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, February 27, 2018

Short of the Week #8: Slut

This week is Chloe Okuno's wildly stylish short film from 2014, Slut.

I was instantly smitten with this short when I saw it during its festival run. We actually tried to get it for Minutes Past Midnight, but couldn't make it happen. It's extremely rare to make a twenty-one short this engaging, but Okuno manages it with ease. I'm not sure what she's up to currently, but I hope to hear from her again soon. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Wave of the Future.

It was twenty-five years ago that I sat in a theatre and watched Rachel Talalay's Ghost in the Machine so I figured now was as good a time as any for a revisit to see how much I actually remembered.

After a serial killer's consciousness is digitized after a power surge, he uses to the city's computer network to continue stalking his victims.

I was surprised at how much of this I had forgotten. While I admit a chunk of my enjoyment was down to how dated this movie was, Ghost in the Machine was still highly entertaining. It is comical how nineties this thing is. Let's go down the checklist, shall we?

Include a “hip” soundtrack from the era. Uh-huh.

Dress your “cool” characters as garishly as possible. Yessir.

The Fresh Prince of Encino.

Put as much “new” tech in it as possible. Oh, that's a bingo!

This movie falls into that time period where hackers were still mythical-like creatures that could do anything and computer networks were a fantasy land with no boundaries. If you thought Lawnmower Man played it fast and loose with computers, you ain't seen nothing yet. Actually, films like Brainscan and Arcade pair up better with this one... except this has a digital serial killer!

Straight Outta Motherfuckin' Toontown!

I think the most amusing thing about this movie – and there are many – is that they really do throw out any notion of how electronic devices actually work. However, I'm more than willing to forget an open microwave can't irradiate an entire room if it means I get to see a dude fry like a TV dinner care of some pretty neat f/x from Alterian Studios. If you need to see the dichotomy between practical and digital effects, you need to look no further than this movie.

That VR game played by Josh (Wil Horneff) & Frazer (Brandon Adams from People Under The Stairs who I totally spaced was in this). Wow. I remember I played this thing at the CNE one year, except of course, without my face superimposed on my avatar. It is still amazing to me that VR was a working concept in 1993 and yet only became commercially viable just last year. It's crazy how some advances are blisteringly fast and some putter along.

Watching Ghost in the Machine, I was struck by how much it felt like a precursor to Final Destination. The crash lab sequence in particular played out like it could've been pulled from one of those movies.

I also want to bring up that I've always really liked star Karen Allen. I was thinking about it and because of the age I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and Starman (the latter would've been one of my first theatre experiences), Allen may have played two of the first independent female characters I saw represented onscreen. She made an impression.

Who wore it better? Terry Munroe (Karen Allen), or Dana Scully?

And speaking of Allen, I gotta mention a cinematic parallel I always found funny that just recently became a trifecta. Karen Allen starred in Starman and Ghost in the Machine and both feature her in driving scenes involving the perils of a changing traffic light. Then, last month when I watched 1988's Pulse about a sentient intelligence killing people in their homes with electricity; what appears on the television within the movie? Starman!

Though incredibly dated, Ghost in the Machine was a totally functional thriller and though I'm sure filmmakers didn't want me to be grinning through most of it, I had fun. Sadly, this was the second of three critical and commercial failures for Talalay (Freddy's Dead & Tank Girl), but she soldiered on and has since enjoyed a highly successful career in television that continues to this day.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hexes & Lasers.

Two things I wanted to share with you. First, the full line-up of this year's Hexploitation Film Festival was announced yesterday.

There are several titles I'm intrigued by including Eduardo M. Clorio's I Wish I WishPreston DeFrancis's Ruin MeToor Mian & Andy Collier's Charismata, as well as the Hamilton Premiere of Chad Archibald's The Heretics.

We're also serving up some terrific shorts, running the gamut between festival favourites like Justin Harding's Latched and Mike Marrero & Jon Rhoads' Buzzcut and world premieres Niall Shukla's A Doll Distorted and Mike Pereira's Zandavi Lives. I'm also fond of Isreali import My First Time from Asaf Livni.

