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, September 30, 2014

Trailer Tuesdays: When A Stranger Calls.

Here's the trailer for the 1979 babysitter-in-peril flick When A Stranger Calls.

Wow, they certainly didn't waste any time boiling the film down to its selling point, did they?

I felt like posting this trailer, as it was one of three influences on my newest short film, The Monitor, which is now in the can and ready for the festival circuit. But that's a story for a future post...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

DKTM 235

Wow, it's been so crazy lately that this is the first Don't Kill the Messenger post of this month, and it's almost done! I've got some good stuff for you this week, so let's dive right in.

Black Debates Part II.

The Black Museum announced their next few lectures recently. A little over a week from now, Andrea Butler - who wowed me last year with her fantastic presentation on movie poster art - returns with...

There is certainly no shortage of films to pull from on this category, so I'm betting this will be a great night. The next lecture, on November 12th is a rematch of the fan-favourite debates event. Last year, four teams locked horns about which Stephen King adaptation was superior. Now, this octet of pundits & filmmakers will be fervently arguing the best sequel.

Returning speakers Alexandra West (Famous Monsters of Filmland) and J.M. McNab (Rewatchability podcast) will be praising the merits of Sam Raimi's splatstick classic Evil Dead 2 while the duo of Less Lee Moore ( & Shaun Hatton (The Electric Playground) will be championing sci-fi powerhouse Aliens. New to the ring, are Alison Lang (editor-in-chief of Broken Pencil Magazine) & musician Simon Borer who will be battling for The Exorcist III. Rounding out the four teams, are returning champions Tal Zimerman (Rue Morgue Magazine) & Steve Kostanski (Astron 6) who intend to convince the judge and jury that Dawn of the Dead is the best follow-up.

I don't even know which one to root for myself, it's so close, but you can be sure that this will be one hell of an evening, regardless of whoever goes home with the Golden Tentacle trophy.

Camp Blood.

Videogram is back with their newest track, Camp Blood. Available on October 1st, it's a funky riff on the unforgettable score from Friday the 13th Part 3. In celebration, they released this video which features the track set to clips from the Indonesian F13 rip-off Srigala.

After watching this, I also found this video for one of Videogram's earlier tracks I Warned You Not To Go Out Tonight, which features a montage of scenes from 1976's jet black slasher Naked Massacre.

King Of The Small Screen.

Here's the trailer for the film adaptation of Stephen King's novella Big Driver.

Lifetime, why so dark lately? Though I'm too keen to see Maria Bello abused for a half-hour-plus, I have to admit this doesn't look half bad. Big Driver premieres on Lifetime on October 18th.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

At Last We Meet.

My main reason for last weekend's trip to Bloomington was the Diabolique Film Festival, but not the only one. As I said yesterday, I skipped out on one of the blocks of short films to check out a local establishment called Plan 9 Film Emporium

I had been aware of its existence for a few years through a friend who lived in the area - and also happened to be my lovely host that weekend - so I made sure to make the pilgrimage along the main shopping strip to visit it in the flesh. It is not a big store, but, much like Toronto's Suspect Video, is filled to the brim with wonderful oddities. They are like kindred spirits these two, with their films divvied out into colourful categories.

My favourite category is “Goops”

Plan 9 even had a sizable amount of VHS for rent, sporting classics from vintage companies, such as Wizard and Midnight Video.

Walking past that rack was like spiralling back in time thirty years. Okay by me. In addition to a Plan 9 T-shirt, which I intend to wear the shit out of, I also picked up a few zines while I was there. With a provocative name like National Sleazographic, how could I not?

I am not only glad that Plan 9 exists, but also that it has a community that supports it. I wish every burg still had at least one of these kicking around. It doesn't take much to keep the lights on, just a core base of customers that revel in the social experience and are willing to put forth a little more effort beyond what is recommended by Netflix.

I'm not knocking Big Red, I'm just saying there is no reason why both movie delivery methods can't co-exist. Anyway, public service announcement over. It was really awesome to finally get to walk around the racks of Plan 9 and see it is still going strong.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

DIFF Short Cuts

As I stated yesterday, the Diabolique International Film Festival was rife with amazing content, the bulk of which were several genre shorts programmes on the Saturday. Here below, is a rundown of my favourites from the festival.

