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.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Happy Halloween!

You can't keep a good holiday down. However, you choose to spend All Hallows' Eve, stay safe kiddies. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Z is for Zipperface (1992)

So here we are at the last letter with a movie I found while researching Carpenter Brut for a listicle in last month's Halloween issue of Rue Morgue.

A plucky detective (Donna Adams) persues a masked maniac who kills S&M hookers.

This is basically everything you would expect from a Z-grade (wink!) SOV slasher with less than stellar acting, story and boom mic control. Only this one, save for one beheading, was relatively bloodless so it didn't even deliver on the gore like equally trashy SOV's like 555 and Night Ripper. Jesus, that's two movies I've watched in the last week that were WORSE than Night Ripper.

Zipperface and Donna Adams (both would never act again)

The killer barely does anything but crunch around in his leather suit and get kicked in the crotch. I wonder if Wes Craven was one of the dozen people who saw this movie and thought, that's something Hollywood needs, more bumbling killers! I will give credit where credit is due and say that for a movie that probably cost a dollar-fifty to make, there were a pair of decent stunts in a high fall and a car windshield hit that were both culled, among other things, for Carpenter Brut's video for Leather Teeth.

The rest, well, you've got a detective fraternizing with a creepy photographer suspect, a parade of the reddest of herrings and a killer whose knocking off witnesses because they could recognize him, even though he was wearing a mask the whole time.

Yeah, not the best. I wager director Mansour Pourmand should be thanking Brut for saving his movie from complete obscurity.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Y is for YellowBrickRoad (2010)

I recently became aware of Andy Mitton's work, first at this year's Fantasia with his new Covid-set chiller The Harbinger and then his previous haunted house tale Witch In The Window so with this penultimate slot available, it made sense to finally explore his debut.

In 1940, the inhabitants of a New England town all walked into the nearby wilderness never to be seen again. Almost seventy years later, an new expedition of researchers sets out to solve the mystery.

I enjoyed the story and lore of YellowBrickRoad. It's kind of a mash-up between The Blair Witch, the real legend of the Dyatlov Pass with a bit of The Shining thrown in for good measure. This movie also reinforced the absolute pervasiveness of The Wizard of Oz - first realized by me upon seeing the mesmerizing doc Lynch/Oz - on filmmaking as a medium.

Happier times at the trailhead.

YBR possessed some solid atmosphere, mainly brought on by the remote location and the increasingly eerie carrot-on-a-stick cacophony from beyond. Though the narrative and escalation is fairly standard, the actors were strong enough to keep me engaged. Also, a young Robert “The VVitch” Eggers did the costume design on this. The back story of this movie does sound like his bag for sure and I wager he  was taking notes on filming in the boonies. 

I did think that the death scenes were a little clumsy - umm I don't think legs just come off like that - and there were some issues with pacing. It's one of those movies were it looks like things are winding down, but in actual fact there's still fourty-five minutes left so the movie ends up taking longer to resolve itself than it should.

This all may just be an unfortunate side effect of watching a filmmaker's catalogue in reverse order. His newest film The Harbinger is a much tighter and assured piece of work. When you compare the execution of the set pieces, it's like night and day.

Regardless, this was a good starting point. Though the end of the YBR was a bit of a letdown (much like Dorothy must have reacted when she first saw behind the curtain) the lore and mood were enough to make it worth watching. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

X is for X-Ray (1981)

Today's letter is one of the least used in the alphabet, but I still had some choice titles to pick from. I went with Boaz Davidson's Hospital Massacre aka X-Ray.

Susan's (Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton) visit to a hospital to pick up some routine test results turns into a nightmare as staff and patients alike are murdered around her.

