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STRANGER THINGS (2016) (Netflix Original Series)

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Director: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy

Writer: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Jesse Nickson-Lopez, Justin Doble, Paul Dichter, Jessica Mecklenburg, Alison Tatlock

Music: Kyle Dixon, Michael Stein

Format: Streaming (Netflix)

Series Length: 8 episodes

Starring:

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers

Matthew Modine as Dr. Martin Brenner

Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers

David Harbour as Jim Hopper

Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler

Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson

Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair

Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven

Noah Schnapp as Will Byers

During my childhood, there were certain movies and television shows that I felt “got” me. Media that was specifically aimed at my demographic that seemed to understand what it meant to be a child that was a little different. I loved sports, but was never super athletic. I would rather grab a copy of Shocker on Shock Street or a collection of Alvin Schwartz stories than a baseball bat. My idea of a great time was a trip to the video store to rent A Nightmare on Elm Street III for the fourth weekend in a row. So when I was introduced to The Goonies, The Monster Squad, E.T., Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Goosebumps (TV series) and so on, I felt like it was cool to be uncool.

Now, it seems like young adults have a little taste of what I felt back in the yearly 90s. With shows like Gravity Falls and the new Scooby Doo mysteries (just to name a couple), there’s still a flow of media out there to reach the next generation of obsessed super fans. But these aren’t quite the same. They are missing that key element of nostalgia. Nostalgia for the 80s babies. That is, until this past weekend, when Netflix dropped a bomb of what it was like to grow up in a time before twitter and smart phones.

Stranger Things takes places in Illinois in 1983. A clan of 4 middle-schoolers (very reminiscent of my school yard chums) are gathered in a basement neck deep in an exciting game of Dungeons and Dragons. Mike (Wolfhard), Dustin (Matarazzo), Lucas (McLaughlin) and Will (Schnapp) wrap up their 10 hour session and the visiting boys are sent home. On the way, Will is frightened off the road and proceeds to be chased home. Seeking shelter in his tool shed, the being that chased him has caught up to him and Will mysteriously disappears.

Meanwhile, across town, a strange girl with a shaved head shows up at a local burger joint, sneaks into the kitchen and chows down on leftovers. Wearing a tattered hospital gown and an intense scowl, the girl soon reveals a secret to the audience; an ability to control things with her mind. The mystery of this girl all traces back to a secret government lab, protected by a large, barbed wire fence and checkpoint stands with soldiers, where testing is being done. Only, no one in town knows exactly what kind of testing goes on within its monstrous walls.

I really don’t want to give too much away here. The disappearance of Will turns the Byers family upside down. Convinced that her youngest son is still alive, Joyce (Ryder) will stop at nothing to find him. Will’s friends also believe that Will is still alive, only stuck in a place unseen by the human eye.

The Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross) are magnificent in this series effort. Creating the series and directing most of the episodes, they encapsulated the very essence of the 80s child adventure. Pitting pre-teen kids up against almost impossible odds. Shawn Levy (director of This is Where I Leave You, The Internship, The Night at the Museum films and many others) adds his directing prowess in 2 episodes and a plethora of writers helped in creating this exciting universe where nothing is exactly what it seems. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein add a jaw-dropping score to the adventure that accommodates the action while creeping you out.

As far as acting goes, Ryder, Modine, and Harbour give excellent performances. Truly believable roles delivered with the poise and grace that is expected from these experts of their craft. With that said, in my opinion, they play second fiddle to the kids. I was very impressed with the acting of Wolfhard, McLaughlin, Schnapp, Brown, Matarazzo, Heaton and Dyer. Their performances took me right back to childhood, battling monsters in my backyard with my neighborhood crew of ragamuffins. Be it great directing or just natural talent, these kids stole the show.

Let’s put a bow on this. I can’t say enough about the awesome power of this series. It’s funny, action-packed, frightening and all-around fantastic. If you haven’t caught the bug yet, jump on board! Still not sold? That’s cool. Check out this trailer and see how you feel afterwards.

Body Bags (1993)

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BODY BAGS (1993)

Director: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper

Writer: Billy Brown, Dan Angel

Distributor: Republic Pictures

Music: John Carpenter, Jim Lang

Runtime: 91 min.

Format: VHS

Starring:

Alex Datcher as Anne (The Gas Station)

Robert Carradine as Bill (The Gas Station)

Stacy Keach as Richard Coberts (Hair)

David Warner as Dr. Lock (Hair)

Mark Hamill as Brent Matthews (Eye)

Twiggy as Cathy Matthews (Eye)

John Carpenter as The Coroner (The Morgue)

If you visit my site on a regular basis of any kind, you already know my crazed love affair with the horror anthology film. I devour all I find. When I discovered John Carpenter had an anthology of his own loaded with Hollywood big names and genre idols, I was like a kid locked in a candy store for an entire weekend. The gloves came off with utter excitement. Body Bags is a made for TV movie that aired late in the summer of 1993 on Showtime. Originally meant to be an anthology show for Showtime in the vein of The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt, the idea was scrapped and the episodes that were filmed were thrown together for a movie. Not being privy to the awesome power of Showtime as a child, I wasn’t introduced to this film until later in my adolescence

I remember distinctly being creeped the F out by the site of a ghastly John Carpenter as the “host”, if you will, in the wrap around story and being flat out terrified by The Gas Station segment. I didn’t, however, remember a single thing about the other stories other than Mark Hamill. This brings us to 2013, when Scream Factory released the special edition blu ray of this demented scarefest. After seeing it was getting a release that could only be described as “nerd candy”, it reminded me of how long it had been since seeing the film. Naturally, I broke out my faded DC comics wallet, pulled out the debit card…and ordered a VHS copy for a few bucks.