Entity - A spirited cross between Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey, this French sci-fi tale from Andrew Desmond sported some impressive visual effects and a wildly dark sensibility.

Strange Thing - Alrik Burrill's yarn about a couple that finds a door has appeared in their house overnight was hugely entertaining with a balanced mix of fan service, action and creature effects.

The Pride of Strathmoor - Einar Baldvin's starkly haunting tale told through stark black-and-white animation that reminded of those old pieces from the NFB. What is perhaps most disturbing is that the story is actually taken from excerpts from a pastor's journal in 1920's Georgia.

Kvistur - This Canadian short film from Alexandre Roy had a fantastic look to it. Its weird combination of live-action and stop-motion reminded me of the work of Jan Švankmajer. It was truly bizarre and surreal.

The Banishing - I loved this Iceland/USA co-production. I have to tip my hat to director Erlingur Thoroddsen who capped off a solid haunted house short with one mother of an ending!

Timothy - Great genre cinema has been coming out of Spain for decades now, and this effort from Marc Martinez is just more gas on the fire. It is absolutely fantastic in tone, presentation and execution.

Sadly, I wasn't able to see all of the shorts playing. I skipped out on the fourth block to grab some chow and visit the local video store (which I'll get to tomorrow), but I heard that Ben L. Gordon's The Carriage, Nicholas Peterson's The Visitant and Christopher Rohde's Odd One Out were the highlights.

My favourite of the fest though, was Stephen W. Martin's Dead Hearts. I adored this short film. Its storybook narrative charmed the pants off me, as did its comedic timing. Who knew I was such a romantic?

It was such a wondrous day of short films. You can check out the full programme by going here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Well, I'm back from my trip to Bloomington, Indiana to attend the Diabolique International Film Festival. It was an absolute blast in every regard.

Even the drives there and back were smooth as could be, to the point it made me contemplate whether traffic is a Canadian phenomenon. Absurd, of course, but maybe not so much when all the American roads I encountered were free and clear.

The weekend got off to a fine start when I showed up at the theater on Friday evening and bumped into Ti West who happened to be in lobby awaiting his impending Q&A for his latest film The Sacrament. It was a surreal moment, considering what was about to transpire in the Lone Star state only a day later. I didn't mention it when I introduced myself.

Ti West Q&A

The U of I theater is a fantastic place to watch a film and rivals that of my favourite venues in Montreal and Toronto. I stuck around for the screening of The Innkeepers - on 35mm! - after which I decided, having seen it on the big screen three times now, that it is his best film. Though I still stand by my original comments about The Sacrament being his most consistent, there is something to be said about West's use of subtlety in his tale about the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Due to said restraint, I think it possesses a huge rewatchability factor.

The wonderful U of I Cinema.

On Saturday, I headed back to the theater for the first of six blocks of short films. I have to say that the range and quality of short films that Diabolique brought together was extremely impressive. I'll go into more detail about the standouts in a later post, but holy hell, what a great lineup!

My short film Lively played in the third block at 4pm. It was a good turnout, with the numbers likely swelled by cinema studies students due to the theater being located right on campus. I was very happy with the reception (nobody booed, always good) and was excited to talk about it afterwards. It was a really awesome day and it ended well beyond last call with fellow filmmakers Alrik Bursell, Michele Lombardi & I closing down the after party.

Livin' the dream...

I want to thank festival organizers Scott Schirmer, Joshua Coonrod, Leya Taylor & David Pruett for not only inviting me to be part of their festival this year, but also being such gracious hosts. The possibility is very high that I will be visiting future editions of DIFF whether I have something to show there or not.

Friday, September 19, 2014

On The Road.

Well, I'm off to the U S of A to check out the Diabolique International Film Festival.

If you live in Indiana, why not come by the U of I campus and check out an awesome block of shorts this Saturday. My short film Lively is playing the third block of shorts at 4pm. Come on by!

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

TIFF Vids 2014

As in many previous years at TIFF, videographer Robert Mitchell has been on The Ryerson's red carpet to talk with the cast and crews of the Midnight Madness lineup. Here below are highlights from this year's crop.

And, if you're not concerned about spoilers, you can also check out Mitchell's coverage of the post-screening Q&A's on his YouTube channel. Enjoy!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Beware The Handsome Stranger.

