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, July 31, 2018

Short of the Week #30: Hide

With the new Slender Man trailer haunting up the Web, I thought I'd post this 2016 creeper from director Evan Sweet called Hide: Bloody Mary. It is short and sweet (no pun intended) but also incredibly effective.

For more from Sweet, check out his Vimeo page here.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Fantasia 2018: Part Two

In amongst all the films, patio beers and fine foods, I was able to fit in several extracurricular activities, as well. You'd be surprised how much free time I had now that I wasn't constantly hunkered down in my Airbnb writing reviews. I had some of my best naps in recent memory last week! 

The first Fantasia event I attended was a retro screening of Hoi Mang's Blonde Fury on 35mm with Cynthia Rothrock in attendance.

Cynthia Rothrock aka China O'Brien aka Lady Dragon

Man, she's a lovely lady with so many stories about the glory days of Kung-fu cinema and the ups and downs of being a outsider in the industry. She regaled us with stories of how it went both ways, as some crews loved her because she was pretty much up for anything and some did not because the concept of “being beat up by a girl” was just too obtuse. There's no question of her icon status though. I mean, how many people can say they've inspired a video game character?

Next, was an In Conversation with genre heavyweight Michael Ironside.

Michael Ironside!

Considering his demeanor onscreen, I was expecting something between surly and grizzled, but it was amazing how affable he was. And the stories, man. So many! After ninety minutes, I felt like I knew the man. He spoke of his beginnings as a playwright and painter, working with Walter Hill, Paul Verhoeven and David Cronenberg as well as some wild tales about his personal experiences with telekinesis. Much to my delight, he even got to sneak in some talk about V.

On Saturday night, I got my picture taken with the star of the new Puppet Master movie. As you know I've always been a Blade fan.

Too bad about the movie though :P

My last day there I checked out the book launch for Michael Gingold's new book, Ad Nauseum.

Man, it's like he read my mind. Something as comprehensive as this could only be pulled off by someone who not only lived during the era, but also had the presence of mind to collect EVERYTHING. I'm of a similar ilk, but Mike's got almost a decade on me, so I gladly defer. This book is the best!

Aside from Fantasia events, a group of us walked over to the Grevin Musée to take in some wax figures. I was pretty impressed with the setup there, including the shrine to Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitch & Ali Chappell.

I was hoping my bae was going to be there--


On our way out of town, we stopped at two movie houses that just happened to be within minutes of where we were staying. Behold, the house from 1983's Of Unknown Origin!

And the house from 1977's Cathy's Curse!

I've been going to Fantasia for eleven years now and I'd say that this trip was top five for sure, maybe even top three! Until next time, bon nuit!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fantasia 2018: Part One

All told I saw fifteen films this year at Fantasia, ranging from retro martial arts to Kiwi comedy to upcoming horrors. Here were some of the highlights in case you are keeping score at home.

Probably my fave of the trip was Justin P. Lange's The Dark. I heard comparisons to Let The Right One In prior to the screening and they are apt. However, I'd say the dynamic between the two leads (Nadia Alexander & Toby Nichols) was a little different, as were the events that got them there. This equally sweet and sanguine effort was right up my alley.

Lee Chang-hee's The Vanished was a terrific thriller from South Korea. It walks a fine line between conventional and supernatural with a narrative that unfolds flawlessly, yet still has room for levity courtesy of a Columbo-esque gumshoe played by Kim Kang-woo. Just when I thought the movie might be spinning its wheels in the third act, it hit me with a fantastic conclusion that tied everything together.

Brazillian director Dennison Ramalho has wowed me over the years with his short films Love For Mother Only, Ninjas & ABC 2's J is for Jesus, but The Nightshifter was his first foray into long form. Wonderfully obtuse to start, the film actually became increasingly more conventional as it progressed. It wouldn't surprise me if an American studio remade this by the end of the decade.

On the science-fiction side of things was Isaac Ezban's Parallel. This was some smart and engaging stuff that was heavily aided by the visual stylings of cinematographer Karim Hussein. I really loved that the filmmakers took the fascinating theory of the Mandela Effect and fashioned it into a feature long concept.

Filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov was back at Fantasia this year with three films, but the one I caught was Profile. Using the same “screen reality” format employed in his Unfriended series, this one featured far more serious subject matter. This film was as tense as it was topical. I really dig this evolution of found footage and its fresh way of telling stories. Considering how much time we spend in front of our computer screens these days, I feel there is real strength in the familiarity of its narratives. 

Lastly, I wanted to give a shout-out to a pair of comrades who had their films play at Fantasia. My Little Terrors cohort Justin McConnell premiered his new feature Lifechanger and Jen Wexler screened her backwoods slasher The Ranger.

It was a terrific week in terms of film, as well as festival events, but more on those tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Short of the Week #29: Limbo

Alas, I am back from Fantasia now, but more on that later. For now I wanted to post a short film that played there in 2016, Will Blank's Limbo.

It is of significance because Sam Elliot was actually at the fest this year representing The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot.

The one, the only Sam Elliot.
Photo courtesy of King-Wei Chu.

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.