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, May 24, 2019

Emmeritus Triple Bill

About eight years ago, I first discovered the wonderful world of Emmeritus Productions. For those who don't know, they were a Canadian film company that made a slew of shot-on-video titles in the eighties. In addition to hitting the video market, they also first played on Hamilton-based TV station CHCH.


After experiencing The Tower – the probable “crown jewel” of their thirty or so title catalogue – I have been searching for more. It took many years, but recently Dan at Eyesore finally hooked me up with a bunch, the first three of which I will regale you with today.

Before I do though, I would like to say that despite the cheap and cheesy quality of these movies, there's something really endearing about Emmeritus pictures. Several of their movies are set in Hamilton and I think it must have been cool for those watching CHCH back in the day to see their neck of the woods being represented.

First up was Larry Pall's 1985 teleplay Death in Hollywood. I'm glad that I watched this one first because it was the weakest of the three by far. I was immediately tipped off at the onset when the title sequence was a parade of tepid stills that dragged on to the tune of four(!) minutes. What followed was what seemed like a bad soap opera involving a washed-up director scheming to get his comeback movie made.


I hope you like the golden age of cinema because Gilbert Sheridan (Phil Rash) prattled on about it a bunch. In fact, there's a scene where a reporter interviewed him and it felt like it went on for twenty minutes. Actually, the passage of time could've been measured by the number of drinks that are fixed in this movie. Seriously, these cats put the Mad Men to shame.

I should re-emphasize teleplay here, as the action is mostly confined to one room, with the others probably just being other parts of what I wager was Casa Loma. I definitely recognized some of the same parts from Beyond the Seventh Door. I also found it difficult to nail down the era it was set in, as the time period seemed to shift from conversation to conversation. At one point, I thought it was the fifties, then later the sixties and since there were no exteriors you just couldn't tell. I do know that I was almost falling asleep when the climactic gunshot rang out.


Death in Hollywood was certainly something made for TV. I don't know what time slot this would have originally played, but it surely would've only made a captive audience of night owls who had no other choice after all the other channels had signed off.

Second, and most entertaining of the trio, was Rob Stewart's 1986 Mark of the Beast.


This one was about a secret cult operating out of Hamilton. So great! I love the landmarks used in this one, including Mohawk College and City Hall, the latter of which was the site of a political rally that had like twelve people there - some of whom were wearing hard hats because you know, they're working class types!

So this cult was global, as the Hamilton faction referred to their “American and European brothers” yet I wonder if it was just us Canucks that sported the relatively visible tattoo outing themselves as part of the conspiracy. I must say that Mark of the Beast has one of the most untwist-y twists ever. I mean, the guy's last name was Devlin and he had a giant picture of himself in his office, were we not supposed to know he was the villain???


I will give the movie props for going against convention and shifting protagonists mid-way through. I guess they thought we'd rather watch Paul (Jim Gordon) edit his school project and fail badly (twice) at cooking noodles. Then of course later he fumbled around trying to fix his car and get lucky with Karen (Carolyn Guillet) while people's lives were at stake. Oh yeah, the tape!

Canuck Cult Command Centre.

I was glad to see Charlene Richards (The Tower's stripper with a heart of gold) show up as Karen's best friend. It was a little shocking to see her get offed after playing cat-and-mouse with the assassin for like ten minutes of the third act. Also, can we talk about the receptionist job at the Hamilton Memorial?


Thinking back on Mark of the Beast puts a smile on my face so it is definitely up there with The Tower so far. Lastly, I watched Joseph Gaudet's The Hijacking of Studio 4.


This one was about a father (Jack Zimmerman) who holds up a TV station with a bomb to demand his daughter be released from a prison in the fictional African nation of Kanzaal whose leader happens to be in the studio. Emmeritus actually sprung for some location shooting as the first five minutes take place in Kanzaal (i.e. the Caribbean).