TIFF's Midnight Madness programme closed out last Saturday with the Canadian premiere of Adam Wingard's newest The Guest.

A mysterious stranger named David (Dan Stevens) shows up at the Peterson family residence saying that he served with their dead son. Is he is as charming and helpful as he appears, or is there something more sinister lying under his spit-shined demeanor?

The Guest was a terrific thriller with a wonderful eighties-style sensibility. I would recommend knowing as little as possible going in because it's best to just let the story unfold. There was real skill involved in how its simmering pace rapidly gave way to an explosive climax.

There were a trio of really strong elements to the piece that worked together in harmony, the first of which was the cast. Dan Stevens is phenomenal as the title character. I don't watch Downton Abbey, but this guy was charismatic as hell. Like many British actors before him, he was able to emanate charm and menace, all with just a glance. The female lead Maika Monroe, in her second appearance at Midnight this year, is also dynamite as Anna, the only member of the Peterson family who is distrustful of their new visitor.

Dan Stevens as David in The Guest.

The other two items of excellence were the visual palette and the fantastic soundtrack. The Guest is incredibly slick and definitely features the most ambitious set pieces Wingard has done to date. And not only content with an awesome synth-based score from Steve Moore – who also had music duties on the earlier Midnight selection Cub – the film also features a wonderful array of songs from artists such as Love & Rockets, Sisters of Mercy and Clan of Xymox.

At the Q&A following the screening, Wingard related the tale of being inspired to make The Guest after watching a VHS double bill of Halloween and The Terminator. He then went to his partner Simon Barrett who dusted off an abandoned drama script of his about PTSD and followed this new angle. While The Guest doesn't share much in terms of content with those two aforementioned films, there were definite similarities in tone.

Director Adam Wingard, writer Simon Barrett & stars Brendan Meyer, Maika Monroe & Dan Stevens.

The Guest was a real treat and fully deserving of all the positive buzz it received out of its premiere at Sundance. The well-oiled creative machine of Wingard & Barrett is now chugging along at full speed with no signs of slowing down and I, for one, couldn't be happier for them.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Canadian Giallo.

Midnight Madness got a welcome dose of CanCon last Friday with the world premiere of irreverent collective Astron 6's newest effort, The Editor.

An over-the-hill film editor (Adam Brooks) becomes the prime suspect in a series of brutal murders on the set of the schlocky horror flick he is working on.

Just over two years ago, The Editor was nothing but a poster created for the art installation If They Came From Within. Then, after a successful Indiegogo campaign and a lengthy post-production process, the guys from Astron 6 found themselves onstage at The Ryerson in front of a frenzied crowd.

Astron 6 has always had a retro sensibility, but meshing their style with the gialli worked even better than I expected. They not only nailed the look of the genre, down to the colours and lighting, but also the way these films were often shot, in terms of camera movement, focus and framing. The film was also, in true Italian fashion, shot in MOS to be dubbed later. The Editor even goes so far as to recreate moments from some of the greats.

And if Astron 6's commitment to authenticity wasn't already enough, they also enlisted Goblin member Claudio Simonetti to contribute to the score. His masterful touch, in addition to the usual flourishes from Brain Wiacek & Jeremy Gillespie, brings a soundscape that transcends mere fabrication.

This is, however, where the similarities to the gialli end, as the material is never played for anything but laughs. It obviously worked because I can't remember one scene where I didn't get a least one chuckle, whether it be from a visual or audio cue, or a line of dialogue. It's also splattered with Astron in-jokes which always remind you that these guys were having as much fun making this, as we were watching it. It was truly absurd and never let up, whether it be characters noticing the cigarette burns at the corner of the frame or random naked ladies stretching or playing patty-cake in the background.

And speaking of ladies, The Editor has no shortage of lovely talent in this. Sheila Campbell is great as Margarit – in an inspired reference to Cinzia Monreale of Lucio Fulci's classic The Beyond – and you can be sure no one is happier than me that Tristan Risk made an appearance. Paz de la Huerta is... well, I think Astron member & star Adam Brooks put it best during the Q&A when he said; “Paz is Paz.” My favourite though, had to be Samantha Hill as the editor's assistant. She absolutely lit up the screen during her scenes.

