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.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Summer in Suburbia

The first film I watched at this year's Fantasia fest was RKSS's (the Canadian collective of Anouk & Yoann-Karl Whissell & François Simard) Summer of '84.

An imaginative teen named Davey (Graham Verchere) becomes convinced his neighbour is a serial killer. He then recruits his three best friends (Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery & Cory Gruter-Andrew) in the task of acquiring incriminating evidence against him. 

I felt compelled to write a review of this movie due to my preconceived notions of it. Summer of '84 was yet another script I read sometime ago with my now defunct screenplay club. I was not a fan of it then for a few reasons. However, with decidedly low expectations, I gave the finished product a watch and it turned out to be much better than I was expecting.

My foremost problem with the script was there was a jarring shift in tone that I wasn't crazy about. That's a personal preference thing on my part though, so I get that. I did like that it went places that most films of this ilk do not. What started out as flagrant formula (most notably Amblin + Rear Window) does make some notable sidesteps.

Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery & Cory GruterAndrew in Summer of  '84

I often find it shocking how much eye-rolling dialogue – and there was a LOT of it in the script – can be smoothed over by talented performers. Most of this movie's successes come down to the chemistry between the four leads. Aesthetically, they seem like a quartet that would never hang out together, but they make it work somehow.

Perhaps the most unlikely relationship in the script was that of Davey (Verchere) and the “girl next door” Nikki (Tiera Skovbye). I remember thinking every interaction between them was going to end with him waking up from a dream, but onscreen it comes off much more sincere and at least semi-plausible. Additionally, I was quite impressed that, after seeing him as Mad Men's Harry Crane (and the goofy protagonist from Firewatch), Rich Sommer can do menacing quite convincingly.

Tiera Skovbye & Graham Verchere in Summer of '84.

Also considerably toned down was the “Hey it's the 80's” conceit of the source material. Stranger Things is guilty of this to a fault, but here it's much more restrained. The Polybius cameo may have been a bit much, but that didn't stop me from chuckling to myself when it came onscreen. On that note, the Tangerine Dream-esque score by Jean-Philippe Bernier was solid, if it was often counteracted by some heavy-handed sound cues. I'm not sure whether they were a conscious decision from RKSS or just a knee-jerk reaction based on the current status quo of genre filmmaking.

I'm not going to say Summer of '84 was a triumph or anything, but it does do what it does competently and it is definitely a large step-up cinematically for this trio of filmmakers. For their next project, I hope to see them grow even further by shucking their reliance on aping the past and bringing forth something truly fresh and original.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Short of the Week #28: Snake Bite

I'm a few days into my Fantasia trip and having a ball, but I've a few moments to spare to post this edition of Short of the week, Tim Hyten's Snake Bite.

It came to mind because I first saw it two years ago at this festival, as well as catching a similarly themed Quebecois short called Fauve on my first night here. Both are incredibly engaging works about kids up to no good and the latter, directed by Jérémy Comte, was a perfect pairing with Summer of '84.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fantasia Beckons.

Here begins my yearly trip - the eleventh! - to Montreal for the Fantasia Film Festival.

Things will be a little different this year though, as this will be the first time that I'll be going as industry, representing the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Fest. That said, now that I no longer have to sing for my supper as it were, review frequency may be sparse over the next week. I do plan on seeing about five to ten flicks while I'm there, so I'll try and do a wrap-up post at the very least. Inspiration for writing about new releases has been a tad elusive lately, (Cheers for Hereditary! Jeers for A Quiet Place!) but we'll see how it goes.

Be good while I'm gone, kiddies.  

Friday, July 13, 2018

Southern Inhospitality

This week’s VHS was Armand Mastroianni’s 1986 effort The Supernaturals.

A platoon of recruits (headed by Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame) out on maneuvers come across the site of a Confederate massacre and run afoul of some vengeful ghouls.

Happy Friday the 13th everyone! If I’d been more astute I’d have posted about a slasher this week, but such is life. I’ve been preparing for my yearly jaunt to Montreal – and crying into my pint over England’s loss – so I just picked the VHS on the top of the pile.