HexFest goes down at The Staircase Theatre from March 23 to 25. For more info, click here.

Secondly, I wanted to make you aware the Laser Blast Film Society (of which I am a card carrying member) has a spiffy new website. Check it out by clicking the image below.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Short of the Week #7: Ellie

This week I want to showcase an exciting young filmmaker by the name of Morgana McKenzie. She's been writing/directing/shooting/you name it since her early teens and has already racked up several short film credits including her 2015 festival darling Kuriyama No Wa.

McKenzie has a natural knack for storytelling and a terrific cinematic eye, as evidenced in her music videos We All Go The Same and Atlas World. Here below is her 2016 short, Ellie.

Currently, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, McKenzie is hard at work on her latest project, Wild. Check out her website here for more info.

Monday, February 19, 2018

White Halloween

Another weekend, another horror marathon it seems. This time it was all eight Halloween films. Fortunately, some atrocious weather that day made it very conducive to sitting on my friend Serena's couch for fifteen hours.

Halloween is a series very near and dear to my heart and though it has followed a trajectory similar to Nightmare on Elm Street (start strong, lose itself in sequels then bounce back at Part 7 before being killed by a shitty remake) I was always most intrigued by the lore of The Shape. Michael Myers was seemingly invincible, but I never really saw him as supernatural like Freddy or a zombie monster like Jason. Those two are both powered by vengeance whereas Myers is just evil incarnate.

Anyway, things got rolling about eleven in the morning. We watched all eight films (the pair of Zombie reboots can ess a dee) with some of Halloween related videos curated by Serena in between, such as the Haddonfield-set segment of Body Bags, the Angry Video Game Nerd's review of the Atari 2600 game and the trailer for the XXX version of Halloween (which I certainly did not watch the next day...)

I'm not going to switch up the order this time, so here we go.

So here it is, the mother* of all slashers, John Carpenter's Halloween. I've seen it so many times, watching it is like donning a favourite piece of clothing. This viewing I realized however, was the first time I'd watched it since I visited the actual locations. It was a little surreal.

If I was asked to make a list of my favourite scenes from horror movies the iconic bit where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is locked out of her house while Myers (then played by Nick Castle) strides across toward her would be among the top. I even remember re-enacting that scene with a childhood friend of mine using my backyard gate. I first saw this movie when I was about six, so it was likely the film that introduced me the art of suspense.

What else can I say that already hasn't been said? It's a masterpiece.

For me, Halloween I & II are like one long movie. I understand their tones are completely different, Carpenter's was about suspense & atmosphere and the sequel's full-on slasher, but to me they're intrinsically linked. The sequel was still a fairly new concept in 1981, so a horror movie - or any movie for that matter - picking up right where the last movie left off was extremely exciting to me as a kid. After my family got our first VCR, I would often watch the first two movies back-to-back.

As a child, I didn't notice part II wasn't as well made as its predecessor, or that Curtis was wearing a wig - something Serena never stops giving me shit for - I just obviously responded to the higher body count. Oh and the therapy tub scene. I'm thinking Pamela Susan Shoop may have been the first time I got a good look at onscreen boobies.

Ahem, where was I? Part II brought up several topics of contention. Aside from said wig, there was also talk of whether Jimmy still lived in the theatrical version (as we know he does in the TV version) and whether or not Shoop's character could be killed that quickly by boiling water. I say absolutely, as holding my breath is the last thing I'm going to be thinking about while my face is peeling away.

Halloween III is the black sheep of the family. In theory, the idea to turn Halloween into a one-off anthology series was intriguing, but in the eighties fans wanted to see their favourite slashers stalk the screen. Part III was much maligned when it first came out, but has since gained favour with the horror community. This is good because it's a pretty bad-ass movie with some mean gore and frankly nihilistic attitude. And the Silver Shamrock jingle is almost as iconic as the Halloween theme itself. 

After this misstep, the producers regrouped for six years before bringing The Shape back to the screen.