Astron 6 (Matt Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie, Steve Kostanski & Adam Brooks)

At over one-hundred minutes, The Editor should feel long, but I can't recall anything that didn't deserve to be in its running time. It's a true love letter to the genre drenched in the goofy and illogical shenanigrams that we've come to know and love from Astron 6.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

If You Go Out In The Woods Today...

One of the wild cards in this year's Midnight programme was Belgian director Jonas Govaerts' debut Cub.

On a weekend getaway with Cub Scout troop, Sam (Maurice Luijten) encounters a feral boy in the woods. But is he a friend or foe?

Cub is a fairly accomplished debut with a flawless aesthetic. Govaerts gets the most out of his forested locale, packing a grittiness that recalls the works of his Euro-horror brethren Alex Aja and Fabrice Du Welz, so much that the film even opens with a sequence mirroring the former's 2003 flick High Tension.

I liked that the film started off as a quirky, coming-of-age kids tale that grew darker as the film progressed. Even as our fair adventurers succumbed to all manner of inventive booby traps set in the woods, the piece didn't fully let go of its comedic undertone until the very end.

Much like It Follows from earlier this week, Cub featured a fantastic score, this one orchestrated by Steve Moore, one-half of the space rock duo, Zombi. His synth-based tracks gelled with the movie perfectly, adding so much to the proceedings.

The lead, young Maurice Luijten, was very strong, handling a very demanding role with ease. His counterpart, the feral child Kai, was the highlight of the film though. His appearance, accented by a half-mask made of tree bark was so well designed that even if you take nothing else away from the film, you'll always remember that image.

Maurice Luijten as Sam in Cub

It was a great idea for the organizers to hand out said masks before the screening, and an even better one to have an eleven-year-old creeping around the theater aisles during the proceedings. I completely endorse this William Castle-style element to the programme. Midnight audiences are there to have a good time, so why not embrace it?

I think the only thing I didn't care for was the ending, and even then it was more to do with content rather than execution. I guess I should know by now that European thematic sensibilities are inherently more grim than those across the pond. Although, it did seem like the film was holding back throughout, so perhaps that made the ending more shocking to me as a result.

Director Jonas Govaerts & producers Peter De Maegd & Louis Tisne with Kai (Willem Halfyard)

Cub looked great, had solid performances from its young cast and at under ninety-minutes was decidedly well paced. It's not going to knock anyone's socks off, but it does provide further proof that this corner of the world continues to produce fine genre content.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Apocalyse, Dead Ahead!

Perhaps my most anticipated film of this year's Midnight line-up was Jaume Balagueró's conclusion to the [REC] series, Apocalypse.

Soon after Angela (Manuela Velasco) is rescued from the apartment complex and quarantined in a laboratory set up inside an oil tanker, the outbreak begins anew.

For [REC]4, Balagueró abandoned the found footage narrative and the result is both a blessing and a curse. It had to be done as, save for a few exceptions, this format has run its course, but I felt that with that element gone, a lot of the series' identity went with it. There was a level of intimacy in the first two pictures, that was, for the most part, not present here. The locale of the oil tanker was just as claustrophobic as the tenement building, but something in the change of how the story was presented lessened the effect.

Balagueró attempted to mesh two genre favourites (The Thing and Alien) into his film with limited success. I certainly got a sense of the former when all the rag-tag crew were being introduced in the first act, but most of them lacked the wonderful character flourishes that distinguished them in John Carpenter's masterpiece. The reference to the last chunk of Alien, where the last remaining members were rushing against the ship's self-destruct, worked considerably better and enhanced the tension of the movie's climax.

Angela (Manuela Velasco) continues to fight for her life in [REC]4.

[REC] also felt more like an action film than a horror film, as well. I'd have no problem with that, but that's not really what I've come to expect from the this series. I mean, the sight of an snarling infected person running full-tilt at me is always going to get my back up, but the inspired “engineering” of the scare set pieces seemed to be in shorter supply here. I was also disappointed that the supernatural element alluded to in the second film – which made up some of [REC]2's best moments – was all but abandoned.

