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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Short of the Week #20: Violeta

I wanted to go back in time a bit for this week's entry. One of the first short films I reviewed here was Marc Riba & Anna Solanas' 2006 short, Violeta. With its disturbing visuals and almost unbearably squishy sound design, this short has stuck with me for over a decade.



Watching this again, I realized that this duo was also responsible for one of my recent favourites, Dead Horses. I'm thrilled that these two are still unleashing their stop-motion nightmares onto the world.

Friday, May 18, 2018

That Ain't Smokey...


This week I watched my recently acquired VHS of John Frankenheimer's 1979 environmental horror Prophecy.


The waste from a lumber mill causes mutations in the surrounding inhabitants, the most dangerous of which being a giant bear monster.

I came into this unsure about whether I'd actually seen it. I'm pretty sure this movie was melded together in my mind with others of this era (1977's The Deep and 1980's The Island for instance) that I may have caught bits & pieces of on television before being whisked away to bed. Having said that, I recalled pretty much nothing of Prophecy and enjoyed it much more than I was expecting to. This was like, a legitimate movie, especially when you put it up against the trash I watched last week.

Talia Shire & Robert Foxworth in Prophecy.

Prophecy has some solid talent in it, including Talia Shire (right before reprising her role as Adrian in Rocky II), Robert Foxworth and Armand Assante. Playing the role of the shifty lumber foreman was Richard Dysart and when he was confronted with the mutated horrors his plant had wrought, I couldn't help but think, “buddy, you ain't seen no-thing yet.

I hear that some people like to take the piss out of the effects – Imdb says that uber-dweeb Leonard Maltin described the creature a “walking salami.” - but I thought it looked pretty bad ass. Even though Frankenheimer & f/x house Burman Studios had initially conceived something quite a bit different, I thought the mutated bear-thing was a good way to go. Though I'm willing to admit that viewing it on a muddy VHS may have been ideal, as a hi-def transfer may not do it any favours.


It's a shame they couldn't get a bit gorier with it – Frankenheimer had his original vision of an R rating cut back to a PG – as I think it could've really taken it to another level. As it stands now, I can't really take something like that seminal scene where the bear swats a kid in a banana sleeping bag thirty feet to his feathery death as anything except incredibly amusing.



Environmental horrors were popular during this era and this one ranks in the upper echelon. The concerns raised are just as relevant now as they were then. I always wondered about the cover (and title for that matter) when I knew in my head it was about a killer bear and now I know the significance of it. I think my only gripe is that thread never gets resolved. I was hoping for a Humanoids From The Deep style outro, but alas it was not to be.

As far as studio pictures featuring ten-foot tall bear monsters go, this one is pretty ace.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Short of the Week #19: Fun

One of my favourite shorts last year was Greg Kovacs' Fun. Recalling the children show puppetry of his 2013 effort Tasha & Friends, this will surely win you over. Check it out below.



Wasn't that fun?! And at three-and-a-half minutes completely economical too. Recently, Kovacs revealed that this short was actually the pilot episode for his new web series called Poppy Seed Place. Who knows what depravity these little rascals are going to get up to! 


For more episodes of PSP, CLICK HERE.

Monday, May 14, 2018

R.I.P. Margot Kidder 1948-2018

My crappy Monday got even crappier when I heard about the passing of actress Margot Kidder. Kidder died in her sleep yesterday at her home in Montana. She was 69.

R.I.P. Margot Kidder 1948-2018

I was maybe six or seven when I got my first introduction to Kidder with her turn as Lois Lane in the Superman movies. Apart from that, her career spanned over five decades. For me though, it was work in three iconic horrors, Sisters, The Amityville Horror and Black Christmas, that have resonated with me through the years.

I was lucky enough to see her in person at the 2005 Festival of Fear and she was incredibly affable and also very candid about her ongoing troubles with mental illness. Rest in peace, Margot.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Doctor Snore


In an attempt to continue a theme started with last weekend's Tex-a-Thon, I pulled J.G. Patterson's 1972 flick The Body Shop off the shelf.


A grieving mad scientist (also Patterson) and his hunchbacked assistant Gregory (Roy Mehaffy) dismember young women to assemble his perfect mate.