The Supernaturals was a half-decent yarn. I say “half” because it started pretty strong, but fizzled out toward the end. I did learn something new though. In the opening sequence, set during the Civil War – actually a solid bit involving Confederate civilians forced to walk through a mine field – I wondered if mines had been invented yet. The Internet then let me know they’ve actually been around for almost a thousand years. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. If humans are good at anything, it’s dreaming up new ways to kill each other.

Anyway, I was into it during the first act, as the camaraderie between the recruits was entertaining and boasted some familiar faces, including Max Caulfield, Scott Jacoby (now grown up from his teen roles in Little Girl That Lives Down the Lane and Bad Ronald) and also, decades before her work in two of my favourite shows Homeland and Mad Men, Talia Balsam.

Quite strangely though, once things started to get weird, everyone turned into an idiot. It wasn’t particularly clear that one of the characters was drunk when he went monosyllabic and stumbled off, but on several occasions people went sprinting through the darkness knowing full well there were pointy stick traps set up everywhere.

I imagine that the budget was a restraint here, but I really wished the effects (provided by Bart Mixon) could’ve been more front-and-center here. It’s like the opposite experience Mixon had on NOES 2 where it seemed like they had money leftover for some inserted climax creature gags. The ghouls in The Supernaturals were largely just shadowy shamblers and save for a decent throat rip, there’s not much to write home about. It’s disappointingly a decidedly PG-13 affair at best - regardless of what the coverbox says! With the Civil War backdrop, I guess I had the sinewy excesses of H.G Lewis’ 2000 Maniacs in my brain.

Oh I forgot to mention that, in a stroke of serendipity, LeVar Burton was also in this film. I like to think that between takes Burton was asking Nichols about Star Trek, not knowing that, within a year or so, he himself would become part of the canon in The Next Generation.

The Supernaturals was watchable fare, but I feel it could have been better if it had more money and edge behind it. Mastroianni is a prolific director who by that time had already directed He Knows You’re Alone (and later some notable genre television like Tales From the Darkside & Friday the 13th) so he certainly had the chops.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Short of the Week #27: Chairs

The newest episode of Poppy Seed Place entitled “Chairs” dropped last week. Here it is below.

I love these little vignettes, they never cease to make me smile.

Friday, July 6, 2018

That Worked Out Well.

This week's VHS is Alfred Sole's 1976 thriller Alice Sweet Alice.

After a young girl is murdered at her communion ceremony, her sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) becomes the prime suspect. But is she guilty?

No sooner had I picked this VHS up from Rue Morgue's yard sale last month when The Royal announced they would be screening it as part of their No Future series. Perfect!

Alice Sweet Alice was a solid film, but also a strange one for many reasons that I'll get into shortly. The evening's host (I didn't catch his name and the website was no help) made a very valid point that due to being made in the mid-seventies, the film treads a very fine line between giallo and what would become the most popular horror of the next decade – the American slasher. Alice Sweet Alice was much more conscious of its visual style and many other tropes – The Don't Look Now-inspired costume was a striking image in itself – appeared as well.

However, for all its genre leanings there were also several irregularities. Firstly, the inevitable reveal happens very early on at the end of the second act. We then stay with them for a while as they try to cover up their crimes, which leads me into my next point. Alice Sweet Alice oddly has no clear protagonist. As a viewer, we spend time with Alice, her sister Karen (Brooke Shields in her first role), the mother (Linda Miller), the father (Niles McMaster) and even the family priest (Rudolph Willrick). It can be a bit erratic at times.

Though the acting could be a tad melodramatic (Jane Lowry really cranks it to eleven as the suspicious Aunt Ann), the story kept me engaged. A highlight for me was Sheppard as the title character. Nineteen when she took the role, yet somehow managing to pull off playing a twelve-year-old, she sadly only made one other film, Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky. She comes off as apologetically devilish regardless of whether or not she's the culprit. At one point, she actually avoids being molested by murdering a kitten. So many emotions!

Paula Sheppard in Alice Sweet Alice.

