey, featuring a catchy theme song by Jim Stringer, is Shake Hands With Danger (1970)

In front of this film, Janisse also stuck an infamous Canadian PSA by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. I instantly remembered this one, as this series of ads tore up social media when they burst onto television screens in the late 2000's.

Janisse has done this lecture all over the world and usually tailors the videos to whatever country in which she is presenting, but I'm glad she snuck in a little CanCon, because that one is a doozy. She also mentioned that she refrained from using anything from the NFB, as they tend to be all class, and rarely go the sensationalist route.

So, why did the Golden Age of the Classroom Film come to an end? Well, Janisse offered up two reasons. First, that era began because of The Cold War, so when that wound down, so did the boom for classroom film production. The mid-eighties also brought in the advent of video tape, making it less profitable for the distributors who cranked out content.

So, let's all stay safe, kids.