Studio 4 sported a large cast of characters which was probably why there didn't seem to be as much filler as there usually is in Emmeritus titles. I mean, there was the pair that went behind the set to have sex, got stuck there and when all hell broke loose decided to just have more sex. Oh wait, I forgot the lengthy scene at the beginning where the hijacker looked at an old photo album and listened to disembodied voices of his family tell him what a terrible father he was.


Interestingly enough, this was one instance where the shot-on-video format actually fit the story. I'd go so far to say that a good chunk of it seemed like a clinic on television production. Is it just me or does Emmeritus just have a hard-on for technology? Energy efficient buildings, editing bay montages and now this.

Now that I have watched a few of these movies, I'm beginning to see Emmeritus' stable of players. Phil Rash showed up again, moving from the ego-maniacial director in Death In Hollywood to an ego-maniacal TV host. I also recognized Mrs. Sandawn (Dorothy Clifton) from The Tower playing the hijacker's estranged wife. As for the story, it played out fairly predictably, but was still an engaging watch even if it was evident that perhaps the filmmakers didn't know how bombs worked.


So three up and three down and it was painless. Enjoyable in fact. But I hope this wasn't the best Emmeritus had to offer. I have a bunch more to watch so I'll likely do another post next month. Until then, take off eh?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Short of the Week #67: Hada

Because my love of monster in the closet stories knows no bounds, here's one from Spaniard Tony Morales called Hada.



Morales followed this up two years later with another horror called Do we play? 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Dream Weaver


This week's VHS is another Shock Stock acquisition in Richard Christian's 1982 thriller The Sender.


When an amnesiac telepath (Zeljko Ivanek) enters a mental hospital under the care of Dr. Farmer (Kathryn Harrold), she soon finds that his uncontrollable abilities are affecting everyone around him, including herself.

I did see this movie when I was very young, as it used to often play on First Choice when we first subscribed circa 1984. Being that was thirty-five fucking years ago, it's not surprising I remembered nothing of this movie except the scene with the bleeding mirrors. A striking image to be sure, but considering the amount of bat-shit stuff going on here, it's funny that's what my nine-year-old brain latched onto.


The Sender was a legitimate Paramount release so, after watching Terror at Tenkiller last week, I was almost overwhelmed by the comparative quality. Though Christian had previously worked on some of the biggest projects of all time as a set decorator/art director, this was his debut as main man and he did a pretty solid job. At the very least he beat both Dreamscape and Elm Street to the dream party by two years. Though the story, by design, was surreal and discombobulating, I never felt like the filmmakers lost control of the narrative.

Kathryn Harrold & Zeljko Ivanek in The Sender.

I believe the strength of Harrold & Ivanek really helped steer this picture true, as well. This was Ivanek's first major role and I feel like I grew up with this guy as I've seen him pop up in my favourite shows (X-Files, Oz, 24 & Banshee to name a few) throughout my life. Another familiar face was Angus Mcinness as the sheriff, but to me he'll always be Jean LaRose from Strange Brew – yes, it was many years later that I realized he was also Gold Leader.

The Sender was a very erratic thriller, as it often felt like it wanted to keep things fairly standard, but then it would hit you with a frying pan to the face set piece, like when the staff tried to give Ivanek shock therapy and immediately regretted it.


I never thought I'd see a medical procedure scene more bonkers than the one in 1978's The Manitou, but there you have it. Lastly, I think The Sender may feature the worst security guard ever in that when he hallucinated that one of the patients was missing their head, his first instinct was to shoot them. Excellent job, sir!

This film is definitely worth a watch, as it's a lesser known title from a booming era in horror cinema with some memorable set pieces and a hospital ward full of character actors.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Short of the Week #66: Eldritch Code

This week I'm in a Lovecraft kind of mood so here's Ivan Radovic's 2017 short Eldritch Code.



Friday, May 10, 2019

The Coverbox Was Cool At Least Vol. 117


This week's VHS is another recent Shock Stock acquisition in Ken Meyer's 1986 backwoods slasher Terror at Tenkiller.


Leslie (Stacey Logan) & Janna (Michele Merchant) retreat to her parent's remote cabin for the summer only to find there is a killer stalking the town's inhabitants. Will they be next?