My over-eager hands couldn’t get the package open fast enough when it appeared on my doorstep a few days later. Almost immediately, the doors were locked and the lights were off. I popped this piece into my super fresh VCR and prepared myself to engage in heart stopping horror. Man…I miss being a kid. Now that I have adult eyes and my brain has processed more of the “extreme” horror cinema, I have to say I was a little disappointed.

What I did remember about the film still held pretty true. Carpenter as The Coroner is still a frightening sight. Is it just me, or does seeing John dance around in full corpse coroner garb give you the willies? The wrap around works. A big part of an anthology film working is a delightful wrap around. Whether it be another story that ties everything together or, as in this case, a tour guide that interjects between each story and introduces the next.

The first story, The Gas Station, is best in show in my opinion. It’s a simple story that gets your skin crawling right away and doesn’t let up until Carpenter is back on screen. Anne (Alex Datcher) is a gas station attendant at a 24 hour fuel station. It’s her first night and gets dropped off by a friend. You can already feel the tension. She’s trapped, alone, all night with no car. Just her, the fluorescents, a cramped attendant stand, the smell of gas and the creeps that wonder around in the middle of nowhere at night. One thing that I did forget that was a pleasant surprise is all of the cameos that appear throughout the film. Wes Craven and Sam Raimi appear in this story (Craven as a weirdo that shows up for gas and Raimi as a body…without giving too much away). As the night progresses, the creepier the “customers” get and the more things go wrong. Anne’s nerves of starting a new job coupled with the horrific fear of the desolate location is felt by the audience. I was terrified for her and I was safely in my house. Out of nowhere, the spit hits the fan now Anne is trapped in a life or death situation with a madman. It’s a great little spooky story that serves it’s purpose by getting your blood pumping; a great way to start off an anthology.

It’s all downhill from there.

Our next story, after a little comic relief from John, is titled Hair. The mighty Stacy Keach stars as Richard Coberts, a wealthy man who has it all…except hair. After seeing men, women and dogs with long, flowing, full heads of hair, he decides to pay a visit to a doctor whose infomercial guarantees hair growth for anyone. Richard gets the hair transplant and is overjoyed with the results. Finally, the long mop top of his dreams was his…only, it won’t stop growing. Eventually, the hair takes over his body. Hair begins growing out of all the wrong places on his face. Looking like J. Fox’s stunt double from Teen Wolf, Richard tries cutting it off, but it only causes him pain. What’s weirder than that? He discovers that the hair he is able to cut off has teeth! All in all, this story is a little on the weak side for me. Stacy Keach delivers, but the meat and potatoes just aren’t filling enough.

The last segment, titled Eye, is the story directed by Tobe Hooper. Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill) is a baseball player on a hot streak and is about to make his move from the farm league to the big show, when a car crash leaves a piece of shrapnel buried in one of his eyes. Unwilling to give up his pro ball dreams, he has an eye transplant. Of course, there’s a downside. The eye belonged to a recently deceased serial killer and now Brent is having visions of mutilating women. The story comes to a head when he attempts to attack and murder his wife Cathy (Twiggy). Much like Hair, Eye falls a little short. It’s more enjoyable than the previous segment, but still doesn’t carry very much weight with this guy.

The movie ends with one last visit with The Coroner to discover just why Carpenter looks like a corpse and guzzling down formaldehyde martinis. A few last second cameos by Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper himself completes this little package of fright.

In summation, Body Bags is the 1993 version of Nightmares from ten years earlier. A television show that ended up being jettisoned from their respected corporate aircraft and, in an effort to save face, put the filmed material together into an anthology film. Both had great opening stories and became stale from that point on. If I had to choose, I would pick Body Bags as a better movie in total. The stories are a little better and the acting is a step above its predecessor. Yet…it’s not that GREAT of a film. A fun little ditty to pass some time. I would recommend watching it for The Gas Station segment. It was under my skin and got it crawling.

Cutting Class (1989)

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Director: Rospo Pallenberg

Writer: Steve Slavkin

Distributor: Republic Pictures Home Video

Music: Jill Fraser

Runtime: 91 min.

Format: VHS

Starring: Donovan Leitch Jr. – Brian

Jill Schoelen – Paula

Brad Pitt – Dwight

Roddy McDowall – Mr. Dante

Martin Maul – William

 

When thinking about the big time “before they were stars” roles in horror films, a few come to mind immediately. Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th just to name a couple. Rarely mentioned is a young Brad Pitt in the high school slasher Cutting Class. In 1989, Pitt had some cameos in a few films, had a some minor roles in film and television, but hadn’t really had a starring role. That is, until Rospo Pallenberg’s directorial singlet.

