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 31, 2019

They've Doomed Us All, Church Man!

This week's VHS is James W. Roberson's Superstition from 1982.

An old estate haunted by the spirit of an executed witch seeks revenge on all that cross her path.

I'd been waiting a long time to re-watch this, as it had been over twenty-five years since I had first seen it. I remembered it being pretty gory with a high body count – I was only five off the number of twenty I for some reason had in my mind as a reference point. I hosted a VHS double bill last weekend and paired this with the 1988 Lenzi flick Ghosthouse. I hadn't seen that one and was unaware what a fortuitous tandem they would make together.

James Houghton as Rev. Thompson in Superstition

Superstition was even more fun than I remembered it, with tons of gore, creative deaths and just the right amount of nonsensical storytelling. It got going right out the gate, spectacularly dispatching two unsuspecting goofballs. And in a clever switcheroo, this may be one of the only horror movies where the couple making out in their car at the onset actually lived. From then on, the special effects provided by Steve LaPorte & David B. Miller were on point.

At a brisk eighty-five minutes, this movie moves along at a good clip. My friend Jeff also made a good point when he said, “it really helps when you have a great location because you don't mind watching people wander around in the dark for entire scenes.” I would have to agree though, my muddy VHS notwithstanding, some scenes were indeterminably dark. When ubiquitous eighties kid Billy Jacobi met his end in the basement, we kind of had to go by his halted screams rather than anything we actually saw on screen.

I was surprised to find that Superstition was Canadian, even though it was shot in Los Angeles. I'm hoping that the Shout Factory Blu-ray – that I will no doubt be grabbing now that I have reaffirmed that this movie is, in fact, rad – will shed some light on this. People are finally discovering this movie due to that release and realizing that it is not just a pretty coverbox. To all those uninitiated, believe it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Rewind Zone.

Rue Morgue TV just started a new series hosted by Yasmina Ketita (of the Witch Finger Podcast) called The Rewind Zone. For those of us who grew up in the eighties, I'm sure this will get you nodding your head in remembrance. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Short of the Week #68: B(l)ackstage

Here is a short film by Austrian filmmaker Daniel Limmer entitled B(l)ackstage that I programmed at last year's Toronto Smartphone Film Festival.

Yes, this was filmed entirely on an iPhone. This year's TSFF runs June 21-23. For more info, click here.

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.