Alice Sweet Alice was not at all what I was expecting, but I was still pleasantly surprised. Instead of a generic slasher (I initially thought it to be about five years newer than it was), I got a competently executed mystery that contains more than a few jabs at Catholicism. I can get behind that. With all their kneeling and chanting, church services never cease to creep me out. Oh well, whatever gets you through the day I guess.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Short of the Week #26: Autopilot

This week's short is Dario Ortega's Autopilot based off the Reddit /nosleep short story of the same name.

I posted this short today because tragically, in a case of life imitating art, this story recently became a reality for one Montreal family. I remember getting chills the first time I watched this short a few years ago because it was so incredibly plausible. People are often slaves to their routines and any subversion can have catastrophic results.

Friday, June 29, 2018

A Fate Worse Than Death.

This week's VHS is Victor Halperin's 1932 film White Zombie.

A wealthy plantation owner's plan to steal a young woman from the arms of her fiancee backfires when he enlists the help of an evil witch doctor.

Making my way through the second season of Luke Cage and its use of black magic (the show doesn't call it voodoo or obeah so it won't either) I was reminded that my White Zombie VHS still remained un-watched. This was a title I was obviously aware of being a fan of the band that took its name in the late eighties, but never had the inkling to watch it until now.

White Zombie was a pretty cool watch. I found it a bit less substantial than RKO's similarly themed 1943 picture I Walked With a Zombie, but there was still a lot of interesting stuff in here. As I stated with that film, there was something really disturbing about those pre-Romero shamblers. Being a reanimated corpse is one thing, but the indignity of being a soulless slave is quite another. Starring in this vehicle (one year after his turn as Dracula) was Bela Lugosi, as the subtly monikered villain Murder Legendre. Lugosi really did have one of the best glowers in the business.

Bela Lugosi in White Zombie.

Like a good number of the silver screen horrors I've been acquainting myself with over the last decade, this one also used shadows to great effect most notably the bar scene where our drunken protagonist Neil (John Harron) plays against other patrons represented only as specters on the wall behind him. I noticed several cool in-camera tricks as well that likely would've been quite dazzling to American audiences back when this was released. Most impressive though was the pretty spectacular scene in the mill where Legendre's drones monotonously work the machinery. Sequences like that make me wonder how this film could've been shot in just eleven days, even if did filch a bunch of stuff from previously shot Universal productions.

John Harron in White Zombie.

White Zombie was another black-and-white classic that I was glad to cross off the list. It featured Lugosi at the height of his fame and some devilishly stark visuals that explain why it has persevered through the ages.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Short of the Week #25: Kookie

Last week, my favourite short film from 2016, Justin Harding's Kookie, dropped online.

I adore this short for many reasons, but foremost is how adeptly Harding is able to juggles laughs and scares. He's also super productive, as since Kookie premiered around this time two years ago, Harding has made two more short films and a feature, all while working a full time job within the biz. That's some mad mojo!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Where Indeed.

This week's VHS is Bruce Malmuth's 1986 effort Where Are the Children?

A mother (Jill Clayburgh) desperately tries to find her two children after they are abducted for their backyard.

I dug this one out as it seemed appropriate given recent headlines. I had no idea what to expect from this title – that it was written by Jack Sholder (of The Hidden fame) was what initially sold me – but I was pleasantly surprised by it. Based on a novel by prolific novelist Mary Higgins Clark (her first bestseller in fact), I found this story to be very engaging. Under Malmuth's direction, who over the course of his career worked with such action stars as Stallone, Dolph and Seagal, Where Are the Children? remained inherently watchable.

I really appreciated the pace of this film, as it fully embodied the expediency of the pulp it was derived from. The denizens of the Cape Cod town (which including perhaps the sassiest paperboy ever put to film) were swiftly established and the villain's plan was set in motion almost immediately. Where Are the Children? featured so many familiar faces to me, including Clifton James (who will to me always be Sheriff Pepper from Roger Moore era James Bond), Frederick Forrest & Bernard Hughes. The latter was killing me because his voice was so familiar, but I couldn't place him. Imdb bailed me out by telling me he was Grandpa in The Lost Boys.

Jill Clayburgh in Where Are the Children?

