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, April 27, 2018

That's the Way!

For the final VHS for Anthology April, I wanted to post about a title that is near and dear to my heart, Michael Armstrong & Stanley A. Long's 1983 effort Screamtime.

Two petty criminals steal three video tapes from a store and retreat to a friend's house to watch them.

Even though the wraparound is set in New York, Screamtime was a UK production that was released here on Lightning Video in 1985. It's a fairly obscure title, but I'm quite fond of it.

The first story entitled “That's The Way To Do It” sees a aging puppeteer (Robin Bailey) made to choose between his lifelong passion and his family. Though the climax may be a bit obvious, I've always thought the idea of Punch & Judy a bit disturbing.

Robin Bailey in Screamtime.

Next is “Dreamhouse” which is one of my all-time favourite anthology segments. Involving a couple (Ian Saynor & Yvonne Nicholson) moving into an inherited country house, I think it's a great piece of storytelling with a reveal that still gives me chills every time. The gore may be a little sloppy - who stabs like that?! - but there are some well engineered jump scares here. Obviously, it made an impression on director Reg Traviss when he used the climax for his 2010 Charisma Carpenter vehicle Psychosis. I wager Dreamhouse was an influence on Rodrigo Gudiño's debut short The Eyes of Edward James, as well.

Yvonne Nicholson sporting some serious spectacles.

The final segment is “Do You Believe in Fairies?” where a couple of youths looking for easy money try to rob two old ladies living in a mansion. They would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for those darn fairies and gnomes! This one is a bit more sedate than the other two, truth be told I got a bit sleepy during my latest rewatch (it's not nearly as rewarding as Stuart Gordon's similarly themed Dolls) but the two old ladies (Dora Bryan & Jean Anderson) are the most stereotypical English biddies you've ever seen.

They believe. Do you???

The film then wraps up in a manner that is as cheesy as it is abrupt, but no matter. If you can get your hands on Screamtime I recommend giving it a whirl. It may not be as polished as some of the other eighties anthologies out there, but I think you might be surprised by its charm.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

CUFF Shorts.

I mentioned yesterday that Calgary Underground hosted two strong shorts programmes last week. I was lucky to be there for both and was really impressed by the range on display from filmmakers around the world. Here were some of my faves.

The debut short film from YouTube personality Nathan Barnatt was really solid. I met him on the shuttle (Thanks again Gillian!) from the airport and he was really excited to be there. He was worried that his twenty-two minute effort Neutral was going to bore his audience, but I found it very engaging. Being a writer, I really enjoy dialogue driven shorts, this one being largely two characters (played by Barnatt & Phoebe Neidhardt) stranded in the desert.

The short that played right after mine was a great little creeper from Calgary filmmaker Robert Cuffley called Penny Whistle. I got a definite It Follows vibe from this one. A lot of this short was riding of the performance of his young lead and she effortlessly handled some difficult material. That is no small feat considering as I've seen a lot of promising works derailed by weak kid actors.

Perhaps the most intense short I saw was Mother from Spaniard Rodrigo Sorogoyen. If memory serves, this was mostly one long take and involves an increasingly frantic phone call between a mother and her young son.

On the comedy side of things, there was John F. Beach & Jonathan Hoeg's The Accomplice. This was a great idea that I'm surprised I hadn't seen before and included a random appearance from Evan Peters - coincidental considering I watched American Animals a few hours later.

I was happy to see Clarissa Jacobson & JM Logan's short film Lunch Ladies at CUFF. We previously programmed it at HXFF, but this was my first time seeing it on the big screen. It's over-the-top and bombastic (imagine if John Waters & Lloyd Kaufman had a baby) and deserves an audience. 

Tops in my book though would have to be Thursday Night from Portuguese director Gonçalo Almeida. This is a moody, atmospheric piece with no dialogue - mainly because the two leads are dogs! I like to call this short “The Shaggy Dog Runs At Night” because if David Lynch decided to add canines to his repertoire, this might be what it would look like. A dark and beautiful piece of work.

A crazy good start to the year I'd say and I've now got a handful of shorts to follow up on for Little Terrors.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

CUFF '18

Wow, what a fantastic trip that was! I was only gone three nights, but boy did I fill it up with some bangin' stuff, including sampling some Alberta beef, a side road trip to Banff with an old friend and the usual festival schmoozing.

The festival really took care of me, putting me up in a fancy hotel and filling my pockets with cinema food & drink tickets. The Globe Cinema is a great little movie house with a pair of sizable theatres one on top of each other. CUFF turned fifteen this year and you can tell there are lot of regulars and sponsors eager to be involved with the fest.