I have a special place in my heart for Part 4 because it was the first one I ever got to see in the theatre. I was fourteen and my brother & I went to the local multiplex to see it. I still remember bobbing in my seat when the theme kicked in as Myers was being wheeled out to the ambulance in the pouring rain. 

I was crushing on both Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont) and I think Danielle Harris gave one of the best child performances I've ever seen. It's pretty ridiculous what they put that kid through over the course of two movies and it's a miracle that she wasn't scarred for life. Like the Friday films, it was very fortunate that even though they switched out the dude playing Myers every film, they always seemed to hit pay dirt.

I really like that ending too. It has a cyclical element to it that really would have been a good image to finish on. But you know how things go in this business.

Part 5 was where things went south for this franchise. I mean, you could blame the fact that they rushed the movie out, but it goes deeper than that. Fundamentally, there are some huge problems here. I believe the most perturbing for me is how unceremoniously Rachel was dispatched from the series. It was shocking, but it throws off the rest of the movie. We're left to hang out with the most annoying characters. Tina (Wendy Kaplan) should've been dead by the second act yet she sticks around foooorever. I mean, that barn sequence seemed to go on for half the movie.


I think the other problem was Myers. While this was also where the production started having problems with the mask (tuck it in for fuck's sake!!!) it also showed a change in Myers' behaviour. That prolonged sequence where he's pretending to be Tina's boyfriend was just so out of place. It's one thing to put a sheet over your head, but another thing entirely to drive her around for ten fucking minutes.

This is also where they set up the Man in Black which leads us into Halloween's second biggest misstep.

The conclusion of the Thorn trilogy was a mess for many reasons, but mainly it was due to the competing visions of the director and producer. We watched the theatrical because it's gorier and (somewhat) less convoluted. It's not a good movie, but I think the bigger faux pas was trying to explain what Myers actually was. It's never a good thing to throw light on the monster.

Funny, never noticed that before Part 5...

I liked that they brought back George P. Wilbur as Myers and it's funny to see Paul Rudd in a horror flick, so there were some pluses. However, there are far more offensive things about Curse. How Jamie (now played by J.C. Brandy) was dispatched was really offside (I can only imagine how upsetting it would've been if it was actually Harris splayed out on that farm equipment) and the allusion that her baby was born of incest with Myers was just fucking gross, guys. 

Then, there's the sad passing of Donald Pleasance shortly after shooting which means the last memory of the iconic Dr. Loomis is, depending on which version you watch, him either standing outside the hospital looking lost or screaming in anguish. It's really unfortunate.

So hey guys, remember those last three movies. They never happened! H20 is twenty years after Part II and Laurie (aka Karen Tate) is now living in California.

Being post-Scream, it does have that air to it - I mean, look at the poster ffs - but this movie was a return to form. Curtis is fantastic, as is the supporting cast which included Michelle Williams, Josh Hartnett and Adam Arkin. I still can't believe all the bumbling around with the Myers mask - like how is this shit not sorted before you go to camera? - but the last act of H20 really makes up for the last two movies.

I love the moment where Laurie has a chance to leave, but she's like, no we're ending this now. Curtis fights the boogeyman and wins once and for all. Right? No? Shit.

I have to admit I had never watched this one. I had heard what happens in the first & last scenes and quickly pressed the boycott button. The explanation about how Myers was still alive after H20 is laughable. Watching this movie now was painful. I'd rather re-watch Hellraiser: Hellworld than this.

I hear that is was actually the Halloween Internet fan-sites that helped get this made. Fuck, fanboys (and girls) are our own worst enemy. This was a steaming pile. After three movies, THIS is how you kill off Laurie? And why are there catacombs under the Myers house now?

The biggest surprise for me was that the “trick or treat muthafucka” bit was not the dumbest scene involving Busta Rhymes. That comes when he & Myers are both standing masked and face-to-face. After Rhymes lays down some smack talk, Myers just wanders away. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?! There is no universe where Rhymes doesn't take a knife to the face during this exchange. So fucking stupid. And this is how the series sputtered out. What a waste.