Now, the action was somewhat clumsy and the two child actors were a tad uneven, but I thought the storytelling was pretty sound. And it gets pretty fucking dark toward the end. It got me thinking about child murders and I have to wonder how any of my generation – the ones who roamed free from summer sunrise to sunset – survived childhood. Considering how much time I spent exploring the forests near my home, it amazes me that I never ended up on a milk carton. Were there less perverts back then, or did you just never hear about them?

The kids are NOT all right.

Anyhoo, Where Are the Children? is worth a watch if you are into pulp thrillers and the work of Clark. I obviously haven't read the book, but I wouldn't be the least surprised if this was a fairly accurate representation of it. I wager parents will hug their kids a little tighter post-viewing though.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Short of the Week #24: Junko's Shamisen

This week I wanted to post a short film that I first saw way back in 2010. Part of Toronto After Dark's Canadian shorts programme that year, Junko's Shamisen by director Sol Friedman blew me away with its visual style. FYI for those who may think it's missing subtitles, only the opening is in Japanese.

As you can see, this live-action/animation hybrid has style to spare. Since 2010, Friedman has gone on to direct many more short films, including the highly amusing Day 40 in 2014.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Come Out & Play

This week’s VHS is Manny Coto’s 1989 effort Playroom.

An archaeologist (Chris McDonald) returns to the site of his family's murder many years later only to encounter the same evil.

Playroom was a rather interesting watch. I was reminded of the weird oddball stuff Full Moon was putting out at the onset of the nineties as the story – provided rather randomly by Jackie Earle Haley no less – engaged me more than most B-movie fare. Director Coto, who three years later would direct Dr. Giggles, has a solid grasp on how to entertain his audience.

The movie sported a pretty solid cast, as well. Led by consummate character actor Chris McDonald, years before he settled into the villainous d-bag role he would often play down the road, the film also featured Aron Eisenberg and Vincent Schiavelli, who showed up mid-stream to add some spice to the proceedings.

Chris McDonald playing it up.

Playroom started off a little confusing with a scene where a child wakes up in a castle to find all his family has been butchered. Then, I realized it was a dream. But wait no it was a flashback. So the kid was really living in a castle. I still can’t decide whether that’s the best or the worst thing ever. As the movie went along, it seemed to be frustratingly holding back on the gore, but little did I know the best was yet to come.

Because holy cripes, does this thing ever bring it in the third act! First there were the torture devices – think Bloody Pit of Horror, but, you know, not shitty – that in turn lead to something even better. I had no idea there was a cool creature puppet at the climax of this. It was kind of a cross between Chucky and the Crypt Keeper, so much so that I was clamouring to Imdb to see if it was a Kevin Yagher creation. Turned out it was Greg Aronowitz & John Criswell, the latter of which worked on countless films of that era, including Spaced Invaders, Garbage Pail Kids & the Ghoulies series. The Yagher influence was clearly evident though and it was a fucking capper.

Awesome sauce!

With the practical effects revival happening right now I’m surprised more people don’t talk about this one. Playroom was a nice find. Once just another in a sea of coverboxes that would always stare back at me at the video store, it’s good to see that it’s actually watchable fare.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Short of the Week #23: Russian Roulette

As diplomatic relations between the free world continue to circle the bowl, I figure we could use some levity. I saw Ben Aston's 2014 short film Russian Roulette a few years ago now and it continues to stick with me.

Even to this day, I find myself saying “beep boop boop boop that is noise” when farting around with random buttons. Russian Roulette is such a perfectly conceived and executed piece bolstered by the chemistry of its two leads, Bec Hill & Stewart Lockwood.

Later that year, Aston also made the equally striking He Took His Skin Off For Me.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Summer Preview.

I picked up a sweet haul at last weekend's Rue Morgue Flea Market.

You can expect these babies to show up in this summer's VHS Fridays line-up so stay tuned! Have a great week kiddies.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Slayin' We Will Go.

This week's VHS is J.S. Cardone’s infamous 1982 slasher The Slayer.

Kay (Sarah Kendall) and her husband, brother and sister-in-law are stalked by an unseen monster after becoming stranded on an island off the Altantic coast.

