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, 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.