Even factoring in my extra muddy video tape, it became apparent within the first five minutes that this movie was, to put it plainly, not good. Consisting largely of long scenes of meandering dialogue and shots of the same lonely fisherman, Terror at Tenkiller felt like a shot-on-video movie that just happened to be not actually shot-on-video. I must admit that even though I became mildly entranced in the second act, I still found myself wondering how there could still be half a movie left.


That sign was unfortunately false advertising as the gore was never as good as it was in the opening moments of the movie with the red stuff either being too close up, shrouded in darkness or underwater. It's a shame because having some solid set pieces could've made everything else more engaging.

Stacey Logan as Leslie in Terror at Tenkiller.

Terror at Tenkiller was strange in that there was no mystery to it, as the killer (Michael Shamus Wiles in his first role) was introduced right away and interacted with the main characters shortly after. His motives were murky at best and the sequence of events that led to the climax were clumsy, most notably the scene where Janna invited the killer back to the cabin for a beer and then proceeded to wash her hair in the kitchen sink while he looked on. I think he was on the fence about killing her, but that sort of sealed the deal.


Robert Farrar scored the movie and it was somehow the best and worst part of it. Armed with what sounded like a Casio keyboard, he laid down some tracks that at times took me back to my all-night marathons playing Warlords 2 as a teen. I know that the sound was done in post, but they even used a synthesized harmonica and it's bloody hilarious. Then there was this random sound cue that constantly made me jump because it was so high in the 2-channel mix.

I will give Terror at Tenkiller one piece of credit though. During the climax, it seemed that the abusive boyfriend Leslie ran away from at the start of the movie was going to appear and save the day. But he didn't. Which was good. Cuz that would've been super lame. No, in the end, it was Leslie who saved herself. Well actually, as she says in her obligatory voice over, being a swimmer saved her life! Yeah, this was an eighties home video boom special if I've ever seen one.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Short of the Week #65: Meow

I discovered a short I programmed at the 2017 edition of Saskatoon Fantastic made its way online. Here below is Chris Jopp's Meow, courtesy of Alter.



This was Jopp's fourth short so I'm sure it is only a matter of time before we see a fifth.

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Room To Die For.


This week's VHS is my newly acquired Video Treasures copy of 1979's The Silent Scream.


Students residing at an off-campus mansion get bumped off one-by-one by someone or something.

I was teetering on whether to post about this one, as it was largely unremarkable, but I decided to soldier on anyway. Looking up The Silent Scream on Imdb, I wasn't surprised to find it was a revived project originally shot in 1977. At first considered unwatchable, the filmmakers revamped the script and hired some name actors like Cameron Mitchell, Avery Schreiber and Barbara Steele to gussy things up. I wonder if that was when they decided to add this aggressive title card, as well.


Almost nothing remained of the original movie and – considering the fuzzy rape scene that a character watched on TV was apparently footage from its previous incarnation – that's probably a good thing.

The first chunk of The Silent Scream felt a bit like Psycho, if the Bates Motel had been near a big university and not off the beaten path, but it descended into something more like Danny Steinmann's The Unseen – though admittedly that was released a year later. Technically sound, the movie boasts a decent location in its old rustic house, the very same one used for 1967's Spider Baby.

Juli Andelman as Doris in Silent Scream

Director Denny Harris populated the movie with a mix of old and new actors, including Juli Andelman as Doris. She was a plucky young thing whom I warmed to almost immediately. I thought it was a dick move for the two leads to abandon her on the beach with Grabby Grabberson. Doris seemed a bit more worldly than Scotty (Rebecca Balding) who ended up spending most of the climax tied to a clothing rack that looked like one I bought at IKEA. Push UP on it for FUCK'S SAKE!


Mainly though, this movie could've used more Mitchell & Schreiber. You know, it's funny. Usually when horror movies cut to the cops on the case, it comes off as jarring or upsets the tone (case in point, Last House on the Left), but these guys... I could have watched these guys all day.