My screening went really well - anytime no one boos is a win - and there were a surprising number of questions during the Q&A. I never thought I would have to explain the difference between Canadians & Americans, always just assumed it was common knowledge, but there you go. 

CUFF programmer Brennan Tilley & I at Saturday's Q&A.

Both shorts programmes were really strong, but I'll elaborate on them in a later post. In addition to the special events at the fest like the Saturday Morning Cereal Party - that involved me chasing after Toucan Sam all morning - and the most recent iteration of the Found Footage Tour, I also took in some cool flicks including the half crime movie, half crime doc American Animals and a rewatch of Coralie Fargeat's Revenge. I recommend both. And Tigers Are Not Afraid. That movie is still aces.

The dark princes of VHS Nick Prueher & Joe Pickett. 

And there's also this random Teletubbies penis sculpture in town for some reason.

So yeah, I had a blast. I am so thankful to CUFF for inviting me and being such gracious hosts. You guys rock!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Short of the Week #16: W is for Wish.

Filmmakers I have been following for a long time are Astron 6 alumnus Steve Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie. Here is one of their most infamous collaborations, W is for Wish from ABC's of Death 2.

After cutting their teeth on numerous short films in the 00's, they graduated to features helming cult favourites like Father's Day and Manborg (both 2011). Then, after a wildly successful film festival market push - and subsequent effects crowdfunding campaign - they came out with their Lovecraft & Carpenter adoration piece The Void in 2016.

This is all in addition to the effects work both have done on studio productions that have shot here in Toronto, including It, Suicide Squad & The Shape of Water.

Currently, Gillespie is working on the Star Trek TV series and Kostanski is shooting the newest Leprechaun movie for Syfy (a direct sequel to the 1993 one) in South Africa.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

To The West!

I'm headed out west this weekend for the Calgary Underground Film Festival

I'll be representing my latest project The Good Samaritan which plays today as part of the A Turn For The Worse shorts programme. More to come!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Go To Bed!

The next VHS off my shelf is Jeff Delman’s 1986 anthology Deadtime Stories.

While babysitting, Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer) tells his young nephew three stories to try and get him to sleep.

Deadtime Stories is a movie that has always been on my periphery – for the coverbox alone – but one I always reckoned I had seen at some point. When I was a kid I thought it was a George A. Romero joint, perhaps because of its passing resemblance to Creepshow. In my defense, with its hand-drawn opening credit sequence, it does feel eerily similar.

I have to admit this movie did start out a bit dull with the first segment involving a trio of witches and a young Scott Valentine, who would've been a year into his recurring stint on Family Ties by this point. I thought this movie looked a bit cheap until the effects by Ed French & Bryant Tausek rolled out. That's when I realized where most of the money likely went and I was back in. There's a great Hellraiser-style reanimation that was the first sequence in a bunch of solid practical effects pieces throughout the movie.

The money shot.

Next, there was a take on Red Riding Hood that involves a werewolf. The idea of a RRH being a horny teen is not new, but I did like the idea of the lycanthrope trying to knock himself out with pills. When his pharmacy order got mixed up with Red's Grandmothers', that's when chaos ensued.

It was the third and final story that Deadtime Stories pulls a complete one-eighty. This wacky rendition of Goldilocks & the Three Bears feels a lot like Crimewave-era Sam Raimi. I actually perused Imdb to see if there were any un-credited affiliations to the Renaissance boys (ala The Nutt House) because the tone was so similar. To give you an idea, the “Bears” are actually a maniacal crime family – which begins with “Mama”, played by Oscar Winner Melissa Leo, breaking “Papa” and “Baby” out of the loony bin – and “Goldi Lox” (Cathryn de Prume) is a murderous telekinetic. I got a kick out of the Rockabilly ditty “Looney Tune” featured – also written by Delman – here, as well.

Cathryn de Prume as Goldi Lox in Deadtime Stories.

I spent most of this segment with my jaw agape because it was so at odds with the rest of the picture. I can only justify it by thinking that perhaps Delman was trying to illustrate how at the end of his rope Uncle Mike might have been by that point in the evening. His tales did become increasingly more inappropriate for underage consumption.

Michael Mesmer (left) & Brian DePersia in Deadtime Stories

Imdb also told me that both Valentine & Leo were injured right before they went to camera - the former has a noticeable limp and the latter was wearing a cast under her wardrobe. That had to be a pre-production nightmare.

