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, August 31, 2018

Don't. Just Don't.

This week I reached for one of my clamshells, my VHS of Carlo Ausino’s Don’t Look in the Attic from 1982.

Several inheritants of an old mansion in Turin arrive only to realize that it includes a curse that has plagued their family for generations.

No matter how deep I dig into the annals of Italian film I can usually count on them to at least be interesting, but sadly Don’t Look in the Attic was the exception to this rule. This movie was dull as dirt. That said, I must concede that it was not helped by the hilarious dubbing that had characters speaking at what seemed like one-point-five speed. It gave me a wave of nostalgia from when I was renting bootlegs in the late nineties.

Seriously though, was there ever a lot of talking in this movie. I swear it was an hour before the protagonist Martha (Beba Loncar) even looked in the attic. I couldn’t understand what the hell she was doing there in the first place, as the movie previously had her dead mother calling to her from the other side “Don’t go to Turin! Don’t go to the villa!” Then cut to the next scene where Martha's mumbling “I wonder what she was trying to tell me… One ticket to Turin please!”

Beba Loncar as Martha in Don't Look in the Attic.

Again, full disclosure, this was another title that I found myself fighting sleep in the middle of. Maybe it's this long stretch of humidity we’ve been having lately. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Don’t Look in the Attic was not a total wash, as it did have two redeeming qualities.

First, everyone who ever rented a movie in the eighties knows that the coverbox was often a ruse to get your dollars, but surprisingly Ausino actually delivered the action on his - and in the opening sequence, no less. Second, the cinematography was decent, helped largely by the eerie mansion location. Though to be fair, a filmmaker friend of mine once made the valid point that you could point the camera anywhere in Italy and it'd look like the best movie ever made.

Don’t Look in the Attic was not a high point in the history of Italian horror, but I guess they can’t all be-llissima. At least I got to cross another film off my “Don’t!” list.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Short of the Week #34: The Lamp

This week I'm posting a homegrown effort from 2013 in Trevor Juras' The Lamp.

I really love how the tension builds in this piece, as even something as innocuous and seemingly non-threatening as a shared cab ride can be fertile ground for escalating awkwardness. Juras followed up The Lamp with his debut feature The Interior two years later. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Dead On Arrival.

I've been on a pretty solid run of VHS titles recently so this time I picked something that was almost surely to be of questionable quality – Juan Mas' The Coroner from 1999.

After narrowly escaping from a serial killer (Dean St. Louis) – who just happens to be the city's chief coroner – Emma (Jane Longenecker) sets out to prove his guilt at all costs.

The Coroner totally reeked of the trash that was populating video store shelves in the early 2000's. I'd forgotten how wretched some of this stuff was. From the first few scenes, I had several uh-oh moments that made me thanking God that it was only seventy-five minutes. Fortunately, it became less terrible as it went on, as it turned out to not just be ladies being chained up and tortured for the entire run time.

Jane Longenecker & Dean St. Louis in The Coroner.

Actually, it was quite the opposite, as there was barely any gore at all. You would think a movie about a serial killer would have some actual kills, but no. In fact, pretty much the only thing I recall was nonsense cutaways and flashbacks, some pilfered from other (better) movies. I could've sworn I saw a bit of Slumber Party Massacre flash onscreen at one point. That's super lazy, guys.

I will give it up to Longenecker though, as she was giving it her all. She had a Bridget Fonda-like quality that kept me at least semi-interested. The Coroner was really all over the place, with random sex scenes that sometimes made me wonder if I was watching a horror movie or a soft core porn. With wonderful nuggets of dialogue like Exhibit A below, I tend to lean toward the latter...

It's just a weird mixed bag, including cops that even for movie cops were way too mistrusting, a killer who used blow darts of all things to subdue his victims and that Emma, a defense lawyer, somehow had access to C4 explosives. It all added up to an ending that made no sense, especially considering the scene that proceeded it.

The Coroner was Z-grade stuff, but considering its merciful length and Longenecker's committed performance, it was still fairly painless.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Analog Archaeology.

The other day fellow cinephile Ryan Fowler from Facebook's Horror VHS Collectors Unite board graciously posted some pictures of his VHS tags - meaning the video store labels that were plastered on the sides of most rental VHS tapes. I had posted my membership card collection almost ten(!) years ago, but never would've thought to do this even though it makes so much sense. With video stores virtually extinct (save for a few brave souls keeping the faith alive) all the tapes that used to populate these establishments have been scattered to the four winds winding up in yard sales and flea markets all across North America. Check out some of mine below.

My alma mater!

“More” you say????

My favourite so far for sure!

Great Kills?!

The one and only!

My copy of Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except! has a history!

