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Willow Creek (2013)

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Ahh, Bigfoot. Is there any creature in the horror canon that has inspired so many bad movies as the big hairy cryptid also known as Sasquatch? Out of (probably) hundreds of Squatch-horror lowbudgeters, only The Legend of Boggy Creek and Abominable come to mind as movies worth seeing (not counting Yeti movies). The rest are about half as scary as the Scooby-Doo episode with Laurel and Hardy.

Miles of gorgeous scenery with nary a meddling teen nor deceased comedy team

Miles of gorgeous scenery with nary a deceased comedy team nor a meddling teen to be seen

Well, to that small list of good bigfoot movies we can add Willow Creek, a found-footager from comedian  turned indie-auteur Bobcat Goldthwaite. I know, I know, found footage, but done right these can be good spooky fun and this one avoids the pitfalls by bringing something a little different to the mix.

It's a musical!

It’s a musical!

Found footagers generally work on a slow-burn principal, and that’s where most of ‘em fail; boring characters and a ho-hum setup has us half-dozing by the time the fun happens in the last half, or last half hour, or last five minutes (or never). Goldthwaite keeps us interested by giving us likable leads on an interesting quest (to find the site of the famous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage from 1967) and making that quest fun to watch while we wait for things to get, well, hairy.

This guy certainly seems to be having fun

This guy certainly seems to be having fun

The fun comes from the couples’ visits to real-life Bigfoot tourist spots and their encounters with locals, some of which are actors but others are just, well,  locals. There’s lunch at a Bigfoot Sandwich shop, awkward attempts to interview locals, and not one but two different guys singing folk songs about the Patterson-Gimlin footage!

We even take time for some art appreciation

We even take time for some art appreciation

The Patterson-Gimlin footage is the original “found footage” movie – a few shaky seconds of a female Sasquatch striding shot with an 8mm camera. Its authenticity is still debated; a “deathbed confession” by an alleged confederate doesn’t add up and – let’s be honest – the creature in the footage looks a hell of a lot more realistic than any bigfoot Hollywood’s come up with. On the other hand, it’s been almost fifty years of increasingly cheap and sophisticated cameras and no one’s come up with anything remotely similar since.

Thanks, exposition guy!

Thanks, exposition guy!

But the creek bed where they shot the film is a ways off the beaten path, 29 miles or so. After some laughs and some foreshadowing, our intrepid duo head out into the wilderness.

What creatures lurk in the dark, in the night?

What creatures lurk in the dark, in the night?

Once the sun sets the eeriness happens. The film’s showpiece is a long sequence set entirely within the tent as our heroes listen to weird noises occur off in the darkness. It’s almost twenty minutes long but holds the interest with its increasing sense of the uncanny.

Sensitive viewers may find this sequence too in-tents...

Sensitive viewers may find this sequence too in-tents

When I was a kid I was a Cryptozoology buff, the sort of nerd who could tell you the difference between a yeti, a teh-lma, and a meh-teh and list the nine types of sea serpents off the top of my head (my favorite: the merhorse). I’m happy to report that this is one of the better crypto-creature movies, certainly in the top ten (actually I can’t think of that many good ones). Recommended.

 

Posted on 28 October '14 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Black Sunday (1960)

 

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Like many imported horror movies Black Sunday is known by several names, including the one above (the British release title, which is closer to the original Italian title La Maschera del Demonio). Those two names are more descriptive of the plot but you know what? I prefer the more well-known albeit less-informative handle that AIP slapped on it for the US release (despite its titular similarity to a book and movie about a blimp that fails to blow up the Superbowl)(spoiler)(BTW said book was written by Hannibal Lecter creator Thomas Harris. I bet Hannibal hates the Superbowl too).

This would make an awesome halftime show, however

There’s almost no football in this Black Sunday. What there is instead is atmosphere, great dripping gobs of the stuff. This is a spooky, spooky film.