Surprisingly enough, the crew for this film has an impressive resume. Pallenberg was an uncredited writer of The Exorcist II: The Heretic. Writer Steve Slavkin was the creator of the beloved Nickelodeon show Salute Your Shorts. Then, throw in special effects guru Robert E. McCarthy, who worked his magic in Phantasm II, Return of the Living Dead and would go on to work with artistic god David Lynch in Twin Peaks (TV and Fire Walk with Me), and you have all the making of something special. Well, sort of.

Cutting Class is a pretty typical teen slasher. Still riding the wave of the 80s flurry of psycho killers mangling teens, this film doesn’t add anything too memorable to the sub-genre. In all honesty, the film’s only reason for rediscovery would be Pitt. Fans of the actor grab this up and watch how, even at a young age, Brad was light years ahead of his peers at mastering his craft.

When District Attorney William (Maul) heads to the woods for a week of hunting and r&r, his daughter Paula (Jill Schoelen) is left to hold down the fort and stay busy in her studies. Naturally, as any rebel teen filled with rapidly increasing hormones, her boyfriend Dwight (Pitt) sees it as an opportunity to party and bang his high school sweetheart. Paula is the “hottie” of the school, catching the eye of many of the young men (and principal Mr. Dante), but none more than Brian (Donovan Leitch Jr.). Brain is a troubled youngster. He has recently returned from an institution for cutting the brakes on his old man’s car, which lead to his demise. Decked out in a super sweet black blazer and menacing blank stare, Brian sneaks around the school, creeping everyone out. Well, everyone but Paula; she seems to find it charming…for some reason.

Meanwhile, in the forest, DA Will is hot on the trail of water foul when an arrow plunges into his chest. As we see progressively through the film, though, the arrow was not a kill shot. Set up as the comedy relief from the heavy material of teenagers and school teachers being offed by a 16 year old, William struggles through the woods trying to stay alive. He’s even walked over by the biology teacher while the kids are on a field trip…to the marsh? I guess? It’s time out of class, I suppose. But who approved a field trip into a thick patch of forest?

Anyway, the film makes the audience believe that Brain is committing the murders for the first 70 minutes. At the last possible moment, they throw in some red herrings of sorts in the form of Brad Pitt and an “off his rocker” janitor to maybe confuse the audience right before the big “who dunnit” reveal.

As stated early, this is a pretty standard slasher. A studio’s way of cashing at the end of slasher era. There are some fairly gruesome death scenes, which makes sense considering the mastermind behind the special effects. Pitt is the stand out. Martin Maul really isn’t on screen that much and when he is, it’s for comedic reasons. He really is playing that bumbling cop role made famous in 70s shock films. Roddy McDowall is the same. Barely on screen and when he is, he’s the perverted old high school principal looking to catch a peek on some teenaged underwear.

The writing is descent. As far as a story goes, it flows fairly well. You’re never confused or wondering where this train is headed. For me, the problem with Cutting Class, and slashers of the like, is that we’ve seen it before. And we’ve seen it done one hundred times better. It’s not necessarily a “bad” movie. It’s just not that great. Give it a watch if you want to see a young Pitt and discover why it was a no brainer that this guy was going places. His acting really does make his counterparts look silly.

That’s all for this film. Stay posted on new things coming from Glynn Avenue Massacre and, as always, let me know what you think about this film. What do you like or dislike about it? Check back in frequently for new material. And as always…stay spooked.

Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986)

What’s happening, goblins? GAM back again with another ballin’ review! This time, we’re taking you up the mountain to unforeseen gloom and doom. It’s Mountaintop Motel Massacre!

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Directed By: Jim McCullough Sr.

Written By: Jim McCullough Jr.

Distributor: New World Pictures

Music By: Ron Di Iulio

Runtime: 95 min.

Format: VHS

Starring:

Anna Chappell

Bill Thurman

Major Brock

Will Mitchell

Virginia Loridans

Filmed in 1983, but not released until 1986 when New World Pictures picked it up for distribution, Mountaintop Motel Massacre is a little bit of a hidden gem from the 80s. Now, I’m not saying that it’s a masterpiece of dread or overly scary with big horror spots, but this has that 1980s feel that we all loved growing up. I remember seeing this box cover 1,000 times on Friday nights at the local rental place and it wasn’t until this week that I actually got to see this monstrosity. The story is pretty basic. It’s a low budget film that looks like a low budget film. It’s tough to watch at times due to overacting and the dialog leaves little to be desired. Yet, I would totally watch this film again. Maybe four or five times. Honestly, I could see this film reaching almost cult status if it were to be rediscovered at the right time. But why? There’s nothing GREAT about this little nugget. Simply put, it’s exactly the kind of 80s cheese trash that made me a fiend for the genre to begin with. I know, I know. Craig, you say that pretty often. But it’s true. These little discoveries of mine remind me of how much and why I adore horror. You don’t have to have an amazing script, a huge budget or top notch acting. What draws nerds like me in is the fact that it WAS MADE. The McCullough’s had an idea and did it.