The Silent Scream was watchable fare and should be given some credit for being saved from the fire with a do-over. If anything, it teaches us to apply for on-campus housing early, as procrastination = trauma.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Short of the Week #64: Creature Feature

Here's an amusing bit of retro horror I caught at one of the short blocks at Shock Stock last weekend. Here is Newton Wallen's Creature Feature from circa 2017.



Some other highlights from SS were Vidar T. Aune's Creaker from Norway and Canadian Kyle Sharpe's dark animation Astray. It was also good to see Natasha's Pascetta's Road Trash show up there too, as we screened it at Hexploitation a few months back.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Shock Stock 2019!

It's that time of year again where I travel down the 401 to London to take in the greasy sights and sounds of Shock Stock. Despite being up into the wee hours the night before due to a late Endgame screening, I still managed to get to the Ramada at a decent hour to meet up with Schwartz.


It was great as always to catch up with some old friends and people I seem to just see at these types of events like the Witch Finger Podcast gals and the dudes from Poster-Mortem and the CCHCC. It did not take me too long to burn through my allocated cash, mostly on the items below.


As always Shock Stock brought in some really cool guests, which included the likes of Tim Cappello - who performed live on Saturday night - and Kelli Maroney (Chopping Mall, Night of the Comet).

Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) & Kelli Maroney (Chopping Mall)

The biggest draw was the Shock Stock Drive-In hosted by the legend himself, Joe Bob Briggs in his first event in Canada. This was a treat as we watched him intro the 1974 film The Mutations (on 16mm!) starring Donald Pleasance and Tom Baker.

Joe Bob Briggs introduces The Mutations on 16mm.

It was super fun and he did a lengthy Q&A afterwards where he talked about the history of freaks in film, Pioneertown and his new gig at Shudder. When asked what his favourite Canadian horror film was, he answered “Hello Mary Lou, Prom Night II.”

As for the rest, well... I'll adopt the old adage and say what happens at Shock Stock, stays at Shock Stock. The community is already abuzz with what will happen next year for the almighty tenth edition.


Friday, April 26, 2019

It's The End of the World, Eh?


With this weekend's finality of both Endgame and the Battle of Winterfell, I thought it appropriate to dust off an eighties end of the world title in Paul Donavan's Def-Con 4 from 1985.


Three astronauts crash land on Earth shortly after a nuclear war has ravaged the planet.

Denizens of the video store era will no doubt remember that infamous coverbox above. I just only recently realized that Def-Con 4 was a Canadian production. Donovan was a CanCon journeyman with a resume that included Lexx, one of the most wonderfully weird sci-fi's to ever grace the small screen. As for Def-Con 4's Canadian roots, you need look no further than the cast that included adopted Torontonian Maury Chaykin and Lenore Zann, who appeared in such notable homegrown titles as Visiting Hours and Happy Birthday To Me.

Tim Choate & Lenore Zann in Def-Con 4.

Def-Con 4 begins in orbit and we are let into the tense situation on the ground via news broadcasts. At first, I thought this might be another teleplay like previous crisis flicks Countdown To Looking Glass and Special Bulletin. Not so though, as their shuttle crashed to Earth in the second act, revealing a very different world than they left.


It wasn't long before I realized that the coverbox was another elaborate ruse. However, I must admit that I was fine that it went the Mad Max route instead. I was expecting this movie to be pretty cheap-looking, but to be honest it looked like they had at least some money to spend on sets. Though it probably wasn't hard to make Nova Scotia look like a desolate wasteland (I keed!)

Seriously though, Def-Con 4 has a good deal of personality. I love the fact that no one in the production though to check if DEFCON was a retro-graded scale. In actuality, Def-Con 4 only denotes mild concern. It may also be the first time I've ever seen a Social Insurance Card used in a movie.


Even though Def-Con 4 may not have reached the heights promised on its cover, this was still some choice eighties post-apoc shenanigans.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Short of the Week #63: Ella

It was recently brought to my attention that a short I saw waaaay back in 2011 at the now defunct Worldwide Shorts Festival is now online via Alter. Check out Dan Gitsham's Ella starring Anthony Head below.