However, now that I've sounded off about what [REC]4 wasn't, I'll talk about what it was. Still a lot of fun. This series has always been about Angela, and I was glad Balagueró was able to play out her story to fruition. Horror does not have nearly as many iconic heroines as it once did, so she damn well deserved another go-round! It was awesome that Manuela Velasco was at the Midnight screening to watch the movie with us.

Director Jaume Balagueró & star Manuela Velasco.

Though not the resounding crescendo I was hoping for, [REC]4 was far from a pointless add-on. We've been on this nerve-shredding journey with Angela for seven years now and it deserved a conclusion.

*Q&A courtesy of Robert Mitchell

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Unsafe Sex.

My Midnight Madness experience continued with David Robert Mitchell's new film It Follows.

After having sex, Jay (Maika Monroe) begins being haunted by a malevolent spirit. Fortunately, she can save herself by passing it onto someone else the same way she received it.

When I was kid, whenever I heard my own heartbeat – usually when I was in bed with a pillow over my face – I would imagine those thundering beats were the footsteps of “Death” on his way to claim me. I would never know how far away he was, but sooner or later he'd catch up to me and I'd be done for. I was reminded of this childhood memory while watching It Follows.

Horror is a genre that, for sometime now, has not fostered originality, but somehow, thankfully, Mitchell managed to bring this one into the world. We only get one or two horror films like It Follows a year, if we're lucky, and what I find truly remarkable is that you can explain the premise in a few words – “it's about a haunted STD” – and not only marvel at the idea itself, but also how no one had thought of something so simplistic before.

Maika Monroe as Jay in It Follows.

Beyond the premise, the mechanics of which was well thought out and not overexplained – a choice of which does not become somewhat problematic until very late in the film – there are a lot of things that make this piece stand out. The cinematography was excellent and really showcased the more dark and drizzly landscapes of both urban and suburban Detroit. There was also a timeless quality to the film. Apart from an E-reader carried around by one of the supporting characters there was really no indication as to what decade it was supposed to take place in, especially since all other media absorbed by the characters – on television and at the cinema – was of the vintage variety.

Monroe is very strong as the embattled protagonist, Jay. Much like Amber Heard's turn in All The Boys Love Mandy Lane eight years ago at Midnight Madness, Monroe is a real breakout here, with not one but two films (Adam Wingard's The Guest being the other) in 2014's Midnight line-up. However, as good as Monroe was, the real star of It Follows was the soundtrack provided by California-based musician Disasterpiece. He had worked primarily on video game scores, most notably the indie darling Fez, until Mitchell reached out to him. The result was tremendous, adding so much substance that its inclusion elevated the film from being solely a weird cautionary fable to full-on horror flick.

Director David Robert Mitchell & star Maika Monroe.

Though the third act is not quite as strong, revelling more in visuals rather than logic to drive the story, the delicious premise and spectacular score are more than enough to glaze over those shortcomings. For all those jaded horror fans out there that think modern horror is nothing but recycled garbage, I urge you to give It Follows a whirl.

*Q&A photo courtesy of Robert Mitchell.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Going Full Walrus.

The highest profile event of TIFF's Midnight Madness this year was the world premiere of Kevin Smith's new film, Tusk.

While travelling in Manitoba, an acerbic podcaster (Justin Long) becomes the captive of an eccentric old man (Michael Parks) with a particularly bizarre obsession.

So yes, Tusk is about a man who wants to turn another man into a walrus. And yes, this movie not only delivers on that promise, it is as messed up as you would imagine. The movie was birthed from an episode of Smith's own podcast, where he talked about an online ad from the UK in which someone was offering free room and board if they were to dress up as a walrus. Smith pretty much talked out an outline for a possible film on the air, and then asked his listeners to vote on whether he should make it. Audience tweets using #walrusyes then drove Smith to make good on his promise, and just over a year later, he was standing on the stage of The Ryerson introducing it.

These actions only speak of Smith's growth as a filmmaker. Or, if not growth, at least evolution. After many years in the studio system and self admittedly “burning his career to the ground three years ago”, he has gone back to making the movies he wants to make. If Red State was Smith spreading his wings creatively, then Tusk represents him stepping off the ledge to the freedom of open air.