The dry ice budget on this movie must have been off the hook

The dry ice budget on this movie must have been off the hook

This is the first entire film directed by maestro Mario Bava (he did clean-up work on three previous pictures) and it’s a stunning debut. One of the hallmarks of Bava’s later work is his stunning use of color. But on the other hand…

 

He does OK with the black and white as well

He does OK with the black and white as well

This is a beautiful-looking production with rich contrasts and moody design work. If he never directed a color feature or indeed, never directed another feature at all this movie would be enough to cement his reputation as one of the most dynamic of horror stylists.

But.. but then there's be no Black Sabbath! What would Ozzie call his band?

But.. but then there’s be no Black Sabbath! What would Ozzie call his band?

I’ve gone on a bit about the haunted beauty of the movie’s style. Okay, you say, groovy, you say, nifty keeno Bieberrific you also say. What about the movie itself? What about the story?

It is true. I have looked it up in the dictionary. "Bieberrific" is, indeed, a word. There is no God!

It is true. I have looked it up in the dictionary. “Bieberrific” is, indeed, a word. There is no God!

The movie begins with a stunning, influential scene: a witch (Barbara Steele) is condemned to death . Before she dies she curses her accusers; then a horrifying metal demon mask is nailed onto her face! Strong stuff for 1960 (the same year that Psycho broke gore ground as well).

I wonder if Ben Cooper made a kid's version of this mask for 60's trick or treaters?

I wonder if Ben Cooper made a kid’s version of this mask for 60′s trick or treaters?

Then it’s years later and two travellers accidentally drip blood onto her corpse while accidentally breaking into her vault and accidentally run into her descendant (also played by Barbara Steele) and then, well let’s just say… antics ensue.

Coffins, possessions, trapdoors over pits of spikes, and other zaniness

Coffins, possessions, trapdoors over pits of spikes, and other zaniness

Okay, the plot isn’t much but that’s true of most horror classics really. (You can write the plot of The Evil Dead on your thumbnail). What makes this a winner and a Halloween must-watch is the atmosphere and grim sense of malevolence that powers the story. One of the greatest horror films of the 60s (and that’s saying a lot).

All that and it made Barbara Steele an icon too.

All that and it made Barbara Steele an icon too.

 

Posted on 8 October '14 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

You’re Next (2011)

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It took me a while to get around to seeing this well-regarded film from a few years back. Did I like it as much as everyone else? Yeah, pretty much.

I can't remember which site I read the good reviews for this...

I can’t remember which site I read the good reviews for this…

The plot is horror-movie simple: Erin (Sharni Vinson) accompanies her boyfriend to a family get-together at his rich parent’s big ol’ house in the middle of nowhere. Before you can say “You were home” they’re all stalked and slaughtered by a trio in weird masks.

What does the fox say? "Time 2 die"

What does the fox say? “Time 2 die”

If that sounds a bit like “The Strangers” you can relax, this is a very different kettle of gore. Turns out Erin is really, really good at surviving and pretty soon the blood is flowing from all directions.

Seriously grumpy cat.

Seriously grumpy cat.

The movie moves quickly and a good amount of thrills and tension are delivered. The fun cast includes Barbara Crampton (who honestly looks too young to be the family matriarch, sorry Barbara!) and horror directors Ti West and Larry Fessenden.

Ti is thinking "This film needs more grain and some zoom lenses".

Ti is thinking “This film needs more grain and some zoom lenses”.

The only thing that keeps it from attaining any sort of classic status is the “reveal”. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just hint that it grounds the movie too much, making it more of a “thriller” than a “horror” movie. Sort of like the film “Severance” a few years back, though saying that doesn’t give anything away; I’m talking tonally here.

Lamb sez "I am the one who chops".

Lamb sez “I am the one who chops”.

That’s just a quibble, tho. Whatever you want to call it, it gets your heart racing. See it! (Though of course at this point I was the only one who hadn’t).

"Oh please God let that be maniacal killers. I can't deal with my boyfriend's family one minute more!"

“Oh please God let that be maniacal killers. I can’t deal with my boyfriend’s family one minute more!”