These only covered the first three shelves of bookcase #1, so I imagine there will be a few more of these posts in the future. Who knew I had so many of these? Thanks to Ryan for the epiphany.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Short of the Week #33: Vicious

This week, I am posting one of my faves from 2015. Brit director Oliver Park's debut short film Vicious has chills in spades and conveys everything with almost no dialogue. But don't take my word for it, here it is below.

Park later went on to make the even better short Still the next year before following up with a feature entitled Strange Events in 2017.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Eighties Overload.

With my fellow Laser Blasters discovering – much to the adulation of the Web – the secret ending of Mac and Me last week, I decided to dig into my VHS collection and pull out the like-minded kids(?) movie Making Contact from 1985.

After the death of his father, Joey (Joshua Morrell) gains telekinetic powers just as his house is besieged by supernatural forces. Will his abilities be enough to save him and his mother?

This movie is fucking bonkers. That’s really the only way I can put it. It's a good pairing with Mac and Me because it shares equal levels of ridiculousness (coincidentally I also watched 1991’s Motorama this week for the bizarro trifecta) with no regard for reality whatsoever.

So where do I start with this one... An early film from Roland Emmerich, I wager he was a fan of the work of Henry Thomas (E.T., The Quest, Cloak & Dagger et al) and decided to do his own take. So with his Thomas clone Morrell in tow, Emmerich made something that definitely showed the seeds of the blockbusters he'd be making just ten years later. I mean, looking at the monsters in the maze sequence, it's not a surprise that he eventually did a Hollywood Godzilla movie.

Joshua Murrell as Joey in Making Contact.

Making Contact busts at the seams with the decade it was filmed in. Beyond the bombastic score by Paul Gilreath (at least in my version, I can't believe the German cut is twenty minutes longer) and the reckless child endangerment that was a staple of the era, every frame is crammed with eighties ephemera. If Mac and Me had McDonalds, Making Contact heavily leans on Star Wars, having presumably dodged copyright infringement by being a largely German production. I mean Darth Vader shows up for fuck’s sakes!

This movie just kept piling it on, from the kid’s powers (for which nobody seemed to react appropriately I might add) to his sentient robot Charlie and the possessed dummy that just showed up in the second act. In between, it was all about playful emulation as I saw elements of E.T., Poltergeist, Time Bandits and even 2001. It was also chock full of visual and practical effects that filled me with nostalgic glee.

Making Contact is one of those movies where the events and human behaviour depicted were so off-kilter – like when the mother treats a burned hand by putting it not under a tap but in a goldfish bowl then adds ice with the fish STILL IN IT – you wonder whether it was actually made by aliens who had been studying our culture from afar. This was a fun watch where I spent most of the running time slack-jawed in a mix of wonder and bewilderment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Short of the Week #32: Skin Deep

It's time to jump back into present, as this week's short is Ryan Couldrey's Skin Deep. Featuring some badass gore from f/x artist Sara Feehan and the mother/daughter acting duo of Diana & Ali Chappell, this is definitely worth three minute of your time.

Skin Deep is currently competing in this year's My RØDE Reel contest, so if you feel inclined, Vote Here.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Hangin' Tough.

I think I forgot to mention before that the Horror Express tour ended at The Royal with a screening of Class of 1984 with Lisa Langlois in attendance. Just as an aside, if you ever want to hear an unvarnished account of the film business, go to a Q&A with Langlois. She pulls no punches and gives no shits. Anyhoo, on the heels of that movie, I watched my similarly-themed VHS of The New Kids.

After their parents' deaths, Loren & Abby (Shannon Presby & Lori Loughlin) move to Florida to live with relatives, but almost immediately clash with a gang of thugs at their new school led by Dutra (James Spader).

Made five years after his seminal slasher Friday the 13th, Sean S. Cunningham put together a pretty impressive cast of up-and-comers for this movie, not only featuring the likes of Loughlin and Spader, but also Eric Stoltz (presumably right after his time on Back to the Future) & John Philbin in supporting roles.

It was pretty amazing to see how closely Class of 1984 and The New Kids lined up together. You switch out the teacher with the two teens and they follow the same beats, especially in terms of the escalation. Of course, this could be said for a lot of other eighties flicks as I guess there was a template.

Shannon Presby (right) & John Philbin in The New Kids.

Spader was unhinged in this role. Him and his crew were some of the most unpleasant characters I've seen in a while. I found the way he and Gideon (Philbin) carried themselves especially vile because it reeked of an energy that is still ever present today. I read an article earlier this week about how Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver was an early figure of the “in-cel” movement. I put forth that Dutra & Gideon are two more. While the ideology may not entirely match up, their interactions with Abby certainly support this idea.

James Spader & Lori Loughlin in The New Kids.

As you might expect, this was an ugly film. People were assholes, just because they could be. Dutra and his gang were the king shits and things got out of hand when the “new kids” not only wouldn't back down, but actively pushed back. It all led to a pretty bloody climax at an amusement park. Spader shot his own attack dog in the face with a shotgun!

All in all, though formulaic, Cunningham's The New Kids was pretty solid. Plus, seeing Tom Atkins run in slow motion was worth the price of admission alone.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

All Aboard The Horror Express!

Last Saturday I took part in something really special, the inaugural voyage of The Horror Express. The brainchild of author, programmer & cinephile Kier-La Janisse and named after the 1972 film of the same name, The Horror Express was a bus trip that toured around eighteen Toronto locations used in classic horror films. It was an idea that she'd had for a long time, but was finally executed on the realization that if she didn't do it, eventually somebody else would.

That morning we met at Central Tech, the school used in Mark Lester's 1982 flick Class of 1984 and then all two-dozen of us piled on the bus for which we would be riding around on for the next seven hours. 

No flagpole, but still pretty recognizable.

Hosted by Chris Alexander, we listened to trivia about the film industry in The Big Smoke (which has been booming since the tax shelter era of the late seventies) and watched clips of the approaching locations for comparison.

While there were several I was aware of - as some are the stuff of legend - there were also ones that I had no idea about. Like the Curious Goods shop from the Friday the 13th television series was in the Distillery District!

As you might imagine, the works of David Cronenberg featured largely on the tour including locations from Videodrome, The Fly, Crash and The Brood.

Spectacular Optical!

Unfortunately, due to a wedding we were shut out of the location used as the Somafree Institute from the Brood, but we did later get up close and personal with the grade school in the film.

They're hurting Miss Mayer!!!

Actress (and now real estate agent) Cindy Hinds came along with us on the tour and gave us more than a few tales about working on the film. Being eight when she shot The Brood, her memories are still very vivid.

There was one more school on the tour, as we also went to Hamilton High from Prom Night.

Perhaps the most majestic location on the trip - way out past Canada's Wonderland - was the Black Church from John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness.

Of course, no tour of Canadian horror locations would be complete without Black Christmas. We checked out a pair of sites from the film, the police station and the iconic sorority house.

It's a new exchange... F E.

The house is now buried behind trees and a wrought iron fence, I wager to keep out rubberneckers like us. Thankfully, my friend Melanie has a much longer reach than I do.

This was a fantastic day and the first of many I expect, as Kier-La is already planning more, here and perhaps even in other cities. It was not only cool to visit so many locations (there were several I didn't even mention) but the camaraderie and shared experience among all of us on the bus was enjoyable, as well. If you able to attend a future Horror Express event, I highly encourage you to do so. Stay tuned to the Facebook page for more details.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Short of the Week #31: A Troublesome View

This week I wanted to post a short I discovered while screening festival submissions in 2015. UK filmmaker Jack Levy's A Troublesome View is a wonderfully executed six-minute piece.

This spiritual cross between Sightseers and Blow Up has always stuck in my mind and thankfully I was able to track it down. Currently, Levy's new project Nick is touring the festival circuit.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Dog Days.

This week's VHS is Clyde Anderson aka Claudio Fragasso's 1984 effort Monster Dog.

A pop star (Alice Cooper) returns to his hometown to shoot a music video only to find it has been overrun by wild dogs – and perhaps something else even more ferocious.

I'm sad to say that this is movie ain't so hot. I mean it was the man who gave us best worst movie Troll 2 after all, but Dog was nowhere close as amusing as that was. I am going to reserve full judgment on this though as I may have dozed off for a bit in the middle and, according to Imdb, the studio re-cut Fragasso's movie for the US release.

My main criticism remains that it needed more Monster Dog. I got the feeling that there were a lot of cool gags planned, but despite the reputable talents of Carlo De Marchis, it would appear there was a discrepancy between the shop and the set. I unfortunately had to wait until the end to see something half decent happen.

He's a guide dog by day.

I feel like this was such a weird project for Alice Cooper. Apparently, it was the first project he took after going sober and – like so many performers before him – probably thought that it would never be seen outside of Spain. He was painfully reserved in this movie and I couldn't tell whether it was his choice or lack of direction from Fragasso. If Cooper had chewed the scenery there would have at least been some Nic Cage-style satisfaction in it.

As with Night Train To Terror and Killer Party, Monster Dog opens with a catchy musical number. Not only was this the most entertaining part of the movie, but it was the only time that Cooper's actual voice was used, as the rest of the audio – in true Euro B-movie fashion – was dubbed. The filmmakers must have liked the song too because they played the whole thing over again at the end!

Sometimes I feel like Jack the Rii-iipper!

Monster Dog's only real positive was that it was well shot. I don't know if cinematographer José García Galisteo was channeling Dean Semler (namely Razorback, coincidentally also released in late 1984), but his use of light and fog was really striking, even on my muddy VHS. It gave me something to latch onto as I watched drawn out scenes of people wandering around in between shots of listless canines.

So yeah, not a winner. But hey, at least it has a cool cover, right?