The first thing that I wondered when I started watching this movie was if I had accidentally put in Bloody Birthday. X-Ray starts with a bunch of kids - LITERALLY two of which were in Bloody Birthday - being creepy while having cake in a house in California. I had to check more than once I wasn't being tricked. Anyway, after the shocking opening where one of the kids gets hung up on coat rack

We then fast forward to Susan as an adult - a very buxom adult - who for some reason has to pick up some test results from her doctor. She then spends an excessive amount of time in an elevator while all manner of sight gag red herrings occur that made me think I was also watching a spoof ala Student Bodies. In actual fact, the killer just needed some time to switch Susan's test results so she is detained and terrorized for next hour.

Barbi Benton as Susan in X-Ray

I'm not sure if X-Ray was meant to be a comment on the shortcomings of the American health care system, but that's what it ends up being. This poor woman just wants to know what the hell is going on and then simply leave, yet everyone is treats her like she's hysterical, even sticking her in the psych ward at one point.

Meanwhile, a dude in scrubs and a surgical mask is cutting his way through the entire building, often in the most bizarre ways possible.

It all ends up where most movies that take place in tall buildings do; the roof! And that of course means someone is falling to their death, most likely while on fire. You know, that should be my next video. A montage of horror characters falling off buildings. 

X-Ray's strength is its absurdity, but it doesn't fully commit to it as much as it should have which is why your attention may wane from time to time. Benton sure was a looker though.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

W is for Watcher (2022)

For today's letter, I picked a new movie Chloe Okuno's Watcher starring Maika Monroe.

An American woman (Monroe) moves to Romania with her husband where she starts suspecting the man watching her from the building across the street may be a serial killer.

This movie was at first just one of many titles flooding my streaming service inbox, but after some positive feedback from some trusted sources I decided to give it a whirl one evening. I do love me some Maika after all, wish she was in more stuff.

Maika Monroe as Julia in Watcher

While it is true that on the surface it looks like an obvious Rear Window clone, it also does have some more going for it. Instead of being confined to her apartment, Monroe's character Julia has a language barrier to deal with that feels far more debilitating and alienating. She's left out of conversations with her husband's co-workers and calling for help as she encounters danger becomes increasingly more difficult.

The backdrop of Bucharest was also a very pleasing one visually. It made the movie feel much more like a giallo to me than anything from Hitchcock. Monroe really gets to perform in this one, harkening back to when I first saw her 2013's It Follows where paranoia and dread rested heavily on her shoulders in every scene. Worth a “watch“.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

V is for Victims! (1985)

This was just a coverbox from my memory that just happened to be on YouTube.

Four young women on a geology(!) field trip in the desert are stalked by a pair of sadistic bank robbers.

Whoa, this movie was something else. A woman takes an axe to the head in the first minute. Then, almost immediately another completely unrelated naked woman gets murdered in bed. THEN, a dude dressed as an old lady stabs a woman in the back in broad daylight. So trashy was the violence on display, it would have made H.G. Lewis blush.

It was at this point I was wondering if this entire film was just clips of murder scenarios. I mean, Victims! did little to dissuade me, as it took almost twenty minutes to offer up any kind of protagonists, or even actual dialogue. This was the opposite of yesterday's movie; almost no exposition. Scenes just kind of happened and sometimes didn't even finish before cutting to the next “scene”.

I cannot undersell how cheap this movie looked. Disregard that it was shot on 16mm, the threadbare story, awful sound - you can hear a lawnmower in the background during one scene - and again that editing should be enough to unhinge your jaw. I noticed on Imdb that director Jeff Hathcock also did 1986's Night Ripper and that makes so much fucking sense. And that movie is somehow a sizable step up from this.

Shot from just beyond where the mic can properly pick up dialogue.

You know, it always boggles my mind how they got actresses for these movies back in the day. Like, I can't imagine these were high paying (if at all) gigs so Hathcock somehow convinced four(!) women to go into the desert for two weeks to recreate a shittier version of I Spit on Your Grave. What a world... 

Having said all that, for the next week I will definitely be asking every horror hound I know if they have seen this. Just for the tan lines alone. Now, THOSE were scary.