 


 

 

Posted on 2 October '14 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Haunter (2013)

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We start this Halloween season with a fun little spooker  starring Zombieland’s Abigail Breslin. This has a cool premise, which is what got my attention and made me want to see it:


It's a Musical!

It’s a Musical!



Haunter starts where a lot of ghost movies end: the main character is a g-g-g-ghost! And so is her whole family. They spend their time repeating the same day over and over, the day they died (only without the death). To make things even more terrifying, they’re stuck in the 80s!

We're all still haunted by THIS spooky spectre.

We’re all still haunted by THIS spooky specter.



Actually, it’s not that scary for them, just kind of monotonous. And they don’t even notice! Arrrgh! Parents just don’t get it! Abigail does, though.

Then as now, Siouxsie shirts and Bowie posters confer magic powers.

Then as now, Siouxsie shirts and Bowie posters convey magic powers.



Before you can say “I see live people!” Abi is being haunted by strange sounds, voices and even an apparition or two.

"Hello, I too enjoy the thin white duke's Berlin period."

“Hello, I too enjoy the thin white duke’s Berlin period.”



This movie has all the hallmarks of being based upon a YA novel, and I mean that in a good way. It’s got a strong story, likable characters, an involving mystery and a few light chills.

Another sign it's a horror movie for teens.

Another sign it’s a horror movie for teens.



On the other hand, it’s goreless and ultimately kind of friendly. That’s OK with me but I know some horror fans see any movie that doesn’t at least include some flaying as an insult to their sense of decorum.

You're telling me there isn't ONE spilled intestine in this thing?

You’re telling me there isn’t ONE spilled intestine in this thing?



So what? I liked it. It got the season off to a good start. Thumbs up.

It's all a metaphor, man, a metaphor!

It’s all a metaphor, man, a metaphor!

 

 

 

 

Posted on 1 October '14 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Countdown to Halloween 2014 approaches!

Hey! It’s that fantastic time of year again and as usual I’ll be participating in the Countdown to Halloween! Unlike previous years I’ve gotten started early so maybe just maybe I’ll have a post every day (or so) this year! The fun starts October 1, same bat-time, same bat-channel!

Posted on 28 September '14 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

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All right, ladies and gentlemen, it is found footage time once again and you know what that means; I have to yell “get back here!” before you flee this review and click over to something else, like maybe a Buzzfeed quiz on “Which Little Pony am I?” (I’m Princess Sparklefeather).

In Soviet Russia, found footage finds you!

In Soviet Russia, found footage finds you!

But  you should stick around for this one, ’cause it’s some serious fun. I really had a good time with this zany, gory delight.

Fools Russian where angels fear...

Fools Russian where angels fear…

Our story takes place toward the end of WWII, as a squad of Soviet soldiers is off on a secret mission in Germany. As a propaganda exercise, their exploits are being filmed (or so they are led to believe). They fight some soldiers, brutalize some civilians, etc. etc. But as they move deeper into German territory they encounter some weirdness. Empty graves, skeletons that seem to be weird human/metal hybrids, etc. etc. But everything goes south when an “innocent villager” found tending rabbits (aww!) sends them off into some tunnels under abandoned church. And before you can say “monsters with sickle hands”…

Let's have some monster action, chop chop!

Let’s have some monster action, chop chop!

There are a lot of things to like about this movie. First, the slow buildup works well but doesn’t take up too much screen time – too many “found footagers” are all buildup with the action only coming in the last few minutes (if at all – I’m looking at you, Frankenstein Theory). Here, we get monster goodness right in the second act. And what monsters!

Dieselpunk monstrosities - you know the drill

Dieselpunk monstrosities – you know the drill

They keep on coming through the film, each one weirder and more grotesque than the last. My favorite is “Propellerhead” (which I won’t spoil with a screen grab), but you might find Clamphead or Sawhands more to your liking. It’s a big world, and there is room for all tastes.

Though I'm not sure how much taste has to do with any of this...