Considering this is a fairly coveted title off Britain’s notorious Video Nasty list, it took me an unusually long time to watch The Slayer. I’ve had the Slayer/Scalps Continental double VHS for some time, but I guess the purist in me was holding out for a complete version. Then along came the Marquis version pictured above that, according to Imdb, is the complete version. At a stark eighty-one minutes though, who can say?

Gore aside – and I must admit my extremely muddy VHS copy didn’t help matters - The Slayer was a bit of a slog. Again, I must admit I zoned out at the beginning, but it seemed there was practically no setup. One scene there’s a couple in a bedroom and literally the next scene the foursome are landing on an island. What the heck?

Sarah Kendall as Kay in The Slayer.

Once the husband loses his head, a good majority of the movie is taken up by the rest of the characters wandering around looking for him. I sadly did a lot of clock-watching while viewing this. However, I do have to say Cardone did attempt to do something different with the slasher genre that would’ve been in full bloom at the time. A full two years before Wes Craven would introduce the world to Freddy Krueger, The Slayer plays like a very unpolished version of A Nightmare on Elm Street.


I don’t think Craven would’ve drawn inspiration from this picture, but it does have parallels, the most direct of which being a character trying to stay awake to stave off the creature manifested in her nightmares. She even goes so far as to burn herself with cigarettes just like Jennifer in NOES 3. Both films certainly share WTF endings.

Those coming for the kills won’t be disappointed though. It’s quality over quantity here with that classic pitchfork scene being top ten material. Cardone so relishes the impalement of Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook) it’s almost pornographic. I can only imagine the blue hairs at the BBFC must have shit themselves when they saw that back in 1982. The Slayer was pretty thin otherwise and definitely all their mustard behind its kills and the creature - when it finally shows up.

She's as shocked as I am there are no GIFs of this online.

After debuting with The Slayer, Cardone went on to become a hired gun in Full Moon’s early days working on Crash & Burn and Shadowzone and then more recently penning stale remakes of Prom Night and The Stepfather. Whatever, man’s gotta eat, right?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Short of the Week #22: The Banishing

This week I'm posting one of my favorite shorts from 2014, Erlingur Thoroddsen's The Banishing.

I adore pretty much everything about this piece, from the performances of its young leads to its tight pacing and wonderful grasp on storytelling. This short film went onto be part of the 2016 anthology Patient Seven. That same year, Thoroddsen made the jump to features with the monster-in-the-closet film Child Eater.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Society at Shock Stock.

I'm finally getting around to posting this. The Witch Finger Podcast put up the episode they recorded at Shock Stock in April where we all revelled in the gooey awesome-ness of Society. Click on the picture below to check it out. Hear me win two trivia prizes!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Grounded Forever.

After recently watching three terrific titles in director Gary Sherman's back catalogue, I decided to add his 1989 thriller Lisa to the list this week.

A boy-crazy fourteen-year-old named Lisa (Staci Keanan) anonymously calls a handsome stranger (D.W. Moffett) unaware he is actually a serial killer.

Lisa was yet another title I figured I'd seen, but had not. In a Mendella Effectian turn of events, I could have sworn Megan Follows was the lead in this, but in actuality it was the daughter from My Two Dads. I remember the trailer playing on the promo tape at the video store, so maybe that's why it seems familiar. Lisa was a pretty solid example of the kind of thrillers that permeated the eighties. Sherman, after pulling out all the stops visually with his previous project Poltergeist III, dialled things back here and let the story and performers take the spotlight here.

Staci Keanan as Lisa.

I was actually surprised by how engaged I was with Lisa. Both Keanan (who if my math is correct was actually younger than the character she was playing during shooting) and Cheryl Ladd were fantastic together. Co-written by Karen Clark, I think she really gave Lisa a level of authenticity, as the exchanges between mother & daughter felt incredibly sincere.

Lisa makes so many terrible decisions in this movie – I mean, even if this guy wasn't a serial killer, it still turns out badly for everyone – but somehow her motivations still seemed plausible. Consequences are the last thing a teen thinks about and as long as no one finds out, you're golden, right? Though I have to admit, Tom Petty seemed like an odd choice for a celebrity crush. George Michael I can understand, but Petty? Was he ever considered a hunk? To each his or her own I guess.