Those aren't panties, folks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

U is for The Unholy (2021)

Thanks to a kind message from Mermaid Heather, I recently discovered that this movie was actually the sixth adaptation of James Herbert's bibliography. Given that his works are so infrequently mined, I felt compelled to watch and as luck would have it I had a free letter.

Alice (Cricket Brown) gains the power to heal and says the Virgin Mary is speaking through her. With the help of tabloid journalist Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), she spreads her word. Or is it?

There was some terrific pedigree here. Herbert's source material (his 1983 book Shrine), produced by Sam Raimi and some top level character actors the likes of Morgan, Bill Sadler and Katie Aselton. However, like I mentioned yesterday, the Hollywood system can't seem break out of its same old tricks. Having just watched Terrified before this, the difference between a filmmaker who knows what he's doing and one who doesn't is made abundantly clear. Evan Spiliotopoulos is definitely a better writer than he is a director.

Cricket Brown as Alice in The Unholy.

A scary movie is more than just easy jump scares and CGI apparitions. For instance, the first scene of The Unholy is basically the first scene of Bava's 1960 film Black Sunday except shot in first person. One scene is effective, the other is not. I bet you can guess which one. And don't get me started on its penchant for exposition and over explanation. Restraint could've really helped this movie. 

It's a shame because as far as I can remember (it has been a few decades), this was a fairly pure adaptation of Herbert's book. Sure, there was the usual condensing of characters and updating to modern day, but it hit all the beats and the casting was great. I thought the exchanges between Alice and Gerry were sincere, and few things bring me more joy than watching Cary Elwes do an accent (any American Crime fans in the house??). Problem is every time the solid cast built up some momentum - CG FACE FLY AT SCREEN! I wonder if that's actually what it said in the script?

Seeing Herbert onscreen is always a happy day, but I'm thankful the cast was skilled enough to keep it - despite post production's worst efforts - from being a painful disaster. I wonder if the studio system is ever going to break out of these old habits... 

Monday, October 24, 2022

T is for Terrified (2017)

For this one I decided to check the only title on Shudder's 101 Scariest Movie Moments Of All Time that I hadn't seen. As luck would have it, it starts with the letter T.

Two professors and a cop investigate strange occurrences in a Buenos Aries neighbourhood.

As I was expecting, this one was quite a banger. Taken at face value, it would be indistinguishable from the mainstream Hollywood dreck in this vein - it's probably why I didn't watch it until now - and that's a shame because Demi├ín Rugna has the chops to make this type of material sing.

Terrified is not only a matter of quality, but quantity. With a movie like this, you are happy if you get one or two really good set pieces or striking visuals, but this movie has a bag full of tricks. There's not only that terrific example of restraint in that scene at the kitchen table that they talk about in the 101, but a few other really clever scares that beautifully use misdirection. I did jump more than once.

This movie utilizes a narrative of inescapable dread much like Ju-on: The Grudge. It is not just haunting a person or a house, but everyone it comes in contact with. Additionally, we never truly understand the origin or motivation of the presence and that makes it all the more nihilistic.

Terrified is every bit as spooky and assured as its North American counterparts and currently available on Shudder so don't sleep on it!  

Sunday, October 23, 2022

S is for Specters (1987)

This one was a blind buy at yet another Rue Morgue flea market. I'd never heard of it, but it has Donald Pleasance in it so that was enough for me to shell out five bucks.

Drilling near an archeological dig site in Rome unleashes an ancient demon.

Specters was pretty straightforward stuff, and yet incoherent at the same time. The Italians can usually be counted on to spice up said confusion so you can at least rejoice in the din, but director Marcello Avallone falls short of the mark. This movie had four(!) screenwriters and it shows, as there are more than one subplots that struggle to take center stage. Is this movie about a pissed off demon? Is it about duelling archeologists? Is it about an actress/singer's failing career?