I fully admit I got duped here. Within five minutes of putting this on, I was like, “uh-oh I think I've made a terrible mistake.” I was expecting a low-rent cannibal slasher, but I wasn't even in the right decade. This is a baaaad movie, folks.

The Body Shop aka Doctor Gore was basically what it would look like if Herschell Gordon Lewis had made a Bride of Frankenstein movie. Except worse. Much, much worse. Every facet of this production is Z-grade. I'm not sure if it was my VHS transfer, but it often seemed like the camera was off center (like the DP fell asleep or something) and location sound was definitely an afterthought. I could see people's mouth's moving, but nothing was coming out. Don't worry, I'm sure those incessant voice overs and musical interludes that kept playing over and over will distract from that, right?


Looking up Patterson I saw that he had worked on a few of H.G. Lewis' pictures, which makes a lot of sense. He must have been like, “well if H.G can do it, so can I!” No. No you can't buddy. Lewis was a showman and knew what the people wanted. He knew to fill time with badly overacted dialogue, not long drawn out montages of nothing. It looks like they were pretty tight though as evidenced by Lewis' touching introduction for its home video release.



For real though, so much of The Body Shop is filler that it is barely a movie. There's no flow and there were times when I thought I had missed a scene. There's like no exposition as to why a surgeon also happened to be a master hypnotist. Chicks would follow this guy to the slaughter for no other reason than Patterson couldn't think of one.

Jenny Driggers & J.G. Patterson in The Body Shop.

Most of this would have been forgivable if it delivered on the gore, but it doesn't. When these repetitive sequences finally came around, they were fairly rudimentary. When you compare this to Lewis' pictures like 2000 Maniacs, Wizard of Gore and Gore Gore Girls (released '64,'70 and '72 respectively) there's really no comparison. The set pieces in those movies were not only better executed, but wildly grotesque and unique.

And all this trouble for a living sex doll? Seems like a lot of work. And I wager that Doctor Gore may have been the first horror baddie with a hand fetish. “Hands on a woman are the most important. Delicate hands bring out the true femininity!”

I'm a breast man myself.

The Body Shop is the perfect example of a movie that you would rent by accident at the video store and immediately regret your decision. It's shoddily made, threadbare and mainly just boring. If you're going to fail, at least fail upwards and make it entertaining.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tex-A-Thon

Last weekend, I partook in the latest marathon at my friend Serena’s place which consisted of watching all the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. Out of all these events I have participated in (Scream, Chucky, Hellraiser, NOES & Halloween) this was definitely the one I had reservations about.


While the first two films are horror royalty – it can be argued that Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece is the GOAT and certainly the most intense and unrelenting when viewed on the big screen – but beyond that there are some serious diminishing returns. I had not seen the third & fourth installments in over twenty years and I was even more apprehensive about enduring the back half. I was not a fan of the 2003 remake and I wasn’t expecting the trio that came after it to be any better. Let’s see how we fared.


It was about noon when I rolled in with the first film underway at the point just before Jerry (Allen Danziger) meets his end. I have seen this movie countless times – I can tell you it was refreshing to watch it now without a debate weighing on my mind – and it never ceases to impress me. It is something that shouldn’t exist, but does. A celluloid nightmare that captured a moment in time and influenced filmmakers for years to come.



But enough gushing, you’re reading this so you know all this.


For the sequel, Hooper took a left turn at Crazytown. In response to audiences not catching onto the fact that there was actually an element of comedy to TCM, he doubled down on the camp for Part 2. Everything is amplified here. I wager that Jim Siedow (returning as the eldest Sawyer brother), Bill Moseley and Dennis Hopper were all competing to see who could chew the most scenery – Hopper’s double chainsaws probably wins that one.



And just in case you hadn’t picked up on the chainsaw as phallic symbol, Hooper smashes that point home, as well. Even this iteration’s Final Girl, record jockey Stretch (an extremely game Caroline Williams) while imperiled most of the picture does find the courage to fight back in the last reel.


Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was a decidedly dry affair. Even with Ken Foree and the trivia factor of it starring a young Viggo Mortensen, there’s not much to this movie. In fact, I’ve forgotten a lot of it already other than one of the family members was a Patty McCormack-esque little girl and Leatherface gets an engraved gold-plated chainsaw. Which reminds me, this Excalibur trailer really is the best thing about this movie.



The Next Generation is a train wreck, but at least it’s a somewhat entertaining one.


There’s something about the “anything goes” attitude of director Kim Henkel that makes it palatable. In terms of subject matter, it’s a carbon copy of what came before, but Matthew McConaughey’s untethered performance is something to behold. This was also Renee Zellweger’s first leading role and she takes it like a champ.



So much of this movie makes no sense, but four movies in I found I didn’t much care.


Then it was time for the modern era of TCM. Fifteen years on from my first impressions, I can relent that Marcus Nispel’s 2003 incarnation is a well made movie. I still don’t like it, chiefly because it’s everything that the original is not. It’s slick and overproduced, leaving nothing to the imagination, but it does resemble the first film in that they are both acutely representative of horror filmmaking from their respective eras.


I always found a whole town seemingly being in on it a little more implausible than just one killer family in the middle of nowhere. Just a sign of the times I guess. At the very least though, I thought Jessica Biel made a decent Final Girl. I feel she’s an actress who’s put in some really great performances since her time at Platinum Dunes that have sadly gone unrecognized.


TCM: The Beginning was definitely the most joyless of the series. It’s dirty and gross and feels like a lesser version of Nispel’s picture. It’s also kind of unnecessary. Were how R. Lee Ermey became Sherriff and how the gropey guy in the wheelchair lost his legs really burning questions we needed answered? I don’t think so.



Plus, unlike Biel and the next movie’s heroine Alexandra Daddario who both filled their roles with gusto, something about Jordana Brewster felt a bit out of place here. I guess the fact that it was a prequel sort of self-spoiled the ending, as well.


Midnight was fast approaching so it could be that I was a little punch drunk by this point – I believe it was only Serena & I that were still up by the seventh stanza – but Texas 3D was not terrible. It’s ridiculously stupid – the whole movie hinges on the main character not opening a letter she receives at the onset – but like I said, Daddario made a fine Final Girl even if she was fifteen years younger than the character she was supposed to be playing. This installment offers up some (quite possibly unintentional) dumb fun, something painfully lacking from the previous two movies.



Sadly, we obviously weren’t watching it in 3D, as that could’ve made for some Bloody Valentine shits and giggs too. I was also surprised to find I didn’t hate the fact that “Old Man Leatherface” (played this time by Dan Yeager) and Dadarrio become best buds at the end ala AvP. Hey, at least it’s something different.
 
And that is what I came away with when all was said and done. Everything past Part 2 was basically the same movie over and over with the same beats.

-People run afoul of the family deep in the heart of Texas.
-Someone gets hung on a hook.
-Girl gets tied to a chair.
-Girl screams while getting chased with a chainsaw.
-Girl thinks she’s saved but really isn’t.

And I lost count of how many recreations of the famed “dinner scene” there were. It was a lot. Considering how many other films (and video games) have aped this sequence, you’d think the home team might move onto bloodier pastures. I guess 3D did somewhat, as that carnival sequence was the closest thing to a set piece the series has ever had, apart from perhaps the motorcycle chase in The Beginning.



Now I am well aware there are those who might say “well that’s what slasher franchises are by design, making the same movie over and over” and I don't I agree with that. Nightmare, Friday and Halloween had differences from movie to movie, involving progression of characters and story – even if they were rudimentary and often ret-conned. I realize that the bulk of these series’ happened during my formative years so nostalgia plays a large part of my perception of them, but I honestly think each Friday movie has its own distinct flavour.



As you may have noticed, I am one movie short. Yes, it is with a heavy heart (not really, like at all) that we failed to complete the task at hand. After 3D, we called it a night. I’m pretty sure we weren’t missing much. I read the script for Leatherface a few years back and I’m morbidly curious to see if the twist turned out to be as outlandishly absurd onscreen as it was on the page, but I’m in no hurry to find out.


Oh well, seven out of eight ain’t bad. With a belly full of Serena’s homemade chili and the sound of chainsaws still ringing in my ears, I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday.