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, December 14, 2018

GM uh-Oh.

This week’s VHS is Hal Barwood’s 1985 thriller Warning Sign.

When a deadly virus is accidentally released inside an agricultural facility, all those locked inside must fight for their lives.

Warning Sign was the second in my double header of virus flicks and it couldn’t be more opposite from last week’s The Alpha Incident. Granted, this one was a wholly legitimate production from Twentieth Centuty Fox, but man was it solid. Not only was it shot by legend Dean Cundey, but also featured a veritable parade of character actors, including Sam Waterston, Kathleen Quinlan, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Dysart and Jeffrey De Munn as well as familiar faces G.W. Bailey, Jerry Hardin and Rick Rossovich.

Sam Waterston (right) & Jeffrey De Munn in Warning Sign.

This was director Barwood’s only kick at the can – after rubbing elbows with George Lucas at Fox and later moving into the video game industry – and he made it count. Warning Sign was an engaging thriller that had the gravitas of a studio picture, but sadly got buried in the avalanche of the decade’s flashier and more celebrated offerings.

What I found most intriguing were the similarities it shared with two iconic genre pictures, Aliens and 28 Days Later. It’s impossible not to watch the scene where a cammed-up science team descend into Bio-Tek’s lower levels and not think of the sequence where James Cameron’s colonial marines had their disastrous first engagement with the aliens.

Come for the virus, stay for the arcade games!

I was also reminded of Ripley when Quinlan’s character had to turn into a reluctant bad-ass in the second act. Even more interesting is that Aliens came out a year later, yet they were both pictures at Fox. You can even hear James Horner’s score in the Warning Sign trailer, though if I had a nickel for every time that was pilfered for an ad I’d be as rich as Cameron.

As for 28 Days Later, I have to wonder if writer Alex Garland didn’t see this movie. While it’s true both viruses shared a similar pathology, my eyebrows didn’t raise until the word “rage” was used more than once. Very curious indeed.

I think what most surprised me about Warning Sign was the ending. It was very unexpected and not at all how these movies usually go. It was kind of refreshing actually. Not particularly realistic, but it was a studio picture, after all. Considering I hadn’t heard thing one about this film before watching it, I feel it’s an underappreciated gem. I understand that the mid-eighties were crammed with pop culture mainstays, but if you dig a little deeper there are a ton of other fine titles like this one to be found, as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Short of the Week #46: The Ten Steps

Going way back to 2004, here's one of my favourite all-time short films, Brendan Muldowney's The Ten Steps.

Putting aside my penchant for babysitter stories, I've always thought the payoff in this short was exceptional. Muldowney has since gone on to direct three features, Savage (2009), Love Eternal (2013) and Pilgrimage last year starring Tom Holland and Jon Bernthal.

Friday, December 7, 2018

You Snooze, You Lose.

This week's VHS is Bill Rebane's 1978 killer virus flick The Alpha Incident.

An organism brought back from Mars infects a group of people in a railway station.

With flu season upon us, I thought it fitting to revisit a movie I haven't seen since my Major Video days. I pretty much only remembered the big effects piece in the movie and it didn't even go down how I recalled it. As a movie, The Alpha Incident wears its lack of budget on its sleeve as the majority of the movie takes place in one room, as faraway scientists search for a cure.


I found myself frustrated with the characterizations here, as apart from straight arrow Dr. Sorensen (Stafford Morgan), everyone is rather insipid or exaggerated and certainly not the kind of folks you'd want to spend your last moments with. Perhaps most disappointing was how useless the only female character was, as Jenny (Carol Irene Newell) goes from fairly meek to sneaking off to snog the wholly unappealing Jack (John Goff) for no real reason other than perhaps the filmmakers needed a flash of skin.

If you look up LEER in the dictionary...

I've always found the movie's hook of a virus that only kills you once you fall asleep really interesting – it was most of the reason I wanted to re-watch it – but I sure wish they'd had the funds to fully realize this idea. You only get to see the effects once, well twice if you count the poor lab rat earlier in the movie. The Alpha Incident also concludes how you would expect though I did have to rewind it because it's executed very strangely. I couldn't tell if the production just couldn't afford squibs or they were inferring that they also brought back ray guns from Mars, as well.

If Don Draper had been a bio-chemist...

As you know, I'm not one for remakes, but if there's one that could use a second go-round it's this one. I assume The Alpha Incident was a low budget riff on Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain, but if you happen to be looking for alternate seventies virus-on-the-loose yarns, I'd go with George A. Romero's 1973 picture The Crazies, or even Ed Hunt's Canadian tax shelter effort Plague from 1978.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Short BITS 2018

The seventh edition of the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival wrapped up early last week and was, by all accounts, a rousing success. Expanding to six days and adding several more panels and a new spotlight of genre web series, the fest showed that the future here is bright. Though I took in a few features (the highlight of which being Danishka Esterhazy's Level 16), I will be concentrating on the short films screened at the fest.

It was a strong year that ran the gamut, whether it was the adorable middle-school produced Frostbite from the North West Territories, or the all-too-real tragic scenario of Daumoun Khakpour's Standby, there was something for every horrorphile throughout the weekend.

Nelson Dunk's The Devil You Know was a piece I had seen a few times while screening shorts for festivals this year and I am glad it found a place here. It's an interesting concept that flourishes on the strength of its two leads Courtney Hecktus & Aubree Erickson.

Ariel Hansen's Nepenthes upped the ante on the killer house tale, offering up something extra gooey.

It is often hard for festivals to find slots for long form shorts, but fortunately BITS found one for Nicole Goode's Supine. This beautifully shot piece about a lonely taxidermist kept me engaged throughout, largely due to the sullen, yet striking performance from Eva Larvoire.

David J. FernandesBinge offered up an intriguing mystery that would've been at home in an episode of Vincenzo Natali's series DarkNet.

Robert DeLeskie's short film Lay Them Straight was terrific and well deserving of the Best Short Award at this year's fest. It's extremely sedate and introspective, ultimately building to a chilling, yet wholly satisfying conclusion.

For me personally – and for those who know of my penchant for babysitter creepers this should come as no surprise – my fave of the fest was Jenny Stang's The Whistler. It's not only well acted and looked great, it also took the time to create its own lore. I've come to describe it as this year's Banshee, but far superior in my opinion.

So that's my rundown of the BITS bunch. You may or may not have noticed how many of these aforementioned shorts were directed by women. It is actually a promising trend I have noticed while watching hundreds of shorts in 2018. Numbers are definitely up and that's encouraging. Speaking of which, I'd like to give a shout out to Larissa ThomasAlicia Faucher for being nominated for Best Web Series in Allie & Lara Make A Horror Movie. Check it out here if you feel so inclined.