Trine Michelsen in Specters

It is amusing to watch Donald Pleasance half-ass his way though the few days (if that) he was on set. To be fair though, even Pleasance at fifty-percent makes a movie one-hundred percent better. Was there ever anyone who could describe evil better than Sir Donald?

Despite its shortcomings, there were some bright spots. The score by Lele Marchitelli & Danilo Rea slaps and regular Argento collaborator Sergio Stivaletti is on hand for the gore effects, even if it is mostly just demon claws coming into frame to rip off people's flesh.

Not much more to say about this one. It's no The Keep that's for sure. Onto the next!

Saturday, October 22, 2022

R is for The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here (1972)

This was one that's title was infamous and I just happened to have the Midnight Video VHS in my collection. It's been gathering dust since I acquired it many years ago at a Rue Morgue flea market. So now seemed an appropriate time to check it out.

Diana (Jackie Skarvellis) brings her new husband home to her family estate with the intent of putting an end to an ancient curse that has plagued them for generations.

WHAT EVEN IS THIS?! I was immediately confounded by what I was watching. It was kind of like a play because everyone was orating as if they were trying to reach the cheap seats... or more likely the production's one mic. It was like Coronation Street, but with curses and werewolves. Really. Shitty. Werewolves. 

I took a gamble on this one and I lost my puffy sleeved shirt. Everything about The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! feels cobbled together. If I had done my research on the director Andy Milligan, I would have known this was his MO. This movie (the original version of it anyway) was shot back-to-back with three of his other pictures and the producer had to step in and add the rats in reshoots to pad out the running time. 

Yep, that about sums it up.

Yeah those rats Came alright! And then got immediately returned to the store. I'm told that the rat storyline was added to capitalize on the success of Willard. Though I could've guessed that when one of the characters literally named the rats Ben and Willard. Subtle, guys. Regardless, this movie needed more rats and less, well, whatever this was. A family of werewolves named the Moonies? Jesus wept. 

This would have been the perfect movie to snooze through, but my brain was fascinated by the proceedings. Every actor was giving it their all, from Hope Stansbury doing her best Spiderbaby impression to Milligan himself doing double duty as a rat merchant and gunsmith. No one eats up the clock quite like he does. This movie was inept, yet somehow methodical. 

The Rats are Coming... is unquantifiable trash, and yet still more engaging than Open House.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Q is for A Quiet Place to Kill (1970)

Q's beyond The Winged Serpent and Quatemass are not abundant so I had to dig deep. Fortunately, due to Shudder's fairly large Euro-horror catalogue, I was able to pull this one out.

After recovering from a injury while racing, Helen (Carroll Baker) accepts an invitation to visit her ex-husband Maurice (Jean Sorel) in Majorca, only to be sucked into a murder plot.

This was my first giallo for Alphabet Slop and I'd almost forgotten how much fun they are. Everything is just amped up. The music is boppier, the locales are prettier, the clothes are flashier, and the women, hoo boy, the women are nuder. Now, I wouldn't call QP2K a horror persay, truth be told it's really only gialli adjacent - it has more in common with Diabolique than it does Deep Red - but with more treacherous seaside driving. Seriously that dash-cam made me very uncomfortable.

Carroll Baker & Jean Sorel in A Quiet Place To Kill

Cinephiles often equate director Umberto Lenzi with his cannibal films, but he was a very versatile director. Seven Bloodstained Orchids is an underseen gem and Nightmare City is terrific schlock. I talked about the endless superfluous dialogue scenes that sucked the life out of Open House. Well, QP2K has those same scenes, except Lenzi knows how to make them sing. He'll show some skin, have two men play chess who very clearly have NO IDEA how to play chess, or ahem.. .murder some pigeons. It is Lenzi, after all...

Yes, let's shock zoom over to the ladies. Lenzi mainstay Baker was stunning and rocked a mean leather jacket. Her rivals Anna Proclemer & Marina Coffa were no slouches either. I was surprised to see Coffa had little work after this movie because she had real presence and reminded me of someone I couldn't put my finger on. Margot Kidder? Jen Connolly? 