Aside from the crazy subject matter, it was the performances that really made Tusk come to life. Michael Parks was the main draw for me, and he is again in top form. He doesn't quite have anything that reaches the level of his monstrously captivating monologue in Red State, but there are multiple meaty exchanges between him with Long. Speaking of Long, he impressed me here with his commitment to a role that was, let's just say, challenging. His agent apparently advised him against it, saying “you were already the apple guy, now you want to be the walrus guy?”, but he went ahead and took the role anyway. Good on him. Then, there is obviously Guy Lapointe. I have to hand it to Smith for how long he was able to keep this particular cast member a secret for as long as he did. Lapointe is a welcome addition and keeps the comedy coming in a third act that most certainly would have deflated without his presence.

Justin Long in Tusk.

The sometime comparison to The Human Centipede was one Smith welcomed saying he considered Tusk an “open source” film, also admitting that he inserted tons of material from past episodes of his podcast into the film. I feel Tusk is a way more accomplished effort than Tom Six's shock opus because it goes for more than just the gross out. Smith is really starting to get comfortable technically and though he'll always be a storyteller that relies largely on dialogue, you can see him trying new things with the camera, not only with what he's doing with it, but what he puts in front of it. I know the image of that first close-up to shock zoom out of the big reveal won't leave my head for some time. I mean how often does a movie offer you something that you have truly never seen before?

Which leads to me to having to mention the fantastic effects by Bob Kurtzman. Smith's only direction to the gore guru was “Leatherface Walrus” and by God, did Bob deliver! It is a wonderfully grotesque piece and your eyes cannot help but be drawn to it every time it is onscreen. It makes me think that the particularly cheesy CG effect at the film's opening was put there intentionally to lull us into a false sense of security. Tusk is another title to add to the already teeming list of KNB triumphs.

Director Kevin Smith with actors Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez & Haley Joel Osment.

This “new” Kevin Smith is super exciting and his sincere and genuine affinity for the genre is even more welcome. He loves these fucked up and fuzzy corners of cinema and has now twice shown a steady hand at making them flesh.

*Q&A photo courtesy of Marc-Andre Miron.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Love Springs Eternal.

My TIFF experience (well, genre anyway) began this year with Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead's newest film Spring.

After the loss of his mother and job, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) flees to Italy where he falls in love with a local woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker) who may not be all that she appears.

A few years ago, Benson & Moorhead burst onto the scene with their highly-praised debut Resolution. It defied easy characterization, but it was clear they were full of fresh ideas. I'm glad to say that their first effort was no fluke, as this one is another accomplished tale. Whereas Resolution was essentially buddy comedy with horror elements, Spring is first and foremost a romance. The byline I've been hearing of “it's a genre version of Before Sunrise” is decidedly apt.

I was glad I knew very little about the film going in, and enjoyed letting it unfold organically. As with Resolution, its strength lies in the two leads and their immediate chemistry. Having way more to do in this film than his turn in last year's Evil Dead remake, Lou Taylor Pucci gives a wholly sincere portrayal of a man lost and on-the-run. Even more captivating is Nadia Hilker, as the mysterious Louise. She is breathtaking, speaking with an accent you can't quite place. What a find, guys! The exchanges between Pucci & Hilker were really engaging, playing off his lovestruck melancholy and her perpetual evasiveness in equal measure. The film is also buoyed by a strong supporting cast including Francesco Carneletti and Vinny Curran. I was also glad to see Jeremy Gardner in there, as well. After his effort The Battery last year, he too is an important up-and-comer, so it's good to see these three guys collaborating.

As far as storytelling goes, Benson & Moorhead are still on their game. They do their best to throw you off the scent, giving you many ideas about Louise's secret, before the big reveal. What follows is some interesting lore and, sadly all too brief, discussions about science vs. supernatural.

Visually, Spring is a huge leap forward for these filmmakers. Shooting in a small Italian village, the locale sings with historical beauty. Whether it be wave-swept cliffs, secluded caves or the outer-lying orchards, almost every frame is a marvel.

Star Nadia Hilker & Directors Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson.

Spring is a solid effort that reinforces Benson & Moorhead as fresh new voices with a talent for injecting new life into oft-trodden genres.

*Q&A photo courtesy Kurt Halfyard.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pumpkinhead on Blu-ray

Today, I've got a guest on deck. Here's Canuxploitation's Paul Corupe with the rundown on Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray of Pumpkinhead hitting the streets tomorrow. Take it away, Paul...