I dig this short and its unique take on Red Riding Hood. Gitsham must have had a crystal ball because he beat the whole “people in animal masks” trend by at least a year. He recently returned to short filmmaking last year with And The Baby Screamed.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Pit, Man.

Last Thursday, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the indispensable film archive Canuxpliotation.com, the Laser Blast Film Society screened the 1981 Canadian classic The Pit at The Royal. My love of this film is no secret and I was super chuffed to see it on the big screen.


Fortunately, there were others with artistic skills just as excited and they fashioned stuff for the event.

Poster art by Justin Cozens

Cards designed by Keenan Tamblyn

It was a terrific night of wacko Canadian film appreciation.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Ten Little Inheritants.


This week's VHS is a recent acquisition in Emmanuel Kervyn's 1988 horror Rabid Grannies.


A birthday party for two old ladies (Catherine Ayemerie & Caroline Braeckman) turns gruesome when they are possessed by demons and start knocking off their greedy relatives.

Rabid Grannies was a strange beast because it was a four European country co-production that was released this side of the pond by Troma Entertainment. It was a good fit for them, as the subject matter screams the company that brought us titles like The Toxic Avenger and Surf Nazis Must Die. However, with the foreign locales, dubbed dialogue and over-the-top gore, the hybrid actually felt more along the lines of Lamberto Bava or Braindead-era Peter Jackson.


It is amusing to note that a more appropriate title would've been Demonic Grannies, as the two grand matriarchs were possessed by a evil artifact given to them by a shunned relative and not infected by a four-legged creature. I'm guessing, in a practice that was popular in the eighties, this movie started as a title (or poster art) and worked its way back from that.

Rabid Grannies takes an unusually long time setting up its characters. That's not to say there's anything deep about them, there's just a large number so it just took a good chunk of time introducing them all. You've got the unhappy couple with kids, the magnate with the trophy wife, the bad boy and the lesbian couple for which I wonder if the filmmakers were trying to be progressive or exploitative. My money's on the latter. It was over a half-hour before the gore started flying, but it was very entertaining once it did..


I must admit there was a good deal of it, much more than I would've expected. I imagine that is why – save the catchy title – Rabid Grannies hasn't been forgotten. Everyone was fair game and most were cut to pieces. Even the ending was something that, again, echoed the younger Bava. You know, this could've been one of the umpteen Demons sequels and no one would have batted a gouged out eye.

This was a good pickup for Troma, as it matched their mandate, but also branched them out from the urban American titles they were known for.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Video Visions

I found this Inside Edition piece about one of the last video stores in America yesterday. It's always good to see people keeping the dream alive. Looks like they have a pretty good horror section too.



Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Short of the Week #62: Winston

This week I dug into the wonderful world of animation and pulled out Aram Sarkisian's short Winston from 2017.



This was Sarkisian's final project at California Institute of the Arts. I love the Poe-like qualities of this piece as much as its distinctive art style. I look forward to seeing what comes next for this young talent.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Podcastin'

I guested on the newest episode of the podcast The Boys Who Would Be Critics where we discussed the new Pet Sematary movie, as well as some other fun King adaptations of yore. Check it out below if you feel so inclined.


Friday, April 12, 2019

Back To Jerusalem.


This week's flick is Larry Cohen's 1987 vampire flick A Return to Salem's Lot.


An anthropologist (Michael Moriarty) and his son (Ricky Reed) visit an quiet Maine town not realizing it is populated by vampires.

I've been watching a lot of old Stephen King movie adaptations lately in preparation for a podcast I'm sitting in on this weekend. I'd never seen the Tobe Hooper-helmed teleplay either so I had to seek that out, as well. That's almost five hours of Salem's Lot and I was pretty happy with the ride.

Michael Moriarty in A Return to Salem's Lot.