Anna Chappell stars as Evelyn, the proprietor of the Mountaintop Motel who recently was released from an insane asylum. In the first three minutes, she’s back to her loose nut ways when she murders her daughter by “accident”…maybe. Naturally, the police understand and let her return to her backwoods motel and continue her life peacefully. Only now, the voice of her murdered daughter lingers in her head, instructing her to commit dastardly deeds. Luckily for us, the motel is packed for the night. The mischief starts out innocently enough. A poisonous snake here; a few cockroaches there…but escalates to manslaughter quickly as Evelyn rushes to dispose of all of her tenants.

To wrap this film up, don’t expect this to be a new found favorite that will leave you spellbound and disgusted. It is what it is; a low budget slasher flick. It’s predictable, silly, cheesy and basic. For me, it’s more about what the film stands for. The time period of the genre and how it coincides with my journey into the black abyss of dread. It won’t shock or dismay, but with a title like Mountaintop Motel Massacre, you are aware of what you’re getting yourself into. Pop a top, take a sip of something, sit back and indulge yourself in a sloppy fun slasher

My Rating: 4.5/10

Stay posted for more fun little write-ups about your favorite genre and mine. Click the follow, add a comment. Let me know what you think about this film or about anything in general. Stay spooked.

Nightmares (1983)

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Directed By: Joseph Sargent

Written By: Christopher Crowe,

Jeffery Bloom

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Music: Craig Safan

Runtime: 99 min.

Format: VHS

Starring:

Cristina Raines

Emilio Estevez

Lance Henriksen

Richard Masur

Veronica Cartwright

Oh, the anthology horror film. How much do I adore you? Anthology films are a huge reason why I became such an obsessed fan at a young age. Creepshow and Creepshow 2 are two of my all-time favorites and forever will be. The opening 5 minutes of The Twilight Zone: The Movie scarred me so bad, I still talk about it as one of the best scares period. Tales From the Crypt, Body Bags, Tales From the Darkside; the list goes on. Anytime I hear about a new anthology coming out or hear of one I’ve never seen before, I immediately rush to find it and dive in. Maybe it’s the aspect of having multiple short stories that all somehow or someway flow together that draws me in, even though some anthologies don’t flow together and the stories have nothing in common. Maybe it’s the idea of seeing what some up and coming directors can do with a short on the big screen…though, it’s not always like that either. Even anthologies that aren’t that great have a segment or two that jump out and make the viewing worth it. Maybe it’s the constant search for the creepiest anthology segment. Maybe, it’s my attention span. The point I’m getting at is that I love these films and I have no clue as to why I do. I just do. So when I saw a copy of Nightmares on VHS for super cheap on Ebay, I was all over it.

Nightmares is an enigma to me for a few reasons. First off, the film is rated R…for what seems like no apparent reason at all. With the exception of a fairly gruesome murder of a cop in the first 5 minutes and some foul language here and there, these stories are pretty tame. Kittens compared to other films coming out in the genre at that time. The fact that these stories were originally intended for network television could explain the soft and fluffiness. According the IMDB, these were “supposed” to be used as episodes of the show Darkroom (1981) but Universal thought the shorts were a little too violent for ABC, so they were cut and later taped together to form this film. This is the first I’ve heard of Darkroom, but after checking into it, this show looked pretty interesting. Lots of big names in front of the camera and behind the scenes. The show lasted 7 episodes before disappearing into the vast abyss of lost television gems.

Second, this cast can act. I mean, they can really act. It’s literally a who’s who of fine craftsmen (and women). Acting wise, this stories are borderline fantastic, but this film still doesn’t get that much (if any) recognition. Why? The writing. These stories build some tension and then flatten out. There are no big payoffs. Some may disagree, but every segment ended with me wanting something more. Something different. Something…well, horrifying. I understand that these were made for television and they couldn’t get way with the violence and gore that we have grown so fond of these days, but I can remember multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone that still give me chills; without a single drop of blood. If this film teaches its viewers anything, it’s this: Delivery is Everything.

The film opens with a cop pulling over a young lady for a busted tail light. After giving her a warning, hell ensues; which leads us into our first segment, Terror in Topanga. Hands down, this is the most frightening, unnerving, entertaining segment of the film. Basically, it’s a retelling of an urban legend, but it still gets the blood churning. Cristina Raines plays Tina, a wife and mother whose smoking habit causes her to leave the safety of her home and family to pick up a carton while a crazed and dangerous escaped mental patient is on the loose in her area. As the tale progresses, the tension builds nicely to an end that’s pretty good. Predictable, but good.

Next up is The Bishop of Battle, starring a young Emilio Estevez as J.J., an arcade hustling badass with the fastest fingers in town. His obsession is the game The Bishop of Battle, a crude arcade game with what appear to be UFOs and other flying mechanisms that shoot lasers that you must destroy. J.J. is the best, but can’t defeat the 12th level and make it to the almighty level 13; a task that has been rumored to have been accomplished by only a kid in New Jersey, and he did it twice. Even after his parents tell him he’s banned from the arcade, J.J. is determined to reach the holy level 13, so he sneaks out, breaks into the arcade and goes to battle. The segment isn’t awful, but it isn’t very entertaining either. I mean, I could watch Emilio yell at people all day long, but about how gaming is a sport? You’re pushing it, then. Estevez delivers but it’s hard to actually care if he beats this game or not.