I was doing great the entire marathon, but after the brain-numbing shitshow that was Resurrection, I just curled up into a fetal position on the couch and went to sleep.

This Halloween, we have another iteration coming out. This one apparently ret-cons everything after the 1978 film, which I guess means that Laurie & Michael are no longer even related. I'm still iffy on the writer/director, but Curtis is in and to some capacity, so is Carpenter so I'm giving it a chance.

It has to be better than Resurrection. IT HAS TO.

*Let's call Black Christmas (1974) the “grandmother” of all slashers.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Don't Go Home!

For this week’s entry I watched Lurkers, the second-to-last film of prolific filmmaker Roberta Findlay.

Shortly before her wedding, Cathy (Christina Moore) starts seeing apparitions of tormented souls that may have a connection to her childhood tenement in the Bronx.

It did not take me long to realize that this was not Findlay’s best work. Yeah folks, Lurkers was not so hot, so buckle up.

I think the real problem with the film was the pacing, as Lurkers featured several drawn out montages that really just amounted to unnecessary filler. Even the sequences that should’ve been intense, like the little girl being choked with jump rope and the woman chased by a dude with a sledgehammer seemed to go on a tad too long. Several bits would have had a lot more impact if they had just been cut down by five or six shots.

Christina Moore as Cathy in Lurkers.

I had the same thing happen while watching Lurkers that I did with Findlay's Blood Sisters (released a year earlier) where I found it difficult not to doze off during the middle chunk of the movie. But hey, at least Blood Sisters had a smashing coverbox.

Something I found a bit distracting was that nobody, save for the protagonist, seemed to properly react to the situation. Granted, this was explained during the climax, but it did little to elevate the proceedings. Even though the “reveal” when it finally came was intriguing in concept, it was not particularly well executed. Lurkers felt like a Dean Koontz novel that he probably would’ve given up on halfway through writing it.

See how they lurk.

Points for featuring one of the laziest parking jobs in cinematic history though. And Gil Newsom as the least priestly priest ever. I also had a chuckle during the scene where two undressing models talk at length about high finance.

A travesty!

Roberta Findlay’s storied career ranged from everything to exploitation flicks to hardcore porn, but it was the tail end of her filmography that seemed to decidedly descend into mediocrity. And I say tail end because her 1985 effort Tenement is actually every bit as effective as John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and though I haven’t seen The Oracle yet, it looks pretty fucking bonkers – I probably should’ve watched that instead.

As far as bodies of work go, Findlay had one of the most colourful out there, male or female. I guess there comes a time when you just have to hang it up. No shame in that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Short of the Week #6: The Captured Bird

In keeping with Women in Horror Month, this week's short film is Jovanka Vuckovic's debut The Captured Bird from 2012.

Vuckovic has long been in a presence in the Ontario horror scene. After having been managing editor of Rue Morgue magazine for a number of years, she made a series of horror shorts before getting involved with the female-produced anthology XX released last year. Currently, she is finishing up directing duties on her first feature, a post-apocalyptic tale called Riot Girls.

Friday, February 9, 2018

It's A Jag!

In celebration of Women in Horror Month, I picked out Gaylene Preston's 1984 Kiwi ghost tale Mr. Wrong aka Dark of the Night.

After a few unexplainable events involving her newly purchased Jaguar, Meg (Heather Bolton) starts to suspect it may be haunted.

It would be easy to dismiss Mr. Wrong as a Christine rip-off, but it's really more of a mash-up of several classic urban legends. Adapted from a novel by Elizabeth Jane Howard, it very much had the ingredients of a campfire tale. Mr. Wrong was old school storytelling through and through with solid performances and steady direction. It has that naturalistic vibe that a lot of stuff from that corner of the world during that era.

Heather Bolton as Meg in Mr. Wrong

I especially appreciated that the moment something seemed off with the car, Meg was like, nope, and not only went about trying to sell it, but also immediately had the thing towed back to her place. I think that might be one of the smartest things I've seen a protagonist do in quite some time. My only real gripe is that the ending featured a pretty anti-climactic crash. I mean, do they not have cliffs in Wellington?