Deadtime Stories is not one of the more memorable anthologies from the eighties, but it's certainly worth watching for shits and gags.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Short of the Week #15: T is for Turbo

One of the breakout contest shorts from the first ABC's of Death was 2011's T is For Turbo from French Canadians François Simard and Anouk & Yoann-Karl Whissell.

Not only were this trio able to parlay this short into a feature four years later, but have also since moved onto directing studio pictures with this year's retro thriller Summer of '84. Not bad for a couple of tapeheads from Montreal!

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Rats make everything better. Ghost agrees with me! Here's their new video where they go all Italian horror!!!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Worth The Price of Admission

Happy Friday the 13th everyone! The next anthology I pulled off the shelf was Jeff Burr's 1987 flick The Offspring aka From A Whisper To A Scream.

On the eve of his daughter's execution, a writer (Vincent Price) tells a reporter (Susan Tyrell) about the evil that resides in his hometown of Oldfield, Tennessee.

It wasn't until recently that I even realized this movie was actually an anthology. I mean, look at the cover. It appears to me more like an It's Alive rip off. “They were born to kill?” Within the context of the movie that makes no sense. I suppose I should be thankful that the thing on the cover actually shows up, if only for like thirty seconds. Even if its appearance was in itself perplexing, I'm never going to poo-poo creature effects.

So the first thing that struck me was – HOLY BALLS there are a lot of people in this movie! Just in the wraparound you have Price, Tyrell – who somehow looks younger than she did five years previous in Night Warning – and a brief appearance by Lawrence Tierney. The gravitas Price brought to every role cannot be understated. I read that he later disavowed the project, but you can't tell from his performance. He always looked like he was having a ball.

Vincent Price in The Offspring.

The Offspring's quartet of stories were pretty solid and played out in ascending quality I think. The first story that featured Clu Gulager as an Ed Gein-type character losing his sanity was fine, though a bit joyless. I kind of got the feeling the writer didn't know how to end things either so that's how buddy on the cover worked his way in here. Terry Knox showed up in this segment looking surprisingly slobby. He must have gone all Christian Bale before heading to Hawaii to shoot Tour of Duty shortly after this.

Clu Gulager in The Offspring.

The second segment had consummate eighties man Terry Kiser (just before his defining stints in Friday 7 and Weekend At Bernie's) playing a scumbag (go figure) trying to trick a voodoo priest (Harry Caesar) into telling him his secret to eternal life. It doesn't go well for him. Next was about the denizens of a travelling carnival led by Rosalind Cash of which the highlight was a nifty gore gag of someone getting ripped up from the inside out.

Lastly, whenever I see Cameron Mitchell in the credits I know I'm in for a good time. Here he played the leader of a group of Confederate soldiers who, after learning the war is over, come across a very unusual settlement. This mash-up of 2000 Maniacs and Children of the Corn was my favourite of the bunch for sure. Tommy Nowell from Friday 6 & the 80's TV movie Poison Ivy showed up here as well in a pretty bad-ass role.

Cameron Mitchell in The Offspring.

I dug that the stories started in present day and worked their way back to the nineteenth century. It's a pretty cool framing device that I don't think was ever attempted before. Coverbox misrepresentation aside, this movie was a fun watch, just for the genre stargazing alone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Short of the Week #14: M is for Matador

In keeping with the anthology theme, I wanted to focus on filmmakers who broke out while competing in the ABC's of Death series. Today's short is Gigi Saul Guerrero's ABC's of Death 2.5 segment M is for Matador.

Guerrero had already made a few shorts (and a mini-series) by the time the ABC 2 contest rolled around, but this was the ones that turned the heads of many. The one-two punch of this and 2014's El Gigante proved she wasn't playing around.

She has gone on to make several more fantastic shorts and most recently directed seven episodes of a TV series (with co-creator Shane McKenzie) called La Quinceañera. I wager a feature cannot be far off.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Tales From The Mountain State!

I decree April to be Anthology Month!!! Over the next four weeks, I'm going to post about the three unwatched anthologies I have on my VHS shelf (with the last TBD) starting with Daniel Boyd's Chillers.

Five travellers stranded at a bus station pass the time by relating the nightmares they all had the night before.

Chillers was another film I could sworn I watched back in the day, but remembered none of, except the ending. To be honest though, I could've just as easily guessed it five minutes in.

So off the top, Chillers is not great. It looked pretty cheap - Imdb says it was filmed on 16mm, but it often seemed shot-on-video - and the acting was stiff at times. Having said that, it is not without its charms. Boyd was clearly using the resources at his disposal – West Virginia State University and surrounding areas – I just think his ambition may have caused him to overreach. Though he maybe the only horror filmmaker to ever reference Cocoon, so there's that I suppose.