FX and makeup wizards Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin and Tom Savini all towered over 1980s genre film, helping to define the fantastic and grotesque in what we now realize was the last era for good ol' practical effects. Winston may have been the best of the bunch, an animatronics genius who broke out from the B-movie scene to work on blockbusters like Terminator, Aliens, Predator and Edward Scissorhands. Winston was even given his own shot at the director's chair with 1988’s Pumpkinhead, a sometimes middling work that impresses with its technical achievements while getting mired in muddy storytelling. A hit on VHS, the film now gets an impressive, feature-packed Blu-ray from Shout Factory's horror imprint, Scream Factory.

The plot, which seems to take several cues from Stephen King's novels, involves a huge magical creature that wreaks terrible vengeance to avenge an accidental death. Widowed farmer Ed (Lance Henriksen) is devastated when his young son Billy (Matthew Hurley) is hit and killed by a drunken dirt biker, one of a group of rowdy high school students visiting their rural area from the big city. Remembering something he saw many years before, Ed heads deep into the nearby woods to trade his soul in return for summoning the demonic Pumpkinhead, who tracks down and attacks the unsuspecting teens. But when Ed has second thoughts about his deal with the devil he attempts to undo the evil he has unleashed, which may be harder than he expects.

As you might expect from the directorial debut by an FX expert, Pumpkinhead's makeup, production values and overall craftsmanship are the film’s most successful aspects, with characterization and story sometimes falling by the wayside. Though undeniably a work of horror, Pumpkinhead is really a tragedy at heart—there's a sad tale in here under all the prosthetics and creature effects, from Ed and Billy's economic struggles, the accidental death, the sorrow of a father who has lost everything he had and Ed's ultimate remorse for what he has done. But despite a good turn by Lance Henriksen, the film's creators aren't well attuned to the dramatic aspects of the script, and the somewhat clumsy handling of the tale helps to sandbag much of the emotional resonance. This is a film that just never feels as involving and moving as it ultimately should be.

Matthew Hurley & Lance Henriksen in Pumpkinhead.

That likely won't matter too much to some viewers, who will thrill to the film's dark Gothic atmosphere and impressive practical effects. Just check out the creepy crone-like make up on Florence Schauffler, the old biddy who can call on Pumpkinhead, and of course the impressive, sinewy creature itself who stalks and shreds his way through the young cast, including one memorable kill where one of his victims is dropped from a tree. Winston fans and FX nerds will still find much to enjoy about the film, even if it doesn't showcase his work quite as well as bigger budgeted studio pictures that Winston built his career and reputation on.

Pumpkinhead has always been a minor studio horror classic of sorts, eventually spawning three sequels, but its treatment on DVD was spotty until a MGM released a 2008 collector's edition. The Blu-ray is a notable improvement on those previous versions, with a nice sharp image that really shows off the film's largely unheralded cinematography. This version also carries over some of the features from that 2008 release. Aside from the usual trailers, stills and behind-the-scenes footage, you'll find Pumpkinhead Unleashed, an hour-long doc on the making of the film, as well as a commentary from Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, who join co-screenwriter Gary Gerani. It's an interesting chat, if a bit effects-focused, but should please those looking for more details on the birth of Pumpkinhead.

Shout has also included some additional material on this new release. There's a handful of interviews with some new faces, including producer Richard Weinman, star John D’Aquino and the bespectacled Billy himself, Matthew Hurley. But the real jewel is Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston, a 50-minute homage to the man behind the film, who passed away in 2008. The interviewees, mostly fellow effects artists Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Shannon Shea (as well as appearances by Pumpkinhead actors Lance Henriksen and Brian Bremer), offer a heartfelt look at Winston's personal life and wide-ranging influence, making it clear that Stan Winston Studios is more than the vision of one man, but a team of craftsmen who continue today to carry on the singular vision of one of the greatest movie magicians of our time.

Director & FX guru Stan Winston.

Though not one of Winston's most indelible efforts, Pumpkinhead is still notable because it represents perhaps his most clear vision of the fantastic on film, supported here by a nice selection of contextual extras. Ed should have been more careful for what he wished for, but it looks like those who held out hoping for a definitive release of this VHS horror mainstay finally have what they desired for so long.