As one might expect, the differences between the two iterations are vast. Hooper's take was a TV miniseries and though it would've been revolutionary in 1979, it's pretty tame by today's standards. I did chuckle at the nods to Texas Chainsaw and that scene where Danny (Brad Savage) was floating outside his brother's window was creepy as hell. There's so much of it that oozed into the vampire films of the next decade like The Lost Boys and Fright Night. I also couldn't help but think of Evil Dead while watching that aforementioned scene, as well.

Anyway, moving onto A Return to Salem's Lot, it was Cohen through and through, especially due to the presence of regular collaborator Michael Moriarty. Some things just go together. Peanut butter and jam. Rye and ginger. And Cohen and Moriarty. Apparently, this was shot back-to-back with It's Alive III so everything worked out well, didn't it?


Anchored by Moriarty, Return has everything else you would expect from a Cohen joint, including foul-mouthed children, quirky characters (including a Nazi hunter played by famed director Sam Fuller) and random creature effects. It also didn't hurt Cohen had the immeasurable talents of cinematographer Daniel Pearl – who coincidentally also shot Hooper's 1974 masterpiece – at his disposal.


Return's script was written by Cohen himself and though it has no real connection to King's work whatsoever – Barlow does not even appear in the movie despite the cover box – it did present some interesting story threads, most intriguingly the idea of the vampires wanting their existence to be documented by Moriarty's character. It also took me a few scenes to recognize a super young Tara Reid in her first role.

Tara Reid in A Return to Salem's Lot.

I still regard Cohen's New York stories to be his best works, but A Return to Salem's Lot was still an entertaining venture made just before he shifted his focus to screenwriting.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Short of the Week #61: The Dollmaker

With the release of Pet Sematary last weekend, it made sense to post this similarly-themed short from 2017 called The Dollmaker directed by Al Lougher.



The Dollmaker just launched via the online horror channel Alter, so be sure to check that out for more horror content.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Mangled!


With the latest iteration of Pet Sematary in theatres, I decided to watch an old Stephen King ditty I'd been meaning to revisit, Tobe Hooper's The Mangler from 1995.


After several fatalities involving an old laundry pressing machine, grizzled cop Hunton (Ted Levine) begins to suspect it may be possessed by evil.

I watched this when it came out in theatres and remembered liking it, but oh my did this not hold up as well as I thought it might. First off, just from the title graphic alone, The Mangler had direct-to-video written all over it. It's amazing some of the horror movies that got a wide release back in the nineties, but, to be fair, the trio of King, Hooper & Robert Englund does carry a large amount of cache. And considering it was largely shot in South Africa, I can't imagine it cost a lot to make either. But I digress.


Perhaps not surprisingly, the most striking thing about this movie was The Mangler itself. Apparently designed by Hooper's own son, William, it's a truly menacing piece of machinery, right down to the sound design. It's also fortunate that the movie at least delivered on its promise of crushing and folding more than a few people like so much laundry. I was little sad that the icebox scene was not nearly as outrageous as I remembered it. Dang recall!

Everything aside from the machine eating people was kind of a mess... Okay, a different kind of mess. I remembered Englund's performance as the machine's owner being a tad cartoonish, but holy mothballs! I feel like Englund asked Hooper on day one, “so how far do you want me to take this?” and he was like, “take Lefty & Chop Top from Texas 2 and crank it to eleven”.


To be honest though, apart from the occasional off-kilter camera angle, I felt there was a lack of direction from Hooper, most apparent during the meandering exchanges between Hunton and his worldly brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor). It was like they were improving half of their scenes together with only an end point to guide them. It's bitter sweet because it made for some amusing moments (in a wow-what-is-going-on kind of way), but it's not the most concise way to make a movie.


I had clearly blanked out the climax because I did not recall that it unfortunately goes the route of almost every King adaptation of the nineties, falling back on instantly regrettable visual effects. Mercifully, they were kept to a minimum with the use of shadow and quick cuts though. The Mangler came at the tail end of an era that saw King properties appear at an almost monthly pace and though it's by no means the worst, it was far from its well-oiled namesake.