I give props to Boyd for being able to write five distinct stories for this movie – I've read that he subsequently published a graphic novel in the same vein – even if they were a bit thin. I mean, despite having a quintet of stories, a wraparound and a looooooot of padding (hope ya like drawn out credit sequences, shots of people swimming, and goth chicks dancing in living rooms) this movie was still less than ninety minutes. That said, even though I took the piss out of that credits sequence, it was nifty to see they created an entire font for this movie.

Chiller's story concepts were decent for the most part, it was the execution that was problematic. The first one, if you took the sex scene out, actually felt like an Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode. That's decidedly not a bad thing I suppose. Next was a story about cub scouts that was definitely the most competently shot and the only segment that could've worked as a feature. Third was a bit silly and involved a woman thinking that a news anchor was talking to her through the TV. Fourth was a variation on the Monkey's Paw tale that I think was probably my favourite and last was a bizarre, almost out of place tale about an anthropology class accidentally awakening a demon.

As I alluded to earlier, Chiller concluded fairly predictably, but I did get several chuckles out of it, even if only some of them were intentional. This was a perfect example of the typical grassroots fare that grew like weeds on rental shelves during the home video boom. And you can do a lot worse than Chillers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Short of the Week #13: Killer Kart

Here's a oldie, but a goodie in Floridian James Feeney's short film Killer Kart from 2012.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Break The Mirror!

Last Wednesday, The Black Museum held its newest lecture at The Royal.

This long running series has put on many great events in the past, but this one in particular was extra special, as filmmaker Gary Sherman was particularly well suited for this forum. I've seen him speak at a few events now and man, does this guy have stories. He's an extremely affable individual who would describe himself as “someone who has been very lucky and often been at the right place at the right time”, but I'd say there's a bit more to it than that. It takes more than luck to find a crew that would follow him into the insanely ambitious project that was Poltergeist III.

While it is true that Sherman has always been a very technical director, whether it be that impressive opening tracking shot in Death Line or the abundant special effects (courtesy of Stan Winston) in Dead & Buried, Poltergeist III would be the culmination of his talents. Not bad for a project that Sherman himself said that he initially did not want to do. He explained that the studio had first tapped him for Poltergeist II, but he was unavailable. When they came back to him for part three, he agreed because they'd been instrumental in getting his debut Death Line made. His one condition was that he wanted everything to be done in camera with no optical effects.

Filmmaker Gary Sherman talks Poltergeist III.

We sometimes forget there was once a time when computers did not rule the day and Poltergeist III might be one of the most impressive examples of pre-CGI filmmaking out there. To most I'm sure, the third Poltergeist entry was a throwaway sequel, overshadowed by the tragic death of its young star, Heather O'Rourke. I can assure you that no one thought that after this lecture. Everyone in attendance walked away with a new appreciation for this movie. Although I believe we're still not sure who was crazier, Sherman for attempting it or the studio for signing off on his requests.

The evening consisted of a screening of Poltergeist III with running commentary from Sherman. Whenever a significant effect happened, they would stop the film and he would explain how it was done. We would then watch the scene again with this new context. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Sherman's techniques was that they were honest-to-God magic tricks. When he pulled back the curtain, the audience reaction was that of true awe.

Movie magic!

Using mirrors and double sets, Sherman created an veritable amusement park haunted house – or rather skyscraper. You add in the talents of Dick Smith, the inventor of modern make-up (and the reason I grew up thinking Max Von Sydow was twenty years older than he actually was) you have a gift that keeps on giving. The session ran about three hours and Sherman regaled us about every facet of the production, including the parking garage explosion debacle and the three different endings.

The late Heather O'Rourke in Poltergeist III

Sherman also talked at length about O'Rourke who he absolutely adored, saying that being a pallbearer at her funeral was one of the worst days of his life. He's decidedly not happy with how the film turned out overall, but he's really proud of the effects, which is why he was glad to talk about them at this event. I hope does this talk in more cities because it's a film clinic for filmmakers and cinephiles alike, especially ones with a love of practical and in-camera effects.

I can't reiterate enough how super cool a night this was. It was a Black Museum for the ages that struck the perfect balance of subject and subject matter. Huge thanks to Paul, Andrea & Gary for putting it on.

Filmmaker Gary Sherman w/ BM curators Paul Corupe & Andrea Subissati

*Event pics courtesy of Brian Baker.