D.W. Moffett as Richard in Lisa.
That reminds me... Corey Hart. Also hotter than Tom Petty.

The film's serial killer Richard aka The Candlelight Killer – apparently modelled after Richard Ramirez minus the halitosis and a million times better looking – certainly had a Ted Bundy vibe going on. Though buying a huge handful of candles at the corner store in your killing ground was probably not the smoothest move. The film's conclusion was satisfying and actually quite violent compared to everything else in the movie.

Much like most of Sherman's film career, Lisa was a first-rate title of its time that has been largely ignored. Unlike Death Line and Dead & Buried (that are slowly getting their due thanks to Blue Underground), this one may have a tougher time being revisited.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Short of the Week #21: The Sun Has Died

Having spent a lot of time in VR of late, I was reminded of one of my favourite POV horror short films, Daniel Bødker Sørensen's The Sun Has Died from 2015. 

I love the tension built in this piece. The Sun Has Died not only escalates to a satisfying conclusion, but its arc justifies the eighteen-minute run time. Imdb has no new projects listed for Sørensen at present, but I hope he resurfaces because he's got some serious chops.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Evil Shed.

This week it’s Charles Philip Moore’s 1990 effort Demon Wind.

After the death of his father, Cory (Eric Larson) is beckoned to his ancestral home only to find that it is cursed by demonic forces.

I have to admit that I cheated this week and watched my recently acquired Vinegar Syndrome Blu of this movie. With its snazzy lenticular cover, you can imagine it is not particularly easy to find a VHS copy in the wild. Oh well, at least they recreated the cover for this release. Anyhoo, let's dig in.

It didn't take me long to clock into this movie's Evil Dead vibe. You’ve got the rundown cabin – or farmhouse – the demons, the book of incantations and even the ceremonial dagger. When you think about it, I guess Sam Raimi’s Ram-O-Cam effect was technically a demon wind. There’s not much wind in this one though, save a few fog banks, as it's mainly demons shambling and cracking wise.

Demon Wind was a lot less fun than its influences that also likely included Prince of Darkness and Fulci’s Zombi, but Moore did manage to throw in a WTF moment every few scenes to keep me entertained. Like when those two guys – one of whom is a magician for some reason – show up blaring classical music out of their Buick. To be fair, those two dudes’ bro-mance was one of the more interesting things about Demon Wind.

Stacy (Jack Vogel) & Chuck (Stephen Quadros) together 4ever!

Not to say logic was particularly important here, but there was a severe lack of it present. Once inside the farmhouse, which I might add looks like ruins from the outside and fine on the inside, Cory is like, “I think it's gonna be okay”. Oh really guy? Need I remind you that five minutes ago your friend got turned into a doll and burst into flames. That sounds pretty fucking far from okay to me. But what do I know, I haven't inherited a cursed family plot. Not yet anyway.

Perhaps the most noticeable flaw was the foley. Holy balls, did this guy only have access to like three or four sounds? I swear, if you took a drink every time you hear that canned “falling to the ground” noise, you’d be hospitalized by the climax. In all fairness though, this movie was shot on short ends by a second-unit crew from a picture that it was being shot back-to-back with. I suppose we should be glad it was watchable at all.

Having said that, there were things to appreciate here. Though the gooey make-up effects were a mixed bag, F/X artist Lance Anderson really went for it. A dozen demon make-up extras (of which Lou Diamond Phillips was apparently one)? No problem. Huge son-of-Satan full body prosthetic? Sure, we can do that. Full body burn? Easy peasy! Plus, I feel I need to re-iterate those WTF moments.

If that gif were to play on, you'd see this guy regress back into a baby and then... a dove. Because why not, right?

Moore went onto have a decent career doing action movies, including Angel of Destruction and Dance with Death, which has perhaps the most nineties coverbox you have ever seen in your life. Demon Wind was a so-so affair, but at least it delivered on the promise of its coverbox.

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.