Anyway, this was a good bit of fun from Lenzi's catlalogue and I can see myself checking out the other two films in this apparent trilogy - Paranoia & So Sweet, So Perverse - at some point in the future.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

P is for Phantom of the Opera (1998)

With the upcoming Dario Argento retrospective coming up at The Revue, it seemed fitting to watch one of the few titles in his filmography that I had not yet seen.

A man (Julian Sands) raised by rats and living in the tunnels underneath a Paris opera house becomes infatuated by a young understudy named Christine (Asia Argento).

Don't ask me why I never got around to seeing this movie until now. Probably the same reason I haven't watched his version of Dracula. Because most people say it is ass. However, if I had known the Phantom was raised by sentient rats, I would have imbibed sooner. Phantom of the Opera ain't that bad.

Julian Sands & Asia Argento in Phantom of the Opera.

I was surprised by the budget of this picture, as it looked like it may have cost the most out of Dario's entire catalogue. That wide shot of the packed theatre was pretty impressive and set the tone. Seeing Ennio Morricone's name in the credits was a nice perk, and the opera pieces in the film really classed things up.

The pacing, at least for the first two acts, was pretty good. Every time it started to get up its own ass, Dario would have the Phantom rip out a would-be thief's tongue or disembowel a filthy pedo. He's the hero for most of it, until he gets all creepy with Asia. I forgot about the unfortunately high percentage of her being ravaged in her father's movies. Oh yeah, then there's that rat catching machine...

This was Argento's period piece and it felt pretty authentic, except for that note passed to Christine that looked like it was written on paper bought at Staples. He also adds some additional flourishes like Christine and the Phantom's shared telepathy and him not wearing a mask - despite the poster. Can't cover that money moneymaker! And, there's that scene in a brothel for the requisite T, A & even D.

Phantom of the Opera is definitely in the bottom half of Argento's filmography, but it's still a nice looking and competent telling of a timeless tale.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

O is for Open House (1987)

This one I literally Googled eighties horrors that start with “O”. I recognized the coverbox and saw that Adrienne Barbeau was in it so that was good enough for me.

A deranged killer is targeting real estate agents.

Adrienne... you let me astray! This movie was one of the most boring slashers I have ever watched. Like up (down) there with the extended cut of Boardinghouse

So much of this movie is just needless exposition, scenes with the detective arguing with his boss, scenes shooting the shit at a radio station and so on. I could feign interest that its “eat the rich” rhetoric is as prescient now as it was then, but I just don't care that much tbh.

Adrienne Barbeau & Joseph Bottoms in Open House

Perhaps more irksome than the pacing is the tone. It's all over the place. It opens up with a radio show caller blowing her head off after confessing she's being molested by her Dad and then goes into a campy scene where a realtor finds a dead body in the shower.

The kill scenes are over-the-top, a couple gets slashed with a plunger with razor blades in it, another realtor gets her boobs electrocuted, but their screams and distress are held onto for so long it borders on disturbing. Like the realtor who hangs in the upstairs window ala Black Christmas...

I shit you not, they hold on this shot for 24 SECONDS!!

And it's not like there is a lot of gore, as much stuff happens off screen. I waited the entire movie for the rival dipshit realtor to get offed and it equated to a distant squelch as his head got lopped off with an axe. I'm going to assume I wasn't watching a cut version and say nuts to that. Gore would have made this way more palatable.

The generic score did not do Open House any favours, nor did the throwaway third act “the call is coming from inside the building” BS. I'm still wondering why they hid the killer's identity if it ended up being just some random goofball. Was I supposed to believe it was the rival realtor? Because they both liked to giggle incessantly.

Yeah, this was one of the weaker Alphabet Slops, definitely down there with G and H, but at least those had some effects. It did not surprise me to learn that Barbeau took this role to pay for her kid's tuition. A joyless role to be sure.