Chapter 3 is titled The Benediction. It opens with a pretty gruesome dream sequence of a baby deer getting bitten by a rattlesnake; foreshadowing is fun. Lance Henriksen plays MacLeod, a priest of a small parish in the Mexican desert. His battles with how God can allow such cruel things to happen to innocent people has caused him to lose his faith and has decided to leave the village. On his journey, he encounters a rouge, black truck that is “hellbent” on destroying him. Multiple run-ins with this devil truck occur, running him off the road, banging into the side of MacLeod’s car, causing all kinds of damage and forcing the priest to continue battling his faith. The climax of the short culminates in the demon truck breaking through the earth’s surface, seemingly from Hell, when MacLeod appears to have lost him. All in all, this story is on the better side of mediocre. Henriksen kills it, as usual and the dialog between him and Plana and Gammell is stellar at times. With the exception of the truck emerging from Hell, there aren’t any real terrifying sequences. A religious battle between light and dark that builds some tension with good ultimately losing the battle but winning the war. It’s enjoyable, but nothing here to write home and tell mom about.

Stacked with an amazing cast and the only segment written by Jeffery Bloom (Writer/Director of Flowers in the Attic and Blood Beach), Night of the Rat is the final story of the anthology. A family of three is experiencing a vermin problem that has turned from annoying to dangerous as the attacks become increasingly paranormal. After a visit from an exterminator, the family is horrified to discover that their house has become the home of a mythical rat that infests the lives of shit people. Richard Masur stars as Steven Houston, the father and husband who has increasingly become more of a jerk and less of a loving person. His wife, Claire (Veronica Cartwright), and daughter, Brooke (Bridgette Andersen), are mortified by the new house guest, but scared to death of the rage building in Steven. Much like all of the other shorts, Night of the Rat has great promise in the build up, but lands flat with the climax. The end battle between pest and human leaves little for the audience to be excited about.

The Verdict

Nightmares is a film that left me wanting so much more. The stories do a pretty good job of building the audience up but never quite follow through with delivery. Acting wise, many of the performances are astounding, but great acting can’t always save the film. Check this film out if you’re a fan of anthologies. If you’re looking for something to haunt you, you should probably leave this one on the shelf.

My Rating: 4.5/10

A Mile Underground: An Area 51 Movie Review

 

 

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AREA 51

 

Directed by: Oren Peli

Written by: Christopher Denham; Oren Peli

Released: 2015, Paramount Pictures/ Paramount Insurge

 

 

Starring:

Reid Warner as Reid

Darrin Bragg as Darrin

Ben Rovner as Ben

Jelena Nik as Jelena

 

Immediately, I was pretty pumped about this. A found-footage film with aliens?? Sign me up twice! Write an ok script with some alright acting and some rad alien jump scares. Sounds easy enough. This film has these things…but for me, it misses the mark. In all honesty, most found-footage films miss the mark these days. Mostly, they just make me appreciate The Blair Witch Project more. That being said, this film crash landed in my living room, so let’s dissect what’s inside

The Back Story

I ran across the trailer for this back in April. I’ve been a fan of some of Peli’s work. Mostly just the first installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise (the only other film he’s directed) and the television mini-series The River he created had promise. But most of my fan-dom comes from his ability to throw money at fantastic movies, namely the Insidious films and The Lords of Salem. That’s right, I said it…The Lords of Salem is amazing. It’s beyond artistic and looks so damn amazing! But that’s not what we’re here for. Area 51. Hmmm. Armed with a budget of $5 million, Oren set out to make his sophomore film.

The Meat

The film opens with three friends, Reid, Darrin and Ben, getting crunk at a house party, complete with shots, beer pong, skinny dipping, bad game and an exciting 3 seconds of karaoke. After a few bars of 8-mile-esque freestyle, the house goes black. When the lights come back on, Reid is gone. We catch a glimpse of him in the woods behind the house and then finally reappears in the middle of the road as Darrin and Ben drive home.

 

Cut to 3 months later. Reid is now obsessed with aliens and has planned a mission to break into Area 51. He has convinced his 2 pals to tag along and is armed to the teeth with breaking into restricted government army base gadgets. The 3 take off on a road trip to Vegas to meet Jelena, a girl who’s father worked at area 51, then “killed himself” after he was fired. She, also, has to know what’s going on there and ends up meeting up with them when they get there.

 

These 3 guys go through quite a bit in order to get onto the base. Breaking and entering, meeting up with some “experts” and talking to a lot of locals that claim to have seen ufos. And even more narrow escapes. They literally make it look a little too easy to get into one of America’s biggest “secrets”. Not to mention that this Reid kid must be  loaded to have access to these devices he’s brought with him.

 

Once inside, they progressively make their way down; a mile underground. This is said to be where the actual base is and everything above ground is all a cover. Their main objective is S4, a level of the base where the true holy shit stuff is held. Easily thwarting security guards and workers, Reid, Darrin and Jelena make it to S4, but stuff begins going sour. Finally discovered after running around this top secret base for 2 hours, Darrin makes a break for an escape while the other 2 push forward. Turns out…Ben is the only smart one as he opts to stay at the car…but it ends up not mattering. The climax is done well. Some creepy scenes and some really well done effects help push this film back from the edge of just terrible.