Though I’m not sure how much taste has to do with any of this…

It all ends up at Frankenstein’s factory, where half the film’s budget seems to have been spent on buckets o’ grue. I’m not a huge fan of gore movies, but this is such a romp in gleeful grand guignol that I watched it with a big sick grin on my face. Sure, whiners may quibble: this “Russian” found footage is in “English” (though spoken with a Russian accent, so there’s that little nod to authenticity); it’s anachronistically in color and sound (though they make a lame stab at explaining this); and most of film’s middle third is a long series of pop-up scares not unlike a theme park haunted house (though why the hell this would be a complaint is beyond me). All in all, it’s a sick little gem and one of the most fun horror films I’ve seen since Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil.

It even has moments of pathos - poor mine-head.

It even has moments of pathos – poor mine-head.

 

 

 

 

Posted on 15 February '14 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

mummy

And so here we are at the end of our little Abbott and Costello retrospective. For a team that was working with spooky themes almost from their outset (Hold that Ghost was their second starring feature filmed, remember) it is fitting that their final film for Universal (they made one more, Dance With Me Henry) should be a spook-fest.

Abbott and Costello: Taking the pith out of the horror genre since 1941

Abbott and Costello: Taking the pith out of the horror genre since 1941

However, this final monster team-up is generally regarded one of their worst ever. Having rewatched most of their Universal pics recently I’d say that’s not really that derogatory a remark, as the quality of their work for the studio remained constant. Nevertheless, people don’t like this one. Why?

 

Bud and Lou greet the critics' opinions with practiced stoicism

Bud and Lou greet the critics’ opinions with practiced stoicism

Honestly, I had that opinion as well. But this rewatch opened my eyes a little. From the outset, this is not a weak A+C comedy but, in fact, a superior one.  The duo are in top form and work together with an accustomed precision. The first two acts are quite funny, and the supporting cast includes Marie Windsor, Michael “Kang the Klingon” Ansara, and The Dick van Dyke Show‘s Richard Deacon (also memorable in The Thing From Another World) improbably cast as an Egyptian cult leader. So why the hate?

The Voice of the Mummy says: You Shall Face the Curse of the Underappreciated Comedy

The Voice of the Mummy says: You Shall Face the Curse of the Underappreciated Comedy

It’s pretty simple, really. The last act, which features not one but three mummies wandering around (and one is Bud) sounds like it should be funnier than it plays. It’s not bad, but never rises to the level of zany and we leave the film feeling slightly underwhelmed.

Proper attire for catacomb creeping

Proper attire for catacomb creeping

This is one of the rare times that Bud and Lou play characters named “Bud” and “Lou” rather than “Slim” and “Tubby” or “Svelte” and “Fatso” or some other names designed to delight the tempremental Costello. It’s also the only one of their monster-mashes that features trademark A+C verbal humor aside from the usual double-takes and slapstick.

Slapstick or verbal wit, take your pick

Slapstick or verbal wit, take your pick

The production values are high and there’s a good creepy atmosphere in the tomb sequences. The opening musical number is mostly acrobatics and has a murder theme, so even that part is above average (and its interspersed with a fun bit where an unusually quick-thinking Lou reacts to a flaming shish-kebab by dousing it and Bud with water).

Okay, the mummy makeup is kinda weak

Okay, the mummy makeup is kinda weak

If you’re one of those who never watched this ’cause you heard it sucked, I say take a look; if you’re one of those who always loved it but felt guilty because no one else did, then I say you were right all along, sir or madam!

I'm sure their are scarier skeletons in your video closet

I’m sure their are scarier skeletons in your video closet

 

 

 

 

Posted on 31 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)

a and c meet dr jekyllWe’re nearing the end of our Halloween look back at Abbott and Costello’s horror-ish comedies, and not coincidentally nearing the end of their career as a team – they only did three more after this one. They’d been making movies for not much over a decade and this was movie number 30, give or take… and critics usually make a point of noting how “tired” they seem in these “lackluster” final outings. Are the critics right?