Mr. Wrong was pretty tame by today's standards, but it's definitely the type of movie that I would remember fondly if I'd seen it in my childhood when I was ingesting stuff like Watcher in the Woods and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Short of the Week #5: Dead Hearts

This week is a 2014 short I absolutely adore from Stephen Martin entitled Dead Hearts. The Wes Anderson-style whimsy is unmistakable, but Martin's sixteen-minute opus affected me more than anything from his oeuvre. Enjoy!

Friday, February 2, 2018

In Sickness & In Death...

This week's VHS is a random title from the stack with a semi-familiar coverbox, Patrick Jamain's 1985 thriller Honeymoon aka Lune de Miel.

To avoid deportation, Cécile (French starlet Nathalie Baye) pays for an arranged marriage to stay in the country while her incarcerated lover awaits trial. Unfortunately, her “husband” Zachary (John Shea) tracks her down and wants more than she bargained for.

Despite being somewhat misrepresented by its coverbox (a common practice during the home video boom that I'll never wise up to) Honeymoon was an interesting view for a few reasons. A French/Canadian co-production set in New York, we actually do get a lot of cool footage of vintage Big Apple, even if I suspect most of the interiors were split between Montreal & Paris.

I was immediately struck by the setup, as the opening credits feature the lower half of a woman in a red dress (one of seemingly only two outfits she wears throughout the entire film) running through the streets of New York. I wonder if this wasn't some sort of nod to Gene Wilder's Woman in Red released the previous year. Anyway, at the end of the scene Baye, now in full frame, runs by a live band in the street playing the exact song that I'd been listening to the entire sequence. I was like wait, what? Sadly, this was the only time that something like this happened which made it all the more conspicuous.

As I explained before, Cécile's Plan B to stay in the country was to pay for a (presumably illegal) arranged marriage. This was not a well thought out course of action, as she literally just randomly pointed to a file on the desk of the broker (played by Mulder's father Peter Donat) and went “this one.” I guess this process was a thing back in the day? Hell, maybe it still is. Normally, these couples never met apparently, but Zachary had other ideas.

It was the dynamic between the two early on that held my interest, as given her situation Cécile reacted pretty rationally. It was only when he later conveniently came to her aid during an altercation with a would-be date rapist (played by Canuck oh-that-guy Alf Humphreys no less) that she started to warm up to him. A few more bad (and equally unlikely) choices later and well, she was in deep shit.

Nathalie Baye as Cécile in Honeymoon

I have to go back to this whole arranged marriage process though, because there's a scene where the broker comes to her later is like, “yeah, so that guy, you picked the newest file on my table and I hadn't properly vetted him. He could be trouble.” Now, that this guy was listed with the Better Business Bureau or anything, but first off... Why the fuck was this guy's file in the list if he wasn't checked out? And why did you not say something at the time?! Not cool, dude.

In a way, Honeymoon was a little ahead of the curve. Obviously, Brian De Palma had been making sexually charged thrillers for a while by this point – Will Fruett's 1984 picture Bedroom Eyes comes to mind as well – but they were largely racier renditions of Alfred Hitchcock's ouevre. Even stuff like 1981's Body Heat seemed more rooted in American film noir. Honeymoon feels like the type of thrillers that exploded after the popularity of Fatal Attraction in 1987 where a character made a bad decision that immediately came back to haunt them.

John Shea as Zachary in Honeymoon

Honeymoon was not what was I was expecting, but it was still a decent watch with a unique hook and lots of great New York flavour. By the mid-nineties, there were literally hundreds of movies like this one on video store shelves so it's neat to see one of the progenitors.

Edit - Just after I posted this I discovered Alf Humphreys passed away the same day I watched this movie. Rest in peace, you were a ubiquitous performer and it was great to see you at the My Bloody Valentine reunion in 2009.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Thursday Beats!

Here's the latest video from Videogram for the single “Test Subject 011” using some very familiar visuals. Enjoy!

Check out Videogram's Bandcamp by clicking here.