The Verdict

The found footage sub-genre has steadily been on the rise in quantity, but the decline in general terror. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some very terrifying found footage movies being released, but it seems like a low ratio of great compared to forgettable. This film has its moments, but ultimately falls into the latter. I, personally, didn’t care for any of the characters whatsoever. I wanted to. I tried to jump on the Reid, Darrin and Ben train. I couldn’t. Still…to this very second, I can’t wrap my head around just how easily it was for these twenty-somethings to wander around this base. It took some clever work to get in, but just some ducking and running once inside. I don’t know. Call me nit-picky,  but it threw me for a loop. Like I said earlier, there are some pretty amazing special effects in the finale. Big ups to Nick DeRosa, Chris Hampton and Bryan Smith. Oren as well, for that matter. Also, some pretty great acting happening in some scenes from Warner, Bragg, Rovner and Nik. Just not all the way through. In my opinion, check it out if you’re a completist. If not, watch Digging Up the Marrow. Yeah…I said it.

 

My Rating: 3/10

 

Spooked,

C

 

 

Happy 30th! It’s Party Time! A Return of the Living Dead Review

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Return of the Living Dead

Directed by: Dan O’ Bannon

Written by: Dan O’Bannon (Screenplay), Rudolph J. Ricci, John Russo, Russ Streiner (Story)

Released: 1985; Fox Films Ltd.

Starring:

Clu Gulager as Burt

James Karen as Frank

Don Calfa as Ernie

Thom Mathews as Freddy

That’s right, boys and ghouls… August 16, 2015 marked the 30 year anniversary of one of my favorite fright films of all time; RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD! When I think of the films that started my love of the genre, this one has to be mentioned (along with Children of the Corn, Creepshow and Creepshow II). Now, when I say I was obsessed with this blood bath, I mean I was obsessed; specifically for a week during a summer. My poor VHS copy has been spun through the loops a couple dozen times…like, know this movie better than the back of my hand. It’s literally a party! There’s humor, gore, frights, jump scares; even an absolute tear-jerking scene involving Frank and a cremation chamber. Yikes. So, grab your copy, throw on your favorite Tarman tee, grab a bowl of “live brraainnss” and try not to rip your arm completely off your shoulder for the 30th birthday extravaganza! Do you wanna party? It’s party time!

The Back Story

Return has a history that’s full of big names in the genre, as well as a few hiccups that almost prevented the film from being made. John Russo, who co-wrote the screenplay of Night of the Living Dead with George A. Romero, wrote the novel version of Return after gaining the title rights to ‘Living Dead’ (hence the Night of the Living Dead references).  He was approached to write the screenplay for Return and accepted, and wrote a version that had very close ties to the novel. That…would be an amazing read.

Originally, the studio wanted legend Tobe Hooper to direct this film, but he backed out in order to direct Lifeforce. Dan O’Bannon was brought on to add some of his own creative juices to the Return script, but with the project not having a director, the studio offered the director’s chair to him. Fun side note…O’Bannon wrote the screenplay for Lifeforce, so his ties with Hooper got him the job of directing this megaforce.

O’Bannon had a few stipulations before diving headfirst into Return; he wanted to change the script. Almost completely different from its original form. He added in the group of punk kids that changed the landscape of the film. The budget for the film was around $4 million, which it eclipsed on its opening weekend. Great moves made to ensure a great movie that I could watch over and over again.

The Meat

The film begins with the two loveable screwballs, Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Mathews). Karen is a god of television and screen, with roles in Invaders From Mars, Wall Street, The Unborn, a very familiar role in Return II (alongside Mathews) and countless numbers of television shows. Mathews is a genre master in his own right. He will always be remembered by me and genre hounds in his role as grown-up Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives. He also plays a role in the 1986 film Dangerously Close, one I haven’t seen but looks amazing. Thoughts?? Let me know!

Anywho, Frank and Freddy work at a medical supply warehouse in Louisville, KY. Freddy is new and Frank begins creeping the youngster out with a story of how Night of the Living Dead was based on a true case and the warehouse received drums from the military by accident and bodies are in the drums. When showing them off, Frank accidentally opens one of the drums, shooting a poisonous gas in their faces. To make matters worse, the gas reanimates the dead!

Their boss and manager of the warehouse, Burt (Clu Gulager), I’d called to help clean up the mess…and destroy the living dead running around the warehouse. Destroy and brain and the zombie dies, right? Nope. So they devise a scheme to burn the bodies using a nearby crematorium ran by Burt’s friend Ernie (Don Calfa). Note: not a sesame street reference. Frank and Freddy aren’t looking great and Burt’s rabid weasels story has gotten bodies into the oven…but the trouble is just beginning. Freddy’s punk rock, badass friends are partying hard in a nearby cemetery. When the bodies are burned, the gas is released into the atmosphere, causing rain clouds to release acid rain. It sinks into the soil and brings the dead to life, causing mass chaos with brain hungry zombies that run full speed and take fools out like the Seattle linebackers. Now the party starts!