The critic in Lou's mirror seems to think so

The critic in Lou’s mirror seems to think so

Nah. Bud and Lou go about their business here with customary vigor and their screen chemistry and timing are drum-tight (concurrently with this movie they were also shooting their TV series, which critics have called “their best work” – so which is it, “they’re tired” or “at their peak”?). However, there is one aspect of the movie that may explain why it’s so maligned compared to its actual merits.

And recycling of Three Stooges gags is not the culprit

And recycling of Three Stooges gags is not the culprit

There is an unspoken rule in A+C movies. While there may be a brief bit at the film’s opening that establishes the central conflict and tone, we are immediately thereafter introduced to Our Heroes, usually in a comic sequence that establishes their characters. Here, once again, we have that brief opening bit – Mr. Hyde attacking someone – then we meet some suffragettes, then they turn out to be dance-hall girls who perform an excruciating musical number, then there’s a fight scene (and I left out the sexist flirt-dialogue between the film’s romantic leads) and only then, FINALLY, do we encounter Bud and Lou, almost seven minutes into the movie (but it seems longer). SO right away it feels like an Abbott and Costello film without Abbott and Costello, and we’re bored and annoyed. From there it’s a bit of an uphill battle to get us involved in what’s going on – Bud and Lou seem absent, even though they’re the focus of the next 80 minutes or so.

And no amount of hat-twiddling can buy back our good graces

And no amount of hat-twiddling can buy back our good graces

But overall, once we’re over that hurdle, this is a funny outing. Bud and Lou play American cops sent overseas to learn British police techniques. It’s the 19th century, and a mysterious killer stalks the streets of London. Is there some connection between this hairy killer and the impeccably upstanding gentleman’s gentleman, Dr Henry Jekyll?

What mischief could this gentleman possibly get up to?

What mischief could this gentleman possibly get up to?

That’s Boris Karloff, of course, in his second A+C outing (interestingly, fellow screen Frankensteins Lon Chaney Jr. and Glenn Strange also did two A+C films each) and in this case we get much more Boris than we did in the film that had his name in the title. His jekyll is interesting in that he knows he’s Hyde and takes his serum to release the Id side of his nature. He also keeps several transforming serae (that’s the plural of serum, right?) lying around in his basement lab, which Costello gets injected with of course.

What does a human mouse gotta do to get a drink around here?

What does a human mouse gotta do to get a drink around here?

And of course later on Lou turns into a shorter Mr. Hyde and menaces people. Eventually there’s rooftop chase between Bud, the two Hydes and romantic lead Craig “Deadly Mantis” Stevens that reminded me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Time for some Hyde and seek! Get it?

Time for some Hyde and seek! Get it?

As usual the production values are superb and there’s even a Costello/Frankenstein rematch in a wax museum. Yep, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is much better than its rep and a fine entry in the A+C vs.Evil canon. Now, what about the next and final film in the series, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, often considered one of their worst? Find out next time!

Come at me Bro!

Come at me Bro!

 

Posted on 28 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Poster - Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man_02

Some writers have said that The Time of Their Lives is the Abbott and Costello movie for people who don’t like Abbott and Costello movies. In that case, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is a a movie for people who love Abbott and Costello movies. If you don’t enjoy antics, you won’t like it much, but if you do, you’ll be laughing. A lot.

You'll be knocked out! says the tagline writer

You’ll be knocked out! says the tagline writer

As I’ve said before, this is the funniest of the monster-meetups. There are lots of great sight gags, and a fun prize-fight climax. But what makes this film work so well, and what makes it one of their all-time best movies, is the plot. There is one!

Spoiler: it involves an invisible man

Spoiler: it involves an invisible man

Arthur Franz plays a boxer who refused to take a dive; in retaliation gangster Sheldon Leonard has framed him for the murder of his trainer/manager.  On the run he hooks up with fledgeling detectives Bud and Lou, who he enlists to help him clear his name. Also enlisted: his scientist pal, who (wouldn’t you know it) has an invisibility serum.