The Verdict

This, hands down, is my absolute favorite zombie film. Probably my least favorite sub-genre, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Return of the Living Dead not only is an exception, but it stands in my top 10 horror films of all-time. Gulager, Karen, Mathews and Calfa all deliver amazing performances and keep the action, comedy and terror going the entire time. I didn’t talk much about the gang of ruffians, but they honestly take this film from great to baller status. Trash, Suicide, Tina and Spider (just to name a few) are all hilarious in their own ways and turn up the acting when it comes to dread. O’Bannon’s directing and writing are really on display in this one. He takes an apocalyptic atmosphere and makes it just as fun as it is terrible. And this thing bumps with an awesome soundtrack featuring T.S.O.L.,The Damned, The Cramps and an unbelievable theme performed by 45 Grave. You know the song. If you haven’t seen this piece of gloriousness, then do yourself the biggest favor of the week and watch it!!!

My Rating: 8.5/10

Spooked,

C

Always Bring More Boots : A Rituals Movie Review

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Rituals

Directed By: Peter Carter

Written By: Ian Sutherland

Released: 1977 Astral Film Ltd.

Starring :

Hal Holbrook as Harry

Lawrence Dane as Mitzi

Robin Gammell as Martin

Ken James as Abel

Gary Reineke as D.J.

If I had to guess, I would say that this film came into my possession around 5 years ago. My older brother was downsizing his collection and had a bunch of VHS tapes that he was willing to part ways with. I couldn’t jump fast enough at that opportunity.

I viewed this film one time in the past five years (until now). It was hard to remember but the eerie, gritty, utter despair all came flooding back once I popped it in to write this review. If anything, Rituals taught me that if I ever had the desire to take a trip into the wilderness to chillax for a week…just don’t.

The Back Story

Rituals, aka The Creeper, is the second film by UK born/Canadian  director Peter Carter. His first film, The Rowdyman, received high praise from many critics. With not much of a budget, but a cast that knew their craft, Carter set out to make a survivalist slasher film in the wilderness of Ontario, Canada. It’s pretty common for Rituals to be compared to Deliverance. True…the film’s plot is fairly similar to that of its U.S. counterpart, but Rituals delivers in a dangerous manner.

The Meat

Our film begins with five doctor friends preparing to board an airplane that will fly them out to the middle of Nowhere, Canada for a week of fishing and relaxation. Harry, played by the legendary Hal Holbrook, is a laid back, straightforward man who has his demons, but remains to keep his cool. Side note; Holbrook will forever be a favorite of mine because of his role in The Crate segment in Creepshow. Mitzi, played by the genre king Lawrence Dane, seems to be Harry’s closest friend…but isn’t afraid to throw his problems in his face. Martin (Robin Gammell) is the most enjoyable of the dudes. An ex doctor, Martin has sworn off the scalpel and seriously sworn on the booze. D.J. (Gary Reineke) is the brains behind the weekend. He set it up, brought most of the supplies and even xeroxed everyone an itinerary. Then, last but not least, the lovable Abel (Ken James) who even in times of exhausted terror, still finds time to snap a picture to look back on and laugh.

After the first night, strange occurrences begin and their week of fun becomes a fight to survive. It all starts with the disappearance of every single boot. This, of course, makes traveling through wilderness, mountainous terrain and rock/bear trap filled creeks nearly impossible. Instantly, everyone recognizes that something is wrong…which is a fun twist for this type of film. Usually it takes a murder or two before people want to pack up and leave. Not these doctors. Someone stole some boots? Time to head back. D.J. is the only one who remembered to pack an extra pair of shoes, so he takes off on his own for a day-long trip to a hydroelectric dam in search of help. The others continue until Abel runs face first into a deer head (Carter used a real deer head in this scene) mounted up like a statue. Now, the party is officially over.

Tension, terror and danger awaits around every turn as the men trudge on, in search of D.J. and the dam. Now they know for sure they are being stalked by an unknown entity and they are lured into its web with every step they take. I don’t want to get too involved in what happens with this one, but the gloom and doom builds to a climax that might leave some ‘hot under the collar’. Ya get it?!?!?

The Verdict

This is a film that is ready for rediscovery. I could see this movie having quite a cult following, if it doesn’t already have one. The story is a basic ‘lost in the woods, stalked by a killer’ story, but it’s clever and done very well. You never feel any sort of safety for these men. Day, night, awake, knocked out…there is nowhere for the clan of docs to hide. Holbrook and Dane give astonishing performances. These two feed off of each other, really bringing the script to life. As doom sets in, the trepidation of being lost, exhausted, horrified and starving begins to affect the viewer and will stick around for a while after the credits role. My only real problem with the film is the big reveal at the end. No spoilers allowed, but a final battle is set up and falls short for me. Regardless, this is a film that I would definitely recommend. For fans of Deliverance, The Final Terror, Just Before Dawn and the like.

My Rating: 6/10

Spooked

C

Bondage, Blood and a Bunch of Chains: A Hellraiser Movie Review

Hellraiser_poster

HELLRAISER

Directed By: Clive Barker

Written By: Clive Barker

Released: 1987 New World Pictures

Starring:

Andrew Robinson as Larry Cotton

Clare Higgins as Julia Cotton

Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton

Sean Chapman as Frank Cotton

Oliver Smith as Frank the Monster

Doug Bradley as Pinhead

Nicholas Vince as Chattering Cenobite

Simon Bamford as Butterball Cenobite

Grace Kirby as Female Cenobite

When I decided to test the waters of writing reviews, I only knew one thing: I want to start big. In my personal opinion, it doesn’t get much bigger than Clive Barker’s masterpiece of leather and hammers to the face; Hellraiser. This is a film that takes me back to childhood, but not in a “I loved this as a child” way. Actually, close to the opposite. The first time I watched this film in its entirety was the summer of 2006. Settle. Let me explain.

As a child, the cover of the Hellraiser VHS frightened the puke out of me. An intimidating ghoul with pins sticking out of his face holding what looked to be a foreign object of doom. Yeah…my 10 year old brain couldn’t take it. Finally, I got up the nerve to rent this film. Happy as a 10 year old could possibly be, I ran to the VCR and threw it in. Obviously, I wasn’t as observant as I should have been, because the tape I had rented was actually Hellmaster. The wrong tape was put behind the Hellraiser box. Needless to say, I was devastated but kept the tape anyway. I’ve always been the kind of dude to not make a fuss. After that, Hellraiser was sort of logged into the ‘need to see but just haven’t’ file in the back of my brain until 2006…my sophomore year of college.

All of that to get to this point: I really enjoy the Hellraiser franchise and if I wanted to start this site off with a bang, I had to review the one that started it all!

The Back Story

The 80s were great for Clive Barker. 1984 and 1985 saw the release of his iconic Books of Blood anthologies that set him in the forefront as the future of the genre. Also in 1985, he wrote the screenplay for the film Underworld and, in 1986, wrote the screenplay for Rawhead Rex based on his story with the same name; both films directed by George Pavlou. Unfortunately, Clive was not a fan of the final product of either of these films. Like a boss, Clive took to the director’s chair himself to create his vision of his novella The Hellbound Heart.

With a budget of $1 million and a name change (New World thought the title The Hellbound Heart would suggest too much of a love story), Clive made his directorial debut with Hellraiser.

The Meat

Hellraiser is the story of the Cotton family. There’s Frank, the wild and dangerous stud who is always willing to chase a thrill. Then there’s Larry, the well-to-do family man. Larry is married to Julia, and newly married at that. He also has a daughter named Kirsty. The newlyweds have decided to move into the old Cotton house to begin their lives. Kirsty decides to live elsewhere but stays close to her father. Her mother has passed away and she has a solid relationship with Larry. Her stepmother, not so much. You can feel the tension between Julia and Kirsty…mostly just from Julia.

But every family has its darkside. That crowning achievement belongs to Frank. Not only did Frank sleep with Julia on top of her wedding dress, but he also dabbles in the world of extreme pain for pleasure. Frank and Julia’s love affair had an obvious impact on Julia. While standing in the attic with a picture of Frank, daydreaming about their passionate roll in the hay, Larry gets a nasty cut on his hand from a nail while moving their belongings into the house. He runs to the attic to Julia and a few drops of blood smash into the attic floor. This resurrects the bloody, skinless Frank; escaping the hell that he entered by opening the dreaded puzzle box. Now, he needs more blood. Human blood.

Julia becomes Frank’s partner in crime by luring strange men to the attic and bludgeoning them with a hammer. Frank feasts on their blood and slowly becomes whole again. The heat picks up when Kirsty finds Frank and the puzzle box. After swiping the box, running out of the house and fainting in the street, she awakes in a hospital. After a little tinkering, she opens the box and it summons the Cenobites; a group of frightening, leathered out monsters who dwell in a world where excruciating pain and utmost pleasure intertwine. Their leader; the terrifying Pinhead (originally named Priest). Doug Bradley’s performance is absolutely astonishing. His dread inducing lines are delivered in a deep, skin crawling fashion that is horrific and oddly soothing.

The Cenobites make a deal with Kirsty; her life for the one who has escaped them. This sets up the final act, a gigantic ending that leaves you excited for more with one of the most explosive deaths in genre history. Not to mention, one of my personal favorite ad libs, “Jesus wept”.

The Verdict

All in all, this film has something for everyone. Gore, fantasy, monsters and one-liners that won’t escape your mind days after viewing. For a small budget film, it packs quite a punch. Some say the effects at end are a little cheeseball and yeah, they are at times, but it doesn’t take away from the film. The acting is pretty spot on. You genuinely believe these characters and root for them to escape or meet their demise. Enough can’t be said about Doug Bradley as Pinhead. His performance made him a horror legend. Also, two big thumbs up to Ashley Laurence for her on screen debut. Apparently, Jennifer Tilly auditioned for the role of Kirsty. Not saying she would have been less effective, but it would have been hard to top Laurence in this role. Clive’s directing style is much like his writing; smooth and elegant with a sudden rush of brutal destruction. For his directorial debut, he knocked it out of the park.

My Rating: 7/10

Spooked,

C

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