That's Claude Rains' picture on the wall there, a nice touch

That’s Claude Rains’ picture on the wall there, a nice touch

Even without A + C this would be a pretty good B-movie invisible man sequel, on the level of The Invisible Agent or The Invisible Man’s Revenge. Like those movies, the effects range from “quite good for their day” to “How the hell did they do that?”

Like this scene where the invisible man shuffles and deals cards to Bud and Lou

Like this scene where the invisible man shuffles and deals cards to Bud and Lou

And there are plenty of effects shots, too. This isn’t some shopping-cart movie like Mister Incredible Superinvisible or whatever where “the invisible man” mainly manifests by opening doors (unconvincingly).

Nope, you get lots and lots of headless bathrobes

Nope, you get lots and lots of headless bathrobes

Of course, this is an Abbott and Costello film and you aren’t cheated there, either. They’re as funny as ever and still have that great chemistry. Lou does a lot of first-rate physical comedy – the plot calls for him to pretend to be an incredible boxer (with the invisible man delivering the punches) so that the gangster will try to bribe him to throw a fight so that… hmm, perhaps the Invisible Boxer took a few too many shots to the head when he came up with that scheme. Anyway, it all comes together in a big prize-fight finish (where Lou accidentally knocks out the his invisible sidekick) and that’s as funny as you’d expect (or not funny if you don’t like Costello).

In real life Costello was a basketball star in high school - true fact

In real life Costello was a basketball star in high school – true fact

And we have a unique scene where Bud Abbott carries the comedy weight all by his lonesome – this might be the only instance of this in the A + C canon (correct me if I’m wrong here – no wait, you can’t, I disabled the comments due to Russian spam overload). He has to babysit a drunk Invisible Man at a restaurant and pretend that he’s the one drinking the extra drinks and singing tipsy songs. It’s pretty funny but you can see why he’s the straight man.

Of course they're both for me I'm Bud Abbott

Of course they’re both for me I’m Bud Abbott

We’re nearing the end of our revisitation of the Abbott and Costello monster movies. So far we’ve enjoyed some terrific comedies with no duds; however the final two entries in our recap are not very well thought of by fans and critics alike. What’s my take? Tune in and find out!

Posted on 16 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)

AandCmeetK

Okay, first the truth: this movie doesn’t really belong in here with Abbott and Costello’s other monster romps. There’s no monsters, and only a hint of the supernatural (Boris plays a swami with eerie powers). And (spoiler!) Boris isn’t the killer! (A movie lied!? Say it ain’t so!) But it has “Meet” and “Boris Karloff” in the title, so here we go!

Boris looks delighted to be here

Boris looks delighted to be here

The plot finds Bud and Lou working at an upstate resort. Quickly a well-known lawyer is murdered and bellboy Lou is the chief suspect. Hotel detective Bud knows Lou couldn’t be guilty (“He’s too stupid to kill anybody”) and together they try to find the real killer – well, not really, they mostly try to keep Lou from being blamed from any of the other murders that keep happening.

The face of a killer

The face of a killer

This is not generally rated highly as one of A+C’s films but I suspect that this is largely due to the disappointment people have when they realize that Karloff isn’t in it much (in fact he didn’t join the cast until just before the film went into production). As comedies go, it’s solid, with lots of laughs and some seriously dark humor – the funniest parts involve multiple corpses (leading to some Weekend at Bernie’s-style gags) and an attempt by Boris to hypnotize Costello into commiting suicide!

Boris seems to be enjoying this scene a little too much

Boris seems to be enjoying this scene a little too much

It all ends up with a masked killer pursuing Lou through a spooky cavern. So, while it may not be the horroriest of their spook-shows, it does offer a lot to reward a fan of macabre slapstick.

Like this guy, who seems to have wandered over from a giallo or 80s slasher flick

Like this guy, who seems to have wandered over from a giallo or 80s slasher flick

Boris would tangle with Bud and Lou again shrtly, but first we’ll visit the well-regarded Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. See you next time!

Or you can just hang around

Or you can just hang around

 

 

Posted on 9 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.